For a while, it appeared as though Teddy Bridgewater was going to make a statement to silence his detractors. The narrative for Bridgewater thus far has been that he hasn't been able to step up against superior opponents. He fell flat on his face against the Packers and Seahawks, both of which occurred at home. The Cardinals were favored by 10 points in this contest, so many thought that Bridgewater would struggle again, but he stepped up and played well - until costing his team with a horrible mistake at the very end.
Bridgewater opened the game completing 10 of his first 11 passes. He was on fire, constantly beating Arizona's ineffective blitz. The Cardinals didn't make any sort of adjustments despite this. They kept sending tons of pass-rushers, only to have Bridgewater find the open receiver almost every single time. It was truly remarkable that Bridgewater performed so well against a perceived strong defense, and it was equally astonishing that Arizona didn't change its strategy at all.
Bridgewater finished 25-of-36 for 335 yards and a touchdown. He managed to come back from being down 20-10, and then he moved his team into field-goal range at the very end of regulation to perhaps tie the contest and send it into overime. With a third-and-10 on the Arizona 31-yard line, however, Bridgewater held on to the ball for an eternity, allowing Dwight Freeney to hit him and force a strip-sack. The Cardinals pounced on the loose ball, ending the game.
Save for that instance, Bridgewater was great. However, the final play was both costly and stupid. He should've known to get rid of the ball. The coaching staff can also be blamed for putting him in that position. Considering that Blair Walsh drilled a 54-yard kick earlier in the contest, settling for a 48-yarder would've been the right move. There just wasn't enough time for the Vikings to score a touchdown in regulation, so moving 5-10 yards closer just wasn't worth the risk.
Bridgewater's fumble wasn't the only mistake the Vikings made. Jarius Wright lost a fumble in the red zone during the second quarter. Adrian Peterson then lost a fumble on a trick play in the third quarter, leading to an Arizona touchdown. Later, Xavier Rhodes dropped a potential pick-six. Minnesota could've easily won this game, but shot itself in the foot too many times.
Speaking of Peterson, the numbers show that he managed just 69 yards and a touchdown (the 100th of his career) on 23 carries. He was much better than the stats indicate, however. Peterson ran with explosion and moved the pile against one of the best ground defenses in the NFL. Peterson also did a great job of picking up the blitz.
Minnesota's leader in receiving yardage was Kyle Rudolph, who racked up six catches for 67 yards. Mike Wallace (3-42) caught a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Stefon Diggs (2-12) did nothing because he couldn't get open against Patrick Peterson.
As for the Cardinals, they prevailed to clinch playoff berth, but they didn't look overly motivated in this contest. In fact, they were very lethargic at times. They seemed to play with no energy, sleepwalking through this game. As mentioned, they were lucky to get away with a victory because the Vikings killed themselves with some bad errors.
Carson Palmer went 25-of-35 for 310 yards and two touchdowns. He should've had a third score, but David Johnson dropped the ball on the team's opening drive. As a positive, Palmer passed Kurt Warner for most passing touchdowns in a single season (31) for the Cardinals.
Johnson dropped a touchdown, but he played well otherwise; he gained 92 yards on 19 carries. The absence of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington hasn't mattered too much because Johnson has played well, but there's no depth at the position. Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor spelled Johnson at times, and both looked completely overmatched. A horrible run by Williams single-handedly killed a drive in the opening half, while a helpless Taylor was stuffed at the goal line in the third quarter.
Palmer's touchdowns went to Michael Floyd (5-102) and John Brown (4-78), who broke free because of blown assignments against a secondary missing star safety Harrison Smith. Larry Fitzgerald (5-41) was a huge disappointment from a fantasy perspective.
Eagles 23, Bills 20
All eyes were on LeSean McCoy in this game because McCoy made it that way. The former Philadelphia running back made headlines this week when he angrily refused Chip Kelly's invitation to shake hands. This sparked a tremendous reaction from the media, including Herm Edwards, who nearly had a seizure while going on his latest rant. While Edwards is crazy, he did have a point in that McCoy made it all about himself. When it's a matchup between a player versus a team, the latter usually prevails.
That was the case in this contest. McCoy had some nice early gains that he was able to break outside. However, the Eagles were able to limit him to just 11 rushing yards in the second half. McCoy, who gained 74 yards on 20 carries to go along with four catches for 35 receiving yards, kept his word and refused to shake Kelly's hand. As the game clock was ticking down to zero, he ran into the locker room to avoid Kelly entirely. As he did this, the crowd showered him with boos.
McCoy's replacement, meanwhile, didn't fare too well. DeMarco Murray was the team's second running back, as he received just three carries in the first half. He handled the ball more following intermission, ultimately logging 34 yards on 11 tries. Murray is just an awful fit in Kelly's scheme, and he was an overrated commodity to begin with because of how good Dallas' offensive line is - see what Darren McFadden and Robert Turbin did to the Packers this week - so his continued struggles aren't a surprise.
Both Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews outgained Murray. Sproles gained 41 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, though he caught just two passes for four receiving yards. The limited usage was surprising, considering how effective he's been. Mathews, who had the same receiving numbers, compiled 38 yards on 13 attempts.
Sam Bradford had a somewhat positive performance. He went 23-of-38 for 247 yards, one touchdown and an interception that wasn't really his fault, as Leodis McKelvin ripped the ball out of Brent Celek's hands in the red zone. The announcer said that McKelvin "robbed" Celek, which was a very accurate description. Bradford's score, by the way, was a spectacular bomb to Nelson Agholor for 53 yards, which occurred right after a Buffalo muffed punt.
Bradford's numbers would've been better had the Eagles not been guilty of several drops throughout the second half. Zach Ertz let a potential third-down conversion fall through his hands. The Celek interception could be considered a drop. Agholor also messed up in the red zone. Bradford, however, missed some throws that he needs to convert.
Speaking of Ertz and Agholor, they were Philadelphia's leaders in receiving yardage. Ertz reeled in five balls for 98 yards, while most of Agholor's production (3-62) came on his touchdown. Jordan Matthews (3-19) was a major disappointment once again, though Bradford did miss him deep on one throw.
Philadelphia's defensive line was the primary reason the team was able to prevail. The Bills couldn't block the Eagles at all, particularly Vinny Curry, who was in the backfield on seemingly every play. Rookie guard John Miller was awful.
Poor pass protection ruined Tyrod Taylor's day, as the mobile quarterback barely completed half of his passes, going 19-of-36 for 268 yards, one touchdown and an interception, which was a desperation heave at the end of the game. Taylor also scrambled eight times for 53 rushing yards.
Taylor's sole score was a bomb to Sammy Watkins, who easily beat a hapless Byron Maxwell. A horrible angle by safety Ed Reynolds didn't help. Watkins accumulated five catches for 81 yards and the touchdown, though he dropped two passes and trailed Robert Woods (5-106). Maxwell was also beaten by Woods for another big gain.
Seahawks 35, Ravens 6
The Ravens are nearing the end of a lost, miserable, injury-plagued season. They could've easily mailed this game in, but despite what the final score says, they showed up and tried hard. This was actually a one-possession game entering the third quarter, but Baltimore simply did not have the guns to hang around with one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Seahawks prevailed to improve to 8-5, though they sustained a serious injury in the process.
Seattle was moving the chains effectively on the opening drive, but Thomas Rawls got hurt when his team entered the red zone. He left the game and never returned, and it was eventually ruled that he sustained a season-ending broken ankle. It's a shame for Rawls, who had actually been an upgrade over a hobbled Marshawn Lynch. The silver lining is that Lynch is due back sometime soon.
The Seahawks seemed to be stuck in mud for a while, leading just 14-6 entering the third quarter. Replacement DuJuan Harris (18-42) didn't have as much yardage as Rawls (6-44) despite receiving triple the workload. Harris also made a huge blunder, losing a fumble in the red zone. In fact, Seattle's sole first-half touchdown following the opening drive came after Buck Allen lost a fumble.
It appeared as though this would be close, but Russell Wilson went berserk in the second half. He completed 11-of-14 attempts for 171 yards and three touchdowns following the break, as he mercilessly torched Baltimore's atrocious secondary. Wilson's final numbers were 23-of-32 for 292 yards and five scores, as he had all day to throw for most of the afternoon. Granted, the opponent was weak, but Wilson has been on a tear after losing to the Cardinals on a Sunday night. Ever since the coaching staff made some adjustments to the offensive line, Wilson has been unstoppable.
Doug Baldwin has also been red-hot. Baldwin logged six receptions for 82 yards and three touchdowns. Tyler Lockett continued to emerge as well. He snatched six balls for 104 yards and a pair of scores. Seattle's receiving corps had previously been perceived to be weak, but no one has had an answer for either Baldwin or Lockett.
Elsewhere in Seattle's offense, Jermaine Kearse caught seven passes for 74 yards. Luke Willson (1-8) struggled, dropping a touchdown in the second quarter.
Some quick numbers for the Ravens:
- Jimmy Clausen went 23-of-40 for 274 yards and an interception. He made some poor throws early and late, but was actually effective in the middle of the game. Clausen heaved up an inexplicable 37-yard bomb to Kamar Aiken as he was being hit just before halftime. This led to a field goal, but that happened to be Baltimore's final score of the afternoon.
- Aiken once again led the team in receiving with five catches for 90 yards. Someone named Jeremy Butler tallied seven receptions for 72 yards.
- Buck Allen had a rough afternoon. In addition to being limited to 14 yards on eight carries, he lost a fumble deep in his own territory that led to a touchdown. On the bright side, he caught five passes for 44 receiving yards to help his PPR owners.
Browns 24, 49ers 10
I don't know who wrote this, but I saw a tweet Sunday afternoon that perfectly described Johnny Manziel's performance: "Manziel has been good when he hasn't been terrible."
Manziel did a number of positive things in this contest. He led numerous scoring drives and was able to hit his receivers for some long gains. His final numbers were solid, as he went 21-of-31 for 270 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
However, Manziel made some bone-headed decisions in this game that would've cost his team had they been battling a more-competitive opponent. For instance, Manziel had one of the worst picks I've ever seen. He scrambled left, and in desperation, he heaved the ball way late and way over the middle of the field. It was one of the most pathetic throws you'll ever see. Manziel also took a horrible sack because he held on to the ball too long, and then was nearly guilty of a safety, but was fortunate to be bailed out by a Corey Lemonier face mask.
Manziel had a somewhat positive showing overall, but the Browns will still be taking a quarterback in next week's 2016 NFL Mock Draft. Manziel makes way too many mistakes both on and off the field to be considered any sort of franchise signal-caller.
To quote Matvei, "Gary Barnidge can turn Ryan Leaf into Peyton Manning." Barnidge had a great game, snatching five balls for 84 yards and a touchdown. He trailed on Brian Hartline (8-107) in receiving. Unfortunately for Hartline, he is out for the year with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, Travis Benjamin (4-41) disappointed. He didn't catch a single pass after halftime.
Isaiah Crowell had a tremendous outing. The 49ers had no answer for him, as he trampled them for 145 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries. Duke Johnson (13-78) also chipped in with some big gains. Someone named Glenn Watson was given one carry, but fumbled the ball. Typical Mike Pettine mismanagement.
If there was one negative for the Browns, in addition to Manziel's blunders, it's that the Browns had another field goal (42-yarder) that was blocked. Rookie Cameron Erving, who has been terrible, was plowed over.
It helped the Browns that the 49ers posted a truly humiliating performance in all aspects. Blaine Gabbert sucked. The numbers say that he was fine - 18-of-28, 194 yards, one touchdown - but by halftime, he was just 5-of-11 for 45 yards. Gabbert has a terrible habit of pulling an Alex Smith, throwing short of the line to gain on third-down situations. Always a craven, Gabbert is simply too scared to go downfield. He also took a sack on a fourth-and-1 try on the Cleveland 30. He also had an extremely dumb play where he took a big loss for what was ruled a sack by running out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away.
Because of Gabbert's ultra-conservative nature, the 49ers simply couldn't get anything going. They were limited to just 48 net yards and two first downs in the opening half. Those figures are more indicative of how they performed, given that they picked up garbage yardage late when this game was out of hand.
To be somewhat fair to Gabbert, he had nothing to work with in the wake of Vance McDonald's injury. Blake Bell (3-49) and Quinton Patton (5-46) were the leaders in receiving yardage. Anquan Boldin logged just two catches for 22 yards.
Shaun Draughn couldn't get going because the Browns led throughout. He was given just 11 carries, which he turned into 43 yards.
Guard Alex Boone suffered a knee injury in this contest, but that's not a big deal. Boone has struggled this season, so it might be best for a younger player to get a look. Gabbert was sacked nine times, so something has to change.
Redskins 24, Bears 21
Despite their loss to the Cowboys on Monday night, the Redskins still controlled their own destiny in terms of the divisional crown entering this game. Many didn't give them a chance because of Washington's perceived weakness on the road - completely bogus because of its schedule - but the team came through with a big victory to stay in command of the NFC East.
The Redskins had two-touchdown advantages twice in this game, owning 14-0 and 21-7 leads. They made some mistakes to keep the Bears around, but ultimately sealed the victory, thanks o some timely first downs while running out the clock and a missed Robbie Gould 49-yard field goal.
Kirk Cousins had an outstanding completion percentage in this contest, going 24-of-31 for 300 yards, one passing touchdown and an interception, which Kyle Fuller impressively undercut. This lead to a Matt Forte touchdown that allowed Chicago to hang around, despite the fact that the team wasn't doing much for most of the afternoon. Cousins also scored once on the ground, also thanks to Fuller. The cornerback bit on a play-action fake and wasn't in position to make a tackle on Cousins as a result.
Cousins was solid, but was guilty of some mental blunders. In addition to the pick, he had a series in which he had to waste a timeout in the third quarter and then was flagged for a delay of game because the team couldn't get the right personnel on the field. Cousins, for some reason, ran to the sideline, wasting time in the process.
Cousins' one aerial score went to Jordan Reed, who caught all nine of his targets for 120 yards and a touchdown. Reed nearly had a second score when he plowed through three defenders and appeared to reach the end zone on the opening drive. He was ruled down at the 1-yard line, however, and Washington scored a rushing touchdown right afterward. This performance is killing me, by the way. I have Reed in two leagues, but decided to bench him in one in favor of Tyler Eifert. As of this writing, I'm afraid to look at the live scoring of that contest.
As for Cousins' other targets, Pierre Garcon (5-52) and DeSean Jackson (2-43) both had solid outings. Jackson disappointed his fantasy owners, but he was able to draw a deep pass interference that set up Cousins' aforementioned rushing touchdown. He seemed to be banged up at the end of the game, though it didn't appear to be serious.
Alfred Morris had all the early carries. By halftime, he managed 21 yards a touchdown on nine carries, while Matt Jones (3-6) posted meager numbers. However, Jones handled the majority of the workload after intermission. Morris finished with just 24 yards and the score on 11 attempts, while Jones generated 62 yards on 18 tries. Jones was very fortunate late in the game. He fumbled the ball while trying to run out the clock, but somehow got it back. Fumbling has been Jones' Achilles' heel, which is a shame because he's such a dynamic runner.
Meanwhile, the Bears had a middling performance from their offense. They moved the chains effectively at times, but were guilty of drops as well as a lost fumble. Jay Cutler went 19-of-31 for 315 yards and two touchdowns, but was guilty of being strip-sacked. He would've enjoyed a better day had his weapons not dropped several passes.
Cutler threw touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery (6-107) and Zach Miller (5-85), who blew kisses to the fans in the stands when he reached the end zone. Miller will continue to be a big factor in the wake of Martellus Bennett's season-ending injury.
Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford split the workload evenly again. Forte gained 45 yard and a touchdown on 10 carries, while Langford's numbers were worse; he managed only 37 yards on 11 attempts. Both were guilty of drops.
Rams 21, Lions 14
The Lions were one of the highest-bet teams this week, but most people failed to recognize that Detroit would have no energy for this contest. The Lions bounced back well from their 1-7 start to win three straight, and they believed that they could finish 9-7 and have a dream playoff run. Their hopes came crumbling down last Thursday when they were flagged for a phantom face mask and then surrendered a Hail Mary on a play that should've never took place. With no motivation, they were completely lethargic in this "surprising" loss.
The Detroit offense had issues moving the chains throughout. The team was faced with tons of third-and-long situations early on, as the running game and pass protection wasn't there at all. The offensive line struggled mightily, as the Rams' defensive front dominated the trenches. Another issue was that Matthew Stafford had major problems connecting with Calvin Johnson, as the Rams had Trumaine Johnson blanket him. This was unusual for Gregg Williams' defense, but it worked perfectly. Johnson, one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, smothered Megatron.
With poor protection and no top option at his disposal, Stafford struggled. His final numbers look good - he went 30-of-46 for 245 yards, two touchdowns, one interception - but much of that came in garbage time. By halftime, Stafford was 12-of-17 for 99 yards and a pick-six, which was a telegraphed ball to Megatron that Johnson picked off.
Megatron, who couldn't get open whatsoever against Johnson, caught just one of the five targets thrown to him for 16 yards. He was guilty of a brutal drop as well. Golden Tate turned out to be Detroit's leading receiver; he snatched nine balls for 60 yards and two touchdowns, one of which came very late when the game was out of reach.
Eric Ebron disappointed again, which was not a surprise in the slightest. He had three receptions for 27 yards. The other tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, suffered an injury early on.
The Lions couldn't run the ball whatsoever. Joique Bell generated 50 yards on seven carries, but he did nothing until picking up some big gains late in the afternoon. Ameer Abdullah (7-23) wasn't effective.
The best running back in this contest was obviously Todd Gurley, and he had a monstrous performance. No longer tasked with battling elite teams like the Cardinals and Bengals, Gurley trampled the hapless Lions, who showed no interest in tackling him. He collected 140 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries. Nearly all of his production came after halftime (he had 13 yards at the break), as he just wore Detroit down.
As for the Rams' passing attack, I can't really call Case Keenum an upgrade over Nick Foles because Keenum battled a far-worse opponent. Keenum went 14-of-22 for 124 yards and an interception. I have St. Louis taking a quarterback in my 2016 NFL Mock Draft, and that's not goingto change anytime soon.
With Keenum struggling, only two Rams players generated more than 19 receiving yards: Kenny Britt (2-35) and some guy named Bradley Marquez (3-32). Tavon Austin had three receptions for 19 yards, but also picked up 40 rushing yards on four carries. Jared Cook (1-11) had a big gain, but that was wiped out by a Greg Robinson illegal chop block.
Chiefs 10, Chargers 3
The Chargers put up a tougher fight in their rematch against the Chiefs, but the end result was the same. Kansas City prevailed for the seventh straight time, improving to 8-5 and keeping pace with the other teams in the heated AFC wild-card race.
It definitely wasn't pretty, but luckily for Kansas City, there aren't style points in the NFL like there are in college football. Then again, maybe potential voters would've realized that this game was played in wet and windy conditions. As a result, both offenses were stagnant for most of the afternoon.
The Chiefs were much more productive on offense, but they were guilty of careless blunders that prevented them from taking full control of this game, allowing San Diego to stick around. The Chiefs fumbled on a punt return early, but were lucky the Chargers missed a 42-yard field goal. Alex Smith then threw an interception on a deep attempt to Jeemy Maclin that was underthrown. Following intermission, Smith nearly tossed a second pick, but San Diego dropped the ball in the end zone. Travis Kelce was then guilty of a drop, and Cairo Santos followed that up with a whiff from 46 yards. On a following possession, a Charcandrick West 63-yard touchdown was nullified by offensive pass interference.
Smith went 15-of-23 for 191 yards, one touchdown and the underthrown interception. He picked up 40 rushing yards on five scrambles, but as mentioned, he could've easily been picked again. Smith's limitations are beginning to fester, which is not good news for Kansas City's January outlook.
Remarkably, only three Kansas City players caught passes. The usual suspects were Maclin (6-68) and Kelce (3-18), while Albert Wilson (4-87) caught Smith's sole aerial score.
The Chiefs once again had West and Spencer Ware split carries, and they both happened to be effective. Unfortunately, because they had to relinquish their workloads, they both posted meager fantasy numbers, with West (10-54) barely outgaining Ware (8-52). As mentioned, West had a long touchdown that was negated. Ware, on the other hand, injured his ribs in the second quarter and was given just one carry after intermission as a consequence.
As for the Chargers, Philip Rivers didn't have much of a chance. His top weapon outside of Antonio Gates was Malcom Floyd, who is playing through a labrum tear. His offensive line, meanwhile, sustained another injury when King Dunlap walked off the field early on. Rivers had no time as a result, as Dee Ford had a breakout game in relief of the injured Justin Houston. Ford collected three sacks and had many more hurries, as he basically lived in San Diego's backfield.
Rivers went 24-of-43 for 263 yards and an interception, which wasn't his fault; the ball bounced off the hobbled Floyd. Rivers could've been picked several more times when he made some desperation heaves downfield on the final drive. However, in a gutsy effort, he managed to move his team to the 1-yard line, thanks to a third-and-14 to Floyd, a fourth-and-3 to Javontee Herndon, a fourth-and-10 to Gates and another fourth-and-10 to Vincent Brown, the latter of which occurred with five seconds remaining. On the final play, following an inexplicable delay of game and a false start, Danny Woodhead dropped the game-tying touchdown.
Besides Gates (6-76), who made a great one-handed catch early on, and Floyd (3-56), San Diego's leading receiver was Herndon, who played pretty well, catching five balls for 47 yards.
The Chargers continued to run Melvin Gordon exclusively, and they predictably failed. Gordon, who has been terrible all year, mustered only 35 yards on 14 carries, though he did catch four balls for 28 receiving yards.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention safety Jahleel Addae, who was once again guilty of a personal-foul penalty. Addae senselessly hit Smith out of bounds, which helped Kansas City move deep into San Diego territory. I mention this because Addae has been committing these sorts of infractions all year, and it seems like he never learns.
EDITOR'S NOTE: No one's going to mention this because the Jets clobbered the Titans, but Ryan Fitzpatrick's performance in the red zone was horrendous in this game. If the Titans were actually trying hard and not missing tackles on every play, they might have kept up with New York.
The Jets controlled this game from start to finish to maintain their pace for a wild-card berth in Todd Bowles' first season leading New York. With the Browns winning, Tennessee got back in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by falling to 3-10.
New York started the game with a touchdown drive as a 19-yard run by Ryan Fitzpatrick and a completion to Brandon Marshall for about 15 yards were the key plays that moved the ball inside the 20-yard line. To finish the possession, Fitzpatrick fired a strike to Eric Decker on a post route for a 16-yard touchdown. The Jets' defense quickly forced a three-and-out, and Fitzpatrick hooked up with Decker for 20 more yards, but backup kicker Randy Bullock missed a 53-yarder. New York put together another drive, and this time, Bullock was good on a 47-yarder.
The Titans finally got moving with a Marcus Mariota pass to Dorial Green-Beckham, but Buster Skrine intercepted an overthrow on a screen to Dexter McCluster. Skrine had a return to the Titans' 35-yard line, and once again, New York tacked on a field goal. Chris Ivory took off on runs of 32 and 11 yards on the Jets' next possession. This time, the drive was completed with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Bilal Powell on a checkdown. Late in the second quarter, the Titans weren't set and Fitzpatrick quickly snapped the ball to flip it to Marshall all alone along the sideline. He took off down the field for a 69-yard score. The Jets had a 27-0 lead at the half and the game was over.
Fitzpatrick completed 21-of-36 pass for 263 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Marshall had six receptions for 125 yards with one score, and Decker totaled seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Ivory ran for 101 yards on 22 carries, while Powell had 36 yards on three carries and five receptions for 46 yards with a score.
Mariota completed 21-of-39 for 274 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Delanie Walker led Tennessee in receiving with 71 yards on seven receptions. Harry Douglas (3-65) and Dorial Green-Beckham (3-53) contributed, but the biggest play through the air was Mariota's 41-yard touchdown catch.
The Titans had zero running game, as Dexter McCluster led them with a putrid 12 yards on four carries.
The engine of the Jets' win was their dominant defensive line overwhelming the Titans at the point of attack. Mariota was getting hit constantly, and Tennessee was completely incapable of running the ball. Muhammed Wilkerson had three sacks and 10 tackles. He dominated the Titans. Leonard Williams was gifted his second career sack after defeating a block from running back David Cobb. Demario Davis and Buster Skrine also played well for New York.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I was happy to collect three units with the Steelers, but I was secretly disappointed that we were robbed of a great game in the wake of Andy Dalton's injury. Dalton, unfortunately, appears to be out for the year.
The Cincinnati Bengals came into this game looking to clinch the division title with a win over their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both offenses came into this game playing well, with Pittsburgh averaging 35 points over their last three games and the Bengals 33 in that same span.
Injuries to their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and star running back Le'Veon Bell, had kept the Steelers from hitting all cylinders this season, as was seen in these two teams' first meeting when Roethlisberger was just returning from a sprained MCL and looked extremely rusty as he threw three interceptions in a 16-10 loss at Heinz Field. In that game, Bell was lost for the season after a clean hit by Vontaze Burfict, but the Steelers took exception to Burfict celebrating while Bell was down in pain. No matter what "side" you are on, both teams were extremely hyped for this second meeting. Before the game started, these teams were scuffling and all throughout the game as well.
The drama and importance of this game lost a little of its edge after Andy Dalton broke his thumb on the Bengals' first possession. After Dalton had driven his team deep into the Steelers' territory on their first possession, he made an errant shovel pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt. Dalton's decision to tackle the 6-foot-5, 303-pound Tuitt, in retrospect, was not the best decision he's ever made, as he broke his thumb in the process.
Dalton's status going forward does not look promising, but we won't know for sure until he sees a specialist. He has never missed a full game due to injury, but that streak will end next week, when A,J. McCarron will start in San Francisco. McCarron, the former two-time college football national champion, took over for Dalton in this game and very well may need to lead the Bengals into the playoffs.
The Steelers moved the ball well in this game, but had trouble getting into the end zone, as Chris Boswell's four field goals attest to. But Pittsburgh did get out to a 7-0 lead early, as Roethlisberger drove his team down the field in the first quarter, hitting Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton, while feeding DeAngelo Williams, ending in a 1-yard Williams touchdown run.
That 7-0 lead expanded to 13-0 after two Boswell field goals, but McCarron fired back by hitting A.J. Green for a 66-yard touchdown pass to bring it to 13-7 Steelers. McCarron went on to finish the game with a decent 280 yards passing for two touchdowns, but two interceptions as well.
One of McCarron's interceptions came in the third quarter with the score 16-7. It was an extremely poor decision as he floated a pass to the sideline that was easily intercepted and returned for a touchdown by William Gay, putting the score at 23-7 Pittsburgh. And by the time McCarron threw his second touchdown, the game was already over.
Roethlisberger, despite completing 30-for-39 passes for 282 yards, did not throw a touchdown and was intercepted once. But he did look sharp all game and led his team into Bengals' territory over and over again. Williams was the beneficiary, with two touchdown runs, as he rushed 23 times for 76 yards and caught two passes for 15 more.
Heath Miller returned from his rib injury and was the chain mover all game, as he caught 10-of-10 targets for 66 yards. That's not much in yards per catch, but it is the definition of a quarterback's security blanket. That left the team's two most explosive players, finishing with not-so explosive numbers, with Antonio Brown totaling 87 yards and no touchdowns on seven receptions and Martavis Bryant also catching seven passes, but for just 49 yards.
The Bengals were led by their all-world receiver A.J. Green, who finished with six receptions on nine targets for 132 yards and one touchdown. He now has four touchdowns in his last three games and back-to-back 125-plus-yard games. He was getting open at will, and McCarron did a good job getting him the ball. We'll see if they can build on this good start.
Besides losing Dalton, the Bengals also lost the leading touchdown receiver in the league, Tyler Eifert, to a brain injury. The only consolation for the Bengals right now is that they have a strong defense, two good running backs and face the 49ers and Ravens, along with the Broncos to finish the season.
The Steelers on the other hand are still just out of the playoff picture, with Kansas City and the New York Jets both winning to keep their grasp of the two wild-card spots. Pittsburgh, however, will earn the sixth seed by winning out no matter what happens, but the team faces the Broncos at home next week.
Panthers 38, Falcons 0 By Pat Yasinskas - @PatYaz33
EDITOR'S NOTE: Atlanta's downfall makes me mad because I faded them against the Cowboys and Texans early in the year, only to lose in brutal fashion. It's crazy that they were once 5-0. They're a lost cause.
Early in the year, the Carolina Panthers made a habit of winning close games. But those days are over.
This one was never even close as the Panthers jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead. The victory puts the Panthers at 13-0, and the possibility of an undefeated regular season continues to become more of a reality.
You can critique the Panthers all you want for having an easy schedule. But the fact is nobody has been able to stop them, and that may continue for a while.
For the Falcons, their season continues to fall apart after a promising start. At 6-7, the Falcons, who have lost six straight games, are pretty much out of the playoff picture. The Falcons likely would have to win out to have a chance at the postseason, and they haven't shown any signs they're capable of winning in a long time.
Cam Newton continued to make his case for the Most Valuable Player award. Newton completed 15-of-21 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns. Newton's numbers could have been even better, but the Panthers pulled him and inserted backup Derek Anderson after building a big lead.
Jonathan Stewart continues to be a solid fantasy producer. Stewart rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown. Like Newton, Stewart's numbers could have been better if the game wasn't a blowout. Stewart carried only 10 times.
Ted Ginn is worth a spot on your fantasy team. Ginn's never going to produce a lot of catches, but he's a deep threat. Ginn had two catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
If Matt Ryan was your fantasy quarterback, your team probably didn't make the playoffs. Ryan's slump continued against a very good Carolina defense. Ryan completed 22-of-34 passes for 224 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Some Atlanta fans are screaming for Ryan to be benched. He should have been benched in your fantasy league a long time ago.
The much anticipated showdown between Julio Jones and Carolina cornerback Josh Norman turned out to be a victory for Norman. Jones did have seven catches for 88 yards, but he didn't score any touchdowns and wasn't a big factor.
It should come as no surprise because it happened against Carolina's strong defense, but Atlanta was unable to do much of anything in the running game. Devonta Freeman was held to 40 yards on 12 carries.
Saints 24, Buccaneers 17 By Pat Yasinskas - @PatYaz33
EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote last week that Jameis Winston passed Matt Ryan on the food chain of NFC South quarterbacks. Well, he's still clearly behind Drew Brees. Winston's accuracy was an issue in this contest, though he was still better than Ryan this particular week.
Just when it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a shot at the playoffs, they fell flat on their face.
The Bucs dropped to 6-7 on a day when they did nothing well. Their offense was able to do very little against a New Orleans defense that's been horrible all year. Tampa Bay's defense, minus suspended middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, was very mediocre.
Are the Bucs out of the race for a wild-card berth?
"No, not out of it," coach Lovie Smith said. "Three games left to go and we're two out of it."
The reality is the Bucs likely would need to win all three of their remaining games to have a shot at the playoffs. If they play like they did against New Orleans, they won't have a chance.
For the Saints, 5-8, the victory was meaningless. All it did was hurt their draft position. But the much-maligned defense had one of its best games of the season, holding the Bucs to 291 yards of total offense.
Drew Brees had a solid game from a fantasy perspective. He completed 31-of-41 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brees benefited from good field position thanks to his defense.
The Saints got a blast from the past as veteran wide receiver Marques Colston caught two touchdown passes. Colston, who has been quiet most of the season, finished with six receptions. But don't go grabbing Colston for your fantasy team. He finished with only 36 receiving yards, and his two touchdowns were a case of being in the right place at the right time. Willie Snead remains the best fantasy option in New Orleans' receiving corps. Snead finished with seven catches for 122 yards.
The big fantasy question coming into the game was who would pick up the slack for injured running back Mark Ingram. The answer was not C.J. Spiller, whom many expected to take on an increased role. Spiller had only two rushing yards on three carries. Instead, the Saints turned to Tim Hightower. He finished with 85 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. That 3.0-yard average might not sound impressive, but Hightower was effective as the Saints were running out the clock.
For the Bucs, there weren't a lot of bright spots from a fantasy perspective because the offense had a bad day. Running back Doug Martin was the most solid producer. He had 81 rushing yards and a touchdown. But Martin was limited to 11 carries as the Bucs turned to the passing game to try to catch up in the second half.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who had played well in recent weeks, did not have a good day against a bad defense. Winston struggled with accuracy, completing 18-of-32 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown.
The Saints did a good job containing Mike Evans, who finished with three catches for 39 yards. Evans, who has had problems with drops, dropped another pass late in the game.
If you have Vincent Jackson on your fantasy team, you should look at alternatives. Jackson had only one catch for five yards and left the game early with a knee injury that could prohibit him from playing the rest of the season.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I still can't believe that Andrew Luck versus Matt Hasselbeck was even a debate, and that some people - cough, Keyshawn Johnson, fart - thought that Hasselbeck should keep the job even when Luck returned. If Luck doesn't come back next week, Indianapolis' season could be over.
This win could have saved Gus Bradley's job and given him a fourth year in Jacksonville. Late in the first half, the Colts had a 13-3 lead, before a defensive touchdown by the Jaguars' Andre Branch opened an explosion of points from Jacksonville's offense and special teams. The Jaguars put up 42 points after halftime to blow out the Colts. Jacksonville clearly outplayed Indianapolis, and this Colts team looks undermanned, worn down, and absurdly lucky to be in the playoff race.
Early in the season, the Colts got lucky in a home win over the Jaguars, as kicker Jason Myers had two missed field goals with one in the fourth quarter and one in overtime that allowed Indianapolis to escape with an overtime win. If Myers had made one of those field goals, the Colts would be 5-8, and the Jaguars would be in the AFC South title race. Blake Bortles is the most improved quarterback in the NFL this year, and the credit goes to new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. If the Jaguars can improve their offensive line and pass defense this offseason, they could be a serious playoff contender in 2016.
The Jaguars were fortunate on the opening drive, as the Colts dropped two interceptions, and one went for a chunk completion to tight end Clay Harbor, who caught the pass while on the ground. T.J. Yeldon ran well, and Myers connected on a 46-yard field goal. The Colts answered right back as Matt Hasselbeck threw a ball up for T.Y. Hilton and Nick Marshall mistimed his jump to allow a 57-yard reception to Jacksonville's 11-yard line. The Jaguars held the Colts to a chip-shot field goal.
Shortly later, the Jaguars got caught on a blitz, and Hasselbeck quickly hit Zurlon Tipton on the run for a gain of 27 yards. A pass to Hilton went for about 15 to Jacksonville's 10-yard line, but once again Indianapolis settled for a short field goal. Backed up deep in his own territory, a bad shotgun snap hit off the fingers of Bortles and rolled into the end zone. Robert Mathis fell on the ball for a Colts touchdown. It was the second straight week that a bad Steve Wisnewski snap gifted a touchdown for the opposition. Indianapolis got the opportunity for more points when Mike Adams strip-sacked Bortles to set up the Colts at the Jaguars' 35-yard line after the return. But on the next play, Andre Branch stripped Hasselbeck of the ball and scooped it up before returning it 49 yards for a touchdown. Unsurprisingly, Myers missed the extra point, so the Colts had a 13-9 lead at the half.
The Jaguars' offense came alive on their first play of the third quarter as Bortles threw a bullet between two defenders to Allen Hurns. Hurns bounced off safety Dwight Lowery and took off down the field for an 80-yard touchdown. Jacksonville's defense quickly forced a punt, which Rashad Greene returned, untouched, for a 73-yard touchdown. With the Jaguars up 23-13, Hasselbeck hit Donte Moncrief on a short pass that he broke downfield for a gain of 33 yards. A few plays later, Hasselbeck connected with Hilton for 20 yards, and that set up another field goal for Indianapolis. From there it was all the Jaguars.
Jacksonville's offense kept moving the ball, assisted by a 34-yard pass interference call on Jalil Brown that moved the ball to the Colts' 16-yard line. Denard Robinson ran the ball 12 yards before Bortles threw a dart to Allen Robinson for a short touchdown. That expanded the Jaguars' lead to 30-16. Denard Robinson soon ripped the Colts on a 31-yard run thanks to a great block from A.J. Cann. Two passes to Julius Thomas then moved the ball inside the five before Bortles hit Thomas for a short score. That gave Jacksonville a 37-16 lead.
The pummeling for Hasselbeck continued when he got shoved hard out of bounds by Telvin Smith. Charlie Whitehurst had to enter the game for a second time after Hasselbeck left the game with a rib injury. Whitehurst couldn't move the ball and overthrew on a fourth-and-10 to give the Jaguars the ball near midfield. They moved the ball to the 2-yard line, from where Denard Robinson scored. Jonathan Cyprien went on to intercept Whitehurst around midfield and return it to the 1-yard line. Bortles leapt over the goal line on fourth-and-goal to hang the Jaguars' 50th point on the Colts.
Bortles completed 16-of-30 for 250 yards with three touchdowns. He ran for 17 yards on four carries with a score. Hurns led the Jaguars through the air with 105 yards on three receptions and a score. Julius Thomas had 54 yards on give catches with a score. Allen Robinson made only one catch, but it was a 4-yard touchdown.
Yeldon ran well with 62 yards on 11 carries, but was banged up with an knee injury. Denard Robinson was very impressive to close out the game with 75 yards on 14 carries and a score.
Hasselbeck was 18-of-35 for 252 yards. Whitehurst was only 2-of-8 for eight yards an an interception.
Frank Gore had 60 yards on 16 carries to lead the Colts.
Hilton logged 132 yards on four receptions. Moncrief had three receptions for 52 yards.
Defensively, the Jaguars got good games from Telvin Smith (9 tackles) and Davon House. Branch recorded two sacks and four tackles, but his strip-sack returned for a touchdown was the momentum-changer that started the Jaguars' blowout of the Colts. For Indianapolis, D'Qwell Jackson (7 tackles, 1 sack) and Mike Adams (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) played well.
Raiders 15, Broncos 12
When this game was at halftime, I never would've imagined that the Raiders would have prevailed. They accumulated just one first down compared to Denver's 16, and they had minus-12 net yards. Minus-12 net yards! They couldn't do anything right, while the Broncos whipped the ball up and down the field at will.
Three things happened: First, Denver squandered opportunities in the red zone during the opening half. They had to settle for field goals every time, which is why they were up just 12-0 at the break. Drops absolutely killed them. Second, on a related note, Demaryius Thomas sustained an injury on a big hit in the second quarter. Thomas missed just one play, but a bum shoulder clearly altered the way he was playing. Thomas immediately dropped a touchdown and later let another ball slip through his hands. He also fumbled in his own territory.
Third, the offensive line couldn't block for Brock Osweiler, particularly in the second half. Khalil Mack was especially dominant. He beat both tackles on numerous occasions, notching a whopping five sacks and a forced fumble. He was unreal. One of the CBS announcers noted that Mack reminded him of the late Derrick Thomas.
With Osweiler dealing with immense pressure, it's no surprise that he struggled. The numbers don't show it - he went 35-of-51 for 308 yards - but he did not have a good performance. He had a dropped interception early on and then missed a wide-open Virgil Green for a touchdown. After halftime, he was strip-sacked and then missed numerous targets because of the heavy pressure. The drops didn't help.
Thomas, as mentioned, struggled through a shoulder. He was fortunate early on when a tipped pass that popped high into the air landed into his arms for an inexplicable 16-yard gain. However, Thomas was ineffective after getting hurt. He finished with 10 catches for 95 yards, but dropped three balls and lost a fumble.
Emmanuel Sanders and Vernon Davis had worse performances. Sanders caught just two passes for 17 yards and was guilty of a muffed punt. Davis snatched seven balls for 74 yards, but spent the majority of the time running the wrong way in the first half. He also had a game-ending drop that would've picked up about 40 yards and put the team into field-goal range.
The Broncos couldn't run the ball whatsoever. Ronnie Hillman mustered just 20 yards on 12 carries. C.J. Anderson's power was missed on some failed short-yardage conversions.
The Raiders, meanwhile, had some offensive struggles themselves. I mentioned that they recorded minus-12 yards of offense by halftime. Derek Carr looked completely helpless. He had immense issues dealing with the pressure, forcing some poor passes. For example, he overthrew a wide-open Amari Cooper because he felt like he had to rush the throw. By halftime, Carr was just 2-of-8 for seven yards. Yeah, it was that bad.
Oakland had better success after intermission, as the line began giving Carr more time. Carr ultimately finished 12-of-29 for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He still had some blunders, including taking a sack to move the team out of field-goal range, but he was definitely sharper after halftime, so Jack Del Rio and his staff needs to be given credit for making the proper adjustments.
Amari Cooper had a disappointing performance. He was targeted eight times, but didn't catch a single pass, thanks to Aqib Talib's terrific coverage. Cooper dropped a ball, but also had bad luck. As mentioned, Carr missed him for a deep connection. Later, Talib grabbed Cooper by the throat in the end zone, yet the officials didn't throw a flag for some reason.
Carr's touchdowns went to Mychael Rivers (3-49) and Seth Roberts (2-20). Like Cooper, Michael Crabtree struggled, catching four balls for only 19 yards.
Latavius Murray had no running room, mustering just 27 yards on 16 carries. Murray appeared to score a touchdown at one point, but the play was nullified by a false start.
Sebastian Janikowski needs to get his act together. He whiffed on a 43-yard try, which would've been costly had Vernon Davis not dropped a crucial ball. Janikowski has secretly been a choke artist, though no one knows that because the Raiders haven't been good for a long time.
Packers 28, Cowboys 7
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman spent the entire afternoon marveling about how the Packers were "back." I'm sure the national sentiment will be the same, but I can't say I'm so sure. The Packers of old would've had more than 14 points on the scoreboard by the middle of the fourth quarter. This was a 14-7 contest until late, but Green Bay was able to salt away this victory with two long touchdown runs after Dallas lost Rolando McClain to a concussion.
Eddie Lacy did run pretty impressively. Dubbed "Eddie Lazy" by Awesome Kelly from Arizona prior to kickoff, the troubled runner had one of his best performances of the year, gashing the Cowboys for 124 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts. Lacy still appears to be overweight, but he ran with more energy than we've seen in a long time. On one carry, Lacy dragged numerous defenders, drawing a comparison to Marshawn Lynch. James Starks, by the way, was also highly productive, generating 71 yards and a touchdown on 11 tries, though 30 of it came late when this game was out of hand and Dallas ran out of gas. Starks appeared to score on another occasion, but replay review ruled him down at the 1-yard line.
As for Aaron Rodgers, there's some good news-bad news. The good news is that Rodgers showed a better rapport with his receivers. Perhaps this is because Mike McCarthy took over the play-calling and decided to bench the ineffective Davante Adams. The bad news is that the Packers sputtered at times, as Rodgers didn't look quite right. He was definitely better than he looked against the Bears and Lions, but perhaps that can be attributed to the opponent.
Rodgers finished 22-of-35 for 218 yards and two touchdowns. He scrambled thrice for 27 rushing yards and nearly scored once on the ground, but was stuffed on a fourth-down sneak.
Rodgers' scores went to Starks (4 catches, 32 yards) and Richard Rodgers (1-3). Randall Cobb led the team in receiving, logging eight grabs for 81 yards, but dropped a pass. Jones Jones, donning his good-luck hoodie again, snatched four passes for 49 yards, but struggled to get separation on occasion.
Another reason the Packers were able to prevail was because of Dallas' confusing game plan. Inept coordinator Scott Linehan asked Matt Cassel to throw 29 times all while giving Darren McFadden and Robert Turbin just 16 combined carries. McFadden accumulated 111 yards on just nine attempts, which is just mind-boggling. Turbin was also effective, picking up 51 yards and a touchdown on only seven tries. The Cowboys weren't behind by more than two scores until the final minutes of regulation, so there was no reason for Linehan to have Cassel throw so often.
Cassel, as you might imagine, what quite brutal. He failed to complete half of his passes, going 13-of-29 for only 114 yards and an interception, which was a high pass fired to Dez Bryant. Sam Shields was lost to a concussion, yet it didn't matter. Cassel was just too inept to do anything positive.
Speaking of Bryant, he had one of the worst games of his career. He was targeted six times, but caught just one pass for nine yards. As mentioned, he was thrown to on Cassel's sole interception, and he had a 28-yard catch that he hauled in between three defenders wiped out after a replay review, as it grazed the ground. Bryant, quite simply, has awful luck whenever battling the Packers.
Dallas' leader in receiving yardage was Jason Witten, who caught five passes for 40 yards. Terrance Williams (3-38) and Cole Beasley (3-25) were the only other Cowboys who had double-digit receiving yards.
Patriots 27, Texans 6
It was more of the same for the Patriots. They beat an underwhelming opponent, all while Tom Brady took a number of sacks and the team lost numerous players to injury.
For the latter, this contest saw LeGarrette Blount, Dominique Easley, Jonathan Freeny and Devin McCourty sustain injuries. Easley's seemed like the worst, as he was down for a while and had to be helped off with an apparent knee malady. McCourty (ankle) was the best player who got knocked out; he's a stellar safety, though Brian Hoyer was too inept to take advantage of his absence. Freeny (wrist) played extremely well before leaving, while Blount (hip) wasn't missed very much.
Tom Brady misfired on just eight occasions, going 22-of-30 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He played well when he had time to throw, but he was hit quite often. As a consequence, the Patriots were limited to just 20 points until very late. Brady took three sacks, but that number isn't very indicative of the pressure he faced. Jadeveon Clowney was a monster, as this was perhaps the best performance of his career. J.J. Watt, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as effective.
Brady was helped by the return of Rob Gronkowski. The NFL's top tight end didn't play on most downs, but he was a big factor whenever he was on the field. He was targeted just four times, but caught all four of those passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. The Texans left him in single coverage on most of his receptions, which was a very stupid thing to do.
Only four Patriots caught passes in addition to Gronkowski. They were: Danny Amendola (6-46), James White (4-38), Brandon LaFell (5-32) and Keshawn Martin (3-23, TD). White made a ridiculous reception on the sideline over a defender, but replay review ruled that one of his heels landed out of bounds. LaFell dropped a pass and had a touchdown negated by an illegal formation. Martin muffed a punt deep in his own territory, but it didn't end up hurting the Patriots because the Texans turned the ball over on downs.
I mentioned that Blount wasn't missed. Blount gained 53 yards on 10 carries, but Brandon Bolden was nearly as good, generating 51 yards on 16 attempts. White vultured a touchdown.
Houston's defense did the best it could, but the team was eventually gassed at the end because the offense couldn't sustain drives. The Texans picked up just seven first downs, barely missing positive plays. For instance, Brian Hoyer threw behind his target on a third down with several minutes to go prior to halftime, allowing the Patriots to hold on to the ball for an eternity on two drives sandwiching halftime. Later on, there were numerous drops, including a couple deep downfield by Nate Washington and Ryan Griffin. Washington then dropped a touchdown following Martin's muffed punt.
Hoyer could've had a much better games if it wasn't for those drops. Poor pass protection hurt as well; right tackle Derek Newton proved to be completely incompetent, and the Texans seemed like they didn't understand that they had to block Jabaal Sheard. Hoyer consequently went 11-of-22 for 155 yards to go along with a lost fumble on a strip-sack. He was knocked around pretty brutally and seemed to be getting medical attention on the sidelines.
Bill Belichick is the master of limiting the top weapon of an opposing offense. That, obviously, was DeAndre Hopkins, who was restricted to just 52 yards on three catches.
The Texans struggled to run the ball. Jonathan Grimes led the way with 53 yards on seven carries, but most of that (37 yards) came on one try. Chris Polk (11-34) looked very mediocre, while Alfred Blue was nowhere to be seen.
Giants 31, Dolphins 24
ESPN mentioned the stat numerous times prior to kickoff: The Giants would be 9-3 if all of their games were 75 seconds shorter. It appeared as though New York would have a chance to blow another late lead, but the team managed to hold on for dear life. The Giants received possession with about 4:30 remaining with a touchdown lead, and unlike other games, they managed to nurse the advantage for once. They converted numerous first downs, as Eli Manning completed all three of his passes, including the final one to Odell Beckham Jr. on a third down, which sealed the victory.
Manning wasn't just amazing on the final drive. He was prolific throughout the entire evening. In fact, he set the Giants' all-time franchise record for completion percentage in a single game, breaking Kerry Collins' mark. Manning finished 27-of-31 for 337 yards and four touchdowns, and he was every bit as great as those numbers indicate. He was so good that Mike Tirico actually took offense when Jon Gruden didn't name him his "Gruden Grinder."
Amazingly, nearly half of Manning's large volume of yardage went to Odell Beckham Jr., who was unstoppable. The Dolphins had no answer for him, as they watched Beckham make spectacular catch after spectacular catch. He made the decisive reception, which he dived to the ground to snare. He torched Miami for an 84-yard touchdown, which gave the Giants the lead for good. He also caught another score, which no one could believe; the official ruled it out of bounds at first glance, but replay review ruled that he tapped both feet in and maintained possession upon hitting the ground.
Beckham finished with seven receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He missed some time in the beginning of the third quarter with cramps, but that was the only thing that stopped him in this game. The Dolphins have major problems in their secondary, which I have them addressing in my 2016 NFL Mock Draft.
Manning's two other scores were thrown to Rueben Randle (5-58) and Will Tye (5-30).
The Giants ran the ball well when they handed it to Rashad Jennings. The veteran scampered for 81 yards on 22 carries. Andre Williams, on the other hand, was awful once again. Picking up just three yards on just as many carries, Williams lost a fumble to set up a Miami field goal. He didn't touch the ball in the second half as a consequence, which was a great move on Tom Coughlin's part because it's always a wasted down when the horrible Williams touches the ball.
The Dolphins had their chances, but Ryan Tannehill's poor quarterbacking and the offensive coordinator's questionable play-calling were once again their main issues. Tannehill's numbers don't look terrible - he went 25-of-41, 236 yards, one touchdown - but he made plenty of mistakes. He got away with a big error early when he threw late across his body, though that pass actually ended up being complete. However, he missed about half-a-dozen open receivers, including Jarvis Landry late for a potential touchdown in the fourth quarter. Tannehill had plenty of time, so there was no excuse for not connecting with his top wideout.
The silver lining is that Tannehill made some nice throws as well, and new coordinator Zac Taylor is actually allowing him to audible. Tannehill had success doing so, but he needs to become more consistent.
Speaking of Landry, Beckham's college teammate was thrown to 18 times. He hauled in 11 of those balls for 99 yards. He could've had a better game had Tannehill not missed him a couple of times. Landry, however, dropped a pass and was flagged for a dumb personal-foul penalty when he hurled a New York defensive back to the ground, ruining a potential field-goal try in the fourth quarter.
The only other Dolphins to accumulate more than 16 receiving yards were Kenny Stills (2-49), who scored, and Jordan Cameron (3-35). Dion Sims (3-14) dropped a pass and lost a fumble that handed the Giants a free field goal.
Remember how I mentioned that Miami was guilty of poor play-calling? Well, the team had Tannehill throw 41 times, while Lamar Miller was given just 12 carries. That was absolutely horrible, and there was no excuse for it. Miller ran extremely well whenever he was given the ball, and it's not like the Dolphins ever trailed by more than seven points. Miller gained 89 yards and two touchdowns on 12 tries. He made New York defenders whiff whenever he had possession. The Giants were guilty of missing numerous tackles. It was not a pretty showing by their defense, but the Dolphins were guilty of more blunders.
Two other notes:
1. Ereck Flowers sustained an injury on Beckham's 84-yard touchdown. Let's wish him well, as Flowers is a WalterFootball.com reader.
2. Ndamukong Suh was completely worn down in the third quarter. In fact, he was so tired that he had to waste a timeout to catch his breath. The Giants' quick-temp offense got to him, but it's ridiculous to see him this out of shape.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.