I admire the upset pulled off by Washington this weekend. I respect the way the Bears and Jets played in hard-fought losses. And I’m amazed by what the Texans did to the Ravens.
But the most surprising result might have been that the Raiders — considered the worst team in the league for most of the season — pulled off a big upset and ended the Bills’ playoff hopes. That game was a fitting end for Sunday afternoon in the NFL, as this was a weekend that reminded us that even when we, the fans, say there’s “nothing to play for,” football players have a funny way of deciding for themselves that they have something to play for.
It happens every year, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m always impressed by the teams that seemingly have every reason to pack it in and give up on their seasons, and instead put forth a spirited effort.
Washington has looked like a disaster for most of this season, but on Saturday, in a game the Eagles desperately needed to win, it was Washington that won a hard-fought, back-and-forth battle. And Houston seemed like it was even more of a disaster, down to fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum. But the Texans, whose playoff hopes are slim, put their quarterback issues aside and dominated the Ravens, who are right in the thick of the battle for a playoff berth.
And even the teams that came up short showed a lot of heart. Everyone thought the Bears had quit on this season, and yet Jimmy Clausen, starting after Jay Cutler’s benching, looked pretty good as Chicago gave Detroit a tough four quarters of play. Then there were the Jets, whose coach, Rex Ryan, is sure to be fired a week from now. They did everything they could to give Ryan a win over the rival Patriots before coming up just short.
By Week 16, when the playoffs are within reach, we have a tendency to write off those teams who have been eliminated from playoff contention. But we shouldn’t. There are a whole lot of players still playing hard, even if we don’t think they have anything to play for. The Jimmy Clausens and the Case Keenums of the world don’t get a lot of credit, but they were some of my favorite players on the field on Sunday.
Here are my other thoughts on this weekend’s action:
J.J. Watt for B.F.P. J.J. Watt won’t win the Most Valuable Player award, mostly because when people think about what constitutes “valuable” they almost always think of a quarterback, or maybe a running back — and they almost always think of a player on a playoff team. But I propose another award, the Best Football Player award, or BFP. If we gave an award for the best player in football, is there any doubt that Watt would win it? In Sunday’s win over the Ravens, Watt had seven solo tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. There’s no better football player than J.J. Watt.
A surprising vote of confidence for Joe Philbin. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said after Sunday’s game that Philbin will remain his head coach, despite the Dolphins being eliminated from the playoffs. That’s surprising. I’m not at all convinced that Philbin, who still hasn’t made the playoffs after three seasons at the helm, deserves to keep his job. Miami has not improved during his time at the helm.
Chip Kelly’s blunder. I like Chip Kelly. I said when he was at Oregon that I thought his system could work in the NFL, and I still think it can. But Kelly made a huge mistake when he cut receiver DeSean Jackson, and it probably cost the Eagles a playoff berth. Jackson burned Philadelphia’s secondary for 126 receiving yards when the Eagles lost at Washington on Sunday, and the Eagles, who averaged 6.8 yards a pass, could have used a big play threat. Sometimes a player is talented enough that a coach has to put up with him, even if the coach doesn’t much like him. Kelly should have sucked it up and put up with Jackson. Cutting Jackson was a mistake.
Robert Griffin III didn’t look good. There’s a tendency to praise any quarterback who wins, but let’s be honest: Even though Washington pulled off an upset over Philadelphia on Saturday, RG3 didn’t play very well. He managed only 220 passing yards and no touchdowns, didn’t do anything impressive running the ball, and threw an ugly interception on an underthrown pass to DeSean Jackson. If Jay Gruden wasn’t convinced before Saturday’s game that RG3 is his quarterback of the future, he isn’t convinced now, either.
Joe Flacco was terrible. Flacco’s halftime stats: 3-for-18, 27 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, one sack, one fumble and a 0.0 passer rating. Flacco was a little better in the second half (he couldn’t really be any worse), but this was still an abysmal performance by Flacco. The Ravens are paying Flacco a fortune because he came through in a big way when they won the Super Bowl two years ago. But Flacco was nothing short of terrible in a big loss to the Texans on Sunday.
A future Hall of Famer joins an exclusive club. Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson got his 60th interception on Sunday, making him just the 11th player in NFL history to pick off 60 passes. Woodson is the career leader in interceptions among active players and is still playing surprisingly well at age 38. Woodson isn’t getting much attention because he’s on a terrible team in Oakland, but he’s still playing well at an age when few defensive backs are still playing at all.
Panthers-Falcons: Great game or terrible game? There’s no Week 17 game with more at stake than Panthers-Falcons, which is essentially a playoff game because the winner wins the NFC South and the loser goes home. And yet it’s also a matchup of a 6-8-1 team and a 6-9 team. The NFC South is awful, but I confess that I’m looking forward to seeing which seven-win team wins the division. I feel pretty confident saying that those two losing teams will still be playing hard until the end.