But now as we approach the finish line, I'm not feeling like an idiot anymore. The Cardinals turned out to be exactly who we thought they were - a team in desperate need of a QB and a team that can't score to save their life. The Cardinals entered Week 15 dead last in points scored (trailing even the pitiful Chiefs) with 186. So what on Earth happened last Sunday, when they put 38 points on the board in a 38-10 drubbing of the Detroit Lions that ended their 9-game losing streak? An offensive explosion? Uh, not quite.
The first two - a muff on a punt return and an INT by CB Patrick Peterson - set up the Cardinals for TD 'drives' of 5 yards and 3 yards, giving them a 14-7 lead late in the 2nd quarter. Then with the Lions hurrying up trying to score before halftime, sick S Rashad Johnson picked off a pass and took the return 53 yards to the house (photo below) to make it 21-7. It was Rashad's 1st career TD.
Then in the 4th, with the Lions trailing 24-10 but threatening, sick CB Greg Toler got his 2nd INT of the season on 4th and goal and made the long, happy sprint 102 yards to the end zone at the other end of the field. The pick 6 earned Toler a place in the Cardinals' record book as it was the longest INT return in franchise history. It also earned him a spot on this week's dread stars list. If you like, click on the link below to hear Greg talk about his TD in a feature on the Cardinals website.
SIMS' BIG PLAY
If you look at the box score of the Thursday night game between the Bengals and Eagles, you might think that Bengals DT Pat Sims didn't even play. He was not credited with any tackles, and you can't find his name anywhere in the play-by-play. But if you were watching the game, you know that Sims not only played, he made one of the bigger plays in the Bengals' 34-13 win. The Bengals had just scored a TD three plays earlier to take a 17-13 lead late in the 3rd quarter when Sims, on a 2nd and 2 play, broke into the backfield just as RB Bryce Brown was about to take the handoff. Perhaps a bit concerned that the 330-pound Sims was about to squash him, Brown - a rookie - lost focus and dropped the handoff. DE Wallace Gilberry said thank you very much, scooping up the fumble next to Sims (photo below) and taking it 25 yards to the house to make it 24-13. Sims didn't get credit for a FF because he didn't actually physically cause Brown to lose the ball. But he certainly was responsible for the turnover, and it'll be remembered as a key play if the Bengals (now 8-6) go on to make the playoffs.
When rookie RB Trent Richardson powered his way into the end zone for a 6-yard TD in the 1st quarter last Sunday, he not only gave the Browns a 7-0 lead over Washington, he put his name in the team's record book. It was his 10th rushing TD of the season, surpassing the previous record of 9 held by Eric Metcalf and Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown. Richardson later scored his 11th rushing TD on a 1-yard run late in the 2nd quarter (photo below), putting the Browns back in front 14-10. But the Redskins dominated in the 2nd half, scoring 4 TD to defeat the Browns 38-21. And Trent wasn't happy about it either, pretty much blaming the coaching staff afterward for the loss. That's because he carried the ball just 11 times all day and only twice in the 2nd half, finishing with 28 yards rushing.
Before the season is over, Richardson is likely to break another of Brown's records: most yards rushing in a season by a Browns rookie. But the records won't truly be legit because Brown's rookie season was in 1957, when teams played only 12 games. Nevertheless, it has been a good but not great rookie season for the former Alabama star. Please click on the link below for a brief article on Trent from earlier this week on the Browns' website.
..... AND OUT WITH THE OLD?
With the Rams playing their final home game last Sunday (they lost 36-22 to the Vikings), you can't help but wonder if it also was the last-ever home game in a Rams uniform for RB Steven Jackson. Now in his 9th season, Jackson certainly isn't old - he's 29 - but he's old for a RB. And there have been rumors that he might be asked to move on after the season, even though he is having yet another solid, productive season. Hopefully he'll be allowed to finish his career with the only team he's played for (he was the Rams' 1st round pick in 2004). But if not, at least he'll be leaving on a high note, because on a draw play in the 3rd quarter (photo below) Jackson ran for a 9-yard gain to reach the 10,000-yard milestone in rushing yards for his career. You tell any RB after playing his 1st NFL game that he would rush for 10,000 yards, you won't find many (and probably any) who wouldn't be thrilled with that. If you have 5 minutes, please click on the link below for a video of Jackson's post-game interview in what may have been his last hurrah in St. Louis.
Midway through the 3rd quarter last Sunday at Toronto, Seahawks rookie DE Bruce Irvin scooped up the ball at the Bills' 45-yard line after a fumble by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and headed for the end zone. And he probably would have made it too - had he not had a towel dangling from the back of his pants. As if he were playing flag football, WR T.J. Graham reached from behind and yanked the towel from Irvin's waist (photo below), and Irvin lost his balance, stumbled, and fell 10 yards away from the house. He got back up and ran the last 10 yards, but it was too late. He already had been ruled down by contact - contact with his towel. Now I know players love to wear towels to look cool on the field, but damn, Bruce, couldn't you wear it in the front instead of hanging over your butt? That towel just cost you a TD. Guess that 1st NFL TD will have to wait until some other time. The Seahawks ended up settling for a FG, but it didn't matter since they already were way ahead.
You know, the main reason I've done so little on the NFL so far this season is that I haven't had enough time. But it's also because I've been so disappointed with the proliferation of reduced dreads in the league. I mean, every week I look up and I have to do a double take because yet another player has his dreads reduced for the first time. Remember a few years back when the NFL was considering making it a rule that you couldn't have hair covering up the name on the back of your jersey? Well, it seems they didn't need a rule after all - the players are doing it on their own.
No doubt there are still plenty of players in the league with awesome dreads who never reduce them. And of course, of all the players who have played at least one game with reduced dreads, most of them don't reduce them for every game (thankfully). But there are enough reduced dreads each week that it definitely decreases my enjoyment of watching the NFL a bit. I mean, how you gonna shake reduced dreads? It just don't look as good as the real thing.
DREADS FOCUS - AFC EAST
With about 8 weeks or so remaining in the season, there's enough time to take a quick look at the dreads in the NFL - one division at a time. After a few remarks on each team, I'll give a biased, unscientific grade for the teams based on factors such as: the number of players with dreads on a team, how long the dreads are, and how well (or not) the players are playing this season. (Of course this means I'm committing to doing an NFL report eight weeks in a row, but I think I might be able to pull it off.) We'll start with the AFC East. Rosters are to date. Abbreviations: PS= players on the practice squad; IR= players on injured reserve list and other inactive lists.
When Rashean Mathis plays his final game (and that might be sooner than he hopes), it's good to know we'll still be seeing some extra long dreads in a uniform #27. And if rookie Stephon Gilmore (photo below) has a career as long as Mathis', he could end up with dreads even longer than Rashean's by the end of the decade. I thought the Bills' pass rush would be improved this year, allowing for Gilmore to have a big rookie season. Instead he has been beaten more times this season than probably in all of his previous years playing football put together. For real, it's been on-the-job training for him and fellow rookie Ron Brooks. FB Corey McIntyre, now in his 8th season, keeps doing his thing (blocking!), and his dreads keep on getting longer every year.
ACTIVE: CB Ron Brooks, CB Stephon Gilmore, FB Corey McIntyre, OT Chris Scott, LB Kelvin Sheppard
INACTIVE: RB Zach Brown (PS), DT Torell Troup (IR)
Not too long ago, this was a team with a lot of sick dreads. But now the Dolphins are like a fallout zone after a nuclear bomb has been dropped. It started during the offseason, when Davone Bess, Tony McDaniel, and Nolan Carroll all cut off their long dreads. WR Legedu Naanee, signed as a free agent, didn't make it past Week 4. He was playing so poorly that he was actually hurting the team. Only bad things happened whenever a pass was thrown to him. The Dolphins had to cut him, even though they're in desperate need of WRs. (Naanee made such an impression in Miami that no other team has signed him either. I hope he gets another shot in somebody's training camp next year; but he's got to play way better or his time in the NFL will be up.) LB Gary Guyton was released in midseason. And to top off this disaster, S Chris Clemons, described in an article on the Dolphins' website (link below) as having "legendary long dreads", cut off those dreads during the team's bye week in October. Here in the house of dread, we mourn every addition to the ex-dread list, but that one was extremely tough to take.
I agree with the article. If those others players still had their dreads, Chris would too. What a shame. Only Richard Marshall (photo below) is keeping this from being an F, and he's been injured since Week 9.
INACTIVE: CB Richard Marshall (IR)
Coach Belichick never met a player with dreads he didn't like. Patriots make up for lack of dreads on Dolphins. Donte' Stallworth and Deion Branch were cut at the end of training camp, but (due to injuries to others) both were brought back, with Branch being cut again and then signed again. Rookie Brandon Bolden made the dread stars list in Week 4 but later was suspended for 4 games. Jermaine Cunningham also was suspended for 4 games. Patriots have three LBs with dreads on the team, with Brandon Spikes (photo below) being the sickest. For most of his career, WR Brandon Lloyd has had his hair in braids. But with the reduce dreads craze sweeping through the league, Lloyd figured he would switch to dreads and then keep them reduced and that nobody would know the difference. Technically he does have dreads now, so I reluctantly welcomed him into the house; but Brandon, we need to see those dreads hanging loose at least for a few games.
ACTIVE: RB Brandon Bolden, WR Deion Branch, CB Marquice Cole, LB Jermaine Cunningham, LB Dont'a Hightower, WR Brandon Lloyd, DT Kyle Love, LB Brandon Spikes
INACTIVE: LB Jerrell Harris (PS), WR Tony Logan (PS), DT Myron Pryor (IR), WR Donte' Stallworth (IR), G Jeremiah Warren (PS)
Now in his 7th season, Antonio Cromartie (#31 in photo below) finally decided to start growing dreads (!). What took you so long, Cro? Very quickly and very quietly Jets have gone from a team with very few players with dreads to one of the league leaders. It's hard to tell though, because Cromartie, Joe McKnight, and Ellis Lankster have shorts dreads still confined inside the helmet. If Kyle Wilson (#20 photo below) had left his dreads alone after he left Boise State in 2009, we'd be talking about them being just about the best in the league. But sadly, it looks like he's either cut them shorter, or he's got them permanently semi-reduced. Clyde Gates, signed after he was released by Dolphins just before the season, gave us a Thanksgiving treat when he unbraided his dreads for the game against New England. But like Wilson, the way Gates keeps his dreads reduced every week is a tragic waste of potential.
ACTIVE: CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Clyde Gates, WR Mardy Gilyard, DT Damon Harrison, CB Ellis Lankster, RB Joe McKnight, CB Kyle Wilson
INACTIVE: CB Isaiah Trufant (IR)
- Chris Johnson - Titans - 122 yards and 1 TD rushing on 21 carries in 14-10 home W over Jets
- Michael Griffin - Titans - 6 tackles (5-1) and 2 big INT in 4th quarter, his 3rd career game with 2 picks
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Bengals - 25 carries for 106 yards rushing and 1 TD in 34-13 road W over Eagles
- Greg Toler - Cardinals - 3 tackles (2-1), 3 PBU, and 1 INT, which returned for 102-yard TD, in 38-10 home W over Lions
- Marshawn Lynch - Seahawks - in first game against former team had 113 yards and 1 TD rushing on just 10 carries, along with a 14-yard reception, in 50-17 road W over Bills
- Steven Jackson - Rams - 73 yards rushing on 13 carries and 73 yards receiving on 8 catches in 36-22 home L to Vikings
- Brandon Lloyd - Patriots - 10 catches for career high 190 yards in 41-34 home L to 49ers
There is a tie for the award this week, as there were 3 TD by players with dreads in two games. The end zone at Cleveland Browns Stadium gets half of the award, thanks to TD runs of 6 yards and 1 yard by rookie RB Trent Richardson and a 69-yard TD catch by rookie WR Travis Benjamin. They were the only points for the Browns in their 38-21 loss to Washington.
And the end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium was also the house of dread in the Cardinals' 38-10 win over the Lions. As reported above, S Rashad Johnson scored on a 53-yard INT return, and CB Greg Toler had a 102-yard pick 6 for Arizona. The Lions' only TD came on a 1-yard run by rookie RB Mikel Leshoure (photo below).
WEEK 15 INTs: Asante Samuel (ATL), Rashad Johnson (ARIZ), Greg Toler (ARIZ), Earl Thomas (SEA), Michael Griffin (TEN) 2
Brandon Lloyd had an outstanding performance for New England, but very rarely will I give the player of the week award to a player whose team loses. So that leaves us with RB DeAngelo Williams, who had 144 total yards in the Panthers' 31-7 road victory over the Chargers. Williams rushed for a season high 93 yards on 22 carries and caught 2 passes for 51 yards, including a 45-yard TD on a screen pass. DeAngelo also had a fumble, but it came in the 4th quarter with Carolina so far ahead that it didn't matter.
Are the Bengals' really going to make the playoffs for a 2nd consecutive season? Are the Bears really going to miss the playoffs after starting out 7-1? Will the Seahawks remain undefeated at home as they take on the 49ers? And will the Ravens ever win again? Answers to these and much more coming up.