After last week’s historic comeback win versus Peyton Manning and the high-powered Denver Broncos offense, the Patriots almost paid the price for overlooking a surprisingly scrappy Houston Texans squad. In what looked like the classic letdown game scenario, Tom Brady got off to a slow start with the Texans D limiting him to only 108 first half passing yards.
Pair that with Ben Tate’s 102 yards and three touchdowns (two in the first half) to resuscitate Houston’s anemic ground game, and you have all of the elements in place for a nightmare loss to follow the Pats improbable win in Week 12. Luckily for Bill Belichick’s crew, they were able to overcome another lethargic start, and ramp up the intensity in the second half – with Houston’s Antonio Smith even going as far as to resuscitate the infamous “Spygate” scandal.
If you needed evidence of Rob Gronkowski’s importance to New England’s offense, Sunday’s matchup should be Exhibit A. The Patriots are a totally different team with their Pro Bowl tight end in the mix. After the Texas took a 10-point lead, Brady connected with Gronk on a 23 yard-reception which allowed the Patriots to keep pace and not fall too far behind. In the second half, as the Pats offense picked up steam, he reeled in a 50-yard reception, leading to one of two long fourth quarter field goals by Stephen Gostkowski that iced the game.
Brady finished the game 29-of-41 for 371 yards, with two touchdowns and a pick, as the Pats guaranteed a 13th straight winning season and put themselves in great position for a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs went at it for the second time in three weeks. With their last meeting being so recent and both coaches tipped off to the other team’s tendencies, it was possible that this game would be a low scoring chess match. Then again, when has a Peyton Manning-led team ever had a problem scoring points?
The Chiefs made it interesting, sprinting out of the gates to a 21-7 lead. Just when it looked like Kansas City might avenge their Week 10 loss, Denver ran off 28 straight points. Who started Erick Decker on their fantasy football team? If you were lucky enough to have him in your lineup, you were able to reap the benefits of a career performance.
Decker had eight receptions for 174 yards and four touchdowns. To put those stats in perspective, that’s more touchdowns and receiving yards than he had his in his last four games combined. Still, even with Decker receiving significant targets, Manning managed to spread the ball around. Eight different receivers reeled in catches on the day.
The Broncos have established themselves as the class of the AFC. With Manning putting up 400-yard and five touchdown games with regularity, and no teams with winning records on the remainder of their schedule, Denver should cruise to a one seed. There’s only one question left to answer. Can anyone in the league get between the Broncos and the Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Quick Hits | Words by TSS Crew
– The 49ers beat the Rams in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. San Francisco might be the NFC Chiefs, all of their wins have come against teams with a combined record of 30-52 (with a Packers tie), and only the 7-5 Cardinals are currently over .500. With that said, they now have their full receiving corps, with Michael Crabtree playing for the first time this season, after tearing his Achilles tendon in May. And they’ll also get a chance to prove it next week versus Seattle. Oh, and Vernon Davis did that.
– With another win, the Jacksonville Jaguars are hellbent on closing the season out strong and simultaneously screwing themselves out of the number one pick sweepstakes. Despite Cleveland native Cecil Shorts III’s game-winning grab, it was Josh Gordon’s 261 yards and two touchdowns was the real headline. Gordon’s the first player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games.
– Was it pretty? Hell no. But Andrew Luck and the Colts put an increasingly tight vice grip on the AFC South with a 22-15 win over the Titans, improving their record to 8-4. Without a true No. 1 threat at receiver and a run game that’s shaky at best, anyone expecting the Colts to go deep into the playoffs? Just by saying this, they probably will though.
– Chicago lost a critical divisional game to Minnesota in overtime, despite Alshon Jeffery’s 12 grabs for 249 yards and two touchdowns. But it’s time to salute Adrian Peterson for the 749th time. His 35 carries for 211 yards were not only grown man numbers, but he surpassed the 10,000 career yards mark. Ladies and gents, his team may not be much of a damn, but you’re looking at one of the greatest football players to ever live. Appreciate that while he’s still around (wasting his prime years in Minnesota who will do anything but get him a legit quarterback).
– We don’t quote Colin Cowherd too often – okay, ever – but his assessment of the New York Jets was spot on. The Dolphins won the most unwatchable game of the day 23-3.
– Last year, the Redskins spent Thanksgiving week celebrating an enormous RG3 performance. This year, fans are openly wondering aloud if he should still be the Skins starter. In the Sunday night NBC slot that everybody hoped they would have been flexed out of, we all got to watch The Walking Dead finale instead, as the Skins coughed up a chance to beat the Giants late when Pierre Garcon fumbled with a minute left to end their final drive. And somehow, the Giants still have a pulse in the NFC wildcard race at 5-7.
– The Lions just had the best week ever. Not only did the Vikings do their job and hand deliver the Bears a crippling overtime loss on Sunday, but days before Detroit bombed first on Green Bay with a 40-10 blowout. And if Green Bay fails to provide some sort of positivity really soon, Aaron Rodgers (and his 1970s porn mustache) may not suit up again in 2013.
– Some questionable calls at the end helped ensure the Eagles remained step-for-step with the Dallas Cowboys edging out a 24-21 over the Cardinals. Nick Foles, on the other hand, still has yet to throw an interception this season after tossing for three more touchdowns on Sunday (16 total on the year).
– Beating Tampa bay 27-6 means the Panthers are owners of an eight-game winning streak. Boy oh boy, next Sunday night’s game versus the Saints in The Big Easy should be worth staying up past your bedtime for.
– Thirteen more tackles for Vontaze Burfict on Sunday (118 on the season) helped lead a Cincinnati defense who only allowed 10 points to the San Diego Chargers. Thankfully for Vontaze, the Bengals scored 17 and are now 8-4 sitting atop the AFC North.
– Even with Rob Ford in attendance eating chicken wings in the stands, the Bills lost 34-31 in overtime to the Falcons in Toronto. It also appears he may have stolen musician Matt Mayes’ seat, too, making it the second seat in as many months he’s refused to give up.
– For the first 29 minutes of the first half, the Raiders seemed primed and ready for a Thanksgiving upset of Dallas. From that point on, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray (three rushing scores on the day) put on display the “well-oiled-machine” side of the Cowboys to a 31-24 victory. The league’s worst defense even appeared respectable at times. Now, this sets up the Cowboys heading into an extremely important December for what feels like the 75th consecutive season.
– Baltimore beat Pittsburgh 22-20 in a very important AFC battle for wildcard positioning. That said, the talk of the game has been Mike Tomlin’s interference on Jacoby Jones’ kick return, the hilarious memes the Internet created in response and potentially the crippling trouble the coach (and organization) could be in.