NFL Nation: 2013 Week 16 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

December, 23, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 34-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

What it means: The 49ers, who are 11-4 and who have won five straight games, have qualified for the playoffs in all three seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. And the possibilities abound. The 49ers can still be the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC. They will win the NFC West and get a first-round bye if Seattle loses to visiting St. Louis and the 49ers win at Arizona on Sunday. If the 49ers beat the Cardinals, the lowest seed they will be is No. 5.

Bowman goes from goat to hero: 49ers star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman made a huge mistake when he let an onside kick get past him. The Falcons recovered the ball, down 27-24, with 2 minutes, 9 seconds to play. The Falcons quickly moved inside the red zone and appeared ready to tie the game or take the lead. But Bowman redeemed himself dramatically as he caught a tipped ball (after a nice play by San Francisco cornerback Tramaine Brock) and took it 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the game. It was a signature Candlestick Park play.

Party night: The 49ers went out in style in the final regular-season game at Candlestick. It was a party atmosphere all night, with plenty of 49ers stars of the past and present on hand as well as a variety of tributes. It was also a terrific 50th-birthday gift to Harbaugh.

Stock Watch: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and receiver Michael Crabtree took over in the third quarter, when the 49ers outscored Atlanta 10-0. Kaepernick hit Crabtree four times for 99 yards in the period. Kaepernick had three big runs in the second half for 35 yards.

Ground game: Atlanta scored to make it a 20-17 game with 8:34 to play in the fourth quarter before Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter combined on a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive -- all six plays were on the ground -- to give San Francisco a 27-17 lead with about five minutes to go.

What's next: The 49ers visit the red-hot Cardinals. Arizona can still make the playoffs if it wins and the Saints lose at home to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons

December, 23, 2013

A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons34-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night:

What it means: Although the Falcons showed a lot of fight and might have spoiled the night -- had NaVorro Bowman not picked off a ball deflected from Falcons receiver Harry Douglas’ hands and returned 89 yards for the game-clinching touchdown -- the loss might have helped Atlanta in the end. Now, at 4-11, the Falcons are sixth in the draft order with a chance to move up, depending on the outcome of the final weekend of games. Some fans continue to lobby for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the Falcons would likely need a top-five pick to even have a chance at Clowney. Whatever the case, the draft will be intriguing for a team trying to recover from an unexpected fall down the NFL standings.

Stock watch: Drew Davis’ stock grew on one play. The unheralded receiver not only helped with a block at the line of scrimmage, he then found an opening down the field, caught a pass from Matt Ryan, did a spin and picked up 45 yards after the catch en route to a career-long 59-yard reception. It helped set up Steven Jackson’s 2-yard touchdown run. Davis has made some plays this season and probably deserved more opportunities. Matt Bosher's stock also rose after the punter/kicker executed a perfect onside kick that was recovered by Jason Snelling, although it all went for naught after Bowman's pick-six.

Crucial calls: Two defensive penalties on the Falcons will be talked about the next few days, and only one of them should have been called. Veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora made a rookie mistake when he lined up in the neutral zone with the 49ers facing third-and-10 from their own 17. It gave the 49ers a more manageable third down, which they converted, and the drive ended with Colin Kaepernick’s touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Then, on the very next 49ers drive, Falcons rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow was whistled for a phantom pass-interference penalty on third down. The questionable call helped set up a San Francisco field goal.

Wounded warriors: The Falcons were already down one defensive starter when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was declared inactive with a knee injury. Then, early in the game, starting defensive tackle Corey Peters went down with an Achilles injury. That’s bad news for Peters, who is set to become a free agent. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers and receiver Douglas also got banged up during the game, but Douglas returned in time to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the season.

What’s next: Sunday’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers should be all about Tony Gonzalez. The Hall of Fame-bound tight end will play his final NFL game in front of the home crowd at the Georgia Dome. The organization is likely to honor Gonzalez with a video tribute. He won’t go out with a Super Bowl ring, but Gonzalez will still walk off a true champion.
Drew BreesBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees and the Saints fell to 3-5 away from New Orleans this season.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The road has been cruel and unmerciful to the New Orleans Saints all season.

But never more so than in Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

This one was the hardest for the Saints (10-5) to take because they were actually proud of their effort. This wasn't like those games in which they flat-lined at St. Louis or New York or Seattle. This time, they grinded and gritted and gutted out a performance that was almost good enough to win for 59 minutes.

The offense wasn't pretty, but it was resilient, churning out a 97-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter that felt like the one that would finally end this epidemic of ugly road losses.

And then it took all of 32 seconds for Carolina's Cam Newton to march his team down the field in the final minute for a game-winning and gut-wrenching touchdown.

Now, as further punishment for their 3-5 record on the road this season, the Saints almost certainly will have to hit the road as a wild-card team in the playoffs -- although they still could finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed to out of the playoffs entirely.

"It's the most disappointed this locker room has been all season. It's wildly disappointing," said Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief, who in the same breath said it had been a long time since he was so proud to be a part of a team because of the way the Saints battled.

"That's a tough way to lose," Strief added. "And the fact of the matter is for all the energy, for all the excitement, for all the effort, at the end of the day, it counts as if you didn't have any of it."

Those contradictory emotions -- devastated by losing, encouraged by the effort -- were prevalent inside the Saints' postgame locker room. In fact, coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees were surprisingly positive after the defeat.

"We didn't get the win, but we played like we're going to get plenty of them," Payton said -- changing his tune dramatically from one week earlier when the Saints came out lifeless at St. Louis. "We gave up the big drive at the end. But it's disappointing, it's not discouraging. We'll be just fine [if we keep playing with that effort]."

That positive attitude speaks to just how bad the Saints' road epidemic has become this season.

Or maybe it just speaks to the fact that the Saints know they'll need something positive to cling to when they hit the road next -- which likely will be two weeks from now in a cold-weather city like Philadelphia or Chicago. (The Saints can still win the No. 2 seed if they beat Tampa Bay at home and Carolina loses at Atlanta. Or the Saints could miss the playoffs if they lose to Tampa, San Francisco wins Monday night and Arizona beats San Francisco next week).

"Of course it is painful, but we are trying to draw from the positives," Brees said. "We put together a game plan that I really felt like we executed for the most part really well, both offensively and defensively. And, you know, it didn't result in a lot of points, it didn't result in a lot of flair. But the fact of the matter is it gave us a chance to win in the end.

"[There are] just a couple little things here and there that I think we recognize that we can still improve upon. But it's all out there in front of us."

I do agree with the sentiment that the Saints showed a lot of resiliency Sunday.

I'm not sure I agree, though, that it was just a couple of "little" things that prevented them from winning.

It's still remarkable how vastly different this offense plays on the road. Brees was sacked six times Sunday -- tied for the most since he joined the Saints in 2006 -- as rookie left tackle Terron Armstead struggled in his starting debut with the Saints.

Brees threw interceptions in the second and third quarters before finally putting that touchdown drive together in the fourth quarter -- which required a 46-yard catch-and-run by tight end Jimmy Graham to get the drive going.

But the Saints followed up that touchdown drive with two three-and-outs late in the fourth quarter, once when they tried to pass, once when they settled for clock-eating run plays.

Meanwhile, the Saints' defense was downright dominant for almost the entire game Sunday, except for some dramatic breakdowns at the end of each half.

They allowed a 43-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams late in the second quarter. And they allowed Newton to complete a 37-yard pass to Ted Ginn to start that final drive and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon to end it.

The Saints blitzed six men on the final play, but safety Malcolm Jenkins was barely knocked off balance by fullback Mike Tolbert's fingertips. And Hixon came back to make a diving catch in front of cornerback Corey White.

Emotionally, Saints defensive players admitted it was hard to take.

"To play the way we did the entire game and shut 'em down and really feel like we dominated most of the game -- then when the team needed us most, not to come off the field and come away with a victory, that's the most disappointing and frustrating and leaves you sick to your stomach," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said.

Just like the offense, though, the Saints' defenders didn't have many regrets about their plan or their effort. They held Carolina to 222 yards, sacked Newton four times and didn't allow the Panthers to convert a third down in nine chances.

"There's really not much you can look at and get mad at," Jenkins said. "We played it just the way we knew we had to. Played hard. Handled the conditions. Battled on defense. Got drives on offense when we needed. Just the last minute of the game kind of lost it there.

"We've just got to take this loss and go back to work because we've still got all our dreams and plans in front of us. It just might be a different road than we expected."

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 22, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 54-11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field:

What it means: The drama of the NFC North race continues another week. With the perfect opportunity to clinch the division because of losses earlier in the day by the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, the Bears ran into a Philadelphia buzz saw and were shredded to pieces.

Because all three teams lost, Sunday’s matchup between the Bears and Packers at Soldier Field will decide the NFC North winner.

Given the chance to win the division, Chicago should’ve been plenty motivated to play against the Eagles. But this loss didn’t appear to be a result of a lack of effort by the Bears as much as a sign of how inadequately they appeared to be prepared on both sides of the ball to face the Eagles. On offense, Chicago’s offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Jay Cutler consistently, and the Eagles dropped him three times for sacks in the first half alone. Defensively, the Bears allowed LeSean McCoy to run roughshod. By the start of the fourth quarter, the running back had already torched Chicago’s defense for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

Rarity for Hester: Already down 7-0 after Nick Foles' 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper, the Bears suffered another crippling setback on the ensuing kickoff return. Devin Hester returned the kickoff 36 yards, but Bradley Fletcher stripped him at the end of the run with Cary Williams recovering. The recovery gave Philadelphia possession at the 39 with 9:45 left in the first quarter.

Prior to Sunday, the last time Hester suffered a lost fumble on a kickoff return was Oct. 25, 2009, in a 45-10 loss at Cincinnati, according to STATS Inc.

Offensive line horrid: Chicago’s revamped offensive line received plenty of publicity throughout the season for its dramatic improvement from last season, but the argument could be made that the unit caused most of the team’s struggles moving the ball against the Eagles.

By the start of the fourth quarter, Cutler had already taken five sacks, two from Mychal Kendricks and three from Trent Cole. Throughout the game, the quarterback rarely threw a pass without a defender in his face. Cutler also took several shots after throwing the ball.

The offensive line struggled to open holes for the rushing attack, too. Running back Matt Forte entered Sunday’s game coming off three consecutive 100-yard outings, only to finish with 29 on nine attempts. A third-quarter Forte attempt stuffed by Cedric Thornton for a 2-yard loss and a safety that made the score 26-3 pretty much summed up the offensive line’s performance against the Eagles: offensive.

Starters pulled: With eight minutes remaining and the Bears behind 47-11, coach Marc Trestman pulled several starters including Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Forte. Given the importance of Sunday’s season finale against the Packers, apparently Trestman didn’t want to risk injuring any of the key players in a game Chicago wasn’t going to come back and win.

What’s next: The Bears will take off Monday and Tuesday before returning to Halas Hall on Wednesday to begin preparations for the regular-season finale against the Packers. The winner of the matchup takes the NFC North crown.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 22, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 victory against the Chicago Bears Sunday night.

What it means: The Eagles will play the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title next Sunday night in Arlington, Texas. Coach Chip Kelly motivated his team to play perhaps its best all-around game despite an oddly deflating turn of events. When Dallas rallied to beat the Washington Redskins earlier in the day, the Eagles lost the ability to clinch the division. Considering their awful performance against the Minnesota Vikings last week, they very well could have come out flat again. Instead, they jumped all over the Bears, smothering a high-powered offense and striking quickly for a 21-0 first-quarter lead.

Stock watch: Rising: Chip Kelly. The NFL rookie will have a winning record and, with one more victory, a postseason appearance in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. Kelly said right away he would treat this game the same regardless of its impact on the NFC East race. And he did. Every coach talks about focusing only on each week’s game, but the Eagles turned that cliché into a belief system this season. Less obvious, but equally worth noting, was the way the Eagles continued to play well in the second half. They had let big leads get whittled down by Washington and Arizona in recent wins. This time, they piled 30 second-half points onto the 24 they scored in the first half.

Defensive rebound: The Eagles' defense got humiliated -- there's no other word for it -- in Minnesota last week. Giving up 48 points to a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson made you question just how much progress the defense really had made. It also made you wonder how much worse it would be with Jay Cutler throwing to Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and the rest of the Bears. But the Eagles' defense was outstanding from the beginning, allowing a season-low 11 points. The Eagles scored nine points with a safety and a late pick-six by Brandon Boykin. Their defense sacked Cutler five times and held Matt Forte in check. The performance allows the Eagles to go into Dallas with a huge shot of confidence.

What’s next: A virtual playoff game in Dallas next Sunday night. With a victory, the Eagles would be the third seed in the NFC, hosting the second wild-card team in a first-round game. The Eagles lost to Dallas at home 17-3 on Oct. 20. That was Nick Foles’ worst game of the season, the first of two consecutive home losses in which the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown.

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots:

What it means: It was a monumental implosion for the Ravens, who conceded the AFC North to the Cincinnati Bengals and lost control of their playoff fate. After Baltimore lost to the AFC East champion Patriots (11-4), the only chance for the Ravens to reach the postseason is as a wild card. The Ravens (8-7) are now in a three-way tie with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins hold the edge because they have a better conference record. For the Ravens to make the postseason, they have to beat the Bengals in the regular-season finale and have either the Dolphins or Chargers lose. This ended the Ravens' four-game winning streak and marked the Ravens' fourth loss in their past 26 home games. It was the most lopsided loss in six seasons under coach John Harbaugh.

Stock watch: Falling: Joe Flacco. The Ravens' quarterback was clearly not the same with a sprained left knee, finishing 22-of-38 for 260 yards and two interceptions. The Patriots converted 10 points off Flacco turnovers. Flacco was erratic on his throws and went down without being touched at one point because he lost his footing. His 1-yard touchdown with 9:21 remaining helped the Ravens avoid their first shutout in 11 years.

Tucker's streak ends: Another sign that nothing was going right for Ravens was kicker Justin Tucker missing a 37-yard field goal wide left. It ended Tucker's string of 33 straight successful field goals, which had been the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. It was surprising to see Tucker on the field because the Ravens were down 20-0 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens needed touchdowns, not field goals.

Secondary problems: The Ravens trailed 14-0 in the first quarter because of mistakes by their defensive backs. On the opening drive, cornerback Jimmy Smith was called for a 34-yard pass interference penalty, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play. On the second series, safety James Ihedigbo missed a tackle on Danny Amendola on a 34-yard play, which led to a touchdown two plays later.

What's next: The Ravens finish out the regular season by playing at the AFC North champion Bengals (10-5). Baltimore has lost three of its past three games at Cincinnati.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

December, 22, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Lambeau Field:

What it means: The loss did not eliminate the Packers (7-7-1) from playoff contention, but it might be only a matter of hours before it does. If the Chicago Bears beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Sunday night game, the Bears will win the NFC North. It would make the Week 17 finale between the Packers and Bears a meaningless game from the Packers' perspective.

Stock watch: Quarterback Matt Flynn did not have another comeback in him. He turned the ball over twice. He threw an interception that cornerback Cortez Allen returned 40 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Then, with the game tied at 31-31, Flynn fumbled at the end of a scramble, giving the Steelers the ball with 1:51 left at the Packers' 17-yard line, setting up the game-winning touchdown.

Injuries galore: In a season filled with injuries, the Packers lost more playmakers against the Steelers. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews left in the second quarter with another thumb injury. On the 50th sack of his career, Matthews appeared to reinjure his right thumb, which he broke on Oct. 4. Matthews missed four games after he had surgery to place pins in his thumb. Running back Eddie Lacy dropped out in the third quarter after he reinjured his right ankle that he first sprained on Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons. Linebackers Mike Neal (injury not immediately known) and Brad Jones (ankle) also did not finish the game.

Wild third quarter: In the third quarter alone, the Packers had a field goal blocked only to get the ball back and turn it into the go-ahead touchdown after the Steelers were called for illegally batting the ball out of bounds, then gave the lead right back to the Steelers, who went 68 yards on six plays, and then fell further behind when Flynn threw a pick-six. On the final play of the quarter, Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass.

What's next: The Packers close out the regular season against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. The game is currently scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff but could be moved under the league's flexible schedule plan for Week 17.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: This day couldn’t have gone much better for the Patriots. Before they took the field, they clinched the AFC East by virtue of the Dolphins’ 19-0 loss to the Bills. Then they produced their best road win of the season -- and maybe their best in years -- against a Ravens team that had a lot of momentum with four straight wins. This was a complete team win, arguably the Patriots’ best of the season. The Patriots will earn a first-round playoff bye if they win their season finale at home against the Bills.

Physical approach stands out: The way the Patriots won was impressive, as they proved they could meet the physical match. Particularly, when they turn to the running game like they did with success in the first half, it’s a different brand of football from the spread-it-out, pass-first style we’re used to seeing from them.

Turnovers return for the defense: Simply put, this was a sensational effort by the Patriots’ undermanned defense. While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco appeared to be affected by his injured left knee, the defense came through with stops on third down, and the much-needed turnovers returned after a two-week hiatus.

Stock watch: Up -- Logan Ryan. The rookie cornerback was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Alfonzo Dennard, whom the team had dressed for emergency purposes but preferred to keep on the sideline because of a knee injury. Ryan made the most of his extended reps, with an interception in each half and also a pass breakup on fourth down in the third quarter.

Injuries to monitor: Running back Shane Vereen (groin) left the game in the first half, retreating to the locker room. Vereen returned to the sideline but didn’t play again in the game. ... Safety Devin McCourty left the game in the third quarter with a head injury and did not return. ... Linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower and safety Steve Gregory all left the game at various points but returned.

A word on the referees: The Patriots entered the day as the NFL’s least penalized team, but one wouldn’t have known it after this one. Referee Ron Winter’s crew was flag-happy, with both teams benefiting from the heavy number of penalties, as this was a long game that had little flow. The third “team” was a bit too involved for our liking.

What’s next: The Patriots have their season-finale at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (1 p.m. ET).

Rapid Reaction: New York Giants

December, 22, 2013
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 23-20 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: Anyone wondering whether the Giants have given up on their season or on their coaches has the answer. The Giants are outmanned and overmatched pretty much every week, and Sunday was no exception. But in spite of having their offense choked off after halftime, they pushed the game into overtime, where Josh Brown won it with a 45-yard field goal.

Stoch watch: Will Hill, up. After reportedly being arrested Friday night on charges related to child support, the Giants safety played in and changed Sunday's game. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Hill intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and ran in from 38 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point tied the game. The Giants were doing absolutely nothing on offense in the second half behind a shredded offensive line, and scoring on defense turned out to be their best option.

Tough Tuck: Defensive end Justin Tuck appeared to injure his neck in the third quarter but remained in the game in spite of being in clear discomfort. It's worth pointing out that Tuck, who is free-agent-eligible at the end of the season, wanted to tough it out in a game like this with the Giants already eliminated from postseason contention. It backs up his team-first talk. Tuck's big second half of the season has helped his chances of returning next year.

What's next: The Giants mercifully close out their season with a 1 p.m. ET home game Sunday against Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium. They beat the Redskins 24-17 in Washington in Week 13.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 22, 2013
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 23-20 loss in overtime to the New York Giants.

What it means: In many ways, this was a fitting end to Detroit's season: a fourth-quarter turnover returned for a touchdown to tie the game, the Lions choosing to play for overtime instead of taking a shot of getting in field goal range on the last drive of regulation, then seeing their season end on a winning field goal in overtime.

This loss epitomized so many of the Lions' problems this season -- the turnovers, the questionable clock management and play calling and, ultimately, a collapse that saw Detroit go from controlling its own destiny to out of the playoffs in six days.

Yes, the Lions have one more game to play -- on the road at Minnesota -- but they are now out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years under Jim Schwartz, and the Lions might be close to a coaching change.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Nick Fairley. The defensive tackle has games where he disappears. Then he plays like he did Sunday, where he recorded a safety and had multiple pressures on New York quarterback Eli Manning. Falling -- Matthew Stafford. Another game, the same problems over and over again. He threw another fourth-quarter interception -- this time a pick-six to Will Hill -- that took a seven-point Detroit lead and turned it into a tie game.

The case for Bell: After Reggie Bush lost another fumble -- his second since guaranteeing he wouldn’t fumble again this season in November -- Joique Bell received the majority of the work for the Lions in the backfield. Not surprisingly, Bell played well. He scored Detroit’s first touchdown of the game and kept the Lions in the game while the rest of the offense looked listless. He finished with 91 yards rushing and 63 yards receiving, and should make the Lions at least think about who should receive the majority of carries for Detroit the rest of this season and possibly beyond. He runs hard, smart and with patience.

What's next: The Lions have their season finale on Sunday at Minnesota.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

December, 22, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 26-13 win over the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: The Chargers (8-7) avenged an earlier loss at Oakland by defeating their AFC West rivals at Qualcomm Stadium. With the Miami Dolphins (8-7) losing and the Baltimore Ravens (7-7) headed for a loss against New England, the Chargers still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs as the final AFC wild-card team. For that to happen, the Chargers need to win at home in the team's season finale against Kansas City, and both Baltimore (at Cincinnati) and Miami (at home against the New York Jets) must lose next week.

Mathews sets career mark: The accolades keep coming for San Diego running back Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 99 yards on 25 carries, including a 7-yard touchdown. Mathews now has a single-season career-high 1,111 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns this season. His previous high was 1,091 yards in 2011.

About those turnovers: The Chargers turned the ball over three times against Oakland but escaped with a win. San Diego benefited from 12 Oakland penalties for 73 yards. The Chargers had eight turnovers against the Raiders in two games this season.

Stock watch: San Diego kicker Nick Novak finished 4-for-4 on field goals, making attempts from 48, 33, 28 and 27 yards. Novak has been consistent and is now 32-of-35 on field goals on the season, including 2-for-2 from 50 or more yards. Novak's 32 field goals ties for second-most in a season in Chargers franchise history with Nate Kaeding (2009). John Carney holds the record with 34 field goals made in the 1994 season.

What's next: The Chargers face Kansas City at Qualcomm Stadium in the final game of the season on Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET.

Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

December, 22, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 26-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Raiders have lost five straight games and seven of eight after sitting at 3-4 on the cusp of the AFC playoff race. With so many rumors floating regarding Dennis Allen's coaching future, the Raiders did play hard. Just not very smart. And, the conspiracy theorist (and Raiders' radio broadcasters) would argue, against more than the Chargers. No matter the case, the lack of quality depth reared its head again. At least it was an entertaining game, no?

Stock watch: Falling -- discipline. Sure, the officials seemed to be flag-happy in throwing so many yellow hankies at the guys in Silver and Black (not all 13 were accepted as penalties, obviously -- before San Diego had three penalties), but many were also self-inflicted. Particularly galling was the 15-yard taunting penalty on Mike Jenkins for knocking the football out of Ryan Mathews' hand after stopping him for no gain. The Raiders finished with 12 penalties for 73 yards, and the Chargers with three for 24 yards.

McGloin's accuracy issues: Perhaps rookie quarterback Matt McGloin's greatest asset has been his accuracy this season. But it deserted him Sunday. McGloin, who finished 20-of-36 for 206 yards passing and an interception, was just off on several passes that were behind his intended targets. His accuracy seemed to suffer most when he has to wait for a play to develop, as opposed to dropping back and firing when his back foot hits. He missed a wide-open Jamize Olawale down the left sideline on a third-and-1 play, threw behind Andre Holmes on first-and-goal from the 2 and underthrew Rod Streater on a disputed incompletion in the fourth quarter.

Run DMC, remember him?: Darren McFadden played for the first time since Thanksgiving Day, and while he had only 8 rushing yards, he showed a glimpse of his old burst with a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Raiders a 7-3 lead.

What's next: The Raiders (4-11) close out their regular season with a home game against the AFC West champion Denver Broncos (12-3) and quarterback Peyton Manning, who established a single-season touchdown pass record with his 51st Sunday against the Houston Texans. Manning needs 266 passing yards against the Raiders to set a new single-season passing mark. The Broncos beat the Raiders 37-21 in Week 3, with Manning passing for 374 yards and three touchdowns.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 22, 2013
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Century Link Field:

What it means: Seattle's 14-game home winning streak ends, and the Seahawks fail to clinch the NFC West title or home-field advantage in the playoffs. Seattle (12-3) will have another shot at it next weekend. This was the first home loss for the Seahawks since the final home game of the 2011 season.

Stock watch: Just an old-school defensive smackdown. Both defenses were dominant. Neither team scored a touchdown until the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had four interceptions, and the Cardinals held Seattle to only 192 total yards and 89 yards passing.

Ball insecurity for Turbin: Backup running back Robert Turbin had replaced Jermaine Kearse earlier this season on kickoff returns, a decision coach Pete Carroll said he made for "ball-security reasons." That didn't work out well Sunday when Turbin fumbled without being touched on a return in the second half. He also fumbled on an earlier return, but the review showed he was down before the ball came loose. Receiver Doug Baldwin replaced Turbin in the fourth quarter and had a 37-yard return on his first attempt.

Interception kings: The Seahawks now have 26 interceptions for the season and nine in the past two games. Richard Sherman had two picks, giving him a league-best eight interceptions, which just may propel him past teammate and free safety Earl Thomas for NFL defensive player of the year honors.

What's next: In what it hoped would be a meaningless game and a chance to rest some starters, Seattle ends the regular season at home against the St. Louis Rams in a must-win to guarantee home-field advantage and win the division title.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 22, 2013
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 17-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: When Arizona needed it most, the Cardinals' defense stepped up. Once Carolina beat the New Orleans Saints, the Cardinals controlled their postseason destiny: win and they would still be in the hunt; lose and they'd be done. While the offense continued to look shaky, especially behind Carson Palmer's four interceptions, the defense played one of its best games of the season. Its game plan to stop Russell Wilson worked, as Arizona's pass rush overwhelmed him and the rush defense lived up to its top-ranked billing, stopping Marshawn Lynch in the second half. All the while, the Cardinals' offense plodded along, waiting for a chance until Palmer hit Michael Floyd for a 31-yard, winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Stock watch: Arizona's defense played as one effective unit throughout the game, limiting Wilson's ability to run and make plays with his feet. But the Cardinals' secondary came to play, jelling as a unit without Tyrann Mathieu or Rashad Johnson to keep Seattle's wide receivers from getting open. While there have been many similar team efforts this season, Sunday's trumped everything because of how each facet played off the others. The pass rush got to Wilson with ease, forcing the 5-foot-11 quarterback to throw past 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell. Then the linebackers stuffed Lynch, and the secondary caused the Hawks' offense to pause because nobody was open.

Picked off: Palmer had a rare game, even by his standards. Sunday was the third time in Palmer's career that he threw four interceptions. Four is too many by anyone's standard, but it was where he threw them that hurt as much as how many. Two were thrown deep in the end zone, and a third was deep in Cardinals territory. Palmer single-handedly blew strong opportunities for the Cards to put points on the board.

End of the rainbow: All the Skittles in the world couldn't help Lynch in the second half. He had just 71 yards against the No. 1-ranked run defense in the league -- 11 in the second half. Arizona stuffed Lynch with gang-tackling, not allowing him to break loose. Arizona's defense made him a nonfactor in the second half and forced Wilson to throw the ball, which he eventually found a rhythm doing.

What's next: The Cardinals host San Francisco in their regular-season finale at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

December, 22, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, which moved them to 10-5 on the season and put the Panthers in the driver's seat to win the NFC South.

What it means: A disastrous loss for the Saints. Losing would have been gut-wrenching in any fashion -- but especially the way they did it, blowing a 13-10 lead in the final minute. The Saints' defense played great for almost the entire game before completely breaking down on a five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that lasted just 32 seconds. The final dagger was a 14-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Domenik Hixon to burst a failed blitz.

Once again, the Saints' offense struggled mightily on the road (though it did nearly pull it out with a terrific 97-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter). Now the Saints will almost certainly have to hit the road for the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Carolina (11-4) can clinch the NFC South title and No. 2 seed with a victory next week at Atlanta -- or with a Saints loss at home to Tampa Bay. The Saints still need to win or have the Arizona Cardinals lose one of their final two games to officially clinch a playoff spot.

Under pressure: Once again, the Saints' offense proved to be a completely different unit on the road. After scoring 31 points and throwing four touchdown passes against these same Panthers in New Orleans two weeks ago, they nearly got shut out of the end zone Sunday. Quarterback Drew Brees was sacked six times, tied for his most in a Saints uniform. He also threw two interceptions.

Stock watch: Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead didn't fare much better than his predecessor, Charles Brown. Armstead could be credited for allowing four of the sacks -- at least two of which he was badly beaten by Greg Hardy. He settled in a bit during the second half, but it was clearly a problem for the Saints all day. Most of the sacks were a result of good downfield coverage by the Panthers. Even when Brees had time to throw, he struggled to find open receivers and settled for underneath throws.

Up next: The Saints likely won't bench their starters at home against Tampa Bay -- even if they do clinch a playoff spot later Sunday. The Saints need to hold out hope that the Panthers might suffer an emotional letdown and lose at Atlanta. Stranger things have happened.