compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails 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 emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers 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 solely 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.
Cleveland Browns 24 at Pittsburgh Steelers 27 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: A new year! A fresh start! A chance to get everything off on the right foot!
...and the Browns' team bus breaks down on the way to the game. The more things change, I suppose...
Scott Kacsmar: I'm trying to remember the last time I was this disinterested in watching a Pittsburgh game. Maybe when the Rams came to town on Christmas Eve in 2011 when I had the flu, and Charlie Batch started that game for an injured Ben Roethlisberger. All about playoff rest today, so it is a good thing that we aren't watching the Browns try to avoid 0-16 against a team that is sitting its best players.
The game started in about the fashion you'd expect. A disorganized Cleveland drive ended with a bubble screen that was nearly tipped into a pick by William Gay, and Landry Jones went down on a sack on third down for Pittsburgh's three-and-out start.
Rob Weintraub: The Browns just want that first pick -- even fumbling away an apparent pick-six during the dive for the pylon.
With less than a minute to play and inside the 10-yard line, of course they fumble before even getting off the potential game-winning kick. Overtime in Pittsburgh.
Aaron Schatz: The Cleveland Browns just lost 14 yards on second-and-goal from the 2. On a wide receiver screen. And they're gonna blow the No. 1 pick anyway because if they kick an overtime field goal, how much do the Steelers really care about beating them?
Rob Weintraub: Stat oddity -- the telecast just noted that the Browns have had two red zone turnovers in this game. But they also fumbled on an interception return diving for the pylon. Clearly that is not a red zone fumble in the official statistical count, but surely it should be?
Meanwhile the Browns are driving in overtime helped by Pittsburgh penalties. One of them is a facemask on Mike Mitchell. It appeared Corey Coleman got more of Mitchell then Mitchell got of Coleman. The real highlight was the excellent audio work by the CBS crew. They caught Mitchell overhearing the referee conference, realizing the penalty was going to be called on him, and freaking out. "Oh my god oh my God please look at this please look at it my goodness gracious"
Rare credit (from me anyway) to Mitchell for not f-bombing the refs.
Browns promptly lose 14 yards from inside the 5 and now face third-and-goal and are still very unlikely to win this game.
They get a field goal and lead 24-21.
Bryan Knowles: The Browns have wrapped up the first overall pick! The Steelers, despite not really wanting to even be playing this overtime, march down the field and score a touchdown for the win. Wow.
Aaron Schatz: My mistake. I forgot that Landry Jones is going to be a free agent and has to try to convince teams he should be their new backup. He cared!
Scott Kacsmar: The annual Cleveland quarterback carousel covered up what was a really poor defensive unit all season. Pittsburgh's backups put in respectable numbers by the end of the game. Maybe picking at the top of the draft in every round again will help, but there's just not much there to get excited over right now. The Jamie Collins trade was never going to change a thing in 2016 for Cleveland.
New England Patriots 35 at Miami Dolphins 14
Bryan Knowles: New England wants to lock up that home-field advantage early and often. They came out of the gates with a seven-minute, 13-play touchdown drive. Brady seemed determined to expose Miami's linebackers, with five of his six completions on that drive going to tight ends or running backs. Dolphins didn't seem to have any sort of answer for that -- Pittsburgh might well be taking notes on this one, considering they'll likely get Miami next week.
Vince Verhei: Week 17 is usually one of my favorites of the NFL season, as teams scramble for playoff position or just to get into the postseason, but everything is so settled this year that in the early games there's almost none of that going on. The Patriots need a win to clinch home field, and the Dolphins still have a chance at the 5 seed instead of the 6, and that's it. This is the only game with even that much at stake. All of the other early games are for draft position and nothing more.
Bryan Knowles: And it looks like there won't be much at stake in this one for long, as New England's now up 14-0 and cruising. The Dolphins have run a grand total of five plays -- a three-and-out on their opening drive, and an interception on their second. That's not exactly the start they were hoping for, here.
Aaron Schatz: Oh man does Miami look bad today. Dropping passes, and Jay Ajayi can't get anywhere against a very strong Patriots run defense. I don't think this is some sort of harbinger for next week's trip to Pittsburgh, but they look like they all woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
Jay Ajayi has done a better job getting yardage after contact in the second half, and the Dolphins' defensive line is getting more pressure on Tom Brady. They have also kept the Patriots trapped deep on their own side of the field for the last couple drives. Patriots keep falling behind with holding penalties. Before that, though, Julian Edelman had a 77-yard catch-and-run with a big block downfield by Michael Floyd, which made it 27-14.
Dolphins are marching downfield now, with the offensive line providing Matt Moore with a lot more time to throw the ball.
And oh wow. So much for that Miami march downfield. Damien Williams caught the ball on the left side at the 5, and spinning around to try to get closer to the goal line, he had the ball punched out by Devin McCourty. Shea McClellin picked it up and it looked like he might go all the way on the return, but he did get tracked down and tackled around the Miami 20. Patriots were plus-10 in turnover margin coming into today, third in the NFL. Now they're at plus-12, and they have only recovered one of Miami's three fumbles today.
Rob Weintraub: After the fumble return, Brady extends his long-since shattered record for being caught on camera using expletives. Needless to say, if Cam Newton did this it would be the lead story on every sports debate show.
Bryan Knowles: We've gone final here, so the Patriots are officially the top seed in the AFC, and we'll see Miami travelling to Pittsburgh in the first round. That's New England's sixth home-field advantage under Brady and Belichick, breaking a tie with Denver for most top seeds since the NFL went to 12-team playoffs in 1990. Consistency.
Aaron Schatz: One other note from this game: The Patriots set a new NFL record with just two interceptions thrown in the regular season. TWO. The previous record was five, so they kind of obliterated it. That's a record that may never, ever be broken. And that's the whole season, not just Tom Brady, because the backup quarterbacks didn't throw any interceptions in the first four games.
Dallas Cowboys 13 at Philadelphia Eagles 27
Cian Fahey: With Sean Lee out, the Cowboys defensive front is struggling to diagnose or react to the Eagles play fakes. Eagles moved the ball down the field methodically on their opening drive before settling for a field goal.
This Cowboys-Eagles game has quickly devolved into a preseason game. Tony Romo came in for one drive and threw a touchdown, now it's Mark Sanchez the rest of the way. It doesn't help that the Cowboys defense has backups in who look lost.
It would make a lot of sense for the Eagles to be more expansive in their play calling, giving Carson Wentz opportunities to show he can diagnose coverages and throw receivers open without basing the passing game off of screens and play-action with a run-first foundation. Alas...
Bryan Knowles: This game has gone final, with Philadelphia winning. It's not meaningless -- it officially eliminates the Buccaneers. The dream is dead.
Carolina Panthers 16 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Andrew Potter: It has been well covered this week how remote Tampa Bay's playoff chances are, but the first requirement to give them even the faintest sniff is that they take care of business today against the Panthers. So far, no good: Carolina ran over and through the Bucs defense on their opening drive. Six plays, all successful, three straight power runs once they got inside the Bucs 25. They almost scored on the first of those, but Keith Tandy just managed to trip Jonathan Stewart as the last defender with a chance at him. Stewart did eventually score though, forcing his way over the top of Daryl Smith at the goal line for the 2-yard score.
Bucs managed a field goal on their opening drive, but by the end of their second they have already had two big drops (Russell Shepard and Mike Evans) and a handful of Jameis Winston overthrows.
Quirky situation in Tampa Bay as Cam Newton, one play after getting away with a sure interception dropped by Kwon Alexander, hurls one deep toward Corey Brown. Brown gets to it ahead of Keith Tandy, but the two are wrestling for it as they land. The referees award Tandy the interception instead of awarding Brown the catch, in what sure looked like a simultaneous possession situation. Nothing there to give a clear decision on review, so the call on the field stands.
Keith Tandy now has three interceptions in five starts this year, plus one he tipped to Brent Grimes against New Orleans in Week 13. He has made a big contribution since assuming that starting role in Week 12.
Both quarterbacks have been really poor today, and it is only by virtue of soap-handed defenders that we didn't have more than two interceptions at halftime -- one of which could easily have been taken back for a touchdown if James Bradberry had managed to tightrope the sideline. Brent Grimes shows him how it's done on the first drive of the second half, as Cam Newton stares down Ted Ginn and Grimes jumps the throw, stays in along the sideline, and scores to put Tampa Bay back in front.
Carolina's opening drive was impressive, but since then it has looked like the only way a touchdown is coming is a turnover return -- and so it has proven.
Cam Newton just threw what should have been another interception targeting Ted Ginn but Chris Conte couldn't haul it in. Almost identical to the pick-six to Grimes, with the only difference being the ball skills of the defensive back.
... and there's interception No. 3 on the day for Cam Newton, this time deep left targeting Greg Olsen. The ball was way overthrown, and Keith Tandy was there again for the easy interception. Newton should have at least five interceptions; he's been dire.
Not that Jameis Winston has been much better, mind you. These look like two offenses for whom the offseason can't come quickly enough.
Tampa Bay's long snapper, Andrew DePaula, was injured on a punt in the third quarter, and on replacement Adarius Glanton's first snap Kony Ealy got up to block Roberto Aguayo's field goal attempt. Not helping: a false start when they first lined up, pushing the attempt back 5 yards. The kick trajectory was low, the left side of the line allowed penetration, Ealy got the block, and Shaq Thompson recovered and returned the ball to midfield.
Rob Weintraub: And a holding penalty in the red zone wipes out first-and-goal for the Panthers, forcing a Graham Gano field goal, which he naturally misses. Still tied in Tampa.
Andrew Potter: A mark of how this game is going: Graham Gano just missed a 36-yard field goal, his third miss of the day. He had five misses all year before today.
Rob Weintraub: Cam hits Kelvin Benjamin twice in the last seconds, first on fourth-and-long, then for the touchdown with seconds to play. Down by a point, they go for two, because why not. Except for one small factor -- the Bengals need Carolina to win or they slide behind them in the draft. So I have been unusually invested in this game. And gagging all along. Sure enough, the Panthers receiver falls down on the two-point and the Panthers lose. Thus they will pick in front of Cincinnati in the draft, and no doubt get the pass rusher I covet at the time.
Andrew Potter: So the Buccaneers took the lead with three minutes to go, and Carolina responded with possibly the most shambolic touchdown drive of the year. They got to the red zone just fine, but then managed to blow both of their timeouts and squander the play between those timeouts by nearly failing to get the snap off, leading to a fourth-and-12 that they converted with a pass to Kelvin Benjamin. Sensibly, they went for two instead of tying the game, but Greg Olsen fell down on his route so the attempt was unsuccessful. An ignominious ending to an ignominious season for Carolina, while Tampa Bay makes heavy weather of doing their part but are still eliminated from the playoffs before the start of the second window of games.
Houston Texans 17 at Tennessee Titans 24
Scott Kacsmar: Tom Savage with a concussion situation after a quarterback sneak. Matt Schaub (2011 Texans) and Alex Smith (2012 49ers) are about the only quarterbacks I can recall getting injured on the quarterback sneak. Oddly enough, both were on playoff teams too. I'm not sure America was getting ready for Tom Savage on wild-card weekend anyway, but watching Brock Osweiler again feels like a bad start to 2017.
Tom Gower: Tom Savage went through the concussion protocol after his injury on the sneak and was subsequently cleared. He returned to the field to take the kneeldown to end the first half, and will apparently start the second half.
First half went about how you might expect given a Texans team that's only trying because Savage needs more reps and an eliminated Titans team playing Matt Cassel. Tennessee can't run the ball (DeMarco Murray 7-15), and neither can Houston (Jonathan Grimes/Alfred Blue a combined 11-15), which means we get a lot of third-and-longs. In third-and-longs, we get a lot of passes short of the sticks. On 16 third- and fourth-down dropbacks, we have gotten five throws past the sticks and two completions, if my count is accurate. So, if you wanted to watch some offense, you might have been better off watching last night's dreadful college football semifinals.
Tennessee went up 7-0 on Houston's first possession, when Savage was sacked on an overload blitz on third-and-long and fumbled a ball DaQuan Jones recovered in the end zone. They went up 14-0 late in the first half when Cassel found Rishard Matthews from the 2. That drive started at the Houston 36 after a net-33 punt. The Texans made it to the edge of scoring territory twice, but Nick Novak hit the upright on a 45-yard field goal attempt, and Osweiler was sacked on fourth-and-6 from the 34.
Contrary to what I just wrote, Osweiler starts the second half. The plot thickens!
Ah, things explained. Tom Savage was re-evaluated at halftime, and is now out for the game. I wonder if the NFL kicks the Texans out of their customary Saturday 3:30 time to give him a better shot of playing next week.
Bill O'Brien has been intelligently aggressive today, going for it from his own 39 on that quarterback sneak, on the fourth-and-6 in no man's land, and lining up to go for it on fourth-and-1 inside the 10 in the fourth down 14 before the Titans just challenged. He also tried an onside kick after their first score of the game when a Titans personal foul penalty put the ball at the 50. None of these are, or at least should be, controversial moves, but after Doug Marrone's reflexive conservatism in an interim role last week, it has been pleasant to see.
Both teams started throwing the ball past the sticks on third downs in the second half, so much so that I stopped keeping track after five of the first eight were, and all of those were completed.
Titans win 24-17. They moved the ball with some success against Houston's backup defenders (the Texans had one starter in the game their first defensive possession of the third quarter), and Houston's offense is still Houston's offense. I found the saga of Jeff McLane getting kicked out of the Philadelphia press box more riveting than most of the on-field action at Nissan Stadium.
Chicago Bears 10 at Minnesota Vikings 38
Bryan Knowles: Halfway through the second quarter, the most interesting thing to have happened in this game may be the protester in a Brett Favre jersey dangling over the field, clinging onto a banner. Week 17 football.
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Vince Verhei: Chicago's trick-play touchdown may prove to be the most entertaining play of Week 17. On the 17th play of the drive, with a third-and-goal from the 2, they spread the field and put Matt Barkley in shotgun. Barkley then motioned Jeremy Langford to line up in the pistol behind him, then stepped up to the right side of the line and appeared to be changing the play. But he was really calling signals, and the ball was snapped directly to Langford, who started left and then gave it back to Cameron Meredith coming back the other way. Meredith then lofted the ball to Barkley, who was wide open in the end zone for the score.
Unfortunately for the Bears, that drive was about the only one that went their way. They've thrown an interception and lost two fumbles. Sam Bradford, meanwhile, is 17-of-22, is probably going to break the single-season record for completion percentage, and has thrown three touchdowns to put the Vikings up 24-7 just before halftime. It's funny -- at the time it was made, the Bradford trade seemed like a desperate short-term move that would hurt the team long-term. Instead, while the short-term benefits were minimal and they're going to miss the playoffs anyway, it looks they have made an upgrade at quarterback, and will be better off for the deal in 2017 and going forward.
Scott Kacsmar: So Sam Bradford is going to have the new single-season completion percentage record at around 71.6 percent. David Carr's 2006 season with Houston used to be the example of a really high completion percentage done the wrong way for an ineffective offense, but I think Bradford's 2016 will become the new example of that. Pretty sure he'll be dead last in air yards per attempt for the season, and obviously scoring points was a problem all year long, though the defense and special teams sure did a lot in that department. This is why a stat like passing plus-minus is great, and I look forward to seeing those results in the offseason to see where Bradford stacks up to those Drew Brees seasons he just surpassed.
Buffalo Bills 10 at New York Jets 30
Bryan Knowles: Reportedly, one of the reasons Rex Ryan was fired last week, rather than finishing the season, was because the front office wanted to see EJ Manuel, and Ryan thought that sticking with Tyrod Taylor was the superior option. At halftime, Manuel is 7-for-13 for 57 yards, and is underthrowing passes. Cardale Jones is active today, and frankly, the Bills should probably give him some reps to see what they have there.
Rob Weintraub: Cardale Jones gets intercepted on a deflection by… Darrelle Revis! Believe it or not that's his first of the season. Actually, what am I talking about, I can believe it easily. Still good for him to at least get one in what has been a terrible year otherwise.
Bryan Knowles: That... did not just happen.
The Jets kicked off after scoring, and none of the Bills decided they could be bothered to pick the ball up. That's a live ball, Buffalo! The Jets pick it up in the end zone, and score a touchdown on a 70-yard onside kick.
Scott Kacsmar: Not sure I've ever seen a touchdown like that one in Bills-Jets. We've seen a legit onside kick get returned for a (short) touchdown before. That was embarrassing.
Rob Weintraub: Buffalo just let a kickoff bounce at the 10 and roll into the end zone while Mike Gillislee purposely ran away from it allowing the Jets to recover for the gift touchdown. Not sure if Anthony Lynn can get an I.Q. transplant but boy is this team dumb.
Aaron Schatz: I believe there was a play in an Eagles game a couple years ago where a pooch kick was not fielded by the receiving team and the kicking team picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown... need to go look for it now.
Bryan Knowles: I don't think you can advance an onside kick, can you? So the only way that can happen is if you pick it up in the end zone.
I swear I've seen it happen before, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, but I can't remember where. This will drive me crazy.
Aaron Schatz: You can advance any kickoff. It's punts that can't be advanced by the punting team if they are muffed at the point of the attempted catch.
Aha. I found it. It wasn't a touchdown, but this is from the first play of 2014 Week 15, Dallas at Philadelphia:
5-D.Bailey kicks 47 yards from DAL 35 to PHI 18. RECOVERED by DAL-37-C.Spillman.
If I remember correctly, Josh Huff was back to return the kickoff and just kind of let it land there or something.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure that's right, actually -- the NFL Rules Digest says that the "Kicking team may recover but NOT advance UNLESS receiver had possession and lost the ball." Now, the online rules digest is not the best resource in the world (it's a pain to use), but I think that's right.
Aaron Schatz: I seem to remember an onside kickoff being advanced for a score but maybe that was technically fumbled by the receiving team. I don't feel like looking through multiple years of play-by-play right now.
Bryan Knowles: I remember where I "saw" that play I mentioned now -- about a decade ago, the NFL Network did a kind of fantasy "what if the teams of the decades played one another?" thing, where they awkwardly cut together footage of the '60s Packers playing the '90s Cowboys and so forth.
It "happened" in the matchup between the '70s Steelers and '80s 49ers, which implies that either the Steelers pulled it off or the 49ers were caught sleeping -- I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of kickoffs from the 1970s, though, so I think I'll see if the internet can dig that one up for me.
Rob Weintraub: You definitely can advance an onside kick in college -- happened in the title game last year as an example.
Scott Kacsmar: Colts returned an onside kick for a touchdown vs. Jaguars in 2010. I also want to say it's happened in a Cowboys-Jaguars game, but don't quote me on that one.
Bryan Knowles: Scott, wasn't that a Jacksonville onside kick that Indianapolis returned? You can return the other team's kickoffs, but not your own, right?
Man, I was not expecting to be looking up kickoff minutia today.
Scott Kacsmar: Oh yeah, it's the 49ers-Steelers kickoff touchdown we're seeking here. Those are rare. I used to have a little list somewhere.
Bryan Knowles: I found the dang ESPN broadcast of the '70s Steelers and '80s 49ers "playing" each other (Steelers win on the Immaculate Reception, in case anyone's wondering), and I'm gonna find this dang touchdown I remember if it's the last thing I do.
Certainly more interesting than watching the modern 49ers, at the very least.
Found it! 1984, L.A. Rams v. Giants. Rams returner A.J. Jones let the ball go over his head into the end zone in Los Angeles, but the ball checked up rather than bouncing out of bounds, and Phil McConkey was able to fall on it for a touchdown. It's listed as a "fumble recovery in the end zone" over on PFR, but recaps of the game back me up on that.
Good lord, that was a quest down the rabbit hole for a piece of useless trivia. But have no fear, Bills! You're not the first NFL team to make that blunder.
Baltimore Ravens 10 at Cincinnati Bengals 27
Rob Weintraub: Speaking of draft position, Cincy typically are working their way out of prime range by throttling the Ravens. Andy Dalton playing well, as he always does when the lights are dimmest. Also impressing -- Rex Burkhead, who will be awesome for some other team next season, while Cincy continues to ram Jeremy Hill into repeated third-and-longs.
New Orleans Saints 32 at Atlanta Falcons 38
Bryan Knowles: The Falcons first five plays in this one:
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- 1. Devonta Freeman 13-yard reception, first down.
- 2. Justin Hardy 13-yard reception, first down.
- 3. Devonta Freeman 35-yard reception, first down.
- 4. Tevin Coleman 7-yard reception, touchdown
- 5. Devonta Freeman 75-yard run, touchdown.
That's pretty efficient, I must say.
Tom Gower: And Sean Payton after the first four of those plays kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1!?!
Bryan Knowles: Compare that to Chip Kelly, who went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, scored a touchdown, and is now sitting on a 14-3 lead. It's Week 17, you're mathematically out of everything, take a few risks, Sean!
Rob Weintraub: Especially in a rivalry game.
The Saints defense is a bigger concern than coaching cajones. Falcons put up in the neighborhood of 28 yards per play in the first quarter, which doesn't count a long DPI drawn by Julio Jones either. Only one offensive play was not run on first down, and it was the last play of the quarter.
Vince Verhei: Fun numbers:
Falcons now lead 21-10 early in the second.
They are averaging 19.1 yards per play.
They are averaging 75.0 yards per rush. (Yes, Freeman's touchdown is their only run so far.)
They have eight first downs in nine plays and are 0-for-0 on third downs.
Bryan Knowles: Gotta improve that third-down conversion rate; undefined ain't gonna cut it in the National Football League.
Tom Gower: Good job, New Orleans. On the Falcons' fourth offensive possession, you got to third down. OK, so they converted it, and they only got there once before reaching the end zone. But that's something you didn't manage on the first three possessions. 28-10.
Vince Verhei: This morning I was hoping Atlanta would lose so Seattle would have a chance at the 2 seed, but hell with it, now I just want to see how many records the Falcons can break. They're now up to four touchdowns in four drives; 13 first downs in 19 plays; 1-for-1 on third downs; 13.1 yards per pass; 13.8 yards per rush; and it's 28-10 midway through the second.
At halftime, Falcons lead 35-10, with five touchdowns in five possessions; 18 first downs in 28 plays; 3-for-3 on third downs; 12.4 yards per pass; and 9.8 yards per rush. I'm going to update these numbers until they stop getting touchdowns on every drive.
Many years ago, David Robinson scored 70-some points on the last day of the NBA regular season to clinch the scoring title. I kind of feel like this is the NFL's answer to that, with Matt Ryan's insane day clinching the MVP award. His halftime numbers: 17-of-19, 235 yards, four touchdowns, no sacks, no interceptions. Devonta Freeman, by the way, leads the Falcons in rushing (86 yards) and receiving (55).
On their first drive of the second half, Falcons go three-and-out, as Nick Fairley gets a third-down sack to force a punt. Fire Kyle Shanahan!
Seattle Seahawks 25 at San Francisco 49ers 23
Bryan Knowles: News from San Francisco this morning reports that general manager Trent Baalke has already been given his walking papers (or at least, informed that he'll be gone after the game today), and that head coach Chip Kelly has not yet been informed of his fate, though the writing is pretty clearly on the wall. There's also a report from Jay Glazer, confirming long-held suspicions, that the 49ers had been set to hire Adam Gase two years ago, to the point where they had informed Gase he would be the head coach, but Baalke intervened at the last minute and convinced the team to go with Jim Tomsula, instead.
I do wonder how much of that last part is Baalke and how much is owner Jed York -- as rumors and leaks seem to be the 49ers preferred method to deal with internal problems -- but letting go of arguably one of the top five coaches in the NFL at the time in Harbaugh, and passing up on a potential coach of the year candidate in Gase is emblematic of the franchise over the past couple years. They have seemed determined to make the wrong choice whenever presented with the opportunity.
Vince Verhei: First play of the second quarter, Shaun Draughn scores on a fourth-and-goal goal-line plunge to put the 49ers up 14-3. They fumbled the ball away on their first drive to set up the Seattle field goal, but otherwise it has been complete domination by San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick is 8-of-8 for 115 yards, as the Seahawks look like they have never seen crossing patterns or wheel routes before. Seahawks have only had the ball twice, going three-and-out both times. So that's no first downs in six plays from scrimmage from Seattle, nine first downs in 23 plays for San Francisco.
Carl Yedor: I don't think that missing Earl Thomas should be to blame for linebackers not picking up running backs slipping out of the backfield or struggling against the read option, but his absence has clearly been felt over the past few weeks. It wasn't long ago that the Seahawks were seemingly the only team that had a way to deal with Kaepernick, intercepting him six times in three meetings during the 2013 regular season and playoffs.
So after two lengthy touchdown drives for the 49ers, the Seahawks force (and recover) another fumble, two punts, and a turnover on downs that was only resulted because Pete Carroll called his final timeout with three seconds left in the half. Encouraging after how it had started for the defense, but with Dallas and Atlanta (almost) definitely the NFC teams with first-round byes, it doesn't look like the Seattle defense will be strong enough to make a Super Bowl run. But then again, with no truly great teams this year, this might be the time where they could sneak by.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks have come back and taken a 19-14 lead at halftime. The defense has woken up and stopped giving up 20-yard gains on short routes, and forced two more fumbles, recovering one. The offense's contribution consists largely of three big Russell Wilson passes: an 11-yard fastball to Luke Willson for a touchdown after the fumble recovery; a 41-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin to get Seattle out of the shadow of its own end zone; and a 42-yarder to Jimmy Graham to set up a first-and-goal at the 1 (Thomas Rawls would go on to get the touchdown). Graham's play, I can't even call it a catch. There was nothing to it that resembled football at all, no precise route-running, no timing between passer and receiver, no open-field running or tackle-breaking. It was a 42-yard rebound. He just went to the goal line (well, just short of it), boxed out the defender, stood there, waited for the ball to arrive, and jumped up and got it. Poor little Antoine Bethea was helpless there, with nothing he could do.
Seahawks special teams continuing their late-season collapse. We've had another missed extra point earlier today. Now a punt snap goes flying over Jon Ryan's head (my dad's favorite football play) through the end zone for a safety. So the 49ers get the ball, still trailing just 22-16.
On the subject of Seattle special teams, Richard Sherman has been returning punts for Seattle today. I'm guessing that won't be the case next week when he'll be covering Jordy Nelson/Golden Tate/DeSean Jackson.
Interesting. Seahawks get the ball up nine with about ten minutes to go. They get one first down, then Russell Wilson leaves the game and Trevone Boykin takes over. Atlanta's win means the first-round bye is gone, but the 3 seed is still better than the 4 seed, and this game isn't over yet. But if you must pull Wilson early, why do it in the middle of a drive? So he can get an ovation from the crowd -- on the road? Boykin loses yards on a first-down run, fumbles a second-down snap, and throws high on a third-down incompletion. And San Francisco uses a cross-field lateral on the punt return for a big gain into Seattle territory.
Carl Yedor: In spite of the Seahawks pulling Russell Wilson while the game was still in doubt, they manage to close it out thanks to a surprisingly good-looking drive from backup quarterback Trevone Boykin that allowed them to kneel out the clock after picking up several first downs, including two of their three third down conversions from the entire game. Bizarre ending to the regular season as they wait for the rest of the playoff bracket to be filled out.
Vince Verhei: 49ers finished off that drive with a Colin Kaepernick touchdown pass to Garrett Celek to pull the 49ers within one score, 25-23. They never get the ball back, though, as Boykin and the offense take over with 5:32 left and pick up three first downs in 12 plays to run out the clock.
Atlanta's win (not final yet, but close) and Washington's loss means Seattle has clinched the 3 seed and will play the Detroit-Green Bay loser in the first round of the playoffs next week. If it's Green Bay, that means they'll play Christine Michael -- their own leading rusher this season. I assume that would be a first.
Oakland Raiders 6 at Denver Broncos 24
Aaron Schatz: Through the first 20 minutes, the Raiders have eight carries for 20 yards. You have to run on the Broncos, it's their clear weakness, it's the only way to consistently move the ball on them. If the Raiders can't get 3 yards per carry against the Broncos -- let alone 4 yards per carry -- their offense is going nowhere when we get to the playoffs.
Oh man. The Raiders... the Broncos are basically loading the box on every normal down because they can happily take the risk that maybe sometimes the Raiders receivers can beat their great corners one-on-one. It's not like Matt McGloin will actually hit anyone with an accurate pass. On third-and-29, they just played their coverage way back and the Raiders threw a zero-air yard pass to Amari Cooper on the right sideline. No blockers at all. Not even a smoke, because it's not like that was an audible from a run play. It went nowhere. Oh, and it looks like McGloin was hurt when Jared Crick slammed him to the turf after the pass, and Connor Cook may be coming in.
Vince Verhei: Oh, man, Connor Cook in the playoffs ...
New York Giants 19 at Washington Redskins 10
Aaron Schatz: Washington gets the ball back with about 2:30 left, down 13-10. They were getting up the field pretty easily against the Giants' zone coverage. Giants were rushing four, sometimes three. Kirk Cousins had plenty of time, but had to keep checking down to Chris Thompson. But that's fine, they could get little 5-yard gains and get into field-goal range and go to overtime. Except... first-and-10 from the Giants 43, 1:27 left, the Giants didn't play zones. They played man, and rushed four. And the pass pressure got to Cousins a little bit, and Thompson wasn't open underneath. It looked like everyone was pretty well covered, but Cousins threw to Pierre Garcon over the middle of the field, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked it off. That should be it for Washington's season.
Bryan Knowles: Odd that Washington didn't have DeSean Jackson on the punt return there with the season on the line. Six seconds, 94 yards to go...
...And it doesn't matter; Trevin Wade takes takes a bounce-pass attempt from Vernon Davis during the ol' lateral drill into the end zone for the insult to injury, game-ending touchdown. So long, Washington.
Green Bay Packers 31 at Detroit Lions 24
Aaron Schatz: It's really interesting to see the Packers using Aaron Ripkowski as their main running back tonight. There's been almost no Ty Montgomery. Ripkowski just caught the first touchdown of the game to make it 7-0. And man, earlier in this drive... Aaron Rodgers gets out of pass pressure like nobody else in the league.
We go to halftime 14-10. It really feels like the Packers should have more offense than this, especially against the Detroit defense. This is what Detroit has done all year: limited possession by both teams. Through Week 16, the Lions had 10 fewer drives than any other team on both sides of the ball.
Bryan Knowles: NBC just put up a stat: the Packers have 11 "double-downs" since 2008, scoring on both the last possession of the first half and the first possession of the second half. That's tied for fifth most in the NFL. That sounds pretty good!
...Except that's just barely more than one per season. I'm betting the full list there is pretty much going to be the list of "team who score a lot of touchdowns in general."
Aaron Schatz: Aaron Rodgers just did a five-second scramble drill and found Geronimo Allison sliding in the end zone to put the Packers ahead by two scores. Great play. He's fully back. (Mason Crosby missed the extra point, so we're at 23-14.)
By the way, not a lot of discussion tonight... are the rest of you out there?
Tom Gower: I don't have anything to say other than "Aaron Rodgers does more insane things than any other player in the NFL."
Bryan Knowles: And "I wouldn't want my team to play Green Bay at the moment."
Scott Kacsmar: Washington's loss that put both of these teams in the playoffs took a lot out of this one. Not to mention Detroit Lions and playoff atmosphere just don't mix well anyway.
Bryan Knowles: Well, hang on just a second. We've got 13 seconds left, and Detroit's now down only seven. I mean, crazier things have happened, right?
Not much crazier, mind you...
Turns out, no. Still, would have been funny to see the egg on people's face had Detroit recovered that and gone on to win, after the league had already announced the playoff matchups.