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Week 11 rewind: Upsets fall short
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.
The typical lament of losing teams rang true Sunday more than at any prior point during the 2012 NFL season.
Jacksonville, Cleveland, Arizona, Carolina and Detroit were in prime position to pull upsets against superior opposition. All failed – some in more disastrous fashion than others.
To their credit, coming so close and falling short is painful but not as pathetic as the efforts given by the sinking squads in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Oakland.
Here’s a look at those clubs and more in this week’s Marvez Rewind:
Houston 43, Jacksonville 37 (overtime): In this miserable 1-9 Jaguars campaign, it was only fitting that backup quarterback Chad Henne (four touchdown passes) and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon (seven catches for 236 yards) would have their best NFL games and still get outplayed by Houston’s Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Johnson enjoyed his greatest outing in what will likely prove a Hall of Fame career with 14 receptions for 273 yards, including the game-winning 48-yard touchdown in overtime. Schaub was even more prolific with 527 passing yards, tying Warren Moon for the second-highest single-game total in league history. As memorable as those performances were, the Texans (9-1) had better hope Sunday was the result of an emotional letdown after a big road win over Chicago rather than a harbinger to future woes in the secondary. The Jaguars joined Green Bay as two teams to have had their way with Houston’s pass defense. This season was considered a trial to determine whether 2011 first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert should truly be earmarked as Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback. Henne, though, performed better against Houston than Gabbert has all season. Depending on the severity of the right elbow injury that Gabbert suffered Sunday, Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey has a decision to make about who should be starting for the final six games.
Dallas 23, Cleveland 20 (overtime): Leave it to the NFL’s most consistently inconsistent team to make a game against a two-win opponent with the NFL’s longest road losing streak (12 games) into such a struggle. The Cowboys (5-5) fell behind 13-0 before rallying behind quarterback Tony Romo, who overcame the seven sacks surrendered by an injury-riddled offensive line. With one timeout remaining, Romo drove the Cowboys 66 yards in 1:05 for the field goal that sent the game into overtime. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took advantage of the absence of Browns cornerback Joe Haden (abdomen) with a career-high 12 catches for 145 yards and one touchdown. It’s increasingly evident that Browns rookie Brandon Weeden must improve his accuracy for a chance to become a franchise quarterback. Whether he will be coached by Pat Shurmur also comes more into question each week with the Browns (2-8) now guaranteed a non-winning record for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
Atlanta 23, Arizona 19: Matt Ryan’s chances of winning the NFL Most Valuable Player award took a severe hit with his five-interception outing against Arizona. Ryan, though, was still better than Arizona’s quarterbacks in a game the Cardinals gave away. After being forced to settle for a short field goal in the first quarter when John Skelton badly missed a wide open Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt made the controversial decision of switching to untested rookie Ryan Lindley. We’ll never know for sure, but Lindley probably fared worse than what the more experienced Skelton would have in a 9-of-20, 64-yard debut. Counting the 2010 preseason with Matt Leinart (shudder), Lindley could become the sixth different starting quarterback Arizona has fielded since Kurt Warner’s retirement. The Cardinals also are 17-25 without any playoff appearances in that span. How much more time will Whisenhunt be given to fix his team’s most important position? The Falcons are now 9-1 after rallying to win, but it’s hard to have much faith in Atlanta as the NFC’s top team with ongoing problems running the football and stopping the run. The 52 yards gained on one carry by Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling were seven more than what Atlanta’s Michael Turner gained on his 15 rushes combined. Stephens-Howling finished with 127 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries.
Tampa Bay 27, Carolina 21 (overtime): Carolina lost to Atlanta earlier this season when allowing the Falcons to drive for the game-winning touchdown after being pinned at their own 1-yard line. This latest collapse Sunday was just as damning for a franchise that will assuredly be making a head coaching change from Ron Rivera sooner rather than later. Without timeouts and 1:02 remaining, Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay 80 yards for the game-tying touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion. That took the fight out of the Panthers, who surrendered another 80-yard scoring drive on the opening series of overtime. While the NFC South title is likely out of reach, next Sunday’s matchup with Atlanta (9-1) is far more intriguing with the Bucs (6-4) entering on a four-game winning streak. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin can now be mentioned in the same elite company as fellow running backs Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. They are the only trio in league history to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a six-game span as rookies.
Green Bay 24, Detroit 20: The best thing the Lions had going this season was fourth-quarter magic. That was the latest thing to fail one of the NFL’s most disappointing franchises. Detroit (4-6) had to settle for field goals on two drives inside Green Bay’s 7-yard line and quarterback Matt Stafford had an interception returned 72 yards for a touchdown by Packers rookie safety M.D. Jennings. Such shortcomings wasted Detroit’s great defensive effort and proved fatal when Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw what proved the game-winning touchdown to Randall Cobb with 1:55 remaining. A Thanksgiving Day game against visiting Houston (9-1) is a must-win for Detroit to keep any postseason hopes alive. The Packers (7-3) are heading toward the playoffs but have reason to worry about the offensive line — Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley had a career day with seven tackles, two sacks and two hurries of Rodgers — and kicker Mason Crosby. He has now missed seven of his past 13 field-goal attempts after shanking two of his three kicks Sunday.
Cincinnati 28, Kansas City 6: A large portion of disgruntled Chiefs fans — are there any other? — wore black clothing Sunday to protest the Scott Pioli/Romeo Crennel regime. An even stronger statement than the “blackout” was the number of empty seats at Arrowhead Stadium well before yet another Chiefs loss had ended. For the second time in three home games, Kansas City (1-9) failed to score a touchdown. The Chiefs used two quarterbacks — Matt Cassel in the first half; Brady Quinn in the second — with equally awful results. At this point, why not give third-stringer Ricky Stanzi a try since Cassel and Quinn obviously can’t get the job done? The Bengals allowed the Chiefs to convert on only one of 11 third downs and controlled the clock for 35:22. A.J. Green extended his string of consecutive games with a touchdown catch to nine — the longest streak since Jerry Rice’s in 1987 — and BenJarvus Green Ellis had his first 100-yard rushing performance since signing with Cincinnati in the offseason. Upcoming games against Oakland and San Diego give the Bengals (5-5) a good chance to gain further ground in the playoff race.
Washington 31, Philadelphia 6: Add the use of running back LeSean McCoy in the waning moments of a blowout loss to the list of decisions that will lead to head coach Andy Reid’s ultimate firing. Reid carelessly exposed his best player to unnecessary injury and McCoy paid the price when suffering a concussion severe enough that he was carted off the field. This was a fitting end to Philadelphia’s sixth straight defeat, the franchise’s longest streak since 1994. The Eagles (3-7) were the perfect elixir for a Redskins squad that entered on its own three-game skid. With rookie quarterback Nick Foles making his first NFL start, Washington’s beleaguered secondary was able to shut down Eagles wide receivers DeSean Jackson (two catches for five yards on nine targets) and Jeremy Maclin (no catches on three targets). Foles also was sacked four times, stripped three times (losing one fumble) and intercepted twice. Another rookie quarterback had far better success. Washington’s Robert Griffin III passed for four touchdowns in a 14-of-15 effort and rushed for 84 yards to get back on track after struggling against Pittsburgh and Carolina. Griffin is also now the first player in NFL history with three touchdown runs and three touchdown passes of 60-plus yards following his 61-yard scoring heave to wide receiver Santana Moss.
New Orleans 38, Oakland 17: The past three weeks couldn’t have gone any differently for these two squads. New Orleans (5-5) has won three consecutive games while scoring an average of 32.3 points. Oakland (3-7) has surrendered an average of 45 points during a three-game losing streak. Raiders owner Mark Davis was so discouraged after Sunday’s home rout that he told reporters, “I’m patient but I want to see progress. I don’t want to see regression. Nobody does. And that’s why I’m unhappy today.” Davis, though, must understand that Oakland’s roster has way too many deficiencies because of the personnel and salary-cap mistakes made by his late father Al before his death in October 2011. The Saints surrendered more than 400 yards for an unprecedented 10th consecutive game but 159 of them came after New Orleans had opened a 25-point lead. A far stiffer test for the Saints will come next Sunday against visiting San Francisco (6-2-1).
New England 59, Indianapolis 24: Anyone hoping this game would provide the same thrills as the previous Peyton Manning-Tom Brady matchups was sorely disappointed. Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck isn’t close to that level — yet. He was unable to become the first rookie quarterback to win in Foxboro since Kerry Collins in 1995 with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. “They’re good enough. They don’t need those gifts,” Luck said in his postgame news conference. One of those interceptions was made by cornerback Aqib Talib, who was making his Patriots debut after being acquired in a recent trade with Tampa Bay. Brady was in vintage form during a 331-yard, three-touchdown, turnover-free effort. However, any excitement from Sunday’s rout is tempered by the reported loss of star tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm.
Denver 30, San Diego 23: Don’t blame the defense for San Diego’s latest loss that essentially guaranteed Denver (7-3) will win the lousy AFC West. The Broncos scored 20 points off three Chargers turnovers and the second blocked punt against San Diego (4-6) in the past two games. The Chargers also scored a touchdown on an Eric Weddle interception return. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers continued his penchant for turnovers with two interceptions and a lost fumble, but he received little support from an overmatched offensive line. San Diego’s tackles had an especially rough day as Von Miller (three sacks) and Elvis Dumervil (one) brought the heat. While quarterback Peyton Manning deservedly receives much of the credit, a major reason for Denver’s offensive success is the rushing threat provided by Willis McGahee. It will be a major blow if McGahee is forced to miss extended time because of a right knee injury suffered Sunday.
New York Jets 27, St. Louis 13: Say what you will about their dysfunctional nature, but the Jets still haven’t quit on the 2012 season. New York responded to a tumultuous week full of venomous comments from “anonymous sources” regarding Tim Tebow and the ensuing media feeding-frenzy by dominating a Rams squad that should be embarrassed by this miserable effort against a team on the verge of collapse. After surrendering a touchdown on its opening drive, New York (4-6) forced three turnovers and allowed just four first downs in the Rams’ next eight possessions while taking a 20-point lead. Maybe the Jets knew what was coming from Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who was fired by New York head coach Rex Ryan in the offseason. A beautiful pump-fake on a 25-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Chaz Schilens highlighted a sound showing by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (15 of 20 passing for 178 yards with no interceptions for the first time in three games). As vicious as the backstabbing was in the aforementioned New York Daily News story, Tebow continues to display nothing that indicates he is worthy of any playing time. Tebow lost five yards on his two offensive snaps (both rushes) and failed to convert on a telegraphed shovel pass on a punt. Pulling the plug on the “Tebow Time” clock would be the best move at this point.
Baltimore 13, Pittsburgh 10: Life without Ben Roethlisberger isn’t so good for the Steelers (6-4). Pittsburgh’s defense held Baltimore without an offensive touchdown and smothered the Ray Rice-led running game, but even that wasn’t enough to keep the Ravens (8-2) from gaining control in the AFC North. Byron Leftwich couldn’t produce enough in the passing game after a hot start and the rushing game suffered from the in-game loss of running back Isaac Redman to the NFL injury de jour of the day — a concussion (Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta received one, too). Leftwich did play through a rib injury suffered upon his awkward landing in the end zone during a touchdown run at the game’s onset. If he joins Roethlisberger (shoulder/rib) on the sideline, Charlie Batch would receive the start Sunday at Cleveland. Baltimore’s Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are the AFC’s best safety combination while Ravens cornerback Corey Graham deserves props for stepping up in the absence of Jimmy Smith (hernia).