Archive for December 18th, 2011

Most talented primates: Laugh now, but we’ll eventually recognize this as the day of reckoning, when our sheep dog riding monkey dictators first landed on earth. First they imposed their will on these mighty and dog-like beasts during halftime of the Broncos-Patriots game in Denver, and then later they turned their attention to the entire human race.

No one with a dog is safe. (pic via Mike Tunison)

If you need proof of the monkey’s power and ability to dominate a species, just look at what they’ve already done to the pigs…

The goats…

And, worst of all, they’ve learned how to use motorized vehicles…

Best smashing of a career high: Carson Palmer has been effective so far in Oakland after an opening-week stumble, a feat made more impressive by the rampant injuries to Oakland’s key offensive contributors. Palmer’s been asked to be be Picasso, and he’s been given a box of Crayons, with Darren McFadden’s season derailed in Week 7, Jacoby Ford missing his fifth straight game today, and Denarius Moore returning today after missing three weeks.

Darrius Heyward-Bey also missed two games when Palmer first arrived. His absence has effected the growth of their chemistry, but there was a growth spurt today despite Oakland’s loss to Detroit, with Heyward-Bey catching six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. That easily shattered his previous career high of 115 yards.

The worst people on the Internet: It’s nearly 2012, which means the only way we know what the weather’s like outside is to check the Internet. (Quick aside: this is actually true about the GLS workspace in The Score’s ivory towers in downtown Toronto, because we’re blocked off from all windows, and from society in general. We’ve adapted to the darkness quite well, and regularly during late nights blogging on Sundays we refuse to turn on any lights at Gagnon’s condo. Eventually we will live only in darkness.)

So in this age of advanced technological communication, we’re only able to gauge what the world or a specific area of the world finds interesting through the trending topics on Twitter. Often this means wondering what exactly makes our crazy lives so cray (an Italian cat inheriting $13 million, apparently). At one point today “Brady Quinn” was trending worldwide, presumably because he was shown for just a fleeting second by sideline cameras during Denver’s loss to New England.

So I clicked on that Twitter link even though I knew what was on the other side, and it was a decision I immediately regretted. There was plenty of joking Quinn rippage, and girls wanting to do things to Tim Tebow and/or Quinn that will never be written or spoken of again. And then something unfathomable in its stupidity happened: people were either calling for Quinn to replace Tebow, or saying that Quinn would have had more success against the Patriots.

These people actually exist, which in itself isn’t surprising. Tebow’s polarizing nature has made the divide he creates incredibly rigid. What’s amazing is how quickly the process of feeding that divide takes place once Tebow falters even slightly, and just how much the public’s pursuit of hating leads to a loss of reality and, maybe more importantly, intelligence.

Easiest punchline: The Interwebs are a cavern of bad religious jokes right now, so we won’t add to it any more than we already have. We’d just like you to know that God was indeed present at today’s game, and he wasn’t pleased with Tom Brady.

Worst perception of field geography: Again, Tebow gets praised when he wins, even though much of his winning has been on the shoulders of his defense. And he’ll be heavily criticized after today’s loss, even though much of it can also be placed on the shoulders of his defense, a unit that’s given up a combined 86 points during Denver’s losses to New England and Denver while Tebow’s been under center.

Tebow was the same quarterback this week as he’s been every week, minus #Tebowtime and the miraculous late-game heroics. He completed a few passes, missed on many more (he was 11 for 22), and was far more comfortable running than standing stationary in the pocket, rushing for 93 yards and scoring twice on the ground. None of this surprising.

Nothing changed, except his ability to run forward. While trying to play God with his team down 18 points late in the foruth quarter, Tebow ran backwards 28 yards in an attempt to avoid a sack. The resulting 28-yard sack was just one yard shy of Bob Griese’s record loss via the sack in Super Bowl VI.

Tebow doesn’t do anything halfway.

Most dedicated parking lot NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers: There are no generators in Denver. None.

Don’t count the Eagles out yet

It only took three and a half months but, right now, Philadelphia looks like the best team in the NFC East.

And the division might be weak enough that the Eagles could end up winning the thing and sneaking into the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

Philly beat a good team in blowout fashion for the second time in as many weeks today, pummeling the Jets 45-19. They’ve outscored their last two opponents 71-29, with the defense finally making big plays. In the last two weeks, they have 13 sacks, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Considering that they’re actually quite healthy in relation to the Giants and Cowboys, Philadelphia might be the most appropriate NFC East representative in the playoffs. To get through, they’ll need to win out and get help. Beat Dallas and Washington to close out the year and hope that the Jets beat the Giants in Week 16 and the Giants beat the Cowboys in Week 17 and you’ll be hosting a wild-card game at Lincoln Financial Field Jan. 7 or 8.

Considering how bad things were going for the Eagles only a few weeks ago, it’s pretty amazing that they’re still alive. Considering the talent level on this team, it’s safe to say that none of the current NFC playoff teams want to run into Andy Reid’s crew in January.

For the first time this century, the Detroit Lions will finish with a winning record.

That was clinched after Detroit came back to beat the Raiders in dramatic fashion for their ninth win of the 2011 season. One week after winning a nail-biter against the feisty Vikings, they won another game that came down to the wire Sunday, scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes to win by a single point in Oakland.

It wasn’t a pristine performance for the Lions, but they found a way to gut it out against a desperate team 2,000 miles from home. And for the deciding score, they traveled 98 yards in only 95 seconds, with their two best players — Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson — stepping up in the clutch. Despite being spotlighted by the Raiders defense, Johnson finished with nine catches, 214 yards and two scores.

With the Bears and Giants losing, the Lions are now two games clear of the competition for the last NFC wild-card spot, which means they’re probably going to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. It’s been a wild, exciting ride.

So why doesn’t it feel as though the nation is rallying behind the former lovable loser Lions? When they started 5-0, they were the talk of the league. Everyone was rooting for Detroit. But then they faded with five losses in seven games, and we sort of lost interest.

In the process, they gained a reputation as a dirty team. There was the Jim Schwartz-Jim Harbaugh incident and the Ndamukong Suh incident and myriad questionable plays. I think it was the combination of shoddy performances and shady infractions that cost the Lions the role of America’s favorite underdog.

And of course, Tebowmania didn’t help. The beginning of Tebow’s run in Denver coincided with the start of Detroit’s temporary fall from grace. But the magic might be back now, and there’s room on the bandwagon. Remember: three of the last six Super Bowl champions were wild-card teams.

Tim Tebow didn’t lose to the Patriots. The Broncos lost to the Patriots. Tebow didn’t have his best game Sunday, but he didn’t have any interceptions and was once again the team’s best rusher.

Denver lost because of the mistakes made by Tebow and his 44 teammates. The Broncos had three turnovers in the second quarter, leading to 13 New England points. That, plus a blocked extra point, is 14 points lost due to costly errors. That can’t happen against a talented and experienced team like the Patriots.

New England had zero turnovers and took three fewer penalties. That was the difference.

Now, because we love to overreact to everything that happens in professional sports, we’ll conclude that Tebow is indeed an impostor and the Broncos are indeed pretenders. But losses to the Patriots happen, and Denver was New England’s match for much of this game. The Lions came back to edge the Raiders today, so there’s a good chance this loss doesn’t hurt the Broncos in the standings (they still control the division and finish with Buffalo and Kansas City).

Can I see them winning playoff games? Well, I’m a little concerned that they’ve lost two of the three games they’ve played against teams with winning records during Tebow’s run. It’s also a bit disconcerting that they’ve given up an average of 33 points per game against those three teams. That said, I’m not ruling anything out with Tebow and Willis McGahee and Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

Turns out the Broncos are mortal with Tebow, but that doesn’t mean that #TebowTime is over just yet.

Worst test of the human anatomy: The spine can move in a downwards direction, and it can also bend backwards, but only slightly.

This is more than slightly.

In real-time the video of Anthony Hargrove’s hit on Johnny Knox as the Bears wide receiver attempted to recover his own fumble is gruesome, but this is one of those rare times when the still image induces far more vomit.

Knox was carted off the field and taken to hospital as a precaution, but he was responsive and able to move his extremities.

Most butter on fingers: There were two plays–or short series of plays–in today’s early games that were massively important and had the potential to be crippling, but in the end were meaningless and mostly irrelevant. The first came from the Saints, who showed that it really is the season for giving. A usually sure-handed and careful offense had only lost three fumbles prior to today before coughing up two in first 17 minutes of play against Minnesota.

Every announcer for every game in the history of every NFL season will tell you that winning the turnover battle is important. It usually is, and two uncharacteristic turnovers would usually cripple an offense that doesn’t have a quarterback named Drew Brees at the helm. The second fumble took place on the Saints’ 45 yard-line, and it allowed the Vikings and their shaky rookie quarterback to somehow trail by just one point (7-6) in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Thankfully, that guy named Brees does play for New Orleans, and he had only eight incompletions on his 40 pass attempts while throwing for 412 yards and five touchdowns, leading an offense that scored 35 more points. That’s how you make clichéd announcer-speak irrelevant.

Best innovation: We imagine that when offensive coaches log enough hours in the same room over the course of a season, there are many instances where creativity runs amok. That’s when Brian Urlacher ends up throwing a pass (that actually happened), or a fourth-string tight end lines up behind center in the red zone, and Cam Newton does something franchise quarterbacks–and, well, football players in general–are rarely asked to do: fumble intentionally.

That actually happened too, and it actually worked. Between the Packers losing and the appearance of the fumblerooski that ended in a Richie Brokel touchdown, it was an afternoon for the rare and weird throughout the early games.

Brokel’s name will now ascend into the annals of fumblerooski history, and one day we’ll speak of him with the same awe that accompanies any mention of Dean Steinkuhler and the Nebraska Cornhusker’s use of the famous play invented by John Heisman (yeah, this is the the most collegy college play) in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

Fastest large body in motion: Seeing a fat man touchdown is a little like seeing a lunar eclipse. They happen often enough that everyone’s seen one, but they’re still rare enough that they remain an anomaly. The men who score fat man touchdowns could also cause lunar eclipses.

The latest large man to find a ball in his hands and then carry that ball into the end zone was Seattle’s Red Bryant, the defensive end who was on the receiving end of a careless, awkward, and panicked throw by Caleb Hanie. Bryant had the hands of Jerry Rice, and the breakaway speed of Gilbert Brown while jiggling all the way to the end zone for a 20-yard interception return.

There’s something peaceful about a big man running. They’re like lost and wounded gazelles, or white men dancing to any beat made by any musician ever.

In the fierce race among ball-hawking defensive linemen, Bryant is now tied with Vince Wilfork with two interceptions this year.

Worst potentially crippling decision: This is the second mistake later made insignificant by the events that followed, and this moment of snark will rival the one guy who loudly criticized Neil Armstrong’s landing when he stepped on the moon for the first time (of course, we can’t be sure that he stepped on the moon at all).

No one will remember or care now, but Romeo Crennel’s decision to call for the field goal unit early in the fourth quarter after Kyle Orton completed an eight-yard pass to Dexter McCluster on third down to bring up fourth and goal from Green Bay’s two-yard line was bland and conservative at best, and incredibly foolish at worst. Those two adjectives aren’t commonly associated with an interim coach who should be creative, and a team out of the playoffs with little to lose. By kicking the field goal, Crennel was stating that at the time his team–his 5-8 team–was good enough to knock off the undefeated champs without scoring a touchdown, and by merely scoring three points four times.

Crennel then became the beneficiary of a Green bay passing offense slowly adapting to life without Greg Jennings, and Aaron Rodgers’ 235 passing yards that was his worst output since the divisional round of the playoffs last January, a stretch of 16 games. The Chiefs’ touchdown came on their next drive with Jackie Battle’s one-yard run, which thankfully and luckily made Crennel’s overly conservative approach fade into the depths of memories for all but the most cynical minds.

That’s why we’re here.

Colts win! Packers lose!

It all happened within a 35-second span at 4:06 p.m. ET — 101 days (or 2,420 hours) after the 2011 NFL season kicked off. The Packers lost for the first time and the Colts won for the first time. Here are the implications:

1. History has been curbed in Green Bay and Indy. Mercury Morris, who was trending worldwide on Twitter for much of the afternoon, can now pop the champagne with his teammates from the 1972 Dolphins. That is still the only team to ever run the table throughout the regular season and playoffs. Members of the 2007 Patriots might not be celebrating, but the Green Bay loss means they’re still the only team to finish a 16-game regular season without a loss.

Meanwhile, Dan Orlovsky avoids having the distinction of going 0-16 with two different teams. Although he’s played half-decent of late, the defense and the running game carried Orlovsky today, which is why he’s probably breathing one hell of a sigh of relief. The 2008 Lions (0-16) and the 1976 Buccaneers (0-14) continue to share the burden as the only two teams to finish an NFL season without a win.

2. Wrench added to the MVP race. Aaron Rodgers was supposedly a lock, but a lot of pundits were using Green Bay’s perfect record in their argument for Rodgers as both MVP and offensive player of the year. Now that Rodgers and the Pack won’t be making that kind of history, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear some suggest that Drew Brees, Tom Brady or even Tim Tebow deserve consideration for major awards.

Rodgers completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for only 235 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He didn’t make any big mistakes, but he certainly didn’t look like a superstar either. Meanwhile, Brees was lights out (32-of-40, 412 yards, five touchdowns, zero picks) as the Saints killed the Vikings to win their sixth straight game. He’s on pace to absolutely smash Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record and is now only only three touchdown passes back of Rodgers.

Brees is hot; Rodgers is not. If current trends continue, things could be interesting when the awards are handed out in January and February.

3. Suck for Luck sweepstakes aren’t over yet. The Colts won for the first time in 15 weeks, but they also avoided embarrassment for the fourth time in as many weeks. It’s not impossible to imagine Indy winning at least one of its two final games. On Thursday night, they host a Texans team travelling on short rest after being manhandled at home by the Panthers. And then they have a mini bye week to prepare for the finale against a Jaguars team that has lost four out of five.

With two-win St. Louis and two-win Minnesota both losing today, the Colts are no longer a virtual lock to be picking first overall in next April’s draft. The Rams, who have by all appearances phoned it in, have a slim chance of winning either of their final games against Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and the Vikings, who have lost six straight, will also be underdogs the rest of the way.

The tiebreaker to determine draft order is strength of schedule (the team with the weaker schedule gets the higher pick). At this moment, Indy’s opponents are a combined 101-87 (.537), St. Louis’ opponents are a combined 107-83 (.563) and Minnesota’s opponents are a combined 112-79 (.586). It’s hard to imagine the Vikes catching the Colts, but the Rams have a real chance.

What’s amazing is that the Packers fell to such a bad team. I would have understood if they had lost in New York against the Giants or in Atlanta or San Diego, or even to the Lions, but no one thought the Chiefs stood a chance in this game. Kansas City was playing its first game after firing its head coach and had scored just 45 points in six games, losing five of those six affairs.

Indy’s victory was less shocking — the team had shown signs of life recently with Orlovsky at quarterback and had the luxury of facing a familiar division foe at home. They got some help by way of three Titans turnovers and a disappearing act from Tennessee’s front seven, but it was still a commendable effort from a team that had nothing to play for (especially considering that the Titans were still in the playoff race).

But the Packers claim they don’t care much about regular-season history and awards, and the Colts insist that they aren’t thinking about the draft. If that’s the case, today’s shocking results only served to eliminate distractions for both teams.

This is the second time in a matter of days that a Rich Eisen tweet has led a post, but man is it ever worth it. The long, grueling grind of an NFL season is mentally and physically taxing for both players and fans. Even in the frosty outreaches of Alaska on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, one fan is prepared to take an inebriated power nap before supporting his Ravens tonight from afar.

Rich is right, he’s an inspiration to us all, especially with 16 games on New Year’s Day in a few weeks.

So with that let’s shed the foggy cloud that lingers from Saturday night, and prepare ourselves for another Sunday marathon. We can’t decide what’s more exciting between the ongoing playoff races, and the Kellen Clemens sighting we’ll get in St. Louis.

Everyone should be familiar with the routine by now in Week 15. Lock your doors, and give the kids an early Christmas present to keep them occupied for the next 12 hours.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

With matchups against the Patriots and Jets over the final two weeks, at least the Dolphins will be motivated by their chance to play spoiler, or to possibly effect the playoff seeding. But today’s game is a painfully meaningless one between two meaningless franchises this season, one that started out red hot, an one that’s been irrelevant since Week 1.

So for Dolphins fans, it’s time to look even more towards the future, and perhaps at the opposite sideline for an example of what not to do during a rebuilding phase. As Dan Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel notes, the rumors regarding Miami’s head coaching vacancy are already rampant, but finding a capable head coach isn’t nearly as difficult or important as finding a franchise quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was awarded that title earlier this year, a decision that could be a crippling mistake.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears

The Bears’ defense may be ranked 10th in the league against the run, but they’re still ranked 21st with 4.4 yards per carry.

That’s not a favorable number against a bruising power running back like Marshawn Lynch who can wear down defenses with his ability to bounce off of defenders. Lynch has 374 rushing yards over his last three games.

Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans

The Texans injury/sickness black cloud of bad luck has now claimed its first coach, leaving the Battle Red Blog to wonder what the people of Houston did to piss off our football overlords.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

The real Chris Johnson has only partially stood up this year. He’s slouched over in his chair, with poor and unhealthy posture.

Johnson torched two poor run defenses (Buffalo and Tampa Bay) for 343 rushing yards between Weeks 12 and 13, but then he had a paltry 23 yards on 11 carries last week against New Orleans, and their run defense that’s better but still rather average.

The good Johnson should return again this week against a Colts front seven allowing 144.4 yards per game, but over six career games against the Colts he has only 408 rushing yards.

Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs

As expected, Kyle Orton will start despite being listed on the injury report after breaking his finger on his first snap as a Chief.

This game will likely be over quickly, but with the exception of a drubbing at the hands of Miami in Week 9, the Chiefs have actually been respectable at home recently, losing three of their last four games at Arrowhead by a point differential of a touchdown or less. That includes a four-point loss to Pittsburgh, and a three-point win over San Diego.

To avoid being the latest upset or near-upset victim, the Packers need to contain a large, strong man named Tamba Hali who made life difficult for Tom Brady earlier this year.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Jonathan Vilma experienced some increased swelling in his surgically repaired knee this week and was listed as questionable. But he’s active and will face Adrian Peterson in his return from injury.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Today Rex Grossman will be the latest quarterback to run from the clutches of Jason Pierre-Paul, who is fifth in the league with 12.5 sacks. It’ll be the same Jason Pierre-Paul who was indifferent about football even during his junior year of high school, and finally getting him onto the field required a coach stakeout at his car.

Osi Umenyiora is out, but Pierre-Paul will be flanked by Justin Tuck today, his fellow defensive end who was listed as questionable due to a toe injury.

Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams

As mentioned, with both starter Sam Bradford and backup A.J. Feeley injured, Clemens will start for the Rams today, and it’ll be just his second start since 2007. That alone could make this one of the most unwatchable games of Week 15, which is a pretty tough title to own after two prime-time games that finished with a combined score of 72-29.

In a lost season, the Rams will likely make the logical decision and shut Bradford down for the year too, which will allow St. Louis to compete with Jacksonville for the title of most unwatchable team.

Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

There wasn’t much optimism around the playing status of Lions safety Louis Delmas. No there’s none after he didn’t make the trip to Oakland.

The other two Lions whose statuses will be determined later today prior to game time are defensive ends Nick Fairley and Willie Young.

Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals

As backup John Skelton prepares for another start, but Cardinals should be seriously considering admitting their mistake with Kevin Kolb and cutting him before he’s due to receive a bonus in March. They won’t, but they should.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Aside from their physical stature, Doug Flutie had a lot in common with Tim Tebow, from his playing style, to the doubters that surfaced because of it.

So the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport thought Flutie would have a good grasp on Tebowmania, and what it means to be a polarizing figure at quarterback.

He did.

”Anything that’s unconventional, anything that’s not by the book . . . they’re just slow to change and adapt in the NFL. There’s so much money at stake that they don’t want to take risks,” said Flutie. ”So they view guys like me, or TimTebow as big risks.

”The way I look at it, why can’t people just enjoy the kid for what he is,” Flutie went on. ”He’s finding ways to win, it’s not always pretty. It makes them competitive, why can’t you just enjoy it?”

New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles run defense has improved since a staggeringly awful start to the season, but it’s still a very middle-of-the-packish unit that’s allowing 115.1 rushing yards per game (18th). That number could get worse quickly today against the Jets and Shonn Green, a team and a player that’s built to run when the temperature begins to drop.

It’s nota  coincidence that Jets thrive on the ground in December and January. It’s done by design, and Manish Mehta of the New York Post told the story of Anthony Lynn, the team’s running backs coach who survived a near fatal accident involving a drunk driver, and has now guided the Jets to a rushing attack that’s averaged an incredible 166 yards per game in December and January during Rex Ryan’s tenure.

Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers

It’ll likely be far too little, far too late, but Philip Rivers has finally played like Philip Rivers over the past three weeks, a stretch that’s seen three of his four interception-free games this year. A Ravens defense likely boosted by the return of Ray Lewis will have to deal with a Chargers offense that’s scored 88 points since Week 12.