Washington 32, Minnesota 21

December 28, 2007

For the second time in three games, Redskins backup QB turned starter Todd Collins was brilliant completing 22 of 29 for 254 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions as Washington rolled over Minnesota and continued their late season transformation from 5-7 divisional basement dwellers to 8-7 playoff contenders. Now firmly in the drivers seat for the sixth seed in the NFC, the Redskins can earn themselves a wild card and a playoff appearance by defeating the visiting Cowboys in Week 17 regardless of what the Vikings do in Denver.

Redskins running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined to rush for 97 yards against Minnesota who own the stingiest run defense in the NFL. Portis was the workhorse for the ‘Skins carrying 20 times for 76 yards and a touchdown, and he padded his all purpose yardage total for the day by catching 5 passes for another 48 yards. Portis even completed a 15 yard touchdown pass to Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El who was a quarterback at Indiana University and is usually the one who is on the throwing end of trick passing plays.

No receiver for the Redskins had more than five catches on the day, but Collins spread the football around well to Santana Moss, Randle El, Portis, Reche Caldwell and Chris Cooley. Moss, who caught just four passes from Collins but led the receiving corps with 71 yards and a touchdown has become the go-to guy for Collins. Moss was the key factor in Washington’s victory over the Giants last week when he pulled in two critical passes in howling winds that had buffeted the football whenever either side attempted to gain yardage through the air.

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley who had been averaging better than 15 yards per catch and 80 yards per game over the past five weeks had only one reception against Minnesota but it was a 33 yard touchdown catch that opened Washington’s lead up to 9-0 midway through the first quarter.

Minnesota running back Tony Richardson who came into the game with only 14 yards rushing this season now has a total of only 13 yards. On his one and only rushing attempt of the game he carried the ball into the end zone – his own. The resulting safety gave Washington a 2-0 lead which they never relinquished. Meanwhile Adrian Peterson, the Vikings league leading rusher was stunted for a mere 27 yards on 9 carries.

Peterson was stuffed in the middle by effective play from Washington inside linebacker London Fletcher who filled any gaps in the line of scrimmage, and Redskins defensive ends Philip Daniels and Andre Carter stood their ground on the outside refusing to let Peterson turn the corner into the secondary.

Even Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson gained more yardage on the ground than any of his alleged running backs, but at least when he was running he wasn’t throwing interceptions. Jackson was picked off twice by Washington accounting for two of Minnesota’s three turnovers.

Next week the Vikings travel to Denver where their ground game should be effective. But even if Minnesota dominates the Broncos, they will need help from Dallas to make their playoff dreams come true. The Cowboys have a great record on the road but Washington has all kinds of momentum and may well upset Dallas who has little to gain by a win over the Redskins.

Cleveland 14, Cincinnati 19

December 27, 2007

Several teams in the NFL had the chance to secure their appearances in the playoffs by defeating their opponents this week. Jacksonville locked up the fifth seed by beating Oakland, and the Giants clinched a wild card berth when they outscored the Bills in Buffalo. Other clubs like Minnesota who lost to the Redskins last week, lost the opportunity to clinch the last NFC wild card and thus let the opportunity to control their own future slip through their fingers.

Cleveland was the second team to fall into that category, losing to the Bengals in a sloppy performance more characteristic of a team who had nothing to play for than one honing in on the opportunity for only their second post season appearance in the last thirteen years. Prior to this loss the Browns had won seven of their last nine games and had come back from a 2-3 start to put themselves in position to challenge the Steelers for first place in the division.

The loss to Cincinnati not only took the Browns out of contention for an AFC North title, but also took their playoff destiny out of their hands. The Titans beat the Jets later in the day and now Tennessee is the team that can forge their own future. Cleveland must depend on the Colts to stop Tennessee in the season finale, otherwise the Titans will squeeze past the Browns with a strength of victory advantage even if the two have identical season records.

Browns quarterback Derek Anderson bears most of the responsibility for the Browns loss although dropped passes, a missed field goal and a failed attempt at fourth and one in the red zone also contributed to the disaster. In windy conditions, Anderson threw a career high four interceptions, something he has done only once before, and coincidentally it was in Week 16 of the 2006 season against Tampa Bay. ”It’s a tough battle to fight when you’re throwing four picks,” Anderson said. “A couple of them were bad decisions, and a couple of them got hung up in the air.”

And a couple of them went the other way for a total of 13 points for the Bengals. In a stunning collapse just before halftime Anderson threw interceptions on two consecutive plays and within 60 seconds Cincinnati had extended a 6-0 lead that was built on a couple of field goals into a 19-0 deficit that they took into the locker room. Because Anderson was picked off in his own end and because the Cincinnati cornerbacks had come up with good returns on each of them, the Bengals offense had needed to drive a total of only 25 yards for both touchdowns.

And even though the Bengals were awful after that, gaining a total of only 86 yards of offense in the second half the Browns failed to mount a comeback. Cleveland was able to score a couple of second half touchdowns, but two other possessions in which Cleveland had driven all the way into the Bengals red zone ended in the remaining two interceptions of Anderson passes. All told Cleveland outgained the Bengals by more than 100 yards and had 25 first downs to only 15 by Cincinnati. Anderson’s interceptions negated all that.

There were a few individual achievements for the Browns. WR Braylon Edwards collected his 15th touchdown catch of the year, a single season record for the Browns, and Edwards and fellow wide receiver Kellen Winslow became the first receiving tandem in Browns history to have 1000 yards each. But none of that will be any consolation if Tennessee beats the Colts and ends the Browns best season in more than a decade.

Washington 22, New York Giants 10

December 22, 2007

Perhaps the Redskins victory at the Meadowlands this week came down to who wanted it more. It’s been said that the major determining factors in the outcome of a football game are desire and confidence. Now that they are down to the last two games of the season and are still in the hunt for a wild card, Washington seems to have the desire, at least in part due to the galvanizing effect that the murder of rookie safety Sean Taylor has had on the team. “The last two games, when we were 5-7, basically all these games are playoff games for us,” says Redskins quarterback Todd Collins who made his first NFL start in more than ten years when he took the field against the Giants on Sunday. And the confidence part? That’s what Collins has brought to his teammates after coming off the bench last week just before halftime and performing brilliantly to lead Washington past the Bears.

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Detroit 14, San Diego 51

December 21, 2007

The Lions post-season prospects ended today in San Diego, and if you really want your football team to go down in flames with maximum impact, Detroit has furnished you a blueprint showing you exactly how to do it. After nearly knocking off the NFC’s first seed last week but losing by only one point after an 83 yard Dallas touchdown drive in the last two minutes, Detroit has completed it’s self destruction. Since their much heralded 6-2 start and amidst growing hopes that Lions QB John Kitna’s prediction of a 10 win season were coming true, Detroit has dropped six straight games starting with the famed contest against the Cardinals where Detroit rushed for minus 18 yards. The only other team to rush for less than negative 18 yards was – you guessed it – the Lions who rushed for minus 53 yards in 1943 against – you guessed it again – the Cardinals.

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Tampa Bay 14, Houston 28

December 14, 2007

Houston backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels had the best day of his NFL career completing 27 of 36 for 209 yards and 3 touchdowns in a season saving performance for the Texans. Rosenfels had a perfect 158.3 QB rating two years ago in a game against the Chiefs, but that was based on completing his only attempt in the game for a touchdown. Although their chances of getting an AFC wild card are admittedly slim, Houston kept themselves from mathematical elimination by beating the Bucs this week. Had the Texans lost, they would have had a potential season record of 8-8 at best with a 2-4 division record, not good enough to beat Cleveland for sixth seed even if the Browns lost their 3 remaining games.

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Minnesota 27, San Francisco 7

December 13, 2007

On the first play of the game from scrimmage, San Francisco drew a false start penalty and was backed up to the 22 yard line with 1st and 15. That’s the best thing that happened to the 49ers on that series. On the following snap, SF quarterback Trent Dilfer hauled off and threw a bullet over the short middle where Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams was waiting. Williams had his hands raised high in the air to try and cause a deflection but it wouldn’t have mattered if he was knitting a sweater because Dilfer hit him right in the face with the football. Williams kept focused as the ball ricocheted off his head, pulled the ball out of the air and plodded his 311 pound carcass 19 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. Believe it or not it’s the second time he has run back an INT for a touchdown this year.

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New England 27, Baltimore 24

December 4, 2007

For the second time in as many weeks, the Patriots invulnerability has been called into question. This time it was Baltimore who threatened to put a stop to New England’s twelve game winning streak by beating up on an aging Patriots linebacking corps and by defensively controlling both the line of scrimmage and the secondary. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats did finally pull off the win but not before a series of bizarre plays in the last two minutes of the game that sent the emotions of a frustrated Ravens defense completely over the edge and may ultimately have been the cause of Baltimore’s defeat.

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Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 7

November 23, 2007

The Falcons took a good old fashioned pasting from the Bucs, avoiding a shut out only by putting together an 82 yard drive and a touchdown pass from Atlanta QB Joey Harrington to wide receiver Adam Jennings with just over a minute left to play and practically the entire Falcons second string team on the field.

After 10 weeks of football Atlanta had ranked third in the league with a +8 turnover margin, but that rating came down considerably on Sunday as the Falcons went -2 on the day against Tampa Bay. That figure included one of the most bizarre series of the game in which there were three fumbles within a time span of 5 seconds, none of which resulted in a turnover.

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Carolina 17, Green Bay 31

November 22, 2007

This season is turning out to be a banner year for kickoff and punt returners. Already notable special teams athletes like Leon Washington (NY Jets) and Devin Hester (Bears) have helped make the leagues total number of kickoff returns for touchdowns this year on pace to beat by a wide margin the NFL record of 18 which was set in 1998. And in Green Bay this week the Packers decided to hop on the bandwagon. Midway through the first quarter with no score and facing 4th and 7 on the Packers 34 yard line, the Panthers had kicker John Kasay fake a 52 yard field goal, take a direct snap and punt away. That was the best thing that could have happened from the point of view of Green Bay’s Tramon Williams, a sparsely used cornerback in his second year out of Louisiana Tech who fielded the bouncing football at the 6 yard line. Williams proceeded to return it 94 yards for a touchdown, and the only resistance he met was when he bowled over Panthers punter Jason Baker who had been faking as the holder but probably should have been the one kicking the ball in the first place. Read more

Dallas 31, NY Giants 20

November 15, 2007

Sundays important divisional matchup at the Meadowlands left the Giants still searching for that definitive statement of their status as a contender. A victory against the visiting Dallas team would have put the Giants in a tie for first place in the NFC East with a record against divisional opponents that matched the Cowboys. Defeating Dallas would also would have gone a long way towards answering criticism that the Giants schedule through 9 weeks this season has been too soft to allow them to swagger over their 6-2 record; going into the Dallas game the Giants had collected 4 of their 6 wins against teams with a combined record of 5-27, including a slim 13-10 defeat of the winless Dolphins in which Giants QB Eli Manning passed for a scant 49 yards and no touchdowns.

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