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. 

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