EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 04: (L-R) Greg Jennings #85, Vic So'oto #97 and Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers celebrate after Mason Crosby #2 kicked a successful 30-yard game-winning field goal to beat the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The Packers and Broncos won again, the Cowboys blew it and the NFL playoff picture becomes a lot more interesting. It's all in the Week 13 NFL Debrief.
Week 13 in the 2011 NFL season proved to be a big one as the Green Bay Packers somehow, someway managed to stay perfect, Tim Tebow's Denver Broncos kept their winning streak alive, the Dallas Cowboys choked (again) and the Chicago Bears lost making us wonder if Donovan McNabb has a future in Chicago.
The NFL playoff picture is becoming clearer with each passing week with several spots still open with four weeks to play.
Here's what went down in Week 13:
Packers pass a big test against the Giants. Green Bay barely escaped New York with a win (as well a division title) and they did it on the back of, you guessed, Aaron Rodgers. The Packers QB is simply having a phenomenal season and Sunday was a perfect example of that. But first a little bit of context -- the Giants are the same team that nearly beat the then-undefeated Patriots in the 2007 regular season finale and came back to beat New England in the Super Bowl. They have a terrific defensive line and many thought this would be the best chance to end the Packers winning streak. So the Giants tie the game with 58 seconds left and, if you've been paying attention this season, you just knew that was enough time for Rodgers. Sure enough -- 24 yards to Jermichael Finely, 27 yards to Jordy Nelson, 18 yards to Greg Jennings. And Mason Crosby made that ball game. This Packers team has now won 18 in a row, three off from the all-time winning streak of 21 games held by the Patriots. By the way, that 38-35 final score? The same score we saw in the Patriots-Giants regular season finale four years ago.
Cowboys ice their own kicker and that's not even the worst coaching moment. The Cowboys are leading the Giants in the NFC East and clearly face a dogfight with the G-Men down the stretch which is why they can not make dumb moves like the one(s) they did on Sunday against the Cardinals. No, I'm not even talking about Jason Garrett icing his own kicker. The Cowboys held a 13-13 tie with the Cardinals as they took the ball at their own 32 with slightly less than three minutes remaining. Romo took the team down the field and into field goal ranging, hitting Dez Bryant for a 15-yard completion to the 31-yard line with 31 seconds left. That's a 48-yard field goal which is far from a gimme but the Cowboys decided to let the clock run out and not run anymore plays. They had two timeouts they could have run two more plays, whether they were lining the ball up in the center of the hashmarks or adding even a few yards. Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, screwed this one up big time because the Cowboys went on to lose the game. They're lucky New York lost as well but these are the type of boneheaded moves that will keep the NFC East close all season.
Colts-Patriots is no longer the headliner it once was. Usually a Colts vs. Patriots game would be the headline on all the sports pages across the country but Peyton Manning's injury has made the Colts irrelevant this year which means the (what seems like an) annual game between these two teams was flexed off the Sunday night game on NBC and into the afternoon. The Patriots were 21-point favorites, one of the biggest lines in NFL history, and it looked like that would be about right as the Pats took a 28-point lead into the fourth quarter. But..Dan Orlovsky, who looked surprisingly decent (compared to Curtis Painter, at least), helped the Colts put three touchdowns on the board in the final quarter making it a respectable 31-24 final in favor of New England. At least Peyton Manning said the Patriots fans were nice.
Not so fast, Donovan McNabb. The former Vikings, Redskins and Eagles QB is now a free agent after going unclaimed on the waiver wire but reports are now connecting him to the Bears, who will reportedly at least consider him now. The Bears are 7-5 and right in the thick of the playoff race (thanks to Atlanta's loss) but with Jay Cutler out it's hard to see them do much winning. On Sunday Caleb Hanie was simply awful at quarterback. The Chiefs defense was last in the NFL in sacks entering the game yet they sacked Hanie a whopping seven times. Hanie threw three interceptions and never gave the Bears a chance to do anything offensively. It's time for Chicago to give McNabb a ring because McNabb has to be better than Caleb Hanie...right?
The Kyle Orton era lasts exactly one play. The Chiefs, for whatever reason, decided to start Tyler Palko against the Bears, the same Tyler Palko that is 0-2 as a starter, hasn't lead his team on a touchdown drive and turned it over seven times in two games. That Tyler Palko. He obviously struggled in the first quarter so Kyle Orton enters the game for the first time as a Chief and...quickly gets hurt. The first play of the Orton era was a flea-flicker and a Bears defender crashed into his arm as he threw it. Orton quickly looked to the sidelines calling for Palko and holding up his finger, which is reportedly dislocated. So KC might be sticking with Palko because of a lack of options.
Speaking of the AFC West, Denver is now tied for first place. Let me repeat that: The Denver Broncos, the team that started 1-4 and had zero chance to win with Tim Tebow, has now won five games in a row to move to a 7-5 tie with the Raiders. Sunday's game against Minnesota was as improbable as any others as Christian Ponder inexplicably threw an interception on his own 20-yard line with 1:33 remaining. Tebow, by the way, had already engineered a comeback (and a two-point conversion) by this point. That's five straight wins for Denver, six of seven overall and five straight on the road.
Biggest in-season turnaround might go to the Dolphins. Think about this -- the Dolphins start 0-7 on the season and everyone predicts they'll be battling the Colts in the Suck For Luck race. Their sixth and seventh losses both came by three points and then in their eighth game they had a breakout game beating the Chiefs 31-3. Then they beat the Redskins. And then the Bills. A last-second field goal by the Cowboys broke the winning streak but they returned to their dominating ways by beating Oakland last Sunday, 34-14. So how does a team look like one of the two worst teams in the league for seven weeks and then one of the best teams for five weeks? Any explanations?
No quarterback, no problem for Houston. You gotta give Gary Kubiak credit. The Texans head coach is doing a terrific job managing a difficult situation and for that he merits coach of the year consideration (even though jim Harbaugh has that wrapped up already). The Texans already lost their best defensive player for the year, their breakout running back was dinged up early and Andre Johnson has been out most of the year with injury. So when Matt Schaub and then backup Matt Leinart went down, I thought the Texans might blow it down the stretch. It's not pretty, that's for sure, but rookie T.J. Yates has helped the Texans to two straight wins in the Schaub-less era. which allows them to keep their AFC South lead over Tennessee. That a coach has a team that loses its top two quarterbacks and continues to win is one of the most impressive parts of any team in the NFL this year.