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Steelers get offense on track in crucial, thrilling win

Gene Puskar / Associated Press
The Steelers' Mike Wallace scores the winning touchdown in front of the Packers' Josh Bell.
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Steelers 37, Packers 36
The Steelers may have exposed a huge weakness in the Packers' defense by relentlessly attacking the middle of the field in the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger frequently targeted Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Rashard Mendenhall on an assortment of short crossers and option routes between the hashes. With the Packers intent on dialing up pressure with their linebackers and safeties, the increased use of crossing routes allowed Roethlisberger to get the ball to his playmakers while they were on the move. Roethlisberger also mixed in a few deep shots to keep the Packers from clamping down on the short routes.

Chargers 27, Bengals 24
The Bengals' inability to score on their red-zone opportunities cost them against the Chargers. Cincinnati only scored one touchdown in four attempts. Repeatedly settling for field goals prevented the Bengals from securing a lead against the high octane Chargers. Although San Diego's defense deserves credit for making a few pivotal plays in the red zone, Cincinnati was more responsible for killing its drives with silly penalties and mental miscues in critical situations. The biggest blunders occurred on consecutive fourth-quarter plays. On that drive, J.P. Foschi was called for a false start on a first-down play inside the red zone, and that gaffe was followed by Andre Caldwell's costly fumble. The errors snuffed out an opportunity to take the lead late, and left the door cracked for Philip Rivers to engineer a winning drive.

Raiders 20, Broncos 19
The Raiders finally showed glimpses of the offensive potency that many expected this season. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden combined for 207 rushing yards, while the Raiders seemingly pounded the Broncos into submission. Although the passing game was erratic for most of the contest, the running attack allowed the Raiders to control the tempo and use a conservative game plan. Given Tom Cable's background as an offensive line coach, it is not surprising that the Raiders have leaned on their backfield considering the scattershot play they have gotten from the quarterback position.

Panthers 26, Vikings 7
Carolina fans have to wonder how the season would’ve turned out if the Panthers went with Matt Moore earlier. He continues to perform well as the starting quarterback in the place of Jake Delhomme. Moore completed 21 of 33 passes for 299 yards with three touchdowns. More importantly, he avoided the big turnover and repeatedly found a way to connect with Steve Smith on an assortment of deep throws. Early-season struggles sent the Panthers reeling out of postseason contention, but Moore’s steady play has revived the offense and provided some hope. If John Fox and Co. return in 2010, it will be interesting to see if they give Moore the keys to the offense in training camp.

Titans 27, Dolphins 24 (OT)
Vince Young's rapid growth as a quarterback has made the offense nearly impossible to stop. While the fourth-year pro always threatened opponents with his athleticism, his dramatically improved passing skills have put opponents in a quandary. Young's impressive combination of touch and accuracy on deep throws has given the Titans an added dimension. With the Dolphins intent on stopping the run using eight- and nine-man fronts, Young repeatedly dropped in pinpoint throws over the top of the defense. Although the strategy to put the game on Young might have worked in the past, his development has rendered the tactic ineffective.

Browns 41, Chiefs 34
While Josh Cribbs' two kickoff returns for scores will garner most of the attention, Jerome Harrison's spectacular performance keyed Cleveland's win. Harrison single-handedly carried an offense that failed to get anything going through the air. Harrison, who spent most of the season operating as the third-down back, surprisingly did most of his damage on a host of runs between the tackles. The diminutive runner pounded away at the Chiefs' hapless interior repeatedly on leads and powers right up the gut.

Patriots 17, Bills 10
In a contest that was a lot closer than most expected, numerous penalties by the Bills undermined their chances of pulling off a stunning upset. Buffalo finished with 11 penalties for 124 yards, and the mental miscues contributed to its demise. Although the Bills could argue the merits of each call, both Patriots touchdowns were aided by pass interference flags. Late in the game, an offside penalty on Aaron Maybin nullified a successful onside kick when Buffalo would have had the ball with a chance to tie the game.

Cardinals 31, Lions 24
Ken Whisenhunt's patience with the running game was rewarded in the fourth quarter. Led by Beanie Wells, the Cardinals used a smash-mouth approach to seize control of the game late. Wells, who finished with 110 yards on 17 carries, ran with reckless abandon between the tackles, and keyed Arizona's final two scoring drives by breaking off explosive runs (gains over 10 yards) to spark the offense. Wells tallied 57 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yard touchdown and a critical 34-yard jaunt that set up the winning touchdown. The Cardinals remain a finesse unit by nature, but their ability to lean on the running game helped them avoid an embarrassing road upset and clinch the NFC West title.

Texans 16, Rams 13
Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson continues to be the winning formula for the Texans. Johnson repeatedly found open spots in the middle of the defense despite facing an assortment of double coverage. The Texans cleverly deployed Johnson at various spots in multiple formations to get him a free release at the line of scrimmage. Additionally, Houston utilized more crossing routes to take advantage of his speed against St. Louis' secondary. The tactic didn't result in a lot of points, but it helped the Texans win when they didn't play particularly well offensively.

Falcons 10, Jets 7
The kicking game is often overlooked, but it let the Jets down against the Falcons. New York failed to capitalize on three field goal tries inside 40 yards. A botched hold accounted for one miss and Jay Feeley went wide right on a 38-yarder prior to halftime. However, the miss that ultimately cost the Jets came on a block due to a high snap with under 5 minutes remaining. The kick would've given the Jets a seven-point lead. In the end, the misses not only cost the Jets a victory, but also might extinguish the team's flickering playoff hopes.

Eagles 27, 49ers 13
The Eagles' offense has a balanced look that hasn't been seen often during the Andy Reid era. The diverse aerial attack features a big-play weapon (DeSean Jackson), a dependable middle of the field option ( Brent Celek) and a solid possession receiver ( Jason Avant). With Donovan McNabb adept at spreading the ball around, defenses are unable to diffuse the explosive elements of the Eagles' attack. Additionally, the resurgent running game is further complicating matters for defensive coordinators because they are unable to use coverage-only schemes against the Eagles due to the success of Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy on the ground. While the 49ers featured a myriad of coverage tactics to slow down the Eagles, the host of options at Reid's disposal proved to be too much for San Francisco.

Buccaneers 24, Seahawks 7
Tampa Bay's defense continues to improve with Raheem Morris acting as the play-caller. The unit held the Seahawks to seven points and came up with five takeaways. Although the Bucs recorded only one sack, the steady pressure from the frontline forced Matt Hasselbeck to throw a host of errant passes from the pocket. With the ball forced to come out quickly, Tampa Bay's ball-hawking secondary repeatedly jumped Seattle's short and intermediate routes. The Bucs have only two wins, but the identity and swagger of their once-feared defense is slowly returning.

Ravens 31, Bears 7
Jay Cutler's arrival in Chicago led to Super Bowl expectations, but those lofty aspirations appear woefully misguided after he suffered through another turnover-plagued performance. Cutler tossed three interceptions against the Ravens to push his season total to 25. His penchant for bone-headed miscues has wrecked the offense. Though all of the Bears' woes aren't the result of Cutler's erratic play, the former Pro Bowler has to bear some of the responsibility. Granted, he is not playing with a talented cast of pass catchers, but his game management and ball security have to improve for the Bears to win games.

 

Seven from Sunday

A look at seven statistical highlights from games played during the 15th week of the 2009 season.

» Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 503 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Steelers' 37-36 win over Green Bay. Roethlisberger joins Pro Football Hall of Famers Y.A. Tittle (1962) and Warren Moon (1990) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a game.

Roethlisberger is just the 10th player in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards in a game and the ninth to do it in a non-overtime game.

» Cleveland running back Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the Browns' 41-34 win at Kansas City. Harrison surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown (237 in 1957 and 1961) for the most rushing yards in a single-game in franchise history.

Harrison's 286 rushing yards are the third-most in a game in NFL history, trailing only Adrian Peterson (296 in 2007) and Jamal Lewis (295 in 2003).

» Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs had two kickoff-return touchdowns (100 and 103 yards) in the Browns' 41-34 win at Kansas City. They were Cribbs' seventh and eighth career kickoff-return touchdowns, the most in NFL history. Cribbs entered the game tied with five other players -- Pro Football Hall of Famers Ollie Matson and Gale Sayers, as well as Travis Williams, Mel Gray and Dante Hall -- for the most kickoff-return touchdowns in league annals with six.

Cribbs is the second player in NFL history with two touchdowns of at least 100 yards in the same game. Miami's Ted Ginn accomplished the feat in Week 8. Cribbs is also the ninth player in NFL history with two kickoff-return touchdowns in a game.

» Tennessee running back Chris Johnson rushed for 104 yards in the Titans' 27-24 overtime win against Miami. The performance marked Johnson's ninth consecutive 100-yard game, tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. The last player to rush for 100-plus yards in nine consecutive games was San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders (1997) holds the NFL record with 14 100-yard rushing games in a row.

» New England wide receiver Wes Welker had four receptions in the Patriots' 17-10 win at Buffalo. Welker, who has played in 12 games this season, leads the NFL with 109 receptions, tied for the most by a player in his first 12 games of a season. Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison had 109 receptions in his first 12 games of the 2002 season.

» Miami running back Ricky Williams rushed for 80 yards in the Dolphins' 27-24 overtime loss against Tennessee. Williams, who has 1,055 rushing yards this season, reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 2003, the longest gap between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history.

Williams also became the seventh running back in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season in which he was 32-plus years old at the start of the season.

» Detroit rookie safety Louis Delmas had a 100-yard interception-return touchdown in the Lions' 31-24 loss to Arizona. Delmas is the first rookie to record a 100-yard interception-return touchdown since Dallas Cowboys rookie Mike Gaechter (100 yards) on Oct. 14, 1962 against Philadelphia.

Delmas also became the first rookie in NFL history to register an interception return for a touchdown (100 yards, vs. Arizona, Dec. 20, 2009), a safety ( vs. Green Bay, Nov. 26, 2009) and a fumble return for a touchdown (65, at New Orleans, Sept. 13, 2009) in the same season.

Monday night

Giants at Redskins: Jason Campbell and the Redskins haven't been any easy opponent for any team down the stretch, and could deliver a devastating blow to the Giants' playoff hopes in this pivotal prime-time NFC East showdown.
» Game preview

Photos

The NFL delivered more exciting games and performances this weekend, including the Titans' overtime win over the Dolphins in Nashville. Check out the memorable moments from Week 15.

» Fans of the NFL
» NFL cheerleaders during Week 15
» Braving the weather
» 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 15:

» Harrison runs rampant | Vote
» Can't-miss Cribbs | Vote
» Big Ben airs it out | Vote
» Manning keeps Colts perfect | Vote
» Ware sparks Dallas D | Vote
» Romo halts Saints' run | Vote
» Ricky Williams goes for 1,000 | Vote
» Bengals pay tribute | Vote
» Rodgers shines in loss | Vote
» Lions' Delmas goes distance | Vote
» Panthers RB shows true grit | Vote
» Young keeps Titans in race | Vote
» Raiders rally in Denver | Vote
» Patriots sack Bills | Vote
» Chiefs' Charles runs wild | Vote

» Vote: Week 15's top performances


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