That was as good as it gets. If you needed further proof that the NFL is the ultimate drama-stuffed reality show, Sunday afternoon's closing action should've sealed the deal for you.
A typical Week 17 can be the picture of boredom as meaningless action unfolds. The NFL managed to get everything lined up perfectly and the result was a bananas-filled afternoon of football.
8-7-1 3-2-1 looks like a set of lottery numbers. But it's actually the Packers' overall record and their division record. Yes, they are your 2013 NFC North champions. It wasn't pretty how they won it, but it sure was fun.
Aaron Rodgers, knocked out by the Bears in the teams' first meeting, returned from a fractured collarbone to play against Chicago in Week 17 along with his buddy Randall Cobb, who broke his leg against the Ravens in Week 6.
Rodgers struggled early, tossing a pair of picks and fumbling a ball that somehow ended up actually resulting in a touchdown thanks to Jarret Boykin being more heads up than everyone on the entire Bears defense.
That was hardly the beginning of the drama, though. There were a ton of ebbs and flows, the sort of thing you would expect when two teams with questionable defenses and volatile quarterbacks (Jay Cutler, obviously, plus an injured Rodgers) making plays all over the field.
Busted coverages were a theme, too. Alshon Jeffery and Cobb both got deep behind coverage for a score or near score. There was questionable usage of timeouts -- Marc Trestman almost called a timeout to challenge a play that was a first down on the 1-yard line. (Challenging the play, losing the challenge and two timeouts and then scoring anyway might've been worse than him kicking a field goal on second down.)
All of this was accurately depicted in the Win Probability graph from the game:
And if you want real-live football action to figure out just how crazy this game was, how about the unbelievable shot on fourth-and-8 from Rodgers to Cobb with 45 seconds left?
This play pushed the Packers ahead for good -- they would eventually win 33-28 -- and made me shriek like a snake just came down the chimney of our living room. I had no interest in who won but it was exciting pre-playoff football, the drama was building across the league and Rodgers just made that play.
Somehow having to play the Packers in the first round of the playoffs, with Rodgers and Cobb back, in Lambeau, doesn't seem like a fair reward for the 49ers winning 12 games. Green Bay has its flaws but it's in the tournament and has to be scary with the best quarterback in the game able to sling it around again.
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About this same time, the Chargers were set to punt on their first possession of overtime with 12:53 remaining. Mike McCoy went full-blown balls to the wall, called a fake on a direct snap to Eric Weddle and even though he picked up the first down, he had the ball stripped by Cyrus Gray, who promptly took it back for a touchdown ... that didn't count.
The ruling here isn't even that Weddle lost his helmet (though he did and under the NFL rules the play would be immediately dead when that happened which appears, to me, to be just before he loses the ball but it's close) but that he was ruled "down" by virtue of having his forward progress stopped. During the video of the play, you can hear the Chargers PA announcer mention that as well.
It's a pretty questionable call, honestly, considering Weddle was fighting through the scrum in order to get a first down.
What's even crazier is they probably shouldn't have gotten a shot at overtime in the first place. When Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard attempt to win the game before overtime (and push the Steelers into the playoffs), the Chargers were in violation of Rule 9.1.3(b)(2), which you may remember from the Week 7 field goal incident with the Jets and Patriots.
That rule also notes that it's illegal to have more than six guys on one side of the snapper while trying to block a field goal:
When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation: (1) No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap; Penalty: For illegal formation by the defense, loss of 5 yards from the previous spot.
You'll never guess what the Chargers had:
No call was made, Succop missed the kick and the game went to overtime, where the Chargers won. If you're San Diego, you're thrilled about this outcome. Obviously.
The Chargers were dead in the water just a few weeks ago. Or, if you prefer, hours ago. They needed the Ravens and Dolphins to both lose in order to have a shot at the playoffs and somehow both of those teams obliged.
All San Diego had to do was beat a bunch of Andy Reid's scrubs, only they put on a show that would've been the envy of Norv Turner's Bolts for most of the game.
The result of that was a mind-bending graph created by the fine folks at Advanced NFL Stats (they were running a live tracker) for the AFC wild-card race, knowing just how crazy it could possibly unfold:
Given the way they played against the Chiefs backups, it's hard to really love the Chargers. But Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen, who probably punched his ticket for Offensive Rookie of the Year on Sunday, give them a puncher's chance.
If you're the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have had -- ahem -- some issues with the refs this season, you're probably a little peeved that the zebras definitely screwed up at least once (and most likely twice).
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It didn't seem possible that the Eagles-Cowboys game could live up to the hype provided by the previous set of games. Even if it was a win-or-go-home game, Tony Romo wasn't involved and Kyle Orton was.
Kudos to Dallas and Orton, though. They found a way to stick in that game up until the very end. The Dallas defense held the Eagles to "just" 24 points. LeSean McCoy ran wild and Nick Foles was efficient but Dallas had opportunities.
Orton threw for 358 yards and a pair of scores, including what eventually amounted to an insane flipping score from Gavin Escobar:
And a clutch bomb to Dez Bryant, who stepped up big late for the Cowboys. None of it was enough, though. Eventually the other shoe dropped and Orton went, well, Full Romo.
Philly led the way most of the game. It never felt like the Eagles were actually going to find a way to screw things up, whereas you always get that feeling with the Cowboys. At 8-8 for the third straight year, they go together with mediocrity like spaghetti with meatballs.
But mix in a home-team clock operator malfunction and the ending was still epic, an excellent cap to an unreal final week of the NFL's regular season.
It's unthinkable to me that the Browns would fire Rob Chudzinski after a single season, one in which he came home after somewhat of a flopped coaching search left the Browns hanging in the wind.
It's not worth getting anyone's undies in a wad when it comes to the morals of the move. Chud's going to make $9 million next year to do nothing. He's also a smart, young, creative coach. Losing his job stinks but he'll live.
What stands out to me is how stupid the idea of firing your coach is. Look at this list:
Most Head Coaches Since 2000 Raiders 8 Redskins 7 Dolphins 7 Lions 7 Browns 7 Bills 7 >>Includes interim— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) December 30, 2013
Having hired a lot of coaches isn't the only thing those teams have in common. They've also been terrible for a long stretch now. And few teams have been as bad as the Browns. They've actually been responsible for the past four AFC North head coaches fired: Chud, Pat Shurmur, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel.
Maybe Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi have someone in the wings. Maybe it's someone like Josh McDaniels. Whatever. I bit on the Browns flipping this thing around and it's possible they will with a quarterback. I'm not biting again, mainly because the decision to fire a guy who has been with the team for less than 365 days doesn't resonate of "building" a franchise.
If anything it's the ultimate Waiting for Next Year move.
Cordarrelle Patterson is special
It took the Vikings a while to maximize his usage so he's not as involved in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race as he should be, but Cordarrelle Patterson has shown enough flashes to prove he's special. The latest spark was Sunday, when Patterson ripped off a ridiculous touchdown run off a busted wide receiver pass play.
Patterson now has a touchdown in five straight games, the first Vikings wide receiver to do so since Randy Moss in 2004. He has a nose for the end zone, obviously. And he's the first player to record three rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and two kick return touchdowns in his first season since Ollie Matson in 1952.
Leslie Frazier might not be around to reap the benefits (the Metrodome certainly won't) but Patterson is going to end up being a special player in this league. That Percy Harvin trade's looking pretty smart right now.
Worth pointing out very quickly how the teams that made the postseason started out the year (hat tip to Jason Kint for the idea) in terms of Super Bowl odds. And no, not just because the Panthers pick as a Super Bowl sleeper makes me look smart.
|Team||Seed||Preseason Odds||Preseason NFL Odds Rank|
|Team||GM||Position||Preseason NFL Odds Rank|
Many of the teams came from the "top 10" -- the Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots and 49ers are no surprise. Same for the Packers or Saints, although those two certainly traveled different paths to the playoffs than you would expect.
A bunch of other teams were in the bottom half of the league. The Chiefs were a longshot, as were the Chargers in the AFC. And the Eagles and Panthers are bottom of the barrell in the NFC, but both ended up winning their division.
Just goes to show you how difficult the NFL really is to predict.