• The best regular-season Snow Bowl of this century, with the best extra point ever.
• The best rivalry in the league producing a 39-38 result and a wild walkoff sack.
• The worst breaking of hearts in a terminally heartbroken NFL city.
• The best social post of the season, lasting all of 15 seconds:
“We got a W today!” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, lying down, said just after midnight this morning from his hospital bed in Pittsburgh, the sheet on the bed pulled up to mid-chest. There are woo-woos in the background from family in his room as Shazier speaks.
“Y’all scary!” he says with a wide smile. “We know how to pull it off, baby. Here we go Steelers!”
The Steelers did more than win for their fallen teammate. They were planning a late-night hospital trip to see Shazier.
“Alert hospital security,” defensive end Cam Heyward told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Coming back from two scores down in the final five minutes, the Steelers made Shazier smile with the 39-38 victory over Baltimore, then the team FaceTimed with him as soon as the players got into the locker room. Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury a week ago in Cincinnati, and his long-term prognosis is uncertain. For much of this game, the Steelers showed how much they missed him. Ravens back Alex Collins sprinted around the edge on runs Shazier might well have stopped; many of Collins’ 166 rushing/receiving yards were daggers to a defense that badly missed Shazier.
I was sure when firebrands like Hines Ward (2011) and Ray Lewis (2012) left the game that the Ravens-Steelers rivalry would lose its greatness. If anything, it’s better. Harbaugh-Tomlin, Flacco-Roethlisberger, Suggs and the new Steelers’ defensive stars—who hopefully will have Shazier back one day for the fun. But there won’t be many games in this rivarly as good as Steelers 39, Ravens 38.
A quick stat for you: in the past 12 games of the Steelers-Ravens series, it’s six wins apiece. Total points: 275 for Baltimore and, you guessed it, 275 for Pittsburgh.
Three quick questions with Ed Bouchette, the longtime Steelers beat man for the Post-Gazette, who called at 1:35 this morning, driving home from this weird game:
MMQB: Was it a positive that the Steelers were playing for Ryan Shazier tonight?
Bouchette: A positive they were playing for him. A negative he wasn’t playing for them. He’s the Troy Polamalu of linebackers. Troy was a bolt of lightning. Ryan’s the same thing at linebacker … Calls the signals, leads ’em in tackles, makes so many plays, becoming more durable. It was tough, and is going to be tougher without him.
MMQB: What do you know about Shazier’s prognosis?
Bouchette: I don’t know anything. I truly don't. I’ve heard so many things, on both sides of the story. There was some optimism [last] Monday night in Cincinnati, calling it a concussion and comparing it to the Tommy Maddox spinal cord concussion back in 2002. But Maddox bounced back that night. That was nothing compared to this. Nobody has said how he’s doing. I know there’s been reports … but I haven’t talked to anyone who really knows.
MMQB: How will they do against the Patriots next Sunday?
Bouchette: I think they’re gonna get killed. I picked the Bengals to beat ’em. I picked the Ravens to win by one. They’re down 17-0 to the Bengals, and I think I’m looking pretty good. The Ravens are up 31-20 in the fourth quarter, and it looks like I made the right pick. But they’re an amazing team. They’re a confounding team. But against New England, without Shazier in the middle, I just don’t see it. To win, they gotta get in Tom Brady’s face, and they gotta score a ton of points.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
A strange day in L.A.
Carson Wentz is such a good guy. Intimidated by nothing (“It’s just football,” he says every 15 or 20 minutes about the mega-jump from North Dakota to Silver Linings Playbook-land), happy for his teammates, caring nothing about his numbers except the one on the left in the newspaper standings. This is how good a guy he is: When doctors told him after the game they feared he could have an ACL tear, he got emotional—but still celebrated with his teammates when they came in from the NFC East-clinching 43-35 win over the Rams.
We’ll know for sure about Wentz’s fate later Monday, and whether he tore his left ACL diving for a touchdown that turns out wouldn’t count anyway because of a whistle on the play. But if he is gone, and if Nick Foles has to carry the Eagles’ hopes into January, it’s going to be the seventh significant quarterback injury this year for a team with legitimate playoff hopes: Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill and Wentz. And it almost makes having two good quarterbacks the new normal for smart NFL general managers. Ironic, really, that the three quarterbacks on New England’s roster on Sept. 1 are now all starting, two of them for teams not named the Patriots. New England has chosen to go all-in on its 40-year-old 29-year-old, Tom Brady. But with so many quarterbacks going down, and so many teams relying on backups, the smart GMs are the ones whose backups are producing well.
Case Keenum’s 8-1 record over the past 10 weeks has made Vikes GM Rick Spielman look like a genius. Ted Thompson doesn’t look so dumb now for sticking with Brett Hundley (3-2 in his past five starts) instead of a veteran in relief of Rodgers. The rest of the relief pitchers are a mixed bag. But the Eagles have legit hopes of winning a Super Bowl, hopes that won’t be ruined if coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich can find enough good things Foles can do in the complex offense if he has to play the rest of the way.
But the bummer is this is the time the league truly needs new young stars, with the ratings down 7 percent and no-shows up and folks worried about the health of the players and the health of the game. The biggest star to come into the league in 2016 was Wentz. The biggest star to come into the league in 2017 was Deshaun Watson. It’s a very bad coincidence that both will be lost for the year, if Wentz’s injury is as bad as it appeared late Sunday.
Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman has done a very good job building up the roster around the quarterback. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi have been front-line offensive additions, and the offensive line has survived the loss for the season of left tackle Jason Peters. To win, Philadelphia will have to be a top-five defense (it’s number three now) and play more ball-control; the Eagles average 4.59 yards a carry, and Ajayi will be crucial to keeping that up.
The season’s not over for Philadelphia if Wentz is lost. The Eagles should easily win two of the last three, at least, and cop home field through the NFC playoffs. But they’d likely have to beat two of the following four—Carolina, New Orleans, the Rams, Minnesota—to advance to the Super Bowl. And while the energetic and strong-armed Wentz would have been a fascinating matchup against Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, Foles would have to play a near-perfect game in the biggest game of his life to win on that stage.
If Wentz is gone for the season, there will be black crepe paper hung over the Walt Whitman Bridge today, and there’s nothing I can do to ease the pain. In a cruel season for a cruel game, the Eagles will have to become the best running team in football to survive this.
There’s something about a snow game
Did anyone really care about Indy-Buffalo? Less than half of New York state was getting the game, and not even all of Indiana. But then the snow fell, and it kept falling, and the game was played as the inches kept rising on New Era Field in Orchard Park. Eight inches in all.
“I really don’t mind snow games,” Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy said an hour after the game from his locker room. He was thawed out now. “You feel like you’re a kid out there playing football, playing in the snow like a child. You get tackled and it doesn’t hurt. You’re cushioned. It’s kind of fun.”
The first- and sixth-most productive games in McCoy’s 133-game career, in fact, have come in the snow. His 217-yard day in 2013 against the Lions in the snow in Philadelphia is his best; Sunday’s 32-carry, 156-yard day was his sixth-best.
“To be honest, I haven’t had a day exactly like this,” said McCoy. “I have had better days. The 217-yard day with three touchdowns was in the snow. The difference today was, the winds were extremely strong, and it kept snowing all game. I just tried to plant extra good when I cut, if that makes sense.”
Not everyone liked playing in eight inches of snow. “It is not fun,” left guard Richie Incognito texted post-game. “Everything we practice all week techniquewise goes out the window. The snow basically turned it into a WWF wrestling match. I was just inventing moves out there, throwing people all over the place.”
Like the conditions or not, McCoy and Incognito combined to win the game in overtime. With the ball at the Indianapolis 21, and 1:39 left in OT, the Bills called for McCoy’s career-high 32nd carry. And the call was for him to go through the lane plowed out by Incognito, an excellent run-blocker. But really, how could anyone be great at anything on this ice rink?
Incognito had a tough job here. He’d have to make a combo block. First he’d have to push a strong nosetackle, Johnathan Hankins, off the path to the left, then fire out and contain linebacker Antonio Morrison. “That’s a double-block Richie’s got to make for me to make a good run,” McCoy said.
Incognito did push Hankins—lined up wider left than Incognito thought he’d be, so he had to reach over to push him out of the lane—and then, before McCoy ran into the lane, Incognito engaged Morrison straight up so he couldn’t detour McCoy. And McCoy was gone. “When I got to the end zone, I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “Guys all around me, and I was yelling, ‘I can’t breathe! Yo! Back up!’”
Bills 13, Colts 7, on the prettiest NFL tableau in a long time. “There won’t be another game like this for 10 years,” McCoy said.
One more thing for McCoy, who needs 39 rushing yards to become the 30th player in NFL history to gain 10,000 yards on the ground: I asked him if he was happy to be in Buffalo, and if he still holds hard feelings over the 2015 trade from Philadelphia. I’ve always admired McCoy for his honesty.
“I am extremely happy I am here,” said the Harrisburg, Pa., kid. “Buffalo has embraced me and my family, and they love me here. I love that. But I can’t lie and say I don't love Philly. I do. That was my home. The trade was wrong, and it was weird.”
See? An honest man.