There is no overstating the significance of San Diego’s come-from-behind victory over Baltimore. In fact, it might have saved the Chargers’ season, and here’s why: December. Look what’s ahead for the Bolts next month: New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. Brutal. But consider this: Virtually nobody is better in December than Philip Rivers. He’s 30-6 for the month in his career, which means this is his time of year. Split the rest of the schedule, and the Chargers almost surely make the playoffs.
2. With the victory the Bolts did what no other West Coast team has: Win in Baltimore. Eleven others preceded them, and 11 lost. But that’s not all. Baltimore was 30-1 under John Harbaugh when scoring 30 or more points … that is, until Sunday. As I said, there’s no overstating the importance of this win.
3. Baltimore, you blew it. The Ravens’ last four games are vs. Miami, Jacksonville, Houston and Oakland – with two of them in Baltimore. Had they held on Sunday, they would’ve won the AFC North. Now, they’re a game-and-a-half behind Cincinnati and hoping for a wild card.
4. Credit Aaron Rodgers for a huge win, making the Packers the team to beat in the NFL. But credit his offensive line, too. So New England had three sacks. Big deal. The Patriots didn’t pressure Rodgers when it mattered most, with Rodgers free to pick out available receivers.
5. Green Bay will not lose another game and will gain the NFC’s home-field advantage.
6. We now have a clear-cut MVP leader. Aaron Rodgers, please step forward.
7. Careful, New England. Your next opponent, San Diego, is not only dangerous at home but nearly impossible to beat there in December.
8. Nope, I don’t trust Cincinnati, either. But the Bengals just won three straight road games, and that’s harder than hard this time of year.
9. Nobody plays down to the competition like the Pittsburgh Steelers: They’ve lost to the Jets, Saints and Tampa Bay Bucs, with two of them at home. When they wonder why they’re not in the playoffs, start there.
10. I thought Patrick Peterson vs. Julio Jones was supposed to be a showdown. It wasn’t. It was a beatdown, with Jones doing the beating.
11. Beware Seattle. Once upon a time, the Seahawks lost the swagger that made their defense so special last season. Now they have it back, allowing six points the last two games – and it wasn’t at the expense of stiffs. It was against Arizona and San Francisco, opponents that were a combined 16-5 before going down.
12. Marvin Lewis is a convenient target for critics of the Cincinnati Bengals but credit him with saving his team’s latest victory. Had Lewis not alerted officials to Tampa having 12 men on the field on its last drive – and burning a timeout to do it — he almost surely would have lost.
13. Mike Pettine can stop the tap-dancing and name Johnny Manziel his starter. Now that Manziel’s been on the field, there’s no turning back – and Pettine knows it. Brian Hoyer isn’t the future. Manziel is. So get a read on him down the stretch. If you felt enough about him to make him a first-round choice you must have felt he could start. So start him.
14. Guess that answers what the Browns do with Brian Hoyer after this season.
15. OK, so I’m not so sure Arizona can survive Drew Stanton. When it takes you two-and-a-half games to produce an offensive touchdown you’re toast.
16. That should prove that Washington’s problems go much deeper than RG3. This is a ballclub that produced six takeaways the past two weeks and turned them into … six points? Pathetic. This team stinks from top to bottom.
17. Sorry, but if Colt McCoy puts up 27 points and nearly 400 yards passing on you, you do not have enough defense to go deep into the playoffs. And Indianapolis does not.
18. Two words to describe the Giants’ latest loss: Rock bottom.
19. The only question now is how Tom Coughlin exits. Coughlin is held in high esteem in New York, and the Giants owe it to him to leave on his own terms – resigning to spare himself another firing.
20. Talk about a fickle business: One year he’s River Boat Ron; now he’s Up the River Ron.
21. Cut the Raiders some slack. They’re still hung over from that Kansas City win.
22. I can’t imagine anyone taking a flyer on Ray Rice this year. Next season? Yes. Now? No.
23. Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor proved he’s a difference maker all right … but for the wrong team.
24. I see a Rob Ryan-Sean Payton reality TV program in the future. The love-hate relationship is just what viewers crave.
25. Make Denver another big winner. Not only did the Broncos push Kansas City another game back in the AFC West; they’re within a half-game of the AFC’s first seed, New England — and the Pats must play San Diego next week. Of course, Denver must go there, too, as well as drop in Cincinnati, where the Bengals don’t lose.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES
1. St. Louis RB Tre Mason. He had 164 yards from scrimmage and scored three times – including once on an 89-yard run. You want to know why St. Louis put Zac Stacy in mothballs? You’re looking at him. It’s been a disappointing season for the Rams, but not a lost one. They discovered this guy.
2. New Orleans QB Drew Brees. I can’t figure him or his team out. They don’t win on the road. They don’t win at home. Then they win in … Pittsburgh? Blame it on Brees. He’s the guy who threw five touchdown passes – including a 69-yarder to Kenny Still.
3. Atlanta WR Julio Jones. Nobody is supposed to gauge the Cardinals the way Jones did – putting up career numbers (10 catches for 189 yards and a score) in one afternoon. Suddenly, Arizona looks as if it’s hit the wall.
4. Denver RB C.J. Anderson. Who needs Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman with this guy around? A week ago he ran for 167 yards; then he puts up 168 vs. Kansas City. If Peyton Manning ever struggles — and he wasn’t all that sharp in the second half Sunday — Anderson gives Denver an unexpected option.
5. Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins. He goes for a career-high 238 yards receiving and throws in two TDs. Imagine if he had a quality quarterback throwing to him. Oh, wait … Ryan Fitzpatrick just set a franchise record with six scoring passes.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES
1. N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. No, he didn’t throw another interception, but he did commit a costly fumble that the Jags turned into an immediate touchdown – one of two fumble returns for scores that pushed Jacksonville … yes, Jacksonville … to an improbable victory.
2. Baltimore CB Anthony Levine. Making his third start, Levine was a target all afternoon — committing a fatal pass interference penalty with 46 seconds left. It not only cost Baltimore a touchdown; it cost the Ravens the ballgame.
3. Kansas City CB Marcus Cooper. In a night when the Chiefs’ special teams failed to distinquish themselves, Cooper makes an unforgivable gaffe, allowing a punt to hit him from behind – and allowing Denver to recover. Stupid is as stupid does, and that was dumb.
4. The Oakland Raiders. There are no excuses for a 52-0 drubbing. They had 10 days to get ready for St. Louis, and this is the best they can do? I’m not sure what’s going on – if it’s performance issues or personnel issues – but I am sure these guys stink.
5. Carolina special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers. Two blocked punts = two touchdowns and one rotten performance. Both punts were blocked in the firsts half, only the fourth time in league history two blocked punts were returned for scores in one half.
FIVE GUYS ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
1. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. He shredded what was supposed to be an airtight New England defense, throwing for 368 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. So what’s new? In his last 10 regular-season home games, Rodgers has 31 touchdown passes and no interceptions … oh, yeah, and 10 wins.
2. Houston DE J.J. Watt. He has two sacks. He forces a fumble. He recovers a fumble. He catches another touchdown pass. That’s five TDs this season … for a defensive end. The guy can do it all, one reason he’ll get MVP votes.
3. San Diego QB Philip Rivers. He completes all but nine of 45 passes, throws for 383 yards and three touchdowns and leads San Diego to an improbable … and highly necessary … come-from-behind victory in Baltimore, a place where West Coast teams go to die. Surprising? Not so much. There is nobody outside of Tom Brady I trust more this time of year.
4. Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. He fumbled his first snap. He threw an interception on his second series. Then he responded with a season-best five touchdown passes and 370 yards – his 10th 300-yard game this season, a franchise record. It’s hard to believe the Colts gave up on Peyton Manning … until you realize they gave up on him to make room for Luck.
5. Atlanta RB Steven Jackson. He becomes the first back in 35 games to break 100 yards for Atlanta, but, more importantly, becomes the first in 22 games to rush for 100 yards vs. Arizona. Jackson hasn’t done much since landing in Atlanta, but for one afternoon he looked like the back who was so productive with St. Louis.
THIS WEEK”S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE
Houston QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. There is no explaining what happened to this guy, other than to say he had the game of a lifetime – putting up more points than he did on the SATs to get into Harvard. Six touchdown passes? I’d expect that from Peyton Manning, not the “Amish Rifle.” I don’t know if that says more about Tennessee at this stage of the season, but it doesn’t matter. Fitzpatrick never looked better.
THIS WEEK”S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“You never want to see someone else doing your job.” – Cleveland QB Brian Hoyer.
0 – Home wins for Tampa Bay
5 – Oakland turnovers
5 – Number of centers used by San Diego this season
7 – Wins at home for Atlanta vs. Arizona
7 – Career games with five Drew Brees’ touchdown passes
11-1 – Peyton Manning vs. Kansas City
36:35 — Green Bay’s time of possession
38 – First-half points by St. Louis, a franchise record
254 – Le’Veon Bell yards from scrimmage
1991 – Last time Steelers allowed five TD passes
2001 – Last time Rams scored six times from scrimmage