We got a Christmas tree today. This in no way makes us remarkable, but part of being a parent is embracing the unremarkable. You were once destined to climb mountains and see the world, and now you’re a supporting character in a different story. You live to teach and guide your children, and their happiness becomes the biggest source of your happiness.
Maybe that sounds sad to you. I would counter that it is less sad than having your emotions tied to the success or failure of a football team, which is also something that I also do. At least as a parent, I can control SOME outcomes.
I can take my kids to a sidewalk Christmas tree vendor (weekly aside: Do not raise children in New York City), and they will delight in the smell and feel of so many pine trees on a previously anonymous corner. For the effort expended to lug a tree home — larger than the one we got last year, because the kids deserve a bigger tree — I will be rewarded with eager and curious minds thrilled at Christmas lights and ornaments and the star atop the tree. (I will also remind them that they are not supposed to touch the ornaments 30,000 times a week, and this will do nothing to prevent at least three cherished curios breaking before the 25th.)
With the tree up, it’s officially Christmas season in my home now. And with the holidays come NFL playoff races! Let’s do this.
EARLY GAMES, FIRST HALF
— We’ve got an absurd NINE games on the early slate: Broncos-Dolphins (no), Niners-Bears (nah), Texans-Titans (nope), Vikings-Falcons (YUP), Lions-Ravens (ehhh), Pats-Bills (RIP Bills), Colts-Jags (good night Colts), Bucs-Packers (N/A), and Chiefs-Jets (oddly compelling?).
— The Chiefs zip down the field for a quick touchdown drive to open the game. Alex Smith is perfect on the drive, and hits Travis Kelce for a 22-yard score. HE THRIVES ON CALLS FOR HIS JOB.
— The Bills’ blue-on-blue uniforms look great, especially in contrast with the Pats’ comparatively drab navy pants. Too many teams have trended to dark or black jerseys, like uniform design is a David Fincher movie. Knock it off, it’s just sports. Bold colors are good! (Except orange. Take a hike, orange.)
In related news, Tyrod Taylor throws an AWFUL interception at the goal line. But he, uh, looked great doing it, uniform-wise.
— My son is 19 months old now, but I’m not one of those parents who says he’s 19 months old. If someone asks how old he is, I just say, “about a year and a half” unless I know for certain that the person I’m talking to is the parent of a young child. Like, for all I know, that person was just making small talk, and I gave them a math problem.
“How old is he?”
“SIX SEASONS AND FOUR WEEKS.”
— The Jaguars break out their most effective offensive play: THE FAKE PUNT.
Look at that touch! Philip Rivers built a career on that parabola. The play goes for 29 yards and leads to a Marqise Lee touchdown from Brick Burgers.
— My son talks constantly now, but it’s rarely more than one word repeated several times. Right now, it’s “Mat. Mat. Mat.” He’s holding the plastic mat we lay down for messy activities, then he walks over to the bin that holds the Play-Doh and its accessories. “Mat. Mat. Mat.”
Even though it’s only a few minutes until his nap time, hearing the same word repeated 40 times in a row can wear a man down. I lay down the mat and pull out a couple containers of Play-Doh. Does he squish it with his fingers and try to make shapes? Oh no, that’s no fun. He just shakes the Play-Doh out of the container, then puts it back in. Out, in. Out, in. So glad I laid out the mat so we could really maximize this learning material.
— The Chiefs have the ball again, and the first play RedZone shows is play-action for another Kelce touchdown. He has two scores in the first four and a half minutes of game time. Alex Smith is 5-5 for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Andy Reid: extremely good at scripting the first 15 plays.
— Jimmy Garoppolo throws his first career interception when Kyle Fuller rips the ball out of a receiver’s hands. That’s the second straight week that’s happened to a 49er. NOT JIMMY G’S FAULT, HE’S STILL PERFECT.
— The Patriots offense has started out slowly, and Tom Brady is acting like Josh McDaniels debunked the pseudoscience against eating nightshades.
— Trevor Siemian’s second interception is a pick-6, and the Dolphins are up by a score of who gives a shit. The Broncos should probably try to start another quarterback, maybe that will turn their season around.
— The Jets have tied it up at 14. It’s an old-fashioned Alex Smith-Josh McCown shootout!
— Tarik Cohen runs about 100 yards for a 61-yard punt return TD. It is my firm belief that when George Halas founded the Bears, an angel came down and offered his franchise an unlimited supply of either brilliant quarterbacks or totally bitchin’ kick returners. And that’s why Jay Cutler is the best quarterback in Bears history.
— On the day the College Football Playoff committee determined its four teams, Jameis Winston does his best callback to his last appearance in the playoff, a frantic, ill-conceived fumble that goes for a FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN.
— The best and worst of Alex Smith: Backed up deep in his own territory, he escapes the pocket, outraces defenders, and breaks tackles en route to a 70-yard run. A couple plays later, it’s third-and-11, and he holds the ball and dances in the pocket for AGES before the Jets finally sack him. The Chiefs kick a field goal.
— Just before the kids went down for their naps, my wife ordered breakfast burritos from the local Mexican place. So what if it’s 2 p.m.? We DESERVE some spicy egg wraps. We earned them through patience and patience and not yelling at our kids and more patience.
EARLY GAMES, SECOND HALF
— Leonard Fournette goes untouched on a 5-yard touchdown run, then the Jags celebrate with a successful free throw attempt.
In a twist on any possible “and-one” joke, Doug Marrone declines the PAT to go for two. The conversion is good, and Jacksonville leads 24-3. Cool, I can stop paying any attention to this game now.
— Theo Riddick scoots around a tackle to cap a solid Lions drive and put them on the board; they trail 20-7. It’s probably time to acknowledge that I have spent much of my week saying how much I detest the Ravens offense — particularly Joe “the black mold of quarterbacks” Flacco — only for Flacco to look kinda-sorta competent in a dominant first half for the Ravens. He even threw a 66-yard completion to Mike Williams that set up a touchdown.
This is not a mea culpa, by the way. Joe Flacco will continue to be trash, but he’ll make the playoffs because half of the Ravens’ remaining games are against the Colts and Browns. Then he’ll probably get a playoff win because the AFC is crap, and he’ll make fewer mistakes than Blake “Dumb Flacco” Bortles in a game at Jacksonville.
— The Chiefs notch another score with their explosive play capability when Smith airs it deep for Tyreek Hill, who races to the end zone untouched for a 79-yard touchdown.
Not to get too meta on how this column gets made, but because I embed so many tweets from the NFL’s account, I’ve become horribly aware of how incredibly bad NFL players’ Twitter handles are. I even started keeping a list of the worst ones, but it got too big and depressing for me to ever make note of it.
I only bring this up now because @Cheetah is the coolest possible handle for the NFL’s fastest player. He used to be @ImFasterThanYa (good brand awareness), but I applaud spending a little coin to TRULY own the social media speed space.
— Well, this is a downer. Tyrod Taylor suffered a knee injury, and he’s wearing a towel over his head as he gets carted off. He was having a lousy game, but it’s not like the Bills’ chances IMPROVE with him off the field.
— Alex Collins scores a touchdown to effectively seal the game for Baltimore, and, even as a Ravens hater, I have to admit that the ensuing celebration is the best of the day so far.
— I’ve barely seen any of Vikings-Falcons, but that’s because it’s been a taut game without many touchdowns in a crowded field of games. The Vikings lead 14-9, and it’s a minor crime that this game has barely been shown while Chiefs-Jets has gotten top billing. But on the other hand: TOUCHDOWNS, BABY.
— A third and short completion to Jordy Nelson is somehow inches short of the first down in the red zone, and Mike McCarthy chooses to kick a field goal to tie the game at 20 instead of sneezing the ball forward for a first down. It’s the safe play, and the “playing not to lose” lack of aggression is vintage McCarthy. There’s just over two minutes left for the Bucs, and all they need is a field goal drive to lock up a road win that will effectively eliminate the Packers from playoff contention.
RELATED: Shout out to my fellow Jordy Nelson fantasy owners who have watched him go from essential touchdown machine to a dud thanks to Brett Hundley.
— After the Falcons miss a 45-yarder that would have made the score 14-12, they start burning timeouts with more than four minutes remaining. Facing third-and-4 with a chance to seal the game, Case Keenum finds a wide-open Adam Thielen for a first down and acres more. How’d he get so open? Let’s take a look:
DESTROYED on the release. Adam Thielen is legit pic.twitter.com/urT675x4YR— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) December 3, 2017
— Tyreek Hill torches the Jets secondary AGAIN, this time for 41 yards, and KC retakes the lead, 31-30.
I hope he didn’t pay for that @Cheetah handle. I hope he won it in a footrace.
— The Niners, whose RedZone appearances today have largely been limited to replays of grasping at Tarik Cohen, nevertheless win the game when Robbie Gould kicks his fifth field goal of the day. I can’t even muster the excitement to press the caps lock key when I type “robbie gould revenge game.”
— Time to check in on my fellow Northwestern alum:
Siemian 13-33 for 143 yards and 3 INT vs. Dolphins pass defense that came into the game 31st in DVOA— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) December 3, 2017
— With the Lions trailing by 10 and six minutes remaining, Matthew Stafford sails a pass that gets intercepted. Stafford also injures his throwing hand on the play, so the Lions will fall to 6-6. They are eliminated from playoff contention.
Sure, mathematics will say that they still have a chance, and their logo will appear under “in the hunt” on playoff graphics for another week or two, but let me make this easy for you: The Lions are eliminated from the playoffs. Let’s not kid ourselves, people.
— My son presses the power button on the cable box. I turn it back on with the remote, but he presses the button again. I tell him NO, and he laughs in response. This is the most fun he has ever had pressing a button.
When I finally get the TV back on, someone on the Packers is celebrating their overtime victory with a Lambeau Leap. I could look up what happened, but that would tarnish the integrity of the column. This is parenthood: You miss events from the real world because of your kids.
— Thanks to a rash of Chiefs penalties, the Jets run 10 plays with goal to go — one of them a field goal attempt that becomes a first down due to an unnecessary roughness penalty. The comedy ends with a McCown sneak, his second such score today (unrelated: I am going to lose in fantasy because my opponent started Josh F’n McCown).
Because it’s 36-31, the Jets go for two, and the passing attempt is no good. But there’s another flag! And this is when the Chiefs’ meltdown becomes performance art:
MARCUS PETERS THREW A FLAG INTO THE STANDS pic.twitter.com/poy8SCew5c— SB Nation (@SBNation) December 3, 2017
While the Jets convert the two-point conversion from a yard out, Peters gets escorted off the field, and everyone naturally assumes that he’s been ejected. BUT WAIT:
NFL says Marcus Peters was not ejected from the game officially. He left game after tossing a penalty flag into the crowd. Walked right out— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) December 3, 2017
Please keep in mind that there are still more than two minutes remaining in this game, and there’s a good chance it could go to overtime. But Marcus Peters was just like, “F this noise.” I suppose commentators will cluck about “maturity” and “playing smart,” but from a neutral standpoint, this was HIGHLY entertaining.
A few minutes later, Peters returns without his socks. He is one of my favorite players now. (The Chiefs lose.)
— Looks like the nativity scene in our home and trips to church are paying off, as my daughter has painted her first piece of religious art.
— With the game on the line and the Texans trailing 17-13, Houston left tackle Jeff Allen — ordinarily the team’s right guard — commits three straight false starts to turn fourth-and-4 into fourth-and-19. But Tom Savage steps up in the pocket and completes a pass just past the sticks.
It’s not that Savage is a hero. It’s that he won’t let anyone else on the team be the goat. That’s HIS job! As such, he throws a game-sealing pick in the end zone, and the Titans defenders run a layup drill on the goal post.
LATE GAMES, FIRST HALF
— Browns-Chargers is notable for two reasons: One, Josh Gordon is back, and I’d like to be on the record as a well-wisher. I hope he stays clean and finds the on-field magic he made in 2013.
Two, the Chargers have royal blue jerseys with bright yellow numbers and lettering.
It is striking and attractive, and exactly what the Rams should have done when they moved to Los Angeles. (Sorry, this column can’t be published without me hating on the Rams).
— As much as I love him, Marshawn Lynch has only shown little flashes this season of the running back he used to be; he hadn’t had a defining run that put his own stamp on the game. Well, leave it to the Giants to change that.
— In a game to decide supremacy in the NFC South, the Saints are going straight for the kill. With the game still scoreless, Sean Payton goes for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Alvin Kamara gets positively ROCKED short of the goal line, but he stays on his feet and gets to the end zone anyway. That dude is the truth.
— For the first time in NFL Dad history, I am leaving the apartment during the RedZone games. There’s a Christmas tree lighting a few blocks away, and I’m not going to miss out on a chance to see my kids’ faces light up so I can watch ... what exactly? The Browns and Giants lose? No thanks. I’ll be back before halftime anyway.
The tree lighting, at the corner of a park, has a small-town feel to it. A line snakes toward Santa Claus, who has to “head back to the North Pole at 5:30.” A man takes the microphone to sing “So This Is Christmas,” and he seems genuinely surprised when he doesn’t know the lyrics beyond the first four lines. We count down from 10, and the tree lights up. In my arms, my son points to the top of the tree and says, “STAH! STAH!”
On the way back, my daughter runs off into the dark park and laughs over her shoulder as we tell her to stop. Our son follows her, so at least any kidnappers will be saddled with a package deal. My wife chases them down while I daydream about our trip to Barcelona, before the kids were born.
— When I left the apartment, the Giants were facing third-and-17. When I get back, the first play I see is Geno Smith getting strip-sacked for a turnover. Raiders ball. (Although to the Giants’ credit, they did score a touchdown while i was gone. It’s 7-7.)
— The Chargers are trailing 7-6 with time running out in the first half. Philip Rivers puts together a good drive, but the Bolts run out of time. After Rivers overthrows Antonio Gates on first-and-goal, there are only four seconds left in the half. They kick the field goal for a 9-7 lead.
— Larry Fitzgerald’s 1,200th career catch is a touchdown that brings the Cards back within a score of the Rams.
The PAT is blocked, so the Rams lead 16-13.
— The kids play Ring Around the Rosie, and at the end of the song, only my daughter falls down. She looks at me from her back. “I just scored a touchdown.”
“Oh yeah?” I ask.
“I’m the Seahawks!”
My wife cuts in. “If you were the Seahawks, you wouldn’t get in the end zone so easily.” HARSH, WOMAN.
LATE GAMES, SECOND HALF
— On third-and-goal, Keenan Allen’s textbook route-running gets him wide open on a slant, and Rivers finds him for an easy TD.
It’s 16-7 Chargers, and it looks like today will end with them tied atop the AFC West with the Chiefs and Raiders at 6-6. I know LA’s been the chic pick to win the West for the last two weeks or so, but I’m on board as well. I’ve truly missed Rivers screaming at his teammates during a playoff meltdown.
— As my wife runs the bath, my daughter says, “I want to go swimming.” I help her put on her watermelon swimsuit, thinking she’s going to wear it in the bath. “I want to go swimming by myself,” she clarifies, then opens the door and goes into the hallway. With my wife giving our son his bath, I follow my firstborn into the hallway.
When we first moved in, just before my daughter was born, our neighbors down the hall had a three-year-old who was in the hallway ALL the damn time. He wasn’t poorly behaved, he was just always dashing around and lurking in the fire escape. “Take that kid outside,” I’d think to myself, swearing that I’d never let my kids run wild in the hallway. They eventually moved out, and I wasn’t sad to see them go.
“The swimming pool’s this way,” my daughter says, walking to the hallway’s dead end. For the next 15 minutes, we pretend to swim and put our faces in the water, intermittently pausing as guests in winter coats arrive for a party down the hall. “We’re swimming,” I tell them. I do not give a shit what they think.
— Kamara scores another TD to put the Saints up 28-14, and he goes all the way into the stands to celebrate with the fans.
I am already drafting him too high in next year’s fantasy draft. Literally: I went on Bill Barnwell’s podcast to do a too-early 2018 mock draft, and Bill sucked all the wind out of my sails when he told me Kamara doesn’t get enough touches to merit a second-round pick. WRONG! HE’LL SCORE TWO TOUCHDOWNS EVERY GAME FOREVER AND EVER.
— I get my son out of the bath and put him in pajamas. I give him a sippy cup of milk, and he gets pissed off for some reason that he can’t communicate, because he’s just a little hairless monosyllabic chimpanzee. He throws his cup, and I put him in his crib for a timeout.
As he screams “DAD-DEE!” repeatedly — scream isn’t the right word, it’s more of a banshee shriek — the Rams score again to go up by two touchdowns. Not that the Cardinals were ever going to win this game, but now they’re REALLY not gonna win.
— As the games enter the fourth quarter, there’s only a single one-score game: Giants-Raiders. This is the result not of a hard, close-fought game, but of dedicated, game-wide incompetence. What a turd of a game.
— With the Browns not QUITE out of the game, DeShone Kizer drops back on third-and-goal, and Joey Bosa sacks him and knocks the ball loose from the reigning king of red zone turnovers. The soundtrack playing in my apartment is A Charlie Brown Christmas, which seems about right for Browns fans.
— The kids go down to bed at 7:15 p.m., and not much has changed in any of the games. The Rams are en route to win. The Saints are en route to win. The Raiders are going to win. The Chargers have maybe already won? And me, I’ve got to go get more Christmas lights. That’s the cost of getting a bigger tree.