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?
09 Dec 2013
compiled by Rivers McCown and Ben Jones
This year, we have a new format for our Monday morning feature Audibles at the Line, combining our Twitter feeds with our e-mail discussion. First, we're replacing our usual back-and-forth with some longer-form dissection of each game that at least one of us watches in depth. Second, every game that we find time for will also have a selection of tweets from us and a few reader tweets we found particularly insightful. To follow these tweets live on Sunday, or to contribute your own thoughts or a question for the FO staff, you can use hashtag #FOAud. We discussed the new format in this post.
On Monday, we will compile a digest of tweets and e-mails to produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed, not entirely grammatically correct, and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
Audibles is still being written from our point of view, meaning 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 49ers 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. Audibles is often written from a fan perspective as much as an analyst perspective; in order to properly accuse FO writers of bias, please check our FAQ.
Robert Weintraub: Frigid, windy and sleeting in Cincy. Over/under on Andy Dalton completions set at 11.
@RyanCrinnigan: Colts punt returner fields kick as if the ball were an infant inside a Faberge egg
Scott Kacsmar: Andrew Luck is throwing passes to Jack Doyle, Da'Rick Rogers and Weslye Saunders. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Robert Weintraub: Cincy runs textbook Student Body Right with Gio sliding behind Smith, pulling center Cook, and Sanu for 14 yds. Old school football!
@RyanCrinnigan: Colts get stop on 3rd and goal under 2 min, no TO. No faith in O. Offensive issues approaching "self-fulfilling prophecy" status.
Robert Weintraub: But Jeff Triplette's review seems to indicate he missed, and GE stumbled on his own, and bounced into EZ. Gift. Triplette!
Andrew Potter: Jeff Triplette doesn't need your stinkin' job security.
Robert Weintraub: Re my over/under of 11 Dalton completions--he has 12 in the first half.
Robert Weintraub: Per @joereedy Indy is now 5-40 on third down over the last 6 games. 0-6 today.
@BryKno: The Bengals just had the worst display of tackling in the history of the NFL, football, and possibly society
Tom Gower: Just saw the Lavon Brazill TD. Have to re-watch to be sure, but think you could get 5 or 6 missed tackles out of that.
Robert Weintraub: Insane--the one thing the Bengals do well consistently is tackle. And now that's what has let a sure win turn into a nail-biter.
Robert Weintraub: AJ Green vs Darius Butler has been an utter mismatch all day. Every man situation Cincy has gone to #18. TD this time, 35-14.
@RyanCrinnigan: "Hey I know let's put our nickel corner on AJ Green in the red zone." -- dumb people, and Greg Manusky
@Shake1n1bake: Jeff Triplette claims on the overturn for a TD in IND-CIN he didn't even look as to whether BJGE was tripped up in the backfield
Rob Weintraub: The final score was deceiving, as except for a three-minute montage Cincy put together for Mike Zimmer to be able to demonstrate how not to tackle, and a couple of Colts garbage time touchdowns, this was a Bengals rout.
Once again, Andrew Whitworth moved inside to play left guard, with Anthony Collins at left tackle, and it's crystal-clear this is a much better set up. Clint Boling is a try-hard guy, but weak. Collins is certainly a starting-caliber tackle, and with Whitworth at guard Cincy is stronger up the middle and more multiple in play calling. Whitworth is athletic enough to pull, effectively sprint to the second level on screens, and can flip to the right side when needed so the Bengals can go power. Meanwhile, Robert Mathis was shut out completely by Collins, and the pocket in front of Andy Dalton was clean all game -- hence his big day.
Basically, the Bengals offense did what it wanted, when it wanted. 42 points without the benefit of a turnover translates into offensive dominance. Good Andy was on display -- decisive, accurate long and short, and hit receivers in stride. A.J. Green was a total mismatch for Darius Butler, and any time he was isolated they went right to Green. When the Colts rolled coverage over, Marvin Jones was beating his man. And Gio was Gio, pinballing everywhere for yardage, a few times on Student Body Right or Left tosses that were effective every time.
As for the BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown call, which seemed to be epically bad, it actually is somewhat questionable when watched closely. The big issue is that it was called short of the stripe on the field, and there isn't any defensible way to say there was compelling evidence to reverse it. Meaningless in the picture, as it happens.
Andrew Luck had nowhere to go. The Colts couldn't run, nor go deep, so it was a matter of stringing together enough flat passes to work down the field, and it's tough to win that way. Had Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill not turned slants into video games, it would have been far more difficult to score. Rogers, in particular, was impressive. His body and speed are elite, though he ran the wrong route or did it just poorly enough to see why he isn't quite ready yet. But when he learns to play, and if he can keep his nose clean (which wasn't the case in college), he can be a difference-maker. Reminiscent of Josh Gordon, who wasn't polished as a rookie either. And every time the Colts defense made a play, it was undone by dumb penalty or sloppy angles or just mismatch. Tough to see them winning a playoff game, regardless of opponent, even at home.
Only down note to the afternoon were the miracles the Ravens and Pats pulled off. Where is the damn wooden stake when we need it? When the Bengals have to host the Ravens in the first round, and (if victorious, inshallah) travel to Foxboro in the divisional round, remember this day.
Rivers McCown: Ah c'mon Rob, that's a little off. It was a bad call. They looked at the wrong thing. I'm not here to complain for Colts fans, they have their own sites for that. It wasn't important in the long run. It was a bad call.
The interesting thing about this game to me was the insertion of Rogers and Brazill, meaning that after 14 weeks of dropped balls, we're finally done with Darrius Heyward-Bey. They were "fluky" touchdowns, certainly, but I'll take fluky over what they were getting from Heyward-Bey. If those guys can give the Colts a third intermittently effective receiver, it'll go a long way towards Luck being able to make an impact in the playoffs.
@Mercurius100: Buffalo D obviously unprepared for playing in this weather. Weather being 80 and sunny.
Cian Fahey: It really is incredible that Greg Schiano is 1: Going to keep his job 2: No longer getting any attention for being a [CENSORED]
@MilkmanDanimal: Revis hammers Robert Woods and the ball pops to Lavonte David. Shades of Megatron at the end of the Detroit game.
@MilkmanDanimal: Missed the first half driving home through snow, Bucs played great; per Bud Light commercials, I need to move further north.
@MilkmanDanimal: Tampa's pathetic tackling on a 83-yard Spiller run gets bailed out by a dumb downfield holding play.
@MilkmanDanimal: Tampa has 7 sacks, and has hit Manuel repeatedly. Considering his lack of protection, a 4-pick day isn't shocking at all.
@nikhilb: I need to download "Yakety Sax" so I can play it whenever the Eagles-Lions highlights come on today.
@robbbbbb: Fox just rolled out CGI yard lines and numbers. Awesome. It's very well-done.
Ben Jones: As much as I'm enjoying this game it has absolutely no predictive power going forward
Rivers McCown: The Lions and Eagles should get to use Calvinball rules for this game.
Tom Gower: Record for fumbles in a game (total) is 10. #Lions have 6, by my count, less than 18 minutes into the game.
Rivers McCown: Foles has been very slow on the delivery today. Not that I blame him since he probably can't feel his arms.
Vincent Verhei: DeSean Jackson may have stepped out before catching that TD, but honestly, who the hell can tell?
Tom Gower: Shady's done a good job of adjusting his cutting to go more forward instead of laterally. Could see it on TD to make it 14-12(+2)
@Mercurius100: Eagles-Lions prove that not kicking does not lead to the end of the world.
Rivers McCown: Jeremy Ross is making honorary Redskins out of the Eagles special teams.
Tom Gower: Strategy! Lions false start on conversion, Schwartz calls TO to give his players time to clear area for XP attempt. & it's blocked.
Ben Muth: Watching this DET-PHI game really makes you appreciate how impossible Vinateri's kick in the Tuck Rule game was.
Tom Gower: It was like Nick Foles couldn't believe how much running space he had & stopped in amazement.
@MilkmanDanimal: Why the hell did Philly go for 2, up 8, in the 4th quarter? Throw your cool ideas away and make it a two-score game, Kelly.
@MilkmanDanimal: *flips over to Philly-Detroit game* Oh, THAT'S why they went for 2. #nevermind
Tom Gower: Snow games are great fun to watch, but Matthew Stafford might disagree with the proposition they are fun to play in. Early on, the Eagles were doing absolutely nothing offensively while the Lions were dominating the game aside from Stafford's inability to handle the ball and some horribly inaccurate passes.
Eventually, the game turned. LeSean McCoy seemed to adjust his cuts to not move laterally, which wasn't working in the snowy conditions. Once that started to happen, he found space against the formerly stout Lions run defense that our numbers rated so highly. Once that started to happen, it kept happening. Detroit, meanwhile, found the game tougher sledding, though Jeremy Ross kept them in it with touchdowns on both kickoff and punt returns, until the Philadelphia offensive machine simply overwhelmed them.
Bonus from the game: Aside from one try by David Akers, after a false start, there were no place kicks attempted in this game. All of the other seven touchdowns were followed by two-point conversion attempts, and the Lions had the offense out before that false start. Yes, that included one by the Eagles in a tie game.
Rivers McCown: This game was great fun to watch. It had three different phases. The first one involved heavy snow and a lot of flubs. The Lions had more success in this phase, and most of it came on short dumpoff or screen passes. They didn't score much, though, because of the preponderance of fumbles.
The second phase, with lighter snow, involved the Eagles actually making some progress with the ball. The Lions held their lead because of Ross. As Tom noted, both teams eschewed kicking. I'm sure that's a Kacsmar column in and of itself, but it was a lot of fun to watch the swings happen.
The third phase involved the Eagles offensive line just bending the Lions front seven to their will. LeSean McCoy and Chris Polk had a ton of free space and exacerbated matters by getting the Detroit secondary to blow tackles left and right. Almost all of the 299 rushing yards the Eagles had came in the fourth quarter.
@MichaelEdits: If you're watching the Raiders at the Jets in person, you have my condolences. If you're a guy, wear three socks.
@Foosball_Wizard: Geno Smith pass to the right is incomplete to a wide open Charles Woodson.
@Foosball_Wizard: His next pass is complete to linebacker Kevin Burnett.
@legion: Love the Raiders platooning QBs. Which one's Don Strock?
@Foosball_Wizard: Sheldon Richardson is something. His acceleration and hit on Rivera on the Raiders 4th down TD pass was impressive.
Rivers McCown: The first time since Week 4 that both Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes were able to play. Say this for the Jets: it was the Raiders, and it was ugly, but they did actually have a competent passing game.
I don't really understand why Matt McGloin is playing. The Raiders need stars, and he isn't going to be one. There's obviously a very low chance of it if he's getting benched for McGloin, but Terrelle Pryor might be one.
@Mercurius100: Atlanta beating GB in the snow, because of course they are! And Matt Flynn.
@pchicola: Watching M Flynn in 2013 only makes me wonder how bad were the Pat's D in 2010 and DET's in 2011 that made him look like a ProBowler
Rivers McCown: He took five sacks to do it, but Matt Flynn delivered 8.0 yards per attempt. This is game 13 of Atlanta's 16-part series, "Why you don't let your only good pass rusher leave in free agency and start a rookie cornerback."
Aaron Schatz: Pats have gone away from their usual CB by sides and have Talib moving around to cover Josh Gordon.
Aaron Schatz: Jason Campbell is one of the most underrated QBs in NFL history, in that people are convinced he sucks but really he's very average.
@GDFar: Josh Gordon took four and a half steps OOB with control before falling and dropping the ball. Incomplete. No logic to this rule.
@pchicola: Ray Horton's D always make it tough for Brady and McDaniels. Remember last year vs ARI. Docket & Campbell had a field day vs Brady.
Aaron Schatz: Alert Julian Edelman's agent: Browns seem to have decided Edelman is Pats' best WR and generally have Joe Haden on him.
Scott Kacsmar: Second drive in a row Browns get stuffed on third-and-1. Not taking advantage of NE's no-show offense.
Aaron Schatz: Through Week 9, Jerome Boger's crew had called Illegal Contact just 1 time. The apparently don't know it exists.
Aaron Schatz: Jerome Boger Illegal Contact update: Actually has called two: Week 3 and Week 12. (Call on Talib with :40 left was holding not I.C.)
Aaron Schatz: Josh Boyce dropping balls and breaking tackles today. One of those things is good!
Aaron Schatz: Did the Browns just basically leave the middle of the DL completely open on a fourth-and-1? They don't know Brady can sneak?
Aaron Schatz: And WOW. Pats go Cover-0 and Campbell hits Gordon on a quick slant. He takes it all the way, 80 yards, TD. Perfect off play call.
@MilkmanDanimal: Gostowski so excited after the onside kick recovery I'm wondering if Martin Gramatica knocked him unconscious and put on his uniform.
Tom Gower: Did I hear Steve Tasker call that a "pretty sorry call" of DPI against the Browns? If so, I concur.
@nath_on_fire: That pass interference call is a ton of fuel for any "NFL protects the marquee teams" conspiracy theorists.
@henriknakskov: Should the Patriots play scrimmage against scout team right before kickoff? Or does the injury risk outweigh the chance of fast start
Aaron Schatz: Chalk one up for the theory that Ray Horton knows how to game-plan for the Patriots. The Cleveland pass rush had the Pats offense completely discombobulated. Unfortunately, I can't tell you exactly why, as I spent most of the game watching cornerbacks so I don't know whether the Browns had blitzes going on, or stunts, or what in specific. I do know there were sacks and lots of pressures. Tom Brady was inaccurate, although it didn't help that a few of his good passes were dropped. The running game was good, as were the dumpoffs, but there was really nothing going on downfield. (The main exception was the third-quarter touchdown drive, when Shane Vereen lined up on the outside and sped down the field. Yeah, Craig Robertson is not as fast as Shane Vereen. That was not a good matchup for Cleveland.)
You really saw today how the Browns have the pieces to put an excellent defense on the field: Joe Haden, D'Qwell Jackson, the pass rushers like Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard. They need to improve some of the connecting pieces, like Robertson and the corners other than Haden.
I came into the game determined to watch the Josh Gordon-Aqib Talib matchup closely, and I was surprised how few yards Gordon had in the first half. Gordon was open a few times and Campbell just wasn't looking at him. I kept waiting for the big pass play, and waiting, and waiting ... On Twitter, people were joking with me, of course Jason Campbell can't throw the deep pass. That's ridiculous, and just another example of the fact that Campbell is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history because people can't accept the idea that some players are just average. A lot fans think every player has to either be "elite" or "suck." But real life isn't like that. Anyway, it wouldn't even matter if Campbell couldn't get the ball 25 yards downfield because some of these plays where Gordon looks open are just 15 yards or so. And it isn't that Campbell was checking down to a two-yard dumpoff. On some of these, he passed to another downfield receiver, it just isn't Gordon.
Gordon did finally get his big play, but it was almost entirely YAC, when Campbell found him on a quick slant and the Patriots were in Cover-0 with no safeties back. Easy open field for an 80-yard touchdown. (On further review, probably not. I asked Matt Chatham about it, former Pats/Jets player who does a lot of film analysis in the local media. He said the Pats almost never play Cover-0, which certainly corresponds with my viewing. I did see a safety on that side jump down to cover a tight end man-to-man, which was what led me to believe that there were no safeties back. It probably was Cover-1 with Devin McCourty as the deep safety. However, he wasn't as deep as he should have been, and because the Browns were set up 3x1 with Gordon as the "1," McCourty was shaded to the side of the three and that meant he couldn't get back to stop Gordon once Gordon turned inside and caught the pass with Talib on his outside.)
The air just completely went out of the stadium when T.J. Ward slammed right into Gronk's knee midway through third quarter. It was a legal hit, exactly what the NFL wants: guys going low instead of high. Looks like Gronk is probably done for the season. It's amazing that the Patriots have played so well this year given all their injuries, not to mention the loss of Aaron Hernandez, and things were finally setting up for them to maybe even make the Super Bowl because Denver was starting to suffer a ton of injuries too.
When you see the media pull out numbers about how Brady struggled so much the first half of the season without Gronk in the lineup, remember he didn't have Shane Vereen either except in Week 1. And Shane Vereen has been a big, big part of the game plan the last couple weeks. Nonetheless, despite the presence of Vereen, it's hard to see them winning an AFC Championship without Gronk, especially on the road at Mile High. And you've got to think that Jack Del Rio is going to be watching film of Ray Horton's defense in this game, along with every other defensive coordinator who has to face the Patriots the rest of the year.
As far as the end, with the Defensive Pass Interference call in the end zone...
1) I noted a couple of times on Twitter that Jerome Boger's crew had only called Illegal Contact twice so far this year. He missed a number of really obvious Illegal Contact penalties during the game. Then, when the chips were done, they call an extremely iffy DPI. Weird.
2) I wish there was some way to have a formula that didn't put the ball on the 1 for DPI in the end zone, but still made DPI a very long yardage penalty. I don't know, maybe something like when DPI takes place inside the 20, you put the ball either halfway between the 20 and the spot of the foul, or halfway between the LOS and spot of the foul, whichever is closer.
3) Of course, that call led to the usual crazy Patriots hatred all over the Interwebs. People, there is no pro-Patriots conspiracy. It was a bad call. Officials make bad calls. They make them for every team. Did you see the Cincinnati game? Do you think there's some sort of NFL pro-Bengals conspiracy that had Jeff Triplette give Green-Ellis that touchdown on review? Or is it more likely that maybe he made a bad decision because of either a) random chance or b) the subconscious factor of home-field advantage? Remember when the flag was picked up at the end of the Panthers game? That one was in Carolina. This one was in Foxboro. I don't think that's a coincidence.
People are always far too quick to declare conspiracy when the much better explanation is usually just plain ol' incompetence.
Scott Kacsmar: I'll bite my tongue on the ending for now, but I'm just shocked the Patriots had the longest active drought without recovering an onside kick
Rivers McCown: Ah, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis used to be a Patriot! Conspiracy!
Nothing the Patriots do surprises me, no matter who they lose. They're just some kind of not-losing-too-much football team at all times. I'm sad that we're at the point where a player like Gronkowski just can't stay on the field, because he makes football fun.
Vincent Verhei: Just watched Tannehill, Flacco, and Campbell rip off long runs. Do QB runs work better in cold weather?
@fhyrew: The Ravens' midfield logo, now brought to you by Jackson Pollock
@alexknobel: At what point are the Ravens a sufficiently terrible short-yardage rushing team to change 4th-and-short calculations?
Aaron Schatz: Worst-ever run DVOA entering Wk 14: 1991 IND, 2013 BAL, 2005 ARI, 2013 JAC, 2002 HOU, 1991 PHI.
Robert Weintraub: Gerhart! That was a snowbound TD if ever there was one.
Andrew Potter: Day has been nuts for kick & punt returns. Now Jacoby Jones takes one back despite the kick being pooched high and wide.
Scott Kacsmar: Ending to MIN-BAL one of the craziest ever. EVER.
@MilkmanDanimal: With 45 seconds left in Ravens-Vikings, there's still time for like seven more TDs, right?
Rivers McCown: Cordarrelle Patterson taking a big dump on Playmaker Score
Aaron Schatz: @FO_RiversMcCown I don't think 254 yards through 12 games counts as "a big dump." Don't go crazy over 1 long TD.
Robert Weintraub: So was that 5 TDs in the last 2 minutes in Baltimore? Unsane. And I'm sweating a 3-TD lead in Cincy.
@BeccaDannysWife: If contractions are like this #Ravens game, I don't ever want to be pregnant.
Rivers McCown: I'll defend my Cordarrelle Patterson assertion here: I subjectively think he's a good bet to beat his Playmaker Score. His talent is very evident, and the fact that it took the Vikings 10 weeks to figure out that he needed to be more involved is probably part of the reason Leslie Frazier is going to get fired.
The ending of this game was phenomenal. I cut over late from Philadelphia and Detroit, so I didn't watch most of the buildup. But when a game produces win probability graphs that move like lie detector tests, that's a good sign it belongs in the Game of the Year discussion. All of the big plays in the last few minutes, outside of perhaps Dennis Pitta's touchdown, were amazing feats of individual skill too. Toby Gerhart broke some tackles on his run, Patterson broke a whole field of tackles, Marlon Brown made an outstanding toe tap on the game-winner. Awesome game.
Andrew Potter: Redskins special teams sighting! 48-yard punt return has the Chiefs starting deep in Washington territory.
@toxic: Neither rain, nor sleet, nor the unique form of DC slush can keep the Redskins defense from giving up 24 points in 19 minutes.
Aaron Schatz: Remember Thurs night when I suggested HOU might be going "Full Kotite?" WAS seems to be one-upping them, going "Double Full Kotite."
Andrew Potter: Washington special teams sighted again. This time, McCluster scores himself. KC crushing WAS.
@fbgchase: After today's game, I have to assume WAS ST will be among the worst in DVOA history.
Aaron Schatz: @fbgchase Already were 5th worst ST of all time. Likely would move to 2nd worst, but 2010 Chargers have a healthy "lead"
Aaron Schatz: If Washington allows one more return TD on ST, the 2010 Chargers may be able to pop the champagne and celebrate.
@nath_on_fire: Those reports from Washington were mistaken: Mike Shanahan was planning to quit on the team right before this game.
@UpsideOfSports: Washington leading the "all important" time of possession...and down 31-0.
Cian Fahey: The Washington kicker has seemingly just moved out of the way of two TD returns today
Andrew Potter: You have got to be kidding me. Washington special teams failure AGAIN. Kickoff return touchdown for Demps. 38-7 KC.
@RavenBerns: Only Chiefs players tackling Chiefs returners...in the end zone in celebration.
Aaron Schatz: Washington now on Triple Full Kotite with a 1/2 Lutz Kotite Twist.
Robert Weintraub: FedEx Field looks like the White House during a presidential transition.
Vincent Verhei: I'm pretty sure that Washington is tackling even worse than Cincinnati today.
Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger doing a Harlem Globetrotter handoff there. Funky.
Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger has played the Dolphins after a hurricane (2004), on the worst field in NFL history (2007) and now a snowstorm.
Scott Kacsmar: Move over Terry Bradshaw. Roethlisberger sets franchise record with 213 TD passes. Has one in team-record 26 straight games.
Cian Fahey: Cortez Allen on Mike Wallace there. That's preferable for the Steelers instead of Ike Taylor
Scott Kacsmar: Philbin is a joke. Should have called timeout immediately after Brown catch was short.
Scott Kacsmar: Dan Fouts said Todd Haley told him he wants to "target Antonio Brown between 12 and 13 times today." Okay.
Scott Kacsmar: Polamalu with the pick-six he should have had on the first drive of the game. But I think he was out on live-action.
@Mercurius100: Brian Hartline is now 1 for 1 on challenges.
Scott Kacsmar: Polamalu with a bad missed tackle on Clay. Would have brought out the punt team. First down instead on thrid-and-8.
Robert Weintraub: Ravens, Steelers need TDs w/no timeouts. Both will get them because football.
Aaron Schatz: I wanted to ask our resident Steelers fans, esp. Cian and Scott, if they have any particular insight on how/why Ike Taylor has declined so much this season.
Scott Kacsmar: Cian watches the cornerbacks closer than I do, but Ike Taylor's basically been one of my whipping boys on the Steelers for a decade. He can't catch so he rarely gets interceptions and leaves critical plays on the field. He'd have a good game or two against Chad Johnson, safety help or not, and people would give him a lot of credit, but as he's aged he's just continued to get beat down the field more often. I think in a season like 2011, he was just fortunate receivers would drop the pass or the throw wasn't quite right. I remember a Curtis Painter throw that should have been an 80-yard touchdown in Indy.
This year the plays are being made on him and it's obvious he's not No. 1 caliber anymore. The use of big cushions by Dick LeBeau also leaves him vulnerable to giving up a lot of short completions, but that's been a decade-long scheme problem and failure to adjust to a short-pass heavy NFL. To make it worse, Taylor expects safety help at times where it just doesn't come because of the freelancing nature of Troy Polamalu. I've never seen a Pittsburgh team allow so many 50-yard plays as this one. They gave up a crucial 55-yard run on the game-winning drive today and Ryan Tannehill even had a 48-yard run on a simple zone-read option. It's the same thing that worked for 93 yards for Terrelle Pryor in Oakland against this defense.
With the Steelers at 5-8, it's basically a fitting end to the competitive portion of the 2013 season for them. All three phases of the game failed today. The special teams had a blocked punt. The defense did get one pick-six from Polamalu, though he dropped an easier one to start the game. Ben Roethlisberger had a big fumble early, but played very well right up until the final two drives when he really needed to come through. Usually the Steelers scoring 28 points at home is a win, but not this season with this defense.
Pittsburgh had an interesting end to the first half with Polamalu getting the Alabama-Auburn play started by returning the missed field goal. The gamebook's not even uploaded yet for this one -- must be trying to figure out that last play -- so I'm not sure how far the lateral ended up going, but it was a decent attempt.
Then of course you get one on the last play of the game. I'm not sure if Roethlisberger had a forward lateral or not, but it was his throw that made this really possible with Antonio Brown going down the left sideline. Running as fast as he was, I can understand momentum carrying him out of bounds, but the more I watch it, the more I think he should have been able to score instead of stepping out of the bounds (barely) at the 13 or so to end the game. It would have been one of the all-time game-winning plays in NFL history, assuming the Steelers didn't pull a New Orleans and botch the game-winning extra point. Still, it'd be in overtime at the very least.
"Almost Classic" for this one.
Cian Fahey: Troy Polamalu probably had his best game of the season yesterday. He should have had a pick-six early in the game, but he dropped a pass that he broke onto underneath. When he did get his pick-six late on he caught the ball after initially lining up as a defensive tackle. Polamalu worked backwards so that Ryan Tannehill never saw him.
Cortez Allen appeared to spend a lot of time on Mike Wallace, but he wasn't tested very often. What Allen did do was let Charles Clay beat him down the sideline. It's been a somewhat disappointing season for Allen who had shown lots of promise during his first two years in a smaller role. Clay exposed many of the Steelers flaws. He scored a touchdown when there was a blown assignment in the red zone for the second week in a row and was able to break two tackles from a disadvantageous position for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau appeared to be overplaying his coverage to stop Mike Wallace. LeBeau often focuses on taking away the opposition's best weapon, but it was done to the team's detriment here.
Tom Gower: Titans taking packaging to extremes on D today, going from 4-2-5 nickel w/ Fokou/Gooden to 3-3-5 w/ Brown/McCarthy/Ayers
Cian Fahey: The level of talent around the QB in Tennessee is incredible
@LambertScouting: The argument for Cutler begins. RT @Cianaf: The level of talent around the QB in Tennessee is incredible
Tom Gower: Ongoing battle today: Denver players versus catching the ball. Couple drops in end zone by Thomas, Welker, plus others.
Vincent Verhei: Five 63-plus-yd FGs in NFL history. Three of them in Denver.
@Broncfan07: On Prater's record kick, DEN's OL did a reverse Alabama by immediately fanning out & running downfield in case of return
Vincent Verhei: @Broncfan07 That was actually beautiful to watch.
@nath_on_fire: If Goodell cared about player safety, he'd severely punish repeat offenders much worse than he is now. NFL practices Safety Theater.
@Broncfan07: Bernard K. Pollard leads with shoulder, crunches Eric Decker, gets UNR call because, well, BKP.
Vincent Verhei: Denver. Thy defense sucketh.
Tom Gower: I must be dreaming-both deep passes by Fitzpatrick to Justin Hunter have been pretty accurate.
@nath_on_fire: What on Earth was Chris Johnson doing? He ran like he thought the field had rotated 90 degrees.
Scott Kacsmar: So Peyton has six good games in freezing weather, three in bad, yet people only want us to remember the bad and the losses.
Aaron Schatz: @FO_ScottKacsmar Are you counting 04 (Jan 05) AFCC game as a good or bad? That game was blown by receivers fumbling and lack of run.
Tom Gower: Broncos have scored 9 times on 11 possessions (6 TD, 3 FG). Punt on 4&1/TEN45 and 4&3/TEN40 on non-scoring possessions.
Tom Gower: The Broncos are really good on offense. The Titans are not that good on defense. Peyton Manning just eviscerated them -- not with many big plays, but with consistent success after consistent success. 550 yards of offense, 39 first downs, scoring on 9 of 11 possessions. It wasn't even like they were just picking on Roc Alexander the whole time, as the Broncos dominated. There are some reasons to be concerned about the Denver defense -- the Titans don't score 28 points every week, even if it did require Ryan Fitzpatrick hitting the random deep ball lottery twice and a kickoff return to the 3 -- but San Diego on Thursday should be the more interesting test of that. Long-term, the other concern to come out of this game is Wes Welker's second concussion of the second just before halftime. They moved the ball just fine without him today, though.
Fun fact: The Broncos ran 10 plays from the Titans 1. The Titans ran 5 plays in Broncos territory.
Scott Kacsmar: Montee Ball was stuffed on a third-and-1 and dropped a pass on third-and-3. Those were the only times Tennessee was able to keep Denver off the scoreboard. It was another impressive showing for this offense against a Tennessee defense which had yet to allow a 300-yard passer and only eight touchdown passes this season. I never would have expected Manning to throw 59 times in this one, but the play disparity was huge (88-41 and that's even being generous by taking out three Denver kneel downs) and it's hard to recall the Titans ever getting close to a sack.
The Titans hit on some big plays, but generally the Denver defense did enough in this one with some splash plays from Von Miller. Any time the offense can get 39 first downs in regulation, it's probably going to be a day where a team can get by giving up 28 points. Still, it would be good to see Denver clamp down on some of these long passes that seem to work every week now.
Matt Prater's 64-yard field goal does not deserve an asterisk, but it's hard to imagine that would have been good in other stadiums on Sunday.
@MilkmanDanimal: I'm watching the SF defense and thinking Mike Glennon doesn't exactly have Russell Wilson's escapability. Next week will suck.
@toxic: That non-call for pass interference in SF/SEA makes me wonder if the officials think the Patriots are on the field.
Aaron Schatz: Coming into today, SEA and SF were No. 2 and 3 in DVOA vs. TE. SEA defense doing their job. SF not so much.
@Mercurius100: You are Seattle. SF has 3rd and goal. Who do you cover and make sure he can't beat you? Seattle chooses not Vernon Davis. Oops.
Aaron Schatz: Yep, now Vernon Davis gets his vs. the SEA defense. Prob was gonna happen eventually.
Aaron Schatz: Zone read REALLY doesn't seem to work for SF this year. @ESPNStatsInfo nums agree, only 3.35 yd/carry on zone reads entering today
Aaron Schatz: By the way, SEA on zone reads entering today: 5.24 yards, almost 2 yd/carry more than SF.
@PigskinLover: "Sherman got away with a
Aaron Schatz: Great play on the ball by nickel corner Byron Maxwell for pick in SF-SEA. Got greedy on return, tho, nearly ended up in end zone.
Aaron Schatz: I'm really feeling the healthierness of the Seahawks OL today. Not sure that's actually a word.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Joe Staley is not infallible. Just got completely whipped by Chris Clemons spin move.
Aaron Schatz: Everytime I look over, I feel like the Seahawks are outplaying the 49ers, yet game is within 1 point. So much for subjective viewing.
Danny Tuccitto: Harbaugh/Roman just went to fullback give for the third time today in short yardage.
Vincent Verhei: LET THEM SCORE.
@matthew_carley: As a 49er fan watching this win what I take away is that Seattle are a very, very good football team. Great game
Vince Verhei: It sucks when the team you're cheering for loses. It sucks more when they lose a really close game, and it really, REALLY sucks when they lose largely due to your personal pet peeve: The wasted timeout to prevent a delay-of-game penalty when you're already in long-yardage. Late in the third quarter, the Seahawks had a second-and-25 at their own 23. As the play clock wound down, Russell Wilson stood up and turned to the ref. I thought he was just going to take the penalty, but he called timeout at the last second. (The game clock was stopped after an incompletion, so when he called the timeout is largely irrelevant.) Because Lord knows, second-and-30 is so much worse than second-and-25. After the timeout, the Seahawks got a 2-yard Wilson scramble and an 8-yard Golden Tate reception, then punted. So because they called timeout, Seattle had the privilege of punting from the 33 instead of the 28. Yeehaw.
Fast-forward to the end of the fourth quarter. Seattle called their last timeout with 3:24 left in the game. San Francisco had a third-and-7, already in field-goal range. Colin Kaepernick then picked up the first down on a Tecmo Bowl-style quarterback sweep. They then ran three basic runs into the line and kicked the winning field goal with 30 seconds to go. Wilson's final play was a desperation heave deep that was intercepted when his receiver fell down.
I have seen enough Russell Wilson comebacks to like his chances to pick up a field goal with about 1:15 to go, no timeouts. Maybe I'm being optimistic. Maybe if Seattle did have another timeout at the end of the game, the Niners might have been more aggressive and passed for a touchdown or something. And maybe if they had stopped Kaepernick on that third-and-7, or not given up a 51-yard run to Frank Gore right before that, then maybe none of this would have mattered. But man, I hate to see timeouts go to waste like that.
Strategic nitpickery aside, the game was largely what you'd expect. Two really good, physical teams, both playing largely mistake-free. Both teams got field goals off big special teams plays (a blocked punt for San Francisco, a Golden Tate punt return for Seattle). Early on, Seattle was able to isolate Luke Willson on Patrick Willis for a big touchdown, but Willson largely disappeared after that. Meanwhile, Seattle iced Vernon Davis out of the game early, but he played a big part later on, especially after K.J. Wright left the game with a foot injury.
Michael Crabtee's helps San Francisco's offense, raising their viable receiving options by 50 percent, but it seemed like Seattle still feared Anquan Boldin more. Richard Sherman spent most of the day covering Boldin, even moving into the slot to cover him at one point. Boldin managed to outmuscle Sherman for a 27-yard catch, even though Sherman was holding him on the play. It wasn't the best day for Sherman, or for Earl Thomas, who took a terrible angle on Gore's long run at the end of the game.
@Mercurius100: Unsportsmanlike conduct on the Rams. I am shocked.
Cian Fahey: If I'm one of the higher seeds in the NFC, the last team I want to play is the Arizona Cardinals
Scott Kacsmar: Hakeem Nicks with the completely meaningless 44-yard Hail Mary grab before halftime.
Aaron Schatz: Somehow it took the Giants nearly 35 minutes to score vs one of the 5 worst defenses of the past 20 years.
@scott_tanner1: hines ward just said luke kuechly is the "best defensive player no one has heard of"
Scott Kacsmar: Mike Tolbert is the non-Detroit version of Jerome Bettis.
Andrew Potter: Thomas Morstead should be due a sizeable fine after that facemask on Ted Ginn. Punter or not, can't tackle like that.
@nath_on_fire: No, Cris and Al, the offside and defensive holding penalties weren't the same. One resulted in 1st and 5, the other in 1st and 10.
@nath_on_fire: I've been saying Sean Payton #totallylookslike Damian Lewis, and that Nick Brody pinch-face he just gave the camera is your proof.
Scott Kacsmar: I would have saved the timeout there. Not sure why Sean Payton used one.
@itnw0628: Another stupid, meaningless run play right before halftime. When will coaches learn?
@TickleMittens: Does the FO Mike Martz award come with some sort of cash prize?
Vincent Verhei: Can we stop calling Jimmy Graham a tight end? He's a wide receiver who sometimes puts a hand on the ground.
Tom Gower: Drew Brees' pocket movement has been very good tonight.
Andrew Potter: Michaels and Collinsworth sound like they expect Rivera to go for it on every fourth down, not just fourth-and-short.
Andrew Potter: The Panthers might want to try covering Marques Colston. Bit late for tonight, but a good idea to consider for Week 16.
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, if they let Jimmy Graham get franchised with a TE number and not a WR number, it's insane.
Aaron Schatz: Well, that was disappointing for those of us who've been driving the Carolina bandwagon for months. I think the most disappointing units were the offensive line, which couldn't hold up to the Saints' pressure, and the secondary (specifically, second corner Melvin White and the two safeties).
Although, I don't know if I really believe in that classic concept of a team that "isn't built to come from behind." Michaels and Collinsworth said that about the Panthers in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers' offense coming into today ranked eighth when down by more than a touchdown and 11th when either tied or down by 1-8 points. Didn't they come back from being down 16-3 to Miami just two weeks ago?
Scott Kacsmar: I guess I'm riding in the trunk of the FO Carolina bandwagon? Thought we'd see a little more competitiveness tonight, but that was another New Orleans rout in prime time. The moment this was flexed the Panthers needed to be worried. Drew Brees is up to 54 touchdowns and 12 interceptions (17-3 record) in these home prime-time games in the Superdome. It was not a surprise he would attack this secondary the way he did. The protection was much better for him than it was for Cam Newton.
Did notice Al Michaels dropping that line about not playing catch-up offense in Carolina. Historically, there's truth to it. That 13-point comeback in Miami was the first for Carolina since 2009. I do not recall what the score was when he said it, but if it was 24-6, then there are few teams capable of making a competitive game out of that situation on the road in the fourth quarter. What I think Michaels is looking at is the lack of receiving weapons and that Newton's not putting up big passing numbers. When it's a run-heavy offense, that's easy for the broadcaster to figure this team has no shot of stringing together long scoring drives in a hurry.
That's pretty special that we can go into a game, expect Brees to carve up the No. 1 scoring defense and he does exactly that. Not a performance to take for granted. A lot of Twitter talk about how he can't do it on the road, but he shouldn't have to until the Saints return to Seattle. This game was bigger for Carolina in terms of winning the division and it could not have gone much worse.
Tom Gower: Here's the question going forward -- it seems like Carolina has focused on having Cam Newton play a much more controlled, defined passing game, taking him away from the week-to-week struggles of the previous two seasons. Did tonight tell us, like it did the Chiefs against the Broncos, that there's a good chance that won't be good enough to win in the postseason? Carolina already has shifted their offensive identity, it seems, once this season. Will they do it again? Can they? Should they? Something to watch going forward.
238 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2014, 1:18pm by louis vuitton v