Monday, November 27, 2006

Monday Morning Kick Returns: Week 12

The biggest game of the week (Bears/Pats) certainly didn't live up to the hype, but there was so much drama around the league yesterday that no one really noticed.

Last-second wins, monumental collapses and incredible individual performances highlight a surprising Week 12, but at this point is anything really surprising any more in the parity-dominated league? (hint:no)

-Pats survive 5 turnover performance to defeat Bears, 17-3
MY PICK: Pats 23-17
It sure wasn't pretty. But in this league, as they say, a win is a win is a win, and at this point New England isn't about to be picky about style points. They're like the Florida Gators of the NFL- win the games and let everything else take care of itself; hell they have about 17 former Gators on the roster anyway. The Pats (8-3) tore up their new FieldTurf and out-lasted the Bears in a 9-turnover horror show that had both teams playing "can you top this?" to see who cough up the ball more. Fortunately for the Pats Chicago (9-2) gagged last when Assante Samuel picked Rex Grossman for the 3rd time in the game late in the 4th; this came after Corey Dillon had fumbled the ball back to Chicago in the waning minutes while New England was trying to put the game away.

It was that kind of game for the top 2 defensive teams in the league, a battle of attrition. Although both teams put up over 300 yards of offense on the other, the turnovers & penalties (9 each) made it a jumbled, uneven mess of a game. The highlight of the day came on New England's game-winning drive midway thru the 4th quarter. With the score tied at 10, the Pats moved the ball from their 27 to the Chicago 25 thanks to a 40-yard reception from Tom Terrific to emerging star TE Ben Watson (recs, 89yds,TD) and faced a 3rd & 9. Brady took the snap and looked deep, but then he did something amazing: he saw everyone covered, tucked the ball away, and headed towards the marker like Mike Vick. The only thing in his way was fearsome Bears LB Brian Urlacher. Uh-oh. As Pats Nation gulped, fearing their franchise was about to be splattered on the new turf like a gnat on a windshield,

Brady zigged to the right, then zagged to the left, and juked Urlacher out of his jock to pick up 11 yards for a critical 1st down. Brady picked up another 1st down when he ran on 3rd & 3, then three plays later he found Watson for a 2-yd score that put the Pats ahead, 17-10, with 8:00 to play. The Bears added a field goal on their next drive, and when it looked like New England was about to seal the deal, driving all the way to Chicago's 25 again with just under 2 minutes to play, Dillon (11 carries, 40yds) coughed it up and gave the Bears one last chance. But Grossman (15-34, 176yds, 3INTs), who did nothing to silence the critics who are calling for Brian Griese to take the helm, did what he has done a lot recently, throw a pick, and the Pats had the ugly-but-vital win sewn up.

The win was costly for the Pats, though: linebacker Junior Seau was lost for the rest of the season when he went out with an apparent broken arm in the second quarter. But if this was a potential Super Bowl preview as many had suggested, then we'd better get ready for an ugly, defensive, low-scoring Bowl. But at least we can watch Brady fake out Urlacher again.

-Vick flips fans the Dirty Bird(s) as Falcons crumble to Saints, 31-13
MY PICK: Falcons 31-28
Remember a few weeks ago when Mike Vick looked like the second coming of Dan Marino after he tossed 7 TD passes with 523 yards passing in consecutive wins against the Steelers & Bengals? Turns out that player was just a mirage, and the passing-inept Falcons may have just been fooling themselves into thinking they could turn Vick into something he is not- a good quarterback. The is, was, and always has been a sideshow, a runner first who thought he could revolutionize the position the way Randall Cunningham did decades earlier. But the difference was Randall could throw, where Vick relies solely on his legs to get the job done.

Well lo & behold that formula doesn't work because Vick rushed for 166 yards against New Orleans yesterday, 7 off his QB rushing record, but only had 52 yards passing and his Falcons (5-6) got waxed by the resurgent Saints(7-4) in their own building.

But the worst part about this game for Atlanta wasn't that they allowed Saints QB Drew Brees (21-30, 349yds, 2TDs) to rip them to pieces despite playing without top receiver Marques Colston, or that they allowed 427 total yards of offense. No the worst part came after the game. As Vick was exiting the field he was filmed flipping the bird to fans who were heckling him from the end zone. Not one bird, the double bird. Nice. A guy who at one point was the face of the future of the league is now a beleaguered banjo QB who resorts to flipping obscene gestures to paying fans who find him & his ball-dropping teammates obscene. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Coach killer? How about team killer, as it is now apparent that the Falcons will NEVER win another significant game with Vick under center. My guess is the Falcons go for a QB in the draft, unload Vick & his bloated salary & sense of self-worth, and bring in a team player who can ACTUALLY THROW THE BALL. As for Ron Mexico, well there's always the Arena League to showcase his running talents.

-Giants implode in 4th quarter, lose 24-21 to Titans
MY PICK: Giants 21-16
Does it get any worse in New York? A week after the G-Men got smoked by the Bears in the second half in their own joint, causing Tiki Barber to question coach Tom Coughlin's play calling, the Giants plumbed new depths in their rapidly disintegrating season. Vince Young had his NFL coming out-party, orchestrating the largest 4th quarter comeback ever by a rookie QB when he rallied his team from a 21-0 deficit in the final frame for the miraculous 24-21 win. Young tossed 2 TDs in the 4th, ran for another, and kept the game-winning drive alive when he eluded would-be New York sacker Mathia Kiwanuka on 4th & 10 after Kiwanuka gave up on the sack which would have ended the Tians hopes. Instead Young got the Titans in field goal position and Rod Bironas won it with a clutch 49-yard field goal as time ran out.

The Giants made so many mistakes in this one it is hard to find out who really is too blame. Eli Manning (18-28, 143yds, 1TD, 2INTs) continues to regress, and his poor interception near the end of the 4th led to the Titans winning drive. Plexiglass Burress gave up on a pass route that turned in to Manning's other interception, and the Kiwanuka gaffe that all but put the icing on the cake. In his defense he said he thought Young had gotten rid of the ball and he did not want to be called fort a late hit. Fair enough. But the real issue in the Big Apple has to be with the coach, Tom the Terrible. he called out Tiki for airing the team's laundry in the media last week, then he goes into his presser & basically calls out Manning for his stupid decision making. All signs point to the dictator being thrown off this ship. He's like Parcells, Knight, Saban and all the other hard-ass coaches in sports. The drill sergeant tactic works for a while, but eventually it is the leader that gets replaced, not the soldiers.

-Cincy wins battle of Ohio, crushes Browns 30-0
MY PICK: Cleveland 24-21
Wow, when I miss I really miss, huh? The Bengals continued their march back to respectability with a shutout of their cross-state rivals, Cincy's first shutout since 1989. In two games this year the Bengals (6-5) have slayed the Brownies (3-8) to the tune of 64-17. Ouch. Chad Johnson continued his march back to relevance with another great performance (7 catches, 123 yards, 573 yds last 3 weeks) and Carson Palmer threw for 275 yards & 3 TDs. The Browns meanwhile looked like a team in turmoil; WR Braylon Edwards was caught screaming and grabbing the jersey of QB Charlie Frye on the sideline late in the game, and who can blame the ego maniacal receiver- Fry had his worst day as a pro with a putrid 18-29, 186yd, 4INT performance. Romeo, Romeo, where for art did thy team go? In the toilet is where, while the Bengals jumped right back in the playoff race at the expense of their fellow Ohioans.

-Chargers stay hot, hold off pesky Raiders 21-14
MY PICK: Chargers 41-13
The Raiders nearly pulled off the monumental upset when they took a 14-7 lead into the 4th quarter. Then the Chargers woke up. MVP-to-be LaDanian Tomlinson continued his assault on the record books with another 3 touchdowns, 2 rushing & 1 passing, and the Chargers survived QB Phillip Rivers' worst day as a pro ( 14-31, 133yds, INT) to defeat the hapless Raiders(2-9.) Tomlinson has been like a man possessed the last few weeks, compiling 17 total touchdowns in his last 5 games all wins, while gaining over 100 yards in each game. When it looked as though the Chargers(9-2) were going to fall into the "oh, it's only the Raiders" trap, LT bailed them out again. His 19-yard TD pass to Antonio Gates came 4 plays after a wacky sequence when the Chargers were penalized 5 yards after receiver Vincent Jackson flipped the ball forward after a catch. The refs ruled that Vincent was not touched down, therefore the ball was still live, and because the ball was flipped forward the play was called an illegal forward pass. After a 10 minute discussion, Tomlinson broke the Raiders backs with his 5th career TD pass that tied the game at 14, then he ran one in from 10 yards out to seal the deal. So the Chargers remain in the drivers' seat in the AFC West, and will LT playing like an MVP, there appears to be no stopping the Lightning Bolts right now.

-Cards outperform Vikes in all aspects except the scoreboard, 31-26
MY PICK: Vikes 19-7
Q: How does a team have a 400-yard passer (Matt Leinart,405yds), (2) 140+ yard receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, 174yds; Anquan Boldin, 140yds), a 99-yard kick return for a TD and a 99-yard fumble return for a TD and still lose? A: When that team also has 5 turnovers, and said team is the inept Arizona Cardinals. The Cards (2-9) did almost everything right in Coach Denny Green's return to Minny, where he coached for 11 years, except they couldn't win the game as Brad Johnson threw 3 touchdown passes for the first time in a year to help the Vikes (5-6) snap their 4 game skid.
Leinart had his first 400-yard game as a pro, but his 2 interceptions cost the Cards a chance to take control of the game. Chester Taylor ran for 136 yards against Arizona, while their running game was non-existent: 17 total yards rushing, 15 by off-season bust Edge James. Yikes. James now has 695 yards rushing, or roughly 300 yards fewer than his previous season low, 985, in 2002 with 5 games to play. Denny might wish he was back in Minny, but he sure as hell ain't gonna be back in Arizona after this miserable season.
-Mannings throttle McNabb-less Eagles 45-21 behind rookie RB's record day
MY PICK: Mannings 26-12
James's replacement in Indy, rookie Joseph Addai out of LSU, continues to make Indy fans forget about the dreadlocked one. Addai ripped off 171 yards on 24 carries and racked up a franchise & NFL rookie record-tying 4 touchdowns as the Mannings bounced back from their only loss of the season to demolish the staggering Eagles(5-6.) For the first time this season Indy(10-1) did not have to rely on the spastic exploits of their horse-faced pitchman extraordinaire, as they finally mounting a rushing attack that had been lacking since James' off-season departure for the desert. Addai had been getting better every week, and this was his "welcome to the NFL' game that put him on the map as far as running backs are concerned, rookie or otherwise. Want some comparisons? Addai has more rushing yards (789) than James (695), former 2000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis (735) and highly-touted #2 draft pick Reggie Bust (331.) Not bad for a guy that was an afterthought when he took James' place in the lineup, especially when he struggled early, gaining just 123 yards in his first 3 games combined. Meanwhile the Eagles continue their slide into nothingness, losing their first game since their leader McNabb went out for the season with an ACL injury and 5th time in the last 6 games. Season over in Philly, but the question is, will the injury-prone McNabb's Eagle career be over as well?

Other games:
-Buffalo 27, Jags 24
MY PICK: Bills 17-14
Jeckyll & Hyde Jags continue to sabotage their playoff hopes
-Ravens 27-, Steelers 0
MY PICK: Ravens 27-17
How ugly can it get for Pittsburgh? Roethlisberger sacked 9 times in second shutout this season
-Washington 17, Carolina 13
MY PICK: Carolina 22-3
See Jacksonvillle
-Jets 26, Texans 11
MY PICK: Jets 13-6
These two offensive powerhouses combined for a whopping 52 yard rushing. 'Nuff said.
-St. Louis 20, San Fran 17
MY PICK: Rams 34-21
Rams needed a last-second TD to defeat the surging Niners & end 6 game slide

Tonight's game:
Green Bay (4-6) @ Seattle (6-4) 8:30PM, ESPN Monday Night Football
Too bad ESPN doesn't have the benefit of Flex scheduling. The Packers will have Brett Favre behind center tonight when they travel to potentially snowy Seattle to take on the fully loaded Seahawks. Reigning MVP Shaun Alexander came back last week after missing 6 games with a broken foot, and tonight QB Matt Hasselbeck returns after a 4 game absence with a knee sprain. Even with Favre playing, which was in doubt after he injured his elbow in the their 35-0 throttling at the hands of the Pats last week, Green Bay is horrible. Seattle needs this game to stay ahead in the NFC West, and with all their weapons back at full strength, it could be an ugly night for the Pack in the Pac N'West.
MY PICK: Seahawks 33- 17

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