The Cowboys didn't exactly make a statement in their victory over a hapless Chicago team, but the significant item to come out of this win was the fact that barring some anomaly in the time-space continuum - and you never know with Jerry Jones - Dallas will not be going 8-8 or worse this season.
Tony Romo, of course, has been criticized over the years for his failures in December and January, but he wasn't even given a chance to choke in this contest. The Cowboys ran what Jim Nantz (via Rex Ryan) called a "ground and pound" attack, as they ran way more than they passed. By the 3-minute mark of the first half, when Dallas went into a quick offense to score a touchdown prior to intermission, Romo attempted 11 throws compared to DeMarco Murray's 16 carries. Murray had 46 of the 51 yards on the Cowboys' initial touchdown drive, as he converted a pair of fourth-and-short opportunities.
Murray was successful on the ground, but he didn't dominate in that regard despite what the final stats may say, as the Bears are surprisingly not inept versus ground attacks. In fact, Murray became the first running back to gain 100-plus rushing yards versus Chicago this season. The Bears had Murray limited to less than a four yards-per-carry average - 22 attempts, 83 rush yards - before this game got out of hand in the third quarter. Murray was able to boost his stats by breaking free for a few big gains late in the evening, which is why he was able to finish with 179 yards and a touchdown. He would've posted even better numbers had he not taken a strange loss of 14 yards in the final quarter.
As for Romo, he misfired on an early, high throw to Jason Witten, but he did a good job of managing the game and converting third downs, misfiring just five times. He finished 21-of-26 for 205 yards and three touchdowns. One of his scores to Cole Beasley shouldn't have stood, as Beasley's knee was down before he hit the pylon. Romo's fantasy owners should consider themselves extremely fortunate that Ed Hochuli inexplicably didn't reverse the call, to the disbelief of Nantz, Phil Simms and Mike Carey.
Only five Cowboys had catches, with Murray leading the way, hauling in nine balls for 49 receiving yards. Dez Bryant (6-82) paced Dallas in receiving yardage, but didn't find the end zone. He was frustrated at one point in the fourth quarter when Dallas ran the ball on a third-and-long near the red zone. Beasley (3-42, 2 TDs) and Gavin Escobar scored Romo's touchdowns.
As for the Bears, the big story coming out of this game was an injury Brandon Marshall sustained in the middle of the second quarter. Barry Church's knee slammed into Marshall's back, and the All-Pro receiver was down on the ground for quite some time. Marshall was taken to the hospital, but tweeted that he's OK.
Marshall, who had three catches for 61 yards, one of which was an impressive one-handed grab, was sorely missed, as the Bears' offense sputtered until garbage time. With Alshon Jeffery hobbled with a hamstring injury - he was limping around despite the fact that he caught six balls for 95 yards and a touchdown - Jay Cutler had no one to throw to on most plays besides Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte.
Cutler finished 32-of-46 for 341 yards, three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and a late interception when he underthrew his receiver in the end zone. Most of his yardage came when Dallas essentially had this game in hand, as he just couldn't get going without Marshall. As was the case last week, penalties and mistakes ruined Chicago drives. Matt Forte's lost fumble at the beginning of the third quarter was especially painful. Down 14-7, the Bears got close to midfield, but Forte coughed the ball up, and the Cowboys returned it deep into Chicago's territory. They scored a touchdown, increasing their lead to double digits.
Cutler's touchdowns went to Jeffery and Bennett (12-84). Forte, meanwhile, did most of his damage as a pass-catcher, hauling in eight balls for 74 receiving yards. He surprisingly was extremely limited on the ground, gaining just 26 yards on 13 carries, though he did score once. He also had the aforementioned fumble (his second of the year), which, along with Marshall's injury, absolutely killed the Bears' chances of pulling the upset.
Steelers 42, Bengals 21
The Steelers were slaughtered last week against a terrible New Orleans team, but Ben Roethlisberger slamming his hand on a helmet may have had something to do with that. It wasn't clear whether Roethlisberger would be healthy or not, but he reportedly looked great in practice all week. That transitioned to this game, as he outdueled Andy Dalton to win the first meeting between these divisional rivals.
Roethlisberger began slowly - the teams traded punts on numerous series - but he eventually caught fire, particularly in the second half. Roethlisberger finished 25-of-39 for 350 yards and three touchdowns. He was 11-of-16 for 207 yards and two scores after intermission, one of which was a 94-yard bomb to Martavis Bryant. Roethlisberger could've put even more points on the board had the officials correctly flagged the Bengals for pass interference in the end zone just prior to the break.
Roethlisberger helped expose the Bengals, who have endured defensive issues all season. The Bengals haven't been able to get pressure on the quarterback or stop the run. The latter problem was also prevalent, as Le'Veon Bell gashed them for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Bell could've had a third score on the ground, but was incorrectly ruled down inches short of the goal line. Mike Tomlin didn't bother challenging because the Steelers had a first-and-goal at the 1-inch line, and Roethlisberger would end up throwing a touchdown to Heath Miller anyway.
Bell, however, made up for the bad call by doing lots of damage in the passing game. He caught six passes for 50 receiving yards and a third touchdown. He, Bryant (4-109) and Miller secured Roethlisberger's scores. Antonio Brown didn't find the end zone, but reeled in nine of his 14 targets for 117 yards.
As for the Bengals, I mentioned that they had a couple of problems. Andy Dalton, of course, is another one. Dalton has had issues in all three Decembers and Januarys in his brief NFL career thus far, and it appears as though that'll once again be the case this year.
Dalton's numbers look pretty - 21-of-29 for 302 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), but the bulk of his yardage came on two long bombs to A.J. Green, who reeled in receptions of 56 and 81 yards. Dalton also missed some opportunities, failed to sustain drives, and even had an interception that was nullified by offsetting penalties that had nothing to do with the actual play. Dalton was hurt with a big drop though, as Mohamed Sanu let the ball slip through his hands on a big third down in the final quarter. Dalton took a big hit from rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt on the play, but appeared to be OK. He was much better than he was last week, but he just didn't do enough to keep pace with Roethlisberger.
Green had all but 78 of Dalton's yardage, as he completely humiliated Ike Taylor and both of Pittsburgh safeties. Taylor has gotten the better of Green in the past, which always was bizarre, but that apparently was just a fluke. Green had a monstrous outing, snagging 11 balls for 224 yards and a touchdown.
Jermaine Gresham (3-23) had Dalton's other touchdown, and he actually happened to be Cincinnati's second-leading receiver. Sanu (2-16) wasn't much of a factor, and the one target he didn't secure was the big drop.
Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard split touches pretty evenly. Hill (8-46) outgained Bernard (6-17) by a wide margin on the ground, however. Both caught three balls for 21 and 19 receiving yards, respectively. Hill failed to convert a third-and-1 in his own territory in the early going.
Colts 25, Browns 24
It was truly amazing to see almost every single TV analyst opine that Mike Pettine should stick with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. It was painfully obvious that Pettine absolutely had to go with Johnny Manziel, given how terribly Hoyer has played ever since losing center Alex Mack. Pettine should have made the change weeks ago, and he had the perfect opportunity to do so heading into this contest after Hoyer's stink bomb at Buffalo. Pettine, however, made the wrong choice, and it cost him dearly in a crucial game amid a tight AFC playoff race.
Hoyer was woeful yet again. His numbers don't even describe how awful he was, and he went 14-of-31 for 140 yards and two interceptions. Hoyer struggled to maintain drives, throwing errant passes on third down all afternoon. The crowd booed him quietly after the first incompletion, and the jeers grew louder as the game progressed. Both of his picks were poor throws. The first was forced into tight coverage in the end zone, while the second was an inaccurate pass during a failed comeback attempt, and it followed a dropped interception.
Hoyer didn't get much help from Josh Gordon, who was highly inefficient. He caught just two of his seven targets for 15 yards and failed to reel in a deep bomb on the final drive that would've put the team in field goal range. Gordon did have to dive for the reception, but it seemed as though he could have gotten it. The Browns strangely didn't use Gordon on many third downs, which was ridiculously stupid.
Manziel starting would improve Cleveland's rushing attack, which hasn't done well without Mack. Both Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West tallied 54 yards, with West getting one more carry (15) than Crowell. However, Crowell scored a touchdown. If Manziel is under center, the opposition won't be able to fully focus on Crowell and West, given the rookie quarterback's scrambling ability.
As for the real quarterback in this matchup, Andrew Luck had an extremely difficult time for a couple of reasons. The primary one was Cleveland's pass rush, which was unbelievable. I don't know if the Browns were just that good, or if the Colts simply couldn't block - an injury to the center didn't help - but Luck was under siege on almost every single drop-back. As a Luck fantasy owner, it was absurd and frustrating to watch.
The pressure forced some mistakes from Luck. Following some incompletions on third down, Luck was guilty of a fumble amid a sack in the end zone. He was then pick-sixed on a pass he heaved with pressure in his face, and that was followed by another interception on a high throw that was tipped.
It seemed like the Colts didn't have a chance, down 21-7 with no pass protection, but Luck came through in the end. On the game-winning drive, Luck found Donte Moncrief while standing in his own end zone, and then helped Dwayne Allen draw a pass interference. Despite Clete Blakeman's crooked officiating - there was a terrible spot on a Dan Herron run following a review - Luck found T.Y. Hilton in the end zone.
Luck finished 24-of-53 for 294 yards, three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), two interceptions and a lost fumble. It certainly wasn't pretty - Luck was nearly picked on several other occasions - but he got the job done in the end despite extremely difficult conditions.
I mentioned that there were several issues for Luck. The pressure was one, while Reggie Wayne was the other. The future Hall of Fame receiver had one of the worst performances of his career. He reeled in just one of his eight targets for just five yards. He had a whopping four drops. One would've moved the chains, but the drop eventually led to a punt. Another ruined a potential big gain. A third was on the 2-point conversion, which would have pushed this spread (though I'm sure Blakeman would've come up with some sort of penalty).
The Colts actually have a highly productive receiver, and that would be Hilton, who had a monstrous outing. He saw a ridiculous 19 targets and snatched 10 of them for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Coby Fleener (5-56) was second in receiving despite the return of Allen (1-5).
The Colts struggled to run the ball, as Luck was the team's leading rusher with 37 yards on the ground. Trent Richardson (7-30) and Dan Herron (8-26) couldn't get going, thanks in part to the big lead Cleveland maintained. That said, Herron did catch four balls for 45 receiving yards, and he could've scored a touchdown, but Luck overthrew him while being hurried.
Lions 34, Buccaneers 17
An 8-4 team defeating an opponent that's 2-10 isn't usually remarkable, but this one was meaningful for the Lions. That's because they've been a team that hasn't handled success well and has been guilty of fading during the stretch. Instead of playing down to their opponent, they beat an underrated team that had just two losses of more than 11 points this season. The win was Detroit's first in December in 10 tries.
Matthew Stafford had a fantastic outing. He misfired on just eight attempts, going 26-of-34 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He was great in the pocket; on one instance, he avoided a couple of sacks and completed a pass for a decent gain. And, as the completion percentage indicates, he was highly accurate, particularly on passes to Calvin Johnson, whom the Buccaneers inexplicably single-covered on some occasions. Stafford did get lucky on one of his scores though, as a pass of his doinked off a helmet. An aware Joique Bell snatched the ball out of the air and ran into the end zone.
Speaking of Bell, he provided some big plays in the contest. The aforementioned aerial touchdown was huge from a betting standpoint. He also had a 57-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that put him in position to make that score. Bell had 83 rushing yards on 18 carries and also caught five balls for 50 receiving yards. He was so powerful with the ball in his hands that he managed to injure Lavonte David when the stud linebacker tried to tackle him. David was knocked out with a concussion. Gerald McCoy also missed some time in the first half, but was able to reenter this contest.
Megatron was as good as the numbers say he was. He reeled in eight of his nine targets for 158 yards and a touchdown. Stafford's third score went to Joseph Fauria, who missed some action with a minor injury. Golden Tate (4-50) tied Bell for second in receiving yardage.
As for the Buccaneers, they had an offensive disaster, save for a few big plays. Josh McCown's final numbers don't look bad - he was 20-of-39, 250 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions - but he also could've been picked on a couple of other occasions. McCown also didn't have good communication with his substitute offensive coordinator, as he had to waste a timeout on the very first play from scrimmage after halftime.
The Buccaneers were just so sloppy, and poor play from the offensive line didn't help matters. The unit couldn't block Ndamukong Suh, who tossed McCown around like a rag doll. He was flagged on one instance for an elbow to McCown's helmet. There was also a botched snap from Evan Dietrich-Smith, which resulted in a fumble and a subsequent field goal.
I mentioned that the Buccaneers had a few big plays. Mike Evans (4-45, 2 TDs) made an acrobatic catch for a gain of 13 in the first half and then successfully tapped both feet inbounds before leaving the field of play in the end zone while having the ball pinned against his shoulder for one of his touchdowns. Vincent Jackson (10-159) caught a 50-yard bomb on a snap in which McCown did a good job of keeping the play alive with his legs.
The Buccaneers couldn't run the ball once again; not that they even tried. Doug Martin led the way with just 22 yards on five carries.
Ravens 28, Dolphins 13
The Ravens will miss Haloti Ngata for the next three games, and early on in this contest, it appeared as though his absence would be the reason they would lose at Miami. The Dolphins scored 10 quick points on two great drives, thanks to a ridiculous three neutral zone infractions.
Meanwhile, the Ravens couldn't do anything on offense. They began with multiple three-and-outs; they didn't look sharp at all, as Miami got lots of pressure on Joe Flacco. The Ravens didn't even achieve their initial first down until the beginning of the second quarter, and even then, they struggled, as Steve Smith dropped a touchdown, which was followed by a Joe Flacco interception when he threw the ball up for grabs in Smith's direction.
Baltimore picked things up after that, however. Smith went nuts, as he perhaps had some motivation for revenge, given that he used to go against Brent Grimes twice per year when both players were in the NFC South. With Torrey Smith banged up - he didn't do anything in this contest, aside from serving the role as a decoy - Steve Smith hauled in seven of a team-high 11 targets for 70 yards and a touchdown. His best catch came along the sideline when he impressively got both feet inbounds.
Joe Flacco was nearly perfect in terms of completion percentage, going 25-of-33 for 269 yards, three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and the aforementioned interception. He misfired just thrice following intermission, and one of the incompletions was a play that was initially ruled a lost fumble inside the red zone. The Ravens were able to maintain possession following a replay review, and Justin Forsett scored on the next play, which iced the game.
Flacco also had two key running plays. The first put the Ravens out of terrible field position and ultimately led to a touchdown prior to halftime. The second was really a sneak; he was able to successfully convert on a fourth-and-inches from his own 34 with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Baltimore also turned that into points.
As for Forsett, he shared more carries with Lorenzo Taliaferro than his owners would have liked. Forsett gained 71 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Taliaferro managed 35 yards on seven attempts. Taliaferro actually got the offense going when it was sputtering with some nice runs, so Forsett's fantasy owners can't complain too much, especially considering his questionable tag heading into this contest.
Baltimore's defense needs to be given credit for this victory, as it surrendered just three points in the final three quarters without Ngata on the field. Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley was awesome, making some impressive tackles. Elvis Dumervil registered 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The front line, meanwhile, stuffed Lamar Miller in short-yardage situations.
The Dolphins sputtered in the second half, registering just 125 net yards. Part of the reason for that was what John Harbaugh did. Harbaugh notified the officials that the Dolphins had players illegally downfield on some of their plays, and Miami was promptly whistled for that. It seemed to disrupt the Dolphins' scoring attack - though Baltimore's fierce pass rush was obviously responsible for that as well.
Ryan Tannehill's final numbers don't look bad - 23-of-33, 227 yards, one touchdown - but Baltimore's domination in the trenches made it impossible for the Dolphins to keep drives alive after their initial surge. Some drops didn't help either, though Tannehill should've hit Mike Wallace in the end zone, but overthrew his speedy receiver. Tannehill once again failed to take advantage of a great matchup versus a poor secondary.
Only one Dolphin had more than 41 receiving yards, and that was Tannehill's new favorite receiver, Jarvis Landry, who snagged all six of his targets for 55 yards. Wallace (3-39) didn't do much.
As for Miller, it's odd that he was given just 12 carries. He rushed for 53 yards, so he maintained an impressive average despite the fact that he was stuffed on a couple of occasions. The Dolphins led for more than half the game, so it's curious that for the second week in a row, Miller was severely underutilized.
Adding injury to insult, star safety Louis Delmas tore his ACL and is done for the year. That's a big loss for a secondary that's already banged up.
Vikings 26, Jets 20
I was shocked the Jets tried in this game, especially when Geno Smith opened things up with a pick-six that he threw right to Gerald Hodges. Rex Ryan was practically in tears following the Monday night loss to the Dolphins, and no one would've blamed the Jets for being so discouraged that they'd show up flat for this contest.
Then again, both of the Jets' receivers may have had motivation. Percy Harvin, in particular, wanted to get revenge because the Vikings traded him. Harvin, who tried for the first time in quite a while, taunted the crowd after some big gains, and he had quite a few. Harvin actually made a case to remain a Jet next season, catching six balls for 124 yards and a touchdown (the fans booed him heavily after the score) to go along with a big special-teams return. Then again, Harvin may not want to remain in New York, considering the quarterback situation. It's not like Harvin will have another chance to disappoint this season; he sustained an ankle injury late in the contest, and he could be done for the year.
To be fair, Smith wasn't that bad. Following the pick, he went 18-of-28 for 254 yards and a touchdown. It helped that the Vikings had issues covering his motivated wideouts. Smith was able to find Harvin wide open for a 45-yard gain on a third down during the opening quarter amid busted coverage, for instance. Smith also picked up 33 rushing yards on six scrambles, though he did take a bad sack in the opening quarter to take his team out of field goal range, which would have made all the difference.
I mentioned that both Jets' wideouts were motivated. That was true for Eric Decker as well, who was back where he played in college. Decker had a solid outing, catching six balls for 89 yards.
Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson split carries exactly evenly, with both receiving 16 attempts. Ivory outgained the overrated Johnson, 73-53, but a lost a fumble inside the Minnesota 5-yard line. It was his first lost fumble since 2010.
As for the team with some hope in the near future, Teddy Bridgewater had one of his best performances of his rookie campaign. It looked like he'd struggle early on when Sheldon Richardson sacked him for a safety in the first quarter, but Bridgewater shook it off and torched the Jets' anemic secondary, which is something Ryan Tannehill couldn't do last week.
Bridgewater misfired on just eight passes, going 19-of-27 for 309 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which was irrelevant because it was a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half. He continued to look for Charles Johnson, who had another big game, snatching four balls for 103 yards and a touchdown on a team-high eight targets. He did have a big blemish though, fumbling at the goal line.
Johnson was actually outgained by Jarius Wright, though that was because of his catch in overtime. Wright caught a short pass and breezed by the slow Jet defenders amid busted coverage for an 87-yard score to win and cover the spread. Greg Jennings (5-52) had a decent outing, while Cordarrelle Patterson wasn't targeted on a single occasion. Patterson hurt his team by fumbling a kickoff return, which set up the Jets for a short field goal. It's amazing how much of a disappointment he has been.
With Jerick McKinnon out, Matt Asiata handled most of the workload. He gained 54 yards on 19 carries, which actually isn't that bad of an output considering that the Jets are stout versus the rush. Of course, New York was missing Muhammad Wilkerson again, and his presence would've made a huge difference.
Panthers 41, Saints 10
Want proof that handicapping football is extremely difficult? Just look at the Saints' previous two games. Following three home losses, they went into Pittsburgh and inexplicably blew out the Steelers. Just seven days later, they returned home and took on the hapless Panthers, who were just obliterated at Minnesota. The result was a Carolina demolition despite the fact that New Orleans was favored by 10 points earlier in the week.
Newton's mobility was the difference. He was banged up earlier in the year and couldn't scramble as a consequence. He's definitely 100 percent now, as he ran around early and often. He picked up 83 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground on 12 rushing attempts. The hapless Saints had no answer for him, as Rob Ryan looked completely unprepared. It's as if Ryan didn't know that he would be battling a mobile quarterback.
Newton was also terrific as a passer, though that's hardly a surprise considering how awful the Saints' defense has been this year. Newton went 21-of-33 for 226 yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He missed out on a couple of scores. Kelvin Benjamin dropped one, while Newton overthrew Jerricho Cotchery for another.
On Newton's running touchdown, he leapt over the pile at the goal line and then proceeded to taunt Cameron Jordan. This sparked a big fight between the two teams in which one player was ejected for throwing punches. Official Walt Coleman, looking as clueless and senile as ever, whistled both teams for unsportsmanlike penalties, and he didn't even bother to flag Newton, who started the whole thing. To steal a quip from Dan Patrick, it was the only fight the Saints showed all afternoon.
Jonathan Stewart also had a huge outing. He gained 155 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, though most of it - a 69-yarder - came on one attempt early in the third quarter. Even without that scamper, Stewart was highly effective, though it's worth noting that the horrible Saints' defense was too preoccupied trying to stop Newton to even bother concentrating on the usually disappointing running back.
Newton's three aerial touchdowns went to different players: Greg Olsen (10-72), Fozzy Whittaker and Kelvin Benjamin (2-24). Olsen's numbers were surprising because the Saints had been stingy against tight ends all year. Benjamin, meanwhile, dropped a potential 60-yard score, so this result could've been much uglier.
Speaking of tight ends, Jimmy Graham had yet another disappointing outing. After not being targeted at all at Pittsburgh, Graham caught just three passes for 25 yards. He dropped a pass and had a reception overturned. If there's a silver lining for his fantasy owners, however, it's that he was targeted 11 times, and he has the Bears next. Unfortunately, if you have Graham on your roster, there's a good chance you lost this past weekend.
The Saints' leading receiver was Marques Colston, who had a mediocre night by his previous standards (5-72). Kenny Stills (3-23) disappointed, but so did most of the New Orleans players.
Speaking of disappointing players, Drew Brees went 29-of-49 for 235 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which was a deep shot into double coverage. Brees was hurt with some drops, but he sucked overall. Meanwhile, Mark Ingram lost a fumble in the first quarter. He gained 43 yards on 10 carries.
I mentioned Walt Coleman earlier. He had a performance for the ages. On top of losing control amid that scrum, he screwed up tremendously at the end of the first half. Olsen made a great, one-handed, diving catch and rolled out of bounds. It was automatically reviewed, and Coleman surprisingly correctly overturned it. However, Coleman ignored the fact that Olsen went out of bounds and forced the clock to run, even wiping 10 seconds off. Coleman also didn't spot the ball correctly, putting it three yards behind where the line of scrimmage should've been. Coleman is the worst official in any sport, and it's embarrassing that the NFL keeps trotting him out every week when his time would be better spent in a Bingo hall.
Giants 36, Titans 7
The Giants blew a huge lead against an AFC South opponent on the road last week, so they weren't going to let that happen again. They maintained their huge lead this time and would've had a shutout had Eli Manning not thrown a stupid pick-six in the second half.
I'm not going to spend much time on this worthless game. Some notes and stats:
- Manning went 26-of-42 for 260 yards, one touchdown and that interception. Manning missed Kelvin Ogletree and Odell Beckham for potential scores, but was able to look competent otherwise against the NFL's worst defense, as the Titans couldn't cover anyone.
- Tennessee didn't have a prayer against Beckham, who reeled in 11 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. Beckham nearly had a long score, but Manning missed him. He also attempted a long pass of his own, but he couldn't connect with Rueben Randle.
- Rashad Jennings was very limited, as predicted. He gained just five yards on two carries, and he was gimpy after touching the ball for the first time. Andre Williams handled most of the workload and was stymied until he broke free for a 50-yard touchdown in the second half on a third-and-1 play. He finished with 131 yards on 24 attempts.
- As for the Titans, Zach Mettenberger is done for the season with a shoulder injury that he sustained in the fourth quarter. Mettenberger went 14-of-24 for 125 yards an interception and a lost fumble returned for a touchdown, and even those numbers were inflated because he was just 10-of-14 for only 63 yards by the time this game was 30-0. Mettenberger also had a second pick, which was brought back for six, nullified by a penalty. Jake Locker managed to go 9-of-11 for 81 yards and an interception in relief.
- The Titans couldn't establish the run because they were way behind early. Bishop Sankey wasn't finding much room anyway, as he mustered just 25 yards on nine attempts. Shonn Greene was a healthy scratch.
- With Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter out, the Titans' leading receivers were Derek Hagan (6-62) and Nate Washington (3-56). Like I said, worthless.
Rams 24, Redskins 0
News broke this week that Jay Gruden - not Robert Griffin - might be the one to leave Washington after this season. After a performance like this, it's difficult to imagine Gruden keeping his job after the next three weeks.
The Redskins did not look prepared to play this game. They were discombobulated on both sides of the ball. Colt McCoy was terrible, and the offense as a whole averaged just 3.7 yards per play. Washington would've been limited to fewer than 200 net yards had Robert Griffin not entered the game and generated some garbage yardage at the very end.
The defense, meanwhile, was just as bad. The Rams moved the chains with ease, and they would've scored way more than 24 points had they not killed themselves with mistakes. They took a pair of 10-yard penalties on one early drive to put themselves out of kicking range, and then the once-promising Greg Zuerlein whiffed from 28 and 38 yards. He eventually converted from 34, though at first glance, it appeared as though the field goal would miss.
Washington also screwed up on special teams, making this a complete loss. The team stupidly tried a fake punt in their own territory when this game was still close. The decision was curious, given that the Redskins were attempting this against a team that practices fake punts so frequently. The Rams seemed to troll Washington with a fake extra-point try later on (not the first time they trolled; more on that later). They also scored on a Tavon Austin punt return.
Shaun Hill was nearly perfect in this game, going 16-of-22 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his scores went to Jared Cook, who led the team with 61 receiving yards on four catches.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Kenny Britt (2-52) and Stedman Bailey (2-47) disappointed their fantasy owners. The latter's performance was especially painful, given that he was tackled just short of the goal line in the second half.
Tre Mason didn't run as well as he did last week, though he was battling a tough ground defense. He mustered 66 yards on 20 carries. Austin did some work as a runner, gaining 46 rushing yards on five carries.
As for Washington's running game, McCoy pathetically led the Redskins in rushing with 11 yards on two scrambles. St. Louis put the clamps on Alfred Morris (8 carries, 6 yards), making it nearly impossible for the Redskins to move the ball.
McCoy, meanwhile, went 20-of-32 for 199 yards and two interceptions. One of his picks was late, but the one that mattered was a high throw in St. Louis territory during one of the rare positive Washington drives. McCoy was so bad that the fans chanted "R-G-3!" throughout the second half. The Washington faithful finally got their wish, as Griffin went 3-of-4 for 33 yards after McCoy suffered a neck injury. It's almost certain that Griffin will start next week.
With DeSean Jackson out, Pierre Garcon predictably led the Redskins in receiving with nine grabs for 95 yards. Jordan Reed (3-25) was a disappointment, but was battling a defense that has put the clamps on tight ends.
I mentioned earlier that the Rams trolled the Redskins in more ways than one. They sent out six players for the pre-game handshake. The six were those that the front office acquired in the Griffin trade. And yet, Griffin isn't even starting!
Editor's Note: Blake Bortles, on a 4th-and-20, down 14 with 5:30 remaining, just tossed a checkdown. Why!? Just lob it downfield and try to get pass interference. Even if it's picked off, it's like a punt. The Jaguars weren't going to win anyway, but it was just frustrating to see. Bortles looked so great in the preseason, but it's almost like he's playing scared at this point.
The Texans' slim playoff hopes stayed alive with a road win at Jacksonville. Blake Bortles played well in the first half, but was completely dominated by J.J. Watt and company in the second half. Arian Foster and Ryan Fitzpatrick managed the game to get points, as head coach Bill O'Brien had a superb performance as a play-caller. The Jaguars had a 13-10 lead at the half, but the final two quarters were all Houston.
Jacksonville got on the board first with a short drive aided by some Houston penalties and a 16-yard run by Denard Robinson (10-30). To finish the possession, Bortles rolled out and found Allen Hurns (5-36) in the end zone for a short touchdown pass. The Texans responded with Foster breaking off a 51-yard run to set up a field goal for Houston. Jacksonville quickly got the ball back and took advantage with a nice pass to Andre Johnson (4-17), and another run of about 20 from Foster. Fitzpatrick finished the drive by running into the end zone on a quarterback sweep.
The Jaguars responded with a three-point drive that was spurred by Toby Gerhart (5-19) running a first first down on a third-and-8 and a good gainer to tight end Marcedes Lewis (3-69). Clay Harbor dropped a long reception downfield, but landed a penalty via a late hit from D.J. Swearninger. On the Jaguars' next drive, Marqise Lee (5-67) made a great leaping catch over A.J. Bouye for 31 yards. A screen to Gerhart moved the ball inside Houston's 30, but Watt batted a pass on a third down to force a field goal.
The Texans marched down the field during the third quarter with some great play calls by Bill O'Brien. To close out the drive, Alfred Blue (9-15) plunged into the end zone. Bortles promptly made a terrible decision on an interception to Swearinger to set up the Texans at Jacksonville's 26. A 25-yard pass to tight end Ryan Griffin went to the 1-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Foster made a great run after getting bounced back that saw him maintain his balance and dart to the outside for the score. After a three-and-out by the Jaguars, the Texans drove for a field goal to ice the game.
Foster carried the Texans with 127 yards on 24 carries and two receptions for 21 yards. Fitzpatrick was 13-of-19 for 135 yards and 19 rushing with a score. DeAndre Hopkins had 49 yards on four catches.
Bortles finished 20-of-39 for 205 yards with a touchdown and interception. He also had a few picks dropped. Bortles really struggled in the second half, and the rush seemed to get in his head as his accuracy fell part.
Once again, J.J. Watt was dominant. The Jaguars' offensive tackles, Luke Joeckel and Sam Young, were completely overwhelmed by the league's best player. Watt had three sacks and another tackle for a loss, batted down a pass on a third down and drew two holding penalties.
The other No. 99 in this game played well. The Jaguars' Sen'Derrick Marks had 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss.
Andre Johnson took a vicious hit from Telvin Smith in the second quarter that popped Johnson's helmet off. The veterean walked off the field and went into the locker room with a concussion.
Editor's Note: I'm only posting this because I caught so much flak from comment board trolls for predicting this, but my pick for this game was Raiders 16, 49ers 13.
This has to be it for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco and pretty much puts an end to the 49ers' playoff hopes. You just can't see him returning to the organization when he lost to a Raiders team that was 1-11 entering Sunday. On the other side of the field, this was a thoroughly impressive win as Derek Carr destroyed the 49ers in the second half. He proved to any doubters that he is the future in Oakland. The Raiders would be wise to keep offensive coordinator Greg Olson to provide Carr with continuity and build around the talented signal-caller. With the promising Carr, we could see the return of the Silver and Black as a relevant team in the NFL.
Kaepernick rolled out on the first play from scrimmage and just laid out a floater downfield. Raiders safety Brandian Ross easily ran underneath the ball for an interception. Carr ran for a first down and got another on a screen to Marcel Reese. That led to a 57-yard field from Sebastian Janikowski.
The 49ers took the lead with a drive that got started by a 23-yard pass to Vernon Davis (2-26). Frank Gore (12-63) put together a couple of good runs, and the drive ended with an 8-yard scoring pass to fullback Bruce Miller. Carr responded with an impressive drive led by Latavius Murray (23-76) running for 15 yards, Vincent Brown catching a 20-yarder, and Mychal Rivera catching a 19-yard pass. On third-and-goal, Oakland went to a tackle-eligible play with a touchdown pass to Donald Penn. It was actually a nice catch by Penn, as the big lineman went low to make the reception.
Late before the half, the 49ers got going with two passes to Anquan Boldin (4-54) for 36 yards. Kaepernick ran for 16 yards to set up a 52-yard field goal from Phil Dawson to tie the score at 10 entering the half.
The 49ers put together a drive in the third quarter, but couldn't get a touchdown on a goal-to-go and had to settle for a field goal. Carr answered as he got red hot and carved up the San Francisco defense. He hit Andre Holmes (2-38) for 16 and Rivera for 27 yards. On third-and-1, Carr drilled Marcel Reese (7-64) for a 9-yard touchdown. After getting the ball back, Carr continued to be red hot as he ripped the ball through the 49ers' secondary, mainly using Reese and Rivera. Carr made another clutch throw on third and goal with a laser to Rivera, who caught the ball over a defensive back to put Oakland up 24-13.
Kaepernick moved the ball into field goal range before Antonio Smith sacked him on a third down to end the drive before Phil Dawson missed the 47-yard attempt. After getting the ball back, Khalil Mack sacked Kaepernick and the 49ers' comeback hopes ended with a terribly thrown interception right to Charles Woodson.
Carr finished 22-of-28 for 254 yards with three touchdowns. He was even better than the numbers indicate, as he made great decisions and displayed a powerful, accurate arm. Rivera had a coming-out party with seven receptions for 109 yards and the score. San Francisco's defense looked hapless with no pass rush in the second half and a secondary that struggled to cover.
Kaepernick completed 18-of-33 for 174 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was an ugly game from him, as he made a number of bad decisions and had some missed opportunities.
Khalil Mack and Antonio Smith each played really well and had two sacks to lead Oakland's defense.
Cardinals 17, Chiefs 14
The Cardinals desperately needed this one. They were reeling after two consecutive losses, but there was some hope entering this contest - despite what the media said - because they were playing at home, where they've been extremely dominant over the years. Things didn't seem very promising, however, once the Chiefs estbalished a 14-6 lead in the second quarter, but Arizona made the appropriate adjustments at halftime and blanked Kansas City the rest of the way to win its 10 game of the year.
There was controversy late, however. Travis Kelce caught a pass to enter the red zone, but the ball popped out at the very end. It appeared as though it just harmlessly slipped out after he hit the ground, but Bruce Arians threw the challenge flag. It seemed as though there was a chance that the ball was lodged out before he was down by contact, but not enough to overturn the call. However, the officials overturned it, giving the Cardinals the ball. Arizona didn't score off the possession, but it was able to eat enough clock to ruin Kansas City's chances.
That was one thing that did in the Chiefs, who are reeling themselves at 7-6. The other was their putrid run defense. C.J. Anderson trampled them last Sunday night, and someone named Kerwynn Williams picked up where he left off, gaining 100 yards on 19 carries. Kansas City has the worst ground defense in the NFL, but no one could've expected that some unknown player would hit the century mark against them. It's clear that the Chiefs sorely miss Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry.
Drew Stanton had an adventurous game, to say the least. I had five units on the Cardinals, and I was terrified every time he released the ball. He had some horrific throws - he was guilty of several near-interceptions, including one in the end zone, and he overthrew Larry Fitzgerald to ruin a potential score - but he had a few nice passes, including a perfect lob to Jaron Brown for a 26-yard touchdown.
In the end, Stanton completed just half of his attempts, going 15-of-30 for 239 yards and that touchdown. He also fumbled the ball, but was lucky one of his teammates recovered. Stanton, who will need to play better on the road if the Cardinals want to wrap up homefield advantage, should have led the Cardinals to more points, but kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed two chip-shot field goals.
As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith was solid early on, misfiring just once in the first half. He had a 21-yard scramble on a third-and-14, and threw a conversion to Dwayne Bowe on a third-and-19 on the same drive. However, he was just 13-of-26 for 184 yards and a pick following the break. The Cardinals did a great job of pressuring him and forcing quick, errant throws. Once Smith had to come back from a deficit, he just couldn't get the job done because he's so limited. After all, there's a reason that no Kansas City receivers have yet to catch touchdowns this year.
Smith finished 26-of-39 for 293 yards, one touchdown and an interception that was thrown right to Alex Okafor. He also scrambled four times for 26 rushing yards. It appeared as though Smith had a second score to Anthony Fasano, but the officials ruled that Fasano pushed off even though it was a bogus call. Smith is a good game manager, but he doesn't have the arm or the weapons around him to advance deep into the playoffs.
There was a scary moment in this game when Jamaal Charles bent backward after appearing to fumble. The officials changed the call after watching the replay, but Charles limped off. Fortunately, he turned out to be OK. Having said that, Charles was criminally underutilized for the second week in a row; he touched the ball just 12 times, rushing for 91 yards on 10 carries and catching two balls for 20 receiving yards. He scored twice, at least.
Kelce led the Chiefs in receiving with seven grabs for 110 yards. Bowe (2-29) had one awesome reception, but otherwise did nothing.
Broncos 24, Bills 17
The good news for the Broncos is that they were able to prevail and achieve their 10th victory of the season. Following the win, they had sole possession of first place in the AFC prior to the Patriots winning in San Diego on Sunday night.
The bad news for the Broncos - besides New England prevailing - is that Peyton Manning hasn't played well in the past six quarters. He was just 4-of-14 for 43 yards in the second half of the Kansas City game. He had a higher completion percentage in this contest - 14-of-20 - but was responsible for two interceptions. Both picks were poorly thrown balls. The first fluttered, allowing Corey Graham to snatch a nice-looking interception. The second was another weak-armed floater. No one's saying anything about it in the media because they're afraid to offend Lord Peyton - Michael Irvin even admitted that he was hesitant - but his arm seems to be sapped. Denver had an early bye - back in Week 4 - so it's possible that Manning could just be fatigued.
Manning ultimately generated 173 yards. He was battling a tough defense and tried to get rid of the ball as quickly as a consequence, but that doesn't excuse the weak throws.
Because Manning didn't try to go deep very often - and struggled when he did - both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders disappointed their fantasy owners. Sanders (4-56) was at least functional despite the fact that he was knocked out for a bit on a crushing hit that appeared to be helmet-to-helmet but wasn't. Thomas, on the other hand, secured just two balls for 11 yards. Manning missed him for a big gain early on, and Thomas saw just five targets.
Meanwhile, Wes Welker led the Broncos in receiving, hauling in all six of his targets for 82 yards. With Manning releasing the ball as quickly as possible, it's not a complete surprise that Welker just had one of his better games. On the other end of the spectrum, Julius Thomas was active, but didn't play at all, royally screwing over any fantasy owners who started him this week in the wake of the news that he would be active.
The Broncos didn't run the ball as well this week. Juwan Thompson broke free for a 47-yard gain, which featured a fantastic juke on Aaron Williams, but that was about it. C.J. Anderson was limited to just 58 yards on 21 carries, though he did score thrice. Thompson (4-63) outgained him because of that one long burst.
As for the Bills, don't be fooled by this final score. The Bills made it close at the end, but they were down 24-3 at one point. They managed to score two late touchdowns, and Kyle Orton flopping into the end zone with a minute remaining ruined what should have been a Denver cover.
Orton was terrible, by the way. The numbers say otherwise - 38-of-57, 355 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions - but almost all of his yardage came in garbage time. In fact, he had just 80 yards on 18 attempts by halftime. The Broncos had him completely stymied, and his picks were both terrible, especially the one heaved right to linebacker Brandon Marshall. Orton also was guilty of a pick-six, but the pass was so bad that it hit the ground in front of the Denver player. It wasn't all Orton's fault, however, as the Broncos put some heavy pressure on him.
Like Orton, Sammy Watkins did all of his damage in meaningless action. He lost a fumble on the first drive near midfield and had just one reception by intermission. However, he finished with seven grabs for 127 yards. Scott Chandler (8-81) caught a touchdown, but the officials negated it because they said that he pushed off. Chris Hogan (7-54) had Orton's sole score on a play in which two Broncos fell down.
The Bills predictably didn't run very well. Fred Jackson was limited to just 35 yards on eight carries, but at least contributed in the passing game, catching a whopping 10 balls (14 targets) for 37 receiving yards.
Seahawks 24, Eagles 14
The Seahawks have won three impressive games in as many weeks. It all started with a victory over the 9-1 Cardinals, which prompted Russell Wilson to announce that the team had its swagger back. Wilson apparently read his teammates perfectly, as Seattle went on the road and triumphed twice by double digits against a pair of teams that had a combined 16 victories.
What's scary is that the Seahawks are doing this as visitors. They're so much more dominant at home, and they'll be playing as hosts throughout the playoffs if they win out and the Packers trip up once.
Wilson had a strong outing. The Eagles made some quality defensive plays, but Wilson proved to be too much. He was a magician in the pocket, eluding defenders and either scrambling for big gains or keeping plays alive to find receivers downfield. On one drive alone, Wilson found Doug Baldwin with a dart on third-and-13 after eluding a sack, and then converted with another pass on third-and-15 after dancing around in the pocket.
Wilson, who went 22-of-37 for 263 yards and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) to go along with 48 rushing yards on 10 scrambles, did a great job of keeping drives alive. The Seahawks held the ball for 42 minutes and never gave the Eagles a chance to get going. Their only offensive mistakes were two sacks that took them out of a field goal range on a pair of separate drives, and a lost fumble from Marshawn Lynch. Wilson also nearly threw a pick-six very late, but Seattle still would have led by three.
Speaking of Lynch, he had a tough time finding running room against a ferocious Philadelphia ground defense. Lynch gained 86 yards on 23 carries, but those numbers were inflated by a 21-yard burst that he managed late in the game against the exhausted Eagles. Lynch helped his fantasy owners as a receiver, catching five balls for 27 extra yards and a touchdown.
Despite holding the ball the entire game, only one Seattle player had more than 37 receiving yards. That was Doug Baldwin (5-97), who secured Wilson's other touchdown. He also drew a pass interference on Bradley Fletcher, though that was a questionable call. Jermaine Kearse (3-37) made a great, diving catch late in the contest.
The Eagles, meanwhile, couldn't sustain drives. Half of their 14 points came from a fumble from punter Jon Ryan, who dropped the snap. The Seahawks' secondary limited Philadelphia's offense to basically just seven points, smothering both Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews. Richard Sherman was on Maclin, which is why he was restricted to just three catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. Sherman wasn't covering Maclin when he found the end zone.
Matthews, meanwhile, was limited to just two grabs for 23 yards. Zach Ertz (2-39) led the team in receiving. He caught Mark Sanchez's other touchdown.
Speaking of Sanchez, he had a much worse performance than the one at Dallas. He completed only half of his passes, going 10-of-20 for only 96 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which was thrown way behind Riley Cooper, who really shouldn't be on the field anymore. With Maclin and Matthews taken out, Sanchez simply had no opportunities to do anything, and on the rare occasions in which the Seahawks gave him something, he often messed up those chances.
LeSean McCoy had a big Thanksgiving, but he killed his team in this contest. He was limited to 50 yards on 17 carries, and he lost a fumble on the first play of the second half, which the Seahawks were able to turn into a touchdown.
Patriots 23, Chargers 14
There's no such thing as a must-win for a 9-3 team, but this loss would've been very damaging for the Patriots because the Broncos prevailed earlier on Sunday to improve to 10-3. Had New England been defeated, Denver would've moved into the No. 1 seed, but the team was able to hold serve. The Patriots are now just three wins away - vs. Dolphins, at Jets, vs. Bills - from securing homefield advantage.
Tom Brady wasn't at his sharpest early on. He converted a third-and-long from his own end zone, but stalled on several occasions deep in San Diego territory. Brady took a sack inside the 5-yard line and then had an interception heaved to Manti Te'o just prior to halftime and a poor underthrow. His only score in the first half was a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski after Mike Scifres' punt was blocked.
Brady, however, was unstoppable following intermission, going 14-of-19 for 146 yards and a touchdown. He did have help from Julian Edelman, however, who broke out of a tackle to score from 69 yards out. It helped Brady that the Chargers struggled to punt, as Scifres was knocked out of the game as a result of that block. Bill Belichick brilliantly had two punt returners on the field, just in case Scifres' replacement hit a bad boot, which proved to be the case on several occasions.
Edelman and Gronkowski both tied for the team lead with eight receptions for 141 and 87 yards, respectively. Both scored once. Brandon LaFell, meanwhile, hauled in four balls for 41 yards, but cost his team with a fumble that was returned for six.
The Chargers' defense has improved lately, and they were able to limit New England's rushing attack. LeGarrette Blount mustered 66 yards on 20 carries, but struggled to gain yardage on the ground, save for one 23-yard burst.
Given LaFell's strip-six, San Diego's offense mustered just seven points. Multiple things contributed to that. The first was Philip Rivers' pass protection. Playing behind a battered front, which included his fifth center of the season, Rivers didn't have much of a chance. He was sacked on four occasions, including twice by Jamie Collins, who had more of a responsibility in this game with Dont'a Hightower out.
Another issue was New England's secondary, which completely put the clamps on Keenan Allen. Darrelle Revis shut him down, as Rivers barely threw the ball in his direction. Allen was targeted just thrice. He caught two balls for only three yards.
Rivers, as a consequence, went 20-of-33 for 189 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He had a second pick, which was returned for six after Ladarius Green bobbled the ball, which popped into the air, but the turnover was negated by a bogus penalty that was called helmet-to-helmet when Brandon Browner really went shoulder to chest. It ultimately didn't matter, as Rivers was picked on the very same drive.
Malcom Floyd, taking advantage of the coverage on Allen, led the team with 54 receiving yards on three catches, and he also found the end zone. Antonio Gates (5-34) dropped a pass, though Rivers paid him back by missing him for a potential first down.
The Chargers didn't try hard enough to establish the run. Ryan Matthews carried the ball only 11 times, tallying 44 yards in the process.
Mike McCoy made a very curious decision late in the game. Down 23-14, McCoy opted to punt on a fourth-and-4 at midfield with about five minutes remaining. There just wasn't enough time on the clock. It may have been a good move down just one score - they forced New England to punt, after all - but the Chargers gave themselves no chance by relinquishing possession like that.
Packers 43, Falcons 37
The Packers won to preserve a top-two seed in the NFC, but there are major issues going on with this team. Their defense was horrific. They looked completely lost when trying to stop the Falcons in the second half, as Julio Jones destroyed them for giant chunks of yardage, thanks to blown coverage after blown coverage. It makes me question how great Green Bay is in the first place. They beat the Patriots, but did so at home, and they were a Rob Gronkowski drop away from trailing very late.
Prior to taking on Tom Brady, here are the quarterbacks they battled since R-E-L-A-X: Teddy Bridgewater, Mark Sanchez, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees (who torched them), an injured Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Christian Ponder, Jay Cutler. Not exactly the group that will be playing in the Pro Bowl. Brady (on a neutral field), Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning (assuming he's healthy), Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and even Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco would throw all over this secondary unless it makes major improvements in the near future.
Of course, the Packers will be favored against all of those teams because of Aaron Rodgers, who was mostly spectacular in this contest. With no pressure in his face for nearly the entire game, he was able to go 24-of-36 for 327 yards and three touchdowns to go along with five scrambles for 28 rushing yards.
There was some complacency in the second half, however. Rodgers wasn't nearly as sharp as he was prior to intermission, completing just 6-of-11 attempts. He missed an open Jordy Nelson for a touchdown (he connected with him, but Nelson had to dive for an inaccurate ball). His teammates seemed to be out of sync as well, as Eddie Lacy dropped a pass, while the special teams didn't have enough players on the field for a punt. As a result, the Packers nearly squandered their 31-7 lead. The Falcons scored four touchdowns and a field goal in the second half, ultimately covering the spread.
Lacy gashed the Falcons in the early going. He ripped through Atlanta's poor defense and had 56 yards and a touchdown by halftime. However, he finished with 73 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown, as Atlanta clamped down on the run in the second half - save for a big James Starks gain at the very end. Starks actually outgained Lacy as a result, finishing with 75 yards and a score on 10 attempts, though Lacy had the better fantasy day because he caught five balls for 33 receiving yards and a second touchdown.
Rodgers' other scores went to Jordy Nelson, who reeled in eight of 10 targets for a whopping 146 yards and two touchdowns. No other Packer had more than 58 receiving yards, however, with Randall Cobb holding that distinction on four catches.
As for the Falcons, I already mentioned Jones' dominance. I have to emphasize how incredible he was. He caught 11 balls for a ridiculous 259 yards and a touchdown. The Packers looked completely clueless trying to stop him, and he would've had a bigger night, but three things happened: First, Jones nearly had a second score, but could only get one foot inbounds. Second, he was tackled at the 3-yard line on a 79-yard gain. And third, he was knocked out of the game with an injury. He wasn't present on the field for Atlanta's final offensive drive, though the Falcons found the end zone anyway for the dreaded backdoor cover.
Matt Ryan was terrific in the second half. He finished 24-of-39 for 375 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, but he was 18-of-25 for 263 yards and a quartet of scores following intermission. His pick was a poor decision, as he threw the ball toward Devin Hester without looking while under pressure. However, he rebounded and nearly led an unbelievable comeback. Though the Falcons lost, their outlook in terms of winning the division is positive because Ryan is performing on a much higher level than Brees.
Excluding Jones, the players who reeled in Ryan's touchdowns were Roddy White (3-42), who barely did anything prior to Jones getting hurt, Harry Douglas (2-11) and Eric Weems.
Steven Jackson, meanwhile, looked functional for the second week in a row. He gained 50 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Most of his yardage came in the first half, but the Falcons had to abandon the run for the most part because they were so far behind.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.