Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.
Eleven months ago, Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick seemed on the verge of creating a Brady-Manning rivalry for the 2010s. Speed versus strength, style on style ... after both teams reached and rolled through the NFC playoffs, the stage seemed set for the NFC West to put a stranglehold on the title of football's must-watch division.
Since then, Wilson has held up his end of the bargain. Kaepernick's had trouble holding up his own arms without taking a sack. Sunday provided the starkest comparison yet between the two, with Wilson crafting a masterpiece in Atlanta while Kaepernick got smothered beneath a Carolina hurricane.
In Week 1, Kaepernick looked unbeatable, dominating Green Bay with 412 yards in the air. Since then, he's only topped 200 yards of passing once, with his anemic 91 yards against Carolina on Sunday representing the low-water mark of the year. He's rarely cut loose and used his legs; he's totaled under 25 yards of rushing in six of his nine games this season. He's also looking overmatched in the pocket, unable to switch reads when his primary receiver is covered and unable to improvise when the world falls apart around him. He took six sacks on Sunday, and the next quarterback to craft a winning offense while ending up on his butt that many times will be the first one.
If Wilson has a major flaw, it's the same as his team: he plays down to the level of his competition. Some of his roughest games have come against some of the weakest teams in the NFL: Tampa Bay, Texas and St. Louis. (He had no trouble against Jacksonville, but then few people do.) In their head-to-head matchup back in Week 2, Wilson obliterated Kaepernick in a 29-3 throttling. And on Sunday, in what came off as a score-settling mission, Wilson dismantled the same Falcons team that bounced Seattle from the playoffs last season.
This entire season, we've Sharpie'd San Francisco into the first playoff spot. But that's not quite so certain anymore; the 49ers now sit at 6-3, tied with the Panthers and just one game ahead of the Bears, Packers, and Cardinals. There's no more margin for error. Kaepernick has to regain the form that brought him to within five yards of a Super Bowl victory last year, or he and the 49ers won't even get the chance to attempt another shot.
Running down the biggest stories of Week 10. We'll try not to catch you offsides.
• Sweet mercy, Drew Brees. Week 10 is where we start to get some real separation, and the Saints under Sean Payton are on a mission to make sure anyone who ever uttered the word "Bountygate" eats that word without even a swig of water to wash it down. The Saints notched an NFL-record 40 first downs on Dallas, whose defense may or may not be better if the team just laid down on every snap and hoped Jimmy Graham trips.
• Green Bay fadeaway. Just one week ago, Green Bay had Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Now there's somebody named Scott Tolzein under center. Not even Scott Tolzein's parents know who Scott Tolzein is. When he called them from the sideline to tell them he was going into the game, they asked when Rodgers was coming back.
• Just like they drew it up. One more time, watch DeSean Jackson with this look-what-I-found touchdown:
... and the AJ Green Hail Mary catch to force overtime:
Both of those plays should have been worth double for degree of difficulty.
• Never, ever change, New York fans:
Half time of Giants game. Fans are booing a dog who dropped a frisbee. Sad,very sad.
— Jay Horwitz (@Jay_HorwitzPR) November 10, 2013
• Awkward: Finally, guess what: you can still vote Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin into the Pro Bowl.
Kissing Suzy Kolber noticed Incognito listed under offensive guards, and Martin is still there as a tackle. Let's vote 'em in and see who gets picked first ... and last.
In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!
Minnesota 34, Washington 27. RG3 fails in game-winning drive, alas.
Seattle 33, Atlanta 10. That 2012 NFC championship seems long ago.
Baltimore 20, Cincinnati 17. Hail Marys are the best plays ever.
Detroit 21, Chicago 19. Cutler plays through pain that'd crush you.
Philadelphia 27, Green Bay 13. Adamantium collarbone for Rodgers? Time to try.
St. Louis 38, Indianapolis 8. Ha, someone switched up the scores here.
New York Giants 24, Oakland 20. "GIANTS ARE GONNA MAKE A RUN" ... stop.
Pittsburgh 23, Buffalo 10. Ben plays better on the "trading block."
Jacksonville 29, Tennessee 27. And every last suicide pool suddenly incinerates.
Carolina 10, San Francisco 9. Nastier than three-month-old warm milk.
Arizona 27, Houston 24. Texans have lost seven in a row.
Denver 28, San Diego 20. You can't stop Peyton, just avoid him.
New Orleans 49, Dallas 17. Tony Romo couldn't pass the Thanksgiving turkey.
Miami at Tampa Bay. If only there was something to discuss.
Teams on bye: Patriots, Jets, Browns, Chiefs
Champ: Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams. Sweet mother of mercy, what a game. Tavon Austin had three touchdowns, two via receiving and one on one of the better defensive punt return dekes you'll ever see. We'd been waiting for the rookie to break out, and now that he has, nobody's ever going to take him for granted again.
Chump: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts. Cheer up, Andrew, bad days happen to everyone. Yes, Luck threw for 353 yards, but he also threw three touchdowns, and his performance was so un-Luck-like that he gets the nod here. The Atlanta Falcons secondary and the Dallas Cowboys defense, the other nominees here, were expected to stink on ice, so they don't really get credit for living down to expectations. But expect Luck to shake off this dishonor and come back strong next week.
See the Broncnator. Admire the Broncnator. Fear the Broncnator. Do not laugh at the Broncnator, for his vengeance, while plastic, is fierce. Do not expect the Broncnator to be on time for work Monday, because getting orange and blue out of the Broncnator's goatee is quite the task. The Broncnator paints himself so you do not have to. And late at night, those two plastic broncos speak to the Broncnator and give him marching orders.
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There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)
• Dan Wetzel on how the NFL ought to begin its no-hazing policy in the wake of the Richie Incognito mess. (Yahoo Sports)
• Eric Adelson on how Miami is starting to fire up an us-against-the-world attitude. (Yahoo Sports)
• Les Carpenter on how Jay Cutler shed his "soft" image by playing through pain on Sunday.
• An open talk about race and the NFL. (The MMQB)
• Guess who does have a no-hazing policy: the Marines. Here's why the NFL ought to follow suit, says Matt Ufford. (SB Nation.)
• The NFL's got itself a real problem with would-be warriors, and Richie Incognito is only the most visible, writes Tomas Rios. (Sports on Earth)
Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.
Broncos vs. Panthers. Wait, Carolina? What? Yes, really. Chances are nobody's getting past Seattle, but if anyone could, it might just be the second-hottest team in the NFC. Carolina's defense smothered Kaepernick, as noted above, and the offense was ... well, good enough to win. On the other side of the Lombardi Trophy, the Broncos continue to be good. Granted, Manning's health is starting to become a concern, but until he's pounded into dust, we're still taking him ... and even then, he'd be a better QB than whoever the Packers run out.
Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 4x, Seattle 2x, San Francisco 2x, New Orleans 2x, New England 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Kansas City, Carolina.
And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!