PHUKET: Quarterback Tony Romo and his Dallas Cowboys blew out a hapless Chicago Bears team 41-28 at Soldier Field in Chicago on Thursday Night Football, the first game of Week 14 of the NFL season.
The win raised the Cowboys’ record to 9-4, guaranteeing them their first winning season in five years following a string of three mediocre 8-8 seasons. Perhaps most impressive of all, they remain unbeaten on the road this year and are in a fine position to make a playoff run.
Like many Thursday Night games, this one got off to a rather slow start, the first quarter ending scoreless. The Cowboys were up 14-7 at the half, before scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Cutler and the Bears racked up 21 “garbage time” points in the fourth quarter.
The win was a big one for the well-rested Cowboys, who had ten days off to digest their Thanksgiving Day 33-10 home-loss at the hands of bitter divisional rivals the Philadelphia Eagles.
Although still a half game out of first place in the NFC East behind the Eagles (9-3), the fate of the Cowboys (now 9-4) rests in their own hands as they will travel to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Eagles again next week.
It comes as somewhat of an irony that the Cowboys are playing so much better on the road than at home in their US$1.15 billion AT&T Stadium in Arlington, one of the most expensive sporting facilities ever built. Unfortunately, the stadium and its huge “Jumbotron” are such a marvel that the Cowboys seem to lose some of their home field advantage because fans from so many visiting teams buy up tickets just to experience the stadium.
The Bears, now 5-8 and with no realistic hope left for a playoff berth, suffered a serious injury to one of their most potent offensive weapons, receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall was kneed in the back by the Dallas safety after making a first down catch in the first half. Early reports indicate that he may be out for the season with broken ribs and possible further injury to his spleen.
THE BIG PICTURE
With the regular season now three-fourths though, there appear to be four teams well positioned to make a Super Bowl run. Two of them, the Green Bay Packers (9-3) and New England Patriots (9-3), played last weekend at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin, where the Packers held on for a 26-21 win in a very well-played game that could have gone either way.Probably the difference was Green Bay’s amazing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who outshined New England’s star quarterback Tom Brady.
Both teams looked sharp in cold conditions in what had to be the best execution on both sides of the ball seen so far this year. If both the Pats and the Packers can remain injury free, they must be considered odds-on favorites to meet again in the Super Bowl.
Also coming on strong down the stretch are the defending Super Bowl champs the Seattle Seahawks, who are on a roll after a slow start. They now sit at 8-4, just one game behind the AFC West leaders The Arizona Cardinals. The football Cards, who got out to the best start in the league at 9-1, have seen their offence come off the rails, losing their last two games in dismal fashion after the loss of their quarterback Carson Palmer and a slew of other key players due to injuries. Unless the Cardinals can pull off a home win against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) this weekend in Phoenix (CBS, 4am start Monday, Phuket time), they could really be in big trouble.
AFC West leading Denver (9-3)continues to play consistently well. A home win at the appropriately-named Mile High Stadium (where you can smoke weed in the parking lot before the game) against the Buffalo Bills (7-5) could put them one step closer to getting one of the two byes in the first round of the playoffs.
That game (4am start Monday, CBS) will feature five of the top ten pass rushers in the league. Weather could be a key factor as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has trouble running his precision-passing offence in cold, windy condition – as witnessed a few weeks back in New England.
Some other great matchups with playoff implications this weekend:
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1). (CBS, 1am Monday)
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (7-5). (FOX, 1am Monday)
New England Patriots (9-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-4). (NBC, 8:30am Monday)
With so many big games taking place all at once, Phuket viewers unfamiliar with it may like to check out the NFL Network’s The Red Zone channel, which jumps back and forth between all Sunday games, providing ‘whip around’ simulcast coverage when teams are inside the defenders twenty yard line (The Red Zone).
— Somchai Huasaikul