The NFC Playoff picture got a whole lot clearer following Week 13, as numerous contenders took a hit. In this week’s Wiseguy Report, I’ll take a look at some notes and quotes from a handful of those losers from Sunday in an effort to gauge their competitive spirit moving forward.
Let’s start in New Jersey, where the New York Giants just lost four the fourth time in their last five games. This time, the G-Men blew a double digit fourth quarter lead against the Jets, losing in overtime when Josh Brown missed his first field goal attempt in 26 tries this season. Six of the Giants seven losses have come in winnable games; by six points or less, and this defeat marked the fifth time this season that they’ve blown a fourth quarter lead.
Some of the criticism is downright ridiculous. Head coach Tom Coughlin is taking ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ type heat for his decision to go for it on fourth and two from the Jets four yard line with under nine minutes to play in regulation. Eli Manning threw an interception on the play; the Jets seized the momentum and went on to win the game.
But Coughlin’s decision to go for it there is an absolute no-brainer. Coughlin: “If we scored there and fourth-and-2, then we push the score up to where maybe they can't beat us with whatever. So we're up 17. I stand by it."
Of COURSE he stands by his decision, because it was the right decision. A TD clinches the game. A field goal doesn’t clinch the game. And even if the Giants get stopped on the fourth down, they pin the Jets deep, winning the field position war.
It was the Giants late game defense that let them down, not their decision to go for it on fourth down. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins: “He (Coughlin) was showing faith in us and that's what you want. As a player, you should want to have that opportunity to put the game away."
That being said, the Giants were shut out in the second half against the Jets, and their running game once again was unable to grind out yards and clock with a second half lead. Odell Beckham, coming off a six catch, 149 yard receiving effort: “A loss is a loss. We didn't have the right connections, time and time again, in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. It's something we can't dwell on. We lost."
Some of those second half offensive struggles were clearly related to their injury woes on the offensive line. The G-men got center Weston Richburgh and left guard Justin Pugh back in the lineup, but right tackle Marshall Newhouse was inactive with a back injury and left tackle Ereck Flowers left with a sprained ankle. There’s not a starter on the unit that is playing anywhere near full health at this stage of the campaign.
The Giants still have life in the weak NFC East. The St. Louis Rams, on the other hand, have seen any flickers of post-season hopes disappear during the course of their current five game losing streak. Sunday’s non-competitive home loss to the Cardinals guaranteed that St Louis will finish without a winning record for the 12th consecutive season, since Mike Martz was run out of town.
Nick Foles was nothing short of awful once again, throwing for just 146 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. “It's easy to put your head down and just give up. I know that's not what I'm going to do."
But that’s what the coach is going to do! After the game, head coach Jeff Fisher announced that he would got back to Case Keenum as the starting quarterback next week, sending Foles back to the bench.
Fisher: “It's kind of a broken record thing with the offense. We've got to get it fixed.”
But it looks increasingly unlikely that Fisher will be the guy to lead any turnaround. This will be his sixth straight season as a head coach without a winning record, including his final two years with the Titans. It’s worth noting that the last head coach in the NFL to finish with four straight non-winning seasons and still keep his job for a fifth year was...Jeff Fisher with the Titans, from 1995-1998.
Since their 5-0 start, the Atlanta Falcons have really hit the skids, losing six of their last seven, including five straight defeats. Four of those five losses have come by four points or less; a team that has spent the better part of the last two months coming up one play short, again and again. And once again, it was QB Matt Ryan with a poor throw late in the game and an inability to convert red zone chances into touchdowns that doomed their chances; a pair of failures that’s happened more than once during this dismal run.
Head coach Dan Quinn: “That's as tough as it gets for us. The finish was at hand. For us, finishing is about doing right longer, and we didn't get that done."
Matt Ryan: “It's obviously a disappointing loss. We had opportunities, I thought, throughout the game to score more points. We didn't come away with enough touchdowns. At the end of the game, obviously, you don't what to turn it over on the first play of the drive. That was disappointing as well.”
Quinn was a Coach of the Year candidate two months ago at this time. Now, he’s reminding Falcons supporters of Mike Smith, fired at the end of last season following his own string of late game failures, red zone struggles and underachieving squads. Even with the NFC’s leading receiver in Julio Jones, and with a healthy Devonta Freeman back at RB, this offense hasn’t produced more than 21 points in any game since their Week 4 beatdown of the Texans.
And then there’s the Chicago Bears, who lost at home in overtime to the hapless 49ers, giving San Fran their first road win of the season. Their defense played well for most of the game, holding the 49ers out of the end zone for the first 58 minutes of regulation. But that defense fell apart with the game on the line, allowing a 44-yard Blaine Gabbert TD scramble on third down to tie the game and a 71-yard TD strike in overtime to lose it.
That being said, a defense that holds their opponent out of the end zone for the first 58 minutes of the game is doing something right. An offense that was held to 20 points or less for the third straight week; this time against a bottom tier stop unit, clearly takes the blame here. Jay Cutler, after throwing another pick six: “Offensively we didn't play that great in Green Bay either. That's kind of the facts. Today we didn't play exceptionally well either. Offensively we've got a lot of work to do.”
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