We've talked often this season about what a terrific job the scriptwriter has done, and he may have outdone himself in Week 15. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he is getting some help from the striking members of the Writers Guild out in Hollywood.
As in any great drama, the NFL season is building up to a powerful finish -- with lots of twists and turns along the way.
We talked last week about the impact of undrafted free agents, and these players had a huge effect for the second week in a row.
It started in Tampa Bay, where Micheal Spurlock recorded a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- the first such score in franchise history. This might have been secondary to the fact that the Bucs clinched the NFC South with the victory, but it is a major milestone. The Bucs had gone 32 years -- 1,864 returns -- without a kickoff TD. Spurlock played wide receiver at Ole Miss and then was an undrafted rookie last season with Arizona. He played in one game for the Cardinals last year and this was just the 13th kickoff return in his career. His previous long return was 45 yards. The previous Tampa Bay record for longest kickoff return was 86 yards (not for the TD); ironically, that mark was achieved in 2001 by Aaron Stecker -- who also was an undrafted free agent.
Not to be outdone, the Dolphins ended their season of futility thanks to a pair of undrafted free agents. In overtime against the Ravens, Cleo Lemon hit Greg Camarillo for the 64-yard touchdown that ended Miami's 16-game losing streak. Lemon, who had 412 career passing yards in four seasons prior to 2007, passed for 315 yards yesterday -- the second-best total for the weekend. Camarillo, who had just one reception for 2 yards this season prior to this weekend, had three receptions for 109 yards. He is only the second Miami receiver to have 100-plus yards in a game this season (the other, Chris Chambers, is no longer with the team).
In Carolina's victory over Seattle, undrafted free agent Matt Moore became the fourth quarterback to start a game this season. Moore didn't have a TD pass in the game, adding to this unfortunate trend: Jake Delhomme started the first three games of the season and threw 8 TD passes. In the 11 games since then, Carolina quarterbacks have thrown 8 TD passes.
And by the way… Delhomme also entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
Chicago holds the key
Thanks in part to Washington's Sunday night win over the Giants, the NFC wild-card race is wide open between New York, Washington, Minnesota, and New Orleans (with a few 6-8 teams hanging by a thread). And thanks to Philadelphia, the battle between Dallas and Green Bay for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs also is in doubt with two weeks to go.
And while the Chicago Bears are all but eliminated from playoff contention, the 2006 NFC champs just may hold the key to everything.
When the 5-8 Bears face 7-6 Vikings in Minnesota tonight, the Giants, Redskins and Saints will all be rooting heavily for Chicago. When the Bears host Green Bay next Sunday, Dallas will be rooting hard for them. And in the season finale, the Vikings will turn around and join the Giants and Redskins in cheering for Chicago against New Orleans.
As of now, and depending on how the Vikings do tonight, it would seem the Giants and Vikings stand a good chance at being the NFC's two wild-card teams. However, especially with the Giants having to play at Buffalo and then home in the Saturday night finale against New England, don't be surprised if the Saints overtake them. If the Saints and Giants are tied at 9-7 for the final playoff spot, New Orleans would get it based on a better conference record.
Ultimate team play
Brian Westbrook's heads-up play at the end of Sunday's Philadelphia win over Dallas may have been the most unconventional play I've ever seen in a football game. You've likely seen it or heard about it by now: With 2:19 remaining and the Eagles trying to kill the clock with a 10-6 lead, Westbrook took a handoff from Donovan McNabb at the Cowboys' 25-yard line. He broke free for what should have been a touchdown -- but instead he went down to a knee at the 1-yard line. So rather than give Dallas the ball back with a remote chance to score 11 points in two minutes (and no timeouts), Westbrook's heady play allowed Philly to run out the clock right there.
Credit offensive tackle Jon Runyan, who suggested to Westbrook in the huddle that he take a knee in that situation. Still, how many running backs, with the momentum of having just broken through the line for a big gain, would have had the instincts to stop themselves? Not to mention the selflessness of giving up a touchdown.
I've seen defenses let the opponent score at the end of a game to get the ball back, and I've seen offensive players go down before being taken out of bounds to keep the clock going. But I've never seen a player give up an easy scoring chance like that.
Of course, the biggest question of all is: How many fantasy football championships were impacted by this?
Going into Sunday's game with Jacksonville, the Steelers had allowed 72.6 rushing yards per game. The Jaguars rushed for 224 yards, including 146 by Fred Taylor alone… Brett Favre passed Dan Marino to become the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, and crowd in St. Louis that witnessed it was probably 50 percent Packers fans… LaDainian Tomlinson became the second player in NFL history to rush for at least 1,200 yards in each of his first seven seasons -- Eric Dickerson, who did it from 1983-89, was the first. Tomlinson has 16 TDs this season, giving him 127 for his career -- moving ahead of Jim Brown into seventh overall. Terrell Owens is sixth with 130. Jerry Rice is the all-time leader with 208… The top three this season in TD passes -- Tom Brady (45), Tony Romo (35) and Peyton Manning (27), were held to a combined one TD pass Sunday. Collectively, these three elite passers completed 42 of 102 attempts (48 percent) for 630 yards. They were sacked 8 times, threw 4 interceptions, and had a combined rating of 54.8… From 2003-2006, the Chiefs scored 1,684 points, an average of 421 per season, which was the second-best total for that time span. In 2007, they've scored 196 points, third lowest in the NFL this season. Coincidentally, they have not win a game since Oct. 21, which was the last time Larry Johnson played… Packers rookie kicker Mason Crosby scored 15 points against the Rams -- he's got 130 for the season, leading the NFL in scoring. He could become the seventh rookie in NFL history to lead the league in scoring -- and he needs 15 points in the last two games to break the rookie record set by Chicago's Kevin Butler in 1985... It's possible that we could have 11 11-game winners this year.