Cup o' Joe: Time for postseason awards

TJ's Take on Week 16 in the NFL

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Week 16 infirmary report

If the season ended today...

Chris Mortensen Archive
Eagles clinch NFC East, face Bucs in first round

Dec. 30
Week 16 wrap-ups

Bucs 22, Ravens 10: Remember that if you are hot at the right time of the year, you are dangerous. So the Bucs are dangerous right now -- with an asterisk. In the year where road teams have made an impact, the Bucs are dangerous at home, especially in December. But this is a reminder as to why you have to win games in September, October and November.

The Bucs are in the playoffs, but as the sixth seed they will never see a home game after they end the regular season.
The Bucs are in the playoffs, but as the sixth seed they will never see a home game after they end the regular season against the Eagles. That might be OK if they were playing in St. Louis, where they're surprisingly comfortable.

But they will have to win three road games to realize their Super Bowl dreams. Tall order.

Still, the Bucs are fun to watch right now. Mike Alstott has never run better. He's not just powerful, but he looks quick. His 32-yard TD run to basically end the game Saturday night was an exclamation point -- you had to love his final blow when he decided to lower a shoulder through Ravens CB Chris McAlister.

Defensively, the Bucs are in peak form. DTs Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland absolutely dominated the Ravens. LB Derrick Brooks's 55-yard interception was a reminder that he's still a star. The secondary had its moments and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's blitz calls made it a very uncomfortable night for the Ravens.

Speaking of uncomfortable, what about Elvis Grbac? I know he had pressure on him, but he was awful. He was twice injured in the first half and looked like he wanted to make a permanent exit, but Ravens coach Brian Billick pushed him back out there. Even though Grbac was more efficient in the second half, I wonder whether Billick should have just canned the quarterback. A mobile Randall Cunningham might have pulled this one out.

One more thought about Grbac. His presence -- and, yes, the absence of RB Jamal Lewis -- has motivated Billick to open up the offense. But I couldn't help think that had Trent Dilfer been the quarterback Saturday night, the Ravens might have held something like a 10-3 lead or better. And as I watched Dilfer perform so well for the Seahawks on Sunday, I wondered whether that decision back in February (to not retain Dilfer) was a stinker, too.

Eagles 24, Giants 21: Oh, how wild was this? I mean, had Giants kick returner Ron Dixon scored on the hook-and-ladder final play of the game, what would we have been looking at next weekend? That's why you have to give Damon Moore a game ball -- he made the tackle at the Philly 6-yard line to clinch the victory. Now we know that the Eagles have finally won an NFC East title for the first time since 1988 and the Giants will not get another crack at the Super Bowl this season.

This game was something Andy Reid needed. His utilization of tight end Chad Lewis, who made the Pro Bowl in 2000, paid off with several key plays, including the TD pass from Donovan McNabb that tied the game at 21. McNabb has been the target of criticism in recent weeks, which absolutely baffled Reid, who has statistics to support his notion that Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Steve Young, etc., had nothing on McNabb at a similar two-year stage as an NFL starter. McNabb threw three TD passes and directed two clutch drives -- one to tie the game and one to win it (on David Akers' 35-yard field goal).

The running game also had more juice as Reid turned to Correll Buckhalter, the rookie who is finally out of the doghouse. Keep him in mind. If the Eagles are to rise up and challenge the Rams, Buckhalter will have to be a serious contributor.

Now we will witness an interesting exercise next weekend. The Eagles play the Bucs in what could have been a dramatic finale. Now now. The two teams will square off in the first round of the playoffs, only back in Veterans Stadium, where the Bucs ended their season a year ago. How do they dance next Sunday? Try a waltz. They will rock and roll two weeks from now.

The Giants, oh, the Giants. They played a little smaller this season, didn't they? It is the third time they have failed to make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl. Bill Parcells coached one of those non-playoff Giant teams. Ray Handley coached the other. Jim Fassel will have a pressure year in 2002, although I'm sure he'll laugh at that. There's always pressure when you're the Giants' coach.

Dolphins 21, Falcons 14: Dan Reeves long carried the banner for instant replay before it was implemented again. Sunday, he must have wondered if it was payback time from the guys who make the calls on the field. Upon further review, replay failed Reeves and the Falcons miserably on a day when they were fighting to stay alive in the playoff race. Three times the Falcons got the controversial short end of the replay stick to the tune of 21 points -- 14 they should have had, and seven that the Dolphins scored. Referee Bernie Kuchar took the cowardly way out when he said that there was not "indisputable evidence" to support Reeves' contention that Bob Christian had scored a TD that would have tied the game with a PAT. Indisputable? Based on the rear view and the side view, I thought it was a fairly easy call -- Christian scored.

Nevertheless, give the Dolphins credit for rising up twice to nail the Falcons at the goal line after two replay snafus. Zach Thomas' bone-jarring hit (just ask him) on Maurice Smith was a Pro Bowl stop if there ever was one. Christian was stuffed the next time. Yes, it's OK to second-guess the calls -- weren't we waiting for Michael Vick on a naked bootleg to see if he could outrace the Dolphins to the pylon? Maybe the Dolphins were expecting it, too, but I sure would have liked to have seen it.

By the way, anybody who saw Vick play for the injured Chris Chandler will tell you that they now know what all the fuss is about. Vick was much cooler in the pocket, but incredibly elusive and electrifying when he had to move. His laser arm was never more accurate. Based on what we saw Sunday, and the state of the Falcons' future, the Chris Chandler era is over.

Despite a key victory for the Dolphins, the angry look on coach Dave Wannstedt's face said it all at the end of the game. He expected a better showing from his team on the home field. He didn't really get it, did he?

Bills 14, Jets 9: Everybody knew that the Bills were capable of winning -- Gregg Williams' team has been on the cusp of numerous victories this year only to see inexperience and the inexplicable sink their hearts. And it even seemed possible, even probable, that the Bills' special teams had handed over another opportunity Sunday when a bad snap on a late punt gave the Jets new life in the final minute at the Meadowlands. This time, Vinny Testaverde wasn't up to the task. As Jets coach Herm Edwards said, his team looked like the one that was 2-12. The Bills' Buckeye corners -- Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements -- continued to play exceptional ball. There have been many losses in Buffalo this year, but the season is not a loss.

Neil Rackers
Bengals kicker Neil Rackers is lifted by holder Nick Harris after kicking the OT winner.
Bengals 26, Steelers 23: There's probably not any reason to overreact to this game. The Steelers were due for a letdown, so that it happened on the road against a team that has traditionally played them well should not have shocked us. The only thing about it is that the Steelers had reason to maintain their tenacity because they were playing to lock up AFC home field advantage -- something they achieved anyway when Oakland lost a late game to Denver.

What was most shocking? Kordell Stewart's four interceptions or the Steelers' leaky defense that allowed the Bengals -- THE BENGALS, FOR GOODNESS SAKE -- to accumulate more than 500 yards total offense? Jon Kitna had one of the ugliest great games in recent history (and we do love the man) -- it was Kappesque, as in Joe Kapp. He threw some balls up and they came down into the hands of his Bengals' receivers to the tune of 411 yards. I would mention the name of the kicker who had a 31-yard field goal in OT to win the game for the Bengals, but he missed an extra point at the end of regulation that robbed his team of a joyous celebration. Even if he kicked one deep into OT, he shall remain nameless here.

As for the Steelers, coach Bill Cowher said, "This was a wake-up call." I think they will answer it.

Bears 24, Lions 0: Give the Bears credit for taking care of business and doing it quickly behind Jim Miller's two TD passes in the first quarter. True, it was the Lions, but it also was at the Silverdome and the Bears were no shoo-in. It was a little easier than the first meeting between the two teams at Soldier Field, primarily because the Lions were going with Ty Detmer at quarterback and without James Stewart at running back. Matt Millen no doubt regrets the fourth-round pick he delivered to Cleveland for Detmer, who threw for 303 yards but had two interceptions and lost one of his three fumbles.

Packers 24, Vikings 13: I'm assuming that when the Vikings announced that Spergon Wynn would be the starting QB late in the week, the Packers relaxed. They were at Lambeau Field, the weather was frosty and the sorry Vikes were starting their third-string quarterback. But the Vikes did show some pride and they ran the ball well for 199 yards, with rookie Michael Bennett picking up 104. That makes three straight opponents that have exposed the Packers' rushing defense. Packers QB Brett Favre provided one of our favorite blocks of the year when he sacrificed himself on a 31-yard reverse by Donald Driver; still, Favre is lucky the man he blocked (Orlando Thomas) didn't blow him up.

The Packers and Bears actually will provide what little suspense there is in the regular season next week. The Bears can wrap up the NFC Central with a home victory against a dangerous Jacksonville team. If they falter, the Packers can slip in a first-week bye by beating the Giants in New York. That's no gimme, either.

Broncos 23, Raiders 17: Do you realize what this means? The Raiders may have blown their first-week playoff bye, and an outside shot at AFC home-field advantage. The Patriots and Dolphins both have a shot (the Patriots are sitting pretty after a bye with a game against the Panthers next) to ruin what had started as a beautiful season for the Raiders. Still, I guess we should never be surprised when the Broncos beat the Silver & Black, should we? It was puzzling that the Raiders didn't put more points on the board because Rich Gannon was sizzling, especially in the first half. They fizzled in the second half.

Seahawks 25, Chargers 22: I'm positive I've said this before, but if Trent Dilfer isn't a coveted free-agent quarterback when this season is over, then something is terribly wrong in this league. His 267-yard day with three TD passes make us wonder ... what if he had been in Baltimore ... or Washington ... or even starting all year in Seattle? On the San Diego side, what a tough, tough way to finish a season that had some promise. Doug Flutie once again showed his love for the Seahawks' defense with a 377-yard day. Mike Riley coached his last game with the Chargers, which is a shame because the man deserves better. But such is life in the NFL.

Cowboys 27, 49ers 21: You could not blame Jerry Jones for smiling or even crowing after this game. Quincy Carter was pretty good (241 yards), so maybe he's not too young to cut it. And Emmitt Smith's not too old, either. How about another 100-yard day (126) with a 1,000-yard season (it should happen next week in Detroit) on the horizon, not to mention a very nice setup for Walter Payton's record to fall in 2002? Jones also saw Joey Galloway burn the 49ers for 146 receiving yards. The Cowboys played this like a rivalry, which it has been, and the 49ers forgot that it still has some meaning. It's one of the few slip-ups by the 49ers this year, but it was costly because it means a road trip to Lambeau Field or Soldier Field in January as opposed to a home game. Again, Cowboys coach Dave Campo did a nice job of getting his guys ready to play.

Chiefs 30, Jaguars 26: Sure, it didn't mean anything in the playoff picture, but it meant a lot to both teams. For the Chiefs, it's another building block in a nice second half of the season now geared for 2002. For the Jaguars, it's the end of the first era in franchise history. Tom Coughlin will be back, but many of the Jaguars who have been part of that history since 1995 played their final home game. The Jags will endure some painful salary-cap cuts when the season is over.

Browns 41, Titans 38: This wasn't supposed to be a shootout, but credit QB Tim Couch (336 yards, three TDs) for shrugging off unwarranted criticism with a strong showing, thanks to some excellent play-calling by Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said he was embarrassed by his team's tackling. I imagine he will correct that this week. But at least Eddie George topped 100 yards rushing -- I have a feeling the Titans will be back in a very strong way next season.

Redskins 40, Saints 10: When Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer sent his players out in pads for Thursday's practice, there was grumbling among the players. All I know is that the Redskins did the hitting Sunday night and the Saints did the turnover thing. The Saints looked like a team that has quit. I wouldn't be surprised if they are in pads this week as they host the 49ers.

Cardinals 30, Panthers 7: This was evidence that a team needs to win to still play like it cares. The Cardinals played like they care Sunday; the Panthers played like they did not. And for all the talk that Panthers coach George Seifert told his team that he will be back in 2002, after a game like this one, and 14 straight defeats, you really wonder. The Cardinals and Redskins now meet in a regular-season finale that will actually have some passion. Both teams are 7-8 and pretty determined to hit .500. I will pay attention.

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