I'm in a Hooters in downtown Phoenix, Arizona and the Houston Texans are losing to the Oakland Raiders. And I'm the only one in the place watching the game.
The requisite Redskins fans are scattered about, watching the Redskins on a majority of the TVs - really, is there any place besides Dallas that doesn't have any Redskins fans? Inexplicably, there is a large group of Minnesota Vikings fans agonizing over the game with the Falcons. And I hear the occasional Bronco or Jet fan screaming in disgust. But I'm at a table watching the only TV tuned to the Texans, and I'm the only one watching as Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell becomes the Second Coming of Kenny Stabler and Raiders wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins is reborn as Tim Brown.
There was no way the Texans should have been losing to the Raiders. Yet on their very first offensive series, the Oakland Raiders did something that they hadn't done since December of 2007: They scored a touchdown in the first quarter. And after the Texans tied the game, the Texans let the Raiders storm back down the field for a field goal. Then I just sat in stunned silence as the Raiders then pulled off an onside kick and scored again, going up 13-7.
Sure the game was tied at the half, but I knew the game was over. I knew the Raiders were going to win. The Texans were moving the ball up the field, but as always, that high-octane offense couldn't get the ball in the end zone.
Things didn't improve in the second half. Like in the fourth quarter, after Johnnie Lee Higgins had scored touchdowns the last two times he had touched the ball to put the Texans down 27-13, the Texans found themselves with a first and goal at the ten, and had to settle for a 40-yard Kris Brown field goal because Chester Pitts lost his temper.
Or how about when Russell fumbled, giving the Texans the ball inside the Raiders 20 yard line? The Texans tried the pass on third and inches from the five, and when it was incomplete, instead of trying the field goal, Gary Kubiak called a time out in which he devised a play that resulted in Matt Schaub throwing an incomplete pass into triple coverage.
But it gets better. How about the turnover machine that is Matt Schaub throwing an interception on the next series, or Gary Kubiak benching the team's best player, Andre Johnson, for the last offensive series so that Jacoby Jones could get some reps? I've got an idea: How about Bob McNair benching Gary Kubiak for a season or five or ten and letting a real coach handle the team?
So that's how I spent a Sunday in Phoenix. Alone in a crowded Hooters, the only soul watching the Houston Texans on an isolated TV. Alone except for the young Hooters girl who kept bringing me beer after beer in which to drown my shock and sorrows.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NFL NOTES:
Things could be worse, Texan fans. We could be fans of one of those teams who played with the playoffs on the line over the weekend, and lost.
With a win, the Denver Broncos would have clinched the AFC West playoff berth. Instead, they lost to the Buffalo Bills 30-23. Now the 8-7 Broncos find themselves playing the 7-8 San Diego Chargers next Sunday night. If the Broncos win, they go to the playoffs. If they lose, the thoroughly mediocre Chargers go to the playoffs.
The Chargers, with their season on the line, stepped up and whipped the Tampa Bay Bucs 41-24 in Tampa Bay. The Chargers started the season at 4-8, but they have won their last three games to get back in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, the Bucs, who could have clinched a playoff spot, find themselves still on the edge of the playoffs.
The Vikings fans at the Phoenix Hooters were dismayed because a Vikings win would have meant they would have clinched the NFC North. Instead, the Vikings were embarrassed in Minnesota by the Atlanta Falcons, who with the win clinched one of the NFC Wild Card spots, while the Vikings must now either defeat the New York Giants on Sunday or hope that the Chicago Bears screw the pooch and lose to the Texans.
By the time I showed up at the Hooters, the Arizona Cardinals fans, what few there are, were gone. This was probably a good thing as the Cardinals lost to the New England Patriots 47-7. The Cardinals are actually going to the playoffs, and they will actually have a home game in the first round, yet the Cards, who started the season at 7-3, have lost four of their last five games. They have lost their last three games by an average of 30 points, and they have been outscored 83-7 in the first half of their last three losses, including New England's 31-0 half time lead on Sunday.
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In a game that Jeff Fisher called their best of the season, the Tennessee Titans clinched home field for all of the AFC playoffs when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-14. The Titans were the first team this season to gain over 300 yards on the Steelers defense.
And while people who watched the Titans probably saw the best team in the NFL, those who watched the New Orleans Saints game probably saw the worst team in NFL history. The Saints defeated the Detroit Lions 42-7 on Sunday. The Detroit loss saw the Lions become the first team in history to go 0-15 for a season, and if they lose in Green Bay on Sunday, they will become the only team in NFL history to go 0-16 for an entire season.
-- John Royal