Handing Out Game Balls for Every Game After NFL Week 10
Week 10 flipped the NFL on its head: Defense and special teams touchdowns seemed to outnumber offensive scores. With a lot of high-flying quarterbacks grounded by sacks and interceptions, a lot of high-octane offenses stalled out.
Many Week 10 games featured unlikely heroes—and unlikely goats.
Which teams' top performers turned in top performances? Which teams needed role players to step up, and had them win the day? Which teams needed role players to step up...and lost?
To see which players stayed on top of the topsy-turviest week the NFL has seen in a while, click "Next."
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
"Last Nail in the Coffin" Game Ball: Darius Butler, Indianapolis Colts
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck led the offense to a 17-point lead, but the Jaguars clawed a field goal back before halftime. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert hoped to narrow the margin to a single score in the second half, but Butler jumped a route and put the kibosh on the Jaguars' hopes for this game.
He also put the kibosh on the Jaguars' season—and perhaps the jobs of Gabbert, Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey and GM Gene Smith.
Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens
"Stanley Burrell 'Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em'" Game Ball: Joe Flacco, Ravens quarterback
By completing 21 of his 33 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns, Joe Flacco led an offensive bombardment the scope of which had never been touched in Baltimore. Of course, the too-legit defense played a big part, and superfreak returner Jacoby Jones added a 105-yard exclamation point in the fourth quarter.
But the 55-20 beatdown came mostly at the hands of Flacco. All the Raiders could do was pray.
Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers
"Serial Killer" Game Ball: Trindon Holliday, Broncos returner
For the second straight week, returner Trindon Holliday took one all the way to the house at a critical time—and for the second straight week, the Broncos took away the win.
For a guy who was cut in the middle of October, Holliday is slashing team after team wide open.
New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals
"King of the Jungle" Game Ball: Andy Dalton, Bengals quarterback
You might think lions are the kings of the jungle, but lions don't live in jungles. You might think there aren't any jungles in Ohio, but the Giants found out differently. They ran into a Bengal tiger named Andy Dalton, who shredded them for four touchdowns to four different receivers in a 31-13 win.
Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins
"AC/DC 'Back in Black'" Game Ball: Chris Johnson, Titans running back
As the season wears on, Chris Johnson seems to get stronger and stronger. This week, he faced a Dolphin defense that hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 23 games—and shredded them for 126 yards and a score on just 23 carries.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
"Barry Sanders 'You Can't Stop Him You Can Only Hope to Contain Him" Game Ball: Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back
After three quarters, the Lions had held Peterson to a measly 51 yards and were just six points behind his Vikings. But Peterson racked up 120 yards and the decisive score all in the final stanza, and he sealed a huge division win.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
"Zero out of 11 Ain't Bad; Actually, No, Wait Yes it Is" Game Ball: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback
It's tempting to give this game ball to Tom Brady for helping the Patriots offense stay ahead of the surprisingly prolific Bills. It's tempting to give this game ball to Devin McCourty for making the game-sealing interception.
Instead, I'm giving it to Ryan Fitzpatrick for getting the Bills within striking distance, then throwing an awful pick in the end zone to make it 11 straight heartbreaking losses in 11 tries for the Bills at Gillette Stadium.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
"Champagne Pop" Game Ball: Jimmy Graham, Saints tight end
It's well known that the NFL's only team to play an entire season without losing, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, celebrate with an annual champagne toast whenever the last undefeated team goes down. Graham's massive seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns proved to be the Falcons' undoing.
San Diego Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
"Opportunity Knocked, I Answered" Game Ball: Leonard Johnson, Buccaneers cornerback
Up by only three points early in the fourth quarter, the Bucs had to shut down a rally from Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Leonard Johnson did that, with style. When Rivers tried to turn a desperate rollout into a surprise first down, Johnson was there to poach the underthrown pass.
Not only that, Johnson hit the jets and rocketed 83 yards for the game-sealing score.
New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks
"Franchise Lynchpin" Game Ball: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks running back
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was clinical, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions on 19 attempts. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate both caught and threw a touchdown.
But there's no doubt who holds the Seahawks together: Lynch simply dominated the once-great Jets defense, muscling his way to 124 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Lynch, over 1,000 yards just past the season halfway mark, has quietly been one of the most valuable players in football.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
"Credit Where Credit is Due" Game Ball: Tony Romo, Cowboys quarterback
There are several Cowboys who deserve this game ball: Brandon Carr, Dwayne Harris and even Ernie Sims have claims on it. But Romo sparkled when this game was still in doubt, and for as often as he's taken the heat for his failures under pressure, he needs to get dapped up for this performance.
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
"Satisfactorily Unsatisfying" Game Ball: Everybody
Did Jeff Fisher or Jim Harbaugh hand out game balls after this miserable not-game came to its null conclusion? Let's hope not. A tie was the only fitting end to a ludicrous sequence of mistakes and unlikely lack of scoring in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Houston Texans at Chicago Bears
"Muddy the Mudskipper" Game Ball: Arian Foster, Texans running back
In a muddy, sloppy, nasty game with a zillion turnovers and head-slapping plays, only Arian Foster managed to keep his footing and make something happen. He and the Texans ground out a modicum of offense and got a well-deserved road win against a quality opponent.