Everything You Need to Know: Week 15
Let’s face it: While there’s nothing better than NFL Sundays, it can be a little intimidating keeping up with what’s going on in every game. You can analyze the box scores or scan Twitter, but we’ll make it even easier. Here you’ll find the most important points from every day game, so you’ll be prepared no matter what comes up at the water cooler Monday morning. We’ll be updating throughout the games, so keep checking back.
1. Drew Brees put on a passing clinic, then took a rest late as the Saints let backup Chase Daniel take a few snaps. Up against the Vikings’ depleted and struggling secondary, Brees hit 32 of 40 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns. He completed those five TDs to four different receivers, with the red-hot Lance Moore reeling in a pair.
2. Jared Allen, chasing Michael Strahan’s sack record, was held at bay. The Saints employed a lot of chip block, particularly from Jimmy Graham, to keep Allen from Drew Brees, and the strategy worked. Allen was a non-factor throughout the majority of the game.
3. If the Vikings wanted to see how healthy Adrian Peterson really was in his first game back from a sprained ankle, they got their answer. The team wanted to ease Peterson back into the lineup, and he didn’t get his characteristic workload in the first half. But he made the most of his time in there with a 39-yard run that saw Saints defenders grasp at his ankles near the line of scrimmage, until Peterson drove through the defenders and sprinted away from everyone in sight.
1.It took the Chiefs five trips into the Green Bay red zone before they finally were able to punch one in, but the lone TD came at the most opportune of times. With Kansas City clinging to a 12-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, Jackie Battle plunged over the goal line for a huge insurance TD. The Chiefs needed the extra seven points, too, as Green Bay came right back with a touchdown of its own.
2. Jermichael Finley had multiple drops in the first half, plus failed to haul in a deep pass from Rodgers at the goal line — that one would have been a tough grab but still hit Finley on the fingertips. The Packers always keep coming back to Finley, however, no matter how many times he fails to haul passes in. And Finley showed why in the third quarter, making an incredible adjustment on a third-down pass from Rodgers to get Green Bay inside the Kansas City 10 and set up the team’s first score.
3. The Packers have to be moving ever closer to resting their starters. They lost Greg Jennings to a knee injury, then watched tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod fall on Sunday in Kansas City. Bulaga was a game-time decision with a knee injury and tried to give it a go, but didn’t make it through the game. Sherrod replaced him, then had to be carted off with a leg injury.
1. The Colts avoided becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 in a season, while the Titans’ playoff hopes suffered a huge blow. It’s easy to wonder if Tennessee regrets playing a hobbled Matt Hasselbeck, who injured his calf in Week 14. Hasselbeck hopped his way to a handoff in the first quarter, then threw a pick-six in the second half and later tossed an INT in the Indianapolis end zone. Rookie Jake Locker eventually replaced the veteran QB and immediately led a scoring drive.
2. Dan Orlovsky brought an 0-9 record into Sunday’s game — and worse yet, his teams had never won a game in which he made an appearance — but he stepped up with a key touchdown pass Sunday to Reggie Wayne, which handed the Colts a rare second-half lead. Orlovsky was a part of that 0-16 Lions team in 2008, so he managed to avoid repeating some dubious history.
3. Chris Johnson seemed like he had snapped out of an early-season with back-to-back 100-yard performances in Weeks 12 and 13. Johnson, though, ran for just 23 yards in a loss to the Saints last week, then was held to 55 yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries Sunday.
1. This game was not as close as the final score indicated — Buffalo tacked on 10 points late to make things respectable, but after taking an early 7-0 lead, the Bills pretty much took a nap for the next three quarters. Miami, on the other hand, continued its late-season surge, despite the removal of Tony Sparano as head coach earlier this week. The Dolphins finish the season against the Patriots and Jets, so they could still play a spoiler role.
2. The Dolphins’ commitment to Reggie Bush looks less and less ill-advised by the week. Sunday, Bush destroyed the Bills defense en route to 203 yards rushing. He capped that performance off with a 76-yard touchdown burst and earlier turned a ridiculous spin move into a 28-yard gain.
3. Ever since he received his lucrative new contract, Ryan Fitzpatrick has regressed. He tossed three more interceptions Sunday, and the first came on a rookie-like play. With a blitzing defender coming right at him, Fitzpatrick tried to fire off a quick pass and duck away from a hit, as opposed to just taking a sack. Predictably, the ball was picked off, leading to a Miami score just a few moments later.
1. One week after rallying past Dallas on the strength of their loaded passing attack, the Giants had no such luck against Washington’s secondary. Eli Manning threw three interceptions, with the final one coming on an inexcusable miscommunication between Manning and Mario Manningham in the Redskins’ end zone.
2. Rex Grossman wasn’t exactly flawless either on Sunday, but he played well enough to get Washington its fifth win. Grossman threw a pair of picks, both in the first half, but also hit Santana Moss for a touchdown and took care of the ball over the final two quarters, as Washington methodically put the game away.
3. The rollercoaster that is DeAngelo Hall’s season continued. Hall has gone from goat to hero a few times this year, but he made a spectacular play picking off Manning early in the third quarter — one week after Hall was criticized for watching Rob Gronkowski march all over his Redskins teammates last week against New England.
1. Are Caleb Hanie’s days as Chicago’s No. 1 QB done? The backup quarterback, pushed into duty by Jay Cutler’s injury earlier this season, threw three interceptions, including two devastating pick-sixes in the second half, then was replaced late by Josh McCown. Of course, McCown also tossed an interception, so it’s hard to say what Chicago’s best option is going forward.
2. Johnny Knox suffered a scary-looking injury in the first quarter and had to be taken off on a stretcher. After making a catch and then fumbling, Knox tried to get the ball back, but took a hard hit on his shoulder pad that bent him backwards in extremely awkward fashion. He was down on the field for several minutes before trainers loaded him onto a waiting ambulance. The Bears announced that he had suffered a mid-back injury, and he (obviously) did not return.
3. Marshawn Lynch has, somewhat quietly, turned in a terrific second half of the 2011 season. He’s got two more touchdowns Sunday, giving him 11 for the year, despite Chicago more or less taking him out of the game outside of the red zone. Midway through the third quarter, Lynch had just 30 yards on 13 carries.
1. A.J. Green twice left Sunday’s game after slamming his shoulder into the turf, but he still found a way to make six catches for 115 yards, taking him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Green’s best effort might actually have come on an incompletion. With Cincinnati inside the St. Louis 10, Andy Dalton floated one to the corner of the end zone for Green, who made a sensational one-handed catch by the tip of the football but could not keep his feet inbounds.
2. Kellen Clemens, making his first start since joining the Rams last week, was neither a plus nor a minus. Clemens showed some efficiency, completing 25 of 36 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. He also did not turn the ball over, which helped St. Louis hang around. But nine of those completions went to Steven Jackson, as the Rams struggled to come up with any big plays on offense.
3. It speaks well of what Cincinnati has built this season that the Bengals could win, albeit against a terrible St. Louis team, on an off day for Andy Dalton. Cincinnati’s rookie QB had just nine completions for 64 yards to Bengals other than Green, plus tossed a bad interception. Cincinnati survived, thanks to its run game and defense.
1. The Panthers pulled out all the stops in their upset quest. On a 2nd-and-6 from the Houston 7, Carolina ran a modified version of the ol’ fumblerooskie play — with the offensive line acting as if it was still getting set, the Panthers snapped the ball and faked an option right with Cam Newton, while backup tight end Richie Brockel actually took the snap and headed left. Brockel rolled into the end zone untouched for a 21-0 Panthers lead.
2. After the Carolina defense recovered an Arian Foster fumble inside the Houston 25, Newton immediately took a sack on a play where he planted in the pocket and failed to feel the rush. How much did that rattle the rookie QB? Well, he came back on the next snap and tossed a beautiful deep TD pass to Steve Smith, who had beaten his defender down the right sideline. He later hit Jeremy Shockey for another score.
3. T.J. Yates pulled off a late rally in Cincinnati last week, but Sunday’s 21-0 deficit proved too much to overcome. Yates didn’t help himself either, throwing two interceptions. Both came with several defenders in the area of the pass, and the second occurred in Carolina’s end zone, as the Texans tried to get back in the game.
1. This game provided a friendly reminder to the league that Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are one of the NFL’s best tandems when they’re playing well. Johnson scored twice, including the last-minute game-winner, and put up a career-high 214 yards. Somehow, on Detroit’s epic 98-yard drive to claim the victory, Johnson slipped behind the entire defense for a 48-yard catch to set up the last score.
2. The Raiders will no doubt look back to a 3rd-and-3 play from the Lions’ 48 just prior to the two-minute warning as a huge missed chance. If Oakland had picked up a first down, it could have run out the clock. Instead, the Raiders opted to try a deep ball to Chaz Schilens, who came open deep and had a clear path to the end zone, but could not come up with Carson Palmer’s pass.
3. Ndamukong Suh had just one solo tackle in his first game back from a two-game suspension. But he came up huge when Detroit needed him most, blocking Sebastian Janikowski’s 65-yard field goal try on the final play of the game to preserve the Detroit win.
1. The Jets handed Philadelphia seven points in the first quarter, as Santonio Holmes coughed up a fumble, which Juqua Parker scooped up and took back for a TD. New York never recovered after that — Philadelphia turned that 7-0 early edge into a 28-0 lead before the Jets got on the board.
2. Michael Vick may have a new favorite target. Tight end Brent Celek proved an impossible matchup for the Jets’ defense all game. He hauled in five catches for 156 yards and a touchdown, with his biggest play (a 73-yard grab) helping the Eagles ice the game away after the Jets had rallied back within 28-13.
3. Mark Sanchez took a hard hit in the second half of the game and received some attention from the Jets trainers, with Mark Brunell starting to warm up not far away. Sanchez not only stayed in the game, though, the Jets kept him on the field until the closing moments of a game that had long been decided. He finished with just 150 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
1. Forget Tebow Time. How about Skelton Time? With Kevin Kolb sidelined by a concussion, Skelton delivered his second straight come-from-behind victory, this time helping Arizona put up 10 in the fourth quarter to erase a 17-7 deficit and force overtime. Skelton wound up throwing for 313 yards in the victory, which kept the Cardinals alive in the playoff chase.
2. It wasn’t a highlight-reel day for Beanie Wells, who mustered just 51 yards on the ground against Cleveland’s defense. But Wells also punched in a 1-yard score in the fourth quarter to cut the Browns’ lead to 17-14 and give the Cardinals a huge jolt of life, following three-plus quarters of lackluster play.
3. Greg Little has been one of the more underrated rookies in the league this season, and the Cleveland receiver struck again Sunday. He finished with five catches for 131 yards and a clutch touchdown through three quarters, providing just enough to help keep the Arizona defense off balance.
1. A pair of Denver turnovers completely changed the course of this game. The Broncos had a 16-14 lead when Lance Ball coughed up the football, leading to a New England touchdown. Tebow then put the ball on the ground as the Patriots blew up a Denver play. They recovered the fumble as well, setting up another TD for the visiting New England club. The Patriots turned a 16-7 deficit into a 27-16 halftime lead.
2. Chad Ochocinco finally — finally! — caught his first touchdown pass of the season midway through the first quarter, coming open deep left. Tom Brady didn’t miss him, either, delivering a strike over top of the Broncos’ defense for the score.
3. Give a lot of credit to the New England defense in this one. Denver came out and hung 16 points on the board in the first 17 minutes of the game, but the Patriots did not allow the Broncos to score again until 6:19 deep in the fourth quarter. By that time New England had run of 27 unanswered points to take total control of the game.
– Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post