Ravens and Vikings Battle to Crazy Finish, Saints Dominate Panthers, and All of NFL Week 14—The Monday Morning Realist

Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the weekend’s NFL action in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @Li495Akiem.

Just Fast-Forward To The End!

Dec 8, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marlon Brown (14) reacts after scoring the game-winning touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at M

There is an old saying in life that goes something like this: “It’s not how you start, but how you finish. We’ve heard it a million times. Maybe even a billion.

Well, make it a billion and one.

This was not a game the Realist was expecting to wax poetically about this week, but when an ending occurs like that, you can’t help but make it noteworthy.

The game was Minnesota Vikings vs. Baltimore Ravens from M&T Bank Stadium in the Charm City in a game where Matt Cassel started for the Vikes. Minnesota is virtually playing for nothing for the remainder of this season. They were 3-8-1 coming into this season, and that is despite them earning a 23-20 overtime victory last week at Mall of America Field against their divisional rival Chicago Bears.

Baltimore was favored to win this game moreso than just doubts about the Vikings in 2013-2014. They were also coming off a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving Day by a final score of 22-20. That was the game that will be remembered for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin interfering with a kick return from Jacoby Jones that could have resulted in a TD without Tomlin getting a little too close to the action.

There are games that can be told in two halves. This one was told in three quarters…and then the last. For the first three quarters, both teams’ defenses owned the turf. It was 7-0 courtesy of a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Ed Dickson for 1 yard. In the second and third quarters, the Vikings would only score field goals from Blair Walsh from 39 and 40 yards out, respectively. The halftime score was 7-3 Baltimore. The third quarter tally was 7-6 Baltimore.

Cue the overused Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles memes. Was this game at M&T Bank Stadium, or Oriole Park at Camden Yards which as we know from this season’s opener between the Broncos and Ravens, share a parking lot with M&T Bank.

This is the part where readers are screaming, “Get to the ending!”

The Vikings did take the lead early in the 4th quarter on one of Matt Cassel’s two touchdown passes for the game—this one was to Jerome Simpson for eight yards. 12-7 Vikings. Just before the two minute warning, Baltimore retook the advantage when Flacco connected with Dennis Pitta for a short touchdown throw of his own. 15-12 Ravens after that and a successful two point conversion attempt as Flacco found Torrey Smith in the end zone.

And this is where things were simply getting started.

Minnesota’s ensuing drive would only last two plays—a 27 yard strike to Jerome Simpson, then Cassel went 41 yards to Toby Gerhart for a touchdown. 19-15 Vikings.

That became 22-19 Ravens after a 77 yard kick return from Jones. Talk about a way to make up for last week.

That was followed up with the Vikings converting on a 79 yard touchdown pass from Cassel to Cordarrelle Patterson on a 3rd and 10 play. 26-22 Minnesota.

With less than a minute to go, the Ravens had one more drive in them to close the game—the result was Flacco leading Baltimore down field and resulting in a 9 yard TD pass to Marlon Brown. With only four seconds left, it was 29-26 Ravens and it would conclude 29-26 Ravens.

Flacco was 28/50 for 245 yards, 3 touchdowns, and also 3 interceptions (Marcus Sherels, Chad Greenway, Andrew Sendejo). Ray Rice ran for 67 yards on 17 rushing attempts while Flacco had one 22 yard rushing play of his own. Brown caught 7 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown.

On the Minnesota side, Cassel was 17/38 for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Gerhart rushed for 89 yards on 15 carries while Patterson caught five passes for 141 yards.

Minnesota does return home next week against the Philadelphia Eagles. For Baltimore, it’s Monday Night Football for them in the Motor City as they face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Fortune Is Never “On” Cleveland’s “Side”

Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) scores the winning touchdown as Cleveland Browns defensive back Buster Skrine (22) defends on the play during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another bad Cleveland Browns team. It’s become a football tradition. A sad football tradition, yes. But a football tradition, nonetheless.

This is simply another year where Cleveland Browns fans wish would end. At one point, this team was 3-2 (actually above .500) and in first place in the AFC North. Then, reality set in as it always does for Browns fans around this time. What was 3-2 had become the Browns dropping 7 of their last 8 and looking up at the rest of the division.

Some things never change, regardless of the quarterback, coach, owner, name of the stadium, or flagship radio stations.

All of a sudden, the New England Patriots are looking like the worldbeaters they once were a long time ago when they were winning Super Bowls. The previous week, they came back on the Houston Texans in Houston to defeat them 34-31.

This game would sum up the Browns’ season (as have it has most Cleveland Browns seasons pre-Ravens and post-Ravens). A lot of promise, but negative results in the end. It began promising with two Billy Cundiff field goals each in the first quarter and the second quarter coupled with another struggle-filled performance from Tom Brady and the Pats offense in the first half. 3-0 became 6-0 at the half.

Of course, as we know, no game against Brady is over until all four quarters have been played. And, to beat the Patriots, teams must score touchdowns and not field goals.

Cleveland got the message early in the 3rd quarter when they finally did put the ball in the end zone courtesy of a 40 yard TD pass from Jason Campbell to Gary Barnidge. That was the good news for the Browns. The bad news was that Cleveland tried to make up for not putting one in the end zone in the first half and settling for field goals via a two point conversion attempt. It failed.

The Patriots finally got in the board as the third quarter began to expire. They too only notched a field goal when Stephen Gostkowski went 33 yards for three points.

Even though the Browns are once again bad this year, a lone bright spot has been wide receiver Josh Gordon. A good gameplan for future Browns games is to make sure that Gordon is double-teamed and triple-teamed. He extended Cleveland’s lead to 19-3 when Campbell connected with Gordon for 80 yards.

This was immediately followed on the ensuing Patriots drive with a six yard run by Shane Vereen and a Brady pass to Julian Edelman resulting in a successful two point conversion. It was 19-11 Cleveland Browns….in Foxboro.

With under six minutes to go, New England would inch a little closer at 19-14 on Gostkowski’s second field goal—this one from 50 yards out. The Browns seemingly sealed the game with a Campbell TD pass to Jordan Cameron. It was 26-14 Browns with under 3 minutes to go.

Even on the ensuing Patriots’ drive that resulted in six points as Brady connected with Edelman again (and made it 26-21 Browns), it seemingly was meaningless. All the Browns had to do was recover an onside kick.

The Browns couldn’t recover an onside kick. The NFL Network didn’t name this team one of the league’s most snakebit franchises for nothing. The result—New England recovered the ball on Cleveland’s side of the field and turned it into a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola for one yard. They took the lead 27-26 and won by the same score.

Brady was 32/52 for 418 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Both LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley each rushed eight times for 42 and 35 yards, respectively. Shane Vereen was the Patriots’ leading receiver with 12 receptions and 153 yards. Edelman caught 6 passes for 64 yards plus a touchdown.

Campbell was 29/44 with 391 yards and three touchdowns. Willis McGahee had 14 carries and 33 rushing attempts. Gordon had 34 himself on one play. Gordon caught seven passes for 151 yards and one touchdown. Cameron also caught nine passes for 121 yards and one touchdown.

The Patriots’ win did come at a cost as Rob Gronkowski once again get injured. The prognosis is one that Pats fans don’t want to hear—a torn ACL and MCL in one of his knees which sidelines him for the rest of the season.

Cleveland returns home in Week 15 to play Chicago while the Patriots will travel to South Florida and play the Miami Dolphins.

Tacklin’ In A Winter Wonderland

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) returns a punt return against the Detroit Lions during the fourth quarter action in the snow and blizzard at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time of year, it is common to see a good dose of the “white stuff” start to pack the grounds of various locales, especially in the Northeast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountains. It is also common to see snow begin to dominate the fields of various NFL stadia around this time of year as well. Games this week in Heinz Field (Dolphins/Steelers) and M&T Bank Stadium (Vikings/Ravens) were played in the elements.

So was another game between the Lions and Eagles that eventually would take place in over four feet of snow. It even has already earned a nickname—the Snowbowl.

The Realist cannot think of any more creative nicknames than that at the moment.

The Lions, in their annual Thanksgiving Day home game the previous week, were victorious over their divisional rival Green Bay Packers by a score of 40-10 to increase their record to 7-5. The Eagles survived a late scare from the Arizona Cardinals last week at the Linc to win 24-21. It received notability as Eagles QB Nick Foles threw his 19th touchdown pass without throwing an interception. He would be one shy of the all time record for touchdowns thrown without a pick—20 (Peyton Manning).

Foles would not reach the record, as he indeed threw a pick prior to throwing his only TD pass. The recipient of the pick was Chris Houston.

In addition, the Lions had early momentum going their way when they took an early 8-0 lead thanks to a touchdown run from Joique Bell. Bell was also the recipient of a two point conversion from a pass from Matthew Stafford. This would be the halftime score as it was 0-0 coming out of the first quarter.

Special teams came up huge for the Lions as well. A 58 yard punt return from Detroit’s Jeremy Ross put them ahead of Philadelphia 14-0. They tried another two point attempt, which failed this time in another of questionable coaching calls by head coach Jim Schwartz.

The Eagles would finally get on the board on the ensuing possession when Foles found Desean Jackson for 19 yards. It became 14-6 Detroit.

The Realist wonders if snow makes coaches more apt to call two point conversion plays. In the fourth quarter, a 40 yard run from LeSean McCoy and a two point conversion attempt from Bryce Brown would tie the score at 14-14. It wouldn’t be tied for long as Jeremy Ross would add a 98 yard kickoff return to his earlier 58 yard punt return. 20-14 Detroit.

But, the Eagles responded by getting their first lead of the game shortly afterwards when McCoy (in what turn out to be a huge day for Shady) ran 57 yards to the house to give the Eagles a 22-20 advantage. That shifted the momentum back in Philly’s favor and it continued as they dominated the 4th quarter. Later in the quarter, Foles kept the ball himself at the one yard line to extend the Eagles’ lead to 28-20. A 38 yard run from Chris Polk made it 34-20 as the Eagles outscored the Lions 28-6 en route to their eighth win of the year.

Foles was 11/22 for 179 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Shady—29 carries for 217 yards as the Eagles outrushed the Lions 299 to 88. Riley Cooper caught three passes for 74 yards. DeSean Jackson caught four passes for 59 yards and one touchdown.

In a losing Lions effort, Stafford was 10/25 for 148 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. Bell went for 69 yards, one touchdown on 23 carries. He was also their leading receiver with 58 yards and four receptions. Another reason why Detroit lost—Calvin Johnson was held to only three receptions for 49 yards and was only targeted by Stafford five times. Clearly, Chip Kelly (and the cold weather) had a brilliant game plan for containing Megatron in his tracks.

Philadelphia hopes to continue its winning ways at the Twin Cities’ Mall of America Field in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions will return to Ford Field on Monday Night Football next week to face the Baltimore Ravens.

Dawson’s Week

December 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson (9) is congratulated by punter Andy Lee (4, left) and guard Daniel Kilgore (67) after making the game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers.

Both of those games were circled on the calendars of many NFL fans at the beginning of the year as many were convinced (and proven right given the play of both teams) that the Hawks and Niners would be two of the teams to beat in the NFC this year. In Week 2 of the year, Seattle dominated Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco 29-3 in one of the early games that set the tone for the rest of the Seahawks’ season.

Last week, Seattle, in what was supposed to be a tough matchup (at home) against the New Orleans Saints were dominant in their Monday Night performance by a score of 34-7. All this week, the weekly conversation around NFL circles were that many pundits were penciling in the Seahawks as the NFC representative for the Super Bowl in New York/New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. This was especially given with the premise that last week’s victory would likely give the Seahawks home field advantage throughout the NFC’s portion of the postseason.

Last week’s win on ESPN’s Monday Night Football did clinch a playoff berth for the Seahawks.

The 49ers also won last week—against their divisional rival St. Louis Rams 23-13. It was against a Rams team that despite losing their franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford earlier in the year, has still managed to stay competitive and scare a few times (most notably, the Indianapolis Colts).

It was also touted as a clash of two of the top defenses in the NFC…and the NFL. It showed in the first quarter when Seattle’s defense, led by the “Legion of Boom” held the Niners to only two field goals from Phil Dawson—one from 23 yards to make the score 3-0, and another from 48 yards to increase the advantage to 6-0.

In the second quarter, Seattle activated BeastMode when Marshawn Lynch ran for 11 yards to give the Seahawks a 7-6 lead. A few drives later, the 49ers retook the lead on another field goal from Dawson—this one from 52 yards out. Luke Wilson would then catch a 39 yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to increase the score to 14-9 Seahawks.

Not a bad Wilson to Wilson connection.

The quarter would end when Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers engineered a long drive resulting in an 8 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. It was 16-14 49ers at home going into the half.

A defensive minded second half would keep both teams scoreless in the third quarter, and the rivals trading field goals in the 4th quarter. Steven Hauschka’s 31 yarder made it 17-16 Seahawks, then Dawson responded with a game winning chip shot 22 yard field goal with 26 seconds left to play. It was 19-17 49ers and it would end that way.

Such a game was a huge win for the 49ers to solidify their status in the NFC’s playoff race and still give them an outside shot at the NFC West. A win for the Seahawks would’ve clinched them the division on the heels of clinching a playoff berth last week. It was not to be.

Kaepernick was 15/29 for 175 yards. Frank Gore came up big against Seattle’s defensive line with 17 carries and 110 yards. Anquan Boldin was the San Francisco leading receiver with six receptions and 93 yards.

Russell Wilson went 15/25 with 199 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Lynch, in addition to his touchdown also had 20 carries for 72 yards. Luke Wilson led the air attack for Seattle with three receptions and 70 yards and his touchdown. Golden Tate also helped out in the effort with six catches for 65 yards.

Seattle continues its road trip cross country to the Meadowlands when they face the New York Giants in Week 15. The 49ers play the Buccaneers in Tampa.

The Niner game next week is what The Realist calls a bye week.

Saintment Received

Dec 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Panthers 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton (who to the surprise of The Realist has regained the nickname “Superman”) have been the toast of the NFL the past several weeks. After a slow start, Carolina has firmly put it itself into the middle of the NFC playoff picture (and possibly the Super Bowl picture as well).

If it’s one game the Panthers had to have had marked on their schedule given the red hot streak they have embarked on lately, it was Week 14 at the New Orleans Saints. This is especially true when the Saints are coming off a 34-7 beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, then having to turn immediately around to play on Sunday Night Football on NBC the following week.

The difference, of course, was that the New Orleans beatdown came on the road. The Saints were back at home this week and the Superdome boasts just as much of a home field advantage as does CenturyLink Field in the Emerald City.

Early on, it looked like the momentum was on the Panthers’ side and that they’d take the Saints and Who Dat Nation out of the game. The only problem for the Panthers was that both of their first quarter scoring drives were halted out of the end zone and they had to settle for a pair of field goals from Graham Gano. The first was from 45 yards to make it 3-0 Panthers while the second was a 24 yard chip shot at the end of the quarter to increase the Carolina advantage to 6-0.

In the second quarter, it was “All Saints, All the Time”. The rout began to be on. Drew Brees threw a 6 yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston to put the Saints ahead 7-6 at the beginning of the quarter. A second Brees to Colston TD made it 14-6 towards the end of the quarter. And one more possession from the Saints just shy of the two minute warning resulted in another touchdown pass from Brees—this one for five yards to Jimmy Graham. It was 21-6 New Orleans at halftime.

New Orleans increased their lead to 24-6 on a Garrett Hartley field goal that was a chip shot for 19 yards. Graham also caught his second touchdown pass of the game when the fourth quarter came. The second one was for 8 yards and made the score 31-6 Saints.

Towards the end of the fourth quarter, and the game, the Panthers did finally reach the end zone when Cam Newton found Steve Smith for 17 yards. 31-13 Saints. Unfortunately, as the Realist always says, the Panthers can’t get 25 points on one drive. The game was well out of the reach as the rout was on and the statement was well received. Saints win 31-13.

This was such a statement win for New Orleans, obviously. While everyone was fawning over the Panthers and waiting for them to overtake New Orleans in the NFC South, the Saints made every football pundit remember that they have won a Super Bowl more recently than the Panthers. Games like this prove why and will perhaps make people remember that the Saints are the team leading the NFC North and not Carolina.

Brees was 30/42 with 313 yards and 4 touchdowns in which he made history by going over 4,000 passing yards for the eighth consecutive season. In addition, he now has 50,000 passing yards for his career, as he now joins John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning. Darren Sproles had only one run, but it was for 38 yards. Pierre Thomas carried the rock seven times for 14 yards. Colston went off—nine receptions, 125 yards and two touchdown catches. Graham also had two touchdown receptions with 58 yards and six catches.

Newton went 22/34 with 160 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. DeAngelo Williams carried the rock 13 times for 52 yards. Newton also rushed for 48 yards on six rushing attempts. Steve Smith, in addition to his touchdown, had six receptions on 49 yards. Greg Olsen caught eight passes for 40 yards.

The Panthers do return to Charlotte in Week 15 as they will take on the New York Jets. The Saints head to the road (St. Louis to be exact) as they will face the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

Other Games

Jaguars defeat Texans 27-20

Bengals defeat Colts 42-28

Jets defeat Raiders 37-27

Chiefs defeat Redskins 45-10

Packers defeat Falcons 22-21

Buccaneers defeat Bills 27-6

Dolphins defeat Steelers 34-28

Broncos defeat Titans 51-28

Cardinals defeat Rams 30-10

Chargers defeat Giants 37-14

Cowboys vs. Bears (8:30 Monday Night Football)

If The Playoffs Started Today….

AFC:

Broncos (11-2, clinched playoff berth)

Patriots (10-3)

Bengals (9-4)

Colts (8-5, clinched AFC South)

Chiefs (10-3)

Ravens (7-6)

Dolphins (7-6)

Chargers (6-7)

Jets (6-7)

Titans (5-8)

Steelers (5-8)

NFC:

Seahawks (11-2, clinched playoff berth)

Saints (10-3)

Eagles (8-5)

Lions (7-6)

Panthers (9-4)

49ers (9-4)

Cardinals (8-5)

Cowboys (7-6)

Bears (6-6)

Packers (6-6-1)

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