December is a great time of year, with Christmas and New Yeas around the corner, people are in the holiday spirit, the weather is getting colder, (except here in FL) and the football season is winding down, bowl games are decided, playoff births are being earned, and the intensity is getting to a fever pitch. I love this time of year, and I get fired up when I see the playoff picture is getting clear and teams are ramping up their game to push for the final playoff spots in the NFL.
Lets begin with the college games on Saturday. Auburn defeats Missouri in the SEC Championship 59-42 behind the running of Tre Mason who put his name in the Heisman talk with an impressive 304 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Auburn vaulted themselves into the BCS championship with that win due to Ohio State falling flat o their face, something I predicted last week.
Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big 10 championship 34-24, spoiling OSU’s chances at playing for a national championship and proving doubters (including myself) right as to how weak of a Number 2 OSU actually was. Their defense had been giving up more points to teams they should have been pounding all year long, including over 600 yards of offense to a weak Michigan squad, who had lost to teams such as Ohio university during the season. Yes there is a lot of emotion when Michigan plays Ohio State, but OSU with their #2 ranking should have won more decisively if they were to be considered an elite team. Their schedule was weak, and the Big 10 was horrible this year.
Michigan State wins the Big 10 and will face Stanford in the rose Bowl after The Cardinal defeated Arizona State in the PAC 12 championship 38-14 to go to their second consecutive Rose Bowl.
To no ones surprise, Florida State manhandled Duke 45-7 to win the ACC championship, setting up a showdown with Auburn in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena Jan 6. This is the matchup everyone wanted, after Auburn defeated Alabama last weekend with that dramatic missed FG return as time expired, and it promises to be a much hyped showdown, with both teams having high powered offenses. The key is going to be which team will have the better defense. I am going to predict that it will be a close game, but I feel FSU has more weapons and the better defense and will win their first championship since 1999. I am very much looking forward to this game and may actually take the day off from work so that I can enjoy it and not have to watch the “game cast” from my computer at work.
The rest of the BCS bowl games are set, as you have Oklahoma and Alabama facing off in the Sugar Bowl, Ohio State and Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Missouri and Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl and the aforementioned Rose Bowl with Michigan State and Stanford. I have found myself really into the college games this year, with all of the excitement and drama that has been going on, The dispute over how “good” Ohio State is, the Jameis Winston Case, Alabama trying to three-peat, Dukes rise to prominence in a sport other than Basketball or Field Hockey, and the final year of the BCS. There will be a playoff system in place next year, with the top four teams vying for the right to play in the Championship. I say good riddance to the BCS, as it has done nothing but cause controversy. It has always been a flawed system and a playoff has always been the best way to go, as the Div. 1 teams have been doing a “bracket style” playoff system for decades. It isn’t a perfect solution, because it only involves the top 4 teams, where an ideal situation would make it a 8 or 16 team playoff system, but it is a start and I am glad to see it finally happen. Next year will definitely be a better process and will have a clear cut winner, with the computers being thrown out of the equation.
As for the NFL, well, lets just say this past weekend is the reason I love this game so much. You had excitement in nearly every time zone yesterday with 4 games coming down to the last seconds of the game, all of which had playoff implications. You had whiteout conditions in Philadelphia, where the Eagles beat the Lions, freezing temps and snow in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Green Bay, Controversy, bad calls, record breaking scoring (90 touchdowns in all) and injuries that could cost at least one team in the Playoffs. Matt Prater kicked a Record Setting 64 yard for for the Broncos, eclipsing the record of 63 yards set by Jason Elam in the same stadium only a few years ago. Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL and is done, hurting NE’s playoff chances once they get there. Adrian Peterson went down with an ankle injury early in the game against Baltimore and though X-rays were negative he is going to have an MRI sometime today to see what damage was done.
Miami beats Pittsburgh on the final play of the game, as the Steelers tried the always entertaining “lateral it til we lose” play. it was 4th and 4 from their own 26 yard line and Big Ben completed a pass to Emmanuel Sanders and that’s where the fun began. After what appeared to be about 200 laterals, the ball finally ended up in the hands of Antonio Brown who scampered down the sideline and appeared to have scored the winning TD with no time left on the clock, but after further review, Brown had stepped out of bounds at the 12 yard line, ending the game and Pittsburgh’s faint playoff hopes. Brown’s foot was maybe 2 inches out of bounds, but it was enough.
In New England, the Patriots score 2 TD’s in the last minute of the game to beat the Browns. This ending was marred by a controversial Pass Interference call in the end zone on Leon McFadden. It appeared that there was no interference, that they both were going for the ball, and McFadden’s hand just happened to be on Josh Boyce’s left shoulder, but did not impede him in anyway for going for the ball, but the Ref’s, in their eternal wisdom saw it a different way and called the PI, placing the ball on the Cleveland one yard line. Brady hit Julian Edelman one play later and the comeback was complete. The Patriots were outplayed for 58 minutes but Brady being Brady, it seemed that it was just inevitable that the Pats would come back to win that game. The Browns did manage to get the ball back with 35 seconds left, were able to drive to the patriots 39 yard line, allowing Billy Cundiff to try a last second 58 yard FG, but it was short and the Pats win. The win keeps New England as the second seed in the AFC, just above Cincinnati, who had a dominating win against the Colts yesterday.
In San Francisco, The 49ers Phil Dawson kicked a 22 yard FG with 26 seconds left to lift The team to a win over Seattle, in a battle of NFC powerhouses. The win only made the race in the west that much closer with each winning games against each other at home, Preventing Seattle from clinching or at least close to clinching the division. Despite the loss, Seattle clinched a playoff spot, but did not get the division. The road to New York still runs through Seattle, and if San Francisco is hoping to get back to the Super Bowl, then they will more than likely have to beat Seattle at home in the playoffs to do it. These teams prove week after week that they are the class of the NFC, with maybe New Orleans and Carolina a close third and fourth respectively in the conference. The NFC is clearly the stronger conference this year and whomever comes out of the NFC to represent in the Super Bowl, The AFC better be ready, cause they will have a big fight on their hands. I like Seattle at this moment, only because the have the best record in the NFC and if any other team hopes to get to the championship they will have to beat Seattle in their house, a tall task for sure.
Wrapping up the fantastic finishes, we go to Baltimore, where for the first 3 quarters, the Ravens and the Vikings only managed to score a combined 13 points, but then in the fourth quarter, the scoring fiasco began. Combining for 44 points in the 4th quarter, they provided perhaps one of the most exciting endings to a game I have ever seen in my 40 years as an NFL fan. Six different lead changes, 5 TD’s in the last 125 seconds, and a spectacular catch by a rookie in the end zone with 9 seconds left to play capped off a flurry of scoring in a game that no one seemed to want to win. With 2””:05 left to play, Dennis Pitta, returning for his first game since separating his hip in preseason caught a 1 yard pass on 4th down to put Baltimore ahead 15-12. Toby Gerhart then ran 41 yards for a score to put the Vikings up 19-15 with 1:27 to go. Jacoby Jones then took the ensuing Kickoff 77 yards to the house to put the Ravens back on top 22-19 with 1:16 left. Matt Cassell then tossed a 79 yard TD pass to Cordarrelle Patterson with 45 seconds left to play and seemingly putting the Ravens away for good 26-22. Flacco was not done though and he drove the Ravens 80 yards in Five plays that took all of 41 seconds. The drive concluded with Flacco hitting Rookie Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone to put the Ravens up for good with just 4 seconds to play capping off the scoring frenzy. The Win kept Baltimore’s playoff hopes alive with just 3 games left in the season. They play 3 division leaders in that time frame, with games in Detroit, Cincinnati and a home game against the Patriots. it’s a tough hill to climb for them but this win kept their hopes alive.
I cant remember a more exciting weekend of football than what was presented to us the last two days. the stretch run is upon us for both College and Pro Football, and if the last 3 months are any indication, we have a lot more exciting drama left to go. I cant wait for it to happen, and all I can think is that it will all be over in just 2 short months from now. There are three Playoff spots taken after this weeks games, the Broncos, Colts, and Seahawks all clinched spots, with the Colts clinching the AFC South , despite losing to the Bengals. Buckle up folks, its only gonna get wilder as we sprint to the finish.