Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
02 Jan 2012
compiled by Rivers McCown
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Mike Tanier: What about Ken Burroughs and Earl Campbell?
Tom Gower: Earl will actually be on the field today, suiting up for Bud Adams one last time by wearing Chris Johnson's No. 28. Earl plans to go down easily when contact is likely, fail to accelerate through holes, miss holes and cutback lanes, and not to make any cuts on most of his runs. He's reportedly confident nobody will notice the difference. (Allow me to relish the idea, however briefly, that the Titans won't pay Johnson eight figures to do more of the same in 2012.)
Rivers McCown: Ken Burroughs is a little before my time, but I'm confident he could probably outplay Bryant Johnson right now. I'd give him a fourth-quarter look.
Tom Gower: The Titans start off looking OK with some empty backfield, no-huddle offense, but stall out at midfield. They pin the Texans deep, then push them back deeper with a sack on the first play, but T.J. Yates has his first third-and-long conversion in about three weeks, and the game quickly turns into the last Texans-Titans match. Inside zone, outside zone, inside zone, outside zone, some bootleg action, and cap it off with a touchdown.
Rivers McCown: I used up all the booze last night. That was a mistake.
Tom Gower: After punting on fourth-and-4 from the Texans 41 the first drive, Mike Munchak, down 7-0, elects to take the field goal from the Houston 3. I try to avoid talking about these "I'd like to see coaches go for it, but am unsurprised when any coach takes the non-aggressive option" calls in Audibles, but I'm guessing Yates and (now especially) Delhomme give Munchak the idea he could win a game without taking any risks and, well, we saw how that worked out for Gary Kubiak last week. Kubiak's team even had the early touchdown.
Mike Tanier: Damn, my phone is malfunctioning while Delhomme is playing. This is torture. I cannot comment without extreme difficulty.
By the way, this is no joke: my phone really does lock up whenever I try to Tweet Jake D.'s name. Am I over some lifetime limit?
Rivers McCown: We all are when it comes to Delhomme.
Tom Gower: Delhomme gets strip-sacked while holding the ball with two hands. Jared Cook is somehow open in the middle against what looked like the most obvious two-man coverage I've seen since I went to the Titans game in Indy in 2006 and Jim Schwartz unveiled the "line up both safeties 15 yards off the line of scrimmage all day" coverage. In this game, Houston is approximately that vanilla.
The Texans are gradually pulling as many of their starters as they can, and are running something closer to their normal defense with the backups. James Casey, a tight end playing fullback, is getting a lot of reps. He hasn't gotten much work in the passing game for most of the season, but could be a weapon in the postseason. Forcing teams to pay attention to him should help the rest of the offense.
Watching your team's first-string struggle to get an edge against another team's backups is kind of depressing. At least in Indy in 2007 I knew the Titans were win-and-in, and they pulled it out. Now, they need a lot of help.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, the ultimate example of that was in the final week of 2004. The Bills were something like third in DVOA, 9-6, and needed to win to get into the playoffs. The Steelers sat many of their starters, with Tommy Maddox at quarterback and a guy nobody had ever heard of named Willie Parker at running back. The defense stopped the Steelers in the red zone five times, but Drew Bledsoe choked and the Steelers won 29-24.
Mike Tanier: I guess the Texans preferred a loss to overtime.
Rivers McCown: You'll never convince me that the Texans wanted to win this game.
Mike Tanier: The Texans had no great interest in winning. When there was a false start on the two-point conversion, and they still went for two from the seven-yard line, that was the giveaway. If Delhomme (at my computer now!) wasn't enough of a giveaway.
Mike Tanier: I think the Jets have found a new quarterback: Jeremy Kerley. He just threw their best pass of the last two weeks.
Robert Weintraub: The Fish get stuffed inside the 1 twice in a row. On third down, they go empty, which has me yelling "No, no!" at the screen. Sure enough, Matt Moore is chased to his left, seems like a throwaway and fourth down is imminent. But no! He finds Charles Clay near the pylon for the go-ahead score. Great call!
Rivers McCown: It drives me crazy when the Texans go empty. Of course, part of that is because the threat of a run is a much bigger deal for them than Miami sans Reggie Bush. But when the game-winning T.J. Yates throw against Cincy a couple of weeks ago came in that formation, my mind followed your exact mental process.
Robert Weintraub: Irony alert -- Jason Taylor blows around D'Brickashaw Ferguson and forces a Mark Sanchez fumble/half-throw that is picked off by Miami. Randy Starks is headed in for a score,but trips over the 30-yard line
Jets down six with seven minutes left, Sanchez has been abominable. Any doubt he's going down the field to score and keep the Jets playoff hopes alive? I have none myself.
Sanchez throws a killer interception inside the 10-yard line, and he hustles downfield to make the tackle. Dan Dierdorf chooses to laud him for that aspect of the play, rather than discussing, you know, the pick.
Mike Tanier: When your playoff hopes rest on both Mark Sanchez and Jake D. playing well, this is what happens.
So Starks, who has two picks, bats a ball in the air, and a Jets lineman catches it, but he fumbles, and Jason Taylor runs it back for a touchdown. You can't embellish material like that.
Robert Weintraub: Yeah, but it looks like replay might overturn the Taylor touchdown, since the Jets lineman was down by contact. That's after an enormous dogpile on Taylor and a huge celebration. Buzz. Kill.
Mike Tanier: The Taylor fumble was ruled a complete pass to Matt Slauson or something. I stand behind my initial bemusement.
Robert Weintraub: I stand behind my insistence that the Jets are going to pull this out. Touchdown pass after the Taylor non-TD, 19-17, onside kick coming.
Robert Weintraub: I think we should all thank Miami for beating the Jets, thus preventing the hue and cry from the New York media after it turns out the Jets would have been eliminated by the Titans thanks to Houston throwing the game at the end there. I can live without a week of ESPN/talk radio "should the rules be changed to prevent that" nonsense, thank you very much.
Rivers McCown: As a Cincy fan, I trust you're well-versed on who the bridesmaid in that 2009 surrender on Sunday Night Football was.
To which I would say "win some more games and there will be no problems." But yes, for the best that we were spared that.
Mike Tanier: The NFL delivered the goods, though. So much got decided after 7 p.m. in Week 17.
Sean McCormick: I'm pretty sure the hue and cry in New York is going to be strictly limited to the continued employment of one Brian Schottenheimer.
Mike Tanier: Even the Jersey Jets fans want B-Schott gone. And they probably have a point.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are playing Devin McCourty at safety in their substitute package. I wonder: Is that because of their roster problems at safety, or because of the problems McCourty has had at cornerback this year?
Mike Tanier: Check out the Bills converting fourth-and-4 early in the game, then scoring two plays later!
Aaron Schatz: They also had a fake punt on the drive before this. They're playing ballsy, which is how you should play when you have nothing to lose.
The Patriots are down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. The defense has been horrendous, and the offense somehow can't get the ball moving against a bad Buffalo defense. For the second straight week, the home crowd is booing a 12-3 team.
The Patriots offense wakes up in second quarter, with two big drives to make it 21-14. The Bills offense was still doing well, but just had a couple of off-target throws from Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also didn't convert on fourth-and-12 from the Pats 36, so they didn't score.
On the third Pats drive, the Pats are moving the ball nicely, then Tom Brady throws slightly behind Wes Welker, the ball is tipped in the air, and is intercepted by Nick Barnett. On the interception return, the officials flag Drayton Florence for "driving the QB into the ground." It was hardly a big hit, and besides, I thought the quarterback was just another player after a turnover? I don't think Brady gets special calls, but I know some people do, and this call would be pretty good evidence of that.
Tom Gower: I didn't see the hit, but quarterbacks do get extra protection on returns against particularly rough hits. Just so defensive players can't use a turnover return as an excuse to crush them.
Robert Weintraub: Brady is stopped at the goal line on a scramble, and as the pile unfolds, a Pats lineman gives a little shove to Florence to move him away. Florence launches himself like he was clocked by George Foreman in his prime, trying to draw a flag. And they say soccer players are divers!
Aaron Schatz: The Pats go ahead 28-21. They have 28 unanswered points since the Bills went up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. It helps that Chan Gailey is punishing Stevie Johnson for getting an unsportsmanlike celebration penalty after a touchdown, and has benched him ever since. Brady isn't at his best, he doesn't quite seem on the same page with Welker on option routes, Rob Gronkowski had a big drop ... and it doesn't matter, they just keep scoring.
Vince Verhei: Oh, great. Obnoxious Bob Costas video essay alert. I guess showing a wacky message on a t-shirt is hurting your team, but benching your most dangerous weapon isn't.
And on that note, since this is not Stevie Johnson's first transgression: If you're Chan Gailey and you're going to punish him, why are you waiting until Week 17?
Danny Tuccitto: San Francisco's six-minute opening drive ends in a missed field goal. One of the things I was interested to see going into this one was how Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman would adjust their deceptive bread-and-butter formations and plays without the two guys (Ted Ginn and Delanie Walker) who make most of it possible. Their answer: On second-and-9 right before David Akers' missed field goal, they run a counter toss to Kendall Hunter after jet sweep action by -- wait for it -- rookie safety Colin Jones. It went for a successful six-yard gain, but I'm not sure that fake would work against better run defenses.
Vince Verhei: So, this has nothing to do with with today's game, but I just noticed how remarkably bad the Rams have been passing inside the 10 this season and had to share:
Sam Bradford: 0-for-9 with an interception, plus one sack and one intentional grounding.
A.J. Feely: 1-for-5 with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd in Week 8.
That's one touchdown in 16 passes inside the 10. League average is about 31 percent, by the way.
Danny Tuccitto: Michael Crabtree had to feel like he was back at Texas Tech on the 49ers' second touchdown drive. The Niners got the ball in Rams territory after intercepting a Steven Jackson (yes, Steven Jackson) pass. The first-down play is a bubble screen left to Crabtree that goes for six yards. and the second-down play is a quick hitch right to Crabtree, which ends in a touchdown after he breaks a Josh Gordy tackle. I really can't remember the 49ers using him in this way since he's been in the league, so maybe it's a sign of things to come.
Rivers McCown: The Rams certainly do resemble a Big 12 defense at times.
Danny Tuccitto: St. Louis, you're 2-13, down 20-7 with 10 seconds left in the first half, and have fourth-and-1 at your 43-yard line. Why are you punting?
J.J. Cooper: Because Andrew Luck is the No. 1 pick ... best explanation, right?
Danny Tuccitto: The more I focus my eyes on the 49ers offensive line, the more I wonder when Mike Iupati is going to start blocking the correct rusher when opponents bring an inside blitz. There have been at least four games I've seen -- including this one -- where teams have forced him into a decision, and the result has been an untouched rusher (or two) in almost every instance. I'll never be mistaken for an offensive lineman, but, I mean, how much time does it take to learn the proper execution here? If it's obvious to an outsider, then Mike Solari and company must be actively trying to do something about it during the week. Ben, any help here?
Regardless, if I'm a San Francisco opponent in the playoffs, I try to exploit this as much as possible.
Robert Weintraub: The sleeper play! The Niners line up in a field goal formation, but it's a direct snap to Akers, who throws a rope to Crabtree all alone over by the sideline.
Since Crabtree played on third down, he doesn't have to come inside the numbers on the next down. He just milled over by the sideline until the snap, and St. Louis completely ignored him.
Danny Tuccitto: The reason why San Francisco only dresses two quarterbacks on gameday: David Akers.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if my response is "why would you waste that play in the last game of the regular season instead of saving it for the playoffs?" or "wow, now they've made every team they play in the playoffs think about a fake instead of committing all-out to blocking the field goal."
Robert Weintraub: Probably "only the Rams would fall for that play so let's go ahead and use it."
Danny Tuccitto: For those not watching 49ers-Rams, infer nothing from the score being 34-27 with five minutes left or the Rams scoring 14 points in 30seconds to pull within seven.
The first touchdown was an absolute duck from Kellen Clemens, which hung in the air so long that Donte Whitner mistimed his jump on an easy pass defense. Then after recovering an onside kick, Clemens throws up another duck, this time drawing a phantom defensive pass interference on Tarell Brown, which put the ball at the 1.
Aaron Schatz; Yeah, I saw that play on Red Zone and I thought that Lloyd pushed off just as much as Brown interfered with him.
Danny Tuccitto: Tom Brandstater sighting in St. Louis!
The last five minutes of this got me thinking about something stats-related, so allow me to digress from the usual Audibles analysis for a moment.
Most stat-savvy football analysts -- ourselves included, obviously -- cite a team's record in close games as a luck factor that's predictive of next season's record per regression/progression toward .500. Games like this one always make me call some of the wisdom behind it into question. Yes, the 49ers won by only seven, but to chalk this game up in any way to luck misses the fact that it was really never in doubt. If anything, the Rams getting lucky (e.g., recovering an expected onside kick, chuck-and-pray pass interference) is what made the win only a seven point margin to begin with.
Now, even without this win, the 49ers still went 4-1 in games decided by seven points or less, and at least one of those wins -- the one over Philadelphia -- was basically a lucky-bounce-of-a-fumbled-ball proposition. So, I'm not saying close-game-record is meaningless. It's just that I wonder whether there isn't some way to improve its predictability by not missing the trees for the forest. It's a nice summary statistic, but the devil here is in the details. A game where San Francisco -- or any team for that matter -- dominates the entire way, and there's only about five of the final 38 minutes during which the game is "close," just doesn't seem to me like it has any kind of indication about how lucky or unlucky a team was that day.
Maybe this kind of thing can be adjusted for the number of game minutes that the game's close? Any thoughts? Ideas?
Mike Tanier: I think most of us use close games as shorthand, in conjunction with DVOA and other stats. I would never suggest that going 4-1 or 1-4 in close games is pure luck when I am carefully outlining points. But put me on a talk show where I have 20 seconds, and I have to explain why some team isn't projected to build on a great year, I might lead with "they were 4-1 in close games," then try to backfill more detail.
If I am arguing from the "close wins" standpoint in something like an FOA chapter, I always make sure I piece through the wins at the Gamebook or NFL Rewind level to separate true "bad bounce" games from games where the score just wound up close.
Tom Gower: Talking about close wins is also a good way of talking about a team's Pythagorean record without using the term "Pythagorean record."
Danny Tuccitto: I suppose as long as close-game record is used as a talking point rather than an input into a statistical model, then I'm 100 percent on the bandwagon. From a statistical model perspective, it just seems noisy to me.
Mike Tanier: Great Panthers drive ends with an end zone interception. I'm gonna miss the Panthers. They are throwing the kitchen sink at opponents right up to the end.
The Saints appear shocked every time DeAngelo Williams takes a shotgun handoff or runs off a direct snap. He is gouging them over and over.
Aaron Schatz: I haven't run any projection stuff for 2012 or anything like that, but man, do I like the Panthers for next season. The defense has got to be better, and you have to figure that Cam Newton improves some more with a full offseason.
Robert Weintraub: Jimmy Graham is just amazing. He makes a spectacular one-hand catch while fending off a defender, then breaks the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season set by Kellen Winslow. With a touchdown grab, no less. If you could have him or Rob Gronkowski, who you got?
Aaron Schatz: Gronk is Jason Witten, Graham is Antonio Gates. Except that Gronk is an even better receiver than Witten was at his peak, and Graham isn't quite as good as Gates in his best years. Gronk is the best tight end in the game right now.
Rivers McCown: Man, I dunno. I'm not taking anything away from Gronkowski, who has been excellent, but Graham's sheer athletic ability makes me lean his way.
Mike Tanier: I want a complete tight end like Howard Cross, not one of these beefed-up receivers.
Robert Weintraub: Bob Trumpy is still the ideal.
Mike Tanier: Graham Gano just had his fifth field goal of the year blocked. I love the Redskins.
Vince Verhei: Joe Webb is in for an injured Christian Ponder (yes, again). On one play, he breaks like a half-dozen tackles before eventually being sacked. It leads to a field-goal try, which is blocked by Julius Peppers. That's the 11th blocked kick of Peppers' career. He's really stretching the limits of that being a "non-predictable" event.
Vince Verhei: Down 17-16, Titus Young for the Lions appears to catch a go-ahead touchdown, just scraping his second foot down in the end zone. However, the play is ruled incomplete. It would almost certainly be overturned by a replay challenge, but Detroit has already lost a challenge this half -- and the referees have been poor enough that they need all of them they can get. Jim Schwartz has no recourse but to melt down, tossing his headset violently. It's still tethered to his waist, so it orbits him like a satellite. He finally calls timeout to curse the refs out and beg for a review. He doesn't get it. The Lions get a field goal to go ahead, but I'd expect this moment to lead to a rule change this offseason.
Mike Tanier: They call that "headset karma."
Tom Gower: Idea that will never get implemented: head coaches should be permitted to "borrow" from second-half timeouts for first-half challenges for which they're out of timeouts. If they lose the challenge, they start the second half with two (or possibly even one!) timeouts.
Robert Weintraub: The major loophole in the replay rule is that all scoring plays are replayed automatically, but a should-be score that is ruled incomplete, or short of the end zone, or whatever, is not. So if Young was called in, it would have been reviewed, but as he was called out, it wasn't. Absurd.
Jason Hanson just missed for the first time in 30 kicks. It was headed right down the middle, then took a hard right, like it was hit by a Scud missile (which were in the headlines around the time Hanson started kicking). The Lions are having some ill luck, which could put them in the Superdome next weekend.
Also -- this game may not see halftime until 3 p.m. EST. Endless first half.
Vince Verhei: Yeah, Green Bay is up 24-19 at halftime, but it's been based on a lot of luck. In addition to Young's non-touchdown, the Lions have dropped a couple of other big touchdown passes, Hanson missed a kick, and about a quarter of Green Bay's yardage has come on one play (80-yard screen pass to Ryan Grant). It definitely feels like Detroit has been the better team today. Except on the scoreboard.
I'm enjoying the Alamo Bowl tribute act the Lions and Packers are performing in Green Bay.
Robert Weintraub: Seeing the snow flurries in Green Bay makes me realize that this has been a season almost totally unaffected by bad weather games, save for windy ones. Am I missing a snow game someplace?
Danny Tuccitto: Late last night, NFL Network reran their top-10 quarterback duels -- don't ask why I was watching it instead of drinking. If/when they ever redo the list, is Matt Flynn vs. Matthew Stafford 2011 on it? Ironically, does it supplant Dickey-Theismann near the top?
Robert Weintraub: Maurice Jones-Drew rips off a 56-yard run to essentially ice the rushing title. For the worst offense in the league.
Aaron Schatz: "This game is still based around running the ball and stopping the run." Heh.
Robert Weintraub: Not only do the Ravens take an early lead on a long run, but this unnamed sports bar I am at still hasn't changed the Steelers off the TV that I'm watching. The only thing worse than losing is not being able to see it happen -- I think. Belated existential question alert.
Meanwhile, I'm staring at another screen that reads "We hope you have enjoyed this season of Sunday Ticket. We'll see you again next season." Which is so depressing in so many ways.
Just saw the Ray Rice 70-yard run for the first time. Marshal Yanda, who was supposed to be doubtful, gets out to the second level and clears Rey Maualuga out. Someone else inside can't quite disengage his blocker, and it's six.
Cincy can't move it on the ground at all, and only underneath stuff is open through the air. Even when the Bengals block a punt, it caroms forward for 30 yards instead of tilting the field.
Rivers McCown: So of the five teams competing for the last two slots in the AFC, one barely beat Jake Delhomme and a team that was so hellbent on winning that they used tight end Garrett Graham at linebacker for the last series. The other four are all losing (or already lost) as of halftime in the afternoon games. Yikes.
Robert Weintraub: Cincy runs a nice scheme to free Bernard Scott on a pattern right down the middle, and of course he drops it. He does make up for it by taking a zone-read-looking play to the house, bouncing it outside and cutting back in a way Cedric Benson cannot. 17-10 Ravens.
It was set up by a punt return gaffe by Baltimore, and they started their last drive at the 10 or so. That's why that killed-punt-at-the-one-that-wasn't late in the first half was so damaging.
Mike Tanier: Fumbled screen pass, Bengals.
Robert Weintraub: Rice runs for a 50-yard touchdown. Game over. Bengals need the Chiefs or Chargers to hold on. Great lead block on Maualuga on the play.
The Ravens offensive line has been the difference in this one. They've been outstanding and decisive in a slugging match up front.
I like the symmetry. Cincy goes 9-7: 9-0 versus non-playoff teams, 0-7 versus playoff teams. Still, at Houston is a wild card game I'll take -- should have beaten them a couple of weeks ago.
Rivers McCown: The Bengals were definitely the team I least wanted to see the Texans draw, but all things considered, not an opponent that instills a lot of fear into me. If the Texans can correct the pitiful run defense they showed in Cincy to the semi-respectable level they played most of the year at, that would be a good start towards a win.
Robert Weintraub: One likely outcome of Cincy and Houston -- it won't be aesthetically pleasing.
Robert Weintraub: Big moment for the Falcons, as Matthew Stafford is intercepted to end the game. This place erupted when that happened, in the knowledge that now the Falcons will get the NFC East winner and avoid round three with their bete noires, the Saints.
Mike Tanier: What in the heck is going on in Atlanta? It is 35-0 early in the second quarter. I know the Bucs packed it in a month ago, but are they even setting foot on the field at this point?
Robert Weintraub: Two Tampa Bay receivers slam into one another as the ball arrives, it goes right to Curtis Lofton for the gift pick-six. 35-0 Falcs.
According to Wikipedia, the Packers scored 49 in the first half in 1983 against, wait for it, the Bucs.
Right now, it's 42-0 with more than six minutes left.
Rivers McCown: Obviously Albert Haynesworth isn't losing games for the Bucs all by himself, as the before/after record some reporters are spreading would have you believe. However, there is a distinct correlation between him being on the team and the amount of quit the Bucs have showed, no?
Vince Verhei: Patrick Peterson busts loose and appears headed for a record fifth punt return touchdown, but Jon Ryan just barely gets enough pressure on Peterson's legs as he passes by to bring him down.
Tom Gower: I like to think Larry Fitzgerald saved that one-handed catch for when he knew all the other games before Giants-Cowboys were over so we all could appreciate just how good he is.
Vince Verhei: This game was only close because of two somewhat fluky second-half plays: an interception with a long return by Richard Sherman, and a long tip drill touchdown to Ricardo Lockette. The Seahawks offense missing three starting linemen and both starting receivers is not pretty to watch.
That said, I'm not convinced this team needs to move heaven and earth to grab a quarterback for next year. Especially with Matt Barkley going back to school, the price for a new quarterback would be steep, steep, steep. I think I'd rather see them follow San Francisco's model, grab a pass rusher, and cross their fingers that that Tarvaris Jackson can continue to improve.
Aaron Schatz: Anybody watching this one? Is Ben Roethlisberger clearly playing hurt, is that why the Steelers are losing?
Robert Weintraub: I've only glanced here and there, but I think it's as much about a good Cleveland defensive game plan as anything. Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor controlled the first matchup inside, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case again.
Mike Tanier: Big Ben looks bad for the most part. He is not following through, and not getting much zip. He just led a fine drive to the red zone with the help of a "stuck to the helmet" catch by Antonio Brown.
The Browns are their usual selves. I think one of their field goal drives was set up by a long scramble.
I should also point out that it is windy and rainy in Cleveland.
Aaron Schatz: Surprisingly, the Chiefs seem to be picking on Champ Bailey early. I thought it was just because he was covering Dwayne Bowe, but then they threw a deep pass to Jonathan Baldwin when Bailey was covering him.
This Broncos-Chiefs game is remarkably conservative. Broncos punt rather than go for a 57-yard field goal from the Kansas City 39, because they don't want to have KC get it back at the 47 with 22 seconds left if they miss it.
Tim Tebow just doesn't understand the concept of "you can't get sacked when it will knock you out of field-goal range."
Robert Weintraub: God bless you, Kyle Orton. Or KC defense, more accurately.
Aaron Schatz: No Tebow time today. Tebow gets the ball back with 3:59 left, and leads a three-and-out following an illegal contact penalty on our old friend Sabby Piscitelli. Then KC runs three times, punts. Tebow has the ball with 1:00 left and no timeouts. He gets a gift roughing the passer call, but can't do anything else, and throws a pick on fourth-and-2.
I wish I had more comments about this game but it was a lot of running, and I'm not someone who is very good at breaking down offensive line play, especially when watching live. The Broncos running game seemed good, but they couldn't get any extended drives out of it, maybe a first down, maybe two before Tebow would be stuck trying to throw on third down. And he was dismal, just horrendous, 6-for-22 for 60 yards. The Chiefs were covering guys closely, so Tebow would hold onto the ball seemingly forever, and when he did throw it, it was inaccurate. The Broncos had these long, long drives where they seemingly moved the ball four yards at a time before running out of gas. For example, in the third quarter, they had a drive with 11 plays (including penalties) but only went 34 yards in 5:19.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs had no offense either after the first quarter. It was just tons of three-and-outs without Dwayne Bowe on the field.
Vince Verhei: If I were to summarize the 2011 season in one fact, it would be this: the Tennessee Titans, who lost to Jacksonville and Indianapolis, were officially eliminated from the playoffs when Kansas City, a non-playoff team, beat Denver, who will probably make the postseason anyway.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, if I were to summarize the 2011 season in one fact, I think this one would be better: There were more 5,000-yard passing seasons in 2011 than in all of NFL history combined through 2010.
Rivers McCown: These two teams are wondering what are these passing yards of which you speak.
Tom Gower: Players spotted in man coverage on Antonio Gates today: Mike Michell, Kamerion Wimbley, Tyvon Branch. Players spotting successfully covering Antonio Gates today: None that I've noticed. Chargers up 14-7.
I like the way that Darrius Heyward-Bey has developed into a useful NFL wide receiver after looking like a tremendous bust earlier in his career, but damn if the man doesn't need better hands. He was fortunate that his early touchdown stood when he juggled the ball, and he's had what feels like four or five other passes today that he could've caught but hasn't. Frustrating.
Gut feeling that will probably be completely wrong: the Raiders feel like a team that has a great chance of blowing themselves up next year. All these penalties are the sign of an undisciplined team, and Hue Jackson's occasional boldness is too often interspersed with conservatism. That makes me think he's making decisions more by gut instinct than any sort of idea of optimal decision-making.
Just a gut feeling, don't trust it, but I've had it for a couple weeks and can't shake it. This year is still alive, though, after Nick Novak misses a field goal to keep it at 31-19 and a big DHB completion puts the Raiders in field goal range with 10 to play.
Rivers McCown: Carson Palmer gets picked in a two-score game with under five minutes left, essentially wrapping up the game.
So, how much are the Steelers favored by in Denver next week?
Aaron Schatz: Both teams bringing the heavy pressure early.
Mike Tanier: Watch a lot of the Ryan brothers and you will ask "what is the safety doing?" pretty often. The answer in dear old dad's day was "the safety is slamming headfirst into the quarterback's knee, three seconds late and five yards out of bounds."
Aaron Schatz: Well, they showed the all-22, and Cris Collinsworth said the issue was that the blitz had Sensabaugh in man coverage. Except, with Terence Newman covering Cruz, and Michael Jenkins covering whoever was the other Giants receiver on that side, I can't figure out who Sensabaugh was supposed to have man coverage on. So you ended up with two guys covering Cruz man, and both of them were behind him with nobody in front.
Mike Tanier: It was man coverage, with no deep safety. Sensabaugh has the tight end, Bear Pascoe, in man coverage. Sean Lee has the back. The Giants have a seven-man protection, with the tight end and back blocking. Sensabaugh reads the flat route by Cruz, but takes this insane angle on it, as if he thinks he can break up the pass despite being a good five yards behind the play. I have it freeze framed right now as the ball is released, and Sensabaugh is actually moving toward the line of scrimmage, instead of backing up and getting into position to be a last line of defense.
It was not his assignment to be the safety, but there is something to be said for instincts. Newman also has to realize there is no deep help and be ready to minimize damage on a short route like that.
Aaron Schatz: Sometime around the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys stopped getting pass pressure on Eli Manning. Plus he's doing a great job of moving around in the pocket to keep free and be able to make passes.
Rivers McCown: Rob Ryan may want to start covering the fullback at some point.
Mike Tanier: You cannot cover a leaping Hynocerous.
This is one of those late season Cowboys games where they just showed up with nothing,
Aaron Schatz: Especially when they drop DeMarcus Ware into coverage. He doesn't do it much, but he did it on that third Giants touchdown, and without Ware they have no pass rush at all.
Mike Tanier: The Cowboys just woke up in the second half with a 90-some yard drive.
Aaron Schatz: Yep, they moved the ball with a lot of shorter drops to get the ball out before the pass rush got to Tony Romo.
Mike Tanier: And now the Cowboys are getting real pressure with a four-man rush.
Tom Gower: That was one heck of throw by Manning to Cruz. Third down, pressure, Giants only up 7, and he goes back and just uncorks one 50 yards downfield to get New York into field goal range.
Mike Tanier: The Giants were in a real third-and-medium funk before that. All their earlier second-half drives seemed to stall at around third-and-7.
Rivers McCown: That Cowboys secondary just can't hold up without pressure at this point.
Mike Tanier: They just didn't have a full comeback in them. The defense had to be perfect for the whole second half. Once Cruz put the ball in field goal range, the game was back to two scores and the Cowboys offense had no prayer at keeping up.
192 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2012, 3:42pm by Athelas