compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to turn into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Detroit Lions 10 "at" Kansas City Chiefs 45 (London)
Tom Gower: The Lions made the playoffs last year. As in 2014. Really. It seems really, really hard to believe watching them right now, but it in fact happened. They even had a chance to win their postseason game. Now, they just look lost. The offensive line has too many pieces that don't work, the backs are blah, maybe some of Matthew Stafford's interceptions were partly on the receivers but sometimes, Phil Simms, it is in fact the quarterback's fault as well or instead. And the defense, well, it's like they were really dependent on great defensive line play to cover up all the holes in the back end and they lost a couple of very talented defensive tackles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 at Atlanta Falcons 20
Vince Verhei: Ballsy call of the day that backfires: Bucs lead 20-13, with a fourth-and-1 at about their own 40-yard line, inside the two-minute warning with Atlanta out of timeouts. A first down wins the game, so they go for it, but Jameis Winston's bootleg keeper is stuffed. Atlanta takes over and has little trouble tying the game, as Julio Jones scores with 17 seconds to spare.
Andrew Healy: Lovie Smith makes a decision he might get killed for, but I love it. He goes for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 40-yard line up 20-13 just inside of two minutes. The Falcons had no timeouts remaining. I like the play call, too. They rolled Winston out left with a run-pass option. He ended up needing to run and got stuffed on a really nice tackle. The Falcons score the touchdown that ties the game with 0:17 left.
The call didn't work, but it's good on multiple levels. First, the Falcons had about enough time to win even after a punt. Second, the Bucs are going nowhere and I like the message of aggression and confidence in Winston. And, of course, most important, they took a chance to not give up the ball.
So kudos to Lovie for a call that was awfully risky for a coach who's not completely secure in his job. Small demerits for failing to stop the clock to give his offense a chance to win after the touchdown. The Falcons score with 0:17 left when the Bucs maybe could have had 0:45 and a timeout.
Jameis Winston drove the Bucs down the field for a drive that came up just short of a touchdown on the first drive of overtime, but it has to be said that Winston threw a pass over the middle that should have been intercepted early in the drive (the play was wiped out by offsetting penalties). Couple of nice throws on third down after that.
Arizona Cardinals 34 at Cleveland Browns 20
Vince Verhei: Missed the first chunk of this game, but from listening to the radio, the biggest keys to Cleveland jumping out to a 20-7 lead were:
- Cleveland recovering a Chris Johnson fumble that set the Browns up inside the 10-yard line, setting up a Brian Hartline touchdown catch.
- Duke Johnson taking a short pass over the middle and turning it into a 52-yard gain to set up a Gary Barnidge touchdown catch.
- Carson Palmer missing a pair of deep balls where receivers were open for what appeared to be touchdowns.
And now, in the third quarter, Arizona has taken the lead because Palmer has started hitting those deep passes -- a 60-yard touchdown to Michael Floyd, and a 39-yarder to Jaron Brown to set up a Troy Niklas touchdown.
Andrew Potter: Cleveland also recovered a Larry Fitzgerald fumble with the Cardinals in the red zone, and a Cards touchdown was taken off the board for a procedure penalty on the offense.
Andrew Healy: Josh McCown's interception on the first offensive play of the fourth quarter is such a terrible decision and throw. With the perfect opponent adjustment, that 457-yard day he had against the Ravens might just be the worst day for a defense in a very long time. The Cardinals are trying to keep the Browns in the game with their own turnovers, but that one takes the cake for ineptitude.
San Francisco 49ers 6 at St Louis Rams 27
Cian Fahey: Second week in a row that a visiting player has been injured after running onto the concrete alongside the field in the Rams stadium. That's something that needs sorting out sooner rather than later.
Aaron Schatz: Is that new? Did they adjust something at the stadium that there's concrete where previously there was turf? (I have no idea if any of you know...)
New York Giants 49 at New Orleans Saints 52
Sterling Xie: For the second time, the Giants score on the exact same slant-flat pick play with Odell Beckham coming inside on the slant and catching the touchdown. If I remember correctly, they allow contact within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, right? If that's the case, there's an area of the field where the crackdown on OPI on those pick plays isn't going to hurt offenses. And the Giants have really needed it today: They've had 4 runs from inside the 1-yard line, and all have gotten stuffed.
Cian Fahey: Julio Jones had a great effort play early on against the Buccaneers for the Falcons when he chased down a linebacker over 80 yards away. That play didn't count because of an offside penalty. Eli Manning just tried to beat that with a throw downfield as he was being horsecollared on a play that didn't count.
Sterling Xie: Drew Brees officially on record alert after tossing his sixth touchdown of the day, this time down the seam to Benjamin Watson. The Giants' back seven looked like one of the worst in the league on paper at the beginning of the year, and I think this is the type of doomsday scenario everyone imagined. Lots of breakdowns and poor technique everywhere (Marques Colston had an easy walk-in 53-yard touchdown. At the same time, though, Brees has been masterful in his precision. Hard to believe that, a couple weeks ago, it looked more likely than not that this would be the end of the Brees-Payton era in New Orleans.
Sterling Xie: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has basically been the Giants' lone line of defense against the Saints today. DRC came up with his third pick in two games to halt a drive in New York territory, when it looked as though the Saints would go up two possessions. And now he comes up with a beautifully timed hit on Willie Snead to pop the ball up in the air; Trumaine McBride returned it for a touchdown. 49-42 now in an absolutely insane game.
Vince Verhei: Looks like Brees and Eli have tied a record set by this Charley Johnson-Billy Kilmer shootout.
Andrew Healy: And we have ourselves a record. After the pass that brings the Saints even at 49, the Manning-Brees touchdown party is at 13. Brees ties the NFL record at seven.
Aaron Schatz: Tough break for the Giants, who essentially lost the game on a facemask penalty that came on a tackle that never officially happened. Since you can't move a fumble recovery forward in the final minute, Brad Wing wasn't tackling an actual ballcarrier. But the penalty still counts and turns a 65-yard field goal attempt into a 50-yarder.
Scott Kacsmar: And imagine that, a game that had 13 touchdown passes ends on a non-offensive field goal drive. Those are so rare in regulation.
Minnesota Vikings 23 at Chicago Bears 20
Cian Fahey: First quarter of the Vikings-Bears game has been uneventful outside of Marcus Sherels' punt return touchdown. Adrian Peterson is touching the ball a lot for the Vikings but he's reliant on his offensive line creating space for him to be productive. The Bears are calling plays as if they are terrified of their offensive line's matchup against the Vikings' defensive line. A lot of screens, misdirection, and even some wildcat.
Andrew Healy: Teddy Bridgewater might not be good right now, but man does he have an awesome weapon blooming in Stefon Diggs. Diggs catches a curl and brings it about 30 yards after the catch for the touchdown that ties the game with just under two minutes left. I love everything about his game, and his competitiveness evokes Steve Smith a little bit.
Cian Fahey: It was an awful game for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He missed multiple touchdown throws to Mike Wallace when he was open downfield, though Wallace also dropped two other passes so we can't presume he'd have hauled them in. Stefon Diggs bailed the quarterback out late in the fourth quarter when Bridgewater found him over the middle and he carried the ball downfield for the game-tying touchdown.
San Diego Chargers 26 at Baltimore Ravens 29
Andrew Healy: If we're having a contest for the worst unit in football, the Ravens' secondary is in the running. The Ravens looked to be in a zone with maybe Kyle Arrington dropping to share deep responsibilities with Terrence Brooks. Or maybe it's more likely that just Brooks had the deep middle. Whatever it was, Malcom Floyd was all alone for one of the easiest 70-yard plays you'll see.
Cincinnati Bengals 16 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Scott Kacsmar: Ben Roethlisberger looked good on the opening touchdown drive, but he took a hit later and has been moving gingerly at best since. He didn't look comfortable on a third-down pressure and went down for a sack on a drive that was all runs before that. The Steelers may be playing with a hurt quarterback here.
The Bengals were going to have great field position, but Adam Jones just had to do something really stupid. He got up late after a play and smacked Pittsburgh's long snapper in the helmet to cost his team 15 yards.
Dalton is seeing his fair share of pressure so far today. It has caused the Bengals to settle for two field goals. Andy Dalton just floated one to Giovani Bernard, who is lucky he didn't take a devastating hit like the one the Colts laid on him last year on a similar play. On third-and-15, another blitz brings Dalton down for a sack. That might go against Andrew Whitworth, at least partially. Jarvis Jones released from him and got in there for part of the sack.
And now Le'veon Bell is down, grabbing his knee on the sideline after getting tackled awkwardly. Not good. Bell was injured against the Bengals in Week 17 last year. The Steelers haven't had Roethlisberger and Bell finish a game together since Week 16 due to a series of injuries and suspension. Hopefully that streak doesn't continue into 2016, but this doesn't look good.
Aaron Schatz: I love the wacky Hue Jackson formations, but sticking an offensive tackle out as a wide receiver doesn't seem to get the kind of blocking he expects it to get. They had rookie Jake Fisher out wide on one play and just ignored him, then had another play where Andrew Whitworth was out wide as part of trips and was blocking for a screen pass (backwards, so technically a run) to Marvin Jones. No kind of wall there, just a yard or 2 on the play
You know, the knee injury shouldn't be affecting Roethlisberger's ability to identify when guys are covered. In the second quarter, he has repeatedly thrown to receivers who are covered very close, leading to a couple of near interceptions.
Bud Dupree looks very good for the Steelers' pass rush. Just whipped Tyler Eifert with a spin move on a play where James Harrison got up and knocked down an Andy Dalton pass. Andre Smith has a couple of bad flags for the Bengals because he's struggling with the Pittsburgh pass rush. Steelers defense has kept this thing surprisingly close given that the Steelers offense seems to have shut down after that great first touchdown drive. (And hey, injury to Bell isn't to blame for Antonio Brown dropping passes or Ben Roethlisberger hanging it up for an interception.)
The Steelers just punted on fourth-and-20 from the Cincinnati 35-yard line instead of trying a 53-yard field goal. They ended up with an 18-yard punt that "pinned" the Bengals at their own 17-yard line. The first Bengals pass was a 23-yarder to Ryan Hewitt, which put the Bengals back pretty much where they would have been if the ball had been turned over on a missed field goal attempt.
Antwon Blake is getting killed in man coverage today but hey, zone coverage is a totally different thing! He just picked up Marvin Jones in the end zone; I think Andy Dalton misread the coverage and thought Jones was just plain open, but Blake jumped the route.
Andrew Healy: Dalton's goal-line interception on third-and-goal keeps the Bengals trailing 10-6. Pretty inexplicable decision on that throw. I want to say that he didn't know Antwon Blake was sitting there in the zone. It looked to me like that should have been a pretty easy read.
On Dalton's next interception, I think A.J. Green has to make a better play on the ball. It hit him in the shoulder pad on a deep pass on third-and-25 before bouncing up in the air for Mike Mitchell to intercept. It ends up just being a 67-yard punt, though, after an illegal block on the return.
Aaron Schatz: Big Ben with two straight picks to basically hand Cincinnati a win. The first one was a fantastic play by Shawn Williams, diving in front of tight end David Johnson after Big Ben had scrambled to get free of the pass rush. Hard to blame him for that pass. Johnson looked open when he threw it.
Vince Verhei: Boy do I hate the Bengals' play calling at the end of the game. They're up 3 with a third-and-7 at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. Rather than go for a clinching first down, they call a give-up run that actually loses 3 yards. They get the field goal to take a 6-point lead, but Pittsburgh still has 1:47 and a timeout to drive for a winning touchdown. It was way too early for the Bengals to go so conservative on third down there.
Tom Gower: Jeremy Hill went down with two and a half minutes to play. Mike Tomlin elected not to use one of his timeouts and let the clock run down to the two-minute warning. With a first down at the Bengals' 39-yard line and less than :20 to play, I wonder if Tomlin feels like making a different call there.
Andrew Healy: Didn't love the Steelers' play calling on the last drive that ended with the Steelers getting one shot at the end zone from around the 15-yard line. They used short passes that ran the clock down until the last completion to Martavis Bryant that was poorly defended and allowed Bryant to get out of bounds.
Aaron Schatz: I think the Bengals actually had a point on the fake-spike throw to Martavis Bryant. (I assume this is what Marvin Lewis was arguing about.) When forward progress is stopped in bounds and a ballcarrier is moving backwards as he goes out of bounds, the clock is not supposed to stop. That was 12 seconds left. The clock should have kept running there. That fake spike didn't make much sense to me as a play call for Pittsburgh -- if you're going to try that, send the guy deep on it. If you throw the fake spike short, the receiver has got to really make guys miss to get significant yards AND get out of bounds otherwise.
Andrew Healy: I think they absolutely had a point. The clock has to keep going. He got driven backwards at least 2 full yards before he went out of bounds.
Scott Kacsmar: I don't think Roethlisberger has ever got the fake spike to really work to his advantage. I've seen far worse drives than that one, but they needed more than one throw to the end zone.
Tennessee Titans 6 at Houston Texans 20
Tom Gower: What an AMAZING display of football in the first half. Including the Texans' drive at the end of the first half where they were sacked on first down and didn't try after that, there were 10 possessions that ended without a first down. Two others had their only first down come via penalty. Each team had one real drive. The Titans' stalled out in the red zone, so they kicked a field goal. DeAndre Hopkins did one of those things DeAndre Hopkins does, going up and over Jason McCourty to bail out Brian Hoyer, to finish the other one in the end zone. Houston's other points came on one of those first down-less possessions, after Bishop Sankey fumbled the kickoff. Sankey would muff the next kickoff before recovering, so we'll see if he gets to be the kickoff return man again to start the second half, or if he's now been permanently exiled to durance vile.
Basically, just imagine everything you'd expect to see from hearing about Brian Hoyer handing off to Alfred Blue and throwing to Nate Washington going against Zach Mettenberger handing off to Dexter McCluster and throwing to Justin Hunter, and this game has provided it. Really scintillating stuff. And we still have 30 minutes to go!
Oh, I left off that little recap without bothering to mention Ken Whisenhunt called two INCREDIBLE timeouts. He called a timeout at 2:03 after the Texans were stopped on third down to force a punt. So instead of getting the ball back with 1:47 to play and two timeouts, the Titans got the ball with 1:50 to play and one timeout. I know which one of those I'd rather have. He also used his final timeout after that Texans' first-down sack on the final possession of the first half. Because of that, the Texans had to take a knee on second down from inside their own 10 instead of just letting the clock run out. I know, it's still no Mike Munchak using his timeouts down 30-7 in the final two minutes against the Vikings back in 2012, but it was still simply astounding game management.
Well, the second half wasn't quite as inept offensively as the first half. There were only a couple possessions without a first down. The Titans managed another field goal drive. The Texans managed a couple scores, one of them Nate Washington going up for a jump ball against Coty Sensabaugh. The most notable thing was perhaps the Texans' pass rush, which was back with a vengeance against a Titans mediocre offensive line and a quarterback who ... processes ... the ... field ... slowly ... and ... tends ... to ... hold ... the ... ball ... forever. It was a mix of J.J. Watt, of course, and Whitney Mercilus, who finished with about 3.5 sacks. The Titans even tried benching Jeremiah Poutasi again, and Jamon Meredith gave up about as much pressure. Next week's game in the Superdome might be an interesting contest of the incredibly stoppable force against the easily movable object, at least judging by the 42-all score in Giants-Saints today.
New York Jets 20 at Oakland Raiders 34
Andrew Healy: Charles Woodson is 39 years old and I think he might be now leading the NFL in interceptions.* His fifth on a very Geno Smith-esque throw by Geno Smith gives Derek Carr the ball again with the Raiders already up 21-3. Three possessions, three touchdown drives of 78, 76, and 78 yards. Carr is 14-of-18 for 178 yards and three touchdowns now. He is so much better than he was last year. Did not see this improvement coming.
* (EDITOR'S NOTE: Yup!)
Vince Verhei: We've already talked about how weird it is that the Raiders are actually a good offense now. Well, think about this: the Jets' defense is really good, and Carr is just killing them. They're probably going to have the best pass offense DVOA in the entire AFC West after today (they came in a bit behind San Diego). Raise your hand if you thought Oakland would have the best passing offense in the division. (Yes, we see you RaiderJoe.)
Seattle Seahawks 13 at Dallas Cowboys 12
Vince Verhei: Seattle has a very nice opening drive, mixing up runs and passes for several first downs, but then the NFL's worst red zone offense strikes again and they kick a field goal to up 3-0. On second-and-goal, they split Jimmy Graham out wide and had him isolated against 6-foot-0 Byron Jones, with that whole half of the field to work. Seems like exactly the kind of mismatch they were hoping to get when they traded for Graham, but instead of switching to a pass, Russell Wilson sticks with the run. Marshawn Lynch gains 1, the third-down pass is incomplete, and here we are.
Andrew Healy: At his new usage rate, how long will Darren McFadden last? Eight carries and one reception on Dallas' first drive.
Vince Verhei: Cowboys get their own long drive, mostly thanks to Darren McFadden rushing eight times for 32 yards, including a third-down conversion. Seahawks looked to have recovered a McFadden fumble on a screen pass to end the drive, but on replay it was ruled an incomplete pass. Dez Bryant is playing, and Richard Sherman is shadowing him all over the place. Sherman has been much, much more likely to follow receivers around the field under Kris Richard than he ever was under Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn. The drive ends on a third-down incompletion and the Cowboys get their own field goal. Most notable thing about this game so far: There are 43 seconds left in the first quarter, and we have had just one possession for each team.
So of course after those two long drives we get four straight three-and-outs. Then Barry Church appears to hurt his ankle defending a deep crossing route to Graham. He stays in the game, but Seahawks start attacking the seam to that side, and Luke Willson scores on a 22-yard touchdown catch.
Bizarre referee screw-up in Dallas. Cowboys are about to kick a field goal following Matt Cassel scrambles of 24 and 12 yards (two of Dallas' three longest plays in the first half). Seahawks call a timeout on third down. Then as Dallas is about to try the kick, Seattle realizes they have too many men on the field and try frantically to get guys off, as Pete Carroll tries to call timeout. So rather than let the play go with 12 men (a penalty that would have given Dallas a first down) or let Seattle call back-to-back timeouts (also a penalty that would have given Dallas a first down), the refs apparently stop the clock to let Pete Carroll know that he is not allowed to call timeout there. So they just redo fourth down, and the Cowboys kick a field goal to make it a 10-6 game. Jason Garrett is rightly outraged, but that's how it went down.
Aaron Schatz: It seems like we do this every week now, with at least one play where the officials decide something in a way that's totally, obviously against the rules. Not a judgment call on a replay review or a question on what's a catch, but something that's just blatantly wrong, like the penalty on the Ravens last week for an ineligible receiver who obviously reported eligible.
Vince Verhei: Two big injuries late in the first half in Dallas. Greg Hardy limps to the locker room, helped by trainers. Worse, on a Seahawks' punt, Ricardo Lockette is laid out by Jeff Heath and immediately goes down not moving. Game had a very long break as he was strapped to a board and carted off. By the end he was talking and moving his hands, holding up one finger as he was carted out. Very sad and very, very scary.
Aaron Schatz: Seattle's tackling is surprisingly problematic today.
Seattle coverage, however, not problematic. Sherman finally allowed a pass reception to Bryant, but a couple plays later, Bryant got flagged for OPI hanging on Sherman to prevent a pick.
Vince Verhei: Third quarter ends with Dallas down 10-9, but in the red zone after Greg Hardy (not hurt that badly, obviously) tips a screen pass to himself for an interception. Still not much going on for either offense. Officially, Dez Bryant now has six targets. One I must have missed, but the five I remember, one he beat Sherman for a third-down conversion, three were incompletions with Sherman in coverage, and one was a screen where Sherman blew through Terrance Williams' block and tackled Bryant for a loss. Oh, and on one of those incompletions, Sherman would have had an easy interception, but Bryant broke it up, getting flagged for offensive pass interference in the process.
Aaron Schatz: The Seattle offense is frustrating. They'll go a few plays where everything is working and then it all seems to break down. It seems like the lack of a clear No. 1 receiver is finally a big problem, because the offensive line is so bad that every team can just rush four and put everyone else in coverage. Apparently Russell Wilson didn't get sacked once despite the offensive line playing without Russell Okung. It really does not feel like the blocking was that good. Wilson was scrambling and throwing bad passes under pressure a lot, at least when Greg Hardy was in the game. It also seems like Doug Baldwin isn't getting open as much as he could in the past, and the guys like Jermaine Kearse were really never good at getting open unless they did it by getting deep faster than whoever was covering them.
But hey, the defense didn't blow a fourth-quarter lead, so, progress!
(Actually, technically they did blow a fourth-quarter lead since that Dallas field goal to make it 12-10 came at the start of the fourth quarter. But then they un-blew it.)
Vince Verhei: Agree with all comments on the frustration of the Seattle offense. You look at their raw numbers and they look OK and you're trying to figure out how they only scored 13 points, but really, it's simple: when they get close to the end zone, they don't score touchdowns, they kick field goals (or, once today, get a field goal blocked).
Green Bay Packers 10 at Denver Broncos 29
Aaron Schatz: First quarter is fitting our profile of the Green Bay defense. They are much stronger against the pass (fifth in DVOA) than the run (17th), but struggle to cover the opposing team's No. 1 receiver. Denver marched down the field primarily on runs and passes to Demaryius Thomas.
Scott Kacsmar: Denver has slowly figured out a few things this season.
1. You don't make Peyton Manning throw bootleg passes to his left, but he can hit them from his right.
2. You put Manning in shotgun/pistol so he has time to read the defense instead of trying to pull out from center.
4. They may have finally realized Virgil Green can move faster than Owen Daniels. He deserves more targets.
And Manning finally hit a deep ball to Demaryius Thomas this year that you couldn't call a jump ball.
Tom Gower: Really weird in a fun way to see this Broncos offense. Peyton has had time to throw and get the deep ball going, the short passes are producing yards after the catch, and even C.J. Anderson is being productive. Looks like the bye week was a good use of time. I'm not sure just how much different they're doing so much as individual players performing and working better together.
Aaron Schatz: I think the most remarkable thing is that the pass rush isn't really getting to Manning. That's a huge difference from the first few games, and unexpected given how strong the Packers' pass rush has been this year.
Aaron Rodgers taking a timeout instead of a delay of game on second-and-9 in the third quarter makes me want to stab myself in the face with a fork. That leaves the Packers with one. They're down 14. There's barely 16 minutes left. They might need that, you think?
OK, the Broncos just took Rodgers out for a sack-fumble and safety. This one seems pretty done. So now we have to go through a week of trying to figure out "Is Peyton Manning back?" I appreciate that he was able to take advantage of Green Bay's inability to cover crossing routes tonight, and he certainly looked much better than in previous games on deep throws to Demaryius Thomas. But I think it's ridiculous to just write off the first six weeks of the season as if they never happened.
Scott Kacsmar: The first six weeks happened, but there were enough signs there that this offense could achieve a performance like this one again. We'll see if this is a one-shot or the start of the turnaround, but they were getting closer to this. I don't think the offense was ready in Week 1 for a full-strength Baltimore and trying out this new offense. Then they played four out of five on the road. The bye week came at a very good time.
Tom Gower: Yeah, they looked better tonight, but some of the same flaws are still here. Peyton's arm has looked better for the most part, on the deep throws in particular, but not all the time and the late interception by Damarious Randall was on a throw that looked like it came from the first six weeks of the season. A lot of the run success has looked like better play, but Green Bay has shown some vulnerability on the ground this season, especially those second- and third-level defenders (consult Week 1 Audibles if you need a reminder), so it might be partly the opponent. The first six weeks did happen. Denver on the whole has looked great tonight, and some of the improvement could be real. We'll see over the rest of the season.
Aaron Schatz: My guess is that some of the improvement is real. It was never realistic to think that Peyton Manning would end up as the worst starting quarterback in the league over the entire season. But some people are going to take this game to mean that Peyton Manning is the Peyton Manning of legend again, and that the Broncos should now be the Super Bowl favorites. There are still plenty of questions about this offensive line and about Manning himself. I think the most likely scenario is that Denver has an average offense going forward, not as bad as it was before, but not as good as it has looked tonight.
That makes them a much better team than before given the quality of the defense. But it doesn't mean Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league again.
...Actually, after jousting with Denver fans on Twitter, I think I have a better idea of what's getting to me about tonight's game. For years, I took criticism from my fellow Patriots fans (and anyone else who believed in #QBRINGZ) because I argued year after year after year that a bad Peyton Manning performance in the playoffs did not render his amazing regular-season performances irrelevant. Now, the guy has one good (not great) game after six lousy games this season and a gradual implosion at the end of last season, and a lot of people -- Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels on the broadcast, folks like Pete Prisco and Michael Wilbon on Twitter, not to mention most Broncos fans -- are insisting that Peyton Manning is still great and that it was ridiculous for us to ever think he was in decline. But just like in the past, one game does not render the games that came before irrelevant.
The other issue with Manning's performance is figuring out what the heck happened to the Packers defense, starting with the San Diego game and then this game. They can't seem to stop any crossing routes at all, nothing in the middle of the field. They couldn't stop the run, worse than was suggested by their average run defense DVOA coming into tonight. And they lost two cornerbacks to injury during this game, although we'll have to see how that shakes out in the long term.
As for the Broncos defense... the Patriots should be pretty worried. I think the Bengals have the pass protection to give Andy Dalton the time to throw, most of the time, and we'll have to see if the receivers can get open against the great Denver coverage. But the Patriots aren't going to be able to protect Brady for more than a couple seconds on each play. If Aqib Talib and Chris Harris and the Denver defensive backs have everyone covered in the first couple of seconds, the Patriots will be in trouble.