I have always professed that football with playoff reason and purpose is so much more an advantage that the goal of playing out the season in an effort to win but stay healthy too. How can you explain the Philadelphia Eagles battling for an NFC East title and losing to Minnesota when Minnesota does not have either of its starting running backs? How can Dallas, who can only get into the playoffs but end up being dominated in the second half by Green Bay. Cincinnati, who had the opportunity to be the second seed in the AFC playoffs but lose to Pittsburgh 30-20 in a game that was not even close. And New Orleans simply has to beat the Rams and Bucs, not even the Panthers and they win the NFC South yet lose in St. Louis meaning next week in Carolina means everything. Week 15 of NFL football made no sense.
Turning it Around
In Miami, as an organization the Dolphins took a big step forward in present and future success. The win over New England changed perception of a team that as little as two months ago was considered the derelicts of NFL football. Because it was two months ago that whole Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin story was everywhere and transitioned into much more: a topic of football conversation became a social and ethical opinion-based topic. Truth is that now with the Dolphins so close to a playoff experience depending on their play and that of Baltimore, the discussion of bringing both players back to the organization has gone from should we to why should we? The more success Miami has, the less likely either player will be a Dolphin again.
In Dallas the drama continues. Defensively they just don't have the people to play. Offensively the play in terms of run versus pass is highly criticized and should be. In a game where Dallas had a dominant lead in the second half they ran seven run plays when they had 30 opportunities. And you have a running back of the quality of DeMarco Murray. It really makes no sense. Sure, it will be Tony Romo that takes the heat and part of it is his fault, but only part of it. But when you have a dominant lead your best asset is time, using time to your advantage as if it was another player. The same run the ball or not run the ball problem was evident in the Monday night Chicago Bears game. Remember how well Murray performed early and often? Then Dallas got behind on points by 14 and there was no more DeMarco Murray. The execution of well designed and thought out plays is always the number one priority. But the type of play, run, pass, draw, screen, deep ball, check down and on and on and on have almost equal value. Players win and players lose but the last two weeks the Cowboys' offensive decision making has been in a panic and not using patience.
In Washington the numbers were impressive, 29 of 45 for 381 yards is what Kirk Cousins produced on the road in Atlanta. The pessimistic side is relevant. The Falcons do not have a top defence and are eliminated from the playoffs. But the optimistic side is also worth acknowledgment. The game of NFL football is not too big for Kirk Cousins to handle or assimilate. Almost 400 yards is exceptional and 29 completions outstanding. Maybe a bit of a dramatic statement but RG3 has some competition for the job of starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Trouble By the Bay
In Oakland it is starting to get humiliating. 56 points allowed against a game-managing quarterback of Alex Smith's skills. Screen pass after screen pass for touchdown after touchdown? The Raiders had some moments this year but not enough, still the good news is this. As of next year they should be out of salary cap extreme limitations. $60 million new dollars could and should be available for free agents and present personnel. Truthful concern is that free agency does not guarantee success at all. The Raiders will have a lot of money to work with but will they make the right decisions on the money they invest?
Proving His Worth
Monday night football, Ravens 18, Lions 16. The one player that really caught my eye was Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. A first-round draft pick in 2011, I thought he played well against the best receiver in football Calvin Johnson. Yes "Calvin the Great" did not have a great day with two clear drops but in the one-on-one competition between Johnson and Smith, Jimmy Smith held his own. Your best evaluation of how good are you comes when you play the very best. It won't get much tougher than what Smith experienced Monday night.
Praise for the Coach
Finally I thought Jon Gruden brought up a unique possibility of having a challenge call possible on judgment calls such as pass interference. Now I am not in favour of more delays in the flow of NFL football, quite the opposite as the game needs to speed up. But looking at the pass interference penalty that was not called and took away a could-be touchdown pass, maybe it's not a bad idea. Only if the challenges remain at two per half and NO more. Please. Football is an advertisers dream but as a fan, it's often a viewer's nightmare. Keep the games' integrity and viability but not at the expense of flow and action.