Weekend Recap  

 

Colts, Vikings continue to steamroll toward playoffs

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Bill Nichols / Associated Press
The Colts' Pierre Garcon reaches out to make a touchdown catch against the Texans.
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Colts 35, Texans 27
It seems like a weekly theme, but the defense is the key to the Colts winning close games in the fourth quarter. The opportunistic unit continues to produce game-changing plays. In the fourth quarter, Indianapolis completely changed the momentum of the game with the turnovers on back-to-back series. Although players are ultimately responsible for coming up with big plays, clever usage of pre-snap disguising led to the turnovers. Clint Session's clinching interception was set up by the Colts faking an all-out blitz at the line of scrimmage before falling back into two-deep zone coverage after the snap. With Matt Schaub looking for a quick throw in anticipation of the blitz, Session fell back into the passing lane to snag the ball. After taking a backseat to Peyton Manning and the offense for years, the defense is starting to serve notice that it is equally praiseworthy.

Vikings 36, Bears 10
The Vikings' diverse offense looks unstoppable with Brett Favre at the helm. Favre is masterfully spreading the ball to his receivers and defenses seemingly have no answer for stopping the Vikings' high-octane attack. With the Bears intent on stopping Adrian Peterson, Favre spread the ball around to seven different receivers, with five receivers finishing with at least five receptions each. The pass distribution prevented the Bears from ganging up on the Vikings' wideouts, and allowed Favre to pick apart their soft zone coverage with outstanding precision. Although the Vikings' offense still starts with Peterson, Favre's MVP-caliber season is sure to make opposing defensive coordinators reconsider their strategies down the stretch.

Titans 20, Cardinals 17
After primarily acting as a game manager during the Titans' surprising turnaround, Vince Young showed that he was capable of carrying the offense, connecting on 27 of 43 attempts for 387 yards with one touchdown. While those numbers are impressive on paper, the most remarkable part of watching Young pick apart the Cardinals secondary was the surprising poise he displayed in the pocket. Young quickly worked through his reads, and efficiently distributed the ball to a variety of receivers on an assortment of short and intermediate routes. He also took a few deep shots to keep the defensive backs from aggressively clamping down on the Titans' receivers in obvious passing situations. With Young proving to be a capable passer from the pocket, the Titans' offense has surged over the past few weeks and been instrumental in the team's five-game winning streak.

Falcons 20, Buccaneers 17
Raheem Morris' debut calling defensive plays for the Bucs didn't yield a win, but it undoubtedly led to a better performance by his defense. The much-maligned unit played more aggressively from the outset, and looked more like the menacing defense that has long been associated with Tampa Bay. Morris appeared to incorporate some of the concepts from the team's previous system and the subtle tweaks enabled the Bucs to rack up six sacks and hold the Falcons to 75 yards on the ground. The key was the stellar play of the Bucs' defensive line, led by Stylez White and Tim Crowder. The duo combined for four sacks, and their constant harassment of Matt Ryan and Chris Redman kept the Falcons out of sync for most of the day. Given Morris' ability to get the defense to play at a high level, the Bucs may emerge as a surprising spoiler for playoff hopefuls down the stretch.

Bills 31, Dolphins 14
The installation of Perry Fewell as coach might only be a temporary assignment, but the improved play from Buffalo is undeniable. The Bills played inspired football for the second week in a row, and their opportunistic defense carried the way Sunday. The much-maligned unit came up with three takeaways in the fourth quarter, which led to 14 points and propelled the Bills to a come-from-behind win. Additionally, the Bills' pedestrian offense has started to show signs of life since Fewell took control of the team. While speculation runs rampant regarding the Bills' coaching search, the exceptional job that Fewell has done since taking over should earn him a long look as Dick Jauron's successor.

Eagles 27, Redskins 24
The Eagles' surprising decision to incorporate more runs into their game plan keyed the rally against the Redskins. LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver had 23 carries combined for 120 yards. With the running game firmly established, Philadelphia incorporated some play-action passes to keep Washington from teeing off on Donovan McNabb. The tactic worked well, as the Eagles allowed only two sacks and amassed 381 yards of total offense. More importantly, the offense scored 27 points and the use of run-action fakes led to big plays down the stretch.

Seahawks 27, Rams 17
The Seahawks used an aggressive game plan to harass Kyle Boller in the pocket. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley complemented Seattle's four-man rush with an assortment of five-man blitzes that kept Boller from getting comfortable in the pocket. The constant duress helped the Seahawks generate several negative plays. Boller was sacked four times and intercepted twice. In addition to disrupting the passing game, the Seahawks' attacking scheme helped snap Steven Jackson's streak of four straight games with at least 100 yards rushing.

Jets 17, Panthers 6
Darrelle Revis and Steve Smith was the marquee matchup of the game and featured a highly-anticipated battle between two of the best players at their respective positions. The Jets assigned Revis to shadow Smith all over the field and he responded with a brilliant performance. Revis picked off two passes and held Smith to only one reception. Even more impressive, Revis played man-to-man on Smith without safety help on most downs. At a point when "shutdown" corners are hard to find, it's time to recognize Revis as one of the few in the league today.

Bengals 16, Browns 7
The Bengals were widely ridiculed for their decision to add Larry Johnson, but it looked like a wise move against the Browns. Johnson teamed with Bernard Scott to power the Bengals to a 210-yard rushing effort. Showing no signs of diminishing skills, Johnson ran roughshod over the Browns on an assortment of inside carries that showcased his outstanding strength and power. While most were ready to discard the seven-year veteran, Johnson showed the naysayers that he is still capable of carrying the load and could be a vital contributor to the Bengals' postseason hopes down the stretch.

Chargers 43, Chiefs 14
The defense continues to set the pace during the Chargers' six-game winning streak. Against the Chiefs, the unit forced four turnovers and surrendered only 284 total yards. The Chargers converted each of the Chiefs' miscues into a touchdown, and the 28 points off takeaways proved to be the difference in the game. Although quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers' high-octane offense have garnered most of the attention during the team's resurgence, it is the sensational play of the defense that has quietly catapulted San Diego back into title contention.

49ers 20, Jaguars 3
Kudos should go to 49ers' offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye for tweaking his system to suit quarterback Alex Smith's game. The longtime NFL coaching veteran abandoned the team's traditional two-back offense on passing downs and allowed Smith to operate extensively out of the shotgun. Smith, who ran a spread offense during his time at Utah, looked at ease in the formation and connected on 27 of 41 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns. The fifth-year veteran routinely connected with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan on an assortment of quick routes that allowed Smith to get the ball out of his hands quickly before the Jaguars' rush could collapse the pocket. The use of the shotgun formation also allowed Smith to survey the entire field without having to worry about executing three- or five-step drops from center. With less to clutter his mind, Smith looked sharp directing the offense and made Raye's decision to incorporate more shotgun formations look like a wise one.

Ravens 20, Steelers 17 (OT)
Dennis Dixon's solid debut was marred by an interception in overtime that was set up by a zone blitz that took advantage of his inexperience. On the play, the Ravens lined up with four down linemen and brought an overload blitz with a linebacker (Ray Lewis) and corner (Domonique Foxworth) rushing from the right. Lewis was slated to blitz through the "B" gap or between the right offensive guard and tackle. Meanwhile, Foxworth pressured from off the edge of his cornerback position and his pursuit made Dixon release the ball in a hurry. Additionally, Foxworth's blitz forced Santonio Holmes to make a sight adjustment (receivers will run a slant or quick out against blitz coverage to give the quarterback an outlet when facing immediate pressure) and Dixon was on the same page as he threw the slant. However, the Ravens anticipated the Steelers counter to the tactic, and assigned Paul Kruger to fall back into coverage after taking a few initial steps towards the line of scrimmage to make Dixon believe he was rushing. With Kruger unexpectedly in the passing window, Dixon's surefire completion turned into a game-changing interception that sealed the victory for the Ravens.

 

Seven from Sunday

A look at seven statistical highlights from games played during the 12th week of the 2009 season.

» The Indianapolis Colts improved to 11-0 with a 35-27 win over Houston. With the victory and a Jacksonville loss, the Colts joined the San Francisco 49ers (1997), Philadelphia Eagles (2004) and New England Patriots (2007) as the only teams since 1990 to clinch their divisions by their 11th game of the season.

The Colts have come back from a fourth-quarter deficit in each of their past five games and are the first team in NFL history to win five in a row when trailing in the fourth quarter in each contest.

» Tennessee running back Chris Johnson gained 154 rushing yards (8.6 average) on 18 carries in the Titans' 20-17 win over Arizona. Johnson has posted at least 125 rushing yards in six consecutive games, tying the NFL record set by Pro Football Hall of Famers Earl Campbell (1980) and Eric Dickerson (1984).

Johnson is the first player in NFL history with six consecutive games of 125-plus rushing yards and a 5-plus yards per carry average in each of those games. Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1958) accomplished this feat in five consecutive games.

Johnson has rushed for 800 yards in November, the most by a player in a calendar month since 1970.

The Titans are the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games after an 0-6 start.

» Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre played in his 282nd consecutive regular-season game in the Vikings' 36-10 win over Chicago, tying Jim Marshall for the longest consecutive game streak in NFL history by a non-kicker/punter. Favre had three touchdown passes in the game and is the first player in NFL history with 500 combined passing and scoring touchdowns (502 total -- 488 passing, 14 rushing).

» San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for two touchdowns in the Chargers' 43-14 victory over Kansas City. Tomlinson now has 35 multiple-rushing touchdown games, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith (36) for the most such games all-time.

» Buffalo wide receiver Terrell Owens had 96 receiving yards and one touchdown in the Bills' 31-14 win over Miami. Owens, who had a 51-yard TD catch in the game, tied Marcus Allen (145) for the fourth-most career touchdowns in NFL history.

» Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald had four receptions against Tennessee. Fitzgerald, who now has 501 receptions in 87 career games, is the second fastest wideout in NFL history to reach 500 catches, trailing only teammate Anquan Boldin (80 games).

» Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning completed 27 of 35 passes for 244 yards with three touchdowns in a win over Houston. Manning has 4,137 career completions and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway (4,123) for third-most all-time.

Monday night

Patriots at Saints: The Saints' bid for a 16-0 regular season is about to face its toughest test yet -- the only franchise in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
» Game preview

Fantasy studs

Who was this week's best fantasy player? Was it Aaron Rodgers, who feasted on Detroit's defense? What about his former teammate, Brett Favre? Or, was it Chris Johnson? Check out all of Michael Fabiano's nominees and cast your vote.
» Vote for Week 12 fantasy stud

Photos

The NFL delivered more exciting games and performances this weekend, including the Titans' last-second win over the Cardinals. Check out the memorable moments from Week 12.

» Fans of the NFL
» NFL cheerleaders during Week 12
» NFL.com photo gallery archives

Weekly Countdown

NFL Weekly Countdown, which airs each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network, lets fans program the show. Check out the 15 nominations for the best performances, and then rank in the order you want to see them on the show. Come back Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. to see the results.

Top 15 moments of Week 12:

» Forsett's career day | Vote
» Frenzied finish in Nashville | Vote
» Johnson runs wild | Vote
» Defense sparks Bills' win | Vote
» T.O. makes his mark | Vote
» 49ers' D stuffs Jags | Vote
» Dumervil leads big Broncos win | Vote
» Favre leads domination | Vote
» Gates, Chargers rout Chiefs | Vote
» L.J. helps Bengals bounce back | Vote
» Manning keeps Colts streaking | Vote
» Redman rallies Falcons to win | Vote
» Revis' wild pick six | Vote
» Rodgers goes deep to Driver | Vote
» Romo a winner on Thanksgiving | Vote

» Vote: Week 12's top performances


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