NFL Nation: 2011 Week 10 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Packers 45, Vikings 7

November, 14, 2011

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 45-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: The Packers are more than halfway through an undefeated season at 9-0 after a laugher that carried none of the drama of a typical NFC North game in November. The outcome was never in doubt, and the Vikings need to take a hard look at how and why they arrived at Lambeau Field with so little energy.

RodgersWatch: Ho hum. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with a 140.3 passer rating, courtesy of four touchdown passes, a 76.7 completion percentage and no interceptions. The game got so out of hand that Rodgers departed after throwing his final score with 10:59 remaining.

Questioning: There is no doubt the Vikings were outmatched in this game. The only time their offense made it to the red zone came after Packers punt returner Randall Cobb lost a fumble at his own 14-yard line. But I didn't see a lot of fight from a team that seemed to know it would lose this game before it even started. That's too bad. The Vikings seemed to want this game to be over as quickly as possible. It's rare that you'll see a prime-time division game so poorly competed, regardless of the teams' records.

No question: After a week of discussion about their performance against the pass this season, the Packers defense found plenty of ways to pressure quarterback Christian Ponder. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers blitzed often, but linebacker Clay Matthews took advantage of a pair of 1-on-1 matchups to record his first two-sack game of the season. The Vikings finished with 266 yards and 14 first downs.

CobbWatch: Cobb essentially put the game away less than two minutes into the game by returning Chris Kluwe's first-quarter punt 80 yards for a score. Cobb seems to save his best games for prime time. In the Week 1 kickoff game, Cobb had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The fumble represented the risk-reward of a flashy but young punt returner.

What's next: The Packers will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Lambeau Field and the Vikings host the Raiders.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 37, Jets 16

November, 14, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here are some initial thoughts on the New England Patriots' convincing 37-16 victory over the New York Jets:

What it means: The Patriots (6-3) swept the Jets for the first time since 2007 and took control of the AFC East division. New England essentially holds a two-game lead over the Jets with seven games left. In addition, the Patriots have the NFL's easiest remaining schedule. New England's next six games are against teams with losing records. New York (5-4) missed a golden opportunity to take first place in the division. Now, barring an unexpected collapse by New England, the Jets most likely will fight for a wild card with several AFC teams down the stretch.

Tom was terrific: The Jets came in playing some of their best defense of the season during their three-game winning streak. But New York still couldn't solve Brady, who made key throws when New England needed it the most. Brady finished with 312 yards and three touchdowns. Brady found his favorite red-zone target, tight end Rob Gronkowski, for two of those scores. New England protected Brady well and didn't allow a sack in the game.

Jets' offense struggles: New York was expected to have an advantage against New England's last-rated defense. But quarterback Mark Sanchez and and the offense struggled. The Jets couldn't protect the quarterback or move the ball efficiently. Sanchez was sacked five times, including 4.5 sacks by Patriots defensive end Andre Carter. The Jets also had three turnovers, including Sanchez's pick six to linebacker Rob Ninkovich in the fourth quarter.

Ochocinco sighting: New England receiver Chad Ochocinco had his most productive game as a Patriot. Ochocinco caught two passes for 65 yards, which included a 53-yard catch in the first half. The Patriots traded for Ochocinco this summer to provide big plays to the offense. Perhaps this is a sign that he can turn his season around.

What's next: The Jets have to get over this loss quickly. They have a short week and travel to play the Denver Broncos (4-5) on Thursday night. The Patriots will begin the easy part of their schedule. They will host the Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) next week on "Monday Night Football." New England doesn't play a team with a winning record until Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills (5-4).

Rapid Reaction: Bears 37, Lions 13

November, 13, 2011
CHICAGO -- A few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' wild 37-13 romp over the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field:

What it means: With seven weeks to go in the season, the Bears and Lions have matching 6-3 records. The Bears' is the result of a four-game winning streak, and they now have won 11 of their last 13 regular season divisional games at home. The Lions have lost three of their last four, and their six-turnover meltdown in a game that carried as much significance as Sunday's at least gives us pause in considering their viability for the playoff race. It also won't do much to halt the national perspective of the Lions as a dirty team, as you'll see in a moment.

StaffordWatch: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a terrible game, throwing four interceptions, two of which the Bears returned for touchdowns to put the game away in the third quarter. You have to wonder how much Stafford was affected by an injured finger on his right hand, which apparently occurred two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos. Stafford wore gloves on a warm day -- the game-time temperature was 69 degrees -- and had trouble with his accuracy for much of the afternoon. Equally notable was his loss of composure after the Bears' third interception, throwing down cornerback D.J. Moore and instigating a brawl that ultimately led to Moore's ejection. Stafford threw 63 passes, tied for the eighth-highest single game total in NFL history, but he has questions to answer on a number of fronts after this game.

Chippy fourth quarter: The Stafford-Moore showdown was the culmination of a chippy game that had recently included personal fouls against Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. Those of us who saw through this fourth quarter are eagerly anticipating the rematch, whenever it occurs.

Bears' defense: The final numbers won't back this up, but I thought the Bears did an exceptional job in pass coverage. Lions receivers were tightly covered throughout the game and didn’t get much in the way of yards after the catch. Cornerback Charles Tillman's performance against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was Pro-Bowl caliber.

Injury report: Johnson, whose first-quarter fumble started the Lions on their sloppy path, didn't play after an end zone collision midway through the fourth quarter. The Lions weren't sitting their starters at the time, so we can only presume Johnson suffered some sort of injury.

What's next: The Bears will host the San Diego Chargers, and the Lions will host the Carolina Panthers, next Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 27, Giants 20

November, 13, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco' 49ers 27-20 victory over the New York Giants at Candlestick Park in Week 10:

What it means: The 49ers took another step in convincing skeptics they can defeat the top teams without a purportedly "elite" quarterback behind center. With Frank Gore contained early and sidelined by a knee injury for stretches, Alex Smith carried a larger share of the offense this week. He was up to the challenge, mixing in timely rushes to supplement his throwing while generally avoiding errors once again. The 49ers (8-1) maintained their five-game lead in the NFC West and looked like the second-best team in the league.

What I liked: Smith completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 242 yards. He came through with the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. His lone interception wasn't his fault; the receiver dropped the ball and knocked it into the air. Inside linebacker Patrick Willis had a sack and multiple tackles for loss. Cornerback Carlos Rogers affirmed his status as one of the top free-agent additions this past offseason, collecting two interceptions. Justin Smith batted down the Giants' fourth-down deep in 49ers territory to preserve the victory. The 49ers' offensive coaches did a good job freeing tight end Vernon Davis for a touchdown. They also showed creativity with a successful two-point conversion pass to Michael Crabtree, who lined up in the backfield on the play. This wasn't the best defensive performance by San Francisco from a statistical standpoint, but the defense made key plays in timely moments.

What I didn't like: Ted Ginn Jr.'s dropped pass before halftime led to an interception and robbed the 49ers of a needed scoring opportunity when the team was already in field-goal range. Gore got nothing going when he was in the game and spent most of his afternoon on the sideline. The 49ers' Kendall Hunter did strike with an impressive 17-yard touchdown run at a key point in the game, but San Francisco's ground game was not consistent from play to play. Beyond Rogers, the 49ers' secondary had issues covering the Giants' receivers on deep routes, as feared. Eli Manning made a few perfect throws, but there were receivers open at critical times, including once when Mario Manningham couldn't quite catch up to what would have been the tying touchdown pass in the final minutes.

Versatility on offense: The 49ers put their tight ends' superior speed to good use. They lined up with two backs and two tight ends without sacrificing their ability to strike in the passing game. Delanie Walker caught six passes for 69 yards. Davis had three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Walker's productivity had diminished in recent weeks with Braylon Edwards returning, but that changed in a big way Sunday. The 49ers completed only eight passes to wide receivers. The remaining 11 completed passes went to tight ends and backs.

Special-teams advantage: The 49ers' special teams continued to give San Francisco an edge. David Akers was automatic on field-goal attempts. His surprise onside kick was also perfectly executed, and recovered by the 49ers.

What's next: The 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park in Week 11.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 27, Giants 20

November, 13, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO –- Eli Manning and the New York Giants ran out of their fourth-quarter comeback magic as the 49ers made a defensive stand at their own 10-yard line in the final minute to come away with a 27-20 win.

What it means: After playing perhaps the best football of his career, Manning threw two interceptions -- both to Carlos Rogers. It was Manning’s first multi-interception game since he threw three picks in a loss to Seattle on Oct. 9.

The second pick, which was thrown in the middle of the field with Mario Manningham way off to the right, gave the Niners the ball at the Giants’ 17-yard line. On the next play, Kendall Hunter scored untouched on a run to put the Niners up 27-13 with 12:21 left.

The Giants led 13-12 going into the fourth quarter only to see the Niners score 14 unanswered in the span of 61 seconds. Manning responded with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks with 8:37 to go when San Francisco blitzed safety Dashon Goldson, who started the play over the top of Nicks.

The Giants were on the move again with Manning hitting Manningham for an 18-yard gain on a fourth-and-6 that put the Giants at the Niners' 42. Manningham nearly scored a touchdown but had a would-be 42-yard touchdown pass go off his fingertips as Manning led him just a tad too much. Manning converted another fourth down with a 10-yard pass to Victor Cruz and later had the Giants at the Niners' 10. But later on a fourth-and-2, Manning had a short pass batted down to send the Giants to a loss.

Killer Akers: David Akers stuck it to his old division rival yet again. The former Eagles kicker was a one-man gang in the first half, drilling three field goals -- including a 52-yarder -- and converted a surprise onside kick in the second quarter. That allowed Akers to convert a 39-yard field goal that gave the Niners a 9-6 lead just before the end of the half.

Boley hurt: Linebacker Michael Boley went down with a hamstring injury just toward the end of the first half and did not return. Boley has been a big part of the Giants' defense this season, responsible for relaying calls into the huddle. He also is the Giants’ lone every-down linebacker.

With Boley out, rookie middle linebacker Greg Jones relayed the calls when he was in on running situations. He and rookie Spencer Paysinger took turns playing in place of Boley depending on whether it was a running or passing play.

Niners TE Vernon Davis took advantage of Boley’s absence, scoring on an uncovered 31-yard run-and-catch touchdown with 13:22 left to put the Niners up 20-13.

Cornerback Aaron Ross also left the game with a bruised quad injury in the third quarter.

Gore hurt: Frank Gore had six carries for no yards. The team said he had a knee injury. He returned briefly but wasn’t a factor after coming into the game with five straight 100-yard rushing games.

No Prince: Despite traveling with the team for a second straight week, rookie Prince Amukamara was inactive. The Giants clearly want to hold out their first-round pick until he is absolutely ready to make his debut. Amukamara has been out since breaking his foot in his second practice of training camp.

What’s next: The Giants get the reeling Eagles and a chance to bury Philly and win a critical divisional game.

ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-23 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

What it means: The Saints are 7-3 and firmly in control of the NFC South. The Falcons fell to 5-4 and the Buccaneers also lost to drop to 4-5. The Saints control their own destiny. They’ve already played Tampa Bay twice and have a Dec. 26 game with Atlanta. The Falcons aren’t out of the race yet, but they face an uphill battle.

What I liked: New Orleans’ defense. A lot of people say the Saints don’t have a good defense, and there has been plenty of evidence to support that this year. But not on Sunday. The Saints won this game largely because of defense on a day when Drew Brees and the offense weren’t putting up as many points as usual.

What I didn't like: When Mike Smith first decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches in overtime, I liked the call. I thought it was gutsy and ambitious. After watching Michael Turner get stuffed, I changed my mind. Smith should have punted and taken his chances with his defense.

What else I didn’t like: Roddy White’s game. He had a pass go off his hands that turned into a New Orleans interception. He also was flagged for two penalties away from the play. White’s been a bit off all season, but this was, by far, his worst game. White arguably was the best receiver in the league last year. This season, he hasn't even been close.

The Julio factor: Once rookie receiver Julio Jones left the game, it sure seemed like Atlanta’s offense became stagnant until late in regulation. That shouldn’t happen. Jones is a good player, but Atlanta has plenty of other talent at the skill positions and should be able to get by without him.

The Graham factor: New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham has been getting rave reviews all season. But Sunday showed Graham is still a work in progress. He had seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. But he also dropped two very catchable passes.

What’s next: The Saints have a bye next week. They’ll return to action Nov. 28 when they host the New York Giants in a “Monday Night Football’’ game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Falcons will host the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Texans' 37-9 win against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Texans jumped to a 7-3 mark as they arrive at their bye, looking more and more like a team that should be ranked with the favorites in the AFC. They maintained a two-win lead over the Titans in the AFC South (plus a head-to-head win). Houston has outscored opponents 132-42 during a four-game win streak.

What I liked: It was a complete effort by the Texans, who threw it well, ran it well, rushed well and covered well. The Bucs have been good on some Sundays, but the Texans made their hosts look well below average in every facet. Arian Foster had 186 totals yards with a rushing and a receiving touchdown.

High heat: The Bucs have offered quarterback Josh Freeman some solid pass protection this season, allowing only 11 sacks. The Texans effectively brought waves after Freeman, who couldn’t get in any sort of rhythm, at least in part because of the effective pass rush that produced four sacks. Josh Johnson replaced Freeman with 5:38 remaining in the game and the Texans promptly pried a fumble away from the Bucs and recovered it.

Backup time: Quarterback Matt Leinart got into the game late for Houston, relieving Matt Schaub. No. 3 running back Derrick Ward was getting carries well before that.

What’s next: The Texans get their week off before a Nov. 27 game at Jacksonville. They beat Jacksonville 24-14 in Houston on Oct. 30. The Texans should have receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) back for that one.

CINCINNATI -- Thoughts on the Steelers' 24-17 win at the Bengals:

What it means: The Steelers (7-3) bounced back from a deflating last-minute loss to the Ravens to avoid their first 0-3 start in the AFC North and became the first division team to seven wins. The Bengals' five-game winning streak -- the longest in the AFC -- came to an end. It wasn't easy but Pittsburgh showed some mental toughness on defense to avoid another late collapse. The Bengals (6-3), though, proved that they might be better than some anticipated by coming back from an early 14-point deficit.

Thumbs up: Steelers' defense. Pittsburgh, which was tied for last in the NFL in takeaways, delivered two interceptions in the fourth quarter. William Gay's interception with 2:27 left in the game sealed the victory. Andy Dalton, who had held up against the pressure so admirably, stared down Jerome Simpson before throwing the pick.

Early charge: The Steelers charged out to a 14-0 lead by scoring on their first two drives. Ben Roethlisberger was 7-for-10 for 89 yards, avoiding two Bengals pass-rushers to throw his first touchdown.

Injury factor: Wide receiver A.J. Green hurt his right knee on a spectacular 36-yard leaping catch in the first quarter and didn't catch another pass after that. He spent most of the game on the sideline riding a bike. Also, the Bengals' top cornerback, Leon Hall, injured his Achilles and missed the entire second half.

What's next: The Bengals stay in the AFC North when they play at Baltimore. The Steelers have their bye before playing at Kansas City on Nov. 27.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 44, Bills 7

November, 13, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Some thoughts from the Dallas Cowboys' very impressive victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday:

What it means: The Cowboys now have a chance to get on a roll. Their next three matchups -- at Washington, home to Miami and at Arizona -- all look winnable. Getting this victory over a strong AFC contender -- and getting it as convincingly as they did -- sets up the Cowboys to rattle off a winning streak. If they can take advantage of this soft portion of their schedule, they have a chance to take an 8-4 record into their first meeting with the first-place Giants on Dec. 11.

Miles who? With wide receiver Miles Austin out with a hamstring injury, the Cowboys' passing game didn't miss a step. Quarterback Tony Romo was a dazzling 18-of-19 for 237 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Dallas built a 28-7 lead. Two of the touchdown passes went to Laurent Robinson, who was already making a contribution before the Austin injury and looks to be a more-than-adequate replacement while Austin sits out. The other was to Dez Bryant, who muscled the ball away from a Buffalo defender in the end zone. Romo was sharp, accurate and did whatever he wanted to do in the pass game, and then in the second half ...

They ran it! Dallas blew a 27-3 lead earlier this season to the Detroit Lions when Romo had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second half. But the emergence of rookie running back DeMarco Murray has given the offense a different dimension, and in this second half the Cowboys were able to grind out the clock by running the ball and methodically picking up first downs. Murray had 71 rush yards in the first half, 64 in the second and has 601 over his last four games since Felix Jones was injured. He makes the Dallas offense multidimensional.

Game ball for Rob Ryan: The Cowboys' defense coordinator designed an excellent game plan that kept Buffalo running back Fred Jackson in check in the run game and the screen game, which few teams this year have been able to do. By the second half, the Bills had to take chances throwing the ball, and Terence Newman was right there to take advantage with a pair of interceptions that turned the fourth quarter into a victory lap.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to Washington on Sunday for a game against the division-rival Redskins. Dallas won the first meeting in Week 3 by the score of 18-16 when they failed to score a touchdown, but Dan Bailey kicked six field goals. Washington has fallen on hard times since that game and lost five straight since its 3-1 start.

SAN DIEGO -- A look at an entertaining, standings-changing Thursday night game:

What it means: The Raiders are in first place in the AFC West. They are 5-4 and snapped a two-game losing streak. San Diego has lost four consecutive games and now is 4-5. Kansas City is 4-4, and Denver is 3-5. The Chiefs host the Broncos on Sunday.

The QBs: Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was mostly terrific as he threw for 299 yards. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had his moments but threw a key interception in the end zone late in the game. He has made a key mistake in every game during the Chargers’ losing streak.

Bush excels: Oakland needs to re-sign running back Michael Bush. He has been fantastic in two starts in place of star Darren McFadden, who is out with a foot injury. Bush finished with 157 yards on 30 carries after starting fast with 78 yards on 13 carries in the first quarter. He is a free agent at the end of the season.

Rookie receivers shine: Oakland rookie receiver Denarius Moore looks like a top target for Palmer. He had five catches for a game-high 123 yards, including two touchdowns. San Diego rookie receiver Vincent Brown had a touchdown pass on a spectacular catch and had another nice touchdown catch reversed. They both look like keepers.

Injuries pile up: Both teams came into this game banged up. The injuries mounted. Oakland lost receiver Jacoby Ford to a foot injury. San Diego saw left tackle Marcus McNeill (stinger), guard Louis Vasquez (ankle) and linebacker Takeo Spikes (concussion) leave the game. The Chargers were playing without three offensive linemen much of the game, and San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes was injured late in the contest.

What’s next: The Raiders play at Minnesota on Nov. 20, and San Diego plays at Chicago in a game that matches up former AFC West adversaries Rivers and Jay Cutler.