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Week 17 Observations
By Matt Horkman

Trent Richardson’s two-yard touchdown against Jacksonville was his first rushing touchdown since week four. In that game, Richardson scored on a one-yard carry. It was also his first carry as an Indianapolis Colt after the Colts acquired him from Cleveland.

Cincinnati wide receiver Marvin Jones did an outstanding job of fending off Baltimore cornerback Ladarius Webb’s attempt to jam him at the line of scrimmage. After getting beat off the ball, Webb panicked and interfered (though there wasn’t a penalty) with Jones in the end zone. However, despite the contact, Jones made a phenomenal juggling catch for the score.

Fullbacks still matter! At least two fullbacks (more below) made key plays for their teams. Against Cincinnati, Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach paved the way for Ray Rice on Baltimore’s attempted two-point conversion after Marlon Brown’s third-quarter touchdown. Leach took out two defenders on the play. First, he chipped linebacker Vincent Rey, who had beaten his man (Ed Dickson) and was in position to stop Rice short of the end zone. However, Leach’s block allowed Rice to get around the corner, where he patiently waited for Leach to deliver an excellent cut block on safety George Iloka. Leach’s lead blocking allowed Rice to find the end zone and tie the game at 17.

Another weak performance from the offense prevented Miami from sneaking into the postseason. Nevertheless, quarterback Ryan Tannehill did show progress on his five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike WaRyan Tannehillllace. Before the snap, Tannehill did an excellent job of recognizing blitz, which is something he may not have done a year ago. As a result, the second-year quarterback knew he would have to get rid of the ball quickly. By my watch, he got it out in less than two seconds. 

Sometimes the pendulum just doesn’t swing your way. That was evident for Miami late in the third quarter. Utilizing both the run and pass, Miami drove into New York territory. On second-and-6, the Dolphins took at shot at the end zone, as Wallace was isolated one-on-one against rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. Tannehill delivered a great throw, but Wallace was unable to secure the catch because Milliner contacted him prior to the ball’s arrival.  He also never turned his head to find the ball. By rule, this constitutes pass interference, but the refs did not call it on the field. On the next play, Tannehill went back to Wallace, but the first-year Miami receiver lost his footing, allowing Milliner to jump the route and intercept the pass.

Perhaps South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will only move down a state, as the Falcons are in desperate need for a pass-rushing boost. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen was an example of their pass-rushing woes. The Falcons gave Newton all day to throw by opting to play coverage and rush just three defenders. Frankly, there wasn’t a red jersey anywhere near the pocket. It looked as if Atlanta’s ends were more concerned with Newton’s scrambling than actually attempting to collapse the pocket. This was probably by design, though this call tells me that Atlanta coaches had no confidence in their rushers being able to pressure Newton. Atlanta’s defense finished the season tied for 29th in quarterback sacks.

Down by one, the Falcons were about 20 yards away from giving kicker Matt Bryant an opportunity to win the game, but center Peter Konz snapped the ball before quarterback Matt Ryan was ready. The Falcons recovered the ball, but had no timeouts remaining, so they quickly lined up to clock the ball. Because of the hurry, wide receiver Darius Johnson did not lineup properly. Johnson lined up on the ball instead off the ball. One of his teammates caught the mistake and signaled for him to correct it, but the Falcons snapped the ball as he adjusted his alignment. This resulted in a fall start penalty. Because Atlanta had no timeouts remaining, the infraction warranted a 10-season runoff. Overall, the Falcons lost 21 yards and 30 seconds because of these pair of plays.

With 34 points against the Raiders, Denver became the first team in NFL history to score 600 points in a season.

It’s fourth-and-8 and the NFC North title is on the line. In a play that’ll go down in Packer lore, Aaron Rodgers -- playing in his first game since fracturing his collarbone eight weeks ago -- rolled to his left and delivered a strike to a wide-open Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown with just 46 seconds remaining. The game-winning score clinched the NFC North for Green Bay. This was all possible because of fullback John Kuhn. Earlier in the drive, Kuhn converted a fourth-and-1 from Green Bay’s own 22 with less than five minutes remaining. However, a block on Julius Peppers was an even bigger. On the game-winning touchdown, Kuhn came across the line and delivered a cut block on Peppers, who had Rodgers dead to rights. There’s simply no way Rodgers would’ve been able to roll to his left, spot Cobb, and deliver a perfect throw without this block. Kuhn was Green Bay’s unsung hero for this game.

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