On a weekend where the season for giving officially got under way, a number of playoff contenders were quick to display their generosity.
The "fraudulent" New York Giants made the opposition feel at home as Eli Manning threw more TD passes to Minnesota Vikings players (three) than Tarvaris Jackson (one). The Tennessee Titans reminded us all that Chad Johnson knows how to celebrate, allowing the spirited receiver to score for the first time since Week 2. And the Kansas City Chiefs extended an invite to the Oakland Raiders to rejoin the AFC West.
Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals were even more generous in allowing the competition to beat them Sunday. When Devin Hester's kick and punt return touchdowns weren't enough to propel the Chicago Bears to the lead, Denver found a way to blow a 14-point advantage in the final 5:17 of regulation. Moments later in Arizona, Neil Rackers and Steve Breaston apparently decided that the 49ers' eight-game losing streak was enough suffering.
Here's more of the good, bad, ugly and exceptional of Week 12:
• It's truly a festive weekend when the Bay Area fans can celebrate touchdowns and victories. The Raiders, who hadn't won an AFC West game in three years (a streak of 17 straight losses), further damaged the Chiefs' playoff hopes when they got a fourth-quarter lead – and get this – actually held on for a 20-17 victory. Perhaps just as impressive: When Chiefs coach Herm Edwards opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Raiders' 23-yard line with 4:22 left, Oakland actually made the defensive stop, then picked up enough first downs on offense to run out the clock.
San Francisco, seemingly with a giant fork in its back as Rackers lined up for a 32-yard FG in overtime, benefited from a pair of Arizona special teams miscues. Rackers missed a 32-yard field goal and Steve Breaston fielded a punt inside the 5, setting up Kurt Warner's fumble and subsequent recovery in the end zone by San Francisco's Tully Banta-Cain. And perhaps more impressive than both Oakland and San Francisco winning on the same day is that they combined to score six offensive touchdowns. The 49ers hadn't scored one in the previous 11 quarters and the Raiders were limited to just one in the previous eight.
• Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth can't be happy with the funk his Titans are in right now, but his bank account should benefit during the offseason. Tennessee has allowed an average of 160 rushing yards and two ground touchdowns in the three games – all losses – Haynesworth has missed following a 35-6 loss to the Bengals. If Haynesworth wins defensive player of the year honors, it'll be curious to see if he acknowledges his teammates the same way he did Carolina Panthers quarterback David Carr after his three-sack performance in Week 9.
• As if this wasn't already clear, Devin Hester has created a serious dilemma for foes … especially on kickoff returns. Conventional wisdom suggests that such a dangerous returner shouldn't get a chance to burn a team twice in a game. However, after Hester returned a kickoff for his second touchdown, the Broncos opted to squib kick after their next touchdown. Instead of Hester getting his hands on the ball, Rashied Davis picked it up and returned it 19 yards to the 50. While that's clearly better than a Hester touchdown, it's unrealistic for teams to concede that type of field position on a regular basis.
• Derek Anderson (24-35, 253, two TDs during 27-17 victory over the Houston Texans) continues to give the Cleveland Browns something to think about in the offseason. Whether they allow him to leave as a restricted free agent, match any potential offers or seek suitors for Brady Quinn, Cleveland increasingly faces a difficult decision.
• If the Vikings had any control over the schedule, they would play the Giants every year. In two career starts vs. Minnesota, Manning has thrown two TDs and eight INTs, four of which have been returned for touchdowns.
• Welcome back, Chad Johnson, though the camera operator probably didn't feel good about temporarily losing his job. Johnson had his first three-touchdown game of the season, prompting him to take control of one of the field cameras behind the end zone during the 35-6 win over Tennessee.
• Philip Rivers (25-35, 249 yards, three TDs) had his most complete outing as the San Diego Chargers jumped all over another disappointing squad, the Baltimore Ravens, 32-14. And linebacker Shawne Merriman (one sack, constant pressure) redeemed himself after getting flattened by Maurice Jones-Drew last week.
• When Yahoo! Sports NFL analyst Cris Carter called the Giants "frauds" a couple of weeks ago, he must have sensed the G-Men were getting ready to pull out their second-half folding chairs. Running back Brandon Jacobs' loss is understatedly big, but a true contender shouldn't fall to pieces in multiple phases of the game when a non-Pro Bowl caliber player is sidelined. Not only did the Vikings defense (four INTs, three sacks) keep the pressure on Manning, but Minnesota was able to establish a decent ground attack – no instance more evident than when Chester Taylor broke a Michael Strahan tackle in the backfield, bounced off a pile of tacklers and blockers, and then put a juke on a defensive back for an eight-yard scoring run in the second quarter during their 41-17 victory.
• The St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers' fans have to be wondering if it's worth attending any more home games this season. Both teams dropped to 0-5 at their home stadiums Sunday, joining the Miami Dolphins (also 0-5 at home). The last team to go winless at home for an entire season was the '01 Panthers.
• In what's becoming a trend around the league, Kansas City's Edwards called a time out to decide whether to challenge a ruling on the field (in this instance, spotting of the ball). He lost the challenge, meaning he burned two timeouts at once. On the next play, he decided to go for the first down that ended the Chiefs' comeback hopes. In retrospect, since the Chiefs' drive stalled, there was no real consequence to the blown timeout.
EARLY-JUMP ON THE X-MAS SPIRIT
Raiders' run-defense: Continues to be a sieve, allowing yet another 100-yard rusher. Oakland's run D is so bad that on a 4th-and-inches in the first quarter, Kolby Smith (31-150, two TDs) gained 19 yards on a between-the-tackles tote. Smith had only gained 19 rushing yards in his previous three appearances.
Gus Frerotte: In a four-play sequence during the last 63 seconds in which the St. Louis Rams had a chance to upset the Seattle Seahawks, Frerotte committed two QB sins. On first-and-goal from the 4, he threw short to a wide-open Isaac Bruce. Three plays later, Frerotte bobbled the snap as St. Louis squandered its final opportunity.
Redskins' offense: Washington dug itself a hole by coughing up four fumbles in the first half, then was unable to overcome the early miscues when Jason Campbell was intercepted on the final two possessions during a 19-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
49ers' defense: Kurt Warner getting an eternity to find Larry Fitzgerald for the Hail Mary touchdown to end the first half.
Ravens' defense: Twice deciding not to cover Chargers tight end Antonio Gates in the red zone.
Rams' offensive line: Somehow missing the memo that Patrick Kerney (three sacks against the Bears in Week 11) was on a hot streak. He repeated the feat Sunday.
- San Francisco
- Devin Hester