It's almost like the Vikings didn't try. When they found out that Teddy Bridgewater would be out and that Christian Ponder would start, they must have been extremely deflated. Phil Simms criticized Minnesota for possibly acting this way in the wake of the Bridgewater news, but I don't blame them for being so flat. The players know what Ponder has - or rather, what he doesn't have - and it was extremely obvious that he had no chance of outscoring Aaron Rodgers in a potential shootout.
As a result, the Packers dominated the Vikings. They won by 32, but it could've easily been uglier, as they pulled Rodggers when the score was 42-0. Minnesota didn't even run a play past midfield until there were three minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was so bad that even Jim Nantz laughed at them, chuckling before halftime, "Do you think the Vikings are up to doing something tonight? I'm certainly not feeling it."
This was such a lopsided contest that Rodgers had to throw just 17 passes. He completed 12 of them for 156 yards and three touchdowns. A couple of drives ended because Rodgers took sacks - he wasn't touched last week, but Minnesota's defense is much better than Chicago's - but the Packer offense was unstoppable otherwise. Had the Vikings been remotely competitive, Rodgers' yardage total could've easily exceeded 300.
Rodgers didn't have to do much because Eddie Lacy had the best performance of his season. After struggling to find any running lanes during the first four weeks of the year, Lacy tallied 105 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Lacy ran with such power and explosion that Mike McCarthy even laughed and shook his head in disbelief when his running back carried a defender into the end zone on one second-half attempt. If Lacy continues to run this way, the Packers are going to be very difficult to beat.
Rodgers' touchdowns went to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. Nelson caught a 66-yard bomb in the first quarter, but that was his only reception of the night. Cobb paced the team in targets with four, catching three of them for 34 yards. Adams' score was also his only catch, an 11-yarder. He had an opportunity to reel in another reception, but he slipped in the red zone.
Green Bay's defense was just as excellent as its offense. It made Ponder look terrible. His final numbers - 22-of-44, 222 yards, two interceptions - aren't indicative of how poorly he played. As mentioned, the Vikings didn't run a play past midfield until there were three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Ponder was then able to rack up some garbage yardage to make his stats look respectable.
Ponder had major issues with pass protection. The Packers swarmed his backfield and brought him down on six occasions. They also forced some holding penalties. Nick Perry (2 sacks), Mike Daniels (1.5 sacks) and former Viking Letroy Guion (1.5 sacks) led the way for the Packers, while Julius Peppers dropped into coverage and pick-sixed Ponder, who was hit as he released the ball in the second quarter. Ponder was intercepted a second time when he stared down his target on the ensuing drive. He easily could've been picked several more times.
Minnesota's game plan as a whole was puzzling. It was strange that Cordarrelle Patterson wasn't heavily involved at all. He saw just four targets go his way, catching two of them for eight yards. With lots of time off coming up, Minnesota's coaching staff needs to figure out how to get the ball into the hands of its best play-maker.
A week after running circles around the Falcons, both Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon had disappointing performances. Asiata gained 72 yards on 15 carries, but he dropped a couple of passes and lost a fumble in the second quarter. McKinnon, meanwhile, managed just 24 yards on seven attempts, and was largely ineffective, save for a 10-yard burst.
Cowboys 20, Texans 17
This game apparently meant a lot to both teams. The Cowboys had every reason to be flat, as they were coming off a blowout victory on national TV and had a battle with the Seahawks coming up. Houston, meanwhile, will have to take on Indianapolis in four days. Both teams wanted this one, however, and a fierce defensive contest had to go an extra session to determine the winner.
The Texans nearly escaped with a victory, but only because Dallas allowed them to hang around. The Cowboys, as usual, found ways to destroy themselves with mistakes. These include:
- Two Dez Bryant drops. Tony Romo also overthrew him on a key third down.
- Yet another DeMarco Murray lost fumble - this one being in the red zone.
- Terrance Williams dropped a pass that would've given Dallas first-and-goal at the Houston 1-yard line.
- Romo threw an interception in the second half because he didn't see Kendrick Lewis on an attempt into the end-zone, targeting Bryant.
- Dan Bailey snapped his consecutive streak of 30 made field goals with a whiff on a 53-yarder at the end of regulation. However, he made up for it by drilling the decisive kick in overtime.
Dallas' box-score numbers look good despite the errors. Romo, for instance, went 28-of-41 for 324 yards, two touchdowns and the interception. The scores were to Bryant (9-85), who saw 14 targets come his way, and Williams (2-71). Romo's touchdown to Williams was amazing; he somehow shed a J.J. Watt sack, scrambled left and sailed a beautiful ball to Williams as he was getting hit. Bryant, meanwhile, made up for his drops with an amazing, leaping grab to put Dallas in field-goal range in the extra session.
Murray bounced back from his fumble, gaining 136 yards on 31 carries. He has now eclipsed the century mark in all five of his games this year. He also caught six balls for 56 receiving yards.
The Texans didn't make nearly as many errors as Dallas, but theirs were pretty prevalent. They couldn't get going offensively at all in the opening half, mustering just 86 net yards of offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed an interception on a miscommunication, and there were also several drops, including one by Damaris Johnson on a big third-and-8 near midfield in the second quarter. However, Fitzpatrick was actually near-perfect in the second half; in fact, he didn't throw a post-halftime incompletion until there was 2:30 remaining in regulation.
Fitzpatrick finished 16-of-25 for 154 yards and the pick. He was nearly intercepted late in the end zone, and he couldn't get the team moving in overtime. The Texans, as you can imagine, ran their offense through Arian Foster, who looked much healthier this week. He gained 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. He dominated one drive single-handedly, bursting for a big gain and then making a nice cut, juking Barry Church, and running into the end zone.
DeAndre Hopkins (6-63) and Andre Johnson (5-58) both had marginal outings for their fantasy owners. Excluding Foster, they were the only players to see more than two targets.
It's a short trip, but I was impressed by the Texans' fans, who made the trip to Dallas. They made their presence known throughout the afternoon, as "Bloooo" was heard every time Alfred Blue touched the ball.
Editor's Note: I mentioned on my NFL Picks page that it would be a good idea to bet against the winner of this game. The Panthers travel to Cincinnati next week and will surely be outmatched.
This was a Jekyll and Hyde game. In the first half, the Bears' offense moved at will, while the Panthers repeatedly turned the ball over. The second half was the opposite as Chicago completely gave the game away. The Bears' last three possessions in the fourth quarter all ended in turnovers, and that gave Carolina its final 10 points to win the contest.
The Panthers got on the board first when Philly Brown was blasted fielding a punt before he could make the catch. The ball bounced around before Brown alertly scooped up the ball to streak down the field for a 79-yard touchdown.
Chicago had a nice drive going after Alshon Jeffrey (6-97) made a tremendous one-handed catch for a gain of about 30 yards. The possession ended when Cutler threw to Brandon Marshall (3-44) into triple coverage. Thomas Davis got away with a defensive pass interference, and Roman Harper caught the deflection for an interception. Carolina gave it right back, as Kelvin Benjamin fumbled the ball away. A 20-yard pass to Marshall moved the ball to the 10-yard line before a slip screen to Matt Forte tied the game at seven.
Willie Young soon got a strip-sack of Cam Newton, and the Bears recovered to set up the offense at Carolina's 13-yard line. On third-and-7, Cutler ran the ball into the end zone to give Chicago the lead. Cutler the threw a quick hitter to Jeffrey, who darted into the end zone from 25 yards out on the next drive.
The Panthers drove into Chicago territory before Ego Ferguson batted two passes, with the second one being intercepted by Lance Briggs. Forte broke a tackle from Davis to bolt down the field for a 56-yard gain, but Robbie Gould missed a chip-shot field goal. Newton came back to march Carolina down the field and finished the drive with a nine-yard strike to Greg Olsen. That made the score 21-14 for Chicago heading into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Panthers drove down the field whil being aided by some terrible penalties that went against the Bears, and Chris Ogbonnaya (8-24) ran in the score from a yard out to tie the game. Immediately, Chicago retook the lead with a field goal drive.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Cutler committed a bad overthrow in the middle of the field and was intercepted by Thomas DeCoud. The return set up Carolina at the Bears' 32. Benjamin (3-38) dropped a first-down pass, but Graham Gano tied it from 44 yards out.
Two plays later, Forte was stripped of the ball by Antoine Cason, and Carolina recovered at the Bears' 23-yard line. Newton hit then Olsen for two big throws, including a short touchdown to take the lead. Kawann Short slammed the door on the Bears as he started one sack and got a strip-sack of Cutler on the Bears' final play.
Cutler completed 28-of-36 for 289 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran for 22 yards and a score, too. Cutler had some other mental mistakes as he took some sacks in obvious blitzes when he needed to throw quickly. Forte had 17 carries for 62 yards with 12 receptions for 105 yards and the score, but his fourth-quarter fumble was a backbreaker for Chicago.
Newton was 19-of-35 for 255 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He had only nine yards on the ground as he clearly isn't himself running the ball. Olsen led the Panthers with 72 yards on six receptions and two scores. Jerricho Cotchery (3-46) and Jason Avant (2-42) chipped in.
Defensively, Luke Kuechly was all over the place, totaling 15 tackles, including some clutch open-field hits on Forte. Kawann Short played really well for Carolina.
Bills 17, Lions 14
This was typical Lions' football. They've never been able to sustain success in the Matthew Stafford era, and this loss epitomized the team's struggles following either big or multiple victories.
People are going to focus on the kicker, and rightfully so; if the Lions drilled most of their field goals, they probably would've prevailed. Instead, Alex Henery whiffed on all three of his tries. His first doinked off the upright, while the third, a potential game-winner, wasn't even close. I've constantly asked why the Lions haven't brought back Kickalicious, but there is a better option available now in the wake of Dennver inexplicably getting rid of Matt Prater. The Lions will be making a huge mistake if they don't sign him by Monday afternoon.
Having said that, the Lions wouldn't have needed those field goals if they didn't commit their other unforced errors. For instance...
- Matthew Stafford threw a terrible interception. The pass was way behind Reggie Bush. Stephon Gilmore was able to secure the tipped pick.
- Eric Ebron, who had issues with his hands throughout training camp, dropped a touchdown.
- A Detroit drive stalled because Bush didn't look back for the ball as Stafford was under pressure.
This isn't a mistake, but the offense couldn't do a single thing after Calvin Johnson aggravated his ankle injury in the third quarter. Lions' beat reporter Tim Twentyman said Megatron would be "more than a decoy" in this contest, but the monstrous wideout caught just one pass for seven yards. Despite the additions of Ebron and Golden Tate, who had a big game (7 catches, 134 yards, TD), Stafford simply looked lost without his top option. Of course, it might have helped that his former head coach, Jim Schwartz, was the opposing defensive coordinator. Schwartz was carried off the field following the win.
Bush was expected to have a big outing in the wake of Joique Bell's injury, but he saw limited work, rushing for 13 yards on six carries and catching two balls for 30 receiving yards. George Winn, who was waived during final cuts, got most of the work and actually looked pretty decent, mustering 48 yards on 11 attempts. Bush didn't play late in the game because of an ankle injury.
Things did not look like they would go well for Kyle Orton early on. He began the game with a weak-armed pick-six, and I already started planning about writing arguments for why the Bills should go after Tim Tebow, who outplayed Orton by a wide margin in Denver during the 2011 season. However, Orton rebounded with a very strong second half, going 18-of-26 for 195 yards and a touchdown following intermission. He put his team into position for the game-winning field goal with a pass to Sammy Watkins, who made a juggling catch.
Orton finished 30-of-43 for 308 yards, one touchdown and the interception. He's never going to lead a team to the Super Bowl, but he's so much better than E.J. Manuel right now because he can actually diagnose defenses.
Watkins, who made the clutch reception, made seven grabs for 87 yards. Orton's sole score went to Chris Gragg.
The (minor) dark cloud surrounding this victory for Buffalo was an injury Fred Jackson sustained. He limped off in the second half, which spoiled a fantastic outing in which he rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries and logged seven catches for 58 receiving yards. Fortunately, it was just a mild knee sprain. C.J. Spiller (10-8) struggled to find running room and was also benched temporarily for whiffing on a block.
Colts 20, Ravens 13
The Colts had every reason to look past the Ravens. They were coming off a two-game winning streak and had an important contest on the horizon versus the Texans, which could ultimately determine the winner of the AFC South. Instead, Indianapolis focused on this matchup and came away with its third victory of the season.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this game was how well Indianapolis' defense played. The pass rush, in particular, performed way above expectations. Joe Flacco hadn't been sacked since Week 1, yet he was swarmed throughout the afternoon. Even former first-rounder Bjoern Werner, who has done nothing in his career, registered two sacks. Flacco went down behind the line of scrimmage on four occasions, and that number isn't indicative of how much pressure he was under in this contest.
Luck, meanwhile, was sacked just once. He played well for the most part, going 32-of-49 for 312 yards, two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) and a pair of interceptions. Both picks weren't his fault, as one came on a deflection, while the other occurred when the ball popped into the air as he was hit and just floated into Haloti Ngata's arms. Luck picked up 12 rushing yards as well, but was hit violently inside the red zone in the second half. He was down for a few seconds, but got up and turned out to be fine.
The Colts probably would've won this game by much more had they not sputtered in the red zone. The Ravens did a great job down there, but Indianapolis made things difficult for itself with some mistakes. For instance, the coaching staff called for an Ahmad Bradshaw run on a fourth-and-1 in the opening quarter. Bradshaw was stuffed, which made me wonder why the Colts weren't keeping the ball in their best player's hands. Bradshaw later fumbled near the goal line as the team was running the clock out, while Reggie Wayne dropped a touchdown a bit earlier.
Speaking of Wayne, he passed Cris Carter for ninth all time in receiving yardage. He compiled 77 yards on his seven catches. He tied T.Y. Hilton in targets with 12. Hilton outgained him, snagging nine balls for 90 yards. Luck's sole aerial score went to Dwayne Allen (4-59).
I've been harping for the Colts to use Bradshaw more than Trent Richardson, but the former disappointed me by losing the aforementioned fumble. Bradshaw did see more work, tallying 68 yards on 15 carries. Richardson (9-37) did have a very nice run in which he juked a defender, shed a tackle and picked up a chunk of yardage.
As for the Ravens, they uncharacteristically made mistakes all afternoon. It started when Steve Smith lost a fumble, setting the Colts up with a field goal. Jacoby Jones then muffed a punt. Flacco took a sack on a fourth-and-1 on the Indianapolis 5-yard line and then fired an interception because he didn't see Vontae Davis.
Flacco, who had no time to throw, went 22-of-38 for 235 yards and the pick. Only four of his teammates saw more than two targets go their way: Justin Forsett (7 catches, 55 yards), Torrey Smith (3-38), Steve Smith (5-54) and Owen Daniels (5-70). It's puzzling why Flacco and Torrey Smith have zero chemistry right now.
Forsett also led the team in rushing yardage, though he did so on just six carries. He gained 42 yards and a touchdown. Bernard Pierce (4-30) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (5-18) were also factors, though Pierce didn't see action until the second half.
Steelers 17, Jaguars 9
Dick LeBeau has always ruled over rookie quarterbacks, but this game wasn't pretty. The Jaguars have been dominated in all but two halves this season, but they hung around and had a chance to knock off Pittsburgh at the very end. Ultimately, however, LeBeau's banged-up defense prevailed.
Having said that, Jacksonville made some mistakes to cost itself a potential victory. The first half was a mess, as Blake Bortles endured four drops from his receivers. Bortles also threw an interception that looked like a punt on second-and-long from deep in his own end zone. Things got worse after the break, as the Jaguars mustered just 113 net yards of offense. Bortles was once again responsible for a pick; this one was returned for a touchdown as the rookie didn't see Brice McCain on the play.
Bortles had an up-and-down afternoon, going 22-of-36 for 191 yards and the two interceptions. Bortles had an impressive 11-yard run on third-and-10 of the opening drive, but the mistakes proved to be too costly; the second pick was awful. However, Bortles didn't get much help from his teammates. The drops were a killer, and pass protection was still problematic.
Bortles threw exclusively to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, who tied for the team lead in targets with 11 each. They proved to be inefficient, however, as they finished with lines of 5-51 and 4-26. Hurns had several drops throughout the afternoon.
Toby Gerhart barely got any work, receiving four carries, which he turned into a mere nine yards. Storm Johnson (4-27) was the most impressive back. It'll be interesting to see if Johnson sees more of a workload going forward, as Jacksonville's coaching staff may have realized that Gerhart is a marginal talent the front office overpaid for.
As for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger misfired on just 10 attempts. However, he didn't have his best performance, as more was expected from him against a horrific Jacksonville defense. Roethlisberger went 26-of-36 for 273 yards and a touchdown, but he was also strip-sacked in the red zone. The play ultimately didn't matter because Bortles threw his pick-six on the ensuing possession. Roethlisberger was nearly intercepted as well, but Paul Posluszny saw the ball fall right through his hands in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger predictably targeted Antonio Brown more than anyone else. Brown saw 12 balls go his way, but was able to reel in just five of them for 84 yards.
Le'Veon Bell ran well, as expected. He gained 82 yards on 15 carries to go along with five catches for 36 receiving yards. The Steelers, for whatever reason, shied away from the run in the first half, but did a better job of establishing that after intermission. It's no coincidene that they had more success moving the chains fllowing the break.
Saints 37, Buccaneers 31
I don't know what to make of this New Orleans victory. On one hand, the team struggled mightily and probably should have lost to a pedestrian Tampa Bay team at the Superdome, where it has a huge advantage. It was a pathetic performance, and it's one that may cause the Vegas sharps to downgrade the Saints after ranking them sixth going into this weekend.
On the other hand, New Orleans lost its top weapon (Jimmy Graham) and center Jonathan Goodwin early in the contest and never looked the same. The Saints were up 13-0 when Goodwin left the contest and Graham got banged up, and they struggled to do much offensively afterward until overtime. The fact that they preserved under these conditions - it's extremely difficult for coaches to make in-game adjustments to key injured players - might be considered impressive. However, considering their opponent, they probably should've won big regardless.
Drew Brees did not look good, especially after losing Graham and Goodwin. He was just 19-of-32 for just 158 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions following intermission. He had a third pick, which occurred prior to halftime. He carelessly heaved a ball in the 2-minute drill, leading to a Tampa Bay touchdown, which inexplicably came right after a New Orleans timeout. He then had a pick-six that popped into the air, and then his worst interception was a dying ball that was severely underthrown. Brees looked like his arm strength was sapped on that final pass, and that has to be a major concern for anyone affiliated with the Saints.
Brees finished 35-of-57 for 371 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He'll get credit for leading the team down the field in overtime, but he was struggling until the Buccaneers were whistled for illegal hands to the face. His running backs did most of the work anyway, as Khiry Robinson rushed for 89 yards and the decisive touchdown on 21 carries.
Graham, as mentioned, was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury. He caught just two balls for 36 yards and frustrated his fantasy owners with a pair of drops, including one in the red zone that would've set up a first-and-goal early on.
With Graham out, all Brees could do was throw short passes to Pierre Thomas and Brandin Cooks. Thomas caught eight balls for 77 yards and two total touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), while Cooks logged nine grabs for 56 yards. Marques Colston (3-63) had a big drop late in the game that was nearly a fumble. It was reminiscent of the play in which he coughed up a ball in overtime of the season opener in Atlanta.
As for the Buccaneers, Mike Glennon once again looked much more competent than Josh McCown ever did, going 19-of-32 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The pick wasn't even really his fault, as it was a great play by Patrick Robinson. There was a sequence in which Glennon was a perfect 8-of-8 for 92 yards over a span of two drives. However, he took a bad safety that ultimately allowed the Saints to tie the game.
Glennon's scores went to Louis Murphy (3-35) and Robert Herron. Vincent Jackson didn't find the end zone, but he led the team with eight grabs for 144 yards.
Doug Martin struggled once again, as his inability to run the ball prevented the team from nursing the lead. Martin mustered just 45 yards on 14 carries. Making matters worse for his fantasy owners, Bobby Rainey (6-21) vultured a touchdown.
Giants 30, Falcons 20
The offensive line was a huge concern for the Falcons entering this game. They lost three blockers last week - Joe Hawley, Justin Blalock, Lamar Holmes - and couldn't do anything offensively toward the end of the game once everyone got hurt. They had an entire week to plan around this, and it appeared to work when they established a 20-10 lead in the middle of the third quarter. However, Atlanta struggled immensely following that score, failing to do anything offensively as the front line self-destructed.
The numbers say it all. Matt Ryan was 17-of-23 for 166 yards in the opening half, but went just 12-of-21 for 150 yards, one touchdown and a pick following intermission. The Falcons actually went for it on fourth-and-1 on their own 29 with a few minutes remaining in regulation, and the monstrous Johnathan Hankins sacked Ryan. This set up a field goal, putting the game out of reach.
Ryan's overall numbers were 29-of-45 for 316 yards, one touchdown and a pick that actually resulted in a lost fumble. The stat box says he was sacked just once, but that's not even close to being indicative of the sort of pressure he faced. Ryan was constantly under siege and had to hurry throws as a consequence.
Ryan's touchdown went to Antone Smith, who caught a short pass, broke a tackle and used his elite speed to sprint 74 yards down the field and into the end zone. Julio Jones, meanwhile, led the way with 11 catches for 105 yards.
Steven Jackson found some running room early - eight carries, 36 yards and a touchdown in the first half - but the offensive line couldn't open up lanes in the second half either. Jackson finished with just 37 yards on 13 carries, though he did contribute in the passing game (5 catches, 37 rec. yards). Devonta Freeman led the team in rushing (4-38), but 24 of his yards came on a draw in garbage time in which the Giants were playing prevent.
While Ryan was constantly harassed, Eli Manning had all the time in the world on most occasions. He was sacked just once by former teammate Osi Umenyiora. As a result, Manning was a clean 19-of-30 for 200 yards and two touchdowns. He was victimized by a dropped touchdown by Rueben Randle early on, but Randle made up for it with a score on the same drive. Manning didn't make many mistakes, but he got away with a near-pick late in the game when Desmond Trufant was able to get just one foot inbounds.
Manning's scores went to Randle (4-33) and Odell Beckham (4-44), who was making his debut. Beckham saw just five targets, so he had an efficient afternoon; in addition to his numbers, he also drew a pass interference. Victor Cruz, on the other hand, reeled in just three of six balls thrown to him for 22 yards.
The dark cloud surrounding this victory was Rashad Jennings' sprained knee. Jennings had been running well (10 carries, 55 yards), but had to leave the game. Andre Williams stepped in and wasn't as impressive, though he did score a touchdown. He managed 65 yards on 20 attempts.
Eagles 34, Rams 28
The Eagles have enjoyed some very shaky victories this year, but they've been playing great special teams and opportunistic defense, all while taking advantage of mistakes of their opponents and the officials (in the Indianapolis contest, of course). This result epitomized their season thus far.
Special teams were prevalent early when the Eagles opened the game with a blocked punt touchdown following the Rams' first drive. The opportunistic defense then took advantage of a multitude of St. Louis errors. Some of the most glaring mistakes were an Austin Davis lost fumble on a strip-sack in the red zone; another Davis strip-sack that Philadelphia pounced on in the end zone for a touchdown; and a Zac Stacy lost fumble that was returned deep into St. Louis territory, setting up a Nick Foles-to-Jeremy Maclin touchdown.
With the Rams constantly committing turnovers and doing other things to hurt themselves - more on that later - all Nick Foles really had to do was manage the game. He did a good job of moving the chains on numerous occasions, but he nearly cost his team with a late fumble amid a ferocious St. Louis comeback. Foles went 24-of-37 for 207 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in which he put too much air under the ball. Philadelphia's banged-up offensive line didn't turn out to be a liability in pass protection, as Foles didn't take a single sack.
Philadelphia's front didn't run block as well, as LeSean McCoy gained 81 yards on 24 carries. Some of that was McCoy's fault, as he made some terrible decisions on a few occasions. For instance, he lost a fumble because he ran around like an idiot and took a big loss before coughing the ball up. This gave the Rams an early red-zone trip, but it didn't end up mattering because St. Louis also turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
Foles' scores went to Jeremy Maclin (5-76), who continued to stay hot, and Riley Cooper (4-33), whose touchdowns was an impressive, leaping grab over a defender in the end zone. Zach Ertz (3-39) finished second on the team in receiving.
The Rams, as mentioned, made so many careless errors. It was ridiculous, and their mistakes cost them a potential comeback from down 34-7. Here's a list of blunders they made in addition to the early blocked-punt touchdown:
- There were so many drops. Kenny Britt let the ball fall through his hands early. Jared Cook dropped a potential first-down conversion on third-and-long in Eagles' territory. Austin Pettis was guilty twice in the final minute, single-handedly thwarting a potential game-winning drive.
- Plenty of fumbles: Davis coughed up the ball twice (once in the red zone, once deep in his own territory that was scored by the defense) and Stacy lost the ball during a promising drive.
- Countless procedural penalties: There were a ridiculous amount of false starts, including one out of a timeout. The Rams also were guilty of a delay-of-game infraction on fourth-and-8 of the final drive.
Save for the fumbles and a couple of poor throws, Austin Davis performed pretty well. He went 29-of-49 for 375 yards and three touchdowns despite being victimized by so many drops. One of his best passes was a very impressive back-shoulder throw to Britt for a gain of 32 yards.
Two of Davis' touchdowns went to the emerging Brian Quick, who had a big game with five catches for 87 yards. Britt (3-68) hauled in Davis' third score.
Stacy may have been benched following his fumble if he didn't leave the game with a calf injury. He was outplayed by Benny Cunningham, who tallied 47 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Stacy (11-42) failed to average four yards per carry. It'll be interesting if Cunningham takes over the starting job going forward.
Browns 29, Titans 28
Poor Jake Locker. He just can't catch a break. Locker was in the middle of a sound performance in his return back from injury when he took a shot to the head and shoulder on a penalized hit by Buster Skrine. This knocked Locker out of the contest - for the second time, and permenantly after that occasion. Charlie Whitehurst stepped in and immediately threw a couple of touchdowns, but struggled mightily in the second half. His inability to move the chains allowed the Browns to mount an amazing comeback, transforming a 28-3 deficit into a one-point victory.
Locker got X-rays on his thumb - it appeared as though he either suffered a concussion or hurt his shoulder at first glance - and they came back negative. He'll have an MRI on Monday. He'll need to return as quickly as possible because Whitehurst is completely inept. While Locker was 8-of-11 for 79 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), Whitehurst was just 11-of-18 for 108 yards following intermission. As mentioned, Whitehurst had some scores early, but it didn't take the Browns very long to figure him out. Locker, meanwhile, was much more effective on the ground (four scrambles, 34 rushing yards) and his only mistake in nearly a half of action was overthrowing a potential score to Dexter McCluster.
It didn't help the Titans that Ken Whisenhunt went back on his promise to have Bishop Sankey more involved. Shonn Greene once again saw a bigger workload, out-carrying Sankey, 11-8. Sankey (27 yards) was more effective than the plodding Greene (36), but Whisenhunt continues to use a pedestrian plodder for some strange reason.
Kendall Wright secured two touchdowns. He led the team with eight targets, catching six of them for 47 yards. Justin Hunter (3-99, TD) paced the team in receiving.
The Browns struggled to tackle in the first half, but they were able to improve that aspect following intermission. Brian Hoyer also did a fantastic job of not forcing anything during the greatest comeback any road team has ever enjoyed in NFL history. Hoyer finished 21-of-37 for 292 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Two of Hoyer's scores went to Travis Benjamin (4-48), while the other was thrown to Jim Dray. Taylor Gabriel (4-95) led the team in receiving, while Jordan Cameron was inefficient (3 catches, 33 yards).
Ben Tate made his return to the lineup and was pretty impressive. He collected 123 yards on 22 carries. His only blemish was a dropped pass on one of his only two targets. Terrance West (7-31) out-played Isaiah Crowell (6-19).
Broncos 41, Cardinals 20
It's obviously natural for the winning team to be elated and the loser to be frustrated following any NFL game, but these two squads are at extremes. That's because the Broncos passed several milestones in this victory, while the Cardinals lost one of their top players to an injury because of a questionable play.
Beginning with the former, Peyton Manning threw the 500th touchdown pass of his career when he found Julius Thomas in the first quarter. Manning, who only trails Brett Favre by five career scores now, generated a career-high 479 yards. He also added four touchdowns to his total, bringing him up to 503.
Manning wasn't the only one who passed significant numbers. Demaryius Thomas set a Broncos' single-game record for receiving yardage with 226, as he accumulated those on his eight catches. He also scored twice. Meanwhile, Wes Welker was able to set the record for most career receptions for an undrafted player. He logged seven balls for 58 yards.
As for the loser, the Cardinals saw Calais Campbell suffer a knee injury on a nasty chop block. He could be out for a month. Bruce Arians was irate after the game, calling it the "dirtiest play" he's seen, and it's easy to understand why; Campbell is arguably the NFL's top 3-4 defensive end not named J.J. Watt, and Arizona's defense looked lost once he was out of the game.
Campbell wasn't the only prominent Cardinal to suffer an injury. Drew Stanton left the game with a concussion in the third quarter. He wasn't great or anything - his stat line of 11-of-26 for 118 yards is not a proper indication of how he played - but he was so much better than Logan Thomas, who didn't look like a functional NFL quarterback, as he completed only one pass out of his eight attempts. His sole conversion was an 81-yarder to Andre Ellington, but it was a short throw that Ellington was able to take to the house with his game-breaking speed (and the help of Denver's poor awareness). Thomas seemed completely unprepared to handle the pass rush, as DeMarcus Ware caused major problems for him.
The Broncos also saw someone significant go down when Montee Ball injured his groin. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Bell once again looked like a typical Big Ten plodder, mustering just seven yards on six carries. Ronnie Hillman took over and was much more effective, tallying 64 yards on 15 attempts. He needs to be added in all fantasy formats.
Going back to Manning, he was 31-of-47 for 479 yards, the four touchdowns and two interceptions. His first pick was thrown behind Welker, while the other was tossed right to Campbell on a screen, which ultimately led to an Ellington rushing score.
Manning's four scores went to the Thomases, as Demaryius and Julius (6-66) reeled in two each. The former nearly had a third touchdown, but it was wiped out by the latter's chop block on Campbell. Emmanuel Sanders (7-101) should have scored as well, but the official incorrectly ruled him down.
The Broncos cut Matt Prater this past week, so their kicking game needs to be discussed. Rookie Brandon McManus whiffed on a 53-yard try - which isn't as hard in altitude - and then doinked another try off an upright. The decision to release Prater now looks as questionable as ever.
As for the Cardinals, Ellington was the only productive offensive player. He didn't get much on the ground (16-32), but he scored twice and was a big factor in the passing attack, catching four balls for 112 receiving yards, including that 81-yard sprint into the end zone.
Larry Fitzgerald tied for the team lead with seven targets, but hauled in only three of them for 57 yards. Michael Floyd, meanwhile, had just one catch for seven yards.
The Cardinals struggled mightily with drops. They had eight by the beginning of the fourth quarter. Ted Ginn was responsible for a couple, while John Brown allowed the ball slip through his hands in the end zone.
Chargers 31, Jets 0
And to think, San Diego was favored by only six points in this game, and prior to kickoff, the sharps were betting the Jets. Just goes to show that the wise guys are only human.
The Chargers don't look human though. They've been dominant every single week following their slim Monday night loss to the Cardinals back in Week 1. Philip Rivers resembles a lethal automaton, as he's the sure-fire leading MVP candidate thus far.
Rivers misfired on just eight attempts, going 20-of-28 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He would've had a fourth score (to Ladarius Green), but that was wiped out by a holding penalty on Chris Watt. Rivers' pick came early when he threw a short pass toward the end zone, but he rebounded nicely. He received somewhat of a standing ovation at the end of the game, but most of the fans had bolted early.
While Rivers was awesome, rookie running back Branden Oliver was the star of the game. A tough back with plenty of speed, Oliver took over for Donald Brown (9-26) who suffered a concussion and ran circles around a Jet defense that didn't know what hit them. Oliver tallied 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He also caught four balls for 68 receiving yards and a second score. I'm not even sure why Brown was starting over Oliver anyway when the latter was so much more impressive the previous week, but this performance should ensure that Oliver is a big part of the offense even when Ryan Mathews returns to the lineup.
Rivers' other two touchdowns both went to Antonio Gates (4-60), who finally saw single coverage. Malcom Floyd paced the team with 72 receiving yards, while Keenan Allen (3-25) didn't do much for fantasy owners despite seeing a team-high seven targets. Allen suffered an injury in the first quarter, but returned to the game shortly afterward.
The Jets, meanwhile, are barely worth talking about, as they were the first team to be shut out this season. Geno Smith looked completely awful without Eric Decker, going 4-of-12 for 27 yards and an interception. QBDK entered the game in the third quarter but wasn't any better, finishing 8-of-19 for 47 yards. He appeared to throw a touchdown late to save the shutout, but he was over the line of scrimmage when he fired the ball. Rex Ryan announced afterward that Smith would be the team's starting quarterback going forward. It really doesn't matter whom he gives the nod to because the Jets have no receiving talent to work with.
New York doesn't have much in the backfield either. Chris Johnson once again wasted several plays, taking seven carries for 24 yards. He also lost a fumble in the first half, setting up Rivers with an easy score. Chris Ivory (9-44) was much more effective, but didn't get enough chances. The Jets need to stop giving Johnson touches. He's terrible, and Ivory is a much better player.
Editor's Note: The Chiefs may have won this contest if Andy Reid gave Jamaal Charles more touches and hadn't bungled game management late in regulation. But I suppose that's like saying the fattest man in the world wouldn't have suffered a heart attack if he wasn't so obese. Reid gets the most out of his players, but as Philadelphians very well know, he'll keep making the same mistakes over and over.
The 49ers may have dissension in their locker room toward head coach Jim Harbaugh, but San Francisco fought hard to get a needed win over the Chiefs. Kicker Phil Dawson was excellent for the 49ers as he was clutch all game, hitting long field goals and putting 16 points on the board.
Kansas City's offense started the game strongly, but the Chiefs couldn't put together any point-producing drives in the fourth quarter in part because of a lack of receiving weapons. Kansas City got on the board first as the Chiefs moved the ball down the field. Jamaal Charles ran the ball well, while Junior Hemingway (5-40) led the Chiefs through the air. Alex Smith tossed a short touchdown to Travis Kelce (2-15).
The 49ers tacked on two field-goal drives, including a 55-yarder from Dawson, and the Chiefs had one of their own. Just before halftime, Colin Kaepernick got the 49ers in the end zone. He led a 93-yard drive and finished it with a short touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson (1-9). Brandon Lloyd (3-76), Anquan Boldin (4-72), and Frank Gore (18-107) all chipped in to move the ball for San Francisco.
In the third quarter, Kansas City got moving with a 26-yard run by Charles and a 15-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe (3-42). Smith then threw a swing pass to De'Anthony Thomas, who bolted into the end zone from 17 yards out to give the Chiefs a 17-13 lead. Kaepernick responded with 27-yard bullet to Boldin, but the drive stalled as Kansas City got sacks from Justin Houston and Alvin Bailey with pressures from Dontari Poe. Phil Dawson nailed a 52-yard field goal.
San Francisco went to a fake punt early in the fourth quarter close to midfield. Lloyd and Kaepernick took advantage of the opportunity, as Lloyd made a great catch for a gain of 29 yards. That led to another Dawson field goal to take the lead 19-17. The 49ers drained the clock with another drive to set up Dawson again. The Chiefs' comeback attempt ended quickly, as Smith sailed a pass down the middle of the field that was intercepted by Perrish Cox.
Smith completed 17-of-31 passes for 175 yards with two scores and the interception. Once again, Andy Reid screwed up by not running Charles enough, as he had only 15 carries, yet produced 80 yards. Charles didn't get enough use in the passing game either, as he had one reception for four yards.
Kaepernick was 14-of-26 for 201 yards with a touchdown. Michael Crabtree had only one reception for 16 yards, and the 49ers obviously missed Vernon Davis. They moved the ball well, but struggled once they crossed the Chiefs' 30.
San Francisco's offensive line really missed right tackle Anthony Davis. Jonathan Martin was beaten by Justin Houston for a sack and other pressures. Dontari Poe was destroying guard Alex Boone, and left tackle Joe Staley was banged up in the game. Kansas City had strong games from Poe, Bailey, and Houston. The Chiefs' linebackers and secondary were culpable for San Francisco's yards.
Defensively, the 49ers got good performances out of Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Antonie Bethea. However, San Francisco could stand to improve its pass rush going forward.
Patriots 43, Bengals 17
So much for the Patriots being done. With nearly everyone counting them out and assuming the Bengals would win easily, the Patriots came out of the locker room and stormed down the field twice. Looking completely pissed and ready to prove his doubters wrong, Brady overwhelmed Cincinnati's defense with stuff we haven't seen this year, including aggressive quarterback sneaks and passes to Tim Wright.
Brady, as a result, finished 23-of-35 for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He also picked up 13 rushing yards on his four scrambles. He was totally locked in, and as a result of his performance, he crossed the 50,000-yard threshold on a pass to Rob Gronkowski. By the time he found Tim Wright for his second score of the evening, the crowd was loudly chanting, "Brady! Brady! Brady!"
Brady probably should've enjoyed an even bigger performance. Julian Edelman dropped a deep pass, while the lethargic Brandon LaFell quit on a route during one play in the second quarter. Brady's only poor throw was a near-interception on a pass heaved behind Edelman. All in all, it was refreshing to see Brady dominate in vintage "F-U mode."
You can definitely refer to this game as "vintage" because Brady utilized his tight ends extensively. The Patriots used Wright heavily for the first time all year, as the former Buccaneer caught five balls for 85 yards and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski (6-100) looked very healthy for a change. Edelman, meanwhile, logged five balls for 35 yards.
The Patriots ran the ball extremely well. They established the ground attack early, as Stevan Ridley mustered 113 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. More importantly, he didn't lose any fumbles. Shane Vereen (9-90) offered a nice change of pace.
Everyone's talking about Brady and his weapons, but the Patriots' defense rebounded as well. They really limited the Bengals to just 10 points, as Cincinnati scored a late touchdown when Darrelle Revis briefly left the game with a hamstring. Cincinnati took advantage by having Andy Dalton fire a quick score to A.J. Green (5-81), who barely did anything when Revis was on the field.
With Green erased, Andy Dalton and the other receivers struggled to keep drives going. Dalton had a couple of bad misfires, including one he threw past Giovani Bernard, who was available for a big gain in the opening half, but his targets let him down. Mohamed Sanu and Jermaine Gresham dropped multiple balls, and the latter allowed a ball to slip through his hands in the end zone. Dalton went 15-of-24 for 204 yards and two touchdowns, but his numbers would've been so much better if his supporting cast hadn't capsized.
Dalton's scores went to Green, who lost a fumble, and Sanu (5-70). Bernard probably should've been utilized more in the passing game, as he caught just two passes. He finished with 62 rushing yards on 13 carries.
I have to vent about Jerome Boger, who is easily the worst official in the NFL. Boger and his crew committed numerous blunders throughout the evening, including:
- A horrible illegal contact what wiped out a Revis interception.
- Gronkowski was whistled for an unsportsmanlike penalty followed a routine helmet tap that you see about 20 times per game.
- There was an awful pass interference call on the Bengals following a Brady pass to Danny Amedola. There wasn't even any contact while the pass was in the air.
- The Bengals lobbied for an intentional grounding and won their argument about a minute after the play was over. I've never seen an official so easily influenced by players.
- Boger flagged the Patriots for a blindside block even though he called the play dead beforehand. That infraction made absolutely no sense.
- Boger botched a play toward the end of the first half when he misunderstood the difference between a forward fumble and a lateral during a Patriots' defensive return.
- Boger incorrectly ruled a Green touchdown when it was obvious the star wideout was bobbling the ball while falling out of bounds.
There were other errors I didn't list. Roger Goodell needs to remove Boger because he's an embarrassment to the NFL.
Seahawks 27, Redskins 17
For 59 minutes, I thought I was going to rant about how this game was fixed because the Vegas sportsbooks stood to lose millions if the Seahawks covered the seven-point spread. Seattle completely dominated this game - it outgained Washington by 100 yards and averaged nearly a yard per play more than the opposition - yet some ridiculous penalties kept the Redskins hanging around. Even when the Seahawks went up by 14 in the middle of the fourth quarter, it was obvious that there would be a backdoor push. Washington predictably managed to score, but thanks to an incredible Russell Wilson play in which he avoided sacks, scrambled left and floated a pass to Marshawn Lynch, Seattle kicked a front-door field goal to win by 10.
Wilson had an incredible night. He misfired on just six occasions, going 18-of-24 for 201 yards and two passing touchdowns. He was most effective on the ground, abusing Washington's nonsensical man defense. He scrambled 11 times for 122 rushing yards and a third touchdown.
Wilson should've had an even bigger night from a statistical perspective. He tossed three touchdowns to Percy Harvin, but all three were negated by penalties. Two of them were highly questionable, including a pancake block (by James Carpenter) that happens a dozen or so times per game. Wilson was also victimized by a couple of drops and several terrible snaps by Max Unger, who had a miserable night. Unger, who was also called for a shady false start penalty that even had Jon Gruden dumbfounded, suffered an injury at one point. He was ruled out by the sideline reporter, but he managed to return to action.
Speaking of the unfortunate Harvin, he finished with just four catches for 27 yards. His fantasy owners deserve to be furious at the inept/corrupt officiating crew. Doug Baldwin (4-50) led the team in receiving.
Marshawn Lynch shockingly didn't start the game. He was riding the bicycle upon kickoff, as he seemed to be bothered by back spasms. He managed to finish with 72 yards on 17 carries, but was a bigger factor in the passing attack; he snagged five balls for 45 receiving yards and a touchdown. Thirty of those yards came on that amazing Wilson play that I referenced in the first paragraph.
Kirk Cousins wasn't nearly as successful as his 2012 draftee counterpart. The stats will show that he had a solid night - 21-of-36 for 283 yards, two touchdowns - but most of his production came on a few big plays to DeSean Jackson. Cousins was otherwise very pedestrian, as he got away with several mistakes. He was nearly picked on several occasions, as he threw late across his body repeatedly.
Cousins' aerial scores went to Jackson (5-157) and Andre Roberts (5-29), who dropped a key pass. Jackson's touchdown was a 60-yarder in which he beat Kam Chancellor. As for Pierre Garcon, he hauled in just two balls for 23 yards.
The Seahawks came into this game very stout against the run, so it's no surprise that they bottled up Alfred Morris. The big back mustered just 29 yards on 13 attempts. Roy Helu (5 catches, 59 rec. yards) was the bigger factor.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.