First Down, Fourth Down: Russell Wilson gives his ROY campaign a boost
Robert Griffin III sat out Week 15 with a knee injury and Andrew Luck struggled through a tough loss in Houston. So Russell Wilson had a shot late Sunday to make a statement in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race.
And, boy, did he ever take advantage.
Wilson accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing), all in the first 25 minutes of Seattle's 50-17 win over Buffalo. The Seahawks have now won three in a row and rolled up 108 points in the past two weeks.
Sure, neither the Cardinals (Seattle's Week 14 opponent) or Bills are world-beaters, but Wilson has done everything he needed -- and more -- to ensure that the Seahawks did not suffer a costly upset. Wilson's 104.4 QB rating was the fifth time in Seattle's last six games that he has topped the century mark there, and he has 11 touchdowns (plus three rushing TDs) to one interception in that stretch.
One key question in the mix now: Does the Redskins' relatively easy win with Kirk Cousins under center hurt RGIII's case as the season's top rookie? It may, if it further convinces a couple voters that the Redskins are more than just a one-man show.
At the very least, Wilson should be in voters' minds when they cast their ballots. He may not beat out Griffin or Luck, but he deserves to be in the discussion.
First Down: Atlanta's quest for respect.
There is ample evidence to prove that the 2012 Falcons are not one of the NFL's greatest all-time teams. But there's also enough on the table to show that Atlanta is a force to be reckoned with in this year's playoffs, especially if the NFC road goes through the Georgia Dome, as it appears it will.
Can this team win in the playoffs? The Falcons surely still have their doubters, but they looked the part of a contender in Week 15.
Fourth Down: Jim Caldwell.
Expecting Caldwell to step in as the Ravens' offensive coordinator and solve all of the team's issues overnight was a pipe dream -- and part of why Baltimore switched up when it did, with three weeks to go before the playoffs. Denver has shut down more than its fair share of offenses, too.
Still, the Ravens looked, possibly, as stilted as they have all season offensively, with their only two touchdowns coming well after Denver had pulled away for an easy win. And Ray Rice? His 22 yards rushing in the first half marked his lowest total in the opening two quarters all year.
Why are those three kickers paired with those five teams? Well, Walsh scored 18 points Sunday, while Graham (17), Janikowski (15) and Hauschka (14) followed close behind. Those five teams, meanwhile, combined for 10 total points.
The Giants (34-0 to Atlanta), Tampa Bay (41-0 to New Orleans) and Kansas City (15-0 to Oakland) all suffered shutouts, while the Jaguars mustered a measly field goal and San Diego found the end zone once.
First Down: James Jones.
Say hello to your new league leader in touchdown catches. It's pretty hard to believe, considering that Jones is more than 50 catches and nearly 1,000 yards off the league leaders in those respective categories.
When he's been pressed into extra duty, though, Jones has responded. Sunday, he found the end zone three times for all of the Packers' scores in a huge win over Chicago, bringing his season total to 12.
Fourth Down: Antonio Brown.
Give credit to the Cowboys, who suddenly have begun finding ways to win in the face of adversity. The Steelers, though, were well on their way to a road win before Brown made several mistakes late, both of the physical and mental variety.
Pittsburgh led by seven with 10 minutes left when Brown broke loose on a punt return, only to cough the ball up at the end. Dallas recovered and turned that miscue into a game-tying touchdown.
Later, the Steelers forced a Dallas punt, which should have given them solid field position and a chance to win the game. Instead, Brown dropped 60 yards deep to field the kick, then let it roll all the way to his own 20. And finally, Brown ran out of bounds after catching a pass late, inexplicably saving a timeout for Dallas.
That final mistake did not come back to haunt him in regulation, but his previous two errors did plenty to help Dallas win in OT.
First Down: Kirk Cousins.
An obvious choice for a tip of the cap. Cousins stepped in for an injured Robert Griffin III, threw two touchdown passes and led Washington into first place in the NFC East with a 38-21 win at Cleveland. Cousins did throw one interception, but he also completed 70.3 percent of his passes (26 for 37) and finished with a 104.4 QB rating.
Fourth Down: Buffalo's trip to Canada.
Good luck trying to find the benefit of the Bills continuing to take one home game north of the border each season. Not only was Buffalo hammered Sunday by Seattle at the Rogers Centre, but the game drew just 40,770 fans -- a good 13K shy of a sellout.
First Down: Houston's shot at the No. 1 seed.
The Texans took a pretty substantial hit last week, physically and in the court of public opinion. But they bounced back quickly from their blowout loss to New England to shut down Indianapolis on Sunday.
In doing so, much as Atlanta did by rebounding from a loss to Carolina, the Texans put themselves a big step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If Houston wins its final two games (Minnesota, at Indianapolis), it will host every postseason contest it takes part in, prior to the Super Bowl.
As has often been the case this season, the Texans did the job Sunday with a stout defensive effort and a strong running game.
Fourth Down: St. Louis.
Courtesy of a three-game win streak, the Rams had climbed themselves back into the playoff race at 6-6-1. And then they laid one of the biggest eggs of their season at home on Sunday. With Christian Ponder playing well and Adrian Peterson running wild, the Rams fell behind 30-7 to the Vikings at halftime and only managed to make things respectable with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Still, a 36-22 loss in that situation won't sit well with anyone, even if St. Louis had more hope for 2013 than 2012.