Believe me when I tell you, this was a good week to be on a bye. In The Shop League, we go 16 weeks to determine a champion and six of our 12 teams make the playoffs. There is something to be said for the finality of a “bad beat” – when you go down because of a messed up or epic play that is remembered years later with the same joy or venom – knowing that your season came to an abrupt end.
Some bad beats never go away. I still have ill-will toward guys like Michael Jackson, Drew Bennett and, worst of all, Brian Westbrook. In 2007, Westbrook was one of my every-week Regulators – riding shotgun in the team bus. If you don’t remember it, you weren’t playing with him or against him that week.
Week 15 against the Cowboys, Dallas was out of timeouts and the Eagles were looking to bleed off the final two minutes of the clock. Westbrook took a handoff broke through a running lane and was wide open heading into the end zone. For no reason explainable to mortal men, Westbrook slid down on the 1-yard line and got touched down. The clock rolled down to two minutes and the Eagles took three knees to end the game.
I lost by four points. It didn’t make it any better that, had I been playing the following week in our championship game, I would have won by 40 with the lineup I was rolling with. One and done. Alive or dead. It’s how the playoffs work and how a bad beat can be a tattoo that doesn’t go away from the memory.
We only had two games being played in The Shop League playoffs this week, but they both ended on the most improbable of ways, providing multiple bad beats. Somehow, they seemed to hog a year’s worth of bad beats in two games. One can only imagine, those of you that were playing this week if the game was close and you ended up staring at the screen in disbelief you know the exultation or despair of a bad beat.
A double-gut punch was delivered in one semifinal. Downtown Larry, who literally backed up into the playoffs thanks to scoreboard watching, was starting Davante Adams. At halftime, Adams didn’t even have a catch. After halftime, he caught 10 passes for 84 yards, including the game-tying touchdown with 17 seconds left and another one in overtime.
But, there was a problem. He was going up against Carson Wentz. Wentz kept cutting into the lead and, when he threw his fourth touchdown, Larry was down for the count. Then Wentz got hurt. It didn’t seem like it would matter, because all Larry had left was Philadelphia defense. He needed five points to win.
The Eagles gave him seven (a turnover and a touchdown). Mailman Hank has enough reasons to be salty this time of year. Making your exit like that is just plain cold. Larry was talking big in The Shop Monday morning. The mail was late Monday and when Hank showed up, he didn’t even open the door the entire way. He opened it halfway, threw in the mail, cussed and left within seconds.
I’m sure he’ll cool down, but less than 24 hours later clearly wasn’t enough.
In the other games, we had a similar scenario play out. One team was done. The other had Ben Roethlisberger was going to need what we thought would be a gigantic game – like 300 yards and three touchdowns – for the come-from-behind win. Nobody expected that Big Ben would light up Baltimore for 500 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
But he did.
For those of you whose seasons ended on a notorious bad beat, you have our sympathies, because most of us have been there and lived through it. It’s never cool because the offseason lasts too long, but the good news is that it didn’t come in your league championship game. Those scars never fully heal.
- Much love and respect to Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who surpassed Randy Moss to move into No. 3 on the all-time receptions list, trailing only Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens on the all-time list. Of the six players with 15,000 or more career yards, Fitz is the only one who did it with just one team, becoming a legend in Arizona and one of the best human beings in the NFL. Much respect, No. 11.
- It only took four years, but Josh Gordon finally scored another touchdown. Gordon caught a TD Sunday against Green Bay, the first time he has scored a TD since Dec. 15, 2014.
- Don’t sleep on the Falcons. In their last seven games, they’ve allowed more than 20 points just once and they won that game (34-31 over Seattle). If you’re going to give me that offense and a defense that is allowing 20 points or less, you’ll get me placing my hard earned money on the ATL.
- Seattle is sitting at 8-5, but it’s their losses that have to worry those who remain in their path. Their five losses have come by totals of eight, six, three, three and six points. Russell Wilson is putting up MVP numbers and, while they haven’t closed out teams like they used to, it would seem the Seahawks are going to be a tough-out, whether it’s in the regular season or the postseason.
The razor’s edge
- Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – The NFL has found ways to empty stadiums for more than an hour when lightning is within 10 miles of a football game, yet, when a blizzard takes place, they won’t stop for 10 minutes to run plows on the field. Sunday’s game between the Bills and Colts saw Shady McCoy and Frank Gore combine to carries 68 times for 286 yards while the two teams combined to throw for 161 yards because there was 6-8 inches of snow on the playing field. Why not stop the game, plows on it and make the field at least playable? It may need a high-profile playoff game to change this easily correctable rule. That being said, it was kind of fun to watch.
- Back in the Saddle – Giants fans came out Sunday decked in their Eli Manning jerseys to profess their love for No. 10 and celebrate the firing of Ben McAdoo in hopes it would light a fire under the G-Men. With two minutes to go in the first half, it seemed to be working. The defense was playing well and Manning led a touchdown drive to give New York a 10-3 lead. Then the real Giants showed up. It only took 29 seconds for Dallas to erase the seven-point deficit and then Dallas added 20 unanswered points in less than five minutes of the fourth quarter for yet another blowout loss for the Giants, lessening much of the pregame love for Manning.
- We Let Them Off the Hook – The New Orleans Saints have been one of the cool stories of 2017. After three straight years of 7-9 records and almost a decade of brutal defense, the Saints were in a position to bury the competition. They had already swept Carolina in their head-to-head matchup and had the opportunity to put the Falcons on life support. Leading 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Saints allowed the Falcons score on drives of 11 and eight plays in the final 10 minutes and, with a chance at a minimum to tie the game late and send it to overtime, Drew Brees telegraphed an interception that ended the game. The Saints are still the favorite to win the NFC South, but they just made their job a lot more difficult.
- I Hope We Passed the Audition – Although they denied it was true, screen-grabs obtained late last week claim that FOX was quietly sending out a casting call for “fans” to show up behind the studio set for the Eagles-Rams game. How desperate do they need to be in Los Angeles that they felt the need to create fan excitement by putting in plants? You could have bet good money that FOX wouldn’t have needed to put out such a cattle call search if the Rams were still in St. Louis. Those fans were loyal even though the product put on the field for the better part of the last 15 years was pretty much hot garbage.
- “YOU LIKE THAT!?” No, We Don’t – The Washington Redskins have been one of the craziest teams in the NFL this season, starting strong and slowly bleeding out ever since. The same team has gone on the road and beaten the Rams and Seahawks have six of their last eight games and allowed 30 or more points in each of those losses. When Washington allows less than 30 points, they have a 5-1 record. The problem is two-fold – they’ve played 13 games, so have seven games that they’ve allowed 30 or more points is troubling and the numbers are getting more consistently bad as the season has gone on. They gave up 23 points early to the Chargers and likely would have given up 40 or more had L.A. not taken its foot off the gas and benched Philip Rivers in the fourth quarter. Maybe they should invest some of that crazy money they’ve been paying Kirk Cousins to buy some defense.
- Forget the Titans, Sunshine – Tennessee was a fashionable choice to be the new champ of the AFC South this year. They have a defense capable of shutting teams down and a two-headed running game capable of dominating time of possession. All that was needed was for Marcus Mariota to step up and become the quarterback everyone expected he would become. Instead, he has taken a significant backward step this season. The Titans have scored 20 or fewer points in seven games and Mariota has been awful. He has just 11 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a passer rating of just 74.5 – the kind of numbers you expect from a rookie on a bad team. He still has time to develop into a special player, but for now, he’s not even an average QB, much less a great one.
- Unlucky 13 – The Cleveland Browns fired General Manager Sachi Brown last week as a sign that they’re looking to go in a new and better direction. Yet, leave it to the Browns to say that head coach Hue “The Wolverine” Jackson will be back next year. It doesn’t matter the spot, it rarely if ever works to have a head coach in place when a new G.M. is hired and expect them to peacefully coexist. Jackson now has a two-year head coaching record of 1-28 and the organization has lost 38 of its last 40 games. The Browns led Green Bay 21-7 going into the fourth quarter Sunday and fans were crossing their fingers that the Browns could end their 2017 version of a drought. Instead, they gave up a touchdown with 17 seconds to play in regulation and another one in overtime to find their way to a 0-13 record. Maybe it wasn’t all the G.M.’s fault.
- Quoth the Raven, “Not a Chance” – The Baltimore Ravens have been the most unpredictable team in the NFL. When they win, they tend to win big. Their seven wins this season have been by 7, 13, 14, 20, 23, 24 and 40 points. But, at 7-6, they’re on the brink of missing the playoffs. They had a perfect chance to improve to 8-5 and keep the Steelers on point Sunday night, holding a nine-point lead over the Steelers with four minutes to play, yet found a way to lose to the Steelers yet again by a count of 39-38. It’s bad enough that you blow a lead at the end of the game, but Pittsburgh’s offense was almost completely one-dimensional. Ben Roethlisberger threw 66 times, completing 44 of those for 506 yards. If your defense, which is your calling card, can get torched like that, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs – even in the parity-laden AFC.
- Just When They Were Coming, They Wentz – The Philadelphia Eagles were putting their stamp on the 2017 season and there was a growing groundswell that second-year quarterback Carson Wentz was the frontrunner to win the league MVP. But, with the announcement that his ACL is torn and his 2017 season is over, the Eagles suffered a blow that will be very difficult to recover. Nick Foles isn’t a bum, but he doesn’t command the respect that Wentz was earning this year and, as the Eagles head to playoffs, perhaps as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, it would be hard to convince most observers that Philly will have the best QB on the field. It’s rare when teams get off to 11-2 starts to the season – the 16-game grind rarely makes room for that – but to lose the face of your franchise is a blow that most teams can’t recover from. The Eagles will have time to get accustomed to the change at QB before the playoffs start, but their odds just got worse without Wentz, which is a shame because the Eagles had the look of a champion and now may struggle to get in postseason shootouts.
- What Happens In Cin City Stays In Cin City – The saga of the Cincinnati Bengals has been about as pathetic as any organization over the last decade. They have consistently been a team capable of making the playoffs, only to lose once they got there. With Sunday’s embarrassing 33-7 home loss to lowly Chicago, the playoffs are out of the question. These are the same Bengals that opened the season with two home games and scored just nine point. This is also the same team that, sitting at 5-6 that likely needed to run the table to make the playoffs. After peeing away a lead in the fourth quarter to lose to Pittsburgh 23-20 last week, they brought nothing to table against the Bears, who blew them out 33-7. With Minnesota, Detroit and Baltimore to close out the schedule, the Bengals are likely to end up with double-digit losses and it may be time to move on from Marvin Lewis. Their failures used to come in January. Now they come in September, October, November and December, rendering January moot.