It would be wrong to start this week without mentioning Sean Taylor. My last paragraph last week mentioned his tragic death. He was shot by an intruder at his home and died the following day. He was 24 and had a very promising career ahead of him – indeed, there are many who are now saying that he could have been one of the great defensive players of all time. This is perhaps stretching a point for a player who had only played a couple of seasons, but what we can say is that Taylor was a wholehearted competitor who asked and gave no quarter. He had been absent injured from the Redskins’ matches in the fortnight before his death and it showed, as they gave up easy plays into the area of the pitch he would normally have covered. They will miss him on the pitch, but by all accounts they will miss him more off it.
Sunday was always going to be an emotional day for the Washington side. A minute’s silence before the game was impeccably observed. The Washington team wore stickers on their lapels bearing Taylor’s number, 21, and throughout the NFL players wore the same sticker on their helmets. In tribute, the Washington defense played their first play of their game against Buffalo with only 10 men and Taylor’s strong safety position empty.
No-one minded the 22 yards which the Redskins gave up to Fred Taylor on that play. What they did mind was what happened 59 minutes and 56 seconds later. With what was going to be the last kick of the game, Bills kicker Rian Lindell lined up a 31 yard field goal attempt. Buffalo were 16-14 down. Success would give the Bills a much needed win, by a solitary point. To increase the pressure on Lindell, Redskins’ head coach Joe Gibbs called a timeout. All part of the game and all perfectly legal. Thirty seconds later everyone went back onto the pitch, Lindell set up to take the kick again – and Gibbs called another timeout. Naughty. Not allowed. That is called ‘Icing’ and is most definitely banned. The resulting 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct moved the kick to the 36 yard line and proved to be a piece of cake for a kicker of Lindell’s quality.
Did the emotion of the day get to Gibbs? Who can tell. The end result is that the Redskins are almost certainly out of the playoffs.
The sad news about Taylor rather overshadowed the much vaunted faceoff between the Packers and the Cowboys. For some strange reason, the Packers decided to change their strategy and go for a long passing game, instead of the short passes which have served them so well this season. The result was an easier than expected win for the Cowboys and their 37-27 victory means that they will almost certainly play at home throughout the January playoffs. Worse news for the Packers were the elbow and shoulder injuries sustained by Brett Favre, which could force him to miss his first match since he became a first-choice quarterback over 15 years ago.
- The Bears blew a 16-7 lead in the final quarter, going down 21-16 at home to the Giants. The battle of the NFL’s two most underwhelming quarterbacks was won by, well, no-one really. Eli had a stinker until those two touchdowns in the last 15 and Rex didn’t actually do much wrong. The loss puts the Bears out of the playoffs and the win means the Giants are still in with a shout.
- The Patriots are unbeaten, but boy did they get a scare in Baltimore, just nudging past the Ravens by 27-24. You start to get the feeling that teams are finding the Pats out now. Their main threat on Monday wasn’t Moss, Stallworth or even Wes Welker, but running back Lawrence Maroney. A better team than the Ravens – who are now 4-8 for the season – might have shaded this one. Are the Pats perhaps running out of steam at the wrong moment?
- The Dolphins, on the other hand, would die for some sort of momentum. Going down 40-13 at home isn’t funny. Especially not when it is to the Jets, who have barely been able to string two passes together all season. To make matters worse for the ‘Fins, linebacker Zach Thomas, one of their few decent players, is likely to miss the rest of the season with the migraines he has suffered from since a car accident back in October.
- There are still only two confirmed play-off teams, but the Colts and the Steelers both only need one more win to get there after victories on Saturday. Peyton Manning’s sublime little shovel pass to running back Luke Lawton for what proved to be Indy’s winning score even had Jaguars’ coach Jack Del Rio nodding in appreciation.
- As predicted, JaMarcus Russell made his debut for the Raiders, coming off the bench and showing what a class act he is by throwing two booming downfield passes in a 34-20 win over the Broncos masterminded by the other Oakland QB, Josh McCown. The Broncos’ season, which started so promisingly, appears to be dead in the water.
- As not predicted, the Minnesota revival continues. Tavaris Jackson at last looked like a professional footballer and not a kid who had wandered in off the streets as the Vikings beat up the Lions 42-10.
- The Chargers beat the Chiefs 24-10 and now look like they will win their division. This is in no small measure due to them suddenly realising that they have on of the best running backs ever in their side and giving him the ball more than once in a blue moon. Two touchdowns on Sunday moved LaDanian Tomlinson to third on the all time list with 111 and he still has plenty of time to beat the all time record of Emmitt Smith of 165.