As Week 11 of the NFL season winds down, we take a look back at some notable performances and key plays.
Rodgers' 2011 season, in which he led the Packers to a Super Bowl title and put up a 122.5 quarterback rating for the season -- the single greatest for a single season in league history -- is rightly regarded as the kind of season every NFL quarterback will aspire to. Here's a scary thought, though -- Rodgers might be even better this season. Since a three-game stretch early in the season when Green Bay's offense was a bit off, Rodgers has been killing every team he faces. He came into Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 120.1 rating, 8.7 yards per attempt (9.2 in 2011) and the exact same touchdown percentage he had during his record season -- 9.0. All of these numbers lead the league. And they're about to get better, because Rodgers ripped Philly's defense apart with a bravura performance -- 22-for-36, 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions before he was mercifully pulled for backup Matt Flynn in a 53-20 Packers win.
Against Philly, it didn't take him long to pick up where he left off against the Bears. On the third play of the game Rodgers killed cornerback Bradley Fletcher with a deep throw to Jordy Nelson -- Fletcher had inside position, but Fletcher lost his bearings for a moment, and that was all it took for a 64-yard completion.
(H/T: Bleacher Report)
Then, there was this gorgeous 27-yard touchdown to Nelson with 10:39 left in the second quarter.
If you want to get to Rodgers at home, you'd better forget about stopping him and just score more points. In their last four games, per ESPN Stats & Info, the Pack have outscored their opponents 128-9. They're also the first team in NFL history to score at least 28 points in the first half of four straight home games. They've put up two straight 50-burgers, and have scored at least 38 points in six of their last seven games. With the Lions losing to the Cardinals, that rematch with Detroit on Dec. 28 could pack extra import, as the two teams now have matching 7-3 records. Detroit won the first game in Week 3, but this is a very different Green Bay team, and if their defense holds up, nobody is going to want to go anywhere near Lambeau Field in the playoffs. -- Doug Farrar
LVP: The Oakland Raiders
Yes, the entire Oakland Raiders franchise. The whole organization, from top to bottom. When they lost 13-6 to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon, Oakland pulled off a reverse Tiger Slam in a nightmarish sort of way -- it's now been 364 days since their last win, and they're 0-16 in their last 16 games. The Raiders' last victory came on Nov. 17, 2013 against a Houston Texans team that was in the middle of its own 14-game losing streak. The Raiders' last win against a team worth taking seriously came on Oct. 27, when they eked out a 21-18 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two members of that Texans team, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and quarterback Matt Schaub, are now members of the Raiders team -- which means that both players have now gone 24 straight games without a win. Brutal.
Oh -- and the Raiders became the first team mathematically eliminated from the 2014 playoffs. General manager Reggie McKenzie may have saved his job with an excellent 2014 draft, but it's become sharply and mordantly clear just how far the Raiders have to go before they're even close to winning consistently.
This first play against the Chargers below kind of sums everything up. -- DF
Must-See GIF: Jeremy Ross' 46-yard punt return that apparently didn't count
The Arizona Cardinals were feeling good about themselves up 14-6 with 12:04 left in the fourth quarter, when Drew Butler punted the ball in the vicinity of the Lions' end zone. It appeared upon first glance that Arizona cornerback Justin Bethel tipped the ball from going into the end zone for a touchback, and after a Cardinals' tip drill, Lions return man Jeremy Ross picked the ball up and took it 49 yards to the Arizona 46-yard line. However, the Cards challenged the ruling, and the return was reversed based on the notion that when Bethel caught it, the ball was dead. This put the ball at the Detroit 1-yard line, and led to a lot of confusion. It looked like Bethel tipped the ball out of the end zone as opposed to catching and downing it.
VP of Officiating Dean Blandino tried to explain the ruling on Twitter:
In ARZ when the kicking team possesses the ball it is dead by rule. #28 had possession and threw it back. Different than batting it back.— Dean Blandino (@DeanBlandino) November 16, 2014
Well, the official in charge was Jerome Boger ... not exactly the most reliable zebra. You be the judge -- did Bethel down the ball, or should it have been treated as a live ball? -- DF
Head-Scratching Decision: Philly's gameplanning on both sides of the ball
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis are generally two of the better game-planners in the NFL, but both are going to take their lumps after Philadelphia's loss to Green Bay. Early in the game, Kelly seemed to call a lot of short crossing routes, which backup quarterback Mark Sanchez generally has trouble reading. The result was an indecisive Sanchez, and as the Packers were piling on the points, Sanchez was trying to get a bead on the routes and running for his life. Green Bay's pass-rush often overwhelmed Philly's offensive line on the slick Lambeau Field turf (maybe we should mention the equipment manager, too), and when Kelly sent extra blockers in (not often), that didn't seem to work, either.
When Sanchez succeeded against the Carolina Panthers last Sunday, he was set up with easier reads and more complex route concepts. This time, Sanchez was required to wade through a stronger defense, and his limitations showed. There were a few splash plays -- his 40-yard completion to Jordan Matthews with 50 seconds left in the first half was a beaut -- Matthews had tight coverage, and Sanchez threw it perfectly to Matthews' right shoulder. And this third-quarter touchdown to Matthews, too little too late as it may have been, showed how Sanchez benefits from outside route combinations.
As for the Eagles defense, the decision to match single coverage on Jordy Nelson through much of the game seemed head-scratching, at best. Yes, the Packers have other weapons, but Philly's cornerbacks are shaky, at best, and Nelson is a fairly ridiculous weapon. -- DF
Key Injury: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Nothing serious here -- at least it didn't look serious -- but the Chargers' trainers were looking at Rivers' knee during the win over Oakland, and he was harassed by the Raiders' defensive line from time to time. It's only important in a long-term perspective because Rivers has also been dealing with a minor hand injury -- and apparently a "very severe rib injury" -- and he's pretty much carrying San Diego's offense at this point. -- DF
MVP: Jamaal Charles
The Chiefs' running back picked a heck of a time to top the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time this season. His 159 yards on 22 carries paced Kansas City in a crucial 24-20 win over the defending champion Seahawks.
Charles scored on back-to-back possessions in the first half: a one-yarder to open the scoring, then a 16-yard scamper to hand Kansas City a 14-7 lead. Later, with the Chiefs trailing by three in the fourth quarter, Charles broke free on a 47-yard pickup deep into Seattle territory. Knile Davis scored what would be the game-winning touchdown on the next snap.
All told, Charles averaged 8.0 yards on his 20 carries against a banged-up Seattle defense that looks like a shell of its former self. He also caught two passes for 19 yards, marking his fifth consecutive multi-reception game.
Few players in the NFL are as electrifying as Charles, when he's healthy. -- Chris Burke
LVP: Eli Manning
Unlike that 2013 defeat, the Giants had every opportunity to win Sunday. After kicking a field goal to pull within 16-10 midway through the third quarter, New York took over on its next four possessions (including one starting at midfield thanks to an onside kick) with a chance to take the lead.
Three of those possessions ended in Manning interceptions; the fourth on a 4th-and-6 incompletion.
Hardest to take will be the Giants' drive that pushed all the way to San Francisco's 4-yard-line, only to come up empty. Rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr. moved his team there on a sensational leaping grab along the sideline, setting up first-and-goal.
Rather inexplicably, New York called three straight fade patterns from there, all resulting in incompletions. Then, on 4th-and-goal, Manning attempted to squeeze a pass through coverage to Preston Parker at the goal line. It was deflected into the air and picked off by linebacker Chris Borland -- Manning's fifth and most costly interception.
Tough day for Manning's brother, Peyton, too. Denver's future Hall of Famer was bothered by the St. Louis pass rush all day in a 22-7 loss, his misery made worse by the losses of TE Julius Thomas and WR Emmanuel Sanders to injuries. Peyton Manning finished with two picks of his own. -- CB
Must-see GIF: J.J. Watt's offensive touchdown grab
Because Watt, likely the frontrunner for MVP this season, can do things like this ...
That's a tough grab for anyone, let alone a defensive end -- over-the-shoulder against tight coverage, with the sideline millimeters away. Watt held onto the football and managed to get his left knee down for the catch, his second touchdown reception of the year.
Watt also registered four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two roughing-the-punter penalties in yet another exhilarating performance. -- CB
Head-scratching decisions: 4th-down calls
There were a number of gambles that backfired early Sunday, some worse than others.
Up near the top of the list is the Saints' 4th-and-goal attempt to end the first quarter. The Bengals had kept Mark Ingram out of the end zone on second and third downs, so the Saints dialed up a play-action pass. One problem: Drew Brees' completion to fullback Erik Lorig was short of the goal line, and Cincinnati wrapped him up right there.
New Orleans never again had a chance to take the lead en route to a 27-10 loss.
Seattle might be rethinking a couple of its play calls, too, after its 24-20 setback in Kansas City. On a fourth-quarter fourth-and-goal, the Seahawks tried to free up Doug Baldwin toward the corner. Russell Wilson badly overthrew the ball as CB Sean Smith bumped Baldwin off his route.
Another fourth down went awry for the Seahawks shortly thereafter, when Marshawn Lynch was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 handoff up the gut. That call came despite Kansas City's stout run defense (which has allowed zero rushing touchdowns all year, by the way) and starting center Max Unger getting carted off with a leg injury.
As far as actual play calls go, hard to beat the Bears' 4th-and-goal quarterback sweep with Jay Cutler. Predictably, he was stood up by Minnesota. Unpredictably, the miscue did not hurt the victorious Bears in the end. -- CB
Key injuries: Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders
The absences of Thomas and Sanders hardly take anything away from St. Louis' effort Sunday, but the Broncos' offense certainly was not the same without two of Peyton Manning's favorite targets.
Denver suddenly finds itself tied for first with Kansas City in the AFC West. Having to move forward without one or both of Thomas and Sanders could throw up a couple of huge hurdles in the Broncos' attempts to retain the division title and make another Super Bowl run. -- CB