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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 12 of the 2014 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Seattle Seahawks, meet Chris Borland and Carlos Hyde. Aaron Lynch and Marcus Martin.
Those are just a few of the new faces on the San Francisco 49ers since Seattle last saw them in the NFC championship game in January, an impressive list of talented rookies called into action right away. Many have been by necessity, given the loss of star linebacker Patrick Willis and the long recovery of NaVorro Bowman since his devastating left knee injury in that six-point loss at Seattle.
There’s Bruce Ellington and Dontae Johnson, too.
“I wouldn’t consider any of our rookies rookies anymore at this point,” coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Running back Hyde has been quite a complement to Frank Gore. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll considers them a dynamic 1-2 punch that his team must contend with Thursday night in a key matchup of 7-4 NFC powers.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio figures these guys feed off each other. They’re all proud of one another’s accomplishments and contributions.
Behind the scenes, they are a support network, too. The rookies meet as a group each Tuesday to discuss anything that comes to mind and receive guidance and support from football to life off the field, including the importance of making good decisions. It’s part of “rookie success” that comes under the NFL Engagement program committed to “Prep. Life. Next” and getting the total NFL experience with wellness in all aspects.
This draft class considers itself a close-knit unit, with those Tuesday sessions only adding to that bond.
Borland, who has started the last five games playing in place of the injured Willis, had 48 tackles in a recent three-game stretch and another eight in Sunday’s 17-13 home win against the Redskins. The third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin intercepted two passes by Giants quarterback Eli Manning in a victory at New York on Nov. 16 and received NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors along with his second straight Defensive Rookie of the Week.
Hyde, a second-rounder from Ohio State, ran for a go-ahead 4-yard touchdown with 2:59 remaining Sunday in San Francisco’s third straight win. For Fangio, seeing so many first-year players in big roles is still an adjustment from what he has long known. Carroll is preparing for the new additions to what has emerged as a heated rivalry. He knows a little bit about new center Martin, a third-round draft pick out of Carroll’s former school, USC.
- FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots have piled up points and big victory margins against NFL division leaders.
Now they’re preparing to face another one and leaving all those routs behind.
“Nobody is happier than I am when we win, but right now all that doesn’t really mean anything going into Green Bay,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “They’re playing real good football now.”
The Patriots will be playing in Lambeau Field, where the Packers are 5-0 this season with their own string of runaways — against Minnesota (42-10), Carolina (38-17), Chicago (55-14) and Philadelphia (53-20) in their past four home games.
New England (9-2) can match that with the last four games in its current seven-game winning streak — against Chicago (51-23), Denver (43-21), Indianapolis (42-20) and Detroit (34-9).
So why not call Sunday’s game The Blowout Bowl?
More importantly, the Patriots have simply dominated most opponents during their winning streak. Starting with a 43-17 win over Cincinnati, four of those seven wins have been by at least 22 points against teams that were in first place entering the games.
In the latest, they picked apart the team that had allowed the fewest points in the NFL, scoring 34 on Sunday, the most against the Lions (7-4) all season.
After the Patriots scored a touchdown with just under two minutes to go on a 1-yard run by LeGarrette Blount, Lions center Dominic Raiola retaliated on the last play of the game.
He tried a low cut block at the knees of rookie defensive lineman Zach Moore as quarterback Matthew Stafford was taking a knee.
“I cut him,” Raiola told the Detroit Free Press. “We took a knee, so I cut the nose (tackle). They went for six (a touchdown). They went for a touchdown at two minutes. They could have took three knees and the game could have been over. It’s football. He wants to keep playing football, let’s play football. Not a big deal. It’s football.”
Moore was barely hit on the block and kept cool.
“Just being professional, keeping my composure, something I’ve had my entire football career,” he said Monday. “When you look at the score, I’d probably be mad, too.”
The NFL plans to review that play and an earlier one where Raiola appeared to punch Moore in the back of the helmet for a possible fine, but no suspension, Michael Signora, vice president of football communications for the NFL, said in an email Monday.
“I don’t want to really get into how the situation works itself out,” Moore said. “You’ve got to turn the page and start today on our opponent this Sunday.”
The Patriots and Packers (8-3) are one-two in the NFL in both points per game and average margin of victory.
In Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (ranked first) and New England’s Tom Brady (sixth), they have two of the best quarterbacks.
Patriots tight end Tim Wright caught two touchdown passes from Brady on Sunday and has contributed to the blowouts by scoring on six of his 23 receptions.
- CINCINNATI (AP) — Nearly half of Andy Dalton’s passes went to A.J. Green, even when the receiver was tightly covered. He caught nearly every one.
Felt like old times for the Bengals.
Green is playing at a Pro Bowl level again, one of the biggest reasons that the Bengals are holding onto first place in the tightly bunched AFC North. He had a career-high 12 catches during a 22-13 win at Houston on Sunday that was encouraging for a previously struggling offense.
The Bengals (7-3-1) again have a receiver who can change everything.
“It’s been big,” said Dalton, who was 24 of 35 for 233 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “For him to have a performance like he did — at least that’s what we expect from him. He’s so talented we feel like he matches up with almost anybody.”
Cincinnati’s most valuable player hurt his right big toe in a season-opening win at Baltimore, which featured his 77-yard touchdown catch in the closing minutes. He missed three games and most of another one because of the injury.
When he returned, he wasn’t even close to the same receiver. He caught only six passes in his first two games back.
Challenged by coordinator Hue Jackson and receivers coach James Urban to ramp up his game, Green had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown during a win at New Orleans. He followed that with his dozen catches for 121 yards at Houston, where Dalton threw his way 16 times.
The Texans (5-6) played off Green, trying to take away the long pass. He responded by repeatedly catching the ball in front of defenders.
The low point of Cincinnati’s season was a 24-3 loss at home to Cleveland in a Thursday night game. Green was a nonfactor, catching only three passes for 23 yards. Dalton played one of his worst games, completing only 10 passes and finishing with a passer rating of 2.0.
It prompted the Bengals to rethink how they were doing things on offense. Since then, they’ve made an effort to run the ball more consistently and get the ball to Green whenever possible.
The Bengals opened the season 3-0 and were the NFL’s last unbeaten team before heading into a six-game stretch where they lost three and tied one. The offense was inconsistent during that span, getting pushed around in a loss at New England and blanked in Indianapolis.
With Green back in form, Dalton has played much better the past two games. The Bengals are trying to win their third in a row — all on the road — this Sunday when they play at Tampa Bay (2-9).
Coach Marvin Lewis credits Dalton for making good decisions, which includes throwing to Green whenever he’s the open receiver.
- The Seahawks still might repeat as Super Bowl champions, and they could wind up facing the Broncos again.
The 49ers might appear in their fourth straight NFC title game.
Yet all of those contenders — and a few other NFL teams who either won’t be going to the playoffs or don’t deserve to — clearly have taken a step back this season.
That doesn’t mean the final five weeks of the schedule won’t allow for a turnaround, particularly if these teams get healthier. As of now, though, there is little to fear from those three members of the 2013 Final Four compared to a year ago.
Which is the exact opposite of what fans are seeing from the Patriots, who following all the angst of the first month of the season have not been beaten since.
And while New England bludgeons opponents on a weekly basis, the Seahawks, Broncos, and 49ers make you scratch your head.
San Francisco, for example, struggles to beat the Rams, Giants and Redskins, none of whom will sniff a winning record this year.
The Niners aren’t dynamic in the passing game despite a strong crew of receivers — and this is, after all, a passing league. Their upcoming schedule is intimidating, beginning with Thursday night against Seattle.
Coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t seem too concerned by the faults of his inconsistent 49ers (7-4).
Make no mistake, the 49ers are a good team. They simply haven’t measured up yet to their recent editions.
For the current Seahawks to measure up to last season, of course, they’d need to become the first repeat Super Bowl winner since New England in 2003-04. They are capable, but only if, like San Francisco, they solve some issues in the passing game. And, stunningly considering how dominant the Seahawks were a year ago, there are issues on defense.
Seattle has only 16 sacks and six picks, hardly overwhelming numbers. Many .500 teams, and some below the break-even mark, would be identified with such stats.
And when Seattle (7-4) can’t run the ball effectively, it suffers mightily.
Not quite the description of the 2013 Seahawks.
Again, like with the Niners, no panic is setting in, nor should it be following their 19-3 win over NFC leader Arizona — even if these Seahawks aren’t as formidable.
It hasn’t been as beautiful in Denver for Peyton Manning & Co. this season as the last. They needed a bigtime rally to overcome Miami 39-36 on Sunday to finish off a mediocre November in which they went 2-2.
The offensive line is a mess, and the defense that looked so promising halfway through the schedule now appears vulnerable. Injuries have slowed Denver (8-3) in all facets, and the coaches have little confidence in rookie kicker Brandon McManus.
But the Broncos recognize that everything still is in front of them, even if they aren’t the almost unstoppable group that won last season’s conference crown. And keep marching forward, no matter how tentatively.
- TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — For seven consecutive quarters, the Arizona Cardinals have not scored a touchdown.
The team that had won six in a row was beaten by the Seahawks in Seattle 19-3 on Sunday, and the big cushion the Cardinals held in the NFC West is a bit smaller.
Arizona (9-2) still leads Seattle (7-4) and San Francisco (7-4) by two games but with a rough schedule ahead, the Cardinals know their surprising season could go south in a hurry.
“We’re ticked off right now,” Arizona left tackle Jared Veldheer said Monday. “We know we’re better than how we played yesterday.”
Coach Bruce Arians listed a series of things the Cardinals did wrong in the Pacific Northwest, and he wants the players to pay especially close attention to those mistakes because the two teams meet again four weeks down the road — at Arizona in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
The Cardinals gained a season-worst 204 yards on Sunday. Drew Stanton was 14 for 26 for 139 yards with one interception. Andre Ellington had another meager output on the ground, rushing for 24 yards in 10 carries.
Jaron Brown dropped a pass in the end zone and Drew Butler had a punt dropped.
The Cardinals sacked Russell Wilson seven times but could have had more, Arians said. Calais Campbell had three sacks.
Arians said his message to the team on Monday was “learn from this.”
Arians said it’s uncertain whether wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be back this week. Fitzgerald’s string of 110 consecutive games played ended in Seattle when he sat out the game with a sprained left knee.
Arizona plays three of its remaining five games on the road, beginning next Sunday at Atlanta (4-7).
After that, the Cardinals are home against Kansas City and at St. Louis before finishing the season at home against Seattle and at San Francisco.
Arizona is 6-0 at home, 3-2 on the road. Sunday’s loss was the Cardinals’ first in eight conference games.
Arians said he doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as a team peaking too soon.
- NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rookie left tackle Taylor Lewan is backed up against a locker wearing a walking boot on his sprained left ankle when asked about the Titans closing in on the franchise’s worst record since moving to Tennessee.
“That’s really good to kick me when I’m down like that, that’s good,” Lewan said Monday.
Lewan isn’t alone, the Titans are down as a franchise.
Tennessee (2-9) is mired in a five-game skid, losing nine of 10 overall. Now the injuries are starting to pile up along with the losses for a franchise off to its worst start since moving to Tennessee in 1997.
First-year Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was hired to turn things around, and they haven’t won since Sammie Hill’s fingertips swatted away a field goal Oct. 12 against the Jaguars — who at 1-10 have a worse record than Tennessee.
“Sick feeling in my stomach all the time,” Whisenhunt said. “I mean nothing changes that except when you win, so it’s not a lot of fun.”
And there hasn’t been much fun around the Titans facilities.
Here’s how ugly it’s been:
— This is the worst start since this team moved to Tennessee in 1997 and the worst since a 1-9 start in 1994 cost Jack Pardee his job with the then-Houston Oilers. That team wound up 2-14, and the worst record in Tennessee was 4-12 in 2005. Six of the Titans’ losses this season have been by at least 14 points.
— Whisenhunt hasn’t impressed Tennessee fans — his personal skid is even worse than the Titans. Whisenhunt now is 3-20 as a head coach dating back to his final 12 games in Arizona in 2012. Titans president Tommy Smith has made it clear he’s sticking with both Whisenhunt and general manager Ruston Webster.
— The Titans are on their third quarterback. Whisenhunt played four quarterbacks his final season in Arizona. He’s gambling on a rookie drafted in the sixth round with Zach Mettenberger, who is 0-4. The rookie threw for 345 yards in Sunday’s 43-24 loss to Philadelphia, the most yards passing by a rookie this season and the most by a rookie for this franchise.
— Tennessee has lost five players to season-ending injuries, including four starters — left tackle Michael Roos, tight end Craig Stevens, safety Bernard Pollard and linebacker Zach Brown. They’ve had plenty of company in the training room with four other starters missing at least two games to injuries.
While Lewan is in a walking boot, at least he didn’t break his ankle. Center Brian Schwenke had an MRI exam on his left knee, and Whisenhunt didn’t have an update on their status Monday.
Running back Bishop Sankey suffered a stinger that caused him to fumble, and running back Dexter McCluster is recovering from a concussion. Safety Michael Griffin dislocated his left shoulder but returned and finished.
And though the results don’t reflect a changing of losing attitudes, Whisenhunt’s believes Griffin’s actions do.
Tennessee also appears to coming up on a break in the schedule with a lineup of upcoming games against teams below .500.
The Titans play the Texans (5-6) Sunday, but Houston handed Mettenberger a 30-16 loss in his first NFL start a month ago. Then Tennessee heads into December against the Jets, Giants and Jaguars — a combined 6-26.
With five games left, tight end Delanie Walker said they have to stick together and keep fighting to show what they can do next year. Team officials in personnel and the coaches will be watching, trying to figure out what they need to be better in 2015.
- WASHINGTON (AP) — Move over, RG3. It’s Colt vs. the Colts.
The Washington Redskins plan to start Colt McCoy over Robert Griffin III on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, according to a person familiar with the decision, the latest development in a stunning slide for the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because coach Jay Gruden had yet to announce the news to his team. He planned to do so Wednesday morning. The Redskins canceled Griffin’s regular weekly news conference.
The Redskins are 0-3 since Griffin returned from an ankle injury and have scored only one touchdown in each of the last two games. The former No. 2 overall draft pick seemed poised to revolutionize the quarterback position with his arm and legs when he led Washington to the playoffs two years ago, but he is 4-14 as a starter since the start of the 2013 season and has struggled in an attempt to transform into a traditional pocket-passer.
Gruden has been candid about Griffin’s development and was particularly brutal a week ago, citing “fundamental flaws” after an abysmal performance in a 20-point loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Griffin played a little better in a 17-13 defeat against the San Francisco 49ers, but Gruden afterward hinted that a change was possible, saying that Griffin’s 106 yards passing “is unheard of this day and age with the receivers we have, and we have to figure out something.”
Griffin has now been benched twice when healthy in his young career. He was shut down for the final three games last year as the season spiraled to a 3-13 finish under then-coach Mike Shanahan.
Griffin has also suffered two major leg injuries — a torn ACL in his right knee as a rookie and a dislocated left ankle this year. The injuries have played a part in Griffin’s desire to become a pass-first quarterback, rather than the dual-threat player who rushed for 815 yards as a rookie.
The ankle problem caused Griffin to miss six games and hindered his work with first-year coach Gruden, but there had already been signs in training camp that he was having trouble with basics such as footwork and downfield reads. Drills ran more crisply with backups Kirk Cousins and McCoy.
Cousins took over after Griffin was hurt in the first quarter of the Week 2 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and led a 41-10 victory, but he lost his next four starts and proved to be turnover-prone. He was benched at halftime in favor of McCoy against the Tennessee Titans, and McCoy rallied the Redskins to a 19-17 win and then a Monday night upset of the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite McCoy’s success, Gruden went back to Griffin the following week — and the Redskins haven’t won since.
For the season, Griffin has completed 70 percent of his passes — an impressive rate — but he has only two touchdowns and three interceptions and has been sacked 20 times in five starts. His passer rating is 85.7.
McCoy joined the Redskins this season in need of a job in his fifth year in the league, willing to be a third-stringer behind Griffin and Cousins. He hadn’t started a game since 2011 before he led the win over the Cowboys.