We’ve got a lot to talk about in this week’s Fabulous and the Flops. In going through the numbers and our notes for each game from Sunday, we discovered a pair of unexpected heroes who were really goats, a previously unreported curse, and a stunning game from a player who was all but written off.
We start this week, though, in the Northeast, where a wildly successful offense might need to start changing its stripes.
New York Jets 27, Buffalo Bills 11
Fabulous: Plaxico Burress, who had a better game than the three-touchdown performance he put up during the Jets win over the Chargers two weeks ago, but won’t get quite the attention because his receptions didn’t end up in the end zone. For a guy who gets downfield and doesn’t always have the best hands, 5-of-5 for 79 yards and four first downs isn’t bad at all. His fifth catch was a 14-yarder on second-and-18, so it’s hard to fault that one, either.
Flop: Ryan Fitzpatrick. The newly extended Bills quarterback was placed into a bad spot by the Jets defense, which took away all of his underneath throws and forced Fitzpatrick into the weak part of his game, throwing downfield. He doesn’t have an accurate deep ball or the receivers to get significant separation from cornerbacks as good as Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie, so it’s no wonder he only went 15-of-31 for 191 yards. When he tried to throw short, he threw two interceptions and dumped off incomplete passes to Fred Jackson, who was able to bring in just three of the eight passes thrown to him. Other teams will see the Jets defense on film and try to emulate it against Fitzpatrick and this Bills offense over the rest of the season, and it will be up to Donald Jones and Stevie Johnson to make plays downfield. For that to happen, Fitzpatrick needs to get the ball to them.
Dallas Cowboys 23, Seattle Seahawks 13
Fabulous: DeMarco Murray, who is playing his part in the cycle of life that is the Cowboys starting running back. Murray’s fantastic performance simultaneously casts doubt upon Felix Jones’ future as a Cowboys player and recalls the hope that sprang from Jones’ impressive performances when given a full-time workload, a cycle previously run by Marion Barber, Julius Jones, and Troy Hambrick. Is it some kind of weird Emmitt Smith curse? Do you have the power to avoid making an Emmitt Smith malapropism joke here? Murray’s issues in the passing game reared their head when he dropped a pass early on, but he caught four of the other five passes thrown to him and gained 47 yards, and ran for 139 yards on 22 carries against one of the league’s best run defenses. He finished the day with eight first downs, and when Jones returns to the lineup, he should find that Murray’s taken a large portion of his workload.
Flop: Sidney Rice, who wasn’t able to take advantage of the absent Mike Jenkins and caught just three of the eight passes thrown in his direction. One of those completions was a 43-yard bomb against blown coverage, so the other seven targets resulted in just 26 yards.
Houston Texans 30, Cleveland Browns 12
Fabulous: The Houston offensive line, which helped both Arian Foster and Ben Tate to 100-yard games. It’s the second time this season that the Texans have had two running backs rush for 100 yards or more in one game; they’re the only team to pull that off this year, and it only happened three times last season. The two Houston backs combined for 239 yards on 31 carries, and 14 of the 21 Texans first downs came via the ground game. None of the Houston offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl last year, but Foster and now-departed fullback Vonta Leach made the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team. If none of the Houston linemen make the Pro Bowl this year, they should start their own all-star game. Hint to voters: Start with right tackle Eric Winston.
Flop: Chris Ogbonnaya, who fumbled on his very first carry of the game to hand the ball back to the Texans. They promptly went up 14-0 and the game ceased to be a contest. Ogbonnaya didn’t fumble again, but he didn’t get much better, finishing with 28 yards on 13 carries. On the bright side, Ogbonnaya didn’t fire his agent or ask for a contract extension after his performance, so he’s still the preferred option to Peyton Hillis in Cleveland.
Atlanta Falcons 31, Indianapolis Colts 7
Fabulous: Julio Jones, who made the most of his four targets. His first touchdown was a gorgeous diving grab at full stretch on a 50-yard pass by Matt Ryan into double coverage. In fact, it was so good that the refs couldn’t believe Jones actually caught it and called it incomplete on the field. You don’t need a stat to know how good of a catch it was if you saw it. The other one was more subtly impressive, as Jones caught a quick slant on third-and-3 and promptly accelerated through the Colts defense for an 80-yard touchdown. It was reminiscent of the long touchdown catch-and-run by Larry Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLIII.
Flop: Curtis Painter. It looked like Painter had a clue after his early struggles, but as often happens with Curtis Painter, we overestimated him. Over his last three games, Painter is 48-of-93 for 415 yards with four picks; he had just 98 yards passing on 27 attempts on Sunday against the Falcons. Painter will get his due one day, when he retires to the same country club where other terrible quarterbacks who begat first overall picks for their team reside. Make sure to get the locker next to Keith Null!
Miami Dolphins 31, Kansas City Chiefs 3
Fabulous: Matt Moore, who might have lost his access to that country club with this win. Against a pass defense that has flummoxed Philip Rivers twice this season, Moore was close to perfect: 17-of-23 for 244 yards with three touchdowns, no picks, and no sacks. When he avoids turnovers and his best receiver gets open, Moore can be an efficient passer. This may very well end up being the best game Matt Moore ever has as a professional quarterback. With those numbers, it wouldn’t be remotely shameful to say.
Flop: Brandon Flowers. Flowers looked like a man possessed last Monday night, but he was lethargic and subpar against the Dolphins. It’s one thing to get beat down the field by Brandon Marshall for a 30-yard completion, but Flowers was beat for big plays twice by Charles Clay. Clay, if you aren’t familiar with him from his
LSU Tulsa days, is the Dolphins fullback. Pro Bowl cornerbacks should not struggle to cover fullbacks.
New Orleans Saints 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16
Fabulous: Darren Sproles, who continues to be the player that Reggie Bush was supposed to be in New Orleans all these years. Sproles only got four carries, but one of them was a 35-yard run that flipped the field position and helped set up the opening Saints touchdown. He scored the next one on a swing pass that saw him go 21 yards through the Tampa Bay defense before hitting pay dirt. He was 5-of-6 for 57 yards as a receiver, and threw in a punt return of 15 yards to go with kickoff returns of 24 and 30 yards. Most notable, though, is that he didn’t fumble on any of those 13 touches, bringing him to 142 touches without coughing up the ball this year. Bush fumbled once every 48 touches as a Saints player.
Flop: The Tampa Bay rush defense, which lost Gerald McCoy to a season-ending torn triceps for the second year in a row during the game. They’ve been better this season than they had been in 2010, but the Saints gashed them for 195 yards on 28 carries. That includes a 20-yard scramble by Drew Brees on third-and-4 during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
San Francisco 49ers 19, Washington Redskins 11
Fabulous: Roy Helu, who caught 14 passes and was the only ambulatory member of his team’s offense during his first career start.
Flop: Brandon Banks, Redskins returner extraordinaire. Banks had a decent day on kickoff returns, producing a 34-yarder among his four forays. On punts? Well, Banks fielded two punts and muffed them both. He was able to fall on the muffs, but that’s just awful.
Denver Broncos 38, Oakland Raiders 24
Fabulous: The Denver running game, since it’s unfair to strictly focus on Willis McGahee. As it turns out, we cheated a little bit earlier when we noted that the Texans were the only team to have two running backs hit 100 rushing yards in the same game this year; Tim Tebow was wildly effective as a runner on Sunday, grabbing 118 yards and four first downs on his 12 carries. He also had a 12-yard carry that nearly picked up a third-and-13. McGahee was awful in the first half — 18 rushing yards on eight carries is dreadful — but he stepped it up in the second. He had 24 yards on four carries during the opening drive of the third quarter, and then finished the quarter by weaving a 60-yard touchdown run that tied the game up for the Broncos heading into the fourth. There, he had six carries for 58 yards, including the 24-yard touchdown run that sealed the win for Denver.
Flop: Aaron Curry. The former top prospect was immediately inserted into the Oakland starting lineup after they traded for him several weeks ago, and like fellow transplant Carson Palmer, it’s been too soon. Curry appeared to miss a number of assignments on Sunday, most notably opening a hole for McGahee on his 60-yard touchdown run that tied the game. On the next drive, the Raiders sacked Tebow for an 11-yard loss to set up third-and-20. They held Tebow to a run for no gain on the play, but Curry decided to get in an absolutely insipid late hit that gifted the Broncos a first down. It cost the Raiders 30 yards of field position and took away whatever momentum they had.
Cincinnati Bengals 24, Tennessee Titans 17
Fabulous: A.J. Green, who caught all seven of the passes thrown in his direction for a total of 83 yards. In fact, the only pass he didn’t catch resulted in a 45-yard defensive pass interference penalty that set the Bengals up in the red zone for a crucial third-quarter touchdown. Keep in mind that Green did this with a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball and the team’s second-best target, tight end Jermaine Gresham, sidelined by injury.
Flop: Jerome Simpson. Despite the presence of Green across from him, Simpson was able to bring in just three of his ten targets. One of those catches was for a 15-yard touchdown, but he gained just 28 yards across the other nine throws.
Arizona Cardinals 19, St. Louis Rams 13
Fabulous: Patrick Peterson. For the second week in a row, Peterson broke what felt like a half-dozen tackles on a punt return en route to a long touchdown. This time, he didn’t leave any space on the clock for the opposition to come back, as his overtime return sealed a pleasing come-from-behind win for the Cardinals. He now has three punt-return touchdowns in eight games. The last rookie to do that was Devin Hester.
Flop: The star receivers. Both these teams are built around one star target who should attract double-teams on every play, but Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Lloyd are usually better than this. On Sunday, they combined to catch just nine of the 25 targets thrown at them, resulting in a total of just 123 yards and one touchdown. They were playing with inaccurate quarterbacks, but that should be their average, not their sum.
New York Giants 24, New England Patriots 20
Fabulous: Wes Welker, who was one of the few members of the Patriots’ offense to show up on Sunday. Tom Brady focused on Rob Gronkowski during that (seemingly) key fourth-quarter series at the goal line, but Welker was his only target of any consequence for most of the day. Welker caught nine of the ten passes thrown to him and gained 136 yards, and including a 13-yard run on an end around, he was responsible for six of the 23 first downs New England picked up on the day. Put it this way: If you take Welker out of the equation, Brady went 19-of-39 for 206 yards.
Flop: Tom Brady. It’s easy to blame Stephen Gostkowski for missing a chip shot at the stroke of halftime, but Brady simply didn’t play very well. After that missed field goal, Brady threw an interception to Deon Grant and then followed that on the next drive by taking a delay of game before fumbling the ball away on a third-and-10 strip sack inside his own red zone. He was pretty great in the fourth quarter, but Brady did close to nothing during the first 45 minutes of the game, and it wasn’t because the pass rush dominated him to the extent it did during that fateful Super Bowl. He just wasn’t accurate.
Green Bay Packers 45, San Diego Chargers 38
Fabulous: Aaron Rodgers. What, you thought we were going to put Scott Wells here or something? Despite being faced with an excellent Chargers pass rush all day, Rodgers went 21-of-26 for 247 yards with four touchdowns, and the only reason he didn’t accrue more in the way of raw totals was because Philip Rivers threw two pick-sixes in the first quarter and only let the Packers get in one drive. You’ll note that Rodgers nearly had more touchdown passes than incomplete passes.
Flop: Charlie Peprah. How do we pass on Philip Rivers (a guy who threw two pick-sixes and three interceptions on the day) for a backup safety who had the game of his life? Well, we do it because Peprah pulled one of the stupidest moves in football on his second pick. When he intercepted Rivers on his own 18-yard line with 33 seconds left, the game was over. The Chargers had no timeouts. All Peprah needed to do was go out of bounds or kneel to seal the win, and the only way the Chargers could have had any chance of winning whatsoever would be if Peprah somehow fumbled the interception away. Instead, Peprah took this opportunity to try to weave his way back to the end zone for his second touchdown on the day, eventually returning it 76 yards before being tackled at the Chargers’ six-yard line. Some people will say that we’re being hard on Peprah and ignoring how players react in the heat of the moment, but there are plenty of times where players are smart enough to fall on their game-winning interception. Heck, Brian Westbrook even passed up a touchdown to kneel at the one-yard line and seal a win against the Cowboys a couple of years ago. And Chargers fans surely remember Troy Brown stripping what might have been a game-sealing interception away from Marlon McCree during a needless return in the 2006 playoffs, eventually producing a Patriots victory. Peprah simply has to know the game situation and act accordingly.
Baltimore Ravens 23, Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Fabulous: James Harrison. We’d just about written Harrison off as a contributor for the Steelers this season, but he came back from his eye injury by having one of the best games of his career. The outside linebacker had three sacks and a total of six knockdowns of Joe Flacco on the day. His final sack forced Flacco to fumble and set the Steelers up for what looked like the game-winning score.
Flop: Torrey Smith. Again, maybe this is a little harsh for the player who scored the game-winning touchdown, but Smith also dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown four plays earlier by slowing down on his route prematurely. He was also responsible for a (legitimate and unnecessary) holding penalty on the opening play from scrimmage that wiped Ray Rice’s 76-yard touchdown off the board.
Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.
Previously from Bill Barnwell:
The All-Bettis Team
NFL Midseason Report: The NFC
NFL Midseason Report: The AFC
Breaking Down the Suck for Luck Campaign
Handicapping the 2011 NFL MVP Race
The Hedge, the Tease, and the Life of the NFL Bettor
Debunking the Tim Tebow Myth
Could Alex Smith Become the Worst Quarterback to Ever Win a Super Bowl?
The Cost of Carson and the Rest of the NFL Trading Deadline Deals
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