There are losses, and then there are losses. Houston's defeat at home against Indianapolis was as depressing as we've ever seen.
This game was as close to a playoff game as Week 9 gets. (At least for Houston.) For three quarters, it was easy to imagine the Texans with Case Keenum making a run back into AFC South contention. Instead, they blew an 18-point lead at home against their biggest rivals. Adding coach Gary Kubiak's health scare at halftime felt beyond cruel. The game didn't feel nearly as important after Kubiak went to the hospital. (Thankfully, all early signs about his health are positive.)
Throughout the AFC, we saw preseason playoff hopefuls dealt devastating blows. The defending champion Ravens' season went from disappointing to disastrous with a loss in Cleveland. Their offense is playing at a sub-Kyle Boller level. The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, meanwhile, gave up the most points and yards in a game in team history. It's hard to see them rebounding.
Here's what else we learned from an entertaining Week 9:
- We still can't quite believe the Colts won. Houston was leading by 18 points late in the third quarter, and could have been ahead by much more if not for missed field goals and a turnover on downs. The Texans absolutely manhandled Indianapolis on both sides of the ball for most of the game, then blew it much like their loss against the Seattle Seahawks.
- Tony Romo vowed to get the ball to Dez Bryant, but the team's best receiver had just six catches for 64 yards against a Vikings secondary that doubled him all day long. Minnesota also doubled Jason Witten, but the tight end made the most of his targets, notching his second 100-yard game of the season. All the attention paid to Bryant and Witten has turned newbies Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley into productive helpers.
- Christian Ponder played his best half of the year to start the game. He was clean through the air and helped Minnesota with a handful of smart scrambles. Less impressive was how low Ponder held the ball on George Selvie's strip-sack of the Vikings quarterback that led to a Cowboys touchdown. Still, Ponder did enough to earn another start.
- Chiefs defense: 14 points; Chiefs offense: 9 points; Buffalo Bills: 13 points. Kansas City's opportunistic defensive play kept the Chiefs undefeated. Sean Smith's 100-yard pick six completely turned the tide of the game in the second half. The 14 points by the defense were needed as K.C.'s offense was outgained 470-210. But in the end the Chiefs had the advantage in the only place that mattered: the scoreboard.
- Bills undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel completed five of his first seven passes including a 59-yard bomb for a touchdown. However, it quickly unraveled. He threw high and off-target much of the game. Tuel missed a wide-open Steve Johnson in the end zone on the Chiefs' pick six. A handful of dropped passes didn't help either. It's tough to place blame on a young player, but Thad Lewis wins that game.
- The Bills ran all over the Chiefs' defense for 241 yards. C.J. Spiller displayed more explosion than at any time since Week 2. The week off clearly helped him. He went for 116 yards on just 12 carries (9.7 yards per carry). He came up limping a couple times on his hobbled ankle, but not enough to keep him off the field.
- Gang Green's defense might lack a pure edge rusher, but the combination of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Coples caused endless headaches for Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback was forced to burn all three of his timeouts before the end of the first quarter in an attempt to solve a Jets unit that piled up two sacks, two interceptions and six hits on the day.
- Hero of the game? How about Chris Ivory's house-on-fire act against his former employer. Ivory rumbled for 139 yards and was the most physical back on the field. He ran for 7.7 yards a clip and took off on a 52-yard dart that changed the tone of the game before the half.
- The season could have gone wrong for Rex Ryan on Sunday, but instead, his Jets are the surprise of the season. They're in the conversation for a postseason berth and can point to this performance as their most legitimate win of the year. Meanwhile, New Orleans (6-2) has just one more win than the 5-3 Carolina Panthers.
- The "Riverboat Ron Rivera" phenomenon isn't going away. Faced with a fourth-and-1 red-zone dilemma early in the second quarter, Rivera stuck to his newfound mantra that touchdowns are better than field goals. The ensuing 14-yard play-action touchdown pass to Greg Olsen gave the Panthers a 14-3 lead, and they never looked back. Buoyed by a balanced offense and Rivera's aggressiveness, the Panthers have scored 30-plus points in four consecutive weeks for the first time in franchise history.
- After wide receiver Julio Jones was lost for the season, we wondered on the "Around The League Podcast" if Matt Ryan might faceplant the rest of the way. Although Ryan has been a top-six quarterback this season, he's now thrown at least three interceptions in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Even with Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas playing well, Ryan desperately needs a healthy Roddy White back in the lineup.
- All of that talk about an expanded role for Shonn Greene lit a fire under Chris Johnson, who showed vintage CJ2K form with a season-high 170 yards from scrimmage. Johnson made sharper cuts and plowed through arm tackles while notching his first two rushing touchdowns of the season. If Johnson and Greene continue to run with the elusiveness and physicality they showed in Sunday's win, Tennessee will remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.
- Zac Stacy was an obvious upgrade on Daryl Richardson before Sam Bradford's season-ending injury. Since then, he's become the focal point of the Rams' offense. The fifth-round rookie touched the ball on half of the Rams' snaps Sunday, churning out 178 yards from scrimmage while scoring the team's first two rushing touchdowns of the season. He's the rare back who makes defenders miss in tight spaces more so than in the open field.
- Nick Folesmade his case for the permanent starting job, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to toss seven touchdowns and finish the game with a perfect passer rating. Showing pinpoint accuracy and playing with supreme confidence, Foles had more passing touchdowns Sunday than Michael Vick has accrued all season. Logic dictates that Foles will continue to play as long as he doesn't faceplant, as he did in Week 7.
- Chip Kelly's offense has befuddled football observers as much as opponents. Fox color analyst Tim Ryan summarized the fickle punditry, acknowledging that he changed his mind about Kelly halfway through Sunday's aerial onslaught. Even though the early-season Eagles became just the fourth team in NFL history with five straight games of 430 or more total yards, Kelly's offense continues to be met with skepticism. The problem with this team lies on the other side of the ball.
- New England's offense suddenly looks explosive. Rob Gronkowski looks faster than ever, Danny Amendola went over 100 yards and Aaron Dobson has earned Tom Brady's trust. (Kenbrell Thompkins was a healthy scratch.) New England smartly stuck with Stevan Ridley as a lead back and protected Brady well. Brady responded with his sharpest game of the season by far, hitting plays outside the numbers.
- Pittsburgh's defense is almost unrecognizable. The unit gave up a franchise record in points allowed and yards allowed -- 611. Safety Shamarko Thomas was beaten like a drum. Cornerback Cortez Allen has struggled. There were a lot of coverage busts and confusion. Coordinator Dick LeBeau has to be embarrassed.
- This was a typical Ben Roethlisberger 2013 game. He threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns to go with two picks. He wasn't the reason the Steelers lost, but he left too many throws on the field. He wasn't on the same page with his wideouts. This Steelers team has a small margin for error, and Big Ben needs to be closer to perfect.
- The Redskins saved their season with a goal-line stand, and help from Chargers coach Mike McCoy. With the ball one foot away from a victory and time running out, the Chargers had three chances to get a win in regulation. Danny Woodhead was stuffed for no gain, and then the Chargers threw two incompletions despite having a timeout.
- It was a positive performance overall by Robert Griffin III, but he got hit a ton. All that offseason talk about "protecting himself" went out the window. The Redskins' quarterback played with reckless abandon and took a pounding. His accuracy was far better overall, although he missed a few throws that helped let the Chargers back in the game.
- Jason Campbell looks like the guy who was making plays for the Oakland Raiders a couple years back. Campbell picked apart a talented Ravens defense, throwing three touchdowns without an interception. He made plays with his legs and arm on the 15-play drive that iced the game late in the fourth quarter.
- Ray Rice said before the game he's feeling better than he has all season, but the results were as uninspiring as ever. The running back still looks a step slow, finishing with 17 yards on 11 carries. This offense isn't the same without Rice as a playmaker.
- The Seahawks aren't playing very well right now, so consider it a good sign they continue to win despite their funk. The offense committed a season-high three turnovers, but was much improved after the virtual no-show against the St. Louis Rams last Monday. Seattle wiped out an early 21-point deficit, mounting the biggest comeback in franchise history.
- Looking for silver linings for the Bucs? Mike Glennon had his moments, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Tiquan Underwood that showed some nice footwork and touch. Running back Mike James rushed for a season-high 158 yards and threw a Tebow-style touchdown pass. Doug Martin never looked that good when healthy this season.
- The Bucs' offense went into a shell in the second half after looking genuinely frisky over the first two quarters. You're not going to run away and hide when playing at CenturyLink Field, and Greg Schiano should have known that. The events of Sunday don't help Schiano's chances of making it to January.