Megatron the headliner, but history was made all over in Week 16
The Bengals have done something this year that hadn't been done since Boomer Esiason was a junior at Maryland.
Bruce Arians has done something no one in the NFL has done in 60 years.
Seattle's averaging 50 points a game in its last three games, which hasn't been done in a three-game span in Bill Belichick's lifetime.
And over the weekend, Calvin Johnson and Blair Walsh, the rookie Vikings kicker, did things no one in the 93-year history of the NFL had ever done.
We'll get to all those, but first: Happy Christmas Eve to all. Got a few story lines for you, starting with the brunt of the playoff news.
• We know 10 of the 12 teams in the big dance, including all six in the AFC -- division champs Houston, Denver, New England and Baltimore, and I-74 wild card twins Indianapolis and Cincinnati. All that's left is determining the NFC West winner (San Francisco and Seattle have clinched playoff berths, and the second-place team in the division will be the NFC's fifth seed), the NFC East winner and the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.
• In the NFC, the Dallas-Washington winner Sunday night at FedEx Field (another forlorn end-of-season road trip for the Cowboys) wins the East and will be the fourth seed in the playoffs. Dallas can make the playoffs only by winning the division. Washington makes the playoffs as a wild card with a loss -- if Chicago and Minnesota also lose Sunday.
• Minnesota wins an NFC sixth seed by beating Green Bay in the Metrodome Sunday in a late game (4:25 p.m. Eastern Time). Chicago wins the sixth seed if they beat Detroit (1 p.m. Eastern) and Minnesota lose to Green Bay. The Giants win the sixth seed by beating Philadelphia (1 p.m. Eastern), and by Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago all losing.
• Wild Card Weekend if the playoffs started today: In the NFC, Seattle at Washington; Minnesota at San Francisco. In the AFC, Cincinnati at New England; Indianapolis at Baltimore.
Math lesson over for the day. Sixteen games to play, all next Sunday (nine early, six late, one at night), and Week 17 won't be as suspenseful as some final regular season weekends. But in a league of stories, we'll have plenty. This week we're starting with the story of the year ... on the Indianapolis Colts team bus. It's a story we can't seem to get enough of.
Someone needs to explain how this happened, exactly.
Jamaal Charles ran for 165 yards against the Colts Sunday.
In the third quarter.
At one point in the fourth quarter at Arrowhead Stadium, interim coach Bruce Arians looked out onto the field and surveyed just who was playing for him. On offense, on the 73-yard game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown drive, he counted seven first-year players. On defense, well, he wasn't quite sure what he saw. Indy already had four defensive tackles on injured reserve, the nominal starter at the nose, Antonio Johnson, was inactive with an ankle injury, and two other defensive linemen went down during the game. So trying to somehow plug the leak were four Colts who'd been plucked off the street, off waivers from the Packers, Jets, Cowboys and Rams during this season. "Hang in there,'' Arians kept telling his waiver wonders. A week or so ago, Arians didn't know the name of the seventh nose tackle the Colts had employed this year, undrafted 355-pound plugger Kellen Heard, picked up from the Rams and activated earlier this month, but now he was trying to stone Peyton Hillis and Charles, and somehow it worked. Somehow, 352 Chief rushing yards later, it worked, and the Indianapolis Colts, 2-14 a year ago, won their 10th game of 2012, clinching a playoff spot.
"Mission accomplished,'' a totally spent Arians, 60, said from the bus, on the way to the airport. "This is the greatest moment of my coaching career. This is the top. I called the plays in a two-minute drive to win the Super Bowl, but this beats that. I mean, we're the College All-Stars. Remember when the NFL champion used to play the college all-stars in the preseason every year? That's who we are -- the College All-Stars. And we're in the playoffs.''
Arians was the perfect junkyard dog for one of the most difficult coaching assignments in NFL history. The Steelers let him walk last year, and Arians was bitter about it. For eight years he coached Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, getting very close to Roethlisberger. Too close, some in the organization thought, and after last year the Steelers decided to make a change -- to get a fresh offensive voice and approach for the league's 12th-rated offense, and to challenge Roethlisberger too. It was Arians who called the plays, as he said, on the length-of-the-field drive in the final minutes of the Super Bowl four years ago, including the pass play into the corner of the end zone for Santonio Holmes that won it. When Chuck Pagano got the Colts' coaching job last January, he saw his old friend Arians on the street and hired him to coach the offense, including the new franchise quarterback in town, Andrew Luck. And when Pagano had to take a leave to treat his leukemia when the Colts were 1-2, the team tabbed Arians to take his place.
Arians won nine games and lost three. This morning, Pagano, his cancer in remission, returns to take his team back. And Arians will be in the office too ... only perhaps a few minutes late.
Arians and Pagano had an emotional phone conversation after the 20-13 win over the Chiefs. Pagano thanked Arians, twice. Arians told Pagano that he'd been given a job, and he tried to do it to the best of his ability. And Arians said: "Don't you come in too early tomorrow, because I won't be early. I might have a little hangover when I get there."
Imagine Arians' emotion today. He walked off the Arrowhead field at 3:07 p.m., having piloted a reeling team into the playoffs as an interim coach; no interim coach since 1952 had won nine games with any NFL teams. And while he was in the locker room, word came down that the team that dumped him was eliminated from playoff contention. Arians is no gloater, and he did none of that Sunday. But come on. Who wouldn't be thinking emotional thoughts at a time like that?
Owner Jim Irsay gave Arians a bearhug in the locker room and said into the coach's ear: "Thank you. Thank you."
"To be respected that much by Mr. Irsay after what I've been through this year ... '' and his voice trailed off.
Saturday night, Arians told his players to "finish the job. Chuck doesn't need a stressful week when he comes back Monday. He doesn't need to have a must-win to make the playoffs.'' And he said Sunday: "You give a professional athlete a cause, and he'll respond. These guys responded.''
Arians responded. He kept a new team with a 70 percent turnover from last year from fracturing, and he did it on his first shot to be an NFL head coach. "I finally got a chance to be a head coach,'' he said, "and I got the chance while leading a group of men on a special mission for a great man [Pagano] himself. Nothing can compare to this.''
In the wake of the news ...
Seattle 150, Foes 30. That's the collective score of the three Seahawks games over the past 15 days, and the amazing thing Sunday night was, that was no Jacksonville or Kansas City they beat up 42-13. That was the San Francisco 49ers, who'd entered the game first in the NFL in scoring defense. Russell Wilson had the first four-touchdown-pass day of his exploding career, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 111 yards, and the Seahawks, with a crowd so loud that NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya had to scream into Pete Carroll's ear to be heard before the game, continued on the NFL's best three-game offensive run since 1950. (The Rams scored 163 points in three games then.)
Of all the stats on all the NFL play sheets Sunday, this seemed most amazing to me: Seattle converted 11 of 13 third downs (11 of 12, really, because the final conversion attempt was a kneeldown at the end of the game) against the team that had held Seattle to six points two months ago. The key for Seattle, of course, has been the precocious play of Wilson, who was remarkable in and out of the pocket. He doesn't scramble like a normal quarterback, or even a quick quarterback. His scrambling is totally unpredictable, and he breaks the rules that say passers should never double-back and go 12 or 15 yards behind the line to try to find a new hole. He does it all the time, fearlessly.
"Russell hasn't changed,'' Carroll said afterward. "All he has done is just won us over. We've changed, he's the same. He's more experienced now with what we're asking him to do, and he's had more reps and turns and all of that, so he's more efficient at everything. He's rock solid after this win. He's ready to go to the next game already, and that's just who he is and how he is. We're just thrilled that he's playing on our team.'' Want an example of Wilson the leader? He went to all the rookies after the game Sunday night. "We got work to do tomorrow,'' Wilson told his fellow first-year players. "Come in and get your lift in.'' Christmas Eve wouldn't influence the work schedule for Wilson. Tape analysis, 8 a.m. Lift, 10 a.m. That's what leaders do.
Did the Bengals just win a game, or was it more than that? Andy Dalton was drafted to change the course of Bengals history, the same way Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason and David Klingler and Akili Smith and Carson Palmer were. Anderson and Esiason led the Bengals to Super Bowls. Klingler and Smith were busts. Palmer was a good player but never could win a playoff game, and finally grew so frustrated that he decided to quit football rather than play in Cincinnati. The Bengals traded him to Oakland, of course. And that's when Dalton, the mature-beyond-his-years redhead from Texas, stepped in.
Drafted in the second round last year, Dalton led Cincinnati to a wild card berth last year, and Sunday, in Pittsburgh, helped the Bengals beat the Steelers for the first time since 2009, 13-10. "It's good, really good,'' Dalton said from Pittsburgh, "especially for a team that hadn't been to the playoffs back-to-back in 30 years.'' He's right -- the last time Cincinnati made the playoffs for a second straight year was the strike-shortened season of 1982, when teams played only nine regular season games. Dalton and A.J. Green, the top two picks of this new era in 2011, combined to make the play that led to Sunday's win. With 14 seconds to play in a 10-10 game, and the ball at the Steelers 46, Green ran a deep out pattern to the right. "A play we run a lot,'' Dalton said. "I saw the corer soft on A.J., and A.J. was able to get across his face [run in front of him] and get a couple of steps on him.'' Dalton's throw was perfect -- gain of 21.
The resulting 43-yard Josh Brown field goal was the winner, and sent Cincinnati to a playoff road opener, again. Last year, playing in Houston was tough enough; the Bengals lost 31-10. This year, the wild-card game could be in a tougher spot -- New England, if form holds in Week 17. But Cincinnati's defense, led by terrific defensive tackle Geno Atkins (2.5 sacks in Pittsburgh), is improved from last year, and will make it hard for good passing games like New England's to get traction. If Dalton plays mistake-free, the Bengals will be in any game they play in January.
We're all living in Calvin's world. Congratulations to Calvin Johnson for breaking Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season. Johnson's eighth straight 100-yard receiving game Saturday night (11 catches, 225 yards) has come in a dreadful Lion stretch of losses, and I understand the sentiment of those who think it's not such a great record because the numbers are coming in some lopsided defeats. But what does a team do when it's behind in the second half? Throw a lot. And Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have great chemistry, so what's Stafford supposed to do when this big target with huge hands and the talent to get open gets open downfield? Check the ball down?
Johnson, with one game left, has 117 catches for 1,892 yards. Imagine a player averaging 132 yards receiving a game. On Sunday, I asked the man who drafted Johnson, if he had a tough choice when the second pick in the 2007 draft came up and it was the Lions turn to pick. "If the Raiders [who chose JaMarcus Russell first overall] had taken Calvin, we'd have crossed our fingers and taken Adrian Peterson,'' Millen said. "Remember, he had that shoulder issue before the draft, and some people were concerned about it. But we were comfortable with him. We liked Calvin better. We thought he was a once-in-a-lifetime guy." On this pick at least, Millen was right.
The dot-dot-dot section. Of the many terrific episodes of NFL Films/NFL Network's A Football Life series, "The Immaculate Reception'' episode last week, in my opinion, has been the best one. It made the most famous play in NFL history come alive with the kind of living history that only NFL Films can capture 40 years later. The documentary featured detailed analysis of the play-- the boomeranged pass that landed in Franco Harris' hands and ended up being the winning touchdown in the AFC playoff game -- by former head of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, who concluded: "I've looked at this play from very possible angle. I've looked at every stitch of documentary evidence. And in my professional judgment, that play, the Immaculate Reception, happened just the way it was called." Don't tell John Madden that ...
So many numbers I like this morning in the Nothing is Forever League, but how about this about the 49ers, who, a week ago, could have passed for the best team in football: After Seattle throttled the Niners Sunday night, San Francisco, which started the season as the great power of a supposedly weak division, is 2-2-1 in NFC West games this year. In those five division games, San Francisco's been outscored 91-87 ... Vikings coach Leslie Frazier told me after the Texans held Adrian Peterson to 86 yards -- and Peterson left the game with a stomach injury -- that "he'll be fine'' for the finale against Green Bay. He'll need 207 yards to pass Eric Dickerson. It's possible Peterson got hurt on a three-yard loss when tackled hard by J.J. Watt ... "I think we'll be a dangerous team if we get in,'' Frazier said. They looked it. There was nothing fluky about the 23-6 win in Houston. GM Rick Spielman has done a good job reinforcing the defense with talented kids like Notre Dame rookie safety Harrison Smith ...
I understand the incredible frustration of Tim Tebow, who was either lied to by his team or misled, or lost any ability to play the sport of football since being traded to the Jets last spring. The Jets pushed him to rebel, as, according to ESPNNewYork.com, he did last week when he said he didn't want to participate in the team's Wildcat plays in the San Diego game. But it's not acceptable to do it. As bad as he believes he's been wronged, he's got to do what the team says as long as he's under contract there.
Hey! Calling all loons in Steeler Nation ...
Coach Mike Tomlin, finishing his sixth season as coach of the Steelers, won't be taking his team to the playoffs. "Not our day,'' Tomlin said after the 13-10 loss to Cincinnati. "Not our year. Sounds like a broken record. But reality.'' I've heard from many Steeler fans over the past few weeks, and many are unhappy with Tomlin for not leading a talented team out of its funk. These fans are not just unhappy with Tomlin. They want a new coach. To which I say: Are you crazy?
|* 14-game seasons|
Tomlin's not only signed through 2016, but the Rooney family never panics after a subpar year, or after a subpar year following a year Tim Tebow beat them in the playoffs. Here's another reason Tomlin won't be going anywhere for a while -- a long while. I call it The Shula Defense. To the right, a comparison of Comparing Tomlin's first six seasons to the first six seasons of the winningest coach of all time, Don Shula.
Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by Neil Hornsby of ProFootballFocus.com, this section has looked deeply at an important matchup or individual performance. This week I've asked for something slightly different: the leading contenders for Defensive Rookie of the Year, followed next week by the Offensive Rookie award. Hornsby's take (all stats through Week 15):
The way things have broken down in 2012, there are three legitimate options for this award.
Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seattle. After starting the year with Wagner in a two-down role (the Seahawks initially took him out on passing downs), Seattle realized by Week 5 this was a waste of his all-round ability. Since then he's missed only six snaps, excepting when he was allowed to rest during garbage time of the recent blowouts of Arizona and Buffalo.
His primary job, though, is still run defense, and in that regard he couldn't have done better than his first ranked position in run-stop percentage (a metric that looks at tackles made in the running game that constitute a defeat for the offense), edging Derrick Johnson and NaVorro Bowman among middle linebackers.
He has not been outstanding in coverage, but has made few major errors and never looks out of place. His 0.88 yards allowed per coverage snap through Week 15 ranks him 21st among 48 qualifying inside linebackers, and while he has allowed two touchdowns he has also made three interceptions. Detractors may point to him being quieter in the last half of the season (the Arizona game aside), but he's never played poorly.
Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay. In pure performance terms, no rookie defender comes close to Hayward. He sits between Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman at the top of PFF's coverage grading through Week 15. He ranks eighth in yards allowed per coverage snap, despite playing nearly half of those 400 plays (204) in the slot, a traditionally more difficult position to man.
In doing this he has given up neither a penalty nor touchdown while making six interceptions and deflecting 10 more passes. When you throw in the fact he's played the run well too -- ranking 9th in run stop percentage among corners, without missing a tackle -- you can see this is a man who should be going to the Pro Bowl. The only point against him is that he's not currently an every-down player; he generally doesn't play in the Packers base defense.
Lavonte David, OLB, Tampa Bay. A full-time starter from day one, David hasn't missed a single snap since Week 6. Like Wagner, he also leads his position (4-3 outside linebackers) in run stop percentage and has a particular penchant for making tackles for loss, where his 17, not including sacks, leads the league, just ahead of J.J. Watt. The bottom line here is that he is a very high quality run defender who loves to attack. Like Wagner, his coverage skills are average. However, he has allowed five touchdowns while picking up only one interception, which doesn't stand in his favor.
Another difference is that David is used to blitz much more frequently (23 percent of passing plays compared to 10 percent for Wagner) and while he has at least hurried the quarterback 18 times, statistically this isn't a good reward for 143 blitzes.
Quick note on two other players: At midseason, Chandler Jones (DE, New England) probably had this award wrapped up, but a combination of injury and lack of production has seen him register only two quarterback disruptions since then. Much is made of Carolina LB Luke Kuechly's tackle numbers, but as mentioned above, this is a very misleading figure. When the ball is in front of him, he has a burst to make plays like few others, but often struggles to locate the receivers behind him and still looks lost in coverage on these occasions.
In summary: If you can accept a player who is on the field for 70 percent of snaps being the choice, there really only is one option. Hayward's level of performance is Pro Bowl-worthy and borderline All-Pro. If being on the field for every snap is paramount, then this would come down to Wagner and David, with Wagner having a very slight edge overall but David being generally more consistent.
1. Denver (12-3). The Broncos have won 10 in a row by at least a touchdown apiece. Scored in the 30s in eight of those 10. Who, exactly, is beating the Broncos in January?
2. Atlanta (13-2). If you're a Falcons fan, you have to be encouraged by the Matt Ryan you're seeing this month. He's making all the big throws on target, which he wasn't doing in big games a year ago.
3. Seattle (10-5). A tour de force victory Sunday night over the big, bad wolf of the NFC West that stamped the Seahawks as a real Super Bowl contender. No team has a bigger home-field advantage than the Seahawks (7-0 at CenturyLink this year). Too bad the 'Hawks will likely have to win three straight on the road to get to the Super Bowl.
4. Green Bay (11-4). You do not want to play Green Bay right now. The Packers will not have a lay-down first playoff game like they did a year ago.
5. San Francisco (10-4-1). Still hugely dangerous. Though they lost Sunday night to the Seahawks, is there a team in the NFL that could have gone 2-0 in a road trip that pitted it against New England and Seattle, both in prime time?
6. New England (11-4). Great tiebreaker possibility: If Denver (vs. Chiefs), New England (vs. Dolphins) and Houston (at Colts) all finish 12-4, which can happen, the playoff seeding would be Pats one, Texans two and Broncos three.
7. Houston (12-3). To clinch home field in the AFC playoffs, Texans have to win at Indianapolis Sunday. Houston's 0-10 all-time at Indy. Uh-oh.
8. Cincinnati (9-6). In the Roethlisberger Era, the Bengals had been 4-14 against the Steelers. Now it's 5-14, and Sunday's victory, the one that knocked the Steelers out of the playoff picture, felt bigger than just one win.
9. Washington (9-6). Robert Griffin III sure didn't look like he was 100 percent in Philadelphia. But the Redskins have won six in a row, and all they have to do to finish their shock-the-world regular season is beat the Cowboys at home, when FedEx Field will be rocking like the Gibbs-Beathard days next Sunday.
10. Minnesota (9-6). Plenty of stars not named Adrian Peterson for the Vikes in Houston: street free agent defensive tackle Fred Evans with good pressure and a sack, rookie safety Harrison Smith with a sack, Toby Gerhart with an insurance touchdown with Peterson sidelined.
11. Baltimore (10-5). The real Joe Flacco -- he would tell you -- stood up to mash the Giants Sunday. And now for the bookend game of the season. In Week 1, in Cincinnati, the Ravens beat the Bengals by 31. Now they'll meet at Cincinnati in a game that really doesn't mean much.
12. Indianapolis (10-5). Great example of the deep roster built by GM Ryan Grigson: Sixth-round rookie receiver LaVon Brazill sprinted downfield after the Colts took a 20-13 lead with four minutes to play in Kansas City, in the playoff-clinching game, and tackled returner Devon Wylie at the Chiefs 10. As generous as the Indy run defense was Sunday, long fields were a necessity. Big play.
13. Dallas (8-7). Just like I thought: For the second year in a row, Dallas travels east Sunday night to play the NFC East championship game in the last regular season game of the season. Last year the Giants beat the 'Boys by 17. This year? Could be another nightmare scenario at Washington. One other thing: Don't blame Tony Romo. In December, he's 3-1 with a loss in overtime that wasn't his doing. This month, he's completed 66 percent of his passes, for an average of 332 yards a game, with 10 touchdown passes and one pick.
14. Chicago (9-6). Heck of a trade for Brandon Marshall, Phil Emery. Marshall's worth two third-round picks already after this 15-game production with the Bears: 113 catches, 1,466 yards, 11 touchdowns.
15. New York Giants (8-7). Something's wrong in East Rutherford when the New York Giants lose with the season on the line, twice in a row, by a combined 67-14.
Offensive Players of the Week
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit. His 11-catch, 225-yard performance Saturday night against the Falcons gave the six-year vet from Georgia Tech the all-time record for receiving yards in a season. The only thing left for the Lions to accomplish this year is to get Johnson 108 yards Sunday against the Bears, which would give him the first (obviously) 2,000-yard receiving season.
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. The league's most embattled quarterback not named Mark Sanchez completed 25 of 36 for 309 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, to give the Ravens a rout of the Giants -- and a division title. If we're going to berate Flacco when he's not good, let's praise him when he's dominant, as he was Sunday.
Defensive Players of the Week
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle. "How big is that hearing now?'' Cris Collinsworth said early in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks' rout of the Niners, meaning this: Sherman's appeal of his four-game suspension for using Adderall was held last week, and the decision was not forthcoming before the game against San Francisco. He returned a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown in the first half, then picked off Colin Kaepernick early in the fourth quarter to seal a resounding victory.
Geno Atkins, DT; Leon Hall, CB; and Reggie Nelson, FS, Cincinnati. Atkins' sack of Ben Roethlisberger, after turnstiling rookie guard David DeCastro, ended the first Pittsburgh drive of the first half, and his second sack of Roethlisberger (split with Carlos Dunlap) ended the first Pittsburgh drive of the second half -- and put the Steelers out of field goal range. Atkins had 2.5 sacks on the day. What a player he is.
Hall's 17-yard pick of Roethlisberger put the first points of the game on the board and accounted for the only Cincinnati touchdown of the game. And Nelson's pick of Roethlisberger with 14 seconds left, returned to the Pittsburgh 46, set up the winning field goal. "The defense,'' said Andy Dalton, "was phenomenal, and gave us the chances we needed to win a huge game." Right he is.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis. Stepping in front of Bucs wideout Mike Williams at the Tampa 41, Jenkins picked off a Josh Freeman pass, tiptoed athletically along the sideline for a few yards, then ran it back for a touchdown, absorbing a Freeman smash at the 3 and scoring his fourth touchdown of the season. Three have come on interception returns.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Kai Forbath, K, Washington. With 45- and 42-yard rockets down the middle in Philadelphia, Forbath continued to make the Redskins' decision to drop Billy Cundiff to sign him look brilliant. In 10 games, Forbath has made all 17 of his field goal attempts.
Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota. Three for three in the Vikings' upset of the Texans at Houston, and he set the record for most 50-yard field goals in a season in NFL history in the process, with a 56-yarder. He's now 9 for 9 from 50 and beyond. He's hit this year from, in order and including the nine 50+ kicks: 55, 51, 52, 49, 51, 55, 48, 50, 53, 51, and 56.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes suffered in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Russell Okung, LT, Seattle. While the Seahawks rambled to their 28-6 halftime lead Sunday night, Okung held off the great Niners pass rusher, Aldon Smith. Okung, using a variety of speed moves to match Smith and some good legal use of his hands to neutralize Smith's speed, allowed zero sacks and zero pressures, and the lack of pressure from Smith (19.5 sacks in the season's first 14 games) helped Russell Wilson build a lead the Niners couldn't overcome.
Coach of the Week
Bruce Arians, head coach, Indianapolis. On the phone from Kansas City after the Colts won to make the playoffs, Arians sounded totally beat. With good reason. As the interim coach subbing for leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano, Arians went 9-3 over the past three months. The 20-13 victory over the Chiefs made Arians the first interim coach in the last 50 years to lead his team to the playoffs.
Goat of the Week
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia. On the final drive of the season at Lincoln Financial Field, with the Eagles down 27-20, Foles underthrew a wide-open Jeremy Maclin in the end zone, then was called for intentional grounding on the last play of the game, which was the last play because of the 10-second runoff of the clock on an intentional grounding call. Foles has shown good potential subbing for Mike Vick, and will probably enter the offseason as the Eagles' 2013 starter, but this last drive robbed the Eagles of a chance to stun the Redskins and affect the NFC East pennant race.
"It was important for us to go out and dominate the opponents late in the year. We have momentum going for us -- particularly what we've done over the last nine weeks, 10 weeks -- so we wanted to take the next step as a football team and I felt we were able to accomplish that today."
-- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, after the Packers beat Tennessee 55-7.
"They don't keep a record of meaningless yards, and these are meaningless yards. I hate to say it, but they are."
-- ESPN's Jon Gruden, with a valid point late in another double-digit Lions' loss, as Calvin Johnson of Detroit broke Jerry Rice's all-time record for receiving yards in a season.
These are the kinds of points a great analyst makes. Good job by Gruden.
"I was disappointed he could find conduct detrimental and there is no discipline, that he could excuse that type of accountability as a coach's responsibility. I don't share that perspective. This isn't a new policy. The bounty rule has been in place for decades. It's a core part of our rules."
-- Commissioner Roger Goodell, to Judy Battista of the New York Times, in his first expansive comments on Paul Tagliabue's rebuke of his discipline in the New Orleans Saints bounty case.
If you still think Tagliabue was somehow "protecting'' Goodell with his ruling, you wouldn't think that from talking to those close to Goodell -- or, now with Battista's story, by hearing from Goodell himself. It's clear the mentee, Goodell, is angry with the decision of his mentor, Tagliabue. The other money quote from Goodell: "If you want to be a cheerleader, go be a cheerleader. If you want to be a commissioner, then go make the decisions."
"You look at one franchise, the Giants. They have ups and downs. But it's never catastrophic. It's never like this.''
-- Former Jets coach Herman Edwards, to Judy Battista (you had a heck of a week, Judy), on the raging misfortunes of the New York Jets.
"You can literally s--- on me, and I will still be kind to you.''
-- Former running back and NBC football and Today Show announcer Tiki Barber, on The Howard Stern radio show on SiriusXM Radio.
Well, that would certainly be a Festivus miracle.
Among the draft choices picked by teams in desperate quarterback straits before Seattle took its current starting QB, Russell Wilson (75th overall) and Washington selected its backup QB, Kirk Cousins (102th overall) in last April's draft:
Arizona: CB Jamell Fleming (backup corner, special-teamer), 80th overall.
Buffalo: WR T.J. Graham (wide receiver with 30 catches), 69th overall.
Jacksonville: P Bryan Anger (third in NFL in net punting average), 70th overall.
Kansas City: G Jeff Allen and T Donald Stephenson (both have started this year), 44th and 74th overall.
Jets: LB Demario Davis (backup linebacker averaging 21 snaps per game), 77th overall.
Friday, 9:40 a.m., dog-walking near the corner of 56th Street and Second Avenue, on the east side of Manhattan, and I encountered several 40-ish women walking off the property of the High School of Art & Design. One was sobbing. I stopped for a second. A few other people stopped. One of the women looked at me and said, "Just had the moment of silence for Newtown." We all understood.
"Not trying to cause trouble. Just pointing out Alex Smith won his last 4 starts vs Seattle. OK, trying to cause trouble.''
-- @marcpurdy, Mark Purdy, sports columnist of the San Jose Mercury News, after the Seahawks had taken a 14-0 lead over the 49ers Sunday night.
"Lets go Seahawks! You owe us one!!!"
-- @jsitton71, Green Bay guard Josh Sitton, during the first half of the Seattle-San Francisco game. In Week 3, the Packers felt wronged as a replacement official ruled a Seattle touchdown instead of a Green Bay interception on the last play of the game, enabling Seattle to win.
"I am a believer in the Constitution and the 2nd amendment, but after watching the NRA press conference, I believe they have lost their soul."
-- @SageRosenfels18, the former NFL quarterback, after Wayne Lapierre of the National Rifle Association spoke Friday.
MT "Officers from around CT organizing/rallying to work Christmas Day so no Newtown, Conn., officers have to work Dec. 25."
-- @MattNorlander, writer and podcast host for CBSSports.com.
"I am deeply saddened by the news of Ryan Freel's death. I never covered anyone who played harder. RIP, Freely. #reds''
-- @johnfayman, Reds beat man John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, after the suicide of former outfielder Ryan Freel.
Freel, 36, killed himself in Jacksonville Saturday. Being a big rotisserie baseball owner, I had Freel on the roster for steals, eight years ago, and grew to greatly admire him as a guy who made the most of his talent -- sort of a Jacquizz Rodgers utility player. He played so hard. Sad story.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 16:
a. Matt Ryan's downfield throwing ability. He and his receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones, are going to be tough to defend in the playoffs if he keeps throwing the way he did Saturday night.
b. Good job, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, pumping up Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's case for being a head coach. Zimmer should be on every owner's radar with the job he's done in Cincinnati.
c. Chad (6 of 6 on the first drive against New England) Henne, staving off Tim Tebow already.
d. Micheal Spurlock, who returned a punt 63 yards for a Chargers touchdown.
e. Roddy White is far better, and far more reliable, than he gets credit for.
f. Sack/strip by J.J. Watt, giving him 20.5 sacks for the year. A 3-4 defensive end, 20.5 sacks.
g. J.J. Watt bursting through the line and corralling Adrian Peterson for a three-yard loss. If I were Watt, I'd want a photo of that, blown up, in my man cave.
h. The coverage I saw out of Patrick Robinson for the Saints.
i. Jeremy Mincey making up from his season-long slumber to flatten Tom Brady.
j. The James Laurinaitis-led 4th-and-a-foot stand against Josh Freeman. Different mindset in St. Louis.
k. Jerome Simpson! How'd you get both feet inbounds on that sideline catch?
l. Harrison Smith and Janoris Jenkins showing what a strong defensive rookie class this is.
m. Nice job by the former UConn Husky, Kendall Reyes, with 3.5 sacks against the New York (Embarrassing) Jets.
n. Heck of a punt, late, by Chris Kluwe, pinning the suddenly struggling Texans at their 1 in the fourth quarter.
o. Red Bryant, one of the best kick-blockers in football, doing his part by blocking a David Akers field goal attempt.
p. Russell Wilson's downfield arm -- better than virtually every scout thought before the draft.
q. What a great defensive battle in Pittsburgh.
r. Loved the great cadence by Robert Griffin III at the line, late, trying to draw the Eagles offside.
s. Thom Brennaman with the TV Stat of the Week: Washington's first delay-of-game penalty came in the fourth quarter of the 15th game. With a rookie quarterback, backed up by a rookie quarterback. May I say, "Wow?"
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 16:
a. Nick Foles' ball security. He has to protect the ball better out of the pocket, and the fact that he didn't prevented the Eagles from going up 10-0 or 14-0 early against Washington.
b. Reggie Nelson hit Heath Miller hard in the knees with Miller in full gallop, and Miller wasn't happy. I wouldn't be either. But it's the kind of hit defenders have to make since they can't go high on receivers anymore.
c. Cover the man, Adam Jones. Don't be baited for a long TD by going for the interception.
d. The most fruitless 443-yard passing game (Matthew Stafford's) that you'll ever see.
e. Stafford's going to have over 700 throws this year (he has 685 now), and the Lions are 4-11. Message there.
f. Can't miss a 24-yard field goal, Shaun Suisham. And I don't care about the shaky spot.
g. Nice coverage by the Jets' MVP, Antonio Cromartie, on the Danario Alexander second-half touchdown. Try, man.
h. There's a rule for receivers, Brian Quick. Catch it before you run.
i. Cam Newton, who should have been thrown out of the game for contacting the ref, Jerome Boger, in Carolina.
j. The Tennessee defense, as usual. In the last 14 games, the D has allowed 38, 41, 38, 51 and 55 (on Sunday in Green Bay).
3. I think it must kill Lions fans that Calvin Johnson was drafted by Matt Millen.
4. I think the one thing about Roger Goodell that becomes apparent the more this sour year goes on is this: He is his father's son. Goodell has an immunity to criticism that is like few people in the public eye I have encountered. He learned to have a Teflon suit of armor from watching his father, former New York congressman and senator Charles Goodell, take the slings and arrows of his job, including going against his party when he spoke out against the United States' continued involvement in the Vietnam War. It's not over yet for Goodell, who will have to take the slings and arrows for HGH testing, a defamation suit by Jonathan Vilma and his trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
5. I think ace Pats beat man Mike Reiss made a good point Sunday, when he said the Patriots would find it tough (but probably would do it) to franchise Wes Welker again in 2013, because the combo platter of Tom Brady ($21.8 million) and Welker ($11.42 million) would account for 27 percent of the team's salary cap. But there's an asterisk there. If I told you that the five biggest skill players on the team -- Brady, Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Steven Ridley -- would account for 33.8 percent of the Patriots' cap in 2013, would that be so alarming?
True: Gronkowski ($2.75 million), Hernandez ($4.07 million) and Ridley ($805,500) are cap-friendly in 2013, and may allow the Krafts to think this way of a 32-year-old Welker in 2013: We don't want to devote lots of cap money to the future with Welker, but if we buy one more year of his production, $11 million is worth it.
6. I think, if you hooked Mike Mularkey up to a lie detector, or gave him sodium pentothal, you'd know he'd want no part of Tim Tebow on his Jacksonville roster in 2013.
7. I think I'm already looking forward to these gems on the 2013 sked: Russell Wilson at Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson playing host to hero Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III at Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck at the 49ers, Denver at New England (for obvious reasons), New England at Houston, Peyton Manning returning to Indianapolis, Tom Brady at Cam Newton, A.J. Green at Calvin Johnson, Peyton at Eli, Aaron Rodgers at Colin Kaepernick. Is it just me, or are there more great games on the horizon than usual?
8. I think, with the Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson accomplishments hogging so many headlines, it's fitting to reflect on the 2007 Draft, which has to go down as one of the most compelling, and fruitful, and controversial, ever. Five takeaways from it:
a. The Raiders, not surprisingly, set the franchise back years by passing on Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson to take the eminently forgettable JaMarcus Russell.
b. The busts in this draft, compared to who was picked, are all-timers, and I don't just mean Oakland choosing Russell over Johnson. The Bucs picked the late Gaines Adams over Adrian Peterson. Atlanta chose Jamaal Anderson over Patrick Willis. Houston picked Amobi Okoye over Darrelle Revis.
c. The value players in this draft jump out. Eric Weddle went at No. 37. LaMarr Woodley and David Harris went 46-47, Brandon Mebane and Marshal Yanda 86-87, Jermon Bushrod and Dashon Goldson 125-126, Ahmad Bradshaw 250th ... and every one of the seven New York Giants draft choices that season not only made the roster but also were active during the playoffs.
d. Has there been a draft, ever, with two non-quarterbacks -- Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson - putting up these sick kinds of numbers in their first six years? Peterson's averaged 1,427 yards rushing in his first six years, Johnson 1,294 yards receiving.
e. Matt Schaub came in trade when Houston traded two second-rounders to Atlanta to acquire the backup quarterback for the Falcons.
f. Randy Moss put one final dagger in the Raiders after day one of the draft. Oakland traded Moss to New England for the 110th overall pick. Oakland drafted defensive back John Bowie of the University of Cincinnati with the Moss pick, and Bowie went on to quite a celebrated NFL career: five games, one tackle, no other statistics of any kind. Moss set the NFL record with 23 touchdowns in 2007 for New England, helping the Patriots win the AFC title. JaMarcus Russell and Moss-for-Bowie. That sums up the latter years of Al Davis quite well.
9. I think Bud Adams is going to fire Mike Munchak.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I'm so surprised that the NRA's executive vice president, first in a statement to the media Friday and then to Meet the Press host David Gregory Sunday, would blame mental health and video games and a tawdry culture and the news media and the news media again and Hollywood ... and not guns even in part for the Newtown massacre. Never guns. Guns had nothing to do with the slaughter of 26 innocents at an elementary school, with between three and 11 bullets shot into 20 children.
b. Nope. Guns never have anything to do with any of these mass killings. Because guns don't kill people. People kill people. Just keep repeating that mantra, over and over, because it's the only one you're allowed to believe, according to men like Wayne LaPierre.
c. Shame on you, Wayne LaPierre. And shame on those who blindly back a gun culture more interested in protecting the rights of citizens to own semi-automatic weapons than protecting the rights of first-graders and elementary school teachers.
d. We need the Second Amendment. We don't need incendiary people like LaPierre who pervert it to protect the ownership of guns no founding father would ever have meant for private citizens to own. And I'm not just saying "I support the Second Amendment'' blandly or blindly. I do support it. Private citizens have a right to hunt, and to protect themselves in their homes. But no one can convince me the killing machines like the one Adam Lanza used in Sandy Hook Elementary should be owned by the average citizen in this country.
e. Kudos to Bills, Raiders, Xavier's basketball tea and Madison Square Garden for their Sandy Hook support over the weekend.
f. It's nine days after an event that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it long enough. I'm going to skip the other non-football thoughts, except this one: I wish great holidays to all, and a peaceful Christmas to all those who celebrate it.
One of the great sports columnists in America, Gene Collier, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has penned a gem, commemorating the 40-year anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. And the money quote from the ever-likeable Franco Harris, to Collier: "I can't remember from leaving the backfield to running down the sideline; I remember leaving the backfield, but I don't remember anything in between. My mind is completely blank. I can't tell you if I saw the ball, or if I saw anything or if I knew what actually happened. It baffles my mind. What I knew, once I had it was, 'Run!' "
Whereas Frenchy Fuqua has made a career of playing coy about what happened on the play, those who know Franco Harris have told me he seriously doesn't know if the ball hit the ground or whether he caught the boomerang before it touched the turf at Three Rivers Stadium. Anyway, a great remembrance of the most mysterious -- and perhaps the most famous -- play in NFL history, which happened at 3:29 p.m., 40 years ago yesterday.
And there is no game tonight, as it should be on Christmas Eve. Enjoy your families.
Merry Christmas, Colts.
Coach Pagano returneth.
Who needs other gifts?