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Tag:Chris Johnson
Posted on: January 3, 2011 9:39 pm
 

Headline: Hot Routes 1.3.11: final stats overview

Posted by Andy Benoit



Because nobody cares about the box scores in Week 17, we’ll use this opportunity to take a final look at some of the interesting individual player stats from the 2010 NFL season.
  • Brandon Lloyd wound up leading the league in receiving yards (1,448). Second in receiving was Roddy White (1,389) who, oddly enough, had 38 fewer receptions than Lloyd.
  • Chris Johnson finished with1,364 yards rushing, which ranked seventh in the NFL and left him 1,136 yards shy of his preseason goal.
  • Guess who finished sixth in the NFL in passer rating: Josh Freeman. The Bucs will be a very trendy pick in 2011 – you watch.
  • Tom Brady had 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The last time we saw a ratio this impressive was…well, Tom Brady. In 2007 he threw 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
  • Danny Amendola finished ninth in the NFL in total receptions (85) but averaged just 8.1 yards per catch. The 8.1 yards was easily an all-time low for a wide receiver with at least 60 receptions.
  • DeSean Jackson had a 1,000 yard season despite only 47 receptions. He averaged 22.5 yards per catch (or nearly three Danny Amendola catches per catch).
  • Mike Wallace averaged 21.0 yards per catch and finished fifth in the entire NFL in receiving yards.
  • Devin Hester set an NFL record by averaging 17.1 yards per punt return.
  • DeMarcus Ware wound up leading the NFL in sacks (15.5). Did anyone even know that Ware was in contention for a sack title? His three sacks in the final game against Philly’s backups pushed him ahead of Tamba Hali (14.5 sacks).
  • Ed Reed played in only 10 games but still led the NFL with eight interceptions.
  • The interceptions leader list also tells us that two first-round rookie cornerbacks really lived up: New England’s Devin McCourty (seven picks) and Cleveland’s Joe Haden (six).
  • Miami’s Dan Carpenter, a Pro Bowler in ’08, tied Washington’s Graham Gano for the league-lead in missed field goals (11). Both won Special Teams Player of the Week awards at some point during the season, though.


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Posted on: December 30, 2010 5:31 pm
 

Race for the rushing title

J. Charles (US Presswire)Posted by Andy Benoit

Rushing titles have always been a big deal in the NFL – a bigger deal than any other statistical category, in fact. Why do teams and players care more about a rushing title than other statistical achievements? The guess here is because a rushing title honors seven players: the running back (of course), his fullback/tight end and his five offensive linemen.

As we roll into Week 17, there are three players vying for the top rushing mark: Houston’s Arian Foster (1,436 yards), Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (1,380 yards) and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (1,325 yards).

All three have a known desire to finish No. 1. Gary Kubiak told the media this week that Foster’s rushing title is important to the team. Charles said he wants to play in the Chiefs’ meaningless game against the Raiders because the team is trying to win…and he’s “still trying to get the rushing title”. And we’ll assume that Chris Johnson wants to defend his title because, well, everything Chris Johnson has said the past 12 months seems to indicate that he cares very much about his resume. (Can’t blame him – he’s still looking for that mega contract.)

Charles’ situation is the most interesting of the bunch. If he does get the title, it’s a safe guess he’d be the first player in NFL history to do so as a backup (he’s started six games this season). If he doesn’t play at all, he preserves his 6.4 yards per carry average on the season, which ties Jim Brown’s all-time record.

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Posted on: December 28, 2010 7:36 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2010 7:38 pm
 

Dissecting the Pro Bowl snubs

Posted by Andy Benoit

The NFL has announced the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters. Snubs are an inevitable part of the equation each year. Below are the key names left out, with an explanation for why.
A. Rodgers (US Presswire)

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

A simple case of too much talent at one position in the NFC. Vick, Ryan and Brees all play for teams with better records.


Chris Johnson, RB, Titans

Same story as Rodgers: MJD has been an MVP caliber contributor for the Jags, Arian Foster is the league’s leading rusher and Jamaal Charles is to the Chiefs what Johnson is to the Titans (the only difference is the Chiefs have won this year and the Titans haven’t).


Andrew Whitworth, OT, Bengals

Cincy’s left tackle was the surprise leader in fan voting at his position, but clearly players and coaches did not think as highly of the former guard/right tackle. No surprise – offensive linemen from bad teams generally don’t become first-time Pro Bowlers.


Ben Grubbs, G, Ravens

How in the world does Logan Mankins make it when he’s only played eight games? (Keep in mind, when fan voting closed last week, he had only played seven games). Mankins has been the best guard in football when he’s been on the field, but that hasn’t been often enough this season.


Olin Kreutz, C, Bears / Scott Wells, C, Packers

Kreutz has not been dynamic this season, but the man who got his Pro Bowl slot is Shaun O’Hara. O’Hara has played in just six games. SIX! And the last two weeks have indicated that the Giants are actually worse with him in the lineup New York’s rushing attack was rolling with Rich Seubert at center, but it stalled once O’Hara returned.


Kyle Williams, NT, Bills

A lot of people have been trumpeting the undersized but energetic fifth-year pro, but the harsh reality is you can’t honor any member of a Bills defense that ranks a distant 32nd against the run and 27th in total sacks. And there’s absolutely no arguing that Williams is better than Wilfork, Seymour or Ngata anyway.


Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Falcons

The defensive tackle position in the NFC was a case of a player from a high profile team (Jay Ratliff, Cowboys) getting recognized ahead of a more deserving player from a lower profile team. Babineaux has been a beast for a Falcons defense that relies heavily on big plays from its front four. Ratliff has had his worst season in three years. St. Louis’ Fred Robbins also got snubbed here.


Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs

LaMarr Woodley and Shaun Phillips got snubbed, too. But what are you going to do? We knew there would be this issue with the OLB position in the AFC – there are simply too many stars this year. The Pro Bowlers at this spot, Harrison, Wake and Suggs, are all deserving.


Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Steelers

Steeler coaches said he was the best linebacker on the team this season. The best linebacker in Pittsburgh rarely gets overlooked, especially when the team is a Super Bowl contender. But it’s hard to edge out Ray Lewis. And the AFC’s other ILB, Jerod Mayo, has been spectacular in New England.


Brent Grimes, CB, Falcons

DeAngelo Hall had one amazing second half earlier in the season against the Bears…and that was all it took to get him to Hawaii. Four of Hall’s six picks on the year came in that game. For the rest of the season, when he wasn’t making his two interceptions, Hall was missing tackles and giving up completions in man coverage. Grimes, on the other hand, has been a playmaker (five interceptions) AND a stopper. Heading into Week 16, opponents had completed just 47 percent of passes thrown against Grimes.


Roman Harper, SS, Saints

Harper is the key to many of Gregg Williams’ blitz packages. The NFC’s Pro Bowl strong safety, Adrian Wilson, is a big-name player but very limited cover artist.


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Posted on: December 10, 2010 12:10 am
 

Peyton politely reminds us not to overreact

Posted by Will Brinson

It would nearly have been possible over the last three weeks to forget that Peyton Manning is really, really good. I say nearly because if you turned on the television at any point, that idea was ruined because everyone was screaming about one of the worst stretches in Manning's career.

On Thursday, as he led Indianapolis to a 30-28 win, Peyton reminded everyone exactly who he is and what he does.

Lest you forget, some numbers: Manning's 315-yard game puts him in a tie with Dan Marino for the most 300-yard games in NFL history (63), he crossed the 4,000-yard marker (11th time in his career), and his two touchdown passes gave him 25-plus for the 13th straight season.

He should have had another, but Blair White's, ahem, defense in the middle of the third quarter on a third down would-have-been touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne gave the Titans a little bit of new life.

Asked afterwards what he said to the rookie following the play, Manning laughed it off.

"Like I said, y'all have so many cameras with this coverage and I realize you can't do anything without getting filmed," Manning said. "So I asked [NFL Network sideline reporter] Alex [Flanagan] what I said to Blair and she said she couldn't repeat it."

He was a lot more jovial after the game though, especially because a) Indy's back in the playoff race and b) we don't have to spend the next 10 days talking about the decline of Peyton (Manning claims he doesn't read/listen to stuff, but at some point Tom Moore told him to "keep his head up," so he knew things were bad).

"Hey, nobody likes losing three in a row," Manning said when asked if he was frustrated by the losing. "That's been kind of new to us, that's been kind of foreign territory to us, but it's part of football. "Somebody asked 'Are you in a slump?' and I guess maybe I was, but I'd been on kind of an eight-and-a-half-year hitting streak going into that. It kinda came out of nowhere, but I plan on getting out of it."

Indy's still got work to do, of course, but Thursday night's game -- coming off three straight losses on a short week, no less -- was an example of a different-looking Colts team than we'd gotten used to over the past few weeks.

I kind of thought we got back to being that three-dimensional offense again," Manning said afterwards. "Some first-down runs, some play-actions, some drop-back, we had a good mix and I thought that really got things going for us tonight."

Of course, it's easy to run when the Titans are begging you to do it -- Tennessee declined to put anyone in the box, and Javarris James (17 carries, 49 rushing yards) and Donald Brown (15 carries, 38 yards) were able to establish something resembling a mediocre running game, which is more than you can say for the Colts over the past few weeks.

And aside from White's blunder, the Colts did what they've been doing all season, which is get locked in once they find the red zone and convert drives into touchdowns.

"I just thought we had that good flow," Manning said. "We stayed out of the third and long for the most part. We've been getting in some third and longs, and those are hard to overcome.

"We've been really good in the red zone -- I think we are No. 1 in the red zone, we just haven't been getting down there much. As you can see, it's taken us long drives to get down there, but once we get down there, we get touchdowns."

There are still plenty of issues for Indianapolis to work out, especially on the defensive end. Allowing Kerry Collins to go 28/39 for 244 yards and three touchdowns (even if it some of it was in junk time) and giving up 100 yards to a previously stone-cold CJ2K is indicative of issues that could come into play during the next three weeks as the Colts try and walk down Jacksonville in the AFC South.

They're dealing with injuries too, but at least things are all good on the locker room/team chemistry front.

"If you had told me [White, Tamme, James, etc] were gonna be playing at the beginning of the season, I probably would have said that's not good for us," Manning said when asked who was to blame for the team's losing streak and his rash of picks. "But these guys are learning, and it's my job -- and our job -- to help them. So I think as a veteran, it doesn't do any good to blame anybody else and it's really not about who's fault it is. It's about how you handle it and how you fix it."

And that's the thing -- you can take away Joseph Addai, and you can take away Dallas Clark, and you can take away Bob Sanders (although he hasn't really been there since he signed his contract anyway), and you can take away Austin Collie, and as long as you don't take away Peyton Manning, the Colts are going to have a chance at winning week-in and week-out.

That doesn't make him the 2010 MVP (although you have to imagine he heard everyone crowing about Tom Brady's performance Monday and it boosting him to top dog status), but it does make him, well, Peyton Manning.

Which is something that a lot of people foolishly forgot for the last three weeks.

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Posted on: December 9, 2010 7:55 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2010 8:59 pm
 

Fisher gets candid on VY: 'I haven't seen him'

Posted by Will Brinson

Vince Young's situation with Jeff Fisher (it's not good!) is irrelevant for Titans' football played on the field this year, because Young is on injured reserve.

But it's extremely relevant for next year and Fisher's future as a coach for the remainder of the season (oddly enough, Andy and I discussed this very subject on the podcast Thursday); Bud Adams has made it pretty clear that he wants Young on the team, while Fisher has implied quite strongly that he would prefer Vince not to play for the Titans.

On Thursday, he got extremely candid with Steve Mariucchi of the NFL Network about the situation.

"I don't know," Fisher said when Mooch asked him where Young is at the moment. "I haven't seen him since the Redskins game, since he left the locker room -- left the team in the locker room."

You probably recall that there was some discussion as to Young walking out of the locker room, and then some more discussion as to Young texting Fisher an apology instead of offering a face-to-face mea culpa. That led to the speculation that Young wasn't welcome at the team's facility. Thursday, Fisher confirmed that wasn't true.

"Yes, he's welcome -- he's treated no differently than any other injured reserve player," Fisher said.

However, the technicality of Young being "welcome" may not mean that he's actually welcome, if you know what I am saying.

"My gut feel is the locker room's much better [without him] because of his actions after the game," Fisher said. "There's no excuse for what he did.

"I think to a man most everybody in that locker room would have disagreed with his actions and from that standpoint, he's probably better off not being here. But he is welcome to come back and rehab and be in the meeting rooms and so on."

Fisher also told Mariucchi that he hasn't spoken to Bud Adams about the future with Young -- only that they'd had a discussion about the "franchise quarterback's" thumb surgery and season-ending trip to injured reserve. Mooch ended the segment of the interview by asking a stupendous question: what's the one thing that Fisher would like to change about Young.

"This is not just Vince -- this is most players in general," Fisher responded. "I think it's understanding what it takes to be a pro and the time commitment. It's a privilege to play in the National Football League and it takes work. And there are also going to be ups and downs associated with that and you have to be able to keep those in perspective."

To sum up quickly: Fisher isn't going to be happy if he's trying to live with Young next year, regardless of the fact that Adams clearly thinks the former Texas Longhorn is forever young.

That's obviously not the case, as Young is now 27, without having shown any clear signs of becoming a "pro." And Adams would be wise to note that the Rose Bowl was a really long time ago, and that Matt Leinart (Young's opposition that night) has already moved on. If the Titans' owner was wise, he'd give V.Y. the same fate, instead of potentially losing the longest-tenured current coach in the NFL.

Because if you read between the lines (words?) and you look at the way Fisher's approaching his future (by being extremely candid on-air with just for weeks remaining in 2010), it's pretty clear he'll walk if he has to.

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Posted on: December 9, 2010 2:52 pm
 

NFL Podcast Preview: Titans vs. Colts

Posted by Will Brinson

The Thursday night NFL matchup features the Titans vs. Colts and before the season, this puppy looked pretty sweet, since it features superstar power in Peyton Manning and Chris Johnson. Somewhere along the line, Peyton lost his arm strength and defenses figured him out (just kidding) and Johnson's team forgot he was on the roster (maybe not kidding).

Can Peyton bounce back and find someone other than Reggie Wayne for big yards? Will the Titans be motivated with the possibility of Jeff Fisher leaving? Should Fisher leave if Bud Adams refuses to cut Vince Young loose (random rant No. 2)? Just how handsome is Tom Brady (awkward, random rant No. 1)? Why isn't Brady a bigger star than Peyton? Can the Titans get CJ2K more involved? Will their defense even bother showing up on Thursday?

Andy and I answer all those questions (plus, much, much more) below -- just hit the play button below and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
Posted on: December 8, 2010 9:53 am
 

Chris Johnson unhappy with Titans offensive plan

Posted by Will Brinson

Ahhh, happier times.

What's the old saying -- when it suns it shines? Er, maybe it involves pouring water. Either way, it's raining in Nashville right now, and there aren't many people happy with the way the Titans are playing, which naturally creates some unrest in the locker room.

Go ahead and add Chris Johnson to the list of people who aren't thrilled with the way Tennessee's been playing.

"We are just not running it," Johnson said Tuesday via Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean. "It is easy for a defensive coordinator to stop the run when you are running the ball seven times. We need to stay on the field and execute plays."

Johnson's got a point -- in the last two games, he has 20 carries for 58 yards, which isn't exactly what anyone (Titans coaches, Titans fans, fantasy owners) were expecting when they eyed games against the Texans and Jaguars late in the season. But at least he's not pinning it on everyone else. Wait, he is. But that's a good thing maybe.

"Everybody is doing what they have to do. It is that everybody is not doing what they have to do on every single play," Johnson said. "It is always a different position messing up on each play. So we just have to execute as a whole. It is tough to deal with. But the frustration that comes is not the team stopping the run game, it is ourselves stopping us."

Okay, so that sounds nice (like, in a "we're losing as a team" kind of way) and all, but the truth is that he's pointing straight to the playcalling when it comes to blame for the Titans' woes.

This is awkward for two reasons: first, his offensive coordinator has cancer. This may be why Johnson's comments are toned down a little bit. And secondly, Rusty Smith started one of those games -- you can't run with him under center, because you're trying to cut through 11 guys when you do.

That being said, the Titans get the Colts at home on Thursday and even with Peyton Manning and Co. weakened right now, this is a game that they could easily lose (and by a large margin) if the Titans don't realize that you can run on Indy and feed CJ 20-plus times in order to generate some offense and keep Peyton off the field.

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Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 13

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Panic in IndyP. Manning (US Presswire)

The story here is that this was the top story last week. The Colts lost at home because they couldn’t run the ball against a 3-4 defense (San Diego’s) and Peyton Manning threw four picks, two of them for touchdowns, thanks to a handful of uncharacteristic misreads. No one expected to see a rerun of this disaster, but that’s exactly what Indy produced Sunday.
And so now the Colts, having lost four of five, are 6-6 and on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since Jim Mora’s famous rant. Panic time? Not really.

The Colts still controls their own destiny. Their remaining four games are: @ Tennessee (Thursday night), vs. Jacksonville, @ Oakland and vs. Tennessee. If the Colts win out, they’ll finish 10-6. Even if the currently-first place Jaguars finish 10-6, the Colts would win the tiebreaker because they’d be 4-2 in division games (like Jacksonville) and one game better than the Jags against common opponents.

The Colts are losing primarily because of Manning’s mistakes (both pick-six’s against the Cowboys were his fault). Eleven interceptions have the active legend coming off arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career. But to bet against the Colts would be to bet that Manning continues to blow it. Is that a bet you really want to make?



2.) The AFC’s new best running back

We can thank one guy for giving us a great divisional race in the AFC South this year: Maurice Jones-Drew. On Sunday, not only did Jones-Drew’s Jaguars put away the now also-ran Titans (aka The Team That Allegedly Signed Randy Moss), but Jones-Drew officially catapulted himself ahead of Chris Johnson in running back pecking order of the AFC. M. Jones-Drew (US Presswire)

Jacksonville’s 5’7” bowling ball outrushed Johnson 186-53. The 186 marked a career-high and extended Jones-Drew’s 100-yard streak to five games (another career high). If not for our understandable infatuation with quarterbacks, Jones-Drew would garner serious MVP consideration. It is not a hyperbole to say he has Michael Turner’s tackle-breaking ability, Darren McFadden’s acceleration, Steven Jackson’s vision, Ray Rice’s hands, Frank Gore’s heart and Clinton Portis’ pass-blocking prowess. Because of his often unheralded contributions on third down (blocking, decoy routes, etc.), Jones-Drew means more to the Jaguars offense than any non-quarterback means to any other offense in football.

This has actually been the case the past few years. The difference this season is that Jones-Drew is not doing it utterly alone (at least not lately). Experience has afforded backup running back Rashad Jennings a much better feel for the speed and angles of the pro game, and the youngster is now good for about 40 yards a week off the bench. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has sprouted into a consistent intermediate receiving weapon, which has forced linebackers to worry about more than just Jacksonville’s backfield. And finally, the Jaguars offensive line has gelled as a run-blocking unit, despite a few personnel changes (namely Ebon Britton being out at right tackle and Vince Manuwai moving back to left guard and replacing Justin Smiley).

But take MJD out of the equation and none of the players mentioned above would be thriving. And, thus, neither would the first-place Jaguars.



3.) Running Power

While we’re slurping the ground game, have you noticed the number of lopsided rushing performances we’ve had lately? Take a look at what has transpired the past two weeks.

Week 14:

Jaguars outrush Titans 258-57 and win

Vikings outrush Bills 210-84 and win

Giants outrush Redskins 197-74 and win

Raiders outrush Chargers 251-21 and win

Cowboys outrush Colts 217-40 and win (by the way, it probably would have been fair to Manning if these 217 yards had been mentioned in the opening section about the Colts’ struggles…)

Week 13

Steelers outrush Bills 206-74 and win

Jaguars outrush Giants 207-135 but lose (only 61 yards in second half for Jags)

Vikings outrush Redskins 137-29 and win

Texans outrush Titans 188-24 and win

Dolphins outrush Raiders 186-16 and win

Chiefs outrush Seahawks 270-20 and win

Chargers outrush Colts 129-24 and win

49ers outrush Cardinals 261-13

Jets outrush Bengals 170-46

Don’t mean to pull a Stevie Johnson and go all caps on you here, but LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS!!! Look how many games these past two weeks have been decided by teams that have utterly DOMINATED on the ground. We’re not talking about teams merely establishing the run and controlling tempo – we’re talking about teams outrushing opponents by 125, 180, even 200-plus yards!

Look, it could just be an aberration. Seriously, it could. If we’ve learned anything over the past five seasons or so, it’s that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and that the teams that win are the teams that make plays through the air. Two weeks of startling run statistics don’t overturn five years of rock-solid passing evidence. But these running numbers are certainly something to keep an eye on. We’ll check back on it next week.



4.) The secret favorites of the NFC…?

Sorry Bears fans, this bit isn’t about your team (though for the record, I’ll admit that your team’s offense has figured out its pass protection issues and all the individual offensive players seem to have found their niche in Mike Martz’s system). This bit is about the New York Giants.
B. Jacobs (US Presswire)
The Giants were able to run at will against a Redskins defense that seemed to a.) Have 11 Albert Haynesworths on the field Sunday and b.) Probably missed the services of their actual Albert Haynesworth

The Giants hope to get wideouts Steve Smith (pec) and Hakeem Nicks (lower leg procedure) back in Week 14. Left tackle David Diehl (hamstring) is also nearing a return. All three will be joining a team that is 8-4 and running the ball with tremendous effectiveness. Ahmad Bradshaw got 25 carries Sunday and went over 1,000 yards on the season. And though Brandon Jacobs’ return to a starting role appears to be only titular – Jacobs carried the ball just eight times Sunday – the 265-pound freight train looks reinvigorated. Jacobs produced 103 yards and two scores against Washington; last week he gained 87 yards in a win over Jacksonville.

Jacobs evokes memories of another running back from New York: Shonn Greene in ’09. The Jets elevated the role of their bruising runner late last season and watched the rookie punish defenses that simply couldn’t match his freshness. The Giants appear to be in a position for similar results with Jacobs.

On the other side of the ball, New York’s four-man pass-rush is clicking. Justin Tuck continues to play like an All-World force. Osi Umenyiora has cooled from his torrid early-season pace (Umenyiora’s sack against Washington was his first since Week 6) but rookie Jason Pierre-Paul now fills almost any void. The über-athletic long-armed first-rounder has posted two sacks in back-to-back games.
We know better than to hang our hats on the Giants when expectations are high (Tom Coughlin is never more than two weeks away from a hot seat), but all evidence suggests that this soon-to-be-healthy team is peeking.



5.) Slugfest!

On Saturday night, I was explaining to a friend why American Gangster is my favorite movie of all time. Because of the star-studded cast of characters (Denzel, Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), R rating (which, let’s face it, is a MUST if you’re going to make a veritable gangster movie) and naturally compelling storyline (a true story about innovative Harlem drug dealerB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire) Frank Lucas) I went into that movie with dangerously high expectations. The type of expectations that can only be fulfilled by being surpassed. Remarkably, American Gangster did just that. (How it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture in ’07 is still a mystery.)

The Ravens-Steelers game Sunday night was the American Gangster of NFL games. It was a primetime game that more than lived up. We got the fist fighting chess match we all expected. We got the tight finish driven by big plays. And, like with Denzel and Crowe, the stars showed up.

Ben Roethlisberger’s foot seemed to get healthier as the night unfolded (which is odd because, from what I hear about painkilling shots, they tend to wear off over time). How great was Roethlisberger’s throwaway on first-and-10 late in the fourth quarter when Terrell Suggs had him in the grasp? Almost as great as Cris Collinsworth said it was (which means it was a 9.9/10). Suggs was phenomenal the entire night, once again proving he’s the best playside run-defending OLB in football and impossible for guys like Steelers backup-turned-starting left tackle Jonathan Scott to contain on passing downs.

The Roethlisberger throwaway play was originally made possible by Troy Polamalu’s forced fumble on Joe Flacco. It was Polamalu’s second individual play in the backfield that night (he had an impressive stop on Willie McGahee in the first half) and second consecutive game-changing performance in the closing minutes of a close contest. Polamalu’s late-game brilliance at Buffalo and Baltimore highlight the difference between star and superstar.

Of course, if Joe Flacco doesn’t short-arm the final fourth-and-two pass to Ed Dickson, we might be talking about how Baltimore’s third-year quarterback has orchestrated two game-winning touchdown drives against the vaunted Steeler defense this season. (Think that might have accelerated Flacco’s rise to the top quarterbacking echelon in the court of public opinion?)

Tough loss for the Ravens, though in a game like this, you have to first say “great win for the Steelers.” Before we move on, a few more quick notes from this one:

**Fans can be quick to criticize Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. On Sunday night he was, in a word, awful. But don’t rush to the conclusion that the sixth-year pro can’t play. Overall, McFadden is one of the soundest No. 2 corners in the game. He’s always had trouble regaining his traction when things start to slip – that’s why the Cardinals gladly let him return to Pittsburgh – but that doesn’t mean he slips very often.

**Rashard Mendenhall has been fantastic this season (in this game he became the eighth rusher this season to surpass the 1,000-yard mark) but he needs to be called out for his alligator arms on the pass in the flats where Terrell Suggs was bearing down on him. Those weren’t even alligator arms – they were snake arms. Hard to blame a guy for not wanting to take a shot from Suggs (especially when Suggs, at the time, was bleeding profusely from the mouth and almost literally looking rabid). But Mendenhall will be blamed – did you see Roethlisberger’s reaction to Mendenhall’s snake arms?

**You have to believe that Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL simply because that’s what every single announcer says every single week.

**The Ravens were just 4/13 on third down, but two of those four conversions were on 10-plus-yards-to-go situations on their first half touchdown drive.



6.) Bengals-Saints

Say what you will about Marvin Lewis’ club, but that’s a group that knows how to give. And that group hasn’t just started giving because of the holidays. No, that’s a group that has been giving all season long. Did you see the way they gave the Saints a ninth win on the season Sunday? (By the way, that’s two weeks in a row now that Drew Brees has led a game-winning last second comeback drive on the road. He’s not exactly beating teams known for their mettle and heart, but in the NFL, a win is a win – especially on the road.)
C. Palmer (US Presswire)
One play from this game in particular stood out (think you can probably guess which one). The Saints, trailing by three, had fourth-and-two on Cincy’s seven-yard line with 34 seconds left. They lined up for one of those “try to get the defense to jump offsides” plays in which the defense never jumps offsides. Except this time Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims DID jump offsides. Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, apparently unaware of the federal law prohibiting all players from saying anything real or the least bit honest about an opponent after a game, couldn’t help but talk about the gaffe. "What is that guy doing”, Ellis asked rhetorically. “You have to be smarter than that."

Yup, you do. Otherwise, you put your team behind in a position to fall behind (the Saints followed through on the inevitable by scoring a go-ahead touchdown immediately after Sims’ mistake) and you give your quarterback a chance to make a major error in clock management.

That’s the part of this equation that might get overlooked. After the Saints pulled ahead, Bernard Scott put the Bengals in good field position with a solid kick return. Carson Palmer completed a short pass to fullback Brian Leonard for 14 yards, leaving the ball at New Orleans’ 37. That’s where the Bengals needed to use their final timeout with 13 seconds left (and note to broadcasters worldwide: that would not have been the Bengals “burning” their final timeout; it’s not “burning” a timeout if you’re using it to preserve precious seconds on a final drive). But instead of calling timeout, Palmer tried to line the offense up to spike the ball. It took five seconds before he realized that was a terrible idea.

So the Bengals burned not their final timeout, but rather, five crucial seconds before using their final timeout. Then during the timeout they set up the perfect play to allow Saints safety Roman Harper to blitz clean and end the game with a sack.

All in all, this game was a classic case of one team knowing how to win and another knowing how to lose. And, afterwards, we finally got some postgame gripes from the league’s most targeted wide receiver: “Dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m 46 (years old) or 47, I ball when I’m out there,” Terrell Owens said in a tone that seemed to say don't you understand??? “(Me saying this) is not a distraction. All I want is opportunities…The film don’t lie. The film don’t lie. Watch it. Watch it.”



7.) The story we just can’t shake

It’s not fair – by virtue of them playing the Bills, we were supposed to get a break from all Vikings stories (and thus all Brett Favre stories) this week. Instead, Favre took a nasty blow on the third play of the game, injured his shoulder and didn’t return. There’s probably some complicated-sounding name for whatever injury Favre has. And he’ll probably be questionable for the upcoming Giants game. And now we’ll probably be forced to talk about the streak and the concept of the Vikings building for the future, etc.

What makes this week’s story particularly irritating is that we got to see Tarvaris Jackson play. Whether you like Jackson or not is irrelevant. The problem is that by Jackson playing, we now have actual footage of the young quarterback (who, in his fifth season is not actually young) taking snaps for the 2010 Vikings. This means there is actually something to talk about with Jackson. Which means we’re going to have “Favre or Jackson” debates all week.

We can debate whether Jackson’s three interceptions (including that ugly pick-six to Drayton Florence) are a sign that he’s nowhere near ready to replace Favre or a sign that he’s so ready to replace Favre that, look!, he practically IS Favre. We can hold the same debate about the athleticism Jackson flashed in making sandlot plays to Sidney Rice (two touchdowns).

In the end, we’re still talking about an over-covered 5-7 team that’s all but out of playoff contention. Except now, that 5-7 team is 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier and is technically NOT out of playoff contention. So we might get to talk about Minnesota’s playoff chances, as well. Can’t wait.



8.) How the NFC West will be won

Instead of “how the West will be won”, perhaps a more appropriate headline would be something along the lines of “how one team will technically not lose the West”. Let’s hope the team that doesn’t lose the West is either the Rams or Seahawks. Both of those clubs won on Sunday. The Rams beat Derek Anderson and the hilarious Cardinals (who may now have to hang their hat on rookie quarterback John Skelton moving forward), while the Seahawks swarmed Jimmy Clausen and the putrid Panthers. Both clubs are 6-6.
St. Louis (US Presswire)
The Rams and Seahawks both have a game left against the hapless 49ers (who, by the way, verified in their loss at Green Bay that their quarterback can only throw what he sees and can only make simplified reads like on screen passes or play-action bootlegs). If both teams can beat those Niners, then the worst-case scenario we’d have in the West would be the 7-8 Rams and 7-8 Seahawks squaring off in a “win and you’re in” Week 17 showdown. That would ensure at least a .500 division winner.

But should the Niners beat either the Rams or Seahawks in the next few weeks, we’ll probably get the 7-9, or perhaps even 6-10, division champion that we’re dreading. Then the discussion will be a clash between two sides of common sense. One common sense side will say that a 7-9 team should never be in a tournament in which a 10-6 team is left out. The other common sense side will say that the NFL cannot rewrite its playoff rules on the fly simply because it doesn’t like what those rules produced.

The latter common sense side will win, of course. This entire mess has come about because the league didn’t fix this problem when it had a chance. In 2008, the 8-8 Chargers stole a playoff spot from the 11-5 Patriots by virtue of the Chargers winning the pathetic AFC West. In the ensuing offseason, the league should have decreed that only teams with winning records have their playoff spots guaranteed. (Or, the league could have at least ruled that no .500 or below team gets in the playoffs at the expense of a team that is three games better in the standings).

Instead, the league sat idly by and essentially said, “This scenario doesn’t happen often anyway. And besides, those 8-8 Chargers wound up knocking off the Colts that year, so you can’t say they didn’t deserve it.”

Problem was, those Chargers DIDN’T deserve it. To say they deserved a chance based on their playoff performance is to say that the regular season is basically insignificant. Let’s hope the Rams or Seahawks don’t get a chance to suggest that the regular season is insignificant.



9.) The Chargers may not deserve it now, either

A funny thing happened on San Diego’s way to the postseason Sunday. The Raiders went into Qualcomm Stadium and completed a season sweep of the Chargers. It was a September-esque performance from the Chargers: turnovers early and a few special teams gaffes (Darren Sproles muffed punt, Nate Kaeding missed 50-yard field goal…which probably isn’t a GAFFE, per se, but whatever, it helps the storyline).

If you picked this game corJ. Charles (US Presswire)rectly, then congratulations, you know nothing about pro football. There’s no way anyone could have intelligently predicted the Raiders to win going in. The evidence just wasn’t there. Darren McFadden had rushed for 16 yards on 18 carries the previous two weeks. Facing the league’s top-ranked defense, he gained 97 yards on19 carries. Backup Michael Bush added 95 on 23 carries. Oakland’s unforeseeable rushing success was the difference Sunday.

For San Diego, the loss was their first in 18 December games. They’re now 6-6 and two games back of a Chiefs team that they could have been battling for first place next week.

And say, how about those Chiefs? Three weeks removed from getting tagged for 49 points by the Broncos, Kansas City’s defense holds Josh McDaniels’ men to two field goals. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali renewed his ownership of normally-outstanding offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Unheralded corner Brandon Carr stifled the league’s leading receiver, Brandon Lloyd. (Though he didn’t shut Lloyd out the way Champ Bailey shutout Dwayne Bowe).

On the other side of the ball, Kansas City got more stellar play from Matt Cassel (he’s now up to 23 touchdowns on the season and still has just four picks) and was able to lean on the explosiveness of Jamaal Charles (his 116 yards on 15 carries left him third in the NFL in total rushing on the season leaving Sunday). Worth noting is that a big reason Charles is averaging nearly 95 yards per game on the ground and 6.2 yards per carry (the all-time single season record is 6.4, held by Jim Brown) is because he often enjoys big-play springing edge blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. That fundamental excellence goes a long way towards creating a consistent attack.

We can’t talk about this game without overhyping McDaniels-Todd Haley Handshake II. Haley surprised McDaniels by going in for a full hug after the game. It was the same tactic Bill Belichick pulled on Eric Mangini a few years ago. Annoyed by the media distraction that their icy relationship caused, Belichick used a warm hug to essentially douse cold water on a hot feud. It worked for him and it will probably work for Haley. No one will bring up his relationship with McDaniels again this season. And perhaps not next season, either, as McDaniels, now 5-17 in his last 22 games, may not be around.



10.) Quick Hits

**Falcons kick returner Eric Weems deserves heavy Pro Bowl consideration. His touchdown return against the Bucs was not only spectacular, it changed the tenor of the game. Lat week, Weems had a big return to set up Atlanta’s game-winning drive against the Packers.

**The Bucs-Falcons game was a good one, too. Matt Ryan was his usual cool self late. Josh Freeman continued to flash star potential. And the Bucs as a whole, though once again coming up short against a plus-.500 team, proved that they’re not a fluke. Tampa Bay has improved in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

**The early window games were slim pickings. It was the kind of schedule where I chose what game to watch on my main TV based on what uniforms I thought would look best on the field together. I picked Packers-Niners….only to discover that Green Bay was busting out some hideous blue and brown throwbacks.

**Would you believe that Jeff Fisher’s Titans led the league in presnap penalties coming into Sunday?

**And would you believe that the Saints’ stud right guard, Jahri Evans, leads the league with eight holding penalties?

**Didn’t mention Knowshon Moreno in the Broncos-Chiefs write up above. The second-year running back had by far his best game as a pro (161 yards on 23 carries). His juke moves had the exaggerated effectiveness of the juke moves on the Madden video game from about six or seven years ago.

**I didn’t like Drew Stanton’s touchdown dance. I didn’t like the dance itself (hope it’s okay to say this: it wasn’t a dance designed for white guys) and I didn’t like that he even did it. Quarterbacks pump their fist or spike the ball out of raw emotion all the time (see Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger). But none of them dance. It’s just not kosher – especially when you’re a second-round bust who is serving as a third-stringer on a two-win team.

**Cameron Wake had a big sack on Jake Delhomme late in Miami’s heartbreaking loss against Cleveland. Unfortunately for Wake and the Dolphins, the problem with sacking Delhomme is that it’s the only way to ensure that he doesn’t throw an interception.

**Going back to the Falcons-Bucs game real quick: hopefully for Brent Grimes people were watching this one, because if they were, the athletic and highly underrated Falcons cornerback probably punched his ticket to Hawaii.

**How’s this for salt in the Cardinals fans’ wound: Kurt Warner was in the broadcast booth for the St. Louis-Arizona game.

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