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Week 14 Judgements: Forte's absence felt as Bears falter late

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. Finally, Chicago understands just how valuable Matt Forte is to the Bears because even when he doesn't play he decides ballgames. I mean, if Forte were playing Sunday do you honestly think he would've run out of bounds with just under two minutes left and the Broncos out of timeouts? Or how about fumbling in overtime when the Bears were within Robbie Gould's range? No frickin' way. But Barber did, and don't ask me why. Don't ask Marion, either. He wasn't around to explain himself to reporters. "We gave it away," returner Devin Hester moaned. I'd say that about sums it up. The killer, though, was Barber going out of bounds. Talk about dumb. He kept 40 seconds on the clock ... time Denver wouldn't have had on its game-tying drive in the last 56 seconds. "I might have thanked the Lord when he did that," Tim Tebow said. He should.

2. And while we're on the subject ... what in the world was Chicago doing having Barber run wide, anyway? I know, the guy never should have gone out of bounds, but he did. When you run wide you risk something stupid happening. And something did.

3. Talk about sore losers. Tebow finds a way to win again, and, afterward, Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher calls him "a good running back." No, Matt Forte is a good running back. Tim Tebow is a quarterback who was 13 for 17 for 130 yards on Denver's last drives -- all of which ended in scores -- and, yeah, I'd say that's good. If Chicago is a premier defense -- and I think we agree it is -- how does a "good running back" beat it with accurate passes when it matters most? That question is for you, Brian Urlacher.

4. It's not just that Houston clinched a first-ever playoff spot that makes Sunday's victory so significant. It's how the Texans did it -- with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates making the game-winning play with two seconds left. Yates overcame a 16-3 deficit and threw for 300 yards to get there. But he isn't the only guy who takes a bow. So should his head coach. Gary Kubiak overcame a raft of adversity this season to get where he ... and the Texans ... are.

5. My take on the Tom Brady sideline row with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien: It's a signal of how much pressure the guy's under because of a defense that has more holes than Storrow Drive. Brady must always, always, always be Tom Terrific to keep New England afloat. And when he's not? When he misses a pass or throws an interception he shouldn't? Well, you saw what happened.

6. Yeah, that was a nice play to force Joe Webb's last-play fumble in Detroit, but how did officials miss the DeAndre Levy facemask penalty? I don't like complaining about officiating, but it's been awful this year. Someone tell Carl Johnson, the league's vice president of officiating, we want an explanation.

7. The best thing that ever happened to Green Bay was the 2007 New England Patriots. It takes the pressure off a 16-0 finish because ... well, because it's already been done.

8. Enough is enough. The league should suspend Pittsburgh's James Harrison. Fines don't seem to get his attention. Let's see if a suspension will.

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9. Seeing is believing, and seeing the Dallas secondary is knowing how much it stinks. Granted, Eli Manning was sharp, but there were guys open all night. Tony Romo isn't keeping the Cowboys down; that porous pass defense is.

10. It's time to pay attention to New Orleans, and not just because the Saints are on a five-game roll. Nope, it's because they don't play outdoors again, either, with two of their last three at home where the Saints haven't lost.

11. I'll tell you why Ben Roethlisberger's high-ankle sprain is a big deal: Because the Steelers are a half-game behind Baltimore. So say the Steelers sit Roethlisberger vs. San Francisco and lose. Then they must count on Baltimore to lose two of its last three, and with San Diego, Cleveland and Cincinnati left I don't think that happens.

12. I want to meet that personnel director ESPN claims prefers Robert Griffin III to Andrew Luck. Luck is, should be and will be the first pick of the draft. Period.

13. Someone please tell me what injury Philip Rivers is hiding. In his last two starts he has seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

14. When Cam Newton said his teammates "need to get on [his] level," I assume that interceptions like the one he launched with his non-throwing hand were not what he had in mind.

15. Watching Jerry Jones' response to that last-second block of a Dan Bailey field goal, I have to believe that first-year coach Jason Garrett could be in trouble. The reason? Jeff Fisher is available, and he and Jones have been long-time allies.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. The NFL's decision to eliminate coast-to-coast travel for Thursday night games. Hallelujah. I've been hammering this subject all season. Finally, someone got a clue. Maybe it had to do something with those 13 teams that, in the last 15 years, had to travel at least 1,500 miles to play Thursday night games after Sunday. They were 0-13. Now, the league should take one more step and play Thursday night games following byes for the teams involved. It makes so much sense that players would welcome it.

2. Eli Manning in the fourth quarter. The guy leads the league in fourth-quarter passing, but, better yet, he has six fourth-quarter comebacks this season. This one, though, might've been his best. The Giants were down by 12 but somehow, some way, pulled out an improbable win. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan might've gotten this one right when he said Manning's an elite quarterback.

3. Norv Turner's call for a fake punt. It's not uncommon for Turner to be ripped for conservative play-calling, so let's applaud the guy when he takes a chance and it works. Turner went out on the ledge Sunday when he called for a fake punt on fourth-and-2 at the San Diego 30, with the Chargers holding a six-point lead. Eric Weddle got the first down, the series ended with a touchdown and the Chargers went on to win easily. Nice call, Norv.

4. Philadelphia's chance to determine someone's fate in New York. The Eagles play the Jets next weekend. Then they move on to play Dallas on Dec. 24. Don't tell me they're not a playoff factor because they are ... and people in the greater New York area are about to find out.

5. The job Ken Whisenhunt is doing in Arizona. It doesn't matter if it's John Skelton or Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Whisenhunt is winning with both. The Cards won five of their last six, including defeats of Dallas and San Francisco the past two weeks, and that's why Whisenhunt makes the big bucks, folks. Someone asked me last week if Whisenhunt was in trouble. My response: Get serious.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Tony Romo missing a wide-open Miles Austin down the stretch. The Cowboys were up by five when Romo floated a third-down pass to Austin, who had beaten the coverage. It was the perfect call, and it would've worked ... if the ball wasn't overthrown. I don't know if Austin's hamstring injury prevented him from stretching out. All I know is the pass was too far and that it could've closed the door on New York. I also know it's time to get ready for another week of Romo bashing.

2. The Jets' chances to run the table. They're not a good road team, and they must win in Philadelphia (possible) and win in Miami in the season finale (iffy). The Eagles are 1-5 at home and 1-8 dating back to last year, so let's say the Jets win there. How do you like their chances vs. the Giants at home or the Dolphins in Miami? The Dolphins have nothing to play for, but eliminating the Jets from the playoffs would qualify. And their chances just got a lift from what appears to be another season-ending knee injury to safety Jim Leonhard.

3. Raheem Morris' chance to return in Tampa Bay. Not only have the Bucs lost seven straight and eight of their last nine; they just got drilled by a Jacksonville club that, until Sunday, hadn't scored more than 20 points in any game. That's not how you put people in the stands, Raheem.

4. The knee injury to wide receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings left Sunday's game with what coach Mike McCarthy called a sprain, but stay tuned. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said "it didn't look very good," and that's a potential blow to the league's best team. Unlike last season, the Packers have been relatively healthy. Now this happens. Not good.

5. That fractured right ankle to DeMarco Murray. The rookie running back has been the MVP for the Cowboys, but now it appears he'll be lost for the season. Ouch. I'm with NBC's Tony Dungy: Stick a fork in Dallas. The Cowboys just blew a second straight game they should've won and haven't looked sharp in a month. Plus, they're 8-12 on or after Dec. 1 with Romo.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker. You're down to one play, and you have five yards to go. You scramble. You can't find a receiver. So what can't you do? I'll tell you what you don't do: Take the sack. So why did you, Jake?

2. Dallas coach Jason Garrett. I want to know why he let precious seconds tick off the clock after the Giants moved to the Cowboys' 1 with just over a minute left. TV showed owner Jerry Jones calling for a timeout. Heck, even Jones' daughter, Charlotte, was calling for one in the owners' box. But Garrett didn't, not until five to 10 seconds ran off.

3. Cincinnati defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones. It was his pass interference penalty vs. Jacoby Jones that set up Houston's game-winning TD. Stupid is as stupid does.

4. Dallas cornerback Frank Walker. It was his holding penalty that kept the Giants' game-winning drive going, and what's new? The Cowboys kept beating themselves all evening, with Walker and linebacker DeMarcus Ware committing two costly penalties down the stretch. Bailey didn't lose the game for Dallas; the Cowboys' defense did.

5. Anyone with the Cleveland Browns. Bad enough the Browns haven't surrounded Colt McCoy with playmakers in his two years there. But now this? His father should be ticked. Concussions ARE a big deal, and it's time the memo reached Cleveland.

JUST ASKING ...

 Have the San Francisco 49ers hit the wall?

 Whom do you trust more in the fourth quarter -- Tim Tebow or Eli Manning?

 Think Buffalo has buyer's remorse with Ryan Fitzpatrick?

 How do you like the Raiders' playoff chances now?

 Will the real Philadelphia Eagles please stand up?

NUMBERS ON THE WALL

1 –- Buffalo interceptions the last five games
3-0 -- New York Giants' record in the new Dallas stadium
4 -- Quarters that Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson have played together this year
4-14 -- Denver's record in its last 18 games before Tim Tebow stepped in
5 -- Teams that overcame 12-point deficits to win
6 -- Forced fumbles this season by Cliff Avril
6 -- Times Carolina has lost after leading or being tied in the fourth quarter
7 -- Tampa Bay turnovers Sunday
9-1 -- Atlanta under Mike Smith vs. rookie quarterbacks
80-30 -- Miami and Green Bay vs. Oakland the past two weeks

MY FIVE BEST TEAMS

1. Green Bay
2. New Orleans
3. Baltimore
4. Pittsburgh
5. Houston

MY FIVE WORST TEAMS

32. Indianapolis
31. St. Louis
30. Minnesota
29. Cleveland
28. Tampa Bay

NEXT WEEK'S THREE BEST GAMES

Detroit at Oakland ... NFL record for penalties in danger.

New England at Denver ... Now it's Belichick, Brady vs. Tebowmania.

Pittsburgh at San Francisco ... Big Ben ankle injury big deal for Steelers.

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