You demanded it! Thank You for Not Coaching is back in its usual Tuesday time slot to review the sprawling action of Week 13. Of course, while the NFL stretched out and played this week's games over a five-day stretch, the most-discussed decisions of the past seven days both took place on Saturday, when Michigan and Alabama made calls that had an enormous impact on the college football season. There wasn't a coaching decision quite as meaningful in the pro ranks this past week, but one team did critically injure its playoff hopes with a surprising misstep. As you might suspect, they're at the very end of this week's column, and as always, we'll start on the positive side of things.
I'm losing. It's happening in increments, but it's unmistakable. It's only Sunday and the week is slipping from my grasp. And I feel fine about it.
The Lords Disick are playing a team called the Waterfront Based Acolytes in fantasyland and the Waterfront Based Acolytes are slow-cooking us. The Waterfront Based Acolytes are Wolfgang Pauli's team. I've never met Wolfgang Pauli but it's pretty clear he's a trained fantasy assassin sent here by my enemies to for some reason shatter the Lords Disick's one-game winning streak. It's a bye week for both the Bengals (my usual defensive line) and Marshawn Lynch. Ryan Kuhlman told me to check the waiver wire. The waiver wire was all human driftwood. I tried every possible permutation of my starting lineup. No scenario ended with anything but me going down.
On the craziest day of the NFL season — as the Chargers hung 41 on the Chiefs, Tom Brady put together another classic, and the Cardinals stepped right into the playoff race — the NFC North still did its best to remain the most insane situation in football. In a span of about four hours, somehow, three different teams managed to gain control of their playoff futures only to lose them again.
Any referendum on the weirdness probably has to start with what happened at Lambeau yesterday afternoon. With the Packers trailing a Vikings team 23-7 at home, it looked like everything we thought about Green Bay a month ago was true. Losing Aaron Rodgers was maybe the most significant blow any team could suffer. Before Rodgers went down, the Packers were a 5-2 team whose only two losses came to San Francisco and Cincinnati on the road. Losing Rodgers meant a fall from clear division front-runner to a team that puts up 13 points against the Giants. With Scott Tolzien completely unable to get anything started for the Packers yesterday, Rodgers’s MVP case was somehow stronger than it could ever be while he was actually playing. As Detroit started its comeback against the Bucs, it looked like one more Packers stumble would be enough to end their chances in the division. Then Matt Flynn scored 16 straight points, Matthew Stafford threw the ball to the other team a bunch, and somehow Green Bay is a half game closer in the division than it was before yesterday began.
After yesterday, I have all the proof I need. I don’t know what it is about this year, but I’m now convinced that more teams than ever just have no interest in going to the playoffs. The Bengals held off the Browns, but they needed two defensive scores and four turnovers to do it. And I’m starting to believe Andy Dalton is a double agent taking some off the side from the Ravens. Meanwhile, the NFC East is now a jumbled mess, and somehow an Eagles team that couldn’t stop anyone for the first month of the season is 6-5 and looking firmly in control — for now.
Nowhere, though, does the division crown resemble a game of hot potato more than it does in the NFC North. A week ago, the Lions were 6-3, holding a one-game lead, and fresh off a tiebreaker-clinching win over the Bears. It’s a division filled with flawed teams. The Vikings are the Vikings, Chicago is without more than half its defensive starters, and yesterday’s Packers game included the dreaded “Who’s that guy?” montage about their starting quarterback:
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
You're Going to Hear Them Roar
Chris Ryan What's the elevator pitch on the Chiefs? How do you sell someone who isn't already a fan on Alex Smith and Andy Reid? What's a signature win they've had this season you could talk about in detail? I'll wait … except no I won't, I'm getting off the elevator and I'm going to put together the new movie Star Wars vs. Jason Bourne because I make deals, and you are going back to the mailroom with Dexter McCluster on your fantasy team.
OK, the Broncos. You must be able to sell the Broncos. You must be able to sell such a mouth-watering offense as the Broncos, right? Ah, but it feels like a remake, right? We already knew this story going into the season; they are who we thought they were.
No, we've been patiently waiting for a breakout team this season. And on Sunday, we finally got one. We've been waiting for Cam Newton to stamp this breakout season with a signature win, and on Sunday he put one to his name — maybe not with numbers (169 yards in the air, one pick), but with "they will fear you" bullets to Steve Smith. He made the kind of throws only he could make, in San Francisco, on national television.
The sun was down by five o’clock last night in Green Bay, but really it hadn’t bothered to come up at all. Daylight savings on Sunday was one of the annual harbingers that the Midwest’s long, sustained winter was near, and the Wisconsin weather was happy to help with the transition. Those crowded outside Lambeau Field in the late afternoon didn’t seem to mind. Leaving work early is easier when it’s already dark.
Driving near the stadium, I noticed the cars filling the driveways and lawns of the homes lining the street. A sign reading “Parking $15” hung on a fence, but I pulled into a hotel lot just across Lombardi Avenue instead. In a Dan Hampton jersey and Bears cap, I wasn’t being shy about my allegiance, and I figured the few extra dollars might mean a couple fewer dings in my car door.
In case you were busy backing up your asshole son by trolling online forums incognito, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Josh McCown led the Bears to a 27-20 win over an injury-depleted Green Bay Packers squad at Lambeau Field, creating a three-team logjam at the top of the NFC North at the midway point of the season. "There's only gonna be one way to settle this," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy after the game. "We'll have to play the rest of our schedules." McCarthy then looked down at a laminated sheet of paper that said "Trust your gut, big guy," looked back up, smiled, and said, Yep, I'm almost positive we'll just have to play the rest of the games to determine who wins."
In case you were busy keeping a drumroll sound going for 28 hours (and counting) in anticipation of the NCAA's announcement of its findings in the Nevin Shapiro investigation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
For some reason ESPN preempted coverage of the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and Vikings to show a blooper reel titled Monday Night High Passes and Soft Hits LIVE, a so-called Gaffe Battle in which The Jersey Boys outscored the Lake County Hornheads 23-7. In a particularly thrilling twist, after the Jersey Boys had scored big in the Fumblerooski-Off, surprise guest host Drew Carey emerged to tell both teams that the points they accrued didn't matter, and that Eli Manning and Josh Freeman would have to compete in a hoedown centered on the theme of "Weird First Dates" to determine the game's winner. While Manning was nervous, and turned in a lackluster performance in which he rhymed "wine" with "whine," he was bailed out by Freeman, who was unable to complete a single English word and found himself making guttural sounds and grunts for a soul-crushing 15 minutes.
In case you were busy investing heavily in Kyle Field grass futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Justin Verlander threw a gem and Miguel Cabrera broke out of his slump with a two-run home run as the Detroit Tigers advanced to the ALCS with a 3-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. Earlier in the day things were not looking good. On a cartoon baseball field on a faraway planet, Mike Trout and a team of misfits made up of one male bunny, one attractive female bunny, a duck, a devil, a skunk, a hunter, a chicken, a pig, a cat, and Dan Aykroyd were down to their last at-bat in a baseball game with the fate of the world at stake. Their alien opponents, led by Pog, who had stolen Miguel Cabrera's essence, had surged to an early 66-run lead in the game. However, the plucky toons had battled back behind Trout's 16-for-16 game with 16 grand slams, along with an Aykroyd solo home run. The score was 66-65 with Trout at the plate, the bases loaded, Pog on the mound, a full count, and two outs. Trout called his shot to Pog, yelling, "I'm swinging for the fences," which caused the fences to briefly have cartoonishly bulging eyes. Pog smiled at Trout and reared back to throw; it was a looping breaking ball, exactly the pitch Trout had been sitting on. Trout winked and swung, but Pog had deviously thrown a spitball and it drooled all over his bat making him miss. "Strike three!" yelled the ump. Trout was crushed, the game was over, and Earth and Cabrera were doomed … Or were they?
Eli Manning's poor season continued as the quarterback threw three more interceptions and his New York Giants fell to 0-6 with a 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. "I don't ever lose confidence," Manning said after the game as his cell phone blared out "Rocky Top." "Sorry," he said as he muted it. "Someone's trying to get a hold of me. Asshole. Anyway, as I was saying, I don't ever lose confidence as—" but Manning was interrupted as his cell phone began to ring out "Rocky Top" again. "I'm so sorry guys," Manning said. "Some jerk set a personal ring on this phone, and I don't know how to change it." Manning then turned from the podium and saw a new incoming text message: "should I let the jags win? then you guys can be the best at being bad. pick up ur phone and let me kno brah. ciao, pey2kpounds."
From the beginning of last offseason, Phil Emery’s intentions were clear. During the previous regime in Chicago, the Bears’ biggest issue had been finding a quarterback. When they finally did, the problem became protecting him.
In Jay Cutler’s four full seasons as starting quarterback, the Bears finished 13th, 32nd, 31st, and 24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate. Over that stretch, no quarterback was sacked on a higher percentage of his dropbacks than Cutler. I guess former GM Jerry Angelo deserves a least a little credit for his effort. Three times during Angelo’s 10-year tenure the Bears spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Each was off the roster by the end of his fifth season.
Those misses left Emery with a group of late-round picks, castoffs, and failed experiments that were letting his franchise quarterback get hit more often than anyone cared to see. Rather than waiting out some of the younger players and making a few tweaks here and there, Emery elected to make wholesale changes. In a matter of two months, the Bears turned over 80 percent of their starting offensive line. Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod was brought in from New Orleans with a $36 million deal, veteran Matt Slauson signed a one-year contract to play left guard, and the Bears spent their first-round pick on Kyle Long. Roberto Garza was retained as the center, which meant right tackle was the only spot in question heading into training camp. Eventually, rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Mills beat out J’Marcus Webb, and the new-look group was complete.
The biggest decision made by a coach during Week 4 was covered in the Monday football recap, but there are still plenty of coaching decisions to cover in today's Thank You for Not Coaching. As always, let's start with the bright side of the ledger
The Best Decisions of Week 4
3. Marc Trestman goes for two down 40-22. It's heartening to see a coach properly execute one of the obvious go-for-two scenarios, even as Brian Billick talked over the decision as one that "isn't on the chart." It should be if it isn't. Trestman's decision even took the Lions by surprise, which forced them to burn a timeout to get the right defenders on the field. And, as it turned out, making the correct decision actually did open up a slim window for the Bears that wouldn't have otherwise existed; the Bears made the two-pointer here to make it 40-24, then made it again on the next touchdown drive to produce a 40-32 score, which gave them an opportunity to recover an expected onside kick in an attempt to get one final drive to tie the game. Had they kicked an extra point here, they couldn't have been within one score after that second touchdown and wouldn't have had even an opportunity to tie.