NFL Nation: 2012 Week 8 coverage

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 3

October, 29, 2012

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 8:

What it means: The 49ers affirmed their status as the most complete team in the NFC West and the clear favorite to win the division. Their 6-2 record gives them a two-game lead over Seattle and Arizona, with St. Louis lagging three games back. San Francisco appears ready to pull away from its rivals over the second half of the season. The Cardinals appear less likely than Seattle to challenge for a playoff spot.

What I liked: The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson went head to head on a national stage. The young first-round draft choices matched up several times in the first half. Crabtree enjoyed a clear advantage this time. He now has won two of their past three matchups.

Crabtree outmuscled Peterson to grab a high pass in the end zone. He broke away from Peterson and kept his balance during a 22-yard reception to set up a David Akers field goal. Later, Crabtree left Peterson on the grass en route to another scoring reception. The 49ers' passing game hadn't gotten going like this since the game against Buffalo three weeks ago.

Alex Smith's finger injury obviously isn't a factor any longer. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith got the ball to his receivers and let them do much of the work, including when Randy Moss shook Jamell Fleming and Paris Lenon along the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.

For the Cardinals, Daryl Washington collected two more sacks, giving him eight for the season. That's tremendous production from an inside linebacker. Washington should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season, particularly with Dallas' Sean Lee out for the year. The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman also are in the mix for Pro Bowl berths at inside linebacker, of course.

Cardinals rookie receiver Michael Floyd, although inconsistent, flashed talent by making a left-handed grab while falling to the ground in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' defense had no answer for the 49ers' offense. San Francisco ran the ball at will early in the game, then succeeded through the air before and after the catch. Arizona has been much better on defense much of the season. However, four of the Cardinals' five most recent opponents -- Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco -- have moved the ball too easily on the ground, through the air or both ways.

This was the first time all season Arizona allowed more than 21 points in a game.

Of course, Arizona's offense deserves a fair amount of the blame. The defense can't do everything. Quarterback John Skelton threw inaccurately with and without imminent pressure. That has been typical for him. On some plays, inaccuracy made it nearly impossible for Cardinals receivers to make gains after the catch. Receivers had to reach for balls just to make catches, allowing defenders to close ground.

Smith, despite his strong passing performance, held the ball too long, taking sacks. He risked injuries unnecessarily while setting back the offense. Smith took hard hits from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket after having time to unload the ball.

Also, 49ers guard Alex Boone committed a face mask penalty to kill a promising San Francisco drive early in the game.

Advantage, Goldson: Niners safety Dashon Goldson leveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet following a short reception over the middle. Goldson celebrated by holding both arms skyward. This one might have been personal.

Goldson and Doucet brawled during a Week 11 game between the teams last season. The league levied a $25,000 fine against Goldson and a $10,000 fine against Doucet. Doucet was the instigator, but the NFL cited him for only unnecessary roughness, while Goldson was cited for fighting, which carries higher fines.

Doucet returned to the game.

Draft-pick comparison: The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in 2011 when they could have taken Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers two picks later. Both have been impact players overall, but Smith had the better night Monday. He had two sacks.

Fitzgerald shaken up: Larry Fitzgerald remained in the game and was on the field in the final minutes despite getting shaken up when he went face first into the grass during the first half. There was no injury announcement made in relation to Fitzgerald. He returned to the game quickly.

Roof open: While states in the East weathered Sandy, the Cardinals opened the roof for this game. The official play-by-play sheet said the temperature was 90 degrees at kickoff. The thermometer on my rental car read in the 80s several hours earlier. Either way, the NFL lucked out with its scheduling for this game.

Not the 2002 Raiders: Arizona is the first team since the 2002 Oakland Raiders to go from 4-0 to 4-4. Those Raiders went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl thanks to MVP quarterback Rich Gannon.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. The 49ers have a bye before facing the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10.
DENVER -- A look at a solid 34-14 victory for the Denver Broncos:

What it means: This was Denver’s most complete, impressive game of the season. The Broncos put together a complete effort instead of just in the second half. Their reward is a 4-3 record and sole possession of first place in the AFC West.

Great defense: Denver’s defense was tremendous against Drew Brees and the Saints' offense. The Saints could not sustain many drives. This could have been a coming-out party for an improved Denver defense.

Mr. 300: This was Peyton Manning's fifth straight 300-yard passing game. It set a team record and it matches his personal best when he started the 2009 season with five straight 300-yard games. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 305 yards. Manning threw three touchdown passes and was not intercepted.

McGahee's milestone: Running back Willis McGahee rushed for 122 yards, his 33rd 100-yard game. It leads all active players.

Youngsters contribute: Rookie running back Ronnie Hillman and second-year tight end Virgil Green both had nice nights. Hillman, a third-round pick, had 86 yards on 14 rushes. Green had three catches for 44 yards. Expect both players to see their playing time increase as the season progresses. This could be an added boost for Denver.

What’s next: Denver plays at the Cincinnati Bengals next week as it tries to keep its hold on first place in the division.

Wrap-up: Broncos 34, Saints 14

October, 28, 2012

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 34-14 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night:

What it means: There was a school of thought among some New Orleans fans that with the Saints playing better the last two games and interim head coach Joe Vitt returning from a six-game suspension everything would change. The hope was the Saints would go on a miraculous run to turn their season around and make it to the playoffs. There were no miracles in Denver and that means the chances of a miraculous run to the playoffs have dwindled to almost zero. The Saints are 2-5 and they’re in third place in the NFC South. This may have been the ugliest New Orleans loss in recent years because the Saints rarely have been so thoroughly beaten.

Critical call: With the game tied, 7-7, the Saints faced a fourth and 2 near midfield with 9:17 left in the second quarter. Vitt’s been Sean Payton’s right-hand man since 2006 and I think the interim head coach made the same decision the suspended coach would have made. He left the offense on the field and went for the first down. The only difference is that Vitt didn’t get the same result Payton usually got when he made bold moves in the past. Instead, quarterback Drew Brees was intercepted. Five plays later, the Broncos scored a touchdown that put them in control the rest of the night.

Making history: New Orleans became the first defense in NFL history to give up 400 yards of total offense in seven straight games.

It’s not all on the defense: The numbers ended up being lousy. But, at least early on, the defense played much better than I expected against Peyton Manning and the Denver offense. The Saints got a fumble recovery and a couple of first-half stops before getting worn down in the second half. I think you can put the blame for that on Brees and the offense. Brees was uncharacteristically inaccurate, there was no running game and the offense never really got into a rhythm. If the Saints are going to have any chance at winning, their offense has to put up big numbers. That didn’t come close to happening.

Milestone time: The one highlight of the night was Brees’ second-quarter touchdown pass to Darren Sproles. It was the 300th of his career and ties him with Dan Marino for No. 6 on the all-time list.

What’s next: The Saints host the Philadelphia Eagles in a "Monday Night Football" game on Nov. 5.

Wrap-up: Raiders 26, Chiefs 16

October, 28, 2012
A look at two teams going in different directions:

What it means: The Raiders are officially in the hunt in the AFC West and the Chiefs are officially in the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Oakland has won two straight games and is 3-4. Kansas City is 1-6. Give Oakland credit. It has shown it is better than the league’s worst team as it has beaten Jacksonville and Kansas City in the past two weeks. Those are the type of games you must win. Look at San Diego on Sunday. It blew a winnable game at Cleveland and it is now tied with the Raiders. Oakland has won six straight times at Arrowhead Stadium. The game was its first road win of the season. The Chiefs dropped to 0-4 at home, which has to further steam an upset fan base.

Bad streaks continue for Chiefs: The Chiefs have not led at any point during a game this season. Their one win came in overtime. The Chiefs haven’t scored a touchdown on their opening drive dating back to the start of last season.

Quinn out, Cassel in: The strange quarterback situation continues in Kansas City. Last week, Brady Quinn was named the starter. He took over for Matt Cassel after he had a concussion and Quinn kept the job. Yep, you guessed it. Quinn suffered a possible concussion Sunday and Cassel came in. Cassel did OK as he completed 20 of 30 passes for 218 yards. So, yes, the flux continues at quarterback in Kansas City.

Routt routed: Kansas City cornerback Stanford Routt -- who was Oakland’s No. 1 cornerback last season and who was cut by the Raiders’ new regime in February -- was picked on all game and the Raiders made some big plays against him. He did have an interception early.

McFadden pumps up numbers: Oakland running back Darren McFadden had a big fourth quarter to give him a respectable running line. He ended up with 114 yards on 29 carries. Oakland has to find a way to continue McFadden’s fourth-quarter ground success.

Raiders get to quarterback: The Raiders had an improved pass-rush. They had three sacks against a decent team. Oakland had seven sacks in its first six games.

Turnover disaster continues: The Chiefs have committed 25 turnovers, which leads the NFL.

What’s next: The Raiders have another winnable game against Tampa Bay. The Chiefs have to get ready on a short week and play at San Diego on Thursday night in a game which should capture the imagination of the country. Or not.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- These games between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are always close. Nearly all of them, it seems. Sunday's was no different, and it came down to the final moments again.

The Giants held on for a dramatic 29-24 victory at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon. They are now 4-0 at Cowboys Stadium since the $1.2 billion palace opened.

What it means: The Cowboys are 3-4 overall and are 1-1 in the division with four NFC East games remaining. The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins both lost Sunday. This is a difficult loss for the Cowboys, who will be on the road next week at Atlanta.

The miracle catch that wasn't: With six seconds left, Dez Bryant made what appeared to be a leaping 37-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo. One problem: As Bryant came down with the catch, his right hand landed on the wide part of the end zone. The referees ruled touchdown and Cowboys Stadium went crazy. Bryant fell down after making the catch and needed help off the field. After a review of the play, it was ruled that Bryant was out of bounds.

Comebacks for Romo, Manning: Eli Manning has done it again. He has 23 regular-season comeback victories and is 27-5 in October. He continues to outplay Romo down the stretch. The Cowboys took the lead after rallying from a 23-point deficit, which would have been the Cowboys' and Romo's biggest comeback.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The Cowboys had a season-high six turnovers, five of them leading to New York scores. The last came when Romo scrambled and directed a pass at tight end Jason Witten, but it was picked off by Stevie Brown with 1:03 left to play, sealing the victory for the Giants.

Bryant benched on punts: Bryant has struggled on punt returns all season. In the first half he muffed a punt, secured it and then fumbled it, eventually leading to a Giants' score. Bryant was replaced by Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris on punt returns. As far as receiver play, Bryant made one mistake on a route, leading to an interception, but he also caught a 55-yard bomb and finished the day with five catches for 110 yards. Bryant returned as the punt returner with less than a minute to play.

The fourth-down play: The Cowboys were faced with a fourth-and-1 from the New York 19 and Romo was flushed out of the pocket. He moved to the Giants' 40 and lofted the pass to Witten that was intercepted by Brown. It was Romo's fourth interception of the day. You could say, with three timeouts, the Cowboys could have run the ball with Felix Jones, who was in the backfield as the Cowboys had a four-receiver set. Instead, the Cowboys tried to throw the ball and the play failed them.


What action from Sunday's loss to the Giants bests fits this season's Cowboys?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,194)

Cowboys lose Connor: Linebacker Dan Connor, who earned the start with Sean Lee out with a toe injury, suffered a neck strain in the first half and didn't return. Orie Lemon replaced Connor in the starting lineup. It's another example of how defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to juggle the lineup. Ryan has missed numerous starters, including nose tackle Jay Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware left the game with an undisclosed injury but returned.

What gets lost: Tight end Jason Witten had a wonderful day. He finished with a career-high 18 catches for 167 yards and no touchdowns. Romo targeted Witten 21 times. It was a sharp contract to the season opener for Witten, who was playing after being cleared from a lacerated spleen to participate in the Week 1 victory. That night, Witten had two catches for 10 yards and numerous drops.

What's next? The Cowboys visit the Atlanta Falcons, who are coming off a 30-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons (7-0) are 29-6 at the Georgia Dome, the third most home victories in the NFL since 2008. Only the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots have more.

ARLINGTON, Texas –- The New York Giants love to make things hard on themselves, blowing a 23-0 second-quarter lead and needing one final defensive stop -- and a near game-winning touchdown catch by Dez Bryant with six seconds left -- before escaping with a 29-24 victory over Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys.

What it means: The Giants even things up with the Cowboys after losing the season opener to Dallas and now are 6-2 with a little cushion in the NFC East overall standings with the Cowboys and Eagles losing today.

The Giants are also back to 2-2 in the division with two straight division wins. It wasn’t their prettiest victory but they got the job done and overcame a sluggish offensive performance.

Disastrous Dallas start: The Cowboys got off to a nightmarish start. Romo threw three picks, including a pick-six to Jason Pierre-Paul, and Bryant muffed a punt only to collect it and fumble it away in the first half.

But the Giants were only able to convert the turnovers into a 23-0 lead in the second quarter. The Giants had to settle for three Lawrence Tynes’ field goals.

And that kept it close enough for the Cowboys, who scored 10 straight to cut the deficit to 23-10 at the half.

No offense: The Giants' offense allowed the Cowboys to get back into the game with its inability to move the ball.

Manning and the Giants’ receivers were cold for much of the first three quarters. With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Eli Manning still had not thrown for more than 187 yards while Victor Cruz only had two catches for 23 yards at that point.

Ahmad Bradshaw had only gained 48 yards on the ground at that point as well. The Giants only converted three of their first 14 third-down conversions.

Then no defense: Meanwhile the Giants couldn’t stop Romo, who got hot. He started going to his two favorite receivers -- Miles Austin and Jason Witten -- and the Giants had no answer. Romo scored on a 1-yard bootleg and then threw for a 1-yard touchdown to push the Cowboys up 24-23 late in the third quarter.

But Manning was able to move the ball just enough to set up two more Tynes’ field goals in the fourth to regain the lead, 29-24 with 3:31 remaining.

The Giants nearly lost the game when officials initially ruled a Romo 37-yard pass to Bryant in the back of the end zone as a touchdown. But upon further review, Bryant was out of bounds as his hand touched the line on his landing.

Stevie wonder: Safety Stevie Brown picked off his fourth pass in six games and had a big fumble recovery with 6:40 remaining in the game when Felix Jones coughed up the ball. The fumble recovery gave the Giants the ball at the Cowboys’ 45 with a 26-24 lead as Dallas was moving the ball.

Brown also nearly sealed the game with an interception on fourth down at the end while getting both of his feet in bounds.

Brown has been terrific filling in for the injured Kenny Phillips.

Giant injuries: The Giants lost two key players when Chase Blackburn suffered a hamstring injury in the second half and tight end Bear Pascoe injured his ankle.

Blackburn had to come out in the third quarter. Pascoe injured his ankle in the first half and underwent X-rays, which were negative.

What’s next: The Giants return home for what should be a slugfest with the Steelers.

Wrap-up: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

October, 28, 2012
Some thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 24-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: Though the Jaguars hung around for a while and actually outgained the Packers 341 yards to 238, they didn’t make the plays they needed to win and fell to 1-6, stuck in last place in the AFC South.

What I didn’t like: The biggest play that offset the Jaguars yardage advantage was a blocked punt by Green Bay’s Davon House that bounced around and was eventually recovered by Dezmon Moses for a score that made it 14-3 in the second quarter. Later Green Bay failed to convert on a fake punt, but the Packers’ special team’s failure wasn’t near as costly as the Jaguars’. The Jaguars trailed 14-12 at the half, but after intermission they endured three consecutive three-and-outs and were outscored 10-3.

Encouraging people, plays and numbers: Gabbert played through the injury to his left shoulder, taking at least one significant shot to it and threw for over 300 yards as the Jaguars limited Aaron Rodgers to 186. Rookie defensive end Andre Branch sacked Rodgers, forcing and recovering a fumble that ultimately set up Gabbert’s touchdown throw to tackle-eligible Guy Whimper. Cecil Shorts pulled in eight passes for 116 yards. Rashad Jennings didn’t do great in his first start for the injured Maurice Jones-Drew with 17 carries for 59 yards, but added six catches for 56 yards.

Have to be better: The Jaguars converted just five of 18 third- and fourth-down attempts, which didn’t extend enough drives to give them enough scoring chances.

What’s next: The Jaguars host the Detroit Lions in their fourth and final game against an NFC North opponent this season. They have lost at Minnesota, to Chicago and at Green Bay.

Wrap Up: Steelers 27, Redskins 12

October, 28, 2012

A few thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 27-12 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.

What it means: The Redskins have shown a lot of fun, encouraging things in Robert Griffin III's rookie year as their quarterback, but they are not at a point in their franchise's history at which they can go into a place like Pittsburgh and expect to win unless they're absolutely perfect. Obviously, they were far from perfect Sunday, dropping passes like crazy and failing to keep their composure at the end. It was a discouraging game all around for fans who have been hoping this Redskins team could overcome its defensive weaknesses and contend for this year's playoffs. Not that they can't, mind you, but this was not a game that filled you with hope that they could.

D-Hall loses it: Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was ejected after losing his mind and getting in the face of an official with a little less than four minutes left in the game. Hall indicated to reporters after the game that he believed he had a case to press with the league, and so this is a story to follow in the coming days if you don't lose access to power and the Internet. Could be more details come to light, but it wasn't a great moment for a player who made news last week when he said Giants quarterback Eli Manning didn't have to be a rocket scientist to take advantage of the Redskins' poor coverage in last week's game.

Griffin watch: Griffin was 16-for-34 for 177 yards and a touchdown, and he only rushed for 10 yards. Obviously, not his best game so far as a pro, though his receivers did him no favors with all of the drops. The Redskins tried a lot to get Griffin going, even lining him up as a wide receiver on one play, but that didn't work. Chalk it up to a tough day, which he was obviously bound to have sooner or later.

Streak ends: Washington ran for just 86 yards in the game, breaking a streak of 13 straight games in which they rushed for at least 100. That streak was the longest in the NFL by 11 games coming into this week. Alfred Morris had just 59 yards on 13 carries.

What's next: The Redskins have a 1 p.m. ET home game next Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, who have lost five games in a row and are one of the worst teams in the NFL at 1-6 for the season.

Wrap-up: Browns 7, Chargers 6

October, 28, 2012
My thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Stadium:

What it means: On a cold and windy day, the Browns outlasted the Chargers to notch their first victory for new owner Jimmy Haslam. After losing the first five games of the season, Cleveland has won two of its past three games, including two straight at home. This marked the Browns' second win over the Chargers (3-4) in the past two decades and their first victory over Philip Rivers in three tries. The Browns (2-6) are 1.5 games behind the Bengals (3-4) for third place in the division.

Richardson feels no pain: A week after being held out of the second half with a rib injury, Trent Richardson carried the Browns offensively with 122 yards rushing against the NFL's second-ranked run defense. He scored the game's only touchdown, a 26-yard run in the first quarter in which he eluded two tacklers and ran into his own lineman before reaching the end zone. It was Richardson's fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Richardson did all of this without his lead blocker, Owen Marecic, who was inactive Sunday.

Tale of two fourth downs: The game may have been decided by the opening drives. On fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 30-yard line, the Chargers failed to convert when Browns safety T.J. Ward stopped running back Jackie Battle. Getting the ball for the first time, the Browns later faced a fourth-and-1 at the San Diego 28. Weeden picked up the first down on a 2-yard sneak, and Richardson scored the touchdown two plays later.

Drop helps Browns this time: The Browns lost last Sunday when wide receiver Josh Gordon dropped a fourth-quarter pass near the goal line in Indianapolis. This time, Cleveland benefited from a wide receiver blunder. A wide-open Robert Meachem failed to catch a pass in the third quarter deep in Browns territory with no one between him and the end zone.

Sweating it out: Late in the fourth quarter, the Chargers drove 44 yards to the Browns' 44-yard line. But San Diego's attempted comeback ended on fourth-and-10, when Cleveland cornerback Buster Skrine broke up a pass from Rivers with 1:20 remaining. Rivers was 18-of-34 for 154 yards.

What's next: The Browns stay at home to face the division-leading Ravens (5-2) before going on their bye.

Wrap-up: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

October, 28, 2012
A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Lambeau Field:

What it means: Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, ugly and/or short-handed victories count the same as blowouts in the standings. This game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a struggle from the start, but ultimately the Packers held on to win their third consecutive game and improve to 5-3.

Offensive struggles: The Packers played without their top two receivers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, as well as their top running back, Cedric Benson. And it showed. They put up a season-low 238 yards of offense, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished under 200 yards for only the 11th time in 70 career starts. The Packers worked hard to establish their running game against the NFL's worst-ranked run defense, but tailback Alex Green managed 54 yards on 22 carries. One of the biggest plays of the game was Rodgers' decision to take a shot downfield on third-and-7 with two minutes, 44 seconds left. Receiver James Jones couldn't make the catch, but a pass interference call on the Jaguars' William Middleton moved the ball 38 yards to the Jaguars' 38-yard line. That field position put the Packers in position for a 25-yard field goal that made it a two-score game.

Special teams excitement: Davon House's blocked punt in the second quarter, eventually recovered for a touchdown by rookie Dezman Moses, was the play that allowed the Packers to operate with a lead during some tough times in the middle of the game. House came unblocked off the right side of the Jaguars' formation. The Packers tried a trick play from the Jaguars' 37-yard line in the third quarter, shifting from a field goal formation into a punt formation before punter Tim Masthay unleashed a long and incomplete throw down the right hash mark. Replays showed Masthay had tight end Ryan Taylor open for a first down. That's the risk of such calls. Masthay is a punter, not a quarterback. As easy as it might look on television, you can't assume a non-quarterback will make the right decision on a throw. It's not his professional expertise.

Defensive struggles: The Packers did well to hold the Jaguars to 15 points considering quarterback Blaine Gabbert had receivers open for most of the afternoon. Gabbert completed 27 of 39 passes for 303 yards in the Packers' first game without cornerback Charles Woodson, and the Packers' tackling was inconsistent. Linebacker A.J. Hawk won't want to watch replays of his miss in the flat of running back Rashad Jennings, leading to a 24-yard pass play in the fourth quarter.

Injury report: Nose tackle B.J. Raji returned to the lineup, but the Packers lost two other defensive linemen during the game. Rookie Jerel Worthy suffered a concussion and Mike Neal injured his ankle.

What's next: The Packers will host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Wrap-up: Browns 7, Chargers 6

October, 28, 2012

A look at a bad day in bad weather for the nose-diving Chargers:

What it means: This was the Chargers' third straight loss. While blowing double-digit leads in the past two games to New Orleans and Denver hurt the Chargers enormously, this defeat offers its own pain. This was a winnable game against a poor team. Yet the Chargers -- who perhaps still haven’t gotten over seeing Denver score 35 unanswered points in the second half in Week 6 -- were completely flat Sunday. Yes, they can dig out of it, but this team is so down right now, a revival may be difficult.

Game-winning drive stalled: On their final drive of the game, the Chargers moved the ball well into Cleveland territory with their sights on winning the game on Nick Novak’s third field goal. However, the Chargers’ hopes ended following four straight incomplete passes by Philip Rivers.

Mathews fails again: In the end, San Diego running back Ryan Mathews had a nice day as he had 95 yards rushing on 24 carries. However, Mathews’ fumbling problem caught up to him again early in the game. Mathews has to find a way to stop fumbling. It is hurting his team. Mathews wasn’t the only Charger to fail, though. Robert Meachem dropped a potential touchdown and Atari Bigby dropped a potential interception return for a score. This was a team failure.

What’s next: The Chargers will try to bounce back at home Thursday against Kansas City. I envision many empty seats at Qualcomm Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 45, Rams 7

October, 28, 2012

LONDON -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 45-7 victory over the Rams at Wembley Stadium:

PatriotsRamsWhat it means. The Patriots arrive at the halfway mark of the season with a 5-3 record after a decisive effort. Leading into this game, quarterback Tom Brady called the team’s record mediocre. This performance, arguably the team’s best of the season, provides momentum heading into the second half.

Toughness shines through. The Patriots came to London a banged-up football team. They didn’t travel with seven players, then declared starting left guard Logan Mankins inactive before kickoff. They also had some key players with illness over the week. Given those factors, this is the type of effort that speaks to the team’s physical and mental toughness as well as its depth. Hard to nitpick this one.

Tom terrific once again. On Friday, Brady joked that it might be time to switch back to his old helmet because he wasn’t happy with his performance the past two games with a new one. He switched back, and he looked like the Brady of old. Of course, it’s never that simple. What essentially made Brady so effective in this game was the time he had to throw -- a credit to the protection up front -- and the Rams’ inability to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a lethal combination. It almost looked too easy at times. The key matchup for the Patriots was the three-receiver grouping against the Rams’ nickel. This was an offensive explosion, with Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the second drive, an aggressive call that paid off and set the tone for the day.

Gronkowski spikes everything in sight. On Saturday at a Fan Fest event, tight end Rob Gronkowski stole the show by spiking a microphone. In Sunday’s game, he had two spikes -- to go along with two “creative” celebrations -- after touchdown receptions. He was a force with 8 receptions for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Blitz and pressure from defense. When the Patriots created distance from the Rams in the first half, a big part of it was third-down defense. Linebacker Brandon Spikes blitzed up the middle to help produce the first stop, and defensive end Chandler Jones also was disruptive. It was an attack mode that we haven’t seen as much of from the Patriots. The defense was impressive.

Injury situations to monitor. Starting right cornerback Kyle Arrington left in the first quarter with a head injury and did not return. Sterling Moore took his place. ... Slot cornerback Marquice Cole left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, going back to the locker room for further evaluation and not returning. ... Receiver Wes Welker limped off the field in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He had his left leg elevated on the bench as he was re-taped, but he did not return. ... Reserve defensive lineman Ron Brace left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. No injury was announced.

What’s next. The Patriots don’t play again until Nov. 11, when the Bills come to town. The team’s return home from this trip could be affected by weather conditions, so there might be some unexpected extra time in London.

Wrap-up: Bears 23, Panthers 22

October, 28, 2012

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 23-22 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field:

What it means: Carolina (1-6) has had some painful losses, but this one has to be the most painful so far. That’s because the Panthers finally showed some spunk in the aftermath of the firing of general manager Marty Hurney. They outplayed the Bears for almost the entire day and appeared to have the game won. But a defense that had swarmed Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler most of the day allowed him to lead a late drive that set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal as time expired. Things have been really bad for the Panthers for more than a month, but I think it is now fair to say they’ve entered sky-is-falling territory.

Roller-coaster day: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton finished with 314 passing yards and gained another 37 on the ground. But the stats don’t tell the real story. Newton had been playing well enough to win, but he threw a crucial interception with the Panthers holding a 19-14 lead with 6:44 left in the fourth quarter. Tim Jennings picked off Newton and returned the interception for a touchdown to give the Bears their first lead (20-14) of the day. Newton did lead a drive to set up a field goal that let Carolina reclaim the lead (22-20), but it was only temporary as the defense couldn’t stop Chicago’s last drive. Newton also lost a fumble on a scramble near the goal line in the first half, but receiver Louis Murphy bailed him out by recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. But Newton has become a magnet for criticism and he got hammered by FOX television announcer Daryl Johnston, who said the quarterback did not thank Murphy for saving the play. The scrutiny of Newton is only going to intensify after this one.

Squandered sacks: The maligned Carolina defensive line played its best game of the season. The Panthers sacked Cutler six times and kept him under pressure most of the day. Defensive end Greg Hardy had the best game of his life with three sacks. Defensive end Charles Johnson had two sacks, including one on which he forced a fumbled that set up Carolina’s only touchdown.

Sevens are better than threes: A couple of days ago, we noted that the Panthers were in contention to break the modern NFL record for fewest field goals attempted in a season (12, by the 1999 Cleveland Browns). Carolina had attempted only two field goals entering the game. But the Panthers are off that pace now. Justin Medlock converted five field goals against the Bears. But if just one of those field goals had been a touchdown instead, the Panthers might have come out of this one with a victory.

What’s next: The Panthers play at Washington next Sunday.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Seahawks 24

October, 28, 2012

A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field:

What it means: The Lions improved to 3-4, and all three victories this season have required a fourth-quarter comeback. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, but as we've said many times, you're a fool to count out this team if its late-game deficit is at all manageable.

Comeback king: Quarterback Matthew Stafford played his best game of the season, completing 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards. He threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner to receiver Titus Young with 20 seconds remaining, and also ran for a touchdown. His composure on the Lions' final drive -- a 16-play, 80-yard monster over five minutes, seven seconds -- was incredible. And here is a nearly unbelievable statistic: Stafford has won 16 career starts, and eight of them have required a fourth-quarter comeback. (He put together a total of nine game-winning drives.)

YoungWatch: We finally saw Young live up to the hype surrounding him after training camp. In the Lions' first game without veteran Nate Burleson, he stepped up for nine catches, 100 yards and two scores -- the game winner and also a 46-yarder down the seam in the second quarter. I wasn't a huge fan of his extended celebrations after the scores, but I understand it's been a frustrating year for him. Young's performance helped mitigate a quiet game from Calvin Johnson, who caught three passes and dropped a sure touchdown four plays before Young's game winner.

Injury report: Safety Louis Delmas did not return after injuring his left knee -- the same knee that required surgery in August -- in the third quarter. The Lions finished the game with Erik Coleman and Ricardo Silva (replacing Amari Spievey) at safety. The Seahawks did a nice job targeting some other injury replacements. Receiver Sidney Rice beat cornerback Alphonso Smith for a touchdown; Smith was playing because Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley were out. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Miller's 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter came against linebacker Ashlee Palmer, who started for the injured DeAndre Levy, to give the Seahawks a 24-21 lead.

What's next: The Lions will play at the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday.

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' defense bailed out Jay Cutler and the offense, who had a horrid showing Sunday. Tim Jennings' 25-yard interception return touchdown with 6:44 left and Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Bears to a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Gould atoned for missing a 33-yard field goal with 12:14 remaining.

Let’s look closer:

What it means: Not much in terms of the NFC North standings. The Bears extended their lead in division, which is a positive moving forward because the Bears face stiff competition in the coming weeks, facing Houston at home on Nov. 11 before traveling to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Nov. 19.

The second-place Minnesota Vikings helped the Bears by losing Thursday night to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Green Bay Packers moved into a tie for second in the division Sunday by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Record-breaking performance: Jennings’ return TD gave Chicago its sixth interception return TD of the season, which breaks the franchise record of five set in 2004. Since 2004, the Bears have now scored 24 touchdowns on INT returns, which is good for third in the NFL over the past eight years.

The Bears are now 19-5 over the past seven years when they score a touchdown on defense. Since 2004, the Bears have scored 31 defensive touchdowns (24 INT returns, and seven fumble return TDs).

Third-down inefficiency: The Bears failed to convert a third down in five tries through the first three quarters, while their opponents converted 53 percent, which allowed the Panthers to mount several long drives.

What’s worse is the Bears didn’t convert their first third down until there was 9:27 left to play. By then the club had converted 1-of-7.

O-line issues again: Having given up six sacks on Sunday, Chicago’s offensive line has now allowed Cutler to suffer 11 sacks over the past two weeks after limiting opponents to just 12 sacks over the previous four games. It would difficult to pin all of the sacks on the offensive line, because Cutler seemed to be responsible for at least two of them.

But the fact the quarterback has absorbed so many sacks over the past two weeks is alarming and definitely an issue the Bears will have to re-address in their preparation for next week’s game at Tennessee.

In addition to the sacks, the pressure the offensive line allowed resulted in two Cutler fumbles.

Bennett missing: With rookie Alshon Jeffery missing his second consecutive game because of a fracture in his hand, the Bears expected Devin Hester or Earl Bennett to step up and fill the void. So far, neither has picked up the slack but Bennett simply hasn’t been used.

Cutler didn’t throw the ball in Bennett’s direction until the last two plays of the third quarter, and the receiver hauled in both passes for 35 yards.

What’s next: The Bears travel to Tennessee next week to take on their third AFC South opponent of the season. Interestingly, Chicago scored 41 points in winning each of its first two meetings against AFC South foes this season, so maybe the club can duplicate that scoring production against the Titans.