I'm going to write what every single analyst on TV will undoubtedly say in the next few days: "I bet every NFC team is happy the Eagles aren't in the playoffs, har har har."
It's true though. Philadelphia has found its stride after that horrible Thursday night effort in Seattle. The players have saved Andy Reid's job (though as I've noted multiple times on this Web site, I never believed it was truly in jeopardy), and have built momentum for 2012. There's no doubt that this team will be much better next year, thanks to an entire offseason in which all of these players can gel.
It pains me to say this, but QB Dog Killer was exceptional in this contest. He went 24-of-39 for 335 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, though he didn't do much running (1-3). His numbers could have been much better, as Jeremy Maclin dropped a score in the first quarter. QBDK also had a 29-yard reception to Maclin wiped out by a Ronnie Brown hold.
Speaking of Brown, he and Dion Lewis shared carries because LeSean McCoy was a surprise Sunday morning inactive. The promising Lewis predictably outperformed the decrepit Brown; Lewis' 12 attempts went for 58 yards and a touchdown, while Brown struggled to gain 14 yards on six tries. It'll be difficult for Brown to land a job next year. He's done, but everyone except for the Eagles pretty much knew that already heading into this season.
QBDK's three touchdowns went to: Brent Celek (6-86), DeSean Jackson (4-86) and Chad Hall. Despite the miscues, Maclin paced the Eagles in receptions (8) and receiving yardage (105).
This was pretty much a sleepy game in which a quiet, hungover Philadelphia crowd wasn't really into it. The Eagles made some silly mistakes, as noted, but the Redskins were worse. Mike Shanahan was guilty of some awful clock management at the end of the first half that made Reid look like a genius by comparison.
Rex Grossman was his usual, erratic self. In other words, there was some "Good Rex" and plenty of "Bad Rex." He went 22-of-45 for 256 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He can't be allowed to start next year.
With Roy Helu hobbled by an injury, Evan Royster handled most of the workload, and once again did a great job. He gained 113 rushing yards on 20 carries and 52 receiving yards off five catches. However, it was Helu who scored on a 47-yard reception. He had just four carries for five yards otherwise.
(Editor's Note: Going into this season, if you would have said that the 49ers would allow just two rushing touchdowns all year to Marshawn Lynch and Kellen Clemens, you would have been locked away in a mental institution. Gotta love the NFL.
Speaking of Clemens, by the way, he's screwed me in two of the past three weeks with backdoor touchdowns. He is the new Backdoor Bandit.)
Nothing like a game between a team trying to secure a playoff bye and a team possibly vying for the top pick in the draft, right? The 49ers came in intent on steamrolling their rivals and coasting to a win while securing the No. 2 seed. The Rams had a chance at the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, or at least the right to trade him, had the Colts won in another early game.
As it turned out, Indianapolis lost, but no one could accuse this team of quitting based on this effort. Unfortunately for head coach Steve Spagunuolo and general manager Bill Devaney, their team's effort was not enough because, if early reports are to be believed, both are out of a job.
San Francisco got its hands on the football first and wasted no time moving the chains. As has been the team's pattern all season, the 49ers chewed up clock and methodically moved down the field. A drive covering only 48 yards took 5:15, but record-setting veteran kicker David Akers missed the 48-yard field goal.
The Rams immediately took advantage of field position with Kellen Clemens hitting ex-49er Brandon Lloyd for a gain of 24 yards. Lloyd (6-100, TD) did what he could to wreck his former team. Then, Steven Jackson (16-76) picked up 20 yards on three straight carries to put St. Louis in the red zone. Two plays later, the Rams were forced to third down, and with Clemens scrambling out of trouble, it looked like a field goal attempt was coming due. That is, until he kept running towards the end zone for the 7-0 lead and rare rushing score against this 49ers' defense.
Both offenses followed with three-and-outs, but the field position exchange went heavily in favor of San Francisco, which got a huge 66-yard punt out of Andy Lee and wound up starting from the St. Louis 33-yard line. Unlike a lot of occurrences this season, the 49ers actually finished the drive. Alex Smith (21-of-31, 219 yards, TD) completed a couple of short passes and ran for the tying touchdown as the first quarter came to a close.
The Rams repeatedly started drives at their own 20-yard line or worse field position (eight times to be exact) but on this possession, worked out of it with a 19-yard pass to rookie tight end Lance Kendricks. However, after two Jackson runs created a third-down situation, Clemens was intercepted by Tarrell Brown. Smith wasted no time finishing this second-consecutive drive and putting San Francisco on top, completing two passes to Michael Crabtree (9-92, 2 TDs) to cover the 34 yards and make it 14-7.
Cadillac Williams substituted in for Jackson on the next drive for St. Louis, but again, the team couldn't move the ball, so it flipped back to the 49ers. Having started at their own 33-yard line, which on this day was par for the course, San Francisco executed two short runs, which Smith followed by hitting Vernon Davis (8-118) for a gain of 44. However, the red-zone woes that have haunted this offense all year showed up when Smith was sacked, threw incomplete and threw a "give up" completion to Crabtree. Akers, who now owns the records for field goals made and attempted in a single season, converted to make it 17-7.
The 49ers defense was starting to take over, and forced consecutive quick punts sandwiched around their own three-and-out. Although head coach Jim Harbaugh insisted that his team would not rest anyone, Frank Gore (7-9) was clearly not part of the equation due to an exhausting season of wear and tear. Two runs from Kendall Hunter for a total of 19 yards helped put San Francisco in plus territory, and a completion to Davis made it an easy field goal opportunity for Akers who put the 49ers up 20-7 at halftime when the Rams failed on their final desperation two-minute drive.
To its credit, St. Louis came out firing in the second half. Jackson ripped off a 27-yard run, but the drive stalled. The field position was changed at least, and San Francisco had to punt after a weak ensuing posession.The Rams responded with big gains to Kendricks and Lloyd, keying a drive that resulted in a 49-yard field goal from Josh Brown, trimming the 49ers' lead to 20-10.
It looked like San Francisco had had about enough of that, completing passes to Crabtree and Davis, setting up yet another Akers field goal attempt. A funny thing happened though. No one covered Crabtree wide and Akers hit him for an easy touchdown, creating a seemingly safe 27-10 lead as the third quarter came to a close.
Still, the St. Louis would not quit. A couple passes to Danario Alexander moved the Rams into field goal range, and Brown was good from 48 yards to trim the advantage to 27-13. The 49ers went to more running from Hunter (16-76) but had to punt when Smith threw short to Antonio Dixon on a check down. However, the San Francisco defense came up big with Tarell Brown intercepting Clemens once again. Set up at the 13-yard line, the 49ers ran the ball five times with Hunter and Dixon (8-21 yards, TD) sharing the work and Dixon's score putting them safely up 34-13.
Well, everyone thought San Francisco was safe with just 6:30 left in the game up 21 points. However, St. Louis was on a different page than the rest of America. A pass to Lloyd coupled with a 15-yard penalty put the Rams almost at midfield in the blink of an eye. Three plays later, a deep touchdown to Lloyd making it 34-20. After recovering the onside kick, which was moved up thanks to another 15-yard penalty on the 49ers, Brown was flagged for interfering with Lloyd, and the ball was spotted at the 1-yard line. Williams cashed in the touchdown from there, and, to everyone's amazement, the score was San Francisco 34, St. Louis 27 with plenty of time (4:36) left.
The 49ers couldn't do anything with Smith sacked on third down by James Hall. The Rams threw a big scare into them when Clemens hit Brandon Gibson for 21 yards to the San Francisco 33-yard line. Two plays later, Navorro Bowman sacked Clemens, putting the signal caller on the sideline. Backup Tom Brandstater threw incomplete twice, and San Francisco ran Dixon three times to set up the victory formation.
The game definitely didn't go how the 49ers drew it up, but they earned the bye and didn't suffer any more notable injuries.
Bears 17, Vikings 13
I liked the Bears to cover this game. One of the reasons was because the Vikings were starting the wrong quarterback. Joe Webb has proven over the past month that he's the superior Minnesota signal-caller, but when Leslie Frazier gave Ponder the nod in this contest, I was confident in Chicago's ability to beat the spread.
With that in mind, you can imagine my reaction when Ponder left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury. I yelled, "S***!"
It turns out that I overreacted. Webb was better than Ponder, but the former was guilty of two interceptions. He went 17-of-32 for 200 yards and the picks. Ponder, meanwhile, was 4-of-10 for 28 yards and an interception of his own.
With Adrian Peterson out, the Vikings' sole dynamic offensive weapon was Percy Harvin, who hauled in a whopping 10 balls for 115 yards to go along with a rushing touchdown. He missed some time in the fourth quarter with a leg cramp, but it wasn't serious.
Toby Gerhart, meanwhile, rushed for 67 yards on 15 attempts. He outgained Kahlil Bell (17-54), who had a lost fumble that led to Harvin's touchdown.
Josh McCown was also sloppy with the football; he went 15-of-25 for 160 yards, one touchdown, a pick and a pair of fumbles. He continued to show off his surprising mobility, however, generating 30 rushing yards on four scrambles.
McCown's score went to Roy Williams, who once again served as the veteran quarterback's favorite target. He caught four balls for 60 yards.
As you can tell, this game was pretty dull. The most exciting aspect of this contest was Jared Allen's quest to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. Allen notched 3.5 sacks on the afternoon, but that left him just a half sack short of Strahan's 22.5. It's too bad that Brett Favre wasn't quarterbacking the Bears.
On the other side of the ball, Brian Urlacher left in the third quarter with what looked like a serious knee injury. Details aren't known quite yet.
Packers 45, Lions 41
Matt Flynn opened this contest with a 17-yard completion to Donald Driver, but was strip-sacked three plays later. The Lions scored a quick touchdown and then secured a safety when Green Bay kickoff returner Patrick Lee had a brain fart and walked backward into the end zone after picking up the football when it was laying on the 1-yard line.
With a 9-0 lead and Aaron Rodgers sidelined because of a coaching decision, it looked like the Lions were going to run away with an easy victory.
And then Matt Flynn happened. All he did against the Lions was set the all-time Green Bay single-game passing yardage record. That's right - Flynn outgained Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Rodgers. Crazy.
Flynn went 31-of-44, 480 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. It was all legitimate too. He tossed multiple bombs to his receivers, mostly to Jordy Nelson (9-162, 3 TDs). Flynn led the Packers on a game-winning scoring drive with just a minute remaining. Due to hit free agency this March, Flynn has made himself a TON of money. At just 26 years old, Flynn now has to be considered one of the top free agents available this offseason. I'll have 2012 NFL Free Agency Rankings posted soon.
As great as Flynn was, Matthew Stafford threw for more yardage, going 36-of-59 for 520 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. The second pick was a killer though, as it occurred on the final drive and iced the game for the Packers. It's a shame because Ser Stafford was incredible otherwise.
Calvin Johnson had a monstrous outing, catching 11 balls for 244 yards and a touchdown. He was guilty of offensive pass interference against Tramon Williams in the end zone, however.
With all of that passing yardage, other quality fantasy performances came from: Brandon Pettigrew (7-116), Tony Scheffler (4-65, TD), Titus Young (4-24, 2 TDs), James Jones (6-89), Jermichael Finley (7-64, TD) and Donald Driver (2-52, TD). Ryan Grant, who had 48 rushing yards on 12 carries, had an 80-yard touchdown reception on a screen.
The Lions really got screwed in this game. Ser Stafford lobbed a touchdown to Young in the second quarter - only it wasn't ruled a score. The officials said that Young didn't get both feet inbounds when it was clear that he did. Jim Schwartz wanted to challenge, but didn't have any available. He was so enraged that he started throwing audio equipment.
I can only imagine what the ref said when talking to Schwartz: "Sorry Jim, I placed a large bet on Packers +6 this morning. I know it's a catch - I can see as much on the screen - but I need to buy my kids some late Christmas presents."
With the loss and Atlanta's win against the pathetic Buccaneers, the Lions will travel to the Superdome next week to battle the Saints. I'd say that we can only imagine what Brees will do to this Detroit secondary following Flynn's performance, but we've already seen that recently. Good luck, Detroit.
Saints 45, Panthers 17
So much for the Saints benching their starters in the second half if the 49ers were up on the Rams. Despite the fact that San Francisco held a two-score lead throughout most of the afternoon, Drew Brees and the rest of the starters played for most of this contest.
The Panthers had no chance because of this reason. They kept this NFC South battle close for a while, but Brees was simply unstoppable. The NFL's new single-season passing-record holder went 28-of-35 for 389 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. He put on an absolute clinic.
Brees' pick, by the way, wasn't his fault. Darren Sproles came up gimpy on the play, but was on the field in the second half, so the injury wasn't serious, apparently.
As great as Brees was, Panthers' safety Sherrod Martin was equally terrible. He was solely responsible for two of New Orleans' touchdowns. He took a horrible angle on Chris Ivory's 29-yard scoring scamper, and then blew a coverage when Brees hit Marques Colston on a 43-yard bomb.
Colston found the end zone twice, catching seven passes for 145 yards. One of his touchdowns was a great, leaping grab, which obviously didn't hurt in his pursuit to land an enormous contract in free agency this offseason.
Brees' other touchdowns went to Jimmy Graham (8-97), Darren Sproles (5-29) and Jed Collins. Robert Meachem appeared to score, but that was nullified by a holding penalty. Graham, by the way, passed Kellen Winslow as the all-time single-season leader in receiving yardage by a tight end, only to have Rob Gronkowski pass him later in the afternoon.
As for the Panthers, Cam Newton went 15-of-25 for 158 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was foolishly floated into the end zone at the end of the first half. This was huge, as any missed scoring opportunity against the Saints in the Superdome usually ensures defeat.
Newton also had 32 rushing yards on six scampers. Jonathan Stewart (9-79, TD) and DeAngelo Williams (7-53) had success running the ball as well. New Orleans' Chris Ivory (19-127, TD) was better.
As you may guess, Newton's touchdown went to Steve Smith (6-86). Greg Olsen missed out on a score himself when the ball bounced off his hands, and adding injury to insult, he suffered a head injury on the play.
Titans 23, Texans 22
I was pretty confident that the Texans were going to win this game. The Titans had to prevail to give themselves a chance at the playoffs, so I figured they were going to choke. Houston, meanwhile, has been so brutal over the past couple of weeks that Gary Kubiak needed his offense to get some momentum heading into the postseason.
That's exactly what was happening early on. The Texans marched 90 yards on their opening drive, with T.J. Yates going 4-of-4 for 47 yards. Unfortunately, Yates suffered a separated shoulder, meaning Jake Delhomme quarterbacked Houston for the rest of the contest.
Following a predictable strip-sack, Matvei texted me, "Delhomme in for the Texans, WTF - how many Indian burial grounds did you build your house on?" I replied, "Way too many apparently."
The Texans lost, but the big story is Yates' injury. It was to his non-throwing arm, but there's still a chance that Delhomme could start next week after his performance against the Titans. He went 18-of-28 for 211 yards and a touchdown, nearly leading his new team to a come-from-behind victory.
Before any Houston fans get excited, however, they should remember that Delhomme is a turnover machine. He was nearly pick-sixed in the first half, but cornerback Jason McCourty dropped the interception. Now that Delhomme has a chance to start, terrorists are mobilizing to kidnap his son again. Expect some shady antics next week if Delhomme gets the nod.
Delhomme had a chance to win this contest because fullback Ahmard Hall fumbled the ball away in the final couple of minutes. It makes you wonder why Chris Johnson wasn't getting the touches at that point. Johnson wasn't great or anything (15-61), but if you're paying him all that money, you might as well give him the most important carries of the game.
Matt Hasselbeck was great, going 22-of-35 for 297 yards and two touchdowns. He hit Nate Washington (4-92, TD) for multiple downfield strikes. Washington showed a lot of guts in this contest, as he was clearly laboring in pain from all the injuries he's sustained in the second half of the season.
As for the most talented receiver on the field, Andre Johnson was limited, as promised. He caught two balls for 21 yards to a standing ovation. I don't need to tell you how important his availability will be next week.
Arian Foster and Owen Daniels didn't play, so Ben Tate (16-97, TD) and James Casey (7-91) were the team's top fantasy performers.
Defensive end Antonio Smith had two sacks for the Texans. I mention this because I loved Smith's sabre celebration, where he pulled out an imaginary sword, twirled it around and put it back in his sheath. He did it twice, and it was awesome.
Jaguars 19, Colts 13
Colts win! Colts win! Colts win!
Congratulations to Indianapolis for securing this amazing victory. Things looked bleak when Blaine Gabbert fumbled the ball away in the second quarter, but Dan Orlovsky was able to overcome this with key interceptions.
In the wake of this win, Indianapolis has secured the first-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Great job by the players, coaching staff and owners for ensuring that this franchise will have at least another decade of outstanding quarterback play.
Speaking outstanding quarterback play, Blaine Gabbert went 11-of-19 for 92 yards and a touchdown. I'm not saying that facetiously as I am with everything else; Gabbert performed exceptionally compared to how he's looked all year.
Don't be too excited, however. Gabbert went 5-of-6 for 44 yards and a score in the first quarter, which means he was just 6-of-13 for 48 yards and the aforementioned lost fumble afterward. He once again wilted under pressure in the pocket, taking three sacks.
The Jaguars may have lost this contest (goodbye, Justin Blackmon?) but at least Maurice Jones-Drew secured the rushing title. Jones-Drew tallied 169 yards on 25 carries, giving him 1,606 on the year. Not bad for a guy coming into the seasons with knee concerns (it should be noted that he was the one who was concerned).
Speaking of Jones-Drew, I want to bring up a great tackle by Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea. Jones-Drew looked like he would be able to score a rushing touchdown in the first half, but Bethea smothered him at the 1-yard line and took down the big back.
As for Dan Orlovsky, I picked the Colts to cover because he was doing a good job of taking care of the football. Oops. He tossed two picks and fumbled twice, going 27-of-40 for 264 yards and a touchdown otherwise.
The score was to Austin Collie (9-96). Reggie Wayne was also solid (8-73) in perhaps his final game as a Colt.
(Editor's Note: Only Mark Sanchez can throw two interceptions to 300-pound Randy Starks. Good going, Sanchize. It's time for the Jets to start exploring other quarterback options.)
The biggest takeaway from this game: Mark Sanchez is awful. The Jets have to get some quality competition for the starting quarterback job this offseason. Sanchez had an atrocious performance, completing 21-of-32 passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Miami struck first with a field-goal drive that was led by Matt Moore. To answer, Jets' embattled offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer emptied the playbook with a gadget play. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley threw a pass off an end around to Dustin Keller for a gain of 41 yards. The drive ended with Sanchez tossing a one-yard touchdown pass to Keller.
New York's lack of discipline was a crippler in the first half. The team had repeated false start penalties that turned a promising drive into a field goal. Conversely, the Jets' defense had an excellent first half. They were aided by Brian Hartline dropping a perfectly thrown deep pass from Moore. Brodney Pool intercepted Moore, but Sanchez gave it right back with a terrible pick.
Under pressure, Sanchez tried to dump a pass off but instead he was picked by defensive lineman Randy Starks. That set up a 58-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter on the final play of the first half.
The third quarter started out as more of the same and there was zero scoring, but the Dolphins started a long drive at their own 6-yard line with just under eight minutes in the period. The possession consumed the rest of the quarter. Miami finished the drive with a short touchdown pass from Moore to Charles Clay. It was a 21-play, 94-yard drive that took over 12 minutes off the clock. Moore was extremely efficient as he moved down the field by spreading the ball around, and the Jets couldn't get a pass rush.
On the next drive, Dolphins-great Jason Taylor toasted D'Brickashaw Ferguson and started to wrestle Sanchez to the ground. The third-year quarterback made an idiotic move and tossed the ball toward the line of scrimmage, bouncing it off the back of the head of center Nick Mangold, allowing Starks to make his second pick of the game. Starks ran downfield and the Jets were lucky the big lineman didn't return it for a touchdown. The Miami started the drive at the New York 25-yard line, but only yielded a field goal.
After the punt, the Jets finally started to move the ball, aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Yeremiah Bell. The Dolphins sealed the game with another pick of Sanchez. It was a terrible pass thrown behind his target. Miami outside linebacker Marvin Mitchell returned the pick 55 yards to set up another field goal.
On New York's final possession, Sanchez moved the ball effectively, tossing a short touchdown pass to Patrick Turner, but it was too little too late since the onside kick attempt didn't work out.
It wasn't clear if it was injury-related or because of a coaching decision, but Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes was benched and did not record a catch in the game.
Moore was 22-of-32 for 135 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Miami was led on the ground by Steve Slaton (11-55) and in the air by wide receiver Brandon Marshall (6-50).
New York running backs LaDanian Tomlinson (11-56) and Shonn Greene (14-55) had some good runs, but never controlled the game on the ground. Kerley (4-71) and Keller (7-45) had quality games for the Jets.
New York will have an interesting offseason, and the organization will surely make some changes on its coaching staff. Miami showed some heart this season and actually has a base of talent to work with. What the Dolphins really need is to find a franchise quarterback.
Patriots 49, Bills 21
Forum member Blue5213 put it best in a post during the first half of this contest:
Every week this happens. New England comes out flat and s***ty against a s***ty team, everyone sees how bad they are, then Bill Belichick pulls a win out of his a** in the second half and everyone forgets how terrible they looked to begin with.
And that's exactly what happened. Buffalo led 21-0 in this contest, but the Patriots scored 49 unanswered points after that.
The Patriots have the worst defense for any playoff team in NFL history. That's what Troy Aikman opined anyway during Sunday afternoon's games, and you could understand why just by watching this contest. Ryan Fitzpatrick absolutely shredded New England's putrid secondary in the first half. He was 20-of-28 for 246 yards and two touchdowns prior to intermission - and those numbers don't even include a 40-yard pass interference penalty. Buffalo was outgaining New England at that point, 295-184.
So, why was Fitzpatrick just 9-of-18 for 61 yards and four interceptions in the second half? Well, he didn't have his top two receivers. Steve Johnson (4-40, TD) was benched for three quarters after being penalized for revealing something written under his jersey following a touchdown reception. Scott Chandler (3-29) left the game with a leg injury. Fitzpatrick also had one of his picks come on a tipped pass. Buffalo's second-half collapse was not his fault.
As Fitzpatrick and the Bills were fading, Tom Brady and the Patriots were heating up. Brady went 23-of-35 for 338 yards, three touchdowns and an interception that came on a deflection just before halftime.
With Logan Mankins out of the lineup, Brady wanted to utilize more short stuff to his tight ends. That's why Aaron Hernandez (7-138, TD) and Rob Gronkowski (8-108, 2 TDs) were extra productive. Wes Welker (6-51) wasn't as much of a factor.
Bill Belichick once again gave Stevan Ridley the majority of the carries. Ridley had 15 attempts for 81 rushing yards. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had about half as many tries (7), but scored twice as the designated goal-line back.
(Editor's Note: If I were a Buccaneer fan, I would no longer cheer for this team if Raheem Morris isn't fired this week. What a disgrace.)
When not in garbage time (a.k.a. the first half), this game was a display of sheer dominance as Atlanta unloaded on what could be the worst team in the NFL. The Falcons got the bad taste out of their mouth from their Monday night butt-kicking from the Saints. The Buccaneers provided a plethora of material for the NFL follies with goofy plays of players running into each other and terrible tackling, blocking, ball security and overall execution.
On the first drive, Atlanta ran the ball down the field and capped it with a short touchdown run as the diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers ran over Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster. The next possession saw the Falcons move the ball down the field and score again, via a 17-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones.
Josh Freeman was promptly picked off by cornerback Dominique Franks on a jump ball to Dezmon Briscoe. One play later, Atlanta made Tampa Bay pay with a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jones. Both of his touchdowns saw him break tackles to get into the end zone.
The next Buccaneers' drive was almost as fruitless as the previous one, since on the fifth play, defensive end John Abraham strip-sacked Freeman to set up another Falcons touchdown. Michael Turner has looked slow and washed up the last five weeks or so, but Tampa Bay's anemic run defense was the perfect remedy for him. He ran into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal to put Atlanta up 28-0.
The Buccaneers got the ball back for less than a minute since Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton intercepted Freeman (31-of-45, 274 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) on the drive's third play, returning the pick 26-yards for a touchdown. It was an ugly play where Tampa Bay running back Kregg Lumpkin got blasted by teammate, Kellen Winslow, leaving Lofton as the only player in position to catch the ball.
On Atlanta's next possession, Turner capped the Falcons' collection of 42 unanswered points, with an 81-yard touchdown run. The Buccaneers finally got on the board with a short touchdown from Freeman to Briscoe on the next drive. At halftime Falcons were up 42-7, and Ryan had already been replaced by backup Chris Redmond.
Ryan was 6-of-9 for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Turner ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Jones (4-76) and Roddy White (4-69) contributed as well.
In what could have been his final NFL game, Ronde Barber went into the locker room in the first half with a broken arm and didn't return to the field. He passed Derrick Brooks as the Tampa Bay's all-time leader in games played. Barber's 199 consecutive starts is the most among active players in the NFL.
Ravens 24, Bengals 16
The Bengals nearly blew a victory last week against the Cardinals because of careless turnovers in the fourth quarter. In fact, if it wasn't for Early Doucet falling down in the end zone, Cincinnati wouldn't have been in control of its own destiny for the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoff bracket.
Well, karma came back to bite the Bengals in the a**. They made the same, dumb errors in this contest, but couldn't overcome them against a superior opponent.
The key mistake was Jermaine Gresham's fumble in Baltimore territory in the fourth quarter, down 17-13. It looked like the Bengals had a chance to defeat the Ravens, but the turnover was huge because Ray Rice scored on a 51-yard rushing touchdown immediately afterward. That seemed to shut the door on Cincinnati's playoff hopes, but many other outcomes allowed the team to somehow keep its postseason spot.
Cincinnati tried its hardest to kill itself throughout the rest of the contest. Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard dropped the easiest interception of his life when an Andy Dalton pass hit him right in the numbers. Dalton had a touchdown thrown to Bernard Scott, but the backup running back dropped the ball. Dalton also took unnecessary sacks and wasted too much time in two potential comeback drives in the fourth quarter.
With all of that being said, the Bengals still had a chance to win this game with two 35-yard Hail Mary attempts. The first should have given them the ball on the 1-yard line because corner Lardarius Webb committed a blatant pass interference penalty that wasn't called. I know that such infractions are seldom whistled on Hail Mary attempts, but it was ridiculous. Webb grabbed Green's shoulder and pulled him down. It looked like Green had a good chance to haul in the pass.
Green had a pretty disappointing performance, catching just two balls for 26 yards. That's because Andy Dalton was erratic all afternoon, going 22-of-44 for 232 yards. He should have been picked off a couple of times.
Paling into comparison to Rice's 191 yards (24 carries) and two touchdowns, Cedric Benson had some tough runs, gaining 51 yards on 13 attempts. The important thing is that unlike last week, Benson didn't fumble.
With Rice gashing the pathetic Bengal defense, Joe Flacco didn't have to do much. He was still effective though, going 15-of-19 for 130 yards and a touchdown to Dennis Pitta Pit (6-62). One of his incompletions was a deep drop by Lee Evans.
Steelers 13, Browns 9
Another week, another shady, non-cover victory by the Steelers. I'd like to say I expected this, but I was stupid enough to bet three units on them this Sunday. Ugh, why am I such an idiot?
It really took a miracle for Pittsburgh not to cover the seven points. The Steelers outgained the Browns, 360-240. They had eight more first downs (22-14), and crushed them in the time-of-possession category, 39:11 to 20:49.
So, what happened? Well, it's easy for anyone with interest to buy off the backup running back, and that's exactly what seemed to happen. Isaac Redman ran well (19-92, TD), but had two lost fumbles in Cleveland territory. Like the last time the Steelers battled the Browns, they let an inferior Cleveland squad hang around because of dumb turnovers.
Redman, by the way, handled most of the workload because Rashard Mendenhall (8-38) left the game at the end of the first quarter with a knee injury. He won't be available for the first round of the playoffs, according to reports.
As for the other injured Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger went 23-of-40 for 221 yards. He did an OK job, but definitely didn't look like himself. Pittsburgh's offense was really limited and lacked big-play ability. Unless Big Ben's foot magically heals in the next six days, Pittsburgh is going to have major issues scoring in the playoffs.
Antonio Brown led the team with six catches and 90 receiving yards. Hines Ward (5-24) wasn't impressive statistically, but his fifth reception was the 1,000th of his career. Mike Wallace, by the way, did nothing (1-11).
Quickly on the Browns, Seneca Wallace went just 16-of-41 for 177 yards and an interception, but led the team with 44 rushing yards on three scrambles. Peyton Hillis (10-30) struggled to do anything on the ground.
(Editor's Note: I wonder if Hue Jackson still thinks that Carson Palmer deal was one of the best trades in NFL history. Not that Palmer was the problem in this collapse, but Oakland won't be able to improve at all without any draft picks. And how are they going to fix this ridiculous penalty problem? Good God, the Raiders are a disaster.)
The wild, wild AFC West went down to the wire and, in the end, looked a lot like the NFC West of 2010. Even though the Chargers and Chiefs had nothing to play for, both came to play in Oakland and Denver respectively. In the early games, the Raiders got no wild-card help, meaning they would need to win and get a Kansas City victory for a playoff berth and AFC West title. Only half the equation worked out though, and Raider Nation finished at 8-8 again. On a random side note, while the other divisional game featured 17 punts with the Colquitts getting plenty of work, this one featured just a single punt.
Oakland would wind up setting single-season records for penalties and penalty yards, so it was no surprise to see them flag Matt Giordano for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the fifth snap of San Diego's first drive of the game, before the Chargers even got to midfield. To make up for the error, Giordano intercepted Philip Rivers (19-of-26, 310 yards, 3 TDs, INT) on the next play, and that set the Black Hole rocking. The Raiders went on a serious march from their own 5-yard line. Twelve plays later, highlighted by a 27-yard reverse by Louis Murphy, they cashed in a short touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for an early 7-0 lead.
San Diego replied with a long touchdown drive of its own, mixing passes to Malcom Floyd with runs by Curtis Brinkley and Mike Tolbert to put the team in plus territory. From there, Rivers hit Antonio Gates for a 38-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7.
As the first quarter ended, a rare failed drive followed. Palmer threw short to Kevin Boss and Oakland punted into the end zone. The Chargers quickly got into the Raiders' territory with a 37-yard pass to Gates, and Tolbert finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge, putting the visitors up 14-7. They would never relinquish the lead.
Oakland got another big play from Heyward-Bey (9-130, TD) who finished just short of 1,000 yards on the season at 975. After a 19-yard reception from Murphy, the drive looked promising, but stalled. After a long field goal by Sebastian Janikowski (52 yards) made it 14-10, there was reason for optimism as Kansas City led Denver 7-0 a couple hours to the east. However, Richard Goodman returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to provide San Diego with a 21-10 cushion.
The Raiders, of course, turned to Marcel "Matchup Nightmare" Reece. Palmer found him down the middle for 22 yards, and after some short gains, another Janikowski field goal trimmed the lead to 21-13. The Chargers' offense never let off the pedal (463 total yards) in this one though. In five plays, they were at the Oakland 33-yard line. The defense held, forcing three straight San Diego incompletions, but Nova's long field goal put the Chargers ahead 24-13.
Typically, the Raiders would answer in a two-minute drill, having done so all year. This looked like no exception when Heyward-Bey caught a pass for a gain of 23 followed by a 9-yard pass to Bush, but with 11 seconds left and no timeouts to stop the clock, Palmer inexplicably completed a short pass to Murphy for a gain of six. Instead of a long, but certainly makeable 55-yard field goal attempt, Oakland entered the locker room for halftime to a chorus of boos from the home fans.
The offenses kept piling up stats in the second half, but field goals never beat touchdowns. Palmer dropped a bomb to Denarius Moore who went 78 yards but needed to go a few more. A short Bush run and two completions put Janikowski back on the field to slice the San Diego lead to 24-16.
The response was a touchdown drive. The Chargers' big receivers used their height advantage all afternoon to school the small defensive backs trying to cover them. After a nice kickoff return set them up at the 34-yard line, Rivers completed all five passes he attempted for 51 yards including the 13-yard score to Vincent Jackson (2-29, TD), who played sidekick to Floyd (7-127, TD) and Gates (5-106 yards, TD) most of the game.
Midway through the third quarter, it was looking bleak in the Black Hole. The Raiders got another big play, a 28-yard pass to Murphy, but again failed to finish with a touchdown. Janikowski's fourth field goal closed them to within 31-19 as the third quarter wound down.
Again, Oakland's defense couldn't really hold, but caught a break when Norv Turner started running the clock with Brinkley, who was given four consecutive carries. Rivers' first pass of the drive came on third-and-two and fell incomplete. Then, Nick Novak missed the 44-yard field goal giving the Raiders life with 11:05 to play.
Late owner Al Davis would have been happy to watch the next quick strike drive. A big gain to Heyward-Bey, short run and touchdown right up the middle to Kevin Boss quickly put Oakland back in the game down 31-26. Boss took a hit that drew a penalty, and that almost turned the game around. That's because the ensuing kickoff almost turned into a safety when Janikowski bounced the kickoff inside the five and Goodman mishandled it. After a discussion, it was ruled he was down just outside the end zone and Hue Jackson chose not to challenge the call.
San Diego's offense wasted no time getting out of trouble with a 19-yard pass to Floyd. After a penalty, Tolbert (9-58) had the only run of the afternoon that would matter, rumbling 40 yards down the field. Two plays later, Rivers again hit Floyd for a 43-yard scoring strike and 38-26 lead. It was all over but the fighting, even though 6:35 remained on the clock.
Palmer (28-of-43, 417 yards, 2 TDs, INT) put the Raiders in scoring range, but Antoine Cason intercepted him to pretty much seal the victory. The Chargers' offense piled up more yards when Jackson had a 41 yard run on a screen pass, running out most of the remaining clock.
San Diego lost the three-way tiebreaker for the division, and despite scoring 34-plus points four times in the final five games, needed a lot of those points last week when they lost 38-10 at Detroit. The team dragged Oakland out of the playoffs with them, and possibly saved their head coach's job in the process.
Chiefs 7, Broncos 3
I'd love to chastise John Kreese Elway for sabotaging his own season. He dumped Kyle Orton, who quarterbacked the Chiefs to victory over his squad. He dealt Brandon Lloyd away for basically nothing, so Tim Tebow had to utilize bums like Matt Willis, who dropped a long completion on the final drive of this contest.
But it all doesn't matter because the Raiders lost and the Broncos still were able to win the division.
I can't imagine this is how the Broncos wanted to clinch playoff berth. Their offense couldn't do anything aerially in this contest. Tim Tebow was an abysmal 6-of-22 for 60 yards and an interception. The pass protection once again was atrocious, but Tebow held on to the ball too long on way too many occasions. He also lost a fumble in the red zone, which was huge in such a low-scoring struggle.
As mentioned earlier, the receivers sucked. You're not going to advance deep into the playoffs with bums like Willis, Daniel Fells, Spencer Larsen and Eric Decker catching passes. Demaryius Thomas (3-34) was the only Bronco with more than one reception.
Willis McGahee rushed for 145 yards on 28 attempts, which is impressive considering he was banged up in this contest. His heroics on the ground didn't really help the Broncos score, however. Denver's sole field goal came off a Javier Arenas muffed fair catch.
Orton, meanwhile, went 15-of-29 for 180 yards. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he was able to sustain some drives and complete crucial passes to keep the ball away from Denver's offense.
Orton's main wideout, of course, was Dwayne Bowe, who hauled in six balls for 93 yards despite playing just a half because of a neck injury. The other key playmaker was Dexter McCluster, who rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown on just 12 attempts.
Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20
This game was a toss-up to me earlier in the week. I ultimately chose Seattle because all I read was that Patrick Peterson wouldn't be able to play. You can imagine my frustration as I watched Peterson block a field goal and give his team an easy score after a long punt return. When the Seahawks kicked it away to him in overtime, I thought it was a done deal that he would take the punt back for a touchdown.
Instead, it was Larry Fitzgerald who took over. Fitzgerald made some ridiculous circus catches in the fifth quarter, including a one-handed grab that the officials had to review because they didn't understand how it was physically possible that he came up with the grab. Fitzgerald finished with nine grabs for 149 yards.
This was yet another game in which John Skelton led the Cardinals to another late victory. He was a solid 22-of-40 for 271 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He outplayed Kevin Kolb, so the starting quarterback gig is up for grabs between the two next year.
Skelton's win is more impressive when you consider that he didn't have Chris Wells in the backfield. LaRod Stephens-Howling did a good job in his absence, gaining 93 yards on 21 attempts.
While Skelton was able to deliver a victory in overtime, Tarvaris Jackson failed despite getting good field position after a 47-yard kickoff return by Leon Washington. Jackson (21-of-35, 222 yards, TD, INT) attempted two passes, but they were well off the mark, so the Seahawks went three-and-out. Seattle's not going anywhere with Jackson under center, so it'll have to find another solution at the position this offseason.
Marshawn Lynch did a decent job running the ball, gaining 86 yards on 19 attempts. He didn't score, but Leon Washington did when he broke free for a 48-yard scamper.
Giants 31, Cowboys 14
All the buzz entering the NFC East championship was about Tony Romo's hand. Reports indicated throughout the week that Romo was throwing the ball extremely well in practice. However, as NBC showed us during pre-game warmups, Romo's hand was still extremely swollen, and he would use his left hand to shake hands right before the coin toss.
Romo missed an open Dez Bryant on the following drive and things looked really bleak at that point, but for the rest of the game, he was pretty much the only Cowboy who didn't deserve the blame for this loss.
Romo went 29-of-37 for 289 yards, two touchdowns and an interception despite awful blocking by his offensive line. The Giants registered a whopping six sacks, including two by Osi Umenyiora.
The defense, meanwhile, was atrocious. There was so many missed tackles and blown coverages by the secondary. Terence Newman, Alan Ball and Abram Elam were to blame in particular. Newman is old and slow, and he cannot be allowed to see lots of action going forward. The Cowboys need to address the cornerback position in free agency or the 2012 NFL Draft.
Dallas' stop unit often looked confused and out of sorts. There were assignment screw-ups, as we've often seen in Capt. Lou Albano's unnecessarily complicated defense. The team also jumped offside three times on third down, as Eli Manning did a terrific job with the hard count.
What's most disconcerting, whether I'm Jerry Jones or a regular Dallas fan, is that the team lacked energy and showed no urgency in the first half. There were multiple fumble recovery opportunities, but the players were just really slow in jumping on the loose balls. It's almost like most of the Cowboys thought that this was the third preseason game instead of a win-or-die divisional battle for the final playoff spot.
I don't want to take anything away from the Giants though, who played really well in the first, second and fourth quarters. Eli Manning went 24-of-33 for 346 yards and three touchdowns, thanks to the dynamic play of Victor Cruz, who torched Newman for a 74-yard score.
Cruz caught six balls for 178 yards and the touchdown in total. Hakeem Nicks (5-76, TD) also posted solid numbers.
Ahmad Bradshaw scored Manning's third touchdown. He also found the end zone on the ground, rushing for 57 yards on 16 attempts.
Romo, meanwhile, tossed both of his scores to Laurent Robinson (4-61). Dez Bryant (6-70) and Jason Witten (7-69) also performed well. Miles Austin-Jones didn't do much (2-20).
Felix Jones struggled to find any running room (11-30), thought he did catch seven balls for 47 receiving yards.