Week 15 Monday 10-pack

Now we know why Commissioner Roger Goodell was so frustrated last year when the Colts decided to stop trying to win games.  December football, even without playoff implications, can be compelling and memorable.

Week 15 of the 2010 was one of the most memorable weekends of all time.

So here are 10 takes from a weekend that could have generated 10 times that many.

1.  Coughlin will be feeling the heat, again.

After a flat 1-2 start to the season, the flames began to tickle the backside of Giants coach Tom Coughlin — especially since former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis had outed former Steelers coach Bill Cowher as a guy who secretly covets the job.  Coughlin has one year left on the deal he received after winning an unlikely Super Bowl, and the Giants likely won’t be inclined to let him coach as a lame duck in 2011.  The most likely outcomes, then, are either a contract extension or a contract termination.

If the Giants fail to qualify for the playoffs in the wake of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, the Giants may feel compelled to make a change.  The pain of the blown 21-point lead to the Eagles, fueled by two key special-teams blunders, could be too much for the fan base to overcome, especially with the scrutiny that is sure to come now that the Jets have essentially transferred the spot in the eye of the New York media storm to the Giants.

It will only get worse if the Giants lose to the Packers in Week 16, and if the eventual NFC playoff field includes teams other than the Giants.

In the end, the situation could benefit Coughlin.  The players remain for the most part behind him, and if they sense that his job is in jeopardy perhaps they will respond.

If not, there could be a new sheriff in town for 2011.  And his name could be Bill Cowher.

2.  Vikings, Bears players should stop worrying about the field at TCF Bank Stadium.

Last week, several Bears expressed concern regarding the hibernation-inducing quality of the surface at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The field, which was designed for games played in September through November not December or January, lacks the heating systems employed by NFL stadiums in the coldest months of the year.

(It had been widely presumed throughout the week that all NFL stadiums have a built-in heating system.  NFL spokesman Michael Signora tells PFT that three stadiums do not have underground heating coils — Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the New Meadowlands Stadium.  That said, these stadiums have procedures for preventing the accumulation of ice and snow during the season.  At TCF Bank Stadium, the season was believed to be over.)

The Viking aren’t concerned that the field will be a problem.  Players from both teams aren’t as optimistic.  At this point, however, nothing can really be done about it.  As NBC’s Rodney Harrison pointed out during our weekly online video segment, a coach like Bill Belichick of the Patriots would explain to his players that obsessing over a potential distraction will serve only to make the potential distraction a distraction.

If one or more players suffer injury due to the potentially frozen field, then there will be questions even harder than the most frozen tundra Lambeau Field ever has generated.  But with the NFL moving forward and the NFLPA standing silent, there’s really nothing that the players can do other than, you know, play.

3.  Giants more concerned about play-calling than special-teams play.

In the wake of Sunday’s deflating loss to the Eagles, fueled by the failure to use the “hands” team on a kickoff return and the inability to boot a punt out of bounds, it was assumed that fingers would be pointing in the locker room at the folks responsible for these two aspects of the Giants’ not-so-special teams.

But that’s not the case.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation tell us that the players are far more troubled by the play selection in the second half, which opened with the Giants leading the Eagles 24-3.  With an offense built to run the ball, multiple opportunities to keep the ball in bounds and the clock moving were eschewed in favor of pass plays.

It appears that, after the Giants’ first drive of the second half consisted of three runs and a punt, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride opted to reopen the playbook, with two plays on the next drive resulting in clock-killing incompletions.  The next drive included two more incomplete passes out of four total plays.

After the onside kick that allowed the Eagles to cut the lead to seven, the Giants faced a key third and eight from the Philly 40.  Instead of running the ball at a time when the Eagles had no remaining timeouts, which would have allowed the Giants to work the clock under 2:30 before giving it back, Gilbride called a pass, it was incomplete, and 3:08 remained when the Giants punted.

If nothing else, the game-tying score may have happened late enough to persuade the Giants not to try to go for the win in regulation, which set the stage for the memorable final-play punt return from DeSean Jackson.

The fact that the Giants built a 21-point lead, twice, gives them confidence.  But if they don’t do a better job of milking the clock the next time they have a big lead, the team may have no further confidence in Gilbride.

4.  Polamalu’s absence could sink Pittsburgh’s hopes.

Last year, the Steelers were 4-1 in games started by safety Troy Polamalu.  (The loss came in a contest he left in the first quarter, after aggravating a knee injury.)  In the 11 games from 2009 that Polamalu didn’t start, the Steelers were 5-6.

This year, the Steelers are 0-1 without Polamalu.  If he misses the last two games of the regular season, the Steelers could blow their chance at winning the AFC North title and the bye week that likely will go along with it.  Though the Steelers play the lowly Panthers and the sinking Browns, one more loss could be enough to force the Steelers to hit the road in the wild-card week.

With Polamalu hurting, it’s even more important for the rest of the team to step up and secure that week off in early January.

5.  Jaguars fell victim to the fear of Manning.

Jacksonville didn’t lose on Sunday to the Colts.  Instead, the Jaguars surrendered.

By opting to try to convert a fourth down and one from their own 39 on the first drive of the third quarter, the Jags made it clear that they didn’t believe they could go toe-to-toe with the Indy offense.  By failing to gain the yard, the Jags gave the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning a chance to prove the road team right, pushing the score to 21-10 only three plays later.

Though the Jaguars thereafter kept it interesting, the game was essentially over at that point.

Most likely, Jacksonville’s season is, too.

6.  Batman, Robin played second fiddle on Sunday.

Despite being injured all week, the Bengals activated receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.  But neither player started, with the Bengals instead giving the first-team duties to Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell.

T.O. left the game with a knee injury that will surely end his one-year stint with the Bengals.  Ochocinco made it through the game, generating only 36 receiving yards.

Ochocinco has yet to erupt about his demotion or his numbers on his Twitter page, but he has to be getting more and more frustrated.  With Owens destined to play elsewhere next year, we’re prepared to predict that Batman and Robin’s offseason goal will be to find a new Gotham City in which they can fight crime and/or poison locker rooms.

7.  Vick propels himself back into the MVP race.

Just as we were prepared to conclude that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is destined to win his second NFL MVP award, Eagles quarterback Mike Vick authored a comeback for the ages, thrusting himself back into the debate as to the most valuable player in the NFL.

In the end, the outcome will surely hinge on the one-person, one-vote approach utilized by the Associated Press.  With no Heisman-style first-place, second-place, and third-place voting, the 50 folks who pick the NFL’s unofficial postseason prizes will be required to make an all-or-nothing decision.

That said, it wouldn’t be a shock if some split their votes between Brady and Vick.  The bigger questions are these:  (1) will any voters shun Vick due to his federal guilty plea to dogfighting and gambling; and (2) will votes cast for traditional pocket passers like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers come from persons who, between Brady and Vick, would have picked Brady?

Either way, Vick has made a compelling case, and he’ll get one more chance to persuade a prime-time audience that he deserves the award.

Right now, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t.

8.  Epic NFC title game could be coming.

We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves on this one.  But we will anyway.

The Falcons currently are closing in on the top seed in the NFC.  The Eagles, with that epic win at the New Meadowlands, look to be locking in at No. 2.

Assuming that both teams can get past the division round at home, the Eagles would head to Atlanta for the NFC championship.

More specifically, Mike Vick would return to Atlanta.  For a berth in the Super Bowl.  Six years after the Falcons and Vick went to Philly with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

With all due respect to the four other NFC teams that will qualify for the playoffs, it’s hard not to root to see Vick return to the Georgia Dome in a conference title game.

9.  Bucs will be dangerous in 2011, and beyond.

Setting aside the playoff-killing loss at home to the Lions, the Buccaneers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.  Ravaged by injuries, the Bucs have made no excuses; instead, they’ve just kept playing.

And with a new Triplets combination of Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, and Mike Williams,  the Buccaneers will be competing with the Falcons and Saints for years to come.

Indeed, it appears that Freeman is, so far, the best quarterback of a 2009 first-round class that includes Matt Stafford of the Lions and Mark Sanchez of the Jets.  Stafford has had durability issues, and Sanchez has been too inconsistent.

Though the Bucs are still technically alive, given losses by the Giants, Saints, and Packers, it’ll take a lot for Tampa to cap their turnaround season with a spot in the postseason.  Even if it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll likely be happening soon.

10.  Ravens’ impressive win was easily overlooked.

Lost in the shuffle of the Eagles-Giants clash and the hard-fought Jets-Steelers game was an interconference contest that arguably had just as much significance.

Since losing to the team that currently plays in Cleveland, the Saints had won six in a row before visiting the team that used to play in Cleveland.  And the team that used to play in Cleveland — the Ravens — finally found a way not to blow a slim lead in the fourth quarter.

The win came against a team that seems to be able to mount a quick-strike touchdown drive whenever it needs one.  This time around, the Ravens picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees deep in his own end of the field, eventually adding a field goal to a 27-24 lead, good for a 30-24 win.

Meanwhile, the Saints continue to get very little production out of tailback Reggie Bush, 13 weeks after he suffered a fractured fibula.  Bush rushed for minus-four yards, and he added 36 yards receiving.

On the other sideline was a guy who did what we all had believed Bush would always do.  Ray Rice racked up 233 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, and he could be heating up at just the right time to make the Ravens a factor in the AFC playoff field.

Remember this — the Ravens played five road playoff games in 2008 and 2009 combined, winning three.  If they can just play one game at home, they could steal a spot in the Super Bowl.

20 responses to “Week 15 Monday 10-pack

  1. pppplllleeeease…just cause Brady had an average game you already decided that vick is the mvp. look at the entire picture and is not even close..Brady has actually played ALL of the games.

  2. Unless I’m mistaken, it really should be noted that, as of now, the Bears have the advantage for the 2nd seed in the NFC due to their head to head win over Philadelphia, assuming they finished tied. Now, the Bears have to beat Minnesota, Jets, and the Packers, so the road is a bit tougher than Minnesota/Dallas (Philly’s remaining games), but it is possible.

  3. #4

    It’s not missig Troy that is the problem, it’s a horrible offensive line and even worse play calling.

  4. If Mike Vick and the Eagles play the Falcons for a chance at the Super Bowl at the Georgia Dome… that would be the single biggest game at the Georgia Dome, ever.

    And it will split this city right down the middle. I think that there should be a mayoral decree or something before the game, because the majority of Atlanta are Falcons fans. But there are more Mike Vick fans in Atlanta than Matt Ryan fans. Sounds terrible, but look in the stands and count #2s against the #7s.

    I mean, if the Falcons play the Panthers you’ll see a lot of Vick jerseys. I just want to see what the city looks like after the game.

  5. And more Giants play calling blunders…when they got the ball with a tie score and about 1:16 left in the game, they called 3 passes. 2 incomplete and the 3rd was a sack. If the 3rd play was another incomplete and not a sack, they would have punted to the eagles with about 55 seconds left. I thought for sure they would have at least made sure not to give the eagles the ball back under any circumstance.

  6. No one wants to play the dangerous Ravens in the playoffs…. Theres not one team out there that can blow the Ravens out besides maybe Manning and the Colts (since they always seem to have their number).

  7. “With all due respect to the four other NFC teams that will qualify for the playoffs, it’s hard not to root to see Vick return to the Georgia Dome in a conference title game.”

    No its not. Its very easy to hope never to see that scumbag Vick again. It makes me want to vomit every time I see that POS or hear his name.

  8. The Giants were forced to pass because they couldn’t get anywhere running the ball. It would have all worked out for them if they just kept victimizing Dmitri Patterson.

  9. Why didnt Steelers try onside kick on free kick after safety? Jets were clearly not playing for it and it is perfectly legal. Shula pulled it off once against Bungles.

  10. It is maddening to see all the idiotic “Falcons” fans at the Dome STILL wearing Vick jerseys. It will be hard enough to beat the Eagles with our fans rooting for the home team, but to have our “fans” rooting for the opposing team will be impossible. People will have to take a side once and for all. Either you want the Atlanta Falcons to go to the Super Bowl or you want Vick and his new team to go. You can’t have both. RISE UP Atlanta and leave those Vick jerseys and memories at home in the closet where they belong.

  11. Who deserves the MVP and who will get it are most likely going to be two different things. Many people cannot separate what has happened in Mike Vicks personal life from what he has done on the football field. If all of us are honest we would have to conclude that not many people thought that Mike Vick would bring the eagles back to even having a chance in that game. Secondly, what other qb could have done it the way he did? It was an unbelievable performance.

  12. bucsballer says:
    Everyone get off vick. U might not like him as a person……but he the hottest qb in da game. So shut up

    He can be both “the hottest qb in da game” AND be a total piece of crap as a human being.

  13. @sickpuppyz

    and if you look at the games vick hasnt been in the whole game (packers, redskins I, falcons, titans), the eagles are 1-3. games that he has started and finished, the eagles are 9-1. thats a better win percentage than brady, and considering that vicks only loss was the bears and bradys only loss besides the jets were the mighty mighty browns. and the browns game wasnt even a late game heartbreaker, it was a 34-14 blowout. vick kept the game close and lost by one possession.

    vick absolutely deserves the mvp. if you took vick out of the eagles they would probly collapse, i can admit it. but if you take tom brady out of the pats and replaced him (lets say with a career backup from usc), they still play fine.

  14. brady is a system quarterback who needs superior coaching to succeed. vick is so talented he could kill dogs anywhere. my vote would be for that dickhead lineman who ran back that squibkick 71 yards, or the catholics would’ve lost to the protestants. bigtime.

  15. #8
    The Falcons currently are closing in on the top seed in the NFC. The Eagles, with that epic win at the New Meadowlands, look to be locking in at No. 2.
    Uhh… no? Chicago holds the tiebreaker over Philly by way of a head-to-head victory. Could you at least do a basic level of research so you don’t look like a total fool?

  16. Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the New Meadowlands Stadium. That said, these stadiums have procedures for preventing the accumulation of ice and snow during the season. At TCF Bank Stadium, the season was believed to be over.)

    Snow is an insulator an accumulation of it helps keep the ground from freezing it doesnt make it freeze more. So the fact that TCF staduim had snow on it makes it a softer field to play on then say the other 3 stadiums.

    You would know this if you ever watched a show like Ice Road truckers. If they allows snow to pile up on the road it doesnt freeze well enough bc it insulates it from the outside air. Causing the trucks to break through the ice. When they remove the snow it allows the air to get to it which allows it to freeze. Which makes it possible to drive over.

    Its the same thing that makes igloos liveable. It insulates the cold air from the outside from coming in and keeps the warmness produced from your body heat inside. If snow kept things coulder then there would be a lot of dead eskimoos on our hands.

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