With the exception of Army/Navy and the FCS playoffs, there was no full slate of college football at our disposal for the first time since August this past Saturday. That kinda sucked. But hey, to hell with college football if we are going to get NFL weekends like we just experienced, right?!
Week 14 of the NFL season was wild, weird and full of repositioning of teams on both ends of the spectrum. The Raiders, for example, didn't seem to get the memo that they could burst to the top spot in the draft order. They beat the Steelers (the STEELERS!) 24-21. Same for the 49ers, who did their best to blow a 20-0 halftime lead before sealing the deal and defeating the Broncos 20-14.
And how about the AFC Wildcard race? The Titans, Colts, Dolphins and Ravens all sit at 7-6, tied for one remaining spot in the post-season with three games to play. Their remaining schedules?
Tennessee: @ New York Giants, vs. Washington Redskins, vs. Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis: vs. Dallas Cowboys, vs. New York Giants, @ Tennessee Titans
Miami: @ Minnesota Vikings, vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, @ Buffalo Bills
Baltimore: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, @ Los Angeles Chargers, vs. Cleveland Browns
It's going to get real weird. But for this past weekend, who were the heroes and the goats who made such a crazy weekend possible?
We've got you covered in this week's Studs & Duds.
STUD(s) - The Chicago Bears defense
Wow. Turns out Coach McVay needed to do more than memorize the Chicago starting line-up to get a win, huh? After the media outrageously latched onto McVay running the gauntlet through Chicago's defensive starters...an exercise most any coach could do come mid-week after several days of preparation...the Bears defense stood tall on Sunday night.
The high powered Rams offense was anything but, mustering just two first half field goals and stumbling with 4 interceptions en route to a 15-6 Bears win. Yards hard to come by, teams playing stiff defense on both sides? Welcome to playoff football! Here's hoping the Bears and Rams find a date in January to play again.
DUD - Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton
Just a few weeks ago, Cam Newton missed a wide-open Jarius Wright in the end-zone for what would have been a game winning two-point conversion in a 20-19 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Well...bad news, Panthers fans. Down 26-20 to the Browns with 2:39 left, the Panthers went for the lead on 4th and goal from the 3. Hard to argue with it. Guess what? Cam Newton missed a wide-open Jarius Wright in the end-zone for what would have been a game winning...okay you get the point.
The Panthers are a team in a free fall, they've lost their last 5 contests. The continued struggles have put this team on the outs of the playoff picture...they're 6-7 with two games remaining against the New Orleans Saints. Thanks for playing, but better luck next year.
STUD - Miami Dolphins LG Ted Larsen
None of the pandemonium that took place at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday afternoon happens without a superb effort from LG Ted Larsen. Larsen, who was only on the field because of injuries to the Dolphins interior line (the team has C Daniel Kilgore and OG Josh Sitton on injured reserve, plus had C Jake Brendel and OG Isaac Asiata inactive for the game), has had a rough year.
But for one glorious moment, Larsen was the MVP of the Dolphins. Miami is down 33-28 with :07 remaining on the clock at their own 31-yard line.
You've undoubtedly seen the play by now...QB Ryan Tannehill zips a throw to WR Kenny Stills, who laterals cleanly to WR Devante Parker. Parker pitches to a streaking Kenyan Drake up the right sideline...and looks for help.
What you might have missed? Larsen is on his own 25-yard line at the release of the ball. And yet when Drake turns his eyes inside at the Patriots 38-yard line, there is Larsen, lumbering up the hash ahead of Drake. Drake feels the seam develop and turns on the jets, allowing Larsen to peel back and pick off safety Patrick Chung at the 30-yard line.
From there it was one on one with Drake and...Rob....Gronkowski...to decide the fate of the Dolphins season for another two weeks. With the win, Miami's next two games (at least) against Minnesota and Jacksonville will be of playoff significance.
DUD - New England Patriots Safety Rob Gronkowski
...the hell, Bill? This was an uncharacteristically sloppy game all around for the Patriots.
There was the missed extra point by Stephen Gostkowski after the opening touchdown. Whoops. The team blocked a Dolphins punt just before the half, setting them up immediately in scoring position in a game they led at the time, 27-21. Tom Brady took a sack on third down and the Patriots ended the half without any extra points.
But the biggest gaffe of all was undoubtedly playing Gronkowski on the final play. The Dolphins were 69 yards removed from the end zone. On what planet is Tannehill going to launch a ball in the air to the end zone?
Well, at any rate, we can confidently say that Gronkowski will be getting enshrined for his skills on the offensive side of the football and nothing else.
Don't take it too hard, Patriots fans. You've experienced 75 regular season losses since 2000. Even in The Upside Down (New England has lost 5 of their last 6 in Miami), I think you'll be just fine.
STUD - New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
The Giants will always catch some flak for drafting Barkley will the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. But...hear me out here...the Giants got a great football player. So if you can guarantee me I'll get a great football player with a top-5 overall pick, I'm going to take it. Every. Single. Time.
And Barkley has been magical this season. The economics around running backs and roster construction be damned. The Giants have a new face of their offense, he of 1753 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in 13 games.
Barkley logged his 4th consecutive 100+ yard rushing game against the Redskins, one week after hanging 125 yards on the studly Chicago Bears. While the Giants' search for a new franchise QB continues, bear in mind the presence of Barkley will make that new passer's life infinitely easier.
DUD - Your defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles
I don't want to harp on the Eagles too hard here, because this team has been hammered by injuries all year long. But dude. Really? You'd have easily confused this team by one of the old Andy Reid teams, the way the Birds completely abandoned the run against the Cowboys. 15 rush attempts for 34 rushing yards. But that was only part of the issue.
How about the 576 yards conceded by this defense? Or the 45 minutes of possession the Eagles let the Cowboys have? 11% conversion rate on third down? Yikes. Nothing the Eagles did on Sunday afternoon was complimentary. And yet there they were, in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys for a share of the division lead.
And then it happened: the Eagles had it. QB Dak Prescott's throw glanced off the hand of CB Rasul Douglas on 3rd and 8 from the 15. It was a great break by Douglas to collision the slant route vs. a blitz. Logic would suggest that the play ends with the ball falling harmlessly to the ground and the Cowboys kicking a field goal on 4th and 8.
The ball had other plans, though. It popped straight up into the air and into the waiting hands of Amari Cooper at the seven. Cooper could've moonwalked into the end zone: game over.
It seems as though the Eagles exhausted all of their magic with last year's Super Bowl run...2018 just isn't their year.