By Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND and @F10YRetro)
It’s the final takeaways of 2019, and the final takeaways of the 2010s so tuck in before it’s all gone and you go Veganuary on Wednesday.
Going out in style – it’s the Law.
League officials got what they hoped for when they flexed the 49ers v Seahawks game to become the last official contest of the 2010s. The game was an undoubted classic as Russell Wilson, in his 128th consecutive regular season start, again smelt the endzone late, and had an opportunity to win a mammoth game, but he came up inches short as his pass to TE Jacob Hollister was halted at the goal-line by possibly the tackle of the season made by rookie 5th round pick Dre Greenlaw. With that one stop the 49ers clinch the #1 seed in the NFC, a bye and home-field advantage if they continue to progress. Special credit to San Fran FB Kyle Juszczyk for his second half 49 yard catch and run. An absolute beauty of a catch and a big play to stop the Seahawks from stealing momentum. For Seattle, who already secured a playoff berth before this game, they now travel to Philadelphia, to face an Eagles team they already beat just over two months ago in a low scoring scrappy affair 17 to 9.
Great Scott conquers NFC Least
In a division marred by injuries to all four teams it was fitting that former practice squad tackling target RB Boston Scott was the hero for Philadelphia, as his three scores led the Eagles to a win and the NFC East title. Scott, standing at 5ft 6 inches may have been the smallest player of the field, but his three second half rushing touchdowns were as big as a Rocky Balboa knockout punch for the Eagles fans who now host a luke warm Seattle Seahawks team on Sunday in the second NFC Wild Card contest. Scott only became active in mid-October, and thanks to his versatility he has recorded 23 catches in December alone, and his 138 total yards yesterday was an ideal time to have a career defining game. Admittedly Wentz and company did the hard work in Week 16 when they scrapped and scraped for a win against the Cowboys, but with a current 4 game win streak now taking hold Philly will be confident they can haul their bruised and battered 9-7 carcass over the line in ‘The Linc’ against a team that has lost three of it’s last four.
If you can’t stand the heat kick out the Kitchens
Being a Pre-Season darling and adorning the cover of Sports Illustrated as the next best thing since pre-sliced malt loaf isn’t always a good omen, and for the Cleveland Browns the hype was without doubt a major distraction. A Browns team loaded with talent and first-round draft picks finished the 2019 season 6-10, and a Week 17 loss to the worst team in the league has now cost Freddie Kitchens his job, as he got his marching orders on Grey Sunday, just before Black Monday. Kitchens was promoted to head coach in 2019 to further nurture and develop Baker Mayfield, a plan than fizzled out by season’s end as the former #1 pick saw declines in completion %, yard per pass and touchdowns, and a significant upturn in interceptions, tossing 21 picked-off passes. Along with the Cowboys the Browns were the most disappointing team versus their Pre-Season projections. After the dawn of a new era, the same old formula is back as Cleveland move back into proverbial jail, and certainly do not collect £200 on the way. By way of an update the New York Giants ditched their coach, Pat Shurmer, this morning (Monday 30 December 2019).
The Beaver nicks Chubb’s rushing crown
Ok, ok no-one actually calls Titans RB Derek Henry the beaver, but ‘that’ hair tail thingy-ma-bob, is hard to ig-gnaw as Henry swam downstream against the Houston Texans for 211 rushing yards and the NFL’s ground gain crown. Henry’s superb season, 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, included 549 punishing yards in December alone. Henry was the only back to break 1,500 yards rushing, topping the unfortunate Browns second year star Nick Chubb by 46. It did take Henry until being inside the last three minutes of Week 17 to win the title, but boy did he deserve it. With 3:22 left against the Texans, Henry took four handoffs, going 5, 23, 4, and then in absolute style he showed his true talent ripping off a 53 yard dash for a score and the crown. In a season where the Titans won 9-7 for the fourth consecutive year, the first time an NFL team has very done this, the journey is not over as they travel to New England to face a Patriots team who are without a first round bye for the first time since Moses was a lad. The record may be the same as 2018, but thanks to Ryan Tanehill there is an air of excitement in Tennessee that has not been present since the likes of Steve McNair.
Welcome to the McClub Christian
It was a bad season in Carolina as the Panthers went 5-11, lost their starting QB Cam Newton to injury and lost their head coach Ron Rivera to a sacking, leaving just one bright spot – the performance of RB Christian McCaffrey. Run CMC became only the third running back to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a regular season. This was the first time the double-decker achievement has been reached in the 21st century. He joins illustrious company, Super Bowl winners Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999). McCaffrey is a phenom, catching 30% of the teams completions and running 74% of the team ground output. Add 20 total touchdowns and just one fumble and you have pretty much the perfect NFL offensive weapon. It’s just a shame that McCaffrey sits alone in the hangar, alongside a mediocre defense and a mess at quarterback. The Panthers know how to get the best out of Run CMC, lets just hope they fix the signal caller situation in the offseason.
Jameis shines in the 30 for 30 spotlight
Nobody in NFL history has achieved what Jameis Winston managed in the 2019 season, and to reach the achievement by throwing a game losing pick-six in overtime was truly a special moment in time. The Buccs QB is alone in a club of NFL veterans who have thrown 30 or more touchdowns (33) and 30 or more interceptions (30 exactly) in a regular season. To top it off Winston became the 2019 NFL passing yardage king with 5,109 yards, in the process sending his two top targets, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to the Pro Bowl. Winston is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He has traits of greatness, including the ability to completely forget the previous bad play and throw deep dimes. Winston also has the infuriating ability to lose focus and to predetermine a target and lock onto it without processing other safer options. Having made it through 16 games for the first time since 2016 Winston has likely secured himself a future in sunny Florida where the club scene is awesome. Whether anyone joins Winston’s rather special club anytime soon it’s doubtful.
Packers continue to win ugly
The Green Bay Packers have not managed to score over 23 points in any of their last four games, but all of them have resulted in wins, and all have led to a #2 seed in the NFC and an extra week to rest up. The last time the Packers had more than the 13 wins they achieved this season was in 2011 when they went 15-1, before being unceremoniously dumped out of the divisional playoffs by Eli Manning and the New York Giants 20 to 37. Following two years of 9 loss seasons the Packers are somehow entering the playoffs quietly. It’s not pretty watching the 2019 Packers as they grind out wins agains inferior opponents – a 5 point win against the Redskins and a 1 and 3 point wins against the Lions. Its remarkable but true that QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown less interceptions in 71 games over the past 5 seasons than Jameis Winston has this year alone. Rodgers needs to back on his double NFL MVP form in the playoffs if Packers are to lift the trophy named after their greatest head coach.
Patriots are Ge-SICK-i of Fitzmagic
So much for trying to tank in 2019. No team managed to fail to win less than two games, and for the pre-season flop favourites, the Miami Dolphins, they will pick as far down as 5th in the 2020 draft after winning three of their last five games. The Fins 27-24 upset special against the the Patriots means New England will play a Wild Card game for the first time in a decade. Not content to go quietly into a tropical Florida sunset Ryan Fitzpatrick waited until 24 seconds were left in the Week 17 game to toss his only touchdown, a 5 yard bullet to TE Mike Gesicki who was deep in the middle of the endzone to catch the game winner. Yet again Bill Belichick went deep into the fuzz lined pocket of his evil hoodie to dial up a 38 yard passing touchdown from Tom Brady to Elandon Roberts. Yes that’s Elandon Roberts the linebacker playing a cameo role as a fullback. It wasn’t enough as the Patriots now host the Tennessee Titans in the early hours of next Sunday morning (5 January 2020). The Dolphins win could also change plans significantly for next season as they could do a lot worse than keeping Fitzmagic alive for another season. Let’s just hope they get a better backup than Josh Rosen.
Late Shaq attack wins sack crown
The fairytale season of Tampa Bay’s OLB Shaquil Barrett had one final chapter to be read out loud before the 2019 season concluded. Three sacks of Matt Ryan later and Barrett secured the season sack crown, pipping veteran All-Pro Chandler Jones by half a sack to win the title 19.5 to 19.0. Ridiculously Shaq had 14 sacks in 61 career games between 2015 and 2018. Barrett spent his first four seasons in Denver playing solid but by no means spectacular football. Now supported by the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita ’TD machine’ Vea, Shaq turned into an absolute monster pass rusher, gaining sacks in 13 of 15 games played in 2019. His remarkable season included 6 forced fumbles and even an interception. It’s no surprise that Barrett had a sack in all of the games the Buccs won in their 5 game win streak between November and December. I wonder if anyone put a wager on Barrett getting the sack crown back in September – if you did, come and join the Full10 team alongside Adam as a tipster.
On a little side note I just want to thank Tim for sticking to his bet we made during the season on the Full10 NFL podcast. I said the 49ers were a playoff team, and Tim thought the opposite. I must say I loved my vegetarian special Falafel and pickled chilli pepper wrap as an early New Year treat. Cheers boss.