I know a lot of people were much more surprised by the Browns beating the Steelers, but Pittsburgh is reeling and that was a loss that some could have predicted. This one? Not so much. The Cardinals were on a roll especially offensively, and were looking to clinch their second consecutive NFC West title on a primetime Monday night game. So of course, they came out and put up a stinker in every sense of the word. The Cardinals looked nothing like a playoff team, or even the team that handled the Vikings just a week ago, highlighting their up and down tendencies that prevent many people (myself included) from considering the Cardinals a threat to return to the Super Bowl. San Francisco came out and was much sharper than Arizona, getting three neutral zone infractions against the Cardinal defense on the first drive. The Cardinals were sloppy all game long, losing 5 fumbles and ultimately blowing a chance to clinch the division. Lucky for them they have the opportunity again soon.
Game MVP: Frank Gore, RB, Niners (25 car, 167 yds, TD) – Coming into this game Gore was somewhat of a forgotten man. He hadn’t touched the ball much the previous two games, as the Niners had been passing on an madden-like 73% of their offensive plays. A team many thought would be known for their ground game was last in rushes per game, and Gore had suffered the most. However on this night, Gore was the back many people expected him to be all season. Gore averaged over 6 yards per carry and was moving the chain and grinding the clock for the Niners while Arizona was struggling to move the ball. For one game, Gore showed why many of us thought he would be a Pro-Bowler for a run-first offense.
Game LVP: Cardinals (11 penalties for 78 yards, 7 turnovers) – This was one of those games where you can’t blame anyone specifically, because the entire team sucked. The defense was run all over by Frank Gore, jumped off side multiple times and gave the Niners new life on plenty of third-down mistakes. The offense was even worse, committing seven turnovers, including losing an astonishing five fumbles. Just overall a game to forget if your a Cardinals fan. Arizona clearly isn’t a bad team, they just had a horrible game.
A shootout in every sense of the word, this divisional game gave us all the fireworks that we expect from such a rivalry. Whether it was big plays (Desean Jacksons 72-yard punt return for a TD or 60 yard TD reception) to big numbers (27-38, 391 yards, 3 TD) this game had it all. Philadelphia took a 30-17 lead into halftime before the Giants quickly came back and took the lead 31-30. That lasted for all of well, 15 seconds because on the first play from scrimmage after that Donovan McNabb hit Jackson for that 60 yard score to put the Eagles back up 37-31. That touch down was significant because it stifled any momentum that the Giants had gained, and also gave Jackson his eight touchdown of over 50 yards this season, tying an NFL record. In the end, the Eagles defense was able to hold late and Philly left New York with a huge road win and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Play of the Week:
Jackson is known for his big-time, electric plays, and this punt return is exactly what we’ve come to expect out of him. Watch as Jackson takes a step back, waits for the blocking to develop then bursts up field for the score and the two touchdown lead.
Stud of the Week:
The Broncos fell to the Colts, giving Indianapolis its NFL-record 23 game winning streak and dropping the Broncos two games behind the surging Chargers in the division, but it had nothing to do with Marshall. All the much-maligned receiver did was go out and set an NFL record with 21 receptions, breaking fellow loud-mouth receiver Terrell Owens 2002 mark. Marshall spent most of the off-season demanding a trade/being suspended/pouting then ultimately showing up to play, and Sunday proved that despite his ego and off the field issues, on the field he is a force to be reckoned with.
NFL Top 5 After Week 14:
1. Indianapolis Colts (13-0) – Props have to be given where they are deserved. After winning their 23rd consecutive game, the Colts stand alone in NFL history with the longest winning streak ever, breaking New England’s streak from a couple years ago. The Colts seem to be getting stronger and are beating better competition now than they did at the beginning of the season. 16-0 seems likely for this squad if they want it.
2. New Orleans Saints (13-0) – The Saints keep marching after a Week 14, closer-than-it-should-have-been win over the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta was missing their quarterback in Matt Ryan and their Pro-Bowl running back in Michael Turner but still gave the Saints a fight. Ultimately, New Orleans won again and head into a game against Dallas next week on a roll. A win next week could potentially lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Saints.
3. Minnesota Vikings (11-2) – Well that was quick. A week after an embarrassing loss to the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football, the Vikings went home and cured all their problems by demolishing the Bengals 30-10. Cincinnati is by most accounts the second or third best team in the AFC, so the win was impressive and silenced those critics who said Minnesota hadn’t really beaten anyone yet. Although home-field and the one seed may be out of reach for the Vikes, they can clinch a first-round bye and at least one home game if they continue winning.
4. San Diego Chargers (10-3) – Quick, which AFC team holds an NFL-record winning streak that stretches over more than three years? That would be the Chargers, who are now 16-0 in their last sixteen December games, an NFL record. This team is built for the end of the season not the beginning, and once again we are seeing that this year. After a 2-3 start the Bolts have ripped off eight consecutive wins and are firmly entrenched in the playoff picture. A win this weekend against the Bengals all but ensures them the 2-seed and a bye in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) – Welcome back Philly. After a couple week hiatus from the Top 5, the Eagles are back following an impressive road win against division rival New York. The Eagles are now in control of their own destiny, holding a one game lead in the division race and have the inside track to the third seed in the NFC playoffs. If the Eagles continue their big plays they may shock a rested Minnesota team in the second round, but let’s get through the regular season before looking that far ahead.