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Offense, Offense And More Offense: NFL Division Weekend Storylines 1

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Andy Larmand

Does it have to be over? That was one of the best weekends of sports we have ever seen. The only bad thing about the Super Bowl getting closer is less football games over the weekend.

If it looked familiar to you, there’s good reason for that. The four AFC teams in the divisional round this past weekend were the same final four as last season and it was the first time that phenomenon has ever happened. Defense was certainly hard to come by on both Saturday and Sunday. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco's 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

Obi-WON-Jacoby: Joe Flacco’s 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually shocked the Broncos.

What. A. Game. The Ravens and the Broncos opened the weekend in one of the best postseason games we have seen in a while. Despite two return touchdowns from Trindon Holliday, Denver fell to the underdog Ravens, 38-35, in the first double-overtime game in the NFL since the Panthers beat the Rams in another divisional playoff game on Jan. 10, 2004 – they ended up making it to the Super Bowl that year. Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a 70-yard pass to tie the game at 35 with 31 seconds left in regulation and tied Eli Manning for the most road playoff wins with his fifth. If you missed it, start kicking yourself. Peyton Manning, who had won nine straight starts against the Ravens coming into the game, tied Brett Favre for the most playoff losses by a quarterback in NFL history. In 12 playoff appearances, which are tied for the most ever, he is now 9-11, including eight seasons of one-and-done performances. In what has become his typical fashion, he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. The Ravens got 17 points off of those turnovers, including the game-winning field goal with 13:18 left in the second overtime period following Corey Graham‘s second pick of the night.

The game featured three return touchdowns, including two in the first 5:11 and also saw a 42-second stretch in which the Ravens scored two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead. Holliday’s 90-yard punt return was the first ever in Denver postseason history and the longest by any player ever in the playoffs. His 104-yard kick return for a touchdown was also the longest return TD in playoff history and he became the only player to ever return both a kick and a punt for touchdowns in the same playoff game. Finally, Holliday became the first player to ever score two touchdowns of any kind of 90 or more yards in a playoff game. Baltimore lost one fumble on the day and have now lost three in their first two playoff games this year after losing just five in the regular season. The 28 combined points in the first quarter of the game were more than the four games combined for in the first quarter last weekend. It was only the third time in the Super Bowl era that both teams scored 14 or more points in the first quarter of a playoff game. It was also the first ever playoff game with an offensive (Torrey Smith, Brandon Stokley), defensive (Graham) and special teams touchdown (Holliday) in the first quarter.

The 35 points are the most the Ravens have ever allowed in their playoff history. The Broncos lost their first overtime playoff contest as they had been 2-0 in such games entering this one, including the victory over the Steelers last year. Baltimore improved to 1-0 in overtime playoff games. Graham became the sixth player in the last five postseasons to pick off multiple passes in a playoff game. Three of them are Ravens. The combination of Flacco and John Harbaugh is going to its third AFC Championship game in their five seasons together (0-2). Justin Tucker‘s 47-yard field goal to win the game was his only one of the night, the fourth-longest overtime field goal in playoff history and the longest ever by a rookie. Ray Lewis made an astounding 17 tackles and will live to play another week. The game lasted 76 minutes, 42 seconds. It was the fourth-longest playoff game in NFL history and the longest since 1986. Manning fell to 0-4 in his career in the postseason when the temperature was lower than 40 degrees and his 21 career postseason interceptions are the fourth-most ever. Denver committed 10 penalties in the game for 87 yards. Smith’s 59-yard TD reception just before the half was the second-longest in Baltimore postseason history. Manning took a knee with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, still possessing two timeouts.

Well, that was a good start. The Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a rematch of their Week 3 game with New England on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

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Win Or Go Home: NFL Wild Card Weekend Storylines 0

Posted on January 08, 2013 by Andy Larmand

There were only four football games on TV this weekend – two on Saturday and two on Sunday. But, thats okay. It’s the playoffs! Someone really should have told Andy Dalton, though as some unfortunate quarterback play stole the spotlight on Saturday.

PLAYOFFS?! Jim Mora, made famous for his rant at a press conference in 2001, is getting gained on by Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis as the coaches the two with the most playoff losses without any wins (Mora: 0-6, Lewis: 0-4).

The Bengals and Texans kicked off Wild Card Weekend for the second straight year on Saturday afternoon in a rematch of last year’s Wild Card game and the first playoff game of  Matt Schaub‘s career (was injured last season). Houston won last year’s game and they won this one too, though it was ugly, 19-13. The game was the fourth rematch in the Wild Card round from the previous year in history and all four times the team that had won the first one has won the second one. In an ugly first half, the only touchdown that was scored was a Leon Hall interception return for Cincinnati, but they trailed 9-7 at the end of two thanks to some very sloppy play. The Bengals were the first team with negative passing yards in the first half of a playoff game since 2006. Dalton had -6 yards through the air in the half. It was the fourth consecutive game with a defensive TD for the Bengals and their first interception return for a touchdown in the postseason since 1973. A.J. Green had no catches or targets in the first two quarters of the game. Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990 and also fell to 0-6 on the road all-time in the postseason. Dalton finished with just 127 yards on 14-of-30 passing.

Both Owen Daniels and Arian Foster were huge for the Texans, who have now won a playoff game in consecutive seasons. Daniels finished the game with nine receptions for 91 yards and Foster finished with 140 yards and the team’s only touchdown as he became the first running back to ever rush for 100 yards in each of his first three career playoff games. His 425 rushing yards in those games are also good for the most by a player in his first three career postseason appearances. Shayne Graham made all four of his field goal attempts in the game. Houston still has a chance to become only the second team to win the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season 1-3 or worse. Schaub nearly doubled Dalton’s passer rating (83.4 to 44.7) as the veteran came out on top in this one. Jermaine Gresham caught just two passes for seven yards and had two drops bounce off his hands. The Texans will head to New England to take on the Patriots in a rematch of their Week 14 game on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Houston lost the contest 42-14.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled hearing the play calls in noisy Reliant Stadium and struggled even more in executing them as Cincinnati's season is done.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled hearing the play calls in noisy Reliant Stadium and struggled even more in executing them as Cincinnati’s season is done.

A couple hours before kickoff, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder determined his injured elbow was not going to allow him to play in the game against the Packers. Joe Webb, who hadn’t thrown a pass this season, got the start and became the first quarterback in NFL history to start a postseason game after not attempting a pass in the regular season. He was the first QB to start a playoff game with only one career win on his resume since Kelly Holcomb in 2003. With all that going against them, it was never really close after the Packers scored 24 unanswered points to win, 24-10, and earn a rematch with the 49ers next week. Dalton may have felt a little better as Webb threw for just six yards in the first half of this game. Adrian Peterson ran for just 99 yards in the game on 22 carries and failed to become just the second 2,000-yard rusher to win a playoff game in the same season. No rushing champion has run for 100 yards in a playoff game since Edgerrin James did in 2000.

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ST&N 2012 NFL Awards 0

Posted on January 03, 2013 by Andy Larmand

While the NFL won’t give out its real awards until Super Bowl time, I will make my predictions for who will be receiving said awards. Only one thing is certain as of right now: the best of 2012 have a lot to live up to next year. It’s time, for me at least, to tell everyone who will win the awards in February and why.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuehly not only led the 10th-ranked defense of the Carolina Panthers in tackles as a rookie. He led the entire division. He led the entire NFC. And just for good measure, he led all of the NFL in tackles as a rookie fresh out of Boston College. Kuechly, a 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound linebacker, finished the season with 164 tackles, 15 ahead of NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers who had 149 on the year. He’s begun to transform the defense of the Panthers, which just last year, was 28th in the league. Out of the 17 defenders drafted in the first round of this past year’s draft, Kuechly was far and away the most productive. The next most was Bucs‘ safety Mark Barron, who had 89 tackles on the year. Carolina gave up 22.7 points per game in 2012 after allowing 26.8 last season. Kuechly was instrumental in holding strong offensive opponents like the Giants, Seahawks, Cowboys and Chargers to seven, 12, 14 and seven points, respectively. My 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly.

2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly.

2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: In a season that was definitely going to result in one of the first two picks in the draft winning this award, it just had to be determined whether it would be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. So, with that being said, my offensive rookie of the year is Russell Wilson. Wilson is just as much of a two-way threat as the other two and threw more touchdown passes than his two fellow rookie quarterbacks. In fact, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 record for the most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26 on the year. In the month of December, when the games mattered most, Wilson quarterbacked a Seattle team that put up 150 points in a three-game span. And he didn’t even enter training camp as the team’s starter. His 69.6 QBR was eighth in the league, just behind Griffin and just ahead of Luck, while his 100.0 passer rating was fourth in the league, just behind Griffin and well ahead of Luck. Neither the Seahawks, nor the Redskins or Colts would likely be in the playoffs without their rookie quarterback, so it kind of came down to stats in making this decision. My 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year: Russell Wilson.

2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year: Russell Wilson.

2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year: Russell Wilson.

Coach of the Year: What a year it was for the Colts. It takes a special coach to turn a 2-14 team into an 11-5 team and make the playoffs in the tough AFC South. It’s even more impressive that he did it in an interim role with all that must have been on his mind after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in October. Bruce Arians took over the team and, under his direction, they never lost focus and were able to win 11 games. They became just the seventh team ever to win at least nine more games than they did the previous year. Pagano has since returned and will coach the team in the playoffs, but they would not be there without the job that Arians did. To keep the team composed under those unbelievably difficult circumstances and to actually succeed on the field at the same time is so impressive and incredibly unique. Some season highlights for Indianapolis included wins against teams like the Texans, Vikings and Packers. My 2012 Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians.

2012 Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians.

2012 Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians.

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Season In Review: 32 Storylines From The 2012 NFL Regular Season 0

Posted on January 03, 2013 by Andy Larmand

It’s been a good one and I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say we’re all sad to see it go, but the 2012 NFL season has provided us with exciting finishes, triumphant record-breaking performances, comebacks, winning streaks, losing streaks and of course, replacement officials. Disappointments, pleasant surprises, rookies leading their teams to the playoffs and unspeakable tragedy have all left their marks on the past 17 weeks as well.

Here are 32 of the biggest stories – one about each team – from the 2012 regular season of NFL football.

Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Flew into a wall: Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11, 4th in NFC West): Normally, when you lose nine games in a row, that’s the biggest story of the year. That was not the case for the Arizona Cardinals this year, however. Following the rib injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in Week 6, things went from bad to worse in the desert as the Cards spiraled from a 4-0 first place team all the way to the bottom of the NFC West. Arizona’s quarterbacks, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer, were three big reasons why. In that time frame, they combined to go 1-9 and throw 18 interceptions to just three touchdowns. A five-game stretch even resulted in Lindley throwing more touchdowns to opposing teams via interception returns (four) than he threw to his own receivers (zero). A few of the trio’s passing highs included 74, 72 and 64 yards. It probably didn’t help that All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had just 20 catches for 213 yards and no touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. Either they will trust that Kolb will return healthy next season or one would think they spend their first-round pick this spring on a competent quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired by the team on ‘Black Monday.’

Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 1st in NFC South): The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012 and locked up their second straight No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, but that’s not really news – at least not until they actually do something in the playoffs. Matt Ryan improved his home record to 33-4 in five NFL seasons, but that wasn’t even the biggest thing, in my opinion. For the sixth consecutive season, Roddy White played in all 16 games (hasn’t missed a game in his eight-year career) and put up what would seem like Pro Bowl worthy numbers. He did not make it, however, but teammate Julio Jones did. White had 13 more catches and 153 more yards than Jones on the season. Interesting. In fact, White has finished out of the top 10 in receiving yards just once in the last six seasons (2009). In the last six seasons, he has ended up ninth, eighth, second, 13th, fourth and eighth in the NFL in receiving. He has gone to just three Pro Bowls, however, including one due to an injury of another player. The biggest story out of Atlanta this season may just be the fact that one of the most productive receivers in the league from year to year was snubbed from the Pro Bowl after once again bringing that consistent level of exceptional play. Should he be mad? Yes.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 1st in AFC North): It was kind of a tale of two seasons for the AFC North champion Ravens. They began the year 9-2 and were in the driver’s seat in the division as well as in good position in the hunt for a first-round bye. Then came injuries, however. Already without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Terrell Suggs, All-Pro Ray Lewis tore his triceps in Week 6 and was out for the rest of the regular season. In Week 7 against Houston, Suggs would return. Their success in the last few seasons shows the importance of those two players to the team. As if the Lewis wasn’t bad enough, cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in the same game and he, too, was lost for the year. Lewis is slated to make his return this weekend, but without these three players all on the field in the second half of the year, Baltimore went from a 9-2 team to one with an average 10-6 record. Should they face an early exit in the playoffs, these injuries will have likely given them their death sentence as the up-and-down offense can’t really be counted on.

Buffalo Bills (6-10, 4th in AFC East): As one of the most disappointing teams of 2012, the Buffalo Bills were projected by some to be contenders in the AFC East and perhaps even make the playoffs. That illusion was quickly lost, however, after the team began the year with a 3-6 start, including a 48-28 loss to the Jets on Opening Day. They finished 6-10 at the bottom of the division for the fifth straight year. Buffalo has missed the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons. Of the six teams that they did beat on the year (the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets), not one of them had a winning record. In fact, they had a combined record of 27-69. The defense, which was supposed to be solid with the addition of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus in his second year, gave up 45-plus points four times on the season as the Bills finished 31st in the league in rush yards against, allowing 145.8 per game. C.J. Spiller did have a solid season as he finished eighth in the league with 1,244 rushing yards, but a knee injury to Fred Jackson really ended up hurting the offense, which finished 19th in the league in total yards. Buffalo fired head coach Chan Gailey on Monday.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Carolina Panthers (7-9, 2nd in NFC South): For the third straight year the Panthers finished under .500, but for the second straight year they had a dynamic rookie on the field with them. As the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, linebacker Luke Kuechly not only led the team in tackles, but he led the entire league. He finished the season with 164 while also picking off two passes, recovering three fumbles and deflecting eight passes for the 10th-ranked defense in Carolina. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl, however. Kuechly was so impressive that he may have even slightly overshadowed the sophomore season of Cam Newton, who was just the third quarterback ever to lead his team in rushing yards in a season. With the two of them as their foundation, the future looks bright in Carolina if they can build around them. They could return to the playoffs as early as next year for the first time since 2008.

Chicago Bears (10-6, 3rd in NFC North): You can have a good beginning. And you can have a good end. But if you don’t have a good middle, most of the time, success is not on the horizon. The Chicago Bears found this out the hard way in 2012 as they became just the second team since 1990 (out of 53) to miss the playoffs after starting a season 7-1. Unfortunately for them, they lost five of their next six before finishing the season with two straight wins, but by then, it was too late. Jay Cutler‘s injury had a bit to do with it, but ultimately the offense they put out on the field could not get it done in the second half of the year as they averaged just 17.3 points per game in the final eight weeks of the season. Chicago has now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with their only playoff run ending in the NFC Championship Game to the eventual champion Packers two years ago. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday in a very surprising move that could ultimately result in more bad than good for the team.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 2nd in AFC North): The Bengals are going to the playoffs for the seconds straight year behind their talented second-year playmakers Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green really made a leap in his second year as he finished 10th in the league in receiving yards (1,350), tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (11) and seventh in receptions (97) while making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He even had a stretch early in the season in which he caught a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. His 84.4 yards per game also cracked the top 10 in the league. As the team’s biggest name on the offense, Green continued to put up monster numbers even when drawing the best coverage schemes from opposing defenses. His 164 targets in 2012 were tied for fifth in the league behind five of the best receivers of this generation. Green came up seven catches shy of breaking the record for the most receptions by a player in his first two NFL seasons as Cincy opted to rest most of its starters in their season finale. He has a chance to be the most productive receiver in Ohio since Chad Johnson.

Cleveland Browns (5-11, 4th in AFC North): In a backfield that featured two rookie starters in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, the Cleveland Browns were not able to avoid a second straight last place finish in the AFC North, but did win one more game than they did last year (four) if that’s any consolation. Richardson broke Jim Brown‘s franchise record for most rushing yards in a season by a rookie with 950 and also scored 12 total touchdowns. He started every game he appeared in and went over 100 yards three times before being forced to miss the team’s final game with an ankle injury. Weeden also missed the season finale with a shoulder injury. In 15 games at quarterback, he was 297-of-517 passing for 3,385 yards and threw 14 touchdowns. If both of them can come back healthy next year and the Browns can put some other pieces of the puzzle together, they look to be able to contend in the tough AFC North in 2013. Head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were both fired by the team on Monday.

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Peterson Comes Up Just Short, Cowboys Miss Playoffs: Week 17 Storylines 0

Posted on January 01, 2013 by Andy Larmand

The final week of the 2012 NFL season was just as good as the first 16 were. With 16 division matchups on the schedule, it had it all: shutouts, blowouts, third-string quarterbacks, elimination games, records being chased and of course another opportunity for Tony Romo to choke. (He did). For the last time in 2012, your storylines from the week that was in pro football.

Eight would have been great: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson came up eight yards shy of tying the single-season rushing record, but his Vikings are heading to the playoffs.

Eight would have been great: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson came up eight yards shy of tying the single-season rushing record, but his Vikings are heading to the playoffs.

Adrian Peterson came within eight yards of tying and nine of breaking the NFL single-season rushing record, but with time running out in the game, Blair Walsh kicked a 29-yard field goal to break the tie  and send the Vikings to the playoffs, ending Peterson’s regular season. Minnesota defeated the Packers, 37-34, for their first win against their division rivals since 2009. The loss also ended Green Bay’s 12-game division winning streak. Peterson did become just the seventh running back to ever rush for 2,000 yards in a season as he concluded the regular season with 2,097 yards on the ground. The Packers had won nine straight regular season finales before the loss. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns in a game for the fourth time this year, including two to Greg Jennings. Walsh added to his NFL record with his 10th field goal of 50-plus yards on the season. Peterson finished the season with seven 150-plus rushing games, tying the NFL record. Minnesota has made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Packers, who finished the regular season at 11-5 and the Vikings, who finished 10-6, will play each other on Saturday in the Wild Card round.

The good news: the Colts won their regular season finale. The great news: Chuck Pagano was back on the sidelines to coach it. J.J. Watt failed to get any sacks and finished two shy of the NFL single-season record as the Texans lost to the Colts to fall all the way to the third seed in the AFC, missing the bye they had been in position for all season long. Watt finished with 20.5 sacks on the year. Houston has never won at Indianapolis – now 0-11 all-time with the 28-16 loss on Sunday. A career-long 70-yard TD pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton on 3rd & 23 all but sealed the win for the Colts. Deji Karim returned a second-half kickoff 101 yards for Indy, their longest return since 1973. Andre Johnson tied the career record of 10-reception games set by Wes Welker last week with the 18th of his career. Reggie Wayne now has at least three catches in 64 straight games, extending his NFL record. The Colts became the seventh team to improve by nine wins in just one year, going from 2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 in 2012. Houston finished 12-4 after losing three of its last four games and will host the Bengals in the Wild Card round, while the Colts will travel to Baltimore.

The Chicago Bears have made a little history of their own as they became just the second team since 1990 to miss the playoffs after starting the season with a 7-1 record despite beating the Lions, 26-24, in Detroit and finishing with a 10-6 record. They have now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. Matt Forte did rush for 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. The Lions finished a disappointing 4-12, but Matthew Stafford shattered the previous record of 691 pass attempts in a season and finished with 727. Calvin Johnson caught five balls for 72 yards and came up 36 yards short of the first ever 2,000-yard receiving season. It broke his streak of eight straight 100-yard receiving games and four straight 10-catch games, which were both NFL records. He finished the season with an NFL record 1,964 receiving yards. Chicago fired head coach Lovie Smith on Monday after a 3-5 end to the year and that has apparently prompted kick returner Devin Hester to consider retirement.

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A Week For The Record Books: Week 16 NFL Storylines 0

Posted on December 26, 2012 by Andy Larmand

Week 16 gave us plenty of gifts right before Christmas including playoff clinching performances, records being set, quarterback controversies and of course a little Tim Tebow. Like always, it was fun to watch and even more exciting for those lucky enough to be in fantasy championship games.

The Falcons became the first team in the league to reach 13 wins as they got the best of the not-so-mighty Lions, 31-18, to open the week on Thursday/Saturday/Monday Night Football. While their performance was certainly appreciated in Atlanta, it was probably overshadowed around the rest of the country as Calvin Johnson broke the 17-year receiving yards record previously held by Jerry Rice with 11 catches for 225 yards on the night. He surpassed Rice’s record of 1,848 yards and now has 1,892 with one game to go and a real shot at becoming the first ever 2,000-yard receiver. On top of that, Megatron also set NFL records with his eighth straight game of 100-plus receiving yards and fourth straight with 10-plus catches. Matthew Stafford set an NFL record for the most passing yards in a game (443) without throwing a touchdown.

No. 1: Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season with 225 in his team's loss to the Falcons Saturday night.

No. 1: Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season with 225 in his team’s loss to the Falcons Saturday night.

Atlanta did clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with the win. Their two big targets, Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for 15 catches, 224 yards and three touchdowns. White had 100-plus yards and two TD catches in the 1st half alone – the second time he’s done that in his career. Jones now has at least five catches in five straight games and has a touchdown catch in four out of five. Matt Ryan continued his dominance at home as he threw four TD passes and set a new career-high with 31 on the year, tying the Falcons single-season record. He completed his first 12 passes of the game and dating back to last week, had completed 22 straight – a Falcons record – while also tying another career-high with the four touchdown passes. With one reception, Tony Gonzalez has caught a ball in 194 straight games. The Falcons improved to 13-2 and the Lions fell to a disappointing 4-11.

Steven Jackson entered Sunday’s game against the Bucs needing 91 yards for his eighth straight 1,000-yard season, but only got 81 as the Rams won the game 28-13. Rookie Janoris Jenkins returned another interception for a touchdown – his third of the year, which tied the rookie record set back in 1981. Josh Freeman tied the Bucs’ career record for TD throws with 77, but also threw four interceptions in his second consecutive game. He also now holds the Bucs’ single season passing yards record with 3,843 through Sunday. Sam Bradford was not sacked at all for the first time in 31 games. St. Louis improved to 7-7-1 and Tampa fell to 6-9 with their fifth straight loss.

Greg McElroy made the first start of his NFL career as the Jets hosted the Chargers in a battle of disappointing AFC teams. It was the first time since 2009 that Mark Sanchez had not started a game for New York and they looked pretty good on offense to start, driving for two early Shonn Greene touchdown runs. San Diego would come back, however, behind two touchdown passes from Philp Rivers, including one to Antonio Gates, who now stands alone as the Chargers’ all-time leader in touchdown catches with 82, and hand the Jets the loss, 27-17. San Diego sacked McElroy 11 times in the win – the most by a team since 2007. McElroy was the second quarterback since the merger to be sacked 11 times in his first start. The Jets fell to 6-9 and Chargers improved to 6-9 with the win.

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