Neil Reynolds: NFL sides Green Bay, Miami and Kansas earn plaudits
After a remarkable round of NFL, Green Bay's heroics in Dallas top Neil Reynolds' picks of the week.
Last Updated: 16/12/13 4:43pm
While there were big wins for the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, the most improbable result of Week 15 came in Dallas, where the Green Bay Packers overcame a 26-3 half-time deficit to run out 37-36 victors over the Cowboys.
That seems like the perfect place to start when discussing what caught my eye in Week 15...
Packers produce historic comeback
As the Green Bay Packers players trotted down the tunnel at half-time in Texas, I strongly felt their game against Dallas - and their season - was done. They trailed 26-3 at the break and, quite frankly, that scoreline flattered them because the Cowboys kicked four first-half field goals and would have been out of sight if they could have found the end zone.
And then the Packers began the greatest comeback in their 93-year history. With Matt Flynn channelling his inner Brett Favre, Green Bay marched on touchdown drives covering 80, 80, 22, 80 and 50 yards.
While I may joke about Favre, Flynn never had to be brilliant to lead the Packers back. Sure, he was good, but he never had to be great against a Dallas defence that simply imploded.
It was just as bad on the offensive side of the ball as the Cowboys blew it big time. The Cowboys were running the football very efficiently with DeMarco Murray and the Packers had no answer for that. Yet they got away from the running game as they have done all too often this season.
Tony Romo then threw two late interceptions, the first of which was definitely his fault as he tried to force the ball to Miles Austin and was picked by Sam Shields. As is the case with any massive comeback in the NFL, it takes two to tango and that was the case in Dallas. The Packers fought and scrapped back into contention, but they were helped by a Cowboys team seemingly intent on throwing away a game they had to have.
The growth of Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins have been pleased with the development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but they have also been waiting for him to take the next step. In other words, Miami were after better production on third downs and for Tannehill to show more production and killer instinct in the all-important fourth quarter.
He answered the bell on Sunday night as Miami eked out a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots. Tannehill hit on 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, proving he has all the tools to be a star when protected by what is still a hit and miss offensive line.
Tannehill has the arm strength to toss the football all over the field, but he also showed tremendous accuracy and touch on some of his passes on Sunday, especially on the game-winner to Marcus Thigpen.
This was a big step forward for Tannehill and it won't have hurt his confidence to know he out-duelled the greatest quarterback of this generation in Tom Brady.
Eagles fail in Minneapolis
What a disappointing road loss for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night! They had a chance to take control of the NFC East and went into their game against the Minnesota Vikings riding a five-match winning streak.
The Eagles scored their points as Nick Foles threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns. And those 30 points should be enough to win most games in the NFL. However, the Eagles are struggling to play defence at the moment and allowed the Vikings to score 48.
Most worrying will be the fact that the Eagles were not up against what would be deemed the elite players of the NFL. Matt Cassel is not about to be confused with Peyton Manning any time soon yet he threw for 382 yards and three scores. And although the Vikings were without reigning league MVP Adrian Peterson and top back-up Toby Gerhart, third-string running back Matt Asiata was allowed to notch a hat-trick of touchdowns.
If the Eagles are to be anything approaching serious Super Bowl contenders, they have to find a way to play tougher on defence. But their problems on that side of the ball don't look like the kind of troubles that can fixed in just a couple of weeks.
Chiefs on the warpath again
They went through a little wobble as they lost three games in a row, but the Kansas City Chiefs are rounding back into form and might have found the offensive consistency that was missing during their 9-0 start to the year.
The Chiefs are now 11-3 on the season after their 56-31 demolition of the Oakland Raiders and I think they are going to be a very tough out during the playoffs. In fact, as some of their key defenders get back to full fitness - pass-rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali - they might be a club capable of going all the way.
Alex Smith has been given more freedom in the offense in recent weeks and Kansas City have scored much more freely than earlier in the year. He tossed five touchdown passes on Sunday night and has a true game-breaking weapon in Jamaal Charles, who found the end zone five times.
With a talented quarterback at the helm, the Chiefs might yet be one of those teams who gets hot at the right time of the year and goes on a memorable run. Watch this space.
No place like home for Saints
Unless the New Orleans Saints can petition to play every playoff game at home during the post-season, I would be shocked to see them lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the first Sunday in February.
While the Saints are a perfect 7-0 at home this season, their road record in 2013 fell to 3-4 following a 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams. And this latest defeat away from the Superdome didn't even come outdoors, where the Saints have traditionally struggled.
Drew Brees faced constant pressure from an aggressive Rams defence and can expect more of the same in Week 16, along with a hostile atmosphere as the Saints travel to take on the Carolina Panthers with the NFC South title up for grabs.
For the Saints to win it all this season, they will most likely have to win in Charlotte next Sunday, win in Seattle at some point during the playoffs and then beat the best the AFC has to offer in what is sure to be a freezing New York in February.
Brees is a stud and Sean Payton is a master motivator at head coach, but that is one hat-trick I simply cannot see the Saints pulling off.
More drama for the Redskins
It has been quite the week for drama in Washington as Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan benched star quarterback Robert Griffin III for the remainder of the season and reports emerged that the pair are now not talking to each other.
Shanahan then added to the drama on Sunday night as the Redskins scored a late touchdown to pull to within one point of the Atlanta Falcons with just seconds remaining. But rather than send on Kai Forbath for the conversion that would have sent the game into overtime tied at 27 apiece, Shanahan rolled the dice and went for the win.
Kirk Cousins - subbing for RGIII - rolled to his right on the two-point conversion attempt but failed to hit his receiver as Desmond Trufant knocked the pass to the ground to preserve the win for Atlanta. Redskins fans were furious as Shanahan failed to play for overtime.
I can understand the frustration, but I also don't have too much of a problem with him getting aggressive at that stage of a lost season. Another loss can hardly make things any worse in Washington, can it?