NFL Nation: 2012 Week 5 coverage

Rapid Reaction: Texans 23, Jets 17

October, 9, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At least the New York Jets can't be accused of quitting. They played gamely, but not efficiently, falling to the Houston Texans 23-17 on Monday night at MetLife Stadium

What it means: The injury-depleted Jets, a heavy underdog, had the ball with 3:28 to play in the fourth quarter, down by six points. It's all they could've asked for, considering the quality of the opponent. There was no Monday Night Miracle, only a team that made too many mistakes to beat the big boys. The Jets (2-3) dropped their second straight.

The QB controversy: Mark Sanchez, facing intense scrutiny, did enough to keep his job for the immediate future -- barely. Facing the league's top-ranked defense, Sanchez (14-for-31, 230 yards) ranged anywhere from mediocre to solid, beating the Texans' blitz for a few big plays. In the end, he was held under 50 percent for the fourth straight game. Considering his mish-mosh supporting cast, it wasn't a bad performance. He threw two interceptions, but both came on deflections. The latter came on a pass to TE Jeff Cumberland; it went off his hands and ended a potential game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

As was the case last week, Sanchez committed a killer, momentum-changing turnover before halftime. This time, he was intercepted on a pass tipped by DE J.J. Watt, who single-handedly wrecked the game for the Jets. (Watt later prevented a likely TD pass with another tip.) Playing with such a slim margin for error, Sanchez can't afford to make those mistakes.

Tebow on ice: There was a lot of pregame speculation about an expanded role for backup QB Tim Tebow. Well, it never happened. He played only seven snaps on offense (six at quarterback) -- but hey, he got to throw a deep pass. It was on target, too, but it was dropped by newly-signed WR Jason Hill. There was talk about Tebow playing an entire series. He did start one series, but was pulled after two plays. Sanchez played well enough in spurts to keep Tebow on the bench.

Hiccups: The Jets did so much changing of personnel that they had to burn two timeouts. There seemed to be confusion whenever they tried to get Tebow on the field. No excuse.

Shame on the D: The Jets run defense got off to a terrible start, but got its act together in the second half. After surrendering 245 rushing yards last week, they took a back-to-basics approach in practice. That didn't work in the first half, as they allowed 100 yards to Arian Foster, but they tightened up. Foster finished with 152 yards. That said, there were still too many breakdowns.

The Jets were caught out of position by the well-schooled Texans, who used misdirection runs, screens and play-action passes to exploit the Jets' aggressiveness. The biggest breakdown came after the Jets closed to within 20-14, when they needed a big defensive stop after an onside kick failed. But what happened? They got burned on a misdirection, leaving TE James Casey all alone for a 30-yard gain.

Gambling Rex: Knowing his team was outmanned, Rex Ryan took a few gambles -- a fake punt (successful), a 4th-and-1 try in his own territory (successful) and an onside kick after Joe McKnight's 100-yard TD return on a kickoff (unsuccessful). Ryan will get ripped for the onside kick, but it was a worthwhile risk-reward decision. More than anything, it showed his lack of confidence in his defense. When have we ever said that?

Almost another killer injury: The injury-plagued Jets caught a huge break in the third quarter, when C Nick Mangold went down with an ankle injury. It looked serious (Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes flashbacks, anyone?), but he returned after a trip to the locker room.

Big Mac: McKnight has played running back, even a little cornerback, but we all know his meal ticket is returning kickoffs. He scored on a 100-yard return in the third quarter, breathing life into the team and the stadium and cutting the lead to 20-14. The Jets have scored on a kickoff return in 11 straight seasons, a league record.

What's ahead: The Jets have a short week, but at least they don't have to travel. They're at home against the upstart Indianapolis Colts (3-2), coming off an emotional win over the Green Bay Packers.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 23, Jets 17

October, 8, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 23-17 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium Monday night.

What it means: The Texans withstood a tough challenge on the road, lost star linebacker Brian Cushing to a knee injury, and held on for a win to improve to 5-0, remaining the AFC’s only unbeaten team.

What hurt: Joe McKnight's 100-yard third-quarter kickoff return could have been a killer. It cut the score down to 20-14 and made it feel like the momentum has swung. But the Texans recovered an ensuing onside kick and kicked a field goal that got them back up 23-14. While the Jets hung around and kept making it feel like they’d move to a big score, the Texans kept doing enough to prevent it from happening. They converted a couple fourth downs, but then punted after three more plays each time.

Big plays: J.J. Watt killed one Jets rally with a sack, and the Jets’ last real threatening possession ended with big back-to-back defensive plays -- a sack by cornerback Brice McCain and a pick of a tipped ball by cornerback Kareem Jackson, his second interception in as many weeks.

Big game: The Jets don’t defend the run well and the Texans made sure that stayed the case. Arian Foster carried the ball 27 times for 156 yards and a touchdown. He had 100 yards at the half. For the third game in his career, Foster got to triple digits in just 30 minutes. He also became the third-fastest running back in NFL history to get to 5,000 career yards from scrimmage -- trailing only Edgerrin James and Eric Dickerson.

Beneficiaries: The clumsy Jets had troubles with personnel and substitutions on offense, burning a couple second-half timeouts and racing to get the ball snapped in time. The Texans didn’t have such issues, but they also weren’t without a bunch of key people because of injuries. When they got a break, like cornerback Antonio Cromartie breaking open deep as a wide receiver, Mark Sanchez underthrew him.

What’s next: The Texans host The Green Bay Packers on "Sunday Night Football" at Reliant Stadium in another chance to show off to a national television audience.

Wrap-up: Saints 31, Chargers 24

October, 8, 2012
A look at the San Diego Chargers' heart-breaking 31-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Chargers blew a golden opportunity to take control of the AFC West. The Chargers fell to 3-2 on a day the other two teams in the AFC West that played (Oakland had a bye) lost.

Momentum swinger: The Chargers were dominating this game and it looked like it was taking a 31-14 lead in the third quarter on an interception return for a score. However, rookie Melvin Ingram was called for roughing the passer on what was a questionable call. The Saints took off after that penalty and ended up scoring 17 unanswered points.

Two tough turnovers: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers played well, but an interception on a tipped pass and a fumble as the Chargers desperately tried to score on the final drive of the game sullied an otherwise good night for him. This game will be remembered for Ingram’s game-changing penalty.

Mathews’ game: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews had 80 yards on 12 carries, including a spectacular 13-yard touchdown run as he continued to show he is on his way to becoming a productive player.

Meachem breaks out: Former Saints receiver Robert Meachem had his breakout game as a Charger. He had two touchdowns after being nearly invisible in the first quarter of the season.

Big night for former Charger: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who spent his first five NFL season with the Chargers, broke the NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 48. He had shared the mark with Johnny Unitas.

What’s next: The Chargers have a pivotal AFC West game against visiting Denver, 2-3, on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Wrap-up: Saints 31, Chargers 24

October, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 31-24 victory against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

What it means: It was a nice night for the Saints. Suspended coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis were given special permission to attend the game and witness history. They did. They got to witness Drew Brees break Johnny Unitas’ record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game. The Saints also got their first win of the season. But the reality is it’s probably too little, too late. They’re 1-4 and, unless they go on some sort of dramatic run, their chances of making the playoffs are slim.

The “other streak’’ ends: Safety Roman Harper came up with a fourth-quarter interception. Might not sound like a big deal, but it was significant. Harper and fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins didn’t produce an interception all last season or in the first four games of this season.

Colston’s big game: The night belonged to Brees, for obvious reasons, but receiver Marques Colston had a memorable night. Colston had nine catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns. After starting the season slowly, Colston got healthy and has had two big games in a row.

Signs of hope: Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his defense took a lot of criticism in the first four weeks of the season. But there were signs Sunday night that Spagnuolo's defense is taking hold. It wasn't spectacular, but there were a few times when I saw sacks that were the result of coverage. When you're relying on your front four for your pass rush, you need some help from the guys in coverage.

Meachem’s revenge: In part because the Saints were in the process of making Brees the NFL’s highest-paid player, they didn’t have the salary-cap room to keep Robert Meachem, a former first-round draft pick. But Meachem provided the Saints with a reminder of what they’re missing. He caught two touchdown passes.

What’s next: The Saints have a bye week. They’ll return to action Oct. 21 at Tampa Bay.

Wrap-up: Bears 41, Jaguars 3

October, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Jaguars' 41-3 loss to Chicago at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Jaguars actually looked good for a half as they were part of a defensive, 3-3 struggle. It didn’t take long after that, however, for the opportunistic Bears to bury the Jaguars and make them look ever bit a 1-4 team with talent that simply doesn’t match up to quality teams around the league.

What went wrong: With the Bears up 5-3, Blaine Gabbert threw a terrible pass that never had a chance to get to Justin Blackmon. Charles Tillman easily picked it and took it back for a 36-yard touchdown broke the game open and the Jaguars never recovered while Chicago poured it on. Gabbert threw a ball that was tipped and returned by linebacker Lance Briggs for another 36-yard score and lost a fumble. The second-year quarterback wound up with a 37.7 passer rating. The defense allowed the Bears to convert 61 percent on third and fourth downs.

No enough time for enough chances: It doesn’t matter how good Maurice Jones-Drew is if you’re only going to be able to get him 12 touches in the run game on a Sunday afternoon. He carried a dozen times for 56 yards. The Bears average a full three yards more per carry than the Jaguars did and Chicago held the ball for 36 minutes.

Have to have more early: The Jaguars didn’t score in the first quarter and have have a grand total of six first-quarter points though five games this year. That’s a terrible mark for a team that needs to play from ahead to have a chance to utilize its best player in the best fashion.

One good thing: Receiver Cecil Shorts made the most athletic, playmaker-like catch by the Jaguars I can remember in some time by Jacksonville, a great one-handed stretch and fall.

What’s next: The Jaguars have arrived at their week off. I don’t know what drastic changes are available to them, but it’s sure hard to sell patience and staying the course considering where that’s gotten them.

Wrap-up: Vikings 30, Titans 7

October, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Titans' 30-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field:

What it means: The 1-4 Titans are a mess, and they were inferior in every way against a team they should be on pace with as they rebuild. They couldn’t move the ball against the Vikings and they couldn’t stop the Vikings from moving the ball, and the result of this blowout was never in doubt.

What’s hard to fathom: The Titans have now given up 34, 38, 41, 38 and 30 points in their games this season. Nothing they’ve done on defense has stopped the bleeding and the return of middle linebacker Colin McCarthy from a high ankle sprain had no bearing.

Bad hit: Safety Michael Griffin was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit of defenseless receiver Michael Jenkins at the end of the second quarter. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray called for more toughness and ownership of the middle of the field last week, and suggested players shouldn't operate in fear of fines. But this was a foolish play by Griffin, who was in position to easily aim lower and make a big hit minus the penalty or the fine that is sure to follow.

A sampling of the badness: Matt Hasselbeck’s first-down scramble was challenged in the first quarter and re-spotted for a fourth down that prompted the Titans to punt. Hasselbeck absolutely telegraphed a second-quarter interception to Antoine Winfield. Defensive end Jared Allen was inexplicably unblocked on one of the Vikings’ sacks. Cornerback Alterraun Verner was a beat late to Percy Harvin on a wide receiver screen and saw it go for a significant gain. McCarthy failed to bring down tight end Rhett Ellison, slipping off the rookie to allow a big play.

Another awful injury: The Titans saw return man Marc Mariani suffer a grotesque leg injury in the preseason. They saw another one Sunday, as running back Javon Ringer was bent awkwardly on a tackle and carted off with a left leg injury.

One good thing: Rookie receiver Kendall Wright didn’t stretch the field at all, but he was far more sure than a week ago, when he had several drops, as he caught a game-high nine passes, though he took them only 66 yards.

What’s next: The Titans have a quick turnaround with the Steelers coming to Nashville on Thursday night.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 31-21 victory over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium:

PatriotsBroncosWhat it means. The Patriots held on for the victory, their second in a row, in a performance that looked decisive through three quarters before they made it interesting in the fourth quarter. It was almost a replay of the last time they faced Peyton Manning with the Colts in 2010, where they needed a late turnover to seal the result. The Broncos put on a solid late charge, but with losses to the Texans and Patriots in two of the past three weeks, they don't look ready to join the teams considered the elite in the AFC.

Brady improves to 9-4 vs. Manning. Quarterback Tom Brady turned in a stellar performance (he was 17-of-20 at the half) in operating an up-tempo no-huddle attack that dictated the action. Each team had just four possessions in the first half -- the Patriots led 17-7 at the break -- so it was the type of game where the margin for error was thin and mistakes were magnified. Brady didn’t make many, if at all, in the first half as the game turned in the second quarter. He is now 9-4 against Manning, who wasn’t bad, but didn’t match Brady’s level. Brady finished 23-of-31 for 223 yards and one touchdown.

Offense rings up record 35 first downs. The Patriots set a franchise record with 35 first downs in the game. The offensive attack was highlighted by an up-tempo, no-huddle approach that put stress on the Broncos’ defense and required impressive synergy from the New England offense. While the offense didn’t close out the game as it would have desired, it was still impressive.

Nickel defense change sparks Patriots. After having some coverage struggles in their nickel defense, a personnel change helped the Patriots produce better results in the second quarter, when the game turned. Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was inserted into the game in place of Sterling Moore on the Broncos’ fourth drive, and was credited with a pass breakup on third down to force a punt. The Patriots also went to a lighter defensive front on the drive, which produced the stop and ultimately helped the Patriots open a 10-point lead. In a low-possession game for each team, a stop like that is crucial. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich also produced two big turnovers (strip sack, forced fumble).

Ridley and running game delivers again. After churning out 247 rushing yards against the Bills, the Patriots went over the 200-yard mark again. This marked the first time since 1978 that the Patriots have had back-to-back 200-yard games. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley led the way (career-high 151 yards), while the team’s other three backs -- Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen -- also contributed.

Injury situations to monitor. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins (hip) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (knee) left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. Also, veteran linebacker Tracy White (left foot) left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

What’s next. The Patriots travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. They are scheduled to leave on Friday for the Sunday game, and one of the themes figures to be how loud it can get in Seattle, which will put stress on the team’s offense. The Broncos play a Monday night game in San Diego in Week 6.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 16, Panthers 12

October, 7, 2012
Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 16-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The Panthers had a golden chance to right their season. They squandered it. Instead of heading into the bye week at 2-3, they fell to 1-4. Their playoff hopes are probably shot unless they can dig themselves out of a deep hole. A season that began with extremely high expectations seems to be spinning out of control.

Play of the day: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown to put the Panthers ahead early in the third quarter.

Wasted opportunities: The Panthers also came up with two other turnovers in the third quarter, but they didn’t capitalize. Munnerlyn’s interception was the only one of those three turnovers that resulted in points.

What happened to the offense? Remember last year, when people were referring to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as a genius? Well, they’re not using that term these days. The Panthers had just 190 total yards. I know Seattle has a very good defense. But when you have an offense that includes talent like Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Greg Olsen, you should produce a lot more than 190 yards and 12 points.

What’s next: The Panthers are entering their bye week. They’ll return to action Oct. 21, when they host the Dallas Cowboys.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on a dominating 30-7 performance Sunday at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings are 4-1 and tied for the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears. The Tennessee Titans put on a listless and punchless performance, but the Vikings pounced and never let up in an impressive outing. Through five weeks, the Vikings have already exceeded their 2011 win total.

HarvinWatch: We discussed the MVP candidacy of receiver/running back/return man Percy Harvin last week, and Harvin did nothing to remove himself from the conversation Sunday. He scored two touchdowns, one on a 4-yard dive at the goal line and the other on a 10-yard reception in which four Titans defenders missed opportunities to tackle him. You'll see the latter play on highlight videos all week. Overall, Harvin caught eight passes for 108 yards, including a 45-yarder that set up his first touchdown, and added 8 more yards on two carries.

PonderWatch: Quarterback Christian Ponder threw his first two interceptions of the season, on his final pass of the second quarter and first pass of the third, but rebounded well from that point. After the second interception, Ponder completed 11 of 12 passes for 100 yards, including the score to Harvin and a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Defensive dominance: Through three quarters, the Vikings limited the Titans to 96 total yards and five first downs before the game turned into a hurry-up situation. Anyone who watched the Vikings slog through the 2010 and 2011 seasons can see this group is playing with more confidence and aggressiveness, especially in contesting passes. Unofficially, the Vikings batted down or tipped away nine of Matt Hasselbeck's 43 throws. They also sacked him twice and hit him five times, unofficially.

SmithWatch: The defense hardly missed a beat after losing safety Harrison Smith to ejection in the second quarter. But will Smith incur an NFL suspension for shoving aside an official who was trying to back him away from a scrum? That has yet to be determined. It's difficult to know exactly how rookie Robert Blanton played in his place, but the Titans finished with seven points, so ...

What's next: The Vikings will visit the Washington Redskins next Sunday. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion today, calling into question whether he will be available to start against the Vikings. Griffin tweeted Sunday evening that he thinks he will be ready to play.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at a game in which the Denver Broncos couldn’t hang with the New England Patriots:

What it means: The Broncos fell to 2-3. All of their losses have been against quality teams. The Broncos are clearly not ready to play with the big boys. Miscues on offense and big plays against the defense doomed Denver on Sunday.

Manning vs. Brady: This loss wasn’t on Peyton Manning. He was very good. He threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns and wasn't intercepted. But in the end, his record against Tom Brady is now 4-9. Going into the game, Manning had won four of the past six meetings with New England. Manning is 2-9 at New England.

Defense suffers on third down: After improving in the area against Oakland last week, Denver wilted on third down against the Patriots. New England converted 11 of 17 times on third down. Denver was particularly porous on run defense. New England had 251 yard rushing; it had 35 first downs, which set a team record.

Mixed day for Thomas: Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas had nine catches for 188 yards. However, he fumbled on Denver’s opening drive deep in New England territory. It totally changed the momentum of the game. It was Thomas’ third fumble in as many games. Thomas had some huge plays in this game, but he has to stop fumbling.

McGahee’s woes: McGahee dropped a first down on a short pass in the fourth quarter and then fumbled deep in New England territory with less than four minutes remaining with Denver trailing 31-21. He is a pro and knows better than that.

What’s next: Denver plays at the San Diego Chargers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” in Week 6 in a pivotal AFC West game.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 45, Bills 3

October, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 45-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Candlestick Park in Week 5:

What it means: The 49ers improved to 4-1 and moved into a first-place tie with Arizona in the NFC West. They won at home for the eighth time in a row during the regular season. Their deep passing game came alive for the first time this season. San Francisco set a single-game franchise record with 621 yards on offense. The 49ers finished this game with a 300-yard passer (Alex Smith), a 100-yard rusher (Frank Gore) and two 100-yard receivers (Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis). They appear primed for their Week 6 home game against the New York Giants, a rematch of the NFC Championship Game.

What I liked: Just about everything. The 49ers finished the game with 311 yards rushing and 310 yards passing. They have now outscored their last two opponents by a 79-3 margin.

The 49ers used play-action effectively to loosen up the Bills' defense in the early going. Not long after a holding penalty wiped out a play-action reception for Davis, the 49ers used the tactic to produce a 53-yard gain for the Pro Bowl tight end. Davis' reception was the longest for the 49ers this season. There was more to come. A 43-yard scoring pass to Kyle Williams and a 28-yarder to Crabtree helped Smith finish the first half with career highs for passing yards (237) and NFL passer rating (158.3, the highest possible). Smith's third-quarter deep strike to Davis up the right sideline could not have been thrown with any greater accuracy.

The 49ers' defense held the Bills to 204 yards. Its ability to force timely turnovers was important. Patrick Willis' forced fumble right before halftime set up Smith's 28-yard scoring pass to Crabtree. Chris Culliver's third-quarter interception killed a drive deep in 49ers territory. Those plays helped break out the game and prevent the Bills from rallying.

What I didn't like: Penalties against the 49ers, including one for what appeared to be a legitimate chop block call against Gore, wiped out big first-quarter gains for Davis and Crabtree. Other than that, the only thing I didn't like was the absence of a mercy rule. This one was ugly.

Smith tops 300: The 49ers quarterback owned two 300-yard passing games before Sunday. He had 303 yards in this game before giving way to Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter. Smith took a hard hit after passing while the 49ers were leading 31-3. He came through that hit OK, burned the Bills with a rushing play and then came out of the game.

Persistence on Kaepernick: The 49ers looked smart for using backup quarterback Kaepernick to great effect during a 34-0 victory over the New York Jets in Week 5. They didn't look so smart Sunday. Kaepernick lost a fumble in Bills territory on a run around the left side. San Francisco incurred a holding penalty against left tackle Joe Staley while Kaepernick was throwing deep and incomplete for Davis later in the game. The 49ers stuck with the overall idea, however, and Kaepernick came through with a 15-yard run to the Buffalo 1-yard line, setting up Gore's touchdown run.

Aldon Smith's chase: Second-year outside linebacker Aldon Smith needed 1.5 sacks to break Reggie White's sack-era record for fewest games needed to reach 20 career sacks. Smith got close at least twice, delivering a crunching hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick just after the quarterback threw. Smith later impressed with an open-field tackle on Bills receiver Stevie Johnson. Smith hasn't gotten many opportunities to prove himself as a base outside linebacker because so many opponents have used three or more wide receivers at a time.

What's next: The 49ers are home against the Giants in Week 6.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears scored 38 second-half points to turn a competitive 3-3 affair at the half into a 41-3 slaughter on the strength of two Jay Cutler touchdown passes and a pair of defensive touchdowns from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.

Over the past six days, the Bears have racked up four defensive touchdowns, with Tillman and Briggs chipping in two apiece dating back to the club's Monday night victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Four of the club's TDs against the Jaguars came in the fourth quarter alone.

Let's look at this thing a little closer.

What it means: The Bears accomplished their goal of going into their week off with a 4-1 record, and will be tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead. In addition, the Bears extended their NFC North lead over the Green Bay Packers to two games. Such a lead could come in handy down the stretch.

Slow start for Cutler: Cutler completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards and an interception to go with a passer rating of 45.8 in the first half as the Bears sputtered on offense, converting just 2 of 7 on third down.

But the quarterback rebounded to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

As Cutler caught fire, his passer rating improved to 88.8 as he hit Jeffery for a 10-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a slant route defended by Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, and later a 24-yard scoring strike to Marshall. By the 12-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Bears had improved their third-down conversion rate to 50 percent.

Cutler finished the game having completed 23-of-39 for 292 yards.

Carimi's struggles continue: Gabe Carimi played a major role in the club's squandering what should have been a touchdown drive in the third quarter with a couple of false-start penalties that moved the team from the Jacksonville 3 to the 13, and forced it to settle for Robbie Gould's second field goal of the day.

The Carimi false starts came during a drive in which he also gave up a sack to Austen Lane for a 5-yard loss.

Deja vu: In what looked like a repeat of Chicago's win over the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Tillman and linebacker Briggs returned their second interceptions for touchdowns in six days courtesy of Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Bears have proved that when the defense scores, good things happen.

Since 2004, the Bears own a 21-5 record when the defense scores a TD. The Bears are 18-2 under those circumstances over the past seven seasons.

Tillman scored Chicago's first touchdown with 5:04 left in the third quarter to give the Bears a 13-3 lead after Gould's extra point. The INT came on what might have been a communication mishap between Gabbert and receiver Justin Blackmon.

Tillman now has 32 career interceptions, with seven returned for touchdowns. Tillman's seven TDs go down as the most defensive touchdowns in franchise history.

Briggs' score came in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard return.

Here’s a breakdown of Chicago’s defensive touchdowns since 2004: 30 TDs total; 23 interception return TDs, 7 fumble return TDs; 26 games in which the defense scored a TD.

More sacks: Jacksonville's offensive line for the most part kept the defensive line of the Bears in check until the second half, when Briggs and Corey Wootton (two sacks) dropped Gabbert to run up the club's season sack total to 18.

Considering the Jaguars started off the game converting 4-of-8 on third down, the Bears applied the pressure at just the right time.

Briggs' sack in the third quarter marked just the second by a player not on the defensive line. Interestingly, 15 of the team's sacks have come from the defensive line. Briggs and strongside linebacker Nick Roach are the only players that aren't members of the defensive line to nab sacks.

What's next: Plenty of rest for the Bears, who will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday. The Bears are idle this week, and don't return to action until they face the Detroit Lions in a Monday night matchup at Soldier Field on Oct. 22.

Wrap-up: 49ers 45, Bills 3

October, 7, 2012
Here are some thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 45-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: It means the Bills lost their second game in a row in blowout fashion. Buffalo, which is 2-3, has been outscored 97-31 the past two games. The Bills have some talent, but they are proving they're not even close to competing with the top teams in the NFL. Bills head coach Chan Gailey questioned his team's toughness during the week -- and it's a legitimate concern. There is no excuse for Buffalo to lose by an average of 33 points the past two weeks.

What I liked: There's not much to like in this blowout. Backup cornerback Leodis McKelvin did a good job in the return game. He took a kickoff for 59 yards and a punt return for 28 yards. Other than that, there weren't many Bills highlights in this blowout loss.

What I didn't like: The Bills left their offense in Buffalo. The group that came out West could not execute or do anything with consistency. Bills tailbacks C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson didn't make an impact against San Francisco. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also had trouble with his accuracy and threw an interception. Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler had a big fumble late in the first half that the 49ers turned into a touchdown and a 17-6 lead. The Bills were never able to recover from that deficit. Buffalo’s defense also was disappointing. The 49ers averaged 8.2 yards per carry and allowed Alex Smith to throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

What's next: The Bills will be on the road again next week to face another NFC West team. Buffalo will travel to play the Arizona Cardinals (3-1), who will have 10 days to prepare for this game. The Bills have playoff expectations and need to stop their season from going downhill. Buffalo must respond now or it could be a long, disappointing season.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 16, Panthers 12

October, 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 16-12 road victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 5:

What it means: The Seahawks showed they could win a road game with only sporadic offensive production as long as their defense is going to dominate the way it often has this season. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson completed 12 of his first 13 passes and finished strong after two third-quarter interceptions renewed questions about his suitability as the Seahawks' starter. Seattle improved to 3-2, giving the NFC West four teams with a winning record following Week 5. That's a first since the NFL realigned into eight divisions for the 2002 season. The way this game turned out put on hold questions about whether Wilson should remain the starter.

What I liked: Bruce Irvin's fumble-forcing sack in the final minute capped a dominant defensive performance as Seattle preserved the victory. The defense held Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to 3-of-15 passing in the first half. The Seahawks had been weak on third-and-long this season, but that changed when Irvin sacked Newton for a 13-yard loss on third-and-10, the Panthers' only play of third-and-8 or longer during the first half. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner also brought down Newton for a loss.

On offense, the Seahawks scored on their opening possession for the second week in a row and the third time in their past four games. They have one touchdown and three field goal attempts on opening drives this season. Wilson was much sharper early in this game, completing 12 of 13 passes for 123 yards in the first half. Wide receivers Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate made plays early. Seattle converted four times on its first eight third-down plays, a big improvement from the recent past. Baldwin's long-awaited emergence was particularly encouraging for Seattle.

Seattle's defense continued to dominate in the second half, giving the offense second chances. And when Wilson found Tate for a 13-yard scoring pass in the third quarter, the Seahawks were back in front despite all those turnovers. Marshawn Lynch's powerful 11-yard run in the fourth quarter helped the Seahawks protect their 16-10 lead heading toward the fourth quarter.

What I didn't like: The Seahawks led only 6-3 at halftime despite controlling the game. The defense held Newton to 40 yards passing in the first half. But there were too many missed chances. Earl Thomas dropped a sure interception. Chris Clemons committed a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer.

On offense, a holding penalty against right tackle Breno Giacomini nullified a 56-yard pass from Wilson to Tate. Officials also flagged left tackle Russell Okung for holding during the first half. Leon Washington lost a fumble during the kickoff return to open the second half. Wilson had an interception returned for a touchdown a short time later. Those plays helped turn Seattle's 6-3 lead into a 10-6 deficit. Wilson suffered another turnover when a pass went off Lynch's hand to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Taking the safety: The Seahawks took a safety while leading 16-10 and punting from deep in their own territory. The snap was high, creating the impression the safety wasn't planned. But the play made sense because it allowed Seattle to punt from a more favorable position on the field while still forcing the Panthers to score a touchdown.

What's next: The Seahawks return home to face the New England Patriots before playing two games on the road.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 17, Bengals 13

October, 7, 2012
Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: The Bengals (3-2) slipped into second place and one game behind the Ravens in the AFC North because they failed to do what they've done since the start of the 2011 season: beat a team they were supposed to beat. Cincinnati jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter and then watched the Dolphins (2-3) score 17 straight points. This ended a three-game win streak for Cincinnati. The Bengals fell to 1-7 at home against the Dolphins.

Offense crashes: This wasn't the same Bengals offense that averaged 33 points in three straight wins. Quarterback Andy Dalton was 26-of-43 for 234 yards with two interceptions. On the Bengals' final drive, Dalton's overthrown pass at midfield with 1:22 left was intercepted. Wide receiver A.J. Green caught nine passes for 65 yards and scored the team's only touchdown.

Concerns at running back: The Bengals made the NFL's top-ranked run defense look even better. After three fumbles in two games, Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis managed 14 yards on nine carries. Backup Bernard Scott led the Bengals with 40 yards on five carries. But Scott left the stadium on crutches. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, it is believed to be an ACL injury.

Third-down struggles continue: The Bengals were 2-of-14 on third downs against Miami and are now 4-of-25 in their past two weeks. In the second half, Dalton was 1-of-5 on third downs against the Dolphins and was sacked once.

No longer perfect: Cincinnati's Mike Nugent missed a 41-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that could have cut the Bengals' deficit to one point. He had been 9-for-9 on the season before that miss.

What's next: The Bengals play their fourth road game in six weeks when they take on the winless Cleveland Browns (0-5).