Nick Shook | NFL.com
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Road teams battled all Sunday. Some of them prevailed, some did not — and then there were the Bears.
But for a moment in time, the Oakland Raiders appeared to have a chance, holding a 10-6 lead in the second quarter thanks to two Peyton Manning interceptions. Then Denver completed a short pass to C.J. Anderson, who ripped off a 51-yard scamper to put the Broncos back in the lead.
Denver and Oakland suddenly remembered their roles within the hierarchy of the NFL — with Denver being among the most pompous of lords, and Oakland being the peasants who pay double rent on farmland that refuses to yield any real return — and two hours later, Denver had a 41-17 win.
But Manning won’t be in this column, for two reasons: he threw — gasp — two interceptions, and Denver is supposed to beat Oakland. The Raiders didn’t get to 0-8 (now 0-9) just on poor luck — they’re a bad football team.
Wait, what’s that? I can’t ignore 340 yards and five touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing, even if it was against the worst team in the NFL? Fine (throws playbook), but he’s not getting the top honor.
Here are your best away from the friendly confines of home.
Greatest on the Road …
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
I know it was a neutral site, but that’s irrelevant because the Cowboys and Jaguars had to take an international flight, practice in what appears to be a random meadow in London, go through all of the media events and adjust to the time change. Plus, this is technically a home game for the Jaguars, according to the league schedule.
I’d like to sit back and imagine Romo’s triumphant return to the huddle was similar to that of Shane Falco in The Replacements, but knowing Romo, he probably strapped up his chin strap, trotted into the huddle with a sizable grin, looked at his linemen and said something like “‘Sup, fellas,” before calling Spider Two Y Banana followed by “Ready, break.”
Either way, Bryant was likely very happy to see Romo back under center and even happier to see a beautifully thrown ball spiraling downward directly into his giant hands for a 68-yard touchdown, one of the duo’s two connections for scores on the afternoon.
The Cowboys decimated the Jaguars, which is great for Dallas fans and for the confidence of both Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones, who had to have been shaken by that awful performance from backup Brandon Weeden last week. Bryant was a major part of it, catching six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. It goes to show that Bryant is one of the league’s most dangerous home-run hitters at wide receiver, as long as he’s paired with a quarterback who can effectively get him the ball.
Romo did that plenty Sunday and Bryant did the dirty work, breaking tackles and sprinting to the end zone where he was free to celebrate twice. Speaking of which, get more creative, Dez — that is LeBron James’ celebration, followed by Jay Z’s iconic gesture, not yours. Stick to throwing up the X, and throw it up liberally.
First down? X.
End of quarter? X.
Made a perfect waffle at the Courtyard Marriott continental breakfast? X before and after pouring on the syrup.
The fine folks at the NFL Media research desk say Bryant accounted for 62.2 percent of Dallas’ receiving yards on Sunday. I’d say that kind of output is worth big-time receiver money.
America’s Team won a game outside of America, which makes me think maybe they’ll become London’s Team, too. I’m OK with that, as long as their sports fans don’t take it literally, like these guys.
My eyes can’t un-see that.
Also considered …
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Fortunately, it wasn’t nearly as ugly the second time around. But what is ugly is the state of the NFC South, which means a game between a 3-5 team and a 1-7 team still means something!
Atlanta — the team with more than one win — was actually trailing Tampa Bay early in the fourth quarter before quarterback Matt Ryan engineered a 65-yard drive that included three completions to Jones on four targets. The march down the field culminated in a5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White and a successful two-point conversion attempt, putting Atlanta ahead 24-17.
Jones didn’t get in the end zone on Sunday, but his eight catches for 119 yards led the Falcons, and he was six yards and a touchdown shy of matching Tampa Bay rookie Mike Evans for best performance in the game. Ryan targeted Jones 11 times Sunday, and one look at the play-by-play shows Jones was steadily sprinkled throughout Atlanta’s most successful drives.
It’s the first time the Falcons‘ bevy of wideouts was used effectively in the last month-and-a-half, and it was long overdue.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Manning threw for a ton of yards, made a bunch of highlight completions, destroyed traditional statistical expectations and got another win.
One day, we’ll sit back and marvel at how incredible Manning really was. Right now, we take it for granted. But for a quarter-and-a-half, Manning looked human, Subway spokesman Justin Tuck looked like a man deserving of endorsement deals and the Raiders were in the lead.
Then Manning regained his supernatural prowess and carved up the Raiders like a Thanksgiving turkey to the tune of 340 yards and five touchdowns. In an era in which Aaron Rodgers tosses six touchdowns in a half and Ben Roethlisberger dials up 12 passing scores in two games, this can be shockingly pedestrian. But make no mistake, once Manning got those interceptions out of his system, it was a beautiful offensive display.
Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said it was a tale of two different halves, which is putting it lightly. All the buried footballs in the world couldn’t save Oakland against Manning and the Broncos‘ offense.
We all know Oakland isn’t quite as intimidating as it once was, but a road win is still a road win. Manning is a machine, perhaps a cyborg sent from the future to advance us into the current age of air attacks, and we should both respect and fully enjoy his performances, be they in a losing effort against the Patriots or a blowout win over the Raiders.