Steelers 27, Browns 7The NFL used the exclusive broadcast of one of its most intense rivalries to promote viewership of the NFL Network. Only fans willing to pay the extra money to have the league's network added to their cable lineup were able to see the Thursday night matchup of tired and unprepared Pittsburgh and Cleveland. As a result, most fans heavily debated whether to watch Jonathan get voted off the island on Survivor or a special hour long My Name is Earl two-parter.
"I hear the Steelers and Browns have a storied history," noted America Ferrera, star of ABC's Ugly Betty, "but I sure wouldn't get that impression watching these two on the field. I suppose you might get excited that Pittsburgh isn't mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase, but seriously, has this matchup not sucked since Bernie Kosar was in his prime?" Brad Garrett of Fox's 'Til Death would also point out that this Thursday's game would feature the Seahawks and 49ers, begging everyone to please remember that he used to be funny on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Jaguars 37, Colts 17Four weeks ago, pregame hosts were debating whether Indianapolis could be beaten, overlooking the fact the Colts couldn't stop the run if their defensive linemen were replaced by a barbed wire fence and moat. Now that the rest of the NFL has caught on, Indy has now lost three of their last four games and head coach/defensive supergenius Tony Dungy's ulcer is now large enough for a raccoon to crawl through. Jacksonville rushed for a total of 375 yards, halted only by the running backs getting tired from the non-stop sprinting.
"I would have liked to play more," gasped rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, who left the game in the third quarter for an IV after running for 166 yards and two touchdowns, "and I probably could have stayed in there if I was only having to go three or four yards per carry. Knowing you're going to be running fifty, sixty, seventy yards every time you touch the ball will really take it out of you."
Falcons 17, Buccaneers 6Last week, Jerious Norwood proved Atlanta had a capable back-up running back in case starter Warrick Dunn were injured... or rather, a capable running back other than Michael Vick.
Unfortunately, when Dunn actually did leave the game with a calf injury, Norwood hurt his knee and was forced out just four plays later. "If we hadn't been playing Tampa Bay," noted head coach Jim Mora, "we might have been in trouble." Instead, rushing duties fell to fullback Justin Griffith, who'd only carried the ball six times all season, but still managed to rack up 57 yards and a touchdown against the lowly Buccaneers.
"At this point," shrugged Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, "even I'm baffled that I haven't been fired yet."
Eagles 21, Redskins 19Often when networks promote a game, they'll pitch it as a matchup of the two biggest stars, such as "Clinton Portis and the Redskins take on Donovan McNabb and the Eagles." Unfortunately, injuries would have had this game promoted as a matchup of Jeff Garcia and Ladell Betts, though it failed even to live up to that hype. Philadelphia and Washington both desperately tried to give away the victory.
The Eagles nearly blew an 18-point lead while getting pushed around, outgained, and failing to score the entire second half, but Washington secured its loss with eleven penalties, a sack caused by Jason Campbell tripping over his own lineman, and a potential game-winning drive that stalled when the team couldn't punch the ball in from the three-yard line with four opportunities.
Vikings 30, Lions 20It's a classic fantasy football paradox. If you started Artose Pinner this week, you likely won your playoff game and will move on the the semifinals next week. But if you had Artose Pinner on your roster and didn't have at least two better running backs to start ahead of him, you probably didn't make the playoffs. Pinner, who'd been behind such luminaries as Ciatrick Faison and Mewelde Moore on the depth chart, made the most of his opportunity to play, rushing for 125 yards and three touchdowns against his former team.
This is the second time in three weeks that a former Lion has come back to Ford Field to haunt Detroit. Joey Harrington led the Dolphins to a Thanksgiving Day victory in the Lions' last home game. "It's inspiring really," smiled Detroit running back Kevin Jones. "I can't wait until I get cut so I can come back and have a career day. I'm thinking I'll rush for four touchdowns and about 190 yards. It's gonna be awesome."
Giants 27, Panthers 13New York found the perfect elixir to cure a four-game losing streak: playing against Chris Weinke. The former Heisman winner, notable both for being the award's oldest recipient, and for having a last name that can also be a euphemism for "penis," made his first start in four years, replacing Jake Delhomme and throwing for a team record 423 yards. Despite his prolific numbers, Weinke failed to get star receiver Steve Smith involved.
"Steve Smith?" Weinke, who hasn't played since Smith's rookie year in 2001, asked later, "you mean that 5'9" kick returner? Why would I pass to him?" Weinke later admitted he'd spent most of his time on the sidelines in the past five years doing Sudoku puzzles and "doesn't really watch much football."
Bengals 27, Raiders 10A playoff contender took on Oakland.
See if you can guess what happened from there.
Titans 26, Texans 20The Texans knew they'd forever be questioned about the wisdom of drafting Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, but Vince Young seems determined to make sure he's part of that conversation as well.
The Texans' #1 overall pick posted two tackles while Young, who grew up in the Houston area and played college ball at Texas, rallied his team to a fourth straight come-from-behind victory, clinched by his 39-yard scramble for a touchdown in overtime. The Titans, one of the few teams that could be considered as bad or worse than the Texans in preseason assessments, are now just a game under .500 and a sleeper playoff contender.
"Mario Williams is going to be the next Reggie White," Texans coach Gary Kubiak read from a team public relations handout, his voice cracking.
Bills 31, Jets 13Willis McGahee missed most of the second quarter due to serious vomiting and the need to eat a sandwich to replace the contents of his stomach that had been expelled, yet still managed to rack up 125 yards and a touchdown against New York.
"I know this probably makes us look bad," protested Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, "but you try tackling someone who just puked all over himself and see how many yards he gets before you take him down." Th Jets, still in the playoff hunt, immediately ordered ten cases of syrup of Ipecac for the stretch run.
Cardinals 27, Seahawks 21NFC West leading Seattle's bid to prove they're worthy contenders for a repeat visit to the Super Bowl hit a snag when the team lost to Arizona. "Your guess is as good as mine," a confused Mike Holmgren grimaced. "I didn't think winning was something they did around here. If the closest team to us in the standings wasn't San Francisco, I might even break a sweat."
Most confusing to everyone involved came in the final two minutes, when Seattle moved the ball into Arizona's redzone but failed to eke out a one-point win. "This is kind of new to us," admitted receiver Larry Fitzgerald. "In the final huddle, I suggested Matt [Leinart] should fumble the ball into the endzone on the kneel down, but then someone else pointed out we're not supposed to do things like that on purpose. I don't know when that became Cardinal policy, but it's going to take some getting used to."
Ravens 20, Chiefs 10Further evidence of the effects of global warming were on display at Arrowhead Stadium, as Baltimore handed Kansas City its first home loss in the month of December since 1996. The Chiefs owe that impressive streak to deafening crowd noise and bitter cold, but with highs in the mid-50s, the weather didn't seem to affect the Ravens.
"It's all a bunch of liberal garbage," grumbled Chiefs fans Larry Fenerro as he packed his eight-foot, charcoal tailgating grill into the bed of his Ford F-350 beside a case of a dozen aerosol airhorns. "There's no such thing as global warming and I'm going to make damn sure my kids' science teachers are legally barred from discussing it."
Dolphins 21, Patriots 0Miami won its fifth game in its last six contests, preventing New England from wrapping up the AFC East for at least one more week. The Patriots admitted they were out of rhythm and that Dolphins defensive lineman Jason Taylor disrupted the gameplan with his mobility and-
Wha-huh? Sorry, I was just kind of going through the motions there. Are you serious? Miami beat New England? This is Tom Brady, three Super Bowls New England, right? What the hell is going on in the NFL? The Colts are imploding, the Broncos seem to consciously be trying not to make the playoffs, the Titans are on a winning streak. LaDainian Tomlinson is the only consistent thing in this league and his three touchdowns a game are just insane. Miami beat New England? If the sun rises in the north tomorrow, I will not be surprised.
Packers 30, 49ers 19Brett Favre beat San Francisco for the eleventh time in twelve tries throughout his career, prompting announcers to reflect on memorable playoff games Farve had played in Candlestick Park and the fact that both the Niners and Packers used to actually make the playoffs.
Chargers 48, Broncos 20With three trips across the goal line, LaDainian Tomlinson broke Shaun Alexander's record for touchdowns in a season with three games still on the schedule. The storied record stood for just under a year.
"What an honor," Tomlinson grinned, "to be a part of the rich history of this record. I think back to 2005 when this record was set and I just think about how much things have changed. I mean... back then we only had one Pirates of the Caribbean movie." Alexander's mark, to which all others would be compared, was set by breaking the long-standing record of Priest Holmes, who scored 27 touchdowns in the historic fall of 2003. "I can only hope this record will stand the test of time and last at least until another Shrek sequel comes ou-what? Next summer? Yeah, that sounds about right."
Saints 42, Cowboys 17Facing off against his old boss, Saints coach Sean Payton insisted he wasn't out to impress-nor embarrass-Bill Parcells. He then proceeded to put fullback Mike Karney, who'd never scored a touchdown in his career, into the end zone three times and called for an onside kick with his team up 35-17.
"Suck on that, old man!" shouted Payton, hurling C-cell batteries at the opposing sideline. "Er, what I mean to say is Bill Parcells is a mentor who helped get me where I am and I don't know where I'd be without him."
The Saints win exposed Tony Romo, who suffered through his worst game to date. With some of the luster off the Cowboys quarterback, Romo has found himself in the Parcells doghouse. "Parcells can suck my-er, what I mean to say is Bill Parcells is a mentor who helped get me where I am and I don't know where I'd be without him."
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Jake Bell is a former NBC sportscaster and head writer for Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge.