Brady-Manning XIV lived up to all the hype, and then some.
Tom Brady and the Patriots turned the ball over three times early on and failed to score any first-half points for the first time in almost two calendar years, yet when push came to shove he showed the mental toughness that Peyton Manning seems to lack in big moments. Brady led four second-half touchdown drives while Manning struggled mightily in the unfriendly weather conditions. In the end, the wind-aided Patriots rallied back from a 24-0 halftime deficit, benefiting from a few breaks along the way, and pulled out a 34-31 win in what was easily an instant classic.
Manning’s struggles just go to accentuate the “gutless” opinion that has stacked up against him during the course of his long and successful career. While Manning looked the part of a choke artist once again, the Broncos and Patriots weren’t the only teams at work on Sunday. There were plenty of other exciting games and big performances to note, so let’s try and highlight the best and worst of Week 11.
1. Philip Rivers – Nobody helped themselves or their team more than Philip Rivers on Sunday. After three straight tough losses had San Diego looking like underachievers yet again this season, Rivers stood tall against Kansas City on Sunday and proved why he belongs in the conversation as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs’ highly touted defense, including a last-minute score to Seyi Ajirotutu to clinch the win. The Chargers have a tough road ahead, but Rivers’ performance on Sunday kept them firmly in the playoff picture in a wide-open AFC.
2. Arizona Cardinals – Who honestly thought the Cardinals could be this good? After Sunday’s win against Indianapolis, Arizona has now won four in a row, sits at 7-4 on the season and is very much in the playoff picture. The Cardinals boast a top-10 defense, including the second-best run defense, a suddenly fertile running game and, if you can even believe it, a more than capable quarterback in Carson Palmer. Their four losses have come against three playoff teams (New Orleans, Seattle and San Francisco) and the tougher-than-anticipated Rams — two of them by one score or less. Sunday’s rout of Indy just went to prove that the Cardinals aren’t just good, but they are legitimate postseason contenders, even in the brutal NFC West. Bruce Arians has his team headed for the playoffs. It’s time to buy stock in Arizona.
3. Greg Schiano – Five weeks ago, Greg Schiano looked like a dead man walking. Buccaneers fans had all but set up the gallows and hung the noose in Tampa Bay. The once 0-8 Bucs have made an incredible turnaround in recent weeks, though, taking it to the Dolphins, Falcons and now the Lions in three straight weeks to show just how good they can be. The defense, which has been solid all season, continues to make big plays, while Mike Glennon has emerged as arguably the best quarterback in the rookie class. Schiano has his guys finally buying into the system and believing that they can win any game. It’s been a complete 180 in Tampa in recent weeks, and Schiano might just be saving his butt.
1. Peyton Manning – The Broncos’ letdown on Sunday night wasn’t all on Peyton Manning, but he didn’t exactly shine under the spotlight either. The Patriots, with an assist to the weather, frustrated Manning all night, once again raising the question about the quarterback’s ability to come through in the big moments. Denver seems like the class of the NFL, and it looked the part for the first half last night, but Manning struggled to connect with his receivers consistently and yet again let Tom Brady steal a win right out of his palms. He may still be on a record-setting pace, but Manning’s ugly performance in Foxboro has to at least raise some questions about his place atop the MVP mountain and ability to win come January. It’s not a good look for Manning right now.
2. Ties – Alright, enough with the ties. Sure, draws have been a part of the NFL since the league’s inception, but a rule change is in order. Sunday’s ugliness in Green Bay marked the second time in two seasons that a game has ended in a tie, and the second time that players didn’t realize they could tie. How is that even possible? The Patriots-Broncos game, which turned out to be an instant classic, almost ended in a draw as well, adding even more reason to make a change.
While the new overtime rules offer more just circumstances than the prior sudden-death format, it also tends to extend the game, giving teams less time to work with if they do exchange field goals. Sure, it’s an unusual circumstance, but, whether it’s a second overtime or some sort of field-goal kicking competition, changes need to be made. The Packers’ playoff hopes may be riding firmly on the outcome of Sunday’s game now, and that just shouldn’t be the case.
3. Geno Smith – I wasn’t sure if Geno Smith could fall any further after last week’s dismal showing in Buffalo, but he proved us all wrong in Baltimore on Sunday. Following a four-turnover performance against the Bills, Smith managed another three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) against the Ravens to add to his NFL-high 23 turnovers. The Jets were sitting in prime playoff position heading into the bye just two weeks ago, but they’re now staring down irrelevancy and another disappointing season, if things don’t turn around. And, not to throw kerosene on the fire or anything, it looks like their quarterback situation is as complex as ever.