I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and ate more food than necessary. There was a full slate of games this week, including three that were played on Thursday. I disagree with the night game being played on Thanksgiving because I don't see the point of it, but that is neither here nor there. A great Thursday of football, was followed up by a possibly better Sunday of football. Big numbers were put up by multiple offenses, and some of the top defenses in the NFL showed off their prowess. We also may have seen a showing by the best team in the NFL on Monday Night Football.
Green Bay Packers 10 - Detroit Lions 40
The first game of the Thanksgiving Day was a lopsided one. Detroit had lost the past 9 Thanksgiving day games they had played, and they play on Thanksgiving every year. This year, however, they decimated an injured and limping Green Bay Packers team. Without Aaron Rodgers, and after suffering poor performances from back up Scott Tolzien, the Packers turned to Matt Flynn who found his fame against the Lions two years ago with a six touchdown and 460 yard game, but that was not to be this year. The Lions were without top cornerback Chris Houston, but rookie Darius Slay stepped in and performed very well in Houston's absence. The Lions held Green Bay to a total of 139 yards through the air, and picked off Flynn once. Detroit also recorded seven sacks in the game, which made the secondary's job at least somewhat easier. Any passing play on which the quarterback doesn't have a lot of time, the secondary can be more successful. The longer a player has to spend in coverage, the better chance of him being beaten because he has to try to stay with a running and cutting receiver, who also knows his quarterback and has an idea of where he is going. Eddie Lacy, the Packers' rookie running back who has torn up defenses, was held to just 16 yards on 10 carries. The only success Green Bay had, was in the takeaway category where they recovered two fumbles and picked off Matthew Stafford twice. Unfortunately, the offense wasn't able to take advantage of these turnovers. In spite of the two interceptions, Stafford threw three touchdowns while completing 22 of his 35 pass attempts for 330 yards. One of those touchdowns went to Calvin Johnson, who caught six passes total for 101 yards. Reggie Bush broke his guarantee, already, in which he promised to not fumble the ball again this season, but he also rushed 20 times for 117 yards and a touchdown, and added 5 receptions for 64 yards. Back up running back, Joique Bell, also contributed a touchdown and 94 yards on 19 carries. DeAndre Levy had the interception on Flynn, giving him a league leading six interceptions on the season.
With the win, Detroit took sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Turnovers continue to plague the Lions, but against the Packers they were able to overcome them to win in a big way. Detroit has turned the ball over 25 times on the season, which has him tied for third in the NFL, but their offense is explosive and when it is given multiple chances, it will score points. Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL and at some point he will get open, regardless of how well a defense schemes for him. Reggie Bush has added another dimension to an already explosive offense. The defense has been inconsistent, but they can generate a pass rush against most offensive lines and especially with the abilities shown by Levy, their linebackers make plays and cover well. The Packers still have a chance to salvage their season when Aaron Rodgers comes back. Usually when a team holds a +3 turnover ratio in a game, they will win that game, but the offense has been stagnant without Rodgers at quarterback. Lacy has played on a high level, but a rookie running back can only be expected to deliver so much. Rodgers' return may prove to be too late, if the Lions can put away the next couple of games.
Oakland Raiders 24 - Dallas Cowboys 31
The Cowboys have the division at stake, and any sense of urgency they may feel was not readily apparent in this game. That being said, Dallas did play well and they were able to win against a Raiders team that has been tougher in many weeks than expected. On the opening kickoff, Terrance Williams fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Greg Jenkins and returned for a touchdown to put the Raiders up 7-0 quickly. That was all the scoring until late in the first quarter, after a fumbled snap between Matt McGloin and Stefan Wisniewski, the Cowboys Kyle Wilber recovered the fumble on Oakland's two yard line. The next play ended with Demarco Murray's first of three touchdowns in the game. Oakland put together a 76 yard drive in response, with two different receivers catching twenty yard passes from McGloin. André Holmes made a great play on what looked to be a 16 yard touchdown reception, but after review the ball was placed on the one yard line. Rashad Jennings took the hand off and banged into the end zone to give Oakland a 14-7 lead. Jennings ultimately was only able to rush for 35 yards on 17 carries, but he did have two touchdowns in the game. McGloin has yet to match his performance from his first start, and against Dallas he finished 18 of 30 for 255 yards and an interception, with no touchdowns. The 6-5 Holmes is in his third season as an NFL receiver, but this was his first start and he didn't disappoint, even though he couldn't get into the end zone he did catch seven passes for 136 yards. The Cowboys on offense were efficient, if a bit slow. Murray finished the game with 63 yards on 17 carries, but most of those yards came on the final two drives for Dallas, while Lance Dunbar showed explosion and quickness on his way to 12 rushes for 82 yards. Dez Bryant fumbled, again, but Tyron Smith recovered to keep possession for the Cowboys. Bryant had 7 catches for 61 yards, while Tony Romo completed 23 of his 32 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. Romo did not turn the ball over, and the Cowboys were able to capitalize on the turnover differential. Between the two teams, only one sack was recorded, by Nick Roach for Oakland.
With the win the Cowboys put themselves ahead of the Eagles in the NFC East, but the win by Philadelphia against Arizona, tied the division again, although Dallas holds the head to head tiebreaker now. With a game left to play against the Eagles, Dallas will have an opportunity to wrap up the division and jump into the playoffs. Oakland is still mathematically in the playoff race in the AFC, but the loss makes it an uphill climb. They will play the Jets this week, which could give them a step ahead of one of their competitors for the sixth seed.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 - Baltimore Ravens 22
A battle between AFC North rivals was for the final playoff seed in the AFC. The Ravens win launched them into the driver's seat for the wild card spot, although they still have a chance at the division. Much ado was made about Mike Tomlin "blocking" Jacoby Jones' path to the end zone on a kick return towards the end of the game, and the smile on Tomlin's face afterwards points to it being likely that he did it on purpose. Even with the "accidental" block, however, the Steelers were unable to stop Baltimore on that drive. Justin Tucker would hit a field goal on that drive, and the next two Baltimore drives, to end up with the 22 points and a win. Ray Rice has continued to struggle this season, rushing for only 32 yards on 12 carries. Bernard Pierce was only slightly more productive, rushing for 35 yards on 9 carries, but the running game for the Ravens has underperformed all season. Joe Flacco was efficient, and careful, completing almost 69 percent of his passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. Torrey Smith was on the receiving end of Flacco's touchdown pass, while racking up 93 yards on 6 receptions. Jason Worilds for Pittsburgh did manage to sack Flacco twice, but the Steelers were not able to force any turnovers, neither was Baltimore. Both teams took care of the football in this game. Le'Veon Bell was injured on the Steelers' last drive, when he took a hard hit while diving for the end zone. Bell's helmet popped off and his head hit the ground with force, he left with a concussion and his status is uncertain for this week. Bell would have had a touchdown if his helmet hadn't come off, but by NFL rules when the helmet comes off the play is dead, and his helmet popped off before he could cross the plane. For the game he had 16 carries for 73 yards and an earlier touchdown, while also catching seven passes for 63 yards. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 44 times and completed 28 of his attempts, for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Contrary to most weeks this season, the leading receiver was Heath Miller who had 86 yards on eight receptions. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery caught Roethlisberger's touchdown passes.
Having believed that the winner of this game would ultimately get the wild card, it is now my opinion that the Ravens will be the final team in the playoffs. Pittsburgh still has a good shot, partly because they split the series and neither holds a head to head tie breaker. It will be an uphill battle for the rest of the AFC teams to overtake Baltimore heading forward.
Atlanta Falcons 34 - Buffalo Bills 31
The Falcons took a disappointing season into Buffalo, where the Bills were still fighting for the playoffs. In a high scoring game, that saw CJ Spiller, possibly, get back on track for the season and EJ Manuel played efficiently again, the Bills dropped the game in overtime, literally and figuratively. Spiller blew up for 149 yards on only 15 carries, including a 77 yard run, and a touchdown. Fred Jackson scored a touchdown rushing and receiving, gaining 42 yards on 11 carries and 36 yards on four receptions. Manuel threw just that one touchdown pass to Jackson, en route to a 210 yard game with a completion percentage of only 56 percent. Buffalo sacked Matt Ryan six times, and forced one turnover, but they couldn't keep Atlanta out of the end zone. Matt Ryan completed 28 of 47 passes for 311 yards, although he only threw one touchdown. Roddy White had his best game of the season with 143 yards on 10 receptions, but Tony Gonzalez scored the touchdown to go along with four receptions for 42 yards. Steven Jackson also had his best game of the year, rushing for 84 yards on 22 carries, including two touchdowns. Antone Smith added the other touchdown for the Falcons, on a 38 yard rush, which would be his only carry of the game. The Bills were hit with a terrible pass interference call, which led to Atlanta scoring the tying touchdown to send the game into overtime. However, Buffalo had two chances to end the game for good, and literally fumbled it away. Stevie Johnson fumbled on the final play of regulation and Scott Chandler fumbled on the Bills only drive in overtime. Matt Bryant hit a field goal to give the Falcons 34 points and their third win of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 - Carolina Panthers 24
While Tampa Bay hoped to continue their win streak and end the season on a high note, the Panthers looked to extend their own win streak and continue pushing for a possible division title. Carolina's defense was strong, again, in this one, holding the Bucs to only six points. Mike Glennon threw an interception and managed only 180 yards on 14 completions. Bobby Rainey was only able to eke out 63 yards on 17 carries, while Vincent Jackson caught three passes for 75 yards. That was basically the extent of what the Panthers allowed Tampa to do on offense. Glennon fumbled towards the end of the game on top of his interception. The Carolina defense recorded four sacks. Cam Newton threw two touchdowns, but also two interceptions, and the defense bailed him out after both turnovers. Newton completed 18 of his 29 passes for 263 yards and added 68 yards rushing and a touchdown. Mike Tolbert rushed for 48 yards on just nine carries, but with DeAngelo Williams the running game slowed down considerably. Greg Olson led all receivers with 85 yards on his five receptions. Yet again the Panthers defense was the story of this win, as they continue their dominance, allowing just over 13 points per game.
After Seattle ripped apart the Saints on Monday night, Carolina is tied with New Orleans for first in the NFC South with two games to play against the Saints. The Panthers could end up with the second seed in the NFC when all is set and done. Cam Newton is receiving much of the praise and credit for the success of the team, but the numbers, as well as the video, make it clear that the defense is responsible for the majority of Carolina's winning this season. The defense will give them a chance to make a run for a Super Bowl appearance.
Jacksonville Jaguars 32 - Cleveland Browns 28
The Jaguars offense wasn't incredibly productive, but it made enough plays to win. Chad Henne was 22 for 40 with two touchdowns and an interception, but only passed for 195 yards. Maurice Jones-Drew threw an eight yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis, but only rushed for 77 yards on 22 carries. Ace Sanders and Cecil Shorts have both played solid football over the past few weeks, against the Browns they had eight receptions for 67 yards and six receptions for 64 yards, respectively, with Shorts adding a touchdown. In the loss, Brandon Weeden had a huge game, which was largely because of Josh Gordon's record-setting day. With 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns, Gordon became the first wide receiver in NFL history to gain 200+ yards receiving in consecutive weeks. Weeden benefited to the tune of 370 yards and three touchdowns on 22 of 40 passing, but he also threw two interceptions. Cleveland still had difficulty getting a run game going, with Willis McGahee leading their running backs with 57 yards on 14 carries. After Weeden threw a 95 yard touchdown pass to Gordon, Jacksonville responded with a touchdown drive that left the Browns with just 40 seconds left to either tie the game or take the lead. A hail mary pass to Gordon was unsuccessful to end the game.
Jacksonville will play another battle of terrible against the Texans on Thursday after "improving" to 3-9. Cleveland has dropped hard since an earlier three game win streak and now have two quarterbacks who may be out with concussions this coming week.
Tennessee Titans 14 - Indianapolis Colts 22
The Colts couldn't find the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. Adam Vinatieri was 5 for 5 in field goals, which would have given the Colts the win even without the late touchdown. Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to complete 21 of 37 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown for Tennessee, but he also threw three interceptions, and fumbled the ball on a sack by Robert Mathis. Fitzpatrick ran in the Titans other touchdown, while gaining 54 yards on the ground. Chris Johnson still hasn't found his stride, he ran the ball 18 times for 69 yards, and scored one touchdown in the passing game. Kendall Wright continued to play well, gaining 77 yards on 6 catches.
Indianapolis' offense still hasn't recovered from the loss of Reggie Wayne, and Trent Richardson has becoming less and less effective. Richardson was benched to start this game, with Donald Brown receiving the start. Brown didn't run incredibly well, only 54 yards on 14 carries, but he did score the Colts' lone touchdown with a four yard run to give Indianapolis an eight point lead. Richardson only rushed five times for 19 yards. Andrew Luck has continued his slide, completing just 17 of his 32 passes for 200 yards and an interception. Luck, however, is only two yards behind Trent Richardson in rushing for the season, while averaging almost four yards more per carry. No receiver for the Colts had a very productive game, Coby Fleener led in yards with 50 and T.Y. Hilton led in catches with 5. Cassius Vaughn had two of the three picks thrown by Fitzpatrick, while Jerrell Freeman picked off a pass and recovered the fumble forced by Mathis.
With four games left and a sweep of the Titans under their belts, the Colts are not likely to lose their spot at the top of the division. They are less scary heading into the playoffs than they were just a few weeks ago, with an ineffective offense and a bad defense. They'll take on the Bengals this weekend in a game that may decide the third seed in the AFC. Tennessee lost their hold on the sixth seed and now much fight for it again, while hoping a few losses fall their way.
New England Patriots 34 - Houston Texans 31
In a surprising game, the Texans almost eked out a win in a shoot out against the Patriots. Ben Tate led the offensive charge, rushing for three touchdowns and 102 yards on 22 carries. Case Keenum was not able to get the ball in the end zone, but he threw for 272 yards, completing only 50 percent of his passes and threw an interception. André Johnson led the receivers, with eight catches for 121 yards. The Patriots' offense has improved with the return of Rob Gronkowski, who caught six passes for 127 yards in this game including some big catches down the stretch and an early touchdown. Julian Edelman continued to show his importance to the Patriots' passing game, catching nine balls for 101 yards. Tom Brady ultimately completed 29 of his 41 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception of his own. Stevan Ridley didn't receive any touches after fumbling again last week, but LeGarrette Blount scored a touchdown on the ground and carried the ball 12 times for 44 yards. James Develin scored the other rushing touchdown for New England. After going into halftime down 17-7, the Patriots came out in the second half to score 27 straight points before punting on their last drive, while the Texans scored two touchdowns, but failed to score on three other drives in the half.
The Patriots withstood a strong challenge from an unexpected team, but they came out on top. This, most likely, doesn't diminish their chances to beat any of the teams in the playoffs. New England will end up with the second seed, barring a direction change over the next few weeks. Houston can look at this as a "moral victory" of sorts because they were able to keep up with arguably the second best team in the AFC, but it doesn't help their season and they have a lot of work to do for next year.
Denver Broncos 35 - Kansas City Chiefs 28
Jamaal Charles claimed, much to the chagrin of many analysts, that things would be different when the two teams met in Kansas City, and in many ways he was right. The Chiefs were without their best pass rusher, Justin Houston who may not be back for two more weeks, but the offense played very well, especially Alex Smith. As an offense that has been the object of much derision this season because of their inability to put up points in bunches, Kansas City has shown two weeks in a row that they are more than capable. Unfortunately, they have lost in both weeks. Alex Smith completed 26 of his 42 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception early in the game when the Chiefs could have gone up 7-0 in the game, and may have changed the outcome. The leading receiver, Dexter McCluster, only had five catches for 43 yards, but that is largely due to Smith completing passes to 11 different players on the day. Wide receiver Junior Hemingway and, tight end, Anthony Fasano caught the touchdown passes, and Smith made some great throws in the game, including a pass, from his own end zone, to AJ Jenkins running a seam route. Charles carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards and a pile jumping touchdown on the goal line. Rookie running back Knile Davis returned a kick 108 yards, making one defender miss and bouncing off a couple more, for a touchdown of his own, but Eric Decker and Peyton Manning were too much for Kansas City this week. Manning threw two early interceptions, both of which turned into touchdowns for the Chiefs, but he shook those off quickly. Manning threw five touchdowns total, while completing 22 out 35 pass attempts for 403 yards. The Broncos picked on Chiefs rookie corner back, Marcus Cooper most of the game, including a 77 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas and two of Manning's five touchdowns were thrown to Eric Decker when Cooper was in coverage. Eric Decker beat the Chiefs top corner in Brandon Flowers for two more touchdowns, finishing the game with four touchdowns to go along with eight catches and 174 yards. Thomas caught only three passes, he had left the game for a little while with a shoulder injury, but he gained 103 yards through the air. Montee Ball, the fumble prone rookie running back, broke out with a 13 carry 117 yard day that included an awesome 45 yard run. Knowshon Moreno, he of the National Anthem tears, only had 18 yards on his 15 carries, but he also caught four passes for 72 yards and the only touchdown that didn't involve Decker. Cooper can at least hang his hat being responsible for one of Manning's interceptions, but after such a rough day, that only deadens so much of the pain.
The rematch between Denver and Kansas City was closer this time, although in an unexpected way, but Denver still took the win and with it probably the AFC West. 10-2 with four games left in the season and a sweep of the second best team in the division, leaves the Broncos with a strong hold on the division and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. New England holds the tiebreaker, but Denver would have to drop one of their next three to be in danger of losing home field. Kansas City is in the midst of a three game slide which doesn't bode well for them in the playoffs. It would be very difficult for them to miss out on the post season, but it's not a good sign when a team falls off right before post season play and goes in with a losing streak. Houston's return should help them, but in three straight weeks the defense was beaten up, and for a team that relies on their defense, that's a bad sign.
Chicago Bears 20 - Minnesota Vikings 23
Who would have known that one of the more exciting games would have been between the hapless Vikings and an inconsistent Chicago team with Josh McCown at quarterback. The overtime game was a great one to watch, though, as Alshon Jeffery had a career day (seems to have been a weekend for receivers' career days) and Adrian Peterson ran wild on a faltering Chicago defense. Josh McCown played well, as he has most of the season, completing almost 64 percent of his passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns. It's almost easy for a quarterback to put up numbers like that, however, when one of his receivers catches 12 of those passes for 249 yards and both touchdowns. Jeffery was basically unstoppable in this one, outrunning two Vikings defenders on his first touchdown and making a seemingly impossible catch for his second touchdown. The 46 yard score was a product of what was probably an ill-advised throw by McCown, but Jeffery went up for the ball and secured it in just his hands while stumbling and sliding against the corner in front of him, who had better positioning for the ball. It was an impressive catch to cap an equally impressive game for the standout young wide receiver. Matt Forte had a strong performance with 120 yards on 23 carries, but he was unable to find the end zone. For Minnesota, they lost quarterback Christian Ponder, early to a concussion, and played out the game with Matt Cassell at the helm. Cassell had a solid game, going 20 for 33 with a touchdown and an interception for 243 yards. Greg Jennings had one of his better games of the season, catching the touchdown with a nice double tap of his feet in the corner of the end zone en route to a seven catch, 78 yard game. Peterson was the man, again, for Minnesota's offense, rushing for 211 yards on 35 carries, and generally looking like a player that belongs in another dimension. There isn't a running back in the league that I enjoy watching run more than Peterson. Oddly enough, however, the Viking's rushing touchdown came on a brilliant 33 yard run by rookie Cordarelle Patterson, who is quickly making a name for himself in Minnesota. Julius Peppers recorded 2.5 sacks for the Bears, as a team they had five total sacks, while the Vikings racked up four sacks. One of the weirder plays in the game happened in the fourth quarter as McCown tried to throw a ball away in the middle of the field and on the tip it landed in guard Kyle Long's hands, Long tried to make a play with it, but ultimately he fumbled the ball away on at Chicago's 18 yard line. At the end of regulation, Robbie Gould blasted a 66 yard field goal try, but he missed and Patterson tried to end the game in a similar fashion to Auburn beating Alabama the day before, but he was stopped, sending the game into overtime. Chicago received the kick in overtime, but had to punt it away, and the Vikings drove into field goal range. Blair Walsh made the field goal, but there was a holding penalty on the outside that pushed Minnesota back 10 yards. They ran one play, losing three yards with Peterson, and Walsh missed the 57 yard try, giving Chicago another chance. Missed field goals would rule the day, however, as Gould missed his second field goal of the game, on a second down and seven play, but 47 yards is well within the range of Gould. There was time to get a few extra yards and give him an easier kick, and with Gould's accuracy being only 72 percent from 40-49 yards, it may have been prudent for Chicago to get him closer.. Finally Walsh would end the game by hitting a 37 yard field goal on the Vikings' next drive. There were three missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime, although Gould can be given a bit of a pass on the 66 yarder as that would have been three yards longer than the longest in history.
Chicago dropped to 6-6 with the loss and conceded sole possession of first place to Detroit. The Lions hold the head to head tiebreaker over Chicago, which give the Bears an uphill battle, but they have one more division game left with three winnable games otherwise. Minnesota can take some solace in beating a division opponent, but one of these days they need to help Peterson on offense, and play better defense because their window of opportunity with the best running back in the NFL is slowly closing.
Miami Dolphins 23 - New York Jets 3
The Dolphins fan club in New York came out strong for this one, with the head of the club purchasing over 750 tickets designated solely for Dolphins fans. That isn't the likeliest of reasons for the demolition of the Jets, but it is an awesome step to make for fans of far away teams. The Dolphins were in control of the game throughout because New York didn't score until the third quarter. Ryan Tannehill played well, although he still has some improvements to make, as he completed 28 out of 43 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but also an interception. Lamar Miller ran well, gaining 77 yard on 22 carries, but it was clearly the passing game that dictated this game. Brian Hartline has produced all season, and against the Jets he caught nine passes for 127 yards and the Dolphins first touchdown of the game. Mike Wallace had one of his better performances of the season, scoring a touchdown himself after catching a curl route and breaking a pitiful tackle attempt by rookie Dee Milliner, as part of an 82 yard game with seven catches. Tight end/full back Charles Clay also caught seven catches for 80 yards. Geno Smith was pulled from the game at halftime after a dismal first half in which he was four for 10 with an interception and a total of 29 yards. Matt Simms didn't fare much better as his replacement, completing nine of 18 passes for 79 yards and an interception himself, Simms also fumbled handing the ball off early in the second half. Chris Ivory rushed 12 times for 67 yards, but nobody could find the end zone and Nick Folk's field goal accounted for New York's only points on the day. Miami's second year defensive end Olivier Vernon had 2.5 sacks, bringing his season total up to 10.5.
Miami is still in the playoff race at 6-6, with three winnable games left, with two games against playoff hopefuls and one against the Bills. New York has now lost three straight and is in danger of falling out of playoff contention. The erratic play of their offense has been exacerbated by the rookie mistakes of Smith, but Simms hasn't played well when he's replaced Smith, pointing to a probability of larger issues.
Arizona Cardinals 21 - Philadelphia Eagles 24
Nick Foles has solidified himself as a legitimate quarterback in the NFL, at least for now. Going into the game against Arizona, the Eagles were technically in second in the NFC East and needed a win to keep pace with the Cowboys. The Cardinals have played much better in recent weeks, especially on defense, but they weren't as tough a test as expected. Foles has now thrown 19 touchdowns without throwing an interception, although Philly got a ticky tack pass interference call that nullified a Patrick Peterson pick. Against Arizona, Foles went 21 for 34 with 3 touchdowns and 237 yards through the air. All three touchdowns went to a tight end, with Zach Ertz on the receiving end of two of them as part of a 5 reception 68 yard game, and Brent Celek reeling in the third. LeSean McCoy played well as he has most of the season, rushing 19 times for 79 yards and catching five passes for 36 yards, but he couldn't find the end zone. Philadelphia's defense hasn't been necessarily stout this season, but they didn't give Arizona much on Sunday. They picked Carson Palmer off twice, Trent Cole had two sacks, including a strip sack which was recovered by Philadelphia, and Brandon Graham also had two sacks. Palmer finished the day with 302 yards passing, completing 24 of 41 attempts and was able to throw three touchdowns. Michael Floyd made some touch catches, including a touchdown, for 99 total yards on five receptions. Larry Fitzgerald took a bit of a back seat to Floyd, catching five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Rashard Mendenhall received most of the touches at running back, gaining 76 yards on 18 carries. Although Arizona had trouble keeping the Eagles out of the end zone, they didn't have trouble getting to the young quarterback, racking up five sacks throughout the game.
Philadelphia kept in stride with Dallas after beating the Cardinals, although they need to beat the Cowboys at the end of the season (if the tie is still possible) because Dallas holds the head to head. Arizona dropped back a step in the wild card race with the loss because San Francisco won, and improved their record to 8-4. Three of Arizona's final four games are division games, including one against the rampaging Seahawks, but if they can stay with the 49ers, they will have a chance to take the wild card spot from them in the final week of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals 17 - San Diego Chargers 10
Cincinnati has been hampered by Andy Dalton's inconsistencies, and tendency to throw bad interceptions. The defense, however, has stepped up in the absence of top pass rusher Geno Atkins and continues to display a dominance over most offenses. They forced Antonio Gates, who had only fumbled three times over his previous 10 seasons in the NFL, to fumble, and jarred the ball loose from Keenan Allen as he dove for a first down. Dre Kirkpatrick, on an incredible jump and rip, intercepted Phillip Rivers when he pulled the ball out of the sure- handed Gates' arms to stop a drive that had San Diego in scoring range. Cincinnati had two sacks, but one of the most valuable players this week was safety George Iloka who has hit receivers and running backs hard all season, forcing multiple fumbles. On offense, Cincinnati was inconsistent, but able to stay a step ahead. Dalton threw a terrible pass over AJ Green's head in the middle of the field (the second pass which was too high, Green was nailed on the first one and was seen in pain on the sideline), which was intercepted by safety Eric Weddle. Dalton did make a couple of good throws, including a beautiful floater to Green on the sideline, and completed 14 of his 23 passes for 190 yards and an AJ Green touchdown. Green finished the game with five receptions for 83 yards. Andrew Hawkins, brother of former Bengal Artrell Hawkins, is back in the slot after missing most of the season with an injury, and his speed makes for exciting plays. Hawkins had three receptions for 65 yards, 50 of which came on one play when he outran defenders across the middle of the field. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 92 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, but the man who didn't fumble until joining Cincinnati last year dropped another one against the Chargers, which was recovered by Weddle. Giovani Bernard rushed for 57 yards on 14 carries. The Chargers offense wasn't totally stagnant during this game as Rivers was able to throw for 252 yards with a completion percentage of 62 percent, and a touchdown to emerging tight end Ladarius Green. The leading receiver was Keenan Allen with 106 yards on eight catches. Ryan Mathews rushed for 61 yards on just 14 carries.
Cincinnati was unable to pull away in the division because Baltimore won, but they have become more convincing throughout the season. With the Colts on deck for this week, they could take over the third seed in the AFC, with a chance to run the table and pull out a bye week if the Patriots lose a game or two. San Diego is fighting for the ever elusive sixth seed, with the loss putting them behind the Ravens. They do have an outside chance of beating out the Chiefs, if they can win out, because they beat Kansas City once and have another game to play against them.
St. Louis Rams 13 - San Francisco 49ers 23
In a game that was not as close as the score appears, San Francisco dominated division rival St. Louis. Although the Rams have played better of late, they were no match for a determined 49er team. Kellen Clemens was a sub-par 19 for 37, throwing for 218 yards and a touchdown, but he threw one interception and Eric Reid dropped a second interception for San Fran. Zac Stacy was still able to grind out 79 yards on 19 carries, but the rookie didn't shine like he has the last few weeks. Jared Cook, Stedman Bailey, and Brian Quick each had three catches for 49, 46, and 41 yards respectively, and Quick scored the lone touchdown, but that was about it for the Rams receivers on Sunday. Colin Kaepernick played a solid game throwing for 275 yards on 19 completions with no interceptions. Kaepernick's favorite target from a year ago, Michael Crabtree, finally returned from an Achilles injury, and although he wasn't primary receiver this week, he caught two passes for 68 yards. Anquan Boldin led all receivers with nine catches for 98 yards, and Vernon Davis scored a touchdown while catching four passes for 82 yards. Frank Gore carried the ball 15 times and scored a touchdown, but he only gained 42 yards on the ground, as the Rams tightened up their run defense. St. Louis got to Kaepernick four times in the game, Michael Brockers recorded two of the four sacks, but San Francisco's defense was not being beaten by the Rams on offense and the 49ers were never in danger of losing.
San Fran has full control over the sixth seed in the NFC with the win, putting themselves a game ahead of the Cardinals. They still have a shot at the fifth seed as well, depending on how the NFC South battle between New Orleans and Carolina plays out. Seattle visits Candlestick Park, this week, in a showdown between the two best in the West. The Rams have a mathematical chance at getting into the playoffs, but it is unlikely at this juncture. They have a young team, on both sides of the ball, with a lot of upside to look forward to.
New York Giants 24 - Washington Redskins 17
The NFC East hasn't played well, but for all intents and purposes it's a two team battle for the division. Neither the Giants or Redskins are playing well enough to make a true run, and this game showed it. Justin Tuck was the star of this game, sacking Robert Griffin III four times on the night. Tuck was too much for the offensive line to block, and when they did block him, nobody was able to get open and Tuck still found his way to Griffin. The Giants offense was above average in the game with Eli Manning throwing for a touchdown and an interception, completing 22 of his 28 passes for 235 yards. Victor Cruz led the receivers with six receptions for 80 yards. The slot receiver almost had a touchdown on a hard run after the catch, but too many Redskins piled on at the end zone, keeping him away from the goal line. Brandon Myers scored a touchdown en route to five catches for 61 yards. André Brown scored two tough touchdowns, but only gained 35 yards on 14 carries while Peyton Hillis gained 45 on six carries. When Griffin wasn't getting hit by Justin Tuck, he completed 24 of 32 passes, for 207 yards and a touchdown. Griffin added 88 yards on 12 carries, but some of his runs would have been better off had he thrown the ball downfield. Alfred Morris was completely ineffective, gaining only 26 yards on 11 carries, but he scored a touchdown. There was some controversy at the end of the game when the chains were moved on a close play that should have been measured, and called a third down. Instead there was a first down on the field, and the Redskins went deep over the middle to Fred Davis, but Davis dropped the ball after being hit hard by Antrel Rolle. On the next play, referee Jeff Triplette moved the chains back because it was actually fourth and one for Washington, and Griffin hit Pierre Garcon for a first down on a curl route, but Garcon had the ball wrestled away from him, effectively ending the game as Will Hill came away from the football to give it back to New York's offense. The referees certainly made a big mistake, however, lost in the hubbub about the mistake is, Fred Davis had the football in his hands and he dropped it, not only would that have been a first down, it would have put Washington at the Giants' 30 yard line with a new set of downs. On the following play, Garcon also had the ball in his hands for what would have been a first down, but it was torn from his hands. The referees made a mistake, yes, but the Redskins had opportunities on both plays immediately after the mistake, and they ultimately let those opportunities slip, literally, through their hands.
Neither team was in serious contention for the playoffs to start with, but now the Redskins are mathematically eliminated. They need to figure out how to protect Griffin better, and how to increase his progression for next year, although Cam Newton and the Panthers were pretty abysmal a year ago, and now they're in a fight for the second seed in the NFC, so it could just be an off-year. The Giants are technically playing better football than they did in the first half of the season, but that's a low bar to judge them on. They won't end up making the playoffs, barring a crazy season ending that would see the Cowboys and Eagles fall flat on their faces (which isn't necessarily out of the question either), and New York stumbling to enough wins to overtake them.
New Orleans Saints 7 - Seattle Seahawks 34
In the most unexpectedly lopsided game of the week, possibly even the season, the Seahawks dominated the Saints in all phases of the game. Losing number two corner Brandon Browner didn't seem to slow down a monstrous Seattle defense. They talk smack, a lot of it, but they back up all of it. Earl Thomas, the undersized safety, all but literally flies around the football field and hits hard on almost every tackle. He is leading the team in tackles on the season, which is usually a bad thing for a defense, but his speed allows him to be in so many places at once and he is a very sure tackler. Richard Sherman is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, and is most likely the biggest smack talker as well. He doesn't get beaten often, especially in man coverage, and the big corner can play physical with the toughest of receivers. Drew Brees didn't throw any picks, but he was the victim of a strip sack by Cliff Avril, which Michael Bennett recovered and returned for a touchdown. That was Seattle's only sack of the game, but when nobody is open and the guys with the ball are getting nailed on every play, a defense doesn't need to get a bunch of sacks. Brees would finish with a pedestrian 147 yards and a touchdown, completing 23 of 38 passes. The Saints running game was non-existent, totalling a paltry 44 yards on 17 carries. Jimmy Graham was held to three catches for 42 yards, although he scored New Orleans' only touchdown of the game. Darren Sproles led receivers with 7 catches, but the fast, hard-hitting Seattle defense held the shifty running back to only 32 yards. Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin combined for 27 carries for only 79 yards and no touchdowns. Russell Wilson, though, completed 22 of his 30 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Zach Miller was the leading receiver with five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown, including a beautifully thrown corner route that turned into a 60 yard gain. Doug Baldwin scored a touchdown as well, catching four passes for 77 yards. Expectations were high heading into the game because the Saints offense has been great this season, but Seattle had an answer for everything New Orleans tried to do on offense and destroyed the NFC South leader.
The Seahawks may have cemented themselves as the best team in the NFL, although a game against Carolina would be incredibly fun to watch. They are all but guaranteed home field advantage, which is scary for the rest of the NFC, and may have a clear road to the Super Bowl. The Saints are now tied with the Panthers and are in danger of losing the second seed, and the division, to Carolina. They will play the Panthers twice before the end of the season, and the outcome of those two games will likely decide which team will win the division, and the second bye week.
All in all an exciting week 13 is in the books as we see teams get knocked out of the playoffs, and other teams fight for spots in the post season. The AFC wild card battle will be ongoing until the final week, it seems like no team is ready to run away with it, but the Ravens are in the driver's seat and are not likely to relinquish it easily. The second, third, and fourth seeds in the AFC are up for grabs because only one game separates the three teams, and two of them play this week, while Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over New England. In the NFC, two divisions are unsettled, although the Lions are in the best position right now to win out the NFC North. The Cowboys and Eagles may come down to the wire in the NFC East (unfortunately, that may be because neither team takes charge of the division, rather than a true battle), and their match up in the last week of the season could be the deciding game. The battle for first in the NFC South will be exciting when Carolina's defense meets a Saints offense, that is likely to be more than a little angry. San Francisco has a hold on the final playoff spot, but with the division leader on deck this week and the Cardinals biting at their heels in preparation for a possible last week show down, their appearance is far from a definite.