Nick Foles to Golden Tate

NFL Monday Morning Madness: Foles delivers again + an early look at the Divisional Round

The weekend’s best game, Eagles-Bears, ended on a heartbreaking note, with Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal attempt bouncing off two crossbars, en route to falling on the floor, effectively giving Philadelphia a 16-15 win.

The kick is what most will remember, but the game was won on the previous drive.

With a raucos crowd of Bears fans filling the air in Chicago’s Soldier Field, Nick Foles did what he’s consistently done since last season. Come through in the clutch.

Dart after dart into the middle of the Bears’ vaunted defense. Precise pocket movement of that of Tom Brady. Foles added to his legend by employing all that, along with an old-school Eli Manning-like Rainman forgetfulness of his early mistakes.

But with all the talk of Brady or Eli or other great clutch quarterbacks, it’s Foles who has been the best with the game on the line since Super Bowl LII, where he took home the game’s Most Valuable Player award.

Foles deserves is own moniker. In fact he has one. Some call him St. Nick. Recently, others have given him a different moniker, Big Dick Nick. And not to sound vulgar, but it takes massive melons (or cajones, if you prefer) to attempt (and complete) the types of throws that Foles has delivered in pro football’s biggest stages.

Overcoming two interceptions, Foles went 15-for-24 with 153 yards and two touchdowns passes in the second half.

His best throws on the final drive were a down-to-the-goal line 3rd-and-9 slant to former Bear Alshon Jeffrey, and the fourth-and-goal winning score to newcomer Golden Tate in the right flats.

Tate, a midseason acquisition gone awry, hadn’t delivered until his big day on Sunday, with Foles looking his way on various crucial moments.

“We said, once we get in, now you got to deal with us,” Tate said in a video message to the NFL after the game.

The defending Super Bowl champions now visit New Orleans, home of the team that many believe will win pro football’s greatest prize this season.

The Saints wiped the floor with the Eagles at home, 48-7, in November. But that was with Carson Wentz at the helm.

With Foles, the Eagles are a rejuvenated offense and team. The defense is back to playing at a championship-level, as the pass rush has returned to its glory, and the secondary has played with confidence, despite the team losing it’s top two cornerbacks for the season due to injury.

After a 6-7 start, and another injury to their ‘star’ quarterback, the Eagles savior has come in the same form in which he arrived last season. Four straight wins, and another masterful postseason performance later, Foles and the underdog Eagles are back.

Care to bet against them?

Looking Ahead…Divisional Weekend

Colts at Chiefs (NBC, Saturday, 4:35 PM ET)

The Colts look like a dangerous team that can beat anyone after their drubbing of the Texans in Houston. But beating Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium presents a different challenge. Winners of 10 of their last 11 games after a 1-5 start, Indianapolis’ much-improved defense will look to stymie the likely NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes.

The Colts are a more complete team than the Chiefs. But Kansas City has an improving pass rush, bolstered by the return of Justin Houston, and the great season by Chris Jones. But the Chiefs still struggle to stop the run, and Marlon Mack has run wild these past few months for Indianapolis.

It should be relatively high-scoring contest between Andrew Luck and Mahomes

Gut feeling: Chiefs 31, Colts 24

Cowboys at Rams (FOX, Saturday, 8:15 PM ET)

The Rams don’t posses that much of a home-field advantage, but Los Angeles likes them more than the Chargers. The Coliseum has gotten up for a few games this season, and this will be one of them. There will undoubtedly be a bunch of Dallas fans as well, as they’ll be supporting the underdog Cowboys.

To win, Dallas will likely need to pound the rock with Ezekiel Elliott over 30 times to attack the Rams’ questionable run defense, while keeping Sean McVay’s offense off the field. Of course, the Rams haven’t looked as sharp after Thanksgiving. Jared Goff had a tumultuous end to the season, and the offense certainly isn’t the same without trusty slot receiver Cooper Kupp.

Dallas has a top-tier defense, as well as the running game to upset the Rams in LA. The Rams have a slew of defensive playmakers that should make life difficult for Dak Prescott. All it takes is a turnover forced by someone like Aaron Donald to change the game completely.

The Cowboys have the team and proposed blueprint to pul off the upset. But the Rams should play well enough to garner their first postseason victory of the McVay-Goff era.

Gut feeling: Rams 24, Cowboys 23

Chargers at Patriots (CBS, Sunday, 1:05 PM ET)

The Patriots draw the toughest matchup of any first-round bye team in this one.

New England has won 15 straight games at home dating back October 2017. And Tom Brady is 7-0 versus Phillip Rivers. But the Chargers are 8-1 on the road, and 9-0 outside California. Something has to give.

This is the best chance Rivers may ever get to beat Brady. The Chargers have the superior team. They’e the most talented club in the AFC. Their key to victory relies on a big day from Melvin Gordon, and the pass-rush duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram getting to Tom Brady early and often.

Brady will look to work with his running backs in the passing game to combat the Chargers’ pass rush. Look for James White and Rex Burkhead to have big games. Without Josh Gordon, and Rob Gronkowski showing his age, Brady will stay away from outside-the-numbers throws versus Casey Hayward and others. He will look inside and shallow to Julian Edelman. The Chargers may opt to use do-it-all defender Derwin James as a rover in the middle of the field to take help take away both Edelman and Gronkowski.

Although many will pick the Chargers, and it does indeed feel like their time, Brady always seems to best Rivers. Bill Belichick will outcoach Anthony Lynn as well, as New England moves on to its eighth straight AFC Championship Game.

Gut feeling: Patriots 26, Chargers 17

Eagles at Saints (FOX, Sunday, 4:40 PM ET)

The Eagles were mentioned heavily in the lead to this column so we’ll focus on the Saints here.

New Orleans won’t glide to a victory this time around. They’ll have to shake off the rust and rely on their Big three (Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas) to generate points early. The underdog Eagles relish close games in which they are doubted. Leaving them hanging around can be a death sentence. But the Saints are lethal at home, and should prevail here. But if anyone is up to the task of downing the Super Bowl favorites in their home stadium, it’s the Eagles. This one is a toss-up. But I have a hunch.

Gut feeling: Saints 27, Eagles 24

Kenyan Drake vs Patriots

NFL Monday Morning Madness: Miami miracle, Mahomes’ magic maps out AFC

At one point in two different games, the age-old December storyline was set to emerge yet again. A top AFC contender was ready to fall, while the Patriots take advantage to claim the top seed in the conference.

When New England led 33-28 with six seconds remaining, it sure looked that way. That was because Patrick Mahomes and AFC-leading Chiefs were down 24-17 and facing 4th-and-9 to keep their hopes alive at home versus the Ravens.

But the impossible happened in two different locations — Miami and Kansas City.

Ryan Tannehill found Kenny Stills, who lateraled to DeVante Parker, who lateraled to Kenyan Drake who outran the rest of the Patriots for 69-yard game-winning, hook-and-ladder score. Dolphins 34, Patriots 33.

Then Patrick Mahomes sprinted right and delivered a downfield dime on the run to Tyreek Hill. He later found Damien Williams on a score on 4th-and-3. The Chiefs rallied in overtime. Chiefs, 27, Ravens 24.

Week 14 of the 2018 season should be remembered as the slate of games that nearly-solidified the top of the order in the AFC.

The Chiefs (11-2) still need to beat the Chargers next Thursday to be ABSOLUTELY safe, but they basically have the conference’s top seed on lock. The late-game heroics by Mahomes, coupled with the somewhat-sour play from Drew Brees as of late gives the Chiefs quarterback the inside track for the NFL MVP award.

The Patriots (9-4) will look to put this whacky (but mostly self-induced) loss behind them when they travel to face the Steelers next week, who are reeling after a late loss to Oakland. The way they respond from this disaster will likely shape their season.

“For it to end that way, it just doesn’t seem like that’s the end result for us, the end of the story,” Josh Gordon told The Athletic’s Jeff Howe after the game. “We know we’ve got more to prove and more to offer. Going into next week, we hope we can get it done, and I think we will.”

If the Steelers (7-5-1) don’t respond with a win, they may find themselves right out of postseason contention. They are in the midst of an epic meltdown. There is no way around it.

Not to be forgotten, the Texans’ (9-4) nine-game winning streak was snapped at home by the Colts (7-6). Indianapolis is fighting with the Ravens (7-6), Titans (7-6) and Broncos (6-7) for the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

The Titans have an inside track with their ridiculously-easy schedule. Their Week 17 game versus the Colts may serve as a de-facto playoff game for the conference’s No. 6 seed.

How will it all end up? Probably with the Chiefs and Patriots snagging the top two seeds, then meeting in Arrowhead Stadium on January 20th for a shot at playing in Super Bowl LIII. But if Sunday was any indication, that’s far from a lock.

Cooper, Cowboys are soon-to-be NFC East champs

When the Cowboys traded a first-round pick at midseason for Amari Cooper, who laughed? Who made a meme, or snarky tweet regarding the deal? It’s okay if you did, because no one would have expected the importance of that move then.

But now….it’s not ridiculous to say Cooper-to-the-Cowboys is the biggest midseason acquisiton in the history of the NFL.

Skeptical of that take? Look no further than his performance in the de-facto 2018 NFC East championship game.

Cooper scored three different times in the fourth quarter and overtime, with each touchdown giving Dallas a late lead, the last one being a walk-off score off a deflection, in overtime. Cooper has been as clutch as he’s been good, and he’s been damn effective.

With a true No. 1 wide receiver to compliment Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys seem to have enough offense to compete with the big boys of the NFC come January. That’s all possible because of their defense, of course, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, rookie Leighton Vander Esch and others help to form one of the NFL’s best front sevens.

If the Cowboys can keep games to a lower score (by 2018’s standards) then they can do damage when the pressure is on in the fourth quarter by running with Elliott, and by throwing to Cooper, who has proven that he performs best when the lights are brightest. Here come the Cowboys.

Quick-hits

– I hate to put the Bears’ (9-4) 15-6 thumping of the Rams (11-2) in the quick-hits section, but this was such an eventful week. The win on NBC’s Sunday Night Football one-upped the Cowboys’ 13-10 win over the Saints a week and a half ago. This was December football. A stout defense in a proud, cold-weather city shutting down an offensive juggernaut of a team from Southern California. Sure, Mitchell Trubisky threw three more interceptions, but Tarik Cohen scooted around the field enough to give the Bears just enough offense to topple the Rams. Plus, a litany of sacks and four interceptions of Jared Goff surely helped — this was surely most important. If you’re the Saints or Rams, I’m not sure you want to see either the Bears or Cowboys come to town in the NFC Divisional Round.

– Speaking of the Saints, It was Taysom Hill’s blocked punt with New Orleans down 14-3 in Tampa Bay, that turned their Sunday around. After six quarters of flat football, Drew Brees found somewhat of a rhythm after Hill’s third-quarter play, rallying New Orleans to a 28-14 win over the Buccaneers. The win not only exacted revenge for a crazy Week 1 loss, but effectively ended Tampa Bay’s outside shot at an NFC wild card berth. More importantly, the Saints (11-2) regained the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they will have to dispatch the likes of the Steelers, and the Panthers (twice) to keep their footing. It wasn’t pretty, but New Orleans is back on top of the NFC. If they truly are a Super Bowl team, they should stay there.

– What in the world happened to the Panthers (6-7)? Sadly, even with a five-game losing streak, Carolina has a shot at the NFC’s No. 6 seed, a slot that no one wants to win. The Panthers will likely address Ron Rivera and the head coaching position this offseason, but new owner David Tepper should opt to stay with Rivera next year, which would be wise. The Panthers defense is not what it used to be. They’ll need to retool. And despite a fantastic season from Christian McCaffrey, and shades of greatness from D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, the Panthers still lack a playmaker or two on offense. Perhaps with McCaffrey handling duties close to the line of scrimmage, Carolina should opt for a true No. 1 wide receiver. Maybe Moore becomes that, but the Panthers could still use someone on the perimeter, even if it’s a stop-plug free agent. DeSean Jackson, who is likely to bid farewell to division rival Tampa Bay, comes to mind. Whatever it is, the Panthers are in for a long offseason, where they’ll assess what went wrong, all under a brand-new owner. Welcome to the NFL, Mr. Tepper.

 

Ben Roethlisberger vs Jaguars

NFL Monday Morning Madness: Steelers rally past Jags; Cowboys, Bears make NFC statements

Fighting through yet another ugly contest in Jacksonville, Ben Roethlisberger’s plunge to the end zone with 4 seconds remaining kept the Steelers’ six-game winning streak intact, and effectively ended the season of the team that ended theirs this past January.

Down 16-0 to the Jaguars in the third quarter, it seemed as if their nemesis of the past season and a half would get the best of them again. Ben Roethlisberger’s final numbers through the air (27-for-47, 314 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) were far from pretty. But Big Ben shook off two interceptions by Jalen Ramsey, and a game’s worth of smack talk, to send the loudest team in the league into what should be a quiet winter at home in January.

“They like to talk a lot before the game, during the game, but I’m carrying the game ball,” Roethlisberger said after the game.

With six straight losses, the Jaguars (3-7) should now be looking toward 2019, and replacing Blake Bortles at quarterback.

With six straight wins, the Steelers’ (7-2-1) season is just beginning. They currently hold the AFC’s No. 2 seed, but tough matchups with the Chargers (7-3), Saints (9-1) and longtime-rival Patriots (7-3) are looming.

Roethlisberger’s 31st career fourth-quarter comeback adds to a remarkable season that surely looks like another step in what may become a special ending for Pittsburgh, who beat the Bengals earlier this year in similar dramatic fashion – Antonio Brown’s game-winning 31-yard touchdown catch with 10 seconds remaining.

After being blanketed by Ramsey earlier, Brown won the matchup in the fourth quarter with four catches for 110 yards and a long score on his final six targets.

With the Le’Veon Bell situation — and the Jaguars — finally behind them, Pittsburgh can fully shift its focus toward the postseason push to January, which is a month of football in which the Steelers should have a major role in, this season.

Are Cowboys set to win NFC East?

After a Sunday that featured a beatdown of the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles (4-6) and a Washington (6-4) loss in which they were stripped of much more — quarterback Alex Smith lost for the season with a broken leg — the Cowboys (5-5) have to feel mighty fine about their chances to win the NFL’s most storied division.

Combatting with a team in the Falcons (4-6) that may be vying for a NFC wild card spot, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot came through in the fourth quarter, matching Atlanta score for score to eventually win 22-19 on a walk-off field goal by Brett Maher.

Now, the Cowboys will host the Redskins on Thanksgiving day, adding a little flavor to one of the league’s oldest rivalries. Colt McCoy will start at quarterback for Jay Gruden’s bunch, which should make Dallas the favorite to win the game, and momentarily slide into first place in the division. Although, it’s worth noting that McCoy embarrassed the Cowboys in Dallas in a Monday Night game back in 2014.

The Eagles are still looming despite their 48-7 loss in New Orleans, but things are certainly piling up for a team that looks nothing like it did just nine months ago, when they beat the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII.

So for now, it’s Jerry Jones who should be rocking a Holiday grin of that of Dr. Suess’ Grinch. The Cowboys are coming.

Monsters of the North

As Dallas looks to take the NFC East, the Bears (7-3) may already have dibs on the NFC North this season. Their 25-20 defensive showout over the Vikings (5-4-1) puts Chicago a game and a half up in the division. The Vikings host the Packers (4-5-1) next Sunday night, then travel to New England.

So essentially, this may be the win that won the north for Chicago, which is still ironing out some kinks on offense, thanks to the inconsistency of second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

But what Trubisky lacks in decision-making, he makes up for with an athleticism and the innate ability to scramble for first downs. He didn’t need to do much on Sunday, as Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ ferocious defense put a clamper on the Vikings’ star-studded offense.

The Bears are rolling, with four straight wins, and with an average schedule the rest of the way, they are in a good position for the NFC’s No. 3 seed.

Quick-hits

– It was only a matter of time before an NFL coach would burn himself to the temptation of ‘going for the win’ by attempting a two-point conversion down one point in the waning seconds. Ron Rivera is the latest victim and the Panthers (6-4) dropped a crucial game in Detroit to the Lions (4-6), 20-19.

The call can be dissected all day on Monday, but Cam Newton was off the mark, as Jarius Wright was open. To Newton’s credit, he blamed the loss on himself, after the game. Now, the Panthers host the Seahawks (5-5) in a game that may decide one of the NFC’s wild card spots.

– Give it up for Lamar Jackson, who won his first career start for the Ravens (5-5), 24-21 over the Bengals (5-5) in a big game for AFC wild card purposes.

“My teammates had my back, and I had theirs,” Jackson said after the game.

Jackson scurried on 27 rushing attempts (most by a NFL QB since 1950), which surprises no one who knows his game. As he gains more experience he should develop as a passer. Adding the ability to read defenses to his elite athleticism and playmaking skills could make for a scary player that could captivate the league much like Michael Vick did, at times.

With the lowly Raiders (2-8) up next, Baltimore may opt to keep Joe Flacco on the sideline for at least one more week, to see what else Jackson has to offer.

– It’s been mentioned a few times in lead-up to this, but this year’s best team, the Saints (9-1), just whooped last season’s best team — Eagles (4-6) in a game that spelled a ninth straight win for New Orleans. It’s certainly Super Bowl or bust for these Saints. But there’s a long way to go.

For now, watch this cool postgame interview with Drew Brees and the great Erin Andrews.