Welcome to After Further Review..., where we can’t stop laughing when we think about Plaxico Burress, where we still can’t decide if we’re more annoyed or attracted to The "Fills You Up" Girl from the Bud Light commercials, and where we’re ready to bring you the odds, ends, and trends from this weekend's action in the NFL.
But, first things first, let’s get to the news that just can’t wait:
SAFETYWATCH ‘08 UPDATE: Yes, folks, the safety infestation continued to run wild throughout the NFL again this week as yet another safety was recorded -- for the fifth week in a row by my count. The most recent outbreak occured in the Falcons/Chargers game when Phillip Rivers was called for Intentional Grounding in the end zone in the 2nd quarter. Stay tuned -- more updates to follow.
Okay, with that out of the way, now we can go back about our business...
SELF-INFLICTED: I don’t even know what to say about this latest Burress thing. Before this year, he never seemed all that crazy to me -- at least not for a WR. Now, he looks like he’s trying to set a record for crazy. Honestly, I think Burress just realized that all the WR’s who get the biggest publicity are the crazy ones, and wanted to get him some of that.
Seriously, I think sometime this off-season he said to himself: "I just caught the Super Bowl-winning TD, I’m a great receiver, but I just don't get any respect." He got himself a contract extension, but that failed to fill the void that resides in every diva WR. So he got himself suspended -- still nothing.
Then it hit him: "Steve Smith punched out his teammate, Chad changed his name to Ocho Cinco. T.O. tried to kill himself with pills. I need to step up my game... I’ve got it -- I could shoot myself in the leg! Nobody’s ever done that! Then I’ll be the craziest WR ever!"
Burress was already out with a knee injury, and the injury report reads "P. BURRESS -- OUT (KNEE)", but I wish instead of the body part, they list the injury -- like "ACL TEAR". Because when his knee heals but he still can’t play due to being shot, the listing of "P. BURRESS -- OUT (THIGH)" just doesn’t tell the story like "P. BURRESS -- OUT (GUNSHOT WOUND)" would.
Then again, that point might be moot. NBC’s Peter King called it the "A 23 million dollar gunshot wound", referring to the non-guaranteed portion of Burress’s contract, and intimating the Giants might drop him as soon as the first chunk of that (for $1 million) is due on December 10th. That decision could be complicated by the fact Burress is reportedly facing gun charges. So it appears we may find out very soon just how much New York is willing to forgive in exchange for Burress's talent.
I think the biggest thing to come out of this whole thing is the realization that the Giants appear to be completely distraction-proof. They are 11-1, have won seven straight -- six against winning teams -- and have proven to be unaffected by injury, suspension, and now gunfire. Honestly, I think the only way to keep this team from winning is to blow up the team bus in the parking lot before they can get off.
Side note: I loved that NBC sent Tiki Barber on assignment out to Washington to cover the game, just so he could use his status as ex-teammate to get some on-camera quotes about the Burress situation from some Giants players. The highlight was Tiki delivering this breathless update from FedEx Field: "There’s been some reports that Derrick Ward was the third Giant player at scene, but I found out it was actually Ahmad Bradshaw."
Wait, so it wasn’t that one backup RB who was there but didn’t have anything to do with the incident, it was that other backup RB who was there but didn’t have anything to do with the incident? Thank god you were there to clear that up for us, Tiki!
HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: If you missed the Pats/Steelers game this weekend, then you might want to check out this clip showing one of the very hardest hits I’ve ever seen. It may not have been completely ethical, it drew a flag, and will likely get tagged with a fine, but Ryan Clark’s de-cleater on Wes Welker over the middle has to go down as the most violent hit of the year so far. If you listen closely, you can hear Welker's I.Q. dropping as his head whiplashes back against the turf. The NFL: celebrating attempts to maim since 1922.
L.T. VS. M.T.: A ll the talk surrounding Michael Turner in his first year with Atlanta has been that he’s a breakout performer coming into his own. All the talk about LaDainian Tomlinson this season has been that he’s lost explosiveness and seems to be on the downside of his career. Though I agree Turner has been great , and LT has been just a shadow of his former self, it seemed ironic to me that they came into their game with the exact same amount of total yards from scrimmage (1,088) -- though much of that has to do with Turner’s shocking lack of receiving yards (11). I think that says a lot about expectations.
Sunday, it was another story. Or rather, it was the perceived story all along -- Turner dominated the game on the ground (31 carries and 120 yards, leading to a 35 minute time of possession for Atlanta), while LT struggled (14 carries, 24 yards -- though he did add 42 receiving yards). Atlanta’s 22-16 win kept the 8-4 Falcons in the heat of the playoff chase and put the final nail in 4-8 San Diego’s 2008 season.
Going forward, it appears Atlanta's only getting better. Meanwhile, San Diego, which failed to find a suitable trade for Turner before last season, has to wonder whether their window to win is closing. The RB position is a good example of this -- LT is still very good, but not good enough to keep a Super Bowl favorite from collapsing. Turner, on the other hand, is three years younger, has 2000+ less carries worth of wear and tear on his legs, and his best days still ahead.
In the end, this could be another Brees/Rivers situation, where San Diego may end up wondering if they made the right choice -- or how they might have at least better maximized the trade potential.
THE JOHN MCENROE "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!" AWARD GOES TO...: The Oakland Raiders, for faking a 42-yard FG in the 2nd quarter of their game with the Chiefs so they could have their punter toss the ball to Sebastian Janikowski for a run on 4th and 10. There are so many things wrong with this idea, I don’t even know where to start. And that doesn’t even take into account the result fo the play: a fumble, recovered by Kansas City and returned for a TD -- a 10 point swing in a game the Raiders lost, 20-13.
Why make this call? Seriously, it’s so dumb, it actually makes me angry -- and I hate the Raiders. I could spend all day listing reasons why this was a bad choice, but I’ll just stick to my top three: 1) If you’re going to run a fake, 4th and 10 doesn’t seem like a real effective time to do it. Why not at least wait for a 4th and 5? 2) The FG was a relative chip shot for Janikowski, and the game was tied, so the game situation certainly didn’t call for it. 3) Janikowski is a fat ass, and was probably drunk at the time.
X-FACTOR: I’m not sure how much longer I can put personal favorite Peyton Hillis in this spot. Not because he’s not good enough, but because he’s too good. You can’t really be an "X-Factor" if you’re one of your team’s most prominently featured players, and Hillis is quickly becoming that. This week, he was not only Denver’s starting RB, but took each and every one of Denver’s 22 handoffs (What happened to the Mike Shanahan signature back rotation which has caused so many fantasy owners to curse his name to the heavens?). After a 129 yard day, and his third straight week with a TD, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be an every down back going forward.
LIES, DAMN LIES, & STATISTICS: QB’s are often judged on wins and losses, and while it’s slightly more fair than doing the same to evalute pitchers in baseball, the practice is still quite flawed. The Packers/Panthers game provided a good example of this: Aaron Rodgers was 26/45, 298 yards, 3 TD/1 INT, but still saw his team fall to 5-7 and likely out of the playoff chase, while Jake Delhomme (12/17, 177 yards, 0/0) was a winner despite -- or because of -- being asked to carry much less of the load.
GOAT OF THE WEEK: The Packers took the devastating loss despite outgaining the Panthers both on the ground and through the air, and dominating the time of possession. One of the big reasons was a huge mistake late in the game by Charles Woodson, a veteran who should know better.
The Packers led 31-28 with just 1:48 left as Carolina took over on its own 45. Woodson covered Steve Smith on a deep route down the seam, but got underneath help from LB Brandon Chillar, who stayed just a step behind behind Smith 50 yards downfield. So with that support, all Woodson had to do was not let Smith get behind him -- and he didn’t, staying a step ahead until right when Delhomme’s pass arrived. And that’s when he got greedy.
Woodson tried to be the hero, reaching up for the interception. But instead of leaping up to grab it at its highest point, he faded away from contact, failing to shield Smith from the ball. Smith took advantage, leaping up and snatching the ball away. Woodson then fell so far from the play, it was Chillar who had to track down Smith at the 1-yard line to make the tackle.
The Panthers didn’t actually take the lead until the next play, but Smith’s 54 yard grab was the play which essentially cost the Packers the lead, and ultimately the game. It’s the second game in a row where the Packers DB’s came up short in a crucial game. If they miss the playoffs they should know exactly where to place the blame.
IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS: Every season there seems to be one week where all of a sudden it’s winter, and weather and field conditions become a major factor. This week was that week. Suddenly Sunday, it was the time of year when snow flurries, whipping winds, and driving rainstorms have major impacts on games. When where a team is playing can sometimes be just as important as who they’re playing.
The snow in Green Bay didn’t stop the teams from putting up 66 points. But the rain in New England, New York, Cleveland, Buffalo and Tampa seemed to affect play -- lots of fumbles, drops, and players slipping. The scores seemed to be affected as well, as two games were won by a team scoring 10 points -- 49ers 10, Bills 3 and Colts 10, Browns 6. Not surprisingly, dome teams saw their offense sputter. The Colts didn’t score an offensive TD, and Peyton Manning threw for just 125 yards (his lowest total in any non-final game of the year in three seasons) and 2 INT’s. The Saints were plagued by drops and slipping as they put up only 20 points and flubbed away their final chances to win.
It’s only going to get colder from here on out, which is good news for guys like me, who immediately find a game 200% more watchable when it starts snowing.
PATRIOTS SMACKED: The Patriots aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still one of the very last teams you’d expect into a pathetic heap at home in a late-season game with major playoff implications. But that’s exactly what they did against the Steelers on Sunday, fumbling and bumbling away a 10-10 halftime score into a 33-10 embarrassment.
Some signs of trouble emerged early, as twice Randy Moss dropped crucial passes to kill drives -- the first a deep crossing pattern at midfield, the second a sure TD pass in the final minute of the 1st Half. Even after the second drop, the Pats were tied at 10, and had a chance to take the lead going into the half, but Stephen Gostkowski shanked a short FG, and New England was denied.
In the second half, everything crumbled around them -- there were more drops, Matt Cassel (19/39, 169 yards, 0 TD/2 INT, 2 fumbles) wasn’t nearly as sharp as he had been the last two weeks, and they coughed up an amazing three fumbles in the space of just nine touches in the 3rd quarter. All while Belichick stood on the sideline, looking out from under his wet hoodie like a man with no answers.
The loss drops the Pats to 7-5, tied with Miami, one game out of both first place in the AFC East and also the last wild card spot (Baltimore and Indy are both 8-4). The good news for them is their upcoming schedule: Seattle next week and the Raiders after that.
X’S & OH’S: John Madden had the two best lines of the day. First, talking about Darren Sharper’s ugly attempt to tackle Devin Hester on the slant he too 65 yards for a TD vs. Minnesota: "Sharper has to make that tackle right there. I mean Hester made him look like he’d never played before."
Then, talking about how Chicago's defenders like to try to strip the ball : "The Bears have the best strippers in the league."
7 BURNING QUESTIONS:
1. Did you realize while you were scarfing down turkey and watching the Cowboys win on Thanksgiving, that the Niners were being eliminated from Wild Card contention? (It's true -- even if they win out and everything else breaks right, they would still lose a tie-breaker to Dallas.)
2. What was I thinking taking the Saints, a one-dimensional passing team against a team with a as good a defense as Tampa without even checking the weather (which was rainy)?
3. With the job Tony Sparano is doing improving Miami (7-5), along with the John Harbaugh engineering a turnaround for Baltimore (8-4), will we begin to see more new head coaches who’ve never been a coordinator in the NFL?
4. Did you know that on 4th down only the player who fumbles a ball can recover and advance it? (The Colts found this out the hard way when Peyton Manning ran a QB sneak on 4th and goal, fumbled and then saw Dallas Clark recover for a TD, only to have the refs disallow it and award the ball to Cleveland.)
5. Can anyone out there honestly say they predicted three NFC South teams would make the playoffs? (If the season ended today that’s what would happen.)
6. Has anyone ever seen their QB dissipate faster than Cleveland’s? (Two weeks ago, they started Quinn and backed him up with Anderson, next week they’ll start Ken Dorsey and back him up with some guy off the street -- Is Tim Couch still available?)
7. Since I’m already ragging on Cleveland: Is there a funnier sight in sports than Romeo Crennel running down the sideline waving his arms to get a timeout? (Follow-up question: If Crennel’s your head coach, shouldn’t you assign him a Designated Runner who’s shape doesn’t remind one of a Weeble?)
GAME TO WATCH IN WEEK 14: Tampa Bay (9-3) at Carolina (9-3) for 1st place in the NFC South on Monday night.
GAME TO NOT WATCH IN WEEK 14: Oakland (3-9) at San Diego (4-8) for 3rd place in the AFC West on Thursday night.
Something tells me not too many cable companies are going to get angry calls from viewers who are pissed they can't see this game on the NFL Network. In fact, they might even get a few thank you cards.
The pick: CHARGERS