Judgements: Big D means Different with these Cowboys


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It’s time to admit it: This is a different Dallas team, and this is a different Tony Romo. In any other year, Romo would have self-destructed, and the Cowboys would have unraveled down the stretch. But not here. Not now. A week ago, Romo and the Cowboys responded last week after falling behind Philadelphia in the second half, and now they’re stepping on the gas – and everyone in their way. And let’s be honest, people: That’s not like them. We’re going to have to reassess these guys, especially if/when they go on the road in the playoffs. Remember, they’re the only club this season that hasn’t lost there.

2. I think we just discovered why Indianapolis isn’t a serious playoff threat. Not enough defense and too many Andrew Luck mistakes. Over the past five games Indianapolis has 15 turnovers and 37 penalties, and, oh, yeah, one yard rushing vs. Dallas. Let’s see, too many turnovers, too little defense and no running game? Adios, muchachos.

3. Then there’s this: Look what happened against the best. Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Romo produced a combined 133.1 passer rating vs. the Colts this season, with 15 touchdown passes and two interceptions. Check, please.

4. Now, more than ever, I’m convinced Detroit goes on the road as a wildcard … after losing at Lambeau next weekend. It’s not only that the Packers haven’t lost there this season. It’s that the Lions haven’t won there in 20 consecutive tries (23 including Milwaukee), or since 1991. Plus, they may not have center Dominic Raiola after he stomped on defensive lineman Ego Ferguson’s ankle Sunday. Ferguson had to be helped off the field, and Raiola may join him after the NFL reviews this incident.

5. Suddenly, Aaron Rodgers is making the league MVP a race again.

6. Note to Gov. Christie: The Cowboys aren’t your constituents; the Giants and Jets are. So try showing up at their games once in awhile.

7. Last year it was the Jets who saved San Diego with a season-ending defeat of Miami. This year it might be Houston, with Sunday’s upset of Baltimore. All I know is that somewhere in the 619 area code there’s a parade waiting to happen for Joe Flacco. Nope, the Chargers aren’t in the playoffs (they must overcome a Kansas City team that beat them earlier this year); not yet. But at least they’re warm … thanks to a sorry performance by Flacco … Franco … Fiasco.

8. If I’m playing New England in the playoffs, my first call is to Rex Ryan. The guy knows how to frazzle Tom Brady. “We’re the team that always give him his biggest challenge,” said Ryan, “whether he admits it or not.”

9. Granted, Vikings’ fans, that’s a tough way to lose. But look at it like this: Unlike other sub-.500 clubs, you’re set at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater looks like a keeper … which is more than I can say about Johnny Manziel.

10. No, I don’t know why the Saints can’t win at home. I’m just glad we don’t have to talk about them anymore.

11. I must have missed those T-shirts NFL players wore in support of the slain police officers from New York. Jets’ center Nick Mangold didn’t forget, however. He wore a NYPD hat Jets’ center Nick Mangold prior to Sunday’s game. Nice.

12. The Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Bengals better shake that reputation … or else. Cincinnati, which is 2-9 since 2011 in prime-time and playoff games, just had its season finale in Pittsburgh flexed to Sunday evening. That means … uh-huh, the Bengals’ last two starts are in the dreaded prime-time slot. If they’re going to reach the playoffs, they must prove that (cue Denny Green) they’re not who we think they are.

13. OK, I’m sold. I want to see more of Jimmy Clausen. Not just next week; next year. Only this time, make his receivers wear Velcro gloves.

14. Over the last five games, the San Francisco 49ers are 1-4, and Oakland’s 3-2. Just sayin’.

15. Looks like Seattle becomes the first defending Super Bowl champion in nine years to win a playoff game the year after. There is nobody … I mean, nobody … playing better football now. The Seahawks are the team to beat.

16. That’s the best I’ve seen Luke Willson look since “Old School.”  Seriously, who is this guy, and how did he keep getting behind the Cardinals’ coverage?

17. Imagine if Marshawn Lynch were healthy.

18. How long before the NFL discovers Cuba?

19. Which comes first: “The Interview” to your local theater or a Tampa Bay victory at home?

20. Make Dallas the biggest threat to the Seahawks in the NFC. Not only are the Cowboys the only team to win in Seattle this season; they haven’t lost on the road, period. Only one problem: Just what do you think their chances are of winning twice there in one season? Yeah, I’d make them slim, too.

FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES

1. New England DT Vince Wilfork. It was his deflection of a 52-yard Nick Folk field goal that clinched another Patriots’ victory — the third blocked field goal this season for New England.

2. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He runs for touchdowns. He throws for touchdowns. He doesn’t make stupid mistakes. In fact, he doesn’t make mistakes, period. So how come he doesn’t get the attention Andrew Luck does? He has more regular-season wins. He has more playoff wins. And he has a ring. What’s the deal?

3. N.Y. Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. Can anybody cover this guy? Apparently, not. Over his last three starts, he has 31 catches for 421 yards and six touchdowns – including two more vs. St. Louis.

4. Miami DE Terrence Fede. His block of a last-minute punt resulted in more than just a safety; it clinched a victory for Miami and, apparently, another year of coaching for Joe Philbin.

5. Pittsburgh LB James Harrison. He retired earlier this year and was supposed to get on with … well, his life’s work. Then, Pittsburgh’s linebackers started dropping, and the Steelers dialed 911. I don’t know what they expected from the guy, but on Sunday he had his best game of the year, with seven tackles – including two for losses – and 1.5 sacks — with Harrison turning former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher into a turnstile.

FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES

1. New Orleans QB Drew Brees. He’s never been right this season, and neither has this offense. So it’s altogether fitting that he throws an interception on the Saints’ next-to-last drive and fumbles away the last possession – with Osi Umenyiora returning it for a score. Brees has big numbers, but he … and the Saints … fizzled this year when it mattered most.

2. Everything Indianapolis. The Colts self-immolated from the beginning, with a dumb, dumb, dumb Jerrell Freeman taunting penalty stoking the Cowboys’ first drive, and a Dewey McDonald drop short-circuiting a perfectly timed fake punt on the Colts’ opening possession. That led to another seven points, and I think you get the idea. The Colts stunk, and don’t tell me it was because there was no T.Y. Hilton. Nope, they just flat-out stunk.

3. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. Maybe it was James Flacco playing quarterback, I dunno. Whoever it was, he was gawd awful, with Flacco having one of the worst games of his career – with three interceptions that led to 13 Houston points.

4. Detroit QB Matt Stafford. Yeah, I know, the Lions won. But they won in spite of Stafford. First, he throws an interception in the end zone. Then, he throws an interception near the goal line. Nobody was more effective for Chicago in the first half than Stafford.

5. Arizona QB Ryan Lindley. There’s a reason he’s the third-string quarterback. Feeding him to the Legion of Boom is not only unfair; it’s downright cruel.

WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?

There are 27 seconds left, with Kansas City trailing 10-6. It’s fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 12, and Andy Reid has a decision: Kick the field goal or go for it? So W.W.L.D.? Take the points, of course. Normally, I like guys who take chances, but not here. Reid doesn’t have a high-powered offense, so you take the points while you can. He didn’t, running Jamaal Charles into the line, and he got stuffed. But let’s say he makes it. What are the Chiefs going to do in the last, say, 20 seconds? Kick another field goal, that’s what. So kick the ball when you can.

FIVE GUYS ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR

1. Houston DE J.J. Watt. How appropriate that he made the game-ending sack. He led the Texans in tackles, he led them in quarterback hits and he led them to an unexpected victory … and stop if you’ve heard this before. Oh, one other thing: With that sack, Watt surpassed DeMarcus Ware for most sacks (54) in his first four seasons.

2. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. In two games vs. New Orleans this season – both wins – he hit 76.2 percent of his passes for 770 yards, 4 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 122.4. Wonder why Atlanta is in position to save Mike Smith’s job? Start with this guy.

3. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill. In one of his best performances as a pro, he threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns in Miami’s 37-35 last-minute victory. It was good enough to save Joe Philbin’s job, with owner Stephen Ross announcing afterward that Joe Won’t Go, and don’t ask me why he couldn’t wait until the season finale vs. the Jets. If Miami were to play as it did against the Jets in last year’s finale, Ross might change his mind.

4. N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. When he’s good, there aren’t many better. One problem: He’s seldom been good this year. But he was in St. Louis, producing a season-best 148.8 passer rating, with 397 yards, only seven misses in 32 passes and three TD passes … with, get this, no interceptions.

5. Carolina RB Jonathan Stewart. With his return, the Panthers rediscovered a running game … and winning. Stewart not only had a game-high 122 yards rushing; he made the game-winning touchdown catch and clinched the victory with a 30-yard dash in the last two minutes.

THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE

Dallas QB Tony Romo. All he did was throw another four touchdown passes, complete 16 straight passes, surpass Troy Aikman for career passing yardage and produce a season-best 151.7 passer rating. Often associated with critical and ill-timed mistakes, Romo has interceptions in only one of his last seven starts and 17 TDs and only two interceptions since returning from a back injury.

THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE

“You’re stuck with me … fortunately or unfortunately,” – Buffalo coach Doug Marrone on his name being attached to University of Michigan rumors.

WALL-OF-FAME NUMBERS

1-10 – Jimmy Clausen’s record as a starter

4-0 – Ben Roethlisberger at home vs. Kansas City

5 – Sacks by Atlanta, the league’s 32nd ranked team

7 – Drops by Chicago receivers

7 – Sacks by Green Bay pass rushers

9 – Straight games with a Teddy Bridgewater TD

9 – Points that separated New England and the Jets the past four games

15 – Straight years without Buffalo in the playoffs

109 – Yards in penalties vs. the New York Giants … in the first half

596 — Seattle yards vs. Arizona

1980 – Last time New Orleans lost five games at home in one season

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