Week 8 NFL Game Recaps
Buccaneers 36, Vikings 17
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.
- 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.
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Bears 23, Panthers 22
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.
Browns 7, Chargers 6
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.
Lions 28, Seahawks 24
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.
Packers 24, Jaguars 15
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.
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.
Dolphins 30, Jets 9
By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell
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.
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.
Falcons 30, Eagles 17
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 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.
Steelers 27, Redskins 12
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.
Patriots 45, Rams 7
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.
Colts 19, Titans 13
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.
Raiders 26, Chiefs 16
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.
Giants 29, Cowboys 24
By Charlie Campbell - @draftcampbell
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.
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 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.
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.
Broncos 34, Saints 14
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.
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.
For thoughts on 49ers-Cardinals, check out my updated 2012 NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.
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