In the land of a million narratives, the man with one career playoff victory is king.
Contrary to popular belief, Twitter did not invent the “narrative”: A convenient, tidy explanation for a series of events that may or may not be interrelated. Just ask William Randolph Hearst or John Elway. It did perfect it, however. Now anyone can conjure and share evidence to reinforce their preconceived notions in the time it takes you to hit “refresh.” Find the stat you want it, frame it in the right manner and share it with all your friends, preferably with some CAPITALIZATION and exclamation points thrown in. There’s a narrative about pretty much everyone these days. Every last athlete must be ordered and sorted into a one-word distillation of their career.
Tom Brady? Clutch. Cam Newton? Immature. Darren McFadden? Fragile. Some narratives are more true than others. Fewer still are spot on. Most have no basis in reality. That doesn’t mean the internet writ large is going to stop painting technicolor issues with a black and white brush. It’s simply too easy, too irresistible when any semi-cogent observation can be favorited and retweeted without so much as a second thought.
This brings us to the defining football narrative of our time: Tony Romo is a choker. It’s a narrative so prominent, so pervasive and so polarizing that it’s sparked a nearly as ubiquitous counter-narrative: Tony Romo is not a choker. Supporters of the choker narrative can point to any number of game — or season — sealing interceptions to “make their case.” Supporters of the counter-narrative can bring up things like fourth-quarter quarterback rating or, say, the fact that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are just a few of the quarterbacks to toss costly interceptions in the past week, let alone year. Who’s “right”? Does it matter? Is the truth not somewhere in the middle, as it is with most things hotly debated?
My take: Tony Romo seems to throw a lot of costly, spectacular interceptions. My other take: Tony Romo plays for a team that’s always on national television, and usually in close games. Maybe Dallas’ games wouldn’t be so close — thereby magnifying every mistake — if owner/GM Jerry Jones put together a better roster. Maybe we wouldn’t remember every Romo interception like it was the moon landing if the Cowboys weren’t always on Sunday Night Football or the featured 4:25 ET game.
I have no earthly clue if in the deep, dark recesses of Tony Romo’s soul lies the heart of a “choker.” I do know that we’ll never know, and that narratives are only narratives until they’re not. Chances are you’ll remember the next time Tony Romo throws an interception. The chances are even greater you won’t have the time or patience to consider everything that came before it, like Dallas’ decision to employ a 73-year-old defensive coordinator who was recently fired by his son, or a supporting cast that gives new meaning to the phrase “stars and scrubs.”
You’d rather bask in the glory of Romo’s latest ignominy, which honestly, is OK. Sports are supposed to be fun, and Romo’s misery has an undeniable appeal. But that doesn’t mean there’s a deeper meaning to it. What will happen when we close the book on the Romo Narrative, either via a Super Bowl title or Romo’s retirement? We’ll say good day and move on to the next one, having learned little but said very much. It’s a debate full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
1. Jamaal Charles
How did Week 15’s consensus No. 1 running back outstrip expectations? By having one of the greatest fantasy days of all time. Like Doug Martin before him, Charles ran all over the Raiders and into the record books, posting the sixth most fantasy points in the history of football. Only Charles didn’t necessarily run all over the Raiders so much as gain air superiority. Charles became the first running back in NFL history to catch four touchdown passes in a game. His 195 receiving yards were the most by a runner since 1999. Charles took three screens and one wheel route to the house, notching scores of 49, 39, 16 and 71 yards. He added a one-yard plunge on the ground for good measure. Charles would be garnering serious MVP consideration were he doing this in any other year.
2. Danny Amendola
This is the player the Patriots paid $28.5 million. Nevermind the fact that Amendola’s 10 catches somehow didn’t lead the team. He put his body on the line time and again, making the kind of tough and dangerous grabs that made him worthy of a five-year deal in free agency, but also quite susceptible to injury. Three of Amendola’s receptions came on New England’s desperation final drive, with one moving the chains on 4th-and-8 from the Patriots’ own 45-yard line. Amendola is on the field far less than the Patriots and fantasy owners would like, but earns his keep the hard way when he plays.
3. Kirk Cousins
It was not a complete effort from Cousins in his first start of 2013. He cooled off after a scorching first half, and committed three of Washington’s seven turnovers. But he did what he was supposed to do against a bad team in a dome, dropping dimes and restoring order to an offense that had been slipping toward oblivion. We’d typically say buyer beware — this was one of the worst defenses in the league, after all — but Cousins has an even better Week 16 home matchup in the Cowboys’ laughingstock of a defense. Forget the offseason implications for Cousins’ play, and focus on what he’ll be for the fantasy finals: A high-upside QB2.
1. Would the Redskins have become bowl eligible had they converted that two-point conversion?
2. If you put a quarter in Jason Garrett, will he call a pass play?
3. Is Eli Manning a Russian spy?
1. Miles Austin
Amidst the Cowboys’ meltdown, Austin caught two passes for 35 yards. That gives him six grabs for 89 yards since returning in Week 12. His biggest contributions against the Packers? An offensive pass interference penalty and letting Sam Shields erase him on Tony Romo’s first interception. Seven months shy of his 30th birthday with a history of hamstring injuries longer than the Nile River, Austin is miscast as a No. 2 receiver at this stage of his career, and will almost certainly be cut loose by the cap-strapped Cowboys. The time to sell in Dynasty leagues will be January and February.
2. Case Keenum
If the Texans were harboring any illusions about Keenum being their 2014 starter, they should be gone now. Keenum turned in a wretched performance in Houston’s 12th loss of the season, struggling in the face of pressure, holding onto the ball for too long and making hopelessly late throws. Both of Keenum’s picks were passes that should have been stuck in his hip pocket two seconds earlier. Keenum is a nice story — a gunslinger who set all sorts of all-time NCAA records just down the road from Houston’s Reliant Stadium — but he doesn’t appear to be much of an NFL quarterback.
3. Eli Manning
If it seems like Manning is on this list every week, it’s because he is. The NFL’s interceptions leader tossed not one, not two, not three, not four but five picks against the Seahawks’ league-best secondary, setting a Giants single-season record in the process. As he’s done in matchups both good and bad this season, Manning torpedoed the Giants offense, and raised serious doubts about which direction his career is headed. Like Philip Rivers before him, it’s unlikely Manning is dealing with a decay that can't be fixed, or at least sutured. But something has got to give for 2014. If it doesn’t, next season will be Manning’s last as the Giants’ franchise quarterback.
Stats of the Week
The Associated Press’ Josh Dubow has the stat of the week: Alex Smith’s five touchdown passes Sunday? They traveled a combined 13 yards in the air. Life is good.
Trent Richardson had 19 carries against the Texans. 14 of them went for two yards or fewer.
Tony Romo averaged 7.5 yards per attempt Sunday. DeMarco Murray averaged 7.4 yards per carry.
Drew Brees through seven home games: 350.6 yards per game, 73.2 completion percentage, 8.76 yards per attempt, 23:3 TD:INT ratio and a 122.5 quarterback rating. Through seven road games? 292.3 yards per game, 63.4 completion percentage, 6.94 yards per attempt, 11:7 TD:INT ratio and 86.4 QB rating.
Jordan Todman made his first start of the season Sunday. He posted both more rushing yards and yards from scrimmage than Maurice Jones-Drew had managed in a game all season.
Vikings No. 3 running back Matt Asiata had 30 carries and three touchdowns against the Eagles. He had 51 yards.
Week 15 Fantasy All Pro Team: QB Nick Foles, RB Jamaal Charles, RB Eddie Lacy, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Dez Bryant, WR Julian Edelman, TE Vernon Davis
The All Shake It Off Team: Don’t panic about these players’ Week 15 performances heading into the fantasy finals. QB Drew Brees, RB Shane Vereen, RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Eric Decker, WR Andre Johnson, TE Julius Thomas
The Is That Seriously Going To Decide My Fantasy Semifinal Award: Giovani Bernard failing to find the end zone on three straight goal-line carries, the third of which appeared to be a touchdown that the Bengals decided not to challenge.
The Blowing A 26-3 Halftime Lead to Matt Flynn Is Actually Possible Award: The Cowboys.
Most Absurd Moment of Week 15: See above.
Haunting Photo of the Week: Smokin’ Jay Cutler, like you’ve never seen him before.
Link of the Week: It's good, I promise.