No shortage of drama on Survival Sunday; more Week 14 Snaps
NFL Week 14 Snaps (cont.)
NFL Week 14 Snaps (cont.)
PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from an impossibly snowy, memorable and frenetically-paced Sunday in the NFL, otherwise known as Week 14. ...
• Welcome to Survival Sunday in the NFL. The quest for survival made for some desperation football in Week 14, and you have to acknowledge that it produced a dose of the most ridiculously dramatic football of the season. What a collage of crazy comebacks and improbable endings we saw as several teams kept their playoff hopes barely alive, or protected their standing in the postseason pecking order as the December stretch run began in earnest.
This much we know: Any number of teams on Sunday won the kind of game they'll look back on if they go on a long playoff run next month and say, "That was the turning point. That win in Week 14, when we had no business surviving against [fill-in-the-blank]. That's when we knew this year could be special.''
It was that kind of Sunday with so many fantastic finishes, and season-saving victories. Such as:
-- Baltimore and Minnesota traded late-game punches like two aging heavyweights, with five touchdowns exchanged in the final 2:05, before the Ravens won it 29-26 on Joe Flacco's nine-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with four seconds remaining. Baltimore blew a pair of three-point leads in the final two minutes, and Minnesota coughed up two four-point leads over the same span.
But it was the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens who are still standing at 7-6, and still in control of the AFC's second and final wild-card berth with three weeks remaining in the regular season. Baltimore on numerous occasions looked doomed to drop behind Miami (7-6) in the AFC wild-card chase, but the Ravens refused to wilt and won their third consecutive game, all at home.
-- Down 11 points at halftime and seemingly on their way to their sixth consecutive winless week without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers finally awoke in the final two quarters to rally past visiting Atlanta 22-21 at frosty Lambeau Field, in a game played in sub-zero wind chills. Green Bay (6-6-1) outscored the Falcons 12-0 in the second half, and combined with Detroit's loss at Philadelphia, now trail the first-place Lions (7-6) by a mere half-game in the division that nobody wants to win -- the NFC North. The Bears can improve to 7-6 as well with a home-field win against Dallas Monday night.
See, we told you that agonizing Week 12 tie against Minnesota might come in handy, Packers fans. It could just wind up being the key to Green Bay's division title chances. The Packers still have tough games at Dallas and at Chicago remaining, but the Lions look like they intend to keep Green Bay in this race until the end. And the best news of all, of course, is that Rodgers might finally be ready to return from his fractured left collarbone next week against the Cowboys.
-- Speaking of teams that refuse to go away, the warm-weather Dolphins improved to 7-6 and kept the pressure on Baltimore in the AFC wild-card race, winning 34-28 at Pittsburgh in another snowy setting. Miami blew a 10-point third-quarter lead, but scored 24 of its 34 points in the second half, to hang on for dear life. The Dolphins nearly gave up a last-play circus-act touchdown on a series of laterals, but receiver Antonio Brown was ruled to have gone out of bounds deep in Miami territory, giving the Fish their third win in four games.
Miami is still behind Baltimore by virtue of losing to the Ravens head to head, but the Dolphins will have more meaningful games in December, as they attempt to make the playoffs and have a winning season for the first time since 2008.
-- Then there are the Jets. All but written off as an AFC wild-card contender, New York shook off three consecutive dismal losses to beat visiting Oakland 37-27, and at least keep some semblance of a pulse in the postseason scramble. At 6-7, New York is still a long-shot (same goes for the also 6-7 Chargers), but at least the Jets avoided their first-ever four-game losing streak under Rex Ryan and posted their season high in points, with an actual touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Geno Smith occurring.
-- In the snow-globe setting that was Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles exploded for 34 second-half points, including 28 in the fourth quarter, to rally past Detroit 34-20 and improve to 8-5 in the tight and taunt NFC East race. For now, Philadelphia vaults back into first place and takes over the NFC's No. 3 seed, with Dallas playing at the Bears Monday night. A Cowboys win puts them in first place in the East, with the Eagles dropping to a wild-card slot. Either way it looks like we'll get that Week 17 showdown in Dallas for the division crown.
The Eagles trailed 8-0 at the half and looked like they were playing on skates, but LeSean McCoy wound up rushing for a team-record 217 yards and the Eagles had 299 on the ground in winning their fifth straight game.
-- And lastly there were the can't-stand-prosperity Patriots, who are amassing a remarkable track record in this season of momentous comebacks. New England trailed at halftime for the fourth consecutive game, and trailed in the game by double digits for the fourth week in a row, but still pulled off a miraculous 27-26 win over visiting Cleveland. New England got a Julian Edelman two-yard touchdown catch with 1:01 remaining, then recovered an onside kick, picked up a questionable pass interference call in the end zone and capped the comeback with a one-yard Danny Amendola touchdown grab with 31 seconds left.
In winning, the Patriots improved to 10-3 and held on to the AFC's valuable No. 2 seed, behind top-seeded Denver (11-2), which clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Titans. A loss to the lowly Browns and New England would have fallen to the No. 3 slot, behind No. 2 Cincinnati (9-4), meaning the Patriots would have lost their first-round bye and not been guaranteed a home game in the AFC divisional round.
Almost without fail -- Pittsburgh being the lone exception -- the playoff contending teams that had to have victories in Week 14 found a way to get it done. It wasn't always pretty, and most everything went down to the wire, but it was wildly entertaining to watch unfold. Survival, as it turns out, is still the best motivation.
• As we theorized in our coaching hot-seat update last week, things in Washington seem headed for a definitively acrimonious divorce between Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder. But I didn't think things would escalate this quickly into an ugly spectacle of blame-game final maneuvers.
An ESPN.com report on Sunday said Shanahan was preparing to resign from the team at the conclusion of its 2012 playoff run, so fed up was he with Snyder's meddling and over-the-top star treatment of quarterback Robert Griffin III.
This much I know: If Shanahan were ready to walk after last season, he's even more eager to leave Washington behind after this season, which has been a disaster for the Redskins. And I'm dead certain Shanahan was OK with that story of his 2012 unhappiness seeing the light of day in December 2013. That was no accident, and he basically confirmed the story in Sunday's postgame, refusing to deny any part of the report, saying only it was not the time to talk about his relationship with Snyder.
Suffice to say there will be no putting this Genie back in the bottle in D.C. A source close to the situation last week predicted to me that Snyder would try to get Shanahan to quit and walk away from his $7 million salary in 2014 by forcing him to fire his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But now, with the situation out in the open as a public spat, look for a Mike Shanahan firing in the near future and another Redskins head coaching tenure ending messily.
If Shanahan remains the team's coach past Monday, I'll be surprised. As I've written many times before, no one ever leaves Washington with his reputation enhanced or his career better off than when he arrived, at least outside of the financial realm. It looks like typical Redskins dysfunction, after taking a welcomed year off in 2012, is back in a big way.
• The Colts are going to be in the playoffs no matter what (they backed into an AFC South title Sunday by virtue of the Titans' loss to the Broncos), but it's time to admit they've hit the wall and they're probably not going to enter the postseason posing as much of a threat this time around as they did last year, when they were 11-5 wild-card upstarts and feel-good sentimental favorites.
Indianapolis dropped to 8-5 and the AFC's No. 4 seed with its 42-28 loss at Cincinnati, and that means the Colts are almost certain to face wild-card winning Kansas City (10-3) in a first-round game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
I'll take the Chiefs in that one, at least from the vantage point of four weeks out. The Colts have a bad offensive line, can't really pass protect, drop too many passes and still haven't found a go-to receiver replacement for the injured and out-for-the-season Reggie Wayne. And that running game. The Colts ran for 63 yards against the Bengals, their fifth sub-100-yard showing in the past eight games. Quarterback Andrew Luck led them in rushing with two carries for 32 yards. Donald Brown and Trent Richardson had just 31 yards on a combined 10 runs.
I originally thought the Colts would take a step back this season after last year's overachieving 11-5, but then they proved me wrong and went out and looked like a Super Bowl contender, beating San Francisco, Denver and Seattle in a span of a few weeks. But those statement wins look like a mirage now, and Indy has only Luck's considerable talents to bank on. When he doesn't lead them to a big comeback win these days, they have no other formula for success.
• Can someone, anyone, explain to me what Jeff Triplette and crew did or didn't see on replay in order to reverse the call on that BenJarvus Green-Ellis run for the Bengals? Green looked down well shy of the goal line, at the one-yard line, after Colts defensive tackle Josh Chapman appeared to trip him up at the four. It was ruled Colts ball on the field, and then Triplette reversed it, to the consternation of many, including CBS play-by-play man Greg Gumbel, who exclaimed: "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Not touched?'' when Triplette announced the reversal.
Asked to explain his call of a touchdown by a pool reporter in the postgame, Triplette repeatedly spoke of focusing on Green-Ellis near the goal line, even though it appeared Chapman came in contact with him well before that, causing him to stumble and eventually bounce into the end zone.
"When we reviewed the video at the goal line, there was nobody touching him there, and then he bounced into the end zone,'' Triplette said. "There was nobody that touched him at the goal line.''
When asked if he reviewed whether contact occurred before the goal line, Triplette merely repeated himself, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
"We reviewed the goal line,'' he said. That's swell, unless the contact that should have rightly resulted in the play being ruled down at the one took place before that, or well shy of the goal line.
Triplette does not inspire confidence. Not sure why the NFL continues to have such faith in him.
• It was cold in Denver, and Peyton Manning didn't lose. What are we going to talk about now? Temperatures in the teens didn't seem to slow down the Broncos, who beat Tennessee 51-28, getting 390 yards passing and four touchdowns from Manning, and a league-record breaking 64-yard Matt Prater field goal.
That Manning can't win in the cold is probably an over-done topic, since most of the games he loses in those frosty conditions come against very good opponents, like at New England or home against Baltimore in last year's playoffs. But you get the feeling Manning is tired of the topic and wants to put the storyline to rest. He knows if all goes as planned, Denver will play two playoff games at home in the cold, and then be the featured attraction in the NFL's first cold-weather outdoor Super Bowl.
So he might as well diffuse that angle as soon as possible, that cold weather is his Kryptonite. Manning might have had that on his mind in dismantling the Titans. He threw a career-high 58 passes, completing 38 of them, even with Welker missing more than half the game. And at 11-2, the Broncos' win means they stay a game ahead of the 10-3 Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. If it's going to be the cold Manning must play in, he'd rather do it at home than in Foxboro.
• Seattle's 19-17 loss at San Francisco doesn't mean the Seahawks aren't still the best team in the NFC. It just means that the gap between the 49ers and their top NFC West rivals wasn't as big as the three games the standings showed entering Week 14. Sunday's outcome was just a late-season correction that tightens up the perception of both clubs and convinces San Francisco (9-4) that it can enter the playoffs on near-equal footing with anyone in the NFC. I thought the 49ers would win a tight game against Seattle, and they did.
Don't forget, the Seahawks embarrassed San Francisco at home in Week 16 of last season, a loss that didn't keep the 49ers from going on to win the NFC and make the Super Bowl. This could be the same story, a Seattle loss that means little in the grand scheme of things. The Seahawks (11-2) are still in line to win the division and claim the NFC's top seed if they take care of business in the season's final three weeks.
• Kansas City stopped the bleeding in a big way, blasting the lifeless Redskins 45-10 at an empty -- and we do mean empty -- FedEx Field. I know you could almost hear the sound of the Redskins players warming up their car engines in the parking lot (in the second quarter), but a 35-point win is a 35-point win, and the Chiefs needed to get back on the winning side of life after three consecutive defeats had dulled their mojo.
The measure of success this year in Kansas City should be a playoff win. I know that's not a high bar given the Chiefs are 10-3, but consider that K.C. fans have seen their beloved team go 0-6 in their past six playoff trips, a one-and-done experience every time, at least since Kansas City's Joe Montana-led 1993 club won a pair of playoff games and made it to the AFC Championship Game in Buffalo.
Anything less than a playoff victory will feel like a letdown for the Chiefs, after their 9-0 start to the season. Fortunately for Andy Reid and Co., Kansas City should draw a trip to No. 4 seed Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs, and that will likely represent the path of least resistance in the six-team AFC postseason field.
The best news for the Chiefs coming out of their rout of the Redskins is that the pass rush is back. Kansas City registered six sacks and limited Washington to just 260 yards of offense.
• How bad are the Raiders these days if they can make Geno Smith and the Jets look good? It might be increasingly difficult to make a case on behalf of bringing back Raiders second-year head coach Dennis Allen, whose floundering team sank to 4-9 with the 37-27 loss to the Jets, assuring Oakland of yet another losing season.
The Jets scored a season-high 37 points, after totaling just 20 points in their previouis three games. New York punted just twice, and Smith was an efficient 16-of-25, for 219 yards, with just one interception and his first touchdown pass since Week 7. Smith also ran for 50 yards and played with increasing confidence as the game wore on, just a week after being benched at halftime of a 23-3 home loss to Miami.
Raiders veteran cornerback Charles Woodson told ESPN.com it was "as embarrassing a game as [he's] ever been a part of," and that's the kind of admission that might just prompt Oakland owner Mark Davis to reconsider Allen's job security.
• If I'm Adrian Peterson, that would settle it for me: No more games in Maryland. Peterson left the Vikings' narrow loss in Baltimore in the second quarter with a right foot injury that looked serious at first. Peterson was also in Maryland, playing the Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, when he blew out his knee slightly less than two years ago, in Week 16 of 2011.
Peterson is scheduled for an MRI on Monday, and called the issue a "mid-foot injury.'' He wasn't the only dose of NFL star power to end up sidelined in Week 14. Patriots oft-injured tight end Rob Gronkowski is hurt again, this time with a right leg injury that Fox Sports is reporting as a season-ending ACL tear. Gronk was hit and tackled low by Browns safety T.J. Ward, and the impact looked damaging. Hard to take New England quite as seriously as a Super Bowl contender without Gronkowski, because we've seen how mightily the Patriots offense struggled to generate points without him in the season's first six games.
Speaking of big blows, Denver receiver Wes Welker left the Broncos' win at home against Tennessee just before halftime with a diagnosed concussion. That's a setback for the Broncos offense, especially since it's Welker's second concussion in recent weeks. (He was also hurt in a Week 11 win at home against Kansas City.) To no one's surprise, Welker was sidelined by a hit delivered by Titans safety Bernard Pollard, the old Patriots killer whose hit on Welker in early 2010 for Houston resulted in an ACL injury for the then-New England receiver.
In other key injury news that could affect the playoff field, the Cardinals lost standout rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a left knee injury in the win over visiting St. Louis, and Lions running back Reggie Bush re-aggravated a calf injury in pregame warm-ups at Philadelphia and never saw action in the snowy conditions.
• Every coaching search seems to have a twist or two in store, but Lovie Smith and the Texans certainly look like a match waiting to happen. Houston owner Bob McNair said he wants someone with ample NFL experience. Check. He said he wants to get a head start on the hiring process before the rest of the league's teams that might have coaching openings get around to it, and Smith happens to be unemployed and ready to interview at any point. Check. And McNair would be hiring both a minority candidate and a Texas native in the process. Check and check.
Smith had plenty detractors in Chicago, obviously, and there are those who thought he never remotely figured out how to make the Bears offense the equal of its defense. But these things are all relative in the NFL, and from what I'm hearing, his 81-63 won-loss record in Chicago -- with three playoff trips and four double-digit win seasons in nine years -- looks very, very appealing in Houston.
Smith really does check off a lot of boxes for McNair, and it'd be an upset if he's not in the job by early January at the absolute latest. And for what it's worth, I don't see Wade Phillips being elevated from interim head coach into the full-time gig, although it wouldn't shock me if he were to stay on Smith's potential staff for the sake of continuity on that side of the ball.
Phillips is now officially the all-time King of Interim Head Coaches, having served in that capacity in New Orleans (after his father, Bud Phillips was fired in 1985), Atlanta (after Dan Reeves got the boot in 2003) and for the Texans (twice, first when Gary Kubiak had his November health scare and now after his firing). Phillips also had full-time coaching jobs in Denver, Buffalo and Dallas, making him one of the most hired and fired men in NFL history.