Lots of things went right, and wrong, in the NFL during Week 16; Joe LaTengo looks at some of the highs and lows.
There was no shortage of storylines and talking points to emerge from the second-last week in the 2011 NFL regular season. From faltering quarterbacks to a notably gruesome injury to an acrobatic receiver, Week 16 had a bit of everything.
It began with an improbable comeback Thursday night as Dan Orlovsky connected with Reggie Wayne in the final seconds to lead the Indianapolis Colts past the Houston Texans 19-16. Continuing with the “improbable” theme, the Buffalo Bills confounded the prognosticators on Christmas Eve by manhandling the recently resurgent Denver Broncos 40-14. Known for his fourth-quarter comebacks, Tim Tebow had a final 15 minutes to forget on Saturday, throwing back-to-back interceptions for touchdowns.
Speaking of “confounding,” putting your money against the Miami Dolphins looked like a sure thing in Week 16, yet they managed to cover the spread against the New England Patriots. It helped big time that the Pats had one of the worst 30 minutes in recent memory, and they went into halftime on the wrong end of a 17-0 score. It took all guns blazing to get into the game, but New England eventually grabbed a first-round AFC playoff bye by coming back to edge the Fish 27-24.
The Minnesota Vikings haven’t had anything meaningful to play for in weeks other than the first overall pick in the 2012 draft but if they’re trying to “suck for Luck,” they did it wrong on Saturday. The Vikes beat the Washington Redskins 33-26 even though they lost top running back Adrian Peterson with a tear of his ACL on a cringe-inducing hit, and quarterback Christian Ponder with a concussion during a sack, on consecutive plays to start the second half.
Cam Newton broke Peyton Manning’s single-season rookie passing record as the Carolina Panthers handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their ninth straight defeat with a lopsided 48-14 final. Newton also launched a 91-yard TD strike to Brandon LaFell, which set a team mark for longest TD reception, and added an incredible 49-yard touchdown run.
Matthew Stafford spanked the San Diego defense, throwing for 373 yards and three TDs as the Lions romped 38-10. The win clinched an NFC wild-card playoff spot for Detroit, ending an 11-year drought, while ensuring the Chargers missed the postseason. Jason Hanson also notched his 50th field goal of 50 yards or more, which set a new career mark for placekickers.
Tony Romo left the Cowboys-Eagles game after whapping his throwing hand against a helmet on his second pass attempt. Stephen McGee took the reins for Dallas in his third professional game, but it didn’t matter in the end. Philadelphia won 20-7, but lost their quest for the playoffs when the Giants downed the Jets 29-14.
Neither Charlie Batch nor Kellen Clemens distinguished themselves in the battle of the backup pivots at Heinz Field, but the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t need much from Batch as they had no problems handling the toothless St. Louis Rams in a 27-0 drubbing. Touchdown catch of the week honors go to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who somersaulted over Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and landed in the end zone on both feet. That circus-style reception helped the Bengals defeat the Cardinals 23-16 and kept the Cats in the hunt for a playoff wild card in the AFC.
Meanwhile, Baltimore stayed perfect at home with a 20-13 win over Cleveland, San Francisco went to 12-3 as they defeated Seattle 19-17, Oakland needed overtime to down Kansas City 16-13, and Tennessee downed Jacksonville 23-17.
On Christmas Day, traditional rivals Chicago and Green Bay met, but there was little mystery after halftime as Aaron Rodgers registered his first five-TD game of his career in a 35-21 victory. As expected, the Packers cemented their No. 1 NFC seed and took the Bears out of the playoffs.
One game remains in Week 16: the Monday Night Football matchup between Atlanta and New Orleans. The NFL betting has the Saints marching in as the heavy favorites: that’s no shocker as their 11-3 record has them third-best in the latest NFL Power Rankings, while the comparatively ordinary Falcons (9-5) are ranked 12th.