Around the NFL

Forty-three things you need to know from Week 14

On Sunday we edged closer to a reality not many saw coming back in September: An NFC playoff bracket without the 49ers or Saints.

Both teams suffered grim indignities in Week 14. The Saints got blown out of their own building by the middling Panthers in what's probably the franchise's lowest point since the bounty scandal. The Saints were fashionable Super Bowl picks before the season. Now they're scrambling to win one of the worst divisions since realignment.

Things aren't much better in San Francisco. The Niners were throttled in Oakland by the Raiders. The Raiders! The same Raiders that lost 52-0 seven days ago. At 7-6, San Francisco is in wild card or bust mode. With all the dysfunction in that building right now, would you really be stunned if it all went to seed over the next three weeks?

Maybe it already has.

Here's what else we learned during Week 14:

  1. On a night when Tom Brady missed throws and looked rattled by the pass rush, the Patriots scored 20 unanswered points from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the game. The scoreboard would have been more lopsided if not for Brady's red-zone interception going into halftime and a Devin McCourty pick-six that was nullified by a suspect penalty. While Rob Gronkowski is easily Brady's most valuable weapon, Edelman is the best Patriots' wide receiver since Randy Moss and Wes Welker were breaking records. Edelman's 141 receiving yards are good for a single-game career high.
  1. Even without top pass rusher Chandler Jones and star linebacker Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots manufactured constant pressure on Philip Rivers with an array of blitzes. The Chargers' injury-depleted offensive line has been a problem for the past two months. The result was a feckless offense that managed just seven points.
  1. A week after burning the Ravens' secondary for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches, Keenan Allen was rendered a non-factor by Darrelle Revis.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Cleveland's defense held the Colts to 31 yards over their first six drives, triggering five punts and a strip-sack of Andrew Luck for a touchdown. The Browns badgered the Colts' quarterback all afternoon while forcing four turnovers and a pick six, but Luck rebounded to throw for 294 yards and a pair of scores to T.Y Hilton. The Colts wideout was otherworldly, piling up 10 catches for 150 yards off an outrageous 19 targets. While the Colts have emerged as an offensive powerhouse, the loss essentially ends Cleveland's playoff hopes barring a miracle over the final three weeks.
  1. Brian Hoyer offered up another ugly outing. The Browns' quarterback overthrew wide-open targets deep and squelched a potential scoring drive with a first-quarter interception in the end zone. Running the ball 31 times for 111 yards, Cleveland essentially game-planned around their embattled passer. We might see Johnny Manziel next week.
  1. Josh Cribbs and Trent Richardsoncrowed about hopping into the Dawg Pound, but neither were a factor. Cleveland's coverage team smothered Cribbs and hammered him to the turf more than once. The stuck-in-quicksand Richardson managed just 30 yards on the ground -- seven fewer than Luck.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. On a day in which A.J. Green piled up a career-high 224 yards on 11 catches, Bell was the best player on the field, tallying 235 yards and three touchdowns on 32 touches. He nearly added a fourth score, but was ruled down a few inches shy of the goal line. Bell already has the most receptions by a running back in franchise history (71) and is on pace to finish with 2,367 yards from scrimmage, which would rank as a top-five single-season total. "Right now, he is the best back in the league," NFL Media's Marshall Faulk said Sunday on NFL GameDay Morning. We can't argue.
  1. Andy Dalton left the game in the fourth quarter after being driven into the ground on a hit. He came back in for a play before giving way to Jason Campbell for the final five minutes of a three-score game. Dalton assured reporters after the game that he's fine.
  1. A healthy Green has averaged 132 yards per game over the past month, but Sunday's dominance was as much about the sorry state of the Steelers' secondary. Veteran Ike Taylor has been a liability since the middle of last season and was torched relentlessly by Green. Safety Mike Mitchell has been a free-agent bust, and starting cornerback Cortez Allen is out for the season. There's no quick fix for Dick LeBeau's pass defense.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. It was a wide receiver show Sunday, but Calvin Johnson showed why he continues to top all comers. Megatron dominated Lovie Smith's defense time and time again, boxing out corners while going for 158 yards and a touchdown -- it's his second straight week with over 140 yards receiving. When Matthew Stafford's security blanket is getting a free release, it's "Game: Blouses" for undersized secondaries.
  1. Detroit's defensive line destroyed Josh McCown all afternoon. The poor veteran quarterback barely had time to get to his second read before getting smoked. Detroit ended with six sacks -- including DeAndre Levy's pair -- and hit McCown numerous other times (14 recorded QB hits). McCown did his best to take advantage of his receivers' playmaking ability, but too many times he was treated like a rag doll before he could get the ball away. The discussion about the quarterback position might persist this offseason, but the Bucs' biggest problem is the offensive line.
  1. Mike Evans caught just four balls for 45 yards, but two were for touchdowns -- including a miraculous bobbled biceps grab. The rookie also forced several long pass interference flags. Evans now has 10 touchdown receptions, tied for the second-most in a single season in team history (J. Galloway, 2005). Vincent Jackson also went off on 10 catches for 159 yards. If McCown had time the totals could have been even higher.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. TexansPro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson left the game early with a concussion after taking a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars rookie Telvin Smith. Without his top weapon, Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was held to just 27 passing yards over the first two quarters. This is not a dynamic offense with The Amish Rifle at the controls, but he led the team to three straight second-half scoring drives and played mistake-free ball down the stretch.
  1. Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles played a strong first half against J.J. Watt and friends, but killed the team with a third-quarter interception that set up a Texans touchdown and a 24-13 lead that Houston wouldn't lose. Jacksonville's young skill-position players show flashes of promise, but there's no anchoring force to this attack. It doesn't help that Bortles is playing behind a Swiss-cheese line that allowed four sacks and nine hits on the passer.
  1. With Johnson out of the lineup, Fitzpatrick again looked to DeAndre Hopkins, who followed up last week's 238-yard explosion with just 49 yards off four catches. The offense centered entirely around Arian Foster, who had 88 yards before the half and carried the team with 127 yards and a touchdown at 5.3 yards per attempt.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Elvis Dumervil was the best player on the field Sunday, and Joe Flacco was a close second. Let's start with the Ravens' defense. Despite losing two more cornerbacks to injury (Danny Gorrer and Anthony Levine), the Ravens only gave up three points in the final three quarters because of a ferocious pass rush. Dumervil dominated Dallas Thomas for 3.5 sacks, stopping multiple drives. Terrell Suggs added 1.5 sacks. Ryan Tannehill often held the ball too long, getting knocked down nine times.
  1. Flacco has played near flawless football the last few weeks. Torrey Smith was very limited because of injury (no catches) but Flacco kept converting third downs with throws on the move to Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken and a human named Phillip Supernaw. Flacco is playing like a top-10 quarterback.
  1. Ryan Tannehill's inability to throw deep is the Achilles' heel of the Miami offense. They built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter with short throws and inspired runs by Lamar Miller, but the Ravens sat on the short stuff after that. Tannehill still takes too long to process and find secondary options, too often looking like a statue. The Dolphins don't even try to throw deep.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Your hero is Jarius Wright, who took a third-down wide receiver screen 87 yards to the house on the Vikings' first possession of overtime. Wright made one defender miss and turned on the jets, burning the Jets in the process. Give credit to Teddy Bridgewater, who audibled into the call that resulted in the game-winning play.
  1. The Jets wouldn't let Geno Smith throw the ball last Monday night. On Sunday, they dialed up a pass on their first play from scrimmage and were rewarded with -- wait for it -- a pick six. To Smith's credit, he rebounded from that indignation to put together a pretty solid effort. Smith is what he is: a bridge/backup type who John Idzik drafted to be a franchise starter.
  1. Percy Harvin delivered an impact performance in his return to Minnesota. The Jets wide receiver had six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown -- his first receiving score since 2012. Unfortunately for Harvin, he injured his ankle in the fourth quarter and was seen leaving the stadium on crutches. The game pretty much sums up why the Jets will have such a tough decision to make in the offseason.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. There has never been a repeat champion in the NFC South. The Panthers, almost impossibly, can still be the first team to pull it off. Carolina dominated Sunday from the kickoff onward, rolling over New Orleans with 271 rushing yards. The game was over when Jonathan Stewart took a Cam Newton handoff and rumbled 69 yards for a touchdown to make it 31-3 one minute into the third quarter.
  1. Outside of Bounty gate, this represents the low point of the Sean Payton era. The Saints looked unprepared and uninspired, and a lot of the blame has to fall on the coach. New Orleans has now lost four consecutive games at the Superdome, which is pretty hard to believe.
  1. Cam finally looks like a healthy quarterback, playing his best all-around game of the season. Newton threwthreetouchdown passes, zero interceptions and added 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground. If Newton is back to his old self, the Panthers have a shot at this.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. The Giants' scouting department and front office have to be thanking their lucky stars that players like Odell Beckham, and to a lesser extent, Andre Williams and Devon Kennard, continue to shine. While getting rid of Jerry Reese is probably low on John Mara's offseason to-do list, seeing the rookies take off the way they did pushes the possibility further out of the equation. With pressure mounting on his recent draft classes, the 2014 group was truly a fortunate series of events.
  1. Seeing the Titans' struggles puts a lot of things into perspective for Giants fans. Their offensive line is in the midst of a massive rebuild, and the few talented skill position players they have cannot seem to get their hands on the ball. On Sunday, that manifested itself in eight sacks and another shoulder injury for rookie Zach Mettenberger. The team desperately needs to see if he can play, but cannot seem to keep him on the field.
  1. Beckham is an absolute star. During his recovery from a serious hamstring injury, the team downplayed his impact on the offense moving forward, but this was the plan all along. Beckham was supposed to be a player that could operate from the No. 1 spot, the slot, the backfield and anywhere else Ben McAdoo could think of. Could the new coordinator's usage of the rookie buy this regime one more year, hoping that the return of Victor Cruz and the improvement to their offensive line could lead to better times? Doubtful, but imagine how much different the feeling would be around this team if they could have pulled off those games against San Francisco, Dallas and Jacksonville.

-- Conor Orr

  1. The Around The NFL Podcast has dubbed the Rams the best 5-7 team in NFL history. Now they are the best 6-7 team, thanks to a swarming defense that is first in the NFL in takeaways and second in sacks over the past six weeks. They dominated this game, recording two interceptions, seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits en route to the franchise's first back-to-back shutouts since the 1945 Cleveland Rams. This roster is a franchise quarterback away from contending for the NFC West in 2015.
  1. Colt McCoy is who we thought he was. He has struggled out of the gate in every game he has started this season. Redskins fans actually started an "RGIII" chant after Tavon Austin's 78-yard punt-return touchdown staked the Rams to a 24-0 lead late in the third quarter. We have been saying for three weeks that Jay Gruden should be playing Kirk Cousins, but none of the quarterback options is particularly appetizing. That doesn't speak well of Gruden, who was brought in to fix the offense.
  1. Ryan Kerrigan might not get the recognition because he plays on a miserable team, but he's enjoying a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He already has a career-high 11.5 sacks and spent the afternoon putting a clownsuit on Rams right tackle Joseph Barksdale. Kerrigan is the lone bright spot on a defense that has become known for blown coverages.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. This win was like so many others for Arizona this season. We're not exactly sure how they got it done, but they did it. Two second-half turnovers by Kansas City in Cardinals territory were the difference, including a Travis Kelce catch that was overturned to a fumble after replay review. It was a surprising and questionable overturn that's sure to be a topic of conversation in Kansas City all week.
  1. We give the banged-up Cardinals' defense a ton of credit for pitching a second half shutout and enabling a 14-6 comeback. Alex Okafor had a massive interception and a sack of Alex Smith. Frostee Rucker was disruptive. With the game on the line, coordinator Todd Bowles called blitz after blitz, and the Chiefs couldn't respond. This defense has been a lot of fun, especially at home, despite a ton of injuries. (They lost Antonio Cromartieto an injury Sunday, too.)
  1. The Chiefs' season was nicely encapsulated in a last gasp chance to tie the game at the end of regulation. When they needed to go down the field, Kansas City couldn't protect Smith or even attempt to throw deep. Smith was hit eight times and sacked five more in the game. His ability to escape pressure and run saved the Chiefs plenty of times. Smith played well overall. 

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. The Broncos keep the pressure on the Patriots in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Denver pickedoff twoKyle Orton passes and recovered a fumble on a day where Peyton Manning didn't throw a touchdown pass. C.J. Andersonscored allthree touchdownsfrom in close.
  1. Manning's up-and-down second half of the season continues. The reigning MVP threw twointerceptions (giving him 11 on the season) and saw his streak of 51 games with at least one touchdown pass come to an end. Manning won't win his seventh MVP award, though he has other goals.
  1. EJ Manuel stayed on the bench in this one, and it tells you a lot about what Doug Marrone thinks of him. Orton was struggling, and the Bills desperately needed a spark. Has Manuel already attained lost-cause status in Orchard Park?

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. Give the Raiders their due. Instead of folding the tent against their Bay Area rivals, Oakland played its finest game of the year on defense and rode a three-touchdown day from Derek Carr to dial up Sunday's biggest upset. Two years removed from the Super Bowl, Jim Harbaugh's squad looks nothing like a playoff team. They'll struggle to sneak into the postseason with tilts against the Chargers and Cardinals after next week's must-win rematch with the Seahawks.
  1. San Francisco's fan base doesn't want to hear this, but the Niners lack any sense of identity on offense. After bottoming out against the Seahawks on Thanksgiving, Colin Kaepernick and friends struggled to consistently move the ball while squeezing out just 4.4 yards per play. Throwing for just 174 yards, Colin Kaepernick's game-management skills were questionable, with the 49ers passer taking five sacks and drawing multiple delay-of-game calls. Once the NFL's most creative attack, the Niners are tough to watch this season.
  1. As Chris Wesseling noted in his fine post on the struggles of running quarterbacks, five NFL decision-makers recently told The Sideline View's John Middlekauff that they would rather have Carr than Kaepernick. Hard to blame them after what we saw Sunday. The Raiders rookie showed incredible poise on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march that sealed the game away in the final quarter. It was rewarding to see the young passer patiently go through his progressions to hit on 22 of 28 passes for 254 yards.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Russell Wilson unfurled a masterpiece of sandlot football, carrying the offense with his improvisational skills on broken plays. He converted a pair of third-and-15 plays as well as a third-and-13, the latter setting up a field goal in the two-minute drill just before halftime. For Seattle to get away with no structure to the passing game, Wilson has to be the best player on the field. That was certainly the case on Sunday.
  1. If there was any doubt that the Legion of Boom is back to Super Bowl-level dominance after getting Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell back in recent weeks, this game put it to rest. The Eagles had been averaging 35 points and 420 yards per game since Mark Sanchez took over for Nick Foles. They managed just 139 net yards on Sunday, 61 fewer than their previous low under Chip Kelly. Similar to the shut-down performance against the Broncos last February, the Seahawkssmothered Sanchez's receivers, forcing him to settle for short passes. The first of Sanchez's touchdowns was the result of a short field following an aborted punt. The second was simply a perfect pass on a well-schemed play to Zach Ertz.
  1. The Eagles were outclassed by a better team, but that doesn't mean they're no longer the favorites in the NFC East. Every quarterback is going to struggle against Seattle's surging defense. Led by defensive end Fletcher Cox, an underrated star, Philadelphia's front seven actually won the battle of the trenches. Marshawn Lynch had to break a slew of tackles to get to 3.7 yards per carry. The Eagles will have a more complete roster and homefield advantage while attempting to knock off the Cowboys for the second time in three weeks next Sunday.

-- Chris Wesseling

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from Week 14 and discusses the Seahawks' return to Super Bowl form. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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