This was a nice bounce-back win for the Colts after they fell hard to the Bengals in Cincinnati a week ago. To me, the most encouraging thing for the AFC South champs is the fact that their defense dominated this game. They allowed just one field goals while forcing two Case Keenum picks. Houston also fumbled three times, but were fortunate enough to recover all of them. Andrew Luck did throw one interception, but outside of that he was solid, passing for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Luck did not have to throw the ball a whole lot in this game though as it was pretty much over by halftime. Indy did run the ball well and Trent Richardson’s numbers did not look bad (although they were beefed up with his 22 yard dash). This is how the Colts want their team to look on a weekly basis. They want to be able to throw the ball when they want to, not when they have to. To do this, you must rely on a strong running game and a solid defensive effort. They got both of these this week. Now Houston, on the other hand, is clearly in prime position for the #1 overall pick next year. Honestly, I’d be shocked if they didn’t go for a quarterback with that pick (but then again, we all thought they were going to select Reggie Bush with their first pick in 2006). It is just that the quarterback play has really fallen off the wagon over the past few weeks, and it is the biggest reason why they are on this current 12-game losing streak. Times are tough if you are a Houston fan, and to make matters worse, they have Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos coming to town next week. You guys may want to sheild your eyes.
What a roller coaster ride this one turned out to be. Jay Cutler came out on the first drive and was intercepted in the red zone. Later in the game, he was picked again when he overthrew Brandon Marshall. Immediately, Chicago fans probably screamed at their television sets clamoring for Marc Trestman to yank him in favor of the red-hot Josh McCown. However, Trestman left Cutler in and he finished the game with three touchdown passes and a hearty 265 yards. This was done despite the swirling wind in Cleveland at the time. To me, Cutler actually is the better option for this team. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Josh McCown has been doing, but I think that Jay does give these guys the best chance to win. It is better to get him going now against the Browns rather than next week against the Eagles or the following week against the Packers. I would trust him more, should the Bears make the playoffs. That is why I applaud Trestman for keeping him in there. He simply had to shake off the rust. Anyways, he was helped out in this one by a strong running game. Matt Forte ran for a buck twenty-seven while Michael Bush added a 40 yard touchdown. Also, Chicago shut the Browns running game down. Of course, this was more due to the fact that Cleveland just cannot run the ball anyways rather than their defense getting better. Their real test will be next week against the league’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy. This was an important win for the Bears though. It was good for them to get Cutler going again while picking up the “W” against a tough Cleveland defense. Now, they will likely need to win out to take the NFC North crown while at the same time hoping for the Lions to lose one game along the way. For the Browns, one thing is obvious: they need a running game. Look for them to address this gaping hole in the off-season.
As I watched the final score and stats of this game roll across the screen (while I was checking out the Packers-Cowboys contest), two things immediately came to my mind. 1) The Seahawks are a dominant team. We all know they are nearly impossible to beat at home, but when they take their show on the road, it is even more impressive. We are likely looking at a 14-2 team here and one that will be a tough out in the playoffs. There is a very good chance that this will not be the first time the ‘Hawks play at MetLife stadium this season. 2) Tom Coughlin is done. Honestly, I’d be shocked if he comes back to coach another year with the G-Men. This stands alone from the comments made by Lawrence Taylor earlier this week. I really think that Coughlin is going to call it quits following the conclusion of Week 17. I doubt he will be fired by the brain-trust of John Mara and Jerry Reese. I just think he will be retiring from coaching. I could be wrong, Coughlin does throw the occasional curve-ball, but as of right now, these are my feelings on the issue. It may surprise many to learn that the Giants are the only team to be shut out in the NFL this season, and they have been blanked twice (the first time by Carolina in Week 3). Eli Manning threw five picks in this game and it appears as if Victor Cruz may miss some time following this one with a concussion. Overall it was an ugly performance by Big Blue. I did think that their defense did a nice enough job to contain the Seattle offense and Russell Wilson in this one, but he was able to make plays in the passing game to Marshawn Lynch. Clearly, defense is what won the Seahawks this game, and should they make a return to the Meadowlands this February, they may have to lean on it again (which, I believe, they absolutely can).
The Bengals went into Pittsburgh with their playoff dreams on the table. With New England’s loss to Miami earlier in the afternoon, they had the chance to leapfrog them in the standings and seize control of the #2 seed with the final two games of their season being played in The Jungle, a place where they have not lost all year long. However, as things turned out, the trip to the Steel City was a forgettable as the Cardiac Cats dropped a tough one to the desperate Steelers.
This was one of those games where you could not afford to take a bathroom break during special teams plays. A lot went on during kickoffs and punts in this one. Let’s hit the checklist: we saw a botched snap from the longsnapper, Clark Harris. Punter Kevin Huber was unable to field the ball cleanly and he had to eat it at his own one yard line. This lead to a one yard Le’Veon Bell touchdown run. Later on, Huber punted the ball down the field towards Antonio Brown. Brown returned the punt 67 punts to the house. On the play Huber was laid out by a Steeler player. As it turned out, he fractured his jaw on the play and was going to miss the rest of the game. Since most teams do not carry two punters on their 53-man roster, booting the ball away was going to be a problem for Cincy. Place-kicker Mike Nugent would do the honors, which made for some more interesting television. Finally, on a play that nobody really talked about, Nugent kicked the ball off (with the team down 30-14 with 14:09 left in the game) to Felix Jones. Jones deflected the ball backwards at the five yard line. It rolled into the end zone where he was able to go and retrieve it. He then kneeled on the ball which should have been ruled a safety. Last I checked, you cannot touch a ball in the field of play and then kneel it in the end zone. Someone should correct me if I’m wrong, but I am pretty sure that play was illegal. But then again, who am I to argue with Ed Hochuli. He is one of the best refs and has one of the best crews in the business.
Outside of the adventure that was special teams play, we saw some solid quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger. He was very accurate early on in this game and played turnover-free football until the third quarter. At the 12:32 mark, he tossed a pass up the left sideline in the direction of Emmanuel Sanders. However, the wind caught hold of the ball and held it up in the air for a bit longer than Big Ben would have liked it to have been. This allowed Adam Jones, the Cincinnati corner, to make a play on it and come down with the interception. Other than that one play, I thought that Roethlisberger did a nice job throwing the ball on target to his open receivers. It was nice to see him getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The Bengals have a fierce pass rush, and they were not able to put much pressure on the QB in this game. Utilization of quick screens and hitch routes really helped in this situation, but when the team wanted to pass the ball down field, the Steeler front did a great job in five-man protection. I thought it was one of the more impressive outings from this O-line all year long.
For the Bengals, they really were not able to do much on offense outside of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green managed nine catches for 93 yards, but he didn’t get behind the Pittsburgh defense. His longest catch went for 19 yards, and 16 of his 18 targets were all of the short variety (under 15 yards). In fact, Dalton only threw the ball further than 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage those two times, completing only one of them for 19 yards. The Steelers threw it deep only twice as well, but they had a 27-7 halftime lead to play with, so they did not have to force the ball down the field. Also, Cincy was unable to run the ball. The team combined for 22 carries for just 57 yards (2.6 yards per carry). The front four from Pittsburgh showed great gap integrity and did not allow any major holes open up. It was a solid performance from them in that area as well.
After seeing this game, I can say that the Bengals are far from a finished product. Their offense is too inconsistent, and the team as a whole just does not play very well away from home. They are 3-5 on the road this season, so earning the #2 seed is paramount for them. The team has a chance to redeem itself next week against the Vikings, a team that has been playing good football lately. The Patriots, who they are currently competing with for that #2 seed and first round BYE, head to Baltimore to face the playoff-hopeful Ravens. Thanks to their head-to-head win over New England earlier this season, the Bengals do have a legitimate shot at this first round BYE. They just need to take care of business at home. Pittsburgh’s feint playoff hopes stay alive with this win, and they will now have to head to Green Bay to face the Packers. Aaron Rodgers figures to be a go in that game, but even if he is not, Matt Flynn has proven that he is capable of leading the team (minus one ugly performance against the Lions). It is a major uphill battle for the black and yellow, but at least they have a chance to finish this season on a hot streak.
The potential Dallas Cowboy meltdown continues with a nightmarish loss to Matt Flynn’s Green Bay Packers in Big “D”, 37-36. After trailing 26-3 at the half, Flynnsanity swept through the arena and the Pack was able to make their 23-point comeback. Obviously the two late Tony Romo turnovers hurt the team, but to be honest, the Cowboys had every opportunity to shut this game down early but were unable to do so. Let’s take a closer look at this wild contest.
The Cowboys put up a team-record of 332 yards in the first half of this game. They also managed to put up 26 points through two quarters of play as well. Clearly, Dallas had it working early in this one. However, they really were not able to finish their drives. They scored an astounding six times in the first half, but four of those scores were field goals. This season, the ‘Boys own the second best red zone offense, but they were unable to cap most of their drives with six points. They were settling for Dan Bailey field goals too often, and that really turned out to be the difference in this game. Anyways, the Cowboys only managed to put up 10 points in the entire second half. This is mainly because Green Bay was dominating the time of possession from the third quarter on. They scored a touchdown on all five of their second half drives (if you discount the kneel downs that ended the game), and really did not have any trouble moving the ball. As I said before, Flynnsanity took over in this game. After throwing no touchdowns and an interception in the first half, Matt Flynn tossed four touchdowns and no picks in the second half.
You may have noticed that I have broken this game into two different segments; the first and second half. That is because it truly was a tale of two halves. The Cowboys defense did a nice job (under the direction of Monte Kiffin) through the first two quarters, but on the first play of the third quarter Eddie Lacy ran for 60 yards (off tackle). That really did open up the floodgates in this one. Two plays later, Flynn hooked up with Jordy Nelson for a 13 yard touchdown and the Packers cut the lead to 26-10. Dallas would go on to add a field goal, making it 29-10, but Green Bay then drove right back down the field in 12 plays (for 80 yards). Andrew Quarless was able to score on a 3 yard touchdown reception. He ran a slant pattern and broke right across the face of Brandon Carr. From that point forward, the teams traded touchdown for touchdown until the game was 36-31 in favor of the Cowboys. With 4:17 left in the game, all Dallas had to do was run clock and ice the game. To do this, they could have run the ball with DeMarco Murray, who had shown great explosiveness all game long. He managed 134 yards on just 18 carries in this game and was constantly ripping off 7-8 yard carries. Common sense would dictate that you run the ball in this situation. Instead, the Cowboys threw it, and Tony Romo ended up tossing a pick to Sam Shields. In a post-game press conference, Jason Garrett did state that the team had called a running play in that situation, but Romo checked out of it. When the ball was snapped, Clay Matthews had a free run at him and whiffed on the sack opportunity. Miles Austin was crossing the field on a slant pattern and had some separation. Had Romo put it on his numbers, it probably would have gone for a touchdown. Instead, the throw was a little off target and Sam Shields made a great hands grab to steal a possession away.
This pick lead to the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning) score. With 2:46 left in the game, the Packers drove down the field 50 yards in 1:15. The scoring drive culminated with a one yard Eddie Lacy touchdown plunge. I loved the play-calling by Mike McCarthy in this situation. He dialed up a few running plays and forced Dallas to use some timeouts. By the time Green Bay scored, there was only 1:31 left in the game and the ‘Boys had just one timeout remaining. Of course, the Pack did fail to make good of a two-point conversion (one that would have made it a 39-36 game, or a one field goal game), but they did their job by taking the lead.
The potential game-winning drive for Dallas did not go according to plan. Tony Romo completed just one pass to Cole Beasly, and then after that Tramon Williams was able to make the game-ending interception with 1:24 left. The throw was low and a bit outside, but Williams was able to dive and make the catch. It was one of the most impressive interceptions you will see and it ended up ruining the day for the Cowboys. At the same time, it gave the Packers a new life in the playoff race, and with Aaron Rodgers likely making his return to the field next Sunday, you could say that Green Bay is far from dead. On the flip side, the Cowboys afternoon could not have ended on a more bitter note. They squandered the gift given to them by the Minnesota Vikings from earlier that day (when they downed the Eagles, 48-30). Dallas had the chance to take back the lead in the NFC East, and it looked to all the world that they were going to do just that with a 26-3 halftime lead, but it all fell apart for them as they have become used to in Decembers. Now, the Cowboys find themselves in a must-win situation next week with the Redskins. A loss in Washington coupled with a Philadelphia win against the Bears would eliminate Dallas from playoff contention. For the Packers, it seems as if they may be able to squeak their way into the playoffs after all. They will, however, need to win out and hope for a Detroit loss to either Baltimore, the New York Giants, or Minnesota. Even still, the team has to like their odds after they were an ugly 5-6-1 just two weeks ago.
After going nine straight games without allowing more than 21 points to an offense in a game, the Philly defense is picked clean by Matt Cassel and the Minnesota Vikings to the final count of 48-30.
Simply put, the Eagles could not stop the Vikes from driving the ball down the field on them. This is most surprising seeing as how the number one and two running backs for Minnesota were sidelined due to injury (Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart). Additionally, the tight end position for the purple and gold was very thin without Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson. The team had to rely on the work of tailback Matt Asiata and tight end Chase Ford. Asiata bowled his way into the end zone three times (tied for the Viking franchise record) and Ford made a couple of huge catches on the day for 55 yards. Greg Jennings, the former Packer, had a coming out party with a career high eleven catches. Those grabs went with 163 yards receiving and a touchdown (a 57-yarder). Jarius Wright caught four balls for 95 yards as well. Quarterback Matt Cassel just did a great job getting the ball down the field and allowing his receivers to fight for a catch. More times than not, this strategy paid off, and the scoreboard reflects this.
If you want a solid stat to show how dominant the Viking offense was in this game, look no further than their third down conversion numbers. The team converted 8/13 of their third down situations. They only had to punt twice in the game, and accumulated 29 total first downs. Those 29 first downs were a season high (their previous high was 28, which they did twice, however those games went deep into overtime). Minnesota just did a good job staying on the field, and this did not allow the Eagles to mount much offensive momentum of their own.
LeSean McCoy, fresh off of his franchise high 217 yards rushing (on 29 carries), only ran the ball eight times for 38 yards. Both of these marks are season lows for the NFL’s leading rusher. It says a lot when the team’s leading rusher was the 6’5”, 243 pound Nick Foles. His five carries netted Philly 41 yards, including his career long run of 21 yards. Foles did manage to throw for a career high 428 yards in this game, along with three touchdowns. He, himself, accounted for 469 yards of all purpose offense. Of course, the four sacks he took ate away at that yardage however it is encouraging to see that he can pick up yardage in chunks when he has to. A few of his throws were a bit off in the game, but the coverage by the Minnesota secondary was very good, so Foles did well enough to complete 30 passes. He also spread the ball around nicely, hitting seven different receivers on the afternoon. It is clear that the offense is wide open for him and there is no play that Chip Kelly is afraid to call in to his quarterback.
It is important to note that DeSean Jackson had a bit of a sideline spat with position coach, Bob Bicknell, and Jason Avant during the third quarter of this game. Despite his ten catches for 195 yards (and a touchdown), frustration got the better of D-Jax. This came after Nick Foles threw his second interception of the season. He lobbed the ball up the left sideline into traffic and Jackson was unable to make a play on it. At this point, the game was 24-9 in favor of the Vikes and nothing had really gone right for Philly. At this point, you could tell it was not the Eagles day as the team had to revisit the headaches they suffered earlier this season when the defense had struggled so badly.
So all and all, it was a tough loss for the Eagles, but not a back-breaker. They are still in total control of their own destiny and still have the chance to wrap the division up before Week 17 hits. However, things will not be easy next week when the Bears come to town. Chicago is going to be desperate for a win as they are in a complicated division race of their own. A win next week for either team will go a long way to deciding who makes it into the tournament and who will be watching it from their homes. One thing is for sure, though: the Eagles will need to play better on defense than they did in this game. You will not win too many games giving up 40+ points and 400+ yards in this league. Offensively, Philadelphia has proven that they can play with just about anybody. However, as it was early in the year, the biggest weakness of the team is its defense. It was exposed in this game and now they know what needs to be done if they hope to make some noise in January this season. Meanwhile, the Vikings look to ruin the playoff hopes of the Bengals next week in Cincy. It is as the old saying goes: misery loves company. Cincinnati is in good shape to make the playoffs, but the Vikes can really mess their position up with a win. Furthermore, they can really kill the Lions’ dreams in two weeks when they host them in the final game at Mall of America Field.
The San Diego Chargers go into Denver and shock the Broncos by dropping them to 11-3 with a 27-20 win. The Bolts held the ball for 38:49 in this game. Keeping Peyton Manning on the sidelines has been the age-old game-plan as to how to defend the future Hall of Famer. Mike McCoy, Ken Whisenhunt, and Philip Rivers did a nice job drawing up this game-plan and executing it. However, most of the credit for this win has to go to John Pagano and the San Diego defense. They held Denver to a season-low 20 points and 295 offensive yards. Perhaps more importantly, they were only 2/9 on third down. Conversely, the Chargers were 6/12 on the money down. They were able to sustain drives throughout this game. Ryan Mathews also paid dividends. He had his third career 100 yard rushing game against the Broncos (a team he has shredded throughout his career). His legs helped keep the Bolts out of a lot of third and long situations and that just made the play-calling easier. For Denver, the loss of Wes Welker showed in this game. Andre Caldwell was Peyton Manning’s go-to receiver (he had two touchdown receptions in this game). Outside of him, other receivers struggled to get separation (for the most part). Keenan Allen also had two touchdowns in this game, each of them coming at opportune times for San Diego. His effort, along with the rest of the team, keeps the Chargers in the playoff race as the team goes to 7-7 on the year. To me, this was their most impressive win of the season and if they can go up to Denver and beat the Broncos, I am inclined to believe that they can beat almost anybody when they play well. By the way, you should totally check out the post game interview with the NFL Network crew and Philip Rivers. He was fired up! So the plot thickens in the AFC with this unexpected outcome. Denver is no longer a shoo-in for the #1 seed with New England hot on their heels. Plus we can now add San Diego back into the playoff race. They will likely be competing with Baltimore and Miami down the stretch. These final weeks should be very interesting for the American Football Conference.