LOS ANGELES, December 9, 2014 — Critics of the NFL are always complaining about the league obsession with parity. Those who love football understand that a better term is competitive balance. If anything has defined the 2014 NFL season, it is the major gulf between the very good and very bad teams. The Packers, Patriots, Cardinals and Broncos are all 10-3. The Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Colts and Seahawks are 9-4. Meanwhile, the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars, Titans and Buccaneers are all 2-11. Home field throughout the playoffs and the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft are totally up for grabs. Despite the wide range of records, upsets are still happening every week. The Oakland Raiders shocked their crosstown rival San Francisco 49ers. Any Given Sunday still exists. Competitive balance remains even without the dreaded mediocrity of parity. With that, here are the NFL 2014 Week 14 lessons learned and not learned.
Dallas Cowboys 41, Chicago Bears 28 — The Thursday night game saw a 7-7 tie turn into a blowout when Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes to Cole Beasley, one right before the half and the other right after it. Romo’s third touchdown pass had the Cowboys up 35-7 after three quarters. Dallas slept through the fourth quarter because they could. Romo finished 21 of 26 and was not intercepted. The Bears will have the entire winter to hibernate, perhaps without Marc Trestman.
Pittsburgh Steelers 42, Cincinnati Bengals 21 — The Cincinnati Bengals will never get respect until they start beating Baltimore and Pittsburgh, especially at home. The Bengals led 21-17 before suffering a fourth quarter meltdown. After a Pittsburgh field goal, Andy Dalton fumbled to set up LeVeon Bell for the go-ahead touchdown run. Ben Roethlisberger then connected with Martavis Bryant on a 94-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-21 Steelers and keep the AFC North division race wide open. Roethlisberger finished 25 of 39 for 350 yards without an interception and Bell added 185 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Indianapolis Colts 25, Cleveland Browns 24 — The Dawg Pound was rocking as two defensive touchdowns had the Browns up 21-7 in the third quarter. After the Colts closed to within 21-19 in the fourth quarter, another Indianapolis turnover led to a Browns field goal. Just like the 1980 Brian Sipe Cardiac Kids, the 2014 Bryan Hoyer Browns seem destined for heartbreak. Hoyer had another tough game, going 14 of 31 for 140 yards and a pair of interceptions. On fourth and one from the Cleveland three with 44 seconds left, Daniel Herron appeared stopped cold before spinning out of trouble and getting the key first down. From the one, Andrew Luck’s 24th completion on 53 attempts was the winning touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton as the 9-4 Colts dealt a severe blow to 7-6 Cleveland’s playoff chances.
Detroit Lions 34, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17— Detroit only led 17-10 at halftime but two of Matthew Stafford’s three touchdowns came after the intermission as Detroit put the game away before the third quarter ended for their second consecutive 34-17 win. Stafford finished 26 of 34 for 311 yards and zero interceptions as the Lions got to 9-4 and dropped the Buccaneers to 2-11.
Houston Texans 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 13 — Last week Jacksonville overcame a 21-0 deficit to earn their second win of the season on the final play. This week, the Jaguars led 13-10 at halftime but fell apart. After Alfred Blue gave the Texans the lead, Blake Bortles threw a critical interception. 40 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Texans faced fourth and goal at the one. Bill O’Brien decided to go for it and Arian Foster got in the end zone to lock up the win.
Baltimore Ravens 28, Miami Dolphins 13 — Miami took a 10-0 first quarter lead but then the Ravens clamped down. A pair of Joe Flacco touchdown passes had the Ravens up 14-13 in the fourth quarter. December football is about running the ball. Flacco led a pair of time consuming drives that culminated in short touchdown runs to keep the Ravens alive for their division crown and jeopardize the chances of the Dolphins to make the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings 30, New York Jets 24, OT — Geno Smith threw touchdown passes to both teams and Teddy Bridgewater gave up a safety. Nick Folk kicked four field goals in the second half when the Jets kept reaching the red zone but not the end zone. Smith had a chance to be the hero with only seconds left in regulation, but the Jets settled for the tying field goal. In overtime one lapse ended the game. A simple dink and dunk West Coast Offense pass followed by a couple mistackles turned into an 87-yard touchdown reception for Jarius Wright. In three more weeks Rex Ryan will be put out of his misery.
Carolina Panthers 41, New Orleans Saints 10 — Sometimes football makes no sense. The Saints were expected to easily roll over the sinking Panthers on the way to another New Orleans NFC South division title. Instead it was Cam Newton who threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran for another one as the Panthers took a 17-0 first quarter lead that eventually became a 41-3 stomping. The Saints at 5-8 are 1/2 a game ahead of the Panthers in the worst division in football.
New York Giants 36, Tennessee Titans 7 — Both teams are bad but at least the Giants are fighting hard for Tom Coughlin. Josh Brown kicked five field goals and the Giants returned a fumble for a touchdown. Eli Manning did throw a touchdown pass to each team, but his blunder came with the Giants already up 30-0.
St. Louis Rams 24, Washington 0 — Congress and the White House are functional compared to the football team in the nation’s capital. The Rams only led 6-0 at halftime, but a pair of touchdown passes from Shaun Hill to Jared Cook were more than enough. Tavon Austin returned a punt 78 yards for another touchdown as the Rams got their second consecutive shutout. Colt McCoy played this game but got injured. After Jay Gruden supposedly benched Robert Griffin III forever, RGIII played, and did so badly. McCoy, RGIII, Kirk Cousins, Gruden and Bruce Allen may all be fired after this wretched season.
Arizona Cardinals 17, Kansas City Chiefs 14 — With 5 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter and the Chiefs clinging to a 14-9 lead, Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass that was nullified by offensive pass interference away from the ball. One play later Smith was intercepted, setting up Arizona at the Chiefs 42. Drew Stanton threw a 26-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up by a field goal. With 5 1/2 minutes left in the game the Chiefs fumbled the ball away at the Arizona 16. The Chiefs got it back with one minute left but game manager Alex Smith kept throwing West Coast Offense dink and dunk passes. The Cardinals snapped a two game losing streak to get to 10-3 while the Chiefs at 7-6 are dink, dunk, and dead.
Denver Broncos 24, Buffalo Bills 17 — For the first time in 51 games Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass. He threw only 20 passes the whole game, completing 14 of them for only 173 yards. Kyle Orton was 38 of 57 for 355 yards and one touchdown. Both quarterbacks were intercepted twice. The numbers deceive. CJ Anderson scored a short rushing touchdown in each of the first three quarters as Denver built a 24-3 lead and coasted. Kyle Orton threw for one touchdown and ran for another one with one minute left. The onside kick failed as Denver remained ahead in the AFC West at 10-3 while Buffalo at 7-6 is in trouble.
Oakland Raiders 24, San Francisco 49ers 13 — One week after getting blasted 52-0, the Oakland Raiders shocked their hated cross-Bay rival. David Carr went 22 of 28 for 254 yards with three touchdown passes and zero interceptions. On the first play from scrimmage, Colin Kaepernick was intercepted. Polish Cannon Sebastian Janikowski drilled a 57-yard field goal. Trailing 13-10 in the third quarter, Carr led a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives. Charles Woodson sealed the win when Kaepernick threw his second interception. The loss dropped the 49ers to 7-6 and put them in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Jim Harbaugh is still the 49ers coach, although the Raiders may trade for him.
Seattle Seahawks 24, Philadelphia Eagles 14 — The Chip Kelly high octane offense met the Legion of Boom defense in a battle of teams with a real shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez both threw two touchdown passes but Wilson threw for 263 yards and Sanchez only 96 yards. Wilson also ran for a 26-yard touchdown. Leading 17-14 with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Wilson went deep to Doug Baldwin for a 23-yard touchdown. The Legion of Boom did the rest as both teams now have matching 9-4 records.
New England Patriots 23, San Diego Chargers 14 — A 53-yard fumble return touchdown had the Chargers up 14-3 in the Sunday night game. With 5 1/2 minutes left in the half the Patriots blocked a Mike Scifres punt. Scifres was injured on the play. The Patriots took over at the Chargers 25 and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 14-yard touchdown to get the Patriots within 14-13 at halftime. Leading 16-14 with nine minutes left in regulation, terrible tackling allowed a short pass from Brady to become a 69-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. The Patriots at 10-3 still have the inside track for home field throughout the playoffs while the 8-5 Chargers may not get in at all.
Green Bay Packers 43, Atlanta Falcons 30 — With snow coming down on Lambeau Field, the Monday night game saw Aaron Rodgers make his red hot case to be the league MVP. A tie game saw the Packers explode for 24 points in the second quarter as Rodgers had 190 yards passing and a pair of touchdown passes by halftime. The Packers also put up over 100 rushing yards in the first half in building a 31-7 lead. Matt Ryan led a furious rally as the Falcons scored on all five second half possessions to get within six points with 2:15 to play. Desperately needing a stop, the Atlanta defense could not get one. Rodgers ran for one first down and Starks broke off a 42-yard run to allow Green Bay to run out the clock. The Packers at 10-3 are very much alive for home field throughout the playoffs while the Falcons at 5-8 are amazingly well positioned to win the hideous NFC South.