Quick-hitting insights on today's 1 p.m. games ...
The only significant difference between these two teams appears to be Atlanta's ability to run the ball. The Falcons' Michael Turner had 110 yards on the ground to help the Falcons jump out to the lead, and eventually a victory, while the Packers barely tried to get a ground game going. Both quarterbacks showed their ability to sustain drives late in the game under pressure. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers made a string of clutch plays to tie the game in the final minutes, while Atlanta's Matt Ryan showed his typical poise to lead the Falcons to the winning field goal. Ryan improved to 19-1 at home, and the Falcons have proven they're tough to beat in the Georgia Dome. They hit the road over the next three weeks, traveling to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Seattle. The Packers have a nice opportunity to lick their wounds with the Niners coming to Green Bay next week.
The Giants came out flat after their tough loss to the Eagles last week but revved it up in the second half to win a game they really needed after dropping their last two. Still, New York isn't the same team that everyone was talking about as a Super Bowl favorite a month ago because of injuries. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew appeared to be too much for the Giants to handle early, and the Jags have to be kicking themselves for blowing a chance to nab a road win.
After two heartbreaking losses in a row, the football gods delivered the Texans a gift in the form of Rusty Smith. The Titans third-string quarterback led an offense that totaled just 162 yards against Houston's No. 31-ranked defense. The Texans absolutely stuffed Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, limiting him to five yards on seven carries.
We saw the old Jake Delhomme early in the Browns-Panthers game, leading Cleveland to a 21-0 lead over his former team in the first half. Then we saw the more recent Delhomme in the second half, with two consecutive picks, one that was returned for a touchdown and got Carolina back in the game. Delhomme did end up completing 24 of 35 passes for 245 yards and likely secured the starting spot moving forward with the win. Peyton Hillis ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns and continues to build his reputation as one of the toughest runners in the NFL. Give Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen a lot of credit for leading a near game-winning drive in the final minute. Carolina kicker John Kasay hit the goal post on a last-second field-goal attempt that would have won the game.
Credit the Minnesota defense for stepping up and giving interim coach Leslie Frazier the win. The Vikings held Washington to 29 rushing yards and kept quarterback Donovan McNabb off balance. Early, Minnesota stressed getting the ball to Adrian Peterson, and he was outstanding before hurting his ankle. Had to make you wonder why Brad Childress didn't emphasize Peterson more. Meanwhile, it doesn't matter how much McNabb can potentially earn in his new contract, he still has no one to throw to.
The Steelers seemed lucky to come away with an overtime victory over Buffalo, but give them credit for holding off a Bills team that is playing much better than its record. Nevertheless, if the Bills' Steve Johnson could catch, Buffalo would have pulled off another miraculous comeback. Johnson dropped five passes, including an easy touchdown in overtime. This is the point of the season where the Steelers fell apart last year -- they were 7-3 and finished 9-7. Now Pittsburgh enters its showdown against Baltimore at 8-3 and is in good position to reach the playoffs.
• The Steelers' James Harrison can't say anything after his helmet-to-chin hit on Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Harrison may have tried to lower his strike zone, but he didn't succeed. If defensive players really think they're being targeted unfairly, they should make sure Harrison isn't their spokesperson, because he has no right to speak out on this issue.
• The Cortland Finnegan-Andre Johnson altercation was as close to a hockey fight as we've seen in the NFL. If you look at the history of these two players, it's easy to assume the Titans' Finnegan is at fault for doing something on the plays leading up to the helmets-off brawl. Regardless, the potential loss of Johnson for a game could be huge for the 5-6 Texans as they try to stay in the AFC playoff race.
• Green Bay-Atlanta was slated by some as the game to determine the favorite in the NFC, but it was hard to come away thinking the Falcons are a prohibitive favorite to go to the Super Bowl. They'll gain a huge edge if they can stay at home throughout the playoffs, but they're right there with Green Bay and New Orleans and will likely face the Packers once again in the NFC playoffs.
• Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck may not declare himself eligible for the NFL Draft, so it could be a futile exercise matching him up with NFL teams. But the Panthers fell to 1-10 on Sunday, and despite a strong effort against Cleveland, look bad enough to end up with the worst record and take Luck if he goes pro. You have to think they'd give up on the Jimmy Clausen experiment in a second even though he has shown some positive signs amid a dismal season. The 2-9 Bills are probably interested in Luck as well, although Ryan Fitzpatrick has to be turning a lot of heads, showing a knack for making plays in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the 2-9 Bengals also have to be coveting Luck since Carson Palmer continues to struggle.