Everything You Need to Know: Week 14
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. Dennis Pitta is a bit of an underrated weapon for Joe Flacco. The tight end came into this week with 28 catches and a touchdown, and he found the end zone again Sunday. Pitta's probably about the fifth or sixth option in Baltimore's passing attack, but he's more than capable of going over the middle and making some catches.
2. Dan Orlovsky threw for 353 yards for Indianapolis last week against the Patriots, giving the Colts some hope that he might be able to jumpstart their offense. But he had just nine completions for 60 yards Sunday until a meaningless late touchdown drive. Orlovsky finished 17 of 37 for 136 yards.
3. Ray Rice put up 214 total yards last week and followed that effort up with a 149-yard performance against Indianapolis. Just as they did against an overmatched Browns team in Week 13, the Ravens fed Rice early Sunday, perhaps knowing that only a total Baltimore implosion would keep this one close. Rice found some gaps early to set the tone for the game, and the Colts never recovered.
1. An incredible second-half turnaround by the Falcons turned this game from a half-hearted loss to a huge victory. Atlanta trailed 23-7 at halftime and seemingly had no answer for Cam Newton. That all changed in the final two quarters -- the Falcons shut Carolina out over the final 30 minutes and forced two huge Newton interceptions.
2. Even with the Atlanta rally, the Panthers still had a shot to retake a lead late. After Atlanta scored to go up 24-23, Newton led a drive deep into Falcons territory. But the Panthers stalled out at the edge of the red zone, then Olindo Mare shanked a 36-yard field goal. Immediately after, Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 75-yard touchdown.
3. This is the type of day Atlanta envisioned from its offense all season. The Falcons were explosive in the second half, paced by Ryan's arm. The Atlanta QB finished with 320 yards through the air and four touchdowns -- two to Jones, one to Roddy White and one to Jacquizz Rodgers.
1. For at least one quarter Sunday, the Eagles looked like the dominant team everyone thought they could be at the start of the season. Philadelphia spotted Miami a 7-0 lead, but then ran off 24 unanswered points in the second quarter to take control of this game. Considering how well Miami had been playing in prior weeks, the sudden shift in momentum came about pretty unexpectedly.
2. LeSean McCoy had absolutely no room to run Sunday -- he finished with 27 carries for just 38 yards -- but he found the end zone two more times anyway. McCoy's two touchdowns Sunday gave him 14 for the season, propelling him over Cam Newton for the league lead in that category.
3. Matt Moore threw an interception to help the Eagles' second-quarter explosion, then left the game in the second half after taking a shot to the head. That injury left the Dolphins' offense in the hands of J.P. Losman, who hit on 6 of 10 passes for 60 yards.
1. The Saints proved they could win on the road in a hostile environment, but the Titans were five yards away from the win. Getting the ball back down five with 1:44 left, the Titans drove 75 yards to the Saints' 5-yard line before two attempts to get into the end zone failed and time expired. On the final play, Jake Locker scrambled looking for an opening in the end zone before he was sacked by Jo-Lonn Dunbar.
2. That last drive featured some big plays from Locker, who showed the Titans that they have something to look forward to. Stepping in for Matt Hasselbeck, who suffered a calf injury, Locker connected on a number of big plays, especially late, and showed poise on that final Titans drive downfield with no timeouts. Locker connected on three passes of 20-plus yards, with three of them going for 40-plus, and had a leaping six-yard TD run that showed off his athleticism and gave the Titans a 10-9 lead.
3. While they continued to give up big plays through the air, the Saints' defense did a great job bottling up Chris Johnson, who had begun to find his All-Pro form again in recent weeks. Johnson must have been a focus of the Saints during the week, because they swarmed him at the line of scrimmage often. Johnson had just 11 carries for 23 yards, with a long run of nine. He had no room to move and gain momentum.
1. T.J. Yates might have put to rest any lingering concerns about his ability to lead the Texans' offense, with a clutch game-winning drive that Yates capped off by hitting Kevin Walter for a touchdown with two seconds left. The late march included an impressive scramble by Yates to pick up a first down on the edge of Cincinnati's red zone.
2. Mike Nugent had a huge game, hitting four field goals and accounting for 13 points. Still, with the Bengals taking a one-point loss, it'll be hard for Cincinnati to feel content with all those field goals. The Bengals had a 16-3 lead at halftime, too, but managed to tack on just three points in the final two quarters.
3. The Texans needed a spark after a lethargic first half, and they got it thanks to Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. On the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Dalton coughed up a fumble, which opened the door for a Yates TD pass to Joel Dreessen. Just like that, a comfortable 16-3 Cincinnati lead turned into a tight 16-10 game.
1. With the Patriots driving in the fourth quarter and looking for a knockout punch, Tom Brady threw an interception in the end zone, keeping the Pats' lead at a tenuous 34-27. After he got back to the sideline, Brady engaged in a shouting match with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Head coach Bill Belichick had to intervene to separate the two.
2. Rob Gronkowski, who thought he had set the single-season receiving TD record for tight ends last week, pulled in his 14th score in the first quarter. Gronkowski briefly held the record one Sunday ago but had one of his three receiving touchdowns changed to a rushing score, when it was ruled that a Tom Brady's "pass" had been a lateral. Gronkowski added his 15th touchdown in the third quarter, as he hauled in a beautiful touch pass from Brady and broke a Ryan Kerrigan tackle to take it to the house.
3. The Redskins dug into their bag of tricks early in the second quarter. From the New England 49, Washington ran a reverse to Brandon Banks, who pulled up and threw a bomb to a wide-open Santana Moss for a touchdown.
1. Last year, the Bucs thrived on their "youngry" attitude. This year, it's leading to increasingly undisciplined play. Turnovers and penalties have plagued the team all season, and this week was no exception. Two weeks after fumbling five times (losing four), the Bucs fumbled six times (losing four) against Jacksonville. Add in three interceptions (two by Josh Freeman) and another 12 penalties for 97 yards, and it's easy to see how Tampa Bay lost.
2. Blaine Gabbert began to find a groove late in the first half. At one point, Gabbert's performance was absolutely abysmal; he "boasted" a 0.0 QB rating at one point in the second quarter. But he led Jacksonville on a 51-yard TD drive with a minute left in in the first half, capping it with a scoring strike, then led two more in the fourth quarter. Gabbert finished 19 of 33 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but after a really rough rookie season and increasing criticism, you have to be impressed with Gabbert's ability to rally.
3. Of course, Gabbert was aided by Maurice Jones-Drew, who scored four touchdowns (two on the ground, two in the air) with 136 total yards. That's 42 percent of the Jags' offense.
1. Controversy has followed the Lions around all season, so perhaps it's fitting that this one ended in questionable fashion. Minnesota had the ball on Detroit's 1 for the game's final play. Quarterback Joe Webb dropped back to pass, tried to scramble left and had his face mask grabbed by DeAndre Levy. Webb fumbled, Detroit recovered ... and no flag came. Ballgame.
2. Webb came on in relief of Christian Ponder, who accounted for two touchdowns for each team -- two passing TDs, a pick-six and a fumble in his own end zone. Ponder left after throwing his third interception of the day and taking a hard shot from Stephen Tulloch, who came back and delivered a vicious blindside block on the young QB.
3. Detroit rookie WR Titus Young was benched last week against the Saints after committing a foolish penalty, but he bounced back Sunday by hauling in a long touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford in the first quarter. He nearly botched that too, though, as he started his celebration just a tad early and had the ball knocked from his grip just a step or two after crossing the goal line.
1. With Kyle Orton inactive because of the thumb injury he suffered in his one and only play last week, Kansas City was forced again to turn to Tyler Palko. The Jets took advantage, sacking Palko five times, forcing an interception and holding the Chiefs to single-digits until the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
2. The Jets lost a valuable safety and special teamer, when Jim Leonhard was carted off in the second quarter with an ankle injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Leonhard suffered the injury returning a Tyler Palko interception. In addition to playing a key role on defense, Leonhard has taken some turns returning punts lately too, so a significant injury would be a big blow.
3. The Jets killed the Chiefs with the screen pass. Mark Sanchez threw for 181 yards in the first half, but 108 of those yards went to Shonn Greene (58) and LaDainian Tomlinson (50, touchdown catch). The duo wound the Jets' leading receivers, and the Chiefs struggled all day to keep up with the backs in space, despite the fact that neither is known as a fleet playmaker.
1. Arizona QB Kevin Kolb suffered a head injury early in Sunday's game and did not return, again turning the offense over to John Skelton. And, out of the blue, Skelton torched the San Francisco defense. He did throw two picks but also delivered 282 yards and all three Arizona touchdowns, including the game-winner to Andre Roberts in the fourth quarter.
2. What's a San Francisco game without an inordinate number of field goals? The 49ers entered Sunday with a league-leading 32 field goals on the season and David Akers tacked on four more in the first half. Even though that formula has worked thus far, San Francisco's ability to get the ball in the end zone could be troublesome come the playoffs.
3. Fitzgerald had an absolutely monster game, finishing with 149 yards receiving on seven catches. His 46-yard TD catch pulled Arizona back within 19-14, but he also turned in an incredible block on Early Doucet's 60-yard scoring catch in the second quarter.
1. Tim Tebow pulled off another absurd comeback, but it wouldn't have happened without two awful miscues from Marion Barber. Chicago's running back, who otherwise played very well in place of an injured Matt Forte, allowed himself to get knocked out of bounds with less than two minutes left, saving Tebow an extra 40 seconds or so. Then in overtime, Barber fumbled as Chicago got into field goal range, allowing the Broncos to drives for the winning field goal.
2. Don't kick to Devin Hester! No matter how many times the Bears' electrifying return man burns opposing special teams, they keep giving him opportunities. The Broncos made the mistake in the third quarter, and Hester responded by breaking several tackles and busting loose into Denver territory, giving the Bears a short field to work with. They converted, with Barber scoring to break a scoreless tie.
3. Denver had a glorious chance to break a 0-0 tie in the third quarter, but Demaryius Thomas let a Tebow deep ball slip through his hands. Thomas had beaten Chicago's Charles Tillman and looked like he had an easy 55-yard TD score, but he couldn't come down with the pass.
1. Carson Palmer threw an awful interception early in the first quarter, Green Bay took a 7-0 lead right after, and that might have been the game. The Packers' defense will give up its fair share of points, but it just continues to take advantage of every mistake by its opponents -- mistakes teams cannot afford to make with Aaron Rodgers on the other sideline.
2. Oakland managed to get a couple of big shots in on Rodgers, something that very few teams have accomplished this season. He took a huge hit to the helmet on a sack in the second quarter, then was clipped low on the next pass. Later, he was dragged down awkwardly from behind -- a play that was originally ruled a fumble but was overturned. He got up after all three plays and seemed to be fine.
3. The Packers' main concern coming out of this game will surround Greg Jennings' health. Rodgers' top receiver suffered a sprained knee in the third quarter and had to be carted to the locker. He was in a lot of pain on Green Bay's sideline with a towel over his head, though he did flash a thumbs-up to the Lambeau Field crowd as he left.
1. Philip Rivers fumbled in his own end zone in the third quarter, resulting in a Buffalo touchdown, but that was about the only thing he did wrong. Rivers connected on his first nine passes, a stretch that included a touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, then rebounded from that costly turnover to lead another touchdown drive. He capped that one with a second scoring strike to Gates.
2. C.J. Spiller put up a paltry 15 yards rushing, all in the first half. Just about every aspect of the Bills team has melted down in recent weeks, but the loss of Fred Jackson, who was in the midst of a sensational season, cannot be understated.
3. Ryan Mathews turned in 20 carries for 114 yards -- a very solid performance that helped the Chargers round out their offensive attack. With Malcom Floyd back in the lineup and Rivers locking in, the Chargers have the look of a dangerous team from here until season's end. – Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post