The Titans dominated for the opening quarter and a half, and as a result, it initially appeared as though there wouldn't be any winners in this game. The Jaguar fans were watching their once-promising quarterback struggle. The Titan fans were seeing their top-two draft selection slip away. All those who bet on Jacksonville witnessed a 4.5-point favorite look completely incompetent. Delanie Walker fantasy owners witnessed Leon Washington vulture an early touchdown. And those tuning into this game for casual purposes had to endure a dreadful matchup.
Everything changed, however, right before halftime. With the Titans up 10-0 and outgaining Jacksonville by a wide margin (179-16), the Jaguars were able to put together a solid drive, thanks to some tough running by Toby Gerhart. They eventually found their way into the end zone and were able to accomplish the same thing in the third quarter. They established a four-point lead and never looked back.
Bortles had a very mixed game. He was dreadful in the early going, as he was just 9-of-15 for only 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He checked it down on an early third-and-7 without even bothering to look downfield. He was then strip-sacked, but was fortunate to have his teammate recover. He also missed some routine throws, but was able to get into a rhythm.
Bortles finished 13-of-26 for 115 yards and a touchdown. He still had some poor throws following intermission, including an awful misfire toward Cecil Shorts in the red zone, but he picked up some big gains on the ground, including a first-down scamper on third-and-long. Bortles compiled 50 rushing yards on five scrambles.
Gerhart missed some time in this game with a rib contusion, which is why he had just 12 carries. He ran well after getting stuffed early, finishing with 53 yards and a touchdown. He was outgained by Jordan Todman (5-71, TD), though almost all of that came on a 62-yard burst in the fourth quarter that sealed this victory by Jacksonville.
Only one Jaguar had more than 26 receiving yards. Marqise Lee (4-65) was that player. Marcedes Lewis hauled in Bortles' sole touchdown, though he had just two catches for six yards.
The player who gained the most in this victory was Sen'Derrick Marks. The star Jacksonville defensive tackle needed half a sack to trigger a $600,000 bonus. He managed to sack Charlie Whitehurst on the final play of the game. Not only did he claim more than half-a-million bucks against his former team; he stopped a Tennessee drive right in its tracks to give Jacksnville its third victory of the season.
As for the Titans, I'm surprised by how well Whitehurst played. It appeared as though he was going to ruin Tennessee's chances of landing either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, as he opened the game with a 6-of-6, 71-yard, touchdown-drive. Whitehurst continued to shred Jacksonville's secondary throughout the evening, finishing 24-of-35 for 287 yards and the score to Washington, but he couldn't get his team into the end zone again. Simple mistakes disrupted drives all evening, though Whitehurst was responsible for throwing short on a crucial fourth down in the middle of the final quarter. His receiver had to come back from the ball and was consequently tackled short of the marker.
Washington who was playing in his home town, was second on the team in receiving, as he caught all seven of his targets for 62 yards and the touchdown. Kendall Wright (4-73) paced the team in receiving yardage, but got banged up on a 39-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Walker (4-54) disappointed his fantasy owners.
Shonn Greene dominated the carries last week, but he took a back seat to Bishop Sankey again, The rookie runner had some nice gains, but managed only 44 yards on 14 carries. Greene (7-28) had a better average.
Redskins 27, Eagles 24
The running joke in the NFC East has been Dallas' late-season collapses, but this one by the Eagles is on par with what the Cowboys have done in recent years. The second half of this contest epitomized what has happened to Philadelphia the final three weeks.
The Eagles went into intermission with a 14-10 lead and recovered the opening second-half kickoff. They seemed to have all the momentum, but that's exactly when their meltdown began. It all started when Cody Parkey whiffed on a 34-yard field goal. A third-down stop on Washington's ensuing possession was nullified by a Brandon Graham unnecessary roughness penalty, which was a bogus call. Following a Washington touchdown, LeSean McCoy dropped a pass, and then Parkey missed badly from 46 yards.
After some defensive breakdowns - more on that later - Mark Sanchez threw an interception on a pass behind Jeremy Maclin. A Vinny Curry roughing-the-passer infraction - this one was actually legit - allowed Washington to move into field-goal range, and they got even closer on a Connor Barwin offsides penalty (which was Philadelphia's 13th infraction of the game). Chip Kelly foolishly didn't let them score a touchdown, permitting the Redskins to bleed the clock and nail a chip shot to seal the 27-24 victory.
With this loss, the Eagles need to win at New York and then have the Cowboys lose both of their remaining games. That could happen - Dallas has endured worse collapses - but there's no guarantee that Philadelphia will even prevail against the Giants, given the team's issues.
I mentioned the defensive breakdowns; Philadelphia's secondary was primarily responsible for this defeat. The three poor defensive backs - Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen - all had a big hand in this loss. Williams began the game by being penalized for unnecessary roughness on a third-down stop, pushing Andre Roberts after the play was over. DeSean Jackson torched Fletcher for a 51-yard gain on the following drive. Jackson later haul in a 55-yard bomb and then proceeded to draw what looked like five pass-interference flags on Allen in the end zone. Williams then whiffed on a Pierre Garcon tackle, allowing the Redskins to move in for the game-winning kick.
Sanchez didn't help matters. His fantasy numbers were great, but he was guilty of two turnovers. The pick at the end was a killer, and he also opened the game with a lost fumble, forced by Ryan Kerrigan, who easily beat Lane Johnson. Sanchez finished 37-of-50 for 374 yards, two touchdowns, the interception and the fumble. He looked great at times - he converted a third-and-25 with a 26-yard dart to Jordan Matthews and had several other impressive throws - but as usual with Sanchez, the turnovers proved to be too costly.
Sanchez made it a point to throw to Zach Ertz as much as possible. I'm not exaggerating; Ertz drew a ridiculous 18 targets - twice more than the player who saw the next-most amount of balls thrown his way (Darren Sproles). Ertz hauled in 15 of those passes for 115 yards.
Both of Sanchez's touchdowns went to Riley Cooper (5-53), who dropped a pass. Jeremy Maclin (4-62) and Jordan Matthews (3-58) were big disappointments considering their matchup against Washington's poor secondary.
LeSean McCoy also scored. He managed 88 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and also caught three balls for 28 receiving yards. He had a drop, but ran well considering that Washington's defense has been so stout versus ground attacks this season.
As for the Redskins, Robert Griffin had a mixed outing, going 16-of-23 for 220 yards and an interception, which he forced into double coverage. He didn't run nearly enough - five scrambles, 11 rush yards - and he was nearly pick-sixed early in the game, but he completed a pair of deep bombs to Jackson. He made some mistakes, showing poor footwork on some attempts and holding on to the ball too long, but he was robbed of a touchdown when Allen tackled Jackson in the end zone prior to the ball arriving.
Jackson talked trash about the Eagles leading up to this game, and he backed up his talk. He caught four balls for 126 yards, reeling in receptions of 55 and 51 yards. There's no doubt that Philadelphia missed Jackson's game-breaking ability this year, but it's not like he's done much for the Redskins.
I was surprised to see Alfred Morris run so well. The Eagles had a stout rush defense entering this contest, yet Morris was able to tally 83 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts.
The Redskins suffered a couple of injuries in this contest. Trent Murphy was knocked out early with a broken hand, while left tackle Trent Williams hurt his shoulder. Williams remained in the game, but had to actually hold his arm in between plays.
Chargers 38, 49ers 35
Wow. When Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick were running all over the Chargers in the first half, eventually establishing a 28-7 lead in the process, I never imagined that San Diego would be able to win. Philip Rivers did not look right at all, and the Chargers were outgained by about 130 net yards by intermission.
And then, things just clicked for San Diego. Rivers went from throwing weak passes to the other team to converting first down after first down on crucial, late-game possessions. Rivers was 24-of-40 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the second half and overtime. It was clear that Rivers was hindered by a back problem, so this was an extremely gutsy victory on his part, especially considering that he was missing two linemen; deep-reserve center Chris Watt was helped off the field with an ankle injury early on, while guard Johnnie Troutman also left the field.
The Chargers managed to tie the game with two clutch catches by Eddie Royal on a fourth-and-6 and Dontrelle Inman on a fourth-and-10 with the game (and season) on the line. Two plays after the Inman reception, Rivers found Malcom Floyd in the end zone for a 12-yard score. The 49ers won the coin toss in overtime following a 60-yard Phil Dawson whiff. They moved it into San Diego territory, but Quinton Patton lost a fumble. The Chargers recovered, and thanks to some Rivers completions and tough runs from Ronnie Brown, they moved it into range for Nick Novak, who converted to keep the season alive. San Diego, now 9-6, still needs some help to earn one of the two wild-card spots, but at least it has a chance.
Rivers finished 33-of-54 for 356 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. It was ugly early; Rivers' first pick wasn't too bad, as Perrish Cox had great coverage, but his next one was returned for six, as it was heaved right to Antoine Bethea. Rivers' third interception came after halftime; it was a high throw that occurred because he couldn't step into his throw. As mentioned though, Rivers caught fire at the very end to help his team's hopes alive.
Rivers' main targets were Royal (10-94, TD) and Antonio Gates, who had seven catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Floyd (4-50) secured the fourth score. Meanwhile, someone named Dontrelle Inman, who had never caught a pass in the NFL prior to Saturday night, logged seven receptions for 79 yards, stepping in for an injured Keenan Allen, as well as an ineffective Seyi Ajirotutu following halftime. Inman's numbers included a key grab on fourth-and-10 of the final drive of regulation. He's worth picking up in dynasty formats.
With Ryan Mathews out, the Chargers utilized a three-headed platoon at running back, with Branden Oliver leading the way. He paced the team in rushing with 53 yards on 13 carries and also had three catches for 28 receiving yards. He had some nice spurts where he avoided 49er defenders, but the Chargers went with Ronnie Brown (7-33) when the game was on the line. Donald Brown (4-12) didn't do as much.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Kaepernick and Gore trampled San Diego early on. Both players actually eclipsed 150 yards on the ground. Gore rumbled for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts. Coming off a concussion on a short work week, Gore ran with great power, but the 49ers made the mistake of not handing the ball enough to him after halftime; he was given just 12 carries in the second half and overtime.
Kaepernick, meanwhile scrambled seven times for 151 rushing yards, 90 of which came on an impressive sprint into the end zone in the third quarter, featuring a crazy juke on Eric Weddle. Kaepernick's passing numbers weren't as impressive, however, as he went 15-of-24 for only 114 yards, a passing touchdown and a lost fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a San Diego score. To be fair, Kaepernick had two touchdowns negated by penalties, including a 63-yard pass to Vernon Davis, which was brought back because of an illegal formation and a chop block.
These were just two of countless penalties called on the 49ers. It seemed as though they were guilty of an illegal formation or an offsides on every single drive in the second half. San Francisco also had three turnovers, all of which were fumbles by Kaepernick, Patton and Bruce Miller; the latter give-away occurred in the red zone early on.
Only one San Francisco player had more than 22 receiving yards. That was Anquan Boldin, who reeled in seven passes for 61 yards. Michael Crabtree had just one reception in overtime; he spent the majority of the game on the sidelines wearing a baseball cap. Davis didn't log a single reception, but had a long score wiped out by two penalties.
Both teams incurred a high number of injuries. I already mentioned Watt and Troutman; the Chargers also lost key defenders in Melvin Ingram and Brandon Flowers for a period of time, though both players returned to the field. Meanwhile, the 49ers saw Mike Iupati, Aldon Smith, Eric Reid and some others leave the game.
Panthers 17, Browns 13
There was a lot of intrigue entering this game pertaining to how both starting quarterbacks would perform. Johnny Manziel had a disastrous debut last week, so would he be able to bounce back? Cam Newton, meanwhile, was less than two weeks removed from his horrific-looking car accident. How would he do after escaping the wreck with a back issue?
Newton surpasses all expectations; he didn't even look like he fell off a tricycle. There were no signs of decreased mobility, as he scrambled 12 times for 63 rushing yards and a touchdown, running numerous bootlegs. He also did a good job of avoiding pressure, taking just one sack.
Newton's passing numbers weren't as great; he finished 17-of-30 for only 167 yards, one touchdown and a terrible interception in which he ran backward to avoid pressure by Karlos Dansby and made a bad decision to force a wobbling pass.
As usual, Newton primarily targeted Kelvin Benjamin, who saw more than twice as many targets than any other Panther, securing only five of his 12 targets. His best catch was an 18-yarder in which he leapt over the defender.
The Panthers primarily moved the chains on the ground. I already mentioned Newton's numbers; Jonathan Stewart picked up where Jeremy Hill left off last week, gashing Cleveland's awful defense for 122 yards on 24 carries along with a receiving touchdown. He had to leave the game temporarily because there was blood gushing out of his skin near his eye.
As for Manziel, this was yet another disastrous start, and based on how he played, there probably won't be many more. Manziel and Josh Gordon weren't on the same page on Cleveland's first passing play of the afternoon. Manziel then had a receiver open, but opted to run for the first down - but came up short of the marker. On the following drive, Mike Pettine had to burn a timeout because the unprepared Manziel couldn't get the team lined up properly.
Manziel completed a nice pass to Andrew Hawkins, but injured his hamstring running left for one yard. He left the game permanently, finishing just 3-of-8 for 32 yards. Manziel is garbage and just doesn't look like he belongs in the NFL. He could be out of the league in two years.
Brian Hoyer stepped in for Manziel and gave the team a chance. He actually put the team in the lead on an 81-yard touchdown to Jordan Cameron. Unfortunately, most of Hoyer's other passes were off the mark. He overthrew most of his targets, finishing 7-of-13 for 134 yards, the touchdown to Cameron and an interception late in the game. Hoyer is not the answer either, but unlike Manziel, he can serve as a solid backup in this league.
Cameron, as you can imagine, led the team in receiving with 88 yards and the touchdown on three catches. Josh Gordon was next with 45 yards on four grabs, but made some mental mistakes.
The Browns didn't get much out of their running game, save for one 26-yard burst from Isaiah Crowell. The Crow finished with 55 yards on 16 carries. Terrance West was nowhere to be seen.
Texans 25, Ravens 13
The Ravens were handed a playoff spot - and perhaps a divisional title - on a silver platter. They had the Jaguars, the Case Keenum-led Texans and the Browns in their final three games. Those seemed like three sure victories, but that obviously has not turned out to be the case. Following an uncomfortably close victory over Jacksonville, Baltimore looked completely inept in this contest despite being close to a touchdown favorite over a fourth-string quarterback.
Joe Flacco had poor performance. He was beat up early behind an offensive line that couldn't protect him against J.J. Watt and the Houston defensive front. Flacco was sacked just twice, but he was flagged for intentional grounding on his own 2-yard line for a near-safety, and he took a beating in general, as his offensive line lost both Ricky Wagner and Eugene Monroe in the second half. Monroe walked off on his own power, but Wagner was carted off the field.
Flacco didn't look like he was healthy. He finished 21-of-50 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Most of his passes were way off the mark. One of the picks wasn't his fault because the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but his next interception was an ugly duck off his back foot. The third occurred because Torrey Smith fell down, but Flacco routinely missed open receivers, including his running backs on short screen throws. One of Flacco's worst attempts came when he had a wide-open Owen Daniels for a decent gain, but his pass was at least eight yards wide of his target.
Despite Flacco's meager numbers, Torrey Smith still rewarded the fantasy players who started him, catching five passes (albeit on 12 targets) for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Steve Smith disappointed (5-49), though he missed some time after hurting himself on an amazing catch that didn't count because he landed out of bounds. He also dropped a pass that would've gone for a gain for 15-20 yards.
The Baltimore offensive line didn't just have issues pass protecting; run blocking was also an issue. Justin Forsett had absolutely no running room, as he mustered just 19 yards on 10 carries.
Keenum, meanwhile, was a pleasant surprise for the Texans, who were expected to collapse with all three of their top quarterbacks sidelined. Keenum, who wasn't even on the roster a week ago, opened the game 4-of-4 and led the team on some scoring drives, though he slowed down after that. He had some miscues, however, which is why he failed to complete half of his passes. He went 20-of-42 for only 185 yards and an interception, which was an errant throw picked off by Darian Stewart.
Keenum, of course, was helped by Arian Foster, who had a monstrous performance. His rushing numbers don't look great by his standards - 25 carries, 96 yards - but remember that he was battling one of the top ground defenses in the NFL. Foster did a great job of moving the chains, including an 11-yard run on a third-and-10. He also threw a touchdown to rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, which one of the CBS announcers called the "best-executed halfback pass I've ever seen."
Andre Johnson, who led the team in receiving with six catches and 65 yards, reached a career milestone in this contest, recording his 1,000th-career reception. DeAndre Hopkins (5-38) didn't do much, though he saw 12 passes go his way.
Dolphins 37, Vikings 35
This game meant nothing in terms of playoff implications, but it was still a very entertaining matchup to watch. The Vikings actually led 14-0, but had to come back from down 28-20. They then established a touchdown lead, but following a tying trip into the end zone, the Dolphins blocked a Minnesota punt, which flew out of the back of the end zone for the decisive score - a safety.
The Dolphins won't be going to the postseason, but their fans at least can have some optimism with Ryan Tannehill, who had a very strong performance against a quality defense. Tannehill made some mistakes early. He took a sack on a third-and-4 with a miscommunication with his center, which forced a long, errant field goal. He saw Harrison Smith drop an interception, which was followed by an actual Smith pick. Tannehill was getting pounded in the first half, as the Vikings' ferocious pass rush was abusing his offensive line.
Things clicked in the second half, however, as Tannehill misfired on just four occasions following intermission. His overall numbers were 35-of-47 for 396 yards, four touchdowns and a pick, but he was a terrific 19-of-23 for 233 yards and three scores after halftime. His one late mistake was overthrowing Charles Clay for a touchdown, but Miami ended up finding the end zone anyway. He was also helped by a sick catch by Mike Wallace, who caught the ball off a deflection and dived into the end zone for a 16-yard grab. Overall though, Tannehill was unstoppable. The Vikings just had no answer for him, so this has to be very encouraging for Miami going forward.
Tannehill was great at the end of the game, but Lamar Miller was the one who sparked the offense with some great runs. He gained 92 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries, and he also contributed in the passing attack, snatching five balls for 58 receiving yards. Miller had been struggling lately because of a nagging injury, but he looked completely healthy in this contest.
I mentioned that Wallace had an awesome touchdown catch. He actually found the end zone twice, as he and Tannehill actually had some great chemistry with each other. He hauled in all five of his targets for 58 yards in addition to the scores. Charles Clay (6-114) led the team in receiving, while Jarvis Landry (8-31) disappointed his non-PPR owners, and he also hurt his team with a lost fumble that set up a late Minnesota touchdown that temporarily gave Minnesota the lead.
As for the Vikings, their own young quarterback played well. Teddy Bridgewater was errant on just seven throws, going 19-of-26 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, which wasn't his fault, as the ball was deflected on an attempted shovel pass. Bridgewater was also robbed of a touchdown late in the first half, as the officials made a bogus call by not awarding Chase Ford with a score when he clearly reached the end zone. Bridgewater, who had an awesome drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter, showed no reservations about targeting highly regarded cornerback Brent Grimes, who had a miserable afternoon.
Bridgewater's two scores went to Greg Jennings (3-56) and Jarius Wright (3-38). Charles Johnson took a step backward this week, catching just three balls for 38 yards, though he did lead the team in targets. Cordarrelle Patterson had just two touches, though one was an 18-yard reception.
Matt Asiata didn't exactly expose a struggling Miami run defense, but he had some nice carries, especially near the goal line, as he was able to find the end zone twice. He finished with 58 yards on 16 attempts. He chipped in with three catches for 19 receiving yards.
The Vikings could've won this game, as they played evenly with the Dolphins in terms of yards per play, but they cost themselves with some crucial mistakes. I already mentioned the blocked punt; Minnesota also had two costly personal foul penalties, including a head butt by Gerald Hodges, which allowed the Dolphins to extend their drive and eventually score a touchdown.
Falcons 30, Saints 14
When Jalen Saunders opened this game up with a 99-yard kickoff return to the Atlanta 1-yard line and a subsequent Mark Ingram touchdown run, it appeared as though the Saints would run away with a victory to potentially clinch the NFC South. I would've never imagined that New Orleans wouldn't even put another point on the scoreboard until about the 6-minute mark of the fourth quarter, but that's exactly what happened.
It's amazing that Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the rest of Sean Payton's offense were completely locked down by a defense as inept as Atlanta's. The Saints, as they have been all year, were discombobulated for most of the afternoon. On an early fourth-and-2 in Atlanta territory, the Saints' backup left tackle, starting for the injured Terron Armstead, was guilty of a false start. New Orleans still opted to go for it, but Brees was picked off by Desmond Trufant. Brees, who was constantly under pressure, then failed to connect with Jimmy Graham on numerous occasions. On one instance, Graham actually had to break up a potential interception on a high throw. Graham, who had no catches in the first half, was at fault on other plays, however. He dropped a pass and then lost a fumble just inches short of the goal line, though it appeared as though he crossed into the end zone. The call was reviewed, but the officials let the play stand.
Brees and Graham didn't disappoint their fantasy owners as much as their fans. The former threw for 313 yards on 30-of-47 passes, but had two interceptions compared to only one touchdown, which came with 5:46 remaining in regulation. He also was strip-sacked for a touchdown on the final play of the game. The score was thrown to Graham, who snagged six balls for 53 yards, all of which came in the second half.
Ingram, as mentioned, found the end zone early on. He didn't have much success overall though, tallying 38 yards on 13 carries.
As for the Falcons, this victory will allow them to win the division with a win over Carolina next week. With Matt Ryan playing well, and Julio Jones being healthy, that's definitely possible. Jones, who was very questionable entering this contest, looked good in pre-game warmups. That transitioned to the field, as he opened things up for a 23-yard reception right away, leaping over solid corner Keenan Lewis. Jones finished with a team-high seven catches for 107 yards. He wasn't on the field for every snap, but the Falcons will likely have him at full strength for the Carolina contest.
As for Ryan, the Falcon signal-caller went 30-of-40 for 322 yards and a touchdown. He was highly efficient, helping his offense convert nearly half of their first downs (7-of-15) and average 6.4 yards per play, which is an excellent figure. The Saints couldn't get any pressure on him; he wasn't sacked on a single occasion.
The rest of Ryan's receiving corps posted meager numbers. Roddy White led the team with nine targets, but had six catches for only 55 yards. Harry Douglas (4-47) took a back seat with Jones back in the lineup.
Steven Jackson didn't get many touches because he left the game in the third quarter with a quad injury. The veteran back mustered only nine yards on four carries. Jacquizz Rodgers saw most of the work (11-29), but Devonta Freeman was more impressive, gaining 36 yards and a touchdown on five attempts, though all but five of those yards came on one touch.
This was a pretty scrappy game, which isn't surprising because, as the FOX announcers said it, "New Orleans hates Atlanta, and Atlanta hates New Orleans." Amusingly, there were actually more fights (6) than first downs (5) in the opening quarter.
Patriots 17, Jets 16
The Jets are crazy if they fire Rex Ryan. It's unbelievable that he's able to have them this competitive in almost all of their games despite the alarming lack of talent they have on their roster. There's no question that John Idzik, one of the most incompetent general managers in league history, has to be let go, but Ryan is a terrific coach capable of creating fantastic game plans like this. He had the Patriots, arguably the best team in the NFL, on the ropes. His team actually maintained a lead in the fourth quarter before New England's superior talent won out.
New York did a tremendous job of smothering Tom Brady. With Muhammad Wilkerson back in the lineup, the defensive front put heavy pressure on him all afternoon, generating three sacks in the first quarter alone. Brady, consequently, could never really get anything going; he and the Patriots mustered just 231 net yards of offense, as they were outgained by about 80 yards.
Brady finished 23-of-35 for 182 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which occurred when Brady was hit as he released the ball, forcing a wide throw. He nearly had some other picks, including one that was dropped on a high toss to Rob Gronkowski.
Brady's one score went to Gronkowski, but the Jets did a good job of limiting him after the catch. He caught six of his 10 targets but for only 31 yards.
The two leading receivers on the Patriots were Brandon LaFell (7-64) and Danny Amendola (8-63), who did his best job of imitating the concussed Julian Edelman. The Patriots, who don't throw deep very much, couldn't expose New York's major liability at corner. Brady's deepest completion was just a 14-yarder to LaFell.
'The Jets excel at stopping the run, and they managed to limit the Patriots on the ground. With LeGarrette Blount out, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray split carries pretty evenly. Gray had the worst YPC (6 carries, 5 yards), but he helped his fantasy owners with a touchdown. Vereen (6-38) and Bolden (5-32) had more success finding lanes.
New York fared better on the ground. Chris Johnson (10-30) didn't do much, save for a 16-yard burst, but Chris Ivory was able to help Geno Smith play in manageable situations, gaining 53 yards on 11 attempts.
Speaking of Smith, he definitely had one of his better games. Oddly enough, he usually plays his best against the Patriots despite numerous other outings in which he'll throw three picks in half a quarter of action. Smith went 17-of-27 for 210 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The pick was brutal, as it came when the Jets maintained a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter. It was a poor decision, as he released the ball off his back foot as he was getting hit. Smith had numerous nice moments, but that mistake, as well as an error in which he took a sack to move his team into poor field-goal range - the subsequent kick was short after Ryan wasted a timeout - helped derail this potential huge upset for the Jets.
Smith spread the ball around, with a quartet of players seeing four or more targets. Those were: Jeremy Kerley (3-54), Percy Harvin (4-44), Jeff Cumberland (3-43, TD) and Eric Decker (2-21). Harvin left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury.
The Jets suffered a big loss, one that was even greater than this game, when center Nick Mangold was carted off the field in the first half.
Steelers 20, Chiefs 12
This game was played evenly in between the 20s. The Chiefs had more first downs and net yardage than Pittsburgh, and the yards-per-play averages were about even. The red zone was where the game was won, however. Whereas Kansas City settled for a bunch of field goals, the Steelers found the end zone on multiple occasions, which proved to be the difference. With this victory, Pittsburgh clinched playoff berth and will have a chance to take the AFC North with a win over Cincinnati in Week 17.
Ben Roethlisberger continued his excellent season, as he misfired on just seven throws in this contest. He finished the game 18-of-25 for 220 yards and a touchdown, and he was robbed of two scores when Antonio Brown and Heath Miller both dropped the ball in the end zone. The Steelers ultimately scored on the drive in which Miller screwed up with a Le'Veon Bell run, but Roethlisberger's fantasy owners may have lost their championship because of Miller and Brown's miscues.
The one potential dark cloud over this victory was that Roethlisberger injured his knee on his touchdown to Brown, but that may not be much of a big deal because he ran into the locker room to get treated. Roethlisberger was also nearly guilty of a fumble, but the call was turned into an incompletion after replay, though it appeared as though he indeed lost the ball.
I mentioned that Brown eventually reached the end zone. He tied Miller for the team in lead in receptions, barely outgaining the tight end, 72-68. Brown and Miller were the only Steelers to record more than two receptions.
I was shocked that Bell didn't expose Kansas City's league-worst run defense. I thought there was a chance he'd eclipse 200 yards and perhaps challenge for the single-game record. Instead, he mustered only 63 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts. He didn't have a run longer than seven yards.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, as mentioned, struggled in the red zone, but Alex Smith moved the chains well otherwise. He finished 31-of-45 for 311 yards, but once again, he failed to throw a touchdown to a receiver, though he was at least close this time. It appeared as though he had Dwayne Bowe in the end zone, but cornerback Antwon Blake knocked the ball out at the last second.
Despite Smith's struggles in that regard, he might have a chance to find a wideout in the end zone next week, as undrafted free agent rookie receiver Albert Wilson has been coming on lately. The Georgia State product caught five balls for a team-high 87 yards. These numbers are all legitimate, and Wilson's best play was a 33-yarder in which he made a nice catch and broke tackles to move into Pittsburgh territory. He also was the target of a 19-yard pass on a big third-down conversion.
As for Smith's other weapons, Bowe was second on the team with 57 yards on six catches. Travis Kelce, meanwhile, caught four balls for 31 yards, one of which was a flip on a fake field-goal try.
Jamaal Charles hurt his team with a big fumble in Pittsburgh territory. He didn't get many carries, gaining 29 rushing yards on nine attempts, though he did contribute in the passing game, snatching five balls for 48 receiving yards. I'd love to know what Reid is thinking by repeatedly failing to give the ball to his best player.
Andy Reid made some other blunders in this game. In addition to once again failing to feed the ball to Charles, he foolishly went for it in the red zone on a fourth down with about 20 seconds remaining in the first half. Even if he had converted, it's unlikely the Chiefs would've found the end zone anyway, since they had just one timeout. Had Reid taken three points, he could've gone for it on a late fourth-and-3, down 20-12 instead of 20-9, at the Pittsburgh 9-yard line toward the end of regulation.
Packers 20, Buccaneers 3
Despite the fact that the Packers didn't lead by more than 10 points until the very end of regulation, this was a complete demolition. Based on how these teams played, the Packers should've won 41-3, or a score of that nature.
To give you an idea of how lopsided this was, the Packers were outgaining the Buccaneers at one point, 236-0. Let me repeat that: Tampa was being outgained 236-0! Green Bay ultimately won the yardage battle, 431-109. The Buccaneers were limited to just 2.3 yards per play compared to 6.0 for the Packers. Tampa also mustered just six first downs on the afternoon.
So, why did the Packers score just 20 points? A multitude of careless errors: Rodgers was strip-sacked in the opening quarter. Davante Adams had an awful drop inside Tampa territory. Mason Crosby whiffed on a field goal from 48 yards. Adams dropped another ball, this time in the end zone. Green Bay failed to convert on three tries from the 1-yard line in the third quarter, getting absolutely nothing on the ground.
Green Bay ultimately was able to extend this lead to 17 with a spread-covering, late touchdown. The team appeared to be stuck at the 1-yard line again, but Rodgers ultimately found Jordy Nelson in the end zone. One of the FOX announcers remarked, "Rodgers was so determined to get into the end zone that Hans and Frans couldn't even stop him!"
Rodgers misfired on just nine occasions, going 31-of-40 for 318 yards and a touchdown. He took a big hit early and looked gimpy after that. He even got his leg wrapped on the sideline and winced in pain after some hits. However, he began releasing the ball quickly and moving the chains effectively. He was betrayed with some drops, particularly from Adams.
As mentioned, Rodgers' sole score went to Nelson, who reeled in all nine of his targets for 113 yards. Randall Cobb outgained him, catching 11 balls for 131 yards. He was targeted in the end zone.
Rodgers wasn't the only Packer who was banged up; Eddie Lacy, who was stuffed on an early third-and-1, had to leave the game with a leg injury in the second half. He didn't enter the game after leaving, but it's sounding like it's not very serious. Lacy finished with 99 yards on 17 carries.
As for the Buccaneers, they struggled to maintain drives. Josh McCown found his twin-tower receivers for a few big gains, but outside of one drive at the end of the first half, he couldn't do anything, thanks to an immense amount of pressure. The Packers flooded the backfield, sacking McCown seven times. Center Garrett Gilkey was especially awful. Most of the crowd was comprised of Packer fans, but the Tampa supporters booed McCown often. McCown, who had happy feet throughout the entire afternoon, failed to complete half of his passes. He went 12-of-26 for 147 yards and a late interception in garbage time.
Though Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans caught some deep passes, McCown just didn't have enough time in the pocket to find them downfield frequently. They racked up 60 and 49 yards, respectively.
Doug Martin saw the most carries, but didn't do much with them, gaining 17 yards on 10 attempts. Charles Sims actually lost a yard on his four tries, but he caught a screen pass and took it for 18 yards on Tampa's sole scoring drive.
The Buccaneers, who were already missing Gerald McCoy, lost linebacker Mason Foster to an Achilles injury in the first half.
Editor's Note: Same old Lions, putting forth a crap performance against a terrible team. But brand new Jimmy Clausen! The former Notre Dame quarterback played well, and more importantly, he actually showed heart - something Jay Cutler completely lacks. Marc Trestman should've made the change earlier.
The Lions clinched a playoff spot on Saturday night with the Eagles loss to the Redskins, so this was a tune-up for Detroit with seeding and playoff positioning on the line. The Lions played a sloppy game filled with bone-headed penalties, blowing great opportunities for points and taking cheap shots at the opposition. It was a throwback game, as Detroit played like it did during the Jim Schwartz era, but against an overmatched Bears team, the Lions had too much talent to lose on the road.
The Lions got a scoring drive going midway through the first quarter. They converted a fourth-and-5 with a screen pass to Reggie Bush (7-54 rushing, 6-44 receiving) for 21 yards, and he finished the drive with a touchdown run from 13 yards out. The Bears answered with Jimmy Clausen leading a nice drive, but they failed to produce points as Darius Slay slapped away a pass on fourth-and-goal. Detroit's next drive got going as Golden Tate (5-62) made an excellent grab for a 34-yard gain. However, Stafford made a bad decision by throwing a ball up for grabs, as it was picked off in the end zone by Brock Vereen.
Once again, a good Lions' drive ended with a Stafford interception. An inaccurate pass to Tate was picked off by Ryan Mundy. Clausen had a nice possession with some precision passes to move the ball. Darius Slay got away with a pass interference to prevent about a 50-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery (6-72), but the Lions had a punt bounce off their returner that was recovered by the Bears inside the 15-yard line. Clausen took advantage with a pretty touch pass to Matt Forte, leading the back on a wheel route into the flat for an 11-yard touchdown. Clausen played well in the first half, and it have been better as he was hurt by a number of dropped passes by the Bears receivers.
The Lions retook the lead with a field goal drive in the third quarter. The Bears receivers continued to hurt Clausen with their fifth dropped pass, which led to a Chicago punt after crossing midfield, but a roughing-the-punter penalty gave the Bears a first down. Clausen took advantage by throwing a rope along the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery, who made the catch over Slay.
Early in the fourth quarter, Detroit moved into Chicago territory that was keyed by Stafford converting a fourth-and-2 with a perfect pass to Tate to beat blanket coverage by Tim Jennings. However once again, the Lions left points on the field as a short field goal was blocked by Jeremiah Ratliff. The Detroit defense quickly got the ball back for the offense, and Joique Bell (13-74), who was benched early for violating team rules, finished the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run that was aided by a big pass interference penalty on Jennings. Ndamukong Suh then produced a third-down sack to get the ball back for Detroit, and the Lions moved the ball to tack on another field goal. The Bears' final hope ended as Glover Quin recorded his seventh interception of the year.
Stafford was 22-of-39 for 243 yards with two interceptions. He didn't have his best game, but moved the ball well. Calvin Johnson led the Lions with six catches for 103 yards.
Clausen played well for Chicago and did a nice job of throwing the ball accurately while seeing a steady pass rush from the Lions' defense. His receivers really let him down, as the Bears totaled seven dropped passes. Jeffery was the biggest culprit. Clausen was 23-of-39 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Defensively, Suh was phenomenal with two sacks, four tackles and a ton of disruption. Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea had quality games for Chicago.
The Bears' 2015 season could have taken a hit as pass-rusher Willie Young suffered an Achilles injury.
Detroit should be without Dominic Raiola next week against Green Bay as Raiola should land a suspension for stomping on the leg of Bears tackle Ego Ferguson. It was an unnecessary cheap shot. A fine isn't enough, and Raiola should be staying at home in a critical game for Detroit's postseason positioning.
Editor's Note: Is Odell Beckham the best receiver in the NFL? Serious question. The obvious answer is "no, Calvin Johnson, derp," but NO ONE has been able to stop Beckham this year; not even the Seahawks. He makes these amazing catches in pre-game warmups, and he's so athletic that the sky's the limit for him. It's almost scary to imagine what Beckham will be capable of in two or three years.
One would have thought that with the Giants' weak offensive line and the Rams' awesome defensive front, Eli Manning would be in for a long day. While Manning saw some pressure, he ripped the ball through a Rams' secondary that got depleted with injuries, and Odell Beckham Jr. was dominant once again.
The Giants got points on their first drive with a 49-yard pass to Rueben Randle setting up New York in St. Louis territory. The drive stalled inside the 15-yard line despite a great one-handed catch by Beckham. The Rams' Benny Cunningham promptly fumbled the ball back to New York on the kick return to set up the Giants at St. Louis' 21-yard line. Manning turned that into a nine-yard strike to Beckham for a touchdown. The Rams' next drive was aided by a Beckham taunting penalty and more New York defensive penalties to produce a field goal drive. After a T.J. McDonald sack helped produce a punt, Tavon Austin (1-15 receiving, 3-25 rushing) ripped off a 41-yard return. However, Austin deflected a high screen pass, and it was intercepted by Giants rookie defensive end Kerry Winn. That resulted in another field goal.
New York soon put together an 11-play drive that ended with Orleans Darkwa (4-21) darting into the end zone with a 12-yard score. The Rams answered with Kenny Britt (9-103) making a super leaping catch for 27 yards. Tre Mason (13-76) finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. On the Giants' next possession, Alec Ogletree hit Beckham late out of bounds after a screen pass, which caused a huge fight to break out between the two teams. New York's Damontre Moore and Preston Parker were kicked out, while St. Louis' William Hayes was also ejected. The Rams tacked on another field goal before the half.
In the third quarter, Andre Williams (26-110) ripped off a 45-yard run that saw him run over a safety and pick up another 15 yards. Manning finished the drive with a short touchdown pass to Randle. The Rams answered with a scoring drive that ended with a 23-yard scoring pass to Lance Kendricks (2-35). Beckham quickly restored the Giants lead to 14, as he burned St. Louis safety Mark Barron on a double move to get wide open for an 80-yard touchdown pass. That pretty much ended the game for New York. With four minutes remaining, Shaun Hill found Chris Givens (1-47) wide open in busted coverage for a 47-yard touchdown.
The Giants' passing offense looked awesome. Manning was the star of the game, as he was 25-of-32 for 391 yards with three touchdowns. Beckham made eight receptions for 148 yards and two scores, while Randle hauled in six passes for 132 yards and a score. Surprisingly, New York only allowed one sack, and that was to safety T.J. McDonald beating Williams on a blitz.
Hill had a solid performance, completing 24-of-32 for 290 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that wasn't completely his fault. He just couldn't keep pace with New York's offense.
The Giants' defense got a good game out of Jason Pierre-Paul with four tackles and a sack. Wynn had three tackles with a sack.
This wasn't a good game to be a cornerback, as the Rams saw injuries to Janoris Jenkins and E.J. Gaines, although Jenkins returned to the field. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went down for the Giants.
Cowboys 42, Colts 7
This game was over quickly. The Colts stopped the Cowboys on the opening drive, but linebacker Jerrell Freeman moronically taunted DeMarco Murray and was flagged. Instead of punting, the Cowboys were able to score a touchdown a few plays later. On the Colts' initial possession, the team went three-and-out on a trio of awful runs, and then attempted a fake punt. It was a perfect pass, but dropped by someone named Dewey McDonald. Tony Romo fired a touchdown to Dez Bryant on the ensuing snap, and just like that, the Cowboys were up 14-0 and had the game in hand.
With this victory, as well as Philadelphia's inexplicable loss to Washington, the Cowboys were able to clinch their division. They might even have a chance at the No. 1 seed depending on what occurs next week, so they won't be resting their starters against the Redskins.
Romo was near-perfect. He misfired just twice, though one of those passes was a dropped pick-six in the second half. Still, Romo was an impressive 18-of-20 for 218 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts, who have struggled against elite quarterbacks this year, had absolutely no answer for him.
The big, non-playoff-related story entering this game, of course, was DeMarco Murray's status off hand surgery. Murray didn't look all that great outside of an 11-yard run, tallying 58 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He seemed to be favoring his surgically repaired hand at times, and when the Cowboys went up 14-0, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms wondered if the coaching staff would sit Murray. That did not happen, as Murray played into the second half, which I thought was pretty foolish. Murray didn't suffer a setback, but he easily could have, and he would've done so senselessly because Dallas had the game in hand. Besides, Joseph Randle had some nice gains (13-37) and could've handled the load, though he did lose a fumble in the second half.
Romo's four touchdowns went to three different players, with Terrance Williams (2-52) catching two. The others went to Bryant (5-73), Jason Witten (7-90) and Cole Beasley (2-29). Bryant made an awesome catch along the sideline, somehow tapping both feet inbounds while falling down.
As for the Colts, they just couldn't get anything going. They were down 14-0 before Andrew Luck even attempted a pass, and without worrying about Indianapolis' failure of a running game, the Cowboys were able to tee off on him. Luck had a long completion to Coby Fleener wiped out by a penalty and saw Dwayne Allen drop all three passes thrown to him. Luck then heaved two interceptions that sandwiched halftime. The one before it was an overthrow into the end zone, while the one after it was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
Luck finished 15-of-22 for just 109 yards and the two picks. He was pulled in the middle of the third quarter when the Cowboys went up 35-0.
Luck didn't have T.Y. Hilton at his disposal, so he had to throw often to Hakeem Nicks, who paced the team with nine catches for 72 yards. No other Colt registered more than 37 receiving yards. Reggie Wayne (3-23) continued to be extremely ineffective with his triceps injury. He needs to be shut down.
As mentioned, the Colts did nothing on the ground. Absolutely nothing. Dan Herron led the team with THREE rushing yards, though he did catch just as many passes for 37 receiving yards. Trent Richardson didn't even get a chance to suck, taking his two carries for just one yard.
Raiders 26, Bills 24
The Bills were eliminated from the playoffs with this defeat, but they didn't belong in the postseason anyway if they couldn't beat the Raiders. Going from upsetting the Packers at home to losing to Oakland is odd, but there were two major reasons why this happened.
The first was Kyle Orton's awful play. The numbers say that Orton had a somewhat strong outing - he went 32-of-49, 329 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions - but some of those stats came in garbage time. Orton had major issues moving the chains following an impressive opening drive that culminated with a 42-yard bomb to Sammy Watkins. The Bills led 7-0, but that's when Orton began giving this game away. He threw a pick in the first quarter to Charles Woodson, which was a forced pass. He then nearly had another interception, but the ball hit the ground. Following that, Orton hurled a potential pick-six that was dropped, and then almost had another one in a careless heave into double coverage.
Orton was extremely fortunate that he didn't toss five interceptions in the first half. As he was getting away with possible turnovers, he was heaving inaccurate passes that missed his targets. The Bills, consequently, had numerous three-and-outs, and it didn't get any better until the Raiders were up two scores. Orton had yet another near-pick in the second half and then fired an actual interception on a high pass. He was even lucky on a late touchdown, as Eric Wood got away with a holding penalty, which enraged Justin Tuck.
The Bills desperately need to find a quarterback this offseason. Alas, there aren't many realistic options. The one possibility is Jay Cutler, who will be available via trade for a mere mid-round pick.
The other reason for Buffalo's defeat was that the team lost Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore, two of the team's best defenders, to various injuries. With Dareus out, the Raiders were able to run the ball effectively with both Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden. Murray gained 86 yards on 23 carries, while McFadden (9-54) had a big 25-yard burst, getting tackled inches short of the goal line.
Derek Carr had a solid performance. Making strides with Greg Olson's tutelage, Carr went 17-of-34 for 214 yards and two touchdowns. The completion percentage isn't pretty, and some of his passes were off the mark, but keep in mind that he was battling one of the top defenses in the NFL. He was under heavy pressure at times, yet had some spectacular throws, including a perfect bomb to Kenbrell Thompkins for 50 yards early on. Carr was almost pick-sixed a bit later, but he had way fewer near-interceptions than his counterpart. He had a clutch 51-yard completion to Andre Holmes on a third-and-22 in the second half.
Speaking of pick-sixes, Matt Schaub entered the game briefly in the second half when Carr hurt his ankle. The crowd booed him, and the Raiders had to take a timeout because they couldn't line up properly. Carr was able to reenter the game after the stoppage. Instead of an inevitable pick-six - Schaub seemed poised to throw one - the Raiders were able to preserve the field goal.
Oakland's leading receiver was Thompkins, who caught five balls for 90 yards. Only two other Raiders had three or more receptions: Holmes (3-73), who made a great, leaping catch over a defender, and Murray (3-22). Mychal Rivera caught only one pass for five yards.
Some Buffalo stats:
- The Bills couldn't run the ball at all. Fred Jackson led the team with 10 rushing yards on six carries, though he made up for it in the passing game, catching nine balls for 93 receiving yards.
- Making his return from an extensive injury, C.J. Spiller lost four yards on four attempts. Spiller will probably be playing his final game for the Bills next week.
- Watkins, who caught the aforementioned 42-yard bomb, finished with three grabs for 75 yards and the touchdown. Robert Woods (7-52) and Scott Chandler (4-37) also scored.
Seahawks 35, Cardinals 6
The Seahawks are the best team in the NFL. Ever since they were 6-4, they've dominated the opposition, and this victory was extremely impressive. The Cardinals were starting their third-string quarterback, but no one had won in Arizona all year. Bruce Arians had extra time to prepare for this game, while the defense has been outstanding for the most part. Larry Fitzgerald even called this the "biggest regular-season game" of this career.
And yet, Seattle dominated. The team racked up a ridiculous 596 net yards of offense, outgaining the Cardinals by 380 yards. That's crazy. What's even more insane is that the Seahawks averaged 8.9 yards per play, compared to 3.4 for Arizona. Basically, that means Seattle generated a first down nearly every time they snapped the football. The Seahawks could've won by an even greater margin had Steven Hauschka not whiffed on three field goals. So much for the supposedly vaunted Cardinals' defense.
Seattle's victory means that the team controls its own destiny for the NFC West title and homefield advantage. All the Seahawks need to do is beat the Rams at home next week.
Russell Wilson was majestic. Playing like an MVP, he went 20-of-31 for 339 yards and two touchdowns, and he also scrambled six times for 88 rushing yards and a third score on the ground. Wilson did it all; he eluded sacks, found open receivers, scampered for a 55-yard gain and hit Luke Willson for an 80-yard touchdown when this game was still in doubt. Wilson's touchdown run can be seen on SportsCenter; the reigning Super Bowl champion quarterback stiff-armed Alex Okafor, juked Antonio Cromartie and then sprinted into the end zone. It looked like something out of a movie.
Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, didn't see a single touch in the first quarter. He had a stomach bug and ran out of the locker room with a stocking cap on after the first play. However, he grabbed some Skittles (seriously), stuffed them into his mouth and entered the game. He was stuffed on his initial carry, but eventually had a strong touchdown run. Of course, his best play was a 79-yard burst in which he broke numerous tackles, including one from Patrick Peterson, who helplessly tried to strip the ball out of his arm.
Lynch finished with 113 yards and a two touchdowns on just 10 carries. While he was out, Robert Turbin (10-38) and Christine Michael (6-26) were able to split the workload.
Arizona hasn't been able to cover tight ends all year, and Willson exposed that, leading the Seahawks with 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns on just three receptions, torching the anemic Larry Foote each time. Doug Baldwin (7-113) also had a big game, while rookie Paul Richardson (7-52) also contributed. Richardson saw more targets than usual because Jermaine Kearse was knocked out with a hamstring in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are barely worth mentioning. Everything they've worked for this whole season is for naught because of injuries to the quarterback position. They did keep this game close for a while - it was 14-6 entering the fourth quarter - but missed out on numerous opportunities. Ryan Lindley couldn't get the ball to an open John Brown on a third down. Michael Floyd dropped a deep pass. Lindley underthrew Brown a bit in the end zone. Peterson dropped an interception which would've given Arizona the ball in the red zone. Floyd tipped a pass away from Larry Fitzgerald for a first-down conversion on a miscue. Cromartie fell down on a long Baldwin reception. The Cardinals needed things to go their way considering their quarterback situation; instead, they just couldn't get any breaks beyond Hauschka's missed field goals.
Arizona's defense sucked, but Lindley was even worse. His overall numbers say it all, as he went 14-of-35 for 178 yards and an interception. He had some nice throws, including a nice rainbow to Floyd, who caught the pass over Richard Sherman. Lindley, however, spent most of the night throwing the ball out of bounds and was lucky to get away with only one pick. He just gave the Cardinals no chance to even post 10 points.
Thanks to Lindley's ineptitude, no Cardinal had more than two catches. Floyd led the way with 41 receiving yards. He beat Sherman on a couple of occasions and drew a pass-interference flag, but made some mental mistakes. Lindley nearly got Fitzgerald (2-12) killed on a couple of occasions.
The Cardinals tried to run, but Stepfan Taylor couldn't find much running room, gaining just 19 yards on 11 carries. He converted a fourth-and-1 near midfield in the second half, but otherwise didn't do anything. His longest gain was just four yards.
Bengals 37, Broncos 28
Peyton Manning is the king of the regular season, but despite all of the incredible numbers he has compiled over his career, what he's most known for is coming up short in the playoffs. Based on what happened tonight and in other recent games, it appears as though this will be yet another one-and-done campaign for him.
Manning looks done as a top-tier signal-caller. He's 38, so it was bound to happen sooner or later, but he's no longer playing like an elite quarterback. All he's done the past month is toss checkdowns, and when he's gone deep, he has chucked weak ducks with his noodle arm. Manning seldom got anything downfield in this contest, as the Bengals did a great job of "confusing" him, though Ben Roethlisberger solved Cincinnati quite easily a few weeks ago. It didn't help that the offensive line failed to give Manning much time in the pocket on many of his drop-backs, but it didn't matter. When Manning had time to scan the field, he had happy feet and continuously lofted Colt McCoy-type passes. As a consequence, Manning was just 9-of-15 for 88 yards and a pick in the first half alone.
Manning caught fire for a stretch in the third quarter when he exposed beleaguered corner Terence Newman, but the Bengals quickly put a stop to that. Manning was intercepted thrice in the fourth quarter in the pouring rain, and he had a couple of other potential picks that were dropped.
Manning finished 28-of-44 for 311 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The first pick was thrown behind Julius Thomas, allowing Reggie Nelson to rip the ball away from the hobbling tight end. The second was a weak floater thrown right at Pacman Jones. The next was a pick-six on a miscommunication with Demaryius Thomas, while the final was another dying ball in the red zone on a desperation drive when he was down by nine.
With this loss, the Broncos need to win next week to secure a bye. Luckily for them, they host the Raiders, so Cincinnati shouldn't be hopeful about getting a week off. However, the Bengals have clinched playoff berth and can win the division with a victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
Both of Manning's scores went to Emmanuel Sanders (6-70). Demaryius Thomas led the team in receiving with seven grabs for 115 yards, but he dropped a pass. He also was robbed of a 30-yard catch by a horrible face-mask penalty. Jon Gruden said it was the "worst call I've ever seen." That completely changed the game, as the Broncos would've moved the ball into Cincinnati territory and could have taken the lead.
As for Manning's other targets, Julius Thomas tried to gut it out, but he was limping around and caught just two passes for 33 yards as a result. C.J. Anderson had the most receptions on the team with eight grabs for 55 receiving yards. Anderson had some nice runs, tallying 83 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but was stuffed for minimal gains most of the time.
As for Andy Dalton, it didn't begin well, as he heaved a wide throw toward A.J. Green, which was picked on a one-handed grab and taken back for six by Aqib Talib. The Bengals fell down 7-0, and adding injury to insult, A.J. Green had to walk off the field with an injured arm. It appeared as though this was going to be yet another prime-time disappointment for Cincinnati. Instead, Jeremy Hill burst for an 85-yard touchdown on the very next drive to tie the game at seven. Hill and Giovani Bernard ran well throughout the night, and combined with some well-designed screens, the Bengals were able to control the ball enough to limit Manning's possessions.
Dalton, however, did not have a good performance, and Cincinnati fans can't possibly feel more optimistic about their chances in the playoffs. In addition to the pick-six, Dalton had FOUR other possible interceptions that were dropped. He was very lucky that he didn't cause multiple turnovers, and the next strong opponent he plays will likely capitalize.
Dalton finished 17-of-26 for only 146 yards, two touchdowns and the early interception. To be fair, he didn't have a healthy Green for the entire game, but that doesn't excuse all of the errant passes he threw.
The Bengals will at least be able to lean on Hill rather than force Dalton to throw. Hill continued his dominance, gaining 147 yards and the long touchdown on 22 carries, exposing a Denver defense that was missing two of its key linebackers and also saw safety T.J. Ward leave with a neck injury. Giovani Bernard (8-36) once again took a back seat to Hill, though he did catch five passes for 45 receiving yards and a touchdown when he zoomed past one of Denver's substitute scrub linebackers.
Green saw four targets, but didn't catch any of them. With Green off the field, Jermaine Gresham paced the team with nine catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, though he made a huge mistake when he fumbled inside the Denver 10-yard line in the third quarter.
Quote of the night: "They didn't make [Andy Dalton] throw the ball 25, 30 times." - Ray Lewis. Dalton had 26 attempts.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.