For the first time in a long while, things went pretty much to plan in the NFL. Their were no major upsets. No team shocked the world. Only one team that had more than 2 losses than it's opponent won, and that was the Vikings over the Redskins. Not exactly a shocker. Sure their were some near misses. The Cowboys were a fumble away from winning 3 in a row and the Steelers needed OT to get past the Bills. But in the end, except for some minor surprises, the team you expected to win did win. However, there was one game that did shock me, and that was the Chargers over the Colts. Not because the Chargers won but because of how much better they looked than the Colts. Don't look now, but is the Super Bowl losers curse about to strike again?
The Colts were missing three of their top offensive players, Austin Collie, Joseph Addai, and Dallas Clark, and it showed. Peyton Manning threw for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he also threw four interceptions. It was the 3rd four interception game of Manning's career and the first time he's thrown that many in a game in over 3 years. The last time he threw that many in a game it came against, that's right, the Chargers. It also isn't helping Manning that the Colts have become the most one dimensional team in the NFL. They lead the league in passing but are ranked only 29th in rushing. The Chargers and Colts now both find themselves at 6-5 but moving in different directions. "San Diego did a good job," Manning said. "Offensively, we didn't do a real good job. I didn't do a real good job." Thanks for that deep insight Peyton.
Coming into this game the Lions had lost 6 straight games on Thanksgiving, and none of them had been particularly close. So with the Lions leading 24-17 late in the 3rd, it looked like things might actually turn out in their favor this time. That's when Tom Brady decided to pick on Lions CB Alphonso Smith. Brady found Dion Branch who easily ran by Smith for a 79 yard touchdown to tie the game. Then, on their next possession, he found Branch again for a 22 yard touchdown to take the lead for good. In all, Brady threw for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns to finish with a perfect QB rating of 158.3. After giving up the second touchdown, Smith was pulled from the game, although it was too late at that point. "I just want to apologize to my teammates because they played so hard," Smith said. "I feel as if I was the catalyst for this loss. I also want to apologize to this organization and the fans." But don't feel too bad Alphonso. You still have a long way to go before you equal the damage Matt Millen did to the Lions franchise.
If the playoffs started today, the 7-4 Packers would find themselves sitting at home. I guess it's good for them they don't start today. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw for 344 yards and a touchdown, but all he could think about after the game was the play that got away. On 4th and goal on the 1 in the second quarter, Rodgers lowered his head to dive across the goal line. Unfortunately for him, the ball popped out and the Falcons recovered. It was the first turnover in 15 quarters for the Packers. "That's what lost the game," Rodgers said. "It's discouraging not to win a game we should have won." And what is it when you watch your team lose 4 games they should have won?
The Leslie Frazier era in Minnesota is off to a good start as the Vikings did just enough to sneak past the Redskins on Sunday. It looked like it would be more of the same early on when the Redskins scored a touchdown on their first possession, but the Vikings defense stepped up and only allowed two 4th quarter field goals for the rest of the game. Brett Favre threw for 172 yards and finally had a game where he didn't throw an interception. He also had maybe the biggest run of the game. With Adrian Peterson out of the game with an injury Favre dropped back to pass on a 3rd and 8 with just over 2 minutes to play. Favre rolled right, and with his receivers well covered, scrambled up the sidelines for a 10 yard gain and a first down. The first down allowed the Vikings to run out the clock. "He looked younger," Peterson observed. "He looked like he was 38 on that run." If the Vikings are able to keep this going, they just might reach 8-8 or even 9-7 before they miss the playoffs.
Vince Young was having his best year ever. He had thrown 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions and had a very good 98.6 QB rating. He hurt his thumb but he said he could gut it out until the end of the season. But when he lost his temper and threw his shoulder pads into the stands the previous week, Titans coach Jeff Fisher said his season was over. So how did rookie Rusty Smith do in his first start? He threw for 138 yards, 3 interceptions, and finished with a 26.7 QB rating as the Titans were shutout. Considering the Texans have the worst pass defense in the NFL, you have to wonder just how bad it will be when Smith actually has to pass against a team that's good. And if benching Young for the season is just an example of Fisher wanting high character players, why sign Randy Moss who now has only 4 receptions for 49 yards in 3 games with the Titans? And what will Fisher do to CB Cortland Finnegan who provoked an all out fight against Texans WR Andre Johnson? "He kept doing little things," Johnson said. "I guess he thought it was funny." But Johnson got his revenge when he ripped off Finnegan's helmet and landed two clean punches. "I awarded it to Andre on points," Texans owner Bob McNair joked.
The Cowboys had done it. Trailing 20-3 at halftime, the Cowboys had just managed to pull off one of their greatest comebacks in Thanksgiving history. That's when Roy Williams did his best Nate Clements impersonation and had the ball stripped from behind. Drew Brees, who threw for 351 yards, quickly led the Saints offense 89 yards down the field for the go ahead touchdown, and ultimately, the win. "I lost the ballgame," Williams said. "We had the momentum going our way. We were there. That was a W. I get tackled, we get in the end zone and we win. I fall down and we win." Of course, if Dallas doesn't waist 3 draft picks trading for Williams and $45 million to resign him, they probably would have won a few more games as well.
Remember all that talk about the Raiders making the playoffs when they were tied for first a few weeks ago? Welcome it's back to reality Raiders fans. Bruce Gradkowski got the start over Jason Campbell and only led the Raiders to one offensive touchdown. The other came on a 101 yard kickoff return by Jacoby Ford. Gradkowski did throw for 252 yards, but he also threw 2 interceptions and hurt his shoulder on the last play of the game so the Raiders get to turn to Campbell once again. "There was some good stuff and some inconsistency," Raiders coach Tom Capble said of Gradkowski's play. Now he just needs to add, "I need to look at the film," and he'd sound just like Mike Singletary.
Playing behind Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, Matt Cassel never got a chance to show what he could do at USC. On Sunday, his old coach got to see first hand what he is capable of. Cassel threw for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Chiefs easily handled the Seahawks. A huge part of his success was due to WR Dwayne Bowe he had 13 receptions for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns. In all, the Chiefs tore up the Seahawks defense for over 500 yards of offense, the 3rd time that's happened to the Seahawks this season. "I would say just football wise that is the worst anyone could play on defense, 200 yards on the ground alone, that's just the worst game ever," Seahawks LB Aaron Curry said. Of course, he said this before he saw how the Cardinals defense played on Monday.
I'll admit it. I've had some serious doubts about how legitimate the Bears are this season. After this game they're starting to make a believer out of me. Jay Cutler has finally begun to realize throwing interceptions is not that best way to win games. Against the Eagles he threw for 247 yards, 4 touchdowns, and more importantly, he didn't turn the ball over. Combine that with the solid running game of Matt Forte, who rushed for 117 yards, and the Bears offense could be the real deal. Since they've always had a good to great defense, the Bears just might be the team to beat in the NFC. That is until they lose and a different team becomes the flavor of the month in the volatile NFC.
The Rams jumped out to a 20 point fourth quarter lead and were just able to withstand a late Broncos rally to win their first road game of the season. Sam Bradford, who threw for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns, had his first 300 yard game of his short NFL career. When the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan in favor of Josh McDaniels, I don't think they did it so they could have a 21 game stretch where they'd go 5-16. Spygate II also doesn't seem to be helping matters for McDaniels. "I'm not going to talk about any reports or anything like that," McDaniels said, cutting of a question about the taping incident. "We addressed that all yesterday. I'm done with that. I'm done talking about that. OK? Thanks." You know what? I get the feeling that last "Thanks" wasn't sincere.
The difference in this game was the play of these two teams young quarterbacks. The Ravens Joe Flacco looked solid throwing for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the Bucs Josh Freeman was erratic, completing only 46% of his passes while also throwing an interception. The win keeps the Ravens tied for first with the Steelers and sets up a huge match-up against them next week. "The message is simple for us: We haven't lost at home, so let's defend that," LB Ray Lewis said. That sounds familiar. Maybe they should make an add campaign from that. It would definitely be better than having 6 freaky heads pop out of your shoulder pads.
49ers 27, Cardinals 6
This game only confirmed what many 49er fans have been wondering for some time. Why the hell haven't the 49ers used Westbrook more?! Hard to believe but in spite of being only 4-7, the 49ers control their own destiny. If they win out, they're in since they still have games against the Rams and Seahawks and would own they tie-breaker if they won both those games. Got to love the NFC West.