So much for making things easy on themselves.
With their playoff prospects in their control, the Ravens, Texans, Giants, Jets, Broncos and even the Packers messed up Sunday. While there’s no sense in fretting over Green Bay now that its unbeaten season has disappeared, the others had losses that could wind up critical to their postseason positioning.
Or even making the postseason at all.
“Now we’re behind in the hunt versus taking care of business on our own,” said Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, whose team “visits” the equally desperate Jets on Saturday. “We have to wait and see what happens with someone else now. So we have to go ahead and beat these next two teams (Jets and Cowboys) and hope that things go the way we need them to go with Dallas.”
The Giants (7-7) would have won the NFC East by sweeping their final three games, but were duds against the also-ran Redskins on Sunday. That defeat pretty much ruined their shot at a wild card.
The Jets (8-6) also were in prime playoff shape with a sweep of their last three. Then they were equally inept as their MetLife Stadium neighbors, getting routed at Philadelphia. Not only did that keep the Eagles (6-8) alive for the division crown, it plunged the Jets into a wild-card stew that also includes Denver, Oakland, San Diego, Tennessee and Cincinnati.
“If we handle our business, we win these next two games, we’ll be in the playoffs,” Ryan said, although there’s a scenario that could block that, too — a scenario his team could have avoided had it showed up and won in Philly. “And that’s all that matters.”
The loss that might matter most for Baltimore came at San Diego on Sunday night, a prime-time flop with serious ramifications for the Ravens. They are 7-0 at home, 3-4 on the road, with none of the four defeats coming against top-level teams. By falling behind in the overall AFC race, the Ravens might not secure even one home playoff game should they slip behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North. That would negate their impressive sweep of the Steelers during the regular season.
“The only thing at the end of the day that is disappointing is you didn’t come out and play your type of football,” the Ravens’ Ray Lewis said. “Outside of that, the thought process is the same and getting into the playoffs is the No. 1 agenda. The disappointing part is we didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to do.”
Nor did the Texans (10-4), who might get a pass from some people because they are a first-time playoff qualifier. Maybe they got too comfortable or were too busy applauding themselves. Perhaps it was the rash of injuries to key people catching up to them.
Regardless, they went from top seed in the AFC to behind the Patriots (11-3) at the very least. Although they know one playoff game will be at Reliant Stadium because they are a division champion, the Texans placed some stumbling blocks in their path.
And they learned a lesson.
“Every time you step up, each team in this league is capable of winning,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “Everybody has good players and you have to bring your A-game each week.”
One team, the Packers, might have benefited from not having their best in Kansas City. At 13-1, they still can get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with another victory or a 49ers loss. Plus, they no longer have to deal with questions about perfection.
“I didn’t see a bunch of guys running around talking about 16-0. That was my sense of it,” coach Mike McCarthy said. Still, at 14-0 they wouldn’t have any doubt about staying home for the entire playoffs.
Denver (8-6) won’t likely have that perk, but will own the AFC West by beating the Bills and Chiefs. The Broncos’ mystique, built during a six-game winning streak featuring stunning comebacks led by Tim Tebow, took a hit when they were handled by New England on Sunday.
Not that the Broncos have ever taken the easy route this year.
“We’re excited about where we’re at,” Tebow said, “and we’re going to continue to be positive and stay motivated and just try to improve, like we’ve done every single day in practice.”
Oddly, although the Broncos control the AFC West, all four teams remain alive to win the division. Even the Chargers, who were 4-7 and on a six-game slide before winning their last three games.
“There are more outs this year with wild-card scenarios and who knows what, but one thing that stays true in all scenarios is we have to win our next two games,” Chargers QB Philip Rivers said. “Let’s just worry about us and what we control.”
Ah, control. Not always an easy thing to hang on to.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.