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Friday, January 01, 2010

Pats Could Again Hold Jets’ Key to the Playoffs

Pats Could Again Hold Jets’ Key to the Playoffs
By Jon Wagner-Sr. Writer at Large-Football Reporters Online

The eyes of all New York Jets fans will be on the Meadowlands on Sunday night, as Gang Green tries to make the NFL postseason for the first time in three years.

Rightfully so, since the Jets (8-7) would either clinch the AFC’s fifth seed with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) in the final regular season game (and likely, the last game, period) at Giants Stadium, at 8:20pm EST, on Sunday night.

However, earlier in the day, Jets fans may have to do the unimaginable and begin the new decade by rooting for their arch nemesis of the past decade.

In an ironic twist of fate, the New England Patriots (10-5), New York’s division rival who for much of the past ten years, have stood in the way of the Jets’ success by winning (seven AFC East titles from 2001-2009 and a playoff victory over New York in 2006), could now severely damage the Jets’ playoff hopes by losing.

While focusing on Sunday night’s contest, many seem to be forgetting that what happens earlier in the day in Houston, when the Texans (8-7) host the Patriots (10-5) at 1 pm EST, could have a tremendous effect on the Jets’ chances of beating the Bengals.

Say what you will about how the Jets played the second half in Indianapolis last week, but if the Colts didn’t rest their starters, the Jets probably wouldn’t be playing for much this Sunday.

Likewise, New York will of course have a much better chance at starting the new year with a playoff-clinching victory against Bengals’ backups instead of the Cincinnati starters that produced a 2009 AFC North championship.

At home, the Jets are still very capable of beating a motivated Bengals team with a lot to play for, but it would certainly be a lot easier for the Jets to win on Sunday night if they face a Bengals Lite team similar to the watered down version of the Colts that the Jets saw last week.

And, what Cincinnati may choose to do against the Jets could depend a lot on Sunday’s outcome in Houston.

If the Patriots beat the Texans, the Bengals would be locked into the AFC’s fourth playoff seed, and should rest a lot of starters at Giants Stadium, at least during the second half (especially since without a bye week, that would be Cincinnati’s one chance at resting prior to the playoffs).

However, if New England again stumbles away from home, and fails to lock up the third seed, that spot will be there for the taking for the Bengals. That’s something that could be very attractive to Cincinnati for two reasons.

A first-round matchup as a three seed should be easier against a six seed, as opposed to playing in the four-five game next week.

Looking further down the road, the Bengals would also probably prefer a potential second-round playoff matchup at second-seeded San Diego, where Cincinnati was extremely competitive in a 27-24 loss on a 52-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, on December 20th. Not an easy game at all against the 12-3 Chargers, but the alternative could be a much tougher road to the Super Bowl going to top-seeded Indianapolis as a four seed.

Although Houston needs a lot of help, the Texans will be playing for a lot regardless of how any other AFC scenario plays out. The Texans can make the playoffs with a win over the Patriots and at least two losses from among the Jets, Baltimore (8-7), and Denver (8-7). Making the postseason is obviously the primary goal, but the expansion Texans should have extra motivation to be fired up. Even if the Texans miss the playoffs this year, a win will give Houston its first winning season in its brief eight-year history while helping the Texans avoid a losing record at home, where they are currently just 3-4 this season.

Adding to the chances of a Texans’ win is the uncharacteristic Jekyl and Hyde performance of New England this year. The Patriots are a perfect 8-0 at home, but they haven’t had a decent road win all season. They’re just 2-5 away from Gillette Stadium, with road victories against 3-12 Tampa Bay (really a neutral field win, in London) and in Buffalo (5-10; 2-5 at home).

With the flex schedule moving the Bengals-Jets game to prime time Sunday night television, the final day of the regular season could be summed up in a bit of a tongue twister for the Jets, as in: “Flex, Texans Affect the Jets.”

Regardless of what happens outside of the Meadowlands though, Jet fans are hoping that come Sunday night, they won’t be repeating a far more common phrase, such as “Houston, we have a problem.”

Baltimore’s Dirty Laundry

Baltimore’s Dirty Laundry
By Drew Moss for Football Reporters Online
Those rags. 
Cue Charlton Heston circa 1968: Those damn, dirty yellow rags!
Not the (in)famous Terrible Towels. Penalty flags.  Lots of them.  Thrown at the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Often, and worse – late.  Very late.
The Steelers’ season long crunch time woes were masked by the Baltimore Ravens’ ill-timed sloppiness as two fourth quarter touchdowns were nullified by penalties in a 23-20 Ravens loss at hostile Heinz Field.
With a game winning 38 yard field goal by kicker Jeff Reed with 5:25 remaining under his black hat, Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin held to the tried and true NFL mantra of “no apologies, no excuses” in his post-game, insisting that while the Steelers had “made their bed” with a nearly even, and therefore very uneven 8-7 record, he “likes they way they (the Steelers) are lying in it.”
Raven’s coach Jim Harbaugh did his best to stay positive as well, trying to steer clear of the penalty disparity (Ravens 11-113 yards, Steelers 4-20) in his post-game. But his venom was unmistakable.
When specifically pressed on Willis McGahee’s 32 TD-run that was wiped off the books by a holding call on Ravens wide receiver Kelley Washington, Harbaugh came as clean as a wallet-conscious NFL coach can.
“I think that call was very late,” Harbaugh seethed.  “It didn’t seem like it affected the play.”
Add to this the illegal block in the back called on Terrell Suggs’ that wiped out Domonique Foxworth’s interception/TD return of consistently inconsistent Ben Roethlisberger (17 for 33, 259 yards). 
Then throw in cornerback Frank Walker’s illegal contact penalty that spared the Steelers from another late game implosion, stripping Baltimore of any chance at last second heroics with good field position - and Harbaugh would have every reason to rip the Zebras and/or his team.
But to his credit, Harbaugh more or less stuck to the high road. “You can go to penalties if you want, you can put your finger on whatever you want, but we’re going to Oakland to play our hearts out.”
As well they should.  Despite the loss, the Ravens still control their own destiny. A win against the ever- reeling Raiders would land Baltimore in a wild-card berth, while the Steelers still need help from a slew of teams (count the Jets, Broncos and Texans among them) to get to the postseason.
Tomlin stuck fast to his rah-rah message in the face of the twisted playoff math. “We’re going out to control the things we can control, which is to play winning football,” said Tomlin.
As the Fat Man sang once or twice when visiting the Three Rivers: “Wave That Flag” Coach. “Wave it wide and high.”

AFC South Week 16 Wrap Up

   AFC South Week 16 Wrap Up
By Rafael Garcia
Sr. Contributing Writer Football Reporters Online
Southeast Region
San Diego 42 Tennessee 17
The game was never a contest from the start and the Titans season is now over. Eliminated from the playoffs, Tennessee looks towards other goals. First off was Christmas night, a game versus a Chargers team that had won nine straight games. The Titans needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive but could not deliver. Vince Young has taken this team from 0-6 to 7-7 and back in the playoff talk. The problem was they ran into a San Diego team playing December ball like no other in the league. They have not lost in December since 2006 for a total of 18 straight. Phillip Rivers picked the Titans defense apart going 21-27 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He is playing just as well as any of the top quarterbacks in the league. On the other side of the ball it was Tennessee playing like they did while they were going 0-6. Young had his worst game since he took over going 8-21 for only 89 yards with two picks. He also had a key fumble when he was sliding for a first down. The one bright spot continues to be Chris Johnson and his ability to get yards. He ran for 142 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and needs only 128 to get to 2,000. He would have probably gone over 200 on Christmas night if the Chargers didn’t have such a big lead. So next week is the last game of the season and they will play to get Johnson to 2,000 and possibly, if he can get 234 yards, pass Eric Dickerson’s mark of 2,105 yards. They are also playing for a .500 but a good point needs to be mentioned. If the Titans lose to Seattle next week they would get better positioning in next year’s draft and would play a better schedule. Now no one wants to play to lose but just thought I would mention that.
New York Jets 29 Indianapolis 15
See this is why I have a problem with pulling players at years end. If you are going to do it why let your key players play into the third period? I can see playing them a series or two or maybe even a quarter. Not only that they did it in their home finale of the season. Way to treat your fans to a good game. So with the score 15-10 Jim Caldwell decided to pull Peyton Manning in favor of Curtis Painter and it bombed. Painter was greeted rather rudely and was hit often. He even fumbled on his second series that turned into a touchdown for the Jets. So perfection is gone and what is the point to the Colts. Let us remember that the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter if you win all your games or go 8-8. Still as a fan you would have wanted to see how it would have panned out next week had they won this game? The loss helped the Jets and hurt the Ravens making the last week of the season one to remember. So the main guys will rest next week in preparation for the playoffs. The media and the fans will second guess the decision for weeks to come but if Indy can win the big one it wont matter. If they don’t win it all it will be questioned into next season. They better hope that the likes of Austin Collie and other young players are not hurting their rhythm by not playing with Manning too much.
Houston 27 Miami 20
This is why they play the game as they say. When the season began the Texans had aspirations of a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history. As the season progressed things began to slowly unravel. They lost key games and kept making the mistake that have hurt them in years past. As the season has come to a close they are playing the brand of football they had hoped to play all year. On this day they looked great jumping out to a 27-0 lead as Matt Schaub had two quick scoring passes and Arian Foster chipped in with a 17-yard run. Kicker Kris Brown also had two field goals in the first half for 27-3 lead. They had to hold off a Dolphin 20-point rally but still looked like a team ready to make its first postseason appearance. Foster looked good running for 97 yards and Andre Johnson had five catches for 71 yards and a score. The defense held Miami to just 60 yards on the ground with Ricky Williams getting just 35. On the other side of the coin they did allow Chad Henne to go 35-55 for 322 yards too. So now they play to win next week and wait for the help they need. They have played hard and coach Gary Kubiak knows what’s at stake and the team is playing like it too. Let’s see if they can accomplish their goal and what they will do if they get there.
New England 34 Jacksonville 7
Another team in search of the postseason with jobs on the line is the Jags. On Sunday things did not go as planned when Tom Brady and Randy Moss put on a show that all but eliminated Jacksonville from playoff contention. They saw Brady go a near perfect 23-26 for 267 yards and four touchdowns. Moss had a huge day with three touchdowns on four catches. Maurice Jones-Drew failed to get 100 yards again getting just 63 on 18 carries. They managed just 275 yards of offense and David Garrard was picked off twice. When they had any kind of drive it was killed, as they were 4-11 on third down efficiency. They made Wes Welker look like one of the best receivers in the league as he caught 13 passes for 138 yards and leads the league with 122 catches. They failed to get to Brady and remain one the worst teams in the league as far as sacking the opposing quarterback is concerned. So they will need to win next week and get a lot of help or its lost season. If they do not make the playoffs changes will be needed and most of the time it starts with the head coach.

NFC South Week 16 Wrap Up

                             NFC South Week 16 Wrap Up
By Rafael Garcia
Sr. Contributing Writer Football Reporters Online
Southeast Region
 Atlanta 31 Buffalo 3
Now that the playoffs are not possible the Falcons decided to play for wins and pride. On Sunday they manhandled the Bills from the start. On the first play from scrimmage Matt Ryan hit Roddy White from 42 yards out to make it 7-0. The Bills would never be in the game from that point on. They managed just 187 total yards with only 40 coming via the run. Ryan finished 18-35 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. White had another scoring catch to close the scoring and finished with 139 yards on eight catches. The running tandem of Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood combined for 28 carries for 120 yards and the defense is playing the way they had hoped they would all year. They held the Bills to 11 first downs and 2-10 in third down efficiency. They forced three turnovers and 10 penalties for 60 yards and two sacks. Next week they go to Tampa Bay to try and finish the year with a winning record.
Tampa Bay 20 New Orleans 17
The last fourth of this season has been really hard on the Saints.  They started off so strong but have been exposed in the last month. The defense is the first thing that needs to be addressed and fast. They are finding ways to keep drives alive by allowing the big play, like the 77-yard punt return by Michael Spurlock to tie the game late in the fourth. They gave up 439 yards total yards to the Bucs. Tampa Bay was 7-12 on third downs and had the ball for 36 minutes. Not too bad for a team that started so bad. It was to the point where people were asking if head coach Raheem Morris could survive more than one year. New Orleans actually lead 17-0 and it was still 17-3 at the half. It would not be enough as Drew Brees was held under 300 yards passing and the Bucs defense came up big when they needed to. They took advantage of an injury to Saints running back Pierre Thomas and shut down the run game in the second half. Josh Freeman continued his evolution going 21-31 for 271 yards with no touchdowns and two picks. He did make a big play in the overtime that kept the winning drive alive. So Tampa continues to look like they are improving with each week and the Saints keep looking more vulnerable game after game. They and some fans thought they had won the game in regulation but Garrett Hartley missed a field goal from 37 yards out with five seconds left in the game. So Tampa moves on to finish the year next week looking to next year and the improvements they need to make. On a last note Morris may have saved his job with the team’s play in the last month or so.
Carolina 41 New York Giants 9
It was the last game at the Meadowlands and it hit home for me personally. I grew up going to that stadium and was looking to see the Gmen go out with a win. Unfortunately the Panthers had other plans. They came in with many questions in a season that had gone south. So, with not much to play for, they decided to show up and show out. Matt Moore had an effective day going 15-20 for 171 yards and three touchdowns. On top of that Jonathan Stewart ran all over the Giants defense to the tune of 206 yards on 28 carries and a score. The Panthers were 10-15 on third downs and had 416 total yards. They ran for 247 and forced four turnovers. The defense held the Giants to 60 yards rushing 27 minutes in time of possession. It was an ugly way for New York to go out as they showed no heart and little emotion. Eli Manning was 29-43 for 296 yards but he was playing from behind all day. It was 24-0 at the half and 34-3 by the end of the third. It was Carolina’s third win in their last four games and just like in Tampa that may have saved their coaches job for sure now.

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