NFL Nation: 2012 Week 7 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Bears 13, Lions 7

October, 23, 2012

CHICAGO -- Some thoughts on Monday night's events at Soldier Field:

What it means: The Chicago Bears overcame a scare with their starting quarterback to win their fourth consecutive game. At 5-1, they remain alone atop the NFC North. The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, made four big mistakes to scuttle any chance at one of their signature comeback wins. At 2-4, the Lions are the only team in the division without a winning record. Their playoff hopes are bleak.

CutlerWatch: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler absorbed a violent but legal sack late in the second quarter from Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Cutler's right shoulder hit the ground flush and Suh fell on top of him, apparently bruising Cutler's ribs. But Cutler missed a total of only five plays and returned from a locker room examination to start the third quarter. He completed seven of his final 14 passes for a modest 77 yards, but if there were any questions about his toughness -- and to be clear, there were none here -- Cutler answered them Monday night.

Lions mistakes: The Lions committed four turnovers in Bears territory, three in the red zone, on plays the Bears' opportunistic defense deserved credit for. Tailback Mikel Leshoure lost a fumble at the Bears' 17-yard line in the second quarter. Returner Stefan Logan muffed a punt at the Bears' 27-yard line after the Lions had stopped the Bears on the opening possession of the third quarter. Running back Joique Bell lost control of the ball at the Bears' 1-yard line. Finally, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an interception at the Bears' 2-yard line on fourth down with 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining. The Lions were going to have a hard time beating the Bears straight-up. Fouling up four scoring opportunities gave them no chance.

Two-deep: The Bears mixed up their defense early in the game, tossing in a few blitzes to keep Stafford from establishing a rhythm. But for the most part, their deep-safety look left the Lions unable to drive the ball downfield. Leshoure rolled up 63 yards on 12 carries, but the Lions didn't manage a pass play longer than 19 yards until midway through the fourth quarter.

Injury report: The Lions lost two starters in the third quarter. A right knee injury sent receiver Nate Burleson to the locker room. Safety Amari Spievey, meanwhile, suffered a concussion. It should be noted that symptoms from Spievey's most recent concussion, in the 2011 wild-card playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, didn't subside until the middle of the spring. Burleson was replaced by rookie Ryan Broyles, who caught his first NFL touchdown with 30 seconds remaining to prevent a shutout.

What's next: The Lions will host the Seattle Seahawks, and the Bears will host the Carolina Panthers. Both games are Sunday.

CINCINNATI -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-17 win at the Cincinnati Bengals:

What it means: It was far from perfect, but the Steelers found a way to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead and win their first road game of the season. Overcoming a sloppy start, Pittsburgh (3-3) moved to within 1.5 games of the division-leading Ravens (5-2). The Bengals (3-4) lost their third straight and their ninth in a row in prime time. This marked the Steelers' fifth consecutive win over the Bengals.

Running game resurfaces: Rookie fifth-round pick Chris Rainey made his first touchdown a memorable one. His 11-yard score up the middle of the Bengals' defense put the Steelers ahead 44 seconds into the fourth quarter. Rainey had 15 yards rushing in his first five games. In his first start, Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries.

Dalton struggles: Andy Dalton was wildly inaccurate as he once again struggled against the Steelers. He finished 14-of-28 for 105 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His longest pass was 17 yards. Dalton fell to 0-3 against the Steelers.

Slipping up before halftime: The Bengals had a first down with 1:30 left in the first half and a 14-6 lead. But they went into halftime tied at 14. Dalton, who has been picked off in every game this season, threw a pass off the back of right guard Kevin Zeitler's helmet and was intercepted by Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The Steelers converted that into a 9-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller, who also caught the two-point conversion to tie the game.

Steelers drop the ball: The Steelers could've had two touchdowns in the first half if they caught the ball. On a trick play, running back Baron Batch, with no one between him and the end zone, couldn't pull in a pass from wide receiver Antonio Brown. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who had three drops in the first half, couldn't handle a deflected pass that went to him in the end zone. Wallace dropped his fourth pass, one that was thrown behind him, on third down with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter.

Where did Green go?: One play after Ben Roethlisberger's fumble deep in his own territory, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green caught an 8-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. It was his sixth straight game with a touchdown. But that was the only catch in the first three quarters for Green, who entered the game as the NFL leader in receiving yards. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who had struggled this season, broke up a third-down pass to Green in the third quarter.

What's next: The Steelers return home to play the Washington Redskins (3-4). The Bengals are on a bye week before playing the Broncos at home on Nov. 4.

Rapid Reaction: Pats 29, Jets 26 (OT)

October, 21, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' 29-26 overtime victory over the Jets at Gillette Stadium:

PatriotsJetsWhat it means. An unexpected turn of events. The Patriots led 23-13 at the end of the third quarter and found themselves staring at a 26-23 deficit when they started their final offensive drive of regulation at their 20-yard line with 1:32 remaining. They were fortunate to escape, with two drives that produced field goals -- one at the end of regulation and one to open overtime -- to improve to 4-3 (2-0 in AFC East). Defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich combined to strip-sack Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to seal the win.

Where has the explosive offense gone? Two weeks ago, after back-to-back wins over the Bills and Broncos, the Patriots’ offense looked explosive and some were wondering if it might be better than the team’s record-setting 2007 edition. The offense has struggled to find its groove since. The Patriots attempted to be more balanced in this game, but couldn’t string together any consistency in either area. Tom Brady’s frustration was evident at various points. The Patriots need to find that spark again.

McCourty’s kickoff return a spark ... then he nearly fumbles game away. The Jets had tied the game at 23 with 2:06 remaining when Patriots kickoff returner Devin McCourty lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. The Jets recovered and kicked a field goal to go up 26-23. This offset one of the best plays of the game -- McCourty’s 104-yard kickoff return in the first quarter. It was the second-longest kickoff return in Patriots history.

Gostkowski’s 43-yarder forces overtime. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski delivered one of the biggest kicks of his seven-year career with the team, nailing a 43-yard field goal with no time left in regulation. The kick was set up by a five-play, 65-yard drive directed by Brady. Gostkowski's 48-yarder in OT was the winner.

Injuries mount in various areas. The Patriots are a banged-up football team. Starting right guard Dan Connolly (illness) played only the opening series before being replaced. The team also was playing without starting left guard Logan Mankins (hip/calf) and starting safeties Steve Gregory (hip) and Patrick Chung (shoulder), while cornerback Ras-I Dowling (right quad) and defensive end Trevor Scott (right hamstring) left in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.

Credit to the Jets. Two weeks ago, the Jets were left for dead by some after back-to-back losses to the 49ers and Texans, but they've rebounded and gave the Patriots all they could handle in this game. The Patriots were ineffective for long stretches of the game, but the Jets deserve credit for parts of that. They mixed up their defensive plan -- sometimes bringing pressure, sometimes rushing just three -- and also played tough against the run. They served notice that they will be a factor in the AFC East.

What’s next. The Patriots travel to London for a “road” game against the Rams on Sunday. The team is scheduled to leave late Thursday afternoon. Following London is the Patriots' bye week. The Jets return home to entertain the Dolphins.

OAKLAND -- A look at an ugly one in overtime:

What it means: The Raiders came back from a 14-point deficit to win in overtime to improve to 2-4. This game wasn’t pretty and the Raiders had their problems, but they came back and beat Jacksonville. Credit to Oakland for not folding when it was down by two touchdowns. The Raiders trail first-place Denver and San Diego, both 3-3, by one game in the division and they play two struggling teams, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, in the next two weeks. Maybe this win will spark Oakland.

Jaguars short-handed: The Raiders were quite fortunate. Jacksonville played without quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running back Maurice Jones-Drew for much of the game. Jacksonville could muster very little offense in the second half. Gabbert’s replacement, Chad Henne, was, in a word, awful.

Questionable coaching: Both Oakland coach Dennis Allen and Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey made several questionable calls. Allen burned his timeouts early in the second half. Mularkey went for it on fourth down late in the second quarter when he should have punted; Oakland turned it into three points. Also, with less than seven minutes to go in the game, Mularkey called three straight passing plays even though Henne was struggling mightily. All three passes were incomplete. He needs to burns the clock by running. The Jaguars made several crucial penalties in the fourth quarter. Mularkey inexplicably called timeout in the final seconds when the Raiders were trying to run out the clock and go to overtime.

What’s next: Oakland goes to Kansas City next Sunday to face the 1-5 Chiefs.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Dallas Cowboys ended their two-game losing streak, hanging on Sunday afternoon for an ugly 19-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

As Carolina tried to salvage the game with a last-second drive, quarterback Cam Newton fired a fourth-down pass to Louis Murphy. Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne hit Murphy before the ball arrived, but the referees didn't penalize him for pass interference. The crowd of 70,000 voiced its displeasure, but the Cowboys left with a much-needed victory.

What it means: The Cowboys ended a two-game losing streak and saved their season by moving to 3-3. But the win comes at a cost. Inside linebacker Sean Lee and center Phil Costa left the game with injuries. Costa might miss significant time with a right leg injury, and Lee didn't return because of a right big toe injury.

Does Jason Garrett trust the team? It's a call Garrett will be questioned about after the game. Faced with a third-and-9 at the Carolina 15 in the fourth quarter, Garrett came out of a timeout and called for a running play to Phillip Tanner, resulting in a 5-yard gain. Garrett settled for a field goal, made good from 28 yards by Dan Bailey that gave Dallas a 16-14 lead. It was interesting that Garrett didn't try to push the ball toward the end zone. On the second-down play, quarterback Tony Romo fired a pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant that was dropped in the end zone. Bryant complained to referees about holding, and there was some, but it was his fifth dropped pass of the season.


How will the Cowboys fare in their upcoming stretch against the Giants, Falcons and Eagles?


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Claiborne makes a pick: The Cowboys' secondary got its first interception of the season when Claiborne intercepted a Newton pass in the end zone. The interception was Claiborne's first of his career. The Cowboys have two interceptions this season, with Lee having the other. It was the first pick by a secondary player in the last 333 passing attempts. Orlando Scandrick was the last cornerback to pick off a pass, occurring last year at Washington.

The loss of Costa: As the Panthers were returning a Miles Austin fumble, Costa suffered a nasty right ankle injury. Costa was on the ground for several moments and needed a cart to be taken off the field. Several players, including Jay Ratliff, Felix Jones and Orlando Scandrick offered support. Garrett came out and slapped Costa in the chest and shook his hand. Costa's season has been up and down due to injury. He lasted just three plays before reinjuring his back in the season opener, but he returned after missing three games. With this latest injury, it seems Costa will be out for a significant period of time. Ryan Cook took over for Costa. If Costa is out for the season, the Cowboys might sign another center/guard.

Injuries: The Cowboys lost Costa, and Lee left the game with a right big toe injury. Bryant also missed a few snaps after getting shaken up.

What's next? The Cowboys will host the New York Giants next week. The Giants are 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 35-28 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Saints are 2-4, but there still is a glimmer of hope for their season. They now have won two straight games. They also will get assistant head coach Joe Vitt back from his six-game suspension. Interim head coach Aaron Kromer did a decent job in a tough situation, but Vitt’s experience might provide a boost for the Saints. The Bucs fell to 2-4, despite jumping out to an early 14-0 lead. The Bucs could have improved to 3-3 and perhaps turned a corner in their development with a win, but this was proof that the Bucs haven’t arrived yet and that their pass defense, particularly their pass rush, has a long way to go.

Brees’ big day: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns. At halftime, Brees had 313 passing yards and was on pace to break Norm Van Brocklin’s 1951 regular-season record of 554 yards in a game.

Worst move of the day: With 14:54 left in the fourth quarter and New Orleans leading 28-21, the Saints lined up to attempt a 51-yard field goal. But the drive was given new life when Tampa Bay was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to simulate the snap count. The Saints went on to score a touchdown. Simulating the snap count? Maybe that kind of thing works in college, but it doesn't fly in the NFL.

Opportunity lost: The Bucs caught a break with about six minutes left in the third quarter when New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson tipped a Josh Freeman pass, but Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson was able to catch it. Robinson fell down and there were no defenders near him. He gained 95 yards, but safety Malcolm Jenkins brought him down at the 1-yard line. The Bucs weren’t able to punch it in on four plays.

Second-worst move of the day: Speaking of what Tampa Bay did in the immediate aftermath of Jackson’s big catch, the Bucs handed the ball to LeGarrette Blount on three straight plays, and he couldn’t get into the end zone against the league’s worst defense. I realize Blount’s a big, power back and you should give him at least one crack at the end zone. But you know what the unofficial coaching handbook says about doing the same thing three times in a row? It’s against it. At some point in those three plays, you need to at least look like you might throw a pass and spread the defense out. The Bucs finally did that on fourth down, but Freeman ended up scrambling out of bounds for a 4-yard loss.

What’s next: The Bucs face a quick turnaround. They’ll play Thursday night at Minnesota. The Saints also will play their next game in prime time. They’ll be at Denver next Sunday night.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 43, Ravens 13

October, 21, 2012

HOUSTON -- On a day of competitive, close early games, this wasn’t one of them. A few thoughts:

What it means: The Ravens and Texans came into this one tied for the best record in the AFC at 5-1. No other AFC team entered the day above .500. But this was truly a one-sided affair. Yes, the Ravens got Terrell Suggs back after a stunning six-month recovery from an Achilles tear. But they still couldn’t make up for the loss of Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb. They gave up 29 unanswered points and 258 yards in the first half to trail 29-3 at halftime. It didn’t get much better in the second half.

What I liked: Not much. Up until midway through the third quarter, Joe Flacco was horrible. He had two passes tipped that resulted in interceptions, one of which Johnathan Joseph returned for a touchdown that gave the Texans a 16-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Ravens abandoned their running game early and lost their starting right tackle, rookie Kelechi Osemele, who was carted off the field in the first half with a leg injury. That meant left tackle Michael Oher moved to right tackle and backup Bryant McKinnie stepped in at left tackle.

What I didn’t like: The defense. Yes, the Ravens have been decimated by injuries. But they gave up 36 points through the first three quarters, the most since allowing 37 to the Indianapolis Colts in 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They got little pressure on Matt Schaub and created no turnovers. Even worse, the offense couldn’t build any momentum to alleviate pressure on the defense after giving up a safety midway through the first quarter.

Suggs was unreal: Seriously, the man is a freak of nature. Sure, he looks like he’s put on a few pounds during his rehabilitation. But no one aside from maybe Suggs himself thought he would be back on the playing field this early. In November, maybe. But Week 7? That was insane. On his seventh play of the game, Suggs sacked Schaub. He played approximately 35 snaps in the first half, and more in the second even though the game was out of hand. We will see how he bounces back following his first game action, but it was an impressive return.

What’s next: A long, quiet flight home to Maryland and then a bye week. Couldn’t come at a better time. The Ravens must regroup. They’re still 5-2. After the bye, they travel to Cleveland in Week 9 to face a Browns team they beat 23-16 in Week 4.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 43, Ravens 13

October, 21, 2012

HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans' 43-13 pounding of the Ravens at Reliant Stadium on Sunday:

What it means: At 6-1, the Texans own the best record in the AFC, and with a win over the Ravens in their pocket, they are in an advantageous position to set up a playoff bye and home-field advantage in the postseason. They showed a nice bounce-back ability, recovering from the pounding they suffered a week ago at the hands of the Packers, exploiting matchups and showing themselves to be far better in the playmaker department.

What I liked on offense: The Texans wisely attacked the Ravens’ secondary in their first game without injured cornerback Lardarius Webb. Andre Johnson has had a relatively quiet season, but had no problem routinely getting open, mostly against corner Jimmy Smith. Matt Schaub also did well finding tight end Owen Daniels. The Texans spread out the carries as they used Ben Tate, but Arian Foster still gained 98 yards and had two scores to round out the offensive effort.

What I also liked on defense: Whitney Mercilus had a sack fumble and Connor Barwin had a sack for a safety on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. Antonio Smith had back-to-back fourth-quarter sacks of Joe Flacco. With pressure and pretty good coverage, the Texans never let Flacco find any sort of comfort zone.

Bounce-back effort: Cornerback Johnathan Joseph (groin) got called for a couple of penalties, but appeared far more effective than he had been the past two games. He picked off a fluttery ball from Flacco that was tipped by J.J. Watt and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.

What’s next: The Texans have a bye before returning to action with a trip to Buffalo. The remaining home schedule is hardly intimidating with the Bills, Jaguars, Colts and Vikings.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 27, Redskins 23

October, 21, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' breathtaking victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: Robert Griffin III and the Redskins are a tough team to beat, but Eli Manning and the Giants are still the defending Super Bowl champs. And in one of the all-time acts of one-upmanship, Manning ripped a victory away from Griffin in the final minutes. After Griffin put the Redskins on top with a touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 1:30 left in the game, Manning hit Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 to go. The Redskins got the ball back, but a fumble by Moss cut short their final comeback attempt, and the 5-2 Giants seized control of the NFC East.

Burgundy kryptonite: Manning always struggles against the Redskins, and Sunday's first 58 minutes were no exception. He struggled all day to get on the same page with Cruz, missing him in the end zone once, and threw two interceptions before redeeming himself with the final bomb to Cruz that won the game. In three games over the past two seasons against the Redskins, Manning has six interceptions and now just the one touchdown. But what a touchdown it was.

The new kid: It wasn't an incredibly easy day for Griffin, either, as the Giants were able to pressure him with defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. Griffin was sacked three times, fumbled twice and threw an interception. Of course, he also rushed for 89 yards and eluded Pierre-Paul on a key fourth-down conversion with two minutes left in the game, then ran for 24 yards on a scramble to help set up his 30-yard go-ahead touchdown to Moss.

Redskins running: In what everyone universally recognizes as a passing league, the Redskins continue to insist on running the ball, and they did it with great success against the Giants on Sunday. It was their 13th game in a row with at least 100 yards rushing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the second-longest such streak in the league coming into this week was two games in a row by the Giants and the Rams.

Injuries: The biggest was to Washington tight end Fred Davis, who left the game in the first quarter with, according to reports, the Redskins fear is a torn left Achilles' tendon. That would end Davis' season and rob the Washington passing attack of another important downfield weapon. Redskins linebacker London Fletcher left the game with a right hamstring injury. Fletcher has played in 231 consecutive games.

What's next: The Redskins will travel to Pittsburgh, where they will play the Steelers in a 1 p.m. ET game next Sunday. The Giants head to Dallas for an important 4:25 p.m. ET divisional showdown against the Cowboys.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 30, Rams 20

October, 21, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 30-20 defeat to the Green Bay Packers at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 7:

What it means: The Rams fell to 3-4 with their second consecutive defeat. The tough stretch could continue thanks to the schedule. St. Louis faces New England in London, then San Francisco on the road following a bye. Three of the Rams' four remaining division games are on the road. No one said Jeff Fisher's first season would be easy.

What I liked: The Rams' defense set the tone early by stuffing a Packers run and sacking Aaron Rodgers while forcing a three-and-out on Green Bay's first possession. Rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers collected the first sack of his career.

The offense established a ground game right away, helping St. Louis win time of possession by a wide margin in the first half. The pass protection for Sam Bradford was better than anticipated for a team with third-stringers at left tackle and left guard.

The Rams put together a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, sparked by rookie Chris Givens' 56-yard catch-and-run. Steven Jackson played a key role on the drive, converting on third-and-1 before scoring on a 6-yarder up the middle.

What I didn't like: Green Bay seized the underdog's initiative away from St. Louis by succeeding with an onside kick following a first-quarter touchdown. That was the type of play St. Louis has sought to execute as a means toward manufacturing points. Watching the Packers accomplish that feat had to make the Rams' coaches grimace.

The Rams continued to squander chances for scoring touchdowns. They failed on fourth-and-2 from the Packers' 14-yard line. Bradford couldn't handle a shotgun snap on a third-and-8 play from the Green Bay 25, leading Bradford to scramble for no gain.

It's easy to read too much into the situation based on what we know about the state of the Rams' offensive line. However, I thought there were times when Bradford appeared to rush throws as if he did not trust his protection, even when he wasn't about to get hit. That seemed to be a possibility on the interception Bradford threw on a deep pass up the left sideline from near the Rams' goal line.

Gutsy call: The Rams failed to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 15 while trailing 10-3. The move was understandable given that the Rams had to figure field goals weren't going to be enough. But getting a first down in that situation wouldn't have guaranteed a touchdown later on the drive. The Rams' defense was playing well overall and the game was still young. Before this game, the Rams had converted twice on eight drop backs when needing 2 yards for a first down on third/fourth downs.

Givens' explosiveness: Givens has a reception of 50-plus yards in four consecutive games. Willie Gault had been the last player to do that in three consecutive games. He did it during the 1983 season. The Rams were checking to see which player, if any, had done it four games in a row. Givens is the Rams' most explosive player.

Respecting Rodgers: When the Rams allowed Rodgers to connect on his second scoring pass, they had allowed four TD throws in 6.5 quarters after allowing two of them in the first 20.5 quarters of the season. Rodgers was phenomenal in this game. He completed 20 of his first 22 passes for 232 yards and two scores. His third scoring pass was memorable. Rodgers rolled left and threw across his body to Randall Cobb for a 39-yard score.

Running stats: The Rams carried 16 times for 93 yards in the first half. They carried six times for 15 yards in the second half. The disparity arose because the Packers controlled the ball after halftime. Green Bay had scoring drives spanning 6:56, 4:25 and 5:44 in the second half.

Infirmary report: The Rams lost defensive end Eugene Sims to a knee injury in the first half. Sims was part of the nickel defensive line and overall defensive line rotation. Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Trumaine Johnson were shaken up. Bradley did not miss any playing time. Receiver Brian Quick landed hard on his left hip while falling out of bounds on a pass near the end zone late in the game.

What's next: The Rams face the New England Patriots in London.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after the Vikings' 21-14 win at the Metrodome on Sunday:

What it means: The Vikings are 5-2 after overcoming a shaky and worrisome 58-yard performance from quarterback Christian Ponder. The Vikings managed only 60 yards of offense in the second half, but their defense (six sacks) did more than enough to secure this victory.

PetersonWatch: Tailback Adrian Peterson displayed as much explosiveness as we've seen since his return from knee surgery. He totaled 153 yards on 23 carries, including runs of 27, 22 and 17 yards. On the 27-yarder, Peterson dragged two Cardinals defenders the final 10 yards. His 13-yard scoring run in the first quarter snapped a career-long streak of five consecutive games without a touchdown, and frankly, it's not clear why the Vikings didn't feature him in the second half more often as Ponder's struggles continued.

PonderWatch: Ponder threw two bad interceptions and completed only 8 of 17 passes even as the Vikings maintained the most conservative approach imaginable. He threw high and behind tight end Kyle Rudolph in the first quarter, setting up the Cardinals' only touchdown, and floated an ill-advised pass just before halftime that was also intercepted. That's six interceptions, and a total of seven turnovers, for Ponder in his past three games after going without an interception in the Vikings' first four games. The Vikings are 2-1 in those games, but it's worrisome that he's missing on some basic throws. A season-high crowd of 61,068 was testy, giving Ponder a Bronx cheer when he threw a ball out of bounds in the third quarter and then booing a bit later when the Vikings shifted into an open backfield.

Defensive gains: The Vikings had a hard time tackling Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who finished with 149 combined rushing and receiving yards. But safety Harrison Smith's 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter staked them to a 21-7 lead, allowing the pass rush to let loose. Defensive end Brian Robison finished with three sacks (and a forced fumble) and defensive end Jared Allen had two against immobile quarterback John Skelton. Meanwhile, cornerback Antoine Winfield upended Skelton on a failed bootleg play on fourth down to end a third-quarter scoring threat.

Injury report: Vikings tight end John Carlson was taken into the locker room for evaluation of a possible concussion and did not return.

What's next: The Vikings need to rest quickly. They'll host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday for their second game in five days.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 13, Seahawks 6

October, 18, 2012
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 13-6 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The 49ers moved to 5-2 and secured sole possession of first place with a hard-fought victory over the Seahawks (4-3). Quarterback Alex Smith struggled, but the victory was what mattered the most. Seattle has now completed its NFC West road schedule with an 0-3 record in those games. The Seahawks scored 35 points in those three road games against Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco. Coach Pete Carroll has now gone 1-7 in his past eight games against current NFC West head coaches.

What I liked: Both teams ran the ball better than expected despite facing run defenses that have been extremely stout since last season. The 49ers' Frank Gore and the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch each topped 100 yards rushing.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw down the field without fear and put his receivers/tight ends in position to make big plays (they did not make nearly enough of them). Seattle’s offensive line rose to the occasion, clearing holes in the running game while giving Wilson enough time. The 49ers' offensive line answered by springing Gore for big gains repeatedly. Niners return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. helped swing field position in the 49ers’ favor multiple times.

What I didn’t like: Both teams seemed a little too content settling for field goal tries. Seattle’s decision to run Leon Washington on third-and-3 comes to mind. Washington didn’t get the first down. Seattle wound up missing a long field goal try. The 49ers settled for a second-half field goal after running a quarterback draw on third down.

The Seahawks’ Evan Moore, Robert Turbin and Golden Tate missed chances to make receptions for big gains. Tate dropped an easy pass on third-and-short to force a punt after Seattle moved into 49ers territory on its first drive of the second half. Turbin and Moore dropped downfield throws.

The 49ers got Gore running early, but he had only six carries in the first half and wasn’t a big enough part of the plan, it seemed. It’s possible the Seahawks forced the 49ers away from Gore, something New England’s Bill Belichick said Seattle did through its scheme and personnel. Still, Gore was running well enough to command additional carries.

Both teams conceded first downs with penalties in short-yardage situations. Seattle’s Brandon Mebane jumped across the line early on one of them. The 49ers’ Ray McDonald lined up over the center illegally on a Seattle punt.

The interception 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw near the goal line looked like it would have been picked off by a deeper defender if the Seahawks' Brandon Browner hadn't intercepted it first. Smith appeared tentative and seemed to continue a regression that began with his three-interception game a week earlier.

Chop-block or not: The Seahawks completed a fourth-down pass for an apparent first down while trying to rally with 43 seconds left. Officials wiped out the play, calling a chop-block penalty against Seahawks guard Paul McQuistan. I wondered after watching replays if McQuistan struck the 49ers' Aldon Smith in the thigh area or lower. It didn't matter in the end, however, as officials determined Seattle had not gained a first down.

Losing composure: 49ers safety Dashon Goldson drew a 15-yard penalty for taking an extra shot at Lynch during a pileup. The hit appeared to be retaliatory in nature. Lynch had run over Goldson and fallen on him a few plays earlier. The penalty helped Seattle move into position for a 52-yard field goal on its opening drive -- a drive that began at the Seattle 4-yard line.

Harbaugh’s non-challenge: Officials denied 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s attempt at challenging a potential fumble by Seattle deep in Seahawks territory. It looked like Seattle recovered the ball anyway. Harbaugh was incensed and could be heard berating an official.

Drop watch: Seattle suffered from at least four dropped passes. Tate had two of them. The 49ers’ Randy Moss dropped a ball with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hanging on him. Officials seemingly could have thrown a flag on that play. Lynch dropped a third-down throw with Seattle deep in its own territory and trailing 10-6 with 10:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Missed tackles: Sherman, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright missed 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree along the sideline, allowing Crabtree to escape for a 16-yard gain. The 49ers had trouble taking down Lynch, but every team does. He might be the toughest back to tackle in the NFL.

Injury watch: The Seahawks lost receiver Doug Baldwin to an ankle injury. They lost backup linebacker Malcolm Smith to a concussion. Defensive tackle Jason Jones limped off in the second half after a teammate inadvertently fell on the back of his leg.

What’s next: The Seahawks face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Week 8. The 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” at University of Phoenix Stadium.




Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22