It was the double-doink heard around the world. Cody Parkey, for the sixth time this season, hit the upright … and then the crossbar. His failed attempt at a game-winning field goal had cost the Chicago Bears a come-from-behind playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The odds of a kicker hitting the uprights six times in one season are so absurd few watching could believe it had happened, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised after an exhilarating game. There was great offense and defense. There were officiating snafus, busted coverages, creative play calls, great clock management, and terrible clock management. Moments of utter brutality were interspersed with astonishing feats of athleticism. We witnessed football near its finest.
And it ended as these things so often do, with the smallest man on the team jogging to midfield, to hoof a ball between a pair of yellow sticks, a concept that still feels alien to the rest of the enterprise; it must be the loneliest feeling in sports.officially changed the kick from “missed” to “blocked” after replays showed the Eagles’ Treyvon Hester had got a fingertip to the ball]. But his is not the most interesting story. Nick Foles’s is. Again. Foles is now 6-0 in must-win games – running the table this season to get the defending champs back to the postseason. And still – still! – there are doubters. You are reading one now. Foles’s December-to-January greatness has become so hard to explain that we may as well stop trying.
He wasn’t perfect on Sunday. As ever, Big Nick attempted Big Nick throws, which usually include a 300lbs behemoth barreling towards his chest. Somehow, improbably, he completes more of those throws than any quarterback in the league: Foles is top of the NFL’s ratings for passes made on contact. But those kinds of throws will come back to bite a player every now and then. Foles tossed a couple of interceptions against the league’s best defense, including an awful ball delivered with four defenders converging on his intended receiver.
Halted by an early leg injury, Trubisky didn’t have his usual wheels, a key element in the Bears offense. He was forced to play from inside the pocket. The ball came out quickly, on-time and in rhythm. He picked on the Eagles’ young defensive backs, hitting big, important shots downfield. After Foles’ gut-check drive, Trubisky responded in-kind: delivering the play of the night on a corner route to Allen Robinson to put the Bears into game-winning position:
If only he had a kicker. That may be a little harsh: Parkey was a lucky bounce away from being the hero. Now, he will be the pariah. “I feel terrible,” Parkey said after the game. “I thought I hit a good ball”. Fortunately for him, it’s not like Chicago has a history of vilifying an individual for a loss in a team sport.
Foles and the Eagles will move on to face the New Orleans Saints, looking for a seventh win in a row in win-or-go-home games. This really is a weird and wonderful game.
Video of the week
The NFL couldn’t get through a weekend without a series of replay review blunders. The most bizarre came in Chicago, with our first ever catch-fumble-incomplete play:
The ruling was correct, though announced poorly by the on-field referee, and is merely a quirk of a protracted rulebook. It was the strangest replay review the league had seen for at least two hours.
Video of the week, part two
Next week we get to see this guy:
MVP of the week
Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers. This could and probably should go to the entire Chargers defense. Entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Ravens had negative passing yards. The Chargers had more sacks (six) than the Ravens had first downs (four).
Ingram was the star of the show in the Chargers’ win. The pass-rusher racked up two sacks, two quarterback hits, and recovered a game-clinching fumble. Like Joey Bosa, his marvelous running mate, Ingram shuffles right across LA’s front. The pair took turns clowning each member of the Ravens’ offensive line.
Stat of the week
15. Lamar Jackson’s game-sealing fumble was his 15th of the season. No player had more fumbles in 2018 than Jackson, even though he started less than half the season. Sunday proved Jackson has plenty of flaws to address, but holding onto the ball is the most essential.
Quote of the week
“You can call it what you want” – Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on reports star wide receiver Antonio Brown has requested a trade.
As Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly. The drip, drip, drip of information out of Pittsburgh this week has been as compelling as it has been absurd. I’m all for player empowerment, and I side with labor over management on many of the issues that dog the NFL. But, come on, you have to at least show up for the job you’re paid to do.
A new report suggests the Steelers will ship Brown out of Pittsburgh by 13 March – the start of the new league year. Finding a credible landing spot is tough. Only the Jets and Bills have the cap room and need, without sacrificing a serious amount of their current roster. And what incentive do the Steelers have exactly? Brown will cost the team the same amount regardless of whether he’s on the roster or not — a $25m cap charge.
Moving on from a “distraction” is the kind of thing fans crow about on Twitter. Smart teams like the Steelers don’t typically succumb to that kind of pressure; they make analytical decisions, not emotional ones. But this time feels different. This time feels far more combustible. Management is siding with its coach and quarterback, which other members of the team – most notably Brown and Le’Veon Bell – view as an extension of management itself. There is distrust throughout the organization. Something will give.
Elsewhere around the league
— On Saturday night, the Seahawks limited Russell Wilson to 21 pre-final drive pass attempts during their loss in Dallas. Their running backs carried the ball 21 times for 59 yards (2.81 YPC). Wilson averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt. Yikes. At least they established the run and showed their identity, right?
— Remember the Josh McDaniels-Indianapolis Colts will-he-won’t-he saga? That feels like a million years ago. Frank Reich was the afterthought, not even the team’s second choice, and now they’re in the divisional playoffs. Sometimes the best deals in life are the ones you don’t make.
— Think about this: the 12-4 Chargers traveled all the way to Baltimore to beat the 10-6 Ravens. Now, they get to travel all the way to New England to play the 11-5 Patriots. The Chargers worked all season to secure the second-best record in their conference. They’ve been rewarded with two cross-country trips, one an early kickoff. The NFL needs to rethink its playoff seedings. Guarantee division winners a spot in the playoffs, but seed the tournament by overall record.
— The Texans had a good season, but much of their success was a mirage. Here’s a list of the quarterbacks the Texans faced prior to their playoff loss to Andrew Luck and the Colts: Tom Brady; Blaine Gabbert; Eli Manning; Luck; Dak Prescott; Nathan Peterman; Cody Kessler; Brock Osweiler; Case Keenum; Alex Smith; Marcus Mariota; Baker Mayfield; Luck; Sam Darnold; Nick Foles; Blake Bortles. Hardly a murderers row. Despite the less than stellar competition, the team finished with the 18th-best pass defense by DVOA. In his three games against the Texans defense (including his fourth game back from shoulder surgery) this year, Luck finished 86/135, with a 64% completion percentage, 966 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. The Texans are much further away from a championship than their record would indicate.
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