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NFL: Patriots And Cardinals Take Giant Leap Forward

football

Week eleven of the NFL season and its tumultuous twists and turns are now a matter of record in the schedules. The big shocks keep on coming, although perhaps we should have known that the giant slayers known as the St Louis Rams would serve Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a severe blow in the seeding race. There were plenty of decisive victories that gave some top teams a little breathing room, and exposed others as pretenders to the crown. With so much wild action to look back on, we’ll start our review of the week here.

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts (42-20)

A comprehensive win for the New England Patriots, who stormed into Lucas Oil Stadium and stomped all over the Indianapolis Colts. Jonas Gray put his hand forward as another offensive difference-maker for the Pats, running in a whopping four touchdowns to put the game away relatively early. The Patriots offensive line has come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks, and they were a formidable presence here, dominating the trenches.  Tom Brady was a little off-kilter, tossing two picks, but that New England could record a blowout win away to a top AFC rival with the veteran quarterback having a bad day is probably the scariest part of this win. The Patriots are in a fantastic position to secure home field advantage for the playoffs now.

On more than one occasion this season, the Indianapolis Colts have looked like a team that is at least one year away from joining the elite NFL teams. This was another game where they looked like a very young group, with the Patriots dominating all phases of the game. T.Y. Hilton was taken away as a threat and, although Coby Fleener and Reggie Wayne had nice days, that severely limits what the Colts can do. The run game was abysmal, with Trent Richardson carrying seven times for zero yards. He will now lead the backfield alone, with Ahmad Bradshaw breaking his ankle. That doesn’t bode well for the Colts.

Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (6-14)

The wins just keep rolling in for the Arizona Cardinals, who move out to a stunning 9-1 record, with a commanding lead in the race for top seeding in the NFC. That the Cardinals continue to win, despite losing another star in Carson Palmer, is all the more impressive. Drew Stanton was less composed today, being intercepted twice. But his two touchdown passes to Michael Floyd were decisive here. The Cardinals defense has a sense for the big moments, and made big plays every time the game was close to being on the line. The defensive front gave up some uncharacteristically high yards in the run, but they were able to shut down Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, while putting Matt Stafford on the ground. That is a remarkable days work. The Cardinals have a tough end of season fixture list, with a heavy dose of NFC West opposition, but you wouldn’t back anyone to beat them at this moment.

The difference in coaching mentality may have been bigger than usual here. Jim Caldwell spoke ahead of the game about not thinking about the playoffs, while Bruce Arians emphasised how big this game was in terms of the NFC race. Both teams played like their coaches sounded, with the Lions a little lacklustre when it mattered most. Arians is all in to win, but the Lions game plan was very curious. Why did they go away from Joique Bell on the ground, when he was notching six yards per run? The Lions faded badly down the stretch last year and, while it is too early to say they are headed that way again, Jim Caldwell should keep an eye on it, and ride the hot hand a little more.

Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs (20-24)

Momentum is firmly on the side of this Kansas City Chiefs side, who clinched a big home win against the reigning Super Bowl champs in this one. Andy Reid has his team playing disciplined, well-organised football, and the dividends are pouring in. The defensive front is one of the top units in football, with Justin Houston, Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali all making tremendous nuisances of themselves. Alex Smith was only asked to throw sixteen times, ensuring the rushers couldn’t get to him. And the backfield tandem of Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are terrors, notching three touchdowns between them. The Chiefs even survived some uncharacteristic turnovers, as well as three fourth down attempts, none of which were successful. The Chiefs are only behind the Broncos by a tie-breaker in the AFC West, making that an intriguing division to follow to the end.

Another desperately disappointing loss for the Seattle Seahawks, who got taken on and beaten up front by the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line. Jamaal Charles’ huge touchdown run in the first half feels like a play they wouldn’t have given up last year, but there has been a lot of turnover in those twelve months. Brandon Mebane’s leadership and intuition was badly missed up front. Russell Wilson is still a little off on the accuracy stakes, but his offensive line isn’t giving him a whole lot of time. The Seahawks could beat anybody in January, but they have a long road ahead if they are to make the post-season.

Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers (20-53)

What a trouncing that was! The Green Bay Packers completely obliterated the Philadelphia Eagles here, with Aaron Rodgers cutting them asunder in the first half. The Packers scored seven touchdowns in all- three passing, one rushing, one interception, one fumble return and one punt return. That’s about as well rounded a performance as you can get in football. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb continue to cause utter havoc for defensive backs, and have a legitimate claim to be the best wide receiving tandem in the NFL. The Packers look invincible at home, and their upward charge through this winning streak has to be a worry for all other NFC contenders. The defense has even started playing a lot better in the last few weeks.

The Philadelphia Eagles were exposed here. The defense couldn’t love with Rodgers’ accuracy and vision, and they couldn’t put him on the ground. The secondary couldn’t stop anybody. This is about as lousy a performance as you can get, and how this side reacts will be very interesting. Mark Sanchez’s four turnovers will ensure he remains a talking point down the stretch, and we’ll find out just how quarterback-proof Chip Kelly’s offense really is. Kelly would be better off just throwing out the game tape here.

Cincinnati Bengals at New Orleans Saints (27-10)

A big road win for the Cincinnati Bengals here, as they slowly ground down the home side. Andy Dalton responded well to a career –low outing against the Cleveland Browns to record a career high quarterback rating here. Dalton completed 16/22 for 220 yards and three touchdowns. A.J. Green went over a hundred yards receiving on the day, which is something the Bengals have been desperately short of through their mid-season slump. But the biggest contribution on offense must be Jeremy Hill, who gashed the defense for 152 yards on 27 carries from the backfield. The defensive line finally started closing out the run, which helped enormously. Cinci are on a rollercoaster of highs and lows this season, just like the rest of the AFC North. But they are right in the mix in that ultra-competitive division once again.

The New Orleans Saints have now lost two home games in a row. That’s the kind of thing that just hasn’t happened since Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town. The Saints offense looks incapable of making big plays, with Marques Colston’s seventeen yard catch the biggest of their day. Now Brandin Cooks will miss the next month with a hand injury, hurting their big play ability even more. The run game is missing everybody but Mark Ingram, who is hurt but soldiering on as much as he can.  Brees wasn’t sacked all day, and completed a high proportion of his passes. They just weren’t for anything like significant gains. The New Orleans Saints have now played the Atlanta Falcons into first place in the NFC South, and if they can’t find some playmaking ability (on both sides of the ball) then they will have meekly surrendered the easiest playoff spot going this season.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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