Packers Clinch NFC North in Rodgers’ Return, Eagles Win NFC East Over Cowboys in Romo’s Absence, and All of NFL Week 17—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.

A South Title In North Carolina

Dec 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball in the first half against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Okay…it’s the final Monday Morning Realist of the regular season, which means it’s not only a time to analyze, but also one to reflect.

When the NFL schedule for 2013-2014 was released, the Week 17 game between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta was seen as one where the Panthers would be looking towards the Draft and the Falcons would be locking up an NFC South division championship.

Once again, reinforcing why (thankfully) football games are not played inside the studios that are the domains of gridiron pundits.

A 1-3 start for the Panthers then translated into Carolina being victorious in ten of its next 11 games heading into its matchup against their division rival Falcons. Their only loss in the midst of their hot streak came against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday Night Football.

Last week, the Panthers got, arguably, their biggest win of the season when they defeated the Saints at Bank of America Field in Charlotte thanks to a game-winning touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Domenik Hixon with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter. The win was by a final score of 17-13 that moved Carolina from a wild card berth in the NFC to a 2 seed and a potential first round bye. New Orleans fell all the way from the second seed to the sixth. It was a hard loss for New Orleans to suffer given that they went from possible home field advantage to having to play their playoff games on the road, where they seem to struggle.

Last week’s win clinched a playoff berth for Carolina, but a win this week in Atlanta would win them the NFC South and a first round bye, with an outside shot still at home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

This season has been one that was forgettable in Atlanta. Injuries to star wideout Julio Jones as well as to many of their offensive line has translated to a disappointing season in the Peach State at 4-11 after a 2012-2013 where they came within a home victory at the San Francisco 49ers shy of the Super Bowl.

In addition, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez announced that the game will be his final in the NFL and that he will retire. He’s widely regarded as being the best tight end in league history.

At the outset of this one, it seemed as if the Falcons would be very content with playing a little bit of spoiler. They began the game with their first possession resulting in Matt Ryan touchdown pass to Jason Snelling for 9 yards and a 7-0 Atlanta lead.

Carolina would eventually get the ball back three possessions later at the end of the first quarter, heading into the second. That possession resulted in an interception of Newton by William Moore on a pass intended for Hixon. The Falcons turned it into a 42 yard field goal from Matt Bryant to extend their advantage to 10-0.

After forcing a Carolina three and out, the Falcons got the ball back….in which Ryan was intercepted by Melvin White on a pass intended for Harry Douglas. White made it a Pick 6 to give the Panthers their first points. 10-7 Falcons.

Newton and the Panthers would get the ball back one more time before the end of the half. They used nearly all of the remaining time in the half to put together a long drive, resulting in a Newton pas to Ted Ginn for a touchdown. 14-10 Panthers.

A 4-11 record did not translate into Atlanta simply giving this one to the Panthers. Their first possession of the second half lasted for nearly three minutes and ended on a Roddy White reception from Matty Ice. 17-14 Falcons.

“SuperCam” and the Panthers responded on their next possession to retake the lead at 21-17 when Newton found Greg Olsen for seven yards.

Two possessions later, with Atlanta needing a touchdown, the Falcons scored again after a drive that that lasted for over eight minutes. Atlanta was only able to get three points out of it via Matt Bryant’s second field goal of the game—this one from 37 yards. 21-20 Panthers.

Each team would get two more possessions of the football, but the game ended at 21-20 Panthers, with them clinching the NFC South and a first round bye.

One huge reason why the Panthers won this one (as has been true for most of their wins) was because their defense got a bunch of pressure on Matt Ryan (led by Greg Hardy), just as Luke Kuechly did on Drew Brees the previous week against the Saints. Hardy was responsible for four of the nine sacks the Panthers’ defensive line got against Ryan. Such a defense is the reason why this team has gone from also rans to Super Bowl contenders—and why Ron Rivera has, perhaps, leapfrogged Andy Reid in the race for Coach of the Year.

Newton was 15/27 with 149 passing yards, 72 rushing yards on 12 carries, 2 touchdowns, and one interception. DeAngelo Williams only caught two passes, but got 75 yards out of them. Olsen also had 42 yards on six receptions including a touchdown.

Ryan was 28/40 for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Steven Jackson carried the ball 13 times for 46 yards. Snelling also notched 5 carries for 36 yards. Roddy White caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. Harry Douglas also had five receptions for 58 yards.

The final line for Tony Gonzalez will read—four receptions for 56 yards. The Realist expects we’ll see him in Canton, Ohio, somewhere in five years.

Atlanta finishes the season 4-12, while the Panthers will have next week off via their bye.

Porous Defense….of a Super Bowl Championship

Dec 29, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass and running for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals defeated the Ravens 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens were the first team that got mention on The Realist this year all the way back in Week 1. It, of course, was not for something that they want to remember. They gave up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning and the Broncos and had to play their season opener on the road in Denver because of a parking snafu involving Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. That was because Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium share a parking lot and the O’s were playing the Chicago White Sox that night.

It was an offseason that saw the retirement of Ray Lewis as well as the departures of Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin—not exactly the most “charming” of offseasons for Charm City’s football team.

Even though the season has been somewhat of a struggle for the Ravens, they still had a chance to advance to the postseason and defend their Super Bowl championship. They had to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati and get some help as well. It wouldn’t matter if they played the way they did against the Patriots—when they were thrashed 41-7 in New England.

Defeating the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium has been an impossible task for opponents traveling to Cincy as the team was 7-0 going into Week 17. This includes, in the previous week, a 42-14 throttling of the not exactly playoff contending Minnesota Vikings.

The Realist thinks they would’ve loved to have as high a seed as possible so as many playoff games as possible would be played in Cincinnati. With their AFC North crown already wrapped in an orange and black bow, the Bengals were only playing for the chance that they could win and still earn a first round bye. They would’ve had to win and hope that the Buffalo Bills could defeat the New England Patriots in Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium for them to become the second seed in the AFC.

Buffalo beating the Pats in New England? No one outside of upstate New York had to be positive about those odds.

Early in the game, though, it looked as if the outcome of Bills and Pats would be rendered moot from a Cincinnati point of view. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was intercepted by Corey Graham on their first play from scrimmage. The Ravens converted that turnover into points—only three via a Justin Tucker 38 yard field goal.

Cincinnati’s second drive turned out to be more successful than their first as they put together some plays, but Dalton would be picked off again. The recipient of this one was James Ihedigbo, who previously picked off Dalton twice in his career, accounting for all of his career interceptions.

Baltimore, again, settled for a field goal from Tucker after the Ravens were deep in the Bengals’ red zone. It was from 22 yards, but a theme of the Ravens’ ineffectiveness in the red zone was clearly developing.

Getting only three points instead of seven bit the Ravens hard on the next Bengals possession when Dalton threw downfield to a wide open A.J. Green for a 53 yard touchdown reception. It put Cincinnati ahead 7-6 and gave the Bengals all of the momentum.

Also complicating matters for the Ravens was Joe Flacco not being 100 percent throughout the course of the game, increasing the speculation that Tyrod Taylor would have to come in to relieve last year’s Super Bowl winning MVP.

Later in the second quarter, the Bengals increased their lead to 10-6 on a Mike Nugent 39 yard field goal. Cincy’s defense then went to work, forcing a Baltimore three and out, followed by them retaking possession of the football. Dalton connected with Marvin Jones for a 16 yard touchdown. 17-6 Bengals, as it would be heading into the half.

On the Bengals’ first possession of the second half, Dalton would be picked off again—this time by Lardarius Webb. A Ravens drive stalled at the Cincinnati 16, where they had to, once again, settle for a field goal from Tucker. From 34 yards, he cut the deficit to 17-9, but as long as the Ravens failed to reach the end zone, the Bengals could’ve allowed Tucker to kick field goals for the rest of the game—and then some.

Baltimore finally forced a three and out on the next Bengals possession, then were successful on their first touchdown drive of the game when Flacco found Marlon Brown for 8 yards. They went for two with Ray Rice and were successful on that as well. We had a tie game at 17-17 when plenty of people in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Miami, and San Diego doing a truckload of scoreboard watching.

Really—players of other teams say they don’t watch the scoreboard in these situations. The Realist has the Delaware Memorial Bridge to sell.

After this, the Bengals were tired of playing nice. Their next drive started in the third quarter and ended as the fourth quarter began as Dalton kept the ball himself for a one yard rushing touchdown. Cincinnati retook the lead at 24-17. On the next Ravens possession, Flacco was intercepted by Chris Crocker on that drive’s first play from scrimmage. The Bengals couldn’t advance the ball past the Ravens 20 yard line, but still got a 38 yard field goal from Mike Nugent out of the drive. 27-17 Bengals.

Despite the lead, Dalton was still throwing passes to players wearing Ravens jerseys. After moving the ball down to the Ravens one yard line and coming close to putting this one on ice, Baltimore still had life when Jimmy Smith intercepted Dalton on a pass intended for Green on the left side of the end zone.

Unfortunately, this year featured no inspirational speeches from a retired Ray Lewis. Flacco then gave the rock back to the Bengals after being picked by Dre Kirkpatrick on a long 4th and 5 play intended for Jacoby Jones at the Bengals 16 yard line.

Baltimore started their next possession at their own 13 yard line—and Flacco, again, threw and connected with Kirkpatrick for an interception—this one a Pick 6 to extend the Cincinnati advantage to 34-17.

The Ravens did have one more long drive in them, but given the time left on the clock and them needing touchdowns and a field goal, it was academic at this point. They were eliminated from the playoffs by Cincinnati in what turned out to be a porous defense of a Super Bowl title.

The struggles for the Ravens began in the offseason when Flacco signed his huge contract, Lewis retired, and Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin found greener pastures out of the state of Maryland. It then commenced in Week 17 vs. Cincinnati.

As for the Bengals, this is why they would’ve loved to have home field advantage and/or a first round bye. They’re 8-0 at home, but are extremely vulnerable on the road.

Dalton and the Bengals won despite him throwing four interceptions in addition to a mere two touchdowns. He also was 21/36 for 281 yards. Benjarvus Green-Ellis also did plenty of running today with his 11 carries and 66 rushing yards. Andrew Hawkins caught 3 passes for 74 yards. Marvin Jones had 61 receiving yards on 5 receptions plus a touchdown catch. Green also caught a TD in addition to 4 receptions and 61 yards. Giovani Bernard had 51 yards on 5 recpetions.

Flacco’s day wasn’t much better as he threw the ball 50 times. He was 30/50 for 192 yards, one touchdown, and three picks. Bernard Pierce only rushed for 28 yards on 5 carries. In what some say could be his final game wearing a Baltimore Ravens uniform, helmet, and pads, Ray Rice ran for only 15 yards on 6 carries. Dennis Pitta caught eight passes for 63 yards.

While the season ends for Baltimore at 8-8, guaranteeing that we’ll have a new Super Bowl champion, Cincinnati can rest comfortably at home for their playoff matchup as part of Wild Card weekend.

High Postseason Boltage

Dec 29, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers players celebrate after a win against the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati’s opponent for Wild Card weekend had a chance to be the San Diego Chargers if they could defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in Qualcomm Stadium, and also receive some help by way of a Miami Dolphins loss in addition to that of the Ravens. The Pittsburgh Steelers were also battling like heck for that last playoff berth in the AFC, and all of Western Pennsylvania had to be doing cartwheels when they were watching the Ravens and Dolphins results come in.

Both Baltimore and Miami laid huge eggs in their last meetings of the season, opening the door for the Steelers and Chargers. Pittsburgh did what they had to do when they defeated the lowly Cleveland Browns by a final score of 20-7 at Heinz Field. Cleveland proved its lowliness to The Realist when it came out that head coach Rob Chudzinski was fired after one season and less than a full calendar year with the Browns.

But The Realist digresses. This is a playoff edition, after all, and the only way the Browns would have made it to the postseason this year is if it began snowing in Hawaii at Aloha Stadium, where the Pro Bowl is hosted.

Charger fans had to feel themselves a bit when not only the Ravens and Dolphins wet the bed on Sunday against the Bengals and Jets, respectively, but also because of an Andy Reid decision. The Kansas City Chiefs were already locked in to the number 5 seed in the AFC and couldn’t move up or down in the seedings. This meant that Reid would rest 20 of 22 starters, including Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles.

Usually, it’s the Eastern half of the Keystone State of Pennsylvania to use four letter words and “Coach Reid” in the same sentence. Now it was the Western half since the Steelers needed the Chiefs to defeat San Diego to get in to the playoffs.

After starting 9-0, a banged up and shaky defense has put Kansas City in this position at 11-4 going into the final week of the regular season. This was on display last week at Arrowhead Stadium when they were defeated by the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 23-7. Meanwhile, the Chargers, which have been a team that gets hot in the second quarter in recent memory, continued its winning ways with a 26-13 victory over their division rival Oakland Raiders at home.

So with the Chiefs resting its regulars, the Chargers would dance into the playoffs, dashing the Steelers’ hopes, right?

Right?

….

Not so fast, said the Kansas City Chiefs. Their starting quarterback for the day was Chase Daniel, which sounds more like the name of a teenage singing sensation rather than an NFL QB. But he and the Chiefs looked like they felt like playing spoiler for the Chargers on Sunday. On their first possession, they took a 7-0 lead on a Knile Davis 17 yard touchdown run.

San Diego quickly responded on its ensuing drive when Philip Rivers found Lardarius Green for 22 yards and a touchdown. This tied things up at 7.

The Chargers defense then forced a Kansas City three and out, then its offense fell victim to a Ron Parker interception of Rivers on a 2nd and 10 play in Chargers territory. Kansas City converted it into points via Daniel finding Dexter McCluster for a two yard touchdown pass. It was 14-7 Chiefs (?!)

The ensuing Charger possession would result in a Rivers touchdown pass to Antonio Gates for four yards to tie the game up again, this time at 14.

Two Kansas City possessions later, they kept the ball again for a long scoring drive, capped off by a short TD run, again, from Knile Davis. 21-14 Chiefs, and it would remain this way heading into the halftime period.

Things were starting to get interesting…and Steeler fans now felt they had reason to temporarily replace the black paint that accompanies their gold with red paint accompany their gold. The Realist doesn’t think they make red and gold Terrible Towels in Western Pennsylvania.

Two Chiefs possessions coming out of the half, they drove all the way to the Chargers’ 28 yard line, but had to settle for a 46 yard field goal from Ryan Succop (more on him later) to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 24-14. This also, increased the amount of cautious optimism among Steeler fans.

But, the Chargers seem to have a habit of becoming better and stronger as games go longer into second halves. San Diego had the ball coming out of the third quarter and going into the fourth, which translated into them cutting the deficit from 24-14 to 24-21. Rivers found Eddie Royal for a six yard TD.

San Diego would get the ball again before the fourth quarter expired. They made it count by tying the game at 24 a piece on Nick Novak’s first field goal of the game, this one a chip shot from 22 yards out after a Charger drive to the Chiefs’ 4 yard line.

But, the Chiefs had a chance to break San Diego hearts and make Steeler fans everywhere happy. They got all the way to the Chargers’ 23 yard line on their last possession in regulation that would’ve set Succop to win it for Kansas City (and a playoff berth for Pittsburgh). He had a chance from 41 yards out.

Wide right.

Overtime.

The irony, as was mentioned on plenty of social media, was that Ryan Succop owns a house in the Pittsburgh area. He may have had to wear a paper bag over his head “Aint’s” style when he returned to Steel City, USA.

In the overtime period, San Diego would get the ball first, and would’ve needed a touchdown to win the game. They didn’t get the touchdown, but they did get a long scoring drive that resulted in a Novak field goal from 36 yards after the Chargers got into the Chiefs’ red zone. That drive lasted for almost ten minutes. It was the first San Diego lead of the game, at 27-24, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time if you’re a Charger aficionado.

Kansas City would have one more chance to keep the game (and Steeler hopes) alive, but those were dashed on an incompletion on 4th and 15 intended for A.J. Jenkins from Daniel. Chargers won 27-24, to clinch the sixth seed for themselves and bounce the Steelers from playoff contention.

Chin up, Succop. At least they won’t look at you as badly in Pittsburgh as they did Billy Cundiff in Baltimore when he shanked one in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots two years ago. Pittsburghers may look badly on the officiating, though, as it was revealed that there was an illegal formation by the Chargers on the Succop miss, which should’ve given the Chiefs a rekick.

Rivers was 22/33 with 229 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one interception. Influential in the Chargers’ win was the performance of Ryan Mathews. Once branded a turnover factory, he had 144 yards rushing on 24 carries against Kansas City. Keenan Allen was their leading receiver with 5 receptions on 89 yards. Danny Woodhead pitched in as well with seven catches on 42 yards. Royal caught 3 passes for 42 receiving yards and a touchdown. Antonio Gates caught 4 balls for 31 yards and one touchdown. Lardarius Green had only one reception for 22 yards—his touchdown catch in the first quarter.

Daniel did not play badly. He, actually, was very good. He was 21/30 for 200 yards, and one touchdown. In addition, he ran for 59 yards on seven carries. Davis led the rushing attack for the Chiefs with 81 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Jenkins caught three passes for 67 yards. McCluster was the recipient of Daniel’s lone touchdown pass of the day in addition to six catches for 62 yards. Junior Hemingway caught five receptions for 45 yards.

By virtue of these AFC results, the Chargers will play the Bengals in Cincinnati and the Chiefs will face the Colts in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium for the Wild Card Weekend. The Broncos as the one seed and the Patriots as the two both have byes.

Fourth (Seed) And Eight

Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) catches the game-winning touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. The Green Bay Packers win 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

As if the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears weren’t already heated enough division rivals, throw in the fact that the NFC North title would be on the line between these two teams in Week 17, and this Realist was reason to smell a ton of bad blood.

The previous week, the Monsters of the Midway were in the same position as the Steel Curtain was this week. Chicago needed to defeat Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field and have the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers lose their respective games to clinch the NFC North. The Lions dropped one to the New York Giants 23-20 at home to eliminate them from any playoff berth, and the Packers fell to the Steelers 38-31 at the newly renovated Lambeau Field.

All the Bears had to do was win and get in—they didn’t exactly do that as they had their keesters handed to them by the Eagles with a 45-11 beatdown in South Philly.

It set off a week of “Good Cutler, Bad Cutler” talk in the City of Broad Shoulders, and had plenty in Chicago questioning why head coach Mark Trestman was starting Cutler over Josh McCown who threw 10 touchdowns while limiting turnovers. It came out later that McCown was considering retirement after this season.

The bad news for the Bears became worse, when the speculation of Aaron Rodgers’ playing status (which had become a weekly waiting game in the state of Wisconsin) finally resulted in him being active and playing again at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. This was reason in Wisconsin to celebrate. After all, it was in Week 9 at Lambeau when Rodgers broke his collarbone and missed a significant amount of playing time.

In addition, they were also getting Randall Cobb back who was also recuperated from his own injury.

Greatest week for the Packers, ever? Right? Ok, slow down Realist…

After all, as was proven last week against the Steelers, the Packers’ defense, even with A.J. Hawk or Clay Matthews is not exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears. This year’s Bears defense was not exactly the ’85 Bears either as it was one of the worst in football.

So much for not paying money to Brian Urlacher…

The Bears could’ve used Urlacher and Dick Butkus in their respective primes for this one as a Bears team without a ferocious defense is no Chicago Bears team. Rodgers looked like he didn’t miss a beat on Green Bay’s first drive of the game. They got all the way to the Chicago 5 yard line, before Rodgers was picked by Chris Conte on a pass intended for Jarrett Boykin.

The Bears’ following drive would see a lot of Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Jay Cutler found Forte for four yards to give the Bears an early 7-0 lead.

On the next Packers possession, Rodgers would be intercepted again as he tried to find Jordy Nelson, but instead threw one to Tim Jennings as the Packers were once again deep in Chicago territory. The Bears’ offense couldn’t capitalize as Green Bay forced a three and out.

The next Packers possession lasted for almost five points and got Green Bay its first points of the game when a long drive that ended at the Bears’ 15 yard line resulted in a 33 yard field goal from Mason Crosby. 7-3 Bears.

Another Chicago three and out gave the Packers the ball again. This time, they took the lead on a wild play. Rodgers, it appeared, was sacked, and he fumbled that was recovered by Jarrett Boykin. Smartly, though, Boykin and the Packers didn’t hear a whistle, meaning that the play was still live. Boykin, catching the Bears hibernating during winter and not playing until the whistle, ran the ball 15 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.

Starting deep in their own territory on their next drive, a Cutler pass to Alshon Jeffery at the Bears’ 42 yard line ended in a fumble forced by Tramon Williams and recovered by Morgan Burnett.

An ensuing Green Bay possession would also see them advance the ball inside the Bears’ 10 yard line after starting at Chicago’s 28, but again, settling for a 27 yard chip shot field goal courtesy of Crosby before the half expired. It was 13-7 Packers at halftime with Green Bay receiving the second half kickoff.

They didn’t score on their first drive of the second half, but the Bears did, once again, via a 5 yard run from Forte that retook the lead for Chicago. It was now 14-13 Bears.

Here came the part where these division rivals started to simply trade touchdowns. The following possession for Green Bay lasted seven plays, 80 yards, and just over three minutes. It ended when Rodgers connected with Cobb for a short seven yard touchdown catch. This made it 20-14 Packers.

Again, the Bears answered thanks to Forte on their next possession as he led their offense on another drive that resulted in him going one yard for a touchdown. He had previous plays on that drive of 30 and 32 yards. Alshon Jeffery also caught a 67 yard pass.

The Bears’ defense forced a Packers three and out, the scored another touchdown to extend their advantage to 28-20 when Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for five yards early in the fourth quarter.

Wait, a second? Wasn’t this supposed to be the NFC North coronation of the Packers with Rodgers and Cobb back? Weren’t the Bears supposed to simply lay down and roll over? It was over when Mike McCarthy announced that Rodgers was the starter, right?

Right?

Green Bay did answer once more when Eddie Lacy went six yards for a TD to bring the Packers to within one at 28-27.

Green Bay did have one more long drive left in them for the game, but it almost stalled out to give the Bears the victory and the division. After failing to convert on 3rd and 8 from the Chicago 48, it was 4th and 8. Rodgers threw down field to Cobb who was able to score the touchdown to make it 33-28 Packers with 38 seconds left to play. Green Bay then tried a two point conversion attempt that was unsuccessful.

The Bears then had to go down field in that period of time and score a game winning touchdown. They did get to the Packers’ side of the field at the 45 yard line and Cutler did heave one down field intended for Jeffery, who has made a plethora of huge catches for the Bears this year. He didn’t come up with this one as it instead found Sam Shields as time expired. The Packers won 33-28 to lock up the NFC North and the fourth seed.

This was an uncharacteristic Bears season, defined by a struggling defense, and a quarterback controversy. Going back to Cutler will also be talked about, but it may not have mattered whether it was Cutler or McCown as long as the defense was in hibernation. This was also a reason for many to pick Chicago even with Rodgers returning for Green Bay.

As for the Packers, Rodgers’ return paid dividends as he and Cobb (both previously injured) was on the good end of the game winning play. This is a much, different team with Rodgers than without him. With Rodgers, they can get to the Super Bowl. Without him, they’re…

Matt Flynn.

One has to wonder if Matt Flynn would have made that throw to Cobb the way Rodgers did. The Realist thinks not.

Rodgers was 25/39 for 318 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. James Starks carried the rock 11 times for 88 yards while Eddie Lacy also put in 66 yards on 21 carries. Jordy Nelson was huge with 10 receptions for 161 yards. Cobb caught two receptions for 55 yards including the game winning touchdown. James Jones also had 41 receiving yards on six catches. They also got 31 yards on two receptions from Andrew Quarless.

Cutler gave Chicago a 15/24 outing with 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Forte gave it his all with 110 yards on 22 carries. Jeffery caught three passes for 80 yards while Marshall was the recipient of six for 74 including the touchdown catch. Forte also put in 47 receiving yards on 4 receptions that included his touchdown catch.

While another long offseason begins in the Windy City, the Packers will now host a playoff game at Lambeau Field against a surging San Francisco 49ers team that has won six straight. They defeated the Arizona Cardinals 23-2- to eliminate the Redbirds from the postseason and become the NFC’s fifth seed.

Third Time’s the Hex in the Texas Metroplex

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin (22) intercepts a pass in the fourth quarto against the Dallas Cowboys at AT

Last week, a last minute 24-23 victory from the Dallas Cowboys over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland coupled with the Eagles’ beatdown of the Bears at the Linc set up Eagles vs. Cowboys from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas for the NFC East Championship.

But, as seems to be more typical than out of the ordinary, the Cowboys’ week leading up to the huge game that was quickly flexed for Sunday Night Football after Week 16 was the status of Tony Romo. Romo injured his back in that win over the Skins, and was later ruled done for the season.

There was some hope among Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett that perhaps the report was wrong and that Romo would be ready to go, but Romo had surgery later in the week. This confirmed that he was indeed finished for the season.

The Boys had to sign Jon Kitna as their backup quarterback to Kyle Orton in addition to working out other prospective QBs such as former Chief Tyler Thigpen and former Texan David Carr.

Realist-ically, the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t have handled the Romo/Orton situation any worse. When it came out midweek that Cowboys brass held out hope that Romo could still go, it seemed to confirm that they didn’t think they could beat the Eagles without Romo. After all, this was nowhere near the same Eagles team that Dallas defeated earlier this year by a score of 17-3 at the Linc.

It was much improved under Chip Kelly and Nick Foles.

Instead of focusing so much on Romo, Jones and Garrett should’ve been concentrating on making sure that Kyle Orton, who hasn’t started an NFL game in 2 years, was ready in a matchup that would decide of the Cowboys would have a chance to contend for another Super Bowl.

The irony of this is the fact that so many felt that because of Romo’s proficiency in giving away games with his egregious late game interceptions, that some felt the Cowboys were better off with Orton than Romo.

At this point, Cowboy fans will go for anything as long as it would’ve successfully got them into the postseason after their previous two Week 17 matchups left them at 8-8 and no postseason to show for it.

If the early portions of the game were any indication, perhaps those pro-Orton backers were correct. Orton was moving the ball, utilizing Dallas’ offensive weapons in DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant. It looked as if the Cowboys would draw first blood before Philly would even take the field as they were at the Eagles’ 28 yard line, before Mychal Kendricks forced a fumble that was recovered by Bradley Fletcher. The Eagles first possession resulted in points off the turnover when a drive that ended at the Cowboys’ 29 became an Alex Henery 47 yard field goal. 3-0 Eagles.

The next Philadelphia possession began towards the end of the first quarter and concluded in the beginning of the second with a Nick Foles short pass to LeSean McCoy for 3 yards. 10-0 Eagles. Dallas forcing a three and out on the next Philadelphia possession seemed to represent a shift in momentum, which was confirmed when Orton led a scoring drive that resulted in him finding Gavin Escobar for 17 yards to bring the Cowboys to within 10-7.

Escobar also completed a highly acrobatic gymnastics-esque move as he dove into the end zone. The Realist approved.

Dallas arrived at midfield on their next possession and looked poised to take the lead prior to halftime, having stopped the Eagles offense on its last two possessions. But, Orton was intercepted by Kendricks on a pass intended for Jason Witten. Foles capitalized on two plays—both pass plays to Brent Celek to increase the Eagles’ lead to 17-7. The Celek touchdown was for 14 yards.

The Cowboys still engineered one more scoring drive prior to the half expiring. It ended at the Eagles’ 26 yard line, but Dan Bailey’s first field goal of the game brought the Cowboys to within 7 at 17-10. It was from 44 yards.

Coming out of halftime, Dallas’ defense stepped up and forced three consecutive Philadelphia three and outs. During that time, the Cowboys also got closer, first at 17-13 on a Bailey 43 yard field goal attempt, then at 17-16 after another three points from Bailey from 36 yards out. On that possession, the Cowboys drove to the Eagles’ 18 yard line.

Philadelphia forced a Dallas three and out on their next possession when it seemed, once again, like they were poised to take the lead. The next Eagles drive wound up all the way at the Cowboys 1 yard line. A 3rd and goal play was a Foles pass to DeSean Jackson at the goal line that looked like Jackson scored, before being ruled down inside the one. Instead of attempting another Henery field goal, Chip Kelly called for a 4th and 1 quarterback sneak attempt, similar to what he was used to calling in Eugene as head coach at Oregon.

Foles was stopped shy. Still 17-16.

This was how the third quarter ended and the fourth quarter began. The Eagles did make up for the miscue on the previous drive on their next one that saw plenty of Shady. Bryce Brown completed the drive on a six yard run for a touchdown to increase the Eagles’ lead back to 8 at 24-16.

Down eight, Dallas needed a touchdown plus a two point attempt. How they got it made the Realist’s hair stand on end. The Cowboys got the touchdown on their next possession when Orton found Dez Bryant for 32 yards on a play where the Eagles called a cover zero, leaving no secondary to defend Bryant if he caught the ball.

Huh, come again?

That cut the Cowboys deficit to 24-22. Orton looked to Bryant again to convert on the two points, but it was well defended and Dallas was denied.

The Cowboys would get the ball back one more time to erase all of the memories of the last couple of years.

Instead, Orton created a bunch of “Kyle Romo” memes across the internet. His first play from scrimmage on the drive from his 32 yard line was intended for Miles Austin. The recipient, instead was Brandon Boykin. A first down later thanks to a couple of run plays for Shady, and it closed the deal on the NFC East for the Eagles. 24-22 Philadelphia win.

For the Cowboys, it is another season with a lot of promise that will once again end at 8-8. No matter who it seems to be at quarterback, the Cowboys are turning giving away playoff berths in Week 17’s into a science they’ve dubiously perfected.

But, the Eagles are the team that is heading to the postseason as NFC East champions. Their opponent Wild Card weekend will be the New Orleans Saints—a team that they can beat. The Saints are not the same team in domes as they are outside in cold weather, so next week’s game at Lincoln Financial Field is one the Eagles can win.

Foles was 17/26 for 263 yards, and two touchdowns. McCoy went off for 131 yards on 27 carries. Shady also managed to win the NFL’s rushing title this year as he went over 1600 rushing yards for the season. Brent Celek was the Eagles’ leading receiver with 3 catches and 71 yards, plus the touchdown.

Orton threw for 30/46, 358 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. Murray rushed for 51 yards on 17 carries. Witten caught 12 passes for 135 yards. Bryant also had 99 yards on 8 receptions, including his touchdown catch.

Other Games

Titans defeat Texans 16-10

Colts defeat Jaguars 30-10

Jets defeat Dolphins 20-7

Vikings defeat Lions 14-13

Giants defeat Redskins 20-7

Steelers defeat Browns 20-7

Broncos defeat Raiders 34-14

Patriots defeat Bills 34-20

Saints defeat Buccaneers 42-17

49ers defeat Cardinals 23-20

Seahawks defeat Rams 27-9

Wild Card Weekend Schedule

Saturday Jan. 4

Chiefs vs. Colts (4:35, NBC)

Saints vs. Eagles (8:10, NBC)

Broncos, Patriots byes

Sunday Jan. 5

Chargers vs. Bengals (1:05, CBS)

49ers vs. Packers (4:40, Fox)

Seahawks, Panthers byes

Final Regular Season Standings

AFC East

Patriots (12-4)

Jets (8-8)

Dolphins (8-8)

Bills (6-10)

__________________________________

AFC North

Bengals (11-5)

Steelers (8-8)

Ravens (8-8)

Browns (4-12)

_______________________________

AFC South

Colts (11-5)

Titans (7-9)

Jaguars (4-12)

Texans (2-14)

________________________________

AFC West

Broncos (13-3)

Chiefs (11-5)

Chargers (9-7)

Raiders (4-12)

________________________________

NFC East

Eagles (10-6)

Cowboys (8-8)

Giants (7-9)

Redskins (3-13)

______________________________

NFC North

Packers (8-7-1)

Bears (8-8)

Lions (7-9)

Vikings (5-10-1)

________________________________

NFC South

Panthers (12-4)

Saints (11-5)

Falcons (4-12)

Buccaneers (4-12)

_______________________________

NFC West

Seahawks (13-3)

49ers (12-4)

Cardinals (10-6)

Rams (7-9)

Topics: NFL

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