In this week's edition of "The Fabulous and the Flops," we identify the player who needs to accompany Ndamukong Suh to image-revamping school, show some love to the young talent who is making the absence of a major star seem like nothing, and basically make fun of the sloppiest game of the season for a while. Plus: Our coverage of Chris Johnson as either the best or worst player on the field continues!
Green Bay Packers 27, Detroit Lions 15
Fabulous: Greg Jennings. Last week, we wondered if the Packers' putative top wideout was actually going to play like one. On Thanksgiving, he absolutely did. Jennings caught each of the five passes thrown to him, including a three-yard touchdown pass for the game's opening score, a pair of 19-yard completions, and a 31-yarder to finish his day off in the fourth quarter. He had another catch called back by a penalty and drew a defensive pass interference penalty, but he did have an additional catch called back on an offensive pass interference call (that itself was wiped off the board by that questionable roughing the passer call on Kyle Vanden Bosch).
Flop: Ndamukong Suh. What, you expected Brandon Saine in this spot? First, Suh's penalty itself was incredibly damaging; it turned a third-and-goal stop that would have kept the game at 10-0 (with a made field goal) with 25 minutes to go into a new set of downs for the Packers, who promptly scored to go up 14-0 and establish what would eventually be their margin of victory. Next, Suh's penalty was one of the dumbest decisions an angry player has made in years. His reputation as a dirty player wasn't totally warranted (namely, his penalty and fine for hitting a scrambling Jay Cutler too hard), but this sealed an ugly reputation for Suh for years to come and will unfortunately link him with Albert Haynesworth, a player he has little in common with beyond their respective stomping incidents. Finally, Suh's back-and-forth on whether he meant to actually stomp on Evan Dietrich-Smith was embarrassing. Suh's initial excuse that he was simply trying to get up and didn't mean to step on Dietrich-Smith doesn't wash; there are a countless number of piles similar to the one Suh was exiting in each NFL season, and amazingly, nobody ever seems to step on a downed player as part of them. The acts of rehabilitating Suh's image and psyche need to start instantly, since every player in the league is going to be trying to provoke him and every referee in football is going to side against Suh if he responds. If the reports that Suh is facing a two-game suspension are true, well, rehabilitating Detroit's playoff hopes could be far more difficult.
Dallas Cowboys 20, Miami Dolphins 19
Fabulous: DeMarco Murray. The star rookie running back continues to be an efficient, reliable contributor out of the backfield, as he picked up seven first downs amid his 26 touches and caught all four of the passes thrown to him. Murray got the ball on each of Dallas's final five offensive plays before a Romo kneel-down and the game-winning field goal, and he picked up 27 yards to set up the game-winning field goal from Dan Bailey by gaining three yards or more on each carry.
Flop: Doug Free. Expected to be the anchor of the Dallas offensive line, Free has taken a step back during his second season as the team's starting left tackle. Like predecessor Flozell Adams, Free has had an issue staying within the rules and regulations of the game, and on Thursday, he committed three false starts.
Baltimore Ravens 16, San Francisco 49ers 6
Fabulous: Terrell Suggs. Suggs accepts this on behalf of the entire Ravens pass rush, which barely gave Alex Smith any time to throw the ball. Smith actually played a relatively impressive game considering the circumstances — he scrambled out of pressure more than once, didn't miss many open receivers, and had his long touchdown pass called back on an unnecessary, irrelevant chop block — but the Ravens defense simply ate Smith's lunch. The final numbers: nine sacks (three by Suggs), 44 yards lost, three additional knockdowns, and a forced fumble. The Ravens only had a total of 27 sacks during the entire 2010 season.
Flop: Anthony Davis and Chilo Rachal. The right side of the 49ers offensive line served as the primary targets of the Ravens' barrage, and they were simply unable to adjust and improve as the game went along. By the fourth quarter, their ineffectiveness basically left Alex Smith in the pocket as a sitting duck.
Atlanta Falcons 24, Minnesota Vikings 14
Fabulous: Percy Harvin, who bailed the Vikings offense out with his best game as a pro. Harvin was 8-for-8 for 95 yards as a receiver, including a difficult 39-yard touchdown catch on a deep post to convert a fourth-and-13. An earlier 20-yard catch from Harvin placed the ball on the 1-yard line to precede Minnesota's first touchdown. Of course, he then finished his day with a 104-yard kickoff return to give that Minnesota offense the ball on the Atlanta 3, but they couldn't punch it in and turned the ball over on downs. It's not his fault!
Flop: Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Minnesota's starting defensive ends were not only held without a sack, but they failed to record a single knockdown of Matt Ryan. That's uncharacteristically poor, and it came against one of the league's worst offensive lines. On the other hand, Allen did serve as the team's emergency long snapper, so he deserves a little credit for stepping up.
Cincinnati Bengals 23, Cleveland Browns 20
Fabulous: Cedric Benson. The much-maligned starting Bengals back had a very solid week, running for 106 yards on 21 carries while producing five first downs and a touchdown. That included numerous broken tackles and several rare sightings of Benson, one of the league's slowest starting halfbacks, running to the edge. Good for him.
Flop: Greg Little. Little had 57 yards and a touchdown, which normally passes for a good day if you're a receiver in Cleveland's offense, but the numbers lie. Little only caught five of the 13 passes thrown to him, and of those eight incompletions, four were flat-out drops. That included a key pass that would have created a shorter field goal opportunity for Phil Dawson, who was kicking to try to give the Browns a 23-20 lead. Instead, Dawson's 55-yard field goal came up short, and the Bengals promptly kicked their game-winner on the following drive. If only Brian Daboll were here to irrationally haze another rookie. That would solve everything!
Carolina Panthers 27, Indianapolis Colts 19
Fabulous: Reggie Wayne. A forgotten man without the presence of Peyton Manning, Wayne had a massive day against Carolina's forgiving secondary. He caught five of the seven passes thrown to him, gaining 122 yards in the process, topped by a 56-yard touchdown pass that brought the Colts within one score of their first win. He also drew a 42-yard pass interference penalty that set up Indianapolis's first touchdown, and while we're not huge fans of that rule, Wayne still deserves some credit for his work.
Flop: Curtis Painter. While Painter might have something resembling an NFL arm, his decision-making is just horrendous. His two interceptions were both disastrous decisions on passes that probably never should have been thrown. Both picks came in the Carolina end zone, which actually leads us to a good rule. Just like how you should never make the first out on the bases at third, you should never throw a pick in the end zone in a one-score game during the fourth quarter. Painter did that twice.
Houston Texans 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 13
Fabulous: Connor Barwin, who had the game of his life rushing Blaine Gabbert and Luke McCown off the edge. The numbers speak for themselves: Four sacks, two additional quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss. His takedown of McCown at midfield just after the two-minute warning basically sealed the game for Houston. First-round pick J.J. Watt also chipped in with two sacks, a third quarterback knockdown, and two tackles for loss.
Flop: Arian Foster. Despite missing five defensive starters, the Jaguars were able to bottle Foster up both on the ground and as a receiver. Foster could accrue just 65 yards on his 22 carries, and while he caught seven of the nine passes thrown to him, those receptions only produced 24 yards. Those 29 touches produced a total of just two first downs, and while you can certainly make the argument that the Jaguars defense was entirely focused on stopping Foster, he also fumbled twice. His first fumble was returned for a Jaguars touchdown, making him the best Jacksonville offensive weapon of the day, and he was barely able to get his second fumble back. The second fumble came inside of the Texans' 10-yard line, so had the Jaguars been able to recover that one, Foster really would have been the best Jacksonville weapon of the day. Honorable mention to Marcedes Lewis, who caught four of the 12 passes thrown to him and produced one of the worst drops you'll ever see in the end zone during the first half, costing his team a touchdown.
New York Jets 28, Buffalo Bills 24
Fabulous: Stevie Johnson. Yeah, he dropped that pass that would have been a touchdown on the final drive. Sure, he probably made Bob Costas throw a temper tantrum somewhere in New York with his touchdown celebration. You know what? The Bills don't come close to winning this game without Stevie, who caught eight of the 13 passes thrown to him for 75 yards and a touchdown. And virtually all of that production came while Johnson was matched one-on-one with Darrelle Revis.
Flop: Antonio Cromartie, who muffed a punt yet again to turn the ball over to the Bills. Oh, and then Brad Smith beat him on a jump ball on the very next play for a 36-yard touchdown. Smith, of course, is a part-time quarterback. Cromartie's nightmare half culminated in a missed tackle on third down that allowed the Bills to convert what had been a second-and-21 scenario.
Arizona Cardinals 23, St. Louis Rams 20
Fabulous: Beanie Wells. As a rule of thumb, if you run for more than 200 yards, you're going to be making your way onto the fabulous side of the ledger. Most of his 228 yards came on two long runs, and Wells fumbled on a play where it looked like he finished off his already-injured knee, but dude ran for 228 yards! And even beyond those two mammoth runs down the sideline, Wells had ten other carries that went for six yards or more and scored with a carry from seven yards out. If Beanie was at 100 percent, he might have been able to approach Adrian Peterson's single-game record of 296 yards. That's how well the running game was working for Arizona.
Flop: John Skelton, who took that heroic performance from his injured running back and surrounded it with a 12-of-23 for 114 yards performance. Skelton helped keep the Rams in the game with two picks, and just four of Arizona's 16 first downs came through the passing game. You will note that he recorded a win for this performance.
Tennessee Titans 23, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Fabulous: Chris Johnson, who is basically guaranteed to appear in this column one way or another each week. One hundred ninety yards on 23 carries is a legitimately impressive day, even against a run defense as bad as Tampa Bay's. Johnson had 13 different carries for five yards or more, produced seven first downs, and set up the game-winning touchdown with a 34-yard carry in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, he did fumble twice during the game (with one wiped off the stat sheet by a face mask penalty away from the play), so even a near-perfect day isn't as good as it seems. And 190 yards is 29 yards more than Johnson's combined output in his six worst games of the year. Perhaps this outburst will give us a reason to be hopeful for CJ2K's future. We'll just have to see next week. And talk about it in this column somewhere.
Flop: Accepted teaching methods surrounding basic ball-handling skills, which appear to have failed us in Tennessee. While this game was played in occasionally heavy rain, the Bucs and Titans combined for nine fumbles. Nine! That's as many as we saw in that famously sloppy NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Vikings two years ago. Tampa Bay fumbled five times and lost four of them, while Tennessee fumbled four times and lost two. That doesn't even include Johnson's fumble that was taken away via penalty.
Oakland Raiders 25, Chicago Bears 20
Fabulous: Shane Lechler, who overshadowed fellow special teams dynamo Sebastian Janikowski by essentially neutralizing Devin Hester. (Janikowski was 6-of-6 on field goals, but none of them were any longer than 47 yards. An average kicker, based on league field goal conversion rates over the past few years, would have gone 5-for-6. It was valuable, just not incredibly impressive.) Lechler averaged 49.2 net yards on his five punts, and Hester was only able to return two for a total of seven yards. That included a touchback on one Lechler punt from his own 20-yard line, which is math all of us can do together: That's an 80-yard punt with a net of 60 yards. Wow. Lechler also held on all of those field goals, too.
Flop: Caleb Hanie. The Bears were obviously expecting a drop-off with Hanie behind center, but after a surprisingly effective NFC Championship Game, they were unquestionably hoping for more than the next Kevin Kolb. Hanie went 18-of-36 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and three picks, and 81 of those yards came on one play, a miraculous (but impressive) third-and-16 conversion to Johnny Knox. Hanie was unable to deal with the pass rush and made too many questionable decisions deep in Raiders territory, as two of his interceptions came inside the red zone. On the bright side, he picked up 50 yards on five carries, so he could end up being an effective scrambler moving forward.
Washington Redskins 23, Seattle Seahawks 17
Fabulous: Roy Helu, who undoubtedly earned a trip back to the bench with an impressive performance in Seattle. Helu ran for 108 yards on 23 carries, and just as he did during his first shot at playing time, Helu served as an effective safety valve for a frequently overwhelmed Redskins quarterback. This time, Helu caught all seven of the passes Rex Grossman threw him, gaining 54 yards in the process. His biggest play came in the fourth quarter, with a 28-yard touchdown run around the edge on third-and-3 that brought the Redskins within three. Now, Shanaclan, just keep giving him the ball.
Flop: Tarvaris Jackson. DeAngelo Hall had six passes defensed in this game. Six! That suggests that he was able to bait Jackson into making bad throws, and while Hall did eventually allow a touchdown to Golden Tate, he also had a pick-six fall onto the turf, and Hall wasn't the only Redskin who dropped an interception on Sunday. Jackson finished 14-of-30 for just 144 yards, and while that came on a rainy day in Seattle, well, it's Seattle. If Jackson wants to be a viable quarterback there, he needs to be more accurate in the rain.
New England Patriots 38, Philadelphia Eagles 20
Fabulous: Tom Brady. After going 1-of-3 on the Patriots' opening drive thanks to some pass pressure by the Eagles, Brady basically went into a zone for the remainder of the half. On New England's second drive, Brady was 4-of-4 for 32 yards and converted two third downs. On the third drive, he was 2-of-3 for 62 yards, thanks to some improvisational work with Deion Branch on third down before BenJarvus Green-Ellis plunged in from a yard out. He was only 1-of-2 on the fourth drive and actually failed to pick up a third down, so he made up for it on the fifth drive by avoiding third down altogether and completing all five of his passes for a total of 76 yards, culminating in a 41-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker. We'll add up the numbers for you: 12-of-14, 183 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a total of 21 points. By the time that blitzkrieg was over, the Eagles were down 11 points and the idea of them winning seemed comical.
Flop: DeSean Jackson. You've probably seen the clips by now. Jackson dropped a pair of touchdown passes, exhibited a mean pair of alligator arms, didn't fight for the ball on a Vince Young interception, and was eventually benched by Andy Reid, with Jackson's now-infamous taunting penalty from last week likely not helping matters. Jackson finished with four catches on ten targets for 73 yards against what might be the league's worst secondary, but more important for him, Jackson's quickly becoming the poster boy for the empty promises and absent toughness from the Dream Team. Philadelphia's season is already over, but just like Suh, Jackson needs to rehabilitate his image over the next few weeks as he finishes up a disappointing contract year.
Denver Broncos 16, San Diego Chargers 13
Fabulous: Willis McGahee. While the Chargers focused their efforts on Tim Tebow and held him to just 67 rushing yards on 22 carries, McGahee was able to take advantage of occupied safeties and distracted linebackers to get around the edge and pick up big chunks of yardage. He finished with 117 yards on 23 carries, and the last of his sixth first downs was a 23-yard blast up the middle that set up the game-winning field goal and turned a likely tie into a win for Denver.
Flop: John Fox, who nearly cost his team the game by chickening out on two different fourth-and-1 opportunities in overtime. You're telling us Tebow can't run for a yard with a game on the line? Come on! Fortunately, Fox was coaching against Norv Turner and not Sean Payton, so the Chargers were kind enough to settle for a difficult field goal attempt and, in traditional Chargers fashion, a scapegoated kicker.
Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Kansas City 9
Fabulous: Jason Worilds. The long-term replacement for James Harrison at outside linebacker, Worilds picked up one sack, but he also knocked down Tyler Palko on three other occasions. Does that sound like a bad reason to pick a player? Well, this wasn't an especially well-played game.
Flop: Tyler Palko. The Steelers have a very good pass defense, but Palko single-handedly fueled Pittsburgh's takeaway regression toward the mean with a four-turnover performance. And most of that came while Troy Polamalu was on the sidelines. Matt Cassel isn't a very good quarterback, but if he were healthy, the Chiefs would have won this game. (For the record, we're inclined to believe that Dwayne Bowe didn't reach out for the ball on Tyler Palko's final interception because he didn't want to tip an uncatchable ball into the air for an even easier interception. But it's also easy to make a case that Bowe just gave up on the pass.)
Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.
Previously from Bill Barnwell:
11 Things We Loved About Week 11
All Hail the NFL Freshmen
Ease Up Tampa Haters, Their Schedule Has Been Historically Tough
Vegas & the Packers' Quest to Go 16-0
Vegas Sportsbook Review: The Wynn
Ultimate Fighting Is Ready for Its Close-Up
Vegas & the Packers' Quest to Go 16-0
Vegas Sportsbook Review: Caesars Palace
The Hedge, the Tease, and the Life of the NFL Bettor
Read more of The Triangle, Grantland's sports blog.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org