NFL Week 15 Recap: 5 Things I Think
1- You can’t talk about Week 15 without talking about officiating and the NFL rulebook
There were a lot of marquee match ups on Sunday and a lot a stake in terms of playoff berths and playoff seeds, but the key stories coming out of the weekend are overwhelmingly related to rules and referees. A quick recap of the four dumbest things I saw in no particular order:
Damiere Byrd’s butt cheeks got mentioned on national TV like a hundred times: The second year WR from South Carolina made a nice catch at the back of the endzone landing very close to the chalk and spurring a debate among the broadcaster tandem as to whether he had gotten a cheek down in bounds. Fox then brought in rules expert and former official Mike Pereira who used the word “cheek” several times in explaining that the TD should count. Don’t be surprised if Mr. Byrd ends up with a local endorsement in the Carolinas featuring his now-notorious backside.
Gene Steratore used a folded index card to help the Cowboys win: Sunday Night Football featured two of the NFL’s banner franchises in a game both teams needed badly in order to stay in the playoff hunt. With the Cowboys driving in a 17-17 tie, Dak Prescott ran a QB sneak on 3rd & 1 that didn’t result in much of a gain. The chains were brought out to determine whether he had advanced the ball far enough for a first down and it was SO close. Head official Gene Steratore eyeballed the spot for a moment before producing a folded index card from his pocket and attempting to place it between the ball and the pole. Although Oakland Coach Jack Del Rio swore he saw space between the two objects, the paper test was good enough for Steratore who then signaled a first down. The Cowboys went on to kick a field goal that proved to be the winning score (more from this game below) and all the NFL has said today is that the move by Steratore was “unusual.” I’m sure that will sit well with Raider Nation as they spend the off season relocating to Las Vegas.
Jesse James did NOT catch a pass at the one yard line and try to stretch the ball across the goal line to beat the Patriots: As usual a strange bounce benefited the New England Patriots who took control of the AFC playoff picture by scoring their 5th straight victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. With less than a minute to go and the Patriots up 27-24, Steeler tight end Jesse James caught a ball and turned toward the goal line stretching the ball into the end zone for an apparent go ahead score. Upon further review it was determined that James had not “completed the process of the catch” and the pass was ruled incomplete. Big Ben proceeded to give the game away with a terrible interception, but the story was the puzzling nature of the ruling that took six points off the board and helped New England secure the win. As far as I can tell, the rule was correctly interpreted, but anybody watching that game would tell you that he clearly caught the ball. Hopefully the competition committee does something about this in the off season, because it seems like we’re seeing more and more of this nonsense. Judge for yourself. (The NFL is blocking this content so go to the 9:50 mark at this link to watch.)
David Carr’s fumble through the end zone authored a fitting end to the Raiders’ final season in Oakland: In an attempt to score and deliver a clutch victory for his team at the end of the fourth quarter, the Raider QB dove for the end zone. In extending the ball toward to goal line he lost the ball out of bounds resulting in a touchback for the Cowboys which essentially ended the game and the season for Oakland. As I wrote when it happened to the Bears back in Week 10, this rule is so stupid. Again, the competition committee has to look at this. The modern, points-happy NFL there are no other rules left where we penalize players for trying to put points on the board.
2- The return of Saturday Night Football brought the return of the AFC West we saw in September
The Chiefs-Chargers match up in KC on Saturday night came with a lot of hype and a lot on the line. It featured two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. Both teams came in with identical 7-6 records even though the Bolts started the season 0-4 while the Chiefs started 5-0. It would have been nearly impossible to imagine back then that this game would be for sole possession of first place in the division; much less that the Chargers would be favored at Arrowhead Stadium! What happened on the field looked much more like what we saw September as the Chargers bumbled their way to four idiotic turnovers while the Chiefs got back to leaning on the rushing attack featuring Kareem Hunt. In 2017’s mediocre AFC, both of these teams could still find their way into the playoffs, but it looks like Kansas City has righted the ship the last couple weeks by hammering their California-based division opponents at home.
Side note: Chris correctly predicted this match up even though he claims not to believe in home field advantage.
3- Three horrible Sunday games courtesy of great performances by good teams
Sometimes we talk about how final score lines don’t really tell the whole story of a game. Maybe a garbage time pick-6 makes the final look more one-sided than the game really was or a late TD pass against the backups makes it look like the game was close when it was really never in doubt. There were three games on Sunday that were thorough beatings from start to finish and didn’t warrant watching for more than a few minutes. Jacksonville took at 31-0 lead before the Texans got on the board, the Vikings led 34-0 at one point in their dominant victory over the Bengals, and the most eye-popping result of the day saw the Rams go up 40-0 on the Seahawks en route to a 42-7 win AT Seattle. The Jags, Vikes, and Rams are playing very well right now, but, as Shane Falco famously explained in The Replacements, sometimes you just hit quicksand and everything goes south. Get back on the horse, Houston, Cincy, and Seattle. You guys aren’t as bad as those scores looked.
4- The NFC playoffs are going to look at lot different this season
With two weeks left in the regular season and the NFC South well positioned to take both wild card slots, we are looking at a very different playoff field in the National Football Conference. The last time the Packers, Cowboys, and Giants all missed the same post-season was the 1988-89 campaign. It was a completely different NFL in those days, as possibly best evidenced by the AFC playoff participants that year: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, and Houston Oilers. While the top two seeds in the NFC will be quarterbacked by Nick Foles and Case Keenum, not exactly household names, there will be plenty of star power with players like Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Matt Ryan. It’s gonna be a lot of fun! Speaking of Foles . . .
5- I’m not sure what happened to the Eagles in East Rutherford on Sunday, but let’s forget about it
There was a point on Sunday afternoon where it came my attention that the Eagles had fallen behind the abysmal NY Giants 20-7. I know a few Philly fans who were probably sweating at that point, but, kinda like I talked about above, the 5-point final margin isn’t particularly representative of the way this game felt. The Iggles took the lead for good shortly after halftime and it wasn’t as though they just asked Foles to play game-manager. The 6-year veteran dropped back 38 times in his first start of the year and posted a fabulous 115.8 passer rating while completing 63.2% of his passes and tallying four touchdown tosses. Philadelphia took their eye off the ball against an opponent that knows them well and stubbed their toe for one half of football. With the division title already locked up, they simply didn’t give the Giants their full attention and I have to think that Doug Pederson will use this as fuel for remaining games against the Raiders and Cowboys as Philly vies for home field throughout the NFC playoffs. Expect the defense to return with a vengeance next week at home against Oakland for Sunday Night Football on Christmas Day.