The Falcons lost their first game of the season, the defending champions lost their second in a row and Norv Turner lost his cool in a postgame press conference. The Rams and 49ers recorded the first tie in an NFL game since 2008, Russell Wilson became the first rookie since the NFL merger to win his team’s first five home games of the season and the Ravens maintained their stronghold on the AFC North division lead. And that’s just scratching the surface of what was a very entertaining — and very telling — Week 10. Here are my 10 takeaways. — Peter Schrager
The Rams didn't win Sunday, but they proved they can compete on the road
The Rams and 49ers played to a 24-24 tie on Sunday, the league’s first tie game since 2008. Though it wasn’t a highlight reel-worthy afternoon for either coaching staff or the officials, the Rams showed me something in the fourth quarter. After squandering a 17-7 second-half lead and finding themselves down 21-17 in the fourth quarter, the Rams did something they haven’t done all season — they exhibited some fight on the road. Sam Bradford led the Rams on a 14-play, 81-yard drive that finished with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 left on the clock. St. Louis entered the game 0-4 in contests played outside of St. Louis. That could have very easily been 0-5. Bradford and the offense proved they could move the ball on the road, and did so against one of the league’s top defenses.
Broncos aren't losing another regular season game this year
The Broncos could be the NFL’s best team. Beyond just silencing his critics and making his doubters look downright silly, Peyton Manning has now put himself atop the list of MVP candidates this season. After falling behind 7-0 in Carolina on Sunday, Manning promptly rallied the offense and the Broncos outscored the Panthers 36-7 the rest of the way. Outside of a December battle with the Ravens in Baltimore and a game against the suddenly red-hot Buccaneers, the Broncos play San Diego at home, the Chiefs twice, the Raiders and the Browns from here on out. Not exactly the Murderer’s Row of second-half NFL schedules.
Joe Flacco's simply a different player at home than he is on the road
Joe Flacco completed 21 of 33 passes for 341 yards and tossed three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 55-20 blowout of the injury-riddled Raiders. Baltimore went 8-0 (9-0 including playoffs) at home in 2011 and is now 4-0 in home games this season. On the road this year, the Ravens’ offense has sputtered to a 2-2 record, with those two wins coming in offensively offensive victories over the woeful Browns (25-15) and Chiefs (9-6). At home? Flacco’s been elite. On the road? He’s been average. Two of Baltimore’s next three games are against Pittsburgh. There’s a good chance those contests decide the division. The Ravens will be a lot better come January if they’re playing those postseason games in Baltimore. That assessment starts with the play of their quarterback.
The Patriots pass defense could haunt them come January
The Patriots beat the Bills on Sunday, but it was anything but easy. Winners of 21 of their last 23 games against Buffalo entering the contest, New England was favored by 11 points in Las Vegas. The Bills kept pace with the Patriots because they were able to do what most teams have been able to do against New England all season — they threw all over them. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 27 of 40 passes for 337 yards, his season high. New England entered this weekend as the 28th ranked team against the pass. They got lit up by a mediocre passing offense. What’s going to happen in the playoffs, when they face top-tier offenses?
The Bucs are for real. Seriously
The Buccaneers were the subject of quite a few punchlines after coach Greg Schiano had his young defense play the full 60 minutes instead of allowing Eli Manning and the Giants to take a “Victory Formation” knee in Week 2. Then, they lost a heartbreaking 35-28 game at home in Week 7 in which they had more yards and first downs than the visiting Saints. They’ve won three games since that loss, including Sunday’s hard-earned 34-24 win over San Diego. Quarterback Josh Freeman is well on his way to a Pro Bowl campaign, while the defense is tops in the league in rush defense. The Bucs, though very young, believe they can beat anyone in any building. No one’s laughing about them now.
It's time to tap the brakes on the Falcons' Super Bowl talk
Playing in the same building in which they were embarrassed 45-16 on national television a season ago, the Falcons had the opportunity to get some revenge and silence the cynics with a dominant victory in New Orleans on Sunday. They failed. The Saints beat the Falcons 31-27, raising concerns about Atlanta’s running game and rush defense in the process. Michael Turner, Atlanta’s longtime No. 1 running back, had just 15 yards on 13 carries, including 0 yards on 3 carries within the New Orleans’ 5-yard-line on Sunday. The Saints ran for 148 yards and tight end Jimmy Graham had a career day, catching seven balls for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Although the Saints came in allowing a league-worst 176.5 yards rushing per game, they held Atlanta to 46 yards on the ground. There was some 1972 Dolphins talk surrounding the Falcons this week. With two games against Tampa Bay and another one vs. the Saints still on the schedule, I’m not even certain they’re the best team in their division.
The Titans are the least predictable team in the NFL
Tennessee entered Sunday’s game against the Dolphins as losers of two straight and fresh off a 51-20 drubbing by the Bears. Sure enough, on the road, the Titans handed Miami its worst loss of the season, a 37-3 blowout. Tennessee’s 4-6 on the year despite giving up 30 points in seven of their 10 games. Still in the playoff mix entering their bye week, Tennessee’s got Jake Locker, a healthy second-year quarterback who looked pretty good on Sunday, a defense that’s playing better and a solid running attack. They’ve still got two games against the Jaguars and one against the Jets left on the schedule — all games they should be favored to win. Tennessee — as crazy as it sounds — could be a dangerous second-half team.
The Jets need to make a change at quarterback
The Jets scored just seven points in Sunday’s loss to Seattle. The offense didn’t account for any of them. I know New York gave Mark Sanchez a costly two-year extension this offseason, I know Rex Ryan supports him through thick and thin and I know he led the Jets to two AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two years in the NFL. I also know that he needs to be benched. Whether backups Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy are better than Sanchez or not, Jets fans need to at least see what other options they’ve got on the roster. Sanchez was terrible yet again on Sunday, completing just 9 of 22 passes for 124 yards in the 28-7 loss. The Jets are off to their worst start since 2007. When asked about "people from the outside" wanting a quarterback change, Antonio Cromartie told reporters: "They can kiss my ass." Hmm … No thanks, Cro.
The NFC East is the worst division in football
With the struggling Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers making up 75 percent of the AFC West, you could make the argument that it’s the weakest division in the NFL. You’d just be wrong. The Cowboys were victorious on Sunday, giving the NFC just one win in the last two weeks. That’s only because the Cowboys played another NFC East team. Dallas struggled mightily before pulling away against Philadelphia and the Giants looked awful for the second straight week, getting blown out by a Bengals team that had lost four straight entering the contest. The Redskins, on a bye this week, have won just one game since September. The NFC East? Wait for it … How about the NFC Least? Thank you, I’ll be here all week (I hope).
If Sunday night’s matchup was a Super Bowl preview, I hope you like defense
Blame the weather. Blame the fact Jay Cutler was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Blame Ben Tate and Owen Daniels being inactive. Blame whatever you want, but Sunday night’s Texans-Bears game was a throwback to a bygone era of NFL football. In a season that’s been made up of big offenses, big scoring, and big personalities — both defenses showed their mettle in Houston’s ugly 13-6 win. None of the three quarterbacks who saw game action broke 100 passing yards, there were four interceptions thrown and neither team seemed capable of doing anything offensively when the game mattered most. The Texans entered Soldier Field and played Chicago Bears football better than the Chicago Bears. Impressive stuff from Wade Phillips’ unit. Heck, Rod Marinelli’s, too.