Every once in a while, the NFL presents us with a week that will have you hanging on the next time you think things are hopeless for your team. Week 14 is shaping up to be one of those weeks. In the early games alone, four contests had an insane number of lead changes, leaving those watching to wonder exactly what they were seeing.
Perhaps the weirdest game happened in Baltimore, where the Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings exchanged six touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and Baltimore pulled the game out when Marlon Brown caught a nine-yard pass from Joe Flacco in the back of the end zone with four seconds left in the game. Brown made an amazing catch, tip-toeing both feet in-bounds, and the Vikings could only watch, disheartened, as the Ravens grabbed a 29-26 win.
There was rough weather at M&T Bank Stadium, and the score was 7-6 after three quarters. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel got things rolling with a touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson, and Flacco responded with a one-yarder to tight end Dennis Pitta. Running back Toby Gerhart put the Vikings back up with a 41-yard run in which he seemed to blow through half of Baltimore's defense, but Jacoby Jones took the ensuing kickoff back 77 yards to re-establish Baltimore's lead. Then, Cordarrelle Patterson hit for a 77-yard touchdown from Cassel, and it seemed that the Vikings would pull the upset. But the Ravens had the final say on the Marlon Brown touchdown -- the fourth touchdown scored in a 1:23 period of game clock.
The win vaulted the Ravens to 7-6, and kept them in the AFC playoff hunt. The 3-9-1 Vikings could only wonder what karma they had engendered -- they've lost more than one game this season due to late touchdowns from their opponents. The six lead changes in the fourth quarter set an NFL record. And it was double trouble for the Vikings -- their plane was hit by a catering truck as they tried to leave Baltimore, and they had to wait for another plane to fly in from Detroit to take them home.
“Will we ever see another game like that again? You’ve got to credit both teams," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Credit to the Vikings. Leslie Frazier is doing a tremendous job coaching that football team. They are really a very good football team; they really are. They have got a tremendous amount of fight in them and heart, and I would say the same thing about our team right now. To fight like that to the end, like Dennis [Pitta] said, four game-winning scores. Is that what it was? Five -- there were five game-winning scores. I lost count. [I] could not be more proud of our guys. ... As a coach, as a fan, as a player, as a parent -- whatever -- I hope people see the greatness of sports in a game like this and what it can mean to all of us. So, it was a great fight, and I think it is one we will all remember.”
Then, there was what the New England Patriots did to the Cleveland Browns. Late in the third quarter, it appeared that the Browns would accomplish the rarest of NFL feats -- a shutout of Bill Belichick's team. But Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 33-yard field goal with 1:37 left in the third quarter, pulling the Pats to within nine points. Cleveland skated back out to a 19-3 lead when the nearly uncoverable Josh Gordon caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jason Campbell, and though New England scored the next 10 points in the game, Cleveland advanced to a seemingly insurmountable 26-14 lead when Campbell hit tight end Jordan Cameron on a four-yard touchdown with 2:39 left in the game.
Insurmountable? Well, maybe not for Tom Brady. Brady took the ball at his own 18-yard line and drove for a score in 1:38 of clock, ending that drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. Then, the inevitable onside kick, which the Patriots recovered. And from there, you knew it was over. Aided by a 29-yard pass interference call on Browns defensive back Leon McFadden, the Pats drove 40 yards in two actual plays and effectively ended the game when Brady hit Danny Amendola with a one-yard touchdown.
“This was crazy and I have never been a part of a game like this," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. "We have to give all the credit to the Patriots, they did a good job and did what they had to do to somehow come back and win. Tom Brady is really good and that team over there never gets down, I think with us we just have to figure out a way to finish. At the end of the day, it was not due to lack of effort. People were going after it and this one hurts for real but I am just so happy to be a part of this squad. Nobody gave up and everybody was looking in everybody’s eyes and we knew we could win the game the whole time. Nobody ever stopped fighting. We know we have the ability, but we just have to figure out how to finish.”
Brady's team still hasn't clinched that division, though, because the pesky Miami Dolphins will not go away. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-28 though they almost didn't -- on the last play of the game, the Steelers went through the usual desperation lateral drill. It's a weird conceit that almost never works, but receiver Antonio Brown was the last man to touch the ball, and he appeared at first to run past Miami's defenders to score the miracle touchdown. The officials on the field, however, ruled that Brown barely stepped out of bounds at the Miami 13-yard line, and that was the difference. The 6-6 Dolphins have the Patriots at home next Sunday, and they can still make the AFC playoff scene very interesting.
Of course, given Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's recent issues with sideline discipline, you knew some enterprising soul with a talent for Photoshop would be all over this one.
The inevitable Mike Tomlin-Antonio Brown photoshop (via @NFL_Memes) pic.twitter.com/9bXQnBsLbL
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 8, 2013
Did we mention the Philadelphia Eagles-Detroit Lions game? Well, we probably should. This was the weirdest of a series of weird weather games throughout the early slate, as snow kicked in all over the upper East Coast. Up to six inches of snow hit the Philadelphia area, and there were times when it looked as if the entire amount was hitting the field from above all at once. Footing was so treacherous, the two teams tried two-point conversions on seven of their eight touchdowns in the Eagles' 34-20 win. According to Chase Stuart of Pro Football Reference, it was the first time since 1957 that no points were scored on kicks in an NFL game. The contest was close until the fourth quarter, when Philadelphia's offense woke up and running back LeSean McCoy started slashing through Detroit's defense on nearly every play. McCoy ended the game with the franchise record for single-game rushing yards at 217, breaking the old mark set by Steve Van Buren (205 yards in 1949) and moving into the lead in this year's race for the rushing title.
"The first half, we stopped the inside run and forced them to go sideways. In the second half, we allowed them to run inside and that was the difference," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "Just about all those runs started off inside, even though some of them broke off outside."
Detroit actually had a 20-14 lead after receiver Jeremy Ross returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown with 14:20 left in the game -- his second return touchdown of the day -- but the Eagles had it all from there. They scored three straight touchdowns to finish the Lions and take their record to 8-5 on the season. With their dominant running game, resurgent defense and quarterback Nick Foles' overall efficiency, the Eagles are looking more and more like a tough out in the playoffs.