• Uh, oh. They're doing it again. The Denver Broncos are dying in December and giving the rest of the AFC's wild-card contenders some much-needed new life in the process.
Never mind what the Dallas Cowboys have done in the season's final month in recent years. The Broncos can match them loss for excruciating loss in December. And while the Cowboys gave their playoffs hopes a huge boost with a showdown win against the Saints Saturday night in the Superdome, Denver is in free fall again.
There's a new head coach in Denver this season and a new starting quarterback. But these might wind up being the same old Broncos after all. That's the only conclusion you can draw after seeing the staggering team lose 20-19 to
Denver started the season 6-0, but it has now tumbled all the way to the AFC's No. 6 seed in the playoff chase, with plenty of banana peels left to slip on. The Broncos have lost six of eight and, at 8-6, they just single-handedly kept the 7-7 Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets, Titans, Steelers and Texans very much in the wild-card picture as Christmas week begins. Denver plays a tough game at Philadelphia next week, and then wraps up the regular season at home against Kansas City.
Of course, we've seen this movie before and know how it ends. Like last year, when Denver sat 8-5 with a three-game lead in the AFC with three weeks remaining, but lost all three to miss the playoffs. Or in 2006, when the Broncos would have clinched a postseason spot by merely beating the 11-point underdog 49ers at home in Week 17. Denver lost and finished 9-7 and out of the money.
Sunday's defeat at the hands of Oakland actually marked the second consecutive year the Raiders have won in Denver. Last year it was 31-10 in Week 12, which started a season-ending 2-4 slide. But this one hurt even more because the injury-plagued Raiders had to use three quarterbacks -- and their fourth in two weeks -- and wound up putting the game in the hands of Russell, the disappointing former No. 1 overall pick who had been buried on the Oakland roster.
Given the Broncos' luck in December, Russell, of course, delivered. He connected with receiver
For the rest of the AFC wild-card contenders, Denver's collapse against the Raiders was the gift that might just keep giving. All the way to the playoffs.
• I thought I was watching
In truth, the Packers' bitter loss doesn't really hurt their playoff seeding. They were in the NFC's No. 5 slot before the game, and they remain there despite the defeat. But giving up a Pittsburgh team-record 503 yards passing and that game-winning touchdown drive won't build confidence in Green Bay's defense, which has been thriving in the season's second half and had risen to No. 2 in fewest yards allowed. The loss removes any chance the Packers had of clinching a playoff berth this week, which would have occurred with a win at Pittsburgh and a Giants loss at Washington Monday night.
• Winning ugly has become something of a Patriots specialty of late, but it sure beats the alternative of, say, dominating a good team like the Colts for most of the game and then finding a way to give away the W at the end.
The Patriots won their first true road game of the season, 17-10, at Buffalo, and we can put all those
Despite a defensive line that was missing the injured
• Pretty gutty showing for the Falcons in their 10-7 win at the Jets, given that Atlanta's playoff hopes evaporated when Dallas completed its upset of the Saints late Saturday night. The Falcons (7-7) won't be in the postseason, but they absolutely still have something to play for: a chance to end the franchise's mind-boggling streak of never having back-to-back winning seasons in its 43 years of existence. Atlanta has two winnable games remaining -- home against Buffalo and at Tampa Bay -- and it should go hell-bent for 9-7 and putting that dubious distinction to rest.
Injuries really killed
• What a horrible time for the Jets defense to finally surrender its first touchdown in 34 possessions -- which had been the league's longest active streak in that department.
But it was the Jets field goal unit that really cost them this one. (Well, three
• Turning the old line from "
In Seattle, Holmgren might have run the team's football operations, but he still would have reported to Seahawks CEO
The key phrase in the statement released by Leiweke was this: "Mike has declined our offer to rejoin the team given the structure we proposed.'' Whatever that structure entailed, it didn't include as much decision-making power (or salary) as Holmgren can get in Cleveland, a job he'll likely now accept by Monday. And no,
• Speaking of the Browns, if I'm them, I'm trying to strike a new deal with jack-of-all trades
They were the seventh and eighth kickoff return touchdowns of Cribbs' five-year NFL career, breaking the league record he had shared with
Time to pay, J.C., Cleveland. He's the closest thing to a one-man team as exists in the NFL,
• I tuned into some of the Browns-Chiefs, which happened to be the first game in 19 years to be locally blacked out in Kansas City. Nothing but a top-three draft slot was on the line for the loser in this one, but what a show Cleveland and Kansas City put on in the Browns' 41-34 slugfest victory, their second win in a row.
And what are the odds that the Browns, with one of the three worst offenses in the NFL, would be involved in two of the most entertaining shootouts of the season? Cleveland's victory at Kansas City was reminiscent of that wild 38-37 Lions win over the Browns at Ford Field in Week 11.
Not only did you get Cribbs' record-breaking performance if you invested time into the Browns-Chiefs game, you got
The little-known Harrison entered the game with just 301 yards rushing all season, and with 34 carries the fourth-year vet nearly doubled that in one afternoon. His 286 yards shattered
• It's a shame Charles' big game for the Chiefs got overshadowed by Harrison's and Cribbs' record-breaking performances, because the second-year standout has emerged as a go-to play-maker. His 47-yard scoring run in the second quarter gave him six consecutive games with a touchdown, and he now has run for 607 yards in that span.
What a find Charles has been for the Chiefs. Who needs
• Stat of the day: The quirky Browns have averaged 39 points per game when playing Detroit and Kansas City this season. In their other 11 games, Cleveland is averaging 11 points per outing.
• It's no small accomplishment for Tennessee to get back to the .500 mark this season after that humbling 0-6 start, and the Titans deserve credit for fighting their way to 7-7. They still need two more wins and a bunch of help to make the playoffs, but all that talk of
• The Cardinals found a way to win in Detroit, but Arizona still seems to be a team that has the troubling habit of playing down to the level of its opponent. In the two weeks since I saw the Cardinals dismantle Minnesota in Glendale, they've lost big at San Francisco and squeaked past a Lions team that was down 17-0 but fought back into a 24-24 fourth-quarter tie.
You can't give a bad team that much life and get away with it on a regular basis.
• The Rams flirted with victory at home against Houston, but in the end they protected their shot at next year's No. 1 overall draft pick. With Tampa Bay getting its second win of the season, in a mild upset at Seattle, St. Louis (1-13) is now in the driver's seat for the top pick. And it's a good year to have that distinction.
• Things I wish I hadn't seen Sunday:
-- Lions reserve quarterback
-- Texans safety
-- Packers kicker
• In fairness, the Lions second-half comeback was really kick-started by rookie safety
I was in Detroit on draft weekend, and the Lions front office was as excited about landing Delmas with the first pick of the second round as anything that happened that Saturday. I understand why a bit more every week.
• Nice coaching job,
• Their perfect season is gone, but that doesn't mean the Saints (13-1) can afford to ease their foot off the gas at this point, even after Minnesota (11-3) fell to Carolina Sunday night in Charlotte.
But with a home game against Tampa Bay and a road date at Carolina remaining, the Saints still should be able to make the rest of the NFC playoff field go through the Superdome.
• We'll be seeing you,
• Should be a nice Christmas week for
• Even at this late date, does anybody really know what the Browns have in