by Robert Ferringo - 11/29/2005
Depending on who you're speaking with, kickers in the National Football League are either the most overrated or underrated players in pads. No matter which side of the ledger you fall in that debate, it's a certainty that in the Gambler's World these podiatric pederasts can be the difference between a missed mortgage payment and mimosas in Monte Carlo.
Week 12 in the NFL featured several situations where the blood, sweat and tears of 320-pound lineman and 260-pound linesmakers rested on the twinkle toes of a scrawny place kicker. The most amplified occurrence of this phenomenon took place in Seattle, where Jay Feely botched a trifecta of triples that could have sealed a crucial victory for the New York Giants. Feely, who had converted 23 of his first 25 attempts this season, missed potential game-winning kicks in the final 30 seconds of regulation, and twice in overtime. His ineptitude cost the Giants a much-needed road win and the outright NFC East lead, muddling their playoff prospects in the process.
Feely didn't possess the only leg that leveled a team's shot at a victory. Tampa Bay had mounted a comeback against visiting Chicago, and needed only a chip shot 29-yarder by Matt Bryant to knot the game at 13-13 with less than three minutes to play. Instead, Bryant pushed the attempt wide right and left John Gruden (and anyone that took the Bucs at -3) to ponder what might have been.
Furthermore, even Neil Rackers, who had been perfect in 2005, had a moment of weakness. Rackers, Arizona's most potent offensive weapon, failed on his first attempt in Jacksonville. The miss brought his consecutive field goal streak to an end at 31, and cost any bettor that took a chance on the Cardinals +4.5 or higher (the final score was 24-17).
But it wasn't just the obvious missed kicks that played a critical role in this weekend's action. In Monday Night's Indianapolis-Pittsburgh game, the very reliable Jeff Reed missed a kick with 10:02 left in the second quarter that would have tied the score at 10-10. Instead, Pittsburgh lost the momentum and was never that close again. Indy held a 16-7 stake at halftime, prompting Bill Cowher to call an ill-fated onsides kick to start the second half. This is speculative, but I think if the Steelers were still within one score (13-10 or 16-10) he doesn't make that call.
But hey, so it goes. For good or ill, the little guys will always have a big impact.
Here are my other random thoughts on Week 12:
-- At the start of the season a lot of teams (Jets, Bears, Dolphins) were calling Jacksonville about David Garrard. You saw this weekend why the Jaguars weren't even listening to offers. Garrard not only has talent and knowledge of the Jags system, but he's a competitor and someone that the players have confidence in.
-- The best part about Jay Feely's missed field goals wasn't the reactions of the players and coaches on the Giants bench. It was the reaction of the handful of Giants fans that I saw agonizing over each successive failure in a bar at Dulles International Airport.
-- San Diego is 3-1 on the East Coast so far this year. Overall, Left Coast clubs are 4-8 in the Eastern Time Zone (including both of Seattle's losses). Eastern teams are just 2-7 when traveling to the West Coast.
-- Home teams are just 28-31 SU over the last four weeks.
-- Whose front four is currently more devastating - Chicago's or Indianapolis'?
-- I'm raising my first son to be an NFL combo kicker. He's going to be unshakeable on last second field goals, and durable enough to take down Jeff Feagles' weak record. That, and I'll get great seats for NFL games whenever I want. It's a win-win.
-- The moment of the weekend might have taken place in Philadelphia when a fan ran onto the field at the Link to sprinkle his mother's ashes. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.
-- Firing Mariucci with five games left in the season is a bold move, but the correct one. People are clamoring for a reason as to why fire him now, but I say why not? I mean, did you watch the Lions on Thanksgiving Day? Talk about mailing it in. Matt Millen is a dead man walking as well. No way he survives the offseason purge in Motown.
One more thing - how can Mariucci get canned, but Dom Capers is still coaching Houston?
-- I've been pretty high on Pittsburgh all season, but they're facing a virtual must-win situation against the Bengals this weekend. The Steelers are in trouble.
-- Ryan Fitzpatrick, welcome to The Big Time. The kid threw for 310 yards while leading an absurd comeback in Houston. The best part about that is that when I got on my plane from Syracuse to D.C. the Rams were losing 27-17 with about a minute to play. When I got off the plane, I found out that they came back and won, helping me cash in on a ridiculous three-team parlay (San Diego, St. Louis, and Tennessee). Gotta love the NFL.
-- I left him out of the intro, but we all saw you come up short Mike Nugent. That game might not have meant much in the standings, but second-round draft picks (especially if they're kickers) need to come through in those situations.
-- Andre Johnson and Jamal Lewis, welcome to the 2005 season. You're only 11 weeks late.
-- Peter King of Sports Illustrated still doesn't have Chicago in his Top 15. Yet, he still has 6-5 New England. I'm sorry, but the Bears would walk through the Pats defense and would maim Tom Brady. It wouldn't even be a game.
-- The Bengals are starting to remind me of that 2003 Kansas City team that went 13-3. That's not really a good thing. The Bengals can score on/with anybody, but they can't stop anyone. That front seven is just too soft. They've given up 74 points in their last eight quarters. That spells one and done in January.
-- The Titans-49ers and Rams-Texans games kicked off one of the more entertaining parts of the NFL schedule. The guiding principle here: when bad teams meet in the last few weeks of the season a ton of points are usually going to be scored. Defense takes much more effort and emotion than offense. When teams don't have anything go play for, that effort and emotion goes right out the window.
-- Joe Gibbs is 11-16 since his un-retirement. Thanks for playing.
-- These stats are courtesy of Len Pasquarelli of espn.com: In their first seven games Minnesota was giving up 27.6 points, 361.6 yards, 3.3 touchdowns, and less than a takeaway. In he last four games, they're yielding only 16 points, 298 yards, 1.8 touchdowns and stealing 3.3 takeaways.
-- After listening to some of the nonsense that has come out of the mouth of Michael Irvin over the past couple of years, was there any doubt that he was hitting the pipe? Wait, wait - it wasn't his. My bad.
-- Aaron Brooks (17-for-23, three touchdowns) had his one tantalizing game for the year. They guy is a turnover waiting to happen and is obviously not a good leader. But he has one game like this a season and gives scouts, fans, and coaches the thought that maybe, just maybe, he could be a great quarterback. I know I'm never betting on him.
-- Tampa Bay is now 1-6 ATS coming off back-to-back wins.
-- Three NFC East teams lost in overtime in Week 12. That's the first time in NFL history that three teams from the same division had that happen to them.
-- Minnesota is on a four-game winning streak, and all of a sudden Mike Tice is a good coach again. Right. Since I'm a Bears fan, I hope the Vikings finish around 8-8 or 9-7. That way he might be able to milk a contract extension out of the new ownership.
-- John Abraham, way to step up, have some pride and lead your defense. The multi-million dollar defender notched exactly one tackle in the Sunday night game. One.
-- Jake Delhomme bounced back from a poor performance in Chicago to lead Carolina to a clutch win in a tough venue. The Panthers were 9-for-14 on third down in Orchard Park, leading to a 10-minute time of possession differential.
Delhomme also led one of the most clutch drives of the weekend. Trailing 9-6 with just a shade under ten minutes to go, Delhomme and the Panthers marched 68 yards in 15 plays, chewing up almost eight minutes on their way to the game-winning score. That's the play they'll need out of Jake if they want to make a run in January.
-- Kansas City's remaining opponents have a combined record of 38-17, and Jacksonville's have a combined record of 21-34. Oh, 11 of those wins that the Jags face belong to Indianapolis.
-- Washington and Dallas both have outstanding talent and schemes. But in the NFL, it's all about being able to close people out and neither club has displayed an ability to do that.
-- What a game out in Seattle. Gutsy calls, cold-blooded plays, and outstanding execution under pressure. That was playoff football on a crisp afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, and is a harbinger of things to come. I'm loving it.
-- Tara Reid recently had a weeklong celebration to commemorate her 30th birthday. I bet the only thing that had more holes plugged last week than Reid was the New England running game. Brutal.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.