Sunday, December 27, 2015

Week 16 NFL notes

The American bureau of Al Jazeera apparently found a story no other American news outlet wanted to touch, because one of the NFL’s sacred cows, Peyton Manning, was being accused of using illegal drugs, in this case human growth hormone (HGH), supplied by an Indianapolis clinic in 2011 through his wife. When asked about it by an ESPN commentator, Manning reportedly reacted with a combination of dismay, hysterical amusement and then outrage; sure sounds “guilty” to me. After all, that was a “long” time ago, so why bring it up now? Alex Rodriguez only got banned from baseball for a year for something he did 10 years earlier. Look, why do you think the players’ union opposed HGH testing until last year? Manning was recovering from a serious neck injury; if he was a “private citizen” and not a professional football player, using HGH might be recommended for him. He doesn’t need to do a Roger Clemens when everyone knew that he was lying. I don’t think the story was “made up,” just that the sources of the source are mad that a “confidence” was revealed without their consent. We need to move on from this, so that accusations of hypocrisy don’t fill the air with too much of its stench.

This week perhaps had the most fascinating results all season. To wit:

Falcons 20 Panthers 13. The now 14-1 Panthers are not that good a team, just as the 1972 Miami Dolphins were not, but were fortunate to play a schedule which featured only two games against teams that had barely above .500 records (8-6) by season’s end (they also won each of their playoff games by only one score). The Panthers have played against only two teams outside their division currently with barely above .500 records (I’m not counting the Packers, because they proved once again that they can’t compete against above .500 teams), and a combined .433 overall. The team within their division with a winning record (the Falcons), are only so because they unbelievably won this game, after a 38-0 thrashing a few weeks earlier. The Falcons’ Julio Jones manhandled Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman, catching passes for more yardage (178) than Cam Newton threw (142). When people say that Newton was just “OK” in this game, what does that mean? He was bad in this game, showing what happens when teams actually pressure him all day; the “superman” failed to rally the troops at the end, with a sack/fumble with under two minutes to play.

Jets 26 Patriots 20. So people will talk about the “questionable” decision of Bill Belichick to defer the first possession in overtime to the Jets, but there was a “method” to the “madness,” as they say; after all, Belichick is a “genius” coach, is he not? The real story of the game was that the Jets did validate their season with this victory, and this was only possible with a “real” quarterback at helm; it goes to show how a team can waste two years trying to be stay ahead of the quarterback “curve” when in fact they were merely falling behind it.

Ravens 20 Steelers 17. In probably the most surprising result of the day, Ryan Mallett arrived back on the scene to have the best game of his admittedly checkered career, just in time to nearly ruin the Steelers’ season; along with the Seahawks they were supposed to be the most dangerous team heading into the playoffs, and now they will not even make it that far if the Jets win next week. 

Rams 23 Seahawks 17. Listening to Seahawks’ play-by-play announcer Steve Raible’s 200-decibel call of the Seahawks’ junk touchdown in the waning seconds of this lost game was annoying enough, but listening to some radio personality on another station (Dick Fain) first claim the game didn’t matter, then go on a sobsister tangent about everything that didn’t go the Seahawks way in the game, followed-up by Hugh Millen telling us how much contempt he has for Rams coach Jeff Fisher (did Fisher do something to make this “personal”?), just helped to remind me how much I get a “kick” out of this team losing. Russell Wilson threw an interception and fumbled near the goal line that ultimately cost the Seahawks the game, but all anyone wants to talk about is the offensive line play (again), even though it was Wilson and not the linemen who was responsible for his gaffes; like Newton, Wilson can be neutralized by pressure, and that is how a Rams team that gained only 207 yards of total offense can win.

Cardinals 38 Packers 8. I heard someone say that the Packers are the worst team heading into the playoffs, and I hate to admit it but that is probably right. The Cardinals are a good team, but the Packers are that bad. Although that stat line doesn’t necessarily show it, Aaron Rodgers had what can only be described as the worst game of his career in “leading” the Packers to their worst loss under his startership. After a Carson Palmer pass was intercepted giving the Packers the ball deep inside of Cardinal territory, Rodgers blew a chance to make it a three-point game heading into halftime by throwing an ugly interception at the goal line (something he has done before this season), and then fumbling the ball twice to be returned for touchdowns. Yes, he was sacked eight times, blame the line, blah, blah, but the truth of the matter is that the Packers haven’t had a quality win all year (not even the Seahawks game in the second week) against a good team. I still expect that Packers to take the division next week against the Vikings (because the Vikings are over-rated), but it is almost impossible to imagine how they can be competitive against any of the other playoff-bound teams.

Chiefs 17 Browns 13. Well, at least we can say that Johnny Manziel is “fun” to watch. He ran eleven times for 108 yards, and nearly pulled out a victory out of his fundament after the Chiefs led 17-3 at halftime. On the Browns’ final possession with under two minutes to play, Manziel completed just 3 of 9 passes, but somehow got the Browns down to the Chiefs’ 18 after a fourth down completion—except that time ran out; it might have helped if he had completed just one of those other passes. In the meantime, the Chiefs somehow have won nine straight games, but would it surprise you to learn that seven of those victories were against teams with losing records, and the other two against Landry Jones quarterbacking the Steelers, and a dead-armed Peyton Manning throwing four interceptions and having a passer rating of 0.00?

Redskins 38 Eagles 24. Three weeks ago the Redskins were 5-7 and written off after an inexplicable loss to the Cowboys. Three weeks later, they are the NFC East “champions,” if that means anything. They don’t have a single quality win under their belt, every one of the teams they have beaten having losing records. But at least the Redskins don’t appear dysfunctional, like the Packers.

Vikings 49 Giants 17. Isn’t this game over yet? Who needs an offense when you have the other team’s quarterback making plays for your team? Odell Beckham’s absence couldn’t make this much difference; maybe Eli Manning is having visions of him on the field and throwing it to him, except that the only guy there is the one for the other team. Not that the coach is doing any better; oh sure, onside kick it with the score 32-10 and you are out of the playoffs anyways, and then watch it actually returned 27 yards for a short-field touchdown to add further embarrassment.  OK, now they go for it on fourth-and-one deep on their side; that only leads to more points for the other team. “Smart” move. Teddy Bridgewater only had to sleepwalk through this game, throwing for just 168 yards—and only his second TD pass all year that travelled at least 20 yards downfield. The upshot is that the Vikings have clinched a playoff berth now; I had assumed that the Packers would take the NFC North with a win at home next week. Now I’m not half as certain. Unfortunately for the Packers, the game is being moved from its 1 PM slot to a “primetime” start of 7:30 PM—and I suspect that they will wilt under the glare of a national audience.

The rest of the schedule was fairly inconsequential. The Colts might be on life support after beating the Dolphins, but the Texans are going win the AFC South no matter what the “experts” say after their victory over the hapless Titans. How does Charlie Whitehurst still have a job in this league when Matt Flynn doesn’t? Because people mistake him for Jesus Christ with that beard and long mane of his (hence his nickname from his Seahawk days—“Clipboard Jesus”)? The Lions beat up on the 49ers, but I bet Blaine Gabbert is looking at his stat lines and thinking that at least he had a chance to “improve” on his previously merely horrible numbers—or at least they look better than Colin Kaepernick’s. As bad as the Cowboys played offensively, it was a succession of failed third down stops on a 92-yard TD drive late in the game that gave the equally hapless Bills a victory, 16-6. Drew Brees threw for more than 400 yards in a win over the Jaguars in what some are saying will be his last home game in New Orleans. 80 of Jameis Winston’s 295 yards passing came on a spectacular final minute drive; now why couldn’t he have played like that the rest of the game in a loss to the Bears? The Chargers and the Raiders either punted or turned over the ball 11 times in succession in the second half of their game, until the Chargers gave the game away by fumbling the ball all the way down to their own three-yard line, allowing the Raiders who had essentially done nothing offensively the entire game to take the lead. The Chargers would tie the game and send it into OT, but the Raiders prevailed 23-20.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Week 15 NFL notes

Cam Newton and Russell Wilson seem to be the lone survivors of the great experiment of the supposed “new wave” of “athletic” quarterbacks, and mainly because they have avoided injury and added passing from the pocket to their repertoire. So many others have simply fallen off the map, a few “surprisingly” so.  Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Terrell Pryor, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel are among the names of the fallen. Sure, plenty of other “traditional” college quarterbacks have not lived up to expectations (or rather, hopes), but these players were supposed to take the NFL by storm, blowing up defenses into confusion and frustration.  

In their place, Kirk Cousins has been solid if not as “exciting,” while the simple approach has at least allowed Tyrod Taylor to keep the Bills competitive; Derrek Carr has been all over the map, but 30 TDs after 14 games is something of an improvement over Pryor. Blaine Gabbert as an NFL-caliber quarterback might draw laughter, but he has won at least as many games as Kaepernick this season with fewer opportunities. And in the 14 games Ryan Fitzpatrick has started this season, he has thrown 26 TD passes and 12 INTs; in the 30 games Smith started for the Jets, he threw 25 TD passes and 34 INTs. No Jets fan is looking forward to Geno’s “return.”

Scores from around the league this week:

Jets 19 Cowboys 16. This game was perhaps closer than it should have been, but the Jets still won their fourth game in a row to stay in the playoff race, although the Chiefs and Steelers have the edge on them. Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick has put his many detractors to shame, who said that he might play well early in the season, but fizzle-out by mid-season. 

Packers 30 Raiders 20. This is what you might call an “ugly” game, even with the excuse of playing in the drizzle of the Bay area. The Packers scored two touchdowns in the first quarter on a combined 17 yards of total offense, both with the help of Derrek Carr interceptions. Otherwise the Packers offense was anemic, with just 97 yards in the first half. At the close of the second quarter it seemed that the offense was finally getting on track before James Starks fumbled at the Raiders 21, and the Packer defense simply melted away, allowing the Raiders to score a touchdown in a minute without the aid of a time out, taking just four double-digit yard plays to score and close within a point. After the Raiders took a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers and company began to reveal a pulse while the Raiders’ offense lost its own. But a Rodgers interception in the end zone and two offensive pass interference calls on James Jones (one negating a TD pass) led to some uneasy moments for Packer fans. Is this team returning to early season form—or just damn lucky to win the past three games?

Rodgers continues to play well below his standards, throwing for only 204 yards on 39 pass attempts (although to be fair Carr wasn’t any better). In fact, over the past eight games his passer rating has been in the bottom quarter of the league (81.2). His 56.6 completion percentage is bad enough, but a 5.40 yards-per-pass average? Are you kidding me? 

Panthers 38 Giants 35. I’m only a Panthers “fan” when they play the Seahawks, and it is beyond my feeble comprehension how they can be 14-0. Ironically, the 2007 Patriots barely escaped by the same 38-35 score against the Giants to finish 16-0, only to be upset by those same Giants in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it appears that with the Redskins victory, the Giant’s hope for a playoff spot are over. The Panthers deserved to lose this game, going up 35-7 before taking it lackadaisical while the Giants improbably scored 28 unanswered points to tie before Cam Newton decided to shake off his lethargy and lead the Panthers to a last play field goal, naturally aided by a helpful defensive penalty to put them in easier range. Oh and by the way, Josh Norman is still a first class a-hole.

Vikings 38 Bears 17. Does one “great” game make Teddy Bridgewater the Vikings undisputed “franchise” quarterback? I said last week I didn’t think he was a better quarterback than Christian Ponder, and I still don’t after his best game of the year against the Bears, and maybe his career, so far. But he only threw 20 passes, and half the Vikings total yardage came on two drives. The Bears are not a good team either, which helps make things look rosier than they really are. Throwing four touchdown passes in one game sure ups the “wow” factor after Bridgewater only threw nine in the previous 13 games. The Vikings are where they are now because of Adrian Peterson. 

Texans 16 Colts 10. Did you know that from 1968-1972, super-sub quarterback Earl Morrall was 31-3-1 for the Colts and the Dolphins? During the 1972 unbeaten season, Morrall was the starter in nine of those games, subbing for the injured Bob Griese. With Andrew Luck apparently taking the rest of the year off and the no one in the AFC South seemingly wanting to win the division, Matt Hasselbeck played the super-sub part admirably for four games, all victories. But no more thought of that. After the Colts were blown-out by a combined score of 96-26 in the previous two games, doubts began to creep in. Hasselbeck is just looking creaky and feeble now as the Colts have essentially given away the division to the Texans, who don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.

Patriots 33 Titans 16. The outcome of this game was never in doubt, with or without Marcus Mariota, who left the game early with a knee injury in favor of someone named Zach Mettenberger, who did about what could be expected in the best possible scenario. Both Titans touchdowns, not surprisingly, came on two fantastically head-scratching secondary breakdowns.

Falcons 23 Jaguars 17. The Falcons finally won a game, but a more impressive win against a team like the Jaguars would have allayed concerns about putting in a competitive effort next week against the Panthers—even at home—after the 38-0 drubbing in their previous match-up. 

Redskins 35 Bills 25. With losses by the Giants and the Eagles, the Redskins are now in the “driver’s seat” to take the division as the only team with a .500 record (literally). Kirk Cousins had the best game of his career, with four TD passes and a 154 passer rating. It is rumored that Cousins—who is a free agent after the season—is desperately being sought by the team as their “quarterback of the future,” although one wonders if any other team sees Cousins in the same light. Meanwhile, Tyrod Taylor continues to have 100+ passer-rating games and not turning the ball over, while the Bills piled-up 240 yards rushing; yet they still lost. Being “competitive” doesn’t mean much when you lose four of your last five games. 

Chiefs 34 Ravens 14. The Chiefs have won eight games in a row, but are they scaring anyone? They beat a Steelers team with Landry Jones at quarterback, and a Broncos team with Peyton Manning dragging his arm on the ground. Otherwise, a lot of bad teams. With games at home against the Browns and the Raiders, it will take the playoffs to reveal if they are fakers.

Seahawks 30 Browns 13. Nothing special here. Johnny Manziel didn’t embarrass himself but didn’t do much after a first possession touchdown drive. The Seahawks found another plug-in-play running back in Christine (huh?) Michael, but naturally it was Russell Wilson who got all the credit, but admittedly it is getting tougher every week to justify any criticism of him.

Steelers 34 Broncos 27. The Steelers were expected to win this game, but when Brock Osweiler put up Manning-like numbers in the first half on the way to a 27-10 lead by the Broncos, there was some brief thought that Osweiler was the “guy” after all. All thought of that went up in a puff of smoke in the second half, as the Broncos were shutout and Osweiler looked like a 6-8 oaf who couldn’t throw straight if he was paid to do it. Even when Ben Roethlisberger gave him an early Christmas interception late in the game with a chance to tie the game, Osweiler couldn’t even complete one pass on four tries. 

Bengals 24 49ers 14. Luckily for the Bengals and AJ McCarron, they played the lowly 49ers this week. Next week it will be the Broncos, a game which will decide one of the first-round byes in the playoffs. McCarron was effective in the first half and did little else afterward, while the 49ers helped the cause with four turnovers. If Osweiler is starting for the Broncos next week, that might be the formula for another Dalton-less victory.

Cardinals 40 Eagles 17. Don’t feel so bad, Mark Sanchez; Sam Bradford has a 40+ point game to his credit—by the other team, and he even “helped” run-up the score by throwing a pic-6. And two of Bradford’s wins were complete flukes, like the early season win against the Jets, and against the Patriots when the Eagles scored three touchdowns on defensive and special teams plays. The Cardinals, meanwhile, clinched the NFC West title; will the Packers put up much of a fight next week at Arizona?

In games of no import, the Chargers beat the Dolphins 30-14 in what may be the Chargers last game in San Diego; Philip Rivers has put up some big numbers in his career, but is he a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback? The Buccaneers piled-up 509 yards against the Rams and still lost 31-23. Jameis Winston out-threw Case Keenum 50-17, but somehow Keenum’s passes added-up to a win. One may recall when at Florida State Winston’s allowing his emotions go out-of-control in the loss to Oregon, with his coach admonishing him to calm down. Apparently something similar occurred against the Rams, with Winston yelling in frustration at teammates. There are those who will say that he just wants to win, but his teammates may have a different view of it—especially when he commits two turnovers in the game.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Week 14 NFL notes

There is a new film out, “Concussion,” starring Will Smith that is ostensibly about the NFL’s “dark side,” meaning its attempt to cover up traumatic brain injuries. Smith—whose career has been on the downs for some time—plays a doctor whose attempt to warn the NFL of the dangers of excessive hits to the head is rebuffed at every turn. Bennet Omalu is the forensic pathologist he portrays, and his simplistic notion of football, that God did not intend man to play such a violent sport, seems to have an almost child-like naïveté. He doesn’t understand the devotion of the fans of football or that of the players themselves; in this film, supporters of the game are portrayed as little more than blood-lusting mobs cheering on gladiatorial slaughter. 

Several former players are portrayed meeting their end from mental instability brough on from brain damage, although no doubt “artistic” license is used to “heighten” the sense of outrage. For example, former Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk is shown attempting to strangle his wife, and then jumping into his pickup truck and driving headlong into traffic in an apparent suicide attempt. The reality was that he and his wife had divorced two years earlier, and he was supposed to be driving to a fundraiser when for some reason he decided to drive 100 mph into traffic in order to evade police; what were the circumstances of this behavior is unknown, although there were personal and business problems weighing on him, as well as his “born again” religion that saw evil on every corner. However, police doubt that he was trying to commit suicide.

There has been the suggestion that Sony, which is distributing the film, forced the filmmakers to tone down the evil villain NFL rhetoric, and went with banal sentimentality and canned righteousness. Given that the NFL has instituted rather tight concussion “protocols” that require players to sit out until they return to their “normal” brain patterns, the movie seems to be so far behind the times that its “outrage” impact is minimal, save perhaps to people who dislike football. 

Anyways, Week 14 is as follows:

Cardinals 23 Vikings 20. It is really hard to tell if the Vikings are “for real” or not, because despite the fact that Teddy Bridgewater put up some numbers (25-36, 335 yards), in the end they are little more than points on a graph; the Vikings also won 10 games in a season with Christian Ponder as quarterback, and I don’t think Bridgewater is necessarily a better quarterback than he was. The Cardinals should have had this game better in hand playing at home, but a win is a win and they remain three games in front of the Seahawks, needing only one more victory or a Seahawk loss to clinch the division.

Packers 28 Cowboys 7. The final score wasn’t surprising, just how long it took to get there. The Packers only led 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Aaron Rodgers was only 2 of 6 passing for 16 yards in the quarter, but Eddie Lacey and James Starks scored on runs of 24 and 30 yards to make up the difference in the rain. The Packers are now a full game ahead of the Vikings for the division lead, but none of their remaining games will be easy, with road games against the Raiders (winners over the Broncos) and the Cardinals, ending the season against the Vikings. However, even if the Packers lose both of those road games, a victory in the home finale will give them the division title, although running the table would clinch them the two-seed over the Cardinals. 

Raiders 15 Broncos 12. The Broncos seemed to be on an easy road to victory, leading 12-0 at halftime, with the Raiders gaining negative 11 yards of total offense. Yet in the second half it was the Broncos who were offensively awful. On their first four possessions they gained by six yards, fumbling once and giving up a safety on another. The Broncos only sustained drive ended in a missed field goal attempt that would have tied the game. Incredibly, the Raiders won despite only 126 yards in total offense (by the way, the Seahawks hold the NFL record for fewest yards gained in a game, -7 against the Rams in 1979).

Seahawks 35 Ravens 6. With Joe Flacco out, there was no way in hell the Ravens had a chance in this farce of a “game.” The only subject of debate is how did Russell Wilson go from throwing ten TD passes and seven interceptions in the first nine games of the season, to 16 TDs and 0 interceptions in the last 4? Was it that Darrell Bevell decided to “open” up the offense for four quarters instead of just two? Was it because Marshawn Lynch was holding back the offense because of injury, and Thomas Rawls gained 436 yards on almost six yards a carry in those games before he was injured was the real catalyst for the sudden offensive “explosion,” allowing Wilson to take advantage for himself? Whatever; Rawls is apparently out for the season with an ankle injury, so we’ll see what the Wilson is really made of, although two easy home games against the Browns and the Rams before playing the Cardinals on the road may delay that discovery. 

Panthers 38 Falcons 0. I don’t know why I thought the Falcons might pull a miracle out of their fundaments in this game. After their hot start under former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, six losses in a row seems to have billed him a faker. But let’s be fair: in their previous six losses, the Falcons were actually competitive in each game, with four of those losses by four points or less. But this was an absolute stinker on both ends.

Redskins 24 Bears 21. Jay Cutler is actually having one of his “best” seasons efficiency-wise, but everything is relative, and everything must be put into context: The Bears are just not a very good team, and with a kicker who can’t be counted on to make the critical kick at the critical time, as Robbie Gould has the past two weeks, the Bear are right where they belong, looking down a long, dark tunnel.

Chiefs 10 Chargers 3. Before you start saying that Chiefs’ were lucky to escape with such a bad offense, it should be pointed out that in the previous six of the now seven game winning streak, the Chiefs were averaging 32 points per game, so this was just the inevitable ugly game that the Chargers were fortunately more deficient that Chiefs. 

Jaguars 51 Colts 16. After starting out 4-0 as a starter, Matt Hasselbeck has lost 2 in a row. After an opening drive that led to a field goal, the Blake Bortles and Jaguar offense was non-existent in the first half, but in the second half an 80-yard drive to take the lead, followed by a punt return for a touchdown, and mistakes galore by the Colts led to a tsunami of ill luck for the Colts, who nevertheless remain tied for first place—with the Jaguars just one game back in the AFC South.

Steelers 33 Bengals 20. AJ McCarron didn’t have a bad game subbing for the injured Andy Dalton, and the Bengals just might win a game with him the rest of the season, but this is not good at all for the Bengals. Dalton was having his best season, and who knows how a broken thumb will affect his play. The Bengals may be last season’s Cardinals going from the likely conference top seed in the playoffs to a one-and-done.

Jets 30 Titans 8. The Jets are now 8-5, and Jets fans are now saying “Geno who?” I suspect that some are in the back of their minds thinking they are glad that IK Enemkpali was on the team just long enough to stop the Geno experiment from sending them into an extended state of exasperation for another season.

Browns 24 49ers 10. Johnny Manziel had his best passing performance of his NFL career against the woeful 49ers. He’ll need to get his confidence up to space-case elevations, because now he’ll be up against the Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers. Good luck, space cadet.

Patriots 27 Texans 6. The Texans with JJ Watt were supposed to be the team with frightening pass rush, but it Brian Hoyer who was running for his life most of the game, ending up being sacked six times for 57 yards in losses. One shouldn’t take away too much from this game as far the Patriots being “back” with Gronk back in the line-up; the Texans’ offense just stunk, with just 63 yards of total offense outside of three wasted plays of 126 yards.

Giants 31 Dolphins 24. I remember back in 1983 when the Packers decided to throw away the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust playbook and Lynn Dickey opened the season with a 27 of 31 for 333 yards and five touchdown game in a 41-38 win over over the Oilers. I only mention that because Eli Manning's seemingly impossibly perfect 27-31, 337 yards and four touchdown performance against the Dolphins was not "unprecedented." But more than Manning's efficiency and the Dolphins' lay-down secondary it was the vast array of penalties committed by the Dolphins on both offense and defense that killed them. While the Giants were just penalized three times, the Dolphins were flagged 12 time for 123 yards--and everyone seemed to come in time thwart positive plays on both sides of the ball. But when Odell Beckham is floating 20 yards free from the closest defender (or so it appeared) on an 84-yard TD grab, it probably wouldn't have made a hill of beans in the outcome of the game. The Dolphins were running the ball effectively until it was decided that Ryan Tannehill needed his reps, and even a game manager like Troy Aikmen knew that his function was to put the ball in the hands of his playmakers.

In other games, the Bills blew an opportunity to remain relevant by losing to the Eagles 23-20, the latter remaining tied for first in the NFC Least. The Rams beat the Lions in a so-what game, 21-14, and the Saints converted three third downs on their final possession to run out the clock and beat the Buccaneers 24-17.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Week 13 NFL notes

After a couple of really dull weeks, (almost) a whole slate of fascinating  games in Week 13:

Packers 27 Lions 23. Oh stop whining, you nattering nabobs of negativism (that was a Rush Limbaugh line from back in the early 90s when he was actually more “entertaining” than an asshole). The Packers were horrible for two and a half quarters, trailing 20-0, and the Lions did just enough to deserve to lose this game all by themselves.  The Lions allowed the Packers to scrape and claw back into the game, but with just 23 seconds left on the clock, no timeouts and 79 yards to go, the Packers had no chance, right? On second down with 16 seconds to play, Aaron Rodgers fired a pass downfield that was clearly pass interference, with the defender bulling back into Jarred Abbrederis with the ball still in the air. The spot would have (or should have) given Mason Crosby an “easy” game-winning field goal try. On the subsequent toss-around-the-field play as time ran out, it certainly appeared that Rodgers’ facemask was pulled, with the defender’s hands clearly in the area and Rodgers’ head jerked to the side. Before super-slo-mo high definition video, this would be an easy penalty called in any era, so get over it, people calling “foul.” 

If it had not been called, we would not have seen one of the greatest “Hail Mary” passes in NFL history. The ironic thing about it was that Rodgers was fortunate that Richard Rodgers was technically out of position and not meant to be the intended target. He was supposed to use his big body to “box out” Lions defenders and allow Davante Adams to leap high to grab the ball. But the ball was slightly underthrown, and Rodgers tracked the ball like a centerfielder with no defenders around him, and he clearly had the best—and likely only—shot at catching the ball. 

Eagles 35 Patriots 28. This game should have been the third straight blow-out loss for the Eagles, with or without Sam Bradford. Outside of two scoring drives, Bradford completed just 8 of 17 passes for 53 yards, and the Eagles’ offense was mainly moribund. Defensively, the Eagles again allowed the opponent to pile-up yards. The Patriots lost because of a near total breakdown in brain cells. With 8 seconds to play in the first half and down 14-7, the Eagles blocked a punt and took it to the house to tie the game. Early in the third quarter, the Patriots were threatening to score at the Eagles’ five-yard line when a Tom Brady pass was intercepted and returned 99-yards for a touchdown. The next possession saw Darren Sproles return a Patriot punt 83 yards for another touchdown. This game was the classic example of how one team loses a game, not how the other team wins it.

Panthers 41 Saints 38. The Saints defense can’t tackle, and commits too many bone-head penalties, but the Saints hung around and nearly pulled-off the upset because of early turnovers by the Panthers and some of the old Saints’ offense reincarnated on three long second half drives. But the Saints defense was like putty in the hands of Cam Newton and company, and in the end there was just no way this game was going to end in any other way than the way it did.

Titans 42 Jaguars 39. This was the game of the day, or at least if you just count the fourth quarter, when each team scored three touchdowns. Long passes, long runs, fumbles galore, excitement and frustration aplenty all added-up to the first Titans win at home this season. Marcus Mariota is clearly one of the most exciting quarterbacks  in the game, causing fan depression at one point (fumbling away the ball leading to a lead-losing touchdown), and ecstasy  the next, running 87 yards for a score (props to Kendall Wright’s block just as Mariota was about to be tackled from behind).  The Titans defense, terrible all day, finally came to life on the Jaguars’ last possession, sacking Blake Bortles on fourth down to preserve the win.

Jets 23 Giants 20. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns as the Jets won in OT, showing that he can lead by pass example; he now has 22 TD passes and “just” 11 interceptions; no Jets quarterback in recent memory can "boast" of that kind of "efficiency." Of course, the Jets have been winning “ugly” this season—and losing ugly as well, with only Geno Smith’s contribution deciding a loss by more than a touchdown—but a win is a win, and there is no doubt now that the right decision was made to leave Geno warming his fundament on the bench.

Buccaneers 23 Falcons 19. The Falcons needed this game bad, and with victory within sight, they just could not handle the pressure. We can quibble about another hair-pulling defensive penalty call nullifying the apparent game-clinching interception, but more blameworthy was the allowing Jameis Winston to scramble for a first down on third-and-19.  Meanwhile, Matt Ryan (like Ryan and Philip Rivers) continues to put up inflated numbers that equate to absolutely nothing.

Bills 30 Texans 21. Tyrod Taylor may seem to be asked to do as little as possible, but when he does have to make a play, he has shown an ability to make one, including a 40-yard touchdown strike for the go-ahead points late in the game. Taylor has thrown only four interceptions all season, none in the past six games, and three came in the Week 2 loss to New England in a game decided by eight points. Taylor, who sat on the bench behind Joe Flacco for four seasons, is probably the least appreciated quarterback in the league. 

Here’s a run-down of the remaining games: Robbie Gould missed two field goal attempts that allowed the 49ers to beat the Bears in OT 26-20, with Blaine Gabbert winning his first game as a starter in who knows when (well, actually three weeks ago against the Falcons, but it seems like it should be a lot longer). The Cardinals stayed three games up on Seattle by blowing out the hapless Rams 27-3; the Seahawks did the Packers a favor by making the Vikings look like who they really are—a team that is nothing if Adrian Peterson is held to 18 yards on only 8 carries in a 38-7 thrashing; Matt Hasselbeck looked his age as the Colts failed to take advantage of the Texans loss, getting crushed by the Steelers 45-10.

Some people might be surprised to know that Austin Davis started eight games for the Rams last season, winning three including a stunner over the Seahawks. After his first start for the Browns, it was still not that easy to “understand” why the Rams dumped him in favor of Nick Foles, because the truth is that Bengals, 37-3 winners over the Browns, are a pretty good team, and the Browns are just a goofy one. Elsewhere, Brock Osweiler didn’t throw a ton of interceptions like Peyton Manning has recently, so it was just par for the course that as long as he isn’t turning the ball over, the Broncos can expect to win games 17-3 over the likes of bad teams like the Chargers. And the Chiefs gained only 232 yards against the Raiders, who led the Chiefs 20-14 in the third quarter, but three straight interceptions led to walk-in touchdowns for the Chiefs on their way to downing the Raiders 34-20.

And on Monday night, a 46-yard kick-off return after the Redskins tied the game with less than a minute to play put the Cowboys in position to kick a game-winning 54-yard field goal to prevail 19-16. Instead of the Redskins taking sole possession of first place in the NFC Least with a 6-6 record, there is now a logjam at the top with the Redskins, Eagles and Giants tied with 5-7 records, with the Cowboys still impossibly hanging around just one game out of first place.