Game Of The Week:
From the Eagles topping the Lions 34-20 in a true Philadelphia blizzard to Joe Flacco tossing the game winning TD with 9 seconds remaining to lift the Ravens over Minnesota, it was an all-out awesome weekend of football.
Kansas City got back into winning form, smashing the Redskins 45-10 and Peyton Manning literally told his “can’t play in the cold” critics to stick it where the sun don’t shine after throwing for 397 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions in the Broncos 51-28 blowout of the Titans.
After being embarrassed last Monday night in Seattle, Drew Brees and the Saints slapped a big dose of reality across the face of the Panther Nation to snap Carolina’s 8-game win streak and seize control of the NFC South.
I want to take a more in depth peek at a pair of contests as our Game of the Week; one being a great all-around game by traditional measures, and another with a finish so wild even Disney couldn’t have written a more improbable story-book ending.
So, start to finish and pound for pound, the best match-up this week was probably San Francisco outlasting Seattle 19-17 in a game that saw the lead change hands on 6 separate occasions. The heavily anticipated rematch of hated NFC West foes lived up to expectations and then some as two teams built to play physical, punch you in the mouth football did just that.
The win was more important for the Niners than the loss damaging to the Hawks. While Seattle would have loved to have clinched the division and swept their insufferable rivals, in all likelihood the team will be awarded the title soon enough and cruise to home field advantage. San Francisco, however, needed this win big time to keep pace in the Wild Card race (especially with Arizona winning again and nipping at their heels).
As predicted, both defenses came to play and both teams tried to pound out yardage on the ground. Marshawn Lynch was mostly held in check, with only 72 yards on 20 carries. Beast Mode never broke out to a big run, as his longest of the day was Seattle’s lone rushing touchdown from 11 yards out. For most of the game the Seahawks did a pretty good job on Frank Gore as well, save for the one play that ended up being the difference maker.
With about 4 minutes to go in the game, and down by 1, the 49ers needed to put together a go-ahead drive. Gore busted through the Hawks’ linebackers en-route to a 51-yard gain down to the Seahawks’ 18-yard line. From there San Francisco was able to run down the clock, push forward for a first down, and kick the game winning field goal.
Seattle had 21 seconds on the clock to try and pull off a miracle, but Russell Wilson’s bomb to Jermaine Kearse was intercepted and that was the ballgame.
With the win, the Niners showcased the fact that after a mid-season slump they are once again a relevant force in the NFC. Yet, Seattle fans need not weep into their 12th Man flags for too long, as there’s a very good chance we’ll see a rubber match at Century Link Field this post-season.
And on to our second Game of the Week:
If you’d told me Sunday morning that the Browns-Patriots game would be featured here, I’d have said, “Are you sure you’re not talking about the Upset of the Week?”
Well, it nearly turned out that way if it hadn’t been for a little Tom Brady magic and a controversial pass interference call in the end zone.
Jason Campbell was magnificent in this one, throwing for 391 yards with 3 touchdowns and no picks. His 3rd TD toss of the day to Jordan Cameron put the Browns up 26-14 with 3 minutes left to play.
But it just seems that in the NFL good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose, and that’s exactly what happened here. Brady marched the Pats down the field, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman to cut the lead to 5 before Gostkowski and the rest of the New England special teams unit pulled off the old onside kick miracle. With 1:01 left in the game Brady completed a 10-yard pass to Danny Amendola and then went for the gold on the following play. The pass in the end zone fell incomplete but the refs flagged the Browns for pass interference, thus placing the ball at the 1-yard line. From there it was back to Amendola for the go ahead score. After a failed 2-point conversion it was 27-26.
Cleveland nearly pulled off a miracle of their own with 30 seconds left. Campbell went 3 for 4 and somehow got the Browns to the New England 40 with two seconds to go. Billy Cundiff came on for a 58-yard field goal try, but the kick was no good.
While this was a heartbreaker for Browns fans, I really do think that Cleveland is going to make waves in 2014. Then again, the Dawg Pound has been “looking forward to next season” for quite a while now.
Performance Of The Week:
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees each threw for four touchdowns, but LeSean McCoy’s 217 yards in the snow is our Performance of the Week. In the locker room Eagles teammates called his outing “insane.”
Not only did McCoy consistently grind out yardage in horrific weather conditions, but he also broke out for big plays as well with two long touchdown runs of 57 and 40 yards to help the Eagles come back from a 14-0 deficit against the Lions.
With 29 attempts McCoy was a workhorse and the difference maker for Philadelphia when they needed him the most.
Biggest Upset Of The Week:
With nothing up on the scoreboard this week that truly classifies as an upset, let’s talk about the Jaguars topping the Texans 27-20. On one hand the Texans are easily the worst team in football having lost 11 straight games, but on the other hand this distinction only recently belonged to these Jacksonville Jaguars, so it’s still intriguing to see the Jags put another notch in the win column.
In fact, first year coach Gus Bradley’s squad is showing signs of hope for the future, as the victory was their third straight and fourth in the last five contests. That being said, the team is still last in points scored, last in total yards, and last in rushing yards, so we’ll still be seeing a lot of empty teal seats at EverBank Stadium in 2014 as well.
And I’m not saying the win this week was a pretty one, either. Chad Henne put up a putrid 117 yards, which is barely more than the length of the field. But he did play mistake free and threw 2 TDs to go with 0 interceptions. Maurice Jones-Drew was somewhat into his old rushing-title form as he topped 100 yards on only 14 carries.
Jacksonville will still end up with a losing record either way, but after starting out (0-8) their final results could be “respectable-ish” considering the fact that at one point they didn’t look like they’d win a single game. Next up on their platter is a home game against the Buffalo Bills, followed by divisional tilts against the Titans and Colts. If they go two for three then Bradley will have quite a bit of momentum to work with rolling into the off-season, but the question still remains about what he’ll do long term under center.
What To Look Forward To Next Week:
While several other teams are still mathematically alive, it is looking more and more like the final AFC Wild Card slot will go to either the Ravens or the Dolphins. That being said, neither team has an easy road.
Baltimore takes on the Lions this week on Monday Night Football in a game that promises to be a real battle in the trenches with both teams fighting for their playoff lives. The Lions simply refuse to be consistent, keeping the mediocre Bears alive in the divisional race, and at this point the Ravens don’t seem to be ready to lie down and die in a season where they are generally considered one of the least feared reigning champs of all time.
Miami has New England at home and if they can knock off the AFC East leading Pats they could end up in the driver’s seat for the Wild Card. Their final two games are against the Bills and Jets, and while divisional games are never easy, both contests are very winnable.
The Bengals visit Heinz Field this week as they hope to fully usher in a changing of the guard and shift from not only winning but to dominating their division. Pittsburgh rarely makes it easy for the visiting team, even when they’re not playing their best ball.
Week 14 results (0-2). That is all I really need to say about that. Fortunately for me I don’t know a sports bookie.
Pick of the week: Cardinals 31 – 13 Titans
Arizona wins big to stay in the playoff hunt. They’ll need this one for certain as they close out the season at Seattle and then at home against the Niners.
Upset of the week: Dolphins 27 – Patriots 24
I am taking Miami in this one at home. The Patriot’s luck has got to run out at some point and while I see them being a legitimate threat to make it to the Super Bowl, the Dolphins need this win so badly that they’ll eek one out on a last second field goal.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder reportedly stated that he is “pissed” at where Head Coach Mike Shanahan has taken his organization. A year after Washington at times looked unbeatable with RGIII at the helm, the team has plummeted to depths even lower than the Atlanta Falcons (yes, it’s possible). At this rate the only ring they’ll be searching for will be down in the caverns with Gollum.
Snyder’s richer than we can really imagine, and hence accustomed to getting whatever it is that he wants, but the temper tantrum antics of owners disappointed with their teams often gets a bit out of control and really do nothing to help teams get better. Sure, we’d all like to win, and there are plenty of times that a coach needs to be fired to change the direction of a franchise, even great coaches find success with new teams if their particular style doesn’t mesh with upper management, but at the end of the day owners who leave football decisions to the football guys tend to find more success in the long run.
Look at the mess Al Davis made with the Raiders before he passed away. Jerry Jones is constantly sticking his fingers in where they don’t belong, causing dramas with his Cowboys, and Jim Irsay of the Colts lets it be known that he who writes the checks has the final say.
Dieter Zetsche doesn’t tell the engineers at Mercedes-Benz how to design their cars. Jim Skinner doesn’t put his input into the special sauce at McDonald’s, so why would the owner of a football team, essentially a businessperson, insist on picking players like it’s fantasy football for billionaires? (I fully admit that I Googled these two dudes for my analogy).
I totally get where they are coming from. If I owned a team I’d want to slide into the driver’s seat as well, but I hope that I’d realize before it was too late that often the most successful teams are the ones where the owner’s name is hardly ever mentioned when it comes to the quality of play on the field.