In this week's "The Fabulous & the Flops," we mine the annals of futility to find comparable games for some of the week's worst performances. Which quarterback nearly beat out Blaine Gabbert for the least accurate game of the season? Which pair of elite wide receivers couldn't buy a catch on Sunday? Which team should probably stop calling running plays altogether? And what did Devin Aromashodu unexpectedly do? All that and more, but first, is Beast Mode becoming a dominant running back?
Seattle Seahawks 31, Philadelphia Eagles 13
Fabulous: Marshawn Lynch. Is it time to start suggesting that Marshawn Lynch has raised his game to a new level? He was erratic and inefficient during his time in Buffalo, a pair of traits that seemed to carry over when he was dealt to Seattle. By running for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries this past Thursday night, though, Lynch extended what had been a very impressive stretch to five games. In those five games, Lynch has run 128 times and gained 591 yards, producing an average of better than 4.6 yards per carry. This is a player who's otherwise averaged fewer than 3.9 yards per carry during his career, and his hot streak has come while his offensive line has fallen apart owing to injuries. We know that Lynch is capable of the incredible — you've seen that Tommie Frazier-style run from the Eagles game already — but if he's capable of mixing in those big plays with added efficiency, he could become a very valuable asset for the Seahawks. He'll have to do it without yet another starting offensive lineman, though, as left tackle Russell Okung tore a pec in the Eagles game and is done for the year.
Flop: Vince Young, who doesn't look anything like the quarterback who served as a competent starter in Tennessee or the athletic marvel from Texas. The same guy who made NFL defenders look stupid as a scrambler can't beat Julian Edelman to the end zone? That was Week 12, in all fairness, but Young's four-interception game against the Seahawks on Thursday wasn't pretty. It leaves him with nine picks in 114 pass attempts, which is an insane interception rate: 7.9 percent. With Michael Vick set to return this week, Young might finish with that 7.9 percent figure on his career record. How bad is that? Well, since 1983, just six players in NFL history have had a season where they threw 100 or more pass attempts and had an interception rate higher than Young's, and only one of those players (Alex Van Pelt, 1997) pulled the feat off in the past 20 years.
Tennessee Titans 23, Buffalo Bills 17
Fabulous: Chris Johnson! Two weeks in a row! Johnson took advantage of a run defense that's built around one absent defensive tackle (Kyle Williams) and one tired one (rookie Marcell Dareus) to run for 153 yards on 23 carries, including a 48-yard gain and two touchdowns. The only bummer is that he fumbled, but even the fumble went out of bounds. And while fantasy owners are probably worried that he's going to follow these two consecutive impressive games with an eight-carry, 13-yard performance, Johnson suits up against the Saints next week, and New Orleans has allowed the third-most yards per carry in the league. Is he really back?
Flop: Buffalo's punt coverage units, which allowed Marc Mariani to flip the field position and create points for the Titans. Mariani had punt returns of 22, 24, and 26 yards, one of which helped set up the opening points of the game for Tennessee. Even when the Titans followed a Mariani return with a three-and-out, they ended up with better field position after the ensuing punt because of it. Mariani didn't score a touchdown, but he produced several points' worth of value for his team, and the Bills did little to prevent it from occurring.
Kansas City Chiefs 10, Chicago Bears 3
Fabulous: Justin Houston. The Chiefs desperately need a pass-rusher to blossom across from Tamba Hali, a need that is even more pressing after Hali suffered a hand injury during the win on Sunday. Enter Houston, the team's third-round pick out of Georgia, who moved into the starting lineup in midseason. After going sackless through 11 games, he broke out with a three-sack performance against Caleb Hanie while throwing in two quarterback hits, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble.
Flop: Tyler Palko, whose numbers were artificially inflated by the miracle Hail Mary that served as Kansas City's margin of victory. That 38-yard touchdown pass counts on the ledger, but take it out of Palko's total, and he's 16-of-29 for 119 yards with a dismal 4.1 yards per attempt figure. The team benched Palko for Kyle Orton, of course, only for Orton to promptly injure his hand on his first pass attempt and sit out the rest of the way. And Palko's problems are beginning to tighten the screws on the Kansas City running game, as Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle combined to run for just 51 yards on 27 carries. The only player who can make any hay at the moment is Dexter McCluster.
Houston Texans 17, Atlanta Falcons 10
Fabulous: The Houston secondary, led by cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph, Jason Allen, and Kareem Jackson. Allen and Jackson each picked Matt Ryan off, and the unit, led by Joseph, combined for a whopping 13 passes defended. Tony Gonzalez had some success over the middle, but the guys on the sidelines, well
Flop: Julio Jones and Roddy White, who caught just eight of the 26 passes thrown to them, producing a putrid catch rate of just over 30 percent. White had a touchdown, but the pair each dropped key passes and struggled to get open. Each of these teams invested seriously in the offseason to improve at these specific respective parts of the game, and when they matched up, it was clear that the Houston pass defense had taken the larger step forward.
Miami Dolphins 34, Oakland Raiders 14
Fabulous: The Miami running game, which turned this game into a blowout. Reggie Bush had an effective day, running for an even 100 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, while Daniel Thomas followed up with 73 yards on just 13 attempts. When two backs perform that effectively (and have a long run of just 29 yards), it's clear that the offensive line is creating big holes at the line of scrimmage. They deserve a lot of the credit for what happened on Sunday.
Flop: Michael Bush and the Oakland running game. The Raiders didn't get a chance to do very much before this game got out of hand, but this Bush didn't do very much to prevent it from getting to that point. He had just 18 yards on 10 carries, and in the first half, his five attempts produced just five yards.
Denver Broncos 35, Minnesota Vikings 32
Fabulous: Tim Tebow. We'll have more on Tebow later this week here on The Triangle, but this was almost surely Tebow's best game as a professional. He only carried the ball four times for 13 yards, but when he threw it, he was accurate and efficient, going 10-of-15 for 202 yards with two touchdowns.
Flop: Devin Aromashodu. How on earth does Devin Aromashodu get thrown at 15 times in one game? We're sure he's a nice fellow, but Aromashodu shouldn't be getting 15 targets a game in the CFL, let alone in the NFL. Guess that's what happens when you suit up for 81 snaps? Aromashodu brought in six of the passes thrown to him, but he did produce 90 yards on those passes, so he probably deserves some slack. This flop might be better fit for Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
New England Patriots 31, Indianapolis Colts 24
Fabulous: Wes Welker. OK, here's somebody who should be getting double-digit targets. The Colts just had no answer for Welker out of the slot, and Welker made the most of his opportunities. He caught all 11 of the passes thrown to him, gaining 110 yards while picking up seven first downs. With Steve Smith and Calvin Johnson putting up relatively quiet performances in their games, Welker opened up a 141-yard lead in the race for the receiving title with just four games to go.
Flop: The New England running game, which couldn't take advantage of a bunch of backups to open up a serious margin. The combination of Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and Kevin Faulk gained just 64 yards on 20 carries, and they weren't able to run for more than eight yards on any one carry. No, it doesn't really matter now, but what happens when the Patriots really need to run the ball effectively to seal up a close playoff game? Will New England be able to do it?
Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Cincinnati Bengals 7
Fabulous: Pittsburgh's special teams, which took over in the first half and turned this game into a blowout. First, the Steelers blocked a field goal in the opening quarter that would have given the Bengals a 3-0 lead. Then, after the Steelers had gone up 14-0, Stevenson Sylvester stripped Bengals return man Brandon Tate on a kickoff return, giving Pittsburgh a short field that they would convert in three plays to go up 21-0. Finally, after a three-and-out, defensive back Curtis Brown got away with a block in the back that sprung punt returner Antonio Brown to take an offering 60 yards to the house, leaving the Steelers with a 28-7 lead at halftime. The Bengals never recovered.
Flop: Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski. The talented Bengals rookie was overmatched on Sunday, as he completed just 11 of his 24 attempts and produced a mere 4.1 yards per dropback before going down with a hip injury. He was replaced by Gradkowski, who could do nothing in garbage time. The Bengals, amazingly, did not convert a single third down over the final 35 minutes of the game.
Carolina Panthers 38, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19
Fabulous: Cam Newton, who was the closer in a successful three-headed rushing attack. DeAngelo Williams didn't offer much (11 carries, 29 yards), but Jonathan Stewart averaged 5.7 yards a pop on his 14 carries, and Newton scored on three different carries. Newton became just the fifth quarterback since the merger to complete 10 passes and run for three touchdowns in one game, joining Jake Plummer, Rich Gannon, Daunte Culpepper, and Bobby Douglass, who actually ran for four scores in his virtuoso 1973 performance against the Packers.
Flop: Steve Smith. The Buccaneers lost Aqib Talib to a hamstring injury in the first quarter, which should have given Smith with the freedom to light up Tampa Bay, but Smith was targeted just six times and caught two passes for 32 yards.
New York Jets 34, Washington Redskins 19
Fabulous: Roy Helu, who was the best offensive weapon on a field with a lot of significantly better-known players and a pretty tough defense across from him. Helu had 100 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and he then added 42 yards on four catches as a receiver. In all, he had eight of the Redskins' seven first downs. He did fumble, but with this sort of production offsetting the fumble, he still had an effective day.
Flop: Rex Grossman, who completed just 19 of his 46 pass attempts and miraculously only threw one interception. The Jets broke up 15 different Grossman attempts, and by our count, at least a half-dozen of Rex's throws could have been easily intercepted. As for the completion percentage? At 41.3 percent, Rex had the second-least-accurate game of the year for a quarterback attempting 40 passes or more, with Blaine Gabbert's 16-of-42 day against the Saints remaining in the lead. Hey, Blaine Gabbert's the best at something! Yay!
Baltimore Ravens 24, Cleveland Browns 10
Fabulous: Ray Rice, who ran for 209 yards on 24 carries. Was it his best game as a pro? Probably not, because 97 of his yards came on two carries, and he only had 10 yards as a receiver. We're partial to his performance against the Saints last year, when Rice had 153 rushing yards on 31 carries and threw in five catches for 80 yards out of the backfield, scoring as both a runner and a receiver. But this game is second.
Flop: Joe Flacco, who couldn't capitalize on the incredible performance his running back was giving him. Flacco was just 10-of-23 for 158 yards and didn't throw a touchdown pass, while just seven of Baltimore's 24 first downs came through the air. He threw for just two first downs on third down all day, and naturally, one of them was to Rice.
Arizona Cardinals 19, Dallas Cowboys 13
Fabulous: Andre Roberts. As the second receiver on a team with Larry Fitzgerald, Roberts has admittedly never seen a professional double-team. So what? Plenty of guys don't get double-teamed, and very few have days similar to what Roberts did against the Cowboys. Roberts caught all six of the passes thrown to him, producing 111 yards and five first downs. And that's with Kevin Kolb throwing to him! On the drive in overtime, Roberts drew a defensive pass interference penalty against Terence Newman on second-and-19 to get the Cardinals out of a bad spot before picking up 16 yards on Newman two plays later. That set up LaRod Stephens-Howling for his game-winning touchdown.
Flop: Jason Garrett. We covered this yesterday.
Green Bay Packers 38, New York Giants 35
Fabulous: Aaron Rodgers. When the Giants tied the game up with 58 seconds left, Green Bay's chances of winning fell to just 55 percent. Of course, that's with an average quarterback under center, and Aaron Rodgers is no average quarterback. Four plays later, the game was just about over. Rodgers was 28-of-46 for 369 yards, and the only reason he didn't complete his customary 70 percent of passes was because the Packers dropped an exceptionally high number of passes on the day. Anyone who suggests that anyone else should be the league's MVP is crazy.
Flop: Green Bay's rushing game. Why do the Packers even call running plays? True, you do need at least some balance to prevent teams from throwing out seven defensive backs on every play. But with Rodgers and this passing offense working wonders downfield, how can the four Green Bay running backs combine for just 47 yards on 24 carries? Maybe they'll be better when left tackle Chad Clifton and left guard Josh Sitton get healthy.
San Francisco 49ers 26, St. Louis Rams 0
Fabulous: San Francisco's rush defense. It's common knowledge by now that the Niners haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season, and the Rams' offensive line is in shambles these days, but the Niners were able to limit St. Louis to just 31 yards on 23 carries despite losing Patrick Willis to an injury during the first quarter. That's an average of just 1.3 yards per carry, and it's the worst performance for a team with 20 or more carries since the Lions produced 20 yards on 21 carries in Week 1 against the Bears last year. Wow.
Flop: Vernon Davis, who only gained 32 yards on his eight targets and dropped one of the prettiest passes Alex Smith will ever throw for what would have been a 49-yard touchdown pass. Davis also fumbled on one of his five catches.
New Orleans Saints 31, Detroit Lions 17
Fabulous: Drew Brees. We know: Drew Brees is good! Not exactly breaking news. But it's hard to highlight anyone but Brees when he plays this well. Against a defense missing safety Louis Delmas and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Brees got extra time in the pocket and used it to rip apart the Lions, eventually finishing 26-of-36 for 342 yards with three touchdowns. Even more impressively, Brees was 17-of-22 for 252 yards with two scores during the first half, using that performance to open up a 24-7 halftime lead that the Lions never came close to closing. Most years, Brees would be a viable MVP candidate. Just not this year.
Flop: Brandon Pettigrew. Far be it for us to moralize about player behavior, but it's hard to fathom what Pettigrew was thinking when he tried to push a ref aside to talk trash during the fourth quarter. His team was losing and he had caught just two of the five passes thrown to him, resulting in a total of 13 yards. Pettigrew's a really talented player, but he probably should have taken his lumps and gone back to the huddle.
Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for Grantland.
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