calvin johnson snow2

It seems like every week once the chaos settles and we begin looking back on the Sunday that was, we focus on this one thing that was particularly crazy and unorthodox, or this other thing that was historic or record breaking. We marvel at the exceptional performances, most of which we haven’t seen before, and some we may never see again.

We had plenty of that in Week 14. But the 14th NFL Sunday of 2013 may be remembered most for what we didn’t see. Or more accurately, what we couldn’t see.

For at least the first half, seeing or grasping anything became a challenge in an important game for playoff jostling in Philadelphia between the Eagles and Lions. Prior to kickoff there were the usual questions about stopping Calvin Johnson, or defending Nick Foles and Chip Kelly’s offense. Quickly, those questions dissolved and we were left with this: can you throw a forward pass? Is if safe to attempt a field goal? Is holding on to the ball possible? (sort of, NO, maybe).

A forecasted four inches in the Philadelphia area turned into double that, and in a much short time period, with it all beginning to descend about an hour prior to kickoff and then continuing until halftime. The result? Well, statistically: a combined total of eight fumbles (five credited to Matthew Stafford, mostly on botched snaps), not a single field goal attempted and only one extra point, and only 327 passing yards between the two teams as Foles threw his first interception of the season. That wholly justifiable fear of kicking led to this oddity: when the Eagles went for two with the game tied 20-20, it was the first time ever a team had attempted a two-point conversion with the game tied.

Alright whatever, but what did it look like? Mostly, this…

And this…

Soon enough there were no actual people in the crowd, only abominable snowmen.

And through it all, one tightly bound hero emerged.

Well, more than one hero, though McGrath’s ruler work on the sideline was excellent.

When the snow calmed somewhat in the second half LeSean McCoy went about the business of accumulating a franchise single-game record 217 rushing yards, with much of it coming on lengthy touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards. McCoy’s day included 148 yards in the fourth quarter, the most in the final quarter of any game in over two decades. Say, did I mention he did that in eight inches of snow?

Then there was Foles, who did some of his standard chucking on the patented “Hi I’ll lob it to the moon and you will catch it…kay?” plays, somehow hitting Riley Cooper on a 44-yarder despite the anger from the heavens. It all led to 28 fourth-quarter Eagles points, and a 34-20 win to stay atop the NFC East.

But the snow angel fun didn’t stop there.

Warp speed offense in Baltimore: With multiple and lengthy touchdowns, the Vikings and Ravens combined for 35 points over just the last two minutes and five seconds of their game. They all came in their own unique and white knuckle ways, with the first a fourth and goal pass to Dennis Pitta, then a 41-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart, followed by two long runs deep into the wintery afternoon by Jacoby Jones and Cordarrelle Patterson for a combined 156 yards (a 77-yard kickoff return, and a 79-yard catch and run). Finally Flacco covered 80 yards in just 36 seconds, with Marlon Brown on the receiving end for 44 of them, including the game-winning score. The game featured six lead changes in the fourth quarter, an NFL record, and the five touchdowns in 2:01 of game clock was the fastest scoring pace in 50 seasons.

But this, well, this is the sort of thing that breaks math.

The ol’ band on the field trick nearly worked in Pittsburgh: With their own snow and blowing awfulness in Pittsburgh, the Steelers and Dolphins slugged a game out that nearly ended in the most dream crushing/creating way.

At least the Steelers were creative while pretty much killing their season. Where you at when you’re needed, Mike Tomlin’s foot?

Brady went a Bradying: Tom Brady orchestrated an 82-yard touchdown drive starting with 2:39 remaining in New England’s near upset loss to Cleveland, followed by an onside kick recovery. The conspiracy theorists will do their bemoaning on the horrible pass interference call against Leon McFadden that came next to set up the game-winning one-yard pass to Danny Amendola. But please remember that the officiating gods both giventh and taketh. Three weeks ago blatant pass interference in the end zone wasn’t called when Luke Kuechly did the human blanket thing on Rob Gronkowski, and against the Jets a little known, and rarely called field-goal block attempt rule led to a Pats loss. In a weird, twisted way, all of the Patriots’ officiating oddness has worked out fairly.

What matters now: Brady led an offense that scored 14 points in just over two minutes, securing the Patriots’ 10th win to stay with the Broncos in the fight for homefield advantage.

Fun with numbers

  • Ryan Tannehill is a pretty quick and athletic guy when he wants to be, and we know this because he was a wide receiver in college long before he became a quarterback. But he just either doesn’t want to be athletic or doesn’t need to be very often, and prior to Week 14 he had rushed for just 211 yards this year, which includes a meager 13 yards over his last four games. So of course on his first carry in the Dolphins’ win he ran for a career high 48 yards.
  • There was some quarterback oddness from Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, who yanked Matt McGloin after three possessions, inserted Terrelle Pryor for just one, and then shoved McGloin back in again. In the end it all mattered so very little, because in that first half in which they trailed the Jets — the Jets — 20-3, Geno Smith had a passer rating of 85.7, which was higher than the rating for McGloin and Pryor combined. Reminder: Geno Smith was pulled for Matt Simms last week, and prior to yesterday he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 7.
  • Including yesterday, the Patriots have now scored all of seven total points in the first half over their last four games.
  • More from the lunacy of that game: Shane Vereen set a Patriots running back record with 12 receptions.
  • The Broncos are now the first team in NFL history to have four players with 10 or more touchdowns in the same season.
  • With their 51-28 Titans trouncing that was entirely expected, the Broncos scored 45 or more points for the fifth time this season, totaling 248 points in those games. That’s more than the total point production of the Jets, Jaguars, and Buccaneers.
  • Matt Prater hit a 64-yard field goal, a new NFL record. There had been five 63 yarders in NFL history, all in Denver, and it was Prater’s fifth field goal of over 50 yards this season. I ain’t no science major, but I do believe that thin air helps.
  • Adding to the insanity of that Vikings-Ravens finish was the utter lack of scoring throughout the rest of the game, mostly due to the many falling snowflakes. In the fourth quarter the two teams combined for 42 points after scoring only 13 throughout the other three.
  • The Giants and Redskins were the most NFC East teams yesterday. The combined halftime score in their respective games: 62-10.
  • The Panthers’ defense had allowed only two first half touchdowns on the season. So of course in the second quarter alone of their primetime loss to New Orleans they gave up three touchdowns. Good job, good effort.
  • With his 313 passing yards in that game, Drew Brees became the fifth quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 50,000 yards. And at 183 games, he’s the fastest to reach that mark.
  • There was so much awesomeness and ridiculousness and sheer pants-peeing excitement Sunday that to maintain a level head we should note the horribleness too, the kind that contributed to a few lost fantasy seasons (like, say, mine possibly). So here goes: T.Y. Hilton and Torrey Smith combined for just three catches and 18 yards.
  • We were treated to 90 total touchdowns Sunday, the most during one day of play in NFL history.

Another setback for Gronk

Rob Gronkowski was carted off after that gruesome collision with T.J. Ward, and inevitably the three letters that followed were the worst: reports indicate he has a torn ACL, and is done for the year.

Instantly the hit reignites the debate about which area of their body a pass catcher would rather see destroyed: their head, or their knees. Of the two, a severe blow to the former is far more long-term, and can lead to a lesser quality of life long after football isn’t your profession. But with the latter, the period of time in which football is your job can be significantly shortened.

For many players then, the answer is easy: they’ll gladly trade fewer brain cells for a longer career.

Say, Chad, remember how you looked and sounded that one time your head was knocked into the following weeks? No, you probably don’t.

This is the good yet difficult fight the league is fighting, as the public optics of a brute sport which leaves grown men sensitive to light upon retirement are unwanted.

But now that rules have directed a defender’s attention lower, there’s the risk that the on-field product suffers if elite offensive stars like Gronk have their careers shortened. Though we may not arrive there for years, the end game is likely a hitting zone, firmly establishing that a ball-carrier can’t be hit either below his knees, or above the shoulders. No, that’s not realistic, but it’s the next and only logical step if injuries on plays like this one and the Dustin Keller play continue to mount.

With that cheery discussion out of the way, let’s celebrate and bemoan the week’s top fantasy performers in no particular order.

Josh Gordon should be illegal

This isn’t really fair anymore. Josh Gordon delivered a vintage Madden-style stiff arm to Aqib Talib before running away from anyone and everyone for an 80 -yard TD.

Let’s just casually toss in his 151 yards on seven catches in that circus loss to the Patriots, and here’s Gordon’s total now over the last three weeks: 649 receiving yards at a pace of 20.9 per catch, with two +80 yard receptions.

Here’s a fun comparison to the opposite sideline. Over the last four games, Gordon has more receiving yards than any Patriots wide receiver. He’s also now set a record for the most receiving yards over a four-game span, breaking the mark already established by Calvin Johnson earlier this year. Passing!

Oh and hey look, Gordon added 34 rushing yards on an end around just because, finishing at 185 total yards from scrimmage. Please remind yourself that he still did all this while receiving passes from Jason Campbell. Remember when no one would give up a second-round pick for Gordon at the trade deadline? haha oh man.

Despite missing the first two games, he now leads the league in receiving yards with 1,400. Yep.

Charles Clay is still your favorite everyman

Charles Clay still does everything, including the running, the catching, and the bludgeoning. Clay is the everyman, sometimes lining up at fullback, other times lining up at tight end, and even more often getting split out wide or in the slot. That makes him the ideal versatile weapon for Mike Sherman’s west coast offense predicated on short, high-percentage throws.

So yet again this week Clay repeatedly used that fullback mentality after the catch, running through arm tackles, or running over humans. He did that on his way to a team leading seven receptions for 97 yards with two touchdowns, which all added up to easily his best fantasy day of the season (21 points, and his previous high was 16).

Ryan Tannehill is becoming even more cozy with his snugly Clay blanket, targeting him 19 times over just the last two weeks.

Bobby Rainey will be the year’s best running back waiver pickup

On his first carry of the game during a win over the still listless Bills, Bobby Rainey Forrest Gump’ed the hell out of everyone, running for an 80-yard touchdown. It was the longest run in Bucs history, and it was a mighty fine way to start an afternoon which ended with 127 rushing yards at a pace of 5.8 per carry. Rainey is still somehow available in half of ESPN leagues, and you should probably go about changing that soon.

That run was Rainey’s third of 30 yards or more, even though he only started getting sort of consistent carries in Week 10 after Doug Martin went down.

Shane Vereen is a running back in name only

That’s been true with a healthy Shane Vereen all season, as he’s adopted the Aaron Hernandez role, becoming the target on short routes in the flats that he (ideally) then turns into long gains. But now with Gronkowski gone for likely the year and maybe beyond, Vereen’s production will spike upwards abruptly.

We saw that immediately yesterday when Vereen was targeted 17 times, catching 12 of them for 153 yards. In one game then he had more air yards than his entire 2012 season (149 yards), a chunk of which came on a key 50-yard reception. He probably was for most of you anyway, but Vereen is now an every-week fantasy starter with Gronk out.

Cordarrelle Patterson runs far and fast

Yes, those are two simple yet wonderful Cordarrelle Patterson facts. Patterson first showcased his game busting skill way back in Week 2 with a 105-yard kickoff return…

And then again in Week 8…

But that was a time when he was still raw. and returning kicks was the only outlet for his speed.

Now? Not so much, with Patterson gradually being eased in more both as a receiver and even periodically out of the backfield. With a 79-yard touchdown Sunday during those boffo final minutes, Patterson now has three +70 yard plays in his rookie season, despite primarily being limited to kick return duties early on.

Jamaal Charles should be the first overall pick next year

Next summer around mid July when fake footballing chatter starts to consume your life once again, the debate over the No. 1 pick will likely be between LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. It’s early, and I reserve the right to change this at least eight times, but right now give me Charles.

Including his 151 rushing yards yesterday during the Chiefs leisurely Redskins romp, Charles now has at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 11 games. For me he gets the edge over McCoy because of how much he’s the engine of everything the Chiefs do offensively. The Chiefs are averaging 338.0 offensive yards per game, while Charles is clipping along at 124.8. On average then Charles is responsible for 37 percent of his team’s total yardage.

Ben Roelithlisberger keeps chucking at a discounted rate

You’re aware of what you purchased in Ben Roethlisberger with his 10th-round ADP. Nothing spectacular, but plenty of average blahness, with the odd booming week. This week was the boom, with 349 passing yards and three touchdowns in a comeback attempt that fell just short due to the aforementioned zaniness.

Roethlisberger  hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 10, a stretch of 189 pass attempts.

Tom Brady enjoys the second half

But not so much the first half, as the lack of Patriots scoring recently over the first two quarters (again, only seven points in their last three games) is downright odd.

Brady passed for 418 yards in the Patriots’ win over Cleveland, 323 of which came in the second half. The head coach and quarterback in New England still excel at making halftime adjustments.

Brady has 1,133 passing yards over the last three weeks, but his joy in the second half has been reflected in a completion percentage of 75.0 during winning time.

Peyton Manning has ended the MVP discussion pretty early

Ho-hum, just four more touchdown passes for Pey Pey, his seventh game this season with four or more scores, the most in single-season NFL history. That gives Manning 45 touchdowns in total this season, and with three games to go he’s now five shy of the single-season record.

Sunday marked Manning’s eighth game with a passer rating over 100.0, his seventh without an interception, and now over the last two weeks he has 800 yards with nine touchdowns and two picks. Overall, he’s now on pace for 55 touchdowns and 5,564 yards.

Marques Colston lives?

Maybe. Or it’s more likely that we’ll look back on Week 14 as a vicious outlier, and easily his best game of the year. That’s quite expected when a receiver finished with 125 yards and two touchdowns, and he was averaging only 54.2 yards prior to the game in question.

Jordan Cameron has returned?

Maybe. With a season-high 121 yards during the Browns’ loss on nine receptions, Cameron had more receiving yards than his previous four games combined.

Marcel Reece, lord of the flexes

Upon learning that Rashad Jennings would sit out with his concussion and Darren McFadden has both an ankle problem and the problem of being Darren McFadden, many of you shrugged, sighed, and picked up Marcel Reece. You did so hoping for something in the vicinity of Reece’s 495 yards over a four-games stretch in the middle of last season, and that wish was granted with 161 yards in a loss to the Jets on 21 touches.

Plenty of good seats available

This is what 38-10 to start the third quarter in crappy cold weather looks like when the home team has only won three games…

The Redskins confirmed it was a sellout, which in turn confirms another well known fact: people have much better things to do with their lives than sit and be depressed by their local sports team.

Quote of the week

During the whiteout/washout in Philly, Ed Hockuli reminded us that seeing the goal-line is important.

Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson reminded us that snowballs hurt. Oh,  and often the intelligence of those throwing them is less than satisfactory.

You’re drunk, NFL

These NFL script writers are getting way too on the nose. First we had Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin jerseys standing side-by-side at the Steelers-Dolphins game…

And then this actually happened after the Vikings lost in one of the most painful ways imaginable…

Ouch

We already dealt with the major injury depression, and please pour one out for Gronk. But oh, there’s more…

  • Beyond Gronk’s combustion, easily the scariest injury of the day was to Adrian Peterson, who was widely a first overall fantasy pick back in August, making any absence clearly crushing during playoff time. Peterson was carted off in the second quarter with what was later called a mid-foot sprain, and as sprains go, that’s pretty much the absolute worst. It’s the sort of injury which could develop into a Lisfranc problem. We won’t quite go that far yet, because there’s some optimism after Peterson’s initial x-rays came back negative. He’ll have an MRI sometime Monday.
  • If you can force yourself to look at football players as humans for a moment and not mere fantasy numbers, Tyrann Mathieu‘s current situation just sucks. The defensive back who had been solid as the Cardinals’ slot defender and free safety tore his ACL. It’s a major blow to one of the league’s best secondaries, and personally another gut punch to a player who had overcome addiction prior to the NFL draft
  • Wes Welker left with a concussion, which is both painful for him, and it’ll likely be very painful for you. With a quick turnaround before a game against San Diego Thursday night, Welker is almost certainly out for Week 15. But then when we factor in his now multiple concussions over a short period of time (he last sustained one in Week 11) a longer absence will surely follow.
  • Although he played through it during the Packers’ win over Atlanta that brought them to within a half game of the NFC North leading Lions, Eddie Lacy was slowed by an ankle injury, and admitted that he couldn’t accelerate and push off the way he normally would.
  • Tavon Austin continues to be one of the fastest, scariest, and most dynamic players in the open field, and he keeps doing a lot with little. His most recent flash was a 56-yard run which set up a Zac Stacy touchdown during the Rams’ 30-10 loss to Arizona. But because we can’t have nice things, Austin’s ankle was rolled at the end of the run when he was tackled by Karlos Dansby, forcing him out of the game early.