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."