The curtain closed on the 2009 NFL regular season with a somewhat disappointing Week 17.
Though there were some great individual performances (see Game Balls) and teams punching their playoff tickets, only two of the 16 games—all played on Sunday, which was great—were decided by four points or less. There were also two shutouts and several other lopsided games that caused fans to yearn for the upcoming NFL playoffs to arrive sooner, rather than later.
I don’t know if it is end of season blues or teams “resting” players for the playoffs, but it is a shame that the 2009 NFL regular season ended with such a whimper. There has been some talk that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is actively seeking input from around the league asking “how” the league can fix the whole playoff teams resting players dilemma.
Goodell said on a CBS broadcast regarding the "Resting Players-Gate" situation, “We are considering a lot of different things. We are talking with the Competition Committee and John Madden’s committee on how you incent people and reward them. I don’t think you can punish them for not playing. The other thing that has to happen is you have to make it clear to the public that you are not going to be playing someone, like we do with our injury reports.”
Though I do like Goodell’s thought of providing an incentive to teams (draft picks?) to play everyone through the NFL’s closing weeks, I don’t know how the league’s Competition Committee and franchises can take away a successful team’s prerogative to get ready for the games that really count.
One big negative to Goodell’s plan may have occurred in Houston, where New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, league receptions leader with 123 catches, was lost for the playoffs with a devastating knee injury in a “meaningless” game against the Texans.
To Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s credit, he said he would still play all of his players the majority of the game, if he had to do it all over again. I have to agree to with Belichick as players can get hurt in a preseason game or any other situation where there is contact whether it is in practice or a game, so why not play to “win” in the NFL’s closing weeks.
Kudos should go out to the Indianapolis Colts for playing QB Peyton Manning, TE Dallas Clark, WR Reggie Wayne and others in snowy Buffalo, so the veterans could achieve certain milestones. The move was a far cry from the Colts give-up to the NY Jets in Week 16.
Despite some uninspired play by some teams in Week 17, we did finally find out which teams are going to the “Big Dance”. The AFC’s last two wildcard spots were claimed by the Jets and Baltimore Ravens.
The regular season marked the end of 20 teams' dreams of moving on, but now the real fun starts for teams holding a playoff ticket. There are now 12 teams (Colts, San Diego Chargers, Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Ravens and Jets in the AFC; the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC) who will attempt to live up to the NFL’s 2009 moniker of “Own the Moment” by making Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Florida.
In looking at the NFL’s standings and playoff picture after Week 17, change once again is definitely in the air around the league. For the 14th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.
This year, the six new playoff teams are the Cowboys, Jets, Patriots, Packers, Saints and Bengals. Also the 2009 NFL regular season produced five new division winners (Indianapolis, Dallas, New England, New Orleans and Cincinnati).
Before we move on to the ensuing playoff madness starting with a very interesting wildcard round—three rematches of Week 17 lopsided games, including two at the same venue—let’s take a look at the final regular season week of the 2009 NFL season.
Some tidbits and news from Week 17 include:
Teams stepping it up to make the playoffs
With their seasons' on the line, the Ravens and Jets had the wherewithal to “seize the day” and claim 2009 playoff berths.
- Ravens run all over the Raiders into the playoffs—Despite stumbling in Pittsburgh the week before, the Ravens could “win and get in”. The up-and-down Ravens, who always seemed to let penalties and inconsistent play stop them throughout 2009, needed to play inspired against the Oakland Raiders in their home stadium. Before the game, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis delivered an inspiring speech that drove the Ravens to a tough 21-13 win over the Raiders. “Ray was unbelievable,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the 34-year-old linebacker. “When he spoke in here before the game, it was off the charts. The theme was, ‘Be the team we can be. Leave the penalties in their pockets. Hit everything in sight. Don’t let up. Be the Ravens.’ The stars for the Ravens were veteran RB Willis McGahee (see Game Balls) and rookie LB Dannell Ellerbe (returned an interception deep into Raiders territory). Once the Raven knocked Raiders starter Charlie Frye (ankle) out of the game, inconsistent backup JaMarcus Russell was no threat. The Ravens clinched a wildcard berth by also running the ball to the tune of 240 yards with an amazing 6.9 yards per carry average. Next up is the beat up Patriots who should be fearful of the dangerous Ravens.
- Jets take care of business on Sunday Night Football—After enduring a week of “gift win” talk, the Jets went out in Sunday’s last game and blew the doors off the Bengals 37-0. The Jets clinched their first playoff berth since 2006 and made rookie head coach Rex Ryan the second Jets head coach to make the playoffs in his first season (Herman Edwards). Despite a non-passing day by starter Mark Sanchez (8-of-16 for 63 yards), the Jets grounded the Bengals by playing tough defense (ranked No. 1 in the NFL) and running the ball. Behind Wildcat QB Brad Smith (see Game Balls) and RB Thomas Jones (78 yards and 2 TDs), the Jets had 57 rushing attempts—one shy of the team record set in 1973—for 257 rushing yards. The Jets’ defense also held Bengals stars QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco in check the entire game. Cincinnati was 1-for-11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense. By winning five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven, the Jets are now in the playoffs and should be considered dangerous (attacking defense and can run the ball). These two teams will play again on Saturday in Cincinnati in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
- Cowboys claim the NFC East Crown and look playoff ready—In one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the NFC East title was on the line in "Big D.” Unfortunately for Eagles fans, only the Cowboys chose to show up in a dominating 24-0 win that allowed them to claim the NFC East crown—their first since 2005. The key player of the game had to be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records (completions, pass attempts and yards). Romo finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns and was only sacked once. To show the Cowboys dominance, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession. The Cowboys harassed Eagles QB Donovan McNabb allday as the Eagles failed to score and had their six-game winning streak snapped. Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had to be happy of his team’s defensive effort. They allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000. The Cowboys have now won 3 games in a row, including knocking off the playoff bound Saints and Eagles. Dallas also won their regular season finale for the first time since 1999 and swept the Eagles for the first time since 1999. The Cowboys and Eagles will face each other again on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs, right back at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium.
The St. Louis Rams claim the top stop in the 2010 NFL Draft
For a little while it looked the like the Rams didn’t want the top spot as they hung tough with the Niners. But in the end, the Rams’ 28-6 loss to San Francisco assured them of the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
It will be the third year in a row that the Rams have picked either first or second in the draft (OT Jason Smith in 2009 and DE Chris Long in 2008). This time they will be the first ones on the clock. I am sure their prize will be dominating Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who some are comparing to former Cardinals Pro Bowl player Eric Swann in his prime.
Black Monday is Here
The Monday after the regular season ends typically is not a good day for underperforming head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers and front office types.
Most teams don’t like to make job security decisions in-season, so on “Black Monday” walking papers are given so teams can get ready for the upcoming draft. Already new Redskins GM Bruce Allen told head coach Jim Zorn his days as Washington’s head coach are numbered—you can insert Mike Shanahan by the end of the week. Buffalo Bills interim head coach Perry Fewell was pushed aside for a bigger name (Bill Cowher?).
More changes are sure to follow. Other head coaches who may not return for the 2010 are Cleveland’s Eric Mangini (new GM Mike Holmgren is evaluating and it doesn’t look good), Oakland’s Tom Cable (appears to be done, but who wants the Raiders job anyway), Carolina’s John Fox (despite an 8-8 finish, no extension after 2010 yet), Chicago’s Lovie Smith (owed over $11 million over the next two years), Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio (team lost four straight to end the season), Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris (young coach only produced two wins), Houston's Gary Kubiak (After the franchise’s first winning season, got a vote of confidence, but you never know); and Dallas’ Wade Phillips (needs a playoff win to probably be safe).
Back-to-Back winning seasons for Atlanta
By virtue of their 20-10 win over the Bucs, for the first time in the Falcons' 44-year history, they have posted back-to-back winning seasons. Not that 9-7 is as good as last year’s 10-6 mark and their wildcard berth, but at least the Falcons fought through injuries to QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner to post a winning season.
Denver joins some not so elite company
Sorry rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, but the Denver Broncos (8-8) became just the third team since the 1970 merger to miss the playoffs after starting 6-0. The Broncos implosion was similar to the 1978 Washington Redskins and 2003 Minnesota Vikings.
Milestones were aplenty in Week 17
- This season, 10 quarterbacks passed for at least 4,000 yards, which is the most in a single season in NFL history—Texans’ Matt Schaub (4,770), Colts’ Peyton Manning (4,500), Cowboys’ Tony Romo (4,483), Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (4,434), Patriots’ Tom Brady (4,398), Saints’ Drew Brees (4,388), Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Chargers’ Philip Rivers (4,254), Vikings’ Brett Favre (4,202) and Giants’ Eli Manning (4,021). The previous record was seven in 2007.
- Twelve quarterbacks passed for at least 25 touchdowns this year, which is the most in a single season in NFL history—Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), Bears’ Jay Culter (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (26). The previous record was 10 in 2007.
- Tennessee running back Chris Johnson had 154 scrimmage yards (134 rushing, 20 receiving) in the Titans’ 17-13 victory over Seattle. Johnson totaled 2,509 scrimmage yards this season (2,006 rushing, 503 receiving), surpassing surefire Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (2,429 in 1999) for the most yards from scrimmage in a single season in NFL history. Johnson also led the league in rushing with 2,006 yards and became the sixth player in league history with 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
- The Green Bay Packers improved to 11-5 with a 33-7 victory over Arizona. The Packers became the first team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer (Rodgers), 1,200-yard rusher (RB Ryan Grant) and two 1,000-yard receivers (WRs Donald Driver & Greg Jennings) in consecutive seasons.
- Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 125 yards in the Panthers’ 23-10 win against New Orleans. Stewart (1,133) and DeAngelo (1,117) are the first set of teammates to each rush for 1,100 yards in a single season.
- Favre threw four touchdowns in the Vikings’ 44-7 win against the Giants. With 33 touchdowns this season, he reached the 30-TD mark for the ninth time in his career, the most in NFL history. He also passed for 316 yards against the Giants to reach the 4,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the second-most in NFL history.
- Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson had 65 receiving yards in the Texans’ 34-27 win against New England. Johnson, who has led the NFL in receiving with 1,575 yards in 2008 and 1,569 yards in 2009, joined future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players since 1970 to lead the league in consecutive seasons. Rice topped the league in back-to-back seasons in 1989-90 and led the NFL three years in a row from 1993-95. Also, Johnson and former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison (2001-02) are the only players in NFL history to record at least 1,500 receiving yards in consecutive seasons.
- San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis had a touchdown catch in the 49ers’ 28-6 victory over St. Louis. Davis, who tied for the NFL lead with 13 touchdown receptions in 2009, tied San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates (13 in 2004) for the most TD catches by a tight end in a single season in NFL history.
- New Orleans finished with 510 points scored in the 2009 regular season to become just the 12th team in NFL history to score 500 points in a season. The Saints finished sixth on the league’s all-time single-season scoring list and averaged 31.9 points per game.
- Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in league history with 100 receptions in one season.
- Bills WR Terrell Owens passed Tim Brown and moved into third on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.
Kansas City Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson—The former University of Texas linebacker was everywhere for the Chiefs, who sent the Broncos home packing for the season with a dominating 44-24 road win. Johnson picked off Broncos QB Kyle Orton twice, returning both for touchdowns (45 and 60 yards). For the game, Johnson finished with six tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 TDs.
Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson
What a game for the NFL’s leading rusher in a close 17-13 win over the Seahawks. Against a Seahawks defense that had allowed only one 100-yard rusher entering the game, Johnson finished with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries (11th straight 100-yard rushing game). On a nine-yard reception in the second quarter, Johnson broke surefire Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s 10-year-old record for scrimmage yards in a season (2,429). In the third quarter, he broke Earl Campbell’s franchise record of 1,934 rushing yards. In the fourth quarter, he became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. He finished with 2,006 yards rushing for the season.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
The Cardinals better watch out next week because Rodgers played unbelievable in a huge win over Arizona. Favre’s former understudy completed 21-of-26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown before being pulled early in the fourth quarter. Rodgers finished the season just 24 yards shy of Lynn Dickey’s team record for passing yards in a season (4,458). He also became only the second quarterback in team history (Bart Starr) to finish a season with a 100-plus passer rating.
Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard
Pollard was everywhere as the Texans tried in vain to make the playoffs for the first time. The active linebacker had six tackles plus intercepted Tom Brady and recovered a Fred Taylor fumble for a touchdown in the Texans’ 34-27 win.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles
It was an unbelievable performance by Charles in a huge win over the Broncos. The former Texas running back set a Chiefs franchise record with 259 rushing yards and added two touchdowns. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for over 1,100 on less than 200 carries. Charles rushed for 5.9 ypc behind the same offensive line that looked so bad with former Chiefs malcontent Larry Johnson (2.7 ypc).
Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee
The veteran back came off the bench to pace the Ravens with 167 yards and three TDs (tied franchise record). The Ravens piled up over 240 rushing yards and McGahee had the play of the day on a long run. Displaying power not seen in a while on a 77-yard scoring run in the second quarter, the former Miami Hurricanes star threw Raiders safety Hiram Eugene to the ground with a Walter Payton-esque stiff arm then sprinted the rest of the way to the end zone.
NY Jets WR/QB Brad Smith
The Jets’ do-it-all former college quarterback had 92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo
He broke three team single-season passing records and finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns in a rout of the Eagles. He threw 11 TD’s and 2 INTs in his last six games.
Chicago Bears LB Tim Shaw
Shaw had six special teams tackles and had a forced a fumble/recovery on a kickoff.
Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson
Woodson intercepted Cardinals QB Matt Leinart for his career-high ninth pick of the season and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown.
Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd
Floyd made the most of his opportunity as the Chargers’ No. 1 wide receiver with Vincent Jackson getting the day off by finishing with a career-high nine catches and 140 yards.
Chargers QB Billy Volek
Volek led the Chargers to their 11th consecutive win by coming back on the Washington Redskins and threw a late touchdown.
The Philadelphia Eagles
In a game where the Eagles had the chance to win the NFC East title and claim the NFC’s No. 2 seed, the Birds “mailed it in.” They were shutout 24-0—their first shutout loss since Dec. 5, 2005.
The Eagles will have to look at some awful film for their preparation for their return matchup with the Cowboys. There were dropped passes, penalties, overthrows, constant quarterback pressure on QB Donovan McNabb (4 sacks), wasted timeouts, bad interception attempts and missed assignments galore.
The Cowboys had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession. Dallas rushed for 179 yards on just 32 carries for a sparkling 5.6 yards per carry average. Philadelphia only allowed 76 yards on 23 carries in a 20-16 loss in November to Dallas. The Cowboys swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.
The Eagles’ six-game winning streak was snapped and they are now the NFC’s sixth seed and will have to play the confident Cowboys back in Dallas in the wildcard round.
Surprisingly, after the blowout loss, McNabb blamed youth for a huge contributing factor in the loss. “We showed our youth,” McNabb said. “We showed our youth in situations where everyone would begin to look around to see who was going to make the play instead of stepping up and making that play. That’s something that comes with the territory when you have a young group. I think at this time, having discussed it with the guys, everybody understands it.”
Better clean it up Eagles, because next week is a single elimination game and excuses won’t matter.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco
After a week of bragging and “tweeting” that he would show Jets CB Darrelle Revis “how to play the game”, Ocho Stinko never showed up.
The Bengals’ talkative receiver was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games). To make matters worse, he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.
It was all roses to Revis after the game as Ochocinco tweeted, “@revis24-hands down u the best in the game, see you n 6 days bruh bruh, try giving out maps next time-its easy to get lost on that island!”
Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer
Maybe the Bengals should have rested Palmer the whole game. The former No. 1 overall pick finished with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7) in a horrible loss to the Jets on Sunday Night Football.
Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart
Another bad passing performance for a player that is looking more like a “flop” every time he takes the field. Leinart finished with weak passing numbers of 13-for-21, 96 yds, and 2 INTs in a blowout loss to the Packers.
Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell
Once he entered the game, the Ravens knew they were going to win. Russell looked tentative in the pocket as he threw for only 102 yards and had a drive-killing interception and lost fumble.
2009 NFL Week 17
Buffalo (6-10) over Indianapolis (14-2), 30-7
Carolina (8-8) over New Orleans (13-3), 23-10
Cleveland (5-11) over Jacksonville (7-9), 23-17
Chicago (7-9) over Detroit (2-14), 37-23
Houston (9-7) over New England (10-6), 34-27
Pittsburgh (9-7) over Miami (7-9), 30-24
Minnesota (12-4) over N.Y. Giants (8-8), 44-7
San Francisco (8-8) over St. Louis (1-15), 28-6
Atlanta (9-7) over Tampa Bay (2-14), 20-10
Dallas (11-5) over Philadelphia (11-5), 24-0
Green Bay (11-5) over Arizona (10-6), 33-7
Kansas City (4-12) over Denver (8-8), 44-24
Baltimore (9-7) over Oakland (5-11), 21-13
San Diego (13-3) over Washington (4-12), 23-20
Tennessee (8-8) over Seattle (5-11), 17-13
N.Y. Jets (9-7) over Cincinnati (10-6), 37-0
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)