Love that Airborne Wi Fi, Miami to New York, talk to me baby.
Week fifteen of this seasons NFL schedule took us to a number of totally unexpected places, at least in terms of the fanatics point of view and assuredly more than a few of the players themselves.
Let's take a look at results ranging from surprising and/or plain disappointing, to entirely epic if not potentially season --- or as my utterly distraught brother in law put it in regard to the New York Football Giants --- franchise ending cripplers.
In reverse order:
7: Miami falls to Buffalo 17-14 --- This is my idea of a little hardy, har, har. Dolphin fans --- forever living in the Don Shula/Bob Griese/Dan Marino past, even those not yet born --- never cease to crack me up. Even in the midst of a slightly less than obvious, but nevertheless dreadful season you'll hear endless radio hawkers make remarks along the lines of "there's no possible way we lose to Buffalo this weekend!" (Though nobody was willing to stake a limb on it from what I was able to discern.)
Well of course they did, lose to Buffalo, and in a bigger picture sense this year has been something of a crippler for a franchise that saw itself on the upswing but may once again be rudderless w/o the services of The Big Tuna, Bill Parcells, and enough questions about Coach Tony Sparano and an offensive game plan which redefines the word conservative that a leadership change may once again be in the winds for the leagues sunniest city.
As in --- Hello, Mr. Jon Gruden, enclosed in this envelope you will find a blank check. Please fill in the number, come on back to Fla. and finally return this franchise to it's glory days before a lynching party ensues. Very sincerely, Owner Steve Ross
6: St. Louis Rams fall to K.C. Chiefs 27 -13 --- Based on the fact that they went into the game as a 3 point favorite we have to believe the Steve Spagnuolo led Rams were pretty confident recently knifed (appendicitis) Chief Q.B. Matt Cassel would spend this particular Sunday afternoon on the sidelines leaving an improved St. Louis defense to deal with if not dominate the likes of ultra shaky back up, Brody Croyle.
No such luck as Cassel primarily commandeered the ever effective Chiefs running game --- my god, what kind of incredible season is ex Texas back Jamaal Charles having for K.C, another 126 yards rushing on only 11 carries yesterday --- and threw for a touchdown en route to an easy win.
While the Rams blew a chance to grab hold of the N.F.C. West lead, in this down year of down years they are still tied with the putrid Seahawks atop the division at 6-8. St. Louis hosts San Francisco next week while the Seahawks travel to Tampa Bay, so the happy note here is that would appear to be another opportunity for the Rams to get a playoff leg up in the season long sputtering West.
5: The New Orleans Saints fall to the Baltimore Ravens 30-24 --- If New Orleans had any dreams of somehow upending the Falcons and grabbing home field throughout the forthcoming N.F.C. tourney those thoughts went out the window after a 30-24 shootout loss to a very motivated Ravens group.
Most alarming for the Saints and their followers is a continuing lack of any semblance of a running game, 14 carries for 25 yards, and a performance on the other side of the ball, Ray Rice ran for 153 yards, Flacco threw for 172 with two touchdowns, that can't overwhelm Big Easy lovers with warm and fuzzy feelings either.
On the bright side they were in it to the end after a rough first half start, it would take a true calamitous performance down the stretch for them to lose hold of a playoff spot, (though they're not a lock to get in as of yet), and they've got Drew Brees who can win you any football game if just a few of the chips fall his way.
Next up the Falcons in Atlanta. While New Orleans cannot wrest homefield away it's a perfect spot to gain some momentum heading into the post season.
4: Pittsburgh Steeler fall to tailspinning New York Jets 22-17 --- Steeler fans have had to digest a couple of awful performances this year but in a critical game with post season ramifications against a Jet team that couldn't get out of it's own way the past couple of weeks --- well this one has to sting.
In blustery, snow bound Steeler conditions, Pittsburgh out-gained the Jets by a little more than one hundred yards, 378 to 276, but that stat meant nothing as the New Yorkers rebounded from a 17-10 third quarter deficit with a late 12 point run capped by a critical safety --- Jason Taylor put Mewelde Moore on his back in the Steeler end zone with a little more than two minutes to go --- that ended up putting the game away for New York.
So instead of sitting pretty at 11-3 atop the A.F.C. North, looking at a number two seed with a snap against Carolina next week, (not too mention putting the Jets out of their misery and quite possibly the playoff picture), Pittsburgh suddenly finds themselves facing down a number six seed in the upcoming tournament and anything but thoughts of being a seriously dominate football team at that stage.
Well, with one possible, breath enhancing caveat. Pittsburgh played without Safety Troy Polamalu yesterday who continues to be one of the single most dominant, game changing football players on the defensive side of the ball in the history of the game. They are an entirely different team with him in the line up, eminently more dangerous --- attack oriented --- and Steel Curtain fanatics can take heart, with their team in full & Polamalu spearheading the defense they are as capable as any of making a run to the roses from a Wild Card position.
3: Green Bay falls to New England 31-27 at Foxborough --- This one had destruction written all over it with Aaron Rodgers still recovering from concussion syndrome and novice Q.B. Matt Flynn taking the snaps for the Pack.
That probably led to a bit of a let down on the New England side, but doesn't take away from the fact that outside from a short circuited last minute drive Fynn played out of his mind, 24/37, 251 yards & 3 TD's, the Pack led 17-14 at the half and 27-24 midway through the fourth.
Even having lost this heartbreaker it would appear a momentum gainer for the utterly banged up Packers as they return to frigid Lambeau for a game with heavy playoff ramifications against what still may be a very shaken N.Y. Giant contingent.
Even if Rodgers can't play, and you have to think he probably will, Packer faithful are now vibing Matt Flynn as well and will make their way to the critical matchup feeling as though they have a good shot at a playoff ticket to the 2010/2011 dance with either player over center.
2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers fall to lowly Detroit Lions 23-20 --- If not for the Giants epic collapse against the Eagles this crushing, home, overtime loss --- when as things turned out the Bucs had a great opportunity to enhance their post season chances --- would surely have been this past Sunday's most disheartening blow of note.
Yes, the Detroit Lions first road win in what feels like a half century sent Tampa Bay denizens home in an utter state of shock. At 8-5 their Wild Card playoff positioning heading into the game was tenuous but not insurmountable --- a fairly miraculous occurrence to begin with considering their ineptitude these past couple of seasons rivaled yesterdays opponent in full.
Tied with Green Bay, also 8-5, who figured to get dropped big time in New England last night, a game behind either the Eagles or Giants one of whom would fall to 9-5 after yesterday's head to head, a Tampa win would have put them into a fifth/sixth place tie in the N.F.C. with their own playoff destiny well in hand.
The happy news of course is the Pack did lose, albeit by the slim margin of 31-27, leaving Tampa tied for the last spot at 8-6 with Green Bay and New York facing off next week in frigid Lambeau. Tampa on the other hand has Seattle at home and with a win, regardless of the result in Green Bay, will find themselves in no worse off a spot than a 3 way tie for the one of the two N.F.C. Wild card spots.
1: Giants collapse in epic 38-31 loss to rival Eagles --- This game has by now been oft described & overtly evaluated and there is probably not a solitary NFL fan on the planet well versed in how this critical, crushing defeat was dealt to the New York Giant universe by the fleet footed combo of reborn, mayhem inducing Michael Vick & one of leagues most frightening new game breakers, 5-10, 175 pound, former Cal University star, DeSean Jackson.
Up 21 with 8 minutes and change to go, the defeated, demoralized N.Y. Giants now find themselves looking up at the Eagles in the NFC East standings and looking ahead to a crucial match up this weekend in Lambeau against a Green Bay team as desperate as they are for a win and an opportunity to gain a Wild Card Berth to the post season tourney.
No doubt a deep, collective breath is called for. Some perspective too for the downtrodden Giant loving masses --- and I'm not going to get all melodramatic here with allusions to world wars, regional wars, drug torn neighborhoods, countries lacking for food or essential medical supplies.
I'm not going to talk about the current recession, people struggling to keep their homes, put food on the table, looking over their shoulders for a potential pink slip every day they arrive at work.
No, I'm going to take a pass on those rather obvious avenues and instead look to something from the world of sport, gut check moments, maybe the gut check moment of all sporting gut check moments.
In October of 1975 the great Muhammad Ali met up with a rival of his own, one seemingly weathered by time, adhering to diminished skills. His name was Joe Frazier and the setting was the epic showdown in Manilla, later to be forever memorialized as the Thrilla' in Manila.
For years Ali had tormented the game Philly southpaw with endless taunts. Frazier was ugly, a gorilla, (he initially coined the fight a Thrilla' in Manilla with a Gorilla), and worst of all from Frazier's perspective, an Uncle Tom.
Ali felt as though the fight would be a cake walk for him, especially after Frazier had taken a brutal beating from massive George Foreman not long before this third encounter between the two.
But as boxing history and anyone fortunate enough to have borne witness recalls, things didn't work out that way. During the fight itself a frustrated Ali said to Joe Frazier after absorbing a left hook to the jaw that trainer Angelo Dundee later described as the hardest punch he had ever seen thrown or absorbed in his life, "they said you was washed up, Joe!" To which Frazier said to Ali in response, "They lied, Champ, they lied."
That night in Manila, Joe Frazier fought Muhammad Ali like his life depended on it, as if the fight and it's end result may have even meant more to him than life itself.
They exchanged endless brutal blows, and afterward, after the two had battled in a way that few fighters had ever done in 115 degree temperature no less, Ali recounted the engagement as having been the closest thing to death a man could ever experience while actually living.
Yes, the New York Football Giants and all their followers need to take a breath now. The N.F.C. East crown has been stupidly forfeited, virtually given away. A first round bye is out. Homefield in round two is out.
It was a brutal blow, a horrifying loss, the worst Giant team members and followers alike will probably ever endure.
But they are not dead. Like any true warrior in even the most adverse of circumstances they still have a fighters chance. They can still survive the depths of this recent brutal defeat, beat Green Bay this Sunday and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.
That will give them at least an opportunity to make the pain go away.
Will it be easy?
Who the hell ever said life was easy? You live long enough and you'll be dealt plenty of blows, but that doesn't mean we stagger to the floor, and Sunday's defeat to the Eagles, as brutal as it was, doesn't mean the New York Giants have to lay in a bath of self pity either.
I mean that's the beauty of the NFL isn't it? Every game this time of year is life and death, relatively speaking, and even the worst kind of loss or losses can be remedied.
So take heart Giant fans. I don't just feel your pain, I am your pain, but I'm not giving the season up and you don't have to either.
The final bell has yet to sound.
And that's it for today,