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2009 NFL Season: Week 17

C Douglas BakerSenior Analyst IJanuary 7, 2010

HOUSTON - JANUARY 03:  Wide receiver Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots is tackled by cornerback Dunta Robinson #23 of the Houston Texans short of the goalline at Reliant Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

This week, instead of going through all the games I watched, I am just going to make observations and mention the games along the way.

This really has been one of the strangest seasons. I think mostly because there were are so many mediocre teams vying for playoff spots at the end of the season, and the teams I thought were elite, like the Vikings and Saints, clearly faltered.

But before I go into that, let’s move to the most important topic to me.

The New England Patriots

Week 17 could not have been much more disastrous for the Patriots. Wes Welker went down with a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter. If you had to name the Most Valuable Player on the team this year, you would not say Tom Brady, you would not say Randy Moss, and would you not say Vince Wilfork, or Jerrod Mayo. You would say Welker.

Any true football fan has to respect and admire what Welker brings to the team in the slot position, and what he brings off the field. He’s a small, fast, tough, hard working, receiver who is admired by fans and teammates alike. He takes a pounding week in and week out, catching those passes over the middle. My heart sank when I realized how badly Welker was hurt, but as my wife said, "That’s football."

What are the Patriots chances in the playoffs without Welker? Not nearly as good as they were with him. In fact, New England's offense diminished greatly, I would say, with the heartbreaking injury.

I like Julian Edelman. He's impressed since the preseason and played well in Welker’s place in a few games this season. But as a rookie, at this point in his career, I don’t seem him truly replacing what Welker brings to the table. But thankfully, Bill Belichick was smart enough to steal a seventh-round Wes Welker clone.

Frankly, I thought the starters should have played only a quarter, then pulled off the field since it was a meaningless game. I’m not sure why Belichick was even playing the starters the entire game, besides trying to keep momentum and continuity.

Reports say that Brady played with a broken finger and broken ribs. I find it extremely hard to believe Belichick would be stupid enough to expose Brady if he really had broken ribs. That would be insane, and Belichick should be checked into a mental facility immediately if so. But those reports have been disputed.

I don’t fault him for playing the starters, though. That’s a coaches call as to what his team needs most to be successful in the playoffs. But those who say that Belichick “plays to win no matter what” are flat wrong, too. He has benched his starters very early before in previous seasons where the Patriots wrapped up a playoff spot, except for 2007 when they were going for 16-0.

But let’s face it, the Patriots problems run far deeper than Wes Welker. The defense has been so woefully inadequate on the road and in the passing game it’s sometimes just embarrassing. We can’t seem to hold a lead and the defense seems mostly bewildered at times.

And the offense is inconsistent. I completely disagree with commentators who say Brady struggled after Welker went out, implying that it was the absence of Welker that caused the offense to stumble at the end of the game and lose it. Edelman played a fine game.  Brady just played poorly. Maybe it was the emotions of losing Welker? Maybe it was the broken finger? But he played poorly down the stretch.

And the defense gave up the ghost.

I think we’ll find a way to beat the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. I am not confident we can compete with the offenses of the Chargers or Colts.

But I am always hopeful. Will I be depressed for a month or more if we get knocked out the playoffs this year? Probably, even though I keep telling myself I won’t.

I’m still not over Super Bowl XLII, and never will be.


Sorry Games from Playoff-Bound Teams

The Cincinnati Bengals played most of their starters against the New York Jets, but didn’t show up for the game. That was an embarrassing excuse for a professional football game. The whole point of playing your starters is to keep momentum going. Well, the Bungles made it look like amateur night, while the Jets were fighting for their playoff lives. They just didn’t have to fight that hard.

And while I’m on that topic, the Jets did what they needed to do to get into the playoffs, and the Colts and the Bungles basically forfeited their games to them. So the Jets go into the playoffs basically having been given two games in the standings. That’s just how it is.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals laid down against the Green Bay Packers and looked like the doormats they were of yesteryear. The starters played awful in this game, too, although they started Matt Leinart, who stunk the joint up.

I think the Jets and the Packers beat these two teams next week in the playoffs. Why bother starting your best players if they aren’t going to show up?

Resting Your Starters and the NFL’s Comments on the Lousy End of Season Games

This leads me to my next point. Yes, the final week of the season saw some pretty sorry games that made the preseason look entertaining. But how can the NFL talk about “doing something” to make playoff-bound teams start their best players? That is so idiotic. It's hard to believe the topic came up.

First, that would just open up all kinds of shenanigans where one team would claim, “Well, our starting quarterback has a bruised shin,” while another loses their starting quarterback in a meaningless game. What is the NFL going to do, medical inspections on all the “key players” of teams that have wrapped up playoff spots?

And even if the starters do start, the two games above pretty clearly show that if they have nothing to play for, they may not show up anyway.

Even though I find it ironic the Jets were gifted a playoff spot by the Colts and Bengals while other deserving teams weren’t, I have no problem with the Colts, or any other team, not playing their starters in meaningless end of season games. If they lost Peyton Manning, their chances of a Super Bowl would be almost zero. They earned the right to rest their starters by having the best regular season record. The mediocre teams that didn’t—who cares? It’s not their problem. Win your regular season games and you won’t have to worry about what other teams are doing.

The Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens only beat the Oakland Raiders because Charlie Frye. Yes, believe it or not, Charlie Frye was playing a good game but got injured.

In the second half, JaMarcus Russell came in and his two stupid turnovers handed the Ravens the game and a playoff spot. Had Frye stayed in the game and played as well as he had the first half, there is a very good chance that the Ravens would have lost the game.

Ironically, I think the Ravens are more talented than their record. Cam Cameron should be fired. His game plan is predictable. For the Patriots' sake, though, I hope it is next week, too.

The MVP of this game would be Willis McGahee, who stiff armed a Raider defender to the ground on the way to a long touchdown run.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Like the Ravens the Steelers can just shut up, too. While the Dolphins-Steelers game was one of entertaining contests of the weekend, Miami were hanging in tough against the Steelers until quarterback Chad Henne was hurt and out of the game. Had he been able to play, the outcome might have been different. Pat White was awful, and unfortunately completely knocked them out of the game. The Dolphins may have fared better had Tyler Thigpen been the backup all along.

Other Sorry Games

And what about the Denver Broncos being run out of the stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs ? The Broncos did have something to play for, and flat-out embarrassed themselves.

And Josh McDaniels benching their best offensive threat Brandon Marshall? Unbelievable. I’m not sure who is at fault here, but I’m sure Marshall is gone after this season. Reports are that Shanahan was planning to get rid of this punk himself had he stayed on as head coach. If I see Marshall getting fawned over on NFL Network again, I am going to puke.

And while the New Orleans Saints sat Drew Brees, they put up a sorry performance on defense against the Carolina Panthers. Does Minnesota, who finally played well at the end of the season, have the edge in the postseason, despite being the No. 2 seed?

Final Observations

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans became the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season with 2,006 on the ground and broke Marshall Faulk’s decade old record of most yards from the line of scrimmage with 2,254 yards. Congratulations.

Rex Ryan is a moron if he thinks the Jets should be Super Bowl favorites after being handed a playoff spot. Makes me root against them even more, but unfortunately, I will root for them if they play the Colts. Ryan’s shtick has already worn thin on me. He is a buffoon.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (256 yards rushing)
Defensive Player: Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive Lineman: Alan Faneca, G, New York Jets
Special Teams: Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders
Rookie of the Week: Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots

Posted in AFC East, National Football League, New England Patriots, NFL, Sports Tagged: AFC East, Baltimore Ravens, National Football League, New England Patriots, NFL, Sports

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