It was a decent week of football this past weekend. The best game was probably the first game on Thanksgiving and there was only one overtime game this past weekend, so it sort of lacked for dramatic endings. It was a good weekend for me because I write this knowing my favorite team hasn't had a chance to choke or just outright get their ass kicked yet this week.
Houston Texans 34 Detroit Lions 31
Well, it is a good thing the NFL got rid of those replacement officials or else there would still be a few obvious officiating calls that were missed and had an impact on a game. I'm referring of course to the fact Justin Forsett was clearly touched down and his touchdown run should not have counted in this game (of course if Schwartz had not challenged it, then it wouldn't have been an issue because the call would have gotten reviewed). The touchdown run did count and as much as I would like to chalk this Lions loss up to that bad call, they had plenty of other chances to win this game in regulation and overtime. I'm not usually a fan being very aggressive on occasions when a team is trying to stay in field goal range to kick a game-winning field goal, but both Gary Kubiak and Jim Schwartz were overly conservative in getting their kicker in field goal range to kick a game-winning field goal in this game. Both teams' offenses were moving the ball well, but both coaches called conservative run plays to ensure they stay in field goal position and give their kicker a chance at a long kick. I really didn't get Jim Schwartz trying for a field goal on third down either at the end of regulation. It was already a long 40-ish yard field goal attempt and if the snap did get bobbled or something went wrong then the Lions may have been out of field goal range on fourth down. So to me, it seemed to make more sense to call a passing play and trust your franchise quarterback not to throw an interception or get sacked on third down. On that field goal try, if the snap gets bobbled then it is a very long field goal attempt for Jason Hanson anyway. It didn't make sense to me. Otherwise, this is the second straight week the Texans defense has gotten gashed by an opposing offense. I wasn't really worried last week about them, but now I am starting to get concerned the Texans defense is going in a bit of a slump. Sure, the Lions have a powerful offense and J.J. Watt had a great individual game, but the Texans are still giving up a lot of points on defense. Considering the roll the Patriots are in right now, how many points would they put up on the Texans? For the Lions, this was their ninth straight loss on Thanksgiving Day and for all purposes makes another playoff appearance not very likely. They can blame the officiating or they could wonder why Jim Schwartz was happy with settling for a long 40-ish yard field goal attempt.
Washington Redskins 38 Dallas Cowboys 31
This was a very misleading score. It seems like the Redskins dominated this game from the outset. Tony Romo did not play exceptionally well, and I am probably feeding into the typical excuses given for him, but he had no running game and was missing Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree for most or all of this game. I don't consider Romo to be an elite quarterback and it is too much pressure to put on him to expect him to win games when the defense is giving up points constantly and the Cowboys offense is being put in a hole. As far as who was responsible for putting the Cowboys in a hole, Robert Griffin was fantastic again. He was nearly perfect the week before and this week he was incredibly good against the Cowboys. There is still a lot of Luck supporters for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Robert Griffin has to be 1b in that Offensive Rookie of the Year discussion. Luck has done a lot of positive things for the Colts and giving them the leadership at the quarterback position they needed, but Griffin has done that for the Redskins and seems to have been more spectacular in doing so. There's really no wrong answer when it comes to which player should be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Mike Shanahan is such a genius isn't he? All it took was to find a franchise quarterback and he finally has become the great coach he showed he can be when he had a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Broncos. I am not very good at coaching speculation, but it seems to me like Jason Garrett probably won't survive after this year and while Garrett certainly isn't a top NFL head coach, there are other reasons for the Cowboys struggles this year. DeMarco Murray's injury and the occasional non-dominance of the Cowboys defense hasn't helped them win games this year either. Much of this blame falls on the head coach though and it is understandable. Garrett has been bad when his team has had a chance to win some games, so he gets the blame. I also understand the blame put on Tony Romo as well, though I'm not sure it is completely fair to him. The Cowboys are needing him to be something he probably isn't capable of being at this point.
New England Patriots 49 New York Jets 19
Well okay then. It seems the Patriots are on a mission to score as many points as possible and obliterate their opponent as quickly as they can. I can't recall a game getting out of hand as quickly as this one did. The Jets had five turnovers, including four fumbles, and allowed the Patriots to score three touchdowns in a 52 second span. I said in last week's "...Pets' Heads" that the Rams and Jets fortunes will probably be reversed this week and I was correct. Sanchez looked good last week and this week he had good statistics, but he didn't play very well against the Patriots. I'm not a huge Tebow fan, but Sanchez seems so inconsistent at this point I don't think the Jets know what Sanchez will bring when he starts a game. He could be remarkably efficient or he could be a dumpster fire. It's easy to see how this game got out of hand. One team can't commit five turnovers (unless you are the Falcons apparently) and expect to win a game, much less commit five turnovers and two of them go for touchdowns while giving up 475 yards of offense. You can't win games doing that. The Jets look like a disaster right now and I'm not sure if they are a disaster, but a good quarterback would certainly go a long way to helping them turn their fortunes around. We've seen that Mark Sanchez can be the guy on a short-term basis (like one game), but he hasn't shown anything that tells me he is the long-term answer. He does have the two AFC Championship Game appearances, which even if we chalk it up to the defense carrying the Jets to those appearances, Sanchez was at least efficient and not turnover prone to fuck it up. He's not efficient and is now turnover prone, so even on a team that has a great defense, which the Jets don't, they would need a good running game to win and Sanchez's mistakes would stick out like a sore thumb. I don't think the Jets have that great running game and they don't have a great defense. So Sanchez's mistakes just add more fuel to the dumpster fire this Jets season seems to become at times. Man, the Patriots are looking unstoppable right now. When the defense is creating turnovers, I'm not sure who can beat them.
New York Giants 38 Green Bay Packers 10
Recall the gnashing of teeth from two weeks when the Giants were struggling to score points and win games? Now the Giants have beaten the Packers at home and everything is right with the world again. The Giants passed for 243 yards and ran for 147 yards, while the defense held Aaron Rodgers to a below average performance by sacking him five times. Isn't it funny how even the best of NFL quarterbacks can't play well when he is under constant pressure because his offensive line isn't protecting him? I feel like this is constantly lost in a discussion of NFL quarterbacks and why they play poorly. A lack of pass protection and run offense can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make decisions more quickly and when quarterbacks make decisions more quickly they are more likely to make bad decisions. It isn't brain science. The Giants nearly played perfectly with zero turnovers and efficiency on offense and defense. It was stupid for anyone to count out the Giants, especially after they have shown over the past couple of years they can win games after looking completely lost for a few games. Now it is time for the media to worry that the Packers may be overrated or going into a lull. They'll be fine too. They ran into a team that got an effective pass rush on Rodgers and the Giants were incredibly prepared and strong coming off the bye week.
Chicago Bears 28 Minnesota Vikings 10
It's funny how the Bears won a game now that asshole Jay Cutler was back manning the quarterback position. It's almost like for all the bad that he can do, he is also the biggest key to the Bears team playing well. The Bears defense can only do so much, as we learned last week during the 49ers game. The Bears defense did force three more turnovers, giving them 194 turnovers caused this year (that's just a rough estimate), to go along with the 35 interceptions (I'm pretty sure that's an accurate number) returned for a touchdown as well. The Bears did lose their two starting guards in this game, so for an offensive line that wasn't exactly protecting the quarterback well, that's not a good sign. As far as the Vikings go, Christian Ponder wasn't very good. Granted, he was playing a pissed off Bears defense, but 43 dropbacks for 159 passing yards isn't going to win very many games. He was missing Percy Harvin, which gave a Vikings offense that doesn't exactly have an array of weapons one more weapon they were missing. The Bears were 11-19 on third down and showed that no matter how much Cutler is hated by fans and probably (at times) some Bears fans, he is the best quarterback on the Bears roster and his health is the biggest key to the Bears' season. Of course the good news for Cutler is his porous offensive line has just gotten a little bit less healthy and is having its depth tested. So perhaps Happy Jay Cutler will turn into Pissed Off Jay Cutler next week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Cincinnati Bengals 34 Oakland Raiders 10
Not that I am not really excited about the Bengals winning games handily, but I have trouble giving them an excessive amount of credit for beating the Raiders. Granted, they beat the Raiders handily, and for that I give them credit for doing what they should have done, but the Raiders are on a string of giving up 169 points over the last four games. They are terrible defensively right now. The Bengals, again, got off to a fast start and then rode their defense to the victory. The Bengals defense gave up 218 total yards to the Raiders, which is very impressive. So perhaps I should give the Bengals more credit for doing their job in a dominant fashion. Carson Palmer's homecoming didn't exactly go as he envisioned it, though many who have seen the Raiders team play this year probably envisioned it going somewhat like it did. Palmer did prepare himself for the booing though,
A sign in the upper deck read: "Winners Never Quit," a reference to
Palmer's insistence he would never play for the Bengals again.
"You obviously hear it," Palmer said of the boos. "You can't block things like that out. But I prepared myself for that."
I give Palmer credit for acknowledging he heard the boos, but maybe he should have prepared a little bit more for the Bengals defense than prepare for himself to be booed. Are injuries an excuse for the Raiders? I don't think so. They didn't have their top two running backs again this week, but the defense has to do better than it is. The Bengals have shown they can get off to a fast start and I really would start to change my opinion of them if they could show a consistent ability to run the football, like they did in this game. The Bengals ran for 221 yards and Andy Dalton just had to be smart in the passing game, which he was, to win the game. I don't believe the Bengals can win a playoff game (which the fact anyone is talking about this as a standard for the Bengals shows how far they have come over the last 10 years) because they can't run the ball and I don't think they have a good enough defense to beat playoff teams. They are showing signs this could change. I'll believe it when I see it.
Cleveland Browns 20 Pittsburgh Steelers 14
This is your weekly reminder that Ben Roethisberger is important to the Steelers. This is also your annual reminder that Charlie Batch is a third string quarterback for a reason. I'm not going to totally blame Batch. Can any team in the NFL expect to win 50% of their games with their third string quarterback? Once a team has gotten to their third string quarterback the year has either gone so badly in terms of (a) injuries or (b) the top two quarterback's performance that a team can't expect to probably win 33% of the games started by the third string quarterback. God knows I don't see Jimmy Clausen marching on the field taking control of the Carolina offense and winning any games. The Steelers had, I'm not kidding, eight turnovers in this game. So there is two ways to look at this game.
Way #1: The Steelers started their third string quarterback, committed eight turnovers and lost by six points. The odds are good that Roethlisberger will come back at some point this year, so all the Steelers have to do is not turn the ball over and they can win a game or two (maybe) until Roethlisberger gets back.
Way #2: The Steelers have an injured starting quarterback and can't take care of the ball either. They are becoming lost and even if Roethlisberger comes back he won't be the same quarterback so this game is just one more sign this Steelers season isn't going to end with a playoff berth.
I prefer Way #1. The Steelers started their third string quarterback, committed eight turnovers and only lost by six points. With eight turnovers, a team should be losing by at least 20 points. This brings me to the Browns. They were 3-16 on third down and had 238 total yards of offense. While the defense seems to be playing very well, this is still an offense waiting to mature (with a 29 year old quarterback) with young players up and down the roster on the offensive side of the ball. While I am not a Weeden fan, I have hope for these Browns, and being the optimist I am, while I find it hard to believe they get 8 turnovers and only score 20 points, I also can see how a team that is relying on rookies at quarterback, right tackle, running back, and wide receiver isn't going to be the epitome of consistent on a weekly basis. Consistent consistency, isn't that what Joe Morgan used to preach?
Indianapolis Colts 20 Buffalo Bills 13
Another Fitzpatricky day for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He had a touchdown throw and an interception. He didn't do much to win the game for the Bills and didn't do much to lose the game. Andrew Luck was okay again in this game. He threw for 240 yards, but he also dropped back to pass 37 times and completed 20 passes. He's also a rookie and I am in a good mood, so I will lay off him a bit. I'm shocked the Colts are 7-4 right now, though I still can't get behind the Arians-Pagano dual Coach of the Year candidacy. I'm not trying to be mean to Chuck Pagano, but Bruce Arians deserves the Coach of the Year award and it shouldn't be shared. I am not trying to underplay the inspirational role Pagano has played, but giving him part of the Coach of the Year award seems a bit too dramatic and away from the purpose of the award. I'm not going to deny his inspiration and direct connection to God, who clearly loves the Colts and is helping them win games, but just give the Coach of the Year award to Bruce Arians. Then Arians can get hired by another NFL team after this season as their head coach and he will go 22-26 over three seasons, get fired, and we can all move on. The Bills defense sacked Luck three times and seems to have done a pretty good job in this game of holding the Colts offense in check. Of course, they did give up a punt return for a touchdown, which was the difference in this game. C.J. Spiller got 14 carries for 107 yards, which makes me wonder why he doesn't get more carries than he is getting. I wonder how Gregg Easterbrook feels to have unwanted, undrafted All-Star Fred Jackson running for 16 yards on 6 carries while me-first, highly drafted and highly paid glory boy C.J. Spiller has developed into the best Bills running back?
Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 9
It seems that Brady Quinn is not the answer for the Chiefs at the quarterback position. I have probably said this every week and I realize there isn't much the Chiefs can do about this, but I feel like it still merits mentioning. Kansas City's defense played well in this game not to give up points. The Chiefs were in charge of this game in the first half, then Romeo Crennel went for a field goal instead of a touchdown late in the first half. Gregg Easterbrook is probably going to mention how the Chiefs kicked a field goal on fourth-and-2 on the Broncos 4 yard line rather than go for the touchdown to go up 10-0 at the end of the first half and that is why the Chiefs lost this game. Romeo Crennel explains,
"I thought points on the board were important," Crennel said by way of explanation.
Then Crennel went back to reading "Curious George Takes a Trip" and ignored any followup questions. Decisions like this one are always easy to second-guess. Would I have gone for the touchdown? Probably, but the Chiefs defense is playing well in not giving up any points, while the Chiefs offense isn't very good and possibly couldn't get the first down. So I can see taking the points and not risking giving the Broncos momentum right before halftime, but I also see how the Chiefs offense isn't very good and Crennel should try to win the game rather than play it safe. Crennel should know Manning is going to score points in the second half and should also want to have as big of a lead as possible. Either way, the odds of Gregg Easterbrook blaming this decision on why the Chiefs lost the game is 100%. For the Broncos, Manning made the throws he needed to make when he needed to make them and Knowshon Moreno made a cameo appearance to have a good game. He can go back in hibernation now. This is a game the Broncos should and did win. Manning made a fantastic pass to Demaryius Thomas to score the go-ahead touchdown and the Broncos never looked back.
Miami Dolphins 24 Seattle Seahawks 21
The Seahawks received some sort of karmic payback for the game-winning touchdown they were awarded by the replacement officials against the Packers on Monday Night Football. Earl Thomas was called for roughing the passer on a play when he clearly didn't have time to pull up. It wasn't a very good call in my opinion. Such is the state of the NFL today. Not that it was a big play, seeing as Bobby Wagner intercepted Ryan Tannehill's pass on this very same play and the penalty eventually led to a Dolphins touchdown. Very tough call for the Seahawks. It was even tougher for the Seahawks after the game when they learned their two starting corners would be suspended four games for a violation of the NFL drug policy. Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman both claim it was Adderall, which may or may not be true, but either way doesn't reflect well on those who are suspended for truly using Adderall. Not that this is a big issue or not, but I like to bring issues up and then immediately drop them. Russell Wilson was great on the day in only throwing six incomplete passes. Tannehill only threw eight incomplete passes, so it was a good showing for the rookie quarterbacks. Marshawn Lynch suffered the SI jinx (a story on him appeared in the latest issue, so I am expanding the jinx to the inside of the issue since the jinx clearly didn't work on Notre Dame's football, which is the team on the cover of the issue) by only running for 46 yards. The difference in this game was the roughing the passer call and Tannehill's drive with 90 seconds left to set up Dan Carpenter for a game-winning field goal. He's so clutch, that Tannehill.
Atlanta Falcons 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23
There was also a story on Doug Martin in this week's SI and he only ran for 50 yards on 21 carries in this game. I think I'm going to singlehandedly try to expand the SI cover jinx to include any player mentioned in the latest week's Sports Illustrated. It's fun to start new narratives and fake jinxes like that. I'm surprised Bill Simmons hasn't tried to do this first. The Falcons have seven wins this season by seven points or less. They are very good when it comes to winning close games. I'm not sure if there is an art to that or not, but considering my favorite team loses every close game they play I am starting to believe it has something to do with coaching and the art of a team figuring out how to win close games. I'm not sure I even understand what "figuring out how to win a close game" means, but the Falcons have turned it into something they do this year. Matt Ryan has become very good at leading game-winning drives. The real test for the Falcons comes, of course, in the playoffs. Can they win a playoff game or two? The Buccaneers' defense gave up a lot of yardage in this game, but were still in a position to win. They didn't do a hell of a lot to stop Matt Ryan, since Ryan only threw six incomplete passes on the day, but they managed to get Ryan to commit two turnovers. That's seven turnovers in the last two games for Ryan if you are counting at home. They appear to be a team on the way up as well and have responded well to Greg Schiano. Josh Freeman has time to throw the ball and has guys to throw the ball to. The Bucs are a very good example of a team who needed a change in culture in order to turn the team around and Schiano has provided that change.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 Tennessee Titans 19
The Jaguars won at home! Time to celebrate! Chad Henne is the quarterback of the future and the Jaguars can now trade Blaine Gabbert for a second or third round pick! Okay, maybe two of those statements aren't entirely true. Henne did play well, though the fact he was sacked seven times certainly should raise some red flags as to how an average quarterback like him is going to play for the rest of the season with defensive pass rushers in his face. Let's ignore that for now and talk about how clutch Henne was. Okay, enough talking about that. Let's now talk about how frustrating the Titans are. Two weeks after beating the shit out of the Dolphins, they go to Jacksonville and get beaten by the Jaguars. I wish my favorite team was in the AFC South. It just seems like a fun division to play in this year. I don't know if it is fair to say Blaine Gabbert's time in Jacksonville is done, but it certainly isn't looking good right now. I had faith he could bounce back, and he still can since he is only 23, but he is probably a good example of a college quarterback who needed to sit for a year or two coming out of college. So for now, Chad Henne is the savior of the Jaguars franchise, and the new Jaguar fans in London are really going to enjoy watching him play when the Jaguars owners rips the team from the fans in Jacksonville and plays half of the home games overseas. Even if this happens four years from now, Henne will be on the team since he is the quarterback of the future and all.
Baltimore Ravens 16 San Diego Chargers 13
Fourth-and-29 and the Ravens convert. That's crazy and pretty inexcusable. I know the fun thing is to blame Norv Turner for this, and while he certainly doesn't escape blame I can't find it in myself to blame him for his player's tackling so poorly as to give up 30 yards on a fourth down dump down pass. These are the kind of things that happen when you put an elite quarterback like Joe Flacco in a corner...it just makes him stronger. Nearly every fired coach has a defining play, fair or not, that ultimately sums up his legacy with a team. I think fourth-and-29 has a good chance of defining Norv's legacy in San Diego. At 4-7 it is going to take a lot of work and some luck for the Chargers to get in the playoffs. The Baltimore defense played well on this day against the Chargers, holding them to 280 yards and sacking Philip Rivers six times in the game. That's really impressive and if the Ravens defense can play like that, then the offense is going to play well enough to win a playoff game. Granted, I don't know if the Ravens defense can play like that every week. I guess we will see. I feel bad for Chargers fans. They see Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, and Vincent Jackson (pretty much the entire NFC South has an ex-Charger contributing for them, so thanks A.J. Smith) playing well over the past few years and probably can't help but think it would have been nice to keep those guys around. This is what happens when a team makes players expendable due to salary demands and then don't draft well enough to replace these players. There's talent on this Chargers team, but it needs a new voice. I'll be interested to see what happens with Philip Rivers if a new coach is brought in (how about Ron Rivera? He's available AND has a history with the Chargers) and wants his own quarterback. I doubt that would happen, but Rivers certainly hasn't played up to his previous standard this year.
San Francisco 49ers 31 New Orleans Saints 21
I realize I am in the minority on this, but if it comes down to it I am not sure I am fine with Alex Smith losing his job to Colin "Toucan Sam" (look at his nose, it fits) Kaepernick. It's nothing against Kaepernick as he is in a great situation to succeed with a strong running game, strong offensive line, and great defense, but once Smith gets "healthy" I am not sure he should lose his job to injury. Another concern I have is this Smith/Kaepernick situation will set concussion awareness back a little bit. I don't know how often a situation will play out like this, but the next time a veteran quarterback has a concussion and he sees a young quarterback full of potential on the bench ready to step in and take his place, will he be thinking of how Alex Smith lost his job on a 7-2 team to Kaepernick? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it would be somewhere in his head and so he may be more willing to rush back out on the field before he is ready after having experienced a concussion. Kaepernick has played great, but he is in a position to succeed as well. He has all the elements around him that a young quarterback needs to be successful. In fact, if it weren't for the circumstances of why Smith would lose his job as the starter I see no reason Kaepernick shouldn't keep the starting job. I'm not sure I like a starting quarterback losing a job to injury, specifically a concussion. Kaepernick doesn't have to do too much and he can use his skill set to bring a different look to the 49ers offense. It was clear the 49ers didn't love Alex Smith when they tried to sign Peyton Manning, so perhaps Jim Harbaugh wanted Kaepernick to get a shot at starting anyway, without having to fire the quarterback that led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. Drew Brees looked normal against the 49ers suffocating defense and the Saints (as usual) can't stop the run. Brees looking normal also had something to do with the offensive line injuries the Saints were facing. Brees was sacked five times. Again, offensive line protection doesn't get mentioned enough as to why elite quarterbacks are able to play so well. Even the best of quarterbacks have to make rushed throws and make mistakes with pressure in their face. Am I the only one who thinks the media forgets this when evaluating quarterbacks?
St. Louis Rams 31 Arizona Cardinals 17
It seems after this week's performance that Ryan Lindley isn't the answer for the Cardinals at quarterback either. Janoris Jenkins, who thankfully doesn't have to focus on his responsibilities in life due to the Rams assistance, returned two interceptions for a touchdown and that provided the difference in this game. The Cardinals are sort of different in how they have attempted to look for a franchise quarterback since Kurt Warner retired. They haven't drafted a quarterback early in the draft, but traded for Kevin Kolb, signed Derek Anderson, drafted John Skelton and Ryan Lindley late in the NFL Draft and signed undrafted free agents Richard Bartel and Max Hall. They have taken the sort of "let's throw a developmental quarterback out there early" approach to finding a franchise quarterback. Of course, there have been times they haven't had much of a choice to take this approach due to poor performance and injuries. A team that does seem to believe it has found its franchise quarterback is St. Louis. I think I would be willing to argue this point, but I can't argue with the genius of 8-8 that is Jeff Fisher. The Rams ran the ball really well with Steven Jackson and were able to hit on long passes to their receivers, which seems to be the offensive game plan for the Rams and can be successful for them. This Rams defense seems to make strides and then take steps back. Last week was a step back, and as I so not humbly sort of predicted after the Jets game, the Rams team played well this week. I can be critical of Jeff Fisher, but it seems like he usually knows how to put a decent defense on the field. Now if he could just work on making the team that showed up two weeks ago against the 49ers be the Rams team on the field every week.