NFL Nation: 2011 Week 15 Wrap-ups

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, Ravens 14

December, 18, 2011

A look at a dominant victory for the surging San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Chargers are not dead yet. They have now won three straight games and are in the midst of yet another late-season charge. This was impressive because the Chargers knocked around an elite AFC team. This is the Chargers’ team we’ve been waiting to see. San Diego has outscored its last three opponents by a combined score of 109-38. San Diego is now 7-7. It trails Denver by a game and the Broncos own tiebreakers over the Chargers, but the Chargers are alive in the division and wild card race. The Chargers are now 20-2 in December and January games under Norv Turner since 2007.

Barnes storms: San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes had himself a night. He had four sacks and the Chargers dropped Ravens’ quarterback seven times.

Rivers stars again: After struggling for the first 10 games, Rivers has been outstanding for the past month. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his past four games after throwing 17 in the first 10 games. Rivers he was 17 of 23 for 270 yards and a touchdown Sunday.

Mathews misses 100: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews had 90 yards on 26 carries. It broke a streak of three straight games of him rushing for 100-plus yards.

What’s next: The Chargers play at Detroit on Saturday in the final AFC West-NFC North making of the season. Both teams have playoff hopes.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Raiders 27

December, 18, 2011

Welcome, Detroit Lions, to the land of the winning.

And, for that matter, welcome to the postseason.

In a fashion we've come to expect from their 2011 team, the Lions secured their first winning season since 2000 and are in excellent shape for their first playoff appearance since 2000. Sunday's thrilling victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Lions' fourth comeback from deficits of 13 or more points this season, raised their record to 9-5. Losses Sunday by the Chicago Bears and New York Giants give the Lions a healthy two-game lead for the NFC's final wild-card position with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

At this moment, I don't think the Lions have clinched a playoff spot, nor does it appear the Bears have been eliminated. NFL officials, as well as our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, are still running the numbers. But suffice it to say, the Lions are in pretty good shape.

I've already told you what this victory means. Now let's move on to some things I liked from what I saw of this game in the Arrowhead Stadium press box:

Final drive theatrics: In relative terms, the 98-yard drive that ended with Calvin Johnson's game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass is every bit as meaningful as The Drive that got the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl in January 1987. It might have been the difference between a 2011 playoff spot and another offseason of disappointment for this franchise. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed four passes to Johnson on the drive and a fifth resulted in a 17-yard pass interference to put the Lions in a goal-to-go situation. It was great to see Stafford zero in on the Lions' best chance to score in what initially appeared to be a remote situation. Remember, the Lions took over at their 2-yard line with 2:14 remaining. Johnson finished with a career-high 214 receiving yards and now has a career-high 14 touchdown receptions this season.

StaffordWatch: After his fumble gave the Raiders a 27-14 lead with 7:47 remaining, Stafford threw for a total of 156 yards and two touchdowns. I would say that's how you want a franchise quarterback to respond under playoff pressure.

Suh-spotting: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had one tackle in his return from a two-game suspension, but his block of Sebastian Janikowski's 65-yard field goal sealed the victory on the final play. A 65-yard attempt is a low-percentage kick, even with Janikowski's strong leg, but credit Suh for ensuring that the ball never got a chance to approach the uprights.

AvrilWatch: I thought defensive end Cliff Avril made the defensive play of the game, continuing his pursuit of Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer and eventually sacking him with 13 seconds left to play. The sack cost the Raiders three yards and forced them to use their final timeout, severely limiting their options for the next two plays.

What's next: The Lions will host the San Diego Chargers on Saturday at Ford Field.

Wrap-Up: Lions 28, Raiders 27

December, 18, 2011

A look at a devastating loss for the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: This defeat was absolutely crushing for the Raiders. They were poised to pull into a first-place tie with Denver, which lost by 18 at home to New England. However, a late Detroit rally kept Oakland a game behind Denver in the division. It was also a major blow for the Raiders’ wild card chances. Oakland has now lost three straight games and is 7-7.

A man named Suh: In his first game back from a two-game NFL suspension, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got a hand on a 65-yard field goal attempt by Sebastian Janikowski as time expired. Welcome back, big fella.

Late disaster: We’ve seen the Raiders’ defense collapse like this before. But this was bad. Oakland had a 27-14 lead, but the Lions scored twice in the final 4:59, including a touchdown with 49 seconds to go. It culminated a 98-yard drive that started with 2:11 remaining in the game.

Palmer mostly good: The good news for the Raiders is quarterback Carson Palmer had a bounce back game. He couldn’t extend a late drive, but he had a real nice day. Palmer completed 32 of 40 passes for 367 yards. He did not throw an interception. He went into the game with 13 this season.

Big day for receivers: Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson (who caught the game-winning touchdown) had nine catches for 214 yards. Oakland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey had eight catches for 155 yards. Heyward-Bey needs to be more consistent but he is capable of good things.

Penalties a plenty: We knew this was coming. Oakland came into the game leading the NFL in penalties and Detroit was fourth. Oakland committed 10 penalties for 86 yards and Detroit was flagged nine times for 72 yards.

What’s next: Oakland plays at Kansas City on Saturday. The Chiefs beat the Raiders, 28-0, in Oakland in October.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Browns 17, OT

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: Different quarterback, same result for Cleveland. In Seneca Wallace's first start at quarterback this season, the Browns (4-10) suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown, losing in overtime after leading by 10 points with 8 1/2 minutes left in the game. It marked Cleveland's seventh loss in eight games including its fourth straight. This also secured the Browns' fourth straight season with double-digit defeats.

Fourth-quarter collapse: Holding a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter, the Browns let the Cardinals score the final 17 points. On the series after Beanie Wells scored a 1-yard touchdown, Wallace was sacked twice, fumbling deep in Cleveland territory on the last one. Jay Feely's 33-yard field goal tied the game in regulation and his 22-yarder in overtime won it.

Wallace fades: In starting for the injured Colt McCoy (concussion), Seneca Wallace started strong, completing 13-of-20 passes for 179 yards in the first three quarters. His 76-yard touchdown to Greg Little put the Browns up 17-7 -- their biggest lead since Week 2 against the Colts. But Wallace struggled in the fourth quarter and overtime, going 5-of-11 for 47 yards including a costly fumble.

Running strong: Peyton Hillis, who wasn't on the injury report this week, showed what he could do when healthy. He gained 99 yards on 26 carries and scored his first touchdown since Sept. 18 at Indianapolis. Hillis set the tone early with 35 rushing yards on the opening series that ended with his touchdown, a rare fast start for the Browns this season.

What's next: The Browns play at Baltimore on Dec. 24, their final road game of the regular season.

Wrap up: Eagles 45, Jets 19

December, 18, 2011

Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' thrashing of the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia:

What it means: Well, technically, and amazingly, the Eagles are not eliminated from the NFC East race. They are 6-8 with two games to play. If they beat the Cowboys on Saturday and the Redskins in Week 17, AND if the Giants lose to the Jets on Saturday and then beat the Cowboys in Week 17, the Eagles will be an 8-8 division champion. There is still an awful lot that needs to go right, and they're still paying for their miserable start and a series of inexcusable losses to teams they should have beaten. But they are not mathematically eliminated yet.

Individual seasons glitter: Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scored three touchdowns, bringing his season total to a team-record 20 with two games left to play. He is in a race for the league rushing title with Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, and if the Eagles are going to win their final two games, they would do well to help McCoy win it. On the defensive side, defensive end Jason Babin had three sacks for the second week in a row to bring his season total to a staggering 18. Babin is thriving in his second season with defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who coached him last year in Tennessee and has been very effective at uncluttering Babin's mind and allowing him to focus on the thing he does best -- attack and sack the quarterback.

Vick hurting but effective: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick continues to take hits, and I have no idea why he was in the game as long as he was with the lead as big as it was. But he threw for one touchdown and, for the first time this season, rushed for one to go along with 274 passing yards. His lone interception came at the tail end of the first half and meant nothing. He's clearly still hurting from those broken ribs and took a number of shots, but he seems determined to stick it out and make good on his pledge to help the Eagles win their final four games.

Defense showing up late: It was the Eagles' second straight very good defensive game as they collected four sacks, forced four turnovers and held the Jets under 300 total yards. The defense is finally playing the way the Eagles believed it could play all year. And while it seems as though it will turn out to be too little too late, you never know. It's not as though the Cowboys and Giants look indestructible.

What's next: The Eagles travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys in a late afternoon game on Saturday. They beat the Cowboys 34-7 in Philadelphia in Week 8.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Browns 17 (OT)

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 20-17 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 15:

What it means: The Cardinals improved to 7-7 with an overtime victory that kept alive their playoff hopes. Arizona would have been eliminated from postseason contention had it lost because Detroit defeated Oakland. Patrick Peterson's 32-yard punt return in overtime proved pivotal as Arizona won for the sixth time in seven games following a 1-6 start to the season. A winning season remains a possibility for Arizona.

What I liked: Quarterback John Skelton led a touchdown drive right before halftime and again when the Cardinals switched to a no-huddle offense after falling behind 17-7 in the second half. Receiver Andre Roberts continued a strong run late in the season, catching the touchdown pass late in the first half. Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield collected sacks on back-to-back plays, forcing a turnover on the second one. That put the Cardinals in position to kick the tying field goal, erasing that 10-point deficit. A challenge from Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt changed O'Brien's second sack from a sack and incomplete to sack and forced fumble, with Arizona recovering at the Cleveland 5. This was a huge reversal for the Cardinals. Skelton set up the winning field goal by finding a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a 32-yard gain on third-and-6. Skelton finished with 313 yards passing.

What I didn't like: The Arizona defense, though improved in recent weeks, gave up a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Peyton Hillis ran effectively against the Cardinals on this drive. The Cardinals also had trouble containing Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace, who scrambled and found Greg Little open for a 76-yard touchdown. Penalties against Jeff King and Nick Eason in the return game forced Arizona to start two drives deep in their own territory. Poor red zone execution, specifically a botched shovel pass that led to a sack on first-and-goal from the 5, contributed to the Cardinals settling for the tying fourth-quarter field goal when a touchdown would have given them the lead.

Milestones: Beanie Wells scored his 10th rushing touchdown of the season. He joined Tim Hightower (2008) and Donny Anderson (1973) as the most recent Cardinals players to reach that mark. Tight end Todd Heap also passed a milestone, passing Hall of Famer and ex-St. Louis Cardinals Jackie Harris for 11th on the NFL's all-time list for receptions by tight ends.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.

Wrap-up: Saints 42, Vikings 20

December, 18, 2011
A few thoughts on an entirely predictable outcome at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings dropped to 2-12 on the season and are now one loss away from tying the franchise record for most defeats in a season. (They were 3-13 in 1984.) And for what it's worth, they're not eliminated from contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Indianapolis Colts (1-13) and the St. Louis Rams (2-12) might have something to say with that, but one can dream.

Porous pass defense: As we discussed earlier in the week, it's impossible to win the in NFL if you can't defend the pass. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the league's best, but the Vikings never came close to challenging him. They set a new NFL record for going a ninth consecutive game without an interception, all while allowing Brees to complete a stunning 32 of 40 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns. That's varsity vs. JV stuff. Coach Leslie Frazier, a former NFL defensive back who has coached the secondary for much of his career, said: "I don't think I did a good job getting my guys prepared."

PonderWatch: Another underwhelming performance from quarterback Christian Ponder drew questions about whether Frazier still unequivocally supports him as the team's quarterback of the future. After Ponder completed 14 of 31 passes and threw another interception, Frazier said: "He struggled today. … We have two games left so I want to continue to watch him play and understand that we still have to get some pieces around him. He has done some good things along the way. He struggled the last few ball games. .... But we have two more games so there is more time for him to continue to improve and to get some work." That was something less than unequivocal, wasn't it?

What's next: The Vikings will play Saturday at the Washington Redskins.

Wrap-up: Panthers 28, Texans 13

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Texans’ 28-13 loss to the Panthers at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The AFC South champs saw their winning streak end at seven and their record fall to 10-4. They await results from games involving New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to learn how it affects the seeds in the AFC. Houston was probably due for a letdown, and turnovers sparked this one, with Arian Foster losing an early fumble and T.J. Yates throwing two interceptions. The first two turnovers led to Carolina touchdowns and the third to the end of the game.

What I didn’t like: Third down went horribly on offense and defense. The Texans converted 2 of 9 chances while the Panthers converted nine times in 14 tries. The Panthers had too easy of a time jumping out to a 21-0 halftime lead as Carolina found the end zone three times in its first five possessions. Panthers linebacker Jordan Senn had a super-productive game with 14 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Matt Turk’s two punts had a net average of 29.5 yards.

What I liked: Connor Barwin's pass-rush production continued, as he recorded one of the Texans’ two sacks. He now has 10.5 on the year.

What I want to know: Was it Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski who drew up the fantastic trick play that produced Richie Brockel’s 7-yard touchdown run?

What’s next: The Texans will have to forget this one quickly as they head for Lucas Oil Stadium for "Thursday Night Football" against the Colts, who are coming off their first win of the season.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 19, Packers 14

December, 18, 2011

A look at the Kansas City Chiefs' stunning 19-14 upset of the Green Bay Packers.

What it means: The Chiefs have derailed history. This game will be talked about in future years when teams go undefeated well into December. This has to be one of the Chiefs’ regular-season highlights in recent memory. In their first game after firing coach Todd Haley, the now 6-8 Chiefs knocked off the 13-0 Packers and did it in fairly convincing matter.

Crennel’s candidacy: Interim coach Romeo Crennel couldn’t have helped his cause any better than he did Sunday. He was already a candidate to be the permanent coach and after leading the team to this win, he’ll take a major step closer to becoming the head man in 2012.

Orton provides spark: What a way for Kyle Orton to make his starting debut for the Chiefs. He was 23-of-31 for 299 yards passing. It was a highlight of a difficult year for the former Denver starter. If Orton finishes strong in the next two games, Kansas City could potentially consider signing him and replacing Matt Cassel.

Stalling in the red zone: The Chiefs could have won this game by 20 points, but they kept stalling in the red zone. In the end, it didn’t hurt the Chiefs.

Great defensive effort: The Kansas City defense has been up and down this season. It gave up 37 points last week to the Jets, however, it did a great job Sunday against the best offense in the NFL. Great work by Crennel’s defense.

Finally AFC West trouble: Its three previous games against the AFC West this season, Green Bay scored at least 45 points.

What’s next: The Chiefs host Oakland on Saturday as it looks for the season sweep over their division rival.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 30, Bills 23

December, 18, 2011

Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 30-23 victory over the Buffalo Bills :

What it means: Miami (5-9) continues its strong second-half push and improves to 5-2 in the past seven games. It also marked the first victory under interim coach Todd Bowles, who kept the Dolphins focused and motivated this week after the firing of Tony Sparano. For Buffalo (5-9), it was the team's seventh straight loss. The Bills have major questions to answer on both sides of the ball.

What I liked: Miami tailback Reggie Bush continues to make a push for his first 1,000-yard season. He recorded a season-high 203 rushing yards, including a 76-yard touchdown to seal the game. He now needs 77 yards in the final two games for the milestone. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore returned from last week’s head and neck injury and played very efficiently. He threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns -- one to receiver Brandon Marshall and the other to tight end Anthony Fasano.

What I didn’t like: Defensively, the Bills don't do anything well. They can't stop the run or rush the passer and need to spend a lot of resources in the draft and free agency to improve on that side of the football. Offensively, it also looks like the Bills may have jumped the gun on signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a $59 million extension. Fitzpatrick lost his seventh straight game as a starting quarterback and was inaccurate in the first three quarters. He threw for 316 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Fitzpatrick padded his stats late in the fourth quarter after Miami took a sizable lead. Fitzpatrick will be the starter for the foreseeable future, and it's looking dicey if he can lift the Bills to contender status.

What's next: The Dolphins will travel for the second consecutive week to play the New England Patriots. New England won the first meeting between these two teams, 38-24, in Week 1. The Bills have another tough game upcoming next week. Buffalo will host Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos, who were 7-1 in their past eight games entering Sunday.

Wrap-up: Saints 42, Vikings 20

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 42-20 victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Mall of America Field:

What it means: The Saints improved to 11-3, marking their third straight season with at least 11 wins, a franchise record. The Saints held onto their lead in the NFC South and can control their own destiny by winning their next game. More importantly, the Saints also kept pace in the race for the No. 2 seed (San Francisco is 10-3 going into Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh) in the NFC playoffs, and the more chances they have for home playoff games, the better their shot at the Super Bowl will be.

What I liked: A lot of people have said the Saints aren’t a good road team. But for the second week in a row, they’ve gone on the road and come away with a win after some early adversity. Granted, beating the Vikings might not be as impressive as defeating the Titans last week. But once the Saints got past a few early mistakes, they dominated the game.

What I didn’t like: Sean Payton’s decision to go for an onside kick when the Saints had a 14-6 lead in the second quarter. It didn’t work and the Vikings scored a touchdown to close the lead to 14-13. It never got closer than that again, so there’s no real need to dwell on the decision to go with the onside kick. Plus, Payton sometimes has a tendency to out-think himself or be a little too aggressive. Maybe it’s a good thing he got that out of his system now, rather than in a game in which a controversial call could end up haunting him.

Another milestone: Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes. That gives him 37 for the season. His previous career high was 34, which he reached in both 2008 and 2009.

What’s next: The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 26 in a "Monday Night Football" game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Let’s go ahead and declare it the “Game of the Year’’ in the NFC South. If the Saints win, they will be the NFC South champion for the second time in three seasons. These teams have developed a great rivalry in recent years and the Saints won in overtime when the teams played in the Georgia Dome earlier in the season. That game involved a controversial decision by Atlanta coach Mike Smith to go for it on fourth-and-inches. The Falcons will be out for revenge, and they look like they’re a better team now than they were earlier in the season. Then again, I think the Saints also have gotten better as the season has gone on.

Wrap-up: Bengals 20, Rams 13

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams:

What it means: In a game that they should have dominated from the start, the Bengals (8-6) shook off a lethargic first half to remain in the AFC wild-card hunt. Cincinnati ended a two-game losing streak and improved to 7-0 against teams currently with a losing record. But it hasn't been easy lately for the Bengals, who gave up a touchdown with 68 seconds left and needed to sweat out an onside kick. It marked the Bengals' first road victory since Nov. 6 at Tennessee.

Running it up: Cincinnati finally broke through against the NFL's worst run defense, gaining 86 yards on the ground and scoring two rushing touchdowns in the second half. Cedric Benson finished with 76 yards and one touchdown. It took a while for Cincinnati to crack St. Louis, managing 24 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half.

Rookie duo: Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green six times for 115 yards. They became the top rookie quarterback-wide receiver duo since 1991 in receptions and passing yards. Green, though, injured his right collarbone with three minutes left in the second quarter, which seemed to bother him the rest of the game.

Tough on third downs: The Bengals' defense had one of its best games on third downs, not allowing one conversion in the first half. The Rams finished 2-of-13 on third down. Of course, this was against Kellen Clemens, who was picked up on waivers by the Rams two weeks ago.

Poor start: The Bengals actually trailed the two-win Rams in the first half 6-3 because of some uninspired play. In the first half, Cincinnati continually failed on short yardage, including three tries from the St. Louis 3-yard line in the first quarter. Dalton also had an interception, and the Bengals got a punt blocked.

What's next: The Bengals play the Arizona Cardinals, the first of the two home games to wrap up the regular season.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 38, Bears 14

December, 18, 2011
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks during their 38-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Week 15:

What it means: The Seahawks kept themselves alive in the NFC playoff picture through a mix of big-play defense and special teams, backed by continued efficient play from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The team has matched its victory total from last season and can finish with a winning record by beating San Francisco (home) and Arizona (road) in the final two weeks.

What I liked: Strong safety Kam Chancellor forced an early turnover. Also in the first half, free safety Earl Thomas picked off a pass deep in Seahawks territory. Defensive tackle Red Bryant scored on an interception return set up by K.J. Wright's quarterback pressure. Cornerback Brandon Browner scored on an interception return. Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown for the 10th consecutive game in which he has played. Lynch ran more effectively than the raw stats indicated. His average suffered from a 2-yard scoring run and some unfortunate early play calling in the red zone. Jon Ryan and the punt coverage team pinned the Bears deep in their own territory to give Seattle an early edge in field position. Jackson got hot early in the second half, finding Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu for long gains, setting up another Lynch TD, this one to tie the game. Jackson completed 19 of 31 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown and a 94.4 NFL passer rating.

What I didn't like: The Seahawks, by pitching the ball outside to Leon Washington instead of hammering straight ahead with Lynch, conceded the conventional running game on their first possession in the red zone. Seattle also left its backup left tackle, Paul McQuistan, alone against Bears defensive end Julius Peppers on a third-and-13 play from deep in Seattle territory. That unsurprisingly led to a sack, forced fumble and Bears touchdown to erase a 7-0 Seahawks lead. Center Max Unger, though enjoying a strong season overall, remained inconsistent with his shotgun snap placement. He was too high against St. Louis last week and too low this week, resulting in fumbled snaps both times.

What's next: The Seahawks are home against the 49ers in Week 16.

Wrap-up: Bengals 20, Rams 13

December, 18, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams following their performance against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 15:

What it means: The Rams fell to 2-12 and remained tied with Minnesota for second in the projected draft order for 2012. The strength-of-schedule tiebreaker would come into play if both teams finished 2-14. The Rams held the tiebreaker heading into Week 15, but the situation was fluid heading into the final three weeks. The team is now 10-36 in two-plus seasons under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

What I liked: The Rams' defense was on its game from the beginning and put St. Louis in position to stay competitive throughout. Cornerback Josh Gordy picked off an Andy Dalton pass and returned it 30 yards. Chris Long added to his career-high sack total. Darian Stewart, James Laurinaitis, Quintin Mikell and others made aggressive plays against the Bengals' running game. Kellen Clemens' mobility and overall health at quarterback gave the offense a boost after Sam Bradford, named inactive for this game, struggled to play through an ankle injury previously. Danario Alexander's leaping touchdown grab in the final minutes brought the Rams within striking distance. Clemens passed for 229 yards and finished with a 95.7 NFL passer rating. Rookie Robert Quinn got his hand on an opponent's punt for the third time this season.

What I didn't like: The offense struggled again, and there were additional opportunities to question play calling. The Rams lost yardage on a toss to Steven Jackson on third-and-long. A week earlier, they ran five plays in a row from the Seattle 1-yard line before giving Jackson the ball. More than anything, the Rams couldn't seem to get a break. A questionable pass-interference call gave the Bengals a long gain. The Rams forced fumbles, only to have the ball bounce back into the Bengals' possession. It's been that kind of year for the Rams. Despite a mostly strong showing on defense, the Rams let A.J. Green beat them for six receptions covering 115 yards.

What's next: The Rams visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.