Week 12 Observations

There was a lot of junk in the Giants-Cowboys game, starting with Victor Cruz losing a fumble (that Dallas returned for a TD) on a play that probably should have been blown dead, but the game was tied at 21 with a few minutes left, and Tony Romo got it done down the stretch against New York's defense.

The Giants might have been ahead by four instead of tied had they not called a draw play on third and goal from the 10. At least the Giants beat writers called them out on it. It turns out the Giants had two options on that play, and Eli Manning read the defense and called the run. On 3rd-and-5 maybe that would have made sense, but from the 10, he should have called time out.

That the Pats were down 24-0 and beat the Broncos is hard to believe. But aside from the game-tying drive (against the wind) Peyton Manning played an abysmal game, something you occasionally see from Eli, but almost never from him. Even with the final drive, Manning had only 4.2 YPA and 150 yards, and it's an open question how he'll fare in the playoffs given he no longer plays his home games in a dome. At this point, I'd take Drew Brees ahead of Manning the rest of the way, and shockingly it's a close call between Manning and Brady. This is about four weeks after the consensus was to rank Andy Dalton ahead of Brady.

Speaking of which, Brady overcame a rocky start to finish with 344 yards, three TDs and no picks, though it took him 50 passes (6.9 YPA) to get there. It's now been three strong games with his weapons intact, so we can safely forget about the season's first half.

Incidentally, it doesn't seem like Manning and Brady like each other very much - witness the perfunctory handshake. That's a good thing - at least until after they retire. Athletes should be like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird - enemies and rivals until it's all over, at which point they're free to be friends. Otherwise, the competition loses some intensity.

Knowshon Moreno looked like Terrell Davis, but despite his 225 yards on 37 carries (6.1 YPC), the Pats still came all the way back and won. Likewise, Brandon Jacobs and Andre Brown combined for 30 carries and 202 yards (6.7 YPC), and the Giants also lost. It's hard to win without being the better passing team in today's NFL.

Mike McCarthy's decision to kick the field goal on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line in overtime was laughably bad. If they convert, it's game over, and if they don't convert, they're still a heavy favorite to win with the game going to sudden death, and Minnesota starting on the 2. After the field-goal, they were only slightly better off than had they gotten stuffed, and they gave up the 50/50 chance to win outright. For the math behind this, click here.

Perhaps more laughable was Leslie Frazier's decision to punt on 4th-and-5 from his own 44 with 2:05 left in overtime. You're 2-8 and playing for the tie?

Jamaal Charles finally looked like the player we saw last year, showing his typical quickness and burst. Barring a known injury, we should be skeptical of assuming declines in established skill among players in their prime are indicative of some new and lower baseline.

The 49ers sure do know how to destroy doormats. RGIII had a tough matchup, but he looked lost on Monday night. If he doesn't improve substantially before the end of the year, he'll come at a steep discount in 2014.

The Colts were exposed in Arizona. The defense isn't very good, and Andrew Luck's options are below average. Coby Fleener's okay, and T.Y. Hilton is a small, but dynamic outside threat, and that's about it. Trent Richardson getting stuffed on 4th-and-1 down four scores was an apt finish to the Indy's day, though it did likely cost me some much-needed Fleener garbage-time points.

Any back against the Bears defense is as good as Adrian Peterson against anyone else. Benny Cunningham, Brandon Jacobs, it doesn't really matter. Incidentally, Peterson gets the Bears at home this week.

The Michael Brockers hit on Josh McCown was clean, but the refs called a roughing-the-passer penalty. On the other hand, the William Gay hit on Jason Campbell's facemask that caused a fumble and was returned to the 4-yard line, (sealing a 13-3 game) was not. Of course, the refs let it go. The new NFL rules are ostensibly for player safety, but there have been as many injuries as ever this year, and their arbitrary enforcement is damaging the games. At the very least, they should be reviewable on replay, but even reviewed calls (like Matt Ryan's first quarter touchdown pass that was overturned Thursday) often come out wrong. And I'm not sure there's anything more arbitrary than what constitutes a "defenseless receiver." And how stupid is that rule anyway? If the ball is in the air, and the receiver has to go up and get it, of course he's defenseless. What's the DB supposed to do, let him catch the ball until he regains solid footing, possession and the ability to protect himself? I always thought a safety's central job description was to wait until the first instant the receiver and the ball make contact and jar him with enough force to prevent him from catching it.

One other issue with the way penalties are called - and this has always been the case - is how fouls that don't affect the play still result in first downs and penalty yards. For example, Antrel Rolle hit a receiver maybe three-inches into the out-of-bounds line, and he got a 15-yard penalty. Roughing-the-passer calls result in automatic first downs even if they occur three seconds after the quarterback released the ball. This is an incredibly stupid policy that makes games turn on total bullshit rather than the merit of the teams.

I get that we want to deter late hits, but why do it in a way that compromises the outcome of the game? Do you really want to see a playoff matchup between two great teams decided because some journeyman injury fill-in couldn't stop himself from glancing the QB's facemask with his arm or didn't realize he had already released the ball? The announcers - who are often dense beyond belief - love this crap. They'll say: "You can't take a penalty like that, you have to be disciplined," about the special teamer who got punched in the face, but was the guy caught retaliating. They act like stupid technicalities driving outcomes are a feature, not a bug.

Instead, fine the player, kick him out of the game, suspend him for a month without pay, chop off his hand, whatever you deem a proper punishment/deterrent to be. But games should never be determined on fouls that in no way affect the play.

I've ripped on the overrated Matt Ryan a lot in this space (and others), but he played a fantastic game against the Saints, throwing on the move, escaping pressure, not making mistakes. A fumble (and a key third-down drop) by rookie Darius Johnson cost Atlanta the game.

Along those lines I've also ripped on Sean Payton over the years for not giving more work to the great Pierre Thomas. But Payton won a Super Bowl in 2009, and Thomas is still healthy in 2013 and a key factor in the offense. (He was the game's MVP Thursday). Had Payton used the injury-prone Thomas as much as I'd have liked, he's probably not playing at this level (if at all) for the Saints right now.


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