The AFC playoffs are shaping up to be a potential quarterbacking disaster, featuring the likes of Tom Savage, Matt Moore and Matt McGloin as starters. If the Kansas City Chiefs can guarantee that they'll keep using Dontari Poe as a passer, however, it might be easier to stomach.
On Christmas night, an inspired bit of spite by Andy Reid resulted in the Chiefs defensive tackle accomplishing a delightful NFL first. With a lob over the offensive line to Demetrius Harris in the final minutes of a blowout, Poe became the first player in NFL history to have a sack and a touchdown pass in the same season. He also became the heaviest player in league history to throw a touchdown pass, though that's only because the NFL wouldn't let Jared Lorenzen live his most real life.
Reid later said the play was called "Bloated Tebow Pass." This wasn't the first touchdown Poe has been involved with this season, nor is it the first to feature a playfully sizest playcall. During an October victory over the Oakland Raiders, Poe caught a one-yard touchdown pass on a play called "Hungry Pig Right". Fortunately, Reid is also a man of ample carriage—so if anyone can get away with a little light fat-shaming, it's him.
Getting a huge defensive player involved in goal line offense isn't exactly novel. The Fridge scoring late in Super Bowl XX remains one of the most memorable touchdowns in title game history; in today's NFL, it happens a few times a season. That said, having one of them throw a touchdown pass was a delightful new wrinkle—one that I'm sure Reid was dying to make work against a division rival being denied a playoff appearance a year after winning a championship.
One can reasonably question why Reid would waste that play in the waning minutes of a secure victory. Well, if it failed, it wouldn't have really mattered: everyone would have laughed it off instead of calling for the coach's head. Moreover, opponents now have one more thing to think about when the Chiefs add Poe to their red zone offense. Force your opponents to worry about Poe, and maybe they'll somehow learn to fear Alex Smith, too.
Heres Comes TimeDilationGate
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens staged a classic installment of their rivalry on Sunday, capped by a risky pass that would either have resulted in a last-second go-ahead touchdown or the clock running out on Pittsburgh in the red zone. While Antonio Brown broke the plane of the goal line with 10 seconds left on the clock, there was something hinky going on the final drive. On one play with less than a minute left, the clock slowed and appeared to give the Steelers two extra seconds. That probably wasn't a deciding factor in the outcome, but it does merit further investigation, if only so the NFL can end up defending itself by gaslighting the public and claiming time is just a mental construct, anyway.
The Appearance of Parity Is Safe For Another Year
Thanks to the Cleveland Browns finally getting into the win column on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, the circle is complete. And so the folks at NFL Reddit were able to construct their annual testament to false hope and the foolish belief that the transitive property applies to sports. It is true that the NFL is competitive enough that any team is capable of beating another in one game with the aid of enough lucky bounces. It is also true that the Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars exist, so don't buy into that Any Given Sunday mantra too hard.
That said, it has to be devastating for the Seattle Seahawks to be the team the Los Angeles Rams get credit for beating.
Fan of the Week
Sticking with the Browns through losing season after losing season has to be considered a diagnosable pathology at this point. That goes double for any fan who might somehow be expecting a positive result, and not just indulging in sports masochism. Still, credit to this woman for stating that she still believed in the Browns before Saturday's game, even as Santa told her it was a bad idea. Her team won its first game of the year to avoid being the second team ever to finish 0-16, a winning-the-battle, losing-the-war type of deal. The good news? The Browns got a win, but still have the inside track on the No. 1 overall pick because the San Francisco 49ers really wanted that season sweep of the Rams for some reason. The bad news? The last thing you want reinforced is faith in the Cleveland Browns.
Fan Tackle of the Week
That's just great closing speed. NFL stadium security needed to have a big week after one of their own was caught jackin' it on camera to a San Diego Chargers cheerleader. This is the first step on the long road back to respectability.
Five Winners Who Covered Their Bloodline in Glory
1. Travis Kelce—Gronk is out for the season, so in his absence another tight end had to step up and get shamed for having a social life. A Denver sports radio guy gave Kelce a bunch of grief for being out drinking on Friday night, even though it was nearly 48 hours before the Chiefs and Broncos took the field. Boozing at some point in the week clearly didn't have much of a detrimental effect, as the Chiefs tight end amassed 160 yards on 11 receptions—both career highs—and scored a touchdown in Kansas City's 33-10 win on Christmas.
2. Jairus Byrd—The New Orleans Saints likely denied the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first playoff appearance since 2007 thanks to Saturday's victory, and the New Orleans safety was pivotal. He had two interceptions, the second of which came in Saints territory when the Bucs were down 31-21 and driving with eight minutes left in the game, a comeback win in sight. After that scoring opportunity was nixed, Tampa never had the ball with the chance to tie.
3. Andrew Franks—Jay Ajayi had another 200-yard rushing day in Miami's win, though a big chunk of that would have never happened if Franks, the Dolphins kicker, hadn't connected on a 55-yard tying field goal as regulation expired. The kick was all the more impressive given that the game clock was running down. Buffalo coach Rex Ryan was frustrated because he was trying to call a timeout before the play was snapped—but since trying to ice a kicker who is rushing his process in the final seconds of a game is an objectively questionable decision, the timeout that wasn't might not have mattered.
4. Aaron Rodgers—A little over a month ago, the Green Bay quarterback said the 4-6 Packers could run the table. Five straight wins later, his prophecy is nearly complete. The Packers will play for the NFC North title in Week 17, and the team's resurgence has coincided with one by Rodgers. Despite dealing with a calf injury, Rodgers was fire against the Minnesota Vikings, throwing for 347 yards and four touchdowns and running for another score.
5. Chandler Jones—This is what the Arizona Cardinals had in mind when they traded for the former New England Patriots linebacker during the offseason. Arizona's season was a disappointment overall, but you can't put that on Jones, who one and a half sacks on Saturday in a victory in Seattle. Until that game turned into a second half track meet, Arizona's defense had only allowed nine points to the Seahawks over seven quarters of play, including a 6-6 tie earlier in the season. There's a lot here for Seattle's future opponents to examine, as the playoff-bound Seahawks look extremely vulnerable.
Five Losers Bathing in the Hard Water of Infinite Shame
1. Rex Ryan—He may very well be out in Buffalo. If so, he went out with a maddening performance worthy of the Bills. First, he called for a punt on 4th-and-2 with four minutes remaining in overtime when his team had to have a victory to keep their faint playoff hopes alive; next, his defense only had 10 men on the field on the first play of the ensuing Dolphins drive. Naturally, that play ended up being 57-yard run by Ajayi to set up Miami's winning field goal.
2. Josh Lambo—Somebody has be the fall guy when the Browns beat you. In this case. San Diego's scapegoat could easily be Philip Rivers, who didn't play particularly well. However, I was nice to kickers earlier in the column, so let's balance things out and blame Lambo, who had one potential game-tying field goal get blocked and the other sail wide right as time expired. The latter was no gimmie from 45 yards out and had to be done with the clock running, as Antonio Gates was tackled in bounds on the previous play. So maybe this is unfair, but life is generally unfair to the Browns. Why not pay it forward?
3. Andy Dalton—Take away A.J. Green, and the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback was outdueled by Tom Savage in a 12-10 loss. The only score in the game via a Dalton pass came on a basic slant pass that Brandon LaFell took 86 yards to the house. According to PFF, Dalton was only one-of-eight for 21 yards on passes that travelled more than 10 yards through the air.
4. Tennessee Titans—Losing Marcus Mariota to injury took the focus away from the fact that a team that had won four of its last five and was challenging for a division title completely shit the bed against the Jaguars, a terrible team led by an interim coach. You can call that a commentary on how bad Gus Bradley was, though it's not as though Doug Marrone has covered himself in glory during his NFL head coaching career.
5. Quentin Rollins—One of the few sour notes in the Packers' convincing win over the Vikings was Green Bay letting Adam Thielen go off for 202 yards and two scores. More than half of those years came against Rollins, a second-year corner. The Packers' woes in the secondary are less glaring when their quarterback is playing like the NFL's best, but if the franchise is gong to ride his hot play to a championship, he'll need at least some help from his defense.
As for Tonight …
The Detroit Lions can clinch just their third postseason appearance since 2000 with a victory on Monday night. The good news is the Dallas Cowboys already have secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs and have little to play for. The bad news is the Lions are the Lions, and therefore liable to Lions it up at any given time.
Interestingly enough, the Cowboys are the last team the Lions have faced in the playoffs. Whether or not Dez Bryant caught a pass in Green Bay turned out to be the most memorable officiating controversy of the 2014 playoffs, though that game never would have happened if the refs didn't mysteriously pick up a pass interference flag thrown in the fourth quarter against Dallas in their game the week before versus Detroit.
Should the Lions lose to the Cowboys tonight, their Week 17 game against the Packers—which has been flexed into the Sunday night slot—could not only decide the NFC North but also whether Detroit goes to the postseason at all. The Lions being shoved aside in the final game of the regular season by the bullying Packers would be a fitting coda to an overall grim year in the NFL. Plus, it would come one week after the Browns declined to join the Lions as the only franchise to finish 0-16. It's an exclusive club of badness to which only the Lions belong (sorry, Buccaneers, but 0-14 just isn't quite as inept).
Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford has been dealing with an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand since Week 14. That's a difficult situation for any passer, and Stafford is doing his best to adjust, mostly by futzing with gloves. He tried one last week that left his other four fingers exposed so he could have a feel for the ball while protecting the injured finger. Apparently that wasn't the solution, as evidenced by a 17-6 loss to the New York Giants. New week, new glove for the Dallas game, though the idea is the same—an indoor version of a glove that only covers the middle finger. Either way, being doomed because of a middle finger is a little on-the-nose as far as the Lions go, so let's hope Detroit can prolong the inevitable sadness for at least a few weeks.