In Case You Missed It. NFL Week 14 Recap

Tim Tebow and the Broncos pulled out yet another come-from-behind victory in the closing minutes on Sunday, but the best comeback goes to the Giants and Eli Manning who “Tim Tebowed” the Dallas Cowboys to take over the NFC East.

Week Two Headlines

Giants top Cowboys in thriller
The NFC East was up for grabs Sunday night in Dallas. At times, it appeared both teams were viciously fighting for that division lead. At others, it appeared neither team was interested in taking first place. In the end, though, it was the Giants who made one more play than the Dallas Cowboys.

I already know what will be written about the Cowboys; another collapse, late season struggles continue, can’t close, etc, etc… While all those may be true, Tony Romo will get clumped in with those generalizations, and that is unfair. Romo played a near perfect game on Sunday night. While I have not seen every Dallas game this year, I’ve seen enough to know Romo hasn’t played better. On countless occasions, Romo embarrassed New York’s secondary, especially its safeties. He had them guessing all night, moving the Giants defensive backs like pawns on a chess board with his eyes and deadly shoulder pump. Romo did everything necessary for the Cowboys to win that game.

Please don’t scream about the overthrown ball to Miles Austin at the end of the game either. Did he miss the throw? Sure. He missed it. A better throw clinches the game and the Cowboys are sitting pretty for a division title. But things happen. Romo overthrew Austin. The Cowboys punted. The Cowboys lost. Want to blame someone for Sunday’s loss? Blame the defense.

That’s right. Last week I called Rob Ryan the most overrated coordinator in football. He proved me right on Sunday. His corners were overmatched, his safeties were manipulated by Eli Manning several times throughout the night, and the Giants (one of the worst running teams in football) effectively ran the football for over 100 yards and put up over 500 yards of total offense. Ryan got reckless in his blitzes against a proven quarterback. As uncomfortable as Manning may look at times, he’s one of the cooler cucumbers in the pocket under duress. Put him within striking distance in the 4th quarter and there’s no one better. He’s the NFC’s Tim Tebow. Furthermore, as NBC showed Sunday night, Manning is the league’s premiere 4th quarter passer. Every time Ryan and his defense blitzed, Manning made them pay.

What’s worse, Romo and the offense handed the Cowboy defense a 12 point lead with just under five minutes remaining. Ryan’s defense responded by surrendering an eight play, 80 yard touchdown drive in less than 2 ½ minutes. For an encore, the Dallas defense allowed Manning and the Giant offense to march 53 yards on six plays in less than 90 seconds. If Dallas does indeed fail to make the playoffs, don’t point at Tony Romo. He’s had his share of December struggles in the past, but this year the blame falls on Dallas’ defense. And that responsibility falls on Rob Ryan.

Broncos and Tebow find another win
I almost hate writing about Tim Tebow and the Broncos every week because it’s essentially the same story with a different opponent: Tebow and the Broncos struggle. Defense keeps the game close. Tebow finds his groove late. Broncos win in unbelievable fashion.

It’s become painfully clear that Tebow isn’t getting lucky. He’s just built differently than most of us. His genetic makeup has a switch that flips when the body recognizes pressurized situations. There’s really no other explanation.

At one point during Sunday’s street brawl with the Chicago Bears, Tebow threw something like 11 or 12 straight incompletions. He entered the 4th quarter 3/16 for 45 yards with an interception and a fumble. A few minutes later, he went on an 18/24 tear for 191 yards and touchdown. He may not look like a franchise quarterback, but he balls like one.

When was the last time you saw a quarterback knock Brian Urlacher backward on contact? How often do you see a quarterback lower his shoulder, daring a defensive back to bring him down? You don’t. Tebow has something that cannot be explained. He thrives when the moments matter and he succeeds when all seems lost. He’s the ultimate underdog and the ultimate champion at the same exact time. Did he and the Broncos benefit from Marion Barber’s unforgiveable mistake? Absolutely. But Barber foolishly running out of bounds was the easy part. Marching the football down the field with no timeouts against one of the NFL’s best defenses was the real challenge and Tebow succeeded without flinching. He runs the two-minute drill like Joe Montana, only without the sexy spirals and bullet hole precision.

While opponents have marveled at and appreciated Tebow’s unique talents, his uncanny ability to win seemingly unwinnable games has apparently begun to irk some of his peers. When asked about Tebow, Urlacher responded with, “He’s a good running back.” Yes, Brian. That he is. But, considering he just torched your defense for 190+ yards in less than 5 minutes, I’d say he’s a fine quarterback, too.

Panthers fall apart against Falcons
[Editor’s Note: There were too many games yesterday, so I assigned my brother the Panthers. This is his report.]
1st half: 23 pts.  2nd half: 0 pts What happened?

1. Cam Newton thought he was actually Superman. If he doesn’t learn how to throw the ball away or simply take a sack, games like today will undoubtedly happen again. This isn’t college where every play can turn into something big. Newton threw two HUGE picks when he chucked the ball left-handed while being dragged down. Forcing the ball into triple coverage when a check-down was WIDE open is rarely a good idea, also. For all the talk about wanting to change the losing environment in Carolina, Newton is becoming just as big of a contributor by thinking he can do more than he can. Need more proof? The Panthers 2011 record is 4-9. Guess what their record is when Newton doesn’t turn the ball over? 4-0. Enough said.

2. The defense stunk after a strong first half performance. Like the 2010 Eagles under him, Sean McDermott’s defense failed to get pressure when needed. I know it’s only been one season, but the guy’s track record speaks for itself.

3. The Panthers let off the gas once they were up 16. They had a chance to put the Falcons away before the end of the 1st half when they got the ball back with 1:30 and 2 timeouts. They responded with two inside runs, clearly showing their satisfaction with their lead. At that point the Falcons had no answer for the Panthers. Sitting on the ball gave the Falcons a glimmer of hope heading into halftime. It also stalled what the Panthers had going. The first three drives out of the half for the Panthers were punt, INT, INT. They ran the ball with basic formations, kept throwing check-down screens, and failed to try and stretch the field. They became plain and predictable, which is far from what they were in the first half. Everyone knows you can’t sit on leads anymore in today’s NFL. If you aren’t cutthroat, you won’t win.

4. Steve Smith gets ignored. This one may seem deceiving because his stats say 6 rec. for 125 yds. However, 40+ of those yards came in desperation time. Whenever the Panthers needed a big pass play, Smith was NEVER the target. For whatever reason, Naanee keeps getting targeted despite continually failing to deliver. Put the ball in your playmaker’s hands and let him do what he does best. Run screens, slot routes, reverses, or whatever. Good teams find a way to get their best players the ball. Right now, the Panthers are just a bad team.

Young quarterbacks on final drives
In three different games, three young quarterbacks were faced with identical situations and found themselves leading their teams on potential game-winning, 4th quarter drives with under two minutes to go.

T.J. Yates had driven the Texans 74 yards down to the Bengals six with eight seconds remaining and the Texans trailing by six points. The Vikings’ Joe Webb drove the Minnesota offense 68 yards to the Detroit one with nine seconds remaining and the Vikings trailing by a touchdown. Jake Locker, with the Titans trailing New Orleans by five, took his offense 75 yards down to the five yard line with only seconds remaining. Three young, inexperienced quarterbacks making late drives that would in one way or another impact the playoff race.

Like they always say, the toughest stretch of a race is the final stretch. Both Locker and Webb got their teams in position but couldn’t close the deal as both were sacked on the game’s final play. Locker foolishly attempted to duck under a charging linebacker instead of lobbing the football into the end zone to give a receiver a chance. Webb was ambushed before he could even look into the end zone and eventually fumbled the ball and the game away (although the officials missed an obvious facemask penalty). Only Yates emerged successful, finding Kevin Walter open for the game winning touchdown and clinching Houston’s first division title and subsequent playoff berth in franchise history.

Webb is a second year player who started two games last season. Locker was a top 10 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Yates was an unheralded 5th rounder and a third string quarterback three weeks ago. Fortunes change quickly in the NFL. When they do, no one cares how many games you’ve played or where you were drafted. Only what you accomplish matters. Thus far, Yates has done an adequate job replacing Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. As a result, he’ll lead the Houston Texans into the playoffs for the first time. Ever.

Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. Packers – Like I said, the games will get closer and wins down the stretch will get tougher and tougher for the Packers. 43-16? Really? Oh. Never-mind, then.
2. Patriots – I’m not ready to drop the Patriots just yet, but their defensive issues will be difficult to hide come playoff time. Lucky for them, every AFC contender is fatally flawed in one way or another.
3. Ravens – The Ravens keep winning. At this point in the season, that’s all that matters. Baltimore has been a tough out in the playoffs for the past several years but never with home field. If they get it, look out. Baltimore is the most complete, healthy team in the AFC.
4. Texans – So long, 49ers. That’s too many ugly outings in a row to maintain your seat at the elite table. The Texans, despite injuries at the most important position in all of sports, keep winning. I even leap-frogged Houston over the Steelers because they do two things better than Pittsburgh; run the football, and create turnovers.
5. Steelers – If Ben Roethlisberger is hampered by his scary ankle injury from Thursday night, the Steelers should be worried. Without a consistent running game, the Pittsburgh offense relies entirely on Ben’s arm and his ability to make plays with his feet. In order to use those feet, he needs a healthy ankle.
(Last Week: GB, NE, BAL, SF, PITT)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Chiefs – I can only imagine what being a Kansas City fan feels like right now. Actually, no, I don’t need to imagine it. I lived through the Bubby Brister/Bobby Hoying eras in Philadelphia. 
Buccaneers – I found Raheem Morris’ antics last week appalling. Removing a player from the field for a careless penalty and ordering him to go home makes sense when establishing order and accountability in a locker room. However, I believe Morris did it for show in order to manipulate ownership into not firing him. Cowardly, if you ask me.
30. Browns
– There’s just not much to build around in Cleveland right now. Colt McCoy is “ehhh,” the defense isn’t anything special, and Mike Holmgren appears to be spinning his wheels.
Rams – The Rams haven’t even played yet this week and I’m already bored just thinking about them playing on Monday in front of a national audience.
32. Colts
– I didn’t watch a single second of the Colts game on Sunday. It’s beyond sad what has happened in Indianapolis. On the brighter side, Hoosier basketball is back!
(Last Week: PHI, CLE, JAC, STL, IND)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

Jets – Thanks to a win and losses from the other Wildcard contenders (excluding Pittsburgh), the Jets catapulted themselves from a disheartening tiebreaker scenario into a much more comfortable and promising situation in which they control their own destiny.

Falcons – Similarly, the Atlanta Falcons benefited from another Tim Tebow miracle while Cam Newton essentially handed Atlanta its eighth win. With the Bears now a game behind the Falcons, Atlanta’s playoff outlook is significantly brighter than it was a week ago.

Cardinals – Wins at this point in the season won’t thrust Arizona into playoff compeittion, but learning how to win is always beneficial, especially for a franchise searching for a centerpiece. Kevin Kolb hasn’t been healthy enough to prove himself worthy of the role. In limited action, John Skelton has shown flashes of a very, very poor man’s Tim Tebow. But back to my point… The Cardinals are building toward next season. Winning five of six is always a good thing, regardless of standing.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Bengals – It’s too early to declare it’s over for the Bengals. However, after losing four out of their last five, things aren’t looking good in Cincinnati. Considering all four of those losses came against probable playoff opponents, it may be best for the Bengals to build with a higher draft pick this year and worry about the postseason in 2012.

Titans/Cowboys/Raiders – Take your pick. All three were either leading their respective division or were given a golden opportunity to jump back into the playoff race. To this point, all three have failed, and all three lost on Sunday. The Raiders appear to have given up, the Titans can’t find a consistent run game, and the Cowboys are, well, the Cowboys.

49ers – The offense is beginning to sputter and the 49ers haven’t looked good for a complete 60 minutes since knocking off the Giants a month ago. Playing three of their last four games within the lousy NFC West hasn’t helped. A newly successful team like the 49ers needs tough opponents to maintain focus and encourage development.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • I honestly felt bad for Marion Barber on Sunday. Running out of bounds was a boneheaded move, but it was clear Barber got caught up fighting for more yards instead of keeping the clock running. The choking stench of the Dallas Cowboys apparently doesn’t go away just because you change teams.
  • Todd Haley was fired today as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. A good move for the Chiefs, but it was made a day too late. Haley should have been canned at halftime after the Chiefs mustered 4 total yards against the Jets.
  • More Tim Tebow: While he struggled through the air for the first three quarters, his receivers didn’t help him. I lost count after five drops. Quarterbacks lose confidence just as quickly as receivers when balls are dropped.
  • Now that the Packers are pretty much locked in to that top seed in the NFC, I wonder if the injury to Greg Jennings changes the team’s intentions of pursuing a perfect season. My guess would be no.
  • The San Francisco defense may be one of the league’s best, but even top defenses need points to win games. Right now, the 49ers can’t score, especially inside the red zone. The wheels aren’t falling off in the Bay area just yet but they’re certainly starting to wiggle.
  • I think all of America (outside of Michigan) was rooting for Joe Webb on Sunday. Jim Schwartz has done a fantastic job of making his team the most hated team in the NFL… and the least disciplined, too. Another ten penalties on Sunday contributed to the Lions nearly blowing a 21 point lead.
  • Arian Foster rushes for 41 yards at less than 3 yards per carry and the offense still generates over 400 yards? T.J. Yates could be this year’s Mark Sanchez – the rookie quarterback with the stout defense you do not want to face in the playoffs.
  • Jake Locker is a gamer. The Titans are still in contention for a Wildcard berth, so it’ll be interesting what Mike Munchak decides to do at quarterback. Based on Locker’s performance against Atlanta earlier in the season and New Orleans yesterday, I think the Tennessee offense is more potent under Locker.
  • The Eagles defense finally played an inspired game of football. Their first since knocking off the Giants. Sadly, all I kept thinking was how the Eagles would be in the thick of the playoff race had they beaten the Cardinals or Seahawks. It’s sickening.
  • Also, everyone can now shut up about Reid losing the team. Thanks.
  • Three things from the Patriots/Redskins shootout. 1. London Fletcher should have punched the official who flagged him for unnecessary roughness on Tom Brady. Brady slid late and Fletcher’s big hit was perfectly legal. What’s worse, the official made up some garbage about a forearm to the end when no part of Fletcher’s body came within two inches of Brady’s head. Defensive players in the NFL deserve more money than offensive players at this point in time. It’s so much harder to play defense. 2. Tom Brady’s frustration boiling over on the sidelines was interesting. Not because it hasn’t happened before, but because I would guess all that pent up frustration was due to a lousy New England defense. 3. The Redskins are a decent team under Rex Grossman. Good thing Mike Shanahan didn’t bench him for five weeks to start John Beck. Oh, wait…
  • Earlier this week, Cam Newton spoke about the Panthers rising to his level. Perhaps we should revise that statement to “lowered to his level.” Newton’s performance in the second half was Blain Gabbert-esque. By far, Newton’s most immature performance of the year. You can’t become a superstar if you aren’t consistently good first.
  • Josh Freeman may not even be a starting quarterback next year. Wuuuffff. The Buccaneers clearly quit on Raheem Morris. Maybe he can tell them all to go home.
  • The competition for NFC Pro Bowl quarterback is tight. Who gets left out? Obviously, Rodgers is in, but I think Eli Manning could be the second best at the position in the NFC with Brees right behind and Romo trailing slightly.
  • There’s a good chance Marion Barber eliminated the Bears from the playoffs. Maybe Brian Urlacher will call him a “good quarterback.”
  • The ice-the-kicker timeout is back. Tom Coughlin’s timeout worked to perfection as the Cowboys game tying field goal was called back due to a timeout by the Giants. On the second attempt, the kick was blocked and the Giants own the NFC East crown as a result, at least for now.
  • Nice of the Chargers and Philip Rivers to show up for the final month of the season. Maybe next year they won’t disappear in October and November.
  • Two months ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick was a Buffalo hero. Now, he’s being called a fraud and a thief. Something has to be done to the Bills. I said it when they hired Chan Gailey and I’ll repeat it now. Buffalo isn’t going to improve by hiring re-treaded coaches. They need to take a flier on a young guy and hope he’s a Mike Tomlin or something close.
  • For Colts fans looking for positive news; the Colts covered a three score spread for the second straight week.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
  • Referring to the opposing quarterback -who lit up your defense like a Christmas tree in the 4th quarter- as a “running back” makes sense. Most running backs throw for 190 yards in a quarter.
  • Good teams often have that bruising running game to run clock and seal victories. If could fill that role with any active NFL running back, I’m taking Marion Barber. No question.
  • The key to keeping the Patriots out of the end zone is taking away Tom Brady’s favorite weapons and daring him and Rob Gronkowski to beat you.
  • At some point, you expect the Cowboys to impose their will in December. No franchise has more success in high pressure scenarios this late in the season than the Cowboys. They are so clutch.
  • For young, developing quarterbacks, taking a sack to end the game makes sense. You never want to force the ball in that situation. That’s how devastating mistakes happen.
  • I don’t care what you or anyone else says, I’m still glad the Eagles took Brandon Graham over Jason Pierre-Paul. Oh so glad.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • I had a playoff bye this week. As far as I know, none of my players were injured this week or suspended because they cheated like Ryan Braun.

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