NFL Nation: 2013 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:29
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-22 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What it means: For the third straight year the Cowboys failed in their Week 17 bid to win the NFC East and claim a playoff spot. As a result, they finished 8-8 for the third straight year under Jason Garrett and will spend the offseason lamenting close losses against the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, but should not neglect close wins that could have been losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins.

The effort was fine. The Cowboys simply lost. The Eagles made more plays when it mattered most, with Brandon Boykin sealing the game for Philadelphia with a pick of Kyle Orton with 1:43 remaining. It was a horrible ending for Orton, who finished with 358 yards passing and had the Cowboys in position to do what few thought was possible. The Cowboys had a chance for the game-winning drive, but like last year at Washington with Tony Romo as quarterback, their fate was sealed by an interception.

Stock watch: Jason Witten, rising. He did what he could to keep the Cowboys in the game. He finished with a season-high 12 catches for 135 yards. He was a difficult matchup all night for the Philadelphia defense, but it wasn’t enough.

Poor situational football: Garrett preaches the importance of situational football, but it has been something that has plagued this team for years under his tutelage.

Third-down offense was an issue for the entire season and it was an issue Sunday. The Cowboys converted on just three of 11 tries.

They also had to settle for field goals on their first two drives of the second half with the defense rising up. The second Dan Bailey kick was the killer because the drive started at the Philadelphia 20 after DeMarcus Ware recovered a Nick Foles fumble. The Cowboys gained only two yards before they called on Bailey. Two first-half turnovers were also costly with the Eagles turning them into 10 points.

On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Orton’s pass to DeMarco Murray was knocked down by Connor Barwin. The Eagles responded with an 11-play drive that ended with Bryce Brown' 6-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 lead with 6:09 to play.

A failed two-point conversion kept the Eagles in front, and after Orton’s second pick the Cowboys were done.

The return of Hatcher: Maybe he felt like he was snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting, but defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had his best game in nearly two months. Hatcher had two sacks and forced a fumble. He was a nuisance all night for the Eagles' offensive line. He had not had a sack since Nov. 24 against the New York Giants. He had not had a two-sack game since that tilt as well. He finished the season with a career-high 11 sacks in what might be his final season with Dallas. He is an unrestricted free agent in March.

What’s next: The Cowboys can begin focusing on the draft and figuring out their salary-cap situation. They have plenty of decisions to make on players like Ware, Miles Austin and possibly even Brandon Carr. As far as the draft goes, the Cowboys need to find the defense help in all areas, but especially the defensive line.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
11:25
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-22 victory against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.

What it means: Chip Kelly won the NFC East title in his first season as a head coach in the NFL despite a rough night on the sideline. The Eagles' defense bailed Kelly and his offense out, holding the Cowboys to one touchdown and three field goals. Linebacker Connor Barwin batted down a Kyle Orton pass on a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter to prevent Dallas from taking a late lead. Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass to seal the Eagles' win with 1:43 left. The victory gives the Eagles a 10-6 record -- six more wins than last year -- and a date next Saturday night with the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs.

Kendricks shows up: Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of excellence all season, often negated by some lapses. He was the Eagles’ best defender all night. Kendricks forced a DeMarco Murray fumble after the Cowboys drove to the Philadelphia 25 on their first possession. He intercepted a pass to set up an Eagles touchdown just before halftime. Kendricks also made some big tackles to hold Murray and Jason Witten to little or no gain in key situations.

Head scratching: Kelly couldn’t resist trying another gimmick play with Brad Smith in the red zone. This time, on first-and-goal at the 6, Smith lined up wide left. He took a handoff from Nick Foles and rolled out to his right. He threw an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz in the end zone. Foles had to throw the ball away on second down, and hit DeSean Jackson for five yards on third. That set up the fourth-and-goal play. Kelly decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Foles was stuffed on the keeper and Dallas had a huge shot of momentum.

Stock watch: Falling: Nick Foles. It didn’t tank completely, but Foles’ stock fell within the game. In the first half, he was terrific, completing 12 of 16 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns -- a passer rating of 155.5. In the second half, Dallas started getting pressure as Foles struggled to get rid of the ball. Foles was 3-of-8 for 41 yards and a passer rating of 54.7 in the third quarter. He was sacked twice in the quarter, fumbling the ball away on his own 20-yard line. It’s the kind of mistake Foles had avoided all season. The defense held the Cowboys to a field goal to minimize the damage.

What’s next: The Eagles host the Saints (11-5) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Eagles have won their past four home games after enduring a 10-game home losing streak. It will be Kelly’s first NFL playoff game, although he does have plenty of experience coaching on Saturdays.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:55
PM ET

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 27-24 overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

What it means: Everything fell into place for the Chargers to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, with Baltimore and Miami losing early games. All San Diego had to do was beat a Kansas City squad playing mostly reserves because the Chiefs had already clinched a postseason spot. With the help of a Ryan Succop missed 41-yard field goal at the end of regulation, the Chargers got it done to finish 9-7 on the season. With the final AFC wild-card spot and No. 6 seed, San Diego now moves on to face a familiar foe in Cincinnati, the AFC's No. 3 seed. The Chargers lost to the Bengals 17-10 earlier this season at Qualcomm Stadium.

Mathews to the rescue: Running back Ryan Mathews again came up big, finishing with 144 rushing yards on 24 carries. It's the sixth time this season Mathews rushed for over 100 yards in a game. Mathews finished the season with a career-high 1,255 yards.

No defense for Chargers' D: With nine different starters on offense, including reserve quarterback Chase Daniel and running back Knile Davis, San Diego's defense could not contain Kansas City's patchwork offense. The Chargers allowed over 150 rushing yards, but held firm when they needed to most at the end of the game.

Stock watch: Keenan Allen had another big game, finishing with five receptions for 89 yards to top 1,000 receiving yards for the season, boosting his chances to earn offensive rookie of the year.

What's next: The Chargers travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in an AFC wild-card game next weekend.

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:54
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-20 victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

What it means: The 49ers are the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and will play at the No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers next week. The 49ers entered the game with a slim shot at having a bye and hosting a playoff game. That didn’t happen. But the 49ers did what they had to do in a wild game -- they were leading 17-0 in the first quarter -- and kept the No. 5 seed. The 49ers are entering the playoffs as one of the NFL's hottest teams. They have won a league-high six straight games and they won 11 of their past 13 games. They finished the season 12-4.

Streak over: 49ers kicker Phil Dawson missed a 24-yard chip-shot at the end of the first half. It broke a streak of 27 straight successful field goal attempts, a franchise record.

However: Dawson more than redeemed himself with a 56-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining to give the 49ers the lead, and then hit the game winner from 40 yards as time expired.

Goodbye Candlestick: Candlestick Park is now history, unless the 49ers host the NFC title game against the No. 6 seed. That has never happened in the NFL since it adopted this format in 1990. Seattle won Sunday to claim the NFC West and the No. 1 seed. The 49ers will move into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara next season.

Stock watch: NaVorro Bowman's defensive player of the year candidacy has only risen. He had an interception to set up a touchdown and forced a fumble, which he recovered. It was a nice response to his 89-yard pick-six to save the win last week against Atlanta. The inside linebacker has been special all season.

Big day for Boldin: 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin had nine catches for 145 yards against his former team. At one point, he had 106 of the 49ers’ 109 receiving yards.

What’s next: A rematch of Week 1 against Green Bay, which the 49ers won in a wild home game.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:45
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 42-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which moved them to 11-5 on the season and clinched their spot as a wild-card team in the playoffs.

What it means: Who knows what this means? Obviously it was a good sign that the Saints still know where the “on” switch is inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Their offense was as dominant as ever, with 468 total yards and four touchdown passes by Drew Brees. That has to be a nice confidence boost heading into the playoffs after a nasty two-game losing streak in Weeks 15 and 16.

But we still don't have any idea if the Saints can figure out how to take this show on the road, where they've struggled all season. The disparity between the Saints' home and road performances this year has been stunning. And now they'll have to be a road team throughout the entire playoffs -- with plenty of potential nasty-weather sites on the horizon.

Brees gains, loses records: Brees was sensational Sunday, throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns (all four of them in the first half). He also ran one in for a TD during the second half. In the process, he passed the 5,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career -- something no other NFL quarterback has done more than once. Brees finished the regular season with 5,162 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in one of the best seasons of his 13-year career.

However, his most historic achievement fell on Sunday when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning broke Brees' record for passing yards in a season. Brees threw for 5,476 yards in 2011 while Manning threw for 5,477 this year.

Stock watch: Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead obviously held up much better in his second career start. He did give up one half-sack early in the game when the pocket collapsed up the middle and around his side on a third-and-long. But for the most part, he helped allow Brees to get comfortable in the pocket for his huge day -- which included several deep throws that took time to develop. I'll take a closer look at Armstead's performance in this week's film study. ...

Meanwhile, the Saints' secondary broke down on one big TD pass when safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Corey White both appeared to bite on the play fake. It's hard to say that they missed safety Kenny Vaccaro because of that one play. Overall, the defense was pretty solid, especially after New Orleans took a big lead.

Up next: The Saints will play at the winner of tonight's Philadelphia-Dallas game, finishing as the No. 6 seed.

It's hard to ignore the Saints' road performances this year -- and adverse weather conditions could certainly hurt their passing game. But it's also hard to imagine they can't turn things around with an offense that is obviously so potent at times.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:43
PM ET
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-20 loss to San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: Not much changed throughout the season. Arizona showed Sunday it was still the team that liked to get down early, let its defense all but shut down the opposing offense and then, if it felt like it, the offense would come up with a big play to win. Arizona never gave up even as New Orleans was running over Tampa Bay, eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs. There was more than that on the line in Glendale, especially against an NFC West foe that Arizona thought it should’ve beaten back in Week 6. The Cardinals also wanted to finish 11-5 to prove they were a playoff-caliber team.

Stock watch: Michael Floyd continued his tear despite shoulder and ankle injuries. He finished with 91 yards, topping 1,000 this season, on a variety of short passes as well as the deep ball he’s become known for around Arizona. Carson Palmer tried to go to Floyd early but San Francisco was ready for him. Floyd should’ve come down with a few of those but his shoulder clearly limited him. When Arizona needed a spark, however, the Cardinals went to Floyd down the middle for a 44-yard pass.

No gain for RBs: All week, the Cardinals’ defensive line qualified any comment about being the No. 1-ranked rush defense by saying they hoped it’d continue against the Niners. Arizona held San Francisco’s running backs -- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon -- to 22 yards. A lack of a running game forced San Francisco to pass, which, in turn, allowed the Cardinals to go after Colin Kaepernick, who struggled on passes when he was chased. Every one of San Francisco's drives during the second and third quarters ended with either a punt, turnover on downs, or a missed field goal.

Slow start: It plagued Arizona throughout the first half of the season, but anyone who watched this team -- and the team itself -- thought the first-half issues were, for the most part, solved. And they had been, until Sunday. The Cardinals allowed the Niners to score on their first three drives and went down 17-0 by the time the second quarter started. From there, Arizona simply couldn’t recover.

What's next: Arizona finishes with a 10-6 record.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:41
PM ET

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs27-24 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Chiefs have some good backup players. They took the Chargers deep into the fourth quarter before San Diego tied the score and then outlasted the Chiefs in overtime. Because the Chiefs were locked into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, a victory was meaningless. So coach Andy Reid rested 20 of Kansas City’s 22 starters, including all 11 on defense. With Chase Daniel making his first NFL start, the Chiefs put in a solid effort on both sides of the ball and almost denied the Chargers the AFC’s final playoff spot. The Chiefs finished the regular season at 11-5, an improvement of nine wins over 2012.

Stock watch: Rookie running back Knile Davis, playing for Jamaal Charles, started his first NFL game and delivered 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Daniel played about as well as the Chiefs could expect, completing 21 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. Daniel also ran for 59 yards. An offensive line comprised of four backups and rookie right tackle Eric Fisher kept Daniel from being under consistent pressure and opened some nice holes for Davis. Cornerback Ron Parker had an interception to set up a Kansas City touchdown. Kicker Ryan Succop was wide right on a 41-yard field-goal attempt with eight seconds left in regulation that would have won the game for the Chiefs.

What's next: Heading to Indianapolis. The Chiefs will play the Colts in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. The 11-5 Colts, winners of the AFC South, beat the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22 by forcing four turnovers while committing none of their own. The Colts have beaten the Chiefs all three times the teams have met in the playoffs, in the 1995, 2003 and 2006 seasons.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:40
PM ET

CHICAGO -- Here are a few quick thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears missed out on the NFC North title and a playoff berth with the heartbreaking loss to the Packers. So their season is over, and they’ll now set upon the task of evaluating the roster internally, in addition to turning the focus toward improving for 2014. The Bears have several veterans with contracts coming to an end. So they’ll have to make a determination on which players to bring back. The club has already identified some of the veteran free agents they’d like to pursue in the spring, and the personnel staff will also now turn the focus toward the upcoming Senior Bowl and NFL combine in preparation for the draft.

No timely stops: Despite playing a fairly solid game on defense, the Bears failed in clutch situations too many times during the moment of truth. During Green Bay’s final drive, the Packers converted two fourth downs on a run by John Kuhn and a 6-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson. In that same drive, Rodgers converted another third down with a 5-yard scramble, but Chicago’s defense held the Packers to minimal gains during that sequence.

Then, on what should have been the final play of the game: a fourth-and-1 with just 46 seconds left to play, Rodgers scrambled around in the pocket before firing a 48-yard bomb to a wide-open Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown. What’s worse, it appeared the Bears busted the coverage on the play as Chris Conte seemed to let Cobb run right by without the safety dropping back to account for him.

More takeaways: The Bears entered Sunday tied for 12th in takeaways, and generated two more against the Packers to run up their total on the season to 28 (nine fumble recoveries and 19 interceptions). Conte and Tim Jennings each picked off Rodgers passes, with the Bears scoring seven points off one of the miscues.

For the most part this season, the Bears have capitalized when they generate takeaways. Entering the contest ranked sixth in the NFL in points scored off takeaways (97), the Bears boosted that to 104 points when Matt Forte scored his first touchdown of the game on the drive that followed a Conte interception in the end zone.

Status of Mills unclear: Right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a foot injury during Chicago’s first possession, and was ruled out for the game. But the extent of his injury wasn’t immediately disclosed.

A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills became the starter at right tackle at the beginning of the season and started 15 games. Veteran Eben Britton filled in for Mills.

Hester tries for record: With the matchup against Green Bay potentially his last as a Chicago Bear, return man Devin Hester made a strong push to break the NFL’s record for career return touchdowns. Hester owns the NFL records for total kick return touchdowns (18) and career punt return TDs (13), but he needed only one more return score to break Deion Sanders' record for total return TDs (19).

Hester took his first kickoff 39 yards, and broke a punt return 49 yards in the third quarter. He’ll eventually break the record, but the chances of doing that as a Chicago Bear remain uncertain. Hester is in the final year of his deal, and there’s a chance either he or the club could elect to go in a different direction in 2014.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to clean out their lockers and likely take care of end-of-the-season physicals as their season comes to an end. The club will also hold final meetings and start the task of performing internal personnel evaluations.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:35
PM ET

CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 33-28 win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

What it means: Fourth-and-8 from the 48-yard line with 46 seconds left will be remembered for quite some time. Aaron Rodgers, in his return from his Nov. 4 collarbone injury, won the NFC North with a 48-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, who was playing his first game since his Oct. 13 broken tibia injury. The Packers (8-7-1) ran their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to five.

Stock watch: No one was probably happier to have Rodgers back than Jordy Nelson, who had only one 100-yard receiving game in the seven weeks Rodgers missed because of his broken collarbone. Nelson bettered his previous season high of 130 yards receiving with 10 catches for 161 yards.

Gimpy but effective: Running back Eddie Lacy's sprained right ankle appeared to limit his playing time. Several times, Lacy looked gimpy coming off the field. The Packers gave James Starks more work than usual. He responded with a 41-yard gain on a third-quarter, third-and-1 play. It helped keep Lacy available for the entire game, and he scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The Packers will host a wild-card playoff game on either Saturday or Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:35
PM ET

SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 27-9 victory against the St. Louis Rams Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: In an ugly game with constant chippy play, pushing, shoving and punching to result in numerous personal fouls (mostly on the Rams), Seattle reached all its regular-season goals with the NFC West title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The 13-3 mark ties the team record for regular-season wins. Seattle now has won 15 of its past 16 home games.

Stock watch: After giving up 200 yards rushing in St. Louis earlier this year, the Seattle defense was a brick wall Sunday, allowing 13 yards rushing. Zac Stacy had 13 carries for four yards in the first three quarters Sunday. Stacy had 134 yards in the first meeting in the Monday night game against the Seahawks. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch had his best game in over a month with 23 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown.

Tate tough and tauntless: Receiver Golden Tate isn’t the most popular guy with the Rams after his taunting penalty on an 80-yard touchdown in St. Louis, but he was a big thorn in their side Sunday. Tate had eight catches for 129 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. He celebrated in the end zone, but didn’t taunt anyone.

Smith shines: Apparently, outside linebacker Malcolm Smith still was mad about not reaching the end zone on his interceptions last week. Smith had the big play at the start of the game with a 37-yard pick-six. He had a 32-yard interception return against Arizona last week, but was stopped at the 3. Smith is starting for injured K.J. Wright, another example of Seattle’s depth on defense.

Started the right CB: Walter Thurmond returned from suspension, but Byron Maxwell showed why he continues to start at cornerback. Maxwell had an interception in the second quarter. It was his fourth since taking over for Thurmond, who was suspended for substance abuse.

What's next: The Seahawks get next weekend off before hosting an opponent still to be determined.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:34
PM ET

A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 27-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Rams finish the season at 7-9, a half-game worse than they were a year ago, but after another manhandling at the hands of a division opponent, it's fair to wonder how far they have to go to keep pace in the NFC West. After piecing together a division-best 4-1-1 record against the NFC West last year, the Rams finished 2013 at 1-5 in the division on their way to a fourth-place finish. Although St. Louis made strides outside the division, going 6-4, that's not going to mean much if the Rams can't find ways to hang with the teams ahead of them.

More alarming, St. Louis was almost completely feckless offensively in its five losses to Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco this season. Four of those games came without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, but with so many stout defenses in the West, the Rams have to find a way to score more points.

Stock watch: Down: the Rams' running game. There was almost no chance the Rams would be able to match the 200 rushing yards they had in the first meeting between the teams, but to say they came up short of that mark would be a massive understatement. The loss of left tackle Jake Long and the other moving parts along the offensive line allowed Seattle to stack the box and completely shut down Rams back Zac Stacy & Co.

Stacy didn't even get the 42 yards needed to reach 1,000 for the season. When the Rams run the ball, quarterback Kellen Clemens can have success throwing. When they don't, you get a performance like Sunday's. The Rams finished with a measly 13 yards on 18 carries, an average of 0.7 per attempt.

Flag fest: It's not an unusual sight to see the Rams racking up penalties, but Sunday's game might have taken it to a new level. Make no mistake, Seattle had its share of penalties and the officials didn't have much control, if any. But the Rams again failed to maintain composure and piled up silly penalties, many of the 15-yard variety. When all was said and done, the Rams had 12 penalties for 87 yards. That total doesn't even account for another handful that weren't accepted.

What's next: The Rams head into what should be an interesting offseason. They're positioned well in terms of the NFL draft, with the No. 2 overall pick from Washington plus another first-round pick, but will have some serious decisions to make in regard to the salary cap. In the increasingly tough NFC West, they can't afford any missteps.

Rapid Reaction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:33
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers42-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

What it means: A long and painful season is over. The Bucs had to endure the Josh Freeman saga, an outbreak of MRSA and an 0-8 start. They never really recovered from any of that. The offense got worse, not better, as the season went on, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon took plenty of lumps. The defense had a few bright spots but not enough. Now, the Bucs appear headed for more drama in the postseason. There have been speculative reports that coach Greg Schiano could be jumping ship for Penn State. Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s no guarantee the Bucs will keep Schiano after a 4-12 season.

Stock watch: After failing to get positive results in recent weeks, Glennon bounced back a bit. He had some success throwing the deep ball against a good New Orleans defense.

Trickery backfired: A lot of fans have talked about how the Bucs were too conservative all season. Well, they took a chance and attempted a fake field goal at the end of the first half. The play had Michael Koenen attempting to throw a pass, and it totally failed.

What’s next: We’ll find out soon enough if there are any changes to the coaching staff or the front office. Either way, this team has a lot of work to do in the offseason if it’s going to turn things around and make the playoffs next season. But the one bright spot is that the Bucs will hold a top-10 pick in the 2014 draft. They also will have about $17 million in salary-cap room to work with.

Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:32
PM ET

OAKLAND -- A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 34-14 loss to the Denver Broncos.

What it means: The Raiders, for the second straight season under coach Dennis Allen, ended the year by losing eight of their final nine games. In that morass, a six-game losing streak to end the season. It was the Raiders’ most uninspired effort of the season, and they were in danger of being shut out for the first time since Oct. 23, 2011, a 28-0 drubbing by the Kansas City Chiefs in Carson Palmer’s first game with Oakland. Not a good look for a coach whose platform is built on progress and discipline. The Raiders allowed four touchdown passes by Peyton Manning (he finished the regular season with a record 55 TD passes) while also allowing him to set a new single-season record for passing yards (5,477). Plus, the Broncos, who earned home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with the blowout victory, also established a new mark for points scored in a season (606). Manning did not play in the second half, which was won by the Raiders, 14-3.

Stock watch: Falling -- Terrelle Pryor. Rust was to be expected, what with Pryor having last started a game on Nov. 10. But his regression was shocking. He did not appear to play with much confidence, his accuracy was worse than off and, as former Raiders coach-turned-radio analyst Tom Flores said, “He looks like a quarterback that’s hesitant to throw.” Indeed, Pryor was not stepping into his throws and the ball wobbled. He finished 21-of-38 for 207 yards with touchdown passes of 14 yards and nine yards to Rod Streater and Nick Kasa, respectively -- Pryor’s first touchdown passes since Oct. 13. Pryor did, however, rush for 49 yards and set a franchise mark for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback (576 yards), eclipsing Rich Gannon’s mark of 529 yards in 2000. Pryor did play better in the second half.

A silver and black lining: It was not all bad. Oakland honored the 1983 Super Bowl champions in a halftime ceremony, giving fans a glimpse of the last Raiders team to win a Super Bowl, albeit when the franchise was located in Los Angeles. Jim Plunkett addressed the crowd, and it was truly the liveliest O.co Coliseum was all day, especially since the Raiders were trailing, 31-0, at the time.

SeaBass sleeps with the fishes?: Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders’ first-round draft pick in 2000 and all-time leading scorer, missed his ninth field goal of the season, more than he missed the previous two seasons combined. Radio broadcaster Greg Papa said Janikowski was nursing a sore left quad, though Janikowski was not listed on the injury report this week. “Kind of a reflection of the whole season,” Flores offered.

What's next: The Raiders (4-12) must now play the waiting game to see if head coach Dennis Allen and/or his staff are retained after a second consecutive 12-loss season, and the 11th straight year without a winning record.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:29
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts from the New England Patriots' 34-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: The Patriots earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round playoff bye. For a banged-up team that had more key players leave the game, it’s a much-needed break.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left guard Logan Mankins left for the locker room in the second quarter with an ankle injury but ultimately played through it. He clearly looked hobbled at times. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson left the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been slowed by a knee injury, left the game in the fourth quarter.

Stock watch: LeGarrette Blount, UP. When the 250-pound Blount gets going, it brings back memories of the Patriots’ final Super Bowl championship season with Corey Dillon at running back. It’s rare to see such a big back run with such elusiveness and power. Blount totaled 189 yards rushing and also had two long kickoff returns that came as the Bills were threatening to get back into the game. This was a career day for Blount, who is rounding into form at the time many often say the running game takes on added importance. As the Patriots kneeled on the ball, coach Bill Belichick took Blount off the field so he could hear the rousing cheer from the home crowd.

Elements play a big part: The game was played in heavy rain throughout, which made ballhandling a struggle. The Patriots caught some breaks, fumbling four times and recovering all of them. So there was some good fortune for New England on this day. The defense, which was shaky at times, rose up in the critical moments.

What’s next: The Patriots will be off until the divisional round of the playoffs.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
7:28
PM ET

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: The win means quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense closed out the regular season with every significant scoring and passing record in their possession. Manning finished the regular season with 5,477 passing yards to go with 55 touchdowns while the Broncos had broken the league scoring record by halftime. Denver also earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC postseason.

Stock watch: This past week Manning was asked about the records the Broncos were poised to break and he quickly said winning was most important. Perhaps in the big picture that is certainly true, but Manning's season, at age 37 and after four neck surgeries, was nothing short of remarkable. It was his first 5,000-yard season in his storied career and, with four more touchdown passes against the Raiders, it was his ninth game of the season with at least four scores thrown.

A tad worrisome: Broncos punter Britton Colquitt had a punt blocked for the first time of his career in the third quarter Sunday. That play kept a rather disturbing trend going on special teams, with poor ball security, some big returns allowed and now a block over the past two months. The Broncos will practice several days during their postseason bye week and it's a sure bet special teams will be a big part of those sessions.

Two-man show: The Broncos tried to get Ronnie Hillman involved in the running game Sunday -- he had 12 carries for 30 yards -- but the Broncos' running game is largely a two-man affair headed into the postseason. Rookie Montee Ball had 72 yards on 10 carries as Knowshon Moreno was largely given the day off (six carries, 23 yards). But Ball and Moreno have turned it into split duty because of their work in the passing game. Manning's first four completions of the game went to Moreno and Ball. And by the time the Broncos had finished their first two scoring drives, Moreno had five catches to go with one for Ball.

What's next: The Broncos will get a weekend off with their bye through the wild-card round. They will try to balance enough work to keep their edge with the idea of getting a fairly battered team a little rest. But after last season's double-overtime loss at home in the divisional round, there will be a big push from the team's veterans to make sure everybody stays on track.

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