What I Saw, Week 11 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 11, 2013

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.

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Away from the game(s)

I SAW that we aren’t in Kansas (City) anymore, Toto.  Nor is an undefeated team.

A wild Week 11 came in like a tornado.  With tornados, actually.  Real ones.  A massive storm front that contained tornados ended up affecting several games, especially Baltimore at Chicago, which was postponed about 2.5 hours.

On a serious note, at least 6 people were killed in the severe weather, which is awful.

On a much-less-serious note, when she was swept away by a different tornado Dorothy never saw a Land of Oz quite like the NFL landscape this weekend.

Maybe we can blame the Tom Brady-Giselle Bundchen Halloween costume for setting the stage a few weeks ago:

brady-gisele-halloween

(thebiglead.com)

But we all know that BradyPants doesn’t lack for courage, so who’s going to take us down the yellow brick road that was Week 11?

wizard-of-oz-original1

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Scarecrow: Head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions

Detroit was clinging to a 4-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Steelers and had driven to the Pittsburgh 10.  It was a no-brainer: field goal to make it a 7-point cushion.  Instead, Schwartz and his special team staff engineered a different sort of no-brainer: a fake field goal.  Punter Sam Martin – always depend on the punter for an athletic play in crunch time – took the direct snap as the holder and not only did he not have a hope in hell of getting the first down, but he fumbled the ball to Pittsburgh.  The Steelers drove the field to score and take a 3-point lead of their own.

Schwartz continued to play the scarecrow after the game, quizzically defending his lack of fear in making the dumb call.  It just goes to prove, you don’t have to be a coward to do something stupid.  If only Schwartz could have given some of his overwhelming courage to a flock of zebras….

The Lion: Referee Clete Blakeman and his crew in the Pats-Panthers game.

These courage-less zebras take the cake this weekend for picking up a pass interference flag on the final play of the game, denying New England a chance to score from the 1-yard line because the ball was deemed uncatchable after the fact.  Generally speaking, if a throw lands anywhere in the vicinity of the intended receiver 9.9 times out of 10 pass interference gets called when a defender is face-guarding the receiver, never looking back to the ball and draping his arms around the target.  It didn’t get called when Panthers LB Luke Kuechly did those things to TE Rob Gronkowski on the last play of the game with the Pats trailing by 4.

You can write it off to a home field call, or the notion that a game shouldn’t be determined by a blah-blah-blah.  The game wouldn’t have been determined on the call anyway – it would have only given New England another chance from the 1-yard line.  Bottom line: A no-balls non-call by the refs.

Uncatchable my ass.  If you re-watch the play the only reason the ball was uncatchable was because Gronk got Kuech-ed early enough for it to look that way.  If the linebacker isn’t blocking the tight end from the path of the ball, it’s hard to believe that Gronk couldn’t have gotten a hand on Brady’s pass.  The possibility of merely touching the ball is enough to determine catchability.  Overall, what’s most frustrating is that the officiating team took off for the tunnel immediately instead of explaining the call to the coaches and/or the crowd, which the league has tried to make a priority.

The Tin Man: Jaguars defense

This one’s tough.  I’m not about to directly accuse anyone/team of lacking all heart but Jacksonville’s D at least looked like they had an itty-bitty Grinch one on Sunday.  Cardinals QB Carson Palmer looked like himself, circa 2006 against the league’s 24th-ranked pass defense.  His wideout, second-year bust-til-now Michael Floyd looked like Randy Moss, averaging 32.2 yards per reception.  Well, maybe DE Jason Babin showed some heart – but in the wrong way (see Arizona wins @ Jacksonville, 27-14).

What an adventure in Oz so far!

Before finally getting to the Wizard, though, we were intercepted by a Munchkin, some 5’8” umpteen-string tailback named Bobby Rainey trying to capture us for the ugly Wicked Witch of the NFC South.  (see: Tampa Bay wins vs. Atlanta, 41-28)  It was a close call in the end, but we escaped when Atlanta’s wart-infested 2013 edition got a house dropped on them.  Or rather a woodshed, as a team that was winless just two games ago dropped a 40-Burger on a team that went to the NFC Championship last season.  Who’s melting now, Hot-Lanta?

Falcon down

(draketoulouse.com)

Oh, what a world, what a world!!

Now that we’ve steered clear of that ugly bitch, we’re finally at the Wizard – in typical anticlimactic fashion.

The Wizard….

The true Wizard of Oz turned out to be more human than some may have expected.  Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome didn’t have to hide behind a curtain after his team lost to the Bears in a classic mudder, but he did have to resort to an ambulance to take him away from the castle and to the hospital instead of leaving on the team plane, after he “didn’t feel well”.  (Newsome is apparently in good health and resting at home.)

In the end, there was no victory for the only 9-0 team left in football, no happiness “Somewhere Over the Dwayne Bowe”.  (Unless, perhaps, he’s smoked some of what he got pulled over with during the bye week.)  Kansas City lost to Denver in the most hyped game of the season so far, but it’s not the end of the world, Aunt Em.  In two weeks’ time the Chiefs can tap their red shoes together, say, “there’s no place like home” and host the Broncos at Arrowhead for the rematch.

Byes: Dallas, St. Louis

TNF- Indianapolis (7-3) wins @ Tennessee (4-6), 30-27

I SAW two teams coming off of bad losses to bad teams face each other Thursday night.

Tennessee gave the Jags their first win of the season last week, but bounced back right away at the start of this game behind RB Chris Johnson (see below), which might not be a surprise against a team that had been outscored 49-3 in the first half of their two games prior to Thursday night.

But after getting walloped by the Rams last week, the Colts turned the tide and in the process may have found their identity on offense.  Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton used his star QB Andrew Luck to take the lead in the third quarter, but the second half was defined by a grinding run game that, frankly, should have been a staple of Indy’s O weeks ago.  The Colts won their 15th straight game when they’ve held the lead in the 4th quarter, and they did it in a fashion befitting Hamilton: 24 rushes for 99 yards in the second half that chewed up almost 20 minutes of clock.

As Luck’s former coordinator at Stanford, Hamilton helped instill the current bread and butter in Paolo Alto: Run, run, hit the tight end on hot reads, run, pass deep on single coverage that happens when the D tries to stop the run, run and then win.  That’s what the second half looked like in the Music City on Thursday night.  The Colts should have been playing like this even before WR Reggie Wayne was lost for the year (ACL).  Maybe it was issues with timing or something else but with the home stretch of the regular season on the way, favoring the ground game is a good plan for this team.

The only part of it that still surprises me?…

I SAW Colts RB Donald Brown have 14 carries for 80 yards and teammate Trent Richardson get 8 for 22.

Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me.  After all, according to ESPN Stats & Information, since Richardson joined Indy in Week 3 after a trade with Cleveland he’s averaged 2.8 yards per rush and Brown has put up 6.1.  Brown’s rush average is the second-best in the NFL over that span and the only other back to average Brown’s 2.4 yards after contact since Week 3 is Adrian Peterson (2.5).

Is Brown’s output in part motivation to win the starting job?  (Keep in mind that this backfield should be doubly crowded than it is right now, with onetime starters Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw out with injuries.)  Is he a change of pace from the more physical Richardson?  Does he know the offense better than Richardson?  The last possibility is most likely.  Whatever the cause, I’m not so sure that it’s a knock on Richardson – yet.  It might actually be possible that Richardson won’t jive with this offense until next season or maybe the playoff run.

I SAW another one of those “why can’t he do that more often?” games from Titans RB Chris Johnson.  His line for the first 10 minutes and/or 2 drives of the game by Tennessee: 8 rushes, 70 yards, 2 TDs.  The second touchdown was a thing of rugged beauty.  CJ2K looked more like AP on that man’s run.  You just don’t normally see Johnson take a direct hit like that and keep his legs pumping.  Why can’t he do that more often?  

Why couldn’t he do it for more than one quarter?  After that hot start, Johnson had 16 yards on 9 carries while the Colts mounted a comeback.  Only 6 of those yards came after halftime.  If only Johnson could find that middle ground more often. He’s so hot-cold.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Titans are 3-12 when he rushes for less than 10 yards in the second half.

I SAW one of the iconic Ivy League schools against the Ivy League of the west.  That’s right, this was Harvard – Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s alma mater – v. Stanford, Colts QB Andrew Luck’s school.

Advantage: Stanford.  Luck’s line wasn’t eye-popping – 23-for-36 (63.9%), 232 yards and an 82.2 rating.  But he ran for a TD, had a few other timely scrambles and made much better decisions overall while rebounding from his worst game of the season last week against the Rams.

If you feel like Luck hasn’t had to endure failure that often in the NFL, you’re not far off.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Andrew Luck has yet to lose back-to-back games as a pro.  According to Elias Sports Bureau he’s the third quarterback since the merger to go 26 starts to begin his career without losing consecutive games.  The other two: Dan Marino (33 starts) and Kordell Stewart (28).

I SAW the Colts win 9 of their last 10 against division opponent Tennessee.  This rivalry game got pretty chippy at times, too.  The low point came when Colts LB Erik Walden ripped off the helmet of Titans TE Delanie Walker during a play, then when Walker confronted him, Walden head-butted the tight-end’s bare head while wearing his helmet.  A referee was standing right there, too.  How that doesn’t get a man ejected is beyond me.

New Orleans (8-2) wins vs. San Francisco (6-4), 23-20   

I SAW the Niners fall to 2-4 this season against teams that are currently at .500 or better.  It’s beginning to look more and more like San Fran has dug themselves a hole that they won’t be able to climb out of in time.  Barring some sort of epic collapse by the Seahawks, which leads the NFC West by three games now, the Niners can’t be ranked any higher than fifth in the playoff conference seeding.  Not the best position to be in when you can’t beat winning teams.

I SAW Niners QB Colin Kaepernick have yet another off game in his second season as starter.  While few dispute that he isn’t living up to offseason expectations, the reasons for his subpar play are harder to pin down.  In fact, I see several issues.  Among them:

The simplest argument is that Kaepernick doesn’t have the same array of targets around him that he did last season when he took over the job from Alex Smith.  The team’s top wideout Michael Crabtree still hasn’t come back from an off-season Achilles injury.  WR Mario Manningham is only now returning to every-down shape after injury rehab of his own.  TE Vernon Davis has been in and out of the lineup.  Furthermore, these injuries have forced free agent acquisition Anquan Boldin to assume a much bigger role in the offense than the third down security blanket he was signed to be.  One missing ingredient that I haven’t heard anyone mention is FB/TE Delanie Walker, who was an important jack-of-all trades in the offense last year but left via free agency.  So it’s safe to say that Kaepernick is playing with a short deck.  The numbers tell the tale in terms of his over-dependence on Boldin and Davis when looking downfield – the only two Niners to catch touchdowns this season:

Colin Kaepernick By Target On Throws 15+ Yards Downfield – 2013 Season

Davis/Boldin All Others
Comp % 10-14 7-17
Yards per Att 6.4 2.2
TD-INT 2-0 0-1

(ESPN Stats & Information)

And then there’s the read option and/or Kaepernick’s running ability.  Where’s that been all season?  On the surface, he has been productive.  He has rushed 56 times for 335 yards – 6.0 yards per carry.  But he rushed for 415 yards last season despite not getting the starting job until nine games into the season.  Beyond the numbers, there’s no aggressiveness to his running game, almost as though he and the coaching staff are trying to prove he’s a capable pocket passer more than letting him use his dual threat ability to read and react to the defense.  Remember – this is a guy who set an NFL record for rushing yards by a QB in a game last January.  Also, Kaepernick reportedly worked on his speed in the offseason.  We have to take him at his word on this, because he’s been able to run freely about as much as a chicken on an industrial farm.

Maybe it’s true that defenses have figured out how to stop Kaepernick in the run game, but I don’t buy it.  He hasn’t tried to run enough to prove that theory.

On a simpler level, I don’t even see the Niners running plays out of the pistol formation much anymore.  That was the position that gave defenses so much trouble last season, read option or not.  Even RB Frank Gore benefitted from the pistol, and his numbers have dropped off as well.

I SAW Niners LB Ahmad Brooks make a crazy-athletic self-tip interception to set up a Vernon Davis TD catch that gave San Fran a 17-14 lead.  Brooks isn’t just an underrated linebacker – he’s among the 3-5 best at his position in the league.  But that doesn’t exempt him from the new stance towards roughing the passer penalties….

I SAW the officials call roughing the passer on Niners LB Ahmad Brooks with 3:12 left in the game and New Orleans trailing by 3 points.  The call kept a crucial drive alive, setting up the first of two Saints field goals that would win the game.

People can complain all they want.  Yes, maybe Brooks never contacted QB Drew Brees’ head.  But everyone should know by now that the refs are – rightfully – instructed to err on the side of caution, so clotheslining a quarterback at top speed and driving him into the ground at the end of doing so will get a flag.  If you’re close enough to hit the passer and the ball is already gone, just wrap him up or don’t hit him at all.  Either way, don’t follow through on the contact you do make.  As VP of officiating Dean Blandino explained on NFL Network’s Total Access:

You can’t make forcible contact to the head or the neck area, even if the contact starts below the neck and rises up.  If there’s force to that contact, it’s a foul. Watch the initial contact, maybe around the shoulder, but it rides up into the neck area and brings the quarterback down with force.”

I SAW Saints kicker Garrett Hartley go 3-for-3 on field goals in the fourth quarter of a close-fought game.  The longest one was 42 yards, so that may not seem like much to write home about.  But after missing 4 of his last 6 coming into the game, it was important for Hartley to regain some confidence as the battle with Seattle for home field advantage in the playoffs intensifies – not to mention the task of holding off the red-hot Panthers in their own division.

I SAW Saints WR Marques Colston become the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards, with 7,923.  Not bad for a Round 7 pick from Hofstra.

Chicago (6-4) wins vs. Baltimore (4-6), 23-20-OT

I SAW this game get delayed by the severe weather front that swept through the northeast Sunday, providing a gentle mind fuck in terms of usual timing for those of us who get every game at home on TV.  It was a happy distraction during the first half of the 4:00 games, though, going into overtime on a sloppy-ass field so chewed up by the weather and the players that the referees and the team captains who went out to midfield for the coin toss for OT were stomping down clumps of sod as though they were at a polo match.  By the second half the middle of Soldier Field looked like a pigpen.

Aside from being a starting baseball pitcher I can’t think of any harder sport to adjust to a weather delay than football.  To come back to harsh conditions only makes it that much harder.  The rain was pelting, and play was visually complicated by the constant flag-like whipping of people’s pants on the sidelines.  Neither QB played well, which isn’t shocking, but one came away with a win….

I SAW Bears QB Josh McCown lead his team to another win in relief of injured Jay Cutler.  Chicago went into a severe weather delay trailing by 10 points, but came back to win in extra time.  As mentioned above, the weather didn’t make for a sexy stat line, but the backup QB took care of the rock.  Actually, in four games and two starts this season McCown has yet to turn the ball over.

McCown’s coy self-deprecation when asked after the game about throwing in the windy conditions was amusing.  He told the Associated Press, “It’s definitely one of those days where you look across the field and [see Ravens QB] Joe Flacco and look on the sideline and [teammate Jay Cutler]’s over there, and I’m like, ‘Can I borrow somebody’s arm?’ ”

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

Tony Robbins Defense Award

Sometimes all an offense needs to do in order to get its confidence back is play against a bad defense.  Sometimes one team’s D stands above the rest in terms of being a get-well tonic for slumping O-s.  This award goes to the defense that most consistently made their opponents feel better about themselves.

Chicago Bears

I’ve been critical of the Ravens’ failure to establish a running game all season, but the injury-depleted Bears came through for Baltimore in a way that could get the moribund group out of its funk.  One thing’s for sure: If a Ray Rice season-high of 131 yards on 25 carries and team totals of 41 runs for 174 yards doesn’t get them out of a funk, nothing will.

Until Sunday, Rice had been colder than leftover stir-fry.  In fact, his 47-yard run in the first quarter topped his game total in any previous showing this season except for 74 against the Dolphins.  Jinkies!

I SAW the Bears defense score their fourth TD on an interception this season, tied for tops in the NFL.  But they’re going to need even more production from the D heading down the stretch….

I SAW Bears DE Julius Peppers have 2.0 sacks to equal his total coming into the game.  In his 12th season Peppers hasn’t made much noise.  With the defensive roster full of injuries and QB Jay Cutler in and out of the lineup Peppers need to turn back the clock and give his team some more big plays that steal away field position in the weeks to come to keep Chi-Town in the playoff hunt.

Philadelphia (6-5) wins vs. Washington (3-7), 24-16

I SAW the Eagles snap a harrowing 10-game skid at home and in the process complete a leap from worst to first in their division (for now).

That’s right – Philly holds a half game lead in the NFC East over idle Dallas as they head into their own bye riding a three-game win streak.  The last time first-year head coach Chip Kelly’s team played the Redskins was in Week 1 when they looked about to take the league by storm with a new offensive style.  In the meantime, Philadelphia has endured a lot of tribulations on defense while their offense continues to produce at a breakneck pace.  But in the rematch Sunday, the D came through….

I SAW the Philly defense play its best game of the season thus far.  It wasn’t able to limit ’Skins QB Robert Griffin III when he broke things to the outside, but it sure made life difficult when RG3 was hemmed in the pocket.

Robert Griffin III – Sunday

Inside the Pocket Outside the Pocket
Comp-Att 12-27 5-8
Yards Per Att 5.0 16.0
TD-INT 0-1 2-0
Sacks 4 0

(ESPN Stats & Information)

That lone Griffin interception came on the final drive of the game, when the second-year QB made a horrible decision to air it up under pressure, sidearm and off his back foot on third down while trailing by 8 points.  The ill-advised throw was intercepted by Eagles Brandon Boykin.  It looked as though RG3 was trying to throw the ball away through the back of the end zone, but the toss was far too casual and should never have happened.  Griffin even put his hands to his forehead in regret the moment he threw the ball.  But it should be noted that pressure from the Eagles forced the bad decision.  If Philadelphia is going to come out on top of the weak NFC East they’re going to need more pass pressure like the sort they had on Sunday.

I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III continue to follow a trend of growing pains for second-year QBs after good rookie seasons.  It’s no longer appropriate to let RG3 off the hook for being set back by knee rehab; he’s back to full strength and seeing the whole field.  So the 17-of-35 (48.6%), 264 yard, 2 TD, 1 INT game stands as legitimately bad, without excuse.  In fact, both touchdowns came on Johnny Football-esque fortunate tosses up for grabs that just happened to go in Washington’s favor.

I don’t think Griffin is being unsafe with his body on runs or holding the ball too long, but over the course of this season it’s clear that defenders have made it a priority to hit him as hard as they can whenever the opportunity presents itself.  There are QBs who have played more recklessly with their bodies this season (Michael Vick, Terrelle Pryor, Ben Roethlisberger, to name a few), but none have taken the beating that RG3 has.  I’m not sure what head coach Mike Shanahan and the coaching staff can do about that, but it’s affecting Griffin’s play.  You can tell the clock inside of his head has sped up – he’s anticipating contact and making bad decisions.  Any quarterback would.

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles take advantage of a slow, poor tackling Redskins defense for big gains.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foles had a season-high 188 yards of his passing total come after the catch.  In fact, 3 of his 4 longest pass plays against Washington (including two screens) were thrown 2 yards downfield or shorter.

Foles is now 4-1 in relief of Michael Vick, which should kill any talk of a QB controversy.

I SAW that for all the press QB Nick Foles has gotten for his surprising production in replacement of Michael Vick there is another player that really makes this offense click: RB LeSean McCoy.  The league-leading rusher finished with 77 yards on the ground and 73 yards through the air.  Let’s give credit to McCoy’s conditioning.  When head coach Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia with his up-tempo style, it was widely assumed that Shady and sophomore Bryce Brown would have to time-share in the backfield, but Brown has been an afterthought at best.  McCoy has to be in tip-top shape to stay on the field as much as he does while his offense scampers around the gridiron.

New York Giants (4-6) wins vs. Green Bay (5-5), 27-13

I SAW the Giants continue to turn their season around.  They have now gone 4-0 after a 0-6 start.  There have been improvements on offense to be sure, but it’s on the defensive side of the ball where big strides have been made.  On Sunday, Big Blue’s D forced three turnovers from the Packers and held arguably the league’s hottest running back, Eddie Lacy, to 27 yards on 14 carries (1.9 average).  In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information Lacy was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 10 of those rushes.

Don’t look now, but New York is a legit contender for the NFC East crown.  You can bet the rest of the league is going to get pretty nervous as this team gets closer and closer to making the postseason.  Let’s just say it wouldn’t be the first time the G-Men made a bit of a playoff run after an awful September.

I SAW Packers QB Scott Tolzien’s performance on Sunday serve as a good example of how, counter to conventional wisdom, shorter passes can be more nuanced, more read dependent, and as such more challenging than many types of longer throws.

Tolzien on throws 15 yards downfield or longer: 6-6, 0 INT

On throws shorter than 15 yards: 18-28, 3 INT

(ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW the Packers sustain more injuries.  Sure, they weathered numerous roster dents en route to a Super Bowl win three years ago, but this is getting a bit much.  Losing QB Aaron Rodgers has obviously been the biggest blow, but the defense is in shambles.  Among the wounded on Sunday were Green Bay’s two starting cornerbacks, Sam Shields and Casey Heyward, and Eli Manning picked apart their replacements – that was, until one of them went down too – James Nixon.  Oh, and DT Johnny Jolly left the game with injury as well.

I SAW Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul put the game on ice when he plucked a pass by Packers QB Scott Tolzien out of the air – about 10 feet in front of the quarterback – and return it to the house.  As impressive as the play was physically, it was the mental aspect of JPP’s big move that was most impressive.  According to Giant Justin Tuck (via the Associated Press) Pierre-Paul predicted he’d pick the pass off during a timeout prior to the play.

I actually put this one on head coach Mike McCarthy and/or his belief that his play calling is limited with Tolzien under center.  For JPP to make that sort of Cracker Jack-timing play I’m thinking Green Bay had been running too many passing plays with a 3-step drop, which gave the Giants end a good sense of the timing for when the ball would come out.  

I SAW Giants WR Rueben Randle starting to earn the trust of QB Eli Manning.  Randle caught his sixth TD in as many games on Sunday, proving himself as a more desirable second option to Victor Cruz than the invisible Hakeem Nicks.

Pittsburgh (4-6) wins vs. Detroit (6-4), 37-27   

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:

Thief In The Night Award

Pittsburgh Steelers

Maybe another team snuck away with a win to a greater degree than the Steelers did, and maybe they own the theft in large part to a bad decision on a fake field goal attempt by Detroit.  (See: Away from the game(s))  But Pittsburgh clinched this award with their retro uniforms.

Hamburglars.  Bumblebees. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in Life.  Whatever.  Those freaky duds are glorious, like Will Ferrell sexy.  In my world, the more striped and brown or orange a uni can get, the more fun it is to watch.

I SAW the Lions look like they were about to take control of the NFC North last week, after gaining a 1-game lead over the Bears, who had lost QB Jay Cutler again due to injury.  With the Packers having to endure life without their own starting QB Aaron Rodgers, Detroit could have pounced on an opportunity.  Instead they now sit tied with the Bears and looked like they regressed on defense.

I SAW the Lions mount a serious air attack on the Steelers – in the first half.

Everyone was concerned about the weather prior to the game, but the Pittsburgh weather wasn’t too inclement and Detroit’s passing game precipitated a boatload of balls for yardage in the first half hour of game time.  The Lions at halftime: 327 passing yards (52 rushing).  WR Calvin Johnson: 6 catches for 179 yards and 2 TDs – the 10th highest total in a full game this season.

It wasn’t just the Lions that went off, though.  Both teams combined for 605 yards through the air, the most in the NFL in a first half this season.  Steelers WR Antonio Brown also had a huge half: 110 yards on 5 grabs and 2 TDs himself.

The second half was a different story, however, especially for the Lions.  They struggled their way to 16 passing yards in the final two quarters and Megatron was held without a catch on three targets.  Worse, Stafford went 0-for-10 in the fourth quarter as Detroit lost the game.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Oddly enough, Sunday marked the third time in Calvin Johnson’s career that he has gone the whole second half without a reception. (ESPN Stats & Information)

With this second half letdown in mind, it was the opposing QB who stole the day….

I SAW Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger play his best game of the season so far.

It’s been a tough year for Big Ben, who now has to deal with mounting rumors that he is unhappy with both his contract and the state of his team.  Most specifically, NFL.com’s Ian Rappaport reports that Roethlisberger was unhappy that combative offensive coordinator Todd Haley was retained this season, which is only surprising if you ignore the fact that Haley is an asshole.  In a story on the Chiefs by TheMMQB’s Peter King last week, Dwayne Bowe told the reporter that head coach Andy Reid allowed him more input than he’d had in previous years – several of which came under Haley.  Bowe said, “Some coaches have an ego.  Some coaches want to win.  Andy’s that [second]kind…” The only other head coaches Bowe has had since Reid were Haley and Romeo Crennel, who is about as egotistical as the Buddha he resembles.  Do the math.

I digress.  Roethlisberger torched the Lions defense for 29-of-45, 367 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 119.4 rating en route to his second fourth quarter come-from-behind win this season and the 31st comeback victory of his career.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW Steelers WR Antonio Brown show why he was signed to a 5 year, $42.5 million contract extension prior to last season.  Pittsburgh inked Brown to that deal, banking that he would evolve into a player who would justify letting Mike Wallace go in free agency last summer.  Wallace has been a huge overpriced disappointment in Miami and while the Steelers miss having two reliable scoring threats out wide, Brown has come through.  He leads the league in receptions with 74, and although almost all of his 7 catches for 147 yards and 2 TDs on Sunday came in the first half, that outburst put the Lions D into such an overcompensation mode in the second half that it freed up routes underneath to the tight ends and backs.  Brown is quickly growing into a reliable number one option at wideout.  He’s always had the speed and the moves, but now his new role has forced him to learn to polish his route running skills.  When a player of his talent does that, it tends to pay dividends.

I SAW Steelers S Troy Polamalu tell The Dan Patrick Show his take on gauging when to retire.  “When your knowledge for the game becomes more than your athleticism for the game, it’s time to start coaching.”

Jesus.  If that’s the case, Polamalu’s gonna have to hit the books if he wants to retire before 2020.  There’s no player in the league who benefits more from his talent yet gets burned by his reliance on instinct than the 10-year safety.  Troy was up to his usual self on Sunday, staring at the quarterback instead of guarding his man.

I SAW PROPS for Lions QB Matthew Stafford for throwing his 100th career TD pass at the fourth-quickest pace in league history.

Fewest Games To 100 Pass TDs – NFL History

Player Games To 100 TD
Dan Marino 44
Kurt Warner 50
Johnny Unitas 53
Matthew Stafford 55
Peyton Manning 56

(Elias Sports Bureau)

This accomplishment blows me away, and is a testament to both Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson (who has 65 of those 100).  Everyone on this list has two arguably Hall Of Fame-worthy talents on the other end of their passes.  Marino had the Marks brothers – Clayton and Duper.  Warner had Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.  Unitas had Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore.  Manning had Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James stretching the defense in the backfield.  Stafford and Johnson have played without a viable second option the whole time.  Very impressive.

Stafford also passed Bobby Layne for the franchise record for career passing yards.  And he’s only 25 yards old.  Crazy.

I SAW that the same problem that has plagued the Lions throughout head coach Jim Schwartz’s tenure finally came back to haunt them on Sunday.  The defensive front seven has been resurgent this season but it can’t hide the deficiencies in the defensive backfield forever.  Detroit ranks 30th in the NFL against the pass and in this air-it-out era that won’t get you enough wins in December and/or January – just ask their NFC North rivals, the Packers.

Seattle (9-1) wins vs. Minnesota (2-8), 41-20

I SAW the return of Seahawks WR Percy Harvin to the field for the first time this season and the first time wearing a Seattle uniform.  Head coach Pete Carroll and his medical staff have been clear about not rushing Harvin back after his hip surgery.  (The ’Hawks are especially mindful of Harvin’s previous run-ins with management in Minnesota about handling him after injuries when he was a Viking – a big part of what started the trade talks that brought the talented wideout to the Rainy City.)  As such, Harvin’s impact on the game was measured – but significant.  He had only one reception for 17 yards, but it was a slick one-handed job to keep a drive alive.  He also had one kickoff return – for 58 yards.

It’s hard to find a weakness on the Seattle roster.  If there was one, it could have been at receiver once Sidney Rice was lost to injury.  (The O-line hasn’t played as well as last season either, but starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini returned on Sunday themselves.)  If Harvin can return to form it’s going to be very tough to beat this team – especially if they secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they haven’t lost in 13 straight games.

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson hit the bench early in the fourth quarter of this blowout, but not before dazzling spectators with skill as he put up a career-high 151.4 passer rating.  At the end of the first half, Wilson dropped a sweet touch pass into the arms of WR Doug Baldwin for a TD.  Then, before he was taken out of the game in the fourth quarter, Wilson got in touch with his inner Brett Favre and shoveled the ball in between two defenders to RB Marshawn Lynch, who reminded us that he is just as much the force that propels Seattle’s offense as Wilson by scoring 3 TDs against the Vikings.

At this point, Wilson is looking like the most developed second year passer out of the fine crop that emerged last season.  The reason is simple: He’s on the best, most balanced team, so he doesn’t have to force the issue like, say, Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck.

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder continue to prove that his team’s search for a dependable passer isn’t over yet.  Ponder’s line: 13-22, 129 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 FUM, 53.0 rating.  It’s worse than it looks, though.  Ponder’s two picks were only three passes apart, and each of them were ugly.  First, he threw way behind RB Adrian Peterson, and then he was right on target…if the target was Seahawks Walter Thurmond’s stomach.

Someone explain to me why this team is paying QB Josh Freeman $2 million to hold a clipboard for half a season while Ponder stinks it up.

Buffalo (4-7) wins vs. New York Jets (5-5), 37-14

I SAW the Jets continue their win-loss flip-flop campaign by getting wind-whipped in blustery conditions in Buffalo.

TRIVIA BOMB:

The Jets are the first team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses for the first 10 games of its season.

Rookie QB Geno Smith got clocked in the midsection by DT Marcell Dareus during the Jets’ first possession and never found his rhythm en route to an 8-for-23, 3-interception, 1 fumble, 10.1-rating shit stain that also included a pick-6.

It was a very windy game, but the performance of Buffalo’s QB hardly helps support that defense….

I SAW Bills QB EJ Manuel play a great game under extremely windy conditions even though both of his starting wide receivers sat out due to injury.  Like so many NFL games across the northeast on Sunday, Buffalo got hit by storms that made passing difficult.  Manuel seemed undeterred, going 20-for-28, 245 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT and a 121.9 rating to give his team something to hang its hat on going into the bye week having snapped a three-game skid.

I SAW Bills rookie WR Marquise Goodwin score on another deep bomb, this time by burning Jets CB Antonio Cromartie.  Goodwin might end up being a one-trick pony if he doesn’t learn how to run routes, but his speed is eye-popping.  He’s one of the fastest players in the NFL at top speed.

I SAW the Jets’ pass defense get further exposed against a subpar offense.  New York’s run D is top-notch but Bills rookie E.J. Manuel continued a trend by taking it to the Jets via the pass.  Gang Green ranks 22nd or worst in the NFL in pass defense, pass TDs allowed, and interceptions.

I SAW a mistake-prone second quarter undo the Jets.  Buffalo put up 17 points over a 2:50 span just before halftime, largely due to turnovers by QB Geno Smith (see above) and a comatose level of production on offense.  N.Y.’s final 5 possessions of the first half: 4 yards, no first downs and two turnovers on 13 plays.  (STATS LLC)

This game wasn’t the only one decided by a big second quarter….

Cincinnati (7-4) wins vs. Cleveland (4-6), 41-20

I SAW the Bengals coast to victory on a franchise record for points in a quarter, scoring 31 in the second frame against the Browns.  Cincy scored every which way but loose – a blocked punt, fumble return, field goal – to put this one to bed by halftime.

It’s a good thing that Cincinnati had such a good start too, because QB Andy Dalton was allowed barely any room to breathe while he scraped out scores thanks to good field position.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Andy Dalton’s 93 yards passing are an NFL-record low for a QB with 25 attempts and 3 TD passes in a game.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

With the Ravens losing in OT, Cincy strengthens its hold on the AFC North after suffering back-to-back overtime losses of their own.  Now the Bengals head into a bye week to prepare for a 5-game stretch to finish the season, 4 of which are against teams with losing records; 3 of which are home games.

I SAW the Browns epitomize dink-and-dunk offense.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Browns QB Jason Campbell was 26-of-50 for 174 yards and a pair of interceptions on passes 10 yards or shorter.  No NFL QB since the start of the 2006 seasons has thrown as many short passes in a game.

In all, Campbell’s 56 attempts are the third most in Cleveland history.  The running game is playing well too, which means the Browns D is giving them a lot of opportunities to run plays.  But it’s not going to make much of a difference if Campbell is throwing three interceptions and the team is turning the ball over on special teams.

I SAW Browns CB Joe Haden continue to prove himself as an All-Pro caliber cornerback against elite WR A.J. Green.  Any doubts of Haden’s dominance of Green on Sunday?  He had as many catches – 2 interceptions, one of which he returned for a TD – as Green did, and one of Green’s grabs came on a trick pass from fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu.

I’m hard pressed to think of a corner other than Seattle’s Richard Sherman who is playing at a higher level than Haden.

I SAW Cincy LB James Harrison jump from the side of a milk carton to the stat sheet on Sunday, with his first interception as a Bengal and his first since 2010 when he was a Steeler.  (STATS LLC)  For the season the thirty-five year-old former Defensive Player Of the Year has just 22 tackles, 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery.

Another Bengals ’backer has been much less M.I.A. this season….

I SAW Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict loom large once again.  He had a strip-6 (a fumble forced that he also returned for a TD) during that huge second quarter and finished with 15 tackles and a defensed pass for the game.

Burfict leads the NFL in tackles in his second pro season, with 118.  Coming out of Arizona State he was a raw talent who lacked discipline and wasn’t in great shape.  After a strong rookie season some wondered if he would suffer a lapse in focus.  If anything, Burfict is playing better than last year, showing sharper instincts.  He shoots to the ball as aggressively as any defender in the NFL.

Miami (4-6) wins vs. San Diego (5-5), 20-16

I SAW Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill nearly blow the game for his team.

The sophomore quarterback ran out of bounds with the ball when he should have thrown it away on Miami’s last possession, giving San Diego the ball back with almost 2 minutes left to win the game.  Why Tannehill left the field with the ball still in his hand is anyone’s guess.  Nevertheless, the ’Fins D buckled but didn’t break, letting the ’Bolts get within the Miami 30-yard line but denying a score.

The Bullygate-weary Dolphins win for just the second time in their last seven, but don’t look now – they still have a very real chance to make the postseason.

I SAW a stat that proves how inept the Dolphins receiving corps has been in recent years: Charles Clay’s 78 yards after the catch on Sunday is the second highest single game total by a Miami player during the last 6 seasons.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

Paging Mike Wallace….Mike Wallace, you’re wanted on the stat sheet…Wallace?

I SAW Karma holding serve for perhaps a bit too long for the Dolphins.  Since the legendary 41-38 OT win in the playoffs for the 1981 season (think Kellen Winslow being carried off the field) the Chargers are 0-7 in Miami.

I SAW Dolphins TE Charles Clay continue to be a strong player for his team.  Clay had arguably his best game of the season, catching 6 of his 7 targets for 90 yards and a TD.  This team desperately needs a short-yardage receiver to come through on hot routes while opposing defenses blitz their asses off against the porous Miami O-line.

I SAW the Chargers lose their third in a row.  Their story this season in a nutshell: QB Philip Rivers is playing well, and yikes.

I SAW the Dolphins run for 104 yards.  That doesn’t sound like much – it isn’t – but considering how comatose the Miami ground game has been, 5.5 yards per carry as a team helps the worst pass protection in the NFL.

Tampa Bay (2-8) wins vs. Atlanta (2-8), 41-28

I SAW one of the more surreal “every season is different” moments Sunday, when the Buccaneers hung a 40-Burger on the Falcons and in the process give both franchises the same win-loss record this season.  I don’t think too many people (outside of Tampa) are surprised by the Bucs’ record, but for Atlanta to be mired in a 2-win season at the end of Week 11?  No one saw that coming.

No one saw this coming either….

I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:

 

The Timmy Smith Where The Hell Did That Come From?? Award

In his rookie season of 1987 Redskin RB Timmy Smith had zero starts and 126 total yards in the regular season.  In what is to date perhaps the most surprising performance in NFL history, Smith made his first career start in the Super Bowl against the Broncos and rushed for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards.  (Smith would never again rush for more than 107 yards in a game and was out of the league two seasons later, but this award is concerned with that initial out-of-nowhere display.)

Bobby Rainey, RB, Bucs

Everyone is forgiven for not noticing a Bucs waiver wire move last month – the one when they signed a 5’8”, 212-pound tailback.  Stuck deep in the depth chart for his third team in two seasons, Rainey blew the world away on Sunday when he got 30 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown, plus a receiving TD.  After injuries to starter Doug Martin and backup Mike James, Rainey has been huge despite his short stature.

To be fair, this performance hasn’t happened in a vacuum.  Rainey scored the go-ahead TD last week and will surely see more action as the season winds down for the Bucs.  But with all due respect to the guy, let’s not hold our breath waiting to see if he makes a roster next year.

I SAW the Falcons lose their fourth straight – by a combined score of 135-61.  It’s the longest losing skid during the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era, and time to move on from this sad train wreck.  This write-off of a season in Cold-Lanta isn’t nearly enough to endanger the jobs of Smith or GM Thomas Dmitroff – owner Arthur Blank said as much to the Associated Press – but it’s enough to want their season over with.

I SAW Buccaneers rookie QB Mike Glennon continue his impressive play this season.  When Tampa By selected Glennon in Round 3 of the draft, it was roundly expected that he would see mere spot duty in his first year while then-starter Josh Freeman kept the spot warm for him.  Freeman ended up freezing his ass to the spot with ice-cold play instead, and had it torn off like a tongue on a metal pole in wintertime, packaged and sent with him to Minnesota.  Enter Glennon, who has played with a surprising amount of poise, field vision and accuracy that reached so high a level on Sunday that it requires a trip back to a more testacle-y time to match it.  That’s right – Glennon’s 87 percent completion percentage (on 20-for-23 passing) against the Falcons is the second-best day in team history in terms of accuracy.  The best was in Week 2 of the 1992 season when none other than Vinny Testaverde threw for 88 percent.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez who now has 16 seasons with 50 or more receptions.  Only the great Jerry Rice has more, with 17.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

Unfortunately Gonzalez almost certainly could give a rat’s ass about those sorts of statistics.  This shit stain of a season was hardly what Gonzalez had in mind when he let his team talk him out of retiring this season to come back for one more try at a Super Bowl ring.  Whoops.

Arizona (6-4) wins @ Jacksonville (1-9), 27-14

I SAW Cardinals QB Carson Palmer put up four bills.  It was Palmer’s day to live – he went 6-for 6 on his opening drive, a short slant was sprung for a 91-yard TD and at another point the ’Zona pivot threw three straight completions of 20+ yards.

Best of all?  Palmer went without an interception for the first time this season.  (Really?  Jesus.)

Arizona has now won three straight.  Believe it or not, crazier than me walking on air, they’re in the playoff hunt.

I SAW Cardinals WR Michael Floyd come through in the Where The Hell Has That Been? Department, hauling in 6 passes for 193 yards and a TD.  A testament to the shittiness of the Jags defense (see Away from the game(s)): Floyd had just 464 yards all season before Sunday, or 51.6 yards per game.  Teammate Larry Fitzgerald had just 61 yards on as many catches in the game, but you know he’s ecstatic to finally see something good come from all the double coverage he attracts.

I SAW perhaps the most embarrassing stat so far this season:

The Jaguars took until Sunday, their 10th game, to score their first TD in the state of Florida this season.  For the geographically impaired: Jacksonville is in Florida.  (The Jags scored a “home” TD in Week 8, in Wembley Stadium, London.)

I SAW Jaguars DE Jason Babin get all Kahl Drogo on RB Andre Ellington, ripping off some of his dreadlocks, brandishing them in their air and then tossing them aside like horse innards.  Jesus, man.  Just give the guy his hair back and move on.  And respect the first two rules of Fight Club.  

I SAW Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew run for 23 yards on 14 carries.  Pray for MoJo.

Oakland (4-6) wins @ Houston (2-8), 28-23

I SAW myself rubbing my eyes and blinking.  What is this Matt McGloin shit?  Did Professor Fink take over the NFL?

frink

(FOX Broadcasting)

McGloin passed all over the Texans’ glavin, throwing for 197 yards, 2 TDs and a 105.9 passer rating.  Houston was content to invite McGloin to throw the ball against weak pressure (see below), and the rookie came through.  After coming from Penn State and the uber-scandal there, dealing with the Silver & Black misery must seem like a walk in the park.  McGloin is the 17th quarterback to start a game for Oakland since 2003 – whaaaa? – and he made it a memorable start to an undetermined pro career.

TRIVIA BOMB:

According to Elias Sports Bureau Matt McGloin is the second undrafted player in the modern draft era (since 1967) to have 3 TD passes, no INTs and a win in his first career start.  The other was the unforgettable Todd Philcox for the Browns in 1992.

I SAW the Texans extend their franchise-worst losing streak to eight games as head coach Gary Kubiak returned from a mini-stroke.  Kubiak spent the game in the upstairs booth, massaging his tender brain through another torturous showing by his players.

Being relegated to the booth by doctors didn’t stop Kubiak from sending his quarterback to the pine, though.  After watching starter Case Keenum struggle his way through the first 2+ quarters, Kubiak replaced him with former starter Matt Schaub to a chorus of boos from the home crowd.  That’s it, loyal fans.  When your team needs a break in a close game, why not boo the new guy on the field?  In all, 2-for-16 on third down isn’t good for a coach’s health.  Neither is what unfolded between Schaub and one of the franchise’s cornerstones….

I SAW Texans WR Andre Johnson get into a shouting match with QB Matt Schaub near the end of the game, which led to the wideout immaturely walking off to the locker room before the end of the game.  The verbal altercation came after a bad Schaub interception in the end zone on fourth down to kill a drive that could have given Houston the lead during the final minute.  I don’t know what Johnson said to his quarterback, but it’s clear on the replays that Schaub looks at Johnson and says, “you stopped on the route”, to which the receiver took exception.  The thing is, both of them were probably right – and wrong.  Schaub put up a shit throw.  Johnson did appear to pull a Frank Costanza and stop short.  Ultimately, Johnson shouldn’t have left the field – and he certainly shouldn’t have given such a candid interview in the locker room after the game, when he didn’t exactly deny that he was disgruntled to be playing for a team in disarray, playing the tell-all “I’m under contract, so I have to swallow this” card. 

I SAW the Texans continue to miss defensive leader LB Brian Cushing.  Take a look at these numbers for the defense in non-blitzing situations since Cushing was lost for the season in Week 7:

Texans Pass Defense, 4 Or Fewer Rushers – This Season

First 6 Games Last 4 Games
Comp % 50.8 65.7
Yards Per Att 6.1 9.0
TD-INT 2-0 5-0

(ESPN Stats & Information)

While we’re on the topic of the Houston defense, their run D wasn’t so hot either….

I SAW Raiders RB Rashad Jennings have a huge day against a reeling Texans defense.  Playing in relief of the Man Made Of Glass, Darren McFadden, Jennings had 150 yards and a TD on 22 carries.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, he had 109 yards after first contact, the most in a game by any player this season.  Note, though, that 73 of those yards came on his 80-yard TD scamper – the most such yards on a single run this year.

SNF- Denver (9-1) wins vs. Kansas City (9-1), 27-17

I SAW the champagne go Pop! for the 1972 Miami Dolphins – still the only undefeated team in NFL history.

I SAW an interesting game that, somehow, in my opinion both teams can be happy with.

At first it looked like the Broncos might put up a big early lead, but the Chiefs answered back to score their first offensive TD in 7 quarters.  This offense has been scrutinized throughout KC’s improbable start – and rightfully so – but it awoke enough from its slumber in the mountains Sunday night to make this one a game.  Despite a so-so stat line, I thought Chiefs QB Alex Smith looked better throwing downfield than he had all season.

If I’m KC I’m upset about the loss, but still come away with a lot of positives.  There was three times when the defense could have intercepted Broncos QB Peyton Manning – two of which could have been returned for touchdowns.  Overall, the team answered the call even though they fell short.  In fact, given the performance, I’d still take the Chiefs over Denver in bad weather.

More on the bright side for Kansas City: They’re still tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West (and the conference) and Denver has to play New England in prime time next week, then the travel to Arrowhead for the rematch of Sunday night’s game.  However….

I SAW one looming concern for the Chiefs: Their league-leading pass rush has gone cold.  According to the NBC broadcast Kansas City had zero knockdowns of a hobbled Peyton Manning.  That gives the defense just 1 sack over their last three games.  Mind you, KC went 2-1 over that span, so the D isn’t just a one trick pony.  But linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will need to rediscover their sack skills if the unit is going to continue to dominate.  Losing DE Mike DeVito for any length of time won’t help matters.  DeVito left Sunday’s game with a knee injury.  He’s been a key component in occupying blockers so that the ’backers can wreak havoc.

The other side of the coin is that the Broncos game isn’t much of an indication of a lack of penetration on defense because they chose not to try and get to Manning as part of their game plan.  To wit: Kansas City sent 4 pass rushers or fewer on 34 of Manning’s 40 dropbacks.  However, if that’s your strategy you’ve go to contain the receivers of the Clockwork Orange offense and the Chiefs failed at this, giving up a season-high 189 yards after the catch.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW the main priority for the Chiefs to address in the offseason: speed at the skill positions on offense.  Yes, RB Jamaal Charles is shaping up as one of the biggest game breakers the league has seen and Dexter McCluster can bust one, but Denver’s defenders were around the ball a lot more than they usually are and it’s not because they found better closing speed all of a sudden.  A downfield-oriented tight end would fit in very well in this offense.  Credit goes to the Broncos defense, but too often it looked too easy for them.

I SAW one way that Broncos QB Peyton Manning left his imprint on this showdown: The quiet game had by Chiefs S Eric Berry, whose name is usually called much more often that it was Sunday night.  Through a variation of check downs to run plays and looking Berry off in the passing game, Manning helped neutralize one of the game’s premier safeties and he did so in typical Manning fashion: with his mind.

Manning’s brain will have to continue to work overtime while he negotiates a tough slate of games in the near future on bad ankles.  Both of the quarterback’s feet were taped up tighter than Bill Belichick’s lips after a loss, and it could be the case that his ankles pose a problem for quite a while.  He was very tight-lipped about their condition after the game, and the quieter Manning is about his ankles, the more they are likely to be a problem.  If either wheel ends up going flat, so does Denver’s season.

I SAW cause to direct attention to someone we haven’t heard much about this season:

Chiefs OT Eric Fisher, the first pick of the 2013 draft.

When was the last time we got halfway through November with barely a mention of the performance of a #1 overall draft pick in their rookie season?  The consensus seems to be that Fisher is struggling to adapt to the speed of premier pass rushers (he played at small-school Central Michigan in college), but his travails have been overshadowed by his team’s surprising success.  If KC starts to falter, expect the criticism of Fisher to gather steam.

I SAW Broncos rookie RB Montee Ball continue to run his way out of the dog house with two TD runs.  Ball started off the season with a case of fumbilitis, but has since taken good care of his namesake.  Starter Knowshown Moreno still gets the majority of the carries in this offense (he had 27 on Sunday), but tends to fade late in the season so it’s good that the Broncos are building Ball’s confidence heading down the home stretch.

I SAW Broncos LB Shaun Phillips come through again when fellow ’backer Von Miller couldn’t.  Phillips had been a welcome disruptive player during Miller’s 6-game suspension for violating the NFL drug policy, and when Kansas City focused on him Sunday night, the former Charger stepped up again: 10 tackles, 2 QB hits, 2 passes defensed and 1.5 sacks.  Phillips deserves a lot of credit for helping the Denver defense in his first year with the team and the 32-year old is my leading candidate for Bargain Of The Year, having been signed to a 1-year, $1 million deal last summer.

I SAW that if history is any indication one of the teams from this game could be involved in Super Sunday.

TRIVIA BOMB:

This is the first time since 1948 that two teams in the same division started 9-1 or better.  In the previous 4 cases, one of the teams ended up in the Championship Game.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

MNF- Carolina (7-3) wins vs. New England (7-3), 24-20

I SAW the second-most surprising success story of the season (the Chiefs take the cake) win their sixth straight.  The Panthers are rewriting their reputation thanks to a defense that is playing at an elite level.  After Kansas City gave up 27 to the Clockwork Orange Broncos Sunday night Carolina’s D now leads the league in points allowed (13.5 per game) and is the only squad in the NFL to rank in the top 5 in overall defense, passing defense and rushing defense.  They also took over with the longest active streak of consecutive games with a takeaway, with 14.  (New England had a 36-gamer snapped in the same game.)

Sure, maybe the Panthers won on a missed call by the refs (see Away from the game(s)) but even Patriots Tom Brady and Bill Belichick admitted that New England shouldn’t have let the game come down to that play.  A win is a win, after all.

Carolina is now a legit contender for a first round bye in the playoffs.  They trail division leader New Orleans by just one game and they still get to play them twice in this regular season.

I SAW that, though the Panthers defense is the main reason for their turnaround this season, QB Cam Newton is their barometer:

Cam Newton – 2013 Season

First 4 Games Last 6 Games
W-L 1-3 6-0
Comp % 57.5 67.4
TD-INT 6-5 10-3

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Mind you, football is a very comprehensive sport – even statistically.  Carolina’s defensive domination gives Newton and the offense good field position, more possessions and as a result help tire out the opponent’s own D.  But Newton’s numbers in wins and losses are telling.

It doesn’t hurt when your O converts 8 of 11 third downs.  In fact, credit Newton for the lion’s share of that success too, as per ESPN Stats & Information.  At least six of those conversions were his doing.  He ran four times on third down for 56 yards – all first downs – and two of his three TD passes were on third down.

Moving the chains with his legs on the penultimate down is nothing new to the third-year wunderkind.  His 31 scrambles for first down on third down leads the NFL since he entered the league in 2011.

I SAW this game get characterized by long, grinding possessions.  In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information the 14 combined drives Monday night is the fewest in an NFL game since 2008.

I SAW Patriots RB Stevan Ridley possibly buy himself a ticket out of town at season’s end.  Head coach Bill Belichick isn’t one to tolerate turnovers and Ridley leads NFL running backs this season with 3 lost fumbles even though he missed time due to injury.  In fact, Ridley is tied for the most RB fumbles over the last two seasons, with 5.

I SAW Panthers DE Charles Johnson go down with an injury in the second half.  Losing Johnson would be very bad for Carolina.  Everyone likes to gush over LB Luke Kuechly – and rightfully so – but Johnson is the leader of the D, the locker room presence. It looked like he knew the injury was serious at the time, too.  He had one of those vibes of frustration, those “this is our year, the worst time for me to go out” sort of moments when the medical staff came out to look at him.  However, Johnson ended up playing again before the game ended, so hopefully it’s not as bad as it initially looked.

I SAW myself not wanting to take away from Ted Ginn Jr.’s winning TD grab, but the Panthers wideout pushed off big time.  But that’s nothing new.  Offensive pass interference is the least called penalty in football.

I SAW Panthers WR Steve Smith prove again that he is one of the strongest guys in the NFL, pound for pound.  Patriots Aqib Talib is a beast of a corner at 6’1”, 205 pounds and Smith tussled with him through handsy defense, shoves, altercations and the like to get the better of Talib.  After the game, Smith was his usual hilarious trash-talking self.  With reporters he also referred to Talib as “another notch in the bed post” (via CBSsports.com).  Man, I’m going to miss Steve Smith when he’s gone.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 12 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter 

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