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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 10 of the 2014 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Denver’s receivers are fond of saying that there are no go-to guys among the Broncos pass-catchers. With Peyton Manning delivering the football, any game could be anybody’s day.
Thanks to C.J. Anderson, the Broncos running backs can say the same thing.
The second-year undrafted tailback from Cal broke free for a career-best 163 yards from scrimmage in Denver’s 41-17 rout at Oakland on Sunday. His 51-yard touchdown on a screen pass broke the game open for the slow-starting Broncos (7-2).
“I feel like we’ve got five backs on the active roster that if they all have their opportunity, they’ll go out there and do their thing,” Anderson said Monday. “There’s opportunities out there for everybody and I took advantage of mine yesterday.”
Coach John Fox said Anderson’s breakout performance “speaks to the depth we have. We’ve been pretty fortunate to have some guys stepping in and doing a good job. I think it’s a tribute to those guys being on top of their craft.”
As for carving himself a bigger role in the offense, Anderson said: “I just stay in my lane. If they decide to make my role bigger, then I’m going to go out there and play.”
The tailback turnstile promises to keep right on turning this week: starter Ronnie Hillman is expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left foot, and Montee Ball is expected back after missing five games with a torn right groin.
When Ball returned to practice last week, he said he realized Hillman had taken his job and he’d have to fight to get it back. Now, it looks like he might have to leapfrog Anderson, too. Then, there are rookies Juwan Thompson and Kapri Bibbs, both of whom also figure to be active when the Broncos visit the St. Louis Rams (6-3) Sunday.
“All five of us prepare like we’re going to start that day because you just never know what’s going to happen,” said Anderson, who ran for 90 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes for 73 yards Sunday.
Anderson’s first career touchdown came on what started out as a sack-avoiding toss from Manning. Anderson snared it with his right hand and broke a tackle from Miles Burris in the backfield before stiff-arming Khalil Mack and breaking a tackle by Charles Woodson. He reversed field and weaved his way behind big blocks from Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas for the score.
The TD propelled the Broncos to 35 unanswered points.
- PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NFL’s leading receiver — the one taken in the sixth round of the 2010 draft as an unknown, undersized project — would like to have a word.
“I’m not a little guy,” Antonio Brown says.
Point out that at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds the frenetic Pittsburgh Steelers star is hardly considered an NFL prototype, and Brown shrugs.
“I’m not a little guy,” he repeats.
And the scouts who figured he was a fringe prospect at best four years ago, favoring the likes of Marcus Easley, Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, all 6-2 or taller, all no longer in the league?
“They made a mistake,” Brown said with a smile. You think?
Freed by a crackdown on illegal contact in the secondary, bolstered by creative sets designed to get him in open space and emboldened by a chip on his shoulder that never seems to go away, Brown is spearheading a mini-revolution at his position.
Scooch over Calvin Johnson. Make room Julio Jones. Hold up there A.J. Green and Dez Bryant, you’ve got company.
Midway through 2014, the NFL’s most electric playmakers are the guys whose modest frames belie big-time numbers.
After 10 weeks of play, Brown’s 70 receptions and 1,070 yards receiving are tops in the league and his eight touchdowns are tied for fourth. Brown’s childhood buddy T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts — generously listed at 5-9 — is third in yards and sixth in yards per catch.
They’re not alone. Seven of the top 11 players in yards receiving are under 6 feet tall.
Emmanuel Sanders (5-11) is developing into Peyton Manning’s favorite target in Denver. Golden Tate (5-10) has become so explosive the Lions are soaring even with Johnson — Megatron himself — struggling to stay healthy. Julian Edelman (5-10) is Wes Welker version 2.0 in New England. The Redskins are a hot mess but DeSean Jackson (5-10) and his not-a-typo 21.8 yards per reception offer the beleaguered franchise and quarterback Robert Griffin III a glimmer of hope.
In Baltimore, a rejuvenated 35-year-old Steve Smith is the old-school boss in the midst of a late-career renaissance. The 5-9 veteran already has four 100-yard receiving games at a time when most guys at his position have evolved into part-time role players if they even have a job at all.
“The little guys are coming back to rule the world,” Smith said with laugh. “We’re coming back (and) we’re here to stay. That’s the bottom line. That’s what it’s about. The big guys, you can throw it up to them but at the end of the day when you want to move the sticks you have to throw it to the little guys. We move the needle.”
They’re doing more than that. They’re finding the end zone with the same frequency as their larger — and largely higher profile — colleagues.
The 26-year-old Brown may be the most dangerous player in the league, turning every slant or quick screen into a showcase for his roadrunner footwork regardless of where the Steelers are at on the field. While brawny tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and supersized wideouts like Demaryius Thomas remain matchup issues in tight spaces, Brown and his buddies are making an impact from goal line to goal line.
Brown, Sanders and Green Bay’s Randall Cobb are in the top 10 in red zone receptions, a tribute to their uncanny ability to wiggle free when opposing cornerbacks try to get physical and the NFL’s increased policing of the pushing and shoving that goes on downfield.
“I think it’s helping receivers in general,” Cobb said. “But definitely with our quickness and being able to get separation from the DB at the top of routes, and them not being able to grab has definitely helped.”
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has spent a dozen seasons chasing receivers while watching fads come and go. Witnessing Brown’s evolution from raw talent to unstoppable force is symbolic of the NFL’s shifting the balance of power to the offense.
“Coordinators are putting small guys off the line, making sure you’re not able to get your hands on them, using stacked positions, putting a receiver behind a tight end,” Taylor said. “They’re finding ways to maneuver these small guys and it’s been working.”
The inability to bump players like Smith or Brown before they get to full speed can make for a miserable four quarters.
“You give a guy like that some space, I’m not even talking about a lot of space, I’m talking about ‘man in the phone booth’ kind of space, he’s going to take off,” Taylor said.
Clearly, there’s still a place for receivers built like small forwards. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t truly take off until 6-4 rookie Martavis Bryant was inserted into the lineup last month as the lanky yin to Brown’s quicksilver yang.
Even facing constant double teams, Brown is on pace to set single-season team records in every major statistical receiving category, though he’s barely ahead of Hilton, a former youth football teammate when the two were growing up in Florida.
Hilton and Andrew Luck are building the same rapport in Indianapolis that Brown shares with Ben Roethlisberger. Last Monday against the Giants, Luck floated a pass toward Hilton in the end zone that Hilton wrestled away from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a taller cornerback, for a TD.
The catch is a fitting symbol to the tenacity of smaller receivers who’ve spent most of their lives trying to carve out their own space in a sport that can’t seem to get big enough fast enough.
- Ah, the wild West. As in the NFC West.
Considered the league’s best division heading into the season, the NFC West is not disappointing. The top three contenders from the sector, Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco, all were winners Sunday. The Cardinals also were losers as starting quarterback Carson Palmer injured his left knee.
Palmer was taken to the locker room on a cart after being helped off the field in the fourth quarter with Arizona down by four points. But the Cardinals (8-1) made several big plays down the stretch to beat St. Louis 31-14 and have the NFL’s best mark through nine games. They haven’t had such a strong record since going 11-1 as the Chicago Cardinals in 1948.
“I think there’s a question mark there because nobody knows what his status is,” backup Drew Stanton said after connecting with rookie John Brown for a touchdown. “It’s difficult because he is the leader of this team. … We’ll just continue to weather the storm, whatever it is.”
Palmer hurt the same knee he injured Jan. 8, 2006, in a playoff game against Pittsburgh, when he tore his ACL and MCL on his first pass of the game.
Palmer was playing some of the best football of his career and, on Friday, signed a three-year contract extension worth a reported $50 million with $20.5 million guaranteed.
Seattle (6-3) ran all over the New York Giants 38-17 thanks to a record-setting performance by Marshawn Lynch. San Francisco (5-4) needed a fourth-and-10 conversion late in the fourth quarter to force overtime in New Orleans before winning 27-24.
- The second half of the NFL schedule began with a whimper for several teams that the standings say are championship contenders.
What the Saints, Bills, Dolphins, Bengals and, in particular, the Steelers showed in Week 10 is just how unreliable they are. Yet many of them could wind up in the chase for the Super Bowl.
Mediocrity doesn’t mean your season ends before New Year’s Day in NFL 2014. No example is better than New Orleans.
The Saints should be very thankful they play in the Big Easy — no, not the city, but the NFC South.
Despite blowing a game to San Francisco in overtime Sunday, the Saints’ first home loss with Sean Payton working the sideline since 2011 (he was suspended in 2012), they seem destined to win their division. That would mean hosting a wild-card round game even if they have a .500 or worse record; how fitting would it be if the Seahawks became the visitor, a reversal of 2010?
But can you depend on these Saints (4-5) in a big spot? Not with their penchant for giveaways and a defense that struggles against the pass. Oh, and don’t forget their inability to close out an opponent.
Pardon our skepticism.
Same thing for the Dolphins and Bills, who lost statement games Sunday and now can only wave at New England atop the AFC East. They play each other Thursday night, and the loser probably can begin planning its offseason moves.
Quite possibly the winner, too, because the upcoming schedules are not particularly kind for Miami or Buffalo.
Possibly, but with a jumbled offensive line now that outstanding tackle Branden Albert is gone, are the Dolphins trustworthy?
As for the Bills, their red zone offense can be awful, which figures to doom them when they face Denver, Green Bay and New England in December.
The Bungles, uh, Bengals, are in the muddle, uh, middle of the AFC North race — all four teams are two games above .500. The problems in Cincinnati center on injuries, a sporadic offense when it isn’t self-destructive, and a defense that can’t handle the run.
There’s also some history here: Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since the 1990 season and is 0-5 under coach Marvin Lewis in the postseason.
Dependable? Don’t think so.
The most perplexing of the unreliable contenders is Pittsburgh. The Steelers looked like world beaters during a three-game string of wins in which they outscored the opposition 124-80. Ben Roethlisberger was unstoppable, setting an NFL mark with six TD passes in consecutive weeks.
Then, a 20-13 stinker against the Jets, who were mired in an eight-game slide.
- NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans keep finding new ways to stop themselves in a woeful season close to slipping away.
The Titans blew a chance for a big lead at Baltimore when Shonn Greene fumbled at the goal line on the opening drive, and they lost 21-7.
They have lost seven of eight with Pittsburgh (6-4) coming to town for a Monday night game.
At 2-7, the 4-12 mark in 2005 as this franchise’s worst record in Tennessee seems more realistic with each loss.
Nobody is happy, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday they all feel sick about the record.
After having officials at practice last week, the Titans cleaned up some issues such as hands to the face and holding penalties that had plagued the offense. But the offense still had five penalties in Baltimore with special teams getting flagged four times as well. That’s why Whisenhunt said officials will be back this week.
Worse, the Titans must wait for tight end Delanie Walker to be cleared from the concussion that knocked him out late in the second quarter against the Ravens. He’s the only tight end that has been with the Titans all season long because of injuries.
The Titans were tied at 7-7 when Walker was hit near midfield after a catch by Ravens safety Terrence Brooks. Walker appeared to be knocked out, and teammate Kendall Wright recovered the ball. Officials ruled the pass incomplete, and Titans running back Leon Washington wound up flagged for head-butting one of the Ravens.
Instead of the ball near midfield with 2:16 left before halftime, the Titans punted.
- EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Tom Coughlin isn’t giving up on the New York Giants. No way.
With their playoff hopes dimmed by four straight lopsided losses, the 68-year-old Coughlin said Monday that the Giants (3-6) are close to winning and they just need one to get things going.
“It doesn’t feel good.” Coughlin said in looking back on the run that put the Giants in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight year. “There is progress for me. There are a lot of things that you can point to that are good, but we are not finishing the job so that dominates all our thinking. We all know what this league is about. You have to win.”
The Giants have not won a game since beating Atlanta on Oct. 5 to improve to 3-2.
Since then they have lost to Philadelphia, Dallas, Indianapolis and Seattle by a combined score of 136-62. New York was competitive for at least a half in the last three games before falling apart.
The latest example was a 38-17 loss to the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Seattle. New York led 17-14 at halftime, went into the fourth quarter tied and then got run off the field on a day that the Seahawks ran for an amazing 350 yards, 26 more yards than the Giants had in total offense.
The Seahawks gained 510 yards, the highest total allowed by the Giants since Baltimore had 533 yards on Dec. 23, 2012. It is the fourth-highest yardage total given up in Tom Coughlin’s 11 years as the Giants’ coach.
It’s also two straight years that the Giants are 3-6 heading into the final seven games.
- LONDON (AP) — Wembley Stadium officials are refusing to blame the poor condition of the field on the decision to stage three NFL games at the venue in a six-week span.
Roy Hodgson, the coach of England’s national football team, has raised concerns about the state of the surface ahead of his team’s European Championship qualifier against Slovenia on Saturday.
Hodgson has questioned the decision to host the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
However, Roger Maslin, Wembley’s managing director, says “this isn’t so much a problem of the NFL but . slightly too much topsoil (on the surface) during the summer renovation.”
Maslin says the surface is unlikely to be back to its best until March.