Not a whole lot at stake in Week 17, but there was plenty of good (Patriots ruling the AFC, Tony Romo getting out of mothballs, Steve Smith and Robert Mathis having one more afternoon in the sun); and bad (Ravens’ offense, Andrew Luck’s celebration, Miami’s defense, E.J. Manuel, Cam Newton, the Raiders after Derek Carr) to ring in the New Year. But first, we start in Landover, Md., where the Washington football club had its playoff destiny in its hand repeatedly threw it away.
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 17:
Go crazy, folks
Washington falls on its face, again: Coming into the game against the Giants, Washington knew all it had to do was win the game and it would be in the playoffs (as long as Packers and Lions didn’t tie). It was taking on a team in the Giants that had absolutely nothing to play for. And yet, Washington came out uninspired and ineffective as it trailed the Giants 10–0 at halftime, in a game that felt like it was 20–0. Included in that first half was coach Jay Gruden completely botching the conclusion of the half when Washington started at its 27-yard line with 39 seconds left and three timeouts. For some reason, Gruden wasted 15 seconds after first down, and Washington ended the half missing a 57-yard field goal with one timeout left in its pocket. In the first half, Washington was outgained 194-83, including 10 rushing yards (on seven attempts), and was 1 of 6 on third downs. Washington did battle back to tie the game with 8:13 remaining but after a defensive stop, QB Kirk Cousins was 0-for-3 on one drive, and then ended the team’s season when he threw an interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with 1:12 remaining.
Patriots take care of business, get the reward: It was business as usual for the Patriots in their 35–14 thrashing of the Dolphins in Miami. There were a few hairy moments (Miami cut the lead to 20–14 midway through the third quarter), but overall, every part of New England’s team found success as it now heads into a bye week. Things got even better for the Patriots on the ride home as the Raiders lost and the Chiefs won, making Kansas City the No. 2 seed. That keeps New England from having to potentially play its toughest competition (the Chiefs and Steelers) in back-to-back weeks. Now the Patriots get to rest up, and then welcome either Tom Savage/Brock Osweiler (Texans), Matt McGloin/Connor Cook (Raiders) or Matt Moore/Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) to Gillette Stadium in the divisional round. As usual, things fell New England’s way, but that’s the reward for locking up the top seed after a 14–2 season.
Tony Romo looks good: It was a brief glimpse (six snaps) but he looked healthy and spry leading Dallas on a touchdown drive. Romo was 3 of 4 for 29 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams. It was Romo’s first regular-season game since Thanksgiving of last year, and his first game action since the preseason against the Seahawks. Romo looked a little lighter and more athletic than he did when he was injured at the end of a scramble against Seattle.
Thin Dolphins defense is terrible: Yes, they’ve had serious injury issues, especially in the secondary, but the Dolphins have given up an average of 27.3 points and 436 yards in their last six games. There was also the embarrassing display (especially by LB Kiko Alonso) when six Dolphins couldn’t prevent Patriots WR Michael Floyd scoring. The Dolphins aren’t good enough offensively to win the postseason while they’re playing defense like that.
Browns are No. 1 pick: How to get the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, besides going 1–15? Fumble a possible pick-six into a touchback at the goal line, and then fumble at your opponent’s 3-yard line with 1:04 left. Good try, good effort Brownies.
Ravens need to look in the mirror: The Ravens are reportedly going to bring back coach John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, but they need (another) total revamp on the offensive side of the ball. Former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman would be a good fit.
Cam Newton needs to forget this season: The 2015 NFL MVP, Cam Newton, capped an awful season with three interceptions and a loss against the Buccaneers. Not all of the Panthers’ problems are Newton’s fault, but he needs to dedicate himself to his craft in the off-season if he wants to regain his form.
Kickers are bad in 2017, too: We all know that kickers, largely, had a terrible 2016. Well, 2017 doesn’t look much better if you watched the Bucs-Panthers game where Roberto Aguayo and Graham Gano combined to make two of seven field-goal attempts.
Slow your roll
Easy on McGloin: Everybody wants to jump all over Raiders backup Matt McGloin because he wasn’t great before getting hurt against the Broncos. And yes, McGloin was inaccurate due to mechanical issues he usually doesn’t show. But the bottom line is that a lot of quarterbacks don’t look great against the Broncos’ defense. You have to take that into consideration.
Chill, Andrew Luck: The sight of QB Andrew Luck going nuts after his game-winning pass against the Jaguars will go side-by-side with the Colts’ runner-up banners. Luck’s going to be great when the Colts surround him with more talent and it’s good to be excited about winning even a meaningless NFL game, but just take it down a few notches.
Floyd impresses, may not make postseason impact: Patriots WR Michael Floyd, who was cut by the Cardinals after his latest alcohol-related arrest, showed great toughness fighting for a touchdown and making the big block on Julian Edelman’s 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run. While it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Floyd is going to be a secret postseason weapon. If Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell are back in the lineup, Floyd is likely going to see his playing time diminish.
Laugh at Texans if you want: Yes, the Texans have not been good on offense or at quarterback this season (Jerome Solomon reported that the Texans have the fewest touchdowns by any playoff-bound team in the 16-game era), but they usually find a way to hang around against, (Broncos, Packers) if not beat (Chiefs, Lions), some decent teams.
Bradford sets a record: It’s hard to believe, but Vikings QB Sam Bradford set an NFL record with a 71.2 completion percentage for the season. …Congrats? That says more about the conservative nature of the Bradford-led Vikings offense than anything else. Captain Checkdown is real.
About Sunday Night
The Packers got sensational play from QB Aaron Rodgers (27 of 39 for 300 yards and four touchdowns), a productive running game out of Aaron Ripkowski and Ty Montgomery (17 combined rushes for 105 yards) and a patchwork secondary (especially S-turned-CB Micah Hyde) frustrated Matthew Stafford enough for the Packers to win the AFC North with a 31–24 victory at Ford Field. The Packers, left for dead after back-to-back road blowout losses to Tennessee and Washington dropped them to 4–6, reeled off six-straight wins to enter the playoffs at 10–6 and the No. 4 seed. They’ll host the Giants on Sunday afternoon. The Lions lost their final three games to finish 9–7, are the sixth seed and will travel to Seattle on Saturday night.
A look at the worst coaching decisions from Sunday.
— Not sure why the Cowboys didn’t give QB Tony Romo more than one series. Is six snaps enough to have confidence (for him and the team) in Romo should the Cowboys need him in the postseason?
— Ravens coach John Harbaugh has to be kicking himself for his offensive coordinator decisions. Marty Mornhinweg obviously wasn’t the answer after firing Marc Trestman mid-season, and now Harbaugh could be hiring his sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons. Wow.
— This isn’t a coaching decision, but it was a decision by a team official. How embarrassing for the Eagles to have senior vice president Anne Gordon eject respected Philadelphia Inquirer beat columnist Jeff McLane for “violating the fan code of conduct.” Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and and U.S. Constitution written, had one of its sports teams eject a sports writer from the press box. Just a total embarrassment.
— We’ve heard reports that Bills GM Doug Whaley wanted to see his failed draft pick, QB E.J. Manuel, play instead of Tyrod Taylor at certain points this season. Hey Doug, after Manuel’s 9-for-20, 86-yard performance against the Jets, are you good with what you saw? Because the rest of us aren’t. Whaley, who will be involved in hiring his third coach, has taken Jeff Fisher’s place as the person in the NFL we’re most amazed still has his job.
— With the way the Jaguars played, especially on offense, in the final two games of the season (one win, one near-win), you have to wonder why the Jaguars didn’t fire coach Gus Bradley sooner.
Coolest thing I saw
Two retiring stars, Ravens WR Steve Smith and Colts OLB Robert Mathis, going out with plays that defined their stellar careers. Smith had only three catches for 34 yards, but he had a nifty 14-yard reception in a big 3rd-and-6 situation in the third quarter. When his teams, whether it was the Panthers or the Ravens, needed a play to extend a drive, No. 89 usually came through. And Mathis, a premier pass rusher with 122 sacks in 14 seasons, had a big strip sack and recovery in the fourth quarter. Thanks for the memories, fellas.
Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…
A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:
Corey Grant, RB, Jaguars: After teasing a bit in Week 16, Grant got a bigger opportunity in the finale and delivered with 122 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The undrafted free agent out of Auburn deserves a longer look in training camp for whoever the coach is.
Numbers sometimes lie
4,317: Passing yards for Ravens QB Joe Flacco, a franchise single-season record. Yay? Flacco, who was hindered by some line injuries and poor offensive schemes, was not good enough this season. Flacco has proven he needs to be part of a good team with a running game and defense to be successful. If Flacco is throwing for over 4,000 yards, the Ravens probably aren’t in a good place.
Numbers sometimes don’t lie
157.8: The passer rating for Falcons QB Matt Ryan in the first half against the Saints after completing 17 of 19 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
After The Whistle
Just a little rapid-fire reaction to some of the more surprising coaching moves and rumors that seem to be hitting at warp speed:
Gary Kubiak retiring in Denver: Hopefully this was solely his decision, because the Broncos are missing the playoffs this year due to issues with personnel, not coaching. The offensive line and running back position was a disaster the entire season, and Kubiak needs both to be good for his scheme to be successful. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, whom Kubiak tried to hire when he went to Denver, would make a lot of sense (they love him in Denver) but he’s really, really green. Might read as a sort of puppet maneuver by John Elway.
Chip Kelly could be fired by 49ers: This is just stupid. How can a team fire coaches in back-to-back seasons and expect people to take it seriously? Kelly was given a subpar roster, so GM Trent Baalke deserved to go. What the 49ers should have done was promote Tom Gamble and give Kelly and his buddy two more years to get things going the right way. Otherwise, why did you even hire Kelly? The once-proud 49ers now look like a complete joke. Even Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is laughing at the 49ers and owner Jed York. He and they are much better than this.
Bill O’Brien and Texans could mutually part ways: Reported by Fox’s Jay Glazer, this is on the one hand not surprising, and on the other it’s a bit out of left field. It raised a lot of eyebrows in the off-season when the Texans extended the contract of GM Rick Smith by four years, but didn’t do the same with O’Brien. While the two have a working relationship, it’s a bit of an odd mix and there’s not a clear line on who has final authority on personnel decisions. Some NFL sources thought that given his success in his first two seasons, O’Brien might have found a way to get director of player personnel Brian Gaine into the general manager’s chair before this season. But obviously that didn’t happen. With Smith entrenched with ownership, O’Brien might feel that his best chance is elsewhere. However, it would be a shock if any of this is on O’Brien’s mind given that he and the Texans are focused on getting his first postseason victory. That’s why this feels a bit agent driven, and could be viewed as attempt to get O’Brien more money, security and power with the Texans in a contract extension.