A pat on the back to you, fellow worker. It's commendable of you to be here after rounds of binge eating, fighting with your neighbors over discounted Blu-ray players and roughly 72 hours of football slathered over four straight days. And here you are, easing back into the year's final stretch by spending an hour digesting the holiday weekend's pigskin offerings.
Sunday's football was different than Saturday's football. The Broncos, 49ers, Panthers, Patriots and most of the expected and favored teams won. Two overtime games had more to say about where three of the four teams involved would be picking in the draft than a playoff race. Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson set records.
Sunday's NFL football lacked the drama of Saturday's college rivalries, but it wasn't a boring a day.
How I learned to love the Jaguars & Browns
The best game in the NFL this week, so far, had nothing to do with the playoffs. Jacksonville's 32-28 win over Cleveland featured three interceptions, four fumbles and a safety. The starting quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden and Chad Henne, are playing their future as backups somewhere else next year. Both teams are near locks for a top-five pick in the 2014 draft. And somehow this turned into the best game of the week.
The lead changed five times, including two dramatic swings in the final four minutes of play. The highlight, the play you've seen at least a dozen times by now, was a 95-yard touchdown pass from Weeden to Josh Gordon. That capped off a historic day (another one!) for the Browns' budding superstar who was at the center of trade rumors in October. Gordon followed up his 237-yard performance last week with 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He broke his own franchise record for receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history with back-to-back games with at least 200 receiving yards.
Jacksonville got the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 3:55 left to play. After a Browns offsides gave the Jaguars second-and-5 at the 25-yard line, Henne completed four straight passes for 46 yards, and Maurice Jones-Drew added 9 yards on two carries to get the Jags at the Cleveland 20-yard line.
Prior to this game, the Jaguars had the least efficient red zone offense in the league, with a -79.3 percent DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Their red zone passing efforts were the ugliest part of the league's worst offense. So you can be forgiven if you thought Henne and Co. were done, facing third-and-9 at the 20-yard line and trailing by three points with just 45 seconds left.
Cleveland native Cecil Shorts got cornerback Joe Haden, the Browns' defensive star, to bite on a double move. That allowed him to slip behind the cornerback and race into the end zone to catch Henne's pass for the game-winner.
That was win number three for the Jaguars and the eighth loss of the year for the Browns. The only thing either team has left to hope for this season is a higher slot in the draft and the chance at finally landing a franchise quarterback. On Friday, this game was nothing more than a heel for NFL writers. If there's anything to take away from a four-day football bender, it's that the most entertaining games don't have to be the most well-executed.
If going back to work sucks for you, take solace in how un-fun it's going to be for Roger Goodell, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino and their peers at 345 Park Avenue.
They have to decide what to do about Mike Tomlin and his angry feet. The tape doesn't look good for Tomlin. The NFL has to watch an endless loop of a Super Bowl-winning head coach -- not previously unknown assistant Sal Alosi -- interfering with Jacoby Jones. All they have to determine intent is the coach's word.
Also on the commissioner's to-do list is a blown call in Washington. Faulknerian man-child Jeff Triplette and his crew turned Washington's third-and-1 into first-and-10. Triplette did make sure to let Washington know that the next play was, in fact, fourth-and-1. Whoops! The offense nearly made it, until Pierre Garcon fumbled the ball.
It's easy to deal with the refs. There's a process in place that should downgrade the ref's crew. Officiating has been such a sore point this season. Give Triplette the North Korea treatment with a scripted public apology.
Tomlin's case is a little tougher. The fine should be large enough to feed a day's worth of awful Darren Rovell tweets. The Steelers might even lose a draft pick, according to some reports.
The NFL has to flex its muscle quickly in the defense of competition, easing as many concerns as it can. Once it does that, we can go about the process of assimilating both incidents into fan lore.
Peyton Manning made record-keeping look inane, again. "Most passing yards in 12 games" makes it feel like a reach. It undersells his 4,125 passing yards on the season. He threw for 403 yards and five touchdowns in a much-needed win over the Chiefs. That's only the third-highest single-game yardage total for Manning and just the second-highest number of touchdown passes in a game this season. The 37-year-old now holds the Broncos' franchise record for touchdowns in a season with 41.
So many qualifiers. The most interesting thing about his stats now is the buildup to his season totals. Manning's on pace for 5,500 passing yards and 54 touchdowns through 16 games. Both would be new records, but not by as much as it you might think: Tom Brady had 50 touchdowns in 2007, and Drew Brees had 5,476 yards in 2011.
The Broncos now play four more games. This is their schedule: at home for the next two weeks against the Titans and Chargers. They finish on the road against the Texans and Raiders. Those teams are allowing an average of around 230 passing yards per game. Tennessee and Houston are among the 10 best pass defenses, in terms of yards allowed. The Titans have allowed the fewest passing scores of any team in the NFL, shutting out Andrew Luck this week.
It's not a lock that Manning will set new records in either of those categories. We've just assumed it would happen, but it might not. It doesn't matter whether Manning adds those records to his collection or not, because Denver's season isn't going to be measured by what happened in the regular season.
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