Gridiron Digest: The Steelers' Magical Season Rolls Toward the Playoffs

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterDecember 2, 2019

Gridiron Digest: The Steelers' Magical Season Rolls Toward the Playoffs

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    Justin Berl/Getty Images

    A quirky third-string quarterback. A no-name committee at running back. Injuries all over the depth chart. An offseason of defections and discontent. A controversial trade that bucked conventional wisdom. 

    The too-injured, too-cheap, too-old-fashioned Steelers should be in last place. Instead, they are in the thick of the playoff race. And Gridiron Digest kicks off this week with the tale of how they salvaged a lost season, a story every football fan (even you poor folks in Cleveland) should love.


    • The Ravens and 49ers square off in a heavyweight rumble in the rain

    • Drew Lock clears a very low bar as the new Broncos quarterback

    • The Titans remind us once again that they exist and we should pay a little attention to them

    • Most of the "tanking" teams win, because tanking isn't actually a thing in the NFL

    • A dramatic reading of Matthew Arnold's famous lyric poem "Ode to a Kicker Who Should Retire ASAP."

    ...and much, much more!


Steelers Storybook Season Makes Them More Than the Average Wild Card Team

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    December is the time of year for stories full of magic and hope. So listen, dear friends, to this tale about the Pittsburgh Steelers:

    Once upon a time, there was a kingdom with three strong and valiant princes. The kingdom was happy and prosperous for many years, but then the ruling family splintered. Prince Le'Veon wanted more money than the royal treasurers were willing to budget and pursued his fortune elsewhere. Prince Antonio went full Loki. And Prince Ben, the mightiest (if hardly the most princely) of the three, was felled in battle. 

    All hope appeared to be lost, especially when noble replacements Earl JuJu and Sir James Conner were also lost and Duke Mason of Rudolph proved to be a knight errant. But Good King Tomlin did not despair. He found new champions from among the commoners: a quirky duck hunter with a strong arm, a lowly farmer with reliable hands, a jack-of-all-trades, the great-nephew of a long-forgotten warrior, an aging defender banished from an arch-rival kingdom. He even hired the mercenary Sir Minkah, though the sages warned him to hoard his gold and plan for years of famine and rebuilding instead. 

    Lo and behold, the kingdom prospered. They defeated many rivals, including their hated adversaries from Cleveland. Winter may be coming, but the future for this band of merry misfits is brighter than anyone could have hoped. And it's all because they stuck together in the face of unlikely odds, believed in themselves and never gave up.

    Cute story, right? Well, it's all true, and there's a (pretty obvious) moral. 

    The Steelers are a reminder that there is more to any football team than big-name talent, top draft picks and headlines. The Steelers lost a lot of great players and even the replacements for those great players, but they still possess an outstanding veteran offensive line, a swarming defense, experienced coaching and one of the most stable organizations in the NFL.

    Those non-sexy assets allowed them to plug Devlin Hodges, James Washington, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr. and others into their offense, get big plays from Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden on defense and find ways to grind out wins while more talented teams (hello, Browns) crumble under far less adversity. Their infrastructure will also help them chart a course into the post-Ben Roethlisberger future by finding and developing the talent necessary to keep the Steelers where they always are: either in contention or very close to it. 

    The Steelers are now a likely playoff team. (We'll get into more particulars of the wild card race a little later in this edition of Gridiron Digest.) They are not Super Bowl contenders by any means, but this season has been nothing short of magical. It eradicated the bad vibes of 2018 and introduced some youngsters who may have a role in the team's future. 

    After last year, Steelers fans deserve a little more storybook and a little less soap opera. No matter what happens in the playoffs, the organization is refreshed, re-energized and likely to live happily ever after.

Potential Super Bowl Preview Spotlight: Ravens 20, 49ers 17

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    What happened

    A mucky, icy, hard-hitting, evenly matched, utterly glorious battle between two of the NFL's top teams ultimately came down to late-game, fourth-down execution. 

    Jimmy Garoppolo hit Deebo Samuel with a 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the first quarter but had a 4th-and-1 pass to George Kittle batted away with six minutes, 33 seconds to play in the game. Lamar Jackson couldn't convert on an earlier fourth-down attempt but barreled through the line on 4th-and-1 near midfield with 4:39 remaining, sustaining a clock-eating drive that culminated in a game-winning 49-yard field goal in the rain by Justin Tucker.

    This delightful contest had something for everyone: plenty of offense in the first half, plenty of defense in the second half, diverse tactics, rugged hits, special teams heroics and lots of muddy uniforms. It's the kind of game retired high school coaches dream about, assuming they were really, really progressive about going for it on fourth down.


    What it means

    Sorry, haters, no one was "exposed" in this soggy masterpiece.

    Jackson handled the slick conditions well as a passer and rusher, despite getting the ball stripped from him at the end of one bootleg run. Garoppolo, playing in his second East Coast downpour of the year (the 49ers survived a 9-0 victory in the Washington tarpits in October), moved the ball well with a big assist from running back Raheem Mostert (146 rushing yards and a TD) but saw productive drives killed by a missed field goal, some bad field position (the 49ers started at their own 1-yard line late in the third quarter and were forced to punt after driving 31 yards) and that final fourth-down stop.

    The Ravens have beaten everyone there is to beat in the NFL this season. The 49ers proved they could hang with the NFL's best team in an early East Coast game. These are the best teams in the NFL. They're also the most exciting and fun-to-talk-about teams in the NFL. 

    Let's do this again in Miami in February. Please? Pretty please?


    What's next

    The Ravens travel to Buffalo for the first Ravens-Bills game in NFL history that casual fans would ever want to watch. 

    The 49ers face the final leg of an all-time gauntlet: a trip to New Orleans. Don't underestimate the impact that traveling from wintry Baltimore to San Francisco to (probably) warm-and-humid New Orleans could have on them.

Game Spotlight: Texans 28, Patriots 22

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    What happened

    The Texans beat the Patriots for the first time in nine meetings dating back to 2010, shifting the balance of power in the entire AFC.

    Deshaun Watson threw three touchdown passes and caught a fourth from DeAndre Hopkins on a trick play. Tom Brady had another substandard game, throwing an early interception and failing to move the ball effectively until the Texans held a semi-comfortable 21-3 lead.

    The loss dropped the Patriots into position for the second seed in the AFC playoffs, behind the Ravens, who are 10-2 like the Patriots but hold a head-to-head advantage. The win kept the Texans one step ahead of the Chiefs in the race for the third seed. But the impact of the upset goes beyond playoff jockeying. The Texans proved that the AFC is up for grabs and that the Patriots cannot take anything for granted, not even easy wins over an opponent they used to crush 42-14 or 27-0.


    What it means

    Watching the Patriots these days is like watching an old classic rock band play their hits after some of the members have left and many of the rest are dead. Brady and Julian Edelman are like Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend of The Who trying to hammer their way through "Won't Get Fooled Again." It still rocks at times, thanks in large part to the 11-piece session band (the Patriots defense) backing them up, but everything looks so much harder now, and there are nights when it's a little painful and embarrassing to watch.

    The Texans moved the ball fairly well against that tough Patriots defense and got productive games from secondary contributors like Duke Johnson, Kenny Stills, Darren Fells, Bradley Roby and Jacob Martin. Their playoff portfolio now includes wins over the Patriots and Chiefs, giving them some favorable tiebreakers. Gridiron Digest has written them off as the same old Texans (four great players, one-and-done in the playoffs) a few times over the past three months. But they are looking more and more like something much better.


    What's next

    The Texans host the Broncos. The Patriots hope they don't get rocked by another AFC contender when the  Chiefs come to Foxborough.

AFC Divisional Doubleheader Digest

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    Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

    What happened

    The Steelers, with second- or third-stringers at nearly every offensive skill position, fell behind the Browns 10-0 but came back for a 20-13 victory thanks to a pair of Devlin Hodges bombs to James Washington, some tight defense, a little Wildcat seasoning and the Browns' inability to play four consecutive quarters of good football.

    The Colts, with second- or third-stringers at nearly every offensive skill position, took a 17-7 lead over the Titans but lost 31-17 thanks to missed field goals, blocked field goals, interceptions and 149 Derrick Henry rushing yards.

    With the Bills all but sewing up one wild-card berth Thursday, it now looks like a two-team race between the Steelers and Titans for the final AFC playoff spot.


    What it means

    We covered the Steelers earlier in this week's Gridiron Digest but included them here because readers tend to tune out when we talk about the Titans. So, we thought we'd mix the Browns into the discussion and ZZZZZZ… Hey, wake up! We barely even mentioned the Titans!

    The Titans are 5-1 since replacing Marcus Mariota with the stronger-armed and equally fleet-footed Ryan Tannehill. Henry's punishing rushing style is more effective when opponents are forced to worry about passes more than 10 yards downfield. The Titans are relatively healthy, and when you start listing their talent on both sides of the ball—Kevin Byard (key interception Sunday), Logan Ryan (also a key interception Sunday), Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones and Harold Landry III and others on defense; Henry and lots of former first-round linemen and receivers on offense—it should be no surprise that they have climbed over the battered Colts and into the playoff picture.

    As for the Browns, they are now two full games off the wild-card pace and hoping the throwing-hand injury Baker Mayfield suffered before halftime isn't serious. Mayfield stayed in the game with a glove on the injured hand but took four sacks and coughed up a fumble in the second half. Mayfield told reporters after the game that he believes he can play through the injury.

    This is sure to be the last you hear about Mayfield's injury, because the Browns aren't the sort of team that turns every little issue into drama. Just kidding! Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for updates on #HandGate as they develop during the week! 


    What's next

    Mayfield's pinkie gets into a feud with the Cleveland media before the team's first meeting of the year with the Bengals.

    Devlin Hodges is rechristened Ducky Minshew as the Steelers prepare to visit the Cardinals.

    Teammates keep stressing to Adam Vinatieri how much fun his retirement party will be as the Colts travel to Tampa.

    The Titans ZZZZZZ…. [nudge] Good morning! The Titans visit the Raiders!

Inside the Numbers

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    Drew Lock, quarterback, Broncos: 18-of-28 for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception

    Lock threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton that replayed about five times to pad out his three-minute highlight reel, which says a lot about the rest of his debut as the Broncos starter. Lock also threw a 33-yarder against a prevent defense on the final play of the first half and a five-yard touchdown strike to Sutton. He was 14-of-21 for 60 yards and one interception to all other Broncos receivers.

    Judged by typical NFL standards, Lock looked like a replacement-level rookie in his debut, not a quarterback of the future. But judged on the standard set by Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler, you'll forgive Broncos fans for thinking Lock looked like a cross between Patrick Mahomes and Alexander the Great.


    Ravens: 49 touchdowns this season

    The Ravens broke their franchise record for touchdowns, set by the 2009 team, with four games left to play this year.

    The Ravens have existed for nearly a quarter-century, reached the playoffs 11 times and won two Super Bowls, yet they are likely to shatter many more of their offensive records before this season comes to an end. That's a testament to just how great a season Lamar Jackson is having and also to just how defense-oriented the Ravens have been for most of their history.


    Rams: 549 yards of total offense

    The Rams out-gained the Cardinals 390-63 in the first half, controlling the clock for well over 20 minutes. Both Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee had over 100 receiving yards by halftime. Jared Goff threw for 424 yards. 

    So all is well with the Rams offense, right? Well, they did settle for 27- and 33-yard field goals (plus a 41-yard miss) in the first half. They were also plagued by penalties, one of which negated a touchdown. 

    Maybe we're nitpicking. But the Rams face the Seahawks, Cowboys and 49ers over the next three weeks, three teams that would put up much more of a fight on both sides of the ball than the Cardinals.


    Derrius Guice, running back, Washington: 10 carries for 129 yards

    Guice, who missed his rookie season with a left ACL tear and the early part of this year with an injury to his right knee, rushed just 27 times for 74 yards this season before breaking 60- and 37-yarders against the horrendous Panthers run defense. 

    Adrian Peterson also rushed 13 times for 99 yards Sunday. It will be fun to watch Bill Callahan divide up carries so Peterson still feels like the primary ball-carrier while Guice assumes a heavy load. Luckily, no one is in any hurry to watch Dwayne Haskins throw passes, so there will be plenty of handoffs to go around. 


    Gardner Minshew II, quarterback, Jaguars: 16-of-27 for 147 yards with one TD and one INT

    Minshew replaced Nick Foles at halftime after Foles lost a pair of fumbles (one a strip-six for a touchdown) and threw an interception, allowing the Buccaneers to take a 25-0 lead over the Jaguars. Minshew then…you know what, we're not doing this again. If you care about what the quarterbacks of teams with 4-8 records do on the back ends of 28-11 blowouts, that's your bag. 

Tank Watch

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    This week's battle for last place in the standings (and the top pick in next year's draft) features some surprising twists, turns and (uh-oh) victories:


    Bengals 22, Jets 6

    The Bengals made the battle for the top pick in the 2020 draft interesting by reinserting veteran quarterback Andy Dalton into the lineup after a three-week Ryan Finley experiment. Dalton's mediocre professionalism doesn't mesh well with trying to lose games against weak opponents: He threw for 243 yards and one touchdown, while the Jets decided they did just enough during their three-game winning streak to save everyone's job and can now take the rest of the year off.

    The first Bengals victory of the year could have been a chance for other terrible teams to gain ground on them, but clearly no one wants to lose hard enough as the season enters its home stretch.


    Dolphins 37, Eagles 31

    DeVante Parker is exactly the type of player most tanking/rebuilding teams would get rid of: a failed prospect from a past regime who spent four years looking like Julio Jones in minicamp and pregame warm-ups but an unreliable and injury-prone decoy in actual games.

    Parker caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns against an Eagles secondary that played the ball in the air as if they were toddlers trying to catch kickballs on a windy day on the playground. Head coach Brian Flores, meanwhile, used fourth-down trick plays and surprise onside kicks to once again signal to the world that his Dolphins would rather win games than jockey for draft position.

    The Dolphins face a Jets-Giants-Bengals Tankwatch gauntlet over the next three weeks. There's a chance they'll win all three games, turning their "tanking" season into a more respectable "rebuilding" season in which they also acquired lots of extra draft picks and cleared cap space.

    The Eagles remain in the playoff chase thanks to the overall misery of the NFC East. But if you asked someone watching this game which team entered the season with incentive to lose on purpose, guess which team they would pick.


    Redskins 29, Panthers 21

    The Skins refuse to die but refuse to really live, either. The Panthers rolled up a 14-0 lead and looked ready to romp in the first quarter, but the Skins slowly climbed back into the game on long Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson runs followed by field goals while the Panthers offense collapsed into a three-and-out quantum singularity. 

    Washington now inexplicably has three wins this season. It's yet to look even remotely good in any game.


    Packers 31, Giants 13

    The 2-10 Giants have now lost eight straight and are thundering to the bottom of the standings. They're also looking more like a team whose rookie quarterback peaked when he surprised a couple of terrible opponents in September.

    The highlight of this game for Giants fans was that it snowed, which is hardly a highlight for anyone who watched Daniel Jones throw three interceptions in the bitter cold and then had to merge onto the New Jersey Turnpike.


    (Note: To qualify for Tankwatch, a team must start the week within two wins of the lowest total in the league.)

Awards Digest

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Defensive player of the week: Carlos Dunlap recorded three sacks in the Bengals' 22-6 victory over the Jets. Dunlap is also the "OMG, that guy is still on the Bengals?" player of the week, having been with the team since 2010. The Bengals are the closest an NFL team can come to hoarders. 

    Offensive line of the week: The much-maligned Rams line of Andrew Whitworth, Austin Corbett, Austin Blythe, David Edwards and Bobby Evans wasn't perfect, but the patched-together unit helped the team rush for 132 yards and gave Jared Goff plenty of time to throw against the pesky Cardinals pass rush. If they add one more guy named "Austin" to the lineup, the Rams line will also qualify as a rootsy country-rock band. They'll then have to move to Brooklyn, of course.

    Special teamer of the week: Dane Cruikshank blocked the field goal. Tye Smith returned it for a touchdown. The play gave the Titans a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead that appeared to take the life out of the Colts.

    Mystery touch of the week: Those tricky Dolphins brought their field-goal unit onto the field on fourth down near the goal line against the Eagles and then lined up in a wacky rugby formation with punter Matt Haack at center behind two blockers, kicker Jason Sanders as a sort of flanker and everyone else just scattered on or around the line of scrimmage. Haack executed a perfect drive-and-dish play off the inbounds pass (er, snap), luring Eagles defenders toward him as he headed for the end zone before shoveling the ball to Sanders for a touchdown.

    Fantasy leech of the week: Darwin Thompson, a sixth-round pick from Utah State, had rushed just five times for eight yards this season before rushing 11 times for 44 yards and one bruising touchdown in the 40-9 Chiefs victory over the Bills. LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams were both healthy, but running back committees are all about survival of the fittest. Get it? Darwin? Sigh, that joke already feels older than the fossil record. 

    Meaningless fantasy touchdown of the week: Kyler Murray's 15-yard touchdown run and ensuing extra point midway through the fourth quarter cut the Rams' lead to 34-7 (the game's final score) but salvaged a miserable fantasy day for Murray, who threw for just 163 yards and an interception and totaled just 28 rushing yards.

    Best supporting actor in someone else's highlight: Officially, Chiefs defender Rashad Fenton forced a Trevor Davis fumble on a Raiders first-quarter kickoff return. But really, Fenton was just the guy getting blocked when Davis' teammate Dallin Leavitt lost track of where he was and crashed into his return man. The television feed then cut to Jon Gruden for one of the greatest reaction shots in cinematic history. Gruden looks like a man who just watched someone run themself over while trying to change a tire. 

    Kicker fail of the week:

    What is it to grow old?

    Is it to feel our strength—

    Not our bloom only, but our strength—decay?

    Is it to feel each limb

    Grow stiffer, every function less exact,

    Each nerve more loosely strung?

    Yes, this, and more; 

    It is—last stage of all—

    When we are frozen up within, and quite

    The phantom of ourselves,

    To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost

    Which blamed the living man.

    Lines from "Growing Old" by Matthew Arnold.

    Dedicated to Adam Vinatieri.

Digest Sportsbook: The Double-Digit Dilemma

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The Panthers and Eagles, a pair of mediocre NFC bantamweights, were each 10.5-point favorites in Sunday's early games. Both lost outright, to Washington and the Dolphins, respectively.

    The Chiefs were 11.5-point favorites at home against the feisty Raiders but covered easily in a 40-9 rout. 

    Favorites are now 12-17-1 this season against double-digit spreads, making the dogs a much smarter play, especially when other circumstances are factored in:

    • The Patriots are 3-1 ATS as double-digit favorites, and their only non-cover was when they were favored by 20.5 but could only beat the Jets by a 30-14 final. There's a difference between counting on the Patriots as double-digit favorites (they visit the Bengals and host the Dolphins down the stretch) and counting on some .500-caliber team as a double-digit favorite. 

    • Favorites are now 2-9-1 ATS this season when the final spread is 10 or 10.5 points. This may just be a statistical artifact, but 10.5 points or so tends to be the landing spot for the spread between a good-not-great team and an opponent that has a little more life left in it than the public may think. For example, Vikings vs. Broncos in Week 11, Eagles and Panthers vs. Dolphins and Washington this week. It's a number that feels much easier for a decent team to cover than it really is. 

    As we mentioned in the earlier "Tank Watch" section, no team is really trying to lose this season (it's ridiculous to even have to emphasize that point), and the Bengals, Dolphins and even Washington have gotten a little better as the season has worn on. There's no reason to bet any of these teams as double-digit underdogs unless the opponent is a real powerhouse. 

    And while the Giants are steaming garbage right now, they are unlikely to be double-digit dogs against their upcoming opponents: the Dolphins, Washington and the Eagles twice. Seriously, if you bet the Eagles as heavy favorites at this point, that's between you and your poor bank account.

    So proceed with extreme caution when playing double-digit spreads. If they look too good to be true, they probably are. Especially if the spread is around 10.5 points. 


    Monday Night action: Vikings +3 at Seahawks

    The Seahawks are just 1-4 ATS as home favorites this year, with outright losses to the Saints and Ravens and non-cover wins over the Bengals and Rams. So don't count on the 12th Man to make a big difference in this NFC playoff preview and rematch of the 2015 playoff Freezer Bowl.

    The Vikings, on the other hand, are 4-10-1 ATS coming off a win in the past two seasons, so it appears at first that you can still count on Kirk Cousins to let you down at the worst possible moment and bet accordingly. Two of this season's Vikings ATS losses, though, have come when they were double-digit favorites against Washington and the Broncos. So they weren't "LOL Cousins" losses but "WTF were the Vikings doing as 16.5-point favorites" losses. 

    This game will be more fun to watch than it will be to play. Both teams are evenly matched and so statistically similar that it's hard to find an edge. Unless you have a hunch, skip the spread and take the Over at 49. Five of the past six Vikings games have gone over, and both teams have better defensive reputations than defensive realities.

Thanksgiving Fallout Digest

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Thursday's slate of games marked the beginning of the Take the Bills Seriously era, kept the Bears' playoff hopes on life support and compelled Jerry Jones to seemingly finally give Jason Garrett one last set of last chances, among other developments. How have those storylines played out since? Here's a rundown for those who didn't keep up amid the holiday rush:


    Atlanta Falcons

    Dan Quinn said after Thursday's loss to the Saints that he will not bench Matt Ryan, Julio Jones or other veterans for their own protection during the meaningless final month of the season. 

    On the one hand, preserving their health while the Falcons sink closer to the top of the draft order makes Moneyball sense. On the other hand, Quinn is coaching for his next job at this point, and football remains an entertainment industry. Neither season-ticket holders nor television viewers should be subjected to a full month of Matt Schaub throwing to Christian Blake.

    The non-tanking is great news for fantasy owners but won't have much impact on the real NFL, as the Falcons' remaining games are against teams that are either safely in the playoffs (49ers) or have little chance at the postseason (Panthers, Jaguars, Bucs). Keep an eye on that matchup with the 49ers in two weeks, though. Nothing would be more "Falcons" than for them to have one of their monthly surges and knock off a top team as heavy underdogs. 


    Buffalo Bills

    It's OK to still not be convinced about the 2019 Bills, even after Thursday's win in Dallas. But you should definitely keep an eye on the 2020 and 2021 Bills, because the last two draft classes have been putting on a showcase lately. Rookies Ed Oliver and Devin Singletary had breakout games Thursday. Offensive tackle Cody Ford and tight end Dawson Knox have also become capable starters as rookies. Second-year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds ranks among the NFL's leaders with 90 total tackles, and of course Josh Allen has quietly developed from the punching bag of the 2018 draft into a consistent passer and dangerous runner.

    The Bills are a team on the rise. Upcoming tests against the Ravens and Patriots will gauge whether they are ready to rise past the first round in this year's playoffs.


    Chicago Bears

    Three wins in the past four games have kept the Bears from falling off the back fringe of the playoff race. Mitchell Trubisky has thrown eight touchdowns and "just" four interceptions in those games, elevating his status from our nation's greatest source of shame to just another young quarterback with occasional ups and extended downs.

    So have the Bears "turned the corner"? Or is sweeping the Matthew Stafford-less Lions and beating the Giants exactly the sort of fluky hot streak that tricks an organization into thinking all is well and making catastrophic long-term decisions? You can probably tell which one Gridiron Digest thinks it is. 


    Dallas Cowboys

    Jerry Jones said that "this is not the time" to fire Jason Garrett after Thursday's loss to the Bills. He was right, of course: It was Thanksgiving night! But apparently Black Friday was not the time, either, nor does he plan to invest in a time machine to go back to the end of the 2015 season and fire Garrett at a time when it was appropriate.

    "I'm looking ahead at another ballgame and I'm looking ahead at winning four or five straight and helping to write a story that they'll talk about that you were down and out and you got it done," Jones said after the loss to the Bills, per Adam Maya of "Every decision that I make over the next month will be with an eye in mind to get us in the Super Bowl now."

    So Garrett must win four or five games down the stretch and then get to the Super Bowl, or he's fired. Got it, Jerrah. We're gonna hold you to that. 


    Detroit Lions

    David Blough probably saved Matt Patricia's job on Thanksgiving. No, the third-stringer didn't lead the Lions to a win (though he played pretty well), but his mere presence in the lineup will allow Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn to write this off as a "blame the injuries" year. 

    To be fair, the Lions have been one of this season's most injury-plagued teams at multiple positions. But this "blame the injuries" season comes on the heels of a "blame the culture" season. Before that were two "blame the coach, whom I didn't hire" seasons for Quinn, even though Jim Caldwell led the team to a pair of 9-7 records and a playoff berth in those seasons.

    Giving a coaching-management regime three-to-five mulligans while it takes the team in the wrong direction is a great way to set an organization back a decade.


    New Orleans Saints

    The Saints allowed the Falcons to recover two onside kicks in the waning minutes Thursday night, nearly turning a lopsided victory into a catastrophe. Actually, they allowed three recoveries, but one was negated by an offside penalty; the Falcons executed nearly the same play on the next kick, and the same guy (Foyesade Oluokun) recovered it. 

    It's a good thing the Saints defense kept the Falcons from scoring a final time. Otherwise, Sean Payton would stomp his feet and demand that the competition committee change the onside kick rule, Saints fans would file class-action lawsuits against Younghoe Koo, etc., etc.

    Payton should just assign Taysom Hill to stand wherever he thinks the ball will be kicked. Hill can then run it back for a touchdown, television announcers can swoon like they just witnessed the birth of Tim Tebow's lovechild with Baby Yoda, and the cool kids on Twitter can sniff about how they would rather root for teams to acquire future compensatory draft picks than watch a third-string quarterback block punts and catch touchdown passes.


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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw is suspended through at least the 2020 season for betting on NFL games.

    Point: The over-under on the number of weeks before everyone involved in the NFL forgets Josh Shaw even exists is set at 1.5.

    Counterpoint: I'm glad that Shaw is one of just four players in league history to have ever gambled on NFL games during their careers, since the NFL's crack investigators have obviously caught every perpetrator. Now if you excuse me, I need to go clean my room so Santa Claus knows what a good boy I have been this year.


    Patriots take two separate planes to Houston for their Sunday night game so healthy players don't travel with sick players.

    Point: I'm surprised they didn't fly the sick players straight to the Ravens locker room so they could take turns using Lamar Jackson's toothbrush.

    Counterpoint: Tom Brady, as always, flew in his one-man hyperbaric chamber, breathing an atmosphere enriched with extra oxygen, powdered unicorn horn and toddler giggles. 


    Eagles extend the contracts of Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson and kicker Jake Elliott.

    Point: The Eagles didn't want the Rams to get lonely as the only 6-10 team with a $250 million payroll in 2021.

    Counterpoint: Sources tell me the Eagles are also in talks to get Mack Hollins to play Vince Papale in an Invincible series for Disney Plus. It's the perfect role for a wide receiver who never catches a pass. 


    Bill Belichick calls Lawrence Taylor the greatest defensive player in NFL history.

    Point: But really, what does Bill Belichick know about great defense?

    Counterpoint: Belichick was just saying nice things so Taylor wouldn't shatter his leg.


    Rob Gronkowski won't return to the NFL in 2019.

    Point: Oh good. We'll all be able to consign our souls to eternal damnation at the Gronk Beach Super Bowl party without worrying that the host will slip out during Flo Rida's encore so he can get a good night's sleep before the game.

    Counterpoint: Gronk heard Belichick saying nice things about Lawrence Taylor and thought, "Oh no, I'm not coming back to block that dude in practice."