What Have We Learned From Week 10 of the 2015 NFL Season

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Jermaine Gresham

Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham makes a catch for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 10 of the 2015 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Cardinals looking good after big win in Seattle– The victory in Seattle was as big a win as the Cardinals have had since Bruce Arians became their coach, and one of the biggest since the franchise moved to the desert 27 years ago.Winning the game was one thing, but it was the way the Cardinals did it, Arians said Monday, that will help the team in its challenges ahead.

    “If it had been a coaster all the way, who knows if we could handle adversity down the road,” he said, “Now that you’ve done it on the road, it proves that you can.”

    Sunday night’s 39-32 victory over the Seahawks leaves the Cardinals (7-2) three games up on Seattle and St. Louis in the NFC West with seven to play. The remaining schedule is no easy path, though, beginning with a home game next Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, who were undefeated going into their Monday night game against Houston.

    The Bengals, Arians said, are “very similar” to the Cardinals.

    “They’re very long and fast,” Arians said. “They have a solid secondary. Andy (Dalton) is playing really, really well. They’ve got a huge and great wide receiver, a good stable of backs. They’re a quality, quality group. Marvin (Lewis) is a heck of a football coach. They’ve got a great staff.”

    Arians said there is “no chance of a letdown” against the Bengals.

    “There might be a letdown today, but there won’t be any for Sunday,” he said.

    The Cardinals are tied with Minnesota for the second-best record in the NFC (behind Carolina’s 9-0). The Vikings play at Arizona on Thursday night, Dec. 10.

    The 39 points Arizona scored are the most allowed by the Seahawks in nearly five years. Seattle entered the game having held opponents to 30 or fewer points in 32 consecutive contests. Arizona became the first visiting team to accumulate at least 350 yards passing and 100 yards rushing at CenturyLink Field.

    It was a game the Cardinals led 19-0, then fell behind 29-25 after Carson Palmer was stripped of the ball twice, one of the fumbles setting up a touchdown and the other returned for a score. Palmer directed two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. He threw 14 yards to Jermaine Gresham to put Arizona back ahead, then Andre Ellington ran 48 yards for the touchdown that sealed just the fourth loss for Seattle at home in 32 games since 2012. The Cardinals, who also won in Seattle two years ago, have two of those four victories.

  • Stretch of 4 wins in 6 games puts Bears in playoff hunt– In a week’s time, coach John Fox’s Chicago Bears have used two road victories to go from rebuilders to potential contenders in an NFC with only one runaway team.So with a home game approaching against his old club, the Denver Broncos, Fox has his attention focused entirely on the future rather than the circumstances that led to his departure from the Mile High City and subsquent hiring in Chicago.

    “I think we probably clicked as well as we have all season long, in a short week, on the road, against an NFC opponent, which we hadn’t done yet,” Fox said Monday, a day after the Bears beat the St. Louis Rams 37-13. “From that standpoint, it’s gratifying after the fact.”

    The Bears (4-5) were missing their top defensive player, Pernell McPhee, due to a knee injury. The same reason deprived them of running back Matt Forte for a second straight game, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery played despite a groin injury. There were injuries on the offensive line, as well, but they emerged with their first easy victory of the year and drew within two games of the last NFC wild-card spot.

    “The way we are trending, I like the way the guys are going about their business,” Fox said.

    Jay Cutler continues to improve under offensive coordinator Adam Gase. His passer rating Sunday of 151 was a single-game high and came against one of the league’s best defenses. Cutler raised his season passer rating to a career-best 95.3.

    “I think he’s playing the quarterback position exceptionally well,” Fox said. “I think he’s converted us on third down — although yesterday (25 percent) wasn’t our highest totals in that area.

    “We’ve tried to eliminate the turnovers, whether it be sack/fumbles or interceptions.”

    Cutler had several situations when he audibled into a different play.

    “He studies extremely hard to get that done,” Fox said. “I think our offensive staff has done a terrific job of managing that, and he’s done a great job responding to it.”

    The Bears’ defense allowed opponents into the end zone only once in each of the last three games, and in the last two that came on the first drive.

    “For whatever reason, we haven’t started fast,” Fox said. “I don’t know, jitters or what it might be, I can’t put my finger on it, but we’re working at it. The good news is we’ve responded and kind of made adjustments and gotten better the rest of the game.”

    Inside linebacker Shea McClellin’s return from three weeks away due to a knee sprain brought direction and leadership back on Sunday.

    “We obviously missed him,” Fox said. “His leadership, his communication skills, a lot of guys leaned on.”

  • Cam Newton, Panthers keep offense rolling, celebrating 9-0 start– Cam Newton has plenty of reasons to celebrate these days — the Carolina Panthers are unbeaten and the offense is rolling.And while some opponents may not be particularly fond of the fifth-year quarterback’s touchdown celebrations, Newton doesn’t particular seem to care.

    “I’m a firm believer if you don’t like me to do it then don’t let me in” the end zone, Newton said after his touchdown dance Sunday in Carolina’s 27-10 win over the Tennessee Titans.

    That’s been a problem for defenses this season.

    The Panthers (9-0) have scored at least 27 points in seven straight games — and at least 20 points in all nine games.

    Carolina has won 13 straight regular season games dating back to last season and holds a two-game lead in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC entering Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.

    Panthers coach Ron Rivera attributes some of the offense’s success to how coordinator Mike Shula has used the fifth-year quarterback since the latter part of last season, including running more of the no-huddle offense.

    Rivera said Shula has allowed Newton to use his abilities and the players in the offense.

    Newton has six TDs rushing this season.

    He celebrated his latest score by doing a dance called “the dab,” which drew the ire of some Tennessee defenders, including linebacker Avery Williamson. When Williamson came walking toward Newton in the end zone, the quarterback danced some more.

    Rivera said he doesn’t mind Newton dancing “as long as it’s not overly outlandish and there is a respect for manners. As long as he’s not taunting them. I think he’s doing it for our fans.”

    Said Newton: “I try to make my game kid-like so people will see that I’m enjoying what I do. … I’m not doing it to be disrespectful to nobody, more so just doing it just to shine light and get people a smile and having fun doing what I do.” Carolina is averaging 28.3 points per game — fourth-best in the NFL — and is third in the league in rushing behind Jonathan Stewart and Newton, who has run for 366 yards and six TDs.

    The result has been a more productive offense, particularly in the red zone.

    The Panthers have scored touchdowns on 60 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, up from 48.1 percent last season.

    “We’re scoring touchdowns instead of field goals,” Shula said.

    And celebrating along the way.

Middle

  • Broncos, Seahawks, Packers Colts no longer elite– This isn’t at all what the Broncos, Seahawks, Packers and Colts had in mind.Before the season kicked off in September, these were considered elite teams, and rightly so. Denver had built a monster of a defense to complement Peyton Manning’s offense.

    Seattle was coming off a last-minute Super Bowl loss and had added brilliant tight end Jimmy Graham.

    Indianapolis had taken incremental steps in the playoffs that seemed to place it on the verge of a trip to the big game, with Andrew Luck threatening to win league MVP honors. Green Bay already had the league’s Most Valuable Player, Aaron Rodgers, and no NFC team appeared as balanced.

    Nine weeks later, all four are searching for answers, even as they remain in playoff position.

    “This isn’t easy,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of his team’s three-game slide after winning its first six, then going on its bye week. “And frankly, if we spoiled you in the past, that’s great. We’re looking forward to spoiling you again in the future.”

    What has spoiled at Lambeau and in the Mile High City, in Naptown and the Pacific Northwest? And can the problems be fixed in the next seven games?

    Read on:

    BRONCOS (7-2) — Denver started the season with seven victories as its defense more than made up for the inconsistencies of Manning, who suddenly has turned a very old 39. His health issues, including the latest, a partially torn plantar fascia that makes every step painful, are really holding back the Broncos.

    Coach Gary Kubiak knows it, and now regrets starting Manning in Sunday’s awful loss to Kansas City.

    “Guys want to play,” Kubiak said. “That’s why he’s a great player. But as a football coach, sometimes you have to say, ‘No, I don’t think this is the right thing today.'”

    The time to say “No,” for at least a week or two, has come. Denver has a three-game lead in the AFC West and neither Kansas City nor Oakland seems capable of making a major run. So the five-time MVP will rest next weekend against Chicago while the Broncos see what Brock Osweiler can do, and rely on that defense, although it is banged-up, to carry the team.

    PACKERS (6-3) — This slide is totally confounding, and losing to the Lions at Lambeau for the first time since Barry Sanders was toting the football is shocking.

    While the defense has taken a step or two back from its strong opening performances, it’s Rodgers and the offense that has fallen flat. Yes, he misses top target Jordy Nelson, but the receiver hasn’t been around all season and Green Bay was doing fine without him.

    Blame in large part an offensive line that has regressed the past few weeks. That’s damaged the running game, but most distressingly, it’s put Rodgers in a bulls-eye.

    “Aaron’s been hit way too much three weeks in a row,” McCarthy said. “No one feels good about it. I’m sure he doesn’t feel very good.”

    He’ll feel better if the Packers can turn it back around, and they will get the opportunity; they have two games remaining with NFC North leader Minnesota, including Sunday in the Twin Cities. Of the four struggling teams, Green Bay has the best chance of reversing the current trend.

    SEAHAWKS (4-5) — Yep, 4-5. With two losses at home that, save for an officiating miscue, could be three.

    Seattle was outplayed for much of Sunday night’s meeting with NFC West leader Arizona. Only two huge turnovers by Carson Palmer when the defense at last resembled the fierce unit Seahawks fans expect kept Pete Carroll’s guys in the game. When that defense isn’t making big plays, the two-time defending conference champs are mediocre.

    The offense can’t bail them out, either, because the line has been a sieve, forcing Russell Wilson to scramble for safety, not creativity. Graham, who many thought would be the most impactful player transaction of the offseason, has not been a huge difference maker.

    “The margin of error is really small,” Seahawks tackle Russell Okung said, “and you only get a certain amount of times to do what you really need to do.”

    Seattle’s time is running out, and it needs an immediate change in fortune to get in the wild-card mix. Remember, though, that the Seahawks have been in such situations before and rallied. Beginning next week against San Francisco, they must show they are capable of doing so again.

    INDIANAPOLIS (4-5) — It’s embarrassing, even depressing, that despite a wretched first half of the season, the Colts are in control of the AFC South. Because they regularly beat everyone in the NFL’s weakest division, their path to the playoffs is clear.

    A season-saving win over Denver before going on their bye brought everyone in Indy off the ledge. Then, of course, it was revealed that Luck will be sidelined by an assortment of ailments, turning the reins to Matt Hasselbeck.

    That’s far less of a problem than the Colts’ defense; Hasselbeck won two earlier starts this season and might be the most capable backup QB in the league.

    For Indy to become a valid player down the stretch and possibly into January, it must figure out how to stop people. With three division games remaining, reaching the eight wins that figures to take the AFC South crown seems reasonable.

    Beyond that, the Colts might be out of, uh, luck.

Downs

  • Peyton Manning hits a all time low– This was, by pretty much any measure, the worst outing of Peyton Manning’s terrific NFL career, and the starkest statistic was his passer rating: 0.0.Yes, that’s right: zero-point-zero.

    In 288 previous games in the pros, including the postseason, Manning never had produced a lower rating than 31.3, according to STATS. He managed to eclipse that by virtue of throwing nearly as many interceptions (four) as completions (five) for the Denver Broncos in a 29-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

    The 39-year-old Manning was so bad — 5 for 20, 35 yards, zero touchdowns, and one underthrow after another — that he managed to get benched on the same day that he broke Brett Favre’s career record for passing yards.

    “He’s still a great quarterback; just not what he used to be,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said.

    Ouch.

    After the Broncos’ second loss in a row following a 7-0 start, the questions become whether Manning holds onto his starter’s job ahead of backup Brock Osweiler, and what exactly is wrong with the only five-time MVP in league history.

    Manning came into this game dealing with various health problems, including to his right shoulder, right foot and ribs.

    And Manning, who is up to a league-worst 17 interceptions this season, delivered the understatement of the afternoon when he said: “I did not play well today.”

  • The Refs assist the Ravens in another close loss– The Baltimore Ravens have been losing close games all season. Their latest defeat was the cruelest of them all — in part because it involved an officiating error.The NFL acknowledged Monday that Jacksonville should have been penalized on the play that preceded its game-winning field goal Sunday. Although the Jaguars were not set before hurriedly snapping the ball with one second on the lock, the officials allowed the play to be run.

    Baltimore linebacker Elvis Dumervil subsequently grabbed quarterback Blake Bortles’ facemask while making a tackle, giving Jacksonville one more play with the clock at 0:00.

    Jason Myers kicked a 53-yard field goal to deal the Ravens (2-7) a stunning 22-20 loss.

    “The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play,” said NFL spokesman Michael Signora. “The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game.”

    Ravens coach John Harbaugh was obviously disappointed.

    “They didn’t get the snap off in the sense they didn’t get everybody set,” Harbaugh said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s unfortunate, it’s disappointing. It’s gut-wrenching.”

    It’s been that type of season for the Ravens. It seems if something can go wrong in the final seconds, it has.

    “I’ve thought about that probably more than any human being on earth,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been one of those years where you make a mistake, you pay for it. Or a call, or the ball bounces a certain way.”

    Baltimore’s seven losses have come by a total of 32 points. The Ravens have given up big plays in the fourth quarter and thrown interceptions in the final minute. Then there was Sunday’s one-of-a-kind defeat.

    It has frustrated Harbaugh, who has been to the postseason six of the past seven years.

    “This has been a tough process for us. For whatever reason, as a football team this has been a real challenging year,” the coach said. “Some things come naturally and easily over the years. It has not been the case for us. But that’s OK. We’re up for the challenge. We can deal with this. And we will.”

    Baltimore hasn’t been 2-7 since 2005, when Kyle Boller was quarterback and Brian Billick was the coach. Flacco came into the league in 2008, the same year Harbaugh took over, and the duo has enjoyed a very successful run — until now.

    Flacco threw three touchdown passes Sunday, but he also committed three turnovers. The Ravens had plenty of chances to pull away from the Jaguars but couldn’t make it happen, setting the stage for the crazy finish.

    “We’re just leaving room for stuff like this to happen,” Flacco said. “At the end of the day, we’re not good enough. It shows in your record.”

    The Ravens still have seven games left, beginning this Sunday at home against St. Louis. If there’s one thing Harbaugh can say with certainty, it’s that his team won’t quit.

    “Our players are just of the highest caliber,” he insisted. “We still believe we can win every game going forward. We’re not going to let that go because we know what kind of football team we can be.”

    To be sure, the Ravens’ resolve has been tested thus far this season. There might be a tendency to surrender to fate after Sunday, but Harbaugh refuses to let them happen.

    “No matter what situation might rise up, we’re not going to let those things get the best of us,” he said. “No way. We’re not backing up, we’re not backing down. Nobody’s going to flinch no matter how long it takes. We thought we’d be through this by now. We’re not. OK.”

  • Saints finally fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan– Saints coach Sean Payton promised changes were coming to his sagging defense. He started by firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.Senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen will assume Ryan’s duties.

    The move, announced Monday night on Payton’s weekly radio show on WWL-AM, comes a day after the Saints allowed 526 yards in a 47-14 loss to the Washington Redskins. The Saints rank last in the NFL in yards allowed per game with 424.7, yards allowed per play with 6.7 and points allowed per game with 31.5.

    “I’m disappointed for Rob it didn’t work out,” Payton said. “He’s a fantastic staff guy. He’s a guy that was respected greatly, not only in the locker room but by his peers. We just had to at some point look closely (at making a change) because the direction we were going wasn’t good. We really struggled with substitutions, getting lined up, getting our guys the defensive call and being able to function.”

    Injuries have hampered the unit lately, but New Orleans has ranked consistently low defensively for a season and a half, having finished last year ranked 31st.

    Ryan was hired in 2013 and his unit ranked fourth that season, but has struggled since. Allen, a former NFL defensive coordinator and head coach, was hired by this past offseason by New Orleans, where he’d previously been a Payton assistant from 2006 to 2010.

    “He’s someone that I’m very familiar with,” Payton said of Allen, who was the secondary coach for the 2009 Saints squad that won the Super Bowl.

    Allen left New Orleans in 2011 to become Denver’s defensive coordinator for a season before taking over as Oakland’s head coach in 2012. The Raiders fired Allen during the 2014 season.

    His return to New Orleans was unconventional in that he was not initially hired to replace Ryan, but work alongside him while shoring up the secondary.

    But that setup had not produced the results for which Payton had hoped.

    Even in some of their victories, such as a 52-49 victory over the New York Giants three weeks ago, New Orleans defense often appeared to botch coverages and leave gaps that led to explosive plays.

    Opposing quarterbacks have consistently had their best games of the season against New Orleans.

    Washington’s Kirk Cousins had the best game of his career on Sunday, throwing for 324 yards and four touchdowns, producing a perfect QB rating of 158.3.

    Earlier Monday, Payton had insisted that Ryan was “absolutely” still a member of his staff, and defensive end Cameron Jordan said Ryan assumed his usual role in team meetings before players departed team headquarters for the club’s bye week.

    But even as Payton refused to acknowledge he’d made up us mind to fire Ryan, he made it clear that change was coming to the struggling unit.

    “I do know this — continuing just along the same course we’re taking right now is not something that we’re going to do. And I’m talking about players. I’m talking about us as a staff, all of us collectively.” Payton said. “But you’ve got to look closely at what’s winning and what’s keeping you from winning. And in fairness to the players and fans and everyone else, we’ve got to look at that specifically.

    “There’s some things on tape that have to be better. And we’ll get that right,” Payton added in his earlier comments. “It might take a little bit of time. And it might hurt going down for some people. But we’ll get it squared away.”

    Opposing quarterbacks have consistently had their best games against New Orleans. The Giants’ Eli Manning threw for a personal-best six TDs against the Saints. The next week, Titans rookie Marcus Mariota returned from an injury to have his best game yet, passing for 371 yards and four TDs. Then came Cousins’ career day.

    “It’s a success-driven business,” Payton said, echoing comments he’d made to players in a team meeting earlier Monday. “We’ve got some young guys that want to do well, want to please, some veterans the same way. Yet we’ve got to look closely at what we’re doing and how well they’re doing. But the main thing was, it wasn’t going to be the same when they got back. It was going to be different. And it needs to be.”

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