Everything You Need to Know: Week 9
Let’s face it: While there’s nothing better than NFL Sundays, it can be a little intimidating keeping up with what’s going on in every game. You can analyze the box scores or scan Twitter, but we’ll make it even easier. Here you’ll find the most important points from every day game, so you’ll be prepared no matter what comes up at the water cooler Monday morning. We’ll be updating throughout the games, so keep checking back.
1. Houston absolutely shredded Cleveland's defense -- the strength of the team until this week -- and did it both through the air and on the ground. The Texans' run game dominated, with Ben Tate and Arian Foster each going over 100 rushing yards. Both of those backs and Matt Schaub also scored on the ground.
2. Joshua Cribbs finished with five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown, as well as a long kick return, but the Browns still need to get him more involved. With Montario Hardesty and Peyton Hillis out, the Browns had to start Chris Ogbonnaya at running back (who fumbled on his first carry). But it seemed like the lack of depth would open the door for Cribbs to see more carries. It never happened.
3. This is the type of game the Texans might have overlooked in the past -- which has led to a lot of unnecessary losses in recent seasons. But this time around, Houston put the Browns in a hole early and refused to let them back in it.
1. The Saints found a way to establish the run again. In their Week 6 loss to the Bucs, the Saints rushed for just 70 yards. They had 195 today, on a 7.0 ypc average. More importantly, they got contributions from their top three backs with Mark Ingram out. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory all had runs of 10-plus yards, with Sproles and Thomas each topping 30 yards on their best carries of the half. Even Drew Brees added a 20-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
2. Penalties continue to cost the Buccaneers. Down seven and driving in the second quarter, the Bucs got a big play from Preston Parker to put them in a good spot to get points. But two offensive pass interference penalties on the drive, including one on a crucial third-down conversion by Kellen Winslow, stalled the drive for the Bucs, whose 59 penalties were fifth-most in the league entering this week.
3. If there's one troubling sign to take from the Saints' win, it's again that they were unable to put away a team it had on the ropes. The team had a 24-6 lead entering the fourth quarter, but let the Bucs hang in it, to the point that it was a one-score game until John Kasay kicked a field goal with just over a minute left. New Orleans needs to learn a killer instinct.
1. The Colts' penchant for turnovers cost them early. Indianapolis entered the game 28th in the league with a negative-7 turnover differential, and Delone Carter coughed up a fumble on the game's second play that was recovered by Ray Edwards at the Colts' 26. Five plays later, all on the ground, Michael Turner punched it in to put the Falcons up.
2. Julio Jones finally flashed some big-play ability. The Falcons dealt up in this year’s draft to add Jones’ vertical presence, and he showed what he’s capable of Sunday, scoring his first two TDs of the year. The first was a deft diving 50-yard catch at the goalline in double coverage. His second was an 80-yarder that saw Jones catch a short pass and turn on the jets, outracing the Colts to the end zone.
3. Jones' huge first half kept Matt Ryan from a terrible start. With Jones' two long touchdowns, Ryan threw for 192 yards before halftime, but he was just 5-of-14 with a pick aside from the pair of scoring strikes. Ryan settled down after the break and finished with 275 yards, plus tacked on a third TD -- a 1-yarder to Tony Gonzalez.
1. With Chad Henne's days in Miami almost certainly done and Indianapolis taking the lead in the Andrew Luck derby, Miami would love to see Matt Moore show something at quarterback. He definitely delivered Sunday, tearing apart the Chiefs for 244 yards and three touchdowns, two to Anthony Fasano and one to Brandon Marshall.
2. The Chiefs' first drive looked promising -- Matt Cassel hit on all four of his passes for 30 yards, while both Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones moved the chains on the ground. But they stalled out on the Miami 25, settled for a field goal and never scored again.
3. Whereas Indianapolis seems to play with less and less energy each week, Miami -- the NFL's other winless team headed into Week 9 -- has not lacked for effort. One week after nearly knocking off the Giants in New York, and two weeks removed from falling apart in a loss to Denver, Miami earned win No. 1.
1. The first half was a seemingly endless string of mistakes. On one sequence of nine plays in the second quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions, Mark Sanchez turned it over on a fumble and Nick Folk missed a field goal attempt.
2. Fred Jackson was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time since Buffalo lost to Cincinnati in Week 4. Jackson still turned in a solid game, with 120 total yards (82 rushing), but he also coughed up a fumble and struggled to help the Bills' faltering offense get going.
3. Santonio Holmes made an 8-yard touchdown catch, but he continues to be more or less MIA in the Jets' passing attack. Holmes reportedly has been unhappy with his role this season, but Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller again saw more looks from Mark Sanchez Sunday.
1. How limited was Washington's vertical passing game? Well, rookie running back Roy Helu, making his first start in place of Ryan Torain, set a franchise record with 14 catches -- just about all of them coming on either screens or John Beck check-downs.
2. Helu also made maybe the game's biggest mistake, fumbling late in the second quarter after one of those receptions. San Francisco recovered and scored a touchdown one play later, bumping its tenuous 6-3 lead up to a comfortable 13-3 halftime cushion.
3. The 49ers should do everything they can over the next eight weeks to keep Frank Gore healthy. San Francisco is closing in, already, on the NFC West crown and any chance it has of going deep into the playoffs rests on Gore. He topped 100 yards rushing again Sunday and continues to be one of the NFL's best backs, when he's in the lineup.
1. Dallas' inability to put points on the board in the first half -- this one was tied 6-6 at the break -- overshadowed, to some extent, what was a strong and balanced offensive effort. Tony Romo threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns, while DeMarco Murray put up 139 on the ground. If the Cowboys can keep that up, the points will come in bunches eventually.
2. One possible negative for Dallas Sunday: Wide receiver Miles Austin left after aggravating his hamstring injury. Laurent Robinson has stepped up for the Cowboys this season and caught a TD against Seattle, but the Austin injury might be a big setback, just as the Cowboys were getting healthy.
3. Tarvaris Jackson got the start for Seattle at quarterback, one week after Charlie Whitehurst opened the game in that position. Jackson seems to be the better of the two options for Seattle, but he was not very impressive in Dallas. Jackson tossed three interceptions, all in the second half, to more or less kill Seattle's chances.
1. If voters aren't at least considering Andy Dalton for Offensive Rookie of the Year, they're making a mistake. All the rookie did Sunday was throw for 217 yards and three touchdowns, while leading Cincinnati to 17 unanswered second-half points. At 6-2, the Bengals are very much alive in the playoff race and Dalton is a gigantic reason why.
2. Finally, some signs of life from Chris Johnson. The Titans' struggling running back rushed for 64 yards and added 46 more on four receptions. The rush numbers still are nowhere near where Johnson and the Titans would like to be, but it's a positive step.
3. A.J. Green led the Bengals in receiving yards again -- he had 83 yards on seven catches Sunday -- but Dalton hit three other players (Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Colin Cochart) for touchdowns through the air. With Dalton and Green improving each week, Cincinnati could be real dangerous if it keeps getting this impressive of an effort from everyone else.
1. Denver ripped through Oakland's defense on the ground, totaling 298 yards rushing. Willis McGahee blew up in the second half to finish with 163 yards and two huge touchdowns, while Tim Tebow shimmied his way to 117 yards on just 12 rush attempts.
2. Carson Palmer threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his Raiders debut, but the mistakes he made wound up being huge factors in this game. Palmer threw a pick late in the second quarter to kill an Oakland drive, then his second INT late in the third quarter. McGahee went 60 yards on the next play to tie the game at 24.
3. The biggest play of the game came courtesy of Denver's special teams. With the score tied at 24 and Denver holding all the momentum, Eddie Royal delivered an 85-yard punt return touchdown to put the Broncos ahead and send the Raiders reeling.
1. Maybe Eli Manning is elite after all. Just as he did in Super Bowl XLII, Manning took his team down the field in the closing seconds to break New England's hearts. And, just as in that Super Bowl, his biggest play came on a great throw to a player wearing No. 85. It was David Tyree in 2008, and Jake Ballard Sunday -- the latter hauling in a TD to steal a win for New York.
2. Amazing what a 180 this matchup did. The game was tied 0-0 at halftime, with both defenses absolutely dominating, and Manning and Tom Brady doing next to nothing on offense. There were 44 points scored in the second half, though, and 31 in the fourth quarter alone.
3. The Giants twice made huge mistakes to give the Patriots life, just as it looked like New York was ready to take total control. Up 10-0, Aaron Ross muffed a punt -- the Patriots recovered and put up a field goal. Later, with the score still 10-3 and the Giants deep in the red zone, Eli Manning threw an awful pass in the face of coverage and was picked off by Kyle Arrington. New England marched for the game-tying score after that turnover.
1. The Chargers will be kicking themselves over this loss. Philip Rivers wound up throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns, as he led his team to a furious second-half rally. But he made three gigantic mistakes -- back-to-back pick-sixes in the first quarter to help Green Bay to a 21-7 lead, then an underthrown INT on San Diego's final drive to seal it. Against a team like the Packers, you cannot afford to make that many crucial errors.
2. An underrated reason why it's so hard to stop the Packers: Aaron Rodgers came up short of 100 yards passing in the first half, but he ran for 49 yards on scrambles. Rodgers is not the most athletic QB in the league, but his mobility level is high enough that it can cause problems for opposing defenses.
3. Mike Tolbert turned in a solid effort as the Chargers' starting running back with Ryan Mathews out, but Rivers' early mistakes minimized the effect. Had Rivers taken care of the football, San Diego could have used Tolbert to eat some clock and keep Green Bay's explosive offense off the field.
1. Patrick Peterson continues to prove himself as one of the most electric return men we've seen in a long time. With the game tied at 13 in overtime, Peterson fielded a punt on his own 1, broke several tackles and sprinted 99 yards for the thrilling game-winner. St. Louis had a chance to win in regulation, but Josh Brown's field goal on the final play of the fourth quarter was blocked.
2. Cardinals' QB John Skelton was on the dubious end of an odd sequence of events in the second half. Skelton was sacked in his own end zone on back-to-back possessions, resulting in a pair of safeties that pushed St. Louis' lead from 9-6 to 13-6.
3. Beanie Wells' day on the ground: 10 carries for 20 yards. With the Rams predictably forcing the Cardinals to beat them through the air, Wells had no room to run. Arizona managed to survive his awful day -- in part, because Skelton rallied his team late with the passing attack, finding Larry Fitzgerald for a late tying touchdown.
-- Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post.