TORONTO - Once again, the New England Patriots roll on after a 34-27 win over Washington, maintaining their two-game lead atop the AFC East but with each passing victory, the question marks continue to abound.
Once again Tom Brady sliced and diced an opposing defence, this time burning the Redskins for 34 points on 357 passing yards and three TD tosses. This was New England’s 34th victory in their most recent 37 December games but you have to wonder just how long the Pats can survive with a defensive unit that CAN’T. STOP. ANYBODY.
Rex Grossman and friends, hardly an offensive juggernaut, gashed New England for 463 yards, answering Brady TD for TD most of the afternoon. The only moment of satisfaction for the New England defence came in the dying moments when, with the Redskins driving to try to tie the game, a Grossman pass was tipped by receiver Santana Moss into linebacker Jerod Mayo’s hands for an interception that ended the threat.
Rob Gronkowski set an NFL record for tight ends with his 14th and 15th TD receptions of the season.
Brady had a chance to put the Redskins away late in the fourth quarter but threw an interception in the Washington end zone. After the play, he became involved in a nasty argument with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Bill Belicheck had to intervene to get the two separated. A few moments later, Brady and O’Brien had cooled off and were conferring quietly on the bench.
YATES LEADS TEXANS TO PLAYOFF BERTH
It wasn’t just that the Houston Texans clinched the first playoff berth in their history. That’s a big deal, of course, but not something that was unexpected.
What made Sunday’s 20-19 Houston victory over the Bengals so special and so encouraging was that it was authored by raw rookie T.J. Yates in the kind of dramatic fashion that will go a long way toward making the Texans believe they can do some damage when that second season begins in January.
When veteran QB Matt Schaub was lost for the season last month, and backup Matt Leinart followed him immediately on to the injury list, the outlook was bleak for the Texans.
That put untested Yates squarely in the crosshairs. In his first start last week, in a 17-10 win over Atlanta, he passed for 188 yards, completed less than half his attempts and was sacked three times, a typical rookie, deer-in-the-headlights debut.
Sunday, he looked like a confident veteran, rallying the Texans from a 16-3 halftime deficit, including 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter on the road, against one of the NFL’s better defensive units.
Twice in the fourth quarter, the Texans marched 80 yards. The first ended in a field goal and then Yates came of age with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that finished with a game-winning six-yard TD pass to Kevin Walter with just two seconds left on the clock.
LONG WAY TO GO FOR PANTHERS
The lessons have come fast and furious for Cam Newton in his rookie NFL season but the one thing he and his Carolina Panther teammates can’t quite get is that the game has two halves.
Newton and his Panthers teammates have figured out the first half but can’t seem to close the deal. Sunday, they took a 16-point advantage into the second half and saw it disappear in a hail of Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones passes.
It was Carolina’s ninth loss of the season and in six of those losses, including this one, they have held the lead or been tied in the fourth quarter. Newton threw a pair of second-half interceptions to help the Falcons on their way to 24 consecutive second-half points.
Ryan connected with Jones on two TD passes in the final quarter, a 17-yarder and a back-breaking 75-yarder. The Falcons remain in playoff contention and if the post-season tournament began today, they would be the NFC’s fifth seed.
Earlier last week, Carolina coach Ron Rivera declared this was a statement game for his Panthers.
“The statement is that we still have a long ways to go as a football team,” Rivera said Sunday. “We’re a young team. You have to keep the foot down on the accelerator which we didn’t do today.”
RAVENS HUMBLE COLTS
Just in case the Indianapolis Colts had any ideas about snapping their winless streak after a dozen losses, the Baltimore Ravens dispelled those illusions quickly and effectively.
The Ravens put on a defensive clinic that destroyed any crazy Colts’ notions by limiting them to 10 total yards in the first quarter on their way to a 24-10 defeat that was actually a lot worse than the score would indicate. By game’s end, the Colts had acculumated just 167 yards, 76 of them on a meaningless excuse-me touchdown drive at the end of the game.
On the bright side for Indianapolis, their hopes of snagging Stanford QB Andrew Luck in the 2012 draft remain on schedule. At 0-13, the Colts are almost home free in the Suck For Luck Sweepstakes.
The Ravens took care of business early, building a 17-3 lead before losing interest in the second half. Ironically, this victory snapped an eight-game Ravens’ losing streak against Indianapolis but it’s unlikely they’ll be popping any champagne corks over that one until they do it with Peyton Manning back at QB.
As it is, the Ravens are now the favourites to win the AFC North title. They are tied with Pittsburgh at 10-3 but they hold the hammer by having won both meetings against Pittsburgh this year.