What I Saw, Week 14 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 14, 2013

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.

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Away from the game(s)

Woooo-Hooooooo!

snowman in stands-Wash Post

(Washington Post)

I saw a crazy winter wonderland in the NFL, full of whee!’s and wow’s baked into a slate of games with huge playoff implications for many teams involved.  That, and crazy winter weather in numerous northeastern venues made for the most exciting Sunday in recent years.  The games were close and wild.  Three division leaders lost on Sunday, one of whom (Indianapolis) even won their division by doing so.

In some regards, the theme was 95:

95 touchdowns scored by the end of Sunday – the most in a week ever, according to NFL Network.

Interstate I-95 got buried under huge snowstorms that turned the NFL into a high-scoring snow globe.  Stadiums in Pittsburgh and Baltimore got dumped on by snow and Cincinnati was hurt-your-face cold, but Philadelphia took the cake, literally and figuratively.  The last two minutes of Ravens-Vikings was absolutely nuts.  Lincoln Field was snowier than Tony Montana’s desk in Scarface.

Scarface coke snowman

I’ve never seen that much snow on a football field during a game at any level – and I played in Canada.  It brought back memories of pick-up games with friends as a kid, on school fields that accumulated snow throughout winter weeks and you felt like you were running on the spot.  I actually replayed the highlights of that Lions-Eagles game on my TV with NFL Network music playing in the background.  Fantastic.

The numbers even support the magic that was Snowy Sunday:

Most NFL Games Played In Snow At One Time – Since 1992

Date Number Of Games Points Per Game
December 8, 2013* 5 53.8
December 26, 1999 2 53.5
December 24, 1995 2 48.0
December 14, 2003 2 42.5
January 2, 1994 2 41.5

(NFL Network)

*- Most simultaneous games and highest scoring average

I SAW Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski get knocked out for the rest of the season when his knee got blown out by a low tackle on Sunday.  Inevitably, some observers started talking about the new rules prohibiting hits to the head, and how it leads to more defenders aiming low when targeting ball carriers.

The cruel irony of this mindset is that it still places players in danger of head injuries because it’s all too possible to sustain one when throwing one’s body at a ball carrier’s legs headfirst.  Niners CB Eric Wright had to be tended to by the San Fran training staff after doing exactly that to a Seahawks blocker during a special teams play on Sunday.   The point is that it’s not terribly productive to debate the safety merits of tackling in general.  Football hurts people.  Badly.  How rules are supposed to prevent this – or any over-compensatory acts to avoid new penalties that tend to cause bodily harm – is beyond me.

I SAW NFL referee Jeff Triplette strike again.

Last week, he was the head official behind the botched down marker disaster at the end of Giants-Redskins.  On Sunday, he reversed an on-field ruling that Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was touched before bouncing into the end zone on fourth down.  To me, the replay clearly showed a tackle and thus a non-TD.  Even if I’m wrong, it certainly didn’t indicate clearly that the call should be overturned.  As Peter King said in theMMQB, Triplette “made a mockery of the term ‘indisputable visual evidence.’”  Lots of officiating crews do, in my opinion.  But Triplette’s last two fuckups are egregious enough that it should reverse the league’s typically charitable treatment of him.

Playoff Picture

As per the last two weeks, the rankings are my current predictions.

A few general thoughts first:

If the postseason started today, three of the four best scoring defenses in the NFL are Wild Card teams (Niners, Panthers, Chiefs).

The NFC division races are huge right now.  The Niners and Panthers/Saints are virtual locks for the Wild Card spots, meaning that the battles for division champ in the East and North already decide who gets to play and who goes fishing.

As good as the first round games could be, are we being set up for lopsided matchups in the Divisional Round?  There are five teams in the league undefeated at home: The Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Saints and Seahawks.  It’s looking like 4 of those teams will end up with first round byes, and with the exception of Cincinnati all of those venues give the host a marked advantage.

Memo to commissioner Roger Goodell, who talks about expanding the playoffs, which NFL Network’s Rich Eisen believes to be almost certain: Teams as bad as the Steelers, Jets and Titans don’t belong in the postseason right now, yet two of them could  make it under a new format.  Screw that, and screw you, commish.

AFC

(1) DENVER (11-2): Not a lot changed with this team this week.  The defensive backs still look weak, the Clockwork Orange offense is still a juggernaut, and no matter how many times QB Peyton Manning tells critics to “shove it where the sun don’t shine”, it’s not enough.  Sorry, Peyton, but one good game in the cold doesn’t adequately respond to the criticism leading up to it.  WR Wes Welker might miss Thursday night’s matchup with the Chargers, but as the absence of TE Julius Thomas proved in recent weeks, 1 of the big four receivers can go AWOL and the offense still clicks.  Like a clock.  Work Orange.  Just saying.

(2) NEW ENGLAND (10-3): The loss of TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) is about as serious as QB Tom Brady made it seem in the postgame press conference.  Brady was borderline morose when asked about the loss of his favourite target.  The Pats are playing more cohesively on either side of the ball than they were prior to Gronk’s return from rehab earlier in the season, so I don’t expect them to fall short of earning a bye.  But if Denver were to stumble it would certainly help New England to get home field advantage (they’re 7-0 at Gillette stadium this season).  I’m curious: Will the crazy outburst by RB Shane Vereen in the passing game turn out to be an anomaly, or an ingenious stopgap move to address Gronk’s absence?     

(3) CINCINNATI (9-4): The Bengals sport the most under-the-radar home field advantage out there.  They’re 6-0 in Paul Brown Stadium, with two more home games against the Vikings and Ravens to close out the regular season.  The last time Cincy went 8-0 at home was in 1998.  They also won two home playoff games that season en route to a Super Bowl appearance against the eventual champion Niners.  I stand by my claim that this Bengals team won’t go as far as that without DT Geno Atkins but they sure are playing great defense without him.  QB Andy Dalton still needs to win a big playoff game for me to see this team doing much in January.  He’s starting to find his A-game, but it feels too familiar as a precursor to losing in January.

(4) INDIANAPOLIS (8-5): Over the last five games the Colts have alternated wins and losses, and the three losses have been by an average of 24.3 points.  They’ve also allowed more points than they’ve scored so far this season.  Those wins against elite teams in September and October are a distant memory; if the AFC South wasn’t such shit this season Indy would be on the outside looking in.

(5) KANSAS CITY (10-3): Rediscovered their mojo on D against a soft Redskins offensive line on Sunday, serving up a cold dish ideal for the conditions – revenge.  New head coach Andy Reid is now 4-0 this season against his old division, the NFC East.  The human piece of toast, CB Marcus Cooper left the Washington game with a bruised back.  Jesus, what sort of liability steps onto the field to replace him?  The Chiefs’ next three opponents likely know whom.

(6) MIAMI (7-6): I like the Ravens here too, but it’s all about remaining schedule.  Baltimore has to play in Detroit next Monday night, host New England, then go to Cincy to end the season.  I just mentioned the Bengals’ prowess at home this season, so it’s not looking good for the defending champs.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins have to host Brady and the Pats next week, but get to close out against the Bills and Jets.      

THE CONTENDERS (keeping in mind that Tennessee and Pittsburgh are all but done)

BALTIMORE (7-6): How much did QB Joe Flacco miss TE Dennis Pitta, who returned from a hip injury and stepped right back into the role of security blanket?  The quarterback gets a pass on his three interceptions against the Vikings because of the inclement weather, but he still needs to pick up his game if this team is going to make it to the playoffs because the defense has been weak on the road this season and is staring at games in Detroit and Cincy.

SAN DIEGO (6-7): If I’m the Chargers I wonder: The Chiefs might have clinched the fifth seed by their Week 17 game in San Diego, which the hosts could need to win in order to survive beyond the regular season.  Will KC play their starters all game after some have been injured recently, or will they give their bitter rivals a chance at a cakewalk into the playoffs?

NFC

(1) SEATTLE (11-2): Still the cream of the crop in the conference.  The loss to San Francisco says more about the Niners (who are returning to last season’s form) than it does the Seahawks.  Two knocks: I don’t think it should be so easy to take QB Russell Wilson out of a game once the run game is somewhat neutralized, and the defensive backs are relying waaaay too much on the referees letting them yank and push receivers around all day.

(2) NEW ORLEANS (10-3): Rarely does a home win in New Orleans make much of a pronounced statement, but Sunday night’s manhandling of the Panthers should do wonders for the Saints’ psyche after getting trounced by Seattle the week before.  This brutal Seahawks-Panthers-Rams-Panthers stretch that ’Nawlins is in right now could have derailed them if Carolina had won that game.  Instead, they held the Panthers without a takeaway for the first time this season and reminded the upstart team who rules the AFC South.  QB Drew Brees got rolling again, and has RB Darren Sproles back from injury for the home stretch.

(3) CHICAGO (7-6): So apparently the Josh McCown Show is actually a show – a winning show, to boot.  It’s a good thing, too, because the Bears are dead last in the league in rush defense and are one more game away from tying the NFL record of 6 straight games allowing a 100-yard rusher.  (TRIVIA BOMB: According to ESPN Stats & Information the 2007 Rams hold that dubious distinction.)  Usually I’d say that a team can’t make the playoffs playing like that, but the emergence of WR Alshon Jeffrey to make him and Brandon Marshall the best wideout duo in the league offsets that, as Monday night showed.  It might make more sense to have the Lions in this spot, but Detroit seems to be finding ways to lose the close games, not win them.

(4) PHILADELPIHA (8-5): Riding a 5-game win streak and swelling confidence.  QB Nick Foles had been lighting up the NFL in recent weeks, but RB LeSean McCoy reminded everyone who the most talented player on the offense is with that huge game in the Snow Bowl on Sunday.  People have been critical of Philly’s defense all season, but that unit has rebounded from an unintimidating start to now sit tied in the NFL for 5th in takeaways.  Foles’ emergence has cleaned up the giveaways too, and the net result of a turnover differential of +9 means that the Eagles are playing well enough to eke out the division title in the East.

(5) SAN FRANCISCO (9-4): The return of WR Michael Crabtree isn’t the key change in this team.  The team that had the best O-line/D-line combo over the last several years is back to its physically imposing ways.  As a result, RB Frank Gore is back to breaking plays into the second and third levels and the defensive front is bottling up air and ground attacks before they can get any momentum going.  It’s a bit of a toss-up at the moment between Carolina and San Fran in terms of which Wild Card spot each of them ends up in, but the Niners get the nod for three remaining games against Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Arizona.

(6) PANTHERS (9-4): This is a crucial time for the Panthers after having their 8-game win streak snapped thanks to a flat performance in New Orleans Sunday night.  Of particular note was the 21 points the stalwart defense yielded in the first half – their most in the first two quarters of a game since Week 17 of the 2011 season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  How will this young team respond, and will it ruin their chance to steal the NFC South from the Saints?  They get the Jets next week, which certainly helps.  What doesn’t help is losing RB Jonathan Stewart again due to injury.

THE CONTENDERS

DETROIT (7-6): The Lions are 1-3 in their last four.  You can blame the weather on Sunday, but overall this team takes about as good care of the football as Elizabeth Shue takes of the kids in Adventures In Babysitting.  And no impromptu performance at the Apollo can bail them out.  Detroit can still take the division, but if RB Reggie Bush’s bad calf doesn’t heal fast, the team is going to find out that no one gets out of December without singing the blues.

DALLAS (7-6): In the Eyebrow-Raising Anomaly Dept.: Big D rushed for 198 yards and lost.  Usually the Cowboys’ productivity spikes when they can move the ball on the ground, but the defense failed them – and will be the reason they end up falling short of the postseason yet again.  The Bears scored on all of their possessions against Dallas on Monday night.  To make matters worse, LB Sean Lee got hurt again.  That smacking sound you hear is the Eagles’ high-octane offense licking their chops at their Week 17 tilt with Dallas.  Ironically, the ’Boys will now turn and cheer for Chicago in two week’s time.  If the Bears can beat Philly in that game, at least Dallas has a better chance while they get the offensively challenged Packers and Redskins in the two games before facing the Eagles. 

ARIZONA (8-5): I just don’t see them catching the Panthers or Niners, even though they’re only a game behind both.  It doesn’t help that the Cardinals are just 2-4 on the road (6-1 at home) and must play two of their last three away from the desert.

GREEN BAY (6-6-1): Big gut-check win against a game Falcons team on Sunday.  If I would have told you in September that the Packers would be two points away from being the lowest-scoring team in their division at this point in the season, I bet you’d have told me QB Aaron Rodgers got hurt.  The defense is torn apart by injuries, Jordy Nelson is the only wideout who has been consistently healthy, but this team just keeps grinding it out.  They’re just too far behind to catch up in the Wild Card race, and they need too much help to win the North.  Like I said a few weeks ago, that tie against the Vikings will kill them.

TNF- Jacksonville (4-9) wins vs. Houston (2-11), 27-20

I SAW two teams face off Thursday night for playoff elimination.  Lo and behold, the team that won 12 games last season was locked out of the postseason, not the one that lost 14 contests in 2012.

Is there a more poignant example of how easily a franchise’s fortunes can go sour than the 2013 edition of the Texans?  The Peyton Manning-less Colts of 2011 come to mind, but Houston didn’t lose its franchise cornerstone for the whole season like Indy did.  But in the Texans’ case, has an NFL team ever gone from a 12-win season to the worst record in the league the following year, as they are poised to do?

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Texans fired their head coach the day after the loss….

I SAW Texans head coach Gary Kubiak get handed his pink slip after an embarrassing loss to the Jags extended the franchise’s longest losing streak to 11 games.  I tweeted this during owner Bob McNair’s Friday press conference announcing the firing.

Obviously there’s more to Kubiak’s being let go than a few key players either getting hurt, sucking, running their mouths – or all of the above (cough, cough, Reed).  I found Kubiak’s play calling Thursday night particularly irksome (see below), and the team’s body language against Jacksonville bespoke a coach who has lost his team.  It’s harsh love for a man who missed time after suffering a mini-stroke just weeks ago, but it’s a harsh, harsh league. 

I SAW the Jaguars win four of their last five games since coming off a bye.

If there’s a weirder phrase to utter within contemporary sports parlance than “the Jacksonville Jaguars have won four of their last five games”, I’d like to hear it.

I SAW myself nervously wringing my hands.  It’s all happening again!  Please, please don’t let the appointment of Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips as interim head coach for the remainder of the season “earn” Phillips yet another head coaching contract.

I’ve said this before about Phillips and Norv Turner: They’re great coordinators, shitty head coaches.  This combination has enabled a vicious cycle for each man over the last two decades, whereby their coordinator work gets them promoted to running a team, they proceed to coach that team into a shitty group, get fired, forced to accept a coordinator job for another team where their coordinator work gets them promoted to running a team, they proceed to – I think you get the point.  Mashed into this circularity is a 0-5 playoff record to boot.

For Phillips this pattern is uncannily consistent since 1989, his 20th year in the profession:

Wade Phillips Coaching History – 1989-Present

Year(s) Team Position
1989-92 Broncos Defensive Coordinator
1993-94 Broncos Head Coach
1995-97 Bills Defensive Coordinator
1998-2000 Bills Head Coach
2002-03 Falcons Defensive Coordinator
2003 Falcons Interim Head Coach
2004-06 Chargers Defensive Coordinator
2007-10 Cowboys Head Coach
2011-13 Texans Defensive Coordinator
2013-present Texans Interim Head Coach

What I find striking about this list is how quickly the pattern turns over.  During this span Phillips never spends more than 3 years as a coordinator before ending up as a head coach in some capacity and his longest tenure as a head coach was 3+ seasons in Dallas.  I tend to expect personnel czars not to learn from history, and maybe Houston will decide to have Phillips cheerlead from the sideline while he babysits the position for a top candidate in the next year or two.  If the past is any indication, he’ll lead a team again – into the ground.

I SAW the Texans get brutally one-sided on offense, favoring the pass, even when QB Matt Schaub – a benched QB – was inserted into the game when starter Case Keenum stunk up the stadium.

At one point in the second half, the Texans passed on 26 straight plays – a streak that was snapped only by a Schaub scramble.  For those scoring at home, that’s what we call fooling no one.  It should be no surprise, then, that Schaub ended up throwing an interception that essentially ended Houston’s hopes to win the game.

I SAW prayers for Mojo get answered.

After 3 months mired underneath injures and the general malaise that afflicts losing franchises, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 103 yards on 14 carries (7.4 average) on Thursday night against the Texans.  It was his first 100-yard game since Week 3 last season.  In other words, Pocket Hercules had been pocketed for over a calendar year.

I SAW Jaguars TE Marcedes Lewis catch a nice TD at the back of the end zone on the first drive of the game.  It was just Lewis’ second touchdown of the season.  Has it just been the decline of the QB position that has sapped his productivity?  He was a legitimate downfield threat when David Garrard threw his way and it’s not like Garrard was an All-Pro or anything.

I SAW PROPS to Texans WR Andre Johnson, who had his 10th career game with at least 10+ receptions and 150+ yards.  The only other player to do so in NFL history is Jerry Rice.  (NFL Network Broadcast)

It didn’t come easy, though.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson was targeted 21 times Thursday night, the most in his career and the second-most in the league this season (to Bucs WR Vincent Jackson against the Falcons in Week 7).

Philadelphia (8-5) wins vs. Detroit (7-6), 34-20

I SAW a game that, for the first half, had to have been the snowiest game I’ve ever seen.  The visibility was akin to the old Eagles-Bears fog bowl.  (I will ALWAYS pounce on an opportunity to show a Randall clip.)

I’ve already said a bit about this game in Away from the game(s), but on the matter of playing in the snow:

This game served as a reminder that bad weather is a hindrance to anyone trying to tackle.  It’s a reflex to assume that offenses get the short end of the stick in inclement weather, but that’s seldom the case.  With a near-total lack of traction, once a player begins running in one direction they’re pretty much committed to that angle because they can’t change direction fast enough to keep up.  This doesn’t just give players with the ball a distinct advantage; it can accentuate an elite player’s ability to make good initial decisions in terms of where to go with the ball.  Combine that with the extra advantage O-linemen and skill players have over the defense because they know which way they’re going and the D can’t react as quickly in the muck and you can get some big performances.

On this note, LeSean McCoy showed some bad terrain traction and decision-making on a Gayle Sayers sort of tip.  No one disputes Sayers’ ability to anticipate running lanes on instinct, as he did in his famous record-tying 6 TDs in a mudder against the Niners.  McCoy obviously isn’t worthy of Sayers-like status (yet?) but it takes a certain sort of running style to succeed when the field is in the state it was in Philly on Sunday, and Shady has it….

I SAW Eagles RB LeSean McCoy have a historic day – snow or no snow.  His 217 rushing yards are a franchise record for a single game worthy of a salvo of

TRIVIA BOMBs:

According to Elias Sports Bureau McCoy rushed for 148 yards in the fourth quarter on Sunday.  That’s the highest total in the final frame over the last 20 years and the third-highest single-quarter output in any quarter during that span.  Interestingly enough, Jamaal Charles has the two highest totals – both during last season (165 in Week 16 and 162 in Week 3).

From ESPN Stats & Information, McCoy is the first Eagles with two TD runs of 40 yards or longer since the great Steve Van Buren did it in 1944 against the Brooklyn Tigers.  McCoy is also just the second Philly back to rush for 200 yards in a game.  Deuce Staley is the other, with 201 during the 2000 season.

Coming into Sunday everyone was talking about Nick Foles, and justifiably so.  Now we’re reminded that McCoy is one of the best in the business, giving Philadelphia arguably one of the most potent QB-RB combos in the pros.

About the other half of that duo….

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles rebound from an awful first half that contained his first interception of the season.  He didn’t have a great day – 11-for-22 with 179 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 73.9 passer rating – but considering that he completed just one pass beyond the line of scrimmage over the first 30 minutes he capitalized on halftime adjustments and came through while LeSean McCoy took over.

Foles’ first interception of the season came on his 201st attempt – the sixth-longest streak to start a season without throwing a pick in league history:

Most Passes Without An Interception To Start The Season – NFL History

Player Year Attempts
Bernie Kosar 1991 286
Jason Campbell 2008 249
David Garrard 2007 230
Michael Vick 2010 211
Marc Bulger 2006 203
Nick Foles 2013 201

(Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW Jeremy Ross as the lone bright spot for the Lions in this Snow Bowl – and boy, was it ever bright.  As I mentioned above, defense does not go over well in such conditions.  Neither does special teams coverage, and Ross was all over that advantage like white on …snow.  His 98-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter was awesome.  I’ve never seen someone accelerate in the snow as fast as Ross did to blow through the wedge blocking and ski his way to the end zone.

How important was Ross to Detroit on Sunday?  He had 273 return yards.  For the entire game, the Lions gained 228 yards of offense from the line of scrimmage.  Wow.

New England (10-3) wins vs. Cleveland (4-9), 27-26

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:

Thief In The Night Award

The Patriots

This New England comeback shit is getting out of hand.

Week 1: A field goal with 5 seconds left in the game beats Buffalo by 2.

Week 6: QB Tom Brady finds rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins for the winning TD with 5 seconds left in raucous New Orleans.

Week 12: The crazy OT thriller in Denver, during which New England rallied from a 24-0 deficit at halftime.

Week 13: The Pats spot the Texans a 10-point lead at halftime, and then rally with two field goals in the final half of the fourth quarter to squeak out another win.

This week (14): New England trailed the Browns by twelve points with just over a minute to go and no timeouts.  No problem.  Two TDs in the last 61 seconds should do nicely, thanks to a well-executed onside kick (see below).

New England is playing down to their competition and having to come back, but in Belichick-bottom-line news: They’re winning.

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady build on his legendary status as a comeback winner.  Brady in the fourth quarter against the Browns: 16-20, 142, 2 TD.

If people are willing to call Tony Romo a clutch guy, we need another term for what Brady does at the end of games.

TRIVIA BOMB:

New England has now won three straight games during which they trailed by double digits in the second half.  According to Elias Sports Bureau the last team to do that was the 1993 Eagles, led by Randall Cunningham at quarterback.

More about that huge onside kick….

I SAW the Patriots pull off a weird onside kick within the final minute of the game.

TRIVIA BOMB:

January 1st, 1995: The last time the Pats recovered their own onside kick. It was a Wild Card game against; you guessed it, the Browns – who were coached in that game by none other than Bill Belichick.

That was the longest active streak in the NFL without a successful onside kick attempt…until Sunday.

The recovery took a big gaffe by Fozzy Whittaker to lunge for the ball and touch it, but loads of credit goes to K Steven Gotskowski for a great touch bouncer of a kick, and for making a deft box-out sort of dive at the ball without touching it before travelling 10 yards and possibly baiting Whittaker to try to get to the pigskin first.  (For the sake of clarity: the kickoff can’t be touched by the kicking team before 10 yards, but the receiving kick is welcome to fall on the ball within the first 10 yards, but if they touch it and can’t retain possession the ball is live.)

In other words, Fozzy Brown waka-waka’d his own team.  He should’ve remembered his hands team discussion years ago at the ESPYs with this future Hall Of Fame tight end:

Fozzie-espys-witn gonzalez

I SAW a final word on the Patriots comeback:

New England’s final TD was made possible by a shit pass interference call on Brown Leon McFadden in his own end zone.  I still have very mixed feelings about interference calls that are enforced at the spot of the foul like that, and I don’t think a bad call deserves another, but after watching New England get jobbed by bad calls over the last month it doesn’t feel like a travesty for them to benefit from one.

I SAW Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski get placed on injured reserve after injuring his knee Sunday.  I weighed in on my thoughts about the hit that broke Gronk above in Away from the game(s).  As I mentioned, QB Tom Brady was mournful about the loss, to say the least.  Here are some reasons why:

Patriots With & Without Rob Gronkowski – This Season (NFL rank in parentheses)

With Without
W-L 5-2 5-1
Points per Game 32.0 (2nd) 20.8 (14th)
Total Yards per Game 417.7 (3rd) 348.8 (19th)
First Downs per Game 26.6 (2nd) 19.7 (17th)
Red Zone TD % 68.8 40.9

(NFL Network)

You’ll notice the one thing that doesn’t change much: Wins and losses.  That’s why I don’t expect New England to struggle without Gronk.  For one thing, they didn’t have RB Shane Vereen for the first part of the season either….

I SAW Patriots RB Shane Vereen and the Patriots offensive coaching staff ambush the Browns defense.  In a game during which New England lost QB Tom Brady’s favourite target, Gronk (see above), Vereen was targeted a surprising 17 times for 12 receptions and 153 yards.

There is no other team I’ve ever seen in my years of watching the NFL that can elevate a player to some single game crazy output, but Vereen’s game on Sunday takes the cake because it was in a capacity that differs vastly from his usual role as a running back.

I SAW that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his coaching staff get accolades so consistently that it can tend to either feel disingenuous or lead one to wonder if they’ve lost some of their touch but we all just assume they’re still great coaches.  Well, according to the CBS broadcast, on Sunday New England had 14 rookies on their active roster, 5 of whom were penciled into the starting lineup.  That’s the sort of youth movement you hear about when a team’s season goes in the shitter, not a 10-3 team that has won 5 of their last 6 and is vying for home filed advantage.  Impressive.

I SAW Browns WR Josh Gordon show his dazzling size-speed combination on his 80-yard TD catch against the Patriots.  He caught the intermediate pattern with 6’1”, 205-pound CB Aqib Talib in stride with him, but Talib looked like a child while failing to tackle Gordon, and then getting left in the wideout’s dust as the Cleveland star legged out the scoring grab.  Calvin Johnson is in a class of his own.  Gordon is in the A-1 class, with Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson.  (A.J. Green is on the cusp of that group, but he can’t match the speed-size combo.)

PROPS to Gordon.  In fact, there aren’t enough PROPS in a motorboat regatta to amount to what the beast has done over the last several games: 

774 receiving yards over the last 4 games!

Gordon is averaging double-digit receptions, 200 yards and a TD over his last three games. For those of you scoring at home, that’s bananas.  Draw a banana in the box score.

banana football

I believe that’s the official scoring method for Gordon’s last month.

Baltimore (7-6) wins vs. Minnesota (3-9), 29-26

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:

The What-Just-Happened-I-Can’t-Breathe-And-My-Pants-Are-Full Game Of The Year

Quote Ravens WR Jacoby Jones: “You couldn’t even get emotional. It was too confusing.”

I’ll say.  This was an ending to a game that felt more like watching a tennis match than a football game.  I thought my neck might need one of Shaquille O’Neal’s Icy Hot packs after seeing five touchdowns in the final 2:05 of the game.  That’s five TDs – each of which alternated scores by each team.  You want a…

TRIVIA BOMB?

To start, Ravens-Vikings is the first game in NFL history with 5 go-ahead TDs in the final 2:30.

But the sequence of events was even more explosive than that in terms of milestones.  Here we go, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information.

TRIVIA BLITZKRIEG:

2:05: Joe Flacco 1-yd pass to Dennis Pitta

–       Flacco was 2-of-2 targeting Pitta on the drive. Flacco has completed 75.0% of his attempts to Pitta in the red zone the last two seasons, but only 44.6% to all other Ravens (including playoffs).

1:27: Toby Gerhart 41-yd rush

–       The 41-yard rush was the second longest of Gerhart’s career. It was only the second 40-yard rush allowed by the Ravens this season.

1:16: Jacoby Jones 77-yd kickoff return

–       This was Jones’ first return touchdown of the season. Jones was the only player with multiple kickoff return touchdowns last season.

0:45: Matt Cassel 79-yd pass to Cordarrelle Patterson

–       Patterson’s 79-yard touchdown was on a screen pass. It was the longest screen by anyone this season, and the second longest of the last five seasons.

0:04: Joe Flacco 9-yd pass to Marlon Brown

–       Flacco’s 9-yard pass to Brown was completed in the back of the end zone. Flacco is now 4-of-4 targeting Brown in the end zone this season. No other Ravens receiver has more than three end zone receptions.

I ruined my pants – again – just from reading that.  For good measure, the 36 points scored during that span is the most to end a game in the last 50 years – by 12 points.  (#2 belongs to Chiefs @ Titans in 2004, according to Elias.)

In summary, the flurry started with a connection with a long-missed individual – TE Dennis Pitta, Flacco’s favourite target that he’s had in the pros not named Anquan – and ended with one to a relatively unknown wideout….

I SAW the Ravens save their season with a last-minute TD, thanks to a great touch pass from QB Joe Flacco to WR Marlon Brown in bad weather.  It’s hard to appreciate how hard a feather pass like that is when the cold makes the football so much harder and more slippery.  Flacco’s pass was indeed sexy, but how in the name of Terrell Buckley does a defense let a guy get behind them like that?  It often seems like the end boundary in the end zone is the most maddeningly easy place to get open.  The folks at the Baltimore Sun give a great explanation of the play here.

I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson leave the game with what turns out to be a foot sprain.  As recently as Wednesday head coach Leslie Frazier said he hopes to have AP back at practice before the next game. 

The tag was tied around Minny’s toe long ago, but without Peterson they’re in even rougher shape.  Only Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (34.6) accounts for a higher percentage of his team’s offense than AP’s 32.0.

San Francisco (9-4) wins vs. Seattle (11-2), 19-17

I SAW a weird game that both entertained and had few remarkable plays.  That’s how the two most physical teams in the NFL roll.  Ss Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh put it, it’s “like going to the dentist chair for 3½ hours and getting a root canal.  These games are only for the tough.”

I SAW a big statement win for the Niners in their rematch against the Seahawks.  When these two powerhouses met in Week 2, San Francisco had come off of a win against the Packers in which San Fran QB Colin Kaepernick looked like he was ready to take the league by storm, much like he had in last season’s playoffs.  What no one saw coming was a two game losing streak starting with a beating at the hands of Seattle that would start a month or two during which the Niners would struggle to find their identity.

Over the last few weeks San Francisco has rediscovered their old, old-school ways and it showed in Sunday’s win while they tore up the formidable Seahawks D on the ground.  Led by RB Frank Gore, the Niners gained 137 rushing yards before contact – a 4.3 average.  Both of those numbers are the highest put up against Seattle this season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

San Fran only won when Phil Dawson kicked a winning field goal with 26 seconds left in the game.  But points are always at a premium in this matchup, and with the high stakes – the ’Hawks trying to beat the Saints to home field advantage in the playoffs and the Niners already in playoff mode in a scrap for a Wild Card – a two-point win feels like a 14-point one.  Add to that the consideration that these teams could very well meet again in January, in Seattle, it was a huge step for the red and gold.

I SAW the Seahawks fare more poorly than the Niners in the running game.  Although RB Marshawn Lynch started out with a 50-yard first half en route to his third straight 1,000-yard season, he only had 22 yards in the second half against a San Francisco defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

Cincinnati (9-4) wins vs. Indianapolis (8-5), 42-28

I SAW the Bengals clinch a playoff berth with their victory over the Colts, taking another step toward genuine credibility even though beating the Colts right now isn’t a big thing.

Cincinnati is now two games ahead of second-place Baltimore in the AFC North with three games to play thanks to some resilience in the face of key injuries.  I’ve mentioned the losses of CB Leon Hall and DT Geno Atkins a lot because of their importance on this team, but solid depth throughout the defensive roster has helped the Bengals persevere through them.  Lately Cincy has been adjusting admirably to a banged-up offensive line.  The most recent fixes came on Sunday, when right guard Kevin Zeitler missed his third straight game due to injury and star tackle Andrew Whitworth was moved to left guard and the group kept rolling.

The Bengals aren’t sexy – they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher yet this season (Giovanni Bernard had 99 against the Colts, though) and other than 4 straight games in the middle of the season QB Andy Dalton hasn’t surpassed 300 yards passing.  But they don’t need to be; they just keep winning.

Even with the buildup of this team that allows them to respond well to injuries the pressure still falls squarely upon Dalton and the offense.  If Sunday’s win against Indy is any indication, Dalton is ready to roll.  He put up 275 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and a 120.5 passer rating against the Colts, but it’s the poise and touch he showed when throwing downfield that made the difference.

I SAW the Colts continue a downward spiral not unlike most of the teams in the AFC South except for…the Jaguars?  Falling behind 21-0 in the first half helps no one.  Regardless, Indy clinched their division by losing, epitomizing the term “failing upwards”.

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck join the great Johnny Unitas (3 times) and Peyton Manning (4) as the only players in franchise history to throw for 300 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions in a game.  (Elias Sports Bureau)  Luck’s stats on Sunday are fool’s gold, though.  He’s the only one of those three Colts pivots to lose in such a game, and most of his production came in the second half once the Bengals had blown the game open.  Luck came into the game in a cold slump, averaging just 198.3 yards per game over 3 games prior to Sunday.  Luck is still lost without WR Reggie Wayne.

I SAW a TRIVIA BOMB:

The Bengals set a franchise record with three straight 40-Burger wins at home.  (STATS LLC)  They’ve also gone 6-0 in the division this season and 6-0 at home so far this year.

Think home field advantage means something to Cincy?  (See Away from the game(s) for my Playoff Picture.)

Miami (7-6) wins @ Pittsburgh (5-8), 34-28

I SAW that sidelines really have it out for the Steelers.

I can’t remember a game that sought out poetic justice more than this one did, with Pittsburgh losing a game with huge playoff implications because of a decision made along the sidelines after head coach Mike Tomlin was nailed to the wall for interfering with Ravens KR Jacoby Jones while he ran up the sidelines last week.

I’m referring to the Stanford-Cal-esque series of laterals on the final play of the game.  Feast your eyes, slow motion-style on a wild series of laterals that freed up Antonio Brown for what appeared to be the game-stealing TD.

Alas, Brown stepped out of bounds.  On a positive note, word is that Pittsburgh will not be docked any draft picks for Brown’s miscue.  Either way, as USA Today pointed out, the pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Brown certainly looks like a forward pass, and could very well have negated the play upon review. 

I SAW that the Steelers makeshift offensive line is doing a damn fine job of protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger recently.  Big Ben came into the game having played two straight games without getting sacked, a career long for him according to NFL Network.  On Sunday a Dolphins team that ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks could only bring the QB down three times.  Unfortunately for Pittsburgh it’s probably too little, too late, as the team has assured itself of its second straight non-winning season.

I SAW Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill play like he was slinging it in warm weather instead of the icy snow-filled turf at Heinz Field.  Forget that WR Mike Wallace had but 2 catches for 19 yards in his return to Steeltown (surprise, surprise) and that Tannehill’s line was somewhat pedestrian (20-of-33 for 200 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT).  The Miami quarterback was 8-of-10 with 3 touchdowns in the red zone on Sunday, just the second time in the last five seasons that the Steelers have given up three TD passes in the red zone in a game.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW Steelers S Troy Polamalu giveth, and taketh away.

The giveth: Polamalu made a typically-Troy athletic play on a pick-6 in the third quarter to give Pittsburgh the lead.

The taketh away: Polamalu made a typically-Troy undisciplined play on TE Charles Clay’s winning TD reception.  Check it out near the end of this highlight pack.  Notice how Clay was able to break free up the sideline for a touchdown after Polamalu sheepishly grabbed at the ball and then flopped to the turf once it didn’t work.  That’s not just an overrated player in action; that’s shameful.

Denver (10-3) wins vs. Tennessee (5-8), 51-28

I SAW business as usual for the Clockwork Orange offense.  Sunday was the Broncos’ third Fitty-Burger of the season and they also scored 49 against the Ravens in the season opener.  John Elway’s Denver teams never once put up 50 points.  Just saying.

I did some math (yes, it hurt), and if the Broncos maintain their current scoring average for the last three games they will set a new record by 44 points.  QB Peyton Manning is also on pace to set records for passing yards and TDs in a season, and his 7 games with at least 4 touchdowns is also a new mark.

Another record already in hand for the team: Denver is now the first NFL team to have four different players score 10 touchdowns in one season.  And WR Eric Decker, with 8 scores of his own, could make it 5 before the year’s over.  And now even the placekicker is getting in on the action….

I SAW Broncos K Matt Prater nail an NFL-record long 64-yard field goal.  Some will say that it deserves an asterisk because the kick was made in the high altitude of Denver.  Those people don’t know their history; they don’t know that two of the four 63-yarders had come in the same city.  Also, the 14-degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the kick can offset that factor.  It’s a kick, so that’s all I have to say about that.

I SAW the Titans basically bow out of the playoff race.  They’re still mathematically alive, but the plug to the life support on their hopes is just asking to be yanked out of the wall.  This franchise has a lot more good things going for it than it might seem, but that doesn’t mean head coach Mike Munchak’s job is safe.  If owner Tommy Smith is anything like his late father-in-law Bud Adams he’ll favour a drastic change, as opposed to patience in the face of adversity.

Kansas City (10-3) wins @ Washington (3-10), 45-10

I SAW the lone wheel left on the Redskins come flying off.

I’m actually not referring to the trip out behind the woodshed Washington took on their own turf, courtesy Kansas City.  I’m talking about the controversial decision by head coach Mike Shanahan to bench QB Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season.  The initial report from NFL is here.

A few things seem clearer now.  The reports that Shanahan had wanted to leave his job near the end of last season but felt compelled to stay after RG3’s brutal knee injury in the playoffs gathered steam during Monday’s press conference when the coach spoke at length about considering shelving his franchise quarterback to make sure he could have a full offseason for once.  That theory seems positively solid now that Shanahan Shenanigans have resulted in Griffin holding a clipboard for the rest of December.  It also seems abundantly clear that RG3 wanted to continue playing, but was yanked anyway.

What’s the best thing that can come of this for Washington?  Just you watch – backup Kirk Cousins will step in and play well for three games, then another team will give up big value to get him and spend the next three season or so wondering why he isn’t playing well anymore.  It’s nothing new.  Think Scott Mitchell, Rob Johnson, Matt Flynn, et cetera.  If that happens, at least the Redskins can perhaps compensate for some of the draft picks they gave up to earn the right to draft Griffin.

For now though, this franchise’s fortunes are wavering on a razor’s edge – and the twice-surgically repaired knee of their star QB.

I SAW a more accurate and thorough postmortem analysis of Washington’s season requires some time to see how players respond to the benching of QB Robert Griffin III for the last three games, but for now it’s safe to say that Griffin’s health and production issues aren’t the only thing plaguing this team.  The defense is awful – I don’t understand how anyone thought it wouldn’t be after minimal changes to last year’s shitty unit – and the offensive line has been atrocious, not just in pass protection but in clearing lanes for RB Alfred Morris who was second in the NFL in rushing yards last year.  Maybe the read-option hid some of the O-line’s flaws in 2012 by keeping defenses on their heels, but that doesn’t change the fact that improvements along the line are a must.  Oh – and their special teams have allowed a league-high 5 TDs this season.  That’s why I see the change to Kirk Cousins not just a move to protect RG3 but also an attempt to get value for Cousins in a trade as he auditions over the coming weeks.  The Redskins simply have too many holes to fill to not try such a move.      

I SAW the Chiefs get back to their sack-ing ways, with 6 of them against the Redskins on Sunday while they put an end to a 3-game skid.

Sure, I just mentioned that Washington’s O-line is awful, but sometimes beating up on a bad team while its down is the easiest way to regain momentum.  Most importantly, LB Tamba Hali had two of his team’s sacks after hobbling through the last game with a bad ankle.  That’s good news for a D waiting to also get LB Justin Houston back on the field, hopefully next week.

I SAW the Chiefs score their league-leading fourth and fifth special teams touchdowns on Sunday.  When was the last time we saw two return guys as dangerous as Quintin Demps and Dexter McCluster on the same team?  I’ve tried to think of a similar pair and I can’t.

Even if the Chiefs stumble again en route to the postseason, the home run capability of their return game is more than enough to make playoff opponents anxious.  We all know a big return can change the course of a game, especially in January and February.

Arizona (8-5) wins vs. St. Louis (5-8), 30-10

I SAW a fact that is no longer undeniable: The Rams pass defense blows.  It might rank 22nd in the league in terms of yards allowed, but don’t let that fool you – this D is much, much worse at defending the pass than that because their superior pass rush from ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn helps cut down on some of the longer passes by shortening the time QBs have to get the ball downfield.

On Sunday Cardinals QB Carson Palmer had his way with the defensive backs of St. Louis, completing 84 percent of his passes (27-of-32), the most accurate game by an NFC QB this season with a minimum of 25 attempts.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  This came after Palmer didn’t practice all week because of a bad elbow on his throwing arm.  Cousin Larry Fitzgerald was catching leather easier than a sheep shepherd in Mepos, too.  The wideout’s 12 receptions on 12 targets ties Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown for the most catches this season by a receiver who has caught all of his targets.

The defensive backs for St. Loo were already having a hard time keeping up with opponents before CB Cortland Finnegan was lost for the season due to injury.  Without him, teams are picking on second-year corner Janoris Jenkins, who is mired in a sophomore slump.  It will be interesting to see if GM Les Snead stands pat with that group in the offseason.

I SAW Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu lost for the season with an ACL injury.  That’s a shame.  Mathieu had been a big factor in ’Zona’s pass defense after so much off-field scrutiny and I hope he recovers fully.  He’s truly a rare talent with amazing football instincts.

I SAW the Cardinals win their first game against any division rival since Week 1 of last season.  I like this Arizona team, but if head coach Bruce Arians is going to get them to play at the next level they’re going to have to start winning more games in the NFC West.

I SAW Cardinals DE John Abraham get his 133rd career sack, passing Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.  Something isn’t right about that.

San Diego (7-6) wins vs. New York Giants (5-8), 37-14

I SAW the Chargers keep their slim playoff hopes alive while ending New York’s.  Two weeks ago I predicted that the ’Bolts would make the postseason, but it doesn’t look so good now.  They still have a chance if they can keep up the balance on offense that they showed Sunday, with QB Philip Rivers throwing three TDs and RB Ryan Mathews running for 103 yards – a dominant performance that allowed Rivers to sit out the last 5+ minutes of the game.

I SAW that Giants QB Eli Manning might want to start looking downfield for someone other than WR Rueben Randle.  Granted, the write-off of a season from Hakeem Nicks has whittled Manning’s options outside to Victor Cruz and Randle, but it’s safe to say that bad things happen when the quarterback throws to the latter.

Most Interceptions By QB-WR Combination – 2013 Season

QB-WR Duo INTs Attempts
Andy Dalton-A.J. Green 9 137
Eli Manning-Rueben Randle 8 67
Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson 8 136
Carson Palmer-Larry Fitzgerald 6 110
Robert Griffin III-Pierre Garcon 6 137

(ESPN Stats & Information)

The other guys on this list deserve a bit of charity because the receivers are the number 1 option on the team.  But Randle only has 37 receptions this season.  50 wideouts entered the weekend with that many or more.

In fact, I’m stating to wonder if Manning should be looking to throw at all during the regular season.  Obviously I’m exaggerating, but on Sunday he had his 45th career game with multiple interceptions.  No other player has more since Manning entered the league.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW Chargers RB Danny Woodhead continue to prove that backfield productivity for tiny white guys doesn’t just work in New England.  On Sunday the diminutive back caught his 65th reception and 6th TD.  Before Monday night’s game, no other NFL running back has as many receptions or receiving yards as Woodhead, and his receiving TD total is double the second-best at his position.  Who saw that coming?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Green Bay (6-6-1) wins vs. Atlanta (3-10), 22-21

I SAW the Packers rebound after getting booed by the home crowd for trailing the lowly Falcons by double digits at halftime.  RD Eddie Lacey twisted his ankle, QB Matt Flynn served up a 71-yard pick-6 off of a defender’s shoe just before the break and it was looking like Green Bay was going to extend its winless streak to six games.  But then Flynn played his best two quarters of football in years, Lacey returned to the game and even the shitty defense came through with a strip-sack of Falcons QB Matt Ryan to set up the winning TD.

The Pack is very much still in the battle for the NFC North title, but I don’t see it.

Why, by the way, is there a debate about shelving QB Aaron Rodgers or not?  I get it with a guy like Washington’s Robert Griffin III, whose reconstructed knee is still quite balky, but if Rodgers is medically cleared to play, get the guy out there.  Sure, he’s a valuable asset to the franchise, but he’s highly paid because he’s a professional and pros work for a living.

I SAW the Falcons have even more rebuilding work than I thought. 

Yes, I used the “R” word to describe a team that won 13 games last season.  Atlanta has a franchise QB, two elite wide receivers (when they’re healthy) an uber-talented tailback (when healthy) and a Hall Of Fame tight end (who is retiring)…that’s the good part, so yeah, there’s some work to do.  The offensive line is a disaster, and the pass rush is nonexistent.  I think GM Thomas Dmitroff did a great job drafting what should be the team’s cornerback tandem of the future last summer when he selected Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in Rounds 1 and 2, respectively.  But their growing pains and the bad habits of starter Assante Samuel have resulted in some unrecognized weaknesses in coverage out wide.  According to ESPN Stats & Information the Falcons came into Sunday giving up the NFL’s second-highest completion rate on passes outside the painted field numbers.  Look what subpar Packers QB Matt Flynn was able to do to reverse his own fortunes against Atlanta’s outside coverage:

Matt Flynn Passing Outside The Field Numbers – This Season

Last 3 Games Sunday vs. Falcons
Comp % 51.2 87.5*
Yards per Att 7.0 9.3
TD-INT 0-1 1-0

*- 14-16, 149 yards

I SAW Falcons RB Steven Jackson continue his campaign for the Most Disappointing Free Agent Signing award.  His 71 yards on 15 carries (4.7) average is pretty decent, but not against a woeful Packers defense that had given up over 200 yards rushing in each of its last two games.  It’s a sign that Jackson hasn’t been the bell cow Atlanta wants him to be when he only gets his number called for 15 carries in a snow-filled game.

New York Jets (6-7) wins vs. Oakland (4-9), 37-27

I SAW the Jets end a 3-game losing streak by putting up a season high in points, but it wasn’t without blemishes.  For instance QB Geno Smith threw his 20th interception of the season, tied with Eli Manning for the most in the NFL.  New York also allowed a season-high 150 yards rushing, 123 of which was gained by the Raiders’ fullback/fourth string tailback Marcel Reese.  Also, the first TD of the game for the Jets was their first in nine quarters.  Of any kind.  Jets suck.  Oakland too….

I SAW the Raiders lose their 13th straight game played in the Eastern Time zone.  Future Hall Of Famer Charles Woodson put it this way to the Associated Press: “It was really embarrassing to be part of [the loss]. We looked like the Bad News Bears out there.”

I SAW Jets QB Geno Smith throw his first TD pass since before the World Series ended.  Wow.

They can smell the stench of Smith’s game in East Asia.

Last Wednesday Smith told reporters that he doesn’t believe in the rookie wall.

I’d like him to explain what he thinks those chunks of masonry caught in between his teeth are from, if that’s the case.  Looking at the Jamarcus Russell statistical impersonation Smith put up in November, I’d say he sprinted face-first into said wall.

I SAW Jets S Ed Reed get his 62nd career interception and first as a member of Gang Green.  Didn’t see that coming.  Honest.

Tampa Bay (4-9) wins vs. Buffalo (4-9), 27-6

I SAW Buccaneers RB Bobby Rainey score on a franchise-record 80-yard TD run.

I also saw Bucs QB Mike Glennon throw two touchdowns…on nine completions.  I also saw Bills QB E.J. Manuel throw four interceptions.

I think I’ve seen enough.

SNF- New Orleans (10-3) wins vs. Carolina (9-4), 31-13

I SAW the Panthers learn a few harsh lessons Sunday night in the Super Dome.

One, there’s a lot more to wresting NFC South supremacy from the Saints than a very impressive 8-game win streak before heading to New Orleans to face a team that is now used to playing under head coach Sean Payton again (defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s improvements on defense aren’t to be overlooked either).  No one plays at home in primetime quite like the Saints since 2006 when Payton and QB Drew Brees came to town.

Two, almost no one can stifle the Saints offense.  Before Sunday night, Carolina hadn’t allowed more than two TDs in a game all season.  ’Nawlins scored three of them in the second quarter alone, also becoming the first team to put up more than 24 points against the Panthers.

Three, it might seem like a good idea to resist blitzing a surgeon like Brees, but when your team’s hallmark this season has been to apply pressure and protect the deficiencies in your defensive backfield, well, let’s just say Brees had a field day.  Against a standard pass rush (4 rushers or fewer) Sunday night, Brees went 22-of-26 (85 percent) – the highest such percentage Carolina has allowed in a game over the last six seasons.  Coming into the game, the Panthers had allowed a league-low five passing TDs this season when sending a standard pass rush.  Brees threw three in the game.

The Panthers get their rematch in Tobacco country in just one more week.  We’ll see if they’ve learned lesson number three.

I SAW Saints defenders Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan continue to lead the resurgence of their team’s defense by harassing quarterbacks in true Ryan family fashion.  Coordinator Rob Ryan came to town this season and has set his two best pass rushers free.  The result: 20.5 sacks between the two of them, few bigger than their five sacks of Panther Cam Newton Sunday night, equaling the team’s total.

I SAW one of the few positives that the Panthers can take away from their loss Sunday night: The way QB Cam Newton handled it.

If you saw Newton’s postgame conference on Sunday night it was night and day in terms of comparing it to his reactions after a loss last season.  A sampling:

It was a great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go.  The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face this team again in two weeks. Those guys just were better than us today. Are they better than us? No.”

Another note on Newton, going forward: He doesn’t have to make the playoffs by winning in ’Nawlins this season, but at some point in the years to come he’s got to figure out how to divine a big win out in the bayou.

I SAW PROPS for Saints QB Drew Brees for joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and John Elway as the only quarterbacks to throw for 50,000 career yards.  Brees did it faster than any of them, too.  No big thing – not if you ask Breesie anyway.

MNF- Chicago (7-6) wins vs. Dallas (7-6), 45-28

I SAW a huge win for the Chicago Brrrs.

C’mon – throw me a bone.  If you pronounce it like Bill Swerski and the Superfans do, it kinda sounds like that.  And coach Deet-ka had his number retired at halftime, so I’m going with it because this game was really fucking cold.  I’ve never seen TV personalities on site discuss the conditions as much as on Monday night.  NFL Network’s Rebecca Haarlow apologized to anchor/Dumbo Andrew Siciliano at the start of her report because the cold had turned the muscles in her face and throat numb.  The ESPN crew of Trent Dilfer, Steve Young and Ray Lewis seemed practically drunk from the elements by the end of the game.

I SAW the Cowboys defense continue to leave a stench that even cut through the harsh cold.  Normally such frigid conditions would freeze a steaming log of shit quickly, but the collective man-dump that is Big D’s D is like plutonium. 

I thought last year’s Packers fielded the most generous defense I’ve ever seen, but according to Elias Sports Bureau I was wrong.  Giving up first downs is one of the most efficient ways to surrender a game, and Dallas circa 2013 is among history’s best in this department.

Most First Down Allowed Per Game – Since 1970

Team Year First Downs per Game
Baltimore Colts 1981 25.4
Dallas Cowboys 2013 24.9
New Orleans Saints 2012 23.8
Atlanta Falcons 1987 23.6
Minnesota Vikings 2013 23.5

In terms of yardage allowed, only the worst-ever Saints have given up more than Little D’s 426.8 per game through 13 games.

Another one for good measure: Three teams have gone a whole game without a punt this season.  Two of them have been against Dallas.

Mind you, the Cowboys defense isn’t to be outdone….

I SAW the Bears defense continue to give up gobs and gobs of rushing yards despite the blowout win.  It started out ugly when the Cowboys ripped off runs of 19, 5, 7, and 6 yards on the first four plays from scrimmage of the game.  It ended with Dallas gaining 198 yards on 28 attempts – a 7.1 average.  I predicted in my Playoff Picture in Away from the game(s) that Chicago will win the NFC North.  If they do, it will be in spite of themselves as far as the interior of the defense goes.  That’s a pretty weird thing to say about the Monsters of the Midway, but injuries and age have made it so.  Besides, in the new Marc Trestman era, isn’t an offensively minded team what people have been asking for?  Actually, it’s more than likely that Bears fans don’t know what they want.  Now, they don’t have a defense that can catch a cold – even in frigid weather.

I SAW – and I don’t like to admit that it’s what I’m seeing because I’m one of the few who likes Cutler – that Bears QB Josh McCown might be playing Jay Cutler out of the Windy City.  The sample pool for McCown is smaller, but worth noting:

Bears Starting Quarterbacks – In Games Started This Season

McCown Cutler
W-L 2-2 4-4
Comp % 64.5 63.0
Pass Yards per Game 298.8 238.5
TD-INT 7-1 13-8

Why would such disparate sample sizes – and, frankly, disparate talent levels – portend Cutler’s being let go this coming offseason?  It that happens it won’t be because slapping the franchise tag on Cutler (whose contract is up after the season) is a better choice than opting for McCown at the position.  It will be because there are simply too many needs for this team to address without having to commit the cap space to franchising Cutler.  If you add the unexpected chemistry that McCown has with WR Alshon Jeffrey, the move isn’t a dumb one by any means.

I SAW PROPS to Bears WR Brandon Marshall for becoming the fifth player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in 7 of his first 8 seasons.  Check out the group he joined:

Most 1,000-Yard Receiving Seasons – First 8 Seasons

Player Years Seasons With 1,000 Yards
Brandon Marshall 2007-13 7
Torry Holt 2000-06 7
Randy Moss 1998-05 7
Jerry Rice 1986-92 7
Lance Alworth 1963-69 7

(ESPN Stats & Information)

You can argue that Holt and Moss won’t make the Hall Of Fame, but that’s damn good company.  One pro-Rice note (because that’s how I roll): The only season the greatest didn’t crack the 1,000-yard barrier was his rookie year when he gained 927.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 15 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

 

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One thought on “What I Saw, Week 14 – 2013

  1. Pingback: The NFL Upside-Down Awards, 2013 Season | The Fifth Quarter

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