What I Saw, Week 12 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 12, 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 a wacky weekend in the NFL, making the playoff picture get sexier, if not cloudier.  The whole NFC North went winless this weekend; New England made Denver look bad and themselves look awfully resilient at the same time; numerous Wild Card contenders made big statements, led by the Chargers and Cards.  There are so many teams in the mix.

How I CURRENTLY see it:

AFC

 (1) DENVER (9-2): I’m not a hater – Clockwork Orange is something to behold as an offense – but I’m not going to buy a Peyton Manning-led team making it to Super Sunday until I see it.  The future Hall Of Famer has flopped in the playoffs and big games more often than not.  Sunday night’s loss reminded us of the question, if the elite offense has an off game in the postseason, could the flawed D keep them in it?  That being said, there’s still a status gap between them and the rest of the conference right now.

(2) NEW ENGLAND (8-3): Sunday’s crazy comeback aside (remember – behind every great comeback is a long stretch of playing like shit to dig a hole), this team takes the other bye week almost by default.  That, and because of the injuries to Cincinnati’s defense.  The Patriots are arguably as weak all-around as they have been during the Belichick-Brady era, but it’s still the Patriots we’re talking about and now they’re inside Peyton Manning’s head again.  Oh – and their closing regular season schedule: @ Houston, Cleveland, @Miami, @Baltimore, Buffalo.  The only way I see things going south for New England is if that Ravens game means more than it should to either team.  Bottom line: In so many ways I feel like this team’s postseason life was shortened when DT Vince Wilfork went down, just like Cincy’s was when they lost their own anchor on the D-Line, Geno Atkins….

(3) CINCINNATI (7-4): The Bengals come out of this week’s bye into a gauntlet that will ultimately determine the winner of the AFC North: @Chargers, Colts, @Steelers, Vikings, Ravens.  That Week 17 tilt against Baltimore could be for all the marbles.  Cincy has too many weapons on either side of the ball to give the division away.  Will the North champ snag the third seed?  That depends on the mind-boggling Colts just as much as it does on the Bengals.

(4) INDIANAPOLIS (7-4): What the eff is up with the Colts?  They’ve sunk like a stone the last few games.  You can say that QB Andrew Luck has played against some solid defenses the last three weeks (the Rams, Titans and Cardinals).  I say he’s regressed without WR Reggie Wayne in the lineup.  You can bet that a game breaking possession wideout to compliment speedster T.Y. Hilton will be one of GM Ryan Grigson’s top priorities in the offseason.  For now, if they can’t do a 180 the Colts will be backing into the playoffs faster than Brüno’s boy toy backs into a fire extinguisher.  Hey, it worked for that little Asian guy, and it worked for the Ravens last season.

(5) KANSAS CITY (9-2): No team outside of Indy or Arizona looks as different over the span of the last two weeks as the Chiefs, and now with some key injuries mounting for their headline-making defense (LBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston join DE Mike DeVito in the infirmary) KC has gone from a contender for the top seed to one that has to be mindful of the teams breathing down their necks for the fifth spot.  It doesn’t help that their rematch against Peyton Manning and the Broncos comes next week, but head coach Andy Reid will keep his team steady enough to make it into January. 

(6) SAN DIEGO (5-6): My gut usually hates the ’Bolts but then I showed it the remaining sched: Bengals, Giants, @Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs.  Those are some tough games.  However, I feel like this team has some weird potential to play up to their opponents – especially QB Philip Rivers.  Also, note that 4 of San Diego’s last 5 are at home in fairer weather, which favours their style of play.  The next two weeks against teams that need to win just as badly as they do in Cincy and New York will likely determine SD’s fate.

THE CONTENDERS/GLOB OF 5-6 TEAMS (from best to worst):

TENNESSEE: This team could very well sneak into the playoffs.  WR Kendall Wright is starting to fulfill his potential and the defense is regaining some of its swagger from the old Jeff Fisher-Gregg Williams days.  In fact, it’s going quite low under the radar that defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is being assisted by none other than the Bountygate icon Williams himself.  The Titans also get Jacksonville and Houston to finish the season.

BALTIMORE: The defending champs may very well have to take the AFC North from Cincy to make the playoffs.  They only face one more team that currently has a losing record and they’re not exactly heading into the home stretch with a head of steam.  The Ravens offense ranks 30th overall and 25th in scoring.  Can you really see it getting any better than it is right now?  It won’t be enough.

PITTSBURGH: Maybe it’s head coach Mike Tomlin, maybe it’s the stubbornness of him and his elderly leaders in the locker room.  Maybe it’s the emergence of WR Antonio Brown (no one burns CB Joe Haden like that) and rookie RB LaVeon Bell.  Maybe the Steelers aren’t so dead after all.

MIAMI: This team is intriguing right now.  It could all fall apart on a moment’s notice but they’ve got the obvious chip on their shoulder from Bullygate, they made a bit of a statement by putting Carolina on the ropes all game, and it kinda looked like QB Ryan Tannehill maybe sorta was starting to develop a vibe with disappointing WR Mike Wallace on Sunday.  In a way.

NEW YORK JETS: If you COMBINE the passer ratings of QB Geno Smith from the last two games you get 34.4.  Total.  Rigor mortis is starting to set in for this offense.  It’s not enough to extend their season – even if the pass defense gets their shit together.

NFC

(1) SEATTLE (10-1): The best team in the NFL – the one with the least amount of weaknesses, anyway.  Having a bye this late in the season (too late, if you ask me) can always threaten to upset a team’s mojo but Seattle’s roster is too good all over the place to slump too much.  If they secure home field advantage they should be the odds-on favourite to take the conference – and the whole shebang.  If offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell keeps the play calling balanced (translation: don’t forget to feed RB Marshawn Lynch the rock) and WR Percy Harvin’s return from injury frees up the field for QB Russell Wilson this team is going to be tough to beat anywhere, let alone in the city with the best home field advantage in the NFL.  I’ve been seeing Seattle’s elite defensive backs give up a few more big plays than usual, but that shouldn’t last…once they’re all healthy again.  The one thing that could bite Seattle in the ass right now: Cornerbacks Brandon Browner (injury) and Walter Thurmond (suspension) are out for at least a month and 4 weeks, respectively.  CB Richard Sherman is going to have to iron out the few kinks he’s shown in his game in recent weeks to help S Earl Thomas carry that unit.

UPDATE: Word is that Browner could be suspended for a year for another drug violation.

While we’re on it, how many Seattle players need to get suspended for violating the NFL substance abuse policy before it becomes seen as an institutional issue?  C’mon man?  C’mon (head coach) Pete Carroll.

(2) NEW ORLEANS (9-2): I was flip-flopping between the Saints and Panthers for the NFC South crown – and the teams haven’t even played the two games against each other yet – but I’m looking at this on a weekly basis and the Saints looked better to me this week than the Panthers did.  Rob Ryan really has the defense flying all over the field in a way that the franchise desperately needed.  As much as QB Drew Brees spreads the ball around (see New Orleans wins @ Atlanta, 17-13) I worry how dependent he is on TE Jimmy Graham.  But if both players stay healthy it shouldn’t matter since this offense gets players free downfield as consistently as any in the NFL – and if they’re not open Brees throws them open.  All of that being said, ’Nawlins has to play in Seattle next week, followed by Panthers-Rams-Panthers.  If they lose two of those three games, they could lose the division.

(3) DETROIT (6-5): The NFC North looked awful this week, and the Lions were no exception.  There are so many key injuries in this division that it’s turned into a bit of a soupy mess at the “top”.  It’s no coincidence that the leader in the division is the only team that has had a healthy quarterback all season.  (Ironically, they also have the best backup in Shaun Hill.)  The offensive line in Detroit has been improved, but credit QB Matthew Stafford for improving on his reads and getting the ball out faster this season to cut down on plays under duress.  The Lions have been the least injury-bitten North team thus far, and I think the Stafford, Calvin Johnson and (to a lesser extent, especially lately) Reggie Bush attack is going to nab them a crucial win or two on the way out of the regular season.  But their pass defense is among the biggest flaws of any NFC playoff team.  Moreover, NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk is right when he says that this team plays without discipline.

(4) PHILADELPHIA (6-5): I just can’t go with Dallas, though they look just as likely to take the NFC East as Philly does.  Let’s just put it out there right now: Whoever wins the division won’t seem deserving of a home game in the Wild Card Round, but that’s what they’ll get.  Like Seattle and Cincy, the Eagles have a weird late bye week this week, and how new head coach Chip Kelly and his team negotiates the week off could play a large role in determining their future.  QB Michael Vick admirably admitted to the media that current starter Nick Foles should remain under center, which could help stabilize Philadelphia’s mindset for the remaining games.  The defense, however, needs a miracle to be stable.  They could end up costing the Eagles a playoff berth, but I think the offense will bail them out just enough – including during that huge Week 17 game in Dallas that looms huge on the horizon.

(5) CAROLINA (8-3): A huge part of me envisions the Panthers wining the South because I doubt if the Saints can come out of their lethal 4-game stretch that starts next week with enough wins to stay ahead of resurgent Carolina.  Mind you, two of those games are against those same Panthers, so the future is tantalizingly unclear.  This doesn’t get said enough, but the more passing-oriented the NFL becomes, one can argue that defense becomes all the more crucial and Carolina’s defense is playing like the best unit in the conference these days.  What I like about this team the most is that despite its youth it’s showing serious moxie.  Over the last few games something different has gone wrong for Carolina – on Sunday it was their uncharacteristically low conversion rate on third down (6-of-17) – but they keep gutting out wins.  It would be a huge boost for the Panthers if their running game could produce like it did against the Dolphins (136 yards).  You’ve gotta love these teams that are too young to know any better.  Overall, this team scares the rest of the NFC – and it should.

(6) SAN FRANCISCO (7-4): I still can’t not see the Niners playing in January, but at times it’s hard.  They can look just as lost as they do good.  On Monday night they handled a vulnerable Redskins team.  Next week they hope to get WR Michael Crabtree back, but reports are uncertain.  The biggest worry at the moment isn’t so much the inconsistent play of QB Colin Kaepernick as it is the inability to get RB Frank Gore and the ground game going.  Gore has averaged just 60.4 yards per game over the last five, and the Niners rank 22nd in the NFL in time of possession.  That’s not San Francisco football.  The notion of team identity can be overused at times, but if a group has built one and it loses it, “identity” can be an issue.  The Niners have only partially gotten back to their identity since a bad start to the season.  If they can’t find it, it’s going to be a long winter.    Having LB Aldon Smith return to form after a troubling season would certainly help.

THE CONTENDERS (from best to worst):

ARIZONA (7-4): BEWARE THE CARDINALS!  Aside from a head-to-head tiebreaker that the Niners hold over them – with the rematch awaiting, in what could be a humongous Week 17 game – Arizona could be in the postseason if it started this week.  How did this happen?  An always-understated defense that is back among the best in the league after adjusting to the departure of coordinator Ray Horton (who’s doing just fine up in Cleveland) is the main reason.  But the other side of the ball seems to be adjusting to a new coaching staff themselves.  QB Carson Palmer’s timing under new head coach Bruce Arian has sharpened, which has in turn helped cut down on quarterback pressures allowed because the ball is moving more crisply down the field.  No one wants to play this team right now.

CHICAGO (6-5): Aside from the Packers, is there another team whose fate has been more determined by injury than the Bears?  The headliner is the absence of QB Jay Cutler (who might be due back soon) but it’s the defense that is ravaged by injury, particularly the interior of the line.  Case in point: The 40-Burger they allowed to the Rams on Sunday.  To make matters worse, RB Matt Forte left that loss with a groin injury.  In other words, if this team makes any moves toward the playoffs late in the season they’re going to be limping while they do.

GREEN BAY (5-5-1): That tie against the Vikings on Sunday could end up killing the Packers.  Obviously their fortunes depend upon the return of QB Aaron Rodgers, but wow has rookie RB Eddie Lacy ever done a great job keeping the offense in games in the star’s absence.  Here’s Lacy’s weekly rushing yard totals since missing Green Bay’s Week 3’s loss to Cincy and then resting on a Week 4 bye: 99, 120, 82, 94, 150 and 73 before laying an egg against the Giants with 27 yards two weeks ago.  But against the Vikings on Sunday he rebounded with 110.  Green Bay’s main concern is their defense.  They’ve sustained so many injuries on that side of the ball that even Minnesota QB Christian Ponder was able to post a 100+ passer rating on them.  The D won’t be able to elevate them high enough to overcome that notch in the tie column.

ST. LOUIS (5-6): It seems like the Rams alternate between drawing scoffs from pundits when its implied that they’re a good team to taking down teams with authoritative, physical performances.  Defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long lead a punishing front seven that can give the best offenses headaches.  The rookie duo of RB Zac Stacy and WR Tavon Austin have developed a feel for the game that is making the offense good enough to steal games when their D flexes its muscle.  If the Rams don’t make the playoffs they’re going to make life difficult for some teams that are trying to play on – St. Loo plays the Niners, Cardinals, Saints and Seahawks before the season is over.

DALLAS (6-5) and NEW YORK GIANTS (4-7): The Cowboys beat the Giants in a nail biter Sunday, but we all know that both of these teams are whacky enough that anything goes for the remaining weeks.  It’s likely they’ll have to win the East to make it to the playoffs.  The Cowboys are the more likely possibility at this point, but they’re just as talented at bungling up the best-made plans as the Giants have proven to be.  For aesthetic reasons, let’s hope both of these teams are watching from the couch in January.  Edge: Dallas, with a 4-0 division record over the G-Men who basically need to run the table to stay alive.

I SAW reason to mention a team on its bye that I didn’t include in the AFC playoff contenders – the Bills.  At 4-7 I just don’t think they have the healthy personnel to make a push.  Having WR Stevie Johnson and RB C.J. Spiller in and out of the lineup has been too much to endure while grooming rookie QB E.J. Manuel.  But this team is no pushover.  I’m not sure how this snuck up on me, but coming into Week 12 Buffalo led the NFL in sacks and interceptions.

Byes: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle

TNF- New Orleans (9-2) wins @ Atlanta (2-9), 17-13

I SAW one of those classic games that by most accounts shouldn’t be close, but ends up being so because it’s a divisional game and the team playing a disappointing season ratchets up the pride meter against a familiar foe.  Add to that the fact that no one likes to get schooled during prime time, and you get a hard-fought game.

Atlanta jumped out to an early score on the first drive but fell behind by halftime, which has been the case in every Atlanta game since Week 7.  In the end, they ended up losing their fifth straight to clinch the first losing season in Hot-Lanta since 2007.

The Dirty Birds made a late push for the win Thursday night but ultimately their O-line ended up being their demise once again….

I SAW the Falcons have a number of issues to address in the offseason – among them a pass rush – but the biggest concern has got to be the offensive line.  There my not be a group in the NFL with slower feet than Atlanta’s hogs.  The Saints tallied a team high this season of 5 sacks – 4 of which came in the second half when it really mattered.  And Falcons QB Matt Ryan was under duress far more often than that.

About that pass rush….

I SAW the ineffectiveness of the Atlanta pass rush stick out like a sore thumb against the Saints and QB Drew Brees.  Brees was 11-for-17 with 134 yards and a TD when the Falcons sent 5 or more rushers Thursday.  Actually, the Falcons lead the league with 14 TDs allowed on plays with 5 pass rushers or more.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  Sure, Atlanta needs help at safety, but their corners aren’t bad at all and no defensive back squad can keep up with opposing receivers when quarterbacks are given the amount of time that the inept rush allows them.

I SAW the most direct way to put a finger on Atlanta’s problems this season: The Falcons rank 30th in turnover differential with -12.  You can do all sorts of other things, but that sort of number has a way of erasing all other good deeds – just like how doing well in that category can cover up other shortcomings.  (Kansas City, I’m looking in your direction.)

I SAW Saints QB Drew Brees continue to spread the ball around like it’s fucking Nutella.

Nutella

Has there ever been a more effective equal opportunity passer than Brees?  Last week he hit 11 different receivers in a win against the Niners.  On their first scoring drive Thursday night he hit 4 different Saints on third down.  On one drive!

I SAW one huge improvement to the Saints offense has been its downfield passing attack, largely due to the return of TE Jimmy Graham to full health.  (Oh – and the return of that Payton coach guy.)  Graham was in and out of the lineup last season due to injury but this year he and Brees have connected on the deep ball in a way that has the quarterback’s mojo back after a season of struggles in that department.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, last year Brees tied for the NFL league with 10 interceptions on throws of 15 yards downfield or longer.  This season he has just two picks in those situations, and both his TD passes on such throws (13) and Graham’s receptions (6) lead the league this season.  In fact, Brees has been downright lethal when going long:

Drew Brees Passing 15+ Yards Downfield – This Season

Category Production NFL Rank
Comp % 53.5 2nd
Yards Per Game 136.6 1st
TD 13 1st

I SAW Saints DL Cameron Jordan have his way with the Falcons O-line Thursday.  He lined up on the edge, inside, and manhandled whoever was tasked with trying to stop him.  When the dust settled Jordan had 3 tackles – 2 for loss – 2.5 sacks, 4 QB hits and a pass deflection.

I SAW what could be considered a changing of the guard game at tight end.  There’s no question that Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is the G.O.A.T. at the position.  But Saints TE Jimmy Graham is the one most likely to take the torch.  On Thursday – almost certainly the last game the two men will play against each other – Gonzo watched with his 4 catches and 43 yards as Graham Shaqed the crossbar, put up 100 yards and a TD, drew double coverages to free up the underneath areas for the backs to catch the ball and also tied the NFL record for 100-yard receiving games in a season at the position, with 6.  The man he tied?  Why, Gonzalez, of course – who did it twice, in 2000 and 2004.  (Elias Sports Bureau)  Gonzalez also made career catch 1,300 in the game, second only to the incomparable Jerry Rice.

One more note on Graham: According to ESPN Stats & Information the tight end had 26 yards after contact against Atlanta, which is a career high.  That surprises me.  It can mean two things, or both: That Graham is more of a route runner than a guy who makes moves after the catch, or that Brees is so good at getting him the ball in stride at the right place and time that the yards Graham legs out after a catch end up being untouched until he’s tackled or reaches the end zone.    

I SAW Falcons RB Steven Jackson have a decent game, with 63 yards on 16 rushes and a touchdown.  Too bad it was his first good game of the season after being what I thought of as the highest value free agent acquisition of the offseason.

Dallas (6-5) wins @ New York Giants (4-7), 24-21

I SAW the Cowboys tie the Eagles for the NFC East lead with 5 games left.  Let the typical late season shitstorm that is that division begin!

I SAW one key to beating the Giants exposed: Take WR Victor Cruz out of the game.  Dallas locked down on the speedy slot receiver, who was targeted just four times on Sunday.  According to ESPN Stats & information that makes just the fourth time in Cruz’s short career that he has been thrown at four times or less.  (Three of them came in his first six pro games.)

I SAW more “see, Romo is clutch!” talk, making me roll my eyes.  Yes, Cowboys QB Tony Romo did put together a clutch win against the Giants on Sunday.  Yes, he’s the most proficient closer in the league right now, strictly in terms of game-winning drives:

Most Game-Winning Drives, 4th Quarter/OT – Since 2011

Drives
Tony Romo 11
Matthew Stafford 10
Andrew Luck 10

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Look at the company Romo keeps on that list.  Do you think of those guys as established clutch players?  Maybe Luck – if he’d been doing it for more than a season and a half.

Furthermore, I plan to investigate this in the coming months once Romo’s season is over, but I question how many of Romo’s “clutch” wins have come in so-called “must win” games.  I don’t consider Sunday’s big game one that placed too much pressure on Romo since the Giants needed the victory much more.  It feels to me like when the stakes are higher, the Cowboys QB lays eggs.  Research pending – I want to base my Romophobia on data.

I SAW Cowboys RB “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray gain 86 yards on 14 carries – a gaudy 6.1 average.  It can’t be overstated how helpful it is for Dallas to play with balance on offense.  A productive running game helps take the heat off of a suspect offensive line when they have to pass block.

I SAW shame on Cowboys LB Bruce Carter and S Jeff Heath for just standing there like pylons while Giants TE Brandon Myers got up from the turf and waltzed into the end zone after a lunging reception.  (The TD cut the Dallas lead to 8 points.)  Pathetic.

I SAW a bullshit roughing the passer penalty called on Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka that negated a Dallas turnover.  True, Kiwanuka did hit Cowboys QB Tony Romo in the head area, but he tried not to and was pushed into the quarterback by a Dallas lineman.  If roughing the kicker/punter is nullified when the opposing player is blocked into the kicker/punter, shouldn’t that apply to these situations as well?

I SAW Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne leave the game with a hamstring injury.  How many more injuries can Big D’s D take?

Carolina (8-3) wins @ Miami (5-6), 20-16

I SAW what would have sounded like the silliest thought in September: The Panthers have won seven straight and a playoff bye is within reach.

QB Cam Newton didn’t have a great game on paper, but he showed some house-sized balls when he set up WR Steve Smith for a 19-yard catch and run on fourth down and 10 on his own 20-yard line, trailing by 3 points in the final minutes of the game.  The drive ended with :43 seconds left and a winning TD for the Panthers.

Carolina’s win streak is their best since 2003 (STATS LLC) and with two slugfest wins against the Niners and Patriots coming into this game, there’s no team in the NFL that’s throwing its weight around like head coach Ron Rivera’s squad and their smash-mouth defense.

Will Carolina look past the Buccaneers, next week’s opponent?  They’d better not – with two games against division-leading New Orleans looming, the sky’s the limit for this club.

I SAW – whoa!  I saw Dolphins WR Mike Wallace!

The disappointing and highly paid free agent acquisition caught 5 balls for 127 yards and a TD Sunday against Carolina.  He only caught 50% of the balls he was targeted on, but for a guy who hadn’t caught a touchdown since Week 2 I’m sure Miami will take it.  It would be a huge boost for the ’Fins if Wallace could sustain his production for his team as they push for a playoff berth.

I SAW Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill fuck up the end of a game again, only this time it actually cost his team the game.

Sure, they needed a prayer to take the win against the Panthers, but with scant seconds left and Miami on the Miami 40–yard line with no timeouts Tannehill took the snap, juked, dodged, shucked, jived, beeboped and scatted around with the ball as though he was waiting for the clock to run out – which it did – and then he took a sack.  Game over, there you go, Panthers – wrapped and bagged.

This comes after a game during which Tannehill quizzically ran out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away while nursing a lead near the end of a game.  Luckily the ’Fins beat the Chargers despite Tannehill’s Week 11 blunder, but he paid for the dumber one on Sunday.  I’m thinking that the coaching staff needs to work on teaching their young QB to appreciate the virtues of throwing the ball away.

I SAW the Miami running game’s productivity in the previous game prove to be a mirage.  I bet the Dolphins wish Sunday’s 16 yards on 13 carries from the running backs was the mirage.  Ouch.

Arizona (7-4) wins vs. Indianapolis (7-4), 40-11

I SAW perhaps the most surprising 40-Burger of the season to this point by the Cardinals – their most points in a game this season.  Arizona’s wins are getting less and less surprising as the weeks go by.  The surprise is how easily the Colts have lied down for two of their last three games.

Man, the Colts have fallen on hard times.  They look totally lost, and head coach Chuck Pagano seemed grief-stricken after the game.  Without a reliable possession receiver QB Andrew Luck looks worse at times than he ever did during his rookie season a year ago.  (His 163 yards on Sunday was the second lowest total of his pro career.)  Aside from an aberration of and 80-yard, 5.7 average day from Donald Brown two weeks ago the coaching staff have been grasping at straws trying to find a consistent ball carrier.  And the defense is mistake-prone and very vulnerable downfield – and that was before Indy lost their best defensive back, CB Vontae Davis.

The Colts’ slump isn’t the only recent surprising development that was apparent in this game….

I SAW Cardinals QB Carson Palmer enjoy a mini-resurgence. He’s beaten up on the AFC South over the last three weeks, averaging 324.7 passing yards per game against the Texans, Jags and Colts and he’s looked really good while doing it.  Palmer has cut down on the bad decisions as well, throwing just 2 interceptions over the last four games, and continued to elevate WR Michael Floyd (104 yards on Sunday after 193 against Jacksonville one week ago) while connecting with wideout Larry Fitzgerald for two touchdowns.

That second Palmer TD throw to Fitzgerald was a thing of beauty, the quarterback not being able to step into the throw but arming it out there with mustard and right on target.  Plamer’s showing more of these sorts of moments in recent weeks than he has in years.  Maybe new head coach Bruce Arians and his staff has some new throwing routine that has injected life in to Palmer’s once-dead arm.  To paraphrase Springsteen, maybe some things that die someday come back.  Maybe the resurgence is mostly psychological.  Whatever the reason, Palmer looks legit these days, and he has the maturity to command the huddle during the high-pressure moments that loom on the horizon.   It sounds almost insane, but as long as the running game can sustain some balance on O (120 yards against the Colts) the playoff picture might be Palmer’s to paint.

I SAW the Cardinals join the Panthers as the pair of shocking teams that no one wants to play.  Arizona is riding a 4-game win streak behind head coach Bruce Arians, who tapped into Chuckstrong as an interim head coach, leading the Colts to a similarly rapid ascension. 

I SAW the Cardinals defense continue another great season.  Against a weak Indy offensive line, Arizona was able to lock down receivers with their superior DBs and ’backers, which allowed the D-line to have an extra heartbeat’s worth of time to get to QB Andrew Luck.  The results were convincing: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cards pressured Luck on a career-high 15 dropbacks and did so while sending added pressure at their lowest rate this season (29 percent of Colt dropbacks).

I SAW PROPS to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald for becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards.  He beat Randy Moss by 137 days.

San Diego (5-6) wins @ Kansas City (9-2), 41-38

I SAW the Chiefs take another hit to their psyche – and their roster.

Anatomy of A Mini-Slide

In losing two games in a row after a 9-0 start, Kansas City also may have lost two of their best defenders.  Linebackers Tamba Hali (ankle) and Justin Houston (elbow) both left the game with injury, with Houston’s situation looking much more dire.  KC got one sack on Sunday to end their drought in that department, but that hardly serves as ample consolation for a team that might have to play without their two best sack artists.

To make matters worse, the 40-Burger the Chargers hung on the Chiefs on Sunday took some of the shine off of a newfound dominance at Arrowhead stadium with the Broncos coming there to face Kansas City next week.  On top of KC’s failure to get a takeaway at home for the first time this season San Diego made it look easy to march up and down the field against the Chiefs in their own house:

Chiefs Defense At Home This Season

First 5 Games Sunday
Points per Game 12.6 41
Yards per Game 304.8 491
Pass Yards per Game 227.6 387

(ESPN Stats & Information)

Put differently, the Chiefs allowed 65 points total all season at home coming into Sunday when the ’Bolts needed just 60 minutes to put up 41.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers abused the vaunted Chiefs D on the most important sort of play: third downs.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers completed a paltry 42.3 percent of his passes on the penultimate down during their recent three-game slump but he got well against Kansas City: 11-of-13 for 199 yards on third down.  That’s incredible for any QB – and unacceptable for any defense.

All of a sudden, the defense that was widely viewed as the NFL’s best this season is in serious damage control mode at the worst possible time.

I SAW a sick throw by Chargers QB Philip Rivers to Seyi Ajirotutu to win the game in the clutch.  Perfect timing, perfect trajectory to beat the closing safety and get over the outstretched hands of the cornerback.  You don’t get any better then that.

Is it me, or did Rivers and the Chargers do most of their damage on the left side of the field?  That’s something the Chiefs coaching staff has to notice and address with in-game adjustments.

Is it me, or is the fun that player-analysts and broadcast personalities have with Ajirotutu’s name racist?  The name’s truly not hard to pronounce; his last name is practically spelled phonetically.  Why does everyone have to either celebrate when they pronounce it properly, or just give up as a joke?  Nobody ever did that with (Caucasian) Brett Favre, whose name is much more counterintuitive in terms of pronunciation.  But nobody ever says anything about this.  I guess we are, after all, living in a culture that champions former Toronto Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki for acting like an exaggerated Asian stereotype.

I SAW the Chargers continue to get loads of production from two players on offense that few expected to put up the numbers that they have:

RB/WR/Little Guy Who Does Whatever Danny Woodhead had 207 total yards against the Chiefs on Sunday, with a receiving TD and a rushing score.  This is by no means the first time the departure of starting back Ryan Mathews from a game due to injury has been a blessing in disguise.  (Is it really in disguise?)  Woodhead is a true (former) Patriot in that he finds ways to make himself available in space way more than his physical stature would indicate.  It’s Woodhead’s Swiss Army knife style of offense that has filled a missing role for QB Philip Rivers since the departure of Darren Sproles to the Crescent City.

WR Keenan Allen has become Rivers’ most reliable target this side of TE Antonio Gates – in his rookie season.  I did not see this coming when the Chargers took Allen in the third round of the draft, but after a slow start he’s had 4 100-yard receiving games and Rivers has targeted him at least 9 times in four games as well.  That’s a lot of trust in a first year wideout, and Allen has rewarded his quarterback for it.  He just needs to get a better sense for the end zone (3 TDs so far this season), but that’s not a knock on the guy.

I SAW a telling state about the limitations of QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense.  I’ve been saying for years that Smith is flat-out unproductive when asked to throw downfield beyond 10-15 yards.  On Sunday he was 3-of-3 for 85 yards and a TD on throws 15 yards or more downfield.  Don’t let that success hide the lack of attempts. Coming into the weekend, Smith had managed a ghastly 2.2 completions per game on such throws this season.  RB Jamaal Charles has been amazing this season – only Philly’s LeSean McCoy has more than Charles’ 122.1 total yards from scrimmage per game, and Charles ran for 115 and scored twice Sunday – but it’s clear that won’t be enough unless the Chiefs can find another way to generate big plays.  It’s hard to see them coming from Smith at this point.

I SAW PROPS to Chargers TE Antonio Gates for becoming the fourth tight end in league history to amass 700 receptions and 9,000 yards.  (STATS LLC)

Baltimore (5-6) wins vs. New York Jets (5-6), 19-3

I SAW the Ravens keep their playoff hopes alive, thanks in large part to the resurgence of WR/PR Jacoby Jones, who had 103 yards on four receptions and 108 yards on 5 punt returns.  Jones hadn’t been the same since getting injured on opening night of the season, but on Sunday he moved the chains and set his team up with great field position.  Baltimore is going to need more of that sort of impact from Jones in the following weeks – starting with a huge Thanksgiving tilt against archrival Pittsburgh on Thursday.

The Ravens D played well too, forcing three turnovers and holding the opposing offense to 1-for-12 on third down.  But hey, that offense belongs to the Jets….

I SAW the game of Jets QB Geno Smith continue to deteriorate, especially in the pocket, which is unfortunately where his coaches want him to be:

Geno Smith Inside The Pocket – 2013 Season

First 10 Games Sunday vs. Ravens
Completions per Game 15.1 7
Completion % 59.0 38.9
Yards per Att 7.5 5.4
TD-INT 7-16 0-2

(ESPN STATS & Information)

Come to think of it, now that I’ve looked at those numbers again, Smith has stunk in the pocket all season.

In the first half, the Jets 5.0 yards per play with Josh Cribbs taking the snap on 5 plays out of the wildcat formation.  With Smith under center over the same span they averaged 2.7 (CBS Broadcast).

I heard analyst (and former GM) Charley Casserly declare on NFL Network this week that the Jets would be well served to draft another QB in next years’ draft if a highly rated one is available at their spot.  Ouch.

I SAW Ravens QB Joe Flacco go 14-of-18 with 249 yards and a TD against four pass rushers or less on Sunday.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  I say: Who cares?  Those numbers came against the Jets, who have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL.  Coming into the weekend Flacco had thrown just 6 touchdowns against 10 interceptions with no blitz.  That’s pretty damn bad for a $100 million quarterback.  Those should be the situations that an “elite” QB makes few mistakes.  But Flacco’s an average QB who had one great playoff run.

Pittsburgh (5-6) wins @ Cleveland (4-7), 27-10

I SAW the Steelers do their best Giants impersonation by starting the season 0-4 and playing them back into playoff contention.  They’ve now won three straight.  Pittsburgh wants to take the rest of the season one game at a time.  They don’t have much time to move on to the next game – they face archrival Baltimore on Thanksgiving Thursday in just four days.  For now I’m sure the Steelers are just glad the Ravens game is actually relevant for them.

I SAW Browns WR Josh Gordon play so well on Sunday that he performed the rare feat of taking a game over despite his team losing by a large margin.  The second year beast of a wideout tied a franchise record with 14 receptions in a game, and set a new one with 237 yards receiving.  It seemed like Gordon was everywhere, catching every manner of throw.  What a game for a rising NFL star.  I predict he’ll become a star due to the fact that he’s putting up huge numbers without a good quarterback.

The only problem?  No one else can do a thing in the passing game for the Browns offense:

Browns QBs By Target – Sunday vs. Steelers

Gordon All Other Browns
Comp-Att 14-17 13-35
Yards Per Att 13.9 2.1
TD-INT 1-0 0-1
Drops 0 2

(ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW Browns QB Jason Campbell leave the game with a head injury after having his helmet slammed to the turf on a sack.  Too bad for the 31-year old Eriq La Salle lookalike, who had been letting his Soul Glo in recent weeks in what was a mini-revival of his moribund career.

In stepped sophomore disappointment Brandon Weeden who answered boos from the home crowd by pick-ing up where he left off – literally – when he served up a pick-6 to Browns CB William Gay in the fourth quarter to seal the game.

I SAW Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger continue his dominance against the Browns.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Big Ben’s 16-1 career record against Cleveland is tied for the best record against a single opponent by any QB in NFL history.

Best Record Against Single Opponent – QBs To Debut In 1950 Or Later*

Player W-L-T Opponent
Ben Roethlisberger 16-1 Browns
Roger Staubach 16-1 Giants
Tom Brady 21-2 Bills
Len Dawson 20-2 Broncos
Bob Griese 18-2-1 Bills

(Elias Sports Bureau)

*- Minimum 15 starts

Roethlisberger is also an impressive 37-11 against the rest of the AFC North in his career.  (STATS LLC)

I SAW the Steelers improve to 25-5 against the Browns since 1999.  (STATS LLC)  It’s hard to envision Cleveland turning the franchise around without at least one signature win against Pittsburgh.

St. Louis (4-7) wins vs. Chicago (6-5), 42-21

I SAW the battered and depleted Bears defense reach rock bottom Sunday against the Rams.  Chicago had better hope that was rock bottom, at least.  Sure, rookie RB Zac Stacy has been a godsend for a disappointing St. Louis offense, but when another rookie Benny Cunningham teams with Stacy to lead the team to an eye-popping 261 yards on just 26 rushes not counting three QB kneel downs.  Jesus!  Treadmills don’t get run on that much.

It gets worse: 213 of those 261 yards came before contact – the most given up in one NFL game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.  The D in the Windy City is so battered that it can’t even stop a breeze and everyone else in the league knows it.  The numbers show a brutal slide while the roster started to thin out:

Bears Run Defense By Week – 2013 Season

First 6 Games Last 5 Games
Yards per Rush 3.8 5.9
Yards Before Contact per Rush 2.2 4.1
TD 5 9
Fumble Recoveries 8 0

(ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW myself unsure about what to do with these Rams.  The QB position is occupied by a bum (Kellen Clemens) after their franchise passer went down for the year (Sam Bradford).  The defensive backs – namely Cortland Finnegan, who is now done for the year, and Janoris Jenkins – have really regressed from last season’s tenacious campaign.  St. Loo was in the toilet from Week 2 to Week 9, going 2-6 in that span.

And then they take the Colts out to the woodshed, to the tune of 38-8, then a bye, then this 40-Burger on the Bears.  We now know Indy isn’t the team we thought they were, and Chicago is a walking infirmary, but those are two very dominating performances.  Their division is likely too competitive for them to make the playoffs at this point, but this is a dangerous, weird team.

I SAW Rams WR Tavon Austin show his otherworldly speed in the open field again on Sunday with a 65-yard TD run.  Yes, it was against a shoddy Bears defense (see above), but according to STATS LLC it was the rookie’s fourth straight TD this season from beyond midfield.  The great Gayle Sayers is the only other player in league history to have three 50+yard touchdowns in a two-game span.  (NFL Network)

Think Austin should have been getting the ball sooner, (offensive coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer?  Brutal.

I SAW a funny moment in this game, when Rams DE Chris Long ran onto the field to keep his little brother, Bears OL Kyle Long out of a skirmish.  Many are calling it brotherly love, but I can’t tell if that’s what it was, or if Chris wanted the first crack at lecturing baby bro about proper behavior.  Check it out – you be the judge.

 

Tampa Bay (3-8) wins @ Detroit (6-5), 24-21

I SAW – don’t look now, but the Buccaneers have now won three straight and…never mind, don’t look.  But they did sneak away with one….

First, a TRIVIA BOMB:

The 2013 Bucs join the 1978 Cardinals as the only teams in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first eight.  (STATS LLC)

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

Thief In The Night Award

Tampa Bay Bucs

For almost the whole fourth quarter neither team seemed to want to win this game.  Tampa Bay squandered two opportunities: They blocked a Lions punt only for Ryan Lindell to miss a gimme field goal; they took a false start penalty that backed Lindell up to a 50-yard field goal that he pulled wide left.  Meanwhile, Detroit looked lethargic on offense until QB Matt Stafford found WR Calvin Johnson inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line, but Megatron lost a handle on the ball and the Bucs were there to gladly take both it and the game.  Mind you, that wasn’t the only way that Detroit helped engineer Tampa Bay’s theft….

I SAW the Lions turn the ball over five times – four of which came on interceptions from QB Matthew Stafford.

As mentioned in my playoff picture in Away from the game(s), the Lions are an undisciplined team.  Still, despite prevailing opinion the statistics don’t support the fact that Stafford forces the ball to WR Calvin Johnson with disastrous results.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, Sunday marked the first time since Week 10 in 2011 that Stafford threw multiple interceptions when targeting Megatron.  (He was 7-for-14 for 115 and two INTs against the Bucs when looking for Johnson.)  And the killer pick – inside the Bucs’ 5-yard line within the final minute of the game – was actually an unbelievably well thrown ball by Stafford, put on a rope off his back foot and right in Megatron’s gut.  The problem was that the ball was jarred loose and possessed by a Tampa rookie Johnthan Banks before it hit the ground, which effectively ended the game.

For all their iffy performances as a team this season, this marks the first time Detroit has lost two straight games and hold the lead in the NFC North via a tiebreaker with Chicago.  They’re going to need to play with more focus to hold onto the division – starting with a Thanksgiving Day showdown with Green Bay this week.

I SAW the lone Lions turnover not caused by a Matthew Stafford interception come when WR Kris Durham caught a ball near the sideline and somehow ended up flipping the pigskin up in the air as he flew out of bounds, trying to change his grip on the ball.  It was one of the weirder fumbles I’ve seen in a while.  It looked almost intentional, the way Durham managed to lose the ball the only way he could have to enable a Buccaneers recovery.

I SAW Buccaneers WR Tiquan Underwood prove himself to be the Kid to QB Mike Glennon’s Play. house-party

(New Line Cinema)

Okay, so maybe Glennon is white.  Whiter even than Chris “Kid” Harris (who isn’t white).  But at least Underwood rocks the Bel Biv Devoe flattop:

Tiquan-Underwood

(www.espn.com)

That shit is Poiiiiiiiisuuuuun.

I digress.

The Lions got Tiquandoed by Underwood:

TRIVIA BOMB:

Underwood’s 85-yard TD catch is the third longest in franchise history.  The other two were by Willie Drewery in 1990 and ’91 – both thrown by Vinnie Testaverde.  More of a TRIVIA GRENADE, but I’m all over any chance to refer to The Testicle.

It was Underwood’s time to live, with a career-high 108 yards en route to his first multi-TD game and an unexpected outdoing of All-World Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

I SAW Lions WR Nate Burleson catch seven balls for 77 yards and a TD in his first game since breaking his arm while trying to reach for a sliding pizza box while driving home.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  Burleson’s return could make a huge difference in the Motor City in terms of spreading the field.

Green Bay (5-5-1) ties vs. Minnesota (2-8-1), 26-26

I SAW the first tie game in NFL history played after each team scores a field goal in OT.  The new overtime rules – whereby the team that kicks off gets a chance to answer if the receiving team scores a field goal but not a TD – have only been applied to regular season games since last season.  I looked back, and this was also just the second time under the new rules that both teams scored a field goal on their first possession.  The other one was Texans versus Jaguars last season, when Houston wideout Andre Johnson had a huge game, including the winning TD grab in extra time.

I SAW Packers LB A.J. Hawk sum up his team’s sentiment after this tie (via the Associated Press): “I think to everybody around here, it feels like a loss, for sure.”

As mentioned in my playoff picture in Away from the game(s), this tie could really come back to haunt them during the playoff race.

Green Bay can’t worry about that now.  What they need to do is get healthy, starting with CB Sam Shields, who’s battling a bad hamstring.  Head coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday that QB Aaron Rodgers “felt really good” throwing the ball, but still isn’t ready to play this Thursday.  Rodgers will be back at some point and the Green Bay offense isn’t exactly sputtering in his absence thanks to RB Eddie Lacy (again, see Away from the game(s)) and some capable spot duty from backup quarterback and whirling dervish Scott Tolzein.  It’s the defense that needs to get well in the meantime, particularly against the pass, particularly right now.  They travel to Detroit to face Megatron for Thanksgiving and if the Pack can’t come up with a win they’re probably sent packing for the offseason.

I SAW the first game this season that Vikings RB Adrian Peterson truly carried his team to…a non-loss.   AP had 146 yards and a TD on 32 carries.

It was yet another milestone day for Peterson, who played his 100th career game on Sunday.  He ended up passing the great Barry Sanders into third all-time for rushing yards through a player’s first 100 games:

Most Rush Yards Through First 100 Career Games – NFL History

Player Yards Through 100 Games
Eric Dickerson 10,818
Jim Brown 10,403
Adrian Peterson 9,846*
Barry Sanders 9,766

(ESPN Stats & Information)

*- Stats updated by TFQ to include Week 12

I SAW Vikings Letroy Guion get juked on a hilarious spin move by Packers QB Scott Tolzein en route to a TD.

Guion done got shook.  Honestly, how does a spin move executed several yards away from the would-be tackler work?

I SAW Packers QB Matt Flynn play in relief of a struggling Scott Tolzein (who went just 7-for-17 before being relegated to the sideline).  For the sake of both quarterbacks and my nausea level, let’s just leave it at that.    

I SAW Vikings WR Greg Jennings’ season continue to suck.  While boos from the Lambeau faithful showered down on the former Packer he managed just 2 catches for 29 yards.  He also dropped a crucial third down pass with 2:11 left in overtime.  36 receptions for 439 yards and 2 TDs through 11 games was hardly what the Vikings brass expected when they signed Jennings to a fat 5-year, $45 million deal in the offseason.

And it’s not like his quarterback was having an off day….

I SAW Vikings QB Christian Ponder have a rare good game: 21-for-30, 233 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 103.9 rating.  A good game, not great.  In fact, Ponder’s three best passer ratings this season have come against the injury-riddled Packers defense twice, and against the porous Redskins pass D.  In other words, Ponder isn’t doing much to convince the Minnesota front office that he’s their quarterback going forward.  The problem with the situation at that position in Minny is that if they draft another passer they hardly have a decent veteran to teach a rookie the ropes.  What they do have, however, are three shitty passers getting paid good cash – Ponder, Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel.

Tennessee (5-6) wins @ Oakland (4-7), 23-19

I SAW the Titans occupy one of those “if the playoffs started today blab, blah” Wild Card spots with a win over the Raiders.  I don’t think there’s been a quieter team than Tennessee all season.  They lost their sophomore QB, Jake Locker just as he seemed to be getting his groove on – twice – and no one took much notice.  Apart from the travails of RB Chris CJ1K Johnson the Titans have been anything but in the media.  But here’s what we have: A team that is about as average as it gets on paper that plays hard and is learning how to win tough games under third-year head coach Mike Munchak.  Some playmakers are beginning to emerge too.  Second year WR Kendall Wright is proving that it wasn’t just RG3 and the Baylor air attack that made him good – the wideout has averaged 6.8 catches over the last 5 games, played mostly with subpar QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.  CB Alterraun Verner is tied for the NFL lead with 5 interceptions and plays a lockdown style of coverage that you wouldn’t expect from a corner getting thrown to often enough to snag that many picks.  The linebacking corps is quietly becoming one of the more consistent groups in the AFC.

I admit – I don’t want to see this team in the playoffs because they’re so bland aesthetically.  But they’re a tough, tough team built largely after the image of the franchise’s hay day under head coach Jeff Fisher and Munchak himself as a player (as well as offensive line coach Bruce Matthews).

What’s more, Fitzpatrick is stepping up, as evidenced by his game-winning TD to Wright with ten seconds left on Sunday.  How long is it until Fitzy starts throwing those head-shaker interceptions he’s so good at?

I SAW some sources, like ESPN Stats & Information and NFL.com. conjuring up a QB controversy in Oakland now that Matt McGloin has played well for 8 quarters.  I just don’t see it unless the franchise has stupidly already given up on Terrelle Pryor as their starter and want McGloin to audition for the job.

Jacksonville (2-9) wins @ Houston (2-9), 13-6

I SAW the first truly meaningless game of the season.  Falcons-Bucs came close last week, but Atlanta was arguably hanging onto an improbable chance at the postseason by their fingernails.

Let’s leave this steaming log be, with this.

It’s not that I don’t care about this game, it’s that I shouldn’t.  Nor should you.

 

SNF- New England (8-4) wins v. Denver (9-2), 34-31-OT

I SAW a nice gift from the football gods on Sunday night.  Rarely does the game most observers would mark down as the best matchup when the schedule comes out turn out to be the game of the regular season, but that’s what we got from Broncos-Pats.

To be honest, sometimes I like to let a game like this stand on its own without much discussion, like a good movie.  But that would make me a bad blogger, wouldn’t it?  It was a crazy, crazy game that had a bit of everything, with some TRIVIA BOMBS thrown in for good measure:

A shearing wind to turn game plans upside down (see below) and inspire a vintage Bill Belichick moment when the Pats head coach instructed his captains (to their collective shock, according to Logan Mankins) to choose to play with the wind and give Denver the ball if they won the coin toss for OT.

New England scoring on their last 5 possessions of the second half to put together the biggest comeback in franchise history after trailing 24-0 at the half.  The game also marks Denver’s biggest blown lead ever.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

A mind-bending 11 fumbles combined by both teams.

The lowest passing yardage output by Broncos QB Peyton Manning since the final game of the 2009 regular season.

According to the NBC Broadcast, Broncos QB Peyton Manning had been 52-0 (including two playoff wins) in games during which his team held a lead of 22 points or more.

I’ll let my boy Kerry Byrne at ColdHardFootballFacts.com show you all you need to know about what he accurately calls Manning’s “mis-performance.”  Byrne is among the league’s best number sleuths, and he does a typically thorough job of unpacking it.  Here it is.  Call it a TRIVIA NUKE.

I SAW the game ultimately get decided by a costly error by Broncos WR Wes Welker.  This game was Welker’s hyped-up chance for redemption against the team that cast him away in the offseason in favour of the so-far disappointing Danny Amendola.  I remember back in his days in Indianapolis that QB Peyton Manning would talk about how he had to keep receivers happy, making sure he fed certain players the ball at the appropriate time – without forcing the issue, of course.  With this in mind, I expected Welker to have a big night, but the wind and vintage disruptive play from the Pats DBs didn’t allow it.  (What does New England head coach Bill Belichick know about banging Manning receivers that the rest of the NFL can’t seem to figure out?)  Welker managed just 31 yards on four receptions. 

Welker’s biggest impact of the game was a negative one that lost the game.  In the waning minutes of overtime, New England punted the ball.  Welker was the returner, after Trindon Holliday got benched for mishandling the ball a few times.  Surely the wind played a factor on the last punt of the game – the ball was kicked into it, which tends to make the ball dip downward more drastically at the last second.  As the return man, it’s Welker’s job to decide when he will either catch the punt or let it bounce, and if he decided upon the latter, he has to start calling out a code word, waving his arms and whatever else his team has decided on as a signal to the punt return blockers that the ball was going to bounce on the turf.  Those blockers are too busy getting downfield and lining up their blocks to keep an eye on the ball, so they depend on the returner to let them know when they should start looking to the sky and locating the pigskin so that it doesn’t hit them and potentially cause a turnover.  Welker waited far too long to make his decision; he started waving his arms to warn teammates a split second before the ball hit the ground.  You could see poor Tony Carter jerk in a “shit – the ball’s coming down and I have no idea where” reflex as it glanced off of him and New England recovered the ball to set up the winning field goal.  That gaffe is on Welker, as he admitted postgame (via NFL Network’s Game Day Final).

I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady play with amazing poise and arm strength in a crucial third quarter during which his team mounted a comeback while he threw into that nasty wind.  For me, this was one of Brady’s best performances.  (None of the fuckups that put them in a 24-0 hole can be blamed on him.)

You could tell how badly Brady wanted this win once the comeback bid extended into overtime.  How often do you see him so enraged by a missed call that his team needs to take a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty while he chastises the officials, which happened during extra time?

I SAW whatever sexy strategizing was planned for this game essentially go out the window once the weather went as cold and windy as it did.  You could tell that both starting QBs, Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady, had trouble handling the ball in the elements, and there were other hard-ball turnovers by others as well (see below).  Enter a banner day for Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno, albeit in a loss: 224 yards on 31 carries (6.1 average) and a TD.

If there was any doubt how significant the wind was, look no further than when New England elected to choose the end that had them playing with the wind for OT instead of receive the kick.  You’d never see that with the old overtime rules, but even then it’s still pretty rare to see that sort of decision.

I SAW the Patriots commit two turnovers in the first 5:30 of the game and hand the Broncos 14 points basically right out of the gate.  Credit LB Von Miller.  He returned a Stevan Ridley fumble for a TD (see below) and then strip-sacked Pats QB Tom Brady to set up Denver’s next score.

It got worse.  RB LeGarrette Blount coughed up the rock minutes later to give New England three lost fumbles – the most in the first quarter during the Bill Belichick era, setting up the largest halftime deficit of Belichick’s career.  (NBC Broadcast)

But if you think the Patriots have been resilient in the face of their own mistakes during the Belichick era, you’d be right.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Belichick took over the team in 2000 the Patriots have the best record in the NFL in games when they commit at least three turnovers:

Best Win Percentage In Games With At Least 3 Turnovers – Since 2000

Team W-L Win Pct
Patriots 15-25 .375
Eagles 19-34 .361
Bears 22-45 .328
Giants 19-45 .297

Pretty impressive to play with a target on your chest for over a decade and only have 25 games with 3 turnovers.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning look brutally uncomfortable in the cold Foxborough weather.  Manning was wincing, squinting and looked generally annoyed by the elements.  More importantly, he was fidgeting and playing with that glove he was wearing on his throwing hand about as much as Nomar Garciaparra used to make sweet OCD love to his batting gloves.  You can bet that Manning has some compulsive tendencies of his own, and wearing a glove certainly seems to fly in the face of them.  That’s not to be taken lightly as Denver gears up for more cold weather games.

I SAW Patriots DE Chandler Jones play like a beast Sunday night.  The Pats need more of that from him – stat. 

I SAW the Broncos defense have a lot of improvements to make, mostly in the passing game.  They surely never planned to be without cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who left the game with an injury) but Denver’s coaching staff has to find a way to address the lack of depth in the defensive backfield that was exposed Sunday night.  Pats WR Julian Edelman was wide open deep on too many crucial plays.

I SAW that Patriots RB Stevan Ridley is just killing the Pats offense in recent weeks.  I mentioned last week that Ridley may have fumbled his way out of town at season’s end.  Then, Bill Belichick, a head coach notorious for a deep doghouse, lets Ridley start the game and what does he do?  A loose-armed lazy spin on New England’s first drive that allowed the Broncos to knock the ball loose and LB Von Miller worked a scoop-and-score to give Denver an early lead.

MNF- San Fran (7-4) wins @ Washington (3-8), 27-6

I SAW Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan sum this game up well, via NFL.com: “We haven’t gotten dominated like that since I’ve been here.”

Washington gained 30 yards in the second half – the lowest amount by any team this season, and it was the first time in 68 college and pro games combined that an RG3-led offense didn’t score a TD.  (ESPN Stats & Information).  Jesus.

I don’t really know how it started, but Shanahan’s QB Robert Griffin III has become quite the punching bag for the media in recent weeks, and he’s starting to let it get to him, as his awkward and death stare-infused postgame press conference indicated.  (The low point: When RG3 asked a reporter who questioned his leadership what that guy does to be a leader at his place of work.  True story.)

I don’t want to join the “character assassination”, as Shanahan and Griffin have termed the treatment of the quarterback, but it’s safe to say that the second year pivot looked awful Monday night.  My editor Count Yorga hit the nail on the head when he observed that RG3 got hit by the Niners D harder than another Griffin, Brian Griffin, who was fatally hit by a car in the most recent Family Guy.

My take?  Griffin still isn’t the same after knee surgery.  Sure, there have been a number of medical marvels in pro sports in recent years, which can lead us to assume that RG3 should be just fine, but look at the NBA’s Derrick Rose, who missed a whole season rehabbing a similar injury (and sadly is out for the season again).  The fact is, sometimes it still takes until a full season has passed for that knee to be back to its normal explosiveness and the mind to return to its comfort zone.

Furthermore, not every good quarterback should be automatically expected to be the leader of his team – no matter how much he’s paid, or how well he plays.  It’s not like every starting QB’s jersey gets a “C” stitched on it, especially in their second year.  It sucks, too, because the exaggerated criticism certainly doesn’t help the chances of Griffin or his team.  Nor does his undersized O-line, the lightest group of its kind in the league. (ESPN Broadcast)  RG3 has now been sacked four times in three straight games.

I SAW Niners LB Ahmad Brooks strengthen his case for Defensive Player Of The Year Monday night, with 7 tackles – 3 for a loss – 2 sacks, 2 QB hits and a pass defensed.  There is no true shoe-in for the award at this point, but Brooks leads the pack in my mind, not just for his usual rangy plays but because he adapted his game to include more pass rushing when star LB Aldon Smith had to leave the team for personal reasons.  I feel like Brooks got a taste for the quarterback while filling in for Smith and now he’s continuing to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

I SAW Niners QB Colin Kaepernick answer the critics for at least one week with a 235-yard, three touchdowns, 134.5 rated performance.  Let’s just leave it at that, and not climb all over all the read option quarterbacks for just one day….

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 13 – HERE AT TFQ. 

IN THE MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND @TFQuarter

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One thought on “What I Saw, Week 12 – 2013

  1. Pingback: What I Saw, Week 17 – 2013 | The Fifth Quarter

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