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NFL Week 15 Review – Lions, Saints and Cowboys Choke

Kirk Cousins was Mike and Kyle Shanahan’s way of telling the Redskins organization that they might be headed out the door, but they would at least do things on their own terms. They probably would’ve liked to had a win over one the worst teams in the league to at least slam the door behind them with. But instead, with 18-seconds left in Sunday’s game, Falcons’ defender Desmond Trufant deflected a two-point conversion attempt that could’ve won the game for the Redskins. The deflection gave the Falcons the 27-26 win over the Redskins, and only their fourth win of the season. Matt Ryan was 29-38 but only had 210 yards and a touchdown to match an interception. Kirk Cousins also had 29 completions, but on 45 attempts. He did have a huge 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw two picks as well. The Falcons run game has been horrible this season, and didn’t get much better on Sunday. They were certainly hoping for Steven Jackson to be a huge impact on their squad this year, but he was only able to rack up 38 yards on Sunday. A couple of disappointing teams put on an entertaining one on Saturday. But the end result doesn’t mean much for the outlook of the rest of the season.

It took a quarter for Jay Cutler to shake the rust on Sunday. But once he got things rolling he would lead the Bears to a 38-31 win over the Browns, which was good enough to secure first place in the NFC North while they wait for the Lions to play their Monday night game. Cutlers favorite target on Sunday, as it usually is, was Brandon Marshall. The two connected on six different occasions for 95-yards and a touchdown. Cutler would complete 16 other passes to finish the game 22-31 for 265 yards, as well as three touchdowns and a pair of picks. Jason Campbell was able to keep pace with Cutler, going 23-39 for 273 yards and a touchdown of his own. But down 24-17 going into the fourth, it was Cutler’s two touchdowns and Michael Bush’s 40-yard running touchdown that would put this one out of reach. As mentioned, the Bears now await the outcome of the Lions game on Monday. But in the mean time, they’ll be happy to have done their part to be atop the division.

After Peyton Manning left the AFC South a few years ago, it was supposed to open the door for other teams, namely the Houston Texans, to make a push to win that division and make a strong playoff push. But on Sunday, the Colts proved that they are still the team to beat, this time they are just doing it with a different quarterback. Despite Andrew Luck only going 19-32 for 180-yards, the 25-3 rout of the Texans by the Colts was the perfect playoff warm-up that Indy needed, especially after dropping three of its last five games. Now the Colts will have a much harder test in going to Kansas City next weekend, before ending the season at home against the Jaguars. As for the Texans, they’ll just try and continue to get through the next two weeks against the Broncos and Titans, before they start the rebuilding process in the offseason.

After watching the Broncos lose on Thursday night, all the Patriots needed to do was win in Miami to secure their place atop the AFC. The Dolphins, who have playoff hopes of their home, were able to stop those hopes and pull out a stunning 24-20 win on Sunday. The win is the Dolphins third in a row, improving their place in the AFC wild-card picture. Tom Brady tried his hardest to bring the Patriots back, but Ryan Tannehill would be the late hero in this one, as he connected with Marcus Thigpen with 1:15 left in the fourth for the 24-20 lead. While the Patriots are 7-0 at Foxboro this season, the loss, which was their first in seven games against the Dolphins, puts them at 3-4 on the road. This could be bad news as they’ll hit the road again next weekend to face a stout Baltimore defense.For a team needing to edge out the Broncos to gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs, this win would’ve been a big boost. Now, the Broncos are back atop at the AFC, but only because they hold two wins over the Chiefs. As for the Dolphins, things are looking good for a team that started 3-0 and has now won their last three games. They’ll finish the season against divisional teams Buffalo and New York, and wins could be enough to give them a much-desired wild-card spot.

Dec 15, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel (16) celebrates his touchdown with teammates during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Nick Foles hype-train was derailed on Sunday with a huge 48-30 loss to the Vikings. What might’ve been worse was the fact that Adrian Peterson wasn’t even a part of the Vikings effort. Instead, Matt Cassel put up 382 yards and two passing touchdowns and one rushing, while Matt Asiata had his first three career rushing touchdowns for the Vikings. As for the Eagles, Foles did throw for a career high 428-yards on 30-48 passing, which included three touchdowns.Ten of those passes were to DeSean Jackson for 195 yards. But it still wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Vikings, who are playing their second to last game at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis. Things also didn’t look much better for the Eagles when the Cowboys routed the Packers on Sunday, making for an interesting 8-6 tie atop the NFC East. With everything going so well for the Eagles as of late, and a somewhat difficult path coming up that includes games against the Bears and Cowboys, Foles and the Eagles needed this win over a lowly Vikings team. Instead, the road to the playoffs gets a bit harder and it looks like the NFC East could come down to the final week in Dallas.

With five interceptions on Eli Manning on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks defense proved that they are one of the most well-rounded teams in the entire league. Some weekends, Russell Wilson, who earned the 23rd win of his career on Sunday, is able to lead a stellar Seahawks offense. But with only 206 yards on Sunday, he let his defense do the talking on Sunday. Eli Manning only had 156 yards and didn’t find the end zone at all as the Giants got blanked on Sunday. But it was the five interceptions he threw that was the career worst that he’ll want to forget about. Come to think about it, he may want to forget this entire season as the Giants now stand at 5-9 and mathematically out of the playoffs. This win in New York was huge for the Seahawks, as not only did it boost their momentum with a huge win, but it proved they can beat a Manning in the cold New York weather. And if they are to meet a Manning in New York again this year, it will be for all the marbles on February 2.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played in front of a sold out stadium on Sunday. Unfortunately, most of those fans wearing red may have been sporting a darker 49ers hue as San Francisco came to town. The 33-14 win for the 49ers was their fourth in a row, as they look to be a team that is hitting their stride right when it counts. Colin Kaepernick went for only 203 yards on 19-29 passing, but he did have a pair of touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over at all. What may have been the most interesting part of the 49ers performance was the resiliency that they showed in the fourth quarter. When Mike Glennon hit Tim Wright just six seconds into the quarter to bring it to 20-14, San Francisco would rattle off 13 unanswered points for the 33-14 final score. Six of those were field goals, and the touchdown came off a 2-yard fumble recovery from Kenadall Hunter. Overall, the 49ers had a great cooperative effort for their 10th win on the season. It’s unlikely that the 49ers will catch Seattle. But with the fourth win in a row, they look to be heating up and could be trouble for any team they face in the playoffs.

With three touchdowns, two passing and one rushing, EJ Manuel was able to follow up his dismal effort in last weekends game with a win for the Bills over Jacksonville on Sunday. Chad Henne would throw for more yards than Manuel, going 21-36 for 237 for himself. But it was a late interception by Henne and a fumble by Denard Robinson that allowed the Bills to score the final touchdown of the game with 9:35 left. With Miami’s win over the Patriots on Sunday, both teams were officially eliminated from playoff contention, though we probably knew that beforehand.

After having their eight game winning streak snapped last weekend against the Saints, the Panthers looked to take it out on the Jets this weekend before the rematch against New Orleans next weekend. Carolina was able to do just that as they noticed their 10th win on the season with the 30-20 win over the New York. Cam Newton was 16-24 for 273 yards and only had a single touchdown passing in this one. But his 118.9 QBR demonstrated how well he handled the ball and didn’t turn it over during the win. What may have been even more exciting for the Panthers is that when they finished their game, they headed back to the locker room to see St. Louis beating up on New Orleans. That means that a win over the Saints next weekend would allow the Panthers to potentially still win the NFC South.

A few weeks ago people were saying that the Chiefs were a completely defensive team. And after three straight losses, a bit of concern was coming over Kansas City fans. But after a 45-10 win over the Redskins last weekend, the Chiefs would follow that up with a 56-31 route of the Raiders on Sunday. What may have been the biggest part to note in all of this was Alex Smith threw for five touchdowns in the effort. KC also got five touchdowns, four rushing and one receiving, from Jamaal Charles as the Chiefs improved to 11-3 on the season. The win keeps the Chiefs on pace with the Broncos for the top spot in the AFC West, which could also likely end up being the top spot in the AFC. But what may be more important is the fact that KC has proved in the last two weeks that it has a reliable offense to go along with that touted offense that everyone talks about. Matt McGloin, who started for the Raiders once again, three four interceptions. That’s certainly not the way to go for a quarterback that is trying to cement his place over Terrelle Pryor as the season wraps up for the Raiders. The Chiefs will face Indy and San Diego in the final two weeks of the season. Their win on Sunday clinches a playoff birth, so now they’ll wait to see if the Broncos slip up for a chance to push the number one spot in the division.

Dec 15, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive end William Hayes (95) hits New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after he threw a pass during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance, seeing the Rams on top of the Saints 27-3 going into the fourth quarter might’ve looked like a mistake on scoreboard. But those watching could attest to the lopsided effort that allowed the Rams to get a huge NFC win in this one. The Saints did pull it back within reach, scoring two touchdowns in the final quarter, as well as getting an onside kick. However, Garrett Hartley had a field goal deflected with just over two-minutes left, which put the game too far out of reach for the Saints. With the loss, an extremely lopsided one at that, the Saints fall to 10-4 in the NFC South and tie the Panthers for the top spot in the division. As the two teams get ready to play one another next weekend, we should be in for an epic battle to see who wins the division and possibly who gets the better seeding in the NFC Playoffs. All we know is that the Saints will definitely need a better effort next weekend than what they had against the Rams. Drew Brees would completely 39-56 passing attempts for 393 yards. But he only found the end zone once and turned the ball over with two interceptions. And while Kellen Clemens only threw for 158 yards on 14-20 passing, he found the end zone twice and didn’t turn the ball over. Clemens also had help from Zac Stacy, who had a 40-yard run before halftime to put the game at 24-3 going into half. That was too much for the Saints to come back from, even with their effort in the final quarter.

Arizona capped off a 4-0 day for the NFC West with their win over the Titans. The 37-34 win put the Cardinals at 9-5 and still on the heels of the 49ers. Granted, this game was probably a bit too close for comfort than the Cardinals would’ve liked. Going into the final quarter, Arizona was up 20-17 and scored two touchdowns less than a minute apart to make it 34-17 with six minutes left. But in the final three minutes, the Titans would score two touchdowns and a field goal to tie it up at 34 and head into overtime. But Jay Feely’s 41-yarder would be enough for the Cardinals to walk away with the huge win. Carson Palmer went 20-30 for 231-yards and a touchdown. Rashad Mendenhall would have two touchdowns on the ground and Antoine Carson would return a Ryan Fitzpatrick interception for the scores for the Cardinals. As for the Titans, Fitzpatrick would go 36-58 for 402, including four touchdowns. Chris Johnson continued his subpar season with 40 yards on only 13 attempts. While the loss adds to the disappointment that has been the Titans season and their third in a row, it adds to the excitement for the Cardinals to potentially make a run at the 49ers. With their final two games against the Seahawks and the 49ers, we’re looking at a wild ride for the final two weeks in the NFC West.

If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan, December has got to be a depressing month. If you aren’t a Cowboys fan, it has to be a bit humorous. With so much talk about how the Cowboys can’t win in December, it had to be a bit relieving going into the fourth quarter up 29-17. But when James Stark scored on an 11 yard pass from Matt Flynn to make it 29-24, sighs of relief went up at AT&T Stadium. That is, until Flynn would connect with James Jones to get it to 36-31 with 4:17 left. And when Eddie Lacy would hit a one-yard rushing touchdown with 1:31 left for what would be game winning touchdown, you could just feel the disappointment in the air throughout Dallas. Tony Romo would throw two interceptions in the final three minutes of the game, which certainly doesn’t help his standing and the pressure that is put on him. With the win, Matt Flynn is able to keep the Packers in the hunt in the NFC. Even better news is that Aaron Rodgers could be back for the final two games of the season against Pittsburgh and Chicago. As for the Cowboys, they had a chance to catch the Eagles on Sunday, after their own falter in Minnesota. However, the Cowboys loss keeps the Eagles one game ahead on the NFC East and make things look even more frustrating and depressing for Cowboys fans.

The Steelers came out in a blistering pace on Sunday evening against the Bengals as they wanted to show their divisional foes that despite an off year, they are still in the picture for their conference. With the win, the Steelers are still, despite an 0-4 start, in the playoff picture. They’ll have to hope for a few things to fall their way, but their 30-20 win on Sunday is the way to get things on that path. Ben Roethlisberger was 20-25 for 191 yards and had a touchdown and interception. Shaun Swisham also had a trio of field goals that allowed the Steelers to get out to a 30-7 lead before the Bengals threw for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to bring it a bit closer. Andy Dalton went 25-44 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. But it was too little too late. This seems like typical Bengals, as they once again had the chance to clinch their division but were unable to do so. Next week they’ll have to play the Vikings, who proved today they aren’t a pushover. And in the final week of the season, in yet another huge divisional showdown, we’ll be looking at the Bengals playing the Ravens in what could determine who makes the playoffs.

Last year the Baltimore Ravens started out hot, going 9-2 before losing four games in the final five to finish 10-6. But that slow finish didn’t stop them from blazing through the playoffs, which nobody saw happening, and winning the Super Bowl. This year, the Ravens are doing it the other way around. With their 18-16 win over the Lions on Monday night, the Ravens find themselves just behind the Bengals in the AFC North. And with wins in their last four straight, and five of their last six, the Ravens have got to be considered one of the hottest teams in the NFL heading into the final two weeks of the season.

The Ravens wouldn’t have won on Monday without the leg of Justin Tucker. It was his 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left that pushed the Ravens ahead of the Lions and gave them their eighth win on the season. Joe Flacco went 20-38 for 222 yards and couldn’t find the end zone during this one. Instead, it was all five of Tuckers field goals that were the difference in this one. But none were as big as the one in the final minute.

As for the Lions, this isn’t the way they wanted things to go. With the loss on Monday, their second in a row, they went from first to third in their division, especially after the Bears and Packers both had wins. The Lions, who have had a bit of an up and down season all year long, have lost their last two straight and four of their last five.

Matthew Stafford went 18-34 for 235. He found the end zone once with the help of Joseph Fauria, but he also threw three interceptions during this one. Reggie Bush had 86 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

The recent streak of the Ravens looks to be a good sign for fans in Baltimore. It has allowed them to possibly get back into the lead in the AFC North, especially with games against New England and Cincinnati in the final weeks.

As for the Lions, they’ll have a few easier games against the Giants and the Vikings. But if they hope to retake the NFC North, they’ll need wins in both games.

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