compiled by Vince Verhei
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.
Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, which 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 Raiders fan, not so much.)
Indianapolis Colts 7 at Buffalo Bills 30
Aaron Schatz: Kind of bummed that I can't watch the fun blizzard game in Buffalo, but to completely echo Mike Florio, if the Colts don't care about 16-0 but are willing to play their starters (and risk injury in a SNOWSTORM) specifically so that Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne can reach 100-catch milestones, well, that's ridiculous.
Bill Barnwell: Colts' starters got out of there before the snow got really bad. It was only a light dusting when the game started. I'm not really concerned about the Colts playing Manning; teams never get near him, and the Bills don't blitz. Wayne/Clark on the other hand...
Aaron Schatz: Right, but put yourself in the Colts' shoes. If you aren't concerned about playing Manning today, why were you concerned during the second half of last week?
Bill Barnwell: Jets' rush is a lot better. Then again, I guess they could've just not played him at all under that logic.
Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at Cleveland Browns 23
Tom Gower: Maurice Jones-Drew, possible ankle injury from planting awkwardly. Missed two plays, came back in on third-and-5 and served as a decoy.
Doug Farrar: Jerome Harrison has 10 carries at the end of the first quarter, one week after he had 39 carries and two weeks after he had 34 carries. Are they trying to kill him before he can succeed in a new Browns offense next year?
Tom Gower: Watching the Browns offense, especially in the current cold, reminds me of watching a bad college team. There's absolutely no chance they could drive the ball down the field through a series of successful plays, so they're stuck relying on the big play. Their first field-goal drive came after a Josh Cribbs kickoff return out to the 45, a fourth-down conversion to get a first down, and then a semi-random big play when the Jags didn't bother covering Robert Royal and they got down to the 15. Since they're still trying to win, they end up plowing their best running back into the line a zillion times a game and hoping he'll break one.
And, after I sent that e-mail, the Browns started moving the ball down the field. Of course, they needed a fourth-down conversion to get those 25 yards. But, my fears of being wrong were quickly quashed by Derek Anderson's fourth dreadful pass of the game, this one an underthrow right to Derek Cox.
Doug Farrar: I would love to be a fly on the wall when Mike Holmgren, Quarterback Guru Extraordinaire, gets his first hard look at his current signal-callers. "Hey -- this Cribbs guy looks pretty good!"
Tom Gower: Oh, by the way, it was very kind of Browns fans to help make the Jaguars feel at home and let them play in a stadium with maybe 25,000 or 30,000 people in it. The upper deck has to be at least 10 percent full.
Well, only five or six different Jaguars could potentially have tackled Josh Cribbs on that touchdown run. Good job by Eric Mangini/Rob Chudzinski (assuming he's still offensive coordinator) not letting Anderson try anything in the red zone.
Tom Gower: Mike Thomas has played with fire twice on kickoff returns, failing to field a ball. He's gotten lucky both times, seeing it roll just barely into the end zone for a touchback and then out of bounds right before the end zone.
Week 17 injury update: MJD returned after missing a couple plays and has played since then without incident.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Jennings just pulled off one of the greatest runs I've ever seen. Went from one side of the field to the other and turned a huge loss into an 11-yard gain. Literally may have broken ten tackles (by our definition). Amazing play.
Tom Gower: I guess the Jaguars can't stand the Scramble Endorsement Curse, as they seem like they're about to drop their fourth straight game after the Browns go up 20-3. The touchdown came on a Harrison rush. The Browns motioned Lawrence Vickers behind Thomas and ran off tackle left. The Jags didn't adjust and just got overwhelmed at the point of attack.
Doug Farrar: It's difficult to know what to think of Cleveland's rushing performance in this game. On one hand, Harrison is a stud and the left side of their line really is exceptional. On the other hand, it appears as of the entire Jaguars defense spent the week at the Brian Russell Tackling Academy.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, but the tackling sucked on the Harrison touchdown, as well. The Jags strive for consistency.
Vince Verhei: Weirdness: Jacksonville came into today ranked 32nd in pass defense DVOA, but third against the run.
Tom Gower: The Jacksonville Jaguars scored a touchdown to make it 23-17 on the last play of the game. Because, really, losing 23-10 in a must-win game is so much worse than losing 23-17.
Aaron Schatz: Which of you did I screw over with the Jacksonville chapter this year? Does that team make any sense to anybody? Has there ever been a year where we went into the book writing and Jacksonville *wasn't* the team that made the least sense? I guess two years ago after they had the good playoff run, that was the one offseason where we seemed to actually be able to figure out who the Jaguars were supposed to be. Other than that, just head scratching. Just imagine what a problem this would be if they had more than six or seven fans.
Tom Gower: That would be me. Thanks a whole lot. I'm hoping the reports they'll fire Jack Del Rio are true so I can use new GM (last year) and now coach as well as the hook. Drafting a first-round quarterback (not Tim Tebow, please) would also work.
Chicago Bears 37 at Detroit Lions 23
Bill Barnwell: I've never seen anyone give up on a screen as early as Jay Cutler just did. The Lions brought five, the line parted ways, and Cutler basically spiked the ball in between his second and third steps on the dropback. Not a criticism -- it's what he should've done -- but just remarkable.
Doug Farrar: Sounds like a one-play summary of Jason Campbell's day against the Cowboys.
Daunte Culpepper is 17-of-22 on the day. I don't think they'd be a playoff contender or anything if he had started all season, but wouldn't it have made more sense for him to be on field as Matt Stafford watched and learned from the bench?
From the "Nyah, nyah, I told you so!" department: Before the season I picked Jay Cutler as the player most likely to exceed his KUBIAK projection and predicted 25 touchdowns. He threw four today and finished with 27. (He also finished with 26 picks, but we're not talking about that.)
San Francisco 49ers 28 at St. Louis Rams 6
Tom Gower: Josh Morgan apparently talked Mike Singletary into letting Isaac Bruce, be an honorary captain, and putting him in for the first play. The Rams didn't show the coin toss on the jumbotron and he wasn't announced as a starter and nobody apparently paid much attention to his valedictory appearance. So, really, we shouldn't be surprised that the Rams kicked a 29-yard field goal down 7-3 in with 9 minutes to play, because they ... just ... don't ... care.
Bill Barnwell: They're playing for Suh. So that makes total sense.
Vince Verhei: If the Rams take Suh, that's their third top-13 defensive lineman in four years. They'd better start producing.
I forgot how bad they've been, but they've picked second overall two years in a row and will now pick first.
Rob Weintraub: Just a word of caution: Yes, he is the top prospect, yes, he is No. 1 on The Hairdo's Big Board, and yes, he is an unstoppable force of nature, but let's not all just assume Suh is the chalk top pick just yet. Oklahoma has a superb defensive tackle too, Gerald McCoy, who will be compared to Suh by St. Louis down to their cuticles. And you never know what else happens come draft time. Two words: Mario Williams.
Aaron Schatz: If the Lions have the second pick, there's a pretty good chance that Suh-McCoy will go 1-2 in some order.
Pittsburgh Steelers 30 at Miami Dolphins 24
Bill Barnwell: Dierdorf starts off with a doozy. "How precision of a throw is this by Ben Roethlisberger."
Can you imagine if Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback in Washington? It would be awesome.
Doug Farrar: Most dominant offensive linemen are pretty smart, and I'm sure Dierdorf is away from the booth, but it just doesn't translate.
Steelers get first-and-goal early on with run-blocking out of the bunch formation. I really like how they do that. The blocking flexibility with Heath Miller is what makes it work.
If anyone wants to know what "Hole in Zone" looks like, he was covering Santonio Holmes on his first-quarter touchdown, where he was wiiiiiiide open in the middle of the end zone.
Tom Gower: I know I said unpleasant things about the empty backfield last week, but that's because empty is vulnerable to pressure. Miami motioned to empty, the Steelers only brought three, and Henne threw a touchdown pass. You got what you deserved, Blitzburgh.
Doug Farrar: Question for Mike Kurtz: If I'm Kevin Colbert, am I looking hard at 3-4 inside linebackers in the draft this year? I think I am.
Mike Kurtz: Inside linebacker and maybe defensive end, although I think a lot of the edge trouble is a lack of Aaron Smith. If I were going into the draft, I'd be looking long and hard at getting value at guard and inside linebacker.
Bill Barnwell: Ben Roethlisberger just pulled off the greatest juke ever on Nathan Jones. Jones had a free rush to the quarterback, Roethlisberger shook his hips, and Jones fell on his ass. Wow. Wow.
Vince Verhei: Chad Henne looked really good on the Dolphins' first drive, quick and accurate both with his decisions and his passes. Looked like how Matt Hasselbeck used to play. On the ESPN chat last Monday somebody asked if Henne was the Dolphin's quarterback of the future. I told them he deserved a chance based on his numbers, and he's confirmed that so far today.
Mike Kurtz: I think the lesson of this Steelers season is that the defense relies far too much on two or three players. Part of this is to hide a shaky secondary, but there just isn't the across-the-board talent that there used to be. Of course, now that they have a top-flight offense, that might not be nearly the issue it would have been six years ago.
The Steelers secondary seems to be terrified of Miami's deep ball. What? Really, what?
Doug Farrar: The Steelers have no interceptions from their cornerbacks this year. I would love to know the last time a team went through an entire season with no cornerback picks.
Vince Verhei: If Pittsburgh wants to get the best inside linebacker next April, they'd better lose this game. I can't imagine the best linebacker available will get past Miami in the draft.
Bill Barnwell: And the Steelers get a pick from a cornerback.
Mike Kurtz: And then on the next play, Ben Roethliseberger throws backwards to Santonio Holmes, who throws a huge duck into double coverage that is intercepted. That was possibly the dumbest play ever, although there was possible defensive pass interference.
Mike Kurtz: The Steelers continue to be terrified of Miami's deep ball, to the point where a massively wobby pass that took like 5 seconds to get there forced the closest player to COME BACK to the ball, and he was still 5 yards away at the catch.
Of course, it helps that they are obliging Henne by only sending three, nearly every play.
And then a snap goes flying past Henne, high shotgun snap, and Miami gets pushed out of field-goal range. What a bizarre sequence of events.
Vince Verhei: Latest classic Dierdorf moment: A shotgun snap goes over Henne's head, but Miami recovers. Dierdorf says that this is "technically" not a fumble because Miami recovered. You've been a player and broadcaster for 30, maybe 40 years now. Have you never seen the "fumbles-lost" entry in a boxscore?
Doug Farrar: I haven't seen a snap like that since Boone Stutz almost won Keep Choppin' Wood a couple years ago. Grove has been out, but of all teams to have a problem with shotgun snaps...
Aaron Schatz: Ike Taylor, of course, is tied for the league lead in dropped interceptions over the last two years according to game charting. I just went and looked. Astonishingly, Steelers not only did not have any interceptions by cornerbacks until this week, they also had only TWO dropped interceptions by cornerbacks in charting data through Week 13: Taylor in overtime against Kansas City in Week 11, and rookie Joe Burnett with 40 seconds left against the Raiders in Week 13.
Tom Gower: Week 17 injury update: Chad Henne is questionable to return with an eye injury.
Aaron Schatz: People watching MIA-PIT, what kind of offense are the Dolphins running with Pat White as the main quarterback?
Vince Verhei: With Pat White, Miami has been mostly running their base offense, very ineffectively. They did use one unique formation: a shotgun full house, as White was in the gun with one back behind him and one on either side. I'm looking at this thinking of all the counters and options and misdirections and screens they can run out of this thing. Then they just ran a quarterback dive.
Bill Barnwell: Ugh. Pat White just got knocked out on a run to the sideline. Helmet-to-helmet hit at an awkward angle with White's head and neck totally vulnerable, went down flat, and hasn't moved since. What an awful week.
Vince Verhei: Pat White has yet to complete a pass -- not just today, but in his NFL career -- so the Dolphins are using a lot of read-option stuff. On third-and-8, White takes off down the left sideline and takes a vicious helmet-to-helmet shot from No. 24. All the Steelers players in the area immediately start calling for trainers. They've already got the cart out there. Good news is I saw him moving his feet and hands, but he is very clearly done for the day. Dolphins' third quarterback is Tyler Thigpen, and Steelers lead 24-10.
Doug Farrar: Ike Taylor bails into Pat White near the left sideline with a helmet-to-helmet hit with 2:05 left in the third quarter. Ugly hit, and you just hope he's OK. Are there circumstances under which helmet-to-helmet hits are legal? I didn't think so, but Dierdorf insisted that since White was a running back on the play, there should be no flag. I'm not buying it.
Will Carroll: It's very, very simple at this point: Players who make head-to-head hits are suspended a game. Period, no exceptions. Taylor was clearly leading with his head when he hit White.
Mike Kurtz: Helmet-to-helmet hits are illegal against quarterbacks and defenseless receivers and the ref's option for especially heinous, intentional hits. The rationale is that there are too many incidental helmet-to-helmet hits over the course of normal ballcarrying for it to be per se illegal.
Will Carroll: I'm not saying they should be illegal, but they should carry suspensions. I know that seems a bit odd, but I don't think referees can see them well enough, nor is it really possible to see intent or how it happened. I think a one-game suspension is going to make guys pull up a bit.
Bill Barnwell: I think we need a name for Week 17 to counter "National Jump To Conclusions Week." "National Get Off The Field!!! Week?"
Vince Verhei: Thigpen is in at quarterback, but the Dolphins are not dead yet. He's 2-for-4 so far, and Brian Hartline just scored on a reverse. Pittsburgh 27, Miami 17.
Bill Barnwell: Really well-run reverse, too. Clear path to the end zone, good blocking by Dolphins at all levels.
Vince Verhei: A sack of Roethlisberger leads to a three-and-out. On Miami's first play, Thigpen fakes a screen left, fakes a screen right, and hits the tight end on a short post in the middle of the field for about 20 yards.
And then Thigpen finds Davone Bess three yards behind the corner on a fly pattern to make it 27-24. Thigpen keeps the ball, I assume it's his first touchdown pass. There are still 8 1/2 minutes to go.
Steelers go three-and-out again, and this time on third down Roethlisberger is sacked and fumbles. Dolphins recover. Wow, wow, wow.
On first down, Thigpen tries to force a pass into double coverage at the goal line. Ryan Clark intercepts.
Roethlisberger is coming back on, but he's clutching his right arm to his side. Apparently he landed awkwardly on his shoulder on the sack. Steelers have a first down at their own 2.
Tom Gower: Week 17 injury watch: Ben Roethlisberger, possible shoulder injury on the fumble. Returns to the game the next drive and completes a pass, but he's clearly playing hurt.
Bill Barnwell: Total speculation: Separated his shoulder and had it popped back in.
Vince Verhei: This Pittsburgh-Miami game has been awesome, but it's just been rendered meaningless by the Houston win. Miami is out now, and Pittsburgh, even if they win, need Baltimore, New York, and Denver to lose to get in.
Aaron Schatz: Stranger things have happened, just ask the 2008 Philadelphia Eagles.
Vince Verhei: Steelers run off about seven minutes. They appeared to have a clinching touchdown, but it was called back on a holding penalty. They kick a field goal to go up 30-24 with forty seconds left. Miami has no timeouts.
I repeat: Miami needs inside linebackers, bad.
Bill Barnwell: Akin Ayodele's been terrible this year. Part of why they struggle so much with tight ends.
Aaron Schatz: At one point a couple years ago, I did research and determined that there were something like only two or three games in an eight-year period where teams were actually forced to use all three active quarterbacks because of injury. We've now had two in a three-week period, Oakland in Week 15 and Miami today.
Vince Verhei: Taylor intercepts Thigpen on first down to make it official.
ESPN reporting that Pat White is going to be OK, it was "only" a concussion.
New York Giants 7 at Minnesota Vikings 44
Aaron Schatz: Did the Giants sit their starters today without telling anyone? And their backups, perhaps calling up some members of the soon-to-be-eliminated Hofstra varsity to wear their uniforms and pretend to be Giants?
Bill Barnwell: Something I brought up on Twitter: At this point, do the Giants consider quietly offering Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher the Giants' job? It works out for everyone involved -- the Giants get to own their coaching issue and replace Coughlin, who looks like a lame-duck coach (of course, as he did before the Super Bowl run towards the end of 2007) with an elite replacement. Cowher/Shanahan get to move to a much better team than the Redskins or Bills.
Vince Verhei: Is Coughlin really likely to be fired? One year after being the top seed in the NFC, it's his fault the safeties got hurt?
Bill Barnwell: Not that the safeties got hurt, but that he's responsible for Sheridan's inheritance of the defensive coordinator position, and he's been an absolute disaster. And he's not getting any younger. Would it be more shocking than the Shanahan firing a year ago?
Atlanta Falcons 20 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10
Vince Verhei: Congratulations Atlanta on your first back-to-back winning seasons ever!
New Orleans Saints 10 at Carolina Panthers 23
Vince Verhei: Panthers lead the not-really-trying Saints 17-3 at halftime. Jonathan Stewart has already gone over 100 yards.
Discussion point: Michael Vick will be in Carolina next season. John Fox coached against him twice a year for several seasons and knows all his strengths and weaknesses. He also beat Vick and the Falcons once throwing only seven passes, while using several plays with a running back at quarterback before anybody knew what a Wildcat was. The Panthers are still going to be a run-first team, and Vick's mobility should keep defenses from focusing on Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. They don't need a Manning-level savior; they just need a guy to hand off a lot, run an occasional bootleg, and throw deep to Steve Smith. I have no idea what it would cost them in either draft picks or dollars, but it makes sense on the field.
New England Patriots 27 at Houston Texans 34
Doug Farrar: Wes Welker just went down holding his knee. Make sure to mention that when you try and legislate how teams rest their starters, Herr Goodell.
Tom Gower: Week 17 injury report: Wes Welker, probable left knee injury. Got it while cutting, not on contact.
Aaron Schatz: According to Will Carroll, Houston actually uses natural grass because of the retractable roof. Not known for high injury rate.
Bill Barnwell: I saw Jones-Drew and Welker go down on consecutive plays and just got so angry. MJD at least has something significant to play for.
Welker's on the bench crying. He looks DONE.
Tom Gower: And he's since been carted to the locker room.
Doug Farrar: That was genuinely painful to watch.
Aaron Schatz: As a Pats fan, devastated by Welker injury. As an FO writer, well, at least we'll have some anecdotal evidence in the postseason that will test Barnwell's belief that Welker is a somewhat overrated player because his specific skill-set is a lot less rare than people seem to believe, and that someone like Danny Amendola (or, in this case, Julian Edelman) can give you 90 percent of that value for a lot less money.
Aaron Schatz: Not only is Brady in, but Connor Barwin just hit him and knocked him down on third down. Totally legal hit, but Brady got up and jawed at him, like, "are you deliberately trying to hurt me here?" But let's talk about what's important: The totally weak non-block that let Barwin have a free shot at Brady was by right tackle... Nick Kaczur. Let's get this straight, Kaczur's been pulled from the starting lineup in favor of Sebastian Vollmer, but you've got him in there to help protect Brady in a relatively meaningless Week 17 game? What the hell?
Doug Farrar: The Kaczur-for-Vollmer move surprises me more. Damn nice day for Darius Butler, though. Defended a deep route by Andre Johnson very well early in the game, and he picked up a Jacoby Jones drop and brought it to the house in the third quarter.
Aaron Schatz: By the way, I love this story that Tom Brady is playing with three broken ribs. In fact, reports say he's been playing with three broken ribs the whole season. Plugging on despite broken ribs? Apparently, Tom Brady is Batman.
Have I mentioned that undrafted rookie Arian Foster is in the Going Deep section of FOA 2009? (pats back again)
Bill Barnwell: That one's actually on Stephanie Stradley from the Chronicle/Fanhouse, who insisted that I make sure he got in Going Deep.
Aaron Schatz: Solomon Wilcots on Julian Edelman: "He's a player, and he senses the opportunity. You can tell, he's been waiting for this day, and the day has arrived. You're the guy who gets to play the role of Wes Welker in this offense."
Um, Solomon? Edelman already played the role of Wes Welker in this offense in Weeks 2 and 3, when Welker was inactive with injuries. The day arrived three months ago.
Patriots are running a weird 5 LB-6 DB defense against the Texans, with the linebacker rushing from a mix of standing position and three-point stances. This doesn't stop them from disintegrating in the second half again and blowing a 14-point lead. Then the Pats spread it out, the Texans bring the pass rush, Mario Williams pressures Brady, and he throws it up for grabs on a ridiculously ill-advised pass. Interception, Bernard Pollard (oh, the irony), and Texans get an opportunity to march down the field and win this game with less than four minutes left.
I really do wonder what is the reason for the repeated second-half collapses by the Patriots this year. Not enough depth, so guys get tired? Is it their insistence on staying in the spread offense no matter what the game situation?
Wait, OK, now the Patriots are down 34-27 ... and they put in Brian Hoyer to try to engineer the comeback, taking out both Brady and Moss? What on earth is the strategy here? Why put Brady back in, then take him out?
Rob Weintraub: The D has issues, obviously, but a hallmark of the Pats was always their ability to kill out close games with timely first downs. They just cannot reliably run for first downs anymore. The 07 team could do it with the pass, but that's a tougher tightrope to walk, as they are finding out this season.
Aaron Schatz: Based on DVOA, the defense's biggest problem is the third quarter, and the offense's biggest problem is the fourth quarter. Although both units disintegrated in the fourth quarter today and were reasonable in the third quarter. Right now, I feel very little confidence that this team could go on the road and beat either Indianapolis or San Diego.
Vince Verhei: Congratulations Houston on your first winning season ever!
Tim Gerheim: Good season for the Texans, after a fashion. I can't complain too much about not making the playoffs. (That doesn't mean I can't be bitter at the Bengals and JaMarcus Russell. And nobody will ever be able to give me a satisfactory explanation for why the Raiders don't use the Wildcat the way Miami did, manning the Ronnie Brown spot with, I dunno, Darren McFadden!? Anyway...) We literally fumbled away two or three games, we almost certainly would have won another if Rex Grossman hadn't spotted the Jags about 17 points. Hopefully the win today will convince them to keep Gary Kubiak (which I think Bob McNair has been leaning towards for a while), because the worst thing we could do is dismantle the offense he's so successfully installed.
Will Carroll: Wait, isn't Kyle Shanahan supposed to be following his dad? Doesn't that negate some of the effect of keeping Kubiak?
I'd also like to say that this whole "Schaub stayed healthy all year" thing is goofy. He was just as hurt, but decided he didn't mind painkillers as much and had a coaching staff that didn't stand in his way when he shouldn't have been playing.
Philadelphia Eagles 0 at Dallas Cowboys 24
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys running very well on Eagles early with two kinds of runs: draws and runs around right end. Looking at game charting for Weeks 1-13, the Cowboys are a slightly below-average team on draws, and the Eagles are a slightly below-average defense. But the Cowboys are just gashing them with the draws and delayed handoffs in the first quarter.
Vince Verhei: Cowboys' first two drives: 10 runs, 11 passes. The second drive ends in a tip-drill interception, but this is how you're going to win, Wade: Run more!
Bill Barnwell: Jenkins is definitely way better than he was a year ago, but he was erratic against the Saints. His "interception" was a pass where Devery Henderson beat him deep and Drew Brees underthrew the pass by several yards.
Aaron Schatz: Well, I'm talking about overall, not in one specific game two weeks ago.
Vince Verhei: Dallas' defense ranks fourth against quarterbacks under center, but 25th against the shotgun. I assume that quarterbacks in the shotgun are better able to see and thus evade the edge rushers. Regardless, this is why the Eagles are going to shotgun on third downs even though they're using a backup center.
Dallas up 17-0 at halftime. Twenty pass plays, 15 runs.
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys can't cover Brent Celek at all, but they seem to be doing a pretty good job covering everyone else. Even when guys are open, either Donovan McNabb has thrown behind them, or they've dropped the pass.
It doesn't look to me like the Cole-for-Jackson swap at center has done anything to cause today's Eagles suckitude. McNabb's got plenty of time, he's just not connecting with guys who aren't Brent Celek.
Joe Buck keeps talking about how "it's looking more and more like with what's happening out in the desert, Dallas is going to win the third seed." Joe, it doesn't matter what happens in the desert. The winner of the Dallas-Philadelphia game gets the three seed. I understand making the mistake once. But there's nobody sitting in that booth, or in the FOX production truck, who bothered to clarify things before Buck said it over and over again?
Vince Verhei: If you're going to pay someone to correct every stupid thing Joe Buck says, you'd better get a full staff. That is not a one-man job.
Aaron Schatz: Felix Jones just scored a 40-yard touchdown down the left sideline on the FB fake pitch out play that never works for Bill Barnwell in Madden.
Bill Barnwell: Considering my Madden disc crapped out, no plays for me work in Madden.
That, unfortunately, prevents me from continuing the greatest Madden season of all-time. Why is it the greatest? Well, I'm playing as the Eagles, which isn't that exciting, but the Steelers have had quite the year. Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch both went down for the season with concussions in the preseason, which handed the job to ...Graham Harrell. Harrell had an incredible first half of the season, completing like 65 percent of his passes, averaging 10 yards an attempt, and throwing 14 touchdowns against a single interception, before going down with an injury of his own. Who did the Steelers replace him with? Try Daniel Sepulveda, who has played quarterback the rest of the way. I was in tears when I saw that happened.
By the way, since we haven't heard from him or his iPod Touch, I'm assuming this Eagles faceplant has Mike Taniet in a coma.
Mike Tanier: It is 6:40 p.m. and I have 174 messages right now. I couldn't get the Internet to connect to my iPod Touch at my usual haunt. Until I sort this mess out:
1) I saw Brad Hoover take a direct snap from center. I never want to see another Wildcat-type play in my life, ever.
2) If they didn't call helmet-to-helmet on Pat White, why bother having the rule?
3) My office TV is showing Frisbee Dog challenge for some reason. I prefer it, though, to Eagles-Cowboys.
Bill Barnwell: That is decidedly not "Eagles porn.”
Aaron Schatz: I would title tomorrow's Audibles "Cowboys porn" except that phrase means something decidedly different on the Internets.
Bill Barnwell: I think we just set off our own spam filter.
Kansas City Chiefs 44 at Denver Broncos 24
Vince Verhei: I'm going to have to start paying attention to this. It's 10-10 at halftime. Without Brandon Marshall, Jabar Gaffney has 10 receptions for 145 on 13 targets. All other Broncos combined: three catches for 32 yards on 11 targets.
Chiefs take the second-half kickoff and drive 79 yards for a touchdown. Most yards came on outside runs, including a great play where Kansas City lined up with a very strong right-side formation, then came back to the left with a Quinten Lawrence reverse for 21 yards. They were also helped by a phenomenally stupid personal foul on Robert Ayers, who attempted to paralyze Jamaal Charles with a German suplex. Charles survived and capped of the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Chiefs could be screwing up their draft status. If they lose, they're tied with Tampa Bay for the third pick. If they win and Washington loses, then those two teams will be tied for fourth.
Bill Barnwell: That was a really nice play by Chambers, who tricked Goodman into jumping early with a gesture and then got a shot at the catch as a result.
Vince Verhei: Next Broncos drive, an Orton pass to Lloyd is underthrown, and Derrick Johnson takes it in for a pick-six. Chiefs now up 27-17 and have already scored 17 points in the third.
Ty Law (yes, in 2010) intercepts Matt Cassel and returns it 40 yards inside the five. Orton hits Brandon Stokley to make it 27-24, Kansas City, with a few seconds left in the third quarter.
Bill Connelly: Derrick Johnson, who looks about 75 pounds heavier than he did at Texas, just scored his second touchdown for the Chiefs in the second half. I have no comment to add here, but the Chiefs have very much looked like the 8-7 team today, not the Marshall-less Broncos.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs added a field goal to go up 30-24, and then Derrick Johnson recorded his second pick-six of the day, a 60-yarder, to put the Chiefs up 37-24. Broncos are going to get knocked out of the playoffs by losing at home to a horrible team. They got a new coach and a new quarterback and virtually repeated their season from last year.
Aaron Schatz: I just checked out of curiosity. Only other team to start 6-0 and finish 8-8 was the 1978 Washington Redskins.
Vince Verhei: Jamaal Charles adds a 56-yard touchdown and now has 259 yards on the day, with six-plus minutes to go. Chiefs lead 44-24.
Bill Barnwell: Remember how bad Larry Johnson was running behind that line? Amazing.
Tim Gerheim: Jamaal Charles is the real deal. I said earlier this season that vision and balance are, in my opinion, what separate good backs from great ones, and he has both in spades. Obviously, you don't get 259 yards rushing without a lot of help from the defense, but he has real skill. He did a masterful job on one screen running behind blockers downfield, going hither and thither to stay on the good side of his protection. On the long backbreaking touchdown, I still have no idea how he managed to stay on his feet after the defender downfield bumped him forward and sideways while he was going full speed.
Incidentally, watching a game where Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles score more points than the Broncos is fun if you're a Longhorn.
Baltimore Ravens 21 at Oakland Raiders 13
Aaron Schatz: Raiders playing very hard in first quarter, because apparently today's 1 p.m. games didn't quite reach the proper level of "this doesn't make any sense."
Wowee zowee. Willis McGahee just got free on an inside run, and as Hiram Eugene tried to tackle him in the open field, he literally took the stiff arm and SLAPPED EUGENE DOWN TO THE GROUND, then just kept running for a very long touchdown. One of the most embarrassing plays for a single defender I have ever seen.
Will Carroll: Ref just gave a great explanation of a complex situation, including "the clock will start on the snap." Phil Simms apparently didn't listen and spent a minute saying "they better be ready to call the timeout when the ref blows the whistle." Jeez …
David Gardner: And Sebastian Janikowski makes it to 1,000 career points to bring the Raiders within one point. Unfortunately, he's still not worth a first-round pick.
Oh, and that 1,000 points is a Raiders' franchise record -- that surprises me.
Vince Verhei: Since the Raiders drafted Janikowski in the first round, their first-round selections include one great player (Nnamdi Asomugha), one unknown (Darren McFadden), a bunch of washouts (Derrick Gibson, Phillip Buchanon, Fabien Washington, Robert Gallery, Michael Huff), and at least two complete disasters (JaMarcus Russell, Darius Heyward-Bey). They should draft a kicker every year.
Aaron Schatz: Let's cut the Raiders a little slack, Buchanon and Washington are both regular NFL starters and have been for years.
Vince Verhei: Buchanon has been a starter in five seasons, and a backup in four, for four different teams. Washington has been a starter four times, a backup once (although he's young enough to add to that significantly). But Janikowski has been a starter for a decade. I still say that since they drafted him, they've done better in the first round only once, with Asomugha.
Aaron Schatz: Well, yeah, but you grouped those guys with some real losers. Gallery was the second overall pick and couldn't hack it at tackle, Huff was benched, Gibson hardly played after his third season.
Vince Verhei: Maybe I should have moved Gallery and Huff to complete disasters.
Aaron Schatz: Hmmm, Gallery has played a few years. He's not a complete disaster. They got SOME value out of him.
Tom Gower: Gallery has been a very good guard after moving positions. Huff's not on the field.
David Gardner: The Raiders are blitzing like crazy against Joe Flacco, and he is having trouble moving out of or up in the pocket. They've gotten him four times so far. I have yet to see the Madden "Engage 8" blitz, but I've seen seven sent.
JaMarcus just threw into an area over the middle in which there were four or five Ravens and Zach Miller in the middle of him. It was intercepted, and he was booed off the field.
By the way, McGahee just scored for the Ravens. He has 102 yards on NINE carries. And three touchdowns.
Bill Barnwell: JaMarcus Russell might have just cost the Texans a playoff spot. The Raiders had the ball in the red zone and due to a complete and utter lack of pocket presence, Russell was strip-sacked and lost the ball, with the Ravens recovering. Baltimore has to hold serve with nine minutes left to eke their way in.
Interesting that the Raiders had Asomugha waiting in the end zone on a long Ravens field goal attempt instead of Johnnie Lee Higgins or any of their normal returners.
Vince Verhei: Baltimore's win clinches for them, eliminates the Steelers. If Denver loses, that means the other wild card spot will go to the Jets if they win, or Houston if the Bengals win.
Green Bay Packers 33 at Arizona Cardinals 7
Aaron Schatz: Darnell Dockett tweeting asking Cardinals fans not to sell their playoff tickets to Green Bay fans. The fact that he feels the need to make that request is really sad.
Vince Verhei: Very early in Arizona, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is being carted off the field, clutching his knee.
Aaron Schatz: Is this the most brutal Week 17 anyone can remember? I don't remember a worse one as far as injuries.
Will Carroll: Watch -- people will use these injuries to prop up Bill Polian and ignore Roger Goodell's continued charge for an 18-game season.
Aaron Schatz: Well, these injuries don't change the fact that the timing of when Colts players left the games in Weeks 16-17 (and didn't leave the game in Week 15) makes NO SENSE.
Vince Verhei: Matt Leinart is in for Arizona. You can tell, because Green Bay just got an interception.
Except on the play, Arizona is called for holding in the end zone, and Green Bay accepts the penalty and the safety.
Rob Weintraub: So Arizona-Green Bay is automatically a rematch next week, which means Dallas-Philadelphia is too, though what field they play on is up to this game. If Cincinnati-New York winds up a rematch, that would make three for next week. That would have to be a record if it occurs. Also -- lame.
Will Carroll: Two rematches? That has to be a real statistical oddity. Why doesn't NFL have some kind of rule like baseball where division foes can't match up?
Vince Verhei: Assuming the lower seed is always the worse team, why punish a division winner by making them play a tougher opponent just because the team they beat for the division title made the playoffs too?
Aaron Schatz: Fun from Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald is still in the game, losing 34-0, with six minutes left. Brian St. Pierre is playing quarterback, but Fitzgerald is still in the game for some odd reason.
Tennessee Titans 17 at Seattle Seahawks 13
Tom Gower: Titans' opening drive: two fourth-down conversions, eight carries for 35 yards for Chris Johnson, touchdown. The non-overtime record for carries is 43; he'll threaten it if need be.
Vince Verhei: Keep me updated on any news there, Tom. I'm deliberately avoiding that game.
Tom Gower: Second drive: Vince Young picked on a deep pass into double coverage by Deon Grant, who was playing over the top. Justin Gage was beyond Marcus Trufant, but VY didn't account for Grant. Johnson one carry for three yards on that drive, nine for 38 for the game, 90 short of 2k. Seattle has done nothing offensively on two drives.
Tennessee goes three-and-out their third drive. Johnson gets two for two, up to 11 for 40. Yes, everybody in the damn stadium knows he's getting the ball. Plus, the third-down play was a screen (dropped). Seattle gets a first down their third possession, thanks to pass interference by Cortland Finnegan, but can't take advantage of an offside to get a second one.
Alvin Pearman then pulls off the exceedingly rare "punt returner two personal fouls during play" feat, getting called for an invalid fair catch signal AND blocking after calling for a fair catch. If only he'd gotten a face mask as well, I think he could've hit the limit.
Johnson: four for 20 that drive, 15 for 60 for the game. I'm about ready to start digging for Mike Roos's quote a couple weeks ago about how they really only care about winning and if you get the record losing a couple games and missing the playoffs, it's actually not at all meaningful. I mean, when O.J. Simpson did it, his team went 9-5, which was more wins than they'd had in the previous three years combined. The Titans had the best record in the NFL last year.
Titans go three-and-out again. Johnson: one for -1, and now 16 for 59 on the game. Earl Campbell maintains his tenuous grasp on the franchise rushing record. With a couple receptions today, I'm pretty sure he's now passed Marshall Faulk's yards from scrimmage record, which I thought was hugely impressive when it was set.
The Seahawks are, unsurprisingly, attacking the edges of the Titans defense with cutback runs, and, unsurprisingly, Gerald McRath and Colin Allred aren't up to the task. I'm much more disappointed in Stanford Keglar, who was a fourth-round draft pick out of Purdue in '08, who would be on the field for special teamer Allred if he was any good.
Meanwhile, Rod Hood is showing off the skills that made him an inactive the last six weeks and kept the aged Nick Harper on the field.
Johnson: four for 14 that drive, 19 for 73 for the game, so he'll need 55 in the second half to get to 2K. Rob Bironas honks a field goal at the end of the drive, so we're going into half tied at 7-7. The field goal was at least 15 yards farther out than it needed to be -- Young was called for grounding (ball might have slipped out of his hand, but Titans will never get benefit of the doubt from Hulkuli), and then they were flagged for delay on the field-goal attempt, and it was pulled badly.
Johnson goes seven for 30 on the Titans’ first drive of the second half, which ends in a field goal to match what the Seahawks did to open the half and re-tie the game at 10. He's up to 26-for 103, or 25 yards short of 2K.
The Seahawks drive was, essentially, a kickoff out of bounds by Bironas and a 35-yard wide receiver screen to Deion Branch, as opposed to Seattle having sustained offensive success.
Bill Barnwell: Chris Johnson just attempted to fumble the ball forward to 2000 yards and failed, with the Seahawks recovering.
Tom Gower: Yup. Two carries for 12 that drive, so up to 28-for 115, 13 short of 2K. Good field position for the Seahawks, though the hold on the first play knocks them out of field-goal range.
David Gardner: Chris Johnson just had a 62-yard run called back on a holding penalty.
Tom Gower: Chris Johnson is over 2K; I think he's at 34 for 138, since the 62-yard run was truncated to a 6-yard gain after the hold. The hold was announced on being on No. 45 fullback Ahmard Hall; I'm guessing it was instead on No. 85 wide receiver Nate Washington, who may have been blocking downfield. If it was indeed on Hall, it's literally impossible to actually block in the NFL and holding could be flagged at least 5 times on every play, and would only serve to reinforce my conclusion that Ed Hochuli, for some reason, hates the Titans.
Johnson plunges in for a yard out. GameCenter has him at 36- or 134 and two touchdowns now, but I think he's at 37 for- 40 on the run truncated by holding. The touchdown was set up by Seattle punterJon Ryan getting off a poor punt after dropping a snap and a nice grab by Nate Washington for 29 yards down to the 2. Jim Mora challenged both the Washington grab, which was very close, and the CJ touchdown, which was a dumb challenge. Titans go up 17-13, 4:33 left.
Will Carroll: 358 is not 370, but Chris Johnson took a lot of pounding this year. Wonder if there's a "shock score," something like a speed score. Number of hits x pounds = Shock.
Cincinnati Bengals 0 at New York Jets 37
Aaron Schatz: If I'm correct, the Ravens win today guarantees they go to New England, either as the 6 or the 5. If you are Cincinnati, don't you lay down tonight so that you are hosting the Jets instead of the Texans next week?
Vince Verhei: If I'm Cincinnati, my first thought is that the Texans and Jets both suck, so who cares who we play? On further thought, Jets have an elite defense but zero offense; Texans have a very good offense and a bad defense. I think I'd rather play Houston. They'll be able to run 60 times, like they want to, their corners are a good matchup for Andre Johnson and company.
I'm just stunned that the Texans are going to be alive going into the last game of the regular season. A month ago, they lost to Jacksonville to go to 5-7.
Aaron Schatz: Attention, viewers. Tonight, the part of Barry White will be played by Cincinnati offensive lineman Bobbie Williams.
David Gardner: Hence "becoming."
Bill Barnwell: Yeah, but Smith is the same age as Cribbs and doesn't have anything resembling his history. We've gotta see a lot more out of him -- consistently -- before we can even say that he's becoming Cribbs. Right now, he's about as good as Pat White.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah ... to agree with Bill, that's a process that I don't think is going to reach its end point.
Points for Cris Collinsworth, who correctly guessed that the Jets are last in the league in quarterback hits because of good offensive line protection. They actually are!
Please, please, please, can we stop calling this thing the Jets are running "the Wildcat?" They are running an option offense with an option quarterback, Brad Smith. No sweep action, no unbalanced line, no H-back on the right side. NOT THE WILDCAT.
Mike Tanier: The direct snap to Hoover is called the Runaway Vacuum.
Tim Gerheim: I'm confused. Didn't someone say the Bengals are a division champion? You have to be able to run, catch, and tackle to do that. This team must be fighting the Lions and Rams for Ndamukong Suh.
Bill Barnwell: David, I may be apologizing to you by the end of the evening. The Bengals are making the Jets -- and Smith -- look like world-beaters.
Aaron Schatz: In defense of the Bengals -- I haven't written a lot of words in defense of the Bengals this year, but here goes -- they are playing without two of their four starting linemen (Domata Peko and Robert Geathers) and one of their backups (Pat Sims) went out early in this game. Peko and Geathers should return for the playoff game ... which is looking like it will be a rematch with the Jets.
Oh, and you forgot "cover." The Bengals can definitely cover. Tonight, they haven't had any problems covering. It just doesn't matter because the Jets barely need to throw the ball.
David Gardner: Haha, I certainly jumped the gun on my Smith comment. But the Jets have used him a lot in the last month or so, and he has been improving.
Tim Gerheim: If this gets to 24-0 at halftime, I'm going to join the Bengals in not showing up for the rest.
Aaron Schatz: All this great Mark Sanchez-Carson Palmer Mission Viejo talk just has the memories flooding back ... the old Skateway on Marguerite, forest fires in the gorge off Hidalgo Road, summer days at the man-made lake ... ah, childhood.
David Gardner: I didn't like that NBC graphic at all -- the one that showed rookie quarterbacks with 20 or more interceptions, including Peyton Manning and Terry Bradshaw. Then Collinsworth said it was a pretty good group ... Well, here are the top 10 rookie interception leaders:
- Peyton Manning, Colts, 1998: 28 Interceptions
- Bud Schwenk, Cardinals, 1942: 27 Interceptions
- Jim Zorn, Seahawks, 1976: 27 Interceptions
- Terry Bradshaw, Steelers, 1970: 24 Interceptions
- John Hadl, Chargers, 1962: 24 Interceptions
- Tobin Rote, Packers, 1950: 24 Interceptions
- Jeff Komlo, Lions, 1979: 23 Interceptions
- Steve DeBerg, 49ers, 1978: 22 Interceptions
- Lamar McHan, Cardinals, 1954: 22 Interceptions
- Norm Snead, Redskins, 1961: 22 Interceptions
So yes, Manning and Bradshaw ... then some busts, journeymen and soon-to-be-fired head coaches. And John Hadl.
Vince Verhei: That was the goofiest graphic I've ever seen. What's the lesson there? That Sanchez is so good he "led his team to the playoffs" with his interceptions?
Well, whatever, we've switched over to American Ninja Warrior on G4.
Bill Barnwell: Borat's on Comedy Central!
Tim Gerheim: True to my word, I'm switching to Lost reruns on Netflix Instant.
Aaron Schatz: Remember what I said last week about being upset if the Jets backed into the playoffs and then went on a run? The Jets are emphatically NOT backing into the playoffs.