This was an epic battle between two sub-par AFC East teams to see who could take control of second place in the division and ruin next April's draft pick. The Bills prevailed, though the NFL Network announcers had to resort to gimmicks like calling Buffalo's offense a "matchup nightmare" all night. Yes, I'm sure Joe Philbin didn't get any sleep whatsoever trying to figure out how to outscore an offense that prominently features Donald Jones and Scott Chandler.
Perhaps Philbin should've gotten more rest though because his scoring attack couldn't do anything for most of the contest. The Dolphins had just 50 yards of offense in the first half, secured just one first down that wasn't by penalty prior to intermission and failed to run a single play in Buffalo territory until the 4-minute mark of the third quarter.
Miami's offense was absolutely pathetic until the end of that period when it finally started sustaining drives. However, save for one touchdown, the Dolphins' final four possessions concluded with a missed field goal and two interceptions in plus territory.
Ryan Tannehill looked terrible for most of the evening, going 14-of-28 for 141 yards, one touchdown to Davone Bess (6-50) and the aforementioned picks. His passes were all over the place, and he was tentative in the pocket. He now has a 2:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio since his Week 7 bye.
Miami's two fantasy stars had rough outings. Brian Hartline (4-49) lost a fumble in the first quarter and was whistled for an offensive pass interference on the team's final drive. Reggie Bush, meanwhile, managed just 20 yards on 10 carries. He couldn't find any running room behind an offensive line that was blown up by Buffalo's defensive front. Right tackle Jonathan Martin was abused all night.
The Bills had some solid drives and outgained the Dolphins by nearly 100 yards (281-184). However, they were just 2-of-12 on third downs and didn't score on a single one of their four red-zone trips. They let Miami hang around, but they deserve credit for taking advantage of Tannehill's implosion on his final couple of drives.
Buffalo moved the chains efficiently because of C.J. Spiller. The coaching staff finally gave him the touches it promised; Spiller rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries and caught three balls for 39 receiving yards. Fred Jackson was out, so it'll be interesting to see what sort of rotation the Bills run when both backs are available.
Ryan Fitzpatrick went 17-of-27 for 168 yards. One of his best plays was a 13-yard scramble in which he inexplicably dodged several Dolphin defenders. It's worth noting that the Dolphins' secondary was whistled for quite a few infractions. Nolan Carroll had a rough night, as he was penalized four times.
Steve Johnson was the only Bill to notch more than three receptions. He caught six passes for 79 yards.
This game would have finished 12-7 if it weren't for a pair of special-teams returns by Leodis McKelvin and Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen became the first Dolphin in franchise history to record punt and kickoff touchdowns in a single season.
Falcons 23, Cardinals 19
I don't know what's more inexplicable: Matt Ryan throwing five interceptions or Ryan throwing five interceptions and still winning.
If you just look at the box score, you may determine that Ryan had a horrible performance, but his first pick was the result of a bobbled ball by Roddy White and two others were tipped. Ryan threw two legitimate interceptions - and they were both bad, but he did a good job of leading the Falcons on enough scoring drives - most of which culminated with a field goal - to barely eke out the team's ninth win of the season.
Ryan finished 28-of-46 for 301 yards and the quintet of interceptions. He was pressured often - one of his other picks came as he was getting hit - and didn't really have his No. 1 receiver, as Julio Jones was laboring through an injury. Ryan had to resort to throwing to Roddy White (8-123), Harry Douglas (5-48) and Tony Gonzalez (3-33). Jones left the game in the third quarter after aggravating his ankle. It's puzzling why the Falcons opted to play him in a meaningless game like this.
The coaching staff vowed to get Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling more touches in the wake of Michael Turner's struggles, and it kept its word. Turner had 46 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while Rodgers was given 10 touches (5 carries, 16 rush yards; 5 catches, 35 rec. yards). Snelling, meanwhile, saw four balls go his way. He caught three of them for 25 yards, but his fourth was a stuff at the line of scrimmage on a 3rd-and-1 in Arizona territory.
Though the Cardinals were leading throughout, Ken Whisenhunt opted to bench John Skelton. Skelton, who opened a laughable 2-of-7 for 6 yards, which included a miss to a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone, was replaced by Ryan Lindley, who was somehow even worse. Lindley just didn't look like he was ready to play. He was incredibly tentative in the pocket and even lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
Lindley finished just 9-of-20 for 64 yards. He did not look like an NFL quarterback, though he was robbed of a nice completion to Larry Fitzgerald with three minutes remaining. Fitzgerald inexplicably dropped the ball, which would have given the Cardinals possession inside the Atlanta 10. Instead, the Cardinals eventually turned the ball over on downs and lost.
Fitzgerald had just one catch for 11 yards. He had that aforementioned missed opportunity for a touchdown, but cost his team the game. I can't ever remember saying that about the future Hall-of-Famer. By the way, the only Cardinal who had more than two receptions was Early Doucet (5-28).
So, how did the Cardinals score? Well, aside from the Ryan picks, it was all about LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was unbelievable. He rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Chris Wells will be back next week, so it'll be interesting to see if Arizona goes with a running back platoon.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm still confused about how the Buccaneers won this game. I stopped watching when the Panthers were up 21-10 in the fourth quarter, at which point former Web site contributor Matt McGuire texted me, complaining about how the Buccaneers tend to struggle when favored. Well, they did, but I'm still not sure how they ultimately prevailed.
The Carolina Panthers choked away an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter and this is a loss that could lead to Ron Rivera getting fired.
With 12 seconds remaining in regulation, Josh Freeman threw a 24-yard touchdown on a laser to Vincent Jackson (6-94) in the back of the end zone. Freeman went back to Jackson for a two-point conversion to force overtime. Doug Martin (24-138) had some big runs to move the ball down the field in the extra session. Freeman then threw to a wide open Dallas Clark (7-58) for the game-winning 15-yard score.
The Panthers helped Tampa Bay to an early lead after Captain Munnerlyn fumbled a punt away. That set up the Bucs for an easy touchdown on a pass from Freeman to Nate Byham. Tampa Bay was up 10-0 and driving in Carolina territory when Freeman was pressured and threw a ball up for grabs. Munnerlyn chased the ball down and took off down the field for a 74-yard return for a score.
The Panthers took the lead on a drive that featured a 30-yard screen to Jonathan Stewart and 17-yard pass to Steve Smith (5-61). Mark Barron was flagged for a pass interference on a third-and-goal in the end zone to give Carolina a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Stewart (15-43) powered into the end zone on the next play to give Carolina a 14-10 lead.
The Panthers were on the move a bit later when Newton had a run of about 15-yards on a third-and-13. He juked Barron to get the extra yards needed. Newton lofted in a 32-yarder to Greg Olsen (2-42) a few plays later. Carolina blew the drive with a missed 40-yard field goal.
The Panthers went for an idiotic fake punt in their own territory in the third quarter and it was easily stopped. Freeman threw an interception on the next play to Haruki Nakamura. The Bucs went for a fourth-and-1 from the Panthers 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Martin plunged into the pile and fumbled the ball away on a hit from Thomas Davis. Luke Kuechly recovered the loose ball for the touchback. Carolina took advantage as Newton hit some big passes on third downs to move the chains. He threw a rope in the middle of the field for Brandon LaFell (5-93) for a 29-yard touchdown after Barron was late in coverage. DeAngelo Williams (7-18) was a non-factor.
The Panthers couldn't run the clock out and Freeman tore apart their weak secondary, picking on Munnerlyn repeatedly. Freeman completed 25-of-46 passes for 248 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Newton had accuracy issues and missed some open receivers including a wide open Armanti Edwards near the goal line before Carolina's missed kick. Newton completed 16-of-29 passes for 252 yards. He ran for 40 yards on 11 carries. Newton flashes at times, but there is zero consistency to his game, and he let point opportunities escape him.
Cowboys 23, Browns 20
The Cowboys struggled at home, as they always do. This was not surprising in the slightest. But Dallas fans should be encouraged because their team usually finds some way to lose these games. But despite the Cowboys' best efforts - like a delay of game on the final drive in regulation - they found a way to get the job done.
Tony Romo should get more of the credit. The delay of game was his only blemish following the intermission, as he went 25-of-33 for 239 yards and a touchdown in the second half and overtime. He did a great job of overcoming a very sluggish start (10-of-17 for 74 yards in the first half despite the absence of Joe Haden) to finish 35-of-50 for 313 yards and the aforementioned score.
Romo's score went to Dez Bryant, who had an awesome performance, hauling in 12 grabs for 145 yards. Miles Austin-Jones (6-58) and Jason Witten (7-51) were also factors.
The Cowboys once again struggled to run the ball. Felix Jones, who boasted about being healthy for the first time in a while, rushed for just 43 yards on 14 carries, though he salvaged his fantasy day with a touchdown.
Dallas' furious, 13-point, second-half comeback was completely legitimate, as it outgained the Browns, 243-143 after intermission. It ruined a potential third victory of the season for Cleveland. Not that the Browns didn't have the opportunities to fend them off. Brandon Weeden lost a fumble in his own territory in the fourth quarter and had possession in overtime, but mustered just six yards in the extra session.
Weeden finished 20-of-35 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and the fumble. Those stats make it seem like he was competent, but that was hardly the case. He missed some easy passes and nearly threw multiple interceptions, prompting the CBS announcers to repeatedly state that he's just a turnover waiting to happen. He did make some nice throws, but just couldn't get it done when it mattered most. It's worth noting though that his receivers dropped some passes, including Ben Watson, who had a key drop in Dallas territory. Watson ironically caught both of Weeden's scores.
Weeden at least was smart enough to give Trent Richardson tons of touches. Richardson, who gained 95 yards on 28 carries, led the Browns in receptions with six for 49 receiving yards.
Both Cleveland starting wideouts had 53 receiving yards. Josh Gordon caught five passes, while Greg Little had three grabs.
Packers 24, Lions 20
Green Bay was so sloppy in this game, it's a miracle that the team won, let alone covered. Here are the mistakes it made:
- The Packers committed nine penalties, including six in the first half. Some of them were very crucial. For instance, one infraction wiped out a Randall Cobb 26-yard gain. Another negated an attempted fake field goal try.
- There were some drops, including one by Jordy Nelson on the opening drive. It negated a first down and ultimately forced a punt.
- Mason Crosby nailed the spread-covering field goal, but missed three other kicks. The box score may say that he was 1-of-3, but he actually whiffed on a try just as Jim Schwartz called a timeout. One of Crosby's failed attempts was from 38 yards out.
- The Packers had some time management issues prior to halftime. They let 30 seconds tick off in Detroit territory before settling for a long field goal, which was one of Crosby's misses.
- Green Bay ran the ball too much. A statement like that may anger Tom Jackson, but James Starks was incredibly ineffective, rushing for just 74 yards on 25 carries. There was one sequence in which the Packers had a 1st-and-5. Starks was given two carries and picked up just three total yards. Following an incompletion on a 3rd-and-2, the team had to settle for a field goal, which was one of Crosby's misses.
- Aaron Rodgers tossed an interception right before that, but Green Bay had possession only because of a Matthew Stafford fumble.
Rodgers went 19-of-27 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and the pick. His best play occurred at the end of the first quarter when he showed tremendous elusiveness under pressure, evading the Detroit pass-rushers and finding Donald Driver for a first down. Rodgers was sacked three times, twice by Nick Fairley, who was completely dominant.
Rodgers' scores went to Cobb (9-74) and Jermichael Finley (3-66). Finley's touchdown was his first since Week 1. Meanwhile, it was disappointing to see Nelson (3-45) and James Jones (2-33) do nothing.
As for the Lions, Stafford had some issues of his own. He went 17-of-39 for 266 yards, one touchdowns, two picks and the aforementioned fumble. He had accuracy problems all afternoon, as he missed Calvin Johnson for two potential scores.
Despite this, Megatron was able to catch five passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. The team's next leading receiver was Ryan Broyles (2-35), who had a big, 27-yard third-down conversion in the fourth quarter. Brandon Pettigrew had four grabs but for just 22 yards.
Mikel Leshoure was able to find running room, gaining 84 yards and a score on 19 carries.
Jeff Backus suffered an injury in this contest, so Riley Reiff had to fill in at left tackle. This was part of the reason Stafford was sacked on five occasions.
Texans 43, Jaguars 37
How often do you see a big favorite lose like this in the NFL? Well, I tweeted it ( @walterfootball): "If the #Texans lose, they'll be the first favorite of 15+ points to suffer a loss since the #Cowboys in 1995 (they were -17.5)."
Well, it took overtime, but the Texans managed to avoid that dubious distinction, though there has to be some concern with the defense. Something else I tweeted was something my editor asked me: "Who kidnapped Wade Phillips' family?"
Seriously. How the hell did Chad Henne torch one of the elite stop units in the NFL like this? Henne looked like an elite quarterback, going 16-of-33 for 354 yards and four touchdowns. He and Justin Blackmon were unstoppable; the rookie wideout exploded with seven catches for 236 yards and a touchdown.
Remarkably though, neither Henne nor Blackmon were the leading stat-leaders at their position in this contest. The players who managed to earn that distinction were
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson who hooked up for the game-winning score in overtime. Johnson hauled in 14 passes for 273 yards and that score, falling 63 yards short of Flipper Anderson's all-time record for a single game. Schaub, meanwhile, was closer. His 527 yards tied Warren Moon for second all time, as the two men are listed behind Norm Van Brocklin and his 554.
Schaub's final numbers were 43-of-55 for 527 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. The game-winning score was to Johnson, while the other four went to Garrett Graham (8-82) twice, James Casey (3-20) and Keshawn Martin (1-9).
The Texans didn't run the ball very well with Arian Foster, who gained just 77 yards on 28 carries. Making matters worse, Foster also lost a fumble.
Going back to the Jaguars, last week's starting backfield didn't make it out of this game. Gabbert injured his shoulder while losing a fumble in the first quarter, while Rashad Jennings lost his job to Jalen Parmele, who rushed for 80 yards on 24 carries. Jennings, meanwhile, had just three carries for minus-1 yard.
The quarterback position is much more interesting. Henne outplayed Gabbert last week, but I argued that Gabbert should get the final nine starts so the front office could see if it should in fact move on from him. But this changes things. Henne was terrific, so he should get a chance to prove what he can do in this offense.
Henne's four touchdowns went to Blackmon (as mentioned), Cecil Shorts (3-81) and Marcedes Lewis (3-40) twice. Blackmon had a chance at another score, but dropped a ball in the end zone at the end of the first quarter. It was close, but he lost the ball at the very end. In fact, it looked like Calvin Johnson's non-touchdown in that controversial negated reception back in Week 1 of the 2010 season.
Bengals 28, Chiefs 6
The Bengals were coming off an upset victory against the defending Super Bowl champions, a situation in which teams often struggle with. However, Marvin Lewis was determined to keep his team completely focused. On one drive in the first quarter, he called for a fake punt and had his team go for it on a 4th-and-7. Both attempts were successful, eventually leading to an Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green touchdown. This eventually sparked the Bengals to a 21-6 halftime advantage.
Cincinnati essentially did whatever it wanted to in this contest. They outgained the Chiefs, 409-284. They won the time-of-possession battle by nearly 11 minutes, as Kansas City converted just 1-of-11 third downs.
Andy Dalton dissected Kansas City's underachieving defense, going 18-of-29 for 230 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) that went to A.J. Green (6-91) and Mohamed Sanu (2-22). The Chiefs were stupid, opting not to have Brandon Flowers shadow him. What Romeo Crennel was thinking with that inane strategy is beyond me.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis reached triple-digit rushing yards for the first time as a Bengal. He managed 101 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, as the Chiefs seemed to give up.
Remember when Crennel threatened to bench the first player who committed a turnover on Monday night? Well, he kept his word in this contest, as Peyton Hillis lost a fumble in the first half. Hillis consequently had just three carries for nine yards, which paled in comparison to Jamaal Charles' 17 attempts for 87 yards.
Hillis wasn't the only player asked to take a seat. Matt Cassel was benched at halftime after he went just 8-of-16 for 93 yards. Brady Quinn took over and was just as ineffective, going 9-of-14 for 95 yards. It's strange that the Chiefs aren't even giving Ricky Stanzi an opportunity. Both Cassel and Quinn are proven bums, but Stanzi deserves a chance, especially considering that the Chiefs will almost certainly be picking Geno Smith in the 2013 NFL Draft. They at least have to make sure that Stanzi isn't terrible.
Dwayne Bowe didn't log a single reception because of a neck injury he sustained in the second quarter. The leading receiver happened to be tight end Tony Moeaki (4-73).
It was cool to see some black shirts in the crowd, as some of the fans donned that color to represent their disdain for the front office. This campaign was run by @savethechiefs, but it didn't look like it was enough. There was just too much red in the stands. Kansas City fans need to wise up and follow @savethechiefs if they want their team to ever be good again.
Jets 27, Rams 13
At one point, it seemed like Mark Sanchez was going to be benched. Following a Stephen Hill drop in the first quarter, Sanchez fumbled the ball. The Rams' defensive line was swarming him, so he didn't even have a chance. The camera panned to Tim Tebow, who was warming up on the sideline. However, Rex Ryan stuck with Sanchez, who improved as the game progressed.
Sanchez somehow went 15-of-20 for 178 yards and a touchdown. He was incredibly sharp throughout, which makes you wonder when he'll quit being so inconsistent. It's games like these that will keep the New York front office from making the right move and benching Sanchez. Speaking of which, Tim Tebow was barely used. He completed his only attempt for minus-1 yard, which came on a failed fake punt attempt.
Tebow's supporter, Shonn Greene, got screwed out of two scores, as Bilal Powell vultured a couple of touchdowns. Greene outgained Powell, 64-42 on seven more carries.
Sanchez's lone touchdown went to Chaz Schilens (4-48). Jeremy Kerley, who was questionable coming into this contest, caught three balls for 43 yards. Dustin Keller, meanwhile, had just two catches for 16 yards.
Sam Bradford had a miserable performance. He looked sharp early on when he threw a touchdown to Brandon Gibson on a fourth down, but he finished 23-of-44 for just 170 yards, two scores and a terrible pick. He also lost a fumble. Bradford was wildly inaccurate, as he seemed lost when the Jets took Danny Amendola away from him.
Amendola did finish with seven catches, but none of them went for 10 yards, as he ultimately finished with only 41 yards. He missed some time with a minor injury, but it wasn't a big deal.
For the second week in a row, Steven Jackson handled the majority of the workload. Daryl Richardson had just six carries (23 yards), while Jackson was given 13 rushes, which he turned into 81 yards. Richardson lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, which won't help his cause going forward.
Redskins 31, Eagles 6
It was reported earlier in the week that Andy Reid wanted to go to Nick Foles earlier in the season, but was afraid of losing the locker room as a result of benching the vastly overrated starter. Well, it appeared as though he didn't have the locker room anyway even though the quarterback change occurred in the wake of an injury.
It's unreal how sloppy the Eagles were in the first half. Nick Foles threw an interception on the first drive because the ball went off Brent Celek's hands. This led to a Washington touchdown. The next Philadelphia possession was capsized by two false starts, a hold that wiped out a long gain and an interception that occurred because a receiver fell down.
Two holding penalties ruined the next couple of drives for Philadelphia. After that, Foles had a nice 3rd-and-17 conversion, but then Celek dropped an ensuing 3rd-and-5 on a play in which LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were inexplicably on the sidelines. Oh, and speaking of McCoy, he lost a fumble deep in his own territory at the end of the second quarter, giving the Redskins a chip-shot field goal.
A good coach might be able to fix this at halftime, but not Reid. The Eagles came out of the tunnel to have their opening drive ruined by a delay of game and a Foles fumble. The Redskins were struggling offensively up until this point, but Robert Griffin and his receivers finally started clicking. Washington would soon extend its lead and never look back.
Foles finished 21-of-46 for 204 yards and the two picks. He wasn't terrible, but didn't show any signs that he can be a starter in this league. That stat line is especially disappointing considering how porous Washington had been against the pass all year, though it's worth noting that Brandon Meriweather, who was on the field for the first time all year, was a force in a pedestrian secondary. Unfortunately, Meriweather suffered a knee injury in the second half. He limped off, which is a shame because he just can't stay healthy.
Speaking of injuries, LeSean McCoy was knocked out with a concussion. He was carted off, and it didn't look like he knew where he was at that moment. McCoy rushed for just 45 yards on 15 carries and that aforementioned fumble. The concussion, by the way, occurred when the Eagles were down 25 with 1:45 remaining. Afterward, Reid was asked why McCoy was still on the field at that point. His answer? "We were trying to catch up to win the game." They were trying to catch up to win the game... down 25 with 1:45 remaining. Oh OK, that makes sense.
McCoy (6 catches, 67 yards) happened to be the Eagles' leading receiver, as Foles threw tons of screens. DeSean Jackson (2-5) and Jeremy Maclin (0-0) were major disappointments.
Griffin, meanwhile, was nearly perfect, going 14-of-15 for 200 yards and four touchdowns. He also scrambled 12 times for 84 rushing yards. One of his best players in terms of running came on a 3rd-and-14 in the third quarter when this was an 11-point game. Despite the long-distance situation, Griffin managed to pick up the first down with a 23-yard scramble. A few plays later, Griffin connected with Santana Moss for a 61-yard touchdown.
Griffin's four scores went to different targets: Moss (1-61), Aldrick Robinson, Logan Paulsen and Darrel Young. Pierre Garcon started, but caught just three balls for five yards. He's obviously not healthy yet.
Alfred Morris couldn't find much running room; he managed just 76 yards on 20 carries. He fumbled and was guilty of two false starts.
Saints 38, Raiders 17
The Saints are back to 5-5. It didn't seem possible that they would be in the thick of a playoff hunt after they lost to the Chiefs to drop to 0-3, but the backup coaching staff has to deserve credit for keeping the season afloat.
Of course, Oakland had a big say in this result. The Raiders have the offensive talent to engage in a shootout with the Saints, but not if they commit tons of turnovers. That's exactly what they did in this contest. It all started with a Carson Palmer pick-six in the first quarter. Palmer then tossed an interception in the end zone after an offensive pass interference pushed his team back. And just when the Raiders thought they had a chance to draw closer to New Orleans in the third quarter, Rod Streater lost a fumble in the red zone.
The Raiders' defense, meanwhile, couldn't do anything about Drew Brees, who was a near-perfect 20-of-27 for 219 yards and three touchdowns. He was deadly on third down, converting 6-of-11 attempts. It's a shame for his fantasy owners that the Raiders continuously squandered opportunities; otherwise, Brees would have enjoyed a much better statistical performance. To give you an idea, Brees had 150 yards and two of his scores by halftime.
Brees threw a pair of touchdowns to Lance Moore (2-53). The other score went to Jimmy Graham (6-29). Marques Colston led the team in receiving with four catches for 69 yards, but couldn't find the end zone.
Mark Ingram once again had more carries than Chris Ivory (8-37) and Pierre Thomas (5-30). He gained 67 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. As he ran into the end zone, he was flagged for a taunting penalty. The Saints were actually whistled for 11 infractions, which makes me wonder how lopsided this could have been had they taken Oakland completely seriously.
Palmer had a solid fantasy day, going 22-of-40 for 312 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned couple of picks. His scores went to Brandon Myers (6-55) and Juron Criner (3-23).
Marcel Reece was the Raiders' most effective offensive player. Not only did he rush for 103 yards on just 19 carries, but he led the team in receiving, snagging four balls for 90 yards. His only blemish was getting stuffed at the goal line in the first half.
On the other end of the spectrum, Denarius Moore was a major disappointment with just a mere 9-yard catch. Darrius Heyward-Bey (4-69) was OK considering that he was a game-time decision.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite picking the Colts to cover, I can't say I'm surprised by this. As I wrote on my NFL Picks page, Brady is an egomaniac with pretty hair who would be in F-U mode in an attempt not to be upstaged by media-darling Andrew Luck.
The big story coming out of this game is that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm. He'll be out 4-6 weeks, so he should be back for the team's playoff run. Remember that Aaron Hernandez will return soon.
Andrew Luck has been great for the Colts thus far, but he's not ready to take down the elite of the AFC. The defending conference champions took the rookie to the woodshed in a dominating second half. This young Indianapolis team wasn't ready to win a shootout with Tom Brady, as the Colts' defense couldn't stop the Patriots' scoring machine. Indianapolis is still in good position to land a wild card, but this performance illustrated that the team's ceiling is a wild-card berth rather than a run in January.
The Colts started the game well. Luck engineered a first-quarter, seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Delone Carter (2-21) touchdown run. Brady answered with an eight-play, 81-yard drive of his own that ended with a four-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski. Luck came right back moving the ball downfield and threw a 14-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton.
The Patriots tied the game at 14 in the second quarter when Julian Edelman returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown. It was the start of a massive game for Edelman. Vince Wilfork got some pressure on Luck a bit later to cause a poorly thrown ball in the middle of the field. Aqib Talib ran under the floater and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown. The teams then traded field goals to make it 24-17 at the half.
Brady moved the ball downfield in the third quarter and finished a drive with a short touchdown toss to Edelman. New England's defense played better in the second half and kept Luck from sustaining drives. Rob Ninkovich beat Anthony Castonzo late in the third quarter for a sack-fumble that Ninkovich recovered at Indianapolis 24-yard line. Brady threw a strike down the seam to Gronkowski (7-137) for his second score on the next play and a 38-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Patriots put the game away early in the fourth quarter when Alfonzo Dennard jumped a sideline out route and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown. It was a bad throw from Luck as the ball came out late.
The Colts' rookie signal-caller bounced back and dropped in a nice pass to Hilton (6-100) for a 43-yard touchdown. The wide out beat Talib on a go route running down the field. It was the second touchdown the former Bucs corner allowed in his debut with the Patriots. Luck had a pass deflected in garbage time and it was intercepted by New England rookie safety Tavon Wilson.
Luck finished the day 27-of-50 for 334 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a lost fumble. Vick Ballard (16-72), Reggie Wayne (7-72), Dwayne Allen (6-69), LaVon Brazill (2-46) and Donnie Avery (3-34) all contributed.
The Patriots, already having a comfortable lead, ran up the score as Brady ripped the ball down the field with passes to Wes Welker (7-80) and Edelman to set up a short touchdown run by Stevan Ridley (13-28). Another drive set up a short Shane Vereen (11-40) touchdown.
Brady finished 24-of-35 for 331 yards with three touchdowns. Brandon Lloyd (4-45) had a modest contribution. Edelman, meanwhile, was the play-maker for New England. He had a run of 47 yards, five receptions for 58 yards with a score, and his punt return for a touchdown.
Even though Talib had an uneven game, the Patriots have some real potential at cornerback with him and Dennard. They both have some man-to-man ability with ball skills. The duo has the capacity to be coached up and form a nice tandem come January when New England is attempting to get back to the Super Bowl.
The Colts clearly need a lot of work on defense. The front seven had zero sacks, while the secondary was incapable of stopping anything. The defense definitely needs a lot of work before Indianapolis will be a team that is dangerous in January.
Broncos 30, Chargers 23
The Broncos have essentially won the division with this victory, but I have a feeling that everyone is going to talk about the Chargers because at 4-6, their season is basically over. Philip Rivers and Norv Turner have underachieved yet again, and if San Diego had an owner who actually paid attention to what was going on, Rivers would be playing for a new head coach in 2013.
Oh, and there'd be a new general manager too because there's no excuse for going into the season with an unreliable Jared Gaither and completely inept Jeromey Clary as the two tackles. Gaither was out yet again, while Clary was absolutely humiliated by Von Miller. He didn't even have a chance. Miller recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles.
As a consequence, Rivers had an abysmal outing. His final stats look solid - 24-of-40 for 258 yards, two touchdowns, a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble - but most of those numbers came in garbage time when Denver had a two-score lead. Rivers was just 9-of-17 for 60 yards and a pick in the opening half. He was rattled in the pocket, as he didn't trust his pass protection whatsoever.
Both of Rivers' junk-time scores went to Danario Alexander, who hauled in seven balls for 96 yards. I thought Champ Bailey would cover Alexander, but Tony Carter drew that assignment. Alexander beat him on both occasions during his trips to the end zone. Alexander's second touchdown was controversial, as the ball hit the ground. However, the official correctly ruled that his second action was crossing the goal line. This covered the spread, so I'm sure there will be some conspiracy-theory talk, but the ref made the right call.
No other Charger had more than four catches. Antonio Gates recorded just two receptions for 17 yards. He just can't get open anymore.
Ryan Mathews was questionable going into this contest, and perhaps he should have sat out. He mustered just 47 yards on 15 carries, though he saved his PPR fantasy day with four catches for 36 receiving yards.
The other running back is more noteworthy. Willis McGahee, who rushed for 55 yards on seven carries, left the game with a terrible-looking knee injury. Ronnie Hillman (12 carries, 43 yards; 2 catches 16 rec. yards) and Lance Ball (6-53; 3-21) split touches after that. Hillman needs to be added in all fantasy formats.
Peyton Manning was solid, but unspectacular by his own standards, going 25-of-42 for 270 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The Chargers did a good job of pressuring him, disrupting several drives; rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes notched two sacks. The San Diego defense gave the team a chance to win, but the offense simply couldn't do anything for most of the afternoon; the Chargers just just 64 yards of offense on their first 12 drives.
Ravens 13, Steelers 10
The Steelers did not play a good game. I thought they'd perform on a high level in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's injury, as they usually do, but while they gave high effort against their hated arch rival, they made so many careless errors to give Baltimore a commanding two-game lead in the division.
It all started when Mike Wallace lost a fumble in Baltimore territory. The Steelers did a good job of limiting the Ravens to a field goal on the ensuing possession. However, they would commit small infractions like a false start here or a hold to negate a nice gain there, but then they surrendered a punt return touchdown to Jacoby Jones. That was the ultimate back-breaker because Baltimore didn't score an offensive touchdown in this contest.
After that, Pittsburgh continued with the blunders, missing tackles and getting whistled for a block in the back on a nice catch. On Baltimore's final drive, Larry Foote was called for tripping, and then two Steelers were whistled for an offsides infraction. They still forced a punt on the next play, but 40 precious seconds were able to tick off the clock.
Pittsburgh still had a chance to win even with all of these errors, thanks to a heroic effort from its defense. Unfortunately, despite an impressive opening drive that featured a 42-yard pass interference penalty and an inexplicable 31-yard Byron Leftwich touchdown run, the Steelers were stagnant offensively all evening.
Leftwich was particularly abysmal, going 18-of-39 for 201 yards, the rushing score and a horrible interception. The problem was some sort of injury that Leftwich incurred when he ran into the end zone. He was wincing after nearly every throw while grabbing his rib or shoulder. He consequently couldn't make all of the passes he's usually capable of; he had an alarming lack of arm strength, especially in the fourth quarter. I have no idea what Mike Tomlin was thinking by not making the switch to Charlie Batch; Leftwich was clearly hurting his team, and it's not like there's any sort of dropoff between the two reserve signal-callers. Pittsburgh may have had a chance with Batch on the field, but that was hardly the case with a hobbled Leftwich.
With Leftwich unable to hit anything downfield, only one Steeler had more than 26 receiving yards. That would be Emmanuel Sanders, who recorded three catches for 82 yards. Wallace notched four grabs for 26 yards, but was guilty of that aforementioned fumble.
Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer split carries almost evenly, but the latter was much more effective. Dwyer trampled the Ravens for 55 yards on just 12 attempts, while Mendenhall was able to muster only 33 yards on 11 tries.
While Mendenhall struggled, Ray Rice was even worse as a runner. He couldn't get anything against Pittsburgh, as safety Ryan Clark had the game of his life. Rice collected just 40 yards on 20 carries, though he saved his fantasy day with five catches for 53 receiving yards.
Joe Flacco went 20-of-32 for 164 yards. He couldn't move the chains whatsoever, converting just 3-of-14 third downs. The problem was that Ike Taylor completely smothered Torrey Smith, surrendering just one catch for seven yards to the No. 1 wideout.
Flacco had to look toward Anquan Boldin more often, which would explain why the veteran hauled in eight balls for 79 yards. Flacco's other main option, Dennis Pitta, left the game in the first half with a concussion.