Week 17's best statistics

Posted Jan 4, 2016

The Hollywood script writers were out in full force on Sunday night as the 2015 NFL regular season drew to a close. And you literally couldn’t make up some of the stuff that unfolded on a wild and entertaining Week 17.

I’ll get to Ryan Fitzpatrick further down this column as he was taking on the team that literally chased him out of town in 2012 as the New York Jets came up short with the final playoff spot in the AFC there for the taking.

But I have to start with a return to action for Peyton Manning as ‘The Sheriff’ rode into town and literally saved the day for the faltering Broncos. It was the kind of storyline that would have been dubbed too unrealistic if you had taken it to a movie maker in Los Angeles.

The Broncos were presented with a golden chance to secure homefield advantage through the AFC playoffs after New England laid the proverbial egg in Miami and lost 20-10 to the Dolphins.

But the Broncos – led by young quarterback Brock Osweiler – were in danger of royally screwing up their fantastic and probably unexpected opportunity to stay home through the post-season tournament. They turned the ball over five times and trailed the pesky Chargers 13-7 in the second half.

That was enough for Gary Kubiak to call for Manning, who was benched for Osweiler in Week 10 before missing the following six games with a foot injury that I still say was of great convenience to the Broncos. Of course, Manning completed his first 2 passes and led Denver on a touchdown drive within minutes of entering the game.

The Broncos went on to win 27-20 and while Manning was never spectacular (he went 5 of 9 for 69 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions) it’s clear he gave his team a much-needed spark. Denver ran the ball with more authority with Manning at the helm and after one blown coverage in the secondary, they found enough defense to grind out the win.

Manning led the Broncos on scoring drives four times out of five after entering the game.

So what now for Kubiak and the Broncos when their playoff charge begins on January 17?

It should be noted that Osweiler, in my opinion, was not responsible for four of those five turnovers that sent him to the bench. C.J. Anderson coughed up two fumbles, Osweiler was blind-sided on one fumble due to a protection breakdown up front and had his arm hit on an interception as he was throwing. Again, that was down to poor protection and that has been a season-long problem in Denver that won’t get any better with Manning in the backfield.

So would the Broncos be better off sticking with the younger and stronger-armed Osweiler or do they go back to their emotional but ageing and declining leader? It’s a question I’m glad I only have to pose and not answer!

Let’s just examine a couple of key numbers that were doing the rounds heading into Sunday’s game against San Diego. Osweiler had thrown an interception on every 63.3 pass attempts in 2015. Manning had tossed up a pick on every 18.9 pass attempts.

So while it is a great story, will the Broncos really be better off with the turnover-prone Manning at the helm? My gut tells me that Kubiak will think the answer to that question is yes and that Manning will be back under center when the Broncos begin their playoff run.

And here is one key factor we may not have considered yet. Could Manning be healthier for the playoffs now that his body – which was breaking down around mid-season – has been given six weeks off?

I wrote last year that Manning should not return for the 2015 campaign but if he did, the Broncos should consider the unprecedented act of sitting him down for November and December in preparation for a healthier run down the stretch.

Well, that pitch count and limiting of games for Manning has happened, albeit due to an injury. I wonder if that could now help Manning and the Broncos for the remainder of this campaign.

Whatever happens and however it plays out, this Manning saga is going to provide some tremendous drama and intrigue in the coming weeks. I think Osweiler is the Broncos quarterback for 2016 and beyond, but he might have to make way for The Sheriff one last time.

Now onto this week’s numbers…

16-37-181-2-3… That is the stat line for New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as he tried to make the playoffs for the first time in an NFL career that has seen him start for five different teams. Fitzpatrick and the Jets came up short as they lost 22-17 to Buffalo and his numbers were not pretty as he went 16 of 37 for 181 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Towards the end of the game in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was presented with the kind of opportunity that the Joe Montanas, John Elways and Tom Bradys of this NFL world would gobble up. He was down by five on the road, going into the wind and needing to lead his team to a touchdown and a berth in the AFC playoffs. But then Fitzpatrick, who was arguably the hottest quarterback in the league over the previous five weeks, looked like a quarterback who had never been to the playoffs. He was not helped by his receivers, that’s for sure, but he came up short and hurt his team with 2 late interceptions. Those are the drives and the games that you’ve got to have if you’re going to be considered a top quarterback in the NFL and now Fitzpatrick and the Jets have eight long months to think about where it all went wrong in Buffalo.

71… While we have not really seen a late extra point miss lose a game for a team, the new rule clearly did make a difference to the most boring play in American football. There were 71 missed extra points during the season as kickers were forced to try their luck from 33 yards this year. This was a one-year trial for the extra point rule but I think it is most definitely here to stay and adds some intrigue, although the kickers probably would like to see the back of it. That would especially be the case for Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter. He missed his sixth extra point of the season on Sunday and was so angry he spiked his helmet into the ground only for it to bounce up and hit him right in the face. Kickers!

10… The Kansas City Chiefs will not be an easy out in the AFC playoffs even though they are only the number five seed in the conference. Andy Reid’s men have won 10 games in a row and that is not to be sniffed at. Alex Smith had an up-and-down game against the Raiders but I like the way he plays and he is trying to drive the ball downfield more this season. He is also being better protected as the season rolls along and that will be key this weekend as the Chiefs visit the Houston Texans in the wild card round of the playoffs. For the Chiefs, it’s a case of not where you finish but how you finish and there is not a more in-form team in the entire league. In fact, two of the most competitive and dangerous teams in the AFC field are the five and six seeds in the Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Monday Musings…

  • I found it tough to swallow San Francisco’s decision to fire Jim Tomsula. The 49ers had an off-season talent drain unlike anything we have seen in recent years, yet Tomsula is one and done because he only won five games? I would argue that was quite an achievement with San Francisco’s roster. There are several coaching casualties who deserve to be looking for new employment in this New Year, but my old friend at the 49ers is not one of them… in my opinion.
  • So within minutes of Jim Tomsula losing his job, former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh takes to Twitter to throw barbs at his old team, suggesting they are “reaping what they have sown.” That was classless given that a good man had just been fired and it proves to me once again that it would take 100 Jim Harbaughs to make him the man that Tomsula is.
  • If he can remain fully healthy for an entire season, look out for Buffalo wide receiver Sammy Watkins in 2016. He caught 11 passes for 136 yards on Sunday night and often gave Darrelle Revis the run-around. I think Watkins is ready to take his place at the top table of NFL receivers.
  • Let’s just go back to the Chiefs for a moment as they prepare to face Houston in the opening round of the playoffs. Both clubs are examples of that old adage coaches like to use – it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Both teams were 2-5 at Halloween and have gone a collective 16-2 since then. That is proof that you should never give up on a season that appears to be heading south.
  • Talking of heading south, let’s have a look at the recent actions of Johnny Manziel and how that might affect his NFL career. I say NFL career because I already think he is done and out of chances in Cleveland. Manziel was in the NFL concussion protocol but was in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Then on Sunday morning he missed a meeting with Cleveland’s doctors before going AWOL for most of the gameday. As and when Cleveland cut this fool loose, it will be a non-existent or very short line for his services.
  • There might not be a bigger ‘me’ player in the NFL right now than Cordarrelle Patterson, of the Minnesota Vikings. A few weeks back we saw him high-stepping and dancing his way to the end zone as he scored Minnesota’s first points against Seattle, even though they were down by 38 at the time. And on Sunday, he giggled and laughed it up on the sidelines just moments after fumbling at the end of a 71-yard return. While other Vikings paced nervously up and down, wondering if Aaron Rodgers was taking a close game into overtime, Patterson looked unbothered and, dare I say it, quite happy that he had at least added another 71 yards to his kick return total for 2015.
  • I must admit that I have never spent time with Sashi Brown, even though I knew of his work from his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But I have to wonder how the Cleveland Browns can make their chief in-house lawyer the head of their football operations with the mandate that he is in charge of the 53-man roster. I would imagine that hire sending any credible and high level general manager and head coach candidates running for the hills.
  • The ongoing mess in Cleveland from the revolving door at head coach to Manziel and now the appointment of Sashi Brown is no laughing matter. Their hard-suffering and passionate fans deserve so much more. This statistic sums up the Browns in an otherwise-consistent division. The last five coaching changes in the AFC North have all been made by Cleveland, while Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have been models of consistency.
  • I really like the way the Detroit Lions finished the season as they won six of their last eight after appearing to be totally devoid of ideas at Wembley Stadium in Week 8. It remains to be seen if the Lions have done enough to save head coach Jim Caldwell, but I certainly hope that is the case.
  • Sam Bradford was not the perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s system in Philadelphia but an incoming coach could decide to keep the free agent passer in house. When healthy, Bradford has a lot of potential and showed his worth on Sunday night during a 35-30 win that sent the New York Giants to London in October. Bradford hit on 30 of 38 passes for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will either grow more comfortable in Philadelphia or strike it rich on the free agent market.

Final Thought

The New England Patriots may not have booked homefield advantage through the AFC playoffs but they did get a first round bye and they need to use it to full effect. Tom Brady took a beating in Miami on Sunday and threw for just 134 yards and no touchdowns. The Patriots are hurting along the offensive line – both tackles are missing in Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer – and wide receiver Julian Edelman is racing to be fit for the post-season. Those losses have impacted Brady in a very physical way as he has taken way more hits than he is used to receiving. And he and the Patriots have suffered on third downs, converting just 3 of 24 attempts in back-to-back losses to the Jets and Dolphins. The Patriots are still very capable of reaching yet another Super Bowl, but not on this form. But before they can re-discover their groove, they simply must get healthier at some key positions. If not, the rest of the AFC will think the defending champions are very much there for the taking.


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