Sunday, November 24, 2013
NFL Week 12 Sunday Studs and Duds
By Kevin Seifert
So on Sunday, I tried to explain a tie to a 6-year-old.
Six-year-old: Did the Vikings lose?
Me: No. They tied the Packers.
Six-year-old: Oh, so both teams won?
Me: No. They tied. They finished with the same score.
Six-year-old: But no one lost. Doesn't someone have to win?
Me: You would think, so, huh? Hey, look! Dora is on!
Week 12 brought us a tie, a bloated logjam of bad AFC teams and even more fun. Kissing your sister never seemed like a better option. What follows are the highlights and lowlights of nearly seven hours of watching and chatting about Sunday's games.
1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback: Guess which quarterback has the NFL's highest number of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during the past three seasons? Darn. I think I gave it away. Per ESPN Stats & Information, it's Romo, who now has 11 such drives after leading a 58-yard march late Sunday afternoon to lift the Cowboys to a 24-21 win over the New York Giants. The victory put the Cowboys into a virtual tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East; the Cowboys have a heavy advantage in early tiebreakers. Sunday's final drive included completions on all three third-down passes. There is no doubt that Romo has made some high-profile, late-game mistakes in his career -- even this season -- but they shouldn't overshadow the good work he has done during the same span.
2. The little things, Carolina Panthers: You could point to any number of reasons that the Panthers pulled off a 20-16 victory at the Miami Dolphins, but did you catch what happened right before halftime? It was the kind of sequence that usually elicits a note at the time but rarely compels a lookback. With eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Panthers lined up at their own 43-yard line. There figured to be time for one more play, and quarterback Cam Newton tossed a short pass for receiver Brandon LaFell. Suddenly, LaFell was sprinting down the right sideline with tight end Greg Olsen waving him on. LaFell and Olsen both appeared to be watching the scoreboard clock. LaFell stepped out of bounds with one second remaining after a 29-yard gain. Twenty-nine yards in seven seconds! The play got Graham Gano on the field for a 46-yard field goal. As a result, the Dolphins were playing for a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final possession. Sometimes, it's the little things.
3. St. Louis Rams running game: Those who watched the Rams' 42-21 victory over the Chicago Bears saw a respectable running game pummel the Bears' horrendous running defense. Because we're in the holiday season, I decided to classify the Rams running game as "Stud" rather than the Bears defense as "Dud." Trust me, it could have gone either way. The Rams rushed for a stunning 261 yards, including 213 before contact. The latter number is partly a reflection of their blocking but mostly the Bears' really poor fits. Injuries have decimated their front seven, and over the past five games, they are yielding 5.9 yards per rush, including 4.1 yards before contact. Opponents have scored nine touchdowns and haven't lost a fumble over that span. The Rams took full advantage Sunday.
4. Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator: It is pretty clear that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has resurrected his career this season. Rivers entered Sunday with the NFL's fourth-best QBR, and his winning touchdown pass Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium capped a 392-yard, three-touchdown, zero-turnover game. You and I both know that elite quarterback play draws the attention of everyone in the NFL. So who gets credit for Rivers' renaissance? Rivers, of course, and surely new Chargers coach Mike McCoy has played a role. But I submit Whisenhunt as a less-obvious recipient. Whisenhunt's work with Rivers and the Chargers' offense has reminded us how good he had the Arizona Cardinals going as head coach when he had competent personnel at quarterback. There will be more than a few NFL teams searching this winter for an offensive-minded head-coaching candidate with a history of elevating the play of quarterbacks. At this point, it's difficult to know how Whisenhunt couldn't qualify as a strong candidate for one of those jobs.
5. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos running back: Sunday night's game between the Broncos and New England Patriots was complex and nuanced. But let's not allow the Broncos' big early lead, the Patriots epic comeback and a dramatic overtime to overshadow a career night from Moreno. He finished with a career-high 224 yards, including 190 before overtime, on 37 carries -- and with not so much as one run of 20 yards. (His longest was 18.) Amazingly, it was only the fifth 100-yard game of Moreno's career. The only time a player has rushed for more yards against the Patriots was in 1973, when O.J. Simpson put up 250 yards for the Buffalo Bills.
1. NFC North: For most of the season, the running joke has been that no team wants to win the NFC East. Well, how about the NFC North? On Sunday, none of its four teams won -- and two were playing each other! That's right. When time finally ran out Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were tied at 26. The Bears' loss to the Rams dropped them to 6-5, and the Detroit Lions couldn't beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. The Lions are in the best shape of the lot, given their relative health, the tiebreaker situation and their remaining schedule. What's most amazing, however, is that the Packers are 0-3-1 since Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone, and yet, they remain in the thick of the race. If they can manage to win Thursday at Ford Field, and if the Bears lose Sunday at the Vikings, the Packers would have sole possession of first place in the division! Honestly, a 9-7 record -- or even 8-7-1 -- could clinch the division title for someone.
2. AFC playoff race: We might have to update this mess weekly as a regular reminder of how uninspiring the first round of the postseason could be in the AFC. As of Sunday night, 11 of the 16 teams in the conference had losing records. Six of them were 5-6 and thus technically tied for the No. 6 playoff seed. If the season were over, the Tennessee Titans would win the tiebreaker, according to ESPN.com's updated playoff standings. The Titans reached 5-6 after winning their first game (in four starts) with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a come-from-behind victory over, yes, the 4-6 Oakland Raiders. There are some who think the 5-6 Pittsburgh Steelers will emerge as a genuine playoff team -- i.e., one with a winning record -- but I'm not holding my breath.
3. The Wildcat: Can we declare the end of this fad? Please? Watching Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens served as a reminder that there are few truly unique ideas in the NFL. The Jets used Josh Cribbs in the alignment to some success, even getting a 13-yard completion to quarterback Geno Smith, but let's face it: More than anything, the Jets were covering for Smith's near-complete inability to run their conventional offense. As ESPN.com Jets reporter Rich Cimini noted, they have scored one touchdown in their past 31 possessions with Smith at quarterback. The Ravens, meanwhile, tried jump-starting their struggling offense by using backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in a similar manner. Taylor gained 7 yards on four carries, and starter Joe Flacco made clear he disapproved of the plan. There is a difference between being innovative and cute; one is valued and the other is a cliché. The Wildcat has descended into the latter category.
4. Worst first-place team, Indianapolis Colts: Although they are 7-4 and are maintaining a comfortable two-game lead in the AFC South, the Colts hold a peculiar distinction: They have been outscored by opponents this season. That's right. Their 40-11 loss to the Cardinals means they have allowed 260 points and scored 253 in 11 games. That's pretty rare for a team that, at this moment, holds the No. 3 seed in the AFC. They've been blown out in two of their past three games, and over that span, they've faced a combined halftime deficit of 72-9. Without quarterback Andrew Luck's pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, the Colts would be under .500 this season.
5. Worst team in football, Houston Texans: Is there any other way to view the Texans after they lost at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars? Both teams are 2-9, but the Jaguars have won their past two, and the Texans haven't won in more than two months. (The 2-9 Atlanta Falcons were at least competitive Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints.) They couldn't score a single touchdown against a Jaguars defense that was giving up nearly 32 points per game before Sunday. This season has turned into an unmitigated disaster, one that has raised the question of how aggressively owner Bob McNair will act. With every passing week, the chances grow that the Texans will open 2014 with a new coach, general manager and quarterback.