My birthday: 50 happy memories upon turning 50

January 9th, 2022

My Birthday: Grateful for 50 Happy Memories upon turning 50

NFL 2021 Week 18 Recap

January 9th, 2022

NFL 2021 Week 18 Recap

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos was the Saturday afternoon game. The 7-9 Broncos were done for the year.. The question would be if Vic Fangio would be fired on Black Monday or earlier. Drew Lock replaced Teddy Bridgewater, who still had not recovered from his concussion. While the Broncos had nothing to play for, the 11-5 Chiefs had everything to play for. Last week they lost at Cincinnati, ending their eight game win streak and knocking them from the number one seed. The Chiefs had already locked up the AFC West. With a win and a Tennessee loss on Sunday, the Chiefs would regain the top seed with home field throughout the playoffs and a first round bye. 

The Chiefs brought the offense and the Broncos brought the defense. The Chiefs began at their own 9 yard line. On 3rd and 7 from their own 12, Patrick Mahomes ran for 11. Mahomes then found Mecole Hardman for 21 yards and Byron Pringle for 11. On 3rd and 1 from the Denver 33, Damien Williams gained 3. On 3rd and 1 from the Denver 21, Williams again gained 3. Mahomes ran for 11 more. On 3rd and goal at the 3, Mahomes hit Travis Kelce for the touchdown. The staggering 17 play, 91 yard, 8 minute drive had the Chiefs up 7-0. 

The Broncos took over at their own 33 and quickly went 3 and out. Yet a roughing the kicker penalty on the punt gave the Broncos new life and kept the drive going. On 3rd and 3 from the Chiefs 43, Williams gained 9. On 3rd and 4 from the Kansas City 28, Lock hit Tony Patrick for 6. Vic Fangio then went to the bag of tricks. Williams took the direct snap and lateraled to Cortland Sutton, who hit Noah Fant for 16 yards. Lock then ran for a 5 yard touchdown to cap the 12 play, 67 yard, 5 1/2 minute drive for a 7-7 game. The Broncos got it back at their own 20 in the second quarter. Melvin Gordon ripped off big gains of 29 and 6. Williams ran for 5 and 3. Lock hit Patrick for 11. On 3rd and 7 from the Chiefs 23, Lock scrambled all the way for the touchdown as the Broncos had the surprising 14-7 lead. 

The Chiefs moved from their own 25 to a 1st and goal at the 6. Then offensive holding killed the drive. Harrison Butker hit the 34 yard field goal as the Chiefs trailed 14-10at the half. After a third quarter touchback, Derrick Gore ran for 6 and Mahomes hit Kelce for 10. Gore added 5 more and Mahoems scrambled for a 25 yard gain. Gore gained 5 more and Mahomes hit Hardman for 7. On 3rd and 7 from the Denver 14, Mahomes hit Jerick McKinnon for the touchdown. The second lead change of the game had the Chiefs back on top 17-14.  

The Broncos soon faced 3rd and 13 from their own 22. Lock went deep to Patrick for 31. Gordon then broke free for a 47 yard touchdown. Just like that, the third lead change had the Broncos back on top 21-17. A field position game had the Chiefs had the taking over at their own 43. Offensive holding had the Chiefs facing 3rd and 20 at their own 33. A short pass from Mahomes to Pringle went for a 19 yard gain. Andy Reid gambled on 4th and 1 from the Denver 48. Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for 2 yards. The fourth quarter began with the Chiefs facing 2nd and 6 at the Denver 32. Mahoems threw incomplete twice. Butker nailed the 51 yard field goal to get the Chiefs within 21-20. 

The Broncos took over at their own 25 and moved 62 yards in 10 plays and 7 minutes. A touchdown would not put the game out of reach but it would put the Broncos in a very strong position. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos faced 2nd and 2 at the Kansas City 9 yard line. The home crowd was smelling upset. Moment later they were left shellshocked. Gordon got the carry and got blasted in the backfield. He fumbled the football. Bolton recovered for the Chiefs, broke through a tackle attempt by Lock, and rumbled 86 yards for a defensive touchdown. Walrus Andy Reid went for the 2 point conversion and Mahomes got in. Just like that, the fourth lead change had the Chiefs back in front 28-21. 

After a touchback, Lock connected with Patrick for a 29 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 from the Chiefs 42, Lock went deep to Jerry Jeudy for 28 more. Yet on 1st and 10 from the Chiefs 14 a run gained one yard and Lock threw incomplete twice. With 4 1/2 minutes left, Vic Fangio made a very controversial decision. With nothing to lose, Fangio decided to kick a field goal rather than go for it. Brandon McManus hit the 31 yard field goal to get the Broncos within 4 points, but the crowd booed the decision. Fangio decided to trust his defense to get the ball back. 

Whoever expected the Chiefs to run the ball do not know pass-happy Walrus Andy Reid. Mahomes went to Hardman for a 44 yard gain. A pass from Mahomes to McKinnon went for 8 yards and another first down as Fangio took his last timeout on defense with 3 1/2 minutes left. With 2:03 left after a false start, the Chiefs faced 3rd and 8 from the Denver 17. One more stop would hold the Chiefs to a field goal and give the Broncos a chance to tie or even win the game. Since the 2 minute warning had not happened yet, a run or pass would make little difference from a clock standpoint. Mahomes found Kelce for a 12 yard gain to put the dagger in. Mahomes took 3 knees and Fangio’s conservative decision backfired. Fangio was fired on Sunday. The 12-5 Chiefs locked up the two seed. The Chiefs enter the playoffs winners of 9 of their last 10 games, making Andy Reid a most pleased walrus indeed. They host Pittsburgh in the Wildcard round. However, Tennessee would win on Sunday to deny the Chiefs the top seed, making Andy Reid a most concerned, furrow-browed walrus indeed. 28-24 Chiefs

 

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles is the Saturday night game. The 11-5 Cowboys came in having already clinched the NFC East. The 9-7 Eagles had locked up the wildcard. With nothing to play for, Kevin Siriani benched his starters. Gardner Minshew started in place of Jalen Hurts. Eagles center Jason Kelce wanted to keep his games played streak of122 games alive, so he played the very first offensive snap and then sat down for the night. The Cowboys kept their starters in for an outside chance at moving up from the four seed to the two seed. It was a questionable decision by Mike McCarthy. 

The Eagles began facing 3rd and 9 from their own 26. Minshew went deep to Devonta Smith for 25 and Jalen Reagor for 12 more. On 3rd and 3 from the Dallas 30, Kenneth Gainwell gained 9, 12 and 4. On 3rd and goal from the 3, Minshew hit Jackson for the touchdown to cap the 11 play, 75 yard, 5 1/2 minute drive and make it 7-0 Eagles. The Cowboys soon faced 3rd and 5 at their own 30. Dak Prescott hit Cedrick Wilson for 16 and CeeDee Lamb for 14. Mike McCarthy decided to go for it on 4th and 4 from the Philadelphia 34. Prescott hit Amari Cooper for 14. Prescott then went to Wilson for a 14 yard touchdown to finish the 10 play, 75 yard drive and make it 7-7. 

The Cowboys got it back at their own 44 and Prescott went deep to Cooper for 27. Yet offensive holding killed the drive. Greg Zuerlein hit a 48 yard field goal to make it 10-7 Cowboys. The Eagles moved from their own 36 and moved to a 2nd and 9 at the Dallas 13. Yet a sack of Minshew killed that drive. Jake Elliott hit from 38 for a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. The Cowboys took over at their own 26. Prescott went deep to Lamb for 31. On 3rd and 5 from the Philadelphia 24, Prescott went deep to Wilson for the touchdown and the 17-10 Cowboys lead. The Eagles soon faced 3rd and 5 from their own 30. Minshew hit Quez Watkins for 22. Huntley gained 18. On 3rd and 5 from the Dallas 25, Gainwell gained 18 and then ran around the end for the 7 yard touchdown. The 10 play, 75 yard drive tied the game for the third time 17-17 with 3:40 left in the first half. 

After a touchback, Ezekiel Elliott gained 26. Prescott went deep to Cooper for 26 more. Prescott hit Dalton Schultz for the 2 yard touchdown for a 23-17 Cowboys lead with 1:48 left in the half. Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein missed his 6th extra point of the year. The Eagles had moved the ball well in the first half but their last possession went wrong. Minshew was buried on 3rd and 16 to have the Eagles punting on 4th and 29. A shanked punt that may have been partially blocked netted only 22 yards and gave the Cowboys a short field. Prescott was 16 of 21 for 240 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the first half alone. The Cowboys scored on all 5 possessions of the first half. 

In the third quarter the Eagles moved to a 1st and 10 at the Dallas 22. A pass to the end zone was dropped by Arcega-Whiteside. It went right through his hands on body. On the next play Arcega-Whiteside was called for offensive pass interference. Elliott did hit a 40 yard field goal to get the Eagles within 30-20 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter but it was a missed opportunity. On 3rd and 7 from their own 32, Prescott fired over the middle to Wilson, who split the seam for a 37 yard gain. On 3rd and 1 from the Philly 23, Elliott banged up the gut for 3. On 3rd and 7 from the Philly 17, Prescott hit Corey Clement for only 6 as the fourth quarter ended. The fourth quarter began with Mike McCarthy deciding to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Philly 11. Clement made it up the gut for 3 yards. Prescott then found a wide open Clement in the flat for an easy 8 yard touchdown. It was the first time in Prescott’s career that he has thrown 5 touchdown passes in a game. It also was his 37th touchdown pass of the season, a franchise record. The 14 play, 84 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive had the Cowboys comfortably ahead 37-20. 

Prescott was done for the night as Cooper Rush played most of the fourth quarter. From just past midfield, Clement busted up the middle for a 37 yard gain. On 3rd and 2 from the Philly 4, Ito Smith rammed it straight up the middle into the end zone. A once close game was now a blowout with the Cowboys up 44-20. Minshew then had a pass bounce off of Arcega-Whiteside’s fingertips and get intercepted by Leyton Vander Esch. The Cowboys took over at the Philly 25. JaQuan Hardy took it up the middle for a 22 yard touchdown. For the 2nd time in 3 weeks, the Cowboys topped 50 points as they had the 51-20 lead. The Eagles did get a garbage touchdown just past the 2 minute warning. The Cowboys starters are much better than the Eagles backups. In the Wildcard games, the Cowboys will host San Francisco and the Eagles are at Tampa Bay. 51-26 Cowboys

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions — The 13-3 Packers clinched the NFC North and home field throughout the playoffs. Matt LaFleur was supposed to give his starters the week off and teach Aaron Rodgers how to hold a clipboard. Yet with nothing to play for, it was stunning to see Rodgers and the starters take the field. The Lions with a loss combined with a Jacksonville win would give the Lions the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Packers began at their own 26. On the first play from scrimmage, Rodgers hit Allan Lazard for 28 yards.  On 3rd and 4 from the Detroit 40, Rodgers hit Devonta Adams for 5. On 3rd and 10 from the Detroit 35, Rodgers hit Adams for 11. On 3rd and 3 from the Detroit 17, Rodgers hit Lazard for 8. On 3rd and goal at the one, Rodgers hit Lazard for the touchdown. The 13 play, 74 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive made it 7-0 Packers. 

With nothing to lose, Dan Campbell called a fake punt with the Lions facing 4th and 13 from their own 35. Punter Fox threw a perfect pass that went right through the receiver’s hands incomplete. Rodgers came back in the game and on 3rd and 9 was sacked to push the Packers out of field goal range. The Lions took over at their on 7. Jared Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for 17. Dan Campbell then went big into the bag of tricks. A pair of laterals and reverses led to Kennedy throwing deep to a wide open Raymond for a 75 yard touchdown and a 7-7 game. After a touchback, Rodgers was still in the game. The Packers moved to a 2nd and 4 at the Detroit 43 early in the second quarter. Rodgers was tackled for no gain and then threw incomplete. Matt LaFleur went for it on 4th and 4 and a completion gained only one yard. 

Goff hit St. Brown for 9 and 16, Swift for 6, and St. Brown for 21. On 3rd and goal at the one, Reynolds lost a yard. With literally nothing to lose, Dan Campbell went for it. On 4th and goal at the 2, Goff hit St. Brown for the touchdown. The 10 play, 57 yard, 6 minute drive made it 14-7 Lions. After a touchback, Dillon gained 8 and 5. Rodgers hit Adams for 16 and 9. Rodgers went to Lazard for a 29 yard touchdown. Mason Crosby missed the extra point as the Packers trailed 14-13 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half. After a touchback, the Lions moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Green Bay 16 with 9 seconds left. Goff threw incomplete, leaving 5 seconds. This time Dan Campbell took no chances. Riley Patterson hit the 34 yard field goal to make it 17-13 Lions. Matt LaFleur benched his starters at halftime. Jordan Love played the second half in place of Rodgers.

On the third play of the third quarter on 3rd and 11 from their own 30, Love hit Winfree for 2 but Winfree fumbled and the Lions recovered at the Green Bay 36. One play and 9 seconds later, the Lions led 24-13 as Goff hit Brock Wright for the touchdown. After a touchback, the Packers moved 58 yards in 11 plays and 5 minutes. On 2nd and 7 from the Detroit 17, Love threw incomplete twice. Crosby hit from 36 to get the Packers within 24-16. A shanked 30 yard punt gave the Packers the ball back at their own 43. Taylor ran for 12 and 9. Love hit Winfree for 12. On 3rd and 2 from the Detroit 16, Love threw incomplete. Matt LaFleur went for it. On 4th and 2, Love hit Winfree for just enough. On 3rd and 2 from the Detroit 6, Love hit Taylor for 3. The fourth quarter began with Patrick Taylor running for a one yard touchdown. Matt LaFleur went for 2 to tie the game and Love threw incomplete as the Packers trailed 24-22. 

After a touchback, the Lions moved 57 yards in 14 plays and 7 1/2 minutes. On 2nd and 8 from the Green Bay 18, Goff threw incomplete twice. Patterson hit from 36 to make it 27-22 Lions with 6 1/2 minutes left in regulation. After a touchback, the Packers struck quickly. On 3rd and 1 from their own 34, Love hit St. Brown for 4. On the next play Love went to Josiah Deguara for a 62 yard touchdown. Matt LaFleur went for 2 and Love got in to make it 30-27 Packers with 5 minutes left. After a touchback, Raymond gained 13. Goff then hit St. Brown for 28. On 3rd and 5 from the Green Bay 29, Goff hit Wright for 15. D’Andre Swift ran for a 14 yard touchdown. With 1:54 to play the Lions led 34-30. Two plays after a touchback Love was intercepted by Moore, who returned it 21 yards to the Green Bay 15 with 1:13 left. Yet the Packers had all 3 timeouts. Offensive holding killed the drive. Patterson hit the 27 yard field goal to put the Lions up by 7, but the Packers still had 41 seconds and one timeout from their own 22. From their own 40 with 27 seconds left, Love was intercepted. The Lions will have the 2nd pick in the Draft. The Packers have next week off to get healthy. The Lions starters beat the Packers backups, but they were winning over the Packers starters too. For the Lions, it was a nice way to end the season and have something to build on. 37-30 Lions

 

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars — The 9-6 Colts with a win would guarantee themselves a playoff spot. A loss would require them to get plenty of help to still get in. The Jaguars with a loss would guarantee themselves the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Jaguars began the game facing 3rd and 13 from their own 22. Trevor Lawrence then hit Jones for a 17 yard gain. On 3rd and 10 from their own 39 after a false start, Lawrence hit Jones for 12 and again for 16. On 3rd and 1 from the Indianapolis 9, Lawrence hit Jacob Hollister for 7. Lawrence then went to Laquon Treadwell for the 2 yard touchdown. The 12 play, 75 yard, 8 minute drive gave the Jaguars the surprising 7-0 lead. 

The Colts moved from their own 39 to a 3rd and 2 at the Jacksonville 42. Carson Wentz threw incomplete and Frank Reich immediately decided to go for it. On 4th and 2, Jonathan Taylor gained only one yard.  The Colts got it back at their own 20 and moved to a 2nd and 1 at the Jacksonville 11. Taylor then lost 2 yards. On 3rd and 3, Wentz was crushed in the pocket for a 10 yard loss. Mike Badgley hit the 41 yard field goal, but after 12 plays, 57 yards and 8 minutes, the Colts trailed 7-3 in the second quarter. After a touchback, the Jaguars moved to a 3rd and 2 at the Indianapolis 4 yard line. Lawrence threw incomplete and Darrell Bevell decided to play it safe and take the points. Matt Wright hit the 22 yard field goal to cap the 11 play, 71 yard, 6 minute drive and put the Jaguars up 10-3 with 3:10 left in the half. The Jaguars got it back at their own 27 with 1:35 left in the half and moved to a 1st and goal at the 2 with 10 seconds left. Lawrence threw incomplete twice. Darrell Bevell decided not to gamble. Wright kicked the 20 yard field goal to end the half with the Jaguars winning in shocking fashion 13-3. 

The Colts began the third quarter at their own 20. From their own 38, Wentz was sacked and fumbled. The Jaguars recovered at the Indianapolis 23. On 3rd and 8, Lawrence threw incomplete. Wright his his third field goal from 39 to make it 16-3 Jaguars. The Colts took over midway through the third quarter at their own 29. Wentz went deep and had a pass deflected and intercepted by Wilson. The Jaguars had a short field at the Indy 45. Armstead got around the end for 28. on 3rd and goal at the 3, Lawrence hit Marvin Jones for the touchdown as the Jaguars were winning a shocker 23-3 after three quarters. A strong kickoff return had the Colts taking over at their own 45. They moved to a 4th and goal at the one with 13 minutes left in regulation. Frank Reich went for it. Jonathan Taylor got the carry and ran into a Jacksonville brick wall for no gain. The Colts got it back at their own 43. On 4th and 12 Reich went for it again and Wentz threw incomplete with 10 minutes left. Wright hit his fourth field goal to make it 26-3 Jaguars midway through the fourth quarter. The Colts got one garbage touchdown with 4 1/2 minutes left but the onside kick failed. On 4th and 2 from the Indy 41 with 2:06 left, Darrell Bevell went for it and Lawrence gained 3 to end it. The Jaguars even with the win still get the top pick in the Draft because Detroit also won. In an absolute shocker, the Colts went from 9-6 and almost in to 9-8 and out of the playoffs. If ever a game deserved ESPN uber-nnouncer Chris Berman’s maxim, this one was it. “THAT’s why they PLAY the GAMES!” 26-11 Jaguars

Washington I-95 Pileup at New York Giants — Both teams are done for the year. The No-Names began at their own 19 and moved 76 yards in 11 plays and 6 minutes. On 2nd and 3 from the Giants 4 yard line, a run lost a yard. Then Taylor Heinicke on 3rd and 4 threw incomplete. Joey Slye hit the 23 yard field goal to make it 3-0 No-Names. The Giants from their own 20 moved 45 yards in 10 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. Joe Judge went for it on 4th and 1 at the Washington 32. Bachman went laterally and got blown up for a 3 yard loss. On the last play of the half Slye hit from 43 to make it 6-0 No-Names. Late in the third quarter the Giants took over at their 14. From their 26, Jake Fromm was intercepted by Bobby McCain, who returned it for a 30 yard defensive touchdown. The 2 point try failed but the No-Names led 12-0. The Giants took over at their own 31 and moved 69 yards in 14 plays and 7 1/2 minutes. After converting twice on 4th down, on 3rd and 7 from the Washington 22, Fromm hit Darius Slayton for the touchdown. With 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation the Giants were within 12-7. The No-Names took over at their own 28. Antonio Gibson ran for 11, 9, 17 and 2. On 3rd and 3 from the Giants 23, Williams gained 5. Gibson ran for an 18 yard touchdown to make it 19-7 No-Names with 6 1/2 minutes left. On the next play from scrimmage after a touchback, Fromm was sacked and fumbled. The No-Names recovered at the Giants 12. Slye kicked one more field to complete the scoring. Fromm threw a Hail Mary interception on the final play for good measure. Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman retired on Monday after 35 years in football. Joe Judge survived Black Monday but not Black Tuesday, as he was fired. 22-7 I-95 Pileup

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings — Both teams are done for the year and both coaches Matt Nagy and Mike Zimmer were expected to be fired on Black Monday. Justin Fields was still injured so Red rifle Andy Dalton started for the Bears. The Bears moved from their own 37 to a 3rd and 6 at the Minnesota 24. Dalton threw incomplete. Cairo Santos hit the 43 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Bears. The Bears got it back at their own 47 and moved to a 4th and 5 at the Minnesota 35. Matt Nagy went for it and Dalton was sacked for a 15 yard loss. The Bears got it back at their own 12 and moved 70 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. On 4th and 1 from the Minnesota 13, Nagy gambled again and Dalton was sacked again for a 5 yard loss. The bears got it back at their own 36 and moved to a 3rd and 7 at the Minnesota 28. Dalton threw incomplete. This time Nagy did not gamble. Santos hit the 46 yard field goal to make it 6-0 Bears with 5 minutes left in the half. The bears got it back at their own 33 with 3:10 left in the half. David Montgomery gained 9. From midfield, Dalton hit Byrd for 14 and 5 and Goodwin for 8. On 3rd and 10 from the Minnesota 23, Dalton went to Williams for the touchdown. Nagy went for the 2 point conversion and a shovel pass from Dalton saw Robinson bang it in to make it 14-0 Bears. 

Only 30 seconds remained in the half, in which the Vikings had done nothing. From the Minnesota 24, Cousins went to Justin Jefferson for 25 and deep to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for 40. On 1st and 10 from the Chicago 11, offensive holding killed any chance of a touchdown. Yet Greg Joseph hit the 39 yard field goal to finally get the Vikings on the board. The Vikings began the third quarter facing 3rd and 1 at their own 34. Dalvin Cook got around the end for a 25 yard gain. On 3rd and 13 from the Chicago 44, Cousins went bombs away to Smith-Marsette for the touchdown as the Vikings were right back in it down 14-10. The Bears after a touchback moved to a 3rd and goal at the 8. Dalton scrambled around the right end and dove into the end zone. Yet on further review his knee was down and the call was reversed to 4th and goal at the one. For a 3rd time Nagy went for it and for a 3rd time Dalton was sacked for a 14 yard loss. The Bears got it back at their own 42 and moved to a 3rd and 6 at the Minnesota 24. Dalton threw incomplete. Santos hit his third field goal from 42 as the Bears led 17-10 after three quarters. 

The Vikings soon faced 3rd and 7 from their own 28. Cousins went deep to Smith-Marsette for 19. The Vikings began the fourth quarter at their own 47. On 3rd and 2 from the Chicago 45, Cousins went to Justin Jefferson for the touchdown and a 17-17 tie. The Vikings got it back at their own 13 with 11 minutes left in regulation. On 3rd and 4 from their 19, Cousins hit Jefferson for 26. Cook ran for 29. Cousins hit KJ Osborn for the 21 yard touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings had their first lead of the game up 24-17. After a touchback, the Bears moved to a 4th and 1 just shy of midfield with 5minutes left. Matt Nagy went for it. Dalton found Patrick Peterson, who plays defense for the Vikings. Defense returned the interception 66 yards for the clinching touchdown as the Vikings fell behind 14-0 and outscored the Bears 31-3 the rest of the way. The Vikings scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to end the season with a win. Dalton threw one more interception for good measure and the Bears turned it over on downs one more time as well. Both coaches were fired on Black Monday. So were both general managers Ryan Pace and Rick Spielman in a clean sweep for both organizations. 31-17 Vikings

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans — The 11-5 Titans already clinched the AFC South. The Titans with a win would clinch home field throughout the playoffs and a first round bye. A loss would force them to host a game on Wildcard weekend. A scoreless first quarter saw Randy Bullock miss a 42 yard field goal for the Titans. The Titans began the second quarter at their own 6 yard line. Ryan Tannehill hit Julio Jones for 9 and 19. On 3rd and 7 from their own 37Tannehill hit Anthony Firkser for 17. Tannehill went to Westbrook-Ikhine for 9 Hilliard ran for 16. Tannehill hit Foreman for 15 down to the one. A touchdown was nullified but on 3rd and goal at the 5, Tannehill hit Firkser for the touchdown that did count. The 11 play, 94 yard, 6 1/2 drive made it 7-0 Titans. The Titans got it back at their own 15. Tannehill hit AJ Brown for 14. Foreman ran for 13. Tannehill went deep to Brown for 24 and again to Brown for a 14 yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Titans. The Titans got it back at their own 36 with 44 seconds left in the half. Tannehill hit Jones for 14. On 3rd and 10 just past midfield, Tannehill was intercepted but defensive pass interference instead meant a 45 yard gain and 1st and goal at the 4 with 11 seconds left. Tannehill hit Westbrook-Ikhine for the touchdown to make it 21-0 Titans at the intermission. The second half was completely different. 

The Texans began the third quarter at their own 28. Davis Mills hit Johnson for 7 and Danny Amendola for 9. On 3rd and 1 just past midfield, Rex Burkhead got around the end for 5. On 2nd and 15 from the Tennessee 48, Mills hit Burkhead deep for 20 and Moore deep for a 28 yard touchdown to get the Texans within 21-7. The Texans got it back at their own 35. They moved all the way to a 1st and 10 at the Tennessee 15. Mills was sacked for a 9 yard loss to kill the drive.Kaimi Fairbairn hit a 31 yard field goal to get the Texans within 21-10. The Texans got it back at their own 18. Mills went deep to Amendola for 37. On the first play of the fourth quarter Mills went deep to Collins for 30. On 3rd and 2 from the Tennessee 7, Burkhead gained 3. Mills hit Amendola for a 7 yard touchdown. David Culley went for 2 and Mills hit Amendola again for the conversion. With 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation the Texans were right back in it down 21-18.

The Titans soon faced 3rd and 5 from their own 30. Tannehill went deep to Westbrook-Ikhine for 36. On 3rd and 6 from the Houston 30, Tannehill went deep to Firkser for 24. Tannehill hit Jones for a 3 yard touchdown to give the Titans breathing room up 28-18 midway through the fourth quarter.  After a touchback, Mills hit Moore for a pair of 5 yard gains sandwiched around a 15 yard run by Johnson. Mills hit Amendola for 21, 5, and finally for the 26 yard touchdown. With 4 minutes left in the game, the Texans were right back in it down a field goal. They needed a defensive stop. The Titans took over at their own 28. Tannehill hit Brown for 16. Hilliard gained 10. On 3rd and 2 from the Houston 48, Hilliard got just enough as the Texans took their final timeout on defense with 3 minutes left. At the 2 minute warning with the Titans facing 2nd and 10 at the Houston 46, Hilliard gained 11 to lock up the win. The Titans clinched home field throughout the playoffs and the first round bye. David Culley temporarily survived Black Monday, but on Thursday he was fired after only one season at the helm. 28-25 Titans 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens — The 8-7 Steelers and 8-8 Ravens were in the same position. The winner would need a bunch of help to make the playoffs. The loser was automatically out. A few weeks ago the Steelers won a brutal game 20-19. The Ravens came in having lost 5 straight and would again be without Lamar Jackson due to his injured ankle. Tyler Huntley got the start. So did Ben Roethlisberger, in what was widely expected to be his final regular season game. The cliches stayed true to form. This was an AFC North street fight and a bare-fisted slobberknocker between 2 teams that are mirror images of each other. Add in pouring rain at the Big Crabcake and you had a brutal slog. An early fumble by Tyler Huntley set up the Steelers at the Baltimore 39. The Steelers moved to a 4th and 1 at the Baltimore 5. Mike Tomlin went for it but a false start killed the try. Chris Boswell hit the 28 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Steelers. Huntley was then intercepted but Roethlisberger was intercepted as well. The Ravens began the second quarter with John Harbaugh gambling on a fake punt on 4th and 2 from the Pittsburgh 45. Punter Koch threw a good ball but Wallace dropped it incomplete. A shanked 33 yard punt gave the Ravens the ball at the Pittsburgh 40 with 1:46 left in the half. With 28 seconds left on 1st and goal at the 3, Huntley was sacked. Huntley then threw incomplete twice. Justin Tucker hit from 24 for a 3-3 halftime slugfest.

The Ravens began the third quarter facing 3rd and 6 at their own 36. Huntley scrambled for 8. Latavius Murray ran for 10 and then broke off a 46 yard touchdown run to make it 10-3 Ravens. The Steelers moved from their own 28 to a 3rd and 1 at the Baltimore 21. Bennie Snell got the carry and got blasted for a one yard loss. Mike Tomlin was not in a gambling mood on 4th and 2. Boswell hit from 40 to get the Steelers within 10-6 midway through the third quarter. The Ravens moved from their 25 to 3rd and 1 at the Baltimore 17. Mark Andrews got stopped. John Harbaugh gambled on 4th and 1and huntley gained 2. The Ravens began the fourth quarter facing 2nd and 6 from the Pittsburgh 11. A touchdown would really tighten the screws and even a field goal would give the Ravens some momentum. Huntley went to the end zone into triple coverage and was intercepted for a touchback. It was a brutal missed opportunity. 

The Ravens got it back at their own 14. Murray gained 2, 6, and on 3rd and 2 at their own 22, only one more. John Harbaugh was not going to gamble on 4th and 1 from his own 23. Yet a 23 yard punt return by McCloud had the Steelers taking over at midfield midway through the fourth quarter. Big Ben hit Chase Claypool for 8 and Claypool ran for 2 more. After a false start the Steelers faced 3rd and 9 at the Baltimore 39. Roethlisberger went deep to McCloud for 20. On 3rd and 6 from the Baltimore 15, Roethlisberger hit Pat Freiermuth for 11. Roethlisberger hit Claypool for a 6 yard touchdown. With 3 minutes left in regulation, the Steelers led 13-10. The Ravens took over at their 32. Huntley went to Andrews for 11 and ran for 21 himself. With 90 seconds left on 3rd and 2 from the Pittsburgh 28, Huntley ran for no gain as the Steelers took their 2nd timeout on defense. The greatest kicker in the game came in for a 46 yard field goal to tie the game. Tucker was good and this was a 13-13 game. The Steelers after a touchback had 1:12 to work with and one timeout. On 3rd and 4 from their own 41, Roethlisberger hit Freiermuth for only 3. On 4th and 1 from their own 44 with 43 seconds left and hard rain coming down, Mike Tomlin again was not in a gambling mood. The Ravens got it back at their own 18 with 37 seconds left. Huntley hit Andrews for 12 but then threw 3 straight incompletions. Regulation would not settle this blood feud. it was time for overtime. 

The Ravens won the coin toss and began overtime at their own 24. Murray gained 11 and 4. On 3rd and 2 from their own 43, Murray gained 3. The Ravens were on the move facing 1st and 10 at their own 46. Yet Murray gained one yard and Huntley threw incomplete twice. The Steelers took over at their own 17. Roethlisberger hit Najee Harris for 11. On 3rd and 7 from their own 31, Roethlisberger hit Freiermuth for 14. On 3rd and 9 from their own 46, Roethlisberger hit Johnson for 11. On 3rd and 8 from the Baltimore 41, Roethlisberegr threw incomplete. After torching the Baltimore defense on 3rd down the entire second half and overtime, the defense finally got a stop. With 2 1/2 minutes left in overtime, Mike Tomlin did not want to try a 59 yard field goal in pouring rain. A punt was not an option because a tie game would eliminate both teams. The only call was to go for it. On 4th and 8, Roethlisberger hit McCloud for 10. That took the heart out of the Baltimore defense. Harris ran for 15. Big Ben took a knee to center the ball. At the 2 minute warning, Boswell came in for a 36 yard try to win it. Boswell was good. The Ravens lost their 6th straight to finish with a losing record and miss the playoffs. The Steelers needed to win and get a ton of help, and by the skin of their teeth they got the last of that help Sunday night. Left for dead a couple weeks ago, the 9-7-1 Steelers were in the playoffs as a Wildcard. Roethlisberger’s career will be extended at least one more week as the Steelers will be at Kansas City. 16-13 Steelers, OT

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns – The Bengals were hoping to have a shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but Kansas City’s win on Saturday put the top seed out of reach. The Bengals had already clinched the AFC North but went from having everything to play for to having nothing to play for. Zac Taylor rested his starters including Joe Burrow. Baker Mayfield was also out with an injured shoulder. Brandon Allen and Case Keenum started. Late in the first quarter the Bengals rook over at their own 21. Case Keenum hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for 22. Nick Chubb ran for 6, 3, and 14. Keenum hit Jarvis Landry for a 26 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Browns after the first quarter. A short 32 yard punt gave the Browns the ball back at their own 42 to start the second quarter. Keenum hit Peoples-Jones for 10. Johnson gained 8. Schwartz added 3. Keenum went to Landry for 13 with defensive unnecessary roughness adding 12 more. Johnson gained 8 and then the 4 yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Browns. 

The Browns got it back at their own 16 and with 3 1/2 minutes left were at their own 34 in total control of the game. Then came a fumble that was returned by Trayvon Henderson 29 yards for a defensive touchdown to get the Bengals within 14-7. The Browns took over at their own 26 and moved 63 yards in 12 plays. With 16 seconds left in the half, the Browns had 1st and 10 at the Cincinnati 11. A pair of incompletions left 9 seconds. Even a field goal would make it a 2 score game. On 3rd and 10, Keenum went to the end zone and was intercepted. In the third quarter the Bengals took over at their own 30 and moved to a 3rd and 5 at the Cleveland 39. Allen threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant a 16 yard gain. The Bengals moved to a 1st and 10 at the Cleveland 11. A delay of game penalty and a sack killed the drive. Elliott Fry hit a 36 yard field goal to get the Bengals within 14-10 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.  The Browns took over at their own 19 and moved 79 yards in 10 plays and 6 minutes. The fourth quarter began with the Browns facing 4th and goal at the 2. Kevin Stefanski went for it and Keenum threw incomplete.

Despite the goal line stand, the Bengals failed to move the ball and punted on 4th and 9 from their own 3. The Browns took over with a short field at the Cincinnati 46. Johnson carried the ball 9 straight times. He  gained 3, 6, and on 3rd and 1 from the Cincy 37, 3 followed by gains of 9, 2, 5, 7, 0 and one. On 3rd and 9 from the 10, Keenum hit Demetric Felton for the touchdown to cap the 10 play, 46 yard, 6 minute drive. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Browns had breathing room up 21-10.  The Bengals soon faced 3rd and 10 from their own 25. Allen hit Taylor for 15. On 3rd and 7 from their own 43, Allen hit Taylor for 26. On 3rd and 2 from the Cleveland 23, Evans gained 10. On 3rd and 10 from the Cleveland 13, Allen hit Evans for 9. With 2 1/2 minutes left, the Bengals took their last timeout before going for it. Allen hit Chris Evans for the touchdown. The 2 point try failed. More importantly, the onside kick also failed. With 1:16 left the Browns faced 3rd and 1 at the Cincy 42. A defensive stop would allow the Bengals to get the ball back with maybe 15 seconds left. It was not to be. Keennum gained 2 as the Browns ended the year on a won. The Bengals backups nearly went on the road and won against plenty of Cleveland starters. The Bengals are the 4 seed and will host the Raiders, who they beat a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, in the Wildcard round. The Bengals last won a playoff game 31 years ago. They beat the Houston Oilers before falling the following week to the Raiders. 21-16 Browns 

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams — The 9-7 49ers were guaranteed a Wildcard spot with a win. However, a loss and a New Orleans win would knock the 49ers out of the playoffs. The 49ers came in having beaten the Rams 5 straight times. The 12-4 Rams were in the playoffs but still needed one more win or an Arizona loss to clinch the NFC West. A loss and an Arizona win would have the Rams also being a Wildcard and playing their opening playoff game on the road rather than at home. A win would keep the Rams as the two seed, which would give them a 2nd home game if they win the Wildcard. The Rams began at their own 13 and moved 62 yards in 13 plays and taking 9 minutes off the clock. Yet on 3rd and 6 from San Francisco 15, Matthew Stafford was sacked. Matt Gay hit the 43 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Rams. The Rams got it back and soon faced 3rd and 4 at their own 45. Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for 7 as the first quarter ended. In the second quarter Stafford hit Kupp for 16 and Tyler Higbee for 9. On 3rd and 2 from the San Francisco 29, Stafford hit Van Jefferson for 7 with defensive unnecessary roughness adding 11 more. On 3rd and 8 from the Frisco 9, Stafford hit Kupp for 7. Sean McVay gambled on 4th and 1 from the 2. Stafford hit Higbee for the touchdown to make it 10-0 Rams. The 49ers punted on 4th and 28 from their own 7 and Poweel returned the punt 31 yards to the Frisco 19. On 3rd and 6, Stafford threw a 15 yard touchdown to Higbee for a 17-0 Rams lead. Garoppolo was then intercepted as the Rams were winning a laugher. Sean McVay was 45-0 when the Rams led at the half. New Orleans was winning their game big, meaning the 49ers were on their way to being eliminated.

The 49ers got the ball back at their own 15 with only 38 seconds left and 2 timeouts. Garoppolo hit Brandon Aiyuk for 19. Garoppolo then lateraled to Aiyuk, who lateraled it to Deebo Samuel for a 10 yard gain. Garoppolo hit Hasty for 8 and Aiyuk for 26. Garoppolo spiked the bay to stop the clock with 3 seconds left. Robbie Gould hit a 42 yard field goal to get the 49ers within 17-3. The 49ers began the third quarter facing 3rd and 3 from their own 32. Garoppolo hit Hasty for 13. Garoppolo then went deep to Aiyuk for 31. On 3rd and 2 from the Rams 16, Samuel ran for the touchdown to get the 49ers within 17-10. The 49ers got it back and faced 3rd and 1 from their own 35. Hasty gained 4. Samuel gained 8 and 5. Mitchell gained 6 and 3. On 3rd and 1 from the Rams 39, Garoppolo got the yard. Mitchell gained 9 and 5. Mike Shanahan then went to the bag of tricks. Garoppolo lateraled to Samuel, who threw the halfback option pass to Jauan Jennings for a 24 yard touchdown. The Rams soon faced 3rd and 16 from their own 19. Stafford went bombs away and was intercepted at the San Francisco 32. After three quarters, the game was tied 17-17. 

In the fourth quarter the 49ers moved from their own 23 to a 2nd and 9 at the Rams 17. After a false start, Garoppolo went to the end zone and was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey tried to run it out, a mistake. Instead of taking over at their own 20, the Rams took over at their own 8. Kupp took an end around 18 yards. On 3rd and 6 from their own 30, Stafford went deep to Kupp for 30. A defensive facemask on the next play added 15 more. On 3rd and goal at the 4, Stafford hit Kupp for the touchdown. The 92 yard drive took 5 minutes and had the Rams up 24-17 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game…and possibly the 49ers season. On 3rd and 9 from their own 26, Garoppolo was sacked at the 2 minute warning. Kyle Shanahan decided not to go for it on 4th and 18 from his own 17. The 49ers had all 3 timeouts so he decided to trust his defense. The Rams took over at their own 40. Sean McVay went ultra conservative. He rammed Michel into the line 3 straight times, forcing the 49ers to use all 3 timeouts. A first down would end it but Michel gained 2, one, and on 3rd and 7, only 2 more. McVay punted and Johnny Hekker pinned the 49ers at their own 12 yard line. They would have 90 seconds and 0 timeouts to go 88 yards.

Garoppolo went to Aiyuk for 21, Jennings for 5, and Samuel deep for 43 yards. With 26 seconds left, Garoppolo hit Jennings for the touchdown. Kyle Shanahan was not interested in risking the entire season on a 2 point conversion. The extra point was good. After a touchback, the Rams had 2 timeouts. Stafford hit Higbee for 12 and the Rams took their 2nd timeout with 21 seconds left. Yet on the next play Stafford was sacked as both teams let the clock click down to double zeroes. The 49ers won the overtime coin toss and moved after a touchback 69 yards in 12 plays and nearly 7 1/2 minutes. On 2nd and goal at the 7, Samuel got stopped for no gain. Then on 3rd and goal, Garoppolo hit Kittle for only one yard. Gould hit the 24 yard field goal to give the 49ers the lead, but the Rams would have one chance with the ball, 2:45 on the clock, and 2 timeouts plus the 2 minute warning. The Rams moved from their 18 t their 38 at the 2 minute warning. Stafford went deep and was intercepted. The 49ers were in the playoffs. Despite the loss, the Rams won the NFC West when Arizona also lost. However, the Rams did lose their grip on the two seed and dropped to the four seed. The 49ers have beaten the Rams 6 straight times. The Rams open the playoffs at home against Arizona, and each team won on the road to split the regular season series. The 49ers are at Dallas. 27-24 49ers, OT

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Panthers are done for the year. The 12-4 Buccaneers clinched the NFC South. They entered the day as the three seed and had a chance to move up or down by one seed. So Bruce Arians played his starters. The Panthers began facing 3rd and 7 from their own 28. Sam Darnold hit DJ Moore for 20. On 3rd and 4 from the Tampa 46, Vita Tea jumped into the neutral zone. Darnold went to Moore for 11. On 3rd and 6 from the Tampa 26, Darnold hit Robby Anderson for 7. Abdullah ran for 3 and 10. Darnold went to Chuba Hubbard for a 2 yard touchdown. The 14 play, 75 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive had the Panthers up 7-0. Panthers got it back and soon faced 4th and 1 at their own 34. With nothing to lose, Matt Rhule went for it. Moore got around the end for 13. On 3rd and 9 at the Tampa 42, a run only gained 3. The clock was running down to end the first quarter but Rhule took a timeout with one second left. A 57 yard field goal was high risk, So Rhule went for it. On 4th and 6, Darnold threw incomplete. The 10 play, 36 yard, 6 minute drive came up empty.

The 49ers began the second quarter at that same spot and soon faced 4th and 2 at the Carolina 42. Bruce Arians went for it and Tom Brady hit Mike Evans for 14. On 3rd and 3 from the Carolina 21, Brady threw incomplete. Ryan Succop hit from 39 as the Buccaneers were within 7-3. After a touchback the Panthers moved 73 yards in 12 plays and 6 minutes. On 3rd and 2 from the Tampa Bay 3, Darnold hit Tommy Tremble for only one yard. With 5 minutes left in the half Matt Rhule went for it on 4th and 1 from the 2. Darnold kept it and got stopped short. Again, the Panthers came up snake eyes. With 1:48 left in the half, the Buccaneers were pinned at their own 8 yard line. A pair of incompletions meant 3rd and 10 and 1:22 left. The Carolina defense had been great the entire first half, but when it mattered most they broke down. Brady hit Mike Evans for 37. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for 7 and 20 and then went to Brad Perriman for 24. With 15 seconds left in the half from the one, Brady hit LeVeon Bell for the touchdown. The Buccaneers took a 10-7 lead to the locker rooms after the 92 yard drive.

The Buccaneers began the the third quarter at their own 23. Brady went deep to Gronk for 42 and again for 19. On 3rd and 4 from the Carolina 9, Brady hit Johnson for 7. KeShawn Vaughn ran for a 2 yard touchdown to out the Buccaneers up 17-7. The Panthers moved from their own 31 to a 3rd and 6 at the Tampa 21. Darnold only gained 4. Lirim Hajrullahu hit the 35 yard field goal to get the Panthers within 17-10 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The Buccaneers took over at their own 38. Brady went to Evans for 10, Perriman for 4, Baughn for 7 and Perriman for 9. On 3rd and 1 from the Carolina 32, Vaughn gained 3. Brady hit Johnson for 7, Gronk for 14, Vaughn for 5, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Evans for the 3 yard touchdown. The 11 play, 62 yard, nearly 5 minute drive made it 24-10 Buccaneers. A strong kickoff return had the Panthers taking over at their own 44. Darnold hit Moore for 9, Abdullah for 5 and 15, and Moore for 6. On 3rd and 4 from the Tampa 19, Darnold threw incomplete. With 10 1/2 minutes left and needing 2 touchdowns, going for it on 4th and 4 was necessary. Darnold then hit Anderson for the touchdown. The Panthers were only down 24-17.

After a touchback, the Buccaneers turned out the lights. Brady hit gronkowski for 28, Perriman for 7, Miller for 9, and Evans for a 20 yard touchdown to make it 31-17 Buccaneers midway through the fourth quarter. The Panthers soon faced 3rd and 3 from their own 32. Darnold gained one and fumbled. The Buccaneers recovered and took over at the Carolina 27. Brady hit Gronk for 7 and with 6 1/2 minutes left was sent to the bench. Blaine Gabbert came in to finish the game. On 3rd and 5, Gabbert threw incomplete. Succop hit the 40 yard field goal to make it 34-17 Buccaneers. A pair of incompletions had the Panthers down to their last gasp on 4th and 7 from their own 28. Darnold hit Anderson for only 6. One play and 10 seconds later, Scotty Miller ran for a 33 yard touchdown to turn a close game into a blowout. Darnold added one more interception for good measure. After starting 3-0, the Panthers finished 2-12 as Matt Rhule awaited Black Monday. Because the Rams lost, the Buccaneers thanks to 24 fourth quarter points moved up to the 2 seed, meaning if they win their first home playoff game they will get a 2nd playoff game at home. The Buccaneers in their entire history have never had home field throughout the playoffs. However, they were the 2 seed in 2002 and 2020 when they won it all. They will host Philadelphia in the opening round. 41-17 Buccaneers

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals — The Seahawks are done for the year. The 11-5 Cardinals had already clinched a Wildcard. With a win and a Rams loss, the Cardinals would win the NFC West and have their Wildcard playoff game at home rather than on the road. On the second play from scrimmage after a touchback, the Seahawks fumbled and Zach Allen returned it 16 yards for a defensive touchdown. 12 seconds into the game, the Cardinals led 7-0. After a touchback, Rashaad Penny ran for 4, 20 and 6. On 3rd and 2 from the Arizona 43, Russell Wilson went to Tyler Lockett for the touchdown and the 7-7 game. 

The Cardinals then went on a mind-numbing drive. 19…yes, 19….plays. 66 yards. Nearly 11…yes, 11..minutes. From their own 11, the Cardinals soon faced 3rd and 14 from their own 7. Kyler Murray hit Zach Ertz for 13. Kliff Kingsbury made the insane decision of going for ti on 4th and 1 from his own 20. James Conner gained 2. Kingsbury gambled again on 4th and 4 from the Seattle 46. Seattle jumped into the neutral zone. Yet on 3rd and 1 from the Seattle 21, Conner lost 2 yards. Their longest drive of the year had them settling for a 41 yard Matt Prater field goal and a 10-7 Cardinals lead. 

The Seahawks soon faced 3rd and 8 from their own 27. Wilson hit Homer for 23. On 3rd and 8 from the Arizona 48, Wilson went deep to DK Metcalf for 31. On 3rd and 10 from the Arizona 17, Wilson went to Parkinson for 12 and Lockett for the 5 yard touchdownThe 10 play, 75 yard drive had the Seahawks up 14-10. The Seahawks got it back at their own 29 with 3:40 left in the half and moved 52 yards in 11 plays. Yet on 2nd and 6 from the Arizona 19, Wilson threw incomplete twice. Jason Myers hit the 38 yard field goal to make it 17-10 Seahawks at the half. 

The Cardinals began the third quarter with an offensive holding call that had them facing 1st and 20 from their own 13. Murray hit Wesley for 9, Conner for 8, and on 3rd and 3 form their own 30, Kirk deep for 35. Murray hit Ertz for 14 and Conner for a 20 yard touchdown and a 17-17 game. The seahawks soon faced 3rd and 7 from their own 28. Wilson was intercepted by Thompson, who returned it 33 yards down to the Seattle one. Connner got. in as the Cardinals reclaimed the look 24-17.

The Seahawks took over at their own 28. Wilson hit Metcalf for 9, Penny ran for 7 and 29. Metcalf went to Freddie Swain for a 25 yard touchdown to make it 24-24 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. After a touchback the Cardinals went backward as Murray was sacked twice for losses of 11 and 12. On the last play of the third quarter the Cardinals had to punt on 4th and 25 at their own 10. Punter Lee knew the punt was about Kobe blocked so he held off punting it and tried to run. He then got hit and fumbled as the Seahawks took over at the Arizona 10. On 3rd and goal at the 4, Wilson got in to make it 31-24 Seahawks with 13 minutes left in regulation. 

The Cardinals took over at their own 21 and mounted another long drive of 14 plays, 67 yards, and 7 minutes. Despite 1st and goal at the 8, a run lost 4 yards. Murray then threw a pair of incompletions. With 6 1/2 minutes left in regulation down by 7, Kliff Kingsbury decided to play it very safe on 4th and goal at the 12. Prater hit the 30 yard field goal but the Cardinals still trailed 31-27. The strategy backfired. After a touchback, Wilson hit Lockett for 11. Penny then ran for 3 and then broke free for a 62 yard touchdown run. The Seahawks led 38-27 with only 4 1/2 minutes left. 

After another touchback, the Cardinals moved 57 yards in 14 plays. They moved to a 1st and goal at the 8. A completion gained nothing and then Murray threw incomplete. On 3rd and goal at the 8, Murray threw incomplete and the Cardinals were called for offensive pass interference. Pete Carroll for some reason accepted the penalty yardage rather than decline the penalty and make it 4th down. Murray threw incomplete again. Needing 2 scores, Kliff Kingsbury went with the field goal. Prater hit the 36 yard field goal to get the Cardinals within 8, but the onside kick failed. Carroll wants to keep coaching in Seattle and wants Wilson to return as well. The Cardinals started 10-2 but went 1-4 down the stretch. The Cardinals could have won the NFC West since the Rams lost. Yet with the loss the 11-6 Cardinals settled for the Wildcard. They play their Wildcard game at…who else? The Rams, of course. These teams each won on the opposing team’s field. 38-30 Seahawks

 

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins — The Dolphins shocked the Patriots in New England in the season opener 17-16 when the Patriots literally fumbled the game away while in position for the winning field goal. The Patriots frequently have a better record than the Dolphins, yet somehow also frequently lose to them in Miami. On more than one occasion, the Dolphins have pulled out holiday miracles at home against New England. As for this season, the Dolphins are done. The 10-6 Patriots had clinched a playoff spot. They were tied for the AFC East lead with Buffalo but did not hold the tie-breaker. If the Patriots won their finale and Buffalo lost, the Patriots would win the division and have a home playoff game. The Patriots chance for home field throughout the playoffs was put out of reach when Kansas City won on Saturday. 

The Dolphins began the game at their own 23. Tua Tagovailoa hit Jalen waddle for 9 and 4. On 3rd and 1 from their own 45, Tagoviloa gained 2. Tagovailoa hit Mike Gesicki for 13. On 3rd and 3 from the New England 23, Tagovailoa hit myles Gaskin for 7 and Parker for 9. On 3rd and 1 from the New England 7, Tagovailoa hit Waddle for the touchdown to make it 7-0 Dolphins. The Patriots soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 34. Mac Jones found Xavier Howard, who plays defense for Miami. Howard returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 Dolphins. The Dolphins got it back at their own 11 and moved 77 yards in 15 plays and 7 minutes. On 3rd and 6 from the New England 12, Tagovailoa threw incomplete. Jason Sanders hit the 30 yard field goal to make it 17-0 Dolphins in the second quarter.  

The Patriots took over at their own 26, Jones went deep to Hunter Henry for a 35 yard gain. Jones then went to Harris for 7. Kendrick Bourne ran for 8. On 3rd and 1 from the Miami 15, Brandon Bolden ran for the touchdown to get the Patriots within 17-7. The Patriots began the third quarter facing 3rd and 1 at their own 34. Smith gained 5. On 3rd and 9 from their own 40, Jones threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant 7 yards and an automatic first down. Rhamondrae Stevenson 7, 12 and 9. Yet on 3rd and 4 from the Miami 17, Jones was sacked. Nick Folk hit the 43 yard field goal to culminate the 13 play, 50 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive and get the Patriots within 17-10.

After a touchback, Johnson ran for 27. Lindsay added gains of 7, 3 and 5. On 3rd and 7 from the New England 25, Tagovailoa went deep incomplete but defensive pass interference meant a 24 yard gain down to the one. Duke Johnson got the last yard to put the Dolphins up 24-10. The Patriots moved from their own 25 to a 1st and 10 at the Miami 22. Jones fumbled and the Dolphins recovered at their own 24. The Dolphins moved 45 yards in 10 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. On 4th and 1 from their own 33, Brian Flores played it safe and punted but an illegal formation penalty on the defense gave the Dolphins a first down. On 3rd and 7 from the New England 31, Tagovailoa threw incomplete. Sanders hit the 49 yard field goal to have the Dolphins comfortably leading 27-10 with 11 minutes left in regulation. 

After a touchback, Jones hit Henry for 6 and again for 32. On 3rd and 1 from the Miami 28, Bolden gained 4. Harris added 6 and 5. On 3rd and 15 from the Miami 18, Jones hit Bolden for the touchdown. With 6 1/2 minutes left, the Patriots were within 27-17. The Patriots got it back at their own 24 with 5 minutes left. Jones went deep to Meyers for 39.. Jones then hit Harris for 11 and Henry for 8. Defensive pass interference added 11 yards down to the one. Harris got the last yard. With 3 minutes left, the Patriots were right back in it down 27-24. 

Rather than try and run down the clock, Brian Flores got aggressive and after a touchback Tagovailoa hit Smythe for 15 yards and a key first down. With 1:56 left, the Dolphins faced 3rd and 8 at their own 42. One defensive stop would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time needing only a field goal to tie. Tagovailoa scrambled for 11 yards and another key first down. The Patriots had to use their timeouts on defense. On 3rd and 5 from the New England 42, a run went nowhere. Yet a punt pinned the Patriots at their own 2 yard line with only 14 seconds left. The attempted hook and laterals went backward and Sam Eguavoen recovered a fumble in the New England end zone for a defensive touchdown. 

The Patriots finished 10-7 and would be the six seed Wildcard. They would not have won the AFC East anyway since Buffalo won their game. Yet in the Wildcard round, the Patriots would be at Buffalo. Each team won on the road to split the season series. Midway through the season, the Patriots won a brutal 14-10 game at Buffalo in which Jones threw only 3 passes as the Patriots ran the ball 46 times. Then Buffalo went into New England and won 33-21. The rubber match will tell us if there is an AFC East changing of the guard or a return to regular order. Meanwhile, the Dolphins had one of the craziest seasons in league history. They won the opener at New England, lost 7 straight, then won 7 straight. Last week they were blown out Tennessee to miss the playoffs but winning their regular season finale gave them a 9-8 record. They went 8-1 down the stretch. Yet in a shocking turn of events, owner Stephen Ross fired Brian Flores on Black Monday despite consecutive winning seasons. 33-24 Dolphins

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons — The Falcons are done for the year. The 8-8 Saints were on the outside looking in. If they won and San Francisco lost, the Saints would sneak into the playoffs as a Wildcard. The Saints began the game at their own 16. Taysom Hill hit Prentice for 2 and Smith for 8. Alvin Kamara ran for 27. Hill hit Vannett for 10. Harris gained 9. Hill hit Adam Trautman for an 18 yard touchdown to complete the 10 play, 84 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive and make it 7-0 Saints. The Falcons after a touchback moved 45 yards in 10 plays and 5 minutes. Yet on 2nd and 9 from the Saints 23, Matt Ryan threw incomplete and was then sacked. Younghoe Koo hit the 48 yard field goal to get the Falcons on the board. The Saints after a touchback moved 59 yards in 10 plays and nearly 5 minutes. On 2nd and 6 from the Atlanta 13, Kamara lost 3 yards and Hill then threw incomplete. Brett Maher’s 34 yard field goal try was no good. The Falcons quickly moved from their own 24 to a 3rd and 3 at the Saints 36. Ryan threw incomplete. Koo nailed a 54 yarder. The Falcons were right back in it down 7-6 with 10 1/2 minutes left in the half.

Yet by halftime, this game was over. On 3rd and 9 from their own 28, Hill hit Smith for 34. On 3rd and 2 from the Atlanta 30, Hill ran for 5. Hill gained one yard on the next play but left the game injured. Trevor Siemian played the rest of the way. On 3rd and 9 from the Atlanta 24 Siemian threw incomplete but defensive pass interference added 11 yards. Siemian then hit Smith for a 13 yard touchdown to make it 14-6 Saints with 6 minutes left in the half. On the first play from scrimmage from his own 36, Ryan went deep and was intercepted by Adebo, who returned it 17 yards to set up the Saints at their own 46. The Saints moved to a 3rd and 3 at the Atlanta 18. Siemian threw incomplete. Maher hit from 37 to make it 17-6 Saints with one minute left in the half. on the first play from scrimmage from their own 11, a short completion was fumbled by the Falcons and the Saints recovered at the Atlanta 11. on 3rd and 4 from th Atlanta 5, Siemian hit Juwan Johnson for the touchdown as the Saints led 24-6 at the break. 

Late in the third quarter the Falcons took over at their own 44. Ryan went deep to Hurst for 33 and to Gage for 5. Ollison ran for a 19 yard touchdown to get the Falcons within 24-13. Yet there would be no comeback. After a touchback the Saints moved 66 yards in 13 plays and 7 minutes. On 1st and goal at the 4 a run lost a yard and on 3rd and goal at the 5 another run lost 4 yards. Yet Maher hit from 27 to make it 27-13 Saints with 11 minutes left in the game. For the third time in the game, the Falcons turned the ball over on their first play from scrimmage. The Saints recovered the fumble at the Atlanta 29. Maher hit a 33 yarder to put the Saints up 30-13 and lock up the win. The Falcons managed one garbage touchdown with 20 seconds left in what may be Matt Ryan’s final game in Atlanta. He is expected to be a salary cap casualty. Meanwhile, the win was bittersweet for the Saints. They finished with a winning record at 9-8 and needed 4 quarterbacks to do it. Yet San Francisco made a stunning second half comeback to get a road win, eliminating the Saints from playoff contention. 30-20 Saints

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills — The Jets are done for the year. The 10-6 Bills were tied for the AFC East lead and they held the tie-breaker. A win or a New England loss would give them the division crown. If the Bills lost and New England won, the Bills would drop down to the Wildcard and have to play their first playoff game on the road. After a touchback, Josh Allen hit Dawson Knox for 17. On 3rd and 2 from midfield, Singletary ran for a 40 yard gain. On 3rd and goal at the 10, Allen hit Stefan Diggs for the touchdown to make it 7-0 Bills. The Bills got the ball back at their own 7 yard line and moved 70 yards in 13 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. On 2nd and 10 from the Buffalo 23 after an incompletion, Allen went to Diggs for the touchdown. Yet on further review the play was reversed to an incompletion. Another incompletion on 3rd and 10 had the Bills settling for a 41 yard Tyler Bass field goal and a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. The Jets punts on 4th and 6 from their own 46. The Bills blocked the punt and began the second quarter at the Jets 35. While the game was on the verge of being a blowout, the Jets proved surprisingly resilient.

On 4th and 4 from the Jets 29, Sean McDermott passed up a 47 yard field goal try and went for it. Allen threw incomplete. Although the Jets offense was going nowhere, the defense and special teams kept them in the game. With 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Bills punted on 4th and 4 from their own 24. Under heavy pressure of a punt block, Haack managed only a 21 yard shank. The Jets took over with a short field at the Buffalo 45. On 4th and 5 from the Buffalo 40, Robert Saleh went for it and Zach Wilson found Keelan Cole for the touchdown to get the Jets within 10-7. With 1:40 left in the half the Bills took over at their own 16. The Bills quickly moved 81 yards in 10 plays. With 17 seconds left the Bills had 1st and 10 at the Jets 13. Allen threw 3 straight incompletions. Defensive pass interference gave the Bills 1st and goal at the 3 but with time for only one play. Sean McDermott played it safe and Bass hit the 21 yard field goal to make it 13-7 Bills. With 5 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter the Bills had to punt on 4th and 4 from their own 22. This time the Jets smothered Hauck and were again going to block the punt. Hauck had it dribble off his leg and go 7 yards. The Jets took over at the Buffalo 22 with a chance to take the lead. On 3rd and 9, Wilson was sacked. Eddie Pineiro hit a 49 yard field goal as the Jets only trailed 13-10 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter. 

Early in the fourth quarter the Jets had to punt on 4th and 19 from their own 7. The Bills took over just shy of midfield. Allen scrambled for a 32 yard gain. On 3rd and 6 from the Jets 15, Allen hit McKenzie for 9. On 3rd and goal at the one, Devin Singletary got in to give the Bills breathing room up 20-10 with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation. The Jets punted on 4th and 15 from their own 20 and this time it was a Jets punt that only went 28 yards. The Bills took over with a short field at the Jets 48. Allen went deep to Davis for 27. Singletary added 12. On 3rd and goal at the 5, Allen hit Singletary for the touchdown with 4 minutes left to put the game on ice. The Jets were game, but the Bills got the win to get to 11-6. They clinched the AFC East and the three seed. They begin the playoffs hosting a Wildcard game against division rival New England. The Bills lost at home to New England but then beat them in New England. The rubber match will see if this time there is a home field advantage. 27-10 Bills

Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders was the Sunday night regular season finale game. This game became an instant classic that will be talked about forever. This was a do-or-die game for both 9-7 AFC West teams. The winner was in the playoffs as a Wildcard. The loser was out. The Raiders could have clinched a playoff spot before the game started had Pittsburgh and Indianapolis both lost. That scenario did not play out. 2-14 Jacksonville shocked the football world and knocked out Indianapolis. Yet Pittsburgh survived in overtime over Baltimore. A bizarre scenario would have both the Raiders and Chargers making the playoffs if the game ended in a tie. A cynic suggested both teams rest their starters and have the backups take a knee for 60 minutes and end in a 0-0 tie. That would be a disgrace to the game of football, a violation of everything the late John Madden believed in, and would most likely trigger sanctions from Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the integrity of the game. Both teams quickly shot down the 0-0 tie scenario and vowed to try and win the game. Madden’s widow Virginia lit the Al Davis torch. Both teams came in without injuries as the Raiders finally got Darren Waller back. Josh Jacobs played with bruised ribs. 

This game was played with rumors swirling that Mark Davis was going to blow up the entire organization and start over from scratch. 10 years ago the 8-7 Raiders needed a home win against the eliminated 7-8 Chargers to make the playoffs. Chargers coach Norv Turner had previously been fired by the Raiders. The Raiders trailed 31-26 in the fourth quarter but the Chargers were pinned at their own one yard line. The Chargers moved easily on a 99 yard drive to win 38-26, get Turner his revenge, and eliminate the Raiders. Only months after Al Davis died, his son Mark fired coach Hue Jackson after the game. A decade later, the defense still struggles. On a happier note for fans of the Silver and Black, this game was played 45 years to the day John Madden led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory, 32-14 over Minnesota. After a ton of buildup that turned out tone totally deserved, the game kicked off with the Raiders and Chargers needing to win and Pittsburgh hoping for anything other than a tie.  

The Raiders began at their own 33. Josh Jacobs ran for 8 and caught a pass from Derek Carr for 8 more. On 3rd and 10 just shy of midfield, A short pass from Carr to Foster Moreau saw Moreau rumble for a 44 yard gain. Moreau got caught from behind and had the ball chopped out of his hand. It almost became another blown opportunity but luckily for Moreau the ball rolled out of bounds. The Raiders had 1st and goal at the 7. Yet as has been the case so often in recent years, the Raiders failed to finish the drive. On 3rd and goal at the 6, Carr threw incomplete. Daniel Carlson hit the 24 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Raiders. The Raiders got another special teams break when they punted and the Chargers fumbled it. The Raiders took over at the Chargers 23. On 3rd and 3, Jalen Richard only gained a yard. It looked like another wasted university. Yet Rich Bisaccia coached like there was no tomorrow, just like Hue Jackson did the day after Al Davis died. Bisaccia gambled on 4th and 2 from the Chargers 15 rather than take the easy field goal. Carr fired a laser to Zee Jones for just enough. Carr then went to Hunter Renfrow for a 12 yard touchdown and a 10-0 Raiders lead. yet the Raiders tend to play well when they are on the verge of extinction. They handle prosperity badly. The Raiders do not finish drives and they do not finish games. Everyone knew 10-0 was not going to lead to a blowout. Far from it.

The Chargers soon faced 3rd and 5 at their own 30. Justin Herbert hit Austin Ekeler for 14. The Chargers then faced 3rd and 17 at their own 37. Herbert threw incomplete but illegal contact on the defense meant 5 yards and an automatic first down. By the time this game was over, the Raiders defense would have set a record for futility on closing out drives and games. Ekeler began the second quarter running for gains of 9 and 2. On 3rd and 2 from the Raiders 19, Herbert threw incomplete. Brandon Staley goes beyond bold and coaches recklessly. He takes calculated risks but also takes stupid risks. This time he made a calculated reasonable risk and passed up a 37 yard field goal try to go for it on 4th and 2. Herbert hit Jalen Guyton for 5. Ekelr then ran for an easy 14 yard touchdown to get the Chargers within 10-7. The Raiders moved from thrown 28 to a 1st and 10 at the Chargers 47. Yet a run went nowhere and Carr was sacked to kill the drive. Rich Bisaccia punted rather than go for it on 4th and 6 from the Chargers 43 or try a 61 yard field goal. The Chargers took over at their own 10. Herbert hit Keenan Allen for 10. On 3rd and 2 from their own 29, Herbert hit Guyton for 6. Ekeler ran for 14. Herbert hit Jared Cook for 13. Justin Jackson gained 11. Jackson gained 8 and Ekeler added 6. Herbert went to Ekeler for a 14 yard touchdown to culminate the 13 play, 90 yard, 7 minute drive and put the Chargers up 14-10 with 1:52 left in the half. 

The Raiders soon faced 3rd and 5 from their own 30. Carr went to Darren Waller for 18. Yet an intentional grounding penalty had the Raiders facing 3rd and 23 from their own 35 with one minute left. Not only were the Raiders losing, but the Chargers were about to get another chance with the ball before the half ended. Then the Chargers would get the ball to start the second half. A nightmare scenario had the Chargers up 28-10. Yet the Raiders caught a very lucky break. Rich Bisaccia called a give up run to set up the punt, and Richard took the punt all the way for the first down. Initially it was called a 22 yard gain and 4th and 1, but on further review officials ruled that Richard was on the bodies of the defenders when he stretched past the first down marker. From the Chargers 42, Car then threw a deep bomb incomplete and drew a controversial defensive pass interference call in the end zone. The pass interference was clear and blatant, but the ball may not have been able to have been caught. Nevertheless, the 41 yard penalty put the ball on the one. Jacobs banged it in. Instead of getting blown out, the Raiders led 17-14 at the half. 

The Chargers began the third quarter at their own 29. Herbert went to Guyton for 7 and then threw a bomb to Cook for 42 yards. Yet a sack of Herbert had the Chargers facing 3rd and 23 at the Raiders 35. A give up completion only gained 2 yards. Brandon Staley did not gamble on 4th and 21. Dustin Hopkins came in for the 51 yard field goal try to tie the game. The kick was wide no good. Despite having excellent field position, the Chargers went 3 and out. A great punt by AJ Cole had the Chargers at their own 9. On 3rd and 1 from their own 18, Ekeler got stopped. Brandon Staley then made a decision that crossed the line from confidence to outright arrogance. This was beyond Barry Switzer insanity. Staley was going for it on 4th and 1 from his own 18 yard line. This was not an attempt to draw the defense offside. Staley was actually going for it. This was more than an insult to the Raiders defense. It was a complete disregard for the Raiders offense. Staley figured that even if the Raiders took over at the Chargers 18, the Raiders offense was too dumb and inefficient to get a touchdown anyway. Staley would deny this, but that was the reasoning. Herbert snapped the ball, handed to Ekeler, and Ekeler ran straight up the gut and got blasted by the defense for a 2 yard loss. The Raiders took over at the Chargers 16, but the offense sadly validated every criticism of them. On 2nd and 6 from the 12, Carr threw incomplete twice. Why offensive coordinator Greg Olson was not trying to run the ball in that situation was a mystery. Carlson hit from 31 to put the Raiders up 20-14 midway through the third quarter. 

The Chargers soon faced 3rd and 3 form their own 32 and the defense again came up big, sacking Herbert. The raiders could have gotten the ball back at their own 32, but a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty on the return pushed them back to their own 17. All the Raiders had to do was go 3 and out, give the Chargers great field position, and fall behind 21-20. Not this time. On 3rd and 6 from their 21, Carr went deep to Bryan Edwards for 30. Jacobs banged out gains of 7 and 5. Defensive holding added 5 more. On 3rd and 1 from the Chargers 23, Marcus Mariota came in and ran for 15. Mariota ran several plays on this day, this one being one of the successful ones. On 3rd and goal at the 6, Carr threw incomplete but another defensive holding penalty meant 1st and goal at the 3. On 3rd and goal at the 2 to start the fourth quarter, Carr hit Renfrow for the touchdown. Rich Bisaccia made the very questionable decision to go for 2 and a terrible play call had Carr throw laterally to Renfrow, who was swarmed. The 2 point try failed, which would loom large later. Yet the Raiders led 26-14. The Chargers soon faced 3rd and 5 at their own 30. Herbert went deep and made his only mistake of the game, an interception that set the Raiders up at their own 36. The Raiders moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Chargers 34. Carr threw incomplete. On 3rd and 5 he hit Renfrow, but for no gain. Carlson leveled the 52 yard field goal and the Raiders had a 29-14 lead with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation. 

After a touchback, Herbert hit Williams for gains of 5, 9 and 18, Ekeler for one, Joshua Palmer for 6, and on 3rd and 3 from the Raiders 36, Guyton for 14. On 3rd and 6 from the Raiders 18, Herbert threw incomplete. Only 5 minutes remained.  The game was one defensive stop from being over. Yet on this night, the Raiders defense invented something that should forever be known as the FCO: Failure to close out. The sheer number of FCOs defied belief. Every time the Raiders needed one defensive stop, an FCO reared its ugly head. On 4th and 6, Herbert hit Williams for only 5. The Raiders defense erupted in celebration as officials stretched the chain, showing it was inches short of a first down. Brandon Staley challenged the spot, and officials ruled that while Williams was short of the sticks when he caught the ball, he moved forward just enough while both knees were on the ground before the defender tapped him. By inches, the Chargers had a first down. This was FCO1. A sack of Herbert followed by a pair of incompletions had the Chargers facing 4th and 21 at the Raiders 23. One more stop would end the game. Herbert then calmly found Palmer in the end zone, splitting the defense for a touchdown. This was FCO2. Brandon Staley then made the questionable decision to go for 2. A stop would keep it a 9 point game and pretty much finish off the Chargers. Herbert fired to Ekeler for the conversion. The Chargers were within 29-22. This was FCO3. 

While Gus Bradley has drastically improved the defense, his one flaw is that he rarely brings pressure. He does not like to blitz. Herbert had all kinds of time and Bradley stubbornly kept refusing to blitz. Sometimes a Buddy Ryan strategy of bringing the house is necessary. Sending 8 defenders is risky, but a great way of disrupting timing patterns. Sitting back and getting picked apart does not work. As expected, the offense could not give the exhausted defense a rest. On 2nd and 2 from their own 33, an attempted end around by Renfrow was blown up in the backfield for a 4 yard loss. On 3rd and 6 from their own 29, the Raiders almost gave the game away. Carr went back to pass with the pocket collapsing, and was sacked and fumbled. The Raiders got very lucky when offensive lineman Parker stole the ball from the defender at the last moment. The Raiders punted on 4th and 16 from their 19 and the Chargers took over at their own 17. Herbert had 2:05 left and all 3 timeouts plus the 2 minute warning. What followed was insanity that made the Holy Roller seem normal. 

Herbert threw 3 incompletions. With 1:49 left, one defensive stop would end the game. Gus Bradley refused to blitz. On 4th and 10 from their own 17, Herbert hit Keenan Allen for 11. This was FCO4. Another 3 incompletions meant one defensive stop would end the game. Gus Bradley refused to blitz. On 4th and 10 from his own 28, Herbert threw incomplete. The Raiders again celebrated prematurely. Defensive holding meant an automatic first down. This was FCO5. another 2 incompletions meant 3rd and 10 for the Chargers at their own 33. Again, Gus Bradley refused to blitz Herbert hit Allen for 14. This was not FCO6 since an incompletion would have meant 4th and 10 anyway. Herbert then on 2nd and 10 hit Palmer for just enough. 3 more Herbert incompletions meant 4th and 10 for the Chargers at the Raiders 43. Again one defensive stop would end the game. Again Gus Bradley refused to blitz. Only 22 seconds remained. Herbert hit Mike Williams for 14. This was FCO6. after an incompletion, Herbert on 2nd and 10 from the Raiders 29 threw to Guyton, who was ruled out of bounds. The Chargers would have one mini-Hail Mary from the 29. Yet officials huddled, reversed the call, and ruled Guyton inbounds. The 17 yard gain meant the Chargers had 1st and 10 with 5 seconds left. Yet instead of being 29 yards away, the Chargers were only 12 yards away. One defensive stop would end the game. Gus Bradley again refused to blitz. The result was inevitable. Herbert fired to Williams for the touchdown. This was FCO7.

The Chargers trailed 29-28 and Brandon Staley had a major decision to make. The man who gambled on 4th and 1 from his own 18 was not willing to risk the entire season and a trip to the playoffs on a 2 point conversion. Given the wretched state of the Raiders defense at that point, the Chargers probably would have won 30-29. Yet even Staley apparently had his limits on psychotic risk. The extra point was good. The game was going into overtime tied 29-29. The Raiders won the coin toss. As awful as they play when they have prosperity, they respond well when backed into a corner with their playoff lives on the line. After a touchback, Jacobs banged out consecutive runs of 28 and 18. The Raiders now had 3rd and 3 at the Chargers 22. Yet Carr threw incomplete. A touchdown would have ended the game. Instead it was time for a 40 yard Carlson field goal try. The attempt was harrowing but Carlson barely snuck it inside the upright good. The Raiders led 32-29 but a full 7 minutes remained in overtime. The Raiders defense barely had a chance to rest.

After a touchback, Herbert quickly hit Cook for a 31 yard gain. Yet an ineligible man downfield instead meant 1st and 15. A short gain and 2 more Herbert incompletions meant 4th and 9 for the Chargers at their own 26. Again, one defensive stop would end the game. Again, Gus Bradley refused to blitz. Herbert went deep to Mike Williams for a 47 yard gain. This was FCO8. The Chargers had 1st and goal at the Raiders 27.  On 2nd and 6, Herbert threw incomplete. Then on 3rd and 6 Herbert went for it all and had Williams in the end zone. It was a jump ball, and at the very last moment the defender pried it out of Williams’s hands. For a second it appeared the Chargers had won, but the ball fell incomplete. Now it was 4th and 6 for the Chargers at the Raiders 23. With 4 1/2 minutes left in overtime, Brandon Staley again decided not to be crazy. Despite Herbert torching the Raiders on 4th down, the proper call was the field goal. A miss or blocked field goal would end the game. Hopkins came in for the 41 yarder and it was looking no good. Somehow, like Carlson’s overtime kick, it barely snuck inside the upright good. The game was tied 32-32. This was FCO9. 

At this point playing conservatively was a legitimate thought for both teams. Purposely trying not to win would be cheating, but playing for a tie to avoid a loss would be legitimate competition. The Raiders had to run the ball to keep the Chargers from getting the ball back. Yet instead Carr went aggressive. He started with a deep ball to Edwards for 17 yards. Jacobs banged out a 7 yard gain but a swing pass from Carr to Richard was again blown up for a 5 yard loss. With 2:22 left in overtime, the Raiders faced 3rd and 8 at their own 44. An incompletion would stop the clock. Yet both teams still had timeouts. Carr fired to Jones at the sideline for a key 11 yard gain. Brandon Staley let the clock tick down to the 2 minute warning. The Raiders had 1st and 10 at the Chargers 45. They were not in field goal range. Both coaches had big decisions to make. At this time, although they would both vehemently deny it, Staley and Bisaccia both started playing for the tie.

They can protest, but Jacobs ran for a one yard loss. Staley did not call a timeout as the clock ticked down to 1:20. On 2nd and 11, Jacobs gained 7 yards. A field goal try would still be 57 yards. Again both coaches let the clock run. Staley did not even try to get the ball back. Pittsburgh fans were howling, knowing the only thing that could eliminate them was a tie. Yet this was not kneeling for 60 minutes at 0-0. This was nearly 70 minutes of 2 exhausted teams that played to a 32-32 tie with time running out. Neither team wanted to risk losing. The clock ticked down to 38 seconds. Yet at that moment, Staley lost his mind. With 4 seconds left on the play clock and the Raiders showing no sense of urgency, Staley called a timeout. It made no sense. He said it was so he could substitute in the right personnel, but all it did was give the Raiders more time to think things through. If the Chargers were now leaving time to get the ball back, the Raiders had to make sure this didn’t happen. With everything on the line on 3rd and 4 from the Chargers 39, an incomplete pass was not an option. Jacobs got the carry over the left guard and bulldozed his way forward for a 10 yard gain. Now the dynamics of the game had completely changed. A field goal try would only be 47 yards. The Raiders took the clock down to 2 seconds and called timeout. Justin Herbert was not getting the ball back. 

The fate of 3 franchises hinged on Carlson’s kick. If the kick was good, the Raiders and Pittsburgh would be in and the Chargers would be out. If the kick was no good, the game would be a tie. The Raiders and Chargers would both be in and Pittsburgh would be out. Nobody would ever accuse Carlson of missing on purpose. He had no reason to miss. Yet the craziest scenario would be a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. That would put the Chargers and Pittsburgh in the playoffs and the Raiders would be out. Rich Bisaccia could have taken a knee rather than risk a blocked field goal. Yet as the Raiders said after the game, Al Davis’s mantra was “Just win baby,” not “Just tie baby.” Also, a tie would send the Raiders to Kansas City, who clobbered them 41-14 and 48-9. A win would send the Raiders to Cincinnati. They lost badly there this year, but playing a team with zero playoff experience is better than playing the team with the most playoff experience. The Raiders had to win, not tie. There would be no FCO10. Carlson’s kick started out close but veered inward good. The Raiders at 10-7 were in the playoffs. 9-7-1 Pittsburgh was in. The 9-8 Chargers were out. 

The Chargers loss wasted an epic effort by Herbert, who threw a personal most 64 passes. He completed 34 of them for 383 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one interception. Herbert set a franchise season record with 38 touchdown passes. Keep in mind the Chargers had Dan Fouts, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. None of them passed for 5,000 yards in a season, not even during the days of Don “Air” Coryell. Herbert topped 5,000 yards. Carr was pedestrian by comparison, going 20 of 36 for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yet Carr did not throw an interception and narrowly avoided losing a fumble. Both Herbert and Carr came in with more than 4,600 yards passing and a chance to reach 5,000. Carr fell short, but his over 4,800 yards was a single season franchise record. For a team that had Darryl Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Rich Gannon and Kerry Collins, that is pretty impressive. 4 weeks ago the Raiders were 6-7 and left for dead. 

They won 4 games in cardiac fashion by margins of 2 on the final play of regulation, 4 late, 3 on the final play of regulation, and 3 on the final playoff overtime. All 4 of those wins were against teams who at the time were in the playoff hunt. For 4 straight weeks, the Raiders effectively knocked another team out of the playoffs. 4 wins by a combined 12 points is pure cardiac style. Yet the Raiders are not about style points. They never have been. Yes, Gus Bradley must blitz more. Yet any talk of Mark Davis blowing up this team and starting over needs to stop now. Carr has tremendous heart, guts and character. Jacobs runs with a purpose while battling bruised ribs. With everything on the line, they both get the job done. Rich Bisaccia deserves to be the full-time coach of this team. He is the first coach in 60 years to take over on an interim bases and get his team to the playoffs. No team had a more turbulent season than the Raiders, not by a long shot. The Raiders overcame adversity that went far beyond football. Bisaccia held the team together. To quote another coach who knows about winning, the Raiders are “on to Cincinnati.” They only have 6 days to prepare. Nothing comes easier for this team. Doing it the hard way is what they know. 

On a separate note, the Raiders won the Super Bowl on my 5th birthday. With their 1993 season on the line, they won a do-or-die game against Denver where they fell behind 30-13 and won 33-30. The following week they defeated Denver again in the Wildcard on my 22nd birthday. Now they ended the 2021 regular season by winning a do-or-die game on my 50th birthday. I will remember this game as long as I exist and as long as football exists. JUST WIN BABY! #RaiderNation! Silver and Black forever. 35-32 Raiders, OT

The 2021 NFL Regular season is now in the history books. The Wildcard matchups are set and will take place from Saturday through Monday, January 15-17. 

Las Vegas Raiders (5)(10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (4)(10-7) is the Saturday afternoon game.

New England Patriots (6)(10-7) at Buffalo Bills (3)(11-6) is the Saturday night game. 

Philadelphia Eagles (7)(9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)(13-4) is the Sunday morning game.

San Francisco 49ers (6)(10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3)(12-5) is the Sunday afternoon game.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7)(9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2)(12-5) is the Sunday night game.

Arizona Cardinals (5)(11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (4)(12-5) is the Monday night game.

The Tennessee Titans (1)(12-5) and Green Bay Packers (1)(13-4) have the bye week. 

eric

 

  

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Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Backward Sniksder — The 8-7 Eagles beat the No-Names a couple weeks earlier and were in a good playoff position for a wildcard. The No-Names were done for the year. The No-Names began facing 3rc and 4 at their own 39. Taylor Heinicke hit Sims for 16, Humphries for 10, and Bates for 24. Patterson ran for an 11 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 No-Names. The Eagles after a touchback moved to a 4th and 1 at the Washington 24. Kevin Siriani went for it and Howard got stopped cold. From that same spot, the No-Names moved to a 1st and 10 at the Philadelphia 17. A pair of conservative runs each gained one yard. On 3rd and 8, a completion only gained 2 more yards. Joey Slye hit the 31 yard field goal as the No-Names led 10-0 after the first quarter. 

The Eagles took over at their own 20. Jalen Hurts hit Smith for 12 and Dallas Goedert for 14. The Eagles began the second quarter at the Washington 47. Hurts hit Boston Scott for 5 and 19 and Goedert for 18. On 3rd and goal at the 2, Hurts threw incomplete. Kevin Siriani went for it. Scott got in to get the Eagles within 10-7. The No-Names after a touchback moved 54 yards in 11 plays and 6 minutes. On 1st and 10 from the Philadelphia 19, Heinicke was sacked to kill the drive. Slye hit from 39 to put the No-Names up 13-7 with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half. The No-Names got it back with 2:06 left in the half at their own 6. On 3rd and 1 from their own 15, Smallwood gained 4. On 3rd and 1 from their own 28, Patterson gained 8 but only 30 seconds remained in the half. Heinicke went to Sims for 18 and Terry McLaurin for 9 and spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second left. Slye buried a 55 yard field goal as the Backward Sniksder took a 16-7 lead to the locker rooms.  

After a third quarter touchback, Hurts hit Goedert for 8 and Scott for 18. On 3rd and 4 from the Washington 40, Hurts hit Goedert for 13. On 3rd and 14 from the Washington 31, Hurts went deep to Ward for 27. On 2nd and goal at the 2, a run went nowhere and another run only gained one. Midway through the third quarter needing 2 scores, Kevin Siriani gambled on 4th and goal at the one. Scott got in to finish the 14 play, 75 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive and get the Eagles within 16-14. The rest of the game belonged to the defenses. A field position game had the Eagles facing 3rd and 1 at the Washington 48 to start the fourth quarter. Gainwell gained 4 and Hurts hit Goedert for 13. on 3rd and 13 from the Washington 34, Hurts hit Watkins for 10. Jake Elliott hit the 42 yard field goal to give the Eagles their first lead 17-16 with 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation. The No Names moved from their 21 to a 4th and 4 just past midfield midway through the fourth quarter. Riverboat Ron Rivera went for it and Heinicke threw incomplete. With a short field, the Eagles took 5 minutes off the clock and ran 10 plays. On 3rd and 5 from the Washington 23, Hurts threw incomplete. Elliott hit from 41 to put the Eagles up 4 with 2:20 left. After a touchback, Heinicke moved the No-Names for a 1st and 10 at the Philly 20 with 30 seconds left. The Not-Names took their last timeout.Heinicke went to the end zone and had a receiver but the ball was overthrown. McLeod made a diving interception to seal the win. The Eagles started 2-5 but have gone 7-2 since. The 9-7 Eagles based on results Sunday night clinched a playoff wildcard. 20-16 Eagles

Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens — The 11-4 Rams had already clinched a playoff spot and came in with a one game lead in the NFC West and one game back in the race for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The 8-7 Ravens had lost 4 straight games. They entered the day one game back in the AFC North and alive for a playoff spot. Lamar Jackson was again out but backup Tyler Huntley, who missed last week with Covid, was back. The Rams early on from their own 4 yard line moved 58 yards in 11 plays and nearly 5 minutes. Despite 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 34, offensive holding pushed the Rams back. Sean McVay gambled on a 56 yard field goal try, but Matt Gay was no good. The Rams got the ball back at their own 8. On 3rd and 2 from their own 16, Stafford was intercepted by Chuck Clark, who returned it 17 yards for a defensive touchdown and a 7-0 Ravens lead. The Rams moved from their own 24 to a 3rd and 5 at the Baltimore 38. A delay of game penalty was followed by a 3rd and 10 deep pass that saw Stafford get intercepted again. 

The Ravens took over on their own 4 yard line. On 3rd and 5 from their 9, Huntley hit Bateman for 9. On 1st and 19 from their own 9, Huntley hit Mark Andrews for 18. Huntley went deep to Andrews for 33. On 3rd and 2 from the Rams 24, Devonta Freeman gained one. John Harbaugh went for it on 4th and 1 and Huntley got around the end for a 15 yard gain. On 3rd and goal from the 5, Huntley threw incomplete. The 15 play, 91 yard, 9 minute drive only produced a field goal. Justin Tucker hit from 23 to make it 10-0 Ravens in the second quarter. The Ravens got it back at their own 14. From their own 28, Huntley went deep and was intercepted by Fuller, who returned it 34 yards to the Baltimore 29. Stafford hit Sony Michel for 11 and Cooper Kupp for an 18 yard touchdown. With only 55 seconds left in the half, the Rams were within 10-7. 

The Ravens took over at their own 21. Huntley gained 17. Huntley then hit Bateman for 14 and Andrews for 15. On 3rd and 1 from the Rams 39, Huntley ran for 11 and spiked the ball with 10 seconds left. After an incompletion left 2 seconds, Tucker hit the 46 yard field goal to put the Ravens up 13-7. In the third quarter the Rams moved from their own 25 to a 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 11. Stafford was then sacked and fumbled. The Ravens recovered at their own 20. On 3rd and 3 from their own 27, Huntley hit Hollywood Brown for 4. The Ravens moved to a 4th and 1 at the Rams 33. John Harbaugh went for it and Huntley gained 2. On 2nd and 7 from the Rams 28, Huntley threw incomplete twice. Tucker hit from 46 again as the Ravens dominant defense and Tucker’s 3 field goals had them up 16-7 with less than 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

A field position game had the Rams taking over at their own 45. Michel gained 11 and Stafford hit Tyler Higbee for 8 as the third quarter ended. Stafford found Kupp for 21. Sony Michel ran for 7 and then the one yard touchdown to get the Rams within 16-14 with 12 minutes left in regulation. After a touchback, Freeman ran for 32. The Ravens moved to a 2nd and goal at the 2 with 6 minutes left. A touchdown and extra point would all but ice the game. Latavius Murray lost 2 yards. Then came a delay of game penalty. On 3rd and goal at the 9, Huntley was sacked. Tucker hit his fourth field goal from 34. The 12 play, 59 yard, 7 1/2 minute drive had the Ravens up 19-14 with only 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Yet the Ravens left the door open. The Rams still had life.

After a touchback, Stafford hit Higbee for 15, Kupp for 24 and 4, and Skowronek for 15. Michel ran for 8 and one, but on 3rd and 1 from the Baltimore 8, Michel lost 4 yards. The Ravens took a timeout on defense with 1:08 left. It all came down to 4th and 5 from the Baltimore 12. Stafford fired over the middle to Beckham for just enough as the Ravens took a 2nd timeout. Stafford went to Beckham again for the 7 yard touchdown. The 2 point conversion try failed but the Rams led by one point. The Ravens after a touchback still had 57 seconds left, one timeout, and the best kicker in the game. Needing big yards, Huntley threw short passes. With 22 seconds left, the Ravens faced 4th and 1 from their own 34. Huntley hit Andrews or 4 yards but the Ravens had to take their final timeout with only 19 seconds left. Huntley was then sacked, forcing him to race to the line and spike the ball to stop the clock. 3 seconds remained and the Ravens had 3rd and 23 from their own 25. Even Tucker cannot hit a 92 yard field. The Hail Mary was out of the question, so it went to the hook and laterals, which failed. The Ravens lost their 5th straight game to fall to 8-8, with 3 of those losses coming by one point. The Ravens are still alive for a playoff spot but will need to win next week and get help. The 12-4 Rams are in the playoffs but still have not clinched their division. They lead the NFC West by one game. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs is out of reach. 20-19 Rams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Jets — Even though these teams have no rivalry, Tom Brady still loves to humiliate the Jets. Yet this game will unfortunately be remembered for a bizarre incident that had nothing to do with the final score. The 11-4 Buccaneers had already locked up the NFC South and were one game back in the race for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Jets were terrible. This game was a total mismatch. As ESPN uber-announcer Chris Berman reminds us, “THAT’s why they PLAY the GAMES!” The Jets began at their own 28. Ndamokung Suh immediately jumped offside. Carter then took a handoff 55 yards. Zach Wilson hit Braxton Berrios for 9 down to the one. Berrios got the last yard to make it 7-0 Jets. The Buccaneers soon faced 3rd and 3 at their own 32. Brady hit Evans for 4. On 3rd and 1 from their own 45, Jones gained 3. On 3rd and 6 from the Jets 48, Brady hit LeVeon Bell for 15. A defensive facemask had the Buccaneers at the 10 yard line. Brady hit Evans for a 4 yard touchdown to cap the 13 play, 75 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive to make it 7-7.

The Jets soon faced 3rd and 2 at their own 34. Wilson hit Smith for 13. Walter gained 14. On 3rd and 7 from the Tampa Bay 36, Wilson hit Berrios for 9. On 3rd and 10 from the Tampa 27, Wilson hit Yeboah for 12. On 3rd and 4 from the Tampa 9, Wilson hit Berrios for the touchdown. The 13 play, 74 yard, 7 minute drive had the Jets up 14-7 in the second quarter. The Buccaneers after a touchback moved to a 2nd and 7 at the Jets 20. A run lost a yard and Brady threw incomplete. Ryan Succop hit a 39 yard field goal to get the Buccaneers within 14-10. The game slowed down and with 54 seconds left in the half the Buccaneers took over at their own 10. With 28 seconds left they were already at the Jets 46. Brady then went deep and was intercepted by Echols, who returned it 30 yards to the Jets 48. 16 seconds remained. Wilson hit Johnson for 19, which was enough for Eddy Pineiro to nail a 51 yard field goal for a 17-10 Jets advantage at the half. The Jets began the third quarter facing 3rd and 1 at their own 43. Wilson hit Berrios for 2. Wilson then went to Johnson for 23, Berrios for 11, and Keelan Cole for 21 down to the one. Ty Johnson got in as the Jets were winning a shocker up 24-10 midway through the third quarter. 

Then came the incident that will be talked about for years. Bruce Arians tried to send Antonio Brown into the game. For some reason, Brown said no. He was not injured in any way. He just refused to play. Arians again told him to get in. Again, Brown refused. Since Brown was not willing to get in, an angry Arians then told him to get out. Brown then had a total meltdown. He went to the end zone and took off his clothing. He removed his jersey and his shirt, standing bare-chested in front of the entire crowd. His fellow wide receivers tried to calm him down to no avail. Brown left the stadium. In the middle of a key game with playoff implications, he just quit. Time will tell exactly what happened, but this talented and troubled receiver with a history of mental illness and off-field incidents may have played his last NFL game. Brown was on his fourth team in three years. At this point there are serious questions whether Brown has what it takes to stay alive. He needs serious mental help. 

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers had a football game to play. After an offensive unnecessary roughness penalty, they soon faced 3rd and 20 from their own 15. The New Meadowlands was rocking. The Jets were smelling upset. Then came a key play in the game. Brady found Cyril Grayson for exactly 20. Brady then went to Rob Gronkowski for 14. On 3rd and 7 from the Jets 47, Brady hit Evans for 8. Brady then went deep to Perriman for 32. On 3rd and goal from the 4, Brady threw incomplete. With 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Bruce Arians went for it. One stop would really help the Jets. Instead, Brady hit Cameron Brate for the touchdown. The 13 play, 75 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive had the Buccaneers within 24-17. Early in the fourth quarter the Buccaneers after a pair of incompletions faced 4th and 6 at the Jets 39. Bruce Arians decided not to go for it or try a 57 yard field goal. He decided to punt and play field position. The strategy worked. From their own 9, the Jets went 3 and out and a 38 yard punt had the Buccaneers with a short field at the Jets 47. Brady went to Gronk for 21. On 3rd and 7 from the Jets 23, Brady went to Bell for 12. On 2nd and 8 from the Jets 9, Brady threw incomplete twice. Ryan Succop hit the 27 yard field goal to get the Buccaneers within 24-20 midway through the fourth quarter. 

The Jets took over after a touchback and moved 68 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. A touchdown would put the game away and secure the shocking upset. On 3rd and 6 from the Tampa 11, Wilson completed a pass to Berrios for only 4 yards. The Jets took a timeout to discuss what should have taken 5 seconds to decide. On 4th and 2 from the Tampa 7 with 2:17 to play, you kick the field goal. This is a no-brainer. You kick the field goal. Every…single…time. Former Jets head coach Herm Edwards said, “HELLO? You PLAY to WIN the GAMES!” Yet sometimes not losing games is a wise strategy. Robert Saleh decided to go for it. Wilson kept the ball himself and got stopped cold for no gain. Although the Buccaneers were 93 yards away with 2:11 left, the result was inevitable. Brady hit Johnson for 8 and Grayson for 3 and 6. On 3rd and 4 from his own 24, Brady hit Johnson for 6. Brady then went to Johnson for 27, Grayson for 10, and Grayson again for a 33 yard touchdown With only 15 seconds left, Tom Terrific had done it again the Jets had folded again. For some reason Bruce Arians tried a 2 point conversion, and Bell got in to turn a 4 point deficit into a 4 point Buccaneers lead. The Jets took over at their own 30 with 9 seconds left. After an incompletion left 3 seconds, the hook and laterals reached midfield and died. Brady finished 34 of 50 with 410 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. The 12-4 Buccaneers had already clinched the NFC South, but home field advantage is out of reach. 28-24 Buccaneers

Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans — The Dolphins won their opener, lost 7 straight, then won 7 straight to get to 8-7. They were one game back in the AFC East and tied with 3 other teams for the wildcard. They held the tie-breaker. The 10-5 Titans with a win would lock up the AFC South. Neither team had clinched a playoff spot. Both Brian Flores and Mike Vrabel are both Bill Belichick disciples who know defense. A field position game eventually had the Titans taking over at the Miami 46. On 2nd and 15, Ryan Tannehill went deep to AJ Brown for 25. On 3rd and 5 from the Miami 21, Tannehill hit Anthony Firkser for only 4. Vrabel went for it on 4th and 1 from the Miami 17. Tannehill gained 2. Foreman ran for 14 down to the one. Tannehill hit Swaim for the touchdown to make it 7-0 Titans. 2 plays later from their own 26, Tua Tagovailoa was sacked and fumbled. The Titans recovered at the Miami 14. On 3rd and 6, a completion gained only 5 yards. On 4th and 1 from the Miami 5, Vrabel decided not to gamble. Randy Bullock hit the 23 yard field goal in the second quarter to make it 10-0 Titans.

The Dolphins moved after a touchback to a 3rd and 10 at the Tennessee 27. A run gained only 6 yards. Jason sanders hit the 39 yard field goal to get the Dolphins on the board. The Titans soon faced 3rd and 1 from their own 34. Tannehill hit Swaim for 5 and AJ Brown for 16. On 3rd and 7 from the Miami 42, Tannehill threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant an 8 yard gain. On 3rd and 2 from the Miami 26, Tannehill got around the end for 5. Foreman ran for a 21 yard touchdown as the Titans led 17-3 at the break. In the third quarter the Dolphins took over at their own 2 yard line and moved 63 yards in 10 plays and 5 minutes. Despite 1st and 10 at the Tennessee 27, an incompletion and a run that went nowhere meant 3rd and 10. Tagovailoa was sacked for an 8 yard loss. Sanders missed a 53 yard field goal. The Dolphins got it back at their own 7 and moved 51 yards in 10 plays. They had 1st and 10 at the Miami 26. Tagovailoa was sacked and fumbled, but the Dolphins kept the ball. Yet on 4th and 11, Brian Flores decided to go for it. Tagovailoa threw incomplete. Then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Miami gave the Titans 15 free yards. With 10 1/2 minutes left in regulation, instead of a possible 17-17 game, the Dolphins still trailed 17-3. After that, the Titans took a close game and turned out the lights.

On 3rd and 1 from the Miami 49, Foreman broke free for a 35 yard gain. Tannehill then hit Firkser for a 15 yard touchdown to make it 24-3 Titans midway through the fourth quarter. After a touchback, the Dolphins had to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 44. Tagovailoa threw incomplete. The short field led to a 44 yard Bullock field goal to make it 27-3 Titans. One play and 9 seconds after a touchback, Tagovailoa was intercepted. The Titans took over at the Miami 38. On 3rd and 11, Dontrell Hilliard ran for a 39 yard touchdown to complete the blowout. The Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to have 7 game losing and 7 game winning streaks. Yet at 8-8, they were knocked out of playoff contention. The 11-5 Titans got a double-barreled gift. Indianapolis lost their game, allowing the Titans to clinch the AFC South for the 2nd straight year. The last time they won consecutive division titles was 60 years ago when they won 3 straight as the Houston Oilers from 1960-1962.  Kansas City also lost their game, allowing the Titans to move into a first place tie atop the AFC. The Titans beat the Chiefs earlier this season. The Titans have the tie-breaker. If they win next week, they have home field advantage throughout the entire playoffs. 34-3 Titans 

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots — The Jaguars with 2 more losses would guarantee themselves the top pick in the Draft for the second straight year. The 9-6 Patriots were tied for the AFC East lead but did not hold the tie-breaker. They had not clinched a playoff spot. Sometimes a really bad team can go on the road and shock a really good team in an upset for the ages. This was not that game. Goliath beat up david and stole his girlfriend and lunch money. The Patriots began at their own 30. Mac Jones hit Meyers for 8, and Wilkerson for 7. On 2nd and 13 from their own 39, Jones hit Harris for 12 and on 3rd and 1 found Meyers for 6. On 3rd and 5 form the Jacksonville 38, Jones hit Meyers for 14. Stevenson ran for 15. Harris added 7 and then the 2 yard touchdown to cap the 11 play, 70 yard, 7 minute drive and make it 7-0 Patriots. The Jaguars moved from their own 23 to a 3rd and 3 at the New England 11. Trevor Lawrence threw incomplete. Matt Wright hit the 29 yard field goal to get the Jaguars on the board. In the second quarter the Patriots blasted the Jaguars into oblivion. 

From their own 34, Jones hit Wilkerson for 9. Harris added 5 and Kendrick Bourne added 9 more. Stevenson gained 9 and 7. Jones hit Hunter Henry for 17. Harris ran for the 7 yard touchdown to make it 14-3 Patriots. An interception of Lawrence was returned 33 yards to the Jacksonville 33. On 3rd and 5, Jones hit Bolden for 8. Jones hit Wilkerson for the 5 yard touchdown to make it 21-3 Patriots with 4:40 left in the half. At the 2 minute warning, Lawrence was intercepted again and the Patriots had another short field at the Jacksonville 43. Jones hit Meyers for 8. A sack of Jones was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty. Jones hit Bourne for 8. On 3rd and 2 from the Jags 8, Harris gained 4. Jones hit Meyers for the 4 yard touchdown to make it 28-3. Jones’s 20th touchdown pass of the season was actually a team rookie record. Jim Plunkett had the previous record of 19 in 1971. Tom Brady did not play until his second season.

For some reason the second half was played, something about league rules. In the third quarter the Patriots moved 77 yards and Jones threw a 20 yard touchdown pass to Wilkerson. The extra point was blocked but the Patriots led 34-3. Lawrence threw his third interception, which was returned 20 yards down to the one. Stevenson got in to make it 41-3 Patriots after three quarters. In the fourth quarter they tacked on a field goal for a 44-3 lead. With 10:45 left in the game and a 41 point lead, Bill Belichick gave Jones the rest of the day off and taught him how to hold a clipboard. It’s never to early to learn coaching skills, even though Jones has yet to complete his first season as a player. Brian Hoyer came in and led the Patriots 74 yards to another touchdown, an 8 yard run by Stevenson. Up by 47, the classless Belichick went for a 2 point conversion that failed. The Jaguars finally got one garbage touchdown. If the 2-14 Jaguars lose next week, they are guaranteed the top pick in the Draft for the second straight year. The 10-6 Patriots clinched a playoff spot. They are tied for the AFC East lead but do not hold the tie-breaker. They are still one game back in the race for home field throughout the playoffs, but have an outside shot at that. They can wind up anywhere from the top to near the bottom of the playoff seedings. 50-10 Patriots

Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts — The 8-7 Raiders had won 2 straight and would make the playoffs with 2 more wins. The 9-6 Colts would be in the playoffs with one more win. Carson Wentz cleared Covid protocols and played. Darren Waller did not. With John Madden decals on their helmets, the Raiders could not have started the game any better. After a touchback, Josh Jacobs ran for 6 and Derek Carr hit Hunter Renfrow for 14. On 3rd and 3 from the Indianapolis 48, Carr hit Renfrow for 7. On 3rd and 1 from the Colts 32, Jalen Richard gained 4. Jacobs gained 6. Marcus Mariota came in for Carr, faked a handoff, and gained 9. Jacobs ran for the 2 yard touchdown. The 12 play, 75 yard, 7 minute drive had the Raiders up 7-0. The Raiders defense then forced the Colts to go 3 and out. Everything was going right, but the Raiders had a habit of scoring one early touchdown and then trying to win the rest of the game on field goals and defense. 16 points would not beat the Colts. The Raiders soon faced 3rd and 3 at their own 42. Carr went for the bomb and DeSean Jackson had a step on his man. The ball was slightly under thrown and intercepted. The Colts took over at their own 28, so it was essentially a punt. 

The defense held and the Raiders got a spark when Renfrow returned a punt 41 yards to the Indianapolis 35. Yet Jacobs was not in the game. He took a couple shots to his ribs and was on the sideline trying to will himself back into the game. He would be in and out the entire game as he tried to gut it out. On 2nd and 8 from the Indy 22, Peyton Barber lost 4 yards. On 3rd and 12 to start the second quarter, Carr was sacked for a 3 yard loss. Daniel Carlson hit the 47 yard field goal to make it 10-0 Raiders. After a touchback, Jonathan Taylor gashed the Raiders for gains of 4, 18, 24 and 3. On 2nd and 7 from the Raiders 26, Wentz hit Nyheim Hines for 18 but offensive holding nullified the gain. On 3rd and 9 from the Raiders 28, Wentz threw incomplete. Mike Badgley hit a 46 yard field goal to get the Colts within 10-3. A field position game had the Raiders getting the ball back at their own 43 with 6 minutes left in the half. Carr went deep to Zee Jones for 26. On 4th and 1 from the Colts 22, Rich Bisaccia decided to go for it. Marcus Mariota came in for Carr for the play and gained 3. On 2nd and 5 from the Indy 14, Mariota came in again and ran for 4. Mariota fumbled, but luckily the ball rolled out of bounds. The Raiders were getting every break. They had 3rd and 1 from the Indy 10 with 1:55 left in the half. Mariota stayed in the game for another play. A touchdown would put them up 17-3. Then came the problems that have plagued the Raiders for years if not decades. 

Rookie Alex Leatherwood, who has had a very rocky year, got called for a false start. With 3rd and 6 instead of 3rd and 1, Bisaccia took Mariota out and brought Carr back in. Frank Reich brought the house on defense and Carr was sacked for an 11 yard loss. Carlson nailed the 47 yard field goal. The Raiders led 13-3, but the patter of getting one touchdown followed by field goals was continuing. Nevertheless, after more than 28 minutes, Wentz had only 8 total yards passing. The Raiders just needed to get to the half. Then Carlson messed up and hit the ensuing kickoff out of bounds to set the Colts up at their own 40. Wentz hit Hines for 5, Mo Alive-Cox for 17, Pittman for 7, Hines for 6, Zach Pascal for 8, Alie-Cox for 4, and Pittman for 12 down to the one as the Colts took their last timeout with 15 seconds left. Needing only one yard, a couple pass attempts by Wentz were well defended incomplete. With only 4 seconds left on 3rd and goal at the one, a field goal would have been justified. Reich took a major gamble and went for it. One defensive stop would give the Raiders a major jolt. Taylor got in. The Colts only trailed by 13-10 at halftime. 

The Colts got the ball to start the second half after a touchback. Before they could run a play, the defense jumped offside. Taylor then ran for 14 and 2. Wentz hit Alie-Cox for 7. Alie-Cox fumbled, but the ball rolled out of bounds. On 3rd and 1 from the Raiders 47, a run got stopped cold. Frank Reich decided to go for it. One defensive stop would give the Raiders a short field. Wentz took the carry and was initially stopped cold short. Yet his own offensive lineman pushed Wentz forward for a 2 yard gain. Officials missed the push. On the next play came chaos and blind luck. Wentz went for the bomb as 2 receivers and 2 defenders jockeyed for position. The 2 Raiders defenders were both in the best position for an easy interception. Instead the 2 defenders knocked into each other and the ball bounced off one of their helmets high in the air. Standing all by his lonesome in the end zone was TY Hilton, who caught the deflection for a gift touchdown. The Hail Mary put the Colts up 17-13. It was Hilton’s only catch of the day. The Raiders after a touchback moved to a 1st and 10 just shy of midfield. Then came a delay of game penalty. Then Carr fired over the middle and was intercepted for the second time. Only midway through the third quarter, The Raiders collapse appeared complete.

The Colts took over just shy of midfield. They moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Raiders 33. A 24-13 lead would finish off the Raiders. This time the defense came up big. Taylor lost a yard. On 3rd and 6, Gus Bradley brought the pressure. Wentz was sacked for an 8 yard loss to push the Colts out of field goal range. A great punt pinned the Raiders at their own 4 yard line. They moved to a 2nd and 10 at their own 43. Jacobs ran for 12, but an illegal block killed the drive. On 3rd and 13, Carr threw incomplete. Yet the Colts began the fourth quarter going 3 and out. Wentz had a wide open Hilton on first down and just threw him for a killer incompletion. A 16 yard punt return by Renfrow had the Raiders taking over at their own 38. Carr went deep to Jones for 42 yards. On 3rd and 7 from the Indy 16, Carr hit Renfrow for only 5. The call was obvious. In this situation you have to kick the field goal. There is no question. You take the points and get within 17-16. Rich Bisaccia went for it all as conventional wisdom begged for a field goal try. On 4th and 2 from the Indy 11, Carr fired over the middle and found Renfrow for the touchdown. With over 11 minutes left in regulation, the Raiders had regained the lead 20-17. Now it was up to Carlson not to kick the ball out of bounds again and the defense not to melt down. Carlson did his job and got the touchback.

Taylor ran for gains of 2, 8, and 5. Taylor then ran for 10 but offensive holding backed the Colts up to 2nd and 15 at their own 30. Wentz hit Pittman for 12. The defense needed one more stop. On 3rd and 3 from their own 42, Wentz kept it himself and gained 7. On 1st and 10 just shy of midfield, Nate Hobbs had Wentz dead to rights for a sack. Yet rather than just take Wentz down, Hobbs got greedy and tried to get a strip of the ball instead. This allowed Wentz to escape with an incompletion rather than a big loss. On 3rd and 9 from midfield, Wentz threw incomplete but again Nate Hobbs messed up. Defensive pass interference meant 11 yards and a first down. On 3rd and 3 from the Raiders 32, the defense again could not get a stop as Wentz hit Taylor for 6. On 3rd and 9 from the Raiders 25, Wentz hit Hines for only 3 yards thanks to a saving ankle tackle by Hobbs. He redeemed himself in a big way. The defense had finally gotten a stop. Both teams decided not to use a timeout as the clock ticked down to the 2 minute warning. Badgley came in for a 41 yard field goal try to tie the game. The kick was good. The Colts moved the ball 53 yards in 14 plays. They took a mind-numbing 9 1/2 minutes off the clock. Yet they did not have the lead. The game was only tied 20-20. Carr has been bailing out the Raiders for 8 years. With the season on the line after a touchback, he was asked to save his team again. The Raiders had 1:56 and all 3 timeouts.

Carr hit Foster Moreau for 9, Jacobs for 4, and Jones for 14 as the Raiders took their first timeout with one minute left. A pair of incompletions meant 3rd and 10 at the Indy 48. Carr went bombs away to Renfrow, who caught the ball, went to the ground,  and got up without being touched. Renfrow raced for a 48 yard touchdown. With 48 seconds left, it appeared the Raiders had the 27-20 lead. After a very lengthy review, it was ruled that Renfrow was down by contact after a 24 yard gain. Normally a home crowd would celebrate that, but the Indianapolis crowd was muted. It would have been better for them had Renfrow scored. The Raiders would lead by 7 but at least the Colts would get the ball back with 48 seconds and all 3 timeouts. Instead, the Colts had to burn a timeout on defense after the big Renfrow completion. From the Indy 24 Jacobs ran up the gut twice to force the Colts to use their final timeouts. On 3rd and 3 from the indy 17 and the Colts out of timeouts, Jacobs ran up the gut a 3rd straight time. Although he only gained 2 yards to set up 4th and 1, the Raiders took the clock down to 2 seconds. 

2 weeks ago, Carlson won on the road at Cleveland on the final play. That was from 47 yards out in the cold. This was from 33 yards out indoors. Carlson was good. The Raiders won their 3rd straight game. Both teams are 9-7 and neither one has clinched a playoff spot. Neither team can win their respective divisions. Both teams with a win next week are in the playoffs. If they both lose, the NFL tie-breaking system will figure that out. The Colts are at the worst team in the league, Jacksonville. The Raiders have a major showdown at home against the Chargers, who beat them earlier in the year in Los Angeles. The rematch is in Las Vegas. With Al Davis and John Madden watching from luxury boxes in the sky, the Raiders had given themselves what every team asks for…one chance. 

The Raiders control their own destiny. They are at home. 5 years ago after 13 straight losing seasons, the 2016 Raiders were 11-3 and throttling the Colts at home 33-7 in the third quarter. Carr should have been taken out of the game. Instead he was kept in. Leading 33-14, Carr suffered a broken leg. Although the Raiders hung on to beat the Colts 33-25, The 12-3 Raiders knew they were done. They lost their regular season finale to blow the division lead. Instead of getting a bye week to rest, they had to play a playoff game on the road with a 3rd string quarterback who had never thrown an NFL pass. The Raiders lost. The 2021 Raiders after beating the Colts now have only their 2nd winning season in the last 19 years. If they make the playoffs and keep Carr upright, he will finally get to start a playoff game. He is the heart and soul of the Silver and Black, and the Raider Nation is rooting for this nice guy to finish first. Just win baby. 23-20 Raiders

  

Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals — The 11-4 Chiefs had won 8 straight and already clinched the AFC West. One more win would lock up home field advantage through the playoffs. The 9-6 Bengals were one game up in the AFC North but had not clinched a playoff spot yet. The Chiefs took over at their own 28. Pass interference on a deep ball gave the Chiefs 32 yards. On 3rd and 2 from the Cincinnati 32, Patrick Mahomes hit Damien Williams for only one yard. Walrus Andy Reid gambled on 4th and 1 and Bell took the direct snap up the gut for 2. On the next play Mahmoes went deep to Robinson for the 29 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Chiefs. The Chiefs got it back at their own 37. Mahomes hit Travis Kelce for 7 and Tyreek Hill for 17. On 1st and 10 from the Cincinnati 49 after offensive holding, Mahomes went to Bell for 24 Derrick Gore gained 23 down to the 2. On 3rd and goal at the 3, Mahomes hit Kelce for the touchdown to make it 14-0 Chiefs. 

Two plays after a touchback the Bengals were right back in it. A short pass from Joe Burrow to JaMarr Chase saw Chase split the seams and race for a 72 yard touchdown to get the Bengals within 14-7. The Chiefs soon faced 3rd and 1 at their own 34. Burton gained 2. The second quarter began with the Chiefs facing 3rd and 10 at their own 36. Mahomes went bombs away to Mecole Hardman for 53. Williams ran for the one yard touchdown to make it 21-7 Chiefs. After a touchback, Burrow hit Chase for 8. Joe Mixon ran for 6, caught a pass from Burrow for 8, and ran for 6 more. Burrow hit Chase for 9. On 3rd and 3 from the Chiefs 40, Burrow threw incomplete but defensive pass interference added 5 yards and an automatic first down. Burrow hit Tyler Boyd for 17 and Chase for the 18 yard touchdown to get the Bengals within 21-14. The Chiefs took over at their own 27 and Williams ran for 8 and 10. On 3rd and 4 just past midfield, Mahomes went deep to Byron Pringle for 27. Williams caught a pass from Mahomes for 7 and ran for 5. Mahomes ran for 8 down to the one. Williams got the last yard to make it 28-14 Chiefs. They were on their way to clinching home field throughout the playoffs. 

With 2:18 left in the half the Bengals moved from their own 25 to a 1st and 10 at the Chiefs 28. Burrow threw 3 incompletions. Evan McPherson hit the 46 yard field goal to get the Bengals within 28-17 at the half. The Bengals needed only 3 plays and 90 seconds in the third quarter to get right back in it. On 3rd and 4 from their own 31, Burrow went to Chase for a 69 yard touchdown. Just like that, the Bengals were within 28-24. The rest of the third quarter was scoreless as the Bengals began the fourth quarter facing 3rd and 3 at their own 21. Defensive pass interference added 11 yards. Burrow then went deep to Higgins for 39 yards and Chase for 10 more. On 2nd and 11 from the Chiefs 20, Burrow hit Chase for 5, with a horse collar tackle penalty adding 8 more. Burrow hit Boyd for a 5 yard touchdown. 17 unanswered points had the Bengals up 31-28 with 11 1/2 minutes left in regulation. 

A very short kickoff was fielded at the Kansas City 20 and returned 12 yards to their own 32. The Chiefs moved 52 yards in 11 plays and nearly 6 minutes. On 3rd and 5 from the Cincy 16, Mahomes threw incomplete. Harrison Butker hit the 34 yard field goal, but with 6 minutes left the Chiefs had only tied the game 31-31 rather than take the lead. After a touchback, Burrow hit Boyd for 9 and Mixon for 2. Burrow then went deep to Chase for 35 yards. The Bengals had 1st and 10 from the Kansas City 24, but offensive holding and a sack of Burrow had the Bengals facing 3rd and 27 from the Chiefs 41. The normal play is to run the ball or throw a short pass to gain a few yards and get into long but manageable field goal range. With 3:19 to play, Zac Taylor had other ideas. Burrow went deep to Chase for a 30 yard gain. The Chiefs meltdown on 3rd and 27 now meant 1st and 10 for the Bengals at the Chiefs 11. Mixon gained 5 and 4 as the Chiefs took their first timeout on defense with the Bengals facing 3rd and 1 at the Chiefs 2. Mixon got the yard as the clock hit the 2 minute warning. Yet on 1st and goal at the one with 2 minutes left, chaos ensued.

Twice Burrow tried the quarterback sneak. Twice, Burrow was denied. The Chiefs took their last timeout on defense with 1:46 to play and the Bengals facing 3rd and goal at the one. In this case you run the ball every single time. Repeat, every single time. That way if you don’t score, 45 seconds have come off the clock. Better to leave with Mahomes with one minute rather than nearly 2 minutes. Mixon got the carry and got stopped cold for no gain. The clock ticked down to one minute and the Bengals also took their final timeout. Now it was 4th and goal at the one. Pick your poison. A field goal gives Mahomes the ball back with almost  a minute left needing only a field goal to force overtime. A defensive stop gives the Chiefs the chance to win with only a field goal, but from their own one yard line a safety would be a risk. No matter what, even if the Bengals score a touchdown, the Chiefs would have almost a minute to tie the game. As long as Mahomes has the ball, the Chiefs have a chance. Yet on 4th and goal at the one, even more chaos ensued. 

Burrow completed a pass to Mixon, but he was stopped cold inches shy of the goal. Replay showed there was a chance Mixon broke the plane of the goal. The call could have gone either way, but either way it would not matter. There were holding penalties on both teams. The penalties offset. Instead of 58 seconds, there were now 50 seconds. Yet it was 4th and goal at the one again with all the same scenarios. This time Burrow threw incomplete. Yet again there was a penalty, and this time the only flag was on the defense for illegal use of hands. This was the worst possible scenario for the Chiefs. Even letting the Bengals score would have given them a chance. Yet the penalty meant an entirely new set of downs and 1st and goal at the one. Now the Bengals could take the clock down, and the did exactly that. Rather than score, Burrow took a knee. Without a timeout, the Bengals had to be very careful not to commit a false start or the 10 second runoff would end the quarter. The Bengals spiked the ball to stop the clock with 3 seconds left. From 20 yards out, McPherson hit the field goal. Mahomes would not get the ball back. One week after throwing for 525 yards, Burrow threw for 446 yards. Burrow became the first player in NFL history with consecutive games of 400+ yards passing, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.

The entire AFC has been scrambled. The 10-6 Bengals clinched the AFC North for the first time since 2015. The Chiefs saw their 8 game win streak and their lead over the conference evaporate. At 11-5, the Chiefs fell into a tie with Tennessee. Tennessee owns the tie-breaker, so the Chiefs no longer control the ability to get home field throughout the playoffs and a first round bye. The Chiefs travel to Denver for their regular season finale. If the Chiefs win and Tennessee loses, the Chiefs still get home field throughout. If Tennessee wins or the Chiefs lose, they do not. To make things even crazier, if the Chiefs and Tennessee both lose and the Bengals win their regular season finale at Cleveland, the Bengals would vault all the way into a 3 way tie atop the AFC. The Bengals would own the tie-breaker and they would get home field. The Bengals were 0-7 in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis. Yet he did not have Joe Burrow. Zac Taylor does. The Chiefs have hosted the AFC Title Game the last 3 years. This stumble today means that streak of dominance is in jeopardy, making Andy Reid a most concerned furrow-browed Walrus indeed. 34-31 Bengals        

New York Giants at Chicago Bears — Neither team is going to the playoffs. The Giants fumbled the opening kickoff and the Bears recovered at the Giants 14 yard line and rumbled 12 yards to start with 1st and goal at the 2. David Montgomery ran it in on the next play to make it 7-0 Bears only 18 seconds into the game. After a touchback the Giants faced 3rd and 2 from their own 45. Mike Glennon was then intercepted by Gipson, who returned it 31 yards to set the Bears up at the Giants 24. Glennon finished the day with 24 yards passing. Counting sacks, the Giants had negative 10 yards passing. On 3rd and 9, Red Rifle Andy Dalton hit Montgomery for 11. On 3rd and 10 from the Giants 12, Dalton hit Cole Ket for only 8. With literally nothing to lose, Matt Nagy went for it. On 4th and 2 from the Giants 4, Dalton hit Mooney for the touchdown to make it 14-0 Bears. The Giants managed a second quarter field goal to avoid the shutout, but the Bears added a field goal, a safety, and another field goal after the free kick to lead 22-3 at the intermission. A pointless second half saw the Bears move 75 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes on the opening third quarter drive. Montgomery ran for a 2 yard drive. The final 24 1/2 minutes were scoreless as the Bears won their 2nd straight in an attempt to save Matt Nagy’s job. Joe Judge may not make his third season after this lifeless performance as both coaches await one more regular season game and Black Monday. 29-3 Bears 

Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills — The 9-6 Bills were tied for the AFC East division lead and held the tie-breaker but had not clinched anything. The Falcons were done for the year. The snow was coming down during the game. Early on the Falcons punted and the Bills fumbled it at their own 2 yard line. The ball went backward into the end zone. The Bills recovered in their own end zone for a safety and 2-0 Falcons lead. The Bills got it back at their own 31. Josh Allen hit Cole Beasley for 13, Davis for 15 and Stefan Diggs for 11. On 3rd and 10 from the Atlanta 30, Allen hit Davis for 15. On 3rd and 4 from the Atlanta 9,, Allen hit Diggs for 5. On 2nd and goal at the 3, Allen threw incomplete twice. Sean McDermott gambled on 4th and goal at the 3. Allen threw incomplete but defensive holding meant 1st and goal at the one. Allen got in to complete the 15 play, 69 yard, 6 minute drive to make it 7-2 Bills. 2 plays after a touchback Matt Ryan was sacked and fumbled. The Bills took over at the Atlanta 18. On 3rd and 10 Allen threw incomplete but McDermott challenged the call. It was reversed to a 10 yard completion to Davis. On 3rd and goal at the 4, Allen ran it in himself to make it 14-2 Bills. 

The Falcons made the game surprisingly competitive in the second quarter. After a touchback, they moved 65 yards in 10 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. Yet on 2nd and 1 from the Buffalo 6, a Cordarelle Patterson end around was blown up for a 4 yard loss. On 3rd and 5, Ryan threw incomplete. Younghoe Koo hit the 29 yard field goal to get the Falcons within 14-5. The Bills from their own 23 moved 67 yards in 12 plays and nearly 7 minutes. Yet on 3rd and 8 from the Atlanta 10, the Bills came up snake eyes when Allen was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback. Ryan immediately went deep to Pitts for a 61 yard bomb. Mike Davis did the rest, running for 8, 6, 4, and the one yard touchdown. With 1:48 left in the half, the Falcons were within 14-12. 2 plays after a touchback from his own 37, Allen was intercepted by Terrell, who returned it 7 yards to t he Atlanta 44 with 1:06 left. Ollison gained 11. On 2nd and 15 from midfield after a sack, Ryan threw incomplete but the defense jumped offside. With 23 seconds left the Falcons still faced 3rd and 10 from the Buffalo 45. Ryan hit Davis for 13 and Gage for 24. The Falcons took their last timeout with 1st and goal at the 6 with 6 seconds left. Ryan threw incomplete, leaving 2 seconds. Koo hit from 24 as the 13-0 2nd quarter whitewash had the Falcons taking the surprising 15-14 lead to the locker rooms.  

The Bills began the third quarter facing 3rd and 7 from their own 32. Allen was intercepted by Oluokon, who returned it 18 yards to the Buffalo 25. In relatively short field goal range, the Falcons self-destructed like they did 5 years ago in the Super Bowl. Patterson lost 3. Ryan was sacked for a 4 yard loss. In the snow on 4th and 17, Arthur Hill decided against a 50 yard field goal try. After a delay of game, the Falcons punted. After a touchback, that was the momentum shift. Devin  Singletary gained 5 and 20. Allen ran for 9. Singletary added 5. Allen hit Cole Beasley for 9. On 3rd and 3 from the Atlanta 34, Allen ran for 14. Singletary did the rest, running for 4, 7, 3, and the 6 yard touchdown. Sean McDermott went for 2 and Allen successfully hit Beasley. The 11 play, 80 yard, 6 1/2 minute drive had the Bills up 22-15 after three quarters. 

The Bills got it back at their own 35. Allen went to Diggs for 15. Moss ran for 11, Allen added 5, and Moss got 5 more. On 3rd and 9 from the Atlanta 28, Allen hit Diggs for only 8. McDermott on 4th and 1 went for the kill shotAllen gained 2. Allen ran for 12 and Singletary ran for the 4 yard touchdown with 10 minutes left to put the game out of reach. The Falcons after a touchback moved 59 yards in 11 plays and 5 minutes. Yet on 1st and goal at the 7, a run gained nothing. Ryan then ran for a 7 yard touchdown, but on further review it was ruled he was down at the one. Making matters worse, a taunting penalty on the Falcons that would have been enforced on the kickoff instead meant the Falcons had 3rd and goal at the 16 instead of the one. Ryan threw 2 more incompletions. The Bills ran the final 6 minutes off the clock. The Bills at 10-6 clinched a playoff spot and are tied atop the AFC East and they hold the tie-breaker. If they win next week at home against the hapless Jets, they win the division. They can go as high as the 2 seed, but the top seed is out of reach since they are one game back of Tennessee and Tennessee would own the tie-breaker. 29-15 Bills

Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers — 15 years ago these teams were both 2-13 and played in a monsoon where the loser would win the right to use the top pick in the draft to take Reggie Bush. The 49ers won the game in overtime. The Texans surprised everyone and drafted Mario Williams instead. This year the Texans were still bad while the 8-7 49ers had a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo was out with an injured thumb so rookie Trey Lance got the start. The Texans won a shocker last week at home against the Chargers and were looking for consecutive upsets. The first quarter belonged to the defenses. Kyle Shanahan went for it on 4th and 1 from the Houston 45. Mitchell got rocked for a 3 yard loss. In the seance quarter Lance was intercepted on a deep ball. The Texans took over at their own 28. On 3rd and 9 from their own 33, Davis Mills hit Collins for 15. On 3rd and 3 from the San Francisco 45, Mills hit Brandin Cooks for 24. After 28 minutes of scoreless football, the Texans had 3rd and goal at the 8 at the 2 minute warning. Mills went to Cooks for the touchdown to make it 7-0 Texans. The 49ers went 3 and out and only took 30 seconds off the clock. Yet the Texans did the same. The 49ers got it back at their own 25 with 48 seconds left. 

Lance hit Deebo Samuel for 17 with 5 more added on for defensive delay of game. Lance then went deep to Brandon Aiyuk for 27. Robbie Gould hit a 37 yard field goal to end the half with the 49ers down 7-3. The 49ers began the third quarter moving from their 20 to a 4th and 1 at the Houston 24. Kyle Shanahan went for it and Lance threw incomplete. The Texans moved to a 3rd and 3 at the San Francisco 45. Mills was intercepted by Conley to set up the 49ers at their own 42. A defensive pass interference penalty gave the 49ers 37 yards. On 3rd and 3 from the Houston 14, Lance hit Hasty for 6 and Elijah Mitchell for an 8 yard touchdown. With 6 minutes left in the third quarter the 49ers had their first lead of the game up 10-7. The Texans in the fourth quarter moved from their own 10 to a 2nd and 2 at the Frisco 17. Rex Burkhead lost a yard. On 3rd and 3, Mills was sacked for a 9 yard loss. Kaimi Fairbairn came in for a 45 yard field goal try to tie the game with 12 minutes left in regulation. The kick was no good. The Texans were deflated, and the 49ers took advantage.

On 3rd and 3 from their own 42, Lance went to Jennings for 13. Lance then hit samuel for a 45 yard touchdown to give the 49ers breathing room up 17-7 with 10 minutes left. Gould added a 27 yard field goal to make it 20-7 49ers with 3:19 left. With 3 minutes left on 2nd and 2 from their own 27, Mills threw 3 straight incompletions. Gould tacked on one more field goal from 36 to complete the scoring. The 49ers at 9-7 have not clinched a playoff spot. There is only one wildcard slot left and it comes down to the 49ers and 8-8 New Orleans. The 49ers are in with a win next week at the 12-4 Rams. The 49ers have beaten the Rams 5 straight times but this one will not be easy. If the 49ers lose, they still make the playoffs if New Orleans loses at an Atlanta team with nothing to play for. If the 49ers lose and New Orleans wins, the 49ers are out. with everything on the line, the big issue will be who starts at quarterback. 23-7 49ers

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers — The 7-8 Broncos were on life support while the 8-7 Chargers were in a stronger position. The Broncos again started Drew Lock over the concussed Teddy Bridgewater. Last week at the Raiders, the Broncos were held to 158 total yards including 24 rushing yards. The Chargers were coming off a shocking loss at lowly Houston. Andre Roberts returned the opening kickoff 47 yards to have the Chargers starting at their own 45. Austin Ekeler ran for 4 and 9. Defensive pass interference on Justin Herbert’s first throw added 14. Herbert hit Keenan Allen for 10 to set up 3rd and 1 at the Denver 19. Herbert gained 2. Ekelr ran for 14 and then for the 3 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Chargers. The Broncos moved from their own 25 to a 3rd and 3 at the Chargers 41. Williams lost 3 yards and Vic Fangio for some reason decided to go for it on 4th and 6 rather than punt and play field position. The usually conservative Fangio saw Lock get sacked. The Chargers faced 3rd and 6 at their own 34 late in the first quarter. Herbert hit Jackson for 8 and Allen for 10. The fsecond quarter began with the Chargers facing 3rd and 3 at the Denver 38. Herbert hit Williams for 11. The Chargers moved to a 2nd and goal at the 4. Jackson got stopped and on 3rd and goal Herbert hit Palmer for only 3 yards. Brandon Staley gambles on 4th down all the time. It was a shocker when on 4th and goal at the one, he opted for the field goal. Dustin Hopkins hit from 19 to make it 10-0 Chargers. 

The Broncos after a touchback moved to a 1st and goal at the 2. Lock lost a yard and Williams got it back. On 3rd and goal, Williams got stopped. This day was truly opposite day. The normally aggressive Brandon Staley went conservative and the very conservative Vic Fangio got aggressive. On 4th and goal at the 2, Lock lateraled to Hinton, who threw it back to Lock. Yet Lock only gained one as the Chargers defense again came up big. The key play in the game came when the Chargers punted on 4th and 2 from their own 10 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the half. The Broncos fumbled the punt and Hall recovered for the Chargers just past midfield. On 3rd and 3 from the Denver 42, a run gained only one yard. This time Staley returned to his gambling ways. On 4th and 2, Herbert hit Ekeler for 11 and 3 more and then Guyton for 5. On 3rd and 2 from the Denver 22, Herbert got just enough. Herbert hit Jackson for 9 and 3. With 14 seconds left in the half, Herbert hit Allen for an 8 yard touchdown to make it 17-0 Chargers.

After a touchback, the Chargers defense got very lazy in the final 14 seconds. Lock hit Melvin Gordon for 24 and Hinton for 8 to leave 2 seconds. Brandon McManus has a strong leg but his previous long was 58 yards. He buried this kick from 61 to get the Broncos on the board. Yet there would be no momentum shift. The Chargers in the third quarter from their own 17 moved 78 yards in 14 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. Despite 1st and goal at the one, Ekeler lost 4 yards and Herbert threw incomplete twice. Hopkins hit the 23 yard field goal to make it 20-3 Chargers. The Broncos after a touchback moved 70 yards in 12 plays and 7 minutes. On 4th and goal at the one to start the fourth quarter, Gordon got in. Yet hope was quickly extinguished when illegal formation nullified the touchdown. On 4th and goal at the 6 needing 3 scores, Fangio opted for the field goal. McManus hit from 23 to get the Broncos within 20-6. 13 seconds later, all hope for Denver was extinguished.  Roberts returned the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown and a 27-6 Chargers lead. On 4th and 3 from the Chargers 47, Lock threw incomplete. On 3rd and 3 from the Denver 45, Herbert went to Mike Williams for the touchdown to make it a 34-6 Chargers blowout. The Broncos got one garbage touchdown but were bounced from playoff contention. The 9-7 Chargers are at the 9-7 Raiders in the regular season finale. For the Chargers, the scenario is simple. If they win, they are in the playoffs. If they lose, they are out. 34-13 Chargers

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints — The Panthers were long done while the 7-8 Saints were still alive. After playing with a practice squad quarterback last week, the Saints got Taysom Hill back from the Covid list. The Panthers after a touchback moved 61 yards in 12 plays and 7 minutes. On 2nd and 8 from the New Orleans 12, consecutive plays each lost a yard. Lirim Hajrullahu hit the 32 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Panthers. The Saints after a touchback moved to a 3rd and 12 at the Carolina 30. Hill hit Alvin Kamara for only 7. Brett Maher hit the 41 yarder to tie the game 3-3. The Panthers took over at their own 19. Chuba Hubbard gained 6 and 5. On 3rd and 3 from their own 37, Darnold hit Abdullah for 10. The Panthers began the second quarter facing 2nd and 7 at midfield. Darnold hit Robby Anderson for 7 and Hubbard for 17. Hubbard ran for a 21 yard touchdown. The Panthers led 10-3, but their offense took the final 43 minutes off. 

The Saints tried to claw back the hard way. The Panthers faced 3rd and 9 from their own 21. Darnold was sacked and fumbled. The Saints recovered at the Carolina 13. On 3rd and 6 from the 9, Hill threw incomplete. Maher hit from 27 as the Saints trailed 10-6. With 1:53 left in the half, the Saints were pinned at their own 4 yard line. On 3rd and 11 from their own 3, Sean Payton went mega-aggressive and Hill went deep to Callaway for 28 and Humphrey for 16 and 8. Maher hit from 41 to end the half with the Saints within 10-9. with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter the Panthers punted on 4th and 15 from their own 4. A short 37 yard punt had the Saints taking over at the Carolina 38.  Hill ran for gains of 6 and 14. On 2nd and 7 from the Carolina 15, Hill threw incomplete twice. Maher hit his 4th field goal from 33 for a 12-10 Saints lead. The Panthers after a touchback moved 46 yards in 10 plays and 5 minutes. With 12 minutes left in regulation Hajrullahu came in for a 47 yard field goal try to give the Panthers the lead back. The kick was no good. The Saints on 3rd and 2 from their own 45 saw Hill hit Prentice for 4. Kamara gained 30. Hill ran for 9 and then threw a 12 yard touchdown pass to Kamara. Midway through the fourth quarter the Saints led by 8. Yet despite making 4 field goals, Maher’s extra point doinked off one upright, bounced sideways, hit the other upright, and was no good. It did not matter. On 2nd and 20 from his own 31 with 54 seconds left, Darnold was intercepted by DJ Moore. The 8-8 Saints are still alive but need help. If they win next week at Atlanta and San Francisco loses, the Saints are in the playoffs. Otherwise, they are out. 18-10 Saints

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks — Both teams are out of the playoffs, but speculation swirled over whether this was Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll’s final game together in the Pacific Northwest. This was their first losing season since their first season together in 2012. The Lions moved from their own 30 to a 3rd and 2 at the Seattle 30. Williams only gained one. Dan Campbell gambled on 4th and 1 and Williams got stopped. The Seahawks faced 3rd and 10 from their own 29. Wilson hit Gerald Everett for 12. On 3rd and 3 from their own 48, Wilson hit Rashaad Penny for 4. Penny ran for 20 and then the 15 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Seahawks. The Seahawks got it back at their own 26 and moved to a 1st and 10 at the Detroit 29. A completion lost 5 yards. Jason Myers nailed a 51 yard field goal to make it 10-0 Seahawks after the first quarter. The Seahawks got it back to start the second quarter at their own 36. Wilson immediately went deep to Swain for 58. Penny ran for a 6 yard touchdown to make it 17-0 Seahawks. 

The Lions got a 47 yard kickoff return to start at the Seattle 45. Tim Boyle hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for 16. On 3rd and 10 from the Seattle 26, St. Brown ran for a touchdown to get the Lions on the board. The Seahawks quickly moved to end the game. The Seahawks took over at their own 31. Wilson hit DK Metcalf for 11. On 3rd and 6 from their own 46, Wilson went deep to Tyler Lockett for 28. On 4th and 1 from the Detroit 17, Pete Carroll went for it and Wilson gained 2. On 3rd and 8 from the Detroit 13, Wilson hit Metcalf for the score to make it 24-7 Seahawks. The Seahawks got it back at their own 10. Penny ran for 5, 5, 2, and then a big 37 yard gain. Penny added runs of 3 and 6 and Homer gained 13 down to the one. With 21 seconds left in the half, Wilson hit Lockett for the score. The 11 play, 90 yard, 5 minute drive made it 31-7 Seahawks. Any Lions ray of hope died when Myers missed a 55 yard field goal to end the half. On the first play of the third quarter after a touchback, Boyle fumbled the shotgun snap, picked up the ball, and was intercepted by Reed. The Seahawks took over at the Detroit 21. Two plays later Wilson hit Metcalf for a 13 yard touchdown. The Seahawks led 38-7 only 48 seconds into the second half. For some reason, the final 29 minutes were played. Something about league rules. 

The Lions took over at their own 27. From their 37, Boyle hit St. Brown for 20 and Hodge for 42 down to the one. They moved backward but on 3rd and goal from the 7, Boyle hit St. Brown for the score. Boyle also hit St. Browne for the 2 point conversion to get the Lions within 38-15. A perfectly executed onside kick set up the Lions at their own 44. On 1st and 14, Boyle hit Williams for 11. On 4th and 3 from the Seattle 39, Boyle hit St. Brown for 31. On 2nd and goal from the 18 after offensive holding, a completion only gained 6 but a defensive facemask added 6 more to make 1st and goal at the 6. Boyle hit Taylor Decker for the touchdown as the Lions were within 38-22 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. After a touchback, the Seahawks moved 75 yards in 13 plays and 7 1/2 minutes. with 12 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Wilson threw a one yard touchdown to Metcalf to make it 45-22 Seahawks. The Lions then moved 75 yards in 11 plays and 5 1/2 minutes. On 3rd and goal at the one, Jamaal Williams got in to get the Lions within 45-29. A 31 point deficit was cut to 16, but no closer. Myers hit a 36 yard field goal to put the game out of reach. Boyle was intercepted to give the Lions the ball at the Detroit 22. Myers hit again from 42. Boyle was quickly intercepted again. At the 2 minute warning from the Detroit 31, Eskridge ran for 30 down to the one. With the crowd begging for more points, Carroll and Wilson ended the game the classy way. If this was their final home game together, it ended with dignity as Wilson took 2 knees rather than run up the score. If the Lions lose next week and Jacksonville somehow wins, the Lions would have the top pick in the Draft. 51-29 Seahawks 

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys — Both teams had already clinched a playoff spot but were going in opposite direction. The Cardinals were once 10-2 but had lost 3 straight. The Cowboys were 7-4 but had won 4 straight. The 11-4 Cowboys at home with a win would still have a shot at home field throughout the playoffs. They had already clinched the NFC East. The 10-5 Cardinals were no longer in contention for home field but a loss would also cost them the NFC West as well. They entered one game behind the Rams and needed to win to keep pace. The Cardinals were without Deandre Hopkins. The Cardinals took over at their own 16. Dortch gained 24 and Edmonds added 14. On 3rd and 9 from the Dallas 45, Murray went deep to AJ Green for 42. On 3rd and goal at the one, a false start killed the drive. Murray threw incomplete from the 6. Matt prater hit a 24 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Cardinals. The Cowboys after a touchback moved 50 yards in 12 plays and 5 minutes. On 3rd and 4 from the Arizona 20, it was the Cowboys turn to have a killer false start followed by an incompletion. Greg Zuerlein’s 43 yard field goal to tie the game was no good. 

The Cardinals began the second quarter facing 3rd and 8 from their own 11. Murray went to Edmonds for 17. On 4th and 2 from their own 36, Kliff Kingsbury gambled on a fake punt. The punter Banjo threw over the middle to Ward, who made the greatest helmet catch since david Tyree ruined New England’s perfect season. The 23 yard gain was followed by 3rd and 6 from the Dallas 37. Murray threw incomplete but defensive pass interference meant a 14 yard gain. On 2nd and 15 from the Dallas 28,, Murray hit Green for 20. On 3rd and goal at the 6, Murray hit Edmonds for only 5. Kingsbury gambled again on 4th and goal at the one. Murray hit Antoine Wesley for the touchdown to make it 10-0 Cardinals. The Cowboys took over at their own 23. Ezekiel Elliott gained 6. Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for 9 and Schultz for 7. On 2nd and 10 from his own 48, Prescott hit Cedric Wilson for 11. Prescott was intercepted, but defensive pass interference instead gave the Cowboys 5 more yards. Another defensive pass interference call added 10 more yards. Then the defense jumped offside. Prescott then hit Michael Gallup for a 21 yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. The 11 play, 77 yard drive had the Cowboys within 10-7. Gallup apparently suffered a knee injury on the play and is out for the rest of the season, a major loss for the Cowboys.

The Cardinals soon faced 3rd and 3 from their own 32. Edmonds gained 7. Murray hit Ertz for 9 and Kirk for 4 and 5. With 17 seconds left on 3rd and 5 from the Dallas 43, the defense jumped offside. Now it was 3rd and inches. Edmonds gained 4. That was enough for Prater to nail a 53 yard field goal to put the Cardinals up 13-7 at the break. The Cardinals began the third quarter facing 3rd and 9 from their own 26. Murray went to Edmonds for 11 and then deep to Kirk for 43. On 3rd and 11 from the Dallas 24, the defense jumped offside. On 3rd and 6, Murray hit Wesley for the touchdown. Kliff Kingsbury went for 2 unsuccessfully but the Cardinals led 19-7. The Cardinals got it back at their own 43 and Murray hit Kirk for 16. The Cardinals moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Dallas 8 with a chance to put the game away. Edmonds gained nothing and Murray on 3rd and 5 threw incomplete. Prater hit from 26 as the Cardinals led 22-7 after three quarters. This game was far from over.

The Cardinals got it back at their own 23 but a 14 yard sack of Murray had them punting on 4th and 28 from their own 5. A 17 yard punt return came the Cowboys gift field position at the Arizona 31. Prescott hit Pollard for 12. On 3rd and 13 from the Arizona 22, Prescott scrambled for 12 to end the third quarter. The fourth quarter began with Mike McCarthy deciding to go for it on 4th and 1 from the Arizona 10. Prescott gained 3. On 3rd and goal from the 7, Prescott hit Amari Cooper for only 5. McCarthy had to gamble again on 4th and goal at the 2. Prescott went to Wilson for the touchdown only one minute into the fourth quarter. McCarthy decided to go for 2 despite plenty of time remaining. A delay of game led to him just kicking the extra point to get the Cowboys within 22-14. The Cowboys got it back at their own 10 and Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for 26. Yet 2 plays later Prescott scrambled and got hit and fumbled. The Cardinals recovered at the Dallas 44. A defensive facemask moved the Cardinals 15 yards closer. On 3rd and 9 from the Dallas 27, Murray hit Wesley for only 7. With 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Kliff Kingsbury decided not to gamble on 4th and 2. Prater hit the 38 yard field goal to give the Cardinals breathing room up 25-14. 

The Cowboys soon aced 4ht and 1 from their own 34. With 6:46 left and needing 2 scores, going for it was necessary. A defensive stop would end things. Prescott hit Wilson for 7. Then Mike McCarthy went to the bag of tricks. Prescott lateraled to Wilson, who threw the halfback option pass to Pollard for a 31 yard gain. Prescott then hit Lamb for 16, Wilson for 8, and Cooper for the 4 yard touchdown. Prescott hit Wilson for the 2 point conversion. With 4:42 left, the Cowboys had cut a 15 point deficit to 3 points. After a touchback, Murray ran for 15 and hit Ertz for 11. Edmonds ran for 11 as the Cowboys took their last timeout on defense with 2:51 left. Major controversy then ensued with the Cardinals facing 2nd and 4 from the Dallas 29. Murray ran for 9 but lost the ball and the Cowboys recovered. Officials ruled Murray down by contact. Had 2 minutes or less remained, it would be an automatic booth review. Since more than 2 minutes remained, it would require a Cowboys challenge. Yet since they were out of timeouts, they could not challenge the call. Replay showed a fumble. While the officials may have blown the call, it was the Cowboys being out of timeouts to challenge that cost them. Murray had the clinching first down and then took 3 knees. Both teams are 11-5. Neither team can get home field throughout the playoffs now. The Cardinals can still win the NFC West if they win at home against Seattle and the Rams lose. If the Cardinals lose or the Rams win, the Cardinals will be a wildcard. Either way, both of these teams could make a deep playoff run. A rematch would be much anticipated. 25-22 Cardinals

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers was the Sunday night game. For both teams, the situation was simple. The 7-8 Vikings needed to win out and get help to make the playoffs. A loss and they were done. Making matters worse, Kirk Cousins was out with Covid so backup Sean Mannion had to play his first game since 2019. The 12-3 Packers had already clinched the NFC North. With a win, they would lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss would force them to play their starters next week to try and get home field. The Packers were expected to win easily while the Vikings hoped for the shocking upset. Early on the Minnesota defense hung tough. The Packers moved from their 25 to a 1st and 10 at the Minnesota 17. Rodgers threw incomplete twice and completed a pass for no gain. Mason Crosby hit a 35 yard field goal to make it 3-0 Packers. The Vikings moved from their 34 to a 4th and 3 at the Green Bay 47. Mike Zimmer gambled rather than punt and play field position. Mannion threw incomplete. The Packers moved to a 3rd and 3 at the Minnesota 11. Rodgers threw incomplete and Matt LaFleur decided to go for it rather than kick a chip shot field goal and go up 10-0. Rodgers threw incomplete. In the second quarter the Packers moved from their own 21 to a 3rd and 4 at the Minnesota 18. Rodgers threw incomplete and this time LaFleur played it safe. Crosby hit from 36. with 9 minutes left in the half, the Packers only led 6-0. The expected blowout seemed to be a slugfest. Yet with no offense to help them, the Minnesota defense finally broke.

The Packers got it back at their own 34 midway through the second quarter. Dillon gained 5 and 4. On 3rd and 1 from their own 43, Rodgers hit Adams for 15, Allan Lazard for 17, Adams for 5, and Lazard for the 20 yard touchdown to make it 13-0 Packers. The Packers got it back at their own 36 with 2:08 left in the half. Rodgers hit Adams for 19, Aaron Jones for 8, Marques Valdez-Scantling for 3, Lazard for 6, Adams for 17, and Adams for the 11 yard touchdown. With one minute left in the half, the Packers led 20-0. Greg Joseph hit a 51 yard field goal for the Vikings to end the half, but this game was over. The third quarter saw a 21 yard Packers punt return with 15 more tacked on for unnecessary roughness to set them up at the Minnesota 37. Rodgers hit Lazard for 9. AJ Dillon ran for 8, 3, 7, and the 4 yard touchdown to make it 27-3 Packers. Midway through the third quarter on 4th and 3 just shy of midfield, Mike Zimmer went for it and Mannion threw incomplete. The short field led to a 37 yard Crosby field goal to make it 30-3 Packers. The Vikings managed one touchdown before the third quarter ended, but in the fourth quarter the Packers moved 70 yards in 11 plays and 6 1/2 minutes. Dillon ran for a 7 yard touchdown to finish the blowout. The Vikings are out of the playoffs as Zimmer awaits his Black Monday fate after their season finale next week. The Packers are 13-3 for the third straight season. They are the first team in NFL history to win at least 13 games in 3 straight seasons. Matt LaFleur has the greatest 3 year regular season stretch to start a season in NFL history, beating george Siefert by one game. Given the history of the Packers, that’s impressive. The Packers have clinched home field throughout the playoffs and can rest their starters in their regular season finale if they choose. Yet they had home field throughout last year and didn’t finish. They know this. Rodgers certainly does. 37-10 Packers

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers is the Monday night game. The 7-8 Browns were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday. The 7-7 Steelers were still alive but needed to beat the Browns and win next week and get help to get in. A loss would finish the Steelers. Emotions ran high as Ben Roethlisberger indicated it might very well be his final game at Heinz Field. Big Ben is expected to retire after 18 seasons. Although the Browns had nothing to play for, this once-lopsided affair became a bitter rivalry last year when the Browns went into Pittsburgh and blasted them out of the playoffs. This past Halloween, the Steelers went into Cleveland and gutted out a 15-10 win.

The rematch was another AFC North two-fisted slobberknocker. Both teams moved to around the opposing 35 yard line, passed up a difficult 53 yard field goal in Heinz field, went for it, and turned it over on downs. After a scoreless first quarter, the Steelers began the second quarter at their own 34. A key play happened on 3rd and 10 from the Cleveland 36. A completion only gained 3 yards. Yet an imbecilic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defender Jadaveon Clowney meant 15 yards and an automatic first down. Roethlisberger hit Johnson for a 5 yard touchdown to make it 7-0 Steelers. An interception of Baker Mayfield gave the Steelers a short field at the Cleveland 43. Yet on 1st and goal at the 4, Roethlisberger threw 3 straight incompletions. Chris Boswell hit the 22 yard field goal to make it 10-0 Steelers at halftime. Boswell hit again from 30 in the third quarter to make it 13-0 Steelers.

Mayfield kept having his passes batted down, yet Kevin Stefanski stubbornly refused to pound a healthy Nick Chubb into a relatively weak Pittsburgh run defense. Late in the third quarter, a great punt pinned the Steelers at their own 5. A sack of Roethlisberger forced a 3 and out and a punt that was nearly blocked. The Browns had a short field at the Pittsburgh 48. After being beaten up all game, Mayfield went deep to Donovan Peoples-Jones for 39. On 3rd and goal at the 3, Mayfield threw a fade to the corner of the end zone and David Njoku out-jumped the defender. The touchdown had the Browns within 13-7 after three quarters. Yet early in the fourth quarter with the Browns punting on 4th and 20 from their own 36, this time Dustin Colquitt shanked a 21 yard punt. The Steelers took over at their own 43. That was enough for Boswell to hit his third field goal from 50 to put the Steelers up 16-7 with 9:45 left in regulation. The Browns went backward under a hail of penalties and a sack and punted on 4th and 30 from their own 5. That gave the Steelers another short field at the Cleveland 37. Boswell hit his 4th field goal from 48 to make it 19-7 Steelers with 6 minutes left.

Needing 2 scores, the desperate Browns mounted a 17 play drive helped along by a pair of defensive pass interference calls. Mayfield threw a one yard touchdown with 1:10 to play. The onside kick failed. The Steelers faced 3rd and 2 from the Cleveland 37 with one minute left. The desperate Browns needed a stop and a miracle. Instead, Najee Harris broke free and raced for the exclamation point touchdown. Since 1990, the Browns are 3-28-1 at Pittsburgh. One of those wins was last year’s playoff game, so the Steelers sweeping the Browns this year was a measure of revenge. Mayfield was sacked 9 times. TJ Watt had 4 sacks, the highest total in a single game since Joey Porter 20 years ago. Watt’s season sack total is 21.5, only one sack behind the NFL record set by Michael Strahan. Meanwhile, after 15 seasons at the helm, Mike Tomlin still has never had a losing season. More importantly, the Steelers still have slim playoff hopes. 26-14 Steelers

2022: We…can…do…this.

January 1st, 2022

2022: We…can…do…this

What the heck is that beeping sound?

(Knocks the phone off the hook, keeps banging the snooze alarm)

A voice tells me it’s my pager. My pager is black, so finding it in the dark is the needle in the haystack equivalent. A lucky smack knocks it against the wall, where it may or may not have shattered. The beeping continues. Why does anyone need a pager anymore anyway?

Who the heck is texting me at this ungodly hour of…(either 7 a.m., 1 p.m., or 1 a.m. …it looks blurry)?

Oh, no. It is 5 a.m., and my first radio interview of the New Year is with the morning man of an East Coast station. Time to pretend to sound coherent and go back to sleep. Oh no, wait, that radio interview was several years ago.

Great, happy wishes for the new year. Thanks. Whoever you are, it is too early to talk to you.

One year the person on the telephone insisted it was 1 p.m. After explaining to them that they were on the East Coast, and that 1 p.m. EST is 10 a.m. in Los Angeles, they grew impatient. They knew how to tell time, and that it was 4 p.m. EST, hence 1 p.m. my time.

Sure, getting up and writing my column is an option. It’s a new year, and starting the year off with a flurry of brilliance might be helpful. Forget it. This column is recycled from years ago. It’s also hours late. That is what happens when people sleep in because of New Year’s Eve revelry.

The first person to talk politics gets blistered in my column … tomorrow.

Bowl games? There is DVR. Besides, does anybody care who wins the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl, the Lack of Insight.com Bowl, the Fishbowl, the RU486 Morning After Bowl, The California Metrosexual Pride Bowl, or any other game that may or may not be made up?

Speaking of the morning after, does anybody remember the David Byrne Talking Heads song from the movie “Less than Zero?  The song is called “Once In A Lifetime.”

“This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife. What have I done? How did I get here?”

It then occurs to me that the beeping sounds are the voices in my head telling me I am too old, even at 49, to stay out this late. Even without alcohol, exhaustion has set in.

Get out of bed? Work calls in (whenever) hours. Better rest up before my tyrant of a boss complains. Such is the life of the self-employed.

Get up now? Somehow stagger to the shower, get dressed, make it out of my condo to go … where?

The stores are closed. Maybe they are open. Too tired to find out.

My birthday is in just over a week. Time to pace myself.

Work on my website? All that takes is staggering to my couch. Oh, no. My IT guy has not finished it yet. Oh, wait, he did years ago. I clicked on the wrong site.

Go on Jdate and search for women? Not a bad idea, except it is too tiring to check their Adams Apples. This is not the year for a boyfriend, and am not sure that my eyes can tell the difference right now. Besides, Jdate is so 2014. Now it is Tinder, JSwipe and JCrush. No, wait. Those are so 2019.

Shop on eBay? No. bad idea. Buying stuff when not at full capacity is problematic. Who needs another mountain goat? Dang creature gets his horns in my hide. Not a comfy way to wake up. Calm down boy, you’ll get some straw to graze on upon my waking up.

Work on my record album? Although again, world, just because my hair is long, that does not mean my band exists. The best instrument is the triangle, because that tells me lunch is ready. I could work on growing my hair even longer, although I didn’t do much to start. I sat. It grew.

Ahh, yes, lunch. Get up and eat something. My microwave is slow, and a five minute microwave dinner takes almost 15 minutes. Read the paper? It is cold outside my building where the stand is, and it only takes coins. Reading the paper online is tiring, and my printer is not working. At least the lifestyle section makes a great placemat for eating. Oh, wait. That stand does not exist anymore. Reading the paper online it is.

Staying in bed for only a couple more hours until (whatever the big and little hands say) would allow me to stay up all night and be totally exhausted for work tomorrow. Again, my boss is a tyrant.

Running errands … not gonna happen.

Every morning, a four word prayer starts my day. My elbows are used to try and leverage them against my bed to prop me up. Placing my alarm clock on the other side of the room failed, since ripping the cord out of the wall solved that problem.

As for the Jewish brunette who stole the covers, her voice was not a problem last night, although if she opens her trap today she will receive a more caustic reception than usual.

Oh wait, she already left. Here is a note. “Tried to wake you, but that was a losing battle. By the way, you have nothing but soda in your fridge. Talk to you soon.” oh, wait, I think that happened over a decade ago. This is 2022, not 2005.

She is a liar. There are potato chips in my fridge as well. Why they are there remains a mystery, but it saves having to remember which cabinet they are in. One-stop shopping  is the way to go.

Besides, combing my hair for her was enough. Not doing it this morning, proud “retrosexual” that is me.

At least having the decency to say some morning prayers would be appropriate.

“Hey God…those people I pray for every night…yeah those people, the same ones…look after them again.”

Back to sleep, despite every attempt to wake up. The home phone is turned off, the cell is off as well, and the pager is still shattered, in addition to being disconnected years ago.

There may have been a car crash outside my building followed by 911 calls and sirens, but telling everybody to “keep it down,” solved that problem. A brief nightmare of me being late for work was averted when I realized my location to me was known if necessary.

Four televisions in the living room, and none in the bedroom. Who thought that up? Oh yeah, a television in the bedroom would promote laziness. Besides, trying to figure out which remote to use would cause me to break them all as if they were my pager.

Ok, here it is. Come on, elbows, do your stuff. Rise, young lad, rise! Awaken thy exhausted tired eyes!

Why is God shouting? Oh wait, that is my over-dramatization of God.

Time to set the alarm now to avoid missing work tomorrow. Where was it thrown? Threw it? Oh, screw it.

Ok, time for my four word prayer. It has gotten me this incredibly terribly far. Time to contemplate getting out of bed.

“We…can…do…this.”

Happy 2022 all. Except for the person who woke me up earlier. Whoever you are, I still can’t stand you, even though you are doing me a favor.

Ten hours and 16 bowl games later, there is only one thing left to do.

Time for a nap. Good riddance to Pandemic 2021. Happy 2022.

Zzzzz.

eric