NFL Nation: 2012 week 12 coverage

Wrap-up: Panthers 30, Eagles 22

November, 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 30-22 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night:

What it means: Suddenly, there’s a ray of hope that coach Ron Rivera might be able to keep his job next season. One win against a very bad team isn’t going to change everything and neither is a 3-8 record. But this may be a starting point for Rivera and his team to finish the season on a bit of an upswing. I don’t think Jerry Richardson wants to pull the plug on Rivera, but he needs to see some progress the rest of the way. There are several more games on the schedule that look winnable. If Rivera can win a few of those, he may have a shot to stick around.

Newton’s big night: Cam Newton always seemed to be at his best in big games when he was at Auburn. Maybe he should be in prime time more often. In his “Monday Night Football’’ debut, Newton was both efficient and explosive. He threw two touchdown passes and had two touchdown runs and didn't make any major mistakes.

What I liked: The Panthers showed they actually can close out a game. Squandering fourth-quarter leads had been a problem all season, but Carolina got the job done this time.

What I didn’t like: Carolina’s run defense. Philadelphia rookie running back Bryce Brown had a huge night, rushing for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers haven’t been very good against the run since the latter years of John Fox’s tenure.

Unsung hero: Backup tight end Gary Barnidge caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the first quarter. He also recovered a fumble on a Philadelphia kickoff return in the fourth quarter.

Milestone time: Carolina’s Steve Smith surpassed the 11,000-yard mark in career receiving.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Kansas City on Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Panthers 30, Eagles 22

November, 26, 2012

PHILADELPHIA -- Some thoughts from the Philadelphia Eagles' (gulp) seventh loss in a row, this one to the lowly Carolina Panthers in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience.

What it means: That the Eagles are, by a legitimate measure, the worst team in the NFC. Their 3-8 record is the worst in the conference and identical to that of the Panthers, who just beat them head-to-head on their home field. The only teams in the league with worse records are the 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars and the 1-10 Kansas City Chiefs. This is the Eagles' first seven-game losing streak since 1994, and they are no longer capable of finishing with a better record than last year's 8-8 mark that team owner Jeffrey Lurie termed unacceptable before this season began.

The good and bad of Bryce Brown: Brown, the seventh-round rookie running back who'd been siphoning some LeSean McCoy carries, returning kicks and getting looks at the goal line in the first 10 games of the season, stepped into the starter's role with McCoy out due to a concussion, and he had a statistical debut for the ages. His 65-yard touchdown run in the second quarter announced his presence and fired up a skeptical home crowd, and he finished with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He also fumbled twice in the second half, which damaged the Eagles' momentum and helped the Panthers take the lead in the fourth quarter, so it was far from a spotless night. But as a runner, when he had the ball in his hands, Brown looks speedy and shifty and capable of handling more of a workload than he'd been given previously.

Coverage problems: The Eagles' pass defense continued its recent struggles early in the game, allowing two easy Cam Newton touchdown passes in the first quarter. And while the coverage seemed to tighten up a bit after that, it would have been difficult for it not to improve, and Carolina receivers didn't have too much trouble getting open when they had to. Newton finished the game 18-for-28 for 306 yards and two touchdown passes. He also added 54 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 13 carries. And over the past five games, since Juan Castillo was fired as defensive coordinator and replaced by Todd Bowles, opposing quarterbacks are 94-for-125 (75.2 percent) for 1,207 yards, 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Eagles.

Rookie QB: Still not much to go on with rookie Nick Foles, who made his second straight start at quarterback due to Michael Vick's concussion. He threw a nice deep ball that drew a key 51-yard pass interference call in the third quarter to set up Brown's second touchdown run, but for the most part he was handing the ball off and throwing screen passes. There were at least three passes he threw in the first half that looked like poor downfield decisions and nearly got intercepted, and it seems clear that the Eagles are not yet asking Foles to do very much.

Injuries: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson left the game in the first quarter with what the team called a sternum injury, and rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox left in the second quarter with a tailbone injury. Neither player returned to the game. Left tackle King Dunlap also had to leave the game in the third quarter with an injury of some sort, but he was able to return.

What's next: The Eagles will travel to Dallas and play the Cowboys on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys are 5-6 and trying desperately to stay in the division and wild-card races. Dallas beat the Eagles 38-23 in Philadelphia in Week 10.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 38, Packers 10

November, 25, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on a stunning 38-10 beat down at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: It wasn't totally surprising to see the end of the Green Bay Packers' five-game winning streak in a road game against the Super Bowl champions. But it's been a while since the Packers have recorded such a lopsided loss. It had been three years, in fact, since they so much as lost a regular-season game by double digits, and overall it's tied for the second-largest margin of defeat since coach Mike McCarthy was hired in 2006. The Packers are 7-4 and one game behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. They still have a clear path to the division title, but they might need to win their next three games to do it.

Defensive woes: For the first time this season, the Packers really seemed to miss the playmakers they've lost this season. With cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews sidelined, among others, the Packers couldn't create a play to stop the Giants' offensive momentum. It began with Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw taking a screen pass 59 yards on the fourth play of the game and didn't let up. Quarterback Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes after going 107 attempts without one. The Giants did not commit a turnover, finished with 391 total yards and punted three times.

Pass protection: The Packers' reconfigured offensive line struggled to hold its ground for the second consecutive game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, and a 61-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson -- the Packers' first opening-series touchdown of the season -- proved to be a mirage. The Giants overwhelmed the Packers from both sides as well as in the interior. It got so bad that Rodgers gave way to his backup for the first time ever in a loss that I can recall. Graham Harrell entered with four minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the game.

Crosby update: McCarthy didn't make it easy on struggling place-kicker Mason Crosby by sending him out for a 55-yard attempt in the first quarter. The Packers faced fourth-down-and-five in the situation, and a punt wouldn't have demonstrated a lack of faith in Crosby as much as a prudent decision in cold and windy weather. It was 35 degrees with winds of 13 miles per hour at kickoff. The kick was wide left. Crosby did hit a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter, however. In the big picture, I can't say Crosby figured in the outcome of this game one way or the other.

Injury report: Running back Johnny White suffered a concussion in the first quarter and did not return. Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson, meanwhile, injured a knee in the second quarter and did not return.

What's next: The Packers will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 38, Packers 10

November, 25, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' overwhelming 38-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Giants' lead in the NFC East remains at two games over both the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, which is obviously the most important thing. But if you believe in "statement" games, you have to admit the Giants made a statement with this victory. The Packers came in winners of five games in a row, re-establishing themselves as one of the NFC's best teams. The Giants had lost two straight prior to their Week 11 bye and had spent the past two weeks answering questions about their annual "November swoon" and the idea that the Redskins and Cowboys were closing in on them. A victory this convincing pushes a lot of those questions into the background for at least a week.

Making history: Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms may not consider Eli Manning one of the "elite" quarterbacks in the NFL, but Manning took something from Simms in this game. His third-quarter touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks was the 200th of his career, moving him past Simms and into first place on the all-time Giants touchdown pass list. Manning had not thrown a touchdown pass since Week 7, but he broke that drought with first-half strikes to Rueben Randle and Victor Cruz as the Giants built a 31-10 halftime lead. Interesting that Manning targeted Nicks more in this game than he targeted Cruz. Could indicate that Nicks' health has improved to the point where he'll be a larger part of the offense going forward.

Discount double-check: Pressuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of the keys to the Giants' playoff victory in Green Bay in January, and the Giants were able to do it again Sunday. They sacked Rodgers three times in the first half and five times in the game, and other than the first-quarter touchdown bomb to Jordy Nelson that tied the score at 7-7, Rodgers couldn't find time to find his receivers down the field. It was one of the most impressive performances of the year from the Giants' defensive front, which has struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing passers for much of the season. Osi Umenyiora had a sack and forced fumble that led to a touchdown late in the first half, Mathias Kiwanuka had two sacks and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn picked up a sack of his own and was a key part of the pressure packages.

Flip side: New York's offensive line had a big game too, opening holes for Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown in the run game more reliably than they had at any point this season. The backs found particular success on the left side of the line, where Will Beatty has been playing very well at tackle and Kevin Boothe appeared to have a very good game at guard.

New kid: Randle's touchdown catch was the first of his career, and while he struggled with a couple of muffs on punt returns in the second half, he does appear to be getting more and more looks on offense as the season goes along. The Giants' second-round pick this year out of LSU, Randle can play on the outside and allow Cruz to work in the slot, where he is at his best.

But he just got back: Safety Kenny Phillips was active for the first time since Week 4, and his impact was obvious on both the run defense and the pass defense. But he left the game in the third quarter with an injury to the same right knee that had kept him out of the previous six games. If Phillips has to miss significant time again, the Giants' defense would surely suffer for his absence. ... Andre Brown also left the game in the fourth quarter with what the team described only as a "lower leg injury."

What's next: The Giants will travel to Landover, Md. next week to play the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football." The Redskins are 5-6, two games behind the Giants in the NFC East with five games to play. They lost a heartbreaker to the Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 7 when Manning hit Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes.

Wrap-up: Ravens 16, Chargers 13, OT

November, 25, 2012

My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 16-13 overtime win at the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: Down 10 points (13-3) with 7:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Ravens rallied to win in overtime on Justin Tucker's 38-yard field goal. This was an important victory for the Ravens (9-2), who increased their stronghold on the AFC North. They're now three games ahead of the Steelers and Bengals with five weeks remaining. For a team that hasn't played its best on the road, Baltimore improved to 4-2 away from home. This was the Ravens' fourth straight win since that debacle in Houston.

Big-play Ray: The Ravens wouldn't have sent the game into overtime without running back Ray Rice. On fourth down-and-29 with 1:59 remaining, Rice took a short pass and made four Chargers defenders miss to convert the first down. Six plays later, Tucker hit a 38-yarder to tie the game as regulation ended.

Sizzling second act: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had another rough start on the road, completing 8 of 16 passes for 59 yards in the first half. After halftime, Flacco was 22-of-35 for 296 yards. His four-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta brought the Ravens to within 13-10 in the fourth quarter and his 31-yard toss to Torrey Smith on third-and-10 set up the winning field goal in overtime.

Pressuring Rivers: The Ravens recorded a season-best six sacks on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. It was a team effort as five players had one sack (Art Jones was the only one with multiple ones). Baltimore hasn't had more than four sacks in a game this season.

Another winner for Tucker: This marked the second winning field goal for Tucker, an undrafted rookie. His first came against the Patriots two months ago. Tucker was 3-for-3 at San Diego, converting from 43, 38 and 38 yards.

Stretching the field with Smith: The Ravens went deep to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had 144 yards on seven receptions. That's an average of 20.6 yards per catch. It's the fourth time in Smith's career that he had more than 100 yards receiving.

What's next: The Ravens return home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who turned the ball over eight times in a loss at the Cleveland Browns.
SAN DIEGO -- Thoughts from the San Diego Chargers' 16-13 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

What it means: The Chargers lost another close one, squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. How many more crushing losses can this team take? San Diego is now 4-7 and two games out of the wild-card race.

Defense falters late: The San Diego defense was great for much of the game. But Baltimore made critical third and fourth-down conversions late in the game. The Ravens scored the game’s final 13 points, and it was just another late collapse by the Chargers.

Fourth and 29: The play of the game was a fourth-and-29 conversion on a short pass from Joe Flacco to Ray Rice with 1:37 to go in regulation. It set up Baltimore's game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

No Rivers miscues: Philip Rivers did not commit a turnover Sunday. He has a league-leading 43 since the start of last season.

Under pressure: Baltimore had six sacks and San Diego had five. The quarterbacks were under constant duress.

Defense gets banged up: San Diego linebacker Donald Butler and safeties Eric Weddle, Atari Bigby and Darrell Stuckey were all hurt. There is no initial word on the severity of any of the injuries.

Alexander looks good again: San Diego receiver Danario Alexander continues to sparkle. He had five catches for 74 yards. He may have a future with the team. Big-money free agent pickup Robert Meachem did not play as his role in the offense has bottomed out.

Wildcat works: The Chargers dusted off the Wildcat in the fourth quarter as Ronnie Brown, a Wildcat original, took a direct snap and went 13 yards on a third down and seven. It setup a field goal to give San Diego a 13-3 lead.

Slow going: Ryan Mathews led the Chargers with 72 yards on 19 carries. The Chargers do not have a 100-yard rusher in a game this season.

What’s next: The Chargers host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Bengals have won three straight games and are very much in the playoff hunt.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 31, Saints 21

November, 25, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in Week 12:

What it means: The 49ers improved to 8-2-1, tightening their lead over Seattle (6-5) for first place in the NFC West. They proved they could beat a hot team in a hostile environment with a second-year quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, making his second career start. Big plays from the San Francisco defense made it happen. Quarterback drama will continue to dominate headlines for the 49ers, but their defense deserves attention.

What I liked: Kaepernick completed all four pass attempts in the first quarter, capping the 49ers' opening drive with a touchdown run. He opened the third quarter by leading another scoring drive, this one featuring a 45-yard pass to Delanie Walker on third-and-2. Kaepernick finished that drive with a 6-yard scoring pass to Frank Gore.

The 49ers' defense provided two touchdowns on interception returns, offsetting the Saints' biggest strength, quarterback Drew Brees. Ahmad Brooks returned one right before halftime, bailing out Kaepernick from the interception Kaepernick threw. Donte Whitner returned the other one to give San Francisco needed breathing room in the second half. That one took the pressure off Kaepernick.

The 49ers were the more physical team and it showed as the game progressed, both in the way they ran the ball and in the way they put hard hits on the Saints' receivers. Dashon Goldson, Whitner and others 49ers defenders delivered punishing shots. Saints players were repeatedly slow to get up. The NFL is a quarterback-dominated league, but the 49ers dominated one of the best quarterbacks around.

Left tackle Joe Staley drove Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma well down the field in clearing the way for Kendall Hunter's 21-yard run to set up a touchdown. Fullback Bruce Miller also stood out with a couple of strong blocks and for his efforts as a receiver.

What I didn't like: Ted Ginn Jr. muffed a punt midway through the second quarter, setting up the Saints for a quick touchdown to break a 7-7 tie. Ginn arguably should not have fielded the ball in that situation. Ginn has been very reliable as a returner for the 49ers. This one hurt. The 49ers replaced him with Kyle Williams, but Williams left the game with an injury.

The 49ers had success with linebacker blitzes. San Francisco generally relies on its four-man rushes to get pressure, but the blitzes became effective, particularly after the Saints fell behind. Brees frequently had to settle for throwing away the ball or dumping it off.

San Francisco burned a timeout early, suffered a delay penalty on third down and had too many penalties overall. Gore and Vernon Davis dropped passes. Michael Crabtree also should have caught a ball Kaepernick threaded to him on third down. Kaepernick, meanwhile, seemed to rush his throw on the ball New Orleans picked off. The snap was low, possibly throwing off the play.

Injury watch: The 49ers lost Hunter and receiver Kyle Williams to injuries on the same play with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

QB stat line: Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 231 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, no sacks, one interception and a 90.6 NFL passer rating. Brees completed 23 of 36 passes (64 percent) for 215 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions, five sacks and an 84.8 passer rating.

What's next: The 49ers visit the St. Louis Rams in Week 13.

Wrap-up: 49ers 31, Saints 21

November, 25, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 31-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.

What it means: The Saints fall to 5-6. You can’t erase them from the playoff picture just yet, but it’s getting dangerously close to that point. With a schedule that looks challenging the next few weeks, the Saints have almost no margin for error. They almost have to run the table if they’re going to have any shot at the playoffs. A 10-6 record probably would put them into the postseason. A 9-7 record would give them an outside chance. Anything less than that won’t be good enough.

Not all on the defense: It would be easy to look at San Francisco’s point total and put all the blame on the New Orleans defense. That’s been the case much of this season. But not this time. Two of San Francisco’s touchdowns came on interceptions off Drew Brees that were turned into touchdowns.

Injuries pile up: Due to injuries to Zach Strief and Charles Brown, the Saints were forced to start rookie Bryce Harris at right tackle. That didn’t last long as Harris was injured and carted off the field in the first quarter. The Saints had to turn to recently-signed William Robinson. That’s not a situation you want to be in against a strong San Francisco pass rush and Brees had to deal with pressure all game and was sacked five times.

Milestone time: Marques Colston became the franchise leader in touchdowns scored when he caught a second-quarter touchdown pass. Colston now has 56 career touchdowns. Deuce McAllister held the previous team record with 55 touchdowns.

What’s next: The Saints face a very quick turnaround. They have to play the Falcons on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Wrap-up: Bengals 34, Raiders 10

November, 25, 2012

What it means: The Oakland Raiders fell to 3-8 and trail the first-place Denver Broncos (8-3) by five games with five games to go. Any Denver win or any Oakland loss means the Raiders will not win the AFC West title for the 10th straight season. Oakland has lost four straight games for the first time in four years.

Bad homecoming for Palmer: It was Carson Palmer's first trip to Cincinnati since he was traded from the Bengals to Oakland in October 2011. Palmer was essentially retired before the trade was made. He made little impact Sunday. Palmer has thrown an interception in each of the past seven games -- the first time he has done that since 2004. The San Francisco Chronicle reported some fans poured beer on Palmer when he left the field after the game. That is complete nonsense. Shame on them. Palmer was a good soldier for the Bengals and he is a quality guy, but those facts are beside the point. No one deserves to be treated that way. Despicable.

Big day for Hue Jackson: You know Hue Jackson enjoyed this. He was fired from the Raiders after one season, in which he went 8-8. He is an assistant on the Bengals’ staff.

Mark Davis can’t be happy: Last week Oakland owner Mark Davis expressed his frustrations and said he must see progress from his team. Progress was not made Sunday.

Defense falters once again: The Bengals led 24-0 at halftime and they ran over Oakland’s defense. Oakland has allowed 169 points in the past four games.

Tempers flare: We could see big fines levied this week. Oakland defensive linemen Lamarr Houston and Tommy Kelly and Cincinnati tackle Andrew Whitworth were all ejected after a fight erupted. The fight started when Houston sacked Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton after a play was called dead. Whitworth went after Houston and a melee ensued. It happened a play after a strange inadvertent whistle play nullified a Bengals’ turnover, which appeared to be a major official’s gaffe.

Reece impressive again: Oakland fullback Marcel Reece had 74 yards rushing and he added 29 yard receiving. He has played well with starting running back Darren McFadden out for the past three games with a high ankle sprain.

What’s next: Oakland hosts the Cleveland Browns. If the Raiders lose this game, duck, just duck. It could get ugly.

Wrap-up: Colts 20, Bills 13

November, 25, 2012
Thoughts on the Colts’ 20-13 win over the Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts bounced back from the bad loss at New England to beat a lesser conference foe. At 7-4, Indianapolis maintains solid wild-card footing. Without factoring in any tiebreakers, the Colts have a one-game lead on both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the fifth spot in the AFC’s field of six.

What I liked: Chuck Pagano, who’s fighting leukemia, looked pretty good as he acknowledged the crowd from owner Jim Irsay’s box. T.Y. Hilton’s first-quarter 75-yard punt return touchdown gave the Colts a lead they would never relinquish. He also scored the Colts other touchdown, on an 8-yard reception. Reggie Wayne continued to produce at an excellent rate, with eight catches for 102 yards.

What I didn’t like: Outside of Hilton’s punt return, the Colts got nothing in very big chunks. Andrew Luck found Wayne for 25-yard completions twice. But Buffalo got a 63-yard pass completion from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson and a 41-yard run from C.J. Spiller. Johnson also undid an interception by Tom Zbikowski, who stiff-armed Johnson during his return and still got stripped by the receiver, who recovered.

Solid scoring defense: The Bills first eight possessions produced just one drive of more than six plays, resulting in six punts and two field goals.

Too many take-downs: Luck was sacked four times, three by Mario Williams.

What’s next: The Colts travel to Detroit for a matchup with the Lions. Indianapolis is 2-1 against the NFC North so far.

Wrap-up: Bengals 34, Raiders 10

November, 25, 2012

My thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 34-10 win over the Oakland Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: It wasn't a reunion. It was an ambush. The Bengals dominated Carson Palmer in his first game back to Cincinnati since they granted his request and traded him last year. The streaky Bengals have won three games in a row after losing four straight. Cincinnati improved to 6-5, the first time it has had a winning record since Week 5, and moved into a tie with the Steelers. The undermanned Raiders fell to 3-8.

Dalton outduels Palmer: One reason why the Bengals traded Palmer was they had Andy Dalton. And Dalton was the best quarterback on the field, completing 16 of 30 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Palmer was 19 of 34 for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Running it up: The Raiders were without their top two running backs, but the Bengals had their best one. BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained 129 yards on 19 carries (6.7-yard average), which marks the first time in his career that he went over 100 yards in consecutive games. He had the two longest runs of his career (48 and 39 yards), both of which led to touchdowns.

Jumping out early: The Bengals scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives to take a 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter. At that point, Cincinnati had as many touchdowns (three) as Palmer had completions. During the three-game winning streak, the Bengals have outscored opponents 62-12 in the first half.

Green's streak ends: A.J. Green's streak of nine straight games with a touchdown catch ended. But he still made an impact in the win. He led the Bengals with 111 yards receiving on just three catches. Rookie third-round pick Mohamed Sanu had two touchdown catches, including a one-handed one on a fade route.

What's next: The Bengals go cross-country to play at the Chargers.

Wrap-up: Broncos 17, Chiefs 9

November, 25, 2012

What it means: The Broncos have won six straight games and are now 8-3. They can clinch the AFC West title next week. The Chiefs fell to 1-10. They are tied for the worst start in team history. The Chiefs have lost eight straight games and are on pace to get the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Chiefs are 0-6 at home for the first time since 1976. The Chiefs have scored 15 points in the past two games -- all on field goals.

Broncos flat, Chiefs spirited: The Chiefs gave it all they could and they outplayed Denver for much of the first half. But good teams find a way to win when they aren’t having a great day and bad teams find ways to lose. That’s what happened Sunday. The game snapped a streak in which Denver scored at least 30 points at five games.

Moreno helps: Denver running back Knowshon Moreno was a surprise starter after being inactive for eight straight game. He was chosen as the starter after Willis McGahee suffered a knee injury. He won’t be back until the AFC title game if Denver makes it. Moreno got better as the game went on as he had 85 yards on 20 carries. In total, Denver had 95 rushing yards on 24 carries.

Quinn manages: The Chiefs plan on Brady Quinn being the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Don’t expect him to air it out much. The Chiefs ran the ball 31 times and threw it 26 times, with Peyton Hillis getting to throw a pass. Quinn was 13-of-25 for 126 yards. He didn’t do much to help his team and he didn’t do much to hurt it.

Manning passes boss: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning won his 149th game as a starting NFL quarterback. He passed John Elway for second place on the all-time list.

Thomas reaches milestone: Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas had four catches for 82 yards. He now has 1,015 receiving yards on the season. It is the third-year player’s first 1,000-yard season, which may end in the Pro Bowl.

What’s next: Denver hosts Tampa Bay in what should be an entertaining cross-conference game. Kansas City hosts Carolina in a less attractive AFC West-NFC South battle.

Wrap-up: Colts 20, Bills 13

November, 25, 2012
Here are some thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 20-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills:

What it means: This was the final nail in the coffin to Buffalo’s playoffs chances. The Bills expected 2012 to be a dream season after spending a lot of money in the offseason. The result has been a 4-7 record and Buffalo resorting to the spoiler role in December. A win over the Colts (7-4), who currently hold one AFC wild card, could have made a difference and kept Buffalo in the hunt. But the Bills couldn’t make enough plays.

What I liked: The Bills showed up to play on the road against a likely playoff team. Buffalo put forth a game effort and had several solid individual performances. New Bills starting tailback C.J. Spiller rushed for 107 yards, and receiver Steve Johnson (106 yards) had his first 100-yard game of the season. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams appears to have turned the corner. He had three sacks and is developing into the force Buffalo expected when it signed him to a $100 million contract. This was the first three-sack game for Williams since Sept. 9, 2010.

What I didn’t like: The Bills were awful on third down on offense (4-of-13) and defense, allowing Indianapolis to convert on 8-of-13 on third down. That was the difference in a close game. “Bad Fitz” was back in a big game. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed just 17 of 33 passes for 180 yards, one late touchdown and an interception. Fitzpatrick needs to be consistent for Buffalo to win -- and that hasn’t been the case all season.

What’s next: The Bills have a winnable game at home next week against quarterback Chad Henne and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Buffalo only has one team remaining on its schedule with a winning record.

Wrap-up: Jaguars 24, Titans 19

November, 25, 2012
Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 24-19 win over the Titans at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Jaguars won for the first time since Sept. 23 at Indianapolis, with Chad Henne leading three touchdown drives while Jacksonville’s defense kept the Titans out of the end zone until there was only 4:52 left in the game. Tennessee came off its bye hoping to go on a run and fight for a playoff spot. Now, at 4-7, it’ll take a five-game winning streak just to finish over .500.

What I liked, Jaguars: They let the Titans pull within two points with just inside five minutes left. Then they went three-and-out. But they didn’t fall apart. After punting it back to Tennessee, they got the play of the game from Russell Allen and Dwight Lowery. Allen leaped to tip a Jake Locker pass intended for Jared Cook and Lowery went down to pick it off. The offense milked the clock to 29 seconds before Josh Scobee boosted the lead to 24-19 with a 41-yard field goal.

What I didn’t like, Titans: On a day when the defense could be rated as OK, the offense didn’t do as much as it needed to. Tennessee was overly reliant on Rob Bironas’ leg, and he hit 4 of 5 field goals, missing a 42-yarder wide left that could have made things a lot different. One touchdown against the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL is not winning football.

More involved: The Jaguars did good work getting tight end Marcedes Lewis more involved in the passing game with mixed results. On the Jaguars’ early touchdown drive, he pulled in a well-timed throw into a seam. But later he juggled and dropped a pass with Jordan Babineaux in coverage. Lewis finished with four catches for 56 yards. Meanwhile, receiver Cecil Shorts continued his breakthrough with another 100-yard game as he took four catches 105 yards, including a 59-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown where Babineaux took a bad angle.

Steady pressure: The Titans sacked Henne seven times, with nice extra pressure coming from linebackers Akeem Ayers, Zach Brown and safety Michael Griffin. Griffin’s fourth-quarter sack pushed the Jaguars out of field goal range. Little-used defensive tackle Karl Klug, who had seven sacks as a rookie last season, got his first sack to force a punt that got the Titans the ball back late.

Ouch: A year ago, the Titans lost to the 0-13 Colts. Now they lost to the 1-9 Jaguars.

What’s next: Jacksonville travels to Buffalo for a meeting with the Bills. The Titans host division-leading Houston at LP Field. The Texans won the first meeting, 38-14, in Nashville on Sept. 30.

Wrap-up: Bears 28, Vikings 10

November, 25, 2012

A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Soldier Field:

What it means: The Chicago Bears snapped a two-game losing streak with a convincing victory over their NFC North rivals. They're 8-3 and could finish the weekend alone atop the NFC North, pending Sunday night's result at MetLife Stadium, but they will also have to deal with five starters who suffered new injuries Sunday. The Vikings are 6-5 but will have a rematch with the Bears in two weeks.

Bears injury report: This game had such a long list that we'll divide it into separate bullet points. The Bears lost tailback Matt Forte, receiver Devin Hester and both starting guards in this game. Also, cornerback Charles Tillman didn't play much after injuring his ankle. Forte injured his ankle in the third quarter, walked gingerly to the locker room and did not return. Left guard Chris Spencer suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and was replaced by Edwin Williams. Right guard Lance Louis suffered a knee injury on a big hit from Vikings defensive end Jared Allen during a third-quarter interception. The Bears had only one healthy lineman remaining, so deposed right tackle Gabe Carimi had to finish the game at right guard. Meanwhile, the Bears played with three receivers for most of the game after Hester suffered a concussion in the first quarter.

Vikings injury report: Safety Harrison Smith did not return after being tested for a concussion in the third quarter. The same goes for tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was drilled by Bears linebacker Lance Briggs -- cleanly -- on a drag route on the previous series.

Protecting Cutler: Even with a mish-mash offensive line, the Bears for the most part kept quarterback Jay Cutler clean upon his return from a concussion. He was sacked once, when he tripped over center Robert Garza's foot, but otherwise had time to complete 23 of 31 passes. In the fourth quarter, in fact, television cameras even caught Cutler tying a shoelace for left tackle J'Marcus Webb. What a country!

Not supporting Ponder: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder didn't have his best game and finished with only 22 completions in 43 attempts. He airmailed a pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu that was intercepted and should have put more arc on an end-zone jump ball to Rudolph. But Ponder got little or no help from a receiving corps that was once again without Percy Harvin. Jerome Simpson missed on three catchable passes; Stephen Burton and John Carlson also dropped key passes. Tailback Adrian Peterson rushed for 108 yards, but much of it came in the second half when the Bears were aligned to defend a 22-point halftime lead, and he also fumbled twice.

Getting it right: The play that Forte got hurt on was initially ruled a touchdown after Vikings safety Mistral Raymond grabbed the ball and ran 52 yards to the end zone. Referee Scott Green took some time, but ultimately got the call right on review: Forte's knees were down before he was pulled backward and lost control of the ball.

Questionable decision: The Vikings didn't get many scoring opportunities, and it's fair to question how they handled one of them early in the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-2 at the Bears' 8-yard line, the Vikings threw two consecutive passes rather than hand the ball to Peterson, who had already put up 38 yards on the drive. Trailing 28-10 at the time, the Vikings missed an opportunity to make it a two-score game.

What's next: The Vikings will continue their adventure through the NFC North, playing at the Green Bay Packers next Sunday. The Bears will host the Seattle Seahawks, also next Sunday.