NFL Nation: 2010 Week 15 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Patriots 31, Packers 27

December, 19, 2010
Some thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' closer-than-expected game at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The events of earlier Sunday left this game with limited meaning for the Packers. No matter what they did against the New England Patriots, the Packers knew they would be able to clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth with victories in their final two games. Sunday night's loss means the Chicago Bears can clinch the NFC North with a victory Monday night over the Minnesota Vikings. But at 8-6, the Packers can control their postseason chances. How much easier would it have been had they pulled a monumental upset Sunday night? Let's not even bother.

Flynn's final minute: On Saturday, the Packers ruled out quarterback Aaron Rodgers because of a concussion. For the most part, backup Matt Flynn played about as well as you could have hoped, and he finished with 247 passing yards and three touchdowns. I don't know whom to blame for the final-play confusion that cost the Packers at least a few chances at the end zone, so I'll just say this: It's hard to imagine that sequence going the same way if Rodgers had been in the game. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Patriots' 15-yard line, the Packers lost about 21 seconds while trying to sort out their next move. Flynn finally rushed the Packers to the line for a disorganized play that ended in a sack.

Starting point: Knowing the stiff climb his team faced, coach Mike McCarthy opened the game with an onside kick. Safety Nick Collins recovered and it led to Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal, but the big impact was adding an additional possession and setting the tone for a game in which the Packers would possess the ball for about 32 of the first 45 minutes of the game and a total of 40 minutes, 12 seconds. As it was, the Patriots totaled 24 offensive points in that brief period, even while managing only 249 total yards and 14 first downs.

Two big ones: The Patriots got 14 of their points during a critical sequence at the end of the second quarter and the start of the third. After taking a 17-7 lead, the Packers' beleaguered special teams allowed a 71-yard return to offensive lineman Dan Connolly on what was supposed to be a squib quick. I'm no expert, so I'll just point out that Quinn Johnson and Diyral Briggs collided just as Connolly broke open the return. And we won't send any kudos to Charlie Peprah for the weak arm tackle he attempted on Connolly. Then, on the fifth play of the third quarter, receiver James Jones stopped running on an in-cut and Flynn's pass was intercepted by cornerback Kyle Arrington. I counted three missed tackles as Arrington returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.

More misses: Poor tackling also played a big role in the Patriots' eventual game-winning score. Cornerback Sam Shields couldn't bring down tight end Aaron Hernandez on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:14 left.

What's next: The Packers will return to Lambeau Field for the first of two consecutive games there to end the regular season. They'll host the New York Giants in a game that will at least have tremendous wild-card playoff significance.

Wrap-up: Raiders 39, Broncos 23

December, 19, 2010
A look at a closer-than-expected game in Oakland.

What it means: Oakland is still in the playoff race. Had the Broncos beaten the Raiders, Oakland would be out. The Raiders are 7-7. Other than their win Sunday, it wasn’t a great Week 15 for the Raiders. The two teams they are chasing in the AFC West -- Kansas City and San Diego -- both won. Oakland trails Kansas City, 9-5, by two games with two games to go and it trails San Diego, 8-6, by one game. For Oakland to win the AFC West, it will need to beat Indianapolis at home next week and win at Kansas City in Week 17, and it will need the Chiefs to lose next week at home to Tennessee. Also, it will need San Diego to lose once, either at Cincinnati next week or at Denver in Week 17. Oakland cannot make the playoffs as a wild-card. Denver is now 3-11.

Tomorrow’s talker: For much of the game, Denver rookie quarterback Tim Tebow was more effective than Oakland veteran Jason Campbell. But, Campbell made enough plays in the second half to allow Oakland to ran away from the Broncos in a game that was much closer than Oakland’s 59-14 laugher in Denver in October. Tebow had his moments in his first NFL start, including a 40-yard touchdown run. He showed there might something there with him as a starter. Campbell was awful in the first half. Again, he made some plays. But Campbell is playing for his Oakland future. He needs to be more consistent.

Trending: The Raiders were terrific on the ground again. They had 264 yards on 41 carries. Tailback Darren McFadden had 119 yards rushing. This is the best part of Oakland’s entire team and it’s a reason why there is hope for the future regardless if the Raiders makes the playoffs or not.

What’s next: The Raiders will have to find a way to beat the Colts, who are playing for their playoffs lives as well. Oakland is 0-5 against AFC competition outside the AFC West. It is 5-0 in the division. Denver ends the season at home against Houston and the Chargers. I couldn’t imagine Tebow not playing in front of the home folks in those two games.

Wrap-up: Falcons 34, Seahawks 18

December, 19, 2010
Wrapping up Atlanta's victory against Seattle.

What it means: The Falcons are 12-2. They’ve won eight in a row and still are in the lead in the battle for the NFC South title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Although nothing besides a spot in the playoffs has been clinched at this point, the Falcons control their own destiny if they win out, and they likely still would be fine if they slipped up and lost one. Heck, they could even go into the final game of the season with the top spot locked up and rest their starters a bit.

Best news of the day: When the Falcons touch down in Atlanta after a five- (or so) hour flight from Seattle sometime in the middle of the night, they can rejoice that a three-game road swing came without a loss, and there’s a very real chance that they might not have to get on a plane again this season. If they do, the only scenario for that might mean a trip to Dallas for the Super Bowl.

Next-best news of the day: There’s no sense going into much detail of the play-by-play of a game that went precisely as it should have and didn’t really feature anything spectacular. In other words, Matt Ryan was efficient with three touchdown passes, Michael Turner ran relatively well and the defense produced some turnovers. In short, the Falcons did what they’ve been doing all season. They played smart football and didn’t beat themselves. You can win a lot of games when you do that.

What’s next: With New Orleans losing to Baltimore, the Dec. 27 Monday Night Football game between the Saints and Falcons loses a little of its luster with Atlanta in control. But these two teams don’t like each other and the last thing the Falcons want to do is let the Saints back into the NFC South race or do anything to help their playoff chances.

Wrap-up: Falcons 34, Seahawks 18

December, 19, 2010
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 34-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Qwest Field in Week 15:

What it means: The Seahawks lost no ground in the NFC West race while falling to 6-8, but questions persist at quarterback after coach Pete Carroll benched Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck completed 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards, two interceptions and a critical lost fumble. Hasselbeck's interceptions on consecutive third-quarter possessions precipitated the change. Charlie Whitehurst completed 8 of 16 passes for 83 yards in relief.

What I liked: The Seahawks started quickly. They scored a touchdown on their first possession and tied the score 10-10 after Atlanta took the lead. Seattle's shaky run defense held firm against the Falcons' Michael Turner, even when the Seahawks fell behind.

What I didn't like: The three third-quarter turnovers helped turn a 17-10 deficit into a 34-10 blowout before the fourth quarter. The Falcons' Jamaal Anderson sacked Hasselbeck in the end zone. The ball came out and Jonathan Babineaux recovered for Atlanta. The Falcons led, 24-10, and Hasselbeck followed with two picks. Interceptions have become a problem for Hasselbeck when Seattle falls too far behind. Seattle also got little from its usually productive return game.

Tomorrow's Talker: Is Hasselbeck finished in Seattle? Even if Hasselbeck remains the starter heading into Week 17, is there any way the team will re-sign him after such a rough late-season stretch? Hasselbeck has four touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his previous five December games dating to last season.

Williams' returns: Top receiver Mike Williams returned for Seattle. He caught eight passes for 66 yards.

What's next: The Seahawks head to Tampa Bay for a Week 16 game against the Bucs.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
A few thoughts on the Panthers win over the Cardinals.

What it means: In this much-anticipated showdown between rookie gunslingers Jimmy Clausen and John Skelton, the Panthers won, but still might have delivered the worst possible result. Carolina’s still the leader in the battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, but, at 2-12, the Panthers now have only one less loss than the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos are losing by 10 to Oakland as I write this. A loss would put the Broncos at 3-13. Carolina still is in pretty good shape if it comes down to tie-breakers. But, what if the Panthers do something really crazy, like finish John Fox’s regime on a three-game winning streak. If that happens, they better hope Clausen really finishes strong because they’ll be booting the chance to get Andrew Luck at No. 1, if he decides to pass up his senior season.

Positive Panther stat of the day: Clausen got his first victory as an NFL starter in what will probably be Fox’s final home game at Bank of America Stadium. Reminds me of something I heard about Clausen not too long ago: “He ain’t in Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure.’’

Positive Panther stat of the day II: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards. When healthy, which wasn’t the case for much of the season, Stewart’s been very solid.

What’s next: The entire nation (maybe even some lucky viewers in Canada and Mexico) gets to see the surging Panthers on Thursday night as they travel to Pittsburgh. Word on the street is general manager Marty Hurney has planned a side meeting with University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, the son of former Carolina assistant Sal Sunseri, to see if he can coax him into entering the draft if Luck runs out.

Wrap-up: Lions 23, Buccaneers 20

December, 19, 2010
Some observations from the Detroit Lions' 23-20 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What it means: Thick in the middle of the playoff race, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the inexcusable. They lost at home to the Detroit Lions, a team that hadn’t won on the road since Josh Freeman was two years old. All right, I’m stretching that a little. But the Lions stopped the longest road-losing streak in NFL history at 26 games. That drops the Bucs to 8-6. They’re still in the playoff picture. But, next week’s game with Seattle no longer looks like a certain win. Maybe it’s best the Bucs don’t make the playoffs anyway. The way they’ve been getting hit by injuries lately, a playoff game likely would be an ugly loss to end the season. Maybe it’s best the injuries caught up to the Bucs before they could get into the playoffs.

Déjà vu: Speaking of the injuries, the current Bucs remind me a lot of the Carolina Panthers back in the 2005 season. John Fox did his best job as a coach that season, somehow finding a way to get the Panthers all the way to the NFC Championship Game, even though Carolina was down to running backs you’d never heard of before. Fox got everything he possibly could have from that team. But, when the Panthers went out to Seattle for the title game, they simply ran out of gas. It appears that’s kind of what’s happening with the Bucs this season. Raheem Morris has gotten everything he possibly can from this young team. Heck, the Bucs already might have more wins than they realistically should have. Although the future looks incredibly bright for the Bucs, it’s fair to say that any defense that allows Drew Stanton to throw for 252 yards and Maurice Morris to run for 115 has hit a wall and needs an offseason to fix what’s broken.

What’s next: The Bucs host the Seahawks the day after Christmas in a game that was flexed to the 4:15 p.m. time slot. The game still has playoff implications for both teams. But Raymond James Stadium, which has had its share of empty seats this season, will be far from full. It was going to be that way no matter what. But the loss to the Lions makes it even less appealing.

Wrap-up: Titans 31, Texans 17

December, 19, 2010
Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 31-17 win against the Houston Texans at LP Field.

What it means: The Titans halted a six-game losing skid and improved to 6-8, maintaining faint hopes of a playoff berth. The Texans dropped to 5-9 and will finish with their first losing season since 2006.

What I liked: Tennessee has had difficulty producing points on offense, but on its first three possessions it marched to 21 points and led by three touchdowns just 12:28 into the game. While the Texans have made a living out of closing such margins to make for compelling games at the end, they never got close in this one. The Titans had a lot of the ingredients that key them in good times show up -- four sacks, 130 rushing yards and a score from Chris Johnson, six catches for 128 yards from Kenny Britt.

What I didn’t like: The Texans went down so big so early that their offensive balance was thrown off, again. Matt Schaub threw 54 passes while Arian Foster got just 11 carries for 15 yards.

What I want to know: How can the Titans hold the Texans to 5-for-13 on third down conversions when they struggled so badly on third down against some inferior offenses during their last six games?

What’s next: The Titans head to Kansas City while the Texans travel to Denver.

Wrap-up: Ravens 30, Saints 24

December, 19, 2010
Here are some thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' victory against the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Ravens picked up another big win and improved to 10-4. Baltimore also continues to put pressure on the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) in the AFC North. The Steelers host the New York Jets later this evening. The Ravens will be in the playoffs either way. But they can improve their chances of playing at home in the postseason by continuing to win and hope Pittsburgh collapses.

What I liked: After struggling in the fourth quarter on defense this season, the Ravens got a big play by defensive lineman Cory Redding to seal the game. With the Saints attempting to tie or go for the win, Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata tipped a Drew Brees pass and Redding caught the first interception of his career. The AFC North blog also has been waiting for the Ravens to go back to Pro Bowl tailback Ray Rice, and this was the game to do it. Rice rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. He also caught five passes for another 80 yards, which was reminiscent of his production last season.

What I didn't like: As expected, New Orleans had a lot of success through the air against the Ravens. Brees threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns. His only bad play was the late interception. Saints receiver Lance Moore also made one of the best touchdown catches you will see all year over two Ravens in the back of the end zone in the second half. Baltimore got very little production from its receivers in this game. Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason each had just one reception.

What's next: The Ravens remain in the running for the AFC North title and will end the season with two division games. Next week Baltimore will travel to play against the Cleveland Browns, then end the regular season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Wrap-up: Lions 23, Bucs 20 (OT)

December, 19, 2010
A few thoughts on a historic day for the modern-day Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Lions (4-10) snapped their NFL-record streak of 26 consecutive road losses with an overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kicker Dave Rayner tied the game with two seconds remaining in regulation with a 28-yard field goal and won it after the first possession in overtime on a 34-yarder. The Lions' last road victory was on Oct. 28, 2007 at Chicago. They have now won consecutive games for the first time since defeating the Denver Broncos one week after that 2007 victory over the Bears.

Fourth-quarter turnaround: In nine of their 10 losses this season, the Lions were either ahead or trailing by no more than five points in the fourth quarter. In other words, they were in every game and felt they were a play or two away from turning the tide in these close games. So it's worth noting they have won consecutive games by a total of seven points. They are finding ways to close out games.

What I liked: Tell the truth. You thought this game was over after kicker Connor Barth drilled a 26-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 20-17 lead with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining. But quarterback Drew Stanton displayed all kinds of moxie on the ensuing drive, hitting receiver Bryant Johnson for 19 yards, Calvin Johnson for 23 and tight end Tony Scheffler for 12 to get Rayner in comfortable field position. Credit goes to Stanton and Calvin Johnson for the 12-yard play that got Rayner in position for the overtime kick. Johnson finished 10 receptions for 152 yards.

What else I liked: Tailback Maurice Morris had his second 100-yard day since joining the Lions, and his 26-yard run on the first play of overtime set the tone for the drive.

I also liked: Receiver Nate Burleson pushed Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers the final five yards at the end of his 10-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Burleson isn't the NFL's biggest receiver, but obviously you can't tackle him high when he sniffs the end zone.

What I didn't like: Conservatively, I counted six missed tackles on the pair of long runs (37 and 29 yards) from Bucs tailback LeGarrette Blount.

What's next: The Lions will try to make it three in a row on their second consecutive trip to the state of Florida. This time, their targets will be the Miami Dolphins. Next Sunday. Sun Life Stadium. Be there.

Wrap-up: Bills 17, Dolphins 14

December, 19, 2010
Some thoughts from the Buffalo Bills' 17-14 victory against the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: The Dolphins have accumulated more problems than solutions as the season has progressed, while the Bills have done the opposite. The Dolphins are 1-6 at home and slipped back to .500 for the sixth time this year. The Bills have won four of their past six games.

Crucial plays: With 1:53 left to play, Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter missed a 48-yard attempt that might have sent the game into overtime. His kick sailed wide right. The Dolphins' defense forced a three-and-out to give the offense another shot to move into field-goal range. But Brandon Marshall fumbled, and Bills safety Bryan Scott recovered.

Miami hot seat: The Dolphins look like a lost team. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning the Dolphins were one of three teams Bill Cowher would be interested in coaching. With football operations boss Bill Parcells detached from the organization and the Dolphins floundering down the homestretch, could Tony Sparano be headed for unemployment after his owner predicted a Super Bowl appearance before the season?

Ryan works his Fitzmagic: With veteran receiver Lee Evans placed on injured reserve last week, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went into Sunday with a receiving corps that included a seventh-round draft choice and three undrafted rookies. Fitzpatrick completed 16 of his 26 throws for 223 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Henne's decent day not enough: Chad Henne completed 33 of his 45 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown with one interception. For the second straight week, he connected with Marshall for a touchdown.

Wake nods out: The Bills' patchwork offensive line held NFL sacks leader Cameron Wake to only two tackles.

Full Nelson: Undrafted rookie receiver David Nelson scored a touchdown for the third straight game for the Bills, giving them a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

What's next: The only prize left to play for is pride. In Week 16, the Bills will host the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium, while the Dolphins will welcome the Detroit Lions to Sun Life Stadium.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' loss against the Carolina Panthers in Week 15:

What it means: This defeat extinguished the Cardinals' already slim playoff chances. Arizona can finish no better than 6-10. The Seattle Seahawks or St. Louis Rams will finish 6-9-1 or better because they play one another in Week 17. Arizona will suffer double-digit defeats in a season for the first time since the 2002 through 2006 teams made it five in a row. NFC West teams have now provided Carolina with its only two victories of the season.

What I liked: Steve Breaston's fumble recovery for a touchdown. The Cardinals' receiver has a knack for fourth-quarter heroics. The fumble he forced at St. Louis in Week 1 became the pivotal play in a 17-13 victory. His fumble recovery Sunday, after teammate Tim Hightower suffered another fumble, kept the Cardinals in the game. The Cardinals now have 10 return touchdowns for the season.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' ground game stalled against a Carolina defense that has struggled against the run. Hightower fumbled again. The Cardinals had no rushing plays longer than 7 yards. That's difficult to fathom given the Panthers' struggles against the run this season. It showed, too, how limited a team can be with a rookie quarterback under center. John Skelton completed 17 of 33 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 57.1 passer rating.

Trending: Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald keeps setting milestones despite the team's overall struggles. The 17-yard reception Fitzgearld made during the fourth quarter moved him past 8,000 yards for his career. Fitzgerald became the second-youngest receiver in NFL history to reach 8,000 yards. Randy Moss was 26 years, 297 days old when he set the record. Fitzgerald was 27 years, 110 days Sunday. Former NFC West standouts Torry Holt (28 years, 205 days) and Jerry Rice (28 years, 330 days) rank third and fourth on the all-time list.

What's next: The Cardinals return home to face Dallas on Christmas.

Wrap-up: Bengals 19, Browns 17

December, 19, 2010
Here are some thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' victory over the Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Bengals broke their NFL-high 10-game losing streak against the same team that started it in October. Despite plenty of speculation about the future of the coaching staff and key players, Cincinnati stayed focused and improved to 3-11. Meanwhile, this is another ugly loss for the Browns (5-9), who have now fallen to the woeful Bengals and Bills in back-to-back weeks. Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini is on the hot seat and these two losses will weigh heavily against him in the eyes of Browns president Mike Holmgren.

What I liked: With the cold weather, Cincinnati went back to last year's formula that made the team successful. Bengals tailback Cedric Benson looked energized and rushed for a season-high 150 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Cincinnati also got rare contributions from young receivers Andre Caldwell (four catches for 89 yards) and Jerome Simpson (two catches for 30 yards), who have been M.I.A. this season. For Cleveland, rookie quarterback Colt McCoy handled the winter conditions pretty well and completed 19 of 25 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Browns receiver Brian Robiskie also had his second quality game of the season with five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.

What I didn't like: For one of the few times this season, Cleveland was physically dominated in the trenches. The Browns couldn't stop Cincinnati's running game and couldn't run the ball effectively on offense, which was the difference in this game. Peyton Hillis ran for just 59 yards, as the Browns had just one rushing first down in the game. There's not much to dislike from the Bengals' perspective after finally getting back in the win column, other than the fact that winning hurts the team's draft position.

What's next: The Bengals will host the San Diego Chargers in the final home game of the season at Paul Brown Stadium. Barring an unexpected surge in ticket sales, it will be the fourth consecutive home blackout in Cincinnati. The Browns will end the season with back-to-back home games against AFC North rivals. First, Cleveland will host the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 26, then end the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 2.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, 49ers 7

December, 16, 2010
Thoughts on the Chargers' 34-7 victory over the 49ers on Thursday night in San Diego:

What it means: The Chargers put heat on first-place Kansas City and third-place Oakland with this Thursday night special. The Chargers -- who have won six of their past seven games and have lost just one December game since 2005 -- are 8-6. Kansas City is 8-5 heading into a game in St. Louis on Sunday. Oakland is 6-7 heading into a home game against Denver. If the Chargers win their final two games and the Chiefs stumble once in their final three games, the Chargers will win their fifth straight AFC West title. If the Raiders win their final three games, they’ll need San Diego to lose at least once regardless of what Kansas City does to stay in the division picture.

Memo to AFC: Root for the Chiefs: The rest of the AFC should be worried after what the Chargers showed the past four days. San Diego has a balanced attack, and it plays shutdown defense. The Chargers have been near the top of the NFL in total offense and total defense the entire season. The special teams issues have been cleaned up for the most part, and San Diego isn’t killing itself with dumb mistakes. When they are clicking, the Chargers are as strong as any team in the NFL. If San Diego squeezes by the Chiefs to win the division, it will be a major threat in the AFC. Fans of any team in the AFC should ask themselves this: Do you want your team playing San Diego in January? I don’t think so. On any given day, San Diego can hang with New England and Pittsburgh in the postseason.

Tomorrow’s talker: San Diego’s defense is honed in. The 49ers didn’t score until late in the game. The Chargers almost went two games without allowing a point. San Diego shut out Kansas City, 31-0, in Week 14. That’s a whole lot of dominating in a four-day stretch.

Welcome back, Mr. Jackson: San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson showed what kind of impact he can have on this offense. In his third game back from his holdout, the 2009 Pro Bowl player was tremendous. He caught three touchdown passes. With star tight end Antonio Gates missing four of the past six games -- including the past two games -- with a nagging foot injury, Jackson gives quarterback Philip Rivers another go-to option down the stretch. Jackson will probably leave as a free agent after the season. But a performance like this may make the Chargers at least think about a long-term deal or perhaps even franchise him in the offseason. He is a tremendous weapon.

Trending: Rivers kept his pass total under 30 and, once again, the Chargers won. In each of the Chargers’ six losses, Rivers threw more than 30 times. Rivers completed 19 of 25 passes for 273 yards. He was brilliant.

What’s next: The Chargers have two games remaining, both on the road. They play at Cincinnati on Dec. 26 on 10 days' rest and then close out the season in Denver. The Bengals and Broncos have a combined 5-21 record.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, 49ers 7

December, 16, 2010
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-7 road defeat against the San Diego Chargers in Week 15:

What it means: The 49ers fell to 5-9, meaning they will finish with a losing record after going 8-8 last season. Taking a step backward makes it tougher for coach Mike Singletary to justify keeping his job. Beating the Chargers in San Diego was a long shot, however, and the team remains in the NFC West race. The 49ers can claim a share of first place by beating St. Louis in Week 16 if Seattle loses its next two (at home against Atlanta, at Tampa Bay) and Kansas City beats the Rams.

What I liked: The temperature at kickoff was 56 degrees, ideal for football.

What I didn't like: This game, like the 49ers' season, was all about what could have been -- but was not. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks could have picked off Philip Rivers. He dropped the ball. Defensive end Justin Smith could have helped the 49ers' weather Rivers. He suffered a first-half disqualification. Alex Smith could have scored an early rushing touchdown. Replay said otherwise. Tight end Delanie Walker could have held onto the ball. He dropped it. Ted Ginn Jr. could have had an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. A facemask penalty nullified it.

Tomorrow's Talker: More of the same. Should coach Mike Singletary keep his job? What about Alex Smith?

Critical Call: Singletary went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with San Diego leading 7-0 right after officials overturned Smith's apparent touchdown run. The 49ers failed to score. The risk seemed worth it because the 49ers were faring pretty well on the ground and they weren't going to win the game with field goals. Earlier in the drive, Singletary took a field goal off the scoreboard by accepting a penalty.

Trending: The 49ers' defense continues to give up big plays. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' receivers took their turn two weeks ago. Rivers had his way Thursday night. He found Vincent Jackson for three scoring receptions, including a 58-yarder. Rivers averaged 10.9 yards per pass attempt.

Offense shut down: The 49ers managed only 192 yards, barely more than the season-low 189 yards they gained during a 21-0 defeat to Tampa Bay. Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis caught one pass, a late grab for 4 yards, after catching at least one scoring pass in five consecutive Alex Smith starts.

What's next: The 49ers visit St. Louis in Week 16.




Sunday, 2/2