As Week 7 of the NFL season winds down, we take a look back at some notable performances and key plays.
Yes, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant had outstanding days against the Giants in Dallas' 31-21 win over Big Blue, but really -- could it be anyone else but Murray in this spot? Not only did he top the century mark with 128 yards on 28 carries to become the first running back in NFL history to run for over 100 yards in each of the first seven games of the season, he also kept up his historic pace with the third-most rushing yards all time through the first seven games of a season -- Murray's 913-yard total ranks behind only Terrell Davis' 1,001 yards in 1998, and Jamal Lewis' 977 yards in 2003. Each of those backs went over 2,000 yards in those seasons, and each came up with health issues potentially related to the workload soon after -- so the Cowboys' concern regarding the extent to which they're using Murray is legitimate.
Regardless, Murray's been pretty special. Perhaps no play typified his value to the team as much as the 17-yard run late in the fourth quarter when he went to his left, then right with a move that would have made Barry Sanders proud, and scooted through a Giants defense that was quite sick of him at that point.
When we're talking about MVP candidates for the 2014 season, it's tough to imagine anyone's name ahead of his. -- Doug Farrar
LVP: Justin Pugh, RT, New York Giants.
It's been a rough week for the second-year tackle from Syracuse. He gave up four sacks against the Eagles last Sunday night, and he followed up that performance with a shaky encore against the Cowboys. Pugh allowed more pressure against Dallas' defense, and Eli Manning had to bail him out after an obvious false start penalty in the third quarter with an impressive 11-yard scramble on 3rd-and-9 as the second half was just getting underway. Pugh was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft -- 19th overall -- and he hasn't come close to living up to that mark.
“It starts up front with me,” Pugh said after the Eagles game. “I started off in a bad, bad way. Obviously, that was one of the worst games you can play as an offensive lineman. I let one play affect the next play and that’s something you can’t do. That’s where it starts.
“Obviously, I started off and set a bad tone. You can’t let up a sack, a strip sack. I let that affect me throughout the game and you can’t do that. You’ve got to forget those plays and drive on. I think penalties hurt us. I can’t get a holding penalty and it really probably was the worst game I’ve ever played. Hands down, not even close.”
The Cowboys game wasn't quite as bad, but if the Giants want to get their offense on board, they're going to have to either hope that Pugh figures it out, or address the issue in the offseason.
"He’s had an elbow," Tom Coughlin said of Pugh's injury situation midweek. "He’s had that [brace] on forever. Where have you been? Have you not seen it? You’re not watching very good."
Actually, coach, to be grammatically correct, we haven't been watching very well. And getting grumpy with the media won't help. The 3-4 G-Men, sitting in third place in the NFC East, have a major issue on their hands here.
Pugh's day was perhaps best typified here. Yep. Sometimes, nothing seems to go right. -- DF
Must-See Play: Antonio Gates' historic touchdown catch.
There's little doubt that Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is a future Hall of Famer, and he showed why once again in a 23-20 loss to the Chiefs that certainly wasn't his fault. With 14 seconds left in the first half, Gates came up with this amazing tip-drill touchdown catch from Philip Rivers.
Actually, we'll also give some love here to Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who set the Chiefs' mark for rushing yards on this 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and sent cornerback Brandon Flowers to the sideline to experience the NFL's concussion protocol in the process. Charles' 95-yard rushing day gave him 6,113 career yards on the ground, passing Priest Holmes' former mark of 6,070. -- DF
(H/T: Bleacher Report)
Head-Scratching Decision: Tom Coughlin's weird clock management.
Perhaps Coughlin is so grouchy these days because he's having trouble telling time. With 1:21 left in the first half, Giants end Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Tony Romo, and the Giants -- who had all three of their timeouts remaining -- allowed the clock to run down to 43 seconds before the next Cowboys play went off. Dallas punted back to the Giants with 32 seconds left, following a Lance Dunbar run and New York's first timeout. With 19 seconds left, the call was a run play by Peyton Hillis, then the second New York timeout, and then ... a draw to Hillis for a four-yard gain from their own 38-yard line to end the half.
Not that it would have made any difference in the end -- Dallas won the game by 10 points and fairly dominated the second half -- but it's fair to wonder what the Giants' coaching staff was up to as time was running out at the end of the first half. -- DF
Key Injury: Brandon Flowers, CB, Chargers
As previously mentioned, Flowers suffered a concussion on that Jamaal Charles touchdown run, and was pulled for the rest of the game after briefly returning. The odds are good that he'll be ready for next week's game against the Rams, but if that timeline goes off, it's a major hit to San Diego's defense. The former Chiefs' cornerback has been a revelation in his first year with the Chargers, giving up just one touchdown and 17 catches on 30 targets, and allowing a 62.6 opposing quarterback rating. -- DF
Sunday's early games
Tannehill tossed a couple of picks last week, but the reality is that he played well enough to beat Green Bay -- a last-second touchdown toss by Aaron Rodgers ripped that victory away from Miami.
Rather than sulk about that outcome, Tannehill and his teammates came back Sunday and waxed Chicago on the road. Tannehill completed his first 14 passes, a stretch that included two touchdown passes (one to Charles Clay and the other to Mike Wallace). He also rushed for 48 yards, the latest sign that Tannehill is becoming more comfortable in Bill Lazor's offense.
Tannehill finished 25-of-32 for 277 yards and those two touchdowns in a 27-14 win. Eight different Dolphins caught passes in an extremely balanced effort, with Clay racking up the most receiving yards (58) out of those receivers.
Remember, we're only a few weeks removed from Miami head coach Joe Philbin declining to confirm Tannehill as his starter ahead of a matchup with Oakland (and Tannehill then doing it himself while meeting with the media). Tannehill then shredded the Raiders in London and has come out of Miami's bye with back-to-back strong showings against a pair of NFC North playoff hopefuls. -- Chris Burke
Picking Hoyer as the early game's least valuable player might be oversimplifying what was a miserable all-around effort by Cleveland. The Browns were outplayed badly by the previously winless Jaguars, losing 24-6.
Still, for all the drops and shaky protection (the latter caused in part by the injury center Alex Mack suffered last week), Hoyer did little to help pull his team out of Sunday's tailspin. At one point, after missing on 10 straight pass attempts, Cleveland's starting quarterback was 8-of-27 through the air for fewer than 100 yards.
He did connect on 8-of-14 tries to end the game, but the damage had been done by that point. Hoyer's 46.3 passer rating was the worst of his NFL career, save for a 2010 relief appearance in which he went 0-of-2 with an interception (a 0.0 rating). -- CB
Must-See Play: Rams' fake-punt return for a touchdown.
Head-Scratching Decision: Cincinnati's offensive gameplan.
Not sure it would have mattered Sunday given how thoroughly the Bengals offense imploded -- Cincinnati didn't pick up a first down until it was granted an automatic one on Erik Walden's unsportmanlike conduct ejection late in the second quarter.
But if the Bengals could start from scratch, they likely would find a way to get Giovani Bernard more involved. The second-year back (and his team's most dangerous weapon with A.J. Green sidelined) carried the ball just seven times for 17 yards. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton threw 12 passes in the direction of plodding TE Jermaine Gresham; he caught 10 of them ... for all of 48 yards.
Green's absence allowed the Colts to sell out on the run and force Dalton to win the game through the air. Rather than answer back by relying on their strength, the Bengals played right into Indianapolis' hands.
The results -- a 27-0 blowout loss -- speak for themselves. -- CB
It was a spectacular finish for the Bills thanks to the aforementioned Orton-to-Watkins touchdown. It was a rough road to that cathartic moment, though.
The worst developments occurred in the first half when both Jackson and Spiller had to be carted off with the field. Jackson left first, having suffered a groin injury that will require further testing Monday. Spiller exited one quarter later after slamming down hard on his shoulder and breaking his collarbone -- an injury that could end his season.
That duo, plus potentially another unknown addition or two, will have its hands full trying to replace Jackson and Spiller. -- CB