Huddle Up Week 9: Joe Flacco and Eli Manning Come Up Big In Hostile Environments by Jason King

Eli Manning led the Giants on a late fourth quarter drive to come beat Tom Brady and the Patriots 18-17 at Gillette stadium in week nine, solidifying New York’s lead in the NFC East. 

After a slow start to the day with some one-sided early games, Week 9 picked up in a hurry with a flurry of intriguing late games, and another classic in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. The story of the early games was the Dolphins finally breaking through and getting their first win.The story of the late afternoon games was Eli Manning upstaging Tom Brady and leading the Giants to a season-defining win. The Sunday night affair was everything that we expected. It was another exciting chapter in the game’s best rivalry. There are career games (numbers wise) and there are career games. Joe Flacco and Eli Manning had career games on Sunday.

The Baltimore Ravens sweep the Steelers. That is the headline this morning. In Week 1 the Ravens dominated the Steelers in every facet of the game, winning 35-7. This game was more thrilling and it looked like Pittsburgh was going to get revenge. Then Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a 92-yard game winning scoring drive.

It was a great sight to see. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terell Suggs were standing on the sideline with concerned looks on their faces. On 4th and 1 from the Steelers 49, Flacco completed a 10 yards pass to Anquan Boldin. On 3rd and 7 from the Steelers 37, Flacco hit Boldin again, this time for an 11 yard gain. Then on 3rd and 10, Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 26 yard touchdown. Lewis, Reed, and Suggs smiled as if they had just watched their little brother go on his senior prom with a girl who looked like Kim Kardashian. Flacco, with the game on the line, continued to make plays. Boldin and Smith both dropped catchable balls on the game-winning drive, but Flacco still had the confidence to go back to them.

John Harbaugh after the game said, “This Steelers-Ravens game is a game for men. This is a game for big men. You’ve got to shine bright in this game if you want to win this game. And nobody shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game.” It was Flacco’s time on Sunday night. Players like Lewis, Reed, Suggs, and Ray Rice (in Week 1) have already put their marks on this rivalry. Flacco has traditionally struggled against Pittsburgh. On Sunday night he was 28 of 47 with 300 yards and 1 touchdown.

He fumbled in the fourth quarter, which led to Pittsburgh getting their first lead of the game. After Big Ben hit Mike Wallace for a 25 yard touchdown pass, the Ravens got the ball back trailing 20-16. Baltimore went three and out as Flacco threw three straight incompletions. The Ravens defense stopped Pittsburgh and got Flacco the ball back and a chance to redeem himself. Flacco didn’t look at it that way though saying, “You don’t really have anything to lose. You either score or you don’t score. … You take a couple of shots at the end zone and see what comes of it.”

What came of it was a big win for the Ravens and the biggest moment of Flacco’s career. Baltimore shares the division lead with Cincinnati and owns any tiebreaker with the Steelers. They are hoping that they can finally breakthrough and get home field advantage in the playoffs. The defense is among the best in football. Maybe the offense is finally catching up.

Eli Manning proving he is on Tom Brady’s level. A lot of people wrote off the Giants despite leading the NFC East. They proclaimed that over the course of the last two months of the season, the Giants schedule was too tough, that it was inevitable for either the Cowboys or Eagles to overtake them for the division crown. When Eli said in an interview during training camp that he was an elite NFL quarterback on Tom Brady’s level, it was a big story and everybody basically laughed at him. Well Eli and this Giants team silenced a lot of critics Sunday afternoon in Foxboro.

This game was tied 0-0 at halftime. The Patriots got the ball first and turned it over (Brady intercepted by Dion Grant). The Giants took the ball downfield and got a field goal. On the Patriots next possession Brady turned the ball over again. He was sacked and fumbled (sacked by Michael Boley and recovered by Jacquian Williams). The Giants converted that into a 10 yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs. They were up 10-0 and in control of the game. The Patriots next possession after the two turnovers resulted in a three and out. On the ensuing punt Aaron Ross called for a fair catch but muffed it. Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Giants 33. The Pats kicked a field goal to make it 10-3.

When the Giants got the ball back they went three and out. They punted and Julian Edelman muffed the punt and the Giants got the ball at the Patriots 40 yard line. They drove all the way to the Patriots 5 and on a third down play Manning was intercepted in the end zone. The third quarter ended with the Patriots driving looking to tie the game. Once the Patriots tied the game up at 10-10 early in the fourth quarter, it looked like they were going to pull off another improbable home win.

Then Eli Manning had one of the best fourth quarters of his career. Manning was 8 of 13 with 105 total yards (93 passing, 12 rushing) and 2 touchdown passes. The Patriots took 13-10 lead after the Giants drive stalled around midfield. Manning got the ball with 7:08 on the clock and a 13-10 deficit. He led the Giants on an 8 play 85 yard drive capped by a 10 yard touchdown pass (on 3rd down) to Mario Manningham. The Giants were up 17-13 but the only problem was that Tom Brady was getting the ball back with 3 minutes to go.

Brady did what he does best: led the Patriots downfield and hit Rob Gronkowski for a 14 yard touchdown pass. The Patriots had regained the lead 20-17. Eli had 1:36 left to lead the Giants to at least a game-tying field goal attempt. Eli did one better by leading them 80 yards in 8 plays capped by a 1 yard touchdown pass to TE Jake Ballard. The key play on the drive was a pass interference penalty on S. Brown, which gave the Giants the ball on the Patriots 1 yard line.

On first and goal Manning missed Ballard in the back of the end zone. On second and goal Jacobs was stopped for no gain. On third and goal Eli scrambled left and found Ballard for the touchdown.

Eli must really like playing against the Patriots. The last meaningful game these two teams played Eli lead another improbable drive that lead to a last minute, game-winning touchdown (Super Bowl 42). If Manning and the Giants defense (despite giving up 438 total yards they forced 4 turnovers) play like they did on Sunday this team will be playing into January.

Huddle Up

1. The Jets defense finally dominated. They held the Bills to a season low 11 points and forced 3 crucial turnovers. Fred Jackson was held in check by the Jets defense despite decent numbers (21 touches, 120 yards). The Bills receivers only caught 5 passes for 93 yards including a 52 yard pass hauled in by Stevie Johnson. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 15-31 with 191 yards and 2 interceptions. The Bills were 3 of 11 on third down. Rex Ryan has his defense playing at the level he expected at the start of the season. They face another challenge next Sunday night as the suddenly reeling Patriots come to town. We all know how much the Jets would like to send the Patriots home with a three game losing streak much like the Patriots sent the Jets home with a three game losing streak a month ago.

2. Aaron Rodgers is chasing history. This man is embarking on one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history. Yesterday he had another amazing day. He was 21 of 26 for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 4 touchdowns were to 4 different receivers. He is playing at an unbelievable level. He is the most accurate passer in the league, both in the pocket and on the run. The only weakness in Rodgers game is that he holds the ball too long sometimes and that causes him to get sacked. Rodgers for the year has 24 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. By comparison, his counterpart Sunday, Philip Rivers had 3 interceptions in that game. Rodgers is on pace to set a completion percentage record. Right now he is completing 72.5 percent of his passes. He is on pace to throw 48 touchdown passes. On Sunday he became the first player in NFL history with at least 2,600 (2,619) passing yards and 24 touchdowns after his team’s first 8 games. He is doing all of this while leading the Packers to an 8-0 start. I think they will slip up somewhere down the road but with Rodgers playing at this level; they are extremely difficult to beat.

3. The Dolphins win convincingly. After playing some good football over the last month, the Dolphins finally broke through and won a game. Their defense was very good only allowing 3 points. The Chiefs moved the ball but every time the Dolphins need a stop they got it. Matt Moore had a very efficient game (17-23, 244 yards, 3TD). Reggie Bush had 16 touches for 142 yards. Brandon Marshall had 8 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. The star of the game was LT Joe Thomas. He held Tamba Hali to 2 tackles and 1 quarterback pressure. Thomas didn’t let the Chiefs most disruptive pass rusher affect the Dolphins passing game and that was the difference. By establishing the pass early, the Dolphins had Romeo Crennel and the Chiefs defense guessing all day long. Tony Sprano has this team fighting and that’s something that has to be respected.

4. Carson Palmer’s struggles should be no surprise. Palmer was sitting on a couch watching football with his friends three weeks ago. Now he is the starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders. Anyone who thinks that the transition will take place overnight is sadly mistaken. Palmer had good moments on Sunday (40 and 18 yard touchdown passes to Marcel Reece and Jacoby Ford) and bad moments (3 interceptions, 1 fumble and 2 sacks). Through 2 games he has 6 interceptions. Palmer should get better after the Raiders play the Chargers on Thursday. He will have 10 days to prepare for the Vikings on November 20. Those extra few days should help Palmer familiarize himself with the Raiders offense. If he can get it figured out, the division is there to be had.

5. AFC West. The Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders are all tied atop the division at 4-4. The Broncos are just one game behind at 3-5. Every team in the division except Oakland has had a three game losing streak. Each team has had an opportunity to distance themselves, but because of poor play, couldn’t do it. The West could get a little clearer after Week 10. The Raiders and Chargers play on Thursday night and the Broncos and Chiefs play on Sunday afternoon. Just a thought: the Broncos somehow win the division at 8-8 behind Tim Tebow. It could happen, especially with the way the other 3 quarterbacks in the division are playing.

6. Special teams helped Arizona win their second game of the season. Special teams are a big part of the NFL these days despite the new kickoff rules. With the score tied at 13-13, the Rams lined up to kick a field goal with only 4 seconds remaining on the clock. DE Calais Campbell blocked the field goal attempt and the game went to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Peterson returned a punt 99 yards for a walk-off win. It was a great return, probably the best of the season so far. John Skeleton played well (despite two safeties in the third quarter) and gave the Cardinals the chance to win and the special teams won it for them. Much needed win for Ken Wisenhunt.

7. Are Mike Shanahan’s days in Washington numbered? When Shanahan was introduced as the Redskins coach, the offense was suppose to turn around. It hasn’t happened so far. They have a ton of injuries on that side of the ball, but the problems are more than just injuries. Shanahan needs to find a staple for his offense. Roy Helu the starting running back for the Redskins caught 14 of John Beck’s 30 completed passes. He was targeted 17 times. This says that the Redskins receivers can’t get open. The Redskins don’t have any dependable receivers, a shaky quarterback situation, and an unstable offensive line. While I think ultimately Shanahan will get another year, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Redskins fired him after the season.

8. Arian Foster and Ben Tate best running back combo in the NFL. Foster (19 for 124 yards, 1 TD) and Tate (12 for 115 yards, 1 TD) combined for 239 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns in Sunday’s victory against Cleveland. In 9 games this year, they have combined for 263 carries and 1,279 yards rushing. That is 142 yards per game for just those two. Foster also missed 3 games early in the season because of a hamstring injury, which makes his numbers even more incredible. With these two playing at this level and a healthy Andre Johnson, the Texans have the most complete offense in the AFC.

9. Julio Jones making an impact. I know it was against the hopeless Colts. I know he only had three catches. It was still good to see Atlanta’s mortgaging of the future finally starting to pay off. He had receptions of 50, 80, and 1 yards on Sunday. The 50 and 80 yard catches went for touchdowns. Matt Ryan looks more comfortable with Jones now that they have had a bye week together. Jones still has a long way to go, but Sunday’s performance was a step in the right direction.

10. Interesting race for coach of the year. Jim Harbough has to be the favorite. Other coaches to consider: Jim Schwartz, John Harbough, Chan Gailey, Marvin Lewis and certainly Mike McCarthy. All are worthy of strong consideration. If the Giants come out of the NFC East after playing that schedule even Tom Coughlin has to garner some consideration. Just because a team has high expectations doesn’t take away from a good coaching job. I think this could be the toughest award to decide at the end of the season.

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

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