The Lions remain cursed. They still haven't won on Thanksgiving since 2003, and unlike in years' past, they can't blame it on a lack of talent. This loss was all on them.
Detroit had multiple chances to win this game. The team led throughout, but surrendered a 97-yard touchdown drive to the Texans late in the fourth quarter. The Lions were in position to prevail on the ensuing possession, but Brandon Pettigrew dropped two passes. Pettigrew then lost a fumble in Houston territory in overtime, and this was followed by a missed 47-yard field goal by Jason Hanson when Jim Schwartz conservatively called for his kicker to take the field on a third down. The decision was puzzling because of the distance, as well as the fact that the Texans made the same mistake earlier in the extra session.
All of these mistakes ruined a quality performance from Matthew Stafford, who went 31-of-61 for 441 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford made some errant throws - a few passes sailed behind his targets downfield and a potential interception of his was dropped - but he did a terrific job of moving the chains throughout, converting 9-of-18 third-down attempts.
Four of Stafford's targets caught at least five passes: Calvin Johnson (8-140, TD), Ryan Broyles (6-126), Pettigrew (8-74) and Tony Scheffler (5-57). Megatron was his usual dominant self, but Broyles stood out. Broyles received extra targets because Titus Young was suspended for this contest. It appears as though Detroit has a winner with this second-round rookie.
The Lions scored twice on the ground. Mikel Leshoure found the end zone early, but managed just 32 yards on 12 carries. Joique Bell had more yardage (47) and a touchdown on fewer attempts (5).
Speaking of running the ball, I was surprised that the Texans didn't pound the rock very much. Arian Foster was given 20 carries, which is a low amount considering that this game went nearly five full quarters. Yes, Houston was behind for most of this contest, but never by more than a touchdown. And it's not like Foster wasn't effective; he collected 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Matt Schaub aired it out 48 times. He completed 29 of those passes for 315 yards, one touchdown and a seemingly crucial interception in overtime. He had a solid game, save for the pick.
Where as four Lions had at least five receptions, the Texans had just two: One was Foster (5-15), while the other was Andre Johnson (9-188), who had yet another monstrous performance. Owen Daniels (4-20) caught Schaub's sole touchdown.
Two defenders stood out. Cliff Avril had two sacks and a forced fumble, while J.J. Watt tallied three sacks and three swatted balls.
There were three controversial incidents that occurred in this game:
1. The Lions recovered the ball on a punt where Houston's Glover Quin clearly made contact with it. Even CBS' Phil Simms said, "The ball doesn't change directions in the air like that unless it's touched." It clearly should have been Detroit's ball, but Walt Coleman announced that the play stood as called. I had no faith that Coleman would get it right. In fact, I tweeted (@walterfootball): "Called it on the forum. Walt Coleman can't be trusted with the replay equipment. Too senile
2. Coleman screwed up another play. Justin Forsett scored on an 81-yard run, but he was clearly down by contact. The play would have been reviewed, but Jim Schwartz foolishly threw a challenge flag, negating the chance for Coleman to look at a replay. Still though, even if Schwartz didn't attempt to challenge, Coleman would have screwed up somehow. He's the worst official in the NFL and needs to be removed immediately.
3. Perhaps the most controversial occurrence took place on a play involving Ndamukong Suh yet again. Suh kicked Schaub in the balls while falling to the ground. Whether this was intentional or not is up for debate; CBS analyst Boomer Esiason was irate: "It's obvious that this was on purpose. I'd never shake this guy's hand."
The Cowboys have been the dumbest team in football for years, but they've always come through on Thanksgiving under Tony Romo. That, apparently, is not the case any longer, as Dallas has now reached a new all-time low in stupidity.
Things started innocently enough. Jason Witten false started on the opening drive in the red zone, eliminating their chances of scoring a touchdown. They at least kicked a field goal on that possession; a false start by Doug Free and an inexplicable delay of game on the next play completely derailed the next drive.
Washington wasn't doing anything offensively in the first quarter, so Dallas could have established an early lead and eliminate the opposing running game. They instead squandered their opportunities, and Robert Griffin eventually figured things out beginning in the second period. The Cowboys blew crucial coverages, permitting Griffin to torch them deep repeatedly. And just like that, the Redskins established a 28-3 lead by halftime.
The Cowboys, in the meantime, continued to shoot themselves in the foot. There were the usual pre-snap penalties, two Tony Romo interceptions, a Dez Bryant lost fumble in Washington territory and a Bryant dropped touchdown. Dallas was flagged seven times in the first 40 minutes of the game.
I don't want to be completely negative about Dallas for two reasons. The first is that I want to credit Griffin, who was absolutely amazing. He went 20-of-28 for 311 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He was even better than those numbers indicate because Mike Shanahan took the air out of the ball with his team nursing a lead of 20-plus in the second half. When the Cowboys attempted to make a comeback, Griffin made enough clutch throws to move the chains and set up a field goal, which iced the game.
Second, the Cowboys could have packed it in, but they made a tremendous comeback. They brought it back down to seven twice, but couldn't stop Griffin when it counted most.
Tony Romo had to throw the ball 62 times because his team was down for three quarters. He went 37-of-62 for 441 yards, three touchdowns and the aforementioned two interceptions. He mainly targeted Bryant (8-145, 2 TDs), Jason Witten (9-74) and surprisingly Cole Beasley (7-68). Miles Austin-Jones didn't catch a single pass because he left the game with a hip injury. He'll have an MRI on Friday.
The Cowboys struggled to run the ball, as Felix Jones gained just 14 yards on just six carries. Conversely, Alfred Morris trampled Dallas' pathetic front, collecting 113 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts.
As for the Washington receivers, Pierre Garcon looked completely healthy for the first time since Week 1. He notched five receptions for a team-leading 93 yards and a touchdown. Aldrick Robinson, Santana Moss (4-42) and Niles Paul had the other scores.
Patriots 49, Jets 19
Best Thanksgiving ever - not only did most of us get dinner and dessert, we also were able to enjoy a comedy show to cap off the evening.
The Jets are a complete joke. New England scored three touchdowns in 52 seconds during the second quarter. Following a Tom Brady score, Mark Sanchez, who earlier tossed an ugly interception in the red zone, scrambled, inexplicably ran into his own guard and fumbled. The Patriots picked up the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Joe McKnight had a fumble pop into the air, which was brought back for six. A 56-yard Brady-to-Julian Edelman touchdown later, and New England was suddenly up 35-0.
The frustrated crowd continuously chanted "Te-bow" for the rest of the evening, but Rex Ryan didn't listen to his fans' wishes. He stuck with Mark Sanchez, who padded his numbers against a prevent Patriot defense. His final numbers were 26-of-36 for a fraudulent 301 yards, one garbage-time touchdown and the aforementioned pick.
Ryan's refusal to use Tebow was most apparent when the Jets had a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the third quarter. They ran the ball and were stuffed. Tebow is such a great goal-line runner, so why not use him there? Even if Ryan doesn't want to unseat Sanchez as the starter, he's hurting his team by not using his top short-yardage option. Ryan has been an unbelievable moron this season, and he completely deserves his terrible 4-7 record.
NOTE: It was later revealed that Tebow had a rib injury, which is why he didn't play any snaps. That's the story the Jets are spinning, anyway. I'd like to know why Tebow was active if he couldn't take the field. I think Ryan is full of crap.
Tom Brady, meanwhile, went 18-of-28 for 323 yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He missed a couple of deep throws in the third quarter that had him frustrated, but was otherwise flawless. He was totally dialed in, as he was on a mission to prove that his offense could score without Rob Gronkowski.
Outside of Wes Welker (7-71, TD), no Patriot had more than three receptions. Shane Vereen (2-91) and Edelman (2-64) collected the other scores, while Brandon Lloyd (3-26) disappointed yet again.
New England once again ran the ball very well. Stevan Ridley mustered 97 yards and a touchdown on just 21 carries. Vereen chipped in with 42 yards on 10 attempts.
The star for the Patriots' defense was the usually beleaguered Steven Gregory. The safety picked off Sanchez in the first quarter and then scored on Sanchez's aforementioned fumble.
The only Jets' offensive-skill player worth mentioning is Shonn Greene, who ran effectively when this game was close. He had just 14 carries, but was able to gain 71 yards. The New York receivers piled up their yardage when the Patriots' defense played softly with a huge lead. Jeremy Kerley led the way with seven catches for 86 yards.
If there's one glaring concern for New England, it's Stephen Gostkowski, who has been shaky at times this year. He pushed a try wide left from just 39 yards out.
Bears 28, Vikings 10
When Bears' offensive coordinator Mike Tice was asked earlier in the week if Jay Cutler would play, he replied, "God, I hope so."
It's easy to see why. With Cutler back under center, Chicago's offense was actually functional. It accumulated 296 total net yards and converted 11-of-19 third downs. Cutler was solid, going 23-of-31 for 188 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He could have enjoyed a better fantasy day had the Vikings been able to keep up. Instead, it was 25-3 by halftime, so Cutler threw for just 71 yards after intermission.
As you might expect, Cutler targeted Brandon Marshall almost exclusively. Marshall caught a whopping 12 balls for 92 yards. In fact, the only other Bear wideout with more than one reception was Earl Bennett (4-45).
Chicago pretty much played a clean game. The team had just one penalty in the first half. The only blemish was Matt Forte, who lost a fumble on the offense's first play of the contest. This led to Minnesota's sole score prior to intermission. Forte later lost another fumble that was taken back for a touchdown, but the play was reviewed and overturned. Unfortunately, Forte limped off the field during that sequence of events. Michael Bush, however, picked up the slack and mustered 60 yards and two touchdowns on 21 attempts.
Forte wasn't the only prominent Bear who left this contest with an injury. Devin Hester suffered a concussion. Lance Briggs was in a walking boot, but reports indicate that he's OK.
As for the Vikings' rushing attack, Adrian Peterson gained 108 yards on 18 carries. He just wasn't as effective because Minnesota had to abandon the running game in the wake of trailing big early.
Christian Ponder struggled without Percy Harvin, going 22-of-43 for just 159 yards, one touchdown and an ugly interception on an overthrow. Ponder suffered through some drops, including a crucial one by Jerome Simpson on third down when the team took an early trip into the red zone, but was largely ineffective.
Ponder threw his sole score to Kyle Rudolph (5-55), who suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter (along with Harrison Smith). Jarius Wright, meanwhile, led the team with seven receptions, playing in Harvin's slot position.
Bengals 34, Raiders 10
I'd say the Bengals could have sleepwalked through this game and still won it, but that's exactly what Oakland did. For the third week in a row, the Raiders have shown absolutely no effort on the football field. They've been outscored in their previous three games by a score of 127-47. Believe it or not, this is only the 13th time since 1989 that a team has lost by 21-plus in three straight contests.
Oakland's futility has frustrated one of the players who is actually trying hard. Following a blown call that negated a defensive touchdown, Lamarr Houston slammed Andy Dalton to the ground after a play was ruled dead in the fourth quarter. This bothered Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who then headbutted Houston. The two teams started fighting, and the ultra-lazy Tommy Kelly, who apparently was bored with football and wanted a change of pace with his life, took off his helmet for no apparent reason. All three players were ejected.
The Raiders went down early, training 21-0, thanks to a career-long 48-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis burst - a sure sign that a defense has thrown in the towel. Oakland was trying to spark a comeback by going for it on fourth down near midfield toward the end of the second quarter, but fullback Owen Schmitt was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. So, with all of the Raiders' offensive firepower, they opted to go with Schmitt? Really?
Carson Palmer went 19-of-34 for 146 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was the result of a tipped pass. His offensive line couldn't block Cincinnati's defensive front. He was sacked four times, including one that resulted in a lost fumble.
The offensive star for Oakland was once again Marcel Reece, who rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries to go along with four catches for 29 receiving yards. The only one to find the end zone was Denarius Moore, whose 20-yard score was his only reception of the afternoon.
Green-Ellis had a rare great performance, rushing for 129 yards on 19 carries. Most of his yardage came on two long gains of 48 and 39 yards, both of which qualified as career-long runs. He also scored once, but missed out on other touchdowns. He was tackled inside the 2-yard line on four occasions in this contest.
Andy Dalton went 16-of-30 for 210 yards and three touchdowns - slightly disappointing numbers considering the quality of competition - but it's worth noting that he had just 59 passing yards after halftime as a result of his team's huge early advantage. It also must be mentioned that Dalton was able to convert 9-of-15 third downs.
Two of Dalton's scores went to Mohamed Sanu, who led the team with five receptions for 29 yards. The other was thrown to Jermaine Gresham (4-41). A.J. Green didn't find the end zone, but still had a big day, catching three passes for 111 yards.
Browns 20, Steelers 14
Good teams missing their starting quarterback are usually very sharp. They hit hard, block well, force turnovers, and most of all, take care of the football. I'm beginning to think that the Steelers are not a good football team because for the second week in a row, they've been sloppy without Ben Roethlisberger.
I still can't believe it, but Pittsburgh committed eight turnovers in this game. EIGHT turnovers. Only 12 teams have had as many give-aways since 1989. It gave Pittsburgh no chance, as teams that have been guilty of seven or more turnovers since 1989 are just 1-51. All of their running backs coughed it up:
- Rashard Mendenhall lost a fumble in the first quarter, which led to a Cleveland field goal.
- Isaac Redman lost a fumble in the second quarter deep in his own territory, which led to a Cleveland touchdown.
- Jonathan Dwyer lost a fumble at the end of the first half, but the Browns couldn't take advantage of it.
- Chris Rainey lost a fumble with 2:36 remaining in the game near midfield, ruining a potential game-winning drive.
- Mendenhall and Rainey both fumbled on another occasion, but Cleveland did not recover.
These weren't the only mistakes the Steelers made. They had nine penalties, one of which was a ticky-tack hold that negated a 33-yard Heath Miller reception. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace had the ball pop out of his hands and into the arms of a Cleveland player. This was one of three interceptions that Charlie Batch threw.
Batch went 20-of-34 for 199 yards and the three picks. He had some very ugly passes, but wasn't as bad as some media members are making him out to be. Had he gotten some help from his teammates, he may have pulled off a victory.
Batch's preferred targets were Emmanuel Sanders (5-75), Heath Miller (6-63) and Rainey (4-15). Wallace caught one pass for nine yards, which was the final play of the game. He was thrown to eight times.
Plaxico Burress, who was signed this week, didn't catch a pass, but drew a pass-interference flag on Sheldon Brown in the end zone.
It would've been difficult to believe heading into this game, but Pittsburgh's leading rusher (Dwyer) had 19 yards. Mendenhall gained just six yards on four attempts. The Steelers have to upgrade this position after the season.
As for the victor, Brandon Weeden had an up-and-down game. He went 17-of-26 for 158 yards, one touchdown and a pick-six. Weeden spent most of the first half throwing short of the chains on third down and was nearly intercepted on several occasions, but did a good job of converting the opportunities that the sloppy Steelers gave him. However, Weeden suffered a concussion late in the fourth quarter.
Weeden's touchdown went to Jordan Cameron (2-12). His top targets were Josh Gordon (4-60) and Trent Richardson (4-27). Richardson also rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries - numbers that aren't that bad considering the defense he was battling.
Colts 20, Bills 13
Andrew Luck has been the primary reason why the Colts are in prime position for a playoff berth. Well, Luck wasn't at his best in this contest, but Indianapolis still prevailed because his teammates stepped up.
Rookie receiver TY Hilton keeps improving every week. Though he caught only three passes, he was instrumental in this victory because he scored once as a receiver and on another occasion as a punt-returner. Hilton actually became the first player in franchise history to find the end zone in both situations in the same game.
The defense was also great, especially on third down, holding Buffalo to just 4-of-13 conversions. The Bills were also just 1-of-3 in their red-zone trips. Emerging inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman recorded a whopping 16 tackles and a sack. Robert Mathis also had a sack, while Tom Zbikowski appeared to have a big interception in his own territory, but was stripped of the ball while foolishly attempting to stiff-arm an offensive player from behind.
And of course, there was Reggie Wayne, who was the only Colt to haul in more than three passes. He had eight catches for 102 yards with recovering head coach Chuck Pagano looking down from the owner's box. Wayne's only blemish was a tipped ball that resulted in an interception.
As mentioned, Luck wasn't at his best. He went 20-of-37 for 240 yards, one touchdown and the aforementioned pick. He was 8-of-16 on third down, so that is encouraging.
The Colts couldn't run the ball very well. Vick Ballard (13-41) and Donald Brown (10-26) split their touches almost evenly.
Buffalo lost, but the silver lining is that Chan Gailey actually utilized C.J. Spiller much more often than Fred Jackson. Spiller (14-107) had almost double the carries compared to Jackson (6-16) and predictably was much more effective. Each had one catch.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was just 17-of-33 for 180 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He was nearly picked off a couple of other times. He was also terrible in the red zone, just as he was against the Dolphins last Thursday night.
The only Bill to have more than two receptions was Stevie Johnson, who had six grabs for 106 yards. Backup tight end Lee Smith caught Fitzpatrick's only score.
Jaguars 24, Titans 19
You really have to wonder where this Jacksonville team would be if the portion of the front office that actually believed in Blaine Gabbert going into this season (which includes general manager Gene Smith) wasn't so stubborn in sticking with Gabbert for two-and-a-half months. The Jaguars have looked so much better with Chad Henne the past two weeks, nearly taking down the once-beaten Texans and then beating a competent divisional rival as a home underdog.
Henne went 17-of-26 for 261 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that really wasn't his fault because his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Henne was at his best on third down, converting 7-of-14 attempts.
Henne looked toward Cecil Shorts (4-105, TD), Justin Blackmon (5-62, TD) and Marcedes Lewis (4-56) almost exclusively, as they were the only Jacksonville players with more than one reception.
Jalen Parmele was expected to start after handling the majority of the workload last week, but that didn't appear to be the case on the box score. Rashad Jennings handled most of the carries , gaining 43 yards and a touchdown on 16 attempts. Parmele received just eight tries (45 yards) because he hurt his leg early in the first quarter. He reentered the game later, but aggravated the injury in the fourth quarter. He limped off the field and may not be able to play next week.
As for the other runner, Chris Johnson gained 80 yards on 21 carries. He didn't play very well aside from a 31-yard burst in the second half. He was more tentative than usual, even losing 11 yards on one play in the third quarter.
CJ2K's inability to run the ball hurt Tennessee deep in Jacksonville territory where the offense continuously bogged down. The Titans had to settle for way too many field goals. Rob Bironas missed a kick from 42 yards.
Jake Locker's receivers betrayed him in the red zone. Nate Washington appeared to score a touchdown in the third quarter, but was bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds. Later, Damian Williams had a second foot out of the end zone by a couple of inches. Had Locker's wideouts stepped up, the quarterback could have enjoyed a better day. He finished 23-of-40 for 261 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Kenny Britt caught Locker's touchdown, but it came late when Tennessee was down by two possessions. He had just three grabs for 25 yards. Washington (4-54) and Kendall Wright (5-48) were the leading receivers.
Broncos 17, Chiefs 9
What is it with Romeo Crennel and these "impossible to win" games? He defeated the perfect Packers last year and nearly took down the Steelers as a big underdog on Monday night a couple of weeks ago. The Broncos came into this contest as double-digit road favorites, but struggled to put the Chiefs away. They were even trailing in the third quarter, but eventually got their act together.
The Broncos had three problems in this game. The first was their inability to stop the run. The combination of Jamaal Charles (23-107), Dexter McCluster and Shaun Draughn rushed for 143 yards on 27 carries. Denver hadn't given up more than 90 yards on the ground to an opponent since Week 5, so perhaps this was just an aberration.
The second was the offensive line. For the second week in a row, it could not protect Peyton Manning. The Chiefs had just two sacks - both by Justin Houston - but they put heavy pressure on Manning the entire afternoon. In fact, Manning had to be tested for a concussion during halftime, but he was cleared to play.
The third issue was Matt Prater, who whiffed from 47 and 33 yards. The first is understandable, but the latter kick, which hit an upright, perhaps thwarted the all-important cover. Prater was 15-of-17 heading into this contest, so this is likely just another aberration.
Manning had a solid day despite all of the pressure in his face. He went 22-of-37 for 285 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The pick was an uncharacteristic poor decision on Manning's part, as he threw the ball downfield into double coverage.
Manning's touchdowns went to Demaryius Thomas (4-82) and Jacob Tamme (4-48). Eric Decker (4-64), Brandon Stokley (4-62) and Knowshon Moreno (4-26) all tied with the two scorers for the team's reception lead with four.
Speaking of Moreno, he made the surprise start over Ronnie Hillman. He was effective, rushing for 85 yards on 20 carries. Hillman, for whatever reason, was given just three attempts for nine yards. John Fox's disdain for rookie running backs is getting ridiculous.
As for the Chiefs, Brady Quinn started the game well, but struggled mightily after halftime. His numbers in the second half are laughable: 4-of-14 for just 38 yards and an interception (on a Hail Mary). At one point late in the contest, Quinn tossed a weak pass into the dirt and was booed heavily by the crowd. It's still unclear why Ricky Stanzi isn't getting a chance.
Quinn's final numbers were 13-of-25 for 126 yards and the pick. Dwayne Bowe (4-41) was his leading receiver.
Dolphins 24, Seahawks 17
Both quarterbacks were struggling early on, so the most amusing aspect of this contest occurred when the sprinkler system suddenly came on. It was so bizarre. There was a stoppage in the game, allowing me to tweet (@walterfootball): "Someone please tell the Buffalo Wild Wings employee to stop messing with the Dolphins-Seahawks game."
The water system was eventually shut off, allowing the two rookie quarterbacks to explode with very strong second-half efforts. Russell Wilson, despite the loss, was the most impressive of the two. He went 21-of-27 for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns. There was one drive in the third quarter where Wilson appeared to be sandwiched in between two defenders. He scrambled backward and found his target past the first-down marker. Later on the possession, Wilson ducked out of an attempted sack and scrambled for a 20-yard gain.
Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, finished 18-of-26 for 253 yards, one touchdown and an awful interception. He actually threw a second pick that was even worse where he foolishly heaved the ball way across his body, but he was bailed out with an Earl Thomas helmet-to-helmet penalty. However, Tannehill performed very well otherwise, leading his team on scoring drives of 82, 80 and 65 yards in the fourth quarter.
Tannehill's top targets were Davone Bess (7-129) and Charles Clay (6-84, TD). Brian Hartline had just two receptions for 17 yards.
Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas (9-60) both scored. Bush looked great for the first time in quite a while, gaining 87 yards on just 14 carries. It's the first time Bush rushed for more than 67 yards since Week 2.
The Seahawks shockingly didn't run the ball well, which was the difference in this game with both rookie quarterbacks shining. Marshawn Lynch mustered just 46 yards on 19 attempts.
Seattle's leading receivers were Golden Tate (4-56) and Sidney Rice (3-49). Anthony McCoy (2-23) caught the touchdown.
The Seahawks received terrible news after this game. Adam Schefter reported that starting corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, both of whom are playing on a Pro Bowl level, might be suspended for four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Former Web site contributor Matt McGuire sent me the following text: "Watching out secondary makes me feel like someone is kicking me in the balls on every defensive drive of every game."
The young Bucs stepped up and played the big boys tough, but the Falcons pulled out another close victory. With that being said, Atlanta was lucky to get this win. The Falcons had a series of mistakes of pathetic execution to almost give the game away. They won, but it was in far from convincing fashion.
Here is a breakdown of the plays that should've earned Atlanta its second loss: Asante Samuel dropped two interceptions. One was an easy catch, but the ball fell right through his hands. The second dropped pick allowed the Bucs to try for a field goal for a fourth quarter lead, but Connor Barth missed the 56-yard kick.
The list continues: Matt Bryant shanked a 22-yard field goal on the last play before halftime; Matt Ryan threw a dumb interception to Ronde Barber, and Ryan blew a read for a sack-fumble in Atlanta territory; Julio Jones dropped a short touchdown pass.
Bryant then missed a 48-yarder to give Tampa Bay one more shot at stealing the win with a Hail Mary attempt (Editor's Note: and a push).
Both offenses moved the ball all afternoon. The Bucs' first drive was pure domination as Doug Martin (21-50) scored a short touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 7-3 lead. Atlanta answered with a drive through the air as Ryan connected to Tony Gonzalez (6-62) for some key conversions. The drive ended with a short score from Jacquizz Rodgers.
The Buccaneers pulled out a gadget play with Mike Williams (3-28) throwing a 28-yard pass to Vincent Jackson (5-96) to set up a Tampa Bay field goal. The Bucs had some blown opportunities of their own. Freeman missed a wide open Jackson and Williams in the end zone in the third quarter. Tampa Bay took a 13-10 lead, but it lasted only a few seconds as Ryan dropped in a beautiful 80-yard touchdown pass to Jones (6-147).
The Bucs took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter with Martin plunging into the end zone. Tampa Bay's defense came up with a big play as E.J. Biggers had a sack-fumble on Ryan that was recovered by the Bucs. The play was completely Ryan's fault as he didn't diagnosis the free blitzer and held onto the ball too long.
That led to another Barth field goal and a 23-17 Tampa Bay lead. Atlanta won the game on a short touchdown run by the decrepit Michael Turner (13-17).
Jacquizz Rodgers came up huge for the Falcons. He had two splash plays to help set up the game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Rodgers got the drive started with a 42-yard kick return and then added a 32-yard reception to move the ball deep into the Buccaneers' territory.
Atlanta should've given the majority of Turner's carries to Rodgers (10-49 on the ground, 2-30 in the air), since he was giving Tampa Bay's defense problems. Ryan completed 26-of-32 passes for 353 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Freeman was 19-of-30 for 256 yards but left points on the field. Tiquan Underwood (5-77) and Dallas Clark (4-65) contributed nicely for the Bucs.
Ravens 16, Chargers 13
I'm too mad to write about this game. The Chargers were robbed, the Charger fans were robbed and those who bet on the Chargers were robbed. San Diego won this game, but inept official Gene Steratore blew it with what will go down as one of the worst calls in NFL history.
The Chargers had the Ravens on the ropes. Baltimore was faced with a 4th-and-29 on the final drive in regulation. Joe Flacco couldn't find anyone downfield, so he just gave up, checking the ball down to Ray Rice. Rice made an incredible effort to run for what appeared to be a 30-yard gain for a shocking first down. The play was reviewed, however, and showed that his knee was down exactly at the 35-yard line. Steratore, who initially placed the ball at the 33-yard line, moved it back to the 33.5-yard line. That still gave the Ravens a first down, however, as the first-down marker was at the 34.
There's just one problem with this - and it's that Rice is not 10 feet tall. If Rice's knee was down at the 35 and the ball was moved to the 33.5, that would mean that there are 1.5 yards separating Rice's knees and arms (as @hreneti pointed out). That would be 4.5 feet. Rice stands at just 5-8, and that's from his feet to his head; not his knees to his arms. Thus, it's physically impossible for Rice to have converted the first down. Of course, simple math isn't needed to determine that because the ball's shadow was shown just past the 35-yard line. Steratore should have placed the ball at the 34.5-yard line. That much is obvious.
So, why did Steratore deliberately give Baltimore a favorable spot? He was probably just caught up the moment and didn't want to deny Rice's great effort. This play will be shown on highlight reels for years to come, but it'll always be tainted because Steratore screwed up. Steratore is like the anti-Jim Joyce. Perhaps he was just too scared of being vilified like Joyce was.
As this occurred, it was clear that San Diego had no chance to win this game. Justin Tucker hit a field goal to send it to overtime. The Chargers punted twice because of a trio of drops. A pass interference was called on San Diego despite a ball being uncatchable. Torrey Smith made an amazing catch on a third down. And then Tucker made the decisive kick.
The Ravens clearly should have lost this game, as they never had a lead. However, I'll give credit to Rice (22 carries, 97 rush yards; 8 catches, 67 rec. yards) for that play, Joe Flacco (30-of-51, 355 yards, TD) for being a masterful 12-of-24 on third downs and Smith (7-144) for making that amazing 31-yard grab to set up Tucker for the game-winning kick.
One other thing on the Ravens: Bernard Pollard was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet penalty, which is significant because Ed Reed was initially suspended for this contest for too many of those infractions. If the NFL wants to make an example of someone, it should be Pollard; it seems like he has one of these dirty hits every single week.
Philip Rivers, meanwhile, went 23-of-36 for 228 yards. Most of his incompletions were throw-aways, as he was pressured all afternoon, getting sacked six times. Consequently, he was a horrendous 3-of-15 on third down. On the bright side, he was careful with the football, avoiding a turnover for just the third time all season.
As with his offensive line, Rivers' receivers let him down. There were several drops, particularly three in overtime. Antonio Gates (2-13) couldn't get open. Danario Alexander (5-74), who had a couple of drops, was also whistled for offensive pass interference.
Ryan Mathews was solid, rushing for 72 yards on 19 carries. You have to wonder why he wasn't given the ball more considering that San Diego led throughout.
Rams 31, Cardinals 17
So, I don't think Ryan Lindley is going to be favored again anytime soon. Though Lindley played well at the beginning of this contest, what he did in the second half can be described as some of the worst quarterbacking of the year.
Lindley's final numbers don't look that bad (31-of-52, 312 yards) if you ignore the four interceptions, but he was just 14-of-28 for 129 yards and three interceptions after the break, as Jeff Fisher made terrific adjustments at halftime. Lindley telegraphed a pick-six, tossed an interception when he didn't see a safety and then aired out another pick off his back foot returned for a touchdown (both by rookie Janoris Jenkins). He also overthrew Larry Fitzgerald for a long gain on one occasion and then was booed off the field when he hilariously heaved the ball toward some Cardinal players standing on the sideline amid no pressure.
As I wrote last week, Lindley just doesn't look like he belongs in the NFL. John Skelton wasn't very good beforehand, but it was irresponsible for Ken Whisenhunt to bench him in favor of someone who is just too overmatched to play on this level.
Meanwhile, Sam Bradford completed just eight passes on 17 attempts, but for 205 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. The interception was brutal, as Bradford unnecessarily forced the issue into double coverage in the end zone, but he was great otherwise despite dealing with heavy pressure early on. Bradford had several long completions of 38, 37, 37, 25 and 22 yards. Three of those went to Chris Givens (5-115, TD).
The Rams were also effective in terms of moving the chains on the ground. Steven Jackson once again handled most of the workload, rushing for 139 yards on 24 carries.
As for Arizona's ground attack, Chris Wells scored twice, but was otherwise pretty pedestrian. He gained 48 yards on 17 carries.
Speaking of pedestrian, Larry Fitzgerald's numbers were once again awful; he caught three balls for 31 yards. He's dealing with bracket coverage, and the Cardinals just don't have the quarterback to deliver the football to him. Lindley spent most of the time throwing to Andre Roberts (9-92) and Rob Housler (8-82).
EDITOR'S NOTE: It's tough to win in the Superdome, which makes Colin Kaepernick's victory here remarkable. Of course, another first-year starting quarterback won in New Orleans as well. If only Robert Griffin had the 49ers' defense behind him.
There are two big takeaways from this game. One, the 49ers defense can dominate anybody in the NFL on any given day. Two, Colin Kaepernick is definitely entrenched as the starting quarterback.
The San Francisco defense flexed its muscles and played physically dominant football. The 49ers were a violent unit that laid a beat down on the Saints, despite New Orleans having one of the best offenses in the NFL. San Francisco's front seven pounded Drew Brees and a finesse offensive line. The signal-caller was sacked repeatedly and was constantly under pressure.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, played well overall, completing 16-of-25 passes for 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception while running for 27 yards and a score on six carries. San Francisco is a different team and more dangerous on offense with Kaepernick at quarterback instead of Alex Smith. The veteran is a nice insurance policy as a backup, but this is the first-year starting quarterback's team now.
Kaepernick got going early with a short pass to Mario Manningham (5-69), who turned that into a 40-yard gain as he jetted down the sideline while weaving through defenders. The next play went to Manningham again for 13 yards, and then Kaepernick ran the ball into the end zone from seven yards out.
Brees answered with a 33-yard gainer to Joseph Morgan on a diving catch. Brees finished the drive with a short touchdown pass to David Thomas (4-24). A muffed punt by Ted Ginn led to Brees taking the lead with a great catch by Marques Colston (4-36) for a 10-yard score.
It looked like the Saints were in control when Kaepernick made a rookie mistake after a fumbled snap. He picked up the ball and threw it into double coverage for an interception to Patrick Robinson. He forced the throw and never saw the underneath defender. However, Brees gave it right back with an interception to Ahmad Brooks that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
Kaepernick hit Delani Walker (3-81) for a 45-yard pass in the third quarter. Kendall Hunter (4-28) picked up 21 yards to set up a short touchdown toss to Frank Gore.
Following that, the 49ers' defense opened up a can on the Saints. Justin Smith planted Drew Brees hard into the turf for a sack. Brees threw high for Colston a play later, and the wideout was dumped on the ground head first by Dashon Goldson. Colston deflected the ball into the air and Donte Whitner snatched it. He returned the pick 42 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.
Brees connected on a 43-yarder to Lance Moore (3-61) and then finished the drive with a short scoring pass to Jed Collins. That was it for New Orleans as the San Francisco defense slammed the door in impressive fashion in the fourth quarter.
Brees completed 26-of-41 passes for 267 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Darren Sproles (7-65) led the Saints in receiving, and they had a non-existent running game on the 49ers.
The 49ers defense had a great group effort. Four players recorded sacks: Aldon Smith (1.5), Justin Smith (1.5), Patrick Willis (.5) and Ahmad Brooks (1.5). Willis had 10 tackles with the secondary stepping up against New Orleans' passing weapons.
On the same play, Hunter and wide receiver Kyle Williams sustained knee injuries and were carted into the locker room together. It looked serious for both players.
Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley was ejected for kicking a 49er lineman on the ground. He may be suspended.
Giants 38, Packers 10
Whoa. Whoa for both teams. The Giants looked unbelievably impressive following a much-needed bye. The Packers, meanwhile, suffered some records in futility for the Aaron Rodgers regime. This is the first time Rodgers has ever scored 10 or fewer points in a loss. It's also the first time he's ever suffered a defeat of more than 22 points.
When it comes down to it, New York was dominant in the trenches on both sides of the football. The offensive line overpowered Green Bay's front, blasting open huge holes for Andre Brown (13-64, TD) and Ahmad Bradshaw (10-58, TD). It also blocked well for Eli Manning, who was sacked only once. Meanwhile, the Packers' linemen couldn't block the Giants whatsoever. Rodgers was constantly under pressure, getting sacked five times. Mathias Kiwanuka recorded two sacks, while Osi Umenyiora, who registered a sack and a forced fumble, showed signs of life for the first time all season. Having a healthy Antrel Rolle was also a major boost.
Rodgers ended up 14-of-25 for 219 yards, an early touchdown to Jordy Nelson (2-71) who beat Corey Webster for a 61-yard score, an interception and a lost fumble. Because he was rattled all afternoon, he couldn't get any rhythm going.
The lack of a ground attack hurt Rodgers as well. James Starks (8-35) was the leading rusher, while Alex Green gained 30 yards on 10 attempts. The Packers had a couple of nice runs, but they were both brought back by holding infractions. I nearly wrote "Ahman Green" instead of "Alex Green," by the way. It's safe to say that a young Ahman Green would be a huge boost for this struggling Green Bay squad.
Only three Packer non-running backs made receptions: Nelson, Jermichael Finley (3-51) and Randall Cobb (4-39). Finley dropped a pass, but he showed great awareness by running from out of the screen and catching a ball that was tipped in the air.
Going back to Manning, he displayed no remnants of a tired arm that plagued him prior to the bye. Save for an ugly overthrow in the end zone on the opening drive, Manning was pretty much flawless, going 16-of-30 for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
Manning's scores went to Hakeem Nicks (5-77), Victor Cruz (3-36) and Rueben Randle (2-26). Cruz dropped a couple of passes, so he'll need to shore that up in December and beyond.
Unfortunately for the Giants, this victory came at a price. Andre Brown broke his fibula and could be out for the rest of the year. Safety Kenny Phillips, meanwhile, hurt his knee.