In this edition of Seven Points, we discuss the crazy upsets this weekend, the Philadelphia Eagles and a potential playoff run, we explore some bad quarterback spending, what we learned about Tim Tebow and the Broncos offense, how the Green Bay Packers showed a kink in their armor and much much more.
Any Given Sunday
Days like Sunday are what makes the NFL the absolute king of American professional sports. The importance of each game is magnified and the outcomes are anything but certain.
The Kansas City Chiefs made news earlier in the week when they exiled head coach Todd Haley following their fifth defeat in their last six games, a 37-10 thrashing at the hands of the New York Jets. Figuring in an interim head coach in Romeo Crennel, a starting quarterback who has been with the team for a matter of weeks in Kyle Orton and low team morale, a visit from the undefeated Green Bay Packers would be about the last thing the folks in “Barbecue Country” would need.
“That team that came in here was undefeated,” interim coach Romeo Crennel said. “Everybody marked it off as a win for the Green Bay Packers.”
Entering the game as a two-touchdown underdog, the Kansas City Chiefs defense held Aaron Rodgers to his lowest production in over a year (the last time the Packers lost). The all-everything quarterback completed just 17 of 35 throws for 235 yards with one touchdown passing and another rushing. His 80.1 quarterback rating was the lowest of the season by far.
“They had a good game plan. We didn’t throw well, didn’t catch well. You have to give them credit,” Rodgers said following the game.
Kyle Orton, the scapegoat for Denver’s 1-4 start had a renaissance of sorts as he connected on 23 of 31 throws for 299 yards and had a quarterback rating of 104.1. For one afternoon, Kyle Orton was better than Aaron Rodgers.
“That’s about as much fun as I’ve had on a football field,” Orton said following the Chiefs 19-14 upset victory. “You get on the practice field but your teammates really don’t get to know you until you get in that huddle. I thought everybody gelled together, played hard together and got a big win.”
Elsewhere, fresh off their improbable come from behind 37-34 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants were anemic in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins. New York now falls to 7-7 as they trail the Dallas Cowboys by one game in the NFC East.
“They had a lot at stake and obviously we didn’t and I’m pleased the way we played,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said.
The Indianapolis Colts are in the midst of a nightmare season as they entered Sunday’s game with the Tennessee Titans losers of each of their first 13 games. Entering the day Tennessee was just one game out of a playoff spot and they finished the afternoon in the same position after their 27-13 loss to the previously winless Colts.
“It feel great to get one,” Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky who was part of the Lions 0-16 team in 2008 said. “I’m happy for a lot of people in this organization. It’s a lot better than the feeling we’ve had here lately.”
Houston, celebrating their first ever AFC South title last week may have had a championship hangover on Sunday. Welcoming the previously 4-9 Carolina Panthers who were outscored 24-0 in the second half last week, the Texans laid a major egg as they dropped the game, 28-13.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff to learn from, we made a lot of mistakes on the field,” Texans quarterback T.J. Yates who completed 19 of 30 throws for 212 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions said.
Even with the finest crystal ball, few people would’ve expected the Packers, Giants, Titans and Texans who had a combined record of 37-15 to lose to the Chiefs, Redskins, Colts and Panthers respectively, who had a combined mark of 13-39.
Fly Eagles Fly
The Philadelphia Eagles were the champions of the offseason, signing free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and Vince Young as well as trading for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As usual, the offseason title trophy means very little during the season, as the “Dream Team,” labeled by backup quarterback Vince Young limped out to a 1-4 start which eventually turned into 4-8.
Seemingly left for dead with longtime head coach Andy Reid’s job security in major limbo, the Eagles have apparently found their “mojo” over the past two weeks and there’s a very real possibility that they can still win the NFC East.
To put it is simply as possible, here’s what needs to happen for the Eagles to make the playoffs as the NFC East champion:
First, Philadelphia must win their final two games which include a trip to Dallas and then a home date against Washington.
Second, the New York Giants must lose next week to the New York Jets.
Finally, that same Giants team must defeat the Cowboys at home in their season finale on January 1st.
It sounds like somewhat of a long shot, but if the Eagles take care of their own business all they need is a Giants victory against the Cowboys, something they accomplished just last week at Cowboys Stadium. In the event that occurs, the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles would each have 8-8 records and Philadelphia would own the tiebreak with a 5-1 division record.
Three of the biggest transactions of the 2011 season involved quarterbacks and it appears as if all three teams would like to have “a Mulligan.” Before the season, the Philadelphia Eagles inked Michael Vick to a six-year, $100 million contract extension with approximately $40 million guaranteed. One of the most dynamic players in football a season ago was going to get paid regardless, as the team franchised the quarterback thus promising to pay him nearly $20 million in 2011 anyway.
It appears that the Eagles would have been better off rolling the dice with the franchise tag.
Although Vick hasn’t been atrocious this season, it’s difficult to justify his contract. The Eagles quarterback has missed three games and when he’s played he simply hasn’t been elite, or even close. Vick has completed less than 60 percent of his throws while tossing as many interceptions as touchdowns (12). To put it simply, the Philadelphia signal caller has been mediocre and injured, and that doesn’t justify the Eagles investment.
Meanwhile in Buffalo, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick began the season on fire as he led the team to a 4-1 start while throwing for 10 touchdowns. Buffalo decided to commit to Fitzpatrick during the bye week by signing him to a six-year, $59 million extension with approximately $24 million guaranteed.
“He’s played extremely well and there’s no reason to believe he won’t play this well or better for a time to come,” Bills head coach Chan Gailey said of Fitzpatrick after the team’s hot start. “I don’t see any reason that shouldn’t happen.”
Since signing his extension, Fitzpatrick had a solid game in Buffalo’s 23-0 Week 8 victory over Washington, but has gone winless ever since as the team has dropped seven straight. In those seven contests, the Harvard grad has completed just 57 percent of his throws for 1,590 yards with eight touchdowns, 12 interceptions and four fumbles.
“We haven’t played very well, and that starts with me,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve got to get better. That’s the bottom line.”
After Jason Campbell went down for the year with a broken right collarbone, the Oakland Raiders were desperate to salvage a promising season. Sitting with a 4-2 record, Oakland was looking to earn their first trip to the postseason in nearly a decade. With the trade deadline looming, the Raiders pulled off a blockbuster deal, packaging next year’s first-round pick as well as a 2013 second-round pick to the Bengals to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer.
“I know a lot of people think that we mortgaged the future of the organization, but I don’t see it that way,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “I don’t think you ever mortgage away your franchise when you add a big time franchise quarterback to your team. I appreciate what everybody thinks, but I’m really concerned about what we think here and I think we are very comfortable. Number two, 2012 will take care of 2012 when we get there.”
To justify that steep of a price for a veteran quarterback Oakland must have received immediate results. The results they’ve received have been mixed at best. Since acquiring Palmer, the Raiders have a 3-5 record and their starting quarterback hasn’t been good, much less a “big time franchise quarterback” like Jackson iterated. Palmer has completed just over 56 percent of his throws with 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Extrapolated over a complete season, Carson Palmer would currently lead the NFL in picks.
Although the Eagles, Bills and Raiders likely wouldn’t admit it publicly, they’ve invested considerable time and resources in their current quarterbacks and the results have been less than astouding.
The Fallout of Tom vs. Tim
In one of the most anticipated games of the season, the New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos, 41-23. A Tom Brady led, first-place Pats team defeating a solid 8-6 Broncos team shouldn’t be that big of a story, but because of Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow it certainly was as 1,300 press credentials were issued.
The Denver Broncos signal caller is ratings magic, as he is both intriguing and polarizing and when his team has the football it’s must-see television. If you’re a fan of Tebow’s and believe he can do no wrong, you point to his impressive win-loss record and use the mantra, “he just wins games,” regardless of how poorly he plays. If you’re a critic, you point to the poor mechanics and unorthodox style and how things have to fall into place perfectly for the Broncos to win games.
Sunday seemed to be the “detractors day,” as Tebow fumbled the ball twice, failed to complete over 50 percent of his throws and lost 53 yards on four sacks. Most importantly, there was no crazy opponents turnover, boneheaded play or impossibly long field goal to bestow victory upon “The Lord’s Team.”
“We fought but we’re not at the stage where we can overcome minus-3 (turnovers),” Broncos coach John Fox said.
The New England Patriots took care of business as a division champion should, as they battled back from an early deficit to finish the game on a 34-7 run. Tom Brady looked like the Hall of Famer he will become as he completed 23 of 34 throws for 320 yards with three total touchdowns and no turnovers.
During Tim Tebow’s tenure as starting quarterback, the Broncos have played just two teams with legitimate offenses at near full strength in Detroit and New England and the results were a pair of blowout losses. This doesn’t mean that what Denver is doing isn’t a step in the right direction, it just means that their spread-style of offense can’t seem to hang with a legitimate passing offense with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
In today’s NFL, you can only go so far with a strong rushing attack and solid defense. It’s a passing quarterback’s league and Tebow and the Broncos will need to adapt to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Costly Loss For Green Bay
After the Packers 19-14 loss to the Chiefs, the perfect season is now over. The “1” in the loss column may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, as Green Bay still has a two-game lead in the race for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
What Green Bay may have lost when the clock struck all zeros on Sunday is the air of invincibility. Not only have the Packers been perfect this season, they’ve done it without very many close calls. Their offense has been a machine, averaging nearly 36 points per game, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers whose efficiency has been incomparable.
Before Sunday, there was simply no answer for the Green Bay offense. The only thing that could stop them was themselves, and when they needed a score they could go down and get one no matter what the situation.
The Kansas City Chiefs pulled back the curtain Sunday afternoon and may have exposed the emperor for being if not naked, certainly scantily clad. The Packers offense lost Aaron Rodgers most dynamic threat, wide receiver Greg Jennings last week with a sprained knee and they lost a pair of tackles on Sunday, as Brian Bulaga went down with a knee and rookie Derek Sherrod seemingly broke his leg. Without a pair of tackles and their Pro Bowl receiver, the timing of the Green Bay offense was certainly affected.
“Everybody has to deal with it at some point,” left tackle Marshall Newhouse said of the injuries. “We just have to deal with it now.”
It’s unclear how much time Brian Bulaga and Greg Jennings will miss, but if they aren’t 100 percent, the unstoppable Packers offense looks a lot more ordinary than historic. Last year’s Packers team is proof positive that the playoffs are the time you want to be playing your best football. With the injuries and issues that Green Bay has right now, they are playing anything but their best and if they can’t seal the deal with a Super Bowl title, their 13-0 start will have meant nothing at all.
Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 15
The playoff picture is still very cloudy in both the AFC and NFC with some of this weekend’s surprising results. Clearly the biggest winner in the AFC was the New England Patriots who smacked the Denver Broncos, 41-23. With Baltimore and Houston both losing, the 11-3 Patriots have a major leg up on a first-round bye as they hold a one-game advantage over both teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals held on to take care of the St. Louis Rams, 20-13, and with that moved to 8-6 which evened them up with the New York Jets, who were 45-19 losers at Philadelphia.
Despite losing twice to Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers now control their own destiny in terms of not only the AFC North but the entire AFC. If Pittsburgh wins out, they will have a 13-3 record and hold a head-to-head tiebreak over the New England Patriots. It was difficult to imagine just six weeks ago when they lost for the second time to Baltimore that the Steelers would have an opportunity at home field advantage right through to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
Over in the NFC the biggest winners were the Atlanta Falcons, who pasted Jacksonville, 41-14 on Thursday night. With the victory the Falcons moved to 9-5 and with Chicago losing on Sunday, Atlanta now has a two-game advantage in the race for the Wild Card.
The biggest AFC loser has to be the Oakland Raiders. Up by 13 points with five minutes remaining, the Raiders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with their 28-27 loss at home to Detroit. If Oakland could have held on they would’ve pulled into a tie with the Denver Broncos for first place in the AFC West and also would’ve propelled themselves into a tie with the New York Jets for the final Wild Card spot, a team that they own a head-to-head tiebreak over. Now at 7-7, the Raiders need to win out and hope for help to get in as a division champ or a Wild Card.
Holding their destiny for home field advantage in their hands, the Baltimore Ravens saw much of their hard work go up in smoke during Sunday evening’s 34-14 loss to San Diego. At 10-4, Baltimore has an impressive mark but now they could have to make an all too familiar playoff road run from the Wild Card spot unless Pittsburgh slips up down the stretch.
Both New York (they actually play in New Jersey) teams hurt themselves on Sunday as the Giants and Jets lost to the Redskins and Eagles by a combined score of 78-29. The Giants could now be eliminated from the postseason with a loss next week against the Jets and the Jets have now brought teams like Cincinnati, Oakland and Tennessee back into the Wild Card hunt.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees continued his spectacular play in what could be a record setting season as he threw for 412 yards and five touchdowns in Sunday’s 42-20 rout of Minnesota. Brees has thrown for 4,780 yards on the season and he’s on pace (5,462) to obliterate Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 yards in 1984.
“I’m aware that we’re close,” Brees said of Marino’s record. “I just know if we keep doing what we’re doing all of that stuff will take care of itself.”
Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush is quietly having a great second-half of the 2011 season. Bush continued his stellar play as he set a career-best 203 yards rushing in Sunday’s 30-23 victory over the Bills. Bush has averaged nearly 100 yards rushing per game over his last eight games.
“It feels good. It means a lot,” Bush said of his career day. “It means that hey, I’m doing everything that I expect I was going to be doing. It’s not so much as me being surprised that this happened today or that I could rush for 100 yards. It’s more of the fact that this is something I expected.”
The early season duo of Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson was unstoppable as the Lions won their first six games of the season. Since Detroit’s mid-season slide, both Stafford and Johnson’s numbers have come back to earth. On Sunday, Matt Stafford completed 29 of 52 passes for 391 yards with four touchdowns. Calvin Johnson caught nine of those passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
“The disappointing part is their best player, he won the game for them,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “Between the quarterback and Calvin Johnson, 214 yards and two touchdowns, that’s how you lose. It’s very frustrating.”
The Detroit Lions trailed the Oakland Raiders by 13 points with less than five minutes remaining and they left Oakland victorious. Coming back is nothing new for these Lions as they’ve come back from double-digits down four times this season. Detroit could clinch a playoff berth next week with a victory against San Diego or Giants and Bears losses next week.
Bucs Lost Their Way
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the most disappointing teams in football this season. Following their 10-win campaign of 2010, Tampa secured their 10th defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys,31-15 and now have last place occupied all by themselves.
“If you’re not going out and giving everything you have for these last two games, you don’t really deserve to be out there,” Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said. “You’ve got to take some pride in what you’re doing.”
Tampa doesn’t appear to be taking much pride in what they’re doing as they’ve dropped eight straight games and haven’t been competitive in the last three weeks. The Bucs may not publicly say that they’ve quit on their coach and this season but the play on the field speaks volumes. The Tampa defense has become the leakiest unit in football and Josh Freeman has regressed to journeyman standards. The Bucs lead the league in turnovers and are one of the most penalized teams in football.
“Fortunately, for us, the team didn’t die on us like last week,” Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris said after the game, told the Tampa Tribune following the game. “They fought back, they came back in the second half, they didn’t surrender, but they’ve got to come out faster.”
To admit that your team “died” at any point in a season is basically like writing your own pink slip. It’s likely that the pink slip comes for Raheem Morris in about two weeks.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie