(Philadelphia, Pa) — Week 11 of the 89th NFL Season is in the books and even though the NFL’s slogan for the 2008 season is “Believe In Now”, it should really be “This is One Wacky Season!!” From week to week fans have no idea where the next upset, game-winning field goal, or team entering/leaving the playoff race will come from next.
With no more bye weeks and games being played on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday, the weeks are flying by and America’s Game will be on spring/summer hiatus before we know it. There have already been 176 of 256 regular season games played, so far. But the only certain thing in this wacky season is that parity rules the day – 21 teams are at .500 or better – and that fact makes every game crucial. So buckle up as the 2008 NFL Season rolls toward an exciting finish, which will definitely go down to week 17.
Let’s review some of the headlines from week eleven:
The NFL’s first ever game to with the score 11-10 — On a cold snowy afternoon (Heinz Field was a quagmire of slop again), the Steelers and Chargers locked horns in a classic defensive battle that produced a score that has not been seen in the nearly 13,000 NFL games played over 89 years. The game had four field goals, a safety, and only on touchdowns in a battle that was a black and blue special. The games most exciting play didn’t even “count”. The strange play occurred when on the last play of the game, the Chargers threw a short pass to LaDainian Tomlinson, who lateraled it back to a player who, in turn, lateraled it back again before Pittsburgh safety Troy Polumalu picked up the loose ball for an apparent touchdown. However after a booth review one of the laterals was an illegal forward pass and the game ended in the strange score of 11-10. However after the game it was learned that the touchdown should have been allowed and the refs got it wrong – Surprise, Surprise. Most would say, “Who cares the Steelers still won”, but the score did matter to the NFL fans that gambled on the game – Yes, there is gambling on NFL games despite the league’s head in the sand routine. The line for the game was the Steelers as a 5 ½ point favorite, so the play made Vegas a winner of an estimated 64 Million in bets on the game – Can you say conspiracy. The NFL of course issued an explanation, but this situation will raise questions that Commissioner Roger Goodell has to answer.
The Rare NFL Tie — No I am not talking about the tie that Hall of Fame coach Hank Stramm used to wear with his Kansas City Chiefs blazer. The Philadelphia Eagles (5-4-1) went to Cincinnati and came away with a five quarter 13-13 overtime tie against the lowly Bengals (1-8-1). Yes, Donovan McNabb an NFL game can actually end in a tie (more on this in Lloyd’s Lackey). The tie was the 17th occurrence since the NFL instituted sudden-death overtime in 1974. The last time the “T” word was used in the NFL was a Falcons and Steelers tie (34-34) on Nov. 10, 2002. I guess luckily (if you want to see the glass half full) for the Eagles, Bengals kicker Shayne Graham missed a 47-yard kick into some tricky win to spare the Birds the indignation of losing to the Bengals. The tie brought out the “Rolaids” all over the Philadelphia region as people wondered how the Eagles could lose…I mean tie… to one of the NFL’s underbelly franchises. The players of the game for this painstaking display were Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (12 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown) and University of Cincinnati homeboy Eagles DE Trent Cole (10 tackles and two sacks). Cole said of the tie, “I don’t believe in ties. I’m used to playing football until the end, until someone scores. That should decide the game. Taking a tie is a bad feeling. It’s a tie, but in my opinion, it’s a loss.” I totally agree with Cole and hopefully the NFL will look into this situation, as I believe it is a disgrace to play a 75-minute football game and not have a definitive winner.
Despite one loss, the Giants are the NFL’s best team — If ever a team wanted to make a statement to the rest of the league that they were the “Big Dog” in the yard, the G-Men did this week with their 30-10 thrashing of the Ravens. In Giants’ no-nonsense fashion the 2007 Super Bowl Champs showed why they are this year’s favorite too by destroying the vaunted #1 ranked Baltimore Ravens defense at the Meadowlands. The game was never close as the Giants harassed Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco on defense (two interceptions by CB Aaron Ross including one returned for a touchdown) and on offense the G-Men’s running game was a steamroller. Though no Giants player ran over 100 yards (extending the Ravens’ streak to 29 consecutive games), the Giants three-headed monster of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward pounded the stingy Ravens defense for 207 yards rushing (3rd highest total ever allowed by the Ravens). This marked the 5th time this season that the NFC leading Giants (9-1) have run for over 200 yards. Remember the names David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie as these O-linemen are the real heroes of the Giants.
Two amazing streaks remain intact – For another week the anticipated meeting of two teams heading in opposite directions seems to be set — on Thanksgiving in Detroit as the winless Lions face the undefeated Tennessee Titans. The Titans became the 11th team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to open a season 10-0 as they stormed back from a deficit (14-3 at halftime) to beat the Jaguars 24-14 in Jacksonville (of the past 10 teams to start 10-0, seven reached the Super Bowl and five of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl). The stars for the Titans were many including QB Kerry Collins (See Game Balls), DT Albert Haynesworth (See Game Balls), and WR Justin Gage (career-high 147 yards and 2 TDs). The Jaguars punted a team record 10 times against the Titans, who completed their first season sweep of the Jaguars (4-6) since 2003. Of the Titans red-hot start without the respect around the NFL Haynesworth said, “We feel like we’re the ones throwing stones, fighting the world trying to prove ourselves.” On the other end of the spectrum, the Lions (0-10) fought hard behind quarterback Daunte Culpepper (20-for-35 for 207 yards and 1 TD with 2 INTs), but in the end they faltered against the Panthers 31-22 despite leading 24-22 at one time. Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said of his team at this stage in the season, “Have we failed? Yes. Have I failed? Yes. Am I going to give up? No way. Am I discouraged? No way. I’m not, and you can ask me that until the cows come home. You’re going to get the exact same answer.” Maybe with their tough end of season schedule (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, at Indianapolis, New Orleans and at Green Bay), the Lions can play spoiler.
The Cowboys quite possibly saved their season — In a must-win game (had lost 4 of their last 6 NFC games), the Cowboys surprised everyone by showing some heart in a tough 14-10 road victory over the Redskins in front of over 90,000 raucous fans at FedEx Field. The game marked the return of Cowboys QB Tony “Mr. Jessica Simpson” Romo from a 3-game absence due to a broken pinkie. Romo’s presence made all of the difference as the Cowboys found ways to stay in a game that had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. After trailing 10-7 after three quarters, the Cowboys (6-4) offense fueled by a key Terrence Newman interception rode running back Marion Barber (114 total rushing yards with 66 yards in the 4th quarter) to victory. The game-winning points came on a phenomenal 25-yard touchdown throw by Romo to rookie tight end Martellus Bennett. After that the Cowboys defense rose to the occasion stopping the Redskins on 4th down and Barber closed the game with some chain-moving runs (touched the ball on Dallas’ final 11 plays). The Cowboys are now tied with the Redskins (6-4) and are primed to fight for an NFC wildcard spot.
The Colts showed why they are still contender – I know that many doubters, including your truly, threw dirt on the Colts after a week 8 loss. But all of the sudden, the Indianapolis Colts (6-4) are starting to look like their 2006 Super Bowl champion selves, reeling off three straight wins. The Colts this week fueled by quarterback Peyton Manning (See Game Balls) and four consecutive second-half scoring drives beat a tough Houston Texans team 33-27. Colts DE Dwight Freeney was all over Texans backup QB Sage Rosenfelds (2 Tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble) and the Colts finally got their running game going with running back Joseph Addai rushing for a season-high 105 yards and touchdown. Of course Manning also spread the ball around to his bevy of receivers (Reggie Wayne led w/ 7 receptions for 90 yards, Marvin Harrison 9 catches for 77 yards w/ 1 TD, and Dallas Clark w/ 5 catches for 44 yards). Next up for the Colts is a road game at the falling apart Chargers. Remember what Tony Dungy said earlier in the season, “NFL football is really still about November and December” – BTW: the Colts are a collective 37-15 in those two months over the past six years.
Denver Broncos FB/LB Spencer Larsen – Out there somewhere Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik was smiling as Larsen, a rookie sixth round pick out of Arizona, played both ways (middle linebacker and fullback) in the Broncos 24-20 win over the Falcons. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan went to Larsen, because injuries have decimated both units and the rookie excelled. Larsen became the first Broncos player in team history to start on offense and defense producing seven tackles while blocking great too. After the game Larsen said, “Well they needed me on defense,” and “I was real excited about it, but I was able to keep my cool. It was fun and challenging”. Larsen is the first NFL player to start on offense and defense since Dec. 14, 2003, when Baltimore’s Orlando Brown started at offensive tackle and defensive tackle at Oakland (there have been four two-way players since 1990).
Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins – All season since Collins replaced Vince Young, I have wondered was he the right fit for a team trying to contend for a Super Bowl. Collins though has found many believers, including yours truly, in the last couple of weeks. This week, he led the Titans to a (10-0) record in a come-from-behind 24-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Collins completed 13 of 23 attempts for 230 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception in the big win. The former Penn State great now has thrown five in the past two weeks.
Carolina Panthers RB’s Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams – With the quarterback Jake Delhomme looking like an NFL Europe passer again (only 98 yards passing), the Panthers had to rely on their running game in a 31-22 win over the hapless Lions. The Panthers ran for a team-record 264 yards while averaging 8.3 yards per carry. The star of the day was rookie running back Stewart, who gained 130 yards rushing with one touchdown. Not to be outdone, Williams had 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Tennessee Titans DT Albert Haynesworth – Just hand the Defensive Player of the Year award to the Titans big tough defensive leader. Haynesworth again showed why he is the best defensive lineman in football as he helped keep the Titans unblemished in a comeback win over the Jaguars. The former University of Tennessee star had seven tackles and one sack (7th of the season), plus he was the key figure in the D-line harassing Jaguar quarterback David Garrard all day.
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – Look who’s back and I believe better than ever. Manning the past couple of weeks seems to have shook off some rust and this week was no different. The former Super Bowl XLI MVP passed for numbers 30 of 46 for 320 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts defeated the Houston Texans 33-27. Manning now has seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last three games against Houston — in 14 career games against the Texans, Manning has 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Green Bay Packers RB Ryan Grant – The Pack may have finally found their running game, as Grant looked like his 2007 self. The former Giants practice squad player ran for 145 yards and one touchdown in the Packers big 37-3 win over the Chicago Bears.
Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Willie Parker (finally looked healthy running for 115 yards on a cold-snowy field), Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (Another 300-yard passing day for the former two-time MVP – finished with numbers 32 of 44, for 395 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ 26-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks), Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (13 catches for 186 yards vs. Seattle to lead all NFL receivers for the week), New York Jets LB Eric Barton (17 tackles and a forced fumble in the Jets 34-31 overtime victory against the New England Patriots), Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers (five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in the Panthers’ 31-22 win over the Detroit Lions), New York Giants CB Aaron Ross (6 TKLs, 2 INTs including a 50-yard touchdown return in the Giants’ 30-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens) and New York Jets rookie TE Dustin Keller (eight receptions for 87 yards, including three in overtime to set up the winning field goal in the Jets’ 34-31 victory over the New England Patriots).
Eagles QB Donovan McNabb – I have been in the corner of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb throughout his franchise record-setting 10-year career with the team, but his play and comments this week against the lowly Bengals were indefensible. McNabb, coming off a lackluster home performance against the division leading Giants, first let his buddy Bengals WR Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson cut into the Eagles warm-up line to catch a pass minutes before the start of the game. Then McNabb went out and played one of his worst games in a long time throwing three interceptions (first time since 2006) and one costly fumble deep in Birds’ territory in a feels like a defeat 13-13 tie with the 1-8-1 Bengals. The 10-year veteran has started slow all season, but he could never find his rhythm against the Bengals lowly ranked defense even though the Birds abandoned the run (60 pass plays to only 18 runs) and it showed in his numbers (28-58, 339, 1 TD, 3 INTs). To end an “eventful” day, McNabb in a “foot in mouth” moment, admitted that he didn’t know that an NFL could end in a tie (did you ever look at the standings on NFL.com, it show “W” for wins, “L” for losses, and I think the “T” stands for ties). Everyone killed McNabb over the comment from NBC’s Tiki Barber, who said “That’s an indefensible comment that he made” to ESPN’s Tom Jackson who said, “How do you not know? It’s common knowledge” to angry Philadelphia radio caller/message board typists – checkout one of my favorites from the a Philly.com message board, “Wow, McNabb is delusional.”
In the end, the Eagles are trying to circle the wagons at 5-4-1 with a flickering hope that they can still make the playoffs (can probably only lose one more game as 10 wins are needed in the NFC this year to get in the playoffs). But I truly believe if the Eagles get to 7 losses then the Kevin Kolb (2nd round pick in ’07) era will begin in Philadelphia. You can clearly see that change is coming in Philly and I believe McNabb will get the brunt of the change by being jettisoned in the off-season. It looks like the man that holds almost every single Eagles passing record will be elsewhere next year (can you say Minnesota, Chicago, or Carolina ???). But who knows if McNabb and the Eagles can turn their problems around by stringing together some wins starting this week against the angry Ravens…. But don’t hold your breath as I see an unhappy ending to this 10-year relationship.
NFL Officiating Crews – Another week, another bad set of games by Mike Pereira’s officials – NFL claims that these guys get 97% of the calls right. Though the NFL has been fining any player or coach that speaks out against the officials, there claws have not infiltrated the media ranks yet. Let’s see there was the end of game fiasco with the Steelers, Daunte Culpepper’s missed facemask penalty where his head almost popped off, 13 penalties called on the Steelers to 1 for the Chargers, and I am sure fans from around the league can send in their own list the Pereira will explain away on NFL Total Access.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)