by Michael Lombardi
December 07, 02009
QUOTE: “The fact that many great people believe in something is no guarantee of its truth.” -- W. Somerset Maugham
December football is here, which sometimes causes us to look ahead and see how many wins a team can secure based on playing bad opponents. I was guilty of doing this, thinking the Steelers would get their season back on track by hosting the 3-8 Oakland Raiders. The Raiders seemed like easy pickings for the Super Bowl champs, but as is often the case in December, the Raiders fooled us all. They not only went into Pittsburgh and won, they did it in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion against the mighty Steelers defense. Who could have guessed that one?
Somewhere in the 13th week of the season, the Raiders found a passing game, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell found a few new wide receivers to make explosive plays (and their offense has scored 54 points the last two weeks), and the Giants found a way to stop the Cowboys’ running game, sweeping them for the first time since 2004 and winning four of the last five. You might wonder where the Raiders’ passing game has been all year, or where ‘Skins wide receiver Devin Thomas been hiding all season, but for whatever reasons, their games showed up Sunday and gave both teams a sense of hope for the future.
Naturally, some of what we know in the NFL stayed the same, like the Saints finding ways to stay unbeaten, the Colts beating the hottest team in football and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers winning another December start. But for all the looking ahead, maybe we should just take the advice given to us from everyone in the NFL -- just take one game at a time. Based on this past weekend, looking ahead only adds more confusion to the playoff picture.
1. The ‘Skins have scored 54 points the last two weeks, but their field goal kicker, Shaun Suisham, has missed three very critical kicks -- two in Dallas and one cheap shot Sunday that would have made a Saints comeback impossible. I admire the ‘Skins for playing with such passion and toughness. In spite of turning over the ball four times and missing a field goal, they never punted in the second half and had the Saints on the ropes. The Saints never led in the game until the overtime kick.
2. The ‘Skins will determine who wins the NFC East because they host the Cowboys and Giants. The way they’re playing right now, they can beat both teams — as long as neither runs a double move on their secondary like Marques Colston, who got them again.
3. Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem should get two game balls, one from the offense and one from the defense. His play on the Drew Brees interception -- tackling and stripping the ball and then turning the fumble into a touchdown -- has to be one of the best plays I’ve seen in my NFL career.
4. The Steelers have now lost four in a row for the first time since 2003, but what’s more alarming than the losing streak is the way they lost. Allowing the Raiders to drive the ball down the field to win was very “Un-Steeler-like.” Teams can move the ball via the air on the Steelers, and despite being third overall on defense, they allowed 21 fourth-quarter points for the second time this season, both at home.
5. The Patriots can’t win on the road, which has to be of concern since the best way to judge your talent level is to see how it performs on the road. The Patriots’ failures this season lie in their inability to score in the red zone and their inability to keep their opponents from scoring. They were 1 for 3 in the red zone this week. If the Patriots win the AFC East -- and that’s a big if right now -- they will host one playoff game and then hit the road.
6. How can the Jags score only three points on two West Coast trips and look nothing like a playoff team, then come home and find a way to win another AFC South game? One of the many December questions that never gets answered. Right now, the Jags are in the driver’s seat for the wild card, and their game at home against the Dolphins this weekend will go a long way in determining the wild card in the AFC. The city of Jacksonville needs to support its team.
7. When I was in the league and my team got on a winning streak, I wore the same thing to every game. I wonder if the Colts’ Jim Caldwell is doing the same. He hasn’t lost a game as a head coach, and his team seems to rise to every challenge. Beating the Titans was a very strong win, and even though Chris Johnson had another 100-yard day, the Colts played well in the red zone, forcing two more turnovers. Red zone defense is what makes good defense in the league.
8. The Eagles got a second bye this week, beating up an injury-depleted Falcons team (Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Michael Jenkins were all inactive). Without Ryan at quarterback, Atlanta’s problems on defense are magnified. The Eagles let the Falcons make mistakes and scored 21 points on three Falcons turnovers. The Birds are 4-1 without Brian Westbrook.
9. The Cowboys might be holding kicking tryouts this week after Nick Folk missed two more kicks and is 67 percent this year, well below his 87-percent conversion rate. Do you think it was Tony Romo’s fault the Cowboys lost another December game? He basically carried the team, with a career high in completions, attempts and yards. The Cowboys gained 400 yards for the sixth time this season.
10. The Broncos rushed for 245 yards against the Chiefs. The Chiefs are bad on defense, allowing 87 points the past two weeks.
More coming in the Tavern later today.
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To read about how Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski may be saving head coach Tom Cable's job, check out this article from Bleacher Report.