Week 15 NFL Report-Card Grades for Every Team

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IDecember 17, 2012

Week 15 NFL Report-Card Grades for Every Team

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    When it was all said and done, it wasn’t one of your more competitive weeks of football.

    Only four of the 16 games played in Week 15 were decided by single digits. Meanwhile, seven of the remaining 12 games were decided by 21 or more points.

    There were three shutouts on Sunday, one by the team (Saints) that had given up the most yards in the league and another by the club (Raiders) that had allowed the most points in the NFL this season.

    And yet, in a league in which there have been at least five new playoff teams each of the previous 16 seasons, the seven clubs headed to the playoffs to date (Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Broncos, Packers, Falcons and 49ers) all earned invites to last year's postseason party.

    Given the lopsided nature of the week, you can expect to see a wide range of grades given out this week. As has been the case all season, they’re based on numerous factors, not just wins and losses, final numbers, margin of victory, etc.

    Once again, we have given out marks for this week’s performance and not a team’s overall play this season.

    Let’s see who did their homework this week.

Arizona Cardinals: B+

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    Is it really that simple?

    During their 4-0 start, the Arizona Cardinals scored at least 20 points in each game. But in losing their next nine games, Ken Whisenhunt’s club was held below that point total in each setback.

    On Sunday, the Cards finally ended their long skid with a 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions, thanks mainly to a defensive unit that was indeed offensive-minded.

    Arizona had scored just 42 points in its previous four contests combined. Whisenhunt’s team gained just 196 total yards vs. the Lions, but the Cardinals’ sideline leader did get 67 yards rushing and three touchdowns from running back Beanie Wells.

    Meanwhile, Ray Horton’s defenders picked off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford three times and returned those picks a total of 186 yards, including two for scores via safety Rashad Johnson (53 yards) and linebacker Greg Toler (102 yards).

    And the Cardinals had their first victory since defeating the Miami Dolphins, 24-21, in overtime way back in Week 4.


Atlanta Falcons: A+

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    Is everybody paying attention?

    All kidding aside, those critics of the Atlanta Falcons may have to eat a little crow (or at least nibble on a wing) after the team’s 34-0 shutout over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

    Coming off of a 30-20 loss at Carolina, Mike Smith’s team turned an early Eli Manning interception (courtesy of Asante Samuel) into a touchdown, as a Michael Turner blast helped give Atlanta a quick 7-0 lead.

    Moments later, quarterback Matt Ryan capped off a drive with a scoring pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez.

    Who knew that a 14-0 first-quarter advantage would be more than enough this day.

    Mike Nolan’s defense limited the Giants to 256 total yards and picked off Manning twice when all was said and done.

    But perhaps even more interesting was the fact that, for only the second time in 14 games this season, the Falcons totaled more rushing plays (38) than passing plays (29). That is the kind of game plan, along with some precision passing from Matt Ryan (23-of-28 for 270 yards and three touchdowns), that will win you a lot of games any time of the year.

Baltimore Ravens: C-

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    Can you say "reeling"?

    The Baltimore Ravens still own a one-game lead in the AFC North over the Cincinnati Bengals with just two games to play. But John Harbaugh’s team is now riding a three-game losing streak thanks to a 34-17 setback to the Denver Broncos that wasn’t as close as the final score may indicate.

    It was a rough afternoon for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who dropped back to pass more times than not. The fifth-year pro completed exactly half of his passes (20-of-40) for 254 yards and two scores, but he also turned over the ball twice, including a back-breaking interception that was returned 98 yards for a score by cornerback Chris Harris just 15 seconds before halftime.

    Meanwhile, running back Ray Rice totaled just 41 yards from scrimmage on 15 attempts, as Baltimore managed just 56 yards rushing by game’s end.

    Despite wrapping up a playoff berth on Sunday, the slumping Ravens have gone from strong contenders to head-scratchers in a very short time. But in a league where you can get hot at a moment's notice, who says Harbaugh and company can't recapture that fire sooner than later?

Buffalo Bills: D-

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    Simply put, there have been far too many of these afternoons for the Buffalo Bills in 2012.

    For the second time this season, Chan Gailey’s crew gave up at least 50 points, and for the third time this year, the Bills lost a game by at least 24 points.

    The 50-17 setback to the Seattle Seahawks saw Gailey and company down 31-17 at halftime and shut out 19-0 after intermission. And while the effort was there, the execution simply was not.

    Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 217 yards and a score, but he was picked off twice (one of those returned for a score). Running back C.J. Spiller ran for 103 yards and a touchdown.

    However, Dave Wannstedt’s defensive unit allowed 270 yards on the ground, as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rumbled for 92 yards and three scores.

    Seattle’s scoring outburst means the Bills have now given up at least 400 points in three straight seasons.

    Ouch, babe.

Carolina Panthers: A

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    Is better late than never good enough?

    Suddenly, the Carolina Panthers aren’t playing like one of the most disappointing teams in the league in 2012.

    Sunday’s 31-7 win over the San Diego Chargers featured another solid performance from quarterback Cam Newton, who threw for 231 yards and a pair of scores and has now thrown 10 touchdown passes without an interception in his last five games.

    Meanwhile, the usually vulnerable Carolina defense limited the Bolts to 164 total yards, sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers six times and forced him into a pair of turnovers.

    Finally, the Panthers’ ground attack rolled up 155 yards, which helped Ron Rivera’s team control the clock for an impressive 37:32.

    And with three wins in the last four weeks, the Panthers apparently plan on going out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Chicago Bears: C+

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    Was it predictable?

    Once again, the Green Bay Packers defense kept Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his team under wraps. Mike McCarthy’s team wrapped up the NFC North with a 21-13 win and, in the process, put playoff plans for Lovie Smith’s club in dire straits.

    It started out well for the Bears, as Cutler found old friend Brandon Marshall for a 15-yard score and a 7-0 second-quarter lead. But Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played turnover-free football, throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns (all of those scores to wideout James Jones).

    In eight games against the Packers dating back to 2009 (including the 2010 NFC title game), Cutler is now 1-7 vs. Green Bay, throwing eight touchdown passes and a disappointing 17 interceptions. And in two games vs. Green Bay this season, Cutler was sacked 11 times—5.5 of those by Clay Matthews, who had two of the four sacks on Sunday.

    Unfortunately for Chicago, all it could manage was a pair of Olindo Mare field goals in the second half. 

    A 7-1 start has now turned into five losses in six games for the fading Bears.

Cincinnati Bengals: B-

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    Call it ugly, but call it a big win for the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Three days after the team’s 34-13 Thursday night win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Marvin Lewis’ team found out that it was now within one game of the sharing the top spot in the AFC North thanks to the Baltimore Ravens’ 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

    But the victory at Philadelphia wasn’t a masterpiece. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for one score and ran for another, but he was sacked six times and lost a pair of fumbles. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Cincinnati totaled 157 yards rushing by night’s end.

    Meanwhile, the Cincinnati defense held the Birds to 42 yards on the ground, and Lewis’ club totaled five takeaways in the 21-point win.

    Regardless of what it looked like...

Cleveland Browns: C+

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    Riding a three-game winning streak, the Cleveland Browns had eyes on winning out the final few games of the season and, in the process, avoiding yet another losing campaign.

    But it didn’t turn out that way, as Cleveland’s usually tough defense gave up 38 points and 430 total yards in a 17-point loss to the Washington Redskins.

    Instead of facing rookie phenom Robert Griffin III, Pat Shurmur’s club squared off against another rookie in quarterback Kirk Cousins. But the Washington offense didn’t miss a beat, as Cousins threw for 329 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the ground game rolled up 122 yards.

    Meanwhile, it was a long day for the Browns’ rookie running back, Trent Richardson, who was limited to 28 yards rushing on 11 carries despite scoring twice. And while Brandon Weeden threw for 244 yards and a touchdown, he was picked off twice on the afternoon.

    It wasn’t a shock that Shurmur’s team came up short on the scoreboard. But the numbers on that scoreboard may have been a bit surprising.

Dallas Cowboys: A-

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    In recent seasons, Big D didn’t usually stand for December.

    But so far so good for Jason Garrett’s team down the stretch in 2012. Thanks to three straight wins during the final month of the year, the Cowboys find themselves tied for first place in the wacky NFC East.

    The Cowboys' 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers featured big plays from the offense, defense and special teams.

    With Pittsburgh leading 24-17 and wideout Antonio Brown on his way to a big play on a punt return, the Pokes forced a fumble that led to the tying touchdown courtesy of a three-yard run by DeMarco Murray.

    And in the extra session, standout cornerback Brandon Carr made a diving interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line, setting up Dan Bailey’s game-winning field goal.

    Quarterback Tony Romo was effective all day, throwing for 341 yards and two touchdowns while being sacked just once in Dallas’ important win.

Denver Broncos: A+

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    Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning continued his mastery of the Baltimore Ravens. And John Fox’s team continued its mastery of the National Football League these days.

    Denver’s impressive 34-17 victory was Manning’s ninth straight over the Ravens, including a pair of playoff wins, while the Broncos won a road game in this series for the first time.

    Manning threw for 204 yards and one touchdown, but the real kudos belong to running back Knowshon Moreno and a ground game that totaled 163 yards on 45 attempts (22 carries and 118 yards by Moreno). The running back's six-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave Denver a surprising 31-3 lead.

    Meanwhile, the Broncos defense limited the Baltimore ground game to 56 yards on 19 carries and forced quarterback Joe Flacco into a pair of turnovers.

    And thanks to nine straight wins (following a 2-3 start) and the Patriots loss on Sunday night, Manning and company are eyeing a higher seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Detroit Lions: D+

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    It wasn’t too terribly long ago that the Detroit Lions had managed to scratch and claw their way back to the .500 mark after a 1-3 start.

    Unfortunately, it’s been all downhill since, as Jim Schwartz’s club dropped its sixth straight game Sunday via a 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

    Detroit’s defense limited the Cards to 196 yards of offense, but Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed just 24 of his 50 passes for 246 yards and was picked off three times. Two of those thefts were returned for touchdowns.

    Wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught 10 passes for 121 yards and inched closer to Jerry Rice’s receiving yardage record, but Detroit wrapped up its 10th loss of 2012, marking the 10th time in 12 seasons that the Lions have lost double-digit games.

    A long year got a lot longer Sunday in the desert. And there’s still two weeks to go.

Green Bay Packers: A-

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    No harm, no foul.

    Those concerned with the possible ramifications of the Green Bay Packers' controversial 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks way back in Week 3 now know that it didn’t prevent Aaron Rodgers and company from wrapping up a playoff berth for the fourth straight season.

    Green Bay’s 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears gave Mike McCarthy’s team the NFC North title for the second straight year. The Packers defense held the Bears to 190 total yards, while Rodgers threw for 291 yards (23-of-36) and three touchdowns—all to wideout James Jones.

    McCarthy’s club was far from perfect, as both Randall Cobb and Ryan Grant lost fumbles and Rodgers was sacked three times. But the return of outside linebacker Clay Matthews offset those miscues, as he had two of the four sacks of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

    And while Alex Green was the team’s leading rusher on the day with 35 yards, the Pack totaled 113 yards on the ground on 32 attempts.

    It’s just the kind of game plan that works pretty well this time of the year.

Houston Texans: A-

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    It’s over. It’s all over.

    But it was far from easy.

    The Houston Texans’ 29-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts wrapped up a second straight AFC South title for Gary Kubiak’s team and kept them ahead in the race for the conference’s top seed.

    The stars came out for the Texans, who bounced back well after that 42-14 Monday night loss to the New England Patriots.

    Arian Foster rushed for 165 yards, Andre Johnson caught 11 passes for 151 yards and a score, and J.J. Watt had three of the five sacks of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

    For extra measure, outside linebacker Bryan Braman not only blocked a Pat McAfee punt, but he also returned the ball eight yards for a score in the second quarter to give Houston a 20-3 lead.

    The Colts made things interesting and closed to within 23-17 late in the third quarter. But when it was all said and done, they couldn’t prevent the Texans from closing the deal.

    A deal that could soon include home-field advantage for Kubiak and company.

Indianapolis Colts: B-

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    The young and improved Indianapolis Colts gave it their all, but they simply didn’t have enough to keep up with the best team in the AFC South, if not the conference.

    A 29-17 loss to the Houston Texans saw Andrew Luck and company with a game effort just when it looked like this young team was going to get blown out of Reliant Stadium.

    Still, the Indianapolis defense gave up 417 yards of total offense, while the Colts were limited to just 272. And the inability to stop Arian Foster, who rushed for 165 of the team’s 178 yards on the ground, eventually proved to be Indy’s undoing.

    Luck completed just 13 of his 27 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and he was sacked five times.

    The Colts are still in the driver’s seat to cap off their amazing season with a playoff invite. And their play in a losing effort shows how far they have come in a short time.

Jacksonville Jaguars: C-

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    While some will immediately point the finger at the Jacksonville Jaguars offense after the team's 24-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins, there was plenty of blame to go around.

    Mike Mularkey’s club failed to score a touchdown and totaled only 299 yards of offense in the loss. But that’s also because the Dolphins rolled up 389 yards by game’s end and had the ball for 35:38 of the contest’s 60 minutes. Miami ran for 180 yards, and the Jaguars pass rush sacked Ryan Tannehill just once.

    Quarterback Chad Henne threw for 221 yards but zero touchdowns (or interceptions) against his former team.

    Still, when it was all said and done, the Jaguars wrapped up their 12th loss of 2012, tying the franchise record in that regard, set way back during the team's debut season in 1995.

Kansas City Chiefs: F

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    Simply awful.

    Entering Week 15, no team in the NFL had allowed more points than the Oakland Raiders, with 402.

    So, how do you explain the Kansas City Chiefs gaining 119 total yards and being shut out by the Silver and Black, 15-0?

    It’s easy when your ground game gets you exactly 10 yards on 10 carries. It happens when quarterback Brady Quinn throws for 136 yards and an interception while being sacked four times.

    And when you give up 203 yards rushing on 45 carries and the Raiders have the ball for 40:06, it’s pretty easy to see how it happens.

    For the second time this season, the Chiefs did not allow a touchdown. But just as was the case in a 9-6 setback to the Baltimore Ravens, Romeo Crennel’s team failed to win this game.

    And unfortunately for Kansas City, this latest setback puts the team at 2-12—the fourth time in the last six seasons the franchise has lost at least a dozen games.

    Not much to say after that.

Miami Dolphins: B+

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    At the very least, the Miami Dolphins have equaled last season’s win total. And perhaps this team is on the verge of bigger and better things in the future.

    But that’s the future. Still, a 24-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars kept the team’s chances of avoiding a losing season in 2012 very much alive.

    With running back Reggie Bush totaling 104 of the team’s 180 rushing yards and Ryan Tannehill completing 22 of his 28 passes for 220 yards and two scores, Joe Philbin’s club bounced back smartly from consecutive losses to the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.

    Miami’s defense held the Jaguars to only 86 yards rushing and played ball control against old friend Chad Henne, who was sacked twice on the afternoon.

    The sky may not yet be the limit for these Dolphins, but things are certainly looking up for Philbin and company.

Minnesota Vikings: A-

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    With apologies to the rest of the Minnesota Vikings, it’s all about Adrian Peterson these days.

    That’s because the relentless runner has taken aim at the NFL rushing record (with plenty of help from his offensive line).

    Peterson ran 24 times for 212 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams. The six-year veteran has now rushed for a career-high 1,812 yards. And with two games to play, he is nearing Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s league record of 2,105 rushing yards, set in 1984 with the then-Los Angeles Rams.

    Much more significantly, the 8-6 Vikings are very much a factor in the NFC playoff race. Leslie Frazier’s team opened up a 30-7 halftime lead—quite the turnaround considering the team had scored just 45 points in its previous three games combined.

    With Peterson doing his thing, which included an 82-yard touchdown run for the second time in three weeks, the Vikings have become a must-watch for a lot of different reasons for the rest of the season.

New England Patriots: B

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    What a wild ride.

    Who would have ever thought that the New England Patriots would fall behind 31-3 to any opponent—and at home?

    Who would have ever guessed that Tom Brady and company would actually come back and tie the game at 31-all with more than six minutes to play?

    Alas, the above hypotheticals were reality on Sunday night at Foxborough against the San Francisco 49ers, who absorbed the Pats' rally and responded with the next 10 points in the game and eventually a 41-34 win over Bill Belichick’s team.

    New England ran an astounding 92 plays and gained 520 total yards. But in the less-than-ideal conditions at Foxborough, the Patriots committed four turnovers—quite the total for a team that had coughed up the ball just 10 times in its first 13 games.

    Brady completed 36 of his 65 passes for 443 yards and a score. But he also threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked three times.

    Even more interesting is the fact that of the Patriots’ four losses this season, three have come at the hands of NFC teams.


New Orleans Saints: A+

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    It appears that the New Orleans Saints picked this particular Sunday to take out their season-long frustrations on an opponent.

    And it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who wound up getting in the way.

    With more Bountygate discussion this week, the franchise was apparently determined to put the team’s performance on the front page, and it did just that, with a 41-0 blanking of the Buccaneers.

    New Orleans rolled up 447 yards of total offense, as quarterback Drew Brees threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns and Mark Ingram added 90 yards and a score on the ground. Meanwhile, the Saints' much-maligned run defense allowed just 67 yards rushing on the afternoon.

    Steve Spagnuolo’s unit picked off Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman four times—not bad considering the Tampa Bay signal-caller threw just eight interceptions in his first 13 games this season.

    It’s safe to say, a job well done by all.

New York Giants: D

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    Good luck explaining this one.

    Tom Coughlin’s club usually plays its best football about this time of the year, especially on the road.

    But the New York Giants lost a game at Atlanta for the first time since 1978 (snapping a seven-game road winning streak in this series).

    The 34-0 setback to the Falcons proved to be extremely damaging to the team’s playoff hopes.

    New York totaled just 256 yards of total offense, quarterback Eli Manning threw for just 161 yards and was picked off twice, and the Giants pass rush was ineffective. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went 23-of-28 for 270 yards and three scores and was sacked just once.

    Now, Coughlin’s team finds itself in a three-way tie for first in the NFC East with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. And those two teams are playing their best football of the season these days.

    Don’t go away.

New York Jets: F

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    Besides it being the appropriate grade, you could have some fun using the letter F to describe the New York Jets 14-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.




    How about five, as is five turnovers by quarterback Mark Sanchez, who had the most miserable of evenings in Nashville. Rex Ryan’s offense totaled just 253 yards, the majority of that on the ground (146 yards).

    But the Jets’ signal-caller was off the “mark” most of the night, completing just 13 of 28 passes for 131 yards and a score while also serving up four interceptions. And somehow fitting, Sanchez mishandled a low shotgun snap from center Nick Mangold in the closing minute of the contest with the ball on the Tennessee 25-yard line and a chance to steal the game.

    New York’s defense played pretty respectable football, although they did give up a 94-yard touchdown to Titans running back Chris Johnson. Tennessee totaled 200 yards the rest of the night and did sack Jake Locker four times.

    But while the Jets were committing a full handful of turnovers, Ryan’s team failed to come up with a takeaway on the night.

    As for the team’s faint playoff hopes entering the game?

    Forget it!

Oakland Raiders: B+

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    What an interesting way to end a six-game losing streak.

    After giving up the most points in the league through 14 weeks of play, the Oakland Raiders gave up zero points in a 15-0 win over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

    Sebastian Janikowski provided all the points that Dennis Allen’s team would need, but the veteran placekicker was far from a one-man show. Running back Darren McFadden amassed 110 of Oakland’s 203 yards on the ground, and quarterback Carson Palmer played turnover-free football.

    And as for the Raiders defense, the Chiefs gained 119 total yards, and quarterback Brady Quinn was sacked four times.

    Is this something for Allen’s club to build on? Let’s see how it handles these final two weeks.

Philadelphia Eagles: D+

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    Well, so much for the one-game winning streak.

    After a scintillating 23-21 last-second victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, which ended an eight-game losing streak, it was unfortunately business as usual for the Birds in 2012.

    Philadelphia’s 34-13 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals saw Andy Reid’s team commit five more turnovers—including four lost fumbles—produce only 42 rushing yards and be outscored 24-0 in the second half.

    It’s still hard to believe that the Eagles sat at 3-1 and alone in first place in the NFC East after four games. Now, Reid’s club, at 4-10, will be all alone in the divisional basement by season’s end.

    This season can’t end soon enough for these baffling Birds.

Pittsburgh Steelers: B

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    Following last week’s home debacle against the San Diego Chargers, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to play a good game against the Dallas Cowboys.

    Mike Tomlin’s team did just that. But thanks to a pair of crucial second-half mistakes, it just wasn’t good enough.

    The Steelers squandered a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead due in part to a special teams snafu (an Antonio Brown fumble on a punt return) and a Ben Roethlisberger interception in overtime, setting up Dallas’ game-winning field goal in a stinging 27-24 loss.

    Once again, the Pittsburgh ground game failed to make an impression, totaling just 69 yards on 17 carries. And while Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards and a pair of scores, he was sacked four times and did serve up that crucial interception.

    At 7-7, Tomlin’s club can still take a big step towards the playoffs with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday. But these Steelers are finding more ways to lose games these days than they are to win them.

St. Louis Rams: C-

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    I’m sure the followers of the St. Louis Rams are hoping they could somehow schedule more games within the NFC West.

    All jokes aside, Jeff Fisher’s team may be 4-0-1 vs. their divisional brethren, but the Rams fell to a disappointing 2-7 against the rest of the league, as they fell behind 33-7 in the third quarter en route to a 36-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

    While quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns, it took 55 pass attempts to do that. The third-year quarterback was also sacked four times, and his lone interception was returned for a touchdown.

    And the St. Louis ground game became a moot point after Fisher’s team fell behind, totaling just 87 yards on 18 carries.

    Speaking of carries, the Rams saw far too many from Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who gashed Fisher’s club for 212 yards rushing, including an 82-yard score.

    It’s been a year of progress in St. Louis. But there’s still plenty of work to be done in the Gateway City.

San Diego Chargers: F+

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    By the end of the first quarter in San Diego, you had the feeling it was going to be very long day for Norv Turner and company.

    After 15 minutes of play, it was Carolina Panthers 21, San Diego Chargers 20.

    As in 21 points for the Panthers and a mere 20 total yards for the Chargers.

    The 31-7 loss at home featured another sorry day for quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for just 121 yards and a score, was sacked six times and fumbled on four occasions—two of those resulting in turnovers. Turner’s team gained 164 total yards by game’s end.

    Meanwhile, the Panthers rolled up 155 yards rushing and got a pair of touchdown passes from Cam Newton, who finished with 231 yards passing.

    Simply put, it was a pretty sorry performance for a team coming off an impressive victory at Pittsburgh.

    Sorry indeed.

San Francisco 49ers: A-

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    For just the second time during the Jim Harbaugh era, the San Francisco 49ers gave up at least 30 points in a game.

    But for the second time in as many instances, Harbaugh and company wound up the winners.

    The Niners squandered a 31-3 third-quarter lead but rebounded with 10 crucial points and an eventual 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots at Foxborough.

    49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his issues, throwing for 216 yards and four scores. And he and his team had trouble in the cold, wet conditions on Sunday night. Kaepernick had four of the team’s six fumbles, and while he didn’t lose the ball in any of those instances, he did throw one interception.

    Speaking of losing the ball, the usually careful Patriots gave it up four times to the Niners defense, picking off Tom Brady twice and sacking him three times.

    Meanwhile, the 49ers’ ground attack roughed up the New England defense for 180 yards—83 by Frank Gore. And linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman totaled 11 tackles apiece and were impressive all evening.

    Although it was filled with anxious moments, the win was indeed satisfying for Harbaugh and his playoff-bound Niners.

Seattle Seahawks: A

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    When you start talking about scoring a combined 108 points in two games, the conversation usually involves the New England Patriots.

    But these days, it’s the Seattle Seahawks that have us oohing and aahing, thanks to a 50-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.

    Pete Carroll’s club rolled up 270 yards on the ground (on just 32 carries), thanks mainly to the combination of running back Marshawn Lynch (113) and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who offset his 205 yards passing (one touchdown) by running for 92 yards and three scores.

    The Seahawks picked up where they left off against the Arizona Cardinals. And when Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller ran for a touchdown in the first quarter, it ended an astounding 78-0 run by Carroll’s team dating back to a Week 13 touchdown drive in overtime against the Chicago Bears.

    Now, let’s see how many of those points they have saved for next week’s showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: F

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    Although there are still some big question marks on the defensive side of the football, scoring points has not been an issue for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

    So how do you explain a 41-0 setback to the defensively challenged New Orleans Saints?

    Greg Schiano’s running attack was grounded to a halt, limited to 67 yards on 19 carries.

    But it was quarterback Josh Freeman who had the forgettable afternoon. The fourth-year signal-caller threw for 279 yards and was picked off four times.

    It was quite the performance for Freeman, who had thrown 25 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions in his first 13 games this season.

    Meanwhile, four was the magic number for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who threw that many touchdown passes on his way to 307 yards through the air.

    A season that, in some ways, began with so much promise for the Bucs has now faded into a four-game losing streak.

Tennessee Titans: B-

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    With the New York Jets’ postseason possibilities the backdrop for Monday night’s tilt with the Tennessee Titans, Mike Munchak’s team opted to write their own script.

    It went something like “if we’re not going to the playoffs, neither are you.”

    Thanks to touchdown runs by running back Chris Johnson and Jake Locker, the former’s score covering 94 yards, the Titans hung on for a 14-10 victory.

    And hung on was the key to this game and something the Jets couldn’t do with the football. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw four interceptions and lost a fumble, the latter in the closing seconds following a shanked punt by Tennessee’s Brett Kern that set up Rex Ryan’s team on the Titans’ 25-yard line.

    Johnson finished with 122 yards rushing on 21 carries, meaning he was limited to 28 yards on his other 20 attempts on the night. And while the Tennessee defense did come up with those takeaways and sacked Sanchez three times, Munchak’s team did its best to undo the good they did via 14 penalties for 111 yards.

    Tennessee did play turnover-free football despite four sacks of Locker, who threw for 149 yards but did run for 43 yards and a score.

    It’s been a very disappointing season for the 5-9 Titans, who finished 9-7 a year ago. Perhaps a strong stretch run can wipe out the taste of a season gone bad.

Washington Redskins: A

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    It’s safe to say that the Washington Redskins have gotten plenty out of their 2012 draft class.

    With second overall pick Robert Griffin III shelved with a knee injury, fourth-round selection Kirk Cousins entered stage left and led the team to a 38-21 win over the Cleveland Browns, who had won their previous three games.

    But now it’s Washington with a five-game winning streak and a share of the NFC East lead (the team is tied with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants). Cousins threw for 329 yards and a pair of scores (one interception), both to wideout Leonard Hankerson, who was in his first NFL start. Fellow rookie Alfred Morris added 87 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

    While Browns rookie Trent Richardson did run for a pair of scores, he was limited to 28 yards rushing. And Washington’s defense gave up 244 passing yards to Brandon Weeden but also picked off the rookie quarterback twice.

    At 3-6, Mike Shanahan’s team was a question mark. Safe to say they look a “Hail” of a lot better these days, no matter who is playing quarterback.