First Down/Fourth Down: Rams-49ers confusion, one Manning brother soars
Officiating and kickers. For as nice as it would be if Sunday's Rams-49ers game earned a spot in the annals of this NFL season for, say, Steven Jackson's hard-nosed running or Colin Kaepernick's impressive performance after Alex Smith suffered a concussion, any game that ends in a tie is hard to look back on too fondly.
So, instead, the miscues ...
Both St. Louis and San Francisco had chances to win the game with field goals in overtime. And both teams trotted pretty reliable kickers out there -- veteran David Akers pushed a 41-yarder wide left, then Greg Zuerlein missed wide right from 58. In Zuerlein's defense he also made one from 53, only to have it wiped off the board by an inexplicable delay of game penalty.
That was the second critical flag that went against St. Louis in OT. On the first play of the extra session, Bradford bombed one to Danny Amendola for 80 yards, but an illegal formation penalty (tackle Rodger Saffold did not report as eligible) wiped that one out.
The officials later struggled to get the ball placed right, costing St. Louis a good 10-plus seconds before a 3rd-and-1. Considering that the Rams completed a pass to midfield at the final whistle, those extra ticks proved significant.
So, too, might have the 1:12 that came off the clock in the second quarter while the officials measured for a San Francisco first down. While the chains came across the field, [si_launchNFLPopup video='6af50e626967449dbecf699dd107ccda']the clock never stopped[/si_launchNFLPopup] -- and by the time the officials noticed, it was too late to do anything about it.
All in all, this turned out to be an entertaining, albeit sloppy and confusing, football game.
First Down: The Minnesota Vikings' offense.
Twice in his team's past three games, Christian Ponder had failed to reach triple digits in passing yards. In fact, he hadn't even come close in a Week 7 win over Arizona (58 yards) and a Week 9 loss to Seattle (63). Add in a shaky showing in a loss to Tampa Bay, and the Minnesota faithful had reason to be restless.
What was really a treat for the Vikings was getting Ponder back in a groove (24 for 32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns), with help from rookie Jarius Wright, who caught a 54-yard bomb and a TD in his first game. Sprinkle in a few dashes of Kyle Rudolph dominating Detroit's linebackers and safeties, and you have the recipe for a big day.
Fourth Down: Ryan Tannehill.
For Tannehill, however, this was as bad as it's been all season -- worse, even, than a three-interception performance in a Week 1 loss to Houston. Tannehill matched that three-INT showing Sunday, and the Dolphins failed to find the end zone in a 37-3 loss.
First Down: Sam Koch.
The Ravens set a franchise record with 55 points in Sunday's win over Baltimore, so we're celebrating ... the punter? Actually, in this case, we're honoring Baltimore's holder, which is the position Koch was playing in the third quarter when he executed a fake field goal to perfection for a touchdown.
Did the Ravens need to run a trick play with a 41-17 lead? Probably not, and you could make the case that they unnecessarily ran up the score. Koch's probably not complaining after the coaching staff let him get in on Baltimore's scoring action.
Fourth Down: Buffalo's ball security.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has never been a QB known for taking care of the football -- he led the league with a whopping 23 interceptions thrown last season.
Sunday, his sloppiness cost Buffalo again, with a little help from Fred Jackson's butterfingers. Fitzpatrick committed two costly turnovers: a fumble deep in Buffalo territory that led to a New England touchdown and the game-clinching interception in the Patriots' end zone.
Jackson, meanwhile, put the ball on the deck twice. Buffalo recovered one, but the other resulted in a turnover at the Patriots' 1-yard-line and cost the Bills a shot at points.
First Down: Josh Freeman.
I was critical of Freeman earlier this season, when he struggled during Tampa Bay's 1-3 start. But there is no denying how well he's played lately. Sunday, he completed 70 percent of his passes (14 for 20) with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions -- giving him 11 TDs and no picks over his last four games. Not surprisingly, the Buccaneers have gone 3-1 in that stretch, allowing them to jump back in the playoff race.
Fourth Down: Michael Turner.
Last week, Turner rolled up more than 100 yards on the ground to help Atlanta get past Dallas on Sunday night. This week, he reverted to the Turner that's been criticized as too old and too slow to carry the Falcons' run game.
But worse than the 15 yards he gained, on 13 carries, was the fact that he had four rushing attempts inside the New Orleans 5 and totaled minus-two yards. Atlanta's inability to get touchdowns on three of five red-zone trips made the difference in the game, and Turner's ineffective running hurt.
From 2003-06 Peyton Manning and Brandon Stokley connected on 15 touchdown passes as members of the Colts. Reunited in Denver this season, they continue to show a terrific rapport. Manning found Stokley for a key early touchdown Sunday, in Denver's win over Carolina, giving Stokley four TDs on the season. Before Manning's arrival Stokley had four touchdowns total from 2009-11.
Fourth Down: Eli Manning.
The other Manning QB brother no longer has to answer questions about whether he's "elite" or not -- a pair of Super Bowl rings helped put an end to that discussion. It's a good thing, too, because Sunday's performance would have fallen very much in the "not elite" category.
Manning threw two picks, fumbled once and was outplayed badly by Andy Dalton, part of the Giants' total meltdown during a 31-13 loss to Cincinnati. Dating back to last season, the Giants have now lost four consecutive games in November.
The Seahawks are just 1-4 on the road this season. Put them at home, though, and they're an unstoppable force. This week's victim: The hapless Jets, who managed to fight their way to a 7-7 tie after one quarter, only to see Seattle score 21 unanswered.
Either Rice or Tate was involved in three of the Seahawks' four touchdowns ... and both played integral roles in the game's final TD.
After Tate and then Rice hauled in touchdown passes from Russell Wilson earlier in the game, the duo then [si_launchNFLPopup video='907291cf62a7464b9ff99ca2139aa5ee']hooked up for a TD of their own[/si_launchNFLPopup], with Tate taking handoff, rolling left and throwing a strike to Rice in the end zone. The little bit of trickery put the nail in the coffin on Seattle's 28-7 win.
Fourth Down: Andy Reid's future. 'Tis bleak, to say the least. Facing a "Make the playoffs or lose your job" ultimatum, Reid's Eagles fell to 3-6 with a home loss to the Cowboys. Worse yet, the game got away from Philadelphia late, with heralded rookie Nick Foles in for an injured Michael Vick at QB. Reid appears to be out of answers and, barring a seven-game win streak to close the year, possibly out of chances.