Week 8 NFL Report-Card Grades for Every Team

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IOctober 29, 2012

Week 8 NFL Report-Card Grades for Every Team

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    There’s been an adage in the National Football League in which they say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.

    By the way, that notion is factually inaccurate. And you may be hearing more about that come the postseason should an example arise.

    The key word is “should.” As we have seen to date, it’s been tough to beat a team twice in 2012.

    So far, there have been three divisional rematches this season, and the team that won the first game came up short in the second, the latest examples being the Jets losing to the Dolphins and the Cowboys falling to the Giants on Sunday.

    Safe to say, it will make for some really interesting divisional races.

    In any case, we’re back with this week’s grades. Please remember that they are based on a number of factors, not just wins and losses and numbers. And another reminder, they are marks for this week’s performance and not a team’s overall play this season.

    And while the NFL is regarded as a quarterback-driven league, no team gets a pass in this forum.

Arizona Cardinals: D+

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    For the first time in five games, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t allow their quarterback to be sacked at least five times.

    However, for the fourth time in as many contests, Ken Whisenhunt’s walked away on the short end of the scoreboard.

    The Cardinals 24-3 loss at home to the hard-hitting San Francisco 49ers saw John Skelton complete 32-of-52 passes for 290 yards and an interception while being sacked four times.

    While those numbers don’t seem incredibly awful, consider that there are 20 letters in the name LaRod Stephens-Howling, which is more than double the amount of rushing yards (7) that Arizona managed against the Niners on Monday night.

    Meanwhile, despite sacking Alex Smith four times, the Cardinals defense watched the oft-maligned San Francisco signal-caller hit on all but one of his 19 pass attempts for 232 yards and three scores as 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree, who scored twice, proved to be more than a match for cornerback Patrick Peterson and company.

    Unfortunately, the Arizona offensive line is proving they’re not much of a match for any opposing defense. And the Cards struggles will continue until that situation is rectified.

Atlanta Falcons: A+

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    After an off week, the lone undefeated team in the league at 6-0 headed north to end a six-game losing streak.

    That would be six straight losses in Philadelphia.

    But all bad things obviously must come to an end, as the Atlanta Falcons ended a few years of frustration in the City of Brotherly Love with a convincing 30-17 victory that was the quintessential not as close as the final score may indicate contest.

    Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan would hit on 22-of-29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns as Mike Smith’s club opened up a 24-7 halftime lead and made it look easy against the frustrated Philadelphia Eagles.

    And following its last effort in which Ryan served up three first-half interceptions, Smith’s club played turnover-free football.

    Perhaps the most encouraging news from the victory was the play of the Atlanta defense in limiting the Eagles to 92 yards on the ground, the first time in seven games this season in which an opponent didn’t run for at least 100 yards.

    And after not playing its best football in recent weeks, the Falcons responded with one of their best performances of the season. 

Carolina Panthers: C+

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    Late last season, there was seemingly hope for this season when the Carolina Panthers won four of their final six games in 2011.

    And after taking a 19-7 third-quarter lead in the Windy City on Sunday, Ron Rivera was hoping his team was on the verge of ending a four-game losing streak.

    As it turned out, both proved to false alarms.

    Ron Rivera’s club outgained their hosts, 416-210, in total yardage, forced quarterback Jay Cutler into three turnovers and sacked the Chicago Bears quarterback six times. But within a span of eight seconds, a 12-point lead turned into a one-point deficit.

    And while the Panthers would regain the lead with 2:27 remaining, their defense couldn’t hold off Cutler and company, and Robbie Gould’s 41-yard field goal on the final play of the game was the nail in Carolina’s 23-22 loss.

    Much-maligned Cam Newton had his ups and downs, throwing for 314 yards but serving up two interceptions, the second returned 25 yards for a score by Chicago’s Tm Jennings after veteran wideout Steve Smith slipped and fell.

    And as for those aforementioned six sacks by Carolina defenders, zero came in the second half.

    Close but no cigar is getting really old in tobacco country.

Chicago Bears: C+

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    For the second time in seven days, the Chicago Bears offense appeared stuck in neutral.

    But once again, Lovie Smith’s team found a way to win, getting a pair of interceptions from cornerback Tim Jennings, including one for a touchdown, and quarterback Jay Cutler overcame six first-half sacks as the Bears took all 60 minutes to get a 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers.

    Smith’s club was limited to only 53 offensive plays and 210 total yards, but still found a way to pull out a fifth straight victory.

    Meanwhile, Carolina had the ball for nearly 37 minutes, rolled up 416 yards and ran 77 plays. But one of those was a Jennings 25-yard interception return for a score at the expense of Cam Newton, who threw for 314 yards by game’s end.

    That means the Bears defense has returned six picks for scores in the past five games, a big reason Smith’s team is now in first place by themselves in the NFC North.

    But the Chicago offense will need to play better if it is to hold off the challengers in a very tough division.

Cleveland Browns: B

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    Winners just once in their first seven games this season, the Cleveland Browns were probably looking for a jet-lag assist via the visiting San Diego Chargers.

    It looks like they may or may not have gotten an assist. But then again, let’s give credit where credit is due.

    Dick Jauron’s defensive unit held the Chargers out of the end zone, limited the Bolts to 265 total yards and kept quarterback Philip Rivers (18-of-34 for 154 yards) “under wraps” as he and Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had to deal with the not-so-pleasant conditions in Cleveland.

    Meanwhile, it was the San Diego defense that had its issues trying to contain Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson, who totaled 24 carries for 122 yards, 26 of those coming in the first quarter on the game’s only touchdown.

    But there were no such issues for the Browns, at least on this afternoon, who won for the second time in three weeks after that 0-5 start.

Dallas Cowboys: B-

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    This latest loss by the Dallas Cowboys may have felt like a win in some regards. But the 29-24 setback to the New York Giants may wind up stinging more than usual.

    It certainly didn’t get off to a good start. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Dallas had already committed its fourth turnover of the afternoon, as quarterback Tony Romo was picked off by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (his third interception of the game), who took it back for a touchdown and gave his team a 23-0 lead.

    However, Jason Garrett’s club would score the next 24 points of the game, as Romo, who would drop back a total of 66 times by game’s end and throw for 437 yards, kept firing.

    Two more turnovers would prove costly to the Cowboys, who saw tight end Jason Witten and wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant all reach 100 yards receiving. And Witten’s 18 receptions were tied for the third-most by a player in a game in NFL history.

    Down by five in the waning seconds, Bryant appeared to have caught the game-winning score on a great leaping grab. But on the way down, Bryant’s hand touched down out of the end zone, nullifying the play.

    And as it turned out, perhaps nullifying a golden opportunity for Dallas in their pursuit of the NFC East title.

Denver Broncos: A+

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    The anticipated duel in Denver between two of the game’s most prolific passers proved to be less of a clash and more of a statement…at least for one team.

    In prime-time, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Denver Broncos field general Peyton Manning renewed acquaintances for the first time since the duo faced off in Super Bowl XLIV, when Brees’ Saints stunned Manning’s Colts, 31-17.

    The only surprise this time around was the ease of which Manning’s Broncos handled Brees’ club. The 34-14 win saw Denver more than double the Cajuns in total yardage (530-252), which included 225 yards on the ground for Willis McGahee (122) and company.

    Manning completed 22-of-30 passes for 305 yards and three scores, the fifth straight game he’s reached the 300-yard mark and the fourth consecutive outing in which he threw that many touchdown passes.

    It was arguably the Broncos' most complete outing of the season. Remember, this was a team down 24-0 at halftime at San Diego two weeks ago, and since then, have outscored the Chargers and Saints a combined 69-14.

    And if the Broncos play the kind of defense was saw in defusing Brees and company Sunday night, Fox’s team could be ready to take off in the AFC West.

Detroit Lions: B+

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    So what took you so long, Matthew Stafford?

    All kidding aside, we’ve been waiting for one of these games from a quarterback who threw for 41 scores last season.

    The Detroit Lions signal-caller had totaled only five touchdown passes in his first six games this season. But the strong-armed passer lit up the Seattle Seahawks for 352 yards and three scores, plus ran for a touchdown, in a much-needed 28-24 victory.

    While Stafford did throw one interception, he more than offset that by completing 34-of-49 passes to his teammates. While Calvin Johnson was limited to three catches for 46 yards, wideout Titus Young took up the slack, snaring nine passes for 100 yards and two scores, the second coming with 20 seconds to play which proved to be the game-winner.

    The Lions defense wasn’t at the top of its game, giving up a 77-yard touchdown run to Marshawn Lynch and a pair of touchdown passes to Russell Wilson, who wasn’t sacked on the afternoon.

    Still, Stafford and company were more than enough against a formidable Seattle defense.

Green Bay Packers: B

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    Those fans of the Green Bay Packers who were expecting their team to make easy work of the Jacksonville Jaguars had to be a little disappointed.

    Perhaps they were very disappointed.

    Either way, there are no style points when it comes to moving up in the standings, and the bottom line is that the Pack have now won three straight games since that second-half collapse at Indianapolis, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers remains as hot as ever.

    Although he threw for only 186 yards and did lose a fumble, Rodgers threw two more touchdown passes without an interception, meaning he’s thrown for 11 scores without being picked during the team’s current three-game winning streak.

    While Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert did throw for 303 yards, the Jacksonville offense managed only one touchdown. And the Green Bay defense came up big in the red zone.

    Bottom line is that Mike McCarthy’s team is suddenly streaking again. And we’ve seen what can happen when Rodgers and company get hot.

Indianapolis Colts: B+

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    For much of the afternoon at Nashville, the Indianapolis Colts appeared determined to make it 11 straight road losses dating back to last season.

    But a fourth-quarter wake-up call, along with one of the more spectacular touchdown efforts you will ever see, and last season’s 2-14 team has suddenly doubled its wins in 2012.

    The Colts' 19-13 victory over the Titans saw quarterback Andrew Luck spearheading an offense that rolled up 457 yards by game’s end. And it was a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives, one in the fourth quarter and the second in overtime, that spelled victory for this rebuilt team.

    After running back Delone Carter’s one-yard score and Adam Vinatieri’s subsequent PAT with 3:24 to play were enough to send the game into overtime, you have to see rookie Vick Ballard’s 16-yard touchdown catch in overtime to believe it.

    And speaking of surprises, you may want to look at AFC South standings once again, where the Colts are very much in second place and in the playoff picture.

Jacksonville Jaguars: B-

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    Yes, this is why they play the games.

    While the Jacksonville Jaguars eventually fell as expected to the Green Bay Packers, 24-15, at Lambeau Field, Mike Mularkey’s team kept this game interesting throughout.

    And who would have thought that Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert (303) would throw for more than 100 yards than Aaron Rodgers (186)?

    Unfortunately, despite holding Green Bay to only 238 total yards, the Jaguars shot themselves in the paw far too many times. Running back Rashad Jennings had a crucial fumble and rookie Bryan Anger had a punt blocked for a score. And the team’s only touchdown came on a pass from Gabbert to tackle eligible Guy Whimper.

    All told, it was a very respectable performance for a team playing without its most consistent offensive weapon (Maurice Jones-Drew), especially a defense that limited the Packers offensive unit to a pair of touchdowns.

Kansas City Chiefs: C-

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    Wherefore art the football, Romeo?

    Obviously, it’s had a hard time remaining in the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, who fell at home to the Oakland Raiders, the team’s sixth loss in seven games this season.

    And the turnover count by Romeo Crennel’s club is up to 25 in 2012 after four more miscues at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

    While Brady Quinn got the start for the second consecutive game, the former Golden Domer was picked off once, was injured early on and replaced by Matt Cassel, who led the team to its lone touchdown of the game but also threw an interception and lost a fumble.

    Elsewhere, Kansas City’s disappointing defense allowed Darren McFadden to total 114 of the Raiders' 135 yards on the ground. And although Carson Palmer couldn’t avoid turning over the ball at least once, he did throw for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns and wasn’t sacked on the afternoon.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with this club during the week given the level of disappointment.

Miami Dolphins: A+

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    Despite having two weeks to prepare for their rematch with the division rival Jets, Joe Philbin’s team, winners of two straight, was getting ready to see that brief spurt come to an end.

    Instead, the Dolphins outhustled their hosts thanks to their special teams and an opportunistic defense and wound up winning going away, 30-9.

    Even with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill knocked out of the game due to injury and ably replaced by veteran Matt Moore, Philbin’s squad frustrated the Jets.

    The ‘Fins would recover a surprise onside kick, and later in the first quarter, a blocked punt was eventually recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by rookie Olivier Vernon. The third-round pick also blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk late in the second quarter as the Dolphins took a 20-0 lead at intermission.

    Meanwhile, it wasn’t a big game in terms of total yards (236), and the Jets actually ran 20 more offensive plays than Miami.

    But the only numbers concerning Philbin’s club these days are three straight wins and a 4-3 record after a 1-3 start.

Minnesota Vikings: C-

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    It’s hard to put a finger on what happened to the Vikings at home on Thursday night against the Buccaneers.

    Then again, Leslie Frazier’s team had a problem getting its hands on rookie running back Doug Martin.

    While veteran runner Adrian Peterson continues to shows that he’s all the way back, Tampa Bay’s first of two picks in April outdid himself both himself and the Vikings' star runner. Martin rushed for 135 yards and a score, catching three passes for 79 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown in Tampa’s 36-17 win over the Vikings.

    Peterson, who ran for 123 yards and a touchdown, continues to look spry. But Minnesota’s defense had no answer for the Bucs attack, which rolled up 416 total yards and committed zero turnovers.

    Meanwhile, Frazier’s team coughed up the ball three times, as quarterback Christian Ponder was picked off for fourth straight game and the seventh time overall after not throwing an interception in his first four outings this season.

    In all honesty, and despite a few positive moments, the Vikings appeared a little flat all evening.

    And by game’s end, they were simply flattened by a determined bunch of Bucs.

New England Patriots: A+

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    Perhaps Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots got tired of hearing that two of their three losses this season were to the Cardinals and Seahawks, both of who reside in the NFC West.

    And after the Rams jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in London, England, apparently, enough was enough. A total of 45 points and 473 yards later, the Patriots walked away with a 45-7 win that saw Belichick’s club at its best.

    Stevan Ridley ran for a touchdown and 127 of the team’s 152 yards on the ground, and Tom Brady fished and chipped in with 304 yards passing and four scores as New England scored touchdowns on each of its first five possessions of the game.

    Belichick’s squad did not commit a turnover, and Brady, whose threw two touchdowns each to Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd (of London?), was not sacked by the highly-regarded St. Louis defensive front.

    At least for this weekend, call them the Old England Patriots.

New Orleans Saints: D+

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    There was much anticipation in the Mile High City as quarterbacks Drew Brees and Peyton Manning renewed acquaintances for the first time since Super Bowl XLIV.

    And early in the second quarter, the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos had exchanged touchdowns. It was 7-7 and game on.

    Midway through the final quarter and 27 straight points later, it was Denver 34, New Orleans 7.

    Game off, as in over and out.

    While Brees and company managed only 252 total yards and were a miserable 1-of-12 on third down in a convincing 34-14 loss, the Saints much-maligned defense didn’t do much to stop the Broncos, surrendering a whopping 530 total yards, including 225 on the ground. And Steve Spagnuolo’s unit not only failed to slow down Willis McGahee and company, they failed to sack Manning.

    After two straight wins, the Saints were showing signs of looking like the team capable of making a run. After Sunday’s loss, they look more like the club that took five games to get one win in 2012.

New York Giants: B

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    By hook or by crook seems like an appropriate explanation for the New York Giants' latest win at Cowboys Stadium.

    Crook as in six takeaways in the team’s 29-24 victory over Dallas. Hook as in the ability to pull out a win after squandering a big second-quarter lead.

    Thanks largely to numerous early mistakes by their hosts, New York took advantage of the Dallas miscues, the most spectacular a 28-yard interception return by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul that swelled the Giants' advantage to 23-0 in the second quarter.

    Eventually, the Cowboys, who rolled up 434 yards on Tom Coughlin’s defense, would take a 24-23 lead. But  opportunistic safety Stevie Brown, who had three of the New York’s six takeaways via two interceptions and a fumble recovery, helped thwart Dallas in its attempt to steal the game.

    Still, it looked like the Pokes had the clinched the win via a Tony Romo to Dez Bryant scoring pass in the closing seconds. But the touchdown was taken off the boars when the latter failed to come down in bounds with ball.

    So Coughlin’s team managed to avoid the sweep, but not another nail-biting afternoon.

New York Jets: F

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    Just when it appeared that the New York Jets, despite their 3-4 record, were starting to play with more confidence, Rex Ryan’s team failed to answer the bell in a big way.

    With a chance to not only bounce back from last week’s overtime loss at New England but wrap up a season sweep of the Dolphins, the Green and White turned red in embarrassment via a 30-9 home loss to Miami.

    Although quarterback Mark Sanchez did his share of damage via a pair of turnovers, the New York special teams were apparently asleep at the wheel during this outing. The Jets weren’t prepared for an early onside kick and had a punt and a field goal blocked, the former for a touchdown and all in the first half.

    It is doubtful Ryan wants Sanchez attempting 54 passes and New York’s struggling quarterback was sacked four times. And despite the fact that the Jets defense knocked starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of the game, the Dolphins back up performed just fine.

    Unfortunately, which is more than can be said for Ryan and company.

Oakland Raiders: B+

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    Arrowhead Stadium is becoming a very enjoyable place for the Oakland Raiders to play.

    On Sunday, the Silver and Black defeated the Chiefs, 26-16, defeating them in Kansas City for the sixth consecutive season. For Dennis Allen’s team, it was a second straight win following a 1-4 start.

    And speaking of defense, Allen’s forte, the Raiders limited their hosts to 299 total yards and a single touchdown while forcing four turnovers and totaling three sacks of quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel, the former shel.

    Running back Darren McFadden ran 29 times for 114 yards, and the wideout duo of Denarius (Moore) and Darrius (Heyward-Bey) each caught touchdown passes from quarterback Carson Palmer, who did throw an interception to former Raiders corner Stanford Routt, but stayed pretty clean for roughly three hours as the Raiders signal-caller was not sacked on the afternoon.

    Now, let’s see if Palmer, McFadden and company can continue to ride this momentum a week from now vs. the Buccaneers.

Philadelphia Eagles: C-

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    Well, at least they didn’t turn over the football.

    Of course, the Philadelphia Eagles also didn’t have the football as much as the visiting Atlanta Falcons, who scored three touchdowns on their first three possessions and rolled to a convincing 30-17 win over Andy Reid’s slumping team.

    The Philadelphia defense had no answers for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 22-of-29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia offense generated only one play of 20 or more yards as Michael Vick hit on 21-of-35 passes but for only 191 yards.

    And while Eagles defenders finally recorded a sack for the first time in four games, it wasn’t enough to rattle Ryan, who completed passes to seven different players.

    Since defeating the Giants in Week 4, the Eagles have not lost three straight games. But after close setbacks to the Steelers and Lions, Reid’s club looked overmatched from the start.

    And it’s anyone’s guess where these Birds are headed from here.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A-

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    Something clicked a week ago in the second quarter when the Pittsburgh Steelers were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals, 14-3.

    And after rallying for a road win, the clicking continued in the Steel City.

    Mike Tomlin’s team was very impressive in a 27-12 victory over the Washington Redskins. The Steelers offense rolled up 355 yards, including 140 yards rushing, and Ben Roethlisberger was sharp, throwing for 222 yards and three scores. Pittsburgh played turnover-free football and the Steelers quarterback was not sacked.

    On the other hand, Dick Lebeau’s defensive unit held the league’s top-ranked ground attack to a season-low 86 yards and made things interesting for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Pittsburgh defense did get a big assist from a Washington receiving corps that dropped passes at an alarming rate.

    Back to that ground attack, as running back Jonathan Dwyer totaled 107 yards, the second straight week the Georgia Tech standout topped the century mark.

    By afternoon’s end, Tomlin’s team had put a stamp on the team’s first two-game winning streak of the season in arguably the team’s most complete performance of this young season. 

St. Louis Rams: D+

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    Jeff Fisher’s team wasted little time in getting the jump on the New England Patriots in jolly old England.

    But the St. Louis Rams head coach wasn’t laughing by game’s end.

    After opening the scoring with a 50-yard touchdown pass via Sam Bradford to Chris Givens and taking a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game, it was all downhill from there as the Rams pass rush failed to sack Tom Brady, who threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns.

    And the St. Louis defense also missed the mark on the Patriots running game as Stevan Ridley and company ran for 152 yards.

    Meanwhile, the Rams score was the team’s only points in the 45-7 loss and were five less than the 12 penalties St. Louis was flagged for in the game.

    Fortunately for Fisher and company, they have an extra week to lick their wounds following a very humbling defeat.

San Diego Chargers: D

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    While the San Diego Chargers know you can’t fight Mother Nature, apparently, they didn’t have enough fight to outlast the Cleveland Browns as well.

    In one of those ugly, grind-‘em-out kind of games in rough weather in Cleveland, Norv Turner’s team failed to score a touchdown and came up a point short, 7-6. It was the third straight loss and fourth defeat in five games for the Bolts, whose 2-0 start has become a distant memory.

    The Chargers had some success running the football against the Browns defense as Ryan Mathews totaled 24 carries for 95 yards, the majority of the team’s 117 yards on the ground. But Mathews also lost a fumble in the first quarter. And in the not-so-great conditions, running back Ronnie Brown proved to be Philip Rivers’ top pass-catcher on the afternoon, the veteran pulling down seven receptions for 85 yards.

    Still, the Browns had to play in the same weather, and while that may be apples and oranges, the fact remains that Cleveland found a way to win.

    And Turner’s team found another way to lose.

San Francisco 49ers: A

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    It appears that all is well and good for the San Francisco 49ers once again.

    Thanks to their ground attack, some extremely accurate passing from quarterback Alex Smith and a defensive unit that highly discouraged the Arizona Cardinals from running the football, Jim Harbaugh’s team heads into its off week on its game.

    The Niners 24-3 win in the desert came 11 days after a 13-6 home victory over the Seattle Seahawks, meaning that the team had not only rebounded from that Week 6 loss to the Giants but sent a message to a pair of divisional foes.

    All told, Jim Harbaugh’s club has not allowed a touchdown in four of its last five games and allowed a grand total of 38 points, 26 in the setback to the defending Super Bowl champions and a mere 12 in the other four contests.

    Back to Monday night, when the Cards running game totaled nine attempts and wound up with seven yards on the ground. And Smith was outstanding, completing 18-of-19 throws for 232 yards and three scores, despite being sacked four times.

    It wasn’t a perfect performance by the defending NFC West champions. But it proved to be somewhat close.

Seattle Seahawks: C+

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    Given the Seattle Seahawks defense combined with the sluggish performance of the Detroit Lions offense, it seemed like 52 points would be a high number in the Motor City.

    As it turned out, the No. 28 also proved to be a big figure for the Seahawks, as in the most points allowed by Pete Carroll’s team this season.

    The Seattle defense has surrendered only six touchdown passes in its first seven games this season, while Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had thrown for only five scores in six outings. But Detroit’s signal-caller threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, the last score coming with 20 seconds to play as Carroll’s club lost for the second straight week.

    It appeared as if it would be a big day for Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, whose 77-yard touchdown run gave Seattle a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.

    But the ‘Hawks ran for only 56 yards the rest of the afternoon. And while Russell Wilson threw for 236 yards and a pair of scores, a third-quarter interception led to a Stafford fourth-quarter touchdown run.

    It’s always tough to win on the road. But the fact that it was the Seattle defense that didn’t live up to the challenge was perhaps the most disappointing part of this loss.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A

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    Off a disappointing home loss to the Saints in which they blew a 14-point lead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be excused if they were a little down as they prepared for a Thursday night visit to Minnesota.

    Down but certainly not out.

    Greg Schiano’s team made it look somewhat easy at the Metrodome as the Tampa offense went through the Vikings like a hot knife through butter, rolling up 416 total yards in a 36-17 conquest of the Purple Gang.

    The stars were many, including quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw for 262 yards and three scores. But it was rookie running back Doug Martin with the eye-opening performance, totaling 214 yards from scrimmage (135 rushing, 79 receiving) that had the Minnesota defense on its heels.

    On the other hand, the physical Tampa defense took it to the Vikings, forcing three turnovers and sacking Christian Ponder three times.

    If Schiano’s team can string a couple of efforts like this together, it could be an interesting second half for this rebuilt club.

Tennessee Titans: C+

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    For the first time in eight games this season, the Tennessee Titans held a team under an opponent under 20 points.

    Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to prevent a fifth loss in eight weeks, as the Indianapolis Colts rallied for a 19-13 overtime victory.

    Following back-to-back wins over the Steelers and Bills, Mike Munchak’s club had a chance to reach the .500 mark if it could knock off the visiting Indianapolis Colts. And for the majority of the game, the Titans appeared to be on course for a third straight win, keeping Andrew Luck and company out of the end zone for better than three quarters.

    But after taking a 13-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, Tennessee’s defense allowed the Colts to mark 80 yards in 14 plays for the game-tying points.

    And in overtime, Jerry Gray’s unit allowed another 80-yard march, this time in only nine plays, as Luck connected on a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie runner Vick Ballard, who made the most spectacular of entrances into the end zone.

    All told, the disappointing Titans defense gave up 457 yards by game’s end, including 171 yards rushing. And despite allowing only 19 points, the inability to stop opponents from consistently moving the football has been a season long issue.

Washington Redskins: C

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    The good news for Mike Shanahan’s team is that after coughing up the ball four times in last week’s loss to the Giants, the Washington Redskins were turnover-free at Pittsburgh.

    Unfortunately, so were the Steelers.

    For the first time this season, the ‘Skins failed to run for at least 100 yards, totaling just 86 yards on the ground in a 27-12 loss to Pittsburgh. In fact, Washington had rushed for 120 or more yards in 11 straight games dating back to Week 14 of last season before Sunday’s performance in the Steel City.

    Meanwhile, the Redskins defense had few answers for Pittsburgh’s offense, which rolled up 355 yards. Jim Haslett’s defenders were unable to get to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and did not force a turnover. Big Ben threw for 222 yards and three scores and was rarely pressured throughout the game.

    On the other hand, while Robert Griffin III would complete less than 50 percent of his passes (16-of-34), you would need two hands to count how many drops the Redskins had on the afternoon. And you would be wise to use your own hands considering how many balls slipped through Griffin’s receivers.

    Still, the game didn’t lack for excitement, especially on the part of Griffin, who was called for offensive pass interference when running downfield on a trick play.

    But when it was all said and done, the Redskins “dropped” to 3-5.