For the NFC North, December 22, 2013 was a day that will live in infamy. All four division teams lost, two in blowout fashion, three with their playoff lives at stake. Two teams, the Packers and Lions, fought down to the end only to suffer soul-crushing defeats.
The Vikings had the least to gain, being already long out of the race. They went into Cincinnati and put up the kind of effort you always fear from a team with nothing to play for. The 42-14 butt-whupping at the hands of the Bengals was mind-numbing to watch and not in any way shocking.
For the Vikings Sunday was merely a case of another day, another disappointment. The other three teams suffered much more profound failures given everything that was on the line.
Lions Lose to the Giants, Drop Out Of Race
The Lions needed a victory to stay alive in the postseason race. They had the woeful Giants at home. So of course they lost in overtime after a string of bad mistakes and questionable coaching moves.
Of course. Because they’re the Lions.
True, Calvin Johnson wasn’t himself yesterday. But that doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain Jim Schwartz letting the clock run out at the end of regulation rather than attempt to drive down for a field goal. The Lions had the ball at their own 25 with just 23 seconds left but two time outs. They couldn’t get into field goal range from there?
Maybe Schwartz didn’t trust Matthew Stafford after the pick-6 to Will Hill. But don’t you have to have faith that your supposed franchise QB can shake that off and lead the team to victory?
Also, why didn’t Schwartz call time out in overtime to give the booth a chance to look at Eli Manning’s questionable fourth down completion to Jerrel Jernigan?
Laying it all on Schwartz isn’t fair either. But Schwartz is the coach. His team collapsed in epic fashion down the stretch. The Lions didn’t just lose five of their last six, they lost five of their last six despite having fourth quarter leads in all those games.
That can’t happen. And if it does happen, you can’t get caught screaming at fans. Good news for Schwartz, he won’t have to deal with those fans much longer.
Packers Fall to Steelers In Snowy Lambeau Field
The Packers don’t lose at Lambeau Field in the snow in December with the playoffs on the line. Even if it’s Ben Roethlisberger on the other side. Just doesn’t happen. Vince Lombardi’s ghost doesn’t permit it.
Oh wait, Matt Flynn was playing quarterback.
Even the Lambeau-Lombardi mystique couldn’t help the Packers yesterday. The refs couldn’t even help them, though they gave it their best shot.
The referees basically gave the Packers a free possession after a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter. It appeared that the Steelers had gained possession of the ball after the block and there was a lateral that was then followed by an illegal batted ball. The refs ruled that the Steelers had not gained possession before the batted ball, meaning an automatic first down for Green Bay, and another chance to score.
Mike Tomlin tried to challenge only to learn that possession in that case can’t be challenged. So the rule is dumb and the challenge rule in that case is dumb. But in this case the refs also just flat blew it by not seeing that Pittsburgh had possession before the ball was batted forward.
The Packers scored a gift TD, taking a 21-17 lead. The scoring wasn’t nearly over though. What happened late in the fourth quarter defies explanation.
Basically, both teams forgot everything they ever knew about discipline and late game management.
The game ended up tied 31-31 late in the fourth quarter with the Steelers in possession and driving into Green Bay territory. All the Steelers wanted to do was run the clock down as much as possible and kick a field goal. Yeah, a touchdown is great, but get the field goal. The more important thing was running clock and making the Packers burn their time outs.
So of course the Steelers threw the ball a couple times and left themselves in a fourth down situation with, from their perspective, too much time left on the clock. They lined up for a field goal, and appeared to get a gift from the football gods when Nick Perry jumped offsides, giving them a first down and a chance to run the rest of the clock out.
So what do the Steelers do? They score a touchdown with 1:25 remaining. When they could have easily sat on the ball and kicked the field goal with no time left on the clock.
There really is no excuse for Tomlin’s decision in that situation. It was just pure dumbness. The Steelers really deserved to lose after that, and should have lost.
But the Packers needed to tie it first. They got off to a good start with a long kick return. They drove it down to get in position. And then completely lost their composure, running a play instead of clocking the ball when they should have clocked the ball (trying to catch Steelers off-guard?). Then Don Barclay committed the unpardonable sin of being called for a false start, a penalty that not only pushed the Packers back five yards but ran the clock down from twenty seconds to ten.
With the clock immediately running, the Packers could only get one play off. They didn’t score. The Steelers won. Packer fans were left with one thought:
No way Rodgers runs the two-minute like that. Rodgers clocks it, gets the team lined up, gets the ball in the end zone. Please Aaron, heal up soon. Matt Flynn stinks.
The Packers, unlike the Lions, are still alive. Because…
Bears Get Destroyed By Eagles
Remember that Eagles team the Vikings blew up two weeks ago? That same Eagles team destroyed the Bears 54-11.
The game was in Philadelphia, but still. It was not even competitive. The Bears defense, which has been slowly crumbling before our eyes, utterly and completely collapsed. They just lay down at Chip Kelly’s feet and let him do whatever he wanted.
This game didn’t have a chance to come down to late gaffes. It was over in the first quarter.
But the Bears are still alive. They play the Packers next weekend for the NFC North title. Will Aaron Rodgers be well enough to play?
It should be a battle. And which ever team wins will almost certainly get annihilated in two weeks. The NFC North is just not good. Sunday was probably the blackest day in the history of the division. Including when it was the NFC Central.