Dec. 8, 2013, was one of the greatest NFL Sundays in recent memory.
Why? You could easily cite the six fourth-quarter lead changes in the Minnesota Vikings-Baltimore Ravens game. There was the controversial pass interference penalty by the Cleveland Browns paving the way for a New England Patriots comeback win. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ersknocked heads. Matt Prater and Peyton Manningset records for the Denver Broncos. The matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelersincluded pulsating plays.
But you know what really made Sunday special? The weather. Move over, Peyton -- the MVP of Week 14 was Mother Nature.
Sing it with me:
Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
It's all rather fitting. A season in which weather and outdoor play have been a persistent topic of conversation will end with the first cold-weather Super Bowl, and I can't wait. I love this concept. I loved it when it was pitched, and I loved it even more when New York/New Jersey was awarded Super Bowl XLVIII. The elements are a part of football. Think about the "Ice Bowl," the "Fog Bowl" and, of course, the "Tuck Rule" game. I'm rooting for snow, sleet, hail and ice -- even more so after this weekend.
How cool was it watching the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday? Return specialists seemingly were skating down the field in Philly, losing potential tacklers in their tracks. Coaches were going for two after every touchdown, fearful of kicking in the snow. Players were making snow angels. LeSean McCoy looked like a combination of Walter Payton and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, running for 217 yards and two touchdowns. You couldn't miss a play. You couldn't miss a moment. You couldn't miss a touchdown followed by a snow-angel celebration.
Think about the hot stories this year involving the cold conditions. In the opinion of many, the only defense against Peyton Manning is neither a pass rush nor a lock-down cornerback, but rather, inclement weather. And Manning is starting to get a bit irritated. After his performance Sunday in Denver, the Broncos quarterback was more chapped to be talking about his play in the cold than someone standing in the chilly conditions.
With the temperature at 18 degrees at kickoff, Manning's arm looked strong, and he played like the surefire MVP he is this season. He zipped the ball around to the tune of a franchise-record 39 completions, finishing with 397 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Manning picked apart Mother Nature -- and the theories that he's spooked by her -- more effectively than he would have an undrafted rookie cornerback. Following the game, Manning told reporters: "I mean, I wasn't trying to answer (the criticism about playing in the cold), because I didn't give it any validation in the first place." Even better, he told KOA-AM in Denver: "Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that one where the sun don't shine."
Bag it, Mother Nature. Of course, while Sunday's showing was a statement for sure, facts are facts. Manning is 4-7 in games when it is 32 degrees or below at kickoff. And in the frigid conditions in Foxborough a couple weeks ago, Manning, who didn't have the usual mustard on his fastball, was outplayed (again) by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Remember, it gets cold in January in Denver. And, fairly or not, the season of Manning and the Broncos will be judged solely by whether they win the Super Bowl.
If Manning and Co. make it to the big game, the conditions are not likely to be friendly. Consider this pretty spectacular forecast from the Farmers' Almanac, which has "red-flagged" Super Bowl weekend. It calls for "heavy winter weather" that includes "copious wind, rain, and snow" -- and, even better, includes words like "volatile" and "turbulent." I love it.
Can Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's arm cut it in the cold? Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, are a different team away from the Superdome, and they aren't exactly known for their poor-weather prowess. If you watched Brees' postgame news conference after New Orleans got smoked in Seattle, you saw him getting defensive, too.
I don't want to hear that the weather changes teams or ruins the perfection of the game. Fields are muddy. Heat, snow and/or rain alter play every week. That's normal. That's natural. That's fun. Momma Nature has been a subplot all year. Her omnipresence this weekend was superb. She's not going away. And that's a good thing for the unmatched drama of the NFL.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.