FROM THE CHEAP SEATS
In a weekend where NFL officials literally didn't know "heads" from "tails", major playoff positioning took place.
The Steeler-Lion game ended on a bizarre note, with an official apparently blowing the coin toss beginning overtime. The Steelers were furious about this after the game, since the game ended on the first possession. It capped an afternoon of questionable calls, but two things must be pointed out: first, there is no statistical advantage to winning the coin toss in OT, historically, teams that win it only win the game half the time; second, there's no reason they had to let the Lions march right down and score. If they lost, they deserved to.
The Buffalo Bills, on the other hand, were done in by the zebras. First, they called a pass completed which was clearly incomplete. The receiver clearly didn't get both feet inbounds, the official right next to the play didn't make any call, and after consulting with the other officials, decided both feet were inbounds. It was fourth down and it would've ended the game, to all intents and purposes. The next play, the last of the game, was a Hail Mary into the end zone. Lots of jumping, the pass was dropped by a Patriot, and the game should have been over. Except that an official called pass interference, which was very hard to spot in the replays. Can you say "home town calls"? The Pats went on to score the TD on the next play and the Bills were rightfully upset.
Those calls turned the AFC playoff race inside out. Instead of the Pats being on life-support at 6-6, they are now tied with the Bills at 7-5. Buffalo should be tied for first with the Jets and Dolphins, a game ahead of the Steelers, and Raiders. That would be a very strong position to be in, instead, they're in the midst of a dogfight for the wild card, with almost no chance at home field advantage in the first round. It is time to get the officiating house in order, in an age of parity, the botched calls become as important as the big plays.
Around the rest of the league, the Vikings victory over the Cowboys Sunday showed their continued dominance of the NFC, but a chink may have appeared in their armor. Robert Smith got injured and may be out for a couple of weeks. He has never made it through a season uninjured and this may be just the right time for his annual injury. He'll be back in time for the playoffs and that should be all that matters to the Vikes. Chris Chandler's second injury of the season left the Falcons as helpless as usual in his absence. He's an excellent QB, when he plays, but that's always been a hit-and-miss proposition.
The Cowboys also demonstrated the pitfall of having Deion Sanders on your team. He is such a great DB that he actually enables you to cover up weaknesses by structuring your secondary around his skills. Unfortunately, when he's injured, the defense won't work, and the Cowboys looked suitably helpless vs. the Vikings.
The college football season is winding down. The only games of import last week were Syracuse savaging Miami, 66-13 and USC beating Notre Dame, 10-0. Syracuse earned a major bowl bid by finally looking like the top ten team they were supposed to be this year (and last year, and the year before that). Miami looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
Notre Dame and USC looked like the deer after the truck had left. A more boring game would be hard to imagine. The Irish had an "excuse", Jarious Jackson, their QB, was out. Now what's their excuse for not having a remotely competent backup? USC had no excuse, they just generated little offense, a remarkable feat considering the fact that ND kept giving them back the ball after three plays -- unless they did it sooner via an interception. Interestingly, Notre Dame was victimized by a bad call on their one visit deep in Trojan territory. One of their ill-equipped quarterbacks actually ran to the two yard line, where the ball came loose as he was lying on the ground. The official on hand decided to ignore the rules and called it a fumble. USC recovered and there went the last best hope for the Irish avoiding their first shutout in this series since 1962.
Oh yes, the Denver Broncos won again. They looked disinterested in the game but won it anyway, by 15 points on the road. I think we're all looking forward to week 15 in Miami…that includes the Broncos.
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