NFL Nation: 2012 Week 8 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 3

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
11:40
PM ET

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.


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.

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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.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 45, Rams 7

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
4:44
PM ET
 

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.

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.

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 30, Jets 9

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
4:22
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins’ 30-9 blowout victory over the New York Jets.

What it means: It means the Dolphins improved to 4-3 and have the best chance to push the New England Patriots (5-3) in the AFC East. This was a big crossroads game for Miami to prove this team is not pretenders -- and Miami passed the test. The Dolphins played hard, efficient football in all three phases and dominated New York, which did a lot of trash-talking during the week and laid an egg. For all intents and purposes, the Jets are done. They fall to 3-5 on the season and have lost four of their last five games. The Jets don't have enough to withstand injuries and poor play to contend for the playoffs in the second half of the season.

Tebow time? The inconsistency of quarterback Mark Sanchez continues. Last week Sanchez had one of his best games of his career against the rival Patriots. On Sunday, Sanchez struggled mightily against the Dolphins. Miami blitzed, battered and confused Sanchez. He completed 28-of-54 passes for 283 yards, one touchdown, an interception and a fumble. Jets fans at MetLife Stadium sound like they’ve had enough. They booed Sanchez loudly for most of the second half. New York may have a decision to make between Sanchez and popular backup quarterback Tim Tebow. The Jets will have two weeks to think about making a quarterback change. That will surely be a hot topic in New York.

Tannehill-to-Moore: The Dolphins lost rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill (quad, knee) in the first quarter for the game. But veteran quarterback Matt Moore did well in relief to keep the Dolphins ahead. Moore was efficient, throwing for 131 yards and a touchdown. Tannehill’s status for next week is uncertain. But Miami has the comfort knowing that Moore is capable of filling in.

Sack party: One of the reasons Sanchez struggled is due to poor pass protection. Sanchez was sacked four times by Miami. Defensive end Cameron Wake, linebacker Kevin Burnett and defensive backs Jimmy Wilson and Nolan Carroll all had sacks.

What’s next: The Dolphins will play their second road game in two weeks against the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets have a bye before traveling to the West Coast to play a tough game against the Seattle Seahawks.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 19-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans in overtime at LP Field:

What it means: The Colts are 4-3, and owning a winning record in the AFC counts as a big deal at this point in this season. They sit in second place in the AFC South, while the Titans fall to third at 3-5, having missed a chance to pull to .500.

What I liked, Colts: The Colts' 17-play, 80-yard, 7:02 drive to a tying touchdown with 3:24 remaining in regulation was a real statement. They were missing tight end Coby Fleener (shoulder) and went to a power formation to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Titans’ 8-yard line, converting with a Delone Carter run. He also scored the touchdown.

What I liked better, Colts: Vick Ballard took Andrew Luck's throwback screen pass that just got past defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, sprinted up the left side and dived for the pylon, twisting through the air and scoring a touchdown to end the first possession of overtime and to end the game with a 16-yard scoring reception. It was another 80-yard drive.

What I didn’t like, Titans: The two drives just discussed. In control for much of the game, the Titans allowed the Colts to march to a game-tying touchdown and to what proved a game-winning touchdown at the start of overtime.

Debatable: Linebacker Akeem Ayers may have stripped tight end Dwayne Allen after a catch with 18 seconds left in regulation and the Titans recovered. But officials on the field blew the play dead and said Allen’s forward progress was stopped. Seemed a quick call to me. The home crowd was not pleased as it saw replays.

Too many calls: The Titans were flagged for three offensive pass interferences in the first half -- two against Kenny Britt and one against Kendall Wright. Britt’s second took away a touchdown, and wasn’t called by the nearest officials. Instead, it was called by an official at a distance after a delay.

Field goal battle: Tennessee’s Rob Bironas hit from 39 and 30 and missed wide right from 45. Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri hit from 20 and 44, but was blocked from 37 yards by Michael Griffin.

Injury concerns: Colts cornerback Vontae Davis left the game with a knee injury early in the game and didn’t return. Cassius Vaughn was targeted a bunch as his replacement. Tennessee right guard Leroy Harris also hurt a knee and left the game early on, replaced by Kevin Matthews.

What’s next: The Titans host the Chicago Bears while the Colts play the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 30, Eagles 17

October, 28, 2012
10/28/12
4:20
PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts from the Philadelphia Eagles' pancake-flat loss to the still-unbeaten Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: Big trouble for Eagles coach Andy Reid, who's got a mandate to produce a winning record this year and now must win six of his final nine games in order to accomplish that. This is the first time in his 14 seasons as Eagles head coach that Reid has lost a game immediately following a bye week, and the worst part of this day was that his team looked completely uninspired. Two weeks after Reid fired his defensive coordinator in a clear desperation move, the defense played its worst game of the season as the Falcons scored on each of their first six possessions and ran away with the game.

Helpless: The Eagles' defense allowed an 80-yard, 16-play, 8:44 touchdown drive to begin the game. They gave up a 63-yard touchdown bomb to Julio Jones on the Falcons' third offensive possession. Atlanta scored touchdowns on each of its first three drives and field goals on the next three. Cedric Thornton, of all people, broke through in the third quarter to get to Matt Ryan and record the Eagles' first sack of October. But there was precious little pressure when it mattered, too many drive-extending penalties in the secondary, and in general, Ryan and the Falcons looked as though they were well ahead of the Eagles on almost every play. Atlanta did not punt until there was 5:35 left on the game clock in the fourth quarter.

Offensively speaking: The Falcons dominated the time of possession for the first three quarters, so the Eagles' offense didn't get much of a chance to affect the competitive portion of the game. And for just the second time this season, they did not commit a turnover. Still, there wasn't much to love about what the Eagles did or tried to do on offense. The line is a mess, obviously, down three starters now with right guard Danny Watkins hurt and inactive for the game. But they didn't start feeding the ball to running back LeSean McCoy until the fourth quarter, and doing so earlier in the game might be a good way to ameliorate the line's problems and keep the pass rush away.

What's next: The Eagles travel to New Orleans next week, where they'll try to get back to .500 against the Saints on "Monday Night Football." New Orleans has won two games in a row following an 0-4 start and plays the Broncos in Denver on Sunday night.

Here are my thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-12 win over the Washington Redskins at Heinz Field:

What it means: The Steelers (4-3) continue to close the gap on the Ravens (5-2), moving to within one game of the AFC North leaders. After struggling with consistency all season, Pittsburgh has won back-to-back games for the first time this season. This was the Steelers' sixth straight home win, their most since the 2008 season. Pittsburgh has won five in a row over the Redskins.

Starting strong: The Steelers executed their dink-and-dunk offense to near perfection early in the game, scoring on five of their first six drives. The 1-yard touchdown pass to Will Johnson -- Ben Roethlisberger's third of the game -- put Pittsburgh ahead 27-9 in the third quarter. Roethlisberger finished 24-of-33 for 222 yards.

Keep running: In his second start, Jonathan Dwyer had his second straight 100-yard rushing game. The last Steelers running back to gain 100 yards in consecutive games was Willie Parker, who rushed for 138 and 105 yards in the first two weeks of the 2008 season. Dwyer had 107 yards on 16 carries against the Redskins.

Containing RG3: The Steelers' defense did a good job in not allowing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to run wild. Pittsburgh held the NFL's 12th leading rusher to 8 rushing yards on six carries. The Redskins' receivers were the ones who limited RG3 in the passing game with eight drops.

Miller time: Tight end Heath Miller caught a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put the Steelers ahead 17-7. It was Miller's sixth touchdown in seven games this season. He had four total touchdowns in his previous two seasons. All six touchdowns were passes thrown in the red zone.

Steady Suisham: Shaun Suisham continued a strong season with field goals from 48 and 27 yards. Suisham is 6-for-6 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards this season. He was 6-of-11 on such kicks last season.

Clark leaves with concussion: Safety Ryan Clark left in the third quarter with a concussion and didn't return. He was injured when he took a shot to the head on a tackle. Clark left the field under his own power and then went to the locker room to get evaluated. The Steelers were without both starting safeties, Clark and Troy Polamalu, who missed his fifth game with a calf injury. Ryan Mundy and Will Allen were the safeties the rest of the way.

What's next: The Steelers stay in the NFC East, traveling to play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after Thursday night's 36-17 Tampa Bay victory at the Metrodome:

What it means: The Vikings are 5-3 at their season's midpoint. It's better than what many thought they would do, but their second-half schedule is far more difficult. That's what made Thursday night's presumably winnable game so crucial. Entering this game, home teams had won 13 of the past 16 Thursday-night games. Since 1990, 5-3 teams have made the playoffs 66.4 percent of the time.

Offensive struggles: Quarterback Christian Ponder got off to a slow start on the heels of his 58-yard performance on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, completing just one of six passes for four yards in the fourth quarter. He played a really substandard game for the second consecutive week. But Ponder wasn't solely to blame for the Vikings falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 at halftime. Two fumbles near midfield, one from receiver Jerome Simpson and one from tailback Adrian Peterson, led to 10 Tampa Bay points in the first half. But two things seem clear. The Vikings don't have an offense capable of playing from behind. And Ponder doesn't look to be playing with a lot of confidence. He is guiding his throws instead of driving them.

Martin factor: The Vikings had a hard time tackling an opposing running back for the second game in a row. Last week, it was the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling. Thursday night, it was rookie running back Doug Martin, who finished with 135 rushing yards and 79 receiving. Most notably, Martin ran through four arm tackles on his 64-yard touchdown reception on the opening drive of the third quarter.

Seeing blood: Tensions rose late in the third quarter when Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, a former Vikings practice-squad player, pushed off defensive end Jared Allen's helmet after the play and landed several punches. Allen was left with a cut on the bridge of his nose and was livid when referee Ron Winter's crew assessed offsetting fouls. As he and Penn continued to gesture to one another, Allen followed up with a sack on the ensuing third down, setting the crowd into a frenzy.

Missed opportunity: Trailing 30-17 at the time, the Vikings couldn't capitalize on the ensuing emotional wave. They went three-and-out on their next series, which included two plays that lost yardage, and their defense looked winded as the Bucs answered with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock and ultimately made it a three-score game.

Injury report: Cornerback Chris Cook didn't return after leaving the game in the third quarter with an arm injury. He was replaced by rookie Josh Robinson in base defense and veteran A.J. Jefferson in the nickel.

What's next: The Vikings have 10 days to get ready for their next game, Nov. 4 at the Seattle Seahawks.

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