NFL Nation: 2012 Week 3 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 14, Packers 12

September, 25, 2012

A few thoughts on the nearly indescribable events of Monday night at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: The final game of Week 3 finally gave the NFL what it deserved: An apparent mistake by its inadequate replacement officials impacted the outcome of the game. The Packers were the very unfortunate victims. They are 1-2 and no amount of outcry can change that.

The play: Replacement officials made two egregious calls on the final play, which officially went down as a 24-yard Hail Mary touchdown reception for Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. First, Tate blatantly pushed Packers cornerback Sam Shields in the back to clear room. Second, Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept the pass and land on the ground with the ball. Tate reached for the ball as well but did not appear to have simultaneous possession. Of the two officials near the play, one ruled a touchdown and the other a touchback. For reasons unknown, a replay review confirmed a touchdown.

The scene: Officials called a total of 24 penalties in the game, creating such anger on both sides that the Packers stormed off the field shortly after the Tate ruling. Eventually, league officials required 11 players to return for the required extra-point kick. Some players were forced to root through an equipment locker to find their helmets. In all, it was one of the most disorganized and embarrassing scenes you'll ever see on an NFL field. At least, so far.

Sack attack: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half, one short of an NFL record and a total of nine in the game. The Packers did an excellent job in the second half curbing the Seahawks pass rush by shifting to a run-first offense. They put together scoring drives of 13, 11 and 16 plays. But Rodgers' attempt on a 2-point conversion after Cedric Benson's one-yard run on the final drive gave the Seahawks a glimmer of hope.

JenningsWatch: I haven't seen every game of receiver Greg Jennings' career, but I know I've never seen him anywhere close to as mad as he was after the Seahawks' Brandon Browner decked him with a cheap-shot hit to the head at the end of a downfield route in the fourth quarter. Jennings, who started despite a groin injury, sprinted after Browner and the two wrestled in the end zone for several moments before officials called offsetting fouls. Jennings is a gentlemen (and a gentle man) who blew his top for good reason.

What's next: The Packers will return Sunday to Lambeau Field to host the winless New Orleans Saints. I bet it will be an angry flight home.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 14, Packers 12

September, 25, 2012

SEATTLE -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 home victory over the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on Monday night:

What it means: The Seahawks improved to 2-1 and claimed a share of second place in the NFC West with a shocking, disputed touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate on the final play. Replays appeared to show Green Bay intercepting the pass after Tate committed apparent pass interference, but the evidence didn't convince the referee to overturn the call upon review. And so it was that Seattle escaped with one of the more improbable victories in team history. More broadly, the Seahawks showed they can play defense as well as anyone in the NFL, but they'll also have a tough time taking the next step as a team without accelerated development from the offense. Disputed Hail Mary passes will be the exception, not the rule.

What I liked: The Seahawks' defense took charge early and finally got results from its pass rush. Eight first-half sacks quadrupled Seattle's total from the first two games. The pass rush had gotten good pressure against Arizona and Dallas, but the sacks weren't coming. While the offense struggled early and for most of the game, Wilson did connect with a perfectly placed 41-yard touchdown pass to Tate. This was Tate's second game back from a knee injury. He is clearly the deep threat for Seattle to this point.

Seattle's eight first-half sacks were more than the team had managed in a full game since getting eight against San Francisco back on Sept. 14, 2008.

The Seahawks had never gotten eight in a first half. The team did have eight second-half sacks against Buffalo on Dec. 8, 1996. The New York Giants hold the NFL record for sacks in a first half with nine against Chicago on Oct. 2, 2010. Those records date to 1982, when sacks became an official NFL stat.

The Seahawks' franchise record for sacks in a game was 11, set against the Los Angeles Raiders on Dec. 8, 1986. The team had 10 against Philadelphia on Dec. 13, 1992 and nine four times previously, most recently against Oakland on Nov. 6, 2006.

Jon Ryan's punting helped give Seattle very good field position. That included pinning the Packers at their own 1-yard line.

What I didn’t like: There were dubious officiating calls throughout, notably for defensive pass interference against Seattle's Kam Chancellor and Green Bay's Sam Shields. Those calls changed the game. The final play was also highly questionable, obviously. And even though officials declared the game over and the field cleared, they eventually brought back the teams for a point-after try, without explanation. Ridiculous.

Before that play, the Seattle offense appeared inept and compounded its problems with penalties, including early false starts from left tackle Russell Okung and tight end Anthony McCoy. McCoy committed another false-start penalty on Seattle's first drive of the second half. Okung, chosen sixth overall in 2010, also committed a killer holding penalty when Seattle was driving in the fourth quarter. He struggled against Clay Matthews in a matchup Seattle needed him to win at least some of the time.

Wilson took a 19-yard sack to set up third-and-32 for Seattle right after Green Bay got its first points with the field goal. A delay penalty, Seattle's 10th penalty of the game, made it third-and-37. Miscues such as those kept the defense on the field too long while ceding valuable field position to Green Bay.

Defensive penalties also hurt Seattle. One of the costliest was a roughing-the-passer call against Bobby Wagner on the Packers' first drive of the second half. The penalty helped move Green Bay into range for a field goal.

Coach Pete Carroll's emphasis on reducing penalties hasn't gotten the desired results. Officials also made some curious calls against both teams. A highly questionable interference call against Chancellor on third down sustained the go-ahead touchdown drive for the Packers midway through the fourth quarter. That one hurt Seattle because the team led, 7-6, and the Packers were not in field-goal range.

Seattle also failed to collect a sack after halftime.

Bare-knuckles brawl: Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner is 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds. So, when Packers receiver Greg Jennings took offense to Browner decking him for no reason well down the field, Browner was more than willing to square off against the Packers' rightfully enraged receiver. Jennings charged Browner. Browner stepped toward Jennings and planted his 5-foot-11, 198-pound challenger onto his back. Officials called offsetting penalties.

The Packers' gift: The fourth-quarter pick Wilson threw on a wild rollout to the right turned into a Seahawks first down when Packers linebacker Erik Walden hit Wilson late, drawing a roughing penalty.

Critical challenge: Rodgers appeared to reach the ball across the first-down marker at the Seattle 1-yard line with 9:09 left in the third quarter. Officials ruled him down for no gain, which would have been scored as a sack for zero yards. But the Packers got the conversion when coach Mike McCarthy initiated a successful replay challenge. Green Bay scored on the next play to take a 12-7 lead with 8:44 remaining. The Packers then went for a two-point conversion, but Browner broke up Rodgers' pass.

What's next: The Seahawks visit the St. Louis Rams in Week 4.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Patriots 30

September, 24, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: Eight months after coming up short late in the AFC Championship Game, the Ravens delivered in the final minutes of the fourth quarter against the Patriots. Down nine points in the fourth quarter, Flacco threw a 5-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith and put Baltimore in field goal range in the final minute. Unlike the AFC Championship Game, when Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal, rookie kicker Justin Tucker hit a 27-yarder that sliced just inside the right upright to lift Baltimore to the comeback victory.

Emotional night: Smith came up big on what was a painful night. On the same day that his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. Two big plays by Smith -- a third-down conversion and a 32-yard catch -- set up Ray Rice's touchdown in the third quarter to put Ravens up 21-20. His 5-yard touchdown pulled the Ravens to within a score at 30-28 in the fourth quarter.

Key play by No. 3 receiver: The Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Game because Lee Evans couldn't hold onto the winning touchdown pass. This time, Jacoby Jones, the team's new No. 3 wide receiver, drew a pass interference penalty that put the Ravens on the New England 7-yard line.

Keeping streaks alive: The Ravens extended two significant streaks. They won for the 12th straight time at home, the longest current streak in the NFL. They also won for the 14th time following a loss, which is also the longest streak in the league. Baltimore (2-1) moved into a tie with the Bengals atop the AFC North.

Flacco enjoys big game: Flacco led a winning eight-play, 70-yard drive to cap a big game. He finished 28-of-39 for 382 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Flag day for Ravens: It looked like Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb made the game-changing interception at the Patriots' 40-yard line with 2:23 left in the game. But Webb, who grabbed Wes Welker's jersey with his left hand, was flagged for illegal contact. The Ravens were penalized 14 times for 135 yards. This is the same Ravens team that was critical of the replacement officials last Sunday.

Lack of discipline: The Ravens' defense committed three major penalties. Haloti Ngata's personal foul led to a field goal. Bernard Pollard's personal foul came in a touchdown drive. And Ed Reed's unnecessary roughness penalty was converted into a field goal. Total damage: 13 points. The Ravens capped the night with an unsportsmanlike conduct on their sideline in the final drive.

Pass rush disappears: Tom Brady had too much time in the pocket to pick apart the Ravens' secondary, especially on routes along the sideline. The Ravens got a sack on Brady on that first drive, but they got to him only one more time for the rest of the game. Baltimore tried to generate pressure with the blitz. But Baltimore couldn't collapse the pocket with Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, on the sidelines.

What's next: The Ravens play their third nationally televised game in four weeks when they face the Browns on Thursday.

Wrap-up: Raiders 34, Steelers 31

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 34-31 loss at the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The Steelers' struggles out west continued as they failed to hold a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Pittsburgh gave up 13 unanswered points. Sebastian Janikowski's 43-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Raiders. The Steelers have now lost four straight to teams in the west: Denver (twice), San Francisco and Oakland. Pittsburgh falls to 1-2 and one game behind the Bengals (2-1).

Luck runs out for Brown: Antonio Brown was fortunate to recover his own fumble in the end zone for a 11-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers ahead, 31-21, late in the third quarter. One possession later, Brown coughed up the ball again. This time, the Raiders recovered and converted it into a Janikowski 32-yard field goal that tied the game. That meant Brown fumbled on two of his seven catches.

A error-filled series: Jonathan Dwyer carried the ball three times for minus-one yard. But he hurt the Steelers in another way. He fumbled the ball in the second quarter. To make matters worse, Pittsburgh defensive end Ziggy Hood was called for a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-two. One play later, Carson Palmer threw a three-yard touchdown to Darrius Heyward-Bey (who was later hospitalized after a scary hit by safety Ryan Mundy) to tie the game at 14.

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes: The Steelers only have themselves to blame for this tough loss. They fumbled the ball twice (which were converted into 10 points) and were penalized 10 times for 81 yards.

Ben Roethlisberger carries offense: The Steelers couldn't run the ball against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. That meant Roethlisberger had to do the heavy lifting. He was 36 of 49 for 384 yards and four touchdowns.

Miller's time: One difference in Todd Haley's offense has been the increased role of tight end Heath Miller in the red zone. Miller scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both four-yard catches. That was Miller's third and fourth touchdowns of the season. He hasn't had more than two touchdowns in a season since 2009, when he scored six times.

What's next: The Steelers are on an early bye week. The hope is linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu will be healthy enough to play in the Oct. 7 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wrap-up: Raiders 34, Steelers 31

September, 23, 2012

A look at a thrilling 34-31 win for the Raiders against the visiting Steelers:

What it means: The Raiders have won the first game of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era. After looking terrible in the first two games, Oakland battled back from down 10 points down to come back and win as time expired, thanks to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.

Offense improves: After being stagnant in the first two games, Oakland’s offense came alive. Quarterback Carson Palmer was efficient and he was brilliant in the fourth quarter. Running back Darren McFadden, who was bottled up in the first two weeks, had 113 yards on 18 carries. The offensive performance should quiet the fan uproar about the Raiders not having the right personnel for the zone-blocking scheme.

Taking advantage of mistakes: The Steelers had 433 yards of offense, but they made key mistakes and the Raiders jumped on them.

Scary injury: Oakland starting receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was carted off the field and taken to a nearby hospital with a neck injury after taking a vicious hit. We’re hoping Heyward-Bey has a speedy recovery.

What’s next: The Raiders travel to Denver on Sunday for a battle of two 1-2 teams.

Wrap up: Cardinals 27, Eagles 6

September, 23, 2012

A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' first loss of the season, 27-6, Sunday in Arizona to the still-undefeated Cardinals:

What it means: Well, the Eagles won't be going undefeated, is what it means. After winning each of their first two games by the thinnest of possible margins, the Eagles got too far behind Sunday on the road against a very good Arizona defense and could not come back this time. The good news is that their number of turnovers fell by one again. After turning it over five times in the season opener and four times last week, they turned it over just three times Sunday. So if this holds up, they won't have any turnovers at all in Week 6 against the Detroit Lions.

The turning point: With six seconds left in the first half, the Eagles trailed 17-0 and had the ball on the Cardinals' one-yard line with third down and goal to go. At the very worst, it appeared, they were set to go into the second half down 17-3, and they were surely thinking about 17-7. But safety Kerry Rhodes came unblocked around the edge and Michael Vick never saw him. The hit forced the ball out of Vick's hands and onto the ground, where James Sanders picked it up and ran all the way back the other way for a touchdown. The Eagles went into the half down 24-0 and could not put anything together in the second half against that ferocious Arizona front.

Kolb's Revenge: Former Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, who lost his job to Vick in 2010 and was traded to Arizona before the 2011 season, had to start the game due to an injury to Arizona's starting quarterback, John Skelton. Kolb was 17-of-24 for 222 yards and two touchdowns against his former team, leaning hard on top wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught nine of the passes for 114 yards. Kolb is more game-manager than anything else in Arizona's conservative game plan, but it must have felt good to light it up a bit in the first half against the team that traded him.

Control: The Eagles actually outgained the Cardinals 308 yards to 292. But Arizona held the ball for 34:33 to win the time-of-possession battle, and of course by turning the ball over you make it easier on your opponent. As already mentioned here, the most crucial touchdown of the game didn't require the Arizona offense to gain even a single yard.

What's next: The 2-1 Eagles host the 2-1 New York Giants next Sunday night in one of the key early games in the NFC East race. The Eagles have won seven of their last eight games against the Giants going back to 2008, but lost last year's game in Philadelphia 29-16.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 27, Eagles 6

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals' 27-6 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 3:

What it means: The Cardinals are 3-0 for the first time since relocating to Arizona. They are alone atop the NFC West after San Francisco lost at Minnesota. Beating Seattle, New England and Philadelphia to open the season forces a reassessment of almost universally negative preseason expectations for the Cardinals. Arizona is playing great defensively. The offense showed improvement Sunday. By all appearances, quarterback Kevin Kolb played well enough against the Eagles to remain the starter while John Skelton returns to health.

What I liked: The defense hit Eagles quarterback Michael Vick almost too many times to count. Play after play, the Cardinals put the hurt on Vick, a huge factor in the game. Daryl Washington had two sacks. The secondary played tight coverage down the field to take away Vick's deep options. Arizona's defense has now dominated against Tom Brady and Vick in successive weeks. The defense has been consistently strong while Arizona has won 10 of its 12 most recent games.

Kerry Rhodes played his best game since coming to the Cardinals, a welcome boost while fellow safety Adrian Wilson sat out with injury. Rhodes made a touchdown-saving tackle on one play, then forced a fumble Arizona returned for a pivotal touchdown right before halftime. That was the pivotal sequence in the game, one that allowed the Cardinals to take a 24-0 lead into the half. Rhodes also delivered big hits on Eagles tight end Brent Celek. Arizona was the more aggressive team throughout. The fumble Anthony Sherman forced on special teams provided another example.

Kolb completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 127.4 NFL passer rating. He was able to get Larry Fitzgerald involved after a slow start to the season. Fitzgerald, who became the youngest player to reach 700 career receptions, caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He now has 35 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in five career games against Philadelphia. Rookie first-round choice Michael Floyd also caught a scoring pass from Kolb.

Ryan Williams, nearly the goat against New England last week, ran hard and with great effectiveness to help Arizona put away the game. Williams carried 13 times for 83 yards.

What I didn't like: Injuries are becoming a concern for the Cardinals. Skelton, Wilson and Todd Heap missed this game. Williams was shaken up in the final minutes and went to the sideline. Beanie Wells and Darnell Dockett also left the game for Arizona. Dockett had a hamstring injury.

There wasn't much else to complain about. The illegal block Fitzgerald delivered prevented Andre Roberts from getting credit for a 79-yard reception. The block helped spring Roberts, but it did not appear necessary.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Miami Dolphins in Week 4 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Wrap-up: Falcons 27, Chargers 3

September, 23, 2012

A look at a miserable day for the Chargers, who lost 27-3 to the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: The Chargers are not among the league’s elite teams. But the Falcons may be. Traveling cross country after a Monday night game, the Falcons throttled the Chargers. San Diego looked good in its first two games as it started 2-0 under Norv Turner for the first time, but the Chargers had nothing Sunday.

Not a good return for Mathews: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews fumbled near the goal line as the Chargers were poised to take the lead in the first quarter. Sunday was Mathews’ season debut. He broke his clavicle in August. He had 44 yards on 10 carries.

Gonzo strikes again: Tony Gonzalez has to love his AFC West tour. The former Chief great has played his first three games against AFC West opponents and he has scored a touchdown in each game.

Defense fades: San Diego’s defense was stellar in the first two games, but the Falcons ran and passed all over them at will.

What’s next: The Chargers need to bounce back at Kansas City on Sunday where they face a team that is riding high after an overtime win at New Orleans.

Wrap-up: Falcons 27, Chargers 3

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 27-3 victory against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday:

What it means: This was a huge win on many levels. The Falcons are now 3-0 and in first place in the NFC South. But this one was about a lot more than simply adding to the division lead. This was a statement game for the Falcons, who were playing on a short week after defeating the Denver Broncos on "Monday Night Football" and then had to fly across the country to face a good team. Only good teams are capable of doing that and the evidence is starting to mount that the Falcons are a very good team.

Defense continues to shine: There’s no question the Atlanta defense was responsible for Monday night’s victory. There's no question it was very instrumental against the Chargers, who were unable to score a touchdown. The Falcons forced two first-half turnovers (an interception and a fumble recovery) and that allowed them to take control of the game. They finished the game with four takeaways. It’s kind of amazing how quickly and thoroughly new coordinator Mike Nolan has transformed this defense into a unit with an aggressive identity. Makes you wonder why Steve Spagunolo hasn’t been able to do anything even remotely close with the New Orleans defense he took over. The Falcons and Saints were battling to hire Nolan and Spagnuolo. I’m not sure who the first choice was in either place, but it certainly looks like the Falcons got the right guy.

Controlling the game: Aside from the 20-0 halftime score, the most amazing stat of the first two quarters was time of possession. The Falcons held the ball for 20:21, while the Chargers had it for only 9:24.

Matty Ice for MVP: It’s hard to argue that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan isn’t a legitimate MVP candidate so far. Ryan only helped his case Sunday, completing 30 of 40 passes with three touchdowns. All three of those touchdowns came in the first half. Ryan has thrown for eight touchdown passes with only one interception. By the way, he also is undefeated.

Moore from Moore: After Monday night’s victory, I wrote that Atlanta safety William Moore had the game of his life. There wasn’t much of a letdown Sunday. Moore was steady in coverage and also forced and recovered a fumble late in the game. Fellow safety Thomas DeCoud also had another good game, coming up with two interceptions. I could see either Moore or DeCoud making the Pro Bowl. I could also see linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ending up there and maybe even linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who easily is off to the most productive start of his career. That’s pretty impressive because defensive end John Abraham is about the only Atlanta defensive player that has gotten any Pro Bowl consideration in recent years.

Roaming outside the dome: Since coach Mike Smith and Ryan have been around, there’s been a perception that the Falcons aren’t a very good outdoor team. Well, it might be time to rethink that. The Falcons won convincingly outdoors in San Diego and they did the same thing in the opener at Kansas City. The best news of all is that the Falcons only have four more outdoor games on their schedule. They play at Washington Oct. 7 and at Philadelphia on Oct. 28 and the weather in the Mid-Atlantic usually doesn’t get bad until later in the fall. The Falcons are at Tampa Bay Nov. 25 and November weather in Tampa is generally nice. The final outdoor game is Dec. 9 at Carolina. December weather in Charlotte can go either way, but going into North Carolina in December isn’t anything like going into Green Bay in December.

Memo to Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter: Whatever that play was where you had rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz line up at fullback with 12:21 left in the fourth quarter, rip it out of your playbook. The Falcons also had two tight ends in on that formation and Ryan ended up throwing his first interception of the season on a red-zone pass intended for Tony Gonzalez. If you’re going to use that formation, run the ball because you don’t have enough receivers to spread out the defense.

Turner bounces back: Atlanta running back Michael Turner was quiet and ineffective in the first two weeks and he also had to deal with being charged with DUI early Tuesday morning. Turner got off to a slow start against the Chargers, but finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Most of Turner’s rushing yards came in the second half. That’s something the Falcons need more of as the season goes on. If they can keep getting off to fast starts, they can use Turner and the running game to run down the clock later in the game. With Turner's contribution and some help from Jacquizz Rodgers and others, the Falcons finished with 119 rushing yards.

What’s next: The Falcons host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Wrap-up: Titans 44, Lions 41 (OT)

September, 23, 2012
A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' wild overtime loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: The Lions fell to 1-2 amid game-long chaos and an injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions became the first NFL team to score two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to force overtime, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They were also the first team in history to give up five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in one game. And in the end, neither of those facts impacted what happened in overtime to give the Titans victory.

StaffordWatch: Stafford departed because of a strained leg muscle suffered as the Titans' Alterraun Verner returned a fumble 72 yards for a touchdown with one minute, 32 seconds remaining in regulation. He told reporters afterward that he wasn't sure if the injury was to his hamstring or glut muscle. Regardless, he couldn't finish the game and his status is uncertain.

Long scores: In addition to Verner's return, the Titans also scored on a trick-play 65-yard punt return by Tommie Campbell, a 105-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud and touchdown passes of 71 and 61 yards by Jake Locker to Nate Washington and Jared Cook, respectively.

HillWatch: Backup Shaun Hill proved how valuable he is, completing 10 of 14 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns from that point. His 46-yard Hail Mary pass that landed in receiver Titus Young's hands sent the game to overtime.

"A miscommunication": That's what Lions coach Jim Schwartz called the final play, one in which Hill surprisingly tried a quarterback sneak at fourth-and-1 from the Titans' 7-yard line. A chip field goal would have tied the game and extended overtime. Schwartz said the Lions were trying to draw the Titans offside and were planning to kick if the Titans stayed onside. Apparently, center Dominic Raiola didn't get the message and snapped the ball. To me, it was a foolish decision. With the game literally on the line, don't get cute. Make the kick and continue playing.

Leshoure debuts: Tailback Mikel Leshoure gained 100 yards on 26 carries in his NFL debut. The Lions clearly wanted to focus on him in the first half to help open things up in the second. Leshoure had 17 carries and receiver Calvin Johnson had only one catch at halftime.

Injury report: In addition to Stafford, the Lions also lost punter Ben Graham, who suffered a calf injury on Campbell's punt return. Place-kicker Jason Hanson punted three times for a 36-yard average.

What's next: The Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at Ford Field.

Wrap-up: Titans 44, Lions 41 (OT)

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Titans' 44-41 overtime win over the Detroit Lions at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans do have a pulse, and at times when it gets faint, it’s possible to resuscitate it. It was the sort of win you’d like to think will have long-lasting implications for all the resolve it revealed. They blew a halftime lead of 11 points. They blew a 14-point lead with 1:16 left in the game. But they got a 26-yard field goal from Rob Bironas in overtime and they stuffed a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 to win an epic, wild game with more swings than a giant elementary school playground.

What I liked: Big plays. The offense wasn’t finding them, so the Titans turned to special teams and echoed the most famous play in Nashville NFL history. Darius Reynaud tossed a lateral across the field to Tommie Campbell for a 63-yard touchdown punt return, and that gave the Titans a major spark. Reynaud also had a 105-yard kickoff return for a TD, and cornerback Alterraun Verner took a ball out of tight end Brandon Pettigrew’s hands and ran it in for a 72-yard fumble return.

What I also liked: While three of the five big plays came from special teams and defense, the other two were on offense. Tight end Jared Cook had a nice 61-yard catch and run. And wide receiver Nate Washington reached over helpless, dumbfounded cornerback Jacob Lacey to pluck a pass from Jake Locker, and take it 71 yards for a score. (Missed the Cook play in the first version of this. Apologies.)

What I didn’t like: A massive 583 net yards yielded and just one sack in 55 drop-backs by Detroit quarterbacks. Lost fumbles by Locker and Kendall Wright. No TDs in two trips inside the red zone. Two field goal attempts missed wide left by Bironas. The rushing offense still struggling with Chris Johnson taking 14 carries for just 24 yards.

What we’re going to talk about: Was it the best, most compelling and most entertaining game ever played at the Titans’ home stadium, which opened for business in 1999?

What’s next: The Titans play their first AFC South game of the year and see how they measure up to first-place Houston in a Sunday matchup at Reliant Stadium.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 27, Saints 24 (OT)

September, 23, 2012

A look at the huge Kansas City Chiefs' 27-24 win over the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Chiefs are off the snide in a big way. Kansas City fought its way back to win in overtime in a game between two desperate 0-2 teams. The Chiefs were trailing 24-6 late in the third quarter. A win like this can change things for this talented team.

Second chance: On third and 12 in overtime, Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel hit inexperienced running back Shaun Draughn for 12 yards. Instead of marching for a winning field goal, Draughn fumbled and it was picked up by Roman Harper, who ran 57 yards for a touchdown for the game winner in overtime. But the play was reserved on a challenge, giving the Chiefs new life.

Succop nails winner: Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop hit a 31-yard game winning field goal. It was Succop’s sixth field goal of the game and his fourth after the start of the fourth quarter. I smell the AFC special teams player of the week.

Charles is back: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles had 233 yards on 33 carries. This yardage explosion was fueled by a 91-yard touchdown run. He added 55 yards on six catches. It is a sign that Charles is back from his torn ACL he suffered 53 weeks ago. It’s great to see. Charles is one of the NFL’s bright, young running backs. His explosion is special and it’s nice he still owns it.

No problem, Houston: Chiefs’ second season pass-rusher Justin Houston had a monster game. He had three sacks, including a sack for a safety. Houston is a star in the making.

Defense improved: After allowing 75 points in the first two games. The Chiefs improved, especially late in the game. There is talent on this unit and it showed Sunday.

Still starting slow: Last season the Chiefs didn’t score a touchdown on their opening possession. That trend has continued through the first three games of this season.

What’s next: The Chiefs host San Diego on Sunday in a big AFC West game.

Rapid Reaction: Jaguars 22, Colts 17

September, 23, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' crazy 22-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Jaguars took second-half control, showed good resolve and beat the Colts on the road to break into the win column. The two teams expected to be at the bottom of the division are both 1-2, but the Jaguars get a touch more credit for their record since their victory came on the road and over a division foe.

What I liked, Jaguars: The Jaguars ran with great authority, as Maurice Jones-Drew showed that combination of power and footwork we’ve come to expect for 177 yards on 28 carries. Jacksonville’s offensive strength fit nicely with the Colts’ defensive weakness. And then Jacksonville needed one play from an unlikely source, and they got it: Cecil Shorts broke into the secondary behind safety Sergio Brown, caught Blaine Gabbert’s pass and outran Antoine Bethea and Cassius Vaughn for an 80-yard touchdown with 45 seconds left to provide the winning margin right after the Colts had gone ahead.

What I didn’t like, Jaguars: A bunch of dropped passes that really hurt, which compounded the high throws that Gabbert missed. Linebacker Russell Allen could have been penalized twice in a short span for hits on Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter. He got away with one on a slide, then drew a personal foul for a hit out of bounds. They gave up a 39-yard Luck-to-Donald Brown pass play that set up the Colts to go ahead late.

What I liked, Colts: Even if you fear for him, Luck is simply fantastic on the run. He has such a natural sense of when to take off and where to go. Luck continued to show a good feel for where and when to find Reggie Wayne. T.Y. Hilton looks to be getting more comfortable and gaining more confidence from Luck. Adam Vinatieri missed a 36-yarder late, but bounced back to connect on a 37-yarder, barely above and inside the left upright, that could have provided the winning margin with 56 second left.

What I didn’t like, Colts: The run defense, first and foremost. After that, the inability to generate anything on the ground with the running backs. Brown lined up behind what amounted to an eight-man offensive line late in the fourth quarter and then inexplicably went outside to no avail. Luck was by far the best runner on the team.

Injury concerns: Colts receiver Austin Collie, who hadn’t played yet this season because of concussion issues, left the game with a right knee injury that didn’t look good. Jaguars receiver Laurent Robinson and running back Montell Owens didn’t finish the games after absorbing blows to the head and could miss time if they have concussions.

What’s next: The Colts will have an early bye week to heal and get some non-football time. The Jaguars will hope to carry some momentum into Week 4 as they host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at EverBank Field.

Wrap-up: Bills 24, Browns 14

September, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns Stadium:

What it means: The Browns lost for the ninth straight time, the longest current streak in the league. It's the fourth time in the last five seasons that Cleveland has started 0-3. The Browns fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter, and Brandon Weeden's two interceptions in the fourth quarter prevented a late comeback. Weeden was 27 of 43 for 237 yards.

Secondary slips: A reshuffled Browns secondary limited Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to 208 yards passing, but it couldn't stop him in the red zone. A wide-open T.J. Graham caught a nine-yard touchdown from Fitzpatrick to open the scoring. Browns cornerback Buster Skrine was the closest defender to Graham, who ran free in the middle of the field. After the Browns closed to 17-14, Fitzpatrick threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson, who beat Dimitri Patterson. Cleveland played without suspended cornerback Joe Haden and benched Eric Hagg in favor of Usama Young at free safety.

Rollar coaster for Richardson: The up-and-down season for Trent Richardson continues. After totaling 145 total yards and two touchdowns a week ago, Richardson managed 51 total yards against the Bills. He was held to 27 yards on 12 carries, a 2.3-yard average. His longest run was a six-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that pulled Cleveland to 14-7.

Late on the knockout: C.J. Spiller, the NFL's leading rusher, left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury after Young landed on top of him. But Spiller didn't leave without making an impact. Spiller scored on a screen pass, going 32 yards to the end zone untouched. That put the Bills up, 14-0.

First-quarter flop: The Browns were slow starters last season, and that was the case Sunday. Cleveland was out gained, 150-13, and failed to record a first down. The Browns didn't convert a first down until three minutes into the second quarter.

What's next: It's a quick turnaround for the Browns, who play at Baltimore on Thursday night. Cleveland hasn't beaten the Ravens since November 2007.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 27, Saints 24 (OT)

September, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: Last week, I said it was time for the Saints to panic. My point was that they needed to do something dramatic before this season got out of control. They might be at that point now. They controlled things for most of the day in a game in their own stadium and they still ended up losing. The Saints are 0-3 and in sole possession of last place in the NFC South. The Saints have dug themselves a big hole and it’s not going to be easy to climb out of. The last time the Saints started 0-3 was 2007, when they lost their first four games and failed to make the playoffs. It probably remains a little too early to say the Saints' season is over, but look at the next opponent on the schedule (at the bottom of this item) and it's tough to imagine New Orleans suddenly turning things around.

Defensive woes continue: Kansas City wasn’t supposed to be an offensive powerhouse and, early on, it looked like a New Orleans defense that struggled in its first two games was going to be all right. But the defense collapsed, particularly the run defense. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles carried 33 times for 233 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Matt Cassel threw for 248 yards. The Saints could have survived that if their run defense had just kept Charles in check. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's been taking a lot of heat from fans. What happened Sunday isn't going to stop that.

What happened to the offensive line? I’m not going to put the blame on the collapse of the offensive line solely on the loss of guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay in free agency. I certainly think the loss of Nicks was a factor. But I think some other members of the offensive line are underachieving. The Chiefs aren’t a team known for generating much of a pass rush. They came up with a strong pass rush against Drew Brees and even scored a safety late in regulation by sacking Brees in the end zone. Brees has had to face too much pressure so far this season. He banged up his ankle last week and there were times on Sunday when Brees seemed to be limping a bit after taking big hits from the Chiefs. If Brees suffers any sort of injury, whatever is left of the Saints’ season is over.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers next Sunday.