By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Writer-Like Guy
1. Carolina: Winning like champs win.
The Panthers left New England with a big win Monday, and on Sunday clearly showed the “Patriots hangover” that has haunted teams in recent years.
But they showed some very Patriot-like resolve – the old-school kind that yielded three championships in four years a decade ago.
Winning on the road, from behind, on short rest, against a team playing for the playoffs, means more than Carolina’s mediocre stats (4.0 yards per pass, only 295 yards). The Panthers held Miami to 4-of-16 on third down, stopped both Miami red zone trips, and went ahead mostly on the will of their QB – Cam Newton picked up a 4th and 10 conversion at his own 20, got the big yards with his legs when they were needed, and threw a perfect pass to Greg Olsen to win it.
Newton’s numbers (19 for 38, 174, 1 TD, 1 INT) don’t reflect his day – he was harassed by the Miami defensive line all day, but scrambled out of sacks repeatedly and only turned it over on a beautiful read by DB Nolan Carroll.
The Panthers aren’t the favorite in the NFC, with Seattle and New Orleans above them in the pecking order for home games in the postseason. But they are the best balanced team in the conference, and probably the league. The home-and-home between the panthers and Saints in Week 14 (at NO) and Week 16 (at CAR) is going to be must-see TV for sure.
2. Sorry Chiefs fans. Run’s over.
The Chiefs had one realistic chance at a Super Bowl this year – hold off Denver for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, win their two home games by three points and see what happens in Jersey.
Their back-to-back losses more or less cancel that script, especially considering injuries to Tamba Hali and Justin Houston Sunday in the 41-38 loss to San Diego. The Chiefs’ D has been exposed against real QBs – the type that play in January – allowing 392 yards to Philip Rivers (no INTs) a week after allowing 323 yards (no INTs) to Peyton Manning.
And while the Chiefs did show some offensive signs in the loss (395 yards, 6.7 yards a play, 26 first downs), San Diego’s D is one of the worst in the league – again, come January, there are no gashable defenses out there to exploit.
Especially on the road, which is where the Chiefs are going to be playing unless they can shock the Broncos at home next week. Don’t bet on it.
3. The AFC No. 6 wild-card race is about as exciting as it gets.
Some don’t enjoy the parity that exists in the middle-class of the NFL, but we’ll take it – five weeks to go, and not one, not two, but SIX teams will be tied at 5-6 for the No. 6 playoff spot in the AFC by Sunday’s end.
The winner of Tennessee-Oakland will join the group, which was formed with wins by Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Diego alongside losses by the Jets and Miami.
It’s fairly safe to count the Jets out of the mix, after watching them set offense back 100 years with their effort in Baltimore (4.0 yards a play, three turnovers). You can’t feel great about Miami or the Tennesee/Oakland winner either, leaving three teams with big history – Pittsburgh, San Diego and Baltimore.
The Ravens and Steelers meet next Sunday in Baltimore, while San Diego will need to keep pace at home vs. the Bengals. The Chargers really have the leg up with four of their last five at home, but the one road game is at Denver – they’ll have to earn it.
4. The NFC North: WHO WANTS IT THE LEAST!!!!!
When you write rapid reaction stuff, like I do, you take a lot of notes and look for a lot of trends.
Here are some of mine from the NFC North games.
Dom Capers: losing his job? … Lions, ugliest, best win ever. … Or not.... … Stafford overreliance on Megatron giveth and taketh … Bears penalties killers … Why do they still kick to Devin Hester? … Vikings can still win North? … Did Josh McCown make a deal with the devil? … Schwartz. Oh God, Schwartz.
It was that type of day. Up, down, all over the place, and when the dust had settled the division looked pretty much the way it did before a Sunday afternoon that saw all three contenders s--- the bed in their own special way.
The Packers did pick up a tie, but in a home game vs. Minnesota should have had a win. a shoddy defensive effort, allowing 421 yards and forcing just a single turnover on a freezing day in Green Bay. The Lions did it with another unfocused offensive effort, turning it over five times – including one when they were looking to send it to overtime.
The Bears’ loss in St. Louis wasn’t as one-sided as the score, but it was certainly well-earned – they turned it over three times and got whistled for 10 penalties, two that took touchdowns off the board. When the backup QB goes 36 for 47 for 352 and two TDs, as McCown did, you’re not expecting a 21-point loss.
And then the Lions. Oh, those Lions. They continue to punish me for anointing them as Super Bowl contenders, as Matthew Stafford just kept throwing to Calvin Johnson even as the interceptions kept coming. He and coach Jim Schwartz have a lot of explaining to do – and Schwartz’s explanations might not be enough at season’s end if things don’t turn around.
5. It was an eventful Sunday afternoon to say the least …
Greg Schiano might keep his job yet. A third straight win, another step forward for QB Mike Glennon, and all of a sudden you have to take a closer look at this Tampa season. They lost heartbreakers to Seattle and New Orleans, and only got thoroughly beaten twice. It’ll be interesting, at least. …
Home teams were at a disadvantage Sunday, going ??-??, including favorites in KC, Houston, Detroit and Cleveland. …
The Jaguars-Texans game didn’t mean much (and will be duplicated in two weeks on another unwatchable Thursday Night Football game), but congrats to the Jaggies for another win. Jacksonville held Houston to 3.8 yards a play in Texas, no easy feat no matter how hurt the Texans might have been. …
St. Louis probably doesn’t have a legit shot in the NFC wild-card race, but three of the Rams’ last four games have been impressive – a last-season loss vs. Seattle, the win in Indy before the bye, and Sunday’s 42-21 win over Chicago. Their reward? A closing schedule with three road games against winning teams (ARI, SF, SEA) and a home date with New Orleans. …