Not a bad week of football, I must say. Thursday started off with two great games, and ended with the Steelers dominating the Colts from start to finish. Sunday gave us trick plays, an upset or two, and some interesting story lines. Here is what we learned.
- Culture matters. And where was that most evident this weekend? In New York, where the Jets managed to blow a late lead to the Patriots. After failing to move the ball with consistent effectiveness, the Patriots answered the Jets’ lead-changing score by blistering across the field rapidly. Some teams just lack a winning culture. The Jets have proven to be one of them.
Imitation is the sincerest form of jackassery. Two years ago, Ravens coach John Harbaugh complained vehemently when the New England Patriots used a gray area in the rules to
create a rift in the time-space continuumgain an advantage on a technicality. Sunday, Harbaugh...used a gray area in the rules to gain an advantage on a technicality. With seven seconds remaining, the Ravens intentionally held every Bengal on the field of play, and possibly their immediate relatives too, while never intending to punt the ball. As the punter ran out the clock, he retreated toward his end zone before giving up an intentional safety after the clock had run out. The safety counted, but because the ball had not changed hands, Baltimore was always on offense. Games are not extended on an offensive penalty, so the game was not extended for an untimed down. Well done, Harbs. Also, you’ve become that which you railed against. Emperor Kraft and Darth Belichick welcome you to the Dark Side.
- Taming the Wild West. Denver’s loss to Kansas City helps to remove some guess work from the AFC wildcard race. Regardless of who won, we would be in this situation, but it starts to sort out the order a little more clearly. As of now, the Steelers are two games out of the first wild-card spot, and fourth overall, as they hold the tie breaker over the Chiefs, but lose the tie breaker to the Dolphins, to whom they are closer, record-wise. It’s still complicated in a way, but the paths forward are less muddied.
- Sometimes when you play to win, you don’t. Speaking of that battle in the west, count me among those who commend the Broncos for going for the win with about a minute left in overtime. Ties create nightmarish scenarios for teams, while wins and losses make it easier to forecast needs going forward. On Sunday, the Broncos played to win with a risky, 62-yard field goal attempt they didn’t make. That gave the Chiefs the ball with excellent field position around their own 45, meaning they only had to go about 20 yards for a decent shot at making a field goal. In the end, they got (and converted) that chance. For as much as it may be true that fortune favors the bold, it’s no guarantee. But there is also no shame in losing the way the Broncos did Sunday.
- The Weekly Bellyflop is henceforth renamed to the Weekly Fumble because, well, it makes more sense. This week’s winner? The Seattle Seahawks, who managed just five points against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. Remember, two of those points were defensive, so the offense netted a mere three points. This, against a team that has given up 37, 27, 30 and 43 points at home this season. Entering the week, many had the Seahawks as one of the top three teams in the NFL. After that performance, I’m not sure they are among the top three in the NFC West.
- College Football Bonus! Ohio State just won one of the best games you will ever see. Okay, I admit it: the first 59 minutes were pretty awful, for both teams, but particularly for the Buckeyes. While they had mostly done a good job of keeping the University of Michigan Wolverines out of the end zone — and that was literally, and specifically, the only thing they did well — Ohio State struggled to mount any kind of offense after their first drive ended with an inexplicable missed field goal. The two team combined for 34 points in regulation. Then overtime happened, and it happened in a big way. The Buckeyes scored on two plays, then Michigan answered back with a touchdown strike on fourth down. In the second overtime, Michigan was held to a field goal attempt, and then held the Buckeyes to a fourth down. This is, of course, where OSU head coach Urban Meyer dropped a pair of wrecking balls into his whitey-tighties, and proceeded to drag them behind him along the sidelines. He went for it on fourth down, with his team’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance. He went for it on fourth down, with a gimme field goal set up that could force the game to a third overtime, and with the fate of the team’s entire season hanging in the balance. Urban Meyer played to win, and he did win, when his kids got the first down, and then scored on a 15-yard run one play later. Coaches who play to win usually do.
- And, finally...I don’t buy the idea that the Steelers have proven nothing against weak opponents. Had Pittsburgh barely defeated either the Browns or the Colts, that would be one thing. But they’ve won the games in dominant fashion, particularly on the defensive side. They won two straight road games by a combined score of 52-16 on a very short week, picking up 11 sacks and three interceptions along the way. Yes, they are weak opponents. But they did to those weak opponents exactly what dominant teams do to weak opponents. This week’s test against the New York Giants will certainly be a bit more telling, but don’t let that detract from what this team showed over a five-day span. This is a team that is showing swagger again, and at just the right time, too.