Jags fail to deliver, Ravens thriving on Rice diet, plus more Snaps
The Jags missed a golden chance to clinch the AFC South after falling to the Colts
Michael Vick helped the Eagles score 28 over the final 7:28 to stun the Giants
Behind Cam Cameron's play calling, Ray Rice had a big day in the Ravens' win
PITTSBURGH -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we review a captivating Week 15 of playoff-implication football ...
They say to be a champion, you've got to beat a champion, and the Jacksonville Jaguars clearly weren't ready to take that step and land that knockout blow Sunday in Indianapolis. But, to be fair, Peyton Manning and the defending champion AFC Colts had something to do with that.
The rest of the NFL probably doesn't want to hear this, but recent reports of Indy's demise just might have been exaggerated. That much is apparent in the wake of the Colts' 34-24 win over Jacksonville, in a game that held the key to Indianapolis's playoff hopes. The Colts are still in control of their own fate, just two weeks after some left them for dead at 6-6. As for the Jaguars, they still haven't ever beaten Indianapolis twice in a row.
Indy's three-game losing streak and Peyton Manning's interception troubles suddenly seem pretty long ago. The Jaguars (8-6) could have clinched their first AFC South title with a win at Indianapolis, but the Colts (8-6) weren't ready to concede the division they've owned for most of its nine-year history.
Manning's clutch play notwithstanding, the Colts' victory came via an improbable fashion: Their ground game. Ranked last in the NFL coming into Week 15, with just 70.7 yards per game on average, Indy's running game exploded for 155 yards, led by Donald Brown's career-best 129-yard effort on just 14 carries. In other words, the Colts beat the ball-control, rushing-happy Jaguars at their own game. Trailing the whole day, Jacksonville rushed for just 67 yards on 22 carries -- roughly 90 yards fewer than its season average, which ranked second in the league entering Sunday.
The Colts rolled up 300 yards of offense before the third quarter was even half over, and built a 24-10 lead at that point on the strength of 123 yards by Brown and two Manning touchdown passes to receiver Austin Collie. Manning finished 29-of-39 for 229 yards, with those two scores and a second consecutive interception-less game. (I guess he's OK, folks. Nothing to see here. Let's all just move along.)
The Colts and Jaguars have now split their season series, but if Indy can win at Oakland next week and at home against Tennessee in Week 17, it won't matter what Jack Del Rio's team does in response (Jacksonville plays home against Washington next week, then at Houston). The Colts will have pieced together a 10-6 record and their most unlikely playoff team yet, even though they're likely to enter the Super Bowl tournament no better than a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the AFC.
No matter. The Colts are alive, and that's enough for now. Their playoff season essentially started two weeks ago, and so far, so good. Life in the NFL dictates you've got to knock the champion out, but as Week 16 looms, the Colts are definitely still standing.
Get ready for the Michael Vick for MVP candidacy to go wild this week in light of Philadelphia's 38-31 miracle comeback win over the Giants at the New Meadowlands. Vick followed his worst first half of the season with his most sensational second half, as the Eagles scored 28 points in the game's final 7:28 to stun the Giants and give themselves what amounts to a two-game lead in the NFC East with two weeks to play.
Vick was just 6-of-10 for 33 yards passing in the first half, with one interception. The Giants hit Vick early and often, sacking him twice and leaving him more harried and battered than he has been at any point in his renaissance season.
But after the intermission, Vick was virtually unstoppable, throwing for 209 yards and three touchdowns, and running for a fourth score. In the fourth quarter alone, Vick had two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown, and he finished with 130 yards on the ground, his sixth career 100-yard game. The Giants did plenty to lose this game and get themselves beat, but the Eagles' comeback was Vick orchestrated, and his magical comeback season continues.
Even if the Giants make the playoffs, and Tampa Bay's loss at home to Detroit really helps New York's cause in that regard, that's a defeat that could haunt Coughlin's team and essentially seal its fate. It was New York's sixth consecutive loss to the Eagles, counting the playoffs, and it's going to make the Giants take the much tougher wild-card route in the postseason.
How in the world can New York rookie punter Matt Dodge explain not booting the ball into the fourth row on the game's final play, that 65-yard DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown? Even if Dodge was aiming for out of bounds and mis-hit the ball down the middle of the field, that's simply not acceptable. You can't let Jackson get his hands on the ball in that situation. No ifs, ands or buts. Dodge said he intended to kick out of bounds, but received a high snap and didn't think he could afford to take the time to kick directionally.
Bad call there. Shank it out of bounds, and explain later.
Very smart move, Cam Cameron, getting Ray Rice much more involved in the Baltimore offensive game plan. There has been some discontent lately in veteran corners of the locker room, and most of it dealt with some lack of confidence in Cameron's play-calling. But in a game Baltimore had to have to keep its division title hopes alive, the Ravens (10-4) got a monstrous game from Rice to beat visiting New Orleans 30-24.
Rice, a third-year running back, had a season-high 153 yards rushing on a whopping 31 carries (4.9 average), with touchdowns both on the ground (10 yards) and via receiving (17 yards). Rice hadn't ripped off a run longer than 30 yards this season, but had a key 50-yarder in the fourth quarter, helping Baltimore's defense protect a fourth-quarter lead for a change.
The Saints fell to 10-4 and saw their six-game winning streak snapped, but they're still alive in the NFC South race, even with Atlanta (12-2) knocking off Seattle 34-18 late Sunday afternoon. The Saints travel to the Falcons next Monday night in the NFC South showdown we've been waiting for since Atlanta upset New Orleans in the Superdome in Week 4.
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