NFL 2009–Week 16 Recap

Football sage John Randall reminds us in December that from a gridiron standpoint, the puppies need to leave the field. This is when the big dogs come out.

15 Weeks down, 2 to go. Time for the Week 16 Recap.

San Diego Chargers @ Tennessee Titans was the Thursday night game. As much as it kills me, I am going to have to lay off Norvelous Norv Turner for now. Yes he has been gift wrapped a team by John Butler, AJ Smith, and Marty Schottenheimer that should have won at least a pair of Super Bowls, but the Chargers are finally playing to their potential. Turner has failed to screw it up, and in today’s world, that is good enough. He is the coaching equivalent of a game manager. I still maintain Jeff Fisher might be the best coach in the NFL, and getting the Titans from 0-6 to 7-7 was no small task. Yes the shift to Vince Young sparked the team, but Kerry Collins was 13-3 last year. Anyway, this game like many had playoff implications. Sadly, it was not a good game from a competitive standpoint.

The Titans did kick an early field goal, but the rest was all Chargers. A 13 play, 7 minute drive covered 76 yards, with Ladanian Tomlinson running it in from one yards out to give the Chargers a 7-3 lead they never relinquished. In the second quarter Philip Rivers went deep to Antonio Gates for a 36 yard touchdown and a 14-3 Chargers lead. After a Vince Young fumble near midfield, the Chargers were aided by a roughing the passer call against the Tennessee defense. Rivers hit Darren Sproles from 3 yards out to have the Chargers cruising 21-3. With 3 minutes left in the half Vince Young led an 11 play drive, with Young taking it in himself from 3 yards out to make it a 21-10 game at the break.

The Titans got the ball to start the second half, which gave them a chance to get right back in it. That never happened. In the third quarter, facing 4th and 1 at their own 47, Fisher rightly punted. San Diego took over at their own 15, and Rivers hit Gates for 32 yards and Floyd for 22 more. Defensive pass interference set up another one yard touchdown run by Tomlinson to make it 28-10 and effectively end the game. A 9 yard touchdown run by Darren Sproles had the game a blowout at 35-10. After an interception of Young, Sproles scored again from one yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter to make the blowout 42-10. The Titans did add a garbage touchdown.

The Titans fought valiantly the second half of the year, but a bad loss at home separates even good teams from great ones. Even throwing out the 0-6 start, the team that has been 7-2 since has lost to Indy and San Diego. Tennessee is 7-8 and done for the year. The Chargers have won 10 straight and at 12-3 have locked up the # 2 seed and the first round bye. 42-17  Chargers

Buffalo Bills @ Atlanta Falcons–With no playoff implications, a 7-0 Falcons lead occurred when Matt Ryan threw a 42 yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. Matt Bryant nailed a 51 yard field goal to have the Falcons up 10-0. In the third quarter, starting at the Buffalo 27, Ryan threw a 12 yard touchdown to Marty Booker to have the Falcons up 17-0. An 11 yard fumble return by Sidbury had the Falcons coasting 24-0. An uneventful second half went quickly enough. 31-3 Falcons

Kansas City Chiefs @ Cincinnati Bengals–A bad team on the road against a good team, albeit one facing back to back losses and still trying to clinch the AFC North. At the 2 minute warning the game was scoreless, but a field goal had the Bengals up 3-0. The Chiefs added a field goal of their own just before the gun to make it 3-3 at intermission. In the third quarter the Bengals finally got going as Carson Palmer led a 10 play, 6 minute, 77 yard drive. A 10 yard touchdown pass to Laverneous Coles had the Bengals up 10-3. 3 minutes into the fourth quarter, Matt Cassel fired to Ted Castillo for a 20 yard touchdown as Castillo caught it between three defenders and somehow hung on to the ball for a 10-10 game. An ugly game was decided when Palmer hit Johnson for a 6 yard touchdown pass with 2:03 left in regulation. The Bengals clinched the AFC North for Marvin Lewis. 13-10 Bengals

Oakland Raiders @ Cleveland Browns–For more on the game of the day go to Both of these teams are improved from the cellar, but this game could not have started worse for the Raiders. Charlie Frye was immediately intercepted, setting up Cleveland from the Oakland 17. Jerome Harrison, who ran for 286 yards last week, ran the 17 yards for the score as the Browns led 7-0 only 90 seconds into the game. On their next series, Frye went deep on two successive plays that were incomplete. Shane Lechler punted. Derek Anderson, playing in place of Brady Quinn, moved the Browns into field goal range. Phil Dawson connected, and the Browns led 10-0.

On the next Raiders drive a well executed screen pass to Darren McFadden picked up 15 yards to their own 41. A 16 yard toss to Chaz Schillens followed by a 12 yard Michael Bush run had the Raiders at the Cleveland 23. A completion to Louis Murphy at the one yard line was nullified by offensive holding. On 3rd and 14 from the 26, a perfect pass by Frye was dropped by Schillens. Sebastian Janikowski nailed the 44 yard field goal to get the Raiders within 10-3.

The Raiders got the ball back at midfield and wasted the opportunity, going nowhere. They punted, and Cleveland took over at their own 9. The Raiders held, and a short punt followed by a personal foul on the Browns had the Raiders starting at the Cleveland 30. On 3rd and 3 from the 10, Frye operated out of the shotgun and was sacked. Seabass nailed the 33 yard kick to have the Raiders within 10-6, but it was a lost chance with gift field position.

Cleveland reached midfield, and tried a fake punt that did not work. The Raiders jumped offsides, but luckily it was not enough for the first down. This time Cleveland punted, and Joshua Cribbs had it downed inside the one yard line. Frye moved the ball before the drive bogged down under a sack and a holding penalty. Nevertheless, they got it to their own 40 to avoid punting from their own goal. Cleveland started deep in their own territory, but the Raiders inexplicably self destructed under a hail of personal foul penalties. Richard Seymour was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then Stanford Routt, a terrible football player to begin with, was ejected after a head butt. From the Oakland 19, Anderson tossed the touchdown to Massaquoi to have the Browns up 17-6 on a drive that was mostly penalty yardage.

With only 18 seconds left in the half, the Raiders took over on their own 42. A couple short passes had Seabass trying a 61 yard field goal. Seabass is ridiculous. He drilled it good, and the Raiders had a shot of adrenaline down 17-9 at the half.

Momentum shifted back when the Browns nailed a field goal of their own to lead 20-9. The Raiders had a promising drive go bust when Johnny Lee Higgins dropped a pass and Frye was sacked again and called for intentional grounding. Anderson had the Browns moving again with a 28 yard pass to Massaquoi. The Browns were in total control of the game when a touchdown pass was nullified due to offensive holding. The Browns still faced 3rd and 1 at the Oakland 6 when Harrison got belted and fumbled. Greg Ellis recovered for the Raiders, who still had life.

Frye began the drive with a 20 yard pass to Chaz Schillens, but nothing more as the Raiders punted. On the next drive Frye moved the Raiders effectively, but from the Cleveland 24, an interception inside the 10 killed the drive. Anderson took advantage as the Browns tacked on another field goal to lead 23-9 with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation. Another Raiders defender was ejected from the game, and on offense a 27 yard pass from Frye to Schillens was spoiled by taunting on Schillens after the play.

On 3rd and 1 from the Cleveland 32, Frye hit Murphy for the 1st down at the 26. Frye went deep to the end zone and was intercepted again, but defensive pass interference made it 1st and goal at the 2 instead. Choosing not to run, a pair of incomplete passes was followed by a 3rd down fade route that was intercepted. Cable challenged the call, as it appeared the defender did not get both feet down inbounds. The call was overturned, and the Raiders again had life with 4th and goal at the 2. Frye threw to Louis Murphy incomplete. A flag appeared to be on the defense, but it was picked up.

With 4 minutes left, Cleveland only took 30 seconds off the clock. The Raiders got the ball back near midfield, and a short pass to Schillens went all the way to the Cleveland 17. From the Cleveland 6, Frye, despite being 26 of 45 for 333 yards, was intercepted for the 3rd time. As an insult to injury, the final Raiders drive, with the snow coming down, resulted in Frye being sacked. The Raiders have their 7th straight 10 loss season, while the Browns have won 3 straight as Eric Mangini tries to convince new football Czar Mike Holmgren to keep him around. Tom Cable saw his team leap forward last week, but fall back again this week. 23-9 Browns.

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers–The Walrus Mike Holmgren is off to Cleveland, rendering this just a game of a bad team on the road against a good team that was one play away from 6 straight wins. Aaron Rodgers threw a short touchdown pass to have the Packers up 7-0. Ryan Grant had a short touchdown run and then broke off a 56 yard run sandwiched around a Seattle field goal to have the Packers up 21-3. On the last play of the half the Packers had 4th and goal at the one, but a touchdown pass was nullified by offensive pass interference. The field goal had Green Bay up 24-3 at halftime.

The blowout continued in the second half as Jackson ran in a pair of touchdowns from 6 and 4 yards out to have the Packers cruising at 38-3. Matt Hasselbeck had 4 interceptions in what was an entire team embarrassment in a season of them. Owner Paul Allen is battling cancer, a much bigger concern than his team. However, deliberately giving Mike Holmgren an inferior offer that was meant to be refused allowed Holmgren to go to Cleveland. Whoever fixes Seattle, it had better come soon. As for Green Bay, Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson might not be burned in effigy as they improved to 10-5 and a wildcard playoff spot. 48-10 Packers

Houston Texans @ Miami Dolphins–A pair of 7-7 teams in an elimination game had the Texans on the board first with a 48 yard field goal. The Texans got the ball back, and on 4th and 1 from the 10, Gary Kubiak decided to go for it. Rather than run it, a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson had the Texans up 10-0. Schaub came back on the next series with a 44 yard touchdown strike to Jacoby Jones to have the Texans up 17-0. A Miami turnover set up the Texans in the red zone, and Foster, which is Australian for beer mate, ran it in to have the Texans up 24-0. Another field goal goal had it 27-0. Miami drove deep near the end of the half but settled for a field goal and a 27-3 halftime debacle.

The Dolphins appeared to be getting back in the game with a touchdown and an interception, but a field goal attempt to make it a 2 score game was no good, and the Dolphins still trailed 27-10. Miami again tried to get back in with a 62 yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Ted Ginn, but offensive holding nullified the play and the Dolphins were still far down. In the fourth quarter Henne hit Ike Hilliard for a 10 yard touchdown that stood, and the Dolphins were within 27-17 with much of the fourth quarter remaining.

With about 2 1/2 minutes remaining Miami kicked a field goal to have it a one score game. Yet the furious rally fell short when the Texans recovered the onsides kick and ran out the clock. Miami at 7-8 was eliminated form playoff contention while the Texans, who started 5-3 and then lost 4 straight, have won 3 straight to get to 8-7 and have playoff life. Bob McNair may fire Gary Kubiak, and next week will tell a lot. The Texans squandered the big lead but survived. 27-20 Texans

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers–These teams played a defensive slobberknocker earlier in the year that justified why we watch football. The rematch had the 8-6 Ravens and 7-7 Steelers fighting for the playoffs. The Steelers made one play last week to keep them from losing 6 straight. Joe Flacco had his arm hit while throwing, and the interception had the Steelers at the Baltimore 9. The defense held, and a short field goal had the Steelers up 3-0. Flacco brought the Ravens back, but inside the Pittsburgh 10 again it was defense that stood tall in a game where defense was expected. The 27 yard field goal made it 3-3.

A strong kickoff return had the Steelers starting at the Baltimore 47. One first down got them in field goal range, and in this war of attrition it was the Steelers up 6-3. When Rashaard Mendenhall banged it in the end zone from short yardage, the Steelers led 13-3. Flacco responded with a 30 yard touchdown to Todd Heap to get the Ravens within 13-10. From the shadow of his own goal, Ben Roethlisberger went deep to Mike Wallace for 45 yards and then threw a 24 yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes to make it 20-10 Steelers.

In the third quarter Flacco led a 10 play, 64 yard drive that took 5 1/2 minutes. A 7 yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap had the Ravens within 20-17. Baltimore got the ball back, and a 35 yard field goal by Billy Cundiff had the game tied 20-20. It seemed only fitting that the teams that met last year in the AFC Title Game and went to overtime a few weeks ago would be tied entering the fourth quarter.

On the opening play of the fourth quarter Flacco, from the Pittsburgh 20, found a wide open Derrick Mason, who dropped a perfect pass. Penalties set up 3rd and 30 followed by a punt. A golden opportunity wasted ended up costing the Ravens as the Steelers took the lead on a field goal with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. With 2 1/2 minutes left, Flacco was hit as he threw, and the ball was plucked out of the air for an interception.

For the second week in a row Mike Tomlin made a bizarre coaching decision. needing to run out the clock, Tomlin called a pass play. Roethisberger was intercepted, but illegal contact nullified the play. Again Tomlin dodged a self inflicted bullet. The Steelers then ran out the clock. These teams are dead even at 8-7, and both of their regular season games were by 3 points, resulting in an exact number of points in this split series. While a 3rd matchup is unlikely like last year, it would be a thriller. Both teams are alive in the playoff hunt, although the Ravens damaged themselves with the loss. 23-20 Steelers

Carolina Panthers @ New York Giants–The 8-6 Giants are one game out of the final playoff spot, while the eliminated Panthers are coming off a big home win against Minnesota. For the second week in a row, the Panthers rejected the concept of having nothing to play for, while the Giants were just inexplicable. Mario Manningham fumbled to end a promising Giants drive, leading to a John Kasay field goal and a 3-0 Panthers lead. A 29 yard touchdown run by Jimmy Stewart then had the Panthers up 10-0. When Muhsin Muhammad ran it in, the Panthers had the stunning 17-0 lead on the road.

The misery extended when Eli Manning was intercepted, giving the Panthers a short field. Matt Moore hit Jeff King for a 2 yard touchdown pass to have the Panthers up 24-0. This was the final game in the history of Giants Stadium as they move to their new stadium right next door next year. After the season Giants Stadium will be imploded, but the Giants got going early by imploding this game. Tom Coughlin could only watch the demolition before the demolition. Matt Moore hit Steve Smith for a 27 yard touchdown as the Panthers had a 31-0 lead.

An uneventful second half saw a 4th and goal at the 1 where Manning fooled the defense and throw a perfect pass that was dropped. Jerry Richardson is still mulling the future of Jon Fox, but the last couple weeks may save Fox. As for the injured Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore has been impressive. The Giants have gone from 5-0 to 8-7 and most likely done for the year. 41-9 Panthers

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots–The Jaguars are part of the 7-7 cluster trying to survive while the Patriots were trying to lock up the AFC East. Early on the Patriots missed a scoring chance when Lawrence Maroney fumbled at the one yard line. On the  next New England drive, Tom Brady fired a 2 yard touchdown to Randy Moss to make it 7-0 Patriots. The second quarter effectively ended the game. A 26 yard touchdown by Brady to Baker had the Patriots up 14-0. Sammy Morris ran it in from one yard out, and Brady hit Moss again from 6 yards out as the Patriots led 28-0 at halftime.

After a scoreless third quarter, Brady led a 10 play, 90 yard drive that went for 6 1/2 minutes. Brady connected with Moss for the 3rd time, this time from 17 yards out. The Patriots led 35-0. 3 weeks ago these teams were both 7-5. Bill Bellichick righted the New England ship as the Patriots moved to 10-5 and locked up the AFC East. As for Jacksonville, 3 straight losses have them 7-8 and done for the year, as Jack Del Rio may be on a very hot coaching seat. A garbage touchdown would not change that. 35-7 Patriots

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints–The 1976-1977 Buccaneers went 0-26 before beating the Saints 33-14. In 2009 the Bucs won their second game last week to go to 2-12 while the Saints lost their first to drop to 13-1. Would this be the upset of the decade? No. Pierre Thomas ran it in from 8 yards out to put the Saints up 7-0. A interception by Darren Sharper had the Saints in business again. A 30 yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Robert Meacham had the Saints up 14-0. A 28 yard field goal made it 17-0. The Bucs finally got on the board with a field goal before the half to make it 17-3.

Somewhere on the road to a blowout the game unexpectedly tightened instead. Josh Freeman led a 98 yard drive that extended into the fourth quarter. Cadillac Williams ran for a 23 yard touchdown to have the game within 17-10. The Buccaneers got the ball back and drove deep. On 4th and 1, Raheem Morris decided to go for it. The Saints defense came up big as the Buccaneers turned it over on downs. The Saints could not muster any offense, and with 2 1/2 minutes left the Superdome crowd faced a total shock to the system.

Michael Spurlock, who returned the very first kickoff touchdown for the Buccaneers in their history, took this punt back 77 yards to tie the game 17-17. Now the upset of the year was possible. Brees worked the clock, and as expected, moved the Saints down the field in position. Hartley, in for a benched John Carney, came in for the winning field goal attempt. Again, another shocker as the kick was no good. The mismatch of the year was going to overtime.

The Buccaneers got the ball, and Freeman moved them down the field. On 3rd and 7 he scrambled up the middle for a first down. In front of one of the most shocked crowds in NFL history, a fellow named Connor Barth kicked the Buccaneers to the win from 47 yards out. Forget the score for a second. A couple of weeks ago the Saints were 13-0 and chasing history. Now they have back to back losses both at home. 2-12 took down 13-1 on the road. Sean Payton can still see his team lock up home field throughout the playoffs with a win next week, but they could slip to the # 2 seed. Then again, both of their losses have been at home. If ever a time was appropriate for uber-announcer Chris Berman, this was it. For the second time in 33 years, the Buccaneers shock the Saints. That’s why they play the games. 20-17 Buccaneers, OT

St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals–10 years ago the Rams were the Greatest Show on Turf. They then got rid of Kurt Warner. The Rams have Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller injured, meaning they starting a quarterback with the last name Null. Warner is now with the Greatest Show in the Desert in Arizona, and continues to make his old team pay. After a scoreless opening quarter, the Cardinals got going.

A rapid 80 yard drive had Warner connecting with Larry Fitzgerald for a 10 yard score to make it 7-0 Cardinals. Another fairly quick 83 yard drive had Warner hitting Doucet for the 18 yard score to make it 14-0. Null did his namesake, and the Cardinals got the ball back. A 14 play, 82 yard drive reached the 2 yard line, and Ken Whisenthunt opted for the field goal and a 17-0 Arizona lead. Another way of saying the score would be 17-nil, or 17-Null.

The Cardinals were in total control in the third quarter when Warner was sacked and fumbled. An offensive lineman tried to pick it up instead of falling on it, leading to the Rams recovering. Null was no longer null or nil, because a 21 yard touchdown pass from Null to Gibson had the Rams within 17-7. The Rams held on defense, but a long punt return was wasted when the ball was fumbled away past midfield. Tim Hightower ran it in from 2 yards out to have the Cardinals ahead comfortably again at 24-7.

The Rams did kick a field goal, but Null was then intercepted. With the game in hand, Ken Whisenhunt pulled Warner out of the game and gave Matt Leinart a chance to play. Unlike situations in Indianapolis and Minnesota, there was no controversy here. Leinart handed off to Hightower, who ran it in 2 yards to have the Cardinals up 31-10.

Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers–Sometimes bad teams come together to play a good game. This was not that game. A battle of field goals was 3-3 until the 49ers added another one around the 2 minute warning to lead 6-3 in a game that was even duller than it sounded. In the third quarter the 49ers turned out the lights. Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for a 2 yard touchdown, and Frank Gore added a one yard csore on the ground as the 49ers led comfortably 20-3.

Denver Broncos @ Philadelphia Eagles–After 13 seasons in Philadelphia, Bryan Dawkins returned as a member of the visiting Broncos. He was the only Denver player fired up early on. Kyle Orton threw what appeared to be a lateral that was picked up and returned for a touchdown less than one minute into the game. Upon further review, it was ruled the pass was just forward, and therefore incomplete as the Broncos dodged a bullet.  It was academic as Donovan McNabb later on his Deshean Jackson from 2 yards out to make it 7-0 Eagles. David Akers added a 39 yard field goal to make it 10-0 Eagles

In the second quarter Orton led a 12 play, 70 yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes. Orton hit Jabar Gaffney for an 11 yard touchdown to get the Broncos within 10-7. McNabb came right back as the Eagles moved 88 yards in a hurry. A 47 yard touchdown from McNabb to Captain Morgan Brent Celek had the Eagles up 17-7. With less than 30 seconds in the half, Akers nailed another kick to have the Eagles up 20-7 at halftime.

Several minutes into the third quarter a 33 yard field goal by Prater had the Broncos within 20-10. Yet the Eagles kept their foot on the gas pedal as McNabb threw a 15 yard touchdown to Avant to get the lead up to 27-10. Orton was then intercepted. Late in the third quarter the game completely changed. Orton hit Gaffney for a 7 yard score to make it 27-17. The Eagles got blasted on the ensuing kickoff, with the Broncos recovering the fumble. Orton hit Knowshon Moreno for a 16 yard score as the Eagles only led 27-24 entering the fourth quarter.

With 6 minutes to go a 46 yard field by Prater tied the game, and the Eagles big lead had evaporated. The Eagles again fumbled a kickoff, but recovered it themselves. McNabb was then sacked for a 10 yard loss. On 3rd and 25, McNabb pulled the ball down and ran with it. He picked up 27 yards and a 1st down to ignite the crowd and stun the Denver defense. On 4th and 1 from midfield with 3 minutes in regulation, Andy Reid took no chances and punted the ball. Denver took over at their own 8. The defense held and the Eagles took over at the Denver 42 with 1:41 remaining. McNabb went deep to Jeremy Maclin. The play was ruled out of bounds, but on further review Maclin got both feet down inbounds and the Eagles had the ball at the Denver 14. A pair of runs forced Denver to use their timeouts. On 3rd down McNabb took a knee to center the ball.

With 7 seconds left, David Akers came in for a 28 yard kick and drilled it dead center. Despite blowing a big lead, the Eagles moved to 11-4. They clinched the NFC East and are still within striking distance of the # 2 seed and a 1st round bye. The Broncos under Josh McDaniels saw their 6-0 record collapse to 8-7. They no longer control their own playoff destiny. 30-27 Eagles

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts–The Jets at 7-7 are clinging to life while the Patriots at 14-0 are still striving for immortality. They have home field locked up but Jim Caldwell played their starters, despite Rex Ryan wishing otherwise.Joseph Addai ran for a 21 yard touchdown as the Colts led 6-0. Adam Vinatieri saw his extra point blocked. Indianapolis drove down the field again but bogged down inside the 10 yard line. A field goal had the Colts up 9-0. The Jets hung tough, and a field goal with less than 2 minutes in the half had Gang Green within 9-3.

The march to immortality took a shocking turn when Brad Smith returned the second half kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good, and only 12 seconds into the third quarter the Jets led 10-9. The Colts then surrendered and admitted defeat. No, not really. Manning brought the Colts right down the field, as running back Donald Brown turned into the second coming of Mike Allstot. From the 7, Brown barreled over defenders like he was Jim Brown, reaching the one yard line. On the next carry he hit a brick wall inside, somehow bounced to the outside, and waltzed in. Jim Caldwell decided to go for the 2 point conversion only 5 minutes into the third quarter, and the Colts went to the well once too often as Brown got knocked backwards. Nevertheless, the 81 yard drive had the Colts up 15-10.

The Jets crossed midfield, but the drive ended when a 3rd and 3 breakdown had an unblocked Dwight Freeney level Mark Sanchez. The Jets punted, and the Colts took over on their own 9. Before the first snap, a majorly odd occurrence that will be discussed for some time happened. Peyton Manning, who has taken every snap this year, did not go on the field.

He was physically fine. Jim Caldwell took him out to keep him healthy. This is in stark contrast to the Minnesota situation, where Brett Favre refused to come out, leading to a sideline confrontation with Brad Childress. A disgusted Manning dutifully obeyed Jim Caldwell on the sidelines. Manning kept his helmet on. The longtime backup is Jim Sorgi, who is on injured reserve, which begs the question…how the hell does Jim Sorgi end up on IR? A football teammate from my coed league pointed out that maybe he injured himself in the locker room while (redacted). The 3rd stringer is Curtis Painter. on the second play Painter did complete a slant pass to set up 3rd and 1. Yet a run went laterally and was blown up in the backfield.

The crowd booed. The Jets punted, and from the 20 yard line, Painter came back on the field as Manning refused to take his helmet off. Caldwell had Painter pass. Painter went back, got hit as he was trying to throw, and fumbled. the ball went backwards, and the Jets recovered 20 yards in the other direction for a stunning touchdown. Manning had not fumbled all season, but in all fairness to Painter, the defender came in unblocked. The 2 point conversion succeeded, and the Jets led 18-15 with 90 seconds left in the third quarter. Despite no offensive touchdowns, one on defense and one on special teams has the Jets leading.

Jim Caldwell refused to give in to an angry crowd, as Painter came back in the game with the Colts on their own 16. On 2nd down a pass was dropped. Every single pass Pass Painter threw was magnified. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were also on the sidelines, as the Colts appeared to be playing backups. 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, another Jay Feely field goal had the Jets up 21-15.

Painter came on the field again and was booed again. Caldwell continued to have him throw. A 6 yard toss on 1st down, led to a 3rd and 4. Painter faced pressure, escaped, and scrambled but came up short. On 4th and 1 Caldwell punted. Sanchez led a time consuming drive on the ground. With 5 1/2 minutes left in regulation, the Jets faced 3rd and goal at the 1. Thomas Jones banged it in. Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for the 2 point conversion as the Jets led 29-15.

If the Colts had been 13-1 entering the game instead of 14-0, Caldwell’s decision to rest his starters would have been totally non-controversial, and the right thing to do. Yet some will accuse Caldwell of throwing away the season, forgetting that he was the coach through the first 14 games. The goal is not to be the best team ever. It is to be the best team this year. Caldwell has been stoic on the sidelines all year just as Tony Dungy was, and he made his decisions today without emotion.

Painter came in and threw a 23 yard completion, then rolled out, and fired another completion. Manning looked on the sidelines in disgust, and Painter’s third throw of the drive was intercepted. The Colts fell to 14-1, the 1972 Dolphins popped champagne corks, and the Jets improved to 8-7. The Colts 23 game regular season win streak has ended. Rex Ryan got his Christmas wish, and the Jets are in the playoffs if they win next week. Analysts will debate Caldwell’s decision for decades, but the goal is to win the Super Bowl and the Colts still have the inside track and home field advantage. 29-15 Jets

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins is the Sunday night game. These teams played a few weeks ago in one of the worst games in NFL history. Trailing 6-0 late in the game, the Cowboys won 7-6. They were heled along by a pair of missed field goals by Washington kicker Sean Suisham. After another critical miss that cost them against New Orleans, Suisham was cut. Dallas had kicking problems of their own, and they cut Nick Folk. Yet Dallas replaced him with Sean Suisham. When taking all this time to discuss kickers, it becomes apparent that this game was just as dull as the first one.

In the first quarter the Cowboys began a drive at the Washington 36. Tony Romo hit Roy Williams from 4 yards out to make it 7-0 Cowboys. In the second quarter a very quick 88 yard drive culminated in Marion Barber running it in from 3 yards out as the Cowboys led 14-0 at halftime. The second half was unwatchable. Late in the game Romo led a 13 play, 7 minute drive to the Washington 6. Sean Suisham kicked a field goal against his old team with nothing on the line to complete the scoring. Dallas is 10-5 and in the playoffs. Wade Phillips and Tony Romo were bounced from the hunt last year in Week 17 at Philadelphia. This year those teams face in the finale in the 1.2 billion dollar Jerry Jones Dallas Palace, winner take all for the division. Dallas even has a shot at a 1st round bye. Washington has George Allen and little else. 17-0 Cowboys

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears was the Monday night game. The Bears are done and Lovie Smith might be as well. The overblown feud between Brad Childress, who is bald and Catholic, and Brett Favre, could have been put to rest. A win would have Minnesota with a chance to win the # 1 seed and home field throughout. This was a fine football game.

The first half was dreadful. The Vikings did nothing on offense and Favre looked like he had shackles on. Running plays went nowhere as the Chicago defense throttled Minnesota running backs and the defensive line, injury wracked as it was, whipped the Minnesota offensive line in the trenches. 3 Robbie Gould field goals and a 7 yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Greg Olsen had the Bears up 16-0 at halftime. In the second half Childress took the shackles off and let Favre do what he does. Favre unleashed a flurry of passes. Cutler was up to the task as well, and a boring opening 30 minutes gave way to a thrilling finish.

In the third quarter Favre connected with Bernard Berrian for 38 yards. On the next play Favre went deep to Sidney Rice, and defensive pass interference had the ball on the one yard line. Adrian Peterson ran it in. The extra point was blocked, which would loom very large later on as the Vikings trailed 16-6. One disaster for the Vikings all night was their kickoff coverage, as Danny Manning returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Minnesota 34. Defensive pass interference on the Vikings evened things out and set the Bears up at the 2, where Cutler hit Clark for the touchdown and a 23-6 Bears lead.

A 10 play, 5 minute drive covered 73 yards, with a 6 yard toss from Favre to Vincent Shiancoe had the Vikings within 23-13. Cutler was then intercepted, setting Minnesota up at their own 47. On 3rd and 2 from the Chicago 22, Peterson was blown up in the backfield for a one yard loss. A Ryan Longwell field goal had the Vikings within 23-16.

In the fourth quarter, with 10 minutes remaining, Minnesota took over at their own 21. On 3rd and 10 Favre hit Chester Taylor for 20 yards. Favre hit Lewis for 27 yards, Sidney Rice for 12 more, and Percy Harvin for another 12 down to the one. Peterson took it in, and the game was tied 23-23 with 6 minutes to play.

Yet Manning burned the Vikings again, as another special teams breakdown led to a 59 yard return of the kickoff and the Bears starting at the Minnesota 21. Cutler hit Bennett for the touchdown 2 plays later as the Bears reclaimed the lead at 30-23 with 5 minutes left. The Vikings took over at their own 32.

Favre hit Peterson for 16 yards to midfield. On 3rd and 1 from the 41 Peterson picked up 3 yards out. Favre hit Harvin for 19 yards down to the 19 at the 2 minute warning. On 3rd and 9 Favre hit Rice for 11 yards to set up 1st and goal at the 7 with one minute left. Chicago tightened on defense, and it all came down to one final play. With 22 seconds left, the Vikings faced 4th and goal at the 6. This 14 play drive all came down to whether Favre could pull another miracle out of his 19 year hat. Yes, he did it again. A perfect fade pass to Sidney Rice followed by an even better catch had the game tied 30-30. Despite the blocked extra point earlier, Childress did not even consider going for the win, wisely kicking the extra point and going to overtime.

Chicago took over at their own 32, and on the first play of overtime, Cutler went deep to Aromashodu for a 33 yard gain to the Chicago 35. Lovie Smith then got conservative, and on 4th and 2 from the 27, Robbie Gould came in for the 45 yard winning kick. He had already made 3, but this one was no good. It barely missed, and the Vikings had life. They went nowhere, as the offensive line again allowed Favre to get buried for a 9 yard sack. The Bears punted on their next drive as well.

Minnesota took over at their own 17. Favre completed a swing pass to Peterson, who picked up 16 yards. Yet instead of going out of bounds, he fought for a little bit more and was brilliantly stripped of the ball. It was punched out just before his knee hit the ground. The Bears recovered the fumble at the Minnesota 39 as both Peterson and Gould prayed on separate sidelines not to be the goat. Lovie Smith took no chances, and went with what worked all game. On the first play from scrimmage, with Minnesota expecting short percentage plays, Cutler went deep again for all the marbles. A wide open Aromashodu caught the touchdown and the Bears had the win.

Chicago played with pride, and Cutler had 4 touchdown passes, with Favre throwing 3. The last touchdown pass for the Bears was the difference. Minnesota has lost 3 of 4, but this is no Favre fade. He was magnificent when allowed to be himself. Peterson played well but that last fumble killed them. Favre cannot play offensive line or defense. Minnesota at 11-4 lost any chance at the # 1 seed as New Orleans now has it locked up. They also lost control of their own destiny for the # 2 seed. However, if they win next week at home against an eliminated New York team, and Philadelphia loses at Dallas, both strong possibilities, Minnesota will still have the first round bye. At worst they will be the # 4 seed. Yet this team, while loaded with talent, needs to get healthy and get a week off. 36-30 Bears, OT


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