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4th and D'oh!: Week 13 in the NFL

When I was a kid watching football, I remember that teams always seemed to kick a FG if they had 4th down in the redzone, unless it was late in the game and they were behind by a lot.  But more and more it seems like coaches are rolling the dice and going for it even if there's lots of time left to play.  Of course, this isn't based on any empirical evidence, only my own faulty recollections.  But on Sunday, there were plenty of examples of teams going for it on 4th down instead of kicking the FG.  We all know the 49ers went for it and failed on 4th and goal from the 1.  The Buccaneers tried on 4th and goal from the 2 and failed.  The Steelers went for it and failed on 4th and 1 from the 5 in the first quarter.  Two times the Titans went for the first down instead of kicking the FG and failed both times.  And New England went for it on 4th and 1 on the 6 yard line in the second quarter and were stopped.  In addition to failing on 4th down, these teams have another thing in common as well.  They all lost.  Considering how close many of these games were, choosing not to kick the FG might have been the difference between winning and losing.  But let's start with the game featuring a team that just seams to win no matter what they do:

Saints 33, Washington 30

I used to be convinced that God was a Patriots fan.  But maybe the arrogance of Bill Bellichick has caused him to switch to the lovable Saints, who've had such little success in their franchises history that they haven't built up a list of enemies like the Patriots or Cowboys have.  God's divine favor is the only way I can explain how the Saints won a game they had almost no right winning.  Even their mistakes turned into big plays.  Drew Brees threw an interception but Robert Meachem striped the ball and ran the other way for a TD.  A shanked Saint's punt hit a Redskin's player in the back and the Saints recovered, so a punt turned into a 29 yard gain.  With a 7 point lead late in the game, Redskin's kicker Shaun Suisham hit the upright on a 23 yard FG, so the Saints got the ball back down by only 7 instead of 10.  The Redskins won the OT coin toss but fumbled the ball on their own 37.  A few plays later the Saints had won.  Washington's QB, Jason Campbell, had a great game completing 30 of 42 passes for 367 yards and 3 TD's, but Drew Brees had a big game of his own, completing 35 of 49 passes for 419 yards and 2 TD's.  Saint's linbacker, Jonathan Vilma, said after the game, "Crazy plays.  When you're hot, you're hot.  And sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."  And sometimes it's even better to play the Redskins.

Raiders 27, Steelers 24

The Chiefs and Raiders have combined to go 5-17 against teams not named the Steelers.  Against the Steelers they're a perfect 2-0.  With the Steelers leading 10-6 at the start of the 4th, both offenses came to life in the 4th.  Ben Roethlisberger (18 of 24 for 278 yards and 2 TD's) led the Steelers on two TD drives, but Bruce Gradkowski (20 of 33 for 308 yards and 3 TD's)  led the Raiders offense on three.  None were more dramatic than when he hit Louis Murphy with 9 seconds left to win the game.  The Steelers have now lost 4 in a row and 6 of their last 7.  More surprising is the fact that the Steelers held 4th quarter leads in 5 of their losses.   After last weeks loss to the Chiefs, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin promised to unleash hell.  Maybe he meant they were going to play like hell.

Broncos 44, Chiefs 13

After blowing a 3 game lead over their last 3 games last season, the Broncos underwent a lot of changes in the off season.  They got a new head coach, they got a new offensive and defensive coordinator, and they got a new QB.  But they didn't get the QB they wanted.  The QB they wanted was Matt Cassel.  The QB they got was Kyle Orton and Cassel went to the Chiefs, along with a nice contract extension of 60 million over 6 years.  After Sunday's game the Broncos are probably glad things worked out the way they did.  Cassel was horrible, completing 10 of 29 passes for 84 yards and 2 interceptions.  That works out to a QB rating of 14.6.  Cassel even got the hook in the 4th quarter.  Maybe the Chiefs should ask for their money back.  The game was close early on, mainly because of mistakes by the Broncos, but they pulled away with 20 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter.  After the game, Bronco's head coach and former Cassel mentor at New England, Josh McDaniels, said of the QB he one time wanted, "We're going to have more games against the Chiefs and Matt Cassel.  It's going to take a good effort to contain him and stop him every time we play him."  Sometimes I really wonder how coaches can say things like this with breaking out into laughter.

Patriots 21, Dolphins 22

Too bad New England can't play all their games at Gillette Stadium.  They're a perfect 6-0 at home but are 0-5 in opposing team's stadiums.  They're only win away from Gillette came in London against the hapless Bucs.  It's also their 3rd loss after leading in the 4th quarter.  Things looked good early on with the Patriots jumping out to a 14-0 lead but the Dolphins kept hanging around.  Twice the Patriots had the ball inside the Dolphins 10 yard line but a Tom Brady (19 of 29 for 352 yards and 2 TD's) interception and a failure to convert on 4th down (sound familiar) had them walking away with nothing.  Chad Henne who completed 29 of 52 passes for 335 yards and 2 TD's made the Patriots pay for not putting them away.  Late in the 4th, Henne led the Dolphins on a 51 yard drive setting up the game winning FG with only 1:02 left.  Brady had one last chance but an interception by Channing Crowder with 35 seconds left ended the game.  Commenting on the Patriots failure to convert on 4th down and how a FG might have won them the game, Bill Belichick said, "I have to coach better."  No!  Say it isn't so! 

Lions 13, Bengals 23

The fans were booing the hometown Bengals early on after the Lions took an early 7-0 lead and generally outplayed the Bengals in the first quarter.  But the Bengals reeled off 17 unanswered points in the second quarter and went into grind out mode in the second half to hang on for the win.  It was a boring game for the most part as all Carson Palmer seemed to do was hand off to Cedric Benson who ran the ball 36 times for 110 yards.  The only interesting part of the game was when Chad Ochocinco, who caught 9 passes for 137 yards, caught a TD to put the Bengals on top to stay.  After the TD he ran to the sidelines and put on a poncho and sombrero.  Get it?  His name is in Spanish and now he's dressed like a Spaniard.  Lame.  Say what you will about TO but at least his TD celebrations were creative.

Titans 17, Colts 27

The Colts have needed lots of 4th quarter comebacks to stay perfect this season, but no comeback was needed on Sunday.  The Colts jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, and were able to hang on for the win.  Peyton Manning and the Colts offense was so dominant early on that even when the Titans scored to cut the lead to 21-10 with 20 seconds left, Manning (24 of 37 for 270 yards and 1 TD) still had enough time to guide them into FG range to take a 24-10 halftime lead.  Chris Johnson broke the 100 yard mark again for the Titans, rushing for 113 yards, but he fell just short of breaking the 125 yard mark for the 7th straight game.  Winning is becoming so common place for the Colts that they didn't even seem that excited after the win.  It's the fifth straight season with at least 12 wins for the Colts.  Any chance of the Colts sending one of those wins our way?

Cowboys 24, Giants 31

With under 4 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, the Giants Brandon Jacobs took a short pass from Eli Manning and turned it up field for a 74 yard TD, giving the Giants a 21-17 lead.  The Giants later put the game away for good when Domenik Hixon returned a punt 79 yards for a TD, stretching the lead to 31-17.  Not that losing the game should come as any surprise to Cowboys fans.  December is all about Santa Clause, overcrowded malls, garish decorations, and Dallas Cowboys melt downs.  This is just one more loss in a long list of December losses.  Jacobs was especially satisfied after the win, doing his best Max Hall impersonation, he said, "It's extra special against Dallas.  That's absolutely a team I can't stand.  I've been hating Dallas ever since I knew anything about football."  Amen brother.

Vikings 17, Cardinals 30

In the battle of geriatric QB's it was Kurt Warner coming out on top.  Brett Favre did set the record for most consecutive games played at 283, breaking the old record held by Jim "I ran the wrong way?" Marshall, but he looked human completing 30 of 45 passes for 275 yards but also throwing 2 interceptions.  The Cardinals defense was probably the real hero of the game as they not only shut down Favre but also held Adrian Peterson to only 19 yards on 13 carries.  Commenting on the offenses struggles, Favre said, "We obviously have to play better if we want to be the team that's in the Super Bowl this year."  This quote reminds me of a recurring nightmare I've been having lately.  In it, Favre leads the Vikings to the Super Bowl and even throws the game winning TD as time expires.  With the media going berserk, the skies suddenly open up and Favre is taken up into heaven like Jesus on the day of Pentecost.  As you can see, it's a horrible nightmare. 

Buccaneers 6, Panthers 16

You know how growing up you would sometimes think to yourself, "I may not be the coolest kid in school, but at least I'm not that kid."  By the way, if you're not sure who that kid was than he/she was probably you.  For the Panthers, the Buccaneers are that kid.  Things may not have gone very well for them this season, but at least they're not the Bucs.  Last time the Panthers and Bucs met in Carolina, they had identical 9-3 records and were fighting for the NFC South crown.  Since that time the Bucs have gone 1-15.  Jake Delhomme wasn't able to play in the game because of a broken finger, so the Bucs rookie QB, Josh Freeman, threw 5 interceptions in his honor.  Even with all the interceptions the Bucs still had a chance to win.  Four times they made trips to the redzone and four times they came away with nothing.  Matt Moore filled in for Delhomme and was OK completing 14 of 20 passes for 161 yards and 1 interception of his own.  Panther's coach John Fox said after the game, "It's easier to call it Panther football when we win."  Actually, this year Panther football is when you lose.

Texans 18, Jaguars 23

The Jaguars are 2-0 against the Texans this season and they have Texans RB Chris Brown to thank.  When they met in Houston, Brown fumbled the ball on the goal line with only two minutes to play to help the Jaguars win.  This time he was throwing an interception on first and goal from the 5 in the 4th quarter.  Of course, Brown is a RB not a QB.  The real question is why coach Gary Kubiak called that play to begin with considering Matt Schaub was picking apart the Jaguars defense?  Schaub hurt his shoulder in the first quarter so Rex Grossman had to fill in early on.  By the time Schaub was taped up and back in the game, they were down 17-0.  Despite the early hole, Schaub almost led the Texans back completing 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards and 1 TD before the bizarre play call.  Even the players openly questioned the call.  DeMeco Ryans said, "Man, I don't know about that one."  And Andre Johnson said, "It is, what it is."  Can someone explain that saying to me?  How could it be anything other than what it is?  I think "It is, what it is." should be banned from the English language along with, "That's what I'm talking about."  Really?  Were you?  Because I was standing right next to you and I didn't hear you saying anything.

Jets 19, Bills 13

In the battle of head case WR's it was Braylon Edwards coming out on top over Terrell Owens.  Not that either one was much of a positive factor.  Owens caught 3 of the 9 passes thrown to him for 31 yards and Edwards caught 3 of the 6 passes thrown to him for 45 yards and 1 TD.  But the biggest play for Edwards was the one he dropped.  With Edwards streaking down the sidelines wide open, the ball bounced off his face mask and landed incomplete.  Despite the win, Jets fans have to be nervous with the injury suffered by Mark "The Franchise" Sanchez when he dove head first instead of sliding.  Not that he did a lot in the game completing 7 of 15 passes for 104 yards.  The Jets running game and staunch defense were the reasons for team gang greens victory.  Bills interim head coach said afterwards, "We just didn't get it done, bottom line.  But we had an opportunity to win the football game in the fourth quarter."  Strangely, ex head coach Dick Jauron used to say the same thing just before he got fired.

Chargers 30, Browns 23

LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 64 yards and 1 TD, passed Jim Brown for 8th place on the all time rushing list, and he did it in Cleveland with Brown watching.  One newspaper after the game had the headline, "Tomlinson Stiff Arms Cleveland's Hall of Famer Out of Eighth Place."  Ugh.  They sure love their play on words.  Tomlinson also scored his 150th career TD in the 3rd quarter putting the Chargers up 27-7, but Cleveland gamely fought back.  The Browns eventually cut the lead to 30-23 with 39 seconds left but Tomlinson recovered the onside kick and the Chargers ran out the clock.  Philip Rivers, who completed 18 of 25 passes for 373 yards and 2 TD's, said afterwards, "It got a little close.  Close enough to where you weren't comfortable."  How bad of a team do you have to be when your opponents expect to blow you out?  Brady Quinn had another solid game completing 25 of 45 passes for 271 yards and 3 TD's.  What's the over/under on how many more games Brown's coach Eric Mangini has left in Cleveland?

Eagles 34, Falcons 7

Michael Vick returned to the Georgia Dome and had his best game in a Eagles uniform.  He scored on a five yard run and threw another TD late in the game.  The fans loudly booed Vick when he ran onto the field, I guess they really love dogs, but by the end of the game all you could hear were cheers, largely because all the Falcons fans had left by the end of the 3rd quarter.  I guess without Michael Turner and Matt Ryan, the Falcons are a really bad team.  They're also the anti-Colts.  While the Colts have won at least 12 games in five straight seasons, the Falcons haven't had back-to-back winning seasons in the history of their franchise.  Donovan McNabb was an efficient 14 of 25 for 238 yards and 1 TD and all three Eagles QB's got into the game.  Personally, I don't feel bad for the Falcons failures.  Any city that's responsible for something as God awful as "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" deserve to have a bad football team.

Rams 9, Chicago 17

This game was a microcosm of Jay Cutler's season.  He started off great but things gut ugly real fast.  Cutler threw for 131 yards just in the first quarter but only managed to finish with 143 yards in the game.  That's an average of 4 yards per quarter over the last 3 quarters.  Part of Cutler's second half struggles were because the Bears lost Devin "Fool Moon" Hester to an injury.  No wonder Brian Urlacher openly questioned the direction of the organization over the week.  But when you're playing the Rams, you don't have to be that good to win.  The Bears held a 10-0 halftime lead and did just enough in the second half to hold on for the win.  It also helped that the Rams seemed incapable of getting into the endzone.  Once again Steven Jackson led the way for the Rams rushing for 112 yards and Josh Brown kicked 3 FG's.  The one bright spot in the game for Cutler was that he avoided adding to his league leading 20 interceptions.  Once again, I'm sure Bears fans are so glad they gave up 3 first round draft picks for Cutler.

49ers 17, Seahawks 20

Sometimes I really believe I'd be happier if I just didn't like sports.