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Don’t worry.  The Skins’ trip through the NFC Gauntlet is almost complete.  Two games against the sad-sack NY Giants bookend a cakewalk that features three other teams with losing records and the fourth is a Dallas squad minus Ezekiel Elliott.  The 38-30 loss to Minnesota was merely a speedbump on their way to a 10-6 finish.  Yes, they have to play the South-leading Saints next, but after that it’s nothing but smooth sailing for the Burgundy and Gold.  Unless–the Skins are really a pretender that’s on their way to a sub-500 finish for the sixth time in nine years.

Captain Kirk- the Face of the Franchise completed 26 of 45 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown while adding a pair of TD runs.  He did throw an interception that allowed the Vikings to take a double-digit lead late in the first half.  But with receivers slipping and minimal support from his backs, Cousins was still an onside kick away from being in position to tie up NFC North leaders.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “A Piece of the Action”, where Kirk and Spock beam down to a planet that’s mimicked the 1920’s Prohibition Ganster era.  Plenty to like (especially the card game “fizzbin”) but at the end you realize you were looking for a better sixty minutes to spend your time.

Running on Fumes- the ground game was held to under 100 yards for the fifth straight week.  The firm of Perine, Thompson & Kelley resembled Lionel Hutz “I Can’t Believe it’s a Law Firm!” as the trio tallied 71 yards on 22 tries.  Now Kelley goes on injured reserve and the Skins ink Byron Russell from Philadelphia’s practice squad;  the former Oregon Duck was the first player in program history to notch a 1,000-yard rushing season AND a 1,000-yard receiving season in his collegiate career.

Third Down and Out- the Skins converted 5-of-14 money downs, with Cousins completing 7 of 10 passes (and four conversions) while running for a first down and getting sacked (an early incompletion to Vernon Davis was wiped out thanks to a roughing the passer penalty).  Chris Thompson (in addition to making one catch on three targets that moved the marker) carried twice on 3rd & 1…getting stuffed once while getting the yardage once.  Jamison Crowder was the top target- getting four throws, catching three and converting two.  Yardage breakdown:  4-of-5 on short-yardage (including 2-of-3 on the ground), 2-for-2 on medium yardage and 0-for-7 on 3rd & 7+.

Zach Brown Band- sometimes even when the album has ten tracks (or tackles), the product doesn’t work.  The Skins allowed touchdowns on five of the first six times they took to the field…or 35 points on the first 32 plays from scrimmage en route to a season-high 38 points allowed.  The pass rush failed to get a sack.  While DJ Swearinger tallied two interceptions in the second half, Case Keenum completed over 70% of his passes and averaged over ten yards per attempt.

Third Down and Up- the Vikings converted 8-of-12 attempts while only facing three third downs in the first half.  Keenum completed 7-of-10 passes with each completion resulting in a conversion…while also scrambling for a yard on 3rd & 8 late in the game.  Keenum found Adam Thielen for three first downs while connecting with Stefon Diggs twice.  Yardage breakdown:  3-for-3 on short-yardage, 5-for-5 on medium yardage and 0-for-4 on 3rd & 7+ yards neeeded.

Special Situations- Tress way booted his only punt of the day for 52 yards (you mean the Skins punted just once and still lost?).  Nick Rose connected on all three extra point attempts and on field goals of 21, 28 and 55 yards.  And then he attempted that onside kick…that didn’t go ten yards.  Meanwhile, on the other sideline Cobra Kai Forbath did his best “Johnny Lawrence at the 10-year reunion” impression–booting a 53-yarder while making all five extra point attempts.  Didn’t gloat about how he turned okay after attending Duke while Daniel LaRusso surely got popped for sneaking a bonsai tree into the US and did hard time.  I’m sure Johnny even got a wink from Ali at the reunion (she’s now happily married to Bobby, the sensitive Cobra Kai guy).

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia increased its lead without playing a game.  The Eagles had their bye week and at 8-1 own the best mark in the division, conference and league.  Dallas (5-4) stays in second place after their loss to Atlanta, while dropping to 10th place in the NFC.  Third place remains in the 4-5 Redskins grasp;  a better conference record gives them 11th place in the NFC over Arizona.  The Giants are in last place of the NFC East and are the 15th place team in the conference.  The only thing keeping NY out of dead last? San Francisco hasn’t had their bye week yet…and this weekend they will.

Conference Call- the NFC took a 24-16 lead with 24 games remaining in the inter-conference clash.  All four AFC Divisions have losing records against their NFC quartets.  When did it become 1995 again?  The NFC South owns the best record at 22-15 while the AFC North is a Browns-induced 14-22.  The NFC East?  Fourth best at 18-18.

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM…

 

I love the NFL.  Pro football was my gateway obsession when I first got into sports.  I loved getting the paper on Sunday with breakdowns off all the matchups…and I would flip between the pregame shows on CBS and NBC.  I did mock drafts when the NFL Draft was still a Tuesday in late April proposition;  I prepared preseason predictions in February, May and August and no matter how talented Dallas was somehow had them finishing 6-10 each time.  Nowadays I enjoy watching the pregame shows side by side by side, no matter how unfunny the “funny picks guy” may actually be. I still get goosebumps nowadays at 3:45pm…knowing that the next 45 minutes could very well resemble the first day of the NCAA Tournament.  I enjoy Thanksgiving games in Detroit and Dallas…even if they’re played in Pontiac or Arlington.  I cherish those weekends in January when legacies are made.  And I still eat way too much buffalo wing dip on Super Bowl Sunday.

I love the league–but I hate the fact that it never goes away.  The Draft was once an oasis in an offseason desert…and now it’s a three-day buffet that is one day too long.  Getting there is an ordeal with the scouting combine in late February and Free Agency in March (first, FA should be held after the Draft as a roster supplement but that’s just me).  After the Draft the slow drip of OTA’s (Organized Team Activities, not Offseason Torture Antagonism) the next two months we’re given what feels like a week before Training Camps open.

Only the news faucet is never shut in the NFL when the league feels it’s better to worm its way into the conversation, no matter how embarrassing the circumstances.  Deflategate felt like a bad “Saved by the Bell” episode (you might ask yourself, were there any GOOD “Saved by the Bell” episodes?  Yes, three.) with Commissioner Roger Goodell playing the part of Mr. Belding (obviously Tom Brady is Zack, Rob Gronkowski is Slater and Julian Edelman is Screech–with Belichick playing the part of their boss at Malibu Sands Beach Club).  We spent the better part of a calendar year discussing in depth the PSI of a football.  And there might still be more…because the Commish despite appearing to have the legal sensibility of Lionel Hutz refuses to punt after being thrown for a loss by a US District Court Judge.

The NFL is like that buddy who comes to your house for a party and makes the event better than you thought imaginable…only to show up the next day when you have laundry and vacuuming to do.  And they come back the day after that to hang out even though you have work or a wife to focus your energies on.  Or maybe you just don’t want to be confronted with the minutae of their non-party existence.  But here’s the league like the British Empire that never lets the sun set…back for more face-time.

Even the season is getting to be exhausting.  Thursday night games have been shoved down our throats for a decade…with overworked and under-prepared teams combining for subpar product.  If they had teams coming off bye weeks playing instead, you’d have 10 days for players to recuperate and over a week for coaches to create a game plan that doesn’t look like it’s been duct taped together with paper clips.

Sundays are now longer with the London regular season games kicking off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.  I’m just thankful the league hasn’t realized it could really crush the 25-54 demographic with 6 a.m Sunday starts. We have the last laugh on the Brits, though– they’re getting Jacksonville and their two-tone helmets again this year.  The Jaguars instead of failing to sell out their stadium 8 times in a market that never should have gotten an NFL team are averaging over 83,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.  I think the Monkees sold out Wembley too…

Next to expand?  Try the playoffs.  Talk of expanding the postseason to 14 or even 16 teams has been “gathering momentum” according to the commissioner, just like the demand for more games in London is “gaining traction”.  We’ve had more than a few teams reach the playoffs despite records of .500 or less recently…is it necessary to lower the bar even further?  More importantly, where do you put the extra games in the Wildcard Round?  Saturday or Sunday tripleheader?  Extend the playoff weekend to Monday night?

Earlier this year I joked that the NFL was considering expanding its draft to “one round a week” format during April and May so it could further intrude on the Final Four, Major League Baseball’s opening day, the NHL/NBA Playoffs and the annual showing of “The Ten Commandments”.  Obviously I was being facetious– the league would never show that lack of restraint.  They’d much rather go to “two picks a day” between February 15th and June 23rd (June 22nd on Leap Years).

But I still can’t wait until kickoff…