This was the week for records to be broken and for teams to fire head coaches and general managers. Strangely, while the 49ers had a chance to break several defensive records, they didn't manage to break any of them. Oh well, I guess we'll have to settle for watching them have a first round bye and a home playoff game in the divisional round.
There's also some good news that the NFC West is no longer the laughingstock of the NFL, and we all know the reason for that, the Harbaughcolypse. Did I spell that right? The 49ers 7 game improvement almost single handedly pulled the West out of the basement to respectability. The Cardinals also improved this year, winning 3 games more than they did last season, while the Seahawks finished with the same record as last year and the preseason favorite Rams finished 5 games worse. Here's how the 8 divisions in the NFL finished:
NFC East - 30-34, North - 36-28, South - 33-31, West - 30-34
AFC East - 33-31, North - 37-27, South - 26-38, West - 31-33
Now let's all take a moment to point our fingers and laugh at the AFC South before I run through all the games of week 17 in the NFL.
(Insert mocking and laughter here)
Looks like I inserted the mocking and laughter too soon. We should probably also take a minute to deride the Cowboys. After eking out a win on Thanksgiving over the Dolphins the Cowboys were a game in first place and basically just needed to win one of their two games against the Giants to win the NFC East. That's when the self implosion began. They iced their own kicker in an OT loss to the Cardinals, they blew an 11 point lead with under 5 minutes to play at home against the Giants, they got manhandled by the Eagles at home, and they looked like they weren't even trying in their final beat down at the hands of the Giants. Their only win in their last 5 games came against the Bucs who were in the process of their own self implosion while losing 10 in a row. Eli Mannning threw for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns, the Cowboys ground game managed only 49 yards, and the Cowboys defense missed so many tackles they're considering a career change to a Matador. "It's extremely painful and it's a damn shame," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. I don't know why but laughing at other people's misery sometimes makes me happy.
The rest of week 17 after the jump...
The Raiders had just cut the lead to 31-26, the Chargers were backed up to their own 1-yard line thanks to a muffed kickoff return, and the Broncos were losing. The Raiders needed a stop to give their offense and Carson Palmer, who threw for 417 yards and 2 touchdowns, the ball and a shot at scoring the winning TD to win the AFC West and reach the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. Four plays later Phillip Rivers found Malcom Floyd for a 43-yard TD pass and the Raiders playoff dreams were dashed. "It wasn't our goal to end their season, but it's kind of nice because we're going home as well," Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson said. See, I'm not the only one who finds joy in other people's misery.
Bills 21, Patirots 49
For the 3rd game in a row the Patriots entered the 2nd quarter trailing when the Bills jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and for the 3rd game in a row the Patriots fought back for the win. The Patriots defense intercepted Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 4 times while Tom Brady led the offense with 338 passing yards and 3 touchdowns as he became the second QB in as many weeks to pass Dan Marino's single season passing record of 5,084 yards, finishing with 5,235. It wasn't enough to catch Drew Brees who finished the season with 5,476 yards, but one Patriot did pass a Saint in the record books. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a 22-yard pass with 1:30 left to play to give him 1,327 receiving yards for the year that pushed him just past Jimmy Graham who earlier in the day had set the record for most receiving yards by a TE with 1,310. Brady's 3 touchdown passes also gave him 300 for his career, tying him with John "no I'm not a horse" Elway. Brady said of the accomplishments, "It's not something I ever (think), ‘Man, I love throwing touchdowns,' or ‘I love throwing for yards.' I love winning and that helps me sleep at night." You know what helps Brees sleep at night? NyQuil. Maybe that's why he now has the record. Honestly, I prefer Ambien to either of those but to each his own.
Chiefs 7, Broncos 3
This must be the part of the movie where our hero faces adversity. You know there's the beginning when no one believes in him, then he gets his chance and he suddenly turns things around, but that's when the greedy businessman/government official/school board member comes in and says he's closing down the orphanage/school/center for where kids can feel free to be themselves and don't feel judged, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. What will our hero do? The evil businessman/government official/school board member has him backed into a corner and it looks like there's no way out. It's at that exact moment when our hero truly shines when he does something remarkable to save the day. Or he gets crushed in the first round of the playoffs by the Steelers and they draft/trade for someone else to take over at QB.
The Panthers made a game of this early matching the Saints score for score, but they just couldn't keep up with the Saint high octane offense as the Saints eventually pulled away with 28 unanswered points. Drew Brees threw for 389 yards and 5 touchdowns and now holds the single season record for most passing yards in a season with 5,476. Of course you know that already unless you skipped the other recaps to read this one. Come on, read them all. They take a lot of time write. Brees also finished the year with a record 468 completions, breaking the old record of 450 held by Peyton Manning, and his 71.6 completion percentage set a record, breaking the old mark he held when he completed 70.6 percent of his passes in 2009. Brees also made some remark that was so similar to Brady's I won't even bother typing it. Something about how records are nice but it's all about winning and blah, blah, blah. Yes, we get it. Winning the Super Bowl is the real goal, but say something different than the usual script. How about something like, "I'm the god of the football world and all you mere mortals who can only dream of being as great as me, need to grovel at my feet." Unfortunately, I think the only chance we'll ever have of getting that quote is if Rex Ryan wins the Super Bowl with the Jets.
Are you ready, because the records just keep on falling. Since the Packers had the #1 seed in the NFC all locked up, Aaron Rodgers got the day off which means his 122.5 QB rating is now the new gold standard, breaking Peyton Manning's old record of 121.1 that he set in 2004. Matthew Stafford threw for 520 yards and 5 touchdowns while becoming the 3rd QB this year to finish with over 5,000 yards passing, falling just 47 yards short of also breaking Marino's old record. Remember when throwing for over 4,000 yards in a season was seen as a big accomplishment? In spite of Stafford's monster day, he may not have even been the best Matt on the field. Matt Flynn filled in for Rodgers and threw for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns, both franchise records. The numbers put up on offense by both teams in this game were so crazy I thought I was watching an old college game from the WAC. That's the old WAC with BYU and SDST not the new WAC with Utah St and Montana. Montana's in the WAC now aren't they? The Packers may have been better off starting Rodgers just so they'd have a better shot at resigning Flynn in the offseason since he'll be a free agent. Let the over bidding by QB starved teams begin! So what did Flynn have to say about his record setting day? "Just think of all the great quarterbacks that have come through here," Flynn said. "It's very humbling. I just thank everybody around me and everything. I couldn't have done it, obviously, by myself." Noooo! God of the football world! You're supposed to say you're god of the football world! Oh, just forget it.
Well it was in doubt for a little while but the Colts were able to suck just enough to get Luck. They also sucked just enough to get vice chairman Bill Polian fired as well as his son Chris who also happens to be the general manager. Nothing better than seeing nepotism alive and well. Jags QB Blaine Gabbert continued to make Alex Smith look like a passing machine as he managed only 92 yards in the air with one TD but they didn't have to throw a lot thanks to having the league's leading RB, Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew finished the day with 169 yards on 25 carries and finished the season with 1,609 yards which, oh by the way, broke Fred Taylor's franchise record of 1,572 yards. Again he gave some quote about how he couldn't have done it without his team and, well you can fill in the rest. As for the Colts, Manning was "stunned" by the firing of Bill Polian who's been in Indy as long as Peyton has. He spoke about how he felt when he first found out the Colts had hired Bill 11 years ago, "I would be very happy to be a part of an organization he ran. And that proved to be true. I knew he would hire the best coaches, provide the best possible surrounding, give me great teammates, and he did that and I will be forever indebted to him." Too bad he didn't provide your teammates with the best possible back-up QB in case you ever got hurt. You know, just in case.
The Bears finally snapped their 5 game losing streak but also watched yet another player leave the field with an injury when Brian Urlacher had to leave the game. Jared Allen led the Vikings defense with 3 ½ sacks and finished with 22 for the season, but it wasn't enough to get the win or break Michael Strahan's sack record of 22 ½. Curse you Brett Favre! Who knew when you were taking your dive to give Strahan the record you'd be keeping your good friend Allen from getting it. That's called irony, or something. Despite the Bears disappointing finish to the season Lovie Smith had this to say of the state of affairs for the Bears, "As you look at our football team right now, if you're watching and you've seen us, I think you'd say when we were 7-3, that was a pretty good football team coming off of an NFC championship game." Or you'd say after they finished the season 8-8 this is a football team that traded away Greg Olsen because Mike Martz doesn't really use tight ends in his offense, and now Martz is gone as well. And you'd notice how they mishandled Matt Forte's contract situation by trying to lowball him, how they made no effort to fix their QB situation after Cutler's injury other than to put a claim on Kyle Orton who they didn't get thanks to the Chiefs, how they collapsed down the stretch losing at one point 5 games in a row, and have now just fired their GM, Jerry Angelo. I don't know what you're seeing Lovie but what I see doesn't look good.
Redskins 10, Eagles 34
Oh my goodness, it's a miracle! I can't believe that just happened. No, it's not that the Eagles finally figured things out and were able to finish the season with an 8-8 record and were actually just a week 16 win by the Jets over the Giants away from making the playoffs. I can't believe Rex Grossman only turned the ball over one time. Of course the Redskins still lost and Grossman didn't complete even half of his passes, but you have to take baby steps. The loss means Mike Shanahan now has only 11 wins in his first two seasons as head coach in Washington, which is one less than the 12 wins both Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn managed during the same span of time in their head coaching stints with the Skins. "We talked about adding a few pieces on offense (cough, quarterback!), we need a few pieces on defense, a good draft, but we made some strides," Shanahan said. "Our football team is a lot different than a year ago." Ummm, yes, you lost one more game than you did last year.
If you needed proof the Bucs had given up on head coach Raheem Morris, all you had to do was watch this game. The Falcons rushed for 251 yards compared to only 35 rushing yards by the Bucs. Thanks to their steamroller of a running attack, Matt Ryan only made 9 pass attempts but he completed 6 of them for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns while the Falcons defense intercepted Josh Freeman 3 times and forced 4 turnovers. So much for the Bucs being "youngry". They looked more like they were horribapy. Wait, how about crarrible. Sorry, I'm trying to combine horrible and crappy. Maybe awfinky? Morris eventually got fired and now the Falcons are preparing to take on a Giants team that has already called their O-line "dirt bags". At least that's what defensive lineman Justin Tuck had to say, "We know they have that quote unquote reputation (not sure if he did the quotes with his fingers while saying that). Most people, you would call them dirt bags." I don't know. I kind of like sleazeballs or slime buckets. Or if you really want to go all out you could call them poop heads.
Jets 17, Dolphins 19
Like the Cowboys the Jets came into this season with high expectations, and like the Cowboys the Jets season ended with a thud. They lost their last 3 games and couldn't manage more than 19 points in any of those games. The Jets defense intercepted Matt Moore twice and held him to only 135 yards and the entire Dolphins offense to only 210 yards, but Mark Sanchez made up for their stellar play by throwing 3 interceptions and generally being inefficient when the Jets had the ball. They were so bad on offense Santonio Holmes was held without a catch for the first time in 88 games and was benched at the end because, according to a team source, he "quit" on his teammates. When Jets CB Antonio Cromartie was asked if they gave enough effort to win the game he sourly replied, "Uhhh, maybe on one side of the ball." Man, I hate when players give cryptic answers. I wonder which side of the ball he was talking about.
The Bengals knew if they won this game they would make the playoffs. The Ravens knew if they won this game they'd win the AFC North and get a first round bye. Well the Ravens won but the Bengals still reached the playoffs thanks to an unbelievably large number of things going right allowing them to still get in despite losing. See, sometimes good things do happen to pro teams in Ohio. What's even better is they might actually win since the Texans are down to their 4th string QB Jake Delhomme. As for the Ravens, they won because they realized Joe Flacco has some serious issues this season and probably the only way they can win it all is if they limit the number of times he throws the ball (19 times in this game), they get the ground game going (they ran the ball 32 times for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns), and they play stout defense (they held the Bengals to only 16 points and forced the only turnover of the game). I can't help but think this script looks familiar.
Steelers 13, Browns 9
Isaac Redman filled in for injured running back Rashard Mendenhall and ran for 92 yards and a key TD with just over 5 minutes to play as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers did just enough to get past the Browns. The Steelers are bruised and battered but they are going on even if they're limping into the playoffs. Get it? Big Ben has a bum ankle so they're limping? You're right, it's not that clever. While the Steelers are back in the playoffs the Browns season is ending early once again as they managed to win only 4 games. "We intended to win a lot more games than that," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. "The only thing that kept us going is we didn't really get blown out in any games." Now there's something to hang your hat onto. That's like saying what keeps me going is I can almost pay my bills every month so I'm only going slightly further into debt with each passing day.
Seahawks 20, Cardinals 23
In a battle between two teams deciding who will getting bragging rights for finishing 2nd in the NFC West, the Cardinals prevailed once again in OT. It was the Cardinals 4th OT game this season and they've gone a perfect 4-0 in those games. And just as they've done in all of their OT games this year, it was a great play by Larry Fitzgerald that set up the winning score when he made a dynamic one hand catch to put the Cardinals into FG range. The win puts the Cardinals at 8-8 which is a huge turnaround after the team started with a 1-6 record. The Seahawks meanwhile finished with the same 7-9 record they had last year. "We know we have a better team this year," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. Well you won the NFC West last year and went to the playoffs where you beat the Saints, while this you're you have the same number of wins only without the post season trip. I'm going to go out on a limb and say at best you're about the same as you were last year.
Rams 27, 49ers 34
So I read something on another website that was talking about the 49ers playoff chances and it said if things play out the way they should, the 49ers will have to, "First keep the Saints from marching, then keep the Packers from shipping them out." You know, I wonder what they'll have to do if things don't happen the way everyone thinks. Are they going to have to keep from being mauled by the Lions, avoid being stomped on by the Giants, and then need to dodge getting pooped on by the Falcons? And I don't even want to imagine what they'll have to do if they face the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Is there any known case of someone being smelted?