There was no guessing that Week 14 would be the best week of football of 2013 (so far). The schedule slate was solid: Detroit at Philly, Seattle and San Fran, Indy at Cincy, etc. The weather was expected to be bad, especially in the East. And Week 14 is the unofficial start of many teams’ final push towards a playoff birth. But there was nothing spectacular or unusual to give us an indication that what we were about to witness was going to be remembered and talked about for a long, long time. Yet, that’s exactly what we got.
Games we didn’t expect to be close turned out to be something to watch (see: Browns-Pats) and the most anticipated game of the week (for many), Carolina at New Orleans, was a dud. Simply put, Sunday was unpredictable, the word often used to describe the NFL as a whole. With the right combination of great plays, thrilling endings/comebacks, broken records, controversial calls, heart-breaking injuries, and, most of all, snow, the NFL gave us an incredible Sunday. I’m not even sure where to start.
I guess it would be appropriate to start where the madness began: Philadelphia. Snow hit the East hard all-around but seemingly no harder than it did before and during the Lions-Eagles game. After five fumbles by Detroit (three recovered by Detroit) and an interception from Nick Foles, Detroit managed to strike first and had no choice but to go for the two-point conversion. Kicking for points was simply not an option in this game (more on this later). The Foles interception left him just two TDs short from breaking Peyton Manning’s record of most TDs thrown without throwing a pick (20) set earlier this year. Detroit scored again in the third quarter to stretch the lead out to 14-0 after a failed two-point try. At this point it seemed Detroit had done enough to hold on to a low-scoring victory. Oh, how wrong that turned out to be.
Two men, once they found their footing, turned this defensive Snow Bowl into an all-out sprint. After Jeremy Ross’ 58-yard punt return to give the Lions the 14-0 lead, LeSean McCoy broke out for a 40-yard TD run to tie up the game and give the fans a reason to stay. Ross seemed determined to send them home just two plays later on a 98-yard kickoff return to give Detroit the lead once again. A little more than a minute after, it was McCoy a second time, running for 57 yards for the what would turn out to be the winning score. By the end of the game, in which Philly walked away cold and victorious, McCoy had gathered 217 yards on the ground, a franchise record. Trying to put his performance and the game as a whole into words can’t do it justice, so do yourself a favor and check out the highlights here. By the end of the game, 54 points were on the board. None of these points were scored on kicks. The last time for that to happen? 56 years ago. A game to remember for sure.
About 100 miles away in Baltimore, nothing special was happening. Baltimore was down 12-7, struggling against 3-win Minnesota in another snowy affair. Defensive battles are great and all, but when McCoy and Ross are going off, it’s clear which game is the one to watch. It became even less of a game to watch when one of the NFL’s greatest playmakers and 2012-13 MVP Adrian Peterson was carted off with an injury early in the second quarter. Nothing to see here….until, inexplicably, there was.
With 2:05 remaining in the game, Joe Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta (in his first game back from an injury) to give Baltimore the 15-12 lead. All Baltimore needed to do now was stop Minnesota with under two minutes to play and run the clock out. They only allowed 12 points all game, how hard could it be? Toby Gerhart, filling in for Peterson, made sure to make it as hard as possible as he broke away for a 41-yard run to give the Vikings the lead with 1:27 remaining. Now it was Minnesota who needed a stop. Unfortunately, the Vikings D never had a chance as they watched speedster Jacoby Jones run back the kickoff following Gerhart’s score. Baltimore up 22-19, 1:17 left. On the ensuing Minnesota possession, the Ravens forced the Vikings into an early 3rd and 10 with about a minute left. With their backs pressed up against the wall, Minnesota ran a gutsy play, throwing a screen to Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson got a few blocks, found the hole, and he was gone. Minnesota then went back up by four, 26-22, forcing Baltimore to score a touchdown in 45 seconds with two timeouts. It has to be over now, right? Well…by now you get the picture. Joe Flacco led Baltimore down the field rather quickly, but that drive appeared to come to a sudden halt when he overthrew a fallen Pitta to see the ball land in the hands of Minnesota’s Andrew Sendejo. A questionable pass interference call on LB Chad Greenway nullified the interception. Three plays later, with just six ticks left on the clock, Flacco threaded the needle to the back of the endzone and found Marlon Brown for the stunning game-winning score. Brown tapped his toes in bounds with possession to end the incredible game. Just 19 points and two touchdowns between the two teams in the first 58 minutes. In the last 2:05, 36 points and five touchdowns. Simply unreal.
However, not all the takeaways from this game were good. There were questionable calls throughout the game, including Greenway’s, mostly hurting Minnesota it seemed. And of course, there was Adrian Peterson’s injury. The NFL held its breath as it saw one of its most collectively beloved players writhe in pain on the sideline. Luckily, a following MRI revealed no ligament tears or Lisfranc injury. He will likely be inactive next week. Highlights of the entire game can be seen here.
No week of NFL action would be complete without a comeback or two. While I was enjoying the mayhem in the Philly game, I glanced over now and then at the league scoreboard and noticed Cleveland up on New England 19-3 late in the third. It’s not like New England hasn’t been behind before (see: Denver at New England) so I decided to check back later. Indeed, the Pats eventually shrunk the deficit to five with 5:43 left to play. On Cleveland’s next drive Jason Campbell responded in a huge way, leading the Browns down for a TD and taking off a chunk of valuable time in the process. Cleveland was sure to finish out what would be a pretty impressive upset. Still, New England was going to do all they could because why wouldn’t they? I tuned in in time to see Tom Brady methodically roll down the field, picking up small chunks of yards here and there. After 11 plays and 95 yards, New England scored and pulled within five once again. Still, New England needed to recover the onside kick, a play few teams have pulled off this season. Stephen Gostkowski tapped the ball over the top and the blue jerseys surrounded it as it flipped and bounced 10 yards. A Brown tried to grab it but it was no contest for all the Pats waiting for it. After the dust settled, New England had converted a beautiful onside kick recovery. But still, New England needed a touchdown in under 40 seconds with no timeouts starting from Cleveland’s 40.
After a simple 10 yard pass, Brady decided it was time to go deep. Brady delivered a fantastic pass to Josh Boyce but it tipped off his fingers as he fell to the ground. The reason he fell? The refs seemed to think Cleveland’s Leon McFadden had a lot to do with it and threw a flag on defensive pass interference. Seemed to me to be a ticky-tack call at the end of the game, but decide for yourself. This put New England at the 1, leading to a quick TD from Brady and the late lead. Cleveland still had a solid 35 seconds left to drive down the field and to their credit, they did pretty well with the time constraint. They got close enough to give kicker Billy Cundiff a chance to steal the win back on a 58-yard field goal but he didn’t have the leg. With the missed kick, New England had capped a pretty improbable comeback. Highlights here.
Again, not everything from this game was great (ask Cleveland fans). Nobody likes to see a questionable call have a big impact on the outcome of the game. The pass interference call is hardly the most controversial we’ve seen this season, but it gave the Pats the edge in a major way. We saw another devastating injury, this time to Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady’s best weapon. The news was not as encouraging as Peterson’s as tests confirmed a torn ACL and MCL, ending his season. Although New England managed well without him for the beginning of the season, they will feel the effect of his absence for sure.
The other not-as-talked-about comeback featured a couple of sliding teams under .500. Despite an OT win over Buffalo last week, the Atlanta Falcons headed into Green Bay having lost five of six. Green Bay had gone winless in their last five, but unlike the Falcons, were still alive in the playoff hunt. At home and with still a lot to play for, Green Bay had all the reasons to take this game. Instead, it was Atlanta that scored 21 points in the 2nd quarter. The last of the three touchdowns Atlanta scored was one of the craziest plays you’ll see this season. A tipped pass from Matt Flynn bounced right off the foot of Paul Worrilow into Sean Weatherspoon’s hands. Weatherspoon returned the catch for a TD in the last minute of the half. Atlanta entered halftime with a 21-10 lead.
Not a huge deficit by any means, but without Aaron Rodgers running offense up and down the field, Packers fans began to get restless. A couple of third quarter field goals cut the deficit to five, still not very comforting considering Green Bay hadn’t scored a TD since the first quarter. Green Bay needed a game-changing play and they got one. A sack of Matt Ryan early in the 4th caused a fumble and put Green Bay around Atlanta’s 20-yard line, close enough for the slow Green Bay offense to finally put the ball in the endzone. It was all defense from that point on and the Pack left with the 22-21 win. No, not a comeback for the ages but still one of those games that, if Green Bay can still manage to squeak into the playoffs, we’ll look back on as a key win in an adverse situation. You can watch the highlight of this one here.
Another thrilling game, arguably the most exciting of them all, took place in Pittsburgh where, you guessed it, there was snow. Luckily, the Dolphins were visiting and there’s no way a team from Miami can deal with the cold, right? Surprisingly, it was Miami that jumped out to an early 17-7 lead. From that point on, Pitt and Miami were trading blows all day long. Five lead changes in the second half brought us to the end of the fourth. Miami had the six-point lead with a minute to play. Pittsburgh still had time to move down the field but they did anything but that, using that last minute to go about six yards. With a couple seconds left and 74 yards away from the endzone, Pittsburgh needed a miracle. Roethlisberger snapped the ball, nonchalantly dropped back and delivered a strike to a receiver (excuse me if I don’t use names here). That Steeler lateraled to another Steeler, him back to another, him back to a lineman, the lineman back to Roethlisberger, Roethlisberger to speedster Antonio Brown who found a hole and took a shot. Brown shot down the sideline, Miami defenders scrambling to catch up. With just one guy to beat, Brown got around him along the sideline and ran in for the winning score at home!! A miracle in Pittsburgh!!
As you can see in the photo, Brown stepped out of bounds during the run, ending the game in a heart-breaking loss. Check out how close he really was here. That one step could be the difference between making the playoffs and watching the playoffs. And speaking of the playoffs, lets take a quick look at how Week 14 shook things up:
In the NFC, I think it’s safe to assume that Seattle (already clinched), New Orleans, and Carolina will make the playoffs. That leaves three spots wide open: the NFC East champ, the NFC North champ, and final wildcard spot. Philly’s crazy win turned out even better for them after Dallas got crushed on Monday night by Chicago. Philly is now in the driver’s seat at 8-5 and can clinch a spot by winning out. Their final game is against Dallas (7-6) and could likely be a must-win situation for both teams, but we’ll see. The NFC North got super interesting with Detroit’s loss, dropping them to 7-6. Chicago’s win puts them at 7-6 as well, but they lose out to Detroit in the head-to-head tiebreaker. And don’t give up on Green Bay at 6-6-1. They picked up that key win over Atlanta and kept themselves right in the hunt. San Francisco (9-4) is the team in front of the wildcard race, but they have major company in Arizona (8-5), Dallas, and Chicago.
The AFC picture is a bit more clear. Two teams have already clinched a spot–Denver and Indy–and we can assume New England will win the AFC East, Cincy will hang on to win the North, and Kansas City will take one of the two wildcard spots. That leaves one spot and quite a few teams with a shot. Baltimore’s last second victory put them at 7-6, good enough for the lead. Miami is also 7-6, but loses out on the head-to-head, meaning Miami must have a better record than Baltimore to win that spot. San Diego and New York are both at 6-7, but the Bolts have the edge there with the head-to-head win over New York. This leaves New York, Pitt (5-8), and Tennessee (5-8) all with an outside shot. All Baltimore needs is two out of the three remaining games, but they face Detroit, New England, and Cincy. Miami has a real shot to steal the wildcard spot away if they can manage to upset New England and handle Buffalo and New York. Keep an eye on those two teams.
One game I haven’t covered yet that probably deserves it is San Fran’s home win over Seattle. All week we heard about how great Seattle is and “Who can beat Seattle in the playoffs?” Although it was at home, San Fran showed the league that they are still one of the best in the NFC and can play with anyone at their best. Huge win for the Niners.
Just because some of the other games weren’t as exciting doesn’t mean nothing happened in them. Here are some interesting tidbits from Week 14:
Matt Prater kicked the longest field goal the NFL has ever seen. Not tied, he broke it. The record that stood for 43 years was finally broken Sunday after Matt Prater nailed a gorgeous 64-yard field goal.
Week 14 was an offensive explosion, producing 104 total touchdowns, another NFL record. It’s actually the first time there has been over 100 TDs scored in one week of football. Who scored #100? It was Alshon Jeffery, tapping his toes in the corner of the endzone in behind a couple of Dallas receivers. An incredible way to reach touchdown 100.
The offensive king of Week 14? McCoy? Ross? Brady? Nope, it was the backup QB for Chicago, Josh McCown. McCown has named offensive player of the week in the NFC and if you ask me, he deserves it for the league. McCown shredded the Cowboys defense for 348 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs. Although Chicago has struggled without Cutler this season, McCown has been filling in nicely. He was the catalyst in a huge win over Dallas.
Last and almost least, the Washington Redskins have nearly hit rock bottom. After one of his worst games in his short career, Robert Griffin has been declared inactive for the rest of the year. Seeing as they have nothing to play for, protecting Griffin for the rest of the year is probably the best move at this point. It’s been clear from the start that Griffin is not the same player he was. It’s been the opposite of the comeback he wanted, but he’ll be back. To add insult to injury, multiple reports have come out saying that the Washington front office is looking for ways to fire Mike Shanahan without having to pay him the rest of his contract. It’s hard to see a scenario in which Shanahan is not fired at the end of the season. The coaching carousel will continue in Washington.
And on that note, that’s just about all I can say about Week 14. Sure, there is probably more I could/should point to about this amazing week, but these are just the things that I noticed this Sunday. If I missed anything, please feel free to share and comment below. Week 14 had everything we could ask for: the good, the bad, the ugly, the injury, the heartbreak, the controversy, the comebacks, the star performances, and in case you haven’t heard yet, SNOW. We’ll likely not have another week like this for awhile, but then again, you can never really tell in the oh-so-unpredictable NFL.