Archive for December 4th, 2011

Best mutant football player: The Cowboys didn’t claim Donovan McNabb to be Tony Romo’s new backup, and now we know why.

Earlier today they revealed their new second-stringer. His name is Zilgore, and he’s from the the planet Zilgex, a foreign land several galaxies away. He speaks very little English, but while he was warming up today prior to Dallas’ clustostrophe of a loss in Arizona, it quickly became obvious that he has tremendous arm strength.

He completed a pass to a homeless man outside of Cowboys Stadium.

(via Getty Images)

Easiest scapegoat: Jason Garrett’s odd and inexplicable decision to call a timeout and ice his own kicker will rightfully receive a large chunk of the blame for Dallas’ latest December debacle. Then the masses will turn to Tony Romo, because that’s what the masses do, especially in December.

They’ll call Romo a hater of all things Christmas, and the Super Bowl Scrooge who routinely teases those fragile Dallas hearts in November, before destructing in December. It’s true that a Romo crumble is as much a part of the holiday season as nana’s cranberry sauce, a snowman who walks and talks, and Mr. Hankey.

Romo’s all-time record in December is 10-14, and he’s 18-2 in November. His poor December numbers go beyond wins and losses, and in 2008, for example, Romo’s completion percentage dropped six points from November to December, and his yards per attempt declined by nearly three yards.

So we take that history, and we routinely use it as late-season ammunition against Romo, and often he’s deserves that gunfire. Just not today.

Not on a day when he didn’t throw an interception, and he completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts. And not on a day when Dallas’ secondary allowed sophomore receiver Andre Roberts to finish with 111 receiving yards on six catches, the same Andre Roberts who had only one game with over 60 receiving yards in his 25 career games prior to today. Who was the opponent in that other 60-plus yard game during Roberts’ rookie season? The Cowboys, when he finished with 110 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 last year, with 74 of those yards coming on one play.

No, a far more appropriate Cowboys scapegoat is the running game, with everyman DeMarco Murray plummeting back through several stratospheres and finishing with just 38 rushing yards on 12 carries, and averaging just 3.2 yards per carry after he averaged a minimum of six yards when he emerged between Weeks 7 and 11.

Dallas finished with only 75 rushing yards between Murray, Felix Jones, and Romo against an Arizona defense allowing 123.5 yards per game on the ground.

Worst hand placement: Sacked indeed. (via Mocksession.com)

Tallest sideline photographer: NFL photographers are usually either rake-like in their appearance, or rotund and spherical. There are, well, just photographers, a noble and passionate pursuit, but a job nonetheless.

Randy Johnson is 6’10″, and he’s second all-time in strikeouts after spending 22 years as one of the most powerful pitchers in Major League Baseball history. So he’s not small, physically inept, or inconspicuous.

But there he was on the sidelines in Arizona partaking in his new retirement hobby of photography, and easily looking the part with his NFL vest. Johnson’s quickly getting addicted to his hobby, and this past summer he was in the pit at Lollapalooza in Chicago to personally document Soundgarden’s set.

This is a significant shift from Johnson’s previous relationship with cameras, which mostly consisted of smashing them on the cold, hard concrete of New York city streets.

Thank goodness the Packers won’t have to play any road playoff games

Some might argue that Green Bay just survived its toughest test yet by winning as the clock expired at MetLife Stadium. And considering that the Giants were desperate at home, that wouldn’t be an outlandish suggestion. It was obviously the closest the Packers have come to losing this year, but it wasn’t the first time this year that they’ve had to work a little harder than expected on the road.

This is a team that fell behind 13-0 in Carolina in Week 2, trailed the Vikings at halftime in Week 7 and barely hung on despite surrendering 38 points in San Diego in Week 9.

But they’ve survived, and now the tests are over. Their only remaining road game takes place in Kansas City, which shouldn’t be too challenging. In their other three remaining games, they host Oakland, Chicago and Detroit, all of whom have struggled lately, especially on the road.

At this point, it’s very difficult to imagine Green Bay not going 16-0. Beyond that, based on how great the offense has been at home, it’s also pretty hard to imagine a Super Bowl game in Indy on Feb. 5 that doesn’t have the Packers in it.

So 18-0 should happen. Then the question will become whether they follow the path of the 1972 Dolphins or the 2007 Patriots. If it’s the latter, this will all have been irrelevant to Aaron Rodgers and Co.

Making sense of Arizona 19, Dallas 13

The Cowboys obviously had no business losing in Glendale. They were more rested and they are significantly more talented.

But let’s not overreact.

First of all, this was not a trap game. The Cowboys beat an average Miami team last week and have a slumping Giants team on deck. They weren’t looking past the Cardinals. They remember what happened when they played the Cards at the very same site last December. For whatever reason, they’ve struggled to stop, of all people, Andre Roberts. And for whatever reason, Arizona has their number.

That marks the third straight time Arizona has beaten Dallas at home, all in the last four years.

Also in the Cards’ defense, they’re 16-12 at home dating back to the start of the 2008 season. Over that same span, Dallas is just 14-15 away from home. Even while they’ve struggled the last two years, the Cards are still 6-6 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

And that’s why this result shouldn’t surprise anyone (Dallas was only a 4.5-point favorite in Vegas). And that’s something that should provide some relief for Dallas fans. This loss wasn’t an omen that the team is about to suffer another December collapse. This loss was just another loss for a team that, let’s face it, might have been due for one.

Of course, that doesn’t mean a December collapse won’t still happen. And Jason Garrett’s terrible clock management late in regulation probably has fans fearing that they’re about to become snake bite victims yet again. I don’t blame them, but they should take solace in the fact that every other team in the mediocre NFC East lost this week.

49ers, Ravens benefit from rest

While the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of an extra three days to prepare for their next opponent after playing on Thanksgiving Day, the Ravens and 49ers were superb after receiving mini bye weeks.

In the other two late Sunday starts, Baltimore and San Francisco outscored their opponents 50-10 in easy victories against weak teams. Both defenses pitched shutouts in the first half.

Both teams did what they do best, with the Ravens making Colt McCoy’s life hell and the Niners shutting down Steven Jackson. The Rams managed just 157 total yards in San Fran; Cleveland had 233 against Baltimore.

Taking care of business against inferior teams in methodical fashion. That’s what good teams have to do in December. The Ravens had been struggling this season against weaker teams, while Niners fans were likely a little on edge after a tough outing in Baltimore last week. But on Sunday, both teams delivered statements with clean, efficient victories.

Best motorized sideline device: Later on this afternoon Matt Schaub is starring in the latest Life Alert commercial, and he also has the pole position tomorrow morning in the senior scooter circuit.

Best leisurely game of catch in the backfield: I’d love to embed the video of the Panthers getting creative, and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski calling a play in which Cam Newton threw across the field to wide receiver Legedu Naanee, then Nanaee threw back to Newton, and Newton ran for 27 yards and nearly scored.

Yes, I’d love to do that, but NFL.com guards its video content like a dictator ruling over his feeble, weak masses, and the Internets failed us in the search for other free visual stimulation. So, please accept my apologies for making you expand energy for a mouse click to view Carolina’s game of backfield catch.

Worst injury luck in the history of organized sports: Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles, and Tony Moeaki are long gone for Kansas City, and that was painful enough. Somehow after those injuries they managed to win three games in a row, and still maintain a respectable record despite the constantly booked training room.

Then Matt Cassel went down, prompting GM Scott Pioli to claim Kyle Orton off of waivers. So of course Orton dislocated his finger on his first throw as a Chief after he replaced Tyler Palko today due to his continued crappiness. That, friends, is how you spend $3 million.

Most believable fake Twitter account: At this point, it’s about moral victories for Palko. Every completed pass is an accomplishment, as is every safe handoff. Between Palko and Caleb Hanie, the Bears-Chiefs game was often painful when a quarterback was actually asked to execute a forward pass.

So yeah, at some point today Palko’s imaginary glass was half filled with imaginary liquid, and he was just proud to be accomplishing anything.

Most depleted team: The Chiefs received the worst injury luck in the history of sports award because of the sheer hilarity of their quarterback situation. But the Texans are making a strong and persistent bid to take over that title, with Brian Cushing going down in the first half of their win over Atlanta today with a knee injury before returning in the third quarter.

That was only a minor scare, and the even scarier minor scare came later when Andre Johnson injured his left hamstring, evening out his anatomical maladies after he recovered from an injury to his right hamstring earlier this year. His latest strain isn’t believed to be serious, but you have to wonder what the hell this team did to piss off the karma police.

Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, and Mario Williams are done for the year, and Houston can barely make it through a week without the threat of another major injury.

Worst calendar neglect: It’s now the fourth day of December, meaning Movember was officially over four days ago. But the Broncos are apparently bigger than the calendar, and they won’t allow an arbitrary date to control their facial foliage.

Most absurd halftime stat: Christian Ponder is a rookie quarter who’s played like a rookie quarterback at times, and at times he’s also impressed. So he’s done exactly what should realistically be expected of a first-year signal caller, and the Vikings haven’t been shy about putting a heavy workload on his arm.

That’s been especially true over the last two weeks with Adrian Peterson out, and it reached absurd levels today. At halftime of Minnesota’s loss to Denver Ponder was on pace for 59 pass attempts after averaging 28.2 attempts per game this year. Ponder’s pace slowed in the second half, but he still established a career and season high with 47 attempts, easily passing his previous high of 34.

Most Tim Tebow halftime stat: Remember that crazy, wicked, and fun Naanee video that I made you click? Well, that pass meant that with the two games at halftime, Tim Tebow only had two more passing yards than Naanee.

That changed quickly in the second half as Tebow parted seas and defenders once again, which shows that yards can often be a poor stat to use while gauging a quarterback. It also shows that there’s actually a Tebow clone, with the real god-like figure showing up weekly in the second half.

Most indifferent fan base: On average there are nearly 16,000 empty seats at Sun Life Stadium in Miami for Dolphins home games, which is a reflection of the growing apathy during the Tony Sparano era despite more winning recently.

That number is meaningless, though, unless you can see it. And once you see it, you’ll want to look away pretty quickly.

Worst blatant overstatement: Needlessly applying a narrative to a dramatic situation that doesn’t need one is the most annoying habit of hack sports broadcasters.

I generally like Brian Billick’s work for Fox, and he was the analyst during the latest act of Tebow heroism this afternoon. And I clearly agree with Billick when he implied that winning a road game is a difficult task in the NFL.

But Brian, the legend of Tebow doesn’t need your help. Nobody likes overly-dramatized, and statistically incorrect statements, except maybe the legions of casual fans sitting at home who believe every word said by a former coach or player.

Tamest ejection: Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour has started to develop a bit of a Dennis Rodman reputation since he one-punched Ben Roethlisberger last year, dropping the Steelers quarterback to the ground and getting ejected immediately.

So maybe that’s why the officials today in Miami were so quick with the hook when Seymour slapped Dolphins tackle Richie Incognito. The slap was the kind of tame, aggressive contact seen frequently, especially in a blowout game with frustrations mounting. It was really just an innocent case of 300-pound boys being 300-pound boys, and Seymour became the scapegoat for a set of officials wanting to maintain control of a game that wasn’t really a game at all anymore.

The problem is it was Seymour’s second ejection in less than a year. He was fined $25,000 for the Big Ben knockdown, and a suspension could be forthcoming now while the Raiders are still trying to cling to their playoff lives, with the Broncos steaming ahead and taking over first in the AFC West.

The officials may have overreacted, but Seymour needs to be aware of his reputation and extract himself from situations that could lead to a quick and overzealous flag. He wasn’t, and instead he chose to be selfish, and in doing so he could strip his team of its best interior defender during a crucial Week 14 game.

For weeks, the Detroit Lions have been losing momentum in the NFC playoff race. They came into today out of playoff positioning for the first time all year, and morale was low with a tough game in New Orleans tonight sans Ndamukong Suh.

But while nothing’s changed regarding tonight’s game at the Superdome, the Lions will at least enter it knowing that their playoff chances have already improved drastically based on the events that took place Sunday afternoon.

Just look at the state of the two teams that held the NFC’s wild-card spots heading into Week 13.

The fifth-seeded Bears managed just three points in a home loss to a bad Chiefs team. It’s hard to use the “we didn’t have our starting quarterback” excuse when you lose to a team led by a guy named Tyler Palko at quarterback, but Chicago can definitely use Matt Forte’s absence to help explain what happened at Soldier Field this afternoon.

Two weeks after losing their second-best offensive player for an indefinite amount of time, the Bears lost their best offensive player to a knee injury early in today’s game. Without Forte, Marion Barber led the team in rushing with just 44 yards on 14 carries.

They couldn’t sustain drives, and on the rare instances in which they hit the KC red zone, mistakes did them in.

First, an illegal formation penalty cost them a touchdown in the second quarter (they settled for a field goal, their only points of the game).

Then, on their next possession, a nine-yard Hanie sack and a delay-of-game penalty brought them out of field goal range and they were forced to punt.

And later, with Chicago trying to tie the game in the final minutes, Hanie threw an interception in the end zone (one of three on the day and six in two weeks).

They were out of their element without Forte and Cutler. The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Forte tore anything. The bad news is that there are only four weeks remaining in the season and the Bears are now 0-2 in the post-Cutler era (after winning five straight prior to the Cutler injury).

The injuries hurt, obviously, but the circumstances surrounding this loss were particularly painful. In the end, this fluke play was the difference on a nightmare day for the Bears.

At the same time, the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons were equally as disappointing in Houston, where they lost to a fifth-round rookie making his first career start. To boot, the Texans were without Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing for solid chunks of the game. But Atlanta still blew a chance to get a leg up on their wild-card competitors.

Wade Phillips’ defense completely shut down Michael Turner and Matt Ryan. Turner pulled a Marion Barber with 44 yards on 14 carries while Ryan completed just 43 percent of his passes. Atlanta’s only touchdown came after Gary Kubiak foolishly handed them a very short field by attempting a 54-yard field goal with a 10-3 lead. Julio Jones and Roddy White each had crucial drops (what’s new?) and the Falcons defense couldn’t make stops when it mattered.

Now at 7-5, the Falcons don’t know who to cheer for tonight. A win from the Saints puts New Orleans up 2.5 games in the NFC South, which pretty much means the fat lady will be warming up there. But a win from the Lions knocks Atlanta out of the playoff picture for the time being.

With injuries and mistakes plaguing everyone involved in the race, it’s beginning to look as though we’ll be using the words “by default” to describe how the eventual wild-card teams managed to get into the playoffs.

And for the Packers, 49ers, Saints and Cowboys, that’s great news.

Von Miller was nearly able to make a quick recovery from thumb surgery, but he's been declared inactive.

A higher power can only watch over one player in Denver. The others are left exposed to the hardships of this cruel world, which includes thumb injuries that require surgery. Sorry, Von Miller.

Miller is the most notable note in our usual platter of Sunday notes, but there are plenty more. You should read them, and you should start now.

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills

Chris Johnson is suddenly kind of, sort of looking like Chris Johnson again, and he’s torched poor run defenses in two of Tennessee’s last three games (Carolina and Tampa Bay). He’ll face another weak front seven on the ground today, with Buffalo giving up 123.8 yards per game.

But for Johnson, the focus remains on getting the Titans back to the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears

Earlier this week Todd Haley said that Kyle Orton would be slowly eased into a first-team role, and Tyler Palko will still be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback for Week 13. I guess we just have to believe Haley, because a coach has never told a tiny, innocent lie in an attempt to head fake his opponent.

Haley isn’t lying, though, and Palko will likely start, despite his six interceptions over Kansas City’s last two games. He’ll also therefore likely struggle, which increases the likelihood of Orton making his Chiefs debut today.

There are a lot of likely outcomes in this game, especially bad quarterback play between two teams starting backups for the remainder of the season.

Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans

T.J. Yates makes his first career start, and nothing prepares a young NFL mind for such a daunting task like being pelted with coins after a particularly rough outing in college.

Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins

No matter how long you look at Matt Moore’s stats for November, they still look like a bad joke. The Carolina castaway finished last month as the third most efficient quarterback with a passer rating of 112.7, putting him behind only two guys named Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.

Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings

We’re not sure what he ate for breakfast, what brand of coffee he prefers in the morning, or what the name of his cab driver was en route to the field in Minnesota. But we know that Von Miller was the first Bronco out onto the practice field today to test his surgically repaired thumb after practicing for the first time this week on Friday.

Those on-field tests evidently didn’t go well, and Miller has been declared inactive, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That’s clearly a massive blow to Denver’s defense, as the brilliance of Miller has been overshadowed by Tebowmania. It’s been Miller and his 10.5 sacks and 23 knockdowns during his rookie season that have continually allowed the Broncos to stick with the tedious read option offense, putting Tim Tebow in a better position for success.

The Vikings are ranked ninth against the run and are giving up less than 100 yards per game, meaning Tebow may have to actually throw a football.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

If a certain quarterback didn’t have a certain neck injury, this would be more than just the game of the day. At minimum it could be the game of the month, depending on the team’s records, and it always had game of the year potential.

Now this once captivating matchup is just another 1 p.m. game, and it’s only the second early afternoon game the Patriots have played all year. That’s a true sign of this game’s irrelevance without Peyton Manning, and the Brady vs. Manning slugfest. It’s a game that has a prominent Boston sportswriter comparing the Colts sans Manning to the Red Sox in September, and has Chad Ochocinco searching for the secret ingredients to the IHOP pancakes hours before kickoff.

Yeah, this could get really bad, really fast.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Two weeks ago against Baltimore, Andy Dalton threw for 373 yards, but he also tossed three interceptions. The week prior to that was Cincy’s first game this year against Pittsburgh, and it ended in a 24-17 loss in which Dalton again struggled, finishing with only 170 passing yards.

The Bengals are just one game back of Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the loss column, and they’re still the surprise of the AFC North. But if they’d like to be taken seriously they need to beat a top tier team and win a tough divisional matchup, and some consistency from a receiver not named A.J. Green will help.

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Josh Freeman’s playing status remains uncertain, with ESPN’s John Clayton reporting yesterday that although he’ll be questionable, the Bucs still expect Freeman to be available to play even if he’s not today’s starter.

And of course moments after I wrote the above sentence, Freeman was declared inactive.

New York Jets at Washington Redskins

Heading into a critical game as the Jets chase a playoff spot, Mark Sanchez remains one of the most inconsistent and confusing quarterbacks on a team in playoff contention.

He’s already thrown a career-high 18 touchdown passes, and he’s also on pace for career highs in passer rating and passing yards. But the Jets are still barely above .500, prompting the smiling and fun Sanchez to be replaced by a far more serious and solemn quarterback. We’ll soon find out if that’s a good thing.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns

Somehow the schedule has sheltered the Browns from two of their toughest divisional opponents, and now four of their last five games will be against the Steelers and Ravens. Browns Stadium will continue to ruin the majestic Cleveland waterfront and be a factory of sadness.

But feat not, Browns fans, because there’s hope, and his name is Colt McCoy. Yesterday Dawgpound Daily reflected on the Twitter activity from those dedicated Browns supporters during a 23-20 loss to Cincy last Sunday, and a depressing reason for optimism was found.

This past Sunday’s Twitter timeline, which by the way is the best sports-watching companion to ever exist, was full of mixed feelings about McCoy. Some believed that it was nice to not have a quarterback who was the biggest problem, while others ranted about how “We’ll never win with him under center.”

That’s progress, you guys!

The fact that Browns fans are not 100% in agreement about whether or not the team’s quarterback is a complete and utter waste of time is a brand new thing for us, you realize that, right?

Hooray?

Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals

On paper, the Cowboys are facing their third straight weak opponent, although they’ve beaten the Redskins and Dolphins by only a combined four points over the last two weeks.

The win column doesn’t care about point differential, though, and Blogging the Boys observed that when compared with the NFC East standings last year when Wade Philips was fired, the Cowboys’ jump to the top of the division one year later is an ideal illustration of the NFL’s parity.

Green Bay Packers at New York Giants

Three straight losses have now put the Giants in the unfavorable position of having to battle not only Aaron Rodgers, but also their own poor December history to stay alive in their division.

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers

Sam Bradford didn’t practice until Friday due to a high ankle sprain, and even then he was very limited. Although Bradford is officially listed as questionable, it’s looking very likely that we’ll get an A.J. Feeley sighting for the third time this season. The Rams’ move to promote Tom Brandstater from the practice squad is a pretty strong hint.

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints

With both of these teams in the top five in average points per game (Detroit is fourth with 28.7, while New Orleans is second with 32.9), this game has the potential to become a shootout quickly.