Snap Judgments: Steelers stumble, AFC East tightens, Saints survive
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a spectacularly lucky Week 13 when it comes to doses of late-game drama, huge upsets and scintillating finishes.
The Steelers hadn't lost as many as four in a row since the middle of the 2003 season, but that stat doesn't remotely tell the story of how they let their latest stomach-churner get away. The Raiders and Steelers combined for five lead changes, 35 points, and almost 400 yards of offense in the fourth quarter after Pittsburgh had quietly built a 10-6 lead after three.
But Oakland scored three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to overcome three different four-point Pittsburgh leads, with rookie receiver
The Steelers aren't dead in the water at 6-6 in the AFC wild-card chase, but after losing at Kansas City and home against Oakland in a three-week span, how can you assume any victory for Pittsburgh at this point? Denver (8-4) is two games up on the Steelers with four weeks remaining in the wild-card chase, while Jacksonville (7-5) and Baltimore (6-5 entering Monday night's game at Green Bay) also have better positioning than Pittsburgh as the stretch run continues.
The 2006 Steelers (8-8) were the most recent defending Super Bowl champs to miss the playoffs, and the wrong kind of history appears to be repeating itself in Pittsburgh.
• Well, well, well. Looks like we have an AFC East race after all. The Jets (6-6) beat the Bills in Toronto Thursday night, and the Dolphins (6-6) shocked the Patriots (7-5) in Miami on Sunday, and just like that, the top three teams in the division are all within a game of each other.
So much for the Patriots' vaunted bounce-back factor. And so much for their decade-long ability to win on the road. New England entered play not having lost consecutive games since November 2006, but with two road losses in a span of seven days, at the Saints and at the Dolphins, the Patriots are now on a 1-3 slide and just trying to hang on in a division they once looked like they would easily own in 2009. New England is a mind-boggling 1-5 away from home this season, with its only win against the Bucs in London -- in effect a neutral site.
New England's first four losses this season all came on the road against undefeated teams (Jets, Broncos, Colts and Saints), but the six-loss Dolphins have now pinned one on them too. The Patriots have four winnable games remaining, and might still claim the AFC East at 11-5. But it certainly seems like they have yet to recover from that devastating loss at Indianapolis three weeks ago, when a certain 4th-and-2 call transformed a near-certain win into a crushing defeat.
This much is clear: New England's air of invincibility hasn't really ever returned after the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.
• All week I thought the Saints were vulnerable to an upset at Washington, because it seemed to me that New Orleans played and won its Super Bowl last Monday night at home against New England. Could the 11-0 Saints possibly get back up for a game against the plucky, but 3-8 Redskins? Turns out the answer was no, and then eventually yes.
If New Orleans goes on from here and runs the table to post a 16-0 regular season, this will be the ridiculous, fairy tale victory the Saints had no business earning, but found a way to collect anyway with considerable help from Washington. Down 10 points three different times and missing four defensive starters, the charmed Saints kept rallying all game long, and finally got the break they needed when Redskins kicker
The 33-30 overtime win clinched the NFC South for the Saints, and puts them another step closer to a perfect season. Like the huge comeback win at Miami in Week 7, the Saints got yet another reminder that no one game is over this season until they say it's over.
And the magic carpet ride continues for
• Well it was fun while it lasted, but the Titans' historic drive from winless to the playoffs is all but over. Tennessee's 27-17 loss at Indianapolis means the best it can do is 9-7, and that's not going to get it done when it comes to the AFC wild-card race. Especially since the Titans now have a 3-7 AFC record, and that's a killer when it comes to tiebreakers.
Tennessee made too many mistakes (two
• The Colts didn't really accomplish much with Sunday's 10-point win over visiting Tennessee. All they did was:
-- Win their 21st consecutive regular season game, tying New England's NFL record, set from 2006-2008. (They can break it next week at home against Denver).
-- Picked up their 12th win for a seventh consecutive season, extending their own league record in that department.
-- Tied the 1990s 49ers for most victories in a decade, with 113. Indy has four more chances to stand alone when it comes to that distinction, and I like their chances.
-- Oh, and did we mention they remained undefeated at 12-0, matching the Saints' start and creeping within one win of the best start in Colts franchise history? Indy's 2005 team started 13-0, then lost two out of last three games to finish 14-2.
• It's just like the Redskins to play so well for most of the game and look like a legitimate NFL team once their season's already lost. Where has this
Campbell wasn't the only Redskins offensive star who had a great day. Washington's 2008 draft class is suddenly looking much better with the emergence of receiver
• But Thomas and Davis weren't even the biggest receiving stories of the day in the Saints-Redskins thriller. New Orleans third-year veteran
His 53-yard scoring bomb tied the game at 30-30 with 1:19 remaining in regulation, and that wasn't even his best work of the day. Meachem stripped Redskins defensive back
• Here's a disappointing realization: With the AFC East now tightly bunched at the top, the only remaining head-to-head division game is first place New England at last place Buffalo, in Week 15. That doesn't do us much good, given the logjam is only between the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins.
• I know I'm not going to shock you with this one, but
• I would imagine by now that even
• Let me get this straight: the Steelers won convincingly against AFC West bullies San Diego and Denver, but lost to AFC West doormats Kansas City and Oakland? Pittsburgh head coach
• If I told you
Me either. But New England did lose, largely because Brady went just 5 of 14 for 75 yards and two costly interceptions after his hot start. In fairness, Brady was reportedly playing with a finger injury, and the Dolphins pass rush absolutely killed him at times. Brady was knocked down five times and hurried at least that many times in the first three quarters.
• Now I know December has arrived. Because the Cowboys are starting to disappear. (Sorry, probably a cheap shot after just one loss. But give them time. They'll make me look prescient).
• So much for
• After their loss at Seattle, it's harder than ever to fathom how the 49ers started 3-1 this season. San Francisco had an opportunity to stay within striking distance of Arizona in the NFC West, but couldn't even take care of a Seahawks team it beat comfortably in Week 2.
• I'm not going to spend much time or energy pounding away at the Texans again, because I did that last week. But that loss at Jacksonville just about seals the deal that it's going to be another underachieving season in Houston. After getting their noses two games above .500 for the first time in franchise history, the 5-3 Texans immediately swooned to 5-7 and out of contention.
And while we're at it, whoever had the idea of having Texans running back
• Looks like quarterback controversy time in Kansas City. It's at least a crisis of confidence at the game's most pivotal position.
Wonder if Chiefs general manager
• If you're a Broncos fan, the world looks a lot brighter these days than it did in the aftermath of Week 11's debacle at home against San Diego. Denver will make the AFC playoffs as a wild-card entry, and that will make everything about
• Did I really see
• We should all be thankful this holiday season for
I mean, if you're going to go to all the trouble last week of bringing in Yankees manager
• Sanchez seems to be a news magnet himself in the first 12 games of his NFL career. Whether he's chowing down on a hot dog on the sideline, learning his color-coded play calls, or driving his head coach crazy with his interceptions and his lack of sliding skills, "the Sanchize'' is forever finding his way into the headlines.
• I get that new Dolphins owner
But I draw the line at trotting out the over-exposed
• Anybody but me think the guy in all those PlayStation commercials looks a bit like a slightly malevolent version of
• Went driving around the Phoenix area a little Saturday night and at one point I was startled by a car blowing past me on the interstate going 100 mph or so.
Then I remembered. The Vikings were in town.
• So long,