NFL Nation: 2012 Week 11 Rapid Reaction
November, 19, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chicago Bears extended their run of futility at Candlestick Park, losing their eighth straight at the venue on Monday night in embarrassing fashion, 32-7.
With quarterback Jay Cutler missing the trip as he recovers from a concussion, backup Jason Campbell filled in ineffectively, and suffered five sacks behind poor protection in addition to throwing two interceptions to finish with a passer rating of 52.7.
The defense couldn't bail out the offense, either.
Although the defense had saved the offense seemingly countless times already this season, the turnover finally dried up for Chicago's takeaway-happy unit. The loss marked the first time all season the Bears defense failed to force a turnover.
What it means: The team's 7-1 start certainly brought optimism about its prospects for the season, but the Bears gave up their NFC North lead with Monday's loss and now sit behind the Green Bay Packers with upcoming matchups against Minnesota and Seattle, both 6-4. Having lost now to all three opponents they've faced with winning records (Packers, Texans and 49ers), Monday night's slaughter might have provided somewhat of a reality check for the Bears.
It's apparent they're probably not be the contender they thought they were just weeks ago. But at the same time, the Bears can certainly develop into that. The fact is that the teams that advance deep into the playoffs typically start peaking near the end of November and into December.
So the harsh dose of reality force fed to the Bears by the 49ers on Monday can either derail the club's season or serve as the catalyst it needs moving into crunch time. Only the Bears can determine how they'll respond from this.
OL woes: Perhaps Campbell should have pulled a Cutler and barked at the offensive line, bumped some of them or something to motivate the unit, considering the way it performed in giving up five sacks against the 49ers. As usual, offensive tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi served as the most egregious offenders up front. The former seemed confused by San Francisco's twists and the latter once fell flat on his behind when Aldon Smith bull rushed right through him on the way to a sack.
The loss to the Texans last week marked the first time the offensive line finished a game without giving up a sack. The unit has now given up 33 sacks with six games remaining, after allowing 49 in 2011.
Timely signing: It certainly appeared to be the case when Campbell took a hard shot from Ahmad Brooks that left him on the turf momentarily writhing in pain. Largely because of shoddy protection along the offensive line, Campbell suffered four sacks and appeared to be on track to be replaced in the lineup by veteran Josh McCown, who was just signed on Tuesday.
Because there was a penalty on the play, Campbell was able to recover on the sideline and re-enter the game. But the Bears came extremely close to needing to play McCown.
Marshall smothered: Prior to the matchup with the 49ers, none of Chicago's opponents fully committed to shutting down receiver Brandon Marshall. The 49ers did, however, and the tactic worked so well it eliminated a huge chunk of the Bears' passing game by taking out Marshall. Defended by double teams and coverage rolled to him most of the night, Marshall didn't make his first catch until the 10:47 mark of the third quarter.
Marshall hauled in a 13-yard touchdown for his second reception of the night, which also gave Chicago its first points of the night with 3:43 remaining in the third quarter. But by then, San Francisco had already jumped out to a 27-0 lead.
Marshall came into the game averaging 7.4 receptions and 100.4 yards, and left having caught two passes for 21 yards and a TD.
Shoddy safety play: Inconsistency at the safety position seemed to be a hallmark of Chicago defense in recent years, before the team appeared to correct the problem with solid play through the first nine games from Chris Conte and Major Wright. That didn't last, however, as San Francisco exploited Wright and Conte on Monday night by threatening them for most of the night with tight end Vernon Davis, who caught six passes for 83 yards and a TD.
On several occasions, Davis broke free in Chicago's secondary, running wide open with either Conte or Wright chasing only to be overthrown or missed by Kaepernick.
Dating back to last season Conte and Wright had started 15 games together coming into Monday night, holding opposing quarterback's to a passer rating of 63.7 with the duo combining for eight interceptions over that span.
Kaepernick finished with 243 yards through the air and a passer rating of 133.1 and tossed a pair of TDs.
What's next: The Bears take Tuesday off, before returning to practice on Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game at Soldier Field against the Minnesota Vikings. Focus is key coming off a loss like this with a short week to prepare.
November, 19, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park on Monday night:
What it means: The 49ers can feel better about their future at quarterback after watching Colin Kaepernick dominate the Bears with his arm and even with presnap reads. How long before the future arrives? That is the question. Kaepernick was so good in just about every conceivable area. The 49ers drafted him in 2011 to be their eventual starter, trading up in the second round to get him. Alex Smith has performed capably in the meantime. I'm not sure he has ever looked as good as Kaepernick looked in this game, however.
The 49ers improved to 7-2-1 to expand their NFC West lead over second-place Seattle (6-4).
What I liked: The 49ers came out throwing when the Bears expected them to run the ball. I like the strategy in retrospect, hindsight being 20/20. The 49ers obviously felt Kaepernick could handle the aggressive strategy. His offensive line gave him ample time. Kaepernick appeared comfortable. He made challenging throws with authority and accuracy. Tight end Vernon Davis reemerged as a result.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and a 133.1 NFL passer rating.
The 20-0 lead Kaepernick built allowed the 49ers' defense to unleash its fury against the Bears' overmatched offensive line. Aldon Smith collected 5.5 sacks. He might have been most impressive when teammate Justin Smith beat him to the quarterback in the fourth quarter. Aldon Smith bull-rushed tackle Gabe Carimi and sent him hurtling onto his back. Justin Smith collapsed running plays and collected his first half-sack of the season. Patrick Willis knocked away passes and punished with his tackles, overpowering blockers when he did not elude them. Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson picked off passes.
The Bears had 35 yards of offense in the first half. The 49ers held a 236-20 lead in yardage at one point.
San Francisco avoided turnovers against a defense known for forcing them. The Bears came into this game with an NFL-high 19 interceptions. Charles Tillman had forced seven fumbles. The 49ers protected the football in part because they protected Kaepernick so well. Kaepernick had fumbled twice against St. Louis last week. He was well protected in this game. Left tackle Joe Staley appeared to do a terrific job against Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
What I didn't like: The 49ers had trouble converting third-and-short situations. They threw incomplete on third-and-1 early in the game. They threw incomplete on a third-and-2, then gained only a yard on a third-and-2 completion to Michael Crabtree.
Those eager to see the 49ers activate running back Brandon Jacobs can cite those stats. Jacobs converted eight first downs on 11 rushes in third-and-2 or shorter while with the New York Giants over the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
From a coaching standpoint, the 49ers punted or attempted field goals on multiple fourth-and-1 situations. The percentages often favor going for first downs on those plays.
That's all I've got.
What's next: The 49ers visit the New Orleans Saints in Week 12 for a rematch of their NFC divisional-round playoff game from last season.
November, 18, 2012
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 13-10 win at the Pittsburgh Steelers:
What it means: The Ravens (8-2) took control of the AFC North, moving two games ahead of the Steelers (6-4). This was Baltimore's 12th straight win in the division, which ties the Colts for the longest in the league since the division realignment in 2002. The Steelers had won seven straight games at Heinz Field. But this marked the Ravens' third win in Pittsburgh in their past four trips.
Ravens defense steps up: After giving up a touchdown 43 seconds into the game, the banged-up Ravens defense held the Steelers to a field goal the rest of the way. Baltimore disrupted Byron Leftwich, who was replacing Ben Roethlisberger, into 17-of-38 passing for 201 yards and stopped the Steelers on 8 of 11 third downs. The Ravens forced two turnovers, which led to six points.
Happy returns: Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens their first lead of the game late in the first quarter, when he returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown. It was his third return for a touchdown in the past five weeks. Jones is the first Ravens player to post three combined return touchdowns in a season.
Costly fumble: Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has had a problem with dropped passes but he didn't show great hands when he was stripped of the ball by Chris Johnson, who had been signed by the Ravens this week. The first-quarter turnover deep in Steelers territory led to a Justin Tucker 26-yard field goal. It was Wallace's first lost fumble in 17 games.
Elusive Leftwich: Not known for his mobility, Leftwich ran for a 31-yard touchdown on the third snap of the game. He outran Terrell Suggs to get to the outside and broke through an arm tackle by Bernard Pollard before reaching the end zone. It was Leftwich's first rushing touchdown since the end of the 2008 season. His previous long run was 18 yards and that came in 2003, Leftwich's rookie season.
Get feet down: Down 13-7 in the third quarter, the Steelers drove to the Ravens' 4-yard line where Leftwich made a nice throw to the right side of the end zone. But Wallace didn't get both feet down inbounds. Instead of taking the lead, the Steelers settled for a field goal to pull to within 13-10.
What's next: The Ravens go on a cross-country trip to play at San Diego (4-6), which has lost two straight. The Steelers stay in the division and play at the Browns (2-8), who are coming off an overtime loss in Dallas.
November, 18, 2012
By Mike Reiss | ESPN.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 59-24 win over the Colts:
What it means. The Patriots tie the franchise record for points to improve to 7-3 and maintain a solid cushion atop the AFC East, while keeping pace with the top teams in the conference overall. They started slowly before exploding. The Colts drop to 6-4. The last time the Patriots scored 59 points in a game was October 2009 against the Titans.
Talib pays early dividends with INT return. Cornerback Aqib Talib's 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter was one for the highlight reel. The interception itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary -- Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck had a bad overthrow as rushing defensive lineman Vince Wilfork seemed to affect his mechanics -- but Talib’s zig-zagging runback was sensational. Talib started at left cornerback and played most of the game, the Patriots occasionally giving him a conditioning-based breather. While Talib had some hiccups in coverage -- he was beaten for a long touchdown by T.Y. Hilton in the fourth quarter and hardly could be viewed as a shutdown corner in the game -- it was an overall successful debut because of the interception return.
Edelman brings spark. Julian Edelman was elevated up the Patriots’ receiver depth chart after the Saturday release of Deion Branch, and he was one of the Patriots’ top players in the game. His 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter was a momentum-swinging, crowd-igniting play as the Patriots had trailed 14-7 at the time. It was Edelman’s third career punt return for a touchdown (in four seasons) and as part of his end zone celebration, he cast a line as a fisherman and reeled it in. Creative. He later had another big punt return, and at receiver, he finished with five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, while adding one blazing run for 47 yards.
Ankle injury for top pick Jones. Impressive defensive end Chandler Jones, a mainstay who entering the game had been on for 90.9 percent of the team’s snaps, left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and didn’t return. At first, Jones had his right foot retaped on the sideline and attempted to walk it off. But he then went back to the locker room for X-rays. He returned to the sideline in the second quarter, in uniform, but wasn’t with his teammates for the second half. This will be a big injury situation to monitor.
Gronkowski puts up big numbers. The Colts had no answer for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who currently leads fan balloting for the AFC Pro Bowl. Gronkowski finished with seven receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns, marking the ninth time in his three-year career that he’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Gronkowski went to the locker room late in the fourth quarter, so he might have been dealing with some type of injury, which will be something to monitor.
Defense thrives again off turnovers. The Patriots’ defense stayed true to its identity -- giving up yards, starting slowly, but living off turnovers. The Patriots entered the day as the NFL’s best team in turnover differential and had two interception returns for a touchdown (Talib’s 59-yarder and Alfonzo Dennard’s 87-yarder), and defensive end Rob Ninkovich added a second-half strip sack and fumble recovery (his fifth forced fumble of the season, which ties a Patriots record). Rookie safety Tavon Wilson added a late interception.
Boos for Vinatieri. It’s been seven years since kicker Adam Vinatieri left the Patriots for the Colts, but New England fans -- who were the beneficiary of Vinatieri’s clutch kicks en route to three Super Bowl championships -- haven’t forgotten. They booed every time Vinatieri’s name was mentioned by the public address announcer.
What’s next. The Patriots have a quick turnaround with a Thanksgiving night game at the Jets (NBC, 8:20 ET). The Colts return home to Indianapolis to host the Bills on Sunday.
November, 18, 2012
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com
DENVER -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos 30-23 win over the San Diego Chargers.
What it means: The AFC West race is very close to being over. The Broncos (7-3) have won five straight games while the second-place Chargers (4-6) have lost five of the past six. Denver essentially has a four-game lead with six games to go because of a season sweep and the tiebreaker over the Chargers. Wacky things would have to happen for Denver not to win its second straight AFC West title.
Manning milestones: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning reached two career milestones Sunday. With his 148th career win he tied his boss, John Elway, for the second most wins by a quarterback in NFL history. Manning also threw three touchdown passes Sunday and now has 423 for his career. He entered the day tied with Dan Marino in second place for the most career touchdown passes in NFL history.
Miller magic: Denver second-year linebacker Von Miller had three sacks and forced two fumbles. He is a serious NFL Defensive Player of the Year threat. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. Miller has 13 sacks this season and 24.5 sacks in his career.
San Diego’s offense struggled: The Chargers had two first downs in the first half and went 3-for-16 on third down for the game. They failed on their first 11 attempts on third down. Spanning three games, Denver’s defense forced opponents to go 0-for-26 on third downs.
Rivers’ turnovers continue: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He has committed 43 turnovers since the start of the 2011 season. It leads the NFL.
Key injuries: Several players were banged up on both sides. Denver running back Willis McGahee (knee), San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer (calf) and San Diego linebacker Larry English (knee) all came out of the game. There is no initial word on how serious the injuries are.
San Diego’s defense is not the problem: The Chargers’ first nine points were scored by their defense, and the unit has played well for much of the season.
What’s next: Denver visits the Kansas City Chiefs (1-9) and the Chargers host the Baltimore Ravens.
November, 18, 2012
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on the Patriots’ 59-24 win over the Colts at Gillette Stadium:
What it means: The Colts fell to 6-4 overall, while Houston improved to 9-1 with its overtime win over Jacksonville. There are still two head-to-head Houston-Indianapolis meetings, but it’s hard to envision the Colts winning the AFC South. A wild-card berth is still a real possibility.
What I didn’t like: Defensively the Colts just weren’t able to contain the Patriots' weapons. Tom Brady finished 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns and yielded to Ryan Mallett at the end. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was unstoppable with seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Andrew Luck threw three interceptions, the first of which new Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib returned 59 yards for a touchdown.
What I did like: Luck threw for over 300 yards for the fifth time this season, a record for a rookie. He continued to show a great knack for converting third downs. Reggie Wayne went over 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth time.
Injury concerns: Wide receiver Donnie Avery suffered a concussion late in the second quarter and didn’t return to the game. Defensive lineman Cory Redding left the game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury and also didn’t return.
Special-teams issues: The Colts gave up two punt returns for 106 yards to Julian Edelman, who took one for a 68-yard touchdown. Indy’s Jerry Hughes had and missed two chances to tackle him on the play.
What’s next: The Colts host the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium.
November, 18, 2012
By Calvin Watkins | ESPN.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A game that started around noon CT and ended about nine minutes to 4 p.m. was long, bad and left you tired of hearing Ed Hochuli's explanations.
Dan Bailey's 38-yard field goal ended the game in overtime, giving the Dallas Cowboys a pre-Thanksgiving Day gift with a 23-20 victory over the two-win Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.
What does it mean: The Cowboys (5-5) are now .500 thanks to their second consecutive victory, but they played poorly and don't resemble a team that is ready for the playoffs. Tony Romo had a costly fumble, his third of the season, that gave the Browns life. The pass rush was lacking against a rookie quarterback, and there are numerous health issues lingering.
Bailey's kick sends it to OT: A pass interference penalty on Sheldon Brown and hit to the head of Kevin Ogletree kept the Cowboys' last-ditch scoring drive alive at the end of regulation. Bailey's 32-yard field goal with two seconds to play tied the score, 20-20.
Bryant takes over: This is what Cowboys fans have been waiting for, a game like this from Dez Bryant in which he takes over with good route running and playmaking ability. Bryant picked up his third 100-yard game of the season with 12 catches for a career-high 145 yards and one touchdown. Bryant's 28-yard touchdown reception with 6:46 remaining gave the Cowboys their first lead of the day, 17-13.
Where's the pass rush? The Cowboys picked up zero sacks in the first half and applied little pressure on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys got their first sack of the game in the third quarter, with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher each getting credit for half a sack. It seemed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was playing conservative with his pressures, sending only three in the first half. But in the second, he revved it up slightly by sending four or five defenders at least once or twice. Ware even knocked Weeden down in the end zone on a pass, something we haven't seen a lot of in the first half. Anthony Spencer's strip sack with 5:45 left ended a Cleveland drive. But Romo's fumble kept the Browns around.
Injuries to Smith, others: The Cowboys lost left tackle Tyron Smith to an ankle injury, and he was replaced by Jermey Parnell. Smith didn't return in the second half. The Cowboys already were playing with changes to the line with center Ryan Cook out with a knee injury. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau moved from that spot to replace Cook. Derrick Dockery came off the bench to start at right guard. Bernadeau had just two bad snaps, on the shotgun, that were handled well by Romo. The Cowboys lost safety Danny McCray to a hip injury but he returned. Also, outside linebacker Ware and safety Charlie Peprah were checked for concussions in the second half. Ware returned. Ogletree and Dwayne Harris also left the game with injuries late in the game. Ogletree was checked for a concussion, and Harris returned in overtime.
Shut out at halftime: The Cowboys were shut out in the first half for the first time this season. The last time the Cowboys failed to score in the first half was the last two games of the 2011 regular season. Dallas lost both. Philadelphia beat Dallas, 20-7, and the New York Giants won, 31-14.
What's next? Thanksgiving Day, when the Cowboys keep their faint playoff hopes alive and take on the Washington Redskins for the first time this season at Cowboys Stadium.
November, 18, 2012
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Jets finally found an opponent worse than they are. Overcoming a week of controversy and off-the-field distractions, they beat up on the lowly Rams 27-13, snapping a three-game losing streak Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
What it means: The Jets (4-6) avoided the indignity of losing to their former offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer. More importantly, they kept their playoff hopes on life support. But let's be real here: They beat a bad team. All this does is buy them more time; the Jets still have a long way to go before we should take them seriously again. But at least this should eliminate some of the dark clouds.
Sanchez can exhale: Under mounting pressure, Mark Sanchez responded with one of his better games of the season. He was rattled early by the Rams' front four, but he got it under control with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens, giving the Jets a 10-7 lead. Sanchez (15-for-20, 178 yards, TD) completed passes to nine different receivers, picking apart a woeful secondary. Mind you, the Rams haven't forced a turnover since Week 5. This should quiet the Sanchez-Tim Tebow controversy -- for a few days, anyway.
Sparano vs. Schotty: We know the Jets' offense isn't good. Now we know the Rams' offense is worse. The Jets outgained the Rams 289-281 in a battle of two lowly offenses, neither of which will produce a Pro Bowl player. But give Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano some credit: He made three good calls in scoring territory, all on third-and-long plays -- two running plays, both resulting in touchdown runs by Bilal Powell, and a screen pass to Powell. Clearly, Sparano didn't want Sanchez dropping back and throwing, considering his recent red zone mistakes.
A running back change? Shonn Greene hinted last week there should be a quarterback change (he claims he was misquoted). Considering Powell's performance (scoring runs of five and 11 yards), some might wonder whether there should be a change in the backfield. Greene (18 carries, 64 yards) was solid, but he was upstaged by Powell, who excelled -- finally -- as the third-down back.
Mo better defense: For the second straight week, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson made the biggest play of the game. This time, it was a strip sack that pumped life into the moribund offense. Wilkerson exploded into the backfield and stripped the ball from Sam Bradford. Bart Scott was there for the scoop-and-run. That set up the offense at the Rams' 28. One play later, Sanchez hit Schilens, ending a five-quarter TD drought. After a slow start, Wilkerson has been playing like a first-round pick the past few weeks.
Bad start, strong finish: The Jets' defense shook off a horrible opening drive (13 plays, 86 yards and an easy touchdown pass for Bradford) and played lights-out. After the first drive, it held the Rams to 195 total yards for the remainder of the game and forced three turnovers. The Jets scored 14 points off the turnovers. They generated decent heat on Bradford (23-for-44, 170 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and did a good job on WR Danny Amendola (seven catches, 41 yards), but a lot of it was just bad play by Bradford, who didn't look anything like a former No. 1 overall pick. It looks like Schottenheimer is reliving his Sanchez growing pains with Bradford.
Special teams -- bad: The Jets haven't been this mistake-prone in ... like, since the Kotite years. They got stuffed on a fake punt that fooled absolutely no one (Tebow flipped a shovel pass to Lex Hilliard), and they allowed a blocked field goal for the second time in three games. The Jets have made seven huge blunders in the past four games. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Fortunately for them, Nick Folk came up big with a couple of 51-yard field goals.
What's ahead: The Jets have a quick turnaround, as they host the first-place Patriots on Thanksgiving night. The Jets lost the first meeting in overtime 29-26, blowing a late lead.
November, 18, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Ford Field:
What it means: The Green Bay Packers won their fifth consecutive game, this time in thrilling fashion, to improve to 7-3. The Detroit Lions fell to 4-6 and, in all likelihood, will have to win all of their remaining six games to qualify for the playoffs. The Packers are now 13-1 in their past 14 games against the Lions and have won nine consecutive NFC North games.
RodgersWatch: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the fifth fourth-quarter comeback of his career, emerging from game-long doldrums to lead an 82-yard drive in just six plays. A 40-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley got the Packers in scoring position, and receiver Randall Cobb hauled in Rodgers' high-arching 22-yard pass just before the two-minute warning to account for the winning score. Rodgers has received criticism for not leading more drives of that nature, but opportunity is at least part of that statistic.
StaffordWatch: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is usually the quarterback who leads fourth-quarter drives, but this time he threw six consecutive incomplete passes over two possessions after Cobb's touchdown. Overall, Sunday wasn't Stafford's best game. He threw two interceptions, one of which Packers safety M.D. Jennings returned 72 yards for a touchdown, and he did not appear to be in sync with his receivers for long portions of the game. He completed only 17 of 39 passes and was sacked five times by a Packers defense that was playing without linebacker Clay Matthews.
Slump continues: Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby has now missed seven of his past 13 field goal attempts after failing to convert from 50 and 38 yards Sunday. You wonder how much patience the Packers will have with him. In fairness, however, Crosby did hit from 39 yards with 19 seconds left to account for the final scoring. But in the first quarter, coach Mike McCarthy opted against a 49-yard attempt and elected to go for it on fourth-and-4. (The play failed.) The Packers also tried an, ahem, unusual fake in the fourth quarter when Crosby lined up for a 58-yard attempt. Referee Ron Winter called tight end Tom Crabtree for a false start; when Crabtree went into motion, he stopped behind center as if he was going to catch a pitch. Presumably, Winter ruled the design of the play an illegal "abrupt shift."
Fairley dominates: We needed to go to the tape last week to uncover a strong performance by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. No such exercise was needed Sunday to determine that teammate Nick Fairley played a whale of a game. Fairley dominated the Packers' new left guard, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and finished with two sacks among his unofficial seven tackles. Interior pressure and game-filling play from Fairley and Suh were big reasons why the Packers' offense didn't have many scoring opportunities Sunday.
Injury report: Lions left tackle Jeff Backus injured his hamstring in the second quarter and, after trying briefly to play with a wrap on his leg, left the game for good just before halftime. Rookie Riley Reiff replaced him, and now it'll be a real question if Backus can recover in time on a short week to maintain his streak of 186 consecutive games started.
What's next: The Lions have their annual quick turn for the Thanksgiving Day game, in which they'll host the Houston Texans. The Packers will play at the New York Giants in prime time next Sunday night.
November, 18, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
ATLANTA -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 23-19 victory against the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome on Sunday:
What it means: The Falcons are 9-1 and very lucky to have come away with a victory. They had major issues with turnovers, problems stopping the run and a continued lack of production from their own running game. They were lucky to be playing a struggling Arizona team because the formula they put on the field Sunday isn’t going to win against good teams. But the Falcons remain high atop the NFC South and have the NFC’s best record.
Matty iced: The record will show that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan led another in a long history of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. That’s true. But Ryan had perhaps the worst game of his career. He threw a career-high five interceptions, including three in the first quarter. In fairness, three of Ryan’s interceptions were tipped, but five interceptions in a game is way too many for a guy who had never thrown more than three interceptions in a game before. Ryan had thrown only seven interceptions in the first nine games of the season.
Bizarre play of the day: With 7:15 remaining in the third quarter, Ryan threw a short third-down pass to Jason Snelling, who appeared to be destined for a first down. But Snelling fumbled the ball. As it was heading for the sideline, one Arizona defender tipped it back and another recovered, and that’s how officials ruled it on the field. But here’s where things got really weird. Atlanta coach Mike Smith quickly threw a challenge flag. When the officials saw that, they threw a penalty flag on Smith. You don’t see this come up often, but the rule is you get an unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a challenge flag on a turnover because all turnovers automatically are subject to replay.
Fountain of youth: John Abraham is 34 and probably has been on the field a lot more this season than the Falcons originally planned. But Abraham is showing no signs of slowing down. He had a sack/forced fumble that resulted in defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux's touchdown. Abraham finished the game with two sacks and seemed to be in the Arizona backfield all day.
Five in a row: With their ninth victory, the Falcons now have clinched their fifth straight winning season. Pretty amazing when you consider the fact the Falcons never had back-to-back winning seasons before the arrival of Smith and Ryan.
What’s next: The Falcons play at Tampa Bay next Sunday.
November, 18, 2012
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' fairly easy victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at FedEx Field.
What it means: The Redskins move within two games of the division-leading Giants, and at 4-6, they are not, technically, out of the race for this year's playoffs. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, seven 4-6 teams have recovered to make the playoffs. No 3-7 team has done so, however, so while the Eagles are not officially eliminated, their sixth loss in a row renders any remaining hope they may have had pretty much historically impossible.
Meet Mr. Griffin: Washington's rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, was 14-for-15 for 200 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 85 yards on 11 carries. Griffin is a spectacular player, there is no doubt, and he likely won you your fantasy football game this week if you started him. But his performance against the Eagles' defense was par for the recent course. Over the past four games, since the Eagles fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replaced him with Todd Bowles, opposing quarterbacks are 76-for-97 for 901 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles' defense.
Big plays: Griffin completed touchdown passes of 6, 17, 49 and 61 yards in the game. The 49-yarder to Aldrick Robinson was an embarrasing breakdown in coverage between Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and safety Nate Allen, who left Robinson incredibly alone in the end zone. The 61-yarder was a heave into double coverage on which Santana Moss made a great, tough catch and fought his way into the end zone against overmatched Eagles safety Kurt Coleman. Griffin was smart and skilled enough to spot major weaknesses in the Eagles' secondary, and he took advantage of them.
Shady injured: The worst part of the day for the Eagles may actually have come in the final two minutes, when star running back LeSean McCoy went down with an injury and had to be carted off the field. Because the injury happened so late in the game, there was no word on its severity before the game ended. Obviously, we will update you as news comes in on this.
The "other" rookie: Third-round pick Nick Foles made his first career start at quarterback for the Eagles, who were playing without injured starter Michael Vick. Foles looked like a shaky third-round rookie, throwing two first-quarter interceptions and struggling for rhythm and consistency against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. It sounds as though Vick will be out for a while, so Foles is likely to get another start next week against Carolina, and at this point it would seem sensible for the Eagles to get him some experience and find out what he can do before they make a decision about where to go at quarterback in the offseason.
Under the (Meri)weather: Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, who missed the first nine games of this season with a left knee injury, left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. Meriweather played well while in the game and had one of the two Foles interceptions in the first quarter. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who's been struggling with a foot injury since the season opener, played sparingly.
Patchwork line: Right guard Jake Scott became the ninth different offensive lineman to start a game for the Eagles this year, and he was not great. He was called for two false start penalties and a holding penalty (declined) as the Eagles' offensive line as a whole struggled with penalties all day. The line was a major problem for Vick, and it appears it will be one for Foles as well.
What's next: The Redskins have a quick turnaround, as they will head to Dallas on Wednesday and play the Cowboys on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboys Stadium. A victory in that game would move the Redskins into second place in the NFC East. The Eagles, if you can believe this, host next week's "Monday Night Football" game against the Carolina Panthers in a battle between the last-place teams in the NFC East and the NFC South.