<
>

Week 10: Tie is biggest surprise

Week 10 was loaded with surprises, upsets and the NFL's first tie in four years.

The surprises included the Cincinnati Bengals beating the New York Giants, the New Orleans Saints hanging on to beat the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys outlasting the Eagles in Philadelphia. And who could have expected the St. Louis Rams to tie the San Francisco 49ers?

The last deadlock occurred between Philadelphia and Cincinnati in November 2008, when Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb didn't know there could be a tie.

Quarterbacks Alex Smith of the 49ers and Michael Vick of the Eagles left their games early because of concussions on Sunday. Both players will have to go through extensive tests before being cleared to play again.

Sunday was also a day of crazy finishes. The Rams had two chances to win in overtime taken away from them because of self-inflicted penalties. Danny Amendola got behind the 49ers' defense and got inside the 5, but the play was called back because of an illegal formation. Kicker Greg Zuerlein lost the chance for a winning field goal when the Rams were called for delay of game.

Officiating was also a question in the 24-24 tie. The Rams lost about 72 seconds off the play clock in the first half, and a slow spot cost them time in overtime.

Let's look at some of the top storylines of the wild week:

1. Giant November slump: It's hard to figure out who has had a worse start to November: Mitt Romney or the Giants. Romney lost the presidential election to Barack Obama. The Giants have lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bengals.

"I don't completely understand where we are and why we are," a puzzled Tom Coughlin said after the Giants' 31-13 loss to the Bengals. For whatever reason, the Giants have lost 21 of their past 34 November games.

Coughlin uses the term green zone for what others call the red zone, but it's been a yellow zone for the Giants because of too much caution. The Giants scored one touchdown in three trips inside the Bengals' 20-yard line and are 11-for-41 for the season. The Giants have settled for 28 field goals this year.

Eli Manning had two interceptions and a lost fumble, continuing his slump. Some sources inside the organization say Manning has a tired arm.

"I've asked him how he feels," Coughlin said. "He always responds he feels good."

But Manning isn't looking good. He's thrown for 215, 125 and 192 yards in the past three games. Without going into an explanation, Manning said defenses are playing the Giants differently of late.

Scouts say opponents are doing their best to keep Victor Cruz from making big plays. Hakeem Nicks has been struggling with a knee injury and can be covered by one cornerback. Coughlin said there has been some miscommunication between Manning and the receivers in recent weeks. Plus, the run game has been subpar.

"This is not a time to start doubting our offense," Manning said.

At 6-4, the Giants need their bye week, which is next week, to self-scout their problems. Their two-game November slide could prevent them from getting a first-round playoff bye, and it lets the other NFC East teams stay in contention despite bad starts that have them all with losing records.

"We got into the mess together, and we've got to find a way to get out of it together," Coughlin said. "I believe we will bounce back."

2. Feeling the pressure: The frustration of 10 weeks of football is starting to get to coaches and players. San Diego coach Norv Turner was uncharacteristically snippy after the Chargers' 34-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When asked whether the loss was unacceptable, Turner said, "What do you think? You answer that question."

Turner's job will be on the line if the Chargers don't make the playoffs. If they lose to the 6-3 Broncos next week, his tenure as Chargers coach is all but officially doomed.

Quarterback Philip Rivers threw an absolutely inexcusable interception that Bucs rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson returned for an 83-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rivers was running out of bounds and probably should have continued running. Instead, he threw across his body for the pick. Two series later, poor mechanics by Rivers led to another interception.

The New York Jets also have to be feeling the pressure after their embarrassing 28-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. They are 3-6, three games behind the New England Patriots, with an offense that is spiraling out of control.

"Obviously that's a brutal loss right there," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. Ryan realizes the chances of making the playoffs are slipping away, adding, "I don't know how many more losses you can spot somebody before you can't make the playoffs."

Meanwhile, the Eagles' 38-23 loss to the Cowboys pretty much ends the Andy Reid reign as head coach.

"Too many big plays in a short period of time," Reid said about the loss. "Special teams and defense need to do a better job and figure this thing out. We can't give up those things to a good football team.

3. Lions lose their roar: Did anyone see the Minnesota Vikings' 34-24 win over the Detroit Lions coming? Sure, the Vikings won the Sept. 30 meeting in Detroit 20-13. Since then, defenses have figured out how to stop Christian Ponder's short passing attack. Plus, the Vikings didn't have their best receiver, Percy Harvin, because of an ankle injury.

With two losses to the Vikings, the Lions may have blundered their way out of making a repeat run to the playoffs.

"We're 4-5," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We need to go play. We've got some home games we need to take advantage of."

But the Lions' closing schedule is the toughest in football. By some strange quirk in the schedule, the Lions play five of their final seven games at home, including the next three against the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

The Lions' lack of a running threat in the first half of the season allowed opposing defenses to play zones. That strategy cut down the big plays and bottled up Calvin Johnson. Johnson, despite a knee injury, has come on in the past two weeks, highlighted by Sunday's 207-yard, 12-catch day.

But the Lions have a way of beating themselves. They fell behind 10-0 against the Vikings and have been outscored 53-28 in first quarters this season. Untimely mistakes have plagued this team all year.

"A penalty here or I missed a guy or I missed a guy on a second-down pass, we drop a ball or we get stuffed on a run," quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

Catching the Bears in the NFC North is out of the question for the Lions. That leaves Detroit chasing the 6-3 Packers, the 6-4 Vikings and the 6-4 Seahawks for the wild-card spots. Green Bay and Seattle have chances to win 10 or 11 games. Even being optimistic, it's hard to think the Lions can do better than nine wins, even with all their home games.

Cornerback Chris Houston is hurt, and safety Louis Delmas' knee isn't getting any better. The Lions have been patching with two backup safeties. The Vikings put up 403 yards on the Detroit defense. Disappointing.

4. No go for Tebow: After using the bye week to study more ways to use Tim Tebow, Ryan put the backup quarterback on the field more Sunday and even let him throw the ball.

But let's face it: The experiment simply doesn't work. In the Jets' loss to the Seahawks, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano used Tebow on 10 plays. But you wonder whether there was more damage than benefit.

Twice, the confusion of switching from Mark Sanchez to Tebow led to false-start penalties, including one first-half sequence that cost the Jets points. Tight end Dustin Keller jumped offside on a third-and-goal at the Seahawks' 1. On the next play, Sanchez was enticed to throw an interception in the end zone by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. It was Sanchez's fourth red zone pick of the season.

I still can't figure out how Sanchez could get into any rhythm as a quarterback with Tebow getting more playing time. The Jets' offense lacked communication and efficiency against the Seahawks.

Tebow had four rushes for 14 yards and was 3-for-3 passing for 8 yards, a minimal impact. Take away the 10 yards of penalties, and Tebow-mania was worth only 12 yards.

Sanchez wasn't much better. He was 9-for-22 for 124 yards, but he was sacked three times for 31 yards. The Jets had only 84 yards rushing and 185 total yards, and they didn't score any points on offense. Needless to say, Tebow isn't ready to take over for Sanchez.

"We will stick with Mark," Ryan said. There really isn't a choice.

5. Quarterback danger zone: Reid left the Eagles exposed to potential disaster by having only two quarterbacks active. The 49ers faced a similar situation in their tie against the Rams.

To their credit, the 49ers and Eagles are among the 18 teams wise enough to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. But as most teams do, they deactivated one Sunday.

The Eagles had to go to rookie Nick Foles after Vick suffered a concussion and an eye injury in the first half. Jim Harbaugh needed Colin Kaepernick after Smith was sidelined with a first-half concussion.

Because Vick gets hit on one of every three plays, the odds of needing that backup increase. The Eagles were in further trouble because Trent Edwards was inactive and wide receiver Jason Avant, the team's emergency quarterback, suffered a first-half injury that kept him out of the game. Foles threw a touchdown pass but wasn't much of a factor after that. Had he suffered an injury, the quarterback options would have been brutal.

The 49ers got by with Kaepernick, but it was a gamble to use him on read-option plays that are an injury risk with no healthy quarterback behind him.

Eagles fans learned that Foles isn't ready to replace Vick, who still gives the team the best chance to win.

SHORT TAKES

The Saints have major problems on defense, but they also have heart. Their 31-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons showed guts, as they won by stopping the Falcons on three plays from the Saints' 1 in the final minute of the game. You knew a Matt Ryan-Drew Brees duel would be high-scoring. Ryan threw for 411 yards, and the Falcons had 454 yards of total offense. The loss showed that the Falcons have to study their problems running the ball near the goal line. They cut fullback Lousaka Polite last week and went with Mike Cox. But in 13 goal-to-goal chances against the Saints, the Falcons passed nine times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Michael Turner is a big back but has only three touchdowns on 17 goal-to-goal carries this season. ... It's about time the Titans got off to a good start, jumping to a 14-0 lead over Miami after one quarter. They had been outscored 103-38 in their nine previous first quarters. ... To try teaching his young team a lesson, Rams coach Jeff Fisher deactivated draft choices Janoris Jenkins and Chris Givens for violating team rules. Jenkins is a starting cornerback, and Givens is the Rams' deep threat. St. Louis responded well for Fisher against the 49ers. ... Dolphins coach Joe Philbin showed his own discipline. He pulled guard Richie Incognito to the sideline to discuss a first-quarter penalty. Then he yanked halfback Reggie Bush when he fumbled on the second offensive possession and kept him out most of the first half. "If I was a coach, I would have benched myself," Bush said. The discipline didn't work. The Dolphins lost to the Titans 37-3. I guess that's the difference of how an experienced coach (Fisher) handles things and a first-year coach (Philbin) does. ... It was curious that Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said, "It has always been my desire that the Carolinas would be the home of the Panthers. Nothing has changed." No one thought the Panthers would move, though a Los Angeles group is pushing to entice the Panthers. A stadium-renovation plan in Charlotte is expected by the end of the year. ... Putting defensive end Glenn Dorsey on the season-ending injured list indicates the Chiefs won't bring him back next year. He'll be a free agent and probably will go to a team with a 4-3 defensive scheme. Dorsey was the fifth pick in the 2008 draft. ... With the Buccaneers being thin at cornerback after trading Aqib Talib, the Chargers opened the game with plenty of three- and four-receiver sets. ... There were nine punt blocks all of last year. On Sunday, the 15th block of 2012 occurred. ... Saints coach Joe Vitt was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing a fourth-down completion to Falcons receiver Julio Jones. Vitt thought Jones pushed off on cornerback Jabari Greer. ... The Raiders' situation at cornerback got worse when they waived Pat Lee to get a running back off the practice squad. The Raiders have to rely on Ron Bartell and Michael Huff to get them through the rest of the season at corner, and that's not good enough. Baltimore's point total in its 55-20 win was the highest ever allowed by a Raiders defense. They've given up 97 points over the past two weeks. "We obviously have to look at the whole thing," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "The outcome like that is unacceptable." ... Bill Belichick has to be concerned about New England's defense after a 37-31 win over Buffalo. The Bills put up 481 yards on the Pats, including 337 yards by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Next week, the Patriots will have Talib, who cost them a fourth-round pick. They are expected to keep their best coverage corner, Devin McCourty, at safety. ... The Bills killed themselves with four defensive pass interference calls, including three in the end zone. They also lost two timeouts in the final attempt to catch up because of injuries to wide receiver Donald Jones and halfback Fred Jackson. Officials have to enforce timeouts in the final two minutes for injuries.