Week 17 Snaps (cont.)
Does anyone know what to make of the Packers' inability to bring their A-game each and every week? The Green Bay team that squeaked past the Bears wasn't the same group that hammered the Giants last week at Lambeau. But the Packers are in the playoffs now, and they're not going to depart without a fight.
Remember, Green Bay won at Philadelphia (where they'll play Sunday in the first round of the NFC playoffs) in the season opener, and played the Falcons very tough in the Georgia Dome, and split their season series with Chicago. The Packers aren't your garden variety No. 6 seed, but as I've noted already in the last few months, this is one very deep wild-card field.
Lovie Smith was true to his word when saying midweek the Bears would play it straight and try to win at Green Bay. The Bears couldn't get much going on offense, and Jay Cutler's six sacks and two interceptions were very damaging. But Smith didn't play it safe, pull his quarterback and hand the Packers a playoff berth; and that's the way things should work in Week 17. But rarely do.
Really, a Gatorade bath for Falcons owner Arthur Blank after Atlanta trounces Carolina and locks up the NFC's No. 1 seed? Even if it was water and not the sticky stuff, do you think the man brought a second suit to the Georgia Dome anticipating a celebratory drenching? Knowing Blank, he might have.
But didn't A.B. kind of learn a lesson of sorts a few years back about the danger of appearing a little too chummy with the players he employs (see Vick, Michael, with Blank pushing him around in wheelchair)? Maybe we should make a new rule: Owners don't get the Gatorade bucket treatment, unless they're trying to give someone the same thing.
It certainly sounds like Brett Favre means it this time and has gotten the message. He shows no indication of leaving himself the wiggle room he has always kept in reserve when it comes to the retirement issue, and I believe him when he says "I know it's time.''
Then again, after all Favre has been through this season, how could he have possibly come to any other conclusion? At the end, like it usually is, even for the great ones, the choice to retire really wasn't his to make. It was made for him. His 41-year-old body has finally conceded that much.
There were those who didn't think Ed Reed would even play this year after having offseason reconstructive hip surgery, but he did better than that. He played with even more than the usual level of Reed-like impact, intercepting his seventh and eighth passes in just 10 games on Sunday against the Bengals. Even at 32, in his ninth NFL season, Reed can find the football as well as any defender ever has.
Joe Webb fever cooled off somewhat on Sunday, with the Vikings rookie quarterback not producing anywhere near as dynamically as he did in Tuesday night's upset at Philadelphia. He wasn't bad, completing 20 of 32 for 145 yards and an interception. But he didn't look like a younger version of Michael Vick against the Lions.
Webb has definitely played himself into the Vikings' future at the game's most pivotal position. But just where he fits on Minnesota's QB depth chart in 2011 depends on who else the Favre-less Vikings happen to acquire.
We all know the NFL can overreact to events at times, but the league got one thing right this year: Making Week 17 feature all divisional games should be made permanent. While there weren't a bevy of close games or dramatic finishes on Sunday by any stretch, it still makes so much sense to pair off division rivals in the final week that you wonder why it wasn't thought of and adopted long ago?
Has an NFL team ever had a more productive rookie class than Tampa Bay? The Bucs won 10 games with 10 rookie starters, and have an embarrassment of riches on that front. They got two more touchdowns from rookie receivers on Sunday in New Orleans: a 2-yard catch by Dezmon Briscoe and 18-yard scoring reception by Mike Williams.
As for Briscoe's, there wasn't a prettier touchdown pass and catch all season than Josh Freeman's 2-yard fade pattern to him in the extreme back right corner of the end zone. Briscoe caught the ball and somehow tapped his feet down in a space about the size of quarter.
Sounds like Houston owner Bob McNair has made his decision, and he'll bring back head coach Gary Kubiak for another season, with the intent to pair him with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. I guess that makes Houston's dismal season the fault of current Texans defensive coordinator Frank Bush. It's the first time in memory the state of Texas has turned on someone named Bush.
Phillips would be a great hire, and he'll get the Texans defense tightened up, to be sure. But if Houston still doesn't win and go to the playoffs in 2011, will it finally be time for Kubiak to bear the ultimate accountability?
Does anybody handle the whole Week 17 to-play-or-not-to-play issue better than New England? Every year, the Patriots play it pretty straight, like their playoff hopes are on the line, even when they're not. Even Wes Welker's season-ending knee injury last year in Houston didn't prompt a major change of philosophy this time around (although Welker was held out on Sunday at home against Miami).
Tom Brady played into the second half against the Dolphins, and didn't leave the game for backup Brian Hoyer until New England was up 31-0 in the third quarter and was in complete command. No real surprise there. That has always been the Bill Belichick keep your foot on their neck approach.
I can't imagine Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli is thrilled with Charlie Weis's sense of timing. Weis is leaving K.C. to become offensive coordinator at the University of Florida, and even if he will serve out the rest of this season with the Chiefs -- and undoubtedly be supremely professional going about his job -- it's now a potential distraction for a franchise trying to win its first playoff game since the Marty Schottenheimer era.
And Pioli really, really hates distractions. Even more so than most NFL coaching or executive types.
That said, doesn't Josh McDaniels to Kansas City next year as Weis's replacement as offensive coordinator make all kind of sense? McDaniels knows the offense, knows the quarterback (Matt Cassel) and knows Pioli and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
It would be an almost seamless transition, but there is that one little detail of McDaniels working for Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, the guy who lectured him at midfield and refused to shake hands with him after a Kansas City loss at Denver. That would make for an interesting start to their working relationship.
Just a quick final accounting of the five bold predictions I made with five weeks remaining in the regular season. It was a mixed bag, to be sure. I said ...
-- The Chargers would run the table and win the AFC West at 11-5, ending the regular season with a nine-game winning streak. Uh, not so much. The Norv-men lost to Oakland and Cincinnati in the final five weeks, and eliminated themselves with that egg-laying against the Bengals last week.
-- The Lions would be the losing team that finishes strong and build momentum for 2011. Pretty much nailed that. Detroit was 2-9 at the time, but ran off four wins in a row to end the season at 6-10, losing only at home to the Bears in the final five weeks. That's the Lions' first four-game winning streak since 1999, in the Bobby Ross era.
-- NFC West leader aside, the Titans were the 5-6 team with the best chance to still make the playoffs. A huge swing and a miss there. Jeff Fisher's club has won just once in that span, and until Sunday in Indianapolis, appeared to be mailing it in for weeks now.
-- The Giants and Bucs would be the two best teams to miss the NFC playoffs. That still stands up, especially in the case of the 10-6 Bucs, who just went into New Orleans and beat the Saints for a second consecutive season. That gave Tampa Bay its first victory all season against a team with winning record. New York went 10-6, too, but of course self-destructed two weeks ago against Philadelphia and never recovered from it.
-- Brett Favre wouldn't be the only big-name quarterback in the final five games of his tenure as his team's starter, because Mike Shanahan would come to the conclusion that Donovan McNabb is not the answer in D.C. That's a call that wasn't exactly hard to see coming, and given the way the McNabb saga has played out, what's really left to say?