NFC South: 2012 Week 11 coverage

Wrap-up: Saints 38, Raiders 17

November, 18, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 victory against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:

What it means: After an 0-4 start, the Saints are now 5-5 and that at least puts them on the fringe of the playoff picture. It still is going to take a pretty miraculous finish for the Saints to get into the postseason. But hey, a month ago, their season appeared to be over. At the very least, the Saints are going to remain relevant for the next few weeks. At best, they’ll make the playoffs and be one of the great turnaround stories in recent history.

Breakthrough moment? Since moving from cornerback in his second season, I’ve always thought Malcolm Jenkins had a chance to become one of the league’s top free safeties. He has all the physical skills and the work ethic. But for reasons I could never quite put my finger on, Jenkins hadn’t recorded an interception since 2010. That changed Sunday in a big way. In the first quarter, Jenkins picked off a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Speaking of safeties who haven’t had a lot of interceptions recently, strong safety Roman Harper, who went through the entire 2011 season without an interception, came up with his second interception of the season. Looks like that Steve Spagnuolo defense, in which safeties are supposed to be safeties and not pass-rushers, might be starting to take hold.

Ingram’s not a bust: For the last season and a half, a lot of fans have been claiming that running back Mark Ingram, a first-round pick in 2011, was a bust. I’ve never thought that was the case. I thought he was just the victim of a very crowded backfield. That backfield still is crowded, but Ingram has had a few good games recently and he’s starting to stand out from the crowd. Sunday might have been his best game yet. He carried 12 times for 67 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run.

What’s next: The Saints host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-21 overtime victory against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

What it means: The Bucs were within 12 seconds of being a .500 team. Instead, Vincent Jackson caught a late touchdown pass and Tampa Bay scored in overtime to improve to 6-4 on a day when the offense wasn’t quite as explosive or efficient as it was in the past five weeks. It wasn’t a particularly pretty win against a bad team, but the Bucs remain very much in the playoff hunt. For the Panthers, this might have been the low point of a season that’s been filled with crushing losses. Carolina led by 11 points with less than five minutes remaining and managed to squander that lead. The Panthers are 2-8, which guarantees they’ll continue their streak of non-winning seasons that started in 2009. That’s about the only thing that’s guaranteed. As the losses pile up, the futures of coach Ron Rivera, his assistants and many of the players become more and more uncertain.

Dougernaut: With 138 rushing yards and four receptions for 23 yards, Doug Martin continues to make his case for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In fact, I think I’ll call up AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky sometime soon and see if he wants to do a Double Coverage debate on Martin versus Andrew Luck as the top offensive rookie. Heck, we might have to loop in NFC East guru Dan Graziano and make it a Triple Coverage. But I feel pretty confident I can make a strong case that Martin has had a bigger impact than Luck or Robert Griffin III.

Not all about Newton: The natural instinct for fans at any level of football is to blame the quarterback when a team loses. But Cam Newton doesn’t deserve the blame for Carolina’s collapse. He completed 16 of 29 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions and added 40 rushing yards. If Carolina’s defense had been able to come up with one stop late in the game, we might be talking about what an efficient game Newton had.

What’s next: The Bucs host the division-leading Atlanta Falcons next Sunday. The Panthers travel to Philadelphia for a Monday night game on Nov. 26.

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 23-19 victory against the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome on Sunday:

What it means: The Falcons are 9-1 and very lucky to have come away with a victory. They had major issues with turnovers, problems stopping the run and a continued lack of production from their own running game. They were lucky to be playing a struggling Arizona team because the formula they put on the field Sunday isn’t going to win against good teams. But the Falcons remain high atop the NFC South and have the NFC’s best record.

Matty iced: The record will show that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan led another in a long history of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. That’s true. But Ryan had perhaps the worst game of his career. He threw a career-high five interceptions, including three in the first quarter. In fairness, three of Ryan’s interceptions were tipped, but five interceptions in a game is way too many for a guy who had never thrown more than three interceptions in a game before. Ryan had thrown only seven interceptions in the first nine games of the season.

Bizarre play of the day: With 7:15 remaining in the third quarter, Ryan threw a short third-down pass to Jason Snelling, who appeared to be destined for a first down. But Snelling fumbled the ball. As it was heading for the sideline, one Arizona defender tipped it back and another recovered, and that’s how officials ruled it on the field. But here’s where things got really weird. Atlanta coach Mike Smith quickly threw a challenge flag. When the officials saw that, they threw a penalty flag on Smith. You don’t see this come up often, but the rule is you get an unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a challenge flag on a turnover because all turnovers automatically are subject to replay.

Fountain of youth: John Abraham is 34 and probably has been on the field a lot more this season than the Falcons originally planned. But Abraham is showing no signs of slowing down. He had a sack/forced fumble that resulted in defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux's touchdown. Abraham finished the game with two sacks and seemed to be in the Arizona backfield all day.

Five in a row: With their ninth victory, the Falcons now have clinched their fifth straight winning season. Pretty amazing when you consider the fact the Falcons never had back-to-back winning seasons before the arrival of Smith and Ryan.

What’s next: The Falcons play at Tampa Bay next Sunday.