NFL Week 14 Closing Thoughts: Eagles & Bears Move Forward

NFL Week 14 was fraught with dramatic finishes and bad weather games. Once the dust had settled last night in Chicago, it was clear the most significant developments in the playoff race had taken place in the NFC East and NFC North. On a week where the divisions had their best two teams playing crisscross matchups with each other, the teams that needed it the most–the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears–got a leg up.

Philadelphia came into the week tied with the Dallas Cowboys for first place, but the Cowboys have the remaining head-to-head matchup at home, and they also have a solid edge in all tiebreakers. By moving out to a one-game lead, the Eagles got themselves room to breathe.

Chicago is in the reverse situation–they were a game back of the Detroit Lions and the tiebreaker situation doesn’t look good. In pulling back even, the Bears at least kept themselves viable in the NFC North.

TheSportsNotebook’s closing thoughts on NFL Week 14 with start with these two games, along with Green Bay-Atlanta, as the Packers kept on the heels of the Bears and Lions.

Philadelphia 34 Detroit 20: When was the last time a running back turned a game around in the fourth quarter as dramatically as LeSean McCoy did in snow-covered Lincoln Financial Field? McCoy had two long touchdown runs in the snow, 217 yards on the day and the Eagles scored 28 points in the final period.

Chicago 45 Dallas 28: The Cowboy defense hits a new low, as the Bears neither turned the ball over or punted the entire game. The Dallas defense has now given up 40 first downs in a loss at New Orleans and allowed Chicago to score on every single possession. Josh McCown has another big game, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns, making the decision on what to do with Jay Cutler increasingly controversial.

Green Bay 22 Atlanta 21: Matt Flynn earned this one for the Green Bay Packers. On a day when the snow was pounding Lambeau Field and the offensive line still collapsed, allowing five sacks, Flynn rallied the Packers from a 21-10 halftime deficit. The winning TD was a nice back-shoulder throw to Andrew Quarless in the corner of the end zone. Give Atlanta props for effort though–unlike other 3-9 teams, who will get to in a moment, the Falcons didn’t mail it in for a bad weather game.

Other key NFC games…

New Orleans 31 Carolina 13: Carolina controlled the first quarter, but when they bogged down inside the 10-yard line and were only up 6-0, you had to know trouble was coming. Drew Brees threw for over 300 yards and Cameron Jordan had two sacks, and the Saints were up 21-6 by halftime. Carolina is entitled to mulligan, being on the road after eight straight wins, but we can’t be as cavalier about the rematch in two weeks.

San Francisco 19 Seattle 17: A nice tough win for the 49ers, getting 110 yards from Frank Gore. The concern here has to be that when the teams play in Seattle it ends up a blowout for the Seahawks, but when the game is in Frisco, it’s a close win for the 49ers. That’s the pattern of two years and the conclusion that Seattle is a better team is inescapable.

Before Seattle gets too busy patting themselves on the back, it has to be a concern that Marshawn Lynch was held to 72 yards. Lynch did not run well in the previous week’s win over New Orleans. It’s quite reasonable that the Seahawks’ path to the Super Bowl will be consecutive games with the 49ers and Saints and Seattle will need their running game.

Arizona 30 St. Louis 10: The Rams shot themselves in the foot with 11 penalties, but when you play a talented defense that often happens. Arizona got four sacks and churned out an efficient win. The Cardinals are only a game back of the Niners and still have a head-to-head game with San Francisco, but the latter controls the tiebreakers, so Arizona needs a little help prior to Week 17.

The AFC playoff picture is looking pretty clear, with four teams having clear holds on their divisions and the first wild-card pretty close to wrapped up. Here’s how those five teams fared…

Cincinnati 42 Indianapolis 28: The leaders of the North and South met, with the winner still having a chance at the #2 seed and first-round bye. The Bengals ran the ball, with Giovanni Bernard going for 99 yards, and the Colts did not. Andrew Luck played well in attempting to rally his team, but the early 21-0 hole was too much to overcome. Indy still ended up clinching the division when the Titans lost.

New England 27 Cleveland 26: A stunning rally from the Patriots who trailed 26-14 with less than three minutes to play. Tom Brady threw for 397 yards and his top receiver was Shane Vereen, who caught 12 passes for 153 yards. But the fact the Browns were in such a commanding position in Foxboro was even more stunning and the Jason Campbell-to-Josh Gordon passing combination was prolific.

New England needed a bad pass interference call to set up the winning touchdown pass, and after the game they got worse news–Rob Gronkowski is done for the year with a torn ACL. It’s hard to see New England winning the AFC title without him and even harder to imagine the Pats winning the Super Bowl.

Denver 51 Tennessee 28: Tennessee got out to a 21-10 lead in John Fox’s first game back on the sidelines. Then, in short order, Denver kicker Matt Prater set a new league record with a 64-yard field goal, Peyton Manning became locked in like a laser and the Bronco running game was solid and well-balanced. Manning throws for nearly 400 yards, while the combo of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball produced 154 yards on the ground.

Kansas City 45 Washington 10: The media frenzy around this game is about reports that Mike Shanahan wanted to quit on the Redskins after last season. We’ll deal with that separately, but in the snow of Maryland it was apparent that both the coach and his players have already quit on each other. Kansas City showed some mental toughness, pounding Jamaal Charles for 151 yards, getting two special teams touchdowns and another big return and breaking a three-game losing streak. The Chiefs are now 10-3, and while they haven’t clinched a wild-card spot yet, it’s only a matter of time.

In the AFC’s crazy race for the sixth and final playoff spot the endings were the wildest…

Baltimore 29 Minnesota 26: In the hard snow of Baltimore, these teams combined for five touchdowns in the final two minutes, as apparently both defenses operated under an edict to avoid tackling or covering. Joe Flacco made some big throws to win it on the final possession, but he also threw three interceptions in what continues to be an inconsistent year for the quarterback.

Adrian Peterson left the game with an ankle injury, but he’ll be back and Toby Gerhart carried 14 times for 89 yards. The Vikings, like the Falcons and unlike the Redskins, have at least kept competing in a lost season and the idealist in me believes that will find its own reward eventually.

Miami 34 Pittsburgh 28: On a bizarre final play, the Steelers appeared to have won when, after about six laterals, Antonio Brown found the sideline and got to the end zone. Unfortunately, he found the sideline a little too literally, and replays clearly showed he stepped out. Worse, it wasn’t anything that impacted the play.

The reason Miami was ultimately in position to win the game is that, once again, the Steelers did not run the ball, while the Dolphins did. Daniel Thomas ran for 105 yards and his team kept pace with Baltimore at 7-6. Pittsburgh dropped its eighth game and in losing this game, handed away what had been an advantageous tiebreaker position. They’re toast.

NY Jets 37 Oakland 27: In a game where the Raiders held narrow, but consistent edges in most every statistical category, the Jets won by controlling third down. New York converted 7-of-13 to move the chains, while Oakland was 5-for-15. With the win, the Jets stay a game back of Miami and Baltimore.

San Diego 37 NY Giants 14: The score tells it all–San Diego just played a dominating game in all phases and pushes themselves to 6-7, right there with the Jets on the heels of the wild-card leaders. The Bolts have a big game in Denver on Thursday night to stay alive.

And we close out NFL Week 14 with the two non-consequential games on the card…

Tampa Bay 27 Buffalo 6
Jacksonville 27 Houston 20

Remember when everyone was wondering if Tampa Bay or Jacksonville would win a game? In an episode of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption around the midway point, co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were asked to pick whether the combined wins would exceed 1.5. Both said yes, but Wilbon was the strongest in his conviction, saying they would exceed six combined wins.

Turns out even that was light. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville are now each at 4-9 and turning into the kind of teams you don’t want to deal with down the stretch, particularly the Buccaneers who have a spoiler chance against San Francisco coming up.