First Down/Fourth Down: Peyton Manning, Quinton Patton and Green Bay’s rally
The Broncos’ assault on the NFL record book does not mean a hill of beans in terms of the upcoming playoffs. They are just as vulnerable as everyone else in the pressure-packed postseason setting.
So before that all begins, let’s take a quick moment to appreciate what Peyton Manning’s offense accomplished in 2013.
In a 34-14 victory over Oakland, Denver put the finishing touches on a remarkable regular season. Manning broke Drew Brees’ single-season passing yardage record, plus added to his own single-season TD record. The Broncos’ 34 points also gave them 606 for the season, 17 more than the 2007 New England Patriots put up to set an NFL standard.
Enjoy it while you can, because the window is small here. Eric Decker’s almost certain to leave in free agency, while Manning’s and Wes Welker’s careers are winding down. This level of offensive efficiency may not be on display again for a long, long time.
More of Week 17′s best and worst:
First Down: Quinton Patton.
Before the 2013 draft rolled around, I was high on Patton. He was a fixture on our 2013 Big Board, right around the No. 40 spot. And when the 49ers took him with the 128th pick, I figured they had one of the year’s biggest steals.
Injuries and ineffectiveness slowed him, though, to the point where he struggled to even crack the active roster on game days. Patton entered Sunday with one catch for zero yards in his rookie season … then came up with an absolutely huge reception late to help San Francisco knock off Arizona. His 29-yarder in the closing seconds set the stage for Phil Dawson’s game-winner, and it may have re-established some confidence in Patton among the 49ers’ staff.
Fourth Down: Ryan Succop’s ability to go home again.
Succop, the Chiefs kicker, was born in Pittsburgh. It might be a long while before he’s welcomed back there with open arms after his miss from 41 yards out Sunday helped cost the Steelers a playoff chance. All Succop had to do to send Pittsburgh on to the postseason — and end San Diego’s season — was hit a mid-range kick in good weather conditions. After he pushed that kick right, the Chargers went on to win in overtime. (The NFL did admit that a missed call on the field goal should have resulted in another chance for Succop.)
First Down: Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.
Cobb caught 80 passes last season, which led just about everyone to believe this would be one of the most feared QB-WR combos in the league this season. Neither guy was able to stay in the lineup — Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone, Cobb sat out 10 with a leg injury.
Back together again Sunday, they added a thrilling piece of lore to the Packers’ long and storied history. Cobb’s second catch of the day, Rodgers’ 25th completion, went for 48 yards and a division-winning touchdown versus the Bears.
Fourth Down: The Rams’ discipline.
Tough finish to the season for a Rams team that probably was the best last-place team in the league. Not only did St. Louis drop a 27-9 decision in Seattle, ensuring a sub-.500 year, but also Jeff Fisher’s team totally lost its cool en route to 12 penalties — including several 15-yarders. The worst of the bunch: an ejection for Kendall Langford, who inadvertently knocked the hat off an official.
Referee Jeff Triplette’s crew should not be let off the hook here either. Widely considered one of the most error-prone refs in the league, Triplette allowed this one to get extra chippy, then put his foot down on Langford for almost no reason.
First Down: LeGarrette Blount.
The Patriots might have been in danger of losing to Buffalo Sunday, thus costing themselves a first-round playoff bye, had it not been for Blount’s Herculean effort. He rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, plus added 145 more yards on a pair of kick returns. His second TD on the ground came with 2:21 left and the Bills within seven, putting the game on ice.
Fourth Down: Baltimore, Chicago, Miami and Detroit.
Had the Bears, Dolphins or Ravens won just one of their final two games, they would have claimed playoff bids. And the Lions needed only a 2-2 close, three of those games against teams that did not qualify for the postseason, to win the NFC North.
Instead, the four clubs combined to go 0-8 over the season’s final two weeks, with Detroit finishing on a four-game skid. All of the teams will sit and watch the postseason unfold beginning next week, with at least Detroit looking likely to hit the reset button by firing its coaching staff.
First Down: Greg Hardy.
The Panthers obliterated Atlanta’s offensive line in a 21-20 victory — one that clinched the NFC South and a first-round bye. Hardy led the charge, recording four of the nine sacks Carolina had of poor Matt Ryan. Considering Hardy’s heading to free agency, that’s a pretty strong way to close the regular season. He bumped his season sacks total up to 15, topping his previous career high of 11.
Fourth Down: Kirk Cousins’ trade value.
One last indignity for Washington in a lost 2013 season as Cousins battled through a miserable performance in the rain Sunday, finishing just 19-of-49 for 169 yards and two interceptions. His final line for the year: three starts, three losses, a 52.3 completion percentage and a QB rating of 58.4.
First Down: The Metrodome.
Minnesota’s home stadium was far from the nicest venue ever constructed — heck, the roof caved in just a couple years ago. It still witnessed a ton of history, both in the NFL and otherwise. The Vikings sent the place out in style on Sunday, rallying to beat the Lions 14-13. The Twins bailed in 2010, leaving the right-field baggie behind to move outdoors. Now, the city’s NFL franchise will do the same, playing its next two seasons at the University of Minnesota’s open-air stadium before nestling into its new digs.
Fourth Down: Dallas’ 4th-and-1.
The Cowboys, trailing by one at the time, closed out Sunday’s third quarter with a goal-line stand that threatened to shift momentum in their favor for the critical final 15 minutes. And it may have done just that, had the Cowboys not returned the favor granted them by the Eagles, who kept the ball out of LeSean McCoy’s hands for all four of their goal-to-go plays on the previous drive.
Dallas moved from its own 1 to the Philadelphia 40, from where it opted to roll the dice on 4th-and-1. Rather than give the ball to DeMarco Murray, though, the Cowboys opted for a rollout pass from Kyle Orton. The attempt was swatted down by Connor Barwin, the Eagles marched down to take an eight-point lead and Dallas wound up losing the game.