/Gridiron Digest: The Steelers Magical Season Rolls Toward the Playoffs

Gridiron Digest: The Steelers Magical Season Rolls Toward the Playoffs

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Thursday’s slate of games marked the beginning of the Take the Bills Seriously era, kept the Bears’ playoff hopes on life support and compelled Jerry Jones to seemingly finally give Jason Garrett one last set of last chances, among other developments. How have those storylines played out since? Here’s a rundown for those who didn’t keep up amid the holiday rush:


Atlanta Falcons

Dan Quinn said after Thursday’s loss to the Saints that he will not bench Matt Ryan, Julio Jones or other veterans for their own protection during the meaningless final month of the season. 

On the one hand, preserving their health while the Falcons sink closer to the top of the draft order makes Moneyball sense. On the other hand, Quinn is coaching for his next job at this point, and football remains an entertainment industry. Neither season-ticket holders nor television viewers should be subjected to a full month of Matt Schaub throwing to Christian Blake.

The non-tanking is great news for fantasy owners but won’t have much impact on the real NFL, as the Falcons’ remaining games are against teams that are either safely in the playoffs (49ers) or have little chance at the postseason (Panthers, Jaguars, Bucs). Keep an eye on that matchup with the 49ers in two weeks, though. Nothing would be more “Falcons” than for them to have one of their monthly surges and knock off a top team as heavy underdogs. 


Buffalo Bills

It’s OK to still not be convinced about the 2019 Bills, even after Thursday’s win in Dallas. But you should definitely keep an eye on the 2020 and 2021 Bills, because the last two draft classes have been putting on a showcase lately. Rookies Ed Oliver and Devin Singletary had breakout games Thursday. Offensive tackle Cody Ford and tight end Dawson Knox have also become capable starters as rookies. Second-year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds ranks among the NFL’s leaders with 90 total tackles, and of course Josh Allen has quietly developed from the punching bag of the 2018 draft into a consistent passer and dangerous runner.

The Bills are a team on the rise. Upcoming tests against the Ravens and Patriots will gauge whether they are ready to rise past the first round in this year’s playoffs.


Chicago Bears

Three wins in the past four games have kept the Bears from falling off the back fringe of the playoff race. Mitchell Trubisky has thrown eight touchdowns and “just” four interceptions in those games, elevating his status from our nation’s greatest source of shame to just another young quarterback with occasional ups and extended downs.

So have the Bears “turned the corner”? Or is sweeping the Matthew Stafford-less Lions and beating the Giants exactly the sort of fluky hot streak that tricks an organization into thinking all is well and making catastrophic long-term decisions? You can probably tell which one Gridiron Digest thinks it is. 


Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones said that “this is not the time” to fire Jason Garrett after Thursday’s loss to the Bills. He was right, of course: It was Thanksgiving night! But apparently Black Friday was not the time, either, nor does he plan to invest in a time machine to go back to the end of the 2015 season and fire Garrett at a time when it was appropriate.

“I’m looking ahead at another ballgame and I’m looking ahead at winning four or five straight and helping to write a story that they’ll talk about that you were down and out and you got it done,” Jones said after the loss to the Bills, per Adam Maya of NFL.com. “Every decision that I make over the next month will be with an eye in mind to get us in the Super Bowl now.”

So Garrett must win four or five games down the stretch and then get to the Super Bowl, or he’s fired. Got it, Jerrah. We’re gonna hold you to that. 


Detroit Lions

David Blough probably saved Matt Patricia’s job on Thanksgiving. No, the third-stringer didn’t lead the Lions to a win (though he played pretty well), but his mere presence in the lineup will allow Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn to write this off as a “blame the injuries” year. 

To be fair, the Lions have been one of this season’s most injury-plagued teams at multiple positions. But this “blame the injuries” season comes on the heels of a “blame the culture” season. Before that were two “blame the coach, whom I didn’t hire” seasons for Quinn, even though Jim Caldwell led the team to a pair of 9-7 records and a playoff berth in those seasons.

Giving a coaching-management regime three-to-five mulligans while it takes the team in the wrong direction is a great way to set an organization back a decade.


New Orleans Saints

The Saints allowed the Falcons to recover two onside kicks in the waning minutes Thursday night, nearly turning a lopsided victory into a catastrophe. Actually, they allowed three recoveries, but one was negated by an offside penalty; the Falcons executed nearly the same play on the next kick, and the same guy (Foyesade Oluokun) recovered it. 

It’s a good thing the Saints defense kept the Falcons from scoring a final time. Otherwise, Sean Payton would stomp his feet and demand that the competition committee change the onside kick rule, Saints fans would file class-action lawsuits against Younghoe Koo, etc., etc.

Payton should just assign Taysom Hill to stand wherever he thinks the ball will be kicked. Hill can then run it back for a touchdown, television announcers can swoon like they just witnessed the birth of Tim Tebow’s lovechild with Baby Yoda, and the cool kids on Twitter can sniff about how they would rather root for teams to acquire future compensatory draft picks than watch a third-string quarterback block punts and catch touchdown passes.