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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2014 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — A rare fourth-quarter rally on the road has given the Miami Dolphins a clearer path to the playoffs.
They still might need to win the rest of their games, however.
Miami is trying to end its six-year playoff drought, and a 16-13 comeback victory over the New York Jets left the Dolphins tied with five other AFC teams at 7-5. While their 6-3 record within the conference helps in potential tiebreaker scenarios, the Dolphins have little to no margin for error in their final four games, beginning Sunday at home against Baltimore (7-5).
Coach Joe Philbin said he doesn’t need to talk with his players about playoff ramifications.
To beat the Ravens, Philbin said, the Dolphins must play better than they did Monday night. Miami gave up 277 yards rushing and trailed for much of the game, but outscored New York 10-0 in the final quarter to escape.
The fourth-quarter comeback win was only the Dolphins’ second on the road since 2005, fewest in the NFL, according to STATS.
The Dolphins had been 0-3 in games decided by four points or less. In all three defeats they blew a fourth-quarter lead, so defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was especially pleased to shut out the Jets over the final 22 minutes, with Reshad Jones making a game-clinching interception in the final seconds.
One key play was Cameron Wake’s third-down sack late in the third quarter to push the Jets out of field goal range when they led 13-6.
The Dolphins will face the woeful Jets again in the season finale Dec. 28. Also remaining are games at AFC East leader New England and at home against last-place Minnesota.
The No. 1 issue in practice this week will be run defense, a strength most of the season. Miami has allowed 478 yards rushing in the past two games, an average of 5.7 per carry.
Missed tackles have been part of the problem, including three Monday on a single play — a 47-yard run by Chris Johnson.
- PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Their last challenge was the NFL’s leading rusher, Dallas running back DeMarco Murray.
This week it’s the NFL’s leading rushing team, the Seattle Seahawks.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ run defense, which has gotten better each week, faces another tough test when it hosts the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch on Sunday.
Murray, who was held to 73 yards on 20 carries by the Eagles for his lowest output and lowest yards per carry of the season on Thanksgiving Day, still leads the league in rushing with 1,427 yards. Lynch is fifth at 956 yards, but the big back is dangerous and the Eagles know it.
“Nobody runs the ball harder,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said of Lynch. “He comes downhill every play. He runs angry. He’s a talented back, and he looks for contact. He’s going to get his yardage. He gets the hard yards and he gets exactly what’s there every down.
The Eagles’ run defense has steadily improved this season. Over the last three weeks it has gone from 19th in the league to 16th to 12th. After getting gashed by Indianapolis for 169 yards in Week 2 and for 218 by San Francisco in Week 4, the Eagles have not allowed more than 125 yards rushing in a game since. They have held six opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this year.
In Davis’ 28 games as defensive coordinator, only two backs have gained over 100 yards in a game: Oakland’s Rashad Jennings in a 49-20 Eagles win in 2013, and San Francisco’s Frank Gore this year.
So outside of games played in the Bay Area, no back has gained 100 yards against Davis’ defense.
- SAN DIEGO (AP) — Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers saved their season and got some separation in the wild-card race with a thrilling comeback victory at Baltimore.
While moving into the AFC’s No. 5 playoff spot, the playoff push only gets tougher for the Chargers (8-4).
Up next is a home game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (9-3), who will practice in San Diego this week after losing at Green Bay on Sunday.
After that is a home game against AFC West-leading Denver and road games against San Francisco and Kansas City.
Every game will have playoff implications. San Diego trails the Broncos by one game.
The Chargers reached the playoffs last year by winning their final four games and getting help from Baltimore and Miami, which each lost their final two games.
This December will be tougher for the Chargers than last December.
The Patriots and Brady “are an extremely hard team to play against, especially defensively, the way they attack weakness and his ability to control a game is unbelievable,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be on a big stage. It’s going to be a challenge.”
And the Chargers are happy they have Rivers.
Down by 10 points with just more than six minutes to go, the Chargers rallied behind Rivers to beat the Ravens 34-33 on Sunday and extend their winning streak to three games.
Rivers threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning 1-yarder to Eddie Royal with 38 seconds left.
The Chargers’ last loss was a 37-0 stinker at Miami on Nov. 2.
Johnson and Floyd said the win at Baltimore boosted the Chargers’ confidence.
- GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Clinging to a five-point lead and facing one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers defense knew what most folks were expecting.
“You get Tom Brady with a couple minutes left in the game, not many people are going to put their money on us,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said.
But the Packers’ steadily-improving defense delivered in Sunday’s 26-21 victory over Brady and the New England Patriots.
They got a third-down sack from Mike Neal and Mike Daniels with less than 3 minutes to play after the Patriots had driven to the Green Bay 20. The defense goes into the final quarter of the season complementing the team’s potent offense.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is stating a strong case for the MVP award while leading a team that has scored more touchdowns (46) than any team in the NFL.
The defense ranks 15th in the NFL in points allowed (22.3 per game) and 25th in yards allowed (366.8 per game).
In the four games since giving up 495 yards and 44 points in a pre-bye week loss at New Orleans on Oct. 26, the Packers’ defense has allowed an average of 17.3 points and 342 yards per game — all victories.
On Sunday, the Packers held the NFL’s highest-scoring team to just 21 points — New England was averaging 39.6 points during the seven-game winning streak that ended at Lambeau Field — and 320 total yards.
Among those different personnel groupings Sunday was a mix that left veteran inside linebacker A.J. Hawk on the sideline any time the Packers weren’t in their base defense.
Hawk ended up playing only 26 of the Packers’ 56 defensive snaps, his lowest percentage since a Sept. 30, 2012, game against the Saints.
Hawk played alongside Matthews at inside linebacker in the base defense, then was replaced by Sam Barrington in the nickel group.
When the Packers went to their dime alignment, Matthews was the lone inside linebacker, a role that Hawk had handled most of the season.
Asked if Hawk, who came into the game having played the most snaps of any defensive player, would continue to have his playing time limited, Capers said that the decision Sunday was based in part on the Packers’ plan to match up with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. But Capers also didn’t say that Hawk would go back to his previous role.
Several weeks ago, coach Mike McCarthy cautioned that the defense needed to find a way to be successful without relying solely on takeaways.
The Packers lead the NFL in turnover differential at plus-15 — having forced 23 turnovers while only committing a league-low eight — and against the Patriots, the unit got the job done without an interception or fumble recovery.
The Patriots scored three touchdowns, but their other five full-fledged drives ended in four punts and a 47-yard missed field goal following the Neal-Daniels sack.
- IRVING, Texas (AP) — Henry Melton can’t compare this year’s Dallas defense to the NFL-worst unit that visited Chicago last season because he was still with the Bears.
The Cowboys’ defensive tackle just knows that right now, his new group doesn’t look like the surprising bunch that boosted Dallas during a 6-1 start.
The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles each scored on their first three possessions the past two games, although the Cowboys made enough stops against the Giants to rally for a 31-28 win. The defense kept Dallas in the Philadelphia game into the second half, but the offense couldn’t overcome a quick two-touchdown deficit.
Dallas (8-4) visits Chicago (5-7) on Thursday night, with the memory of last year’s dismal showing on the minds of the Cowboys who experienced that bitterly cold night.
It wasn’t the only bad game Dallas had defensively, which is why expectations couldn’t have been much lower going into this season without the three best players in pass rusher DeMarcus Ware (released), tackle Jason Hatcher (free agent) and linebacker Sean Lee (knee injury).
A strong start in 2014 was punctuated by a Week 6 win at Super Bowl champion Seattle, which had just nine first downs and 206 yards.
The slide began two weeks later against Washington, when Colt McCoy essentially went from third-string quarterback to a starter making big plays in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Redskins’ 20-17 upset. The latest blow was a season-high 464 yards for the Eagles, including LeSean McCoy’s 159 yards rushing in a 33-10 Thanksgiving victory.
Mincey said he was “still mad about” letting the Eagles get outside early in the game on a play that he thought could have changed the momentum. McCoy’s two longest runs were to the outside, including a 38-yard score that put away the game in the third quarter.
Linebacker Rolando McClain was slowed against the Eagles by a right knee injury that’s been bothering him for weeks, and cornerback Brandon Carr hasn’t had a pass breakup since Seattle, seven games ago.
Dallas’ sack totals have improved since the 6-1 start, but so have the completions percentages for opposing quarterbacks. And while the Cowboys are converting fewer third downs on offense, three of the past four opponents have a success rate of more than 50 percent.
Marinelli was Dallas’ defensive line coach in last year’s 45-28 loss to the Bears, who had 490 yards and 33 first downs a month after the Cowboys gave up an NFL-record 40 first downs at New Orleans.
Chicago starter Jay Cutler had a sprained ankle, and backup Josh McCown set career highs with four touchdown passes and a passer rating of 141.9, the highest of the season against Dallas. The Cowboys didn’t trash the video, though.
And the Cowboys are trying to get back to what they did defensively earlier this season.
- LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte sees the commitment to the handoff and can’t help but come away impressed.
The only thing that would be better for him would be if he was talking about his own team instead of this week’s opponent. The Bears will see a squad committed to the run when they host DeMarco Murray and the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
“It’s impressive to see,” said Forte, who made it clear Monday he wants more carries.
Last week, he had just five for six yards, and the Bears (5-7) ran only eight times in a loss at Detroit that all but guaranteed they will miss the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
On Thursday night, they’ll see a team that committed to the run by upgrading its offensive line in recent years and putting the ball in Murray’s hands. He has played in all 12 games after missing time in each of his first three seasons, and the results so far are jaw-dropping. He leads the NFL in yards rushing (1,427) and attempts (288) and is a huge reason why the Cowboys are challenging the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East championship.
The Bears have been struggling all season in just about every phase, something they did not envision.
A team that ranked second in the NFL in scoring last season has taken a big step back in Year 2 under coach Marc Trestman, with the Bears failing to produce more than 28 points in a game.
Only three times this season has Forte attempted more than 19 rushes. In four games, he has finished with 13 or fewer. And the five carries against the Lions matched a career low he set against Arizona in 2009 and Kansas City in 2011.
Forte said the Bears can’t afford a repeat this week.
“It’s of the utmost importance, especially if we’re playing outside, with the weather and stuff,” Forte said. “You can’t just sit back there and throw 50 passes a game and expect to win. Their front four were pinning their ears back. They didn’t have anything to do but pass rush. They’re not respecting the run and then if you play-fake, they’re not going to take the play-fake because you haven’t been running the ball.”
The Bears were facing the league’s stingiest run defense last week. Even so, Forte said that’s no reason to completely abandon the run, and they need to stick with it to open up the passing game.
He and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said the game plan last week called for Chicago to go with some quick screens early on and then move to the run. But it didn’t quite unfold the way the Bears envisioned.
Kromer would not say how many run plays the Bears called, only that there were “more than what showed on tape.”
It didn’t help that the Bears again fell into an early hole and trailed at halftime for the eighth time this season. They trailed the Detroit 24-14, and for the season, they’ve been outscored a whopping 223-117 over the first two quarters.
Even so, Kromer said the Bears still could have run the ball down 10 at halftime.
“And I think in the future, that will happen,” he added.
Meanwhile, Trestman reiterated that the Bears need more balance. But the struggle to find it continues.
- NEW YORK (AP) — Staring at the New York Jets’ 2-10 record, no one is happy these days.
Not the players, not the people who root for them, and certainly not coach Rex Ryan.
“I’m embarrassed for myself, absolutely,” Ryan said during a conference call Tuesday. “It’s an embarrassment. It’s definitely embarrassing to me. I feel like I’ve let my owner down. I’ve let our fan base down.”
Ryan could be facing his final four games with the franchise he led to consecutive AFC title games in his first two years. New York will miss the postseason for the fourth straight time, and owner Woody Johnson will have some huge decisions to make.
Ryan and general manager John Idzik have been widely criticized for leading a team with the second-worst record in the NFL — tied with the likes of Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
One group of fed-up fans started a website calling for Idzik to be fired and raised money to put up billboards near MetLife Stadium. The latest insists Johnson should sell the team if he doesn’t fire Idzik after this season.
After controlling the clock and the ground game for most of the night, the Jets made too many mistakes in the end to hold on in a 16-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Monday in front of a nearly half-empty stadium.
It’s a far cry from just a few years ago, when Ryan was a larger-than-life figure in New York-area sports, appearing on late-night television programs, getting a cameo in an Adam Sandler movie and being a best-selling author with a book tour.
Now, in his sixth season, Ryan gets questions that once seemed so unimaginable: Does he think he’ll be back with the Jets next season?
“It’s easy for me to pick, to say, ‘Yeah, absolutely,'” Ryan said. “But I get it. The year hasn’t gone anywhere close to what we were thinking. I’m going to focus on beating Minnesota. I’m not worried about anything else but that.”
These last four games might be sort of an audition for Ryan, who could be a prime candidate to land another job as a head coach or defensive coordinator in the NFL. Or maybe even a high-paying TV gig.
“I don’t think that way,” Ryan insisted. “My job is not to worry about myself. My job is to get this team prepared to the best of my ability, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
So, next up for Ryan and the Jets are the Vikings in Minnesota. Geno Smith, who threw just 13 passes Monday, will get the start again.
Smith was benched for three games in favor of Michael Vick before Monday. Leading up to the game, Ryan said the switch back to Smith was the right move for the team, presumably so the Jets could further evaluate the second-year quarterback.
Then, Smith was just 7 of 13 for 65 yards as New York ran the ball 49 times for 277 yards to try to offset Miami’s tough pass rush. So, did Ryan learn anything about Smith’s performance?
“No, he only threw 13 passes,” Ryan joked. “I’m just kidding. I know you guys don’t see the humor in it, but to me I do, because you guys seem to think that the game plan was for us to just throw 13 passes. That wasn’t the game plan. The game plan was to try to establish the run, and when you have that kind of success running, that helps the football team, and that’s why we stayed the course.”
Ryan insisted the run-heavy approach wasn’t an indication that the Jets have no faith in Smith’s ability to make plays with his arm.
But Smith had only eight attempts the entire game until the Jets’ final drive — which ended with an interception, Smith’s 11th of the season.
“Again, we weren’t trying to just put Geno Smith back there 13 times,” Ryan said. “If that’s the case, if we can run for 300 yards again this week, I would love to sign up for it. We’re just trying to find a way to give us a chance to win the football game, and I thought we did that. It’s just unfortunate we came up short.”