NFL Nation: 2013 Week 10 Upon Further Review NFC

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- An examination of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 10-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:

Just how big was the win? This was the first time the Panthers (6-3), winners of five straight and six of their past seven, have beaten a team with a .500-or-better record this season. It was the first time they have won a game decided by three or fewer points since Week 7 of the 2010 season, which happened to be a 23-20 victory over San Francisco in Charlotte. Cam Newton had been 0-5 in games decided by a field goal or less, which according to ESPN Stats & Information was the worst record for any quarterback in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011. Josh Freeman was second at 1-5, followed by Matt Moore at 1-4 and Philip Rivers at 3-6.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLuke Kuechly led the way in shutting down Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense.
Just how well did the defense play? The 151 yards allowed was the fewest San Francisco has gained since Week 9 of 2006, when the Vikings held the 49ers to 133 yards. The 49ers had scored 30-plus points in five straight games and in all six of their wins. It was absolute domination. And here's an early vote for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for NFL Defensive Player of the Week. The second-year player had a team-best 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses.

Safety valve: Newton's numbers were dreadful in the first half as he completed 5 of 14 pass attempts for 54 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 18.2. His top target on the season, Steve Smith, was shut out. Newton adjusted in the second half and completed 6 of 8 attempts to Smith for 63 yards, including 4-of-5 on third down. None was bigger than his 9-yard completion on third-and-8 with 2:18 to play and the Panthers trying to run out the clock. Newton, who had the NFL's top third-down passer rating coming into the game, was 1-for-4 with an interception on third down in the first half.

Ginn's return: Nobody wanted to impress the 49ers more than Ted Ginn Jr., who had only two catches for his former team in 2012. Ginn only caught two passes for 19 yards after being targeted four times on Sunday, but he made a huge contribution with his punt returns. After averaging fewer than 11 yards a return in the first eight games, he averaged 21.7 yards on three returns Sunday, almost breaking a couple. He was so excited that he developed cramps and had to go into the locker room for an IV at one point.

It was a fumble: I asked coach Ron Rivera why the officials didn't overturn the incomplete pass call on a play to San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis in the second quarter to a catch and fumble. It appeared to the Panthers and almost everyone at Candlestick Park that Davis had possession, was stripped of the ball and Carolina's Thomas Davis recovered. Rivera's explanation from the officials: "Well, apparently, there are three phases as to what has to happen on a catch and he hit two out of three." He didn't sound convinced. None of the Panthers did, either. "He took three steps. He took three steps. Ball out,'" safety Mike Mitchell said.

Bonus observation: Rivera was asked whether he had any hesitation on sending kicker Graham Gano out for the game-winning 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Really? Gano's missed 48-yarder in the third quarter was his first after going 12-for-12. He is now 5-for-5 on field goals of 50 or more yards, the most in the league from that range. Rivera, by the way, had no hesitation.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 10

November, 11, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Taking a look at four storylines from the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Nick Foles is flirting with history. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes this season without an interception. That would've tied the NFL record set in 1960 by Milt Plum, except that Peyton Manning already broke that 53-year-old mark this season. Manning threw 20 touchdowns before throwing a pick.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNick Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no picks in the Eagles' past two games.
What's even more compelling is that Foles isn't being extra cautious. In fact, his receivers say that he's trusting them and throwing the ball out where they can get it. That raises the degree of difficulty on the no-pick streak.

“Nick does a great job protecting the football,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He hasn't thrown an interception. He doesn't really make egregious mistakes. If he misses, he may not be as accurate on the throw. He's got a good grasp and command of what we're doing.”

Foles put two strong games together. After his rough outing against Dallas, Foles needed to prove he could be consistent. Check that box.

His numbers in the past two games combined: 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Foles has a passer rating of 155.3 for the two games.

“We just have to keep moving, but I felt good out there,” Foles said. “Receivers were making some good plays and helping me out.”

Does that mean he will be the starting quarterback if Michael Vick is healthy? It's a question Kelly won't answer. Until Vick is 100 percent, it's a question Kelly doesn't have to answer.

Tempo works both ways. The Eagles have done a better job maintaining Kelly's high-tempo offense. But in some ways, their ability to run a slow-it-down offense has been just as important at times. In the fourth quarters of wins in Tampa Bay and Green Bay, the Eagles drained the clock by methodically running the ball.

“You're in a game, it's a couple-score game,” Kelly said. “Even if we did turn the ball back over, hopefully there's not a lot of time left on the clock. Everybody knew what was happening. Everybody knew we were running it. It's something to build upon. We feel comfortable it's something we're getting better with.”

LeSean McCoy ran the ball nine times for 50 yards in the Eagles' last drive, which took up the final 9:32 of the game. Foles ran for a first down. Bryce Brown mixed in a couple of runs for 11 yards.

“That's what championship teams have to be able to do,” wide receiver Riley Cooper said.

The Ouch Department was extra busy. The Eagles went into the game without starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who injured a pectoral muscle last week. They lost two more defensive starters, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff, plus offensive tackle Jason Peters -- all in the first half.

“I think it speaks a lot about the depth,” Kelly said. “You have to have it. It's a tough, hard-nosed, physical game and everybody needs to be ready to play at any point in time. I thought the guys that stepped up and came in did a really nice job.”

Cornerback Roc Carmichael, linebacker Najee Goode and safety Patrick Chung helped the defense hold the Packers to 13 points. Allen Barbre replaced Peters at left tackle.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 10

November, 11, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Going nowhere: Only three times in their first 10 games have the Cowboys converted on at least 40 percent of their third-down opportunities. They were 0-for-9 against the Saints. Tony Romo missed on all six of his third-down passes, continuing a poor season-long trend for the quarterback. Romo was the 30th-ranked quarterback in third-down passer rating before Sunday, ranking ahead of only Matt Schaub and Brandon Weeden. Winning on third down is a must, and the Cowboys don't win nearly enough.

"Typically you have to get yourself in favorable third-down situations," coach Jason Garrett said. "I believe you have to make first downs on first down and drive the football and stay out of some of those third-down situations. But when the time comes you've got to convert and you've got to make some plays, and we've just got to do a better job. We'll evaluate what we're doing and see if we can put our players in better positions to do that."

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsDallas gave up three scores on the ground and 242 rushing yards to the Saints.
Pounded on the ground: The Saints ran for 282 yards against the Cowboys. Mark Ingram had 145 yards. Pierre Thomas had 87 yards. It was the second time this season the Cowboys gave up 200-plus rushing yards. Washington had 216 yards on Oct. 13 but lost. The Cowboys have given up at least 84 yards on the ground in six of their last seven games. The Cowboys had eight players in the box Sunday, dropping a safety, but the line was of no help with the running backs often not getting touched as they broke through to the second level. That's where they missed Sean Lee, but the tackling was atrocious.

"It's not good when they can just line up and run it right at you," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said.

Slowing down: Terrance Williams was able to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from Romo, but it was his only catch of the game on five targets.

In the last three games, Williams has caught just five of the last 22 passes thrown his way. Not all targets are created equal and viewing them purely in a batting average fashion can be dangerous, but Williams has to be more efficient. If teams are going to do whatever they can to take away Dez Bryant, then Williams has to win more. If he wins, then Bryant cannot be doubled as easily as he has been doubled. A healthy return of Miles Austin would also help the offense and Williams.

What's the deal? Maybe the Cowboys don't lead the league in hamstring injuries, but they must be close. Lee was forced from Sunday's game in the first half. Justin Durant was forced out in the second half. Claiborne did not play against the Saints because of a hamstring injury. Austin missed his fifth game in the last seven weeks because of a hamstring injury.

Garrett is confounded by the issue that has cropped up and has said the Cowboys examine all of their stretching issues before and after practices as well as before games.

"I think they're fairly common around the league," Garrett said, "but we've certainly had our share of them."

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMarc Trestman called for a run on an fourth-and-1 play that failed and, later, proved pivotal.
Fourth-down call: Considering the Bears lost by two points, coach Marc Trestman will receive some criticism for opting to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 27 in the second quarter instead of taking the three points by kicking a field goal. Trestman called a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. “We’re coming off a game where the Lions put up 500 yards and they went down the field on the first series and scored,” Trestman said. “It’s just that possession became very, very important, relevant to the start of the football game.” Next time, take the points.

Offensive line/running game: Chicago’s offensive line allowed just two sacks, but Jay Cutler and Josh McCown seemed to be under duress quite a bit. Cutler and the team say an ankle injury reduced the quarterback’s mobility, and that made it more difficult for the offensive line to adequately protect him. But the most pronounced deficiency up front was the group's inability to open space for the run game. Matt Forte averaged 1.9 yards per carry, with his longest attempt of the day going for only 7 yards. That needs to improve.

Front seven: Defensive end Shea McClellin was out of action, but the front four still fared decently, with Corey Wootton and Stephen Paea each applying pressure to Matthew Stafford. The front four didn’t collect any sacks, but they also didn't allow Stafford to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. The Bears gave up 145 yards on the ground, but they didn’t let the Lions control the flow of the game with the rushing attack the way they did in the first meeting.

Conte: Safety Chris Conte seems to be Chicago’s most-criticized defensive player, and although he made a few mistakes here and there (such as on Reggie Bush’s 39-yard run in the third quarter), he finally made a couple of plays worthy of recognition. Conte picked off a Stafford pass intended for Calvin Johnson and returned it 35 yards, setting up a Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 14-13 with 9:17 left to play. And Conte broke up what appeared to be a sure touchdown to Johnson on a third-down throw into the end zone on Detroit’s next offensive possession.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Ben MargotAs Colin Kaepernick and the offense go, so go the 49ers. And on Sunday, just about nothing went well.
Offense sputters: The 49ers lost this game on offense. The defense was terrific, but the offensive was lackluster, especially in the second half. All the 49ers had to show for the game was three first-half field goals. The 49ers had just 45 total yards in the second half, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards and was sacked six times, a season high. The 49ers had just 4 yards on 14 plays in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the 49ers’ success depends on their offensive production. In their six wins, the 49ers have scored at least 31 points. However, in their three defeats, the 49ers have scored in single digits.

Third-down defense sags: The 49ers' defense was very good; the Panthers scored on a broken play and a long field goal. But the 49ers were not perfect on defense. A major reason the Panthers won this game was the third-down success of quarterback Cam Newton. He was 6-for-8 on third-down passes in the second half. This is an area the 49ers immediately have to address with Drew Brees and New Orleans looming.

Smith being eased back in: 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith played about 12 snaps Sunday. Most of his action was as an inside defensive lineman on third down. It was Smith’s first action since Week 3. The 49ers are easing Smith back into game action after he spent five weeks at an alcohol treatment center. He said after the game that he understands the decision, but wants to play more. He said he hopes to be a full a participant next week in New Orleans. I’d think as long as everything remains positive for Smith, he will get more playing time next week.

Returning switch: Not surprisingly, the 49ers made a switch at returner. Kyle Williams, who struggled badly against Jacksonville in Week 8 before the team''s bye week, has been replaced on punts and kickoffs. LaMichael James was the punt returner Sunday and Anthony Dixon returned kicks. I’d expect the switch to continue.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 10

November, 11, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 38-8 win against the Indianapolis Colts:

Tavon Time: Rookie receiver/returner Tavon Austin is one of the biggest storylines in the league, let alone for the Rams, coming out of this one. He had 314 all-purpose yards in a breakthrough performance.

Austin’s efforts nearly single-handedly put the Colts away and gave the Rams a much-needed big-play element that has been sorely lacking this season, and for the better part of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastReceiver Tavon Austin delivered 314 all-purpose yards in St. Louis' rout of the Colts.
Still only 10 games into his rookie season, Austin has plenty of room to improve. Though it’s unlikely he’ll be able to repeat Sunday’s effort on a regular basis, giving opponents the knowledge he can should help open things up for others.

As efficient as it gets: Since he took over as the starter three weeks ago, quarterback Kellen Clemens has never been asked to throw the ball all over the field. There were no expectations of monster statistical games.

No, the Rams want Clemens to take care of the ball, manage games and make plays when the opportunity arises. Well, they couldn’t have asked for much more than what he did Sunday.

Clemens posted the first triple-digit quarterback rating of his career at 140.6 as he threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns while completing only nine passes. More impressive was the damage Clemens did on third down, where he completed 7 of 9 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and six first downs.

St. Louis would gladly take six more performances like that from Clemens to close out the season.

Saffold stands in: Rodger Saffold made his first career start at right guard Sunday in place of injured starter Harvey Dahl. According to Saffold, it was his first start inside since he was a seventh grader in Ohio.

With only a week to get acclimated to the position, Saffold acquitted himself pretty well. Coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with Saffold’s performance at first glance, and Saffold said he felt surprisingly comfortable given his relative lack of experience inside.

In their ongoing effort to put the five best linemen on the field at the same time, don’t be surprised if the Saffold-at-guard experiment continues.

Win with Quinn: Defensive end Robert Quinn got Sunday’s win started with a big play when he sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and forced a fumble. Chris Long recovered the fumble and scored the first touchdown of his career.

Later, Quinn would add another sack, and was his usual disruptive self the rest of the game. Quinn has 12 sacks and five forced fumbles this season.

Quinn has made it crystal clear that he’s the Rams’ best and most productive player, but with each passing week, he’s making a stronger case that his name needs to be in the mix among greater honors, such as defensive player of the year.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 10

November, 11, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A review of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 24-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders:

[+] EnlargeAndre Brown
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants RB Andre Brown runs against the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's Week 10 matchup, netting 115 yards on 30 carries.
Finally a running game? In his first game back since breaking his leg in the preseason finale, Andre Brown ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. His previous career high for carries in a single game had been 20. But Brown played considerably better than any running back has all year for the Giants. He hit holes with confidence. He kept his legs moving and pushed the pile after contact. He held onto the ball. He showed vision and power and speed, and with David Wilson out for the year, he looks like easily the best option in the Giants' backfield the rest of the way -- as long as he can stay healthy.

For the defense: It was a third straight very good game for the Giants' defense, which has been feasting on lousy opposing quarterbacks but did a good job of limiting the one major way in which the Raiders' Terrelle Pryor could hurt them. Pryor rushed for just 19 yards on five carries and threw for just 122 yards on 11-of-26 passing. The Giants held the Raiders to 213 total yards and held them out of the end zone after they had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter. After Eli Manning had an interception returned for a touchdown late in the first half, the defensive players rallied at halftime and challenged each other, asking, "Who's going to be the one to make a play?" It was cornerback Terrell Thomas with the third-quarter interception that tilted the momentum.

Return of JPP? Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had his second sack of the season (which was also his second in a span of 16 games going back to last season). He injured his shoulder on the next play but returned to the game. The Giants hope the shoulder problem won't limit him, as he said he felt he was turning a corner and ready for a big second half of the season. Justin Tuck played very well at the other defensive end position Sunday, but a high-level Pierre-Paul performance in the second half would enable the Giants to feel good about their chances once the schedule does toughen up.

Not all bright: Manning still looks lost and uncomfortable at quarterback. The interception was a terrible misread, and he missed a wide-open Victor Cruz near the goal line a bit later on. Hakeem Nicks remains a nonfactor at receiver, as he had just 49 yards on four catches and still hasn't scored a touchdown this season. And the special teams, which had a fumble on a kickoff return, allowed a punt block and can't cover on kicks or punts, remains one of the worst units in the league. Somehow the Giants managed to have a terrible day on special teams in spite of Damontre Moore's blocked punt that Cooper Taylor returned for a touchdown.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 10

November, 11, 2013
CHICAGO -- A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 21-19 win over the Chicago Bears.

First place? First place: Detroit has not been in first place this late in the season this century. By beating the rival Bears and with the Green Bay Packers losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Lions are rolling solo in first place at 6-3. With just two teams -- the Packers at 5-4 and the Philadelphia Eagles at 5-5 -- at .500 or better remaining on the Detroit schedule, the Lions have what appears to be a clear path to their first NFC North title. At worst, they should have their second playoff appearance in three seasons.

Even more impressive during this run to the top of the division is how Detroit has done it. There have been come-from-behind wins and games in which the Lions had to hold on. They have been balanced. This isn’t a team that only wins at home. The Lions have three of their six wins on the road -- only the third time in the past decade Detroit has won at least three road games (the other years being the 2011 playoff season and 2004, when the Lions went 6-10).

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley and Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNick Fairley is one of the few players to produce for the Lions in their 2011 draft class.
Return of the pressure: Detroit’s defensive line took advantage of a clearly hobbled Jay Cutler, hitting him 10 times and hitting Chicago quarterbacks 11 times in all. Defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh hit the Chicago quarterbacks four times each and both had a sack. In all, five defensive linemen hit a Chicago quarterback on Sunday, with pressure coming from both the ends and the tackles. This is something the Lions have been missing the past few weeks.

Willie Young's point: The defensive end was clearly frustrated after the game with his roughing the passer penalty on Detroit’s first two-point conversion stop late in the fourth quarter.

Young’s argument on his penalty was that he was going for the ball as quarterback Josh McCown threw a millisecond earlier. Their helmets grazed each other, resulting in a helmet-to-helmet call he couldn’t really control. He argued it was more incidental than anything malicious.

"The players need to have a meeting after the season,” Young said. “We need to get that stuff straight. We need to sit down and talk about that thing, man, cause obviously we see guys getting tagged left and right all across the league.”

Young said he went up to McCown after the game and told him to go back and watch the play again to show he wasn’t trying to do anything malicious.

Open field tackling: Detroit’s defensive backs did a decent job making plays in the open field Sunday. Nickel back Don Carey made two open-field stops on receivers and cornerback Chris Houston had at least two as well. This was key as the Bears consistently tried to run outside with pitches against the Lions, who held Matt Forte to 33 yards rushing.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 10

November, 11, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- A review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

Super Bowl bound? The Saints were historically good Sunday. They set an NFL record with 40 first downs. They rolled up 625 yards -- the most by any NFL team in regulation in the regular season since 1982. Their defense held Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to 128 yards on 10 completions. The Cowboys were 0-of-9 on third down. So book your Super Bowl tickets, right?

Not quite yet. All this performance did was validate that the Saints (7-2) have as high a ceiling as any team in the NFL. But they need to prove they can do it consistently -- and they'll get that chance under some much more difficult circumstances over the next six weeks. If they look anywhere near this good against a physical 49ers team at home next week, then at Atlanta on a Thursday night, then at Seattle on a Monday night, then you can start looking into February flights to New York.

Calming some fears: I'm guessing my Twitter feed won't be so consumed by questions about drafting an all-new offensive line after this game. Of course, this was just one game against a pretty toothless Dallas defense. But it was still a tremendous performance by a unit that has taken some heat for its inconsistent play. The Saints ran the ball 36 times for 244 yards (not counting kneel-downs). And quarterback Drew Brees was sacked only once while completing 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. The entire Saints line was awarded a game ball afterward.

Also, receiver Marques Colston caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, and running back Darren Sproles gained 88 yards with two touchdowns -- alleviating some fantasy football fears. Tight end Jimmy Graham was quieter, with five catches for 59 yards while coming on and off the field to keep managing his foot and elbow injuries. It was a reminder that he will still be somewhat limited going forward, but he can be productive in limited opportunities.

Ingram's monster day: In a much more surprising offensive breakout, Mark Ingram ran for 145 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries (130 in the second half). Obviously we can't expect this type of production on a regular basis. But now that Ingram is healthy and the offensive line has finally found a run-blocking rhythm, he could certainly be an effective part of the rotation behind Pierre Thomas and Sproles the rest of the way. I've always insisted that the key to all the running backs' success is the line. And they have been getting their act together in recent weeks.

Lewis a Pro Bowler? Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis has been outstanding all season, helping to silence some of the league's top receivers. But after delivering once again on the Sunday night stage against Dallas' Dez Bryant, he may start to garner some well-deserved Pro Bowl attention. Lewis was matched up against Bryant throughout the night -- sometimes with help from double teams, but not always. Lewis allowed just one completion to Bryant for 44 yards late in the third quarter, and Bryant was targeted only twice.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 10

November, 11, 2013
ATLANTA -- An examination of five hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 33-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

Abused up front: Falcons coach Mike Smith was quick to point out how his team, physically, lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. From a defensive standpoint, that was disheartening considering the Seahawks played without three regular starters up front: Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, Pro Bowl center Max Unger and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Of course, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson helped his line by extending plays and running back Marshawn Lynch aided his linemen with punishing runs. Still, the Falcons' front four couldn't stop the run when it needed to most and couldn't generate pressure in key third-down situations. Offensively for the Falcons, the numbers show only two sacks were allowed, but that doesn't reveal how much duress quarterback Matt Ryan was under while being unable to throw down the field. The Falcons averaged just 4.3 yards per pass play.

Running on empty: Speaking of the battle at the line of scrimmage, Steven Jackson took a step back while rushing for just 11 yards on nine carries against a Seahawks defense that had been suspect against the run. Jackson said he was 100 percent in his third game back from a hamstring injury and credited the Seahawks for their defensive scheme. But Smith's assessment of Jackson's struggles was very telling. The coach was asked why the Falcons seemed to be more effective running the ball with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, who combined for 38 yards on four attempts. "When Snell and Jacquizz were in there, they had more holes,'' Smith said bluntly. "The blocking, you know, it all goes hand in hand with the offensive line, the running backs, and the tight ends in the run game. And the plays were definitely blocked better when [Rodgers and Snelling] were in there.''

Explosive plays: The Falcons' defense now has surrendered 14 plays of 40-plus yards for a grand total of 716 yards after giving up three such plays for 135 total yards against the Seahawks. The one that seemed to stagger the Falcons was Wilson's 43-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse off a flea-flicker from Lynch. Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud read the play and ran stride for stride with Kearse, but DeCoud didn't see the ball. "I could have gotten my head around, but I felt like just the way the play developed, I needed to close to the receiver,'' DeCoud said. "I wasn't in a position to really get my head around at that time.'' And Smith's take on the explosive plays? "Way too many big plays. ... We've got to get better at it,'' the coach said. "There are no excuses in terms of who's out there: young players, old players. These young players we've had out there, they've been playing for nine weeks. They're not rookies any longer. We've got to start making football plays. We've got to do as a coaching staff to make sure that we put them in the best position.''

Matty still iced: It's not a good sign when Ryan is making better plays with his feet than his arm. Ryan avoided the interceptions that plagued him the previous two games, but he still seemed off while completing 23 of 36 passes for a season-low 172 yards in Sunday's loss. The last time Ryan threw for fewer than 200 yards in a game was when he had just 165 against New Orleans last November. He brushed off the notion that he was throwing the ball too high against the Seahawks, but Ryan did overthrow tight end Tony Gonzalez twice in the first half. He also threw one too short to Roddy White that was almost picked off by Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner. "Matt, in the first half, was not as efficient as we needed to be,'' Smith said. "There were some opportunities to make some throws. There were some opportunities to make some catches. And we did not get it done.''

Back in action: The loss overshadowed White's return to the lineup following a three-game hiatus due to hamstring and ankle injuries. White caught a 20-yard pass down the middle on the Falcons' second series but was held without a catch the rest of the game while being targeted four times. "I felt pretty good,'' White said. "It was the best I felt all season. That was good, just giving me a lot of confidence going into the next couple weeks that I can get out there and get going and get back to being myself again.'' White was his normal self when it came to his personal battle with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. White slapped at Sherman after one play. "It was no big deal,'' White said. "We get into scuffles every time we play that team, no matter if it's me, Tony, or whoever is out there. They're a good football team. They've got players who play on the edge. And we play on the edge, too.''

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 10

November, 11, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 33-10 victory against the Atlanta Falcons:

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsHead coach Pete Carroll has guided the Seahawks to a five-game consecutive win streak, following Sunday's 33-10 victory at Atlanta.
Road winners: No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Seahawks are guaranteed a winning road record this year in the regular season. The last time that happened (in 2005, when they went 5-3 on the road), they went to the Super Bowl. The only other time Seattle had a winning record on the road was 1984 (they also went 5-3); during that postseason, they lost at Miami in the second round. Seattle is 5-1 on the road this season, so a win in either San Francisco or New Jersey against the New York Giants would set a team record.

Wagner gets it done: Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner took some heat in the media last week as the man most responsible for the defense’s poor performance against the run in the previous two games. There was even some speculation that K.J. Wright might start in the middle for Wagner on Sunday. But Wagner was back to his usual toughness in the middle against Atlanta. He led the team with nine solo tackles, helping the Seahawks hold the Falcons to only 64 yards rushing.

Browner and McDaniel injured: It wasn’t all good news for Seattle on Sunday. Cornerback Brandon Browner left the game in the first half with a groin injury. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel left the game with a hamstring injury. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after the game he didn’t know the status of either player at this point. McDaniel's injury put the Seahawks down three defensive linemen Sunday because Red Bryant was out with a concussion and rookie Jordan Hill was out with a biceps injury.

Respectful jersey swap: Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman doesn’t think much of Atlanta receiver Roddy White, but Sherman has the utmost respect for Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who will end his legendary NFL career at the end of the season. Sherman asked for Gonzalez's jersey after the game, so they swapped shirts. “He's a [future] Hall of Famer and he's been a great player in the league for a long time," Sherman said of Gonzalez. "You always respect great players. You respect the game in that sense. It's an honor to play against him." Gonzalez chuckled about the jersey exchange: "That's what happens when you’re an old guy and they know it's your last run. I'm glad I got [Sherman's jersey]. He's on his way. He's such a good player.”

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues following the Green Bay Packers' 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargeScott Tolzien
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesScott Tolzien managed a respectable 24-of-39 on 280 yards -- but also threw two picks in the loss.
Eight-man fronts: With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers saw eight-man fronts as rarely as any team in the league; teams were afraid to stack the box against Green Bay, knowing Rodgers could beat their defenders left in single coverage. But the Eagles tried it for five snaps on Sunday, and the end zone interception Scott Tolzien threw in the second quarter was the first the Packers have thrown against an eight-man front all season. (Tolzien replaced Packers starter Seneca Wallace after Wallace suffered a groin injury on Green Bay's first possession.) Eddie Lacy averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 24 attempts, and with Rodgers out, the Packers could see more teams trying to take away the run and daring them to throw the ball.

Losing at Lambeau: The Packers have now lost two consecutive games at Lambeau Field, marking the first time since 2009 they have lost two home games in a season. Green Bay hasn't lost more than two games at Lambeau since a 6-10 season in 2008. The Packers' next game in Wisconsin is against the 2-7 Minnesota Vikings, who are 1-7 at Lambeau Field since the start of 2006. They're finding their typically ironclad home-field advantage is one of the things they can't count on in Rodgers' absence.

Fourth-quarter meltdowns: Coach Mike McCarthy lit into his team after Sunday's game, and talked in his postgame news conference about “recurring issues” that keep haunting the Packers. He might have been talking about Green Bay's late-game defense. Each of the last two weeks, the Packers have been unable to get off the field and keep a team from extending drives to run out the clock. On Sunday, the Eagles held the ball for the final 9:32 of the game. In the fourth quarters of the Packers' last two losses, they have held the ball for a combined 8:33, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Who's the backup? McCarthy said after Sunday's game that Tolzien will start next Sunday against the New York Giants, but it remains to be seen who would back him up if (or should we say when) the Packers have more injury issues. The Packers were scheduled to work out former backup Matt Flynn on Monday, according to's Ed Werder. Flynn might give the Packers an option who is already familiar with their offense, though he hasn't been with the team since 2011. Still, for a team reeling at the quarterback position, among other places, any semblance of familiarity might be a good thing.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 10

November, 11, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 27-24 win over the Houston Texans.

Andre Cat: Last year it was the Pat Cat. This year it'll be the Andre Cat. The Cardinals unveiled a Wildcat package Sunday with rookie running back Andre Ellington behind center. He took three straight snaps early in the third quarter, running for 12 yards on two of them and handing off to Patrick Peterson on the third.

“It was a little bit different flavor,” Ellington said.

Ellington ran it in college, but was surprised when coach Bruce Arians introduced the package Monday. Arians will only run the Wildcat if his quarterback isn't on the field, he said. But don't expect Ellington to throw the ball. It's not his forte, the rookie added.

Expect more of it, maybe a little spicier, throughout the season, Ellington said.

“It was a good little change of pace,” Arians said.

Adjusting on the fly: At halftime, the Cardinals heard about how much they were letting the Texans move the ball. And they did something about it. Arizona allowed 41 total yards in the second half -- 32 passing and just 9 rushing. They turned the Texans into a one-dimensional team, taking away the run and turning up the pressure on quarterback Case Keenum.

“I thought he had a lot of time in the first half, patting the ball back there and [we] couldn't cover him quick enough,” linebacker Daryl Washington said. “So we was able to come out [in the] second half and play our game of football.”

Bethel blocks: Even when they prepared specifically for Justin Bethel, the Texans couldn't stop the second-year gunner from having an impact on special teams. Bethel blocked his second career field goal with four seconds left in the first half, coming off the left side. It turned out to be the difference in the Cardinals' 27-24 win.

“You never know,” he said. “You never know what could happen. I made the play, it happened and I'm just happy we won.”

Texans interim coach Wade Phillips said his team singled Bethel out, but even then Houston couldn't block him.

“[No.] 31 is the guy that we emphasized,” Phillips said. “It's the guy that we've got to stop because he's the field goal blocker, and he did it.”

Just enough: Ellington had 15 touches Sunday -- 11 rushes and two catches -- which was mostly in line with his past few games. He had 55 yards on the ground and 18 yards through the air, but Arians feels that's the right mix for now.

“I think it's right where it needs to be,” Arians said. “He had plenty again today.”

Rashard Mendenhall fumbled late in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals were trying to seal the win, but that didn't diminish Arian's belief in his starter. It's still the same.

“Oh yeah,” Arians said. “There's no doubt.”

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 10

November, 8, 2013
A review of four hot issues after the Minnesota Vikings' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night:

Williams 'more fired up than I've ever seen him': With the Vikings down 24-14 at halftime, having gone 14 straight possessions at home without forcing a punt, defensive coordinator Alan Williams turned up the volume. He got "more fired up than I've ever seen him," according to coach Leslie Frazier, and let defenders know they weren't getting the job done. In the second half, the Vikings allowed just 145 yards and three points. It has been a tough season for the second-year defensive coordinator, and things reached a head last week when defensive linemen Brian Robison and Kevin Williams criticized Williams' decision not to bring more pressure on the Cowboys' game-winning drive. On the final three plays of the game Thursday, the Vikings brought six, six and five men, respectively, to pressure Robert Griffin III.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltCordarrelle Patterson scored his first touchdown on offense in the Vikings' win over the Redskins.
Patterson catches -- not returns -- a TD: Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson only returned two kickoffs for 37 yards, as the Redskins kicked off short in an effort to avoid the explosive return man. But Patterson finally got more involved in the Vikings passing game, playing 21 snaps and catching a 19-yard touchdown from Christian Ponder on a crossing route. The Vikings used all five of their receivers for at least 17 snaps Thursday night, as they put Ponder in the shotgun for 14 of his 23 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

New (old) nose tackle: With both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans out because of injuries, the Vikings needed to move someone to nose tackle, and that job fell to the man who has defined the 3-technique tackle position for a decade: Kevin Williams. The six-time Pro Bowler lined up at the nose all night, with rookie Sharrif Floyd at the 3-technique tackle, and playing a season-high 63 snaps, Williams had his finest night in several years. He posted 2.5 sacks -- the third-highest single-game total of his career. "It's just something we had to do," Williams said. "Somebody had to get in there, and I just had to embrace."

Last-minute timeouts: For the fifth time this year, the Vikings defense was on the field trying to protect a lead in the final minute of the game. The defense had failed in three of the first four instances, including last week in Dallas. But with the Redskins driving Thursday night, Frazier called a pair of timeouts. The Redskins were out of timeouts, and the move appeared to irk a few of Frazier's players -- cameras caught wide receiver Greg Jennings throwing his hands up after the second timeout -- but Frazier said he wanted to give his defense, which spent 36:01 on the field, a break, while trying to save some time in case the Vikings got the ball back. "I’ve learned in my short time as a head coach that you better do it the way you believe in doing it because you don’t have a chance to do this for very long, so you don’t want to have any regrets," Frazier said. "Our players, they’re thinking about what they need to think about, but I’ve got to think about the total picture, so no big deal."