Any team can win a game in the NFL regardless of the many factors they deal with, from talent and scheme to weather. But the difference between the teams that get lucky a few times and true contenders is consistency—and the key to consistency in the NFL is depth.
In Week 7, the NFL's week of the wounded, we found out which teams have the depth of talent—and heart—needed to win week in, week out in the NFL.
A rash of injuries took key players off the field in almost all of the early games this week, torpedoing some teams' chances and reinforcing others'.
Which unlikely players put their teams on their back, and which teams were put out of their misery?
Kyle Wilber vs. Matt Barkley?
The carnage started before the games did, when the Dallas Cowboys deactivated defensive end DeMarcus Ware, snapping a 134-game starting streak.
Ware, who had four sacks and an interception in his first six games as a 4-3 defensive end, joined starting tailback DeMarco Murray in the Cowboys' infirmary. Taking on a Philadelphia Eagles offense that ranked fourth in the NFL in average scoring, it looked like the Cowboys defense was in big trouble.
Then, George Selvie, winner of my "He Just Made the Roster" award for making the most of his offseason opportunities, made the most of his in-season opportunities.
Selvie, starting at his usual left defensive end spot, racked up 1.5 sacks, making up for the lack of production from Ware's replacement, Kyle Wilber (one tackle, no sacks). Selvie and the Cowboys grounded the high-flying Eagles, who were without quarterback Mike Vick. Indeed, the Cowboys sent second-string quarterback Nick Foles to the sidelines with a head injury in the third quarter.
The Eagles turned to rookie third-stringer Matt Barkley, who was claiming he still had a shot at the starting job back in August. Could he step in and save the day?
Nope. He threw three interceptions in less than a half, including this one to Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee:
The Eagles were shut out in the first half and limited to a single field goal all game long—the first time Chip Kelly's been held without a touchdown in his head coaching career, per Jordan Raanan of Xfinity.com:
Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Vick will likely play in Week 8 against the New York Giants, whether he's 100 percent or not. Given Foles' and Barkley's performances, it's no wonder:
It's a good thing Selvie and the defense stepped up, because Murray's understudy, Joseph Randle, averaged just 3.42 yards per carry as part of a meager 17-point offensive effort.
Harry "Potter" Douglas Has a Magical Day
Another veteran who'd spent his career in the metaphorical cupboard made the most of an opportunity on Sunday: Harry Douglas, the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver.
The Falcons have been a contender for each of the past few years, and their league-best receiver tandem of Julio Jones and Roddy White has been their best weapon. With White inactive due to nagging injuries and Jones suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 6, Douglas went from unknown to No. 1.
Douglas responded in a massive way, hauling in seven catches for 149 yards and a score:
Considering Douglas has averaged 28 catches and 345 yards per season over his five-year career, that's an incredible day at the office. Meanwhile, his downfield ability provided the Falcons with just enough offensive spark to overcome the Buccaneers, 31-23.
Mike James Keeps Plowing Ahead
On the other side of the field, the Bucs were putting everything they had into wringing their first 2013 win out of the Georgia Dome.
Down 21-10 in the third quarter, the Bucs faced a 2nd-and-5 from the Falcons 19. Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon swung it out to Martin on a wheel route; Martin went up for it and came down with it at the 1-yard line but was then popped hard by Falcons defensive back William Moore.
Suffering a shoulder injury on the play, Martin—responsible for a huge chunk of the Buccaneers offense—was done for the day. Backup Mike James stepped in and ran pretty hard, picking up 45 yards on 14 carries, compared to Martin's 47 yards on 11 carries.
True, 3.21 yards per carry is a pretty big step down from 4.27 yards per carry, and the Bucs couldn't quite pull off the upset. But Martin has been a workhorse this season, and James was just effective enough to keep the comeback hopes alive until the very end of the game.
The Bucs will have to roll with James for quite a while; per Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1, Martin suffered a torn labrum, and his season is "possibly over":
Sam Bradford Goes Off the Rails
New York Jets quarterback situation survivor Kellen Clemens didn't even get a chance to show what he could do against the swarming Carolina Panthers defense. The player he was backing up, St. Louis Rams starter Sam Bradford, didn't go down until just over five minutes were left in the game.
That said, Bradford was hardly having a great day until that point, as he threw his third pick-six of the season:
The Rams have since announced on Twitter that Bradford has torn his ACL and will be out for the rest of the year:
Clemens will have plenty of opportunity, now, but it's unlikely he'll be any more effective than Bradford was with the same cast of un-intimidating weapons.
Leon Hall Disappears
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall is rarely mentioned as one of the league's best. Against the Detroit Lions, Hall suffered an Achilles tendon rupture that will end his season, per CBS Sports's Jason LaCanfora:
However, like Hall's play, his injury didn't get as much publicity as other players'.
Though the Bengals scratched out a tough road win with a last-second field goal, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson took full advantage of Hall's absence. Johnson finished with nine catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including an incredible 50-yard leaping grab amidst three Lions defenders:
Down Goes Cutler
Ever since Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went down in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and the Bears had to roll with an unprepared backup in Caleb Hanie, the No. 2 signal-caller has been a hot-button issue in Chicagoland.
Against the Washington Redskins, Cutler went down early in the second quarter after he had already thrown an ugly reception:
Though both teams' running backs largely took over the games, with Matt Forte and Roy Helu Jr. combining for six touchdowns, Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown completed a creditable 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Though McCown's final comeback drive ran out of time at around midfield, he did everything you could ask a backup to do, and more, in a 45-41 shootout loss.
Houston M.A.S.H Unit Nearly Shocks Chiefs
With starting Texans quarterback Matt Schaub already out and starting tailback Arian Foster nursing a sore hamstring, the Texans were in big trouble entering their game with the white-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
Foster quickly left the game when the hamstring flared up, and backup Ben Tate got dinged shortly thereafter. With third-stringer Cierre Wood inactive for this game, fullback Greg Jones was pressed into service.
On the other side of the ball, disaster: Star linebacker Brian Cushing was carted off the field with a knee injury. Per Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com, Cushing has a broken leg and torn LCL and will be out for the rest of the season:
Late in the game, even reigning AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt got dinged up and had to leave the field. Even so, the flailing Texans still gave the undefeated Chiefs everything they could handle.
Backup quarterback Case Keenum went 15-of-25 for 271 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions against one of the stoutest pass defenses in the NFL and had the ball in his hands with a chance to lead a game-winning two-minute drive. Instead, Chiefs pass-rusher Tamba Hali finally got to Keenum, strip-sacking him and ending the game.
Nevertheless, given the wealth of injuries that befell the now 2-5 Texans, falling 17-16 to the still-undefeated Chiefs is a noble loss, indeed.
Pyrrhic Victory in Indianapolis
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts made a huge statement on Sunday Night Football by knocking off the previously undefeated Denver Broncos. Luck won the "War of 1812," the showdown between Luck and Peyton Manning, Colts legend and current Broncos quarterback.
However, it came at an incredibly high cost: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with an ACL injury, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Wayne sprained the knee when trying to come back to an errant Luck pass, causing Luck to tell the media Wayne's injury was his fault. "I put a lot of the blame on myself," Luck told ESPN.com's Mike Wells.
The Colts, who appeared to take preparation for the San Diego Chargers lightly in Week 6 to give the Broncos their best shot, won the season's biggest battle. But did they really win the war?
Free-agent disappointment Darrius Heyward-Bey must fill enormous shoes if the Colts are to contend for the Super Bowl.
Next Man Up
As these teams go forward with or without their fallen star players, one thing is certain: Any NFL team can still win on any given Sunday. Stars, starters and special-teamers all have to prepare like every single game is going to come down to them—because, as we saw in Week 7, it could always happen.
As the leaves turn, the snow falls and every game becomes a must-win, the backups, the situational players and the scout-team guys will make the difference in the parity-laden NFL.
The Harry Douglases of the league will save victories, and teams' seasons, when stars go down in important games. Whether your favorite team makes the playoffs or not will likely come down to whether or not their depth chart has players like Douglas—and James, and McCown and Keenum—buried in it.
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