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NFLOL: Week 17

Not Jim Zorn

Not Jim Zorn

It was the last week of the year, with plenty of teams scrambling for playoff position, but even more teams completely mailing it in!  NBC speculated that Jets-Bengals might actually be competitive, and ended up with the Jets mopping the floor with J.T. O’Sullivan and company.  Some 8-7 teams squared off, the Broncos disappointed their fans, and Arizona, Green Bay, Philadelphia, and Dallas completed the first half of their Groundhog-Day-double-date with inconclusive results.  I was tempted to put in a backup columnist half way through this column, but you play to win with NFLOL!

Buffalo 30, Indianapolis 7

Indianapolis rested their starters, sort of, only they still played them for a quarter in a snowstorm, presumably so Dallas Clark could get to 100 receptions.  Backup QB Curtis Painter was unable to lead the team to victory in relief of Peyton Manning, because it was a blizzard, he was throwing to Samuel Giguere and Hank Baskett instead of Reggie Wayne and Clark, and mostly because he’s Curtis Painter.  The saddest man in all this?  Injured Colts backup Jim Sorgi, who has a career 90 QB rating playing exclusively in garbage time.  Not only did he miss his chance to heroically lead the not-trying Colts to an undefeated season, he has blown any chance he once had of appearing in the last five seconds of a MasterCard commercial.

San Diego 23, Washington 20

In the documentary “Hands On a Hard Body”,  A motley group of contestants in West Texas compete for a hard body pickup truck.  The last one to keep his hand on the truck, amidst sleep deprivation and oppressive heat, wins the truck.  Coach Jim Zorn’s season was much like this. The owner stripped him of play-calling duties, while the team president bad-mouthed him in the press, but Zorn refused to quit.  Through a humiliating defeat to the terrible Lions and a heart-breaking loss to the excellent Saints, Zorn kept his hand on the coaching job.  His reward is the $2.4 million salary for 2010 that Daniel Snyder is forced to pay him.  He’s never going to be a head coach again; might as well get that money.  They told Zorn, “You’re fired,” but really, the message should have been, “You made it.”

The Chargers go into the playoffs as the hottest team in the NFL, a stunning reversal for Norv Turner, who was looking at a pink slip after the first Broncos game, and now looks like the second-best coach in the AFC playoffs.  We’re now living in a world where teams are positioning themselves to face Peyton Manning and an effectively undefeated Colts team rather than Norv Turner in January.  Dogs and cats, living together!

Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 17

The Browns finish the year on a four-game winning streak, and Eric Mangini’s job is still not safe.  Mike Holmgren is in charge of the organization, and he’s going to re-evaluate everybody, and then hire whoever LeBron James prefers as the coach.  In these wins, the Browns won with kick returns and Josh Cribbs, and their quarterbacks averaged 90 yards passing.  This bodes well for the Browns 2010 season if the NFL agrees to ban the forward pass.  Otherwise, welcome to Cleveland, Jimmy Clausen!

Chicago 37, Detroit 23

Improbably, Jay Cutler will finish the year with more touchdown passes than interceptions, albeit by just one.  It’s hard to believe, just like the fact that “Pearl Harbor” won an Oscar.  The real message is not that Cutler is competent, it’s that 2009 was a bad year for NFC North pass defenses, just like 2001 was apparently an awful year for sound effects editing.  In addition, Cutler’s nemesis, Josh McDaniels, blew a 6-0 start to finish with the exact same record as the Bears, which would be more consolation if Denver didn’t have Chicago’s #1 pick.  Perhaps he’ll deal Brandon Marshall, so Cutler will have more weapons than Devin Aromashodu next season.

San Francisco 28, St. Louis 6

The 49ers got to .500 for the first time in seven years, but can’t feel good at all about being held scoreless in the first half versus a 1-14 with absolutely nothing to play for.  Arguably, St. Louis actively WANTED to lose, as evidenced by their decision to kick a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the two, down four points in the fourth quarter.  The teams combined for twenty punts, with nine by the 49ers Pro Bowl punter, Andy Lee.  Nothing has evidenced the dark, post-2002 period for the 49ers more than the emergence of Andy Lee as a regular Pro Bowler.

Pittsburgh 30, Miami 24

While they finished only 7-9, the Dolphins continued their season of roller coaster performances, coming back 17 down in the 4th quarter to get within a field goal before running out of gas.  They were the anti-Browns, playing exciting football, running trick plays, and neither bad nor good enough that a fourth quarter was ever irrelevant in their games.  The Steelers knocked out two different Miami QBs, who were already replacing original starter Chad Pennington.  Usually, the only time you will see a team use four quarterbacks is when a powerhouse like the late-80s 49ers realized that even playing Steve Bono was rubbing it in, and they needed to call off the dogs with a Bill Musgrave appearance, or when the Oakland Raiders draft an obese alcoholic QB with the first pick in the draft.

Minnesota 44, New York Giants 7

The Vikings delivered a dominating performance against the Giants, who seem to have been resting their starters for the Pro Bowl.  They’ll play at a new stadium next year, because after last week’s toxic performance against Carolina, Giants Stadium is now classified as a Superfund site.  Minnesota clinched a first-round bye and two guaranteed indoor games in the NFC playoffs, which will help Old Man Favre’s rheumatism.

Atlanta 20, Tampa Bay 10

Atlanta had consecutive winning records for the first time ever.  If they were in the AFC, they’d be a playoff team, but they’ll have to console themselves with a proud ending to their season, and wondering how things might been different with a better place-kicker.  Tampa went 3-13 with Raheem Morris, the youngest coach in the league.  Considering the lack of support he’s gotten from ownership in recent weeks, he looks to be the youngest unemployed coach in the league very soon.  He and Jim Zorn should get together, have a few beers, and design some elaborate fake-punt plays while they spend their severance packages.

Carolina 23, New Orleans 10

In a end-of-season surge designed to screw the 49ers’ draft position and guarantee Jake Delhomme’s unconditional release, the Panthers finished with some impressive performances to get to 8-8, a record that John Fox ends up with nearly every year.  Maybe the trade where SF got Carolina’s 2010 #1 was motivated by Fox simply being sick of picking at #15.  Meanwhile, the Saints’s season could have been directed by M. Night Shyamalan: intriguing beginning, rising dramatic tension, an unpredictable twist (the entire Washington game), followed by a disappointing ending that makes you question how good the previous 85% was.  If it turns out that the Superdome has been secretly located inside a protected national forest for years the whole time, or if the Saints run defense is allergic to water, you heard it here first.

Houston 34, New England 27

The question for locked-in playoff teams inevitably comes down to how much you try, how much you play your starters with very little at stake.  It’s more complicated when the game still has implications for your opponent.  The Patriots had the worst possible outcome: they played most of their starters, Wes Welker tore his ACL, Tom Brady got hit hard, and the team lost anyway, getting the #4 seed and a matchup with the dangerous Baltimore Ravens.  One year after his hit destroyed Tom Brady’s knee, Bernard Pollard picked off a pass and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.  Soon, it will come out that Pollard convinced Bill Belichick to go for it on 4th down against Indianapolis, and that he stole Bridget Moynahan’s birth control pills right before she and Brady broke up.

Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0

This was a crucial game: the winner got the NFC East title and a home playoff game, while Philly had a chance at a first-round bye.  Dallas was the only team that treated it as one, laying a total beatdown on the Eagles and shutting down all the pseudo-Seans.  The Eagles couldn’t run the ball at all, not that Andy Reid wanted to or tried.  Now the teams will face off in the same place next week, and Philly fans will have to hope they didn’t peak too soon.  A few weeks ago, everything was going Philadelphia’s way: the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” was delivering new episodes, and “Jersey Shore” had shifted the focus from Philadelphia assholes to New Jersey assholes.  They should go ahead and invite Pauly D and The Situation to sit in premium seats next week just to take some pressure off the team and the city.

Kansas City 44, Denver 24

Denver was a near-lock for the playoffs, but got knocked out by their horrendous AFC West compatriots, the Raiders and Chiefs.  Kyle Orton threw 56 passes, which is never a recipe for success.  In what might be a bad omen for Nick Saban in the upcoming BCS Championship Game, Texas alumni outscored Denver all by themselves, with Jamaal Charles rushing for two TDs and Derrick Johnson running back two INTs.  Worse, former Alabama fullback Tim Castille threw one pass for Kansas City – and it was intercepted.  As for former Longhorn Chris Simms, he did a stellar job holding his clipboard, not dropping it a single time.

Baltimore 21, Oakland 13

The Raiders were playing Baltimore tough, Charlie Frye was 18/25, with a QB rating of 105, and it looked like they might knock a third team out of playoff contention.  But then Frye tweaked his back, JaMarcus Russell came into the game, and it was all over for the Silver and Black.  Just win five of your eleven games, baby!  Russell threw one terrible interception, but he wasn’t as embarrassing as Hiram Eugene, who got stiff-armed into the ground on Willis McGahee’s 77-yard run.  Maybe McGahee thought Eugene was trying to serve him with a subpoena for a fraudulent paternity suit.

Green Bay 33, Arizona 7

This game didn’t matter at all!  Arizona and Green Bay were going to face off next week in Arizona next week no matter what, and the Cardinals played like they didn’t much care.  Matt Leinart came in for Kurt Warner, and threw an incompletion on his first pass, while his second was intercepted.  That interception didn’t count, as Arizona had committed a holding penalty in the end zone, so the Packers decided to accept the two-point safety, plus the ball, instead of taking possession on the Arizona 20.  They got a field goal out of it, but accepting the penalty might have cost them two points, long-term.  I think Mike McCarthy made the choice simply so there would be SOMETHING memorable about this otherwise phoned-in contest.

Tennessee 17, Seattle 13

Chris Johnson carried the ball 36 times in his quest for the rushing record, and while he fell just short, he did get over 2,000 yards.  It’s a testament to his skills, or an indictment of the Seattle defense, that he still gained 134 yards even though everyone in the stadium knew Johnson would be getting the ball at every possible opportunity.  Tennessee weirdly finished the season rather content to go 8-8, and Jeff Fisher’s job seems secure, even though they had the best record in the NFL last year.  In this way, the NFL is a lot like the NCAA, where early-season losses are totally forgotten as long as you finish strong.  That is, unless that early-season loss came to Appalachian State.

New York Jets 37, Cincinnati 0

In another pre-match game, the Jets qualified for the playoffs by beating down the Bengals at home.  New York made it into the postseason with consecutive wins versus teams with nothing to play for whatsoever, running up points on Curtis Painter and J.T. O’Sullivan.  It’s the luckiest New York football moment since David Tyree’s helmet catch.  While Cincinnati was locked into the #3 seed, and benched a lot of starters, it can’t be encouraging that Carson Palmer threw 11 passes for ZERO total yardage.  They’re going to need a few more than that to win next week, even at home against rookie interception machine Mark Sanchez.