published Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Wiedmer: Even Santa's elves probably watched Sunday's NFL

Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning smiles as he walks off the field after he threw a touchdown pass against the Houston Texans during his NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Houston. The pass was manning's 51st touchdown pass of the season.
Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning smiles as he walks off the field after he threw a touchdown pass against the Houston Texans during his NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, in Houston. The pass was manning's 51st touchdown pass of the season.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If we were all the kind of husbands, fathers and sons we need to be, we would have been somewhere besides our sofas watching the next-to-last weekend of the National Football League's regular season on Sunday afternoon.

After all, Christmas is now but two days away for crying out loud. Some of us -- not that I'm admitting to anything -- have yet to finish our shopping, much less our wrapping. And our wives and children would probably just like to know we still exist, or that they still matter to us in some separate universe from Fantasy Football.

And once the Atlanta Falcons help say good-bye in style to Candlestick Park tonight by playing doormat to the San Francisco 49ers before the wind-whipped, fog-filled stadium is mercifully mashed, we'll all no doubt finally get around to that Christmas stuff.

But Sunday was one of those days that makes you realize just how special the NFL can be when everything clicks just right. It's almost enough to make you think the jolly big guy in the red suit is something of a football nut himself. Probably even gave the elves Sunday off until the 4:30 games ended. Merry football to all, and to all a good off-season. Or something like that.

And didn't we all learn a lot on Sunday, though some of it we should have already known. Such as that however flawed a person New England coach Bill Belichick may be, no one's better at winning games he's not supposed to win.

Checking Sunday morning's talking heads, almost no one seemed to think Belichick's Patriots could knock off Baltimore on the road without tight end Rob Gronkowski. Whatever. The Pats won won 41-7, the kind of victory that sends a message to the rest of the AFC that whatever New England's shortcomings, as long as Tom Brady's at quarterback and Belichick's in his gray hoodie, the Pats must be considered a Super Bowl favorite.

That said, with Peyton Manning breaking Brady's regular-season touchdown passes record of 50 with his 51st TD of the 2013 season in Denver's 37-13 win over Houston, the former Tennessee Vol now has Denver in position to own home field if it wins at Oakland this week, which means New England would conceivably have to visit the Mile High City to reach the Super Bowl.

And if that happens, the most-watched television channel the week of that conference title game might not be ESPN, but the Weather Channel, given the concern over Manning's ability to navigate inclement winter weather.

Not that the 37-year-old Manning necessarily believes he'll hold the record long if the 36-year-old Brady plays the game a couple of years longer than him at the same time the league does the expected and moves to an 18-game regular season.

"I think it's a unique thing and a neat thing to be a part of NFL history, even though it may be temporary," he told reporters. "So I'm going to enjoy it as long as it lasts, and hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back once somebody throws for more."

The Tennessee Titans coach whose heart Manning broke when he decided to pass on becoming a Titan in favor of Denver probably assured himself of coaching more games than Sunday's finale against Houston by winning at Jacksonville. His team down 10 points in the final half, Mike Munchak watched his squad rally to win 20-16, the kind of victory that makes it more difficult to fire him when considering all the games quarterback Jake Locker has missed.

The Titans aren't great, but neither are they awful and they still seem to want to play hard for Munchak even if they don't always play well. The smile on Munch's face at the end of the Jacksonville win and the excitement shown by his players makes at least one more year all but certain.

The same cannot be said for former Titans assistant Jim Schwartz, who watched his Detroit Lions lose for the fifth time in their last six games falling in overtime to the New York Giants thanks to QB and former Georgia star Matthew Stafford throwing a pick-six.

After guiding Motown to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years two seasons ago, Schwartz has watched the Lions go 11-20, including 2-13 over the last half of those seasons. A reported $12 million buyout to erase the last two years of his contract might save him for one more year, or maybe ownership is ready for a recall.

Either way -- especially after former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner called Stafford, "the most undisciplined quarterback in the National Football League," on Sunday morning -- both Schwartz and his QB may be on the clock.

And, of course, no NFL column is complete without at least one reference to the Dallas Cowboys, who can reach the playoffs for just the second time in the last five years if they whip Philly when the Eagles visit Jerry's World this weekend.

Throw in the fact that Eagles coach Chip Kelly could be attempting to secretly squeeze in an interview for the Texas Longhorns post and this has the makings of one of the most talked-about games ever between these two, especially after Big D quarterback Tony Romo's last-minute TD toss saved the 'Boys at Washington on Sunday.

"Today we felt like we were playing for everything," Romo told the media afterward. "Next week will be the same thing."

Yes, and no. For come Sunday, a lot of us will be able to watch our favorite NFL teams in relative peace, since our wives and children will be out exchanging all the Christmas gifts we wouldn't have foolishly bought them if we hadn't been too distracted by the NFL to pay attention to their wish lists.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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