Tony Romo was miserable in the first half for the Cowboys, throwing three interceptions in the game’s first 17 minutes as the New York Giants raced out to a 23-0 lead. But then good Tony showed up and rallied Dallas, at one point the hosts taking a 24-23 lead on the champs on a Romo 1-yard scoring pass. The Giants responded with two fourth-quarter field goals, putting the Cowboys behind but within striking distance in the game’s final seconds. Romo found receiver Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a miracle 37-yard catch with 10 seconds to go to give the Cowboys a 30-29 lead (pictured). But replays showed that Bryant’s hand touched down with his fingers out of bounds before his body landed in the end zone, negating the touchdown and giving New York a 29-24 win.
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He's standing in quicksand, too.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera's footing has been eroded by quarterback Cam Newton's unhappiness and general manager Marty Hurney's dismissal. Rivera nearly bought himself some time Sunday, as Carolina was minutes away from a road upset in Chicago. But the Bears got a late field goal for a 23-22 victory. The Panthers dropped to 1-6, but they showed they haven't quit on their second-year coach. That at least gives Rivera a fighting chance.
That's another way of saying Eagles coach Andy Reid is sinking. Feeling the heat for his team's under-achieving ways, Reid canned his defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo. (Reid is pictured with new coordinator Todd Bowles, left.) The Eagles then allowed 24 first-half points en route to a 30-17 spanking by Atlanta on Sunday. The Falcons had 392 total yards and converted 54 percent of their third-down attempts. The Eagles' problems are deeper than one assistant coach.
It took a while, but the Lions have adjusted for the special attention all-everything wide receiver Calvin Johnson has drawn this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed passes to eight different players Sunday in a solid, 28-24 victory over Seattle. Titus Young (pictured) led the way with nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns as Johnson settled for three catches and 46 yards. No coincidence, Stafford had his best game of the season (34 of 49, 352 yards, three TDs, one interception). Keep this up, and defenses will be forced to divert resources away from Johnson. And Megatron will live once more.
Sometimes, they never get a lead. Such was the case Sunday when San Diego fell 7-6 at Cleveland in a steady downpour. Philip Rivers (pictured) saw his accuracy continue to disappear (18 of 34), Ryan Mathews had another key fumble, receiver Robert Meacham dropped a would-be touchdown pass and usually steady punter Mike Scifres booted one off the bottom of his shoe. In short, the Chargers looked more like the Browns than the Browns did.
He's not Brett Favre. When the annual questions about retirement come, receiver Donald Driver has a ready answer: "No thanks. I'm good." He's 37 now, and no longer a central figure in the Packers' offense. In fact, he had only four catches before this week. But he was ready, and the Packers called on him after losing Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings to injuries. Driver had only two catches, but one was a fourth-quarter touchdown (pictured, with Chris Prosinksi defending) that put Green Bay ahead for good in a 24-15 victory over the Jaguars. Not a bad way for Driver to mark his 200th regular-season game.
One way to spot a team that can outplay expectations is to watch how it responds to adversity. The bad teams fold. The tough teams don't. And the tough teams often outplay their talent. The Dolphins appear to be tough. They lost rookie QB Ryan Tannehill because of quad and knee injuries Sunday. And he is their master of their adapted version of the spread offense. No matter, Matt Moore stepped in and staved off any panic. The Dolphins had only two offensive touchdowns (Daniel Thomas pictured celebrating one), yet rolled 30-9 over the Jets. On the road. Despite losing the statistical battle in yards, first downs and time of possession. Dolphins = tough. Jets = tough times.
The NFL has yet to reach its popularity saturation point. It just keeps growing and growing. It's Audrey from "Little Shop of Horrors," and we keep feeding it. But we get something out of it, too. Take the Colts-Titans matchup on Sunday. This seemed like a dog of a game, other than taking note of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's progress. Instead, it ends on one of the most athletic, thrilling plays you will see in any sport anywhere. Colts running back Vick Ballard (pictured) had the honors in a 19-13 win. In overtime, he took a screen pass from Luck and headed up the left sideline. Titans defenders converged near the 5-yard line, and Ballard took his only escape route: up. He leaped, turned upside down in midair and reached out at just the right moment to put the nose of the ball across the goal line as he fell out of bounds, brushing the pylon on a 16-yard play. Even McKayla Maroney would be impressed by those gymnastics.
Sure, Rob Gronkowski is a caveman. And, sure, he seemed as overexposed as those annoying insurance commercial cavemen. But he remains a nearly indecipherable riddle for opposing defensive coordinators. With the Patriots rolling out an Oregon Ducks-style hurry-up and his bookend tight end Aaron Hernandez battling injuries, Gronkowski (pictured) hasn't matched his record-setting pace of last season. But he had a season-high eight catches and 146 yards Sunday in a 45-7 rout of St. Louis. Gronk's midseason excursion to London included slamming down a microphone after a pregame media session and an imitation of the Queen's Guards while celebrating one of his two touchdowns against the Rams. Welcome back, Gronk. Fire bad. TD good.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have another unexpected find at running back. The franchise that transformed Barry Foster and Willie Parker from unknowns to Pro Bowl players just might be pulling a repeat with Jonathan Dwyer (pictured). The 2010 sixth-round draft choice has blossomed the past two weeks, playing in place of the injured Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Dwyer ran for 107 yards Sunday in a 27-12 victory over the Redskins, giving him 229 yards the past two weeks. Dwyer and the Steelers were so good Sunday that you could almost forget they looked like castoffs from the old Killer Bees skits from "Saturday Night Live." Almost.
Arrowhead used to be one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, with the Sea of Red striking fear in any opponent. These days? Not so much. The Raiders (3-4) won their fifth straight at Arrowhead on Sunday as things went from bad to worse for the Chiefs. Quarterback Brady Quinn was knocked out in the first half with a head injury, and the team nearly went without a TD for their third straight game until Matt Cassel tossed a TD to Dexter McCluster with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter. Even worse: the Chiefs have not led in regulation this season.
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Peyton's good at football, better at keepaway
After their disastrous start, Drew Brees and his New Orleans Saints finally found their groove, winning back-to-back games entering Week 8 against Denver. So did the Broncos defense finally figure out how to slow down Team Brees? Nope — their quarterback did. Peyton Manning and his offense out-gained the Saints, 530 yards to 252. While that may not sound all that strange, consider that Manning turned to his running game for much of the support, as Denver ran for 225 net yards to New Orleans' 51. And the Broncos held onto the ball more than 10 minutes longer than did the Saints. The result? A 34-14 blowout for the Broncos. Oh yeah, Manning still found time to pass for 305 yards and three scores, his fifth straight game of better than 300 yards in the air.
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