Meanwhile in Cleveland, the brown paper bags are back, but not because of the shame of another losing season. Instead, fans are hiding the disappointment and frustration of the 10-win Cleveland Browns missing the playoffs.
That's life around NFL precincts this time of year, as another exciting and wild season concluded with the Tennessee Titans (10-6) and Washington Redskins (9-7) fulfilling the most basic of playoff qualifications: win and you're in the tournament.
In both instances, nothing came easy for the qualifiers. Young, the immensely talented second-year quarterback often criticized for the team's offensive struggles, couldn't even finish Sunday's 16-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Young suffered a right quadriceps injury, forcing him to give way to Kerry Collins in the third quarter.
Washington's uphill climb was much steeper, having to overcome the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor and an injury to quarterback Jason Campbell. Its season was saved when Todd Collins pulled a Jeff Garcia to guide the Redskins to a season-ending four-game winning streak, capped with a 27-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys, and into next Saturday's wild-card game at the Seattle Seahawks.
While the day boiled down to what took place in Washington and Indianapolis, there were a number of winners, losers and intriguing moments during the final weekend of the 2007 regular season:
• The NFL fans, especially those with access to multiple games, were treated to a great deal of suspense during the second slate of contests. Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings' outcomes eventually became meaningless, there was a great deal of drama taking place at one point – something we wouldn't have anticipated three weeks ago when all the division crowns essentially were sealed.
• Are we to believe that the San Diego Chargers will be true contenders, and not pretenders, when the playoffs get under way next week? There still might be some credibility issues given that they ran away with a division in which everyone else had a losing record. However, a six-game winning streak and a victory at home against the Titans next Sunday could change any negative perceptions observers still have of the Chargers.
• Though this took place Saturday night, the New England Patriots' perfect regular season must be acknowledged. But as has been reiterated, 16-0 means nothing if they're not the last team standing in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3. A loss before capturing this season's Lombardi Trophy makes them the NFL's version of the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won a record-tying 116 games but went 4-6 in the playoffs.
• It's safe to say that Reggie Wayne indeed has established himself as a No. 1 wide receiver. With future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison sidelined much of the season, Wayne captured his first league receiving title – catching 12 passes for 87 yards in the first half to finish with 1,510 yards and eclipsing New England's Randy Moss (1,493).
• Nice of Jared Allen to salvage an otherwise horrendous year with the Kansas City Chiefs, losers of nine straight. Allen notched two QB takedowns during the Chiefs' 13-10 overtime loss to the New York Jets to win the league's sack title (15½). Too bad the Chiefs likely will franchise him before he can sell his services on the open market.
• Unlike the Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons avoided heading into the offseason with extremely long losing streaks. Atlanta, stopping a seven-game skid, experienced an offensive explosion, defeating the Seattle Seahawks 44-41. The Ravens, losers of their previous nine, beat the Steelers 27-21.
• Just wondering if Wade Phillips still is having a good ol' time in Big D? Hey, there are five other teams that would love to have home-field advantage throughout, but right now, there's not a whole lot else good going on with the Cowboys aside from having Terry Glenn on the field. For the second time in three weeks, Dallas was held to six points. And Sunday, with Tony Romo in the lineup, the Cowboys were limited to just 86 yards through three quarters. For both the team and Jason Witten's sake, Dallas had better get Terrell Owens back soon. Witten has just four catches in the six quarters since Owens went out with a high ankle sprain against the Carolina Panthers.
• In honor of Sean Payton, New Orleans should be called the "Big Tease" at least until the start of the '08 season. Say what you want about the injuries to Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush; the Saints would be headed to the postseason instead of vacation if not for the two giant eggs that were laid against the Eagles and Bears, respectively. Oh, and that decision to kick to Devin Hester early in the third quarter in a seven-point game? Not so wise.
• Since we're in the labeling business, how about we call Minnesota the "Big Freeze," (OK, not too original given the state's frosty temperatures) considering how rookie sensation Adrian Peterson went ice cold at the most pivotal time of the season. In fairness, the Vikings' abruptly canceled playoff plans don't fall entirely on the bottled runner (20 carries, 63 yards the past two weeks). Turnovers and a vulnerable secondary will help turn promise into disappointment real fast.
• This is sort of nitpicky, but Browns fans showed rookie Brady Quinn a little too much love when he entered the game for an injured Derek Anderson. By their response, you would have thought the first-round pick was replacing a bum. All Anderson had done was put the downtrodden franchise on the precipice of a playoff spot, yet folks were cheering as if this were opening day and Charlie Frye still were stinking up the joint.
• The Broncos began and ended the season with game-winning Jason Elam field goals. Seeing how they finished worse than .500 for the year, you can surmise that much of what took place in between those two instances wasn't too impressive.
• Welcome to South Florida, Bill Parcells. The Tuna has taken on major reclamation projects before, and this might be his biggest one yet after the Miami Dolphins dropped to 1-15 with their 38-25 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
• A sign that the Seahawks took it easy Sunday: The offensively challenged Falcons, 31st in scoring heading into the game, put up 44 points. The point total matched Atlanta's combined output from the previous three games, and it hadn't scored 40 since putting up 41 against the Steelers in Week 7 last year.
• New Orleans' Marques Colston has the most catches in the first two years of a career. No offense, but in the Mount Rushmore of wide receivers, his sculpture wouldn't be the first.
• Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman played Grinch and Santa Claus on the same play, intercepting Drew Brees in the end zone but losing a fumble during the return. The Saints converted the turnover into a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
• After their first half against the Jets, Herm Edwards might want to reconsider designating Brodie Croyle as the starting quarterback in 2008. The chosen one was 5-of-13 passing for 23 yards before intermission Sunday.
• When was the last time a defensive tackle came down on a return and got a clean hit (figuratively, of course – if we're being literal, then we'd have to acknowledge the helmet-to-helmet contact that the officials missed) on a returner like Indy's Darrell Reid laid on Chris Henry?