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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 12 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young scrabbles 8 yards as he is being persued by New England Patriots linebacker Tracey White during first quarter New England Patroits-Philadelphia Eagles game action at Lincoln Financial Field November 27, 2011. UPI/Eileen Angelino

- Vince Young threw some ugly passes in the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Patriots, none bigger than his “touch” pass to Brent Celek in the back of the end zone on fourth down midway through the third quarter when the score was still relatively close. But he also deserved a better fate in the end. He threw for 400 yards and one touchdown, and should have had two more scores had DeSean Jackson not dropped two passes in the end zone. For a guy who is so concerned about his contract, Jackson isn’t playing with much concentration, focus, or drive right now. He was also benched by Andy Reid late in the fourth quarter, which signals that he’s just as likely to get the boot in Philly than a new deal.

- Matt Leinart admitted following the Texans’ 20-13 win over the Jaguars that his season is likely over. Dude waits two years to get another shot to start in the NFL and when he does, he breaks his collarbone in his second quarter back. That’s a tough break, both literally and figuratively. Now Houston’s playoff hopes ride on fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates, although it’s not like the Texans were pinning their hopes on great quarterback play from here on out anyway. If they win, it’ll be because of their running game and defense – not Leinart, Yates, or whomever they find while dumpster diving next week.

- I loved how CBS kept showing Tim Tebow sitting on the bench as the Chargers marched down the field in overtime trying to get into field goal range for a game-winning score. As if Tebow was going to summon some magical higher power to help Denver’s defense stuff Mike Tolbert on a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-6 and force the Chargers to attempt a 53-yard-field goal instead of a 49-yarder. And then magically lead the Broncos down the field, get into field goal range and then win in come-from-behind fashion once again. I mean, let’s get real…….say again? That’s exactly what happened? For Tebow’s sake, are you serious? That CBS is genius…

- …in all seriousness, Denver’s defense deserves most, if not all of the credit for the team’s sudden turnaround. Tebow is 5-1 and has been incredibly clutch in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but without the Broncos’ defense holding opponents to 13 points or less he may not win a game. Von Miller is something special and John Fox has done wonders for Denver’s entire defense.

- Their mismanagement of Blaine Gabbert has made the front office and coaching staff in Jacksonville look like a bunch of clowns. Gabbert clearly wasn’t ready for NFL action when the Jaguars drafted him with the 10th overall pick last April, which was fine because David Garrard was still the starter. Gabbert could have held a clipboard in his first year before taking over next season or in 2013 when he was ready. But instead, the front office released Garrard and the Jaguars shoehorned Gabbert into the starting role right away. Then, because he’s been so ineffective over the past two months, the team had to bench him today against Houston in favor of Luke McCown. Had the Jags remained patient from the start this situation could have been avoided. But now Gabbert’s confidence has likely taken a huge hit and GM Gene Smith may lose his job for his poor decision-making this offseason.

- The Chargers are done and you wonder whether or not Norv Turner’s time in San Diego is up. If it is, maybe he should give serious consideration to staying an offensive coordinator. Stripped from all of his head-coaching responsibilities, I think the guy could win multiple Super Bowls again just calling plays. Granted, the Chargers only scored 13 points today but Turner’s version of the Air Coryell offense can often be very explosive. He just lacks whatever guys like Mike Tomlin have in order to inspire a football team. I don’t want to say what’s best for Turner because only he knows that. But as an outsider, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if he finishes his coaching career up in the booth calling plays. (If the Chargers end his tenure in San Diego, that is.)

New York Jets Mark Sanchez points to the defense in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 12 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on November 27, 2011. UPI /John Angelillo

- Only Mark Sanchez could throw for four touchdowns and still leave people doubting his abilities. I watched a good portion of the Jets’ 28-24 win over the Bills on Sunday and while Sanchez certainly executed in the red zone, he was shaky against a miserable Buffalo defense (which should have finished with more than just one interception). But at least New York picked up the win, which was big given New England’s victory against Philadelphia late on Sunday.

- I know it was only Minnesota but the Falcons’ offense is finally starting to resemble the unit that everyone thought it would at the beginning of the year. Matt Ryan went his second-straight game without turning the ball over and threw three touchdown passes, while Roddy White had his second straight 100-yard performance and made a sweet catch in the back of the end zone for his lone score during Atlanta’s 24-14 win. After two months of wasting his talent, OC Mike Mularkey has also finally figured out what a weapon Harry Douglas is in the slot. The next thing Mularkey has to do is stop using Julio Jones as just a complementary piece in the offense. Once that happens, the Falcons will really be firing on all cylinders.

- Speaking of firing on all cylinders, I give you the New England Patriots. Wes Welker: Eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns. Deion Branch (from my fantasy bench): Six catches and 125 yards. Aaron Hernandez: Six catches and 62 yards. Rob Gronkowski: A very quiet four catches for 59 yards and one 24-yard touchdown catch. Tom Brady topped everything off with 361 yards threw the air and three touchdowns. The Patriots are at their best when they get everybody involved a la the Saints and Packers. That was a very sound performance out of New England, which never panicked even though it was down 10-0 early to the Eagles.

Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson catches a punt by the St. Louis Rams before running it back for a 80 yard touchdown in the third quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on November 27, 2011. Arizona won the game 23-20. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

- If Beanie Wells could only stay healthy he could be one of the league’s premier backs. The Rams don’t have the greatest of defenses but Wells looked explosive while rushing for a record 228 yards on 27 carries in the Cardinals’ 23-20 win. He and Patrick Peterson (who returned his fourth punt return for touchdown this season) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (other wise known as John Skelton).

- Outside of Chris Johnson’s 190 rushing yards, it wasn’t a great effort by the Titans in their 23-17 win over the Bucs. But all wins are huge for Tennessee from here on out. The Titans only trail the Texans by two games in the AFC South and now that Houston is down to T.J. Yates at quarterback, Tennessee has a very realistic shot of catching Houston down the stretch. For Tennessee, it’s “Just win baby” from here on out.

- The Browns are something else. They find new ways to lose every week. They managed to catch the Bengals sleepwalking today in Cincinnati but they squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and a 20-10 third-quarter lead to lose 23-20 on a last-second field goal. Joe Haden (who is a star in the making) was stuck to A.J. Green like Velcro for 58 minutes and the one big play Green makes goes for 51 yards to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Unreal. And Colt McCoy does just enough not to win every week. The kid threw two touchdown passes but he his average pass went for 4.4 yards. Four-point-four yards! The Browns need a little more out of McCoy than that.

- Want to know how bad things are right now for the Vikings? Percy Harvin had a 107-yard kickoff return today and still didn’t score a touchdown. That’s tough to do.

- You have to love Mike Shanahan. Five days ago he basically said that Roy Helu wasn’t ready to be the Redskins’ full-time back and then handed the rookie 30 touches in the team’s 23-17 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. Helu finished with 108 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards, with one touchdown and seven receptions to boot. I’m sure Evan Royster will start and receive the same opportunities next week as Shanahan continues to ruin fantasy football owners’ lives.

- While the Seahawks remain a highly perplexing team, Marshawn Lynch continues to be one of the steadiest backs in the league. For the third time in his last four games, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and for the seventh straight week, he found the end zone. It came in a losing effort but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and if he continues to run like he has, he’ll be earning a long-term contract next offseason.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2011 NFL Week 12 Primer

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) leads his team on the field before their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on November 14, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. UPI/Brian Kersey

Packers @ Lions, 12:30PM ET, Thursday
I truly believe that it’s Green Bay and then everyone else when it comes to the power structure of the NFL. But don’t think for a second that the Lions can’t beat the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve been waiting a long time to be strong enough to finally punch the bully back and they’ll have their opportunity tomorrow. The key for Detroit is its front four. If they can rush Aaron Rodgers with only Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch, then they’re going to be fine. And with how suspect Green Bay’s defense has been this year, if its still a game in the fourth quarter then the Lions have a shot to pull off the upset.

Dolphins @ Cowboys, 4:15PM ET, Thursday
This is definitely the weakest of the Thanksgiving matchups but this game still offers plenty of intrigue. The Cowboys are now tied with the Giants for first place in the NFC East but they’ve turned in inconsistent performances all season. And during Miami’s three-game winning streak, the Dolphins haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters. This is going to be a bigger challenge for Tony Romo and Co. than people think.

49ers @ Ravens, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Forget the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh stuff – this is a great matchup between two physical teams that will fight for four quarters. The Ravens have been playing up and down to their competition all season and their offense has sputtered at times. On the other side, San Francisco’s defense has been a rock for nine straight weeks but Baltimore’s run defense is outstanding so it’ll be interesting to see how the Niners fare when they have to lean on Alex Smith and the passing game. There doesn’t figure to be much scoring in this game but if you like hard-nosed football, then it doesn’t get better than this.

Vikings @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
This isn’t a very exciting matchup with Adrian Peterson out with an ankle injury but it’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons stay with their no-huddle attack on offense. They ran the no-huddle exclusively in their 23-17 win over the Titans last Sunday and had great success with it (outside of settling for field goals when they reached the red zone, that is). Matt Ryan looks most comfortable running that offense but will OC Mike Mularkey make it Atlanta’s identity on offense? He’s been hesitant to ditch his “smashmouth” approach but at some point the Falcons need to develop more consistency on offense. Maybe running the no-huddle full-time is the answer.

Texans @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s time to see if Matt Leinart has matured as a quarterback. He failed in Arizona because he wasn’t ready to lead a young team with potential (unlike Kurt Warner, who prospered in the situation). Now Leinart is at the controls of a veteran club that has an outstanding running game and a sound defense. Can he manage games and make plays when his number is called or will he crumble under the pressure? In Jacksonville’s defense, he’ll face a stiff test right out of the gates.

Buccaneers @ Titans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
One of these teams will keep its playoff hopes alive on Sunday while the other could be looking at a long offseason. The Titans remain two games behind the Texans in the AFC South but with Matt Schaub out for the season, Tennessee has a golden opportunity to get back into the divisional race if it can string some wins together. On the other side, the Bucs continue to fall further behind the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South. In some respects, this might as well be an elimination game for these two teams (although more so for the Bucs).

Cardinals @ Rams, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney’s jobs seem safe for now in St. Louis. But any more displays like last Sunday and the Rams could be searching for a new head coach and/or general manager this offseason. Sam Bradford and Co. were pitiful on offense in their 24-7 loss to Seattle last weekend.

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Six-Pack of Questions for Week 12 in the NFL

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked for a five yard loss by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in third quarter of a NFL football game at Lambeau Field Green Bay, Wisconsin October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What are some of the big questions heading into this week’s action in the NFL?

1. Can the Bears survive without Cutler?
In a word, yes. Remember, this was the same team that once went to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at the controls. They have a physical, unrelenting defense led by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, a star at running back in Matt Forte, and the most dangerous returner in the league in Devin Hester. But the biggest question is whether or not Mike Martz will adjust. Leopards don’t change their spots and Martz is a leopard thru and thru. If he wants to run his offense with Caleb Hanie the same as if Jay Cutler were under center then the Bears are going to die a very quick death. But if Martz relies on Forte and the running game and allows Chicago’s defense and special teams to win games, then there’s no reason the Bears can’t still make the playoffs with Hanie under center.

2. Can the Lions bring down the Pack?
This is the moment the Detroit Lions have been waiting for all season: To finally be able to punch the bully back. The Packers have been abusing the Lions for years but now Detroit is bigger, better and meaner. The way to beat any elite quarterback is to pressure him using only the front four because it allows a defense to drop the rest of its defenders into coverage. And thanks to guys like Ndamukong Suh, Willie Young and Cliff Avril, the Lions have one of the best pass rushes in the league. Aaron Rodgers will make plays; that’s just what he does. But the Lions certainly have the pass rushers to make his Thanksgiving a little uncomfortable if the secondary can hang with guys like Jordy Nelson in coverage. The biggest question is whether or not Matthew Stafford can avoid mistakes. Turnovers will kill the Lions but otherwise, they have the tools to slay the dragon. Now they just have to go out do it.

3. Can Leinart keep the Texans moving ahead?
The Texans own a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South but Matt Leinart hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since 2009. And when he did have his opportunities to start, he flubbed things up pretty good. But from Kurt Warner to Rich Gannon to Kerry Collins, there have been plenty of quarterbacks who prospered after first facing adversity in their careers. Leinart has first-round talent but. he wasn’t ready to lead in Arizona. That said, he’s older, wiser and hopefully more mature. Armed with a great running game and a defense playing at the top of its game, the Texans are playoff-ready. All Leinart has to do is manage games and not muck things up but can he do it?

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A Six-Pack of Questions: NFL Week 11

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub (8) signals his offensive line against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of their NFL football game in Indianapolis November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Brent Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What are some of the big questions heading into this week in the NFL?

1. Can Matt Leinart save the Texans’ season?
You almost have to feel bad for the Houston Texans. Now that they’re finally knocking on the door of their first postseason appearance, they lose starting quarterback Matt Schaub (Lisfranc surgery) for the season. The good news is that the Texans are still two wins up on the Titans in the AFC South and hey, it’s not like the NFL has never seen a backup quarterback resurgence before. Don’t forget that in this very division, Kerry Collins once stepped in for Vince Young and led the Titans to a 12-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the AFC. That said, Collins had already taken a team to the Super Bowl earlier in his career and had some success as a starter. Matt Leinart has not. He may have won a bunch of games at USC but he’s done nothing in his four years in the NFL to make you believe that he’s going to one day wake up and put it all together. In fact, he hasn’t even attempted a pass since 2009. Maybe the question for the Texans isn’t whether or not Leinart can save their season, but whether or not the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate can rise to the challenge. Houston’s running game will be relied upon even more than it already has this season, although at some point Leinart will have to make plays. Like most people, I have my doubts about his potential to lead.

2. Can the Titans capitalize?
Tennessee has kind of gotten lost in the midst of Houston’s current four-game winning streak. But now that Leinart is taking over under center, the Titans have a realistic chance to win the division if they can play well in the second half. Chris Johnson is coming off a 130-yard effort against the Panthers and is showing signs of life for the first time all season. Matt Hasselbeck has also stayed healthy and is managing the game like the seasoned vet he is. The defense, however, has regressed. While the Titans have been stout against the run and good (not great) in coverage, their pass rush has been non-existent at times. For the Titans to beat teams like the Saints, Falcons and Bills over the next month, they’ll need to be able to rush the quarterback. But with games against the Bucs, Colts, Jaguars and Texans left on their schedule, there’s no reason the Titans can’t steal the AFC South right from under Houston’s nose. It’s really up to Tennessee to step up and string some wins together if Leinart falters.

3. Can Mike Smith and the Falcons bounce back?
That was a nasty way to lose last Sunday. While some have argued that Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard-line last weekend against the Saints was a risk worth taking, the bottom line is that the move backfired. It cost the Falcons a potential victory and now they sit a game and a half back of the Saints in the NFC South. Smith’s decision is something that could come back and bite the Falcons later on once the NFC playoff picture takes shape. That said, the toughest part of Atlanta’s schedule has already been played. Tennessee, the Falcons’ opponent this Sunday, is certainly beatable, as are Minnesota, Houston, Carolina and Jacksonville (Atlanta’s four opponents before taking on New Orleans again on December 26). The Falcons close the season out at home against a Bucs team that is presently floundering, so there’s a chance they could win out if they play to their full potential. But not if they can’t put “the decision” behind them. To Smith’s credit, he hasn’t backed down from taking responsibility for the fourth down call and his players have come out in full support of their head coach. Now they just have to prove that they’re over the loss on the field.

4. Can the Chargers shake out of their funk?
The Chargers pissed away a golden opportunity to take their lead back in the AFC West when they lost to a banged up Oakland team last Thursday at home. Now they have to travel to Chicago to take on a red-hot Bears team that is playing with a ton of confidence right now. The Bolts have lost four straight and Philip Rivers isn’t carrying the team like he did a year ago. Norv Turner’s passing attack is still explosive but Rivers can’t stop turning the ball over and the running game is nowhere to be seen. On the other side of the ball, San Diego’s secondary has been suspect all season, which isn’t good considering Chicago likes to put the ball in the air. Fortunately for the Chargers nobody in the AFC West seems ready to pull away. But for confidence sake, the Bolts need to pick up a huge road win this Sunday.

5. Will the Ravens’ rebound from their horrendous loss last week?
I didn’t think the Ravens could play any worse than their 12-7 loss to the Jaguars in Week 7. And then they came out last Sunday and lost 22-17 to the Seahawks in a game they never led. The Ravens have clearly played to the level of their competition this season. They played inspired football in wins over Pittsburgh (twice), the Jets and Houston, but in losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle the Ravens clearly thought their inferior opponents would just roll over. So how will they perceive the Bengals this Sunday? Cincinnati didn’t have what it takes to beat Pittsburgh at home last week but it did fight to the end. They’ve also played solid defense this year, although they just lost star cornerback Leon Hall to a season-ending injury. Will Baltimore view Cincinnati as a tough divisional opponent and play up to its potential or will the Ravens not take the banged up Bengals seriously and drop consecutive games for the first time all season?

6. Are the Bills finished?
If they’re not, they better be able to beat a 2-7 Miami team this Sunday. Buffalo has lost two in a row and has looked really bad in the process. The Dolphins may have started the year 0-7 but their confidence is rising with two straight wins. Still, they’re the Dolphins. They’re beatable. They’re certainly beatable when you’re a 5-4 Bills team that is trying to keep pace with the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East. This is a must win for Buffalo, especially considering New York and New England should beat Denver and Kansas City, respectively. If the Bills lose for a third straight week, then chances are this fairytale season is about to have a horrendous ending.

The absurdity of erasing college football’s past

How low can the NCAA and BCS sink these days?

Today we learned that the BCS stripped USC of its 2004 national title, vacating the results of the 2005 Orange Bowl where USC crushed Oklahoma. The BCS also vacated the Trojans participation in the 2006 Rose Bowl that decided the national championship for the 2005 season. Remember that game? Vince Young turned in one of the greatest performances in college football history as Texas knocked off USC, 41-38. According to the NCAA and the BCS, that game never happened.

The NCAA has become a joke (the BCS has always been a joke). The entire college football system has been hijacked by big conferences and universities looking to cash in and keep all the money for themselves through the BCS farce, and then you have the NCAA enforcing a code of ethics developed for a society that looks more like 1950s America than the real world of today.

I’m an Ohio State fan, so I’ve never been a fan of USC, but it’s appalling to see this title stripped away. One idiot on the team was taking money, and suddenly the accomplishments of a great team are nullified by the fools running college athletics. USC may have failed to uncover the problem, but it’s not like assistant coaches were handing Reggie Bush thousands of dollars.

You might say that a severe penalty is in order, but why punish all the college kids who played on that team? Why punish the fans? Why stain the memory of a great season, and then a year later a great game where Vince Young and Texas beat a team many considered to be the best of all time until that night?

If you’re looking for a way to punish the crime, why not follow the money? That’s what college football is all about these days. Instead of forfeiting the game, why not have USC forfeit the millions of dollars paid to them by the BCS that year? The kids never saw a dime of that money, yet they’re the ones getting punished. If you want to prevent this behavior, penalties in the millions of dollars will get the attention of the USC athletic department and the University president.

As for the coaches, punish them as well! In the case of USC, perhaps there wasn’t enough evidence to ban Pete Carroll from coaching for several years, but if he or his assistants were directly implicated, then the NCAA could have suspended them and/or fined them. I understand that Pete Carroll left for the NFL, but he could have been prevented from attending any college football games and interacting with any college football program for a number of years.

In the Jim Tressel case, he should be punished going forward so that he can’t cash in at another university, and Ohio State should lose the money it received for the Sugar Bowl.

Money talks. The big schools have pointed to things like tradition and education as reasons we shouldn’t have a playoff system, and then they play musical chairs with conference memberships and add championship games all while throwing tradition out the window. Nothing matters more than the money . . .

College football needs a complete overhaul, from a playoff system to an examination of all the idiotic rules governing the conduct of “student athletes.” But it needs to start by going after the money, hitting schools where it hurts, and it needs to stop the absurdity of erasing the past every time some dumb kid gets caught accepting money, cars or tattoos from a booster or agent.

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