NFL Nation: 2011 Week 8 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: 49ers 20, Browns 10

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
8:55
PM ET
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 20-10 loss at the San Francisco 49ers:

What it means: The Browns lost for the third time in four games, securing their spot in last place in the AFC North. Cleveland (3-4) is the only team in the division with a losing record, falling 2.5 games behind the Steelers. It's the third time the Browns have lost by double digits.

Thumbs down: Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. The offense should get a "Thumbs down" for three quarters, but Jackson made the critical error of the game. With the Browns trailing by seven points with under four minutes to go, Jackson stopped Frank Gore on third-and-three. But he grabbed the facemask of running back Frank Gore, which allowed the 49ers to convert the first down and eventually kick the game-clinching field goal.

McCoy watch: Colt McCoy was sacked four times, fumbled once (which set up a 49ers' touchdown) and was intercepted when he threw into double coverage. He finished 22 of 34 for 241 yards.

Running on empty: Starting running back Peyton Hillis missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury, and backup Montario Hardesty left with a calf injury in the first half. As a result, the Browns didn't break a run longer than nine yards.

What's next: The Browns play at the Houston Texans, which wraps up a stretch of three road games in four weeks.

Wrap-up: 49ers 20, Browns 10

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
7:32
PM ET

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8:

What it means: The 49ers have a four-game lead in the NFC West with nine games remaining, unless Seattle overcomes a 27-12 deficit in the final two minutes (that game was ongoing as I published this). No NFL team since realignment in 2002 has blown more than a 3.5-game division lead after Week 7. The 49ers are now 6-1 for the first time since the 1998 season. They have a 5-1 record outside the division, setting themselves up to run away with the NFC West if they win most of their division games.

What I liked: Frank Gore topped 100 yards rushing in the first half. This was his fourth 100-yard game in a row, a career best. Alex Smith was efficient and showed good instincts when pump-faking to set up a first-half completion. Smith also scrambled for first downs on two third-down plays in the first half. He avoided the mistakes Cleveland needed him to make in order for the Browns to threaten in this game. Michael Crabtree caught a touchdown pass for the first time this season. On defense, the 49ers' linebackers dominated Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya in protection, putting pressure on Colt McCoy. That was the case when free safety Dashon Goldson picked off McCoy in the end zone after the Browns gained offensive traction in the second half. NaVorro Bowman enjoyed another standout game in his first season as a starter. Rookie first-round pick Aldon Smith collected another sack, giving him 6.5 for the season.

What I didn't like: Defensive end Ray McDonald suffered a hamstring injury and did not return. He's been playing very well for the 49ers. The team did not need him in his game, but the 49ers will miss him if he's lost for any significant period of time. Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis suffered an arm injury of unknown severity. Alex Smith's efficiency dropped after halftime. The 49ers were in control, so it didn't matter a great deal, but better efficiency

Diving deep into playbook: The 49ers found left tackle Joe Staley for a 17-yard reception. They found nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga for an 18-yard gain. No one can say the 49ers don't like to have some fun.

What's next: The 49ers visit the Washington Redskins in Week 9.

Wrap Up: Bills 23, Redskins 0

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
7:02
PM ET

Some thoughts on the Washington Redskins' dismal 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Toronto:

What it means: Well, the Redskins are in a free fall. Since starting the season 3-1, they've now lost three games in a row by a combined score of 76-33. And since the offense looks totally incapable of doing really anything at all at this point, it's tough to imagine things getting better any time soon. Their only hope is that this game -- the first time a Mike Shanahan-coached team has ever been shut out -- is some sort of bottoming-out point.

Injuries taking their toll: The play of the Redskins' offensive line was critical to their hot start, and the injuries that have deprived them of starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and starting left tackle Trent Williams -- not to mention top wide receiver Santana Moss, starting running back Tim Hightower and tight end Chris Cooley -- have rendered their offense more or less incompetent. The Bills had a grand total of four sacks in their first six games, but Sunday they sacked John Beck nine times. Nine times. That's a number only Ed Rooney, Dean of Students, could love.

Beck is not the answer: Whether it was Beck or Rex Grossman, the key to the Redskins' offense this season was always going to be the group around the quarterback, not the quarterback himself. Beck does some decent things out there, and sometimes he looks like he's freelancing or even goofing off a little bit. But when you're getting sacked nine times, you're just not going to get very much done.

If they can't run, they're done: Ryan Torain got the start at running back, but once again the Redskins got behind early and weren't able to run their offense the way they wanted to. Remember, this is a team that was leading the NFL in average time of possession through its first four games. On Sunday, the Bills had the ball for nearly 35 minutes. If the Redskins can't establish the run game and chew up the clock, they will not score enough points to win. Against anyone.

For the defense: They gave up 390 total yards, so it's not as though this was a game of which Washington's defense should be proud. But I really don't think the defense is playing all that badly, considering all that's being asked of it. London Fletcher played hurt and had a monster game. Ryan Kerrigan was a force early. And for most of the day, I thought they actually did a decent job of bottling up Fred Jackson -- at least limiting his ability to beat them with a big play. Eventually, when your defense is on the field for 35 minutes, you're going to give up yards and points, and Jackson did rip off a 43-yard run and a 46-yard catch. But I just don't think it's fair to judge this Redskins defense considering how awful the offense is right now.

What's next: The Redskins are back home Sunday to host the San Francisco 49ers, who appear to be on the verge of improving to 6-1 today as they lead the Browns in the fourth quarter. It's not getting any easier for Beck and Co., as the 49ers entered Sunday's action as the second-best scoring defense in the league and the second-best defense in the league against the run.

Wrap-up: Texans 24, Jaguars 14

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
6:21
PM ET
Thoughts on the Houston Texans’ 24-14 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Texans maintained their lead in the AFC South, improving to 5-3. They had some poor stretches but did what a good team should do against a division opponent who is not as well-rounded. The Jaguars fell to 2-6, which is two games better than the last-place Colts, but well behind both the Titans (4-3) and Texans.

What I liked, Texans: The Texans knew that a solid defensive day against a limited offense led by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert would set the stage for a win, and they got it. They held Maurice Jones-Drew to 18 carries for 63 yards, allowed Gabbert to complete just 33 percent of his passes, surrendered one play over 12 yards and saw the Jaguars cross midfield on only three series.

What I didn’t like, Jaguars: Beside the anemic offense we just covered in the previous section? The defense took away two fumbles, which is good, but allowed Arian Foster to take 33 carries 112 yards and score. And when your quarterback is hitting on only a third of his passes, holding Matt Schaub to 53 percent doesn’t wind up being something you can celebrate.

Major contributor: Texans tight end Joel Dreessen has done his share to help the Texans be OK without Andre Johnson. He caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week.

Stat to compare: Jacksonville was five-for-14 (36 percent) on third down. Houston was 10-for-17 (59 percent).

What’s next: The Texans get a visit from the Cleveland Browns, which would figure to be an easier AFC North draw than the two they’ve had so far. The Jaguars have reached their bye week.

Wrap-up: Vikings 24, Panthers 21

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:43
PM ET

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The hope that the Panthers had turned the corner with last week’s win against the Redskins is gone. Carolina is right back to where it was before last week -- maybe even a couple of steps back. The Panthers played pretty well in some areas, like they did in their previous five losses, but couldn’t pull it out at the end. That’s tolerable against good teams. But nobody is accusing the Vikings of being a good team this season.

Goat of the game: The Panthers had a chance to force overtime. They moved the ball into what should have been easy field goal range for Olindo Mare. It turned out not to be so easy. Mare was wide left on a 31-yard try. Think there might be some Carolina fans longing for the days of John Kasay right about now?

Goats of the game: Just about everyone on Carolina’s defense. The Panthers have struggled defensively much of the season. But they were facing rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. They made him look like a seasoned veteran. Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown and was not intercepted. The Vikings also had 132 net rushing yards.

All for naught: Carolina receiver Steve Smith continues to have a huge season. He had seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. But Smith isn’t the kind of guy who is content to put up big stats in losing efforts. He wants to win as much as anybody. This may sound crazy, but I’ve got a suggestion for Carolina coach Ron River: Let Smith play defense. He’ll put everything he has into it.

What’s next: The Panthers have a bye next Sunday. They resume their three-game homestand when Tennessee comes to Bank of America Stadium on Nov. 13. That’s why the loss to Minnesota hurts so badly. The Panthers could be on a two-game winning streak right now, with a chance to extend it to three coming out of the bye. Instead, they’re 2-6.

Wrap-up: Vikings 24, Panthers 21

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:38
PM ET

A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' second victory of the season, featuring a thrilling ending against Carolina Panthers:

What it means: The Vikings avoided their worst start to a season since their inaugural 1961 campaign and are now 2-6 heading into their bye week. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder got the first victory of his career. Let's be fair, however: It's always nice when the opposing kicker misses a 31-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining that would have tied the game.

PonderWatch: Ponder had a few off-target throws, including a pair to tight end Kyle Rudolph in the fourth quarter. But overall, he competed well and kept the Vikings in the game through some tough patches, most notably on third downs. He completed 18 of 28 passes overall for a pair of touchdowns and led a methodical seven-minute drive in the fourth quarter for Ryan Longwell's eventual game-winning field goal. Overall, a thumbs up for the Vikings' rookie starter.

Injury watch: We should note that two other players put forth remarkable efforts while dealing with injuries. Tailback Adrian Peterson has an ankle sprain but accounted for two touchdowns, including a powerful 9-yard run in the third quarter. Meanwhile, receiver Percy Harvin was in and out of the game because of a rib injury but ended up catching four key passes for 58 yards after scoring on a 10-yard run in the first quarter. Harvin's production came on top of a red-zone fumble and a sideline altercation.

Stopping Cam: The Vikings' best defense against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was keeping the ball away from him. Their offense held the ball for 32 minutes, 5 seconds. In the 27:55 the Panthers had the ball, Newton completed 22 of 35 passes for 290 yards and three scores. Newton also rushed for 53 yards. The Vikings did coerce two fumbles from him, including the one that ended up leading to Harvin's touchdown, but their secondary continued to be vulnerable without cornerbacks Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield.

What's next: The Vikings have a bye week and return to action on "Monday Night Football" at the Green Bay Packers.

Wrap-up: Ravens 30, Cardinals 27

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:34
PM ET

Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 30-27 win to the visiting Arizona Cardinals:

What it means: The Ravens avoided a second straight loss to a one-win team. Baltimore trailed 24-3 late in the second quarter before scoring 24 straight points. The Ravens improve to 5-2 to keep pace in the competitive AFC North.

Game-winner: Billy Cundiff's 25-yard field goal as time expired allowed the Ravens to overcome their first-half struggles. The game-winner was set up by Joe Flacco's 36-yard pass to rookie Torrey Smith.

Thumbs up: Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin. Rice was involved in the offense again with three touchdowns after eight carries on Monday night. Boldin carried the offense in the second-half rally and finished with 145 yards on seven catches.

Thumbs down: Penalties and pass protection. The Ravens had to sweat this one in the second half because of mistakes. They were flagged 11 times for 99 yards. The biggest problem in the first half was the Ravens' blocking. Flacco had no time in an ever-collapsing pocket.

Flacco watch: Flacco shrugged off a terrible start to go 19-for-28 for 238 yards in the second half. It was his third 300-yard passing performance in his past five games.

What's next: The Ravens play at the Pittsburgh Steelers seven weeks after they beat their AFC North rival, 35-7, in the season opener.

Wrap-up: Ravens 30, Cardinals 27

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:30
PM ET

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 30-27 road defeat against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8:

What it means: The Cardinals have now blown second-half leads in losing to Washington, Seattle, the New York Giants and Baltimore, making it tough to build on what progress they did show while building a 24-6 halftime lead against the Ravens. At 1-6, the Cardinals face three consecutive road games following a Week 9 home date with St. Louis, which appeared reborn while upsetting New Orleans.

What I liked: Kevin Kolb absorbed quite a bit of punishment early, but hung tough and drove the Cardinals in position to take a first-quarter lead. His 66-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald was the longest play against the Ravens this season. Beanie Wells played despite a knee injury and scored a go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. Rookie first-round pick Patrick Peterson, having already revived the Cardinals' punt-return game this season, scored on an 82-yarder to give Arizona welcome breathing room. The Cardinals finally turned the page at outside linebacker, giving rookie Sam Acho the start over an inactive Joey Porter while also finding time for O'Brien Schofield. Both players recorded sacks. Richard Marshall's interception was a big play for Arizona. The Cardinals held Joe Flacco without a touchdown pass. They allowed only 107 yards rushing, a respectable number.

What I didn't like: The passing game remained inconsistent. The pressure Baltimore put on Kolb was a big factor. Kolb remained hit-and-miss in how he dealt with the pressure. Sometimes, he scrambled to make plays, as when he found Early Doucet in the first half. He somehow avoided a sack that might have moved the team out of realistic field-goal range while trailing 27-24. Other times, Kolb risked sacks and turnovers. He's an adventure at a position where teams need consistency over time. The Cardinals converted just twice on 11 third-down opportunities. The offense managed only 207 yards compared to 405 for the Ravens. On defense, cornerback A.J. Jefferson had a rough game against Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals eventually changed up their coverage plan as a result. Jefferson was not on the field late.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the St. Louis Rams in Week 9.

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Saints 21

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:25
PM ET

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 31-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

What it means: I’d like to say there’s no shame in losing to a St. Louis team that came into the game winless. But I can’t. I’d like to say there’s even less shame because the Rams were using future Hall of Famer A.J. Feeley at quarterback instead of the injured Sam Bradford. But I can’t. I’d also like to say there’s no shame in not scoring an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter when you’ve got Drew Brees and a world of offensive talent going against a defense that hadn’t been stopping anybody this season. But I can’t. Quite simply, the Saints can’t afford to lose a game like this if they want to go to the Super Bowl. But they did. They could have been waltzing away with the NFC South race. Now, they’ve opened the door for Atlanta and Tampa Bay. There’s no other word to describe this one besides shameful. Well, unless you want to go with “embarrassing.’’ Take your pick.

Stat of the day: The Saints were held scoreless in the first half. That’s the first time that’s happened to them since a 2007 game against Tampa Bay.

The streak lives on: It didn't come until the final seconds, but Brees extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown pass to 35. That's the third longest streak in NFL history. Brett Favre is No. 2 at 36 games and Jonny Unitas (47) is No. 1.

Prediction time: I’ll just about guarantee you Zach Strief will be back in the starting lineup at right tackle the next time the Saints take to the field. Strief’s been out with a knee injury, but was back at practice last week. The Saints might have been playing it a little cautious on Strief and they continued to start Charles Brown in his place. Brown had been doing pretty well, but not against the Rams. I saw Brown give up at least two sacks.

Mystery of the day: Yeah, I know the Saints fell behind and it’s common to abandon the running game when that happens. But the Saints never really used the running game before things got out of hand. They barely ran the trio of Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas against a St. Louis defense that had been having lots of problems stopping the run. And the Saints can’t use Mark Ingram’s absence (due to a bruised heel) as an excuse. Ivory was their leading rusher last season and Sproles and Thomas had been running well this season.

What’s next: The Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome. The Bucs beat the Saints in Tampa in early October and I’m sure there is some residual anger among the New Orleans players and coaches. Throw in the natural anger of the embarrassing loss to St. Louis and the Saints should be very motivated for the Bucs. If they’re not, they’ve got real problems.

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Saints 21

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:25
PM ET

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-21 victory against New Orleans in Week 8:

What it means: The Rams scored one of the biggest upsets of this NFL season, giving them a badly needed boost heading into an easier portion of their schedule. The Rams saw encouraging developments on multiple fronts. This outcome gives them hope for a strong finish to the season, particularly once quarterback Sam Bradford returns from a high-ankle sprain. This game takes the heat off coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney for the time being, at least.

What I liked: The Rams, though badly outmatched based on how the teams had performed before Week 8, were competitive from the start. Their defense kept them in the game early. Rookie Greg Salas' 17-yard reception on fourth-and-2 moved the Rams into position for the field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead. Rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn, who blocked a field-goal try during preseason, blocked a punt in this game, setting up a Steven Jackson touchdown run for a 10-0 lead. Jackson dominated with his running, topping 150 yards. The workload showed he's fully recovered from the quadriceps injury he suffered in Week 1. Chris Long had three sacks, a breakout game. Quinn also got pressure as a pass-rusher at times. The Rams played with attitude. Their defense, despite playing without all its top corners, somehow prevented Drew Brees from building on his five-touchdown game against Indy. Safety Darian Stewart's interception return for a touchdown to close out the Saints provided the proper punctuation to a game the Rams dominated.

What I didn't like: Quarterback A.J. Feeley, subbing for Bradford, missed Brandon Lloyd twice on consecutive plays that should have produced touchdowns. Lloyd dropped a pass to kill a drive in the fourth quarter when the Rams needed to sustain drives. I could go through the game picking nits, but why? The Rams easily could have mailed it in for this game. Bradford's injury gave them an out. They did not do that. They deserve credit for that. Brees' scoring pass in the final seconds made the game appear closer.

Streak ends: Until this game, the Rams had not run an offensive play all season while leading on the scoreboard. The 2005 Houston Texans did not run an offensive play while leading until Week 7 that season. The Rams can finally put to rest this dubious streak.

What's next: The Rams visit the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.

Wrap-up: Giants 20, Dolphins 17

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
4:11
PM ET

Let's take a look at the New York Giants' 20-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: The Dolphins blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week and fall to 0-7. Miami, which led 17-10 after three quarters, gave the Giants all they could handle but still dropped its 10th straight game, dating to last season. The Dolphins remain firmly in the hunt in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. One winless team -- the St. Louis Rams -- won Sunday. That leaves Miami and the Indianapolis Colts (0-8) as the NFL's two winless teams.

What I liked: Just one week after saying the Dolphins "stink," Dolphins running back Reggie Bush responded with a big game against the Giants. Bush rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries. It was his first 100-yard game of the season. Rookie tailback Daniel Thomas was inactive with a hamstring injury, leaving Bush to get most of Miami's carries. Overall, I also thought Miami was energized and played with good effort most of the game under embattled head coach Tony Sparano.

What I didn’t like: Once again, the fourth quarter was the difference. Miami played very tentatively in the final period -- and much of the blame should go to the coaching staff. The offensive play calling was no longer aggressive with the lead and the defense laid far off New York's receivers most of the game, trying to prevent the big play. The result was New York scoring 10 straight points in the fourth quarter without much resistance. Miami tried to open things up offensively after New York finally took control. But Miami's offensive line couldn't pass protect for quarterback Matt Moore, who was sacked five times.

Bad news from Cowher: Perhaps the most important thing that happened to the Dolphins Sunday wasn't on the field. Former Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher said he will not return to the NFL in 2012 and will stay in television. Cowher was widely regarded as being at or near the top of Miami owner Stephen Ross’ wish list. Ross, who has deep pockets, may still approach Cowher at a later time to see if the time is right.

What’s next: The Dolphins will stay on the road next week. Miami will play at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs (3-3). The Dolphins, including next week, will have played on the road in five of its last six games.

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