The NFL Awards Part Two

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As the end of the NFL season has come and gone, it is now the time to look back at what happened over the course of the season, both good and bad.  It was a season of ups and downs, comebacks and collapses … and that was just the Dallas Cowboys!  All 32 teams had a major impact on your fantasy football season, whether with a surprise player that stepped up into a major role or with a player that suffered a disappointing season due to injury.  This article will take a look at some of the major storylines in the style of “an award show” (if you have any others that I missed, please comment below).

I studied the taped, watched most of the games, and made the hard the decisions.  So, without further ado, here is Part Two of your 2013 NFL Awards according to this Western New Yorker (Regular Season only).  Cue the music one more time!

Weirdest Ending to a Game:

Miami 22 Cincinnati 20 (OT) – In a game that included the amazing Giovani Bernard 35-yard touchdown run for the Bengals (please YouTube the play if you haven’t seen it), it was only fitting that this game between two evenly matched opponents goes to overtime after a Caleb Sturgis 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds on the clock.  After trading punts in overtime, the Bengals were pinned deep in their own end.  On third-and-10 from his own 8, Andy Dalton dropped back into the end zone and was subsequently sacked by Cameron Wake for the game-winning safety.  According to STATS, Minnesota’s Mike Merriweather had the first NFL overtime safety in 1989 against the Los Angeles Rams, and Chicago’s Adewale Ogunleye had the second against Tennessee in 2004.  This rare event gives this game the award for “Weirdest Ending to a Game.”

Honorable Mention: New York Jets 18 TampaBay 17 (Week 1); New England 34 Denver 31 (OT) (Week 12); Minnesota 26 Green Bay 26 (OT) (Week 12); Baltimore 22 Pittsburgh 20 (Week 13); New England 27 Cleveland 26 (Week 14); Atlanta 27 Washington 26 (Week 15); San Diego 27 Kansas City 24 (OT) (Week 17).

And now to the ending category of our award show, it is the Game of the Year.  Just like the “Best Picture” category at The Oscars, there are plenty of deserving choices and a myriad of nominees.  Here are the 15 nominees for Game of the Year:

“The Manuel Era Begins” Buffalo 24 Carolina 23 (Week 2) – The EJ Manuel era officially started out with a bang in their home rally against what would become the second seed in the NFC.  The first-round draft pick out of Florida State threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with two seconds left on the clock to stun the Panthers, who thought they clinched the victory with a Graham Gano 39-yard field goal with 1:38 left on the clock.  A Luke Kuechly pass interference penalty on Stevie Johnson with 14 seconds left helped them get the victory and Western New York rejoiced.

“No Quarterback, No Running Back, No Problems” Cleveland 31 Minnesota 27 (Week 3) – The start of the season for the Browns was simply dreadful as they put up 16 points across their first two games.  Coming into week three, they dealt their 2012 first-round draft pick Trent Richardson to Indianapolis and gave their third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer the start over the injured Brandon Weeden.  The Browns looked like they were packing up and looking toward next season.  Then, they found themselves behind 7-0 after a long Vikings touchdown drive.  But, Brian Hoyer woke his offense up by throwing for three touchdowns.  Jordan Cameron introduced himself to the football world with three touchdown catches (including one on a fake field goal).  The Browns were up 24-14 in the second quarter and then the Vikings took over the momentum.  The defense held the Browns without scoring for seven straight possessions.  Blair Walsh converted his second field goal of the game with 10:47 remaining to get the three point lead.  Then, the defense of the Vikings, which was on such a roll, faltered on the final drive of the game.  Hoyer led the Browns down the field and connected with Cameron on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left for the victory and proved that they did not need Richardson or Weeden to win a game.

“Turnovers Anyone?” Cincinnati 34 Green Bay 30 (Week 3) - While I like turnovers (especially the apple kind), the Packers could have gone without their turnovers in the shocking ending in Cincinnati.  Each team gave the ball away four times across the course of the game … and each team returned a fumble for a touchdown; but, it was the last turnover, the one by the Packers, that decided the outcome of the game.  The Bengals raced out to a 14 point cushion; but, the Packers chipped away at the lead and, by halftime, they had the lead 16-14 thanks to three field goals and a fumble return for a touchdown.  The lead of the Packers reached 30-14 about halfway through the third quarter and then the Bengals rallied behind Andy Dalton.  He threw for two scores to cut the lead to 30-27 with 10:55 left.  Green Bay looked to run clock and at least get a field goal to make it a six point game when the craziness ensued.  With less than four minutes left, Green Bay went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 30-yard line.  Johnathan Franklin was stripped of the ball at the line of scrimmage and Reggie Nelson picked up the ball and then fumbled.  But, Terence Newman was on the scene and scooped it up and took it the rest of the way for the game winning score.

“The Same Old Tony Romo” Denver 51 Dallas 48 (Week 5) – Coming into their matchup, the Cowboys seemed like they did not have a real chance at keeping up with Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense.  They did not have the offensive efficiency in prior weeks and their defense was lacking.  But, the Cowboys came out firing and racked up two touchdowns in no time.  The lead that the Cowboys built up lasted only a short time as Broncos took the lead in the middle of the second quarter and held a 28-20 lead at halftime.  Down 35-20 in the third quarter, Tony Romo stepped up and brought the Cowboys back.  He was firing on all cylinders and took the lead at the start of the fourth quarter on a strike to Jason Witten and then again hitting Cole Beasley.  With 2:39 left on the clock, the Broncos tied the game at 48 with a Knowshon Moreno 1-yard run.  This set up the stage for Tony Romo (who threw for 506 yards and five scores) to shut up all the people that believed he could not win the big games and choked in the big moments.  Well … Romo pulled another Romo.  The defense that was torched throughout the day by Romo made their stand with a diving interception of Romo by Danny Trevathan on an ill-advised throw to the tight end Gavin Escobar.  This set up the Broncos deep in Dallas territory.  The game ended with a Matt Prater chip shot field goal as time expired and the Cowboys fell short once again in a big moment.

“Tom Terrific With Another Magical Comeback” New England 30 New Orleans 27 (Week 6) – It was not the most vintage Tom Brady performance against the Saints, but it was one that included a clutch fourth quarter comeback.  Brady struggled immensely throughout the game with his accuracy on his throws to the new core of young receivers around him.  With 3:29 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Kenny Stills snatched a 34-yard pass from Drew Brees to take the 24-23 lead.  On the succeeding Patriots drive, the offense could not get in rhythm and faced a fourth-and-6 at their own 24 yard line.  The “Hoodie” went for it and the Tom Brady pass was incomplete to Aaron Dobson.  The Saints get the ball near the red zone, but could do nothing with it.  They ended up going three and out with the drive ending with a Garrett Hartley field goal and a four point advantage.  The Patriots get the ball with 2:24 on the clock and one timeout.  It is Tom Brady comeback time, right?  Not on this drive as his first pass is picked off by Keenan Lewis and most of the crowd heads for the exits.  The Saints seem to have this in the bag, but, instead of getting the much needed first down to clinch the game, they go three and out.  Tom Brady has the ball back again with 1:13 on the clock and needing a touchdown 70 yards away.  Well, Tom Brady pulls a Tom Brady with a clutch drive out of nowhere.  He hits Julian Edelman for 23 yards and then Austin Collie for 15 yards.  With second-and-10 on the New Orleans 17 yard line, Brady floated up a pass to the corner of the end zone against the prevent defense.  He just floated it high enough to clear Jabari Greer and fall into the arms of Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds left.  Another Tom Terrific comeback and a gut-wrenching loss for the Saints.

“Who Says Defense Wins Games?” Washington 45 Chicago 41 (Week 7) - When the Bears’ weak defense met the Redskins’ weak defense, we all knew it was going to be a shootout.  What we did not expect was Josh McCown heading up the Bears’ efforts.  There were five ties and eight lead changes throughout the course of this classic offensive show.  Matt Forte led the Bears’ scoring efforts with three touchdowns and Devin Hester contributed an 81-yard punt return.  McCown hit Martellus Bennett on a 7-yard strike for the three point lead with just under four minutes left.  But, that was too much time left on the clock in this type of game.  Robert Griffin III led the Redskins down the field and Roy Helu punched the ball in from three yards out for the game-winning score (and a costly loss in the Bears’ playoff hunt).

“MEGATRON!!” Detroit 31 Dallas 30 (Week 8) - This one is not Tony Romo’s fault as he did enough in my mind to clinch the victory in the Motor City.  His defense on the other hand could not stop a nose bleed.  It was pretty quiet through three quarters with a Dallas 13-7 lead.  Then, the real Dallas defense showed up and so did Megatron.  With 6:45 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant on a 50-yard touchdown pass for a 27-17 lead.  Everyone on the Cowboys’ sideline was happy (except Dez for some reason) and it looked like a good road win was coming up.  The Lions had other ideas.  Reggie Bush punched it in from one yard out to cut the lead to three with 3:33 on the clock.  The Cowboys answered with a score of their own, a Dan Bailey field goal, to give them a six point lead with 1:02 left in the game.  With the ball on their own 20 and no timeouts left, step to the stage Calvin “Megatron” JohnsonMatthew Stafford hit Johnson for 17 yards and then spiked the ball.  Next was a strike to Stafford’s old college teammate at Georgia, Kris Durham, for 40 yards.  The Lions were in business and decided to ride their momentum by not spiking the ball.  Stafford went to the line and hit Johnson again for 22 yards to get to the one yard line.  With the time ticking down under 20 seconds, everyone in the stadium was thinking spike the ball … everyone except Stafford who motioned the spike play and then surprised everyone by lunging the ball over the goal line with 12 seconds on the clock when he saw the defense was relaxed as they were expecting the spike.  The Lions kicked the extra point and escaped with the one point victory.  Megatron ended up with 329 yards on 14 receptions and one score.

“It’s Never Over Until It’s Really Over” New England 34 Denver 31 (OT) (Week 12) – It looked like a Broncos blowout.  Peyton Manning was rolling on offense and the Broncos’ defense was creating turnovers all over the place.  The Patriots lost fumbles on their first three possessions and this led to the Broncos’ 24-0 halftime lead.  New England did not get the memo that the game should have been over.  Tom Brady and the Patriots slowly chipped away at the large deficit.  Touchdowns recorded by Julian Edelman, Brandon Bolden, and Rob Gronkowski cut the lead to 24-21 Denver at the end of the third quarter.  With 13:13 left in the fourth quarter, Brady hit Edelman on a 14-yard touchdown pass to complete the epic comeback and take a 28-24 lead.  But, the game still had some twists and turns.  Now down 31-24 and with no momentum on his side, Manning led the Broncos down the field and found Demaryius Thomas on an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game.  In overtime, there were long drives by both teams, but no scoring chances.  Late in the overtime period, the Patriots punted to former teammate Wes Welker.  Welker did not like the punt and wanted to let the ball roll out.  He tried to call his team away by screaming out and waving his hands, but Tony Carter did not get the message.  The ball hit Carter and was the recovered by Nate Ebner of the Patriots.  Stephen Gostkowski knocked through the short field goal and the Patriots, who were left for dead after the first half, escaped with the win.

“Not the Same Old Chargers” San Diego 41 Kansas City 38 (Week 12) – The Chargers are known for not living up to expectations in big games under Philip Rivers.  And the week 12 matchup in Kansas City was a big game for the Chargers if they had any hopes of making the playoffs.  This game turned out to be a high-scoring, topsy-turvy affair with many lead changes throughout.  Ladarius Green gave the Chargers the lead around halfway through the fourth quarter (and alerted us to his future fantasy potential) on a 60-yard touchdown.  When Alex Smith hit Dwayne Bowe on a 5-yard strike to take the lead with 1:22 left on the clock, mostly everyone was thinking it was the same old Chargers once again.  Well, the Chargers showed that this story had a different ending.  Rivers led the Chargers down the field and found Fresno State’s own Seyi Ajirotutu on his only catch of the day, a 26-yard reception for the win with 24 seconds on the clock.

“Bad Records Don’t Mean Bad Football” Jacksonville 32 Cleveland 28 (Week 13) – If I said the Jaguars – Browns game would be one of best I’ve seen this season before the season even started, you would have said I was crazy.  You still might, but I thought this game had the excitement of two teams that were fighting for pride and playing solid football.  The Jaguars seized control of the momentum heading into halftime with 13 straight points to take a six point edge.  As the game entered the fourth quarter, the wackiness ensued.  With the Browns up 21-20, the Jaguars took the lead when Browns center Alex Mack snapped the ball over Brandon Weeden’s head into the end zone and Weeden kicked it out of bounds.  That was followed up with a Josh Scobee field goal for a four point advantage with just over four minutes to go.  With the Browns seemingly inept on offense again, step in Josh Gordon and his 95-yard touchdown to take the lead (he had 261 yards on the day).  As the game was in the balance, Chad Henne marched the Jaguars down the field and, on third-and-9, lofted the ball over star cornerback Joe Haden and into the arms of the hometown hero Cecil Shorts III for the game-winning score.  After a couple of patented Brandon Weeden underhand and off-balanced throws, the Jaguars came away with the win.

“The Fastest Two Minutes (And Five Seconds) In Sports” Baltimore 29 Minnesota 26 (Week 14) – While the Kentucky Derby is called the “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports,” the end of this game was the “The Fastest Two Minutes (And Five Seconds) In Sports.”  On an extremely snowy afternoon, it seemed like this game would be a boring snoozefest.  Then, in what was a 12-7 game deep in the fourth quarter, an explosion of offense came out of nowhere and five touchdowns were scored over the final 125 seconds.  To start off this wacky ending, the Ravens’ Dennis Pitta caught a 1-yard, fourth-down pass from Joe Flacco for a 15-12 lead with 2:05 left on the clock.  Not to be outdone, Toby Gerhart ran 41 yards to put Minnesota up 19-15 with 1:27 to go.  On the ensuing kickoff, Jacoby Jones took it to the house to give Baltimore a 22-19 edge with 1:16 left.  After that, you would think Baltimore put the nail in the coffin of the Vikings.  Well, not so fast my friend.  Matt Cassel threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson with 45 seconds to play and that would be the game winner unless … the Ravens somehow came back one more time.  And that is what they did and it was with a Marlon Brown nine-yard catch with four seconds on the clock to seal the win.  Who knew playing in the snow could be so fun?

“Fitz Magic Runs Out In the Music City” Arizona 37 Tennessee 34 (OT) (Week 15) – The Arizona Cardinals needed to win in order to keep their Wild Card hopes alive.  With 6:13 left in the fourth quarter, an Antoine Cason 20-yard interception return gave the Cardinals a 34-17 lead over the deflated Titans.  You would think the game was over with a three score lead and one of the best defenses in the league protecting it … and you would be wrong.  Step in Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the Titans on another Fitz Magic ride.  With 3:12, he hit Michael Preston on a 10-yard touchdown.  The Titans defense then forced a three-and-out and a punt.  Fitzpatrick led the Titans from their own seven yard line to get a Rob Bironas 24-yard field goal with 47 seconds left to make it a touchdown game.  Here comes the onside kick and it … WORKED!  The Titans recover the ball after Larry Fitzgerald could not corral the ball.  After two deep completions to Kendall Wright, the Titans were suddenly on the eight.  It ended when Fitzpatrick hit Preston on 8-yard strike for the tie.  The Titans won the toss and drove to the Cardinals’ 43 yard line.  Then the Fitz Magic ran out, as he threw another pick to Antoine Cason.  The Cardinals escaped with the Jay Feely 41-yard field goal and their Wild Card hopes intact.

“It’s Justin Tucker’s World … And We’re Just Living In It” Baltimore 18 Detroit 16 (Week 15) - For many fantasy owners, Justin Tucker’s name will be seen as the reason they made their championship game or came up short in the semifinals.  Justin Tucker scored all 18 points in the Ravens win in Detroit and then promptly gave a shoutout to his fantasy owners (including mentioning his own fantasy football team) in the postgame interview.  This was not the prettiest game of the season, but it is one that was full of intrigue.  Matthew Stafford struggled throughout the night after his great opening drive that resulted in a touchdown.  But, he somehow overcame all the mistakes and drops of his receivers to hit Joseph Fauria on a 14-yard pass to take the lead with 2:21 left.  It seemed that the Lions’ playoff hopes were still alive and well in the Motor City.  Well, enter Justin Tucker.  An injured Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the Detroit 43 yard line.  On fourth-and-8, the Ravens sent out Tucker to attempt the longest kick of his career by five yards, a 61-yard attempt.  Tucker delivered with the clutch kick to prove his coach right in his decision to trust him.  With the kick, he became the fourth kicker in NFL history to hit a go-ahead field goal of 60 or more yards in the final minute of the fourth quarter and he kept the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive.

“The Same Old Tony Romo, Part Two” Green Bay 37 Dallas 36 (Week 15) – Yes, Tony Romo did it again by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  While the Cowboys’ defense is to blame in this collapse as well, it was the Romo mistakes down the stretch that ended up costing the Cowboys the much needed win.  The Cowboys raced out to a 26-3 lead by halftime and announcer Joe Buck even admitted that he was thinking of filler material for the second half.  Aaron Rodgers was two weeks away from his return to the lineup so the Packers had to rely on Matt Flynn (the one that could not keep a job in Oakland and Buffalo) to lead them back to victory.  And that is exactly what Flynn did.  He threw two touchdowns in the third quarter (one to Jordy Nelson and the other to Andrew Quarless) and the lead was cut to 29-17.  When he hit James Starks on a 11-yard touchdown in the early part of the fourth quarter, a “please not again” feeling had to be filling the Cowboys players and fans.  Romo did find Dez Bryant on a touchdown to bring the lead back out to 36-24, but that was the last score for the Cowboys on the day.  Flynn cut the lead to 36-31 by finding James Jones in the end zone with 4:17 left.  The Cowboys had the ball and a chance to run out the clock.  Dez Bryant made a lunging first down after a catch just before the 2-minute warning and looked that it would be the play to hold off a huge Green Bay rally.  But, not with Tony Romo at the helm of the offense.  On what was supposed to be a run play, he audibled to a pass and ended up throwing behind Miles Austin after escaping a sack and Sam Shields intercepted the ball at midfield.  The defense could not hold the Packers out of the end zone (no surprise) as Eddie Lacy punched it in from a yard out to take the 37-36 lead.  Dallas had one last chance, but Romo threw another interception to seal the Packers win.  Dez Bryant stormed off the field before the game was over in disgust.  Flynn remarked after the game: “As we were taking a knee, we were thinking ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’”  Yes, Matt it was real … you were playing the Cowboys.

“Welcome Back Rodgers” Green Bay 33 Chicago 28 (Week 17) -  Better than the welcome Mr. Kotter got back in the day, Green Bay welcomed back Aaron Rodgers to the starting lineup and he rewarded them with one of the most memorable games in the rivalry between the Bears and Packers.  On the line was the NFC North title and the playoff birth that goes along with it and Rodgers started out a bit shaky from all the time away.  He turned the ball over twice on the day and the Bears took advantage of these mistakes.  With the Bears up 7-3 in the second quarter, one of the weirdest plays of the season occurred.  Julius Peppers had a sack and strip against Rodgers.  As the ball rolled on the turf, mostly everyone thought it was an incomplete forward pass.  With no whistle blown, Jarrett Boykin picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for the 10-7 lead.  From that point, it was a back-and-forth game with multiple lead changes throughout the rest of the contest.  Matt Forte totaled three touchdowns on the day and Brandon Marshall caught one, the one that gave the Bears a 28-20 lead seconds into the fourth quarter.  With 11:38 left in the game, Eddie Lacy punched it in from six yards out.  Instead of going for two and the tie, the Packers kicked the extra point to cut the lead to 28-27.  As the game moved forward, it seemed that this could cost the Packers a playoff birth.  Rodgers and the Packers took the ball with 6:24 on the clock and the drama happened from there.  First, John Kuhn converted a fourth-and-1 on his own 22 and then Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on a short strike to convert another fourth-and-1 at near midfield.  With under a minute on the clock, Rodgers faced a fourth-and-8 on the Chicago 48.  It was an all-out blitz from the Bears and Rodgers escaped the pocket after a clutch block from Kuhn on a free-rushing Peppers.  Rodgers looked around and found a completely wide-open Randall Cobb, in his first game back from injury as well, for the 48-yard touchdown.  Jay Cutler’s heave to the end zone as time expired was intercepted and the Packers steal the NFC North title from Chicago.

And the winner is (drum roll)… “Welcome Back Rodgers” Green Bay 33 Chicago 28 (Week 17).  To me, this was just the best overall game from start to finish. Aaron Rodgers’ performance was spot on after being away from the team for so long.  The pass to Cobb for the winning score, which included a clutch block from John Kuhn and a spot-on toss by Rodgers, was one of the most memorable plays of the season with their season on the line.  While there were some unbelievable endings to choose from in the other games, this was a hard-nosed, slugfest from the first whistle to the last and this made it my game of the year.

Here’s how the rest of the top five goes in my mind:

  1. “The Same Old Tony Romo” Denver 51 Dallas 48 (Week 5)
  2. “MEGATRON!!” Detroit 31 Dallas 30 (Week 8)
  3. “The Fastest Two Minutes (And Five Seconds) In Sports” Baltimore 29 Minnesota 26 (Week 14)
  4. “Fitz Magic Runs Out In the Music City” Arizona 37 Tennessee 34 (OT) (Week 15)

Well, I hope you enjoyed my look at the 2013-2014 NFL season.  It was quite a year and one full of major storylines throughout.  Thanks for all the support here on the site and we will all be back for the NFL Draft kit soon.  For any questions in the meantime regarding fantasy football or the NFL as a whole, you can find the site on Twitter (@FFLockerRoom) and yours truly on Twitter (@DJ_Gilman).

And now football withdrawal begins.