Two weeks ago the Saints were 13-0 and talking about making a run at perfection. Four weeks ago The Vikings were 10-1 and had a chance for the number 1 seed if the Saints faltered. The Broncos started the season 6-0 and the Giants started 5-0 and both looked like serious contenders. Oh how times have changes. The Saints have clinched the #1 seed in the NFC, but with a game still to play against a very hot Panthers team, I wouldn't be surprised if they finished 13-3. The Vikings are now 11-4 and will have to play in the first round if they lose again or if the Eagles win. The Broncos are 8-7 and need a lot of help to still make the playoffs, while the Giants are also 8-7 and are done. But as teams fall, other rise to take their place. And no team has been hotter recently than the Chargers.
Chargers 42, Titans 17
Will the real Tennessee Titans please stand up. The Titans started the season 0-6 and looked like they were going nowhere fast. But just as everyone was righting them off, they got hot and won 7 of 8 to get back to .500. Then on Thursday, the Titans once again looked like the team that lost their first 6 games as the Chargers dominated them in every aspect of the game. Vince Young reminded everyone why he momentarily lost his starting job as he only completed 8 of his 21 passes for 89 yards and 2 interceptions. Philip Rivers, who has never lost a game in December as a starter, ripped apart the Titans secondary completing 21 of 27 passes for 264 yards and 2 TD's. The only bright spot for the Titans was the amazing Chris Johnson. For the 10th straight week Johnson broke 100 yards rushing with 142, and if he can run for 128 next week against the Seahawks he'll become just the 6th RB to rush for over 2000 yards in a season. He even has a chance to break Eric Dickerson's single season record of 2,105. Considering the Titans were eliminated from the playoffs with the loss, don't be surprised if they run Johnson on every play next week. The win locks up the 2 seed for the Chargers and all but ensures Norv Turner will get a contract extension. I guess the NorvTurner voodoo doll I bought after the Chargers stole him away from the 49ers, didn't work. Marty Schottenheimer wasn't that bad. Don't you want him back?
Three weeks ago the Jags were 7-5 and in complete control of their playoff destiny. After losing 3 straight, they're all but mathematically eliminated. Tom Brady was almost perfect for the Pats completing 23 of 26 for 267 yards and 4 TD's. Between the 20's it was Wes Welker doing all the dirty work, catching 13 passes for 138 yards. But once they got in the redzone and it was time for personal glory, Randy Moss started making more of an effort to run his routes. He caught 4 passes for 45 yards, with 3 of those catches for TD's. Way to be a team player Randy. The Jags star RB, Maurice Jones-Drew, had an average day with 63 yards on 18 carries and after the game he told reporters, "We were in the front seat for the playoffs and we just fell apart. I don't understand how we as players can do that." It's actually not that hard to figure out. The combined winning record of the 7 teams you beat is .381, while the combined winning record of the 8 teams you lost to is .617. You were just beating up on the bad teams but the last few games have been against harder competition. Luckily your last game is against the Browns so you still have a chance to finish at .500.
Buccaneers 20, Saints 17
The Saints are now 13-2 but I can't help wondering if they're closer to 15-0 or 10-5. After watching them lose at home to a team that was 2-12 coming into the game, I'm starting to think they might not be as good as we all thought. Or more likely, they're not as deep as some of the other teams in the NFL. After some key injuries, they've looked very beatable. It was the first time in the history of the NFL that a team with13 wins lost to a team with only 2. Of course, if Garrett Hartley hits the 37 yard FG at the end of the game, the Saints would have won another close one and OT wouldn't have been necessary. Things have gone so well for the Saints this season that the minute Hartley kicked the ball the whole stadium started to cheer, assuming it would be good. But you know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of u and Saints owner Tom Benson. The missed game winning FG was just another part of an already difficult season for Hartley. At the start of the season, Hartley was suspended for the first four games because he tested positive for adderall. He claimed he only took it because he was on a long drive late at night and he didn't want to fall asleep. Sure thing. And I only tested positive for oxycontin because I hurt my back snowboarding so I took it for just a week.
The Texans seem to be making a habit of running out to a huge early lead and then just barely being able to hang on for the win in the end. At one point the Texans had 307 yards of total offense compared to only 46 yards for the Dolphins. The win kept the Texans playoff hopes alive while all but finishing off any hopes the Dolphins still had. Matt Schuab was solid completing 20 of 31 passes for 286 yards and 2 TD's and Andre Johnson caught 5 passes for 71 yards, which put him over the 1,500 yards receiving mark for the second straight season. After falling into a 27-0 hole early on, the Dolphins fought back to cut the lead to 27-20 with 2:30 to play, but any chance to complete the comeback ended when the Texans recovered the onside kick. The good news for Kory Sheets fans, and I know they're are many, is that Ricky Williams was injured and unable to play in the second half. This means the Sheets might finally get a chance to carry the ball (he's only suited up for 1 game and never touched the ball). Personally, I'm baffled as to why it's taken him this long to get a chance. Why the talent evaluators, front office personnel, and coaches of the 32 teams in the NFL are unable to see the Chris Johnson like talent that's so obvious to all of us who watched him carry the ball a few times in some preseason games, is beyond me. Sure, they studied his college film when he entered the draft, and the 49ers and Dolphins have seen him in practice during the week, but that's no comparison to a few preseason games.
Seahawks 10, Packers 48
Matt Hasselbeck threw 4 interceptions for the second straight game, and the Packers clinched a playoff spot a year after finishing 6-10. Considering Hasselbeck had only one 4+ interception game in his career before last week, throwing 4 interceptions in back-to-back games is an impressive feet. But the big news coming out of the game is that Seattle's defender, Darryl Tapp, has a little bit of Mike Tyson in him. Aaron Rodgers, who completed 12 of 23 passes for 237 yards and 1 TD, accused Tapp of biting him in a game last year. Tapp countered by saying it's impossible to bite someone while wearing a helmet. Good point. In regards to Hasselbeck's struggles, rookie head coach Jim Mora Jr said, "We're trying to fix things. We always put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win and have a successful down. Matt's our quarterback and we're going to keep him in there." He then added off the record, "Besides, Jake Locker's not entering the draft until after next season."
Terrel Owens has gotten a big dose of reality this season. After playing his entire career with three pro bowl caliber QB's throwing him the ball, he's had to catch passes this season from Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and now Brian Brohm. Maybe that's why SF is not looking so bad anymore. Brohm, who started the season on Green Bay's practice squad, played like a 3rd stringer completing 17 of 29 passes for 146 yards and 2 interceptions. The one bright spot for Owens is that he did become the 6th player in NFL history with1,000 receptions in a career. The Falcons are now on the verge of accomplishing something for the first time in franchise history. If they can win next week in Tampa Bay, it will be the first time the Falcons have finished with back-to-back winning seasons. I guess not everyone can have a winning tradition. Brohm told reporters after his first NFL start, "I thought I handled myself fine. Even though the outcome wasn't good, I was playing with confidence." Whatever lies you have to tell yourself to make it through the day. Bills head coach Perry Fewell was a little more honest when he said Brohm, "handled himself OK".
Several Bengals players said before the game that thay wanted to win this one for fallen teammate Chris Henry. Well if Henry could speak from beyond the grave he'd probably tell them to exchange it for something better. The Bengals struggled against the lowly Chiefs and only managed to pull out the win when they took it 98 yards late in the 4th for the go ahead TD. The Bengals really struggled in the first half with only 53 yards of offense and a FG that came off a botched punt that put the ball at their own 7. Cedric Benson ground down the Chiefs defense with 29 carries for 133 yards and the win clinched the AFC North title for the Bengals, but they have to feel a little concerned with their play recently. Even the subplot of Larry Johnson running against his former team fizzled when Johnson only carried the ball 4 times for 11 yards. If this was a gift it would be like giving your wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. Sure she'll use it and it's functional, but she's unlikely to do you any favors when you go to bed at night.
Raiders 9, Browns 23
The Browns started the season 1-11, and with Mike Holmgren coming to town it looked like Eric Mangini was going to be 1 and done just like he was with the Jets. But now they've won 3 straight, which is 2 more than the Raiders longest wining streak on the season, and seem to be moving in the right direction. Derek Anderson got the start over the ineffective Brady Quinn mainly because watching Quinn was a little bit like watching the movie "The English Patient". Like Elaine in Sienfeld said, "Just die already!". Anderson was competent completing 8 of 17 passes for 121 yards and 1 TD, but more importantly than anything else, he had 0 turnovers. Charlie Frye got the start in spite of Russel's late game heroics last week and was 26 of 45 for 333 yards but he also had 3 interceptions. The only good thing the Raiders did was when Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 61 yard FG that was even more impressive considering it was outside, in winter, and at sea level. While the Raiders may have lost, like most teams who are out of the playoffs, they still have things to play for in the last game of the season. High priced rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey needs just 1 more catch to have 10 on the season. Maybe the Raiders should change their slogan from "Commitment to Excellence" to "Lowered Expectations".
Broncos 27, Eagles 30
Donovan McNabb (20/35, 322 yards, 3 TD's) and the Eagles jumped out to an early 27-10 lead but Kyle Orton (27/41, 189 yards, 3 TD's) and the Broncos fought back to tie it up at 27-27. But the Eagles still came away with the win when David Akers kicked a 28 yard FG with 4 seconds remaining. The win sets up a showdown next week against the Cowboys in Dallas with the winner taking the NFC East crown and the loser having to play on the road. Maybe even against each other if the Cowboys win. The Broncos, on the other hand, now find themselves needing help from other teams if they hope to make it as the 6 seed. A huge let down for a team that started 6-0. The NFL hasn't seen a team collapse this bad so late in the season since last year when the Broncos, at 8-5, blew a 3 game lead with 3 games to play. I'm sensing a pattern here. Maybe Shanahan wasn't the only one to blame.
Panthers 41, Giants 9
Like the Broncos, the Giants started out hot and had lofty goals for what they would do on the season. Now they find themselves going into the last game of the season with nothing but pride to play for. Then again, maybe they don't even have that considering how they played against the Panthers. Jonathan Stewart ran all over the Giants defense, caring the ball 28 times for 206 yards and 1 TD. Matt Moore, who was once again filling in for an injured Jake Delhomme, was 15 of 20 for 171 yards and 3 TD's and a very un-Delhomme like 0 interceptions. I'm putting the over/under for the number of games Delhomme will play next season at 1. I'm just glad coach John Fox stuck with him as long as he did. Too bad he got injured otherwise the 49ers might have gotten an even higher pick.
Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a close victory over a quality team for the second straight week, completing 17 of 33 passes for 259 yards and 1 TD. He also became the first Steeler QB to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season. It's a dramatic change for a team that has relied on power running and strong defense to win games for so long. But as much as Big Ben's play helped the Steelers win, penaltys by the Ravens probably helped more. Two Ravens TD's were called back because of penalties and another was dropped. In all, the Ravens had 113 yards of penalties compared to only 20 for the Steelers. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said afterwards, "You can go to penalties if you want, you can put your finger on whatever you want, but we're going to Oakland and we're going to play our hearts out." I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Ravens will win that game.
Kurt Warner joined Fran Tarkenton as the only QB's to throw 100 TD's for two different teams, and the Cardinals won 10 games in a season for the first time since 1976. Ironically, both accomplishments came against St Louis, the other team Warner threw 100 TD's with and the city the Cardinals were in when they last won 10 games. Rookie Keith Null got the start at QB for the Rams and went 20 of 31 for 171 yards, 1 TD, and 3 interceptions. The Rams are now 1-14, have lost 7 straight, have scored less than 17 in 6 straight games, and were without star RB Steven Jackson, who was having lower back problems. I just hope Ndamukong Suh is looking forward to playing for the Rams next year.
Jets 29, Colts 15
With a 15-10 lead late in the 3rd, Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and several other starters, much to the dismay of the hometown fans who loudly booed the decision. The grateful Jets, who are playing for their playoff lives, took full advantage and got a much needed win to stay right in the thick of things. Mark Sanchez was 12 of 19 for 106 yards and 0 interceptions. Peyton Manning who was 14 of 21 for 192 yards when he was pulled supported the decision by saying, "Until any player in here is the head coach, you follow orders and you follow them with all your heart." That is, of course, unless your name is Brett Favre, in which case you're above the rules and you do whatever you feel like doing.
Cowboys 17, Redskins 0
The Cowboys didn't exactly blow the Redskins out, but anyone who watched the game had to feel like the Redskins never had any real chance of winning. Mainly because the Cowboys defense totally dominated the Redskins offense. Jason Campbell completed 24 of 39 passes for 199 yards and 1 interception, and the Redskins only rushed for 43 yards as a team. Tony Romo was 25 of 38 for 286 yards and 1 TD and is doing his best to end all talk that the Cowboys can't win in December. Receiver Roy Williams said of their struggles, "I think we showed the December jinx is not here. Last year, we were in the same situation and didn't get it done. 2009's a different year." Unfourtainatly for the Cowboys, December is almost over and their next game to decide the NFC East title against the Eagles, is in January. And while the Cowboys have been bad the last few years in December, they've been even worse in January. The last time the Cowboys won in January, including playoffs, was in 2000. So, a team that can't win late in the season going against a team that plays it's best ball late. Don't bet the mortgage on the Cowboys.
Vikings 30, Bears 33
Jay Cutler and the Bears jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead and everything seemed to be going their way. Brett Favre had only completed 5 of 9 passes in the first half for 36 yards and Cutler was avoiding the big mistakes. Then Favre caught on fire. He led the Vikings back to a 23-23 tie and again to a 30-30 tie with 16 seconds to play. In OT, when Robbie Gould missed a 45 yard FG, everyone knew what would happen. Favre would lead the offense down the field and the Vikings would win thanks to the increadible play of their ageless QB. But no one told the Bears defense how the script was supposed to play out. They sacked Favre twice and forced a 3 and out. When the Viking got it back again, I thought for sure, they would score this time. But Adrian Peterson fumbled, and on the very next play Jay Cutler found a streaking Devin Aromashodu for a 39 yard game winning TD. Favre was great, completing 26 of 40 passes for 321 yards and 2 TD's, but Cutler was up for the challenge completing 20 of 35 passes for 273 yards and 4 TD's. I guess Favre's admittance to sainthood will have to be put on hold for a little while.
Lions 3, 49ers 20
I'm not a smoker, but I have a feeling that watching this game is a little bit like using the patch for someone who is a smoker. Sure your cravings are satisfied, but you're still left strangely unsatisfied.