Welcome to ‘After Further Review...', where we think the Ravens got screwed, where we’re blaming everything from the economy to our chronic body odor on the 49ers red zone offense, and where we think the guys running the Big Three U.S. automakers are doing a better job recently than the guys running the ‘Skins, Packers, and Bills.
But before we get to the odds, ends, and trends around the league in Week 15, we’re happy to welcome back an old friend...
SAFETYWATCH ‘08: They’re baaa-ack. Yes, after a one week hiatus, the league got back to its safety bender in the Sunday night game when Tony Romo was sacked, and fumbled out the back of the end zone. After Romo's safety, as NBC went to commercial, they played "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats.
Stay tuned, updates to follow as more information becomes available...
THE DEFINITION OF "INDISPUTABLE" IS INDISPUTABLE: Baltimore has a lot to complain about after their very tough 13-9 loss at to Pittsburgh on Sunday. They have reason to be angry with themselves -- they allowed the Steelers to drive 92 yards to score the game-winning TD, and also allowed a crucial sack on their second to last drive which cost them a shot at a FG (those points might have seriously changed the ending to their last drive, when they had to force the ball into the end zone). But they also have good reason to blame the referees.
Twice it appeared the Ravens caught the short end of an instant replay review, resulting in 10 of Pittsburgh’s 13 points. In the 1st quarter, it appeared clear that Steelers RB Gary Russell was short on a 3rd and 1, but the officials on the field ruled it a 1st down. The replay seemed to show Russell was nowhere near the line to gain, but referee Walt Coleman (he, of many controversial replay rulings, including The "Tuck Rule" Game) ruled the evidence was not indisputable. While I disagreed, no angle was straight down the line, and I understood the need for 100% certainty for overturning a call.
That’s why I was so dismayed at Coleman’s call on the game-winning TD pass from Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with :43 left. On the field, the call was that while Holmes’ body was in the end zone, the ball never was. The replays seemed to back up this call. The ball may (or may not) cross the goal line for an instant as it hits Holmes’ hands, but it’s unclear whether he has either two feet down, or complete control of the ball. To me, it was the dictionary definition of "disputable", so I was stunned when Coleman ruled it a TD.
The replay rule is there to overturn obviously blown calls -- ones with indisputable visual evidence -- so we don’t have a huge game determined by a call everyone knows is wrong. But this was a 50/50 call, and those are supposed to stand. It may not have mattered -- the Steelers might’ve gone for it on 4th down and scored anyway. Or tied the game on a FG and won it in OT. But if I’m a Raven fan, I’m on the internet right now trying to get Walt Coleman’s e-mail so I could send him the Webster’s definition of "indisputable". I hope he’d see the irony that just by my disputing his call, I’d be proving it was not indisputable.
I’m not a Ravens fan, but it’s a shame to see a game decided by a call on the field being reversed without overwhelming evidence. Especially a game with as much riding on it as this. Pittsburgh now clinches their division, a 1st round bye, and plays Tennessee for a shot at the #1 seed in the AFC next week. Baltimore, meanwhile, has no time to stop and lick their wounds -- they face Dallas next week in a game the Cowboys need desperately.
X-FACTOR: This week’s selection is another repeat winner, joining Leon Washington and Peyton Hillis: Tashard "4th Round Draft" Choice. The rookie again starred for the Cowboys, leading the team in both rushing and receiving despite not even starting. Regular RB Marion Barber was back in the lineup to begin the game, but Choice was the one who finished off the Giants with a game-icing 38 yard TD run in the Cowboys 20-8 win.
That run capped a night in which the rookie had four catches for 52 yards and nine carries for 91 yards. Those totals become all the more important when considering the Giants held Barber to just two yards rushing on eight carries, and he looked to be at less than 100%. Dallas needs every win they can get right now, and have a tough Baltimore team next week, so if Barber isn't all the way back, Choice could see significant action going forward.
'MIRACLE AT THE MEADOWLANDS 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO': Trailing 27-24 with just 2:06 to play, it appeared the Jets were just about to lose their 3rd straight game, fall out of 1st place, and continue to choke away their playoff chances. But then, the suddenly woeful Bills found a way to choke it up. Buffalo chose the pass on a 2nd and 5 on their own 27 (Mistake #1). J.P. Losman failed to recognize backside pressure and was sacked by S Abram Elam (Mistake #2). Losman fumbled (Mistake #3), DE Shaun Ellis scooped it up and rumbled in for the game-winning score. The Jets escaped with a 31-27 win, running their record to 9-5, and maintaining their three-way tie with the Patriots and Dolphins atop the AFC East.
WHAT A BUNCH OF FLAGS: It was just a random quirk of the game, but something happened in the 3rd quarter of the Tennessee/Houston game that I don’t know I’ve ever seen before. Cortland Finnegan mauled Kevin Walter so badly three flags came immediately out, all landing within a two or three yard radius of each other. You hardly ever see three officials looking at the same part of a play, but the ball was in the red zone, so the back judge was right there, and the pattern was a quick slant right at the umpire and directly in front of the side judge. But after seeing this I have to wonder, "Why the hell does it seem like that same play is missed half the time? Three-quarters if it’s a Niner receiver."
"THESE TEAMS JUST PLAIN DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER": The NFC South continues to be the most watchable division in the NFL. If the continuing source of amazement that is their collective 26-2 home record -- 11-0 in division games -- doesn’t get you, or the fact that every team in the division is .500 or better (with three at 9-5 or above), then the intensity should. The games are tight, tough affairs, and if the Falcons/Bucs game on Sunday is any indication, they aren’t particularly fond of one another. The hitting was fierce, and fights after the whistle were commonplace. In the 1st half alone, I counted at least three scuffles. The Falcons took care of business at home (of course), winning 13-10 in OT, and leap-frogged Tampa into the final wild card spot in the NFC.
5 BURNING QUESTIONS:
1. Is Andre Johnson (11 catches, 209 yards vs. the Titans Sunday) the best WR in the NFL? If not, who is? If so, how come nobody talks about him -- because he’s not busy shooting off his mouth -- or leg?
2. How bad was Sunday’s loss for the Titans? Kerry Collins was horrible (15-33, INT), Albert Haynesworth was injured (MRI pending), and now they likely need a win vs. Pittsburgh next week to keep the #1 seed in the AFC and avoid a division-deciding game at Indy in Week 17.
3. Did you know that an offensive team can advance a muffed kick? Jim Nantz and Phil Simms didn’t, repeating the "you can’t advance a muff" after the Steelers recovered their own muff and returned it 20 yards -- until the referee explained that rule only applies to the kicking team.
4. Is there a more frustrating play than the "Premature Spike"? More and more, teams are spiking the ball whenever they get a 1st down while running their two-minute offense, whether it's necessary or not. This week, both the Niners and Steelers spiked passes on 1st down when driving for a possible winning TD, even though both teams had more than a minute left and were deep in their opponent's territory. Each team gave away a play unnecessarily -- the Steelers recovered to win, the Niners didn't.
5. Are the Cardinals ready for primetime? It doesn't appear so after ugly losses to the Eagles and Vikings in the past few weeks. Some will write off this last loss to a post-clinching hangover, but anytime you allow 4 TD's to Tarvaris Jackson, it's cause for concern.
LINE OF THE WEEK: Cris Collinsworth talking about a plant on the set of 'Inside the NFL': "We are actually growing grass in our studio here. It’s sort of like Warren’s dorm room, isn’t it?"
THAT’S WHY THEY’RE THE LIONS: Another week, another heartbreaking loss for Detroit. The 31-21 final score may make it appear this one wasn’t all that tight, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The Lions came out with some attitude on the road in Indy, and managed to knock around Peyton Manning pretty well early, before falling behind 21-10. But Marinelli’s Lions don’t give up, and they stormed back to tie the game 21-21 in the 4th quarter. The Colts eventually took the lead, 28-21, and were in chip shot FG range with less than 2:00 to play in the game, and it looked like the Lions were done. But Detroit does love to tease its fans.
With 1:16 left, the Colts ran one last play on 3rd down before the game-icing kick, but Indy RB Chad Simpson (I’ve never heard of him either) fumbled and the ball hopped to two Lion defenders, who covered it up. The Detroit defenders around the pile jumped up and down, their sideline went crazy, Rod Marinelli pumped his fist. Even the announcers said Detroit had the ball, a reprieve, and a chance to send the game to OT, where even a tie would be like a win to the Lions.
Only once the pile uncovered, it was the Colts who had the ball. Replays later showed Simpson strip the ball from the defenders to recover his own fumble as he lay on the ground. The Colts kicked the FG, and the Lions lost again, but not before twisting the knife in the fans guts just a little bit more.
THAT’S WHY THEY’RE THE CHIEFS: The Chiefs have also had a season full of near-misses, and outdid themselves on Sunday, completing their season sweeping at the hands of the Chargers with their second 1-point loss to San Diego this year. To accomplish the feat, they had to choke away an 18-point lead and an 11-point with less than two minutes to play -- including allowing a TD, a successful onside kick, and a long bomb on three consecutive snaps (not counting the PAT) -- and recover, only to miss a potential game-winning FG
Following Philip Rivers’ TD pass to Malcolm Floyd with 1:19 left, K.C. looked to have the game wrapped up when San Diego’s onside kick bounced right into the arms of top WR Dwayne Bowe. But when Bowe was hit by San Diego special-teamer Antwan Applewhite, he coughed up the ball, which was recovered by Chargers special-teamer Kassim Osgood. On the next play, Rivers hit WR Vincent Jackson for a 42-yard gain down to the Chief 19. Three plays later Rivers found Jackson again, this time for a TD to take the lead.
The Chiefs looked dead, but after the Chargers missed their two-point conversion attempt and botched a squib kick, QB Tyler Thigpen was able to move the ball into the outer fringe of FG range (55 yards). Then they got as lucky a break as you’ll see. As time ran off the clock following a Tony Gonzalez grab, it appeared time would run out. But Chargers CB Antoine Cason made a huge mistake, kicking the ball away from the official unnecessarily, and getting flagged for delay of game.
This not only stopped the clock for time enough for one last play, but also advanced the ball into very makeable FG range. The crowd rose to its feet as Rookie K Connor Barth came on to attempt a 50 yard FG to save the day. He missed, wide left. So it goes.
DODGED BULLET OF THE WEEK: Anytime a kicker gets a penalty, it’s an embarrassment, but Jeff Reed made what could’ve been one of the all-time boneheaded penalties this week. Luckily for him, his team’s defense saved him from Death by Sportscenter.
After the Steelers’ aforementioned game-winning TD with :43 left to play, Reed came on to kick the extra point, after which, he managed to get into a shoving match with a Ravens lineman. Reed was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and was forced to kickoff from this own 20 yard line. The Ravens returned the kick to midfield, where they suddenly had a decent chance to score a TD to win the game. That would've made Reed's penalty headline material in Pittsburgh. I'm sure he let out a hug sigh of relief when Joe Flacco was picked off in the end zone to end the game.
IT’S A START: Jets rookie WR David Clowney hadn’t suited up for a game all year before Sunday. Getting his first playing time, he made just one catch, but it was memorable. With Jets behind in the 2nd half, Clowney ran a crossing pattern and depite being double-teamed, Favre tried to squeeze in to him. The pass was low and out in front of him, but Clowney made a circus one-handed catch, then turned upfield for a 26 yard gain. Clowney may never catch another pass in the NFL, but he’s got one highlight of himself making an unbeliveable grab from a Hall of Famer in a close win at home.
PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY: With all my channel surfing, I managed to avoid watching one second of the Rams/Seahawks game. Didn’t even click past it on my way to another game. Of course, to fulfill my obligations here, I did watch the highlights. Such is the level of my dedication.
GAME(S) TO WATCH IN WEEK 16: There are quite a few attractive matchups with playoff implications next week -- Baltimore at Dallas, Pittsburgh at Tennessee, and Atlanta at Minnesota -- the best might be Carolina at the Giants. With New York coming off two straight losses, their status as the top seed in the NFC is officially up for grabs when the 11-3 Panthers and 11-3 Giants go at it on Sunday night. The winner will take a one-game lead over the loser for the #1 seed, and will own the head-to-head tie-breaker, thus clinching home field throughout the playoffs. The loser will get the consolation prize of a first-round bye and a home playoff game.
THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEW
Indianapolis (10-4) at Jacksonville (5-9)
Indy eeks out another shaky victory over a league doormat, continuing their improbable climb to within shouting distance of the AFC South division lead. Although they’re still two games out with only two games to play, both the schedule and the tie-breakers allow them a narrow but plausible opening.
Indy has division-leading Tennessee at home to end the season, and could gain a tie with a win if the Titans lose to Pittsburgh next Sunday and the Colts can get past Jacksonville on Thursday night. In that scenario, Indy would be tied with Tennessee in overall record at 12-4, tied in the first tie-breaker, head-to-head record, at 1-1, and tied in the second tie-breaker, division record, at 4-2. However, in the third tie-breaker, conference record, the Colts would nip the Titans, 10-2 to 9-3. (EDIT: This is incorrect -- see comments section for correction)
Just the fact that the division still remains a realistic goal for the Colts after their very iffy start, and the Titans early dominance is pretty unbelievable -- I’m sure for the Titans most of all. The Colts can apply just a bit more pressure on the Titans if thay can put up a win vs. the Jags on Thursday. I think they will.
The pick: COLTS