As Week 10 of the NFL season winds down, we take a look at the notable performances and key plays of Sunday's games ...
Sunday's late games
MVP: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
Feel free to give the Giants' rush defense an honorable "LVP" for the late-afternoon slot, too. Seattle rolled up 350 yards rushing in a 38-17 win, a franchise record and the most allowed by the Giants in more than 25 years.
Russell Wilson did his part, carving out 101 yards and a nail-in-the-coffin touchdown on 11 attempts. It was Lynch, though, that really took the bull by the horns.
The Seahawks actually trailed 14-7 in the second quarter before Lynch scored his second TD of the day. Then, with the game tied at 17 in the fourth, Lynch bullied his way into the end zone two more times -- a three-yarder and 16-yard scamper to add to his earlier two-yard and one-yard touchdowns, to end his day with 140 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Lynch previously had a quartet of three-TD games in his career, including twice last year. (He had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in each of those games.) But coming into Week 10, he had scored just five times on the ground all season.
Beast Mode nearly doubled that total Sunday. Skittles for everyone. -- Chris Burke
LVP: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
Count me still squarely in the camp that believes Carr can be the Raiders' franchise QB -- even if some comparisons to his brother David's early-career misery in Houston are inevitable at this point. However, Sunday was not Carr's day.
The rookie needed 41 attempts before he reached 100 yards passing in Oakland's 41-17 loss to the Broncos; he finished 30-of-47 for 192 yards and two touchdowns, one coming in garbage time.
That 192-yard passing output makes for a little less than a 6.2 yards-per-completion average. Carr already had the league's lowest YPC mark among full-time starting quarterbacks at 9.7 -- obviously, his Week 10 showing will drop that number. James Jones' eight catches for 20 (!!!) yards is a perfect example of Carr's plight, with the Oakland offense really unable to stretch the field.
Carr also threw two interceptions versus Denver, with one awful miscue before halftime swinging momentum away from his team permanently. Oakland actually led 10-6 more than midway through the second quarter when Carr tried to force a pass under pressure.
Bradley Roby picked it off, Denver scored and that was pretty much it.
"A lot of people learn in different ways, but for me I need to be out there and I need to see it," Carr said this week, according to SFGate's Vic Tafur. "For me, it’s been great. I’m looking forward to getting some wins going on, going into the last half of the season."
The wins will have to wait. Hopefully for Oakland's sake, Carr at least learns from his rough Sunday outing. -- CB
Must-see GIF: The Seahawks have an actual live hawk that flies around before games, then is supposed to return to its handler. The hawk called an audible Sunday.
Yeah, it landed on the head of some random fan in the crowd, which is only funny now because fortunately said fan did not have his scalp torn up by the hawk's talons.
The Seahawks' website tells us that the bird's name is Taima and "[s]ince 2007 Taima has been the first one out of the tunnel leading the team on to the field before each home game." Its streak of not flying into people's faces ended on Sunday. --CB
Head-scratching decision: Eli Manning's interception.
Manning had thrown 176 straight passes without an interception. Pass No. 177 was a costly one.
It came with his Giants tied 17-17 in Seattle, late in the third quarter. Manning and his receivers had enjoyed success to that point against the Seahawks' secondary, even testing Richard Sherman repeatedly. On this particular play, though, Sherman blanketed Odell Beckham Jr. (seven catches, 108 yards in an impressive showing).
Manning threw a deep pass anyway -- essentially a jump ball for Sherman and Beckham. His receiver managed to get his hand on it, only to tip Manning's pass into the arms of safety Earl Thomas, who returned it to the Seattle 42. The Seahawks took the lead a few plays later.
Sure, Manning and Beckham were unlucky on the play. After all, if Beckham's redirection sends the ball the other way, it sails harmlessly out of bounds.
But the decision to take that shot against Sherman, in that situation, was a questionable one. -- CB
Key injury: Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals
Palmer signed a three-year, $50 million contract extension just Friday, so the timing here is a little eerie. According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Palmer "is believed" to have torn his ACL. He suffered the same injury -- to the same knee, his left -- in the 2005 playoffs, on a low hit from Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Assuming Palmer's upcoming medical tests prove the reporter's diagnosis to be correct, his season would be over.
Drew Stanton stepped in Sunday to help Arizona rally past St. Louis. On the Cardinals' first possession post-Palmer injury, Stanton tossed a long touchdown to John Brown. Arizona was 2-1 earlier this season when Palmer was out with a shoulder injury. -- CB
Sunday's early games
MVP: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Whatever the pregame reports may have been regarding Bryant's off-field issues, he proved once again that when his head is in the game, he's about as dangerous as any receiver, going off for six catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns. Not that Jacksonville's defense can be counted on to put up a fight, but Bryant's elusiveness was particularly impressive on this 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
(All GIFs courtesy Bleacher Report)
This is why, despite the worrisome string of minor off-field incidents involving the police that NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday morning, Jerry Jones will almost certainly have to pull the trigger on that deal, even as the Cowboys wonder what would happen to Bryant if they gave him a big-money contract. Players of Bryant's caliber don't grow on trees.
LVP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Oh, the fickle hand of fate. In Roethlisberger's last two games, he became the first and only quarterback in NFL history to amass 12 touchdown passes in a two-game stretch. But against the Jets, a team that was on a record pace for opponents' quarterback efficiency, Big Ben completed 30-of-43 passes for 343 yards, two interceptions ... and just one touchdown. Both picks were to backup safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, and the worse of the two was this particularly egregious throw.
A Jets team that hadn't won since Week 1 was able to upset the Steelers 20-13. Of course, none of this may have happened were it not for the presence of the real LVP: troubled teen idol Justin Bieber, who showed up at Pittsburgh's Saturday prayer service.
Some more amazing nuggets from this game: The Jets were also on pace to set the NFL record for futility with three takeaways through their first nine games; they had two in the first quarter alone. That first pick for Roethlisberger was the first in his last 147 attempts. Entering today, NFL kickers were 124-for-126 on field goals under 30 yards this season. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham, who's had a good season, missed a 23-yard field goal. At one point, Roethlisberger tried to complete a pass to pass-rusher James Harrison.
It was a weird day all around for a team that had been firing on all cylinders against a team that had been sputtering all season, and we can come up with only one rational answer: the Curse of Bieber. NFL franchises, you have been warned.
Must-See Play(s): Calvin Johnson vs. Brent Grimes
There were all kinds of amazing plays in the early slate of Week 10 games, but we'll go with the battle between Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes. Megatron was back in form after various injuries had rendered him inactive and unproductive through most of the first half, and he showed why he's still the NFL's most dangerous receiver with this 49-yard first quarter touchdown catch from Matthew Stafford in which he made Grimes, who stands 5-foot-10, look like he was about three feet tall.
Grimes was not to be denied, though -- later in the game, when Stafford tried to hit his main man for another score, the Dolphins' best pass defender defied gravity on this amazing interception.
Head-Scratching Decision: Jimmy Graham's push-off
One of the many unwritten rules in the NFL is that you don't call offensive pass interference on a Hail Mary play. The officiating crew in the Saints-49ers game didn't get that memo. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham was busted late in regulation on this obvious push-off as he hauled in a deep ball from Drew Brees that would have given the Saints a last-second regulation win. Yes, 49ers cornerback Perrish Cox flopped in a way that would make FIFA squirm, but when you push a defender with both arms extended and you're not fighting for the ball yet, you're just asking for trouble.
It was a weird decision by Graham because he had beaten Cox badly for a touchdown earlier in the game and could have caught this pass without the help.
The 49ers squeaked out an overtime win after linebacker Ahmad Brooks caused a fumble on a sack of Drew Brees with 5:28 left in the extra period and Phil Dawson hit a 35-yard game-winner. The Saints' missed opportunity falls on Graham for being overzealous and negated a two-touchdown performance for the tight end.
Key Injury: Miami Dolphins LT Branden Albert (knee)
Coming into Week 10, Albert had allowed just nine total pressures on the season and was proving to be one of the better free-agent acquisitions in 2014. He's one of the main reasons the Dolphins offense had experienced an impressive turnaround, but he went down in the second quarter of Miami's loss to the Lions with a reported torn PCL and MCL. In the short term, the Dolphins moved rookie right tackle Ju'Wuan James to the left side and put Dallas Thomas in James' place.