By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
It’s time for a little feature I’d like to call, “The Three Best.” Here’s the single best thing from Week 12 of the NFL in three different categories. It’s short, it’s accurate, it’s informative… basically, it’s the best!
Best Play of the Week
There were a lot of really good plays, but my favorite has to be a 28-yard pass from Bears backup QB Josh McCown to Martellus Bennet – in tornado-like conditions – at Soldier Field in overtime to set up Chicago’s game-winning field goal. First, it was a huge play in the season for both the Bears and the visiting Ravens, which would have made it a clutch play under normal circumstances. But this is Chicago playing the defending Super Bowl champions with a share of the division lead on the line, suffering through an almost 2-hour weather delay in which parts of Illinois within an hour’s drive saw tornados touch down, playing on a field that most high schools would consider sub-par, giving up a late field goal after some questionable use of timeouts (or lack thereof) by the head coach and losing the OT coin toss, needing the backup QB to come through with a big play. If the Bears ultimately make the playoffs, remember this play as the season-saver.
Best Coaching Decision of the Week
Between Jim Schwartz’s fake field goal that turned into a 10-point swing and cost the Lions the game, Mark Trestman’s inexplicable failure to call timeout so his team could get the ball back, and Andy Reid electing to play field position down two scores on the road in the fourth quarter against the league’s best offense, there were plenty of bad decisions to harp on, but instead I’d like to focus on one that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman flat out missed. With his team in field goal range facing fourth down and 2:11 left on the clock, Sean Payton elected to use the first of his three timeouts before Garret Hartley’s attempt to tie the game for the Saints against the 49’ers. Hartley nailed the kick, and the ensuing kickoff sailed through the back of the end zone, leaving the 49’ers with 2:06 and the ball at their own 20. While Buck groused about the “questionable use of a timeout,” Payton realized what so many coaches fail to understand – that by treating the it as a drop-dead time and not just an extra clock stoppage, he managed to squeeze two extra plays (the field goal and San Francisco’s first down) north of the 2-minute warning and give Drew Brees the ball back with more time left, provided the Saints defense forced a 3-and-out. Regardless of how he called his timeouts, Payton realized that Brees wouldn’t have any left to work with when he did get the ball, so instead he saved his QB some precious extra seconds. It was the most brilliant use of end-game clock-management so far this season, and it’s proof that a good head coach can really directly impact a victory in the NFL.
Best Media Point of the Week
There are plenty of arguments to be made for and against a penalty at the end of the Carolina-New England game. They’ve all been made elsewhere (multiple times) by this point, so I won’t bore you with whether it was pass interference, holding, illegal contact, or nothing. Quite frankly, it’s a waste of time and ink. But Bill Barnwell of Grantland made the best point of all regarding the final play in the Panthers’ 24-20 win over the Patriots – if the back judge never throws the flag in the first place, we’re not having anywhere near the level of discussion that we’re having right now. If, like so many officials will do during the course of a game, he had simply waved his arms and shook his head “no,” the commentators would have shown it a couple times in replay and gone, “Well maybe it was but maybe it wasn’t, I’m not so sure,” and that would have been that. By noon on Tuesday, it would have been erased from the public consciousness of everyone not invested in the Patriots. Instead, because he threw a flag and decided later, “eh, maybe not,” we’re STILL discussing it on many major networks and airwaves. Enough already! The proper call probably was defensive holding, which means the Patriots still would have had to score on one play from the Carolina 13-yard-line, so the refs didn’t cost New England the game – the Patriots did it to themselves over the first 59:59 of the game. Stop overanalyzing it people, pretend the flag was never thrown and go about your regularly scheduled life…
If The Playoffs Started Today…
… the Jets would still make the playoffs.
1. Denver Broncos (9-1)
2. Indianapolis Colts (7-3)
3. New England Patriots (7-3)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
6. New York Jets (5-5)
Notes: Denver wins the first seed over Kansas City because of head-to-head victory. Indianapolis wins the second seed over New England because of better conference record (Ind 5-2, NE 4-2). New York wins the sixth seed over Miami because of better division record (NYJ 2-2, Mia 0-2).
1. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
2. New Orleans Saints (8-2)
3. Detroit Lions (6-4)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
6. San Francisco 49’ers (6-4)
Notes: San Francisco wins the sixth seed over Chicago because of better conference record (SF 3-3, Chi 3-4). Arizona was previously eliminated in division tiebreaker with San Francisco because of head-to-head loss.
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
Thu, 8:30pm, NFLN
Line: Saints by 9.5
Don’t over-think this one. Really. Just take the Saints and the points, even on the road, and assume that a team that looks like one of the four best in the entire NFL will cover whatever number Vegas puts this game at, since they’re playing a Falcons team that looks like one of the four worst in the entire NFL.
Pick: New Orleans 38, Atlanta 17
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