NEW ORLEANS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a patently ridiculous Week 10 in the NFL. ...
• Week 10 was when the NFL's 2013 season officially stopped making sense. What an onslaught of the unexpected we watched unfold on Sunday. To wit:
-- The Jacksonville Jaguars actually won a game, snapping both their 13-game losing streak and that embarrassing habit of getting beat every week by a double-digit margin. The Jaguars' 29-27 win at Tennessee salvaged a little pride for coach Gus Bradley's embattled guys, and sent the Titans (4-5) reeling to their fourth loss in the past five games. Was Tennessee ever really 3-1 this season, or did we dream that?
-- The Rams went into Indianapolis and in convincing fashion did what the mighty Seahawks and Broncos failed to do: win at Lucas Oil Stadium. St. Louis dismantling the Colts (6-3) in a 38-8 blowout was as stunning as any result we've seen this season, as Rams rookie receiver-return man Tavon Austin scored three long touchdowns and finally turned into the playmaker St. Louis (4-6) thought it drafted. Austin had a scintillating 98-yard punt return score, and added two receptions for 138 yards, with touchdowns of 57 and 81 yards. For the Colts, quarterback Andrew Luck endured the first three-interception game of his career.
-- Has a division champion ever gone winless at home? Don't snicker, it could happen this year in the NFC East if the Eagles keep this up. Philadelphia improved to 5-5, but 5-1 on the road with a 27-13 beatdown of the quarterback-needy Packers at Lambeau Field. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles threw for three more touchdowns (that's 10 in two games), and he now has 16 scoring passes this season without an interception. With the Cowboys' loss at New Orleans Sunday night, the Eagles and Dallas are tied at 5-5 atop the division. But Philly is at home in its next three games, where the Eagles are 0-4 this season and haven't won since Week 4 of 2012, going 0-10 in that span.
-- The NFC East is so ridiculous that the 3-6 Giants are very much alive, despite their disaster of an 0-6 start this season. New York beat visiting Oakland 24-20, winning its third straight even though quarterback Eli Manning tossed another pick-six. The Giants are tied for last in the division with Washington, but they're just 1½ games behind first-place Dallas and Philadelphia.
-- And speaking of divisions that are not following traditional patterns or expectations, the Lions took over sole possession of first place in the NFC North with a 21-19 nail-biter of a victory at Chicago. Detroit (6-3) has won three out of four and just swept a season series from the Bears for the first time since 2007. The Lions went 4-12 last season, but lead both the Packers and Bears (5-4) -- with all their quarterback injury issues of late -- in a bid to secure Detroit's first division title in 20 years. With the Packers falling apart without Aaron Rodgers, and the Lions owning a game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago, Detroit hears opportunity knocking in the suddenly re-ordered NFC North.
-- Cincinnati forced overtime in Baltimore on the strength of a twice-deflected 51-yard Hail Mary pass to A.J. Green for a touchdown as time expired in regulation, but so much for that budding Bengals dynasty. The Ravens still found a way to win 20-17 in the extra period, and now Cincinnati is anything but home free in the AFC North race. The Bengals (6-4 overall, 1-2 in the division) have dropped two in a row on the road after their four-game winning streak made them 6-2 at midseason, and quarterback Andy Dalton is regressing again before our eyes.
Dalton was just 24-of-51 for 274 yards in windy conditions, with three interceptions and two touchdowns. He's got six picks in his past two games and looks like his confidence is waning. The Ravens (4-5) saved their season with the win, ending a three-game losing streak and moving the defending Super Bowl champs within 1½ games of first-place Cincinnati.
• Time to take Carolina seriously. Very seriously. The Panthers' 10-9 win at San Francisco was their fifth victory in a row and was exactly the kind of measuring-stick victory Carolina (6-3) had never been able to produce in head coach Ron Rivera's three seasons in Charlotte.
What a legit defense the Panthers have. Carolina sacked Colin Kaepernick six times, held the 49ers' quarterback to 91 yards passing and put the game away with a late Drayton Florence interception. The 49ers offense produced just 143 total yards. That Carolina defense can play with anyone come playoff time.
You can't say the Panthers haven't beaten anyone after this one. Carolina's first eight opponents had just a .343 winning percentage, but the second half of the schedule is much tougher (.545), starting with San Francisco. Next week is another sizable test: A Monday night home game against New England (7-2), the first-place club in the AFC East.
• The 49ers had their own five-game winning streak snapped by Carolina, and at 2½ games behind Seattle in the NFC West, San Francisco might have kissed its division chances goodbye with this loss. Especially since a tough trip to New Orleans looms next week for Jim Harbaugh's team.
San Francisco went 6-1-1 at home last season, and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. But the 49ers are just 3-2 at home this season, with teams like Indianapolis and Carolina coming into Candlestick and beating them at their own game.
• Denver kept up its end of the bargain, winning 28-20 at San Diego to get to 8-1 and set up next week's gigantic AFC West, Sunday-night showdown with visiting Kansas City (9-0). But the news that quarterback Peyton Manning will require an MRI in the area of his right knee is a sobering development.
"I'm pretty sore,'' Manning said in the postgame. "They kind of got me twice in that lower area. [I'll] get an MRI tomorrow and we'll know more then.''
Manning had another superb game, with 25-of-36 passing for 330 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions (135.2 rating). But he came up limping after getting nailed by Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget late in regulation, and seemed to talk his way into staying in the game at that point.
The Chiefs, who were on a bye this week, have had the good fortune of facing several backup quarterbacks this season. Could their luck continue next week with a Brock Osweiler start for the Broncos? What a break that would be for the NFL's last remaining unbeaten.
• I suppose one of the five road teams to win in the early afternoon games made perfect sense: Seattle destroyed Atlanta 33-10 in the Georgia Dome, and the Seahawks have now won seven of their past eight road games in the regular season. It wasn't that long ago that Seattle couldn't buy a win away from CenturyLink Field, but Pete Carroll's team has turned into a team that can play anywhere, against anyone.
The Seahawks protected their grip on the NFC's top seed, and at 9-1, with a home game against Minnesota in Week 11, and then a bye, should be 10-1 as they head into their huge Week 13 showdown with visiting New Orleans. The best news for Seattle fans is that their team showed killer instinct against Atlanta, after letting both the Rams and Bucs hang around all day in narrow wins the past two weeks. The Seahawks rolled up 25 first downs and 490 yards of offense against the Falcons, running for 211 yards and converting on 9-of-15 third downs. Allowing just 226 yards of offense to Atlanta, Seattle had everything working on Sunday.
• When he's not taunting opponents on touchdown catches, Golden Tate has turned into a heck of a weapon in Seattle. The Seahawks receiver had six catches for 106 yards against Atlanta, including the prettiest six-yard touchdown catch you'll ever see. Tate caught the ball with one hand, then trapped it against his body and secured the ball with his other hand, just before tapping his feet down in-bounds in the extreme left back corner of the end zone. And to boot, he did it with a Falcons defensive back draped all over him.
In the season's first 10 weeks, Tate's was catch-of-the-year material.
• Why would anyone want to play quarterback in the NFC North these days? Only Detroit has been free of the injury plague at the game's most vital position this season, running Matthew Stafford out there every week. Green Bay lost new starter Seneca Wallace to a groin injury suffered on the first Packers possession, and had to go with recently promoted practice squad quarterback Scott Tolzien the rest of the day. It was the first regular-season appearance of Tolzien's career. You'd have to think Green Bay will sign ex-Packer QB Matt Flynn at some point in the coming days, just to provide some depth.
The Bears, meanwhile, started Jay Cutler for the first time since his Week 7 groin injury at Washington, but he didn't last the whole game, giving way to Josh McCown in the fourth quarter due to a left ankle injury. McCown almost rallied the Bears to victory, and we'll see who starts for Chicago next week at home against Baltimore. Cutler seemed to be hurting in at least three spots, his groin, his hand and his ankle, and it was a dubious decision by Bears head coach Marc Trestman to keep him in the game as long as he did.
Throw in the recent Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman injuries in Minnesota, and the quarterback position has taken a pounding in the NFC North. No wonder Detroit's in the division lead. The Lions have their No. 1 quarterback playing, and the rest of the division is improvising.
• Game-saving play by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley on that potential tying two-point conversion in the final minute -- he stuffed Bears running back Matt Forte for a big loss -- but Detroit's discipline issues reappeared in its win over Chicago. The Lions were called for four personal fouls, including one by Fairley, and two by defensive lineman Willie Young, who was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit on McCown on the Bears' first attempt at the game-tying two-pointer with 40 seconds remaining.
It didn't cost the Lions this time, but only because Fairley wouldn't let it.
• The Colts learned they can't rely on Andrew Luck's comeback skills every week. Indy dug out of a big hole to win in Week 9 at Houston, but the Rams led 38-0 in the second half at Indy, and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano didn't even let Luck finish the game with the 30-point blowout loss unfolding in the fourth quarter.
Luck's three interceptions doubled his season total, and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck came on in relief and tossed a fourth Indianapolis pick, in the red zone no less.
Can't quite figure the Colts, who have now lost at San Diego, beat Denver, won at Houston and got embarrassed by the visiting Rams in their past four games. They still look like the class of the weak AFC South by a good margin, but they have to get Luck some help with receiver Reggie Wayne lost for the season. The Colts running game was abysmal against St. Louis, gaining just 19 yards on 13 carries.
• If the 0-8 Bucs can defend their turf Monday night against the distracted Dolphins, it might end up being quite the weekend for the 2008 Lions. As is, that 0-16 Detroit club is halfway home to popping the champagne corks (or is it cracking the Bud Light?) with Jacksonville earning its first win and avoiding the infamy of a winless season. The Bucs are too good to avoid winning, and will get a W or two at some point in the season's second half. It was Jacksonville that looked like the real threat to run the table in reverse.
• Saw a number of dubious calls by the referees on Sunday. For starters, I thought that was a terrible horse-collar tackle called on Bengals defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, who didn't pull Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco down by the back of his jersey or neck area. Dunlap had his hand up near the collar area in the back, but Flacco actually fell forward and showed no effects of a horse-collar tackle.
Also, though it was very difficult to see, it looked like Packers receiver Jordy Nelson did have his hand cradled underneath that ball that was a ruled a non-catch on fourth down in the end zone. The fourth-quarter call, which would have made it a one-score game with about nine minutes remaining, was challenged by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, but it was not over-turned.
• That settles it, Tracy Porter is the NFL's pre-eminent Manning killer. The Raiders cornerback had a pick-six against Eli Manning on Sunday, jumping a Victor Cruz route and returning his prize 47 yards for a touchdown that put Oakland up 17-14 with 1:18 left in the first half.
Porter, of course, was the player who picked off Peyton Manning in the Colts' Super Bowl loss to New Orleans, with that fourth-quarter, 74-yard interception-return touchdown putting the game away for the Saints. He's the only player to ever record interceptions for touchdowns against both Mannings.
It had actually been four weeks since Eli Manning threw an interception, even though he now has 16 this season. The Giants have to like where they are, as much as you can at 3-6. With a home game against the quarterback-challenged Packers next week, New York could be 4-6 and on a legitimate roll by the time its Week 12 home game against current co-division-leading Dallas arrives.
• The Raiders (3-6) know they let a winnable game get away against the Giants, and a decent share of the blame should go to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has regressed of late. Pryor was a dismal 3-of-12 for 27 yards, with a one-yard rushing touchdown in the first half, and things didn't get a lot better in the second. His third-quarter interception was a killer, setting up a short-field Giants touchdown, and he finished just 11-of-26 for 122 yards passing, with a key lost fumble in the fourth quarter.
• Hard to imagine Tennessee's playoff hopes not being essentially ended by the double whammy of losing to the 0-8 Jaguars and the report that Titans (4-5) starting quarterback Jake Locker could be done for the season with a Lisfranc foot injury. Locker played well in the season's first four games, but missed 2½ games with a hip injury, and now might be finished for 2013.
That makes it difficult for Tennessee to render an accurate judgment on the third-year quarterback, who was taken in the first round of the 2011 draft. Locker has struggled to stay healthy and productive, and this seemed like it would be his breakthrough season. If there's a coaching change at the end of this season in Tennessee, there's a decent chance the Titans' new coach could head in a different direction at quarterback as well.
• With or without head coach Gary Kubiak, it's officially a lost season in Houston. The Texans' 27-24 loss at Arizona gives Houston seven consecutive defeats, the longest skid in the franchise's 12-season history. The Texans (2-7) are just a game ahead of last-place Jacksonville (1-8) in the AFC South, and now even the Case Keenum factor isn't enough to put a hopeful face on the situation. Houston generated just seven points and 41 yards of offense in the second half, after leading 17-14 at halftime. Once he returns to the team, Kubiak, in all likelihood, will be coaching for his job.
• The Cardinals continue to impress with their ability to remain in the NFC wild-card chase. Arizona has won four out of six games, and at 5-4 the Cardinals are just one game behind NFC wild-card leading Carolina and San Francisco (both 6-3). Quarterback Carson Palmer is still making too many mistakes (he had an interception and a fumble lost against the Texans), but the Arizona defense is good enough to cover for Palmer's miscues in a lot of instances. With a winnable game at Jacksonville next week, the Cardinals should be in position to go two games over .500 for the first time this season.
• The more we learn about the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito relationship in Miami, the more we're left to wonder how head coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland could possibly survive in their jobs after presiding over a locker room culture that featured this much garbage. In his interview with FOX Sports on Sunday, Incognito painted a picture where he and his teammates routinely talked to each other using racial slurs, threats and the crude language that has been at the middle of this story.
"It speaks to the culture of our locker room,'' Incognito told FOX's Jay Glazer. "It speaks to the culture of our closeness, it speaks to the culture of our brotherhood.''
It speaks to the problem that Miami has to get cleaned up. And it's hard to see how putting Ireland and Philbin in charge of that is the best plan of action, since they either condoned it in the past, or weren't even aware of how potentially corrosive it was.