THE NFL REPORT

NFL Week 15 observations: The good, bad and ugly

Marcus Peters and the Chiefs put it on the Chargers. Chiefs.com

Week 15 saw the return of one of the NFL’s faces as Aaron Rodgers returned for the Green Bay Packers to face the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton. Another heavyweight bout was played as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots faced Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s get into this week’s action…

The Good

-The Jimmy Garoppolo era of the San Francisco 49ers has started with a third consecutive win by a score of 25-23 over the Tennessee Titans. The Titans kicked a field goal to go up 23-22 with 1:07 left in the game. All the time behind Brady as a backup, plus Kyle Shanahan calling plays, allowed Garoppolo to lead the 49ers on a game winning drive as Robbie Gould kicked go-ahead field goal as time expired.

-The Minnesota Vikings locked up the NFC North with a 34-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Case Keenum solidified himself as the Vkings quarterback with another great performance going 20 of 23, for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the best part was seeing former Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater get his first regular season game action in 714 days. The reaction of not only the crowd, but also his coaches and teammates was pretty damn awesome. It got a bit dusty and my allergies may have acted up.

-Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy eclipsed the 10,000 rushing yards mark in their 24-16 win over the Miami Dolphins. At 29, “Shady” still has some juice left in the tank as he looks every bit as elusive as he did when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the second round out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2009. While he’s not mentioned as one of the all-time greats, I’d like to see where he ends up once he hangs up his cleats. Oh, and that win keeps his Bills squad in the No. 6 seed spot in the AFC.

The Bad

-Rodgers made his return for the Packers, but it was spoiled by the Panthers defense. They got three interceptions off of the future Hall of Famer as he tried to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive. They still had a shot to tie the game after pulling within a touchdown and recovering an onside kick, but Geronimo Allison fumbled at the Panthers 28 with 1:50 left in the game. The Packers will miss the playoffs now for the first time since 2008.  

-In the Oakland Raiders/Dallas Cowboys game Sunday night, referee Gene Steratore used an index card to measure a very important fourth down on the Cowboys game-winning drive. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry which uses technology all over its organization. Why haven’t they figured out a more technologically advanced way to figure out what’s a first down? That was akin to our government used smoke signals to communicate.

-The Los Angeles Chargers played the Kansas City Chiefs for the lead in the AFC West and a clear shot at a playoff spot. The Chargers have come a long way since starting 0-4, and appeared to be hot enough to overtake the faltering Chiefs. They not only lost 30-13, but gave the Chiefs four turnovers to boot. Quarterback Phillip Rivers picked the wrong day to throw three picks. Now they’ll need tons of help and weird scenarios in order to get a wildcard spot.

The Ugly

-In a battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-24. But it’s the way they lost that landed a mention in The Ugly. Down by three, the Steelers got a 69-yard catch and run by Juju Smith-Schuster down to the 10 yard line. Jesse James appeared to have caught the game winning touchdown, but it was reversed as the refs say he didn’t maintain possession when he hit the ground crossing the goal line. After a 3 yard gain, they appeared to want to down the ball, but Roethlisberger faked it and tried to thread the needle on a slant to Eli Rogers that was tipped then intercepted by Duron Harmon. Game over.

-The Washington Redskins beat the Arizona Cardinals in a game in that featured a combined 11 punts, three turnovers, 15 penalties, and seven field goals. The Redskins won mainly because of a fumble recovery and return to the 6 yard line by Preston Smith set up the first of their two touchdowns. That, and Blaine Gabbert remembered he is a 1st round bust by going 16 of 41 for 189 yards and an interception. I’d rather have rewatched the blizzard game from last week than to watch this one.

-The Seattle Seahawks fell to the Los Angeles Rams 42-7. I looked at this game as a potential passing of the torch and expected to see a bit of a dog fight. However, the Rams beat the snot out of the Seahawks allowing a paltry 149 total yards of offense with the aid of only two turnovers. The Rams came into Seattle, smacked the Seahawks around, and took their lunch money, as well as control of the NFC West. There’s a new big dog on the porch, and they appear ready to sit there for a while now.

The catch rule, measuring for first downs, touchdown/not a touchdown, helmet to helmet collisions…the list continues to grow as far as the problems the NFL has yet to fully solve or figure out. While earlier this season, people had their panties in a bunch over anthem protests, the league has many more issues at hand they need to deal with. Some of these rules need to be clarified and made simple (the catch rule). Some, they need to apply their vast billions into better technology in order to better officiate the game (first downs and touch downs). How about bringing in former players to help re-write some of these rules? This would help ease tensions between the players and a commissioner that have a rocky relationship. Plus, it just makes damn good sense. But why would the NFL do anything that makes that much sense?

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Houston's offense once again obliterated Baltimore in Wednesday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Owners of a nine-game winning streak, the Astros tried to keep the train rolling to make it double digits and complete the three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. Not only would they get the win, but they also did it by dominating on both sides of the ball again in a one-sided shutout.

Final Score: Astros 13, Orioles 0

Astros' Record: 46-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (6-3)

Losing Pitcher: Thomas Eshelman (0-1)

Houston keeps mashing

Unlike Tuesday's game which ended 3-1 in a much closer affair, the finale on Wednesday was once again a lopsided affair like Monda's opener, favoring the Astros. Houston once again put up double-digit runs in an offensive explosion. It started right off the bat, with three runs scoring in the top of the first on a two-RBI double by Carlos Correa and an RBI single by Kyle Tucker to grab a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel extended it to 4-0 with a two-out RBI single in the second, then Jose Altuve made it a six-run game with a two-run blast in the top of the fourth. Michael Brantley joined in with an RBI single in the top of the sixth, then Yordan Alvarez led off a four-run seventh with a solo bomb before a three-run homer by Abraham Toro made it 11-0.

Urquidy cruises through seven scoreless

Jose Urquidy was cruising all the while, allowing just three baserunners over that span, a double to start his night, which he erased, then a one-out walk in the second and leadoff single in the sixth. He returned at the bottom of the seventh with a manageable pitch count, where he'd erase a one-out single to keep Baltimore scoreless. With the insurmountable lead, he'd be given the rest of the night off. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 84 P.

Astros complete the sweep and grab tenth straight win

Chas McCormick, who came off the bench defensively in the bottom of the seventh, made it a twelve-run lead with a one-out solo homer in the top of the eighth, then later Abraham Toro notched his fourth RBI with a run-scoring single to make it 13-0. Brandon Bielak took over for Urquidy in the bottom of the eighth, and after loading the bases with no outs, was able to escape with a strikeout and double play.

Ralph Garza Jr. was Houston's third pitcher, wrapping things up at the bottom of the ninth. He erased a one-out walk and a single with a double play to end the game, giving Houston the three-game sweep and extending their winning streak to ten games as they continue to look like baseball's best team.

Up Next: The next stop on this road trip for Houston is Detroit, where they will kick off a four-game set with the Tigers on Thursday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup for the opener will be Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA) for Houston and Jose Urena (2-7, 5.79 ERA) for Detroit.

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