Bumbling NFL teams mailing it in
Gregg Easterbrook [ARCHIVE]
ESPN Playbook
December 19, 2012
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The United States Postal Service might be losing billions of dollars, but much of the National Football League tried to bail it out by mailing it in this week.

San Diego lost at home by 24 points to a team that arrived for the game 4-9. The Bucs, needing a win to keep postseason hopes alive, lost by 41 points. Buffalo lost a "home" game in Canada by 33 points. Kansas City, playing a Raiders team that entered 3-10, did not record a first down until 5:28 remained in the third quarter, finishing with 119 yards of offense against one of the league's worst defenses. Detroit lost by four touchdowns to a team that entered the contest having dropped nine consecutive games. Jacksonville played cross-state rival Miami and neglected to score a touchdown. Baltimore, which came into the season calling itself a Super Bowl contender, trailed 31-3 at home. The Jets turned the ball over five times, allowing the Titans to win a game in which they made only 12 first downs. Fittingly, the final play of the week's action was Mark Sanchez fumbling.

Until Sunday, only two of the 208 NFL games this season had been shutouts. On Sunday, there were three shutouts in 14 games. Discounting for Atlanta shutting out the Giants -- that was a hard-played contest in which a 12-2 team was terrific -- the NFL scene was awful performance piled on awful performance.

To say many teams mailed it in this week actually is sugarcoating. They didn't even phone it in. They barely bothered to text it in.

With Oakland leading 12-0, Kansas City reached third-and-goal. The play was a flare pass to Dexter McCluster. He fell down -- and didn't get up, just watching the play from the ground.

Eric Decker of Denver beat Cary Williams of Baltimore for a 51-yard touchdown. Once Decker broke into the clear, Williams came to a stop and watched him, not bothering to pursue. Later, Denver's Knowshon Moreno jogged across the goal line untouched as the Ravens' front seven stood watching.

Detroit trailed Arizona 24-10 but was still alive with the ball on the Cardinals' 2 in the fourth quarter. Someone ran the wrong pattern, as two receivers went to the short left corner of the end zone. The pass was intercepted by Greg Toler. Wide receiver Kris Durham, the Detroit player closest to Toler, casually jogged to about the 10-yard line and then just stopped and watched as Toler went 102 yards for a touchdown, making no attempt to chase down the play.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch was running for a touchdown with only Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy between him and pay dirt. At the goal line, Searcy stepped out of Lynch's way so he would not have to exert himself by attempting a tackle. Later, Earl Thomas intercepted a pass intended for Buffalo's Scott Chandler. Thomas fell to the turf; all Chandler had to do was touch him, and the play was over. Instead, Chandler did nothing, then didn't bother to chase Thomas as he took off for a 57-yard, game-icing touchdown.

Philip Rivers dropped back into the pocket and, without being touched by anyone, fumbled. The Chargers gained 164 offensive yards playing at home.

The Giants and Ravens are strong teams that played poorly; the Bills, Bucs, Chargers, Chiefs, Jaguars, Jets, Lions and Raiders simply quit. The Raiders accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of winning while mailing it in, failing to record a touchdown at home against one of the league's worst teams.

And it wasn't just players who quit. Many coaching staffs quit on Sunday's games, too. Norv Turner, job in jeopardy, nevertheless looked bored on the sideline as his charges were embarrassed at home. Chan Gailey has acted all season as though he was fired last season. John Harbaugh was more concerned with shifting blame than fixing his team. Jim Schwartz and his staff had the Lions utterly unprepared for a cellar-dwelling opponent.

The NFL is a year-round enterprise that, for 20 of 32 teams, builds up to only 16 games. Every quarter ought to matter. Thousands of hours of offseason preparation, then teams simply quit when the playoffs become out of reach. Even if there is no chance of the postseason, you should play hard and coach hard. Even if it looks like the guy who intercepted the pass has a clear path down the field, you should chase him -- he might stumble. Prorating the salary cap, players and coaches earned about $75 million this week for quitting on games. How about refunds to ticket buyers?

In other football news, TMQ maintains that sports stars who hold records should be honest about hoping their records stand. Thus it was refreshing to hear that Eric Dickerson does not want Adrian Peterson to break the single-season rushing record. Dickerson says he wishes Peterson well, just hopes he pulls up shy of the mark. This is being honest. It's great to hold a record. Why should any athlete root to be bested?

Stats of the Week No. 1: On the season, Adrian Peterson is averaging 6.3 yards per rush; Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is averaging 5.9 yards per pass.

Stats of the Week No. 2: Seattle has won its past two games by a combined score of 108-17.

Stats of the Week No. 3: In 2011, Chicago opened 7-3, then went 1-5. In 2012, Chicago opened 7-1 and since has gone 1-5.

Stats of the Week No. 4: A week after winning by 25 points, the Giants lost by 34 points. A week after losing by 58 points, Arizona won by 24 points.

Stats of the Week No. 5: St. Louis is 4-0-1 in its division and 2-7 against all other teams.

Stats of the Week No. 6: New Orleans allowed 386 yards of offense, yet won by 41 points.

Stats of the Week No. 7: Second-half possession results for the Eagles against Cincinnati: punt, interception, fumble, fumble, punt, punt.

Stats of the Week No. 8: On Sunday, the Bills play at Miami; Buffalo is on a 2-for-35 third-down conversion streak versus the Dolphins.

Stats of the Week No. 9: The New England offense had four giveaways against San Francisco and has nine in all other games combined.

Stats of the Week No. 10: Baltimore lost for the third consecutive week -- and made the playoffs.

Sweet Defensive Plays of the Week: The score tied with 1:34 remaining in regulation, the visiting Steelers had first-and-10 on their 46, holding three timeouts, and seemed ideally positioned to drive to a winning field goal. Dallas showed an unusual blitz alignment and got a sack. The Steelers used a timeout. Dallas ran twists on both sides of its line and got another sack. The possession ended with a punt, and the home team went on to win in overtime. Rob Ryan often calls too many crazy fronts. But calling just a few, and saving them for a big moment in the game, can be effective.

Sour Play of the Week: Denver leading 10-0 at Baltimore, the Ravens completed a pass to the Broncos' 4-yard line with 44 seconds remaining in the first half....
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