The Tuesday Stew: Kirk Cousins, Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, the NFL Playoffs and More
Welcome football fans to a weekly column served hot and fresh every week, NFL Soup’s Tuesday Stew. Here, I will recap the top headlines and stories from this past week’s games, go over some absurdly awesome stats and show the week’s most mind-blowing play. So sit back, relax and fill up on everything NFL.
Week 15 is in the books, and it’s time to dish out all the action. So without further ado, here’s what I’m serving up in this week’s stew:
Touchdown: Six Points On Week 15
1. Falcons Shut Out Defending Champs
The Giants, fresh off their 52-27 blowout win against the Saints, come to Atlanta to face the Falcons, who had lost by 10 to the Panthers the week before. This game was a rematch of last year’s NFC Wild Card Game, in which the Giants dominated in a 24-2 win.
But it was the Falcons who dominated this time around.
On the second play of the game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw an interception to Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel. Four plays after that, Michael Turner punched the ball into the end zone for the Falcons and the rout was on. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns—two to wide receiver Julio Jones and one to tight end Tony Gonzalez—while throwing no interceptions. Manning would be picked off once more, and the Giants offense would be completely shut down by the Falcons defense.
This was a big statement game for the Falcons, who are trying to prove that they are the class of the NFC. Though they have been in the regular season over recent years, they have gone one-and-done in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. But this year, they have a defense that is as dangerous as their offense, and if they can wrap up home-field advantage, they will be a tough team to beat.
As for the Giants, this is a big loss, but it’s still the Giants. And as I said last week, this team can look like dominant champions one week, then look average the next. The important thing to them—which is bad news to the rest of the league—is that they are still in the playoff hunt. And as if we’ve all seen before, if they make the playoffs, then anything can happen.
2. Packers, Texans Clinch Divisions
Neither wins were pretty, and both teams had to hold off late rallies, but they were wins nonetheless, and both the Packers and the Texans clinched their respective divisions.
The Packers faced their long-time rival Bears in Chicago. After a scoreless first quarter, Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall continued his spectacular season with a 15-yard touchdown reception. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense would answer, with Rodgers and wide receiver James Jones connecting for a 29-yard touchdown. They would hook up twice more to open up a 21-7 lead, which would eventually be cut to 21-13 midway through the fourth quarter, yet they held on to win by that same score, giving them their second straight NFC North crown.
In Houston, the Texans faced the Colts, who had won seven of their past eight games behind late heroics by first overall pick Andrew Luck. But luck was not completely on the Colts side this time; the Texans led 10-0 after the first quarter, and 20-3 right before halftime. Luck would eventually begin his comeback, throwing two touchdowns to narrow the deficit to 23-17 in favor of the Texans late in the third. Stingy defense and two Shayne Graham field goals would give the Texans a 29-17 victory, capturing their second consecutive AFC South title.
3. Kirk Cousins Does His Best RG3 Impersonation
No RG3? No problem. Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins took his place under center against the Browns this past week, and the Redskins weren’t afraid to air it out without their rookie sensation (well, their usual one that is). Cousins ended up throwing for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while adding another 22 yards on the ground.
The Redskins are now in the driver’s seat for the NFC East title at 8-6. They play division opponents—the Eagles and Cowboys—over the next two weeks. It’s possible that RG3 could be sidelined another week with his knee, but with the way Cousins has played, the Redskins could afford to sit him against the Eagles so he can be rested and ready to go against the Cowboys and for the playoffs.
4. Big Ben, Not Tony Romo, Throws Game-Losing Interception
Staying in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys kept themselves in the NFC East race, as well as the wild card chase, with a big overtime win against the Steelers. For the Cowboys who, along with their quarterback Tony Romo, are known for choking late in the season, played clutch football. Romo threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was also over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns, but his lone interception on the second play of overtime cost the Steelers the win.
Both teams are still fighting for a playoff spot, with the Cowboys at 8-6 and the Steelers at 7-7. Though they currently are not one of their conference’s six seeds, they do however have a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason, since they play teams that currently hold playoff spots over the next two weeks (but we’ll get to that in just a bit).
5. The Craziest Comeback That Could’ve Been
Sunday night’s matchup between the 49ers and the Patriots was billed as a potential Super Bowl preview, but the way the game started, it seemed far from it. However, the way it almost ended, and then actually ended, gave an indication that we could see these two teams play each other again come February.
It all started off with the 49ers completely manhandling the Patriots and their potent offense. The best defense in football intercepted, sacked and pressured Tom Brady, while the 49ers offense pushed their way through the Patriots defense, seemingly able to do anything they wanted to. By the early part of the third quarter, the 49ers led 31-3, and this game seemed on course for a big time blowout in a big time game.
But, it’s never over when the Patriots have Brady at the helm.
Brady would lead four straight scoring drives, erasing that 28-point deficit completely to tie the game at 31-31. With all the momentum now on the Patriots side, and another comeback chapter about to be complete for Brady’s legacy, the 49ers immediately responded, with rookie running back LaMichael James returning the ensuing kick 62 yards, setting up a 38-yard touchdown from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to wide receiver Michael Crabtree on the very next play, and all but sealing the victory and holding off the Patriots rally.
Though Brady and the offense would have their opportunities, but would falter, especially on a 4th-and-1 from their own 10-yard line with less than three minutes left (more on that later). The 49ers would hold on to win 41-34, inching themselves even closer to the NFC West title and NFC’s second seed, while the Patriots were knocked down to the third seed in the AFC.
This was a huge win for the 49ers, who may have established themselves as the best team in football (for now) after winning against the Patriots, who most thought was the league’s best team after their dominant win against the Texans a week prior. But after dominating the Patriots, the 49ers gave up a big lead, yet held on to win. Though that all sparks concerns for both teams, at the end of the day, both teams are great, in the playoffs, and could see each other again in the Super Bowl.
6. NFC Playoff Spots Up For Grabs
Well, this could get real interesting.
With the Falcons, 49ers and Packers all in the playoffs, that leaves three spots open for several teams that could find themselves in the postseason in just a few weeks.
In the NFC East, the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys are all 8-6, with the Redskins currently atop the division due to tiebreakers. The other team in that division, the Eagles, can play spoiler the next two weeks against the Redskins and Giants, while the Cowboys and Redskins meet in the nation’s capital in Week 17. So, the division is still completely up for grabs.
For the two teams that don’t win that division though, they could still make the playoffs as a wild card team, though the 9-5 Seahawks and 8-6 Vikings currently hold the NFC’s fifth and sixth seeds, respectively. All those teams, plus the 8-6 Bears, are fighting for one of those wild card spots. Additionally, the 6-8 Saints are not mathematically eliminated, but would need a bunch of help to get in.
Using ESPN’s playoff simulation machine, I’ve managed to run a few different scenarios on what could happen and who would get in, but it’s basically going to come down to tiebreakers if and when a number of these teams finish with the same record. For the sake of time and to double and triple check the accuracy of playing around with the playoff scenarios, I’ll have something posted later this week in the Friday Baba Ghanoush on how each team can punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Extra Point: Games That Can Affect Playoff Picture
Week 16: Saints at Cowboys, Bengals at Steelers, Vikings at Texans, Giants at Ravens, 49ers at Seahawks
Week 17: Ravens at Bengals, Texans at Colts, Packers at Vikings, Cowboys at Redskins
Three Absurdly Awesome Stats
1. With his eight consecutive 100+ yard rushing game, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gets even closer to breaking Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Peterson has 1,812 rushing yards on the season, and needs only 294 more over the next two games—against the Texans and Packers—to set the new record.
2. With his seventh straight 100+ yard receiving game, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson seems to be on the brink of breaking the Madden Curse, as he is on pace to break Hall of Famer Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record of 1,848 yards. With 1,667 yards on the season, Johnson needs 182 yards in his next two games—versus the Falcons and Bears—to set a new record.
3. Lost in the headlines of Peterson and Johnson, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten eyes a single-season record of his own. With 97 receptions on the season, Witten is just six catches away from breaking Tony Gonzalez’s single-season record for receptions by a tight end of 102.
Most Mind-Blowing Play
Normally, this relatively new section of the Tuesday Stew went to the past week’s most insane plays—plays that you watch and ask yourself, “how the hell did he do that!?” And, though there were a few plays like that from this week’s games, this section is called the “most mind-blowing” play, and that play this week made me ask, “why the hell did he do that!?”
There’s only one play that I’m talking about: the Patriots decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 12-yard line.
This play got lost a bit in the headlines of the Patriots comeback from a 28-point deficit to the 49ers, who eventually held on to win. But given the context of the situation, this play is definitely the most-blowing of the week (though not an unprecedented call by Bill Belichick).
After rallying back from that 31-3 deficit to tie the game at 31-31 and gain all the momentum, the Patriots had it taken away by the 49ers, who took a 38-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Patriots failed to answer back, punting on their next two drives, before getting the ball deep in their own territory with under three minutes to play.
Then, facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 10-yard line, the Patriots go for it. And fail.
It’s mind-blowing because there was no point in going for it at that point in the game and that deep in their own territory. They were only down seven. They still had two timeouts and the two-minute warning—so essentially three timeouts—to try to tie the game again. Going for it and failing (which they did) would pretty much give the game to the 49ers, who could easily score with that great of field position (which they did).
This play was a case of bad decision-making, getting caught in the moment with panic rather than making the smart choice.