NFC South: 2012 Week 9 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Saints 28, Eagles 13

November, 5, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Some quick thoughts on New Orleans Saints' 28-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: After starting 0-4, the Saints have won three of their past four games and sit at 3-5 and in third place in the NFC South, well behind the 8-0 Atlanta Falcons. The season isn’t over for New Orleans, but with the way its defense is playing, it will be hard-pressed to go on a run.

For the reeling Eagles, this was their fourth straight loss and fifth in their past six games after starting the season 2-0. They now sit at 3-5, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for second place in the NFC East behind the 6-3 New York Giants. This certainly isn’t what Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie had in mind. He said before the season started that a second consecutive 8-8 finish would be grounds to fire Andy Reid after his 14th season. The Eagles will have to finish at worst 6-2 to avoid a .500 record, and even that might not be good enough.

So what becomes of Reid? NFL owners don’t like to get embarrassed on national television, and that’s what happened to the Eagles, who got behind early -- again -- and couldn’t keep up with a Saints offense that can put points on the board. The Eagles trailed 21-3 at halftime. They showed signs of life in the third quarter with a strip sack that led to a 77-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson followed by a forced fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

But one of the Eagles' chronic problems continued. They couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone. Five appearances led to two field goals. Vick also threw a pick-six when a pass bounced off Brent Celek's fingertips and was returned 98 yards by Patrick Robinson for a touchdown that gave New Orleans a 7-0 lead.

As ugly as it’s going to be in Philadelphia this week, where acute apathy has set in, I’d be shocked -- shocked -- if Lurie fired Reid midseason under any circumstances. That’s not how Lurie operates. But it certainly seems like Lurie will be looking for a new coach in January.

Saints defense holds: The Saints had been historically bad coming into the game this season. They had given up consecutive 500-yard games and had allowed at least 400 yards of offense in all seven games. They ranked 30th in scoring, 32nd in total yards allowed, 30th in passing yards allowed and 31st in rushing yards allowed.

While New Orleans allowed LeSean McCoy to gain 119 yards, 101 of those yards came on 13 first-half carries. They held the Eagles to 13 points even though they entered the game giving up 30.9 per game. They sacked Vick seven times and forced three turnovers.

Yes, they ended up giving up 400 yards in garbage time, meaningless yards that only padded losing statistics. The Saints have plenty of work to do on defense, but they made headway on Monday.

Eagles lose another lineman: The Philadelphia offensive line has taken a beating this season, and against New Orleans the Eagles were forced to play the majority of the game without right tackle Todd Herremans, who injured his right ankle/foot late in the first quarter.

Herremans is the fourth starter on the offensive line to miss time with an injury, which is one of the major reasons the Eagles have struggled this season.

Saints' streaks continue: New Orleans has not lost a November game since falling to Tampa Bay on Nov. 30, 2008, a streak of 12 straight games. They’ve now won 14 of their past 15 games in November. They’ve also won eight straight games on Monday night.

What’s next: The Eagles return home to an environment in Philadelphia that will be toxic, and they will host the Cowboys on Sunday. The Saints host the undefeated Falcons.

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 19, Cowboys 13

November, 4, 2012

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 19-13 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night at the Georgia Dome:

What it means: The method was by no means pretty, but the Falcons remained the only unbeaten team in the NFL. At 8-0, they’re well on their way to clinching the NFC South and still in the NFC lead for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Falcons have been accused plenty of times this season of not always having pretty wins. But the bottom line is they’re winning and, if they keep doing that, they’ll get the respect their fans so desperately crave.

The Turner point: For most of the night, Atlanta running back Michael Turner looked old and slow and the lack of any threat in the running game was taking a toll on the passing game. But that all changed late in the third quarter when Turner broke off a 43-yard run to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run that broke a 6-6 tie. The Dallas defense was loading up and going after Matt Ryan, until Turner showed he still can turn a corner. Turner finished with 20 carries for 102 yards.

Dynamic duo: Julio Jones (118) and Roddy White (129) each topped the 100-yard receiving mark. White also set a new franchise record for receptions when he broke Terance Mathis' mark of 573 career catches.

Best surprise: Even without injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who might be Atlanta’s best defensive player, the Falcons played perhaps their best all-around defensive game. They limited the Cowboys to just two field goals until allowing a touchdown pass with 5:21 remaining.

Worst surprise: Atlanta’s Matt Bryant usually is one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers. But not on Sunday night. Bryant missed two field goal attempts. The last time Bryant missed two field goals in one game was Sept. 17, 2006. That’s when Bryant was playing for Tampa Bay. The opponent that day? The Falcons. But Bryant did hit a 36-yard field goal with 7:49 remaining and a 32-yarder with 17 seconds left to give the Falcons some insurance.

What’s next: The Falcons play at New Orleans next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 42, Raiders 32

November, 4, 2012

Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 42-32 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday:

What it means: Don’t look now, but the Bucs are suddenly 4-4 and somewhat in playoff contention and you can see this is a team that’s very much on the upswing. Oakland and Minnesota may not be dominant teams, but the Bucs went up to Minnesota in a short week and won in a hostile environment. Then, they flew cross-country and got a win at Oakland, even if the Bucs came very close to squandering what was a 28-10 lead before Oakland rallied in the fourth quarter.. When you’re a young team like the Bucs, showing you can win on the road, even if it's not particularly pretty, is a very positive sign. The Bucs already have won as many games as they did all last season.

Changing perceptions: Early in the season, critics were saying rookie running back Doug Martin didn’t have the ability to make big plays. That changed in the past few weeks and the trend continued Sunday as Martin had touchdown runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards. Martin’s starting to look like a legitimate offensive rookie of the year candidate. He finished with 22 carries for 265 yards and four touchdowns.

High praise: I was listening to the Oakland radio broadcast for the first few minutes of the game as I drove to the Georgia Dome and the announcers had high praise for Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams. They said he’s the best in the NFL at working the sideline and compared him to past greats Fred Biletnikoff and Cris Carter in that department.

Missing Nicks? The Bucs had to put All-Pro guard Carl Nicks on injured reserve last week. That’s a huge loss, but the Bucs got through their first game without Nicks fairly well as Martin had a second straight with more than 100 rushing yards.

Unsung hero: With Oakland putting together a lengthy drive in the third quarter, undrafted rookie defensive back Leonard Johnson put an end to it by intercepting Carson Palmer. Johnson now has an interception in two straight games. If Johnson didn't come up with that interception, Oakland might have started its rally earlier and the result could have been different.

What’s next: The Buccaneers are at home against the San Diego Chargers next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Panthers 21, Redskins 13

November, 4, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers21-13 victory against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday:

What it means: This isn’t going to suddenly turn around what has been a brutal season for Carolina. But it’s going to go a long way in stopping some of the bleeding. The Panthers snapped a five-game losing streak and improved their record to 2-6. An impressive win on the road might be a step toward coach Ron Rivera keeping his job after the season. But Rivera needs some more victories to solidify his status.

An Armanti Edwards sighting: Edwards made what was easily the biggest play in his time in Carolina. Leading 14-6 early in the fourth quarter with the ball deep in their own territory, the Panthers surprisingly didn’t get conservative. Instead, they took a shot downfield to the seldom-used Edwards. Cam Newton hit Edwards with a deep pass that ended up going for 82 yards and that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Newton.

What I liked: Carolina’s defense. This unit has drawn tons of criticism, and it generally has been deserved. But Carolina’s defense came through in a big way Sunday. It wasn’t a perfect day, as the Redskins finished with 346 yards of total offense. But the Panthers held the Redskins to two field goals until the Redskins scored a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. That's a pretty solid defensive performance. Also, defensive end Greg Hardy, who looked like a bust early in his career, continues to show signs he might be developing into a reliable pass-rusher.

Newton’s efficient day: The quarterback has been drawing a lot of criticism in recent weeks. But it’s hard to criticize Newton’s performance against the Redskins; he didn’t have a turnover while completing 13 of 23 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown and rushing eight times for 37 yards and a touchdown.

What’s next: The Panthers are home next Sunday with Denver. This will be a homecoming for Denver coach John Fox, who coached the Panthers from 2002 through 2010 and took the franchise to its only Super Bowl.