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Week 15's best statistics

Posted Dec 21, 2015

What a great and dramatic game between the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants on Sunday night. It was certainly a contest that had it all – big plays, a dramatic comeback, controversial behaviour from some star players and a winning score as time expired.

At the end of a fast and quite literally furious game, the Carolina Panthers remained undefeated on the season thanks to a 38-35 win that featured – at various times – the good, the bad and the ugly of the NFL.

Let’s start with the positives and in order to do that, you have to begin with another display that has strengthened Cam Newton’s case to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

Newton got banged up quite a bit on Sunday night but almost routinely threw for 340 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. He summed up just how special he remains to this Panthers team when he added 100 rushing yards on 8 carries. Newton’s 10-yard scramble set up Graham Gano for his winning 43-yard field goal and I have to say that I thought Cam looked the picture of cool, calm and collected on that vital drive.

The Giants, on the other hand, went into a frustrating prevent defense. For much of the second half, Steve Spagnuolo dialled up one blitz after another and that added pressure seemed to work in stifling the Carolina attack. But with the game on the line, the Giants rushed three or four and dropped everybody else back into coverage – that gave Cam time to pick them apart and for the Panthers to improve to 14-0 on the year.

So the good was Cam Newton and his receivers, the bad was the Giants defense on that final drive… so what about the ugly? I think you know where I’m going with this.

There have been so many great players who have suited up for the New York Giants over the years and I genuinely believe that Odell Beckham Jr. is one of them. But I also think he shamed the Giants uniform with his actions on Sunday night.

Now, I’m not about to paint Carolina’s Josh Norman as some kind of saint because he was very physical with Beckham early on and maybe could also count himself lucky to have finished the game without being ejected.

But I have to say that Beckham was the much bigger culprit as he backward head-butted Norman, got his hand up inside his face mask and tried to rip at his face and also took a punch at the Carolina defender. That was all in the first half and things got worse after the break.

OBJ tripped Norman up while he was on the floor but the worst of the lot was a vicious crack-back block in which Beckham basically delivered a flying head-butt to his unsuspecting opponent. It was the kind of hit that could have landed Norman with a concussion, a broken jaw or worse!

Both players will be receiving a letter from the league office this week and will be lighter in the wallet on Christmas Day. But the NFL need to go further than that in their punishment of Beckham.

It is clear that it has become virtually impossible to get ejected from an NFL game – unless you lightly brush an official while questioning a decision – but the league should react after the event and ban Beckham for at least one game.

In this era of player safety and heightened concussion awareness, a petulant player who takes deliberate shots at the head of an opponent should be made an example of. Beckham was a danger to himself and his opponent on Sunday and I’m sure Tom Coughlin thought long and hard about benching his out-of-control star.

The Giants are playing a prime-time Sunday night game against Minnesota in Week 16 and I’m sure the NFL will want one of its poster boys on the field. But what kind of message would that be sending? I say the league has to sit Beckham down for one game because that will hurt him much more than a $50,000 fine.

For the record, Beckham is one of my favourite players to watch in the entire league and I simply marvel at some of his play each weekend. But that doesn’t mean we excuse the kind of behaviour he put forward on Sunday night – he has to pay the price for his indiscretions and for his downright dangerous play.

Over to you, NFL.

Now onto this week’s numbers…

187 and 3… On a team loaded with offensive talent, David Johnson is beginning to shine at running back for the Arizona Cardinals. He racked up 187 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in Arizona’s 40-17 defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles and is starting to look very comfortable in the Cards’ backfield. Johnson’s second touchdown run on Sunday night was Marshawn Lynch-like as he barrelled through would-be tacklers before sprinting down the sideline for the score. Johnson is a threat to score from anywhere on the field and is earning the trust of his quarterback and coaches. Earlier this season, Johnson admitted that he struggled in pass protection but has tidied up that area of his game and the Cardinals have found another game-breaking star at a very nice time of the year.

27 and 0… That was a tale of two halves for the Denver Broncos. They went into Sunday’s contest with the Pittsburgh Steelers struggling to find offensive fluidity. But then they scored four first half touchdowns on the road and took a commanding 27-10 lead. Who would have thought that the Broncos would be held scoreless after the break? Brock Osweiler struggled under increased pressure from an awakened Pittsburgh defense and, on the other side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were doing what Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown always do – only this time it was against the best pass defense in the NFL. Big Ben threw for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns and Brown was pretty much uncoverable as he slipped behind, between and around defenders time and again. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – it will be a crying shame if these in-form Steelers are not in the AFC playoffs.

4,405 and 35… The likes of Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer may get more attention on a week to week basis, but would you just look at the outstanding consistency of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots? It was rarely spectacular but New England rolled to another victory on Sunday, recording a 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. And Brady – who rightly remains a league MVP candidate – was very efficient once more, throwing for 267 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He leads all quarterbacks in the NFL with 4,405 passing yards and 35 touchdowns and has done it, at times, with the bare bones of a receiving corps. There may be flashier teams out there at the moment, but it sure looks like the New England Patriots and Brady are making a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Monday musings…

  • Robert Griffin who? Kirk Cousins is now firmly entrenched as the starter in Washington and is much more than just a game manager, as he showed in leading the Redskins to a 35-25 win over Buffalo on Sunday. Cousins hit on 22 of 28 passes for 319 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ran for a score and Washington are worthy leaders of the NFC East with two weeks remaining.
  • What a disappointment the Buffalo Bills have turned out to be this season. And their playoff drought rolls on (they last made the playoffs at the end of the 1999 campaign) which is a huge under-achievement given all the off-season hype Rex Ryan was selling.
  • Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin is just unstoppable now – and I’m talking historically unstoppable. Look out for Seattle in the playoffs – they are dangerous and have won five in a row.
  • Houston were down to their fourth quarterback of the season in Brandon Weeden and trailed on the road in a city where they have never won. Yet they came from behind to beat the Indianapolis Colts, which tells you everything you need to know about how hot Chuck Pagano’s seat is about to become.
  • I’m not saying the Miami Dolphins players have given up on the season, but it does make you wonder when they make Danny Woodhead look like the second coming of Barry Sanders. It was a semi-decent run as interim head coach for Dan Campbell but these Dolphins need a shake-up. Again!
  • What a performance from Philip Rivers and Danny Woodhead though! Woodhead scored 4 touchdowns in the Chargers’ 30-14 defeat of the Dolphins in what could very well have been the final NFL game played in San Diego. No wonder Rivers was so emotional after the game – he definitely enjoys playing his games in San Diego.
  • Well done to London-born running back Jay Ajayi, who scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday night and looked to be one of the few Dolphins players playing hard. And congratulations to Scottish-born kicker Graham Gano, while we’re at it, for his winning points for the Panthers.
  • I think Teddy Bridgewater played one of the better games of his Minnesota Vikings career to date in leading his team to a 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears. There is a lot of room for improvement in Bridgewater’s game but it’s hard to argue with a display that sees your young quarterback throw 4 touchdown passes and run for another.
  • And, once again, the Jacksonville Jaguars break their fans’ hearts. That game at home against a slumping Atlanta Falcons team is one the Jags must have if they are to be taken seriously. But they lost 23-17 after pulling level at 17 apiece in the second half. When this season is said and done, the Jags will be pleased with their improvement and excited about their future – but I would imagine they take a moment to contemplate how they let a very winnable division get away from them.
  • More offensive efficiency from Alex Smith at quarterback, some big plays in the running game and explosive return touchdowns from a very tough defense. In other words, it was just another typical day at the office for the Kansas City Chiefs as they recorded a 34-14 win over Baltimore. The Chiefs have now won eight in a row and will be no easy out when the playoffs begin.

Final Thought

With Christmas just a few days away, I wanted to finish today by thanking all of you who read this column, who download the Inside the Huddle podcast and who watch us every weekend on Sky Sports. Your support is much appreciated and your passion for the NFL is why we get to enjoy three games in London every year. Merry Christmas one and all. Have a great holiday season!

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