One team had everything to play for, trailing its divisional leader by just one game. The other, well out of the playoff race, was taking part in a meaningless contest. By the way these teams performed, you'd think the Lions were the former, but that was not the case. Detroit absolutely dominated this game, from start to finish. It was better on both sides of the ball, while Jim Caldwell and his staff coached circles around Chip Kelly, who will undoubtedly call his real-estate agent this weekend and ask for available homes in either Southern California or Louisiana.
There were reports heading into this contest that Kelly lost the locker room, and the Eagles certainly played as if that were the case. They looked completely lost on defense, blowing tons of coverages and missing countless tackles. The defensive scheme was horrible as well. Coordinator Billy Davis had his cornerbacks play well off the Detroit receivers, and he also made the mistake of having rookie Eric Rowe, who was on the field in place of an injured Nolan Carroll, cover Calvin Johnson one-on-one with no safety help. Rowe, consequently, was beaten like a drum, yet Davis made no adjustments.
Kelly's offense, meanwhile, continued to be a mess. His decision to bring back Mark Sanchez this past offseason was a head-scratcher at the time, especially when he traded for the injury-prone Sam Bradford. It was obvious that Sanchez would start a handful of games this season, and based on what Kelly saw at the end of the 2014 season, I don't know why he would let that happen. Sanchez is even worse than he was last year, thanks to a depleted arsenal. Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and some of the offensive linemen are no longer around. Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise that Sanchez is barely having any success behind a poor offensive line while throwing to bums like Riley Cooper, Josh Huff and Miles Austin. It's astonishing that Austin is even on an NFL roster; let alone serving as a prominent player in an offense. That's how bad Kelly's mismanagement has been.
Sanchez's final numbers don't look too bad - 19-of-27, 199 yards, two touchdowns and a lost fumble - but most of his yardage and one of his scores came late in the game when the Lions stopped trying. For a better barometer of how Sanchez performed, take a look at his first-half numbers, when he was 8-of-14 for 106 yards and a touchdown.
It's hard to just blame Sanchez for this, however. He wasn't terrible, but he just wasn't good enough to compensate for the ineptitude of the other players. It didn't help that stud left tackle Jason Peters was helped off the field during the opening drive. His absence was felt instantly, as Lane Johnson was flagged for a face mask, forcing a long field goal that doinked off the upright. Johnson also allowed a blind-side sack and fumble in the third quarter.
Sanchez's leading receiver was Jordan Matthews, who caught three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. However, the score came very late in garbage time. Matthews dropped a pass in the third quarter, but that was a result of a brutal, but legal hit.
Excluding Matthews and someone named Trey Burton (2-49), no other Eagle had more than 21 receiving yards. Cooper (2-16) was barely a factor, while disappointing rookie Nelson Agholor (2-15) was flagged at one point for taking off his helmet following a first-down conversion.
It wasn't surprising to see DeMarco Murray struggle again. Murray was awful, managing just 30 yards on 14 carries. Murray, who tripped on the turf a couple of times, can't really blame the blocking for this. The Eagles, quite simply, are using him incorrectly. Kelly continues to utilize Murray as an East-West runner, which is not the proper way to use him. This has been painfully obvious to everyone, save for Kelly, it seems. McCoy was such a better fit for this offense. Ryan Mathews is the better option as well, but he couldn't play because he has yet to pass concussion protocol.
As for the Lions, they actually began very dubiously, despite what the final score may say. Their first offensive snap was a penalty for not being aligned properly. Matthew Stafford then threw behind Calvin Johnson, and that was followed by an Ameer Abdullah drop. It appeared as though this was going to be yet another long Thanksgiving afternoon for the Lions, but the team completely turned things around after that. In fact, Stafford led six consecutive scoring drives that featured five touchdowns and a field goal.
Stafford was on fire, putting together one of the best games of his career. He went 27-of-38 for 337 yards and five touchdowns despite seeing his targets drop four passes. Stafford was battling a defense that didn't seem to have any sort of sensible game plan, but he was still amazing.
I still can't believe that the Eagles allowed a second-round rookie to cover Johnson without safety help. Megatron responded with eight catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns. He also should've drawn pass interference in the end zone on one occasion, but the flag wasn't thrown for some reason.
Stafford's other two touchdowns went to Golden Tate (7-50) and Theo Riddick (5-62). The latter was constantly open in the middle of the field, as it seemed as though Philadelphia had no idea that he could catch passes. Tate, meanwhile, dropped a pass, but was terrific otherwise.
No Detroit runner posted great numbers, but the Lions ran the ball very well, ripping off at least four yards on most of their carries, which constantly set up Stafford in second-and-short situations. Abdullah, who dropped a ball, managed to gain 63 yards on 16 carries. Joique Bell (7-25) bulldozed into the end zone on one occasion. He also dropped one pass.
Panthers 33, Cowboys 14
The Panthers told the media that they were disrespected by the fact that they were underdogs against a 3-7 opponent. It seemed like they were genuinely more excited to play on Thanksgiving heading into this game, and that was definitely the case. It seemed like they needed this victory more than Dallas did, despite the fact that the Cowboys have to win most of their remaining games to claim the weak NFC East.
Carolina's defense was completely dominant. Tony Romo was supposed to be the savior to lead the Cowboys to victory, but the Panthers picked him off thrice. The first occasion occurred on the opening drive, less than a minute into the game. Romo was pick-sixed by Kurt Coleman on a telegraphed pass to Jason Witten. Romo threw another interception returned for a touchdown - this time, Luke Kuechly snatched the obvious ball. Romo's third pick was an underthrown heave to Witten.
The Panthers limited Romo to 11-of-21, 106 yards and the three picks. Making matters worse for the Cowboys, Romo appeared to re-injure his collarbone on a crushing hit. Matt Cassel entered the contest and was effective - 13-of-19, 93 yards, one touchdown - albeit in garbage time. The truth of the matter is, if Romo is out again, the Cowboys are completely finished, even if the Giants lose to the Redskins on Sunday. On the other hand, if New York prevails, Dallas should be done regardless. Three back with five games to go is just too daunting to overcome.
As for Carolina's offense, Cam Newton didn't have to do very much because Romo was turning the ball over the entire evening. Newton's numbers don't look great - 16-of-27, 183 yards; 12 carries, 45 rush yards, one touchdown - but he played much better than his stats indicate. He made a number of important third-down conversions. He began with a strike to Greg Olsen on a third-and-10 through a tight window. He later hit Jerricho Cotchery with a dart to move the sticks on a third-and-17. On the same drive, which culminated in a touchdown, thanks to a Dallas unsportsmanlike penalty on a made field goal, Newton found Cotchery again on a third-and-10. Cotchery avoided a tackle to pick up the first down. Newton plunged into the end zone a couple of plays later.
Only two Panthers accumulated at least 70 receiving yards. Those were Cotchery (5-73) and Olsen (5-70). The latter could've had a better fantasy outing, but he dropped a touchdown.
Jonathan Stewart had a disappointing performance from a fantasy perspective, gaining 68 yards on 21 carries. Newton vultured a rushing score in the third quarter.
Moving back to the Cowboys, I already posted Romo's horrific stat line. Romo simply couldn't connect with Dez Bryant. He targeted Bryant four times in the opening half, but the dynamic wideout couldn't come up with a single reception until after intermission, thanks to an overthrow to Bryant for a potential big gain. Bryant ultimately finished with two grabs for 26 yards.
Cole Beasley was the only Cowboy receiver who didn't disappoint; he logged six receptions for 44 yards and a garbage-time touchdown. Terrance Williams (4-39) and Witten (4-36) were ineffective.
Darren McFadden struggled to find running room against Carolina's elite ground defense. McFadden was limited to just 11 yards on 10 carries, but he at least helped his PPR owners with four catches for a team-leading 45 receiving yards.
Bears 17, Packers 13
The NFL officially makes no sense. Two weeks ago, the Packers lost to the Lions at home for the first time since 1991. This was their third-consecutive defeat, and all hope appeared to be lost. Then, proving that they still were Super Bowl contenders, they went on the road and dismantled the Vikings. Oh, so they were back, but it just took them a week later to regroup, right? That's what I thought - but then Green Bay lost straight up at home to the Bears, marking only the second time Jay Cutler has ever beaten the Packers as Chicago's quarterback.
So, what happened? Is the NFL just completely random, or is there any sort of good reason the Packers couldn't beat the Bears on short rest - a situation that tends to benefit the superior team? Well, considering how many picks are going, it might just be completely random, but Green Bay did shoot itself in the foot repeatedly in this contest. Here's a rundown of the prominent mistakes:
- Davante Adams dropped a potential touchdown in the first quarter.
- Eddie Lacy lost a fumble in his own territory in the second quarter. The Bears, who had gone three-and-out on four of their first five drives, used the turnover to get momentum, scoring their first touchdown of the night.
- An offensive pass interference call ruined a chance for the Packers to score a touchdown right before halftime. The officials called James Jones for a pick.
- Adams dropped a pass to move the chains in the third quarter. Adams then dropped another ball on the same possession, and this was followed by a botched snap that ruined field goal position.
- Rodgers threw an interception because Adams was bumped off the route.
- Adams - you guessed it - dropped another pass in the fourth quarter.
- On the final drive, James Starts was guilty of letting the ball fall through his hands, and then Jones dropped the game-winning touchdown. The final drive stalled.
As you can see, the Packers absolutely wrecked themselves with mental errors. They managed to outgain the Bears, 365-290, but no team could've overcame all of those horrible mistakes.
So, what can the Packers do to improve this? I'm not sure there are any clear answers besides removing Adams from the lineup. He is absolute trash. He saw a team-high 11 targets, but caught only TWO passes for 14 yards. That's ridiculous! He might just be the least-efficient receiver in the NFL, taking that distinction from Mike Wallace.
Meanwhile, the other receivers aren't helping Rodgers. Cobb (6-74) continues to underwhelm, while Jones, who couldn't reel in any of his six targets, looks like he's running in slow motion. I didn't think Green Bay would miss Jordy Nelson when he went down in the preseason, given that Rodgers has gotten the most out of pedestrian talents before, but I think most Packer fans would kill to have him back in the lineup right now.
Getting to the numbers, Rodgers went 22-of-43 for only 202 yards, one touchdown and the pick to go along with 33 rushing yards on four scrambles. I counted at least half-a-dozen drops, two of which could've been scores, so Rodgers should've had a much bigger game. Then again, Rodgers nearly threw an interception, but the defender dropped the ball in the end zone in the second quarter. There was also a scary moment where Rodgers appeared to hurt his hand while recovering a botched snap. However, he didn't miss any time. Cris Collinsworth speculated that Rodgers simply banged his funny bone.
The Packers ran very well on the Bears. Lacy gained 105 yards on 17 carries, but was benched for a few drives because of his early fumble. Lacy, however, was given seven carries following intermission. James Starks (7-39) also looked good, especially as a receiver out of the backfield; he snatched four passes for 41 receiving yards.
Adding injury to insult, Bryan Bulaga left the game with an ankle injury. He was listed as questionable to return, so perhaps it's not very serious.
My apologies to you Chicago fans, given that I've been ranting about the Packers this entire time. Green Bay is still alive in the playoff chase, however, so I wanted to spend more time on them. However, I do want to mention that the Bears once again were surprisingly impressive. They've had some unexpected wins this year, and this one has been the best one of all.
Cutler, who normally folds against the Packers, was fantastic. It looked like he was going to struggle early - as mentioned, the Bears went three-and-out on four of their first five drives - but Cutler caught fire after that. He was 10-of-14 for 122 yards after intermission.
Cutler went 19-of-31 for 200 yards and a touchdown overall, which is very impressive considering that he was A) taking the field in cold, rainy conditions, and B) playing without his talented tight end, Martellus Bennett.
It helped Cutler that he had Alshon Jeffery on the field again. Jeffery was great, catching seven passes for 90 yards. No other Bear had more than 45 receiving yards, with Marquess Wilson (4-44) being next on the list behind Jeffery.
Matt Forte also returned in this contest. He and Jeremy Langford split touches almost evenly, with the latter being more productive. Forte gained 44 yards on 15 carries, while Langford tallied 48 yards and a touchdown on 12 tries. Langford's only blemish was dropping a pass that would've went for a first down in the early stages. Both Forte and Langford caught exactly one pass.
Vikings 20, Falcons 10
The Vikings may have won by double digits, but this game was played pretty evenly. Minnesota outgained Atlanta by just 36 yards, while the Falcons averaged more yards per play (5.8 to 5.4). The difference, however, happened to be turnovers. Atlanta killed itself with some horrible mistakes to ruin a potential victory - which has been a theme for them during their mid-season downfall.
The Falcons were down just a field goal entering the fourth quarter, but they easily could've been leading. The mistakes started when Tevin Coleman fumbled at the end of a 46-yard run in the first quarter. Later during the opening half, Terron Ward was foolishly flagged for kicking a defender in the throat. Matt Ryan followed that up by throwing an interception behind a receiver. Following intermission, Coleman scored a touchdown, but a clipping penalty wiped it out. Ryan then tossed an interception late across his body in the end zone. He capped off the game with a lost fumble.
Give the Vikings credit for taking advantage of these mistakes. Adrian Peterson, in particular, was awesome. He made a blunder of his own early on when he dropped a touchdown on the opening drive, but he ultimately found his way into the end zone to finish that possession. Peterson finished with 158 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, and he also caught two balls for 29 receiving yards.
With Peterson plowing through an Atlanta defense that had major problems tackling, Teddy Bridgewater was able to function as a game-manager. Bridgewater completed 20-of-28 passes for 174 yards and an interception. The pick occurred in the end zone when he underthrew Kyle Rudolph, but that was Minnesota's only egregious error of the afternoon. Bridgewater did a great job of making key throws when he needed to in order to move the chains.
Speaking of Rudolph, he led the Vikings in receiving with seven catches for 53 yards. Stefon Diggs was next; he snagged all four of his targets for 31 yards. He was penalized for stupidly spinning the ball near a defender on the opening possession, but that didn't end up mattering because Peterson ultimately scored. As for Mike Wallace, he wasn't any sort of factor. He saw just one target, and he predictably failed to reel it in.
Going back to the Falcons, Ryan failed to exploit a Minnesota defense missing stud safety Harrison Smith. He went 22-of-31 for 230 yards, one touchdown, the two interceptions and a lost fumble. The Vikings did a great job of taking away Julio Jones, who was limited to five grabs for 56 yards. Without being able to go to Jones consistently, thanks to Xavier Rhodes' excellent coverage, Ryan failed to consistently maintain drives.
With Jones locked up, Atlanta's two leading receivers were Jacob Tamme (5-69) and Roddy White (6-60). Ryan's sole touchdown went to some guy named Nick Williams.
The silver lining for the Falcons is that Coleman ran well. He was able to burst for 110 yards on just 18 carries, and as mentioned, he was robbed of a touchdown because of a clipping penalty. However, the fumbling issues continue. Coleman isn't trustworthy at this point.
Bengals 31, Rams 7
While Andy Dalton was eating turkey on Thursday, I bet he was thankful that he doesn't have to play every game in primetime. He was back to a 1 p.m. kickoff for the first time in a couple of weeks, and he predictably rebounded. Dalton, who missed the game-winning touchdown at Arizona last Sunday night, made up for it with a performance featuring mostly precise throws, as he was easily able to shred St. Louis' pathetic defense.
And yes, I said "St. Louis' pathetic defense." The Rams inexplicably left A.J. Green open repeatedly on the opening drive. The team struggled to stop the run throughout the afternoon, and it missed several tackles. I know Robert Quinn is out, but the Rams should be better than this. It almost seemed like they were more concerned with injuring the opposition than making stops. That's Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher, for you. Two of the dirtiest people in the NFL are getting what's been coming to them.
Credit Dalton for taking advantage of this. He went 20-of-27 for 233 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The pick was one of his two mistakes, and it occurred when he didn't set his feet and floated a pass that was easily snatched by a St. Louis defender. Dalton was terrific otherwise, save for a near-interception in the end zone. Fortunately for Dalton, the defender was able to just get one foot inbounds.
Two of Dalton's scores went to Green (6-61), while the other was thrown to Tyler Eifert (3-40). They, as well as Giovani Bernard, were the only three Bengals who had more than 30 receiving yards. I still can't get over how open Green was on certain occasions. It's as if the Rams had never heard of him. The effort didn't appear to be there, despite what Fisher said afterward.
As mentioned, the Bengals pounded the ball well. Jeremy Hill burst for 86 yards on just 16 carries. He left the game on a couple of occasions with some foot problems. Bernard didn't have much success on the ground (10-16), but he did break free for a 45-yard reception. He actually fumbled at the end of it, but Eifert was able to recover the ball.
As for the Rams, they predictably had another terrible showing from Nick Foles. The Bengals dared Foles to throw by stacking eight men in the box the entire afternoon, and they were right in that Foles simply couldn't beat them. The numbers tell the whole story; Foles went 30-of-46 for only 228 yards and three interceptions. The first pick wasn't his fault, as it was the result of a tipped pass. Foles later had a pick-six on a late throw across the middle when he didn't see Leon Hall. The next interception was a horrible floater that was heaved as Foles was getting hit.
Foles is still better than Case Keenum, but it doesn't really matter. The Rams have to consider picking a quarterback next April. Check the 2016 NFL Mock Draft for more updates.
Todd Gurley couldn't do anything, as he was limited to 19 yards on nine carries. The Bengals loaded the box and showed no concern for Foles' aerial attack.
The Rams' only semblance of offense was from Tavon Austin, who broke free for a 60-yard sweep out of the Wildcat to set up a short touchdown of his own. That's the only positive St. Louis' "scoring" unit had in meaningful action.
For what it's worth, the Rams' leading receiver was Kenny Britt, who caught six passes for 63 yards. Of course, Britt was inefficient, doing this on 11 targets. To be fair, he had a terrific block on Austin's 60-yard scamper.
Colts 25, Buccaneers 12
Scores can sometimes be deceiving, and this is a primary example. Despite the 13-point victory, the Colts were outgained and averaged fewer yards per play than the Buccaneers. Both teams moved the chains well in this contest, with the two quarterbacks effectively converting third downs. However, the difference was that Tampa Bay made several errors, while the Colts played cleanly.
The Buccaneers killed themselves on three key instances. The first occurred in the opening half when Doug Martin ran into the end zone. However, this score was nullified by a hold, forcing the team to kick a field goal. Much later, Mike Evans dropped a deep pass that would've set up Tampa with a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line. Instead, another field goal had to be attempted, and this one was missed. The third screw-up is something I'll mention later.
The errors ruined what could've been a solid game for Jameis Winston, who went 20-of-36 for 245 yards, one touchdown and a late interception. Thanks to Winston, the Buccaneers were 7-of-13 on third down. He was mostly precise when it mattered most in the opening half, and his numbers would've been much better had Evans hauled in that aforementioned pass. That said, Winston struggled in the second half when the Colts began putting more pressure on him. The heat he was under forced some poor throws as the game progressed.
Thanks to his blunder, Evans was second on the team in receiving, catching five balls for 64 yards. Vincent Jackson (4-76) was ahead of him, with both receivers seeing 10 targets. Meanwhile, Winston's sole score went to someone named Cameron Brate (5-53), who was playing in place of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. This offense will be much better once Seferian-Jenkins returns.
Martin also just missed out on a great game. He gained 97 yards on 14 just carries, as he wasn't able to touch the ball as often as he should have because the Buccaneers were playing catch-up throughout the second half. As mentioned, Martin also scored, but had the touchdown wiped out because of a penalty.
The Colts, on the other hand, were not able to run the ball at all, so they had trouble putting this game away when they were up in the second half. Frank Gore managed just 24 yards on 19 carries, while Ahmad Bradshaw (4-6) didn't have much success either.
Fortunately for the Colts and their playoff chances, Matt Hasselbeck was razor sharp. He went 26-of-42 for 315 yards and two touchdowns, relentlessly torching Tampa's brutal secondary. The Buccaneers will have to prioritize the defensive backfield this offseason, because allowing this type of a performance to a 40-year-old quarterback is unacceptable.
Both of Hasselbeck's touchdowns went to T.Y. Hilton, who rebounded with six catches for 95 yards. Hilton actually wasn't Indianapolis' leading receiver; that was Donte Moncrief (8-114).
Andre Johnson caught just one pass (for 22 yards), but in doing so, he passed Cris Carter for 11th place on the all-time receiving list.
This was a frustrating game. Not only did I lose three units on it, but I had to sit through the inept duo of Matt Millen and Walt Coleman. Millen didn't call anyone a "100-percent USDA Man," or anything like that, but he sounded like he wanted to have some kielbasa antics with Greg Manusky.
Coleman, meanwhile, offered up this gem: "The ruling on the field stands. The pass is complete. The pass has been ruled incomplete." It was amusing to see the fans in the stands look so completely confused. Later, Coleman called the Buccaneers for leaping on an Indianapolis field goal. The Colts were awarded a first down and ultimately found the end zone. However, this never should've been called. A frustrated Mike Pereira sighed, "It's certainly not leaping..."
Coleman is incompetent and corrupt, and he shouldn't be refereeing in the NFL anymore. Sadly, however, he wasn't even one of the two worst officials on the field Sunday. Stay tuned for notes on those guys.
Redskins 20, Giants 14
The Giants are still tied for first place, despite this loss, but their season might be over already. A defeat to the Redskins normally wouldn't be a huge deal, but what transpired during the game severely diminished their chances of making any sort of playoff push. They lost countless players to injury, rendering them a shell of their former selves.
New York was already shorthanded heading into this contest, as its two top linemen, Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh, were out. The Giants then lost Geoff Schwartz to a season-ending ankle injury, and rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers was also limping around. On defense, Jason Pierre-Paul got hurt when he limped off the field in the second quarter, and right before that ,Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game with an ankle injury of his own.
On top of this horrible injury luck, the Giants killed themselves with unforced errors to put them in an early hole. Eli Manning threw a pair of interceptions in the opening quarter, neither of which was his fault. The first bounced off Shane Vereen's hands; the running back should've secured the ball on an easy catch. The second was actually a reception by Dwayne Harris, but he was hit so hard that the ball fell out of his arms and floated into the arms of Will Blackmon.
The errors continued as the game progressed. A John Jerry hold ruined field goal position, and then Manning was guilty of a third interception when he tried to fire a tight throw to Rueben Randle. As a result of all of this, the Giants ultimately trailed 17-0. They tried to mount a comeback, and they actually took over with possession down six points, but they just ran out of time.
Manning couldn't get anything going until late. He just didn't have the protection, thanks to four starting offensive linemen being hurt. He caught fire at the end, but the Redskins were playing prevent, so I don't know how much I'd read into it. Manning finished 26-of-51 for 321 yards, two touchdowns and the three interceptions.
Odell Beckham Jr. may have made the catch of the year. I'm sure you've all seen it by now; Beckham dived for the ball in the end zone and was able to reel it in with just one hand. As this happened, I shouted, "What? Nooo..." I couldn't believe he caught it, but I should've known better, given how ridiculously talented he is. Beckham had a huge game otherwise, finishing with nine catches for 142 yards and that touchdown. With all of the linemen being out, Manning spent most of the afternoon heaving balls up for Beckham, so if you want to know why Beckham had 18 targets, well, there it is.
Only one other Giant had more than 40 receiving yards. That was tight end Will Tye, who snatched six balls for 74 yards. Tye was on the field with Larry Donnell being out. Meanwhile, Randle snatched Manning's other touchdown, but that was the only pass he hauled in of his six targets.
The Giants, as usual, struggled to run the ball. Rashad Jennings (6-14) didn't even have much of an opportunity because Washington led throughout. Shane Vereen (2-15) led the team in rushing yardage.
I haven't discussed the victors yet, but perhaps I should, given that they are now tied for first in the NFC East. Kirk Cousins had a great game torching a New York secondary that lost Rodgers-Cromartie. He went 20-of-29 for 302 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). The aerial score was a 63-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson. Cousins' only blemish on the afternoon was a dropped pick-six by Rodgers-Cromartie in the first quarter.
Only one Redskin had more receiving yardage than Jackson (2-66). That was Jordan Reed, who took advantage of a defense that hasn't been able to stop tight ends all year. Reed snatched eight passes for 98 yards.
Pierre Garcon (3-35) struggled again, while Jamison Crowder (2-12) appeared to score a touchdown, but replay review ruled him down at the 3-yard line. Cousins reached the end zone on a sneak on the very next play.
Consider the Redskins' running back rotation completely muddled. Matt Jones appeared to be the primary ball-carrier, but handled just eight carries for 19 yards. He did, however, salvage his fantasy day just a bit with a 45-yard reception. Alfred Morris was given most of the workload; he gained 78 yards on 23 attempts. He also caught one pass (12 yards).
Raiders 24, Titans 21
Congratulations to Jeff Triplette for winning this game. One of the league's most corrupt officials, Triplette watched as the Raiders lost on a fourth-down incompletion late in regulation. Triplette, needing Oakland to prevail, threw a flag on cornerback B.W. Webb for holding. Webb, upon inspection, didn't even touch the receiver he was covering; neither player even had anything to do with the play, and the two announcers were puzzled by the call. The first down gave the Raiders new life, and two plays later, they scored the decisive touchdown. Tennessee still had a chance at the end, but Mariota heaved a desperation interception. Not that Triplette was going to let them win anyway.
It's hard to take this game seriously, but I'll try my best. Derek Carr had a strong statistical outing, going 24-of-37 for 300 yards and three touchdowns. This is significant, as he was missing Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson once again. Hudson was missed on a fourth-and-2 when the Raiders went for it on the Tennessee 36-yard line. The backup center botched a snap, and Oakland turned the ball over on downs as a result. Carr did a nice job of dissecting Tennessee's poor secondary on several drives considering Hudson's absence.
However, the numbers don't tell the entire story, as Carr was very fortunate in this contest. I already discussed the game-winning touchdown that should've never happened. Carr, otherwise, had a sequence in which he should've thrown two interceptions right before halftime. It looked like he was going to be picked by Blidi Wreh-Wilson while throwing a deep ball from his own 4-yard line, but the ball inexplicably sailed right through the cornerback's hands and right into Amari Cooper's arms for a 30-yard gain. The Titans dropped an interception later on that drive in the red zone. As a result, the Raiders were able to kick a field goal - which ultimately was the margin of victory.
Carr was later strip-sacked, though the heavy rainfall might have had something to do with that. Carr's gaffe led to a Tennessee touchdown, which would have been the game-winning score had Triplette not been ordered to fix this result.
Cooper didn't find the end zone, but he did manage to lead his team in receiving with seven catches for 115 yards. Seth Roberts, meanwhile, finished right behind Cooper, snagging six balls for 113 yards and two of Carr's touchdowns, with Michael Crabtree (4-19) reeling in the other. However, neither of Roberts' touchdowns should've happened. The second came via Triplette, while the first was a reception short of the first-down marker on third down. Perrish Cox had him dead to rights to force a field goal, but inexplicably whiffed on him. This was a very "weird" game, to say the least.
The Raiders couldn't run the ball very well, which wasn't a surprise, given how stout Tennessee's ground defense has been. Latavius Murray was limited to less than a 3.0 YPC average, mustering just 59 yards on 22 carries.
The Titans couldn't run the ball either, and this includes the quarterback. Well, "couldn't" is the incorrect word when referring to Mariota, who barely tried to scramble. He scampered just once for seven yards, which I just don't understand. Marota's best attribute happens to be his legs. Why isn't he running more? It makes no sense to limit his rushing ability.
As for his passing, Mariota was an underwhelming 17-of-37 for 218 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Mariota's inability to exploit Oakland's struggling secondary was very discouraging. Both picks were painful, as they came in Oakland territory, ruining scoring opportunities. Mariota read the coverage incorrectly on his first interception. The second just seemed like a miscommunication.
Kendall Wright returned to the lineup, but you wouldn't know it, based on the numbers. Wright saw seven targets (third-most on the team), but secured just two of those balls for 19 yards. Tennessee's leader in receiving yardage - and the only person to eclipse 30 yards through the air - was Delanie Walker, who made six grabs for 91 yards. Walker, however, was guilty of offensive pass interference very deep in Oakland territory.
The Titans need to spend an early pick on a running back or some blockers to improve the ground game. Antonio Andrews once again struggled, plodding for 32 yards on 11 carries. David Cobb was the next player off the bench with Dexter McCluster out, but he managed just eight yards on three attempts.
Chiefs 30, Bills 22
It feels odd to write this, but throughout the first half, it appeared as though the Bills were going to run away with a blowout victory. They led 16-7 going into the 2-minute drill, and their offense seemed like it was unstoppable. Tyrod Taylor was on fire, and the Kansas City secondary had no answer for Sammy Watkins. However, the Chiefs finally got momentum going on offense and made the appropriate adjustments on defense to outscore the Bills 23-6 in the final 32 minutes of the game.
Alex Smith played terrifically. I've been one of his main critics over the years, but I'll give him credit when he deserves it. That's most certainly the case here, as I thought the Chiefs were screwed when they were down nine as a result of Smith's limitations. Smith was up to his old tricks early on, throwing a typical checkdown that wasn't even far enough on a third-and-4 try. However, something happened late in the game, and the light when on for Smith, who suddenly began throwing several deep passes. He began by launching a 37-yard reception to Jeremy Maclin, who was able to reel in the ball with a diving effort. This set up a touchdown. Smith then hurled a 41-yard score to Maclin, who beat Ronald Darby deep.
Smith finished 19-of-30 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also did a great job of picking up some first downs on the ground on occasion, scrambling six times for 35 rushing yards. This was all very impressive considering that the Chiefs lost two offensive linemen early on. Guard Jeff Allen, perhaps the team's best blocker, and tackle Eric Fisher both exited with injuries. At one point, Kansas City had absolutely no backup linemen to use, but Allen was able to return to the field.
It helped Smith that he had a great performance from Spencer Ware. It appears as though it doesn't matter who the running back is for the Chiefs. Spencer, originally behind Jamaal Charles and Charcandrick West on the depth chart, ripped off 114 yards and a touchdown on only 19 carries. Had the Chiefs led throughout, Ware could've posted much greater numbers.
Smith's two touchdowns went to the usual suspects, Maclin and Travis Kelce. The former snatched nine balls for 160 yards. Kelce, who was questionable heading into this contest, had four catches for 69 yards. Besides those two, the only other Kansas City player to log multiple receiving yards was Albert Wilson (3-25).
As for the Bills, I mentioned that they had lots of success early in the afternoon. The Chiefs simply couldn't handle Watkins, who torched Sean Smith relentlessly. Watkins scored twice, with one pass dropped in perfectly by Taylor in between two defenders. The other was a grab over a helpless Smith. However, Watkins didn't catch a single pass after halftime, which is remarkable considering how dominant he was early in the contest. Justin Houston also hobbled off in the opening half, so it's pretty remarkable that Buffalo managed just six points after halftime.
At any rate, Watkins finished with six grabs for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Again, those were his halftime numbers, so he was on pace for a 12-316-4 line, which would have been amazing to see.
As for Taylor, he began the game hot, going 14-of-26 for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half. He was precise on most of his throws, and he made several downfield connections that were very impressive. However, things fell apart for him as the game progressed, and he was just 7-of-12 for 55 yards and a score following intermission. He also lost a fumble on a strip-sack.
Taylor's final numbers were 21-of-38 for 291 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 46 rushing yards on five scrambles. Despite the second-half collapse, this was an encouraging performance for Taylor. Not only was he battling one of the top defenses in the NFL, but he was also hurt going into this game.
LeSean McCoy set the tempo for the Bills early on with a 12-yard burst to open the afternoon. He ultimately finished with 70 yards on 19 carries. He also caught a touchdown to go along with three catches for 31 receiving yards.
Jets 38, Dolphins 20
The Jets entered this contest having lost four of their previous five games, with the exception being an unconvincing victory over the Jaguars. Suddenly now 5-5, they were desperate for a win. They got what they needed with an easy triumph over the pathetic Dolphins.
Don't pay attention to this final score or Miami's stats at all. Both are completely bogus. The Jets were up 21-0 and 35-7 on separate occasions. By the time the score was 21-0, New York had been outgaining Miami, 269-97, as the Dolphins were averaging a meager 3.1 yards per play. The Jets' defense had completely shut down Tannehill, while the scoring unit did a solid job of keeping drives alive for the most part.
The primary item to take away from this game is that Ryan Fitzpatrick looks healthy again. Fitzpatrick had been dealing with a thumb injury that had made him very inaccurate in recent weeks following a strong start to his season. Fitzpatrick appeared to be back to his old self, going 22-of-37 for 277 yards and four touchdowns against Miami's sorry defense. He also missed out on another score, thanks to an Eric Decker drop.
Brandon Marshall enjoyed a huge performance. He reeled in nine of his 11 targets for 131 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins simply didn't have an answer for him, as Brent Grimes was constantly holding on for dear life. Fitzpatrick's other scores went to Decker (5-62) and Devin Smith (2-33).
Chris Ivory also found the end zone. His touchdown was very impressive, as he shook off five potential tacklers. Miami had tackling issues all afternoon, but the team was at its worst on this instance. Ivory gained 87 yards on 21 carries, taking a breather late when the game was out of hand; otherwise, he would've eclipsed the century mark.
As for the Dolphins, I mentioned that their offensive numbers were bogus, so don't pay attention to Tannehill's stat line of 33-of-58, 351 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. All of that is meaningless. By halftime, Tannehill was just 9-of-18 for 83 yards and an interception, which occurred when he stared down his receiver. He was nearly picked again in the third quarter, but that was nullified by review. It wasn't surprising to see Tannehill struggle, given that he has no idea how to handle the blitz, and the Jets love sending extra pass-rushers.
Jarvis Landry posted monstrous numbers, catching 13 balls for 165 yards and a touchdown. However, by the time the game was 21-0 in the third quarter, Landry logged just five catches for 47 yards. Similarly, DeVante Parker's stat line of four grabs for 80 yards and a score all occurred in garbage time. Thus, don't think about adding him to your fantasy roster, even if you're desperate at receiver.
The Dolphins struggled to run the ball. In fact, Tannehill, with a 7-yard scramble, finished as the team's leading rusher. Lamar Miller had just two yards on five carries, as Miami had to abandon the ground game because the team was so far behind.
More injury concerns for the Dolphins, who have struggled ever since losing Cameron Wake and Ja'Wuan James: Center Mike Pouncey, the team's best blocker, was carted off the field in the first half. A bit later, Olivier Vernon also got hurt, but was able to return.
EDITOR'S NOTE: It almost never ends well in the NFL, and we're seeing the conclusion of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era in New Orleans. Payton is coaching like he has one foot out the door, and Brees looks done. They had a great run, but it's over.
The Texans' defense has been phenomenal over the past month, and they continued their dominant play by Drew Brees' streak of games with a touchdown pass at 45. Houston held New Orleans to a pair of field goals and shut out the Saints in the second half. Rob Ryan is gone, but the results are the same as New Orleans' defense struggled to contain Brian Hoyer and the Texans' offense. Houston controlled the game from start to finish to improve to 6-5 and stay in a tie for first place in the AFC South.
For the first time all season, the Texans scored on their first drive. They moved the ball methodically down the field on an 11-play drive that ended when Hoyer hit tight end Ryan Griffin for a 10-yard touchdown. Houston's defense forced a three-and-out, and the Texans' offense marched down the field again. Akeem Hunt ran for 13 yards inside the 5-yard line before Cecil Shorts took a stretch run into the end zone. Midway through the first half, the Saints were given some life when Hoyer threw a terrible pass that was intercepted by Jairus Byrd. After trading some punts, New Orleans took advantage of good field position and had Mark Ingram rip off a run of 30 yards. Houston's defense kept New Orleans to a field goal. The Saints moved the ball before the half, and Kai Forbath hit a 57-yard field goal to cut the Texans lead to 14-6 at the intermission.
In the third quarter, Houston's offense got back on track thanks to a 37-yard pass to Griffin after he was left uncovered by New Orleans' defense. Alfred Blue finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run. The Texans quickly tacked on a field goal to expand their lead to 24-6.
The Saints put a good drive together with Brees hitting Ben Watson for gains of 15 and 26 yards. However, Kareem Jackson made a diving interception at the 1-yard line and got up to return the ball to midfield. Another New Orleans drive moved the ball deep into Houston territory, but Quinton Demps broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone. That ended the game for the Texans.
Drew Brees completed 25-of-44 for 228 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The Saints were led through the air by tight end Ben Watson with four catches for 53 yards. Willie Snead (4-50), Marques Colston (3-38) and Brandin Cooks (5-35) were held in check.
Mark Ingram had 52 yards on nine carries and six receptions for 45 yards. The Saints had to abandon the run because they were way behind so early.
Brian Hoyer was 21-of-27 for 205 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was yet another quarterback who torched New Orleans' defense.
DeAndre Hopkins was held to 36 yards on five receptions, disappointing his fantasy owners despite a great matchup. Tight end Ryan Griffin led the Texans in receiving with four catches for 72 yards and a score.
Alfred Blue ran for 77 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown.
The Texans' defense got another superb game from superstar J.J. Watt. He had two sacks, five tackles and a lot of hits on Brees. Jonathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson and Jadeveon Clowney also played well for Houston. Saints defensive end Cam Jordan had a sack and played well for New Orleans.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Oh, sure, now the Chargers win. Go figure. By the way, I don't think Blake Bortles knows what the line of scrimmage is. He had two illegal forward passes in this game, as he was way over the line of scrimmage on both occasions. His awareness rating in Madden is plummeting as you're reading this.
The Jaguars' hopes of staying in the playoff race were dealt a crushing blow with a loss to San Diego, a team that entered with a 2-8 record. Jacksonville's weak secondary couldn't contain Philip Rivers, while the Jaguars' offense struggled in the red zone despite moving the ball well all day.
Jacksonville's first play from scrimmage was a Blake Bortles hitting a 21-yard pass to T.J. Yeldon. Another pass to Yeldon converted a third down for a gain of 15, and a pass to Allen Robinson for 25 yards set up a short field goal. The Jaguars' second possession got started with a 29-yard pass to Allen Hurns and ended by adding another field goal.
On the final play of the first quarter, Rivers connected with Antonio Gates for a gain of 27 yards. A run by Melvin Gordon for 11 yards moved the ball inside the 10. On third-and-goal, Dontrelle Inman beat Dwayne Gratz for Rivers' first touchdown pass of the afternoon. The Jaguars answered with a 24-yard screen pass to Marcedes Lewis, but settled for a third field goal. Just before the half, Rivers ripped the ball down the field before hitting Gates for a short touchdown. Jacksonville tried to get more points, but Bortles had a poorly placed pass intercepted by Manti Te'o. A few plays later, Rivers hit Gates on a corner route for a 12-yard touchdown. The Chargers took a 21-9 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, the Jaguars had good field position thanks to a Jared Odrick sack, and Bortles hit Julius Thomas for a 34-yard gain. Once again, the drive stalled for a field goal. Rivers answered by connecting with Stevie Johnson for 25 yards, which set up a Chargers field goal. San Diego took 24-12 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Chargers struggled to defend Thomas as he scored on a fourth-and-7 with a 21-yard strike from Bortles. After crossing midfield, Rivers converted a fourth-and-seven with his legs. He had Jacksonville's defense on its heels and threw a short touchdown pass to Johnson. It was a 14-play, 80-yard drive that spanned over six minutes and broke the back of Jacksonville. With 90 seconds remaining, Jaguars rookie linebacker Hayes Pullard blocked a punt to set up the offense at the Chargers' 14-yard line. Two plays later, Bortles threw a touchdown pass to Allen Robinson, but San Diego defended the onside kick to clinch its third win of the season.
Rivers completed 29-of-43 passes or 300 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. He impressively bounced back after last week's brutal showing.
Stevie Johnson led the Chargers with seven receptions for 92 yards and a score. Antonio Gates had four receptions for 53 yards and two scores.
Melvin Gordon ran for 60 yards on 14 carries with five receptions for 20 yards.
Blake Bortles was 30-of-49 for 329 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He moved the ball well between the 20s, but struggled in the red zone.
T.J. Yeldon had 36 yards on nine carries with four receptions for 46 yards. He was a huge disappointment in what appeared to be a great matchup.
Julius Thomas led the Jaguars through the air with nine catches for 116 yards and a score. Allen Robinson had five receptions for 56 yards. In the fourth quarter, Allen Hurns (4-42) suffered a scary head/neck injury after diving for a pass and had to be carted off the field.
Neither team received a good game from its defense, but Chargers rookie linebacker Denzel Perryman flashed nicely for San Diego.
Seahawks 39, Steelers 30 By Chet Gresham - @Chet_G
EDITOR'S NOTE: Think this was a Pyrrhic victory for the Seahawks? Sure, they moved into sixth place in the wild-card race, but they lost Jimmy Graham and saw their defense completely exposed.
The Steelers and Seahawks did battle in Seattle on Sunday afternoon, and if the term "barn burner" hadn't been invented yet, it would have been after this bout. There were seven lead changes, 47 first downs, 816 yards passing and 974 total yards, to put up 69 total points.
The Seahawks won this game on the arm of Russell Wilson, who threw for a career-high five touchdowns and a regular-season high of 345 yards, as he completed 21-of-30 passes for a 73.3 percent completion rate. It was a masterful performance, but the key in this game was the fact that he didn't turn the ball over once and neither did his teammates, while the Steelers gave up the ball four times.
The first turnover for the Steelers was the most devastating, as coach Mike Tomlin sent in backup quarterback Landry Jones to hold for a 45-yard field goal. As a side note, Jones is not their regular holder, so the jig was up before any of these shenanigans started. The Steelers then got out of field-goal formation and Jones took a shotgun snap, then commenced to throwing to a covered lineman, 25-foot tall offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva. You can guess what happened after that, but I'll tell you anyway. Cornerback Jeremy Lane caught the easy interception then ran it back 54 yards to Pittsburgh's 24-yard line. Wilson and company capitalized on that turnover with a 16-yard touchdown to Jermaine Kearse. That turned a 13-7 Steelers lead into a 14-10 Seattle lead.
Ben Roethlisberger also put up big numbers, as you would expect with all these yards and touchdowns to go around, as he threw for 456 yards, but only connected for one touchdown and added two interceptions before leaving the game with a concussion with two minutes left.
A huge chunk of those yards went to Markus Wheaton, who became a huge part of the game plan as Richard Sherman shadowed Antonio Brown, and Heath Miller left the game with a rib injury. Wheaton, before this game, had never caught more than five passes or accumulated more than 97 yards in his 38 games. On Sunday, he caught 9-of-13 targets for 201 yards and a touchdown, the fourth of his career. Over the first 10 games of 2015, Wheaton had caught 16-of-32 targets for 273 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side, all five of Wilson's touchdown passes went to two of his wide receivers, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Baldwin's six receptions on eight targets for 145 yards and three touchdowns was his career game in both yardage and touchdowns. He's now had two huge games in his last three. Wilson and Baldwin can look like this one game and then do very little the next game, but we know they have it in them. It will be interesting to see if they open up this passing game more as the season closes.
One problem with going more pass heavy is the season-ending injury Jimmy Graham suffered. He tore his right patellar tendon after putting together a nice game, with four receptions for 75 yards. This injury is a tough one to recover from, and it has taken some players completely out of the NFL.
Graham had not put up the numbers he had in New Orleans, but still had been an integral part of the Seattle offense, averaging 4.4 receptions for 55 yards per game. Luke Willson of The Royal Tenenbaums' fame, will take over as the starter.
As this game went back and forth, with little defense to speak of, Tomlin made a curious decision after Roethlisberger drove the ball down to the three-yard line, down by five points with 3:02 left on the clock. Instead of going for the touchdown on fourth down, Tomlin opted for a field goal to make the score 32-30 Seattle.
Tomlin is known for not playing conservatively, and with his defense giving up yards in fat chunks, the odds of the Steelers getting the ball back, still down just two-points, was slim. Some have pontificated that he went for the field goal because Roethlisberger was feeling concussion-like symptoms, but if Pittsburgh knew Landry Jones was going to be the quarterback, then why not go for it at the three, rather than hoping the Steelers' defense could stop Wilson and then hoping some more that Jones could then move them into Chris Boswell's range for the game-winner?
Of course, we can second guess until the cows come home, but if the barn's burning, the cows have no safe place! When you put the early "fake" field goal interception and this conservative decision together, it does not look good for coach Tomlin's decision-making prowess this week.
The Seahawks played the much cleaner game, and even though their defense was exposed yet again, they made the plays when they needed to, and Sherman proved once again that he's as good or better than any defensive back out there.
The Steelers, on the other hand, showed us that if they aren't getting to the quarterback, they aren't stopping anybody and must overwhelm the opposition with points.
Cardinals 19, 49ers 13
Sometimes the NFL doesn't make any sense. No, scratch that, the NFL never makes any sense, at least as far as my picks are concerned. Everything this year seems to have been random. This contest is included, as the Cardinals, despite being the far superior team, not only were outgained, but saw the 49ers average nearly two more yards per play than them.
Arizona prevailed, but there's plenty of cause for concern. The offensive line struggled to protect Carson Palmer, who could never get into a rhythm. The 49ers accumulated just one sack, but don't let that fool you; they were constantly swarming Palmer, who was hit fiercely throughout the afternoon. Palmer, as a result, struggled to connect with his receivers downfield, though he was able to find J.J. Nelson for a 34-yard connection late in the fourth quarter. This ultimately set up an awkward-looking Palmer rushing touchdown, which turned out to be the winning score. Palmer, who was so frustrated by this defense, spiked the ball so hard that he slipped and fell, and I was actually concerned that he might be hurt. Fortunately, he was OK.
Palmer finished 24-of-40 for 271 yards as well as his rushing touchdown. He also should've thrown an interception, but the defender dropped the easiest pick of all time, and I'm not exaggerating. He was just waiting in the end zone for the ball to drop to him, and it fell through his arms as if he were some little kid who hadn't been taught how to catch. Palmer owners were robbed of a passing touchdown; on one drive, Larry Fitzgerald and Jermaine Gresham combined to draw three pass-interference flags on the 49ers, all of which were legitimate. Palmer didn't end up throwing a score because David Johnson was able to run it in.
Palmer spent most of the afternoon either trying to avoid pass-rushers or throwing passes to Larry Fitzgerald. The future Hall of Famer saw 14 targets - double than the next receiver on the list. Fitzgerald reeled in 10 of those passes, but for only 66 yards, as Palmer didn't have the time to throw precise deep passes very often. Fitzgerald drew two pass-interference penalties in the end zone.
Arizona's leading receiver was actually John Brown, who snatched five balls for 99 yards. Nearly half of his production came on a 48-yard bomb. Michael Floyd was limited to just one reception for 14 yards. He saw just one other target, which was a deep drop.
It might be time for the Cardinals to move on from Chris Johnson, who seems to be getting worse each week. Clearly out of gas, Johnson was restricted to 17 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game with some sort of leg injury. Andre Ellington was more effective, albeit on just five carries because he hurt his foot. Ellington gained 24 yards, while David Johnson (8-21) scored one of Arizona's two touchdowns. David Johnson could end up starting next week.
As for the 49ers, it was very surprising to see Blaine Gabbert be so effective. Gabbert actually looked like a first-round pick for the first time in his pro career. He went 25-of-36 for 318 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which was a weak, inaccurate floater. However, that was Gabbert's sole gaffe of the afternoon. He played extremely well despite battling one of the better defenses in the league. Like I said, the NFL makes no sense.
Gabbert's touchdown went to Vance McDonald (6-71), who perhaps is finally living up to expectations as well. McDonald was given more opportunities than usual because Garrett Celek was carted off in the first half. That appears to be a blessing in disguise.
San Francisco's leading receiver was Anquan Boldin, who snatched eight of his 11 targets for 93 yards. Torrey Smith, meanwhile, continued to struggle, catching two balls for 51 yards.
Carlos Hyde was out, so Shaun Draughn received every single carry. There were only 15 of them, however, and he turned them into 51 yards. He also caught five passes for 35 receiving yards.
While Jeff Triplette was the most corrupt official of the day, Pete Morelli was certainly the dumbest. It was amazing how incompetent he was in this game. He spent 10 minutes deciding whether the Cardinals had a second or a third down in the opening quarter. He actually got it wrong, and he also missed that the 49ers had 13 men on the field on one play. THIRTEEN!
Morelli was an equal-opportunity horrible official. He eventually screwed over the 49ers, giving Arizona a free down in the second quarter for no apparent reason. Later on, he threw a flag for roughing-the-passer on Palmer when it was a completely clean tackle. The NFL needs to fire several of its officials this offseason, and Morelli has to be at the top of the list, right next to Walt Coleman and Triplette.
Broncos 30, Patriots 24
The Patriots have had nothing but Pyrrhic victories throughout the middle of the season. They've been winning, but they've lost offensive linemen, some key defenders, Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, all of whom are key members of their roster. There's no such thing as a Pyrrhic loss, but perhaps they'll have to invent that term for what transpired in this contest. New England's second-worst fears occurred late in the game when a Denver defensive back collided with Rob Gronkowski's knees. Gronkowski was rolling around on the ground, writhing in pain. He was carted off, rendering New England's offense completely threat-less. The only thing that would've been worse would've been an injury to Brady.
Fortunately for the Patriots, Adam Schefter is reporting that the injury isn't serious. Gronkowski will still undergo more tests, so he's not out of the woods yet, but it's sounding like he avoided a ligament tear.
The Gronkowski injury was the prominent storyline. If he hadn't gotten hurt, everyone would be talking about all of the bogus calls at the end of the game. I bet on the Broncos, but I'll even admit that the Patriots were hosed on several occasions. It began when a holding penalty negated a 51-yard Tom Brady pass to an open Keshawn Martin. Gronkowski was then called for a very ticky-tack offensive pass interference, wiping out a significant gain. Later on, when the Broncos were in the red zone, Brock Osweiler took a sack from Alan Branch, who destroyed his center, but Denver was given new life on a defensive hold. It was more blatant than what happened to the Titans, as the New England defender actually touched Demaryius Thomas, but it was something that should've never been called. It was ridiculous. Official Tony Corrente, joining Walt Coleman, Jeff Triplette and Pete Morelli as the fourth horseman of the Week 12 Officiating Apocalypse, then granted the Broncos a fourth timeout because of an injury, yet failed to stop the clock when the Patriots were driving for a game-tying field goal. It ultimately didn't matter, as New England was able to send the game to overtime, but it was just yet another screw-up by the inept Corrente.
Brady finished 23-of-42 for 280 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't turn the ball over, but he nearly did when Aqib Talib dropped an interception on an overthrow to Scott Chandler. Brady played well overall, considering the heavy snowfall, corrupt officiating, struggling offensive line and depleted supporting cast. However, Brady doesn't really have anyone left. That could change if Amendola and Gronkowski return soon, but as of right now, Brady's top weapons include Chandler, Martin and Brandon LaFell.
Brady's three touchdowns were thrown to Gronkowski (6-88), Chandler (5-58), who needs to be added in all formats if Gronkowski misses time, and running back Brandon Bolden (4 catches, 84 receiving yards), who beat Danny Trevathan on a wheel route for a 63-yard score. LaFell saw nine targets, but snatched only four of them for 36 yards.
The Patriots predictably struggled to run the ball against Denver's stout front. LeGarrette Blount rumbled for only 27 yards on nine carries. There will be better days for Blount versus weaker defenses.
Brock Osweiler, meanwhile, led the Broncos to a second-consecutive victory, and he continued to look much better than Peyton Manning. Osweiler went 23-of-42 for 270 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was batted at the line of scrimmage, but his numbers don't tell the entire story. First of all, Osweiler was hurt by countless drops. Andre Caldwell let one go through his hands early, but Demaryius Thomas was the primary culprit. Thomas was guilty of eight negative plays, which were either drops or passes defensed because he didn't come back for the ball. Thus, Osweiler could've easily completed 32 of his 42 attempts, which would've been extremely impressive against a stellar defense in fierce weather.
Also with Osweiler, there were some negatives. He took a couple of bad sacks because he held on to the ball too long. He was bailed out by the hold on Thomas on one occasion, but another took his team out of field goal range. Also, Osweiler seemed to have trouble lining his team up sometimes, prompting the Broncos to waste a couple of timeouts early in the second half.
Going back to Thomas, he saw a whopping 13 targets, but was able to reel in just one pass for 36 yards. As mentioned, Thomas dropped passes and refused to come back for passes. He also had some miscommunications with Osweiler. I've never seen Thomas play so poorly before; it's as if he spent the entire prior night partying with Johnny Manziel. However, Thomas came up big when it mattered most, as his 36-yard reception came on a late drive in which Denver took the lead.
Denver's leading receiver was Emmanuel Sanders, who had a huge game. He caught six balls for 113 yards. Owen Daniels was next with his five grabs for 48 yards.
The star of this game was C.J. Anderson. The first-round fantasy back had struggled for most of this season, but he was unbelievable on the sloppy field. He burst for 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries, which included the game-winning score in overtime. Anderson also caught four passes for 40 receiving yards. It was the Anderson of old, which no one expected because the Patriots had stopped the run so well all year. Ronnie Hillman also got in on the action, gaining 59 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts. Hillman fumbled at one point, but was fortunate that a teammate of his fell on the loose ball.
Gronkowski wasn't the only prominent player who sustained an injury in this contest. T.J. Ward and Sylvester Williams, two Denver defenders, were carted off at the same time early in the game.
Ravens 33, Browns 27
The Browns had the national spotlight on a rare occasion, yet they managed to screw this game up in so many ways. Even the lead-up was botched, as Johnny Manziel was demoted to third string for partying too hard and then lying to his coaching staff about it. The Browns, installed as 5.5-point favorites, trailed for most of the contest despite battling a depleted Baltimore squad with a starting backfield comprised of Matt Schaub and Buck Allen.
Josh McCown, who had an up-and-down performance, sustained a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter, and this would've been a perfect opportunity for Mike Pettine to test Manziel in terms of whether he prepared for this game or not. Instead, Pettine used journeyman Austin Davis, who appeared to be very rusty. To his credit, Austin found an open Travis Benjamin for a 42-yard, game-tying touchdown, but he royally screwed up the 2-minute drill by taking too much time in between plays and not running out of bounds when he had the opportunity to do so. Still, the Browns had a chance to kick the game-winning field goal. Travis Coons lined up for the 51-yard try, and it was blocked. The Ravens returned it for the walk-off kick-six.
I'd say better times are coming for Cleveland, but that would be overly optimistic. The franchise is run by an incompetent criminal, and the front office has no idea what its doing. The coach, meanwhile, seemed to lose his team for his decision to bench Manziel; the Browns lacked energy in this performance. I have to wonder what their mindset will be going forward if Manziel isn't named the starter. How can they play hard for Davis? Cleveland will move forward with a new quarterback this April - check my 2016 NFL Mock Draft for more details - but this is an underwhelming class for signal-callers, and the Browns aren't the type of organization to make the right decision anyway.
Davis went 7-of-10 for 77 yards and a touchdown in relief. He had bright moments here and there when he played for the Rams, so he's not awful. In terms of passing ability, he didn't look much worse than McCown, who finished 21-of-38 for 212 yards and a score. Neither quarterback committed any turnovers, but both were very fortunate in that regard. C.J. Mosley, Shareece Wright and Lardarius Webb all dropped interceptions. The Ravens have been very unlucky when it comes to collecting picks this year.
McCown and Davis were able to carve up Baltimore's incompetent secondary. They constantly targeted three players: Gary Barnidge (7-91), Travis Benjamin (6-90, TD), who dropped a pass, and Brian Hartline (8-74). All three had at least 11 balls thrown their way.
Duke Johnson was the fourth and final Brown who accumulated more than 10 receiving yards. He caught five balls for 23 yards to go along with his meager rushing numbers (7-27). He was much better than Isaiah Crowell (7-7), who didn't touch the ball in the second half, and rightfully so.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have won their second-consecutive close game. That would be significant if their season wasn't already over, given that they've been finding ways to lose coin-flip games all year. The blocked field goal returned for a touchdown was just insane, and they had other fortunate events occur in this game, including a punt returned for a touchdown, as well as a successful fourth-and-1 conversion from their own 25 with 14 minutes remaining. It was the ultimate #yolo moment from John Harbaugh, as a failed attempt would've given the Browns three free points at the very least.
Matt Schaub had an extremely mixed performance. He did a solid job of moving the chains at times, but he had two back-breaking interceptions, one of which, of course, was taken back for six. That pick was embarrassing; he drifted backward while throwing the ball into zone coverage. The linebacker snatched it, and the cornerback behind him was visibly upset because he would've caught it as well. Schaub's second interception occurred when Tramon Williams jumped the route.
Schaub finished 20-of-34 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks. All in all, it wasn't a horrible performance, considering his depleted receiving corps and injury-ravaged offensive line. Still, it's remarkable that Schaub continues to kill his team with a couple of horrible mistakes every game. It occurs without fail. In fact, I saw one person tweet at halftime, "I guess we'll have to wait until the second half for Schaub's trademark pick-six." And yet, it happened!
Only two Ravens accumulated more than 30 receiving yards. Kamar Aiken (6-80) caught a touchdown, while Chris Givens (1-48) reeled in a deep bomb that was underthrown. Had Schaub hit him on the money, it would've been a score, but Givens had to slow down, which allowed the defensive back to catch up.
Buck Allen looked good replacing Justin Forsett. He gained 55 yards on just 12 carries, and he also caught four balls for 29 receiving yards and a touchdown, which featured four missed tackles by Cleveland. Like I said, it was an embarrassing night for the Browns.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.