Monday Morning Hangover
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 14, 2008
The Cold, Hard Football Facts crew compiled this week's Monday Morning Hangover after a three-day binge pounding Lone Star lager in a sympathy protest for Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
The leader of the Longhorns bested Oklahoma and his Sooners counterpart Sam Bradford head-to-head this year, but missed a shot in the Big 12 championship game, missed a shot in the national championship game and maybe missed out on the Heisman Trophy itself because of 0.013 points on a rating system nobody understands ... even the clearly inebriated people who invented it.
Up here in the pro football world, where things are decided on the field, the NFL season will go right down the wire, while head-to-head performances will actually carry some weight as the league decides who plays on in January and who goes on vacation. Seven teams had a chance to lock up a playoff spot this weekend. But only one of them, Pittsburgh, was able to come through. That gives us just two weeks to hash it all out, with the biggest week of the year just days away.
With a couple of exceptions (New England, Minnesota), Week 15 of the 2008 season was marked by a general lack of scoring (certainly not a problem in the point-a-minute Big 12 this year).
In fact, if Week 15 of the NFL season taught us anything, it's that you rarely win if you don't reach the end zone. Three teams scored only field goals this week – and all three lost in games that went down to the wire (Pitt-Baltimore, Houston-Tennessee, Miami-San Francisco). Here's a look at how the week unfolded, including the three punchless scoring efforts.
Game of the Week: Pittsburgh 13, Baltimore 9
The Steelers are making a habit of coming from behind in the waning moments to pull out victories.
For the second game in a row, they didn't score their first touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. A week ago, Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller with 2:04 remaining to tie Dallas at 13-13 – and a defensive score subsequently gave Pittsburgh the win.
Yesterday, it was Santonio Holmes on the receiving end of a Roethlisberger pass with 43 seconds left, and the play was only ruled a touchdown after review. The controversial call helped the Steelers earn their fifth straight victory and capture the AFC North crown.
Over the last three games, the Steelers have now outscored their opponents 37-0 in the fourth quarter, and they've given up a total of just four TDs in their last five games.
Cheesy 1980s video of the Week: "Only the Young"
Back when we were wee lads, "Vision Quest" was the king of all high school wrestling movies. Forget for a moment that it's like the only high school wrestling movie.
Remember instead that Loudon Swain got it on with a hot older bird played by Linda Fiorentino and remember the kick-ass soundtrack, with this forgotten Journey gem as the theme song. Yup, they just don't make high school wrestling movies like that anymore. And they just don't make cheesy but oh-so-catchy power pop hits like Journey did anymore, either.
show video here
Dallas 20, N.Y. Giants 8
Sure, the Cowboys kicked around the Giants in Sunday night's big NFC East battle, much like Kuch was kicked around by his douche of a dad in "Vision Quest."
But the real winner was the insufferable soap opera that is the Cowboys and the real loser was you, the football fan, who will probably be forced to put up with more faux high-school-cheerleader-level drama out of the Big D over the next two weeks. After all, it seemed to work so well for the Cowboys this week and we're jure Herr Jones will continue to stoke the fires.
The real story out of this game, however, is the sudden downfall of the Giants and their once-vaunted offense in the wake of L'Affaire de Burress. New York has lost two straight against division rivals, and have mustered just 22 points combined in those two games with their two worst offensive performances of the year.
The Giants rushed for 72 yards on just 17 carries this week – a week after gaining 88 yards on 24 carries against the Eagles.
Eli Manning, meanwhile, has suddenly looked like the Eli of old, and has been unable to lift the team offensively. In the past two games, he's completed just 31 of 62 passes (50%) for 314 yards, 5.06 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT and a 56.8 passer rating.
Maybe it's the Plaxico Burress effect.
- The Giants averaged 29.9 PPG in the 11 games in which Burress was in the line-up.
- The Giants have averaged just 15.0 PPG in the three games since Burress last played.
Player of the Week: Tarvaris Jackson
We were critical of Jackson last season and early this year – blaming his inability to pass effectively for Minnesota's inability to compete, despite the fact that the Vikings ran the ball extraordinarily well and stuffed the run extraordinarily well.
Yet here he was in Week 15, in his first start since mid-September, playing what was easily the best game of his career, and all but defining the term "efficiency."
Jackson completed 11 of 17 passes (64.7%) for 163 yards, 9.6 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 135.5 passer rating while leading the Vikings to a surprising 35-14 romp of the Cardinals in Arizona.
Since replacing Gus Frerotte last week against Detroit, Jackson has completed 19 of 27 passes (70.4%) for 268 yards, 9.9 YPA, 5 TDs, 0 INT and a 141.7 passer rating.
Granted, both games came against two of the worst pass defenses in football, but those are amazingly rock-solid numbers against any pro teams. Coupled with the Adrian Peterson-led ground attack, Jackson's quarterbacking could make the Vikings a serious threat in the playoffs ... provided they don't have a repeat of the last two weeks of the 2007 season (more on that below).
Houston 13, Tennessee 12
Over his 15 years at the helm, Jeff Fisher has earned a lot of leeway with Titans fans, but they had every right to question his decision making in this one.
First, the league's longest-tenured coach opted to take the prevailing wind in the third quarter rather than the fourth. Then, with his team down by a point and facing a 4th-and-3, he eschewed a 49-yard field goal attempt ... only to watch quarterback Kerry Collins throw an incompletion that effectively ended the game. And it's not like Fisher didn't have other options: Titans kicker Rob Bironas boasts a 60-yard kick on his resume and has hit kicks of 50 yards or more every year of his career.
After a 10-0 start, Tennessee has lost two its last four games, and Fisher, who guided the team to 13-3 records in 1999 and 2000, has no margin for error if he is going to establish a new franchise mark for regular-season wins.
But the season is taking on the feel of lost opportunity late: The Titans toyed with an undefeated season. But now they must beat the Steelers on Sunday to hold on to the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Miami 14, San Francisco 9
One of the biggest reason for the turnaround in Miami this season has been a stifling defense. The Dolphins have now gone three straight games without allowing a touchdown, and they have held their opponents to fewer than 20 points in each of their nine victories.
On Sunday, they sacked 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill five times, the last of which was by Joey Porter on 4th-and-10 from the Miami 21 with 1:02 left. One year removed from a 1-15 campaign, the Dolphins are 9-5 and still in a three-way tie atop the AFC East.
Porter also remains the conference leader in sacks with 17.5 – seven more than his previous career high.
The defensive improvement over last year is one of the statistical stories of the 2008 season: Miami ranks a respectable 8th in scoring defense (19.2 PPG) and 12th in total defense (317.2 YPG).
Both figures represent vast improvements over 2007, when the Dolphins ranked 30th in scoring defense (27.3 PPG) and 23rd in total defense (342.2 YPG).
It's been a bad couple of years for NFL officials, who have been wrapped up in more scandals than Chicago politicans and president-elect supporters.
This week, St. Louis receiver Torry Holt claims that an official flagged him for a critical pass interference penalty ... after watching a third-quarter play unfold on the Jumbotron at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams had a chance to take a 24-13 lead at the time, but had to settle for a field goal and a 20-13 lead. They lost, 23-20.
New England 49, Oakland 26
For most of the Tom Brady Era, the Patriots struggled mightily to run the ball effectively. In fact, an inability to run the ball effectively has been something of an organizational flaw for the Patriots since the end of the John Hannah Era.
The 2003 Patriots, for example, went 17-2 but averaged an anemic 3.4 YPA on the ground – the worst running game by a Super Bowl champion since the 1970 Colts averaged just 3.3 YPA.
But for some reason, with the threat of the Brady passing game gone and New England's stable of running backs suffering one injury after another, the Patriots suddenly boast one of the most punishing ground games in franchise history.
The Patriots shredded the Raiders defense Sunday for 277 yards on 39 attempts – an impressive average of 7.10 YPA. It was New England's greatest output on the ground in 23 years. Of course, any enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that the Raiders seemed to almost literally lay down on defense, displaying all the intensity of Ben Stein taking attendance in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
The 2008 Patriots have now rushed 425 times for 1,927 yards – an average of 4.53 YPA. It's the most effective rushing attack by a New England team in 25 years, or since the 1983 Patriots cranked out 4.84 YPA (538 for 2,605).
In a week generally marked by defensive battles, the Patriots scored more points in the first half against the Raiders (35) than any other team had scored in any one game this week (Minnesota matched the point total in its 35-14 win over the Cardinals).
N.Y. Jets 31, Buffalo 27
Add another chapter to the legend of nut-kicking losses in Buffalo.
The Bills, after a disappointing second-half collapse this year, had a chance to play spoiler and administer something akin to a knock-out blow against the Jets. And they had that chance in their hands (literally), leading (rather improbably) 27-24 with 2 minutes to play.
The Bills had been running all over the Jets (Marshawn Lynch picked up 127 yards on 21 carries) and all they had to do was run out the clock. Instead, the Bills decide to pass the ball and, well disaster ensued, which it always does in Buffalo: J.P. Losman rolled right and was stripped of the ball. New York defender Shaun Ellis picked it up and ran in 11 yards for the game-winning TD.
The combination coaching and quarterbacking gaffe by Buffalo not only nut-kicked Bills fans, it did the same to Dolphins and Patriots fans, who had a chance to watch their teams take a one-game lead over the Jets in the crowded AFC East race.
Instead, the Jets remain alive and well and the Bills remain suffering under the Curse of Flutie.
Team of the Week: Indianapolis
The Colts took care of business with a 31-21 win over the 0-14 Lions. Nobody's going to send postcards back to the family after that performance, considering the state of the Lions.
But the Colts have won seven straight, the longest current win streak in the NFL, and they are officially "the team nobody wants to play" heading into the postseason, assuming they hold on and reach the playoffs. As for now, they have the inside track on a wildcard spot.
Atlanta 13, Tampa 10
You could argue that the Falcons made the two most significant acquisitions of the 2008 off-season when they drafted QB Matt Ryan and then picked up San Diego back-up Michael Turner in free agency.
Ryan is the likely Rookie of the Year and there's even buzz about his chances to win league MVP. Turner, meanwhile, has been a spectacular addition, especially considering the limited amount of work he got in his four seasons backing up LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego.
Turner is second in the NFL this year with 1,421 rushing yards – only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has more (1,581) – while leading the league with 15 rushing TDs (six more than Peterson).
More importantly, he came up huge against the Bucs on a day when Ryan looked shaky (two INTs) and the team desperately needed production on the ground against what had been a great run defense (at least until two weeks ago).
Turner picked apart the Tampa defense for 152 yards on 32 attempts, while scoring Atlanta's only touchdown. He also did the bulk of the work in overtime, carrying six times for 34 yards to put Jason Elam in position for a game-winning 34-yard field goal.
The Falcons are now 9-5 and in a tie with Tampa and Dallas for one of the NFC's two wildcard spots.
The best part? They visit Minnesota on Sunday for a game that will feature the league's two top runners this year and that could have a profound impact on the NFC playoff picture.
Minnesota 35, Arizona 14
Minnesota's 2008 season is starting to shape up a lot like its 2007 season – and that may not be a good thing.
The Vikings are one of the hottest teams in football, with four straight wins and a 6-1 mark in their last seven games. They now boast a 9-5 record and a one-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North with two to play.
But we saw the same thing unfold at the same time last year, when the Vikings entered the final two weeks of the season with the same 6-1 mark in their previous seven games.
They failed to come through: losing back-to-back games to the Redskins and Broncos to fall to 8-8 and miss out on the final wildcard spot to those Redskins.
No matter how they've performed in recent weeks, it won't be easy to close: the Vikings must battle the Falcons this week – another team fighting desperately for a playoff spot – and close out the season against the Giants. Both games are at home.
Carolina 30, Denver 10
The Panthers are surging after three straight impressive wins and, at 11-3, they're primed for a first-round bye and possible home field advantage pending the outcome of their showdown with the Giants on Sunday.
One of the big questions for Panthers opponents is: "How do we stop Steve Smith."
The wide receiver has been on a tear recently, including Sunday when he hauled in nine passes for 165 yards and a score. He is third in the league in receiving yards (1,240) despite missing the first two games, while his 103.3 YPG lead the NFL.
Over his last four games Smith has shredded opposing defenses to the tune of 138.7 YPG and 18.5 YPC – a gaudy average per reception we rarely if ever see in this day and age.
With 1,240 receiving yards, Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams (1,229 rushing yards) have become the first Panthers duo to eclipse 1,200 yards in a season – and they still have two games to pad those totals.
Indianapolis 31, Detroit 21
Since Dallas Clark joined the Colts at the start of the 2003 season he has been one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets, catching at least one pass in 77 of his 80 career games.
Sunday, thanks in large part to the pathetic Detroit defense, Clark turned in the best performance of his NFL career. He set a career high in receptions (12) and yards (142).
It was the first 10-plus catch game of his career and only his fourth game with 100 or more receiving yards. The 142 yards are also a season high for tight ends, topping the 133 yards Houston's Owen Daniels recorded against the Vikings back in Week 9.
San Diego 22, Kansas City 21
LaDainian Tomlinson has been in the league only since 2001, but has already rushed for the second-most touchdowns in NFL history.
His 6-yard scoring run in the third quarter helped ignite San Diego's comeback from a 21-3 deficit, and it also moved him into a tie with Marcus Allen for second place on the all-time list.
Tomlinson now has 123 rushing touchdowns, trailing only Emmitt Smith, who finished his illustrious career with 164 scores on the ground. Tomlinson needs to run for just two more scores in his remaining two games to tie the mark for most rushing TDs before turning 30 years old – something that Smith accomplished in nine seasons to LT's eight.
Seattle 23, St. Louis 20
The Seattle offense had mustered only 179 yards and 9 first downs through the first three quarters of play Sunday – despite the fact the Rams sported one of the league's worst defenses (29th in total defense, 31st in scoring defense).
As a result, the Seahawks trailed 20-13 in the fourth quarter of this battle of NFC West sad-sacks.
But Seattle nearly matched those three-quarter totals on two critical fourth-quarter drives, ripping off 16 plays for 140 yards while scoring the last 10 points of the game. Olindo Mare kicked the game-winning 27-yard field goal with 3 seconds to play.
Seattle has scored 10 or more points in just nine of 56 quarters this season, while being shutout 20 times.
Jacksonville 20, Green Bay 16
Aaron Rodgers looked a lot like Brett Favre Sunday – which spelled doom for Green Bay as its disappointing 2008 season whimpers to a conclusion.
With the Packers needing to drive 52 yards in the final 46 seconds of the game, Rodgers threw a game-ending INT that was picked off by Reggie Nelson, allowing Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to kneel down and run out the clock.
The loss ensures that the Packers (5-9) will do something certainly un-Favre-like, and that's suffer a losing season. Green Bay, of course, suffered just one losing season in 16 years with Favre at the helm. Rodgers is now 1 for 1.
Cincinnati 20, Washington 13
The Redskins were flying high at 6-2 at the halfway point of the season, with big road wins over division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia.
Just six games later and fresh off a loss to the lowly Bengals, the Redskins are 7-7 and are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
For an idea of why Washington have struggled lately look no further than their backfield where the performances of Clinton Portis and Jason Campbell tell the story.
Both were outstanding in wins early in the season. But both have disappeared in the losses, especially here late in the season.
Comp Att Pct Yards YPA TD INT Rating
In Wins 139 210 66.2 1619 7.7 8 0 101.6
In Losses 140 233 60.5 1326 5.8 4 6 73.4
Att Yards YPC TD
In Wins 172 874 5.0 5
In Losses 119 463 3.7 2
Forearm Shiver: the CHFF Blog
- Hockey Announcer Gone Wild: You Want To Party (Maybe) With This Guy
- Best Pass Defense Ever: Ronde Barber And The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Reese Witherspoon Arrest Video: Hot, Bothered And Handcuffed
- Sam Adams In A Can, Just In Time For Summer Drinking Season
- Live From Radio City: Reporter Punks NFL Draft Fans
- The 5.0 Club: Best Rushing Teams in NFL History
- Sieves: The Worst Run Defenses In NFL History
- Monsters of the Midway: We Need The Chicago Bears More Than Ever
- Boston, Sports, Patriotism And Terror
- The 100 Stingiest Defenses In Football History
- NFL Crown Rule: Will It Dethrone Rushing King Adrian Peterson?
- Year Of The Offensive Tackle: Not Always The 'Safe' Draft Bet
- Draft Habits: NFL Teams Covet LBs, Duped By False Temptress WRs
- Big Tease: 2012 New England Patriots And NFL's History Of Offensive Failures
- Epic Fail: The Wide Receiver Draft Class Of 2012
Must See Videos