What Have We Learned From Week 13 of the 2015 NFL Season

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Brandon Marshall

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) stiff-arms New York Giants’ Prince Amukamara during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.


  • The Jets beat the Giants int the battle for NY, strengthen their playoff chances– NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Jets’ most unlikely of tag teams was formed on consecutive days in chilly March.That’s when new general manager Mike Maccagnan was feverishly putting together a game plan that would help set the tone for an aggressive offseason — and, eventually, a playoff push in December.March 10: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was acquired from the Chicago Bears for a fifth-round draft pick.

    March 11: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was traded from the Houston Texans for a conditional late-round pick.

    Machine Marshall and Fitz Magic. Two guys with very different backgrounds, reputations and NFL achievements. One thing, though, bonds them: a burning desire to make the playoffs for the first time in their careers.

    At 7-5 after a stunning 23-20 overtime victory over the Giants on Sunday, the Jets would make the postseason as a wild-card if the playoffs started today.

    “It’s great to be in this situation,” Fitzpatrick said Monday. “To be able to play meaningful games in December, that’s always the goal. It will be a lot more fun if we continue to win.”

    There are four games left, of course, and the Jets need Fitzpatrick and Marshall to continue playing as they have the last few weeks if they are to get to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

    Fitzpatrick threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants, while Marshall had 12 receptions for 131 yards and a score. In the two games since buzzing his shaggy beard for his 33rd birthday, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 677 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. Marshall has 21 catches for 262 yards and three TDs in that same span.

    The two were huddled together on the Jets’ bench in overtime when Josh Brown lined up for his 48-yard attempt that would have tied it for the Giants.

    “I told him they’re going to miss it,” Marshall said after game. “I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been in the league 10 years (and) haven’t made the playoffs; you, 11. We’ve bounced around from team to team. The football gods are hearing us right now, so he’s going to miss this kick.'”

    Sure enough, Brown was wide left. The Jets went wild — hugs and cheers everywhere.

    Somehow, an ecstatic Marshall ended up on top of Fitzpatrick on the bench as their teammates sprinted onto the field.

    “It was a weird position,” Marshall said with a big smile. “It was awkward.”

    It also perfectly summed up what this season has become for the two. Little did they know it when they became teammates, but they might just end up helping each other reach that ever-elusive postseason.

    Marshall, of course, was expected from the day he was acquired to be the game-changing receiver he has been for the Jets. He came to New York with some baggage, though, with perceptions of maybe not being elite anymore following him, as well as suggestions that he could at times be a divisive presence in the locker room.

    False. And, false.

    Marshall is still hungry, and it shows up in every game. From the physical battles with defensive backs for the ball to his extra effort while trying to push forward for extra yards.

    “That dude,” Fitzpatrick said of Marshall, “he makes my job so easy.”

    Marshall has 83 receptions for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs, making him the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving with four teams after previously doing it with Denver, Miami and Chicago. He’s just 11 receptions away from breaking Al Toon’s single-season franchise mark (1988), and four touchdowns from tying the receiving record held by Art Powell (1960) and Don Maynard (1965).

    Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 2,866 yards and 22 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He’s still on pace to become the first Jets player with 30 TD passes in a season, and is seven from tying the mark Vinny Testaverde set in 1998.

    Not bad for a journeyman quarterback on his sixth NFL team who was brought in merely to be a backup to Geno Smith. That all changed the day Ikemefuna Enemkpali infamously slugged Smith in the jaw — breaking it and forcing Fitzpatrick into the starter’s role. He has been poised under pressure and earned the respect of his teammates.

    “When we go on the ball, he just has command of the huddle, getting the play out, calm, collected,” wide receiver Eric Decker said. “What a good leader should be.”

    It might have taken them years to get here, but Marshall and Fitzpatrick know they’re in this together, regardless of the winding paths they took. And if they end up actually getting to the postseason, there could also be a few more winning hugs in store.

    “This whole year has been awesome and a lot of it is just the team that we have,” Fitzpatrick said. “Coming to work every day is great because we have guys that love the game of football and love playing together.”

  • Hey the 2 time NFC Champs are still here & getting hot– RENTON, Wash. (AP) — There was something a little different in the pregame video Seattle coach Pete Carroll showed his players before facing Minnesota, flashbacks of their college days spliced with moments of greatness as pros.What followed on Sunday against the Vikings was a 60-minute video of complete domination that Carroll may use in the future.”The feeling is where it’s supposed to be right now for us,” Carroll said on Monday.

    Seattle’s 38-7 rout of the Vikings put the Seahawks (7-5) firmly in possession of a wild card spot in the NFC with a one-game lead over Tampa Bay and Atlanta and a potential future tiebreaker over Minnesota thanks to the head-to-head victory. While it’s unlikely the Seahawks can make up two games between now and Week 17 at Arizona to close out the regular season, Seattle is not eliminated from the division race either.

    With its next three games against Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis — a combined 10-26 record — the rest of the NFC at least has to accept they’re likely to see the two-time conference champs in the postseason.

    “Once we get in a rhythm, we know we’re a hard team to beat,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We know we have a championship pedigree. We’ve been there, we’ve been in big games, in Super Bowls. We know what we’re capable of.”

    In each of the previous three seasons, there’s been a December statement game by the Seahawks against a team that eventually finished with 10 wins in the regular season. In Wilson’s rookie season of 2012, it was the Seahawks winning in overtime at Chicago that ignited a five-game win streak to close the year. On their way to the title in 2013, the Seahawks routed 9-2 New Orleans at home on a Monday night. And last year Seattle went to Philadelphia — a second straight game on the road — and beat the 9-3 Eagles 24-14.

    How Sunday’s blowout over Minnesota fits into that pattern won’t be known for some time. But it another week where there was a familiarity to how Seattle has played in the past when it was at its peak.

    “It feels like we’re on track to play really good football. We would just like to go out and start playing again. Just put the ball out there and let’s go play. It doesn’t really matter who we are playing in that regard about us doing our part in it,” Carroll said. “I like the way it feels. I like the way they’ve responded. They’re really anxious to keep going, keep pushing and see how far we can take it.”

    Seattle’s performance was complete and dominant, ranking among the more emphatic victories in Carroll’s tenure.

    There was yet another 100-yard rushing game from rookie Thomas Rawls as he continued to fill-in more than adequately for injured Marshawn Lynch. It was the 23rd straight game the Seahawks rushed for at least 100 yards as a team.

    There was wide receiver Doug Baldwin building on what might be the first 1,000-yard season by a Seattle receiver since Bobby Engram in 2007. Baldwin had 94 yards receiving and two touchdowns against the Vikings giving him 778 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.

    Seattle’s defense was nearly perfect in stopping the run, limiting Adrian Peterson to 18 yards on eight carries, making the leading rusher in the NFL a non-factor. Teddy Bridgewater was equally ineffective throwing for just 118 yards, becoming the fourth team this season to throw for fewer than 150 yards against Seattle.

    And there was third straight nearly flawless game from quarterback Russell Wilson. In the past three weeks, Wilson is a combined 66 of 86 (76.7 percent) for 879 yards, 11 touchdown, zero interceptions and a 148.2 passer rating. Seattle’s offensive line is blocking significantly better, giving Wilson an opportunity to make plays down field.

    “It’s a combination of factors that bring it out, and he’s there to seize the opportunity to do well,” Carroll said.

    NOTES: Seattle released veteran CB Cary Williams on Monday after he was benched and inactive the past two weeks. Williams started the first 10 games. … RB Marshawn Lynch continues to recover from abdominal surgery but has not rejoined the team in Seattle. Asked where Lynch is, Carroll joked, “he’s at large.” … WR Paul Richardson aggravated his hamstring injury last week in practice, leading to him being placed on injured reserve on Saturday.

  • Blaine Gabbert, 49ers QB of the future– Jim Tomsula took notice during Blaine Gabbert’s days as a backup quarterback for San Francisco how he arrived to work each morning at 6 a.m., cup of coffee in hand, ready to study film.”Like he’s going to start,” Tomsula recalled Monday. “This is all of last year you see the guy constantly doing those things. And then you say he’s 25 years old. Sometimes being able to look at it from a different vantage point can do a world of good for you.”Now that Gabbert is under center as the Niners’ No. 1, all of those extra hours of preparation seem to be paying off — enough so that he should be in the conversation for the franchise’s future plans, such as competing for the starting job in 2016.

    Gabbert is certainly showing he could be the right fit going forward for San Francisco, and vice versa.

    He ran 44 yards for the tying touchdown late in regulation, then completed a 71-yard pass to Torrey Smith for the game-winner in overtime to beat the Chicago Bears 26-20 on Sunday at Soldier Field.

    “It was crazy. The emotional highs and the emotional lows throughout any NFL football game are wild,” Gabbert said. “Especially in a game like that, a close one back and forth, coming down to the wire there at the end of regulation.”

    The same could be said for the former first-round draft pick’s up-and-down career. Jacksonville selected Gabbert 10th overall in the 2011 draft, but until he led the 49ers to a victory against Atlanta on Nov. 8, he hadn’t started an NFL game since Week 5 of the 2013 season with the Jaguars.

    Now, he has thrown for 963 yards and five touchdowns in four starts for the 49ers (4-8) with three interceptions.

    Who knew Gabbert could run like he did down the stretch?

    “He’s taking what the defense gives him and not trying to force anything,” running back Shaun Draughn said Monday. “He’s a smart guy and definitely knows, from a study standpoint, the tendencies of a defense.

    That big-play ability is helping the 49ers forget about the demoted and injured Colin Kaepernick’s remarkable, almost unprecedented, freefall from among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

    Kaepernick had largely been considered the heir apparent to Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young when former coach Jim Harbaugh promoted him in November 2012 over Alex Smith and Kaepernick immediately led the team to a Super Bowl.

    He is now recovering from surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder and his time with the organization could be over.

    In a turbulent year for more than just Kaepernick, the 49ers finally earned a hard-fought road win at Chicago after beginning 0-5 away from Levi’s Stadium. Gabbert’s leadership played a key role in the result.

    “You really saw the peaks and valleys of NFL football right there,” he said. “Our guys did a tremendous job on both sides of the football, fighting through the adversity, playing clutch football and coming out with a victory.”

    Gabbert has grabbed his opportunity to say the least, a much-needed second chance he hopes lasts well beyond this season.

    “He’s been really steady,” Tomsula said. “Again, the way he’s approached his job since he’s been here has been really impressive. I think since you’ve seen him in games on Sundays, you’ve seen him progress. He’s moving along well. Blaine is a talented quarterback. But, we’re really excited about where he’s at and where he’s heading. We still need to keep getting better. And the way he interacts with everybody and the way he handles the offense, all of those things are really good.”


  • Who wants to win the NFC East– Players and coaches in the NFC East won’t be apologizing anytime soon for their woeful division having a spot in the playoffs — with a home game, no less.Neither will Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones.”I’m going to go back to that old saying: it’s an ugly baby, but it’s my baby,” Jones said on his radio show Tuesday, a day after the Cowboys beat Washington to drop the Redskins into a three-way tie with Philadelphia and the New York Giants for the East lead at 5-7.

    Dallas, which won the division at 12-4 last season, is one game back despite just two victories in 10 weeks. And the Cowboys (4-8) are headed to Green Bay after finally winning without quarterback Tony Romo — a first in eight tries this season.

    “The bottom line is, ‘Why not?'” Jones said. “We can go up there and the defense put together a game like that, a little more confidence in our offense, and here we go. Why not?”

    The rest of the NFL might have a different question. Like, why?

    “Does it matter?” Eagles tackle Jason Peters countered. “We can win the division and that’s what matters. If a team was 12-0 and we were 11-1, it’s no different. The records aren’t as good, but it’s all about winning your division.”

    The same questions were circulating a year ago about the NFC South. Carolina recovered from 3-8-1 to win four straight for a 7-8-1 finish before beating Arizona at home in the wild-card round. The Panthers haven’t lost in the regular season since, a winning streak that’s up to 16 games now.

    There is one other fairly recent example of a painfully weak division getting a wild-card win from its champion: Seattle in the NFC West in 2010, when the Seahawks rode their rowdy home crowd to a victory over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans after a 7-9 finish.

    “Records aren’t good, but they’re good teams,” coach Jay Gruden said after the Redskins blew a chance to be the division’s only .500 team.

    The most important play in Washington’s 19-16 loss fittingly was DeSean Jackson’s poor decision to backtrack more than 20 yards on a punt return to his 1 in the final 2 minutes. His fumble led to the only touchdown for Dallas’ 27th-ranked offense.

    “There’s a lot of talent on these football teams that we’re playing, I promise you that,” Gruden said. “It’s exciting down the stretch and that’s the way the NFC East is going to be. Whether we’re 12-0 or 4-12, it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is we have four games left and everything in our goals is still reachable.”

    The Eagles gave up 45 points in consecutive blowouts before getting three touchdowns from the defense and special teams in a 35-28 win over Super Bowl champion New England last weekend. The Cowboys, Giants and Redskins each lost to the Patriots.

    The Giants keep giving away fourth-quarter leads with questionable decisions in game management by coach Tom Coughlin. And the Redskins just can’t keep a good thing going. They had five straight home wins before again failing to win consecutive games for the first time this season.

    The Cowboys have the best excuses, with Romo missing seven games with a broken left collarbone and now out for the rest of the regular season at least with another break in that shoulder. All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant sat five games with a broken foot and didn’t look much like himself in the first few weeks back.

    Dallas couldn’t find ways to win close games until Monday night, when the Cowboys bounced back from allowing Kirk Cousins’ tying touchdown pass to Jackson in the final minute and got in position for Dan Bailey’s winning 54-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining.

    So now the NFC East is the target of tweets like the one Monday that laid out a scenario of a four-way tie among 6-10 teams. Unlikely, of course, but that’s what happens when last-place Dallas has the best division record at 3-2, and yet is the only team that doesn’t control its playoff fate.

    Since the Redskins visit the Eagles in Week 16 and the Giants have the Eagles at home on the final weekend of the regular season, all three division leaders don’t have to count on anyone else at the moment.

    “It’s crazy, really,” Philadelphia defensive end Vinny Curry said. “I know this doesn’t sound right, but we’re better than our record, way better. We just have to go out and play our kind of football.”

    It hasn’t been very good football most of this season in the NFC East.


  • The Falcons are fading fast– The history of the Atlanta Falcons is filled with misery.Now, they’re facing a collapse of epic proportions.After starting 5-0 for rookie coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons have slid all the way to .500 with six losses in their last seven games, including a five-game losing streak. With two games still left against unbeaten Carolina, including Sunday, Atlanta (6-6) faces the very real possibility of finishing with a losing record.

    According to STATS, no team in NFL history has done that after winning its first five games.

    No wonder Quinn, when asked Monday if he was frustrated or angry, quickly responded, “Angry.”

    “We’re not there yet,” he said bluntly, “in terms of the mindset of finishing and the attitude of where we want to go.”

    For Quinn, whose first season as a head coach began so swimmingly, the strain is clearly starting to show. Several times during his session with the media, he paused before answering the question, as if wanting to make sure he didn’t want to say anything out of line in the heat of the moment. He insisted that he still has faith in his team, but surely knows that time is running out on this season.

    Once a virtual playoff lock — after all, 66 of 72 teams that started 5-0 since the 1970 merger went on to play in the postseason — the Falcons dropped out of the second NFC wild-card slot with Sunday’s 23-19 loss at Tampa Bay. They are now one game behind surging Seattle (7-5), which has won three in a row, and actually trail the Buccaneers (6-6) as well, since Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker edge after beating the Falcons twice this season.

    “What were things that we did well early on that we didn’t do well in this stretch?” Quinn said. “I think the energy and style we want to play with, that mindset hasn’t changed. But as we’re going through, there’s certainly a difference in some of things we did early on that we’re not getting done now.”

    Turnovers, penalties and shaky play by quarterback Matt Ryan have certainly contributed to the slide, but now it seems like every phase of the game is falling apart. On Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive in the closing minutes, the defense surrendered a 20-yard run to rookie Jameis Winston when the Bucs faced third-and-19.

    Most galling, Winston should’ve been stopped at least 8 yards short of the first down. The quarterback ran into Brooks Reed and Paul Worrilow and appeared to be going down, but Justin Durant delivered a hit that actually knocked Winston out of the pile, and two other defenders — Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley — squandered chances to get Winston down.

    The Falcons have now lost four games during their skid by a total of 11 points.

    “Yeah, there’s bad things on the film, but there’s also really good things,” safety Ricardo Allen said. “You’ve just got to keep going with the good things, just show that you’ve done it before, and just keep building from that. When we get down to those tough games, what we were doing at the beginning of the season was finishing. That’s what we’ve got to get back to.”

    There is increasing scrutiny of the Ryan’s struggles and his relationship with first-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The veteran quarterback has looked lost at times, struggling to grasp what Shanahan wants to do. Ryan completed 30 of 45 for 269 yards against the Bucs, but another costly interception on a ball that never should have been thrown ended Atlanta’s final possession.

    Even though running back Devonta Freeman returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a concussion, the ground game wasn’t a factor, either. Freeman had 47 yards on 14 carries; in all, the Falcons ran the ball just 18 times.

    “We want to be balanced,” Quinn said. “We don’t want to get away from that balance.”

    Even Julio Jones, in the midst of another dynamic season, has gone four games without catching a touchdown pass.

    “It’s hard to believe that’s the case,” Quinn said. “That’s surprising.”

  • Can Tom Coughlin save his job one more time?– Tom Coughlin isn’t spending any time worrying about his coaching future with the New York Giants.Though many frustrated supporters are calling for changes with the team faltering and facing a fourth straight season out of the playoffs, Coughlin is looking firmly ahead to the next game.Coughlin set himself up to be second-guessed on Sunday with a decision to go for a game-clinching touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal with the Giants ahead of the Jets by 10 points. The plan backfired, the Jets rallied to tie the game in the final minute of regulation and won in overtime, sending the Giants (5-7) to their third straight loss.

    It marked the fifth time the Giants have lost after coughing up a fourth-quarter lead in the final two minutes. Those five losses have been by a total of 12 points. There have been questionable decisions and players not making a play here or there that would have been the difference.

    Wins have been there for the taking, and the Giants have failed to take them.

    It’s all come back to the coach and left many wondering whether the 69-year-old Coughlin will be back next season.

    “I don’t pay any attention,” Coughlin said Monday when asked about his future. “I try to stay focused for the benefit of my team, my coaches and everybody else. You can all disagree. We are trying to win games the best way we can. To be honest with you, nobody knows my team better than I know my team. When you sit in judgment of what goes on, it’s all been thought out, whether you like it or not and whether it’s right or wrong.”

    Coughlin’s trademark this season has been to be aggressive. There was a third-down pass against Dallas in the season opener when a run would have taken about 40 seconds off the clock. Dallas won a pass from Tony Romo to Jason Witten with :07 to play.

    Excruciating late losses to the Falcons, Saints and Patriots could be blamed on failures by the defense and special teams, and by the offense in the red zone.

    “We’ll win when we deserve to win,” Coughlin said.

    With four games left, Coughlin’s focus is to turn things around. It starts with him, too. He intends to keep coaching, working, fighting, planning and making decisions. Be aggressive.

    “Don’t sit back because the world thinks it’s not getting done,” he said. “We know better.”

    The man who has led the Giants to two Super Bowl wins does not want to put his defense in a position where it needs to stop a final drive to preserve a lead. That was the reason he went on fourth-and-2 in the loss to the Jets. He wanted a 17-point lead, when observers felt he should have settled for a 13-point lead.

    “We’ve got four games left and we can win all four of them, but it’s all up to the players, man,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “The players have to give it all in and come in and practice, even if you’re hurt, just come in and do your job.”

    Quarterback Eli Manning reiterated the players have to step up and make plays in crunch time.

    “Coach put us in a position, he trusts us to go make a play, and we’ve got to do it,” Manning said. “We’ve got to play better at some critical moments in the game. We do some good things, we get close, we do a lot of good things, and it’s just kind of that final step, those last few yards, and the difference between winning games and losing games. We’re just not making that crucial play to get us the win.”

    It’s the reason Coughlin is in trouble heading to Miami for a Monday night game next week.

    NOTES: Rookie LT Ereck Flowers was on crutches Monday with a sprained left ankle. … Manning hurt his right ankle in the third quarter against the Jets. He said X-rays were negative and he intends to practice this week. … A key play for the Jets on their tying touchdown drive was a 15-yard run by Ryan Fitzpatrick on a fourth-and-6. Coughlin said the Giants checked out of a line stunt on the play that would have put a defender right where the Jets quarterback ran. Also The Giants 5 tough losses below;

    The New York Giants could be in command of the NFC East and close to their first playoff berth since 2011 had they “finished” five games this season.

    The Giants (5-7) lost those games by a combined 12 points, and each time they allowed the opponent to either take the lead or tie the game in the final two minutes of regulation:

    Here’s a rundown of what went wrong in the fruitless five:

    —Sept. 13 at Dallas: Cowboys 27, Giants 26.

    Dallas outscores New York 14-3 in the final 5:08. Tony Romo hits Jason Witten with a winning 11-yard TD pass to cap a six-play, 72 yard drive with no timeouts. Giants’ incomplete third-down pass before a field goal with 1:34 left gave Romo the time he needed.

    —Sept. 20 vs. Atlanta: Falcons 24, Giants 20.

    An Eli Manning third-quarter fumble at the Falcons 11 prevents New York from expanding a 20-10 lead. The Falcons score two TDs in the final 12:39, going ahead on Devonta Freeman’s 2-yard run with 1:14 left, capping a 70-yard drive.

    —Nov. 1 at New Orleans: Saints 52, Giants 49.

    New York takes a 49-42 lead on an interception return by Trumaine McBride with 7:11 to go. Drew Brees ties the game with :36 remaining with his seventh TD pass. Kai Forbath wins it with a 50-yard field goal on the final snap after a Marcus Murphy punt return and a facemask penalty against punter Brad Wing set up the Saints.

    —Nov. 15 vs. New England: Patriots 27-26.

    With no timeouts, Tom Brady leads a 12-play, 44-yard drive in the final 1:47 to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s winning 54-yard field goal. Giants rookie safety Landon Collins drops a sure interception on the first play of that drive. New York led 20-10 at the half.

    —Dec. 6 vs. Jets: Jets 23, Giants 20, OT.

    Jets rally from 10-point fourth-quarter deficit after Giants coach Tom Coughlin goes for TD on fourth-and-2 from Jets 4 and fails. Ryan Fitzpatrick hits Brandon Marshall on 9-yard TD pass to tie it with :27 left. Randy Bullock kicks a 31-yard field goal on Jets’ opening OT possession and Josh Brown misses tying attempt from 48 yards, his first miss of the season.

  • Curious calls by coaches highlight Week 13– A week after officials were roundly panned for horrible decisions, the curious calls in Week 13 belonged mostly to the coaches: Jim Caldwell (why wasn’t Megatron in the end zone); Bill Belichick (this ain’t rugby!); and Tom Coughlin (hello, hot seat).The men in stripes didn’t get off unscathed, either.Chris Harris Jr.’s pick-six for Denver was negated by a questionable holding call when his man ran right into him, then there was no flag thrown when linebacker Melvin Ingram’s helmet-to-helmet hit sent tight end Vernon Davis out of the game with a concussion in San Diego. There also wasn’t a whistle on 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt for body-slamming Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, whose head bounced off the ground.

    The wacky week began with the Motown Miracle.

    Aaron Rodgers capitalized on Caldwell’s decision to keep Calvin Johnson with him on the sideline and defend the hook and ladder instead of the Hail Mary when Green Bay had an untimed down from its 39 trailing 23-21 Thursday night. Facing only a three-man rush, with two defenders hugging the sidelines at midfield, Rodgers had enough time to run around and allow his receivers to reach the end zone. Then he heaved a 70-yard rainbow with a 5.4-second hang time to uncovered tight end Richard Rodgers for the incredible win.

    The Packers hadn’t led for a single second of the game, yet walked away 27-23 winners.

    “Until that clock ticks zero,” Caldwell said, “there’s no such thing as certain victory.”

    Actually, the clock had hit zero on the previous play, but the game wasn’t over because Detroit’s Devin Taylor was called for a facemask penalty on the quarterback. Detroit fans can argue the whistle all they want; there’s no disputing that the Lions lost it by mismanaging the final play.

    They still have this, though:

    The only longer winning TD pass as time expired in the fourth quarter in NFL history came on Dec. 4, 1960, when Earl Morrall hit tight end Jim Gibbons in the Lions’ 20-15 win over the Baltimore Colts.

    By Sunday, the wild week would feature eight missed extra points and several blown opportunities, including the Patriots’ chance to bounce back from their first loss, and the Giants’ chance to take control of the middling NFC East.

    IMPERFECT PATRIOTS: The Patriots were up 14-0 on Philadelphia in the second quarter — just like they were ahead in Denver a week earlier before losing in overtime. Belichick tried to get cute and it backfired in a big way.

    Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski tossed the ball to safety Nate Ebner, a former rugby star, who drop kicked it 24 yards downfield in the hopes New England’s charging hands team could come up with it. Instead, Seyi Ajirotutu fielded it at his 41 for Philly.

    The Eagles capitalized on the good field position for the first of five consecutive touchdowns — two on special teams, one on defense and two on offense — to build a shocking 35-14 lead.

    “I just tried to put it into space and make it an element of surprise, but they were prepared for what we threw at them, and credit to the Eagles for reacting so quickly to that one,” Ebner said.

    Another failed onside kick by Ebner helped the Eagles hold off Tom Brady’s furious fourth-quarter rally.

    Gostkowski’s onside kick was a success with 5:27 left, but after the Patriots pulled to 35-28, Ebner went back out and attempted a traditional onside kick. This one went out of bounds.

    Asked why he had Ebner attempt two onside kicks and Gostkowski one, Belichick said simply, “Because we thought that was the best thing to do.”

    They thought wrong.

    GIANT MISTAKE: Coughlin wanted to bury the Jets when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Jets 4 and the Giants ahead 20-10 with under nine minutes to play. Rontez Miles intercepted Eli Manning’s pass, sparking a comeback that sent the Giants to a 23-20 overtime loss that damaged their playoff chances.

    “Well, obviously I’ve made a decision to be very aggressive at the end of games,” said Coughlin, whose Giants (5-7) could be headed for a fourth straight season out of the playoffs. “I’ve done it all year long. Don’t have a lot to show for it … but we’ve tried to take some of the pressure off everybody, and had we scored that touchdown, fourth-and-2, I think we would have taken a lot of pressure off.”

    Now the pressure’s on Coughlin. Again.

    ROOKIE MISTAKE: Coach John Harbaugh swears it was the official, not the receiver, who made the rookie error. A disputed penalty against the Ravens cost them a touchdown in the first quarter of their 15-13 loss to Miami.

    Matt Schaub’s 52-yard TD toss to Daniel Brown was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty on Brown.

    “I thought I had scored my first touchdown,” Brown said. “… You’re on cloud nine; then they bring you down.”

    Harbaugh contended the defender was guilty of interference and said a first-year official made the wrong call, saying: “I think he got it backward. He’s a rookie, and he messed it up.”


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