Contenders stumble in dramatic day
Four of the past five Super Bowl winners lost in Week 15 of the regular season.
This is the only solace the New York Giants, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh can take after Sunday defeats put a crimp in their championship aspirations.
The Giants (8-6) no longer control their fate in the NFC East after a 34-0 drubbing at Atlanta. Washington (8-6) or Dallas (8-6) can now capture the division by winning their final two games. In Week 16, Dallas hosts New Orleans (6-8) and the Redskins play at Philadelphia (4-10). The Cowboys and Redskins meet at Fed-Ex Field in the regular-season finale.
The Bears (8-6) have no shot at the NFC North crown after Green Bay (10-4) clinched the title with a 21-13 win at Soldier Field. Chicago now runs the risk of being only the second team since 1990 to open the season 7-1 and fail to make the playoffs. Seattle (9-5) and Minnesota (8-6) are the current leaders for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.
As for the Ravens (9-5), they clinched a playoff berth when Pittsburgh (7-7) lost at Dallas. However, Baltimore’s grip on the AFC North lead may be tenuous with Cincinnati (8-6) making a strong late-season run and a Week 17 rematch looming at Paul Brown Stadium. A 34-17 home defeat against Denver was the Ravens’ third straight loss. Even if it wins the division, Baltimore is now a long shot for a first-round playoff bye.
Adding to the playoff intrigue for the Ravens and Giants: They meet next Sunday in FOX’s America’s Game of the Week (4:25 p.m. ET kickoff).
Another important Week 16 showdown will be Cincinnati at Pittsburgh. The Steelers can make the playoffs by winning their final two games, including a Week 17 rematch against Cleveland at Heinz Field.
The postseason outlook became far better for others. The Falcons regained some much-needed momentum after last Sunday’s loss at Carolina. Houston (12-2) clinched the AFC South with a victory over Indianapolis (9-5), which is still looking good for a wild-card spot. San Francisco (10-3-1) looks to be playoff-bound with a win against New England, in Foxboro, Mass. The victory is needed as Seattle (9-5) continued to keep heat on the 49ers with a 50-17 blowout of Buffalo.
Here’s a look at those games and more in this week’s version of the Marvez Rewind:
San Francisco 41, New England 34: If this was a preview of Super Bowl XLVII, we’re in for a treat on February 3. The Patriots almost mounted one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, running off 28 consecutive second-half points to overcome a 31-3 deficit. But that still wasn’t enough with Colin Kaepernick connecting with Michael Crabtree for a touchdown that put the 49ers back ahead for good. Kaepernick had some rough spots with a few fumbled snaps and a third-quarter interception in the Patriots end zone, but the second-year quarterback proved he was ready for prime time with four scoring throws. The Patriots were uncharacteristically sloppy early with three turnovers against the NFL’s second-ranked defense. New England entered with a league-low 10 giveaways. San Francisco can clinch the NFC West title with a win next Sunday in Seattle. The Patriots (10-4) hold the tiebreaker edge over Denver (10-4) for the No. 2 playoff seed because of a victory over the Broncos in Week Five.
Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 24 (overtime): Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown did his best to lose this game in the fourth quarter. His mistakes included a fumbled punt return Dallas converted into a touchdown and a fielding gaffe on another punt in the final two minutes that cost Pittsburgh valuable field position. But it was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who committed the costliest error with an overtime interception that Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr returned to set up Dan Bailey’s game-winning field goal. To that point, Roethlisberger had carried a Steelers offense that produced only 69 rushing yards on 17 carries. Injuries in the secondary have left Pittsburgh’s defense a shell of its former self. The Cowboys have won five of their last six games paced by the outstanding play of quarterback Tony Romo, who passed for 341 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. Wide receiver Dez “Nine Fingers” Bryant was productive (four catches for 59 yards, one touchdown) even with his hand injury. The Steelers lost despite not committing a single penalty.
Atlanta 34, New York Giants 0: The Falcons will finally start getting some of the national media respect they’ve craved following their most impressive win of the season. Atlanta dominated from the start, turning an Eli Manning interception into a Michael Turner touchdown run less than three minutes into the first quarter. Manning could get nothing going in a 13-of-25, 161-yard performance that included another interception Atlanta converted into a field goal and three failed fourth-down attempts by his offense. There may be no team more Jekyll and Hyde than New York, which was coming off a 52-27 thrashing of New Orleans. The Falcons can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win Saturday night at Detroit.
Denver 34, Baltimore 17: Peyton Manning had a modest one-touchdown, 204-yard passing performance, but the Broncos didn’t need heroics from their star quarterback this week. That’s because of a dominating defensive effort and 118 rushing yards from Knowshon Moreno, who is enjoying a career resurgence amid the absence of starter Willis McGahee (leg injury). Moreno even showcased his track skills by hurdling Ravens safety Ed Reed on a second-quarter carry. Baltimore’s switch in offensive coordinators from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell got off to a disastrous start with the Ravens producing just one first down in the first 1 1/2 quarters. When the Ravens finally got into scoring position, quarterback Joe Flacco threw an inexcusable interception that cornerback Chris Harris returned 98 yards for a touchdown. Flacco is stumbling down the stretch as is Baltimore’s defense with so many injuries. Denver (11-3) has won nine straight games.
Green Bay 21, Chicago 13: Brandon Marshall now has more reason to hate the Packers. Although he caught a touchdown pass, the Packers held Chicago’s leading receiver in check by limiting Marshall to six receptions for 56 yards. No other wide receiver or tight end caught a pass from quarterback Jay Cutler, which is inexcusable. So is drawing three offensive pass interference penalties like Bears rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery did. The biggest reason the game remained close was Green Bay’s awful special-teams effort. Mason Crosby missed both of his field goal attempts, raising his total to 12 on the season and prompting Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to eschew a long try in the second half. McCarthy also made an awful decision by calling for a lateral on a fourth-quarter punt return that his team botched, allowing the Bears to stay alive. Aaron Rodgers won’t win a second straight NFL Most Valuable Player award, but the Packers quarterback has carried Green Bay into the playoffs. He tossed another three touchdowns without an interception while completing 23 of 36 attempts for 291 yards.
Houston 29, Indianapolis 17: It’s rare that a 9-4 team will enter any game as a 10-point underdog. Odds-makers, though, got this one right. Despite some sloppiness that allowed the Colts to pull to 23-17 late in the third quarter, Houston closed out the win with two scoring drives and by holding Indianapolis to three fourth-quarter first downs. While he has done a great job this season replacing the ailing Chuck Pagano, Colts interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians made two major mistakes Sunday. Arians shouldn’t have used undersized Mewelde Moore, who was just re-signed a few days earlier, on a goal-line carry ahead of the bigger-bodied Vick Ballard. Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins recovered a Moore fumble caused by all-world defensive end J.J. Watt. Arians also drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with the officials following a Texans punt in the fourth quarter. The Colts became the latest opponent that had no answer for Watt, who notched three sacks, six tackles for losses and four quarterback hurries of Andrew Luck. The Texans did an outstanding job containing Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who was held to a season-low three catches for 14 yards. Texans linebacker Bryan Braman is going to draw strong Pro Bowl consideration for his special-teams play. Braman blocked his second punt of the season and returned it for an 8-yard touchdown. The Colts get a chance for revenge when hosting Houston in Week 17.
Minnesota 36, St. Louis 22: Every opponent knows the key to stopping Minnesota’s offense is bottling Adrian Peterson. For eight straight games, no defense has done it. After holding Peterson to six yards on his first eight carries, Peterson exploded up the middle for an 82-yard touchdown run. He added a 52-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter that set up Blair Walsh’s 51-yard field goal to clinch the victory. Peterson finished with 24 carries for 212 yards, putting him within striking distance of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has drawn plenty of attention with his strong leg, but Walsh has quietly compiled a better rookie season. Walsh made all five of his attempts Sunday, including three from 50-plus yards, to improve to 29-of-32 on the season. Zuerlein missed his lone attempt from 57 yards. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns but most of the damage was done after Minnesota had opened a 33-7 lead. Bradford also lost a fumble that led to a Walsh field goal and had an interception returned for a touchdown by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen.
Washington 38, Cleveland 21: Robert Griffin III has no reason to sweat, but Kirk Cousins showed the Redskins have two quality rookie quarterbacks. Replacing the injured Griffin (knee), Cousins was outstanding in his first NFL start. Cousins rebounded from an early interception to complete 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Cousins got ample support from running back Alfred Morris (87 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and a Redskins defense that intercepted Brandon Weeden twice. Trent Richardson did score twice to break Jim Brown’s franchise rookie touchdown record but could never get on track in an 11-carry, 28-yard showing. Washington’s 6-3 record corresponds with the signing of kicker Kai Forbath, who has provided some much needed stability at the position. Forbath has made all 15 of his field-goal attempts, including a 44-yarder Sunday.
Miami 24, Jacksonville 3: The 1972 Dolphins were honored at halftime to cap a weekend of festivities celebrating the 40th anniversary of the NFL’s lone perfect season. Even today, those Dolphins might have a shot at beating the Jaguars (2-12). In plays that encapsulate just how dreadful Jacksonville is, two fourth-and-1 runs were stuffed inside Miami’s red zone and a touchdown was nullified when offensive lineman Guy Whimper forgot to report as an eligible tight end. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had struggled as of late, shredded Jacksonville’s secondary in the second half as Brian Hartline became the eighth player in franchise history to post a 1,000-yard receiving season.
New Orleans 41, Tampa Bay 0: After moving into playoff contention with a four-game winning streak, the Buccaneers (6-8) entered Sunday’s contest having dropped three straight games by one score or less. A fourth consecutive loss that guaranteed a non-winning season wasn’t even close. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman had his worst performance since his rookie campaign in 2009. He threw four interceptions, fumbled on a Cam Jordan sack and missed an open Mike Williams on what should have been a touchdown pass. With nine carries for 16 yards, Bucs running back Doug Martin was no factor as New Orleans (6-8) recorded its first shutout since 1995. Mark Ingram (14 carries for 90 yards) enjoyed his best game in two seasons with the Saints. In two matchups against Tampa Bay this season, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw eight touchdowns with one interception.
Seattle 50, Buffalo 17: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll apologized post-game for running a fake punt with Seattle leading by 30 points early in the fourth quarter. That’s the only thing the Seahawks should feel sorry about in a second straight 50-point performance, marking the first time a team has scored that much in consecutive games since the 1950 New York Giants. Russell Wilson continued his late push for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors by becoming the first quarterback in Seahawks history with three rushing touchdown in one game. Wilson added a touchdown pass against what had been an improved Buffalo defense that looked clueless once again Sunday against the read-option. Marshawn Lynch issued another reminder that Bills general manager Buddy Nix made a huge mistake trading him to Seattle in 2010 for a ham sandwich, err, fourth- and fifth-round picks. Lynch gashed the Bills for 113 yards on just 10 carries.
Carolina 31, San Diego 7: Mike Tolbert’s two first-quarter touchdown runs helped mark a fitting end to San Diego’s faint playoff hopes. Tolbert is yet another talented offensive player allowed to leave in free agency without being adequately replaced by general manager A.J. Smith, who is considered a lock to get fired along with head coach Norv Turner. Whoever is running the show in San Diego next season must fix quarterback Philip Rivers, who added two more lost fumbles to his league-leading total. The Chargers must have considered last week’s upset over Pittsburgh as their Super Bowl since they showed no spunk while falling behind, 31-0. The big question in Carolina for the final two weeks: If quarterback Cam Newton remains red-hot, can head coach Ron Rivera keep his job?
Arizona 38, Detroit 10: Losing to the Cardinals – a team that had dropped nine straight games – is the low point for the NFL’s most disappointing team in 2012. Arizona’s Ryan Lindley only passed for 104 yards and threw an interception, but he still outplayed Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford had two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns. Arizona’s Chris “Beanie” Wells gave Lindley some much-needed support with three rushing touchdowns.
Oakland 15, Kansas City 0: Make that Sebastian Janikowski 15, Kansas City 0. Oakland’s kicker provided all of his team’s points with five field goals. Such meager scoring output probably wouldn’t be enough against a quality opponent, but these were the Chiefs. Kansas City (2-12) mustered only 119 yards and seven first downs against one of the NFL’s worst defenses. Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll once again inexplicably minimized the role of running back Jamaal Charles, who rushed nine times for 10 yards. Oakland second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor got on the field for one series but returned to the bench after a three-and-out in the second quarter.