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?
16 Dec 2013
compiled by Rivers McCown and Andrew Potter
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.
Vince Verhei: Eli throws a jump ball, Maxwell just takes ball out if Cruz's hands for INT.
Mike Ridley: Cruz and Nicks did little to help out Manning on his two interceptions
Vince Verhei: Eli throws another jump ball to Nicks. Sherman looks like he's running the route, makes leaping grab for INT.
@Foosball_Wizard: Giants only had 4-5 guys on Marshawn Lynch on that TD. Evidently they need 6-7.
Vince Verhei: Eli Hail Mary is intercepted. Giants finish half with more INTs (3) than first downs (2).
@TickleMittens: Jersey A 7 1st half possessions. 3 3-and-outs. 3 picks. Manning the lesser 47 yds, 3.6 ypa #BetterDays
Vince Verhei: NYG first 2H drive: run for loss, run for loss, sack-fumble (kept). Michael Bennett caps it off with Rick Rude hip swivel.
Vince Verhei: SEA TD out of 8-OL set wiped out by penalty, they kick FG instead. 16-0.
@robbbbbb: Russell Wilson throws an INT on a deep throw. I don't know that I've seen him make that bad a decision in his career.
@robbbbbb: Next play, Byron Maxwell with a circus catch for back-to-back INTs.
Vince Verhei: Eli's 4th INT leads to ugliest 16-yard TD drive ever. Hawks up 23-0, game over.
Vince Verhei: 7:26 to play in the game. Giants just crossed midfield for the first time, on a personal foul.
@robbbbbb: Eli throws 5th INT. My wife: "Do they need to check Eli for colorblindness?"
Vince Verhei: Giants' first red zone drive ends with Eli's fifth INT of day.
Vince Verhei: Complete domination by Seattle's defense. The Giants didn't run a play in Seattle territory until they were down by 23 points with seven minutes and change left in the game. That drive ended in an interception, one of five for Eli Manning on the day (including one on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half). The Giants couldn't block anyone, they couldn't break any tackles, and when Manning took shots and gave his receivers chances to make plays downfield, the receivers were well-covered and unable to make the catches in traffic. Manning's first two picks were both jump balls where the defensive back outjumped the receiver.
Seattle's offense, though, had plenty of problems. They'd drive the field and kick field goals, over and over again, and as a result they only led for two scores most of the game. They finally got a clinching touchdown on a hideous 16-yard drive that included a Russell Wilson fumble where he wasn't even touched. That drive (which again, covered only 16 yards) needed a defensive penalty and two third-down conversions to score.
@Mercurius100: Okay Chip, in short yardage in the NFL, no QB draws with Foles, and no plays requiring Foles to block. Save those for college.
@OlDirtySaltz How many unnecessary roughness calls do you see on QBs? Foles badassery costs Eagles a TD
@OlDirtySaltz: Trent Cole gets to the QB before the ball is snapped
Vince Verhei: DeSean Jackson having meltdown on sideline. RILEY COOPER, voice of reason, tries to settle him down. #NotTheGuyIdPick
@Mercurius100: Maybe the Eagles D isn't improving that much.
Vince Verhei: MIN has ball up 11, inside 10, less than two minutes to go, PHI out of TOs. They should take knees and kick a field goal.
@stephenbawesome: Field position played a huge impact in PHI vs MIN game. Eagles offense wasn't bad, just stalled/flagged at the worst times.
Aaron Schatz: Man, I hate to have to ask... did any of you watch MIN-PHI? Can you explain what the f*** happened?
Tom Gower: Philly defense that was awful last year finally showed up, while their offense settled for field goals early. By that point, it was 27-9. They got it to 27-22 with an onside, but the Vikings scored again.
J.J. Cooper: I watched a little of it while doing some work and even from that I have no answer. Some big Utah RB had a couple of touchdowns, but I have no explanation.
Vince Verhei: I wasn't paying close attention to it, but basically it looked just like the box score. Matt Cassel had lots of time to throw, then he made accurate throws to wide-open guys downfield. It was like the 1999 Rams had worn the Vikings' uniforms for a day.
Scott Kacsmar: I saw Cassel deliver some great passes early. The running game definitely wasn't powering them today. The three touchdowns were all on short fields in the fourth quarter. The lack of offense from Philadelphia in the first half was as much of a story as the explosion from Minnesota. One of the more surprising outcomes of the season as the Eagles seemed to be finding their way on both sides of the ball
@LancelotHogben: Miami 3rd & 2 vs. one of the worst run Ds in the league, so of course they pass. And fail.
Aaron Schatz: At this point, I don't know why any offense ever goes empty-back against the Patriots. Starting their sixth DT today, Sealver Siliga
Scott Kacsmar: Dolphins getting killed on field position. Second straight drive starting at own 6.
Aaron Schatz: The Dolphins' pass blocking is just horrifying. Chandler Jones just ate Bryant McKinnie alive.
Aaron Schatz: Feels like the Pats have gone away from the run here in the second half. Was working well in first quarter.
@nathancaswell: Brady doesn't seem to have the arm strength to drive throws outside the numbers.
Aaron Schatz: Not happy with Pats' decision to kick FG on fourth-and-2 near goal line. Would have liked to see a draw or something, go for it.
@pchicola: NE is blitzing the slot CB's almost once every drive. They've tried it with Talib, Dennard and Arrington so far.
Aaron Schatz: Pats have discovered the way to win despite injuries; wait for opponent to also lose players (MIA CB) to injury.
@blotzphoto: Julian Edelman has found the cheat codes to the Dolphins secondary.
Aaron Schatz: Charles Clay makes his first catch of day, makes great move to convert fourth-and-5.
Tom Gower: What an ugly mess of a 4th down play by Miami. What a beautiful result for Miami. What a results-based league.
Aaron Schatz: Rishard Mathews with yet another ridiculous sideline get-his-feet-inbounds catch. Has he always done this?
@Procrastinarian: What a drive by the #Dolphins. I don't like giving Brady 1:15 though. Would have liked a draw or two in the red zone.
@nath_on_fire: Is it just me, or are the Dolphins defensive backs giving way too much room to the Patriots receivers on this drive?
Aaron Schatz: So, will all the overreaction about Pats' close wins now be matched by overreaction about this close loss?
Scott Kacsmar: With the receivers New England had available, I expected this to look like the Week 1 offense in Buffalo when it was just Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola doing their best Wes Welker impersonations. Indeed that's what it was outside of that tight end making a one-handed touchdown catch, but I thought Miami did a very good job of covering Shane Vereen, who had 40 catches in five games this season. Still, it's amazing to see how the Patriots kept getting Edelman and Amendola open within 10 yards of the LOS. Miami never really had an answer for stopping that, but one great pass defensed in the end zone at the end was just enough. The same defensive back made the game-ending interception.
I've given Ryan Tannehill the "average" label and plenty of criticism for Mike Wallace's season, but Wallace did make a critical touchdown that showed the type of elite speed that led to the Dolphins signing him to a huge contract. That was so big before the half with the Patriots going up 10-0. From that point, Tannehill really settled in despite shaky pass protection and made some great throws over the middle. It would be easy to argue this was the finest game of his career given the importance and caliber of opponent. I liked the decision to go for it on fourth down at midfield as the Patriots were feasting underneath with Miami suffering some secondary injuries. I hated the play call by Miami, but I liked that Joe Philbin didn't call a timeout to set things up and Charles Clay just made another huge effort for the team with a move to pick up the first. It was the best game-winning drive I've seen Tannehill engineer.
The Patriots lost a lot with this game today, but that's what can happen when practically every game comes down to the final play. Seven of their last nine games have gone down to the wire and they have been fortunate to go 4-3.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I don't think the Patriots are fortunate to be 4-3 in seven close games. That's usually what a good team will do in seven close games. A good team will be 3-4 or, more likely, 4-3. A bad team will be 4-3 or, more likely, 3-4. "Fortunate" would be going 5-2. "Ridiculously lucky" would be going 6-1.
That being said, clutch performance is a cruel mistress, and there was no way the Patriots were going to be able to keep coming down to the wire and pulling out game after game. You really saw the effect of all the injuries in this game. The Pats started their sixth different defensive tackle of the season. Again, they gave up plenty of runs. On offense, not only did you see the loss of Gronkowski when the Pats got into the red zone, but you also had the injury to Nate Solder at mid-game. That forced Logan Mankins over to tackle and brought in Josh Kline, who isn't very good and has very little experience. (It was his confusion that allowed Koa Misi to smack down Brady on third-and-8 with a minute left, although the Pats converted the fourth down and kept the drive going.)
As far as the Dolphins go, I still feel the same way about them that I have for the last couple years. This team just seems really, really average. OK, maybe slightly above average. They feel slightly above average in pretty much every way, at every position, with every player, with a couple of exceptions. First, the offensive line is awful. Second, Cameron Wake is freakin' awesome. I was also really impressed today by some amazing catches by the unknown wide receivers, who did a great job of keeping their feet in bounds, but I have a feeling that was a bit fluky. Rishard Mathews may be better than anyone knows, but it isn't like Marlon Moore is making great catches on a weekly basis. I'm guessing he's barely making them on a yearly basis.
Anyway, the problem with a team that's slightly above average everywhere is that it can be difficult to figure out where you need to find those one or two pieces that will make you a serious playoff contender. (Serious playoff contender, as opposed to "contender for sixth seed in the 2013 AFC which is a terrible conference historically.") They thought Mike Wallace was that piece, and he's had some big games, but he hasn't made a huge difference. Obviously, offensive linemen would help, but a bunch of rookies aren't going to come in and dramatically improve the line right away, they would need to get used to playing in the NFL.
One other note. Maybe I'm missing it, but I just feel like whenever I watch Miami this year, Dion Jordan really isn't doing much. Of course you don't write off a player after one year, but he certainly doesn't seem like a game changer right now. Maybe they haven't figured out the right way to use him. Or perhaps Wake is so busy making game-changing plays that there's no room for anyone else on the Dolphins to make game-changing plays.
Note: "That tight end" who made the one-handed touchdown catch was Michael Hoomanawanui.
J.J. Cooper: I just wanted to add to the Mike Wallace comment. He has had a maddening season for the Dolphins, but plays like the touchdown he had today are what will keep tantalizing the Dolphins with the idea that he can be a game-changer. Very, very few receivers have the speed to turn that play into a touchdown, but every now and then he will make one of those look easy.
But in between, he's getting two catches for 19 yards, like he did last week. He's getting paid like a No. 1 receiver, but in reality, he's best as an very good No. 2.
Aaron Schatz: Wallace sure seemed like a pure No. 1 back in Pittsburgh -- first in DYAR in 2010, fifth in DYAR in 2011. But yeah, he's maddeningly inconsistent this year, not someone you can trust almost every single week like Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, or apparently now Josh Gordon.
Still, Wallace fits as your deep guy. Maybe Wallace works best if you can team him with an elite-level possession receiver, like Anquan Boldin or Hines Ward in their primes. He started opposite Ward in 2010, although Ward wasn't really in his prime at that point.
J.J. Cooper: Yeah, that's a better way of putting it I guess. He's a deep guy, but you need the possession guy to go with him, as he's a 60-70 catch guy, not the one who gets a whole lot of first downs on third-and-8. That being said, it is puzzling to me to see his yards-per-catch take the dip it's taken in the last two years. Generally no one keeps up the 19-20 yards per catch he did in his first two seasons, but I didn't expect him to be putting up back-to-back 13 yards per catch seasons.
Cian Fahey: There's been a Randy Moss in Oakland element to Mike Wallace since Hines Ward left Pittsburgh. His problem isn't talent or anything with the way he plays. His problem is seemingly that he chooses to play sometimes and chooses to go through the motions on others.
Getting paid was probably the worst thing that ever happened to him, even if it was completely unavoidable.
I do believe he had a number of drops down the field during his last season with the Steelers and Roethlisberger's deep accuracy this year has been terrible so maybe that played into that season's production too. I haven't watched every game of the Dolphins, but their horrible pass protection has to have had an impact on Wallace's quantity of deep targets?
Cian Fahey: Jedd Fisch opened up the game with one of the nicest play-designs I've ever seen
Cian Fahey: It's that kind of throw from Manuel there that makes it easy to see why people are giving up on him already
Scott Kacsmar: Sounded like Rich Gannon bringing out the "This is why you're 4-9" as a nameless Jaguar receiver drops one on third down.
@GDFar: Ace Sanders has great vision with the ball. Knows where his blockers are and waits for them to set up.
@Mercurius100: Ladies and gentleman, your 2013 Jaguars!
Cian Fahey: Jordan Todman is proving that the Jaguars don't need to re-sign MJD...and MJD has been really, really good this year
Cian Fahey: Bills look like they are trying to lose this game based on their final drive in the fourth quarter
Cian Fahey: EJ Manuel's accuracy was as inconsistent as ever. He did show off some good touch passes and looked better throwing the ball down-field instead of throwing to intermediate routes.
Stevie Johnson, who was playing after his mother's death the previous night, suffered because of Manuel's struggles. His teammate Robert Woods excelled in spite of Manuel with a number of impressive plays.
On the defensive side for Buffalo, Kiko Alonso showed off his poor discipline/over-aggressive nature throughout the game. Alonso makes plays, but he also helps the offense by taking himself out of position too often. It's something that has plagued his rookie season and something that should really have improved as the season went on. It's a worrying sign.
The Bills defensive line dominated the Jaguars offensive line, as you'd expect, while Stephon Gilmore had an impressive day for the most part.
For the Jaguars offense, Chad Henne made a disastrous start. Jedd Fisch's creativity gave Marcedes Lewis on one of the nicest play designs you'll see, but Henne immediately threw a bad interception after it. Henne looked shell-shocked then. He used a timeout before the first play of the next drive, before taking two bad sacks that nearly resulted in a safety.
In the backfield with Henne, Jordan Todman showed off his talent. Todman had shined all season in a limited role complementing MJD, but now the Jaguars were relying on him and featured him almost exclusively. He ran well all day, but his production was limited by the offensive line. He had two big plays, one run and one reception, that really showed off his all-around talent.
Tom Gower: Colts on that 3&1 handed off to T-Rich as the upback w/ Don Brown the deep back. Setting up 90 flip for later in game?
Scott Kacsmar: According to CBS, it took the Colts 38 1st-half possessions to score a TD (first since Denver game).
@MulEdgeGJJ: When you can't score a TD in the first hald, play the Texans and all your problems will be solved
@nath_on_fire: Colts hadn't scored a first-half TD since Oct. 20. Naturally, the Texans are the cure for that, to Griff Whalen to boot!
Tom Gower: Luck INT looked like Dino v Cov-3 to me, Joseph recognized route combo & undercut Da'Rick's post
Tom Gower: Called that Colts punt when they lined up w/ Richardson next to Luck on 3&2 from Texans 41. Sometimes, I hate being right
@nath_on_fire: Did the Colts just run a screen to a backup TE on 3rd and 8? I want to ask the coaches what they expected to happen there.
@snakerjaker: things you don't often see: Andre Johnson with two consecutive AWFUL drops.
Tom Gower: Just when Case Keenum was doing positive things, finding Ryan Griffin for a couple third-down conversions, he throws another bad INT
Tom Gower: Surprisingly, IND-HOU would not be the first 25-3 final in NFL history. DAL-NYG did it in 1969
Tom Gower: Andrew Luck played one of his better games of the season, I think, in the half I saw. He didn't take unnecessary sacks (J.J. Watt was a non-factor much of the half) and threw the ball well.
Really, though, this game was never in doubt, and I bailed at half, because of the Houston offense. They lack any sort of sustaining element in the ground game, which they had the past two seasons, and Case Keenum played poorly, with a couple bad interceptions in addition to the customary sack for loss of big yardage. You see the occasional flashes of competence, but you also see why Gary Kubiak could reasonably think it would not worth spending a couple weeks figuring out if Keenum could be an acceptable starter.
Rivers McCown: Keenum was set up to fail. Most coaches would take a mobile quarterback with a penchant for delivering downfield strikes and say "let's run play-action!" The Texans barely ran it at all, asked him to sit in the pocket and make short throws, and got what they deserved. Call it "seeing what he can do in our offense" all you want, but if your offense can't make the best use of your player's talents, maybe the player isn't the problem.
This is a bad football team. I've taken to spending my Sundays praying for Teddy Bridgewater to come out. That's what it has come to.
@TCBullfrog: Cutler-McCown watch--Cutler throws into coverage in the end zone, tipped and intercepted. Start the engines. Not only the INT, but the offense was slow getting plays off on the Bears first possession. Didn't stop them driving to the RZ tho
Scott Kacsmar: Cutler pick-six. Pass was tipped, but still too high. Yeah, that's more picks in 22 minutes than McCown's had this season.
@TCBullfrog: So the clear storyline here is that Cutler starts out rusty, then warms up and ends up with like 3TDs, 2INTs. QB Controversy remains. FWIW Cutler looked a lot more comfortable on the 2 minute drive than he has most of the day.
@MilkmanDanimal: The fact neither Josh Gordon nor Jordan Cameron have a catch in the 1st half is really pretty Weediculous.
@TCBullfrog: I stopped counting the pace of Bears DTDs for obvious reasons, but with 6, they're doing better than expected
@MilkmanDanimal: 3 reasons Brandon Weeden should be starting: Gordon/Cameron fantasy points, Browns' draft position, the humor value of the universe.
Cian Fahey: That TD throw was really nice from Cousins
Scott Kacsmar: 2013 1st quarter TD passes: Robert Griffin (1), Kirk Cousins (1).
@Mercurius100: Washington and Atlanta both playing very hard for the #1 pick. Somebody should inform Washington of the details of the RG3 trade.
@Mercurius100: To all Washington and Atlanta fans, I'm really sorry. Do yourselves a favor and turn off the NFL until next season.
@MilkmanDanimal: Really looking forward to next week's "Is Kirk Cousins better than RGIII" narrative ignoring just how awful Atlanta's defense is.
@WhispersMoCo: Thinking in DC is that Shanahan specifically waited for this game to start Cousins.
Scott Kacsmar: Teams going for the win on late 2-point conversion are 3-5 now.
@wiesengrund: Of course WAS loses the game on a Shanahan call for a 2PC after a 80 yrd drive by Cousins to pull within 1. Trufant with the breakup. As advertised, the only team that won the Washington-Atlanta matchup was the Rams.
Cian Fahey: Kirk Cousins' ball placement was an issue at times, he should have been intercepted when he threw a slant pass behind Pierre Garcon's ear, but for the most part he showed off potential in his first start of 2013.
Tom Gower: Can't believe Da'Quan Bowers wasn't able to successfully spy Colin Kaepernick on that 3rd down, y'all.
Danny Tuccitto: SF looked totally out of sorts on their first drive (broken plays, wasted timeouts), but still drive length of field for TD. Scary.
@MilkmanDanimal: Adrian Clayborn blows full-speed past Joe Staley for a sack, the next play rookie William Gholston beats Staley again. Bad series.
Danny Tuccitto: It really is amazing how you get a wasted timeout and an Ahmad Brooks offside penalty in the first half of every game.
Danny Tuccitto: Greg Schiano looks like Bruno Sammartino, amirite?
@MilkmanDanimal: Mark Barron has been good this year, but he's not "cover Vernon Davis one-on-one on a post route" good.
@MilkmanDanimal: Mike Glennon is such a radically different QB when he has time vs. when he's rushed or pressured
Mike Ridley: Offsides negates the weirdest pick-six I can remember. Only in TB
Danny Tuccitto: Lavonte David out, and 49ers decide to pass on 2nd- and 3rd-&-4 (after 6-yard run on 1st), not even to Vernon Davis. Makes no sense.
Danny Tuccitto: Even Tom Olivadotti would find SF's prevent defense to be a failure today.
@MilkmanDanimal: Tampa hasn't made huge mistakes today, but their tackling has been utterly abysmal.
Danny Tuccitto: Draw to Boldin, who was lined up at shotgun RB. Burn that play.
@MilkmanDanimal: Tampa now has a competitor for Worst Play of the Year; Mike Glennon's drop of the ball vs. Carolina no longer stands alone.
Andrew Potter OAK is playing defense like they've never seen KC's offense before. Smith two 39yd+ TD passes, both screens to Charles.
Vince Verhei: Oakland is so damn bad that I'm angry they won't get the first pick. Records be damned, this is the worst team right now.
@Mercurius100: Jamaal Charles is too small to be an NFL RB, he'll wear down late in the season.
Scott Kacsmar: So Alex Smith is going for the most misleading stat line of the season.
Scott Kacsmar: Turnovers and benched QB, but Raiders have 24 points on KC on long scoring drives (65, 82, 80, 74).
Vince Verhei: Early in third quarter, six different Raiders have 20-yard catches, including people named Chimdi Chekwa and Andre Holmes.
Scott Kacsmar: Correction: I said Raiders benched McGloin. That's not true. Chiefs are damn near pulling a 92 Oilers today.
Vince Verhei: Raiders score 21 straight points and make me look stupid, then give up another long TD to Charles and make me look smart.
Andrew Potter Somebody -really- needs to tell Oakland about Jamaal Charles. Honestly guys, he's good.
@MilkmanDanimal: Jamaal Charles has all 5 offensive TDs, and all but about 50 yards of KC's offense. How bad would they be without him?
Scott Kacsmar: Charles has 7/187/4. That's just receiving. For a RB.
Aaron Schatz: What's scary is that Jamaal Charles has like 9,000 yards and Oakland is somehow still in that game.
@pchicola: KC's defense just imploded over the past month. After the first DEN game, their performance has been lackluster at best.
@CyrisJonfs:Given how DYAR loves RB rec yds, I assume Charles broke Quick Reads.
@MichaelEdits: It's a lot easier for Jamaal Charles to break those long runs when the Raiders aren't pursuing him.
Vince Verhei: Yes! Panthers going with the way-cool all-black unis!
@nath_on_fire: I guess Riverboat Ron is continuing to take the month of December off.
Aaron Schatz: Thought: Ron Rivera's conservative playcalling today might be about respect for Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson.
@CyrisJonfs: Rivera regains his senses on 1st drive of 2nd half.
Vince Verhei: Sheldon Richardson BIG MAN TOUCHDOWN RUN.
@Mercurius100: Calling offensive plays for D players shows ingenuity, and that your regulars on offense aren't good enough.
@BeccaDannysWife: If all the Jets and all the Panthers are in the end zone, Michael Tolbert and the ball will be, right? Gotta be a pony in that pile!
@MulEdgeGJJ: Wait! which team's secondary is the weakness, Santonio?
VinceVerhei: None of this proves Santonio wrong. DBs are CAR's weak link. But NYJ O is even weaker.
Aaron Schatz: Man, what I wouldn't give for Carolina to draft a nickelback named David Tennille.
@MilkmanDanimal: The Bears annihilated the Cowboys defense Monday night, the Packers currently have 3 points.
Aaron Schatz: As bad as the GB QBs are right now, even Rodgers might not be able to catch up with what this defense is giving up.
Vince Verhei: Announcers talking about GB's big win last week. You know, when they needed late TD to beat 3-win ATL team by 1 point at home.
@blotzphoto: If the cowboys manage to lose this game, they should award the NFC east to the Cardinals.
Vince Verhei: Flynn's third TD of day adds to his Pro Bowl resume. #Kidding #Kidding
Aaron Schatz: OK, GB-DAL is now officially one of those bizarre "tale of two halves" games.
@Mercurius100: Dallas gave them a run, but GB D taking a stranglehold on the worst D in this game contest.
Aaron Schatz: I know, I know, Romo throws a pick with 2:50 left, but that was a GREAT play by Sam Shields to leap for that. I mean, Romo shouldn't have thrown it given the duress, but I do think without a great defensive play it's just incomplete.
Tom Gower: Cowboys trying to win the Martz Award for inexplicably failing to run for the second week in a row
Mike Ridley: It will be interesting to see Jerry Jones' defense of this coaching job tomorrow
@Mercurius100: The Cowboys were up 26-3. Up 12 with 9 minutes left. But yeah, Tony Romo awful!!!
Vince Verhei: Looked like DAL let GB score on first down. Probably right decision.
Aaron Schatz: I know I did research that showed that Romo really doesn't play worse on national TV, but... AGAIN on national TV, dude. SERIOUSLY
@MilkmanDanimal: That's a pick and game over, but I'm staying on this channel just so I can see Jerry Jones' face when the ref confirms the call.
@blotzphoto: If I were Tony Romo I would take an unmarked exit. Then try and arrange a trade to someplace sane. Like Cleveland.
Mike Ridley: I'm a firm believer Dallas simply didn't want to have Week 17 decide their playoff fate again.
Aaron Schatz: One thing I'm realizing this year is that if you want to avoid the plain, common narratives, it's really difficult to analyze a game right afterwards without re-watching it closely -- which of course you can't do right afterwards. I always feel like I don't have the kind of incisive analysis I really want to have.
That's my thought about this game, which was another one of "tale of two halves" games where the Dallas defense looked much better than usual in the first half while the Packers looked like they couldn't stop a nosebleed, and then in the second half the Packers were suddenly on top of all the receivers, and the Cowboys were letting Matt Flynn throw the ball easily all over the field. (Although except for a couple of runs, the Cowboys did a much better job stopping Eddie Lacy than they did stopping Matt Forte last week, even in the second half.) I would like to have some idea of what Green Bay did with its schemes to improve so much in the second half on both sides of the ball, but watching from TV angles, while trying to pay attention a little bit to the other games going on, I honestly have very little idea.
I do know that I don't like the way the Dallas coaches threw Tony Romo under the bus after the game. Chris Brown suggested on Twitter that a number of those fourth-quarter plays were packaged plays where Romo had the option to run or pass. I don't know if this is one of those packaged plays, but Jason Garrett told reporters after the game that Romo specifically changed the play with the last interception from a run to a pass. Well, he probably has the option to do so. It's a packaged play, or else he has the option to audible, and you have to trust him to do so. The problem was the throw more than the change from run to pass. And hey, if you feel you want to run down the clock, you tell your quarterback not to audible, and I'm sure he would follow the instructions. Romo thought he had a better play, and then he made a bad throw. The throw is the problem more than the audible, right? We know that in hindsight, running the ball would have been better, but I want to know if the audible was justified given the defensive look.
Rivers McCown: ROMOCEMBER: THE RECKONING. Check First Take throughout the day for more.
Tom Gower: Thank you, Titans, for not just rushing 3 but actually blitzing on the hail mary. Result = sack.
Tom Gower: Ryan Fitzpatrick Random Deep Ball Success isn't carrying over from last week, it seems.
@pchicola: TEN has joined the "Dakota" trend. Aligning TE as the X-iso on a 3x1 set. Matches him vs a CB without much help inside.
@MilkmanDanimal: Rashard Mendenhall is basically Trent Richardson with some crazy conspiracy theories thrown in. Why does he keep getting the ball?
Cian Fahey Daryl Washington is so good. Ryan Fitzpatrick is so bad. That's my professional analysis
Cian Fahey: Back during his Steelers days, I was one of Arians biggest critics. I was completely wrong about him
Tom Gower: Jackie Battle with the great breakup of the contested catch by Fitzgerald on the onside kick.
@StanSellsBoats: Strange to see Fitzpatrick NOT throw a game-losing interception down 7 with under two minutes to go.
Andrew Potter: He was lulling Arizona into a false sense of anxiety.
@MulEdgeGJJ: Ryan Fitzpatrick's mandatory game-losing INT
@Mercurius100: Taking the ball worked really well for Tennessee.
Tom Gower: I'm not sure what to say about this game, aside from that it included a lot more offensive proficiency than I was anticipating. For the first 50-odd minutes, it felt like a typical Titans game. In a close game, the Cardinals got a break for three points when the Titans muffed the second half kickoff, and then went up 2 scores late when the Titans couldn't stop a drive. Following a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception when Nate Washington was beat to the spot, it was 34-17 and looked over. Oh, of course Fitzpatrick would drive the field against the prevent defense -- he'd done that against the Colts and Jaguars down multiple scores, and even doing it twice this game wasn't much of a surprise. What was unusual was that the Titans managed to recover the expected onside kick, then drive for the touchdown. Naturally, the offensive coaches wanted to go for two, Mike Munchak kicked the extra point, and the Titans lost in overtime.
Broader thoughts? Carson Palmer is certainly a professional quarterback, and Arizona's offensive line is good enough to let him succeed. He still takes his chances, sometimes hitting tight windows for big plays and sometimes throwing near-interceptions (the Titans had a couple chances to get an interception today, but couldn't cash any of them in). The Cardinals seemed to split Andre Ellington out in the slot a fair amount, and he had a fair amount of success catching the ball, including a 38-yard score that set up a touchdown. It feels like the Titans are spitballing things a bit at linebacker, giving rookie Zaviar Gooden a lot of snaps for the second week in a row in the nickel after he first played on defense when he started last week against the Broncos.
On the other side of the ball, Patrick Peterson didn't seem to have a great game. They seemed to match him up with Kendall Wright, but only some of the time. I'll have to re-watch the all-22 to see exactly what they did with him and Wright in general, who had modest numbers until it was 34-17. The Tennessee run game was typically hit and miss.
I know Cian is frustrated by him, but at some point the Titans need to sit down and figure out why they want to be committed to Jake Locker when the Titans have scored more than 20 offensive points in regulation in 3 of the 16 games he's started and played most of, while Fitzpatrick has done it in 4 of the last 5 games.
Cian Fahey: Tom, that's Fitzpatrick's MO. He'll put up points and he'll make the plays that ultimately kill you. I haven't got around to the Titans game yet, but caught a few of the plays and noticed he had a pick-six dropped from Washington.
Personally, I believe the offense would be even better with Locker at the helm. He faced some tough defenses earlier in the year and the offense has seemingly grown as the year has gone on with so many new pieces (Warmack, Levitre, Schwenke, Walker, Hunter).
I don't think it's as black and white as we can do this with Fitzpatrick but not with Locker, so what is wrong with Locker? Not saying you were implying that, just think there's a lot to it.
Tom Gower: I need to sit down and really collect my thoughts on Locker, but I haven't seen enough quality out of him and no really good games. He did two things reasonably well this year, avoid interceptions (before he got hurt) and score touchdowns in the red zone. Those are valuable things, but there are also all those drives that don't end up in the red zone.
Cian Fahey: I'm by no means saying he's a superstar, but I was very impressed with him early on. I do note that I was very impressed with him as a fit in the offense rather than him carrying the offense.
Rivers McCown: My rough draft of Locker's player comment at this point would read something like "Can make all the throws -- often won't." I feel like Tennessee's offense is way too structured with him, to the point where it felt like 40-50 percent of his completions in good games were curl routes. I'm more in the pessimist's camp with him, I believe, because that lack of consistent underneath accuracy is something I consider a killer in quarterbacks now. Let Locker play streetball, run play-action, and hurry-up, and I think he'd be a real load to deal with. I don't think Tennessee is bold enough to do that.
@RavenBerns: I know Graham is good, but Brees just threw it into triple coverage for that INT. not sure what he was thinking.
@GDFar: Saints so far: Force punt, pick, two hand touch gives up a TD, pick, 30 penalty yds next drive
@GDFar: I'll be shocked if the Saints don't spend 2 picks on OTs this draft.
@nath_pn_fire: Saints haven't used high picks on OL in Payton era. They like coaching up small-school guys & took Armstead 3rd round last yr. They definitely need to hope Armstead is ready & find another guy though, Strief has begun to slip & Brown was always shaky.
Vince Verhei: Rob Ryan tugging up his trousers while jogging off field pretty much summarizes New Orleans' game so far.
Andrew Potter: Quinn strip sack of Brees was awesome. Didn't knock the ball out so much as simply take it out of Brees' hand.
@RavenBerns: And with the 26th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints select [best kicker available].
Scott Kacsmar: So the Steelers wait until they're 5-8 to have their best start to a game this season.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, it's a bummer that PIT is down to its third center, but do you know who else is down to their third center? Denver.
@nath_on_fire I don't understand NFL coaches. So 4th and 3 from opp. 37 is a punt but 4th and 4 from 34 is a go for it? Is the 35 a magical line?
Cian Fahey: Al Woods was a popular player for the Steelers during preseason and camp. Done little to this point, but showing up now
Andrew Potter: Kevin Huber questionable with a "dental" injury. That would be Belichickese for a broken jaw.
@nath_on_fire: That's gonna be overturned, but I was really hoping Marvin would go for it there. Would have been a perfect situation even in the early game: Down 21-0, near midfield, 1 yard to go, punter is dead. In fact, the more interesting question to me is how much merit there is to going for it even w/o the catch, even at 4th and 17.
@blotzphoto: This performance merely underscores how important home field is to the Bengals
Rob Weintraub: That glorious feeling of getting off a plane and discovering your team is down three tds in the 1st quarter to its hated rival.
Aaron Schatz: Do the Bengals realize they are losing by 3 TDs and have no punter?
@Mercurius100: Starting in 2014, once per game teams can poll the crowd on if a call should be reversed. $1.99 per text.
Cian Fahey: Cam Heyward is really showing up well this year. Jarvis Jones has also looked good during this game.
Cian Fahey: Tyler Eifert on Ryan Clark is a mismatch. Also, tight ends on Ryan Clark are mismatches...wide receivers, running backs too actually
Scott Kacsmar: Well that was unexpectedly uncompetitive. I thought the New England loss would give Cincinnati an extra boost, but the Bengals were flat and the Steelers took control early. It was definitely cold here in Pittsburgh tonight, but nothing that both teams shouldn't be used to. The Steelers just looked sharper and Ben Roethlisberger had a good game outside of that deep ball the wind had no problem turning into an interception. There was really nothing going on with either ground game, but special teams were a big factor. Bengals botched a punt to give the Steelers a 1-yard touchdown drive -- guess that was worse for them than giving up the safety and extra possession -- and of course Antonio Brown taking one back 67 yards for a touchdown was big.
After that point it just didn't feel like much of a game, but Bengals made some plays to get to 30-20. I don't know how Ike Taylor can get that fooled on fourth-and-5 and leave Marvin Jones that wide open for a touchdown, but that's the kind of season it's been for him. Fortunately Jarvis Jones knocked down that two-point attempt to keep it a two-score game and the Steelers had enough points on the board this time for the ending to be irrelevant.
I'm not sure anyone wants this AFC. The fact that scenarios exist where Cincinnati can miss the playoffs altogether is very interesting.
Tom Gower: The Bengals are also still alive for home field advantage throughout the postseason. What a mess the AFC is.
Rivers McCown: I think we're all excited for the second-seeded Indianapolis Colts, right? We would've been seven weeks ago! Why are you all turning your televisions off?
143 comments, Last at 18 Dec 2013, 3:00am by Duke