What I Saw, Wk 15 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 15, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

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Away from the game(s)

I SAW Statement Sunday in the NFL.  With so many attention-fetching matchups – and finally more than three 4:00 EST games to give more viewing balance – there was a sense that big things could happen in Week 15, that time was coming for some key teams to give us a better sense of their identities.  To wit: Sunday marked the latest day of the calendar in NFL history that six games were played between teams with winning records (NFL Media), and 13 of the 14 teams scheduled to play at 1:00 EST still had a chance to make the playoffs.

True to form, Sunday morning felt like going up the first hill of a roller coaster, slowly click-clacking upward in anticipation of the rush that’s about to come with a near-full slate of meaningful games.

Statements indeed.  It wasn’t long before Week 15 started to look like a scene from Deadwood, with more people getting taken out to woodsheds than Al Swearengen could curse at.

Al Swearengen

(HBO.com)

“It’s for you.  It’s a thirty burger, cocksucker.”

Some questions were answered, others not so.  But there wasn’t a whole lot of suspense once the games got rolling.  Ten teams scored at least 30 points en route to a victory and only one of them – San Francisco over New England – was even close. Only four of the sixteen games were decided by eight points or less.

The blowouts, oh the blowouts.  The two coups de grace were the Falcons shutting out the defending champ Giants by 34 points, and Seattle putting up a ridiculous second straight fitty burger, this time up in Toronto against the Bills.

Some rookie quarterbacks continued to shine, some who’ve been around a while continued to suck.  In all, there weren’t a lot of surprises this past week, but somehow the whole atmosphere still made for an exciting experience.  It didn’t hurt that the best matchup turned out to be the most entertaining game – and in prime time, no less – when the Niners may have made the most significant statement in terms of playing late into January.

I SAW, speaking of January, the playoff picture clarified somewhat:

In the AFC, three divisions have now been clinched:

  1. Houston -z (12-2)
  2. Denver –z (11-3)
  3. New England –z (10-4)
  4. Baltimore –y (9-5)
  5. Indianapolis (9-5)
  6. Cincinnati (8-6)

z-clinched division   y-clinched playoff berth

Still Alive:

Pittsburgh (8-6)

Miami (6-8)

You read that right – the Dolphins are still alive.  They need to run the table and have the Steelers and Bengals both go 0-2.  As far as the two latter teams, so much of their postseason fortunes depend on the result of their head-to-head tilt this coming week in Steeltown.  The Ravens still control their own destiny, but have now lost any mathematical chance for a first round bye.  As far as the Big Three (Texans, Patriots, Broncos) are concerned it’s tough to predict how the seeds will end up, but all Houston has to do to clinch the top seed is win one of their remaining games – against Minnesota, then a big Week 17 matchup with Indy.

There’s a lot  more surprises in the NFC:

  1. Atlanta -z (12-2)
  2. San Francisco –y (10-3-1)
  3. Green Bay –z (10-4)
  4. Washington (8-6)
  5. Seattle (9-5)
  6. Minnesota (8-6)

z-clinched division   y-clinched playoff berth

Still Alive:

Chicago (8-6)

Dallas (8-6)

New York Giants (8-6)

Who would have guessed a month ago that the Super Bowl champion Giants and the Bears would sit at 8-6 and be on the outside looking in?  It’s a shocker.  But it’s only due to tiebreakers that they would be ineligible for the playoffs, were they to start today.  Chicago is arguably closer to the precipice: If they lose just one game while Minnesota wins just one, they’ll go fishing for January.

Based on remaining schedules, it’s likely that the NFC East will send just one team to the postseason, so the three-team deadlock for that division title (between Washington, Dallas and the Giants) should be an interesting trip down to the wire (again) with a tantalizing rematch between the ’Skins and ’Boys going down on the last day of the regular season.

The Seahawks are the clear favourite for a playoff spot.  They even have a chance to swipe the NFC West from the Niners, and given the way Seattle has been playing as of late anything’s possible.

I SAW, hovering alongside the playoff anticipation, the possibility that three rookie QBs – Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson – could be starting playoff games.

Only two more weeks to go until the playoffs are set!

TNF- Cincinnati (8-6) wins @ Philadelphia (4-10), 34-13

I SAW the Eagles guarantee themselves their first season with double-digit losses since 2005, and they did it in similar fashion to the way they’ve been losing games all year: By stinking up the turnover category worse than the insides of a Tauntaun.

It started early and it didn’t let up.  WR Jeremy Maclin fumbled the ball just two plays into the game to set up a Bengals TD.  At the end of their next possession, eagles punter Mat McBriar confused one of his blockers’ asses for the punt returner and kicked the ball into it.  Cincy fell on the ball and gladly scored a field goal with it.

Inexplicably, Philadelphia made it until the third quarter without committing another turnover.  They even caused two turnovers of their own in the second quarter… snapping a drought of 22 quarters without a turnover.  (STATS LLC).  Wow.

Then, things got hilariously bad.  During the third quarter Philly ran 10 offensive plays from scrimmage.  On three of those plays the Eagles lost yardage, and on three of the final four plays of the quarter they turned the ball over.  It was a meltdown of epic proportion.

All of this is mere evidence of the obvious: Philly has spent more time on the losing end of the turnover battle than almost every team this year, with an NFL-high 34 giveaways and just 12 takeaways – the same as the hapless Chiefs.

That is how head coaches get fired (cough, cough, Romeo Crennel).

I SAW that it’s time to bench Eagles RB Bryce Brown until he learns how to protect the rock.  His latest gaffe was the exclamation point at the end of that third quarter Philly barf fest (see above), and it was returned for a touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach.  I don’t care how many looks the coaching staff wants to give him as evaluation for next year.  The evaluation is in: Brown makes a young fumble-prone Tiki Barber look flawless.  Yes, he is a talented rookie.  But his four fumbles lost this season already ties for the most among all RBs in the league this season – and he didn’t start getting more than five carries per game until four weeks ago when starter LeSean McCoy was lost with a concussion.  McCoy is expected to return to practice this week, so there should be little excuse not to teach the rook a lesson: Run with the ball against your body or you won’t run at all.

I SAW the Bengals play themselves into a position to clinch their second straight playoff berth with a win over the Steelers next week.

A win’s a win, but the Cincy offense that had been schooling opponents for the batter part of a month hasn’t looked nearly as sharp over its last three games.  QB Andy Dalton hasn’t looked good over that span.  On Thursday he was actually taking extra steps on his dropbacks – eight steps on seven-step dropbacks, four steps on three-step dropbacks.  Not only did that mean he took too long to throw the football, and thusly help the Eagles’ defense rack up a season-high six sacks, but it’s also a concerning sign of sloppiness in an area where very basic technique is concerned.  How offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has even allowed this flaw to manifest itself during actual games is anybody’s guess.  It’s tough to envision the Bengals being anything more than a one-and-done playoff team if Dalton can’t get back on track.

Luckily for Cincinnati, the Eagles basically gave this game away with a knee-slapping third quarter (see above), and they have a reliable running back to lean on.  On Thursday night the Bengals improved to 6-0 when  BenJarvus Green-Ellis get 19 carries or more, and the tailback is gathering momentum, with four of those wins coming in Cincy’s last five games.

I SAW Eagles DE Brandon Graham play an outstanding game.  What a game he had: 6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hits and 1 tackle for a loss.  The former Michigan standout’s impact on Thursday’s game was even better than those numbers indicate, as he dominated any Bengals blocker assigned to block him.  Graham has been thriving outside of the wide 9 scheme that was scrapped upon the firing of then-defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and he seems to be buoyed by the confidence the team showed in him when they cut Jason Babin several weeks ago.

Denver (9-5) wins @ Baltimore (11-3), 34-17

I SAW Ravens QB Joe Flacco profess, “We’re a 9-5 football team and we feel like we’re 0-14 right now.”

Jinkies!

The struggling QB’s Chicken Little demeanor is somewhat understandable.  Baltimore has lost three straight games, they’ve lost two in a row at home for the first time since December 2007 (Associated Press), and even though they’d lost the first two of those three games by just three points apiece all three losses were worse than the scores indicate – even Sunday’s embarrassing blowout.  (The Ravens trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter and played much of the final 15 minutes in front of a near-empty stadium.)

Still, with a Steelers loss to Dallas, Baltimore backed its way into at least a wild-card berth and clings to a one-game lead over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the AFC North.  Emphasis on the “backed its way in” part….

I SAW the Ravens play their first game under newly promoted offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.  How did Caldwell do in terms of play calling?  Well, on one hand it’s kind of hard to tell for sure.  On the other hand, it’s only hard to tell because of how bad the Baltimore offense sucked.  In other words, the squad had seven three-and-outs Sunday – the most by any team in the NFL this season – so there wasn’t much of a sampling pool because Caldwell was unable to finesse any success out of his offense.  In all, Baltimore was 1-for-12 on third down.  Less diplomatically: It’s hard to tell how much Caldwell sucked because of how much he sucked.

Want to get off to a bad start?  Try going three-and-out on three of your first five possessions, total 21 yards on 12 plays with three punts and a fumble in the first quarter.

Some things haven’t changed under Caldwell, if not gotten worse.  One common perception is that former coordinator Cam Cameron was fired last week because RB Ray Rice had been underutilized.  With Caldwell at the helm Rice had just 15 touches for 41 yards on Sunday, with season lows in yards from scrimmage (41) and per touch average (2.7 yards).  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Baltimore tried to get Rice the rock on 19 plays (12 rushes and three catches on seven targets), but none of those came on those twelve third down plays.

Let’s give Rice some credit, because he must be losing his mind these days over his lack of involvement in the Ravens offense.  Sunday was frustrating, and it’s par for the course – it was already the fourth game this season that Rice failed to touch the ball on third down.

More importantly, Baltimore has proven itself as the playoff contender the least unsure of its identity this side of Chicago.

I SAW the Broncos extend their league-high winning streak to nine games.  They came into the game having never won in Baltimore in five tries – and surely expecting a gamer opponent than the sad-sack Ravens team they found waiting for them.

Once again QB Peyton Manning had a so-so game by his own standards, but in a good way because Denver continues to strengthen around its new quarterback.  The 45 rushing attempts the Broncos took on Sunday are the most by a Peyton Manning team in a game he has started (ESPN Stats & Information).  Look at how much of a difference the running game made, making Baltimore’s defense more vulnerable to the play-action pass than usual:

Ravens Defense vs. Play-Action Passing, 2012

First 13 Games Sunday vs. Denver
Comp% 63.5 72.7
Yards/Att 9.2 12.1
TD 2* 1

*T-fewest in NFL

What’s more, the 5th-ranked overall defense is looking great while showing the tendencies that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s Jacksonville squads exhibited when he coached there: A suffocating run defense and ruthless, hard-hitting play from the cornerbacks and pass rushers.  Denver isn’t just the hottest team in the NFL – they might also be quietly becoming the most well-rounded one too.

I SAW PROPS to Broncos QB Knowshon Moreno for his second straight 100-yard rushing game after scraping the barnacles off his ass, which he’d accumulated on the bench for most of the season until injuries forced him into action.  Ironically – or in a twist of karmic retribution – nagging injuries had robbed Moreno of his potential throughout the first three years of his career, but this year he is finally 100 percent healthy, and he’s showing it.

The highlight of Moreno’s day came during a carry when he went all Sith Lord and jumped over Ball Yoda, Ravens S Ed Reed.  Not to take anything away from Moreno since it was a gorgeous, graceful move, but Reed suffers from Troy Polamalu disease, meaning that he dips his head down too often before contact.

I SAW Denver QB Peyton Manning win his 11th game as a Bronco.  That’s the second-most victories since the merger for a player 35 or older in the first year with a new team, trailing only Brett Favre and The Testicle, who was a godsend for Bill Parcells in New York.

Most Wins, 35 Years Of Age Or Higher, With New Team

Player, Team Year W-L (as starter)
Vinny Testaverde, Jets 1998 12-1
Brett Favre, Vikings 2009 12-4
Peyton Manning, Broncos 2011 11-3

(Elias Sports Bureau)

I SAW Ravens WR Torrey Smith go down with a concussion when his head slammed on the turf at the end of a catch attempt in the second half.  It’s a significant loss for Baltimore, but the second-year wideout had already been lost in the aimless shuffle within this offense with just five receptions and 68 yards in his last three games, and no touchdowns in his last five.

I SAW Ravens Joe Flacco continue to contend for this year’s Bad Negotiator award.

After talking a big game leading into this, the final year of his rookie contract, Flacco is completing less than 60 percent of his passes and has not played well since beating perennial doormat Oakland five weeks ago.  The lowest point of his season came in the first quarter Sunday, when he telegraphed a short pass to WR Anquan Boldin that Broncos CB Chris Harris returned for a Denver-record 94-yard INT return for a score.

It can be damning for a young star to play a seemingly influential role in the ousting of a coach (offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired last week amidst rumors that he and his quarterback didn’t mesh), only to struggle as much if not more once the change is made.  It will be interesting to see how Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome handles the quarterback situation in the offseason – particularly if Flacco continue to struggle under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Atlanta (12-2) wins vs. New York Giants (8-6), 34-0

I SAW the Falcons make one of the biggest statements on Statement Day, Dirty Bird-ing all over the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.  Atlanta dominated the Giants in all three phases one week after a loss to Carolina that fed skeptics’ argument that the Falcons were overrated.

Or, maybe they still are due to disappoint in the playoffs and Sunday was just part of the pattern.  After all, Atlanta has played 49 straight games without a two-game losing streak – the longest active streak in the NFL.  (STATS LLC)  This team knows how to bounce back from a loss.  It has yet to prove that it can win a playoff game.

I SAW Giants head coach Tom Coughlin during his postgame press conference: “Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad.  There’s no excuse for what happened here.”

Nope.  New York came into Sunday in control of its own playoff destiny, with many expecting them to commence a late-season surge reminiscent of last year and 2007 when they snuck into the postseason en route to winning the Super Bowl.

Instead, they suffered their fourth loss in the past six games – in overwhelming fashion.  No defending Super Bowl champ had been shut out by more than 27 points in NFL history until Sunday.  The defeat was Big Blue’s first regular season shutout loss since laying a 24-0 egg against Philly in 1996, and their worst shutout defeat since a 35-0 nosedive against Dallas in ’95  (New York lost a playoff game 23-0 to Carolina in 2005) (STATS LLC).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Teams that make a habit of turning their seasons around late eventually end up paying for it.  The Giants can still win the NFC East over the Redskins and Cowboys, but they’re the team with the least momentum in their division.

However, that’s pretty much what most of us were saying about the Giants after they got drubbed 49-24 last year against the Saints….

I SAW that New York has endured many of the same pitfalls they encountered on their way to winning it all last season – an injury-ravaged defensive line, an inconsistent and unproductive running game, iffy play from the offensive line – but of the things that have changed this year is QB Eli Manning’s connection with WR Victor Cruz on big plays, and it’s taken the overall explosiveness out of the offense.

I checked out the numbers: This season, Manning is tied for ninth-best in the NFL with just eight completions of 40 yards or longer.  Last year, he led the league with 18 such completions.  Not surprisingly, Cruz’s production has dropped from second-best in the league in 2011 with nine receptions of 40-plus yards, to just three this year (T-18th).

Cruz’s stats – 79 catches, 1,019 yards, and 9 touchdowns – are far from disappointing.  But on their way to the championship last year, the Giants benefitted from opposing defenses having to respect New York’s big-play capability, and Manning reminds me of Kurt Warner in that he is more comfortable throwing deeper touch routes.  This aspect of the G-Men’s offense likely needs to wake up if they are to have a chance to defend their title in January.

I SAW Falcons QB Matt Ryan have a much-needed bounce-back game.  While posting a career-high 142 passer rating, Ryan broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a single season and looked more like his early-season-MVP-candidate self.

There’s more to the Mattural’s improvement this year than the emergence of WR Julio Jones.  Under more pressure due to a floundering run game Ryan has gotten better at trusting his system and his receivers, and thus spreading the wealth.  (Case in point: third WR Harry Douglas has had 27 targets over the last six games.)  New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has been a big help in this category.

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning come out of the tunnel and throw a ball to Assante Samuel on the second play of the game.  If Samuel played for New York, and Manning were an elite quarterback it would have been just another completion by an elite quarterback.  Instead it was yet another brain fart by a quarterback who makes a quizzical amount of bad decisions for a guy who knows how much his team’s fortunes tend to rise and fall with his performance.

Eli is a very good quarterback.  On Sunday, he set the franchise record for career completions, passing Phil Simms at 2,576.  (STATS LLC)   But when was the last time an elite quarterback went 13-for-25 for 161 yards and a 38.9 passer rating?  (The rating was Manning’s lowest since a 2007 game against the Bills.)  Before they became elite.  Keep trying, Eli.

I SAW The Gambler bait another player into embarrassment Sunday.  Falcons CB Assante Samuel gets beat a lot, but he’s no loser.  His 22 pics since 2009 lead the league.

Dallas (7-7) wins vs. Pittsburgh (8-6), 27-24 OT

I SAW something that hasn’t been seen that often in recent years in Dallas: Money well spent.  The Emperor (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones tends to overspend dough like Montgomery Brewster during a certain deal.

Brewesters millions

(Universal Pictures)

Sometimes the Emperor showers his underlings with money and they proceed to dominate the galaxy, like in the 1990s.  Since then, the piles of money tend to go to stormtroopers sent to do an admiral’s job.  Even the shiny, three-year old Death Star Jones built for this Cowboys hasn’t seen nearly as much success as he would like.

But on Sunday, one expensive asset paid off like it has all year.  Jones unloaded 50.1 in galactic credits over 5 years – 26.5 of that guaranteed – for free agent top tier cornerback Brandon Carr.  It was widely known that for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to run his freewheeling scheme he needed corners whom he could leave out on an island.  Dallas drafted Morris Claiborne in the first round of this year’s draft to pair up with Carr, but the rookie has been somewhat inconsistent.  Carr, however, has been a rock.  He’s been steady all season, and in overtime on Sunday he broke on a pass by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for the biggest turnover of the Cowboys’ season.

The play set up the winning field goal, and allowed Dallas to keep pace with Washington and New York for the NFC East title, as well as a playoff berth.

If the ’Boys don’t make it to the playoffs, they will have fallen short of that goal for the third year in a row and fourth time in the last five seasons.  However, with their hot play of late – they’ve won three in a row amidst adversity – doesn’t it seem more and more that The Emperor will keep the team and coaches intact, even though they’ve overstayed their welcome?

I SAW that Dallas needed Sunday’s win more than Pittsburgh did, and at this time of year such a factor often forecasts the victor.  But with the exception of the Charlie Batch hero game against Baltimore three weeks ago, the Steelers looked gassed and are giving away too many games.  If they can’t wake up from this spell they’re in – especially in terms of bad tackling in defense – they’ll sleep right through into the New Year.

I SAW the Steelers miss CB Ike Taylor.  One of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league, Taylor has missed the last two games with a fractured right ankle.  On Sunday, Dallas QB Tony Romo killed Pittsburgh with throws outside the numbers – an area that the quarterback usually can’t make use of without screwing up.  According to ESPN STATS & Information Romo was 21-for-29 (72.4 percent) with 234 yards and a touchdown when throwing to the outside.  Combine this with last week’s results during a loss to the struggling Philip Rivers and the Chargers, and it hasn’t gone well.

Steelers Defense Outside The Numbers, 2012

First 11 Games Last 2 Games (w/o Taylor)
Comp % 52.5 70.0
Yards/Att 5.8 7.4
Att/TD 26.1 12.5

The Steelers need Taylor back to shore up their pass defense because this defense lacks the speed and discipline to chase players down on completions at the edges.  One player in particular showed this on Sunday.

I SAW Steelers S Troy Polamalu shamefully throw his body to the sideline near Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray in a poor excuse for a tackle attempt during a long first quarter gain.  Then, later in the game, Polamalu whiffed horribly when diving over and past WR Dwayne Harris, allowing a gain that set up the tying TD.

That’s what happens when you have flawed technique and try to throw your head into people as a habit.  Now that Polamalu’s body has started to fail him he no longer covers up the deficiencies in his game with the occasional clutch “instinctive” play (read gamble).

I SAW Cowboys WR Dez Bryant continue to impress.  His line wasn’t eye-popping – 4 receptions for 59 yards and a TD – but he now has eight touchdowns in the last six games.  More impressively, a once uncommitted and lackadaisical talent is playing with more discipline – and gutting it out by playing with a broken left index finger that will require surgery.  Bryant’s grit was most obvious on a short reception in the second quarter when Tony Romo’s throw was thrown on target but Bryant resorted to trapping it against his shoulder pads with his healthy hand.  Some might say it’s a stretch – and I’ve never been a fan of the mercurial wideout – but Bryant has been the catalyst for Big D winning eight of their last ten games.

I SAW that Cowboys WR Dez Bryant deserves a lot of the credit for Dallas’ recent run, but so does QB Tony Romo.  The quarterback has thus far reversed his trend of shitting the bed in December:

Tony Romo In December, As Starter

2006-11 2012
W-L 8-13 3-0
Comp% 62.4 68.8
Pass Yards/Game 243.0 304.0
TD-INT 29-20 6-1
Passer Rating 86.0 107.4

(NFL Network)

One weird note: Sunday’s TD connection between Romo and TE Jason Witten was their first of the season.  What’s up with that?

I SAW reason to wonder: Has there ever been a better, calmer quarterback in a collapsing pocket than Steeler Ben Roethlisberger?  His David Copperfield act to create an opportunity for a TD completion to TE Heath Miller to tie the game at 10 before halftime was sublime.

Part of his secret is that Roethlisberger is one of the best pump fakers in the NFL.  His hands are so big and so strong, his strength and body control so solid that he can not only make the most convincing fake throws, but he can also pull a ball down mid-throw once he sees if defenders are jumping the route of an intended receiver.  That last ability is quite rare.  CBS analyst – and former Super Bowl MVP quarterback – Phil Simms rightfully pointed out during the game how rare it is to see a QB who is able to do that.

That being said, Big Ben essentially gave the game away in overtime.  His lazy throw and a similarly sloppy out route by WR Mike Wallace helped make CB Brandon Carr’s game-clinching interception possible.  The overtime turnover was reminiscent of the Peyton Manning interception three years ago on a throw intended for WR Reggie Wayne that Tracey Porter returned for the game-winning touchdown for New Orleans against Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.

I SAW Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger criticize his team’s play-calling on offense and lack of no-huddle on Sunday….  The incident was significant enough that the oft-downplaying head coach Mike Tomlin felt compelled to address the matter in a subsequent press conference.

Big Ben didn’t name names, but that’s because he doesn’t have to.  Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, isn’t exactly known as a Snuggy Bear, and it’s no secret that Roethlisberger and his coach don’t get along well.  In fact, the abrasive Haley hasn’t gotten along well with any of his quarterbacks; at the least, he gives outsiders the impression that this is what he does to listen to someone:

Todd Haley head push

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Minnesota (8-6) wins vs. St. Louis (6-7-1), 36-22

I SAW the Vikings stay alive in the playoff hunt on the legs of their bionic man, RB Adrian Peterson.  Forgive me if I take the road more travelled and heap praise – statistical and otherwise – on Peterson for a while.

AP’s getting as much coverage as the other AP (Associated Press).  He entered the day with more rushing yards than 23 teams, and his 212 yards on 24 carries (an 8.8 average) against the Rams accounted for more than two thirds of Minnesota’s 322 yards.  His career-best season total of 1,812 yards leaves him just 293 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105.  (Peterson is actually ten yards ahead of Dickerson’s total at the same point during his historic1984 season.)

Peterson has gained ground on the record thanks to the most yards over an eight-game span in NFL history:

Most Rush Yards In An 8-Game Span, NFL History

PLAYER YEAR YARDS
Adrian Peterson 2012 1,313
Eric Dickerson 1984-85 1,292
Earl Campbell 1980 1,245
Larry Johnson 2005 1,244

(NFL Network)

That’s an average of 164.1 yards per game over that span.  For those of you scoring at home, put a check in the “holy shit” column.

Put another check in that column: Peterson has six games this season with 150+ rushing yards, which is one less than the great Earl Campbell’s single season record – and AP still has two games left to try and tie the Texas Rose.

Most Games With 150+ Rush Yards In A Single Season, NFL History

Player Year Games With 150+ Yards
Earl Campbell 1980 7
Adrian Peterson 2012 6
O.J. Simpson 1973 6
Jim Brown 1963 6

(Elias Sports Bureau)

That’s some pretty sick company right there.  Peterson also stands with Simpson and Tiki Barber as the only three backs with four 200-yard rushing games during the Super Bowl era – and the Viking superstar has done it in just under six seasons.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Peterson’s stellar season after returning from reconstructive knee surgery is that analysts are considering the 147 yards per game that he needs to average for the last two games to reach 2,106 as a virtual lock.  (Keep in mind that the Packers have already clinched the NFC North and may rest some of their defenders against the Vikes in Week 17.)

Imagine that: “Oh, yeah.  147 yards per game?  No problem.”

Peterson’s not guaranteed to break Dickerson’s record – by any means.  But the respect he’s building along the way makes it seem that way, and that’s pretty amazing given what he went through last December when he tore up his knee.

I SAW the Rams see their playoff hopes dashed after snapping a three-game win streak.  That shouldn’t obscure the fact that head coach Jeff Fisher’s team is at least one or two years ahead of a typical rebuilding schedule after gutting their roster in the offseason.

I SAW Vikings K Blair Walsh tie an NFL single-game record with three made field goals of 50+ yards against the Rams – a feat that has been achieved only seven times before in league history, most recently by the Browns’ Phil Dawson.  (ESPN Sports & Information)

Shoutout to Dawson, who is perhaps the most underrated kicker ever.  I know; I called a kicker underrated.

I SAW a good question: Is it really necessary for Sam Bradford to throw 55 passes in a game like this?

I SAW Rams RB Steven Jackson become the 15th player to rush to 10,000 yards with one team.  He is just 91 yards shy of an eighth-straight 1,000-yard season.  It’s too bad Jackson has had to “thrive” on a team in disarray for most of his career.

Washington (8-6) wins vs. Cleveland (5-9), 38-21

I SAW the Redskins win their fifth straight game following their Week 10 bye.  How timely was Washington’s week off this season?  After its Week 9 loss to Carolina the team was 3-6 and vaguely talking about next season.  But during their break QB Robert Griffin III’s teammates elected the rookie as a captain and must have spent the time wisely, refining their offensive execution, patching up holes on defense left by several key injuries and bonding as a team.

The result: RG3 came out and played arguably the best three and a half-game stretch ever by a first year quarterback.  (He had a passer rating just below 135 over his last four starts, which is a record for a rookie over a 4-game span.)  The ’Skins gained so much confidence during their longest winning streak since 2007 that they moved into a three-way tie with the Giants and Cowboys in the NFC East by beating the Browns Sunday – and they did it without their star QB, who sat out with a sprained knee….

I SAW Washington’s other rookie quarterback, Kirk Cousins, get the nod against Cleveland Sunday.  All Cousins did in relief of Robert Griffin III was pass for 329 yards – more than RG3 has had in a game this season – while calmly leading his team to a crucial win in their hunt for a playoff spot.

The game didn’t start off that well for Cousins, though.  Much like his team this season, the Michigan State grad started off iffy, throwing incomplete on his first three attempts.  The third miss was intercepted by S T.J. Ward and returned to the Redskins’ 6-yard line to set up a Browns touchdown.

Like RG3 before him, Cousins showed poise beyond his years by hanging in there and trusting the offensive game plan.  As discussed two weeks ago in What I Saw (see: What I Saw, Wk 13), that game plan involves the use of the zone-read option fake to create momentum in the running game by placing defenders in numeric mismatches, which in turn puts those opponents on their heels and opens up the passing game.  Through Sunday, Washington has passed for an NFL-leading 1,980 yards this season following play-action fakes and Cousins continued that trend, throwing for 229 yards (69.6% of his total) thanks to play-action (ESPN Stats & Information):

Kirk Cousins Passing, Sunday

Play-Action Passes Non-Play-Action Passes
Comp-Att 15-19 11-18
Yards/Att 12.1 5.6
TD-INT 2-0 0-1

Bear in mind another similarity to RG3 at this point: The high percentage of play-action passing is merely a function of the Redskins’ offensive scheme – it is NOT, like in some other cases, an indication of any sort of passing deficiency on Cousins’ part.  Witness his gorgeous, accurate deep throw to WR Leonard Hankerson while rolling out on a play-action bootleg for a 54-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.  That play essentially got Washington’s offense on track Sunday, and demonstrated Cousins’ ability to make NFL throws.

I SAW the Redskins assure themselves their first non-losing season since gong 8-8 in 2008.  Make no mistake – this is a dangerous team.  The ’Skins only have to beat two teams they’ve already won against this season (Philly, Dallas) to win the NFC East for the first time since 1999.  They were already surging behind Robert Griffin III, but now that they’ve handily won a game without him, Washington can forego the assumption that it’s RG3 alone who makes this team successful.

Two other key players showed their worth on Sunday….

I SAW Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson continue to grow into his role as a big contributor in a season of new faces in D.C.  Maybe it’s because he hailed from “The U” (Miami) during some dark years for the college, but given how solid his fundamentals are – and his 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine last year – how did Hankerson fall to 79th pick in the 2011 draft?

I SAW Washington RB Alfred Morris continue his excellent season with 2 more rushing TDs against Cleveland.  For the year, the rookie has 280 carries for 1,322 (4.7 average) and 9 touchdowns.  Morris joins the ranks of whomever among Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson doesn’t win Rookie Of The Year as the losing candidate that would likely have won the award any other year.  Despite this, Morris has been just as much of a catalyst for the Redskins offense as RG3 has.  After all, the zone-read option doesn’t benefit a team like it has Washington without both options posing a legitimate threat, and Morris had made that possible.

He’s not the only rookie tailback from Pensacola turning heads this year….

I SAW Browns RB Trent Richardson and Redskins RB Alfred Morris relive their childhood.  According to The Chronicle-Telegram, the two rookies were rivals in little league in their hometown of Pensacola, FLA.  On Sunday Morris got the best of his more-publicized counterpart (87 yards rushing versus 28 and the victory), but they found the end zone twice apiece.

I SAW, speaking of Richardson, the rookie showed his immense strength on a 6-yard TD run during which he dragged half the Redskins defense across the goal line.  You’ve gotta love it when a kid who’s basically already proven himself this season on a team with no real playoff hopes keeps running like it’s the last play of his career.

I SAW the Browns snap their winning streak at three games on Sunday, and their very faint playoff chances were dashed.  If, as has been rumored, head coach Pat Shurmur’s future in Cleveland rested on winning out the rest of the season, well….

I SAW the Redskins faithful experience a relieving end to an era of shit quarterbacks.

Look at this list of ineptitude since 1993 (bearing in mind that Rypien pretty much regressed into an average-at-best QB after winning the Super Bowl for the 1991 season:

Washington Quarterbacks, Since 1993

Mark Rypien

Rich Gannon

Cary Conklin

Paul Blake

paul-blake-necessary-roughness

(Paramount Pictures)

Heath Shuler

John Friesz

Gus Frerotte

Jeff Hostetler

Trent Green

Brad Johnson

Jeff George

Tony Banks

Shane Matthews

Patrick Ramsey

Danny Wuerffel

Tim Hasselbeck

Paul Crewe

Paul Crewe-Longest Yard

(Paramount Pictures)

Mark Brunell

Jason Campbell

Todd Collins

Donovan McNabb

Rex Grossman

John Beck

Robert Griffin III

Kirk Cousins

(NFL Network)

Gee, how come the ’Skins haven’t enjoyed much success over the last two decades in a QB-driven league? (Sure, there are some good names on this list – Gannon, McNabb, Brunell, Green, for instance – but each of them wore a Redskins uniform either well before or well after their good seasons.)

Obviously I kid about the two guys named Paul, but who knows?  Perhaps they could have improved the offense with their clutch play.  Washington fans have endured 21 quarterback letdowns over the last 20 years….

I don’t want to be premature, but after all those disappointments the ’Skins seem to have two good QBs on their roster at the same time.

At some point the question will become: Can this team afford to keep Cousins on their roster once his four-year contract expires and another team offers up a Matt Flynn-like ransom to try and lure him away?

Green Bay (10-4) wins @ Chicago (8-6), 21-13

I SAW the Bears lose for the fifth time in their last six games.  They were booed several times at home on Sunday while they managed just 67 yards of offense in the second half and 190 for the game.  At this point Chicago’s tail spin is getting so intense it feels like the only hope this team has to recover is if that tailspin goes so fast that they fly with it, like in Super Mario Bros. 3.

RaccoonMario

(Nintendo Entertainment)

Hey – remember Bears head coach Lovie Smith’s press conference upon being hired to the position in 2004?  When he stated his first goal was to “beat the Packers”?  Well, Chicago has now lost to Green Bay six straight times, and eight out of the last nine meetings.

Surely there’s a lot more going on to have Smith on the hot seat in the windy city – such as having missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and at risk of being the second team during the expanded playoff system (which began in 1990) to miss the postseason after starting the season 7-1.  But in an ironic way he’s certainly shot himself in the foot with that bold pronouncement eight years ago.

I SAW Bears QB Cutler lay another egg against the Packers Sunday.  The Nutler was cracked: 12-for-21, 135 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT and a 72.5 rating against what was only the 17th-ranked passing defense in the NFL.  His interception came at an awful time, as it set up a crucial Packers TD before halftime.  (But it wasn’t his fault – see below.)  Green Bay has been hugely inept against the pass for the last two years, but that hasn’t stopped Cutler from throwing 10 interceptions against them in their last five meetings.

I SAW the Packers clinch their second straight NFC North title.  This team is still in contention to earn the second seed in the conference, and thus a first round bye.  However, given how out of sync Green Bay looked with the extra time off last year after steamrolling the rest of the NFL during the regular season, maybe that’s not such a good thing.  Yes, the Pack also sat many players for the ending of the regular season last year and likely won’t have that luxury this time around, but maybe for some teams – especially a momentum-heavy team like Green Bay – playing straight through until a potential Super Bowl game is the preferred method.

Speaking of momentum, after starting the season 2-3 the Packers have gone 8-1, looking more like the team that peaked at the perfect time en route to the Super Bowl win two seasons ago instead of the aforementioned squad that flew high and then sputtered in the 2011 postseason.

I SAW Packers QB Aaron Rodgers have another big game.  His stats were nice – 23-for-36, 291 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 116.8 rating – but his throw on the run to WR Randall Cobb during a touchdown drive late in the first half was even nicer.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is no better QB in the NFL at throwing on the run.  It’s all about his impeccable footwork and body control.

I SAW Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers make like ESPN and go 30 before 30.

On Sunday Rodgers surpassed 30 TD passes in a season for the third time before turning 30 years old.  That ties Dan Marino for second in that category; both men trail only Brett Favre, who did it five times.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  (Rodgers turns 30 on Dec 2 next year, so he can pass Marino but he can’t catch his old teammate.)

I SAW Bears WR Brandon Marshall give an emotional press conference after Sunday’s loss, one that he had to cut short for fear of breaking down.

Say what you will about Marshall: He’s a beast; his moods are too unpredictable; he’s a good teammate; he’s a disruption.  Just don’t say that he doesn’t put his heart and soul into his career.

Marshall wasn’t the only one who was overtly intense for Chicago….

I SAW Bears WR/KR Devin Hester run a bad pattern to cause QB Jay Cutler’s untimely interception before halftime (see above).  Hester didn’t go across the face of the safety, who was playing zone coverage.  Expecting his receiver to be in the proper spot, Cutler threw it there, and Packers S Casey Hayward was there waiting.

I’ve never seen Smokin’ Jay that angry on the bench afterwards.  Like WR Brandon Marshall, you could tell how hard the Nutler wanted to win this one.

I SAW Packers WR James Jones have his first three-touchdown game and fourth multiple-touchdown game of his brief career.  He now leads the league with 12 TD receptions.  For a guy who drew the ire of his coaches and his QB Aaron Rodgers for too many drops and running poor patterns until October of this season, Jones has been overrated by some – particularly the Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who at times shows the amnesia typical of a mainstream journalist.  However, Jones does seem to be “getting it” and coming into his own.  I think the fact that injuries to wideouts Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings have forced Jones to play a more important role in the Packers offense has enhanced his focus.  We’ll see if that persists next season, once the roster is healthy again.

I SAW PROPS to NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk.  Bears rookie WR Alshon Jeffery got flagged for offensive pass interference three times on Sunday.  Only one of those calls looked legit.  (For some perspective, Titan Kenny Britt is the only player in the league to have been called for offensive PI three times all season.)

During Gameday Final, Faulk burned the game’s officials for a bad job, saying “Steve Javie will call that every time.”

(Javie is a not-on-my-watch NBA referee notorious for bad, ticky-tack foul calls and knee-jerk technical foul calls.)

I SAW that if the Packers have anything to worry about at this point it’s the confidence – and performance – of their kicker.  Mason Crosby missed both of his field goal attempts in the huge game on Sunday, and has now missed a kick in eight straight games.

Houston (9-5) wins vs. Indianapolis (12-2), 29-17

I SAW a pride win for the Texans after getting blown out by New England last week.  Much like their NFC counterpart with the same record – Atlanta – Houston doesn’t get the respect that a team that has lead their conference usually deserves.  Fair or not, their seasons will be by and large appraised by the playoff results.  In the meantime, shaky confidences got a boost Sunday, starting with their quarterback.

I SAW that Texans QB Matt Schaub has yet to play in a playoff game in his career.  (Remember – he was injured last year when Houston experienced the franchise’s first trip to the postseason.)  Even a seemingly coolheaded guy like Schaub must have that on his mind with January fast approaching.  After a brutal loss last week to the Patriots during which Schaub missed badly on a number of throws it was important for him to play well in a big game against the division rival Colts Sunday – especially since Houston has to face Indy again in Week 17, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs could still be up for grabs.

Schaub’s performance wasn’t exceptional – 23-for-31, 261 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 109.7 rating – but sometimes all that’s needed to bounce back after a bad outing is a line like that one.  Besides, he did what was arguably most important: Re-establishing his connection with his star wideout….

I SAW Houston WR Andre Johnson have another huge game Sunday: 11 catches on 13 targets for 151 yards and 1 touchdown.

It’s safe – and nice – to say that Johnson is officially back to monster size after a few years of subpar play while fighting a myriad of lower body injuries that started with a bad hamstring.

Trivia bomb: On Sunday Johnson became the third-fastest player to reach 11,000 yards in NFL history, behind Tory Holt and the great Jerry Rice.  Man, is Holt ever underrated….

I SAW another underrated player.  Texans RB Arian Foster is one of those guys whom is revered in fantasy leagues but too often left out of the discussion when the topic of “best running back” comes up.  Talent can be a tough qualifier – who isn’t talented in the NFL? – and as such sometimes the numbers do tell the tale.  With two games remaining, Foster already has 1,313 yards rushing and leads the league with 14 touchdowns.  He now has three straight seasons with at least 1,200 yards on the ground, even though he missed time last season due to injury.  That doesn’t make Foster on par with Adrian Peterson, but it puts him in the elite conversation.

I SAW the Colts end their three-game winning streak in a game that could have clinched them a playoff berth.  Now Indy has to win one of their two games left – against Kansas City, then Houston at home.  One would expect the Colts to handle the Chiefs, but maybe their tank is running low after an emotional season….

I SAW Colts QB Andrew Luck needs just 22 yards passing to reach 4,000 and 74 to break Cam Newton’s rookie record of 4,051 – with two games to play.

I’ve been more critical of Luck this season than I have of his fellow rookie pivots, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.  In Luck’s defense, RG3 has a top-notch running game and Wilson has taken much longer to get going than Luck or Griffin.  But for the last three weeks in a row – with his team in the midst of a playoff race – Luck has failed to complete 50 percent of his passes.  That’s not good.  Could it be, surprisingly, that Luck is the least disciplined of the three QBs?

To be fair, Luck had some fierce competition in his face Sunday….

I SAW PROPS to J.J. Watt.  Holy shit; J.J. Watt.

Apparently it wasn’t enough for Houston’s sophomore defensive end to play the first fourteen weeks of the season on a reign of terror not seen since Armin Tamzarian lorded over Springfield Elementary.  No, this Armin had to toss aside his copy of Swank and tear apart the Indianapolis offense like a Swingline stapler through an offensive line of toy soldiers.

Maybe toy soldiers would have fared better against the onslaught that Watt unleashed upon Indy’s offensive line in Houston on Sunday.  Sure, the Colts were missing center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice, but Watt had 10 tackles, 6 of them for loss, 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits and a forced fumble that happened at the Houston 1-yard line.  Read that again.

What that tells me is that there isn’t anything that Watt can’t do from the defensive end position in a 3-4 defense.  (Understand that this position is very rarely asked to defend a receiver.)  For just the third time this season, Watt didn’t record a pass deflection.  This was a big bounce back game against a banged-up O-line, so instead of doing what he does best – control an area, waiting to perfectly time tipping a pass – Watt took over the game, essentially making sure his team won.

Watt now has 19.5 sacks this season, which is tied for the league lead with Aldon Smith of the Niners.  According to ESPN STATS & Information, the Texans DE has 34.5 disrupted dropbacks (sacks+passes defensed+interceptions).  That’s 15 more than the next-closest player – also Smith.

That, folks, is the Defensive Player Of The Year.

Seattle (9-5) wins @ Buffalo/Toronto (5-9), 50-17

I SAW the Seahawks give another team a paddling.  Last week, the Cardinals bent over for the ’Hawks to the tune of 58-0.  This week, the Bills got their asses slapped raw.  Seattle is playing like Fred O’Bannion’s paddle from Dazed And Confused.

paddle-dazed and confused

(Gramercy Pictures)

That’s Ben Affleck, by the way.  And maybe his paddle says “QB Badass” in honour to Russell Wilson, but we’ll get to that.

First, the anatomy of two paddlings:

Trivia mega-bomb:

The Seahawks are the third team in NFL history to score 50 points in back-to-back games, and the first since the Giants in 1950.  (STATS LLC)

From Elias Sports Bureau:

Seattle has scored 108 points in their past two games which is tied for third all-time with the Patriots who accomplished this feat earlier this season.

The ’Hawks have won by a combined 91 points in their last two games – the largest combined advantage in a two-game span since the 1941 Bears.

This team also scored 78 unanswered points from December 2 through Sunday.  That’s the longest such streak in franchise history.

In the words of Jasper from The Simpsons, that’s a paddlin’.

jasper-simpsons--paddlin

(20th Century FOX)

I SAW reason to turn now to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.  Any remaining Russell naysayers who disagreed with Seattle’s choice to take the quarterback in the third round of this year’s draft had better keep quiet for now.

This game is truly calamitous:

Another Trivia bomb:

Russell became the first player in NFL history with three rushing touchdowns and one passing TD in the first half.  (NFL Network)  In fact, at the two-minute warning of the first half the rook had gone 9-of11 for 164 passing yards, 1 passing TD, no interceptions – and 72 yards on 6 rushes with 3 rushing TDs.  Unbelievable.

He still isn’t getting the press that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are getting, but Wilson now has 21 passing TDs, tied with Cam Newton for second all-time among first-year quarterbacks.  Only Peyton Manning (26) has more.  (STATS LLC)

Between 1960 and 2011 only two rookie QBs had started in a game during which their team scored at least 50 points.  Wilson has now done it two games in a row, and is the only one to pull it off on the road.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

If this guy ends up winning his division – via a big game against the Niners next week –  and Washington falters, who wins Rookie Of The Year?

I SAW PROPS to Bills RB C.J. Spiller for reaching 1,000 yards rushing.  He needed only 154 carries to do it – the second-fastest behind Bears RB Beattie Feathers in 1934.

I SAW, according to the Associated Press that the Bills and Toronto-based Rogers Communications (the ownership behind the MLB Jays) are close to a deal to extend the annual series in Canada’s capital, which expired after this game.

Torontonians may want to reconsider this.  The NFL and the Bills want to push the notion that Toronto is a “second home for” Buffalo?  According to the Associated Press fans were spotted wearing Troy Polamalu jerseys and began chanting “Let’s go Blue Jays!” during the game.

In the fans’ defense, due to the trades that the Jays have made this offseason, Tom Brady could announce he’s gay and start selling tickets to a pay-per-view orgy, and most Torontonians wouldn’t notice or care at the moment.

New Orleans (6-8) wins vs. Tampa Bay (6-8), 41-0

I SAW an outcome that might be the biggest head scratcher of the season.  A team trying for a playoff berth – Tampa Bay, sporting one of the hottest offenses coming into Sunday – can’t even score a single point against the worst all-around defense in the league.

The Bucs showed zero sense of urgency while losing their fourth straight game and bowing out of the postseason.

What’s more, QB Josh Freeman lost a fumble and threw four interceptions.  Let’s hope that he can persevere and not regress to the Josh Freeman of last season that fell apart in the face of adversity.

I SAW the Saints defense get a shutout – something not even the almighty Tim Tebow saw coming.

Trivia double-bomb:

Ranked last in the NFL in defense, New Orleans recorded the franchise’s first shutout since 1995.  It was also their first home shutout since 1991.

It was also the third-worst shutout that Tampa Bay had ever had laid on them, and that’s saying a lot given how bad the team sucked it up for the first few decades of their existence.

One of the keys for the Saints was to make the Buccaneers offense one dimensional, and they did that by shutting down the talented rookie RB Doug Martin to the tune of 16 yards on nine carries.  Maybe that heavy workload coach Greg Schiano had been heaping on Martin finally caught up with him….

I SAW Saints QB Drew Brees throw for 300 yards and four TDs in a game for the 17th time in his career, passing Dan Marino for the most such games in NFL history.  It’s a bit premature to assume Brees has fully recovered from his 3-game, 9-interception funk.  After all, Tampa owns the league’s worst passing defense.

I SAW Bucs LB Adam Heyward get in a shoving match with coach Brian Cox, who was one of the toughest linebackers around during his own pro days.

Luckily for Heyward the skirmish was broken up.  Yeah, Cox isn’t getting any younger but one gets the feeling this fight would turn out like the similarly age-mismatched bout between Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura.

Arizona (5-9) wins vs. Detroit (4-10), 38-10

I SAW the Lions solidify their claim for the most disappointing team in the NFL this season.  (Sorry, Jets, too many of us expected you to suck hard.)  Detroit won 10 games en route to the playoffs last season.  In their 2012 season they’ve already lost 10 games.  This game was the topper – getting dominated by a team that was coming off of a 58-0 loss.

According to the Associated Press, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that he was “as mad as I’ve been for a long time.”  For the hotheaded Schwartz, that’s saying a lot.

Detroit’s quarterback, Matthew Stafford, said that he’d played “about as bad as I could play.”  In all fairness, he could have played worse, but he sure gave it a good try, going 24-of-50 while throwing three interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Riding a six-game skid, the Lions must face the Falcons on Saturday night.  But their season was over long ago.

I SAW the Cardinals win for the first time since beating the Dolphins on September 30.  And to think that waaaay back then Arizona was 4-0.

In fact, the average NFL season seems so drawn out these days that it feels like we’d need 1.21 gigawatts to go back there.

I SAW Lions WR Calvin Johnson become the first player in NFL history with consecutive 1,600-yard receiving seasons.  (STATS LLC)  His seventh straight game with 100 yards receiving ties a league record.

You know you’re doing something great when you enter into Rice territory on two fronts: Megatron needs 182 yards to break Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 1,848.  His 3,348 yards over the last two seasons have already exceeded Rice’s record, set in 1995-95.  (NFL Media)

I SAW Cardinals RB Beanie Wells run for three touchdowns.  No offense to Beanie, but he really is the most talented player that Arizona can give the ball to. (Cousin Larry Fitzgerald is the most talented in general, but he needs a non-shitbag quarterback to get him the ball.)

I SAW PROPS to Arizona S Adrian Wilson for becoming just the sixth player in NFL history with at least 25 interceptions and 25 sacks in a career.  Take a look at all of the recent players who occupy that list:

At Least 25 Interceptions And 25 Sacks In A Career, NFL History

Player Interceptions Sacks
Ronde Barber 47 28.0
Brian Dawkins 37 26.0
Rodney Harrison 34 30.5
Ray Lewis 31 41.5
William Thomas 27 37.0
Adrian Wilson 27 25.5

(ESPN Stats & Information)

It’s a good thing that safeties didn’t garner the same attention from Hall Of Fame voters as wide receivers do, or else there would exist the same danger of a logjam of eligibility there.

(Sacks didn’t become an official stat until 1992, but I’ve never heard any football historian argue that a defensive player prior to that is toiling in HOF obscurity because of it.)

Carolina (5-9) wins @ San Diego, 31-7

I SAW the Chargers lose for the eighth time in their last ten games, and they did it in typically maddening fashion – bowing down to the woebegone Panthers just one week after beating the playoff-contending Steelers.

You want offense?  If you’re a ’Bolts fan you might be better off running a bubble bath and getting the toaster.  On Sunday it took the Chargers until the fourth quarter to run their third offensive play in Panthers territory.  Wow.

It is now finally official: San Diego will miss the playoffs for the third straight season.  They’ve also assured themselves of their first losing record since 2003.  If this doesn’t get head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith fired, what will?

I SAW the Panthers win consecutive games for the first time since last December.  It’s too little too late, but at least the emotionally fragile sophomore QB Cam Newton has regained his confidence, with no interceptions and a passer rating of 95 or higher in each of the last five games.

I SAW that the confidence of cocky Chargers QB Philip Rivers has to be taking a hit this season.  His twelve fumbles are the most in the NFL, and he has 47 turnovers since the start of last season.  Ouch.

I SAW that there has been no running back as disappointing as Chargers RB Ryan Mathews since he entered the league three years ago.  This season, he has more broken clavicles (2) than touchdowns (1).  That stat is its own joke.

Miami (6-8) wins vs. Jacksonville (2-12), 24-3

I SAW what fans considered a meaningless game.  Consider that this was an in-state “rivalry” (I’m pretty sure both teams need to not suck to make a rivalry…), yet the stadium was only half full, and, according to the Associated Press, “just a few thousand” fans stayed until the end of the game.

I SAW the Jaguars tie the franchise record for losses, set during their inaugural season in 1995.  On Sunday they held the ball for just 14 minutes in the final three quarters.  (STATS LLC)

I think it’s time for Jaguars owner Shad “Shaka” Kahn to perform this 80s classic for his employees.

Oakland (2-12) wins vs. Kansas City (4-10), 15-0

I SAW balls bouncing off of guys’ faces like gay porn, the Chiefs get shutout for the first time in two years and the Raiders win a game without scoring a TD for the first time since 2000.

That’s enough of that.

SNF- San Francisco (10-3-1) wins @  New England (10-4), 41-34

I SAW the rain come down in Foxboro, and with it a wet and wild game that saw the NFL’s two best teams in terms of execution combine for eight fumbles, three interceptions, 51 first downs and 75 total points – not to mention a blown 28-point lead, then a reassertion of that lead by the Niners in a pseudo-upset.

Generally, San Francisco is far too good a team to consider a win over any team an upset on their part, but in this case they handed New England their first home loss in December in a decade.  In fact, it had been 21 straight games since the Patriots had lost a game in the second half of the regular season.  The Pats deserved to lose this game.  They committed as many turnovers at home as they had all season coming into Sunday night (4), and fell behind 31-3 – the largest deficit for New England in the history of Gillette Stadium.

That being said, the Patriots did make a game of it….

I SAW New England show a resiliency that could actually help them in the long run, despite having lost the game in the end.  Yes, Niners All-Pro DL Justin Smith left the game during their comeback (which could be a huge story to keep an eye on for Sunday night’s SF-SEA bout), but the Pats now know that they are never out of a game.

The Patriots are an offensive machine – duh! – that ran a ridiculous 92 plays in Sunday’s game.  Employing their breakneck speed of execution, QB Tom Brady threw a career-high 65 attempts (wow – no wonder he was left out of practice Wednesday) while leading his team to four touchdowns in less than fifteen minutes against the best all-around defense in the NFL.

The Niners gained the upper hand, should these two teams meet again in the Super Bowl in New Orleans, but they and every other future Pats opponent can’t relax with any lead.

I SAW the Niners take another big step in their journey to try and reestablish the San Francisco dynasty of old.

This team has the best D in the NFL, but their offense continues to make its case as a force to be reckoned with.  With the win Sunday night, the 2012 edition of the Niners became the first since the 2003 version to put up multiple 40 burgers in a season.  They also rushed 31 times for 180 yards (5.8 average) against what was the eighth-ranked run defense coming into Sunday.

Then there’s QB Colin Kaepernick.  It’s not every day you see a quarterback fumble four times in a game but still keep his poise and come through in the clutch for the win.  Kaepernick is now 4-1 as a starter since Alex Smith’s concussion, with 202 rushing yards over that span.  He’s completing 65.6 percent of his passes, and while doing so he’s also shown that he can make the intermediate-to-long throws with velocity that Smith was unable to pull the trigger on.  It looks like head coach Jim Harbaugh knew exactly what he was doing when he made the controversial decision to stick with his second year pivot once Smith was able to play again.

I SAW the Niners clinch at least a wild-card spot with the win Sunday.  Next week they run into another recent scoring juggernaut in the Seahawks – again on Sunday night.  Keep in mind that the NFC West title is still up for grabs between these two teams.  Big game.  Huge.

I SAW two Niners assert themselves to win the game in the clutch for San Francisco:

After New England came back in epic fashion to score 28 straight points and tie the game at 31, it took just two plays for the Niners to regain control.

First, rookie LaMichael James took advantage of a huge hole in the Pats kickoff coverage to rip off 62 yards, down to the New England 38-yard line.  It’s about time the explosive college player from Oregon asserted himself into a game.  It’s taken injuries to get his chance, but don’t be surprised if he’s won the support of his coaches with some displays of north-south quickness in the last two games.

Next, QB Colin Kaepernick saw single coverage on WR Michael Crabtree, and the teammates took advantage as the wideout took a short pass and sprinted his way to the end zone to give the Niners back a lead that they didn’t relinquish.  Crabtree was a beast in college, but has been a disappointment most of the time during his three-year career.  I’ve often thought that he hadn’t gotten his body right health-wise until recently.  The last thing the rest of the NFC needs to see is Crabtree realizing his potential as a game-changing wideout.

I SAW Trivia bomb: The Patriots have scored 506 points.  It’s the fourth time they’ve reached 500 – an NFL record.  I know he gets a ton of credit already, but is there a better all-around head coach in the history of the league than Bill Belichick?  He presides over a revolving door in terms of assistant coaches, and yet the defensive guru also oversees one of the best offensive dynasties of all time.

I SAW PROPS for Patriots Wes Welker for becoming the first player in NFL history with five 100-catch seasons.  He passed Marvin Harrison, Brandon Marshall (who has 100 this season) and the great Jerry Rice to do so.

MNF- Tennessee (5-9) wins vs. New York Jets (6-8), 14-10

I SAW the Jets go back where they deserve – out of playoff contention.

New York’s offense made me want to pull out a videotape of a 1930s college game just to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

Jets QB Mark Sanchez did the best he could to lose this game for the Jets, but in the end he and his team had one last chance.  No problem: the QB simply kicked a low shotgun snap out of his own hands to nail the coffin shut on his team’s season.

Sanchez was at his dirtiest Monday night, with four interceptions and that last fumble.  He looked too much like an even-more-emaciated Johnny Galecki in the postgame press conference, inspiring little more in his employers than “keep me ’cause you have to.”  (Remember: the Jets must pay Sanchez over $8 million next year no matter where he plays.)

Even the Human Hand Job,  ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called Monday’s game “an amazing night of futility for the Jets offense.”

50 turnovers over the last two seasons by Sanchez makes a great point, but Heath Evans put it best on NFL Network when he pointed out that the Jets defense “shielded the inevitable for the last two years.”

And with that, New York has elected to go with Greg McElroy as the starter next week.

A day late, a dollar short?  Try a season late, $8.25 million short – as in the $8.25 million the team must pay Sanchez next year, thanks to a mind-numbing $50 million contract extension GM Mike Tannenbaum gave him this past summer.

I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson write the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on his cleats.  On Monday night, those cleats made history with a blistering 94-yard touchdown run.

We all know CJ2K can lay an egg at any given moment.  But he’s also one of the most explosive tailbacks the NFL has ever seen.  Johnson is now just the third player with multiple 90+-yard touchdown runs in a career. The other two: Ahman Green and Bo Jackson.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

The Titans back also has three TD runs of at least 80 yards this season.  That has happened just twice before in league history: Barry Sanders in 1997 and Johnson again, in 2009.  Pretty Impressive.

In a rare telling moment during one of ESPN’s tiresome gimmicks, CJ2K was timed at 10.78 seconds during the broadcast during his 94-yard run.  I know – it’s just an eyeball timing job.  But it’s still impressive, given the fact that Johnson didn’t run in a straight line the whole way, and he visibly pulled up near the end.

CJ2K hasn’t lost a step; he just misplaces it from time to time.

I SAW the NFL experience its first Tim Tebow-exclusive drive all season.  Cue a three-and-out.  Forgive the Titans defense if it didn’t respond in SCTV Count Floyd-like fashion.

countfloyd

Scary, scary!!

By the way, Tebow has now been on the field for just 76 offensive snaps so far this season.  What’s up with that?

I SAW newly re-acquired Jets WR Braylon Edwards offer this perspective following New York’s disheartening loss (via NFL.com):

“All we can do is come back and work on Wednesday. We may not be headed to the post season dance but our pride is still on the line”

Only a man who had been with this team for less than a week could still speak of pride.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 16 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK.

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