Wild Weekends: Welcome to Wild Kingdom

Nobody safe and nobody is immune.

This past weekend brought this reality back to life, as happens every football season, with stunning clarity in the form of a few upsets, plenty of close games as well as blowouts, and one noteworthy change in scenery.

A thirty-eight point loss at Lambeau on Sunday night was all Jerry Jones could take apparently. After saying that Wade Phillips was his coach throughout this disaster of a season, the Cowboys owner finally caved and fired “his coach.” The fact that Phillips got fired wasn’t a surprise to many (even if he lasted the season, he’d be gone) but it was how quickly he was fired after Jerry’s “consequences” comment post-game that let everyone know the boss is pissed. As well he should be; the Super Bowl predictions during the preseason were pure bullshit crafted up because of how glamorous Jerry’s stadium is and how big that big-screen over the field is, and while they weren’t based on anything tangible, they were still there and enough people believed them. From day one, this was a team with issues ranging from ego to non-existent team chemistry and it is that second one that has produced the living nightmare that every Cowboy player, coach, employee, and fan are experiencing right now. Did Phillips need to be fired? Probably not right now; I’m doubting that Jason Garrett himself and him getting hired is going to turn this thing around and produce something respectable. The problems that are plaguing this team go a little something like this: they lost Romo and never had faith in anybody except Romo, their defense cannot stop giving up points, and they had a coach that couldn’t motivate anybody. Will Jason Garrett be that motivator? Next season maybe, but despite what Jerry said, this was an admission of defeat as this season is done for Dallas. Want proof? They’re 1-7—one game from being out of playoff contention by most standards—and they’re playing the Giants right off of their bye week. The last time Dallas went 1-15 they won the Super Bowl just a few seasons later, but since that team didn’t have the expectations that this potentially 1-15 team has, I’m not expecting an immediate turnaround as the shell shock might be too much for America’s Team and its supporters.

TCU sent its strongest message of the season this past Saturday on why they would be a legit contender if placed in the national championship game. Sadly, just about all of America had to hear about it and see scattered bits of video as third-ranked TCU’s 47-7 annihilation of fifth-ranked Utah in Salt Lake City wasn’t televised nationally or even on cable. A friend of mine who was over for the night games on Saturday noted correctly that it was criminal not to have that game on T.V. in some way; I noted that Versus does have a deal with the Mountain West to air their games, but had Penn/Princeton on at the time. I understand that schedules are made far in advance, but this whole situation brings up two questions that I feel need answers: Did nobody think before the season that TCU/Utah <i>could be</i> a major game when they faced off? And, was there really no way to switch up the scheduling? I understand that this would leave the Penn/Princeton game out in the cold as far as TV coverage is concerned, but the bigger potential audience easily lies with the game featuring two of the top five.

Anyway, none of this mattered on the field as Andy Dalton put his name into the Heisman race by decimating the Utes to the tune of 355 yards and three touchdowns on a spectacular 21/26 passing. While Dalton’s numbers aren’t going to be up to snuff at the end of the year—even if he blows away San Diego St. and New Mexico, which he will—I still am expecting that he will be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony considering TCU may be in the national title game by that point and depending on how the Cam Newton situation is handled, there might be a spot open.

The LSU Tigers tasted sweet, sweet revenge on Saturday, eliminating Alabama from national title contention with a 24-21 upset win in Baton Rouge. The Tigers broke Bama’s spirit early in the fourth quarter on a fourth and one at the Tide 23. With the whole country believing that the Tigers would run the ball up the gut, they opted for a play straight out of Boise St. executing a handoff only for Deangelo Peterson to get the ball off a quick lateral and have open field not only for the first down, but very nearly a touchdown as Peterson was knocked out at the Tide three yard-line. The Tigers scored a touchdown there and added a field goal before Bama’s shock wore off enough to mount their final offensive. It brought them close, but not enough as Nick Saban and his boys saw their grandest ambitions for this season go up in smoke in the Bayou.

The AFC East had to suffer through a very weird weekend. With the division being called by some as the best in pro football, thanks largely to the success of the Jets and Patriots, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary would take place with the two big dogs taking on much lesser foes in the Browns (Patriots) and Lions (Jets). Even Buffalo was given a stumbling Chicago Bears team in the hopes of gaining their first win of the year, and they got them at home nonetheless. Miami was the division’s lone team with a perceived “real” test with their big game in Baltimore. However, everything out of the ordinary happened during the hours of twelve noon and three p.m. (central). The AFC East went 1-3 with one of those wins being classified under the term “miraculous.” The Browns and Ravens ran all over their foes for 34-14 and 26-10 wins respectively while the Bears were able to win by a three-point margin instead of the other way around, which had comprised the Bears’ two losses coming into their game at Buffalo. The beating the Ravens dished out was somewhat expected as Miami is nowhere near as physical a team as Baltimore, but the beating the Browns dished out was almost a mugging in its savagery and unexpectedness. As for the Jets, they had to scratch and claw their way back from ten down in the final few minutes to even force overtime. And this was after being outplayed throughout in a second straight poor outing for the J-E-T-S against an NFC North foe. A 1-3 weekend with two losses via slaughter and their lone win as a division being under circumstances that nobody can realistically expect on a weekly basis sends an interesting message to the AFC East. That message: don’t let this day’s hangover last too long, or you’ll have bigger problems.

The college football equivalent to the AFC East, but with more wins this past weekend, would be the Big-10, which had one of its weirdest weekends in a while. To start things off, let’s look at Iowa and Wisconsin who both barely got by Indiana and Purdue. Don’t let Bucky’s 21-point win fool you: this was a team that was down at half after playing possibly its worst half of the season and did everything they could to make up for it in the final thirty minutes. Iowa was missing Adam Robinson, so the fact that they could only score on field goals before a late Stanzi touchdown pass won them the game is excusable only to the extent that they still found a way to win the game. However, if this is representative of how Iowa plays without Robinson, they better do everything they can to keep that man healthy until their bowl game because they’ll need him. There was the celebration and jubilation in Happy Valley for Joe Paterno becoming the first D-1 (FBS) coach to win 400 games, accomplishing the feat with Penn St.’s 35-21 win over Northwestern Saturday. And while that is noteworthy enough, the fact that Penn St. was down 21-0 just before halftime and shut the Wildcats out for the final thirty puts this win among JoePa’s best only because of the stakes, and the fact that it was just better to get the momentous win out of the way before having to face Ohio St. this coming weekend. A touchdown with three seconds before halftime (on a drive that lasted 53 seconds) combined with a twenty-one point third quarter put the Nittany Lions in front for good and secured Paterno a ride on his player’s shoulders as night replaced day in Pennsylvania. And then there was the shootout to end all shootouts in the Big-10. Michigan’s win over Illinois in triple overtime wasn’t noteworthy just because it made Michigan bowl eligible for the first time under Rich Rodriguez, but also because the 67-65 final was the highest scoring Big-10 conference game in history. Not too big a surprise considering the fact that both teams have poor defenses and Michigan’s secondary being the worst I’ve ever seen in nearly twenty years of watching Michigan football. The addition of Denard Robinson and then Tate Forcier into the equation as quarterback of Michigan and its offense only made me less surprised that the game became a shootout. The fact that neither team could stop the other made it a case where I literally couldn’t get out of my seat.

Finally, it was uplifting to see that with all of the turmoil and soap opera bullshit surrounding the Minnesota Vikings these days that the old gunslinger himself, Brett Favre, could still do what made him a star to so many: make big comebacks and win football games. A loss to the Arizona Cardinals at home would’ve been disastrous to Minnesota and their season, and may have given the league a second major head coaching firing on Monday to talk about. However, it was Favre with the assistance of Adrian Peterson that made it happen in the final four minutes of regulation and then in overtime leading the Vikings to seventeen unanswered points and a 27-24 win. This is not uncommon for Favre, he’s done it his whole career. But what makes this one so special is that he did it at a point in his career when retirement is literally staring him in the face (not like it was the past couple of seasons). The scariest part about how good this comeback was: Favre and the Vikings got stopped on their possession prior to Peterson’s touchdown run—the first TD of the comeback—when Peterson couldn’t punch it one from the Cardinal one on fourth and goal.

CURRENT BCS STANDINGS

1. Oregon

2. Auburn

3. TCU

4. Boise St.

5. LSU

6. Stanford

7. Wisconsin

8. Nebraska

9. Ohio St.

10. Oklahoma St.

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