As usual, NFL football didn't disappoint when it came to twists and turns in Week 14. One team broke a long losing streak with a gutsy performance. A rookie quarterback from a 1-AA school led his team to a victory while other backups caused an immediate collapse for their respective teams. Tough weather conditions have officially become a factor in the season -- having no impact on one team yet frustrating many others. After two teams found success with interim coaches, it finally looked like firing a head coach in season was a bad idea. The halftime adjustments of one team were very impressive; another team is running its way to the playoffs.
1. Quick collapse is possible
Jon Kitna is a real backup quarterback and he's worth every penny Jerry Jones pays him. Kitna can win games for Dallas, unlike what happens when other backup signal callers were asked to play this weekend.
If the starting quarterback goes down with an injury, the team can't afford to fall apart. The payroll for a 53-man roster is in the neighborhood of $100 million. And that means teams should have what it takes to identify and secure backup signal callers that can keep them on a winning track. A real backup QB costs about $3 million a year - and he's worth it. Ask the Steelers players how important their backup QBs were when Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension and the team went 3-1.
There are 72 quarterbacks that have thrown at least one pass in the NFL this season. It is imperative to have a quality backup on the roster.
2. Another rematch lesson
With eight division games played last week, I warned there would be more splits with the loser of the first game winning the rematch. The result: five splits and three sweeps. Entering Week 14, there were another five rematch games. Result: Four of the five teams that lost the first game were winners this weekend. The Dolphins topped the Jets, Chargers dumped the Chiefs, 49ers avenged a loss to Seattle, and Detroit took the second game over the Packers. In two weeks, nine of the 13 rematch games were splits - 69 percent of the rematch games went to the loser of the first game. Keep that in mind in the final three weeks!
3. Let it snow!
The Patriots came into Sunday's game in Chicago averaging 40 points over their previous four games, but snow and cold suggested something else would happen. Not so, as New England operated as if it were a bright summer day, scoring 33 points in the first half and finishing with 36 points while allowing the Bears to score just seven. If you did your homework on the Pats in the cold or snow, it should not have been a surprise. In "snow" games since 2008, the Pats are now 3-0 and have outscored opponents 142-14. That is an average score of 47-5! If you look at Patriot games in weather less than 40 degrees in the Tom Brady era, the team is now 10-1. It's starting to look as if home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for New England is close to a lock, and that means January games at Foxboro. I'm sure the team will be excited to see snow, wind and cold.
4. Mess in Denver
The Vikings and Cowboys terminated their head coaches and there appeared to be some decent improvement in the performance of the players. I wonder why professional athletes need a wake-up call like a coach firing to play better, but as one Viking said of departed coach Brad Childress, "It wasn't Brad's fault but he took the blame and we had to get going or else."
Well, the plan to fire Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, at least after the first game without him, seems to have backfired. The Broncos may need years to get things right and after watching the team get torched by the Arizona Cardinals. With a rookie QB (John Skelton) beating them 43-13, it made we wonder a few things: 1) McDaniels was a much better play-caller than what was left behind; 2) It's time to play Tim Tebow and find out how far away he is from being an NFL QB; and 3) The players better take responsibility for what's going on or realize a new head coach will turn this roster over like the Seahawks turned over their roster last year.
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5. Keep chopping wood
I talk with Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz every week and I am so impressed with his vision for the team, the kind of players he has brought together as the foundation of this roster and most importantly how he never offers an excuse for the hard times. The Lions are all focused on the idea of building a team that will win. Using a third-string QB? No excuse. Losing their defensive captain, Kyle Vanden Bosch? No excuse. Placing eight players on injured reserve? No excuse. Waiting for QB Matt Stafford to heal well enough to play/ No excuse! Detroit had lost 19 straight division games and 10 straight to Green Bay, but on Sunday, with more injuries and possible excuses for losing, they won. You don't have to be a Lions fan to appreciate what Schwartz is building in Detroit.
6. They love the second half
The Tampa Bay Bucs are just a group of young players, coaches and front office guys that believe in themselves and don't panic if things don't start out smoothly. Second-year QB Josh Freeman is one of my favorite players in the NFL and the sky is the limit for him. He can only go as far as his teammates can go… and they are on the move. The Bucs were losing 10-3 at halftime in Washington yesterday. They squib kicked the second-half kickoff, recovered it, then went from 92 yards passing in the first half to 174 yards in the second half, scoring 14 points. Once again, Freeman led the team to a fourth-quarter victory.
The Bucs aren't a top six team yet and still sit on the outside of the playoff bubble, but they are close and there is no quit in this group. Tampa came into this road game without its center, its best offensive guard, its top cover corner and starting safety. Right now, they are 8-5 and only have one team with a winning record left on the schedule. The Bucs are a year ahead of schedule in their development but don't tell them that because they are thinking 11 wins and a playoff berth. And losing at halftime doesn't mean a thing to them.