A lot happened this last week in the NFL but just because its behind us doesn't mean we leave the lessons learned behind. Let's examine some takeaways heading into Week 14.
The NFC Playoff picture got much clearer following the Week 13 results after the Giants, Falcons and Bears all emerged as losers in their respective ‘must win’ games. With Green Bay and Seattle both winning, its going to take a late season collapse for any of the second tier contenders to sneak into the postseason. Let’s take a look at some of the key notes and quotes from New York, Atlanta and Chicago following those defeats.
Six of the Giants seven losses have come by six points or less, and their OT defeat to the Jets marked the fifth time this season that they’ve blown a fourth quarter lead. But some of the criticism is ridiculous. Head coach Tom Coughlin is taking ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ type heat for his decision to go for it on fourth and two from the Jets four yard line with under nine minutes to play in regulation. Eli Manning threw an interception on the play; the Jets seized the momentum and went on to win the game.
But Coughlin’s decision to go for it there is an absolute no-brainer. Coughlin: “If we scored there and fourth-and-2, then we push the score up to where maybe they can't beat us with whatever. So we're up 17. I stand by it." Of COURSE he stands by his decision, because it was the right decision. A TD clinches the game. A field goal doesn’t clinch the game. And even if the Giants get stopped on the fourth down, they pin the Jets deep, winning the field position war.
It was the Giants late game defense that let them down, not their decision to go for it on fourth down. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins: “He (Coughlin) was showing faith in us and that's what you want. As a player, you should want to have that opportunity to put the game away."
That being said, the Giants were shut out in the second half. Some of those second half offensive struggles were clearly related to their injury woes on the offensive line. The G-men got center Weston Richburgh and left guard Justin Pugh back in the lineup, but right tackle Marshall Newhouse was inactive with a back injury and left tackle Ereck Flowers left with a sprained ankle. There’s not a starter on the unit that is playing anywhere near full health at this stage of the campaign.
The Atlanta Falcons have now lost five straight. Four of those five losses have come by four points or less; a team that has spent the better part of the last two months coming up one play short, again and again. And once again, it was QB Matt Ryan with a poor throw late in the game and an inability to convert red zone chances into touchdowns that doomed their chances at Tampa on Sunday; a pair of failures that’s happened more than once during this dismal run.
Head coach Dan Quinn: “That's as tough as it gets for us. The finish was at hand. For us, finishing is about doing right longer, and we didn't get that done." Matt Ryan: “It's obviously a disappointing loss. We had opportunities, I thought, throughout the game to score more points. We didn't come away with enough touchdowns. At the end of the game, obviously, you don't what to turn it over on the first play of the drive. That was disappointing as well.”
The Chicago Bears defense played well for most of the game against San Fran on Sunday, holding the 49ers out of the end zone for the first 58 minutes of regulation. But that D fell apart with the game on the line, allowing a 44 yard Blaine Gabbert TD scramble on third down to tie the game and a 71 yard TD strike in overtime to lose it.
That being said, a defense that holds their opponent out of the end zone for the first 58 minutes of the game is doing something right. An offense that was held to 20 points or less for the third straight week; this time against a bottom tier stop unit, clearly takes the blame here. Jay Cutler, after throwing another pick six: “Offensively we didn't play that great in Green Bay either. That's kind of the facts. Today we didn't play exceptionally well either. Offensively we've got a lot of work to do.”