The Week 13 "effort" (and we use the term liberally to describe our work) is highlighted by the red-hot Kurt Warner's victory in a battle of aging gunslingers, Robert Meachem's game-changing plays on both offense and defense for the refuse-to-lose Saints, and a victory-by-default for Jay Cutler and the Bears over Kyle Bollers and the Rams.
He upstaged BrettFavre Sunday and has been absolutely spectacular in his last four games, ever since his five-pick meltdown against the Panthers on Nov. 1. Here are his scorching-hot cumulative numbers in those four games, all victories:
- 88 of 121 (72.7%) for 1,089 yards, 9.0 YPA, 12 TD, 0 INT, 133.2 passer rating.
The Cardinals have lost one game over the past five weeks: a 20-17 loss to Tennessee in which Warner, suffering from a concussion, did not play. The victory over the Vikings was certainly of the "statement" variety: it was the team's first win over the past month against a Quality Opponent.
Warner has served notice: he outgunned BrettFavre in December and is playing his absolute best football as we head into the home stretch. – KJB
In two games against Indy, Johnson has produced just 147 yards rushing on 36 carries (73.5 YPG, 4.1 YPA). Those numbers are well below his averages of 136 YPG and 6.5 YPA in his other 10 games this year.
Johnson ran 27 times against the Colts this week, but produced just 113 yards, with a long of 11 yards.
He did, however, tie the Houston/Tennessee franchise record held by Earl Campbell with his seventh straight 100-yard game.
The Colts, meanwhile, won their "official" record-tying 21st straight game, despite relatively quiet days from big-name offensive stars Peyton Manning (270 yards, 1 TD), Reggie Wayne (4 catches, 48 yards), Dallas Clark (3 catches, 25 yards) and Joseph Addai (21 attempts, 79 yards).
Instead it was second-year receiver Pierre Garcon who torched the Titans with 6 catches for 136 yards. Indy's No. 2 WR has come on strong with 17 catches and 307 yards in the last three games.
Indy failed to rush for 100 yards again Sunday. In their record 21 consecutive wins, they have rushed for 100 yards as a team just six times. – DZ
New Orleans 33, Washington 30
The Saints refuse to lose.
In a battle reminiscent of the 1998 NFC championship game epic between the Falcons and Vikings, the Saints tied the Redskins on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem with 1:19 remaining.
The score came on the heels of missed 23-yard chip-shot field goal miss by Washington's Shaun Suisham that could have sealed the game.
In overtime, Redskins running back Mike Sellers lost a fumble – one of three Washington lost on the day – setting up Garrett Hartley's 18 yard game-winning field goal.
The warm-weather, dome-residing Saints won a game when the temperature was below 40 degrees for the first time since 1995, thanks to a slew of spectacular plays, including a dramatic Meachem touchdown
to forge a 17-17 tie in the second quarter. Washington DB Kareem Moore had picked off a wild Drew Brees pass, only to get stripped by the Saints wide receiver, who raced untouched 44 yards for a momentum-turning score.
Brees followed up his "best-ever" performance last week
against the Patriots with his most prolific performance of year: he set season highs with 35 completions, 49 attempts and 419 yards. – BS
N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 24
The December woes for the Cowboys continued while the Giants saved their season: with a 7-5 record, the G-Men are just one game behind the Cowboys and Eagles in the playoff race.
Dallas quarterback Romo completed a franchise record 41 of 55 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns, but his numbers speak to the empty futility of volume.
The stat line looks big and spectacular, but it was actually a fairly ordinary day for Romo, with an average of 7.1 YPA. That one mediocre YPA number tells you more about the game than the gaudy attempt and completion numbers.
New York's Brandon Jacobs scored on a 74 yard touchdown reception and Domenik Hixon returned a punt 79 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that proved to be the difference in the game.
The Cowboys have not posted a winning record in December since 2001. With December games remaining against San Diego and New Orleans, it looks like that string will continue. Sunshine Superman Romo, meanwhile, is now 5-11 as a starter in games played in December and January. – BS
Miami 22, New England 21
The Patriots fell to 1-5 on the road this year, but even that's misleading: the only win came against Tampa in London.
Miami QB Chad Henne's numbers look ordinary (29 for 52, 335 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 80.2 rating). But he was money when he had to be. The second-year quarterback completed a number of big third down throws (Miami was 10 for 19 on third-down conversions) and one enormous 13-yard pass to Greg Camarillo on 4th-and-6 with just over 2 minutes to play to set up Dan Carpenter's game-winning field goal.
The Patriots twice failed to come away with any points in the red zone after having first-and-goal inside the Miami 10-yard line: once on a failed 4th-and-1 attempt in the second quarter; and another time when Tom Brady (19 for 29, 352 yard, 2 TD, 2 INT, 101.5 rating) was intercepted in the end zone with just under 10 minutes to play. Brady threw his second pick of the game, both in the fourth quarter, on New England's final possession. – TC
Cincinnati 23, Detroit 13
Matt Stafford is within striking distance of breaking one of Peyton Manning's most untouchable records, and it's a big reason the Lions are 2-9 this year.
Stafford threw two more interceptions on Sunday against the stifling Cincinnati defense, giving him 20 for the season with four games left to play. In 1998, Manning set the rookie record for interceptions with a stunning 28.
With 20 in 12 total games, Stafford is on pace for 27 picks despite missing two full games. He has had some nice moments this year, and throwing a lot of interceptions as a rookie is not necessarily a sign of things to come. Still, the Lions won't win consistently until Stafford learns to protect the football (they also need to completely remake the worst pass defense in the history of football ... but let's not expect miracles).
Manning learned how to protect the ball, with spectacular results for his organization. So there is hope.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are a bruising running team that posted 119 yards on Sunday. It's the ninth time in 12 games that Cincy has surpassed the century mark on the ground.
They are 1-2 when held under 100 yards and 8-1 when they break they surpass 100 yards.
Cedric Benson was responsible for 110 of those 119 yards, giving him five 100-yard games and 969 yards total for the season. In Benson's previous four seasons, he had a career high of 747 yards rushing and a total of five 100-yard games.
On the other side of the ball, the Bengals continue to lead the league in scoring defense (15.6 PPG). – DZ
Denver 44, Kansas City 13
On the day the Chiefs retired the number of one of their greatest defensive players ever, the late Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, the team surrendered more than 40 for the second consecutive week.
It's the first time Kansas City has allowed consecutive teams to rack up 40 or more points since 1983, six years before Thomas joined the team.
The Denver defense, meanwhile, seems to have righted its listing ship over the last couple of weeks after surrendering 117 points during their four-game losing streak in November.
The Broncos have allowed just 19 points over their last two games. Denver's sixth-ranked Defensive Hogs drove Matt Cassel (10 for 29, 84 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 14.6 rating) from the game in favor of Brody Croyle, who didn't fare much better (6 for 14, 50 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 52.7 rating).
Offensively, the Broncos showed shades of the Shanahan Era, pounding out 245 yards on the ground on 45 carries (5.4 YPA), making life easy for Kyle Orton (15 for 25, 180 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 92.1 rating). – TC
The Raiders fielded one of the worst passing offenses in modern history for the first nine weeks of the season, behind former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell.
The Raiders had a record of 2-7 and had not scored more than 20 points in a game. In three games since Brad Gradkowski took over as the starter, the Raiders have beaten the playoff-off bound Bengals and now the defending-champion Steelers, with both wins coming in dramatic fashion.
Gradkowski (20 for 33, 308 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 8.6 YPA, 121.8 rating) torched the Troy Polamalu-less Pittsburgh secondary all day long, and led the Raiders on two long fourth-quarter touchdown marches.
The first was a three-play, 84-yard drive that culminated in Louis Murphy's 75-yard TD catch. The second was more impressive: Oakland marched 88 yards with less than 2 minutes to play and no timeouts. Gradkowski managed the clock brilliantly, hitting Murphy on the winning 11-yard score with just 15 seconds remaining. Murphy snagged four passes for 132 yards and 2 TDs, averaging 33 yards per catch.
Pittsburgh's once-great and now-mediocre defense gave up 396 yards (6.1 yards per play) to an Oakland squad that entered the game with the league's second-worst offense. The Steelers now rank 16th in Defensive Passer Rating (84.0).
Pittsburgh has lost four straight games, including defeats against AFC West doormats Kansas City and Oakland, and appears to be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the last time the team was the defending Super Bowl champion. – TC
San Diego 30, Cleveland 23
The Chargers came into this game ranked third in the Passing Yards Per Attempt
. They jump into the No. 2 spot this week, behind only New Orleans and just ahead of Indy and New England, after a virtuoso performance by Phillip Rivers against the Browns.
Rivers went 18 for 25, for 373 yards and 2 TDs (140.8 rating), and averaged a spectacular 14.3 yards per attempt. Rivers has topped the 300-yard mark four times this season and sports a passer rating of 104.9, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the third-best mark in the NFL.
LaDanian Tomlinson's 4-yard run for a score in the third quarter was the 150th touchdown of his career, a milestone he has reached faster than any player in NFL history (137 games). Tomlinson also passed Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown to move into eighth on the NFL's career rushing list. San Diego has won seven straight games and remains undefeated in December during the Norv Turner Era (10-0).
Cleveland QB Brady Quinn (25 for 45, 271 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 95.7 rating) had his second quality game in his last three starts, and actually led a pretty spirited Browns fourth-quarter comeback.
But the effort failed, as you expect from the Browns. Cleveland has already clinched its eighth season with 10 or more losses in the 11 years since the franchise was reborn. – TC
Philadelphia 34, Atlanta 7
In his much-awaited return to Atlanta for the first time since 2006, Michael Vick exploded with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown against his old team, the 11th time in his career that he's achieved both in the same game.
Philly kicker David Akers tied his own franchise record with his 17th consecutive field goal, while Sheldon Brown returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown.
The Falcons, who have never posted back to back winning seasons, dropped to 6-6 on the season. – BS
Jacksonville 23, Texans 18
No team wins less impressively than the Jaguars.
Jacksonville has not produced a Quality Win
all year and has been outscored overall 225-273 despite their 7-5 record. They've posted those seven wins by an average of 3.7 points against opponents with a combined record of 30-54 (.357).
The Jags do almost nothing well except beat the constant slate of losers on the schedule. They are 21st in Bendabiltiy, 28th in Scoreability, 26th in Defensive Hog Index, 23rd in Defensive Passer Rating and 20th in Passer Rating Differential.
Despite all this, the Jags finish the weekend looking like a playoff team: if the season ended today, they'd hold the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
Meanwhile, as the Jags rise toward the postseason, the Texans continue their free fall. Once 5-3 and looking at the first winning season in franchise history, Houston has dropped four straight games by a total of just 19 points. Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing at one point this season, but has now thrown seven picks in his last five games after posting just five in his first seven.
The Texans made throwing interceptions a team-wide activity on Sunday as three different players (Schaub, Rex Grossman, and running back Chris Brown) each managed to toss a pick to the Jaguars. – DZ
Seattle 20, San Francisco 17
They 49ers moved the ball effectively against the Seahawks, averaging 6.1 yards per play. But when it came time to move the chains, they failed miserably, going 1 for 13 on third down and averaging just 3 yards on those plays.
San Fran QB Alex Smith completed 67.6% percent of his first- and second-down passes, but just 36.3 percent of his third-down throws.
The Seahawks controlled the 49ers by limiting their ground game to just 53 yards. It was the first time in six weeks that the Seahawks and their sub-par Defensive Hogs have held an opponent under 100 yards rushing.
Seattle's Olindo Mare banged home the game winning kick with just second remaining. Since missing two kicks against the Bears early in the season and incurring the wrath of head coach Jim Mora through the media, Mare has hit 14 consecutive field goals, but Seattle is just 3-5 in that span. – DZ
Carolina 16, Tampa Bay 6
The fledgling Josh Freeman bandwagon fell apart in spectacular fashion Sunday, as the Tampa rookie set a career-high with 321 passing yards but tossed five interceptions, three of them in or near the red zone.
Carolina's Matt Moore was unimpressive in his fourth career start, but he avoided the critical mistakes that always seem to dog the team's No. 1 quarterback, Jake Delhomme. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 161 yards – a very proficient 8.1 YPA – with just one INT.
Connor Barth missed two field goals for Tampa Bay, while Carolina's John Kasay became just the seventh kicker in NFL history to kick 400 field goals. – BS
Chicago 17, St. Louis 9
The Rams are like a miracle drug peddled by a 19th-century traveling medicine man: good for whatever ails you.
What ails Chicago is a bad quarterback and a lifeless offense. Jay Cutler completed just 8 of 17 passes for 143 yards against one of the worst defenses in football, but the Bears still managed to eke out the victory over the 1-11 Rams.
Give a tip of the cap to his St. Louis counterpart:
Kyle Boller dropped back to pass 35 times Sunday, turning those opportunities into just 98 yards of offense – 2.8 yards per drop back.
Boller is now 0-4 starting for St. Louis. Steven Jackson, meanwhile, topped 100 yards rushing for the seventh time this year, but his team has little to show for it: The Rams are 1-6 in those seven games. – KJB