First Down, Fourth Down: Wes Welker keeps haunting Miami
Wes Welker had not topped seven catches nor had he hit the century mark in yards receiving during any of the Patriots' last five games. The smart money was on him breaking that trend Sunday in Miami -- and he did, with 12 catches, 103 yards and a touchdown to help New England drop the Dolphins and clinch the AFC East.
This is nothing new for Welker against his former team.
With Sunday's performance Welker topped 1,000 yards receiving against Miami, a franchise that ... oh, yeah ... traded him to New England back in 2007. He has more yards receiving against the Dolphins than all but one other team (Buffalo, which he's played eight more times than Miami). In his 10 games against Miami as a member of the Patriots, Welker has averaged 7.8 catches and 108.9 yards.
The 2012 season has not been the smoothest for Welker. His numbers dipped early, as Julian Edelman stole some of his playing time and speculation grew that the Patriots were trying to phase out their slot receiver; Welker is set to be a free agent in 2013, and the Patriots have made no moves toward re-signing him.
With tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski trading stints out of the lineup with injuries, though, Welker has reemerged as a key cog in the New England offense. Tom Brady turned to him early and often Sunday, completing 10 passes (including a touchdown) to Welker in the first half alone.
Welker's late drop in the Super Bowl last season contributed to New England's crushing loss to the Giants. If the Patriots are to get back there, however, Welker figures to be a key -- even if Miami won't show up on the playoff schedule.
More of the heroes and zeroes from Week 13:
First Down: Charlie Batch.
What can you say? In a loss to Cleveland last week (with plenty of help from his bumbling teammates), Batch looked absolutely lost as the Steelers' fill-in quarterback. Seven days later, aside from a couple of end-zone misfires, Batch was brilliant in a stunning 23-20 win over Baltimore.
Not only did Batch outduel Joe Flacco, he brought the Steelers back from a 10-point deficit on the road and led the game-winning drive late. Batch was overcome with emotion after Shaun Suisham's kick sailed through the uprights, and it's hard to fault him for being so elated and relieved.
Fourth Down: Detroit and San Diego's late-game mojo.
What would happen in the fourth quarter if these two teams played this year? Just a series of mistakes until someone accidentally committed a safety or something?
Both teams are 4-8 on the year -- and both have gagged away at least a handful of victories. The Lions have lost four straight overall, and Sunday became the first team since at least 1983 to blow leads in the final two minutes and lose in three straight home games. San Diego, meanwhile, had a 13-10 edge on Cincinnati, before a pair of Philip Rivers turnovers helped turn the tables.
Neither of these teams has much to play for from here out in the regular season, and both could be in line for major shake-ups come the offseason.
First Down: St. Louis, within its division.
If only the Rams could play all their games against the NFC West ...
Sunday's gritty overtime victory over the 49ers moved St. Louis to 4-0-1 within its own division -- a somewhat shocking mark when you consider that two teams from the West (San Francisco and Seattle) might be headed to the playoffs and that the Rams are just 1-6 against the rest of the league.
St. Louis still travels to Seattle in Week 17, a game that could hold huge implications for both teams.
Fourth Down: Mark Sanchez.
Was there a bigger moment of schadenfreude for Sanchez haters than the one that came in the fourth quarter Sunday? As Greg McElroy celebrated what would be the game-winning touchdown pass, the TV camera cut to Sanchez ... alone, jotting notes down on a clipboard.
Who knows where the Jets go from here. It doesn't say much for Tim Tebow that he could not steal any snaps from Sanchez, but that Rex Ryan trusted McElroy to do just that. It also doesn't say much for Sanchez that the Jets, at least for a few moments, appeared to be playing much harder on offense with McElroy under center.
First Down: The Kansas City Chiefs.
You're not going to get a long-winded write-up here about how Saturday's tragedy somehow inspired the Chiefs. The events involving Jovan Belcher become more horrific with each additional piece of information we learn, and Kansas City's game with Carolina felt absolutely unnecessary by comparison.
Yet, no one would have chastised the Chiefs for phoning it in Sunday -- they had every reason to let their grief or confusion overwhelm them, and there's still room to debate if the NFL should have pushed forward with this game. But instead, behind a heartbroken Romeo Crennel, Kansas City played one of its better games of the season.
Fourth Down: Tennessee's offense.
Houston has made teams miserable all year with its aggressive defense, but the Titans could not stop shooting themselves in the foot Sunday. Jake Locker committed five turnovers on his own (three interceptions, two fumbles), while Chris Johnson also coughed up a fumble. The Texans victimized Locker for six sacks, too.
Tennessee actually outgained Houston, 354-332, and still never really had a chance.
The Bills have struggled all year to figure out their running back rotation -- and while Spiller has outplayed Jackson repeatedly, the offense clicks best when both players are getting touches. Sunday, the pair combined for 186 yards on the ground (25 carries for 109 yards for Jackson; 14 for 77 and a touchdown for Spiller). It was no coincidence, then, that Buffalo rolled Jacksonville.
Fourth Down: The Bucs' pass defense.
Tampa Bay entered Sunday with the league's worst pass D. And while the Bucs held Peyton Manning to a respectable 242 yards through the air, Manning more or less did what he wanted through two-and-a-half quarters en route to 28-10 lead.
If the Bucs are serious about making the playoffs, they need to pick up the pace defensively ... and soon.
The top two receiving performance in Week 13 (pending Philadelphia-Dallas and New York-Washington) both came from the NFC North. And both came in losses.
Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 165 yards against Seattle's big, physical cornerbacks. He nearly helped the Bears rips a victory out of what looked like a sure defeat, making an incredible 56-yard catch in between two Seahawks defenders in the closing seconds to set up a game-tying field goal.
Calvin Johnson had an even more outstanding day. Targeted a whopping 20 times by Matthew Stafford, Johnson made 13 grabs for 171 yards and a TD. He's now up to 1,428 yards receiving in 2012 -- well without striking distance of Jerry Rice's single-season record of 1,848. Johnson must average 105 yards during Detroit's final four games to beat that mark; he has topped 125 yards in each of Detroit's last five outings.
Fourth Down: Division races. Three of the eight are over -- New England wrapped up the AFC East, Denver the AFC West and Atlanta the NFC South. Of the remaining five, only the NFC North (where Green Bay and Chicago are tied) and the NFC East (if Washington beats the Giants on Monday) features a second-place team within a game of the leader. The wild-card races could be fascinating, but it's looking more and more like those will have to satisfy our need for drama in the closing weeks.