December has been the cruelest month for NFL fans, with both weeks' action overshadowed by senseless tragedy. So let's force ourselves to start this week's recap with a moment that reminds us why we care in the first place. Check out the upside-down-and-backwards-fingertip grab Philadelphia's Jason Avant made against Tampa Bay.
Avant's catch came in the second quarter of what proved to be Sunday's wildest game, a 23 - 21 final-second victory for the Eagles over Tampa Bay. Avant's 20-yard catch of Nick Foles' third down pass set up Philadelphia's first points, and they needed every last one. Down by four with 2:44 remaining, Foles led the Eagles on a 15-play, 64-yard drive in 2:44, hitting Jeremy Macklin in the end zone for the winning score as time expired.
The win was a temporary reprieve from an otherwise miserable 2012 for Philadelphia, who had last won in September.
Playoff Picture: We thought this was the week that the playoff picture would snap into focus, but a Sunday of unexpected upsets left more questions than answers.
First, the NFC's top team, Atlanta, lost to woeful Carolina, 30 - 20, leaving the door open for Green Bay, San Francisco or the Giants to challenge for the No. 1 seed and possibly knock the Falcons out of a first-round bye (the AFC's top teams, New England and Houston, face off on Monday Night Football).
While the 49ers, Giants, Broncos, Colts and Seattle took care of playoff business with big wins, Washington's overtime win over Baltimore, San Diego's upset of Pittsburgh and Minnesota's takedown of Chicago added confusion. Next week should help as eight contenders square off: Chicago plays Green Bay, the 49ers get New England and Denver goes to Baltimore and Dallas hosts Pittsburgh. The Cowboys remain alive in the NFC East with Washington and the Giants thanks to a 20 - 19 comeback win over Cincinnati. But few in Big-D will remember Sunday for the game.
Dallas Tragedy: For the second straight week, an NFL team was rocked by the senseless death of a player. A week ago, Kansas City's Javon Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then shot himself at the team's training facilities. Early Saturday, Dallas nose tackle Joshua Price-Brent was arrested on an intoxicated manslaughter charge after wrecking his car, killing his passenger, Cowboy teammate Jerry Brown Jr. Brown was a "practice squad" player for Dallas, simulating opposing teams in practices and hoping to catch on with the full team.
Police at the scene suspected Price-Brent, who was mostly unhurt, of intoxication and arrested him.
The Cowboys starter at nose tackle, Price-Brent was college teammates with Brown at the University of Illinois and lobbied Cowboys coaches to give Brown a shot.
But is their happy news necessarily good news for Patriots' fans? As the team prepares for one of the most anticipated games of 2012 Monday night against Houston, a completely unscientific theory might be cause for worry.
Football Outsider's statistical guru Aaron Schatz appeared on ESPN's podcast The B.S. Report With Bill Simmons last week and noted a recent drop off in play by Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and both wondered if the explanation might be outside traditional Xs andOs: Tillman's statistical dip coincided with his wife's delivery of the couple's fourth child.
No new parent who has ever lost a night of sleep—or many nights of sleep—to a fussy newborn would rule out this theory, even for an NFL tough guy like Tillman.
So should Pats fans brace for a baby bump-in-the-road on their playoff journey? Brady's numbers after Gisele had the couple's first baby, Benjamin, in 2009 suggest the theory might be alive and kicking. Or screaming.
Ben was, like his new little sister, born just prior to week 14 of Tom's season. Prior to Ben, Brady threw for 300 yards in 6 of 7 games, and was the October 2009 AFC's Offensive Player of the Month. But after Ben's arrival, Brady never came close to another 300-yard game and only broke 200 once in the Pats' final five games. And as Pats' fans surely recall, he had the worst game of his career in the team's first round playoff loss to Baltimore, committing three turnovers in the first quarter.
Was it Ray Lewis that cold day in Boston? Or colic? Is a second child really easier? Will Bill Belichick search the league for a nanny that another quarterback has given up on and find innovative ways to use her in the Brady household? Such are the questions around which the last quarter of the NFL season may turn.