By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
There were two big winners in the NFC Sunday … and one of them didn’t play.
No one had a more important victory than Tampa Bay, which scored a stunning beatdown of Seattle. But let’s not forget Dallas. With the Seahawks’ loss, Dallas now is in a commanding position to lock down home-field advantage in the playoffs.
You heard me. Dallas. The Cowboys have one loss. Seattle has three. Plus a tie.
Yeah, I know the Giants’ 8-3 record is second-best in the NFC, and Big Blue hung the only loss this season on Dallas. They’re also on a five-game tear and have won the games this season they lost a year ago – 6-1 in those decided by six or fewer points.
But look at their schedule, people. Their next three games are against division leaders (Pittsburgh, Dallas and Detroit), all five are vs. opponents with winning records and three of the five are on the road.
Now back to Tampa Bay. The Bucs insisted that last week’s upset of Kansas City, ending the Chiefs’ 10-game home winning streak, was a signature victory … and maybe they were right. Because they just did the improbable, not just beating red-hot Seattle … but humiliating the Seahawks.
They couldn’t run. They couldn’t pass. They couldn’t protect their quarterback. And they couldn’t protect the football. In short, Tampa beat the Seahawks with Seattle’s blueprint – defense – and served notice to division-leading Atlanta not to look in its rear-view mirror. The object they see might be … no, IS … closer than it appears.
Remember: The Bucs beat Atlanta earlier this year, and it happened in Atlanta.
(Jameis Winston photo courtesy Tampa Bay Bucs)
DON’T CALL SMITH A “GAME MANAGER”
Enough is enough. People talk about Alex Smith as if he were a quarterback whose job is to do little more than play it safe and not make critical mistakes — a “game manager,” as NBC’s Mike Tirico called him. Tirico is not the first to say that … nor will he be the last, but let’s make something clear: Game managers don’t rally clubs from 17 points down in the second half vs. San Diego and Carolina, and they don’t drive their teams the length of the field against Denver … in Denver … in the last few minutes of a fourth quarter to produce eight points with 12 seconds left. But that’s exactly what Alex Smith has done, with Sunday’s 30-27 overtime defeat of Denver his crowning achievement of the season. There is no overstating the importance of the victory, which positions the Chiefs to return to the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, catch Oakland in the AFC West. The Raiders have the easier schedule, but three of their last five are on the road — including a Dec. 8 date with Kansas City, which beat Oakland earlier this year.
(Alex Smith photo courtesy of Kansas CIty Chiefs)
1. It’s not just that Oakland has its first winning season since 2002 and continues to lead the AFC West that makes the Raiders such a compelling story. It’s that, with Sunday’s come-from-behind victory, they hit the exacta — beating the two teams in Super Bowl 50, Carolina and Denver. Oh, wait a minute, make that the trifecta. They overcame the defending league MVP, too.
2. New England didn’t beat the Jets as much as it survived them.
4. Yes, the Baltimore Ravens are first in the AFC North. But here’s why I don’t trust them, should they reach the playoffs: They’re 4-0 in the AFC North; 2-5 outside of it.
5. As if we need more kerosene to throw on the Jacksonville Jaguars … but when it’s fourth-and-3, and you’re trailing by seven with just over three minutes left, the last thing you do is go brain dead. But, hey, these are the Jags. So why should anyone be surprised they took a delay-of-game penalty in Buffalo, then failed to get the first. Stupid is as stupid does. Adios, Gus Bradley.
6. Gary Kubiak’s decision to try a last-gasp, 62-yard game-winning field goal may come back to haunt him, especially with how Miami is surging. The Dolphins, not Denver, hold the second wild-card spot, thanks to a conference record tiebreaker, and both teams play three of their remaining five games on the road. But the Dolphins have only two opponents with winning records. The Broncos have three, finishing the season against the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders.
7. Someone put out an APB out on the Rams’ Todd Gurley. That makes 18 of the last 19 games where he failed to rush for 100 yards.
8. The wide receiver who continues to amaze me isn’t Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones. It’s Larry Fitzgerald. He makes big catches for big yards for a team that’s circling the drain.
9. The Patriots have no pass rush for nearly four quarters, then get a Chris Long strip-sack when they absolutely, positively have to have one. Yep, Fitz happens.
10. Look at it this way, Bears’ fans: Maybe, just maybe, you found next year’s starting quarterback. Matt Barkley, come on down.
11. Let’s hear it for the Tennessee Titans, and not just because they’re back to .500. Those W.E.S. stickers on their helmets Sunday honored victims of the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash last week.
12. I guess that was one for the thumb for the Bills’ LeSean McCoy.
13. The Saints’ shredding of Gregg Williams’ defense sure looked personal. Maybe it was Sean Payton’s fist pumps or his upper cuts into the air, but, yeah, it looked personal.
14. In case you forgot, Cleveland: The Taylor Gabriel who scored four times the past four games? Uh-huh, your Browns let him go in September.
15. Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs could’ve told the Panthers that a screen pass vs. the Raiders — especially when you’re deep in your own end, and the first half is nearly over — is a very, very bad idea.
16. Too bad the Chargers don’t play in the AFC South. They’re 3-1 vs. the division.
17. What? The NFL is considering limiting …or eliminating … future Thursday night games? All together now: Hallelujah.
18. I’d like Tennessee’s chances in the AFC South, too, except for this: Their next two games are vs. Denver and Kansas City. Even with Brock Osweiler, the division still is Houston’s to lose.
19. Attaboy, Chip Kelly. You just became the first coach in 49ers’ history to lose 10 straight. And you did it in your first 11 games. Now that’s an accomplishment.
20. Why we shouldn’t get seduced by some numbers: Carson Palmer now has one more TD pass (274) in his career than Joe Montana and Vinny Testaverde has two.
(Khalil Mack photo courtesy Oakland Raiders)
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Brock Osweiler is who we thought he was.
It’s not a quarterback’s league. It’s an official’s league.
Justin Tucker is not just the best kicker in the game. He’s the best player on the Ravens’ roster.
The 49ers don’t play defense. They play tag.
The Chiefs’ Justin Houston is unblockable.
The Patriots have a future star in wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. He not only beat the Jets’ secondary for two scores … he beat Darrelle Revis.
Jeff Fisher waited too long to start Jared Goff.
Khalil Mack is making another push for Defensive Player of the Year. So is Denver’s Von Miller.
… AND WHAT WE DID NOT
If we should really, truly believe in the New York Giants.
What the Browns’ Hue Jackson means when he said, “This will be the last time this year we will feel this way ever.”
Why anyone kicks to Tyreek Hill.
Who’s the biggest threat to Dallas in the NFC.
What can stop Derek Carr (a dislocated finger apparently cannot).
How good Oakland could be if it tightened its secondary.
Why the Jets continue to start Ryan Fitzpatrick when he’s not the future.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMER
(Drew Brees photo courtesy New Orleans Saints)
(tie) NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He threw for four touchdowns. He ran for a fifth. And he led the Saints to a demolition of a Rams’ defense that was, until Sunday, pretty sound. He missed only eight throws and had a passer rating of 139.6. In short, he was damned-near perfect. The Saints are only two games behind in the NFC South, and there’s only one reason why: Drew Brees.
KANSAS CITY KR/WR TYREEK HILL. He did it all Sunday night. He ran for a touchdown. He caught a pass for a touchdown. And he returned a kickoff for a touchdown. If you played him in Fantasy Football, you’re cashing checks. All we know is that nobody since Gale Sayers in 1965 has pulled the hat trick Hill did Sunday, and it did more than lift the Chiefs to a pulsating come-from-behind defeat of Denver. It kept them squarely in the AFC West race.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAMER
CHICAGO WR JOSH BELLAMY. Let’s make this simple. He didn’t just drop a touchdown pass. He cost the Bears an upset of Tennessee. Don’t ask me how. Don’t ask me why. All I know is that he had a perfectly thrown pass ricochet off his numbers … with nobody near him. He wasn’t moving. He was standing still. He wasn’t pressured. Cornerback Perrish Cox had belly-flopped behind him. And the pass wasn’t a rocket. It was a softly thrown dart to the numbers. And Bellamy flat out choked it. You wonder why the Bears are 2-9. This is why.