In this week’s Fabulous and the Flops, we’re advocating for suspensions for big hits, criticizing the performance of a likely Rookie of the Year, and talking about the most embarrassing drive of the year by any offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers 14, Cleveland Browns 3
Fabulous: William Gay. Pittsburgh’s nickel cornerback showed tons of promise during his second season as a pro in 2008, but has struggled upon being moved into the starting lineup in 2009. In Week 10 against the Bengals, Gay came up with the game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter, a feat he repeated on Thursday night when he picked off Colt McCoy with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Gay also broke up two other passes and ended a drive with a tackle of a scrambling McCoy on third down.
Flop: Everyone involved with the Colt McCoy concussion. You, Cleveland Browns organization, for letting a player back into the game who couldn’t even remember being hit. You specifically, coach Pat Shurmur, for refusing to admit afterward that the team didn’t administer the standard concussion tests to McCoy. You, the NFL, for not putting independent neurologists on the sideline before the season even started to make sure those tests are followed through. You, James Harrison, for producing yet another illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. Oh, and back to you, the NFL, for not suspending Harrison before now. After all the chattering this offseason about how the league was going to improve its policy on concussions and protect their players, we got to see a woozy quarterback come in after two plays in a nationally televised game, just as we would have last season or the year before that.
Change must come now. No more chest-thumping and rhetoric. If you want players and teams to actually care about concussions, suspend Harrison for more than one game and increase the scrutiny on the sideline.
Baltimore Ravens 24, Indianapolis Colts 10
Fabulous: Terrell Suggs, who lived in the Indianapolis backfield all day. Suggs had two tackles for loss, a quarterback knockdown, and three additional sacks, each of which resulted in a Dan Orlovsky fumble. He now has 13 sacks in 13 games, which is more than he was able to produce in 2008 and 2009 combined. Is he the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year?
Flop: Dallas Clark, who came back from a fibula injury and caught just one of the six passes thrown in his direction. Clark is taking opportunities away from Jacob Tamme, who was productive in Clark’s absence and caught his only target of the day, a touchdown reception on the final play of the game. It’s not clear that Clark will even be on the team next year, so while we can’t fault him for wanting to play, we can fault the Colts for not turning the position over to Tamme, who might actually be a part of the next good Colts team.
Atlanta Falcons 31, Carolina Panthers 23
Fabulous: How does Steve Smith ever get open? By all accounts, every Panthers game should be like last week’s, when Smith was triple-covered on every play and Cam Newton was forced to throw elsewhere. Perhaps, the secret is that Smith doesn’t need to be open to get the football — his 48-yard catch on Carolina’s final drive of the game saw him locate a deep pass in the air before the defender, position himself so that he was the only person with a play on the ball, and somehow make a perfect catch while he contorted his body to land with two feet inbounds.
Flop: Cam Newton, who threw the Falcons back into the game during the second half with a pair of ugly interceptions. On his final drive with four minutes left, Newton completed that 48-yard pass to Smith and went 0-for-6 otherwise. Across the entire second half, Newton was just 10-of-26 for 129 yards, and nearly 40 percent of those yards came on that one pass to Smith. His offensive line didn’t help matters, either. Cam was already missing right tackle Jeff Otah before Jordan Gross was forced to sit this game out with an injury. Then, during the game, center Ryan Kalil went down with a stinger. Otah, Gross, and Kalil represent Carolina’s three Pro Bowl-caliber linemen. The Panthers can afford to lose one, but they will struggle to move the ball without all three.
Houston Texans 20, Cincinnati Bengals 19
Fabulous: A.J. Green, a superhero masquerading as wide receiver. Green’s numbers weren’t that extraordinary, as he caught just five of seven targets and gained 59 yards, but he spent all day against star Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, and he provided a couple of moments that should have reminded everyone of his brilliance. One of his catches allowed Cincinnati to convert a fourth-and-3 that eventually resulted in a touchdown. On a later drive, Green drew a 25-yard pass interference penalty on Joseph (not included in the stats above) before catching a 36-yard lollipop over him to get Cincinnati into the red zone.
Flop: Arian Foster, who was limited to just 41 yards on 15 carries by an underrated Cincinnati run defense. Foster did contribute four catches for 33 yards, but he produced a total of two first downs all day.
Detroit Lions 34, Minnesota Vikings 28
Fabulous: Joe Webb, who scrambled the Vikings back into this game. On his first drive, Webb was the king of third downs. On his first third down, Webb converted third-and-1 with a 3-yard scamper. On the next one, he picked up third-and-8 by beating Cliff Avril to the sticks for 9. Oh, and then he topped those plays by picking up third-and-10 with a scramble that produced a 65-yard touchdown run. That was the longest run by a quarterback since 1998, when Steve McNair had a 71-yard touchdown scamper against the Buccaneers in Week 10.
Flop: Leslie Frazier, who decided to have fun with injury shenanigans this week. During the week, he teased that Adrian Peterson was going to play, when it was obvious that Peterson wasn’t anywhere close to ready to get back on the field. Then, after Christian Ponder’s hip acted up, Frazier decided to let Ponder, a rookie quarterback who is almost entirely dependent upon his mobility, suit up for one of the worst halves of football you will ever see. Ponder was picked off on three of his 21 attempts and was lucky to get away with two or three more errant throws. Hey Vikings, you have nothing to play for! Maybe it would be smart to rest your rookie quarterback for a week.
Jacksonville Jaguars 41, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14
Fabulous: Maurice Jones-Drew. OK, so MJD’s importance is probably overshadowed by his four touchdowns, all of which came from within five yards of the end zone. But remember that he did this with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. And how thin are the Jags at wideout? They split MJD out as a flanker on Sunday. Sure enough, he caught a touchdown pass.
Flop: Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson. How do you complete 53 percent of your passes and throw three interceptions when you’re up against a secondary that’s down to their third-string cornerbacks? Freeman also fumbled twice. In his past six starts, Freeman’s thrown 12 interceptions and fumbled four times. The Bucs haven’t won any of those starts.
Philadelphia Eagles 26, Miami Dolphins 10
Fabulous: Brandon Fields. The Dolphins couldn’t move the ball on offense for most of the day, but they put their defense into excellent field position because of the work done by their punter. Fields had a net average of 49.8 yards per punt, and he pinned the Eagles inside their own 10-yard line twice.
Flop: LeSean McCoy. Sure, Shady ran for two touchdowns, but those runs came from one and two yards out. McCoy got 27 carries and produced just 38 yards; good for a dismal 1.4 yards per carry. Beyond the touchdowns, his other 25 carries produced just three first downs. Since 2000, only three backs have run the ball 20 or more times and averaged fewer yards per attempt. The post-merger record, though, belongs to Emmitt Smith. Smith ran the ball 22 times in a 1999 game against the Giants and gained just 26 yards; that’s not even 1.2 yards per pop.
New York Jets 37, Kansas City Chiefs 10
Fabulous: Shonn Greene, who had his best game in more than two years by running for 129 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. If you throw in his 58 receiving yards, Greene set a personal best for yards from scrimmage on Sunday. He had a fumble overturned inside the red zone, which seems like a good time to note that he’s not fumbling anymore. Through his first two seasons, Greene had a fumble every 51.5 touches. This year, he has just one fumble on 233 touches.
Flop: The best football league on the planet for producing the worst drive of the season. With 8:14 left in the third quarter, the Jets embarked on a possession that served as a wonderful advertisement for the NBA’s impending return. There were no fewer than eight penalties on the drive. Eight! The Jets started off with a chop block call that moved the ball half the distance to their goal line, and then picked up a holding penalty on the next play, which moved the ball to their own 2-yard line. Two plays later, Kansas City’s Jovan Belcher was called for roughing the passer to give the Jets a new set of downs. On the very next play, an incomplete pass from Sanchez was met with two defensive holding calls. Todd Haley responded to this as only he could, trying to get thrown out of the game by arguing with the officials. Since this isn’t baseball, he got only a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. (Haley’s ejection had to wait until Monday afternoon.) The Jets then ran two plays for 4 yards without incident before Brandon Flowers was called for pass interference on third-and-3, resulting in a 16-yard penalty. Finally, on the ensuing play, Mark Sanchez didn’t get the snap cleanly, but managed to pick up the ball and loft a bomb to Dustin Keller, drawing another pass interference penalty, this time on Kendrick Lewis. All in all, the Jets advanced the ball 93 yards while picking up a total of 12 yards on offense.
New Orleans Saints 22, Tennessee Titans 17
Fabulous: Marques Colston. The Titans spent most of Sunday taking away big plays and forcing the Saints underneath, but Colston broke the game open with two go routes up the seams, both which went for touchdowns. Only one other Saints play went for more than 25 yards.
Flop: Chris Johnson. Three straight weeks in the “Fabulous” column were obviously too much for CJ2K to bear, since he returned to his 2011 form by gaining just 23 yards on 11 carries. Johnson did contribute 43 yards on five catches as a receiver, but the Saints allow the fourth-most yards per carry in the league. How on earth did Johnson fail to hit even 2 yards per rush?
New England Patriots 34, Washington Redskins 27
Fabulous: You’ve seen what Rob Gronkowski did on Sunday. We’re not going to belabor the point. But consider that Gronkowski has 14 receiving touchdowns in 13 games, and he has a 15th touchdown that came on a slight lateral that was, for all intents and purposes, a pass play. And if he had been able to corral a Tom Brady pass that went off his shin on Sunday, he would, for all intents and purposes, have had 16 touchdowns.
Here’s a list of the guys who have had seasons in which they had caught more than 16 touchdowns in their first 13 games: Randy Moss, Jerry Rice. That’s it. Carl Pickens had 16 in 13 games. It’s safe to say that Gronkowski is a better player than Carl Pickens.
Flop: DeAngelo Hall, who was called for defensive holding early in the third quarter and expressed his anger with the flag by throwing it downfield, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Arizona Cardinals 21, San Francisco 49ers 19
Fabulous: Larry Fitzgerald, who took his team onto his back and caught seven of the nine passes thrown to him, producing 149 yards and a long touchdown. One hundred twenty-seven of those yards came in the second half, when the 49ers wore down while trying to defend a lead without Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis.
Flop: Beanie Wells. We know that Beanie is injured, but he got 15 of Arizona’s 17 carries from running backs and produced a total of just 27 yards. He was injured against St. Louis, too, but that didn’t stop him from having a field day.
Denver Broncos 13, Chicago Bears 10 (OT)
Fabulous: Matt Prater. We covered this yesterday.
Flop: Marion Barber. Likewise, we castigated and excoriated Barber in Monday’s piece.
Green Bay Packers 46, Oakland Raiders 16
Fabulous: Ryan Grant! We’ll keep Aaron Rodgers out of this space this week, but it’s difficult to not just pencil him in here every single Sunday. Perhaps that’s why Grant enjoyed so much success against what should have been a dominant front four. He averaged 85 yards on his 10 carries, producing a 47-yard touchdown run, and he caught the only pass thrown to him for 13 yards.
Flop: Carson Palmer. After his four-pick day on Sunday, Palmer now has 13 interceptions in seven games. That’s a 30-interception pace for a full season. Since they acquired Palmer, the Raiders have won three games, each by one touchdown or less. Their four losses over that time span have come by 14 points or more. They’ve now been outscored by 76 points in those seven games, and they’re outplaying their Pythagorean expectation by a full two wins. They might be the worst team in the division.
San Diego Chargers 37, Buffalo Bills 10
Fabulous: Ryan Mathews, who was the picture of efficiency when the Chargers gave him the ball. He ran for 114 yards on 20 carries and caught all six of the passes thrown to him, producing 34 yards. Of those 26 touches, just one went for no gain or a loss. And perhaps most excitingly, Mathews didn’t even fumble once.
Flop: Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 13-for-34 for 176 yards against a defense that consists of several different varieties of toast at cornerback. Fitzpatrick’s decline during the second half of the year has really been remarkable. Through the Week 8 shutout of the Redskins, Fitzpatrick completed 67.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, and had a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. During Buffalo’s six-game losing streak, Fitzpatrick is completing just 55.9 percent of his throws, averaging a measly 5.8 yards per attempt, and has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (six).
New York Giants 37, Dallas Cowboys 34
Fabulous: Eli Manning, who threw for an even 400 yards on his 47 attempts and might have hit for even more if his receivers weren’t dedicated to dropping passes. Manning’s completion percentage was only 57.4 percent, but on the final two meaningful Giants possessions of the game, Manning was 8-of-12 for 122 yards with those two huge touchdown passes to give New York the lead.
Flop: We covered the many fiascoes perpetrated by the Cowboys yesterday. Suffice to say that the flop column for them is overfilled this week.
Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.
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