Monday, December 18, 2006

Week 15: Monday Morning Kick Returns

Another week and we're that much closer to the end of the regular season (sniff, sniff.)

And another week of records set, playoff spots locked up, and teams going in the tank.

Ah such is life in the NFL, where parity reigns supreme so teams under .500 can have a playoff pulse.

In a minute I'll review. But first I must cover a few things I missed while I was carousing with the Crime Dog

-Another ugly brawl scars the NBA As far as I know the on-court melee between the Nuggets and Knicks was not over the new ball vs. the old ball.

No this one was firmly stoked by one team (Denver) rubbing it in (up by 19 with under 2:00 to go & 4 starters on the court) to a smarmy coach (Princess Isiah) and his crappy band of thugs (Mardy Collins, Nate the Gnat Robinson, et al.)

Two years after the Brawl at The Palace changed the sport and its brawlers forever, ten players were ejected at MSG including the NBA's leading scorer and frequent finder of trouble Carmelo It's My Friend's Pot Anthony. 'Melo was anything but after throwing a sucker punch that decked Collins, the fool who ignited the whole mess by horse collaring JR Smith on a last-minute layup.

You can view a clip of the insanity here.

The NBA brass figure to come down hard on all those involved as a way to punish the players for bringing back the painful memories of the Brawl. The league is still trying to re polish its image in the wake of that affair. But the real story should be that Princess Isiah probably instigated the whole thing.

Thomas was seen mouthing to Anthony "don't take the ball to the basket" before the foul on Smith. Was the biggest pussy to ever play the game pulling a John Cheaney by ordering his goons to make an on-court hit on an opposing player? Obviously. Ironically Collins played for the legendary ornery coach at Temple. Hmmmm. But Isiah is an absolute joke as a leader of a franchise and hopefully this classless act that led to this embarrassing incident causes him to lose his job.

I mean he's already lost his team.

-Drew has yet to pass physical due to shoulder woes
All together now members of RSN: "We told you so!" The $70 million deal to bring oft-injured outfielder J.D. Drew to Boston has hit a snag due to an apparent shoulder injury.

Although the extent of the injury is not known and it doesn't appear that the issue will void the deal, it could allow the Sox to rewrite some of it. Drew has had numerous injuries in his career, including past shoulder trouble, and his penchant for finding the DL has had fans & media alike lambasting the Sox for giving him so much cash.

At least if they can redo the contract, by making more of the money based on incentives than guaranteed and/or shortening the length, then at least the deal won't look as bad when it blows up in Theo's face.

Or has it already?

Also the Sox picked up relievers Brandon Donnelly and JC Romero (good signings) and re-signed Tim Wakefield's caddy Doug Mirabelli. Not sure if they used a police escort when 'Belli came in to sign his deal.

On to the NFL.
San Diego 20, Kansas City 9 MY PICK:
Chargers 28-17
Can we please stop all the 'Drew Brees IS the league MVP' talk now?
LaDanian Tomlinson locked up the award last night in style: on national TV with a 200 yard, 2 TD performance against arch rival Kansas City and (former) NFL leading rusher Larry Johnson. In the process he set the single season record for points scored (186) and rushing touchdowns (28), added to his single-season touchdown record (31) and made about 25 members of the Chiefs defense look silly.

Okay he only had 199 yards but who's gonna deny the guy a yard when he made so many people miss him last night it was like he was playing in a parallel universe. He averaged 8 yards per carry and ripped off side-stepping run after side-stepping run that made it look as if he was playing against Pop Warner players.

LT started his night by sidestepping defenders en route to a 15-yard touchdown that made it 7-o with 5:00 to go in the first quarter.

But he saved his best for later in the half. Both defenses tightened up to the point of choking the quarterbacks into miserable performances, but an odd & rare play turned the tide of the game. As the Chargers punted from their 13 the kick was blocked by Kansas City(7-7.) Problem was a Chief then touched the ball but let it roll, making it live, and the Chargers pounced on the loose rock.

Chargers ball at their own 15 after they punted from their own 13.

Chalk that up to "never seen that one before."

The game was over one play later when LT took a hand off, picked up some blocks and raced untouched 85 yards to the opposite end zone for the soul-crushing, MVP-sealing score.

The Bolts (12-2) remain on track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs while the Chiefs fell into a tie with Buffalo, Tennessee & Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot. The red- hot Chargers have now won 8 straight since the Chiefs last beat them and KC's Tamba Hali called them "a finesse team."

What they are is the best team in the NFL, with the best player in the NFL carrying them to the promised land.

-Bears defense allows 31 points & 357 yards in victory over the Yucs
Chicago 34, Yucs 31 MY PICK: Bears 24-6
This is the vaunted Chicago Bears defense? I'm sorry but any team that allows those kind of numbers to the Yucs, a team that was second to last in the entire league in offense, is not a Super Bowl caliber club.

I've said it a hundred times, but here's 101: this is the worst 12-2 team I have ever seen in my life. I mean seriously which 12-win team would you take in a playoff game right now, San Diego or Chicago? Thank You.

The most embarrassing aspect of the near debacle by Lake Michigan was that Urlacher & Co. allowed the damage to be inflicted by seldom-used backup Tim Rattay, who had only played in one game this season and 4 last year. The poised vet replaced the regressing Bruce Gradkowski (5-11, 37 yards) in the 2nd quarter and led the Bucs on 4 scoring drives including three 4th quarter touchdowns that stunned the Bears, who were cruising along with a 24-3 lead near the end of the 3rd quarter.

By the time the Bears woke up and realized what happened the Bucs' Alex Smith committed a crucial fumble that cost them a shot at a winning score and the Bears got a miraculous catch (or was it) by Rasheid Davis that set up the winning 25-yard FG by Robbie Gould with just over three minutes to go in the overtime.

And just like that the Bears avoided what would have been the biggest upset of this wacky season. And it locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Miracle of all miracles Chucky has declared Rattay the starter for here on out. Guess he finally realizes that Gradkowski is not an NFL QB. Welcome to the club. What the hell took you so long to realize this, jackass?

-Pats destroy Texans to regain some swagger
New England 40, Houston 7 MY PICK: Pats 26-13
Okay so it was only Houston. But a week after it was shut out by a fading Dolphins squad in one of the worst performances, well since the last game in South Florida, the Pats sure needed a game like this.

Like what, you ask? Like having a 27-0 lead at halftime, its biggest since 2003, then answering the Texans score to start the 3rd quarter with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ellis Hobbs. Like missing key players on both sides of the ball (RB Lawrence Maroney, TE Ben Watson, NT Vince Wilfork) and totalling only 230 yards but still winning by 33.

It was that kind of day at the Giant Razor Blade, they kind of day for a team that was shell shocked by a humiliating loss to get back on track and refocus heading into the postseason. Although Tom Brady didn't have a spectacular performance (16-23, 109 yards, 2 TDs) the Pats played turnover-free football for the first time in a month and was able to win despite the loss of productive players.
Perhaps Tommy Boy is in a funk after the breakup with actress Bridget Moynahan. Nah, I always thought he could do much better than her. Tom is an 'A-lister', and Bridget is strictly 'C-list' material.

On the other side of the ball the Patriots excelled on defense even without Wilfork & S Rodney Harrison. The unit held the Texans to 198 total yards and destroyed embattled QB David Carr, sacking him four times and intercepting him four times.

Which reminds me: when the hell are people going to start talking about Assante Samuel? The hard-hitting cornerback had his league-leading 8th interception in the game, and no one outside of the Commonwealth even knows the guy exists. Calling all sports 'experts': GIVE ASSANTE SOME PUB. (Trivia: Samuel is a 4-year vet who played college ball at UCF, otherwise known as the University of Central Florida, located in glorious downtown Orlando.)

The Pats (10-4) didn't clinch the East because the Jets won also, but it did get back some of its mojo heading into the final 2 games.

Cowboys trounce Falcons as T.O.D. commits another offensive act
Dallas 38, Atlanta 28 MY PICK: Cowboys 35-24
Here's something else I missed while dancing the night away. Just as I called it the Falcons completely went in the tank after its classless coach all but bailed on his team with a stupid comment about leaving for his alma mater, the University of Washington.

But the fact that Dallas rebounded from the spanking administered by New Orleans the week prior and clinched a playoff berth while nearly burying the Falcons hopes was lost after it was learned that colossal pain in the ass Terrell Owens has flung himself into the spotlight for a negative reason yet again.
Early in the game Owens apparently had already gotten sick of the mouthful of trash-talking that yippy CB D'Angelo Hall had been giving him. So what did the mental defective do? He hauled off and spit in the guy's face. Spitting is right next to talking about a man's mother in the athlete's "don't even go there" handbook, and although the incident wasn't captured on film since Owens apologized for it after the game we have to assume it's true.

Ah nothing like a good T.O.D. event to rekindle everybody's hatred for him. Can't wait to see him in my living room on Christmas Day. God bless the schedule makers!

-Eagles keep on winning despite loss of McNabb
Philly 36, NY Giants 22 MY PICK: Giants 23-20
Oh what a wild season this has been, especially for these two NFC East rivals. Philly (7-7) was left for dead when team leader Donovan McNabb went out for the season with an ACL injury a month ago and the Eagles record at 4-4. New York (7-7) looked like the class of the NFC when it ran its record to 6-2 on the same week.

Here we are 6 weeks later and the Eagles are flying high behind former Pro Bowl QB Jeff Garcia, a castoff from Detroit and Cleveland who has led Philly to 3 wins in 4 games to climb back into the playoff picture. Meanwhile the backbiting, underachieving Giants have lost 5 of 6 to edge closer to the brink of a non-playoff campaign.

The Giants appeared to have this game won when it went ahead 22-21 midway through the 4th quarter on a touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs. But Garcia (19-28, 237 yards, 1TD, 1 INT) marched the team to the go ahead score and then Eli Don't Call Me Payton Manning gift-wrapped the affair by throwing an interception that Trent Cole returned 19 yards for an incing on the cake touchdown.

Believe it or not if the Eagles win the next 2 games it will be the champs of the East. But the next game- Christmas Day in Dallas- will be no easy contest.

I don't know about you but I sure am looking forward to Gracia's reunion with old buddy Terrell the Spitter. Once again, thanks schedule makers!
The rest of the action in a nutshell:

Buffalo 21, Miami 0
MY PICK: Bills 21-17
JP Losman led the upstart Bills (7-7) to another win and into a tie for the final wild card spot. The Fins (6-8) hopes are dashed, losing by the same score it beat New England by a week ago. Ah karma!

NY Jets 26, Vikes 13
MY PICK: Jets 27-19
How bad is it in Minny? Brad Johnson was booed off the field and his replacement- an undrafted rookie from Alabama State named Tarvaris Jackson- was roundly cheered when he took over. 'Nuff said. Oh yeah, Jets (8-6) stay in the lead for 1st WC spot.

Green Bay 17, Lions 9
MY PICK: Packers 28-6
Brett Favre eclipsed Dan Marino's record for most career completions (4,968) but this game was so hideous (7 turnovers, 15 penalties, no TD passes) that I'm not sure if anyone will even remember it.

Tennessee 24, Jax'ville 17
MY PICK: Titans 23-20
Vince Young keeps winning and the Titans (7-7) are really benefiting. Tennessee's fifth straight victory has put it in a position to make the playoffs thanks to the efforts of the rookie QB, who is now 7-4 as a starter. Meanwhile the Jekyll & Hyde Jags (8-6) ran for another 200 yards but couldn't overcome 4 David Garrard turnovers, 3 of which were returned for scores.

Baltimore 27, Cleveland 17
MY PICK: Ravens 26-9
The Ravens locked up a playoff spot and can clinch the AFC North title with a Bengal loss tonight in Indy. But they also lost starting QB Steve McNair to a hand injury early in the game. Not sure if it's a good sign or not that it still won with displaced signal caller Kyle Boller at the helm, but B'More better hope McNair recovers quickly just in case.

Washington 16, New Orleans 10
MY PICK: Saints 31-20
The Saints took the classic "back door" into the playoffs even though it lost to the overachieving Redskins(6-8.) QB Jason Campbell and RB Ladell Betts continue to produce for Washington while the defense forced the Saints into its lowest point total of the season. But New Orleans (9-5) still got in to the postseason when the Falcons & Panthers lost this weekend.

Pittsburgh 37, Carolina 3
MY PICK: Panthers 17-14
What was I thinking? Chris Weinke fell to 1-16 as an NFL starter and the rejuvenated Steelers (7-7) threw themselves into the playoff picture with a dominating win over the disappointing Panthers (6-8.) Shades of the Steelers 7 game stretch run winning streak of last season? Doubt it. But at least it has righted a ship that was sinking fast, whereas the Panthers look like a team about to mutiny on its clueless coach.

Denver 37, Arizona 20
MY PICK: Cards 21-20
What Was I Thinking II? Oh yeah, I was thinking that the Cards (4-10) & Matt Leinart would continue to play like they had been for the past 4 games (very well) and Jay Cutler would play like he had been for his first 2 (extremely poorly.) Wrong. Cutler, the 11th pick in the draft, one spot behind Leinart had his coming out party while Mike Shanahan let out a massive sigh of relief that this experiment hasn't blown up in his face-yet. The Broncs (8-6) remain in the thick of the AFC WC chase.

St. Louis 20, Oakland 0
MY PICK: Rams 17-12
Congrats Raiders, you remain in the lead for the # pick (sonsofbitches!)

So my record is a highly respectable 11-4 heading into tonight's CIN/IND Monday Night match up.

Too bad I don't partake in an office pool anymore.

Two more weeks to go before the real (short) season starts, so enjoy every last game. Well no one could enjoy Green Bay/Detroit or St. Louis/Oakland, but you know what I mean.

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