By the Numbers - Week 13

I’ve spoken a great deal about the Jovan Belcher case on Sky Sports and on this week’s Inside the Huddle podcast with Darren Fletcher. And I have written about the devastating events in my column today.

After an incredibly sad and inexplicable Saturday, the NFL returned on Sunday with some great games. So, I want to concentrate on the football in this article.

Anything to take my mind off the fact that a three-month-old baby girl has been orphaned just before Christmas by the tragic and senseless murder-suicide in Kansas City.

I really enjoyed Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears and felt like we witnessed a coming out party of sorts for an exciting young quarterback in Russell Wilson.

Having watched the Seattle rookie play on Sunday night, I can see why Matt Flynn has been forced to ride the pine for another season after entering this past spring as the hottest free agent property on the market outside of that guy who wears number 18 for the Denver Broncos.

Wilson played a solid game against a very good defense over the weekend but it is the passing numbers over his final two drives that jump off the page and smack you on the bridge of the nose like a Von Miller sack!

Wilson went 9 of 12 for 118 yards and two touchdowns in his final two drives against the Bears on Sunday. He was outstanding in leading Seattle on back-to-back 12-play drives at the end of regulation and the beginning of overtime that literally wore down the Chicago defense.

On those two drives – both of which Wilson capped with touchdown throws – his poise under pressure is what struck me the most. Some of the very best quarterbacks in NFL history have earned their stripes with big performances in pressure-packed situations.

I’m not about to crown Wilson as an NFL great just yet, but we have to be impressed by his maturity and ability to handle a tough, hostile environment on the road. Trailing by four and with just 3:40 left on the clock, Wilson took over on his own 3-yard line.

It was time to make a name for himself.

Across the line of scrimmage was a very good Chicago defense featuring the likes of Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Wilson would have spent years watching these guys playing in the NFL while he was playing high school and then college football. They are players who would have regarded as among the very best in the sport.

Now it was his job to pick them apart… in front of their own noisy fans… while playing from behind.

In short (no offence, Russell), the odds were stacked against Wilson. But he can deal with overcoming long odds – he has done that time and again during the course of his football career to date.

Wilson didn’t just hurt the Bears with his passing arm. He extended plays with his legs and added 5 runs for 47 yards.

But I came away most impressed by his throw covering 27 yards at the end of the fourth quarter. And the play came about due to Wilson’s ability to find an opening in the defense due to his scrambling ability.

Having run away from pressure, a huge opening appeared in front of Wilson down the right sideline. But instead of tucking the ball away and running downfield – as many young quarterbacks would have done – Wilson pulled up and delivered an accurate strike to Sidney Rice.

It was just one example of an outstanding display from Wilson, during which he was at his best when the stakes were at their highest.

Now onto this week’s numbers…

7-16-112-2… Wilson was not alone in putting together an outstanding late display in Week 13. Andrew Luck, of the Indianapolis Colts, could not have looked less like a rookie as he led his team to an improbable 35-33 win over the Detroit Lions with a touchdown strike on the final play of the game as time ran out. Luck and the Colts trailed 33-21 with 4:02 remaining. Luck then marched the Colts down the field twice, throwing touchdown strikes to LaVon Brazill and then the match-winner to Donnie Avery. On those final two drives, Luck completed 7 of 16 attempts (2 of those incompletions were spikes to stop the clock) for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns. Like Wilson, Luck also extended some plays with his feet, rushing 3 times for 33 yards. He now has the Colts on eight wins and with winnable games coming up against Tennessee and Kansas City, I can see Indianapolis in the playoffs. For this team to get to 10 wins just one season after being the worst team in football would be quite some achievement and really would be the Cinderella tale of 2012. As for Luck, he looks like he has been playing in this league for five years. What he did on the road – down by 12 with 4 minutes on the clock – would have broken lesser quarterbacks. But there is something special about this guy, as we all suspected when the Colts made him the first overall pick in this year’s draft.

210… General admission season tickets go on sale via Ticketmaster tomorrow morning and I would heartily recommend making sure you get a seat with a good view of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. The medical marvel that is Adrian Peterson continues to amaze me as he is enjoying the best season of his career less than 12 months after tearing knee ligaments in a game against the Washington Redskins last Christmas Eve. Peterson tore through the Green Bay Packers for 210 yards on 21 carries, scoring on an 82-yard touchdown run. Had it not been for some inconsistent play from quarterback Christian Ponder, I think the Vikings would have knocked off the out-of-sorts Packers, who remain troubled by their own lack of coherent offensive line play. Ponder threw 2 interceptions, including a costly one in the end zone following another long Peterson run. Despite the loss, the Vikings can still be proud of their 6-6 mark this season and Peterson remains one of the feel-good stories of this campaign.

10… That’s the number of points San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. That would be a pretty bad return at the best of times but considering the Rams went on to win a low-scoring affair by a 16-13 scoreline, you can see how the man who controversially replaced Alex Smith under center in San Francisco had a very bad day at the office. Kaepernick was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone that gifted the Rams two points and then he handed them a touchdown on a plate, flipping a poorly-directed pitch straight over the head of wide receiver Ted Ginn and into his own end zone, where Janoris Jenkins dived on the loose football for the score. The Rams then added the two-point conversion to tie the game. Despite Kaepernick’s errors, he did move San Francisco into game-winning field goal range in overtime, only for the out-of-form David Akers to send his 51-yard kick wide right. I fully expect 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to stick with the man he turned to just a few short weeks ago. But should he? After all, he clearly stated he has two starting quarterbacks and that Smith had not lost his job. He also stated that he was going with the guy with the hot hand. Smith completed 25 of his last 27 passes before suffering a concussion and losing his job. Kaepernick’s hand must have cooled slightly after gifting the Rams a win on Sunday. Over to you, coach!

Monday Musings…

  • It appears as if troubled wide receiver Dez Bryant has his head screwed on right in Dallas at last and he is playing like an absolute man against boys. When motivated, Bryant is proving hard to defend and he is full of confidence right now. He had another big night in scoring 2 touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles and looks every inch the superstar that the Cowboys hoped he could be. If he can get his life straightened out off the field and remain motivated on the gridiron, the sky is the limit for this guy.
  • It’s hard to imagine a way back for Mark Sanchez now, unless Rex Ryan has zero trust in the pairing of injured Tim Tebow and the inexperienced Greg McElroy. Sanchez threw 3 interceptions and could easily have tossed a couple more against the Cardinals on Sunday. He was benched for McElroy, who threw his first NFL touchdown pass to Jeff ‘The Sausage’ Cumberland. It was enough for one of the ugliest 7-6 wins you are ever likely to witness. While the Jets ponder their quarterback situation going forward, spare a thought for the Cardinals defense. Twice in the past three weeks they have seen their efforts wasted by the pathetic quarterback play of Ryan Lindley. First, they wasted 5 interceptions against the Atlanta Falcons and this time around they could only manage 2 field goals, and one of them came following a trick play on a fake punt. Lindley hit on just 10 of 31 passes for 72 yards and 1 interception and failed to take advantage of Sanchez’s errors. Is it too late to tempt Kurt Warner out of retirement?
  • I was willing to give Drew Brees the benefit of the doubt when he didn’t see Ahmad Brooks, of the San Francisco 49ers, before throwing a pick six to the linebacker in Week 12. But Brees should have a bit of criticism thrown his way following a 5-interception outing in a Thursday night game against the Atlanta Falcons that was there for the taking. The Saints eventually lost 23-13 but it is fair to say they left some plays – and points – on the field. Brees and the Saints found different ways and reasons to throw interceptions in the game. The first was a bad decision with the ball thrown into coverage, the second was due to an inaccurate throw, the third he simply didn’t see William Moore, interception number four came about due to pressure and the fifth and final pass that was picked off came with another throw into double coverage. Brees could also be criticised for dumping the ball underneath with no time outs left at the end of the first half. That – along with a penalty by Jimmy Graham that wiped out a touchdown – hurt the Saints. Brees gives the Saints a chance to win each weekend, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he hurt his team last week.

Final Thought

I’ll bet Andy Reid cannot wait for this nightmare season in Philadelphia to end. But it had better end soon because the Eagles are going to start running out of bodies at this rate. Remember, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo had already been made the sacrificial lamb earlier in the season and defensive end Jason Babin was released and picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Today, it was the turn of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who a team source suggested had become “a cancer” in the locker room. He was sacked with just four games left to play this term. What a mess. This is a talented team bogged down by in-fighting and a growing injury list that includes quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. It’s time for the Eagles to clean house and start over. And I think they will do just that on Monday December 31, marking the end of the year with the end of Reid’s reign in Philadelphia. Until then, the soap opera will run for a few more comical and frustrating weeks. Not that Eagles fans are paying attention any more.