NFL Nation: 2012 Week 5 Rapid Reaction

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.
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.

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.

PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Steelers avoided their first 1-3 start under Mike Tomlin with a sloppy yet dramatic win over the Eagles. Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal as the game expired helped Pittsburgh improve to 2-2 and keep pace with the Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger led a 14-play, 64-yard winning drive in the fourth quarter, which came after Philadelphia took its first lead of the game. The Steelers are 5-1 under Tomlin following a bye and have won five straight home games.

Roethlisberger comes up big: Roethlisberger carried the Steelers once again and led them on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 50 yards. His biggest play was converting a third-and-12 with a 20-yard pass to Antonio Brown.

Mendenhall makes his mark: Running back Rashard Mendenhall made an impact in his first game since ACL surgery in January. He jump-started one of the worst offenses in the NFL with 81 yards on 14 carries. He scored the Steelers' only touchdown on a 13-yard run (off a Roethlisberger lateral).

Not making the stop: The Eagles took their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter because the Pittsburgh defense couldn't make the critical stop. The Steelers allowed Philadelphia to convert twice on fourth-and-short and gave up the 2-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek on third-and-goal.

Receivers don't step up: The Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown on their final drive of the first half. Brown dropped a pass in the end zone, and Jerricho Cotchery stumbled after making a catch and fell 2 yards short of the goal line. A drop by Mike Wallace on third down ended a drive in the third quarter.

Penalties haunt defense: With the Steelers ahead 10-0 in the third quarter, the defense helped the Eagles score their first touchdown with two 15-yard penalties that were critical in the 80-yard drive. Ryan Clark was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and Ryan Mundy was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Not cashing in: The Steelers' defense got turnovers early, but the offense failed to capitalize. Pittsburgh scored no points off two Michael Vick fumbles, although one in the red zone stopped the Eagles from scoring. The Steelers had only three takeaways entering this game.

Injuries continue to hurt Steelers: Safety Troy Polamalu left in the first quarter after reinjuring his calf, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley later went out with an injured hamstring. Neither returned. Polamalu missed the previous two games with a calf injury, and Woodley was sidelined six games last year with a hamstring injury.

What's next: After getting a bye in Week 4, the Steelers play their second game in five days when they visit the Tennessee Titans.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The New York Giants hadn’t even broken a sweat yet and found themselves down 14-0 to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. But once the defending champs got warmed up, they routed the winless Browns, 41-27.

What it means: The Giants took care of business and won a game they had to have with a brutal schedule ahead of them. The Giants are 3-2 through their first five games but their final 11 games are against either division foes or playoff teams from last year.

Bottom line, Giants had to win this one and they got the job done with several key starters or contributors out for the game.

Quick turnaround: There’s something about these 1 p.m. home starts for the Giants against an inferior opponent. Last season, the Giants struggled at home against Seattle, Washington and then-winless Miami.

On Sunday, the Giants fell behind 14-0 less than five minutes into the game. Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled on the first offensive play of the game to set up Cleveland’s first touchdown. And then Brandon Weeden hit Josh Gordon on a 62-yard touchdown bomb on middle linebacker Chase Blackburn.

But the Giants outscored Cleveland 27-3, including the last 20 points of the first half, to go into halftime up 27-17.

Salsa time: With Hakeem Nicks out, Victor Cruz picked up the slack, scoring three touchdowns.

In fact, the Giants receivers all stepped up. With Ramses Barden also out with a concussion, Domenik Hixon and Rueben Randle saw plenty of action. Randle had five receptions for 78 yards and Hixon had four catches for 48 in the first half, respectively.

Stevie Wonder: Starting in place of the injured Kenny Phillips (knee), Stevie Brown had quite a first half. He intercepted an overthrown pass by Weeden and returned it 46 yards to give the Giants the ball at the Browns’ 40. Two plays later, the Giants scored to tie the game at 17-17 in the second quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Will Hill forced a Josh Cribbs' fumble and Brown recovered and took it to the Browns’ 29-yard-line. Eli Manning hit Cruz for the second time in the end zone to put the Giants up 24-17 with 1:10 remaining in the half.

Brown has done very well filling in. He had a pick against Carolina coming in for Rolle and should continue to start for Phillips, who could miss next week’s game with an MCL injury.

The Giants do have to make a roster move on Monday to make room for Tyler Sash, who's served his four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

Angry Ahmad: Bradshaw may have fumbled his first carry of the game but he ran angry and hard for not only his first 100-yard game of the season but a career-high 200 yards.

Andre Brown was knocked out of the game early with a head injury but Bradshaw had 80 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. Bradshaw's neck looks just fine. And David Wilson scored his first touchdown in explosive fashion -- a 40-yard run spelling Bradshaw.

What’s next: It’s an NFC Championship game rematch as the Giants travel to San Francisco for a highly-anticipated reunion with the Niners, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs.

LANDOVER, Md. -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons’ 24-17 victory against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday.

What it means: The Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. They’re also high atop the NFC South standings. This was not a particularly pretty game, but there’s a nice trend developing. The Falcons, who many view as a “dome team," have won three outdoor games already this season. This one came on a day that was cool and rainy.

Play of the day: With the Redskins driving, cornerback Dunta Robinson saved the game for the Falcons with an interception with 1:53 remaining.

Hit of the day: Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knocked Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III out of the game with a big hit in the third quarter. The Redskins said Griffin was “shaken up," and he did not return to the game. He was replaced by Kirk Cousins, who threw two fourth-quarter interceptions.

One thing I never want to see again: Joe Hawley attempting to catch a pass. With fullback Lousaka Polite out with an injury, the Falcons sometimes used Hawley as a blocking back. But with 5:50 left in the third quarter, the Falcons tried to throw a pass to Hawley. He was wide open, but the ball went right off his hands. When you have the talent at the skill positions that the Falcons have, Hawley should never be thrown the ball.

He never gets old: Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez has said he’s 95 percent sure he’ll retire after this season. He might want to rethink that. Gonzalez had a huge day, catching 13 passes for 123 yards.

What’s next: The Falcons host the Oakland Raiders next Sunday.

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' last-second loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

What it means: A taste of their own medicine, as the Eagles lost the close game this time after the Steelers one-upped them on fourth-quarter drives. It was a sloppy game all around, and a tough loss in a tough place to play. But if you were waiting for the day all of the Eagles' mistakes were going to cost them one of these one-point or two-point games, Sunday was the day. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was impressive late, but he was awful enough in the first half to dig the Eagles a hole from which they could not escape.

Tale of two QBs: Vick was 7-for-12 for 70 yards in the first half, and he also rushed four times for 11 yards and lost two fumbles. Philadelphia trailed 10-0 at the half, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had just put on a clinic in responsible, efficient quarterbacking with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 7:21 off the clock. It was a study in critical contrast. But out of nowhere in the fourth quarter, Vick and the Eagles topped it with a 17-play, 79-yard drive that bled 8:18 off the clock and gave them their first lead of the game with 6:33 left to play. On the drive, Vick was 7-for-10 for 57 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek. The Eagles converted two fourth downs and two third downs on the drive, including a third-and-goal from the 2. Had they played offense this way all game, they may have actually won somewhat easily.

For the defense: Roethlisberger was able to find some things in the Eagles' secondary, showcasing what an important part pressure plays in the Eagles' defensive schemes. Nnamdi Asomugha is not winning consistently enough in man coverage, and Antonio Brown had some fun against the Eagles' defensive backs. Philadelphia also struggled to contain Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall in his first game of the season, and they were unable to make the stops they needed to make on the drive that moved the Steelers into field goal range at the end of the game. For the second game in a row, the Eagles did not record a sack.

What's next: The Eagles host the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Lions (1-3) have lost three games in a row and are coming off their bye week. It will be the second consecutive week in which the Eagles' opponent was off the week before.

Rapid Reaction: Rams 17, Cardinals 3

October, 5, 2012
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals following the Rams' 17-3 victory Thursday night in the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Rams improved to 3-2, the first time they've had a winning record since the 2006 team was 4-3. They are 3-0 at home and 2-0 in the NFC West after going 4-26 against their division rivals from 2007 through last season. The Cardinals dropped to 4-1 while failing to reach 300 net yards for the fifth time this season. This game affirmed the NFC West's status as a hard-hitting division. Injury costs were high for both teams.

What I liked: Both teams started quickly on offense. Both teams played tenacious defense for most of the game. The Rams connected on two game-changing deep balls from Sam Bradford. Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb took a pounding, which was bad, but in the process he showed, again, that he's not brittle or lacking in toughness. He took eight sacks last week and nine in this one. Kolb kept battling and drove the Cardinals deep into Rams territory in the fourth quarter by completing 8 of 9 passes before his next completion gained only 3 yards on fourth-and-goal.

The Rams, despite problems on their offensive line, got Steven Jackson going for 76 yards on 18 carries. Rookie Daryl Richardson had nine carries for 35 yards. St. Louis hasn't gotten much push this season. The production from Jackson and Richardson was encouraging for the Rams.

What I didn't like: The injuries, the overmatched offensive lines, the dropped passes, the missed opportunities for pass connections well down the field, Jackson disappearing from the St. Louis offense for stretches, the Rams punting to Patrick Peterson from deep in their own territory while protecting a 14-point lead in the final minutes.

The Rams will not be the same offensively without top receiver Danny Amendola, who watched most of the game wearing a sling after suffering a shoulder injury while diving for a pass. It's not clear how much time Amendola might miss, but the Rams appeared lost without him until Bradford suddenly found rookie Chris Givens for a 51-yard touchdown to put away the game. The Cardinals lost running back Ryan Williams to a shoulder injury after the second-year back absorbed a brutal hit from Darian Stewart. Arizona was already without running backs Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Going after Peterson: In a big shock, the Rams attacked Cardinals cornerback Peterson and had success doing so, including when Bradford found Amendola for a 44-yard gain early. At times, the Rams' Janoris Jenkins looked like the best young corner on the field.

Quinn's big night: Rams defensive end Robert Quinn collected three sacks. Quinn has been quick off the edge this season, but power teams have exploited his weak run defense. The Cardinals posed no threat on the ground. That allowed Quinn to chase the quarterback without concern.

Legatron strikes: The Rams bucked convention when they cut veteran punter Donnie Jones and veteran kicker Josh Brown in favor of rookies. That move is paying off big.

Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein connected from 53 yards. He has made all 13 attempts this season. Zuerlein connected from 58 and 60 yards last week.

Rookie punter Johnny Hekker also showed off a strong leg, posting a 56.9-yard gross average with three of his seven punts downed inside the 20. Peterson had a healthy 15.2-yard average on five punt returns, but he didn't find the end zone -- a welcome change for the Rams, who allowed two Peterson return scores last season.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against Buffalo in Week 6. The Rams visit Miami.