By Nick Shook | NFL.com
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This week was rough on the eyes.
Four road teams won games Sunday: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Dallas.
Three of those wins were pretty darn ugly.
Brian Hoyer attempted to toss away the Browns‘ postseason chances late in the Georgia Dome, but thanks to the inept clock management of one Mike Smith, Hoyer got one last shot and Cleveland escaped with a victory.
Andy Dalton threw a touchdown and a pick-six, but the Bengals controlled the game against a rookie quarterback making his second career start, and possibly his first career start with a serious pectoral injury. That muscle is pretty important for football players.
Green Bay beat Minnesota in a way you’d expect a superior team to handle a trap game: Not too well, but not poorly, either.
Dallas, on the other hand — that one was fun.
In all, it was a ho-hum Sunday for visiting squads. But we still had at least a few bright spots during an otherwise dreary afternoon.
Here are your stars of the suitcase for Week 12.
Greatest on the Road …
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
I live with a Cowboys fan, and while everyone in the world of sports (including our friends) enjoys dogging Romo for his perceived lack of the “clutch” gene, it’s really unfair — and inaccurate.
But the second half was a different story. After the Cowboys overcame the freakish touchdown catch by Odell Beckham Jr., Romo and Co. got down to business. The quarterback connected with Cole Beasley — who has an oft-edited Wikipedia page — on a 45-yard touchdown pass that catapulted the Cowboys back into contention. Following a Barry Church interception deep in Dallas territory, Romo found Dez Bryant for his first of two touchdowns and two “throw up the Roc, the X and whatever else” moments on the night.
Not to be outdone, Eli Manning led a 14-play, 93-yard drive to regain the lead at 28-24 with 3:00 left to play.
Enter clutch — or, “calm” — Romo.
All the meme makers of the Internet — lurking in their basements with Romo headshots pasted over their dartboards — were sent to bed with tears of frustration welling in their eyes, because Romo moved the Dallas offense down the field with precision and efficiency. Following the two-minute warning, the quarterback again connected with Beasley to put the Cowboys in Giants‘ territory.
But it was the real MVP of the final drive — Dallas’ offensive line — that made the difference late. After spending 8.99 seconds behind the Great Wall of Jones, Romo found Bryant for his second and decisive score of the night. Final stat line for Romo: 18 of 26, 275 yards and four touchdowns.
Romo overcame a shaky start to push Dallas to an 8-3 mark and keep the Cowboys tied with the Eagles for first atop the NFC East. And I’d be willing to bet it was a tad bit sweeter for him to get the win on the final drive.
Also considered …
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
But I’m opting to go in the direction of the traditional power back, a role we’ve seen greatly diminished in the last five to seven years. Why, you ask, when a future Hall of Fame quarterback had another solid afternoon on the road?
Because, when a team needs to sit on a lead and chew clock harder than a starved junkyard dog on a fresh, T-bone steak, it needs a reliable pounder at running back. I’m talking the likes of Jim Brown, Jerome Bettis and Jamal Lewis. And in 2014, I’m talking Eddie Lacy.
Green Bay had a 24-13 lead, but the Vikings wouldn’t go away. A Teddy Bridgewater-to-Greg Jennings touchdown completion and subsequent successful two-point conversion snatched the comfort zone away from the Packers. They had possession, but they needed to make sure they didn’t relinquish it.
The bruiser from ‘Bama (new old-school nickname for him? No? OK) churned out two first downs on the final possession to seal it for Green Bay. Here’s a look at the final five plays before Rodgers settled into victory formation: Lacy left tackle for 3 yards, Lacy right tackle for 5 yards, Lacy left guard for 4 yards, Lacy left end for 5 yards, Lacy right tackle for 10 yards. Rumble, bumble, stumble to victory.
Lacy finished with 125 yards on 25 carries — good for an even 5 yards per carry average — and had two total touchdowns. Big back accounts for 12 of a team’s 24 total points, bulldozes defenders to seal a win and helps his squad escape a trap game in a less-than-friendly environment heading into a big Week 13 matchup? Good enough for me.
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
We all know the tale of Josh Gordon and his multiple suspensions. But in his first game back with the Browns since the 2014 season kicked off, the wide receiver looked like he hadn’t missed a snap, let alone 10 games.
Gordon hauled in eight passes for a whopping 120 yards, and while he was kept out of the end zone, he did a lot of the work after the catch. Cleveland wasn’t shy about utilizing Gordon’s deadly combination of size and speed on the perimeter, firing multiple bubble screens and short passes to the 6-foot-3, 225-pound wideout and watching him take off down the field.
Gordon was especially valuable late, serving as the game-changing, vertical threat the Browns haven’t had since before Braylon Edwards caught a case of the drops half a decade ago. When Brian Hoyer, fresh off his third turnover (and second “dumb interception”) of the game, took the field with less than a minute to play, he looked to Gordon on a 24-yard completion that put the Browns in Atlanta territory and led to Billy Cundiff‘s game-winning field goal.
In an ugly game, there were two bright spots for Cleveland: Isaiah Crowell‘s 88-yard, two-touchdown performance, and the return of Gordon, a player who had an immediate impact and undoubtedly served as a difference maker in a much-needed road win for a Browns team that keeps hanging around week after week.