Having a quarterback you can trust is a beautiful thing. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who watched with a lovesick grin as Aaron Rodgers fired six touchdown passes in one half against the hibernating Bears.
The Cardinals can't claim an Aaron Rodgers of their own, but they had plenty of faith in Carson Palmer. Enough to give the 34-year-old quarterback a three-year extension with $20 million guaranteed on Friday. Two days later, Palmer is staring at another long recovery after tearing his ACL.
What does this mean for the Cardinals? They're 8-1 after another electrifying comeback win on Sunday. Bruce Arians certainly has a capable backup in Drew Stanton, who's played a part in three different Arizona victories this season. Still, it's a pretty big leap of faith to believe Stanton is capable of leading Arizona deep into January.
The blunt truth is that Palmer's injury likely ruins Arizona's chances of becoming the first team to host the Super Bowl. The 49ers and Seahawks both showed a healthy pulse on Sunday. The stage has been set for the NFC West to tighten up considerably in the coming weeks.
Maybe Stanton steps in and plays at a high level -- higher than Palmer, even. But that's asking a lot. The Cardinals had a quarterback they could trust. Now they have to convince themselves they still do.
- Coach Mike McCarthy insisted two weeks ago that Rodgers is a "much better player" now than he was in a historically great 2011 season. Sunday's game is Exhibit A in that case. Rodgers joined former Oakland Raiders quarterback Daryle "The Mad Bomber" Lamonica as the only players with six touchdowns in the first half of one game. He has been unstoppable in the first quarter, finding the end zone on the opening drive of five of the past six games. There's no reason to believe Rodgers wouldn't have broken the NFL single-game record of seven had he not been removed early in the third quarter after staking his team to a 45-0 lead.
- Green Bay's defense got a shot in the arm from Clay Matthews, who moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker coming out of the bye week. The switch was made with the intention of bolstering the NFL's worst run defense. It was a smashing success. Matthews set a stalwart tone with 11 tackles and pressured Jay Cutler several times on inside blitzes. The logical inference is that Dom Capers will keep Matthews in the middle, leaving Nick Perry as the bookend edge rusher opposite Julius Peppers.
- The Bears became the first team since the Rochester Jeffersons in 1923 to surrender a 50-burger in back-to-back games. They have no semblance of a pass rush after buying a trio of defensive ends in free agency and selecting a pair of defensive tackles in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. That's not helping a dire situation in the defensive backfield that has been among the NFL's most exploitable for three years now. General manager Phil Emery needs to find an impact safety after hitting on promising cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round this year.
- Zach Mettenberger (and the rest of the Titans) dropped off severely after an encouraging first quarter. The rookie sixth-round pick was efficient on his first few drives and only one of his first 12 throws took more than three seconds from snap to release. In the second half, though, it was a bit of a regression. Mettenberger took far more sacks and failed to create any manageable situations to gain first downs.
- What a fantastic week this has been for the Ravens. After starting the game in last place in the AFC North, they watched the Steelersfall to the Jets and the Bengalsget torched on *Thursday Night Football*. With precious few division games left, the Ravens will take what they can get.
- Justin Forsettis surprisingly fun to watch. The veteran running back seems to have evolved his game this season and attacks holes with a much more patient approach. On the other hand, he's not afraid to put his head down and do some damage. His two touchdowns in Baltimore on Sunday were the difference makers.
-- Conor Orr
- Buffalo's late-game magic and the Kyle Orton revival story ran out of gas. The Bills dominated for three quarters but didn't take advantage, only building a 13-3 lead. Then they fell apart. Orton had a lot of errant throws, especially in the red zone. His misfires late in the fourth quarter will haunt him. He had Chris Hogan open for the go-ahead touchdown and airmailed the pass.
- Ron Parker was the MVP of the game for the Chiefs, now 6-3 on the season. Really. He was matched up against Sammy Watkins for much of the day and held the rookie to 27 yards. The key sequence of the game came when Parker forced a fumble on Bryce Brown as the Bills appeared headed for a 17-3 lead. Scott Chandler dropped the recovery in the end zone and the Chiefs got the ball back on a touchback. Parker continued to break up passes the rest of the way.
- Alex Smith was under constant assault by a dominant Bills defensive line all game, but he made the key plays when he needed. A great escape on third-and-long set up an early field goal. He made a picture-perfect throw on third-and-16 a play before Jamaal Charles' 39-yard touchdown. And Smith rushed it in from 8 yards out for the go-ahead score. His wheels have won games for the Chiefs this year. Expect the word "moxie" to be used in game recaps.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- Calvin Johnson's return opened up the Lions' offense. Both Megatron and Golden Tate went over the 100-yard mark for the game (Johnson 113 yards, seven catches, TD; Tate 109 yards, 11 catches). For most of the game, Stafford again struggled with his accuracy (his interception would have been an easy touchdown if he put it out in front of Megatron). Leaning on the NFL's No. 1 defense, the Lions haven't been a high-scoring squad. However, we have to give Stafford credit for dropping dimes late in games to get Detroit to 7-2 and keep them in first place in the NFC North.
- The slugfest between two of the NFL's top defenses was exactly as billed. Each team compiled three sacks, and each quarterback threw a pick. Brent Grimes' interception is one of the best plays you will see -- ever. Grimes stuck on Johnson as well as any cornerback in recent memory. The Lions' defensive front was the difference, completely shutting down the Dolphins' running game (50 yards) and knocking around Ryan Tannehill (nine QB hits).
- Tannehill made some good plays and continually bounced back from the beating. He made one terrible throw on his pick and threw behind a couple receivers in the red zone. The quarterback still can't hit the long ball but was able to dice up Lions linebackers in coverage with quick reads. His stat line was bland, but with zero running game, it wasn't a step backward for Tannehill.
-- Kevin Patra
- The Saints have only themselves to blame for the loss. After overcoming a 14-0 deficit to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, their safeties had a horrendous coverage breakdown, allowing a wide-open Michael Crabtree to haul in a 51-yard desperation heave on fourth-and-10. Jimmy Graham answered with a 50-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown, only to have it nullified by an obvious offensive pass interference penalty as the clock expired. Drew Brees held the ball too long on consecutive overtime plays, the latter leading to an Ahmad Brooksstrip-sack and Chris Borland's recovery.
- Tip your cap to the toughness of a trio of Saints players. Fox Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver revealed that Graham is getting a maximum of four hours of sleep due to the pain in his right shoulder. Despite battling a shoulder injury of his own, Mark Ingram has carried the ball 24, 30 and 27 times over the past three weeks. For his career, he had never carried more than 21 times in a game before Week 8. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, was ruled out with a quadriceps injury at halftime, but returned to drag his leg around the field. All three veterans made key plays in New Orleans' 14-3 second half.
- The 49ers should be in no hurry to rush Patrick Willis back from his toe injury. The defense has been stingy the past two weeks, with Borland leading the charge. The third-round rookie racked up 17 more tackles after blasting through Rams blockers for 18 last week. The front office will have decisions to make this offseason, as Borland has the look of a long-term starter on the inside.
-- Chris Wesseling
- After he was shut out in the opening quarter, Dez Bryant needed just 15 minutes to pile up 158 receiving yards and twotouchdowns off six grabs. His second-quarter explosion marked the most yards by a Cowboys wideout over a single period in franchise history. Bryant left the game for much of the second half, but he lashed the Jaguars for long scores of 68 and 35 yards before departing. The latter touchdown saw him streak down the sideline before cutting back across the field to slice through a swarm of Jaguars into the end zone. When he's on fire, nobody in the NFL is better.
- Tony Romo looked stiff out of the gate, unable to flee the pocket or make plays on the move. I couldn't help but wonder if lingering back pain played into his early overthrow of tight end Jason Witten on what would have been an easy touchdown. The Cowboys quarterback shook it off, though, to throw three scoring strikes and complete 20 of 27 passes for 246 yards at 9.1 yards per toss before Brandon Weeden took over midway through the final quarter.
- After tossing six interceptions over his past three games, Blake Bortles was turnover-free until Bruce Carterpicked him off in the fourth quarter. Still, the Jaguars can't seem to sustain anything positive from week to week on offense or defense. The occasional flashes of promise from their young roster aren't enough to overpower opponents for 60 minutes.
-- Marc Sessler
- Steelers fans flooded MetLife Stadium expecting an easy win over the hapless Jets. It didn't work out that way, as four Pittsburgh turnovers doomed a previously red-hot offense. The Jets entered Sunday with three turnovers ... all season. Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions after entering action with just one pick in his first eight games.
- Jets safety Jaiquawn Jarrett got the start over first-round pick Calvin Pryor. He made the most of his opportunity, claiming both Roethlisberger's interceptions, as well as a fumble recovery on special teams and a sack. Pryor can get comfortable on the bench.
- Michael Vick delivered a vintage performance. His touchdown pass to T.J. Graham showcased a still terrific arm, and he routinely used his legs to escape trouble. Brice McCain's ankles can attest that Vick still has his quickness. Rex Ryan said after the game that Vick will remain the Jets' starter following their Week 11 bye. It's not a surprise.
-- Dan Hanzus
- Matt Ryan and the Falcons looked like an NFC powerhouse when they dropped a 56-14 bomb on the Bucs in Week 3. Sunday's victory brought us closer to what they really are: an incomplete team laced with a handful of stars that needed another meeting with Tampa to snap a five-game losing streak. At 3-6, they're only relevant because of how awful the NFC South has become.
- Josh McCown -- not Mike Glennon -- is the better short-term option for this floating Bucs squad. The veteran passer engineered Tampa's best opening drive of the season with a 17-play march that chewed 8:36 off the clock and triggered a field goal. Still, McCown generated just 17 total points and threw two interceptions despite being sacked just once. The journeyman found seven different targets and played a cleaner game than anything we've seen from Glennon, but this remains a team in search of a franchise passer.
- Not to rain on Atlanta's parade, but this season's Falcons rely too heavily on Ryan and Julio Jones to carry the day. I see a team that can't win battles at the line of scrimmage, can't rush the passer from week to week and can't reliably run the ball -- against teams other than Tampa. They crossed 100 yards on the ground Sunday for the first time since September.
-- Marc Sessler
- Oakland's defense gave Peyton Manning fits early on, forcing the quarterback into two interceptions that led to 10 Raiders points. Things turned in the second quarter, when C.J. Anderson hauled in a third-down checkdown pass and made nearly every Oakland defender miss on a 51-yard touchdown. It was the first of five touchdown passes for Manning, who now has 29 on the season.
- The game was over early in the third quarter when Derek Carr panicked in the face of Denver's pass rush and shoveled a pass to right tackle Khalif Barnes, who fumbled while attempting to extend the play (which would have been negated by a penalty for illegal touching). Four plays later, Julius Thomas scored a backbreaking touchdown to put Denver ahead, 27-10.
- As you might expect, Derek Carr isn't ready to go toe-to-toe with the great Manning. The rookie saved his stat line with a long touchdown drive in garbage time, but lacked accuracy and tossed two interceptions.
-- Dan Hanzus
- Marshawn Lynch ran with brute force for the second straight week. After carrying the team with 143 total yards against Oakland last Sunday, the running back lashed New York for 140 yards and a career-best four scores off 21 totes. Russell Wilson also starred out of the backfield to account for 107 of Seattle's 350 rushing yards -- the most in a game by any team this season and a franchise record.
- Their success by land doesn't entirely mask a "totally random" Seahawksair attack that squeezed out just 81 yards over the first 38 minutes of play. No matter how you spin it, Wilson misses Percy Harvin and especially Golden Tate. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback threw two picks in a game for the first time in over a year. The second interception was simply a bad toss by Wilson, who lacks anything resembling a game-breaking target. Time to give Randy Moss another call?
- Odell Beckham is a star in the making. After putting a double move on Richard Sherman for a 44-yard grab, the Giants rookie pass-catcher fried Marcus Burley down the sideline for a 26-yard haul that set up New York's second touchdown. Beckham piled up 84 yards over the first 16 minutes of play en route to his second straight 100-yard afternoon. The Seahawks, though, turned this game around when Eli Manning's third-quarter pass to Beckham in the end zone was picked off by Earl Thomas and returned to midfield.
-- Marc Sessler
- The Cardinals were down 14-10 when Carson Palmer exited with 11 minutes left in the game. Drew Stanton's touchdown bomb at the 7:49 mark instigated a 21-point blitzkrieg over four minutes to put the game away. The victory was tempered by Palmer's injury, which was confirmed Monday to be a torn ACL. The injury is to the same knee Palmer shredded so severely in 2006 that his surgeon deemed the damage a "four" on a "scale of one to three."
- Austin Davis was on his way to a respectable afternoon until a fourth-quarter implosion. Staked to a 14-10 lead, Davis went three-and-out and then was intercepted byPatrick Peterson on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions, the latter going the distance for a game-sealing pick-six. Antonio Cromartie scored on the next series when third-round rookie Kareem Martin sacked Davis to force a fumble. Outside of a perfectly thrown 59-yard touchdown to Jared Cook, it was another week of regression for Davis.
- It will be interesting to see if Larry Fitzgerald can continue his hot streak with a quarterback change. Fitzgerald had returned to Pro Bowl form over the past month, playing better than he has since the 2011 season. From the time of Kurt Warner's 2010 retirement through Week 5 of this season, Fitzgerald had posted a 51.9 catch percentage. He's at 83.8 over the past five weeks while showing better run-after-catch ability than last season.
-- Chris Wesseling
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