NFL Week 12 Recaps: An Epic In Foxboro

TheSportsNotebook had echoed the words of a lot of media outlets in the lead-up to Sunday Night’s Peyton Manning-Tom Brady battle in Foxboro–that continuing to watch these two legends was simply an opportunity to be appreciated. Who knew that perhaps their greatest battle was about to unfold.

By now you know that Denver blew a 24-0 lead, the game went to overtime at 31-31 and then a Bronco turnover on special teams set up an easy Patriot field goal in the final two minutes of OT. Here’s a few takeaways from this…

*I know in our rapid-reaction media culture, this first takeaway will be hard to adhere to, but let’s not read too much into the result. We know all too well from recent years in the playoffs that what happens in the regular season is by no means an indicator of what will happen in January.

No one knows this better than New England. I’m sure they recall all too well an anticipated Monday Night game with the New York Jets in 2010, where the Patriots hammered their rival 45-3. That was a late season game, but it didn’t stop the Jets from turning around and winning the playoff rematch.

*Of course this doesn’t mean the game was meaningless. It cost Denver a chance to take firm control of the AFC West. It gave New England a big leg up on Cincinnati and Indianapolis for the #2 seed and first-round bye, while keeping the Patriots in the mix for the top seed. These are both important objectives. I only suggest keeping them in perspective, not dismissing them.

*From a deeper standpoint, Denver did not play well. Their big lead was built almost exclusively on Patriot turnovers. The first touchdown was scored on defense, the second was a 10-yard drive. New England drove the ball more consistently in their own scoring run and the team that played better is the one who won the game.

*New England does have to be concerned about its rush defense. Knowshon Moreno ran wild, for 224 yards. I know Peyton’s cold-weather struggles are coming under fresh media scrutiny, but even allowing that, you can’t assume he’ll struggle to a 19/38 for 174 yards showing in a rematch, a rare combination of inefficiency and a lack of big plays.

On balance though, it was just a great night of football, and while I was rooting for New England, I appreciated the chance to watch these great players go at it, and felt for Peyton when it was over.

Here’s a look at the rest of NFL Week 12

San Diego 41 Kansas City 38: I don’t know what’s more surprising–that the Chiefs’ defense fell apart at home in a game they really needed, or that they almost won the game in spite of it. Philip Rivers had a big day, as Kansas City’s pass rush struggled for the second straight week. Alex Smith played well and Jamaal Charles rushed for 115 yards, but the defense still couldn’t protect a four-point lead in the final minute.

Carolina 20 Miami 16: Carolina did not play well, nor did Cam Newton, at 19/38 for 174 yards. Yet the media coverage emphasized how the Panthers “found a way to win”, with special emphasis on the quarterback play in the final drive. And in this case, I think the media was right on the money. Playing a road game against a decent team, off of consecutive wins over San Francisco and New England, it was all there for Carolina to lose, and they didn’t. They obviously can’t go deep in the playoffs playing games like this, but for the Panthers this was just a spot to survive.

New Orleans 17 Atlanta 13: The Falcons put up a good fight at home on Thursday night, but they can’t protect Matt Ryan. The quarterback was sacked five times and hit ten more. As a consequence, they can’t the ball down the field–though Ryan was a precision-like 30/39 and made no mistakes, those completions only generated 292 yards.

Arizona 40 Indianapolis 11: I wish I could say something insightful, but when one team dominates the other in all phases of play, how much more is there to add? We’ll take up the implications of what it means for each contender in the bigger picture later this week when we take an overarching look at the stretch drive prior to the Thanksgiving Day games.

San Francisco 27 Washington 6: The first sentence from above basically applies here, with the one caveat that all Colin Kaepernick needed was to play against the Redskin defense–15/24 for 235 yards for a quarterback who had been struggling. I took up the deeper problems of the Redskins in an article last week.

Dallas 24 NY Giants 21: Tony Romo did a nice job on the last drive for the winning field goal and throughout the game. But while you can never complain too much about a road divisional win, this isn’t sustainable for the Cowboys. They didn’t stop the run, they didn’t pressure Eli Manning, and their own protection of Romo was spotty. The Giants never looked good in their recent four-game win streak and they looked no better here.

Pittsburgh 27 Cleveland 11: Pittsburgh dominated the scoreboard throughout the game, but the Steelers didn’t dominate the flow of play. The Browns got pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, stopped the run and really should have been able to win this game. But when you lose three fumbles and throw an interception, while getting no takeaways of your own, games are going to get away.

Baltimore 19 NY Jets 3: This might have been the most shocking game of the day. Not because of the result, but because the game went pretty much like I had predicted. It was, as expected, an ugly game. Geno Smith was unable to make plays. And while the Baltimore offense was far from pretty, the lack of pressure on Joe Flacco enabled him to make enough plays to produce a win, the signature pass being a 66-yard TD strike to Jacoby Jones.

Tennessee 23 Oakland 19: A crushing loss for the Raiders and one that’s bad for NFL fans everywhere. Oakland loses this game in the final minute and allows Ryan Fitzpatrick to drive the field and cap off a big 320-yard day with a touchdown pass. By coughing up the game to a team that committed ten penalties, the Raiders drop to 4-7, which in turn reduces the impact of their Thanksgiving battle in Dallas, a game we’ll all be stuck watching in the late afternoon on Thursday.

Tampa Bay 24 Detroit 21: When we previewed Week 12, I wrote that Detroit would stop the run and that Mike Glennon winning a passing race with Matthew Stafford at Ford Field was “not gonna happen.” So much for that. The Lions did completely shut down the running game, but Stafford threw four interceptions while Glennon was 14/21 and those fourteen completions went for a whopping 247 yards, including the 85-yard deep post that produced the winning touchdown.

St. Louis 42 Chicago 21: As I watched the score of this game unfold on the scroll beneath my TV screen, my instinctive reaction was to think the magic of Josh McCown was finally gone. Then I went to the box score. Turns out McCown played a good football game, but the Bears did not run the ball, lost a couple fumbles and played their usual atrocious defense.

Minnesota 26 Green Bay 26: I watched this game and both went out of their way to lose. The Vikes coughed up a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter to Matt Flynn–and before anyone goes crazy over Flynn, he was only 21/36 for 218 yards. The Packers had the ball inside the 10-yard-line in overtime and should have finished it with a touchdown, instead settling for a field goal. The Vikings tied it on the next possession, but a dropped pass in the end zone cost them a chance to win.

Jacksonville 13 Houston 6: This is a formula the Jags can use to play competitively in the final five weeks. Chad Henne was efficient, at 23/32 for 239 yards. Maurice Jones-Drew’s 14 carries/84 yards game is sustainable. Granted, they won’t get opponents as bad as Houston has proven to be, but Jacksonville can get back among the land of the living.