USA chokes away 2012 Ryder Cup

Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

For golf to come before football in this column, either something really good happened ... or something like what happened Sunday at Medinah. Hint: something happened Sunday at Medinah. Let's wrap the weekend with the Monday Morning Jones.

Insert Heimlich joke here. Going into Sunday, Team Europe was down 10-6 in the 2012 Ryder Cup, needing to win eight of Sunday's 12 singles matches to take the trophy back across the pond. They did that, leaving the obvious question of whether the U.S. team choked or the Europeans won it. The answer, of course, is both. Rarely does a loser in golf not suffer because of nerves, and it's impossible to win without overcoming them. The game leaves nowhere to hide and no teammates to lean on, all in a game where fine motor skills matter a lot. Each side did its part to make this miraculous finish possible.

However, this is about how the Americans choked this away. Had Steve Stricker won No. 18 outright, the Ryder Cup would have come down to Tiger Woods' match against Francisco Molinari. Had Woods, one-up going to No. 18, not won, you know damn well the story wouldn't be about the resurgent Europeans. It would be about Woods, his history of failures in the Ryder Cup, and everything that's happened since November 2009.

The Ryder Cup is supposed to be bigger than any individual, even Tiger Woods. So if it would have been about Tiger then, it's got to be about the whole team now.

The Eagles almost lose again ... but they didn't. In 60 minutes Sunday night, the Eagles did everything their fans wanted to see. The home team didn't turn the ball over in its 19-17 win over the Giants. LeSean McCoy must have been introduced to Andy Reid at halftime, because he got 17 second-half carries on the way to 123 yards for the night. Michael Vick, though he took some big shots early, was only sacked twice and looked as comfortable in the pocket as he has all season. The Eagles didn't force any turnovers last week in a loss to Arizona, but they intercepted Eli Manning in the end zone, a play that clearly affected how the game ended.

But here's the thing -- with all that going for them, Philadelphia only won by two points. They haven't won a game by more than a field goal all season. With such a thin margin, it's still fair to wonder just how good the Eagles are right now. But no matter the answer, they're 3-1 and atop the NFC East.

The Saints almost dragged the Packers down with them. It's hard to say which team needed to win more Sunday at Lambeau Field. Many deemed the Saints' season over at 0-3, meaning the Packers would have to be doomed had both teams ended Sunday at 1-3, right? But at 2-2 after a 28-27 triumph, even after having a win stolen from them in Seattle, Green Bay's got nothing to worry about.


Suddenly, the Saints are winless at 0-4.

At 0-4, the Saints are officially done. And you know who will be the biggest losers from the Saints' fall? America, because New Orleans will play in four nationally-televised games by the end of November. The Saints are a Drew Brees injury away from being the 2012 analogue to last year's Colts.

The Jets lost 34-0, and it was worse than the score. Losing Darrelle Revis to an ACL tear was bad enough. But after being shut out by the 49ers, the Jets will be without Santonio Holmes, the closest thing to a receiving threat on the roster? There could not be two worse things that could happen to the Jets. At least if Mark Sanchez got hurt, there wouldn't be a looming quarterback controversy. Instead, the fourth-year signal-caller completed less than half his passes for the third straight game, meaning we can't be far from the sort of why-the-hell-not quarterback change that got Tim Tebow on the field last year. At this point, it's inexplicable that he didn't even go under center in a blowout.

Has a team ever seemed so unstable after four games? For Rex Ryan, this season has been worse than even the biggest pessimist could imagine. A Rex Ryan defense gave up 245 rushing yards, for Pete's sake. And still, somehow, it feels like there's still room to fall. The Ryan Era could end this year in spectacularly bad fashion.

Cam Newton does nothing to help himself ... twice. Well, it didn't take long to see if Newton would handle a loss better than he did in his bratty press conference last week. The answer, after a heartbreaking 30-28 loss to the Falcons? Kinda.

He fumbled on a third-down run that could have iced a win over the 3-0 Falcons. Instead, he watched the Panthers defense, aided by a punt that pinned Atlanta at their own 1-yard line, give up 60 yards on the first play of the drive and give up their lead in the last minute. Then, Newton stewed in the locker room and set up the funniest tweet of Ed Werder's career.

Newton's got to do better, if only for his own sanity, but Sunday's ending was a reminder of context that was lost last Thursday. Newton puts too much pressure on himself, and he behaves as if he's the only player who determines whether his team wins or loses. There's some narcissism in that, but let's be real -- who else on that team can make winners of the Panthers? Newton's fumble was a mistake, but one the rest of his team should have been able to overcome. Instead we saw that, even on the Carolina defense's best day, Newton has to be great for his team to even be good. That's the heat he's under, whether he puts it on himself or not.

Peyton Manning is back! Just click this link. I don't know what Manning is at this point. The bright side -- it doesn't really matter. Whether his passes hum or float, all that matters is whether he knows what to do with them, and he did in the Broncos' 37-6 win over Oakland. After all, Chad Pennington had a helluva career with passes that couldn't break a spider web. It doesn't matter if Manning's throwing underhand if he goes 28-for-36 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. It will, however, matter more if he does it against a team other than the Raiders, whose secondary hasn't had a good day this season. They made Ryan Tannehill look as good as Philip Rivers.


Let's look back at what Manning's been through already.

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0. You want analysis? Go here, because I don't have it. The Dolphins had this, with Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline both having the best games of their lives. Two Tannehill turnovers later, and the Cardinals are 4-0. The twice-Wally Pipp'd Kevin Kolb fully returned the favor to John Skelton after leading the Cardinals 80 yards to tie the game. The defense, though it was gashed, created turnovers and didn't surrender many points. All that said, Kolb was sacked eight times and the running game netted 28 yards. How long can this team keep winning with such an awful offensive line?

Hopefully, the last item I'll write in this column on "the officials." Yes, the officials missed calls. The fact it "didn't affect the outcome" doesn't absolve Jeff Triplette's crew for blowing the call when Darren Sproles fumbled on a fourth-quarter kickoff at Lambeau. But how much of a relief was it to watch a weekend of football where you knew a five-yard penalty would only be walked off five yards? Or without interminable scuffles every other drive?

What we saw, especially seeing how the refs had to hit the ground running, was that calls will be blown regardless of who officiated. But the officials' most important job is making sure the game runs smoothly and efficiently, something that appeared to be the case in all 14 games played so far this weekend. That's something we'll never again take for granted.

Hate to be a wet blanket, but ... Had Geno Smith thrown for eight touchdowns -- against six incompletions -- for West Virginia in November, that would probably guarantee him the Heisman. It's hard to imagine someone throwing that well against air. But guess what? Air would have provided better pass coverage than Baylor did in Saturday's 70-63 affront to defense. That's not to say Smith isn't great, nor that he shouldn't be the Heisman favorite going into October. But in spite of playing a perfect game, Saturday in Austin against Texas' loaded defense will be a show-and-prove game, for him and everyone else in the stadium. It's Mack Brown's chance to show Texas is back. It's West Virginia's chance to show, in its first season in the Big 12, it's already the conference's best team. And its the Longhorns' chance to show that it can actually tackle. If not, Smith will do to Texas what so many have done to them since 2010 -- make them look like the Baylor Bears.

We've got a pennant card (?) race! I was opposed to the new Wild Card format in baseball's postseason, fearful of the possibility a team could miss the Division Series because they lost one game to a team it greatly outperformed in the regular season. But with the Yankees, Orioles and Athletics bunched so closely in the American League standings -- and the Rays having an outside chance -- it looks like the change had its desired effect. It's almost certain all three will make the postseason (New York and Baltimore clinched berths Sunday night), but none of them can coast without taking the risk of having to burn their No. 1 starter on a one-game series. The last three games of the season will make great theater.

But here's the thing -- it would have been just as exciting last season, which gave us the one of the greatest final days of the season in baseball history. Only difference between now and then? One extra consolation prize. It'll still be fun, though, and that's enough for me.

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