Good, bad and weird of NFL season

AP News
Posted: Dec 27, 2014 12:01 AM
Good, bad and weird of NFL season

Every NFL season offers much to marvel at or laugh about, and plenty of chances to shake our heads in befuddled wonderment.

That final description certainly fits the mind-numbing off-field news that plagued the league this year, beginning in the preseason with the Ray Rice case. For anyone who hasn't had enough of that stuff, look elsewhere.

These offbeat awards will recognize the good, bad and ugly on the field.

BEST GAME: Green Bay 26, New England 21, in a possible Super Bowl preview. Aaron Rodgers outdueled Tom Brady, although the difference might have been the Packers' defense. On the Patriots' final series, rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix blanketed Rob Gronkowski on a deep pass on second down. Brady was sacked on third down, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal, and the host Packers ran out the clock.

Runner-up: San Diego 38, San Francisco 35. In Week 16, the Chargers rallied from a 21-point hole in the second half. Philip Rivers hit Malcom Floyd for an 11-yard TD to tie it, and Nick Novak kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime after a Niners fumble.

WORST GAME: Atlanta 56, Tampa Bay 14. A nationally televised Thursday night debacle in September, the worst performance by the Buccaneers, which is saying something considering they are 2-13 now. The Falcons led 35-0 before the Buccaneers picked up a first down. Atlanta's offensive starters left after Steven Jackson's 3-yard touchdown run made it 49-0 before the midway point of the third quarter.

Runner-up: Jets 16, Titans 11. The only such final score in NFL history. Hopefully the "action" from this game will quickly be forgotten.

BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR: It didn't win the game, and wound up being not particularly impactful in the grand scheme for his team. Yet Odell Beckham Jr.'s phenomenal three-fingered touchdown catch while falling backward into the end zone against Dallas can't be topped.

"When I'm standing on the sidelines, I'm rooting for him all the way," coach Tom Coughlin said. "When I get to Monday, sometimes I run it back an extra time."

Runners-up: This one did win a game. Vikings rookie LB Anthony Barr chased down Bucs TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, stripped the ball and took it 27 yards for a touchdown in overtime and a 19-13 victory.

And "Beast Mode 2," Marshawn Lynch's sensational 79-yard touchdown run for Seattle against Arizona in Week 16.

WORST PLAY OF THE YEAR: Figures it would be the Raiders. WR James Jones fumbled twice on one play vs. Houston. He lost the ball, picked it up and started running again, only to be stripped a second time and the Texans recovered.

Runner-up: A tie between Chicago DE LaMarr Houston and Detroit LB Stephen Tulloch. Each tore an ACL on sack celebrations.

BIGGEST SURPRISE (PLAYER): The Ravens were in a dire situation after Rice's suspension and injuries/mediocre play by his replacement, Bernard Pierce. In stepped a true journeyman, Justin Forsett, and he's been magical, juicing up the Baltimore offense with a combination of the steady and the spectacular.

Runner-up: Detroit safety Glover Quin, like Forsett a former Texan, and like Forsett, a journeyman who has found a home, solidifying the Lions secondary.

BIGGEST SURPRISE (TEAM): Only because they were expected to head directly south from their recent string of 8-8 finishes, it has to be the Cowboys. Rather than plummet despite an undertalented defense and questionable coaching, Dallas has surged to the NFC East title, possibly a first-round playoff bye.

Runner-up: Buffalo. No, the Bills won't snap their league-high streak of non-playoff seasons, now at 15. But they won't have a losing record, either, and made their future look brighter for once.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (PLAYER): Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, although we very much want to give him some slack. Griffin still doesn't appear fully recovered from his knee woes, and other injuries have slowed him. That said, RG3 struggles with too many fundamentals, including footwork — odd for a guy with Olympic running skills.

Runner-up: Saints safety Jairus Byrd, their top offseason signing, had no interceptions through four games and then went on injured reserve (knee).

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (TEAM): Da Bears. Dysfunctional as they come, the Bears were the fashionable pick as a rising team this season. Instead, they flopped so badly a total housecleaning could be in order.

Runner-up: San Francisco, which because of front-office discord is about to lose the best coach it has had since Bill Walsh.

BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER (TV): Mike Tirico, ESPN. We should just rename this award for the top, by far, play-by-play guy on TV, regardless of the sport. Tirico especially shines on the NFL, where his understanding of the game and, especially, its nuances and rules — from the obvious to the obscure — serves the viewer. So does his brutal honesty, something rare among NFL broadcasters.

Runner-up: Kevin Harlan, CBS. Also give a listen to him on Westwood One's radiocasts of national games. He's so descriptive you feel as if you are in the stadium.

BEST ANALYST (TV): Rich Gannon, CBS. Want to know how and why something happened? Gannon provides it.

Who messed up and who performed above and beyond? Gannon provides it.

Some humor? That, too.

And he works Sunday games with Harlan — a duo worthy of being the network's top team.

Runner-up: Now that both of them are willing to criticize when it's called for, Jon Gruden (ESPN) and Troy Aikman (Fox) deserve recognition for their strong work.


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