Another wild NFL weekend is in the books with the usual mix of upsets, blowouts, refereeing clangers and PAT ineptitude. Get the lowdown on yesterday’s games with our below snapshots from a busy Sunday.
Houston Texans 21 – 30 Buffalo Bills
• Huge credit for this win has to go to the Buffalo Bills Offensive Line. Facing one of the best Defensive Lines in the NFL they managed to keep Tyrod Taylor pretty clean all day, surrendering just the one sack on 21 pass attempts. • Call it the Big Ben effect but it was good to see another player self-reporting concussion-like symptoms during play. LeSean McCoy took himself out of the game for evaluation before being cleared to come back. • Playoff implications in this game where huge, but none more so for Buffalo, for whom a loss would likely have knocked them out of contention. For Houston, an opportunity was missed to vault to the top of the AFC South standings with the Colts loss but they are still very much alive.
San Francisco 49ers 26 – 20 Chicago Bears (OT)
• Credit Jim Tomsula for keeping the 49ers fighting in a lost season, overcoming an improving Bears team thanks to Blaine Gabbert’s (!!) late game heroics. • Speaking of Gabbert, questions now need to be asked about how much of a lost season it would have been if Colin Kaepernick had been sent to the bench earlier. Gabbert is showing signs of the talent that led to him being a top 10 draft choice for the Jags and surely changing the narrative around his career. • The normally reliable Robbie Gould will have nightmares of this game with 2 missed field goals, including the potential game winner as time expired at the end of regulation. While Gould likely has built up enough goodwill with his performances over time in Chicago, this kind of performance has left many a kicker looking for new employment come Monday.
Cincinnati Bengals 37 – 3 Cleveland Browns
• Is it possible for a game decided by 34 points to have not actually been that close! Looking like a Varsity squad overpowering the JV team, Cincinnati rolled over a Browns team that looked toothless in every phase. • Don’t look now but if the playoffs began today, the Bengals would be the number 1 seed in the AFC. While it is difficult to judge Cincinnati on regular season performances given their propensity for post season collapse, this Bengals team does look different from previous iterations with the Dalton-Green connection firing on all cylinders. • Questions have to be asked about the job security of Mike Pettine as HC of a Browns team not known for its patience. Same must be said of GM Ray Farmer as, for all the high picks Cleveland has, the team looks very light on talent.
Baltimore Ravens 13 – 15 Miami Dolphins
• Bill Lazor probably watched this game and had a little chuckle to himself as his ousting as OC didn’t lead to the offensive spark Dan Campbell was obviously hoping for. Ryan Tannehill led an anaemic offense to just 1 score against a Baltimore defense that bears little resemblance to the 2000 unit. • Fortunately for Miami, Baltimore is currently Quarterbacked by ‘Mr Pick Six’ himself, Matt Schaub, who added another to his collection with a batted pass returned by Defensive Lineman Derrick Shelby. Schaub has contrived to throw a pick six in both of his starts this season and must be wondering what he has done to deserve it. • Dan Campbell now moves to 4-4 as HC and likely needs to win out in order to merit keeping his job as the head man in Miami. He certainly has his Miami team performing better than they were under Joe Philbin but likely hasn’t yet shown enough to convince owner Stephen Ross that he is the man to lead the Dolphins past the Patriots in the AFC East.
Seattle Seahawks 38 – 7 Minnesota Vikings
• It is pretty much a given that no-one in the league wants to face this Seattle team right now. The Seahawks staged a masterclass last night, beating down a Minnesota outfit that had no answers for their physicality on both offense and defense. • At 7-5 Seattle remain 3 games back of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and will likely find themselves as a Wildcard entrant to the playoffs. With a rested Marshawn Lynch back in the line-up by this time and a passing game that has exploded despite the loss of Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks are rounding into form for another Super Bowl push. • All is not lost for the Vikings however, as they find themselves at 8-4 and tied for the NFC North lead with the Packers. Given the remaining schedules of both those teams the possibility looms large that their Week 17 showdown will have the division title on the line.
New York Jets 23 – 20 New York Giants
• It has been a very up and down season for the Jets in their first year under Todd Bowles. After starting 4-1 before being pegged back to 5-5 the Jets have reeled off 2 straight wins to find themselves right in the thick of the Wildcard race at 7-5. • Jets fans have to be somewhat thankful to I.K. Enemkpali for opening the door for a resurgent Ryan Fitzpatrick who is doing a great job of finding his big targets in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker who are quietly having terrific seasons. • For all the talent the Giants have (looking at you ODB Jr) they are once again underwhelming in a poor NFC East division that is there for the taking. This could well end up being the last hurrah for Tom Coughlin in the Big Apple.
Arizona Cardinals 27 – 3 St Louis Rams
• Has anyone seen Todd Gurley?! After a white hot start to his career in St Louis, Gurley has disappeared in the last few weeks and hasn’t topped 100 yards on the ground since the week 8 contest with San Francisco. Jeff Fishers seat in St Louis is surely beginning to hot up. • Arizona might have an argument that they are the best team in the NFC. That may sound absurd with the Carolina Panthers currently undefeated at 12 – 0 but the Cardinals (underwhelming performance last week notwithstanding) are currently blowing aside teams en route to their NFC West leading 10-2 record. • Carson Palmer seemingly has the Comeback Player of the Year Award sewn up by now and is making a run at the League MVP title as well. Distributing the ball to an impressive mix of experienced/reliable (Fitzgerald, who became the youngest player to 1000 catches in NFL history) and young/speedy (Brown, Nelson et al) WR, Palmer has the Cardinal offense leading the league in both scoring and total yardage.
Atlanta Falcons 19 – 23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
• After a 5-0 start, Atlanta have cratered, falling to 6-6 on the year following another close defeat. Tampa Bay, by contrast, have to feel a lot better about their 6-6 record, surpassing the expectations many had for this young team. • Jameis Winston keeps making plays late in games that put his team in position to win. Tampa Bay goes as he does and, right now, that is trending very quickly in the right direction with Winston authoring a TD drive to win the game inside 2 mins in the 4th quarter that featured a 20 yard scramble on 3rd and 19 to keep the drive alive. • The Falcons are wasting an ‘all time’ season from Julio Jones who surpassed 100 catches and 1300 yards on the season in just 12 games. Jones is now on pace for 136 catches on the season and might be primed for a run at Marvin Harrisons NFL record 143.
Jacksonville Jaguars 39 – 42 Tennessee Titans
• Marcus Mariota’s 87 yard TD run was the 3rd longest by a QB since 1960 and helped Tennessee to a win over the Jaguars in a shootout in Nashville. Mariota added 3 TDs through the air to fend off a career best performance by Blake Bortles who threw 5 TDs himself. • Optimism in Jacksonville has likely faded slightly in the last few weeks following losses to poor San Diego and Tennessee teams but the team has to be encouraged by the performance of their young skill players on Offense. In his last 3 games Bortles has completed 65% of his passes for 893 yards with 8 TDs and just 2 Interceptions – good for a rating of 104.7 and the receiving tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have been borderline un-coverable with Robinson adding another 3TDs this week. • Defensively, Mondays meetings for both teams will likely be tense affairs given how easily both teams marched down the field in a frenetic 4th quarter. Both teams need to find ways to manufacture pressure on opposing QBs as Mariota and Bortles were largely untroubled in this game.
Kansas City Chiefs 34 – 20 Oakland Raiders
• A lot of teams can claim to be the ‘hottest team in football’ right now but it would be hard to argue against the Chiefs as holders of that title. After losing to Minnesota in Week 6 to fall to 1-5 Kansas City has reeled of 6 straight wins to put themselves back in contention for a wild card spot at 7-5. On Sunday, they continued their resurgence with a 4th Quarter dismantling of Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders. • The Chiefs defense, playing without All Pro Justin Houston, were led by the irascible Derek Johnson who tallied an astounding 13 tackles on the day, including a sack and a forced fumble. In all the defense had a dominant day, with 4 sacks 2 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions against the Raiders, whose OL had been one of the better units in the league. • Until the 4th Quarter it was all going well for the Raiders, who must now acknowledge that any hope of postseason football for the first time since 2002. Leading 20-14 the offense imploded, with 3 interceptions thrown by David Carr leading the Chiefs to 20 unanswered in the Quarter.
Denver Broncos 17 – 3 San Diego Chargers
• Another ho-hum win for the Broncos and another limp performance from a Chargers team that gave the impression they are just playing out the stretch. With a league leading 5th Defensive touchdown keying the victory Denver moved to 10-2 on the season and into the No2 seed in the AFC • After a fantastic start Philip Rivers play this season has cooled off significantly, with San Diego failing to record an offensive TD for the second time in 3 weeks. With just 1 win in their last 8 games San Diego are looking to make a run at the 1st pick in the 2016 NFL draft and look to be leaving San Diego (for Los Angeles?) with poor memories of the franchise. • We talk often of players getting ‘Wally Pipped’ but the NFL equivalent is possibly being ‘Brady’ed’ and wouldn’t it be an ignominious end to the career of Peyton Manning if he was to be ‘Brady’ed’ by Brock Osweiler. Osweiler turned in another efficient performance and, while not setting the world alight, is avoiding the multitude of turnovers that plagued Manning this season. Gary Kubiak will have a big decision to make when Manning returns to health and it remains to be seen if he follows the Belichick example and sticks with Osweiler.
Philadelphia Eagles 35 – 28 New England Patriots
• This was a meltdown of proportions rarely, if ever, seen from a Bill Belichick team. Following a special teams miscue sparking the Bronco comeback last week, Special teams gaffes again led to a comeback by a Patriot opponent with the Eagles scoring 2 TDs on Punt plays to beat a suddenly vulnerable New England team who fell to the No3 seed in the AFC. • Talk was that the Eagles had quit on Chip Kelly who was headed out the door at the end of the season but it sure didn’t look like it in Foxborough. At 5-7 the Eagles are very much alive in the woeful NFC East and with games remaining against Washington and the New York Giants a playoff game at Lincoln Financial is not beyond the realms of possibility. • While the loss of Rob Gronkowski from this game doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet (Brady threw for 312 and 3TDs), watching the game it was evident that the Patriot offense keenly feels his absence. Brady had a rare 2 pick outing as he consistently tried to force balls into tighter coverages than normal made possible by the absence of Gronk. New England fans are very much hoping he can return to the line-up very soon.
Carolina Panthers 41 – 38 New Orleans Saints
• Carolina again survived a close game and, while no NFL game is easy, appear to have a free run at a perfect regular season as they do not face an opponent with a winning record the rest of the way. They were made to work for it though against a Jekyll and Hyde Saints team whose performances have greater disparity from week to week than probably any other team in the NFL. • After laying an egg against Houston in a 24-6 loss, New Orleans came out firing on all cylinders with Drew Brees carving up the vaunted Panther defense en route to a 14-0 lead. Credit should be given to Sean Payton for having his team ready to play. Credit also to Ron Riveria who must have delivered a ‘fiery’ halftime speech to his team as, a lacklustre first half performance was followed by an energetic and effective second half that saw them come storming back. • Cam Newton should now have a big lead in the voting for League MVP as he delivered another standout performance on a day when the team needed it most. Newton threw for 331 yards and 5 TDs and could easily have had more if it wasn’t for the continuing travails of Tedd Ginn Jr who consistently drops perfect passes when wide open.
Indianapolis Colts 10 – 45 Pittsburgh Steelers
• Guess the Hasselbeck bandwagon just lost a wheel – hounded all day by a relentless Steelers pass rush led by the ageless James Harrison (3 sacks), Hasselbeck was forced to the side-line late on and lost for the first time this season. The Colts were outplayed across the board by a Steelers team that boasts one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. • No team in the NFL (save perhaps Arizona) has the same big play potential as the Steelers offense. Boasting a top 5 NFL wideout, Antonio Brown, and 2 big, field stretching, targets in Martavius Bryant and Marcus Weaton, the Pittsburgh offense moves the ball in big chunks. Adding in the power and experience of a resurgent DeAngelo Williams as a backfield option means that Offensive Co-Ordinator Todd Haley is spoiled for choice as a playcaller. • Chuck Pagano has to be glad the Colts play in the AFC South as, if they played in another division, he would likely be out of a job. As it is, Indianapolis still hold the 4th seed for the AFC playoffs as leaders of the division. Things are setting up for a week 15 showdown with the Houston Texans that will likely decide the division.