2009 Midseason Report (cont.)
Game of the year: Broncos 20, Patriots 17, OT: Besides the intriguing backdrop of rookie Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels beating his mentor, Bill Belichick, in their first head-to-head battle of wits, the game had plenty more. For starters, Denver wore those hideous brown and mustard-colored throwback uniforms, and that made it memorable enough. But Kyle Orton leading a game-tying, 98-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive and Matt Prater kicking the game-winning 41-yard overtime field goal were the highlights for Denver, which improved to 5-0, prompting a post-game love-fest between McDaniels and his former nemesis, receiver Brandon Marshall.
Stinker of the year: Browns 6, Bills 3, Week 5: The less said about this one the better, but the NFL's only touchdown-less game this year turned on a Roscoe Parrish muffed punt return with less than three minutes left. It gave the woeful Browns the ball at the Bills 16, and kicker Billy Cundiff eventually made an 18-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining. The game was mind-boggling bad. It represented the Bills' absolute nadir, and it's all that has kept Cleveland from making a real run at 0-16.
Upset of the year -- Raiders 13, Eagles 9, Week 6: If Philadelphia should miss the playoffs by just a game, this is the one the Eagles will look back on and regret. Philadelphia punted eight times, allowed six sacks and managed just three David Akers field goals against a Raiders team that had been dismantled by the Giants at the Meadowlands the previous week. In improving to 2-4, the Raiders actually resembled an NFL team, getting the best game of the year from quarterback JaMarcus Russell (224 yards, one touchdown).
Play of the year: Offense -- The Brett Favre to Greg Lewis game-winning, 32-yard laser in Week 3: It was the moment when we first realized something special might be in store this year for Favre in Minnesota. Lewis had barely played all day, but there he was in the back of the end zone, tight-roping the backline and making a catch for the ages with two seconds to go against the stunned 49ers. Alas, San Francisco had been Favred.
Play of the year: Defense -- Ray Lewis drops Darren Sproles in the backfield in Week 2: Protecting a five-point lead with 33 seconds to go and San Diego facing a fourth-and-2 at the Ravens 15, the Baltimore middle linebacker read the Chargers play call perfectly and shot the gap to drop Sproles for a 5-yard loss and the game-sealing play. Lewis later called it one of the greatest plays of his Hall of Fame-level career.
Best bounce-back by a losing team -- Cincinnati Bengals: After 14 weeks of the 2008 season, the Bengals were 1-11-1, Carson Palmer had been long lost with a season-ending injury, and nobody liked head coach Marvin Lewis's chances to survive into a seventh year in the Queen City. But the Bengals rallied to win their final three games of '08, and the turnaround has continued this year with a 6-2 start -- the franchise's best in 21 years -- and a share of first place in the AFC North.
Worst impression of a playoff team -- Tennessee Titans: The Titans started 10-0 last season, and went 13-3, earning the AFC's homefield advantage in the playoffs. But that seemed like ancient history this year when Tennessee started 0-6, losing the last of those 59-0 in the snow of New England. The Titans have rallied to two straight wins, but Jeff Fisher's talent-laden club still stands as the most disappointing team of the NFL season.
Biggest move that didn't matter -- Big money for big Albert Haynesworth: The Redskins were going to finish last in the NFC East without Haynesworth, the prize of last year's free-agency class, and they're going to finish last with him. So why would Washington give him $100 million over seven years, including $41 million guaranteed? Because it's what the Redskins do. They win free agency, and lose during the regular season.
Quirk of the year -- The NFL is Payton/Peyton's place: The Saints and the Colts are the last two undefeated teams in the league this season, and they both can thank a guy named Payton (or Peyton) for that. What are the odds of Saints head coach Sean Payton leading his team into the Super Bowl against the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning? They're getting better all the time.
Flat joke of the year -- Jeff Fisher wearing a Colts jersey two days after his Titans fell to 0-6 with that 59-0 laugher at New England: Saying he just "wanted to feel like a winner,'' Fisher took off his shirt to reveal a Peyton Manning No. 18 jersey at a charity event with ex-Colts head coach Tony Dungy. The gag generated guffaws in the room, but mostly venom outside of it, given the sorry state of his team's season at that juncture. You know what they say about comedy, Coach. Timing is everything.
Development we could have done without -- Throwback Uniforms become the norm, not the exception: Look, I'm a big old uniform guy. Love them. Grew up on them. But when is enough, enough? I can't remember what the Jets' real uniforms look like. My TV hasn't been the same since Denver debuted those '72 Padres knockoffs. And I can't help but think the Titans started playing like the old, hapless Oilers when they looked up and saw those oil derricks on their helmets.
Best post-game tirade -- Rex Ryan lets his Jets defense have it after a Week 5 loss at Miami: You knew Rex was going to be good after a tough loss, but he went above and beyond for us all after New York's 31-27 Monday-night defeat at the hands of the Dolphins. He called his defense's efforts "a complete embarrassment,'' noted that his guys made Miami second-year quarterback Chad Henne "look like Dan Marino,'' circled back to make sure we knew it was "a horrendous day'' for the New York defense, and wrapped up by saying he was "kind of at a loss for words with our defensive performance.'' Oh, no you weren't.
Best supporting role by a player we didn't think would be willing to play a supporting role -- Chad Ochocinco: At some point when we weren't looking, Chad Ochocinco morphed into the kind of positive, team-oriented player we never really thought possible of him after his mostly malcontent act of 2008. The Bengals chatty receiver is part of the solution rather than part of the problem in Cincinnati, and whether it's his Twittering ways, his gifts sent to enemy defensive backs, or his "bribing'' of NFL game officials, he's both relevant and productive again.
Story that didn't turn out like we thought it would -- Brandon Marshall prospers in Denver under Josh McDaniels: C'mon, let's all just admit it. We were positive a train wreck was coming this season, except it never arrived. Marshall and McDaniels are not only co-existing in Denver, they're thriving together. So much for the trend of NFL diva receivers who shoot their way out of town.
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