NFL Nation: 2011 Week 9 Rapid Reaction

PHILADELPHIA -- The Chicago Bears overcame a furious Philadelphia Eagles third-quarter onslaught and a couple of their own mistakes on the road to carve out a 30-24 victory at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night.

The Bears scored an impressive victory, given the circumstances, to boost their record to 5-3.

Let’s take a deeper look:

What it means: If the regular season came to a conclusion today, the Bears would be the second wild card team behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC. So this impressive victory over the Eagles raises the stakes for Sunday’s game against the Lions at Soldier Field.

The Lions, which are coming off a bye week, lead the Bears in the NFC North standings by one game. So a Bears victory ties them with the Lions for second place in the division.

Wright nabs first career pick: Major Wright should send linebacker Lance Briggs a thank-you card for helping the second-year safety pick off the first pass of his NFL career.

Briggs tipped a Michael Vick pass into Wright’s hands, which resulted in a Bears field goal after the safety’s 36-yard return.

Despite the big play, Wright wasn’t able to stay in the lineup full time. Veteran Brandon Meriweather replaced Wright in the second quarter, but Wright was back at his strong-safety position to start the second half.

Bennett returns: Wildcat quarterback, chain mover. Yes, Earl Bennett resumed his role as Chicago’s Swiss-Army knife of offense Monday night after missing nearly six games with a torso injury and he didn’t disappoint, racking up five catches for 95 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the team a 27-24 lead.

Bennett caught just two balls in the first half for 40 yards, and took one snap as quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

Look for his role to increase as the season continues. Jay Cutler's comfort with the receiver was apparent almost immediately against the Eagles. On Chicago’s first third-down situation, Cutler completed a 14-yard strike to Bennett.

Forte’s first fumble of 2011 a fiasco: Bears running back Matt Forte racked up 79 all-purpose yards in the first half, but made a mistake in the second quarter that nearly caused a major momentum swing. After catching a short dump off from Cutler, the running back looked to make a move on Brian Rolle, who punched the ball loose and scooped up the fumble for a 22-yard touchdown return.

Rolle’s score helped Philadelphia tie the game 10-10 with 1:38 left in the first half.

The fumble was Forte’s first of the season, and interestingly the running back hadn’t put the ball on the ground in 347 touches prior to Monday night. Forte’s second fumble led to another Eagles touchdown, but the running back finished the game with a game-high 133 yards rushing.

Gould booms another bomb: Robbie Gould made his second field goal of the season from 50-plus yards when he banged in a 51 yarder in the second quarter to give the Bears a 10-0 lead.

Gould is 7-of-9 from 50-plus yards over the past three years and 7-of-11 from those distances over his career.

What’s next: The Bears take the day off Tuesday before getting back to work on Wednesday in preparation for their second meeting with Detroit. The Bears trail the Lions by one game in the NFC North standings, and can move into a tie with them for second in the division with a victory.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 30, Eagles 24

November, 7, 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' very costly 30-24 loss to the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: The Eagles may well need to run the table at this point if they want to make the playoffs. Not only are they 3-5 at the midpoint of the season, they have head-to-head losses to three teams over which they'll have to climb in order to win the division or earn a wild-card spot -- the Giants, Falcons and Bears. They're at the point where they can win almost no tiebreakers and probably have to go at least 7-1 the rest of the way if they want to save their season.

Dumb mistakes: The Bears looked for much of the night as though they were trying to give the game to the Eagles with mistakes, but Philadelphia kept hurting themselves with mistakes of their own. From DeSean Jackson's fumbled punt, to Jason Babin's roughing the passer penalty on a third-down stop, to any number of poor Michael Vick decisions, and right on up until Nnamdi Asomugha's pass interference with five minutes left in the game and the Bears apparently stopped on third down in Eagles territory -- the Eagles repeatedly put themselves in bad positions with mental and physical errors the likes of which they believed were behind them after two straight wins.

Lousy finishers: The Eagles have held fourth-quarter leads in each of their five losses this season.

No pressure: Heading into the game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was one of the most harried quarterbacks in the league. But the Eagles were unable to get any consistent pressure on him with their front four against the Bears' offensive line. It may be that they were staying back to prevent Matt Forte and the Bears' running game from beating them, especially after Forte spent the opening drive doing just that. But for whatever reason they could not rattle Cutler, and he was able to make some brilliant improvised plays during Chicago's fourth-quarter comeback.

Shady the star: As usual, the best Eagles player on the field was running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 71yards, caught five passes for 46 more yards and tied a 64-year-old Eagles team record by scoring a touchdown in his eighth consecutive game. McCoy finds holes where there don't appear to be any. He keeps plays alive with his athleticism and can turn them big with his speed. If the Eagles do have any hope of recovering from their lousy start and making the playoffs, they rest largely with their ability and willingness to continue to feature McCoy as their star player and focal point on offense.

What's next: The Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon in a game they now absolutely cannot afford to lose. The week after, they travel to New York to play the Giants, who now hold a commanding three-game lead and beat the Eagles in their head-to-head matchup in Philadelphia earlier in the season.

PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field:

What it means: Joe Flacco's 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds remaining allowed the Ravens (6-2) to complete their first season sweep of the Steelers (6-3) since 2006 and give them a share of first place in the AFC North with the surprising Cincinnati Bengals (6-2). This came after Baltimore failed to hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and fell behind 20-16 with 4:59 remaining. It was the first time since 2006 that the Ravens beat Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field.

Flacco's comeback: Trailing by four points (20-16) with 2:24 left, Flacco led a 12-play, 92-yard drive that ended with the touchdown pass. It's the second time in three trips to Heinz Field that Flacco has delivered the comeback.

Bouncing back: Smith, the rookie second-round pick, redeemed himself with the touchdown catch. He had his third drop of the game four plays earlier when Flacco's pass went off his fingertips in the end zone.

James Harrison storms back: In his first game after missing the previous four, Harrison recorded three sacks, including a critical forced fumble in the fourth quarter. It led to Roethlisberger's go-ahead touchdown pass to Wallace.

Suggs steps up: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs made his presence known in the third quarter with the Steelers driving in the red zone when he picked off Roethlisberger. Suggs anticipated the quick pass and leapt in the air instead of rushing to make that play. The Ravens converted that turnover into a Ray Rice touchdown to take a 16-6 lead.

What's next: The Steelers travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. The Ravens go cross country to play the Seattle Seahawks.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- The New York Giants and New England Patriots got together for their first meaningful game since Super Bowl XLII and it was another classic. And Eli Manning got the better of Tom Brady again.

What it means: The Giants opened a brutal six-game stretch of their schedule by playing their best game of the season. The Giants allowed Brady to find Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown on a fourth-and-9 from the Giants' 14 to push the Patriots up 20-17. But Manning drove the Giants down for the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining, hitting Jake Ballard on a 1-yard touchdown pass, a score that was helped by a pass interference call against New England on Victor Cruz at the Patriots' 1.

Fantastic Finish: The Giants have lived dangerously this season, so it was no surprised that their sixth straight game went down to the fourth quarter.

Down 13-10, Manning drove the Giants down for a go-ahead touchdown when he hit Mario Manningham on a 10-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone with 3:03 left. Manningham also drew a key pass interference on the drive for a gain of 35 yards.

But Brady marched the Patriots right down to the Giants' 14-yard-line and, on fourth down, he hit Gronkowski for a touchdown on Michael Boley with 1:36 left to push the Patriots up 20-17. Gronkowski gave Boley a slight shove to get free, but there was no flag.

But Manning did it again to the Patriots.

Terrible Tom: The Giants' defense, which has had difficulties this season against the run and no huddle, managed to get the better of Brady for 2½ quarters. Brady threw two interceptions and was hit as he was attempting a pass, resulting in a fumble that set up a Brandon Jacobs' touchdown in the third quarter. That put the Giants up 10-3.

The Giants did a good job of disguising their defense, changing things up and switching defenders on receivers. But it didn’t last as Brady started getting comfortable near the end of the third quarter and led the Patriots to 10 unanswered points early in the fourth.

Costly mistakes: With a second-and-goal at the Patriots’ 2-yard-line, the Giants were called for a delay of game. Two plays later on a third-and-5 at the Patriots’ 5-yard-line, a backpedaling Manning lofted a ball to the back left corner of the end zone that was intercepted by Kyle Arrington. Instead of getting at least a field goal to add to a 10-3 lead, the Giants gave the Pats the ball.

Defensive battle: The Giants and Patriots played to the first scoreless half in the NFL this season. While the Giants' defense played well, Brady didn't look comfortable. Part of it was due to the Giants' pass rush and Perry Fewell moving defenders around to give him different looks. But Brady also missed a wide open Aaron Hernandez in the end zone and the usually reliable Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal just before the end of the half.

The Giants were able to keep New England from hitting on big plays and they switched defenders on Brady's receivers often. Both teams combined to go 3-for-14 on third downs in the first half.

What's next: The Giants' torturous schedule continues as they travel to San Francisco, where the 49ers are no longer a treat to face. The Niners are 7-1 under Jim Harbaugh, and Frank Gore will be difficult for the Giants to stop.

SAN DIEGO -- Thoughts from a wet day by the sea.

What it means: There is a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West at 4-4 between the Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs. All three teams lost at home Sunday.

Tomorrow’s talker: The Chargers made a furious comeback, but they didn’t have enough. All four of the Chargers’ losses have occurred because the team has made too many mistakes. The Chargers' defense came on strong at the end of the game, when it stopped Aaron Rodgers twice, but he wasn’t forced into making any mistakes.

Rivers still shaky: For the first time in his career, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw three interceptions. They were all extremely costly. Two were brought back for touchdowns and the third ended a potential game-tying series in the final minute. The Chargers have lost three straight games and Rivers made crucial, fourth-quarter miscues in all three of the games. Rivers has thrown 14 interceptions this season. He had 22 in the past two seasons combined.

What’s next: The Chargers have a quick turnaround as they host Oakland on Thursday night in a key AFC West game.

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on yet another Green Bay Packers victory, 45-38:

What it means: A rare rainy day at Qualcomm Stadium led to quite a shootout. It reminded a few of us of the Packers' 2009 wild-card playoff game at the Arizona Cardinals. For a while there in a wild fourth quarter, nobody could stop nobody. In the end, however, the Packers raised their NFL-best record to 8-0, winning for the 14th consecutive time dating back to last December.

Pass defense: Packers safety Charlie Peprah and cornerback Tramon Williams each returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the first quarter, two of three interceptions the Packers had on the day. Those scores were obviously critical to the final outcome. But overall, this game won't do much to settle concerns about the Packers' pass defense. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, including two after the halfway point of the fourth quarter that made this game a nail-biter for the Packers. The Packers had a particularly tough time tracking tight end Antonio Gates, who caught eight passes and drew two key fourth-quarter penalties.

Thanks, Quentin: The Chargers appeared to have the Packers stopped on third down with 2 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. But a holding penalty on cornerback Quentin Jammer, who was defending receiver Jordy Nelson, gave the Packers an important first down. The penalty robbed the Chargers of their remaining timeouts and cost them about a minute and 20 seconds on the clock. The Chargers finally regained possession with 1:05 left, but Peprah's second interception of the game clinched it with 14 seconds left.

RodgersWatch: Oh yeah, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes and a total of five incompletions in yet another razor-sharp performance. Rodgers has had at least a 110 passer rating in all eight Packers game this season, an NFL record.

Injury report: Hard-luck linebacker Frank Zombo did not return after injuring a hamstring. Zombo has also dealt with shoulder and knee injuries this season.

Packers pride: I've never seen a visiting team cheered as loudly as the Packers were Sunday. Conservative estimates suggested a third of the stadium was populated by Packers fans. I would say it was closer to half. It was quite a showing, regardless, and made for a raucous midseason atmosphere.

What's next: The Packers have an extra day of preparation for next Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 24, Titans 17

November, 6, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans’ 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans fell to 4-4, which feels about right for their talent and performance but really shows off their failures since a 3-1 start. Tennessee now trails Houston in the AFC South by two games plus a head-to-head loss. The Titans had a 17-7 halftime lead after a solid first half but really faltered from there. Their final good chance to win ended when TE Jared Cook was stripped by cornerback Nate Clements, who recovered it.

What I didn’t like: The passing game is just too out of sync. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to Matt Hasselbeck when there appears to be timing, route depth or route break-off issues. Coach Mike Munchak said more often than not his quarterback is right when things go wrong. But there are too many plays where targets turn back after incompletions and seem surprised about where a throw went.

What I also didn’t like: They allowed a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) and a rookie receiver (A.J. Green) to scald them in the second half. On the go-ahead touchdown drive, they connected on a 23-yard pass on a first-and-20 and a 20-yard pass on a third-and-18.

Fooled us in the first half: Tennessee did some things better in the first 30 minutes. Chris Johnson had 55 rushing yards on nine first-half carries. The Titans threw to Cook more often (but look what it ultimately got them). Cortland Finnegan spearheaded a fine defensive first half, getting his hands on a couple of balls and threatening as a blitzer.

What’s next: The Titans head to Carolina to face another rookie quarterback, the Panthers' Cam Newton.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Seattle Seahawks provided the perfect opponent to solve the Dallas Cowboys' woes. Well, sort of. Dallas played a nice, but not great game Sunday afternoon on the day they inducted Drew Pearson, Larry Allen and Charles Haley into the Ring of Honor. The Cowboys should have played better, but they have next week to solve their issues. For the record: Dallas 23, Seattle 13.

Here's a recap:

What it means: Not really sure. The Cowboys beat up a Seattle team ranking next to last in total offense and rushing offense. Its defense ranked 13th overall but 18th against the pass. Seattle rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time in two weeks and the Seahawks completed numerous big plays in the passing game. But the Cowboys won, and that's all that matters in the NFL sometimes.

DeMarco Murray needs to start: Nothing personal against Felix Jones, but did you see the rookie from Oklahoma on Sunday afternoon? He rushed 22 times for 139 yards. He's now rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the last three games. Jones has rushed for more than 100 yards just twice in the regular season during his career. It might be time to move on from Jones and give things to Murray.

Defense plays OK: The Cowboys' defense pressured Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson numerous times and picked up three interceptions. Terence Newman, Jason Hatcher and Gerald Sensabaugh were the men who did in Jackson. DeMarcus Ware didn't register a sack for the first time in three weeks. It seemed the Cowboys missed inside linebacker Sean Lee, who was out with a dislocated left wrist. Bradie James and Keith Brooking didn't do enough to slow the running game. It's clear the Cowboys need to clean up some things before taking on Buffalo next week. Anthony Spencer picked up his first sack since Week 3 versus Washington, and now has three on the season.

Miles Austin is out: Wide receiver Miles Austin injured his right hamstring in the first half and didn't return. It's the second time this season that Austin has battled hamstring injuries. He finished the game with two catches for 53 yards. But it was OK because Laurent Robinson, once again, is looking like a man who knows what he's doing on the field. Robinson had five catches for 32 yards with one touchdown. Dez Bryant also had a nice game, though he had zero catches in the second half, with four receptions for 76 yards. Defenses are jamming Bryant at the line of scrimmage and he continues to struggle to get off the line.

Red zone problems: The Cowboys went 1-for-3 in the red zone Sunday. For the season, the Cowboys have 26 possessions inside the red zone with just 10 touchdowns and 12 field goals on the season. This has been a problem area for the Cowboys in 2011 and moving forward, things have to get fixed.

What's next: The Cowboys host Buffalo on Sunday afternoon. It's Chan Gailey's chance to beat the man who fired him, Jerry Jones. Jones said firing Gailey was one of his biggest mistakes.

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 27-16 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: The Saints bounced back strongly from an embarrassing loss to St. Louis last week and also avenged an October loss to Tampa Bay. At 6-3, the Saints remain in sole possession of first place in the NFC South as they head into a big showdown with the Falcons next week. The Buccaneers continued their season-long struggle to be consistent. They never really got into an offensive rhythm, and a defense that played well in the previous meeting with the Saints was dominated. At 4-4, the Bucs have fallen into third place in the NFC South.

What I liked: I used to think it was simply a case of Drew Brees making everyone around him look better than they really are. But I’m now thinking that, as great as Brees is, he’s got a pretty amazing collection of talent at the skill positions around him. The Saints are loaded with running backs, tight ends and receivers, and they can hurt you in just about every way.

What I didn’t like: Tampa Bay inserting Josh Johnson to run a play out of the Wildcat formation on a third down near the end of the first half. It went nowhere and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal. Coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson need to yank that play out of the playbook permanently. You don’t need gimmicks when you have a real quarterback. Although he’s been inconsistent this season, Josh Freeman can make a big play at any time, and he had the Bucs driving at the time they elected to run Johnson. Besides, the Saints were not at all surprised. The Bucs had put that play on film previously, and everyone in the building knew Johnson was going to run.

What else I didn’t like: Running back LeGarrette Blount continues to hold Tampa Bay back because the coaches don’t trust him in pass protection. Although Blount hinted he might be an every-down back this week, he wasn’t. Tampa Bay played Kregg Lumpkin, who is not going to scare any defense, in passing situations. Even when Blount was on the field, he hurt the Bucs. When the Bucs were driving in the third quarter, he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Replays showed Blount was slapping at the facemask of New Orleans defensive end Will Smith. When you’ve got Blount’s history, you shouldn’t even think about slapping someone.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Atlanta next Sunday to play the Falcons. The Buccaneers are home against the Houston Texans next Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Jets 27, Bills 11

November, 6, 2011
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are some initial thoughts on the New York Jets' 27-11 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: The Jets (5-3) are back in the postseason hunt. New York took itself from the brink of implosion early in the season to win three consecutive games. This was a huge victory over a division rival and moves the Jets into second place in the AFC East. The Bills dropped to 5-3 and give the early tiebreaker to New York. They could be in third place in the AFC East by the end of the day if the New England Patriots beat the New York Giants. If New England loses, there could be a three-way tie in the division.

Jets' D is back: Don't be fooled by the final score. New York won this game with great defense. The Jets were dominant on that side of the football. The team reverted back to last year's form with a masterful performance against a good Bills offense. New York forced three turnovers and held the Bills to 287 total yards. Many of those yards by Buffalo were gained in garbage time. The Bills failed to score at least 20 points for the first time this season.

QB struggles: The "Sanchez-Fitz-Moore Watch" should be interesting this week. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and New York quarterback Mark Sanchez both were inconsistent. The difference is Sanchez played much better in the second half to win the game. He finished with 230 yards, one touchdown and two turnovers (one pick, one fumbled snap). Fitzpatrick threw for just 191 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

What's next: The Bills will travel to play the Dallas Cowboys next week. It will be the first of three consecutive road games for Buffalo. The Jets will have another big AFC East showdown against the Patriots at Met Life Stadium.