- Big Ben has guts. Ben Roethlisberger left Thursdayâ€™s game against the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter after suffering an ugly injury to his left foot, which turned out to be a high-ankle sprain. Ben came back to the game after half time with his ankle heavily taped and went on to lead the Steelers to a 14-3 victory over the Browns, although he was walking gingerly on the ankle throughout the remainder of the game and was unable to plant firmly and put as much velocity into his throws. It wasnâ€™t nearly as impressive as Willis Reeds heroics for the Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals after tearing a muscle in his right thigh, but was cathartic for Steelers fans nonetheless.
- Jake Locker has earned a starting job (if not this season, then next season). Locker replaced Matt Hasselbeck on the Titans first drive of the second quarter after Hasselbeck left the game with a calf injury. This was Lockers second appearance with significant playing time, and he impressed yet again. Locker completed 13 of 29 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown. He completed only 44% of his passes, but finished with a QB Rating of 91.5. Not bad for a rookie. Locker was even more impressive on the ground, carrying the ball six times for 36 yards and a touchdown late in the third quarter. Matt Hasselbeck proved at the beginning of the year that he still has something left in the tank, but has been mediocre during the past eight weeks. The Titans still have a shot at the playoffs if they win out, so they may stick with Hasselbeck if heâ€™s healthy, but Locker is the future, and the future looks bright in Tennessee.
- Gronk no like being tackled. Rob Gronkowski put the Patriots team on his back on Sunday, literally, catching six passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns en route to setting the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end. Early in the first quarter he caught a pass for about ten yards, but was never touched. He got right to his feet and ran towards the sideline as he was grabbed from behind by Redskins DBâ€™s DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughtey while the rest of the â€˜Skins defense watched. Gronkowski kept churning his feet and broke away from both tacklers, avoiding stepping out of bounds and rumbling down field for thirty more yards before being brought down by cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The run can be seen here:
4.Â LeSean McCoyâ€™s YPC was very â€œShadyâ€. McCoy carried the ball 27 times Sunday against the Dolphins. The last two times this season McCoy had 27 or more carries he rushed for 126 and 185 yards against the Redskins and Cowboys respectively. Although he did have two touchdowns, McCoy, who goes by the nickname â€œShadyâ€, finished the game with 38 total yards on the ground, an average of 1.4 yards per clip. The Eagles scored 24 points in the third quarter alone and spent the rest of the game pounding the rock while the Miami D tried to stop the run and get the ball pack, but it was a shady performance by Shady nonetheless.
5. Somebody needs to go in Carolina. The Panthers have arguably the leagues best running back tandem in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Williams has proven himself as a lead back before, rushing for over 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2008, and they have both shown that they can be successful splitting carries in a run-heavy offense (both went for over 1,000 yards in 2009. But that brings me to my next point; the Panthers are no longer running a run-heavy offense with rookie Cam Newton under center. Iâ€™m tired of watching these two backs waste away as they average close to 10 carries a game each. I can sympathize with Carolinaâ€™s dilemma, not wanting to let the wrong guy go, but giving Williams a five-year $43 million contract before this season makes no sense to me, unless they plan on letting Stewart walk in 2013.
6. Where has this Jaguars offense been all year? The Jags put up a whopping 41 points on a struggling Tampa Bay defense, including 28 points in thesecond quarter alone, which was eight more points than theyâ€™ve scored in an entire game this season. This was the same Jacksonville offense that appeared utterly inept in a MNF matchup against the Chargers two weeks ago. Granted, MJD had a monster day, scoring two touchdowns on the ground along with two through the air, and it never hurts when your defense and special teams each put a touchdown on the board. Blaine Gabbert even played well, although itâ€™s only a matter of time before the Jags bring in Tebow to be their franchise QB once the seasonâ€™s over. Itâ€™s become apparent that fans in Jacksonville would rather have Jesus than Sunshine from â€˜Remember The Titansâ€™ as their quarterback.
7. Gary Kubiak doesnâ€™t care whoâ€™s under center for his team, heâ€™s not changing his game plan. The Houston Texans clinched their first playoff birth after Sundayâ€™s victory against the Bengals. Itâ€™s been a tough year for the team, losing their best pass rusher in Mario Williams early on, losing their top two quarterbacks in the past month, and questions about the health of their number one offensive weapon, Andre Johnson. With all of that aside, the Texans are riding a seven-game winning streak, the last three made possible largely because of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who threw an astonishing 44 passes on Sunday while completing nearly 60 percent of them. Kubiak, who has been the coach since the franchiseâ€™s beginnings, will continue to lean on Yates to make plays as they approach the playoffs and try to make a run at the Super Bowl.
8. Mark Sanchez continues to improve, despite what his critics may say. We live in an NFL where everyone wants immediate results. Everyone wants Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to just appear under center, and thatâ€™s just absolutely absurd and unrealistic. Mark Sanchez has faced a lot of criticism for his lack of maturity as he nears the end of his third year in the league, but the stats tell a different story. Hereâ€™s the categories where Sanchez has significantly increased in over his three years with the Jets; QB rating (63-75.3-83.1), completions per game (15-17-18, yards per game (162.9-205.7-219.9), and touchdowns (12-17-21). Say what you want about Sanchez and his abilities, but he has continued to progress very steadily in his third year in the league. Much of the criticism he faces comes from the fact that he plays in New York.
9. The Ravens are sizzling without Ray Lewis. The Ravens defensive stalwart has missed four straight games with a right toe injury, but the team hasnâ€™t missed a beat, winning all four of those games largely in part to Lewisâ€™ partner in crime Terrell Suggs, also known as â€œT-sizzleâ€. Suggs has had seven sacks over the past four weeks, including three against the 49ers and three against the Colts this past Sunday.
10. Somebody call the police because Ryan Fitzpatrick just committed highway robbery. The Bills quarterback and Harvard product broke out in 2010, and his success continued as the Bills surged to a 5-2 start in 2011. Fitzpatrick was given a seven-year, $62 million deal in late October, including $24 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus. The Bills won their first game after Fitzpatrickâ€™s new contract, but since have lost six games in a row, and a lot of the blame can be placed right on Fitzpatrickâ€™s shoulders. Over the six-game losing streak, Fitzpatrick has only surpassed a QB rating of 52 twice, and has thrown only six touchdowns to nine interceptions. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s all Fitzpatrickâ€™s fault, the team started off hot and eventually teams figured out that their not that good, but heâ€™s the quarterback of the team, and heâ€™s also the guy whoâ€™s (at least) $34 million richer, so who do you think is going to take the blame?
11. What the #$%! was Marion Barber thinking? Statistically, Marion Barber had a great day against the Denver Broncos; 27 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown and two receptions for 32 yards. Unfortunately for Barber, sometimes the things that donâ€™t go down on the stat sheet are what you are remembered for most.
Barbers first mistake came with under two minutes in the fourth quarter, with the Bears leading the Broncos 10-7. The Bears could have run the clock down and left Tim Tebow and the Broncos under 20 seconds to try and get into field goal range, with no time outs mind you, but Barber decided to run out of bounds, successfully stopping the clock for the Broncos. Of course, Tebow drove the Broncos down the field, leading to a Matt Prater 59-yard field goal to force overtime.
The Bears got the ball to start overtime, and Barber made an impressive 16-yard diving reception in a moment that sort of felt like redemption for his earlier mistakes. Unfortunately, two plays later a Broncos defender stripped the ball from Barber on a five yard run and Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos recovered. Tebow went on to lead the Broncos 35 yards down the field to set up a game winning field goal for Matt Prater from 51 yards. Youâ€™ve got to feel for Barber, who like I said before had a really good game, but like in the case of Tim Tebow, itâ€™s not about how you start, itâ€™s how you finish.
12. If you throw it up to Larry Fitz, he will catch it. The Arizona Cardinals got off to a slow start this season, losing six of their first seven games, but have been on fire as of late, winning five of six. Their star receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, has another 1,000 yard season, an although his yardage total will ultimately be the highest it has been in three seasons, his reception total will be the lowest since 2006, unless he catches ten passes per game over the next three. Other than Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has never really had a great quarterback to throw to him, but he has always put up huge numbers, and that trend has continued with Kevin Kolb/John Skelton under center in 2011.
13. Jason Pierre-Paul is a machine. The second year defensive end for the Giants had a career game against the Cowboys on Sunday, recording eight tackles, two sacks (one being a safety), a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. I even lost my breath reciting that stat-line out loud. Pierre-Paul has 13 sacks on the year, and has been a key part in the Giants success this season, and appears to be destined for his first trip to Hawaii, and continues to draw comparisons to the likes of Jevon Kearse and Lawrence Taylor.