Bad weather and blowouts. That, for the most part, is what the 11th Sunday of the 2013 NFL season brought us.
A nasty band of Midwest rain pummeled five stadiums and caused a two-hour delay at Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears' 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens started at 1 p.m. ET and finished at 6:16 p.m. ET. (It also rained in Seattle, but what else is new?)
We had seven games decided by at least 10 points, and not coincidentally in bad weather, six were won by the home team.
What follows is not a comprehensive review of Sunday's best and worst performances. It's my take on the games and plays I saw in six hours of watching (and chatting about) football.
1. Matt McGloin, Oakland Raiders quarterback: There have been many NFL seasons in which a Matt McGloin never would have gotten a chance to do what he did Sunday. He started for the Raiders because Terrelle Pryor was injured and his original backup, Matt Flynn, performed so poorly earlier this season he was released. Some of you might consider this faint praise, but let's pause for a moment and note that McGloin had one of the best games for an undrafted rookie quarterback in NFL history. According to the league, he was the first such passer to throw three touchdowns without an interception in the common draft era, which began in 1967. He completed only 56 percent of his passes (18-of-32), but a handful of those incompletions were very catchable balls. We'll tap the brakes for a second. I don't know that the Raiders have a quarterback controversy on their hands. But in a season when an exceptional number of backup quarterbacks have found their way to the field, it was nice to see one provide the kind of short-term relief that all reserves should aspire to.
2. Cincinnati Bengals, AFC North Division winner (?): Unless you're expecting a massive second-half run from the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's fair to wonder if Sunday gave the Bengals the distance they need to win the division. They are 7-4 now after overcoming a 93-yard, two-interception day by quarterback Andy Dalton. (Worth noting: The Bengals got one touchdown apiece from their defense and special teams.) The victory gave them a 2½-game lead over the Steelers, Ravens and Cleveland Browns. It's possible that the Week 15 game in Pittsburgh will be more meaningful than it once appeared, but the Bengals are in pretty good shape. They have a bye next week and then will face only one more team, the Indianapolis Colts, that currently has a winning record.
3. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants defensive end: At the precise moment the Green Bay Packers were threatening to make it a game at MetLife Stadium, Pierre-Paul came up with his biggest play of the season. The Packers had just regained possession after making it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter, and coach Mike McCarthy was his usual aggressive self. Pierre-Paul then did something you rarely see from a defensive end: He anticipated quarterback Scott Tolzien's pass to the flat, raised his hands and -- instead of tipping the ball or knocking it down -- simply caught it and dashed 24 yards for a touchdown. The play essentially sealed the game. Don't look now, but the Giants are no longer in the NFC East cellar. In fact, they're only one game behind in the loss column to the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles.
4. Mark Dalton, Arizona Cardinals public relations director: Dalton made the best of an unusual situation during the Cardinals' 27-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. As I'm sure you've seen by now, one play ended with Jaguars linebacker Jason Babin holding a handful of hair once belonging to Cardinals running back Andre Ellington. The incident prompted Dalton to reel off this line: "2013 Cardinals become 1st team in NFL history to have players lose a finger & multiple dreadlocks in same season. #leaveitallonthefield." Earlier this season, of course, Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson lost the top of his left middle finger during a game. For those curious: Dalton also confirmed that Ellington's removed hair was real, and not extensions, and tweeted a photo of its eventual return in a Ziploc bag. Well done, sir. Oh, and by the way, the Cardinals have won three consecutive games, are 6-4 and in the thick of the NFC wild-card playoff race.
5. Power of offense: My thought on the Kansas City Chiefs' championship aspirations centered around a defense that limited opponents to an average of 12.3 points during its first nine games of the season. A lights-out defense figured to give the Chiefs a pretty good chance in a playoff game against the high-scoring offenses they were likely to face. Some might view Sunday night's game in Denver as evidence that the Chiefs' defense isn't as good as we thought. I would suggest the opposite: It demonstrated the power of the Broncos' offense. They scored 27 points, a season-high against the Chiefs, while gaining 427 yards and picking up 24 first downs. It was also the first time this season that the Chiefs had not recorded at least one sack, and their only "takeaway" came on a botched exchanged between quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Montee Ball. On this night, at least, great offense bested great defense.
1. Too-quick quarterback change, Houston Texans: The season is lost and has been for some time in Houston. The Texans were 2-7 when the day began, and whether they finish the season 2-14 or reel off a few victories and finish 6-10, they're not going to the playoffs. Whatever decision owner Bob McNair makes about the future of coach Gary Kubiak is likely to be based on what has already happened, not whether the Texans win two, three, five or eight games. So the only way to understand Kubiak's decision to pull starter Case Keenum, in a competitive situation late in the third quarter, is as a blatant and quite possibly ineffective act of self-preservation. It's true that Keenum has struggled after halftime in his brief three-start career. But that's kind of the point, right? It has been brief! What's the play when you're 2-7? Find out if your young quarterback can solve those problems? Or trot out the former starter, the one you have already given up on, in hopes of getting that elusive third victory? Kubiak picked the latter, installing Matt Schaub to little success. If you thought it wasn't possible, Kubiak deepened the muck in Houston.
2. Fake kicks, multiple offenders: I'm all for coaches making aggressive and even unconventional decisions to go for it on fourth down. And the more often we see it, the less reason I see to reach the same end via a fake punt or field goal. Sunday, we saw the Detroit Lions send holder Sam Martin off tackle after lining up for a 28-yard field goal. Martin needed 5 yards and got 3 before getting hit and fumbling. The Green Bay Packers also snapped the ball to upback M.D. Jennings, a safety, rather than punt. Jennings needed 7 yards and got 6. In these situations, if I'm going to take the fourth-down risk, I want the ball in my best players' hands. I don't want my punter trying to run while Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are on the sideline. And I don't want a safety trying to beat a defender to the line instead of Eddie Lacy. The trick has to be exceptionally innovative, and the timing wholly unexpected, to merit its use. Neither of Sunday's fakes fit that description.
3. AFC playoff race: Part of the reason the Bengals are in such good shape in the AFC North, as we noted above, is that the rest of the division is under .500. In fact, the AFC has only five winning teams and a total of nine teams with losing records. It has been seven years since a conference had no more than five teams with a winning record through Week 11, per the Elias Sports Bureau. I'm mostly in favor of playoff expansion, especially if it brings a reduction in the preseason, but I agree this isn't the best year to argue for it. If the playoffs started today, the New York Jets -- who took a 37-14 beating Sunday from the Buffalo Bills -- would be the No. 6 seed. The Jets (5-5) and Miami Dolphins (5-5) are the only .500 teams in the conference at the moment. Yuck.
4. Endgame silliness, San Francisco 49ers: Let's face it, the odds were never great that the 49ers would go to the Superdome and beat the New Orleans Saints. But they absolutely had a chance to do it, and might have pulled it off had they not made a series of late mistakes. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was called for a hit to the neck of quarterback Drew Brees, wiping out a turnover. Running back Frank Gore dropped a short swing pass that might have gone for a touchdown. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stepped out of bounds on a failed third-down run, giving the Saints an extra 40 seconds to work with on their final drive. And special teams ace Kassim Osgood must have missed Darren Sproles' fair-catch signal, because he hit Sproles and put the Saints 15 yards closer to the winning points. I don't think the 49ers choked up a sure victory, but they certainly gave the Saints some unneeded help along the way.
5. Misconception of NFL discipline: Contrary to popular belief, NFL teams absolutely have a way to punish players who are involved in police matters. They don't have to wait for the league to conduct an investigation and make a ruling. There is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement that prevents them from deactivating the player for one game or more. The player is still paid for the week, but prohibiting participation can still have a deterrent effect while also allowing the franchise to distance itself from the incident. There were three driving-related arrests this week in the NFL, and only the Atlanta Falcons chose that route (with running back Jason Snelling). The Kansas City Chiefs allowed receiver Dwayne Bowe to start Sunday night, while the Minnesota Vikings played receiver Jerome Simpson extensively against the Seattle Seahawks. Each team had its own reasons, but to me it's important to be clear on what their options were and are moving forward.