A complete debacle, viewed from above. (Getty Images)The Arizona Cardinals' quarterbacks: It's quite something if the quarterback on the other side of the field throws three picks in the first quarter, and five in the entire game, and he's just the third-worst quarterback on the field. So it was for the Arizona Cardinals, who were gifted with five picks from Atlanta's Matt Ryan, and still lost the game, 23-19. This happened in part because Cards head coach Ken Whisenhunt had to bench John Skelton in the first quarter -- Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards before he was unceremoniously yanked in favor of sixth-round rookie Ryan Lindley.
Our buddy Greg Cosell once told me that if you took Lindley's 20 best plays from his San Diego State tape, you'd have one heck of a highlight reel, but none of those plays were in evidence against the Falcons. Lindley completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards, was sacked three times, and lost a fumble that the Falcons returned for a touchdown. In the entire game, the Cards amassed THREE first downs through the air. It wasn't Lindley's fault entirely -- you can start with the fact that both of his offensive tackles were also low-drafted rookies -- but it's tough to think of another franchise that has whiffed on the quarterback position more mightily over the last few seasons.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: Just a note about the "Quarterback Wins" metric: As we mentioned, Ryan threw five picks and no touchdowns, and his team won anyway. This victory will be added to Ryan's burgeoning "win" total, which explains why it's the single dumbest metric in all of sports.
Ed Hochuli and his crew: We're sorry (and somewhat frightened) to criticize Big Ed, but the ref with the NFL's biggest guns did not have the best day on Sunday, when they presided over the Dallas Cowboys' 23-20 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns. With 1:23 left in regulation, Cowboys punter Brian Moorman booted the ball 49 yards to the Cleveland 47-yard line, where Browns receiver Josh Cribbs began a 21-yard return. At the end of the return, Cowboys tight end John Phillips was busted for a horse-collar tackle on Cribbs, when he took Cribbs down by the hair -- which is a legal method of tackling. Given an extra 15 yards, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Watson.
Then, with 8:41 left in overtime, Tony Romo threw a pass to Dez Bryant which certainly looked to be a catch and fumble -- Bryant took the ball in cleanly, maintained possession, and took three full steps before the ball was punched out by Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown. But no, the refs said -- the play was whistled dead, there was no review available because of that rogue whistle. On the next play, Romo threw a slant to Miles Austin which seemed questionable at best -- Austin did not appear to maintain possession of the ball and make a football move before he was taken down -- but the catch was confirmed on review. The Cowboys were able to continue what became their game-winning drive, which ended when Dan Bailey kicked a 38-yard field goal three plays after the Austin catch.
Ed has the big name, but he's got to take the fall for a very inconsistent game.
The San Diego Chargers' offensive line: This was weird. If you watched the Chargers' 30-23 loss to the Denver Broncos, you saw Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throwing his offensive line under the bus over and over -- on one of the four times he was sacked, Rivers started pointing and yelling at right tackle Jeromey Clary while he was still going to the ground. Rivers has an annoying habit of making his displeasure public under the best of circumstances, but he had a very valid point in this case. Over and over, Rivers tried to re-call protections at the line, especially in instances when Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller wasn't blocked one-on-one, and his linemen didn't seem to get the point. There are all sorts of reasons for San Diego's recent offensive troubles, but when your quarterback and line aren't on the same page, nothing else matters. You have no chance.
Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay Packers: The Packers beat the Lions, 24-20, on Sunday, but it would have been a relative blowout had Crosby done his job. He missed two out of three field goal chances -- actually, three out of four if you count the attempt that was iced by Lions head coach Jim Schwartz -- and continued a down season that has seen him make only 11 of 18 attempts. Crosby has made just three of seven attempts in the last three games, and the Packers have won all three of those contests. That might be the only reason Packers head coach Mike McCarthy isn't yet ready to make a change.
"Mason's got to put the ball through the uprights, and that's something that we have to do a better job of," the coach said to start his postgame press conference. "I thought Mason had a very good week of work. Didn't hit it today the way he needs to hit it. We will continue with Mason. We will not blink as far as our commitment to him. So with that, I will take your questions."
We have just one question. Coach, if your team loses a close playoff game, will you look back at this decision with anything but regret?