Keeping Score

Still Tebow Time, Luckless Leinart: Three Things We Learned From NFL Week 12

TIME's Sean Gregory breaks down the lessons from football's 12th week.

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Lenny Ignelzi/AP

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, left, breaks away from San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Travis LaBoy during the second half on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, in San Diego

1. Tebow Time, Part V  — His passing statistics, as usual, were unsightly: Tim Tebow completed 9 out of 18 passes on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, for 143 yards and a touchdown. But, as usual, Tebow engineered a win for the Denver Broncos. On a critical third-and-10 from the Denver 25 late in the game, and with Denver trailing 13-10, Tebow connected with receiver Eric Decker for a 39-yard pass: Denver kicker Matt Prater hit a 24-yard field goal with 1:34 left in regulation to tie it. San Diego Chargers kicker Nick Novak, whom cameras caught urinating on the sideline late in the game, missed a 53-yard field goal with 2:31 left in overtime (he had connected on a 53-yarder, a career long, in the first quarter). A few minutes later, Prater hit a 37-yarder to win it, his 38thconsecutive field goal from inside 40 yards. The win gives Denver a 5-1 record with Tebow, who also rushed for 67 yards, as starter, and the Broncos remain just one game behind the 7-5 Oakland Raiders in the AFC West standings. The Chargers, meanwhile, have lost six straight games for the first time in 10 years.
(MORE: God And The NFL: What Tim Tebow’s Celebrity Says About America)

2. The Heisman Curse Continues — Matt Leinart, winner of the 2004 Heisman trophy at USC, is not the most sympathetic figure in sports. He was a bit of a party boy, and for a time seemed more interested in showing up in tabloids than box scores. But at this point, you’ve got to feel for him. Early in Leinart’s career, when he was with the Airzona Cardinals, two season-ending injuries derailed his development. By 2008, he had lost his starting job to future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner; in 2009, Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. Leinart could not win back the starting job after Warner retired, and signed with Houston last year to back up Matt Schaub. During Houston’s 37-9 win over Tampa Bay last week, Schaub suffered a Lisfranc injury, shelving him for the season: the Texans, on pace to clinch their first playoff appearance in franchise history, turned to Leinart.Leinart would finally get his chance to prove he wasn’t a bust. Things were looking up for him against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday: he completed 10 of his first 13 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. In the second quarter, however, Jacksonville defensive end Jeremy Mincey hit Leinart hard, sending him to the locker room. He injured his throwing shoulder: reports say he likely broke his collarbone, and won’t return this season. (Houston won the game, 20-13). We don’t know if Leinart was one of the more overrated players to come out of college. But we do know he’s one of the unluckiest.

3. The Raiders Leg One Out — It’s hard to picture a kicker winning an NFL MVP award, especially in a year when a quarterback like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is dominating. (It’s happened once: Redskins kicker Mark Moseley was the 1982 NFL MVP). But any other year, Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders might deserve at least a look. In the season opener, Janikowski connected on a 63-yarder, tying the NFL record for the longest field goal, during Oakland’s 23-20 victory over Denver. And in the Raiders’ 25-20 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Janikowski hit all six of his attempts, from 40, 47, 42, 19, 37, and 44 yards. Janikowski is 16 for 18 on field goals for the year, and has connected on 5 of his 6 attempts from 50 yards or longer.Janikowski was the last kicker to be drafted in the first round: Oakland selected him 17th overall in 2000. Only three kickers have ever been picked in the first round. Late Raiders owner Al Davis had taken a lot of heat for that decision. With Oakland in first place, maybe this is the year the move really pays off.


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