THE TOP STORYLINES:
The San Francisco 49ers Prove They’re The Real Deal by Holding off a Furious New York Giants Comeback to Prevail 27-20
The San Francisco 49ers play in a watered down NFC West! The 49ers haven’t played any good teams! San Francisco runs a college offense! Those were the three biggest knocks on first-year 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team, and the three biggest reasons why many thought the New York Giants would cruise to an easy win. However, San Francisco earned a ton of respect while rolling to its first 8-1 start since 1997, which is currently the second-best record in the NFL (the 8-0 Green Bay Packers should defeat the Minnesota Vikings Monday night). In fairness, San Francisco had defeated two winning teams coming into the Giants game: the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) and the Detroit Lions (6-3). The only blemish on the 49ers’ record is an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) in Week 2.
The 49ers are succeeding thanks to a very talented Patrick Willis-led defense and an old fashioned grind-it-out rushing attack, which is paced by Frank Gore. Although Alex Smith fills the role of game manager most weeks, he stepped up against the G-Men with Gore (6-0-0 & 1-8-0 receiving) sidelined due to a knee injury, completing 19-of-30 passes for a respectable 242-1-1. Delanie Walker led San Francisco receivers with 6-69-0 while Vernon Davis (3-40-1) caught Smith’s lone touchdown pass. Kendall Hunter led all San Francisco rushers with 6-40-1.
Although the Giants fell to 6-3, they definitely are a playoff contender. New York’s only competition for an NFC East title likely will come from the Dallas Cowboys. Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career. “Captain Comeback” has rallied New York from a fourth-quarter deficit to a victory five times in 2011, and he almost notched come-from-behind win number six against the 49ers, but his fourth-and-two pass to Jake Ballard was batted away with 37 seconds left. Manning completed 26-of-40 throws to compile 311-2-2 with Victor Cruz (6-84-0), Mario Manningham (6-77-1) and Hakeem Nicks (2-41-0) pacing the offense as usual. Brandon Jacobs (18-55-0) had a quiet day against a superior San Francisco run defense.
Paced By an Aggressive, Opportunistic Defense, the Chicago Bears Notch Their Fourth Straight Win by Destroying the Detroit Lions 37-13
Five weeks ago, the Detroit Lions had looked best-equipped to challenge the Green Bay Packers’ supremacy in the NFC North after slamming the Chicago Bears 24-13 on Monday Night Football. However, the Bears now look like Green Bay’s biggest divisional threat after routing a Detroit team that looked lifeless coming off a bye week – except during a huge second-half skirmish that started when Chicago’s D.J. Moore mixed it up with Matthew Stafford. Chicago and Detroit are tied for second place in the NFC North with 6-3 records.
Chicago picked Stafford (329-1-4) four times, returning two for touchdowns, and sacked him twice. The Bears also recovered two fumbles and limited Detroit to 216 total yards. In addition, they kept Calvin Johnson (7-81-0) out of the end zone and held Brandon Pettigrew (5-38-0) in check. Since Chicago’s defense scored twice and easily throttled the Lions offense, Matt Forte and company didn’t have to do much. Forte (18-64-1 & 1-3-0 receiving) scored, he amassed one of his weakest stat lines of 2011. Jay Cutler (123-0-0) did just enough to move the offense, hooking up with favorite target Earl Bennett (6-80-0) regularly for the second straight week. Devin Hester also scored on an 82-yard punt return, which extended his NFL all-time record of 19 punt/kickoff/missed field goal returns. As they say in Chicago whenever Hester scores on a return: “Devin Hester, you are ridiculous!”
The Philadelphia Eagles Blow Their Fifth Fourth-Quarter Lead of the Season, Losing a 21-17 Shocker to the John Skelton-Led Arizona Cardinals
The so-called “Dream Team” apparently went back into hibernation after blasting the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the now 3-6 Philadelphia Eagles’ lowest point of the 2011 season. There is no excuse for losing to a backup quarterback-led Arizona Cardinals team that has traditionally struggled on the road, and 3-6 teams rarely rebound to make the playoffs. When we all woke up Sunday morning to find out that DeSean Jackson was a healthy scratch for missing a Saturday team meeting, we should have taken that as a very ominous sign for Philadelphia.
More bad things happened to the Eagles: Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder) was injured and looks like a long shot to play in Week 11. Here is the big one: Michael Vick (16-of-34 for 128-0-2 and 8-79-0 rushing) was outplayed by second-year pro John Skelton (21-of-40 for 315-3-2 and 4-15-0 rushing). Skelton hit Early Doucet on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 left in the contest to secure the triumph. Larry Fitzgerald (7-146-2) kicked in a monster game to offset the weak rushing performance by Chris “Beanie” Wells (23-62-0). For Philadelphia, Brent Celek (4-53-0) and Steve E. Smith (5-47-0) were Vick’s top two targets. LeSean McCoy (14-81-1 and 3-12-0) was the only Eagle to amass good fantasy stats.
The New Orleans Saints Receive a Gift 26-23 Overtime Win from the Atlanta Falcons
Christmas came early for the New Orleans Saints! It’s a shame that a very questionable call made by Atlanta Falcons (5-4) head coach Mike Smith in overtime tainted an otherwise entertaining NFC South clash. In case you missed it: They kicked off overtime knotted at 23-23. Smith decided to go for it on fourth and inches from the Falcons’ own 29-yard line, and the New Orleans Saints defense stuffed Michael Turner, preventing him from gaining the needed yardage. Just a few minutes later, John Kasay kicked the game-winning 26-yard field goal. By the way, I’m sure Falcons’ fans are using some far more colorful language to describe Smith’s decision, which propelled New Orleans (7-3) into a commanding lead of the division and snapped Atlanta’s three-game winning streak.
The Falcons wasted a monster outing from Matt Ryan (29-of-52 for 351-2-1). Harry Douglas (8-133-0) surprised with a huge game while Tony Gonzalez (6-71-1) and Jason Snelling (1-0-0 and 2-25-1 receiving) caught Ryan’s touchdown passes. Michael Turner (22-96-0 and 1-10-0) paced the rushing attack, but he did lose carries to Jacquizz Rodgers (7-30-0). For New Orleans, Drew Brees (30-of-43 for 322-2-0) was his usual stellar self. Marques Colston (8-113-0) and Jimmy Graham (7-82-1) served as Brees’ top-two targets as usual. However, Atlanta limited the trio of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles to a combined 16-41-0 on the ground. Sproles (2-1-0 and 4-2-0) had his worst game of the season.
The New England Patriots Pound the New York Jets 37-16 to Claim Sole Possession of First Place in the AFC East
So much for all that talk about the New York Jets (5-4) being on the rise and the New England Patriots (6-3) spiraling downward into mediocrity, but we seem to hear this before every Patriots/Jets game, don’t we? What had been a struggling Patriots’ offense during the last few weeks erupted for 30 points. Tom Brady (26-of-39 for 329-3-0) finished strong after shaking off a slow start. Rob Gronkowski (8-113-1) led all New England receivers and Deion Branch (5-58-1) also had a solid game. However, the four-headed backfield of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley amassed just 25-58-0 rushing.
What had been a beleaguered and porous New England defense notched one recovered fumble, two interceptions (one pick-six) and five sacks while pressuring Mark Sanchez (20-of-39 for 306-1-2) all night. He and the Jets were unable to exploit what has been a soft Patriots’ defense. Santonio Holmes (6-93-0), Jeremy Kerley (4-79-0) and Plaxico Burress (3-39-1) were Sanchez’s top targets. New York’s Ground-and-Pound rushing attack worked adequately until the Jets fell behind and had to start passing frequently. Shonn Greene (13-61-0) and LaDainian Tomlinson (7-38-0 and 2-22-0 receiving) didn’t find the end zone.