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Fifth Quarter, Week 17: Head coach harvest season begins early with Chudzinski’s firing

Jay Busbee
Shutdown Corner

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Cool uniform, Chud. (Getty Images)

Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.

Monday is going to be the NFL-coaching equivalent of the Hunger Games, with the Vikings, Lions, and Redskins expected to pull the ol' trap-door-in-the-floor trick with their current HCs. But just like certain retailers have begun jumping the gun on Black Friday, opening their doors on Thanksgiving night, the Cleveland Browns got the firing season started early by cutting ties with Rob Chudzinski on Sunday night.

Sunday night? While the Dallas-Philadelphia game was going on? Come on, Cleveland! There are rules here! Or at least etiquette!

The firing of Chudzinski was surprising, and not just because he's the only coach whose surname sounds like a Pixar character. (Rex Ryan, who apparently will be holding onto his job, only looks like one.) No, what's surprising is that Chud got less than a year to prove himself, and had to do so without a functional quarterback for much of the year. He also had to make do when the Browns traded away Trent Richardson early in the season without a defined backup plan.

The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-in-the-last-five-minutes league, but even by those standards, Chudzinski's firing seems extreme. Yes, he went 4-12. But he had the obstacles noted above — we seem to remember the Browns playing an actual mannequin a few snaps at quarterback at one point — and it's not like he's the heir to a proud Cleveland coaching tradition. The last Cleveland coach to post a winning record during his tenure was Marty Schottenheimer, and that was back in the mid-1980s. Since then, 10 coaches have come and gone, and not a single one of them has been better than average.

Clearly, the Browns are in the midst of wholesale change, both on the field and on the sidelines. But nothing about the organization is suggesting that it's a good destination for coaches. Who, with any other options, would look to coach there knowing that they've got no leash whatsoever?

It'll be an interesting next few weeks as teams and coach candidates work to put together some kind of love connection ... or, at least, some kind of temporary working relationship. Cleveland is the first in the pool, but we'd be surprised if the Browns find a date anytime soon.

Running down the biggest stories of the last week of the regular season. We'll try not to catch you offsides.

So long, Tony. Sunday brought the presumed end of the 17-year career of Tony Gonzalez, the greatest tight end in NFL history. Sure, he never got to a Super Bowl, but so what? He's still the best ever to play his position. And he'll still snap you in half if you say different.

Peyton Manning, lord of all he surveys. We're all deep into Peyton fatigue now, but sweet heaven, what a year he's been putting together. He owns all the major regular-season passing marks now, but the big question is, what will he do in January? Anything less than a Super Bowl win will be a total failure.

Oh, Kyle. Nine teams were vying for four playoff spots, with several facing win-and-you're-in drama. Heartbreak #1: the Cowboys' replacement QB, Kyle Orton, throwing an interception in the final seconds of the game to kill any hope of a playoff trip.

D-Fence. Heartbreak #2: The Bears, who had Aaron Rodgers pinned into a fourth-and-8, do-or-die play, surrendered not just a first down but a go-ahead touchdown.

In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!

Carolina 21, Atlanta 20. Panthers sacked Matt Ryan nine freaking times.
Cincinnati 34, Baltimore 17. You had just one job, Baltimore ... win.
Indianapolis 30, Jacksonville 10. Thanks for the laughs in 2013, Jax.
New York Jets 20, Miami 7. You also had just one job, Miami.
Minnesota 14, Detroit 13. Final game in the Metrodome. Deflate it!
New York Giants 20, Washington 6. Redskins' sad, sorry 2013 finally wraps up.
Pittsburgh 20, Cleveland 7. Regret is a tough pill, Steelers fans.
Tennessee 16, Houston 10. Both teams would've been OK with losing.
San Francisco 23, Arizona 20. Cardinals look with envy on NFC North.
Green Bay 33, Chicago 28. Cubs' losing ways now infect Bears fandom.
New England 34, Buffalo 20. Patriots now getting down to real business.
New Orleans 42, Tampa Bay 17. Schiano headed back to college? Could be.
Denver 34, Oakland 14. We're all out of compliments for Peyton.
San Diego 27, Kansas City 24. Philip Rivers is a 2013 playoff QB? Unbelievable.
Seattle 27, St. Louis 9. Seahawks give Rams exactly no hope here.
Philadelphia 24, Dallas 22. Well, that was more interesting than necessary.

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Champ: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers. He looked rusty, lacking both strength and touch. He didn't appear to pick apart a weak Bears defense. But he's still Aaron Rodgers, which means that even at 30 percent he's better than most quarterbacks at 100 percent. And when he converted fourth downs into touchdowns and threw for more than 300 yards to squeak Green Bay into a most improbable playoff berth, well, everyone outside the Windy City had to be impressed.

Chump: Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys. All right, this isn't really fair. Orton was pressed into service at the last second when Tony Romo couldn't start the critical win-or-go-home Week 17 game ... the third such game Dallas has been involved in over the last three seasons, as it turns out. Orton was all over the map, but with the assistance of DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, he stayed close enough to have a shot at a winning drive. And then he threw an interception. Of course he did. Oh, and those three elimination games? Dallas has lost all three, and is now a perfect 138-138 since 1997.

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Chilly D. (Getty Images)

We're not sure what's sadder about this photo: the fact that the Bears fan in question is going shirtless in bone-chilling Chicago temperatures, or the fact that big ol' D-Fence here could have played better defense than the Bears themselves in the waning moments of the Packers game. Also, that's a lot of blue and orange paint.

Got your own quality tailgate/party/fan photos? Hit us at jay.busbee@yahoo.com and share.

There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)

• How LeSean McCoy became the NFL's most exciting player. (Yahoo Sports)

• Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien's skills are going to be in high demand in the NFL. (Yahoo Sports)

• What it's like for rookies to adapt to life in the NFL. Good stuff. (NFL Philosophy)

• A look back at the NFL's very bad year. (Grantland)

• Jon Kitna made a lot of money for carrying a clipboard on Sunday night. Here's what he's been up to lately. (Sports On Earth)

• What do NFL players do when their playing days are over? (The MMQB)

Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.

Broncos vs. Seahawks. Yeah, we know, going straight chalk, boring and dull, blah blah. But these two teams were the most effective in the regular season, and every indication is that they'll keep it rolling just fine in the playoffs. Every other team, with the possible exception of New England, has deep and potentially fatal flaws. So for now, we're pulling for Denver-Seattle and the Greatest Super Bowl In Human History. We can dream, yes?

Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 6x, Seattle 5.5x, New England 4x, New Orleans 3.5x, Kansas City 2x, Carolina 2x, San Francisco 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia.

And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!

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