Week 11 NFL Report-Card Grades for Every Team
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Need any further proof that the NFL is unpredictable as ever?
The two teams with the best record in the league, the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, had to scratch and claw their way to home wins over a pair of teams that were struggling, to say the least.
The Arizona Cardinals brought a five-game losing streak to the Georgia Dome, while the Jacksonville Jaguars were in the midst of a six-game skid as they arrived at Reliant Stadium.
While Atlanta needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to deal the Cards their sixth loss in the row, Gary Kubiak’s club came from way back in the final minutes of regulation and eventually took care of business in overtime.
No matter how many times you say it, there are no cakewalks in this league (although a team may wind up winning going away).
So here we go with this week’s grades, as each team has now played 10 games. Always remember that these marks are based on a number of factors, not just wins and losses and final statistics.
And as usual, these marks are for this week’s contest and not the team’s overall performance in 2012.
For those worried that their teams aren’t making their grade point average, there’s still some time before finals week.
Note: Bye teams (Vikings, Giants, Seahawks, Titans) will not be included in this slideshow.
Arizona Cardinals: C+
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Despite catching almost as many passes from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as they did their own teammates, the Arizona Cardinals couldn’t avoid a sixth straight loss.
Ken Whisenhunt would replace starting quarterback John Skelton (2-of-7 for six yards) with rookie Ryan Lindley. But when all was said and done, the Cards were dealt a 23-19 loss at the Georgia Dome and squandered a 13-0 first-quarter lead in the process.
Entering the game, the Cardinals were averaging a league-low 76.2 yards per game on the ground. But in the first half alone, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The third-string back wound up with 127 yards on 22 carries.
Whisenhunt’s team totaled six takeaways on the afternoon, including five interceptions of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (three in the first quarter). But Skelton and Lindley teamed to complete only 11 of their 27 passes for 70 yards, and a second-quarter fumble by Lindley that was returned 15 yards by Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux would change the momentum of the game.
It was certainly a savvy effort by the slumping Cardinals. However, it was another step backwards for a team that opened the season 4-0.
Atlanta Falcons: C-
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You can always tell a lot about a team when things aren’t so good. And it was going to be interesting to see how the Atlanta Falcons responded to their first loss of the 2012 season.
Mike Smith’s escaped with a 23-19 victory over the visiting Arizona Cardinals. Perhaps there's no better way to describe the victory. After throwing only seven interceptions in his first nine games this season, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was picked off three times in the first quarter and five times by game’s end.
Atlanta entered the game with only eight turnovers this season, but committed six vs. the Cards. But it was an Arizona turnover that got the Falcons back on track, as defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux returned a fumble by Cardinals rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley 15 yards for a touchdown.
Ryan would wind up with 301 yards passing, but he did not throw for a score. And the Atlanta ground game was nonexistent once again, totaling just 58 yards on 24 carries. Michael Turner’s one-yard touchdown run with less than seven minutes to play proved to be the difference.
At 9-1, the Falcons have wrapped up a fifth straight winning campaign. But given the team’s 8-0 start, much more will be expected as we get deeper into the season.
Baltimore Ravens: B
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
The Baltimore Ravens are beginning to feel very much at home at Heinz Field.
The team’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010 AFC Divisional playoffs aside, John Harbaugh’s club has now won each of its last three regular-season appearances in the Steel City. And each of those victories has come by exactly three points.
The Ravens' hard-hitting 13-10 prime-time victory saw quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense limited to 200 total yards while not scoring a touchdown. Fortunately for Harbaugh and company, kick returner Jacoby Jones remained hot, taking back a punt 63 yards for a score in the first quarter, his third kick return for a score in the past five weeks.
And fortunately for Baltimore, the team’s much-maligned defensive unit did its job. Led by a very physical secondary (see: cornerback Corey Graham and safety Bernard Pollard), the Ravens punished Steelers pass-catchers all night. And while Harbaugh’s defense gave up 134 yards on the ground, it also came away with three turnovers and held Pittsburgh (playing without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) out of the end zone for the final 59 minutes of the game.
Ugly but effective. It all looks the same in the standings.
Buffalo Bills: B-
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
At first glance, the Buffalo Bills' 19-14 Thursday night win over the Miami Dolphins looked anything but special.
In actuality, it was nothing but special.
Chan Gailey’s team used a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Leodis McKelvin less than two minutes into the game and four field goals by placekicker Rian Lindell to end a three-game losing streak for the season and an eight-game skid vs. AFC East rivals.
Despite not scoring an offensive touchdown, it was another typical performance by the up-and-down Bills in a winning effort. Buffalo held its guests to 184 total yards, sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times and forced three turnovers.
Gailey’s squad has now allowed just 61 points in four victories this season, compared to an astounding 238 points (21 or more in each contest) in a half-dozen setbacks. And 17 of the 23 sacks by the Buffalo defense have come in the wins over the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals and Dolphins.
Still, it was far from a banner night for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and company, as the offense managed just 281 yards on the evening. But that included 120 yards on the ground, and the team did not commit a turnover.
At 4-6, it will be quite a climb if the Bills still have any plans on ending the league’s longest current playoff drought (1999). But you have to start somewhere.
Carolina Panthers: C
After winning four of the final six contests last season, the Carolina Panthers appeared to be making a little progress and anxiously awaited 2012.
Following their eighth loss in 10 outings this season, Ron Rivera’s club is making a habit of finding ways to lose games.
Owners of a 21-10 lead with six minutes to go in regulation, the Panthers allowed the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers to tie the score with 12 seconds remaining in regulation, and then watched as their division rival marched down the field in less than five minutes in overtime and scored the game-winning touchdown.
Carolina’s 27-21 loss to the Bucs marked the sixth time in their eight setbacks that it had lost by six points or less. And even more frustrating was that it had turned over Greg Schiano’s team three times, returning a Josh Freeman drive 74 yards for a score (via Captain Munnerlyn) as Carolina wiped out a 10-0 first-quarter deficit courtesy of three straight touchdowns.
But the Panthers defense proved to be the team’s undoing once again. The Buccaneers rolled up 403 total yards, and rookie running back Doug Martin ran through Carolina defenders for 138 yards on 24 carries.
In what may shape up as a fascinating finish in the NFC South, the Panthers already appear to be in hibernation.
Chicago Bears: C-
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In 2011, we saw the Chicago Bears minus quarterback Jay Cutler for the final six weeks of the season, and it was one factor in a 1-5 finish for Lovie Smith’s team.
And while many will jump to conclusions that backup Jason Campbell wasn’t up to the task in Monday night’s 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the fact is that Bears signal-caller wasn’t up much at all.
Chicago’s offense totaled just 143 yards, and Campbell was sacked six times as 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, with 5.5 of those traps, spent more time in the backfield than the Bears quarterback.
However, the real issue here was Lovie Smith’s defensive unit, which was taken apart by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The San Francisco offense rolled up 17 points and 207 yards on its first three possessions alone, finishing the night with 355 total yards.
Kaepernick’s arm was the big factor in San Francisco’s fast start. The second-year pro found tight end Vernon Davis and wideout Kyle Williams for big gains early as he sliced up the Chicago defense.
Meanwhile, the usually opportunistic Bears failed to force a turnover for the first time all season. This from a team that totaled 30 takeaways and came up with at least a pair of turnovers in each of its first nine games.
Give credit where credit is due; the 49ers played a superior game on both sides of the football. And if you’re truly inclined to point the finger of blame, you may need to use both hands.
Cincinnati Bengals: A
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At least the Cincinnati Bengals' roller-coaster season is currently headed uphill.
Marvin Lewis’ team followed up last week’s impressive 31-13 win over the New York Giants with a very efficient 28-6 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bengals scored touchdowns on three of their six first-half possessions, taking a 21-6 lead into intermission. Cincinnati rolled up 248 total yards in the first 30 minutes (and finished with 409) while holding the Chiefs to 284 for the entire game.
After being picked off at least once in each of his first eight games this season, quarterback Andy Dalton was interception-free for the second straight week. One of his two touchdown passes went to wideout A.J. Green, who scored for the ninth consecutive game, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis totaled 101 of the team’s 189 yards rushing. And the second-year signal-caller also ran for a touchdown.
There’s still plenty of football remaining, and at 5-5, Lewis’ club is still obviously very alive in the chase for a playoff berth. With a few more efficient performances like we’ve seen the last two weeks, this team will find a way to grab a postseason invite.
Cleveland Browns: C+
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The Cleveland Browns snatched defeat from the jaws of victory not once, but twice on a frustrating afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.
Owners of a 13-0 lead in the third quarter and a 20-17 advantage with 1:07 to play, Pat Shurmur’s team would give up a game-tying field goal with two seconds to play and another midway through overtime in a 23-20 setback to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the 12th straight road loss for the Browns, dating back to last season.
Rookie running back Trent Richardson ran 28 times for 95 yards, outgaining the Cowboys themselves (63) in rushing yardage. And quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 210 yards and a pair of scores without an interception.
Even the Cleveland defense stepped to the forefront. Besides holding down the Dallas running game, Browns defenders sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo seven times.
But Romo also threw for 313 yards and a score and led his team to 17 fourth-quarter points.
And unfortunately for Shurmur and company, another three points in overtime.
Dallas Cowboys: C+
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Who would have ever thought that winning two games in a row could be that difficult?
These days, the Dallas Cowboys can’t seem to do anything the easy way.
At least they got it done, scoring 20 of their 23 points in the fourth quarter (17) and overtime (three) as Jason Garrett’s club rallied for a 23-20 victory.
And yes, it’s the first time since last November (when Dallas won four straight games) that the Pokes have strung together consecutive victories.
It was a struggle all afternoon, as Jason Garrett’s team trailed 13-0 at the half. And after taking a 17-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Cowboys found themselves behind with just over a minute to play.
But Dan Bailey connected on a pair of clutch field goals, one with two seconds to play and another in the extra session, to love Dallas within one game of the New York Giants in the NFC East.
Despite being sacked seven times, quarterback Tony Romo threw for 313 yards and a score, with nearly half of those yards (145) and that touchdown courtesy of Dez Bryant, who caught 12 passes on the afternoon.
With the Redskins coming to town on Thanksgiving, we’ll soon find out if this truly the early stages of a turnaround for Garrett and company.
Denver Broncos: B
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For the majority of the afternoon in the Mile High City, you felt that the Denver Broncos were in control of their second meeting of the season with the San Diego Chargers.
And yet while John Fox’s team never quite put the Bolts away, the Broncos did wind up securing a 30-23 victory, completing a sweep of their divisional rivals and opening up a three-game lead in the AFC West.
Peyton Manning threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw a pick-six that gave the Chargers a 7-0 first-quarter lead and was sacked for a safety in the third quarter.
But Manning settled in, and his 25 completions went to nine different players, with Brandon Stokley, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker all catching touchdown passes.
Willis McGahee ran for 55 yards before leaving with an injury, but the Broncos still managed to roll up 133 yards on the ground against one of the better run defenses in the league.
And the Denver defense once again enjoyed a big outing against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who was picked off twice, lost a fumble and was sacked four times, three by outside linebacker Von Miller.
As the win total grows, the stakes are getting higher in the Mile High City.
Detroit Lions: C
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With a chance to get back to the .500 mark, as well as ring up a rare win over their longtime divisional rivals from Green Bay, the Detroit Lions came up empty in both opportunities.
Jim Schwartz’s club allowed the Packers to score 10 points in the final 1:55 of the game and turned a 20-14 lead into a 24-20 setback.
A lot of the Lions' wounds were self-inflicted, as quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 266 yards and a score, but he committed three of his team’s four turnovers on the afternoon, with one of his two interceptions returned 72 yards for a score.
Stafford, who completed less than half of his pass attempts (17-of-39), was also sacked five times by a Green Bay pass rush minus standout linebacker Clay Matthews.
A playoff team a year ago, the Lions are not only 4-6 and in last place in the NFC North, but they are winless in four games vs. divisional rivals in 2012. And that’s going to make it awfully tough to get back to the “pack” (or the Bears and Vikings) in what's arguably the league’s most competitive division.
Green Bay Packers: B
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Hello again, Randall Cobb.
And welcome back, Jermichael Finley.
The duo combined for 12 of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 19 completions and 140 of his 236 yards passing, each scoring a touchdown in the Green Bay Packers' 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions in the Motor City.
Despite being sacked three times and throwing an interception, Rodgers saved his best for when his team needed him most. Down 20-14 with less than five minutes to play, the reigning MVP led his club 82 yards on six plays in 2:30, capping the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cobb with 1:55 remaining.
Mike McCarthy’s team was extremely balanced when it came to play-calling: Rodgers dropped back 30 times, which was complemented with 29 rushing plays.
But give the battered Packers defense their due. Playing without Clay Matthews and once again without Charles Woodson, Green Bay forced four turnovers, including a pair of Matthew Stafford interceptions (one of those returned 72 yards for a score by safety M.D. Jennings), and sacked the Lions quarterback five times.
It’s going to be an interesting final six games for McCarthy and company.
Houston Texans: C
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Sometimes, you have to survive a clunker in order to prove that you’re not a one-trick pony.
The defensively sound Houston Texans needed every one of quarterback Matt Schaub’s 527 passing yards in the team’s wild 43-37 overtime win over the extremely game Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars had won just once, and Gary Kubiak’s team had lost just once entering Sunday’s contest. But that looked like it was about to change when Mike Mularkey’s club opened up a stunning 34-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
But the Texans would roar back behind Schaub and wideout Andre Johnson, who caught 14 passes and whose 273 receiving yards was the ninth-highest single-game total in NFL history. And Johnson’s catch and run for 48 yards in overtime was his only touchdown of the game, but obviously his most important reception.
Houston piled up 640 yards of total offense. But the real surprise was the performance of the Jaguars and backup quarterback Chad Henne, who was sacked just once but threw for 354 yards and four scores against Houston’s usually tough defensive unit.
However, despite a pair of interceptions, Schaub responded with five touchdown passes of his own. And the co-owner of the NFL’s best record (9-1) dodged a major bullet as the Texans prepare to travel to Detroit and spend Thanksgiving with the Lions.
Indianapolis Colts: C-
David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
We’ll forego the obvious “bad luck” references here.
The truth is that quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts ran into a better football team in the New England Patriots, who scored almost every which way imaginable in a 59-24 victory.
It was a rough afternoon for the rookie signal-caller, who did throw for 334 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he committed all four of his team’s turnovers. That total includes three interceptions, two of which were returned for scores.
The Colts actually owned a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter before the roof caved in. New England scored two touchdowns in a span of 61 seconds via a punt return and the first of Luck’s pick-sixes, opening up a 21-14 lead that they never lost.
Despite the turnovers, Luck continues to look the part of a future star, and his command with his team is hard to ignore. But the Indianapolis defense has a long way to go, allowing 446 total yards by game’s end. And the Colts' kick coverage units surrendered an additional 211 yards on six punt and kickoff returns.
Chuck Pagano’s club played hard at Foxborough. Putting a positive spin on a 35-point loss is obviously easier said than done.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C
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The Jacksonville Jaguars put a season-high 37 points on the board against one of the league’s premier defenses.
It still wasn’t enough to prevent a seventh straight setback and the ninth loss in 10 games this season.
Mike Mularkey’s team fell to the Houston Texans, 43-37, in overtime. That’s because the Jaguars squandered a 34-20 fourth-quarter lead and would surrender 640 total yards by game’s end.
Midway through the third quarter, the Jaguars already had more points (27) in Houston than they did in any of their first nine games this season. Jacksonville entered the game ranked dead last in the league in points per game, but it had few problems lighting up the Texans defense.
That’s because quarterback Chad Henne, who took over for injured starter Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter, would go 16-of-33 passes for an impressive 354 yards and four scores. Rookie wideout Justin Blackmon awoke after a season-long slumber, catching seven passes for 236 yards and a score.
Despite those imposing numbers, Henne’s and Blackmon’s performances were topped by Matt Schaub and veteran Andre Johnson, the former throwing for 527 yards and five touchdowns (two interceptions), while the latter rolled up 273 yards and a touchdown on 14 receptions.
Unfortunately, in this game of “Can You Top This?”, the Jaguars wound up on the short end once again.
Kansas City Chiefs: D
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Although Romeo Crennel’s team fell short a week ago at Pittsburgh, the 16-13 overtime setback to the Steelers may have sparked some confidence.
Well, so much for that theory.
In what proved to be another ugly afternoon for the tenants of Arrowhead Stadium, the Cincinnati Bengals handled the Kansas City Chiefs, 28-6. The loss meant that Crennel’s club remained winless at home this season.
While it wasn’t the usual turnover-plagued performance that has been the signature of the Chiefs in 2012, they did manage to cough up the football once, keeping this season’s ominous streak of at least one turnover in each game alive.
One of the culprits was the Kansas City defense, which allowed 409 total yards. And 129 of Cincinnati’s 189 yards rushing came in the first half.
On the other hand, the Chiefs never found the end zone, and quarterback Matt Cassel and the offense couldn’t stay on the field, owning the ball for less than 25 minutes while finishing a dreadful 1-of-11 on third-down efficiency.
Unfortunately, there was once again plenty of blame to go around for one of the league’s major disappointments this season.
Miami Dolphins: C-
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A few weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins had emerged as one of the surprise teams in the league and one of the better stories in the NFL.
Three consecutive losses later, Joe Philbin’s team is now closer to the bottom of the AFC East standings than the top.
The Dolphins' 19-14 Thursday night loss to the Buffalo Bills saw the team struggle to move the ball for the second straight game. Joe Philbin’s club has totaled only 37 points in its last three outings, and in Miami’s last two contests, the offensive unit has managed only a single touchdown.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked three times Thursday night and served up two more interceptions, giving him five picks in the last two games. All told, Philbin’s squad totaled three turnovers vs. the Bills just four days after coughing it up four times in that 34-point home loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Miami’s ground game was held to a mere 60 yards, marking the seventh straight game that the team failed to rush for at least 100 yards.
But perhaps the telling number of the night was the fact that Marcus Thigpen scored the Dolphins' first touchdown via a 96-yard kickoff return. Miami’s offense would total 184 on 55 plays.
There could be a little tweaking ahead during the team’s extended time off.
New England Patriots: A+
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Coaches in the National Football League will often talk about hidden yardage in reference to turnovers, penalties and even special teams on occasion.
The only entity looking to hide on Sunday at New England may have been the Indianapolis Colts.
Bill Belichick’s team put one on its longtime conference rival courtesy of a 59-24 win in which the Patriots tied the franchise record for points in a game.
While the New England offense rolled up 446 yards, the Pats also returned a half-dozen kicks for 211 yards, including a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman. The defense nabbed three interceptions of quarterback Andrew Luck and totaled 166 yards, including scores of 59 (Aqib Talib) and 87 (rookie Alfonzo Dennard) yards.
Don’t forget quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns as this club played turnover-free football for the third straight game.
Yes, the Patriots surrendered 448 total yards and still have question marks on the defensive side of the ball. But when it was all said and done on Sunday, the Colts were simply overwhelmed by a team that usually plays its best football during the second half of the season.
New Orleans Saints: A-
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Forget marching in. The New Orleans Saints are simply rolling.
With the team’s 0-4 start but a distant memory, the Cajuns have now won five of their last six contests courtesy of Sunday’s 38-17 dismantling of the Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Drew Brees completed 20 of his 27 throws for 219 yards and three touchdowns, as the Saints did not commit a turnover, nor did they allow Brees to be sacked.
Meanwhile, the Saints gave up their usual 400-plus yards of total offense but limited the damage on the scoreboard. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Steve Spagnuolo’s defenders stole two of his passes, with one returned 55 yards for a score by safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Now at 5-5, the Saints are clearly back in the postseason hunt. But it will still be a difficult climb what with a handful of surprise teams such as the Buccaneers, Vikings and Seahawks (all 6-4) are very much in the mix as well.
In the mix. Those are the kind of words head coach Joe Vitt could get use to in a hurry.
New York Jets: B+
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For the first time in four games, the New York Jets could celebrate a victory.
But didn’t it seem like a lot longer than that?
With all the D-R-A-M-A that surrounds the team, things always appear dire when it comes to the Green and White these days. But Rex Ryan’s club was efficient in its 27-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams, and the Jets will hope to take some of that momentum into Thursday night’s Thanksgiving showdown with the Patriots.
The Jets basically ran twice as much as they threw against Jeff Fisher’s club and played turnover-free football as well. And Rex Ryan’s team came up with three St. Louis miscues as the Green and White snapped an ugly three-game losing streak in which they had been outscored a combined 87-42.
It was also a solid day for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who went 15-of-20 for 178 yards and a score. And despite being sacked three times, the much-maligned signal-caller appeared in control.
Now, we’ll see if Ryan’s team can do this two times in a row.
Oakland Raiders: D-
The differences between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers are miles apart these days, at least in one major regard.
The Niners remain one of the better defensive units in the league, surrendering only 127 points in their nine games this season.
The Silver and Black are slightly more generous. In their last three contests, the Raiders have given up 135 points, including 38 on Sunday in a 21-point setback (38-17 to the surging New Orleans Saints).
The Raiders fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and never caught up. And despite another 300-plus-yard passing performance and a pair of scores from quarterback Carson Palmer, the one-time Heisman Trophy winner also served up two more interceptions, with one of those returned 55 yards for a score. Palmer has now committed 31 turnovers in 20 games with the Raiders dating back to last season.
Following back-to-back wins over the Jaguars and Chiefs, Allen’s club has now lost three straight and finds itself four games out of first place with six weeks to play.
And barring a miraculous turnaround, they're out of the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Philadelphia Eagles: F
Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
Perhaps the less said here, the better. And in case you’re wondering, the "F" above does not stand for Foles.
For Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles, it has gone from bad to worse to nearly hopeless.
With rookie signal-caller Nick Foles making his first NFL start, the Birds wound up spending plenty of time watching Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III make his 10th.
The Eagles defense allowed the rookie first-rounder to complete 14 of his 15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns, and he ran for more than half (84) of the team’s 169 yards rushing as Reid and company were humbled in D.C. by a 31-6 count.
The turnover issues continued for the Birds, as Foles threw a pair of interceptions while running back LeSean McCoy (who was injured in the game) lost a fumble. And Philadelphia failed to find the end zone in its sixth straight loss. Foles threw for 204 yards, but he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, was sacked four times, served up a pair of interceptions and also fumbled three times.
Four weeks into the season, the Eagles owned a one-game lead in the NFC East with a 2-1 mark. Seven weeks later, they’re all alone in the division basement courtesy of a 3-7 record.
Pittsburgh Steelers: C+
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Just 43 seconds into their Sunday night showdown with the Baltimore Ravens, it was the feet of quarterback Byron Leftwich that gave Mike Tomlin’s team a quick 7-0 lead.
Unfortunately, his arm didn’t have the same kind of plans.
The one-time Jacksonville Jaguars standout hit only 18-of-39 attempts for 201 yards and a crucial interception (part of three Steelers turnovers) in a 13-10 loss to their bitter division rivals.
The Steelers are now 11-2 in their last 13 home games dating back to start of 2011 season, with both of those losses to the Ravens.
While Pittsburgh nearly tripled the Ravens' ground game in terms of production (134-47), it also committed three times as many turnovers, including a fumble by wideout Mike Wallace that set up Baltimore’s first points of the evening.
Leftwich, filling in for injured starter Ben Roethlisberger but looking less than healthy, couldn’t replace the two-time Super Bowl champion in perhaps the area that has been a key to the team’s offensive success this season. Pittsburgh was just 5-of-17 on third-down efficiency, and despite owning the edge in time of possession, the Steelers could not make the big play when called upon.
Now, Tomlin’s team finds itself in a two-game hole in the AFC North and closer to the Bengals (5-5) than the Ravens (8-2) in the division standings. There’s work to be done, to say the least.
St. Louis Rams: C
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Last Sunday, the St. Louis Rams battled the San Francisco 49ers to a 24-24 stalemate.
This week, you get the sense that Rams head coach Jeff Fisher may be fit to be tied.
The Rams scored the first seven points and the final six points of their contest vs. the visiting New York Jets. But in between, Rex Ryan’s club totaled 27 of its own and forced St. Louis into three turnovers as Fisher’s team fell 27-13.
After opening the season at 3-2, the Rams are now winless in their last five games (0-4-1). And after limiting three straight opponents to 17 points or less, St. Louis has allowed 24 or more points in each of its last four games.
It was not a bad performance, per se, for quarterback Sam Bradford, who threw for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns (both to wideout Brandon Gibson) with one interception. But that yardage figure came on 23 completions, and 36 of those 170 yards came on a throw to receiver Austin Pettis.
With a 3-6-1 mark and just six games to go, the Rams’ postseason plans may not be very realistic. And it will be interesting to see what kind of role they actually play in deciding who wins the NFC West.
San Diego Chargers: C-
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Once one of his favorite teams to play, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers would probably be content if he never had to face the Denver Broncos again.
All jokes aside, the Bolts' 30-23 loss on Sunday in the Mile High City was the second to the Broncos this season, and it put Norv Turner’s team three games behind Denver with six to play. And since the Chargers were swept in the season series, it would take quite the set of circumstances for Turner’s club to capture the AFC West.
But back to Rivers, who continues to turn over the football at an alarming rate. Three more miscues brought his season total to 18, meaning that of the 50 turnovers committed by the Chargers dating back to last season, Rivers has 43 of them.
However, he’s saved his worst for the Broncos. For the second time this season, he committed all of his team’s turnovers when facing John Fox’s club. In two games vs. Denver, Rivers has coughed up the ball an astounding nine times.
And barring an incredible turnaround, the Chargers have squandered their chances of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
San Francisco 49ers: A+
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In a battle of NFC powers with both clubs featuring their second-string quarterbacks, the San Francisco 49ers made easy work of the Chicago Bears via a 32-7 win that will be labeled one of those obligatory “the game wasn’t as close as the final score indicates” events.
Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick made his first NFL start for head coach Jim Harbaugh. While we got a glimpse of him as a passer after he took over for injured Alex Smith in last week’s tie with the Rams, apparently the Bears defense wasn’t prepared for what was ahead.
Kaepernick finished the night by throwing for 243 yards, completing 16 of his 23 throws and connecting on touchdown passes to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. His 57-yard completion to Kyle Williams in the first quarter epitomized the confidence with which he threw the ball. San Francisco rolled up 207 yards and 17 points on its first three possessions.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco defense teed off on Bears quarterback Jason Campbell, with outside linebacker Aldon Smith totaling 5.5 of the team’s six sacks. The Niners held Lovie Smith’s team to 143 total yards.
Following last week’s stalemate with the Rams, Harbaugh’s club sent a major message with arguably their most complete performance of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B+
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For the first time in six games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to score at least 28 points.
It’s safe to say that head coach Greg Schiano was more than happy with the 27 the team put on the board.
Down 21-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Bucs refused to stop, scoring the final 17 points in the contest and coming away with an unlikely 27-21 overtime win over the stunned Carolina Panthers.
While quarterback Josh Freeman was picked off twice (part of three Tampa turnovers)—one of those returned for a score—he also hung in and led his team on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that took only 50 seconds.
Down 21-13, he connected with wideout Vincent Jackson on both a 24-yard score and the subsequent two-point conversion that sent the game into overtime. Freeman and company took the ball in overtime, and eight plays later, he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark.
Rookie running back Doug Martin chipped in with 138 vital yards rushing. But he also lost a fumble in the Bucs' uneven performance.
At 6-4, the Buccaneers get ready for their first of two meetings with the first-place Atlanta Falcons this week. It should be quite a measuring stick for Schiano’s ever-improving team.
Washington Redskins: A
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It was a fun afternoon in Washington for one of the league’s brightest new stars. And perhaps the Redskins will have something to say when it comes to the NFC East race after all.
With rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III completing all but one of his 15 pass attempts (good for 200 yards and four touchdowns), as well as Mike Shanahan’s team rolling up 169 yards on the ground on 34 carries (with Griffin accounting for 84 of those on 12 attempts), the Redskins not only a got a rare home win, but they snapped a three-game losing streak to the Eagles at FedExField thanks to a 31-6 triumph.
The win sets up a Thanksgiving Day showdown between the 4-6 Redskins and 5-5 Cowboys in the Lone Star State.
Jim Haslett’s defense took advantage of rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who completed less than half of his pass attempts (21-of-46). The Eagles' third-round pick also threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked four times as Washington snapped a three-game losing streak.
But let’s go back (or forward) to this upcoming Thursday. While Shanahan’s club is perhaps a longshot to reach the playoff even if they manage to win at Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Redskins own victories over the Saints, Buccaneers and Vikings in 2012.
And those wins may play a factor in the postseason chase when it’s all said and done.