Robert Griffin III is the story when the Washington Redskins play, win or lose. Monday night against the first-place Giants, he delivered in the clutch, firing a TD pass to Pierre Garcon in the fourth quarter that stood as the game-winner.
But for as much much attention as was paid to Griffin's exploits, Washington would not have won that game without a gutsy effort from its defense. One of the catalysts for that performance, especially in the second half, was linebacker Rob Jackson.
The Washington Times' Rich Campbell tweeted late last night that Jackson "lobbied (defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett at halftime to let him rush the passer." Haslett's green light turned out to be one of the keys to Washington's win.
The Giants were 8 for 10 on third downs in the first half, part of why they piled up more than 20 minutes of possession before halftime en route to a 13-10 lead. With Jackson attacking Eli Manning in the second half, those numbers reversed drastically -- the Giants hit on just 1 of 5 third downs after the break, while the Redskins won the second-half time of possession battle (17 minutes to 13).
Jackson, playing mainly on third downs, came up with three huge plays in the fourth quarter alone. He sacked Manning on a 3rd-and-4 from the New York 14 with 10 minutes left; later, on what would be the Giants' final possession, he drew a crucial holding penalty on a 3rd-and-10, then tackled Ahmad Bradshaw on an ensuing 3rd-and-20 screen pass.
Manning had ample time in the first half to sit in the pocket and let his receivers come open downfield. That window vanished in the second half, thanks to Jackson.
A few more observations from Week 13's game film ...
1. On Ndamukong Suh's performance: The Colts' Mike McGlynn was the latest player to accuse Detroit's controversial defensive lineman of misconduct, saying that Suh celebrated a hit that injured Indianapolis' Winston Justice.
Suh may never be able to escape the firestorm he's created for himself, but even as his reputation continues to take hits, he's raising his game. Suh played very well on Thanksgiving against Houston and he downright dominated Sunday, consistently generating pressure on Andrew Luck.
Even while seeing repeated double teams, Suh came up with a sack, five QB hurries and four hits (all legal) of Luck. However ...
One of the problems Suh -- and his linemates -- continues to have is that opposing teams sometimes are able to use his aggressiveness against him. The 49ers (among others) have burned Suh in back-to-back seasons with their "wham" play, which basically runs the ball right at Suh and banks on him taking himself out of position.
Sunday, Luck victimized the Lions in a different way: By slipping through holes in the defensive line to create plays. He scrambled multiple times on Indianapolis' ultimate drive, then slid into a monster gap between Suh and Cliff Avril on the final play, allowing him to hit Donnie Avery for a TD.
Suh's ability to get upfield is one of his best traits -- and also, often, his undoing.
2. A shift up front for Pittsburgh: Thin along the offensive line, the Steelers rolled the dice on a big change Sunday against Baltimore. The coaching staff opted to start Doug Legursky at center, sliding Maurkice Pouncey over to left guard -- the reasoning being that the versatile Legursky is stronger in the middle than at a guard spot himself.
Odd as it seemed, the plan worked. Legursky played about as well as he can, and the Steelers managed to keep Charlie Batch upright for much of the day. Baltimore recorded two sacks and seven QB hurries, but for the most part, Batch had time to set up and throw.
It was a somewhat damning performance by the Ravens' up front -- they cannot be happy with the lack of consistent pressure they produced. But for the Steelers, the Legursky-Pouncey shift worked wonders.
3. Colin Kaepernick's no good, very bad pitch: Had the 49ers converted a 3rd-and-3 with about three minutes left in regulation Sunday, they would have all but sewn up a win over St. Louis. Instead, Kaepernick made a horrible pitch to Ted Ginn Jr., on a triple option, Janoris Jenkins recovered for a TD and the Rams went on to win in overtime.
The pitch itself:
Kaepernick, within the construction of the play, made the right call. Frank Gore would have had a hard time picking up three yards on a handoff, Kaepernick properly read a crashing Quintin Mikell and opted to pitch to Ginn -- who had two blocking receivers in front of him and easily would have picked up a first down with a good toss. But notice one of the issues leading to Kaepernick's poor toss: The ball had to travel about five yards, from hash mark to hash mark.
That's a huge gap for an option toss, even under normal circumstances, let alone in a clutch situation with a defender in your face. The Rams caught a break, but the 49ers put themselves in a tough position.
4. Back to the drawing board this offseason for San Diego: Norv Turner's days appear to be numbered in San Diego (though, it's not the first time), meaning the Chargers could be in for a big makeover this offseason. One spot they have to improve is at wide receiver, where Vincent Jackson's loss continues to haunt them. Danario Alexander has a provided a boost at that position, but he and Antonio Gates need help.
Robert Meachem might be the biggest bust this NFL season -- he didn't see a single snap Sunday. And nowhere was San Diego's lack of talent out wide more obvious than in the closing seconds against Cincinnati. Trailing by seven, Philip Rivers threw four straight passes to the end zone. On all of them, his receivers were totally blanketed.
5. Josh Gordon's development: Gordon, a 2012 supplemental draft choice, became a big-play threat for Cleveland early in the season. Now, he's just a threat, period. Gordon caught six of the seven balls thrown his direction Sunday, for 116 yards and a TD. Only his 44-yard touchdown was a deep ball -- his other receptions were on short-to-intermediate routes, giving him a shot to get into space.
6. Christian Ponder's regression: Heading in the opposite direction of Gordon is Minnesota QB Christian Ponder. He turned in another stinker Sunday in Green Bay, but his problems -- especially with Percy Harvin out -- are nothing new. Namely, the Vikings' offense offers no threat of the deep ball and Ponder compounds the issue by making at least one egregious mistake a week.
His Week 13 error came early in the third quarter. On a play-action rollout, Ponder tried to throw back across his body to the back of the end zone, over top of three Green Bay defenders. His pass only made it past two before Morgan Burnett picked it off. But Ponder also failed to complete a single pass thrown deeper than 20 yards, the third time in four games that's happened. His only bomb since Week 10 was a 54-yarder to Jarius Wright against Detroit. Given those limitations, it's even more amazing what Adrian Peterson has been able to do against drawn-up defenses ... but the Vikings' offense can only do so much while nickel-and-diming its way around the field.