tom brady pump2

At about four-ish in the afternoon Sunday, these three things happened within five minutes of each other, and all in the final minutes of their respective games: Cam Newton winning a game on a touchdown pass to Greg Olsen, Philip Rivers doing the same on a 26-yarder to someone named Seyi Ajirotutu, and Matt Flynn — Matt Flynn — leading a drive that forced overtime. That last one ended in a tie, and sisters were kissed everywhere.

The Newton deal there was smooth and cool, and it may even be becoming expected now after two straight weeks with such a game-winning drive late in the dying minutes from the Panthers quarterback. Then a few hours later Tony Romo did the same, disappointing lovers of false narratives everywhere. This isn’t what you want to hear, but we’re also quite familiar with Romo leading game-winning drives, as following a critical division win over the Giants he’s now done that twice over Dallas’ last three games.

But Ryan Fitzpatrick doing his own game-winning drive leading? Yes, that happened too, capping off a day filled with knuckles that were several shades of white, one that included a tie, and eight games that had a margin of victory of a touchdown or less.

Playoff pictures were further muddied, especially in the AFC where everyone is still horrible at the bottom, and six teams have a record of 5-6, meaning that with five weeks remaining all six are in contention for the final playoff seed. The Chiefs lost again, this time to the Chargers, proving that they may have indeed been the worst 9-0 team ever.

No one really wants the NFC North, as a three-way battle royale between the Packers, Lions, and Bears is still being slugged out. For something truly different, no NFC North team won today, and two of them played each other. Powered by Newton, the Panthers kept pace in the NFC South and are one game behind New Orleans, and the NFC East is also a collection of fumbling (often literally) that someone has to win, with the Cowboys making their move with a win over the Giant. Finally, there’s the Cardinals, who thoroughly suckered Indianapolis for a third straight win and now sit in a wild card spot with their D-men still looking legit.

I know, my head hurts not too. But the truly incomprehensible football during what was nearly a 12-hour marathon of joyous pigskin didn’t happen until the Sunday night game. It became more than just another Brady-Manning Palooza, and instead it was the sort of game you couldn’t possible make up and keep it believable.

The end result was a 34-31 Patriots win over their fellow AFC powerhouse, and it came on a 31-yard field goal with two minutes left in overtime that was kicked with a 20 mph wind. How did we get there? Through these easy, and totally ordinary steps, of course:

1. Denver led 17-0 by the end of just the first quarter, a lead compiled through repeated Patriots turnovers. The Pats fumbled three times in the opening quarter, becoming the first team to do that since 2007, and it was the first time they had given up three turnovers in the opening quarter since 1999. At that point, Denver was up by three scores, even though Peyton Manning had just eight passing yards. The second half — which began with a 24-0 Denver lead — felt like a formality.

2. Then the leaking began. Aided by two Broncos turnovers (a fumble and an interception), the Patriots scored on five straight second half drives for 28 unanswered points, outscoring Denver in the half 31-7.

3. So for the second time today, a game went to overtime, even though a team had led 24-0 at one point. That’s when the unorthodox nature of the proceedings continued, and Bill Belichick showed that he will always and forever be more man than you. With the wind still swirling, he chose to defer possession on the opening kickoff of overtime, and put his offense — and most importantly, his kicker — in a favorable position working with the wind, not against it.

Basically, this:

He trusted his defense to get one stop and force a sudden death situation, which takes serious grapefruits, especially when the other quarterback is named Peyton Manning. The wind was again a factor on the game-deciding play, when Ryan Allen’s punt ricocheted off of back cornerback Tony Carter, giving the Patriots an opportunity to recover and set up the winning kick. Later, Wes Welker — who was standing to receive the punt and waiting to start what would have been one final Denver drive — took responsibility, saying he was indecisive with the call to clear out and let the punt drop, which resulted in the fumble.

It was the 11th fumble of the game, which is more or equal to the total points scored by four other teams Sunday, and they came during the Patriots’ first 24-point comeback in franchise history.

That’s fitting too, because in a season of both pain and transition in New England, six of their 11 games have now been decided on the final play.

Fun with numbers

  • Sunday’s other historic weirdness: Maurice Jones-Drew’s first quarter touchdown in Jacksonville’s win over Houston gave the Jaguars seven points on their opening drive for the third straight week, a streak of early fun times they haven’t had since 1998.
  • We get it, Joseph Fauria. You’re a red-zone target, and that’s pretty much all you do, along with doing any dance with plenty of pelvic thrusting. But regardless of his role, Fauria’s touchdown-to-catch ratio remains remarkable/stupid. With another one Sunday in the Lions’ to Tampa that makes the NFC North equal parts interesting and pathetic, Fauria now has six touchdowns on just 11 receptions this year. Among tight ends he’s now tied for fourth in touchdowns with Jordan Cameron and Jason Witten. That’s a fact even though he’s 48 catches behind Cameron, and 40 behind Witten.
  • After entering halftime down 27-3 to the Cardinals in a game they would eventually lose by much more than that, the Colts have now accomplished the truly unique feat of being outscored 93-12 in the first half over the past four weeks.
  • In Week 12, Brandon Jacobs recorded the Giants’ first +20 yard run of the season. I’m not sure what’s more depressing: the Week 12 part, or the Brandon Jacobs part.
  • The Cowboys’ win that was sealed by Romo’s nearly five-minute fourth quarter drive was great and all. Really, it was, but they could have helped themselves by converting a third down or four. Over their last three games the Cowboys have converted on only nine of their 34 attempts on third down (26.5 percent, which includes going 0/9 in Week 10).
  • Elsewhere in Cowboys sucking, they allowed at least 150 rushing yards for the fourth time.
  • One more rather important fantasy observation from that rather entertaining football contest: Dez Bryant was targeted a career single-game high 16 times. Or put another way, nearly half (42 percent) of Tony Romo’s throws.
  • The crappy Matthew Stafford returned. He threw four interceptions, which is pretty ungood compared to the eight he had thrown over eight games.
  • Want to know how much the AFC sucks? The Titans have won two games since September, and if the season ended today they would be a playoff team as the sixth seed. That’s pretty dirty and gross.
  • It’s hard to accurately quantify how horrible Geno Smith was yesterday, but I’m paid to try. So here goes: a stellar defensive effort against the Ravens was wasted by a quarterback who completed just 40.9 percent of his, which is sadly an improvement from Week 11 (34.8). His passer rating was just the worst at 22.3, and he now hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 7, a stretch in which he’s chucked six of his 18 interceptions. We might get a Matt Simms sighting next week.

No really, guys, NFL games can end in a tie

Yes, ties are just the worst. We can all debate the NFL’s overtime format until we’re several shades of blue, but we can find common ground at the universally recognized fact that ties suck.

Thing is, though, we’re also aware that while it doesn’t happen often (though we were mere minutes away from seeing two in one day for the first time ever) because one hopes two competent NFL teams can decided a winner when given five full quarters, a tie is possible. It seems that piece of simple yet vital knowledge evaded some of the participants in Sunday’s tie between Minnesota and Green Bay.

Elsewhere in a lack of intelligence, we have Browns fans with the perfect unintentional commentary on their team…

This day also came complete with the neglect of another essential rule: touching is necessary for a recorded tackle

But there were many performances today that didn’t make you want to bury your face in every palm within a 50 foot radius, which is pretty weird.

I’m purchasing egg nog weekly now, which means the fantasy playoffs are looming. It also means many of the booms below either sunk you, or brought about a shot at glory.

Let’s talk.

Josh Gordon seeks new deep depths

The Browns may have lost, but we all won because Josh Gordon is in our lives. Or rather, because Brandon Weeden re-entered our lives. When Jason Campbell went down during Cleveland’s loss to Pittsburgh, the Weeden comedy show resumed. For those who like watching quality and competent football, that was bad.

But it was all good for Gordon owners, as there’s deep bro love between Gordon and Weeden. That combined with a deficit that reached 27-3 at one point resulted in an abundance of deep throwing, which led to 17 targets for Gordon, meaning 33 percent of the Browns’ total pass attempts were directed at him. He turned that into 237 receiving yards and a touchdown, with much of that yardage coming on catches for 47 and 42 yards.

Mike Wallace can curiously be great

Wallace had 110 receiving yards by just the 11-minute mark of the second quarter on only two catches (for 53 and 57 yards) while continually roasting the still awesomely named Captain Munnerlyn. Seriously, two, as it seemed the Dolphins and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman finally noticed that he’s pretty fast, and heaving balls deep to a fast guy can often result in nice things. That yardage nearly equaled what the entire Panthers offensive produced in the first half (116 yards). Yep.

But Wallace’s renaissance only lasted one half, because of course it did. He finished with 127 yards on five catches, which is pretty nice during a season when he was averaging 53.4 yards per game. But Wallace did little during the Dolphins’ second-half collapse, with his primary contribution being this drop…

Antonio Brown is not afraid of you, Joe Haden

Antonio Brown had a 41-yard touchdown catch over Joe Haden during the Steelers’ 27-11 win, a rare moment when the blanket corner was caught looking into the backfield. Brown now has a catch of 40 yards or more in three straight games, a stretch of awesome goodness in which he’s also accumulated 343 receiving yards at an average of 18.1 per catch.

The trickster Tavon Austin

Increasingly we’re seeing that Tavon Austin can do a whole lot with very little. We knew that, or at least we assumed it with his speed. But for the first time over the Rams’ last two games we’re starting to see it repeatedly. Austin scored on a 65-yard touchdown run that was the result of a beautifully-designed reverse field play, showing again that– mercifully — offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has located the required creativity to get his dynamic rookie the ball in situations best suited for his success.

So after his 104 yards yesterday, Austin has 246 yards over his last two games on just six offensive touches. When you absorb that for a minute, you realize that’s an average of 41 yards per touch. It gets better: of his five total offensive touchdowns, three have come on plays of 50 yards or more, which has led to some history…

Jamaal Charles for MVP?

It won’t happen, mostly because Peyton Manning. But at the very least, Jamaal Charles should be and deserves to be in the conversation.

Of the Chiefs’ 395 yards of total offense Sunday, Charles was responsible for 157 of them (40 percent) while scoring twice. That added up to 27 fantasy points, Charles’ highest single-game total this year. In 11 games, Charles has already eclipsed the 100-yard mark seven times for an average of 122.1 yards per game.

Knowshon Moreno is both bruising, and broken

It’s now difficult to remember a time when, due to injuries and before that overall sucking, Knowshon Moreno was discarded and seemingly ready to fade from the league. Then along came a fellow named Peyton who needed an experienced running back capable of protecting his brittle neck.

Since then Moreno be runnin’. With his 224 rushing yards today Moreno shattered his previous career single-game high of 161, and what’s even more impressive is that he did it while hobbled. So hobbled that he had to use something other than his legs to leave…

How about them apples for a buzz kill? It’s quite horrible for both you the Moreno fantasy owner and the Broncos that there’s even a possibility he could be out for a bit, which would make Montee Ball an immediate waiver add.

Eddie Lacy is the reason Green Bay is still in playoff contention

Those who went to watch a football game at Lambeau instead saw an exhibition of running back pummeling, both the giving and the taking. The Packers wouldn’t even have the pleasure(?) of that sister-kissing tie without Eddie Lacy, who finished with 158 total yards, the second time this year he’s reached or exceeded 150. It’s crazy what a competent running game can do for a winning — or hell, even a tying — football team. In this case, it compensated for an offense run by two backups between Flynn and Scott Tolzien who averaged only 5.4 yards per pass attempt.

Adrian Peterson is the only reason anyone watches Vikings games

I’m sorry, guys, Adrian Peterson will not rush for over 2,000 yards this year. But his current pace for 1,450 yards is still pretty OK, and if he maintains that clip it will be the fourth time in his career Peterson has exceeded 1,400 yards on the ground.

His latest effort Sunday ended in a 146-yard afternoon, and he scored his 11th touchdown. Through Week 12 he’s only two scores short of matching his total from last year.

Maurice Jones-Drew has returned?

Maybe by the grace of the powers above we’re beginning to see a sort of late-season rejuvenation from Maurice Jones-Drew, and let’s all greet it warmly. With 144 total yards today during the Jaguars’ latest failed attempt at tanking, MJD had a season high, and his running was especially efficient. Jones-Drew moved along towards 84 yards on the ground at a pace of 6.0 per attempt.

Philip Rivers exposed the Chiefs defense

The potentially crippling injuries to Tamba Hali and Justin Houston didn’t exactly help matters, as that completely drained the Chiefs pass rushing during their second straight loss. But Philip Rivers also exposed a continued problem in the secondary, and specifically with Marcus Cooper, who was burned on a 54-yard catch by Eddie Royal.

That wasn’t the end of the deep ball blitz from Rivers, though, as he also completed a pass for 60 yards on his way to 392 yards at a pace of 10.1 per attempt with three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 127.3. And with that, the Chiefs defense has quite soundly failed its first two true tests of the season against Rivers and Peyton Manning, allowing 715 passing yards over just the past two weeks.

We’ll always have the spin, Scott

Even though head coach Mike McCarthy won’t confirm or deny it yet, it’s a pretty safe assumption that Matt Flynn will retain the Aaron Rodgers replacement duties after he led a 16-point comeback to force overtime against the Vikings. We’ll never forget your ballerina abilities, Scott Tolzien.

Scott-Tolzien-spin-move-touchdown-a

Where did you come from?

Have flat top, will fly: Tiquan Underwood shatters some numbers on one catch

On his career Tiquan Underwood was averaging 20.3 yards per game. According to my abacus, that’s much less than 85 yards, which was the length of his fourth-quarter touchdown catch. Here are two other remarkable facts about that incredibly outlying catch and Underwood’s day:

  • Underwood eclipsed his previous long catch this year by, oh, 61 yards.
  • Over his entire 39-game career, Underwood had only one reception for over 40 yards. He had also scored just three times through his career, and he found himself in the point-scoring area twice today.

In total, Underwood’s 108 yards and two touchdowns ended in 20.5 fantasy points for the 0.1 percent of people who started him in ESPN leagues, and they will now be rocking flat tops tomorrow.

Jacoby Jones is getting warmer

Because he’s Jacoby Jones and this is what he does, his 66-yard touchdown catch was more yardage than his last three games combined. Jones then finished with 103 yards, which makes you go “huh, neat” for several reasons: it was his best game since Week 16 of 2010, he’s now surged over the past three weeks with 288 yards, and over those three weeks Jones has a catch for at least 30 yards in each game. Jones is owned in only 12% of Yahoo leagues, so go ahead and give him a flex spin.

Ladarius Green is the new Antonio Gates

Yeah, he’s probably not quite there yet. But the future is bright with this one.

Green caught a 60-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ win over Kansas City, which was easily the longest catch of his young career. To put it into the proper perspective, in extremely limited time during his rookie season last year Green had only 56 yards…on the season.

We’ll likely look back on this as only a sporadic little outburst, but Green now has 161 receiving yards over just his last two games, after only 148 yards prior to Week 10. The sudden surged has been the result of 10 targets during that stretch. Rivers had targeted Green just eight times throughout the rest of the season, and he’s now averaging a ridiculous 22.0 yards per catch.

Nate Burlseon makes fun of Nate Burleson

Don’t pizza and drive, Nate.

PIZZA! on Twitpic

And this, well, this is very much the opposite of funny. It looks quite unpleasant, and somehow Mychal Rivera walked away just fine and dandy…

Ouch

Another week, and more hurt that could remove dollars from your pocket. Oh joy!

  • Both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are scheduled for MRIs Monday are suffering knee and elbow injuries respectively. Losing either for a significant time would be crushing, so losing both could derail the Chiefs’ season.
  • Darelle Revis left with a groin injury, which gave Calvin Johnson some space. With the Panthers up next, Steve Smith owners should monitor Revis’ status all week.
  • Zac Stacy left with a concussion in the second quarter after shredding the Bears’ run defense for 87 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. He’ll now race the league’s concussion protocol clock, so make your Benny Cunningham waiver claims. Cunningham continued the dicing, finishing with 109 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries after Stacy went down.
  • Jason Campbell left with a concussion of his own. While I don’t wish brain matter scrambling on any man, Weeden’s presence helps Gordon.
  • Antonio Cromartie‘s hip has flared up again, which could partly explain why he’s been burned deep so often lately. The Jets secondary takes a significant hit without him.
  • Chris Ivory gets hurt like it’s his hobby, and now after tweaking his ankle early in the first quarter Sunday he’ll have an MRI to determine the severity of the sprain. Not good, and go ahead with those Bilal Powell pickups if he was dropped in your league.
  • The loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was massive as the Patriots mounted their second-half comeback which eventually ended in tears for Denver. He left with a shoulder injury.