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2012 NFL Grades, Week 17: Chuckstrong train rolls on

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

The Colts' improbable and emotional train kept rolling Sunday, as head coach Chuck Pagano, just a few months removed from a leukemia diagnosis, returned to the sideline as Indianapolis destroyed the Texans 28-16 in an outcome few saw coming.

Houston's offense wasn't completely off, but Matt Schaub threw a pair of picks, and the Texans simply couldn't stop Andrew Luck when it mattered. A perfect microcosm is the 70-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown on a third-and-23 pass from Luck to rookie T.Y. Hilton that all but iced the game.

Luck finished with 191 yards and two touchdown, having completed 50 percent of his passes. Not dominant, per se, but, man, did he make big throws when they counted. And besides, the Colts were busy beating the Texans by running the ball late (Vick Ballard carried the rock 27 times, most of them while icing the clock) and by playing defense (Indy sacked Schaub four times and picked him off twice).

What's left to say about this Colts team? They don't seem like a trustworthy playoff team because of their deficiencies on defense and in the running game. But that's what a lot of people (me included) thought heading into Sunday's game.

Right now Indy is playing motivated, inspired football. There's only so much that a coach getting sick and then getting better should be able to do in terms of inspiring players.

But for Pagano, the Colts and the Chuckstrong movement, there really doesn't look like there's an immediate end in sight.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Colts 28, Texans 16
FDead man walking much, Texans? Andre Johnson and Arian Foster finished with nice numbers, but Houston's defense was abysmal, and Matt Schaub looked completely lost for much of the game in Indy. The worst part is how much was at stake in terms of the standings for them on Sunday. Limping into the playoffs is a bad look.
AIt doesn't matter who's at quarterback for Indianapolis when Houston comes to town. Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter, Andrew Luck, whoever. Indy's defense played inspired Sunday, though, and it showed. The Colts defense manhandled the Texans, and the offense scored when it had to. They didn't care that this game was irrelevant for the standings, and they're kind of scary to play right now, aren't they?
Bears 26, Lions 24
B-Chicago had to win or they were out of the playoffs, and they did just enough. Matt Forte ran well, Earl Bennett had a couple of circus catches and Jay Cutler was only sacked once. The defense kept Calvin Johnson from hitting 2,000 yards (kind of a stunner) but didn't exactly shut down the Lions offense. No matter, they won.
C-So ... Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback fumbled twice, threw a pick and generally just threw footballs from a side-arm slot all day in fairly unimpressive fashion. He finished with three touchdowns, but the Lions could've won this game if they'd been more careful with the football in the early going.
Bills 28, Jets 9
F-I mean, just ... ew. Mark Sanchez was terrible again, Rex Ryan refused to go with Tim Tebow, and the defense only generated one turnover. A fitting end to a miserable season for the Jets, getting blown out by the freaking Bills.
C+C.J. Spiller finally got some carries! Twenty-four, in fact. And although he didn't do much (59 rushing yards) he did have a 66-yard receiving touchdown that was basically a run. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't, um, awful -- and the defense was kind of OK.
Buccaneers 22, Falcons 17
BVery impressed that the Buccaneers didn't give up on Greg Schiano. A year ago they fell apart down the stretch, and this season they rallied back to win a late, albeit meaningless game. Doug Martin ran extremely well, Josh Freeman was sharp at times, and the pass defense -- one of the worst in football -- didn't get shredded by Matt Ryan. Some decent late-season momentum.
DUgh. The Falcons put all their starters out in a Week 17 game that didn't matter, and the result was bad. This was supposed to be a launching point for the playoffs, and instead John Abraham got hurt, the running game couldn't get going and Roddy White/Julio Jones weren't big factors. The defense getting torched doesn't help matters much either.
Panthers 44, Saints 38
B+The Panthers won seven games this season, somehow, and won their last four to boot. That might be enough to save Ron Rivera's job, but we'll see what a new GM says. They also won two straight games when Cam Newton threw a pick. DeAngelo Williams set a career high in rushing yards (210), Mike Tolbert scored thrice, and the defense did an OK job of limiting the Saints, all things considered.
CThrowaway game for New Orleans, but the Saints still tried to fight back. Their defense really, really stinks, but that's nothing new. (In fact, it's the worst defense in NFL history!) Drew Brees is still really, really good, but that's also nothing new. A lot of the stat-padding came late when the game was completely out of hand.
Titans 38, Jaguars 20
FJacksonville gave up 28 unanswered points without the Titans having to run a single offensive play. That is all.
C+It's hard to rip the Titans offense for not having big stats when it wasn't on the field much. But aside from a five-minute-or-so stretch where the Titans scored like crazy on defense and special teams, well, it just wasn't that great a game. Does that make sense?
Steelers 24, Browns 10
C-Grading a team quarterbacked by Duke graduate Thad Lewis is kind of difficult. It was fun that he hit a Carolina alum (Greg Little) with the first touchdown pass of his career, though! The Browns hung tough for a while here, but the Steelers simply pulled away from an overmatched team missing a lot of players.
C+Nice game for Ben Roethlisberger, but it's hard to imagine this one means a whole lot for the Steelers. They took care of business against a team they should beat. Had they done that more frequently in the regular season, they might be in the playoffs.
Bengals 23, Ravens 17
C+Not the worst loss in the world: Baltimore gets to play the Colts in the first week of the playoffs now. Which is better than playing the Bengals, right? (Right?) They didn't leave Joe Flacco or Ray Rice in for long, and their defensive stars didn't start either. So, again, hard to judge, but nice to hang in there. Fourth seed > third seed, though.
B-The Bengals were locked in to their position regardless, but it's a little scary to see them stumble out of the blocks against Baltimore's backups when Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were playing. Geno Atkins is a freak and you shouldn't mess with him though. He's not getting early enough mention for DPOY.
Giants 42, Eagles 7
FWhat a horrible way for Andy Reid to (reportedly, for now) go out. The Eagles stunned the Giants with an onside kick to open the game and then promptly got blasted in every facet of this game.
BBacks against the wall and the Giants showed what they could do. Once again they finished 9-7, but this time, New York got no luck and missed out on the playoffs. The Giants looked unreal like this at times, and just horrible at others.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Broncos 38, Chiefs 3
FThis game wasn't going to ever be close, and it feels a tad over the top beating up the Chiefs with an F, but what can I do? Jamaal Charles was ineffective, Brady Quinn was nonexistent, and the defense gave up nearly 40 points.
B+Knocking them down a peg for the competition: Peyton Manning was outstanding (23-for-29 for 304 yards and three touchdowns), and the Broncos defense snuffed out the Chiefs all day long.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Vikings 37, Packers 34
BAaron Rodgers was outstanding, Greg Jennings made himself a whole pile of money this offseason and DuJuan Harris ran pretty well. The defense simply had no answer for Adrian Peterson , and Christian Ponder made them pay a few times when they got too aggressive against the running back.
A-A 20-10 halftime lead was eventually compromised, but the Vikings played a heck of a game, especially considering how beat up their secondary was at one point. Also, A is for "All Day."
49ers 27, Cardinals 13
C-Wait, so literally any guy off the street (Brian Hoyer) can walk in and be better than John Skelton or Ryan Lindley? All right, then. Beanie Wells didn't see a single snap, but William Powell ran OK. The defense did what it could, but an offense that can't move the ball is simply demoralizing.
BRed flags much? The 49ers came on strong, but without Justin Smith they're a totally different defense. Aldon Smith hasn't registered a sack since his Smith-y counterpart went down, almost 10 quarters ago.
Patriots 28, Dolphins 0
D-Not a whole lot to love about getting skunked, even on the road against a better team. The defense couldn't do anything to stop the Patriots, and the offense was down too many points to establish any real identity. This makes four straight losing seasons for Miami.
B+You think New England knew the Texans lost? Tom Brady and Co. came out and eviscerated the Dolphins to lock up a playoff bye Sunday. Brady's numbers were a little supressed because of Stevan Ridley touchdowns, but Wes Welker was stout and Rob Gronkowski returned. The defense sacked Ryan Tannehill a whopping seven times and picked him off once.
Seahawks 20, Rams 13
BNo one likes moral victories, but the Rams have to feel good about 7-8-1 especially when this was the first game they lost in the NFC West, right? Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford weren't great, but the Seahawks are a tough defense. Most impressive was St. Louis bottling up, for the most part, a white-hot Seahawks offense at home. Chris Long was a monster and got three of the Rams' six sacks.
B+Weird offensive day for Seattle: The Seahawks didn't explode, but they were kind of efficient. Russell Wilson went 15 for 19 for 250 yards and a touchdown, and Marshawn Lynch ran 18 times for 100 yards. The defense's lack of pressure on Sam Bradford (zero sacks) and lack of turnovers (one pick) is a bit concerning. But a win is a win at this point, and Seattle has 11 (!) this season.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Chargers 24, Raiders 21
C+Fourteen of Oakland's 21 points came in what could ostensibly count as garbage time, but at least Terrelle Pryor's performance (13-for-28 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, plus nine carries for 49 yards and a touchdown) should give the Raiders some hope that he could compete in the future as their starting quarterback, should they choose to go in that direction.
BNorv Turner went out in style, didn't he? Philip Rivers was 13 for 17 with two touchdowns, the defense shut down Darren McFadden and, most ironically, the Chargers took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. They nearly let Oakland back in the game but held on for the victory.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Redskins 28, Cowboys 18
C+Dallas kept hope alive for a while and gave Tony Romo a chance to march them down the field and win the game, but a couple brutal picks sunk their ship. (Romo finished with three on the day.) The Cowboys did a good job bottling up Robert Griffin III but were annihilated by Alfred Morris, who ran for 200 yards.
B+Monster game from Alf, who rumbled for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. An absolute workhorse when the Redskins needed him most, particularly with RG3 beat up. DeAngelo Hall deserves credit for shutting down Dez Bryant; the Washington defense played lights out for most of the day in one of the biggest victories this team's seen in a long time.

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