By Steve Silverman
The Steelers looked inept in two losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, and they maintained a similar posture against the Jaguars for three quarters Sunday. But just when it looked like they were going to get wrecked again by Jacksonville, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers came to life in the fourth quarter and pulled out a much-needed win. Pittsburgh made its statement in the victory, the Saints continued to roll and the Bears took a big step up the NFL ladder.
Seahawks 27, Packers 24
Seattle Seahawks: B+. The Seahawks are getting the most out of their limited talent. When it looked like the Seahawks had lost their most talented players, Pete Carroll has seen his team fight every week for 60 minutes. Further, the Seahawks have developed the most dependable running game in the league.
Green Bay Packers: C. The Packers did a lot of things right in this game, but they could not come through with clutch plays. That has been the story of the Green Bay season, particularly when they are on the road. Head coach, Mike McCarthy, seems to be pressing all the wrong buttons, particularly when he failed to challenge a completed pass call that would have been reversed late in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys 22, Falcons 19
Dallas Cowboys: B. The Cowboys looked they were falling apart a couple of weeks ago, after they lost a home Sunday night game to the Tennessee Titans. They have rebounded with two straight wins, as the offensive line has turned things around. Ezekiel Elliott came through with 122 rushing yards and 79 more as a receiver.
Atlanta Falcons: C-. Yet another loss late in the fourth quarter for the Falcons. Atlanta made a solid comeback, as Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones with a spectacular TD reception. But the defense could not stop the Cowboys from mounting a late drive and hitting the game-winning field goal.
Ravens 24, Bengals 21
Baltimore Ravens: B+. The Ravens needed a win in the worst way, and with Joe Flacco out with a hip injury, rookie Lamar Jackson put his signature on the game and helped deliver. Jackson threw for 150 yards and ran for 117 more, and he came out a winner in the first start of his career.
Cincinnati Bengals: B. While the Bengals lost, they came through with a very competitive effort a week after getting destroyed by the New Orleans Saints. Randy Bullock missed a potential game-tying field goal, and Andy Dalton’s late pass was knocked away, keeping the Bengals from having a chance at victory. Still, a much better game for Marvin Lewis’s team after last week’s destruction.
Lions 20, Panthers 19
Detroit Lions: B. The Lions have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. But head coach, Matt Patricia, saw his team improve in its blocking and tackling, and those two building blocks helped the Lions get their fourth win of the season.
Carolina Panthers: D. The Panthers were victimized by their own mediocre play and their own head coach’s reckless decision-making. After Cam Newton threw what appeared to be the game-tying TD pass late in the fourth quarter, Ron Rivera eschewed the extra point and went for two and a lead. Newton misfired, and the Panthers lost the opportunity to win the game in overtime.
Colts 38, Titans 10
Indianapolis Colts: A-. The Colts put on a sensational performance, and they may be very difficult to beat in the season’s home stretch. Andrew Luck was brilliant, completing 23 of 29 passes for 297 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, as Indianapolis earned a dominant blowout victory.
Tennessee Titans: D-. This is why the NFL is such a difficult league to predict. The Titans had appeared to stamp themselves as legitimate contenders after beating the Cowboys and Patriots in back-to-back games. Even though they had a boatload of momentum, they got smacked around by the Indianapolis Colts and looked ill-prepared for the game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota left the game in the first half after suffering an elbow injury.
Giants 38, Buccaneers 35
New York Giants: B+. Woo-woo, the Giants have won two in a row! Given the state of the NFC East, the 3-7 team would seemingly have a chance to make a run, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Eli Manning has received decent protection for two straight games, but that may be difficult to continue with upcoming games against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C-. The Bucs once again dug themselves a deep hole, and they had to turn to their backup quarterback to bring them back. This time it was Ryan Fitzpatrick who had an awful start and Jameis Winston who led an impressive comeback. But the bid fell short, because the Tampa Bay defense is so inept.
Texans 23, Redskins 21
Houston Texans: B+. There’s something to be said for the power of embarrassment. When the Texans fell to 0-3 after losing a game to the New York Giants, it was like a cold slap in the face. They have not lost a game since. They picked up their seventh straight win as a result of Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 54-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Washington Redskins: D+. The Redskins suffered a brutal defeat, as they lost quarterback Alex Smith to a gruesome leg injury that brought back memories of a similar disaster suffered by former Redskin Joe Theismann in 1985. For the first time this year, the Redskins rallied from behind to take a lead. But the Texans rallied back, and Washington fell short.
Steelers 20, Jaguars 16
Pittsburgh Steelers: B+. The Steelers struggled throughout, and it looked as if they would blow a game they were capable of winning. It took a while for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Vance McDonald to get going, but they pulled it off in the final seconds. The Steelers served notice that they will not back down.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C-. After struggling on a weekly basis, the Jaguars looked like the team that made it all the way to the AFC Championship game a year ago — until the fourth quarter. That’s when the Jaguars fell apart, as head coach Doug Marrone had no idea how secure a win for his team.
Raiders 23, Cardinals 21
Oakland Raiders: C+. The Raiders picked up their second win of the season, as they played competitively on the road for 60 minutes. PK Daniel Carlson provided the pay off with a game-winning 35-field goal on the final play of the game. Derek Carr did a nice job, passing for 192 yards with two touchdowns.
Arizona Cardinals: C-. The Cardinals should have been able to turn this game into a victory, but two late penalties helped the Raiders steal the game on the road. Rookie Josh Rosen is under severe pressure to help the Cardinals turn things around, but he is a long way from making that happen.
Broncos 23, Chargers 22
Denver Broncos: B+. The Broncos are not the defensive team they were a few years ago, and they don’t have the talent to complete with elite teams on a week-to-week basis. However, they are feisty and competitive, and quarterback Case Keenum is a never-quit type of player. He engineered the game-winning drive with his resourcefulness. He threw for 205 yards to help the Broncos get a surprising road win.
Los Angeles Chargers: D+. The Chargers think they are good enough to run down the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. But if that were the case, they wouldn’t have blown a double-digit lead to a below-average team at home. Philip Rivers has been having a sensational year, and he threw for 401 yards in this game. But he threw two interceptions that hurt the Chargers’ cause.
Saints 48, Eagles 7
New Orleans Saints: A. It looked like men playing against boys, as the Saints were prepared to take on the defending Super Bowl champions. Drew Brees was sensational once again, with 363 passing yards and four touchdowns. If the Saints don’t suffer any serious injuries from this point forward, they will be very difficult to beat.
Philadelphia Eagles: F. The Eagles suffered the worst defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history. This team has been struggling, and they needed to come through with their best game against the NFL’s hottest team. Instead, the Eagles were confused and more than a step slow in getting torn up by the Saints.
Bears 25, Vikings 20
Chicago Bears: A- The worst-to-first season in the NFC North for the Bears continues. They took it to the Vikings for three quarters and made the visitors adjust to their game. The combination of Chicago’s hard-hitting defensive stars Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks punished the Vikings. The Bears lead the division by 1½ games.
Minnesota Vikings: C+. The Vikings tried to fight their way back into this game in the fourth quarter, but they started their comeback too late and fell to the Bears. Chicago’s defense put the clamps on the Minnesota offense for three quarters, and the Vikings defense could not do the same to the Bears.
Bye week: 49ers, Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Patriots