DENVER BRONCOS 35 @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS 32
BRONCOS: The last time Denver won 5 straight road games was when John Elway was the quarterback which must be unsettling to the legend. Elway has refused to give Tebow a vote of confidence all season despite Tebow clearly being the future of this franchise. Tebow may be unorthodox, but it wasn’t so long ago Mike Vick was being bashed with all the same critique Tebow is receiving. Now, Vick is praised for his style and the league is looking at a new breed of hard nosed quarterbacks whose strengths are the run game. Ironically, Tebow did it this week with his arm, passing for 202 yards with 2 touchdowns while only rushing for 13 yards. The Minnesota secondary allowed the Denver receivers enough separation throughout the game which allowed Tebow to connect with Demaryius Thomas 4 times for 144 yards and both scores. Tebow was as accurate as we have seen him all season so hopefully this is something he can build off of. As usual, Willis McGahee was key, rushing for 111 yards and scoring once. McGahee did leave the game on the next to last drive with an undisclosed injury so it may be serious given they would have used him on the final drive. Eddie Royal also left the game in the 4th with a neck injury. The Broncos are in the thick of the race and a playoff run would silence the critics once and for all.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Christian Ponder was stellar for most of the game but erred when the Vikings needed him most. Ponder finished with 381 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, the last pick coming with 1:30 left in the game which set up the game winning field goal for the Broncos. Ponder’s early pick six hurts all the more knowing it was the difference in the final score. Ponder’s top and most efficient target was once again Percy Harvin. The two connected for 156 yards with 2 touchdowns. Harvin did not need to see many more carries out of the backfield with Toby Gerhart rushing for 91 yards on the day. Gerhart was the bruiser this week, pounding up front which allowed Ponder and the offense to open things up a bit.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 38 @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 19
PANTHERS: Cam Newton ran his way into the history books after setting a record 13 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. Given we still have 4 weeks left, he may be setting a record only he or Tebow will ever hope to break. The Panthers were extremely effective from the get go, executing with ease against the bottom feeding Bucs defense. The run game set the tone early and would amass 163 yards on the ground with four scores, 3 by Newton alone. Jonathan Stewart led the way with 80 yards and a score compared to Deangelo William’s 29 yards on just 3 fewer carries (11). The Panthers and Bucs now stand tied for third place in the NFC South, each team seemingly heading in different directions.
BUCCANEERS: Josh Freeman sat this one out with shoulder issues which left Josh Johnson to start the game. Though Johnson was ineffective, neither quarterback would have made a difference given the poor defensive play by the Bucs up front and in the secondary. Poor angles, poor tackles, and gaps in the Cover 2 scheme allowed the Panthers to move the ball at will and run up the score. Legarrette Blount was the primary focus of the Panthers defense, containing him to only 19 yards on 11 carries. Thanks to garbage time, Mike Williams was the only bright spot, catching 5 passes for 93 yards. Raheem Morris was officially put on notice by management this week and this was not the way to respond. Analysts who have attended Bucs practices have noted the team has lacked fire and discipline under Morris. Given the names who will be available next season along with possible other firings, Morris is looking like he will be returning to a coordinator position next year.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 7 @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS 35
BENGALS: The Bengals made it easy for the Steelers after failing to convert in the red zone early, leading to a blocked field goal attempt coupled with a fumbled kick return which helped Pittsburgh jump to a 21 point lead. Once the Bengals became one dimensional the elite Steelers defense was able to play freely and aggressively. Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green for the Bengals only score of the day, Green finishing with 87 yards to go with the score. Dalton had trouble finding an open receiver most of the day, the Steelers defense allowing him only 135 yards with the touchdown before exiting the game with a hip injury. Cedric Benson was unable to contribute much, rushing for 52 yards on 13 carries. Anytime a team is spotted 21 points in the NFL it is a near death sentence for the game and turned out that way this week. All week Jay Gruden had been touting the potential of this offense but came up flat against a team they will have to beat in order to take the next step.
STEELERS: Finishing the sweep for the season, Pittsburgh used tight/bunch formations which confused the Bengals from the start. Rashard Mendenhall had his second multi-score game in three weeks, rushing for 60 yards and converting once in red zone territory. Ben Roethlisberger was his usual efficient self, converting 15/33 passes for 176 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 117. Antonio Brown quickly negated the Bengals only scoring drive in the game by returning a 60 yard punt for a touchdown, adding to his 67 yards receiving on the day.
NEW YORK JETS 34 @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS 19
JETS: Mark Sanchez had one of the best mental games of the season, leading the Jets to their second consecutive 4th quarter comeback.
Sanchez was accurate and quick with his decisions, completing 11 of his first 14 passes of the game and would finish with 165 yards with a score. While the numbers are not eye opening, he avoided squeezing the ball into tight coverage and checked down often, a characteristic we have not seen from the hesitant quarterback this year. He connected with Santonio Holmes for 58 yards on the day, the most important one coming on a 30 yard connection with4:49 left in the 4th which gave the Jets the lead. Shonn Greene carried the load, rushing for 88 yards on 22 carries with 3 touchdowns. Ladainian Tomlinson left the game with what seemed to be a bad ankle injury, L.T. unable to stand up on his own after getting tackled along the sideline. The Jets have kept their Wild Card hopes alive with the win but face four of the hottest defenses in the next weeks against KC, PHI, NYG, and end with the Dolphins.
REDSKINS: Roy Helu was once again the difference maker, carrying the Skins with 100 yards rushing and a score to go with 42 yards receiving. Amazingly, Shanahan stuck to his work and Helu was the only Skin with touches in the run game. Unfortunately, Helu couldn’t throw the ball as well. Rex Grossman was on a roller coaster ride from snap to snap, looking efficient one moment then making poor throws the next. Grossman finished with 221 yards with one interception and a miserable QB rating of 47. Santana Moss was able to make more of a contribution this week with 42 yards but Fred Davis led the team with 99 yards receiving. Shanahan’s decision not to chase a free agent quarterback this past off-season is proving costly, especially now that he has a back to rely on.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10 @ CHICAGO BEARS 3
CHIEFS: The Chiefs continued their strong defensive play, allowing only 181 total yards to the Bears. Derrick Johnson led the way in a defensive effort which would yield 7 sacks, 3 interceptions and 10 tackles for a loss. Offensively the focus was on the run game which totaled 113 yards on the ground among the three headed attack. This week was Dexter McCluster’s turn, finishing with 61 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving with a score. Tyler Palko managed a great game against a Bears defense which was coming off the edges constantly, throwing for 157 yards with a score. Though he made a solid effort to retain the starting job, Kyle Orton will most likely be the successor next week as the Chiefs only hope is to win out and pray Oakland or Denver stumble.
BEARS: Caleb Haine had multiple opportunities to connect with receivers but was off target in what would result in a 3 interception, 133 yard day. It should be fairly obvious Haine is not going to lead the Bears to a playoff birth, especially given Matt Forte’s injury. Forte left the game in the 1st quarter after taking a helmet to the right knee. It is being ruled a MCL sprain and couldn’t come at a worse time. Forte should be in no rush as this injury plays perfectly into his hands. The Bears have yet to extend his contract and Forte needed only to miss 3 1/2 quarters to show just how bad this offense is without him. Forte has been the heart and soul of this offense with and without Cutler so perhaps it’s a bit of karma for the Bears ownership.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 14 @ MIAMI DOLPHINS 34
RAIDERS: With Michael Bush finding his first struggle of the season, Oakland was forced to rely on Palmer who was having issues himself. Palmer struggled with his accuracy most of the day, forced to try and squeeze passes into tight quarters. Palmer would finish with 273 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception while completing 20/41 passes. The onus was on Palmer even before the game started since he was without Ford and Moore and would have to deal with a skeleton receiving corps. Michael Bush’s 18 yards on 10 carries didn’t help ease the burden in a game where the Raiders were very readable offensively. Luckily, McFadden is closer to a return and they still are tied for the divisional lead with Denver surging. Unluckily, they face the Packersnext week on the road.
DOLPHINS: The Fins continued their stellar defensive play, and Reggie Bush continued his breakout rushing season. Bush racked up 100 yards with a score and continues to look like the back he was in college but failed to reproduce in his first 5 seasons in the NFL. Matt Moore is also securing himself as the future of the franchise with his smart yet efficient play. Moore finished with 162 yards with a touchdown but also added a rushing score on 22 yards. In his last 5 games Moore has 8 touchdowns with only 1 interception and a record of 4-1.
TENNESSEE TITANS 23 @ BUFFALO BILLS 17
TITANS: CJ2K is officially back after gashing the Bills for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson often went untouched before hitting the second level, a testament to the offensive line and the quality level in which they are currently playing. This is now Johnson’s second straight 100+ game and he is doing it the way we are used to seeing him be effective. Instead of running for the edges as he has most the season, the last two games Johnson has opted to dance between the tackles and use his acceleration to puncture defensive fronts. Matt Hasselbeck had a forgettable but efficient game, finishing with 140 yards passing and goose eggs. Damian Williams was high man receiving with 62 yards, leading the team while Nate Washington played through an ankle injury and was largely ineffective. Unfortunately for the Titans, the Texans were bailed out by their defense today and still hold a 2 game lead in the division.
BILLS: C.J. Spiller started hot with a 35 yards touchdown run in the first quarter but was held down for the rest of the game, adding just 45 yards on the ground for a total of 83 on the day. Despite Buffalo beating the Titans in nearly every category, fumbles by both Fitzpatrick and Chandler proved costly in the outcome. Fitzpatrick did have an otherwise solid game, passing for 288 yards with a touchdown. Brad Smith was the leading receiver, catching 7 passes for 72 yards. The Bills may have a hidden gem in Smith’s athleticism and ability to play multiple positions.
ATLANTA FALCONS 10 @ HOUSTON TEXANS 17
FALCONS: Matt Ryan couldn’t overcome a poor start, going 3/9 and 2 interceptions. Though Ryan did not get sacked, the Texans were in his face the whole game, knocking him down 10 times and pressuring him on nearly every drop back. Ryan finished with 267 yards with a touchdown pass to Roddy White in the 3rd quarter which tied the game. The defense could not hold though and had issues containing run after being pounded all game. The defense would eventually tire out in the final quarter, allowing the winning score. Offensively, Mike Turner found little room to work, running for just 44 yards and often found multiple defenders charging at him before he could hit the line of scrimmage. The loss makes Atlanta’s Wild Card chase more of an uphill battle given they face all three divisional opponents in the last 4 games.
TEXANS: Down to their third string quarterback, the Kubiac opted for a run heavy offense which carried the ball 42 times. Arian Foster led the way with 31 touches for 111 yards and the game winning score to go along with 41 yards receiving. T.J. Yates did everything the Texans could have asked of him, managing the game without making a turnover. Yates finished with 188 yards and a touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen but it was Andre Johnson who was high man with 97 yards on 4 catches. Johnson pulled up lame in the 3rd quarter, flopping to the ground after injuring his left hamstring. Johnson says it isn’t as bad as his previous injury to his right hammy but he downplayed that one as well.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24 @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31
COLTS: New Defensive Coordinator Mike Murphy was able to rally his unit and stopped the Patriots with only 3 points scored in the first quarter. Vegas nearly imploded with the solid defensive start, but Murphy’s scheme and personnel were overwhelmed once Brady and the Pats started running the no huddle. The change in pace by the Pats had the Colts on their heels the rest of the game. Dan Orlovsky kept the game within reach by attacking the league worst secondary and racking up 353 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. The performance made Pierre Garcon relevant once again, catching 9 passes for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. The run game continues to underachieve, with both Brown and Addai totaling 80 yards and Brown getting the score.
PATRIOTS: There was a collective holding of the breath for anyone with a vested interest in the game early, but two quick scores in 3 minutes at the end of the second quarter settled any anxiety. Once Brady and the offense got the ball rolling, the outcome was inevitable. Brady threw for 289 yards with 2 touchdowns, connecting with Rob Gronkowski for both scores. Gronkowski decided to mix it up a bit and added a rushing touchdown from 2 yards out. At this point the Pats are cruising and don’t face a formidable defense the rest of the season. With Washington, Denver, Miami, and Buffalo left, the Pats are looking at sealing the division within the next two games.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 24 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS 10
RAVENS: While the Browns secondary lived up to their expectations, so did their rush defense. Ray Rice blasted the Browns 29th run squad for 204 yards with a touchdown. The effectiveness of Rice allowed the Ravens a lopsided time of possession, getting 15 minutes more time offensively to keep the ball and game at their mercy. Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense merely watched Rice do his thing, finishing with just 158 yards passing on the day. With the win Baltimore stays tied with the Steelers for the divisional lead. Their toughest game comes week 17 against the Bengals who would love to play spoiler if things stay as they are.
BROWNS: Peyton Hillis accounted for nearly half the Browns offensive production, rushing for 45 yards and catching one pass for 52 yards. Cleveland’s lone score came on a pass to Evan Moore in garbage time as McCoy finished with 192 yards with one score and one pick. Given that Peyton Hillis was the leader in both rushing and receiving, that really tells you the whole story. The Browns are far from being competitive offensively and things can only get worse unless ownership decides to go on a spending spree in the off-season.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 38 @ NY GIANTS 35
PACKERS: Two of the best quarterbacks this season faced off in this game but it was the champ who retained his belt. Aaron Rodgers lit up the sky with 369 yards passing to go with 4 touchdowns and oh my God….an interception. Rodgers manufactured a 5 play 68 yard drive to set up the game winning field goal for what was the best game of the weekend. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson finished tied as high men with 94 yards each receiving but Jennings getting the touchdown to edge him out. Clay Mathews led the way defensively and contributed to the cause with a pick six off Manning and added a sack. Charles Woodson exited the game with a head injury in the second half which negated some of the blitz packages the Packers would have normally used against Manning, making this one come down to final possession. If there is a weakness on this team it is their run game which only posted 89 total yards, 32 of those yards amassed by Rodgers.
GIANTS: Eli Manning held his own and then some against Rodgers, finishing with 347 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Manning and Victor Cruz connected for 119 yards but it was Hakeem Nicks who tallied 2 touchdowns on 88 yards receiving. Brandon Jacobs outperformed Ahmad Bradshaw despite getting 3 fewer touches, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown early. This was a bitter loss for the Giants to swallow, but one which proved they are in elite company after being only the second team to lose to the Packers by less than a touchdown all season. The Giants have a pivotal game against the Cowboys next week and can tie for the divisional lead with a win.
DALLAS COWBOYS 13 @ ARIZONA CARDINALS 19
DALLAS: Tony Romo tested the secondary early with success, connecting with Dez Bryant in the second quarter for the Cowboys only score. Laurent Robinson exited the game briefly with a shoulder injury which was enough time for the Cards to regroup and put a clamp down defensively. Romo completed 28/42 passes for 299 yards and the lone score to Bryant. Demarco Murray was held to only 38 yards rushing against one of the better but lesser known overall defenses in the league. In the end, this game will be remembered for Jason Garrett’s icing of his own kicker with 7 seconds left. Garrett called a timeout on a kick which Bailey would have made and eventually missed on the second try after having time to think about it thanks to his coach. Garrett can rationalize it all he wants but bottom line is he should have known better and let the game play out instead of over-coaching and making sure everything was in place. This loss makes next week’s game against the Giants all the more important instead of taking a two game lead into the match up.
CARDINALS: Kevin Kolb had a solid return to the lineup after missing several weeks, pulling out a win on a 52 yard touchdown pass to Stephens-Howling in overtime. Kolb totaled 247 yards with the touchdown in a game where Larry Fitzgerald was held to 55 yards on the day. Andre Roberts picked up the slack, being Kolb’s go to receiver by catching all 6 targets for 111 yards. Beanie Wells rushed for 67 hard earned yards against a wall of Dallas defenders for most of the game. Wells scored once in the fourth quarter to tie the game in what was a game of two halves for Arizona. The Cards were anemic the first half but came out blasting in the third, building momentum and ultimately getting the edge once Bailey missed the field goal.
ST. LOUIS RAMS 0 @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 26
RAMS: AJ Feeley got the start after a setback in Sam Bradford’s ankle this week and was unable to lead the team to even a field goal. Facing the 11th overall defense in the NFL, Feeley finished with just 156 yards and an interception. Steven Jackson had nothing to work with against the Niners top ranked rush defense, totaling just 19 yards on 11 carries. The Rams were outmatched from the start and were a miserable 3-13 on third downs.
49ERS: With the Rams unable to get anything going, the Niners dominated time of possession by 13 minutes and used every minute with a display of solid execution. Alex Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Crabtree finished as high man with 96 yards and a touchdown, never truly facing solid coverage and able to work his routes. Frank Gore chipped in with 73 yards rushing and a score, helping to wear down the Rams resolve. With the win the Niners clinched their division and can work on adding some wrinkles to their playbook. The Niners have been as good as it gets when it comes to execution but are lacking the splash plays which will be needed once the playoff’s start.
DETROIT LIONS 17 @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31
LIONS: At this point Coach Schwartz needs to come under fire for his lack of teaching this team discipline. The Lions racked up 107 yards worth of penalties which seemed to always set them up for an uphill third down. Kevin Smith exited the game with an ankle injury once again, leaving Morris and Williams to carry the load. Matt Stafford passed for 408 yards with 1 touchdown in the loss, a majority coming in the second half. Calvin Johnson finished with 69 yards on the day, locked up and double teamed most of the night which left Nate Burleson as high man with 93 yards. Despite the injury, Smith still finished as the team high rusher with 34 yards and a score. The Lions all but abandoned the run game playing from a deficit so not too much can be read into there. The Lions have now lost 3 of their last 4 but face a nice string of games against the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers. They will need to separate themselves from the Wild Card pack those three games before facing off with Green Bay week 17.
SAINTS: Brees was nearly flawless, going 26/36 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. The aerial attack set up some easy runs for Mark Ingram who rumbled his way to 54 yards and a score. Darren Sproles amassed 161 all purpose yards with a score, once again adding that extra wrinkle at the most opportune times. Robert Meachem finally stepped back into the lime light with 119 yards receiving and a score. Jimmy Graham wasn’t far behind, totaling 89 yards on the day. The Atlanta loss gave the Saints a two game cushion but they will be squaring off against the Falcons in Week 16.