NFL morning after: Playing hard, with nothing to play for


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.

49 responses to “NFL morning after: Playing hard, with nothing to play for

  1. Seriously, hats off to all the teams and players that had “nothing to play for” but fought hard, win or lose.

    As for the Raiders, casual fans don’t see what’s going on with them, how close they really are and how bright the future looks.

    That’s Ok though, ignorance is bliss, until reality hits you in the face.

  2. Odd not to mention the Giants Rams games to go with your narrative… Considering neither team had nothing to play for but ended up brawling with ejections after the Rams were clearly targeting Beckham. Also odd that there’s not much mention of that sort of headhunting, considering it was a Greg Williams coached defense, along with the natural dirty play style of a Jeff Fisher coached team (how is this guy on the Competition Committee?).

    Speaking of OBJ, despite all of that, just another day at the office. 8 Catches for 148 yards and 2 TD’s, all while being cheapshotted after every play.

  3. Cutting a malcontent cry baby like DeSean Jackson wasn’t a mistake at all. If the Eagles secondary wasn’t terrible they would have made the playoffs this year even with cutting him.

  4. Nice review on RG3 when most articles I have read on the performance he displayed on Saturday guaranteed he would be back, Gruden stated he was happy with his play and people in DC were all in praise of RG3. I like how you are not so quick to overlook what was still glaring in my eyes, the qb just managed to win but it was no decisive crowing performance imho.

  5. “Miami has not improved during his time at the helm.”

    Year zero (before Philbin), 6-10
    Year one, 7-9
    Year two, 8-8
    And if they win next week, year three, 9-7

    Unless you’re using Common Core, I’m pretty sure that represents improvement each year. But let not facts hinder your perception.

  6. Paying BIG money for Harbaugh who is disliked by many and just got blown out 2 days ago with a 30 point lead on his home field is not what the Fins need.

  7. Joe Flacco was terrible

    That’s because JUMP BALL JOE is terrible!!

    3 most over paid and over rated QB’s

    2. Andy (red pop gun) Dalton
    3. Colin (1 read) Kaepernick

  8. Miami hasn’t improve? 6-10 when he took over the job and went 7-9 with a rookie QB, a we group that scores 3 td the whole year, sean smith as your number 1 corner. No depth at all. Year 2 thy whole martin incognito problem, that’s no ones fault but sissy martin. Team finish 8-8 with a bunch of news players learning new system and playing new positions they should’ve made the playoffs. If they didn’t fired him After last season on point of doing it now. They can still finish with a winning record 9-7 if they beat the jets on Sunday. That’ll be the first winning season since 2008. So yes I see improvement

  9. The Dolphins have improved under Philbin. Ryan Tannehill has come a long way, yet people criticize him all the time. They need to find a way to finish off games, otherwise they would have been in the playoffs. Green Bay, Denver & Baltimore were in their hands with 2 mins to go, have to win those.

  10. This was an enjoyable read but I disagree with the notion that Chip Kelly blundered when he cut DeSean Jackson.

    I suspect that DJ brings such a negative influence to a locker room that regardless of the talent he has, he is actually of little value in terms of TEAM.

    He’s transmitting his poisonous attitude to the Redskins now. IMO he’s a de-stabilizer.

    Chip Kelly was/is cleaning house in Philly so he parting with anti-team players like DeSean and collecting talented good guys like Sproles.

  11. Impressed with the fight the Giants showed against a dirty rams defense. Playing dirty isn’t tough. Nice to see the Giants score almost 40 on those dirtbags.

  12. Thank you Sir Ozzie Newsome for signing “Average” Joe Flacco to that mega-contract, The fruits of your labor are now ripe for reaping.

  13. RG3 did what everyone wanted all year- he showed improvement from the pocket and got a W. This is the type of performance from Russell Wilson that you would just shut up about and not mention.

    Seeing a lot of ex-NFL QBs come to same conclusion about his looking better. Definitely taking their word over a blogger.

  14. Kelly’s mistake was not cutting Jackson…it was fielding Bradley Fletcher and Carey Williams as his starting CBs. Probably the worst 1-2 CB combo in the NFL.

  15. clausen looked pretty good? did you watch the same game I did? he looked like a backup qb and only that good because the lions turned the ball over twice in the red zone early or they would have put the game away. he was playing in a scaled down version of the offense and not behind by 2 touchdowns and trestman used the running game instead of having him throw 50 times like Cutler. he is nothing but a product of the dame hype machine and not the answer for the bears. it was like watching the same offense they ran under lovie, do not do anything that might lose the game which means they did not ask him to do anything that might give the bears a chance to win it.

  16. It is a mistake to say any NFL player has nothing to play for in any game.

    The game is recorded, then reviewed and analyzed by multiple teams. If someone is dogging it then it will show up on film, and that player will find himself on the unemployment line sooner than expected.

  17. I was of course happy to see the Raiders win yesterday but I was not at all surprised because they have generally put up good fights against teams with winning records.

    However, it’s also frustrating/disgusting that this year the Raiders have basically just lied down against the mediocre (or bad) teams that they have faced. This has been the case BOTH under Allen and Sparano.

    This team still needs more infusion of talent but I can’t help but think that if they put forth an honest effort in ALL of their games, then there’s a good chance that they would be around 6-9 rather than 3-12 at this point.

    I’d like to think that if they acquire a no-nonsense, kick-in-the-rear HC like Harbaugh, then that would go a long way to getting more consistency of effort.

  18. Washington played a very balanced game threw the ball 23 times with 16 completions and ran the ball 21 times. RG3 played well not spectacular but well. He was able to change field position with two very nicely thrown deep balls to Desean and managed the game decently. I was more impressed with the fact he was only sacked twice versus 7 last week.

    This game does not make him the Franchise QB but this is only his third year in his second offense and has only played 6 games.

  19. The win by the Redskins over the Philadelphia team wasn’t totally unexpected. Playoff caliber teams without a franchise qb are always ripe for the picking.

  20. sidepull says: Dec 22, 2014 6:52 AM

    Nice review on RG3 when most articles I have read on the performance he displayed on Saturday guaranteed he would be back, Gruden stated he was happy with his play and people in DC were all in praise of RG3. I like how you are not so quick to overlook what was still glaring in my eyes, the qb just managed to win but it was no decisive crowing performance imho.

    C’mon man. 70% completion rate and almost 10 yards per pass attempt isn’t exactly bottom of the barrel either. And he did get them in position for the win at the end of the game.

    He made one horrendous pass (under-thrown), but had two very nice deep balls. With time in this system and time to heal his various wounds (and time in the pocket if they can get some lineman who can actually pass block)he can still be the guy, and is definitely a better option than Colt or Kirk Cousins.

  21. I could not care less about the Washington NFL team, but Griffin finished with a 69.6% completion rate and averaged 9.6 yards per attempt. Those are excellent numbers. Who cares if he didn’t have a TD pass? Someone named Darrel Young had two one-yard TD runs. He didn’t get to the one yard line on his own.

  22. Least Valuable Player: Mark Sanchez

    For bringing a 6-2 team to playoff elimination before Week 17!

  23. Only people who don’t play sports seriously don’t understand, as Herm said, “You play to win the game.”


    You have pride in your ability to beat the other guy. They may be going to the Superbowl but you get to say “You weren’t the best team on the field. Not today.”

    Besides which a lot of these guys are playing for jobs. For this coach or the next you want to prove you are the guy.

    Besides losing sucks.

  24. Not playing hard when you’re already out of the playoffs is just as bad as not playing hard when you’re a shoe-in.

    Remember back in ’09 when what’s-his-face pulled Peyton in the 3rd quarter vs. the Jets? Totally gave up on the “meaningless” game, which ended the Colts’ run at an undefeated season. That was just gross – and I don’t even like the Colts.

    What’s the point if we’re only ever concerned about next time or next year? Might as well skip the first 16 games and only watch the playoffs only if our team made it there.

  25. Spot on comment about the Eagles cutting Desean Jackson being a mistake. DJax would of been the guy who put Philadelphia over the top and into the playoffs. Chip Kelly should have swallowed that one.

  26. I’m not the biggest Joe Philbin fan in the world, but to say that haven’t improves under his leadership means that you just haven’t been paying attention…

    Have they made a huge leap forward? No. But they have certainly gotten better every year he’s been here despite the fact that he was put in some terrible situations (ie. a rookie QB with no #1 or #2 receivers, a historically bad offensive line that lost two starters due to bullying)

  27. Playing hard, with nothing to play for…nothing new for the Raiders, that started about week 6.

  28. Why is it that as soon as a guy gets the big payday,his play goes down the tubes. Yes,Joe Flacco,I’m talking about you, as one of many examples. He looked like a rookie in his first start yesterday.

  29. Re: RG3… I think he played fine. Except for that one underthrown deep ball to Djax. He’s better than alot of starting qb’s in the NFL. Especially if they’d let him run the read option again.

  30. Carr and Mack, Carrie and Jelly, and Murray have been bright spots in another tough Raider year. But Mark Davis needs to hit the offseason fast and furious with purpose.

    Whether it’s Reggie, no Reggie, Harbaugh or Sparano in layover etc…have to get out of this 4 max win rut Mark Davis. Need a proper front office and coaching staff to help these young bucks with a bright future. Which looks far better than the Redskins, Titans, Jets right now IMO. Go Raiders.

  31. I don’t get the criticism about RG3 in the article. I thought he managed the game well. The one INT was basically a punt on a 3rd and long play when the Skins were pretty deep in their own territory. He already hit DeSean deep twice, which is a good thing for a QB to do, so he just chucked it up deep for DeSean again and it got picked off. It wasn’t like the INT was a gut wrenching pick like the one Sanchez threw. Best case scenario with that pass was a third deep ball completion. Worst case, it was basically a punt.

  32. Finally!!! I’ve been saying it all along, Low Joe Flacco is overated. Remember, he only won the job in Baltimore because Troy Smith got sick. In addition, I’d be very disappointed to find out that Rahim Moore wasn’t on his Xmas card list. Think about his legend, a severely underthrown ball in the playoff game vs Denver, another in the Super Bowl and numerous jump balls to Boldin enables him to get the mega-contract and be considered elite. Yeah, Lee Evans dropped one the year before their Super Bowl run and his playoff record, I get it. However, for a guy known for throwing the deep ball, his WRs have made more than their share of plays. Not to mention the defense and how it carried him since he was a rookie. If anybody needed an incentive-laden contract, it should’ve been Low Joe…just sayin’.

  33. Joe Philbin absolutely deserves another season with the dolphins!! This team is so much better than where it was when he took over!!! For those of you that do not keep up with Dolphins or just did not realize Miami did not play a single game this year with all of its starters not one!! The one game that they played with all but 3 of their starters they absolutely dominated in all three phases of the game and won 37-0 against the Chargers. The rest of the season we had no less than 6 starters out of the game each and every week!! Our starting pro bowl center who was out the first half of the year never got to play center but had to play RG and our starting ROOKIE RT had to play LT the last half of the year!! We were so banged up this year we were starting practice squad players and pulling in players off of the street!! We lost to the Lions, Packers and Broncos in the last two minutes of the game. That is three wins we should have had and would have if we were not so banged up. That alone would put them at 11-5 or 12-4 pending next week against the jets. Now you can add another win or two on closer games not won or lost in the last two minutes and now we are looking at 13-3 or 14-2. I know all teams go through injuries but some more than others and this year Miami just got hammered with injuries. To finish 9-7 or 8-8 with what we had to play with is pretty damn good!! Now lets add to this that this is the first year under a new offensive system under Bill Lazor our new OC and this is the first year under a new GM Dennis Hickey who brought in some really good talent this year!! For the first time in YEARS I can actually say I am excited for this team!!! I see the glory days of old coming back to Miami!!! I can actually see not just playoffs but a Superbowl in the the very near future!!!! Yes Miami IS that close!!! Mr. Ross can see it too and that is why he announced that Philbin will stay because he has earned that vote of confidence!!!!

  34. Watching the game Saturday, one could see the improvement in Robert Griffin. Yes, his numbers were certainly strong. That said, he wasn’t spectacular.

    What he wasn’t, though that he has been is flustered and lost. Saturday’s game was certainly an improvement in reading the defense and coming off read 1 to read 2. He was much more intelligent in the running game and did a much better job of moving around the pocket before moving out of it. The interception was bad, though. Garcon was wide open on the same route on the other side of the field. That’s seven points left on the field.

    The big question is: can he carry that over to Sunday against Dallas? Consistency isn’t Griffin’s strong point. If…and a big if…he does play well and continues to show progress in the pocket, then it may well be worth bringing him back to another look next year (the Skins aren’t going to the playoffs any way).

    If anything, the progress showed only shines light on the value of having a QB learn on the bench before taking the craft to the field. Very few QBs can come in and take the reigns from day 1. While only a few weeks, maybe the benching and the time spent just learning did wonders.

  35. One could argue just the opposite – that these players have everything to play for. Namely their jobs. These losing teams will be undergoing a lot of changes and many of the players are auditioning for next years team. Not as much team-oriented motivation but there is still much to be gained individually. Laying down at the end of the year is not the last impression you want to give your employer as they prepare for the offseason.

    BTW – Carr is legit. Give him a weapon or two and he could be special.

  36. “Nothing to play for?” Really? How about the fact that showing up and giving your best effort, no matter what, is your freaking job (for which you are extremely well paid)? Most of us have to come to work every day and do our absolute best, knowing that if we don’t there will be significant repercussions. Why should NFL players be any different? Just because they work in an atypical profession, it shouldn’t mean that they ever do less than their absolute best at all times. And if they coast or slack or don’t perform just because their team isn’t in the playoffs, well…I have no sympathy for them if/when they get cut. Out here in the real world we have to knock ourselves out every day, and most of us don’t get paid anywhere near the salaries that NFL players receive. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for those teams that have “nothing to play for.” How about some personal pride and a paycheck? How’s that for a couple of reasons?

  37. For the first time in many weeks, the Bears actually looked like they knew what they were doing and wanted to be out there. It’s a known fact that Marc Trestman lost the team already before the bye week. What I saw yesterday were Chicago players who know that the entire coaching staff is being replaced and are auditioning for jobs under the new regime.

  38. “But Kelly made a huge mistake when he cut receiver DeSean Jackson, and it probably cost the Eagles a playoff berth. ”

    Ridiculous. Sure, any team would miss DeSean’s big play ability. But that’s not what cost us games. Here is what did:

    1. Terrible secondary. Worst in the league.
    2. No starting QB for half a season.
    3. Major OL injuries for first 8 games.
    4. Ryan (LB) going down. He was the leader on D.

  39. yraccm says:

    If RG3 didn’t look good, what about Andrew Luck?

    yup, Luck had a bad game, but what about the other 46 games?

    RG3 wasn’t even able to play in 10 of them because he couldn’t get his head around protecting himself…

    and the big difference; Luck was playing for 33 wins, RG3?…. 10

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