Some of you may be wondering what makes me qualified to perform football autopsies. No, I don't have any degree or license from a professional organization. No, I've never taken any forensics classes. No, my laboratory has never been inspected by a board of health. But I did spend my formative years rooting for the Sam Wyche Buccaneers, and I defy you to find better credentials for this morbid endeavor.
St. Louis 24, Atlanta 31
Time of Death: About nine minutes into the fourth quarter, when Jason Snelling ran for an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Falcons their only points of the second half and prevented the Rams from erasing a 21-point deficit.
Cause of Death: The shortest field St. Louis faced all day was 74 yards, and the average starting position for a Rams drive was their own 17-yard line. This was, in part, the result of four penalties St. Louis accrued on kick or punt returns - two for holding and two for illegal blocks. It's difficult for most teams to consistently drive 80+ yards. Asking Sam Bradford to do it is like eating sushi at an airport: do it too much, and you end up with hurt feelings and abscesses.
Carolina 23, Buffalo 24
Time of Death: The penultimate offensive play of the game, in which E.J.Manuel threaded the game-winning touchdown throw to Stevie Johnson, despite him being blanketed by invisible Carolina defenders.
Cause of Death: In the final quarter, the Panthers ran 13 plays inside the Buffalo 30-yard line. Those plays resulted in 26 yards and, more importantly, three field goals, which gave the Bills the opportunity to win the game at the very end. Congratulations, Ron Rivera. You out-Bills'd the Bills.
Minnesota 30, Chicago 31
Cause of Death: Much like the Panthers (and no, Vikings fans, that is not a phrase you want associated with your team), Minnesota got close to the goal line in the second half but never managed to cross it, as 10 red zone plays led to 15 offensive yards led to three field goals, which is nice for Blair Walsh's percentages but not much else. Actually, that could be a good team motto. The 2013 Minnesota Vikings - We Just Want Blair Walsh To Feel Needed.
Washington 20, Green Bay 38
Time of Death: Ten seconds before halftime, when James Jones lost a fumble that bounced off the pylon, resulting in a touchback for Washington. That pylon was arguably the first half MVP for the Redskins, which is probably why they trailed 24-0.
Cause of Death: Washington's offense went 0-5 on third downs in the first two quarters, which was especially lackluster considering the average yardage needed on those plays was only six yards. There was improvement in the second half, when the Redskins went 3-6 (while still averaging around six yards to go on third down), but that's sort of like finally shutting off the gas line after your house has burned to the foundations.
Indianapolis 20, Miami 24
Time of Death: A fourth down sack of Andrew Luck with 90 seconds left in the game shut the door on Indy's comeback attempt 28 yards from the Miami end zone.
Cause of Death: Natural causes, and by that we mean 40-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his 50+ yard field goal attempt for the Colts while 24-year-old Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis nailed his. FUN FACT: In 2002, when Vinatieri kicked the game winner in Super Bowl XXXVI, Sturgis was still too young to go see a PG-13 movie by himself, and, to this day, he has never seen The Scorpion King without an adult.
Dallas 16, Kansas City 17
Time of Death: With a little over two minutes left in the fourth quarter, second-year cornerback Morris Claiborne drew a pass interference flag on third down that allowed the Chiefs to run out most of the remaining clock.
Cause of Death: DeMarco Murray was functionally useless as a rusher, averaging 2.1 yards-per-carry, the lowest total of his career in any game where he received at least ten rushing attempts. That, in turn, forced the Cowboys to turn to Tony Romo in the final quarter, where he failed to complete seven of his last 12 passes. (This is the part where a Dallas fan brings up a meaningful statistic in defense of Romo, we consider that statistic ponderously, and then decide that mocking Tony Romo is more important than math.)
Cleveland 6, Baltimore 14
Time of Death: 14 minutes into the third quarter, when Brandon Weeden was sacked for a nine-yard loss after Cleveland started the drive at the Baltimore 45. We did not know it for certain at the time, but this would be the only play the Browns ran in Ravens territory throughout the second half.
Cause of Death: 22/33 for 211 yards and one touchdown is one of the most Joe Flacco passing lines ever, but Flacco did enough to keep his team in the game and the Browns off the field. This was especially true on third downs in the last two quarters, when Flacco went 7/8 passing for 87 yards. Dying of Joe Flacco is like being killed by the flu: it is way more common than you think but still pretty embarrassing.
Tennessee 24, Houston 30
Time of Death: After being denied twice inside the Tennessee three-yard line, Matt Schaub found DeAndre Hopkins for the game-winner in overtime. This was a shame, because we were really looking forward to the prospect of Houston kicker Randy Bullock shanking a 20-yard attempt.
Cause of Death: The nine play, 99-yard drive the Titans put together in the fourth quarter to retake the lead was an impressive piece of work. Everything else Tennessee's offense did in the second half? Pretty much worthless, as the sum total result of the other Titans drives was ten yards and negative two points.
Philadelphia 30, San Diego 33
Time of Death: The killing blow was delivered by the foot of one Nick Novak with seven seconds remaining in the game.
Cause of Death: The Eagles allowed San Diego to convert 10 of 15 third down attempts, and that failure becomes even more glaring when you realize only one of the five stops led to a punt, with the Chargers collecting field goals on the other four. Now we're looking at the horrifying possibility of a Rivers-Cutler Super Bowl, so thanks for nothing, football.
Detroit 21, Arizona 25
Time of Death: Matt Stafford's final pass, on 4th and 4 near midfield with close to a minute left, was completed to Nate Burleson ... for three yards.
Cause of Death: That was sort of a theme for the Lions in this game. Stafford was a respectable 7/10 for 69 yards on third down, but only three of those completions were enough for a first down, and they all came in the first half. It's hard to know whether the fault for that lies with Stafford, his receivers or the offensive scheme, so let's play it safe and blame Matt Millen.
Tampa Bay 14, New Orleans 16
Time of Death: January 26, 2012, when the Bucs hired a public access fitness instructor to be their head coach.
Cause of Death: Tampa Bay completed more than one pass on its first drive and its last drive, and that's it - every other possession maxed out at one completion. The reason? The Buccaneers seem to have no interest in a second option beyond Vincent Jackson, who had half the targets in this game and is already three targets ahead of the rest of the Tampa Bay receivers and tight ends combined on the season.
Jacksonville 9, Oakland 19
Time of Death: Further examination revealed that the Jaguars were, in fact, a dead raccoon strewn across an exposed power line all along.
Cause of Death: The record for NFL punts in a season is 114, set by Chicago Bear Bob Parsons in 1981 and later matched by Houston Texan Chad Stanley in 2002. It is not uncommon for a punter to come close to that mark, though. Dave Zastudil was only three punts away from breaking it last year, and Donnie Jones needed 10 more punts to set the record the year before that.
Jacksonville punter Bryan Anger is on pace for 152 punts this season.
New York Giants 23, Denver 41
Time of Death: The very first play of the fourth quarter, when Eli Manning threw his first of three interceptions in the final frame, turning what had been a good back-and-forth into an avalanche of Denver points.
Cause of Death: Federal law requires us to look at this game from the "BROTHERS BE FIGHTIN" point of view, so:
Peyton Manning on third down: 10/15, 87 yards
Eli Manning on third down: 4/11, 61 yards
And that's why you never get the last crescent roll, Eli.
San Francisco 3, Seattle 29
Time of Death: It's imprecise, but we'll go with midway through the third quarter, when San Francisco found itself down by 12 points but three yards away from a touchdown. They ended up with a field goal after K.J. Wright sacked Colin Kaepernick.
Cause of Death: The 2012 49ers were very good at getting big plays (only three teams had more gains of 20 yards or more) and preventing big plays (only two teams allowed fewer gains of 20 yards or more). The defense held up its end of the bargain, as Seattle only tallied three plays that went for 20+. But the Seahawks managed to contain San Francisco's offense, only allowing one big gain in the game. Tattoos weigh you down, kids!
Pittsburgh 10, Cincinnati 20
Time of Death: Needing a field goal and a touchdown to tie the game, Pittsburgh had the ball at Cincinnati's 27 with about five minutes left. Past tense is correct there, because one interception off a tipped pass later, Pittsburgh was doomed to watch BenJarvus Green-Ellis run out most of the remaining clock.
Cause of Death: This game was tied at the half and, while the Steelers hadn't done anything impressive on the ground, they had at least maintained the pretense of a rushing attack. They then elected to put the offense entirely in the hands of Ben Roethlisberger, running the ball only twice in the entire second half.
Please, folks, no matter how dark things get or how depressed you feel, there is always a better answer than relying on Ben Roethlisberger.