Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week 12 NFL notes

It was Brett Favre Day at Lambeau Field this past Thursday, his jersey number being retired. I have said that I have been a Favre supporter since 1992, when after a stumbling and bumbling performance against the Bengals, he put it together late and led the Packers to a wild final seconds finish with a perfect pass to Kitrick Taylor for a 24-23 victory. One could see that there was something special about Favre by his almost childlike glee settling down to a wow-can-you-believe-I-did-this meditation on the field. Favre’s greatness should never be undersold; the Packers were a franchise that was in the doldrums for most of 25 years, a team few thought would ever come back to relive the glory days of Lombardi era. But Ron Wolf believed that this was possible, and he believed in Favre—even if Mike Holmgren was initially skeptical. Favre put the team back on the national map with his infectious personality, his toughness, and for the fact that for better (mostly) or for worse he represented what the game of football was meant to be. He might not have been the greatest quarterback of all-time, but he certainly was one of its greatest players of the game

Another week of frustration for me, as many of the results I hoped for didn’t come to pass. In week 12, the “good” results:

Cardinals 19 49ers 13. I like the Cardinals because I don’t like the Seahawks, and every Cardinal win means the more likely the Seahawks will not win the division and be forced to play all of their potential playoff games on the road, away from their annoying (to me) fans. This game was actually tied at 13 late in the game, but despite having a pedestrian performance, Carson Palmer actually won it with his feet, after a 8-yard scamper into the end zone with a little over 2 minutes to play. Blaine Gabbert had another “shockingly” good performance, and on the 49ers’ final drive to win the game (after the Cardinals’ kicker missed the PAT), they were saved by a fumble that went out of bounds to extend the game. But on a fourth-and-20 (following a ten-yard sack) at the 40-yard line, Anquan Boldin caught a Gabbert pass at the Cardinals 22 and went no further, short of the first down and saving the win for the Cardinals, who remain 3 games ahead in the NFC West.

Colts 25 Buccaneers 12. The Colts actually trailed in this game at halftime 12-6. The Buccaneers had the ball for only three possessions in the first half, but they were long drives that consumed yardage if not adding up to a lot of points. In the second half, the veteran Matt Hasselbeck played like one, while his counterpart played like the rookie he is. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 this season as a starter—and still modestly understates his contribution to saving the Colts’ season.

Redskins 20 Giants 14. I only cared about the result of this game if it meant that the Eagles and Cowboys would still be “mathematically” in the hunt of the NFC Least’s division title with the Giants now dropping to below .500 at 5-6. It seems that technically the Redskins are unbelievably in first place, also with a 5-6 record—and who would have believed that was possible just a few weeks ago? 

Bengals 31 Rams 7. The Rams are not challenging the Seahawks now, so I don’t care about them anymore. Nick Foles was just horrible again, making game manager Andy Dalton look a Hall of Famer with just average numbers. 

Chargers 31 Jaguars 25. I would have liked this result a lot more if former Wisconsin Badger Melvin Gordon, who rushed for more than 2,500 yards last year and was a Heisman finalist, had put up the kind of numbers expected of him (in this game, 60 yards on 14 carries). But he has yet to have a 100-yard game this season, and he appears to be yet another Badger running back who was gangbusters in college behind a great offensive line, but washed out in the NFL.

Jets 38 Dolphins 20. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall finally “clicked” in this game, with Marshall catching nine passes for 131 yards and two of Fitzpatrick’s four TD passes. With the Jets improving to 6-5, at least talk of a return of Geno Smith has been muted. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have lost four of five; after scoring 82 points in the first two post-Philbin games, they have now scored just 67 points in the past five.

And now for the bad results of the week:

Bears 17 Packers 13. At first I would say the Packers had no business losing this game, but Jay Cutler at least put together a good game regardless of the wind and rain (19-31 200 yards, 1 TD), while Aaron Rodgers continued his descent into what is easily the worst season of his career (22-43, 202 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int).  Rodgers’ interception late in the fourth quarter seemed to seal the deal for the Bears, but they were unable to run out the clock and gave Rodgers one more chance to redeem himself after failing to lead the Packers to a score the entire second half. But that final drive that at one point was a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line was an illusion. Rodgers completed just 5 of 12 passes, including misfiring on all four of his passes from that point (two admittedly off the hands of the intended targets).  Rodgers lost feelings in his hand after a third quarter hit, but he didn’t play any worse than before. It is claimed that the Packers offense isn’t in “sync”; that is true, but the question is to what extent is that Rodgers?

Panthers 33 Cowboys 14. In hindsight , Tony Romo was not ready to play, especially in a short week playing on Thanksgiving.  And it wasn’t even worth it, since Romo was knocked out for the season after throwing three interceptions—two of them returned for touchdowns. Cam Newton wasn’t that great, and he didn’t need to be in this game, with the defense contributing to a league-leading +16 turnover differential and scoring points. With the Panthers 11-0, can it be actually possible we could see an unbeaten team entering the playoffs from each conference? 

Lions 45 Eagles 14. For the second straight week the Eagles gave up 45 points, and there was no way Mark Sanchez was going do enough to erase the expected result—even when he threw no interceptions in this game, compared to four in last week’s blowout. I have to confess all now: I was wrong about Matt Flynn, who turned out to have a weak throwing shoulder prone to frequent injury, and Sanchez is just not the kind of quarterback who can function well in adversity. 

Texans 24 Saints 6. I want the Colts to win their division again, and they won’t if the Texans keep up this surprising winning way. That’s all.

Vikings 20 Falcons 10. The Vikings are back in sole possession of first place in the NFC North over the Packers, and the Falcons keep sinking. Teddy Bridgewater keeps playing like a placeholder, but that’s all he needs to do if Adrian Petersen keeps running for 158 yards. If he keeps this up, Petersen should be in the running for the NFC MVP award. 

Chiefs 30 Bills 22. I’m not a fan of either of these teams, but I like to see Tyrod Taylor play well, because this is a guy who did nothing in four years as Joe Flacco’s back-up, and no one even knew who he was before this season. He is what I expected Matt Flynn to be after four years backing-up Aaron Rodgers. Taylor was red-hot in the first quarter, throwing for over 150 yards, but he couldn’t keep up the pace, as the plodding Alex Smith plodded along in the right direction, passing him by to lead the Chiefs to the win.

Raiders 24 Titans 21. Derek Carr outplayed Marcus Mariota in every way in this game, yet it was only a defensive penalty on fourth down that allowed the Raiders to come back and score the winning touchdown. In the final minute Mariota threw a 30-yard pass to midfield in an attempt to at least set-up a tying field goal, but his next pass went straight into the rookie Twilight Zone, or a starring role in Dumb and Dumber.

Seahawks 39 Steelers 30. This was supposed to be a “losable” game for the Seahawks. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards before being knocked out of the game late, but three interceptions that led to short field touchdowns for the Seahawks nullified his shredding of the Seahawk secondary. The fact that Russell Wilson’s last four passes went for 139 yards and two touchdowns only underscores the fact that the Seahawks should have been blown out of their own stadium if the Steelers had just avoid making the really bad play.

Broncos 30 Patriots 24. Well, I only say this is "bad" because there will now be no chance for a "historic" meeting between two undefeated teams in the Super Bowl after all. The Peyton Manningless Broncos scored 17 unanswered point to overcome a 21-7 fourth quarter deficit to briefly take the lead before Tom Brady and company managed a last gasp drive to tie the game and send it into overtime, but the Broncos top-rated defense stuffed the Patriots on their first possession, and C.J. Anderson ran 48 yards for the game-ending touchdown. There were those who said that the Broncos had to start Manning this game over Brock Osweiler if they had any prayer to win, but the Broncos won as they had before—with defense and a running attack that made-up for the deficiencies in the passing game.

Ravens 33 Browns 27. Matt Schaub, the one-time “franchise” quarterback of the Houston Texans, came back from the dead like Matt Hasselbeck and did just enough good (two TD passes) to help the Joe Flacco-less Ravens to a bizarre victory. Schaub also threw two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and the other seemingly giving the Browns the opportunity for the winning field goal on the final play. But Travis Coon’s attempt was blocked and improbably returned for the winning score by Will Hill.

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