The key to winning the NFC East, or any other division, is viral videos. Obviously. New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo proved this by having his team watch a man punch a kangaroo on YouTube before their Week 14 matchup against the surging Dallas Cowboys. And it worked.
"Everybody has a plan about what they're gonna do and how they're gonna do it until they get punched in the face," Victor Cruz told the New York Post before Sunday's game. "And I think that's what Coach is trying to instill in us, that we need to come out firing, and see how they respond."
Sure, New York had defeated Dallas earlier this season without the benefit of marsupial-punching motivation, but the team you meet in Week 1 isn't necessarily the one you meet in Week 14. The Cowboys were coming into Sunday's game with 11 straight wins and a rookie quarterback making his 13th NFL start rather than just his first. The Giants needed an edge, and this was it.
New York got Dak Prescott to have his worst game of the season. Prescott had only two games with a QB rating below 100, and none with multiple interceptions. The Giants changed all that through the sheer determination brought on by seeing man's noble domination of nature to save a pet.
It's just the latest example in the NFL's long history of weird head coach motivational ploys. They are tremendous fun when they work, and hilarious when they don't. Cold reliance on metrics is nice, but we must temper that with the occasional belief in the batshit lunacy. No coach in the NFL is immune to these antics, either: Bill Belichick buried a football in 2001 to motivate the New England Patriots after a 1-3 start, and they ended up winning the Super Bowl!
(The tactic was slightly less effective when Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano copied it years later, but just the fact that they tried is delightful and shows the extent to which the NFL truly is a copycat league—even the dumb motivational tactics that appear to work eventually get replicated by someone else.)
I hope the Giants continue rolling off wins after watching a viral YouTube clip each week, provided that the video in question isn't a Carpool Karaoke segment or a John Oliver rant. In time, other coaches will see this as a formula for success and soon content consumption will be as important for the NFL as it is for everyone else wasting time on their computer or phone all day.
Is There a Quarterback Controversy in Dallas?
Jeff Fisher Is About to Rewrite Loser History
He did it! With his 165th career loss on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher is now tied with Dan Reeves for the most regular-season losses of all time, though Reeves still bests Fisher in Super Bowl defeats by a mark of 4-1. Fisher is just gonna have to concede that category.
The Falcons scored six touchdowns in the Coliseum on Sunday—with no Julio Jones, mind you—which is more than the Rams have scored in their new home all season. Just five for them. It's worth noting that the Rams lost one home game this season in order to host in London, though if you count the one touchdown the Rams scored in the London game, that's still only six "home" touchdowns for the year. That's right, you can tinker with this stat and it only becomes slightly less humiliating.
Now sitting at 4-9, the Rams' best-case scenario is running the table to finish 7-9—just good enough to hear a million riffs on Jeff Fisher's "7-9 bullshit" speech from the preseason. Los Angeles plays in Seattle next week, but Fisher has somehow figured out how to beat the Seahawks the past couple years, so we'll see.
Update: After this week's edition of Dumb Football was published, the Rams announced that they have fired Jeff Fisher.
Jeff Triplette Is the Meritocracy
Ranting about a coach who gets to be middling for a couple years is one thing, but Jeff Triplette is going on his second decade of awful officiating. Triplette may end up being best remembered as the ref who blinded a player with a flag, but it will be important for future generations of football fans (if they exist) to know that he was bad at all facets of his job.
Triplette managed to call an illegal use of hands penalty on Graham Glasgow, the Detroit lineman you see above getting his facemask shoved back by Eddie Goldman, on a play in the second quarter. Detroit was assessed a ten-yard penalty because lol nothing matters. Nevertheless, it's a credit to the Lions that they converted the first down anyway and got a field goal out of the drive. That's the kind of resilience that makes division champions, and leads to a record number of Matt Stafford glove changes in a single game. The telecast only listed the four changes as a career high for Stafford. I need to know the NFL mark.
So Long, Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins are still alive in the AFC Wild Card race thanks to Denver losing in Tennessee, but they'll have to complete their run at the postseason without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who tore an ACL in his team's victory over the Arizona Cardinals and left the season with the grace note you see above.
Since getting drafted by Miami in 2012, Tannehill has failed to get his team to the playoffs several times; it would be especially cruel if the Dolphins finally break through to the postseason only after he gets injured with a few weeks to go. Miami will have a decision to make with Tannehill in the off-season, too, given that the remaining $14.5 million of his 2017 salary becomes guaranteed after March 13.
Miami's remaining schedule includes games against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills before finally ending the season at home against the Pats in Week 17, when New England is likely to be resting some starters.
Now the Steelers Have a Deflategate Ho-Ho-Ho
Sunday mornings before kickoff always seem to be the landing place for one big news item. This week, it was Jay Glazer reporting that the Giants had alerted the NFL about two footballs they found to be deflated during their Week 13 loss in Pittsburgh. The two balls recovered by the Giants in turnovers in the second half reportedly came back with measurements of 11.8 and 11.4 PSI—within the range of the footballs measured in the Colts-Patriots AFC Championship that started the whole Deflategate mess.
The NFL responded even before the early games got underway, saying all the footballs in that Giants-Steelers game were in compliance and that the Giants had not made a formal complaint. Glazer followed that up by saying the Giants did alert the league, albeit not through a formal process, whatever that would be.
Are the Steelers cheating? Possibly. Was the deflation the result of cold weather, which was also the culprit in the balls the Patriots used? Perhaps. Do we want answers bad enough to endure another year of legal wranglings? Dear God, no. The general public is about as eager as the NFL is for this not to be an issue. Outside of Pats fans who are still livid about their team getting screwed by the league, there's not going to be a ton of pressure to investigate Pittsburgh.
Nothing Makes DeSean Feel Needed Like Nelson Agholor
DeSean Jackson scored another touchdown against his former team as Washington downed Philadelphia, 27-22, to stay alive in the playoff race. Not every Eagles fan was happy to see Jackson go in 2014, and those who were have come around to see it as a dumb move done for suspect reasons. There's now a receptive audience to having Jackson return in 2017, though that would require Washington to void his contract option.
Cleveland's Path to 0-16 Clears a Key Hurdle
It might not be fair to say that the Cleveland Browns squandered their last chance at a winnable game on Sunday, since they still have the Bills and the San Diego Chargers, but opportunities to get in the win column in 2016 are quickly running out. The Browns are going down swinging wildly, at least, like a belligerent drunk who is minutes away from passing out.
The Cincinnati Bengals left little doubt how Sunday's game was going to go, jumping out to a 20-0 lead by the half. Bless the Browns' desperate little hearts, they were willing to try just about anything to spark a win, including a flea flicker out of their own end zone that was intercepted.
There were other displays of Brownsiness, too, including their elf mascot slipping on the sideline and wide receivers dropping wide-open passes. The final indignity was having Adam Jones compare Terrelle Pryor to garbage after the game. That's not nice. Pryor is one of the few not-entirely-garbage players that the Browns have. I know the Bengals are having a rough season themselves, but there's no need to take it out on Cleveland.
Fan of the Week
Destructive drunken behavior is hardly the exclusive domain of any particular NFL fan base, though Buffalo Bills fans do it with a certain éclat that has earned them league-wide acclaim (or horror, depending on your sensibilities). So any road fans trying to replicate their brand of bacchanalia had better come correct.
This is some Mickey Mouse bullshit, Steelers fans. What's with the table that's already coming apart even before impact? All I have to say is that it's a good thing Pittsburgh won on the field, because this is a poor showing in the parking lot.
Five Winners Who Covered Their Bloodline in Glory
1. Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons. So impressive was Beasley's performance against the Rams that I'm willing to overlook a truly ghastly attempt at a crossbar dunk. The Falcons edge rusher had three sacks to push his total to 13.5 for the season, tying him with Von Miller for the NFL lead. Beasley also clearly found the end zone, though perhaps it's best to focus on the impressive forced fumble and return instead.
2. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers back set a new single-game franchise rushing record with 236 yards on the ground. All told, he finished just two shy of 300 total yards on the game, to go along with three touchdowns. While Pittsburgh has made the playoffs the past two season, each year they've had to make do without Bell, who adds so much to an already capable offense. If the Steelers can have their core weapons intact by the time the postseason starts, they're as dangerous as any remaining AFC team.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay QB has found his touch just in time to scare the hell out of Detroit for the final three weeks of the season. Rodgers was near-perfect against the Seahawks, all the more remarkable given that he was playing hurt the entire time. After the game, Rodgers said he injured his right calf on the third play of the game, a pass that ended up being a touchdown. He figured it was because he was overcompensating on that leg since he's still recovering from the left hamstring injury he sustained two weeks ago. The Packers, with the game already in hand, wisely pulled Rodgers only a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Rodgers was then able to retire to the Packers' mysterious sideline tent for, well, your imagination is as good as mine.
4. Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants. The corner was considered a risky signing for the Giants this past offseason but has paid off handsomely, especially in recent weeks. While he gave up a touchdown to Antonio Brown in last week's loss to Pittsburgh, he still managed to hold the Steelers receiver to 54 yards on the game. He was doubly impressive on Sunday night against the Cowboys, limiting Dez Bryant to just one catch on nine targets.
5. Mario Addison, Carolina Panthers. The Panthers' season is over, but it's good to know there's fight left, for whatever that's worth. The defensive line looked strong again against the Chargers, pressuring Philip Rivers 28 times on the day. Addison had 11 of those, and a sack, on just 27 snaps.
Five Losers Bathing in the Hard Water of Infinite Shame
1. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks. Any time you double your interception total for the season and it's after, say, Week 10, chances are you had a really bad game. And boy howdy did Russell Wilson have a bad one in Green Bay. He threw five interceptions against a secondary that routinely was getting torched just a few weeks eariler, and they weren't cheapies, either. The result was the first Seattle loss of more than ten points since before Wilson joined the team. Now the Seahawks have dropped out of position for a first-round bye, a huge problem for a team that is just 2-4-1 on the road this season.
2. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys. I could just as easily have Dak Prescott here, though I suppose I'm trying to counterbalance the coming onslaught of takes demanding that Tony Romo return to the Cowboys' lineup. Not only did Bryant get blanketed by Janoris Jenkins all evening, he put a critical fumble on the ground.
3. A.J. Derby, Denver Broncos. Denver suffered the indignity of losing to a quarterback who passed for just 88 yards. Now they know how other teams felt losing to Tim Tebow a few years back. Anyway, the Broncos offense was able to move the ball against the Titans until they got just shy of scoring position. Despite trailing 13-0 at half, Denver had a chance to win or force overtime at the end of regulation, but with a minute left in the game Derby's fumble near midfield put an end to that.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints. At the risk of saying things I can't take back, Brees looked downright Bortles-esque at times against the Tampa Bay Bucs. Poor decisions, inexplicable throws. All part of a three-interception day. Seeing 11 points on the scoreboard can speak of many potential scoring journeys, and field goal, field goal, field goal, safety might be the saddest of them.
5. New York Jets-San Francisco 49ers. The nerve of these teams to take that game to overtime. Neither team nor any fan had anything to gain from either team winning, never mind investing time into playing and watching. And yet they played on. There should be a mercy rule but for close games that don't actually need to finish.
As for Tonight…
Sorry for reopening the wound, Baltimore fans, though without Billy Cundiff shanking a 32-yard field goal at the end the 2011 AFC Championship Game in New England, the Ravens most likely don't have thoroughly awesome kicker Justin Tucker right now. Tucker joined the team the following off-season, unsurprisingly beating out the disgraced Cundiff in training camp, and the rest is swaggy kicker history. Perhaps that's not much of a consolation for missing out on another trip to the Super Bowl, but it's more than a lot of conference championship losers get.
The Ravens have the distinction of being considered a thorn in the Patriots' side, at least by AFC rival standards, even though Baltimore's record against New England is just 3-7 in the Brady/Belichick era. That's because the Ravens are responsible for two of New England's three home playoff losses in that period.
With Pittsburgh winning on Sunday, Baltimore needs to win if they want to keep pace in the AFC North, though because the Ravens won the first meeting with the Steelers, they could still lose to the Pats and take the division if they swept Pittsburgh. So this may not exactly be a make-or-break for Baltimore's playoff chances. It would still do a lot to convince the public and likely the team itself that it's capable of making a deep postseason run.
The Patriots are down a few weapons in the pass game, what with Rob Gronkowski out for the season and Danny Amendola sidelined. Though Baltimore's defense is ranked No. 1 overall, its strength is clearly against the run and can be susceptible in the secondary. In the best of conditions, the Ravens would be ripe for plucking—but it's seldom ever best conditions in the NFL. That said, Tom Brady has more than made do with a slew of whoever's available at receiver in the past. Unless Baltimore can find a way to pressure him, he can do it again on Monday night.
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