Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 5
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All of us football fans could not wait for NFL 2013 to get here.
So what do you know? One fourth of the season is already gone.
It has left us with five undefeated teams and four winless clubs.
There have been some record-breaking performances as well as a few teams that can’t get a break.
There has been the occasional thriller, as well as Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (see Thursday night’s game).
Most of all it has already been a lot of fun.
Speaking of fun, it’s always fun to win. So here’s a look at each team’s key to victory this Sunday and Monday.
First, there’s a look back at the Cleveland Browns win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. And we will also review the season to date for the four teams off in Week 5.
Cleveland Browns 37, Buffalo Bills 24
We all know the statistic about teams that open the season 0-2 and their playoff chances.
They are not very good. And dating back to 2009, they have been impossible.
Over the past four seasons, there have been 30 occasions in which a team has opened the season with a pair of losses and none of those instances resulted in a postseason appearance.
Are the Cleveland Browns ready to make a playoff run? Who knows? But thanks to an exciting 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, there’s at least going to be some sort of discussion on the matter.
It certainly didn’t start out well for Rob Chudzinski’s team, which fell behind 10-0 after one quarter and lost quarterback Brian Hoyer. But Brandon Weeden would overcome five sacks to throw for 197 yards and a score and the Browns had their third straight win.
“I can't say enough about Brandon coming in, and in the situation he did, not having practice a lot this week, and being able to play the way he did and get the job done,'' Chudzinski said via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
Cleveland’s special teams and defense also found their way to the end zone on Thursday night as the Browns scored the final 13 points of the game.
Vikings (1-3), Steelers (0-4), Buccaneers (0-4) and Redskins (1-3): Off
Minnesota Vikings: At least Leslie Frazier’s team went into the off-week with a victory.
The Vikings finally got their first victory of 2013 as they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-27, in London, England.
But who will be the team’s starting quarterback when the team returns to action in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers.
If healthy, Christian Ponder is the man. There may be those who feel that given his performance against the Steelers, Matt Cassel is worthy of another start.
Then again, it all depends on Ponder’s health…we think.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The bad news for the Black and Gold is that the team is off to a 0-4 start for the first time since 1968. The good news for Mike Tomlin and company is that none of the other three teams in the AFC North have pulled away from the pack.
The numbers are pretty sad on both sides of the football. The Steelers have committed 11 turnovers and allowed 15 sacks in four games. And that big-play defense of the past has yet to force a turnover this season, the only team in the league without a takeaway in 2013.
As for that sacks allowed total, the team is hoping the addition of left tackle Levi Brown, obtained via trade from the Arizona Cardinals, helps immediately.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Greg Schiano’s team may not have a win in 2013. But the Buccaneers do lead the league when it comes to controversy and story lines.
One story that did not have a happy ending was the saga of quarterback Josh Freeman, released by the team on Thursday. The former first-round draft choice apparently fell out of favor with Schiano but obviously, there’s much more to the story then any of us will ever know.
What we do know is that rookie Mike Glennon will be making his second NFL start when the team returns to action in Week 6 versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington Redskins: Are we going to see a little déjà vu from the Redskins in 2013?
Last season, the team was three games under .500 (3-6) before winning seven straight and a division title for the first time since 1999.
This season, the Redskins dug themselves a 0-3 hole before defeating the Oakland Raiders last Sunday. And when they return in Week 6, they hope to make it two straight wins by beating the Cowboys in Dallas.
There have numerous reasons for the team’s slow start, including a defensive unit that finally showed some life at Oakland. Still, when you turn over the football a league-low 14 times last season, seven turnovers in four games in 2013 (five by quarterback Robert Griffin III) is a little disturbing.
Baltimore Ravens (2-2): at Miami Dolphins (3-1)
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Nine carries for 24 yards.
That’s sounds like a bad outing for Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce. Truth be told, it was the Baltimore Ravens’ team rushing numbers in last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Statistics like that are reminiscent of recent seasons when then-offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would mystify many with his imbalanced play-calling, most notably on the road.
This week, John Harbaugh’s team will be facing a Miami Dolphins defense that ranked 10th in the NFL versus the run, allowing 98.5 yards per game on the ground.
Look for Rice and Pierce to both test the Dolphins defense early and often. And don’t look for quarterback Joe Flacco to drop back to pass 54 times, as was the case versus the Bills.
Miami Dolphins (3-1): vs. Baltimore Ravens (2-2)
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He was the star attraction during the 2013 NFL free agency period.
So how come Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace ranks just fourth on his current team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (176) and has caught only one touchdown pass this season to date?
Perhaps the former Pittsburgh Steelers standout will break out against a familiar foe in the Baltimore Ravens, a team he faced at least twice a season for the past four years.
And you know what they say about familiarity.
In any case, Wallace himself is apparently a bit worried about his slow start.
Then again, perhaps a glance at Baltimore’s erratic defensive performance this season, especially away from home, may give Wallace a boost of confidence.
Detroit Lions (3-1): at Green Bay Packers (1-2)
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The last time the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers on the road was way back in 1991, a 21-17 victory at Lambeau Field.
Lions’ rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah was two-and-a-half years old. Isn’t that interesting? Ansah has 2.5 sacks this season.
You can’t make this stuff up. This Sunday at Green Bay, the emerging defenders will square off against Packers rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. The fourth-round draft choice in April was about three months old the last time the Pack lost at home to the Lions.
If Ansah can get to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on more than one occasion, perhaps the Lions can end another long road losing streak to an opponent for the second time in three weeks.
Green Bay Packers (1-2): vs. Detroit Lions (3-1)
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has eaten the Detroit Lions alive…sort of speak.
The prolific signal-caller has faced the Men from Motown on nine occasions and sports an 8-1 record versus the divisional rival.
In those nine games (the only loss coming in 2010 when Rodgers was knocked out of the game with a concussion), the Packers’ field general has thrown for 2,285 yards and 18 scores while being picked off only five times.
Rodgers has thrown for 300 or more yards in five of those outing and is personally a perfect 4-0 versus the Lions at Lambeau Field.
Then again, Detroit hasn’t won a road game in this series since 1991. It will be interesting to see if it’s business as usual in “Titletown” this Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4): at St. Louis Rams (1-3)
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Jacksonville Jaguars second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon is back following a four-game suspension by the NFL.
The question is will his return make a difference for an offense that has brought new meaning to non-existent.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon is back following a four-game suspension by the NFL.
The question is will his return make a difference for an offense that has brought new meaning to non-existent.
Head coach Gus Bradley has seen his team score only 31 points and a total of three touchdowns in four games. The Jaguars have been outscored a combined 75-8 in the first half this season.
Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have combined to throw one touchdown pass and seven interceptions while being sacked 18 times.
Now we’ll see if Blackmon’s return is “just in” time to salvage any kind of a respectable season. He takes aim at a St. Louis defense that has already allowed nine touchdown passes in four games.
And yes, that was pun intended.
St. Louis Rams (1-3): vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)
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Thanks to veteran running back Steven Jackson, the St. Louis Rams had the luxury of a 1,000-yard rusher for eight straight seasons from 2005-12.
After four games in 2013, the Rams are hoping their team finishes with at least 1,000 yards on the ground.
That may be a big of an exaggeration but to say Jeff Fisher’s ground attack is off to a slow start would be an understatement.
In four games this season, the Rams have rushed for a league-low 189 yards. A total of 24 players entered Week 5 with more yards on the ground, including Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (228) and Oakland Raiders signal-caller Terrelle Pryor (198).
But talk about the perfect matchup? The Jacksonville Jaguars, this Sunday’s opponent, is ranked dead last in the NFL versus the run, allowing a whopping 164.3 yards per game on the ground.
There may be no better opportunity for not only running back Daryl Richardson to get untracked but for the Rams to get their first rushing touchdown of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-0): at Tennessee Titans (3-1)
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Stop the presses. Alex Smith turned over the football last week.
Extra, extra, read all about it. Smith actually committed a pair of turnovers in the Kansas City Chiefs 31-7 win over the New York Giants.
The former number-one overall pick and one-time San Francisco 49ers signal-caller has been the right quarterback at the right time for a team that coughed up the ball 37 times and won two games in 2012.
Still, the Giants are a struggling football team and the Tennessee Titans are not. And while Smith’s two interceptions wound up costing his team nothing in the long run, he will have to do much better against a Titans team that has already totaled nine takeaways during the team’s surprising 3-1 start.
Tennessee Titans (3-1): vs. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
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Head coach Mike Munchak knows his improving team could easily be unbeaten.
Well, maybe not easily. But the Tennessee Titans capped off a strong September with a 38-13 win over the visiting New York Jets.
Still, that 30-24 overtime loss to the Houston Texans stings a bit considering the Titans owned a 24-16 lead with less than five minutes to play. That eight-point advantage was in part due to cornerback Alterraun Verner’s 23-yard interception return for a score in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of Verner, he is now tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions. Last Sunday, he totaled three takeaways in the win over the Jets and was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week.
This weekend, he will look to take away wide receiver Dwayne Bowe from Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith.
New England Patriots (4-0): at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)
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The New England Patriots are off to their best start since their fabled 16-0 regular season finish in 2007.
But Bill Belichick’s team, which has allowed only 57 points and five offensive touchdowns in four games, will now be missing a huge piece of the defensive puzzle with the loss of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
So get ready to get to know rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent from the University of Maryland. Last Sunday night versus the Atlanta Falcons, he finished with three tackles and a sack in the team’s 30-23 win.
This weekend, he will get an up-close and personal look at Cincinnati Bengals running backs BenJarvus Green Ellis and Giovani Bernard.
For his sake and the Pats as well, hopefully it won’t be too many looks.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-2): vs. New England Patriots (4-0)
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Now would be a good time for the Cincinnati Bengals defense of a year ago to make a re-appearance.
One way to beat the New England Patriots is to keep quarterback Tom Brady on the sidelines. The other is to keep him off his feet.
Marvin Lewis’ team not only finished sixth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed last season but ranked third in the league with 51 sacks. But to date we have seen an inconsistent Bengals defense, one that has produced just nine sacks in four games while giving up just as many offensive touchdowns (eight).
Getting Brady down won’t be easy. In 165 pass plays, the Patriots quarterback has been sacked only seven times. The feeling here is that Lewis’ club will probably need at least four sacks (and a takeaway or two) to get win No. 3.
New Orleans Saints (4-0): at Chicago Bears (3-1)
Anyone take a close look at what New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is doing in 2013?
The prolific passer has completed throws to nine different players, amassing 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns (four interceptions) in four games. But the numbers are a bit deceiving, as well as impressive.
All told, 50 of Brees’ 111 completions have gone to tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles, who have combined for more than half (735) of Brees’ yards. The duo has also combined for seven scores, six by the imposing Graham. And it’s worth noting that only two of Brees’ 10 touchdown passes have gone to wide receivers.
Hence, good luck to the Chicago linebacking corps on Sunday when the Saints come to town.
Chicago Bears (3-1): vs. New Orleans Saints (4-0)
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After allowing just three sacks in their first three games this season, the Chicago Bears saw quarterback Jay Cutler sacked three times in the team’s 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Still, it’s been quite a turnaround for a Bears offensive line much maligned in recent seasons. But with additions such as free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod, Chicago has made major strides in this area.
Thanks to the fine folks at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), we know that Bushrod has allowed just one sack in four games (Week 2 versus the Minnesota Vikings) but has permitted a dozen quarterback hurries.
It will be interesting to see how Saints head coach Sean Payton attacks his former employee.
Philadelphia Eagles (1-3): at New York Giants (0-4)
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It’s safe to say that Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has had his magical moments against the New York Giants.
Among the highlights are touchdown receptions of 54 and 60 yards and punt returns for scores covering 72 and 65 yards.
But those moments came in his first two seasons in the NFL. Wouldn’t you say it is time we saw a little more action from Jackson? Tim Coughlin’s club has totaled a mere four sacks while allowing 10 touchdown passes in four games this season. The Giants have already allowed 146 points this season and things could get much worse on Sunday.
New York Giants (0-4): vs. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3)
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Including a pair of playoff encounters, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has and has not enjoyed his encounters with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 20 games versus the Birds (19 starts), Manning has thrown for 4,479 yards and 36 touchdowns compared to just 41 interceptions. But Manning and the Giants have won only eight of those starts.
This Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Big Blue’s signal-caller would love to make in nine wins over Philadelphia. And he would also like to leave his interception total this season at nine as well. All told, Manning has 11 of the team’s league-high 16 turnovers in 2013.
It’s been a forgettable start for head coach Tom Coughlin and company as the Giants are 0-4 for the first time since 1987. But a win over a division rival would be a good start this season.
Seattle Seahawks (4-0): at Indianapolis Colts (3-1)
The Indianapolis Colts playing respectable run defense?
With all due respect, we are about to find out rather quickly if this is a unit that has made that much of an improvement in one season.
A year ago, only three teams in the NFL allowed more rushing yards per game (137.5 average) than Chuck Pagano’s team. So far in 2013, the Colts are giving up 106.8 yards per game on the ground.
But a closer look shows that 171 of the 427 yards came in Week 1 versus the Oakland Raiders. That means the Indianapolis defense is allowing only 85.3 yards per game rushing the last three weeks.
Let’s see if running back Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks test that theory early and often.
Indianapolis Colts (3-1): vs. Seattle Seahawks (4-0)
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Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is obviously enjoying himself in his second season at his newest position.
A year ago, Mathis made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker and finished 2012 with a team-high 8.0 sacks. In four games this season, the former Pro Bowler has totaled 18 tackles and 7.5 sacks, the latter tied for the most in the NFL.
While Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has rushed for 131 yards this season, he has also been sacked a surprising 13 times in four games. Wilson has also lost two of his four fumbles in 2013.
If Pete Carroll’s team doesn’t find a way to adequately block Mathis, those numbers for Wilson could increase in a hurry.
Carolina Panthers (1-2): at Arizona Cardinals (2-2)
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People are starting to take notice of the Carolina Panthers defense.
And that may be a little difficult considering the team is off to its usual slow start record-wise. Two weeks ago Ron Rivera’s team blanked the New York Giants, 38-0, for their first win of the season.
Still, give the Carolina defense its due. In three games in 2013, this unit has allowed only three touchdowns and has not allowed a team to reach the end zone in the first half. Led by defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, the Panthers have totaled 10 sacks (seven coming in the win over the Giants) and forced six turnovers.
This week, Hardy will be lined up against Arizona Cardinals left tackle Bradley Sowell, who will make his first NFL start now that Levi Brown is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Arizona Cardinals (2-2): vs. Carolina Panthers (1-2)
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Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson will never forget his first NFL regular-season game.
Neither will Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Both made their pro debuts against each other as the Cardinals pulled out a 28-21 in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Newton would throw for 422 yards and two touchdowns (one interception). But it was Peterson who returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter which proved to be the decisive score of the game.
These days, Peterson continues to handle punt return duties as well as his work in the secondary. Last Sunday at Tampa Bay, he picked off Buccaneers rookie quarterback Mike Glennon twice as Arizona came away with a 13-10 win.
On Sunday, he’ll be busy covering Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith in what should be one of the better duels of Week 5.
Denver Broncos (4-0): at Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Did anyone notice what San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and running back Danny Woodhead did to the Dallas Cowboys defense last Sunday?
No doubt head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did. And it’s one reason outside linebacker Bruce Carter will not be in the starting lineup this week when the 4-0 Denver Broncos come to town.
In the 30-21 win over Dallas, Gates and Woodhead combined for 15 receptions for 190 yards and three touchdowns, nearly half of quarterback Philip Rivers’ passing total of 401 yards.
So do you think Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (18 receptions, four for touchdowns) is looking forward to his trip to Texas?
Dallas Cowboys (2-2): vs. Denver Broncos (4-0)
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It seems that the only way to have a chance against the Denver Broncos these days is to survive a shootout.
Note the words “have a chance.”
That’s because no one has beaten the Broncos this season. In fact, since opening 2-3 in 2012, John Fox’s club has won 15 straight regular-season contests.
Note the words “regular-season contests.” As we all know, Denver fell to the Baltimore Ravens, 38-35 in double overtime, in the playoffs last season.
That game featured plenty of long passes from quarterback Joe Flacco. So look for the Dallas Cowboys to dig the deep ball and feed wideout Dez Bryant very early and very often. The electrifying receiver has totaled 23 receptions for 282 yards and caught four of quarterback Tony Romo’s eight scoring passes this season.
Easier said than done? There’s only one way to find out.
Houston Texans (2-2): at San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
Can you blame Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for being upset?
After two straight wins to open the season, Gary Kubiak’s club has dropped two in a row.
The team’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks was especially upsetting considering the Texans owned a 20-3 halftime lead.
Now to the task at hand and that means a trip to San Francisco to face a talented and well-rested 49ers team.
Can Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks, make Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick uncomfortable more times than not?
The third-year quarterback has been sacked 10 times in four games and has yet to put together two straight solid efforts in a row. But off the team’s 35-11 win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 4, the talented quarterback will get his chance against the Texans.
San Francisco 49ers (2-2): vs. Houston Texans (2-2)
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How about a little simple math when it comes to the San Francisco 49ers?
In two wins this season, Jim Harbaugh’s team has scored 69 points. In two losses in 2013, the Niners have a grand total of 10 points.
In two wins this season, 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin has totaled 18 receptions for 298 yards and a touchdown in each of those victories. In the team’s two losses, the veteran performer has caught six passes for 74 yards and no scores.
San Diego Chargers (2-2): at Oakland Raiders (1-3)
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Although the San Diego Chargers are just a .500 team after two weeks, it is hard to blame the slow start on quarterback Philip Rivers.
It’s not like you didn’t have good reason to point a few fingers at the former Pro Bowler the previous two seasons, he of a combined 47 turnovers over a 32-game span.
But it has been so far and so good for Rivers in 2013. He has thrown just two interceptions in four games this season, although both were returned for scores. Still, no fumbles by the Chargers quarterback this season as well.
And Rivers is facing the Oakland Raiders, whom he owns an 11-3 record against as a starter. All told, Rivers has thrown for 2,104 yards and 20 scores (nine interceptions) in those 14 meetings.
Oakland Raiders (1-3): vs. San Diego Chargers (2-2)
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Last season, only the Jacksonville Jaguars (20) had fewer sacks than the Oakland Raiders (25).
Four games into 2013, Dennis Allen’s team is almost halfway to last season’s sack total.
Silver and Black defenders have totaled 11 sacks to date in 2013. But if you’re looking for a dominant member of their front seven, think again.
More than half (six) of the Raiders’ sacks have come from the secondary. Five defensive backs have totaled at least one sack this season, led by cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Usama Young with 1.5 sacks apiece.
But will this be enough to harass San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on Sunday night? It sounds like it may have to be.
New York Jets (2-2): at Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
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Rex Ryan may indeed have a player to watch in running back Bilal Powell.
And for his sake on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Jets head coach gets to see him a little more often.
Powell has totaled 292 of the team’s 492 yards rushing in 2013. And 149 of those yards came in a Week 3 win over the Buffalo Bills. The emerging runner had totaled 51 yards on the ground in the first half last week versus the Tennessee Titans. However, his team also trailed 24-6 at intermission.
The New York offense may find Atlanta’s defense more to their liking. Mike Smith’s club gave up 132 yards rushing in last Sunday night’s 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots. And if quarterback Geno Smith can hang onto the football long enough to hand it to Powell, perhaps a Jets victory on Monday night is not so farfetched.
Atlanta Falcons (1-3): vs. New York Jets (2-2)
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Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore ranks third on his team with 24 tackles and has one of the team’s three interceptions this season.
He would certainly like to add to that latter total. The Falcons have a total of four takeaways during their disappointing 1-3 start.
With the Atlanta pass rush managing only seven sacks in four games would defensive coordinator Mike Nolan make the talented defensive back even more of a factor in that department?
Who knows? What we do know is that the Falcons have outscored their opponents a combined 34-0 in the first quarter and been outscored a combined 104-60 the rest of the way.
Desperate times, if that is indeed the situation, call for more Moore.