NFL Nation: 2011 Week 6 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Jets 24, Dolphins 6

October, 17, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here are some thoughts on the New York Jets' 24-6 victory over the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: The Jets (3-3) won the "Desperation Bowl." New York snapped a three-game losing streak and prevailed in a must-win game. The Jets were falling behind in the AFC East and now are back to .500. A win also calms the in-house bickering among players in New York for at least a week. The Dolphins, meanwhile, fall to 0-5 and haven't won a game since Dec. 12, 2010. They remain in the "Suck for Andrew Luck" sweepstakes, which will make some Dolphins fans happy.

Revis vs. Marshall: It was a fun battle to watch between Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall and New York Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Marshall, who threatened to get ejected in the first half, played all four quarters and played well. He went one-on-one against Revis most of the game and had six receptions for 109 yards. Marshall's best play also turned out to be his strangest play. He caught a deep ball well in bounds but stumbled out for a 46-yard reception. The play could have been Miami's only touchdown in the game.

Moore Watch: Former backup quarterback Matt Moore made his first start in Miami to poor results. Moore was 16-for-34 for 204 yards and fell to 7-7 as a starter. He also threw two interceptions to Revis.

Red zone, third-down woes: The Dolphins continued their trend of being one of the NFL's worst teams in the red zone and on third down. Miami was 0-for-3 in the red zone. The Dolphins settled for two field goals and an interception. Miami also was an abysmal 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: The Jets have a tough stretch coming up, starting next week at home against the San Diego Chargers (4-1). New York then will face the Buffalo Bills (4-2) and New England Patriots (5-1). The Dolphins will host quarterback Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos at Sun Life Stadium. Miami is 1-11 in its last dozen home games.

CHICAGO -- Quarterback Jay Cutler campaigned earlier in the week for plays featuring quicker releases to alleviate the beating he’d been taking.

Granted that request, the quarterback unleashed a beatdown of his own Sunday night in throwing for two touchdowns and finishing with a passer rating of 115.9 in a 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field.

By implementing shorter drops with quicker throws, offensive coordinator Mike Martz might have found a way to relieve some of the pressure on the club’s beleaguered offensive line, which actually pieced together one of its best showings of the season.

The Bears took the field with their fifth combination of starters along the offensive line, this week using Lance Louis at right tackle and Chris Spencer -- playing with a broken hand -- at right guard. The unit allowed only one sack. Surprisingly, the offensive line has given up only one sack in two of the past three games.

With the latest tweaks on offense, perhaps the Bears are onto something they can use in the coming games.

Let’s take a closer look at what transpired in this shellacking:

What it means: The Bears learned that flexibility -- especially on offense -- might be the best way to protect Cutler in the long run. More importantly, the club evened its record to 3-3 and gained a game on the Detroit Lions -- 25-19 losers to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday -- in the NFC North standings.

Obviously, Chicago still has quite a bit of catching up to do to get back into the division race. But the team needed some momentum headed into next week’s outing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Bears can come out victorious against the Bucs, they’ll be sitting at 4-3 headed into the bye.

Curious inactivity: Benched during the week of preparation for Sunday’s game, Bears veteran Chris Harris also mysteriously found himself on the club’s list of inactives.

Prior to the team’s official announcement of the move, Harris used Twitter to send out a couple of seemingly cryptic messages.

“The majority of the time adversity paves the way 4 success.”

Harris later tweeted: “How big/diff ur situation appears 2 b is a matter of perception. Most difficulties we face r pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things.”

The club made the decision to move Harris and two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather out of the starting lineup earlier in the week in favor of rookie Chris Conte and second-year man Major Wright. In the final year of his contract, Harris doesn’t believe he’s a part of the club’s future plans. With the team’s latest move, it appears Harris might be correct.

Rookie showings: Conte made his first career start Sunday, and rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea finally made his NFL debut.

Starting at free safety in place of Meriweather, who was benched earlier in the week, Conte played a relatively mistake-free game, contributing five tackles through the first three quarters. A healthy scratch through the first five games, Paea was activated against the Vikings because of a sprained knee to veteran Matt Toeaina.

Paea posted two tackles in limited action, including a sack of Donovan McNabb in the first quarter for a safety.

Sack parade: After notching just one sack in the first half, Chicago utilized the trio of Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, and Amobi Okoye for four sacks of McNabb in the third quarter alone.

Hobbled by a sprained left knee, Peppers sacked McNabb twice and Idonije and Okoye chipped in sacks, too.

Record-setting Hester: Devin Hester extended his return touchdowns record to 16 with a 98-yard TD return on a third-quarter kickoff return.

Hester appeared close to breaking for another score the next time he touched the ball, but was run out of bounds at the Minnesota 38 after a 27-yard return. Hester gained 134 yards on returns.

What’s next: The Bears travel to London to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium. The club desperately hopes to move to 4-3 going into the bye because tough matchups are on the horizon. After the week off, the Bears face the Philadelphia Eagles on the road, followed by the Lions and San Diego Chargers.

Bucs' win could mark turning point

October, 16, 2011
Earnest GrahamAP Photo/Brian BlancoBucs RB Earnest Graham finished with 109 yards on 17 carries against New Orleans.

TAMPA, Fla. – It’s too early to say for sure. But there might come a day when historians look back to find the precise time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned the corner. Sunday might end up being that day.

A team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season and is only slightly removed from a horrid 3-13 2009 season, did what didn’t seem possible as recently as a week ago. The Bucs pulled off their biggest win since Raheem Morris took over as head coach in 2009.

The defense created four turnovers, Earnest Graham stepped in at tailback and rushed for 109 yards, and Josh Freeman threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns as the Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20 at Raymond James Stadium.

More importantly, Tampa Bay’s defense stood up to one of the NFL’s most frightening sights. That’s Drew Brees marching the New Orleans offense down the field in the final minutes of a game. That’s been the ruination of many a team and it looked like Brees was about to pull off another comeback win.

The Saints got the ball back with seven minutes and 19 seconds left. Ordinarily, that’s an eternity for Brees, who’s shown he’s capable of putting up two or three touchdowns in that amount of time.

“Nerve wracking,’’ Morris said.

Brees and the Saints started at their own 24-yard line and moved all the way down to Tampa Bay’s 4-yard line. With a fourth-and-2, Brees dropped back and his history prepared us for what should have happened next.

“The biggest challenge in the world is getting Drew Brees out there on fourth down and whatever,’’ Morris said.

What happened next is the play the historians might point to, the play that might end up turning the tide in an NFC South race that the Saints seemed poised to run away with. Brees threw to backup tight end John Gilmore. But linebacker Quincy Black stepped in to intercept the ball in the end zone with 3:16 left and effectively ended the game.

“That’s scary when Drew Brees is coming down the field,’’ Tampa Bay offensive tackle Donald Penn said. “I’m on the sideline and I’m like 'Oh man.' Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, especially with two minutes left. I was worried, but the defense came through.’’

The defense came through all day. That’s significant because Tampa Bay came up with three interceptions and recovered a fumble against one of the league’s top offenses. That’s significant because it came a week after Tampa Bay got thumped 48-3 by San Francisco.

“We left it there in San Francisco,’’ said Graham, who was filling in for the injured LeGarrette Blount.

What the Bucs found back home in Tampa Bay (before shipping off to London on Monday morning to play the Chicago Bears next Sunday) was a bigger win than they’ve had in several years. In a 10-6 season last year, the Bucs won a lot of games against mediocre teams. Even the biggest victory earlier this season, against Atlanta, wasn’t all that impressive because the Falcons have been up and down.

But Sunday was different. There’s no debating whether the Saints are a good team. There’s no arguing the Bucs played their most complete game since Morris has been around. Graham took care of the ground game, Freeman had his best game of the season and the defense was the story of the day.

“When our defense plays like that, there’s no one in the NFL that can beat us,’’ Penn said. “No one.’’

That may sound a little grandiose, but Penn just might be right. Tampa Bay’s two best defensive games this season have come against Atlanta and New Orleans. Those are division opponents and Tampa Bay’s defense is what could end up putting the Bucs ahead of the rest of the NFC South.

The victory put the Bucs at 4-2. That’s the same record as the Saints and Tampa Bay and New Orleans are one game ahead of Atlanta in the win column. The Bucs already have wins against the Saints and Falcons and they’re very much a player for the division title.

The Saints and Falcons each have had defensive problems. Tampa Bay’s defense is very young, but it’s showing strong signs it also is becoming very good.

You could make a case that Tampa Bay has the NFC South’s best defense. If that turns out to be the case through the rest of the season, the Bucs just might end up winning a division where Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton can put up points, but none of their teams are doing much on defense.

The prospect of the Bucs winning the division isn’t that big of a stretch.

Last year’s motto from Morris was “The Race to 10.’’ The Bucs ended last season with 10 wins, but just missed out on the playoffs.

That’s why this year’s message is different. The Bucs aren’t shooting just for 10 wins. They’ve made it clear the NFC South title is their goal.

“That’s what we’ve said from the beginning,’’ Morris said.

If they keep playing like this, the Bucs might be standing atop the NFC South at the end.

Lions well-equipped to bounce back

October, 16, 2011
Matt StaffordAP Photo/Duane BurlesonThe 49ers kept pressure on Lions QB Matthew Stafford, sacking him five times on Sunday.

DETROIT -- December 5, 2010.

"That date stands out in my mind," Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola was saying in low tones Sunday afternoon. Not since that seemingly mundane winter day had Raiola's Lions lost, in any venue or under any circumstances. Over the next 312 days, the Lions ran off 13 consecutive victories, if you count the 2011 preseason, and captured both the city of Detroit and the NFL by storm.

Now, as Raiola said Sunday: "We'll see what we're made of."

The Lions were bound to lose at some point. I don't think any of us were expecting an undefeated season. But we'll soon see if they are a team built for long-term success or if they will tumble back to the rest of the NFL pack.

I suspect it is the former, even after a disappointing 25-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a game punctuated by a stalled offense and concluded by a fracas that revealed a new level of passion and/or lunacy from the Lions' head coach. I know that Lions coach Jim Schwartz was offended by a purported breach of post-game protocol, but to me Jim Harbaugh's jubilance was both compliment and a comment on the Lions' progress and new standing within the league.

Before Dec. 5 of last year, NFL teams didn't celebrate when they beat the Lions. They walked off the field numbly because a victory was a matter of course. Harbaugh and his 49ers are now 5-1, and they fully recognized how formidable the Lions have become.

"We overcame a really good team," Harbaugh said.

The Lions lost Sunday for a number of schematic reasons. They were at a loss against 49ers running back Frank Gore, who ripped off a 55-yard run in the third quarter and finished with 141 yards on 15 carries. Their offense, meanwhile, was left dinking and dunking down the field, inhibited by an ineffective running game and distracted by a 49ers pass rush that sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford five times and hit on him 10 other occasions.

That the 49ers sent an extra pass rusher on only one passing play, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is a bit concerning. But for the most part, the Lions played step-for-step with an opponent that has now emerged as one of the NFC's top teams.

In the grand scheme, that's an encouraging sign. But here is a more important one: The Lions were a determined and resolute group afterward, one that recognizes its progress and has no intention of losing the opportunity it has created for itself in 2011.

As silly as it might have appeared to outsiders, players were thrilled to see Schwartz' post-game charge at Harbaugh and seemed intent on channeling his passion.

"Whether you've got a suit on or you're suiting up for the game," receiver Nate Burleson said, "everyone in this organization is passionate about what we put together and the logo on our helmets. It's not just players. You guys might see it on game day. We talk to you when we're open to the media, but I don't think you guys truly understand how passionate we are about being a good team. And that is obviously seen in the coaches as well as the players."

I know most Lions fans aren't happy with my post on Schwartz' postgame antics. I'm going to stand my ground. I think there are better ways for an NFL coach to comport himself in a moment of high emotions, regardless of the circumstances.

But I don't mind saying that Schwartz's reaction is one of the reasons I think the Lions will move past this loss and get back to it next week against the Atlanta Falcons. I don't think Schwartz was frustrated as much as he was angry and unwilling to accept defeat. (I'm thinking Schwartz also didn't like the fact Harbaugh got to celebrate the way he usually does, but I'm done with that topic for now.)

Through these past 312 days, the Lions "haven't known what it's like to lose," Raiola said. That's a good thing. The Lions got a taste of it Sunday against a really good team and didn't like it one bit. And it wasn't just Schwartz. Lions defensive end Cliff Avril got into it via Twitter with 49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis, who has since deleted his share of the back-and-forth.

With that said, the Lions will have to address some important football issues this week. At the top of the list is figuring out an answer to the kind of athletic front seven the 49ers presented. For the most part, the 49ers played tight coverage on short-and-intermediate routes and get away with it. The Lions didn't beat them for the kind of big plays that catapulted them for to the 5-0 start.

"We were just behind the sticks today," Stafford said. "…We didn't do enough as an offense to make them pay."

But none of the Lions' issues Sunday seemed permanent nor debilitating. They still have an offense that can be explosive and a defense that makes its share of big plays. The only conclusion we can draw, as Schwartz said, is the Lions "are not going to go 16-0."

Schwartz let his emotions get the best of him Sunday, but his team appears built with the appropriate levels of passion and realism to take what it learned over the past 312 days and continue on the right path.

"You can't be too disappointed when you're playing against one of the best defenses in the league," Burleson said. "Obviously our expectations are higher for ourselves. … Today was more or less two very competitive teams and a lot of adrenaline in the air."

It might sound trite, but it's true: You win some, and by rule you're going to lose some, too. The Lions' displeasure with Sunday's result suggests they're in for more of the former and less of the latter.

Rapid Reaction: Pats 20, Cowboys 16

October, 16, 2011
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 20-16 victory over the Cowboys at Gillette Stadium:

PatsCowboysWhat it means: The Patriots found a way. For the Patriots, this was one of those games in which you don’t focus on style points -- it was ugly -- but instead on getting out with a win heading into the bye week. The Patriots didn’t play well. They won anyway because the offense put it together on a clutch final march. The Patriots improved to 5-1 and are alone atop the AFC East. They have a lot of work to do but have two weeks to sort things out and get some injured players back.

30-point streak snapped: The Patriots had entered the game having scored 30 or more points in 13 straight games. They would have tied the St. Louis Rams from 1999-2000 had they made it 14, but the offense couldn’t find its groove until the final drive. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had the last unit to hold the Patriots to fewer than 30 in the regular season, as the Browns did it Nov. 7, 2010. All that said, when the game was on the line, Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense delivered.

Defense does its part: The Patriots needed their defense to keep them in the game with the offense unable to sustain momentum. The D delivered. Hold the opposition to 16 points at home, and that gets the job done. Although the Cowboys had success moving the ball, the New England defense rose up from the 25-yard line in. From the opposite perspective, with the Cowboys getting the ball with a 16-13 lead, some will question Dallas coach Jason Garrett for conservative play calling. The Patriots forced a three-and-out to set up the winning drive.

Turnovers a big story: The Cowboys entered the game with a minus-4 turnover differential, while the Patriots were plus-3. But it was the Patriots who were uncharacteristically sloppy with four turnovers (2 INT, 2 fumbles). All week the talk had been about Tony Romo and the big mistake, but it was Brady and the Patriots who were more mistake-prone. Brady’s fourth-quarter interception while the offense had been generating some momentum was one throw he’ll likely kick himself about in the coming days. Brady was rolling out and fired it into traffic. Still, the Patriots overcame the mistakes.

Quiet day for Welker and Witten: Both defenses did a nice job limiting the top threat of the opposition. Wes Welker finished with six catches for 45 yards and one touchdown, while Jason Witten had four catches for 48 yards (20 on a last-gasp drive) and one touchdown.

What’s next: The Patriots are off next weekend before visiting the Steelers on Oct. 30. The Cowboys return home to host the Rams.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rob Ryan's defense couldn't make a play when it counted and Tom Brady sliced up the Cowboys with a game-winning drive in a dramatic 20-16 victory at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

It was a difficult loss for the Cowboys considering how well they played on defense. Despite losing starting running back Felix Jones, they were still able to stay in the game until the end. Coach Jason Garrett decided to play it safe inside the red zone and it might have cost his team.

What it means: The Cowboys have now lost two consecutive games, losing two weeks ago vs. Detroit. The Cowboys missed a wonderful chance to gain some ground in the sloppy NFC East. The Cowboys are now in the bottom half of the division at 2-3, a half game ahead of the Eagles, whom they play in two weeks.

No Felix Jones: Jones suffered a left ankle injury in the second quarter and didn't return. Jones finished with eight carries for 14 yards. Rookie DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice took over for Jones, who was playing with a dislocated shoulder. Murray finished with 10 carries for 32 yards.

Red zone issues: The Cowboys went 1-for-3 in the red zone on Sunday afternoon and on the season they're 6-of-18. One of the interesting play calls in the red zone came with about six minutes to play when on a third-and-5 from the 5, Garrett called for a shuffle pass to Tashard Choice. It seemed Garrett is not trusting Romo, or wanted to play conservative and let Rob Ryan's defense win the game for him.

Special teams penalties: The Cowboys were called for four special teams penalties. Anthony Spencer, Barry Church, Keith Brooking and Phillip Tanner were flagged. Cowboys can't have these things in close games. Spencer's penalty, running into the punter, extended a drive in the third quarter.

Injuries: The Cowboys lost two starters. Jones suffered an ankle injury and didn't play in the second half, and in the fourth quarter guard Bill Nagy also injured an ankle. He didn't return as well. Kevin Kowalski replaced Nagy at left guard.

What's next? Cowboys host the winless St. Louis Rams at Cowboys Stadium next week. This is almost a must game for the Cowboys considering where they are right now.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-20 victory against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The NFC South race is closer than anticipated. The Saints had a chance to run away with it if they could have collected a third straight road victory. They didn’t. Tampa Bay played its most complete game of the season and earned this one. The Bucs and Saints each are now 4-2 and the Falcons are only a game behind them in the win column.

Play of the day: Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone with three minutes and 16 seconds left to seal the victory for Tampa Bay. It’s not often you see Brees not succeed when the game is on the line.

Bizarre scene of the day: With the exception of Joe Paterno, you don’t see many coaches getting hit on the sidelines. But New Orleans’ Sean Payton took a big shot in the fourth quarter. After catching a pass, tight end Jimmy Graham was forced out of bounds and collided with Payton. The coach spent much of the rest of the first half sitting on a bench with his leg elevated. He appeared to still be calling plays. At halftime, the Saints announced Payton had a torn MCL and a fractured tibia. The team also said Payton would coach the second half in an upstairs booth with some of his assistants.

Who needs practice? Not Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson. He was reinstated Tuesday after being suspended for 56 weeks for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday, went through Friday’s light walkthrough and got the start Sunday. Jackson intercepted a tipped Brees pass in the second quarter to give Tampa Bay’s offense good field position. Three plays later, the Bucs scored a touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.

What’s next: The Bucs play a “home’’ game with the Chicago Bears next Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Bucs will fly out Monday morning and spend the week practicing near London. The Saints host the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday night at the Superdome.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A look at an emotional day for the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: It wasn’t pretty -- and the team lost quarterback Jason Campbell -- but the Raiders Just Won, Baby, 24-17 against the Cleveland Browns in their first home game since owner Al Davis died Oct. 8 at age 82. There were several tributes to Davis on Sunday, and the greatest one was presented by the team as it improved its record to 4-2. The Raiders are now a half-game behind San Diego, 4-1, in the AFC West race. The Chargers had their bye Sunday.

Tomorrow’s talker: It’s all about Campbell’s injury. He left the game in the second quarter and went straight to the locker room. The Raiders have said only that his collarbone is being evaluated, but there are reports that he broke it and is out for the rest of the season. He was replaced by Kyle Boller. Rookie Terrelle Pryor will be activated from the roster exemption list Monday after his NFL suspension ended last week. He likely will back up Boller for now if Campbell is out.

How about Hue: First-year Oakland coach Hue Jackson is becoming quite the trickster. He has had called several trick plays this season. The Raiders sealed Sunday’s win when Shane Lechler threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kevin Boss on a fake field goal late in the third quarter. The Raiders are fast becoming one of the NFL’s most entertaining teams.

Heyward-Bey impresses again: Third-year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had his third straight nice game, catching six passes for 82 yards. The No. 7 overall pick in 2009 is really making strides.

What’s next: The Raiders will host Kansas City next Sunday. They'll then have their bye week and return home to host Denver. The Raiders are in line to go 6-2 if they can stabilize their quarterback situation.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 29, Texans 14

October, 16, 2011
BALTIMORE -- Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 29-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

What it means: The Texans lost their second game in a row, and the enthusiasm over their 3-1 record seems so, so long ago now that they’re 3-3. They’re out of first place in the AFC South because the 3-2 Titans had the week off.

What I didn’t like: Joe Flacco is hardly the best quarterback the Texans will see, but twice in the second half, the Texans allowed deep completions. Torrey Smith caught a 51-yard ball over Kareem Jackson and Anquan Boldin grabbed a 56-yard throw. On the first a defender was bearing down on Flacco, on the second he got hit by Antonio Smith. The Texans can ill afford to give up such plays, and they cause some flashbacks to last year.

What I liked: Both of those big gainers didn’t result in touchdowns. The Texans stopped Baltimore from getting in the end zone, forcing field goals that allowed them to stay within a score.

What else I didn’t like: After those big pass plays and field goals, the Ravens managed to get Ray Rice going. His 27-yard run set up a Ricky Williams touchdown that made it 26-14 with 4:01 left. A 12-point deficit with one timeout remaining against the Ravens on the road is a tall order. The offense failed to find the sort of big plays it needed to keep up when it needed them. Andre Johnson sure could have helped.

What’s next: The Texans head for Nashville and a big AFC South matchup with the division lead on the line. Tennessee is coming off a bye. Will Johnson return from the hamstring injury that has cost him two games?
BALTIMORE -- Thoughts on the Ravens' 29-14 win against the Texans:

What it means: The Ravens once again show why they're one of the best teams in the AFC by putting away the Texans, who were playing without wide receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Mario Williams. Baltimore remained in first place and improved to 4-1 for the second straight season. Down 14-13 in the third quarter, the Ravens scored on four of their next five possessions to finish off their third consecutive win.

Thumbs up: Ravens defense. If it seemed like the Texans were in Ravens territory all game, it's because they were. Houston crossed midfield on six of its first seven drives. But the Ravens only gave up two touchdowns (one came on a fumble recovery by an offensive lineman in the end zone) and made a strong fourth-down stand in the first half.

Joe Flacco takes hits, delivers them: Flacco took a beating but he came through when the Ravens needed him. He was accurate on the intermediate passes on the opening drive and made the two big plays (completions of 51 and 56 yards) in the second half. Flacco finished with two turnovers (a fumble and interception).

Just for kicks: Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff converted five field goals (from 43, 48, 25, 33 and 40 yards) and recorded six touchbacks. This is the second time that Cundiff has made five field goals in a game for the Ravens.

Cooking with Rice: Ray Rice outplayed the reigning NFL rushing champion Arian Foster, running for 101 yards and making five catches for 60 yards. His 27-yard run set up the game-clinching touchdown.

What's next: The Ravens play on Monday night at the Jaguars (1-5), who have lost five games in a row.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 25, Lions 19

October, 16, 2011
DETROIT -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 25-19 victory over the previously unbeaten Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Week 6:

What it means: The 49ers can beat a good team on the road without their best stuff. This makes them a legitimate contender in the NFC. They remain a work in progress, too. Some of the coaching decisions seemed questionable, a departure from form for Jim Harbaugh through the first five games. Alex Smith's inaccuracy resurfaced when he threw too high for Crabtree more than once. But with the game on the line, Smith delivered a 6-yard scoring pass to Delanie Walker for the go-ahead points in the final two minutes. The shortcomings simply show there's room for improvement even though the 49ers are 5-1. That's a great thing for them heading into the bye week. Count this as yet another signature victory for the 49ers under Harbaugh.

What I liked: Frank Gore found ample running room and came through with big plays when the 49ers needed them. Receiver Michael Crabtree also stepped up for the 49ers, including when he provided a 27-yard reception on third down after the teams had combined to convert only twice on 17 third-down opportunities to that point in the game. Rookie Aldon Smith continued to improve, making a huge play when he tackled Matthew Stafford in the end zone for a safety. He collected another sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Patrick Willis, though beaten for a touchdown despite very tight coverage, blanketed the Lions' tight ends and helped shut down underneath plays repeatedly. Overall, the 49ers hung tough and went back to the running game late when they needed to run time off the clock with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. And Alex Smith's ability to throw the winning touchdown pass in a clutch situation represented a giant step forward. David Akers' strong kicking is easy to take for granted, but without his 55-yard field goal before halftime and 37-yarder late, it's a different game.

What I didn't like: The 49ers played to the Lions' strengths early. They called a pass play to open the game, inviting trouble against a strong pass-rushing team in a noisy environment. It was no surprise, under the circumstances, when the Lions' Kyle Vanden Bosch came through with a sack and forced fumble -- exactly the type of start the 49ers needed to avoid in this environment. The crowd was immediately in the game, and the 49ers compounded the situation with false starts. Early in the second half, the 49ers invited trouble again by going with an empty backfield from their own 20-yard line, tipping off the quick pass that followed (for a 3-yard loss). The 49ers ran the ball well when they gave it to Gore, but they did not give the ball to him frequently enough. At one point in the third quarter, Gore had six carries for 121 yards. He needed more carries against a Lions defense that wasn't very strong against the run. Penalty problems persisted and were a factor in creating the unfavorable down and distance precipitating Alex Smith's interception.

Critical calls: Multiple high-impact rulings from Mike Carey's officiating crew spiced up this game. I didn't see justification for the chop-block call or horse-collar call against the Lions, or the 19-yard interference penalty against 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers. Officials initially disallowed Nate Burleson's touchdown grab for the Lions in a ruling reminiscent of the famous Calvin Johnson play against Chicago last season. Upon review, however, Carey determined that Burleson had possession of the ball long enough before the field goal net resting along the end line dislodged the ball from the receiver's hand. Then, with the game on the line and the 49ers having scored the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-6, Carey took another look to see if Walker's knee touched down before the ball crossed the goal line. Carey determined the ruling on the field would stand. Walker's left leg obscured his right knee from view on one of the critical angles.

Calvin Johnson watch: The 49ers generally did a good job against the NFL's leader in touchdown receptions until Johnson broke free for a 41-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Johnson beat Rogers off the line and gained additional yardage after free safety Dashon Goldson missed him. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was the one to catch Johnson. Johnson finished with six receptions for 102 yards, but he went without a touchdown for the first time all season. That counts as a victory for the 49ers no matter how many yards Johnson gained.

Injuries of note: Right guard Adam Snyder left the game with a stinger. Chilo Rachal replaced him.

What's next: The 49ers have a bye.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 25, Lions 19

October, 16, 2011
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' first loss of the season:

What it means: The Lions lost for the first time since Week 12 of the 2010 season, missing an opportunity to start 6-0 for the first time since 1956. The end came dramatically in a see-saw game: The San Francisco 49ers' Delanie Walker scored on a six-yard pass on fourth down with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining. Officials reviewed the play to determine if Walker's right knee hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane. I saw no angle to suggest that it did.

MegatronWatch: It's time to launch an investigation. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson didn't catch a touchdown pass for the first time all season. He did, however, haul in six passes for 102 yards, including a 41-yarder that set up a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown.

"Process" call redux? Surely you remember the touchdown Johnson lost against the Chicago Bears in Week 1 of the 2010 season. I honestly thought the Lions would fall victim to the same "process of the catch" rule Sunday when receiver Nate Burleson caught what appeared to be a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Burleson got both feet in bounds, but he used the ball to brace himself as he stepped onto the netting behind in the end zone. The ball remained on the ground, and referee Mike Carey ruled the pass incomplete. Carey reversed the call after a challenge from Lions coach Jim Schwartz. As much as I hate the rule, I'm not sure how Carey viewed the Burleson play differently than the NFL viewed Johnson's non-catch last season. Maybe we'll learn more after the game.

StaffordWatch: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a great start to this season, but Sunday was probably his worst game of the year. He was sacked five times, including once for a safety, and looked tentative in the pocket thereafter. I didn't like how many sidearm passes he threw, which told me he was trying to squeeze the ball into too-small targets, and had at least two balls slip from his hand in the pocket. Consider it a learning experience.

Ford FieldWatch: By my count, the 49ers had five false start penalties on offense. That brings the two-game total at suddenly raucous Ford Field to 14. There were some nervous moments Sunday in Detroit, but the numbers are the numbers.

What's next: The Lions will host the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.

Wrap-up: Bengals 27, Colts 17

October, 16, 2011

Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Bengals match their win total from all of last season and ended a seven-game losing streak to the Colts. It's been an improbable start for Cincinnati, which was predicted to finish last in the AFC North. Six weeks into the regular season, Cincinnati has the same record (4-2) as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Thumbs up: The NFL's top-ranked defense lived up to its label. Cornerback Nate Clements forced a fumble in Indianapolis territory to set up the Bengals' first touchdown, and Carlos Dunlap returned a Colts fumble 35 yards in the fourth quarter to finish off Cincinnati's third straight win. Overall, the Bengals forced three turnovers.

Thumbs down: The Bengals continually hurt themselves with 11 penalties for 111 yards. The Colts were flagged twice.

Road block: Clements came up big in the fourth quarter when he blocked Adam Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal. It would have tied the game with 5:38 left in the game.

What's next: The Bengals get a well-deserved bye before playing at Seattle.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 27, Bills 24

October, 16, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here are some thoughts on the New York Giants' 27-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: The Bills lost for the second time in three weeks and fell to 4-2. Buffalo has been in first place in the AFC East for several weeks but runs the risk of losing that spot to the New England Patriots (4-1), who play the Dallas Cowboys later on Sunday. Buffalo also has yet to pick up a quality road win this season.

Shaky defense: Buffalo’s defense continues to struggle and give up chunks of yards. The Bills allowed 414 yards of total offense against New York. Bills cornerback Drayton Florence had his worst game of the season. He allowed a 60-yard catch to receiver Hakeem Nicks that set up one New York touchdown before halftime. Florence also had a key pass interference call against Nicks late in the fourth quarter to set up the Giants’ winning field goal.

Big-play offense: Fred Jackson’s 80-yard touchdown run was one of the best offensive plays you will see all season. Buffalo executed the play perfectly in the first quarter, and Jackson went virtually untouched for the score. Jackson showed his deep speed by running past New York defenders and not getting caught from behind. On Buffalo’s next drive, receiver Naaman Roosevelt caught a 60-yard touchdown reception to give the Bills their first lead of the game, 14-7, at the end of the first quarter. Eventually, some costly turnovers hurt Buffalo.

Injury watch: The Bills suffered another big injury on the offensive line. Starting tackle Chris Hairston suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter that knocked him out the game. He had trouble putting weight on the ankle. Buffalo also played without defensive players Shawne Merriman (Achilles) and Kyle Williams (foot).

What’s next: This Bills will take their 4-2 record into the bye week. Buffalo will continue its tour of the NFC East with its next game against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 30.

Wrap-up: Bengals 27, Colts 17

October, 16, 2011
Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: The Colts remain winless, falling to 0-6. They had a fourth-quarter chance to pull even, but Adam Vinatieri's 52-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Nate Clements. Then Reggie Nelson forced a fumble by Pierre Garcon, and the Bengals got a 35-yard touchdown return by Carlos Dunlap to pull out of range.

What I didn’t like: Tight end Dallas Clark has suffered as much as anyone without Peyton Manning. But his first-quarter fumble, when he was stripped by the Bengals, set Cincinnati up for the game’s opening touchdown and had nothing to do with the quarterback. Clark did bounce back with a nice fourth-quarter catch on the right boundary and a 1-yard TD catch.

What I liked: Delone Carter took some carries and ran with the sort of authority the Cols drafted him for, converting a couple short-yardage situations. And Donald Brown had a nice 18-yard touchdown run on a day when the Colts ran the ball reasonable well -- totaling 94 yards and 4.1 yards a carry.

Stat of note: The Colts turned the ball over three times didn’t take it away once.

What’s next: The Colts head for New Orleans and play a rematch of Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints aren’t far off from the team that won that game, while the Colts aren’t even a shell of the AFC Champions of two seasons ago.