NFL Nation: 2011 Week 14 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Giants 37, Cowboys 34

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
12:17
AM ET

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Some thoughts on the wild, back-and-forth tussle between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys for control of the NFC East race:

What it means: A three-game season in the NFC East with two teams controlling their own destinies. The two teams are tied for first place at 7-6. The Giants currently hold the tiebreaker due to Sunday night's head-to-head victory, but they meet again Jan. 1 in New Jersey. If either the Cowboys or the Giants win their final three games, they will be division champs. Of course, it could also be decided before then, but the Giants' victory Sunday makes that less likely. New York's win also is good news, for what it's worth, for the Eagles, who are 5-8 and just two games out of the first-place tie.

The hero: Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's first-round pick in the 2010 draft, was the Giants' defense in this game. He was the only one who could get pressure on Tony Romo, and he was there in the end to block Dan Bailey's attempt at a game-tying 47-yard field goal. Pierre-Paul has emerged as a superstar player for the Giants this season, and as great as Eli Manning has been and was again in the fourth quarter, it was Pierre-Paul's playmaking that made the difference.

Giants don't quit: The Giants were down by 12 points with less than six minutes left in the game but mounted touchdown drives of 80 and 58 yards to take back the lead with 46 seconds left. It was Manning's fifth fourth-quarter comeback drive of the season and undoubtedly his most important since it ended a four-game losing streak and put them back on top in the division with three games to go.

The one-armed man did it: Before Pierre-Paul, it looked as though Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee had made the momentum-swinger. The Giants had already converted a fourth down to keep their drive alive, but on third-and-nine from the Dallas 21, trailing by five points with seven minutes left in the game, Lee came up with a funky interception. Manning's pass whacked into the arm of Victor Butler, then hit Lee on the arm as he was tangled up with David Diehl. Somehow, Lee was able to turn around and catch the ball (in spite of the heavy wrap he wears on his left arm, where the wrist was dislocated earlier this season) and ran for 30 yards before Hakeem Nicks tackled him. Two plays later, Tony Romo hit a wide-open Dez Bryant for a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Cowboys up 34-22.

No D for G-men: With safety Kenny Phillips out, an already challenged Giants defense just couldn't get a stop. With the exception of the brilliant Pierre-Paul, they were unable to generate a pass rush from their front four. Once again, they refused to blitz because they don't trust their coverage. And once again, the coverage showed why it can't be trusted. Tony Romo and the Cowboys picked on rookie cornerback Prince Amukamara, and Romo beat him for a 74-yard gainer to Laurent Robinson early in the fourth quarter to set up a Miles Austin touchdown that put Dallas on top 27-22. Later in the quarter, Bryant got behind the defense for the easiest touchdown of his life.

Down to one back: The Cowboys lost their great rookie running back, DeMarco Murray, to an ankle injury in the first quarter. And while Felix Jones filled in admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards, Jones is now the only healthy tailback the Cowboys have. And they were unable to run the ball and put the game away in the fourth quarter, allowing Manning and the Giants time to mount a final attempt at a game-winning drive.

Mr. 4,000: This was Manning's third game in a row and seventh this season with at least 300 passing yards, and as a result this is his third straight season with at least 4,000 yards passing.

What's next: The Cowboys play Saturday night in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, who are 4-9 and have lost seven games in a row. The Giants have a home game Sunday against the 4-9 Redskins, who started their season by beating them 28-14 in Washington.

DENVER -- Another game that ended with Tim Tebow doing the Tebow.

What it means: One of the most amazing stories in the NFL just got more amazing. You think you’ve been overloaded on Tebow? This thing is just getting started. The Broncos just won their third overtime game and notched their fifth late win in Tebow’s eight starts as they downed the Chicago Bears 13-10. The Broncos are 7-1 with Tebow as their starter, have won six straight, and with their record at 8-5, have sole possession of first place in the AFC West with three games remaining.

Tebow magic: Tebow led Denver to 13 points after the Broncos went scoreless for the first 57 minutes and 45 seconds. Denver scored 10 points at the end of regulation and won the game in overtime.

Why too many drops: Tebow was 21-of-40 passing for 236 yards. Yes, he threw 40 times. Tebow also ran 12 times. He is quickly becoming more comfortable as a passer. Still, he needs help. Denver receivers dropped six passes. Demaryius Thomas dropped a sure touchdown on a nice, long bomb from Tebow.

Defense shines: The Bears had a nice stretch when they took a 10-0 lead, but Denver’s defense stiffened when it needed to. The Broncos held the Bears late (with some help from Marion Barber going out of bounds on a run play) in regulation. They also stripped Barber for a critical fumble in overtime with the Bears in Denver territory.

Hats off to Matt Prater: Denver’s kicker downed a 59-yard field goal with eight seconds to go in regulation to tie the score and then nailed a 51-yarder in overtime to win it.

Miller gets another sack: Denver rookie linebacker Von Miller now has 11.5 sacks on the season after taking down quarterback Caleb Hanie in the third quarter. Miller is three sacks away from Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record of 14.5 set in 1998. Miller missed last week’s game with a thumb injury.

What’s next: Denver plays host to New England in a game that the Broncos can make a playoff statement.
Matt PraterJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesA pair of clutch Matt Prater field goals aided the Broncos' comeback win on Sunday.
DENVER -- The Chicago Bears couldn’t ward off the magic of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in dropping a 13-10 heartbreaker in overtime Sunday that will dramatically impact their standing in the NFC wildcard race.

A Marion Barber fumble sealed the team’s fate in overtime, and a questionable decision by the running back to step out of bounds -- which stopped the clock -- played a significant role in Denver tying the game at the end of regulation to send it into OT.

Marion, Marion, Marion…

Let’s take a closer look:

What it means: The Bears put themselves in a difficult spot for earning the postseason berth they seek, and they certainly didn’t get any help from the other NFC teams in the wildcard hunt.

Interestingly, last week all the teams in contention for the wildcard spots -- the Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions -- lost their respective games, leaving the standings unchanged. But the opposite transpired on Sunday, with every team in the NFC hunt except for the Bears winning their games.

So Chicago’s loss drops it out of the wildcard picture. The club will likely have to win each of its remaining four games to sneak back into the race.

Latest on Martz: Speculation circulated recently linking offensive coordinator Mike Martz to various college job openings, and one spot -- Jacksonville -- in the NFL. In fact, some reports -- which the coach denied last week -- actually indicated Martz was interested in leaving Chicago.

Interestingly though, such rumors have subsided for the most part. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo touched on Martz’s situation prior to Sunday’s game, and mentioned that several coaches in the final year of their contract worked through the ends of the deal, only to have the agreement renewed at the conclusion of the season.

Angelo insisted that Martz’s future won’t be addressed until after the season.

“All that will be addressed at the end of the season,” Angelo said. “Our focus right now is on today’s game, and next week’s game. The business will take care of itself.”

It should, given what appears to be an overall lack of interest in Martz around the NFL and college ranks. Bears coach Lovie Smith indicated he’d be interested in bringing back Martz for the 2012 season.

The front office likely feels the same because of the need to maintain continuity for quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler has said he’d prefer to not have to learn his third offense in four seasons with a new coordinator. So count on the front office working hard this offseason to bring back Martz.

Golden Goose: Robbie Gould kicked a 57-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, which appeared long enough to be good from a distance of approximately 65 yards.

Gould’s field goal was the longest in team history, and broke his own personal best of 54 yards last season against the Detroit Lions.

Prior to Gould’s bomb on Sunday, Kevin Butler and Bob Thomas were tied for the longest field goals in franchise history (55 yards). Butler connected on 55 yarders twice: on Dec. 12, 1993 at Tampa Bay, and on Oct. 25, 1993 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Thomas kicked a 55-yard field goal game in 1975 against the Los Angeles Rams.

What’s next: The Bears have ended their run of AFC West foes. Next week they host Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 34, Redskins 27

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
4:49
PM ET


LANDOVER, Md. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 34-27 win over the Redskins:

What it means: The Patriots improve to 10-3 and keep pace in the race for the AFC's top playoff seed. It took linebacker Jerod Mayo's interception with 22 seconds left to seal the win. The Patriots looked to be in control but a Tom Brady interception in the end zone with 6:30 to play in the fourth quarter -- when the Patriots had a chance to go up by at least 10 -- gave the Redskins a chance for a late comeback. After the Redskins drove the field, Mayo came up with the big pick near the goal line. This was a long game, filled with penalties and stoppages. The third team on the field, Jeff Triplette’s officiating crew, made its presence felt.

Sideline argument with Brady and O’Brien: After Brady's interception in the fourth quarter, there was a heated exchange between Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The two had to be separated. They later cooled down, but that sideline exchange -- not often seen in New England -- reflected some of the Patriots' frustrations on the day.

Gronkowski breaks TD record for TEs: Tight end Rob Gronkowski set the NFL record for touchdown receptions by a tight end with his 14th. The TD came with 5:49 remaining in the first quarter, with Gronkowski on the receiving end of an 11-yard strike from Brady. After the score, Gronkowski spiked the ball with force as he does after each TD, then humorously waited for the ball to come down so he could retrieve it. Gronkowski added a 37-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the third quarter, shaking off one-on-one coverage from linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. After that score, he spiked the ball and leaped into the crowd.

More on Gronkowski’s big day: Gronkowski eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving on the season, becoming just the second tight end in team history to do so and the 29th tight end in NFL history. Expect to see the highlight of Gronkowski’s 49-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter often as Redskins were bouncing off him and he kept his balance up the right sideline. He’s a beast.

What has happened to Devin McCourty?: Cornerback Devin McCourty, the team’s 2010 first-round draft choice, had a tough first half. He was beaten for a touchdown, called for pass interference to extend a drive, and was in coverage on a deep long ball to Donte Stallworth. The first-half struggles highlighted what has been a season-long trend with McCourty, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. McCourty did have two big pass break-ups in the second half, which perhaps will be the spark he needs to turn the corner.

Defense struggles, but does enough in fourth: One week after giving up 21 points to the Colts in the fourth quarter, the Patriots' defense played a better final 15 minutes. It's a unit that struggled for most of the day, but when a final stop was needed, it delivered. This is the type of game that reinforces the thought that if the Patriots are to win a championship, it's going to have to rely mostly on its offense.

What’s next: The Patriots visit the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, Dec. 18, while the Redskins travel to face the Giants that day.

CINCINNATI -- Thoughts on the Bengals-Texans game:

What it means: The Bengals’ playoff hopes took a major hit with a disastrous collapse. Cincinnati failed to hold onto a 13-point halftime lead and allowed the game-winning touchdown with two seconds remaining. The Bengals drop to 7-6, losing four out of their past five games. The Texans have won seven straight games.

Defense folds: If the Bengals miss the playoffs, they’ll look back at how their defense allowed a former third-string quarterback (T.J. Yates) to drive 80 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes of the game. The key play was a pass interference penalty on Adam Jones, which gave the Texans first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 6. Houston’s game-winning touchdown was a 6-yard completion to an uncovered Kevin Walter over the middle.

Offense disappears: The Bengals' defense can’t shoulder all of the blame. Cincinnati’s offense was shut out in the fourth quarter and was held to 22 yards.

Rough homecoming: Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who left Cincinnati as a free agent before the season, had a frustrating first game back at Paul Brown Stadium. He dropped an interception at the 1-yard line with no one between him and the 99 yards to the end zone. Then, on the same drive in the third quarter, Joseph had a 25-yard pass interference penalty (defending A.J. Green) and gave up a 36-yard pass to Green.

Empty feeling: There were only 41,202 at today's game, which is the second-smallest crowd in the 11-year history of Paul Brown Stadium. That means there were 24,333 empty seats.

What's next: The Bengals look for their first road win since Nov. 6 when they travel to St. Louis (2-10).

Rapid Reaction: Saints 22, Titans 17

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
4:33
PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Titans’ 22-17 loss to the Saints at LP Field:

What it means: A largely unfavorable day. The Titans lost while one of the teams they are fighting with for position for a wild card berth, the Jets, won. The Texans’ last-second win in Cincinnati means that Houston clinched the AFC South, but it hurt another wild card competitor, the Bengals.

What I didn’t like: Penalties were out of control. Mike Munchak’s team is supposed to be a disciplined bunch, but special teams and the offensive line were primary culprits. Eight penalties for 54 yards consistently slowed the Titans or helped the Saints. A couple mistakes will happen, but on this scale it’s both unacceptable and unsurvivable. The Saints were sloppy too, but Drew Brees found his moments. And at times, like when he had all day to throw to an open Marques Colston at the goal line, a high pass wasn’t a problem as the receiver had time and space to go up and get it, then get it in the end zone for a 35-yard score. His follow up touchdown throw to Colston, from 28 yards, fell neatly between Alterraun Verner and Cortland Finnegan.

What I liked: Jake Locker put a good ball on him and banged up receiver Nate Washington made a great play looking it in while Jabari Greer flew by a second late for a 40-yard touchdown with 5:58 left in the game that closed it to 22-17. He hit him again right near the end for another 40.

What I didn't like: The Titans' last two plays from the 5-yard line. The first was well-defended by Tracy Porter, but I question throwing to Marc Mariani no matter if Washington was out hurt. Locker ran and bought time on the last play, but has to at least try a throw instead of getting sacked.

What I want to know: What’s the trade-off between an aggressive third-and-1 call with a throw into the end zone when you then fail to convert the quarterback sneak on fourth down? We're talking the Titans' second-to-last drive there.

Injury concerns: Matt Hasselbeck suffered a left calf injury that knocked him out of the game, thought he limped on and hopped off for one play when Locker took a tough shot to the ribs. Linebacker Akeem Ayers suffered a shoulder injury and No. 2 running back Javon Ringer injured his hand. Neither returned to action after getting hurt. Washington had to be tugged off the field by Chris Johnson after his late catch.

What’s next: The Titans head for Indianapolis for their second game against the winless, division-rival Colts.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 31-23 victory against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: The Falcons struggled early, but they did what they had to do. They got the win to move to 8-5 and that keeps their playoff hopes very much alive. This wasn’t particularly pretty, but a win is a win this time of year. But this game also showed that Carolina can play with just about anybody. The Panthers have been doing that all season and this was a chance to take the next step: beat a good team. But the Panthers squandered a big lead and showed there still is a lot of work to be done.

What I liked: Atlanta’s resilience. The Falcons were on the ropes, but they fought back. Quarterback Matt Ryan got another fourth-quarter comeback victory. He also finished with four touchdown passes.

What I didn’t like: Cam Newton's second half. The Carolina rookie quarterback was dynamic in the first half. But it sure looked like he was trying to do too much in the second half. He forced two throws that turned out to be interceptions.

What else I didn’t like: Carolina’s defense. It’s as bad as advertised. The Panthers started off playing pretty well on defense, but it didn’t last. That’s been a constant theme this season. I know the Panthers are without injured linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason and defensive tackle Ron Edwards. Those guys would help a lot, but no one has really stepped forward to replace them.

O-line rebounds: Not sure if the credit goes to some dramatic halftime adjustment in blocking plans or if the Carolina defense simply folded, but Atlanta’s offensive line did a masterful job of protecting Ryan in the second half, after subjecting him to all sorts of pressure in the first half.

Julio’s redemption: Atlanta rookie receiver Julio Jones had been having a rough couple of weeks and Sunday was shaping up to be another one of those days. But Jones caught two second-half touchdown passes, including one that put the Falcons ahead to stay.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Houston next Sunday. The Falcons are home Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 37, Chiefs 10

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
4:14
PM ET

Here are some early thoughts on the New York Jets' 37-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: After back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks, the Jets (8-5) finally got an easy game. New York jumped to a 28-3 lead at halftime and cruised the rest of the way. It was the third straight win for the Jets and keeps them in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase. New York played like it couldn't afford to lose this game.

Gang Greene: Jets starting running back Shonn Greene is playing his best football of the season. Greene rushed for a season-high 129 yards and a touchdown. He also added another 58 yards receiving. Greene has four touchdowns the past two weeks. Sunday also marked his second 100-yard game this season.

Defense batters Palko: As expected, New York's blitzing defense battered and confused Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko. The Jets held Palko to just 195 yards passing and one touchdown pass. New York also registered six sacks and one pick. Palko had just 11 yards passing in the first half and picked up most of his yards in garbage time.

Leonhard hurts knee: The Jets suffered a big injury in their secondary when starting safety Jim Leonhard twisted his right knee in the second quarter. Leonhard needed help off the field and never returned. He will be further evaluated this week and could be out for an extended period.

Getting help: The Jets got the big help they needed in the wild-card chase. The Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) suffered a last-second 20-19 loss to the Houston Texans (10-3) to give up the sixth seed in the AFC. The Jets don't hold any tiebreakers among playoff hopefuls in the conference and need to continue winning.

What's next: The Jets continue their string of must-win games in the final month of the season. New York will travel to play the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15.

PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Steelers' 14-3 victory over the Browns:

What it means: It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. It was extremely physical -- both starting quarterbacks were knocked briefly out of the game. The Steelers gutted out the much-needed win with limping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) and sacks leader LaMarr Woodley (hamstring). The Steelers (10-3) became the first AFC team to reach 10 victories, winning for the eighth time in nine games. Pittsburgh increased its chances for a wild-card spot (and could clinch a berth this weekend) and would take the lead in the division if the Ravens get upset by the winless Colts on Sunday. The Browns (4-9) clinched last place in the AFC North as well as their 10th losing season in 12 years since rejoining the NFL.

Roethlisberger plays in pain ... again: In a season in which he has endured a foot injury and broken thumb, Roethlisberger pushed through an ankle injury to complete 17 of 22 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He hobbled off the field in the second quarter after getting sacked but returned for the start of the second half following X-rays that were negative. After the injury, Roethlisberger was 9-of-13 for 178 yards, despite not being able to put pressure on the left leg. He sealed the game with a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown connection to Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter.

McCoy makes costly mistake: Knocked briefly out of the game five plays earlier, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy threw a critical interception on third-and-goal in the end zone. Steelers cornerback William Gay easily picked off the underthrown pass that was intended for Mohamed Massaquoi.

Browns don't back down: The Cleveland defense kept the game close with an impressive goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. After stopping Rashard Mendenhall on three runs inside the Browns' 3-yard line, Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson and Mike Adams teamed up to stop Mendenhall on fourth down from the 1-yard line. The Steelers surprisingly went for the touchdown when a field goal would have given them a touchdown cushion.

Brown beats Browns: It seems like every week Antonio Brown makes the play when the Steelers need it the most. With the Steelers clutching a 7-3 lead in the fourth quarter, Brown caught a pass along the sideline against cornerback Joe Haden and then burst toward the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. It's becoming more apparent that Brown is bypassing Mike Wallace as Roethlisberger's favorite receiver. He finished with five catches for 151 yards.

Harrison's costly hit: Steelers linebacker James Harrison put McCoy on the sideline for a couple of plays with a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter. McCoy had pulled up before the original line of scrimmage prior to taking the shot from Harrison, who likely will receive a sizable fine.

What's next: The Steelers have an 11-day break before playing at NFC West champion San Francisco. The Browns head west for their next game, playing at Arizona on Dec. 18.

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