Based on the injuries to such key components of play-off hungry teams, Week 13 in the NFL would give us an indication as to which teams will still be a factor as the play-off brackets begin to take shape. First under the microscope were the Houston Texans, a team in an extremely comfortable position atop the AFC South and in line for the top seed in the AFC. The team have been struck by lightning twice, at quarterback and are now down to their third-string signal-caller TJ Yates. Yates would man the controls to take on a team slowly finding their form in the shape of the Atlanta Falcons. The results were not exactly jaw-dropping but the rookie showed poise and composure as the Texans found a way to win 17-10 at Reliant Stadium.
This was a hugely disappointing loss for Atlanta. A victory here would have seen them establish control of their own fate ahead of the chasing pack for an NFC Wildcard spot. The “Dirty Birds” just can’t seem to fire on all cylinders in every aspect of their game with one problem is emerging as another is resolved. A vaunted run defence ranked second in the league couldn’t stop Houston running back Arian Foster going for 111 yards on the ground, despite knowing the Texans would have to commit to the run so as to reduce pressure on their young quarterback.
The Texans jumped out to a 10-0 through the boot of kicker Neil Rackers and a three yard touchdown pass from TJ Yates to tight end Joel Dreessen. Matt Bryant’s 19-yard chip shot gave the Falcons hope just before the halftime break making it 10-3.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw his only touchdown of the game early in the second half to his favourite target Roddy White, himself guilty of an oddly sputtering season. With the scores level, Houston’s Yates looked to have thrown a costly interception, which Mike Peterson of the Falcons ran back to the house, potentially giving the Falcons the lead. It would be chalked off as cornerback Dunta Robinson was called on a holding penalty, nullifying the score and allowing Houston to keep the ball. The Texans took full advantage of this and drove the ball into the end-zone with Foster finishing the job with a 1-yard score.
This wasn’t the first asinine mistake, which cost Atlanta the game. Earlier, safety James Sanders carried a fumble back for six only to have it chalked off as both teams charged onto the field believing the Yates pass to be incomplete. Everything could have been rectified in the closing minute with the Falcons down 17-10, when Matt Ryan connected on some swift quick passes to both White and rookie Julio Jones, giving the Falcons a chance to send this thing into overtime. On third down Ryan over-threw Roddy White in pay-dirt, bringing up fourth down. With the final seconds ticking off the clock “Matty-Ice” launched a pass to Jones which fell almost directly into his hands, only to be knocked away by the Houston defender ending the game.
The play was almost comparable to the Falcons current situation, with a tough well-equipped quarterback throwing a perfect ball to a gifted receiver only for a momentary lapse to ruin the whole thing. The schedule down the stretch is favourable for the Falcons but they cannot afford to let even a single game slip. As for Houston, it was a testimony to just how far they have come. The quarterback situation is not ideal but they seem to ready to grit their teeth and persevere. The tools around Yates are strong and with that robust defence giving them a shot, they may still be able to lock up a seed in the playoffs.
Around the League
In the Thursday game, The Philadelphia Eagles looked to simply give up against a much maligned Seattle Seahawks team, going down 31-14. The Denver Broncos seized pole-position in AFC West after more late-game dramatics from Tim Tebow and the gang, winning 35-32 against the Minnesota Vikings. The ascendance comes as a direct result of the Oakland Raiders shambolic performance against the Miami Dolphins, losing 34-14, with the Raiders points coming in garbage time. Caleb Hanie did not fill in for the Chicago Bears, as TJ Yates did for the Houston Texans, as the Chicago offense looked lifeless in a 10-3 defeat to the struggling Kansas City Chiefs. Shonn Greene notched three touchdowns for the New York Jets as they bested the Washington Redskins 34-19.
Both the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers clinched their respective division this weekend. Aaron Rodgers as seemingly always led the Pack to a 38-35 win over the New York Giants, whilst San Francisco shut-out at the dismal St Louis Rams 26-0. Both occupy the top seeds in the NFC as things stand. The Pittsburgh Steelers showed that at least for now they have the Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton’s number in a 35-7 rout. Both appearances against Pittsburgh have been the worst performances out of an otherwise standout year. The Suh-less Detroit Lions got a stern lesson from Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints 31-17.
Time to get your groove back!
Rising from (what seemed like) the dead in the past few weeks, Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans has become extremely relevant again after a number of critics had already wrote him off. In the Titans 23-17 win over the Buffalo Bills at the weekend, Johnson ran for 153 yards and two scores, suggesting that the 190 yards he ran for against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 13 was no flash-in-the-pan revival. Throwing out his weak performance against the Falcons in Week 14 whom have a sturdy run defence anyway, it looks as if CJ2K has found his “groove” again.
This will come as an extremely promising development for the Titans. Johnson held out at the beginning of the year until the Titans agreed to a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension. With the ink dry on the deal, Johnson has turned in his worst year in history thus far. Through the first seven games of the season he had just 302 rushing yards and one touchdown on 107 carries. The team were so dissatisfied with Johnson’s play; they made an auxiliary plan to have him split carries with Javon Ringer or worse still, looking into the possibilities of cutting him to recoup some of that hefty contract.
Time will tell if CJ can warrant those big bucks, but at least he looks to be finding some inspiration. The team face a number of weak defences in the coming weeks, including Indianapolis and Buffalo, so a watchful eye will be kept on the man who ran for over 2,000 yards in 2009.