In this look back at Week 11’s action, we identify the fabulous linebacker who seems to be making everyone else on his team superstars, the pair of rookies who made our Friday column look wise, and the head coach who deserves credit for trying to pull out an unorthodox win.
Unfortunately, the name of this column is not just “The Fabulous,” so we have to run the numbers on those folks who struggled, too. Which quarterback went from hero to zero in one week? Why did one team bench its safety after 20 minutes? And which team shouldn’t allow its players to go on Twitter ever again? We’ve got the answers below.
Denver Broncos 17, New York Jets 13
Fabulous: Von Miller, who was clutch to an audience of crickets. Admittedly, Tim Tebow deserves admiration for driving his team 96 yards against a great defense with the game on the line, but let’s give Miller some appreciation, too. His stat line is impressive enough: 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, four knockdowns of Mark Sanchez, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. Where those plays happened, though, was remarkable. His first sack, the half-sack with Elvis Dumervil, came on a third-and-4 that shut down the Jets’ first drive of the game. His second sack was on a third-and-10 on the final Jets drive, forcing them to take a crucial timeout and into a fourth-and-ridiculous. Miller’s pass breakup was on a slant to Santonio Holmes inside his own 5-yard line that would have otherwise gone for a touchdown. It saved the Broncos four points. And he forced that fumble inside his own 1-yard line; unfortunately for Miller, the Jets fell on the fumble and advanced it into the end zone for a touchdown. What else does a guy need to do to get the clutch label?
Flop: Willis McGahee. Let’s be kind and suggest that McGahee returned from his hamstring injury too soon, because he was awful against the Jets. He finished the game with 18 rushing yards on 12 carries, was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-1 carry, and fumbled at midfield to set up the opening Jets score. McGahee’s performance was the football manifestation of his collected thoughts on Buffalo.
Baltimore Ravens 31, Cincinnati Bengals 24
Fabulous: Torrey Smith. This was probably Smith’s best performance so far; he caught six of the seven passes thrown to him, picking up 165 yards and scoring a second-half touchdown. Even his one incompletion came on a bomb that Flacco basically threw away. The only downside was that Smith was tackled by his dreads on a play that might have resulted in a second long touchdown.
Flop: Cedric Benson. A perennial threat for the All-Bettis Team, Benson scored an impressive 16 fantasy points on Sunday, but he didn’t contribute very much to his team’s chances of winning. The Bengals handed him the ball 15 times and got just 41 yards for their troubles. Of course, because Benson got all the goal-line carries, he scored twice. His other 13 carries produced just a lone first down, and eight of those carries went for 2 yards or less.
Cleveland Browns 14, Jacksonville Jaguars 10
Fabulous: Chris Ogbonnaya. Gaining 90 yards against the Rams, as Ogbonnaya did last week, isn’t really very impressive. It’s the Rams. 115 yards on 21 carries against the Jaguars’ often-dominant run defense, though? That’s another story. Jacksonville was playing without defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, but Ogbonnaya clearly had his best game as a pro. Six of Cleveland’s 16 first downs on offense came thanks to Ogbonnaya, and his 40-yard scamper in the fourth quarter helped set up what should have been an insurance field goal.
Flop: Mike Thomas. As a possession receiver with little speed or ability after the catch, Thomas’ job is to catch the passes thrown to him and fall down. It’s that simple. On Sunday, he got the falling-down part taken care of without a problem. The catching? Blaine Gabbert threw him 11 passes and Thomas managed to come up with only three of them, gaining 23 yards.
Detroit Lions 49, Carolina Panthers 35
Fabulous: Matthew Stafford, who followed up his two-interception start by going 28-of-36 for 335 yards with five touchdowns. It’s an amazing drive chart. After Detroit’s third possession in the first quarter ended on a Keiland Williams fumble, the Lions had nine more possessions to work with before the game ended. They had one three-and-out, one punt after gaining 21 yards, and seven touchdowns. Three of those drives went the full 80 yards, and two more were in excess of 66 yards. Carolina doesn’t have a great defense, but it’s hard to do much better than that.
Flop: Amari Spievey. The Detroit strong safety was benched after just 20 minutes of action because he badly missed two tackles on DeAngelo Williams. The first play saw Spievey take an abysmal angle to the sideline and whiff on Williams, who picked up an extra 20 yards or so because of the mistake. Then, in the second quarter, Spievey went for a diving tackle on Williams and failed to come close to wrapping up. That produced an extra 14 yards and sent Spievey to the bench for the rest of the game. Literally, he didn’t play a single snap the rest of the way.
Green Bay Packers 35, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26
Fabulous: Raheem Morris. You play to win the game! Sure, Morris’ decision to try an unexpected onside kick with 3:52 to go in the first half didn’t work out, since kicker Michael Koenen failed to push his kick more than 10 yards and touched the ball just moments before a Packers player did the same. But it very nearly worked, and it’s an example of the forward thinking that coaches with inferior teams needs to be considering on a weekly basis if they’re going to beat teams like Green Bay.
Flop: Greg Jennings. Nominally the Packers’ top receiver, Jennings was basically a decoy for most of Sunday’s game, catching just two of the six passes thrown to him and producing a total of 6 yards. Jennings suffered a knee bruise during the game, but this was the sort of game that makes us wonder whether Jennings is really a no.1 guy. Then again, with the quality of guys like Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley behind him, Jennings doesn’t have to be a dominant ace.
Miami Dolphins 35, Buffalo Bills 8
Fabulous: Charles Clay. As we covered Monday, it’s hard to ever pick someone else as fabulous when a fullback is out there running bomb patterns.
Flop: Skill-position players. Just about everyone had a bad game. Stevie Johnson caught two of the eight passes thrown to him and gained 16 yards. Fred Jackson had seven carries for 17 yards. Reggie Bush had 15 carries for 32 yards. Brandon Marshall was targeted just three times and caught one of them for five yards. Aren’t you happy you didn’t watch this game?
Oakland Raiders 27, Minnesota Vikings 21
Fabulous: Tommy Kelly. With Richard Seymour a nonfactor on Sunday because of an injury, the Raiders desperately needed someone on their defensive line to step up. They got that sort of performance from Kelly, who sacked Christian Ponder twice, knocked him down a third time, deflected one pass, and caught a tipped Ponder pass for his first career interception. The only downside is that the third Ponder knockdown we mentioned drew a roughing the passer penalty.
Flop: Oakland’s lack of discipline. If you want to know how the Vikings were able to stay in this game without Adrian Peterson, that’s the reason. Minnesota’s offense produced only 13 first downs, but the Raiders gave them seven more via penalties. Minnesota’s opening score is one of the most embarrassing drives a defense will allow all year. The Raiders took a roughing the passer call to nullify a sack on third-and-7, an unnecessary roughness on the subsequent play, and then a face mask on third-and-8.
Dallas Cowboys 27, Washington Redskins 24
Fabulous: Jabar Gaffney. After complaining about John Beck struggling to find him downfield against the Niners two weeks ago, Gaffney’s been reunited with legendary companion in offensive mediocrity Rex Grossman. On Sunday, they each had an nice game; Grossman threw for nearly 300 yards and completed 65.7 percent of his passes, and Gaffney was 7-of-10 for 115 yards with a 16-yard touchdown catch.
Flop: Jabar Gaffney, who followed this reasonably sound performance by going on Twitter after the game and telling an antagonistic Cowboys fan to kill himself. Meanwhile, tight end Fred Davis also took to Twitter after a first-quarter fumble, noting “If u think that was fumble your [sic] idiot” and “Refs are human they mess up to buddy.” Unfortunately for Davis, video replays are actually inhuman. We’re so excited to find something else the Redskins are bad at.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Arizona Cardinals 7
Fabulous: Patrick Willis. The star 49ers linebacker picked up an interception and forced a fumble before the first quarter was out, and he led a run defense that allowed just one first down via the ground game all day. It’s also worth keeping in mind just how good he makes the players around him look. Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin looked like a superstar playing in front of Willis, and fellow inside linebacker Takeo Spikes looked 10 years younger playing next to him. Both of them left in free agency and have been ordinary in their new locales, while new inside linebacker Navorro Bowman has gotten tons of attention as a budding superstar in the NFL. Maybe we should just be giving Willis more credit.
Flop: John Skelton. Only a week after “leading” the Cardinals to a comeback win on the road over the Eagles, Skelton started 6-of-19 for 99 yards with three interceptions before noted quarterback whisperer Ken Whisenhunt benched Skelton for Richard Bartel. Bartel was better relatively. Going 8-of-16 for 64 yards isn’t exactly the sort of line that inspires confidence, but it is better than what Skelton put up in what was likely his last NFL start.
Seattle Seahawks 24, St. Louis Rams 7
Fabulous: Sidney Rice, who did about as much with three touches as any wide receiver can. Tarvaris Jackson threw Rice three passes and Rice caught three of them, producing a first down and a touchdown. Rice’s third target, meanwhile, produced a defensive pass interference penalty that spotted the ball on the Rams 1-yard line. And if that doesn’t seem like it’s enough, Rice also completed a pass to Big Mike Williams for 55 yards on the opening play from scrimmage.
Flop: Kam Chancellor, who seems a little too eager to make his reputation as a big hitter. Chancellor is in the middle of an otherwise solid season alongside Earl Thomas, but he took a stupid penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Lance Kendricks late in the game that left Kendricks with a concussion. That would be dumb enough, but Chancellor just wrote a $20,000 check to the league for hitting Anquan Boldin with a helmet-to-helmet shot last week. And that hit left Chancellor with a concussion. If a concussion and a fine aren’t going to be enough of a lesson for Chancellor to change his ways, he should be suspended.
Atlanta Falcons 23, Tennessee Titans 17
Fabulous: Matt Ryan, who spent virtually the entire game in the no-huddle and went 22-of-32 for 316 yards with a touchdown pass. The Falcons might have hit 34 points if Michael Turner hadn’t been stuffed on the 1-yard line on one series, and then fumbled on the Titans 7 later on. He’s not the flop of the day, though, because we got another visit from our old friend
Flop: Chris Johnson! As part of his mammoth albatross of a contract extension, Johnson is receiving $13 million this season. That’s $812,500 per game. For that horrifying sum of money, the Titans got 13 rushing yards on 12 carries from Johnson this Sunday. Literally, with passable blocking, just about anyone reading this column could do that. Johnson also accrued 15 yards on three receptions, but then again, he also committed a holding penalty. So that’s a grand total of 18 net yards across 16 plays. He converted two second-and-1 attempts for first downs. Yay!
Chicago Bears 31, San Diego Chargers 20
Fabulous: Jay Cutler, who sadly finished his best game with a broken thumb. Cutler completed only 18 of his 31 pass attempts, but he was let down by drops and made some incredible throws. Not only was he hitting throws in tight windows to guys such as Roy Williams, he was hitting them in stride and creating bigger gains. He averaged in excess of 9 yards per attempt, and at his best, the Chargers were hopeless to stop him. If there’s good news for Bears fans, it’s that the difficult portion of Chicago’s schedule is just about over. The Bears finish up with games against the rest of the AFC West, the Seahawks, and then tilts with the Packers and Vikings. Going 3-3 during that stretch should be enough to get them into the playoffs, and with their defense stopping just about everyone besides Vincent Jackson these days, even Caleb Hanie shouldn’t be able to stop them.
Flop: Ryan Mathews. For all the talent Mathews has as a runner, he fits the old cliché that young running backs don’t protect the football. In addition to averaging just 2.8 yards a pop on his 13 rushes, Mathews fumbled twice and lost one of them to the Bears, courtesy of expert ball-puncher Charles Tillman.
Philadelphia Eagles 17, New York Giants 10
Fabulous: The Philadelphia front seven. While virtually every facet of the Eagles franchise has been subject to scorn and ridicule for most of the season, the front seven have taken some pretty nasty cracks, and with good reason. On Sunday night, the front seven had their best game of the season. They held the Giants running game to 29 yards on 17 carries, with Big Blue converting just a lone first down on the ground. They sacked Eli Manning three times, but they were able to knock Eli down on 10 of his 38 dropbacks. They also sealed the win when defensive end Jason Babin stripped Manning of the ball on a sack with 1:25 left.
Flop: Vince Young, who looked like he had regressed from the quarterback who looked pretty decent during his final season with the Titans. He threw three interceptions in 36 passes, which matches Young’s interception total from his 156-pass season a year ago. It wasn’t just that Young was inaccurate; it was that he was making downright stupid decisions. Why throw a lob to Riley Cooper in the end zone on second down in the third quarter of a tie game? And if you’re going to make that decision, why put it in a place where Aaron Ross has a play on the ball? The Eagles signed Young in the hopes that they wouldn’t lose very much in the case of the inevitable Michael Vick injury, but Young made Michael Vick look a lot like Aaron Rodgers before picking up a series of third downs on Philly’s game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.
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