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Sunday, December 29, 2013
NFL Week 17 Studs and Duds

By Kevin Seifert

Phew.

That's all I can say.

Phew.

It has been a while -- if ever -- that we have had such a dramatic final day of a regular season. I could go on forever about the decisions, the turnarounds, the final plays and the reported comings and goings. But, alas: We must narrow down our final list of regular-season Studs and Duds to a manageable number.

Let's get to it.

STUDS

Manning
1. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: What do you want your quarterback to do when a victory means a top seed in the playoffs? Pretty much exactly what Manning did Sunday for the Broncos: Complete 25 of his first 28 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns. That was enough for a 31-0 halftime lead over the Oakland Raiders; backup Brock Osweiler took over to start the third quarter of an eventual 34-14 victory. Manning was so sharp that none of this three incompletions were judged to be over- or underthrown in video analysis by ESPN Stats & Information. Against the Raiders this season, Manning threw seven touchdown passes and eight incompletions. And oh, by the way, Manning finished with new single-season NFL records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55).

Patterson
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings receiver: Patterson capped a fierce end to his rookie season with a two-touchdown game in a 14-13 victory over the Detroit Lions. The first came on a 50-yard running play, an improvisation originally designed to be a pass to receiver Greg Jennings, and the other was the winning eight-yard reception. Patterson scored a total of six touchdowns in December and became the only wide receiver since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to score three rushing touchdowns in one season. Meanwhile, Patterson's 32.4.-yard kickoff return was the NFL's third-best (minimum 20 returns) since the merger. Patterson is a unique player who proved every bit as versatile and instinctive as the one he was drafted to replace: Percy Harvin.

Williams
Blount
3. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots tailback: One of the cool things about watching the Patriots is seeing how they match their personnel to game plans and circumstance, sometimes in wildly varying ways from week to week. Blount has had less than 10 rushes in half of the Patriots' games this season, but on a rainy field Sunday, the Patriots gave him the all 24 times. He responded with a career-high 189 yards in a game that locked up the AFC's No. 2 seed for the Patriots. Weather conditions convinced the Patriots they needed to utilize a physical runner, and Blount excelled even when the Buffalo Bills stacked the line with eight or more runners (113 yards on 10 carries), according to ESPN Stats & Information. How do the Patriots keep winning with so many key players on injured reserve? Their use of Blount on Sunday is a prime example.

DUDS

1. Cleveland Browns: Plenty of people thought the Browns whiffed last winter by hiring Rob Chudzinski as their head coach. Chudzinski was clearly a fallback choice after negotiations fell through with Chip Kelly, Bill O'Brien and others. And it now appears the Browns agreed. Chudzinski, fired Sunday, can now be viewed as the longest-tenured interim coach in NFL history. How else to explain firing a coach after one season? Yes, the Browns lost 10 of their final 11 games and finished 4-12, and nothing Chudzinski did or said suggested he was the next Vince Lombardi. But there were plenty of mitigating circumstances, including the Browns' lack of a franchise quarterback and an early-season trade of tailback Trent Richardson. The Browns owed it to the notion of franchise stability, if nothing else, to give Chudzinski an honest commitment. If you were a head coaching candidate with options, how likely would you be to consider the Browns' opening? Some might think that the Browns were smart, if unconventional, to cut ties quickly with a coach who wasn't taking them anywhere. But whatever pain Chudzinski would have put the Browns through next season will at least be equaled by the long-term damage to the franchise of this 12-month charade.

2. Defense, Chicago Bears: NFL franchises are notorious for ping-ponging philosophy, so it was no surprise that the Bears sought a head coach with an offensive background to replace the defensive-minded Lovie Smith last winter. On cue, new coach Marc Trestman installed a dynamic offense that entered Week 17 averaging the third-most points per game (27.8) in the NFL. But it was his defense, coordinated by veteran coach Mel Tucker, that is to blame for the Bears' failure to win the NFC North. Given two opportunities to clinch the division, the Bears allowed a total of 87 points in losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers. I realize the Bears were crushed by injuries at various points this season, but that shouldn't excuse Sunday's botched coverage on the Packers' final chance to make up a 28-27 deficit. The Bears blitzed seven, and the four remaining men allowed receiver Randall Cobb to run straight down the field uncovered to catch a 48-yard touchdown on fourth-down-and-eight. A year after firing Smith for his unbalanced teams, the Bears are no closer to center.

3. Bill Leavy, NFL referee: In an earlier post, I relieved Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid of responsibility for denying the Pittsburgh Steelers a playoff spot. And I can't really take San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy to task for a fake punt deep in his territory during overtime that, by all accounts, was the independent idea of upback Eric Weddle. What we can do, however, is decry the multiple instances of questionable decisions by Leavy and his crew that corrupted the final minutes of the game. First, Leavy ruled that Weddle's forward progress had stopped before he had the ball ripped out of his hands by Chiefs defender Sean Smith. A review of the play confirms Weddle was still moving forward when Smith had the ball. Meanwhile, on the penultimate play of regulation, the Chargers lined up in an illegal defensive formation, as former NFL officiating vice president Mike Pereira pointed out. Had the penalty been called, Chiefs place-kicker Ryan Succop would have gotten another attempt after missing from 41 yards out. Officiating mistakes are to be expected, as I've written many times, but these were season-changing plays that impacted the fortunes of two franchises.