First and 10: Packers playoff hopes take hit, more early-game analysis
Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion while trying to gain extra yards on a scramble in the second quarter and the Packers never recovered. Rodgers, who has a lot of success scrambling of late, probably should have slid, but he was trying to make a play for an offense that wasn't doing much against an aggressive Lions defense. Backup Matt Flynn was inaccurate and had a costly interception, so Green Bay better hope Rodgers recovers quickly if it hopes to keep its playoff hopes alive. Interesting call by Packers coach Mike McCarthy to go for a long pass on 4th-and-1 from the Detroit 35 -- shows he didn't have much confidence in Flynn to lead a sustained drive.
The Redskins' bizarre season got even weirder Sunday. Washington punter Hunter Smith couldn't handle the snap on the extra-point attempt that would have forced overtime in the final seconds of regulation. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman once again showed how much poise he has and adds another fourth-quarter comeback to his resume. The 'Skins appeared to be in control early with running back Ryan Tourain running wild in the first half. Tourain ended up with 172 yards, but the Bucs did a great job containing him and the entire Washington offense in the second half.
The Raiders appeared to be beating up the Jaguars pretty good when they took a 24-14 third-quarter lead. But Jacksonville showed a lot of resiliency and David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew continued to make the kind of big plays they've been coming up with all season. Garrard threw three touchdowns and Jones-Drew put the game away with a 30-yard scamper. But the biggest play of the game was a 74-yard touchdown run by Jags running back Rashard Jennings that completely changed the momentum in the second half. Oakland running back Darren McFadden showed his big-play ability with 209 total yards. For a moment, the Raiders had to be thinking they were back in the thick of the AFC West race, but their passing game still isn't good enough to hold on in a game like this.
After the Bengals scored an early touchdown, the Steelers defense took over. Troy Polamalu strengthened his case to be in the MVP conversation with an interception return for a touchdown. But it was linebacker Lamarr Woodley who really stood out, with a brilliant pick six of his own -- and two sacks. As always, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau confused the Bengals with the blitz schemes which helped set up the big plays. The Steelers needed the defensive lift, because Ben Roethlisberger didn't look like himself because of his foot injury and busted nose. Carson Palmer threw his 16th and 17th picks of the season and the Bengals have to wonder if he's still their quarterback of the future.
The Falcons move closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning a game they were supposed to. After jumping out to an early 14-0 lead, Atlanta coasted a bit, but was never in danger. Atlanta running back Michael Turner owns the Panthers and delivered 112 rushing yards and three TDs. The Falcons improved to 7-0 when Turner eclipses 100 yards. Carolina got its running game going, but still quarterback Jimmy Clausen had just 56 yards. Now there's only three games left until the Panthers most likely start over from scratch.
Eric Mangini had been making a strong push to keep his job in Cleveland, but he might be back on the hot seat after this discouraging loss. Despite 108 rushing yards from Peyton Hillis, Cleveland had just 187 total yards of offense and nine first downs. Buffalo played ball-control offense, with running back Fred Jackson gaining 112 yards. The only significant impact of this contest could be knocking the Bills further away from the top spot in the draft and a chance to nab a premiere quarterback.
We know one or two good teams will likely be left out of the NFC playoffs and, at 8-5, the Packers appear to be the most likely candidate. Green Bay fans have to be frustrated since this was their biggest loss of the season -- the other four had been by mere field goals. The bottom line for the Packers this season is the injuries have been too much and, even though they're still flashy, they're not the same team so many experts picked for the Super Bowl.
Forget the last decade -- it's a rushing league now. In today's six early games, eight running backs finished with over 100 rushing yards. Obviously the nasty weather contributed to the ground explosion and we saw lots of physical runners excel. Defenders don't seem to look forward to tackling big backs like Washington's Ryan Tourain, Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, Carolina's Jonathan Stewart and Atlanta's Michael Turner at this point of the season.
No matter what the Jags do, they don't seem to get a lot of respect -- in large part because they've played a light schedule. But they've won five of six and will enter next week's showdown with the Colts with a lot of confidence. Do they deserve to be in the conversation as a team that could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? They have the dominant running game and a defense that seems to show up every other week. But Maurice Jones-Drew will likely face some serious run defenses in the playoffs if the Jags get that far. Hard to believe they'll play more than one or two postseason games -- but it's also hard to believe they're leading the AFC South this late in the season.
But if you are looking for a team that does look like a bona fide Super Bowl threat, take a look at Pittsburgh. The Steelers' defensive players love to come in under the radar and they haven't really been viewed as the team to beat so far this season. Troy Polamalu gets a lot of attention -- and rightfully so -- but several other Pittsburgh defenders stand out. You don't know if it will be Polamalu, James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Clark or whoever happens to be blitzing that will make a big play. This Steelers team is probably closer to the 2005 championship team, since you're not sure if the banged-up Roethlisberger will be on his game each week.