LOS ANGELES, November 3, 2014 — Peyton Manning and Tom Brady played Part XVI of their epic rivalry in what will most likely be this year’s AFC Title Game. Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III and even Mark Sanchez played this week. Surprisingly, Sanchez was the best of the three returning signal-callers. In terms of heart, the Miami Dolphins rallied around grieving coach Joe Philbin. With that, here are the NFL 2014 Week 9 lessons learned and not learned.
New Orleans Saints 28, Carolina Panthers 10 —The Thursday night game was a tale of two quarterbacks. After 26 minutes of scoreless football, Cam Newton turned it over inside his own ten yard line, Newton’s second turnover of the half. That and a costly defensive pass interference penalty on the Panthers with seconds left in the half was the difference between a 0-0 game and a 14-0 Saints lead at the break. Newton finished 10 of 28 for 151 yards and the two turnovers while Drew Brees went 24 of 34 for 297 yards, one touchdown pass, and one interception. His two long scoring drives in the second half put the game away.
Miami Dolphins 37, San Diego Chargers 0 — Earlier this week Joe Philbin’s father died. After taking a couple days off, Philbin returned to the team. Ryan Tannehill finished 24 of 34 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Philip Rivers was a miserable 12 of 23 for 138 yards three interceptions, and a lost fumble. Football is a game of emotion, and on this day the Dolphins played inspired football for their coach.
Cincinnati Bengals 33, Jacksonville Jaguars 23 — Cincinnati mistakes allowed the Jaguars to close a 26-10 fourth quarter deficit to 26-23. All the momentum the Jaguars had instantly evaporated when Josh Scobee kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. From the Cincinnati 40, one play from scrimmage was all the Bengals needed as Jeremy Hill raced for a 60-yard touchdown to lock up the win.
Cleveland Browns 22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 — Bryan Hoyer was intercepted in the fourth quarter but the Buccaneers failed to capitalize. Hoyer came back and threw a 34-yard touchdown to Taylor Gabriel. At the two-minute warning the Buccaneers faced second and one at the Cleveland 37. Trailing by five and needing only one yard with plenty of time, Glennon threw incomplete twice. On fourth and one, a completed pass was nullified by offensive pass interference. On fourth and 11 Glennon went deep incomplete and the Buccaneers had another ineptitude-generated loss. As for Cleveland, their defense again came through when it mattered most.
Minnesota Vikings 29, Washington 26 — Colt McCoy played well las week, but the entire Washington franchise rests on the performance of Robert Griffin III. RG III and Teddy Bridgewater both played well enough in an exciting see-saw game, but in the end RGIII misfired. With 1:15 left, Washington faced fourth and six at their own 43. Griffin had a receiver open and threw low and incomplete to turn it over on downs. Washington got it back with 12 seconds left, but Griffin’s Hail Mary was thrown out of bounds.
Philadelphia Eagles 31, Houston Texans 21 — Chip Kelly has cojones of steel. Nick Foles got injured during the game and the much-maligned Mark Sanchez replaced him. Rather than shackle Sanchez, Kelly let him loose. After Sanchez threw a key interception, Kelly kept him throwing. With 12 minutes left in regulation and the Eagles clinging to a 24-21 lead, Sanchez led a killer 15-play, 80-yard drive that took eight minutes off the clock. On fourth and one from the Houston four with four minutes left, Chip Kelly decided to go for it. Chris Polk got the yard and Sanchez then hit Jeremy Maclin for the clinching touchdown.
Kansas City Chiefs 24, New York Jets 10 — Geno Smith has finally been relegated to the bench as Michael Vick got the start for Rex Ryan’s final eight games as Jets coach. Vick played decently enough, but this game was not about the Gang Green soap opera. The Chiefs defense was stingy. Three times in the fourth quarter Vick led the Jets inside the Chiefs 30. All three times on fourth down, once from the Chiefs three yard line, Vick threw incomplete as the Jets turned it over on downs.
Arizona Cardinals 28, Dallas Cowboys 17 — Brandon Weeden filled in for the injured Tony Romo, but this game came down to three fourth quarter plays in the trenches and the struggle to get one yard. With 9 1/2 minutes left in regulation the Cowboys faced fourth and one at the Arizona 34 trailing 14-10. Jason Garrett decided to go for it and DeMarco Murray ran into a red brick wall. Palmer then twice led the Cardinals to a third and goal at the one. A pass to a wide open Andre Ellington made it 21-10 Cardinals. After Weeden was intercepted, a tough run up the middle barely broke the plane of the goal to put the game out of reach and get the Cardinals to 7-1 under Bruce Arians. Consecutive losses may have people jumping off the Dallas bandwagon, but the real story is the Arizona defense.
St. Louis Rams 13, San Francisco 49ers 10 — The Rams always play the 49ers tough, and this defensive slugfest will be talked about forever. A shanked 23-yard punt gave the Rams a short field. Greg Zuerlein’s 39-yard field goal gave the Rams the lead. With nine seconds left, the 49ers faced third and goal at the one. Colin Kaepernick took the quarterback sneak up the middle as the 49ers players celebrated what they thought was the winning touchdown. Amidst the confusion, Kaepernick actually fumbled and the Rams recovered for a touchback in front of a shell-shocked home crowd.
New England Patriots 43, Denver Broncos 21 — Episode 16 of one of the greatest football classic rivalries of all time featured Peyton Manning and Tom Brady duel in what should be another AFC Title Game preview. In the frigid Northeast, this game was all Patriots. Manning finished 34 of 57 for 438 yards and two touchdowns, but also two costly interceptions. Brady was 33 of 53 for 323 yards and four touchdown passes with one interception. Julian Edelman was a game-breaker, catching two of Brady’s touchdown passes and returning a punt 84 yards for another score to power the Patriots. New England’s 24 unanswered second quarter points meant a 27-7 Patriots halftime lead that was never in peril.
Seattle Seahawks 30, Oakland Raiders 24 — The 1987 Raiders had lost seven straight games before traveling to Seattle. The game was a blowout, but not in the way anyone expected. Bo Jackson ran for a 91-yard touchdown into the stadium tunnel and later on flattened Brian Bosworth for a 37-14 Raiders win. This is not 1987. Three early turnovers including an interception for a touchdown powered Seattle to a 24-3 halftime lead. A blocked punt for a touchdown fueled a second half Raiders rally as David Carr’s second touchdown pass got Oakland within six just past the two-minute warning. The onside kick failed and Oakland at eight games now has its longest losing streak since the 1962 team that started 0-13 before winning the finale. One year later Al Davis showed up and quickly turned the Raiders around. For now, the Raiders remain the only winless team.
Pittsburgh Steelers 43, Baltimore Ravens 23 — The Sunday night game started as a typical AFC North head-knocker. There were several personal fouls, including three on the Baltimore defense on one play. By the second quarter, the Steelers were scoring at will. One week after throwing six touchdown passes, Ben Roethlisberger threw six more, three in the second quarter alone. His 340 yards passing had the Steelers cruising to a 22-10 at halftime. On the night Mean Joe Greene became only the second Steeler ever to have his number retired, the Pittsburgh defense clamped down for much of the second half. Greene said he could not “phantom” all the praise rather than “fathom” it, but nobody is going to correct him if they want to live since he is Mean Joe Greene.
Indianapolis Colts 40, New York Giants 24 — The Monday night game saw Eli Manning go 27 for 52 for 359 yards passing, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. What that statistic leaves out is most of his work was done when the Giants trailed by 30 points. Andrew Luck went 25 for 46 for 354 yards and four touchdown passes without an interception. Three of Luck’s touchdown passes were for more than thirty yards as Luck staked the Colts to a 40-10 lead.