Sorting the Sunday Pile: Peyton Manning, Broncos D bounce back
Sorting the Sunday Pile breaks down all the big stories from the NFL weekend. This is Week 8.
With the Redskins -- fresh off a DeAngelo Hall interception returned for at touchdown -- leading 21-7, things looked pretty bleak for the Broncos. They were a week removed from getting handed their first loss of the season by the Colts in Peyton Manning's return to Indy and now Mike Shanahan's team was having their way in his first game back in Denver.
But in the blink of an eye, a 14-point deficit quickly turned into a 45-21 bloodbath. The Broncos can thank Manning and an improved defense for that bounceback and it's precisely why there was never reason to panic about Denver's chances in 2013.
All we heard about the week leading up to this game was the "blueprint" for taking down Manning and the Broncos. The Redskins appeared to be applying it early in the game and after Demaryius Thomas slipped, fell and then watched Hall sprinting into the end zone it looked like trouble again for Peyton and Pals.
But Manning bounced back to march the Broncos down the field for a Montee Ball touchdown. Then things got weird: Manning threw three touchdowns in the span of eight minutes, repeatedly gashing a bad Redskins secondary for big chunks of yardage that puts them on pace to shatter all kinds of records.
Broncos' 336 points this year are the most in NFL history thru 8 games. Previous best: 331 by New England in 2007.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) October 27, 2013
Not helping Washington was a potent, resurgent Denver defense. Von Miller got a welcome-back moment when he stormed through the line and punished Robert Griffin III -- whose health should be a big concern given what he went through Sunday -- while forcing a fumble. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked Kirk Cousins to the house to close out an astonishing 38-0 run.
Washington wasn't supposed to win this game. They were 12.5-point underdogs. But up 26.5 points against the Vegas spread, it's inconceivable that they didn't even manage to come within a touchdown of covering.
For all the concern over how the Broncos played in Week 7, Sunday afternoon showed why there's no need to worry. They've got one loss and they're capable of doing what many NFL teams can't: playing lock down defense while also mounting a monster comeback and putting up points rapidly. It's the sort of formula that can certainly carry a team into the Super Bowl.
Well, kind of. On the play where Matthew Stafford scored to put the Lions on top of the Cowboys for good in a stunning early Sunday game, he sprinted down the field, hustling the offense to the line in order to spike the ball and get ready to try and score with 12 seconds left on the clock (Detroit would have, at minimum, one or two more tries to score).
But Stafford eschewed the spike and grabbed the ball, snapped it and dove into the end zone for the score.
It was a heck of a play by Stafford, who realized that the Cowboys defense wasn't all over the line -- which you can see above -- because they expected the spike as well.
"I told everybody I was spiking it. I was screaming clock. I was going to spike it," Stafford said. "It was a feel thing. I was yelling spike, they knew I was yelling spike, I saw linebackers kind of standing (upright).
"I looked down, and we were (close). 'Shoot, I'm going to go get that.'"
Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher admitted they were "caught ... off guard" by Stafford's move, which is precisely the intention. Of course the Lions had no timeouts left, so it was beyond ballsy to go for it there. If Stafford's short the Lions would be in trouble. If he had been ruled short, they really would've been hosed.
"Honestly, I'm just looking down and I see feet in the end zone and light in the stance," he said. "I just said, '(Expletive), here we go.'
When in doubt, go for gusto.
Winning Ugly Is Still Winning
Should this concern Chiefs fans?
Quick answer: YES.
Longer answer: the Chiefs are 8-0 so it's not like they should be too worried about what their quarterback's doing from a volume statistical standpoint. They are almost a lock to make the playoffs with their record and might even sneak out a first-round bye out of it if they can sneak something over on the Broncos.
Kansas City smothers people on defense and lets Jamaal Charles pile up all-purpose yards. This is exactly what happened on Sunday against the Browns. Jason Campbell was better than expected and Cleveland busted out everything in their bag to try and score points. They kept it close and nearly pulled something off. The Chiefs couldn't put them away until late when the Browns were desperate. It's a familiar theme.
It's also a sustainable gameplan, at least for now. But the problem is very much the opposite of what the Broncos have going for them: if the Chiefs get down 21 points, can they storm back? It's unlikely.
Cris Collinsworth made a great point on Sunday Night Football, noting that you have to be "perfect" in every other aspect of the game if you don't have a quarterback.
"Follow the quarterbacks. If you have one you have a chance, if you don't you better be great everywhere else," Collinsworth said.
The Chiefs don't have a quarterback -- even though they gave up two second-round picks for Alex Smith -- and it could ultimately come back to cost them.
Breaking news: Aaron Rodgers is good at football. You don't need me to tell you that. But sometimes what Rodgers does still manages to defy physical and mental intelligence (particularly the combination) on the football field.
Take his long touchdown throw to Jordy Nelson on Sunday night. Rodgers whipped the ball past Chad Greenway's earhole (Cris Collinsworth loves that word, huh?) and into Jordy's hands. It was football porn-esque, and not just because it resulted in ta touchdown. The ability of Rodgers to even make that throw is something most human beings can't do, because of the balance and arm-strength requirements.
This is the point when Rodgers decides to throw the ball, it's not just accuracy, anticipation too: pic.twitter.com/EydNUy8W9B— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) October 28, 2013
He's basicaly throwing off his back foot and is off balance when this happens, kids. And the connection between he and Nelson? Superb to see in slow motion.
Coming Out Party
I see you, Andy Dalton. Count me in on the people who doubted that he could take the next step as a quarterback. It looked like he lacked arm strength, anticipation and a willingness to pull the trigger on key throws.
Over the last three games, though, Dalton is absolutely on fire. Dalton's completed 67.9 percent of his passes in that span for 1,246 yards (an average of 311.5 yards per game) with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
That's a 40-touchdown, 5,000-yard pace over a full season. Dalton's not going to do this all season (right ...?) but he's clearly improving. He's growing into his weapons and Jay Gruden is turning him loose on offense. The Bengals are starting to wing the ball around more than they were early in the season and look substantially more like a Super Bowl contender than they did at 2-2 through four weeks.
Sunday's dismantling of the Jets was a perfect example. Dalton went 19-for-30 for 325 yards, five touchdowns and one pick. That's stout, even if the pick was a classic Dalton moment where he completely missed seeing a defensive lineman and made a horrible throw with no touch.
Jekyll & Hyde
So the Jets are now 4-4. They're outperforming expectations but, at .500, you would probably assume they're playing pretty even football. You'd be wrong. They haven't won or lost two games in a row this season and their point differential's been absolutely all over the place in a rollercoaster fashion:
Having a 1, -3 and 7 point differential doesn't raise eyebrows. It says that this is a mediocre offensive team capable of hanging with people thanks to a stout defense. If that trend continued throughout the season, it'd be no big deal. What's worrisome is that the Jets are squeaking out tight victories -- their four wins are by a total of 13 points -- and then often getting absolutely destroyed.
There's no real rhyme or reason in terms of road and home wins. Perhaps the Jets are just so taxed from big wins they have a monster letdown the following game.
Whatever it is, give Rex Ryan credit for coaching up this team to four victories already. Given how bad they've looked in their losses, it's possible they're outperforming themselves even more than we realize.
NFC East Repercussions
With Michael Vick dealing with a hamstring injury -- he said Sunday he heard it pop against the Giants this week, just a few weeks after injuring it against the Giants to begin with -- and Nick Foles dealing with a concussion the Eagles have to turn to Matt Barkley.
Having scored just three points on offense in the last eight quarters, Chip Kelly's offensive gameplan will -- and should -- be under attack in the coming week. That's an unacceptable number of points to score regardless of who your quarterback is or who your coach is.
Meanwhile, the Giants are now 2-6 and, despite not looking good in either of their wins, are back in the race in the NFC East. They were the only winner in the division after the Cowboys choked against the Lions and the Redskins were paddled by the Broncos.
It's insane to think that New York, absolutely dead in the water at 0-6 two weeks ago, might be in the playoff hunt. But they absolutely are. They'll play Dallas again (at home) and get Washington twice. Again, they've looked awful the last two weeks and won despite themselves. They have a -82 (negative 82) point differential. And yet they're alive for the hunt.
That's the beauty of the NFL. Or the ugliness of the NFC East.
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