What We Saw: San Diego Chargers 27, Denver Broncos 20

This is the NFL, which means anything can happen—especially between division foes.

That said, while everyone said the Chargers could win nobody expected it.

Yet they went out and took care of business, beating the Broncos on their field 27-20.

Here’s what we learned last night.

  • It’s hard to say there’s a specific blueprint for beating Denver because “keep the offense off the field” and “play aggressive defense” could work for most teams. Still, the Chargers were content to grind the clock, especially late in the game. They could have kept the pedal to the floor and tried to pile the points on, but didn’t. Most surprisingly, they punted on the Bronco’s 39-yard line when they had mere inches to go. It worked out, but that sort of passivity of play calling can be dodgy in the playoffs. But Thursday night they won time of possession and it made a big difference.
  • That said, you have to look long and hard at the Broncos defense which pressured Rivers a little bit but only hit him twice. They also couldn’t even slow Ryan Mathews down. Yes, Manning had an off night (for him) but the defense also struggled when you didn’t expect it to. If you can’t get past the Chargers offensive line, it’s time to take a hard look at what is going on.

image via TheBigLead.com

  • Keenan Allen is as good as we thought. Maybe better. The touchdown where he leaped over one guy and trucked another should cement his Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are several offensive rookies worthy of consideration (Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Gio Bernard should all be in the conversation along with others) but Allen is likely to get my vote when the PFWA has its vote later.
  • What Mike McCoy has done in San Diego is impressive and should tell you how bad things were under Norv Turner and AJ Smith. And it puts the lie to the myth that McCoy was only successful in Denver because everyone is successful with Manning. Remember, this is a guy who shaped offenses for three very disparate quarterbacks—Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Manning. Along with Marc Trestman in Chicago and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, McCoy has had an incredible impact on his team’s offense.
  • The Broncos still can win the division, but losing home field to the Patriots should worry them. Not because “Peyton Manning can’t play in the cold” but because it’s very tough to beat New England in New England during the playoffs.  The upside is, with Rob Gronkowski down for the count, Tom Brady is once again down a big weapon. Still, if I’m the Broncos I want that home field. It’s a much better place to be than Gillette Stadium.

image via AP Photo/Joe Mahoney & ESPN.com

  • I wasn’t ready to crown Manning as MVP before the game—though he was the one I was leaning towards—and I’m not calling him out of it. Still, it’s always been a season award so let’s finish the season, shall we? That said if we are talking “Not Peyton” I lean towards Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, not Tom Brady.
  • The Broncos have two games they should win in the next two weeks (Oakland and Houston). The Patriots have Miami, Baltimore and Buffalo. Put Buffalo aside (though you never know). Both Miami and Baltimore are games they should win. But both teams have playoff hopes and will be more desperate than the Raiders or Texans. Home field is still there for the taking.
  • San Diego has a winnable Oakland game and a very, very tough game against Kansas City, though at least it’s at home. They have a good shot at a Wild Card—the AFC is a mess so everyone does—but they will need help.

What did you see last night? Give me your thoughts down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter..

What we saw: Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Houston Texans 20

The Houston Texans took one step closer towards the number one overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft with another crushing loss—this time to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s take a look at what we learned last night.

  • Case Keenum isn’t the answer for the Texans. Neither is Matt Schaub, but that was something we knew much earlier this season. While a lot of people were frustrated by the move to Schaub Thursday night, they might be overlooking the fact that Keenum has been struggling. He wasn’t handling the blitz well, struggled making his reads and generally looked overwhelmed. It’s safe to say that Houston will be looking at quarterbacks for their first pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
  • Maybe the Jaguars aren’t quite as far off the rails as we thought. Bear with us here and keep in mind we’re not saying this is going to be the 2014 version of the Kansas City Chiefs. There are holes, but there is also a ton of talent. Their biggest holes are defensive end and quarterback (or quarterback, quarterback, quarterback and defensive end). But there’s a solid foundation here. And as much as you don’t want to overestimate two wins over the Texans, winning three games straight and four out of five after losing eight straight is worthy of note. It won’t be a short road, but maybe it’s not as long as we thought.
  • Andre Johnson doesn’t get as much love as Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant—rightfully so—but he needs to get more praise. Consider how bad his quarterback play has been this year—and how inconsistent over the course of his career—and it puts into perspective just how good he’s been. Health has been a factor at times, but when healthy he needs to be considered as one of the best in the NFL.
  • It makes sense to me for the Jaguars to let Maurice Jones-Drew go. It’s not that Jones-Drew is a bad back—far from it. But he’s likely to want a contract not unlike the current 5 yr/$31.1 million one he has now. The Jaguars aren’t likely to want to drop that on a back who will be turning 29 next year and is already showing signs of age. The Jaguars need to focus on other things and while Jones-Drew is a very good back, he’s not one to build a franchise around.

That’s what stood out to me. What stood out to you? Let me know in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

What We Saw: New Orleans Saints 17, Atlanta Falcons 13

image via NFL.com

As is the case so often with games between divisional rivals, this was a close fought game, but New Orleans came out on top, securing a seasonal sweep of the Atlanta Falcons.

It also guarantees a losing record for Atlanta, the first since head coach Mike Smith took over. It will also be the lowest the team has placed in the division since Smith arrived—in the previous five years they have never finished lower than second in the NFC South.

Here are a few more things we saw for you to chew over.

  • Despite the losing record and atrocious season, Smith isn’t going anywhere. According to NFL.com’s Mike Silver, owner Arthur Blank has assured both Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff as well. Now, we all know what the promises of owners can mean—absolutely nothing—but given the success the pair have had overall, this decision makes sense. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, but just last year the team was in the NFC Championship game. So horrific season aside, it would seem knee jerk to toss Smith out after one bad season out of six. So it seems Smith isn’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t drive fans nuts with calls like going for a field goal when you should go on 4th down rather than hand the ball back to Drew Brees.
  • A month ago, Mark Ingram was a bust. Two weeks ago, he ran for 145 yards on just 14 carries against the Dallas Cowboys. Now for two weeks in a row he has had less than 10 carries for less than 35 yards. Which is the real Ingram? It’s hard to say. He certainly looks slower and less powerful than he did in college. There was a moment early in the game when he ran into an Atlanta defender, someone he would have run over when he was at Alabama. Thursday night he stopped cold and couldn’t budge the player. We saw it on at least two more runs as well. Sometimes a player just isn’t a fit for a system and that certainly is a factor here—they rarely use him for more than a handful of carries and he doesn’t quite seem to fit into their offensive scheme. However, some of it is on him as well—perhaps not on purpose or due to anything he does or doesn’t do, but perhaps he just came out of Alabama more used up than expected. It’s hard to imagine that he might stick with the Saints when his contract is up, and he may find a better fit elsewhere.
  • One pregame question we had was whether Harry Douglas was going to be taking over as the “new Roddy White” and it seems clear now that he is. Heck, his nine catches for 79 yards included some key grabs and helped quarterback Matt Ryan to one of his best weeks this season. He, like everyone else in the passing game, never saw the end zone and the Falcons continue to die in the red zone. They were able to get Steven Jackson in the end zone once, but that was it. Jackson looked better this week, but overall isn’t providing the pop Atlanta was looking for when they dumped Mike Turner for Jackson. Still, he and Douglas kept things moving and the defense kept the game close. All that was for nothing when rookie wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled in the fourth quarter, killing a drive. Well, at least they found Douglas, who will be a fine addition across from Julio Jones when White calls it quits.

What’d you see Thursday night? Let me know down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What We Saw: Indianapolis Colts 30, Tennessee Titans 27

image via NFL.com

The Colts once again fell behind and looked dead at halftime, but this time they were able to pull the plane out of the tailspin in time to win.

There were some questionable choices by the Colts coaching staff, but Andrew Luck, after a rough first half, led them to a victory.

The Tennessee Titans just couldn’t close the deal and while they made it close, didn’t hold the lead and didn’t have enough time to score what they needed.

This loss probably killed their playoff chances—at the very least it put the chances at death’s door.

What did we learn about the two teams in question Thursday night?

  • The Tennessee Titans got away from their gameplan at halftime. While it’s evident that Indianpolis dud make some adjustments, the Titans just stopped trying to move the ball on the ground. In the first half, Chris Johnson ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball just 12 times. In the second half, Johnson ran the ball just four times for six yards while Fitzpatrick threw the ball 16 times. That’s backwards. When you have an explosive offense like the Colts on the ropes, you drain the clock. The Titans didn’t do that and paid for it with a loss.
  • Trent Richardson continues to be awful and continues to draw carries. Aside from taking carries away from Donald Brown, who does more with them, Richardson is getting targets in the pass game and led the team in targets, catches and yards in the first half. What’s weird is, Richardson was catching the ball well and then the Colts decided to get away from it completely. After five catches on five targets, he never saw another target. He did get seven more carries, while Brown got 10 more. With a 5.7 yards per carry average, you’d think Brown would get more focus, but he doesn’t. First round pick or not, expensive acquisition or not, it’s time to bench Richardson.
  • Andrew Luck is a lot of fun to watch. He does have moments where you are reminded that he is still just in his second year of NFL play, but you also see a player who is cool in the pocket and very, very good. Luck will continue to always give the Colts a chance to win, whether or not they deserve it. That’s what makes a franchise quarterback and tonight we were reminded how good of one he is.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What We Saw: Washington at Minnesota

image via NFL.com

Amazingly, losing to Minnesota didn’t wipe out Washington’s chances to win the NFC East and continue on into the playoffs.

That’s right, a 3-6 team is still in the playoff hunt! If Dallas loses to New Orleans while Philadelphia loses to Green Bay—both entirely possible—they’re just two games behind the division leader.

Minnesota is not that lucky.

This is a game which was far more entertaining than people expected even if it wasn’t Oregon-Stanford.

What else did we learn Thursday night?

image via USAToday.com

  • Apparently running Adrian Peterson is a good thing. Who knew? Certainly not offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave before last night. Don’t get caught up in Peterson’s 3.8 yards-per-carry fool you—he ran incredibly well despite multiple defenders in the backfield and his 18-yard touchdown run in the first was just one of a ton of incredible runs Thursday night.

image via SI.com

  • Musgrave, by the way, continues to show no inclination to adjust his offense to make things easier on his quarterbacks or take advantage of the talent around him. Aside from usually limiting Peterson to 13 carries this year, Thursday night saw the continued squandering of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson’s incredible ability after the catch. While it’s likely that Patterson is still learning the playbook and improving his route running and positioning—remember he only had a single season of FBS (formerly Division 1-A) in college— he can clearly handle simple screens, outs and slants. Yet here we are, just after Week 10’s game and the offense is just as vanilla as it was in Week 1. Last year we wrote it off because of injuries to Percy Harvin and Christian Ponder struggling. This year? Those excuses shouldn’t fly.

image via WashingtonPost.com

  • Over the last four games, Washington’s defense has collapsed at some point in the second half every single time. That they are 2-2 in that stretch is a testament to Robert Griffin III and the offense, the incompetence of whomever they were playing or blind luck. Someone needs to tell the defense you play four quarters at the NFL level. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett seems to be making anti-adjustments in the second half and teams are finding ways to crack what should be a solid defense.

image via USAToday.com

  • It’s said in every column so you’ve heard it before but Griffin needs to stop playing like he’s Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton. He doesn’t have the build to take the hits those guys do. He’s built like a sprinter—they are built like running backs. He has been running smarter but is still far too prone to taking big hits he shouldn’t.

image via KSTP.com

  • The Vikings have to be frustrated with Ponder’s dislocated shoulder since they still don’t know what they have in him. That said, they spent the money on Josh Freeman so expect to see him in Week 11 so they can figure out if he’s worth keeping. He’s now been in Minnesota long enough to have a grasp of the playbook. It’s not like it’s a complex offense, right Mr. Musgrave?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.