If you watched the Dolphins-Jets game on Saturday night, you saw a team that had quit: The Jets simply didn’t look like they were competing, didn’t look like they cared, didn’t look like professional football players.
I hate watching games like that. It feels like such a waste. If you’re a Jets fan, and you pay a small fortune for season tickets, and that was one of the eight home games your team gave you, you should be furious. Especially considering the previous home game, a Monday night loss to the Colts, was just as ugly. It’s one thing to pay your hard-earned money to watch your favorite team lose. It’s quite another to watch your favorite team fail to even compete, which is what the Jets are doing.
But the Jets aren’t the team I want to talk about today. I’m more interested in the teams that aren’t very good, don’t have anything to play for and are still playing hard. Those are teams I find myself feeling a lot of respect for at the end of the season.
I’m talking about a team like the Bears. They’re not a good team, by any stretch of the imagination. They weren’t even a good team when they had their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler. They’re certainly not a good team now that they’re down to their fourth-string quarterback, Matt Barkley. But they played very hard in yesterday’s loss to the Packers, with seemingly nothing to play for. They took a good Packers team down to the wire, kicking a game-tying field goal in the final minutes before ultimately losing on a Packers field goal as time expired. The Bears easily could have quit on this season, but in their last five games they’ve played hard every week: They’re just 1-4 in their last five games, but the four losses were all one-possession games against teams competing for a playoff spot. And the win was a 20-point beatdown of a terrible 49ers team (a team that really has quit on the season). The Bears are not a good football team, but they are a competitive football team.
And I’m talking about a team like the Jaguars. I’ve said plenty about what a bad coach I think Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley is, and I think he deserved to be fired after the game, but he had his last-place team coming out playing hard yesterday against the first-place Texans. Jacksonville jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the second quarter before falling to earth and ultimately losing 21-20. Bradley was saddled with a bad quarterback in Blake Bortles, and he didn’t do enough to build a defense that can win despite the bad offense, and for those reasons firing him was appropriate. But I respect that his team is still treating these games like they matter.
It gets a little sad at this time of year to think about how little football we have left: In two weeks, the regular season will be over. We should enjoy every one of these remaining games. But there’s nothing enjoyable about watching the teams that look like they’re not really trying anymore, the way the Jets looked Saturday night or the way the Rams looked Thursday night. I can’t say the Bears and the Jaguars have been particularly fun to watch this season, but I can say they made their games yesterday more fun than I was expecting. I give them credit for that.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
Randy Moss is still bitter toward Colin Kaepernick. The most interesting thing I heard during the hours of Sunday morning pregame shows was Moss, on ESPN, talking about how he still resents Kaepernick, his teammate on the 49ers in 2012. Moss pointed out that on the 49ers’ last drive of their Super Bowl XLVII loss to the Ravens, he got open in the end zone for what could have been a game-winning touchdown — except that Kaepernick never looked in Moss’s direction. “That was my dad gum Super Bowl ring!” Moss shouted. I had forgotten about that play, but Moss will never forget that play. It was fascinating to hear an all-time great player talk about how bitterly he resents a missed opportunity. For all the great moments of Moss’s career, that’s a low moment he’ll never get over.
Tucker is terrific. On a rainy day in Baltimore, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker didn’t just make a 53-yard field goal, he made it with several yards to spare and dead center between the uprights. He later drilled a 47-yarder and went 3-for-3 on extra points. For the season, Tucker is now Tucker has missed just one of his 59 kicks, and that one came when New England’s Shea McClellin leaped over the line to block his field goal. Tucker is a perfect 10-for-10 on field goals 50 yards or longer, and not only does he make those kicks but he makes them look easy: I don’t think I’ve seen a single Tucker kick this year that wouldn’t have been good on the narrower goal posts they use in arena football. With 10 field goals beyond 50 yards this year, Tucker is tied for an NFL single-season record. What Tucker is doing is extraordinary.
A big year for LeGarrette Blount. On Sunday Blount scored his 15th rushing touchdown of the season, making him the first player since Arian Foster in 2012 to score 15 rushing touchdowns in a year. It’s hard to remember this now, but before the season there were reports that Blount was in danger of getting cut. Instead, he’s been a very important player on a Patriots team that’s competing for a championship.
Jordan Howard looks like a special player. Howard, the Bears’ rookie running back, had 90 yards rushing and 23 yards receiving yesterday. It was his eighth game this season with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. No one expected this kind of performance from Howard when he was selected in the fifth round out of Indiana in this year’s draft, but he’s been excellent. In fact, for as great as Ezekiel Elliott has been in Dallas, I think Howard would be having the same kind of year if he were playing in a good offense like the Cowboys’, instead of like a bad offense like the Bears’.
The Packers’ secret weapon. Ty Montgomery was a wide receiver until a few weeks ago. Yesterday, at his new position of running back, he had 16 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns. It’s incredible what Montgomery is doing at a new position. The Packers could still miss the playoffs, but they could also be one of the most dangerous teams in the NFC if they make it, and Montgomery’s addition to the offense is a big part of the reason.
Texans should admit their mistake. Houston coach Bill O’Brien did the right thing by benching Brock Osweiler during Sunday’s win over the Jaguars. But after backup Tom Savage led the Texans to a come-from-behind win, O’Brien said he hasn’t decided who his starter will be going forward. That’s ridiculous. It’s obvious that the Texans made a mistake when they signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract this offseason, and the sooner they admit that mistake, the sooner they can move on. Savage should start the rest of the season, and in the offseason the Texans need to decide whether Savage is the man to lead their team, or whether they need to acquire yet another quarterback. Osweiler is not the answer.
Credit Pederson for a gutsy call. With the Eagles trailing 27-20 and four seconds remaining, Carson Wentz scored a touchdown to bring the Eagles to within a point of the Ravens. Instead of kicking the extra point and playing for overtime, Eagles coach Doug Pederson went for the two-point conversion and the win. It didn’t work, the Eagles failed to convert and the Ravens won 27-26, but I liked the decision anyway. Entering Sunday’s games, two-point conversions were successful 48.9 percent of the time this season, while extra points were successful 93.7 percent of the time. So a two-point conversion gave the Eagles a 48.9 percent chance of winning, while an extra point gave them just a 46.9 percent chance of winning, if you assume they’d have a 50-50 chance of winning in overtime. Mathematically the move made sense, and it also made sense from the simple perspective of an Eagles team that had no realistic chance of making the playoffs: If your team isn’t going anywhere, take some chances and play for the win. The coaches who do that are the coaches I respect.