10 things we learned in Week 15
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 18, 2010
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts deep-play threat
Now that was more like it.
Last week's slate of Sunday games was a remarkably poor one. But the NFL collectively made up for it with some playoff-quality games here in Week 15.
Three games featured blue chip opponents on both sides: Saints-Ravens, Jets-Steelers and Eagles-Giants. All three were classics.
Baltimore's 30-24 win over the Saints featured one of the great fantasy subplots of all time: did owners frustrated with an unproductive Ray Rice bench him in the big game and miss out on his 231 yards and two touchdowns?
Philly's win at the New Meadowlands was a stone-cold stunner. The Giants were playing at home, won the turnover battle 3-2 and were up 31-10 in the fourth quarter. They lost the game on the final play.
And the Jets capped the afternoon with their huge 22-17 win at Pittsburgh, withstanding two end zone passes by normally clutch Ben Roethlisberger in the final 10 seconds to win on snowy Heinz Field.
Wow. Thanks, football gods. And there was more ...
1. Shocking news: Peyton Manning and the Colts figured it out. When Manning threw those 11 interceptions in three games, there was a mad dash to make sense of it. The past two weeks he's explained it in the most succinct way possible: Sh*t happens, and Peyton Manning is still good.
Manning has thrown the ball 74 times the last two weeks, been sacked once, thrown no picks, put up 64 points and won two must-win games.
Where have we seen this before?
Oh, right, over the vast majority of his career, which has been spent as one of the five most productive and successful regular-season quarterbacks in history. Doubt Manning in the January elements if you wish, but in the December dome? He's getting it done.
The Colts are back in the driver's seat in the AFC South, and seem fated to make the playoffs again as their division mates took turns coughing up their opportunities to upstage Indy.
2. The No. 5 seed in the NFC is practically a playoff bye week. There's been a lot of talk about how unfair it's going to be for a good wild-card team to play at Seattle, St. Louis or San Francisco. But it's really unfair to the No. 3 team.
A third-seeded division champs from Philly or Chicago (most likely) will have to play a good team like the Giants or Saints (most likely), while the No. 5 team plays at the dismal NFC West champ.
The 5-seed can't lose!
All three NFC West contenders demonstrated without question in Week 15 that they aren't playoff quality, each getting dusted by playoff-quality foes.
The Seahawks have nothing in the tank, which showed in their 34-18 home loss to Atlanta. Sam Bradford is hitting the wall in St. Louis, which was dominated at home by the Chiefs, 27-13. And the NIners? They're 5-9, and officially the first 5-9 team ever to have something to play for. That's not a distinction to be proud of. With a win at
St. Louis next week and some help from the Seahawks (who play at Tampa), the 49ers will be 6-9 and control their own destiny heading into the last game of the year.
Whoever draws the road trip to play one of these three isn't going to complain about the travel when it's all said and done.
3. Tom Brady, you have company in the MVP race. This is published before the Sunday night game, so Tom Brady might just put a bow on the MVP award with a big game vs. Green Bay.
But barring yet another dynamite effort by Brady, Michael Vick has to be right there with him, especially after Philly's incredible 38-31 win at the Giants.
In games Vick has started and finished this year (10), the Eagles are 9-1 and have averaged exactly 30.0 PPG. He hasn't had a single bad game; his lowest passer rating in a game this season is 83.0.
With the division title in the balance against the Giants, Vick drove the Eagles 75 yards in 49 seconds, 57 yards in 2 minutes and then 88 yards in 1:45 – all capped with touchdowns.
Then DeSean Jackson won it for the Eagles, on a terrible punt by Matt Dodge with time running out. The poor boot might just cost the rookie punter his job.
Wow. The Cinderella story continues (although Cinderella, to her credit, never murdered dogs).
4. The Panthers and Bengals don't have to apologize for winning games. It's easy to say that the 1-12 Panthers and 2-11 Bengals might have been better off losing than winning on Sunday.
But both teams are also full of guys fighting for their jobs – including the coaches and quarterbacks of both teams. John Fox put Jimmy Clausen in a position to win, and the rookie QB did enough (107.6 rating on 19 throws) to earn a 19-12 win over the Cardinals.
Has Clausen done enough to make Carolina consider going another way in the 2011 draft? Will Fox be the man coaching? At least both men put positives toward their cause.
Same goes for Cincy's Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer, who beat the Browns, 19-17. Palmer got some help from his running game and avoided the turnovers that plagued him. Overall, the game was a taste of how this team won games under Lewis in the past, and refreshing the memory of management can't hurt.
5. Our still-in-development "Ballsmanship Index" would have had some interesting entries this week. Jacksonville's lack of balls at a key stage against the Colts probably cost them the playoffs.
In their 34-24 loss to Indy, they went for it on a 4th-and-1 in their own end early in the third quarter – which seems ballsy, but was far from it.
There was no decisive hand on the sidelines and the Jags didn't break the huddle until there were about 10 seconds on the clock. They were too panicked in the moment, coaches included, and no one took charge to call time out.
They rushed the snap, Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled, and the Colts recovered and scored about a minute later on offense. That play was the difference in an otherwise even game.
Meanwhile, Washington coach Mike Shanahan's ballsmanship paid off in one respect. Quarterback Rex Grossman, who the coach inserted in the place of Donovan McNabb, wasn't perfect. But he got 30 points on the board for the Skins – their highest output of the season – in a hard-fought 33-30 loss at Dallas.
A lesser coach would have played nice with his starting QB. But Shanahan could care less about what anyone thinks if it's in the best interest of his team. Albert Haynesworth learned that you don't mess with Shanahan, and that has to have earned him respect in the locker room. The results haven't been there in 2010 (Washington is 5-9) but don't count out Shanahan's methods.
6. Atlanta's 34-18 win over Seattle was a perfect display of what makes them good. The Falcons don't have the best player in the league at any position, but they have a lot of guys in the top 10.
On Sunday, facing a hostile crowd in Seattle and a team shooting for the playoffs, they did a bit of everything right.
They averaged only 3.6 yards per play, which is very low, but they were 9 of 19 on third downs. They won the turnover battle, 3-1. They had a 42-yard kickoff return. Their kick and punt return units shut down Leon Washington. They landed two of four punts inside the 20. They didn't miss any kicks.
And most important, Atlanta's defense had one of its best days, allowing just some garbage-time success by Seattle after dominating.
Now two games clear in the NFC, the road to the Super Bowl almost certainly will go through Atlanta – and it's not going to be easy to beat this well-balanced team.
7. Two coordinators in big trouble: Frank Bush in Houston and Dan Henning in Miami. How does a team with a star set of triplets like the Texans find itself with a 5-9 record?
Similarly, how does a team that's fields the No. 7-ranked scoring defense, the league's best sack man, a franchise left tackle and franchise wide receiver find itself eliminated from the playoffs at 7-7?
Henning's inability to get a talented Dolphin offense off the ground this year will probably be enough to cost him his job. The same goes for Frank Bush and his Texan defense.
The Dolphins have scored 15 points or fewer nine times in 14 games, including their 17-14 loss to Buffalo Sunday. That lack of production on one side of the ball is right in keeping with the Texans, who have allowed 30 or more points eight times, including their 31-17 loss to Tennessee Sunday.
8. Congratulations to the NFL's newest road warriors, the Lions. The chances of one random team losing 26 games in a row to 24 random opponents on the road is approximately 1 in 4 trillion according to our own math, which is probably wrong.
Anyway, it's hard to do. But the Lions finally returned sanity to the laws of probability after their record road losing streak, beating the Bucs, 23-20.
The Lions needed overtime to do it, and in the process put a big crimp in Tampa's playoff plans.
It was one of the oddest box scores to look at in recent memory; this might have been the most even statistical matchup of the year. The teams were nearly identical in all the major stat categories – it kind of has to be seen to believed.
If a game ever deserved OT, it was this one.
9. No one had a worse Sunday than San Diego. The Chargers had to feel great after their 34-7 domination of San Francisco Thursday night, but not anymore.
They're now two full games behind the wild-card field and a game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West with two weeks left.
They had to figure at least one of the teams ahead would lose, but instead the Ravens, Jets and Chiefs all won. Kansas City's decisive 27-13 win over the Rams gave the team breathing room, and added to Matt Cassel's surprising cachet.
But the Chargers still have a shot: If they win both of their final games, at 3-11 Cincy and 3-11 Denver, and the Chiefs lose to one of their final two opponents (home vs. Ten, home vs. Oak), the division is up for grabs.
10. Two words: Tee. Bow. OK, so Broncos rookie QB Tim Tebow wasn't that great Sunday in Denver's 39-23 loss at Oakland. But Broncos fans probably had as much fun watching this defeat than they've had at any time in the last two months.
The bad news: Tebow was 8-of-16 passing and the Broncos were 2-of-12 on third down.
The good news: Tebow added 75 on the ground, including an electrifiying 40-yard TD run that fired up his whole sideline. He didn't turn it over, and the 23 points for Denver were the fifth-most the Broncos have scored all year.
All in all, a pretty good starting debut for a player whose story continues to be a captivating one.
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