Andrew Perloff: First and 10: Jags' prayer answered, more analysis
The Jaguars get a big divisional win on one of the craziest game-ending plays in recent memory. Houston's Glover Quin batted down a David Garrard Hail Mary and it landed in Mike Thomas' arms for a Jacksonville touchdown. Quin did the right thing batting the pass down, but that's the way the season has gone for the Texans defense. Garrard has looked like Peyton Manning over his last two games, but it's helped facing Dallas and Houston. The Jags' banged-up defense had some issues as well and it's remarkable they continually lost the best receiver in the NFL, Andre Johnson, who had 146 receiving yards.
When the Dolphins pulled Chad Henne for Chad Pennington before Sunday's game, some wondered why they didn't go straight to Tyler Thigpen, who had some big games three seasons ago for Kansas City. Everything worked out, since Pennington got hurt early, then Henne went down, and Thigpen won the game for Miami in the fourth quarter. Thigpen is different than Pennington and Henne, excelling at making plays when he's out of the pocket. Henne also played well, completing 19-of-28 for 240 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see who Tony Sparano starts on Thursday against the Bears if Henne is healthy enough to play. Randy Moss made no impact for the Titans, pulling in just one catch for 26 yards.
The Browns and Jets are mirror images of each other so it's no surprise they almost ended up in a tie. They both feature Ryan brothers on the coaching staff (Rex for the Jets and defensive coordinator Rob for the Browns), and Eric Mangini's imprint can still be seen in New York. Both teams have strong defenses and running games, and are vertically challenged in the passing game. But Gang Green once again proved it can pull out close games, coming out on top after a wild final minute.
The Browns' Joe Haden intercepted a Mark Sanchez Hail Mary deep in Browns' territory with less than a minute left in overtime. It seemed like a good play at the time, but Cleveland couldn't move the ball from there, and the Jets got the ball back in great field position with a chance for a last-second drive. That's when Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes on a crossing route, two Browns defenders tripped over each other and Holmes dashed into the end zone. That's two straight come-from-behind wins by the Jets, who look like the team to beat in the AFC East, even though they're not playing their best football.
The Buccaneers get another win that probably doesn't prove anything, since the Panthers are a mess. But they clearly can string enough wins over bad teams together to reach the playoffs. And their skill players continue to impress. Rookie receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams look like veterans, LeGarrette Blount runs very hard, and Kellen Winslow is quietly playing the way everyone expected him to consistently early in his career. Josh Freeman had another impressive day, completing 18-of-24 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and no picks, while remaining extremely cool in the pocket -- no matter what's going on around him.
The Bears' defense probably hasn't gotten enough credit and actually gives them a chance to compete for the NFC North title. Julius Peppers isn't getting the sacks he's gotten in the past, but he had some big run-stuffs Sunday. Just as importantly, he draws a lot of attention away from Chicago's other defensive linemen. After briefly emerging last week, the Vikings' defense disappeared, getting just one sack on the Bears' supposedly suspect front line. Jay Cutler showed once again he can burn a defense if he has time. He's putting some of the negative headlines from earlier in the season behind him.
No surprise the Bills got their first win against the Lions, who have lost 25 straight on the road. The Bills could have easily won any of their last three games and were never really in danger of going 0-16. Buffalo was able to establish the run on a wet afternoon, as Fred Jackson went for 170 total yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Lions played like a domed-stadium team -- they weren't able to run at all, had too many penalties to win and didn't get the passing game going until it was too late.
Once again, Terrell Owens appeared to stop short on a pass he could have at least deflected before it went into the arms of a waiting defender. After a slow start, Carson Palmer looked like he hit a good rhythm, but the Bengals just don't play for 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning had very un-Peyton Manning-like stats, but once again proved why he's the most valuable player in the league, finding a way to lead his injury-depleted team to a win.
• So much of the focus for what goes right and wrong for a team lands on the quarterback. Poor QB play is just the beginning of the story in Minnesota and Cincinnati. Brett Favre and Carson Palmer have made their fair share of mistakes -- both had three interceptions Sunday. Both lost. They are not the problem though ... there are more than enough mistakes to go around on every unit on each team. The quarterbacks are the lighting rods for criticism, but Favre and Palmer probably couldn't do anything to pull these teams out of their season-long funks.
• It's Week 10 and teams around the league are getting thin at quarterback. When you see guys like Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, Tyler Thigpen, Shaun Hill, Jon Kitna, Troy Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick playing, it's hard to believe no team in the NFL made a serious move for Michael Vick in the offseason. This has become a league where you better have at least one good quarterback and you're better off having two. Teams don't want to spend too much at one position, but backup QB may not be the place to skimp any more.
• NFL games come down to little moments that usually don't show up in the highlights. Take the Jags-Texans thriller. Both teams blew opportunities at the end of the game. But one seemingly small mistake might have made the difference. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith jumped offsides and gave Jacksonville five more yards to get closer to the end zone on its Hail Mary attempt. A seemingly meaningless lazy play that shouldn't have affected everything. But you see the good teams play a full 60 minutes -- or more.