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lokivvv2
01-03-2009, 04:20 PM
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Week 17 gave us the Single Most Interesting Day in NFL History
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Updated: December 30, 2008

Sunday was the Single Most Interesting Day in NFL History, both for the numerous high points and for the Single Worst Game Ever Played, supplied by the Dallas Cowboys. Before we get to the particulars, let me make sure you know about the player of the day. I speak, of course, of Ramzee Robinson. In the second half at Green Bay, Robinson, a Lions defensive back, was penalized for taunting. The Lions at that point were 0-15 and within sight of attaining the designation they now hold, that of worst NFL team ever. After a Green Bay incompletion, Robinson danced around, pointing at himself and taunting Packers receiver James Jones. A player for the worst-ever NFL team was called for taunting in the game in which that team reached 0-16.

As for the Single Most Interesting Day in NFL History, consider:

• Not only did Miami rebound from 1-15 to make the playoffs in spectacular fashion, but the Dolphins did it in manly-man fashion. Leading 24-17, Miami faced fourth-and-1 on the Jersey/B 39 with 2:38 remaining. This is a classic Maroon Zone dilemma, and most NFL coaches timidly order punts. The Meadowlands crowd was eerily quiet because fans knew what the scoreboard did not show -- that Baltimore had beaten Jacksonville, ending the Jets' hopes. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano had his team go for it; Miami converted, and the game was over for Brett Favre & Co. Fascinating stat: Thirteen different players passed, ran or caught the ball for the injury-depleted Dolphins offense. The Dolphins might not have much chance against the Ravens, but their season has already been a big success.

This Associated Press photo from Sunday was headlined "Lions fans." There are Lions fans?

• Baltimore rebounded from a 5-11 record in 2007 to reach the postseason in 2008. The usually low-scoring Ravens have developed a high-scoring, innovative offense under a Division I-AA rookie quarterback and a coach who had never been a head coach at any level. Last season, the Ravens averaged 17 points per game. This season, they averaged 24 and tied the Titans for the highest net-points number in the league. On Baltimore's final possession of the first half against Jacksonville, leading 17-7, the Ravens ran four short plays in succession, lulling the Jags into thinking their foes were content to take the 17-7 edge to the locker room. Then, with 56 seconds remaining, they threw deep to Mark Clayton, which led to a 24-7 edge at intermission. Earlier, Baltimore scored a touchdown when Clayton engaged in an unusual man-in-motion that made the play look like a Wildcat trick but then Baltimore simply ran Willis McGahee straight up the middle. See more examples of Nevermores innovation below; this team might advance well into January. ("The Ravens are going nowhere this season." -- New York Times preseason prediction.)

• Atlanta post-Michael Vick and post-Bobby Petrino was supposed to have another train-wreck season, and instead is 11-5 with a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach. ("Atlanta made a major mistake by drafting Matt Ryan." -- Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk the day after the 2008 draft.)

• Tampa Bay dropped from 9-3 to out of the playoffs by losing its last four games, the losses beginning when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin decided to bail on the Bucs and go to work at the University of Tennessee as soon as Tampa's season ended. Until Kiffin's defection, Tampa was allowing 16 points per game; afterward, it allowed 32 points per game, building up to a humiliating season-finale home loss to Oakland that knocked the Bucs out of the postseason. If a player in the midst of a playoff push was negotiating to join another team, there would be outrage and sanctions. How come it's fine for a coach to all but walk out on his commitments during the season? Nick Saban did it, Bobby Petrino did it, and now Kiffin has done it -- all with immediate disastrous results for their teams, and no consequences for them.

• It turns out Philadelphia was right to play for a tie in that excruciating 13-13 overtime snorefest against Cincinnati. Had the Eagles gambled to win and lost, they would have finished 9-7 and tiebreakers would have sent Tampa to the postseason. As it was, 9-6-1 put Philadelphia in. And what were the chances both Chicago and Tampa would lose to opponents that had nothing to play for, thus opening the door for the Eagles?

• The football gods did not want Drew Brees to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record -- because that record was set in a Miami playoff year when the yards were needed, whereas Brees' breaking the record for the eliminated Saints would have been a stunt. Brees finished 16 yards shy of the record, and Marques Colston dropped a perfectly thrown 21-yard fourth-quarter pass. Having reached field goal range and trailing 31-30, Carolina for some reason called its final timeout with six seconds left, rather than the traditional three seconds in this situation. After the kick split the uprights, the clock did not expire; one second remained. Carolina's kickoff went out of bounds, meaning Brees had one more play to throw for the record. New Orleans' coaches called a play that sent most receivers deep for a Hail Mary but one underneath the backed-off secondary for Brees to throw to for the record. Brees, an accurate passer, completely missed the open man. Surely the football gods pushed the pass off target.

• With Green Bay leading 14-7 in the third quarter, 0-15 Detroit punted on fourth-and-5 from the Packers' 41. A 0-15 team punting in opposition territory -- words fail me. Later, after scoring to pull within 24-21 with seven minutes remaining, the Lions did not try an onside kick. Words fail me. Immediately, Aaron Rodgers threw 71 yards for the oh-and-16-icing touchdown, as the football gods punished Detroit for playing timidly when the Lions had literally nothing to lose.

• Trailing 44-3 in the fourth quarter of yet another season-finale collapse, the Dallas Cowboys kicked a field goal. Who cares if it was fourth-and-15 -- play like men! Then the Boys did not even have the dignity to attempt an onside kick. As for extremely overpaid Dallas receiver Roy Williams, who whined during the week that he wasn't getting the ball enough, Tony Romo threw to him seven times Sunday. The results? Four incompletions, 4 net yards gained and an interception on which Williams made no attempt to break up the play. Whoever whines most in Dallas during the week gets the ball forced to him on Sunday; Romo kept looking for Williams even though the guy is so terrible that he should not have been on the field. See the Dallas meltdown item at the end of the column.

• It is more than a shame that 11-5 New England did not qualify for the postseason but 8-8 San Diego and 9-7 Arizona will host home games. NFL, adopt a seeded tournament! This is the second time in NFL annals that an 11-5 team did not reach the postseason, but it's worse than the first time -- Denver in 1985 -- because in 1985 each conference had only one wild-card invite. NFL, adopt a seeded tournament! Last season, the Patriots were caught cheating, acted arrogantly when caught and relentlessly ran up the score to humiliate opponents. For this unsportsmanlike behavior, the football gods first punished New England by letting the Pats -- Moses-on-Mount-Nebo-like -- come within 35 seconds of perfection, then be denied. Now the Pats have been punished anew by finishing 11-5 with an unknown at quarterback yet being deprived of the playoffs. At this point, New England has been punished enough for its 2007 offenses; it's time for the football gods to smile on the Patriots again. Watching Bill Belichick utterly outcoach Dick Jauron at Buffalo was like watching Itzhak Perlman give a violin lesson to an 8-year-old.

• It was fascinating that a 4-8 club, San Diego, could rally to make the postseason; other than that, TMQ is suspicious of the Bolts. They finished as the NFL's second-highest-scoring team, but went 0-5 against teams that made the playoffs. If the best you can do is 8-8 in the weak AFC West, you're not very good. That 12-4 Indianapolis must travel to 8-8 San Diego to open the postseason is yet another indictment of the NFL's flawed, division-based postseason format. It's time for a seeded tournament!

Final Regular Season Standings
NFC
East
Giants(*) 12-4
Eagles(x) 9-6-1
Cowboys 9-7
Redskins 8-8

North
Vikings(z) 10-6
Bears 9-7
Packers 5-11
Lions 0-16

South
Panthers(z) 12-4
Falcons(x) 11-5
Buccaneers 9-7
Saints 8-8

West
Cardinals(z) 9-7
49ers 7-9
Seahawks 4-12
Rams 2-14

AFC
East
Dolphins(z)11-5
Patriots 11-5
Jets 9-7
Bills 7-9

North
Steelers(z)12-4
Ravens(x) 11-5
Bengals 4-11-1
Browns 4-12

South
Titans(*) 13-3
Colts(x) 12-4
Texans 8-8
Jaguars 5-11

West
Chargers(z)8-8
Broncos 8-8
Raiders 5-11
Chiefs 2-14

x - Clinched Wild Card, z - Clinched Division
* - Clinched Division and Homefield Advantage
Primary tie-breakers
For Division ties:
1. Head-to-head
2. Best PCT in games within division
3. Best PCT in common games
For Wild-Card ties (2 Clubs):
1. Head-to-head
2. Best PCT in games within conference
3. Best PCT in common games, min. of four