Everything You Need to Know: Week 17
Let’s face it: While there’s nothing better than NFL Sundays, it can be a little intimidating keeping up with what’s going on in every game. You can analyze the box scores or scan Twitter, but we’ll make it even easier. Here you’ll find the most important points from every day game, so you’ll be prepared no matter what comes up at the water cooler Monday morning. We’ll be updating throughout the games, so keep checking back.
1. Michael Vick — and this game in general, between two teams out of the playoff race — was sluggish for much of the day. He cranked it up in the fourth quarter, though, hitting DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek for touchdown passes, as the Eagles ran off 21 unanswered down the stretch to pull away.
2. The Eagles had to go without star running back LeSean McCoy, who was scratched after warmups because of a lingering ankle injury. The Redskins also had to turn to their depth in the backfield with Roy Helu only able to take four carries. Washington won the battle of the backups, with Evan Royster rushing for 113 yards to a combined 72 from Philadelphia’s Dion Lewis and Ronnie Brown.
3. Allow us to sum up the Redskins’ season in one play: After a short Rex Grossman completion to Jabar Gaffney, Washington tried to rush onto the field to attempt a field goal. One problem, though: The long snapper was late arriving. By the time he did, the clock had run out on the Redskins, who were out of timeouts.
1. Jake Delhomme hit Bryant Johnson on a touchdown pass with 14 seconds left to pull Houston within one and, rather than risk more injuries in a game that really didn’t matter for them, the Texans opted to go for the win. But their two-point conversion never had a chance, as the snap sailed over Delhomme’s head and was recovered by Tennessee.
2. Delhomme was pressed into duty in the first quarter after T.J. Yates headed to the locker room with an apparent head injury. That left the Texans down to their fourth quarterback of the season — Yates has been filling in for Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, who each suffered season-ending injuries.
3. If you’re looking for the next breakout star at tight end, keep an eye on Tennessee’s Jared Cook. He went over 700 yards receiving on the season Sunday and, in his third season out of South Carolina, appears to be tapping into his full arsenal.
[15-1] Packers 45, [10-5] Lions 41 (box score)
1. With the Packers opting to rest Aaron Rodgers, backup Matt Flynn got the start at QB. He likely made himself a huge chunk of money Sunday, too. Flynn, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, torched Detroit’s secondary to the tune of 480 yards and six touchdowns, including the game-winner with just 1:10 left. His performance overshadowed Matthew Stafford’s — the Lions’ QB had a franchise-record 520 yards and five TDs, but also threw a late interception to seal Green Bay’s victory.
2. An odd play gave the Lions two points early in the first quarter. On the kickoff after a Detroit touchdown, Green Bay return man Pat Lee, filling in for an inactive Randall Cobb, bobbled the ball in front of his goal line, picked it up and then took a knee in the end zone for a safety.
3. Calvin Johnson set the Lions’ team record for TD catches in a season with a 13-yard reception from Matthew Stafford in the second quarter. Johnson went through a slump midway through the season, but he’s come on very strong over the final few weeks. He had 11 catches for 244 yards Sunday.
1. With Aaron Rodgers inactive, Drew Brees made another impressive case for a split MVP award, with 389 yards and five touchdowns. Brees finished the year with 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns, often times strafing the Panthers defense for big play after big play.
2. Marques Colston is having a hot end of the year. The impending free agent topped 1,000 yards for the fifth of his six seasons in a monstrous first half (7 catches, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns). After catching 3 touchdowns in the first 12 games of the season, Colston has five in the last four, and has topped 75 yards in six of his last seven games.
3. Newton has piled up the accomplishments this season, but here’s another: In this game he became the first rookie QB to throw for 4,000 yards, and became the first QB ever to throw for 4,000-plus yards and rush for at least 500.
1. Maurice Jones-Drew had the NFL’s rushing title all but locked up heading into Sunday, but he made sure to put the icing on the cake. Jones-Drew shredded Indianapolis for 169 yards on 25 carries (a 6.8 yards-per-carry average) and broke off a 56-yarder.
2. Perhaps in fitting fashion for two teams that struggled like these two did all season, this one fell into a field goal kicking contest in the second and third quarters. Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri drilled a pair, while Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee nailed three. Scobee added a fourth in the fourth quarter to up Jacksonville’s lead to 19-6.
3. With their 14th loss the Colts wrapped up the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. When Indianapolis was 0-13, that result appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but a two-game Colts win streak combined with St. Louis’ continued struggles put things in doubt. Had Indianapolis won Sunday, the Rams would have wound up picking first.
1. Mark Sanchez’s third and final interception of the afternoon essentially ended any Jets hopes. With New York down six and driving late, Sanchez tried to fit a pass in for Shonn Greene, but was picked off, leading to a Miami field goal. Sanchez turned the ball over nine times with seven interceptions in the Jets’ final three games, all losses.
2. Consider this another positive step forward for Dolphins’ QB Matt Moore, on the other hand. After a dreadful first half that saw Moore throw two picks and finish with a 16.7 passer rating, he bounced back to hit Charles Clay for a clutch TD in the fourth quarter and wound up connecting on 22 of his 32 passes.
3. No Reggie Bush meant healthy doses of Steve Slaton and Daniel Thomas in the Miami backfield. Neither had a huge day, but Slaton’s 11-carry, 55-yard performance at least provided a little boost for the Dolphins.
[12-3] 49ers at [2-13] Rams (box score)
1. Alex Smith turned in another solid effort, but the 49ers’ best passing play came from kicker David Akers. On a 4th down from the St. Louis 14, with a 10-point lead, San Francisco lined up for a field goal. Instead, Akers fired a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who took it to the house to give the 49ers a 27-10 cushion.
2. A Josh McDaniels play call pretty much stopped all Rams momentum early. Tied 7-7 with the ball on their own 39, McDaniels called for a direct snap to Jerious Norwood followed by a halfback pass to Kellen Clemens in the flat. The floating ball was easily picked off by Tarell Brown. Two plays later, a 28-yard screen pass to Michael Crabtree put the 49ers up 14-7.
3. The most damning evidence that Steve Spagnuolo should be fired? Even the Rams defense, the one bright spot this season, gave up against the 49ers. San Francisco only averaged 310.2 yards and 17.4 points per game on offense entering the week, but got 200 and 20 in the first half alone. The 49ers tacked on 14 more points in the second half.
1. Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record last week, then added to the mark with a huge Sunday against Carolina. But Tom Brady followed him past Marino’s mark in Week 17. Brady, as he’s done frequently this season, started slow, only to heat up in the second quarter. He finished with 338 yards before being replaced by Brian Hoyer in garbage time.
2. What’s it going to take for Stevie Johnson to get the message? He’s been hit with multiple penalties for excessive celebration, including after his one in New York when he mocked Plaxico Burress, and he was at it again Sunday. After scoring in the first quarter, Johnson lifted up his jersey to reveal a t-shirt with a handwritten message on it and received another 15-yard penalty. Johnson was benched after the unacceptable mistake.
3. New England found itself in a 21-0 hole after one quarter and, just like last week when the Patriots trailed Miami 17-0 at halftime, heard boos from the home crowd. Also, just like last week, the Patriots woke up after their sluggish start, outscoring the Bills 49-0 over the final three quarters.
1. Jared Allen entered Sunday needing a whopping four sacks to tie Michael Strahan’s single-season record. He almost got there — Allen brought Josh McCown down 3.5 times, which moved him to second place all time and put him just a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5.
2. Chicago’s defense turned the momentum completely in the Bears’ favor in the second quarter. Just a few seconds after Josh McCown hit Roy Williams for a TD to get the Bears on the board, Charles Tillman picked off Minnesota rookie QB Christian Ponder and went in for six, giving the Bears their first lead of the game.
3. For the third time in the past four weeks, the Vikings had to turn to Joe Webb at quarterback after an injury to Ponder. However, unlike those previous appearances, Webb could not spark the Minnesota offense. The Vikings failed to score in the second half, as both defenses took over. A Robbie Gould field goal in the fourth quarter marked the game’s only points in the final two quarters.
1. Somehow, Ricardo Lockette turned into Seattle’s big-play threat over the past two weeks. He had a 44-yard reception in the Seahawks’ Week 16 loss to San Francisco and reeled in a game-tying, 61-yard pass from Tarvaris Jackson in the fourth quarter Sunday. Those are Lockette only two receptions of the entire season.
2. With a short field goal in the second quarter, the Cardinals hit the double digit mark before halftime for the first time since Week 10. Amazingly, Arizona still went 4-2 during the stretch after that.
3. It’s unclear what the future holds for the two quarterbacks in this game, Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson and Arizona’s John Skelton. The latter seems destined to be back in his spot as Arizona’s backup QB behind Kevin Kolb next season, while Jackson could find himself the odd man out if Seattle makes a play for a new QB. Not surprisingly, both had uneven days Sunday — each QB had one TD pass, one interception and topped the 200-yard mark through the air.
1. The Tim Tebow show might have hit the wall. He came into Sunday off back-to-back bad games — vs. New England and at Buffalo — and the Chiefs just stuffed him. Tebow completed just six passes (three in each half) for a paltry 60 yards, plus threw an interception in the final seconds to clinch a Kansas City win. Worse yet, Tebow rushed for just 16 yards.
2. Dexter McCluster got off to a hot start for the Chiefs, and his first-half touchdown wound up standing as the game-winner in a defensive struggle. On the scoring play McCluster bounced out to the right, then outran the Denver defense. He gained 60 yards on his first five carries but had just one yard rushing on his next seven attempts.
3. Kansas City’s defensive front has been excellent lately, especially in an upset of the Packers. Sunday, it was linebacker Justin Houston who wreaked the most havoc. He picked up 1.5 sacks of Tebow and recovered a fumble.
1. Ryan Mathews did not suit up in this one for San Diego because of injury, so it’s up to Curtis Brinkley and Mike Tolbert to carry the load. That pair combined for 110 yards on 25 carries, and Tolbert scored a touchdown from 1 yard out to give San Diego a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
2. San Diego’s Richard Goodman delivered the biggest blow to Oakland’s playoff chances on the day. After the Raiders kicked a field goal to pull within 14-10 in the second quarter, Goodman took the ensuing kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. The play deflated Oakland’s sideline and it took until the fourth quarter for the Raiders to close within a touchdown again.
3. There was just one punt in this game, a 58-yarder by Oakland’s Shane Lechler. Each team had an interception and scored six times. The difference in the game? San Diego found the end zone for five of their scores, while Oakland settled for four Sebastian Janikowski field goals.
1. Pittsburgh had hobbled QB Ben Roethlisberger back in its lineup for this one, but may have suffered another huge loss on offense. Running back Rashard Mendenhall went down in the first half with an apparent knee injury, then limped to the locker room and never returned. His replacement, Isaac Redman, fumbled twice in the second half and was replaced by John Clay.
2. The weather was a factor in Cleveland. In the first half, with the wind howling, Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham missed a lengthy field goal wide right. Then in the fourth quarter, a whipping snow started swirling around the stadium. There was not much accumulation, though, and the precipitation didn’t seem to bother the players much.
3. Hines Ward made the 1,000th catch of his career early in the fourth quarter, even though it wasn’t a very successful play for the Steelers. On 1st-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 41, Ben Roethlisberger threw a quick shovel pass to Ward, who was wrapped up for a loss of three. The play still allowed Ward to reach his milestone, and he jogged off the field clutching the football with his trademark smile plastered to his face, while the Steelers fans in Cleveland gave him a standing ovation.
1. Thanks to the Lions’ loss in Green Bay, the Falcons had the chance to jump up to the NFC’s No. 5 seed with a win — meaning a trip to play the Cowboys or Giants, instead of the Saints. Atlanta played like it wanted to avoid a third game with the Saints, too, rolling out to a 42-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The Falcons then took out starting QB Matt Ryan and began clearing the bench — a move that helped Tampa Bay rally back within 18 at one point, but the outcome was never in doubt.
2. Julio Jones hauled in two touchdown passes, giving him eight for the season and six in the last four weeks. He seems to be catching fire at just the right time for Atlanta, with a huge part of the reason being that he’s been able to stay healthy for the first time since the early part of the season.
3. Michael Turner’s had an up-and-down year, but he capped it off with a stellar effort Sunday. Turner put up 172 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, a performance that earned him a rest in the second half as Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling saw more action.
1. The biggest play of this game came midway through the fourth quarter. With the Bengals within 17-13 and driving, Jermaine Greshman coughed up a fumble at the Baltimore 43. Three plays later, Ray Rice broke through the Cincinnati defense for a 51-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens an insurmountable 11-point edge.
2. Dennis Pitta continues to develop into a bigger and bigger threat in the Baltimore passing attack. He hauled in a touchdown late in the first half Sunday to give the Ravens a 17-3 halftime lead. He also finished with the team lead in catches (6) and receiving yards (62) in Baltimore’s win.
3. What a day for Ray Rice. In addition to his huge 51-yard TD jaunt late in the game, Rice also ripped off a 70-yard touchdown early in the game to get the Ravens an early lead and quiet the Cincinnati crowd. The Bengals never again managed to get the game tied up or take a lead.
– Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post