Sunday, December 21, 2014

Week 16 NFL notes

Week 16 in the NFL began on Saturday (well, on Thursday, but who cares about a couple of 2-win teams “battling” for a high draft position). Philadelphia’s playoff hopes virtually ended with a 27-24 loss to Washington. Mark Sanchez lost a fumble and threw an interception, but these came in the first and last Eagles’ possessions, leading to two field goals. In between, Sanchez set a team record with 37 completed passes for a career-best 374 yards; he actually threw 49 passes in one game before throwing that INT. 

What really undid the Eagles were 13 penalties, several which came in critical situations, and two missed field goals by Cody Parkey—one a 25-yard chip shot—and both led to Washington touchdowns.  One can also speculate that Chip Kelly’s offensive system, while capable of piling-up yards against bad defenses, is too dependent on perfect rapid-fire movement to work in the NFL, where defenses are faster than those in college and can “keep up” to a much more effective degree.

The other Saturday game featured that 90-yard-don’t-count-him-out-yet run by Colin Kaepernick, who finished the game with 151 yards rushing on just seven carries. The 49ers managed 355 yards in total rushing yards, which would have mitigated a miserable passing performance (just 114 yards—92  net—on 15 completions), had not the 49ers blown a 28-7 lead against San Diego and lost in overtime 38-35. 

Back on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers “recovered” somewhat from the worst game of his career last week, completing 31 of 40 passes for 318 yards and no interceptions, but just one touchdown against the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who fall to 2-13. The Packer defense allowed only 109 yards of total offense, but beyond that, the 20-3 victory was singularly unimpressive. One would have expected the Packer offense to find its bearings against a “weak” team and light it up as it prepares for Detroit to decide the NFC North champion next week—the Bears being predictably unhelpful this week with Jake Cutler not even starting.

Elsewhere, New England avoided a humiliating loss the Geno Smith and the Jets, 17-16, in which Geno actually had a better game than Tom Brady. A Brady interception late in the fourth quarter gave the Jets the ball at the New England 30 and trailing by one point. But a Geno sack on third down moved the ball backwards, and Nick Folk’s potential game-winning 52-yard field goal was partially blocked. Geno’s one-game winning streak as a starter is over, and he is now 2-10 this year, 1-3 since his “show us what you got” return. 

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints—in “first place” in the NFC South just one week ago—have now been eliminated from the playoffs altogether. Why? With a 30-14 loss to Atlanta, the Falcons have the tiebreaker with them, having beaten the Saints twice. But that isn’t the real story. Carolina’s win over Cleveland unbelievably propels them a half-game in first place, with a 6-8-1 record over both the Saints and Falcons, who are 6-9. Because Atlanta plays Carolina next week, the winner of that game wins the division. One may remember a time when both of these teams were left for dead. The NFL is crazy that way. That’s why it is so fascinating.

In another “crazy” finish, the Minnesota Vikings entered the fourth quarter of its game with Miami with a 17-14 lead; in a flash the Dolphins were up 28-20, and in another flash the Vikings were back on top 35-28. But with the Dolphins tying the score and game seemingly headed for overtime, a blocked punt in the waning seconds of regulation went out-of-bounds for a safety and an improbable victory for Miami, 37-35.  Even more "crazy"? Buffalo, after treating Aaron Rodgers like paper doll last week, loses to the Raiders!? And the Indianapolis Colts play like a bunch of scrubs in what looks to be one of the most lopsided loss in the Colts' franchise history, 42-7 against Dallas? Andrew Luck, who a few weeks ago was threatening to break Peyton Manning's record for passing yards, is unlikely to even reach 5,000 yards after another miserable performance--without the "heroics."

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