A great amount of football was played Sunday, but I would like to focus your attention on the upcoming Monday night game between Houston and Baltimore. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff has been having a career year. He’s never had a reputation for owning a strong leg, like say, Mason Crosby or Stephen Gostkowski. But Cundiff has kicked 34 touchbacks on kickoffs this year. His previous career high was 3. THREE. This degree of improvement is almost unparalleled. The NFL record for touchbacks, by the way, is 40, set by Minnesota’s Mitch Berger in 1998. Cundiff is on pace to break that record comfortably.
Cundiff has played in six seasons before this one. Do guys with six or seven mediocre or disappointing seasons behind them suddenly become the best at their positions? Brandon Lloyd, in his seven previous seasons, has never caught more than 48 passes for more than 733 yards. This year he’s leading the NFL in total value with 63 catches for 1,185 yards. So while the breakout season of five-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick (previous best season: 9 TDs, this year: 22) is impressive, nobody is about to confuse him with Brady or Brees. Cundiff and Lloyd haven’t just improved, they’ve improved to be perhaps the best kicker and the best wide receiver in the entire NFL.
Another impressive feat: Aaron Schatz points out that Antonio Gates might not just be the best tight end this year, he may be the best tight end ever.
And I hope everyone’s seen the video of the Metrodome caving in under the snow. It’s some pretty awesome footage–as long as it was going to come down, I’m happy that Fox had the cameras rolling when it came down.
Sunday’s Games (that I happened to watch):
Green Bay Packers 3 @ Detroit Lions 7
Even the Lions fans I met at the bar were skeptical when I told them their team will be in the playoffs next year. The Lions have been 0-6 in games decided by 7 points or less, and I’ve been expecting their luck to change any week now. Sunday, it finally did.
Cincinnati Bengals 7 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 23
Carson Palmer’s pick-6 to LaMarr Woodley could have been prevented by looking. Woodley, for his part, made it look incredibly easy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 @ Washington Redskins 16
Every field goal is an adventure for the Redskins. To their credit, they drove 69 yards and scored a touchdown to (almost) tie the game, before botching the extra point. But it would be wrong to blame the loss on just that one bad hold. For example, leaving linebacker Rocky McIntosh in 1 on 1 coverage with Kellen Winslow down the field is probably not a good idea.
With the Packers losing today, the Bucs are still alive in the wild-card race, though I fear they have lost too many starters to injury to be a likely Super Bowl contender.
Oakland Raiders 31 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 38
The Raiders and Jag are playing exciting football every week. When David Garrard’s he’s on, he’s ON. The fake pitch to his RB to freeze a defender on his 24-yard 4th quarter scramble was SWEET, and he’s been making that play all year. (Garrard has never thrown more than 18 touchdowns in one season; this year he’s already thrown 20). The Raiders are doing a lot of things right–their run game is on fire thanks to a great run-blocking line, and clever playcalling is helping Jason Campbell play to his strengths. Jacoby Ford is becoming the player Al Davis envisioned when he pulled the trigger on Darrius Heyward-Bey with the 7th overall draft pick. But for all the things they’re doing right, they lost this game due to one thing they aren’t. Campbell’s pocket presence is terrible, and that great run-blocking line isn’t very good at pass protection. When the defense could sell out on the pass rush, only a guy like Roethlisberger would stand a chance. The fact is there are 32 NFL teams, but there aren’t 32 complete quarterbacks. Denver fans ought to keep that thought in mind as they criticize Kyle Orton–it could be worse.
With the win, Jacksonville remains one game ahead of Indianapolis in the AFC South, and they actually get to play Indianapolis next week. Jags-Colts looks like the game to watch next week. Might as well get yourself pumped right now!
New England Patriots 36 @ Chicago Bears 7
Tom Brady is good in the snow. When the conditions get bad, he seems to be able to buckle down and play extra-precise. Talk radio hosts are ready to give Brady the league MVP this year, and it’s hard to disagree. With their win over Chicago, New England clinched a spot in the playoffs, the first team to do so this year.
Philadelphia Eagles 30 @ Dallas Cowboys 27
Didn’t I predict that Jon Kitna would be just as good as Tony Romo? I did, and:
QB 1: 69.5% completion rate, 1,605 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs, 7 sacks
QB 2: 65.5% completion rate, 1,703 yards, 11 TDs, 8 INTs, 14 sacks
Which is which? (Hint: QB 1 is Romo, QB 2 is Kitna). Those 7 extra sacks make a difference, which is why Romo is still the starter, but that’s pretty damn close.
Kansas City Chiefs 0 @ San Diego Chargers 31
The highlight of this game was surely Mike Tolbert’s touchdown celebration. Just look at that fat man dance! It’s good to see #83 Vincent Jackson playing again for the Chargers–after getting screwed by tight-wad G.M. A.J. Smith and sitting out all but the bare minimum number of games, he might actually play some meaningful football this year after all!