Happy Holidays

Christmas isn’t for two days, but Sunday saw three major gifts given across the league—a likely division title and thrilling comeback for Carolina, a record for Peyton Manning and a landmark win for Bruce Arians and the Cardinals

So it’s the final football game at Candlestick Park tonight, Falcons at Niners, and I am strongly recommending my Factoid of the Week, which is about the Beatles, and Candlestick and Cincinnati and St. Louis. I know it’s not altogether football, but it’s a stunner. You’ll find it on page 4 of the column. Anyway, this from 49ers CEO Jed York: “You know, it’s not the most beautiful place. We know that. But the history there is so great. Willie Mays and Joe Montana and Jerry Rice played there. The Raiders, I think, played a year there. [True: 1961.] The Beatles played there. The Pope had a mass there. So many people have such great memories of the place.” Then a pause. “We have to get people to realize they can’t rip out the seats and take them home Monday night. Because there’s still a chance, a slight chance, we could host the NFC Championship Game. We need Candlestick to stay intact after the game.” I told him I’d pass along the message. So seat vandals: Be forewarned. You can’t have take-home souvenirs Monday night.

* * *

Before we start on the three big events of the weekend (by my estimation: Panthers slay the Saints, Peyton Manning makes history, Arizona shocks the world), let’s talk about My Favorite Tiebreaker. That would be for the final playoff spot in the AFC.

For a moment, let’s say in Week 17 we have the following four results: Jets over Miami, Cincinnati (which has but a vague hope of getting a bye) beats Baltimore, Kansas City over San Diego, and Pittsburgh over Cleveland. That would create this logjam for the sixth seed:

Team Record
Pittsburgh 8-8
New York Jets 8-8
San Diego 8-8
Miami 8-8
Baltimore 8-8

In a five-way playoff tie, you first break ties within divisions. The Jets would eliminate Miami by virtue of a better division record (3-3 to 2-4). Pittsburgh eliminates Baltimore by having a better division record (4-2 to 3-3). That narrows it to Pittsburgh, San Diego and the Jets.

We go to conference-games tiebreaker. Pittsburgh would be 6-6. San Diego and the Jets would be 5-7. That’s it. And Pittsburgh would make it … after being 2-6 at the midway point, losing to Minnesota in London and Oakland in the Black Hole, and giving up 55 points to the wounded Patriots. Crazy league.

* * *

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Cam, Kuechly, Carolina climb Mount Payton

Time was drawing short for Cam Newton to justify why he’d been the first pick in the 2011 draft, and why the Carolina Panthers made him the franchise cornerstone 32 months ago. In the last 20 minutes of the NFC South title game Sunday in Charlotte, he’d gone three-and-out four straight times. Four series with the division on the line, 16 yards. Playing at home. Losing, 13-10, the only touchdown coming on a 43-yard run by DeAngelo Williams. Sitting there at NBC, I’d seen enough. I tweeted: “Has Cam Newton made a play today? One?” Then: “Carolina drafted Newton first overall for games like this, and he’s failing them miserably today.”

Which he was—until the final minute happened. Handcuffed to 157 yards over the first 59 minutes, the Panthers got three clutch completions from Newton, the last a 14-yard touchdown throw on which street free-agent Domenik Hixon made a good diving catch. One of the marks of great quarterbacks is playing big when it counts, and Newton’s 65-yard, 32-second, no-timeouts drive to all but win the division (the Saints need to beat the Bucs and have the Panthers lose to the Falcons in Week 17) was as big as it gets, and on this day, it showed that the Panthers’ faith in Newton in 2011 was well-placed.

(Mike McCarn/AP)
(Mike McCarn/AP)

“It’s kind of frustrating when you don’t put up the performance that you want to,” Newton said afterward. “But this was a big team win. We got the job done.”

Good for Newton, who has morphed from a quarterback too reliant on his running ability to a good all-around quarterback who can make the biggest plays when it counts the most. On Sunday he got a ton of help from a defense that found the Saints’ Achilles heel—first-time starter Terron Armstead at left tackle, beating him for three sacks and nearly a fourth—and pounded Drew Brees for six sacks. No linebacker combination has played a better game in the NFL this year than Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (38 tackles, two timely interceptions—Davis’s a ridiculously athletic one).

“Luke Kuechly, with 24 tackles,” said Newton. “That’s unheard of.”

If Kuechly’s the game’s most instinctive linebacker, Davis is close. One of the amazing and least-celebrated stories in football is Davis’s coming back from ACL tears in the same knee three years in a row; now he’s playing at a clear Pro Bowl level. “Thomas is an incredible player,” Kuechly said. “A couple of times in the game, we just looked at each other and we didn’t have to say anything; we knew exactly what the other was going to do on that play.

“What is so great about this game is all three phases worked. We got the big touchdown drive from Cam at the end. It’s what he’s done all year when it counted—the San Francisco game, the Miami game, the New England game. We got a great game in the kicking game. Our punter [Brad Nortman] pinned them back [twice inside the 5-yard line] and helped control the game. And I thought we played pretty well on defense.”

Pretty well. What’s better than a 24-tackle game? Kuechly said he’d never had 24 tackles before. I wonder: Who has?

* * *

(John Leyba/Getty Images)
(John Leyba/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning thinks his records are temporary.

They probably are. Manning threw his 51st touchdown pass of the season with 4:34 left in the fourth quarter in a 37-13 rout of Houston Sunday, breaking Tom Brady’s six-year-old record. If he throws for 266 yards next week at Oakland (he’s been held under that total once in 15 games this year, in Week 12 against the Patriots), he’ll break Drew Brees’s two-year-old record for passing yards in a year. Manning, as it is, is the first player in the 94-year history of the league to exceed 50 touchdown passes and 5,000 passing yards in the same season.

Now about that record-breaker …

“I will enjoy it while it lasts … But personally, I feel all these passing records are going to fall. [Tom] Brady will probably break this next year.”

The Broncos found the weak link, and his name was D.J. Swearinger.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase sent in the play, with first down at the Houston 25. This would be the last series of the game the Broncos would try to score, and Gase thought of a smart one. Five receivers. Four split wide to the left—Andre Caldwell, Montee Ball, Jacob Tamme, Eric Decker—straight across outside the left tackle, and one receiver to the right, tight end Julius Thomas.

“Adam and his creativity,” Manning told me after the game from Houston. “When he sent that play in, I smiled.”

No fooling around on the snap; all five running for the end zone. “The defense has to figure out who to cover with who,” Manning said, “and not everyone can have a corner or safety on them. So Julius gets a linebacker [Darryl Sharpton] and, you know, that’s not really fair, a linebacker on somebody as athletic and fast as Julius. They had a single safety …”

Swearinger was playing centerfield on the fateful throw. Peyton Manning has made a living of freezing safeties for a second with his eyes, and he did it with Swearinger this time.

“I held the safety for a second and let it got for Julius,” he said. Thomas had beaten Sharpton by a step and a half, and the rainbow was perfect, right in Thomas’ hands.

Thomas wasn’t too worried about the ball. “Knowing Julius,” Manning said, “I wouldn’t have been surprised if he traded it with a cute girl for her phone number.” In fact, he dropped it on the sidelines, and Decker scurried over to capture it, and gave it to a Broncos’ equipment guy, telling him to put it away.

“I will enjoy it while it lasts,” the 37-year-old Manning said. “I’m such a fan of the game, a student of the history of the game. So obviously this is a big thing for me. But personally, I feel all these passing records are going to fall. [Tom] Brady will probably break this next year. And you look at the colleges spreading the field and throwing it all over the place, and you see that style being played in the NFL now, and you’re going to see numbers like this happen a lot.

“What I think I amazing is Dan Marino throwing 48 back in ’84. That record lasted for 20 years. That’s amazing to me.

“For me, it’s hard to take much time to think about it now, but I did take a moment on the field, when everybody was congratulating me and I was thanking them right back for making this new transition so great. I told them, and I’m serious, how important they all have been in making this happen. And I thought for a second about what’s happened—how no doctor two years ago could give me any guarantee about anything. It really is a rewarding thing.”

Manning, being the history guy he is, will give the ball to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For now.

“When someone breaks the record,” he said, “I hope they’ll give it back.”

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401 comments
racy0057
racy0057

I just finished reading MMQB, because it is my favorite football9actually sports)article and I have been a fan of Peter King for a long time.  I don't always agree with him, but I don't think he would much care if I did or not.  King states his opinions in his weekly writings and has earned the respect of athletes, etc., to be granted interviews and to take some of thier valuable time.  


So, after reading the article, I read a few comments, which is also my routine and came to the conclusion, very belatedly, I might add, that there are too many people, mainly in our country, who need to get on with real life. Sports, namely the NFL, as it is what Mr. King covers the most, is designed to provide entertainment to us.  I am a big football fan and have been for about 40 years.  


I tend to marvel at the athletic ability of so many of the players and their ability to dedicate themselves to their profession and craft. I think that is what seperates the good players from the great, in most instances.  I don't minimize achievements, because players don't wear the jersey of my favorite teams, or curse at Peter King for making his own observations and potentially not mentioning my own favorite teams, or players.  First, it would be virtually impossible for this man to cover every team or player, at the level that would make every fan happy.  I guess that maybe there are so many more important issues, in everyday life, to expend that much energy on not liking someone, due to not agreeing with everything he writes, or states.  


So, when some of you dedicate so much of your time doing just that, maybe you need some self-reflection on why our country faces some of the issues it does and just how spoiled we can be, to make a sports article cause such deep seeded emotions, generally anger and often to the point of hatred.


Alright, I am being hypocritical by spending too much time on the issue myself.  I need to go help my elderly mother with some maintenance at her home, as my father passed away on December 28th, of last year.  I will, however, likely forget all about this article and think about Peter King next week sometime.

Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones

Wow...talk about overblown. Ever since his 24 tackle game writers have reacted as if it was unheard of to have that many tackles. Via MMQB “Luke Kuechly, with 24 tackles,” said Newton. “That’s unheard of.”


Unheard of...? Kiko Alonso had 22 vs. Cincy earlier in the year. http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/gamelog/_/id/15819/kiko-alonso so let's all settle down with the MVP talk.


Matter of fact I'm not even going to bore you with stat after stat. Kiko is almost identical to Luke in every category. http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/14938/luke-kuechly


Another quote from MMQB What’s better than a 24-tackle game? Kuechly said he’d never had 24 tackles before. I wonder: Who has? 


Let's try some research before writing articles.

KidHorn
KidHorn

What do Jim Brown, OJ Simpson, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorset, Walter Payton, Adrian Peterson, Emmitt Smith, and pretty much every running back in the HOF have in common?

They were drafted in the 1st round.

Fred24
Fred24

Meantime, Perloff the trash collector is trying to get attention with his 'Always Drama in Dallas' garbage, as if an injury is drama. What a garbage collector.

MortimerSnerd
MortimerSnerd

Dan Morgan had 25 tackles in the Panthers-Saints Super Bowl ten years ago, 18 solo.

junior9
junior9

Peter, you suck

How about calling this MondayMorning Manning

Peter Parker1
Peter Parker1

Too bad Justin Tucker missed one to end his streak.  That 42 is the next big field goal record that needs to fall (though Vanderjagt's record gets the big asterisk after he got a re-take following that bogus call in Tampa in the MNF broadcast).


Awesome run, Justin.  Also, big props to Mike Scifres and Jon Ryan for simply concentrating on being good team punters and not just Lechler-ing up the field.  Both these guys need end of season recognition (especially Scifres: he's been a great punter for so many years).

Mike26
Mike26

2.  Peter, you're right about one thing - you aren't a college sports fan and hence, shouldn't make too many statement about issues of which you know about 1% of the story.  Best to let Texas decide what's best for Texas....

Mike26
Mike26

1.  The New England win yesterday will NEVER be more impressive than the playoff victories Baltimore has scored over NE in the playoffs.

Tony M
Tony M

Peyton Manning who loves attention, acts all "its not important" in the after press conference. We know better Peyton.

BuzzFrankacott
BuzzFrankacott

Peter why no mention of Jerry Jones threatening to sack his entire coaching staff if they don't make the playoffs but saying nothing about his own performance as GM?

don7
don7

“Long Tall Sally” is better song than anything any of the Beatles ever wrote.  

ErikWassell
ErikWassell

If it's so much easier to throw TD's now than it was in 1984, why aren't there 3-4 other QB's with 40-45 TD's?  Brees is in 2nd place with 35 TD passes, 16 behind Peyton.  Also, Marino was 23 when he had his amazing season, and had one of the greatest coaches in history calling plays.  Manning is 37, underwent multiple neck and back surgeries, and has John Fox (a good, but certainly not HOF) coaching the team.  All things considered, I'll take Manning 2013 over Marino 1984 as the greatest passing performance of all time.

gary7
gary7

"Kuechly said he’d never had 24 tackles before. I wonder: Who has?"..... Sam Huff often said on the radio if he did not get 20-25 he had a bad game, I'm sure Butkus, Curtis, Singletary,  Nitschke, jeez just add a few more from back in the day, your thinking out loud is always deafening in the way how clueless you are to NFL history

yobogo
yobogo

Cardinal Defense is good, but that loss yesterday was all on the Seahawks. Their offense played horrible. Regardless of the bad calls at the end, they didn't deserve to win. My wife turned to me during the 3Q and said, it looks like someone told Russell Wilson to lose this game, but don't make it obvious your losing the game on purpose, and he just didn't quite know how to do it without looking ridiculous. His throws were all over the place, he purposely didn't run at time when he could have easily picked up first downs, he would hold on to the ball just waiting to get sacked. And then when it seemed like he was playing too badly, he marched down the field like it was a piece of cake and threw an easy touchdown. Go figure.

Norton20
Norton20

Gee thanks Peter for all the kind words about the Bills. They lead the league in sacks, have 3 guys with 10, held Dolphins (winner of 4 of prior 5 including over New England) to 103 total yards, 50 of which came on 1 play. The only Bills mention is criticizing their 2nd string QB for not executing the draw them offsides play (which works about 5 times a year maybe). I know the Bills are irrelevant but they are still in the NFL.

AndrewMccall
AndrewMccall

Peter - Last Beatles concert was on January 30th, 1969 on the Rooftop of Apple Records in London and the last song was "Get Back"..... just saying, love your work, DIEHARD Alligash White fan, and Merry Christmas.... 

mrjohnwao
mrjohnwao

The NFL has spent the last ten years changing the rules to favor Peyton Manning and transform it into the AFL and everyone gets excited when he throws a 100 TDs in a season. So funny.

George
George

Sea-hens exPOSED! ... at HOME!! ...  laid an egg and lost the GAME!!!  Schooled @ home by the cards??!? 


How r they going to win the BIG one at a neutral site, 

when they can't even win a little one at HOME?!!?

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

HOLY CRAP!  Romo's out for Sunday night's game.  Back injury.  

chino78019
chino78019

Brady in 2007 was more storied than Manning in 2013. 

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@KidHorn You're comparing apples to oranges. Other than AD, all those guys played in a different era. The NFL rules are now slanted towards passing attacks. 

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

when you asked what do they have in common... something else came to mind first

Bklr588
Bklr588

@don7In the Pantheon of all time ridiculous statements, this is battling fiercely for the top spot.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@ErikWassellmanning is loaded with talent all around him, and always has been.  Show me another ring, Peyton, before anyone puts this season as one of the greatest

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@yobogo the Seahawks offense played horrible because the Cards defense played so well.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@mrjohnwao If Manning was the only QB that could take advantage of revised rules then you might have a point.  However, the other 31 QB's in the league play under the same rules as Manning.

AdamPond
AdamPond

@George  I don't think I've ever seen a more fitting avatar - You do know that AZ has one of the top defenses in the NFL, right? 

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

@PhillyPenn

The league takes 2 Sunday night games away from the Packers this year, then hands the final one to the Cowboys-Eagles because it's a winner-take-all game.  Rodgers will play Sunday in the Packers-Bears winner-take-all game, while Romo sits on the sidelines with a back injury.

Hey, Mr. Goodell - nice job picking the right game for next Sunday.  Foles vs. Orton is always better than Rodgers vs. Cutler.  It's also better than the longest rivalry in the NFL.  Iconic Soldier Field with the NFC North on the line for the 2 most storied franchises in history just can't compare, can it?

/sarcasm

The league is a joke.  If you aren't in Dallas or New England, you may as well not exist.  Thanks for proving that once again, Mr. Goodell.

Devilsreject97
Devilsreject97

@chino78019I'd suggest you lay the crack pipe down. Half of Brady's touchdown's went to Moss. Meanwhile, Manning spread his out. He has 4 WR/TE with 10 or more TDs. He has a RB with 12 TDs. He has thrown for his highest yardage output in his career. His team will score more points this season than Brady's 18-1 team did in 2007. And that's not even counting the fact that Manning did it better in 2004...when he sat out almost 2 full games worth of playing time so as to not rack up the score.

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

@chino78019 Brady had a better TD-to-INT ratio, better completion percentage, better TD%, better INT%, and passer rating. All manning has is more yards and TDs.

don7
don7

@Bklr588 @don7 Yeah, like John Lennon was better than Little Richard. Get serious. 

Bklr588
Bklr588

@don7In the Pantheon of stupid comments, that one is vying for the top

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@AaronDunckel @ErikWassell Wake up dude. Some QB wins a SB ring EVERY YEAR. Whether it's a legend or a Trent Dilfer. But every guy who consistently threatens the season TD mark is a first ballot Hall of Famer.


And team championships don't invalidate great individual seasons, just as winning a SB ring doesn't validate Dilfer's career. Enjoy it for what it is.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@AdamPond @George Sea-hens George? Really? How about the She-hawks next time? That's always good for a laugh. Right?

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

@Devilsreject97 @chino78019 plus also remember when manning got the 49th, it pulled them within two, he still had to get his team ready for the 2 point conversion and had no time to celebrate.  plus you look at one of tight ends, denver didn't know useful he was because he had 2 knee injuries and had 3 total catches i believe, but when tamme got hurt pre-season thomas showed how good a player he was.  again the loss of miller is huge though and the broncos could be one and done again

George
George

@Reedster2185 @chino78019 Actually it's lil' Abner Favre that is skunkie's main man-crush.


Wait until that goober is up for the HOF - no-neck will be swilling down gallons of lattes while simultaneously banging out accolades on his laptop.

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

@Bklr588@don7

Ok, anybody who thinks that the Beatles aren't the best thing to happen to rock music ever - with the sole exception of Elvis - is just an idiot.  The Beatles are just the best there is.


Don't get me wrong - I don't like everything they did.  Some of that "Ravi Shankar doped out LSD tripping" stuff is just wrong.  But for what they meant to music in their time, as well as what they've meant to music overall - both as a group and as individuals (and McCartney on his own as a group and an individual) - cannot be topped.  Again, except by maybe Elvis.

Bklr588
Bklr588

@don7@Bklr588Nothing wrong with Little Richard, the Beatles and others covered him in the early days, and he influenced them heavily. Your comment was just pointless.

Bklr588
Bklr588

@don7 Yeah, like Little Richard was better than the Beatles. The comment in MMQB referred to the Beatles as an entity. Not John Lennon or any of the other individual members of the group. So you are talking apples and oranges, and your comment is a non-sequitur. 

So...You get serious. 

Devilsreject97
Devilsreject97

@EasyGoer@PhillyPenn@mrjohnwaoReally? The Patriots seemed to take advantage of those rules on their way to 18-1 just fine..... Drew Brees and the Saints did the same in 09.... quit trying to act like the NFL is doing it for Peyton...the rules have been ON THE BOOKS since before Marino came into the league..

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