First Down, Fourth Down: David Wilson stars, Steelers flop in Big Ben's return
One game. That's how long it took the Giants' David Wilson to turn from a rookie bust into a key player in the NFC East race.
With Ahmad Bradshaw hobbled early and the Giants seemingly headed for a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair with New Orleans, Wilson took over the game. His [si_launchNFLPopup video='72763eec5c314c2f8461706e7c8dc04f']97-yard kickoff return[/si_launchNFLPopup] in the first quarter erased the Saints' lone lead, and he added two more touchdowns (both on runs) in the second half to help New York pull away for a 52-27 win.
All told, Wilson finished with 327 all-purpose yards, a Giants' franchise record -- and his 227 kick-return yards were part of 287 total in that area for New York, also a new franchise mark.
Wilson has been steady as a kick returner this season, averaging 24.9 yards over New York's first 12 games. He had not, however, done much of anything on the ground, posting just 111 yards rushing and giving up tons of playing time to Andre Brown. A broken fibula for Brown put Wilson back in the spotlight Sunday, and Bradshaw's continued string of nagging injuries may keep him there for the rest of the season.
If Wilson turned a corner in Week 14, as opposed to simply victimizing a porous Saints defense, then the Giants will feel a lot better about their depleted running back situation.
First Down: Brandon Gibson.
The Rams again had to play without receiver Danny Amendola on Sunday in Buffalo -- Amendola sat out with a foot injury, the fifth game he's missed this season. In his stead, Brandon Gibson stepped up for St. Louis. Gibson made six catches for 100 yards (both game highs), with his final catch coming on a game-winning, 13-yard TD grab with 48 seconds left.
Fourth Down: Ben Roethlisberger's return.
Coming off an emotional victory in Baltimore last week, the Steelers looked totally flat across the board Sunday in a 34-24 loss to San Diego. Even getting Roethlisberger back in the lineup, after several weeks out due to injury, could not keep Pittsburgh from a letdown loss.
Roethlisberger's numbers did not wind up being all that poor (22 for 42, 285 yards, three touchdowns, one INT). However, between his two costly turnovers, an absent run game, struggling defense and questionable play calling, the Steelers could not overcome the henceforth underachieving Chargers.
Summing up the day perfectly: After a nearly 10-minute long San Diego TD drive made it 20-3 in the third quarter, Roethlisberger fired an attempted screen pass off the backside of his own teammate. The ball then ricocheted into the end zone, where the Chargers recovered for a defensive touchdown.
First Down: Adrian Peterson.
Is someone keeping a "First Down/Fourth Down" leaderboard? Because I'm pretty sure Peterson has earned more kudos this season than anyone else in the league.
He was a beast again Sunday, delivering 104 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone to send Minnesota on its way to a clutch 21-14 victory over Chicago. Peterson finished with 154 yards on the day -- he now sits at exactly 1,600 yards with three regular-season games to go, putting a 2K season well within reach.
Both teams were in position, at home, to pull out important December wins. And both teams fell apart down the stretch -- the Bengals allowed 10 unanswered points to Dallas in the final seven minutes to lose by one, while the Buccaneers let the aforementioned Nick Foles toss a pair of TDs in the final 3:55 to fall by two.
Cincinnati had a chance to leapfrog Pittsburgh and move into the sixth spot in the AFC. The good news for the Bengals is that they still have a Week 16 trip to take on the Steelers, so the door remains open.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, put one foot in the grave Sunday. The Buccaneers fell to 6-7 and now trail Chicago, Seattle, Washington, Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis in the battle for two wild-card spots.
First Down: The Jets' playoff chances.
J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! ... Jets??!
Believe it or not, for all their issues -- most notably at quarterback, where Mark Sanchez started over Tim Tebow on Sunday, while Week 13 winner Greg McElroy was scratched -- the Jets are just a game back of the No. 6 spot in the AFC. If they can close with wins over Tennessee, Chargers and Bills (all teams with under-.500 records), they would put some serious heat on Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Can Rex Ryan's team turn its two-game win streak into a five-gamer? At this point, it's best to leave the Jets be, rather than try to figure out this team.
Fourth Down: Ken Whisenhunt.
As Exhibit A in why they don't hand out Coach of the Year after four weeks, I present Ken Whisenhunt.
The Cardinals burst out of the gate at 4-0, with a win at New England to boot. Now, they're 4-9 and riding the NFL's longest losing streak. Loss No. 9 was an embarrassing debacle too -- Arizona turned it over eight times and suffered the worst loss in its franchise history, 58-0 in Seattle. Whisenhunt may not be around to see if the Cardinals can avoid dropping their 10th straight.
First Down: NFC East drama.
The division finished Sunday 4-0, but the Giants enjoyed the lone laugher, 52-27 against the Saints.. Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington, incredibly, all won on the final snap of the game -- Washington in OT; Dallas and Philly in regulation. The Eagles still won't be headed to the playoffs, but the East has a chance to claim two or three spots anyway, thanks in part to Sunday's late heroics.
Fourth Down: Jake Locker.
Even though Tennessee's season has been a mess, Locker could have generated some positive momentum by outdueling Andrew Luck on the road. He did for two quarters, enjoying a 20-7 halftime lead.
But the wheels fell off after that. Luck led a TD drive early in the third, then Locker threw an egregious interception at his own 3-yard line, which Cassius Vaughn took into the end zone for six. Locker fired another INT later, right after the Colts grabbed a 24-23 lead on a field goal in an eventual 27-23 loss.
First Down: Nick Foles.
When a young player finds himself suddenly in a difficult situation, as the rookie Foles did when he replaced Michael Vick, all a team can ask is that he show consistent improvement. Foles certainly has done that.
And he was rewarded with a breakthrough win Sunday. The Eagles snapped an eight-game losing skid, and played the role of spoiler in the process, as Foles led a pair of touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay. The second culminated with Foles hitting Jeremy Maclin for a 1-yard TD on the game's final play, stealing a 23-21 victory for Philadelphia.
Fourth Down: Atlanta's quest for respect.
The Falcons have spent a lot of this season banging the drum in a search for national respect and a place amongst the so-called "elite" teams. Sunday's effort will not help that cause.
Carolina's Greg Hardy said earlier in the week that his 3-9 Panthers were better than Atlanta. Rather than come out and put the kibosh on all that talk (plus move closer to clinching the NFC's top playoff seed), the Falcons turned in a dud in a 30-20 loss. The Falcons headed to halftime trailing 16-0 and being outgained 270-35. The loss may not mean all that much in the long run, but in the court of public perception, it was a killer.