Consider that a statement victory for San Francisco, with the statement going something like this: Damned right we can stay with Seattle.
So the 49ers had to go to the wire to win. It doesn't matter.
They absolutely, positively had to beat Seattle to prove that, if the two meet again, they won't flinch.
No, I don't like anyone's chances of winning in Seattle, but the 49ers made the point that they will not go away with that game-winning 11-play, 76-yard drive through the league's best defense.
--2. The best team in the NFC East isn't in the NFC East. It's Kansas City. The Chiefs were 4-0 vs. the division, outscoring NFC East opponents 119-49.
--3. Nice rebound by New Orleans, and just in time, too. They Saints are in control of the NFC North again, and they must be to have a chance in the playoffs. Not only have they won their last 15 regular-season games (and 16 overall) at home under Sean Payton, but dome teams that go outside in the playoffs are doomed teams. You can look it up. Plus, anyone notice what happened in the snow Sunday? Yep, no dome team (Detroit, Atlanta and Minnesota) won.
--4. The club no NFC wants in the playoffs is Philadelphia. The Eagles are hot, hot, hot. They can run. They can pass. They don't make mistakes. And they can play defense. Plus, they're building momentum at just the right time. But this is what I like most: Their season finale ... which could be for the division title ... is against Dallas, and one thing I know about the Cowboys is they don't play well in season enders. They could have won the division the last day of the past two years ... and didn't, with Tony Romo
committing five turnovers.
--5. What is it about the Pittsburgh Steelers
and sidelines? One week after coach Mike Tomlin gets fined for his role in a touchdown-saving stop of Jacoby Jones
, wide receiver Antonio Brown
blows a miraculous last-second touchdown run by barely stepping out of bonds ... and after he beat the Miami coverage.
--6. And that, folks, is why Baltimore pays Joe Flacco
the big bucks. Yep, he makes throws that have you shaking your head, but he's tough in the clutch ... as Minnesota just found out. That was Flacco who launched two touchdown passes in the last two minutes to pull out a last-gasp victory Baltimore desperately needed.
--7. The Ravens must earn their sixth straight playoff trip the hard way. Their next three games are, in order: At Detroit; New England and at Cincinnati.
--8. No way Baltimore beats Minnesota without tight end Dennis Pitta
, Flacco's security blanket, who returned just in the nick of time. First he makes a go-ahead touchdown catch with 2:06 left; then he draws a critical pass-interference call to set up the Ravens' winning TD. Without him, the Ravens are toast.
--9. I'm sorry, but Washington's Santana Moss is right: NFL officiating stinks ... and it's not just Jeff Triplette or Clete Blanchard. Look at the pass-interference call in the end zone that cost Cleveland, and tell me that was a foul. It wasn't. It looked like a make-up call for Blanchard's non-call when Rob Gronkowski
got mugged in the end zone at Carolina. Brutal.
--10. Dear Santa, Please don't give me Jeff Triplette for the playoffs. Your friend, Roger Goodell.
--11. Consider that a Pyrrhic victory for New England. Yeah, they won another nail-biter, but they lost tight end Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady
's most reliable weapon. That, plus a porous defense ravaged by injuries and slow starts, doesn't bode well for New England in the playoffs.
--12. I'm overstating overstating the obvious, but that hit on Gronkowski is a natural consequence of the NFL's legislation against defenders hitting high. So they go low, as Cleveland's T.J. Ward did on Gronkowski, and too often the knee is the target.
--13. The more I watch Tom Brady the more I like him as league MVP. Yes, Peyton Manning
is the Offensive Player of the Year, but the Most Valuable ... in the truest sense of the word? I'll take Brady, who for most of the season has been throwing to Manny, Moe and Jack and the past three weeks rallied the Pats from double-digit deficits -- including a 24-0 hole at halftime vs. Peyton Manning and Denver.
--14. If Andy Dalton
continues to play like this ... and I understand that's a big if ... make Cincinnati a dangerous team in the AFC. Yeah, I know the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991, but this team ... when Dalton is on ... hits on all cylinders. Plus, it can do what New England and Denver cannot: Namely, play solid defense.
--15. Mike Shanahan
won't have to worry about cleaning out his office this time. Dan Snyder will do it for him.
--16. Cleveland should try to talk Mariano Rivera
out of retirement. The Browns desperately need a closer. They lost with 40 seconds left last week, then blew a 12-point lead in the last 1:01 Sunday. Grant Balfour
, please pick up the phone.
--17. The worse Washington gets -- and the Redskins just hit rock bottom -- the smarter St. Louis looks. Thanks to the blockbuster RG3 trade last year -- or, the gift that keeps on giving -- the Rams hold Washington's first-round pick in 2014. So what? So it could be the first overall choice.
--18. Archie Manning was right. Eli and the Chargers don't mix, and Manning proved it again. He's 0-3 vs. San Diego, the team that chose him with the first pick of the 2004 draft.
--19. Carolina's doomed if it makes the playoff as a wildcard, and here's why: Cam Newton is 11-12 for his career on the road.
--20. Can't wait for the overnight ratings for next week's Washington-Atlanta game. Call it Must-Flee Viewing.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
--1. Peyton Manning CAN play in the cold. Tell me that wasn't a statement game for him, with Manning throwing a season-high 59 times, as if to prove to his critics that no temperature bothers him. The victory makes Manning 4-7 in games where it's 32 degrees or colder at kickoff, and that includes his playoff loss to Baltimore last year. That wasn't Manning's fault; it was Rahim Moore's. If he doesn't go brain-dead the Broncos win.
--2. Indianapolis may have clinched a playoff spot, but the Colts go nowhere in January. Since the loss of Reggie Wayne, they're 3-3 and seem to be running on empty. They routinely fall behind in first halves, allowed 40 or more points two of the past three weeks and have trouble beating anyone not named Tennessee. Fork, please.
--3. Looks as if we'll see Aaron Rodgers
again. With that defeat of Atlanta, the Packers are still in the NFC North picture ... which means Rodgers, who practiced on a limited basis last week, can start warming up again.
--4. The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin fiasco affected Miami. It kicked the Dolphins into gear. They've won three of their last four, including an impressive defeat of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, where they hadn't won before. That should answer the question of how the Dolphins respond to "distractions."
--5. Adrian Peterson should skip the next trip to Maryland. The last two times he played there he's been hurt -- once in Landover when he tore his knee against Washington (2011), then again in Baltimore when he suffered an ankle injury.
JUST ASKING BUT ...
--Why did it take Bruce Arians so long to get a head-coaching gig?
--Who had a worse weekend -- Urban Meyer or Jeff Triplette?
--Anybody interested in winning the NFC North?
--Does Mike Shanahan coach next year? And, if so, where?
--How did the Giants get so bad so fast?
FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO
--1. Houston owner Bob McNair. McNair is a patient guy and one of the classiest owners in the league. But what he did to Gary Kubiak was anything but classy. He fired him with three games left, and someone please explain. Yeah, OK, so the team stinks. But what do you gain by firing Kubiak with three games left? Remember this was a head coach who suffered a mini-stroke on the field, then hurried back to rejoin his team. And for this? Please. Merry Christmas, Gary. You deserved better. You deserved a chance to finish out the season.
--2. Washington special teams coach Keith Burns. His teams surrendered 300 yards and two TDs on returns -- including 281 and two TDs in the first half. You think Mike Shanahan had a bad day? Keith Burns' was worse.
--3. Cleveland running back Fozzy Whittaker. He's the unlucky guy who reached for New England's last-gasp on-side kick, deflecting it into Kyle Arrington's hands ... and making an improbable New England comeback victory a reality. If New England reaches the Super Bowl somebody save a playoff cut for The Foz.
--4. Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees. OK, so the Ravens won. But they allowed Minnesota -- sans Adrian Peterson, no less -- to produce two touchdown drives in the last 2:05, with the Vikings going 177 yards on just five plays. That's not the Baltimore Ravens
, and it's not how they're going to make the playoffs.
--5. Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown. He pulled off the miracle of miracles after taking a Ben Roethlisberger pitch to weave through the Miami defense and score a game-winning TD with no time left. On eproblem: Replays showed he stepped out of bounds at the Miami 12, which means Pittsburgh wound up beating itself -- and stop if you've heard that before.
NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--0 -- Cincinnati losses at home
--1 -- Ed Reed victories since winning Super Bowl XLVII
--4 -- Denver players with 10 TDs each
--5 -- Fumbled snaps by Matthew Stafford
--6 -- Lead changes in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore-Minnesota game
--15-2 -- Baltimore at home when the temperature at kickoff is 40 degrees or colder
--20 -- Detroit turnovers the past six games
--40 -- Combined interceptions of New York's Eli Manning
and Geno Smith
--299 -- Philadelphia rushing yards vs. Detroit
--323 -- Tom Brady second-half passing yards
--774 -- Josh Gordon receiving yards his last four games
NEXT WEEKEND'S BEST FOUR GAMES
San Diego @ Denver
New England @ Miami
Green Bay @ Dallas
Baltimore @ Detroit
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
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