NFL Nation: 2012 Week 17 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Chargers 24, Raiders 21

December, 30, 2012
A look at two teams ending disappointing seasons:

What it means: The end for both teams. San Diego, which won three of the final four games, finished at 7-9. Oakland finished 4-12. Each team had much higher hopes to start the season. The Raiders are projected to have the No. 3 pick. The Chargers are not projected to have a top-10 pick.

Pryor shows promise: Oakland second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed promise in his first NFL start. Pryor showed good accuracy and he had a good command of the offense. The game did not look too big for him and he looked like he belongs behind center. Pryor led Oakland to three touchdowns. The Raiders went the past two games without reaching the end zone. There is hope for the future. I think Pryor can easily be Oakland’s backup next season.

Coaching finale: This was very, very likely the end of the Norv Turner-A.J. Smith era in San Diego. Even though the Chargers rallied late in the season (again), there will likely be a major change.

Spikes has angry exit: San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes and Oakland running back Mike Goodson were ejected early in the game after fighting. Spikes, a 15-year veteran, could have played his final game.

Spurlock is a keeper: San Diego receiver Michael Spurlock took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. He had a punt return last week. Along with receiver Danario Alexander, the Chargers have two building blocks on offense.

Chargers’ ground issues continued: The Chargers didn’t score on the ground. It has now gone 11 straight games without a rushing touchdown. The Raiders broke a nine-game ground drought Sunday.

What’s next: Coaching changes, in some form, and readiness to improve in 2013 is the recipe for both teams.

Wrap-up: Broncos 38, Chiefs 3

December, 30, 2012

A look at the Denver Broncos' 38-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in a meaningful AFC West finale:

What it means: It was a monumental day for both franchises, for very different reasons. After the Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans earlier Sunday, the Broncos did their job by dismantling the Chiefs. Thus, Denver is the No. 1 seed throughout the AFC playoffs. Denver finished the regular season 13-3 and has won 11 straight games. It is the seventh time since the merger a team has ended the season with an 11-game win streak. All 11 wins came by seven points or more. Kansas City, meanwhile, ended its miserable season at 2-14. It earned the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. Denver ended 6-0 in the AFC West. Kansas City was 0-12 against the AFC.

Firings in Kansas City? The end is probably near for first-year Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel. There are conflicting reports on general manager Scott Pioli's status. I think both will be gone.

Manning sets mark: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning made his final push for the NFL MVP award with a brilliant regular-season finale. Manning threw for 304 yards and three touchdown passes. He threw 37 touchdowns passes this season. He set the NFL mark for quarterbacks 36 years or older for the most touchdown passes in a season.

Miller joins rare company: Denver linebacker Von Miller had a sack and finished with 185 sacks. He has 30 sacks in two NFL seasons. He became the fourth player in NFL history to register 30 sacks in his first two seasons.

Group effort on the ground: Denver running backs Lance Ball, Jacob Hester and Knowshon Moreno combined for 165 yards rushing. While Moreno had just 44 yards, the Broncos will take the group effort headed into the postseason.

Charles doesn’t do much: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had just 53 yards on 14 carries. But he did set a career high with 1,509 yards for the season. It was a brilliant campaign for a player coming back from a torn ACL.

What’s next: The Chiefs prepare for big changes and the top pick in the draft, while Denver takes a week off.

Wrap-up: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13

December, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals following the 49ers' 27-13 victory Sunday at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The 49ers claimed their second consecutive NFC West title while giving themselves a shot at securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round playoff bye. They'll be the second seed if Minnesota defeats Green Bay in a game that was ongoing as the 49ers defeated Arizona. If the Packers win, the 49ers will enter the playoffs as the third seed, setting up a wild-card home game against Chicago.

What I liked: The Cardinals were competitive early in a game without meaning for them. They dominated the first quarter, even. The 49ers got outstanding play from receiver Michael Crabtree. Those two things stood out most to me.

Crabtree won multiple matchups with Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals' Pro Bowl cornerback. He moved past 1,000 yards receiving for the season and gave the 49ers badly needed consistency from a position diminished by injuries.

Crabtree was a leading reason the 49ers were able to overcome a slow start and put away the Cardinals with about a quarter to spare.

What I didn't like: The 49ers couldn't generate enough on offense early in the game. Arizona held a 128-15 advantage in yardage through one quarter. That seemed inexcusable given what the Cardinals had to work with offensively and what the 49ers had to gain with a strong performance.

The Cardinals had enough trouble keeping pace without turnovers. Rookie receiver Michael Floyd lost a fumble early in the fourth quarter. Arizona wasn't going to mount a comeback to win the game at that point, but the turnover made a bad situation worse.

Floyd wasn't the only 2012 first-round receiver to cost his team in this game. The 49ers' little-used A.J. Jenkins dropped a pass on third down in the first half.

A TD pass, finally: The Cardinals completed a pass for a touchdown for only the third time since Week 7. Brian Hoyer's 37-yard scoring strike to Floyd pulled Arizona within two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Cardinals finished the regular season with a 5-11 record. We now wait to see whether the team makes changes to its front office and/or coaching staff. The 49ers start preparing for the playoffs.

Wrap-up: Titans 38, Jaguars 20

December, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 38-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans finished the season with their first win against the AFC South and wind up in third place with a 6-10 record. The Jaguars couldn’t beat Tennessee a second time, and wrapped up a franchise worst 2-14 year.

What’s hard to believe: Late in the second and early in the third quarter, the Titans scored 28 points without taking a snap on offense. They got a 79-yard interception return from linebacker Zach Brown, followed by a 69-yard punt return from Darius Reynaud, followed by a 81-yard punt return from Reynaud, followed by a 30-yard interception return from Brown. It was the first time in NFL history a team got two returns for scores from two different players.

What’s also hard to believe: The Jaguars outplayed the Titans early, but Jacksonville simply lacks the fortitude and the skill to sustain such performances. This time they flamed out in incredible fashion to ensure another loss that earns them the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Unless the Chiefs mount a comeback and upset Denver, in which case the Jaguars would draft first.

One to watch, Jaguars: Rookie receiver Justin Blackmon was targeted 13 times and caught six passes for 79 yards. His 30-yard touchdown showcased what the Jaguars hope to get from him for years to come. He muscled the ball away from a defender and ran through and past people to score.

Added confidence: Did Jake Locker do much to carry confidence into the offseason? While the Titans young quarterback avoided major gaffes, he only threw 15 passes, completed nine for 152 yards with no interception, no touchdown and a 94.3 passer rating.

What’s next: We wait on the owners of these teams to decide on their general managers and coaches. Will Bud Adams stick with coach Mike Munchak? Will Shad Khan replace general manager Gene Smith as expected?

Wrap-up: Panthers 44, Saints 38

December, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers44-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: This was a fitting end to the Saints’ season. A defense that set an NFL record for yards allowed in a season was absolutely horrible. That defense is a huge part of the reason the Saints finished at 7-9. The Panthers also finished with a 7-9 record, but they finished on a high note.

Enough to save a job? The Panthers finished the season by winning their final four games and looking like the team many expected them to be back in the preseason. Will that be enough for the Panthers to keep coach Ron Rivera around for a third season? That now is up to owner Jerry Richardson, who hasn’t had a team with a winning season since 2008. Richardson’s patience is wearing thin, but I think patience might be a good thing in this case. Rivera got the Panthers, to finish strong and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of franchise quarterback Cam Newton to have to adjust to a new coaching staff. And let’s remember, Newton is the franchise in Carolina.

End of the misery? The bounty scandal, the Drew Brees contract negotiations and a losing season made for a very difficult nine months for the Saints and their fans. It’s all over now, and coach Sean Payton is expected to be reinstated from his suspension the day after the Super Bowl. Things should get better, but it’s not going to be easy. Payton’s offensive intellect should be enough to touch up the offense a little bit, but the defense has to improve dramatically for the Saints to have any shot at becoming contenders again.

What’s next: For the Panthers, it’s time to watch and wait to see whether Richardson keeps Rivera. A decision should come very quickly, but Richardson also has to hire a general manager. Once those two situations are resolved, the Panthers likely will have to go through the painful process of unloading some veterans because their salary-cap situation is a mess. The Panthers have $136 million committed toward a 2013 salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. The Saints are in a similar situation when it comes to the cap. They have about $138 million committed toward the cap. Veterans Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Roman Harper are high on a long list of guys with high cap figures that could be salary-cap casualties. If those three go, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are going to have to get very creative in how they go about restocking their defense.

Wrap-up: Bengals 23, Ravens 14

December, 30, 2012

My thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 23-14 victory over the visiting Baltimore Ravens:

What it means: In a game when both teams played their backups for most of the game, the Bengals (10-6) won for the seventh time in eight games and ended their four-game losing streak to the Ravens. Cincinnati had already clinched a postseason spot a week ago and was locked into the No. 6 seed. The loss makes Baltimore (10-6) the fourth seed in the AFC. The Ravens will host the Indianapolis Colts.

Thumbs up: Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. He intercepted backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the fourth quarter and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. It was the third straight game that the Bengals' defense has scored a touchdown and the second in a row that the Bengals have brought back an interception for a score. This is a dangerous group.

Injury concerns: The Ravens rested six starters, but they didn't come out unscathed. Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach was injured on the second play, and right tackle Kelechi Osemele was also injured. There were no updates on either player during the game. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis hurt his hamstring in pregame warmups and didn't play. Safety Chris Crocker injured his quadriceps and didn't return.

What's next: The Ravens know they will host the Colts next weekend in the first round of the playoffs. The Bengals will play at the No. 3 seed next weekend. Who's the No. 3? If the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots win this afternoon, Cincinnati is at the Houston Texans. If the Broncos lose and the Patriots win, the Bengals are at Denver. If the Patriots lose, the Bengals are at New England.

Wrap-up: Steelers 24, Browns 10

December, 30, 2012

My thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-10 win over the visiting Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Steelers (8-8) ended a three-game losing streak and avoided their first losing season since 2003. In what is expected to be coach Pat Shurmur's final game, the Browns (5-11) continued their miserable finish, losing for the third straight time by at least 14 points. Cleveland also failed to complete their first sweep of Pittsburgh since 1988.

Thumbs up: Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen. He forced two turnovers after having a hand in three takeaways last Sunday. His first forced fumble (it came against Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon) set up Ben Roethlisberger's one-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope. Allen's second forced fumble (he stripped receiver Travis Benjamin) led to Roethlisberger's 12-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. It was a much different story than the last meeting, when the Steelers turned the ball over eight times.

Thumbs down: The Steelers defense had a chance to become the first defense since 1991 to finish atop the NFL in pass and run defense. But Pittsburgh won't accomplish that feat after giving up 138 yards rushing. This comes against a Browns team that didn't have running back Trent Richardson.

Caught off guard: In a season when the Browns struggled to make the right calls, they surprised the Steelers with a fake punt at their own 25-yard line. Ray Ventrone ran 35 yards on the fake to set up the Browns' only touchdown of the game.

Rough finish: The likely end to the Shurmur era ended with a whimper. The Browns were outscored 96-43 in their last three games, a 17.6-point average margin of defeat.

What's next: The Browns reportedly will fire Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. The Steelers face some tough decisions to get under next year's salary cap.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17

December, 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 22-17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome:

What it means: For the Falcons, it means absolutely nothing. They already had clinched everything there was to be clinched for the postseason, so the loss didn’t hurt them. This game was much more significant for the Bucs. They had lost their past five games and appeared to be in a deep funk that had the potential to set the tone for a dismal offseason. A strong showing on the road against the NFC’s best team changes a lot of that. The Bucs finished 7-9 and carry a little positive momentum into the offseason. Overall, you have to consider coach Greg Schiano’s first season a success.

Why bother? I still don’t get the decision by Atlanta coach Mike Smith to play almost all of his starters in a game that didn’t matter. There was nothing to be gained and plenty was risked, and that could end up haunting the Falcons. Cornerback Dunta Robinson left the game with a head injury and didn’t return. Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel also appeared to aggravate a shoulder injury that’s been bothering him for weeks, but he did return. Defensive end John Abraham, who never should have been on the field so long, suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field. The Falcons could have gotten the same outcome -- and no injuries to their starters -- if they had started their backups. If Robinson, Samuel and Abraham aren’t healthy for the playoffs, Smith’s decision to play them is going to draw lots of criticism.

Milestone time: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman became the first player in franchise history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. He also set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a season and became the team’s all-time leader in touchdown passes.

What’s next: For the Falcons, they get a bye in the first-round of the playoffs. They’ll host a game in the second week of the postseason. For the Bucs, the season is over, but there’s a lot of work to do. The first order of business is signing defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller before they can depart as free agents. Then, the Bucs need to start rebuilding a secondary that was historically bad through free agency and the draft. Strong safety Mark Barron probably is the only member of the secondary who is guaranteed to have a job next season. Still, no matter how you look at it, the Bucs are in much better shape than they were at this time a year ago.



Thursday, 10/16
Sunday, 10/19
Monday, 10/20