The Lions entered this game in an offensive funk. They scored a combined 15 points in their previous two games, so returning home for a battle against one of the worst defenses in the NFL was just what the doctor ordered.
Things were bleak at first. Detroit was down 14-3 in the first quarter, thanks to a Jared Allen strip-sack that he also recovered after beating beleaguered guard Rob Sims. The Lions' offensive line struggles were prevalent, as they were missing left tackle Riley Reiff, who suffered an injury in last week's loss at New England. However, Detroit was able to snap out of it, and after going 25 consecutive drives without scoring a touchdown, they found the end zone on three straight possessions.
Matthew Stafford had a fantastic outing. He rebounded from that lost fumble - which the Bears turned into a touchdown - and misfired on only 11 of his attempts. He finished 34-of-45 for 390 yards and two scores. He endured a couple of drops; otherwise, his numbers would have been much better.
Both of Stafford's touchdowns went to Calvin Johnson, who was not battling a top-notch cornerback for the first time since his return from injury. He was going against rookie corner Kyle Fuller, who had been playing well prior to getting banged up a few weeks ago. Fuller was questionable heading into this contest, and he just didn't look like he was 100 percent. Megatron consequently was able to catch 11 balls for 146 yards and the two scores. It didn't help the Bears that they lost safety Chris Conte to an eye injury, but they wouldn't have been able to cover him anyway.
Elsewhere, only three Lions registered more than two receptions: Golden Tate (8-89), Theo Riddick (6-54), who was playing for the injured Reggie Bush, and Eric Ebron (3-23), who was guilty of a drop.
With Bush out, Joique Bell got all of the carries. He gained 91 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. One of his scores was a plunge from the 1-yard line in which he leapt over the pile.
The Bears, conversely, didn't have any chance to run the ball. They didn't even bother trying to establish any sort of ground attack, as Matt Forte had just five carries for six yards. Forte was stuffed on a third-and-1 try in his own territory in the first half. He at least made up for it by helping out his PPR owners with six catches for 52 receiving yards.
Chicago compensated for the lacking running game by throwing lots of screens. This tripped up the Lions early on, but they eventually figured things out. The Bears struggled to sustain drives after that for the most part, and penalties and sacks disrupted their possessions.
Cutler went 31-of-48 for only 280 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions that occurred late out of desperation. Both of his scores, which came early, were thrown to Alshon Jeffery (9-71).
Chicago's leading receiver was Martellus Bennett, who hauled in eight balls for 109 yards. Brandon Marshall, meanwhile, was highly inefficient; he caught only six of his 11 targets for 42 yards. He dropped a couple of balls.
Eagles 33, Cowboys 10
What happened to this season being different? The Cowboys always managed to flounder down the stretch, but the consensus thinking was that this year would net another result. Most believed the Cowboys would find a way to win the division and thrive at the end of the season because Jerry Jones finally built the team the right way - from inside-out.
However, things appear to be unraveling. The offensive front, which had done a great job of protecting Tony Romo throughout the early portion of the year, couldn't shield Romo whatsoever on Thanksgiving, as the Philadelphia defense sacked him four times and rushed many of his throws. Meanwhile, the defense is finally playing as poorly as everyone expected it to perform heading into the season.
The Cowboys, quite simply, couldn't get off the field, as Philadelphia's offense was sharp, and unlike the previous three games, Mark Sanchez was mistake-free for the most part. His one blemish was a second-quarter fumble that was knocked out of his hand on a strip-sack by Tyrone Crawford. Luckily for Sanchez, one of his linemen was able to recover the football. Sanchez shook the loss of 10 yards off by immediately hitting Jeremy Maclin for a gain of 59, which featured some of the worst tackling you'll ever see.
Dallas' defense as a whole looked gassed and unprepared this game. Countless missed tackles made this extremely easy for Sanchez, who finished 20-of-29 for 217 yards, two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) to go along with seven scrambles for 28 yards on the ground. Sanchez was extremely sharp, and his numbers could've even been better; he endured some drops by Riley Cooper, whom he got into a fight with during the fourth quarter, as well as a blown touchdown opportunity to Brad Smith on a miscommunication. However, we've seen Sanchez have great outings before, only to revert to his butt-fumbling antics a week or two later. Perhaps Sanchez can turn into a careful quarterback - this could be a good start - but remember that we're just one week removed from a game in which he single-handedly kept Tennessee hanging around with unforced errors.
Sanchez was outstanding, but the Cowboys had the most issues dealing with LeSean McCoy, who made their bottom-five run defense look silly. McCoy ran with great patience, something he had issues with earlier in the season, and he was rewarded with a 159-yard performance on 25 carries. He also scored once. McCoy lost a fumble deep in his own territory during the third quarter, but the Eagles' defense held Dallas to a field goal, thanks to shoddy protection from Romo's line. McCoy let another ball fall out of his hands later in the game, but he was ruled down by contact following a replay review.
McCoy didn't do anything in the passing attack, leaving the receivers to do all of the work in that regard. Maclin reeled in eight of his 10 targets for 108 yards. Jordan Matthews (4-51) secured Sanchez's sole aerial score, while Cooper (4-32) dropped a couple of passes.
As for the Dallas offense, I mentioned already that Romo didn't have much of a chance because his offensive line broke down. Fletcher Cox simply proved to be too much of a force. Romo finished 18-of-29 for 199 yards and two interceptions. One pick occurred late in the game and was meaningless, but the first interception came when this contest was still in doubt. It was an ugly pass thrown behind Terrance Williams. Romo, who missed an open Jason Witten on a fourth-and-3 in the second quarter, was picked on another occasion in which he carelessly flung the ball up for grabs, but the turnover was negated by a defensive hold.
With Romo struggling, Dez Bryant had a frustrating afternoon. Bryant still managed to lead the Cowboys in receiving, but had just four catches for 73 yards. Bryant should have drawn a pass interference deep downfield early in the game, but the officials inexplicably didn't throw a flag on Cary Williams. It wouldn't have affected the outcome of this game, but the penalty hurt fantasy owners, as Dallas would have been in the red zone. By the fourth quarter, Bryant spent some time yelling at Romo and various coaches on the sidelines.
The Eagles have been great against the run this year, so it's not a surprise that they stymied DeMarco Murray. The NFL's leading rusher was limited to 73 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He also had six catches for 40 receiving yards.
Seahawks 19, 49ers 3
I spent a lot of time in bed and in the bathroom during this game because I ate way too much turkey on Thanksgiving. I asked my girlfriend to give me a detailed recap of what happened (I would later re-watch it on the DVR). Her analysis turned out to be perfect: "Kaepernick keeps throwing a bunch of passes that don't hit anyone."
Kaepernick had an abysmal performance, and not even his putrid numbers - 16-of-29, 121 yards, two interceptions - describe how terrible he was. He began the game by throwing high and behind Frank Gore on a routine checkdown. He followed that up with an awful pick, which Richard Sherman snatched out of the air; the pass was way behind the intended target. Sherman, who intercepted Kaepernick a second time in the final quarter on a late, forced throw, nearly picked Kaepernick off on a third occasion during the second quarter. In between, Kaepernick missed open receivers, didn't see his targets who were available for big gains, and even botched the clock management right before halftime.
The 49ers might as well just pack it in if Kaepernick keeps performing like this. His regression has been inexplicable, and it's a huge mystery why the 49ers didn't design any runs for him. Kaepernick caused major problems for the Seahawks in the NFC Championship with his rushing ability, yet he scrambled only three times for 17 yards. Instead, Kaepernick, instead, spent the entire night targeting Sherman, who is now responsible for five of Kaepernick's 24 career interceptions, including the tip to Malcolm Smith. Sherman spent the entire fourth quarter trolling the 49er fans in the stands.
The difference in this game was the quarterback play. Russell Wilson, who told the media during the week that he and his team had their swagger back during the week, backed up his talk by going 15-of-22 for 236 yards and a touchdown to go along with seven scrambles for 35 rushing yards. Wilson, who was infinitely more precise with his throws than Kaepernick, should have thrown a second score, but a ticky-tack offensive pass interference negated his third-quarter touchdown to Paul Richardson. Wilson's best play of the evening was when he somehow avoided three sacks and found an open Tony Moeaki for a gain of 63 yards.
The Seahawks can make another Super Bowl run if Wilson continues to play like this. The Seahawks won't have homefield advantage, in all likelihood, but they just proved they can win on the road. They hadn't prevailed in San Francisco since 2010, so this victory was highly impressive.
Marshawn Lynch broke the century mark again, gaining 104 yards on 20 carries. He missed some action with a tight back, but he looked strong in the second half. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, Robert Turbin reeled in Wilson's only touchdown when Lynch was out of the game.
Excluding Moeaki and Turbin, Seattle's leading receiver was Luke Willson (4-39), who nearly had a fifth catch at the very end of the game. Pete Carroll, for some reason, challenged the play despite the fact that the victory was well in hand. Like Carroll, I thought Wilson caught the ball before sliding out of bounds, but throwing the red flag was rubbing it in. Meanwhile, Doug Baldwin (2-28) and Jermaine Kearse (3-34) once again produced pedestrian numbers.
The 49ers had some disappointing receivers as well. Thanks to Kaepernick's immense struggles, Anquan Boldin (3-18), Vernon Davis (2-13) and Michael Crabtree (3-10) all disappointed their fantasy owners.
Frank Gore struggled as well. The Seahawks, who failed to contain the run for a stretch a couple of weeks ago, restricted Gore to just 28 yards on 10 carries. With Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor back in action, it appears as though Seattle has fortified its ground defense.
Chargers 34, Ravens 33
Watching this game live, I didn't think the Chargers were going to pull through. They were down by double digits on multiple occasions, and it appeared as though that they were just going to ruin their potential victory by making terrible mistakes. The errors began early and were prevalent throughout the afternoon. For instance:
- San Diego gave Baltimore 20 yards on an unforced penalty on a kickoff, which ultimately led to a Baltimore touchdown - an impressive, one-handed Torrey Smith catch.
- Philip Rivers threw an interception on his first drive, as he was hit when he threw the ball.
- Eddie Royal lost a fumble in the red zone. His own teammate, D.J. Fluker, accidentally punched the ball out in a scrum.
- Ryan Mathews dropped a screen pass in the red zone with plenty of blockers in front of him. A potential touchdown turned into a field goal.
- Eric Weddle foolishly hit Joe Flacco late on a third-down incompletion, drawing a penalty that gave Baltimore a first down and a subsequent touchdown.
Despite these blunders, the Chargers were still in position to win this game, thanks to terrific quarterbacking from Rivers, who looked healthy for the first time since the opening half of the Thursday night game at Denver. Rivers was able to drive his team down the field and into the end zone, thanks to shoddy coverage from the Baltimore secondary and a pair of shady calls by the officials. Cornerback Anthony Levine was whistled for a bogus pass interference in the end zone, and then there was a poor non-call for offensive pass interference on the decisive touchdown to Eddie Royal.
Rivers finished 34-of-45 for 383 yards, three touchdowns and the aforementioned pick. He was swarmed in the backfield at times, but he did a good job of dealing with the pressure. He even scrambled four times, lumbering for 19 additional yards on the ground.
The Chargers had four players tally more than six receiving yards, and all of them had huge outings. Royal, who caught the game-winning touchdown, had nine grabs for 81 yards. Antonio Gates (7-83) was worked on early before the Ravens took him away from Will Hill. Malcom Floyd (3-85) missed some action with what appeared to be a concussion, but came back to make a great catch where he pinned the ball against his face mask. Keenan Allen (11-121) found the end zone twice.
Mathews, who had that key drop, didn't run very well, though he wasn't expected to against Baltimore's tough run defense. He gained just 38 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The Ravens, conversely, moved the ball well on the ground. Justin Forsett eclipsed the century mark again, accumulating 106 yards on 24 carries.
Rivers' late comeback spoiled a great performance from Joe Flacco, who went 19-of-31 for 225 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing). He nearly had a pick early on a high throw, but was pretty much flawless otherwise.
Both of Rivers' touchdowns went to Torrey Smith, who led the team in both catches (6) and receiving yards (65). Steve Smith barely did anything, securing just one of four targets for only two yards. The latter Smith was mostly used as a decoy, as Flacco avoided throwing toward Brandon Flowers, which was a good move, especially given that Steve Smith wasn't motivated by any sort of revenge.
Bills 26, Browns 10
The Bills won this game in front of an emotional crowd, led by Jim Kelly, celebrating their team's return home after escaping the snow, but the big story to come out of Buffalo was that the Browns finally made the move. After watching Brian Hoyer struggle for weeks, Mike Pettine opted to bench his veteran signal-caller in favor of Johnny Manziel.
The benching was completely justified, and it should have occurred much earlier. Hoyer was dreadful yet again, going 18-of-30 for 192 yards and two interceptions. That doesn't even tell the whole story, as Hoyer had a potential third pick dropped by linebacker Nigel Bradham, and he also took a bad sack by Mario Williams to take his team out of field-goal range.
Manziel took over, and the disparity between the two quarterbacks was completely apparent. Manziel hit two big passes on his initial drive and then ran into the end zone for a touchdown. The Bills looked completely unprepared for him. Other teams will be able to handle Manziel better after preparation, but Johnny Football is just much more talented, and it's not like the Browns are losing a valuable veteran presence by switching quarterbacks, since Hoyer was making way too many mistakes.
Manziel finished 5-of-8 for 63 yards and also rushed for 13 additional yards and a touchdown in just a quarter of action. He's worth adding in all fantasy leagues, as his rushing ability will make him a solid option.
While Hoyer struggled, he wasn't the only Cleveland player responsible for this ugly loss. Terrance West, who had a fumble in the red zone overturned by replay, coughed the ball up and saw Jerry Hughes return it for a touchdown. West, however, was able to outgain Isaiah Crowell, 32-29, though West had way fewer carries (7) than Crowell (17). The latter running back simply had no running lanes to burst through, as Buffalo has a stout ground defense.
Josh Gordon fantasy owners won't have to worry about the quarterback switch, as Manziel hit the talented wideout for an 18-yarder on one of his completions. Gordon finished with seven catches for 75 yards, though he was responsible for a stupid taunting penalty after making an 11-yard reception in the first quarter. Miles Austin (7-86) led the team in receiving. Hoyer targeted him in the end zone at one point, but it was a poor throw.
The Bills, meanwhile, were able to prevail despite Kyle Orton's dreadful accuracy throughout the afternoon. Orton was off the mark on most of his throws, and he also made some poor decisions. He threw two interceptions, both of which were forced carelessly into covered receivers. Orton finished 17-of-31 for 190 yards and a touchdown otherwise.
Buffalo's defense was solely responsible for this victory - with help from Hoyer, of course - as the running game didn't produce much. Fred Jackson was limited to 70 yards on 21 carries. He handled most of the workload, while Anthony Dixon (6-25) and Bryce Brown (3-11) were limited.
Sammy Watkins disappointed his fantasy owners, hauling in just three of his nine targets for 11 yards. In addition to Orton's woeful accuracy, Joe Haden was responsible for that stat line. Robert Woods (4-71) led the receivers in yardage.
Colts 49, Redskins 27
Andrew Luck has been guilty of being sloppy with the ball early in games recently, and that was the case once again in this contest. The Redskins were able to score a quick field goal off a Luck strip-sack on the first play. Luck followed that up with an interception on a high throw, though Washington failed to take advantage of that turnover because Colt McCoy took a sack for a big loss.
However, Luck was able to rebound from that poor start, ultimately torching the Colts for five touchdowns. Luck was on fire during the final three quarters, though he got some help from Washington's secondary, which blew coverages and left open players downfield all afternoon. It was astonishing how many huge gains the Colts had because the Redskins' clueless defensive backfield had no idea what was going on.
Luck finished 19-of-27 for 370 yards, five touchdowns and the early interception. Three of Luck's scores came from 79, 73 and 48 yards out, and he should've had another deep touchdown to Coby Fleener, who committed a terrible drop on what would've been an 80-yard touchdown. Fleener, however, made up for it by finding the end zone twice, catching four balls for 127 yards.
Two of Luck's other touchdowns went to rookie Donte Moncrief, who reeled in three balls for 134 yards. Both of his scores were from 48-plus, and they came right when it appeared as though the Redskins were going to have a chance to creep back into the game during the second half. Luck's fifth touchdown went to T.Y. Hilton (5-62). Reggie Wayne (4-31) struggled again.
The Indianapolis receivers weren't the only ones scoring long touchdowns. Dan Herron found the end zone from 49 yards out. Herron split carries evenly with Trent Richardson, with Herron predictably outgaining him by a wide margin, 88-12. If the Colts didn't trade a first-round pick for Richardson, the former Brown wouldn't be getting any touches right now. Herron is superior, though he did lose a fumble near midfield in the opening half.
The dark cloud over this victory for the Colts was that stud corner Vontae Davis left the game in the second half with a concussion.
As for the Redskins, their decision to turn to Colt McCoy didn't exactly backfire, as McCoy wasn't responsible for this loss. After all, it's not his fault that the defense allowed so many big gains with blown coverages. McCoy actually performed quite well, going 31-of-47 for 392 yards and three touchdowns. He showed a ton of heart on one of his scores, somehow getting out of two potential sacks to find Logan Paulsen in the end zone.
Unfortunately for McCoy, his offensive line betrayed him. Trent Williams played terribly, as it was obvious that he wasn't healthy at all. Williams couldn't move well whatsoever, and he had a hold negate a big play. McCoy consequently took six sacks, which was detrimental for this offense, given how much trouble it has had converting third downs this year. Those problems persisted, as Washington went just 5-of-15 in those situations in this game.
There was a controversial play in this contest when Colts' safety Mike Adams hit DeSean Jackson late out of bounds, forcing the speedy wideout to leave the game. Alfred Morris hit Adams, but the safety flopped into Jackson and wasn't called for the penalty. Jackson eventually returned, but had to leave once again after banging knees with a defensive back. He still had a good game though, catching five balls for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Jordan Reed led Washington in receiving yardage, snagging nine balls for 123 yards. Roy Helu (4 catches, 61 rec. yards) found the end zone.
With Griffin on the bench, it wasn't surprising that Alfred Morris struggled to find running room. Morris mustered 67 yards on 17 carries.
Vikings 31, Panthers 13
The Panthers are not a well-coached football team, and it really showed in this loss. They had two weeks to prepare for this game, all while watching all of their divisional foes lose during their Sunday off. Despite the extra time to prepare, and the added motivation of being able to win the division, they couldn't even get a punt off. Carolina inexplicably had two punts blocked in this contest, allowing Minnesota to jump out to a 21-0 lead in the blink of an eye.
This game was played pretty evenly otherwise, with the Panthers averaging more yards per play than the Vikings, 4.8 to 4.4. Carolina also outgained Minnesota by 138 net yards, 348-210. The Panthers, however, simply couldn't overcome the early deficit.
If there's good news for the Panthers, it's that Cam Newton didn't look hobbled for a change. He scrambled nine times for 49 rushing yards. Unfortunately, he struggled with his accuracy, as he had to look beyond Kelvin Benjamin with Xavier Rhodes smothering him all afternoon. Newton finished 18-of-35 for 194 yards, one touchdown and a late interception in desperation time.
Benjamin, meanwhile, led the team in targets (12), but reeled in just five of them for 56 yards. Again, he just struggled to get open against Rhodes. Greg Olsen (5-59) led the Panthers in receiving, while rookie Philly Brown (2-34) hauled in Newton's sole score, which was a 32-yard bomb on a fourth-and-4.
It was surprising to see Jonathan Stewart actually look good, as he gained 85 yards on 12 carries. He was much more effective than DeAngelo Williams (7-21).
The Vikings, meanwhile, didn't have to do much on offense because of the 14 special-teams points. Teddy Bridgewater was able to just manage the game and not have to worry about his offensive line, though Matt Kalil did single-handedly ruin one drive. Bridgewater misfired on just six occasions, going 15-of-21 for only 138 yards and two touchdowns. One of those scores was aided by a horrible Josh Norman taunting penalty that turned a Minnesota third-and-4 into a first down near midfield. This was another instance in which the Panthers simply looked unprepared to play this game, as Ron Rivera is now 0-4 coming off a bye.
Bridgewater's scores went to Greg Jennings (5-41), whom he has developed a great rapport with, and Kyle Rudolph (2-7), who drew three targets. Cordarrelle Patterson didn't catch a single pass, drawing just one target. He barely played.
With Jerick McKinnon out, Matt Asiata handled most of the workload (14-52). Ben Tate was given five carries, turning them into 15 rushing yards.
Saints 35, Steelers 32
So, the Saints had three chances to win in the Superdome and couldn't get a single victory, yet they went into Heinz Field and beat the Steelers on the road? How in the world does that make any sense? If I didn't see what happened to Ben Roethlisberger early in this contest, I'd be completely dumbfounded.
This game changed on a play in which Roethlisberger missed Antonio Brown downfield. He hit his hand on a helmet on the throw, and he just wasn't the same after that. It was evident when he had to give the ball to Le'Veon Bell with his opposite hand. Roethlisberger's passes weren't even close. He overthrew Bell. He was almost pick-sixed by Patrick Robinson. He flung an interception on a deep shot toward the end zone. He was nearly picked on another high attempt. In the second half, he missed an open Heath Miller for a touchdown and then made a terrible decision to throw late across his body for another near-interception, and he was picked off on a second occasion when a pass of his was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
Roethlisberger finished 32-of-58 for 435 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks. Ignore those numbers; most of them came in garbage time when this game was well out of hand. To illustrate how poorly he played, Roethlisberger was just 8-of-22 for 115 yards and a pick in the first half. Again, Roethlisberger was playing hurt, and the Steelers will need him to heal up quickly with a big game against the Bengals next week.
Meanwhile, the Steelers as a whole were discombobulated. They had careless penalties and appeared to lack any sense of desperation in the second half. One infraction, a defensive hold, negated a sack on Drew Brees that allowed the Saints to keep a drive alive.
Give the Saints credit for taking advantage of the Steelers' injuries and errors. They didn't have a promising start though, as Marques Colston dropped a pass on third-and-10 on the first drive. Afterward, Brees had Kenny Stills wide open for a long touchdown, but he couldn't get the ball there because he was hit as he released the pass. I also mentioned the dropped pick-six from Robinson. Despite all of that, New Orleans snapped out of its funk, and Brees was able to torch Pittsburgh's sorry secondary by going 19-of-27 for 257 yards and five touchdowns.
All of Brees' touchdowns went to different players, with Stills (5-162) leading the team in receiving. Stills' score was a 69-yarder in which he beat Ike Taylor, who was making his return from injury, with a double move. Marques Colston (3-16), Nick Toon, Ben Watson and Erik Lorig all found the end zone, with the former atoning for two drops. Jimmy Graham inexplicably didn't draw a single target. He didn't get hurt; the Steelers just made sure he wouldn't beat them, double- and triple-teaming him on every single play.
The Steelers couldn't stop the run at all. Mark Ingram made up for a couple of poor outings by gashing Pittsburgh for 122 yards on 23 carries.
Some random notes for the Steelers:
- Le'Veon Bell was outgained on the ground by Ingram - 21 carries, 95 rushing yards, one touchdown - but he atoned for it by catching eight balls for a whopping 159 receiving yards. With Roethlisberger limited, he had no choice but to dump the ball off to Bell.
- Antonio Brown scored twice, though both touchdowns came in garbage time. He finished with eight receptions for 97 yards.
- Heath Miler drew 14 targets. He snatched eight of them for 82 yards.
- Brett Kiesel is believed to have torn his tricep in this loss. He's done for the season if his Monday MRI confirms it.
Rams 52, Raiders 0
I'm not going to spend much time in this game. It was played in a half-empty stadium, and one of the teams didn't bother trying. The Raiders, coming off their first victory of the season, appear to have packed it in. Most of their players looked like they were half-asleep, as they had no interest in battling St. Louis. As a result, the Rams jumped out to a 38-0 lead by halftime, which is their greatest first-half blowout in their franchise history since they moved to St. Louis.
Some notes on both teams:
- Shaun Hill had a brilliant first half, going 12-of-15 for 178 yards and two touchdowns. With such a big lead, the Rams took the air out of the ball, which is why Hill finished 13-of-22 for 183 yards and the pair of scores.
- Tre Mason dominated the hapless Raiders, gaining 117 yards on just 14 attempts to go along with three catches for 47 receiving yards and three total touchdowns.
- Stedman Bailey caught five balls for 100 yards. He didn't score a touchdown, but he helped his team reach the red zone with an awesome one-handed catch. It's a shame most of his fans didn't see it.
- Chris Long returned from injury and recorded a sack. Robert Quinn terrorized the Raiders the most with three sacks and two forced fumbles.
- Derek Carr was awful, going 24-of-39 for 173 yards and two interceptions, one of which was a poor decision that he made as he was being dragged down. Carr had no chance, as his shoddy offensive line couldn't protect against St. Louis' front. Matt Schaub eventually stepped in when this game was out of hand and was promptly pick-sixed.
- No Latavius Murray, so Darren McFadden (11-27) and Maurice Jones-Drew (5-21) split carries.
- Marcel Reece (6-48) and James Jones (6-33) were the team leaders in receiving. Mychal Rivera once again let down his fantasy owners (3-21), but he tied for the team lead in targets with eight.
Bengals 14, Buccaneers 13
Marvin Lewis has caught some flak for not being able to win playoff games throughout his head-coaching tenure, but he bailed out his team with a brilliant move late in the game. Josh McCown hit a receiver to move the Buccaneers to the Cincinnati 20-yard line with just 12 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, McCown rushed to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball, but Lewis threw the challenge flag, giving the Bengals a 5-yard penalty. At first glance, it looked like a completely idiotic decision, given that it's against the rules to challenge in the last two minutes of each half.
However, what Lewis really did was stop the clock and allow the replay booth to look at the previous snap - which showed that the Buccaneers somehow had 12 men on the field. Tampa, as a consequence, had the ball at the Cincinnati 46 and couldn't move back into field-goal range. The Bengals eventually took over on downs and won the game.
Lewis' awesome maneuver may keep the media from jumping on Andy Dalton. The Bengal quarterback regressed again, putting together another dreadful performance. Dalton went 19-of-27 for 176 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. The first pick wasn't entirely his fault, as there was a miscommunication with A.J. Green. The other two were much worse; one was forced to Green into double coverage, while the other was carelessly lobbed up for grabs off his back foot.
Dalton didn't have a clean pocket for most of the afternoon, as his offensive line simply had no answer for Gerald McCoy. However, that doesn't excuse this type of performance. Dalton once again will be Cincinnati's downfall.
Dalton's sole score went to Green, who didn't have a big game, as he caught just four of his eight targets for 57 yards. He and Dalton couldn't get into a rhythm at all.
The Bengals struggled to run the ball on Tampa, as Jeremy Hill (13-40) and Giovani Bernard (10-49) were limited to fewer than 50 yards. Each had a decent gain of about 15, but did very little otherwise. Hill surprisingly had more catches (4) than Bernard (1).
As for the Buccaneers, they quite simply blew this game. Their offensive line had a huge hand in doing them in; center Garrett Gilkey kept snapping the ball poorly, and he was whistled for a ridiculous four penalties, including a painful hold on the final drive that helped move the team out of field-goal range. Of course, the infraction for 12 men was the nail in the coffin.
McCown had a hand in this loss. He was inaccurate throughout the afternoon, going 15-of-29 for 190 yards and an interception, which was a careless forced pass. What the stats don't show is that McCown was guilty for holding the ball too long at times. He took a sack in the red zone on one occasion because of his poor pocket awareness.
The top offensive player for the Buccaneers in this contest was Doug Martin, who rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He also had a gain of 24 negated by a hold. Martin handled most of the workload, with rookie Charlie Sims gaining just six yards on five attempts, though he did log four catches for 49 receiving yards.
Mike Evans didn't accumulate much yardage (4-49) but he tied the team lead in that category. He also had the catch of the afternoon, securing the ball as he dived for a dying McCown duck. Vincent Jackson (2-24) disappointed once again.
Editor's Note: How many Bills fans thought they died and went to Hell when they heard that Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for six touchdowns?
This is what the Texans are capable of looking like when they get a big game out of their quarterback. Granted, they were playing a struggling Titan squad, but Houston would be a top team in the AFC with a good quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick returned to the starting lineup and lit up Tennessee with the game of his life. DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt were utterly dominant, while the Titans were incapable of stopping either player.
The Texans took the opening drive down the field for a touchdown, as Hopkins made some great catches, Arian Foster ran well and Fitzpatrick converted a fourth down with a 14-yard run. To finish the drive, Fitzpatrick threw to tight end Ryan Griffin for an 8-yard score. Promptly, Mettenberger overthrew Justin Hunter, and the pass was picked off by Johnathan Joseph with a return to the Titans' 20-yard line. A 7-yard touchdown pass to Foster (19-79 rushing, 5-26 receiving) then put the Texans in firm control.
Starting at their 1-yard line, Fitzpatrick engineered a field goal drive. A sack by J.J. Watt then forced a punt. Fitzpatrick then took advantage with pretty 58-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins after he beat Blidi Wreh-Wilson to get open downfield. Hopkins had five catches for yards 117 by halftime.
Mettenberger got going in the third quarter and moved the ball down the field. He threw a laser for a 36-yard touchdown to Kendall Wright (7-132). Tennessee's bad luck continued, however, when Mettenberger injured his shoulder after Watt drove him into the ground; the injury ended Mettenberger's day. Jake Locker came into the game and promptly threw an interception to Jumal Rolle on his first attempt. The very next play saw Andre Johnson (7-53-1) get stripped of the ball by Jason McCourty, who scooped it up and took the loose ball 62-yards for a touchdown.
Just as the Titans got back in the game, Fitzpatrick made some plays with a 32-yard completion to Keshawn Martin. A few plays later, Hopkins made one of his typical great contested catches over Brandon Ghee for a 34-yard touchdown. Hopkins kept coming as he caught a crossing route and exploded down the field for a 56-yard gain. Johnson then made a phenomenal catch for a 4-yard score to end the drive. Watt produced his sixth take-away of the year with a strip-sack that he recovered. After scooping it up, Watt ran it the Titans 25-yard line. A pass to Hopkins sent it to the 1-yard line, and Watt made a great hands catch for his fifth touchdown of the year (3 offensive, 2 defensive).
Locker threw another pick this time to A.J. Bouye. In garbage time, Locker tossed an interception to Andre Hal, but a roughing-the-passer penalty took the pick away. Locker took advantage with a 25-yard touchdown to Nate Washington (5-61).
Mettenberger finished 13-of-19 for 184 yards with one score and one pick. He was starting to play well before the injury. Locker was 6-of-12 for 91 yards with one touchdown and two picks. He looked bad in relief duty. Bishop Sankey (10-42) led the Titans on the ground.
In the third quarter, Chance Warmack suffered an ugly injury as players fell into the back of his leg. He limped off the field, and hopefully the injury isn't serious.
Fitzpatrick had the best game of his career, completing 24-of-33 for 358 yards with six touchdowns. Hopkins also had the best performance of his young career with nine receptions for 238 yards with two scores.
Watt continued to show that he is the MVP of the league with two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three tackles and a touchdown catch. The last defensive player to win the MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, and Watt deserves the award for single-handedly putting the Texans in playoff contention.
Editor's Note: I ranted all week about how the 85-15 betting rule, and yet I only took the Jaguars for one unit. Fail.
Entering the weekend, the Jaguars were in position to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, so beating the Giants could be considered a Pyrrhic victory. However, the regime of general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley needed a win to maintain the questionable mantra that the team is headed in the right direction despite an awful record over the past two seasons. The win could send the Jaguars to the fifth pick, so this could be extremely costly as that will take away the opportunity for the Jaguars to land a boatload of picks from a quarterback-needy team trading up.
As for the Giants, they blew a big lead in Jacksonville, and it doesn't get any worse than that. For Tom Coughlin, this could be the final straw that leads to the end of his head coaching tenure, and coincidentally, it was at the place where it all started for him. The Giants have lost seven straight and will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
In the first quarter, the Giants put together a 19-play, 91-yard drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock. Rashad Jennings capped off the drive when he plunged into the end zone from a couple of yards out. The next drive saw Eli Manning hit tight end Larry Donnell (5-55) for a 32-yard pass to the goal line. Manning threw a short touchdown to Preston Parker (2-6) to cap it.
A 29-yard pass to Odell Beckham, Jr. got the Giants moving again. To end the drive, Jennings burst up the middle and banged into the end zone from 17 yards out. The Jaguars responded with a drive into New York's territory. A holding call on Luke Joeckel took away a touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts, so the Jaguars settled for a field goal before intermission.
The Giants melted down in the second half. It started when Manning was sacked by Geno Hayes. The ball rolled into the end zone, and Jennings tried to get up and run with the ball around the leg of a teammate, but J.T. Thomas was able to dive on the ball for a touchdown. Jennings should have just accepted a safety.
New York moved the ball into Jacksonville territory before Josh Brown had a costly missed a field goal. The Jaguars took advantage with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Marqise Lee (6-75). It was a pretty pass by Bortles to pull Jacksonville within five points (the two-point conversion attempt was batted by Jason Pierre-Paul).
Early in the fourth quarter, Donnell caught a pass in the flat, but fumbled the ball on a hard hit by Dwayne Gratz. Aaron Colvin picked up the ball and raced down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown for Jacksonville.
With about six minutes remaining, Manning hit Beckham (7-90) for 23 yards and Reuben Randle (3-52) for 17 yards. The Jaguars buckled down to force the Giants into a field goal.
Down 24-22, Bortles put together the game-winning drive. He threw a short slant to Lee and he ran for 22 yards to get it started. A 10-yard pass to Shorts and zone-read runs of 11 and 20 yards by Bortles got the ball in field goal range for Josh Scobee to hit a game-winning 43-yarder with 28 seconds left. The Giants promptly allowed a strip-sack to Sen'Derrick Marks to clinch the win for Jacksonville.
Bortles completed 21-of-35 passes for 194 yards with one score. The Jaguars' two defensive scores were the reason the team made the comeback. Denard Robinson (11-44) never got going on the ground.
Manning was 24-of-34 for 247 yards with a touchdown. He played well, but his offensive line gave him no help. Jennings (26-91) left the game with an ankle injury.
Both teams featured terrible offensive line play. The Jaguars allowed Bortles to be sacked seven times, while New York allowed four sacks of Manning. Jameel McClain (9 tackles, 1 sack), Devon Kennard (2 sacks) and Jason Pierre-Paul (1.5 sacks) played well for the Giants. Sen'Derrick Marks (2 sacks, 1 TFL) and Telvin Smith (10 tackles) stood out for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville left tackle Luke Joeckel really struggled against the Giants. He was burned by Pierre-Paul for a sack, had a holding take away a touchdown and was guilty of another holding penalty on the game-winning drive that could have been costly. Even though Joeckel is essentially a rookie, he is not playing up to his draft slot.
Falcons 29, Cardinals 18
Carson Palmer is long gone, and so are Arizona's Super Bowl chances, despite what Bruce Arians may still think. The Cardinals are still currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but that distinction won't last much longer. In fact, the way they're going now, it wouldn't be surprising if they lose the remainder of their games this season.
Arizona just doesn't stand a chance with Drew Stanton. The team struggled to move the ball with him, getting outgained by about 150 yards in the first half and converting just 1-of-7 third downs. It didn't help that Andre Ellington suffered a hip injury in the second quarter, but it's not like Arizona had much success moving the chains with him despite battling one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They didn't even reach the red zone until the 2-minute warning in the fourth quarter!
Stanton finished 24-of-39 for 294 yards, one touchdown and two poor interceptions. Don't pay attention to the completions and yardage, as most of them came in garbage time. To illustrate his struggles, Stanton went 8-of-16 for only 128 yards and a pick in the opening half. Stanton could've been intercepted on several other occasions, including once where he carelessly flung the ball into triple coverage during the second half.
Larry Fitzgerald was out, but Michael Floyd didn't take advantage of his opportunities. He saw 10 targets, but reeled in only five of them for 53 yards. John Brown (2-40) also struggled, while Jaron Brown (7-75) led the team in receiving.
With Ellington (5-12) out, the Cardinals turned to a committee led by Marion Grice, who mustered just 16 yards on five carries. Arizona will be praying for Ellington to return soon.
The Falcons nearly had a flawless game, as Matt Ryan misfired on just 11 out of his 41 attempts. He missed Levine Toilolo early in the end zone, but he went back to his tight end later on that very same drive on a fourth-down attempt. He found him for a score. Ryan finished 30-of-41 for 361 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The pick, which occurred in the red zone when Jerraud Powers jumped the route, went back the other way for an 88-yard score and gave the Cardinals some life for a while. All of their hope quickly went away, however, once Stanton began throwing wildly inaccurate passes and the Cardinals realized they had no chance.
Ryan was easily able to dissect the Arizona secondary for two reasons. First, Tyrann Mathieu left with an injury. Second, Julio Jones completely dominated Patrick Peterson, who didn't have a chance. Jones embarrassed Peterson's entire family and unborn grandchildren, catching 10 balls for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. Jones shouldn't have had 41 of those yards because he had just one foot inbounds on a catch, but Bruce Arians made a rare mistake by not challenging the call.
Elsewhere, Harry Douglas, playing for an injured Roddy White, secured nine balls for 116 yards. Devin Hester, who had a punt return negated by a terrible face mask penalty, dropped a touchdown.
The Cardinals hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 games, so naturally, the decrepit Steven Jackson was going to be the one to break the streak. Jackson ran like it was 2006, gaining 101 yards on just 18 carries. Devonta Freeman (8-26) would have gotten more of a workload had Jackson not been so effective.
Packers 26, Patriots 21
I thought the Patriots would win this contest because Bill Belichick would be able to out-coach Mike McCarthy, just as Jim Harbaugh and Tom Coughlin have in big games in recent years. As it turns out, Belichick and his team made the mistakes in this potential Super Bowl matchup.
The Patriots had some sloppy mistakes early in this contest. They were flagged for an illegal formation on a third-and-short, and slightly later, they were guilty of illegal hands to the face that wiped out a crucial sack on Aaron Rodgers that eventually led to some Packer points. Belichick then made a tactical error, not going for it on fourth-and-1 at midfield in the second quarter. It was the same blunder Jim Caldwell was guilty of last week; with superior personnel, there's no reason not to take a chance like that, especially when knowing the opposing offense will probably score anyway. An offense with Brady, Rob Gronkowski, etc. should be able to gain one yard.
The issues persisted, when Brady and Belichick left too much time on the clock at the end of the first half, allowing Rodgers to score a touchdown on a 45-yard dart to Jordy Nelson, who beat Darrelle Revis for the only time on the afternoon. It was a bad scheme that allowed Nelson to run past Revis and the other Patriots for the touchdown. This was huge, as the Packers had issues in the red zone the entire game. Belichick then went on to waste a timeout early in the third quarter, which he sorely needed at the end of the contest.
Of course, the killer for the Patriot bettors occurred at the end of the game when Stephen Gostkowski whiffed on a 47-yarder to cover the spread, which was his first real missed field goal of the year. Of course, Mason Crosby was errant on a try earlier and Davante Adams dropped a touchdown, so you can't exactly call that a bad beat - just a frustrating one.
Hats off to Rodgers through, who continued his brilliant play at home. Despite Revis locking down Nelson, save for that one play, Rodgers managed to go 24-of-38 for 368 yards and two touchdowns, with a third throw that should've gone into the end zone to Adams. Rodgers injured his hand on one of his scrambles (5 carries, 22 rush yards), but didn't appear to be affected by it. He was helped by his offensive line, which provided tremendous protection. The Patriots barely put any pressure on him.
With Nelson smothered - he didn't even see a target until the 7:55 mark in the second quarter - Adams and Randall Cobb tied for the team lead with 11 targets. Adams and Cobb tallied 121 and 85 yards, respectively. Neither found the end zone, but Adams easily could have twice. I already mentioned his drop; he nearly had a touchdown in the first half, but managed to get just one foot inbounds. Meanwhile, Nelson managed just two catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Richard Rodgers (2-35) secured Aaron Rodgers' other score.
The Packers ran the ball well, especially in the first half. Eddie Lacy gained 98 yards on 21 carries. He had some big gains on the opening drive that really got things rolling for Green Bay.
As for the Patriots, Brady didn't have his best outing. Unlike Rodgers, Brady didn't have very good protection and had to rush some of his throws. His offensive line cost him big time on a third down of the final offensive drive for his team. He took a sack, which ended the drive and made Gostkowski's cover-killing field goal that much harder.
Brady finished 22-of-35 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. He made some clutch throws, including a fourth-and-3 to Julian Edelman and a third-and-7 to Gronkowski on the same drive. However, Brady missed Gronkowski in the end zone at the very end of the game, which could've been the decisive score.
Gronkowski led the team with 98 receiving yards off seven catches. Julian Edelman also had seven grabs, tallying 48 yards. Brandon LaFell (5-38) hauled in both of Brady's touchdowns.
Jonas Gray was once again a non-factor, as he saw just one carry for four yards. LeGarrette Blount (10-58) handled most of the workload, but saw Brandon Bolden (3-17) vulture a touchdown. Shane Vereen (3-6) committed a terrible drop in the second half.
Broncos 29, Chiefs 16
The Broncos posted 29 points on the Chiefs, but Peyton Manning had very little to do with that. Manning completed just half of his passes, lost a fumble and compiled just 43 yards on 14 attempts in the second half. The Broncos also averaged only 4.8 yards per play. If you were to tell me that Manning and the rest of the Denver passing offense would struggle so mightily, I'd take Kansas City every time. Then again, maybe I'd keep making the same error, given that the Chiefs just cost me seven units and my first Pick of the Month loss in two years.
Three things allowed Denver to prevail:
1. The running game: C.J. Anderson was an absolute monster in this contest, trampling the Chiefs for 168 yards on 32 carries. Part of the reason Anderson was so successful was because the Broncos used six offensive linemen in Julius Thomas' absence. They continuously pounded the Chiefs, who haven't been able to stop the rush all year.
2. The pass rush: Alex Smith didn't have a chance in this game. His dreadful offensive line took six sacks. I have no idea what Eric Fisher was trying to do on some of the plays, as he looked more like a seventh-round prospect than a No. 1 overall pick. Six different Chiefs registered at least half a sack, and it's a miracle that Smith made it out of this game without an injury.
3. Bad luck/coaching for Kansas City: This was one of those days where nothing went right for the Chiefs. They accepted a penalty on a Denver punt and then watched the Broncos convert a fake. Smith had an interception tipped by Terrance Knighton that floated perfectly into DeMarcus Ware's arms. The Chiefs dropped three interceptions from Manning. The Broncos were able to recover a muffed punt when a clueless Kansas City player had the ball bounce off his leg after a poor kick, and coincidentally, the senile Walt Coleman missed that the recovering player didn't make an attempt to come inbounds after being pushed out, which should have been flagged. And, to put the cherry on top, Donnie Avery lost a fumble in Denver territory with about four minutes remaining.
It also must be noted that Jamaal Charles had just 14 touches in this game. Reid had 10 days to prepare for this key divisional battle, and that's what he came up with? Granted, Charles gained just 35 yards on his 10 carries, but he's Kansas City's best player, by far. He needs the ball in his hands as much as possible. Fortunately for Charles' fantasy owners, he saved them with four catches for 24 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Alex Smith went 15-of-23 for 153 yards, two touchdowns and the aforementioned tipped interception. He had one very poor pass when he threw behind Dwayne Bowe in the red zone, but otherwise was OK. He just had no chance to maintain drives because of poor play-calling and terrible pass protection.
Meanwhile, Manning's final numbers looked like: 17-of-34 for only 179 yards and two touchdowns. He was just 4-of-14 for 43 yards after intermission. Manning converted some third-and-long situations early on because the Chiefs blitzed, which was foolish. However, they improved their game plan as the evening progressed and limited the Broncos to just 150 net yards in the second half. Manning was very fortunate that he got away with three interceptions. He didn't turn the ball over, save for his lost fumble, but the Kansas City defenders had their hands on three separate Manning throws.
Manning's two touchdowns went to Demaryius Thomas (6-63) and Anderson. Thomas hurt his quarterback with an early dropped touchdown. Emmanuel Sanders led the team in receiving (6-73), but didn't find the end zone.
Dolphins 16, Jets 13
I don't like giving a team credit for trying hard because the players are making more money in a single season than most people will in a lifetime. I am, however, very surprised that they didn't pack it in following last Monday night's blowout loss against the Bills. When the front office went on to undermine Rex Ryan's decision not to turn to Geno Smith, I figured New York would completely quit, but the team put forth more effort in this contest than the Dolphins did - and yet this game was infinitely more important for Miami.
Ryan hilariously gave the proverbial middle finger to John Idzik by not letting Smith throw the ball. While Idzik wanted to see what he had in his quarterback, Ryan called run play after run play. The Jets, at one point, called 14 consecutive rushes, and there was a span in which 23 of their 24 plays were kept on the ground. In total, New York finished with 45 running plays compared to 13 pass attempts from Smith.
The thing is, you can't really blame the Jets for keeping it on the ground because they were able to pound it so effectively. The Dolphins even stacked the box, yet New York was gashing them for big gains, at least in the first half. Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory combined for 130 rushing yards prior to intermission, though the Dolphins clamped down after the break and limited the two backs to 37 rushing yards following halftime. The Dolphins' defense, as a whole, was stellar in the second half, limiting New York to just 94 net yards after giving up 232 prior to halftime.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, struggled to move the ball until late in this contest. Their offensive game plan was ridiculous at the beginning of the evening, as they inexplicably had Lamar Miller carry the ball just once in the first half. They wisely went back to Miller following intermission, and the talented runner finished with 56 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Ryan Tannehill, meanwhile, went 25-of-35 for 235 yards and a very weird interception where he threw it while falling down, and a low pass hit the target's hands and popped the ball into the air and right to a New York defensive back's arms. That pick wasn't all on Tannehill, but he almost threw a completely legitimate one; he fired a pass right to linebacker Calvin Pace, who flat out dropped it.
Having said that, Tannehill could've had a slightly better night, as Mike Wallace dropped a touchdown thrown right to him (shocker). Tannehill also did some good stuff, like throwing some impressive strikes on several third-and-longs to move the chains. I feel like he should've run a bit more, as he had just four scrambles for 13 rushing yards.
There were three Dolphins who had more than 17 receiving yards. Wallace paced the team with 69 receiving yards on six catches, but dropped that aforementioned potential touchdown. Jarvis Landry (8-68) tied Wallace with 11 targets, while Dion Sims (4-58) reeled in a pair of big conversions at the end of the game to move the team into field-goal range.
The Dolphins clamped down and consequently were able to eventually establish the lead. That meant that Geno Smith had to air it out. In other words, the Jets had no shot. Smith predictably threw an interception in a comeback attempt, allowing the Dolphins to seal the victory and jump up to the No. 6 seed in the extremely tight AFC playoff race.
Smith finished 7-of-13 for 65 yards and the pick. He also fumbled the ball on a terrible handoff to Ivory, which the Jets were extremely fortunate to recover inside their own 5-yard line. Smith missed some routine passes, including two to Percy Harvin; one near the red zone, and the other being a routine toss in the flat, which embarrassingly sailed over the small receiver's head.
Speaking of Harvin, he had just one catch for six yards. He had his hands on the ball six more times, as he took that many carries for 27 rushing yards. Eric Decker, meanwhile, hauled in just two passes for 18 yards.
I mentioned Ivory and CJ2K before. Their final lines, respectively, were 17-105 and 16-62. Ivory was the better runner overall, as nearly half of Johnson's yards came on one 47-yard dash. It was an impressive play, but it epitomized his performance on the field over the past few years: some flash, but absolutely no substance.
The Dolphins prevailed, but don't tell Jon Gruden that. After Miami intercepted Smith to pull through, Gruden exclaimed, "A huge signature win for the Jets!" Thanks for paying attention to the game, Gruden.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.