NFL Nation: 2013 Week 12 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 12

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 27-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night:

Shanahan
Shanahan
Coaching future: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan points to several changes as examples of how the organization is better off now than when he was hired in 2010. But unless things change dramatically, the Redskins are looking at a third double-digit-loss season in his first four. You can point to reasons why they have taken a step back after last season. A 7-9 finish after a tough offseason -- quarterback rehabbing, team unable to sign quality free agents -- would be understandable. But the Redskins have not looked like a good team in any game this season. Even if the quarterback needs to develop, other parts of the team still can play well. That hasn’t happened. The Redskins have lost four games by double digits, the same number they lost in 2009 under Jim Zorn when they finished 4-12. They’re not losing close, hard-fought games and just need a little luck. Players still support Shanahan (Zorn had little to no support), and that’s good. But everyone here still has a lot to prove.

Griffin
Quarterback’s future: Regardless of what’s true or not true when it comes to Robert Griffin III’s relationship with the coach and the offensive coordinator, there’s no doubt he’ll have to rebuild his reputation as well as his game. It’s not impossible: Griffin works hard and has talent. Patience is always needed with young quarterbacks; a week ago -- heck, until around 9 Monday night -- Colin Kaepernick was a struggling young quarterback. This morning he’s on his way back. Fickle game for young passers. I’ve said this before, but it remains true: Griffin needs to have a quiet offseason. That means no commercials, no joining the owner at big events, no documentaries. Work on your game and stay out of the spotlight. You can work hard and still do all those other things, but to rebuild yourself and your game, it’s best to lay low. I have a feeling Griffin won’t mind doing so after this season. If his career ends up being a good one, it could be that this year was a turning point. There’s a ways to go before this book is completed. This chapter, however, hasn't been pretty.

Wilson
Rough night: Redskins corner Josh Wilson struggled Monday night, giving up big catches to receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Some were in man; at least one was in zone. Boldin got free on an out route for one catch in which Wilson wasn’t close enough to get his hand between Boldin’s. Davis pushed off to get free on another and created too much separation. Another time, Kaepernick made a terrific throw that beat decent coverage from Wilson on Boldin. Overall, though, too many passes were directed in Wilson’s area. It was not a strong night. “We’ve got to be able to make plays and I wasn’t able to make plays that I definitely want to make,” Wilson said.

No offense: The Redskins’ offense was unable to do much of anything against San Francisco, which entered this weekend with the NFL’s seventh-rated defense. It’s the only team Washington has faced that currently has a defense ranked among the top half in the NFL. The Redskins couldn’t do much of anything. They ran for 100 yards on 27 carries; they had 90 net yards passing and 190 yards overall. They averaged 3.3 yards per play. This was definitely a bad matchup for them because the 49ers have an excellent front seven and speed at the linebacker position. It was a complete breakdown by the entire offense. Eight of their 12 drives lasted four plays or fewer, and it’s a huge reason why San Francisco’s average starting field position was its own 43-yard line. The Redskins started nine drives inside their 25-yard line; the Niners started one drive inside their 25.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 12

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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LANDOVER, MD. -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 27-6 win at Washington on Monday night:

Kaepernick leads: The 49ers' offense was the key in this win, ending a two-game losing streak. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense had sagged the past two weeks. But he led a strong passing attack. Kaepernick completed 6 of 15 passes of 15 yards or longer against the Redskins. Last week in New Orleans, the 49ers' longest play was 17 yards. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh credited Kaepernick's leadership during the week. He said Kaepernick had a “perfect mix” of focus and looseness and it carried into the game.

Manningham
Help on the way: The 49ers' passing game was finally more than Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Mario Manningham, in his third game of the season, had four catches for 45 yards. He was targeted early in the game, and that enabled Boldin and Davis to break loose for three touchdowns. And more help is on the way. Top receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his Achilles in May, will be activated Tuesday and Harbaugh said he anticipates he will play Sunday against St. Louis. He might not be 100 percent right away, but having a receiving group of Boldin, Davis, Manningham and Crabtree will only make Kaepernick better.

Aldon Smith is back: The star pass-rusher made a huge impact Monday night. Smith had two sacks and looked like his normal self for the first time since returning from substance abuse treatment. This was his third game back since missing five games. He had had one tackle the past two games. Last week, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith was still getting acclimated. Monday night, he looked comfortable and he was active. Having a dominant Smith will be huge for this defense down the stretch.

James sparks return game: Harbaugh raved about LaMichael James' performance Monday night. James, a second-round pick in 2012, looked good on returns the past two games after taking over for the since-released Kyle Williams. Monday night, James made a huge impact. He had a 40-yard punt return in the third quarter. It was the 49ers' longest punt return in nearly two seasons. Harbaugh said it was a nice reminder to everyone that the 49ers have a return game. James runs with a purpose and with more aggression than Williams ever did.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:50
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A review of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 42-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

Run D still porous: Zac Stacy's 11-yard run on St. Louis' first play from scrimmage set the tone for what wound up being a rough day for Chicago's run defense. Two plays later, Tavon Austin took a pitch left, reversed field right and juked Bears safety Chris Conte to pick up a block to go down the home team's sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. St. Louis ripped the Bears for 82 yards rushing on its first three plays and set a Rams franchise record by finishing the first quarter with 123 yards rushing (100 coming on Austin's running and a 35-yard gain by Stacy).

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesDespite a tough road loss, Bears QB Josh McCown still threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns.
Austin and Stacy joined the company of runners such as Jonathan Dwyer, James Starks, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice and Eddie Lacy, all players to bust runs for gains of 25 yards or more this season against the Bears. Chicago has now given up eight runs for gains of 32 yards or more, including three runs of 40-plus yards.

The Bears talk every week about needing to improve in this area. It's time now to actually do it.

Resilience: The Bears took a 14-0 punch in the face from the Rams, who scored their first two touchdowns 54 seconds apart, but stayed in the game because of their resilience. After Stacy scored on a 1-yard run to put the Rams up 14-0, Chicago marched 80 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing drive, capped by a Josh McCown 7-yard scoring strike to Martellus Bennett.

When the Rams took a 21-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter, Chicago responded with 5:19 left before intermission with McCown hitting Brandon Marshall for a TD pass to pull the Bears within a touchdown, 24-14 at the half. The wheels didn't start to fall off until the final 3:05.

Penalties still an issue: By halftime last week, the Bears had already topped their season high with six penalties for 61 yards. Chicago nearly topped that in the first half Sunday, as it was flagged five times for 47 yards in the first half. In all, the Bears were flagged 10 times for 84 yards with two calls taking away touchdowns.

The Bears played relatively clean football over the first eight games, but that's obviously changed some over the past two contests. With the Bears still fighting for a postseason spot, one penalty can make the difference in winning or losing. So the club needs to clean up some things.

Josh McCown: With Jay Cutler sidelined, if the Bears are forced to play the backup quarterback another week, McCown certainly inspires confidence. Although McCown threw an interception late in the game, he stood with poise in the face of tremendous pressure all game and delivered the ball accurately despite taking some vicious shots. McCown finished with a passer rating of 102.4 with a pair of touchdowns.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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MIAMI -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 20-16 victory against the Miami Dolphins:

Rewards of winning: Seven straight wins have earned the Panthers (8-3) their third prime-time game of the seaosn. NBC has picked up the Panthers' Dec. 8 NFC South showdown against the New Orleans Saints (9-2) for its Sunday night telecast as part of the league's flex scheduling. If the Panthers hold serve against Tampa Bay, a team it beat 31-13 on a Thursday night telecast, and the Saints lose at Seattle, which is almost unbeatable at home, this would be for the outright division lead. The teams also play in Charlotte on Dec. 22 in a game that could decide the division title.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Alan DiazCarolina's Cam Newton made big plays when they were needed in an exciting win against Miami.
Spitting blood: Quarterback Cam Newton might have to consider wearing a mouthpiece in the future. He was hit so hard by Miami's Cameron Wake on Carolina's first play that he called a timeout to make sure he hadn't bitten his tongue off. He doesn't like wearing a mouthpiece, because it gets in the way of calling plays and gives him dry mouth. He chews gum to keep his mouth moist. But the hit gave Newton reason to believe a mouthpiece might not be such a bad idea. "I'm not fond of wearing a mouthpiece, and hopefully my mom is not listening to this, because she always said you get one set of teeth," Newton said. "It's something I need to look at if we continue to have a problem."

Spitting blanks: Newton was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws of at least 15 yards downfield on Sunday. It was his first career game with at least seven attempts of that range and no completions. Newton also struggled against four or fewer rushers, completing only 41.7 percent of his passes. He had a 64.2 completion percentage against those fronts through the first 10 games. But Newton was good when it counted, completing a pass to Steve Smith that turned into a 19-yard gain on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 with just over two minutes remaining to keep alive the game-winning drive. He also ran 8 yards for a first down on a fourth-and-1 play from his own 41.

Three men and a sack: The Panthers were without sack leader Charles Johnson (knee), but his replacements did just fine. Yes, replacements. It took Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander to replace Johnson. Addison had a sack and tackle for loss, Alexander had three tackles, and the trio helped hold Miami to 52 yards rushing on 3.1 yards per carry. I'm not saying Johnson wasn't missed, but the Panthers were allowing 3.9 per carry with him.

Boom, boom, boom: Punter's often get overlooked, but Brad Nortman deserves props for his effort against Miami. He is a big reason the Panthers were able to keep the Dolphins from spending most of the game in Carolina territory. He had punts of 72, 61 and 58 yards, averaging 56.7 yards on seven punts. His net average of 46.6 was well above his 39.2 season average.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz and Jeff Heath
ndrew Mills/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports"For them to have a touchdown on a play like that," coach Tom Coughlin said of Jeff Heath's return of a Victor Cruz fumble, "is just unbelievable."
The final drive: Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was confused about the team's decision to play coverage on the Cowboys' final drive instead of trying to pressure Tony Romo into a mistake. "Maybe we needed to be a little more aggressive and play the way we played the previous four drives," Tuck said. And the fact that Romo converted three third-down throws on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal supports his theory. I'm not sure I agree, though. Pressuring Romo can create problems due to his ability to keep plays alive with his legs. And the conversions were on third downs of 7, 5 and 10 yards, so they weren't exactly letting him get into easy spots. Sometimes, you just get beaten by a better team and/or player. Romo and the Cowboys made the plays. The Giants didn't.

The fumble: Giants coach Tom Coughlin made it clear he thought the whistle should have been blown and forward progress ruled before Orlando Scandrick stripped the ball out of Victor Cruz's hands and into the hands of Jeff Heath, who ran it back for the game's first touchdown. "We started off the year knowing full well that the officials were going to blow the whistle this season for every play," Coughlin said. "You hope that the whistle should blow. For them to have a touchdown on a play like that is just unbelievable." Tough spot for the officials, obviously, since what happens if he gets loose and scores a touchdown and you have to bring him back because you ruled forward progress? Surely, the other sideline would have found that unbelievable. Judgment call, but the fact is the whistle hadn't blown and Scandrick made a great play.

The absentee: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was inactive for the game after missing practice time during the week due to an abdominal injury he says has been bugging him all season. Nicks was certain as recently as Friday that he'd play. He didn't speak after the game. The fact that the Giants didn't let him suit up obviously intensifies the questions about the remainder of his season and his chances of returning to the team next year.

The math: The Giants could still win their final five games and finish 9-7, but even if they did, that wouldn't guarantee them a playoff spot. As Prince Amukamara said after the game, the Cowboys have four division wins (two against the Giants), and the most the Giants can get is three. The Eagles also hold a tiebreaker edge over the Giants. Their chances of catching and passing either of those teams are insanely slim. Their chances of catching and passing both are inconceivable. The residue of the 0-6 start is a complete lack of margin for error. They couldn't lose another game, and they just did.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
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ST. LOUIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 42-21 win against the Chicago Bears:

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesZac Stacy rushed for 87 yards and a score as the Rams rushed for a total of 258 yards.
Staying alive: The win moved the Rams to 5-6 on the season and though they are still on the outskirts of the playoff race, they managed to stay in the picture by knocking off a team that's in front of them in the mix.

With five games to play, the margin for error is small -- the Rams probably can't afford to lose another game to have a real shot at the playoffs -- but they now have consecutive impressive wins against playoff contenders in Indianapolis and Chicago. Heading into Monday night's game between San Francisco and Washington, the Rams sit two games behind 7-4 Arizona for what would be the final wild-card spot.

St. Louis' next two games come against the Niners and Cardinals, two teams ahead of them not only in the NFC West but in the NFC wild-card picture as well.

Battle of the Longs: Much was made of the meeting of Rams defensive end Chris Long and his brother Kyle, the Bears' starting right guard, last week. In a rare battle between brothers where they might actually cross paths on the field, there wasn't much to report with one notable exception.

Following an incomplete pass by Bears quarterback Josh McCown in the first half, Kyle Long got tangled up with defensive end William Hayes. The pair continued to battle after the play and Long actually appeared to throw a couple of kicks in Hayes' direction. Chris Long quickly ran in from the sideline to pry his brother out of the mix and away from his close friend Hayes.

It was a difficult situation for Chris Long, but he said he has long been accustomed to pulling his brother out of scrums.

Run game rolling: Immediate following the Rams' blowout loss to San Francisco in Week 4, coach Jeff Fisher made it clear the time had come for a philosophical shift for the offense. The idea was to develop some semblance of a reliable rushing attack with rookie Zac Stacy leading the charge.

After a promising start, the Rams' run game has gone to another level in the past four weeks. Capped by Sunday's 258 rushing yards, the Rams have run for 758 yards with six touchdowns on an average of 5.61 yards per carry. That average is the best in the league during that time frame. Without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, the run game's emergence has eased the burden on backup Kellen Clemens considerably.

Secondary struggles: The Rams' secondary hasn't exactly been able to lock down opposing passing games this season, but it was even tougher sledding Sunday against the Bears. The team placed cornerback Cortland Finnegan on injured reserve with an eye injury on Saturday and Trumaine Johnson, his replacement, suffered a head injury during the game. That left the Rams short at cornerback, and McCown threw for 352 yards and two touchdowns to keep Chicago in the game.

Pending Johnson's status moving forward, the Rams have only rookie Brandon McGee, converted safety Rodney McLeod and unproven Quinton Pointer behind starter Janoris Jenkins on the outside.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 24-21 win against the New York Giants.

On to the next one: The icy weather conditions back in Dallas almost forced the Cowboys to spend the night in New Jersey. With the Oakland Raiders visiting AT&T Stadium on Thursday, that would have made a short week of preparation even that much more difficult. As it stands, the Cowboys will have a walk through Monday. Tony Romo got a jump on the preparation, looking at film on the way home.

[+] EnlargeDallas' DeMarco Murray
Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesDeMarco Murray rushed for 86 yards against the New York Giants.
“I toyed with the idea of looking [early] but it wouldn't have been beneficial for me leading up to this game,” Romo said. “I really don't know Oakland all that well not being in our division. I will have to start on them and cram [Sunday night and Monday].”

Not running from scratch: Have the Cowboys started to find some consistency in the running game? In his past two games, DeMarco Murray has 89 and 86 yards rushing on 30 carries. The Cowboys ran the ball 20 times for 107 yards against the Giants. Lance Dunbar also had some effective runs on limited snaps. The key for the Cowboys is to have the threat of the run. This is an offense that will succeed on the merits of its passing game, but if it can run the ball, that should make things easier for Romo through the air. Murray, who has 634 yards on the season and four touchdowns, might leave yards on the field, but at least he is having the opportunity to leave yards on the field. In the past he did not even get much of a chance to run the ball.

A short week hurts: The hamstring injuries suffered by Morris Claiborne and Dwayne Harris on Sunday will likely keep them out of Thursday's game against the Raiders. Without Claiborne, B.W. Webb moves back into a prominent role and could force the Cowboys to find a corner on short notice. Without Harris, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley handle the return duties. Linebacker Sean Lee hopes to do some running on Monday, which could go a long way in determining if he could play against the Raiders. If there is a question, the Cowboys will rest him and make sure he is good for Dec. 9 against the Chicago Bears.

A daily dime: For the first time this season, the Cowboys broke out a dime defense, utilizing six defensive backs. It was somewhat out of necessity with injuries to Lee and Justin Durant. Safety Barry Church moved to the Mike linebacker spot and rookies J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath took over the safety roles with corners Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and either Claiborne or Webb. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin likes to play zone, but the lack of a dime package caught the Cowboys' linebackers in difficult matchups. Facing some better passing teams down the stretch (Green Bay, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington), the dime package could be more of a featured defense.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Minnesota Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Green Bay Packers:

Patterson
More work for Patterson: Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson saw his role in the Vikings' offense continue to increase on Sunday. Patterson again started at split end for Minnesota, but moved around the Vikings' offense, being targeted with a team-high 11 passes and catching eight of them for 54 yards. Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this month that the Vikings couldn't have gone any faster indoctrinating Patterson into their offense than they did, but it's been clear in the last two weeks how much more comfortable with Patterson the Vikings are than they were a month ago. They've lined him up at a number of different receiver positions, and though he's mostly running simple in-breaking routes, he seems to be developing a better connection with quarterback Christian Ponder each week.

Cole impresses in debut: With Erin Henderson away from the team because of a personal matter, second-year man Audie Cole started at middle linebacker for the Vikings. He blitzed up the middle on the first play of the game, sacking Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien ("I wasn't mad about it when they [called the blitz]," Cole joked), and ended the day with 13 tackles, including 11 solo stops and two tackles for loss. He also recorded three other hits on the quarterback. Henderson has done a solid job at middle linebacker, and it would seem likely he will return to the spot when he rejoins the team, but Cole's performance could get the Vikings thinking about ways to use him.

Red zone issues resurface: Both the Vikings and Packers could have spent the night kicking themselves for failing to turn long drives into touchdowns, but for the Vikings, Sunday's game might have signaled a return to the trouble they had in the red zone earlier this year. The Vikings scored touchdowns on just seven of their first 15 red zone trips this year, and after getting touchdowns on eight of their next 11, the Vikings are 2-for-7 in their last two games. They were 2-for-5 on Sunday, but their inability to turn short field goal opportunities into touchdowns might have cost them the game. "We've got to make sure we score touchdowns in the red zone, rather than kick field goals," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "It's disappointing we had [the game] in our hands and it slipped out."

Vikings don't opt for free kick: The Vikings and Packers played to the first tie under the NFL's new overtime rules, which allowed both teams to possess the ball and kick field goals in overtime. The teams traded punts after that, and when Marcus Sherels fair caught Tim Masthay's final punt with a second left in the game, the Vikings could have opted to try to win the game on a free kick. But they would have needed to snap the ball from their own 34 and try either a field goal or a drop kick, and while Frazier said the Vikings considered it, he added, "where the ball was placed, it just wasn't a realistic option." The San Francisco 49ers tried the NFL's first free kick since 2008 earlier this year; the 49ers were also the last NFL team to make one, when Ray Wersching hit a field goal from 45 yards out.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
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Four hot issues from the Detroit Lions24-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The turnovers: This, more than anything, is a big concern. While some players said this hasn’t been a problem, that’s not entirely accurate. The Lions have now committed three or more turnovers in three of the past four games. Two of those games, Sunday against Tampa Bay and last week against Pittsburgh, were losses. The third, Detroit's come-from-behind win over Dallas, very easily could have been a loss as well. If anything, it’s a disturbing trend for Detroit heading into the final five games of the season. Detroit hasn’t had a positive turnover margin since Week 6 (Cleveland) and has forced just one turnover total in the past five games. For a defense that was extremely opportunistic early in the season, this is a large reason for its recent struggles.

Burleson
Burleson
The playoff picture: Still, all is not lost for Detroit. If the playoffs began today, the Lions would be in and would have a game at Ford Field. As I wrote yesterday, that’s the beauty of the NFC North, where even losses or ties can’t hurt anyone at this point in time. But Detroit’s margin for making the playoffs is essentially division-title-or-bust at this point, and Thursday’s game against Green Bay has the feel of an elimination game.

Detroit’s run defense: Lost in Sunday's loss will be how the Lions stopped the run -- again. Detroit hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4 against Chicago, and held Tampa Bay to less than 1 yard a carry. Think about that for a second. While Tampa’s rushing offense doesn’t have a marquee back, the Lions made the Buccaneers completely ineffective on half of their plays (Tampa ran the ball 24 times and passed 21 times). Much of the run defense has to do with the front seven, and the Lions have been superb in this area from the first week of the season on.

Burleson’s return: Veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson had a strong performance in his first game back from a broken forearm. He was second in targets (10) to Calvin Johnson (14). He had seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. And most important, he made it through the game healthy. Burleson’s production shouldn’t be a concern the rest of the season. He played what appeared to be a full complement of plays for a receiver and didn’t seem to have many issues playing with his protective brace, even if he did continue to pick at it throughout the game. He fumbled once, but he admitted he was carrying the ball too loosely in that scenario. If Detroit is going to make the playoffs, the Lions need similar production on a weekly basis from Burleson.
DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 24-21 victory against the Detroit Lions on Sunday:

The Schiano Watch: He might not be totally off the hot seat yet, but there is no question that three straight wins are improving coach Greg Schiano’s chances of sticking around. The Bucs played perhaps their best game of the season as they picked up their first road win. During their 0-8 start, Schiano kept saying that once the Bucs started winning, they wouldn’t stop. So far, he’s been right, and it looks like his players continue to buy into his system.

Glennon
Glennon’s stock rising: When he was coming out in the draft, some gurus said Mike Glennon didn’t have the tools to be an NFL quarterback. He’s proving them wrong. Glennon, who seems to get more efficient each week, had a 138.4 passer rating.

Revis’ injury: Cornerback Darrelle Revis left the game late in the first half with a groin injury. There will be more evaluation on the injury back in Tampa on Monday. The Bucs were able to get by without Revis because rookie Johnthan Banks stepped up and did a nice job against Calvin Johnson. But the Bucs are a much better team with Revis in the lineup.

Rainey mania slows down: Running back Bobby Rainey carried 18 times for just 35 yards. That’s a big drop from last week, when he ran for 163 yards. The Lions devoted much of their defensive attention to Rainey, and that opened up things for Glennon and the passing game.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A review of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Alex Smith
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsAlex Smith passed for a season-best 294 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers.
Burning the timeouts: The Chiefs called a timeout on their final touchdown drive that would have been useful later, after the Chargers went ahead in the final seconds. The Chiefs had just picked up a first down at the San Diego 5-yard line with 1:28 remaining and, trailing 34-31, stopped the clock from the sideline. They scored on their next play on a pass from Alex Smith to Dwayne Bowe. But the Chargers went down and won the game with a touchdown pass of their own with 24 seconds left. The Chiefs could have used the additional timeout at that point as they scrambled to get into field goal range. "I was just calming the storm there," coach Andy Reid said. "I was just making sure … that we had the right [players] in and we were ready to go."

Offense keeps up: There was some question as to Kansas City's ability to keep up in a high-scoring game, but the Chiefs did it Sunday. Their 38 points topped their previous season high of 31, and their five offensive touchdowns topped their previous high of three. "Not that you don't take positives from games, but, right now, it wasn't enough," said Smith, who had season highs in passing yards (294) and touchdowns (three). "We didn't do enough as a team to get it done, so it stings."

Amazing statistic: History was on the side of the Chiefs and not the Chargers when the game became as high scoring as it was. Going into the game, the road team had been a pathetic 23-751 when allowing 38 or more points since 1970. That's a winning percentage of .030. The 38 points matched the Chiefs' all-time high in a home defeat. The Chargers had lost 25 of their previous 26 road games when allowing 38 or more points.

Reid bumps into Rivers: Reid had an unusual meeting with San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers during the game. The two bumped into one another after a play on Kansas City's sideline. Reid had something to say to Rivers afterward. "He was telling me to get back to the huddle," said Rivers, who added that he had no problem with the incident. "I made sure I found him after the game," Rivers said. "I have a great deal of respect for him as a man and as a coach and the career he's had in this league."

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals’ 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

About time: It’s become a running joke around the Cardinals: Karlos Dansby couldn’t catch interceptions. That changed Sunday. He intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck midway through the second quarter and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

“I put a lot of work in,” Dansby said. “I missed a few early in the season. When everything is on the line, I came through today. [Luck] had a lot of pressure on him. He threw the ball up and I ran through it.”

Even Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who razzed Dansby as much as anyone, was thrilled for Dansby.

“I thought he was going to get another one,” Arians said. “That was a huge one, a huge one, big momentum swing.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald surpassed the 11,000-yard receiving mark for his career in Sunday's win.
Another record: Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards. He’s 30 years, 85 days -- 137 days younger than Randy Moss, who he passed on the list.

“I really don’t pay all that much attention to it in the now,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m happy. It’s a great accomplishment, but Jerry Rice had 21,000 yards receiving. That’s the benchmark.”

It’s the second milestone Fitzgerald has hit this season. He became the youngest NFL player to reach 800 receptions.

Fast improvement: A week after running for 14 yards, the Cardinals responded with 120 yards on the ground. It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it provided the kind of balance that Arizona has been seeking. Rashard Mendenhall had 54 yards on 13 carries and rookie Andre Ellington had 50 yards on 10 carries.

Both players had big runs, and Mendenhall showed speed not seen since he first joined the Cardinals.

“Rashard looked like himself,” Arians said. “He looked healthy like he did back in training camp. I was really glad to see that, and no better time. I thought he had, by far, his best game, both those backs.”

Streak over: One of the few things that went wrong for the Cardinals on Sunday was Jay Feely’s blocked field goal. It happened late in the first quarter when Sergio Brown got his hands on the 28-yard attempt. The block snapped a streak of 17 straight field goals for Feely from Weeks 2-10. It was the fourth-longest streak in franchise history.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 26-26 tie against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday:

Too early for two: Mike McCarthy became the latest in a long line of coaches who made the mistake of trying a two-point conversion too early in the game. The Packers coach made the call with 11:42 remaining after Eddie Lacy's 3-yard touchdown run cut the Vikings' lead to 23-13. McCarthy gave away one sure point, and quarterback Matt Flynn couldn't convert on a throw to tight end Andrew Quarless. The Packers got two more possessions and scored a touchdown (and kicked the extra point) with 3:30 left and then kicked a field goal with 46 seconds left. That field goal, which forced overtime, would have been the go-ahead points had McCarthy gone for the PAT earlier. "I think once you cross that fourth quarter like you've got to look at the whole picture -- how many series were available to you at that time, obviously what was going on on the headsets just getting ready for each series on offense, the way they were running the football on defense, you're playing at home is a positive because you've got to the crowd behind you," McCarthy said. "I'm comfortable with the decision. We had a good play. Frankly, I wish had a couple more reps in that play; I think it would have been a little clearer for [Flynn]. So I thought it was a solid decision."

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Tom Lynn /Getty ImagesMatt Flynn has a better grasp of the Packers offense than Scott Tolzien.
More for Flynn: It didn't take long for Flynn to show how much better versed in the Packers offense he is than Scott Tolzien. On the second play of Flynn's first series in relief of Tolzien in the third quarter, he had a run-pass option play and checked to the run. The play went for 34 yards when James Starks ran off right tackle. On the next series, the Packers went to the no-huddle offense, something they did with Tolzien only in two-minute situations. "I've always been comfortable here in this offense making the checks, making the audibles," Flynn said. "I kind of know what the coaches are looking for run-wise. Definitely need to study and get more familiarized with what we're trying to get accomplished but there was definitely, they gave me the freedom. They said, 'Are you comfortable with no-huddle?' And I said, 'Yeah, let's get it rolling.' We had some success doing that. But not enough." Though McCarthy wouldn't commit to a starting quarterback for Thursday's game at the Detroit Lions, it's hard to imagine him not going with Flynn if Aaron Rodgers is unavailable again because of his broken collarbone.

Lacy bounces back: The Vikings stacked the box against Lacy just like the New York Giants did a week earlier when they limited him to just 27 carries on 14 yards. This time, Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine against a similar defensive strategy by the Vikings. More than half of his yards came after contact. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 56 of Lacy's 110 rushing yards came after contact. His 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter was made even more impressive by the fact that he was first hit 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lacy also caught a season-high six passes for 48 yards, giving him 158 total yards from scrimmage. Lacy had to leave the game late in the overtime period after he had problems with his asthma, but his tackle-breaking ability elicited some of the loudest cheers from the fans at Lambeau Field and provided a boost of energy for the offense. "I think it lights a spark under Packer Nation," fullback John Kuhn said. "You hear the fans get riled up after something like that so if it jacks the fans up, you know our sideline is going to be happy."

Up-and-down defense: The Packers had a season-high six sacks, including Clay Matthews' first two-sack game of the season, and they didn't have any major coverage gaffes that led to big plays like they did against the Giants. Then again, they were playing against Christian Ponder, one of three Vikings quarterbacks to play this season. But as has been the case with this defense this season, there's almost always one major weakness. This time, it came against the run. Missed tackles were a killer. It's one thing to give up 146 yards rushing to Adrian Peterson, but it's another to let Toby Gerhart get 91 more on only eight carries. On the second-half drive in which the Vikings kicked a field goal to take a 23-7 lead, it was worth wondering whether the defense had mailed it in. "You're going to have your missed tackles against AP," Matthews said. "It always seems that he's good enough to exploit you when you're out of gaps. And that's kind of been the theme whenever we've given up too many yards rushing. I'm sure that'll be addressed. You know he's going to make his plays but not that many."

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 12

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

Jordan's showcase: Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has started to get a lot of well-deserved national attention this year for his continued development. Thursday's game might have been his signature performance, though -- perhaps the one that punches his ticket to the Pro Bowl.

Jordan had 2.5 sacks, including a huge one after the Falcons reached the Saints' 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta wound up settling for a missed 52-yard field goal attempt on that drive. Jordan's other 1.5 sacks came back to back on a third-quarter drive. He also forced a holding penalty and pressured Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan into an incomplete pass on third down, among other highlights during the Saints' second-half shutout. Jordan now has 9.5 sacks on the season.

[+] EnlargeKeyunta Dawson
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsKeyunta Dawson's forced fumble was a key play in helping preserve the Saints' 17-13 win.
Bend but don't break: The Falcons started out much stronger than the Saints on both sides of the ball, forcing a three-and-out, then churning out a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive featuring running back Steven Jackson. Atlanta followed with two long field goal drives on its second and third possessions. Then the Falcons were shut out the rest of the way.

Atlanta won the time of possession battle by more than seven minutes, thanks to a lot of midrange passes -- many picking on new Saints starting cornerback Corey White. But the Saints never let the ball get behind them for big gains. And they eventually came up with big stops. The biggest was end Keyunta Dawson's forced fumble inside the red zone early in the fourth quarter. The Saints also had five sacks -- four in the second half.

"A coach told me very early in my career that it's very hard for a team to drive 80 or 90 yards without any big plays or any penalties," Saints cornerback Chris Carr said. "They might score once or twice -- they scored the opening drive that way. But if you don't give up any big plays or penalties, it's going to be very hard for a team to beat a good defense."

Thomas creates balance: The Saints' pass-run balance keeps getting stronger each week, thanks almost solely to dual threat Pierre Thomas. New Orleans counted on Thomas in a big way, especially with Darren Sproles out with injury, and he delivered with 10 carries for 73 yards and five receptions for 57 yards. He broke big gains on three third-down conversions in the first half.

Graham creates imbalance: The Saints' other big offensive weapon was tight end Jimmy Graham. (What's new?) He caught five passes for 100 yards -- the biggest play coming when he made safety William Moore stumble with a double move on a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Graham then yanked down the left side of the goal post with a celebratory dunk that required some immediate maintenance.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 12

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons’ 17-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan was under pressure much of the game, getting sacked a season-high five times.
Next in line? Matt Ryan said he was pleased with how his offensive line played to start the game. He didn’t say he was happy with how the line finished. Ryan was sacked a season-high five times and hit 10 times. One of those sacks occurred on second-and-10 from the Saints’ 29-yard line with under three minutes to play -- two plays before the Falcons decided to send Matt Bryant on the field for a 52-yard field goal that he missed after the Saints called a timeout to freeze him. Falcons coach Mike Smith seemed resigned to the fact that there’s no fixing this line now. "We’ve got to continue to work with the guys that we have," Smith said. "We’ve got some opportunities to maybe bring some other guys up that haven’t been active .... We’ve got to be better schematically. We’ve got to make sure we’re putting them in their best positions as a coaching staff in terms of the things we’re asking them to do. Entirely too many pressures on the quarterback in the football game tonight." The Falcons once again benched right guard Garrett Reynolds in favor of Peter Konz, who lost his starting job at center, then was benched himself last week at right guard in favor of Reynolds. Left tackle Lamar Holmes had a rough time against Saints right defensive end Cameron Jordan (2.5 sacks).

Hit parade: Smith was obviously upset when Saints left defensive end Akiem Hicks hit Ryan high in the second quarter and even appeared to grab Ryan’s face mask while beating Reynolds for a sack. And although Smith motioned to an official how he felt Ryan got hit in the face, Smith refused to complain about it to the media afterward. "That was not a penalty, because there was not a flag thrown," Smith said. "Again, we will have to wait and see what happens later in the week [regarding a possible fine]. The explanation I got was it wasn’t a penalty. They didn’t see any contact to the head or neck area, and of course what they see is what it is." Ryan also refused to complain about the officiating on the play, but the sack did kill the Falcons’ momentum and forced them to settle for a field goal. "The officials do the best that they can out there and the game moves fast," Ryan said. "You just have to keep playing. It’s a physical game. Hits are going to be physical but, again, it’s not for me to decide." And this came a few days after the whole controversy surrounding Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the hit by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Another explosion: By defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s count, his defense gave up five more explosive plays against the Saints -- two passes of 20 or more yards and three runs of 10 or more yards. The biggest was a 44-yard touchdown reception by talented tight end Jimmy Graham, who beat safety William Moore with a double move. The Falcons have now surrendered 18 plays of 40-plus yards this season. In talking to Moore, the latest one to Graham could have been avoided. "That was all me," Moore said. "They set that up. Graham was basically jogging a few routes. And he came out there one play ... it was basically a trick play. And I’ve got to have my eyes where they need to be .... I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when."

Missing man: Receiver Roddy White got banged up Thursday but remained in the game. Even before the injury, he wasn’t a big factor in the offense. He finished with just two catches for 24 yards as he was targeted twice. Ryan targeted Harry Douglas and rookie Darius Johnson a combined 19 times. Douglas had nine catches for 79 yards and Johnson, six for 67. The defense played by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis can’t be overlooked. White, however, simply hasn’t been himself all season coming off a high ankle sprain and hamstring pull. "Obviously, he’s an explosive player for us, and we do like getting him the ball," Ryan said of White. "Just didn’t shake out that way [Thursday] ... Sometimes defense dictates where you’ve got to go with the ball." White, who missed three games, has just 20 receptions this season. Douglas now leads the team with three times as many (60).

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