Sunday's loss was painful. It felt a lot like the loss to the Ravens in last season's playoffs. It was a game we could have one, and should have one, but didn't. Losses like that sting. But now that the moment has passed, and the pain has subsided, here is what I am taking from the game.
First of all, this was a big loss. It doesn't end our season, so it was not nearly as bad as the playoff loss. And it wasn't a division game, so it was not as bad as KC's loss. Besides, we still control our own destiny. If we win out, we have home field advantage in the playoffs. So we are arguably not much worse off after the game than we were before it. However, if we had won, we would have had a three game lead on the Pats. If we followed that up with a win in KC this week, we would have effectively had a 3 game lead on them, with 4 games to play.
Why does that matter?
We could have clinched home field in Week 14, and given Manning and the rest of our walking-wounded, a few weeks off before the playoffs. Sure we that would mean giving up on chasing passing and scoring records, but what is that compared with a healthy (or healthier) team in January? Now we will probably be jockeying for position right up to the end of the year.
But the results are in, and what matters now is what we do with what we saw. Here are my takeaways from the game.
1. We have a running game! One of the biggest concerns early in the year was that we relied so much on the pass that, come playoff time, we would not be able to move the ball in the elements. Well, 280 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry say otherwise (and that average was not skewed by a few big gainers; the biggest gain of the night was 18 yards. Yes, it was against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, but 280 yards is 280 yards. They knew it was coming and couldn't stop it.
2. If we could take care of the ball we would be, unquestionably, the best team in the NFL. We lead the league in fumbles-lost by a wide margin. We have twice as many as any other team in the AFC. In our two losses, we have lost 5 fumbles. We are beating ourselves. Everyone says that fumbling is correctable. So let's correct it already.
3. Having said that, when Moreno hobbles out of the game, don't throw him back in three plays later and run him up the gut twice in a row. We had first and 10 at the New England 39 in overtime. That was our best opportunity to win the game. In that situation, Del Rio/ Gase need to (a) pass (Talib had just gone out of the game), or (b) give Ball or Anderson a second chance. I would have chosen (b). And Knowshon needs to be man enough
to play through injury tell the coaches that he was too hurt to be effective. As significant as this loss was, losing Moreno to a serious injury would be worse, and the best way to get a serious injury is to play when you have a minor injury that prevents you from doing what you can normally do. There is a place for playing through pain, but toughness needs to take a back seat to wisdom.
4. Von Miller is a beast. Del Rio called him out (sort of) and he stepped up.
5. Does anyone still think we are better off with Webster than we would be with Champ?
6. I still like our chances to win it all this year. Even if we slip up again and have to go to New England in the playoffs, I like our chances. Apparently the smart money does too. In Vegas we are listed as co-favorites (with Seattle) to win the Super Bowl.