Eli rallies New York again; the Ravens stun the Steelers late; can anybody beat the Packers?; Arizona bromance; Colts lead the Suck for Luck derby, plus hot player of the week.
Deja vu all over again: It was eerie the similarities between the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl and Sunday's game. The Giants (6-2) won both on last-second touchdowns after the Patriots (5-3) took a late lead. The key play in both was an amazing catch by a receiver wearing No. 85.
In the Super Bowl in the 2007 season, it was David Tyree who made the most famous catch in Super Bowl history, using his helmet to snag a third-and-5 pass from Eli Manning. Sunday, it was a catch made between two defenders by tight end Jake Ballard on third-and-10 off a pass by Manning. A few plays later, Manning hit Ballard for the winning touchdown with 15 seconds left.
It was a defensive meltdown by the Patriots, who can't rush the passer and have major trouble defending the pass. This continues a trend for a team that used to be known for a great defense and now needs Tom Brady to be near perfect for them to win. And Brady was far from perfect against the Giants, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble. He's already thrown 10 picks this year after only four all last season.
That was a huge win for the Giants, who have a brutal schedule the next five weeks: at San Francisco, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, Green Bay and at Dallas. For the Patriots, it was Brady's first regular season home loss since 2006.
Tightening I: The Pats loss combined with the Jets' 27-11 win at Buffalo left all three AFC East teams at 5-3. The Jets are the team on the rise, having won three in a row. They dominated the Bills and next face the Patriots at home in a big Sunday night game.
Tightening II: The Chargers lost to the Packers, the Chiefs were embarrassed by the previously winless Dolphins and the Raiders lost by two touchdowns to the Broncos. This makes the AFC West standings: Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders 4-4, the Broncos 3-5. Ugly.
Stunner: I started writing a note saying that the Steelers avenged their opening day loss to the Ravens. I did this with 2:24 left and the Ravens at their own 8 down 20-16. No way I thought they could drive 92 yards for a touchdown in Pittsburgh. Was I wrong. Joe Flacco, who has looked mediocre much of the season, was brilliant on the final drive, hitting key third- and fourth-down completions. He was betrayed twice by terrible drops on the last drive, including a sure TD by rookie Torrey Smith. But he went back to Smith on third and 10 and it paid off with the game-winning 26-yard TD with only eight seconds left for a 23-20 win.
The Ravens sweep the season series and at 6-2 are tied with, of all teams, the Bengals for the best record in the AFC. The Steelers are 6-3 and if they wind up as a wild card team, it will likely be because of a defense that couldn't get it done in the clutch against the Ravens.
Best by far: Who is going to beat the Packers (8-0)? I see them going at least 14-2, with their only possible losses at Detroit and the Giants. Aaron Rodgers is the obvious MVP and he has 24 TDs and only three interceptions. He threw for four more scores in their 45-38 shootout win in San Diego, all to different receivers. Green Bay can be passed on, but no one has yet figured out how to stop their offense. I picked them to win the Super Bowl before the season and nothing has changed my opinion. In the AFC, I picked the Patriots. As of now, I have no clue who will win the conference because all the good teams are flawed, which means a lot will come down to playoff seeding and home field.
Bizarre: The Cardinals' 19-13 overtime win over the Rams was pretty awful as a game but there were three odd things that happened. The Rams recorded two safeties in the third quarter and scored four points. It was the first time in NFL history that a team scored exactly four points in one quarter. The game was won on a 99-yard punt return by rookie Patrick Peterson. It was only the second time in history that a game ended in overtime on a punt return TD. There's also a bromance brewing between Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt and Peterson. Whisenhunt told him after, Peterson said, that “he loved me.” “I said `Coach, I love you, too.' '' How cute.
It's Over: San Francisco is 7-1 and has a five-game lead in the NFC West. It's possible the 49ers can have the division wrapped up by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Jim Harbaugh is the easy coach of the year choice at the halfway point.
Suck for Luck: The race to get Andrew Luck has a leader at the halfway mark -- the 0-9 Colts, the only winless team. But their hold on the No. 1 pick is still tenuous, with the 1-7 Rams and Dolphins in hot pursuit and 2-6 Seahawks, Panthers, Vikings, Jaguars and Cardinals within striking distance. Of their remaining seven games, I can see the Colts with a chance in only four (two against the Jags, the Panthers and home to the Titans). But the way they are falling apart, I can easily see Indy going 0-16 two years after starting 14-0; it is the most stunning turnaround in history.
Curtis Painter was benched in the 31-7 loss to the Falcons, so who knows who will start against the Jaguars. One play summed up the whole season -- Painter threw a pass that he caught himself after it was batted back. He then threw it a second time. Naturally, the second pass was incomplete. It was also a penalty since the league has this little rule against throwing two forward passes on the same play.
Hot player of the week: Outsports readers are big fans of Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos, voting him King of the Hardwood this season, emblematic of the hottest athlete in the world. And in his second season in the NFL, Decker has really come on, becoming a major scoring threat. He scored a touchdown in Denver's 38-24 win at Oakland, giving him seven on the season. Maybe the King of the Hardwood will become the opposite of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx and athletes will clamor to be on the list. We can only hope.