Buccaneers 42, Raiders 32
Despite a slow start Tampa Bay may be the one team that no one wants to play right now. Since overcoming their offensive struggles during their bye week, the Bucs have been unstoppable, scoring at least 35 points in their last three wins, and managed to pull themselves even at .500 at the midway point of the season. This week was no exception as the Bucs were able to hang on for a 42-32 road win over the Oakland Raiders.
The Tampa attack was paced by running back Doug Martin (can we get this guy a nickname that isn't Doug "My Favorite" Martin?), who finished the day with 251 rushing yards on 25 carries, as well as 4 catches for 21 yards. Martin's performance propelled him into Fantasy Football History, as his 51 standard scoring points was the third highest fantasy total of the internet era (95-present)! Josh Freeman continued his strong play, completing 18 of 30 passes for 247 yards and a pair of scores, one each to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the Bucs' star wideouts.
While Josh Freeman's improved play has helped the Bucs success, it is actually the play of rookie running back Doug Martin that has provided the catalyst this offense has needed to be successful. Over the last two games in particular, Martin has been unstoppable. During that span, Martin has rushed for 386 yards and 5 touchdowns, to go with his seven catches for 100 yards and an additional score. As Martin has found success, so have the Bucs.
Sure Tampa was playing Oakland this week, and Carson Palmer was able to do enough to keep the game interesting, but that's only because Tampa has the worst pass defense in the league, a number that has not been as detrimental as it seems it should to a team in the loaded NFC. The fact that the Bucs are the owners of the 13th ranked passing attack and 9th in rushing speaks volumes for Greg Schiano's system and what he has gotten accomplished in such a short time.
Tampa's play since their bye week has been inspired, and with only three games remaining against opponents that are currently above .500 (two games with Atlanta, at Denver) things are certainly setting up nicely for Martin and Co. down the stretch. Tampa will host the San Diego Chargers next week before back to back divisional games against the Panthers and Falcons.
Panthers 21, Redskins 13
The Carolina Panthers ended their five game skid yesterday, defeating the Redskins by 8 points for their first road win of the season. Steve Smith hauled in his first touchdown catch of the year, and the Panthers switched things up in the win, using Cam Newton on fewer plays than at anytime during their losing streak.
On Sunday, the Panthers ran 31 plays through Newton, i.e., pass attempts, rushes or sacks. During Carolina's five game losing streak the Panthers were averaging 43.4 plays per game that were run for Newton, a number that peaked at 50 in last weeks loss, and at its low was 40 plays (during the loss to Atlanta). Whether this is a direct result of Newton's surly behavior during the losing streak or the coaches simply trying to relieve pressure from their second year signal caller remains to be seen, but expect a more balanced attack form Carolina down the stretch.
The Panthers 2-6 record means players and coaches alike are most likely playing for pride at this point, if not for their jobs. DeAngelo Williams, in particular, is a player to watch, as he has massively under-performed the contract extension he was given. While Carolina was hesitant to pull the trigger on deal that would have sent the former Pro-Bowler packing at the deadline, expect him to be moved this off-season. The Panthers would benefit most from acquiring draft picks, but a trade for a stud interior lineman would bolster their offensive line immediately.
Falcons 19, Cowboys 13
Matt Bryant kicked another last second field goal, but this one was just for cushion as the Falcon's remained the leagues only unbeaten team at 8-0. Matt Ryan passed for 342 yards in the win, and Michael Turner chipped in 102 yards on 20 carries, including the Falcons only touchdown, early in the fourth quarter.
Dallas played well for a team that was largely one dimensional, as they continue to miss star back DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards and a score, but the lack of balance ultimately did the Cowboys in.
Running backs Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner combined for 65 yards on 17 carries, in Murray's absence, and former first round pick Dez Bryant also struggled in this one, hauling in a single catch on four targets for 15 yards.
The Falcons had no such troubles on the ground, nearly doubling the Cowboys yardage total. The Falcons success allowed them to control the clock and game speed, and the outcome of this game was never really in doubt.
At 8-0 the talk of a perfect regular season is surely going to heat up for Atlanta, and looking at their remaining schedule, it is a feat that is not out of reach for this team to accomplish. The Falcons have only one game remaining against a team that is currently above .500, and that is against a Giants team that has looked shaky at best the past few weeks. Atlanta's toughest challenges will surely come from within the division, where they will play 5 of their remaining eight games, including four of their next five.
Saints 28, Eagles 13
Change has been a resounding theme this election season, and if last night was any indication, it is exactly what the Eagles will be facing this off-season, if not sooner. Michael Vick again struggled for Philly, getting sacked seven times to go with a 99-yard pick six in that he threw in the first quarter. Start warming up the Nick Foles bandwagon people, its getting ready to leave the station.
The Saints were able to win their third game of the year, and are holding on to slim wild card hopes with their 3-5 record. Playing without running back Darren Sproles, who had surgery in a broken hand earlier this week, the Saints actually ran the ball successfully, with the team racking up 140 yards on 25 carries. Chris ivory lead the Saints with 10 carries for 48 yards, including a 22 yard touchdown run in the second quarter that blew the game open.
New Orleans won for the third time in their last four games, following an atrocious 0-4 start. The return of Joe Vitt has certainly helped the team, and with the NFL voiding the contract extension that suspended head coach Sean Payton had worked out with the team, New Orleans needs to show they can have success without Payton at the helm.
The deal was voided as the NFL did not like the language of certain clauses that the contract contained, specifically that Payton was given the right to walk away form the team should Gm Mickey Loomis, resign, be terminated or suspended at any point. The voided deal makes Payton a free agent coach following the season, and Dallas has already been rumored to be interested in acquiring his services.
Saints Owner Tom Benson must work quickly to renegotiate Payton's contract, because he is surely to draw interest and offers from several teams should he make it to free agency. As we saw earlier this season, Payton is perhaps the most vital cog in the Saints machine, and losing him would be a blow that this long moribund franchise would be a blow that this team may not be able to bounce back from.