TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 14 @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 41
BUCS: Chalk this up as the game where Raheem Morris officially lost his job. Morris’ Bucs continued to be one of the most penalized teams in the league, adding 12 penalties for 97 yards, often putting themselves in third and unmanageable situations. While the blame does not solely lay with him, the lack of discipline and poor execution of such basics as tackling does. Tampa was the first team to allow the anemic Jags more than 20 points in a game this season, allowing 6 unanswered touchdowns after leading 14-0 and turning the ball over 7 times. The curtain has closed on this team and it is now a question of who will be the next coach called upon to straighten this talented team out and reach their young potential. Will the Glazer family finally open their check book, or will they continue to funnel all their profits into Manchester United? With many big name coaches available this off-season, they will be under the microscope with easy to read results based on their selection.
JAGS: Maurice Jones Drew set the franchise scoring record behind a 4 touchdown, 136 total yard performance. The Jags were able to score in all three phases of the game, notching a touchdown on special teams off a Preston Parker fumble, one on defense off a Freeman fumble and the plethora of offensive scores. Blaine Gabbert was able to throw his second straight 2 touchdown performance, finishing with 217 yards passing along with 2 interceptions on the day. Marcedes Lewis led the way with 77 yards receiving, torching the Bucs on a 62 yard play with one catch alone. Coach Mel Tucker received his first win as interim head coach and looks to have this team focused on getting back to basics.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 22 @ TENNESSEE TITANS 17
SAINTS: Drew Brees overcame a slow start in the first half, throwing two touchdown passes to Marques Colston in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. Brees was forced to look short for most of the game, taking what little the Titans defense would allow. As the game progressed, the Titans secondary seemed to tire mentally and physically. Brees connected with Colston on the first score after Colston was able to find a gaping hole in the middle of the field for a 35 yard strike. Brees seized the momentum and scored on the next drive with a 28 yard hook up to Colston. This marks Brees’ 40th straight game with a touchdown pass, placing him 2nd all time behind Unitas’ 47 straight. Brees finished with 337 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day with a 110 QB rating. Despite Mark Ingram not playing, the Saints rush unit provided enough to help move the ball. Chris Ivory led all rushers with 53 of the Saints 108 total yards on the ground.
TITANS: Jake Locker was substituted for an injured Matt Hasselbeck in the first half after Hasselbeck injured his left calf. Locker responded by leading the Titans on two scoring drives and coming up just short of the upset, getting sacked on the New Orleans 5 yard line as time expired. Locker posted the Titans longest offensive play of the season without Kenny Britt, completing a 54 yard pass to Damian Williams which set up the Locker rushing score. Nate Washington played through his ankle injury, posting 130 total yards and scoring late in the 4th on a 40 yard pass. With father time catching up with Hasselbeck and Locker as heir apparent, now is the time Munchak needs to make the move and name Locker the starter. Locker was able to use his younger legs to extend plays and take advantage when the Saints defense gave him lanes. These intangibles make the difference in games and leaves to question how this game could have turned out if Locker had received the start.
ATLANTA FALCONS 31 @ CAROLINA PANTHERS 23
FALCONS: Matt Ryan and the Falcons relied on the long ball all game and though it cost them early, it would eventually be the difference maker. Four different receivers had catches of 20+ yards, Julio Jones leading the way with a 75 yard strike and 104 yards with 2 touchdowns on the day. The reliance on the long ball padded Ryan’s stats, finishing with 320 yards and 4 scores with no interceptions. Three of his scores came in the second half after trailing 23-7, leading the Falcons to 24 straight unanswered points. While the win keeps the Falcons Wild Card hopes afloat, they can’t buy into the idea this is a strategy which will get them far. It has been a boom or bust type of season for the Falcons, either exploding on offense or failing to get anything working. They will need to find a healthy balance if they wish to have any chance should they make it into the playoffs.
PANTHERS: The Panthers were able to take advantage of Atlanta’s focus on Newton early, gashing them with a Deangelo Williams 74 yard touchdown run. Newton also added 2 touchdown passes to both Olsen and Shockey, all scores coming in the first half. Despite the lead, the game was prototypical of the Panthers season, living and dying with Newton’s strengths and weaknesses. Newton tossed two interceptions on consecutive drives which turned the momentum the Falcons way and eventually led to the loss. For all which Newton does so well it is easy to forget he is a rookie and come down on him when he errs. The bottom line is he is the sole reason the Panthers are even competitive in every match up and though his mistakes are costly, they are things which will be corrected with a full offseason to prepare. If Carolina can add a few key components, we can expect them to make the common NFC jump from one of the worst to first next season.
HOUSTON TEXANS 20 @ CINCINNATI BENGALS 19
TEXANS: TJ Yates recorded his first road win and helped Houston clinch their first divisional title.
Yates is now 2-0 as a starter, showing great composure and accuracy despite playing from behind all game. His 300 yard, 2 touchdowns with 1 interception performance was defined in the final six seconds when he connected with Kevin Walter for the winning score. This game was all about “next man up” and the Texans depth was put on display. Arian Foster was keyed on by the Bengals defense, totaling only 74 total yards. Ben Tate took over in the second half, banging out 97 total yards and pounding the Bengals in the fourth quarter, leading the Texans on their final two drives. Despite Andre Johnson being held out with injury, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels racked up 176 yards between them, filling the void. This was Houston’s 7th straight win and gives them time to prepare for the playoffs and let Johnson heal.
BENGALS: The Bengals rode Cedric Benson’s 91 yard first half performance to a 16-3 halftime lead. Andy Dalton had chipped in with 17 yard pass to Jerome Simpson and all was as it should be. Unfortunately for the Bengals, it was all that would be. Benson was not able to total positive yardage throughout the second half and Andy Dalton was never again close enough to sniff the end zone. Adam Jones certainly helped the Texans cause on a holding penalty with 12 seconds left which put Houston on the 6 yard line and led to the winning score. In his defense, the Bengals were getting pounded by Ben Tate and you could see the exhaustion taking a toll. The Bengals may be out of the playoff picture but they have solidified themselves as a very young team with a ton of talent. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both getting older so it won’t take much before we see the Bengals rise to the top of this division.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 28 @ DETROIT LIONS 34
VIKINGS: In what has become the norm for Minnesota, two Ponder turnovers had the Vikings playing from behind early. Ponder was hit from the blindside early, fumbling the ball into his own end zone which would be recovered by the Lions for a score. He then was intercepted on the ensuing drive which spotted the Lions 14 points. After two more interceptions, Ponder was replaced by Joe Webb in an effort to spark the team. Spark he did, running for a 61 yard score and connecting with Toby Gerhart for a touchdown. Webb finished with 109 yards on the ground and 84 passing, participating in the latest Tebow trend of run first quarterbacks. Though Ponder is the better long term option, the Vikes are best suited to let Webb play at least one more game. First, they can see what they really have in Webb and secondly, they can gain trade value if he performs well. The running quarterback is here to stay and teams will not be so hesitant to take a risk on a player like Webb. This team is better suited with a pocket passer to compliment the likes of run savvy vets Harvin and Peterson so adding another run wrinkle to the mix takes away the added dimensions these players can contribute to the pass game and keep defenses on their heels.
LIONS: Already down Kevin Smith, the Lions lost Maurice Morris early with a chest injury, leaving Keiland Williams to carry the load. There really wasn’t a load to carry given the Lions scored on a pick six and fumble recovery, two of 6 Minnesota turnovers. All totaled, the Lions scored 24 points off takeaways and were handed the game early. Matt Stafford executed well, completing 20/29 for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns. Titus Young finished as high man with 87 yards receiving, 57 of them coming on a first quarter touchdown connection with Stafford. Young has for all purposes taken over as the number two option out wide and adds an extra weapon to this offense as they fight for a Wild Card birth. If Kevin Smith can get healthy, the Lions will have one of the most explosive offenses not named Packers.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 26 @ MIAMI DOLPHINS 10
EAGLES: Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for 6 of the Eagles 9 sacks, defense leading the charge against one of the hotter second half teams this season. While the score may say otherwise, this was again a poor performance by the offense which totaled only 239 yards for the game. Lesean McCoy did score twice on short yardage situations but was held to 38 yards on 27 touches for a whopping 1.4 YPC. Mike Vick was able to bring Desean Jackson back to life, connecting on a 34 yard touchdown pass en route to a 59 yard day for Jackson. Vick had a respectable first game back against a tough defense, passing for 208 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Bottom line is their season is over and now is the time to work on packages Reid will want to institute next year. While many believe he will be looking for a job I think otherwise. Reid was one of the few Vick advocates early on and Vick will push management to keep him on board. Even if Reid himself thinks he wants to retire, one more season is the least the two can give to one another.
DOLPHINS: Matt Moore’s hot streak came to a close after being bombarded at every turn by Eagles defenders. Moore finished with 95 yards passing to go with 1 score and 1 pick before exiting the game with a head injury. Lost in the hype of an Eagles long sought win will be Reggie Bush’s 103 yard performance. While he was fed the ball in garbage time, fact remains this was his second straight 100+ rushing performance and first time he has done that in his career. He now has three century mark games, more than he has ever had in a season and seems to be getting better. Bush’s mileage is not the same as other backs who have been in the league for 6 years so the Dolphins have a nice duo to turn to the next several seasons.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10 @ NY JETS 37
CHIEFS: The Chiefs were overwhelmed by the Jets defense, scoring only 3 points in the first 47 minutes of the game. The Chiefs converted only 2 of 12 third down attempts, forced to throw due to the Jets run defense which kept the Chiefs backfield to 46 yards. Dwayne Bowe finished with a team high 69 yards receiving, accounting for a chunk of Palko’s 195 yards passing, 1 touchdown, 1 interception day. The Chiefs now sit in the basement of the AFC West, forced to look at a season which was born with potential but plagued by injuries. With Jamaal Charles set to return next season it will be interesting who is the odd man out this offseason. Common sense says Thomas, but Jackie Battle carries the most value for a team in search of a solid #2 RB.
JETS: Much will be made about Mark Sanchez’ 4 touchdowns but the quarterback still had what amounts to an average day. Sanchez only threw for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns, with the two rushing scores coming from no more than three yards out. What was impressive was watching him make quick and clear decisions for the third straight game. It is no coincidence the Jets have won their last three now that Sanchez has stopped the double tapping hesitancy which plagued him early. Shonn Greene carried the team with 129 yards rushing and a score, pounding the Chiefs early and never letting up. This is the season Greene has finally hit his potential and is now doing in both aspects of the game. His 58 yards through the air topped Tomlinson’s 50 this week, increasing his durability down the stretch when the Jets will need him most.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 34 @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS 27
PATRIOTS: Rob Gronkowski set the record for touchdowns by a Tight End in a single season, nabbing numbers 14 and 15 en route to a 160 yard day. Given Gronkowski still has at least 2 more games of full playing time; he stands to set a mark not likely to be broken any time soon. A quarterback like Tom Brady probably helps a bit, though Graham and Brees are bound to give the record a shot for the seasons to come. Brady posted a 357 yard 3 score, 1 interception day during a game which boiled down to an offensive shootout against weak defenses. The biggest cause for concern here is Green-Ellis’ disappearing act of late, ceding way to Danny Woodhead whom had more carries (8) than Ellis (5). On the positive side, Kevin Faulk is being slowly worked back into action; the Pats taking it slow after his big performance and re-injury by doing too much too soon. The Pats need only one more win to seal the division up and will face off with Denver on the road next week.
REDSKINS: Roy Helu rushed for 126 yards to become the first Redskin rookie rusher in history with three straight 100+ yard games. He can now add that with his reception record and perhaps should earn one more for having Shanahan commit to a running back. The Redskins were within yards of sending the game into overtime until Santana Moss tipped a pass in the air which fell into Jerod Mayo’s hands to seal the game. Other than the interception which gets credited to Grossman, Rex had a solid day against the vulnerable Pats secondary. Pitted in a back and forth match with Brady, Grossman threw 2 touchdowns on 252 yards passing to go with the interception. The Skins pulled out all the stops, handing the ball to Brandon Banks on a reverse and threw it for a 49 yard score to Santana Moss. Though the Skins will be hurting from one they had in their grasp, they have found a formula that works and can build off of with the right personnel changes this offseason.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 10 @ BALTIMORE RAVENS 24
COLTS: It was more of the same for the anemic Colts, an offense in the abyss without their leader. Despite the 10 point scoreboard, 7 of those points came in garbage time with the clock running out. Only a Vinatieri field goal in the second quarter were the only quality points mustered by the Colts. They were only able to produce 167 total yards on the day and a spinning in free fall to a date with the first pick of the draft. Now the question becomes what will the Colts do with the pick. That will be the biggest topic this off-season, with Favre like media coverage on everything Peyton Manning. The bigger issue for me is the lack of a run game ever since the departure of Edgerrin James. Quarterback’s will come and go yearly and carry much more of a risk at #1, even if their name is Luck. A quality back is harder to come by and Trent Richardson from Alabama will be a young 22 at the start of the season if Indianapolis were to select him. If Peyton is healthy and can play, a true #1 RB will ease the constant pounding and buy the Colts a few more seasons to groom the quarterback of the future.
RAVENS: Defense paved the way for an easy game against the Colts, Terrell Suggs racking up three sacks and three forced fumbles. Ray Rice was able to walk his way to 149 total yards with a score, inching his way to the Ravens touchdown record for a single season. Joe Flacco added a pair of touchdowns with 227 yards and one interception. It was the typical Ravens game, lacking flair but bruising their way forward. While they are nearly locks to enter the Playoffs via Wild Card or divisional title, that flair factor will be pivotal in how far they go. They are a balanced team which plays their game but those “splash” plays have eluded them most of the season except for outbursts by Torrey Smith.
CHICAGO BEARS 10 @ DENVER BRONCOS 13
BEARS: Marion Barber is bound to be the most hated man in Chicago after single handedly keeping the Broncos in the game then fumbling it over to them. Barber impressed most of the way, pounding the Broncos for 108 yards and the Bears only score which came in the third quarter. Maybe it was a lack of playing time, but Barber ran out of bounds with under two minutes left, saving clock time for Tebow instead of leaving the Bears with possession to run the clock down to seconds before punting. Tebow magic would tie the game and force it to overtime where Barber fumbled trying to extend a run instead of falling after making it to the second level. Though Barber will get the beating, the question is can you blame him? Haine face tough defensive pressure all game but was only able to complete 12/19 for 115 yards. Barber had been relied upon to carry the offense all game and was the only reliable option in moving the chains. Though there is no excuse for mental mistakes from a veteran, his extra effort was the only reason the Bears were in a position to win in the first place.
BRONCOS: The Tebow experience continues after yet another 4th quarter comeback. As expected, Tebow was forced to beat the Bears through the air. Though going 0-11 at one point, Tebow once again turned it around when it mattered most, completing 11 straight passes en route to a Demaryius Thomas touchdown pass to put the Broncos within three. Matt Prater kicks with time expiring and in overtime sealed the win, pushing Tebow’s record to 7-1 on the season. While it’s easy to get caught up in the Tebow hysteria, the overall production of this team should be lauded. Demaryius Thomas has played his best two games of his career these last two weeks and the Denver defense has been as good as any of the elite defenses despite their rankings. They have come up with the stops when needed most and the Broncos as a whole force teams to play their game. It’s football in the trenches at its best with a leader used to fighting battles instead of orchestrating them. While it’s not always pretty, Tebow is evolving every game as a passer and adding a dimension to an athlete who now has even John Elway shaking his head in disbelief.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 16 @ GREEN BAY PACKERS 46
RAIDERS: Carson Palmer continued his string of forgettable games with a 4 interception performance, amassing 245 yards and only 1 touchdown in the process. Mike Bush was forced to grind his way to 78 yards and a score, contending with a Packers defense which refused to allow him to reach the second level. Teams have focused on stopping the run game, forcing the rusty Palmer to beat them through the air. While it will be easy to jump off the Palmer band wagon, fact remains he is not yet in top football shape mentally or physical and a string of games like this is to be expected. Given a full offseason to prepare and gain chemistry with his receivers, you will see a better result.
PACKERS: There was never a doubt in the outcome, just how bad it would be. Though Rodgers threw his third interception in four games, his 281 yards and 2 touchdowns were more than enough. Ryan Grant would have a return to glory as well, rushing for 2 scores on 85 yards. In between their performances, the Packers defense returned a fumble for a score and Mason Crosby added four field goals. The Packers have proven they can get it done any which way the game dictates.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 19 @ ARIZONA CARDINALS 21
49ERS: Facing one of the hottest defenses in the league, the Niners were only able to total 233 yards in the game. Alex Smith struggled all game, passing for just 175 yards with goose eggs while getting sacked 5 times and knocked down 9 times. The resulting pressure didn’t allow him to find a rhythm and forced him into quick and sometimes errant throws. Though he may have not had one of his better games, the biggest difference in Smith was his ability to not force things and take the sack instead of a possible turnover. Even in the loss, Smith was impressive because of his commitment to the fundamentals which displayed his maturity under Harbaugh. Frank Gore was effective given his limited touches (10) rushing for 72 yards with a score.
CARDINALS: John Skelton replaced Kevin Kolb after a head injury and led the Cards to what was their best victory of the season. Skelton was thrown into the quarterback carousel and finished with 282 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He engineered two drives to score 14 straight points in 12 minutes, connecting with both Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts. With Beanie Wells held to 27 rush yards, Fitzgerald took the game over, racking up 149 yards and the score. The Cardinals attacked the Niners where they are most vulnerable and their surging defense was able to take care of the rest. Though they were far from being in the playoff hunt, the Cards are now winners of 5 of their last six and could throw their hat in the Wild Card ring should they add three more against the Browns, Bengals, and Seahawks.
BUFFALO BILLS 10 @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 37
BILLS: Ryan Fitzpatrick just can’t get out of his two month funk, tossing two interceptions on 176 yards. His accuracy issues continued, completing just 13/34 passes in the game. Maybe he needs to watch Bull Durham or maybe he simply is lacking the confidence which carried him early in the season. Fitz has keyed on Steve Johnson game after game, making it easy for defenses to key on his timing and break up plays. While the loss of Fred Jackson proves he is the true heart of the team, Fitzpatrick has all the tools to make things work but has fallen on poor mechanics and tendencies. Despite the focus, Steve Johnson still racked up 116 yards due to his 10 targets.
CHARGERS: San Diego is finishing how Buffalo started, moving the ball at will with a dynamic running back and quarterback trusting his reads. Phillip Rivers return to his old self produced a 3 score, 240 yard performance in a game where he did not throw an interception. Coupled with Ryan Mathews third straight 110+ rushing game, the Chargers never yielded the lead en route to their most convincing performance of the season. Notoriously slow finishers, the Chargers are just now waking up to the season and just in time. They are within two games of the Broncos and face Baltimore as their largest defensive opponent next week. If they can escape with a win, they face two winnable games against Detroit and Oakland to finish the season.