What I Saw, Wk 14 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 14, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

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This week has only allowed me to post an abbreviated version.  Next week will be another full-length edition.  Thanks as always, faithful readers.

Away from the game(s)

I SAW the bounty scandal drama wind to a close – maybe.

At the very least, the bureaucratic quagmire that started way back on March 2 with the NFL’s announcement of an investigation against the Saints for having a system that paid their defensive players for injuring opponents has now reached a decisive end, as far as suspensions are concerned.

While there has been no retraction on the rulings handed down on the coaching and front office personnel – the suspensions for GM Mickey Loomis (8 games), head coach Sean Payton (the whole season), then-defensive coordinator Greg Williams (indefinitely; he is currently on the Rams’ payroll) and assistant coach Joe Vitt (6 games; he is serving as interim coach during Peyton’s ban) are either served already or upheld – the accused players saw each of their suspensions reversed by former league commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, who had been called in to serve as an objective adjudicator.  DE Will Smith, LB Jonathan Vilma and DE Anthony Hargrove have had their suspensions lifted, but were still found guilty of conduct detrimental to the league.  Fujita, on the other hand, has been cleared of all allegations.

Let’s be clear here: Tagliabue did indeed affirm the original findings of the league – that players were involved in a pay-for-play system.  One of his chief reasons for reversing the suspensions was that he observed during his extensive experience within the league (Tagliabue was a legal representative for the NFL prior to becoming commissioner) that players feel compelled to follow coaches’ orders, lest they be waived or given a scarlet letter for insubordination, or both.  In other words, the neutral party was unable to deny the allegations in their description(s), but rather decided that the players were all but forced to obey the orders of their superiors with regards to the bounty system.  In the end, one could argue that the suspensions given to Loomis, Payton, Vitt and Williams were appropriate – if not lenient in some cases, considering that the finger now points at them more than it had before this ruling.  The news today is strangely reminiscent of the Code Red ruling in A Few Good Men, when two soldiers are dishonorably discharged but cleared of murder for causing the death of a fellow soldier by initiating a brutal and illegal fraternal punishment that was ordered by their superiors.

A Few Good Men-Dawson & Downey-blogspot-com

(blogspot.com)

Along the way the differentiation between the Saints’ illicit program and any explicit intent to injure has fallen down the semantic rabbit hole – which is likely no accident on either side of this issue, an attempt to save face for all involved as the case became more and more of a bugaboo.  Was there a system in place to pay players beyond the terms of their contract, based on performance?  Yes.  It is clear that this system included rewards for injuring players?  That’s another matter that is conveniently not made clear by Tagliabue’s ruling.

This could have repercussions for Vilma’s ongoing lawsuit against Commissioner Roger Goodell, since the official statements issued on Tuesday did little to shed light on the matter of the defensive captain’s own personal bounties issued.  As Tagliabue states in reference to Vilma’s apparent $10,000 bounty on Minnesota QB Brett Favre, the testimonies of Williams and colleague Mike Cerullo hold up:

“Neither was shown to be not credible on the specific issue of whether Vilma offered a bounty on Favre.”

In fact, Tagliabue’s decision was both harsh on Goodell and unforgiving about the accused players’ actions:

“… Moreover, there is evidence in the record that suggests that Commissioner Goodell could have disciplined a greater number of Saints’ players for the events that occurred here.  This sad chapter in the otherwise praiseworthy history of the New Orleans Saints casts no executive, coach or player in a favorable light.”

As such, Vilma’s legal representation issued a response, stating satisfaction with the lifting of the linebacker’s suspension but that unfair allegations remain since Vilma continues to deny offering money to teammates to hurt other players.

At the end of A Few Good Men, feelings were divided.  It felt like no one really won – save for the vindication of taking a smug authoritarian (played by Jack Nicholson) down a peg.  Actually, it feels like everybody lost in this one – especially Goodell, as SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg points out in an even-handed take on the events.

With this scandal and his manipulative musings in TIME magazine last week (see below), Goodell clearly suffers from a serious deficiency:

Handle truth gif

(tumblr – robbedpattinson)

I SAW NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell featured in a cover interview for TIME magazine.

Most of the interview sufficed for glad-handing between a progressive-yet-embattled league chief and a publication willing to help him proliferate certain league propaganda.

Most of the content was benign.  The majority of the ensuing analysis of the article has focused on Goodell’s musing over eliminating kickoffs from the pro game.  (The proposal: A scoring team would get the ball at their own 30-yard line with the choice between punting the ball or attempting a 4th-and-15 play on offense.)

Goodell’s motivation is grounded in an improvement on player safety by eliminating the high-impact hitting that happens on kickoffs.  If only the commissioner were as concerned with player safety as he claims to be.  By instituting Thursday night games all season – for which players typically get three days’ rest – and continuing to push for an 18-game regular season, Goodell has ably demonstrated that the safety of his players (read: product) is not his top priority.  If anything, this sort of proposed rule change will serve as ammunition for the league for an 18-game season, since they could argue that they are making the game safer.  Sure, then let’s offset that improvement on safety by adding games.  Brutal.

I SAW the playoff picture get more interesting – not necessarily because of the race for postseason berths, but rather because the pool of contestants seems to be leveling out.  Each “top” team in the league failed to reassure this weekend, with the exception of the Patriots.  (See: New England wins vs. Houston, 42-14.)

Let’s start in the AFC.  On Monday night, Houston laid down in Massachusetts faster than Mitt Romney did in 2003-07.  That game all but removed any intimidation factor for the Texans, who might end up controlling the conference’s top seed.  Much like for Atlanta (see below), Houston’s glaring weaknesses open up the playoff picture like the jaws of life.  Baltimore’s loss to Washington may have lost them a first round bye in the playoffs – which Denver is also positioning itself for, but thanks only to a sloppy win against Oakland.

The rest of the field:

  1. Houston-y (11-2)
  2. New England-z (10-3)
  3. Denver-z (10-3)
  4. Baltimore (9-4)
  5. Indianapolis (9-4)
  6. Pittsburgh (7-6)*

*same record as CIN

y- clinched playoff berth

z- clinched division

Having lost to San Diego, Pittsburgh’s chances to take the sixth seed look up to be up in the air against Cincinnati.  The two teams meet in what is sure to be a huge Week 16 tilt.  (The Jets are one game behind them, but let’s hope for now that we won’t have to vomit at the notion of one of the wild card games.)  It seems like Indy is a shoe-in for January, but keep in mind that they have to play the Texans twice in the last three weeks of the regular season.

The NFC is more undecided – as has been the case so far this season.  At the top, Atlanta’s weak showing that everyone was waiting for has burgeoned the hopes of the rest of the conference’s contenders, much like Houston’s drubbing at the hands of New England did for the AFC. (See above.)

All NFC East teams stepped up.

  1. Atlanta-z (11-2)
  2. San Francisco (9-3-1)
  3. Green Bay (9-4)
  4. New York Giants (8-5)
  5. Seattle (8-5)
  6. Chicago (8-5)

z- clinched division

There is a trio of teams lurking at 7-6: Washington, Dallas and Minnesota.  With their QB Jay Cutler banged up with a bad neck and a myriad of other injured players, the Bears are the fastest falling team in the sextet.  The Redskins had been the hottest team in the league, but now their future is aligned with the health of their banged-up star rookie QB, Robert Griffin III (See: Washington wins vs. Baltimore, 31-28.)  Even if the bionic Adrian Peterson keeps running away with yards for the Vikings their chances aren’t exactly stellar.  Dallas?  Who knows?

Overall, many teams that had once looked like contenders appear as though they could be one-and-done in the playoffs – if they make it that far.  Which brings to mind the biggest question at this time of year: Who is peaking with January around the corner?  Timing has been everything; only two of the last seven Super Bowl winners held one of the top two seeds.  The Texans, Falcons, Bears, Ravens and Steelers certainly haven’t played like champs as of late while teams like the Patriots, Niners, Seahawks – and to a lesser extent the Broncos, Packers and Colts – are gathering momentum.

A competitive playoff field is arguably more rewarding than a playoff race, and at this point in the NFL season we are fortunate to have both.

If you think this season has been exciting, you’re right.  In four games on Sunday the wining points were scored in the final two minutes or OT, which makes it 47 total such games this season – tied with 2003 for most through 14 weeks since the merger (nflmedia).

Let the fourth quarter of the regular season begin!

TNF- Denver (10-3) wins vs. Oakland (3-10), 26-13

I SAW the Broncos win their eighth straight game – the fourth-longest single season win streak in the team’s history.  (Elias Sports Bureau)  It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but it was a victory nonetheless – one in which Denver honed its ability to control the clock, winning time possession, 37:19 to 22:41.  They also swept the series against the Raiders for the first time since 2006 and they did it in part on the strength of a surprising ground game….

I SAW PROPS to Denver RB Knowshon Moreno for coming up big: 32 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown.  His average wasn’t anything to write home about (3.72) but the fourth-year pro’s carries were a career-high, which is all the more impressive considering he had been mired on the practice squad for much of the season until injuries forced him into action.

A dependable ground game makes all the difference for Broncos QB Peyton Manning and thus the offense as a whole.  Manning has relied on play action passing plays for much of his career, and having someone to take the load off of him is important.  The loss of starting tailback Willis McGahee to injured reserve was very underrated.  A resurgence by Moreno would be equally so.

I SAW Broncos CB Champ Bailey intercept Carson Palmer at the Denver 3-yard line in the first quarter. The line of scrimmage was the Broncos 22-yard line.  I took a look, and that’s the closest all season that the 2012 version of the Orange Crush has come to a red zone takeaway.  Their defense has been more than solid and it’s picking up steam.  Adding some tighter play at the doorstep of its own end zone wouldn’t hurt.

I SAW the Raiders extend their losing streak to the longest they’ve suffered since 2007, a six-game skid.  This was a team playing with a head coach, Dennis Allen, on the sidelines after having lost his father to a sudden heart attack.  Even with the emotional motivation this team just wasn’t good enough to handle Denver, which is the hottest team in the league.

I SAW Denver QB Peyton Manning win his tenth game in a season for the twelfth time as a starting QB, more than any other quarterback in NFL history.

Manning also became just the second pivot ever to throw 5,000 completions.  He needed just 221 games to reach the milestone – 18 fewer than it took the only other QB to have as many completions, Brett Favre.

I SAW the man made of glass, Raiders RB Darren McFadden.  After a four-game layoff for a badly sprained right ankle the oft-injured tailback tore off a 36-yard run on the first play from scrimmage on Thursday night, but later left the game after re-injuring the same ankle.  Over the last three seasons RUN DMC’s legs have been tricky to say the least, playing in only 29 out of a possible 45 Oakland games over the last three seasons.

I SAW Broncos LB Von Miller get another sack on Thursday night, giving him at least one QB takedown in six straight games.  Miller is having an amazing career so far, easily surpassing that of his look-alike, T.E. Russell, aka Hank from the Sean Astin – Louis Gossett Jr. classic, Toy Soldiers.

MSDTOSO EC029

(TriStar Pictures)

Von Miller

(NFL Network)

Washington (7-6) wins vs. Baltimore (9-4), 31-28 OT

I SAW the Redskins win their fourth straight game for the first time since 2008.  They came out victorious thanks in large part to a big start and a crazier finish.

Washington jumped all over the depleted Baltimore defense, with four 20+-yard plays in the first eleven minutes of the game and 168 total yards in the first quarter – the most by any team in the opening 15 minutes this season.

Rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin III worked the middle of the field in the passing game, just as he did last week once he saw he had linebackers and safeties on their heels because of the threat he poses as a runner.  (See: Washington wins vs. New York Giants in What I Saw, Wk 13.)

In fact, the ’Skins gained 163 yards in on their first two possessions alone – but that accounted for 38.5 percent of their game-total 423.  After the first quarter, Washington was only able to score six points as they fell behind 28-20 until the final drive of regulation, when things really got interesting….

I SAW

Rookies Attack !

mars attacks!

(www.film.com)

FOUR first-year pros on the Redskins’ side took over the end of this game as though they were storming the White House in a Tim Burton movie.

First, RG3 and his offense got the ball on their own 15-yard line with 4:47 left in regulation.  After inching down the field, Griffin took off running on the seventh play of the drive and Washington fans got a taste of disaster when Ravens DT Haloti Ngata slammed into the quarterback’s leg as both players were flying through the air, whiplashing RG3’s leg around and giving him what turned out on Monday to be a first-degree knee sprain.  But at the time the injury looked much more serious.  Fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins came on for the next play – a crucial third down – and drew a pass interference play to keep the drive alive.  Griffin bravely returned in the next play and went 2-of-4 for 37 yards to get his team to the Baltimore 26-yard line before having to leave the game for good.  (RG3 has practiced sparingly this week and is questionable for this week’s game against the Browns.)

Second, Cousins returned to the game.  Instant poise, just add light rain.

In the drizzle in D.C. the kid calmly completed two straight passes to score a TD.  For the scoring pass, the former Michigan State pivot stepped out of the pocket to the right and put up a touch pass under pressure that he must have known had to be perfect.  The throw had to be lofted just barely over the tip attempt of CB Chris Johnson but get there fast enough to beat Ball Yoda – just a small matter of a future Hall Of Famer ball hawk Ed Reed closing in on intended target Pierre Garcon.  Result: touchdown.  Cousins kept it himself and punched in the two-point convert to force overtime.

TRIVIA BOMB:

The Redskins became the first team in the Super Bowl era to have two rookie quarterbacks lead fourth quarter comebacks in the same season.  (STATS LLC) Cousins and RG3 also became the first two rookie QBs to throw a touchdown pass in the same game since Dallas’ Jerry Rhome and Craig Morton in 1965.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Third, with the youth movement well under way, Baltimore started off extra time by going three-and-out and punting to yet another rookie, Richard Crawford.  The seventh-round pick had just recently won over punt return duties from a struggling Brandon Banks and made his coaches look good by motoring 64 yards with the ball – all the way to the Ravens’ 24-yard line.

Fourth, rookie kicker Kai Forbath walked on and booted the 34-yard game winner.  Forbath has yet to miss a field goal in 14 attempts during his pro debut.

It used to be that a team that had to depend on so many first year players was doomed.  Now – similarly to the Colts in the AFC – these teams are winning clutch games to keep their teams’ playoff hopes alive.  Credit the increased technology and coaching techniques to prepare young players.  Credit the same raised standards at the college level.  Credit the players.  Credit the growth hormones in our water tables and food….Hell; I don’t know.  Credit everything.  It’s just amazing to watch.

I SAW all of the harsh critics of Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan for drafting two quarterbacks this year shuffling around, staring at their shoes – myself included.  The second of those two QBs, Kirk Cousins, became the first pivot to come off the bench in a game, throw a game-tying TD in the final minute of regulation AND go on to win the game since Derek Anderson did it for the Browns in 2006.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

Sure, a handful of plays late in a game against an unprepared defense doth not make for full vindication for Shanahan.  And being mentioned in the same breath as Anderson isn’t much to write home about.  But the decision to take Cousins high in the fourth round doesn’t look like as much of a Shanahan shenanigan as it once did.  Maybe the coach was being realistic about his prized starter, Robert Griffin III and all the hits he would take, and thus wanted a viable backup for situations just like Sunday.  Maybe not.  But the win over Baltimore might just get Washington into the postseason for the first time since a wild card loss in 2007.  Maybe that’s worth a third-round draft pick….

I SAW the Ravens lose a chance to clinch the AFC North.  It’s like The Wire out there – things are not going Baltimore’s way.  On Sunday the team lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2009.  The Ravens have played close games lately, going just 2-2 in their last four games, all of which were decided by three points.  If they’re not careful they could go from a tight grip on the second seed in the AFC to playing on the road all postseason – or watching it from home.

I SAW that Redskins WR Pierre Garcon is huge for this offense.  Washington is 6-1 with Garcon active and 1-5 without him.  In his last three games: 17 receptions, 279 yards and a TD in each contest.  In fact, it’s also impressive how well the ’Skins sustained an offense without him.

I SAW the Ravens fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  Only the timing of the decision should surprise anyone who has watch Baltimore slog through games on offense at times this season.

Ironically, Ravens RB Ray Rice had 121 yards on 20 carries while Cameron had been under fire for not utilizing the All-Pro tailback enough.  But losing this game was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  23 total touches for Rice is still not enough in a game of this magnitude – and it marked just the fifth time in thirteen games this season that Rice has 20 carries.  Couple that with what has seemed at times to be a tenuous relationship with QB Joe Flacco, and, well, the writing’s been on the wall for what seems like as long as cave drawings.  Why it took head coach John Harbaugh this long to pull the plug is anyone’s guess.

Baltimore’s QB coach – and former Colts head man – Jim Caldwell replaces Cameron.  Expect Baltimore to run even more no-huddle offense now.  Flacco loves it, and though Caldwell has never called plays in the pros before he’s got solid experience with helping manage the hurry-up offense for years with some guy named Peyton in Indy.  The no-huddle should also help keep pressure off of Flacco, who at times looks very shaky against blitzes.

I SAW Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris continue to be underrated.  While his two fellow rookies at QB stole the show, all Morris did was gain 122 yards on 23 carries (5.3 average).  That’s three games in a row Morris has had with 110+ yards on the ground, and according to ESPN Stats & Information Sunday was his fifth game with more than five rushing first downs – third-most in the NFL behind Texan Arian Foster and Patriot Stevan Ridley.  Robert Griffin III is the centerpiece of Washington’s offense, but Morris is the catalyst, keeping defenses honest for the zone-read option.

I SAW Ravens WR Anquan Boldin wide open in the end zone twice for touchdown grabs – because Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall sucks.  On the first score Hall had help over the top on a double move, but one can’t expect that help to get there in time when you release the receiver inside the 10-yard line because you’re staring at the QB!  On the second TD Hall incomprehensibly stopped and stood still in man-to-man coverage, with his back to Boldin.  Then, in the third quarter Boldin went up the sideline on a catch and all Hall did was grab the wideout’s jersey with one hand and run with him for over 10 yards.

The next step for the Redskins is to outgrow bums like Hall in the defensive backfield.  When he isn’t getting burnt he’s yapping off.  That’s never a good combination.

Minnesota (7-6) wins vs. Chicago (8-5), 21-14

I SAW the Bears continue their tailspin, having lost four of their last five games.

The first half of the 2012 campaign is now a distant memory.  Chicago began the season 1-7 against a weak-ass schedule, but now that their quality of opponents has gone up their record has gone down (1-4 since).  The Monsters of the Midway gave up an average of just 71 yards rushing through their first six games.  In the next six, they’ve been gouged for 136 yards per – and the squad is without their leader Brian Urlacher to boot.  Sunday also marked their first loos to Minnesota in seven meetings.

To say that this team is in a precarious position, slumping as it is – and now with QB Jay Cutler banged up again with a bad neck – would be an understatement.  Could the timing be worse?  This week ahead Chicago hosts Green Bay in a game that could decide the champion of the NFC North.  The Bears can still make the playoff if they lose that game, but how much more of a beating can their collective psyche take?  As I said above in Away from the game(s), playoff success is largely about momentum and Chocago has been steadily pissing their away.

UPDATE (14/12/2012): It was reported late thursday night that Cutler also has a sprained MCL, and that he will play Sunday against Green Bay.

I SAW little doubt that Bears WR Brandon Marshall understands the magnitude of his team’s next game – against the Packers.  As he put it to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“This is the biggest game of my career.  I’m excited about it.  I’ve had this game marked since we played them last. [Charles] Woodson, those guys, they do a lot of talking, so this is personal for me. We all know the rivalry. We all know what’s at stake. I’m going to play it like it’s my last game.”

Actually, all the manimal of a receiver has to do is play like he has in almost every game this season.  Marshall currently leads the NFL in receptions, with 101, and he’s doing it with no other viable threat to take double coverage away from him.  (Chicago’s best candidate in that department, rookie Alshon Jeffery, has spent much of the season injured.)  2012 marks Marshall’s fourth 100-reception season – I looked it up, and that already ties the record for most such seasons in a career, with Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice and Wes Welker.  Sure, Welker can surpass that mark this season, but it has taken the Pats wideout nine seasons to accomplish the feat, as opposed to Marshall’s record pace of six years.

If it wasn’t already painfully obvious that the Bears had long been starving for an elite receiver, consider another number: With three games remaining, Marshall has already tied the franchise record for 100-yard receiving games in a season.  Take a look at the list of superstars he’s with:

Most 100-yard Receiving Games, Bears History

Player Year 100-yard Games
Brandon Marshall 2012 7
Jeff Graham 1995 7
Harlon Hill 1954 7
Ken Kavanaugh 1947 7

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Few people outside of Chicago have even heard of the other three players.  And just four Bears in 65 years have had a season with seven 100-yard receiving games?  That number is also due to the dearth of talented passers during that same span, bit it’s still an awful number.

I SAW Adrian Peterson.  Either that or I saw a Six Million Dollar Man, an indefatigable running machine that the Vikings have replaced their star running back with since he tore up his knee less than a year ago.

He started the season by shocking everyone with his level of play.  Last week he showed he’s reattached the afterburners with a long breakaway run.  On Sunday Peterson added to the unbelievable with a career-high 31 carries.  He gave the Bears the Lee Majors treatment early with 104 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter.  In all, AP had 154 yards, becoming the first player with seven straight 100-yard rushing games since Titan Chris Johnson (2009-10).  He also became the first player in NFL history to make this noise as he runs with the ball.

At this point, Peterson is the league’s Most Valuable Player, but it’s going to be hard for any running back to win the award as long as the passing game is dominating the playing field and the mindsets of voters.  (Deion Sanders often says, “the MVP isn’t the MVP award, it’s the MVQB.”)  In a way, though, that same QB-centric mindset makes the point: With 1,600 rushing yards, Peterson needs to average 133.4 yards per game over the last three games to get 2,000 – in an era that privileges the passing game, while playing on a team with a bad quarterback that justifies defenses putting eight men in the box all game, on a reconstructed knee.  With all due respect to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson is having the most noteworthy season and is dominating games for his team is a more impressive manner.

There is the argument that a close MVP race shouldn’t go to a player who comes from a team that doesn’t make the playoffs.  The Vikings might still qualify for the postseason.  If they don’t get there it will be because of their QB – Christian Ponder squeezed out another log Sunday: 11-for-17, 91 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT – and not because of their RB, who is the main reason that his team even has a chance to play in January.  In the end, none of the other MVP candidates are playing like a superhuman government project.

6 million dollar man-hark-com

(www.hark.com)

I SAW Vikings rookie S Harrison Smith have another big game: 7 tackles, a QB hit, a pass defensed and an interception that he returned for a 56-yard touchdown.  It’s early in his career (obviously) but Smith looks like the versatile and confident leader that this defense needs.

Dallas (7-6) wins @ Cincinnati (7-6), 20-19

I SAW tragedy strike the NFL yet again this year, as Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter after driving drunk, crashing his car, and in the process killing his close friend and teammate, linebacker Jerry Brown.

This is an awful situation for all involved.  It is at this point where the NFL needs to consider drastic measures top prevent DUIs among their coaches and players.  Something like having a driver for every individual sounds ridiculous…until more people die.

I SAW the Cowboys win the fourth of their last five games to stay alive for the postseason by overcoming a nine-point deficit in the final minutes, thanks to a comeback led by QB Tony Romo.  His 25 completions gave him a team-record 349 for the season.  He set another team mark by completing 17 straight passes, extending back to the previous game.    As usual, the game didn’t go by without some awful passes by Romo, but in the end he was able to lean on WR Dez Bryant (see below) and pull the game out of the fire.

The Bengals had won four in a row before Sunday, and needed this win to help them in their own playoff race.  But Cincy’s defense – which had been riding high, having allowed just three touchdowns in the last four games – suffered a hiccup and couldn’t hold on when it counted.  If they can’t get a win on Thursday against Philly really tough game against Pittsburgh awaits in two weeks.

Interestingly, the Bengals fate might, to a certain extent, rest in the Cowboys’ hands.  Big D now goes home to the Death Star for two weeks to host those same Steelers, followed by the Saints.  Whatever happens in those matchups, there’s a good chance that the Week 17 showdown against Washington.

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant continue his hot streak.  He has now caught a touchdown in five straight games, and on Sunday he became the first Cowboys receiver in three years to break the 1,000-yard barrier.

It used to be that Bryant couldn’t stay relevant for long enough in games but this year he’s been big in the second half:

Dez Bryant Receiving Statistics By Half, 2012

First Half Second Half & OT
Catch % 59.1 76.6
Yards 355 673
TD 0 9
30+-yard Plays 3 5

(ESPN Stats & Information)

This level of performance has been slow in the coming for the troubled receiver.  If you didn’t think Bryant could catch a break in his young star-crossed career, think again.  Bryant broke his left index finger in Sunday’s game.  By all accounts the decision to play Bryant next week against Pittsburgh rests with the player himself – and he says he plans to play.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR A BACK-TO-USUAL-LENGTH LOOK AT THE NFL WITH WHAT I SAW, WEEK 15 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK.

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