(Philadelphia, Pa) —- It is hard to believe, but Turkey Day has come and gone (hopefully everyone had a happy Thanksgiving) with the NFL hitting the third quarter pole toward its February close date. You better appreciate this time of year in the NFL, because the season will be over before we know it and each week is a saga unto itself. The weekly soap opera brings tremendous high and lows based on storylines that will keep diehard fans, fantasy football geeks, casual fans, guys that study betting lines, and everyone else on the edge of their seat for the entire rollercoaster ride from September to February.
The separation pattern continued in week 12 as the “Championship Rounds” (November and December) have led to several trends appearing.
- Some teams are streaking forward toward the playoffs by stringing consecutive wins together — Patriots (11), Cowboys (8), Packers (6), Buccaneers (3), Seahawks (3), and Jaguars (3) — while others seem stuck in neutral and can’t seem to get a win continuing losing streaks – Dolphins (11), Ravens (5), Panthers (5), Chiefs (4), Titans (3), Redskins (3), and Lions (3)
- Championship level teams are showing their mettle (Patriots, Colts, Jaguars, Cowboys, Steelers, and Packers)
- Early season potential playoff upstarts coming back to earth i.e. “Frauds” — Lions, Ravens, and Titans (Giants???)
- Bunch of other teams fighting for their playoff lives weekly as parity continues (There nine 5-6 teams including the Eagles, Redskins, Bears, Vikings, Cardinals, Texans, Broncos, Bills, and Saints).
- Teams getting ready for the draft in April (Panthers, Rams, Jets, Falcons, Niners, Raiders, and most importantly the winless Dolphins who seem assured of picking first – Arkansas RB Darren McFadden is quickly moving up my list, but I still like the pro prospects of Kentucky QB Andre Woodson)
—The Eagles almost pulled off the impossible, hanging with the might Patriots for four quarters in a 31-28 loss. In the NFL there are no “moral victories” as only wins in the official standings count when the season is over. Every NFL team can point to “shoulda woulda coulda” games that were almost victories, but the best teams find ways to win tough close games. Sure I was happy to see the Birds go all out in a game no one including yours truly gave them any chance to win (NFL record tying 24 point underdogs). But in the end the pretty girl talked to them and they went home without her number. Andy Reid said after the game “Obviously, there are some good things we can take out of this game and there are also a ton of things we need to work on”. What I did notice was that the Eagles might have shown other teams in the NFL the formula for beating the Patriots.
1) Get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady – the Eagles brought “heat” from five pass rushers including LB Chris Gcong (1 sack) finishing with three sacks overall and how about the hit defensive end Juqua Thomas laid on the “golden boy” quarterback.
2) Minimumalize mistakes – the Eagles only had 3 penalties as opposed to the Patriots seven and their O-line allowed zero sacks, but turnovers was where the game was lost for the Birds (Eagles three, including one returned for a touchdown to the Patriots none)
3) Play physical with Randy Moss and tattoo any receiver that catches a ball – Moss was limited to five catches for 43 yards with zero touchdowns as Eagles corners Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard grabbed, pushed, and frustrated him. The tandem also knew safeties Brian Dawkins and JR Reed were also lurking over the top to hit any receiver ready to catch a pass.
4) Play loose — We saw an onside kick recovery, a flea-flicker, an almost pass by a receiver, and a “no fear” attitude throughout the entire team from embattled head coach Andy Reid to all forty-seven players that suited up for the Birds. See other NFL teams, they are human after all.
5) Limit the Patriots number of runs causing them to be a passing team only — The Birds took away the Patriots running game (15 rushing plays), but they were unable to get an interception off the Pats’ season high 54 pass plays for 380 of the team’s 410 total yards.
—Everyone better start planning for the NFC playoffs to go through either one of two places Dallas or Green Bay, as the Packers and Cowboys are both 10-1. These two teams showed on Thanksgiving by destroying their opposition that this maybe a flashback year to the mid 90’s when these storied franchises were at the top of the conference. Their Turkey day wins setup a marquee Thursday Night Football battle on NFL Network in week 13 in Dallas. The game will feature America’s New Sweetheart Dallas quarterback Tony Romo against his former hero growing up in Wisconsin, Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Before we go onto the weekly awards and game notes a couple of Lloyd’s Leftovers.
- R.I.P Redskins Safety Sean Taylor — We are all grieving over the tragic shooting death of the maturing player at such a young age (24) and hopefully time will help to heal our remorse. My thoughts and prayers are with the Redskins and Sean’s family/friends.
- As a noted football historian I would be remiss if I didn’t also send out my thoughts and prayers to the family of NFL Hall of Fame player Bill Willis. The former Cleveland Browns and Ohio State passed away on 11/27/2007 at the age of 86 after a brief illness. Willis was a two-way player (Tackle and Linebacker), who was one of the first African American players after the thirteen-year drought in professional football from 1933 to 1946. Willis not only played for the Browns of the All American Football Conference (AAFC) and then the NFL, but he and teammate Marion Motley showed that African Americans could play with ferocity and intelligence. Willis is credited with being the first African American to play and excel at the “middle guard” position, which later became the coveted middle linebacker position (thinking man’s position on defense). Willis was enshrined in the pro football hall of fame in 1977. Steve Perry, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s President/Executive Director said of Willis “The courage and leadership exemplified by him while leading the cause to break down racial barriers is a model for all of us all to live by.”
- Hey Pittsburgh Steelers, fix your turf!!! I know that the Rooney family is one of the classiest group of owners around, but it was a national disgrace that the Steelers and Dolphins had to play on a sloppy soupy playing field at Heinz Field last Monday Night. The 3-0 win by the Steelers was one of the worst games that I have watched due to the field conditions and thank goodness no players were hurt due to the conditions. I think the best way to fix this wear/tear and drainage problem for good – seems every year the Heinz Field turf is replaced – is to go with a synthetic grass rather than sod due to the Pitt Panthers, Steelers and several high school WPIAL championship games being played every year in late November.
Chicago Bears Kick Returner Devin Hester – I am no Larry Pasquale (vaunted former NFL Specials Teams coach), but even I know it is useless to kick to Bears uber kick returner Devin Hester especially down the middle of the field. Hester may have saved the Bears season as he returned a punt 75 yards for a score and added an 88-yard kickoff-return for a score. Both plays occurred in the crucial third quarter of the Bears 37-34 overtime victory against the Broncos and now Hester has tied his NFL record from last year of five returns for touchdowns. In only his second season in the NFL, the “moves for days” runner has 10 returns for touchdowns in his career, which is four away from Brian Mitchell’s all-time record of fourteen (BTW: It took B-Mitch 13 years to compile his record). Former all-world returner Deion Sanders said of Hester “The reason he is so good is not only is he fast, but he has the strength to break tackles, good peripheral vision and impeccable timing.”
San Francisco 49ers LB Patrick Willis – Going into the season I thought Willis would e a solid candidate for the defensive rookie of the year and has not disappointed. The first rounder from the University of Mississippi was amazing this week in the Niners 37-31 overtime victory over the Cardinals. Willis had 18 tackles and .5 sacks while flying around the field. He also made the play of the game running down Cards receiver Sean Morey on a 62-yard reception in overtime, when it appeared Morey was taking it to the house.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Greg White – A relative unknown after toiling in the Arena Football League for two years, White showed he belonged in the big show. He made Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels look bad and in the process finished with four tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Kolby Smith – After Larry Johnson’s foot injury and Priest Holmes’ retirement, everyone was asking, “who was going to step up to run the rock?” The answer was the rookie running back from Louisville (5th rounder). Smith in his first NFL start had 150 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-17 loss to the Raiders. Sure he got stuff on a critical fourth-and-1 late in the game, but Herm should have kicked the field goal.
New York Giants QB Eli Manning – It seems every year we talk about the Giants and Eli’s swoon in the second half of the season. Manning was “jittery” as GM Jerry Reese said as he threw for 21-49, 273 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. Did I forget to mention that three of his four picks were returned for touchdowns in a bad 41-17 home loss. I don’t know what Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier devised, but he sure made Manning look befuddled against the NFL’s worst pass ranked defense going into the game.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Johnson – I know “Ocho Cinco” had a good game catching 12 passes for 103 yards and 3 TDs, but ENOUGH with the antics. I am here to tell all your posturing for the cameras does is separate you from your teammates in the ultimate team game. I didn’t like your donning of a faux Hall of Fame blazer to celebrate a touchdown in week two and this week was worse. Number #85 cost his team a 15-yard penalty and field position by using an end zone camera to celebrate his first touchdown. If Johnson’s wants to help save Marvin Lewis’ job he will stop these shenanigans.
Baltimore Ravens – I think that the Ravens fans and their owner (Steve Biscotti) our getting tired of head coach Brian Billick and his reeling squad. The Ravens have totally lost their way and Sunday they lost for the 5th straight time this week 32-14 to the Chargers. The Ravens only had 210 total yards (only 56 rushing yards) and a poor time of possession of 28:05 plus 2 turnovers. I am can just hear Ray Lewis’ mouth now and won’t get any better as the Patriots come to town after struggling against the Eagles.
St. Louis Rams QB Gus Frerotte – The journeyman passer fumbled on fourth-and-goal with the Rams on the verge of a potential game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds left, leaving everyone scratching their heads. He also had pedestrian numbers of 20-32, 161 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT in a 24-19 home loss to the Seahawks. The loss snapped the Rams two-game winning streak and now they should be thinking about whom they should take in the draft.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Colts (9-2) 0 21 10 0 31
Falcons (3-8) 10 3 0 0 13
Jets (2-9) 0 3 0 0 3
Cowboys (10-1) 7 14 3 10 34
Packers (10-1) 0 17 14 6 37
Lions (6-5) 6 3 3 14 26
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Ravens (4-7) 0 7 7 0 14
Chargers (6-5) 0 22 7 3 32
Broncos (5-6) 3 10 14 7 0 34
Bears (5-6) 3 3 14 14 3 37
University of Phoenix Stadium
49ers (3-8) 7 10 7 7 6 37
Cardinals (5-6) 7 14 0 10 0 31
Vikings (5-6) 14 10 3 14 41
Giants (7-4) 7 0 3 7 17
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium
Bills (5-6) 0 7 7 0 14
Jaguars (8-3) 10 6 3 17 36
Paul Brown Stadium
Titans (6-5) 0 6 0 0 6
Bengals (4-7) 7 7 14 7 35
Raymond James Stadium
Redskins (5-6) 0 3 7 3 13
Buccaneers (7-4) 10 9 0 0 19
Edward Jones Dome
Seahawks (7-4) 7 0 10 7 24
Rams (2-9) 16 3 0 0 19
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Texans (5-6) 7 3 0 7 17
Browns (7-4) 0 14 3 10 27
Bank of America Stadium
Saints (5-6) 0 10 21 0 31
Panthers (4-7) 3 3 0 0 6
Raiders (3-8) 3 3 7 7 20
Chiefs (4-7) 7 3 7 0 17
Eagles (5-6) 7 14 7 0 28
Patriots (11-0) 14 10 0 7 31
Monday, November 26, 2007
Dolphins (0-11) 0 0 0 0 0
Steelers (8-3) 0 0 0 3 3