NFL Nation: 2012 Week 16 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Ravens 33, Giants 14

December, 23, 2012

My thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 33-14 victory over the New York Giants:

What it means: Making quick work of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, the Ravens (10-5) clinched their second straight AFC North title for the first time in franchise history. That means the Ravens assured themselves of hosting their first playoff game. Baltimore ended its three-game losing streak by taking its frustrations out on the Giants. The Ravens rolled to a 24-7 halftime lead and finished with a season-high 533 yards of total offense. Baltimore can still move up to the No. 3 seed if it wins at Cincinnati next Sunday and the Patriots lose at home to Miami.

Flacco flourishes: The up-and-down season for Joe Flacco continues. He ripped apart the 27th-ranked pass defense, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He had a hand in three first half touchdowns: scoring passes to Torrey Smith and Ray Rice and a one-yard run. This is the same Flacco who had two turnovers in each of the previous three losses.

Getting the ball to Rice: Jim Caldwell found a way to put the ball in the hands of Rice in his second game as offensive coordinator. Rice ran for 107 yards and caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. This was the 17th career 100-yard game for Rice. Backup Bernard Pierce added 123 yards rushing as the ground game totaled a season-high 224 yards.

Controlling the ball: The best way the Ravens offense can help its banged-up defense is controlling the ball. The Ravens dominated time of possession, holding onto the ball for 39 minutes, 21 seconds. The key was extending drives. The Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs (61 percent).

What's next: The Ravens end the regular season at the Cincinnati Bengals, who wrapped up the No. 6 seed on Sunday by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wrap-up: Broncos 34, Browns 12

December, 23, 2012

Here's my thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 34-12 loss at the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Browns are packing it in for coach Pat Shurmur, losing the last two weeks by a combined 39 points. Cleveland fell to 5-10, which is the ninth time in 10 years that they've recorded double-digit losses. The Browns are now 1-6 on the road. Denver (12-3) won its 10th straight game.

Top picks injured: As the season continues to end on a sour note, the Browns watched their top two picks, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, leave the game with injuries. Richardson got his left leg rolled up on Cleveland's final (and meaningless) drive. He's getting X-rays for a possible broken ankle. Weeden was knocked out of the game with a right shoulder injury in the third quarter, when Von Miller slammed him to the ground. Weeden told reporters after the game that he's fine.

More records for Richardson: Before leaving with that late injury, Richardson surpassed Jim Brown's franchise rookie rushing record with 53 yards on nine carries. That raised Richardson's season total to 950. Brown's mark of 947 was in a 12-game season in 1957.

Tough day for Brown: The Browns were down 14-3 by the second quarter, and cornerback Sheldon Brown had to shake his head. Despite good coverage, Brown was beaten for touchdowns by Demaryius Thomas (22 yards) and Eric Decker (10 yards) in the first half. Then, before halftime, Brown was knocked out of the game with a concussion after colliding with Brandon Stokley. This depletes an already banged-up secondary.

McCoy gets some work: Backup quarterback Colt McCoy got his most playing time of the year and took advantage of it. McCoy produced the Browns' only touchdown drive of the game, moving them 80 yards on 10 plays. He converted a fourth down-and-five with a swing pass to Richardson and then hit Greg Little for a six-yard touchdown pass. McCoy was 9-of-17 for 79 yards, and Weeden was 12-of-19 for 104 yards.

What's next: The Browns wrap up their season at Pittsburgh.

Wrap-up: Bears 28, Cardinals 13

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 28-13 home defeat to the Chicago Bears in Week 16:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 5-10, moving closer to a second 5-11 finish in three seasons. Arizona again showed its ability to play strong pass defense, but there is now even less hope that any of the quarterbacks on the 53-man roster will factor in a meaningful way next season. Week 1 starter John Skelton was named inactive behind rookie sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley, who was benched during this game, and waiver-wire pickup Brian Hoyer.

What I liked: Punter Dave Zastudil broke the NFL record for punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. ... The Cardinals held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to one completed pass in his first 11 attempts. ... Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, by far his best statistical performance in more than two months. ... Calais Campbell had a sack and a pass defensed. ... Adrian Wilson blocked a field-goal try, setting up Justin Bethel's 82-yard return touchdown.

What I didn't like: Lindley averaged 4.7 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and an interception before getting the hook. He has now played six games, started four and attempted 171 passes this season without a touchdown. Lindley also has seven interceptions.

With Hoyer appearing likely to start in Week 17, Lindley is on track to finish the season with 80 additional pass attempts than any touchdown-less quarterback since at least 2001. The chart lists all players since 2001 with more than 50 pass attempts over a full season and no touchdowns. Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich still have time to remove themselves from the list.

The Cardinals' defense collected only one sack and allowed plays of 36, 35 and 30 yards. It's tough to fault any defense getting zero support from the other side of the ball, but if the Cardinals were going to win this game, they needed a nearly perfect game from their defense. That's too much to ask of any unit.

Beanie Wells fumbled and finished the game with four carries for three yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling had 11 carries for 20 yards. He and Wells had zero carries longer than four yards. The team's longest run covered seven yards.

What's next: The Cardinals close the regular season at San Francisco.

Wrap-up: Broncos 34, Browns 12

December, 23, 2012
A look at yet another Denver victory:

What it means: The Broncos moved another step closer to a first-round bye in the postseason. Denver can earn the No. 2 seed with a win at home over Kansas City next week or a New England home loss to Miami. Denver can get the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Chiefs and a Houston loss at Indianapolis. Denver has 10 straight wins and is now 12-3. There is no doubt this team is very much in the mix for the Super Bowl.

Focused club: On the surface, a 22-point home win over a team like Cleveland is not exactly awe-inspiring. But the easy Denver win is another example of how focused this team has been. The Broncos are rolling week in and week out. That’s very difficult to sustain. Denver coach John Fox doesn’t get enough credit for keeping his team so focused and steady.

Big day for Manning: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning continued to press for the MVP award. He was brilliant. He threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns. He hit receiver Demaryius Thomas nine times for 102 yards, which should seal a Pro Bowl berth for the third-year receiver. Even without standout guard Chris Kuper Denver’s offensive line was excellent. Manning was not sacked.

Moreno slowed some: Knowshon Moreno had 238 yards in his previous two games. He wasn’t that good Sunday as he finished with 78 yards on 22 carries. But it was good enough to keep the Broncos balanced.

Miller sets mark: Second-year linebacker Von Miller continued his push for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award (Houston’s J.J. Watt is probably the favorite). Miller had 1.5 sacks. He now has 17.5 sacks this season, which is a new Denver franchise record. Overall, Denver had six sacks Sunday. Elvis Dumervil, the previous team record holder, had two and he has 11 on the season.

What’s next: The season finale against the Chiefs. The Chiefs played Denver tough last month. I’d be shocked if the 2-13 Chiefs could muster a similar effort next week with Denver playing for so much and the Chiefs on the cusp of getting the No. 1 overall pick.

Wrap-up: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Jaguars' 23-16 loss to the Patriots at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Jaguars, a bad team, can have a good day against a good team and still lose. The Patriots, a good team, can have a bad day against a bad team and still win. Jacksonville was up 10 points but it was no surprise the Jaguars couldn’t hold on. The Jaguars are now 2-13 and, mercifully, one week away from the offseason.

What it’s impossible to like: Field goals. The Jaguars got just one TD in four chances in the red zone. That’s simply not going to beat a team like New England. Interceptions. Chad Henne threw three of them. Blown leads. The Jaguars were up 10-0 and 13-3 but couldn’t hold on.

Nice job, except for the scoring part: The Jaguars outgained the Patriots 436 yards to 349 including 343 yards. The 436 yards were the second-most this season (458 at Houston) and the second game with 400-plus yards this season.

Clutch moments: Chris Prosinski pounced to pick a deflected pass and Derek Cox intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for Brandon Lloyd. Two picks of Brady in a game is a hard thing to do. But they have to turn into more than field goals.

Doing things: Montell Owens had a 53-yard catch and run. Cast predominantly as a special teamer, he’s been working as the team’s lead back because of so many injuries at the position. And he’s got a 5.0 per carry average and a 14.1 per catch average.

What’s next: A trip to Nashville for a rematch with the Titans. The Jaguars got one of their two wins against Tennessee, 24-19 on Nov. 25 at EverBank Field.

Wrap-up: Colts 20, Chiefs 13

December, 23, 2012

A look at the final home game in Kansas City this season:

What it means: The Chiefs were game but they fell to the Colts, who clinched a playoff berth. Kansas City is now 2-13. The Chiefs will get the No. 1 pick in the draft with a loss at Denver next week or a Jacksonville win at Tennessee. They went 1-7 at Arrowhead Stadium this season.

Charles sets mark: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles has been a star on a terrible team. Charles had 226 yards rushing on 22 carries. He also set an NFL mark. He has averaged more than 5.7 yards per carry in his career. That is the best in NFL history. Take a bow, sir. It was a great overall day on the ground for the Chiefs as Peyton Hillis added 101 yards. The Chiefs had 352 rushing yards on 44 carries. That’s an average of eight yards per tote. That was what the Chiefs envisioned when they paired Charles with Hillis.

Turnovers: The Chiefs had three turnovers. They had gone six games without committing more than one turnover. The Chiefs committed 29 turnovers in the first half of the season.

What’s next: The Chiefs finish the season at Denver as they try to play spoiler against the Broncos.

Wrap-up: Packers 55, Titans 7

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Titans’ 55-7 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: For the sixth time in their 10 losses the Titans were beaten by over 20 points. Green Bay did whatever it wanted against overmatched Tennessee, building a big enough lead that the Packers pulled Aaron Rodgers and played Graham Harrell at quarterback for most of the fourth quarter. It’s another result that will fuel debate about whether Mike Munchak is the right coach and Jake Locker is the right quarterback for this franchise.

What I didn’t like: In short order early on, Locker underthrew a wide open Taylor Thompson, overthrew Nate Washington, and threw behind Damian Williams, who popped the ball into the air as he got his hands on it and watched it get intercepted. I don’t see how anyone can defend Locker’s accuracy or field presence right now. I’m not particularly interested in hearing about his better second half. When a quarterback is 3-for-12 for 35 yards, three sacks, two picks and a passer rating of 0 before halftime, it’s hard for him to be as bad after intermission.

What I also didn’t like: Referee Clete Blakeman and his crew huddled up and decided to call intentional grounding against Locker in the first quarter when Chris Johnson came within inches of touching the pass in question. That was ridiculous.

Rodgers’ day: Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 38 passes for 342 yards with three touchdowns, a 125.1 passer rating and a rushing touchdown.

What’s next: The Titans finish their season with a home game against the Jaguars, who beat them 24-19 on Nov. 25 in Jacksonville. A good performance in a win could qualify as one last push for Munchak to keep his job.

Wrap-up: Panthers 17, Raiders 6

December, 23, 2012
A look another lackluster Oakland showing:

What it means: It’s another loss in a lost season. The Raiders, who ended a six-game losing streak last week with a 15-0 shutout win over the Chiefs, are now 4-11. They are on pace for the No. 3 pick in the draft. Oakland is 1-6 on the road and it went 0-4 against the NFC South.

Palmer hurt, Pryor still sits: Carson Palmer was lost for the game in the first quarter with a rib injury and we found out the answer to the Terrelle Pryor question: The Raiders will only use him spot duty. Matt Leinart took over for Palmer and Pryor played three plays in a wrinkle offense. After the game, Oakland coach Dennis Allen said the obvious: The team doesn’t think he is ready. So, it seems if Palmer can’t play in the season finale, Leinart will play at San Diego. I think Pryor should play. So, he’s not ready. Who cares? The season is lost and we know Leinart is not the answer. Give Pryor some experience. Does it matter if it costs the Raiders a game at this point?

Allen safe? Prior to the game, CBS Sports reported that owner Mark Davis will keep Allen. Several weeks ago, Davis said he wants to see progress. A touchdown-less win over the Chiefs and six losses really isn’t progress. Still, I’d be surprised if Allen is shown the door. His coordinators, especially offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, may suffer a different fate, though.

Touchdown drought: The Raiders haven’t scored a touchdown since Week 14 against Denver. The Raiders have seven field goals in the past two games. It is tied for the longest touchdown drought in the NFL.

East Coast blues continue: The Raiders lost their 10th straight game in the Eastern Time Zone.

Chippy game: There were a lot of pushing and shoving between these non-rivals. In all, there were 16 penalties for 167 yards. Several players, including Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who got away with a kick at Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, could be fined.

McFadden a non-factor: Darren McFadden’s lousy season continues. He had 33 yards on 17 carries. He had nothing going Sunday.

What’s next: Oakland wraps up its season at San Diego. The Chargers beat Oakland in Week 1.

Wrap-up: Chargers 27, Jets 17

December, 23, 2012

A look at a good effort by the Chargers:

What it means: Not a whole lot, really. The Chargers are 6-9 and they have clinched second place in a bad division. This is the Chargers' second road win in three weeks. But the problem is the Chargers have been inconsistent all season and this will not change the inevitable: The Chargers are going to make wholesale changes.

Smothering pass rush: The Chargers registered 11 sacks Sunday. It was one less than the NFL record. That is an incredible performance. Rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes has been coming on strong and he had 3.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaun Phillips had 2.5.

Solid day for Rivers: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw for just 165 yards, but he had two touchdown passes and did not commit a turnover. The Chargers will take that every week.

Spurlock helps again: Returner/receiver Micheal Spurlock continued to make an impression. He scored the first touchdown of the game on a 63-yard punt return. He could have a future with the team.

Taylor tears ACL: In his first NFL start, safety Brandon Taylor tore his ACL. He could be challenged to be ready for the start of next season.

San Diego ground woes continue: The Chargers had just 87 yards rushing on 30 carries. The Chargers haven’t had a rushing touchdown since Week 5. Every other team in the league has scored at least two touchdowns on the ground.

Yardage dearth continues: The Chargers had 223 yards of offense. San Diego has had less than 300 yards (which is a modest amount) in each of the past six games.

What it means: The Norv Turner-A.J. Smith era will very, very likely end at home against Oakland next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Colts 20, Chiefs 13

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 20-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium:

What it means: A year after they suffered through a 2-14 season the Colts are already back in the playoffs, having clinched a wild card berth with their 10-5 record. Andrew Luck surpassed the rookie record for passing yardage set last year by the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton. Interim coach Bruce Arians, expected to hand the reigns back to Chuck Pagano Monday, led the Colts to a 9-3 mark while Pagano endured treatment for leukemia.

Two big stops: While the Chiefs had a 507-288 advantage in yards, Kansas City was simply unable to translate yards into points. The Colts made a big fourth-down stop of a Brady Quinn sneak late in the fourth quarter, setting the offense up for a 73-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard Luck-to-Reggie Wayne touchdown pass that provided the winning points with 4:08 left in the game. The defense then forced a three-and-out for KC and the offense killed out the clock.

Up-and-down: Luck was 10-for-18 for 123 yards in the first half, and he hit Wayne for a 33-yard gain on his first throw of the second half. Then he missed on 10 straight throws. He followed that up by connecting on his final six throws of the game. Overall, he was 17-for-35 for 205 yards and the touchdown.

Big concern: The Colts simply won’t survive playing a defensive game like this in the playoffs. Kansas City ran 44 times for 352 yards, as both Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis topped 100 yards. Charles went for an 86-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

What’s next: The Colts host the Texans, who beat them 29-17 in Houston a week ago. The result could determine if the Texans get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and whether the Colts will be the fifth or sixth seed.

Wrap-up: Saints 34, Cowboys 31 (OT)

December, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 34-31 overtime victory against Dallas at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: The Saints improved to 7-8, but they might have done themselves more harm than good in the locker run by hurting Dallas’ playoff hopes. Suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton remains without a contract for next season and there’s been a ton of speculation that he could end up in Dallas, where he served as an assistant coach and was very close to owner Jerry Jones. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs, the chances that Jones will fire coach Jason Garrett increase dramatically. If there’s an opening in Dallas and Payton hasn’t already worked out a new deal with New Orleans, Jones is likely to come after Payton with an open checkbook.

What I liked: The way the Saints came to play even though they began the day with only the slightest chance of backing into the playoffs and that scenario was eliminated as the day went on. This team faced a lot of adversity all season long, but the Saints never used that as an excuse. Drew Brees threw for a season-high 437 yards, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton forced a fumble and recovered it to set up a crucial touchdown and the Saints still pulled out the overtime win after blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead.

What I didn’t like: A defense that seemed to be improving in recent weeks struggled mightily. The secondary in particular had major problems, especially when it came to attempting to cover Dez Bryant. Cornerback Jabari Greer left the game with a concussion and backup Johnny Patrick had a very rough day. That defense is the reason the Saints aren’t going to the playoffs and a lot of work has to be done on that side of the ball in the offseason.

What’s next: The Saints complete their season next Sunday by hosting the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Wrap-up: Packers 55, Titans 7

December, 23, 2012

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

What it means: The Green Bay Packers won for the ninth time in 10 games, dominating the Tennessee Titans in one of the biggest blowouts in team history. Their 48-point margin of victory was their largest in a game since 2005, and it tied for the fifth-biggest in team history. The Packers (11-4) can't earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC playoffs, which the Atlanta Falcons claimed Saturday night, but they could still leapfrog the San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) to clinch the second seed -- and the first-round bye that comes with it. The 49ers play Sunday night at the Seattle Seahawks.

CobbWatch: Receiver/kick returner Randall made the heads-up play of the season in the second quarter, stepping out of bounds and picking up the ball on a kickoff at the four-yard line so that it would be ruled a penalty on the Titans. Cobb also caught three passes for 62 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown, but a right ankle injury suffered in the third quarter has everyone holding their breath. Cobb walked to the locker room under his own power, but he did not return to the game.

CrosbyWatch: Struggling place-kicker Mason Crosby converted from 26 and 48 yards, the latter after hitting the upright. The Packers have made clear they are not changing kickers, but that doesn't mean we can't track Crosby's progress. Sunday qualified as a good afternoon.

Defensive gem: The Packers narrowly missed a shutout -- the Titans scored against their reserves with one minute, 39 seconds remaining -- and their defense was impressive throughout. They sacked quarterback Jake Locker seven times, including two from linebacker A.J. Hawk, and limited the Titans to 180 yards and 10 first downs. In its past two games, the Packers' defense has allowed an average of 185 yards and 11 first downs per game. Opponents have converted only four of 24 third-down opportunities over that stretch.

What's next: The Packers' regular-season finale will come next Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.

Wrap-up: Vikings 23, Texans 6

December, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 23-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Texans came out flat and never got into gear against Minnesota, which played very solid defense Houston. It was the Texans’ first loss of the season to a team that’s not a guaranteed playoff participant. And Houston lost an ideal chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They still clinch a first-round bye if the Denver Broncos lose to the Cleveland Browns this afternoon. If the Texans win next week in Indianapolis, they will still clinch home-field throughout the AFC playoffs as Denver is the only team with the potential to match Houston at 13 wins and Houston holds the head-to-head tie-breaker.

What I didn’t like: Where was the spark? Where was the fight? It was a disappointing effort. The Texans' two previous duds this season came against high-caliber teams in the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. This was an entirely different deal. To hold the Vikings’ singular weapon, Adrian Peterson, to 86 rushing yards and get beat by Christian Ponder throwing and running and by a defense that started the day 18th in total defense was hard to swallow. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle says it’s the first time since Matt Schaub was traded to the Texans in 2007 that they have not scored a touchdown in a game he’s played.

Injury concerns: Running back Arian Foster didn’t finish the game after he went to the locker room with an irregular heart beat, coach Gary Kubiak said afterward. Kubiak said Foster is fine and it’s something that happened once before in practice. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed returned from a layoff due to a groin injury but appeared to injure it again and didn’t finish the game.

What I don’t understand: If Quintin Demps was demoted from the third safety, why not move away from the three-safety package while game-planning? I remain thoroughly unconvinced that Shiloh Keo is good enough to be on the field as part of Houston’s defense.

An illustration: Kevin Walter nearly took a third-quarter catch into the end zone but was correctly ruled down just short. The Texans had three shots to get in from short range and couldn't. Schaub took a big sack on third down, forcing Houston to settle for its second field goal.

What’s next: A big game in Indianapolis against the Colts where home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs will be at stake for Houston, which has never won at the RCA Dome or Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts can control whether they are the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC field, determining where they travel for their first-round playoff game.

Wrap-up: Vikings 23, Texans 6

December, 23, 2012

A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings were the better team at Reliant Stadium for 60 minutes and departed with an unexpected victory that keeps their playoff hopes alive. We'll update their situation on the blog as other games conclude during the day, but be advised that they can not clinch a playoff spot Sunday no matter what happens.

PetersonWatch: Perhaps the most unexpected part of the Vikings' victory is that it happened with Adrian Peterson's least productive game since Week 6. The Texans held Peterson to 86 yards on 25 carries, leaving him with 1,898 yards on the season. He'll need 208 yards next week against the Green Bay Packers to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 yards.

PonderWatch: The Texans' attention on Peterson compelled the Vikings to call for 38 drop backs from quarterback Christian Ponder, who turned in a winning performance. Ponder scrambled seven times for 48 yards, including a key 29-yard dash to convert a third down in the fourth quarter, and he completed 16 of 30 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. Ponder committed one turnover, a fumble in the third quarter, but the Texans could not capitalize. All told, I think the Vikings would have settled for similar performances from Ponder in every game this season.

Defensive gem: The Vikings' defense won this game for them, holding the Texans to 11 first downs and 187 total yards. Houston managed to convert just 1 of 11 third downs, and its rushing duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate totaled 32 yards on 14 carries. There were huge plays all around, from safety Harrison Smith breaking up a third-down pass to cornerback Antoine Winfield notching a sack to defensive tackle Fred Evans dragging down quarterback Matt Schaub on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Even without defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder), the Vikings kept Schaub off balance all game.

WalshWatch: You can't miss scoring opportunities when playing a good team on the road, and the Vikings capitalized on all of theirs. Rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh converted from 56, tying a team record, and also from 41 and 39 yards. Walsh now owns the NFL record for most field goals of at least 50 yards in a season. He is currently 9-for-9 in that category.

What's next: The Vikings' biggest game against the Packers in several years looms Sunday at the Metrodome.

Wrap-up: Rams 28, Buccaneers 13

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 16:

What it means: The Rams improved to 7-7-1 but were eliminated from playoff contention when Minnesota upset Houston. The Rams can still finish with a winning record in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. Just being in that position marks substantial progress for the Rams. Their future appears brighter thanks to strong play from quite a few rookies. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were among the 2012 draft choices standing out during this game. The Rams could still use more consistent play from quarterback Sam Bradford, however.

What I liked: Rookie cornerbacks Jenkins and Johnson made game-changing plays. Jenkins provided his third pick-six of the season, a big reason St. Louis held a 14-6 halftime lead despite few positive contributions from the offense. Safety Quintin Mikell was also a force for the Rams as he continues his effective play on blitzes. Mikell, Chris Long and Kendall Langford had first-half sacks.

The Rams' defense generally contained Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Their defense also might have saved the game by stopping Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from the St. Louis 5-yard line while the Rams were protecting a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. The Buccaneers hurried to the line in an attempt to catch the Rams' off-guard, but Brockers and the rest of the defensive interior stopped Freeman with yardage to spare. The Rams made another fourth-down stop inside the St. Louis 10 later in the game. Those stops were critical.

Bradford and the offense bounced back from a slow first half by opening the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown. Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks wide open for the quarterback's longest touchdown pass as a pro. Bradford also found Austin Pettis for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

What I didn't like: The Rams again lost the time-of-possession battle early. They failed to score in a first quarter for the fifth consecutive game. Early offside penalties against Long and Robert Quinn hurt, as did a 15-yard penalty for a face mask.

First-half turnovers set back the Rams. Bradford threw an interception in the end zone. Danny Amendola lost a fumble deep in Rams territory. The Rams finished with 285 yards while allowing 429. They lost the time-of-possession battle by about 12 minutes. Mike Williams (61-yard touchdown and 132 yards overall) joined Vincent Jackson (108 yards) as 100-yard receivers for Tampa Bay.

Jenkins' status: Jenkins, a second-round choice, is playing his way into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. He might not be the favorite, but at the very least, his four touchdowns will make it tough to ignore him without some explanation.

Jackson nearing 1,000: Steven Jackson had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown. He needs 10 yards in Week 17 for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

What's next: The Rams close out the regular season with a game at Seattle.



Sunday, 1/25