(Philadelphia, Pa) — The curtain closed on the 2008 NFL regular season with a fast and furious Week 17. With the regular season ending, 20 teams’ dreams of moving on to the playoffs were officially closed. Leaving 12 teams (Titans, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, Chargers, Dolphins, Giants, Panthers, Vikings, Cardinals, Falcons, and Eagles) to continue following the 2008 NFL’s moniker of “Believe In Now”.
Changes is definitely in the air around the NFL as for the 13th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. This year there are 7 teams including: Arizona, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minnesota, Miami and Carolina. Also there are seven new division winners (Tennessee, NY Giants, Minnesota, Chargers, Miami, Carolina, and Arizona) setting a new record since realignment in 2002, topping the six new division winners of 2003.
Before we move on to the ensuing playoff madness starting with a very interesting wildcard round, let’s take a look at the final regular season week of the 2008 NFL season.
Some tidbits and news from Week 17 includes:
Teams stepping it up to make the playoffs — With their season’s on the line, the Dolphins, Eagles, Ravens, Vikings, and Chargers all had the wherewithal to “Seize the Day” and claim 2008 playoff berths.
- Chad gets his revenge as the Dolphins roll passed reeling Jets — The Dolphins had probably the easiest equation to the playoffs. Beat the host Jets and they won the AFC East thus ensuring hosting a wildcard game in Sunny Miami, Florida. In a game they had to have, the Dolphins (11-5) never trailed as they powered passed the turnover prone (4) Jets 24-17. The game was a tale of two quarterbacks as Dolphins starter and former Jets jettisoned signal caller Chad Pennington showed the J-E-T-S what they let go with a performance of 22-30, 200 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs. On the flipside much ballyhooed Jets starter and NFL legend Brett Favre looked like he might be ready for retirement throwing for pedestrian numbers 20-40, 233 yards, 1 TD, and 3 game-turning interceptions. The Dolphins outgained the Jets 126-80 on the ground, controlling the time-of-possession 33:48 to 26:12 as they won the AFC East for the first time since 2000.
- The Eagles embarrass the “Paper Champion” Cowboys to claim the NFC’s final wildcard spot – When the games started on Sunday, everyone assumed that the Bucs or the Bears would win thus rendering the playoffs chances moot by their 4:00 PM start against the Cowboys. To the chagrin of many, the Eagles-Cowboys game became very meaning full as the Bucs and Bears stumbled opening the door to the Birds. Thriving on a “Win and We Are In” attitude, the Eagles fueled by five turnovers pummeled the overrated Cowboys 44-6 to the delight of a sold out Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles (9-6-1) led offensively by an efficient Donovan McNabb (12-21, 175 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT and 1 rushing TD) and sparkplug running back Correll Buckhalter (10 rushes for 63 yards and 3 receptions for 59 yds with 1 TD). But it was the performance of the Jim Johnson’s defense that was the story for the Birds as the veteran defensive coordinator’s unit forced five Cowboys turnovers and scored on back-to-back defensive touchdowns to start the third quarter. The Eagles for the first time in their history had no penalties in the game plus they were able to shutout Cowboys Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware – went sackless as he needed three sacks to surpass Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks.
- Ravens are efficient in playoff clinching win – I have to tell you there is a quiet, but deadly team forming in the Charm City as the Ravens are gaining momentum at the right time and will be tough out in the playoffs. Led by a career-high 297 yards passing from Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens cruised passed the beleaguered Jags 27-7. As good as Flacco was in the game, the story for first year head coach John Harbaugh’s team was defense. Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed recorded two interceptions, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis recovered two fumbles, and the Ravens are the first team since the 1962 Packers to hold their opponents under 14 points in every home game.
- Vikings win the NFC North even though they were already in – You couldn’t blame the Vikings if they were scoreboard watching on Sunday, as a loss by the Bears to the Texans, would put the Vikes in the postseason. It didn’t matter as the Vikings (10-6) jumpstarted their own playoff hopes with a close 20-19 home win over the Giants. Kicker Ryan Longwell nailed a 50-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in the game, giving the Vikings the victory and their first division championship since 2000. The win had to be satisfying for Vikings, but in the back of their mind they surely had to wonder what the outcome would have been if the Giants didn’t rest some veterans (QB Eli Manning, RB Brandon Jacobs, and others) for the majority of the game. The Vikings were led by NFL rushing leader RB Adrian Peterson, who shook off a first quarter fumble, to finish with 103 yards — the 10th 100-yard game of his two-year NFL career – and 1 touchdown (67 yards sprint). The Giants held the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than the Vikings, but the 2007 Super Bowl Champs did not display a sense of urgency as three trips into the red zone produced only two field goals.
- Chargers continue their miraculous playoff run with a shellacking of the Broncos – If you had told me four weeks ago that the Chargers — (4-8) at the time — would go on a four game winning streak to win the AFC West title, I would have thought you were crazy. But that is exactly what happened as the streaking Chargers (8-8 with a 4-game winning streak) disposed of the reeling Bronco (finished the season with a three-game losing streak) 52-21 in San Diego. The win avenged the Chargers highly contested week 2 loss to the Broncos and put an exclamation point on their fourth AFC West title in the last five seasons. The Chargers were led in the NBC Sunday Night Football massacre by RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who finally looked like his old self, rushing for 96 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in less than three quarters – left in the fourth quarter with a groin strain. The Chargers scored on six of their first seven drives and didn’t punt until 57 seconds left in the third quarter. The Chargers also became the first team in NFL History to make the playoffs following a 4-8 start.
Teams folding under playoff pressure – I don’t know if the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Bears, and Broncos were looking forward to the playoffs, but they all couldn’t get the job done in Week 17 to make the Big Dance
- Cowboys shouldn’t have even made the trip to Philly – Incredibly with their season on the line, the high priced Dallas Cowboys had no fight in Philadelphia. Entering their crucial Week 17 game with the Eagles, the Cowboys kept saying, “All Was Well” as their ship kept sinking in the past three weeks (record of 1-2) with a huge amount of drama-laden infighting. Miraculously the Cowboys had the chance to “Win and Get In” versus an Eagles team that they had beaten in Week 2 of the season. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they never showed up indicating that some changes maybe coming in Big D besides their new billion-dollar stadium. The catalyst of the Cowboys demise was quarterback Tony Romo as “Mr. September” — now (5-10) for his career in December and January including two playoff losses — was harassed into producing two turnovers (1 INT and 1 Fumble) including a fumble returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys finished the season leading the NFL in penalties and finished 30th in turnover margin. To matters even worse, the Cowboys continued to fight amongst themselves on the sidelines in the loss plus Cowboys FB Deon Anderson got into a fight with LT Flozell Adams on the flight home from Philadelphia.
- Bucs lose one at home to Gruden’s old squad – In one of the week’s biggest upsets, the Bucs failed to clinch a playoff spot as the Oakland Raiders knocked them out with a 31-24 road victory. The Bucs fought back from a 14-7 halftime deficit, but in the fourth quarter the Raiders rode powerback Michael Bush (177 rushing yards) to a hard earned victory. The win had to be extra satisfying to Raiders owner Al Davis as the man in the black sweat suit got to stick it to his former coach and Bucs headman John Gruden. The Raiders ended their season with a two-game winning streak and it was their running game that showed the way against the Bucs — outrushed Tampa Bay 192 to 125 and had a possession edge of 31:58 to 28:02. The Bucs loss coupled with the Bears loss to the Texans opened the door for the Eagles to get in the playoffs.
The Detroit Lions are the NFL’s First 0-16 Team — The Lions lost their season finale to the Green Bay Packers 31-21 to complete the league’s first 0-16 season. I don’t know if champagne bottles were uncorked in Tampa Bay or not, but now the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) are no longer the only team to complete an NFL season without a victory. You knew it was going to be a long day for the Lions when they trailed 14-0 after one quarter, however Lions head coach Rod Marinelli’s troops stormed back to tie the game at 14-14 after three quarters. The fourth quarter again proved to be the Lions doom as the Packers poured on 17 points to finish with a ten-point win. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the star of the game for Pack completing 21 of 31 passes for 308 yards and 3 TD’s. For the Lions offensive threats RB Kevin Smith (28 rushes for 92 yards and 1 TD) and WR Calvin Johnson (9 receptions for 102 yards and 2 TD’s) tried their hardest to avoid NFL infamy, but two turnovers (both interceptions by quarterback Dan Orvolosky) and defense that allowed 484 total yards were the NFL’s 2008 hard luck team’s undoing. Well at least the Lions will have their options (Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, Georgia QB Mathew Stafford, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, USC LB Rey Maualuga, and others) for the 2009 NFL Draft’s first player selected. It will be interesting to see how fast owner William Clay Ford removes Marinelli on Monday, which is “Black Monday” around the NFL for all of the coaches usually fired on the first day after the close of the regular season.
Milestones were aplenty in Week 17
- The New England Patriots (11-5) became the second team to finish with 11 wins and not qualify for the playoffs – 1985 Denver Broncos are the other team.
- With 207 yards, Philip Rivers finished the season with 4,009 passing yards, joining Dan Fouts as the only Chargers QBs with 4,000 in a season.
- Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren coached his final game for the Seahawks in a 34-21 loss to the Niners.
- The dubious 0-16 Lions in their 31-21 loss to the Packers were the first team in NFL history to allow an opponent to have two 100-yard rushers (Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynne) and two 100-yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) in the same game.
- With 11 wins, the Dolphins tied the 1999 Colts (13-3 after 3-13 the previous season) for the biggest turnaround in NFL History (11 games going from 1-15 to 11-5)
- The Dolphins finished the regular season with 13 turnovers, beating the N.Y. Giants’ record of 14 set in 1990 for the fewest ever in a 16-game season.
- The Steelers finished just shy of becoming the first defense since the 1991 Eagles with a 1-1-1 ranking in total defense, run defense, and pass defenses. They finished second in the league in run defense to the Vikings, who allowed an average of 76.9 yards per game to the Steelers’ 80.2.
- The Panthers backfield duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combined for 2,351 yards, which is the highest total in the NFL in 24 years — the eighth best total of all time for a pair of teammates.
- Falcons WR Roddy White set the team single-season record for receiving yards (1,382), breaking Alfred Jenkins’ mark (1,358) from 1981.
- Quarterback Matt Ryan is the first Falcons quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season since 1998.
- Vikings RB Adrian Peterson finished the season with his first career rushing title (1,760 yards) and he joined Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, and Earl Campbell as the only backs to run for 3,000 yards in their first two seasons.
- New York Giants RB Derrick Ward rushed for 77 yards against the Vikings, putting him over 1,000 for the season and making the Giants just the fourth team with two 1,000-yard running backs in the same season (Brandon Jacobs has 1,089) – Others were Browns Byner and Mack; Dolphins Csonka and Morris; Steelers Bleier and Harris.
- Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 386 passing yards against a very stingy Panthers defense leaving him 15 yards short of breaking Dan Marino’s NFL single season passing yardage record of 5,084 yards. Brees finished with 5,066 yards, which made him only the second player in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season.
Oakland Raiders RB Michael Bush – A player that I really liked coming out of Louisville in ’07 despite a senior year ruined by a broken leg. Bush showed why he was once one of the best players in college football by ravaging the Tampa Bay Bucs defense for 177 rushing yards on 27 attempts in a huge 31-24 upset win. Bush’s biggest play came on a 67-yard touchdown rumble through the Bucs defense. The former Louisville All-American also caught one pass for 6 yards and threw a long pass – former high school quarterback – that drew a pass interference penalty.
Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner – The biggest free agent pickup of 2008 ran 25 times for 208 yards and 1 TD in the Falcons 31-27 win over the Rams. Turner’s touchdown was the 17th of the season, which is a new Falcons’ franchise record.
Baltimore Ravens DB Ed Reed – The Ravens Pro Bowl safety and my pick for the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award recorded two interceptions in the Ravens 27-7 win over the Jaguars. Reed had an NFL leading 9 interceptions for the season.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary – Iron Mike II led the Niners to a 27-24 win over the Redskins giving him a record of 5-2 since taking over at midseason. As a reward the tough coach attained the full title “Head Coach” after the win removing the word “interim” from his title. Singletary’s first move as full head coach was a popular one as he fired malcontent offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Chris Clemons -After signing a big contract in the offseason, Clemons had struggled for much of the year — played mostly on special teams. The former Raiders sack man saved his best performance for last game of the regular season finishing with two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a touchdown. Clemons 73-yard return of a Tony Romo fumble early in the third quarter basically buried the Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – The player synonymous with “America’s Team” or is that former team, get this week’s award for his collapse on and off the field against the Eagles. In a must win game, Romo (21-39, 183, 0 TD, 1 INT) and the Cowboys continued to not live-up to the hype in their embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Eagles. Romo never had time in the pocket throwing an interception and his two fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, were game breakers. Romo needs to figure out how to win late in the season – 5-10 in December and January – or the Cowboys may need to find a quarterback in the draft. The key question is, “Where do the high priced Cowboys go from here?” It will be a very interesting off-season in Dallas (who will be the head coach Wade Philips or Jason Garrett) and owner Jerry Jones has to be wondering if he is getting enough return on his investment.
New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini – His team never showed up in a season-ending home loss to the Dolphins. The former “mangenuis” could not get his team to do better than 1-4 down the stretch. **Note: Mangini was fired on Monday after posting a 23-26 record in 3 years.
Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan – His team was destroyed by the Chargers and down the stretch they couldn’t win the pitiful AFC West, losing 3 straight to finish 8-8. **Note: Shanahan was fired on Tuesday, so I guess two Super Bowl victories from over 10 years ago buys you so much time.
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)