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Ten Observations from Week 10 in the NFL

1. “Tired arm” isn’t the only thing ailing Eli Manning.
On Friday NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said that Eli Manning’s struggles the past few weeks were due to the quarterback having a “tired arm.” And after Manning completed 29-of-46 passes for just 215 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in New York’s 31-13 loss to the Bengals, it’s hard to argue with Cosell’s evaluation. Sunday marked Manning’s third straight brutal performance and it’s apparent that he’s lost some zip on his passes. But his problems go beyond declining arm strength, as he’s simply making poor decisions. In his last five starts, Manning has a 2:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has averaged just 212.4 yards per game over that span. Granted, his offensive line hasn’t helped him, as Geno Atkins was in his face on both of the interceptions he threw versus Cincinnati. But his play over the past three weeks has been highly concerning and neither he nor the Giants are close to ironing out the problem. Making matters worse, the defense has surrendered at least 23 points since the team’s 26-3 win over the 49ers five weeks ago. Thankfully the Giants are still in first place and they have two weeks to figure out what has gone wrong lately. But it’s clear that they’re a long ways off from being the team that won the Super Bowl back in February.

2. Falcons’ flaws brought to light in loss to Saints.
Their record said they were perfect but the Falcons weren’t fooling anybody. This Atlanta team wasn’t the 2009 Colts or the 2009 Saints, and it certainly wasn’t the 2007 Patriots. They were a flawed 8-0 and that was evident in their 31-27 loss to the Saints on Sunday. Unless the defense has been worn out in the fourth quarter, the Falcons haven’t been able to run the ball. Michael Turner is a shell of his former self and the offensive line continues to struggle in short yardage situations. (See the Falcons’ failed third down attempt at the goal line late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.) This team also can’t stop the run. Chris Ivory gashed Atlanta for 10.3 yards per carry (7-72-1) and Mark Ingram had success running between the tackles as well. That opened things up for Drew Brees to find Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns as Mike Nolan inexplicably left the New Orleans tight end in one-on-one situations. The good news for the Falcons is that they’re still 8-1. Thanks to Mike Smith they’re fundamentally sound and the Saints game not withstanding, they usually don’t beat themselves. They’re also a more dangerous team with Nolan and Dirk Koetter as coordinators, and maybe the coaching staff will finally realize that Jacquizz Rodgers makes the offense more potent than Turner does. The bad news is that the Falcons still play a red-hot Buccaneers team twice and the Saints have now beaten Atlanta in four of the past five meetings. Barring a historic collapse, the Falcons will make the playoffs and they’ll probably earn one of the top two spots in the NFC. But they need to figure out how to run the ball more efficiently and fix the holes in the run defense if they want to avoid yet another one-and-done in the postseason. Hopefully for the Falcons, this loss will be a blessing in disguise.

3. The Saints still have life.
To suggest that New Orleans’ defense played well on Sunday would be a stretch. The Saints surrendered 27 points, 454 total yards, and were just 8-of-16 on third downs. But they also made a ton of plays in crucial moments of their 31-27 win over the Falcons, none bigger than Jabari Greer’s batted pass on 4th-and-goal with the Falcons needing a touchdown to take the lead in the final two minutes. The front seven also stuffed Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss the play before and suffocated Atlanta’s running game throughout the day. The Saints put themselves in a bad hole to start the season but at 4-5 they’re still alive in the NFC, especially with a balanced offense led by Drew Brees. The problem is they may have to go 6-1 the rest of the season in order to get in. With games versus San Francisco, New York, Tampa Bay and Dallas, as well as a rematch with the Falcons in Atlanta, that may not be realistic. But if this defense can stay aggressive under Joe Vitt, you know the offense has the ability to score 30-plus every game. After their victory on Sunday, it’s hard to count the Saints out.

4. The Patriots continue to have issues defensively.
When the Patriots held the Rams to just 7 points in London two weeks ago, people believed that New England started to figure things out defensively. But as it turns out, the Rams’ punchless offense had everything to do with the lack of scoring. The Patriots’ defense was gashed in the team’s 37-31 win over the Bills on Sunday. While they did force three key turnovers including a game-sealing pick in the end zone to halt what could have been a game-winning score for Buffalo, New England surrendered 481 total yards, was just 7-of-11 on third downs, and allowed 5.8 yards per rush. What didn’t show up on the stat sheet were the shoddy tackling and the continued reliance on zone coverage. Maybe Aqib Talib will make a difference when he returns from suspension next week, but who knows if he’s even up to speed on Bill Belichick’s scheme after being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. Thankfully for the Patriots they’re now 6-0 when they rush for over 100 yards and their offense continues to be a balanced juggernaut. It was a little concerning that Tom Brady and Co. couldn’t deliver that final knockout punch with under three minutes remaining in the game but more times than not, you know the Pats will find a way to score in that situation. Maybe next time they won’t be as fortunate defensively, however.

5. When it’s all said and done, this might be Peyton’s finest season.
Coming into Sunday, Peyton Manning was the NFL’s highest-rated passer and had thrown at least three touchdown passes in five straight games. He was on pace for career bests in yards (4,808) and competition percentage (69.5), as well as his second-best touchdown total (40). And that was before he completed 27-of-38 passes for 301 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in a 36-14 blowout victory over the Panthers on Sunday. Manning has been spectacular – even for him. He’s transformed Denver into a juggernaut offensively, especially in these past six weeks. Over that span, the Broncos are averaging 33.1 points per game and Manning has failed to throw for over 300 yards just once over his last seven starts (a 291-yard effort in a 31-23 win over the Bengals two Sundays ago). With the Chargers fading fast, the Broncos are a near lock to win the AFC West. And given how well Manning has played, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Denver in the AFC title game in a few months. That’s incredible to think about given how many people thought he wouldn’t make it past his first real hit.

6. The two most intriguing teams to watch in the second half?
That would be the Colts and the Buccaneers, who have combined to win seven straight games. It’s incredible what Andrew Luck has been able to do in Indianapolis. Outside of Reggie Wayne he doesn’t have many playmakers and his offensive line isn’t very good either. But if the playoffs were to start tomorrow the Colts would own the No. 5 spot in the AFC and Luck would be gearing up for his first playoff start. In Tampa, Greg Schiano has already made his mark with the Bucs. They’ve now won four of their last five games thanks in large part to an offense that has averaged 35.6 points per game over that span, but they can also stop the run and force turnovers defensively. In his first year as a NFL head coach, Schiano has instantly made Tampa Bay tougher, more aggressive, and more potent offensively. His players have bought into his mentality and they’re playing with as much confidence as anyone. But can they make the playoffs? Two of their final seven games come against the Panthers, Eagles and Rams, which are winnable. If they can win those games, they would likely need two victories against the Falcons (whom they play twice), the Broncos, or the Saints. In fact, their playoff hopes may come down to a Week 17 trip to Atlanta, where the Falcons will either be resting starters or trying to secure home field in the playoffs. No matter how the final seven weeks play out, Indy and Tampa are two of the better surprises in the league this season.

7. Young Rams can’t get out of their own way.
The Rams made so many mistakes in overtime of their 24-24 tie with the 49ers on Sunday that it’s easy to forget all the blunders they made in regulation. Let’s start with the 13 penalties for 85 yards. Teams usually don’t win when they’re flagged 13 times on the road, no matter who the opponent is. The biggest infraction came on the Rams’ first possession of overtime when they were called for Illegal Formation, which wiped out an 80-yard reception by Danny Amendola. One minute the Rams are at the goal line ready to knock off the first-place 49ers, the next they’re backed up to their own 13 because Brandon Gibson wasn’t on the line of scrimmage. (Isn’t that the first thing on a receiver’s checklist when he breaks the huddle?) Then, of course, there was failure on the coaching staff to call a timeout right before the play clock wound down on Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning 53-yard field goal attempt. Jeff Fisher said following the game that those things happen when you have a rookie kicker, but all it took was either he or someone on his staff to look up and use a timeout when they saw the clock was running down. To essentially blame Zuerlein (who is trying to concentrate on hitting a 53-yarder on the road in overtime, mind you) was ridiculous. There was also Fisher’s questionable decision late the fourth quarter to burn a timeout and persevere enough time for San Francisco to march down the field and kick a game-tying field goal. He understandably wanted to ensure that his staff and his players were all on the same page because the Rams had to score a touchdown in that situation. But it still wasn’t good clock management and it potentially cost the Rams a victory. In the end a tie is better than a loss, especially when you’re a young team playing in a hostile environment and coming off an embarrassing 45-7 loss. But the Rams were ultimately dragged down by their own inexperience. Fisher has also had better days as well.

Related Note: There’s absolutely no reason ties should exist in the NFL. For as much money as fans are paying to watch a single game, they shouldn’t leave the stadium feeling like they just kissed their sister. It’s not as if these players have to hit the road and play the following night. This isn’t hockey. If Roger Goodell wants to improve his product both locally and globally, he would take steps to ensure that ties, however rare, should never happen in his league.

8. Say what you want about Cutler – the Bears are much better with him healthy.
Jay Cutler was brutal before he took a helmet-to-helmet blow from Tim Dobbins late in the first half of the Bears’ 13-6 loss to the Texans last night. But for those that hung in there to watch Jason Campbell’s uninspiring performance, you realized just how important Cutler is to that offense. Cutler can be an arrogant S.O.B. and he deserves the best and the worst of the polarizing debates that he sparks with his antics. But the playoff-bound Bears fell apart last year when both he and Matt Forte went down with injuries and it will happen again if Cutler misses an extended amount of time. Campbell has always been a better player than what people perceive. He’s good a strong arm, can make all of the throws and stands tall in the pocket. But in order for him to win, he needs to have a strong supporting cast and a stable offensive line. Thanks to guys like Forte and Brandon Marshall, he does have enough around him to win. But he won’t survive behind Chicago’s inconsistent O-line. He looked scattered shot last night, constantly looking for the check-down and attempting throws he has no business trying to make. Granted, Houston’s defense will make an opposing quarterback jittery and there’s no question the Bears are better off with Campbell under center than the slop they ran onto the field last year. But it’s a different offense when Cutler is at the controls. And if the Bears are going to make a run at the Super Bowl, they’re going to need their starting quarterback to stay healthy from here on out.

9. The Sanchez contract extension looks even worse now.
Back in March the Jets handed Mark Sanchez a five-year, $58.25 million contract extension, which included $20.5 million guaranteed. It was a way for the Jets to apologize to Sanchez for flirting with free agent Peyton Manning, which is just ridiculous. Why the Jets felt the need to apologize to Sanchez is beyond the scope of rational thought. In four years as a starter he’s made marginal improvements and still makes rookie mistakes on a weekly basis. Some like to point out that he led the Jets to back-to-back AFC championship games but it was the team’s defense and running game that led the way. Granted, Sanchez was good in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs but the Jets won in spite of him during the regular season. Without the aid of a power running game and Rex Ryan’s defense, we’ve seen Sanchez’s true capabilities the past two seasons. So again, for the front office to have felt the need to apologize to Sanchez when they were trying to make the team better is laughable. On Sunday the Jets didn’t score an offensive touchdown. They needed a Mo Wilkerson 21-yard fumble return for touchdown in order to avoid being shutout in a 28-7 loss to Seattle. Following the game Ryan told reporters that he’s sticking with Sanchez (9-of-22, 124 yards, 1 INT, 1 lost fumble) despite another brutal effort from his starting quarterback, which makes sense. The Jets already guaranteed Sanchez $20.5 million and it’s not as if Tim Tebow is the future. But if Sanchez is still the team’s starter heading into 2013, then the Jets clearly aren’t in the business to win.

10. Quick-Hit Thoughts
After yesterday, there’s really no debate as to who’s the best team in football. The Texans are second in the NFL in total defense behind the Steelers, but I’ll put Wade Phillips’ unit up against anyone else in the league, including Pittsburgh. Houston also has a vicious rushing attack, an offensive line that keeps Matt Schuab upright, and is a team that plays fundamentally sound football…After their lackluster performances over the past few weeks, it was good to see the Ravens come alive on Sunday. Granted, the Raiders have a habit of making everyone look good. But 55 points is 55 points…The fact that the Bengals haven’t given up on the season is a credit to Marvin Lewis and their impressive win over the Giants on Sunday tells you what his players think of him…The Titans are officially the strangest team of 2012. One week they look like an easy win for opponents and the next they’re scoring 37 points on a pretty good Miami defense (not to mention holding the Dolphins to just a field goal after surrendering 51 points to the Bears the previous week)…Speaking of Miami, that playoff talk two weeks ago is nothing but a distant memory now…Stick a fork in the Lions. While Matthew Stafford played his best game of the season in Detroit’s 34-24 loss to the Vikings, his teammates played their worst. Their schedule isn’t favorable the rest of the way and Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota are just better…Speaking of the Vikings, how funny is Christian Ponder? He’s been a total disaster the past few weeks but you take away his best weapon in Percy Harvin (out with an ankle injury) and he completes 24-of-32 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns. Go figure…That was a typical Buffalo Bills loss on Sunday and for those that saw it, no explanation is necessary…No quarterback has turned the ball over more since 2011 than Philip Rivers, who has coughed it up 40 times in less than two years. His interception to Leonard Johnson was easily one of the worst decisions you’ll see a NFL quarterback make, nevertheless one that was a top 5 pick…Very quietly the Seattle Seahawks have just as many wins as the San Francisco 49ers…In looking at the Cowboys’ schedule, they could easily rattle off five straight following their 38-23 win in Philadelphia on Sunday. If they can manage to stay out of their own way, that is.

Monday Night Football Prediction: Steelers beat the hapless Chiefs, who somehow figure out a way to cover the 12.5-point spread.

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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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 10 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening 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…

- Carlos Rogers is having a resurgence in San Francisco? People left this guy for dead coming out of Washington and all he’s done this year is be the Niners’ best cornerback. He clinched the Niners’ win over the Giants in my eyes. San Francisco had just taken a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Eli Manning (his second of the day) deep in Niner territory. A couple plays later Kendall Hunter raced 17 yards for a touchdown in order to give San Fran a 27-13 lead in an eventual 27-20 victory. The Niners have been getting big plays like that out of their defense all season. They obviously proved today that they’re for real.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (L) and head coach Chan Gailey talk on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of their NFL football game in Arlington, Texas November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Do you know who’s not for real? The Buffalo Bills. I have zero confidence that they’ll turn things around, party because of their defense and partly because of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Everyone knew Buffalo’s defense would be overmatched most Sundays and they have been. And everyone knew Fitzpatrick was only going to lead the Bills so far. He was brutal last week and even worse today. It’s struck midnight on this fairytale, which is a shame because I could watch Fred Jackson run all day. Dude is siiiick.

- The Cardinals parted with a starting cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick in 2012, and $65 million in order secure Kevin Kolb as their starting quarterback this season. And John Skelton has two of their three wins on the season. Incredible.

- If you looked hard enough, you probably saw the Ravens’ loss to Seattle coming. Baltimore just swept Pittsburgh and had to travel cross-country to play a Seahawks team that is usually competitive at home. I figured the Ravens would suffer a letdown but the fact that they didn’t lead at any point today was a little jarring. With losses to Tennessee and Seattle as well as a near loss to Arizona at home, it would appear as though John Harbaugh’s team plays down to its competition.

- Speaking of the clock turning Midnight, it’s probably about time the Bengals come back to earth. Don’t get me wrong: they fought hard today against Pittsburgh and gave the Steelers a game until the end. But cornerback Leon Hall looks like he’s out for the season and I just don’t see Cincinnati being able to finish this race on top. That said, the Bengals certainly have something to build off of. Andy Dalton was poised today and A.J. Green is a freaking star in the making.

- Does anyone else feel like the Houston Texans are the NFL equivalent to the Clemson Tigers? You keep waiting for both teams to eventually crash and burn and yet, both keep winning. Granted, Clemson did lose to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago and almost dropped its second game to Wake Forest on Saturday but still, you get the point. I keep waiting for the Texans to eventually stumble and they keep racking up double-digit wins without Andre Johnson. Finally, it would seem, we’ll get to see Houston in the postseason.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith coaches from the sideline during the second half of their NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta, Georgia November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- If you’re one of the people who is defending Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 29-yard line in overtime, let me remind you that it’s simple risk vs. reward. If the Falcons pick up that first down, they still have at least 40 yards to go to get into field goal range to possibly win the game. If they don’t pick up the first down, well, we saw what happened when they didn’t. It was a stupid call by a head coach that was simply trying to get lucky. Smith and Mike Mularkey played not to lose the entire game and all of a sudden they decide that they’re going to take a big risk. It was just a stupid decision by a team without a true identity.

- Saint Peters of Joseph, Chris Johnson is alive.

- Huge win for the Saints today but there’s still something off with the boys from Naw’lins. They managed to squander a 10-point lead in under five minutes and if it hadn’t been for Mike Smith’s stupid decision to go for it in overtime, who knows if they would have walked out of the Georgia Dome with a victory. I have no doubt that they’ll win the NFC South because the Falcons still don’t know what they are offensively. But I’m not sure if the Saints can go into Green Bay in the playoffs and win a huge game on the road. Again, there’s just something off.

- You can always count on Michael Vick to mail it in when his team is seemingly out of playoff contention. Granted, his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping the ball multiple times in the first half and he was without DeSean Jackson, who was benched after missing a team meeting. But Vick looked completely turned off by the thought of playing football today. In a lot of ways, he is the exact same player as he was in Atlanta and Philadelphia is now paying for his shortcomings as a player. (UPDATE: Apparently Vick played with two broken ribs, which he sustained on the game’s second play. Thus, I take back what I said about him mailing it in. Any player that stays in a professional football game with two broken ribs has a bigger pair than I do. Well done, Mike.)

- Tim Tebow threw eight passes, completed just two of them and was the winning quarterback today in Kansas City. I don’t even care what his numbers are outside of the fact that he’s now 3-1 as the starter. I just want to sit back and watch guys like Phil Simms’ head explode that Tebow keeps winning. These talking heads want to debate about whether or not Tebow will ever be a good passer. That was never a debate. People have said from the start that his motion is too funky for him to be a good passer and yet these media members keep boasting about how he’ll fail. And yet…3-1 as a starter. I love it. Nobody can explain how the dinosaurs became extinct and how Tebow is winning. Tim Tebow: #winning.

- I realize the Niners are a very good football team but leave it to the Giants to beat the Patriots on the road and then erase a lot of the good vibes that have surrounded New York the past week by losing today. Freakin’ Giants.

- The NFC South is now a one-team race. The Saints are clearly the best team in the division, as the Falcons are still suffering an identity crisis and the Bucs are just plain bad. Tampa Bay’s front office thought it could get by without making any significant upgrades in the offseason and figured the team would just win 10 games again. Whoops. Turns out Josh Freeman is going to need more help, Bucs.

- This comment was made by one of our regular readers, Jester of the Apocalypse, earlier this week. He’s a huge Browns fan and was commenting on my Week 10 preview in which I wrote, “this is a game [vs. the Rams] the Browns should win.” Said Jester: You underestimate my Brownies knack for clutching defeat out of the jaws of victory . . . How absolutely, positively appropriate given the debacle that happened in Cleveland today.

- Even after their performance today I’m still not sold on the Cowboys. Outside of their miraculous victory against the Niners in Week 2, they still haven’t beaten a team of substance. I realize the Bills have a winning record but they’re on a downslide. Three weeks ago the ‘Boys were pummeled by a Philadelphia team that has clearly given up on the season and their other losses have coming against New England, Detroit and the Jets. That said, Dallas still has games against Washington, Miami, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and thus, the playoffs are still well within their reach. I’m just sayin’ I’m not sold. And this is coming from a guy who predicted them to win the NFC East this year.

Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass thrown by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on November 13, 2011 in Chicago. The Bears won 37-13. UPI/Brian Kersey

- Wow Matthew Stafford was bad today. Granted, he was playing with a fractured index finger and 25-30mph wind gusts but still – wow. Two of his four interceptions were taken back for touchdowns by the Bears, who are now suddenly 6-3 on the season following two huge wins. If Chicago’s offense line can continue to play as well as it has, there’s no reason to believe Lovie Smith’s team won’t make it as a Wild Card.

- All I want for Thanksgiving is for Larry Fitzgerald to have a quarterback willing to throw him the ball every down. Because his seven-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown performance today proved once again that he can completely take over a game if he gets enough opportunities.

- One week later, the Steelers finally get their big defensive stop to preserve a win.

- Two of the Seahawks’ three wins this year have come against the Giants and Ravens. And yet, they lose to the Browns, 6-3. The NFL is a funny league.

Patriots hand out road map on how to beat Steelers’ defense

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady waits to go onto the field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first quarter of their NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania November 14, 2010. REUTERS/ Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Entering Sunday night, most pundits would have agreed that the Steelers’ front seven is probably the best in football. Observers know that Pittsburgh can be had through the air (as long as you stayed away from Troy Polomalu), but that was if you figured out a way to neutralize their pass rush, of course.

Well, Tom Brady and the Patriots figured out a way to neutralize the Steelers’ rush in a lopsided 39-26 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. And not only that, but they laid out a blueprint on how other teams can do the same.

Chris Collinsworth said it best during the broadcast when he mentioned how the Steelers “like to play in a phone booth.” They want teams to try to line up and run the ball right at them. And when they stop the run, they want their opponents to be one-dimensional so that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can disguise where the pressure is coming from and frustrate the quarterback.

But the Patriots turned their game with the Steelers into a track meet. Brady spread the ball out, worked the middle of the field, found receivers on the outside for quick gains and often set his offense up with short down-and-distances all night. His offensive line was also outstanding, as they picked up the Steelers’ blitzing linebackers and allowed Brady to work through all of his progressions.

Defenses can’t give any quarterback time to throw. When they give someone like Brady time, they might as well be signing their own death wish.

Granted, not every team can do what Bill Belichick’s Patriots can do. But the NFL is a copycat league and you can bet offensive coordinators that have the unenviable task of facing the Steelers over the next two months will be dissecting that tape. Pittsburgh won’t play that bad defensively every week, but suddenly they look a little vulnerable on that side of the ball.

Cowboys smoke Giants in Jason Garrett’s debut

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett walks the sidelines during the first quarter of their NFL football game against the New York Giants in East Rutherford, New Jersey, November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jerry Jones would have fired Wade Phillips a month ago if he knew the Cowboys would have played as well all season under Jason Garrett as they did in New York on Sunday.

The Cowboys routed the Giants 33-20 in Garrett’s debut. Even though Dallas’ win was only by a 13-point margin, I use the term “routed” because many believed that this New York team was the best in the NFC coming into this game. (Not to mention the Cowboys have looked like an utter train wreck for most of the season.)

There really was no secret to how the Cowboys dismantled the Giants: they stayed balanced offensively, they won the turnover battle and they produced some big plays. The Giants turned the ball over three times, including once at the goal line as Bryan McCann picked off Eli Manning and returned the gift 101 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest interception return for a score in franchise history for the Cowboys.

Jon Kitna, who clearly located a genie sometime this week and cashed in one of his three wishes, threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Dez Bryant caught three passes for 104 yards and a score, while Felix Jones (who saw a lot of playing time after Marion Barber was benched) caught three passes for 85 yards and one touchdown.

Outside of Mario Manningham (10 receptions, 91 yards, 1 TD), it was a day the Giants would like to forget. Dallas punched them in the mouth from the opening bell and New York had no response. They tried to make it close at the end, but a Hakeen Nicks touchdown was wiped off the board because of a holding penalty and then Manning turned the ball over twice on the Giants’ next two possessions to ice the game for the Cowboys. (Although a botched snap was part of the blame for one of Manning’s turnovers.)

It’s not completely shocking that a divisional rival was able to walk into the New Meadowlands (a dark New Meadowlands at that, as the stadium suffered a couple of power outages during the game) and beat the Giants. What’s shocking is that the divisional rival was a Dallas team that had just fired its head coach earlier in the week and had played like crap in its previous three games. If I’m Tom Coughlin, I don’t even watch the reply from this loss. Just pitch the tape in the trash and look ahead to next week.

Cassel, Orton combine for 765 yards & eight touchdowns; Seahawks back in first

Denver Broncos starting quarterback Kyle Orton throws against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first quarter in their NFL football game in Denver November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

In a game only an Area Football fan could be proud of, the Broncos hammered the clueless Chiefs 49-29 on Sunday.

Matt Cassel threw for a career-high 469 yards and four touchdowns, while Kyle Orton threw for 296 yards and four scores. Neither quarterback was picked off, although it’s important to note that they were playing against air.

Dwayne Bowe’s assault on defensive backfields continued, as he caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two scores. He now has eight touchdowns in his last five games, which is enough to make any fantasy owner who dropped or traded him earlier in the year when he was laying goose eggs want to take a bath with a toaster.

With Kansas City’s loss, the AFC West is now up for grabs. The Chiefs and Raiders are now tied for first place at 5-4, while the Chargers (who we all know will win this juggernaut of a division with a 9-7 record when it’s all said and done) are 4-5. At 3-6, even the Broncos aren’t totally out of the picture if they can string a couple of wins together, and this is a team that gave up 59 points to Oakland three weeks ago.

Speaking of bad football, the Seahawks crushed the Cardinals 36-18 on Sunday. The win, coupled with a Rams’ loss to the 49ers (23-20 in overtime), puts Seattle back in first place at 5-4 in the NFC West. If you can find a worse division in football, let me know.

Sam Bradford put together a nice drive late in the fourth quarter to push the game into overtime. Of course, had St. Louis’ defense held on to a 7-point lead with about six minutes remaining in the game, the Rams wouldn’t had needed Bradford’s heroics. The Rams remain winless on the road this year.

Troy Smith has given the 49ers new life at quarterback. He completed 17-of-28 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown, while compiling a 116.7 QB rating. He also had a couple of touchdowns wiped off the board because of penalties. Despite their back-to-back wins, San Francisco remains a poorly coached team and Mike Singletary’s in-game management should continue to draw criticism from the media.

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