And here I thought road teams sucked on Thursday night. That apparently wasn't the case in this contest, though it's possible that the Vikings may not even have known there was a game going on. They were disgraceful. They showed very little effort and made dumb mistakes, prompting me to tweet (@walterfootball): "Congrats, #Vikings, for putting together one of the most pathetic first quarters in the NFL this season."
On offense, the Vikings were guilty of a couple of untimely false starts and two key fumbles - one by Jerome Simpson to give the Buccaneers a short field and another by Adrian Peterson near the 50-yard line. Tampa scored 10 points off those turnovers.
The defense may have been even worse; despite ranking third against the run entering the contest, the unit couldn't tackle Doug Martin, who had a breakout performance. Martin rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries and also caught three balls for 79 receiving yards, scoring twice in the process. Minnesota was even woeful on special teams, shanking punts and failing to pick up a gift muffed punt by Roscoe Parrish.
Christian Ponder was the worst Viking, however. His stats don't look too bad - 19-of-35, 251 yards, one touchdown, one interception - but they are deceiving. Most of his yardage came on short dump-offs that turned into big gains. He was largely inaccurate and showed poor pocket awareness. He missed open receivers, failed to take advantage of Tampa's constant blitzing and nearly threw a couple of other picks, including one bone-headed throw in his own territory at the end of the first half as the time was winding down.
Josh Freeman, conversely, was awesome in the second half. He started poorly and was lucky on some throws that could've been picked off, but couldn't be stopped after intermission, particularly on third down. The Buccaneers were 8-of-17 in those situations, as Freeman finished 19-of-36 for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
Freeman's scores went to Martin, Mike Williams (6-68) and fullback Erik Lorig, who blocked tremendously for his rookie running back all evening. Vincent Jackson (2-40) predictably didn't do much, as the Vikings have a habit of erasing No. 1 wideouts.
As for the Minnesota pass-catchers, Percy Harvin led the way with seven grabs for 90 yards and Ponder's only touchdown. Kyle Rudolph didn't do much (2-17), while Simpson (2-37) continued to show how inefficient of a receiver he is. He ran poor routes all night and fumbled one of his only two receptions.
Adrian Peterson was great, save for the costly fumble. Showing great power and cutting ability, he gashed the Buccaneers for 123 yards and a 64-yard touchdown on just 15 carries.
As if this ugly loss wasn't bad enough, the Vikings probably won't have cornerback Chris Cook for a while. Cook, who had been playing well, broke his wrist in the first half.
Not that the result would've changed, but the officiating in this game wasn't very good. One instance that comes to mind was when Jared Allen and Buccaneer lineman Donald Penn engaged in a fight in the third quarter. Penn ripped Allen's helmet off, giving him a bloody nose in the process. Allen stuck his hand out into Penn's helmet, essentially stiff-arming the left tackle. Penn should've been whistled for an obvious personal foul, but official Ron Winter told an angry crowd there were offsetting penalties. An enraged Allen beat Penn on the following play and brought down Freeman behind the line of scrimmage for his seventh sack of the year.
Now, here's a breakdown of the Buccaneers from Charlie Campbell, who used to cover them at PewterReport.com:
- Tampa Bay's domination of the Vikings was a great example of how the Buccaneers have made a lot of strides from last season. They are playing more disciplined football and their fundamentals are much better. The gap integrity on their defense is night and day improved over last year. Even though Tampa Bay is 3-4 - they were 4-3 a year ago - this version of the Buccaneers is much better.
Offensively, the Bucs have gotten a huge boost from Vincent Jackson. This season, he has bailed out Josh Freeman on numerous throws and made Freeman more effective. Freeman's accuracy has been off regularly in 2012, but Jackson has made huge plays on jump balls downfield to save him. The big plays that Jackson has provided have opened things up for Mike Williams to have a bounce-back year. The fantastic skill set that Jackson possess is clear. Even a blind NFL evaluator could see that he is a tremendously talented, but the Bucs' owners (the Glazers) deserve credit for writing the check that blew away the competition in order to sign him.
Looking ahead, the Bucs' offense could improve if they bring in some talent at tight end. Dallas Clark is not a long-term answer and having a tight end who can exploit the deep middle of the field in between Jackson and Williams would be a good addition. They also should look at right tackle. Demar Dotson has played better than expected this year, but the Buccaneers could find someone more consistent. Otherwise, Tampa Bay needs time and sustained continuity.
- Most of all, Tampa Bay needs to land some man cover corners. Greg Schiano wants to play man-to-man coverage, and the Bucs don't have a stable of corners who can do that. Throughout the 2012 season, they've been beaten for big plays downfield, and part of that is because the majority of their corners were brought in for the Tampa-2. That group includes fifth-year pro Aqib Talib. The suspended corner is talented, but very streaky. He's a free agent after the season, and with all of his off-the-field baggage, many around the team believe that he won't be re-signed, but that isn't set in stone by any means.
The Buccaneers should re-sign Michael Bennett and add more depth to the defensive line, especially at tackle. Bringing back Bennett and finding a couple of man cover corners could finish off Schiano's defense.
The Bucs are headed in the right direction, but the challenge for them will be in their talent evaluation. It has been a weakness of the current front office and there aren't obvious upgrades like Jackson available for all of their deficiencies.
The Bears were favored by only 7.5 points in this game, which seemed like a no-brainer to some people. How could they not beat the struggling Panthers by more than one touchdown? Well, I was scared that the rib injury Cutler sustained Monday night could play a factor. Cutler was never in danger of missing this game - he was listed as probable - but I wrote that it was a strong possibility that he would struggle in this contest because he would be playing hurt.
Well, Cutler did indeed struggle, and it was quite apparent that he wasn't 100 percent right away when he took an early, deep shot to Brandon Marshall. It wasn't a good decision to begin with because Marshall triple covered, but the ball was terribly underthrown.
Having said that, Cutler's sore ribs weren't the only issue. Chicago's offensive line simply couldn't block Carolina's defensive front. Cutler was sacked thrice in the first quarter and six times overall. Greg Hardy had three of those sacks, while Charles Johnson collected two. Johnson also stripped Cutler twice. As a consequence, Cutler started the game just 4-of-9 for 40 yards and an interception...
But something clicked in the second half. Perhaps Cutler felt better or maybe Mike Tice made the proper adjustments, but Cutler went 15-of-19 for 146 yards and a touchdown after that slow start, giving him solid final numbers (19-of-28, 186 yards, TD, INT). He was picked off on a two-point conversion attempt, but those can't be returned in the NFL for some strange reason.
Cutler's lone score went to Kellen Davis (1-12), while Brandon Marshall (9-98) was obviously targeted the most.
Matt Forte caught the second-most passes from Cutler, catching five balls for 24 yards. He also rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts.
As for the Panthers, Cam Newton had a very mixed game. He did a great job of engineering scoring drives. He threw for 314 yards, completing 20-of-39 attempts in the process. He also tallied 37 rushing yards on five attempts. However, there was some bad Newton as well. He tossed two picks. One was a pick-six that was more Steve Smith's fault, but the other was a stupid decision where he heaved the ball as he was in the grasp of a defender. He also struggled in the red zone again and fumbled near the goal line. He was very fortunate that receiver Louis Murphy scooped the ball up in the end zone. Newton then jogged off the field, prompting the FOX announcers to chide him for doing so instead of running to Murphy and thanking him.
Newton's top target was Smith, who hauled in seven passes for 118 yards. He still hasn't scored a touchdown, but he had a chance. He blew his opportunity by dropping a ball in the end zone.
The Panthers told the media that they would try to have Jonathan Stewart run out of more normal formations, and they did just that. They weren't successful, however, as Stewart managed just 42 yards on 17 carries. Having said that, Carolina battled a tough Chicago defense, so maybe Stewart will have more luck next week at Washington.
Browns 7, Chargers 6
If the Browns were the laughing stock of the NFL, does this result give San Diego that distinction? The Chargers are pathetic. Though they outplayed the Browns - outgaining them in yardage, winning the time of possession and converting a higher percentage on third downs - they still managed to find a way to lose, something that has become the norm in Norv Turner's tenure in San Diego.
The Chargers kicked things off by opting to go for it on 4th-and-1 on the Cleveland 30. Turner brilliantly gave Jackie Battle the carry, and Battle was stuffed for no gain. I doubt anyone imagined that could possibly happen.
San Diego made two key mistakes after that. The first was a Ryan Mathews fumble near midfield that gave the Browns great field position. Mathews finished with 95 yards on 24 carries, but the turnover could cost him touches going forward, as Turner hardly trusts him to begin with.
The second crucial error came toward the end of the game, when Philip Rivers hit a wide-open Robert Meachem. Unfortunately for Rivers, Meachem dropped the ball. He could have easily run into the end zone had he came up with the grab, and that might have been the game-winning score because the Browns struggled to move the chains in the second half. Meachem didn't catch a single pass, further proving that he's a colossal waste of money - something that was incredibly obvious when the signing was made.
Rivers went 18-of-34 for 154 yards. Meachem screwed up on that one play, but Rivers made mistakes of his own. He made some poor decisions with some of his throws and was lucky he wasn't picked off a couple of times, though the wind and rain didn't help. Making matters worse, most of Rivers' yardage came on short dump-offs to Ronnie Brown, who snagged seven balls for 85 yards.
Only three non-running backs on the Chargers caught passes. They were Malcom Floyd (4-43), Antonio Gates (2-14) and Dante Rosario (2-11). I guess I could include Jeromey Clary, who had one catch for an 8-yard loss on a deflected pass. Rivers yelled at Clary for not batting the ball down.
The Browns had success moving the sticks early on with runs from Trent Richardson. Despite battling a flank injury, Richardson pummeled San Diego's front for 122 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts. Montario Hardesty saw just three carries.
Brandon Weeden's completion percentage was ugly, as he hooked up on just 11-of-27 passes for 129 yards. The weather clearly affected Weeden's performance, as did yet another drop by Greg Little (2-28).
Excluding Little, only one Brown caught more than one pass. That was Josh Gordon, who had three grabs for 46 yards. Gordon simply wasn't much of a factor as a deep threat because of the conditions.
Lions 28, Seahawks 24
If you've ever watched the NFL Red Zone channel, you might know that several fantasy football analysts give bold predictions prior to the 1 p.m. kickoffs. There are usually three or four short white guys accompanied by a tall black guy, and the tall black guy declared that Russell Wilson would out-produce Matthew Stafford in this contest. He would end up being wrong, but Wilson still had a great outing.
Wilson went 25-of-35 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His numbers could've been even better had Sidney Rice not dropped a 40-yard bomb. Wilson dissected the Lions, though that is hardly a surprise, given how many injuries Detroit had in its back seven entering the contest. Cornerbacks Bullet Bill Bentley and Jacob Lacey, safety Amari Spievey and linebacker DeAndre Levy were all inactive. Making matters worse, stud safety Louis Delmas sustained a knee injury. Jim Schwartz said that Delmas will be evaluated Monday, but it's just ridiculous how snake-bitten he is. You have to wonder if he'll ever be healthy, a la Bob Sanders.
Wilson's scores went to Rice (6-55) and Zach Miller (2-22). The leading receiver was Golden Tate, who had seven grabs for 64 yards, though his longest reception (18 yards) came on an attempted hook-and-lateral on the last play of the game. Unfortunately for Tate, he did not have the replacement officials aiding his effort this time.
Because of Wilson's success, you can't totally criticize the fact that Marshawn Lynch carried the ball just 12 times. He turned those attempts into 105 yards and a touchdown (77 yards), but he still should have been given more opportunities to gash Detroit's depleted defense.
Detroit's starting running back actually received fewer carries than Lynch. Mikel Leshoure rushed only 10 times for 46 yards. It wasn't poor play-calling that kept the ball out of his hands, however; Leshoure suffered some sort of injury in the third quarter and walked off with a limp. Joique Bell took over as the primary ball-carrier, gaining 25 yards on seven carries. Kevin Smith was given the ball just once for some reason on a failed goal-line attempt.
The Lions were still able to prevail because of Matthew Stafford, who started slowly but caught fire in the second half. Ser Stafford went 34-of-49 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He was at his best on third down, moving the chains on 12-of-16 opportunities.
Two of Stafford's scores went to Titus Young, who had a monstrous afternoon with nine catches for 100 yards. The other went to Ryan Broyles (3-37).
Calvin Johnson was a huge disappointment yet again. He didn't catch a ball until there was about a minute remaining in the third quarter. He dropped two passes, including an easy touchdown, finishing with just three grabs for 46 yards. Still though, he's a recommended buy-low candidate in fantasy because he's just way too talented not to bounce back eventually.
Packers 24, Jaguars 15
If this game is any indication, the Packers are going to be in deep trouble over the next couple of months. Charles Woodson could be out for that long, while other players in the Green Bay back eight are also missing because of injuries. It seemed like they would be able to handle Blaine Gabbert because of his deficiencies, but that was hardly the case.
Gabbert was sharp for one of the few occasions in his disappointing NFL career, going 27-of-49 for 303 yards and a touchdown. Though some of those attempts were wildly off the mark, those numbers could've been even better had his receivers not dropped several passes. This includes Mike Thomas, who let the ball slip through his hands in the end zone.
Before anyone gets too excited, however, we've seen terrible quarterbacks light up poor defenses (i.e. Mark Sanchez against the Patriots). Sanchez came back with a poor showing versus the Dolphins, and it's very likely that Gabbert will regress when he battles a stop unit that isn't missing most of its starters.
Gabbert's sole touchdown was a trick play of sorts where the Jaguars ran a screen for eligible tackle Guy Whimper. The leading receiver, meanwhile, was Cecil Shorts, who had a great outing, catching eight balls for 116 yards. Justin Blackmon was decent statistically (4-67) but made some mental mistakes on the field in terms of route running and such.
Rashad Jennings did an OK job filling in for Maurice Jones-Drew. He rushed for 59 yards on 17 carries, but was more effective in the passing game, catching six balls for 56 receiving yards. He lost a fumble in the red zone, however.
The Packers were lucky to win this contest. The Jaguars could have scored on the possession in which Jennings fumbled. They also had a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. The Packers were just so stagnant offensively and couldn't get anything going.
Aaron Rodgers went 22-of-35 for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Jacksonville was able to muster decent pressure on him, and he just looked out of rhythm with a receiving corps missing both Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
Rodgers' scores went to Randall Cobb (5-28) and Donald Driver (2-10). James Jones (7-78) was the team's leading receiver, while Jermichael Finley (2-24) once again did nothing.
Speaking of nothing, Alex Green struggled to get any sort of yardage on the ground. He gained 54 yards on 22 attempts. The running back position has to be a priority for the Packers this offseason or perhaps the next couple of days before the trade deadline expires.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I hate that I can't rant about Tim Tebow not starting because Mark Sanchez threw for 300-plus yards a week ago. Ugh. The stupid Patriots' defense is ruining my semi-trolling.
The Miami Dolphins went on the road and proved that their strong start to the season was no fluke. They dominated the Jets in every aspect with a tremendous day defensively and on special teams alongside an efficient offense led by backup quarterback Matt Moore. New York played New England tough in an overtime loss a week ago, but the Jets looked like a team that belongs in the top five of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Miami's special teams earned its franchise an early lead with a fabulous first half. It was one of the most impressive performances you'll ever see. Special teams pulled off an onside kick, a blocked a punt for a touchdown, a blocked a field goal and a long kick return by Marcus Thigpen.
The Jets were caught completely by surprise by the onside kick after the Dolphins had a field goal drive with the heavy lifting done by Reggie Bush (14-59). Miami lost starter Ryan Tannehill to quad and knee injuries early in the following a sack by Calvin Pace. The Dolphins took a 10-0 lead after a punt was blocked by Jimmy Wilson and recovered in the end zone by Olivier Vernon.
Mark Sanchez stunk up the field. He started the game slowly and couldn't sustain drives. Sanchez was strip-sacked on a corner blitz by Nolan Carroll. The ball ping-ponged around before Paul Soliai caught it. That led to a short Daniel Thomas (15-42) touchdown plunge.
Sanchez played brutal football in the third quarter to negate any comeback attempt. Carroll dropped an interception, and a few plays later, Sanchez had a terrible overthrow that was intercepted by Chris Clemons at the goal line. The signal-caller's next throw was a dropped interception by Reshad Jones.
Sanchez threw a touchdown to Chaz Schillens (4-29) in garbage time. He completed 28-of-54 passes for 283 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Sanchez was far worse than the numbers indicate.
Shonn Greene (15-77 rushing, 2-29 receiving) didn't pick up the slack and had almost half his yardage come on a carry of 36-yards. Clyde Gates (7-82), Dustin Keller (7-67) and Jeremy Kerley (5-43) had modest contributions.
The Jets inexplicably gave Tim Tebow hardly any playing time when Sanchez was awful. That made little sense since New York needed a change to somebody who could create some plays.
Miami's defense deserves some credit for playing very well. Carroll, Shaun Smith, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby all had good days. The team's young safety duo of Clemons and Jones did well, too.
The Dolphins' offense didn't have a big afternoon from any one player, but collectively handled business. Moore was 11-of-19 for 131 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline (4-41), Jabar Gaffney (1-30), Marlan Moore (1-37) and Anthony Fasano (1-4) all had clutch plays. Gaffney's 30-yarder led to Moore lofting in a short touchdown pass to Fasano, who made a great catch while dragging his feet to clinch the score. That put Miami up 27-3.
Falcons 30, Eagles 17
All good things come to an end, I guess. Andy Reid was 13-0 after a bye entering this contest, but he's no longer perfect. In fact, just from watching this game, you'd think that he was 0-13.
This was a complete mismatch. The Falcons scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, as Matt Ryan was nearly perfect. He was 12-of-13 for 157 yards and a trio of scores on those drives. The Eagle corners were no match for him, as Julio Jones torched Nnamdi Asomugha. Based on this, you have to believe that Asante Samuel received some sort of vindication after being traded for a mid-round draft pick this offseason.
Ryan finished 22-of-29 for 262 yards and the three touchdowns. Those numbers don't indicate all of the defensive penalties the Eagles committed, and it's also worth noting that he had just 65 passing yards in the second half because his team was so far ahead.
Ryan was a machine on third down, converting 7-of-13 attempts. Though he was sacked twice, he had a clean pocket most of the afternoon. The Eagles just had no chance, especially with their poor tackling.
Ryan's scores went to Jones (5-123), Jason Snelling and someone named D.J. Davis, who was taking Harry Douglas' spot in the lineup. Both Roddy White (3-38) and Tony Gonzalez (3-29) both disappointed their fantasy owners but were solid on the field in terms of drawing penalties.
Speaking of disappointments, Michael Turner was downright pathetic in this contest. Despite receiving 24 carries, he rushed for only 58 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers (8 carries, 60 rush yards; 5 catches, 20 receiving yards) was much better in limited opportunities. It's disappointing that the Atlanta coaching staff didn't use its week off to figure out that Rodgers is the superior running back.
On the other side, I felt as though the Eagles had an advantage on the ground because of the Falcons' soft run defense. Well, we never really found out because the early, large deficit rendered LeSean McCoy useless in terms of rushing the ball. He gained 67 total yards (45 rushing, 22 receiving) and two touchdowns.
For once, QB Dog Killer was not at fault for a loss. He went 21-of-35 for 191 yards and a touchdown to go along with 42 rushing yards on seven scrambles. Andy Reid was asked about QBDK's status as his starter and didn't really give a clear answer, but the Eagles didn't have any turnovers in this game. Could QBDK have done more? Absolutely, but it's not like Nick Foles would have beaten Ryan in a shootout. QBDK should not be benched for this performance, but he'll probably be gone at the end of the year. The same goes for Reid, as the fans chanted "Fire Andy!" throughout the second half.
QBDK's lone score went to McCoy. DeSean Jackson (5-59) and Jeremy Maclin (6-33) have had better days.
Steelers 27, Redskins 12
This was bound to be a shootout. On one side, you had a red-hot Ben Roethlisberger going up against a Washington secondary that had surrendered at least 299 passing yards to every quarterback it has played this season. On the other, you had an unstoppable Robert Griffin battling a struggling Steeler defense that was missing Troy Polamalu.
The veteran Pittsburgh team delivered, but Washington did not; Griffin, with the loss, made it so Dick LeBeau is now 1-14 against rookie quarterbacks. However, Griffin didn't really perform poorly despite the ugly stats (16-of-34, 177 yards, TD; 6 carries, 8 rush yards); this was more on poor play-calling and even worse receivers than anything. For instance, Washington had a 2nd-and-1 on its opening drive, but opted to run Alfred Morris twice, which resulted in a loss of three yards. Two possessions later, the Redskins ran a trick play on 3rd-and-4 where Josh Morgan attempted a pass downfield to Griffin, who strangely was whistled for offensive pass interference.
Why Washington didn't run a basic play with its stud quarterback is beyond me, but the result was zero points on two of the first three drives. The Steelers, meanwhile, scored on nearly all of their chances to establish a 20-6 halftime lead.
I mentioned Griffin's poor numbers; the Steelers took away his scrambling ability and forced him to throw exclusively. He was plagued by 10 drops - that's T-E-N drops - affecting his completion percentage. In fact, Leonard Hankerson and Dezmon Briscoe each had the ball sail through their hands in the end zone. Santana Moss had a couple of drops as well. Griffin was also pressured frequently, though his elusiveness limited Pittsburgh's defense to just one sack.
Griffin's lone touchdown went to Moss (4-21), who was one of only three Washington players to catch more than one pass. The others were Morgan (5-46) and Logan Paulsen (4-43). Chris Cooley was targeted only once and failed to snag the ball.
Pittsburgh's early advantage forced the Redskins to abandon the ground attack, which was big because Alfred Morris was able to find plenty of running room with his limited opportunities. Morris rushed for 59 yards on 13 attempts.
Meanwhile, the Steelers, as mentioned, couldn't be stopped. Ben Roethlisberger was a machine, particularly on third down, converting nearly all of his attempts in the first half. He also led the team into the end zone on fourth-and-inches at the goal line of the opening drive. Big Ben went 24-of-33 for 222 yards and three touchdowns. That completion percentage is especially impressive considering that he endured at least three drops, including one by Mike Wallace again.
Wallace had a positive game otherwise, catching seven balls for 62 yards. He didn't find the end zone, and neither did Antonio Brown (4-38). Instead, the Steelers who scored were Heath Miller (4-46), Will Johnson (2-8) and Leonard Pope (1-1). It's safe to say that all Steeler fantasy owners were incredibly frustrated.
Speaking of annoyed fantasy owners, the people who played Jonathan Dwyer enjoyed his 107 yards on 17 carries, but watched him just miss a touchdown by inches twice. Dwyer was stuffed at the goal line on two occasions, prompting the Steelers to attempt play-action passes to the two aforementioned tight ends/fullbacks who scored.
Two notes on defensive players: DeAngelo Hall was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter after fighting with Emmanuel Sanders, taking off his helmet and shouting expletives right into an official's face. Meanwhile, safety Ryan Clark left with a concussion.
Patriots 45, Rams 7
This may have technically been a road game for the Patriots, but based on the number of New England jerseys in the stands, this was ironically a home contest for them. With Rob Gronkowski mimicking the royal guard after a touchdown, the Brits were having a jolly good time.
This was every bit the domination that the score indicates. New England had been hearing how bad it was following a loss to Seattle and a near-defeat to the pathetic Jets, so perhaps this long trip across the Atlantic Ocean is exactly what this team needed.
Tom Brady, who had been heavily criticized, went 23-of-35 for 304 yards and four touchdowns despite missing Aaron Hernandez. Brady was incredibly sharp; not even included in those statistics are three pass-interference penalties, all of which were committed by cornerback Bradley Fletcher.
A pair of Brady's touchdowns went to Rob Gronkowski (8-146) while the other two went to Brandon Lloyd (2-28). Lloyd, battling a shoulder injury he suffered at Seattle, saw just five targets. He did draw one of Fletcher's pass interferences though. Wes Welker (6-48) didn't have much of a non-PPR fantasy performance.
What made Brady extra dangerous in this contest was that his running backs were rushing the ball so well. Stevan Ridley gashed the Rams for 127 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Shane Vereen (7-22, TD) also contributed, as Bill Belichick indicated during the week. I guess it takes a trip to another country for Belichick to be completely forthcoming for a change.
It's amazing to think that the Rams actually had a 7-0 lead in this contest. Sam Bradford and Chris Givens hooked up with their weekly long completion, which happened to be a 50-yard touchdown. The Patriots' secondary got its act together after that, however.
Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower injured Bradford with a clean hit at the end of the first half. Bradford was rolling on the ground in pain. I thought he might be knocked out of the game, but he reentered the contest as Kellen Clemens warmed up. Bradford ended up 22-of-30 for 205 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
Givens (3-63, TD) was St. Louis' leading receiver. Brandon Gibson (3-46) didn't do much and will take a back seat to Danny Amendola, who should be set to return following the team's Week 9 bye.
For the third week in a row, Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson split touches. Richardson actually had the ball in his hands two more times than Jackson. The rookie gained 53 yards on seven carries and also caught four passes for minus-3 yards, while Jackson collected 23 yards on the ground on seven rushes and also snagged two balls for 22 receiving yards.
Colts 19, Titans 13
The Colts are 4-3. They're tied for one of the wild card spots. Oh, AFC, why do you suck so much?
Indianapolis' victory over Tennessee was a good one though. It outgained the Titans, 457-339. It took overtime to achieve victory, but the team probably should have taken care of business earlier. An Adam Vinatieri field goal was blocked at the end of the first half. Andrew Luck threw an interception in the end zone in the middle of the third quarter. Center Samson Satele committed a personal foul in Titans' territory that negated a field-goal attempt. The Colts were also guilty of a delay of game later after a Luck first-down scramble. They kept trying to screw up just prior to the end of regulation, but they were able to overcome a Donnie Avery dropped ball at the 2-yard line and a potential fumble that had to be reviewed.
The Colts received possession first in overtime and aimed to score a touchdown right away to avoid giving the Titans a chance. Vick Ballard caught a short pass and helicoptered into the end zone for the decisive score. The touchdown was Luck's only one, but he still had a solid outing overall, going 26-of-38 for 297 yards against Tennessee's pathetic pass defense.
Ballard and Donald Brown split carries almost evenly, with Ballard (12-55) having the inferior stats compared to Brown (14-80). However, Ballard had that all-important 16-yard touchdown, and it appears as though he's earned a time share in the backfield.
Luck looked toward Dwayne Allen early on. The "other" rookie tight end caught a pair of passes on the opening drive, but finished with just four grabs for 56 yards. The leading receiver was Reggie Wayne (7-91).
I mentioned earlier that the Colts tried their best to lose this game with dumb mistakes. The Titans had a couple of their own. They dropped a Luck interception in the end zone in the second quarter. Rob Bironas then whiffed on 45-yard field goal, which could have thwarted Indianapolis' attempt to send this game into overtime. Nate Washington also dropped a key pass, but that one ultimately didn't matter because Tennessee would eventually find its way into the end zone later on the drive.
Tennessee moved the chains efficiently, as Matt Hasselbeck went 22-of-29 for 236 yards and a touchdown. He had a good game overall, but missed what could've been the game-winning touchdown to Jared Cook (4-45), who was wide open downfield. Hasselbeck overthrew him.
Hasselbeck's scoring sequence was amusing. Kenny Britt (3-34) caught the ball in the end zone, but was whistled for offensive pass interference. Britt legitimately pushed Jerraud Powers, but the crowd strongly disagreed and booed the officials relentlessly. Washington (5-69) then dropped the aforementioned pass, which further angered the fans. Kendall Wright (4-47, TD) then immediately caught a touchdown even though he blatantly pushed off a Colts' cornerback. The scared officials probably acknowledged that they wouldn't have made it out of the stadium alive had they called another offensive pass interference, so the whistles remained silent.
The silver lining for the Titans is that Chris Johnson had another nice performance, gashing Indianapolis for 99 yards on 21 carries. The Colts are pretty much fully healthy now (though Vontae Davis sprained his knee in the first quarter), so it's not like he had an easy matchup.
Raiders 26, Chiefs 16
Kansas City fans allegedly cheered Matt Cassel's injury a few weeks ago. Well, they've already seen enough of Brady Quinn to cheer for Cassel's return. Quinn, who completed two of his four passes for a whopping one yard (and an interception, to boot), was knocked out with a possible concussion. This is the worst thing that could have happened to the Chiefs, as they had no chance of winning any games with Quinn at the helm. Cassel is more functional and has a better chance of ruining draft position.
Cassel entered the game to an ovation and went on to go 20-of-30 for 218 yards, a touchdown (in garbage time) and an interception. He also showed some scrambling ability, picking up 35 yards on the ground on seven carries. Cassel was infinitely better than Quinn could have been, but it didn't matter either way; the Chiefs continued to kill themselves with mistakes and poor play-calling.
The errors were all costly. Javier Arenas muffed a punt at the end of the first half, giving the Raiders a short field and a subsequent touchdown to break a 6-6 tie. In the second half, the Chiefs were guilty of a botched snap fumble by acting center Ryan Lilja. Guard Jeff Allen was guilty of a hold, which negated a nice Jamaal Charles run. Steve Breaston then dropped a deep pass when he was open along the sidelines. They also failed to capitalize on a potential Raider mistake when Brandon Flowers dropped a Carson Palmer interception in the red zone.
As for the play-calling, Jamaal Charles had just five carries. Sure, he rushed for only four yards, but there's no reason for him to handle the ball so infrequently. The Raiders didn't have a double-digit lead until the third quarter, so it's not like the Chiefs had to abandon their ground attack super early. This is a fireable offense for coordinator Brian Daboll.
Cassel's meaningless touchdown went to Dexter McCluster (6-54). Dwayne Bowe led the team with 65 receiving yards on only three catches.
The Raiders' passing attack wasn't very good, but the most important development was that Darren McFadden finally got something going on the ground. He rushed for 114 yards on 29 carries and one long gain was wiped out by a hold. He also had four catches for 23 receiving yards.
Palmer completed only half of his passes thanks to some drops, going 14-of-28 for 209 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned pick. He also should've been intercepted on another occasion. Palmer made some nice throws, but some of his passes are made as though he still has the same arm strength he possessed before all of his injuries. It's almost as if Palmer doesn't know his own limitations, which is problematic for obvious reasons. It'll hurt the Raiders against tougher competition, though the good news is that they're within just one game of the Broncos for the AFC West lead.
Palmer's two scores went to Denarius Moore (5-96) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (1-32). Moore dropped a second touchdown.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Which NFL teams could've turned it over five times, gone down 23-0, came back to take the lead, surrendered the advantage on a give-away, put themselves in position to win the game and then lost it because a receiver's fingertips were out of bounds? Perhaps the Chargers and the Eagles, but if you're having a fantasy draft of all the teams that would have been guilty of that horrifying sequence of events, the Cowboys would easily be No. 1.
Wow! This game was awesome. It was one of the most entertaining contests of the season and seemed like a heavyweight title fight. The biggest take-away is that both the Giants and Cowboys are resilient.
Dallas fell behind 23-0 in the first half, but the team didn't quit and mounted a massive comeback to take the lead. New York then dug deep to battle back for a five-point victory. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Tony Romo laid out a bomb to Dez Bryant in the end zone. He made a leaping catch, but his hand came down out of bounds before his body landed in the end zone, so the touchdown was changed to an incompletion.
Giants; backup safety Stevie Brown (six tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery) had a great day and was the team MVP.
Eli Manning had a long pass to Rueben Randle (2-68) for 56 yards on the first drive of the game to set up a field goal. After that, the Cowboys started making mistakes. Brown undercut a pass in the deep middle of the field on a post route to intercept Romo. He had a nice return to inside the Dallas 30-yard line. Bryant ran a bad route and didn't come back to the ball.
Romo threw a pass off the mark to Miles Austin a few minutes later, and cornerback Corey Webster snatched it. That led to a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Andre Brown (3-21). Bryant then fumbled the ball away at the end of the first quarter while being tackled on a punt return. That set up the Giants at the Cowboys 15-yard line, but Dallas held New York to a field goal, limiting the visitors to a 16-0 lead.
The Giants blew the game wide open when Jason Pierre-Paul (one sack) made a leaping interception on an attempted dump off in the flat. He returned the interception 27 yards for a touchdown.
The Cowboys finally started showing signs of life with a drive that ended with a Felix Jones touchdown. Romo found Bryant wide open in busted coverage for a gain of 55 yards to set up a field goal. Dallas cut the lead to 23-17 in the third quarter after Romo moved the ball down the field with Bryant (5-110) and Austin (9-133). Romo ran in a bootleg on fourth-and-goal for a one-yard touchdown. The Cowboys then took the lead with Romo throwing a short touchdown pass to tight end John Phillips (3-14).
Manning finally got going in the fourth quarter and moved the ball through the air to retake the lead with a field goal. Dallas was driving down the field, but Felix Jones (3-19) fumbled the ball away after running into his own linemen. Brown picked up the free ball for New York to produce another field goal that was a critical score.
The Cowboys drove the ball through the air later in the fourth, primarily with Jason Witten, to get inside the Giants 20-yard line, but on fourth-and-1, Romo couldn't find an open receiver and threw an interception to Brown.
Dallas got one more shot and ran out of time with Romo's last pass sailing through the end zone. He finished 36-of-62 for 437 yards, a passing touchdown and four interceptions. Witten has had a frustrating season, but he broke out with a super performance to the tune of 18 receptions for 167 yards. New York's linebackers were completely incapable of covering Witten.
The Cowboys' defense was excellent, and if it hadn't been for all the turnovers, the stop unit would have done more than its job to produce a win against the defending champs. Ahmad Bradshaw (22-78) never got going. Manning completed 15-of-29 passes for 192 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception.
Dallas' secondary stepped up and played well. Thanks to Gerald Sensabaugh, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, Hakeem Nicks (4-46), Martellus Bennett (4-29), Domenik Hixon (3-26) and Victor Cruz (2-23) were all held in check.
This is a frustrating loss for the Cowboys, but at least they showed they have some fight in them to make a huge comeback against perhaps the best team in the league.
Broncos 34, Saints 14
What the hell happened to the Saints' offense? I don't want to hear this "John Fox and Jack Del Rio had a great game plan" mumbo-jumbo. Drew Brees was on the other side of the ball. The best of game plans can't ever contain him, so how were the Broncos able to do it, when they had been struggling defensively all year?
Well, it helped that the Broncos put great pressure on Brees, who was rattled all evening. He was sacked only once (by Wesley Woodyard, who also had 13 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception), but Denver forced many errant throws. Brees was also hurt by several drops. The most egregious one was a deep ball that fell through Devery Henderson's hands at the end of the first quarter. Had Henderson made the reception, the Saints would have scored at least three points, meaning it would've been just a one-possession game at halftime. Instead, they were down 10 and then 17 following the opening third-quarter possession, forcing the Saints to be completely one-dimensional, which further magnified the pass-protection issues.
Brees was 14-of-28 for 135 yards, one touchdown and an interception when the Saints punted the ball away, down 31-10 with a 4th-and-1 on their own 29. That's when they waved the white flag. Brees compiled some junk yardage and a meaningless touchdown, finishing 22-of-42 for 213 yards, two scores and a pick. Clearly bothered by the pressure, Brees' passes were all over the place. He threw behind many of his targets.
Brees' touchdowns went to Jimmy Graham (5-63) and Darren Sproles (7-56). Maques Colston tied Graham with five catches for 63 yards.
The Saints ran the ball well when they could. Pierre Thomas gained 43 yards on eight carries, but he couldn't do much when the Broncos went up big. Mark Ingram, meanwhile, wasted three carries for seven yards.
Thomas should have received the ball once on a series of downs in the second quarter in which the Saints had a 2nd-and-2 near midfield. Brees passed twice and then the coaching staff opted to go for it on fourth down. Brees misfired again - the ball was picked off on an underthrow - giving the Broncos great field position and a subsequent touchdown. That was the key play of the game because it gave Denver the lead, and the team never looked back.
The Saints went for it because they were scared of giving Peyton Manning another possession. You can't really blame them though, as Manning was a near-perfect 22-of-30 for 305 yards and three touchdowns. He helped his team muster 530 total net yards of offense, which dwarfed the Saints' 252.
Two of Manning's scores went to Eric Decker (4-43). The other was thrown to Demaryius Thomas (7-137).
Willis McGahee had a great outing, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He also caught two balls for 33 receiving yards. Ronnie Hillman showed well in relief, gashing New Orleans for 86 yards on just 14 attempts.