Sunday night, members of the 1972 Dolphins uncorked champagne to celebrate the Packers' loss to the Chiefs as Miami remains the only NFL team to go through an entire season without losing. And the 2008 Lions will remain the only winless team since the advent of the 16-game season, as the Colts finally found the win column with their victory over the Titans. It was a strange day in the NFL, but the strangest was Kansas City upsetting Green Bay in Romeo Crennel's debut as interim coach.
The Chiefs fired Todd Haley last Monday and replaced him with Crennel, their defensive coordinator, and clearly the team responded. Crennel's first act was to start Kyle Orton at quarterback, giving them at least a fighting chance on offense. What chance did they have with Tyler Palko? That one move alone gave the team a lift. Crennel had his team ready on both sides of the ball from the opening kickoff, as they were the more physical team and kept the ball away from the Packers. Defensively, the Chiefs are no pushover -- just a month ago they gave the Steelers everything they could handle. The offense, however, was a different story. All that changed Sunday.
Playing the Packers is like playing the old Showtime Lakers in basketball. If you try and run with them, you will lose. But if you can slow the game down, there is an opportunity to pull the upset. By slowing the pace the Chiefs limited the Packers to just nine possessions, and Green Bay's time of possession in the first half was a little more than nine minutes. In a normal game, a team is expected to get at least 12 possessions. The Chiefs kept the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and for the first time all season the Packers went scoreless for an entire half.
The injury to WR Greg Jennings made setting up the game plan a little easier for Crennel. Crennel wanted to make sure WR Jordy Nelson did not beat them down the field, and having corners Brandon Flowers or Brandon Carr take him one-on-one ensured this would not happen. Then he put a man-and-a-half (linebacker, with a safety looming) on TE Jermichael Finley and played everyone else even up. Combining this tight coverage with relentless pressure forced Rodgers to hold the ball, and the Packers offense struggled.
Before Jennings was injured my sense was everyone underrated Nelson. He is sneaky good, and often because of Jennings and Finley, he never gets the best corner. To beat the Packers, a team should put its best corner on Nelson, and double Jennings. Then have a man-and-a-half cover Finley and roll the dice with everyone else. This is what the Chiefs did.
As bad as the season has been for the Chiefs, in spite of all the injuries, they still have a shot at the AFC West title. Their defense is solid and with a little life to their offense they will give the Raiders and Broncos all they can handle in the upcoming games. If Crennel is able to make this team 8-8, he will put a stranglehold on the full-time head coaching spot.
And this loss for the Packers might be for the best. The burden of going undefeated has been lifted and now the Packers can get some of their star players some rest and prepare for the playoffs. This style of play will be hard for other teams to duplicate, plus it allows the Packers to work on their counter for it. So all is not lost in Green Bay, but now we know the Packers are no different than the Patriots or the Saints -- they will struggle to win games when their offense is not operating at the highest level.
Things I loved
» I loved how the Chargers finally have come back from the dead. With their complete complement of wide receivers, including a healthy Antonio Gates, the Chargers offense was back to its big-play capability. San Diego dominated the Ravens' defense with its passing game, much-maligned coach Norv Turner was working his call sheet like magic, and the offensive line did a great job protecting Philip Rivers. Much like the Chiefs, the Chargers are still alive in the West. And much like the Patriots, Packers and Saints, the Chargers will have to keep winning with their offense.
» I love how the Saints are flying under the radar. Right now they are operating on offense as well as they ever have under coach Sean Payton. With Jimmy Graham at tight end, Payton has another weapon to create matchup problems for the defense. Payton loves to line up Graham away from his three receivers, which gives Drew Brees a clear view of the coverage. If a linebacker goes to Graham, he knows the call is man-to-man; if a corner stays there, then he has zone. Then Brees starts the offense with the right call. The Saints are a dangerous team right now -- confident, tough and executing well.
» I loved how Patriots QB Tom Brady relished the opportunity to show everyone he is not ready to take a back seat. Brady welcomed the Tim Tebow challenge and carved up a Broncos defense that has been as instrumental in their winning streak as Tebow's fourth-quarter magic. Like the Saints, the Patriots are operating on all cylinders right now, putting pressure on the defense with every call and every drive. If their opponents want to take away Rob Gronkowski then the other tight end -- Aaron Hernandez -- is able to win his matchup. The Patriots can control the middle of the field like no other offense. And when Brady has that certain look, that competitive determination, the Patriots are hard to beat.
And one extra I love...
» I love that the Colts are finally in the win column. It won't make their season any better, but at least for one Sunday they found a way to win a game, and send the Titans home with little playoff hope. The Colts defense won this game with its ability to create turnovers that resulted in points. It might not have been pretty, but any win is good for the Colts.
Things I hated
» I hated watching the Jets play, but I am really going to hate listening to Rex Ryan tell us how great his team is this week after they laid a huge egg in Philadelphia. Get ready for the "I know we have the best team" press conference. (In fact, it already happened.) The Jets secondary was torched as the team allowed over 400 yards of offense to the Eagles. I am sure Mark Sanchez will take all the blame, but this was a total meltdown by the Jets. Their saving grace was that most of the other teams in the wild-card hunt lost as well, making this week's game with the Giants all the more critical. The winner has hope for Week 17; the loser is probably out.
» I hated watching the other New York team play as well. Coming off a huge comeback win last week in Dallas, the Giants came out flat and it never got any better. Their defense could not stop the Redskins on third down. The Giants have problems in their secondary, but playing against two backup tackles, the G-Men could never get control of the line of scrimmage. After getting torched by the Patriots last week, the Redskins defense was ready to play, creating turnovers and pressuring Eli Manning all game. This game was not as close as the score might seem. The Redskins even turned the ball over in typical Rex Grossman fashion, but the Giants could not take advantage. Now their season comes down to beating the Jets. The Battle of New York will have huge playoff implications.
» I hated watching the Raiders let the Lions march 98 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, then poorly run their two-minute drill for a chance at a legitimate winning field goal. The Raiders defense must not have thought Calvin Johnson was a deep threat, as they allowed him free access off the line. Johnson got behind the Raiders' D and the only reason it was not a touchdown was because Matthew Stafford underthrew the ball. Eventually Johnson did score, leaving the Raiders 39 seconds and two timeouts to get into position for a winning kick. But as much as the Raiders defense mismanaged its two-minute drive, the offense was just as bad on its final possession. Wasting one timeout on a short pass and then taking a sack, the Raiders were left with a 65-yarder for the win. Even with Sebastian Janikowski that length is a reach. The Lions might not look pretty at times, but they know how to win these kinds of games.
Things on my mind
» In spite of losing, I thought this was the best game Tim Tebow played all season throwing the ball. He looked more comfortable with each throw and clearly has improved.
» Jacksonville's front office was anti-Tebow when he came out; I wonder if they would rather have him or Blaine Gabbert right now? If the Jags had Tebow, they would not have a ticket-selling problem.
» Miami's Reggie Bush ran all over the Bills in the light snow and keeps proving he can be an every-down back. Bush is just 27 yards away from his first 1,000-yard rushing season. For all that has gone wrong in Miami, Bush has gone right.
» Congratulations to Todd Bowles, the interim coach of the Dolphins, for his first win. And congratulations to offensive coordinator Brian Dabol for doing an outstanding job getting quarterback Matt Moore ready each week.
» A.J. Green is really remarkable running routes and making plays down the field. Green caught six passes for 115 yards against the Rams and has 1,006 yards so far this season, three yards shy of the franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie in a season. What a great year, A.J.
» The Vikings defense is really bad right now. They cannot cover anyone man-to-man or make plays in zone. Expect some changes in Minnesota.
» The Panthers have been a good first-half team but have failed to play well in the second half. Sunday they played well in both halves beating the Texans. Cam Newton was great again, and Steve Smith gets my vote for comeback player of the year.
» Why would any team kick to Cardinals cornerback/returner Patrick Peterson, much less in overtime? He is becoming like Devin Hester, only bigger and just as fast with the ball in his hands. I've seen enough to never let him touch the ball if I were playing him.
» The Ravens always look so bad on the road, unless they are in Pittsburgh. Their defense looked vulnerable even with Ray Lewis returning. And their offense never seems to show any consistency in any area, running or passing.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.