I have no idea what Washington Redskins players and coaches did during their Week 10 bye, but whatever it was, it sure seems to have worked.
Heading into that break, the Redskins were 3-6; since then, they've reeled off five straight wins. Sunday's 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns pulled Washington (8-6) into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East.
Through the first four games of the Redskins' winning streak, the majority of the credit went to outstanding rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. With RG3 forced to miss Sunday's game due to a knee injury, the Redskins needed to prove they were more than just a one-man band, and they did just that.
» Kirk Cousins: The rookie quarterback was lights-out in his first NFL start, completing 26 of 37 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He showed incredible poise throughout the game and helped turn a four-point halftime deficit into a blowout victory. He clearly out-classed the rookie signal-caller on the Browns' sideline, Brandon Weeden.
Redskins 38, Browns 21Check out the best photos from the Week 15 matchup between the Redskins and Browns.
» London Fletcher: The 37-year-old linebacker led a dominant defensive effort by the Redskins, collecting seven tackles, intercepting a pass and picking up a tackle for loss. He spearheaded a unit that limited the Browns' offense to 291 yards. Cleveland running back Trent Richardson did rush for two touchdowns, but Fletcher and Co. held the rookie to 28 rushing yards.
» Mike and Kyle Shanahan: Father and son both deserve a tremendous amount of credit for this victory. First of all, Mike Shanahan deserves credit for not rushing RG3 back onto the field before he was ready, giving him time to properly heal. Shanahan was confident in his backup quarterback, and he made the right call. Kyle Shanahan, meanwhile, deserves praise for devising a brilliant game plan. He used a balanced attack (37 passes and 35 runs) to keep the Browns off-kilter. He utilized Cousins' mobility and arm strength to produce chunk yardage on designed rollouts. He called a nearly perfect game.
Following Sunday's win and the New York Giants' crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Redskins now control their own destiny in the NFC East. They travel to Philadelphia next week to take on a staggering Eagles squad before returning home to battle the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season finale. The Redskins are in great position to win the division. Who ever would have imagined that back in Week 10?
That must have been some bye week.
Seahawks and 49ers set for epic battle
The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots played one of the more entertaining football games of the season Sunday night, giving the Niners and Seattle Seahawks a very tough act to follow next Sunday night. However, that showdown between NFC West rivals has all the makings of another edge-of-your seat evening.
The 49ers (10-3-1) and Seahawks (9-5) are both peaking as we head down the home stretch of the regular season. The 49ers just pulled off arguably the most impressive victory of the season, knocking off Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road, 41-34. They have won four of their past five games, and their offense has never looked better.
And how hot are the Seahawks? Let's see; they've won five of their last six games, and they've outpaced their two most recent opponents by a combined score of 108-17. The competition hasn't been stellar (the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14 and Buffalo Bills on Sunday), but Seattle's offense and defense are both playing as well as any unit in the NFL.
Both head coaches in this matchup have made a bold decision at the quarterback position, and both moves have paid off nicely. San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh elected to stick with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, despite Alex Smith's return from injury. Kaepernick has struggled at times, but he was outstanding on Sunday night, tossing four touchdown passes and out-dueling Brady.
Pete Carroll's decision to make rookie Russell Wilson the starting quarterback in Seattle prior to the Week 1 opener, meanwhile, might go down as the best call of the 2012 NFL season. Wilson has been incredibly efficient and consistent. Like Kaepernick, Wilson is coming off of a four-touchdown performance (three rushing, one passing).
I could spell out a dozen more reasons why this game should be a must-watch affair. The personal rivalry between Harbaugh and Carroll, and the matchup between Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and a stout 49ers front seven, would be near the top of that list.
Needless to say, this game can't get here soon enough.
Three startling statistics
The Patriots became the third team since 1991 to successfully convert on five fourth downs. Unfortunately for the Pats, their one miscue on a fourth down led to a key field goal by Niners kicker David Akers late in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Christian Ponder is averaging 125.3 passing yards over the Minnesota Vikings' past four wins. It's amazing that the Vikings have been able to win games despite their very anemic passing attack. This statistic makes Adrian Peterson's season all the more incredible.
Kirk Cousins has more 300-yard passing games (1) than Russell Wilson (0). I was very surprised by that stat. Wilson has played outstanding football for the Seahawks, but he has yet to crack the 300-yard mark in a game this season.
Cam Newton and Co. finishing strong
This season has been a tremendous disappointment for the 5-9 Carolina Panthers. After entering the 2012 campaign with playoff aspirations, they're currently in last place in the NFC South. However, though the season as a whole hasn't met expectations, the Panthers have shown signs of life over the past month.
Carolina completely throttled the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon, in a game that was even more lopsided than the final score (31-7) would indicate. The Panthers' offense racked up 29 first downs, while the Chargers' offense was on the field for just 45 plays. The Panthers' defense allowed just 94 passing yards, and the unit sacked Philip Rivers six times.
Quarterback Cam Newton continued his run of solid play, throwing two touchdown passes and zero picks. Over his past five games, Newton has accounted for 13 touchdowns (10 passing, three rushing) and has avoided throwing a single interception. He struggled early in the season, but he's clearly made the necessary adjustments over the second half of his sophomore campaign.
The Panthers have now won three of their past four games, including a beatdown of the NFC's top team, the Atlanta Falcons. They'll finish up the season with contests against the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints, two teams with losing records. If they can win those two games, Carolina would finish the season at 7-9.
That wasn't what the Panthers had in mind prior to the season, but considering where they were just one month ago, it would be quite an accomplishment.
Where's the change?
With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, we have yet to see a team make a head-coaching change. Dating back to the 2007 season, we've seen at least one coach get fired or resign during the regular season. One way or another, there figures to be a flurry of changes on the horizon.
Update on the record chasers
Last week, I explored the likelihood that three major NFL records would fall. Following Sunday's action, here's an update:
» Single-season rushing yardage
After racking up 212 rushing yards against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson now has 1,812 on the season. He needs to average 147.0 yards per game over two remaining contests to break the rushing record held by Eric Dickerson (2,105 yards, set in 1984).
» Single-season receiving yardage
Calvin Johnson hauled in 10 catches for 121 yards in the Detroit Lions' loss to the Arizona Cardinals, giving him 1,667 receiving yards on the season. He needs to average 91.0 yards per game the rest of the way to break the receiving record held by Jerry Rice (1,848 yards, set in 1995).
» Single-season sacks
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt collected three sacks against the Indianapolis Colts, while the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith did not record any against the Patriots, meaning they're currently tied for the league lead with 19.5 sacks. They'd each need 3.5 sacks in their remaining two games to break the record held by Michael Strahan (22.5 sacks, set in 2001).
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.