Every Monday, SI.com's Ross Tucker will hand out letter grades to deserving NFL parties...
Mike Singletary, San Francisco 49ers. One of the toughest things to do for any head coach is to get his team to play inspired football when the playoffs are no longer in reach. Singletary has been passing with flying colors ever since that humiliating defeat at home against Seattle in his debut.
Singletary's public humiliation of Vernon Davis, private halftime speech in which he dropped his trousers, and postgame press conference were the talk of the league for quite some time and won't soon be forgotten. But to his credit, Singletary has put that aside as he focuses solely on the duties at hand. He knows he needs to finish in impressive fashion to be considered for the permanent job. He took a big step in the right direction Sunday as his team found a way to win on the road. The Niners limited the Bills, who had just scored 54 points the previous week, to just three points.
Singletary has his team playing extremely hard, that much is clear, and players like Takeo Spikes and Shaun Hill told me on Sirius XM NFL Radio how much they enjoy playing for him as they try to ensure that he will get a longer opportunity in San Fran. The victory over the Bills was hardly a statistical gem, but it was the first time this season that a West Coast team traveled to the East Coast and won.
Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams. Speaking of teams playing out the string, the St. Louis Rams have been playing atrocious football for the past four weeks after the initial burst of momentum the team got when making the move from Scott Linehan to Jim Haslett. There were even some league people debating whether St. Louis or Detroit is the worst team in football, an insult if I have ever heard one. But Haslett got his charges going on Sunday as they came out firing on all cylinders in their game against the Miami Dolphins. All cylinders except the most important one, that is.
For the first time in a long time the Rams got a winning effort from almost every player on the roster. Unfortunately they got yet another losing effort from the most important player on that roster, quarterback Marc Bulger. Bulger has no one to blame but himself for the team's most recent loss. The defense played at a high level, holding the Dolphins to just 16 points while effectively slowing down the Fins' rushing attack and getting solid pressure on Chad Pennington. Bulger even had a running game to work with for once, as Steven Jackson was back in the lineup and finished with 94 yards on 21 carries.
But it was all for naught as Bulger finished a putrid 16-of-35 for 149 yards, completing only 45.7 percent of his passes. Making matters worse, Bulger was picked off three times and did not get his team into the end zone, finishing with a 22.2 quarterback rating. Bulger's contract says he is this team's franchise quarterback of the future, but his production since he signed says otherwise.
Mark Clayton, Baltimore Ravens. Clayton has been the forgotten man on offense during the Ravens surprising run so far this season, and for good reason. Joe Flacco is playing at a remarkable level for a rookie, the running game seems to rotate stars on a weekly basis, and Derrick Mason has been quietly consistent as usual. Clayton decided to break away from the pack on Sunday against the Bengals as he put up some impressive numbers in proving the Ravens have an explosive deep threat that teams need to be aware of during the stretch run towards the playoffs.
Clayton finished the game with 164 yards on just five catches, providing a nice target for Flacco to show off his beautiful deep ball. Clayton's 70-yard touchdown catch was the type of quick score the Ravens ball-control offense has been lacking previously. But just catching footballs wasn't enough for Clayton, so he showed off his arm in throwing a perfect strike on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Mason.
Cleveland Browns Offense. Another week, another disappointing performance by the Browns offense. This one was especially pathetic so far as it completely undermined a fantastic performance by a Browns defense that had been the culprit in too many losses this year for Cleveland. The Browns held the vaunted Colts offense to three points and picked off Peyton Manning twice yet still came away with the defeat.
Jamal Lewis only averaged 3.2 yards a pop against a porous Colts run defense as the Browns mustered less than 200 yards of total offense. All of these numbers would be hard to take by their lonesome. The fact the Browns actually gave the game away when Dwight Freeney knocked the ball out of Derek Anderson's grasp after beating Joe Thomas was what really rubs salt in the their wound. Robert Mathis picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown that proved to be the difference in the Colts victory over the Browns.
The Browns, apparently playing for coach Romeo Crennel's job according to several media reports, certainly played like it on the defensive side of the football. Unfortunately for the defenders, their valiant effort was thwarted by an offense that gave up the only touchdown of the contest. Anderson was later hurt in the game and so the Browns will be without both he and Brady Quinn for the remainder of the year, making Crennel's fight to the finish even more difficult.