The Patriots can't really complain much about the officials anymore this season.
New England was ticked about a non-call on Luke Kuechly on the last play of Carolina's victory a few weeks ago. The Patriots got away with a clear holding on their game-winning touchdown against New Orleans early in the season, but they did have a point with the non-call on the Panthers.
But now, it has more than evened out.
For some reason, the officials at the end of the Browns-Patriots game decided to give New England the win. That's effectively what happened when they decided to call a pass interference on Browns cornerback Leon McFadden, even though McFadden didn't do anything to Patriots receiver Josh Boyce to deserve a penalty.
By throwing the flag there, with the Browns holding a 26-21 lead in the final minute, the officials decided the game. The Patriots got the ball at the 1-yard line, and the next play they scored the game-winning touchdown. The officials have to understand that call determines the game. Even worse, what McFadden did shouldn't be a pass interference call on the first drive of the game, much less the final minute. If you call that level of contact on a NFL defensive back, every play would end up with a penalty.
Don't believe me? Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating, criticized the officials on FoxSports.com and in the article titled "No, that definitely was not pass interference," said that the call was wrong.
"McFadden and Boyce were hand-fighting down the field," Pereira wrote. "There was not enough contact for defensive pass interference to be called."
It was the wrong call, and it has a huge impact on the playoff picture. The Bengals would have taken over the No. 2 seed for the time being with a Patriots loss. The Broncos would have widened their lead for the AFC's top seed to two games with three to go. The Dolphins would have had an outside shot to catch the Patriots in the AFC East.
But no, the officials decided the Patriots deserved a break. So there was a phantom call to gift wrap a touchdown and a win. Merry Christmas, New England.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers of the week:
Cincinnati Bengals: For a moment, the Bengals looked like they were going to slide into the No. 2 seed in the current AFC playoff picture. They own the tiebreaker against the Patriots, and if New England lost to Cleveland on Sunday, they were going to be tied at 9-4. Alas, the aforementioned robbery of the Browns happened, the Patriots pulled off a miracle comeback and the Bengals are still a game back.
Still, this is a Bengals team with a fairly easy schedule (at Pittsburgh, vs. Minnesota, vs. Baltimore) that could run the table and put a lot of pressure on the Patriots, who might be without tight end Rob Gronkowski for the rest of the season.
Even if the Bengals have to settle for the No. 3 seed, they can do some damage from that spot. They dismantled the Colts 42-28 in a game that was never really that close. The Colts are a shell of the team that looked so good early in the season, but it was still a nice win by the Bengals. Indianapolis didn't score until the Bengals were up 21-0. Cincinnati's offense was pretty good, with Andy Dalton throwing for 275 yards and a touchdown and the running game cranking out 155 yards. The win pretty much assures Cincinnati of at least the third seed, and if the Broncos hold onto the No. 1 seed, that would mean the Bengals avoid the clear favorite in the AFC until the conference championship game.
Even though the Bengals had to be disappointed the Browns couldn't finish the upset on Sunday, it was still a pretty productive day for them.
Bad weather games: Come on, the Lions-Eagles game was fun. It was wacky, with just one attempt of an extra point because they were impossible, and players getting a face full of snow every time they dove for a pass. One reason the Patriots' "Tuck Rule" playoff win over the Raiders is so memorable is because it was awesome to watch two teams play in a snowstorm.
So what would be so wrong with a bad weather Super Bowl?
It might happen. Here's the Farmers' Almanac update for those dates in New Jersey:
"Intense storm, heavy rain, snow, strong winds. This could seriously impact Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, which will be played for the 1st time at a cold weather site (New Jersey's MetLife Stadium)."
There were plenty of crazy snowy games around the NFL on Sunday. They were fun to watch. Not sure why a Super Bowl in that weather wouldn't be just as entertaining.
Kansas City Chiefs: The most shocking part of the Chiefs' 45-10 win against the Redskins was how Washington rolled over and seemed to be inviting owner Daniel Snyder to fire Mike Shanahan.
Lost in all that is the Chiefs' fantastic performance. Jamaal Charles made another case to be the NPMMVP (non-Peyton Manning MVP) with 159 total yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs' special teams were absolutely dominant. So was the defense, which led to Robert Griffin III getting benched in the fourth quarter for Kirk Cousins.
The Chiefs looked a little shaky during a three-game losing streak. Sunday's big win, one of the few truly dominant wins the Chiefs have had all season, should give Kansas City a lot of confidence headed down the stretch.
Steve Smith wearing the "Ice Up, Son" T-shirt during pregame warm-ups: Seriously, I need one of these shirts with Smith's new catchphrase …
Dennis Pitta: I didn't think we'd see Pitta this season after the Ravens tight end suffered a dislocated and fractured hip in training camp. That's not the kind of injury you just bounce back quickly from.
Pitta not only made it back, he made an impact in his 2013 debut. Pitta caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 left against Minnesota to give the Ravens the lead. We didn't know at the time that there would be FOUR MORE TOUCHDOWNS in an incredibly thrilling finish, but Pitta's six-catch, 48-yard game is a good sign for the Ravens, who have lacked someone like Pitta in the passing game all season.
Giants' decision to not go for two in the fourth quarter: I know that in a 37-14 loss, the decision to kick an extra point rather than go for the two-point conversion really doesn't matter. But this stuff seriously drives me nuts.
The Giants trailed San Diego 31-7 in the fourth quarter. The odds of New York coming back were slim, but the Giants very clearly needed three touchdowns and three two-point conversions. That's 24 unanswered points and a tie game. So the Giants scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter ... and kicked an extra point. They went from being down three possessions before the touchdown to being down three possessions after the touchdown. Brilliant!
I just don't get why coaching staffs that take pride on working 100 hours a week can't take 10 minutes to learn about simple things like when to go for two.
Rob Gronkowski: It absolutely, positively stinks that we're likely not going to be able to watch Gronkowski do his thing in the playoffs.
Gronkowski, one of the most dominant players in the NFL, was taken out low by Cleveland safety T.J. Ward on a deep catch. It was an ugly hit, and one the NFL is going to have try to put a stop to, like it has with head injuries.
Gronkowski went down clutching his leg, and initial reports say he has a torn ACL. That's a shame. The Patriots aren't nearly as good without him. It's tough to count the Patriots out, but their championship hopes took a huge hit when Gronkowski was carted off.
Arizona Cardinals: Sure, Arizona beat the Rams 30-10, but it's looking like that won't matter.
The Cardinals probably needed the Seahawks to hold on against San Francisco on Sunday. The 49ers won in the final minute, improving to 9-4 and keeping a hold of the sixth seed in the NFC, a game ahead of the 8-5 Cardinals. Arizona would be in the playoffs in the AFC if the season ended after this week. In the NFC, a really nice season will probably be for nothing.
Arizona still has a shot at the 49ers in the regular-season finale, but the Cardinals have to play at Seattle in Week 16. The Seahawks haven't lost at home in two seasons. San Francisco plays at Tampa Bay and at home against Atlanta before traveling to Arizona. The Cardinals need to win out or get some help to make the playoffs, and it's hard to see where that help might come from. They play in the wrong conference this season.
Defenses: When Jimmy Graham scored for the Saints on "Sunday Night Football," NBC showed the graphic that there were 88 touchdowns on Sunday, the most on one day in NFL history. Every old-school football fan that liked the 10-7 battles of the past can weep now.
Seriously though, this might have been one of the most entertaining NFL Sundays ever. There were great comebacks, fun snow games, phenomenal finishes, more touchdowns than any one day in NFL history and even Antonio Brown's almost-miracle touchdown in Pittsburgh was a thrill. All NFL Sundays are holidays, and this was like Christmas and Thanksgiving wrapped into one. What a day.
Go ahead and relive all of Sunday's touchdowns heading into the Panthers-Saints game:
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Here at Shutdown Corner, we want to help. So once a week, we'll go in and examine a team coming off a bad week, bad month, maybe a bad decade (you're in luck, Cleveland), and see what fixes can be made to turn around the season. So step aside, we've got this. Next under the microscope: the San Diego Chargers.
Where they stand: 5-7, third place in the AFC West, one game out of final wild card spot
What's gone right: This could've been a great season. Six of San Diego's seven losses are by eight points or fewer, and in many of those the Chargers have been victimized late. But this isn't college football; you don't get credit for pretty losses. This is the National Football League, son, and you don't whine. Unless you're Philip Rivers, who whines about everything. Fortunately, he's also quietly rediscovered his quarterback mojo; the Chargers rank fourth in passing yardage in the NFL. Unfortunately, this is a case where gaudy stats don't quite reach the scoreboard; the Chargers are dead-center 16th in total points scored.
What's gone wrong: The defense can best be described as kittenish, which is good if you're talking Internet photos but very, very bad if you're trying to keep NFL offenses contained. San Diego gives up 387 yards per game; only the Vikings, Eagles and Cowboys are worse. The Chargers rank 28th against the pass and 22nd against the run, with a -5 turnover differential.
What we'd fix: This late in the season, we still haven't quite figured out the Chargers. Are they a good team with bad breaks, or a bad team that's maximized its opportunities? They've got wins over Indianapolis and Kansas City, but they're in the midst of a four-losses-in-five-games skid that's all but decimated their playoff hopes. Oh, and their loss last week against Cincinnati? Yeah, that was the only one blacked out all season so far in the NFL. We'd recommend that the Chargers focus on pass D so that Rivers doesn't have to score every time he touches the ball, but we're not sure San Diego would even listen at this point.
The road ahead: The Chargers have to go on the road against Denver and close the season at home against Kansas City. Mixed in are winnable games against the Giants and the Raiders. They could go 1-3 or 3-1, and neither outcome would surprise us.
Is there hope? It's going to be tough. San Diego is one of six teams fighting for a single playoff spot, and it's got one of the toughest schedules of the bunch. An 8-8 team could win that sixth spot, but it would require all the other teams to wilt like daisies. Realistically, San Diego has to run the table and hope the Ravens and Titans get lost on the way to their final few games.
Previous Shutdown Fixes:
Washington Redskins • New York Giants • Pittsburgh Steelers • Atlanta Falcons • Houston Texans • Minnesota Vikings • Philadelphia Eagles • St. Louis Rams • Green Bay Packers • New York Jets • Detroit Lions
For the fourth time in five seasons the New York Giants will miss the playoffs. Here is some of the reaction.
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The Giants were routed by the San Diego Chargers on Sunday
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