Over­re­ac­tions abound as Bills and Cow­boys sag, Steel­ers eke out W

The Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - r #Z -03&/;0 3&:&4 (Reuters)

With the sec­ond half of the NFL sea­son in full swing, some teams are start­ing to sep­a­rate from the pack, while oth­ers fall be­hind. Yet with so many games re­main­ing, draw­ing con­clu­sions about the post­sea­son pic­ture at this point can be a fool’s er­rand.

Here are four over­re­ac­tions from Week 10 that we’re push­ing back on:

Bills no longer play­off con­tenders af­ter drop­ping two straight

As bad as the de­feats have been – and it doesn’t get much worse than the 47-10 thrash­ing the Saints put on Buf­falo – the Bills (5-4) are still hold­ing down the sixth and fi­nal play­off spot in the AFC.

The book on Buf­falo is pretty straight­for­ward. The Bills stay com­pet­i­tive by win­ning the turnover bat­tle, run­ning ef­fec­tively and stop­ping op­po­nents’ rush­ing game.

Quar­ter­back Ty­rod Tay­lor can ef­fec­tively man­age a game, but only if that threat of a con­sis­tent rush­ing at­tack is there. With­out it, Tay­lor is sus­cep­ti­ble to the kind of dud per­for­mance (9 for 18, 56 yards, one in­ter­cep­tion) that he posted against New Or­leans.

Buf­falo still leads the NFL in turnover dif­fer­en­tial at +11. In vic­to­ries, the num­ber is +12. In losses, it’s -1.

The Bills have taken sig­nif­i­cant steps in what ini­tially ap­peared to be a long re­build. But they’ve also proven they’re not tal­ented enough to grind out games if their for­mula falls apart.

The sav­ing grace is a top-heavy AFC. De­spite its short­com­ings, Buf­falo still has a path to sneak in as a wild card and snap a 17-year play­off drought.

Cow­boys are fin­ished with­out banned Ezekiel El­liott

Dal­las suf­fered a 20-point loss while its star run­ning back served the first of his six-game sus­pen­sion.

El­liott’s ab­sence wasn’t the pri­mary is­sue. It was that of all-pro left tackle Ty­ron Smith, who missed the game be­cause of back and groin in­juries. Fal­cons de­fen­sive end Adrian Clay­born vic­tim­ized backup Chaz Green and set a sin­gle-game fran­chise record with six sacks.

In NFL his­tory, only one player – late Chiefs Hall of Fame line­backer Der­rick Thomas – had more in one game with seven.

At­lanta sacked Dak Prescott eight times and hit him 10 times.

The of­fen­sive couldn’t cre­ate creases in the rush­ing game, either, as he Fal­cons col­lected nine tack­les be­hind the line of scrim­mage. More and more, not re-sign­ing left guard Ron­ald Leary this off­sea­son and re­plac­ing him with the in­con­sis­tent Jonathan Cooper is look­ing like a crit­i­cal mis­take.

Still, the Cow­boys com­bined for a re­spectable 107 rush­ing yards, on 21 car­ries for an av­er­age of just more than five yards per at­tempt.

The Cow­boys’ of­fense is ob­vi­ously bet­ter with El­liott in it. But at 5-4 and still in the thick of a wide-open NFC play­off field, they can stay afloat with­out him, so long as the line re­turns to set­ting the tone.

49ers won, so Jimmy Garop­polo should con­tinue to sit

Rookie coach Kyle Shana­han claimed his first vic­tory with San Fran­cisco in a 31-21 win against a reel­ing Gi­ants team.

Rookie quar­ter­back C.J. Beathard turned in his best per­for­mance of the sea­son, ac­count­ing for three to­tal touch­downs and com­plet­ing 19 of 25 passes for 288 yards. He had com­ple­tions of 83 and 47 yards, both of which went for scores.

So does that mean the Nin­ers can keep Jimmy Garop­polo on the shelf?

Not quite. San Fran­cisco traded for Garop­polo on Oc­to­ber 30, and he has served as Beathard’s backup the past two games.

With the 49ers set to en­ter their bye in Week 11, this is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for the for­mer Pa­tri­ots backup to im­merse him­self in the play­book, ab­sorb the lan­guage and con­cepts Shana­han wants to run and emerge in Week 12 as the team’s starter against the Sea­hawks.

The 49ers have said they would like Garop­polo to even­tu­ally be­come their fran­chise quar­ter­back. The sec­ond half of the sea­son of­fers the per­fect chance to see if that’s fea­si­ble.

Hold­ing the No. 1 seed, Steel­ers are AFC’s top team

Pitts­burgh has a bad habit of play­ing down to its level of com­pe­ti­tion at times, and that ten­dency resur­faced against the Colts.

The Steel­ers needed a last-sec­ond field goal from Chris Boswell to notch a 20-17 win. In­di­anapo­lis is a team in sham­bles, and Pitts­burgh has far su­pe­rior tal­ent on its ros­ter.

And this was a Steel­ers team com­ing off its bye.

The chief con­cern is an of­fense that has un­der­whelmed af­ter en­ter­ing the year as one of the league’s most touted units. Pitts­burgh (7-2) has yet to crack 30 points in a game. Against the Colts, the Steel­ers gained a sea­son-low 92 yards in the first half and faced a 10-3 deficit.

A team that boasts Ben Roeth­lis­berger, An­to­nio Brown and Le’Veon Bell shouldn’t rank 18th in scor­ing (20.8 points a game). Turnovers have been one of the pri­mary prob­lems, as Pitts­burgh has given the ball away 13 times.

The Steel­ers’ sched­ule sets up fa­vor­ably, with the ex­cep­tion of their Week 15 show­down against Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots. Even though it cur­rently sits be­hind Pitts­burgh be­cause of tiebreak­ers, New Eng­land looks far more bal­anced, and far more dan­ger­ous.

(USA To­day/TNS)

New­ton, Pan­thers maul Dol­phins

Mean­while, on Mon­day night, Cam New­ton threw four touch­down passes and the Carolina Pan­thers pounded the Mi­ami Dol­phins in a 45-21 home vic­tory.

The Pan­thers (7-3) scored 21 points in just more than eight min­utes span­ning both halves. That helped Carolina to a sea­son-high point to­tal against the NFL’s low­est-scor­ing team.

New­ton was 21-of-35 for 254 yards. He also rushed for 95 yards on five car­ries, in­clud­ing a 69-yard burst in the third quar­ter.

Carolina’s 548 to­tal yards marked a fran­chise record.

Pan­thers rookie run­ning back Chris­tian McCaf­frey scored on a run and a re­cep­tion and wide re­ceiver Devin Funchess caught two touch­down passes, the last a 32-yarder from New­ton with 8:20 re­main­ing.

Run­ning back Jonathan Stewart picked up a sea­son-high 110 rush­ing yards on 17 at­tempts. Carolina racked up more than 200 rush­ing yards for the sec­ond game in a row, a first-time achieve­ment for the fran­chise. The Dol­phins (4-5) lost their third game in a row.

Mi­ami quar­ter­back Jay Cut­ler com­pleted 22-of-37 passes for 213 yards. He threw for two touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 9-yard strike to Jarvis Landry with 4:05 to play.

Cut­ler was com­ing off his ca­reerbest game in terms of com­ple­tion per­cent­age (81 per­cent on 34-of-42 vs Oak­land), but he had that many in­com­ple­tions by late in the sec­ond quar­ter at 8-of-16.

The Pan­thers led 17-7 at half­time and went up 24-7 on the first pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half when Funchess scored on a 28-yard screen pass from New­ton en route to a com­fort­able tri­umph.

CAROLINA PAN­THERS quar­ter­back Cam New­ton slides for a first down in the first quar­ter of the Pan­thers’ 45-21 tri­umph on Mon­day night against the vis­it­ing Mi­ami Dol­phins. The re­sult brought Carolina to 7-3 on the sea­son and put it in the driver’s seat...

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