Not as easy as it looked


Not as easy as it looked

By Michael Felger

Four quick thoughts from a terrific NFL Sunday:

Credit the Patriots win on Sunday night to Aaron Rodgers' concussion. If the Packers starter played, it's hard to imagine the Packers would have burned the clock like they did late in the game and it's hard to imagine the Pats, given the way they were playing, would have been able to stop him. As it was, the Pats made Matt Flynn look like a star (or at least Colt McCoy) and won only thanks to a pair of unlikely returns one by guard Dan Connolly of all people, and another by corner Kyle Arrington.

The Pats were not particularly sharp offensively or defensively on this night, but they made just enough plays on both sides of the ball to eek out the victory. That's an improvement from the last time they looked like this, Nov. 7 at Cleveland, when their mistakes proved fatal. This time, they just proved a nuisance.

Still, Bill Belichick will have plenty of teachable moments to show his team. Ideally, this will be the kind of reality check game the Browns contest was, only without the negative impact of a defeat.

Then again, the Pats had been playing so well recently that a more human performance was probably in the cards. And it may very well show the fans the reality of the situation: The path to the Super Bowl won't be as easy as the Pats were making it look.

I don't know how you feel about it, but I consider the Colts winning over Jacksonville to be a mediocre result for the Patriots.

With the win, the Colts assumed the lead in the AFC South, and if the season ended today they would hold the No. 4 seed. As of now, that makes them the Pats' most likely opponent for their first playoff game at Gillette Stadium next month. (The Pats, as the presumed No. 1 seed, will face the lowest remaining seed in the AFC in the divisional round. If both home teams win on wild card weekend at this point that would be the Chiefs and Colts then the Pats get Indy).

I'd rather face any other team in the AFC than the Colts.

The history is well-known. Peyton Manning and Indy came into Foxboro last month having won five of the last six meetings with Belichick, and only a diving James Sanders interception in the closing moments prevented that run from going to 6-of-7.

Yes, the Pats defense has improved. Yes, Manning's offense has been depleted by injuries (Austin Collie suffered another concussion yesterday). Yes, the game will be played outside in January, and Manning has only rarely played well in those conditions. I understand all those things.

And I still don't want to face the guy. He figured you out a long time ago.


Great win for the Jets in Pittsburgh. One of those statements games. They may not be as good as the Pats, but they don't suck. They're a worthy playoff team. They are NOT the "same old Jets."

All that being said, they still do stupid things as a team and a coaching staff that will eventually catch up to them. Two things stood out in Pittsburgh:

The first was the way they defended Ben Roethlisberger. The book on the Steelers quarterback is well known: His best plays come off scrambles. He loves rolling right and throwing into the right flat. He's not as effective staying on the spot, or scrambling left. Everyone knows this.

So what did the Jets do? They sent blitz after blitz off Roethlisberger's left side, forcing him out of the pocket to his right. The results were predictable: Roethlisberger shredded them on third downs

The other was the Jets total lack of clock awareness in the final five minutes. On several occasions, Jets ball carriers stepped out of bounds, stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to preserve time outs. Receiver Braylon Edwards did it twice. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson did it at least once. And if that wasn't bad enough, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer kept calling pass plays, most of which naturally fell incomplete, again stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to keep their stoppages.


Finally, after what happened yesterday in New York, how can you not want Michael Vick and the Eagles in the Super Bowl, should the Patriots make it that far?

I know some of you want revenge on the Giants. And I know some would like the fireworks associated with a matchup against the Saints for Falcons. A few of you would appreciate an easy matchup with Chicago.

But come on. There is no more exciting or controversial player in the NFL than Vick. It's guaranteed entertainment both during the week (can you imagine the dog nuts in Dallas?) and come game time. That's the matchup I want.

The only downside, and it's a significant one, is having to share the city of Dallas with the knuckle-draggers from Philadelphia. I'll just be sure to bring the Hazmat suit.

The report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Butler imitates Brown with post-interception dance: 'Nothing personal'


Butler imitates Brown with post-interception dance: 'Nothing personal'

Malcolm Butler didn't mean any disrespect. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 


When the Patriots corner picked off a Landry Jones pass in the first quarter -- one that was intended for receiver Antonio Brown -- Butler stood up in the end zone, faced the Heinz Field crowd, stuck one arm in the air a and gyrated like someone had attached jumper cables to his facemask. 

He was doing his best to mimick one of Brown's well-known touchdown dances.

"Me and Brown had conversation before," Butler said, "and it was a joke to him once I showed him how I do it. Much love for that guy. Nothing personal."

For Butler, it was the highlight of what was a productive afternoon. The third-year corner was asked to shadow Brown for much of the day, and he allowed Brown to catch five of nine targets for 94 yards. He also broke up a pair of passes intended for Brown's teammates.

“Stopping Antonio Brown, that’s impossible," Butler said. "You can’t stop him. You can only slow him down. I just went out there and tried to compete today . . . Great players are going to make plays but you have to match their intensity.”
Even on the longest throw from backup quarterback Landry Jones to Brown, a 51-yarder, it appeared as though Butler played the coverage called correctly. 

Butler lined up across from Brown and trailed him underneath as Brown worked his jway from the left side of the field to the right. Butler was looking for some help over the top in that scenario, seemingly, but because Brown ran across the formation, it was hard for the back end of the defense to figure out who would be helping Butler. 

Belichick admitted as much after the game. 

"He was on [Brown] a lot the way we set it up," Belichick said. "Look, they've got great players. They're tough to cover. They hit us on a couple over routes, in cut where they kind of ran away from the coverage that we had. 

"The plays were well designed. Good scheme, good thorws and obviously good routes by Brown. They got us on a couple, but I thought we competed hard. We battled all the way. We battled on third down. We battled in the red area. They made some. We made some, but they're good. They have a lot of good players."

And Brown, in particular, is about as close as it gets to unstoppable in the NFL. Butler found that out in Week 1 of last year when he matched up with Brown in his first game as a starter, giving up nine catches for 133 yards to the All-Pro wideout. 

Though Sunday might not have been perfect for Butler, it was better than that day about 14 months ago. And at times, it was worth dancing about. 

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks, Cardinals miss OT FGs, tie 6-6


SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Seahawks, Cardinals miss OT FGs, tie 6-6

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Seattle's Stephen Hauschka and Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro missed short field goals that would have won the game in overtime and the Seahawks and Cardinals settled for a 6-6 tie Sunday night.

Hauschka's 27-yard field goal was wide left with seven seconds left after Catanzaro's 24-yarder bounced off the left upright.

The tie was the Cardinals' first since Dec. 7, 1986, a 10-10 draw at Philadelphia when the franchise was based in St. Louis. It was the first for the Seattle since entering the NFL in 1976.

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