Mike Shanahan pulled a Mike Shanahan in this one, going for two in the final minute of the game in order to win. It worked out well the first time he tried it, but it backfired this time. Instead of kicking the extra point to send this one into overtime, he decided to go for the win and, as you can see, it did not work. Truthfully, I would have rather seen him kick the extra point. It would have given the ‘Skins an extra period of time to evaluate Kirk Cousins. Cousins did play well save for a few poor decisions. He threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Washington, as a team, moved the ball well all game long; they put up 476 yards. With numbers like this, you would probably be surprised that the team lost the game, especially since the defense held the opposition to just 243 yards of offense. However, the seven turnovers in this game killed the Redskins (including a jaw-dropping five lost fumbles). That is just embarrassing. The turnovers were the big reason why Washington could not claim victory in this game. They need to clean this up if they hope to clip Dallas at home next week. The Falcons did benefit from playing a poor, sloppy team, but they were actually lucky to win this game overall. I do think that they will be better next season, but I also find it hard to believe that they will be worlds better as soon as Julio Jones returns. Atlanta should be an interesting team to track as we head into the 2014 campaign.
I fell into the Jaguars trap. I was drinking the Kool-Aid for a while there, but the Bills came out on top with a win. Obviously, the team does much better when E.J. Manuel plays well. After throwing four picks and being sacked seven times against Tampa Bay last week, Manuel came out and threw two touchdowns and was sacked just four times. Buffalo also unveiled their optimal game plan in this one: from Week 1, it was clear that these guys had to be a run-first team as they sport two talented backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. In this game, they ran the ball 44 times for 198 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Conversely, Manuel only threw it 24 times. This is the type of play-calling that Nathaniel Hackett would like to utilize on a weekly basis. For the Jaguars, the team could have used the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew in their backfield. Jordan Todman did a good job filling in for him, running the ball 25 times for 109 yards but the team would have benefited from a change-of-pace back. It also doesn’t help that Chad Henne threw two interceptions in this game. The Jaguars are not good enough to overcome a handful of turnovers. In the games Henne has started in that have resulted in wins (4) he has thrown just four interceptions. In the games he has started in that have resulted in losses (7) he has thrown eight interceptions. The Jags need to work hard to eliminate these turnovers in their future games. Stiffening up in their run defense wouldn’t hurt either.
This was a nice bounce-back win for the Colts after they fell hard to the Bengals in Cincinnati a week ago. To me, the most encouraging thing for the AFC South champs is the fact that their defense dominated this game. They allowed just one field goals while forcing two Case Keenum picks. Houston also fumbled three times, but were fortunate enough to recover all of them. Andrew Luck did throw one interception, but outside of that he was solid, passing for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Luck did not have to throw the ball a whole lot in this game though as it was pretty much over by halftime. Indy did run the ball well and Trent Richardson’s numbers did not look bad (although they were beefed up with his 22 yard dash). This is how the Colts want their team to look on a weekly basis. They want to be able to throw the ball when they want to, not when they have to. To do this, you must rely on a strong running game and a solid defensive effort. They got both of these this week. Now Houston, on the other hand, is clearly in prime position for the #1 overall pick next year. Honestly, I’d be shocked if they didn’t go for a quarterback with that pick (but then again, we all thought they were going to select Reggie Bush with their first pick in 2006). It is just that the quarterback play has really fallen off the wagon over the past few weeks, and it is the biggest reason why they are on this current 12-game losing streak. Times are tough if you are a Houston fan, and to make matters worse, they have Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos coming to town next week. You guys may want to sheild your eyes.
What a roller coaster ride this one turned out to be. Jay Cutler came out on the first drive and was intercepted in the red zone. Later in the game, he was picked again when he overthrew Brandon Marshall. Immediately, Chicago fans probably screamed at their television sets clamoring for Marc Trestman to yank him in favor of the red-hot Josh McCown. However, Trestman left Cutler in and he finished the game with three touchdown passes and a hearty 265 yards. This was done despite the swirling wind in Cleveland at the time. To me, Cutler actually is the better option for this team. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Josh McCown has been doing, but I think that Jay does give these guys the best chance to win. It is better to get him going now against the Browns rather than next week against the Eagles or the following week against the Packers. I would trust him more, should the Bears make the playoffs. That is why I applaud Trestman for keeping him in there. He simply had to shake off the rust. Anyways, he was helped out in this one by a strong running game. Matt Forte ran for a buck twenty-seven while Michael Bush added a 40 yard touchdown. Also, Chicago shut the Browns running game down. Of course, this was more due to the fact that Cleveland just cannot run the ball anyways rather than their defense getting better. Their real test will be next week against the league’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy. This was an important win for the Bears though. It was good for them to get Cutler going again while picking up the “W” against a tough Cleveland defense. Now, they will likely need to win out to take the NFC North crown while at the same time hoping for the Lions to lose one game along the way. For the Browns, one thing is obvious: they need a running game. Look for them to address this gaping hole in the off-season.
As I watched the final score and stats of this game roll across the screen (while I was checking out the Packers-Cowboys contest), two things immediately came to my mind. 1) The Seahawks are a dominant team. We all know they are nearly impossible to beat at home, but when they take their show on the road, it is even more impressive. We are likely looking at a 14-2 team here and one that will be a tough out in the playoffs. There is a very good chance that this will not be the first time the ‘Hawks play at MetLife stadium this season. 2) Tom Coughlin is done. Honestly, I’d be shocked if he comes back to coach another year with the G-Men. This stands alone from the comments made by Lawrence Taylor earlier this week. I really think that Coughlin is going to call it quits following the conclusion of Week 17. I doubt he will be fired by the brain-trust of John Mara and Jerry Reese. I just think he will be retiring from coaching. I could be wrong, Coughlin does throw the occasional curve-ball, but as of right now, these are my feelings on the issue. It may surprise many to learn that the Giants are the only team to be shut out in the NFL this season, and they have been blanked twice (the first time by Carolina in Week 3). Eli Manning threw five picks in this game and it appears as if Victor Cruz may miss some time following this one with a concussion. Overall it was an ugly performance by Big Blue. I did think that their defense did a nice enough job to contain the Seattle offense and Russell Wilson in this one, but he was able to make plays in the passing game to Marshawn Lynch. Clearly, defense is what won the Seahawks this game, and should they make a return to the Meadowlands this February, they may have to lean on it again (which, I believe, they absolutely can).
The Bengals went into Pittsburgh with their playoff dreams on the table. With New England’s loss to Miami earlier in the afternoon, they had the chance to leapfrog them in the standings and seize control of the #2 seed with the final two games of their season being played in The Jungle, a place where they have not lost all year long. However, as things turned out, the trip to the Steel City was a forgettable as the Cardiac Cats dropped a tough one to the desperate Steelers.
This was one of those games where you could not afford to take a bathroom break during special teams plays. A lot went on during kickoffs and punts in this one. Let’s hit the checklist: we saw a botched snap from the longsnapper, Clark Harris. Punter Kevin Huber was unable to field the ball cleanly and he had to eat it at his own one yard line. This lead to a one yard Le’Veon Bell touchdown run. Later on, Huber punted the ball down the field towards Antonio Brown. Brown returned the punt 67 punts to the house. On the play Huber was laid out by a Steeler player. As it turned out, he fractured his jaw on the play and was going to miss the rest of the game. Since most teams do not carry two punters on their 53-man roster, booting the ball away was going to be a problem for Cincy. Place-kicker Mike Nugent would do the honors, which made for some more interesting television. Finally, on a play that nobody really talked about, Nugent kicked the ball off (with the team down 30-14 with 14:09 left in the game) to Felix Jones. Jones deflected the ball backwards at the five yard line. It rolled into the end zone where he was able to go and retrieve it. He then kneeled on the ball which should have been ruled a safety. Last I checked, you cannot touch a ball in the field of play and then kneel it in the end zone. Someone should correct me if I’m wrong, but I am pretty sure that play was illegal. But then again, who am I to argue with Ed Hochuli. He is one of the best refs and has one of the best crews in the business.
Outside of the adventure that was special teams play, we saw some solid quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger. He was very accurate early on in this game and played turnover-free football until the third quarter. At the 12:32 mark, he tossed a pass up the left sideline in the direction of Emmanuel Sanders. However, the wind caught hold of the ball and held it up in the air for a bit longer than Big Ben would have liked it to have been. This allowed Adam Jones, the Cincinnati corner, to make a play on it and come down with the interception. Other than that one play, I thought that Roethlisberger did a nice job throwing the ball on target to his open receivers. It was nice to see him getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The Bengals have a fierce pass rush, and they were not able to put much pressure on the QB in this game. Utilization of quick screens and hitch routes really helped in this situation, but when the team wanted to pass the ball down field, the Steeler front did a great job in five-man protection. I thought it was one of the more impressive outings from this O-line all year long.
For the Bengals, they really were not able to do much on offense outside of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green managed nine catches for 93 yards, but he didn’t get behind the Pittsburgh defense. His longest catch went for 19 yards, and 16 of his 18 targets were all of the short variety (under 15 yards). In fact, Dalton only threw the ball further than 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage those two times, completing only one of them for 19 yards. The Steelers threw it deep only twice as well, but they had a 27-7 halftime lead to play with, so they did not have to force the ball down the field. Also, Cincy was unable to run the ball. The team combined for 22 carries for just 57 yards (2.6 yards per carry). The front four from Pittsburgh showed great gap integrity and did not allow any major holes open up. It was a solid performance from them in that area as well.
After seeing this game, I can say that the Bengals are far from a finished product. Their offense is too inconsistent, and the team as a whole just does not play very well away from home. They are 3-5 on the road this season, so earning the #2 seed is paramount for them. The team has a chance to redeem itself next week against the Vikings, a team that has been playing good football lately. The Patriots, who they are currently competing with for that #2 seed and first round BYE, head to Baltimore to face the playoff-hopeful Ravens. Thanks to their head-to-head win over New England earlier this season, the Bengals do have a legitimate shot at this first round BYE. They just need to take care of business at home. Pittsburgh’s feint playoff hopes stay alive with this win, and they will now have to head to Green Bay to face the Packers. Aaron Rodgers figures to be a go in that game, but even if he is not, Matt Flynn has proven that he is capable of leading the team (minus one ugly performance against the Lions). It is a major uphill battle for the black and yellow, but at least they have a chance to finish this season on a hot streak.
The potential Dallas Cowboy meltdown continues with a nightmarish loss to Matt Flynn’s Green Bay Packers in Big “D”, 37-36. After trailing 26-3 at the half, Flynnsanity swept through the arena and the Pack was able to make their 23-point comeback. Obviously the two late Tony Romo turnovers hurt the team, but to be honest, the Cowboys had every opportunity to shut this game down early but were unable to do so. Let’s take a closer look at this wild contest.
The Cowboys put up a team-record of 332 yards in the first half of this game. They also managed to put up 26 points through two quarters of play as well. Clearly, Dallas had it working early in this one. However, they really were not able to finish their drives. They scored an astounding six times in the first half, but four of those scores were field goals. This season, the ‘Boys own the second best red zone offense, but they were unable to cap most of their drives with six points. They were settling for Dan Bailey field goals too often, and that really turned out to be the difference in this game. Anyways, the Cowboys only managed to put up 10 points in the entire second half. This is mainly because Green Bay was dominating the time of possession from the third quarter on. They scored a touchdown on all five of their second half drives (if you discount the kneel downs that ended the game), and really did not have any trouble moving the ball. As I said before, Flynnsanity took over in this game. After throwing no touchdowns and an interception in the first half, Matt Flynn tossed four touchdowns and no picks in the second half.
You may have noticed that I have broken this game into two different segments; the first and second half. That is because it truly was a tale of two halves. The Cowboys defense did a nice job (under the direction of Monte Kiffin) through the first two quarters, but on the first play of the third quarter Eddie Lacy ran for 60 yards (off tackle). That really did open up the floodgates in this one. Two plays later, Flynn hooked up with Jordy Nelson for a 13 yard touchdown and the Packers cut the lead to 26-10. Dallas would go on to add a field goal, making it 29-10, but Green Bay then drove right back down the field in 12 plays (for 80 yards). Andrew Quarless was able to score on a 3 yard touchdown reception. He ran a slant pattern and broke right across the face of Brandon Carr. From that point forward, the teams traded touchdown for touchdown until the game was 36-31 in favor of the Cowboys. With 4:17 left in the game, all Dallas had to do was run clock and ice the game. To do this, they could have run the ball with DeMarco Murray, who had shown great explosiveness all game long. He managed 134 yards on just 18 carries in this game and was constantly ripping off 7-8 yard carries. Common sense would dictate that you run the ball in this situation. Instead, the Cowboys threw it, and Tony Romo ended up tossing a pick to Sam Shields. In a post-game press conference, Jason Garrett did state that the team had called a running play in that situation, but Romo checked out of it. When the ball was snapped, Clay Matthews had a free run at him and whiffed on the sack opportunity. Miles Austin was crossing the field on a slant pattern and had some separation. Had Romo put it on his numbers, it probably would have gone for a touchdown. Instead, the throw was a little off target and Sam Shields made a great hands grab to steal a possession away.
This pick lead to the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning) score. With 2:46 left in the game, the Packers drove down the field 50 yards in 1:15. The scoring drive culminated with a one yard Eddie Lacy touchdown plunge. I loved the play-calling by Mike McCarthy in this situation. He dialed up a few running plays and forced Dallas to use some timeouts. By the time Green Bay scored, there was only 1:31 left in the game and the ‘Boys had just one timeout remaining. Of course, the Pack did fail to make good of a two-point conversion (one that would have made it a 39-36 game, or a one field goal game), but they did their job by taking the lead.
The potential game-winning drive for Dallas did not go according to plan. Tony Romo completed just one pass to Cole Beasly, and then after that Tramon Williams was able to make the game-ending interception with 1:24 left. The throw was low and a bit outside, but Williams was able to dive and make the catch. It was one of the most impressive interceptions you will see and it ended up ruining the day for the Cowboys. At the same time, it gave the Packers a new life in the playoff race, and with Aaron Rodgers likely making his return to the field next Sunday, you could say that Green Bay is far from dead. On the flip side, the Cowboys afternoon could not have ended on a more bitter note. They squandered the gift given to them by the Minnesota Vikings from earlier that day (when they downed the Eagles, 48-30). Dallas had the chance to take back the lead in the NFC East, and it looked to all the world that they were going to do just that with a 26-3 halftime lead, but it all fell apart for them as they have become used to in Decembers. Now, the Cowboys find themselves in a must-win situation next week with the Redskins. A loss in Washington coupled with a Philadelphia win against the Bears would eliminate Dallas from playoff contention. For the Packers, it seems as if they may be able to squeak their way into the playoffs after all. They will, however, need to win out and hope for a Detroit loss to either Baltimore, the New York Giants, or Minnesota. Even still, the team has to like their odds after they were an ugly 5-6-1 just two weeks ago.