Many were calling this the Teddy Bridgewater Bowl, but this game had playoff implications. What, you don't believe me? It's true. Both teams were actually still alive in the playoff hunt prior to kickoff. Here's what each team needed to do to reach the postseason (thanks to Scott S. for some help with this):
Jaguars beat Texans
Raiders beat Jets
Steelers beat Dolphins
Vikings beat Ravens
Titans lose one of Week 14 to Broncos or Week 15 to Cardinals
Giants beat Chargers
Broncos beat Chargers
Browns lose one of Week 15 to Bears or Week 16 to Jets
Patriots beat Dolphins
Jaguars beat Bills
Titans lose one of Week 14 to Broncos or Week 15 to Cardinals (already mentioned)
Steelers lose one of Week 15 to Bengals or Week 16 to Packers
Lions beat Ravens
Bills beat Dolphins
Browns lose one of Week 15 to Bears or Week 16 to Jets (already mentioned)
Jaguars beat Titans
Chargers beat Raiders
Steelers lose one of Week 15 to Bengals or Week 16 to Packers (already mentioned)
Patriots beat Ravens
Week 14: Texans beat Jaguars
Patriots beat Browns
Raiders beat Jets
Steelers beat Dolphins
Bills lose one of Week 14 to Buccaneers, Week 15 to Jaguars or Week 17 to Patriots
Vikings beat Ravens
Titans lose one of Week 14 to Broncos or Week 15 to Cardinals
Giants beat Chargers
Broncos beat Chargers
Bears beat Browns
Texans beat Colts
Patriots beat Dolphins
Bills lose one of Week 14 to Buccaneers, Week 15 to Jaguars or Week 17 to Patriots (already mentioned)
Titans lose one of Week 14 to Broncos or Week 15 to Cardinals (already mentioned)
Bengals beat Steelers
Lions beat Ravens
Bengals beat Ravens
Texans beat Titans
Jets beat Dolphins
Bills lose one of Week 14 to Buccaneers, Week 15 to Jaguars or Week 17 to Patriots (already mentioned)
Browns beat Steelers
Broncos beat Raiders
Chiefs beat Chargers
Well, the Texans are out, but the Jaguars need just 19 more things to happen!
Jacksonville, continuing to ruin the future of its franchise, "Reversed the Curse," as the team called it, winning at home for the first time since last November. It was a hollow, meaningless victory, however, that will have adverse effects going forward. The Jaguars may not even be able to get Brett Hundley now, as I had in the most recent version of my 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
The main problem for the Jaguars is the quarterback position. Chad Henne had a nice, opening drive, but he was pretty pedestrian after that. He went 12-of-27 for just 117 yards and two touchdowns. He took dumb sacks and heaved some awful throws, missing open receivers on several occasions, including Cecil Shorts deep downfield. He's just a mediocre backup at best, yet the Jaguars probably won't be able to find an upgrade over him next offseason, ensuring a losing record in 2014.
The Texans, meanwhile, may have lost on the scoreboard, but they were the real winners Thursday night because they inched closer to landing Teddy Bridgewater, all while ensuing that one of their divisional rivals will be awful for years to come. Houston didn't even try early on; the team was whistled for 10 penalties in the opening half, including some dumb infractions like false starts, a DeAndre Hopkins punch personal foul, a kick-catch interference, an unsportsmanlike flag for a D.J. Swearinger taunt, and so on.
However, Gary Kubiak did something incredibly stupid late in the game when he benched Case Keenum (16-of-29, 159 yards, TD, INT) in favor of Matt Schaub. The latter came in and nearly led the team to victory, which would've been disastrous. As my Las Vegas Hilton partner Matvei wrote in a text to me, "After ruining the season, Matt Schaub is now making a bid to ruin the Texans draft pick."
Keenum struggled with his accuracy throughout, but the Texans should have kept him in the game, not only to ensure defeat; but to also make sure that they know what they have in Keenum going forward. Playing Schaub was very pointless and almost extremely harmful. Schaub went 17-of-29 for 198 yards, one touchdown and a bad pick at the very end.
Some players stood out:
- Andre Johnson had a big second half. Of his 13 catches, 11 came after intermission. He finished with 154 yards.
- Both starting tight ends scored once. Garrett Graham hauled in eight passes for 73 yards. Marcedes Lewis had two grabs for 42 yards.
- Maurice Jones-Drew, tallying 103 yards on 14 carries, suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter. He told the NFL Network crew that he'd be ready for Buffalo in Week 15, but that could've been just standard player arrogance.
- Ace Sanders threw a 21-yard touchdown to Jordan Todman, who also went down in the final period. He hurt his leg.
- Cecil Shorts had just two catches for 13 yards, but he scored a touchdown. He also drew a long pass-interference flag and just missed out on a 50-yard touchdown because Henne overthrew him by a few inches.
I've made fun of Brad Nessler countless times. He has called Greg Little "Mr. Dependable," Jay Feely "Jim Feely" and Koa Misi "Koa Misa." He also said that the a punter in the Redskins-Vikings "kicked the ball into the night sky" even though they were playing in a dome. As for this week, I'll let e-mailer Joe B. handle it:
I know you love pointing out Brad Nessler's idiotic statements. Here's this week's edition in case you missed it: "These two teams played two weeks ago, so you know they'll remember each other's names." Maybe Nessler needs to announce a game between the same two teams that he announced two weeks ago, since he has all kinds of problems knowing the players' names. I wonder who this "Marcellus Lewis" fellow is...
Indeed. He referred to Marcedes Lewis as "Marcellus Lewis" when the tight end caught his first-quarter touchdown. It's amazing how much money Nessler is stealing from the NFL Network, because he's absolutely mailing it in.
Ravens 29, Vikings 26
Who would've thought that a battle between Joe Flacco and Matt Cassel in snowy conditions would end up being one of the most entertaining games of the year? That certainly didn't seem like the case when Baltimore entered the fourth quarter with a 7-6 lead in what was a turnover-filled, defensive slug-fest. The Ravens seemingly had control of this contest despite the slim margin because Cassel simply couldn't get anything going, but an ugly Flacco interception helped Minnesota establish its first lead of the afternoon. Things looked bleak for the Ravens, but Flacco eventually found Dennis Pitta in the end zone.
As this happened, I quickly jotted down, "Pitta game-winning touchdown. Huge second half." Despite calling it a "game-winning" score, there were FOUR more touchdowns after that, as the Vikings and Ravens went back and forth with some brilliant plays in the final couple of minutes.
The mayhem began when the Ravens inexplicably couldn't tackle Toby Gerhart on a 41-yard score. That accounted for nearly half of Gerhart's yardage, as he tallied 89 yards and that score on 15 carries along with a lost fumble that should have been overturned by the officials. Gerhart replaced Adrian Peterson (7-13), who was carted into the locker room at the beginning of the second quarter with an ankle injury.
Jacoby Jones responded with a kickoff return touchdown on a pooch kick, but the Vikings came back with a score on a 79-yard Cordarrelle Patterson score in which he broke free following a reception caught behind the line of scrimmage. Once again, the Ravens should have been able to bring him down, but the defense disappointed.
Just when all hope was lost, Joe Flacco hit a big pass to Marlon Brown for 35 yards. Following an interception that was wiped out by a defensive hold, he went back to Brown for a 9-yard score that was reviewed and upheld. It was Flacco's third and final touchdown of the afternoon, and it won the game for good. It was the fastest span of five combined touchdowns in the previous 50 years (2:01) breaking the old record (5:40) by a wide margin.
Flacco went 28-of-50 for 245 yards, the three scores and three interceptions along with a 22-yard run in which he somehow broke out of four potential sacks. Two of the picks were his fault. On the first, he had all day to throw, yet still hurled it up for grabs in Minnesota territory, negating at least three points. The second was also a poor force, but the third was the result of a Jones bobble. Jones, fortunately, redeemed himself with that kickoff return.
Flacco's touchdowns went to Brown (7-92), Pitta (6-48) and Ed Dickson. Flacco and Pitta had trouble connecting early on - the first three attempts were incomplete, and Pitta had just one reception in the opening half - but the tight end, making his 2013 debut, came alive after intermission. Torrey Smith, by the way, logged just one reception, though he did catch a two-point conversion. Smith had trouble dealing with emerging rookie corner Xavier Rhodes, who missed some action late in the contest.
Ray Rice had the third-most catches for the Ravens on the afternoon with five grabs for a season-high 42 receiving yards. This complemented his decent rushing stats (17-67).
As for the Vikings, Cassel finished 17-of-39 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. As mentioned, he had trouble sustaining drives in the first three quarters, but he played well in the final period. Having said that, 79 of his yards were all Patterson.
Speaking of the rookie wideout, he continued to impressive with five grabs for 141 yards and the score. Greg Jennings also had five catches, but for only 53 yards.
Bengals 42, Colts 28
Anyone who looks at the box score to determine how this game went will be deceived. The Colts lost by only 14, and Andrew Luck threw for four touchdowns, but this was a Cincinnati-dominated affair in which Luck and his offense struggled mightily.
Luck finished 29-of-46 for 326 yards and the four scores, but much of that came in garbage time when Cincinnati simply stopped showing an interest in tackling. The Bengals got out to a 21-0 lead, and Luck was just 10-of-20 for 96 yards in the opening half. With that in mind though, Luck doesn't deserve much of the blame because his supporting cast continued to let him down. Trent Richardson continued to play like a bum, gaining 20 yards on six carries (though he did have five catches for 68 receiving yards). Darrius Heyward-Bey, meanwhile, committed yet another big drop that would've moved the chains on third down, making me wonder why he was still on the field.
The Indianapolis coaching staff apparently agreed, as it utilized undrafted rookie Da'Rick Rogers heavily in the second half. Rogers responded well, showing so much more play-making ability than Heyward-Bey ever did. Rogers led the team ith six grabs for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Some of this production was the result of poor tackling, but the former Tennessee Vol was impressive nonetheless. He could have a bright future ahead of him if he continues to stay out of trouble, as he's donethis year.
As for the winners, Andy Dalton couldn't be stopped, particularly in the second half when he misfired on just four of 16 attempts. He ultimately finished 24-of-35 for 275 yards and three passing touchdowns and a rushing scamper into the end zone.
Dalton's scores went to A.J. Green (6-72), Marvin Jones (3-60) and Jermaine Gresham (5-41). The Colts opted not to shadow Green with Vontae Davis, but it ultimately didn't matter because Jones torched Davis for his touchdown.
Though BenJarvus Green-Ellis was outgained by Giovani Bernard by a wide margin (99-48), he was able to find the end zone twice. One score was highly controversial. Green-Ellis was tackled short of the goal line on a fourth-down try before crossing the goal line on the ground. The play was reviewed and overturned, with official Jeff Triplette stating that Green-Ellis wasn't touched. Both CBS announcers were irate about this, as they believed it was clear that nose tackle Josh Chapman tripped the runner.
I mentioned Bernard's 99 rushing yards. He did this on just 12 carries, and he also had four catches for 49 receiving yards. I don't understand why Green-Ellis continues to get more touches than the explosive rookie.
Some Indianapolis stats:
- LaVon Brazill had Luck's other two touchdowns. He caught three balls for 53 yards.
- Coby Fleener (5-31) and T.Y. Hilton (2-7) disappointed their fantasy owners.
- Donald Brown, despite being named the starter over Richardson, had just four carries for 11 yards.
Patriots 27, Browns 26
The Patriots have to stop it with these slow starts. They're not going to battle crappy teams like the Texans and Browns come playoff time, so if they get down early against a tough opponent, they may not be able to come back. They also may not be able to luck into getting some crucial calls their way.
There were four key plays at the end of the game that ensured victory for the Patriots: a Brady touchdown to Julian Edelman, an onside kick recovered by Kyle Arrington, a 29-yard pass interference penalty on Leon McFadden when he tried to defend rookie wideout Josh Boyce, and a second Brady score to Danny Amendola. Two of those plays featured awful calls by the officiating crew. The Patriots appeared to touch the football before it went 10 yards on the onside kick. The play was reviewed, but was strangely not overturned. The pass interference was way more egregious. McFadden barely touched Boyce. The infraction was obviously huge, as it set up New England at the 1-yard line.
The key point is that the Patriots shouldn't have needed this miraculous comeback in the first place, but they played like complete crap early on. Brady, who was just 7-of-19 for 95 yards in the opening half, suffered from a whopping five drops, including two by Edelman. Brady also had a pick prior to intermission, as he forced it into double coverage. New England would ultimately come back, but it came at a price. Rob Gronkowski went down awkwardly in the third quarter and then was carted into the locker room. It was later speculated that Gronkowski tore his ACL, which is obviously a huge blow for New England's offense.
Brady ultimately finished 32-of-52 for 418 yards, two touchdowns, the pick and a lost fumble. As mentioned, his scores went to Edelman (6-64) and Amendola (4-36). Brady's primary weapon was Shane Vereen, who had a whopping 12 grabs for 153 yards. Vereen also had a rushing touchdown.
While Vereen scored on the ground, LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley tied for the team lead in carries with eight apiece. Blount outgained Ridley by a bit, 42-35.
I've only discussed the Patriots thus far, but the Browns deserve credit for playing well. Jason Campbell was surprisingly effective, going 29-of-44 for 391 yards and three touchdowns. The scores went to Josh Gordon (7-151), Jordan Cameron (9-121) and Gary Barnidge. Gordon's stats are worth noting because he set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a four-game span, breaking Calvin Johnson's former record. His only blemish on the afternoon was a bad drop in the end zone during the first half, but he definitely made up for it.
Gordon was so good that he led the Browns in rushing with 34 yards on an end-around. Willis McGahee (14-33) sucked yet again.
Jets 37, Raiders 27
The NFL can be so weird sometimes. The Jets couldn't score more than three points in either of their previous two games. Geno Smith looked so bad last week that I joked about him being brain-dead and drunk in my NFL Power Rankings. I then mocked Jameis Winston to New York in my 2015 NFL Mock Draft. Smith was benched last week, but Rex Ryan gave no thought to that in this contest because Smith had a rare, solid performance.
Smith opened with a poor interception that he telegraphed in the first quarter, but was nearly flawless after that, going 16-of-25 for 219 yards, one touchdown to Jeremy Kerley and the pick. He was nearly intercepted in the red zone later in the opening half, but he made up for it with 50 rushing yards and a score on five scrambles.
Two things helped Smith. First, Santonio Holmes (3-55) was able to play the entire game, unlike last week, when he exited after three snaps. Holmes did drop a touchdown, but his presence on the field opened things up for New York's offense. Second, the Jets were able to run all over the Raiders. In addition to Smith's yardage, Chris Ivory gained 76 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
I'm not going to spend too much time on this meaningless contest, so I'll get to the Raiders right now, who were also able to move the ball pretty effectively. They were missing both Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden, but this only meant that they were forced to use the most talented player on offense for the first time this year. Marcel Reece started at running back and rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He also chipped in with a pair of catches for 38 receiving yards.
Matt McGloin started this game, but Terrelle Pryor entered on the third drive. McGloin then replaced Pryor, so it seemed as though the Raiders would be rotating quarterbacks. McGloin then threw a pick, but the coaching staff opted to stick with the undrafted Penn State rookie, which I thought was odd. McGloin did play well aside from the turnover, going 18-of-31 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. Pryor, meanwhile, went 2-of-5 for 20 yards.
One of McGloin's scores went to Rod Streater, who had a huge outing with seven grabs for 130 yards. Mychal Rivers (5-21) had the other touchdown. Andre Holmes didn't have the huge performance he enjoyed on Thanksgiving, but he still managed three catches for 63 yards.
The Raiders and Jets played pretty evenly on offense and defense, but the big difference was a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Eagles 34, Lions 20
The weather in this game was so ridiculous that it's impossible to take away much from it. To give you an idea of how bad it was, the ball just died upon hitting the ground on the opening kickoff. Matthew Stafford threw a duck on his first pass and proceeded to fumble on the very next play. Detroit then had three fumbles on the next drive, including a Joique Bell cough-up in the red zone.
The dome-based Lions had major issues early on, as one might expect. In fact, their troubles started before kickoff when Reggie Bush slipped on the turf and aggravated his calf injury. They then had five fumbles in the first 16 minutes of the game, losing two of them. Once they started moving the ball, they opted to eschew a field-goal attempt on the 12-yard line. They even went for two after each touchdown. They tried just one kick in this contest, an extra-point try, and it was blocked and returned for what should have been two points if the NFL adopted the fun college rule.
The Eagles also had issues in the heavy snow early on. Nick Foles fired his first interception of the season on an overthrow. LeSean McCoy, meanwhile, was guilty of running backward and taking huge losses on several occasions. They also had trouble moving around on special teams, surrendering two touchdowns to Jeremy Ross.
However, being the cold-weather team, they were able to adjust. McCoy started running forward, ultimately rushing for a single-game franchise-record 217 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Chris Polk (4-50, TD) also ran well.
Nick Foles, meanwhile, was so much more effective after halftime. He was just 4-of-10 for 35 yards and the pick prior to intermission, but he went 7-of-12 for 144 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) afterward. Foles, whose final numbers were 11-of-22 for 179 yards, fired his one aerial score to DeSean Jackson (4-59), while Riley Cooper (3-74) paced the team in receiving.
While the Eagles made great adjustments to the weather, the Lions were shell shocked throughout. The receivers continued to drop passes, while Stafford kept struggling with botched snaps. Stafford had an awful statistical outing, finishing 10-of-25 for 148 yards. He completed passes to just four players, two of whom were receivers. Calvin Johnson (3-49) disappointed his fantasy owners.
Joique Bell, taking the injured Bush's place in the lineup, led the Lions in both rushing and receiving. He gained 69 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and also caught four balls for 58 yards. However, Bell also hurt his team, losing a pair of fumbles.
Dolphins 34, Steelers 28
The Steelers had a huge weather-related edge heading into this contest. They were the northern team, after all. The Dolphins, meanwhile, aren't build to play in snowy conditions. In fact, Ryan Tannehill had never played a single game in the snow prior to this contest. Based on this performance, Tannehill may ask to be traded to a team in the north.
Tannehill went 20-of-33 or 201 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which was returned for a score. That was Tannehill's only blemish on the afternoon, as he didn't see Troy Polamalu. He was especially big in the second half, going 12-of-18 for 148 yards, two scores and the pick.
It must be noted that Tannehill did receive some help from a barrage of Pittsburgh injuries. Nose tackle Steve McLendon, defensive end Ziggy Hood and cornerback Ike Taylor all left the game at variois points, which is one of the reasons why Miami was able to compile 246 net yards of offense following intermission as opposed to 114 yards beforehand.
he Dolphins ran all over the Steelers. Lamar Miller had just 20 yards on six carries (his afternoon was cut short by a concussion), but Daniel Thomas did all of the damage, generating 105 yards and a score on 16 attempts.
Mike Wallace didn't do much in his return to Pittsburgh, catching two passes for 19 yards. He was booed following each of his receptions. Charles Clay (7-98, 2 TDs) and Brian Hartline (5-51, TD) did all of the damage against the Steeler secondary.
Despite Miami's offense playing so well, particularly after intermission, the Steelers were a couple of inches away from winning this game. They tried a Stanford Band-type play at the very end, and it nearly worked - Antonio Brown ran into the end zone to put Pittsburgh on top, pending an extra point. However, the officials correctly ruled that Brown's toes were out of bounds inside the Miami 15-yard line, nullifying what would have been one of the greatest plays in NFL history. Perhaps this was karma for Mike Tomlin's sideline "blunder."
Ben Roethlisberger was strip-sacked early, but played well after that. He went 23-of-39 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. However, he had trouble with pass protection at times, as his hobbled offensive line couldn't keep Miami's fierce pass rush out of the backfield. Cameron Wake registered a pair of sacks.
Roethlisberger's scores went to three different receivers: Brown (5-82), Jerricho Cotchery (5-63) and Emmanuel Sanders (4-62). Heath Miller was also a contributor with his three grabs for 56 yards.
Le'Veon Bell didn't have much success on the ground, gaining 63 yards on 16 carries. He was a factor in the passing game, however, hauling in five passes for 25 receiving yards.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I planned on watching this game on Tuesday evening, but Charlie e-mailed this to me along with his recap: "I've recapped over 100 college games this year. I've done a lot of NFL games and that doesn't include other games I watched for research. This Bucs vs Bills game was the worst, most painful game I've watched all season. I hope you don't have to watch it." Yeah, I think I just might pass.
This was an irrelevant game between two bad teams that were only jockeying for draft position. It was all about which team could stink more, and E.J. Manuel played like hot garbage baking in the Florida sun. Mike Glennon was bad, but he had a couple of good passes that were enough to make the difference over the inept Buffalo offense.
Ten seconds into the game, Bobby Rainey (21-125) got through a stacked box to break down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. That was all the scoring the Bucs would need. Manuel led a field goal drive via completions to Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler (2-24). A Lavonte David sack forced that field goal. Glennon then hit Vincent Jackson for a 38-yard touchdown as Jackson (3-70) was too big for Nickell Robey to cover downfield.
Manuel had a pass go off the hands of Johnson, and Lavonte David caught the deflection for an interception. Glennon gave it right back with an inaccurate pass that was intercepted by Jarius Byrd. A few plays later, Manuel threw an interception to Johnthan Banks to give Tampa Bay a field goal. Leodis McKelvin muffed a punt that the Bucs recovered at the Bills' 20, but Glennon quickly threw an interception to Stephon Gilmore. A horrible roughing-the-passer penalty on Byrd gave Tampa Bay a first down, and Glennon was able to convert it with a touchdown pass to Tim Wright (2-21).
In the third quarter, Manuel had a 33-yard completion to Johnson (5-67) to set up a field goal. The Bills moved into Bucs territory before Manuel made a terrible decision for an interception to Mason Foster. Manuel led Robert Woods into a crushing hit from Darrelle Revis and the ball bounced to Lavonte David for another pick. David had a big return to Buffalo's 12-yard line to set up a field goal. Manuel hit a screen pass to Spiller (11-22 rushing, 1-26 receiving), and he busted it for an 83-yard touchdown - but a holding call brought it back. Both teams offenses were abysmal in the second half.
Glennon completed only 9-of-25 passes for 90 yards with two scores and two picks. Aside from two plays, the Bills' defense played well. Marcell Dareus had a sack, and Buffalo kept steady heat on Glennon.
Manuel was 18-of-33 for 184 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions. He was awful. Fred Jackson (5-12 rushing, 4-26 receiving) was also contained.
The star of the game was David as he had nine tackles with a sack and two interceptions. He was awesome. William Gholston (1.5 sacks), Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron, Darrelle Revis, Derek Landri and Da'Quan Bowers (.5) all recorded sacks. The majority were Manuel's fault for holding the ball too long.
Chiefs 45, Redskins 10
Don't let this final score fool you. As much of a blowout as this result would indicate it was, this contest was even more lopsided. The Chiefs led 31-0 in the second quarter and could have named the score if they didn't take their foot off the gas. The Redskins were absolutely pathetic on every single level...
- Offense: Robert Griffin went 12-of-26 for 164 yards, one touchdown (to Logan Paulsen, who made an acrobatic catch) and an interception in which he didn't see Derrick Johnson, but even those numbers were inflated by some garbage-time stats at the end of the second quarter. Yes, garbage-time stats at the end of the SECOND QUARTER. Griffin also had a lost fumble returned for a touchdown, but that was overturned by a replay review. He was eventually benched in favor of Kirk Cousins.
Griffin played poorly, but the offensive line didn't help him at all. The Chiefs accumulated six sacks, which is a very high number considering they were going against a mobile quarterback.
Griffin scrambled just four times for 29 yards, and yet he nearly outgained Alfred Morris, who mustered just 31 yards on 12 carries. Morris had just three attempts after halftime.
- Defense: Jamaal Charles was a monster. The Redskins simply couldn't tackle him. He gained a whopping 151 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries even though he didn't touch the ball in the fourth quarter. Charles also hauled in a receiving touchdown with one of his two catches.
Alex Smith let the ball hit the ground only six times, and one of the misfires was a Dwayne Bowe drop in the red zone. Smith went 14-of-20 for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Smith's scores went to Charles and Bowe (4-69). The Chiefs failed on their first trip to the red zone, as it appeared that they missed Anthony Fasano, who is a big end-zone target. However, Washington's stop unit was so inept that it couldn't keep the Chiefs from scoring.
- Special teams: Remember the Griffin strip-six that was overturned by the officials? Well, the Redskins surrendered a punt return to Dexter McCluster immediately afterward. And if that wasn't enough, Quintin Demps took a kickoff return to the house at the end of the first half.
Packers 22, Falcons 21
The Falcons were one of many dome or southern teams to play in snowy conditions this Sunday. However, Matt Ryan attended Boston College, while Matt Flynn went to LSU, so it could be argued that the former was more prepared to play in this weather.
That was certainly the case early on. It appeared as though Flynn would ruin yet another potential victory with some awful mistakes. He was strip-sacked in the first half when Eddie Lacy missed a blitz pick-up, which ultimately led to a Tony Gonzalez touchdown. Flynn was then pick-sixed by Sean Weatherspoon, who missed some action with a shoulder injury. The interception was a weird one, as it bounced off linebacker Paul Worrilow's foot. Ryan, meanwhile, misfired on just four passes in the first half, going 9-of-13 for 85 yards and two scores. The Falcons were up 21-10 and appeared as though they'd cruise to victory, effectively eliminating Green Bay from playoff contention.
Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff made some awesome adjustments at halftime, however, which is something I never thought I'd write. Flynn was simply unbelievable in the second half, going 10-of-12 for 131 yards and a touchdown. Of course, much of this can be attributed to the ineptitude of the Atlanta defense, but the important thing is that Flynn bought his team another week for Aaron Rodgers to return. With the Lions losing, Green Bay is just half a game out of the division lead. Rodgers could return next week, which would give the team a great chance to claim the NFC North.
Flynn ultimately finished 24-of-32 for 258 yards, one touchdown and the pick-six. His score went to tight end Andrew Quarless, who finally came alive with six catches for 66 yards. Jordy Nelson (4-85) led the team in receiving, while James Jones (4-19) didn't do much.
Lacy was responsible for that aforementioned strip-sack, but he made up for it with a touchdown in the first half. However, he didn't run as well as expected, given the matchup. He managed just 65 yards on 20 carries to go along with three catches for 25 receiving yards. The issue was the Falcons, like the Lions, stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Flynn to throw. Flynn made them pay.
There are some new defensive concerns for the Packers. A couple of inside linebackers sustained injuries in this contest. As if things couldn't get any worse for Green Bay's stop unit.
As for Ryan, he struggled in the second half, going 11-of-22 for just 121 yards and a pick following the break, though that interception was a desperation heave at the end of the game. His supporting cast let him down (six drops), including Tony Gonzalez (3-25, TD) who had a huge fourth-down drop on the penultimate drive of the game.
Ryan's scores went to Gonzalez and Drew Davis. Roddy White didn't find the end zone, but he paced the team with eight catches for 74 yards.
Given the Falcons were up early, it was surprising that they didn't run the ball more often with Steven Jackson, who found some room on the ground; he gained 71 yards on 15 carries.
Broncos 51, Titans 28
The big take-way that most people will have from this contest is that Peyton Manning proved that he can play in freezing weather. Manning, entering this contest with a 3-7 record in games in which the temperature is 34 degrees or colder, seemed determined to silence all doubters. He apparently succeeded, going 39-of-59 for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Throughout the game, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms offered snobbish remarks, berating those who doubted Manning's ability win in frigid conditions.
This will go against public opinion, but Manning didn't prove anything, as far as I'm concerned. The Titans are a poor team playing their third-consecutive game on the road. They looked extremely fatigued in the second half, as they were gasping for air in Denver's high-altitude environment. Plus, Manning, despite the impressive stats, lobbed up some ugly ducks in this contest. He was also nearly intercepted by Alterraun Verner. The Broncos struggled early - the Titans led 21-10 at some point - but they were able to pull away because of a combination of Tennessee fatigue and some terrible mistakes by the visitor and the officiating crew.
Beginning with the latter, the refs were guilty of a truly horrible call in which Bernard Pollard was flagged for a hit on a "defenseless" Eric Decker. Pollard, however, led with his shoulder and didn't come close to crashing into Decker's helmet or neck area. It was a brutal collision, but it was completely legal. The penalty put the Broncos in great field position, and they scored a touchdown a few plays later.
Denver is lucky Decker was OK because it lost Wes Welker to another legal hit earlier. Welker, finishing with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown (plus a drop), left the game with a concussion. Given that the Broncos play on Thursday, it's unlikely that the star slot receiver will be ready to play.
As mentioned, Manning threw four touchdowns, and they were all to different players: Welker, Decker (8-117), Demaryius Thomas (7-88) and Julius Thomas (5-35). The latter Thomas' fantasy owners are lucky their tight end found the end zone because he dropped a touchdown in the first half.
Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball compiled similar rushing numbers: 14-78-1 and 15-77-1, respectively. The difference was what each did in the passing game. Moreno logged six catches for 31 receiving yards, while Ball dropped a pass in the opening half.
As mentioned earlier, the Titans made some mistakes when they had to match the Broncos score for score. The first occurred on a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception. Von Miller hit Fitzpatrick's arm, caused the ball to pop into the air. It sailed right into Terrance Knighton's arms. The more egregious error occurred when Chris Johnson started running backward like an idiot. Miller forced the fumble, giving the Broncos great field position and a quick touchdown.
Johnson scored a touchdown earlier in the contest - a 3-yard plunge set up by a great Leon Washington return. Unfortunately for Johnson's fantasy owners, Shonn Greene stole two scores, gaining 46 yards on nine attempts.
Fitzpatrick went 13-of-24 for 172 yards, one touchdown and the pick. The score was a 57-yard bomb to Justin Hunter (4-114). Aside from Hunter, no Titan had more than two receptions. Kendall Wright had only two grabs for 17 yards.
Two historical items to mention:
- Manning now sits at 45 passing touchdowns. He needs just six to overtake Tom Brady for the all-time single-season record.
- Matt Prater drilled a 64-yard field goal, which is the longest kick in NFL history. Four others previously held the record with 63-yarders.
Cardinals 30, Rams 10
Both the Patriots and Broncos won games this week while suffering costly injuries, losing Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker to various maladies. The Cardinals continued the trend. They triumphed by a huge margin, but they saw stud rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu get carted off what looked to be an ACL tear. Mathieu has been huge for Arizona's stop unit this year, so he'll definitely be missed going forward.
The Rams didn't have any sort of chance versus Arizona's defense, especially given that their best stating field position was their own 25-yard line until the end of the third quarter when the game was already out of hand. The Cardinals, who are very stout against the rush, put the clamps on Zac Stacy (14 carries, 25 yards, touchdown), forcing Kellen Clemens to beat them. That was definitely not happening.
Clemens actually wasn't too bad in the first half, but he heaved a pick-six to Karlos Dansby as he was being taken down for a potential sack by Calais Campbell. Campbell actually didn't register a sack, but John Abraham got to Clemens on three occasions. Clemens ultimately finished 16-of-27 for 181 yards and two interceptions, both of which came after intermission. His numbers after the break were awful (5-of-12, 40 yards, 2 INTs).
Adding injury to insult, Tavon Austin suffered a foot malady following a 56-yard rush. This was just one of three plays the Rams had that were longer than 20 yards. Jared Cook (3-49) led the team in receiving.
Carson Palmer was incredibly sharp in this contest despite coming into this game with an injured elbow. Wearing a heating pad in between possessions, Palmer misfired on just one of 17 attempts in the first half, ultimately finishing 27-of-32 for 269 yards and a touchdown. He was robbed of a second score when tight end Jim Dray lost a fumble at the goal line. The senile Walt Coleman blew the play dead and announced that Dray went into the end zone prior to coughing up the ball, but this was obviously an incorrect ruling, which negated a nice return by the Rams.
Palmer's sole score went to Larry Fitzgerald, who had a monstrous outing. Fitzgerald logged 12 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Eight of his catches came in the first half, so he could've had an even better afternoon had Arizona not taken its foot off the gas by just a bit.
The Cardinals welcomed Andre Ellington back from injury. The speedy back gained 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Rashard Mendenhall (17-41) also found the end zone.
Chargers 37, Giants 14
The Chargers and Giants entered this game with equal records, but because of the sad state of the AFC, the former happened to be just one game out of the final wild-card spot. That still happens to be the case, thanks to Baltimore and Miami victories. The Giants, meanwhile, have been eliminated from postseason contention.
While New York played sloppily and sluggishly, San Diego was so much more efficient. The Chargers really made only one awful mistake in this contest when Philip Rivers was strip-sacked deep in his own territory, leading to one of the two touchdowns for the opposition. Other than that, San Diego had a completely clean performance, giving away that one turnover and not being whistled for any awful penalties.
Rivers let the ball hit the ground just seven times, going 21-of-28 for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He seemed to injure his neck on the aforementioned strip-sack, which could be a slight concern because he attempted just seven throws in the second half, though he did complete five of them. Rivers had a mostly clean pocket throughout the afternoon, thanks to the return of left tackle King Dunlap. He was sacked only twice. Justin Tuck, who has been coming on lately, got him on both occasions and also had the strip.
Two of Rivers' scores went to Keenan Allen (3-59), who injured his shoulder in the first half. Fortunately, Allen wouldn't miss much action. The other touchdown went to Danny Woodhead, who had 42 rushing yards (seven carries) and 52 receiving yards (four catches).
Rivers didn't need to throw much after intermission because Ryan Mathews continued to rip off big gains against a reeling New York defensive front that was easily being pushed around. Mathews notched 103 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
As mentioned earlier, the Giants were extremely sloppy. They were guilty of three turnovers and countless stupid penalties. Two of the give-aways were Eli Manning picks, one of which came early on a deflection. The Giants then gave three free points to San Diego. Nick Novak missed a field goal, but he was awarded a second chance because someone was offside. Andre Brown (16-81) then lost a fumble in his own territory. The Giants then spent the entire second half being offsides, getting shoved around and blowing coverages on the rare instances in which Rivers attempted passes.
Manning went 20-of-32 for 259 yards, one touchdown and the two picks (the second was a late, desperation heave). Forty-four of Manning's yards went to Hakeem Nicks' Hail Mary at the end of the first half, but he was short of the goal line by a few yards. However, Nicks actually eclipsed the century mark for the first time since Week 5, logging five receptions for 135 yards.
Manning's one score went to Brandon Myers (4-26). Victor Cruz didn't do much, collecting just four catches for 26 yards.
EDITOR'S NOTE: My Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest partner Matvei texted this to me during the game: "I never want to see Clete Blakeman ever again. He has single-handedly ruined this game."
This was a heavyweight fight of a game that San Francisco had to have to maintain control of a wild-card berth. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick also needed this victory as he hadn't beat Seattle since taking over as a starter. This game was very evenly matched, and both teams saw their defenses play well.
The 49ers got moving on offense midway through the first quarter. Kaepernick hit a back-shoulder throw to Michael Crabtree to get to the Seahawks 14-yard line. That led to a field goal. San Francisco tacked on six more as Ray McDonald had a third-down sack and on the next play, 49ers' special teams ace Kassim Osgood blocked the punt to produce the 49ers' second field goal. Seattle got going when Russell Wilson hit a 31-yard pass to Luke Willson (3-70). A completion to Golden Tate (6-65) set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch (20-72). After another San Francisco field goal, Wilson-to-Willson connected again on a deep crossing route and the rookie tight end bolted into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown. A chunk pass to Anquan Boldin (6-93) on Richard Sherman moved the 49ers into Seahawks territory. Kaepernick finished the drive with a short touchdown pass to Vernon Davis (2-21) just before halftime for a 16-14 San Francisco lead.
The 49ers got a drive going in the third quarter with a pass to Crabtree (4-40), a 15-yard run to Frank Gore and a completion to Boldin to get to the 20-yard line. However, the drive ended when Byron Maxwell picked off Kaepernick just in front of the goal line. Chris Clemons got a sack against Joe Staley to end another San Francisco possession. Clinton McDonald did the same thing to Adam Snyder. A 37-yard punt return by Golden Tate set up Seattle with good field position. The Seahawks took the lead with a field goal at 6:20 remaining.
The 49ers came back with a huge run by Gore (17-110). Earl Thomas overran it and Gore busted it down the field for 51 yards inside the Seahawks' 20 yardline. San Francisco then ran down the clock to 30 seconds left before Phil Dawson put his team ahead with a 22-yarder. The last chance for Seattle ended when Wilson aired out a pass deep that was picked off by Eric Wright.
Kaepernick finished 15-of-29 for 175 yards with a score and an interception. He ran for 31 yards on nine carries. Seattle's defense did a nice job of forcing field goals to keep the game close in the first half.
Wilson was 15-of-25 for 199 yards with a score and an interception. The 49ers allowed some yards, but came up with some clutch stops to get off the field. NaVorro Bowman had an impressive game. He had a strip-sack and led the team with nine tackles.
Saints 31, Panthers 13
Everyone talked up the Panthers entering this game. Many of the analysts on the pre-game shows expected Drew Brees to actually struggle at home for a change. He was playing the NFL's No. 1 defense, after all. What they seemed to forget is that Brees is unstoppable at home. The Superdome is insanely loud, and it makes life extremely difficult or the opposition. That was the case here in a contest that was even more of a blowout that the final result indicates.
Brees went three-and-out on the controversial opening drive - he should have been awarded a first down because of an uncalled defensive hold in which an official threw a yellow flag but picked it up - but he led his team on touchdown drives on the team's next three possessions.
Brees finished 30-of-42 for 313 yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers. The most important stat is that Brees eclipsed 50,000 career passing yards in this contest, becoming the fastest player in NFL history to do so. Brees is only behind Brett Favre (71,838), Peyton Manning (63,612), Dan Mariono (61,361) and John Elway (51,475).
Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham caught two touchdowns apiece. Colston, who has disappointed statistically this year, hauled in nine balls for 125 yards, as the Panthers concentrated on shutting down Graham (6-58).
The Saints barely ran the ball, but they didn't need to. Darren Sproles led the team in rushing with 38 yards on just one carry. Pierre Thomas (7-14) was next. There was simply no running room against Carolina's tough front seven.
As for the Panthers, Newton was expected to struggle because this was his first real game in the Superdome. His first, in his rookie campaign, was a meaningless Week 17 tilt, while the second occurred last year when Sean Payton wasn't patrolling the sidelines. Newton couldn't get anything going until late in garbage time. His final numbers don't look too bad - 22-of-34, 160 yards and a touchdown - but consider that by the time the score was 31-6, Newton was just 15-of-24 for only 89 yards.
Newton had no room to breathe. The Saints applied a ton of heat on him, registering five sacks, a number that would have been much greater if it weren't for Newton's mobility (six scrambles, 48 rushing yards). Junior Galette pinned him to the ground three times, while Cameron Jordan sacked him twice.
Newton's sole score came late to Steve Smith (6-49), who struggled to get open against Keenan Lewis. For most of this contest, Greg Olsen was Newton's only viable target; the tight end hauled in eight balls for 40 yards.
DeAngelo Williams gained 52 yards on 13 carries. The Panthers tried to establish Jonathan Stewart in the second half, but the injury-prone back hurt his knee. No one saw that coming.
Bears 45, Cowboys 28
The Cowboys still control their own destiny despite this loss, but if they want to make the playoffs, they absolutely have to improve defensively by a wide margin. Their "stop unit" was dreadful, as Chicago scored on every single possession, save for the final kneel-down, in conditions that were so cold that the Gatorade bottles had to be heated because the liquid inside them froze. The Bears generated 490 net yards of offense and converted a ridiculous 8-of-11 third-down attempts. Chicago also compiled 33 first downs, falling seven shy of the NFL single-game record, which was set this year when Dallas looked even more inept at New Orleans.
Having said that, it's going to be difficult for the Cowboys to improve defensively in the final three weeks of the season. Not only do they lack the personnel; they watched their star linebacker Sean Lee suffer yet another injury. Brandon Marshall absolutely drilled Lee on a key second-quarter block, and Lee was in and out of the game after that. He ended up limping off the field in the third quarter. Even if he suits up next week, he may not be 100 percent. If that's the case, Dallas will continue to be completely inept defensively.
Josh McCown ripped through the Cowboys with ease, allowing the ball to hit the ground just nine times. He finished 27-of-36 for 348 yards and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). McCown was on fire in the first half, but was a bit shaky in the third quarter when he had a couple of interceptions dropped by Orlando Scandrick and Bruce Carter (and one overturned by a holding penalty). I wondered if McCown was concussed - he was wincing when his head hit the ground on a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty, but he finished on a strong note.
McCown, compared to some by Rich Gannon, has played well enough to remain the starter even when Jay Cutler is healthy. He's been great, and his teammates have responded to him very positively. He's earned the chance to help lead the team into the playoffs. With this victory, the Bears are tied with Detroit for first place in the NFC North, although the Lions own the tie-breaker because of their season sweep.
McCown's aerial touchdowns went to Alshon Jeffery (5-84), Matt Forte, Earl Bennett and Michael Bush. Jeffery's score was the catch of the night; he made a great leaping grab in the corner of the end zone at the very end of the first half, barely getting his feet inbounds as he fell out of the field of play. The Bears were only up 17-14 at that juncture, so Jeffery's touchdown really opened up the game.
The two most prominent Bears both had great outings. Brandon Marshall didn't score, but he still hauled in six receptions for 100 yards, as well as the aforementioned block on Lee. Forte, meanwhile, rushed for 102 yards on just 20 carries and also snagged seven catches for 73 yards and the receiving touchdown.
As for the Cowboys, they ran all over the Bears at the beginning of the evening, as DeMarco Murray hit 99 rushing yards early in the second quarter. However, Dallas was quickly faced with a huge deficit, so Murray finished with only 18 carries. He ultimately notched 146 yards on the ground. Julius Randle (9-53) vultured a touchdown late in the game.
Tony Romo threw three touchdowns, but completed just 11-of-20 attempts for 104 yards. Romo, who was guilty of some poor throws, is now 1-8 against the spread on Monday Night Football.
Romo's scores went to Dez Bryant (2-12), Jason Witten (1-10) and Cole Beasley (2-20). No Cowboy had more than two catches, and Terrance Williams led the team in receiving with just 36 yards.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.