Seven Points With Charlie Bernstein
In this edition of Seven Points, we explore how the Bears gave one away, the greatness which is Maurice Jones-Drew, we look at the playoff picture, examine a certain quarterback who “just wins games,” and review the surprises of Week 14.
Barber’s Blunders Bury the Bears
The most difficult thing to do in sports may just be to defeat a Tim Tebow led football team. Not because Tebow is dominant like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, but you must keep from making mental mistakes if you’re going to take down the holiest of rollers.
In Tebow’s first start against Miami, the Dolphins defense switched from their base coverages to a prevent defense in the final six minutes and managed to botch an onside kick. After Detroit throttled Tebow’s Broncos, Denver was the beneficiary of three interceptions from Oakland’s Carson Palmer, an awful quarterbacking day from Kansas City’s Matt Cassel, a pick-six and late fumble by the Jets, missed field goals and poor play-calling by San Diego and a pick-six followed by a late interception by Christian Ponder.
How would the Chicago Bears find a way to lose to Tim Tebow and the Broncos?
“If you believe, unbelievable things can sometimes be possible,” Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said after the game.
Bears running back Marion Barber made the unbelievable believable as he took matters into his own hands.
With 2:08 remaining in regulation and the Bears up 10-7 with the football, all Chicago had to do was run the clock out with Denver having no timeouts. On first down, the Bears handed the ball to Marion Barber who bounced the run outside and was tackled out of bounds, stopping the clock. This gave the Broncos 40 more seconds to operate with and naturally Tebow took the opportunity to bring Denver into Chicago territory and kicker Matt Prater connected on a 59-yard field goal to even the score and send the game to overtime.
“We did some things we normally don’t do to keep them in the game,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
As much of a goat as Barber was after regulation, he one-upped himself in overtime. With the Bears driving into Denver territory, Barber was stripped of the football on a 3rd-and-7 carry up the middle. That would be the final gift the Broncos would need as Denver marched into field goal range and Matt Prater again took care of business from 51 yards away to give the Broncos a 13-10 victory.
Along with Barber’s gaffes, an inexplicable prevent defense at the end of the fourth period, poor tackling by the Chicago cornerbacks and a failure to protect the sidelines helped the Broncos win their sixth straight.
Record Day For Jones-Drew
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the best players in fantasy football. He’s also one of the very best in reality football.
Jones-Drew doesn’t get as much recognition as some of the premier backs, mainly due to him playing in small market Jacksonville. Playing on a perennial losing team doesn’t help either as Jones-Drew has made the playoffs just once in his six-year career.
The Jaguars diminutive dynamo made a little team history in Sunday’s 41-14 victory over the Buccaneers as he scored a personal-best four touchdowns in the game. The touchdowns were his 69th through 73rd and broke Fred Taylor’s franchise record of 70.
“It means a lot,” Jones-Drew said of the mark. “To break a record that Fred set, it means a bunch. Words can’t explain how excited I am to have a guy that mentored me the whole time, taught me how to play this game the right way, how to take care of my body and do those things.”
As amazing as MJD’s 73 career touchdowns are, he’s accomplished it in just 90 games.
“I’m more happy for the guys around me as they’ve been blocking their butts off for the six years I’ve been here,” Jones-Drew modestly explained.
As horrible as the Jaguars offense has been in 2011, the lone bright spot has been Maurice Jones-Drew. Through 13 games he leads the NFL in rushing with 1,137 yards despite facing mostly eight and nine-man fronts. A rushing title would be all the more impressive for the young back as the team currently has the worst passing attack in football.
“I’m not thinking about rushing titles or anything like that, I just want to win,” the Pro Bowl back said.
No Jaguars running back has ever won a rushing title and that could be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.
AFC Playoff Picture
The “Playoff Polaroid” is beginning to come into focus as the creme is rising to the top. In the AFC, the Houston Texans clinched their first trip to the postseason with their come from behind 20-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s pretty crazy,” rookie quarterback T.J. Yates said. “A lot of people in this organization have waited a long time for this. This is a special day for this team and this organization.”
The Cincinnati Bengals have dropped four of their last five to fall to 7-6 and currently trail the New York Jets by one game in the Wild Card race. The Bengals continue to be a product of their schedule as just one of their seven victories have come against a team with a winning record (7-6 Tennessee Titans).
As mentioned, the New York Jets continue to be red hot as they won their third consecutive game to get to 8-5. New York dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs, 37-10.
“It’s just what we’ve been talking about for the last 12, 13 weeks,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “It all came to form today, which is what we needed. We kind of hold our own destiny in our hands and it was about getting a good win.”
Meanwhile, the Steelers, Ravens and Patriots all moved to 10-3 this week with victories over the Browns, Colts and Redskins respectively. If the season were to end today (which again it doesn’t), New England would hold the top seed, followed by Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh and New York.
NFC Playoff Picture
The NFC playoff picture begins with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers as they moved to a perfect 13-0 with their breezy 46-16 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
“We have to prepare each week. We go after it each week. We expect to win every time we take the field,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Elsewhere, San Francisco dropped their game to Arizona, 21-19 to fall to 10-3, currently tied with the New Orleans Saints who defeated Tennessee, 22-17. San Francisco still holds a tiebreak advantage due to a superior conference record.
The NFC East is up in the air again as the New York Giants overcame a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes to rally for a 37-34 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are tied at 7-6 with three games to play and New York will host the rematch in the season finale on January 1st.
There was finally some separation in the Wild Card race as the Atlanta Falcons rallied from 16 points down to score 24 unanswered to defeat Carolina, 31-23. Meanwhile the Detroit Lions raced out to a 21-0 lead and held on to defeat Minnesota, 34-28. Both teams have identical 8-5 records.
“We approached it as the first of four legs,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said of his team’s stretch run. “We’ve knocked the first leg out and now we’ve got to move on and keep going.”
The Falcons and Lions have some breathing room as Chicago was “Tebowed” in Denver, 13-10. The loss drops the Bears to 7-6, losers of three straight.
“All the losses hurt but this one seems like it hurts a little bit more,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said after his team blew a 10-point lead in the game’s final minutes.
At this moment the seeding for the NFC playoffs goes as follows: (1) Green Bay, (2) San Francisco, (3) New Orleans, (4) New York, (5) Atlanta and (6) Detroit.
T.J. Yates Just Wins Football Games
Until about a month ago, Texans quarterback T.J. Yates was number three on the depth chart and nobody in Houston had any desire to see the undrafted rookie from North Carolina take the field. We all know that injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart forced Yates into action and the Texans haven’t really looked back. Yates has played in three games, started two of them and the Texans are undefeated with the third-stringer and are now AFC South champions.
“I don’t know if (winning the division) has really sunk in yet, but it feels good. It’s an unbelievable credit to everyone in the organization and to everyone that has fought through the hard times, and all the players that fought through today to make it happen,” Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels explained.
It’s not easy for a young quarterback to be successful in the NFL, but Yates has the benefit of playing with the league’s second-ranked defense and one of the best rushing attacks in football. Arian Foster and Ben Tate might be the best tandem of backs in the league.
On Sunday, Cincinnati did their best to take away the Texans rushing attack and put the game on the right arm of T.J. Yates. The Bengals received more than they bargained for.
Down by six with 80 yards to go and two minutes to work with, the rookie quarterback calmly led the team down the field. After a 3rd-and-15 scramble that made a first down, Yates calmly found Kevin Walter in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with just two seconds remaining.
“It did not look like we had any chance of getting out of here with a win. But we have a young quarterback who believes in what he’s doing,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Yates who went 26 of 44 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The Texans will likely be an underdog in every playoff game they play, but don’t be surprised if their run lasts longer than just one week.
What We Expected, What We Didn’t
The title is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s get started.
We expected the Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Chargers Packers, Steelers and Tebow’s to win.
We didn’t expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to score 41 points, as their previous season high was just 20. The Jags scored on offense, defense and special teams- all in their 28-point second quarter.
We expected the Ravens defense to dominate the Colts, as Baltimore allows just over 278 yards per game. Indy mustered just 167 yards of total offense.
We didn’t expect Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to post just a 96.1 quarterback rating, his first sub-100 rating of the season.
We expected the San Diego Chargers to win, because it’s December. San Diego has an amazing 24-2 record in the month of December since 2006. Currently sitting with a 6-7 record, San Diego will need to be perfect for the rest of the season and then hope New York drops it’s final three games to play in January.
We didn’t expect the San Francisco 49ers to drop their game to the Arizona Cardinals, 21-19. Just three weeks earlier, San Francisco pounded Arizona 23-7.
The Minnesota Vikings benched quarterback Christian Ponder in the third quarter after he tossed his third interception of the game in the Vikings 34-28 loss to Detroit.
“During the first half, turnovers killed this game,” Ponder told reporters. “We lose by seven points, I’ve got to do a better job of learning from those mistakes.”
The Vikings found a spark with backup Joe Webb who was one yard and one missed face-mask penalty away from pulling an upset victory. Minnesota will likely start Ponder next week when they play the New Orleans Saints.
Here, You Take It!
The aforementioned Minnesota Vikings managed to turn the ball over six times in their six-point loss to the Detroit Lions. As ugly as that was to watch, they were outdone by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Raheem Morris’s group turned the ball over seven times to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the team’s 41-14 drubbing.
“We get a fumble and then give up four touchdowns,” Morris explained. “We come back and give up a big play on defense. That shouldn’t happen. Then you come back and give up another touchdown off another turnover. First, credit the Jags for getting the turnovers. I don’t want to discredit anything they did or their coach. To come out and have fumbles, to lose football games, a fumble on a punt – those are things you just can’t have.”
Tampa Bay dropped their seventh consecutive game suddenly they can’t seem to get out of their own way. Josh Freeman has tossed 16 interceptions so far this year following a six pick campaign in 2010.
“Freeman stares down his receivers,” Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “He’s a young quarterback, he’ll get better.”
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, he’s getting worse, not better.
All Hail Gronkowski, King of the TE’s
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to put himself in the conversation of best tight end in football. In Sunday’s 34-27 victory over the Redskins, “Gronk” caught six passes for 160 yards including a pair of touchdowns. The two touchdowns give him 15 on the season, a new single-season record for tight ends.
“He’s tough, he’s a big guy, strong runner and he always seems to make yards after the catch,” quarterback Tom Brady said of Gronkowski. “He’s obviously a huge part of this offense and it was great to see him make plays out there today.”
Gronkowski’s 15 touchdowns are the most in the NFL this season.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie
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