Merry Christmas everyone! The holiday pushed back this recap a day, but I think most people had better things the past two days than read my ramblings. I hope everyone got some great presents and spent good time with their families. Some weird situations took place this week, and some crazy things can happen next week, as playoff match ups are determined.
Miami Dolphins 0 - Buffalo Bills 19
The Dolphins would have kept themselves in a position to win the division, with the win, although they would have needed some help from the Baltimore Ravens and Bills. The division is now completely out of reach because Miami didn't play a semblance of offense in this game. Ryan Tannehill was an awful 10 of 27 for 82 yards, with no touchdowns or turnovers. Tannehill was injured early in the fourth quarter, and Matt Moore filled in, but Moore wasn't any better, and may have been worse. Moore completed only two of six passes for 53 yards, but he threw two interceptions, and he fumbled the ball on Miami's final drive. Moore would pick up his own fumble, but when he attempted to throw the ball to Mike Wallace, it was picked off by Leodis McKelvin. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas rushed for a total of 14 yards on 12 carries. Mike Wallace continued his very disappointing season, with only 38 yards on four receptions. The Dolphins never even made it into the Red Zone during the game. The MVP for Miami, if forced to choose one, was Nolan Carroll who was responsible for their only sack and an interception.
The Bills weren't exactly world beaters on offense themselves, but they did make enough plays to win. The one touchdown in the game was scored by Fred Jackson, with a nine yard run, on which he was not contested until he ran over Chris Clemons on the goal line. Jackson would rush for 111 yards on 19 carries. Thaddeus Lewis, filling in for the again injured E.J. Manuel, played a mostly efficient game, completing 15 of 25 passes for 193 yards. C.J. Spiller had a mediocre game, rushing the ball 20 times for 77 yards. Robert Woods led all receivers, with 70 yards and three receptions, but he was ejected from the game with about 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, when he punched Jimmy Wilson in the facemask after a play ended. Buffalo's defense recorded seven sacks in the game, two each from Kyle Williams and Nickell Robey (who was one of two defensive backs to get a sack for the Bills). Dan Carpenter accounted for the majority of the points, hitting all four of his field goals, with a long of 45 yards, and the lone attempted extra point.
New Orleans Saints 13 - Carolina Panthers 17
New Orleans defeated the Panthers in their first match up this season, but they lost last week and came into this game fighting to hold on to their division lead, and the second seed in the NFC. Drew Brees didn't play his best game, although the Saints may have thrown too many passes. Brees threw the ball 44 times, completing 30 for 281 yards, and scored a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions. Mark Ingram was running well for most of the game, gaining 83 yards on just 13 carries, but the other 19 running plays were split among seven other players, and netted only 43 yards. 10 different players caught a pass, with Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Pierre Thomas each pulling in five receptions. Graham gained 73 yards and scored the Saints' only touchdown. New Orleans sacked Cam Newton four times and picked him off once, while not allowing Carolina to convert any third down plays.
Carolina played a great game on defense... Again. Luke Kuechly had 24 total tackles, to go along with an interception. Thomas Davis also picked off Brees. Greg Hardy led all pass rushers with three of Carolina's six sacks. Newton threw for 181 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, completing 13 of just 22 passes. On the ground, DeAngelo Williams led the Panthers with 67 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Ted Ginn, strangely, was the leader through the air, catching two passes for 66 yards, but the star of the receiving corps was Domenik Hixon. A former New York Giant (ironically similar to Ginn because both are known more for their return abilities), Hixon made a diving catch, on a well placed ball, to put the Panthers on top with just 28 seconds left in the game.
The Panthers are now tops in the NFC South, and the front-runner for the second seed in the NFC.
Minnesota Vikings 14 - Cincinnati Bengals 42
The Vikings are out of the playoffs, but they always have the chance to play spoiler, and they could have seriously spoiled things for Cincinnati with a win in Week 16. Matt Cassel started for Minnesota, but he didn't have a good game at all. Cassel threw 27 passes, and completed only 13, for 114 yards, a touchdown, and he threw three interceptions. Adrian Peterson was held in check, only gaining 45 yards on 11 rushes, but he was able to run for four yards per carry. Cordarelle Patterson scored a touchdown on the ground, carrying the ball three times for 54 yards. Jarius Wright scored a touchdown on his only catch, gaining 36 yards on the play. The Vikings' defense recovered one fumble and recorded two sacks, but was otherwise beaten.
Cincinnati stopped the best running back in the NFL, and picked off Cassel three times, including a touchdown return by Vincent Rey. George Iloka was the recipient of an early Christmas present, when a deep pass bounced off Dre Kirkpatrick's head and fell into Iloka's hands, while he was on the ground. Vontaze Burfict has had an incredible season for the Bengals, calling all the plays, as well as leading the league in tackles and making big plays weekly. Against Minnesota, Burfict had two of the Bengals' four sacks. Rey has played well after starting the season as just a special teams player, forcing a fumble on a strip sack of Cassel, which was almost returned for a touchdown by Carlos Dunlap. Andy Dalton has been inconsistent this season, but in Week 16 he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns, while completing 27 of 38 passes. A.J. Green was on the receiving end of two of those touchdowns, gaining 97 yards on seven receptions. Marvin Jones is, again, looking like a great receiver on the other side of Green, finishing the game with six receptions for 85 yards. Giovani Bernard has been incredibly exciting all year, and he had two catches 47 yards, including a 41 yard reception, on which he spun and juked his way down the field, before stiff-arming Jared Allen at the end of the run. Cincinnati's running game was not very effective in the game, gaining only 81 yards, but they stuck with it (which other teams have difficulty doing), running the ball 37 times.
Denver Broncos 37 - Houston Texans 13
Peyton Manning broke Tom Brady's single-season passing touchdown record, against Houston. Manning threw four touchdowns in the game, ending with 51 for the season, and another game to play. He threw for 400 yards on 51 attempts, with a completion percentage of around 62. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas benefitted the most from Manning's big game through the air, with 10 receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, and eight catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, respectively. Julius Thomas had a good game of his own, gaining 78 yards on six catches and scoring a touchdown. Knowshon Moreno had a 76 yard, 11 carry, game on the ground. The Denver defense kept Houston from being successful by sacking Matt Schaub three times and intercepting him twice. Von Miller injured his knee when he was hit with a chip block, early in the first quarter, and wouldn't return.
Houston has been bad all season, and continued to be bad in Week 16. They went into halftime, technically still in the game, only down 16-6, but they imploded the rest of the game. Schaub has had a season to forget, and against Denver he threw two interceptions, and a touchdown to Keshawn Martin, while he completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 176 yards. Tight end Ryan Griffin led Houston in receiving (Griffin is a rookie out of the University of Connecticut, who has had big games two weeks in a row), with five catches for 66 yards. Amid the turmoil of Houston's offense, André Johnson has been lost a bit, but he became just the second player in NFL history to catch 100 passes in five different seasons, with four receptions and 63 yards against Denver. On the ground, Houston only gained 87 yards on 26 carries. The Texans' defense managed only one sack and forced zero turnovers.
Tennessee Titans 20 - Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Neither team is playing for anything other than pride at this point. The Titans lost Jake Locker twice to injury, ultimately losing him for the season, and have had Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback for many games this season. Tennessee couldn't get into the end zone until midway through the third quarter. The running game was the focal point of the offense, with Shonn Greene and Chris Johnson rushing for 91 and 90 yards respectively. Greene rushed 19 times and scored the Titans' first touchdown. He was hit just inches from the end zone, by Tyson Alualu, but he was able to push backwards just enough to fall over the plane for the score. Fitzpatrick ended with 181 yards, a touchdown, and an interception on a day he went 17 for 26. Nate Washington scored what would be the game-winning touchdown, when he beat Alan Ball badly and caught the ball for a 30-yard score. Washington had six catches for 117 yards. George Wilson picked off Chad Henne with an awesome one-handed catch, when he undercut Marcedes Lewis on a seam route.
Brad Meester has been Jacksonville's center for 14 years, but he announced earlier in the week that he would retire after the season, and the Jaguars gave him a great send off. A little less than 10 minutes into the game, Jacksonville had a second and eight on the 13 yard line, and the call was a screen pass... To the center. Meester caught the pass with two blockers in front of him and gained nine yards on the only catch of his career. They followed the game with a retirement ceremony for him, consisting of a highlight film, framed jerseys, a press conference, and more. The rest of the game wasn't exactly anything to get excited about at the end of such a dismal season. The Jaguars made it into the end zone first, they were up 17-6 late in the third quarter, but they lost that lead and the game. Chad Henne was 24 for 34 with 237 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Meester was one of eight players to catch a pass for Jacksonville, with Mike Brown leading the way. Brown caught five passes for 71 yards and the first touchdown of the game. Marcedes Lewis caught a touchdown pass for the fourth straight game, finishing with 50 yards on four receptions. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed 13 times for 45 yards. Ball played the tip drill well early in the third quarter, coming down with an interception after a deep pass to Delanie Walker bounced off the tight end's hands and into Ball's.
Indianapolis Colts 23 - Kansas City Chiefs 7
Two playoff teams that started strong, have been wallowing for the past few weeks. Indianapolis clinched the division two weeks ago, in a loss to Cincinnati, when the Titans lost again and the competition in the division was officially too far back to make a play. The Colts have played very well in the two weeks since then, but last week it was against the Texans. Against the Chiefs, both teams had a chance to make a statement, and the Colts took advantage of that chance. After giving up a touchdown in the first quarter, Indianapolis allowed no more points from Kansas City, scoring 23 of their own points, unanswered. Donald Brown was the star of the game, scoring both of the Colts' touchdowns, one on the ground and one through the air, rushing 10 times for 79 yards, and catching two passes for 31 yards. Brown ran for a 51 yard touchdown, on a run up the middle. He broke two tackles by the time he hit 10 yards, and finished with a mean stiff-arm on Dunta Robinson, giving himself the space to outrun the defense into the end zone. Trent Richardson continues to have trouble living up to expectations, rushing for only 43 yards on 16 carries. Griff Whalen, yes you are reading this correctly, led all receivers with seven receptions for 80 yards. Andrew Luck threw for 241 yards and a touchdown, completing 26 of his 37 pass attempts. On the defensive side, Indianapolis shut down all attempts at passing. Jerrell Freeman had both interceptions thrown by Alex Smith, and he was responsible for a strip sack of Smith, which was recovered by Fili Moala.
The Chiefs went from having the best defense in the NFL, to being just above average, which isn't ultimately terrible, but they don't have the offense to carry them through games without that defense. Jamaal Charles scored the lone touchdown of the game, en route to 106 yards, but he was only given 13 carries. Charles' 12th rushing touchdown of the season came on a 31 yard burst on the right side of the line. He was far too fast on the play for the Colts to even have a chance of stopping him. Alex Smith didn't play as efficiently as the Chiefs have grown accustomed to, throwing for only 153 yards and tossing two interceptions, while completing just 16 of 29 passes. Dwayne Bowe led the Chiefs receivers, but he only had five receptions for 46 yards, and he has played far below his potential this season... Again. Kansas City put the ball on the ground five times, and were fortunate to only lose it twice.
Cleveland Browns 13 - New York Jets 24
In spite of the performance by Josh Gordon, Cleveland has been a bad team this season, partly because of the turmoil at the quarterback position, but largely because of their inability to run the ball. Their defense has, typically, been good all season, but the defense can only cover up so many mistakes. Against the Jets, Jason Campbell was less than stellar, completing only 18 of his 39 passes for 178 yards and two interceptions. Gordon had a good game, which is relatively average by his standards for the season, catching six passes for 97 yards, and adding a 22 yard rush for good measure, but he also couldn't hang on to a touchdown pass on fourth and goal in the second quarter, which would have given the Browns a 10-0 lead. Edwin Baker led the rushing attack (although that doesn't seem like an appropriate description of Cleveland's running game) with 17 carries for 64 yards and the only touchdown they scored. The Browns offered little resistance against the Jets offense, and allowed New York to convert on 66 percent of their third downs.
The Jets played a good game in Week 16, which was a pleasant change for many fans of the team. Geno Smith was efficient, completing 20 of 37 passes for 214 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Smith also added 10 carries and 48 yards, with a rushing touchdown, when he dropped back to pass, and found nobody open, he sprinted through the middle of the pocket and scored, untouched, from 17 yards out. David Nelson had only four catches for 33 yards, but two of his catches were on six yard touchdown passes. Chris Ivory ran over the Browns, gaining 109 yards on 20 carries, while Bilal Powell rushed seven times for 54 yards. Rookie Dee Milliner, and veteran Ed Reed, accounted for the two interceptions New York had on Campbell. The Jets defense also had three sacks in the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13 - St. Louis Rams 23
If there is a bright spot this season for Tampa, it would be the defense. They are in the top 15 in both points, and yards allowed, and are third in the NFL in turnovers forced. A large part of their success can be attributed to the play of Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, free-agent acquisition, Darelle Revis (as John mentioned in last week's recap). In Week 16, Tampa's defense kept them in the game. They recovered two fumbles and held the Rams in check, and allowed less than 50 yards on eight of their 10 drives. They did give up 104 yards rushing to Zac Stacy, but it took him 33 carries to reach it, and Dekoda Watson forced him to fumble with a vicious tackle after chasing him down the line. Gerald McCoy had the only sack of them game, but the pass defense still only gave up 148 yards. The offense fumbled twice, and generally couldn't do anything against St. Louis' defense. Bobby Rainey had only 37 yards rushing on 20 carries, for only 1.85 yards per carry, but he scored Tampa's lone touchdown. Mike Glennon threw for just 158 yards, and completed 16 of his 26 passes. Glennon and Rainey were responsible for the two fumbles by the offense. Vincent Jackson still managed to catch five passes for 98 yards.
St. Louis has gone from terrible, to above average, largely because of the play of their own defense. In Week 15 they dismantled the New Orleans Saints, and the Bucs offense had a very slim chance at getting points. The Rams only allowed a total of 59 yards rushing, and a net of 111 yards through the air. Robert Quinn had three sacks in the game, raising his season total to 18, while James Laurinaitis had 1.5 of his own and St. Louis recorded seven for the game. Alec Ogletree forced both fumbles, and both were recovered by William Hayes. Kellen Clemens wasn't able to throw for many yards, or any scores, but he completed 16 of his 20 attempts. Stedman Bailey scored St. Louis' second touchdown, after a fumble gave them the ball on Tampa's 27 yard-line, off a double reverse.
Dallas Cowboys 24 - Washington Redskins 23
There is a strong likelihood, that the Cowboys would be a better team if they made it a point to run DeMarco Murray more, and to lean on the running game to win games. They have a bad defense, that isn't effective against the run, or the pass, and doesn't get much of a pass rush. Jeff Heath picked off Kirk Cousins on a pass that bounced off of Santana Moss' hands, they were unable to get any sacks, but this was one of their better defensive games this season. The Redskins gained less than four yards per carry, and only had one drive that went for over 50 yards. On offense, Murray had 22 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown, as well as the game-winning touchdown catch. He had a big 43 yard run with Dallas backed up on their own eight yard-line, midway through the second quarter. He took the hand-off left, but he cut back across the field, threw a nice stiff-arm on Reed Doughty and sprinted for another 30 something yards before they could bring him down. Tony Romo was 17 for 27, with 226 yards, and two touchdowns, and an interception on a pass he shouldn't have thrown to Dez Bryant. Terrance Williams and Bryant both had four catches, Williams gained 84 yards and Bryant had 73 yards, and a touchdown in the back of the end zone, when Romo eluded the pass rush and threw the ball up for Bryant. Michael Spurlock, and the punt return team, set up the Cowboys first touchdown, with a dangerous 62 yard return by Spurlock. With a guy almost at his feet, Spurlock elected to return the punt, and took off up the sideline, just getting pushed out-of-bounds at the three yard-line by Roy Helu.
Washington stayed in the game, by taking advantage of some of the mistakes by the Cowboys. The defense forced two turnovers and sacked Romo twice. DeAngelo Hall had the interception on the errant pass from Romo and Josh Wilson forced and recovered a fumble by Tyler Clutts, early in the third quarter which led to a Washington touchdown. The offense wasn't exactly stellar, but they played an above average game. Pierre Garcon killed the Cowboys' secondary, gaining 144 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions. Cousins ended the game with a touchdown and an interception, while completing 21 of 36 passes for 197 yards. Alfred Morris, fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, gained 88 yards, but it took 22 carries to get there, and he scored a four yard touchdown, as part of a 14 point third quarter for Washington. After the DeMarco Murray touchdown, Washington had 1:01 to score and win the game, but they completed their first pass before throwing three straight incomplete passes, letting Dallas take the ball and kneel to end the game.
New York Giants 23 - Detroit Lions 20
The Lions had full control over their playoff chances going into this game, a win all but guaranteed them a playoff spot. They were hurt by turnovers, again, and their leading receiver was back-up running back Joique Bell. Reggie Bush rushed for only 34 yards on 12 carries, he also lost his fourth fumble of the year, Bell had 16 more touches in the game. He rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries, and a touchdown and gained 63 yards through the air. Matthew Stafford threw for 222 yards, only completed 25 of his 42 passes, and threw two interceptions. Stafford's second interception ultimately sent the game into overtime, when it bounced off of a diving Joseph Fauria and landed in Will Hill's hands. Hill caught it on the run and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. Calvin Johnson was mostly shut down, only catching three passes for 43 yards. The Lions' defense made big plays at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime. Glover Quin Jr. picked off a bad Eli Manning pass, with 23 seconds left in the game, on their own 25, and with two time-outs left. Detroit decided to run the ball, and go into overtime. In that overtime, Nick Fairley forced André Brown to fumble, and Willie Young jumped on it. The offense ended up punting the ball after a net loss of two yards, to the 26.
Eli Manning and the Giants offense wasn't much better than the Lions were. André Brown led the ground game, with 40 yards on 16 carries, with a fumble and no touchdowns. Jerrel Jernigan caught six passes for 80 yards and a 20 yard touchdown on a great throw and catch in a small window. Jernigan also had a great catch on the side line, sliding both feet in bounds while going down, to convert a third down in the first quarter. Eli was 23 of 42 with 256 yards, a touchdown, and an intercept. Mathias Kiwanuka had both of the Giants' sacks, and Justin Tuck came away with an interception. The defense saved the offense by forcing Detroit to punt after the fumble by Brown. They drove 45 yards, mostly through the air, to set up Josh Brown for the game-winning 45 yard field goal.
Pittsburgh Steelers 38 - Green Bay Packers 31
Pittsburgh and Green Bay played a very even game in this one. They both rushed for 151 yards, the Steelers did it on 29 carries, and the Packers did it on 30. Pittsburgh had two rushing touchdowns and the Packers had three. Pittsburgh wasn't very effective through the air, but the punter, Mat McBriar, had a completion for 30 yards on a fake punt early in the third quarter when they were down 14-10. Ben Roethlisberger only completed 16 of 28 passes for 167 yards, but he threw two touchdowns, and an interception at the end of the third quarter. Roethlisberger also scored a touchdown when he took off up the middle when nobody was open, to score on a 13 yard rush. Le'Veon Bell had a great game, rushing for 124 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. Bell fumbled midway through the third quarter, which led to the Packers scoring a touchdown. Antonio Brown caught six passes for 105 yards, but the touchdowns were scored by Matt Spaeth and Emmanuel Sanders. Cortez Allen's pick-six late in the third quarter was the difference in the game. Pittsburgh recorded three sacks, and Brett Keisel recovered a fumble. The win kept the Steelers, mathematically, in the hunt for the playoffs.
Green Bay could have taken over the division with a win, but they turned the ball over twice, including the pick-six. Eddie Lacy rushed for 84 yard on 15 carries, and he scored two touchdowns. Lacy scored his second touchdown on a hand off that started to the right side of the field, but he cut back across the line, and went into a spinning dive into the end zone, after a 19 yard gain. James Starks ran the ball 10 times for 47 yards. Matt Flynn threw for 232 yards, completing 21 of 39 passes for a touchdown. James Jones had a big day with nine catches for 84 yards, but the rookie Jarrett Boykin scored Green Bay's passing touchdown. Clay Matthews recorded the only sack for the Packers, but he was injured in the game, and is likely to be out for the final game at Chicago. A.J. Hawk made a great play on a pass over the middle, and only needed to get one hand on the ball to pull it down for an interception. Aaron Rodgers may be coming back to play against the Bears, but I think they'll keep him out another week, although they may not have a chance at the playoffs without him.
Chicago Bears 11 - Philadelphia Eagles 54
Chicago didn't play this game like the playoffs are on the line, but the Eagles did. Both teams need to win in Week 17 to make it to the playoffs, and the Bears seemed to be content with waiting. They rushed for a total of 61 yards on 19 carries, Matt Forte had nine of those carries. Jay Cutler didn't fare very well through the air. He threw for 222 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while completing 20 of 35 passes. Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 85 yards, and six for 76 yards, respectively. Brandon Marshall didn't have a big game, but he did score Chicago's only touchdown. The offensive line was bad, allowing five sacks to only two players on Philly's defense, and not opening up any holes for Forte or Michael Bush. The defense was like a sieve on the ground. They allowed 289 yards and four touchdowns, on 36 carries. Lance Briggs was back for the Bears, but he was not able to change much from the past few weeks, for the defense.
Philly may have played their best game of the season, fueled mostly by the running game, and a dominating defense that got to Forte in the end zone for a safety, Trent Cole had three sacks, to Mychal Kendricks' two, and they had a fumble recovery and pick-six. The Eagles started the game with 21 points in the first quarter, aided by a Devin Hester fumble after touchdown number one, and quick three and outs on Chicago's first two drives. Philadelphia's secondary played a great game against the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, and the defensive line, and linebackers, harassed Cutler almost every time he dropped back to pass. Chicago had a lot of difficulty moving the ball downfield, even for field goals. The Eagles offense capitalized on the good field position, and their defense stopping the Bears each possession, scoring six total touchdowns in the game, and Alex Henery hit his only field goal attempt for the game. LeSean McCoy rushed 18 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. McCoy had huge holes to run in on many of the plays, which allowed him to use his speed and quickness, and run around Chicago defenders. McCoy's second touchdown was one of the few plays on which the Bears got to him in the backfield, after absorbing the hit from Julius Peppers, McCoy spun away and beat the rest of the defense to the corner of the end zone, for a one-yard touchdown run. Bryce Brown got in on the copious amount of rushing yards given up, rushing for 115 yards on just nine carries, with a 65 yard run up the middle, midway through the fourth quarter, to give the Eagles 54 points. Nick Foles completed an astounding 21 of his 25 passes, with two touchdowns, for 230 yards. Brent Celek and Riley Cooper scored both touchdowns, each catching three passes for 50 plus yards. Celek was responsible for one of the few mistakes by the offense, fumbling the ball away in the middle of the third quarter. The Eagles got their safety with Chicago backed up on their own two yard line, early in the third quarter, when Cedric Thornton blasted through the line almost untouched, and tripped up Forte in the end zone. Forte tried to get out of the end zone, but his knee came down before he could get the ball across the
New England Patriots 41 - Baltimore Ravens 7
New England is a step away from losing their bye, and just as close to gaining home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With Miami losing to Buffalo earlier in the day, the Patriots had the division locked up even if they lost to Baltimore, but winning puts them closer to ending the season with at least the number two seed. They embarrassed the Ravens in this one, pushing Baltimore close to elimination, and for the time being putting the Dolphins in the driver's seat for the six seed. Rookie Logan Ryan had two of the Patriots' three interceptions, and they recorded four sacks in the game. Second year player Tavon Wilson picked off back up quarterback Tyrod Taylor with 54 seconds left in the game, and to add insult to injury, returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. The drive before the interception, a bad snap to Taylor bounced around until Chandler Jones fell on the ball in the end zone, but the Ravens were already down by 20 points by this time. LeGarrette Blount had 76 yards and two touchdowns, on 16 carries. Blount ran hard all game, he was hit while going into the end zone on both touchdowns. Shane Vereen scored the Patriots other offensive touchdown with a wide open catch in the end zone. Vereen only had three total touches for 10 yards in the game. Julian Edelman led the receiving, as he has done many times this season, catching seven passes for 77 yards. Tom Brady didn't need to make many big plays in this one, only throwing for 172 yards and completing 14 of 26 passes.
Baltimore could have all but wrapped up the sixth seed with a win, but the defending Super Bowl champs seemed flat all game. Joe Flacco threw for 260 yards and scored a touchdown on a one yard sneak, but he threw two interceptions, and was replaced by Tyrod Taylor when the game was out of hand. Ray Rice still couldn't get much done on the ground, rushing for just 40 yards on 11 carries. Torrey Smith caught three passes for 69 yards. Smith had a 42 yard catch and run when Joe Flacco had all kinds of time and came back across the field to Smith standing all alone on the sidelines, he ran down the sideline, sneaking around Steven Gregory before being brought down by rookie safety Duron Harmon. Baltimore's defense didn't have a big statistical game, but they didn't actually play badly. The four turnovers by the offense hurt more than anything that defense did, and made the defense's job very difficult.
Oakland Raiders 13 - San Diego Chargers 26
Another game with big playoff implications, the Chargers need a lot to go their way to make it into the Wildcard round. The Raiders have been out of contention for many weeks, and they didn't make much of a game in their role as spoiler in Week 16. The Raiders took the ball away from San Diego three times, although two of those were giveaways, and even the interception seemed to be more a product of a bad throw. Mike Jenkins picked off Philip Rivers midway through the second quarter, while the Raiders were actually winning, in the red zone to preserve the lead. Unfortunately, for Oakland, Matt McGloin threw his only interception of the game on the ensuing drive. Miles Burris recovered a fumble because of a botched snap, the drive before the interception, but the Raiders capitalized on that turnover, running the ball in from the five with an almost invisible Darren McFadden. Later in the second quarter, Keenan Allen muffed a punt, which was recovered by Shelton Johnson, and led to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal, tying the game at 10 going into halftime. McGloin did complete 20 passes, but he threw the ball 36 times, and none of the 206 yards culminated in a touchdown. Rashad Jennings had 45 yards rushing on 10 yards. André Holmes has come out of nowhere to play solid football for Oakland, catching five passes this game for 71 yards.
San Diego seemed like they were trying to give the game away, but the ineptitude of the Raiders kept them in position to win. Ryan Mathews was a yard shy of 100, rushing 25 times for a touchdown. Mathews being healthy has been vital for a San Diego offense that hasn't had much success on the ground in recent years. He was hit multiple times on his seven yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but was able to spin out of the first hit and fight through two defenders to get into the end zone. Rivers only threw for 201 yards, but he threw a touchdown to Allen, and completed 19 of his 29 passes. Allen only had two other catches for a total of 26 yards receiving. At the end of the third quarter, Greg Jenkins fumbled on Oakland's kick return, which was recovered by Ladarius Green and turned into a field goal to start of the fourth quarter, and put the Chargers up 23-10. Both teams only recorded one sack.
Arizona Cardinals 17 - Seattle Seahawks 10
Arizona is fighting for a chance to be in the playoffs, and the defenses in this game did not disappoint. The Cardinals turned the ball over four times, all interceptions thrown by Carson Palmer. They didn't allow the Seahawks offense to take advantage of those turnovers, though, forcing two of their own, and held Seattle to negative yards on four drives, less than 10 yards on nine drives (including the negative drives), while only allowing two drives of more than 50 yards. Seattle wasn't able to break 200 total yards for the game, and Russell Wilson only completed 41 percent of his passes. Calais Campbell sacked Wilson twice, they had four as a team, and Arizona stopped the Seattle offense on third down 85 percent of the time. Karlos Dansby caught a tipped pass for an interception, which was the game-winning play because the Cardinals then took a knee to end the game. The play was reviewed because it looked like the ball may have hit the ground before it was tipped, but the interception was upheld. Brittan Golden had a 63 yard catch and run, when Kam Chancellor missed the tackle, on the first drive of the game. Golden wouldn't catch anymore passes in the game, and the drive ended when Palmer was picked off in the end zone by Chancellor. Palmer threw three more picks, completing just 13 of 25 passes, for 178 yards and the game-winning touchdown. The touchdown pass to Michael Floyd was perfect, and it had to be, because Byron Maxwell was in great position on the go route by Floyd. Maxwell actually hit the ball as it came down, but it wasn't enough to knock the ball away from Floyd's hands, and he pulled it in as he fell into the end zone, making the score 17-10, with just over two minutes left. The catch was Floyd's only reception. André Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 64 and 63 yards respectively, Ellington carried it 15 times, to Mendenhall's 22. Arizona became the first team to beat the Seahawks at home this season, and snapped Seattle's 14 game home win streak. They went punch for punch with arguably the best team, and defense, in the NFL, and we'll see this week how much they have left.
The Seahawks could have wrapped up home-field advantage with a win in Week 16. They have the Rams in the final week, which will ultimately decide what their seed will be. The defense played great all game, as evidenced by the four interceptions, and sacked Palmer twice. There is a great case for defensive player of the year for both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, and Sherman had two of Seattle's four picks. His first pick came as a result of great coverage on a seam route by Larry Fitzgerald, Sherman couldn't have been in better position, and when Palmer threw it, Sherman dove in front of Fitzgerald to pick it off. Sherman talks more smack than most players that I have, personally, witnessed, but he backs it up every time, and is one of the better cover corners I've seen. The offense failed this week. Wilson threw for only 108 yards, with a touchdown to a wide open Zach Miller, and threw the game-ending interception. Marshawn Lynch was held to just 71 yards on 18 carries, and Jermaine Kearse led the receivers with three catches for a whopping 38 yards.
Atlanta Falcons 24 - San Francisco 49ers 34
The Falcons couldn't get anything going on the ground, but Matt Ryan threw for 348 yards, completing 37 of 48 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick six that effectively ended the game. Roddy White has had some big games now that he's fully healthy, and he caught 12 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown (this will be scary again when Julio Jones is back next season). White scored on a beautiful throw from Ryan, that floated over everybody and he ran under it in the end zone. Early in the second quarter, Drew Davis caught a deep slant, spun the safety off his feet, and stiff-armed a corner (great power in the stiff-arm), gaining 59 yards to the 49ers five yard line. Davis had three catches for 70 yards in the game. Two plays later, Steven Jackson scored his only touchdown of the game, running through a Donte Whitner shoulder, for a two yard touchdown, but he only had 53 yards on the day, on 16 carries. Atlanta had three sacks, and only gave up 197 yards through the air, but they were steamrolled on the ground, and couldn't force any turnovers. With two minutes left in the game, and the score 27-24, the Falcons successfully recovered an onside kick, with great field position and a great chance to at least tie the game.
In the last regular season at Candlestick Park, something big had to happen for San Francisco, right? That's what many would claim, and in this case something big did happen. The Falcons took the onside kick at the end, and went from the 30 yard line to the 49ers 10. Ryan dropped back and fired a pass to Harry Douglas on a quick slant, but a great jump by Eric Reid knocked the ball out of Douglas' hands and Navorro Bowman made a great interception, pulling the ball in with one hand, and running 89 yards to the other end zone, to put San Francisco up by 10 instead of three. Bowman and Patrick Willis are most likely the two best 3-4 inside linebackers to ever play on the same team, and that was in effect on Monday night. In addition to the pick six, Bowman had 11 total tackles, and Willis recorded 18 total tackles, including a big hit on Steven Jackson when he caught a dump pass early in the fourth quarter. Tremaine Brock intercepted Ryan when he threw a hail mary on the last play of the game. Frank Gore rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, scoring the touchdown on a play that Colin Kaepernick allegedly changed in the huddle because Gore told him that he would have the touchdown. The left side of the line opened a big hole and Gore dove into the end zone from one yard out. Kendall Hunter gained 45 of his 51 yards on one run, bursting through the right side of the line and zig zagging around William Moore before being pushed out at the two yard line, which led to Gore's touchdown. Kaepernick completed 13 of 21 passes, with a touchdown through the air and on the ground. Michael Crabtree has made his return well-known thus far, gaining 102 yards and catching five passes. The win keeps San Francisco in the running for a division title.
The only thing that is known for sure about the playoffs going in to the final week, is the Chiefs will be the five seed. Every other seed is subject to change, and there are four spots (when combining both conferences) still open for a team to finally win. The AFC has four teams fighting for the sixth seed, with the Miami Dolphins the winner of conference record tiebreaker. The Dolphins need to win, and need the Ravens to lose, to make it. The Ravens, however, need Miami and San Diego to lose, and they have to win. San Diego needs Miami to lose, and the Chargers need to win. If all three teams lose, and Pittsburgh beats Cleveland, then Pittsburgh will be the sixth seed. The Chargers may have an easy road to victory, as there has been talk of the Chiefs resting players because they can't do anything to change their playoff fortunes. Miami is playing the Jets, and they dominated them earlier in the season, so it will likely be a difficult game because the Jets will want to get some kind of revenge for the first game. Baltimore is playing a Cincinnati team, in Cincinnati, that has one of the best defenses in the NFL, and still has a shot at the second seed. If the Patriots lose to the Bills (however unlikely that may be), and the Bengals beat the Ravens, they get to not only keep a division opponent out of the playoffs, but they win the head to head tiebreaker with New England and will get a bye going into the playoffs. The Colts could technically make it to the second seed, but they need both New England and the Bengals to lose. Denver could lose home-field advantage, although they'll have a bye regardless, if they drop their game to the Raiders and the Patriots win against Buffalo.
The NFC might be even crazier. There are two divisions that will be decided in Week 17. Whichever teams win the Packers vs. Bears, and the Eagles vs. Cowboys games, are in the playoffs, and the losers are out. The Cardinals are the only team with a chance to pull the sixth seed out, but they will need to beat San Francisco, while hoping the Saints lose to Tampa Bay. The Saints could still win the NFC South, if Carolina loses to Atlanta and New Orleans beats the Bucs. The Saints can also end up with the fifth seed, assuming that Carolina wins their game, if the Cardinals beat the 49ers and they beat Tampa. San Francisco, however, is definitely in the playoffs, and they have a legitimate chance to get home field advantage. If the Rams pull out the upset on Seattle, and the 49ers beat Arizona, San Fran will be the one seed in the NFC. Carolina can't do better than the two seed because both Seattle and the 49ers have head to head tiebreaker on them. We may end up seeing a team win 11 games and not make the playoffs, which happened to the New England Patriots in 2008.
The last paragraph was very long-winded, but there were a lot of scenarios to run through. New week's recap should be fun, and I will offer my expectations for the playoffs. I'm really interested in the battles in the NFC because the defenses that will be featured are ridiculous. I hope everyone enjoyed this post. Comment and register so that we can discuss your opinions and anything you might think about what I have said! Thank you.