NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2012 Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Word: AFC West

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
1:30
PM ET
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Broncos hope Manning’s post-bye success continues: Quarterback Peyton Manning won each of his past six games coming off the bye while with Indianapolis. He threw 15 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while his team averaged 33 points in those games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. If Manning, now with Denver, continues the trend Sunday night against visiting New Orleans, his post-bye success may continue. And going into halftime behind might not be so bad either: Manning has thrown nine touchdowns and no interceptions while trailing in the second half as a Bronco.

Raiders hope Arrowhead success continues: The Raiders have not been to the playoffs since 2002. But they have had a lot of recent success in Kansas City. The Raiders have won their past five games in Kansas City, the longest winning streak there in team history.

[+] EnlargeEric Winston
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIEric Winston plays his first home game since ripping Chiefs fans for cheering an injury to QB Matt Cassel.
How will Arrowhead react to Winston? Sunday’s game against Oakland will be the Chiefs’ first game at Arrowhead Stadium since Oct. 7, when right tackle Eric Winston, in his first year in Kansas City, went off on some fans for what he said was cheering when then-starting quarterback Matt Cassel went down with a concussion. Winston's emotional diatribe on the subject became national news and prompted the Chiefs’ brass to defend the team’s fan base, which has long had a reputation for being among the league’s best. Winston clarified the next day that he didn’t mean to paint all Chiefs fans in a bad light. I think Winston may get a smattering of boos Sunday, but many fans may be willing to put the situation behind them and are ready to cheer for Cassel’s replacement, Brady Quinn, in his first start at home with Kansas City.

Rivers has to stop Chargers’ slide: The Chargers' past two games have seen them fail to respond to huge scoring runs by their opponents: They allowed the Saints to score the game’s final 17 points in Week 5 and then, in an epic collapse, saw Denver score 35 unanswered points in the second half to win at San Diego. For the Chargers to get back on the right track at Cleveland on Sunday, quarterback Philip Rivers needs to play a clean game. Rivers has committed eight turnovers in the past two games. The collapses were not all on Rivers, but it starts with him and he must stop making crucial mistakes.

Myers standing out for the Raiders: Going into the season, tight end was a major question mark for Oakland. Yet Week 8 finds starter Brandon Myers on his way to a special season. Myers leads the Raiders with 28 catches. He is one pace for 75 catches, which would be the most by a Raiders tight end since Todd Christensen had 95 catches in 1986.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
1:30
PM ET
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
David Kohl/US PresswireMiami RB Reggie Bush won't be lacking motivation for Sunday's game with the Jets.
No love lost: There have been some heated words this week between the rival New York Jets (3-4) and Miami Dolphins (3-3). Both teams enter this big game needing a win to keep pace with the first-place New England Patriots (4-3). Much of it has been between Dolphins running back Reggie Bush and the Jets defense. New York injured Bush’s knee in the first game and Bush thought it was intentional. Bush later said the Jets got what they deserved with Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis’ season-ending knee injury. Both sides have been testy leading up to this big game. Keep an eye on Bush, who will be heavily targeted.

Air Sanchez? New York quarterback Mark Sanchez had a lot of success last week through the air. He completed a career-high nine passes of 15 yards or more in an overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Will the Jets continue to trust Sanchez? Miami’s run defense is fourth in the NFL, allowing 78.2 yards per game. It may be up to Sanchez to win the game with his arm. Sanchez has a career-low 53.2 completion percentage but may be gaining momentum after last week.

A second look: Speaking of quarterbacks, the Jets expect a better version of Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill the second time around. The Jets got the best of the rookie a month ago in an overtime win. Tannehill threw for just 196 yards and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown. But Tannehill has gotten better each week since. His passer ratings in his past three games are 86.5, 92.3 and 112.0. Miami is 2-1 in that stretch.

Brady's protection improving: The Patriots have figured out their pass-protection issues. New England quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked just twice in the past two games. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has made the adjustment of keeping more blockers in on passing downs. Sometimes that comes at the expense of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who also is a good blocker. But the results have been good. New England’s pass blocking will be put to the test Sunday against a good defensive line of the St. Louis Rams. St. Louis is tied for fifth in the NFL with 21 sacks.

Screen game working for Bills: It has been a rough bye week for Buffalo after its embarrassing loss at home to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. So I want to leave Bills fans with some good news. Buffalo’s screen game is one of the best in the league, and it may be something the team wants to incorporate more into its game plan. The Bills lead the NFL with 228 passing yards on screen plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has completed 31 of 35 screen passes, and they have accounted for a pair of touchdowns.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
1:30
PM ET
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

Road woes: The Colts know that if they are going to be playoff contenders in the AFC, they’ve got to break through on the road. They seek their first win away from Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at LP Field. It would be their first road win since Dec. 26, 2010. Since then, the Colts have 10 straight road losses. Per ESPN Stats and Information, since 2006 only two AFC teams have had longer road losing streaks -- the Browns and Dolphins each lost 11 in a row. A loss would give the Colts their longest road losing streak since the 1981-82 seasons, when they lost 12 straight.

Forward progress: The Packers are moving the ball and scoring points, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed 73 percent of his passes in his past two games, for 680 yards and nine touchdowns. He has thrown at least three TD passes in his past four games. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have recorded zero or negative yards on 38.9 percent of plays with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback and zero or negative yards on 53.9 percent of their plays with Chad Henne at quarterback. Gabbert will play with an injured left shoulder and is going against a secondary that will be without Charles Woodson, who is injured.

Relief pitcher: Matt Hasselbeck will start his third consecutive game in place of Jake Locker, who’s rehabilitating an injured left, non-throwing shoulder. Hasselbeck enters this game with 199 career touchdown passes. His next one will make him the 32nd player in NFL history to reach the 200-touchdown mark. He would join Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning as the only active QBs with 200 TD passes. The Giants' Eli Manning could join the club with a big game against Dallas -- he currently has 197 passing touchdowns. Hasselbeck has found a rhythm in the past two weeks, leading the Titans to consecutive wins.

Major work: When the Texans return from their bye, the bad special teams will be subject to revamping. “I think there are just a lot of things that have to get better, me and Joe [Marciano] coaching it, and players doing it,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We may have to get a few starters involved in what we do as we get deeper into the season too. … You hope it doesn’t come up too often, because you’re trying to stay healthy throughout the whole thing but as we move forward and as you get deeper and deeper in the season, I think it’s something you have to think about.” Receiver Kevin Walter and linebacker Brooks Reed are two starters Kubiak mentioned.

Also: The Jaguars have lost three consecutive games. Since the start of the 2011 season, Jacksonville is tied for the fourth-worst win percentage in the NFL (6-16, .237). The Packers, meanwhile, own the best record during the same stretch (19-4, .826). … After throwing seven touchdowns in his first four games, Andrew Luck has not thrown one in his past two games. ... If Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas connects on three extra points, he will tie the franchise record for most consecutive PATs made. Al Del Greco hit 229 from 1993 to 2000. … Among quarterback-receiver combinations that have attempted at least 30 connections, Gabbert and Justin Blackmon have the lowest connection rate at 40.6 percent.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
1:30
PM ET
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III will face a tough test Sunday against Pittsburgh's defense.
Rough on rookies: Robert Griffin III has been the most impressive of the first-year quarterbacks this year. His biggest test comes Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have a long history of rattling rookies. Since Dick LeBeau returned at defensive coordinator in 2004, the Steelers are 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks. The lone loss came against the Ravens' Troy Smith in the final regular-season game in 2007 in Baltimore when the Steelers rested four starters, including James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, to get ready for the postseason. Pittsburgh has held rookies to a 52.7 completion rate and an average of 167 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Secondary success: The Browns are a different pass defense when cornerback Joe Haden is on the field. During his four-game suspension, the Browns allowed quarterbacks to complete 66.4 percent of their passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. With Haden on the field, Cleveland has held quarterbacks to a 58 percent completion rate with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. In three games this season, Haden has intercepted two passes and has broken up four throws. The defense has to figure out a way to derail Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is 2-0 against the Browns. Rivers has thrown for 584 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.8 versus Cleveland.

Going deep: If you've missed the Steelers' big-play offense, it likely will return Sunday against Washington. As the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense, the Redskins have allowed 29 completions for more than 20 yards (tied for second-worst in the NFL) and seven passes for more than 40 yards (tied for worst). The Steelers haven't stretched the field as regularly under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley as they did in the past. Ben Roethlisberger has connected on two passes over 40 yards after averaging 10 such throws the previous three seasons. Perhaps this will be a redemption game for speedy receiver Mike Wallace, who has five dropped passes this season.

Air it out: Browns coach Pat Shurmur was criticized for throwing the ball too much last Sunday. He might hear criticism if he doesn't throw the ball against the Chargers. The Browns have a banged-up starting running back (Trent Richardson) and are facing the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense. In the past two games, the Chargers have given up a total of 679 yards passing and seven touchdown passes. But San Diego was facing Peyton Manning and Drew Brees during that time. Cleveland rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been on a tear recently, throwing for at least two touchdowns in each of his last three games. He leads all rookies this season in passing yards (1,783), passing touchdowns (9) and completions of 20 or more yards (25).

Hot at Heinz: Sunday's game against the Redskins marks the Steelers' first home game Since Oct. 7 and only their third of the season. The Steelers have won five straight home games and are 10-1 in their last 11 home games dating back to last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. With a win, the Steelers would have six straight home wins for the first time since winning eight home games in a row from 2008-09. After next week's game at the New York Giants, the Steelers play five of their final eight games at Heinz Field.

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