NFL Nation: 2013 Week 15 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 15

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
9:15
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A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 18-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDetroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a fixture in the film room during the offseason.
Job security: There isn't much of that for Detroit coach Jim Schwartz or his coaching staff Tuesday morning. While there is still a chance for the Lions to make the playoffs, they have to win out and then hope for some help from either Chicago or Green Bay. Considering where Detroit has been throughout the season -- the healthiest team in the NFC North, in control of its own fate for most of the year, having lost four of its past five games -- there are a lot of questions around this coaching staff now.

No offensive improvement: Other than a blip of progress against Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day, the Lions' offense has struggled throughout most of the season's second half. The Lions continue to turn the ball over at a high rate, with three more turnovers Monday night, the fifth straight game the Lions have had at least three and have also been on the losing end in turnover differential. It has been many of the same problems this season for Detroit. The Lions continue to drop passes -- now at 44 on the season, 12 more than any other team in the league. They continue to turn the ball over at a high rate, and the 31 turnovers this year are second worst in the NFL, only ahead of the Giants.

Defense hung in: Much of Monday night's loss can be attributed to Detroit's offense. Detroit's defense did what it was supposed to do. Baltimore did not score a touchdown and had to make a 61-yard field goal to give the Ravens the lead with less than a minute remaining. It is the second time in three games that the Lions' defense has held an opponent without a touchdown. Even with depleted depth at cornerback, the Lions held Joe Flacco to a 52.6 completion percentage and fewer than 250 yards passing while also allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing for the seventh time in the last eight games.

Stafford's rough day: Some of this ties into the lack of offensive improvement -- and frankly, some questionable play calls throughout the game -- but Matthew Stafford was inefficient once again Monday night. He completed 52.9 percent of his passes, the fifth time in six games after the bye week he has completed less than 60 percent of his throws. He tossed three interceptions, the sixth time in seven games he has thrown at least one pick and the third time in four games he has thrown multiple interceptions. His receivers again didn't help him out, dropping three passes. Two of those three interceptions came in the fourth quarter, where he has noticeably struggled in the second half of the season. After having a passer rating over 100 in the fourth quarter of all but one game the first half of the season, Stafford has reached that mark just once in the second half of the year -- and that was in a rout on Thanksgiving, the only time in the season's second half in which Detroit had a high-efficiency performance on offense.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 15

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
9:00
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DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 18-16 win at the Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tucker
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesJustin Tucker celebrates his 61-yard field goal Monday night.
Team MVP: Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining was the game winner, another reason why he has been the MVP for the Ravens this season. When you include PATs in addition to field goals, he has accounted for 57 percent of Baltimore's scoring (50 of 88 points) during the Ravens' four-game win streak. Tucker's six field goals on "Monday Night Football" was a franchise record. He has now connected on 33 straight field goals, which is four shy of setting another franchise mark. How valuable has Tucker been? According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens became only the second team to win this season without scoring a touchdown. (The New York Giants were the first, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 15-7 in Week 8.

Flacco finishes again: Quarterback Joe Flacco engineered his fourth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. Only New England's Tom Brady has more. After the Lions took a 16-15 lead with 2:21 left in the game, Flacco converted a third-and-15 with a 27-yard pass to Jacoby Jones -- his longest completion of the game -- which moved the Ravens within Tucker's range. Flacco has delivered a game-winning drive in four of the Ravens' past six victories, including both of their road wins this season.

Defense slips again: The Ravens' defense has looked dominating over the past month, except when it gets to crunch time. Over the past six weeks, a stretch in which the Ravens have won five times, the Ravens' defense has allowed two touchdowns in the first three quarters and six in the fourth quarter. The Ravens gave up the go-ahead touchdown in Detroit with 2:21 remaining, when Matthew Stafford threw a 14-yard pass to Joseph Fauria in the end zone. In the past three games, the Ravens have allowed four touchdowns in the final three minutes.

Road less traveled: The Ravens won at an NFC North stadium for the first time in franchise history. Before Monday night, they had been 0-8 in games at Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota. The Ravens also improved to 2-5 on the road this season, ending a three-game losing streak away from home. What was the biggest difference on Monday night? The Ravens forced a total of two turnovers during that three-game losing streak on the road. In Detroit, Baltimore intercepted Stafford three times. Two of those picks led to field goals (six points) and the other one by safety Matt Elam ended the game.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
11:41
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A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAgainst Arizona in Week 15, Titans receiver Kendall Wright has 12 receptions for 150 yards, his second 100-plus game this season.
Overcomplicated: Even minus Justin Hunter and Damian Williams, scratched for violating team rules, the Titans have a pretty good group of threatening pass catchers. I understand an occasional pass to someone like fullback Quinn Johnson may keep a defense honest, but the Titans can't spare snaps for such things. Johnson dropped the one pass thrown to him. Running back Jackie Battle was on the field in some passing situations and may have some pass protection skills, but I don't understand him playing 14 snaps on offense when Shonn Greene played only 12.

Hearing from Smith: We know very little about new Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, but Sunday before the game he had his first meeting with the press. He was reasonable on every level, appearing a little nervous but providing a good deal of insight into the way he will operate. He's got no intention to sell the team, wants to have smart people in place and let them do their jobs, feels the fans' pain and sounds determined to get things on track. Fans and followers of the franchise should be encouraged by the glimpse of Smith he shared Sunday.

The stars shined: The Titans do not have as much talent as they believe, but the best guy on each side of the ball excelled Sunday. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey led the Titans with nine tackles and recorded 1.5 sacks, boosting his season total to 10.5. On offense, receiver Kendall Wright keyed the late comeback with several big catches. He was targeted on 34 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick's 58 passes, catching 12 for 150 yards. Wright's receptions included gains of 26, 23, 20 and 20 yards. He's a really good player who stands to be a foundational piece of this team no matter who's making decisions and calling plays going forward.

Home-field disadvantage: The Titans lost their fifth straight at LP Field and are now 2-5 in Nashville this season. Under Mike Munchak, the team is 11-12 at home. Safety Bernard Pollard has preached about the idea of establishing a clear home-field advantage. After this loss, he said even if guys didn't really feel some sort of edge when playing in Nashville, they should "fake" like they do. No one in the league worries about a trip to Music City these days. It's a far cry from what the Titans had on the East Bank of the Cumberland River in the building's early years.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
11:15
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A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThrough 14 games this season, Antonio Brown is averaging 13.8 yards per reception for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger, Brown shine again: And then there were two. The Steelers' MVP award, which the players will vote on shortly, is down to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger continues to have the finest statistical season of his career, already establishing a new Steelers record for completions in a season (340). Roethlisberger, who completed 80 percent of his passes against the Bengals, needs 414 passing yards in the final two games to break the Steelers' single-season record, which he holds. Brown, meanwhile, became the first player in the NFL since 2001 with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in each of his team's first 14 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The fourth-year veteran also joined Hines Ward as the only players in Steelers history to catch at least 95 passes in a season. Flip a coin between Roethlisberger and Brown, who won the Steelers' MVP award in 2011. It is that close between the two players.

Was it legal? Brown gave the Steelers a commanding three-touchdown lead with his 67-yard punt return near the end of the first quarter, and a devastating block by rookie linebacker Terence Garvin helped spring him. Garvin demolished Kevin Huber with a block that left the Bengals punter with a fractured jaw, and the NFL will determine whether the blindside hit violated the rule on crack-back blocks that it instituted in 2009, a season after Ward broke Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a block that happened behind the play. Garvin did not get flagged on the play, and he said the block was a legal one. "I thought I hit him pretty square, right in his chest. Nobody said anything to me about it," Garvin said. "I saw AB about to break and I really just wanted to finish up and help him get all the way out."

A different look: Garvin, who made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has worked his way into the Steelers' nickel defense. Garvin, who played safety at West Virginia, replaced Vince Williams when the Steelers went to their nickel package against the Bengals. The Steelers used the nickel extensively against Cincinnati, allowing Troy Polamalu to play safety more than he has in recent games. "My shoulders are pretty fresh," Polamalu said after he recorded five tackles and forced a fumble. The Steelers sustained a couple of injuries on defense, most notable a calf injury that sidelined outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley early in the game. Woodley missed three games earlier this season with a calf injury. The seventh-year veteran hurt his other calf against the Bengals. Cornerback Ike Taylor sustained a rib injury, but he said after the game that he is fine.

Big Ben blitzes Bengals: The offensive line allowed just one sack, and gave Roethlisberger enough time to pick apart the Bengals when they didn't blitz him. Roethlisberger completed 17 of 20 passes when the Bengals rushed four or fewer players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Andy Dalton, by comparison, completed just 14 of 28 passes when the Steelers didn't blitz the Bengals quarterback. The one thing that didn't sit well with Roethlisberger after he improved to 14-6 lifetime against the Bengals: The Steelers had to settle for three Shaun Suisham field goals, including twice after they had driven inside Cincinnati's 10-yard line. "I'm disappointed because I thought we could have been better in the red zone," Roethlisberger said. "We could have put seven points on the board a couple of times."

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
10:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
Better results with red zone offense: The Patriots scored one touchdown in four red zone trips and they obviously missed tight end Rob Gronkowski's size and unique skill set when the space got tight. Since 2011, quarterback Tom Brady is 21-of-34 when throwing to Gronkowski in the end zone. On passes in the end zone to other targets over that span, Brady is 26-of-97 with four interceptions. One would expect the Patriots to be working on more creative solutions inside the red zone this week, and it might help to get 6-foot-3 rookie receiver Aaron Dobson back; he's missed the last three games with a foot injury but appears close to a return.

Defense has stopped producing turnovers: After losing core players Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly to season-ending injuries, the Patriots have looked vulnerable on defense. The ability to create turnovers has been a key to overcoming personnel losses, but there have been none of them in each of the past two games. The defense had its moments against the Dolphins, but when the unit couldn't come up with the stops on third-and-16 and fourth-and-5 during the Dolphins' game-winning drive, do they really deserve to win the game?

Solder's head injury and Boyce's limp: On the injury front, starting left tackle Nate Solder left the game in the second half with a head injury (presumably another concussion) and receiver Josh Boyce was seen limping out of the locker room. With Solder out, the Patriots kicked left guard Logan Mankins out to tackle and inserted rookie Josh Kline at left guard. Mankins held up well. Overall, there has to be some concern with Solder's health as he was on the injury report last week with a concussion, and his status, along with Boyce's, bears watching.

Defining this team: After 15 weeks, the identity of teams come into sharper focus and our view of the Patriots is clear-cut. They can beat any team ... and lose to any team as well. They get the most out of their talent, and in this case, some days it just won't be good enough because of some of the personnel losses. So basically, here's the outlook for the remainder of the season: Hang on for what could be a wild ride.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
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Reviewing four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Brown
Brown vs. officials: Texans left tackle Duane Brown didn't agree with two calls that went against him. On one, the official agreed. After calling him for a taunting penalty following Robert Mathis' strip/sack/safety, the official who did so apologized to Brown. "Another guy that came and jumped on me after the play, and then he came and slapped the ball out of my hand," Brown said. "He slapped the ball into my face. So I tossed it at him. I didn’t cock back and beam it at him, I just tossed it at him. Flag." Brown disagreed with a holding call he was tabbed with, too. "Me and Wade (Smith) had a double-team. Wade got a pretty good shot on the guy. ... I tripped over a foot and fell. Actually disengaged a guy to catch myself. ... The guy fell to the ground on top of me. They said I pulled him to the ground. It happens. I wish it didn’t happen. It’s part of the game."

Keenum
Keenum
Case Keenum will start the rest of the season: It's not about right now anymore. The Texans want to see what Keenum has, even after his worst outing so far. They want to give him every opportunity to succeed or fail so they go into the offseason knowing exactly what's before them. Without examining the film, Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips couldn't offer a clear explanation of why Keenum struggled so mightily on Sunday. Asked if he believes in Keenum still, Phillips replied: "Well, certainly, we have so far. It's eight starts in a row." Phillips also said plainly that Keenum will continue to start.

Posey injured: DeVier Posey suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. Phillips termed that the most serious injury to come out of the game. Posey was never targeted in the game.

Johnson one shy: It's been a season in which Texans receiver Andre Johnson has climbed through lists of receiving records. Johnson's long and illustrious career with the Texans hasn't included very many wins, but it has included a great many outstanding performances. Sunday wasn't one of Johnson's best, especially against the Colts. He caught four passes on 10 targets, two of them drops. He caught passes for a total of 18 yards and no touchdowns. Johnson entered the game with 95 catches. He left it one shy of reaching 100 catches in a season for the fifth time in his career.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:00
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PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Steelers:

Huber's hit: On Cincinnati's final punt of the opening period, Bengals punter Kevin Huber was blindsided by Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin on a hit that left the kicker motionless on the ground a few moments, and that ultimately led him to have his jaw wired shut before he left Pittsburgh. On the play the NFL is expected to review this week, Huber broke his jaw, and likely ended his season. After the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who relieved Huber and punted for the first time since high school, said he was saddened by the sight of the hit.

Johnson
lastname
Bernard
Slow start hurts run: That tackle wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Huber on Sunday night. During his first punt attempt of the game, he fumbled a wide snap near his own end zone and had nowhere to run as the Steelers gave chase. He didn't even have time to recover and get off an emergency rugby kick or sprint to the back of the end zone for a safety. Instead, he was tackled into the end zone and downed at the 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game. It was the first of three hiccups on special teams that had a hand in a 21-0 deficit the Bengals had a tough time climbing out from. The hole was so deep that Cincinnati really couldn't run the ball like it had hoped, and was forced to go to the air to try to quickly make up yards and scores. After going beyond the 150-yard rushing mark the previous two games, the Bengals were held to just 57 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. Had they been able to run a little more regularly, they may have had a more balanced offensive attack, similar to the one they showed against San Diego and Indianapolis.

Dink, dunk, win: Eventually, the Bengals were able to get their passing game going, and they did so by throwing a lot of short underneath routes to receivers. Slants and screens were key components in their comeback bid that brought the wide early deficit to within a two-point conversion of being a one-score game with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. The dink-and-dunk style of passing was ripped from the Steelers' playbook. That's precisely the way they moved the ball on a Bengals defense that simply wasn't getting pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was back on its heels often in the play-action and short-route game. Roethlisberger was 20-for-25 for 191 yards overall. Half of his passes came on balls that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air. He was 10-for-14 on such passes.

Miscues abound for defense: The Bengals believe one of the reasons Roethlisberger had that type of success was because they dealt with occasional bouts of miscommunication. Defensive end Michael Johnson said that was the case on a few plays, including the 12-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger completed to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. On that play, only two Bengals rushed the passer and nine dropped in coverage. Johnson intimated that there should have been more rushers. Along with those communication issues, the Bengals also missed several tackles. They weren't happy with those, particularly after spending the week trying to correct more tackling issues that cropped up against the Colts last week.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:15
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INDIANAPOLIS -- An examination of four topics from the Indianapolis Colts' victory over the Houston Texans:

Still in it: The Colts did their part by beating the Texans and then they got some help from some other teams to keep them in the running for one of the top three seeds in the AFC playoff race. Miami beat New England, the No. 2 seed, and Cincinnati, the No. 3 seed, lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Colts and Bengals have identical 9-5 records, but Cincinnati has the tiebreaker because of its victory over Indianapolis on Dec. 8. The Colts trail 10-4 New England by a game. And in the really long shot department, Indianapolis trails top seed Denver by two games. The Colts have to win their final two games -- at Kansas City and against Jacksonville -- and get some help from other teams in order to move up from the No. 4 seed. The Patriots close the season against Baltimore (7-6) and Buffalo (5-9). The Bengals play Minnesota (4-9-1) and Baltimore (7-6), while the Broncos wrap up against Houston (2-12) and the Raiders (4-10).

Luck
Bethea
Faking it: The Colts had a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter when they attempted their first fake punt of the season on fourth-and-8. The timing wasn't bad because most assumed the Colts would punt it and make the Texans use some clock by going the length of the field to score. Well, the Texans weren't thinking that. Safety Corey Lynch, punter Pat McAfee's protector, took the snap and attempted to run to his left. Lynch gained only 3 yards on the play.

Streak intact still: The Colts kept two significant streaks alive on Sunday. Coach Chuck Pagano and quarterback Andrew Luck still have yet to lose back-to-back games. The Colts are now 10-0 in games following a loss since the start of the 2012 season. They also kept the Texans winless in Indianapolis. Houston is 0-12 in games played against the Colts in Indianapolis.

Getting defensive: The Colts held the Texans to 239 yards, the fewest they've given up since allowing 205 yards against Jacksonville on Sept. 29, and the three points tied a season low. “We played good,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “Being able to stop the run, not giving up too many big plays, getting off on third down and creating turnovers, you'll always have a good turnout.” The Colts will need a similar type of defensive performance because the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis' next opponent, are averaging 44 points a game in their last four games. They scored 56 points and running back Jamaal Charles caught eight passes for 195 yards to go with five touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
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CLEVELAND -- An examination of five hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears:

A step back: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton had said in the past two weeks that the third-down defense had been fixed. In five previous games against New England, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore, the Browns held opponents to 25-for-75 on third down (33 percent). The Bears were 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) on Sunday.

It’s been six years: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Browns became the first team since the Buffalo Bills in 2007 to score two defensive touchdowns and lose.

Haden
Haden update: Cornerback Joe Haden left the game in the third quarter after taking a knee to his left hip. Haden did not return, and the team said he had a hip pointer. But safety T.J. Ward said he talked to Haden after the game and thought Haden would be OK. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Haden’s condition would be updated at Monday's news conference.

The touchdown maker: Edwin Baker’s first NFL carry came on the Browns' first rushing play. He finished with eight carries for 38 yards (a 4.8-yard average) and a touchdown. But on a day when the wind was howling from east to west and Jason Campbell struggled to get the ball through the wind to Josh Gordon, the Browns called 39 runs and 17 passes and did not gain 100 yards against the league’s worst rush defense. The Bears had 31 runs and 31 passes.

What a fan experience: Relentless snow that covered the Cleveland area the day before the game apparently went unnoticed by the Browns. Fans who arrived to the game found most of the seats covered with several inches of snow, with drifts blown up under seats. The Browns have some bigger issues on the field, but when a team touts its outstanding “fan game-day experience,” and when it’s spending $90 million for new scoreboards and taking $30 million from the city of Cleveland for other improvements, it seems the least it could do is have the seats ready and cleaned for the loyal fans. The fact that snow covered the seats should be an embarrassment to the front office.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

1. Forget about the playoffs: The Jets (6-8) are toast -- and they know it. There's a better chance of Santonio Holmes going to the Pro Bowl than them making the playoffs. Three teams would have to collapse -- the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers -- and that's not going to happen. This would mark three straight seasons out of the playoffs for the Jets. The last time that happened was the dark ages from 1992 to 1997, which covered the Bruce Coslet, Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite eras, plus the first year of the Bill Parcells regime.

[+] EnlargeNew York's Rex Ryan
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsRex Ryan's Jets are 20-26 over the past three seasons.
2. Rex on the hot seat: This becomes the big story for the final two weeks of the season. Woody Johnson, who has owned the team since 2000, has never experienced a postseason drought this long. Will Rex Ryan pay with his job? If Johnson and general manager John Idzik are undecided, their decision could be based on how the team responds in two virtually meaningless games. Say this for the Jets: They played hard for Ryan on Sunday. It was a three-point game going into the fourth quarter, but they eventually imploded by having a punt blocked and throwing a pick-six. Ryan is 20-26 over the past three season. If his bosses put a lot of weight in that, he could be done.

3. Who's the weakest link? If the Panthers' secondary is the weakest link of their defense, as Holmes declared last week, what does that say about the Jets' pass catchers? The wide receivers combined for only six receptions for 83 yards. True, Geno Smith was under pressure at times, but not all the time. There were instances when he had time to throw and couldn't find anyone open. Clearly, this has to be a major priority for the Jets in the offseason. They need playmakers at receiver and tight end. Hey, maybe they should let Sheldon Richardson run a few routes. He seems to be doing everything else.

4. One killer play: Smith was subdued after the game, as down as he's ever been after a loss. He wanted badly to play a clean game, but his fourth-quarter interception proved costly, as it was returned for a touchdown. There were other hiccups as well. Smith has to do a better job of recognizing the blitz. The Panthers aren't a big blitzing team, but they sent cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on a handful of backside blitzes. Munnerlyn recorded two sacks and had Smith on the run a couple of other times. It has been a long, painful growing process for the rookie, who hasn't given the organization much to be excited about for the future.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An examination of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 30-20 victory over the New York Jets:

Playoff picture: The Panthers (10-4) are back in control of their own destiny in the NFC South. Beat New Orleans (10-4) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium and beat Atlanta on the road, and they are division champions with a first-round bye in the playoffs. As for the wild card, the Panthers, Saints and San Francisco 49ers all are 10-4. Arizona is a game back at 9-5. Should by some chance Carolina, San Francisco and Arizona finish tied, the Panthers hold the tiebreaker edge. If Carolina finishes tied with the 49ers, it still holds the edge based on a 10-9 win earlier this season. Carolina can clinch a playoff spot this weekend with a win or a combination of losses for Arizona, San Francisco and Detroit, or losses for Arizona, San Francisco and Chicago.

Newton
Newton
Munnerlyn
Stubbed toe: Quarterback Cam Newton went into the locker room with one play left in the first half to have a toe injury looked at. Newton stubbed the toe on a late third-down scramble when he was tackled hard by Muhammad Wilkerson. It wasn't serious, and the Panthers never took X-rays. Newton played the entire second half without any worries. "It'll be all right," he said. "It was a shocker at first. As the game progressed it loosened up.''

Crash landing: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn isn't one to rub something in somebody's face. He leaves that to safety Mike Mitchell for the most part. But after Jets receiver Santonio Holmes made it personal by saying the secondary was the weakness of Carolina's second-ranked defense, Munnerlyn couldn't resist imitating Holmes' airplane move in the end zone by holding both arms out like he was flying. Then he added his own wrinkle, falling to the ground like a crashed jet. It drew him a 15-yard penalty and likely a fine from the league this week, but he doesn't care. "I've never been called out like that before,'' Munnerlyn said. "I have never been a part of nothing like that. If you think that, I've never heard anybody say it. And he went out publicly and said it."

Riverboat Ron: I still don't believe coach Ron Rivera should have gone for it on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter with a 16-6 lead. A 19-6 lead might have broken the Jets' back. Instead, they answered with a touchdown to make it 16-13 and put a scare into the home crowd. But you have to commend Rivera for his continued aggressive nature and having confidence in his defense to stop the Jets. It's a big reason they are where they are today.

Blocked kick: The Panthers hadn't blocked a punt all season until Jason Williams blocked Ryan Quigley's kick early in the fourth quarter with Carolina leading 16-13. That led to a touchdown that made it 23-13 and all but ended this one. Carolina saw something the Jets were doing in punt coverage on tape earlier in the week. Williams came to the sideline before the block and told the special-teams staff he thought he could get around the snapper to the kicker. He went in untouched. "It was probably the easiest block I'll ever have," Williams said.

Upon Further Review: Dolphins Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
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MIAMI -- A review of four hot issues from the Miami Dolphins' 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsRyan Tannehill led Miami on a clutch nine-play, 60-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Streakbusters: Miami’s win over New England was important for a variety of reasons. Not only did it give the Dolphins (8-6) sole possession of the final wild-card spot in the AFC, but it ended New England’s four years of dominance over the Dolphins. The Patriots won seven straight over Miami before Sunday’s defeat. New England was a thorn in Miami’s side for a long time, and the Dolphins finally overcame their nemesis. Miami closed the gap between the two teams by forcing a season split.

Tannehill surging: Miami second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed moxie with a game-winning drive over the Patriots. He was 6-of-8 passing for 60 yards and a touchdown on the Dolphins’ clutch drive that won the game late in the fourth quarter. Tannehill threw for 312 yards with three touchdowns and is starting to look like the long-term solution. Sunday marked Tannehill’s first win over Tom Brady in four attempts. Tannehill now has wins this year over Brady, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger.

Wild card control: The Dolphins now control whether they will get the final wild card spot in the AFC. The simplest formula for Miami is to win its final two games to finish 10-6. If the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) also run the table, they will forge a three-way tie with Miami and the Cincinnati Bengals (9-5), who play the Ravens in the regular-season final. In that scenario, the Ravens will be the AFC North champions, the Dolphins get the wild card and the Bengals are out. Miami also can get in by winning the final two weeks and Baltimore losing at least one of its final three games.

Winnable stretch: On paper, the Dolphins have a relatively easy remaining schedule. Miami will travel to play the Buffalo Bills (5-9) next week and host the New York Jets (6-8) in the regular-season finale. But the Dolphins cannot take either game lightly. The Bills beat the Dolphins in Miami earlier this season.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
8:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 23-0 victory over the New York Giants:

Baldwin fueled by critical article: A USA Today story last week said the Seahawks receiving corps, without Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, could be the team's downfall in the playoffs. Receiver Doug Baldwin took offense to that story, going into a four-letter-word tirade in the locker room after his big day. Baldwin had six receptions and a 12-yard TD Sunday. "People continue to think we're just average," Baldwin said. "Well, they need to do some research. We have one of the most diverse receiving corps in the NFL." Seattle has four receivers with at least four TD receptions, and Baldwin has five.

[+] EnlargeSeattle's Doug Baldwin
Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesDoug Baldwin had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Giants.
All about the D: This was the first shutout for the Seattle defense since the 58-0 victory over at home against Arizona on Dec. 9, 2012. It was the first shutout on the road in more than eight years. The last one was 42-0 victory at Philadelphia on Dec. 5, 2005, during Seattle's only Super Bowl season. Giants' quarterback Eli Manning had a career-worst five interceptions. Four of those interception came on 10 passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield.

Depth galore: The Seahawks started the game without three defensive starters -- cornerback Brandon Browner, weak-side linebacker K.J. Wright and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who was sick Sunday and played only a few plays. That doesn't include Browner's backup, Walter Thurmond, who was serving the third game of a four-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation. Thurmond may not be the starter when he returns considering how well Byron Maxwell is playing with three interceptions in the last two games, including two Sunday. Reserve cornerback Jeremy Lane had five tackles on defense, and two other on special teams. Linebacker Malcolm Smith had five tackles, including one for a loss, as Wright's replacement.

Very special teams: The third phase of this team continues to shine. Kicker Steven Hauschka was 3-for-3 in field goals Sunday making him 30-of-31 this season. His only miss was blocked at Indianapolis. Punter Jon Ryan doesn't have a lot of long punts, but that doesn't matter. Only one of his seven punts Sunday was returned, and that was only 4 yards. He had three punts inside the 20. Punt returner Golden Tate tied the team record Sunday with seven returns, but the remarkable part of that number is he averaged 10.4 yards per return. Tate will make you gasp at times back there, and also make a bad decision every now and then, like his fair catch at the 7 in the first half. But he's a threat to break one every time he catches the ball, and his returns are a big factor in Seattle winning the field-position battle in most games.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 56-31 win over the Oakland Raiders:

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Jamaal Charles
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJamaal Charles caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders. He added another 20 yards and a TD rushing.
Death by screen: The Chiefs made the Raiders look as if they'd never covered the screen pass on their first play from scrimmage. Jamaal Charles took that one 49 yards for a touchdown. He later scored twice more on screen passes, from 39 and 16 yards. Charles, who also scored a 71-yard touchdown on a downfield pass, was used consistently on screens because of what the Raiders did against the Chiefs in their previous meeting in October. Their pass rush sacked quarterback Alex Smith twice and hit him on numerous other occasions. "They do a great job rushing the passer and their blitz package is phenomenal," coach Andy Reid said. "We felt that since we didn’t score one time in the first five drives against them the last time, we thought maybe the screen game would help us get going. It was something with their great pass rush that we felt we needed to slow it down a little bit."

A perfect Smith: Smith's stat line brought him a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was 17-of-20 for 287 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He lost a fumble for the first time this season, but that doesn't count against his passer rating. “Teammates make me look good," he said. "I didn’t do much. Three screens for touchdowns. I’ve never been a part of anything like that or seen that."

Turnover party: The Chiefs expanded their league lead in turnover differential with a plus-six Sunday. The Chiefs intercepted five passes and recovered a pair of Oakland fumbles. The Chiefs started seven possessions on Oakland's side of the field, six times after creating a turnover. The Chiefs scored four touchdowns following an Oakland turnover. Meanwhile, the Raiders didn't start any of their 14 possessions on Kansas City's side of the field. The Chiefs are now plus-21 this season in turnover differential.

More big plays: The Raiders gained 461 yards, marking the fifth time in the past six games the Chiefs have allowed more than 425. Oakland had seven plays of 20 yards or more. This one was more troubling than games against veteran quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. "Defensively, we've got to do a little bit better," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We know that. But it's good when you know you can correct some things and we get a win at the same time."

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A review of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 23-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTom Coughlin and the Giants are showing signs of frustration as they trudge down the stretch of a disappointing season.
Locker room strife? The Giants have held together admirably all miserable season long, in spite of an 0-6 start and a generally dismal performance by their offense even during their four-game win streak. But after Sunday's game, coach Tom Coughlin laid the blame deservedly at the feet of the offense, and safety Antrel Rolle strongly indicated that he agreed. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks bristled at Coughlin's use of the word "pathetic," and tight end Brandon Myers tweeted, "If ppl on this team wanna take shots at me an say I have no passion they are mistaken. I give everything I have each an every week." The Giants aren't going anywhere this season. They can't even finish .500 at this point. But the leaders and the coaches could conceivably face a challenge in keeping the locker room together to maintain some semblance of respectability in the final two weeks.

Nicks' woes continue: It was easy to infer that Nicks was one of the players Coughlin suggested had to "fight harder for the ball," as Eli Manning was 1-for-4 for five yards and three interceptions when targeting Nicks on Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manning is completing 56.8 percent of his attempts to Nicks this season with no touchdowns and six interceptions. The Giants entered this season hoping Nicks would have a big year and give them a difficult decision about how much to pay to sign him as a free agent. Instead, he has had a horrible one, and does not appear likely to be back. Amazing that he has fallen so far out of favor after being such a respected figure in their huddle and their locker room for his first four years.

Manning's miserable year: Manning has matched his career high for interceptions in a season with 25. He threw 25 in 2010, but he still has two games to go in this season. He was sacked three times in Sunday's game, extending his career high in that category to 36 for the season with two games to go. He was 2-for-10 with four interceptions on throws of 10 or more yards downfield Sunday. If Victor Cruz is out next week in Detroit, which is possible after he left the game with a concussion and a knee sprain, it's hard to imagine how the Giants' passing game has a chance to do anything. And a run game that gained 25 yards on 14 carries Sunday didn't inspire much confidence that it can alleviate any of the pressure.

One positive: The Giants did a good job limiting monster Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch between the tackles. He gained only 47 yards on 16 carries, though he did catch six passes for 73 yards. That looks like the kind of line top running backs were posting against the Giants back in September, which means the season has come full circle. Which is not, for the Giants, awesome.

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