This time of year, it doesn't hurt to be physical in the NFL
Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett breaks up a pass intended for Houston Texans' Ryan Griffin during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Well, actually, it hurts quite a bit. Especially on the Lambeau Field tundra . Or when the Ravens are pounding you . Or the Steelers are treating you like a rag doll.
When the schedule hits December, and the hitting gets more ferocious, physicality is an irreplaceable edge.
We saw that specifically Sunday in Green Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Oakland.
''We knew we had a long game in front of us,'' said the Steelers' sensational running back Le'Veon Bell after a 24-14 whipping they put on the Giants. ''But our guys up front, they prepared for the battle. They were out there talking trash and going back and forth.
''You have to give credit to our line. They kept churning and wearing them out over the course of the game. I just wanted to make sure that I kept running hard. Then, in the fourth quarter, the holes got a little bigger. I started running through a couple of tackles and started breaking some runs.''
And breaking some spirits.
All four losers in those rugged matchups entered with winning records. The Giants (8-4) had their six-game winning string snapped by Pittsburgh. Miami (7-5) also saw its six-game streak end at Baltimore.
Buffalo (6-6) blew a big lead and got pushed around in the second half by Oakland. Houston (6-6) not only couldn't handle the Packers' intensity, it couldn't deal with the snow, wind and cold in Green Bay, where the Packers finally found that fierce edge to their game.
New York figures to rebound from its beating – it better, considering Dallas comes to the Meadowlands next Sunday night and can clinch the NFC East with a win. The other three, should they fall short of the postseason, likely can point to how much Week 13 took out of them.
Although it's just as probable that Weeks 14-17 will be as physical and exhausting.
''We need everyone in this locker room to get the job done,'' Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. ''It's going to be tough and challenging. At this time of the year, no one is feeling great, but you have to go out there having grit and get the job done.''
This was the first week when weather was a factor, and it's not going to get any more temperate in outdoor stadiums in New England, New York, Green Bay, Kansas City or Denver. Don't think that those clubs aren't built at least in part toward dealing with Mother Nature.
Perhaps with the exception of the Patriots, the rest of those teams, plus the Ravens and Steelers, will be turning to their defenses even more down the stretch.
What bodes well for most of them is how they don't shy away from the physicality needed when they discover throwing the ball through 30 mph gusts is ludicrous. Or when opening up the offense in sleet or single-digit temperatures is unwise.
Baltimore's defense has been coming on for weeks, and the Ravens have the winning experience to ride it in somewhat similar fashion to how Denver surged to the championship last season.
Pittsburgh doesn't exactly have a Steel Curtain, but the Steelers also are playing their best D right now. They overwhelmed the Giants at times Sunday even without perhaps their most important defender, the injured Cam Heyward.
Kansas City gives up points, but it also comes up with big plays. Bob Sutton's unit, as thorny as they come, often makes up for a pedestrian offense.
New York's pass rush has progressed to the point it leaves many opposing quarterbacks unnerved, or at the least, reticent about taking the time required to let plays develop downfield.
Denver is still Denver, packing a wallop on nearly every play.
Many of those contenders are quite rugged with the ball. The Raiders have the second-best offensive line to Dallas, and are happy to show off its power. Bell will run through anybody if need be, as will the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount.
December definitely is not a time for anyone who can be intimidated. Don't think for a second the intimidators won't turn ultra-physical over the next four weeks.
AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.
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