It Was Any Given Sunday in the NFL

(published December 19, 2011)

Week 15 was no ordinary Sunday; it was Backwards Day, a feast of imperfection, a day to witness the Miracle of No Miracles, and a wake-up call for teams that hit the snooze alarm.

On any given Sunday, they say, any pro football team can beat any other.  On Sunday, December 18, they did.  Consider:

The Pack is Back… to Mortal: Green Bay lost, 19-14, to Kansas City, a team whose pitiful effort against the Jets last week cost Todd Haley his job.  The Chiefs sacked Aaron Rodgers four times, while Kyle Orton helped awaken the fans at Arrowhead from the bad dream that was the Tyler Palko era.  The Chiefs gave all future Packers opponents a blueprint for how to beat them: catch them on an off day.

Perfection Eludes Indianapolis Again: Having demonstrated in 2009 that they put no value on finishing 16-0, the Colts again disdained perfection by winning their first of the season, 27-13 over Tennessee.  The Titans could have assured themselves the inside track to a playoff spot with a win over winless Indy; the Colts still have a one-game “lead” in the Suck-for-Luck sweepstakes, but they’ve brought the Rams and Vikings back into it.

It was a ground-breaking win for quarterback Dan “the Big 0” Orlovsky, now in his seventh NFL season.  The former UConn QB had never before taken part in a winning professional effort; his eighteen previous appearances were all in defeats.

No Mile-High Magic: And in his ninth game, lo, Tebow’s team faced a genuine opponent.  Not a Miami on the verge of awakening; not an Oakland in Carson Palmer’s first game; not a Kansas City still coached by Todd Haley; not a Jets team on a short week; not a San Diego that had lost its last five; not a Minnesota without Adrian Peterson; not a Chicago without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.

New England brought a high-powered offense to Denver.  The onus would be on the Broncos’ defense to hold them close, and allow the Denver offense to exploit the Patriots’ weakness on defense, particularly against the pass.  Tebow did not play badly – 11-of-22 for 194 yards, no interceptions – but he made the fatal mistake of scoring early, leading Denver to a 16-7 first-half lead before the fumbling started.  The Pats sacked Tebow four times for a loss of more than 50 yards, and they recovered three Denver fumbles – two in the second quarter – while opening a 27-16 halftime lead.

Tom Brady and the offense took over in the second half, for a 41-23 win.  Even in defeat, it was the third-highest point total for Denver in Tebow’s career as a starter.

Look Who’s Soft on the Road: The roughneck Baltimore Ravens took on suddenly-lively San Diego with a playoff spot clinched and preferential position for the division title.  The Ravens had held seven of their thirteen opponents to 14 points or fewer; the Chargers were unimpressed, scoring on six of their first seven drives, giving Baltimore a 34-14 thrashing.  Baltimore is now 3-4 on the road, with losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle, and San Diego.  The Chargers are probably not making the playoffs, but their reemergence can keep the Broncos and Jets from backing in, and just might save Norv Turner’s job yet again.

On a Roll Reversal: On November 1, Buffalo was 5-2 and Miami was 0-7.  Since then, the warm-weather Dolphins have won five of seven, while the cold-weather Bills have lost seven straight to even the teams’ records at 5-9.  Miami’s 30-23 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium raised the team’s record since 1990 in Buffalo in November, December, and January to 5-11.

I Want to Be Apart From It, New York, New York: The Jets and Giants staged an epic competition to see which team could stink up a stadium worse.  The Jets made Andy Reid’s Eagles look like… the Eagles were supposed to look.  Three first-half turnovers meant a quick 28-0 lead for Philadelphia; the game was not as close as the 45-19 final.  After two good weeks that brought people onto the Rex Ryan bandwagon, Mark Sanchez and company spent four quarters shoving them off.

Yet the worse performance probably belonged to the Giants at home against Washington.  It’s not easy to make a Rex Grossman team look this good; Rex threw his requisite two interceptions in just the first 7:30, and it still took a last-minute garbage touchdown for the Giants to reduce the Redskins’ winning margin to 23-10.   Eli Manning threw three picks of his own; his QB rating of 45.5 was his lowest since January 2009, forty-five games ago.  It would take an hour to list all the ways in which the Giants played listlessly; they are now 1-5 in the second half of the season, and it’s amazing that Tom Coughlin’s head didn’t explode.

Yet both NY teams can still make the playoffs – and that may well be true even after next week’s game between the two.

And, oh yeah, it’s not far-fetched for the Eagles to sneak in with an 8-8 record.  If they beat the Cowboys and Redskins, the Jets beat the Giants and the Giants beat the Cowboys, there’s a three-way tie in the NFC East and Philadelphia’s in.  Yikes.



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