My favorite part of Week 17 of the NFL season, every year, is when a team with nothing to play for beats a team with everything to play for. And it was particularly special yesterday in Buffalo.
Bills coach Rex Ryan led his team to a surprising win over his former team, eliminating the Jets from playoff contention. It was the first time in NFL history that a coach had knocked the team he coached the previous year out of the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of teams that would have mailed it in. This team fought through a lot of outside negativity,” Ryan said after the game.
He’s right about that: There are a lot of teams that would have mailed it in. We saw some of those teams yesterday. I thought the Cowboys, in particular, looked like they simply didn’t care yesterday, as they fell behind Washington 24-0. Some teams, when they’re out of the playoff race, give up.
But Ryan didn’t let his team give up, and that made for a compelling Week 17 matchup. Another team that didn’t give up was Miami, which upset the Patriots and upended the AFC playoff picture in the process. Even teams that came up short, like the Chargers and Raiders, played tough, competitive games against playoff teams. It was a fun Week 17 because several teams played better than we had any reason to think they would.
Ryan did not have a good first season coaching the Bills. He has to fix his defense, and if he doesn’t he’s going to be on the hot seat a year from now. But he did have a very good Week 17.
Here are my other thoughts from the final day of the regular season:
Passing numbers have become silly. I mentioned that the Cowboys fell behind 24-0 to start the game against Washington. That meant that most of the game was garbage time, and in today’s NFL, a mediocre quarterback can put up huge numbers in garbage time. So Cowboys quarterback Kellen Moore ended the game with 435 yards. That’s an incredible total — Hall of Fame Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach never had more than 339 yards in a game in his entire career. But these days, a 435-yard game isn’t really anything special. It’s just something a mediocre backup quarterback can do in garbage time.
Chuck Pagano had a pretty good run. Although Pagano won’t be back as the Colts’ head coach, he had a good four years in Indianapolis: During his tenure, the Colts never had a losing record and won three playoff games. Not many coaches can say they had three playoff wins and no losing seasons in four years, but Pagano can. And he’s gone anyway.
Cam Newton plays like no quarterback ever. Yesterday Newton scored the 43rd rushing touchdown of his NFL career, tying Steve Young’s NFL record for a quarterback. Newton has now had two different seasons with 3,500 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns, something no other player has ever done, even once. And Newton has had at least 500 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns and 4.8 yards a carry in all five of his NFL seasons. Not only is he the only quarterback in NFL history who has done that, but only four running backs in NFL history have five such seasons. Newton is already a unique figure in NFL history, and he’s only 26 years old.
Peyton Manning is back. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak made the right call when he benched Brock Osweiler for Manning yesterday. The Broncos were trailing the Chargers 13-7 when Manning took the field, but they won 27-20 with Manning leading the way. I don’t believe Manning will ever deliver one of his vintage 400-yard games of old, but I do believe Manning can beat opposing defenses with his mind even if he can no longer do it with his arm. With the regular season over and the playoffs beginning, there’s nothing more exciting heading into January than one more chance to see what Peyton Manning can do.