Week 14: Steelers, others come up big; Cowboys lack finishing touch
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Week 14 analysis: Big time
By John Clayton, ESPN.comEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Big plays ruled the day in Week 14. Trailing 13-3 to the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter, the Steelers needed a spark. Ben Roethlisberger was struggling against the Cowboys' pass rush. Even though their top running backs were healthy, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians spread the field with receivers and had Roethlisberger work out of the shotgun. On a third-and-16 with 2:47 left in the third quarter, Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a 47-yard completion. That big play gave the Steelers the confidence and momentum. They went on to score 17 fourth-quarter points and beat the Cowboys 20-13. "You can't give up a big play on third-and-16,'' Cowboys coach Wade Phillips lamented after the game.
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A big third-quarter pass by Ben Roethlisberger sparked the Steelers to a comeback victory over Dallas.
You can't give up big plays, period. Coaches love to play close to the vest. The NFL is a conservative league. Most coaches would try to run the ball 30 to 40 times a game rather than angle for those 30- to 40-yard passes. But every coach knows that a big play changes the momentum of a game.The invincibility of the New York Giants was taken away in the second quarter of their 20-14 loss to the Eagles. Philadelphia led the low-scoring game 3-0 with 1:52 left in the second quarter. The Eagles caught the Giants in a blitz and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce pursued too far to his right. That left Brian Westbrook with open space on the right side and the result was a game-changing, 30-yard touchdown run. From that moment on, the Eagles held the advantage. "A big play will give the offensive line more confidence and give the offensive coordinator more confidence in calling those type of plays,'' Westbrook said. "I would have had another touchdown run if I didn't trip in the second half.'' Westbrook had a career-high 33 carries, and the Eagles gained 144 yards on the ground, which might not have happened had Westbrook not broken that big run. Eagles coach Andy Reid tends to shy away from the run if it doesn't work early. "It's a great thing for our offense,'' quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "Maybe we opened up some eyes today.'' In Seattle, Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant did a good job for three quarters against Randy Moss. Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel rarely hit a deep pass, preferring to play to his strength and throw short and allow his receivers make plays. Then early in the fourth quarter, Moss was matched up against cornerback Josh Wilson and Cassel connected with Moss on a 33-yard pass to the Seahawks' 13-yard line. A field goal cut the Seahawks' lead to 21-16 and gave the Patriots the momentum to score the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. In a game that turned into a QB shootout between the Falcons' Matt Ryan and the Saints' Drew Brees, the biggest play was made by New Orleans' Pierre Thomas, a backup runner helping out on special teams. Ryan had just put the Falcons ahead 25-22 with a touchdown run and two-point conversion with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter. Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards, setting up his own 5-yard touchdown run that gave the Saints a 29-25 victory. Before the kickoff, Thomas joked with teammates that he could break a long one. He did.
Five things I learned in Week 14
By John Clayton, ESPN.com
John Clayton's game balls
Loose endsWeek 14 Studs & Duds: Brian Westbrook carried the Eagles past the Giants. Dallas QB Tony Romo had a tough day in Pittsburgh. • Fantasy: The TRUM blog: Addai headed to my all-time hate list. • Experts' picks: How did we do?
Sunday Countdown | ESPN.com • NFL Blog Network
Week 14 rundown• Chicago 23, Jacksonville 10
Is there a team looking forward to the end of the season more than the Jaguars? For the second game in a row, Jack Del Rio's team appeared to be a disinterested bunch. Photos Arizona 34, St. Louis 10
The Cardinals have the NFC West title wrapped up. Now they have to get their running game in order. The trio of Tim Hightower, J.J. Arrington and Edgerrin James produced only 65 yards Sunday. Photos Pittsburgh 20, Dallas 13
Owners of the league's toughest schedule, the Steelers will probably be a little beat up come playoff time. But they'll also be battle-tested. Photos • Baltimore 24, Washington 10
With Willis McGahee banged up for much of the season, Le'Ron McClain (seven games with 50-plus yards rushing) has been an unsung contributor for the Ravens. Photos • Monday Night Football: Tampa Bay at Carolina (ESPN, 8:30 ET)
Too small? Too soft? Wrong and wrong again. RB DeAngelo Williams, on the brink of 1,000 yards rushing, is living up to his promise for Carolina, which meets Tampa Bay in a huge NFC South showdown for first. Pat Yasinskas • NFC South blog: Cadillac returns | Discuss
• Football Outsiders: Bucs surging on defense
• Animation: Breaking down Bucs' blitz | Streak
• Watch: Preview | Podcast | MNF Surround
Looking aheadAn early look at next weekend's biggest games:
• New Orleans (7-6) at Chicago (7-6): A Thursday night game neither team can afford to lose.• Tampa Bay (9-3) at Atlanta (8-5): How will the Falcons respond after a tough loss to the Saints? • N.Y. Giants (11-2) at Dallas (8-5): The Giants will be facing a desperate opponent for the second straight week. • Week 15 schedule