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NFL Week 12: Last of the unbeatens fall

Jets keep rolling with rout of Titans; Patriots' offense in high gear; Colts win another thriller; end of the McNabb Era?

How Cyd and Jim saw Week 12 in the NFL.

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Free kick. The Arizona coaching staff gets big kudos for some fantastic coaching in the final 30 seconds of the first half of their game against the Giants. The Giants knelt the ball on first down and Arizona called a timeout (they had three at the time). The Giants were clearly taken aback, as Tom Coughlin was clearly headed to the locker room; Imagine the audacity of a team not letting another team kneel to end the half! Well, the Giants then had to run a play, and the Cardinals called another timeout (of course, they faced 2nd and 11 because Manning had knelt). And again. And when the Giants punted on fourth down, the receiver made a fair catch, which allowed the Cardinals to line up for a 68-yard free kick (a field goal with no defense on the field). Neil Rackers missed it, but I thought it was a great heads-up coaching move that few would have ever thought of.

E-mail Jim

Then there were none: The New York Jets whipped the Tennessee Titans, 34-13, to knock the last team from the unbeaten ranks. Whipping is the right word for the way the Jets dominated the game: A 40:30 to 19:30 time of possession edge, 192 yards rushing and 409 net yards to 281. All of this on the road against a defense considered the best in the league.

The loss by itself is not a big deal. Tennessee (11-1) is still two games up on the Jets and Steelers (both 8-3) in the race for home field advantage and would have to collapse to not be the top seed. And we can finally stop the unbeaten talk, which only would have been a distraction had the Titans kept winning (just ask the 2005 Colts and 2007 Patriots).

Thanksgiving games. Another year and another set of games that, at least on paper, look like duds. The entire country gets to watch good Titans and Cowboys teams take on terrible Lions and Seahawks teams. The lone intriguing game of the day, Eagles-Cardinals, is on the NFL Network, which most of America doesn’t get; and I don’t see many people clamoring to watch a slumping Eagles team on their TV, or going to a bar to watch it.

Old Titans vs. New Titans. You gotta hand it to the Jets for going in and knocking off 10-0 Tennessee this week. The Titans were going to lose at some point (and will lose again), and they were ripe for the picking (though, I still didn’t think the Jets had enough to actually pull it off). So kudos to the Jets. For the Titans, they are still my top team in the NFL. I’d have to see another team hold the Titans to under 50 yards rushing before I go knock them down a few pegs.

New York, NY. This week’s hot Super Bowl pick is Jets-Giants. I may have to be in a jungle in Malaysia for that entire week if that actually happens.

Cheating, stinking Colts. I can’t stop watching the Colts games and seeing ways that they cheat and the refs cover for them over and over and over. They have been running pick plays all season and getting away with it. Twenty seconds left in the game and the Colts need a first down? Let’s just give it to them. Of course, they have also made big plays at the right time. Between those things: Cheating, the refs cheating, and them making the occasional big play, they will be unwelcome visitors in the playoffs for any home team.

Tony Dungy has put himself on a pedestal (as have many in the media) for winning the “right” way and doing it with dignity. What a hoax. Instead, he’s having guys go run pick plays, knowing the refs will let them get away with it.

Why couldn’t the Patriots have just beaten them three weeks ago and ended their playoff hopes? Why Oh why, cruel god??

Coach of the year. This may be the toughest award to hand out this season, and the toughest year to do it in a long time. It’s usually given to the coach of the team that does the best but was expected to do the worst. Certainly that puts Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, Miami’s Tony Sparano and Atlanta’s Mike Smith in the running: All rookie head coaches.

Personally, I like Arizona’s Ken Wisenhunt; Every time I watch his games, he clearly has his team prepared to play, and he is on the sideline making masterful calls (see free kick entry above). And though he won’t get it or even get much consideration, you could argue that this season is Bill Belichick’s most brilliant yet. To lose your Hall of Fame quarterback in the first quarter of the season, have to start your third- and fourth-string running backs for most of the season, and then go and lose your strong safety and stud outside linebacker midway through the season, and still be 7-4: It’s certainly deserving of a mention.

League MVP. The season still has five weeks to play out, but already a couple names are being pushed hard for League MVP, namely Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Adrian Peterson. But the two names atop my list right now aren’t among those getting the big pub.

One is Drew Brees. It just doesn’t matter who this guy plays, he keeps making big play after big play. What’s impressive to me is that he’s putting up crazy points right now with no running game. Against Green Bay, he faced two very good cornerbacks and had no Reggie Bush, and he still threw for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s just sick. What’s working against Brees? His team is 6-5, and that simply doesn’t reflect the record of a League MVP.

The other is Anquan Boldin. Why is Kurt Warner so successful? Because he has the League’s best receiver to throw to. Yeah, I said it; Boldin is now the best in the League at what he does. He missed two games thanks to a cheap shot from the Jets, but he still leads the League (by 3) in receiving TDs (with 11) and is fourth in receptions (with 73). What makes him so special is his ability to not just get open deep, but to take the short pass and make it a big gainer, and then to work like a tight end in the red zone.

By the way, I can’t believe even diehard Colts fans buy the Peyton-for-MVP nonsense you’ll find to the right (which gets repeated every year about this time). The Colts would be 7-4 with lots of different guys at QB; And they might be even better with Brees there. Manning’s a very good player, but this just isn’t his year.

My Top Five:

1) Tennessee Titans. They lost at home to the lowly Jets, but they were going to lose one or two at some point. It doesn’t change my view of this team, as I said previously it wouldn’t.

2) New York Giants. That was a great game in Arizona. For some reason, it reminded me of 2001, when the Rams went to New England and beat the Patriots around this time of year, only to have the Pats come back and beat the Rams in the Super Bowl.

3) Carolina Panthers. The NFC South is a ridiculous 21-2 at home this season, and the trend continued with the Falcons beating the Panthers. Michael Turner had 4 TDs. The Panthers won’t allow that again all season.

4) Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re not the prettiest team to watch, but they are, in typical Steeler fashion, effective. Their defense is carrying an offense that is just not good at all, I think largely because of injuries.

5) Indianapolis Colts. As opposed to years past, they’re not the prettiest team to watch, but they are winning games in crunch time, and that gets big props from me.

I was puzzled by Tennessee’s play calling. The Titans threw 39 times and only ran 11; the final score was not indicative of the closeness of the game throughout and yet the Titans were still flinging the ball around from the start. This is not a passing team, despite some success in that area this season.

This was the fourth straight game that the Titans were outgained on the ground (vs. the Colts, Bears, Jaguars and Jets). Their run game was the Titans’ strength early in the season and if it has gone south (which the play-calling seems to indicate), this bodes ill for their playoff chances. Trust me, Kerry Collins is not going to be able to carry the offense on his shoulders during a playoff stretch.

ESPN jinx: I heard from Titans fans whining about “no respect” from the media during their unbeaten run. So what do I see on ESPN’s ticker Friday but a “Titans: Path to Perfection” scroll. The Titans had their respect, then promptly laid an egg.

New look: Late in the game, CBS showed Tennessee backup QB Chris Simms on the sidelines (his dad, Phil, was calling the game). I was never a big Chris Simms fans when he had long hair, but he looks totally hot with his new close-cropped look.

Cutest Titan fan: Last week I wrote an item about fans who dress their kids and dogs in Titans gear. I was referring to my friend JP, who with his partner, Matt, became the proud daddies of their son, Hayden, on Oct. 31. Hayden is barely three weeks old and is already scarred for life in an NFL sense as this photo attests (feel free to go "aaaahhhh"):

Favre the difference: The Jets trade for Brett Favre looks like a stroke of genius now that they have won four in a row and he is not throwing interceptions. The old Favre can return at any moment, but it looks as if the Jets have shifted their offense to force quicker and less dangerous throws from Favre. The Jets will be a dangerous playoff team.

More Colts drama: If you want to get three hours of NFL drama, just watch the Indianapolis Colts. They have won their last four games by 3, 4, 6 and 3 points, including Sunday's 23-20 thriller at San Diego, decided on Adam Vinatieri's 51-yard field goal as time expired. It was another excruciating loss for the Chargers (4-7), who have lost four games in the final 24 seconds this season.

A booth review really helped the Colts (7-4) with 27 seconds left. Marvin Harrison caught a third-down pass and looked inches short of the first down. It was so close the replay booth needed to do a review. The review took five minutes (I timed it), which gave the Colts plenty of time to decide what to do if they faced fourth-and-inches.

Everyone assumed a run, but the Colts made one of the gutty calls of the season by having Peyton Manning throw a play-action pass. He hit Harrison on a clutch 14-yard reception down to the Chargers' 34 and it set up Vinatieri for the game-winner.

The Chargers got some bad breaks on some calls, but they also did some dumb things. The dumbest came with 1:30 left and San Diego facing fourth-and-2 (they would go on to kick the game-tying field goal). The stoppage gave Manning an extra 30-40 seconds, and he needed every one of them. No timeout and the game probably heads into overtime. Chargers coach Norv Turner said he regretted calling the timeout; no duh.

MVP watch: With the win on national TV, Manning made himself a serious contender for league MVP in a season where no one player has been outstanding. Having watched every Colts game, I can say that without Manning, the Colts could be 1-10; he has carried his team on his back each week since the Colts defense can't hold any kind of lead and his offensive line has been a mess. Manning started the winning drive Sunday with 1:30 left and only one timeout, but he still made all the clutch plays. I don't think any player is more valuable to his team than Manning, and he keeps proving it every week.

Revenge: New England blew out Miami, 48-28, rolling up 530 yards in turning a close game (seven lead changes) into a rout. This was payback for Miami’s 38-13 win at New England in Week 3.

Sunday’s game was bitterly fought (the teams hate each other) and saw New England’s Matt Light and Miami’s Channing Crowder thrown out for fighting. It was an odd fight that saw Light whomping on Crowder by holding his dreadlocks in one hand and throwing punches in the honor; it wasn’t the Marquis of Queensbury rules.

Matt Cassell had another 400+ yards passing game for the Patriots, who are now relying on their offense to overcome a shaky defense. With the AFC being wide open, New England will have a real Super Bowl shot should the Pats make the playoffs. I would not have written that in Week 1 when Tom Brady went out.

Collapse: It’s official – the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) are the most underachieving team this season. Many people’s preseason Super Bowl pick, the Jaguars have fallen apart as was evident in their 30-12 home loss to the Vikings. The Jags committed four turnovers and looked inept. This is the same team that gave the Bengals their only win of the season a few weeks back. One stat sums up the change from 2007: Last year, QB David Garrard had 18 TD passes and only three interceptions; this years he has nine TDs and eight picks.

Jacksonville is more disappointing than San Diego, since the Chargers have been in their losses and got robbed by the Ed Hochuli non-fumble call that cost them a Week 2 win at Denver.

It's over in Philly: Say goodbye to the Donovan McNabb Era in Philadelphia. McNabb was benched at halftime of a 10-7 game at Baltimore and replaced by Kevin Kolb during the Raven’s 36-7 win. McNabb was 8 for 18 with two interceptions, a week after he became a national laughingstock when he revealed he had no idea the NFL had ties. My hunch is that McNabb winds up next season in Minnesota, reuniting with Brad Childress, his former offensive coordinator; this assumes that Childress keeps his job.

I wrote this prior to reading our Blog and see that Joe Guckin an I did a mind-meld. His headline: “For sale cheap: used QB. Contact Andy Reid at …”

Streak ends: When Darren McFadden ran in for a touchdown with six minutes to go in the third quarter, it was the first Raider offensive TD in 206 plays. The Raiders then scored two more in the next 17 plays en route to a 31-10 win at Denver.

The loss left the Broncos at 6-5, but they still leading the pathetic AFC West, where 9-7 could win the division. In contrast, a solid 10-win team elsewhere in the league could get shut out of the playoffs. Despite the Chargers being 4-7, they play Denver in the season finale and if they pick up one game down the stretch, the Dec. 28 game could be for the division title.