Week 15 winners and losers

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Dec 14, 2008



There are winners and losers in every gridiron gunfight. This week, we highlight seven winners from the past round of NFL action and the seven losers who sit there gushing blood as they sit propped up against the football fenceposts of the American cultural corral. In fact, if we had emotions, we'd be sad to report that American manhood itself appeared to suffer a mortal wound this weekend.
 
Winner: Drama queens
Terrell Owens is built like a brick shithouse, but he's gotta be the biggest pussy in the NFL and a symbol of everything that's wrong with a society in which "men" are supposed to articulate their feelings, rather than bottle 'em all up inside like our grandpappy's did.
 
In TO's case, if he goes a couple games without getting enough looks from the starting QB, he starts crying to anyone who will listen in a weepy soap opera that reminds us of how the JV cheerleading squad in high school reacted when they didn't get enough looks from the starting QB. We've seen the same story unfold in San Francisco, Philly and now Dallas.
 
The irony of his self-centered view of the world is that TO drops more balls than your local lottery machine.
 
Sadly, after a week in which Owens whined about Tony spending too much time passing notes to Jason in study hall, the Cowboys went out played one of their best games of the year, smacking down the Giants, 20-8.
 
Owens wasn't much of a factor (3 catches, 38 yards) but the fact that his team succeeded in the wake of his bitchy little whine-fest sent American manhood back a good 30 years. If we were pussies like TO who couldn't control our emotions, we would have cried at the outcome.
 
Loser: Real men
How ironic that the team that fields the biggest sissy in the NFL went out and won on the very same day that the Last Real Man, Clint Eastwood, lamented the sissification of American culture.
 
(It's even more ironic that the biggest sissy plays for the Cowboys. Hell, if this is what Cowboys have become, you can have 'em.)
 
Eastwood, the icon who rose to fame as the Man with No Name, must have had the NFL's self-absorbed No. 1 head case in mind when he did those interviews. Now the Man with No Name is a man we can appreciate: someone so totally un-self-absorbed that he doesn't even bother identifying himself. He just exists. And this existence stands in sharp contrast to the contemporary NFL wide receiver, so empty of inner meaning  that he's reduced to making a spectacle of himself at every turn.
 
Back in the day, one hopes that Dandy Don or Captain America would have smacked around a player like TO and put him in his place. Sadly, these days, everyone from Jeff Garcia to Donovan McNabb to Tony Romo sit their silently, letting themselves get walked all over by whiny little bitches posing as football players. What the hell happened? Where did it all go wrong?
 
We can only long for the day that bitching and moaning is eliminated from the Man Code and we return to the days when men shut up and put up ... or got beat up.
 
Winner: The Legend of Big Ben
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger continues to collect doubters faster than we collect restraining orders from ex-girlfriends.
 
We don't get the incredulity. After all, Big Ben has won 55 of 76 games in his career. That's a winning percentage of .724 for those of you keeping score at home, and that's almost Brady-esque.
 
Sure, Roethlisberger's surrounded by a great defense once again. But here in 2008, he doesn't have that great ground game to fall back on – and yet he continues to display all the signs of a bona fide NFL winner. That is, he wins games and he makes the plays needed to win games. We'll take that guy over the passer who throws pretty spirals every single day. Hell, Jeff George threw pretty spirals.
 
This week was classic Big Ben. Roethlisberger did virtually nothing again this week ... until it counted. Just like last week, he made all the plays needed with the game on the line, driving the Steelers 92 yards with less than four  minutes to play, before throwing the game-winning score to Santonio Holmes with 43 ticks on the clock.
 
Big Ben completed 7 of 11 passes for 89 yards and a TD on the game-winning drive. And one of the incompletions was an intentional spike.
 
Oh, and he did all that with the game on the line against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense.
 
Bottom line: whether it looks pretty or it doesn't, Big Ben is one of the great winners in the NFL, a guy who makes plays with the game on the line year after year.
 
Loser: The Legend of Walt Coleman
Of course, Big Ben benefitted this week from a controversial call at the end of the game. And, naturally, referee Walt Coleman was in the center of it all.
 
Roethlisberger's game-winning TD toss was initially ruled a 3-yard pass that would have put the ball on the Baltimore 1-yard line. Holmes's feet were clearly in the end zone, though the ball never seemed to cross the plane of the goal line.
 
However, the play was reviewed and the Steelers were awarded a touchdown, despite the fact that the review didn't seem to meet the standards of incontrovertible proof required to change a call.
 
Of course, controversial calls are nothing knew to Coleman. After all Coleman, you might remember, was the official who oversaw the famous tuck rule call in the Snow Bowl in the 2001 playoffs between Oakland and New England, probably the most controversial call in the NFL in the last 25 years.
 
Winner: Tony Sparano
What more do you say? The once-proud Dolphins organization bottomed out last year so completely that we confused it with our company stock-option plan and thought it would take years to come back around.
 
It hasn't. The Miami organization remade itself from stem to stern in the off-season and the result is one of the most rapid turnarounds in league history. The Dolphins guaranteed themselves a winning record with their 14-9 victory over the 49ers Sunday, and need only to win their final two games to capture the AFC East title just one year after finishing a record 15 games out of first place.
 
Sparano has some competition this year, such as Mike Smith in Atlanta, but is clearly a prime candidate for coach of the year.
 
Loser: Dick Jauron
We want to like Dick Jauron. After all, he hails from Swampscott, Massachusetts, which is up in our neck of the woods and has the distinction of being the childhood home of 80s rocker David Lee Roth and famous TV mom Carol Brady.
 
Not only that, he's a bright guy and, it seems, a good man.
 
But he's not a very good coach. The record says it all. Jauron is in his eighth full season as a head coach. He also coached five games in Detroit in 2005.
 
In those eight-plus years, he pieced together just one winning season: he went a somewhat shocking 13-3 with the Bears in 2001 – and was then promptly bounced from the playoffs by the 11-5 Eagles without so much as winning a single playoff game.
 
His record over the rest of his career is 43-72 with zero winning seasons. That's a winning percentage of .374 – and .374 is only good if you're a major league hitter.
 
Jauron is not a major-league hitter – as we learned in painful fashion Sunday when he (or someone under his jurisdiction) made one of the most bone-headed decisions of the season.
 
In fact, that's not even fair – it's an insult to bone-headed decisions everywhere.
 
The Bills led the Jets 27-24 with just over 2 minutes to play and all they had to do is run out the clock on a day when Marshawn Lynch shredded the Jets run defense as if it were Enron accounting records. Instead, somebody put the ball in the hands of the unreliable J.P. Losman – who had thrown three picks, fumbled twice and lost one until that point in the game.
 
You know what happened: Losman fumbled again. Losman lost the ball again. And Losman and the Bills lost the game again. Jets defender Shaun Ellis picked up the ball and rumbled in for the game-winning score, while securing the end of the Jauron Era (and possibly the Losman Era) in Buffalo.
 
Winner: Football fans in Week 16
The penultimate week of the season offers a rare treat: a reason for four of the league's best teams to put it all on the line in a pair of big-time battles that could determine the top seed in both conferences.
 
The hard-charging 11-3 Panthers (winners of three straight) visit the reeling 11-3 Giants (losers of two straight) in a battle of the top two teams in the NFC. The victor captures the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
 
Over in the AFC, the stingy 11-3 Steelers visit the hard-nosed 12-2 Titans in a game that could determine the top seed in that conference.
 
On the undercard, we have an inter-conference Ravens-Cowboys battle Saturday night that will have major playoff implications and a showdown between the top two runners in the NFL as Michael Turner and Falcons head north to play Adrian Peterson and the Vikings in another game that will dramatically impact the playoff picture.
 
Loser: Football fans in Week 15
Let us offer up Week 15 as the worst week of the 2008 season: few compelling match-ups, few exciting games and few major developments on the field.
 
As we pointed out late last week, seven teams had a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week. And as we pointed out earlier Monday, only one team (Pittsburgh) actually delivered on that opportunity.
 
Winner: Bengals
Cincinnati saved itself from ending the year with the worst record in franchise history by virtue of its 20-13 win over the Redskins this week.
 
The victory improved the Bengals to 2-11-1 and ensured that, no matter what happens over the final two weeks, they'll end the season with a better record than the current worst team in franchise history – the 2-14 Bengals of 2002.
 
Loser: Notions of NFC East supremacy
For some reason, the Bengals – probably the worst team in the AFC this year – have saved their best ball for games against the NFC East, heretofore upheld as the toughest division in the NFL this year.
 
The Bengals went toe-to-toe with the mighty Giants in Week 3, before succumbing, 26-23, at the Meadowlands, in a game that took more than 13 minutes of overtime to produce a winner.
 
Two weeks later, the Bengals trailed America's Team just 17-16 in the fourth quarter, before finally falling to the Cowboys, 31-22.
 
In Week 11, the Bengals literally went the distance the Eagles, earning a 13-13 stalemate after five quarters of play, for the first NFL tie in six years.
 
And finally, this week, the Bengals got over the hump against the NFC East, embarrassing a Redskins team that looked playoff worthy just a few weeks ago, 20-13.

Overall, not a bad run for the Bengals: they're 2-11-1 overall, but a not-humiliating 1-2-1 this year against the mighty NFC East, including two games that went into OT.
 
Winner: Hard-working, low-round draft picks
Just days after the death of his father, New England quarterback Matt Cassel put another feather in a cap that's quickly taking on a surprising amount of pigskin plumage. He threw for a personal best four TDs Sunday in a 49-26 win over the Raiders to keep hope alive for the wounded Patriots.
 
Cassel, of course, was one of the last players taken in the 2005 draft (7th round, 230th overall) and had not started a game since high school before Week 2 of this season.
 
The unheralded fourth-round player famously backed up Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, and then mega-star Tom Brady with the Patriots. There are zero reports of him being a bad teammate or whining about playing time, though surely he must have wished for it along the way. But finally given an opportunity, he's gone out and earned himself a big contract to play somewhere next season.
 
Loser: No. 1 picks who hold out as rookies
NFL careers are such precious commodities that you hate to see them go so wrong on so many levels as they have with JaMarcus Russell.

The former LSU quarterback was the top pick in the 2007 draft, landing with a Raiders franchise in the midst of colossal free fall (it's now the first organization in NFL history to lose 11 or more games in six straight seasons). Then he made a huge mistake by holding out for more money his rookie year, and did not step on an Oakland practice field until mid-September – missing two months of work in the most critical stages of development in a quarterback's career.
 
He's shown absolutely nothing so far in his career – barely completing 50 percent of his passes (52.2%) while throwing 11 TD passes and committing 19 turnovers. And, well, we didn't expect much more out of him once he went the holdout route as a rookie.
 
Winner: Individual awards chaos
Year after year, one, two even three players emerge as clear-cut favorites to win NFL MVP honors.
 
In 2004, Peyton Manning emerged with his record 49 TD passes and captured MVP honors. In 2005, Shaun Alexander scored a record 28 TD passes to earn the league's top individual award. His record was surpassed by LaDainian Tomlinson's 31 TDs in 2006, catapulting the San Diego star to the MVP. And last year, Tom Brady did Manning one better with a new record of 50 TD tosses.
 
This year? Hey, it's anyone's guess.
 
Loser: Rookie Matt Ryan's MVP hopes
The Atlanta QB remains a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. In fact, we'd be surprised if he didn't win it, considering his impressive player and the incredible turnaround he's overseen for the Atlanta Fighting Pitbulls.
 
Ryan has played so well that talk has circulated that he might even win league MVP honors – which would put him in elite company: Jim Brown in 1957 was the first and only rookie to claim the title of league's top player. 
 
But his hopes to join that short list took a big blow this week, as Ryan tossed two picks in a 13-10 win over Tampa. Sure, the Falcons still won a tough divisional game, but a rookie would need to play almost perfectly down the stretch to earn the title of league MVP. And, well, Ryan did not play perfectly this week.
 
But he has two games left to make his case. And, in a year where there's no clear-cut MVP, he just may be the one.
 
Speaking of which, that reminds us of a Monkees song. Enjoy.
 
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