NFL Nation: 2012 Week 3 Rapid Reaction

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.

DENVER -- A look at a game with entertaining finish:

What it means: The Broncos were game but for the second straight week, fell to a good team. Denver is now 1-2.

Similar game as last week: The Broncos didn’t commit turnovers like they did at Atlanta, but they did fall behind against Houston. Still, Denver tried to come back, it couldn’t and it lost by six points again. Like in Atlanta, Denver’s defense couldn’t hold on third and five from the opponent’s 25 late in the game.

Manning improved: Peyton Manning threw some dandy passes and the Denver offense heated up late. You can see the progress being made. Manning was 25 of 51 for 310 yards and two touchdowns. After he threw three picks in the first quarter at Atlanta, Manning came back with a clean day Sunday.

What’s next: Denver hosts Oakland next Sunday.

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.

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 23-20 overtime victory over the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: It was an ugly game. But the Jets survived a wild one to improve to 2-1 and will have at least a share of first place in the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills also won and improved to 2-1, but New York holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. The New England Patriots (1-1) will play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. Meanwhile, the Dolphins suffered a heartbreaking loss and have to pick up the pieces. Miami blocked the Jets' initial game-winning field goal attempt in overtime, but head coach Joe Philbin called a timeout. It was an awful gaffe by the rookie head coach. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter also missed two field goals in the game, including one in overtime that could have won it for Miami.

Sanchez struggles: Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez was inconsistent for the second straight game. Coming off a poor second-half performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sanchez started slowly in the first half against the Dolphins. He was 8-of-19 for 77 yards and an interception at intermission. Sanchez also threw an inexcusable interception in the end zone in the third quarter. But Sanchez showed he was clutch by making a pair of late throws in the fourth quarter and overtime to win it. Sanchez connected on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley with three minutes left in regulation and a big 38-yard pass to Santonio Holmes to set up the game-winning field goal. Sanchez was 21-for-45 for 306 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Bush injured: Dolphins tailback Reggie Bush injured his knee at the end of the first half and didn’t return. Bush was second in the NFL in rushing entering the game. Now the Dolphins have to find out how long they have to play without him. Miami has some depth behind Bush with rookie Lamar Miller and backup Daniel Thomas.

Tebow-madness: The super-secret Tim Tebow package is starting to show, but with mixed results. The good was Tebow ran a sneak on a fake fourth-down punt that resulted in a first down. But Tebow in the Wildcat and at H-back did not work out. On one play, Sanchez threw to Tebow on third down and it embarrassingly bounced off Tebow’s helmet. Tebow finished with two rushes for 0 yards.

What’s next: Miami will travel the next two weeks after playing two straight games at home. The Dolphins will play at the Arizona Cardinals and at the Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, the Jets will return home for a couple of weeks to play two very good opponents. New York will host the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans in back-to-back games.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 16, Bucs 10

September, 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The offense still has issues. The offensive line is shoddy. The starting safeties are hurt. But it doesn't matter because the Cowboys won Sunday afternoon, beating Tampa Bay 16-10 in the home opener at Cowboys Stadium.

Tony Romo was beaten up by the Tampa Bay pass rush but two key fourth quarter plays, a 45-yard punt return by Dez Bryant and a sack by DeMarcus Ware on a third-and-4 late in the fourth quarter, sealed the game.

Still, the Cowboys (2-1) have to perform much better if they're expected to compete at an elite level.

What it means: After the Cowboys knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the opener, they put up a stinker in Seattle. Now, they fooled around with Tampa Bay for four quarters and survived. This tells us the Cowboys, as we said last week, are not ready to move up to an elite level in this league. Yes, they won the game, but can't believe the Cowboys can beat elite teams by playing like this.

Witten's bad day: Jason Witten dropped three passes Sunday. He's got an NFL-high six drops on the season, and he was penalized twice for false starts. When his day ended, the Cowboys' tight end finished with just two catches for 8 yards. This is one of the worst stretches for Witten since the 2008 season. During a five-game stretch that season, he had four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. This season, Witten has just eight catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn't scored since Nov. 20 at Washington. Is this the beginning of the end for Witten? He is coming off a spleen injury that didn't cost him any regular-season games, and he said on Friday he's healthy.

Church injured: The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to a right leg injury that appeared serious. Church suffered the injury with 7:31 to play in the third quarter, and he was replaced by Mana Silva. Several Cowboys players were tapping Church on the shoulder pads and offering him words of encouragement after he went out. Miles Austin also suffered an injury, to his ribs, but he returned and ended the day with five catches for 107 yards. Left guard Nate Livings left with a hand injury in the first quarter but returned and didn't have any more issues. With Church out, Cowboys were left without their starting safeties. Gerald Sensabaugh didn't play because of a calf injury.

False start penalties: The Cowboys were riddled with false start penalties. Right tackle Doug Free was flagged three times and Witten twice. Left tackle Tyron Smith was also called for one. Free also was penalized for a false start. The false start penalties could be attributed to center Ryan Cook and the cadence with quarterback Tony Romo or a lack of concentration.

Austin outplays Jackson: The two big-play threats from a receiving standpoint, Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson, had opposing performances. Austin finished with five catches for 107 yards, his 12th 100-yard receiving game of his career. Jackson, the deep-play threat for Tampa Bay, had one catch for 29 yards, that one coming in the fourth quarter.

What's next?: The banged-up Cowboys will face the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. Among the missing starters: nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle), center Phil Costa (back), safeties Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) and Barry Church (right leg).

Rapid Reaction: Bears 23, Rams 6

September, 23, 2012

CHICAGO -- Despite all the additions and lofty expectations for the offense, defense -- as usual -- carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-6 triumph Sunday over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.

Led by Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks), the Bears sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, with Major Wright returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to limiting the signal-caller to a passer rating of 39.2.

Coming off a meltdown in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago’s offense -- which operated without starting running back Matt Forte -- sputtered, but showed small signs of improvement.

Here’s a closer look:

What it means: The entire NFC North entered this week’s games with 1-1 records, so the Bears needed a win to stay in the mix atop the division standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the race. But the Bears didn’t want to put themselves in a hole so early in the season and fall into a situation where they’re playing catch-up.

Besides that, winning is the best way to rebound from a devastating defeat like the one suffered on Sept. 13 at Green Bay.

Front four still fearsome: Chicago’s front four built on its impressive start to the season by generating six sacks on Bradford Sunday to run up their season total to 14.

The Bears entered the game tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks, accounting for 47 yards in losses. Interestingly, every one of those sacks had come from the defensive line. But Nick Roach broke the string of sacks by defensive linemen by getting in on the action for the club’s linebackers.

Missed opportunity: Devin Hester's drop of a sure touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter seemed to sum up a day of missed opportunities by the Bears offense. The Bears had just driven 11 plays, and siphoned away close to six minutes off the clock only to settle for a 22-yard Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 13-6.

Hester’s miss was just one of many by the Bears, who suffered multiple dropped passes from Brandon Marshall and some errant throws by Cutler.

The offense hoped to rebound in front of the home crowd after last Thursday’s embarrassing performance. The unit showed improvement in several areas, but for the most part sputtered.

Major playmaker? Wright has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout his three-year tenure with the team, ranging from questions about durability to his grasp of Chicago’s defensive system. Well, Wright finally seems to be dispelling the doubts.

In the fourth quarter Sunday, Wright intercepted a Bradford pass intended for Danny Amendola with 9:06 left to play and returned it for a 45-yard TD to make the score 20-6 after the extra-point kick. Tim Jennings, who also picked off a pass late in the game, tipped the ball right into Wright’s hands. But on the return for a TD, Wright showcased the physical traits the Bears raved about when they drafted him with a third-round pick in 2010.

Wright recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the team’s system contributed to his problems over the first two years of his career. But in the offseason, Wright said he put forth more of an effort to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies of the defense, and that appears to be paying off.

Wright entered Sunday’s game with 15 tackles in three starts.

Windy City: Kickers took advantage of light east winds in the first half with Gould connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting on a 56-yarder with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Gould’s 54-yard bomb was his longest since Dec. 11 of last season when he booted a 57-yard field goal at Denver. Since Dec. 5, 2010, Gould is 6 of 6 on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.

Two No. 1's down, three to go: Bradford marked the second of five No. 1 overall picks the Bears will face this season. The club faced 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck in Week 1 and came away with three interceptions in 41-21 victory over the Colts and limited Bradford, the first pick of 2010, on Sunday to 152 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 39.2.

Each of the club’s first four home games features No. 1 overall picks. The next two are Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick of ’09 and Carolina’s Cam Newton, the top pick in ’11. The Bears wrap up matchups against No. 1’s in Week 11 when they face Alex Smith (No. 1 overall in ’05) at San Francisco on Nov. 19.

Best actor goes to: No contest, Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi wins. After locking up with Rams defensive end William Hayes at the end of a Michael Bush run, Carimi flopped to the turf in an attempt to draw a penalty. If you recall, Carimi was called in the team’s loss to the Packers on Sept. 13 for a personal foul for continuing after the whistle was blown.

Hayes didn’t appear to be doing that when Carimi appeared to throw up his arms and basically launch himself backward onto the ground.

Bad acting, Gabe. You deserve a Razzie. It was certainly entertaining though, drawing giggles throughout the Soldier Field press box.

What’s next: The Bears receive another opportunity on the national stage next Monday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Surely the memory of the meltdown at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13 will remain fresh on the club’s mind in preparation for the Cowboys. So the Bears will work hard to avoid a repeat performance in the national spotlight.

Rapid Reaction: Bengals 38, Redskins 31

September, 23, 2012

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' disappointing 38-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener Sunday at FedEx Field.

What it means: Plenty of excitement but ultimately disappointment for the 80,060 who bought tickets to watch the home debut of Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins got their offense going in the second half with some gimmicky option plays, and Griffin gave them some thrills on the final series as he tried to drive them 99 yards in the final two minutes. But that drive fell short. Overall, Griffin was battered most of the day by the Bengals' aggressive defense, was sacked five times, fumbled twice and, though his final numbers were good, had his most difficult game yet as a pro. The loss was the Redskins' sixth in a row at FedEx Field. That's the longest current home losing streak in the NFL.

Secondary concerns: The Bengals opened the game with a shocker of a play, lining up rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu to take the snap in the shotgun while quarterback Andy Dalton split out wide. Star wide receiver A.J. Green beat the coverage and Sanu hit him in stride for a 73-yard touchdown catch. Now, had that been some sort of fluke, that would have been one thing. But it was the first of three Cincinnati touchdown passes in the game that covered at least 48 yards. The Redskins are playing without projected starting safeties Brandon Meriweather (knee injury, could be back next week) and Tanard Jackson (suspended for the year), and cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Crezdon Butler both left this game with hamstring injuries. They weren't great in the secondary to begin with, and the injuries have left them short-handed on top of that. They're likely to continue to be beaten deep if they can't generate consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. And while they pressured Dalton pretty well for the most part, they were remarkably vulnerable on any play on which he had time to throw.

More injury problems: Redskins left tackle Trent Williams left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. He came back in the second quarter but clearly wasn't right, and he didn't return to the game after halftime. Williams is the best player on the Redskins' offensive line, and his absence helped allow Carlos Dunlap and the rest of that Bengals defensive front to take their shots at Griffin.

Miscellany: Tight end Fred Davis made his return to the game plan, catching seven passes for 90 yards as top wide receiver Pierre Garcon missed his second straight game with a foot injury. ... The Redskins rushed for 182 yards. Griffin led the way with 85 and fellow rookie Alfred Morris once again led the running backs with 78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. ... Rob Jackson looked good as the replacement for injured linebacker Brian Orakpo, catching an interception for a touchdown and making several nice plays on the edge. Jackson has the speed to play the position, but he likely lacks Orakpo's physical toughness.

History is made: With 3:02 left in the third quarter, something happened in this game that had never happened before. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbled the ball. Entering the game, Green-Ellis had carried the ball 631 times in his NFL career, postseason included, without fumbling once. But as Green-Ellis got the ball near midfield on a first-down carry, Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson came flying in to strip and recover the ball, and Green-Ellis' amazing streak was over. It appeared to be a big play in the game, too, since two plays earlier the Redskins had scored a touchdown to tie it at 24. But Washington couldn't cash in the historic turnover and had to punt the ball away.

What's next: The Redskins travel to Tampa, Fla., where they will face the Buccaneers next Sunday in a 4:25 p.m. ET game. It'll be the third straight NFC East game for the Bucs, who lost to the New York Giants last week in New Jersey and to the Cowboys on Sunday in Dallas.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 24, 49ers 13

September, 23, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on Sunday's events, a 24-13 win for the Vikings, at the Metrodome:

What it means: The "any given Sunday" cliché once again proved accurate. The Minnesota Vikings, ranked No. 29 last week in's Power Rankings, controlled this game from start to finish over the top-ranked team, the San Francisco 49ers. Most impressively, the Vikings proved more physical than one of the NFL's hardest-hitting teams. As a result, the Vikings have a share of first place in the NFC North. At 2-1 after three games, this is the latest the Vikings have been over .500 since the 2009 season.

PonderWatch: Quarterback Christian Ponder accounted for three touchdowns and did not commit a turnover in what was probably his best start as a pro. He put some touch on a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Kyle Rudolph while putting appropriate zip on a key third-down completion to receiver Percy Harvin in the fourth quarter. Finally, he displayed intelligence and speed in pulling down the ball and sprinting 23 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 198 yards and another 33 on the ground.

Official chaos: Referee Ken Roan's replacement group had a tough day. It began with an impossible illegal block call on the 49ers, the kicking team on the opening kickoff. (Roan later reversed the call.) In the fourth quarter, meanwhile, Roan allowed the 49ers to take back their final timeout moments after calling it in order to challenge a play they believed Vikings tailback Toby Gerhart had fumbled on. That is not supposed to happen. Replays showed that Gerhart fumbled, but it appeared the play had been blown dead before that point. The replay showed umpire Tim Morris with his hand up -- which usually coincides with the whistle -- before Gerhart fumbled.

Defensive props: As well as Ponder played, we can't put this victory solely on his shoulders. It's been more than two years since we've seen the Vikings' defense show this kind of aggressiveness and zeal over the full 60 minutes of a game. Linebacker Chad Greenway might have played the best game of his life, sacking quarterback Alex Smith twice and finishing with 13 tackles. Cornerback Antoine Winfield played an inspired game. Backup safety Jamarca Sanford got into the act, forcing Frank Gore's first fumble of the season to end a fourth-quarter possession. And defensive end Jared Allen's sack/forced fumble ended the 49ers' final drive.

Streak ends: Josh Robinson's fourth-quarter interception was the Vikings' third in 14 games. But it ended Smith's streak of consecutive passes without an interception unofficially at 248.

Coaching decision: You normally don't see a team go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, as the Vikings did at the end of their first possession Sunday. But Leslie Frazier's decision to do it just seem inspired to me. The Vikings weren't going to beat the 49ers with field goals, and Ponder's successful pass to Rudolph energized both the team and the crowd. The Vikings never really looked back.

What's next: The Vikings will take on the Detroit Lions next Sunday at Ford Field.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 36, Panthers 7

September, 20, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. –- Shorthanded and playing on little rest, the New York Giants and dominated Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers with an impressive 36-7 victory.

PanthersGiantsWhat it means: No Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw and David Diehl? No problem. The Giants jumped out to a 23-0 lead and never looked back, with huge performances from their replacements.

Andre Brown ignited the running game for a second straight game. Ramses Barden finally gave everyone a glimpse of what he can do as a starter, making big catch after big catch over the middle. The offensive line looked strong again. Perry Fewell's defense produced its strongest effort of the season.

The defending champs might just be gaining some steam after their slow start against Dallas in the season opener. And they have lots of time to get healthy before their next game.

Quick start: After slow starts in their first two games that saw them trail the Dallas Cowboys 14-3 in the third quarter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-13 at the half, the Giants got off to a terrific start against the Panthers.

The Giants scored on their first four possessions, and were methodical in doing so. The running game was clicking, and Eli Manning kept throwing to his receivers as though Nicks was on the field.

The Giants looked as though they carried over the momentum from the 25-point fourth quarter against Tampa Bay, and Carolina looked absolutely stunned.

The Replacements I: In his first career start, Brown rushed for 96 yards -- by halftime. He ran hard, looked patient and waited for holes to open up. He scored two touchdowns, and looked good in goal-line situations as well. He finished with 113 rushing yards on 20 carries.

It certainly looks like the Giants have found themselves a nice complement to Bradshaw, when he returns, and a very good replacement if Bradshaw (neck) is out for more time.

The Replacements II: Barden came up as big as his 6-foot-6 frame, with a monster first-half effort as well. He hauled in eight balls by halftime, and repeatedly came up with big receptions while absorbing some hits as well. He finished with nine catches for 138 yards.

Barden’s effort was huge, as he gave Manning another option when the Panthers tried to take Victor Cruz away. Nicks (foot) should be ready to play next week, but Barden showed the Giants that they have another weapon in the arsenal with Domenik Hixon recovering from a concussion.

The Replacements III: With Diehl (knee) out, the Giants' offensive line turned in another strong performance. Manning was practically untouched for much of the first three quarters until being sacked late in the third quarter.

Will Beatty started at left tackle and Sean Locklear started at right tackle, and the Giants' running game looked good while Manning had plenty of time to throw for much of the game.

The Replacements IV: Rookie Jayron Hosley, starting at cornerback and having his progression accelerated due to injuries in the secondary, continues to get better.

He came in and pressured Newton on blitzes, and had an impressive interception after a pass thrown behind Brandon LaFell went off LaFell’s hands.

Hosley did have to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. And Antrel Rolle also had to go to the locker room on a cart after appearing to bang his left knee on a camera in the corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter. He has a knee laceration, and was going to have an X-ray.

The Giants cannot afford any more injuries to their secondary.

What’s next: The Giants have a much-needed break before visiting Michael Vick & Co. in Philadelphia on Sept. 30 to renew a heated NFC East rivalry.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 36, Panthers 7

September, 20, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 36-7 loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.

What it means: The Panthers aren’t the team on the rise that many, including myself, thought they were. They’re 1-2. There’s still hope and plenty of time to get things on track. But, right now, the Panthers aren’t looking like anything close to a playoff team.

The new and improved defense? Carolina’s defense was terrible last season, but it was easy to write that off to injuries. This year was supposed to be different with linebacker Jon Beason and defensive tackle Ron Edwards returning from injuries, and the addition of linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman in the draft. None of that seemed to matter against the Giants. The Panthers couldn’t stop the run or the pass. The Giants scored on their first four possessions, and the Panthers never were in the game.

What I liked: I can’t really think of anything, other than Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, who had a pretty good night.

What I didn’t like: Most of this loss can be pinned on Carolina’s defense. I doubt Carolina could have won this game even if its offense was perfect. But the Carolina offense was far from perfect in the first half. The Panthers had a few nice plays but couldn’t sustain any sort of drive. Wide receiver Steve Smith was barely a factor. The Carolina defense was better in the second half, but it was too late to really matter.

Who's on the hot seat? Perhaps Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. The injuries were a built-in excuse for the Carolina defense last year. But there's no excuse now. It's not good when your defense is so bad that it keeps Cam Newton and a talented offense from ever getting into a rhythm.

Who else is on the hot seat? Probably rookie return man Joe Adams. He failed to handle a punt in the fourth quarter, and that gave the Giants the ball. He didn't look good all night. Adams has plenty of upside, but it might be time to sit him and let someone else (Armanti Edwards or Kealoha Pilares?) handle returns. It doesn't have to be a permanent thing. But Adams looks like a kid who needs a little more time to get comfortable.

What’s next: The Panthers play the Falcons on Sept. 30 at the Georgia Dome.