By Nick Shook | NFL.com
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We’re beyond the point of intervention with road squads.
Look, it’s obviously difficult to get a win on the road in the NFL — the crowds are hostile, the sleeping conditions aren’t the comfortable, deluxe mattresses and Egyptian cotton sheets players have at home, and the locker rooms are never quite as spacious and cozy as those at home. But here in Week 9 it’s like a relationship on the rocks, and we’re going one of two ways: demand change, or learn to love them for who they are.
Well, they’re teams away from home, and they struggled again this week. Visiting squads won three of 11 games on Sunday, including a St. Louis Rams victory that was a few eyelashes and droplets of forearm sweat away from being a crushing loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
But we love them for who they are, because amid the despair of defeat, there exist silver linings and bright spots, both big and small. Now that I’ve captured your heartstrings, here are the best professional football players who suited up and played the game on a field that didn’t feature their team’s markings.
Greatest on the Road …
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
In accordance with a theme that has prevailed throughout most of his career, Brandon Weeden struggled mightily on Sunday. Dallas was encouraged by Weeden’s acceptable outing in relief of Tony Romo last week, but Cowboys fans didn’t get a full four quarters of Weeden — which is bad Weeden.
The above paragraph undoubtedly aided the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But we also need to give credit to Carson Palmer, who shook off an early interception and a bludgeoning from the Dallas defense to complete 22 of 34 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald‘s father can officially calm down, because for the second straight week, Palmer and the younger Fitzgerald connected for five or more completions. They’re reestablishing a rapport that clearly bodes well for Arizona, but quite frankly, Palmer and the Cardinals will be fine either way.
Point in case: Palmer completed at least one pass to eight different receivers, including this fantastic grab and toe tap by Ted Ginn Jr., who’s found himself a nice role in the desert. They also grabbed the seat atop the throne of the NFC, a place they haven’t owned this late in the season since 1974, back when they were located in St. Louis, played at the original Busch Stadium and Barry White spent a week atop the Billboard Hot 100 with his hit single “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.”
Also considered …
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans is really, really good.
Simplistic as it may sound, he was undoubtedly the best player on the field on Sunday. Unfortunately, the rest of his team isn’t so great, resulting in a 22-17 loss. But the rookie wideout dominated all Browns defensive backs, beating fellow rookie Justin Gilbert down the sideline, trapping K’Waun Williams‘ arm in his vice grip touchdown grasp and claiming ownership of Buster Skrine‘s name all afternoon.
At one point in the second half, it appeared as though offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo was resorting to just tossing it up to Evans, who had a significant height advantage on every defensive back except Gilbert. It worked, and Evans almost singlehandedly won the game for Tampa Bay.
Sadly for Buccaneers fans across the nation, the rookie got nailed with an offensive pass interference call on a crucial fourth down with the game hanging in the balance. One errant pass in the direction of Austin Seferian-Jenkins later and the Buccaneers fell to 1-7 on the year. It’s been a rough season for the Pewter Pirates, but they can find solace in the future of Evans.
Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles
If you told me Mark Sanchez would have landed in this column last season, I would have scoffed and dismissed you as a delusional Jets fan.
If you told me Sanchez would have landed in this column this season, I might not have even laughed, because two elements of this equation are different: Sanchez is now an Eagle, and was backing up Nick Foles. No disrespect to the 2013 Greatness on the Road winner, but something about his play screamed whispered fluke, and so far this season, he’s had more than a few additional mistakes in comparison to his 27 to 2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013.
It’s obviously not Foles’ fault he was injured, but I thought Sanchez might see the field at some point this season, and he might surprise people. Did I have the cheat sheet of preseason football? You bet. And while Sanchez improbably led the Eagles to a road win over the Texans with two touchdowns on 15-of-22 passing for 202 yards, he also reminded us he’s Mark Sanchez with his two interceptions — althoughthis one wasn’t his fault.
This spot could have easily gone to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who is far and away the most consistent member of Philadelphia’s offensive attack. He had a great catch to seal the win, too. But Sanchez came on in relief, and hadn’t seen the field during the regular season since Dec. 30, 2012, when he was with the Jets.
Quarterbacks can give you all of the lip service about preparing like they’re playing each week, but when you don’t think you’re going to play, it’s natural to relax on the sideline — or, if you’re Broncos legend Terrell Davis, you’ll throw down on hot dogs on the sideline — so for Sanchez to take the field and immediately connect with Maclin on a 74-yard strike, that’s impressive. That and the rest of his day earns the artist formerly known as the Sanchize this spot.