4th & Inches: Championship Sunday

4th & Inches is a weekly discussion during the NFL regular season, playoffs, and occasionally during the offseason of all things football – the good, the bad, and the Oakland Raiders. Some weeks all games will be discussed. Some games three games will be discussed. Topics will range from quarterback play to the dictatorship structure of the league to trending topics.

As a whole, the purpose of 4th and Inches will be exactly what the name suggests. As a team on the field often is in desperation mode when it decides go for it on fourth down and inches, these blog entries will be a desperate attempt to make sense of what is going on in the National Football League.

If you have any topics you wish to see discussed on 4th & Inches, or any comments at all, you can suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

Big Brother is watching

In the 45 minutes or so leading up to the NFC Championship, news was coming out of the NFL threatening to eject Marshawn Lynch – honestly, who else – from playing.

What? Say what? Oh my goodness, what did he do? Did he get in some bar fight last night that the league had learned about? Did he badmouth someone, refuse to talk to media, what Marshawn antics has Marshawn gotten into this time?

Well. None of the above. Lynch apparently was being told he would not be able to play if he went through with a particular wardrobe choice.

Gold cleats, huh? I can dig it, Marshawn. You do you, man. Too bad the NFL didn’t allow him to do so, for reasons that only god knows about.

In some respects this shouldn’t even be surprising. The league has had such a chokehold on how players should behave and say that dictating what they wear was bound to come up. Granted, this isn’t the first time that players have come under fire from the league for some fashion choices, but it is one of the most perplexing.

The thing about this story isn’t the weirdness factor. The thing about this story is that it isn’t weird at all, not with the dictatorship structure of the league. But this does raise it to a whole new level – one in which the league almost its own dystopian society, one where each player is pressured to act the exact same way, say the same things, wear the same colors on their cleats.

The fact of the matter is that players are expected to be mindless, choiceless drones at the service of the NFL, and to The Almighty Goodell. It transcends the standards of keeping a business running smoothly; it’s beginning to delve into a type of psychological control that is in place for the welfare of the league itself, many times at the expense of players’ free will. At least it seems that way.

Goodell is continuing to show that what he wants is what the NFL needs, with zero regard for the choices of his enslaved players. And thank goodness he does, because we can’t IMAGINE what kind of chaos gold cleats would have caused.

marshawn-lynch-doesnt-talk-to-pete-carroll-is-on-his-way-out-of-seattle

We’re onto you, Marshawn.

 

Cutler’s gotta be cut

All signs point to John Fox being the next head coach of the Chicago Bears after “mutually parting ways” with John Elway and the Broncos last week.

Fox coached Peyton Manning during what some would call the best couple seasons of his illustrious career. That seems to have been one of the primary factors in his hiring, as many believe Fox will be able to help “resurrect” Cutler’s career.

I say “resurrect” lightly because, in truth, Cutler is beyond saving, beyond redemption. Even with an abundance of weapons at his disposal – Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall, etc etc – Cutler was an absolute joke in 2014, right up to his benching for backup Jimmy Clausen.

For Fox – who went 46-18 with a Super Bowl berth in his four seasons at Denver – to have any success with his next job, Chicago has to pull the plug on Cutler. Because for him to turn it around and take the Bears to the Super Bowl would be would one of the most remarkable transformations in NFL history.

Cutler has thrown for at least 12 interceptions in seven of the last eight seasons. The average season-long passer rating for Cutler is 85.2, right about average on the scale. He’s topped 25 touchdowns only three times in his nine-year career. He has a .512 career winning percentage.

None of these numbers are exactly anything for Fox to get excited about and, more importantly, they don’t show any growth in Cutler’s time as a quarterback. Sure he threw for the most touchdowns in any season of his career last season (28), but he also led the league in turnovers, a word that unfortunately became synonymous with his name.

Jay Cutler was the very definition of "ineffective" in 2014.

Jay Cutler was the very definition of “ineffective” in 2014.

The most important thing to pay attention to is Cutler’s playoff career. In short: he doesn’t have one. He is 1-1 in the playoffs, both games coming from a 2010 trip.

How does one garner expectations based on that number? If your quarterback can’t even play well enough during the regular season to even get to January football, how do you expect him to perform if he DOES get there?

You can’t. You’d have better luck turning the Raiders around.

Exceptions may be made if Cutler was still young and learning, but he’s a veteran, a veteran who has shown over the course of his career that he is as ineffective as he is confident in his play.

So if Chicago is going to start over, they might as well START OVER. Letting go of Cutler should be as the top of their to-do list. Yes, their defense was just as laughable in 2014, but how much can you expect them to really play when they know their efforts will more than likely be for naught when Cutler gets the ball again?

Fox’s impact in Chicago begins with Cutler’s departure. He’s gotta go.

 

 

A triumph of the 12th degree

Prior to Sunday’s NFC Championship, the Packers had no business winning to advance to the Big One.

With five minutes left in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the tables had turned – to the tune of five turnovers – and suddenly it was the Seahawks who had not business coming out on top.

I mean, not after plays like this…

Or this.

I mean, check this out.

The game is SURELY over now.

But then this happened.

 

A GB special teams miscue, a Wilson touchdown scramble, a rumbling tumbling Marshawn Lynch earthquake run later (all in a span of a few minutes), it was apparent that this game wasn’t going to end the way it looked with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.

A miracle descended upon CenturyLink Field, and Russell Wilson went from Least Valuable Player to Messiah for the 12th Man.

Fortune favors the bold, and I’ll be damned if Russell Wilson’s play in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime was not bold. Not since the 1960s has a quarterback overcome a four interceptions to win a title game. Wilson himself couldn’t have seen it coming.

It’s a rare quality, to be able to perform like No. 3 did when all hope was lost. To be able to keep it together, keep your emotions and sanity in check until after the game. To be able to perform your highest when so many of the NFL’s most devoted fanbase had already lost faith. But if there’s one thing Wilson has shown since he entered the league, it’s that he is quite the rare quarterback.

After Sunday’s victory, it is perfectly justified to call Wilson the clutchest of the clutch, the most composed of composed, the mentally toughest of the mentally tough. The Packers, by and large enormous underdogs in this game, had victory in their hands…for 55 minutes.

So, of course, it would be the Seahawks triumphant in the end, finishing the greatest comeback in NFL title game history, improving to 26-2 at home since the start of the 2012 season, becoming the first team since the 2004 Patriots to return to the Super Bowl.

Because Wilson is a rare breed. Because there is no such thing as “game over” with these Seahawks. Because games like this, and Wilson’s speech afterwards, are the reason we love sports.

 

Take 4

Everything that the NFC Championship was, the AFC title game was not.

Andrew Luck entered the matchup at New England winless in three tries against Tom Brady, but to say that Brady was the one who beat him in two of those three match ups would be inaccurate.

Over their last three meetings, including the playoffs, the Patriots have rushed for 673 (!!!) yards and 13 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) touchdowns.

Nothing about tonight’s game showed growth in the Colts with how they match up against the Patriots. From beginning to end it was pure deja vu for Indy fans. The Patriots have now outscored the Colts by 116 points over their last four meetings. This shouldn’t happen in football.

And this shouldn’t have happened on Sunday. Not with the resurrection of Indy’s run defense in these playoffs. The way they shut down the Bengals’ and Broncos’ running game established that this was should have been a more competitive matchup than the last three.

Instead, Luck dropped to 0-4 against Bill Belichick, and in epic fashion, having lost by 21 points in each game. Oh they made history, make no mistake about that.

This loss shouldn’t be put on Luck, at least not entirely. Almost every phase of the Colts game was completely overmatched by New England – their receivers couldn’t get open, Herron couldn’t get it going on the ground, their defense couldn’t stop LeGarrette Blount, and they beat themselves with dropped passes and turnovers.

It was a perfect storm of lack of preparation and lack of confidence that lasted 60 minutes and resuled in Tom Brady’s postseason legacy growing ever larger.

 

Chuck Pagano will receive credit for leading his team one round deeper into the playoffs for a third straight year, and rightly so. But to get to the next level in 2015, the one level that really matters, they need to work their butts off to get home field advantage next season. The citizens of Indianapolis are all too accustomed to seeing familiar foes in the playoffs.

As for New England, Tom Brady gets his third shot at a fourth Super Bowl ring when they head to Arizona in a few weeks. No matter what happens, Super Bowl XLIX has to be better than last year’s debacle….right?

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

 

 

 

 

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4th & Inches: Week 17

4th & Inches is a weekly discussion during the NFL regular season, playoffs, and occasionally during the offseason of all things football – the good, the bad, and the Oakland Raiders. Some weeks all games will be discussed. Some games three games will be discussed. Topics will range from quarterback play to the dictatorship structure of the league to trending topics.

As a whole, the purpose of 4th and Inches will be exactly what the name suggests. As a team on the field often is in desperation mode when it decides go for it on fourth down and inches, these blog entries will be a desperate attempt to make sense of what is going on in the National Football League.

If you have any topics you wish to see discussed on 4th & Inches, or any comments at all, you can suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

The Greatness of Vinatieri

He was so close. One more made field goal attempt for the Colts in their final game against Tennessee and Adam Vinatierie’s name would be at the top of ESPN’s agenda as only the fifth kicker in NFL history to have a perfect season. Alas, whether it be from a slight gust or the damp conditions or fate, one final 46-yarder, a distance Vinatieri has covered countless times, couldn’t make it between the goalposts.

But final misses be damned.

Vinatieri was one of the most underrated players in 2014, and that’s due in large part to the fact that he is a kicker. Let’s face it, they don’t get much love or attention unless they’re being let go.

On the morning of 2014’s finale against the Titans, Vinatieri was 28-for-28 on field goal attempts, Vinatieri was perfect on PATs, and Vinatieri turned 42. It’s hard to decide which of the stats– concerning football or his age – is more incredible.

Alas, Vinatieri’s season ends 30-for-31 after Sunday’s miss from 46 yards, but that in no way mars the remarkably consistent season Vinatieri has had. Regarded by many as the most clutch kicker in NFL history (See: Super Bowls XXXVI & XXXVIII), Vinatieri became the first player in NFL history to score 900 points for two different franchises. He’ll end his season with a trip to the Pro Bowl along with four other Colts, but that game (exhibition?) will in no way be the end of a Hall of Fame Career.

Vinatieri has said he wants to keep playing after 2014, and why not? Considering how his age has correlated with his performance in recent seasons, Vinatieri is one of the most durable athletes in professional sports today. The oldest player currently in Canton to ever take the football field, George Blanda, hung up the cleats just prior to his 49th birthday. Who knows, maybe Vinatieri has another record in him?

So thank you, Vinatieri, for continuing to be an underappreciated marvel on the field. Congratulations on all your Super Bowl-clinching kicks that will go down in history, your phenomenal 2014, and all your success in the future.

vinatieri

 

Close to the very top of the Things We Never Thought We’d Say At The Beginning Of The Season…

The Dallas Cowboys have the most momentum going into the playoffs. Tony Romo has to be one of the most confident quarterbacks going into the new year and if the names Dez and DeMarco don’t strike a balance of fear and admiration in your heart, you haven’t been watching them enough this season.

The ‘Boys have been an absolute menace on both sides of the ball in December as Romo finally moved past his late-season ghosts (14-21 in December and January prior to 2014). Just look at that sentence and imagine how many of its components would sound comic a year ago. Jerry Jones’ faith in Jason Garrett ( has finally paid off after a couple of underwhelming 8-8 seasons, and he finally gets to see what his talent-infused roster gets to do in January.

Over the last month Dallas has outscored their opponents 165-79 while setting new franchise records in the process. Sure three of those teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs, but when routs become commonplace and expected that’s got to give you some confidence for when you play the big dogs.

Naysayers will say that Tony is setting up Dallas for “The Greatest Romo of All Time”, but that doesn’t have much legitimacy to it when their running attack and defense has been just as formidable a force in December. Heck, they would almost be shoo-ins for the Super Bowl if they resided in the weaker AFC.

Dallas won their finale against the Redskins 44-17 and finished a magnificent 8-0 on the road in 2014. As I’m typing this, if current scored hold, Dallas would have a bye through the first week of the playoffs.

They’re gonna need it to figure out their play at home, where they went just 4-4 this year. When that is your team’s biggest concern heading into the playoffs, you know you’re in a pretty good place.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

 

The Indianapolis Colts and divisional privilege

After a 17-10 victory over Houston in Week 15, Indianapolis clinched yet another AFC South title. Or, as a decade of singular dominance by Indy and unparalleled atrociousness by Jacksonville, Houston, and Tennessee has suggested it should be called, they won the Weakest Division In Football.

Divisional dominance can be deceiving.

The Colts have now won the South nine times in the division’s 13-year existence, and in 2014 they swept their division opponents. Which really isn’t that astonishing when you look at the combined record of those other three teams, which stands at 14-34 for at the end of 2014. Those teams in their current respective locations have won a grant total of zero Super Bowls, due slightly in part to the fact that they have zero appearances between the three of them.

I mean, let’s be honest, does it really strike fear when wehear the words Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans? The Houston Texans are getting there slowly, and by golly would have won the Worst Division In Football had Indy lost one or two games down the stretch. But in reality when it’s the Houston Texans we’re talking about, it’s usually J.J. Watt.

When examining the division more closely, it might do to place a big fat asterisk next to all the statements about Colts dominance and superiority in the division over the 2000s. They have been one of the most consistent franchises over the last 10+ years in the regular season, but when looking at how they have fared in the postseason – save for one Super Bowl victory in 2006 – does it really correlate with their play in the regular season?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

To be sure, the Colts are remarkable for emerging the best team of four at the end of 9 out of 13 seasons. That is no small feat, no matter how bad the other teams perform. But when you compare the AFC South to a division like the NFC North, which has five Super Bowl victories between just two teams (the Packers and Bears) and has emerged as a deadly division in recent years, how much of a light is shed on the awkward lopsidedness of the AFC South?

It warrants thinking about, as the Colts win division title after division title while the rest of the division is seemingly stuck in eternal disappointment limbo.

 

Game 256

A playoff-picture-cementing matchup between the Steelers and Bengals earned the dubious distinction of being the final game of the 2014 regular season. The matchup is rightfully in primetime, and we all know what that means in 2014. 

On paper the Steelers should win this game, by about a score of  68-13, but the Bengals have been one of the more perplexing teams of the season. They’ve had a tendency to grind out must-win games against formidable opponents while doing the opposite against more meager teams, and that formula is in place for Game 256.

No matter the outcome of this game, the thing to pay attention to is the stars that have to align for a Steelers trip to Foxborough in the playoffs.

Just image the storylines surrounding that matchup. Two quarterbacks with what might very well be their last real shot at another Super Bowl to cement surefire Hall of Fame careers. Roethlisberger’s Steelers have emerged as the most balanced offensive attack in the league, while Tom Brady has had an MVP-worthy season.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

With respect to the Broncos, their Super Bowl hopes rest on an early exit of the Patriots from the playoffs. As inconsistently as they have played in the latter half of the regular season, they aren’t the one team from the AFC that can beat Brady on his home turf.

The Steelers can, and I believe that a Brady-Roethlisberger matchup, headlined by two slingers with five Super Bowl rings between them, would result in a game for the ages.

I mean, something has to be there to halt the unstoppable force that is the Patriots in a season where the Giants miss the playoffs…right?

I think the Steelers are the one team that can do it and the team that will do it.

It begins tonight with Game 256, and the end of the regular season.

 

Just another MVP ballot

Last week I gave my take over why J.J. Watt won’t win the MVP – although he is truly deserving – and although finished his season by becoming the first player in NFL history with multiple 20-sack seasons, I stand by that.

That being said, the man had a damn fine season by any position’s standards, so he deserves some place on every ballot, which I present to you now, at the end of a season in which any of the listed players, and a few others, could win the award.

1. Aaron Rodgers,  QB, Green Bay

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England

3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh

And, because they impact their respective teams just as much, I present to you my ballot for Least Valuable Player.

1. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, National Football League

2. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

3. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago

4. Jim Harbaugh, Soon-To-Be-Ex Head Coach, San Francisco

5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta

 

Final thoughts on the 2014 regular season

  • How miserable a season it must have been for fans of the 49ers. Not only between having to deal with the wildly irrational play at times of Colin Kaepernick, but also with the never-ending speculation of where Jim Harbaugh will be coaching next year. This team is close to contending again, but that final piece might prove elusive.

 

  • As Peyton Manning sets new records in Denver, Andrew Luck surpasses him with smaller ones in Indianapolis. With an absolutely phenomenal 80-yard catch and run by Reggie Wayne on Sunday’s victory over the Titans, Andrew Luck set a new Colts franchise record for passing yards in a single season. Congratulations, Andrew. Now please get the turnover issue fixed for January.

 

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. That is all. Might be the sole reason Eli is still the starter in New York next season.

 

  • Roger Goodell has continued to dig himself a deeper hole, despite staying out of headlines the last few weeks, with how he handled the Rice case. Hard to imagine he’s Commish for much longer.

 

  • Major KUDOS to the NFL’s 32 teams for refusing to pick up Ray Rice.

 

  • My, what a three-year span it’s been for AP.

 

  • The Curious Case of Primetime Games…seriously, nothing about the 2014 season was more perplexing.

 

  • Denver just had an interception to end (finally) a 47-14 thrashing of the Raiders. If they return to the Super Bowl, it will be because of their defense.

 

  • Considering their situation(s), the Rams had to have had one of the most pleasantly surprising teams of 2014. Bradford is a healthy season away from leading them to the playoffs.

 

  • Johnny Manziel, you let us down.

 

  • Overreaction of the season: The Patriots are done for the season after a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in Week 4.

 

  • Can’t remember the last time the choice MVP of the regular season was this muddled, and that can’t be anything other than good for the league. Parity is paramount.

 

  • Glad that Peyton isn’t seriously considering retirement just yet. The NFL isn’t quite ready for him to leave.

 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.