First Down, Fourth Down: Andre Johnson outduels Justin Blackmon
The way that Sunday’s unexpected shootout between the Jaguars and Texans unfurled, it was safe to assume that either Justin Blackmon or Andre Johnson would make a decisive play in overtime.
Johnson took the baton, catching a short pass from Matt Schaub and [si_launchNFLPopup video='8e2cf6b50d50418597becab83a2881fa']racing 48 yards to the end zone[/si_launchNFLPopup] to give Houston a thrilling 43-37 overtime win — a result that made the Jaguars the first team in NFL history, under its new OT rules, to score in overtime and lose.
Blackmon entered Sunday in the throes of a disappointing rookie season. The fifth overall pick last April had just 250 yards receiving over Jacksonville’s first nine games.
He nearly matched that total Sunday, putting up a 236-yard performance and scoring on [si_launchNFLPopup video='fa94674f852841908de5c630412c14d1']an 81-yard pass[/si_launchNFLPopup] from fill-in QB Chad Henne. Blackmon averaged a remarkable 33.7 yards per catch while playing the role of Henne’s go-to guy.
And Johnson still outdid his counterpart.
Thanks to his OT winner, Johnson totaled 273 yards through the air. He also made 14 catches and was targeted 19 times by Matt Schaub, mostly thanks to Houston playing from behind all afternoon. While Johnson’s 2012 numbers far surpassed Blackmon’s (46 catches, 597 yards before Sunday), they were well down from what the Texans had come to expect from their No. 1 receiver before an injury-plagued 2011.
Sunday, Johnson returned to his old, dominant form. Blackmon did not trail far behind, looking like the player who had owned college football last season at Oklahoma State.
First Down: Mark Sanchez.
NFL Films probably won’t be planning any tributes to Sanchez’s 178-yard, one-touchdown outing Sunday. But considering how hard a time we (as in, the entire football world) gives Sanchez, the Jets’ QB had to enjoy delivering a win in St. Louis.
At least for one Sunday, Sanchez played within himself and took care of the football. He even uncorked a gorgeous TD toss to Chaz Schilens, which gave the Jets the lead in the second quarter.
Fourth Down: Arizona’s QB situation.
So, the Cardinals have now tried Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and rookie Ryan Lindley. Short of just snapping the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, they’re pretty much out of options.
Both Skelton and Lindley saw action in Sunday’s 23-19 loss to Atlanta, the latter replacing the former with Arizona’s offense sputtering (despite an early 13-0 lead). Skelton had all of two completions for six yards when he left; Lindley hit 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards and coughed up a fumble that Atlanta housed.
First Down: Cedric Peerman.
Sure, Andy Dalton threw a pair of touchdown passes, A.J. Green did his usual A.J. Green thing, BenJarvus Green-Ellis topped 100 yards on the ground and the Bengals’ defense held Kansas City to six points.
Without the early spark provided by Peerman, though, the Bengals might have found themselves in danger of sleeping through Sunday. Cincinnati stalled out on its first possession, then fell behind 3-0 on a Ryan Succop field goal.
A quick three-and-out had the Bengals ready to punt again, except coach Marvin Lewis had other ideas. He called for a fake punt from his own 29, which Cedric Peerman turned into a 32-yard scamper. That play set up a touchdown from Andy Dalton to Green, which gave the Bengals a lead they never relinquished. Peerman added seven more carries for an additional 43 yards on the day.
Fourth Down: The Lions’ lack of a killer instinct.
Thanks to a stout defensive effort, Detroit had multiple chances in the first half to extend a 10-7 lead. Matthew Stafford turned the ball over twice — Casey Hayward picked him off, then Dezman Moses stripped him of the football as he tried to scramble.
The Lions later found themselves in position to put the Packers away. But with a 17-14 lead and 1st-and-goal, Detroit ran twice in a row, then Stafford fired incomplete to Titus Young. The ensuing field goal left the door open for Aaron Rodgers, and he promptly walked through to steal a victory.
How frustrating was the result for the Lions? So much so that a FOX camera caught wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson chewing out offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after Detroit failed to rally back. Jefferson yelled something at Linehan before storming off, while a silent Linehan stared at a replay on the Ford Field scoreboard.
First Down: Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson.
Freeman easily could have ended up with a “Fourth Down” tag Sunday — he threw a pair of costly interceptions, including a pick-6 by Captain Munnerlyn that turned the tide after Tampa Bay grabbed an early 10-0 lead.
But with his back against the wall, Freeman responded. He guided a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter, the second of which culminated when Freeman found Vincent Jackson for [si_launchNFLPopup video='f50a501da46e4f9ba8ed5e2dd47145cf']a clutch touchdown and an even more clutch two-point conversion[/si_launchNFLPopup] to tie Carolina. Once in overtime, Freeman went for the kill, [si_launchNFLPopup video='66d8cda5c3894a9d901c5626d3ce5425']dropping one in to Dallas Clark[/si_launchNFLPopup] for a game-winning score.
Fourth Down: The AFC West race.
You never want to say something’s over in the NFL until it becomes official but … man, the AFC West race is over.
San Diego had a shot to close the gap on Denver Sunday and, instead, delivered a shaky performance in a 30-23 loss. That result bumped the Broncos’ division lead to three games (plus a head-to-head tiebreaker on the Chargers) with six weeks left.
Kansas City, meanwhile, fell to 1-9 with that loss to Cincinnati, and the Raiders are now 3-7 after a 38-17 home defeat against New Orleans.
First Down: Dallas finally winning at home.
The Cowboys’ one and only victory at home this season before Sunday: Sept. 23 vs. Tampa Bay. A brutal, front-loaded schedule played a big part in that — Dallas played six of its first nine games on the road.
Yet, it had been approximately forever since the Cowboys fans had something to cheer about. Even in victory, Dallas was fairly unimpressive against Cleveland. The win, however, moved the ‘Boys to 5-5, with four of their last six at home, starting with a Thanksgiving clash against Washington.
If Dallas is going to make the playoffs, it will have to protect its home turf as it did Sunday.
Fourth Down: Andrew Luck.
Round 1 in the Luck-Tom Brady rivalry was a TKO for Brady’s Patriots. Luck, who has been much more effective at home, endured arguably his worst outing a pro Sunday in a 59-24 New England beatdown of Indianapolis.
Luck finished with 334 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns, but he also fired three interceptions — two of which were taken back to the house, helping New England close the game on a 52-10 run. This was a statement win for Brady and the Patriots, with Luck suffering a temporary setback in the process.
First Down: The Saints’ playoff chances.
Yep, believe it.
With three straight victories, the Saints have climbed back to .500 at 5-5. They do not technically control their own destiny in the NFC wild-card race, but their closing stretch (San Francisco, at Atlanta, at the Giants, Tampa Bay, at Dallas, Carolina) will give them plenty of shots to decide their fate. And no one would want to play this team if it made it to the postseason.