Carson Palmer had an amazing game, but I have to begin with the Chargers because their inconsistency and underachievement is always the story.
Philip Rivers is playing terribly. His closing stats weren't too bad (23-47, 274 yards, 2 TDs, INT), but he continuously missed open receivers and threw into double coverage when he had better targets at his disposal. The bastard of the Trident was 4-of-11 for 44 yards at halftime, leading the Chargers to just 65 total yards (293 for Oakland) and three first downs (13 for Oakland).
Rivers says he's not hurt, but he definitely is. Regardless, I'd love it if he would stop making excuses. He was seen expressing his frustration to Norv Turner on the sideline, complaining about his offensive line and Vincent Jackson giving up on an interception. Rivers definitely had legitimate beef, but a leader isn't supposed to blame his teammates.
Speaking of the offensive line, the Chargers had no chance once they lost left tackle Marcus McNeill to a stinger. Kamerion Wimbley danced around replacement Brandyn Dombrowski and constantly put pressure on Rivers. Wimbley tallied four sacks, disgracing Dombrowski, his kids and his unborn grandchildren for life.
And by the way, it wasn't just the McNeill injury that hurt San Diego's chances of winning this game. Guard Louis Vasquez also left with an ankle. Scott Mruczkowski surrendered a sack in relief.
If there's one silver lining for the Chargers, it's that they may have found a legitimate No. 2 receiver to play over the oft-injured and unreliable Malcom Floyd. Third-round rookie Vincent Brown looked great, catching five balls for 97 yards and a touchdown, though he ran the wrong route on one instance and nearly cost Rivers a second pick. Brown was also robbed of another long score when Ed Hochuli claimed that Raider corner Lito Sheppard was out of bounds and touched the ball before Brown maintained possession. It seemed bogus to me.
But enough about the choking Chargers. The Raiders will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they have Carson Palmer playing this way every week. Palmer was almost perfect, going 14-of-20 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It's almost as if Palmer and Rivers switched jerseys prior to this contest. Palmer hasn't looked this good since 2005.
Oakland beat up on San Diego, yet it didn't even have Darren McFadden available or Rolando McClain operating at full strength. As NFL Network Mike Mayock pointed out, two of Michael Bush's long runs would have been touchdowns if McFadden were carrying the football. But Bush deserves a ton of credit because he rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to go along with three catches for 85 receiving yards.
Major props, by the way, to Marshall Faulk, who was the only NFL Network analyst to pick the Raiders. Faulk had Oakland winning because he believed Bush would steamroll San Diego's pathetic defense. And that's exactly what happened.
Denarius Moore is a beast. He caught five catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He must be added in all leagues because Jacoby Ford sprained his ankle. Following a 41-yard reception in the first quarter, Ford limped off the field. A tough break for his fantasy owners.
One more note: I think we all learned something tonight, and that would be the fact that pass interference doesn't exist on fake punts. Shane Lechler attempted a fake punt pass and fired a nice deep ball to his intended target in the first quarter. There was obvious pass interference, but Hochuli explained that pass interference can't be called out of a punt formation. I'll be shocked if that rule isn't changed this offseason.
(Editor's Note: The Bengals lost, but I think they proved that they are for real. They fell behind 14-0, but clawed their way back into the game. They had several chances to win this game, but a penalty and an interception did them in. I was impressed. Unfortunately, Leon Hall tore his Achillies' tendon. That blows.)
This AFC North grudge match featured the young upstart Bengals battling the veteran Steelers in a game that will have playoff implications in the AFC. Pittsburgh got it started well with their first drive, which featured Ben Roethlisberger hooking up with Mike Wallace for some good gains. Roethlisberger capped the drive when he bought some time and found Jerricho Cotchery open in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. The Steelers opened up a good lead later in the first quarter. Rashard Mendenhall got the drive going with a 26-yard catch after getting wide open. Wallace ran another good end around, and a pass to Heath Miller put the Steelers on the door step of the end zone. Mendenhall scored from two yards out.
Down 14-0, Andy Dalton answered. He moved to his left and aired the ball out into the end zone. A.J. Green was in double coverage, but the big rookie jumped over the two defenders to make a great 36-yard touchdown catch. Green was injured on the play and that was his only reception of the game. He was on the field on the next Cincinnati possession and ran the ball for seven yards, but was favoring his knee.
Pittsburgh's next possession saw the Bengals get opportunistic when cornerback Leon Hall intercepted a bobbled ball. That set up Cincinnati at the Steelers' 41-yard line. The Bengals had to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Mike Nugent. Just before halftime, the Steelers put together a good drive with Roethlisberger moving the ball through the air. He hit some big throws to Antonio Brown to move the ball into Cincinnati territory. A second touchdown pass to Cotchery was called back due to an offensive pass interference penalty on Miller. The Bengals' defensive line came through with their third sack of the first half on third down to force a field goal. Pittsburgh was up 17-10 at halftime.
Unfortunately, Hall suffered a ruptured Achilles' tendon against the Steelers and will miss the rest of the season. It is a devastating injury for the Bengals. He went out of the game just before halftime.
In the third quarter, Cincinnati moved the ball with some precision passes from Dalton. He connected with Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart for good gains to get inside the 10-yard line. Dalton finished the drive with a one-yard scoring pass to Gresham. Pittsburgh answered on their next possession for what would be the game-winning score. Roethlisberger threw the ball down the field with some short passes to his receivers. At the 9-yard line, Mendenhall made an impressive run where he shed two tackles to fall over the goal line for the score.
After that both defenses shored up. Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons caught a deflected pass for an interception early in the fourth quarter. The Bengal defense played well also and totaled five sacks in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati was moving into Pittsburgh territory. The comeback attempt ended when cornerback William Gay saw a slant route coming in zone coverage and intercepted the pass around the Steelers' 20-yard line. Pittsburgh controlled the ball and ran the clock out.
For the game, Roethlisberger completed 21-of-33 passes for 245 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Mendenhall ran for 44 yards on 16 carries with two scores. Brown led the Steelers in receiving with 86 yards on five receptions. Wallace caught five for 54 yards with two runs for 31 yards.
Dalton played better than his numbers indicate. He was 15-of-30 for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Benson had 57 yards on 15 carries. Andrew Hawkins led Cincinnati in receiving with 56 yards on five receptions.
Broncos 17, Chiefs 10
Has an NFL team ever won a game without completing a pass? Yes, actually, it's been done before. The Broncos nearly accomplished that feat at Arrowhead; Tim Tebow completed two balls in the victory.
Tebow didn't really have much of a chance to throw. In fact, of Denver's 15 plays in the first quarter, all 15 were runs. Tebow didn't attempt a pass until the second quarter, finishing 0-of-4 in the opening half, though one incompletion was a deep drop by Eric Decker. However, he did finish 2-of-8 for 69 yards, as he hit Decker for a perfect 56-yard strike for a touchdown.
Tebow, however, was really effective in that he really opened things up for the running game. Willis McGahee (4-17) suffered a hamstring injury, so it looked like Knowshon Moreno (4-52) was going to have a huge outing. However, Moreno also got hurt (knee sprain), so Lance Ball (30-96) got most of the work. Tebow, of course, chipped in on the ground, rushing for 43 yards and a score on nine scrambles.
Despite having as many touchdowns as completions, Tebow outplayed Matt Cassel, who had a really rough day. He went 13-of-28 for 93 yards and a touchdown. He took four sacks and was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. The team confirmed that he couldn't attempt a pass because of this malady, and Cassel was seen leaving the stadium with his arm in a sling. His status for next week's Monday night tilt at New England is in doubt.
With Cassel struggling, his receivers obviously disappointed their fantasy owners. Dwayne Bowe (2-17), Jonathan Baldwin (1-15) and Steve Breaston (4-33) all posted underwhelming numbers. It's worth noting that Baldwin's catch was an unbelievable grab in which he pinned the ball to Brian Dawkins' back and was able to get possession on the ground after the two rolled around.
Jaguars 17, Colts 3
Jeff Saturday held a players' only meeting during the week. His message was that this team absolutely had to secure a victory of some sort at all cost. A proud, veteran squad like this shouldn't go 0-16.
Well, like I wrote last week, the Colts would go 0-100 if there were 100 games in a season. There's no talent on this team, and it's absolutely killing them that the quarterbacks are all turnover machines.
The Colts fumbled the ball away on the second play last week, so I found it highly amusing that they committed a turnover on the third play in this contest. It was Delone Carter against the Falcons. This time, Curtis Painter was the culprit.
Painter finished 13-of-19 for 94 yards and two picks. His second interception was amusing because it came after yet another pick was nullified by 12 men on the defense. It's almost like the universe course corrected itself.
Dan Orlovsky relieved Painter after that, but wasn't any better. He went 7-of-10 for 67 yards against a prevent Jacksonville defense, but also had a lost fumble that led to a Jaguar touchdown.
Speaking of crappy quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert went 14-of-21 for 118 yards, one touchdown and an ugly interception immediately following Painter's first pick.
Gabbert was able to manage the game pretty easily because of Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He also tied for the team lead in receptions (3 for 23 yards).
Some Colts stats: Donald Brown started and rushed for 53 yards on 14 carries. Jacob Tamme (6-75) led the team in receiving, while Reggie Wayne (3-13) and Pierre Garcon (3-30) disappointed again.
Cowboys 44, Bills 7
If the Cowboys could look this sharp each week, they'd be in Super Bowl contention every single year. They were a machine against the Bills. They had just four possessions in the first half, but scored a touchdown on each drive. They compiled 317 yards of offense, outgaining Buffalo, who had just 98.
Tony Romo was downright surgical. He opened this contest 11-of-11 for 179 yards and three scores. By halftime, he was 18-of-19 for 237 yards, and he finished 23-of-26 for 270 yards and the same amount of touchdowns.
Two of Romo's scores went to Laurent Robinson (3-73), who didn't disappoint in relief of an injured Miles Austin-Jones. Dez Bryant (6-74) caught the other touchdown.
Another great performance from DeMarco Murray: the rookie runner compiled 135 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries. He didn't get more work because this game was out of hand in the second half. There's no way Felix Jones will take anything away from Murray when (or if) he returns from injury.
The one highlight for the Bills was when David Nelson gave the football to his hot Cowboy cheerleader girlfriend following a touchdown in the second quarter. Nelson said he had something planned for such an occasion, but revealed that he didn't plan on pulling an Ian Johnson and proposing to her. Lame.
The Nelson score was the only one for Buffalo. Ryan Fitzpatrick was abysmal otherwise, going 20-of-31 for 146 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. It wasn't all on Fitzpatrick - for example, C.J. Spiller dropped a long pass downfield, and his offensive line couldn't protect him - but this was still a really ugly performance. A couple more clunkers like this, and the front office may begin regretting giving Fitzpatrick a huge contract.
At least Fred Jackson is still good. Despite getting only 13 carries, Jackson tallied 114 yards. His longest gain was 19, so it's not like this was all just one huge burst.
(Editor's Note: This was embarrassing. It seemed like the Buccaneers were committing stupid penalties and making other dumb mistakes every couple of minutes. I can't believe how poorly coached this team is. They kill themselves every week with mental errors.)
The Texans started the game dominating Buccaneers and maintained control over four quarters. Matt Schaub rolled out and tossed a pass to a wide open Jacoby Jones about 35 yards downfield on the first play from scrimmage. He exploded downfield, untouched, for an 80-yard touchdown.
The Texans expanded their lead with a field goal and got back into the end zone with another long touchdown pass. On the play, Schaub hit Arian Foster with a short outlet pass. He juked Aqib Talib and safety Sean Jones to burst downfield for a 78-yard score.
The Buccaneers' offense was ineffective for most of the first half until late in the second quarter. They drove inside the 10-yard line but were stopped on three tries. Tampa Bay went for it on 4th-and-2 from the 5-yard line, but Josh Freeman's pass for Dezmon Briscoe was broken up by cornerback Kareem Jackson who perfectly timed slapping the ball away as it hit Briscoe's hands. At halftime, Houston had a 16-3 lead.
In the third quarter, the Texans put the game away. The Buccaneers had one drive killed by sacks from Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin. Houston then ran the ball up and down the field, and Foster scored from five yards out. Later, Freeman was intercepted by Brian Cushing on a deflected pass off Kellen Winslow. Cushing played phenomenally for the Texans with eight tackles, a sack that caused a punt and that interception. His pick led to former Tampa Bay running back Derrick Ward getting into the end zone with a 4-yard touchdown run.
With the Texans up 30-3, Freeman threw another interception. Tampa Bay later removed Freeman and inserted backup Josh Johnson. On his first play, he fumbled a handoff that was recovered by Houston. The Texans could have scored again with an easy field goal, but they ran it on fourth-and-long.
The Houston defense played an excellent game. They harassed Freeman all afternoon. Reed and J.J. Watt both had a sack, while Barwin notched 1.5 sacks. They also caused holding penalties and incompletions. Freeman was 15-of-35 for 170 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Running back LeGarrette Blount had 34 yards on 10 carries.
Schaub cruised in the game, attempting only 15 passes. He completed 11 of them for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Foster had 84 yards rushing on 17 carries with a score. He led the Texans in receiving as well with four receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. Tate ran for 63 yards and a score.
From start to finish, Houston played a complete game with the exception being special teams as Rackers missed an extra point and an easy field goal. The score could have been much worse.
Titans 30, Panthers 3
It's almost like the Panthers did nothing but drink, smoke and party during their bye. They came out flat in this contest and continuously made stupid mistakes to shoot themselves in the foot:
- Marc Mariani returned a punt for a touchdown early in the first quarter. For those of you keeping track, that's 14 of 16 special teams scores that have gone against me in multi-unit picks.
- Cam Newton threw an interception on the ensuing drive, but it was negated by illegal contact.
- Later on that possession, Greg Olsen lost a fumble inside the Tennessee 10-yard line.
- On the following drive, the Panthers missed a routine tackle on Damian Williams, which would have forced the Titans into a fourth down. Instead, Williams shed the defender and ran into the end zone.
That was just early on. I understand some stupid early mistakes affecting a team, but the Panthers appeared hungover throughout. Newton appeared out of sorts, taking five sacks, some of which were his fault for holding on to the ball too long. Newton finished 23-of-40, 212 yards and one interception, though he salvaged his fantasy day with 55 rushing yards on seven scrambles. Meanwhile, Steve Smith's stats (5-33) were even worse for his fantasy owners.
Speaking of fantasy, Chris Johnson finally had a great rushing day, tallying 130 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries to go along with 44 receiving yards off four receptions. CJ20 CJ2K was bottled up early on, but things got easier as the afternoon progressed, as Carolina's pathetic defense wore down.
Matt Hasselbeck went 15-of-27 for 219 yards, one touchdown and an ugly pick to Chris Gamble. As mentioned, Williams had a long score that was more of a product of poor Carolina tackling, so it's not like Hasselbeck was brilliant or anything. He was efficient though, which is all you can ask in the wake of Kenny Britt's injury.
Dolphins 20, Redskins 9
Forum member CKane138 said it best: "The Dolphins are gonna go from Suck for Luck to More Matt Moore."
Suddenly, the Dolphins can't lose. They've lost all hope of landing Andrew Luck, and if they don't be careful, they won't be able to draft Matt Barkley, Landry Jones or Robert Griffin.
Matt Moore went 20-of-29 for 209 yards and an interception. He also had two fumbles. He made some nice throws and moved the chains throughout the afternoon, converting 8-of-14 third downs. As you may expect, Moore used Brandon Marshall (7-98) as his primary option.
Daniel Thomas actually led the Dolphins in carries, but his 17 attempts went for only 42 yards. Reggie Bush (14-47, 2 TDs) was much better. The holes were there for Thomas, but he seldom saw them. He's just a really poor runner at this stage of his career.
Speaking of running backs... well... you know where I'm going with this. Mike Shanahan is a Grade-A a**hole. Two weeks ago, it was Ryan Torain. Last week, it was Roy Helu. Despite Helu's great performance against the 49ers, Torain got the nod again today. Torain (10-20) paled in comparison to Helu (6-41), so you really have to wonder what the hell Shanahan is thinking. At this point, you can't trust either of these guys. I'm not sure if I'd even recommend rostering them.
And while we're on the subject of new starters, I loved how Shanahan waited until Sunday to announce that he was giving Rex Grossman the nod over John Blegh. The offense looked more smooth with Grossman about 90 percent of the time. It was the other 10 percent that killed Washington. Grossman tossed two horrendous interceptions inside the Miami 25, blowing two precious scoring opportunities.
Grossman otherwise finished 21-of-32 for 215 yards. With Santana Moss out, rookie Leonard Hankerson really took advantage of his opportunity, catching eight balls for 106 yards.
Another Redskin rookie who stood out was Ryan Kerrigan, who had six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. However, he made a really dumb late-hit personal-foul penalty on Daniel Thomas in the first half, setting up a chip-shot field goal for the Dolphins.
(Editor's Note: Hey, Mike Smith, you don't go for it on fourth down on your own 30 in overtime, because if you don't make it, you will lose. I still can't believe the Falcons did that.)
The Falcons want to hold the football and let their defense rest. This strategy was in play early when they took 16 plays to go 61 yards for a field goal on their first possession. Michael Turner (22 rushes for 96 yards, 1 reception for 10 yards) had 10 touches, but the most significant was a slip for no gain to put them at 3rd-and-10. After a false start on left tackle Will Svitek, starting for the injured Sam Baker, the drive was doomed.
Offense was expected in this game, and the Saints went right to work getting the ball down the field. They were undone when tight end Jimmy Graham, a heavily targeted player all afternoon, dropped a pass on third down. John Kasay's 52-yard field goal tied the game. After Atlanta went three-and-out, Graham (7 receptions for 82 yards, TD) again dropped what would have converted a third down as the second quarter began.
The Falcons were poised to gain control of the game, and started the next drive with a 17-yard pass to Roddy White after a great play fake to Turner. Stalling in the red zone led to another field goal and a 6-3 lead. An exchange of punts left New Orleans in business at midfield. They took advantage hitting Graham for 29 yards, missing Sproles on a screen pass and then going back to Graham for the 21-yard score. I joked on Twitter that Graham's plan was to drop passes on third down to set up the defense. It sure looked that way considering how open he was.
Another exchange of punts left the Falcons stuck at their own 1-yard line. At first, the Saints were trying to get the ball back, calling timeout after a quick screen was completed to Jones, who would not play down the stretch after his hamstring flared up. However, Turner rumbled 10 yards around the edge to flip the script and put them on the offensive. After a penalty, slot receiver Harry Douglas ripped up the middle of the field for 46 yards. The big play helped put them in position for a field goal attempt at the gun, but Matt Bryant missed it to leave New Orleans up 10-6 at the half.
The Saints felt a similar sting when their first drive of the second half ended in a failed field goal. Robert Meachem turned in a 36-yard reception to get them down the field, but Pierre Thomas was locked up in the backfield and Darren Sproles got nothing on a screen to stop the march.
This rivalry has been marked by tight games, and this was no exception. The Falcons started working the ball to Douglas who would have more success later in the half, but nevertheless kept the chains moving. They didn't have to worry about blowing it in the red zone because a dump pass to Jason Snelling turned into a 21-yard touchdown when he refused to be tackled, putting Atlanta ahead 13-10. New Orleans immediately answered, and they were, as usual, very aggressive on offense. Drew Brees found Marques Colston for gains of 15 and 19 then capped the drive with a deep ball to Meachem for a touchdown.
The final play of the third quarter turned out to be crucial. Matt Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for a gain of 11, but instead of being in plus territory a petty flag on White for pass interference away from the ball moved them back to their own 31. On the first play of the fourth quarter, White, likely still miffed, could not gather in a pass and instead put it up in the air for Scott Shanle to make the easy interception. Atlanta's defense held up, actually pushing New Orleans back 4 yards on the drive, but they hit the field goal to go up 20-13.
Facing a deficit, the Falcons went to the passing game. A deep ball to White and quick slant to Douglas (8 reception for 133 yards) fell incomplete, leading to a quick punt. The Saints immediately came at them again, despite being pinned at their own 12 with Brees (30-of-43 322 yards 2 TD) hitting Lance Moore for 28 yards. The drive culminated in another long field goal and a 23-13 advantage, leaving them very much in control.
Up against it, Matt Ryan (29-of-52 351 yards 2 TD 1 INT) came out firing from the shotgun, connecting with Gonzalez (6 receptions for 71 yards) to start the drive picking up 18 yards and to finish it with a 20-yard score. New Orleans took over nursing a 23-20 lead after a failed onside kick, but they do things a little differently even closing in on field-goal range. They were in the shotgun and converted a third-down pass to Colston for 13 yards to chew up a little clock throwing the ball. After stalling at the 27-yard line, Bryant hit a field goal for an apparent six-point lead, but Graham's uneven game continued when he was flagged for holding, forcing a punt.
Atlanta again went to shotgun mode and worked the ball immediately to Douglas. Four times in a row, they went to him, completing three for 66 yards putting them on the 33-yard line. Forced to third down, Tracy Porter bailed them out with a pass interference penalty, and the New Orleans secondary was not through struggling. Two plays later, Roman Harper dropped an easy interception that would have ended the game. After converting a third-down by hitting Eric Weems, the Falcons quickly assembled for a spike to earn a couple shots at the end zone. Neither attempt was successful and a short field goal forced overtime.
The Falcons won the toss, and as the booth pointed out, the Saints are now 0-for-11 on coin tosses this season. It is hard to lose that many tosses in a row. Fortunately, it did not cost them a game and everyone who hates the pro-overtime rules can simmer down. The teams exchanged punts. Still, even knowing his team had forced five punts, Mike Smith wanted to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 30-yard line. Worse yet, they called a straight running play instead of a quarterback sneak. It naturally failed with Turner falling flat.
Sean Payton did not work the running game in this one, going to the trio of Sproles, Ingram and Thomas (thankfully there is no back with a last name starting with H) just 16 times total for 41 yards. Two of those were used to set up the field goal, but the key play ensuring a short attempt was a genius pass to lightly used fullback Jed Collins for 12 yards. The attempt from 29 yards was good, and the Saints, buoyed by the Buccaneers getting hammered at home, took command of the NFC South.
Rams 13, Browns 12
Sam Bradford versus Colt McCoy in college football was an entertaining Oklahoma-Texas battle. Sam Bradford versus Colt McCoy in the NFL? An absolute snooze-fest.
A week healthier, Bradford looked only a bit better than he did last week. He went 15-of-25 for 155 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but made several inaccurate passes. McCoy, meanwhile, went 20-of-27 for 218 yards.
Both teams made grave mistakes deep in opposing territory. St. Louis' occurred in the third quarter, when Steven Jackson lost a fumble at the 30-yard line on what would have been a first down. Cleveland's error, meanwhile, was much more costly. The Browns drove down to St. Louis' 4-yard line as time was ticking down. A chip-shot field goal would have won the game, but Phil Dawson shanked it. The problem was the snap; the ball rolled to the holder.
Jackson at least made up for his error. He rushed for 128 yards on 27 carries to go along with three receptions for 23 receiving yards.
The other star on St. Louis' offense, Brandon Lloyd caught four balls for 48 yards and a touchdown, though he dropped a pass. Bradford's so used to that phenomenon that he probably didn't even notice. Still, it was a good performance for Lloyd considering that he was going up against Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden.
Greg Little stepped up for the Browns. As the only Cleveland player with more than three receptions, Little had six grabs for 84 yards.
Chris Ogbonnaya once again got the nod with Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty out. Ogbonnaya ran well, collecting 90 yards on 19 carries, as Cleveland's offensive line blasted open huge lanes against St. Louis' weak front.
Cardinals 21, Eagles 17
The dream is over. The nightmare won't end. The Eagles played like they were asleep. Something, something, something about Tylenol PM. Sorry, I was just trying to see how many bad "Dream Team" jokes I could make in a single post.
The 2011 Eagles are finished. They're three back of the Giants and two behind the Cowboys in the division. For the wild card, they trail the Bears by three with a losing tie-breaker. They're down by two to Atlanta with a losing tie-breaker. The Lions are also three up, and I already mentioned the Cowboys.
But forget all of that. All of those teams are better. The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, have the same exact record as the Arizona Cardinals. Unbelievable.
The big news leading up to this game was DeSean Jackson's benching Sunday morning, reportedly because he missed a special teams meeting on Saturday.
Jackson hasn't been any good this year - in fact, he's barely done anything since suffering a concussion against the Texans last season - but the absence of the illusion of what he can do is what really bogged down Philadelphia's offense in this contest. Defenses are scared that Jackson can burn them deep, so they have to play their safeties back when he's in the lineup. That wasn't the case today, so the Cardinals were able to sit on the Eagle receivers and really limit the offense.
It didn't help that Jeremy Maclin was in and out of this game with various ailments. QB Dog Killer didn't really have anyone to throw to, and consequently struggled. He went 16-of-34 for 128 yards and two interceptions. He also had a third pick nullified by defensive holding. QBDK was able to salvage his fantasy day though with 79 rushing yards on eight scrambles.
LeSean McCoy was QBDK's only weapon; he compiled 81 yards and a touchdown, but you have to wonder why he had just 14 carries and three receptions. With Jackson out and Maclin hurt, wouldn't you think that the Eagles would want to feature McCoy as much as possible?
On the other side of the ball, John Skelton went 21-of-40 for 315 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers look great, but Skelton was pretty erratic. He made some really nice throws, but his other passes were all over the place. He could have been picked off on several other occasions, including one play where Joselio Hanson missed an easy interception, only to see the ball deflect into Larry Fitzgerald's hands for a score.
Speaking of Fitzgerald, he had his best game of the season, hauling in seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Leave it to Nnamdi Asomugha/Asante Samuel coverage and Skeleton quarterbacking for this to happen. It's hard to like fantasy football sometimes.
Seahawks 22, Ravens 17
What is going on with the Ravens? They can beat the top teams, but they just can't get up for inferior competition. Tennessee, Jacksonville and now Seattle have all defeated Baltimore. Arizona nearly did as well. John Harbaugh and the players even talked about it leading up to this week, yet they still were flat for a two-win team.
Everyone had a hand in this defeat, save for Ray Rice:
- Joe Flacco (29-of-52, 255 yards, TD, INT) missed open receivers and nearly had a second interception when two Seattle defenders crashed into each other in the end zone.
- What happened to the defense? Twenty-two points is not a lot to give up, but the Ray Lewis and company simply couldn't disrupt Seattle possessions, particularly at the end, when the Seahawks were able to run out the clock despite getting the ball with 5:52 remaining in regulation.
- Special teams were a nightmare. Kick returner David Reed lost two fumbles, giving Seattle six free points. Those six points were the difference.
As for Rice, he was able to carry the ball only five times because the Seahawks got out to a quick lead. Rice was able to throw a touchdown pass to Ed Dickson on a trick play, however.
Dickson had a monstrous performance at Seattle. He caught 10 balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Add him to your fantasy team if you need help at tight end.
As for the Seahawks, Tarvaris Jackson was very solid, going 17-of-27 for 217 yards. This was impressive considering that the Seahawks lost both Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin to possible concussions during this contest.
Harbaugh talked up Marshawn Lynch throughout the week, and rightfully so. Lynch was in full Beast Mode against the Ravens, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown on 32 attempts. Lynch also paced the team with five receptions for 58 yards. Lynch made a great move to get a first down after a catch on the final drive to secure a victory for Seattle.
Bears 37, Lions 13
Despite what the score says, this was a fun game to watch. There were plenty of bone-crushing hits, Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown, and the two teams even broke into a fight in the fourth quarter. This happened when Matthew Stafford tossed one of his four picks. Stafford got into it with defensive back D.J. Moore, who then charged the Detroit quarterback. Following a skirmish, Moore was ejected to a standing ovation.
Two of Ser Stafford's other interceptions were returned for six by Charles Tillman and Major Wright. I was shocked to learn that this was only the second time in franchise history that the Bears returned two picks for touchdowns in a single game. The other occasion took place in 1993 against the Packers.
Stafford (33-63, 329 yards, TD, 4 INTs) had an ugly game. There was something strange going on with his glove and his finger (apparently, it's fractured), and he was really confused by Chicago's schemes. Still, he's not the only person to blame. Calvin Johnson was also terrible. He had seven grabs for 81 yards, but he dropped multiple balls and lost a fumble.
The worst mistake the Lions made was punting the ball to Hester. As mentioned, Hester scored on an 82-yard return. He also had run-backs of 35 and 29 yards. You really have to wonder what Detroit's coaching staff was thinking by instructing its punter to do this.
With a lead throughout, Jay Cutler didn't have to throw much. He went 9-of-19 for 123 yards, taking just two sacks.
The only Bear with more than one reception was Earl Bennett, who had six catches for 81 yards. Roy Williams, on the other hand, didn't make it into the box score. He was targeted twice, and on one occasion he ran the wrong route. Williams nonchalantly laughed as he ran off the field - yet another indication that he doesn't take football seriously.
Matt Forte didn't have a monstrous fantasy performance, but had a solid 64 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts.
(Editor's Note: I don't want to take anything away from the 49ers because they're playing great football right now, but this contest meant absolutely nothing to the Giants. These teams could have a rematch at this location sometime in January, and it wouldn't surprise me if there's a different result.)
This was the NFC game of the week coming in, and it lived up to the billing. The Giants had a chance to hold their cushion in the East and stay on course for a No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Instead, the 49ers reduced their magic number to clinch the West to 3. If they win their next two games, and the Seahawks lose either of their next two, this division race is over after 12 weeks. How crazy would that be, one season after it went down to the final Sunday Night Football game with a playoff atmosphere?
Considering how much defense was on display, it was surprising to see a combined 10 scoring drives and just five punts. In the first quarter, both offenses plodded down the field on methodical drives. New York took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards, keyed by consecutive passes to Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham totaling 30 yards. Eli Manning was sharp early, completing his first 10 passes. After a somewhat controversial non-fumble, Victor Cruz was short of a first down and the Giants went up 3-0.
San Francisco answered with a nice drive. Alex Smith spread the ball around, hitting Delanie Walker, Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. for a total of 46 yards. The 49ers converted twice on third down, but were forced to tie the game on a field goal when Aaron Ross wrapped up tight end Vernon Davis well short of the sticks. That was basically it for the first quarter.
The second quarter opened with another long drive by New York paced by consecutive completions to Mario Manningham for 13 and 14 yards, respectively. The Giants stalled in the red zone but took the lead with another field goal to make it 6-3. The rest of the quarter was controlled by San Francisco. They worked field position and time of possession by virtue of a turnover (a Manning interception) and onside kick recovery. Two short drives covering 46 and 31 yards ended in field goals and put them ahead 9-6 at halftime.
It is worth noting that Frank Gore (6 rushes for 0 yards, 1 reception 8 yards) was stuffed in the first half and other than running on the field prior to a commercial break, did not appear in the second half due to a knee injury. His presence was missed, but backup Kendall Hunter (6 rushes for 40 yards) had some nice runs in relief, and Anthony Dixon (2 carries for 10 yards) also chipped in. Mostly, the 49ers put the game on Smith's arm and he delivered. His numbers are never fantasy-worthy, but he was 19-of-30 for 242 yards with a touchdown and interception.
On San Francisco's first possession of the second half, they went right down the field for first-and-goal, but three incompletions forced a field goal to put them up 12-6. After an exchange of three-and-out possessions, New York seemed to gain control of the game, charging 90 yards for the game's first touchdown, a 13-yard pass to Manningham who caught six passes for 77 yards. An exchange of punts later, it looked like this would go down as a defensive war as the third quarter ended.
The 49ers got the ball at midfield after a shanked punt and did what great teams do by turning great field position into six points. Well, eight points actually. They picked up 15 yards on three runs by Gore's backups and another five with their tricky move to draw opponents offsides. Last week, it was called illegal motion on their offense, but not this time. This set them up to find Davis, who was otherwise pretty much invisible (3 catches for 40 yards), for a 31-yard touchdown play down the sideline. He leaped over safety Kenny Phillips to earn the final few yards, and with Gore sidelined, it was a good thing he did. They went for two and got it on a pass to Michael Crabtree, who caught only one pass (21 yards).
The Giants took over down 20-13, and on the second play of the drive, Manning threw to where he thought Manningham would be. Instead Carlos Rogers was there for his second interception of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Hunter bolted for a 17-yard score, and the 49ers were up two touchdowns. To their credit, New York was not shaken in hostile territory. They went 80 yards in seven plays, finishing on a 32-yard deep ball to Hakeem Nicks to make it 27-20.
Usually, San Francisco would ride Gore to clinch a win in this spot, but instead went twice to a shotgun formation, going three-and-out when Kiwanuka and Umenyiora converged on Smith for a failed third down. The Giants had a dramatic drive in them, twice converting fourth downs. Unfortunately for them, a third time forced to the brink did not work out so well. At the 10-yard line on 4th-and-2, Justin Smith knocked down the final pass of the game.
Manning had his typical, big-number game (26-for-40 311 yards 2 TDs, 2 INTs) but the mistakes were costly, especially the second pick. Granted, he had only a little help from the running game, as Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware combined for 89 yards on 27 carries. Still, even with a big edge in time of possessions (34:37 to 25:23) and no Gore to deal with, New York found a way to let this win slip away.
Patriots 37, Jets 16
The Patriots are done, eh? Why does everyone keep falling for this? The team with the best coaching-quarterback combination (perhaps with the exception of the Packers) is not going away anytime soon.
This was my Pick of the Month, and I was even more confident just prior to kickoff when I saw Brady's eyes. It was the same look he had in the Steelers blowout last year. He just kept scowling, almost as if he was thinking, "I'm going to f***ing kill every single player wearing green tonight."
Brady is unstoppable when he has this expression on his face, and even though he was a bit off in the first half, he was downright surgical after intermission. Finishing 26-of-39 for 329 yards and three touchdowns, Brady's no-huddle attack completely befuddled the Jets. When New York went small, the Patriots ran, and when they went big, Brady threw. It sounds simple, but New York had no answer for it.
With Wes Welker (6-46) blanketed by Darrelle Revis, Brady looked toward Rob Gronkowski early and often. The big tight end hauled in eight grabs for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Deion Branch (5-58, TD) also came up big. Meanwhile, Chad Ochocinco had two receptions for 65 yards in the first half, including a 53-yard gainer. He disappeared after intermission though.
It was hilarious that two of New England's starting defensive players (Sterling Moore, Jeff Tarpinian) didn't have voices in NBC's starting lineup announcements. Despite this, the Patriots' stop unit did a terrific job on the Jets, limiting them to 14 points (two came on a safety) and 5-of-13 third-down conversions.
This was actually the second week in a row that New England's defense was solid, only no one seemed to notice what happened the previous Sunday. The Patriots held the Giants to 14 real points, as 10 more came off turnovers. Linebacker Jerod Mayo's return to the lineup has been huge.
Mark Sanchez went 20-of-39, 306 yards, two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and two picks. Sanchez was fine overall, but he's not anywhere near Brady's mental level where he can just murder a team on the fly based on a bad matchup. He also made a huge mental error by calling a timeout inside two minutes remaining in the first half. This allowed Brady to engineer a touchdown drive prior to intermission.
Santonio Holmes finally had a big game (6-93), but didn't find the end zone. Sanchez's sole touchdown went to Plaxico Burress (3-39).