By: Akiem Bailum
In the past, Monday Morning Realist columns have featured a specific theme to them. An earlier one was centered around coaches that may very well be on the hot seat on Black Monday after Week 17 is finished. There’s one to this week’s as well.
In Week 14, things went due South for the AFC North.
Playing Through Tragedy
First up this week are the Cincinnati Bengals who came into their home game at Paul Brown Stadium vs. the Dallas Cowboys at 7-5 and barely on the outside looking in for the AFC playoffs. While the Bengals were looking to pad their playoff positioning, it was another tragic week throughout the league as a whole.
The NFL is still fresh off the Javon Belcher murder-suicide from last week in Kansas City that took the lives of two people and left a 3 month old girl without a mother and father.
This week, the league would deal with more tragedy as it was found out that the Cowboys’ 25-year old Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident that also involved teammate Josh Brent. Brent has since been charged with intoxication manslaughter and his bail amount has been set at $500,000. The most glaring piece of information on his record is that it’s not the first time Brent has had DUI related issues to deal with. He’s a repeat offender as he did it once while in college.
It’s simply the second straight week where something has meant a lot more than football in this case. Once again, on behalf of The Real Sports Talk, condolences to Brown’s family and the Cowboys organization.
Brent has since vociferously tried to lament that he’s heartbroken about what happened to Jerry Brown. The obvious answer to him is that none of this would’ve happened if Brent used common sense and realize that you don’t drink and drive. Add that to the fact that he’s a repeat offender clearly shows that he and his attorneys are on a PR tour. It’s another sad episode that should be a lesson to everybody and, once again, saps a lot of the fun out of what should be excitement about playoff races. For better or for worse, the game of football was trivialized again by tragic circumstances.
As for the game itself, the Bengals did maintain a 19-10 lead into the 4th quarter, but they had multiple opportunities to put the game away on both sides of the football. Key drops, including one from wide receiver A.J. Green where he would’ve had an easy touchdown, kept an emotional Dallas team in the game. Tony Romo also almost threw a late interception that was also dropped.
It allowed the ‘Boys to stay in it and Romo to engineer a game-winning drive resulting in a Dan Bailey field goal.
Romo was 25/43 for 268 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went 20/33 for 206 yards, 1 TD, and a pick. Playing through tragic circumstances is never easy to do as the Kansas City Chiefs did last week. This game went beyond football for Dallas this week.
Dallas is now 7-6 and will return to Arlington to play the Steelers in Week 15.
As for the Bengals, they now face a short week at 7-6 before traveling to Philadelphia to play the Eagles. They may rue the day they “dropped” this game as it could be the difference between January football and beginning their offseason in that month—as evidenced by everything else that occurred throughout their division.
Banged Up in the Beltway
The Baltimore Ravens were smarting after losing in stunning fashion last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their third string quarterback Charlie Batch. One would expect that this would be the game for them to get back on track as they went to Landover, Maryland to play the Washington Redskins in what has been termed as the “Battle of the Beltway”.
One reason had to be why—the Pittsburgh Steelers have a real defense. The ‘Skins defense is 28th ranked in the NFL. But it was a defense that was able to hold its own last week vs. their division rival New York Giants. When it seemed like they were out of it, London Fletcher, Alfred Morris, and Robert Griffin III have put the Redskins back in the middle of the NFC playoff chase.
They came into this game at 6-6. Baltimore was at 9-3. While it was back-and-forth throughout, the Ravens did have to sustain more injuries as would be evidenced by those to Jameel McClain and Terrell Suggs (the Suggs injury occurred prior to the game).
The injury bug wouldn’t only bite the Ravens. Late in the 4th quarter, Robert Griffin III sustained a knee injury. He attempted to come back, but he clearly could no longer play a few plays later. He would be replaced by Kirk Cousins who would not only complete a game-tying drive late in the 4th quarter, but remained in the game to be part of a game-winning drive in overtime. Washington also received a huge play on special teams from Richard Crawford who returned a punt 64 yards all the way to Baltimore’s 24 yard line. A few plays later, Kai Forbath would make a 34 yard field goal to win it for the Burgundy and Gold.
Washington is now 7-6 and is in the thick of things in the NFC playoff race. The main question for them right now is will Robert Griffin III be healthy for next week’s game vs. the Browns, a game they should win. RGIII was able to avoid an ACL injury and he’s currently listed as having only a knee sprain, but his status still is unknown, according to reports.
Even without RGIII, Washington still has plenty of issues on defense and some are even hinting at a quarterback controversy between RGIII and Kirk Cousins. Those defensive issues will not win them too many postseason games even with their rushing attack led by Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III. Prior to the injury, Griffin was 15/26 for 246 yards and 1 touchdown in addition to rushing for 34 yards on 7 carries. Morris had 23 carries for 122 yards. They also got 5 receptions on 87 yards from Pierre Garcon.
Joe Flacco’s statistics are someone misleading—16/21 for 182 yards on 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. They would also get 20 carries on 121 yards from Ray Rice. Torrey Smith vented his frustration on Twitter about the team not being able to hold leads. The bottom line is that they have a lot of injury issues and the last couple of games were games they had great chances of winning—but didn’t.
Next week it doesn’t get any easier for the 9-4 Ravens—they go back home to play Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
The previous 3 weeks for the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t very memorable. They managed to go 1-2, but what showed more than anything else was that when Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t their starting quarterback, their offense was lost.
This week, they would get their two-time Super Bowl winning QB back and fans expected a return to the form that had Pittsburgh earlier in the season looking like the hottest team in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers are virtually done, especially after 4th and 29 two weeks ago vs. the Baltimore Ravens. And mid-week, there was the San Diego Union-Tribune report that said team owner Dean Spanos would fire head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith at the end of the year. Spanos denied the report. We’ll see on Black Monday….
With both teams coming into their Week 14 tilt at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field colder than Steel City weather in December, something had to give. What gave out was Pittsburgh’s offense for the majority of the game. Towards the closing of the third quarter, the Steelers’ deficit was 27-3 and Philip Rivers looked like the Philip Rivers from circa 2008 instead of circa 2011.
Rivers went 21/41 for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. Roethlisberger also had 3 TDs while going 22/42 with one interception. Mike Wallace also had 7 receptions for 112 yards in a losing effort for the Stillers.
The loss now sends Pittsburgh to 7-6 while San Diego is 5-8. The Steelers get the Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium in Week 15. The Chargers’ playoff hopes are slim if not done at best. They play Carolina at home next week, but judging from the last 3 weeks, Cam Newton and the Panthers are playing their best football of the year. Whoever doesn’t make the playoffs out of the AFC North may rue Week 14. All 3 top teams lost when they had chances to make their playoff standing more solid.
Oh, and the Browns won too. Go figure.
You wouldn’t notice it if all you watched was the Bears/Vikings game inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, but a major snowstorm hit the Twin Cities metropolitan area over this weekend. Some areas throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin are reporting as much as 16 inches of snow.
Luckily, The Dome’s roof didn’t collapse as it did during that year’s mishap (what I called the MetroFail) in 2010.
December. Snow. Outside. Cold weather. Bears weather.
Domed stadium. Advantage Minnesota Vikings.
No Brian Urlacher for the Bears—advantage Minnesota Vikings. The Purple-People Eaters were 5-1 at home coming into this game. They can thank that roof in what would be otherwise cold weather conditions for their victory over the Bears on Sunday.
Oh, and Adrian Peterson helped out a lot too. He’d rush 31 times for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. By the end of the first quarter, he’d have 100 yards already. Apparently, Christian Ponder learned from last week’s Green Bay Packers game that the key to the Vikings winning football games is Peterson pounding the rock and the defense doing the rest of the work.
They were able to do its work on Jay Cutler as they sacked him twice and also picked him off twice. One of those times would be a pick six to Harrison Smith. Other than that, he’d go 22/44 for 260 yards and 1 touchdown.
That was before he’d have to be taken out of the game with a neck injury. It is fresh in the minds of Bears fans what their offense looked like without Jay Cutler and they’re hoping he’s not out for any lengthy period of time.
In came Jason Campbell again. He did go 6/9 for 64 yards and 1 touchdown pass (to Brandon Marshall), but the late score came with less than 2 minutes left to go in the game. Minnesota won 21-14.
Minnesota is now 7-6 and will play the Rams in Week 15. They should win that game. Chicago is 8-5 and will get Green Bay in Soldier Field next week.
This Section Brought to You By the Number 58
The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals 58-0 on Sunday.
An NFL team defeated another NFL team by 58 points.
If Only The “D” Train Went to East Rutherford…
After getting to .500 at 5-5 before Thanksgiving week, the New Orleans Saints had their fans feeling a little bit more cautiously optimistic about the season. The 5 wins included a huge one at home vs. the division rival Atlanta Falcons in where a goal-line stand sealed the deal for New Orleans.
But, since Thanksgiving week, a lot has changed. They’ve lost at home to the San Francisco 49ers when Colin Kaepernick was starting just his 2nd game for the Niners. The week after that on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football, they lost on the road to the Atlanta Falcons after they had beaten Atlanta on 11 of their previous 13 meetings. Drew Brees threw 5 interceptions that game.
In Week 13, they’d travel to New York/New Jersey to play the Giants who were coming off a loss to the Washington Redskins in FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Monday Night Football. One thing that hasn’t changed all year long about the Saints—the fact that this team still has the worst defense in the entire NFL.
It showed again as they’d allow 52 points to the Giants—the most they’d allow to a team all season long. Eli Manning threw 259 yards on 22/35 passing with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Rookie runningback David Wilson would have a breakout game. Not only did he rush for 100 yards on 13 carries, he’d also return 4 kicks for 227 yards including one for 97 yards and a touchdown. And according to statistics, he’s the first player ever in NFL history to return kicks for at least 200 yards and rush for at least 100 yards. Victor Cruz also caught 8 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
For the Saints and Drew Brees, the turnover issues continued. New Orleans turned the ball over 4 more times, including 2 interceptions from Drew Brees—both to the Giants’ Stevie Brown. Other than that, he’d go 26/43 for 354 yards and 1 touchdown.
New Orleans is now 5-8. They’re finished. Their high-octane offense could not overcome their porous defense and it caught up to them in New York. They’re not getting into the playoffs out of the NFC with Chicago and Seattle both at 8-5. They will not be playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, so if those stories haven’t been scrapped already, scrap them now.
As for the New York Giants, they’re 8-5. It’s very important for them to win the remainder of their games because there’s still a chance that only one team out of the NFC East makes the playoffs. Washington is continuing their hard-charging run and so is Dallas. They’ve been very inconsistent their last 4 games. They looked great vs. Green Bay and New Orleans (teams that either had bad defenses or were injured) and not so much against Cincinnati and Washington (of course, the ‘Skins defense is hella suspect as well).
Next for the Saints—a home game vs. the Buccaneers who last this week to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants go to the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons. That game should be fun to watch.
Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!
Unlike in Minnesota where they have a dome, there’s no such contraption encompassing Lambeau Field. And they did get snow which meant less-than-normally-visible conditions for Sunday Night Football in Green Bay. It’s December, so you wouldn’t want to see it any other way. Football played in the elements—it’s a beautiful thing.
Also, take into consideration that the last two games for the Detroit Lions were losses where they probably should’ve got wins—both over playoff caliber teams in the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
That’ll happen when your defense is suspect like Detroit’s is…and when there’s concern that one of the players who is supposed to be one of your defensive standouts is getting the side-eye from people about being a dirty player.
That, of course, is Ndamukong Suh.
Green Bay would once again enter this game with two of their top defensive players still sidelined due to injury—Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews.
Early on, it looked like those same defensive difficulties would come home to roost yet again. Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense looked crisp early on as they jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. What began the turnaround for the Green Bay Packers would be a fumble recovery off Stafford from Mike Daniels. He’d return the ball 43 yards to the other end to make it 14-10.
Green Bay got the lead by Aaron Rodgers completing the 2nd longest run of his career—27 yards for a TD that made it 17-14. This game began to look like the Houston and Indy games for Detroit. Good starts, but fading late. What stuck out was how much the Packers ran the ball. Collectively, Rodgers, Alex Green, Dujuan Harris, John Kuhn, and even Ryan Grant combined for 140 yards on the ground. The Lions also ran the ball rather well themselves with 135 yards, but all of the Packer TDs would come via run plays. Rodgers went 14/24 for 173 yards. Randall Cobb also had a huge game with 7 receptions and 102 yards.
Matthew Stafford would go 27/45 for 264 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. It would also be another big day for Calvin Johnson. Megatron’s line—10 receptions for 118 yards. He continues to lead the league in receiving yards with almost 1500 on the season. And as NBC pointed out, he’s closing in on Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a season.
With the Lions at 4-9 now on the season, that’s practically the only thing they have left to play for. They’ll play the Arizona Wildca….uh…I mean the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale in Week 15. They better win that game. The 9-4 Packers, on the other hand, have plenty to play for. The NFC North title can once again be painted green and gold if they defeat the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field next week.
If the Playoffs Began Today….
Texans 11-1 (1st round bye)
Broncos 10-3 (1st round bye)
Falcons 11-2 (1st round bye)
49ers 9-3-1 (1st round bye)
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