With just a quadrant of games left in the 2008 NFL season, the playoff picture is beginning to become more lucid. There are only 5 teams that are officially eliminated from contention: Kansas City, Cincinnati, Seattle, St. Louis and Detroit. The one surprise there are the Seahawks but the others' fanbases are not shcked by their mathematical elimination I am sure. There are a few clingers at the bottom of the "still alive" pile but unless some twisted BCS system can vote the Raiders in if they beat New England by 44 in a few weeks. More thoughts from the action I observed in week 13 after the break.
Steve Smith saves the day.
Steve Smith plays the game of football with a lot of emotion. It is evident to anyone who watches a Carolina Panthers game that this is the case. A catch made results in a contortion of his frame around the grass until he points to the sky and returns to the huddle or sidelines. Sometimes I think it is a bit too much, but Smith has been fighting odds his whole life and if the man needs to get his juices going by having a seizure of expression even if he makes a 7 yard reception, jiggle on I say. Of course we have all seen the negatives associated with his emotion when it overcomes his intellect, but the bottom line is that he is one of the premiere receivers in the game when he gets his hands on the ball. And that is precisely what he did on a critical 54 yard catch late in the 4th quarter to set up the winning score in Carolina's win in Green Bay 35-31.
Smith did not have a catch the whole first half but finished with 105 yards on the day in a game that both teams desperately needed. The Panthers came out looking sharp but in typical John Fox fashion, they came out flat and timid in the second allowing Green Bay to take over. The defense made a key goal-line stand and then Jake Delhomme connected on the long pass to Smith. DeAngelo Williams took the ball in a few plays later for his 4th rushing TD of the game. Williams has quietly become one of the league's best backs and it is a good thing for Carolina because rookie Jonathan Stewart has been dealing with injuries.
The loss drops Green Bay to 5-7 and two games behind division leading Minnesota. The Packers have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way so they still have realistic life but will need to win out and have Minnesota trip up. The Panthers kept pace with Tampa Bay who beat New Orleans setting up a MNF beauty next week between two 9-3 NFC teams in Charlotte.
Browns share their pain with the viewing audience.
The game opposite the Carolina-Green Bay contest was this gem between the Colts and Browns. To say the game was hard to watch would be something of an understatement. The final result of Indy winning 10-6 on a 37 yard fumble return was painful for me to watch and I'm sure the equivalent of Cleveland passing a collective kidney stone as a city as the 2008 season went down the toilet. When you play the Colts and hold them to 3 points on offense and Peyton Manning to 125 yards passing, you should win the game. The inefficiency of Derek Anderson made it clear Brady Quinn will be the quarterback beginning next season. Quinn ambled around in a jacket with his earpiece in throughout the game. Anderson hurt his knee on the last series of the game after taking a sack that sealed the Browns fate. It was like watching a horse being put out of his misery as he was helped off. Ken Dorsey now takes over, I don't envy you my fellow Hurricane. The Colts are virtually a shoe-in now since 3 of their 4 remaining games are against Cincinnati, Detroit, and Jacksonville.
Patriots drop the ball...literally.
A week after New England seemed to be hitting on all cylinders, they looked rather inept in the Steelers' 33-10 trouncing in Foxboro. The game began well for the Pats as Mike Vrabel intercepted a pass to set up a touchdown. It was tied 10-10 as the Patriots moved the ball inside the Pittsburgh ten when all of a sudden the Patriots lost the ability to play football it seemed. Matt Cassel threw behind a wide open Randy Moss in the endzone and then on the next play Moss dropped a touchdown in the same spot. After a third attempt at the same play was almost intercepted, Stephen Gostkowski came out and missed a point-blank field goal. The second half was all Steelers as Cassel fumbled the ball twice, threw two picks, and overall just had a horrible day. A week after people were ready to annoint him free-agent pick-up of the coming off-season, Matt returned to planet Earth. The Patriots offensive line had trouble with protection while the (cliché alert) much maligned Steeler O-line gave Ben Roethlisberger time to complete his passes.
The Steelers currently sit alone atop the AFC North, but Baltimore is right behind them and face off with them in two weeks. That game could decide the division especially since the Steelers host the Cowboys this week who need the win badly. The Patriots on the other hand are most likely going to be left out of the playoffs. Of course this will induce no crying from the rest of the NFL which is understandable, the Patriots have become a symbol of contempt around the league. Their 7-5 record is decent enough to be in the running but they lose out on the important tiebreakers. All 5 of their losses have been to AFC teams and they have two losses in their division. They also hold a head to head loss against Indy which would break that tie.
On another note from this game, safety Ryan Clark hit Wes Welker on a pass attempt late in the third quarter. Welker left the game and did not return. The play drew a flag as it rightfully should. Some Steeler fans and others in the media will argue that the hit was simply a part of the game. Well it is a part of the game that has been taken out to prevent players from ending up physically like current NFL veterans. The ball had been tipped and was behind Welker with no chance he could catch it. Welker stopped his route, slowed down, relaxed his body and stopped playing when Clark came in. Clark took a free shot at Welker, so does that make him tough? Pittsburgh and its fans love to say how tough their teams are, but I don't think hitting a defenseless receiver after the play makes you tough. We all know how Catfish feels about Hines Ward and to a certain extent I agree, but his hit on Rivers was legit even though some deem it unneccesary. The problem I have is saying you are big and bad just because you knock down people while their attention is elsewhere and furthermore in Clark's case, doing it as a cheap shot. Toughness should be displayed on the field by players like James Harrison who make big plays by beating offensive linemen face to face, not players that pop off after a play is over. Last year Pittsburgh had plenty of popping hits, but the team that eliminated them, the Jaguars, were tougher where it does and should matter, in the trenches, during the course of play.
The worldwide leader copes(poorly) with a crappy game.
Scheduling games before the season starts can be a dicey proposition, especially when it ends being two 4-7 teams like Houston and Jacksonville. I do have to give the Texans' fans credit as they made lots of noise in cheering their team to a 30-17 win on Monday night football. I am all for spreading the small market love around, but when the two teams will not make the playoffs, it is hard this late in the season to get excited. In typical ESPN fashion they tried to hype it as much as possible. I cannot for the life of my figure out why ESPN wasted time advertising for this game. It is as if they think someone will see the commercial and say, "Wow, I had no idea there was NFL football on Monday nights. And oh look! It is the sweet match-up between the Texans and Jaguars. The man with the voice says it should be a critical game. I wasn't planning on giving the game a chance but now, I can't wait."
At all times, they are promoting their games and their programming, it really is disgusting to watch. But again, we have no choice. XM and I sat there in a trance watching the Jags get spanked, Tirico doing his best to try to make the game seem relevant, and Kornheiser discuss nothing in particular. My favorite moment was the promo for the Big XII championship game. Just in case you didn't notice which wuld be impossible if you don't watch sports, the Big XII championship is on ABC this Saturday! Congratulations ESPN, you have shrunk the world of college football into two conferences. By the way thanks for the interview with
piece of shit agent Drew Rosenhaus at halftime, which (surprise) told us nothing new on the Burress situation.
Quick note getting back to the game: I am very high on the Texans for the future. If they can get a consistent signal-caller they have a great foundation with Mario Williams, Steve Slaton, Dunta Robinson, and Andre Johnson. Depending on what they do in the draft and free-agency I think this is a playoff team next year.
Here is a link to this year's playoff race where you can scroll over the teams to view their remaining games. [CBSSportsline]