Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving and the push for playoff positioning is full steam ahead. And you know what? The Cincinnati Bengals continue to assume the identity of a polished football team. The Baby Bengals traveled east to Baltimore to take on the division rival in the Ravens in an important game for both squads. In quiet fashion, Andy Dalton has put together a season worthy of rookie of the year consideration thanks in part to an instant chemistry with fellow first year receiver A.J. Green. Unfortunately for The Red Rocket, Green was out of action as was Ray Lewis who missed his first game since 2007.
The actual game was a classic example of AFC North counterparts. The Ravens, actually playing a good opponent, showed flashes of the team many predicted them becoming at the start of the season. Ray Rice carried the workload on the ground finishing just above the century mark with 104 yards on 20 carries that included one touchdown. For the second time in three weeks, however, Torrey Smith was Baltimore’s MVP as the wideout tallied 165 yards and one touchdown. About the only thing that went wrong for him was the scary realization he nearly had his dreads yanked out of his head.
Coming down to the very last possession (thanks to a controversial overturned touchdown call earlier), the Ravens defense hassled Dalton just enough to edge out a 31-24 victory. The outcome signifies two things. Baltimore is back on the right track right in time for The Harbaugh Bowl on Thanksgiving night. And, like mentioned earlier, the Bengals still look legit. If they don’t make the playoffs, just know they’re going to make it hell on whoever is trying to get in.
Meanwhile in the NFC, the second matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins had the blood pressure of both fanbases through the roof. In a game of runs, Washington reeled off 17 straight points only to find Dallas come back with two consecutive touchdowns of their own. Rex Grossman led the ‘Skins on an impressive late fourth quarter drive forcing overtime. That’s when things became dicey. Graham Gano probably isn’t welcomed in any parts of D.C. as his two missed field goals (including one in OT) had Redskins fans nationwide with the feeling of “here we go again.”
On the flip side, Cowboys fans were equally as nervous. Dallas has lost their fair share of games like this over the years. Yet, with so much determination, Romo put the team on his back (doe). A crucial third down completion to Dez Bryant put the Cowboys in field goal possession. Prior to the kick, Romo damn near pulled a Chris Webber circa 1994 by calling a timeout when they were none. Thankfully, and a case of one of the strangest cases of irony of the season, Mike Shanahan called for time at the exact same time. The break in action was awarded to Washington. Dan Bailey barely gets the ball through the uprights cementing a 27-24 Dallas W. The looming question remains. Pending Romo causes Dallas to eat that penalty and they’re pushed back five yards, does Bailey miss that field goal?
Ah, well, doesn’t matter at this point. Romo’s on a run (11 TD’s and one INT in the last five games) I can only pray continues long into January.
— The 49ers are looking more and more like the Super Bowl winning Ravens of 2000 with Patrick Willis playing the role of a young Ray Lewis. They have a staunch defense that’s been consistently holding opposing teams to under 15 points per game, and an offense that gets just more than that.
— Cam Newton, who was all but a shoo-in for rookie of the year a few weeks ago, just can’t catch a break. He put up 21 points on the board by himself, but his four INTs were too much for the Panthers to overcome. The other #1 overall pick, Matthew Stafford, started off slow but kept Detroit in the playoff discussion with five touchdowns, none of which went to Calvin Johnson.
— Minnesota’s miserable season continues with a lopsided loss to Oakland and an ugly injury to all universe running back Adrian Peterson. The game wasn’t close for most of the day, but the Vikes mustered up enough strength to give themselves a chance to tie the game. Unfortunately, Christian Ponder showed he’s no Tim Tebow, and his last second quarterback sneak ended in a sack.
— Vince Young and Skip Bayless will do everything in their power to create a quarterback controversy in Philly following the Eagles Sunday night victory over the Giants. Now, the G-Men begin a stretch in which they play New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas over the course of the next three weeks.
— What goes up must come down, and what comes down, comes down hard. After getting blasted by the Dolphins, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Bills are heading right back where they’ve called home in the NFL universe for years – at the bottom. Their injuries are definitely playing a factor, but either way it’s looking like it’ll be a very long final six weeks of the season.
— A.J. now has an eternal enemy in Maurice Jones Drew after his LeBron-inspired celebration. Luckily for my colleague, Cleveland walked away with the last laugh thanks to some highly suspect play calling at the end of the game.
— Atlanta kept pace with New Orleans after squeezing out a victory over Gotty’s Titans. Christian Ponder damn near led a comeback until Tennessee ran out of timeouts and defensive stops. The underlying story here is Chris Johnson and his 12 carries for 13 yards. There hasn’t been a player to get paid and seemingly quit like this since Albert Haynesworth.
— Speaking of Johnson, someone make sure Matt Forte doesn’t have that man assassinated. He’s indirectly ensuring the Bears back will go through hell and high water to get a new contract. As for Chicago, they upended the Chargers 31-20. Chicago’s won five straight, but now have to go the rest of the regular season without Jay Cutler, who has been playing exceptionally well this year, because of a broken thumb on his throwing hand.
— While Chicago’s streak is impressive, division rival Green Bay hasn’t lost in 400 days. Their victory over Tampa Bay moved them to 10-0 and now the talks of an undefeated season get louder and louder. All wasn’t lost for Tampa as they walk away with an instant classic YouTube clip. LeGarrette Blount had the play of the day after he apparently swallowed the Super Star from the OG Mario Nintendo games.