This game seemed like it would be a lopsided affair on two occasions. The first occurred right away on the very first drive. Christian Ponder took a sack because he held on to the ball too long, and then he threw an interception on the very next play by carelessly lofting a pass into double coverage. The Redskins took over and scored easily, so it appeared as though Minnesota wouldn't have a chance.
The Vikings scored a couple of touchdowns after that, but the Redskins eventually led 27-14 in the third quarter. Minnesota's defense looked completely helpless. Washington receivers were open on seemingly every play, as the Vikings' injury-ridden secondary blew tons of assignments.
So, with that in mind, I have no idea how Minnesota managed to turn the tide. The pass rush suddenly came alive out of nowhere and smothered Robert Griffin, holding Washington completely scoreless after that. The offense, meanwhile, got enough against the Redskins' poor defense to eventually take the lead and hang on despite a furious final drive by the Redskins that culminated with drops by Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss in the end zone.
Ponder, despite the dubious first possession, had a pretty solid outing. He let the ball hit the ground just three times, going 17-of-21 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned pick. He was going up against a putrid defense, but the fact remains that he played very well after the ugly interception. Ponder also had a 14-yard scramble that appeared to be another score, but replay showed that the ball was fumbled and dribbled out of bounds just short of the goal line. Unfortunately, Ponder suffered an injury on the dive and had to leave the game. Matt Cassel - not Josh Freeman - took over for Ponder and also looked decent, completing 4-of-6 passes for 47 yards. Ponder hit a key throw that allowed Minnesota to bleed out the clock.
The Redskins couldn't exactly concentrate on Ponder (or Cassel) because they had to worry about wrapping up Adrian Peterson. The stud back didn't have a great YPC - he gained 75 yards on 20 carries - but he scored twice and ran really tough, dragging defenders with him on multiple occasions.
John Carlson had a big game for Minnesota. Taking over for the injured Kyle Rudolph, Carlson led the Vikings with seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson also scored, as he caught both of his passes (for 22 yards) on a single drive. Meanwhile, Greg Jennings struggled yet again with three catches for only 18 yards.
As for Girffin, he went 24-of-37 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, along with seven scrambles for 44 rushing yards. He was masterful until the middle of the third quarter; at one point, he was 18-of-24 for 221 yards and the three scores. He was particularly lethal on third down, converting nine of 16 tries, including a third-and-15 to Garcon.
However, Griffin finished just 6-of-13 for 60 yards because the Minnesota pressure got to him. Kevin Williams dominated the interior of the line of scrimmage, collecting 2.5 sacks.
Griffin's scores went to Garcon (7-119), Reed (6-62) and Logan Paulsen.
Alfred Morris had a nice night running the ball. His fantasy owners will be disappointed that he didn't find the end zone, but he rushed for 139 yards on 26 carries. He actually received a goal-line carry, but couldn't convert.
Time for the weekly Brad Nessler gaffe! Greg Little was once known as "Mr. Dependable." Jay Feely has been "Jim Feely." Last week, Koa Misi became "Koa Misa." This Thursday, Nessler commented that one of the punters kicked it "high into the Minneapolis sky." Yeah, I'm sure the ball looked beautiful in the Minneapolis night sky - considering that the Vikings play in a dome.
Seahawks 33, Falcons 10
Games are often won in the trenches, and this game was no exception. The Seahawks were able to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, prompting their blowout victory over Atlanta. In fact, the final score isn't close to being indicative of how lopsided this affair was; Atlanta's lone touchdown came in garbage time, with Seattle winning the yardage battle in the opening half, 316-99.
The Falcons couldn't get any pressure on Russell Wilson, who let the ball hit the ground only seven times. He went 19-of-26 for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He barely had to do any scrambling because he wasn't under very much heat despite his previous offensive line problems; he scrambled just three times for 20 rushing yards. Wilson would've had a bigger statistical game, but he just didn't need to pass because of the huge lead. He threw the ball just six times after intermission.
Wilson was awesome, as was the ground attack. Marshawn Lynch was in vintage Beast Mode, rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. The play that stood out to me wasn't his longest gain, but it was a 9-yard reception that featured a powerful stiff arm against William Moore. He was able to drag Moore long enough to pick up a first down near midfield. That play set up a field goal.
As a result of all of this, the Seahawks scored on seven of their first eight offensive possessions. Atlanta's skeleton-crew defense simply had no answer for them.
Conversely, the Falcons could neither pass protect nor run block, which is why their offense was limited to three points for most of the afternoon. Matt Ryan was sacked only twice, but that doesn't indicate the type of heat he was under throughout the contest. Ryan had to release the ball quickly to avoid getting hit in the backfield, which would explain why his YPA was a Matt Cassel-esque 4.78.
Ryan went 23-of-36 for 172 yards and the aforementioned garbage score to someone named Darius Johnson. He didn't throw a pick, but had one dropped by Brandon Browner. There was some speculation that Ryan would play better in this contest because of Roddy White's return. White caught a 20-yard reception on the second drive, but didn't do anything after that despite being on the field for the majority of the game. He saw just four targets go his way.
Steven Jackson seemed to have a good matchup because Seattle's run defense has been leaky lately. Red Bryant being out only made it seem more lucrative. However, Jackson struggled yet again, mustering only 11 yards on nine carries.
Ryan's leading receiver was Harry Douglas (7-49). Tony Gonzalez, who is rotting away on this putrid team for no apparent reason (why wasn't he traded?), had just three catches for 29 yards, as Ryan had major problems getting the ball to him the entire afternoon because of Kam Chancellor's coverage. Gonzalez complained of a toe injury afterward.
As for Wilson's wideouts, Golden Tate led the way with six grabs for 106 yards and an awesome, one-handed touchdown. Jermaine Kearse had the other score to go along with three receptions for 75 yards. Doug Baldwin was also a factor (5-76).
Two Seattle defenders of note: Browner, who had the aforementioned dropped interception, suffered a hamstring injury in the first half. Linebacker K.J. Wright had a huge game; his big play was a key stop on a third down early on.
Ravens 20, Bengals 17
This game took five years off my life. I had the Ravens +1 as my NFL Pick of the Month, so I had a huge rooting interest. Baltimore went up 17-0 rather quickly, but then the team started doing dumb stuff. The following series of events allowed this game to go to overtime even though the Ravens had full control throughout:
- Joe Flacco (20-of-36 for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) had a pick dropped at the beginning of the fourth quarter. On the very next play, Flacco was intercepted, helping to set up a Cincinnati score.
- Flacco then did a poor job of bleeding out the clock. First of all, I don't know why in the world he kept snapping the ball with 12-15 seconds on the play clock in the final period. Second, Flacco lost a fumble at midfield. This allowed the Bengals to drive deep into Baltimore territory, but the defense bailed out its quarterback with a pick.
- Time was running out for Cincinnati. Dalton had to attempt a Hail Mary from his own 49-yard line. He heaved it into the end zone. The ball bounced off a cluster of players, and then safety James Ihedigbo, who had two interceptions, inexplicably tipped it into the air, which allowed it to sail right into A.J. Green's hands for the game-tying touchdown. If my neighbors heard me screaming as this happened, they may have called the local mental hospital to have me committed.
The Bengals won the coin toss in overtime and marched into Baltimore territory. With a fourth-and-2, Marvin Lewis opted to go for it, repeating a decision he made early on when Dalton was stuffed on a sneak. Giovani Bernard was also stacked up beind the line of scrimmage. Baltimore took over in decent field position, and thanks to two Flacco conversions, the clutch Justin Tucker was able to drill the decisive 46-yard field goal, preserving my sanity.
The Ravens had success moving the chains early on with some creative plays - a flea flicker helped draw a pass interference on Reggie Nelson, while Tyrod Taylor even saw some action with an 18-yard rush - but the team struggled after establishing the 17-0 lead. The offensive line was completely inept yet again, failing to open up any sort of running lanes for Ray Rice, mustering only 30 yards on 18 carries, though he helped his PPR owners with six catches for 26 receiving yards.
Flacco's scores went to Torrey Smith (5-46) and Dallas Clark, who made amends for dropping a pass in the first quarter that would've moved the chains. The Clark score gave the Ravens their first lead since Week 5.
As for the Bengals, Andy Dalton failed to complete half of his passes, going 24-of-51 for 274 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was woeful early on - 8-of-21, 47 yards, interception in the first half, with plenty of overthrows - but did a better job later on, leading his team back with the help of Baltimore's ineptitude. Dalton's offensive line didn't do him any favors, as it surrendered five sacks. Elvis Dumervil, who had 2.5 sacks, collected a pair on consecutive plays in the second half.
Dumervil didn't have the most sacks in this contest. That distinction belonged to third-year linebacker Vincent Rey, who recorded 13 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Carl Dunlap chipped in with two sacks and a forced fumble.
Bernard was stuffed on that overtime loss, but he made some big plays, gaining 58 yards on just 14 carries to go along with eight catches for 37 receiving yards and a touchdown. The man who brought the Bengals into overtime obviously had the other score. Green had eight catches for 151 yards and the Hail Mary touchdown. All but one of his receptions came after intermission.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I picked the Lions because Jay Cutler started this game. I thought it was stupid to use him before he was ready to play. Josh McCown was fine in relief, so perhaps that'll give the Bears more confidence that they can move on without him following this offseason.
The Detroit Lions are in the drivers seat to win the NFC North for their first divisional championship in more than 20 years. After grabbing a tough road win at Chicago combined with Green Bay losing to the Eagles, Detroit is in sole possession of first place in the NFC North with seven games remaining. The loss isn't the end of the world for the Bears, as they remain in the playoff race.
After missing basically six quarters of action, Jay Cutler returned to the lineup for Chicago. The Bears started well with a good kick return by Devin Hester. Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for three completions including a 32-yard touchdown where Marshall beat Darius Slay in man coverage.
The Lions came right back with Matthew Stafford ripping the ball through the Chicago's secondary to Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew (5-70). Stafford hit a slant to Kris Durham (1-5) to tie the game at seven.
Just before halftime, the Bears put together a good drive with Cutler using Alshon Jeffery (9-114) to move the chains on some clutch conversions. However, the possession was ruined by an Ndamukong Suh tipped pass that was caught by DeAndre Leavy for an interception in the end zone.
Cutler wasn't same by the end of the first half as he hobbled with his hip injury, a new ankle injury and a swollen hand. In the third quarter, Reggie Bush broke off a 40-yard run - and a horse collar penalty on Charles Tillman - to move the ball to the 4-yard line. Stafford dropped in a fade pass to Megatron, who beat Tillman for the score. The Bears answered with a 44-yard bomb to Marshall and a 17-yard toss to Jeffery to get a short field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, Stafford overthrew Johnson in the deep middle of the field and the ball was picked off by Chris Conte. He returned the interception 35 yards to the Lions' nine-yard line. A justified holding call on Matt Slausson took away a Matt Forte (17-33) touchdown run. On third-and-goal, Cutler lofted a pass to Jeffery for a leaping touchdown over Chris Houston, but the review of the play took the touchdown away as Jeffery had to re-control the ball when he landed on his back out of bounds. The Bears settled for a field goal and a 14-13 deficit.
Conte came back with a clutch breakup covering Johnson in the end zone. David Akers missed the field goal, but it didn't matter as Stafford and Bush (14-105) moved the ball into Chicago territory on Detroit's next possession. Johnson beat Tillman in man coverage for a 14-yard score to give the Lions an eight-point lead with a little more than two minutes remaining.
Josh McCown came in for the Bears' final drive of the game. Nick Fairley had a unnecessary roughness that gave Chicago a first down, but he recorded a sack. McCown moved the ball with some intermediate passes before hitting Marshall for an 11-yard touchdown. It was a great throw by McCown to get Marshall (7-139) open in the end zone. The two-point conversion fell incomplete, but Willie Young was hit with a personal foul helmet-to-helmet hit on McCown to give Chicago another attempt. On the retry, a run by Forte was blown up by Fairley for a loss. The Lions recovered the onside kick to clinch the win for Detroit.
Stafford finished completing 18-of-35 for 219 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. The unsung hero was Detroit's offensive line. The Bears' defense that ravaged Green Bay was held without a sack.
Cutler was 21-of-40 for 250 yards with a score and a pick. He played well considering his injuries. The Lions' defense was led by Fairley and Suh as each recorded sacks, but Detroit's secondary really struggled to cover Marshall and Jeffery.
Eagles 27, Packers 13
The Packers lost Monday night because Aaron Rodgers suffered an injury on the opening drive. Seneca Wallace played poorly in relief, but conventional wisdom said that he would be better after a week of getting all of the first-team reps in practice. Wallace completed his first five passes in this contest, but he was knocked out with a groin injury. Mike McCarthy, who told a local reporter to "get a hobby" when asked whether third-stringer Scott Tolzien received any first-team reps during the week, was once again caught with his pants down when the third-year Wisconsin product had to take the field.
Tolzien actually did well in between the 20s, but couldn't finish in the red zone. He had Jordy Nelson for a touchdown in the first half, but threw way behind his receiver for what turned out to be an interception. He nearly had Nelson for a second score, but corrupt official Mike Carey ruled that the ball hit the ground, even though video evidence showed that Nelson clearly had his arm under the ball.
Meanwhile, the Eagles let the Packers hang around for a while because Nick Foles was very mediocre in the first half. He suffered through a Riley Cooper drop, but had an interception fall through Tramon Williams' arms. However, Foles didn't fire a single incompletion after intermission, hitting on all six passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
Foles was 12-of-18 for 228 yards and three scores overall. Helping his cause were a number of blown coverages by the Packers in the second half. Two of Foles' touchdowns were deep bombs. The first was underthrown into double coverage, but the two Packer defenders collided, allowing DeSean Jackson (4-80) to find the end zone. The second was a 45-yarder to Cooper (3-102), where MD Jennings and Davon House inexplicably both turned the wrong way. Cooper was wide open for a 32-yarder.
LeSean McCoy was huge in this game, snapping out of a funk he's been in for a few weeks. He gained 155 yards on 25 carries, though he caught only one pass. The Packers couldn't stop the run against Chicago on Monday night, so their struggles in that department clearly haven't been solved.
The Packers also ran the ball well, but not for the entire game. Eddie Lacy had 52 yards on 14 carries at the break, but the Eagles made adjustments at halftime, ultimately limiting Lacy to 73 yards on 24 attempts.
Tolzien's lone score went to a tight end named Brandon Bostick (3-42). Jarrett Boykin led the team with eight catches for 112 yards. Nelson (6-56) and James Jones (4-44) disappointed their fantasy owners.
Philadelphia was pretty fortunate to escape this game with a victory considering all of the injuries the team sustained. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was knocked out with a knee. Earl Wolff also exited with a knee. The worst-looking injury occurred when Jason Peters had to be helped off the field with what turned out to be a quad problem.
The Eagles also lucked out by winning despite yet another coaching blunder by Chip Kelly. Boykin's arm was clearly out of bounds on a 36-yard reception in the second quarter. The Packers even rushed to snap the ball, but Kelly inexplicably refused to throw the red flag.
Rams 38, Colts 8
Remember when the 49ers were absolutely destroyed by the Colts at home back in Week 3? Well, what goes around comes around. San Francisco was not prepared for that contest because it was more focused on its impending matchup against the Rams on the following Thursday night. This was not a rare phenomenon; big favorites prior to Thursday night usually have difficulty covering the spread. Well, what goes around comes around, as the Colts, who were too busy trying to get ready for their big matchup against the Titans on Thursday, simply just didn't show up to play the Rams.
As with the 49ers back then, we're bound to see public overreact to this blowout loss. The Rams crushed them on the scoreboard, but this contest featured a number of fluky plays beginning with a fumble returned for a touchdown when Robert Quinn beat left tackle Anthony Castonzo, with Chris Long scooping up the ball and taking it into the end zone.
Tavon Austin then had a trio of touchdowns. The first was a 98-yard punt return in which the Colts seemed to think he called for a fair catch when he waved everyone off. Austin then burned Vontae Davis for a 57-yard touchdown. He had another long score - an 81-yarder - which was a short pass that came on a pick route. Indianapolis' man defense wasn't prepared for this style of attack, and the Colts simply didn't care enough about this game to make the proper adjustments.
The Colts then had some opportunities to score at the end, but Andrew Luck launched an underthrown interception in the end zone. Luck was picked off again on an overthrow shortly afterward. He ultimately finished 29-of-47 for 353 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. It's worth noting that 260 of his yards came after halftime when the Rams had already established a 28-0 lead, meaning that most of what he did in this contest was meaningless.
Aside from poor pass protection and a flawed game plan, Luck was hurt by the lack of a running attack. Luck actually led the team in rushing yards with 17. Trent Richardson carried the ball just five times, but gained only two yards in the process. Donald Brown didn't do any better on the ground (2 attempts, -1 yards), but he did catch five passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. Richardson also did most of his damage as a receiver, snatching three balls for 33 receiving yards.
Excluding Brown, the Colts' leader in receiving was T.Y. Hilton, who hauled in seven balls for 130 yards. Hilton, like Luck, did most of his damage in the second half (4-105).
The lone bright spot for the Colts was Robert Mathis, who had two sacks to bring his seasonal total up to 13.5. Quinn also had a pair of sacks. He now has 12 on the year.
As for the team that actually tried, it's amazing that Austin had such a high yardage total (138) with his pair of touchdowns considering that he made just two catches on the afternoon. Austin, who became the eighth player in NFL history with three touchdowns of 50-plus yards in a single game, was one of three Rams to have more than one reception; Chris Givens (2-54) and Zac Stacy (2-6) were the others.
Speaking of Stacy, he had a low YPC - 26 carries, 62 yards - but helped his fantasy owners with a touchdown. He also fumbled at the 5-yard line, but he never cleanly received the ball from his quarterback.
I was worried about the Rams possibly winning on the road with Kellen Clemens, but the second-round bust didn't have to do anything. In fact, he attempted only seven passes throughout the entire first half despite the fact that, again, St. Louis established a 28-0 advantage at that point. Clemens ultimately finished 9-of-16 for 247 yards and the two long touchdowns to Austin.
Giants 24, Raiders 20
The Giants, as they've done all year, made stupid mistakes in this game in an attempt to give away another potential victory. They fumbled the opening kickoff to set up the Raiders with a quick touchdown. Later in the first half, Eli Manning was pick-sixed by Tracy Porter, who victimized his older brother in Super Bowl XLIV. Manning's arm was hit as he threw, so it wasn't entirely his fault.
New York also blew other opportunities. Manning missed some throws, including one that could have been a touchdown to Victor Cruz. The Giants struggled to pass protect yet again, as Lamarr Houston, who barely did anything against the Eagles, came alive and hounded Manning all afternoon.
The Raiders had a 20-14 lead in New York territory. They were set up to go up by at least nine points, but that's when things fell apart for them. Terrelle Pryor telegraphed an interception that was returned by Terrell Thomas to the Oakland 3-yard line. Left tackle Khalif Barnes also ruined three drives with penalties. Pryor then had another turnover when he was strip-sacked after holding on to the ball forever.
It's amazing how much Pryor has regressed since getting off to his hot start. He was just 11-of-26 for 122 yards and an interception, though he did help out his fantasy owners with 19 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Pryor had a nice play in this game when he broke out of a sack and found a receiver downfield, but he struggled throughout (2-of-12 on third down!) and hasn't played well since that weird, 11:30 p.m. San Diego contest. To give you an idea, here's a cool stat that the Associated Press' Josh Dubow came up with: Pryor has gone 112 passes without a touchdown pass (eight interceptions). JaMarcus Russell's longest drought was 104 attempts (five picks).
Manning, meanwhile, wasn't much better. He went 12-of-22 for 140 yards, one touchdown and the aforementioned pick-six. His one score went to Rueben Randle (3-50), while Hakeem Nicks (4-49) and Cruz (3-37) were the only other Giants to catch more than one pass. Nicks nearly had a score, but he drew a pass-interference flag in the end zone instead.
The difference for the Giants was Andre Brown. Seeing his first action of the season, Brown carried the ball 30 times for 115 yards and a touchdown despite the fact that the team told the media that he would be limited in his initial game off the PUP list. It all worked out, as Brown was instrumental in the bleeding the clock out on the final drive. The Raiders simply couldn't tackle him before he pummeled forward for 4-5 yards a pop.
The Raiders, meanwhile, were missing their starting running back, as Darren McFadden was out yet again. Rashad Jennings didn't look bad though, gaining 88 yards on 20 carries. He also caught two balls for 19 yards. I was once again disappointed that Marcel Reece (3 catches, 30 yards) didn't get much action despite being the top offensive player on the field for Oakland.
Denarius Moore was Oakland's leading receiver with three receptions for 45 yards, but he had a terrible drop. Rod Streater didn't do anything (1-6).
Steelers 23, Bills 10
Dick LeBeau was 18-2 against rookie quarterbacks as a defensive coordinator entering this game. It's comforting to know that as more things change, the more they stay they same.
LeBeau frustrated the first-round rookie, holding him to 22-of-39 passing for 155 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Manuel, whose pick came on an overthrow, managed to convert just three of 14 third-down tries, as he looked rattled in the pocket the entire afternoon. The Bills actually had so much trouble moving the ball that aside from an initial possession that came off a Ben Roethlisberger interception, Buffalo didn't cross the Steelers' 40-yard line until the fourth quarter! Manuel had a chance to put a touchdown on the board early on because Jairus Byrd set him up with great field position, but he rushed a throw on a horrible fade pass to Stevie Johnson in the end zone.
Despite Manuel's pedestrian performance, he wasn't the most disappointing Buffalo player in this contest. That was C.J. Spiller, who wasn't able to parlay last week's awesome outing into another big game. He gained just 23 yards on just eight carries to go along with three catches for 11 receiving yards. Fred Jackson, meanwhile, had more than double the rushing yards, tallying 55 yards on 12 attempts.
Manuel's touchdown, which came in garbage time, went to rookie tight end Chris Gragg (4-25). Johnson led the team in receiving yards (3-48).
As for the winning team, Roethlisberger's first-quarter pick to Byrd was a poor overthrow. The Steelers couldn't do anything offensively in the opening period, but they eventually got their act together. Roethlisberger ultimately finished 18-of-30 for 204 yards, one touchdown and the interception. He had to attempt only 11 passes following intermission because his team had such a huge lead.
Roethlisberger's lone score went to Jerricho Cotchery (2-31). Antonio Brown didn't find the end zone, but he still had a big game, making six receptions for 104 yards.
Le'Veon Bell also scored. He gained 57 yards on 22 carries along with his touchdown. He also caught three balls for 39 receiving yards.
Jaguars 29, Titans 27
The Jaguars are not the worst team in NFL history! Hooray! Despite the fact that all of their eight defeats entering this contest have been by double digits, they marched into Tennessee and pulled off a victory as 13-point underdogs. Having said that, they may have won this game, but this was more about the Titans being unfortunate and inept in their loss.
Chris Johnson immediately lost a fumble to set up Jacksonville with a short touchdown. He then lost another fumble, which ended up being much more costly because Jake Locker suffered a season-ending foot injury (according to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt) on the play. Locker was dreadful prior to getting hurt - he went 4-of-9 for 24 yards and an interception - but he gave his team the best chance of making a playoff push. Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven himself to be incapable in his starts this season. That may sound a bit strange to those only looking at the box score - Fitzpatrick went 22-of-33 for 264 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) - but he did this against a terrible Jacksonville stop unit and had a couple of interceptions that were dropped.
Despite all of this, the Titans still had a chance to win at the end, but they killed themselves with more mistakes. Chance Warmack held in his own end zone for a safety, while Bernard Pollard committed two penalties to keep a Jacksonville touchdown drive alive. Fitzpatrick also had the ball ripped out of his arms by Will Blackmon, who returned it for a score.
There were a couple of bright spots: Kendall Wright caught seven passes for 78 yards. Rookie wideout Justin Hunter, meanwhile, made a great leaping grab, finishing with two catches for 51 yards.
Johnson, however, spoiled things for the Titans. He had a brilliant performance last week at St. Louis, but came back to muster 30 yards on 12 carries along with his two fumbles (one was credited to Locker). He helped his PPR owners a bit with five catches for 43 receiving yards, but his inability to run on a crappy Jacksonville defense was highly discouraging.
I'm not going to spend too much time on the Jaguars, because who cares? Chad Henne went 14-of-23 for 180 yards and two interceptions. His leading receiver was Cecil Shorts (2-42).
Maurice Jones-Drew, who had 41 yards on 21 carries, scored a touchdown and also paced Jacksonville in catches for four with 33 receiving yards.
Panthers 10, 49ers 9
The most difficult thing NFL coaches have to do is make in-game adjustments when key players get hurt. This is what happened to the 49ers in this contest, as the team suffered a barrage of injuries. Elite guard Mike Iupati and safety Eric Reid were both knocked out of this contest, but the most prominent player who suffered an injury was Vernon Davis, who endured a concussion on a second-quarter reception. The 49ers couldn't muster a single point after Davis was knocked out. San Francisco was up 9-0 prior to Davis' injury, and they finished the game with a 10-9 loss.
Colin Kaepernick simply looked lost without his favorite target. He went 6-of-9 for 43 yards when Davis was on the field and just 5-of-13 for 48 yards and a desperation interception following Davis' concussion. He had similar struggles earlier in the season when Davis was out, so when the Pro Bowl tight end was taken out of the game, it was pretty obvious that San Francisco would have major issues scoring.
Of course, it didn't help that his teammates didn't assist him very much. Kendall Hunter lost a fumble in Carolina territory, while the receivers had tons of drops. In fact, one sequence in the second half looked like this: Mario Manningham drop, Vance McDonald deep drop, Anquan Boldin offensive pass interference negating a long gain, sack. And speaking of the latter item, the Iupati-less offensive line couldn't hold up for Kaepernick. The unit surrendered a whopping six sacks.
Kaepernick (11-of-22, 91 yards, INT overall) struggled for two-and-a-half quarters - he also had a dropped interception (Captain Munnerlyn) - so it's not a surprise that his receivers posted ugly stats. Boldin couldn't do crap (3-23) and Manningham actually led the team in receiving despite making three grabs for just 30 yards.
The 49ers ran the ball well with Frank Gore, which makes you wonder why they gave him just 16 carries. Gore gained 82 yards on the ground and also had two catches for 21 receiving yards.
Aldon Smith made his return in this game, but wasn't much of a factor. He wasn't seen on the field in the early going, and ultimately finished with about 12 snaps.
Cam Newton had a rough start to this game. He completed just one of his first seven attempts - a 5-yarder - and was responsible for an ugly sequence that went: delay of game, timeout, interception because of bad mechanics. Newton also saw a potential second interception fall out of Navorro Bowman's hands, but that seemed to spark him because he was solid after that. The drive in which Bowman screwed up culminated with the only a touchdown of the game, a 27-yard DeAngelo Williams score. Newton was also 11-of-18 for 115 yards following intermission despite enduring drops by Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith, who ruined a drive by botching what would have been a first-down conversion on third down.
Smith, however, was able to rebound with a big catch after that, finishing with six grabs for 63 yards. LaFell (4-48) was the only other Panther with more than two catches, as Greg Olsen managed just one grab for 14 yards because he spent a ton of time blocking.
Williams scored the aforementioned touchdown, but strangely saw fewer carries than Jonathan Stewart. Williams outgained Stewart, 46-41, but had just eight attempts compared to Stewart's 13. I'm not sure why head coach Commander Adama suddenly thinks that Stewart is the superior back; Williams has enjoyed a surprisingly solid season and deserves to be the lead back. It's also worth noting that Stewart fumbled while trying to bleed the clock out, but his team managed to recover the ball.
Cardinals 27, Texans 24
I was looking forward to seeing what Case Keenum would do against a top defense. He battled the Chiefs a few weeks ago, but that was his first start. He was great last Sunday night, but the Colts have a mediocre stop unit. This was going to be a tough test, as Arizona's defense has been absolutely stout since inside linebacker Daryl Washington returned from suspension.
Keenum had a mixed bag of a game. It didn't start out very well when he was immediately strip-sacked, and the ball was returned for a touchdown by Matt Shaughnessy. However, Keenum came back to throw a great touchdown to Andre Johnson later in the first quarter. The pass was beautiful, as Patrick Peterson, who had great coverage on Johnson, couldn't do anything about it. Keenum ultimately went 15-of-26 for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half.
Things were looking promising for Keenum, who helped the Texans outscore the Cardinals, 17-7, after the initial strip-six. However, things fell apart for him after intermission. Arizona's defense made some great adjustments and sent some creative blitzes Keenum's way. Keenum, perhaps due to inexperience, couldn't handle Arizona's blitzes. He was sacked only three times - one of which was for a 22-yard loss - but that's not indicative of the pressure he was under in the second half. Keenum, who went just 7-of-17 for 42 yards and a score following the break, was lucky to get away with what should have been a couple of interceptions. He also launched a couple of deep balls that sailed out of bounds on his final possession.
The Texans were able to hang around despite Keenum's second-half struggles because of poor Arizona coaching. The defense did a great job, but I have no idea what Bruce Arians was doing at times. Arians did a great job early on of setting up weird screens for his tight ends, which is something the Texans couldn't handle. But Arians' obsession with giving the ball to Rashard Mendenhall nearly cost his team the game. Mendenhall was stuffed on a third-and-1 deep in Houston territory, limiting a promising possession to three points. Mendenhall then lost a fumble at his own 5-yard line, quickly setting up Keenum with a second touchdown pass to Johnson.
Mendenhall is absolutely terrible, and it's inexcusable that he continues to get so much work. Why did he receive more carries than Andre Ellington? Ellington, who is so much more talented, gained 55 yards on 11 carries, while Mendenhall plodded his way to a 42-yard outing on 13 attempts. Ellington also had just two catches for 18 receiving yards. That's a total of 13 touches, which is simply not enough. He needs the ball in his hands at least 20 times per game.
Carson Palmer entered this game with multi-turnover performances in six of eight starts this year. Make it seven of nine. Palmer was guilty of a first-half interception that happened because he was hit as he released the ball. He was also strip-sacked deep in his own territory, which set up the Texans with a field-goal attempt that they actually converted this week.
Despite the turnovers, Palmer went 20-of-32 for 241 yards and two touchdowns otherwise. He actually had ample time in the pocket; outside of J.J. Watt's forced fumble, he wasn't sacked at all.
Palmer's two scores went to Andre Roberts (5-72) and Rob Housler (4-57). Larry Fitzgerald caught just three balls for 23 yards, as the Texans did their best to eliminate him from Arizona's game plan with Johnathan Joseph's coverage. Michael Floyd sprained his shoulder.
On the other side, Ben Tate received the full workload with Arian Foster out of the lineup. He was able to carry the ball only 15 times because of the early deficit, finishing with 56 yards. He also caught three passes, but managed only eight receiving yards out of that.
As mentioned, Johnson caught two touchdowns, with the second being a circus catch despite Peterson being able to get one hand on the football. He did this amid five receptions for 37 yards. DeAndre Hopkins led Houston with six catches for 69 yards.
I touched on this earlier, but Randy Bullock drilled his only legitimate field-goal try, a 48-yarder. He also failed on another occasion, but only because the Cardinals blocked the attempt.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Peyton Manning took a hit to the knee near the end of this game. He was limping, but managed to stay on the field to perform some kneel-downs. However, he'll have an MRI on his knee Monday.
I would find it amusing if Manning misses next week's game, only because it would add Brock Osweiler to the list of crappy quarterbacks the Chiefs have played this season.
The Chargers are significantly improved this season, but they aren't ready to knock off one of the big boys of the AFC West. Denver held on for a road win to set up a huge game with homefield playoff implications next week with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
In full disclosure, the first 13 minutes of the first quarter wasn't available because of the Cincinnati-Baltimore game going to overtime. In that stretch, Peyton Manning threw a short pass to Julius Thomas (3-96), who exploded down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown. Ryan Mathews also had a 39-yard run called back on a holding.
Late in the first quarter, Philip Rivers moved the ball inside the Denver 20 with a nice pass to Lardarius Green for 25 yards. That led to a short field goal. Mathews came back to rip off a 35-yard run. Vincent Brown (3-35) dropped a touchdown and the Chargers settled for another field goal. On the other side, Manning hit a wide open Eric Decker (3-52) for 34 yards. A few plays later, Demaryius Thomas (7-108) got open for an 11-yard touchdown. A pass interference on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gave San Diego some life, and completions to Antonio Gates (4-62) moved the ball inside the 30. Derek Wolfe had a clutch sack to force a field goal try that was missed by the Chargers. Manning took advantage by ripping the ball through San Diego's secondary, including a 28-yard, over-the-shoulder catch by Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos finished it off with a seven-yard touchdown.
Thomas continued to dominate early in the second half as he took a screen pass 34 yards for his third touchdown of the game. San Diego's Tourek Williams came through with a huge play as he beat left tackle Chris Clark on a speed rush to get a blindside strip-sack that was recovered by Donald Butler at the Broncos 11-yard line. Rivers turned that into seven points with a short pass to Danny Woodhead (6-27 rushing, 4-17 receiving).
The Chargers' comeback attempt continued as Rivers dropped in a 24-yard pass to Gates and a pass of 30 yards to Eddie Royal (2-36) on a third-and-13. On third-and-goal, Mathews (14-59) dived over the pile for a score. That cut the Denver lead to 28-20.
After getting a Denver punt, Rivers converted a third-and-12 with a pass to Vincent Brown before the Broncos forced a punt via a furious pass rush. Manning ended the game with some completions to Demaryius Thomas. However, Denver paid a price as Corey Liuget fell on Manning's knees and ankles. Manning was hobbling around the field, but finished the kneel downs. He completed 25-of-36 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns.
Rivers was 19-of-29 for 218 yards with a score. His supporting cast let him down with some dropped passes and poor pass blocking. The Denver pass rush really got aggressive late as Shaun Philips, Von Miller and Terrance Knighton joined Wolfe in recording sacks for the Broncos.
Defensively, Donald Butler played well for San Diego. Knowshon Moreno had 15 carries for 65 yards. Larry English had a sack.
There were a few injuries of note. Broncos' linebacker Wesley Woodyard was injured in the third quarter. Chargers' left tackle King Dunlap also left the game with an injury. Rookie D.J. Fluker took over at left tackle.
Saints 49, Cowboys 17
The Cowboys fired Rob Ryan after the 2012 season because they wanted to fundamentally change their defense. I guess it's kind of ironic that Dallas' stop unit surrendered an NFL-record 40 first downs in this game, all while Ryan's new defense rattled Tony Romo and company enough to limit the defensive coordinator's old team to just nine first downs.
Drew Brees was absolutely unstoppable. He went 34-of-41 for 392 yards and four touchdowns, putting together a stretch in which he completed 19 consecutive passes. It helped that the Cowboys lost a couple of defensive starters to injury in this contest, including Sean Lee (hamstring), but Brees was hot even before several Dallas players were sidelined. Lee's absence had no bearing on the result of this game, but it did play a huge factor in allowing the Saints to set that single-game record for first downs.
With the Saints so far ahead, the Cowboys couldn't expose New Orleans' greatest weakness, which happens to be the run defense. DeMarco Murray had great success against New Orleans in the first half, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but was given the ball just five times following intermission. He ultimately finished with 89 yards and the score on 16 tries.
The Cowboys couldn't run the ball in the second half, but that didn't have much of an impact on Romo because he was just 3-of-9 for 20 yards in the opening half. He simply had no success against the Saints' improved pass rush and aerial defense, as Ryan had a perfect game plan for his former quarterback. Romo would end up going 10-of-24 for 128 yards and a touchdown. He was lucky to get away with a couple of interceptions.
Romo's sole score went to Terrance Williams - a 21-yarder that happened to be his only catch of the evening. Dez Bryant, who also had one reception (44 yards), was seen yelling at Romo and some coaches on the sidelines, but he didn't completely blow up like he did two weeks ago. Jason Witten didn't do much either (2-27).
Moving back to the Saints, it was strange to see Mark Ingram have such a great game. Ingram rushed for a whopping 145 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He opened the game with a drop, prompting boos from the crowd, but he was so explosive after that. In fact, he was so happy about his performance that he was flagged for a delay-of-game penalty for doing too much celebrating following a big gain. Some may argue that Ingram was able to do this because Dallas' injury-ravaged defense was so inept, but Ingram legitimately looked awesome.
Ingram was actually one of three Saint running backs to find the end zone. In fact, both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles scored twice. Thomas rushed for 87 yards and caught seven balls for 24 receiving yards. Sproles, who had 12 yards on the ground, also made seven grabs for 76 receiving yards.
Brees' other touchdowns went to Marques Colston (7-107), who made an outstanding return following a one-game absence, and Kenny Stills (3-75), who snatched a deep ball. Jimmy Graham didn't find the end zone, but hauled in five passes for 59 yards.
Buccaneers 22, Dolphins 19
I thought it was going to be extremely difficult for the Dolphins to prepare for this game, given everything they've dealt with concerning the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying situation. They've had to answer questions about it all week, which undoubtedly limited their time and mental focus when it came to getting ready to battle the Buccaneers. I'm sure they looked at Tampa and thought that they could beat an 0-8 team without much of an issue.
Well, the 0-8 team came out on fire. They rammed it down Miami's throat on the opening drive with Mike James, who looked terrific as he rushed for 41 yards on his five carries. Unfortunately, James injured his knee as he dived toward the end zone and landed at the 1-yard line. He had to be carted off, which limited Tampa Bay's offense for the majority of the night. Brian Leonard, a plodding fullback, didn't do much out of posting a pair of 14-yard gains - one rushing, one receiving - as he finished with 57 yards on 20 carries.
With Leonard looking like he was running in mud - though some conspicuous holding penalties didn't help - Mike Glennon struggled mightily for most of the evening. He went 11-of-21 for 139 yards, one touchdown to tackle-eligible Donald Penn and an interception that he threw way behind Vincent Jackson. Glennon was a mess; he easily could have been picked three more times. One was dropped on a poor third-and-19 overthrow in the first half. He later was guilty of some dumb decisions to heave inaccurate passes into double coverage, and he also made the mistake of running out of bounds for a loss as his team was trying to run out the clock.
Glennon, who was 8-of-17 for 99 yards and a pick following the opening drive, didn't look like anything resembling a franchise quarterback. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, this victory put them behind the Jaguars in the 2014 NFL Draft order, so for now, they're out of position to take Teddy Bridgewater. If they don't eclipse Jacksonville, they'll be praying that either Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley declares.
On the other side, Ryan Tannehill was ultimately betrayed by an offensive line that was missing both Incognito and Martin. The front line protected well for most of the night against Tampa's miserable pass rush, but it surrendered two crucial sacks in the final couple of minutes. It's also worth noting that center Mike Pouncey disrupted an early drive because of a dumb personal foul.
Tannehill had an up-and-down performance. He was shaky early on, going 7-of-11 for just 44 yards, which included a deep shot to Mike Wallace that sailed out of bounds. However, Tannehill caught fire at the end of the first half, going a perfect 8-of-8 for 77 yards and a touchdown on the final possession prior to intermission. The Dolphins may not have scored there had safety Dashon Goldson not self-destructed. Goldson was flagged for headbutting a player missing a helmet and then blew a coverage on Tannehill's touchdown.
Tannehill ultimately finished 27-of-42 for 229 yards, two scores and an interception, which was a desperation heave on a fourth-and-long during the final drive.
Both top receivers in this game were blanketed by shutdown cornerbacks. Darrelle Revis limited Wallace to just four catches for 15 yards, while Brent Grimes restricted Jackson to three grabs for 28 yards. Jackson did draw a pass interference, but it looked like the penalty probably should have been called on him.
Revis and Grimes' great coverage allowed two other wideouts to step up. Tiquan Underwood led Tampa in receiving (3-64), but the big story is second-year Nevada product Rishard Matthews, who hauled in 11 balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Matthews, a 2012 seventh-round pick, could emerge as Tannehill's go-to receiver with Wallace disappointing and Brandon Gibson out for the year.
While the Buccaneers eventually established a decent running attack with newly signed Bobby Rainey (8-45, TD), the Dolphins couldn't get anything going on the ground. Lamar Miller, who had no running room whatsoever, was limited to just two yards on seven carries. Daniel Thomas, meanwhile, lost two yards on four tries. Thomas was actually tackled in his own end zone for a safety in the second quarter.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.