Wednesday, December 14, 2011


As a writer, people often read you’re fiction material and sooner or later someone will come back with some criticism that sounds something like this: ‘no one would ever do that.’  As a writer, you inevitably think to yourself, ‘but they do.’ 

Would anyone have believed what happened in Denver Sunday night if you hadn’t seen it for yourself?  What about in Dallas?  For reasons that are beyond comprehension, players like Marion Barber do run out of bounds with just barely over two minutes left in the game and a lead firm in hand.  Special teams do allow a kick to be blocked right after it was made seconds after a time out was called. 

The NFL is not only larger than life; it’s occasionally larger than fiction.

The MVP of this game might be Special Teams’ Coach Brian Schneider, who had Doug Baldwin, their leading receiver, move in to rush punter Donnie Jones against newly inserted DB Chris Smith.   Baldwin exploded into the backfield untouched and didn’t block the punt so much as nearly swallow it whole.  The ball caromed up into Michael Robinson’s hands and it was 6-0 early on.   As for the Rams, no one will accuse Sam Bradford of ever being soft.  The Rams QB has been hit often and hard, as he was Monday night.  Nice to see Steven Jackson get his fourth touchdown of the season after it appeared Cadillac Williams would vulture one away.  Jackson has long played hard and run with reckless abandon for the hapless Rams.  He’s certainly earned getting to see paydirt once in awhile.

Brandon Jacobs saved his best for last, which was great for my bench tally, but not so good for my fantasy psyche.  Ahmad Bradshaw apparently missed a curfew and found himself sitting the pine well into the second quarter, leaving Jacobs to not only get his share of carries but to plunge into the end zone early in the second quarter.  It was one of two he’d score, not to mention adding 106 yards.  It was Jacobs’ best performance of the year at 5.3 yards per carry and came against the ninth best rushing defense.  Having Bradshaw on your team is a dilemma the likes of which even Sudoku masters might not solve.  Let’s face it, Bradshaw hasn’t been very good this year behind the Giants rebuilt line.  Now he’s borderline healthy, with more foot issues, yet he could easily be the leading ball carrier on that team for the next three games assuming he actually follows the team rules.  Next is Washington, which Bradshaw managed just 44 yards against in the first week of the season.  Meanwhile, with DeMarco Murray going down, Felix Jones did his best to remind everyone why he was considered the heir apparent runner for Dallas.  In his second drive, he almost shook Jason Pierre-Paul out of his shoulder pads, and then accelerated past him before he knew what happened. Tampa Bay. Philadelphia and New York remain on their schedule, which leaves Felix some very good matchups to close out the year.

The Chargers aren’t going quietly into the good night, as it seems to be Norv Turner’s and Philip Rivers’ desire to create a movie-like ending to each year.  Ryan Mathews continues to rush with a purpose, and put up over five yards per carry against the Bills.  Ryan Fitzpatrick managed just 176 yards passing, 116 of which ended up in Steven Johnson’s hands.  The rest seemed to end up in the hands of the Chargers’ defensive backs.  Two interceptions for Fitzpatrick, and one for backup Tyler Thigpen and Buffalo’s playoff season is lost.  C. J. Spiller wasn’t bad until you consider the day Maurice Jones-Drew put up against the Chargers the week prior, or what Willis McGahee did the week before that.  Now, it’s not really fair to compare Spiller to Jones-Drew or McGahee considering what those two guys mean to their respective offenses and their known talents.  However, it does give you an idea of how much Curtis Modkins trusts Spiller at this time. Spiller got just 12 attempts.       

What’s really scary is that the Green Bay defense is forcing turnovers now in key situations.  They may be giving up lots of yards, but they aren’t giving up lots of points.  Since holding Minnesota to seven points in their second meeting of the year, Green Bay has allowed 26, 15, 35 and 16 points respectively.  The 35 spot came from the now NFC East leading Giants.  So besides that game, the Packers have allowed an average of 16 points per game in the other four games against Tampa Bay, Detroit, Oakland and Minnesota.  During that five game span they’ve forced 13 turnovers, including 11 interceptions.  If Green Bay’s defense can make these kind of big plays with this kind of offense, just who in the AFC is going to keep up with them?  As has been his nature in the past, Ryan Grant put up a strong late season game, albeit against Oakland’s lackluster run defense.  It was his first multi-score game since December 2009.  For Oakland fans, if you had questions about who was going to win your division, your last two ducks have answered that question.  It’s the team led by that dude who has taken the NFL by storm.  I’m sure I’ll find his name here somewhere.

The Cardinals are the team that you almost never want to pick against when you’re in a winner’s pool.  They always a pull a couple of games out that you don’t expect them to, and for many viewers this was one of them.  Ironically, it was again John Skelton, who seems to have a “no guts, no glory” attitude about the game.  It gets him into trouble sometimes, but it also allows him to not overthink things.  After fumbling away his third possession while trying to scramble, Skelton tossed a 60-yard strike to Early Doucet on his very next pass.  Then, after the 49ers made it a 19-7 game, the very next drive, Skelton delivered a strike to Larry Fitzgerald to close the gap to 19-14.  I’m not saying he’s the caliber of a starting QB in the NFL….at least not yet.  But when you talk about a project that might be worth developing, Skelton does make an occasional argument he’s one of those.  With Kevin Kolb’s status uncertain for Sunday’s game versus Cleveland, it’s very possible we’ll all get to see Skelton’s development continue.  After all, this was a big game to take from San Francisco.

I can’t explain it.  For sports fans, this is the kind of thing that gets passed down in the oral tradition of football families and creates new religions.  Those who say the Almighty has a hand in it, I laugh and say why?  Those who say the Almighty wouldn’t dare intervene in something as mundane as this, I say why not?  The only issue I take with such statements isn’t for what they mean for the winning team.  It’s what they mean for the losing team.  Are we going to say the Almighty made Marion Barber particularly clueless on this one night?  Maybe Barber’s always been that way, but if Tim Tebow was divined to win for some reason, then Barber was divined to fail.  Nevertheless, Tim Tebow has a heavenly QB rating of 110.4 in the fourth quarter, making him third best in the NFL.  The Denver Post is ranking him as the fifth best quarterback in the league even though is 117 yards per game passing puts him even behind Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert.  No bias there Denver.  However, his 7-1 record makes the point all but inarguable.  Next victim – The Patriots?

Baltimore got a warm-up game (as if they needed one) before they travel West to meet up with the suddenly hot San Diego Chargers.  Not surprising¸ Ray Rice had his second 100-yard rushing performance in a row, and put up his tenth rushing touchdown on the board. The performance put him over the 1,000 yard mark for the third straight year.  However, Rice’s six receptions put him at 62 for the year, one last year’s tally of 63, and only 16 behind his career high of 78 with three games to go.  On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s defense has allowed a total of 26 points in the last three games, and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since their Week 11 game against Cincinnati.  As the Colts attempt to prevent equaling the Detroit Lions 0-16 2008 season, it’s hard to imagine they won’t.  Forget about the offense.  The defense is so injured/terrible it’s hard to believe that if you’re Chris Johnson, you’re not foaming at the mouth after what Ray Rice did on the first drive Sunday.  Facing a fresh Indy defense in the first series, Rice carried the ball five times, tallying 32 of the 40 yards gained on that scoring drive, with only one run under five yards.  The Colts have given up 18 rushing scores, only one better than league worst Tampa Bay.  The only way the Colts compete is if their rushing defense tightens up, prevents Tennessee from gaining easy ground yards and keeps Johnson out of the end zone.  Good luck.

In his second game as Head Coach, Mel Tucker saw his defense score twice, and saw Blaine Gabbert post his second straight game with a QB rating over 70, which for Gabbert is saying something this year.  Maurice Jones-Drew was an animal, scoring four touchdowns, two rushing and two receiving.  It was his biggest output of the year, as well as the week’s best.  Jacksonville caused seven turnovers in the game, by far their biggest output of the season, and this team that was at an even zero in the give/take just became plus-5.  Considering what they pulled on Baltimore earlier in the season, the Atlanta Falcons would be wise to keep their eyes focused straight ahead.  Josh Freeman didn’t exactly appear to be at full strength.  While Freeman has throw interceptions all year, his line of 16-of-30 for 181 yards and six yards per attempt is low for him. 

I had said I had given up on Matt Ryan as a fantasy QB, which naturally meant he’d go and have a season-best day.  Even though he tossed four touchdown strikes, I still don’t love him.  Julio Jones took a 15-yard crossing route 75 yards and Ryan nearly missed a wide-open Roddy White in the end zone.  In other words, a shorter pass went for a big touchdown, and White saved Ryan from himself.  It’s ironic that on my one remaining fantasy playoff team I have Ryan as my backup to Cam Newton, and have a huge decision to make.  It’s nice to see Julio Jones back to full strength which was apparent on that 75 yards slant play.  Once he kicked it into gear there was no one going to catch him, meaning his hamstring is fine.  Much like things were earlier this year, Carolina took a big lead only to have their defense capitulate in the final period.  History does indeed repeat itself.

Just as Miami started to add a glimmer of light to their season the team turned around and gave one up to the Eagles.  Matt Moore, who hadn’t thrown but one interception in the last five games, threw a big one that set up the Eagles for an easy score.  In turn, Moore suffered a concussion, so his status is up in the air this weekend against Buffalo.  Jake Long was lost with a back injury, something the Dolphins offensive line certainly didn’t need, especially now that Reggie Bush recorded his second straight 100-yard game.  Yes, that’s right, Reggie Bush.  I had to triple check that statistic, but I’ve been saying we’re seeing something a lot different from him lately.  Though Miami held LeSean McCoy to just 38 rushing yards and 71 yards total, he scored twice, which was basically the difference in the game.  Miami pressured Michael Vick and overall it was just a few mistakes that changed the game’s outcome.  However, that outcome ended Tony Sparano’s tenure in South Beach.  He’ll be taking his talents somewhere else.  The Dolphins get Buffalo next, and that could mean another good day for Reggie Bush.  Track both Moore’s and Long’s status throughout the week.

I’m still not sure how Detroit played their way out of the mess they were in.  Or maybe it was Minnesota that played themselves out of a win, but I’m certain the play that occurred in the final seconds of the game down on the Detroit one yard line left the referees so baffled they couldn’t pull their penalty flags after DeAndre Levy clearly grabbed Joe Webb’s facemask.  Webb helped lead an improbable comeback after Christian Ponder committed his seventh turnover in two weeks only to have the ball knocked from his hands one yard away from victory.  Percy Harvin now has three straight games with over 100 total yards from scrimmage and four straight with a touchdown.   He has some good matchups including New Orleans 30th ranked secondary, Chicago’s 28th ranked pass defense, and Washington.  If Adrian Peterson remains hobbled, Harvin’s role will continue to be accentuated, no matter what the matchup. 

This game turned out close as I thought it would, and Rex Grossman certainly didn’t disappoint fantasy owners.  The saddest part of the game was that final interception wherein Santana Moss seemed to tip the ball, then throw it almost directly into Jerod Mayo’s hands at the nine yard line.  It wasn’t like Grossman fired a rifle shot into Moss’ hands at close range.  If anything Grossman soft-tossed the ball to avoid the Umpire, and Moss just couldn’t handle it. The big question is why Grossman wouldn’t just fire it out of the end zone at that point, seeing that a defender was draped over Moss’ back.  Of note, Roy Helu had his third straight game with 23-plus carries and over 100 yards rushing.  LB London Fletcher leads the NFL in tackles after another 10 on Sunday.  For the Patriots, Tom Brady threw three touchdowns for the fifth time this year and his first interception in five games. Do I really need to say anything about the record-setting Rob Gronkowski?

Mark Ingram’s turf toe kept him from this game, and the Saints Pierre Thomas and Christopher Ivory averaged just 3.94 yards per carry.  However, Drew Brees, who has struggled on the road, found Marques Colston twice in six minutes in the fourth quarter.  In terms of big plays, Jimmy Graham was absent for his second straight week, clearly announcing that he’s not a full strength.  Jake Locker continues to make my case that the Titans have nothing to lose playing him from this point forward, and considering the Titans post season hopes just faded in the last week or so.  Locker’s only mistake may have been not releasing the football in the final few seconds.  Instead he took a sack, something that with no time left you just can’t do.  Heck, toss the ball straight in the air if you have to.  You’re in the red zone and just yards from winning the game.  Nate Washington became the leading receiver for Tennessee, but keep in mind this took place with Locker at the helm. The only way to know if the receivers will shift significantly in importance will be determined if Locker is the starter next week as well. 

It may indeed be the year of the improbable quarterback.  T.J. Yates not only kept the Texans competitive, he delivered his first 300-yard game and brought the Texans back from a 16-3 deficit.  As predicted, Arian Foster didn’t get nearly the load he did the week prior, but this could have been a result of being down 16-3 in the second half.  Ben Tate led the Texans in rushing yardage, but the problem for Tate again is that he fumbled inside the red zone, something that will ruin a lot of his value in the near future.  Sure, the Texans have clinched their division, but the final three games are games you want to use to carry your momentum into the playoffs.  Andy Dalton was efficient again, but the fact is the Bengals offense failed to finish off drives and was one of three in the red zone. I’m afraid Dalton’s candidacy for ROTY is disappearing faster than Samkon Gado’s NFL career.

Todd Haley received his walking papers this week after the Chiefs were held to three points for the first three quarters of the game.   Tyler Palko completed 50 percent of his passes, and six of those 16 completions went to Dwayne Bowe.   Keep in mind, while Bowe might have been a WR1 in fantasy prior to Palko’s arrival, he hasn’t scored since Week 5.  Bowe should be at best kept as a WR2, understanding the Chiefs are going to struggle to put up points. Dustin Keller led all Jets receivers in targets, which isn’t saying a whole lot considering his target total was five.  Plaxico Burress was held without a catch for only the second time this year.  Shonn Greene scored his fourth touchdown in two weeks and this time added 129 yards to boot.  Up until three weeks ago, Greene had averaged 3.8 yards per carry for the first 11 weeks of the season.  The last three games Greene has average five yards per carry.  Even LaDainian Tomlinson got into the act playing for  just the second time in a month adding  a touchdown reception, his second of the year.  The Jets get Philadelphia next, giving Shonn Greene yet another solid matchup where he could easily put up 100 yards for the third straight game.

There's on old adage that say to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.  Ben Roethlisberger might have taken that a bit too far.  You never really want to see a quarterback's body turned laterally as he still looks downfield to throw, exposing himself to pass rushers from either side.  Well, that's what happened, and the moment I saw the DL Scott Paxson hit him low as another defender got him high, I said season ender.  The fact that he was walking on the sideline at all was amazing.  The fact that he played again, didn't hurt himself more and didn't cost the Steelers a victory may be a miracle bigger than even Tim Tebow can produce.  There's a darn good chance he won't play Monday in San Francisco.  High ankle sprains often need more healing time than a break itself, and once the shoe was removed and he was iced, the swelling was probably extreme.  Right now, Roethlisberger is listed as day-to-day, something that reeks of showmanship so the 49ers have to plan for him.  For Cleveland, Chris Ogbonnaya achieved in two carries what Peyton Hillis couldn’t in ten.  However, don’t go getting too excited though as 28 of his 31 yards came on a third-and-20 concession draw play against a nickel package and he just happened to get the allotted yardage needed to keep the drive alive.  Cleveland isn’t about to abandon Hillis yet, but I am beginning to wonder about Montario Hardesty, who has shown next to nothing.  As for Colt McCoy, the kid has guts and is a competitor, and I wouldn’t throw in the towel on him at all yet.