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Panthers, last undefeated team, haven’t lost in a year

Cam Newton AP

Last night, the Panthers became the only undefeated team in the NFL when the Patriots lost to the Broncos.

Today, they get to celebrate their anniversary.

As pointed out by Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, it was one year ago today, Nov.30, 2014, when the Panthers last lost a regular season game.

That was an ugly 31-13 defeat at Minnesota, a result which dropped them to 3-8-1.

While that might have ended many seasons, the Panthers kept going, winning their last four games to finish 7-8-1 and go to the playoffs as NFC South division champions.

Coupled with this year’s 11-0 start, that’s 15 straight regular season wins.

That leaves them five games clear of Atlanta for the NFC South title with five to play, and two games up on Arizona in the chase for home field advantage in the playoffs.

Their remaining schedule is favorable, too, with this week’s trip to 4-7 New Orleans followed by a home game against the 6-5 Falcons, trips to the 5-6 Giants and Falcons before their finale against the 5-6 Buccaneers.

So while the possibility of going 16-0 is tantalizing, the Panthers and their fans should also stop to enjoy the fact that any disappointment being felt in Boston today (or half the NFL) is something they haven’t had to endure in a year.

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NFL morning after: J.J. Watt remains the NFL’s best defensive player

J.J. Watt AP

In the 1996-97 NBA season, Michael Jordan averaged an NBA-high 29.6 points a game and played in all 82 games as the Chicago Bulls went a league-best 69-13, and everyone knew he was the best basketball player in the world. But Jordan didn’t win the MVP that year. The award went instead to Karl Malone, mostly because Jordan had just won his fourth MVP the year before and the voters figured it was time to give the award to someone else.

I have a feeling the same thing is going to happen to Texans defensive end J.J. Watt with the defensive player of the year award this season. I’m not sure if Watt is going to win the trophy for the third time this season, but I am sure Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. If Watt doesn’t win the award this year, it’s mostly because the voters think it would be nice to see a little variety rather than giving it to Watt for the third time in the last four years. It’s not because there’s actually a better defensive player than Watt.

Are there other candidates? Sure. Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly have both had good years for the Panthers. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has had a good year. If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate, Ziggy Ansah of the Lions has really come on of late.

But none are as good as Watt. In yesterday’s win over the Saints, Watt logged two sacks and two tackles for loss and was hitting Drew Brees as he passed all day. The Texans’ 24-6 win was the first time the Saints have ever failed to score a touchdown in any game with Brees as their quarterback. Watt now leads the league with 13.5 sacks, and he has 70.5 sacks in his 75 career games. Since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, only Reggie White has reached 70 sacks faster.

It’s entirely possible, however, that Watt won’t win the defensive player of the year. It’s an award that the voters like to spread around. White — who played 15 NFL seasons and is regarded by many as the best defensive player ever — only won it twice. But whether Watt gets another trophy to put on the mantel in his luxury log cabin is unimportant. We all know who the NFL’s best defensive player is.

Watt was the most impressive player on the field on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

What, exactly, has Jeff Fisher done in St. Louis? When you look at where the Rams were before Fisher became their head coach in 2012, where they’ve been over the last four years and where they are now, what has Fisher accomplished? Following yesterday’s 31-7 loss to the Bengals, the Rams are 4-7 on the season and 24-34-1 overall with Fisher as their coach. In his 21 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Fisher has finished with a winning record six times. Fisher got testy with reporters after yesterday’s game, but Fisher really should look in the mirror. It’s completely reasonable to ask why his job should be safe.

Adrian Peterson continues to amaze. If you can’t root for Peterson anymore because he was convicted of abusing his son last year, I can’t blame you. Being a great player and being a great person are two unreleated things, and Peterson is a great player despite his personal flaws. Yesterday he gained 158 yards on 29 carries, giving him six 100-yard games this season, a league high, and 48 100-yard games in his career, the most among active players. Peterson’s Hall of Fame career is going strong, and the Vikings are heading toward the playoffs.

Tevin Coleman’s problems with fumbling continue. Coleman, the Falcons’ rookie running back, fumbled four times last year at Indiana, which was a concern heading into the draft. Now he has lost three fumbles this season in just 78 touches. If Coleman can’t hold onto the ball, he’s not going to last long in the NFL.

I love Mike Tomlin’s two-point conversion strategy. There are 31 NFL coaches who only go for two when they need it, and then there’s Tomlin, who goes for two any time he thinks there’s a matchup advantage. That’s the smart strategy, and the Steelers tied an NFL record yesterday with their sixth two-point conversion of the season.

The NFL’s catch rules had me feeling sorry for Mike Carey. Carey, the former Super Bowl referee who quit his job as a ref to work as an analyst for CBS, was thoroughly confused by close calls during the Steelers-Seahawks game. The NFL’s catch rules are confounding, and Carey couldn’t figure out the calls, and it was a little rough having to watch him be so wrong before such a large audience.

Washington showed everyone. Heading into this season, we all thought the NFC East was a three-team race among the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys, and that Washington was a distant fourth. Instead, it’s Washington in first place after Week 12. Jay Gruden said after yesterday’s win over the Giants that he knew what kind of team he had: “I’ve had a good idea,” Gruden said, “it’s just a matter of showing everyone else how far they’ve come.” They showed everyone, alright. The NFC East is a bad division, but someone has to make the playoffs, and it’s looking like that “someone” will be Washington.

The AFC playoff race just got more interesting. The Patriots appeared poised to walk away with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But the Broncos’ win last night dropped New England to 10-1 and improved the Broncos to 9-2. With the Bengals also at 9-2, the race for home-field advantage in the AFC may go down to Week 17.

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Osweiler called an audible into game-winning run in overtime

Brock Osweiler AP

Peyton Manning was always excellent at changing plays at the line of scrimmage. It appears that his successor as the Broncos’ quarterback is as well.

Brock Osweiler said after the Broncos beat the Patriots on Sunday night that he called an audible to check into C.J. Anderson’s 48-yard game-winning run in overtime.

“It was a check that we had worked on all week in practice,” Osweiler said. “We were trying to run the ball [to the] weak [side]. They gave us a specific defensive front that we can’t run that ball into, so I checked to our second play that we called in our huddle. The line did a hell of a job and C.J. did the rest.”

Osweiler said it was tough matching wits with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“He made it very difficult for us,” Osweiler said of Belichick. “In the first quarter, he had us off balance a little bit. We saw some looks that we hadn’t seen previously on tape. The thing that I think our offensive group did was that we stuck to our rules that we’ve been coached to do and we just battled through it.”

And in the end, the Broncos won with Osweiler running the offense like Manning.

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Gronkowski knee injury not believed to be serious, for now

Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler AP

Patriots fans everywhere gasped when tight end Rob Gronkowski went down with a knee injury, and the look on quarterback Tom Brady’s face as Gronkowski was on the ground justified their worst fears.

So far, the news isn’t nearly quite that bad. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the injury to Gronkowski’s knee currently isn’t believed to be serious.

That assessment could change with further testing. For now, though, the Patriots and Gronkowski have avoided what appeared to be, based on Gronkowski’s demeanor after the injury, a potential season ender.

The actual injury involved no awkward twisting of the knee, and Gronkowski’s leg wasn’t planted when he was hit low. It’s entirely possible that he escaped with no ligament damage.

Via Tom Curran of CSN New England, Gronkowski seemed to be upset about something related to the game as he left the locker room, unrelated to the actual knee injury. It’s possible that Gronkowski was concerned about the perception that Broncos players were aiming low on him throughout the game.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Patriots lose game, and maybe more

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski AP

This Tom Brady-playing-without-his-best-targets thing is going to be put to its biggest test yet.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off late in their 30-24 overtime loss to the Broncos, after taking a hard shot to his right knee. He was immediately declared out, though that could have simply been a function of the timing.

Gronkowski was hit on the knee by safety Darian Stewart, and immediately went down clutching his leg in pain.

The Patriots were already playing without wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and running back Dion Lewis and left tackle Nate Solder (not to mention linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins), and while they have all had their moments, none come close to Gronkowski’s level of importance.

Few players do.

When Gronkowski caught his 63rd career touchdown in the first half, it moved him into sole possession of third on the all-time tight end touchdown list, trailing only Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. That means he has more touchdowns than every tight end in the Hall of Fame.

And as impressive as his accomplishments have been, he’s also dealt with plenty of injuries, which made many teams wary of him prior to the the draft.

But if this one is serious, it’s going to take every bit of magic Brady can muster to keep this offense afloat, despite the fact they’re 10-1.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. As poignant as it was watching Peyton Manning not play tonight against Brady, it was hard to watch him limp through the pre-game in his cast and walking boot and not think about NBA star Kobe Bryant, who retired Sunday.

Bryant finally figured out his body wasn’t allowing him to play to his previous level, something everyone else figured out some time ago.

And while Manning wants to come back and play again, watching him struggle through injuries (with the exception of his rested and healthy post-bye week when he looked like Young Peyton) makes you wonder if there’s anything that could get him back to the kind of level we’d recognize, or that he’d be pleased with watching.

And the fact that replacement Brock Osweiler played as well as he has is going to complicate the process, which was already going to be awkward.

The rally to take the lead late was good work for any quarterback, but for a young player without much experience to do so against that opponent likely cemented Osweiler’s status for the near future.

2. Broncos running back C.J. Anderson helped make it a game in the fourth quarter, with a 15-yard touchdown run that showed his burst.

Then he made himself a legend in Denver, winning it in overtime with a 48-yard touchdown run.

He finished with 15 carries for 113 yards and two scores, creating one of the more memorable moments in a series full of them.

He’s actually played very well since the bye, averaging 5.8 yards per carry in the first four games after the week off, after not averaging higher than 3.9 per carry in any game before the break, and just 2.7 per carry over the first six games.

A toe injury slowed him, but seeing him in the snow just brought into relief how much different he looked.

3. The offensive stars shine brightest, but the Broncos won with a defense that proved it can stop any quarterback.

The pressure Von Miller put on Brady late in the game was such that no quarterback could make consistent plays, and the job his teammates did throughout kept Brady on his toes when he had his best target.

4. Broncos wideout Demaryius Thomas can afford a fresh pair for every play. But he made sure to change gloves in the second half, after a rash of drops.

Thomas had a rough night all the way around, only partly due to the coverage the Patriots were throwing his way. But there have been a few moments lately when Emmanuel Sanders looked like the more reliable target, and the more important part of their offense.

Granted, Sanders is able to get open in part because of the attention Thomas draws, and it’s not as if Thomas has been poor all year. He entered the game with 71 receptions for 875 yards. But his touchdown numbers are way off (two so far this season after 35 the previous three seasons), and it can’t all be the gloves.

5. It’s always kind of amusing watching Brady air out teammates when they miss a block or drop a pass, as he did with his offensive line in the third quarter.

When he does it, it’s never dubbed ego, or selfishness. No letters to the editor are written by pearl-clutching Tennessee mommas. Instead, it’s “fiery leadership,” or “attention to detail.”

He gets the benefit of the doubt because he’s won and done it for a long time. Even though sometimes he has a hard time finding people to high-five.

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Patriots-Texans Week 14 game flexed into prime time

New England Patriots v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Patriots will be back in prime time in two weeks, as the NFL has moved their date with the Texans into prime time.

The league announced today that the New England at Houston game on Sunday, December 13 that had previously been scheduled for a 1 p.m. Eastern kickoff has now been moved to NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The decision comes as the Texans continue to turn their season around and look like playoff contenders. Today’s win moved Houston to 6-5. The Patriots remain one of the league’s two undefeated teams, so the league is always happy to showcase them in prime time.

When the schedule first came out, the prime time game in Week 14 was supposed to be Seahawks at Ravens. But with Baltimore now 3-7, the league had to get that game out of prime time. That game is now at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, and a better game is in prime time.

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Jimmy Graham tore his patellar tendon

Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham AP

The Seahawks outlasted the Steelers in a thriller on Sunday afternoon, but they lost tight end Jimmy Graham for the rest of the season along the way.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference that Graham tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. Graham hurt his knee while trying to catch a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone early in a wild fourth quarter in Seattle.

The severity of the injury isn’t a big surprise as the team’s medical staff immediately immobilized Graham’s knee in an aircast before loading him on a cart to head to the locker room. Graham’s season is over and his availability for training camp and the start of next season will likely be in doubt well into next summer. As we saw with Victor Cruz this year, he’ll also have to watch for other injuries as he tries to make a complete recovery and get back onto the field.

The injury came during what might have been Graham’s best game with the team. He had four catches for 75 yards and the Seahawks passing offense had its best day overall as Russell Wilson spread the ball to seven receivers on his way to a season-best 345 yards and career-best five touchdowns.

Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet are the other tight ends on Seattle’s roster at the moment and they’ll be asked to do more the rest of the way with Graham out of the picture and a playoff berth in the team’s sights.

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Roethlisberger exits Seahawks game for concussion testing

Ben Roethlisberger AP

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made an unexpectedly early exit from Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. As it turns out, Roethlisberger was being checked for a possible concussion.

So when did he suffer the possible concussion?

Via Ryan Glasspiegel of, the head injury may have happened during the fourth-quarter drive that culminated in the Steelers, who were down by five at that point, opting for a field goal on fourth and goal.

Roethslisberger took a clear blow to the head on a third-down play earlier in the drive, drawing a roughing the passer penalty. He remained in the game for a full nine plays after that.

After absorbing the illegal hit, Roethlisberger was face down for a couple of seconds. He then rolled over onto his back for several more seconds. After he was helped up by teammates, he seemed fine.

Roethlisberger may have said or done something after the drive to prompt the team to take the situation seriously, with a preliminary assessment on the sideline resulting in a decision to conduct a closer evaluation in the locker room.

The situation will be scrutinized given last week’s mishandling of Rams quarterback Case Keenum, but there was nothing glaring about Roethlisberger’s behavior after the play. The broader question is whether the league automatically should check a player for a concussion whenever he takes a clear and potent blow to the head.

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Doug Baldwin’s third touchdown caps Seahawks victory

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Doug Baldwin #89 of the Seattle Seahawks scores a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks and Steelers traded haymakers all afternoon in Seattle, but the Seahawks struck last and that made them winners when the clock ran out.

On third-and-9 from their 20 just before the two-minute warning, Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin crossing the field for a first down but Baldwin shook off Steelers tacklers as he turned upfield and sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown that put Seattle up 39-30 after Steve Hauschka’s extra point.

It was Baldwin’s third touchdown on a day when he caught six passes for 145 yards. It was also Wilson’s fifth touchdown pass of the day, setting a personal record and tying the franchise record. Wilson was 21-of-30 for 345 yards overall, marking the first time that he’s been over 300 yards this season and the Seahawks surely hope to see more of the same in the weeks to come.

The Seahawks also set a franchise record for passing yards allowed as Ben Roethlisberger rolled up 456 yards through the air on a day when both passing offenses were clicking. Roethlisberger wasn’t around for the final two minutes of the game, however. He went to the locker room shortly after Baldwin’s touchdown to be evaluated for a concussion.

All of the big plays made for a wild second half as the lead swung from the Steelers to the Seahawks back to Pittsburgh before the Seahawks took command for good. There were strange decisions, questionable officiating and a huge performance by Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton mixed in along the way, making for a long and entertaining ending to the afternoon’s contests.

Roethlisberger’s final play was a six-yard scramble from the Seattle 10-yard-line, after which Mike Tomlin elected to kick a field goal and give his defense a chance to get the ball back. They weren’t able to do it and a Landry Jones throw to Martavis Bryant down the sideline with 1:37 left was intercepted by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Tomlin will likely face questions about the decision to kick rather than go for it, especially after he eschewed three points in the first half in favor of having Jones pass out of what was initially a field goal alignment.

That pass was picked off, one of four Seattle interceptions on the day, and the Steelers are left to rue the missed opportunities on their flight back to Pittsburgh. They’ll host the Colts next Sunday night in a game that they’ll need to solidify their Wild Card chances.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, will take their 6-5 record to Minnesota for their own game with major playoff implications. The Cardinals win on Sunday means that the Wild Card remains their best chance of getting to the postseason, something they may need to pull off without the help of tight end Jimmy Graham after he was hurt on Sunday. If Wilson can keep putting up big numbers while the defense finds ways to take the ball away, their chances of doing it will look much stronger.

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Seahawks grab lead, Jimmy Graham carted off

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Tight end Jimmy Graham #88 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch against cornerback Ross Cockrell #31 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third quarter at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Seahawks are trying to come back from an 18-14 halftime deficit to beat the Steelers, but they’ll have to go without tight end Jimmy Graham for the rest of the afternoon.

Graham stayed down with what appears to be a right knee injury after a Russell Wilson pass sailed incomplete in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Trainers immediately immobilized Graham’s leg and loaded him onto a cart to head back to the locker room.

Graham had four catches for 75 yards before getting hurt in one of his most productive days as a member of the Seahawks. It’s speculative at this point, but the reaction to his injury suggests it might be a while before he gets a chance to top this outing.

Jermaine Kearse caught a touchdown a few plays later to give the Seahawks a 26-21 lead. A two-point try was unsuccessful when Kevin Smith caught a Russell Wilson pass out of bounds.

The drive was set up by Richard Sherman’s first interception of the year as he ran down a deep ball intended for Antonio Brown, who fell down with a little help from Sherman’s hands as they went downfield. The Seahawks picked up 15 yards on their first offensive play when officials determined that Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons pushing Wilson while the quarterback was in bounds constituted unnecessary roughness.

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NFL won’t discipline officials for latest Monday night mistakes

Gene Steratore AP

Earlier this year, a pair of Monday night officiating errors resulted in extra discipline from the league. The most recent Monday night game, which included a pair of officiating blunders, will not lead to a similar outcome.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL will not suspend or reassign any of the officials from referee Gene Steratore’s crew for the inadvertent whistle during a Patriots offensive play or the faulty decision to keep the clock running after Bills receiver Sammy Watkins caught a pass and rolled out of bounds with two seconds left in the game.

Following a Monday night game in San Diego, side judge Rob Vernatchi was suspended with pay for a week after failing to notice that 18 seconds accidentally had been allowed to run off the clock before the final offensive drive by Pittsburgh. Likewise, back judge Greg Wilson was reassigned away from a Sunday night game between the Patriots and Colts after he failed to call an illegal bat on Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright during a Monday night game between Detroit and Seattle.

As to the latest Monday night mistakes, the NFL said this regarding the officials, in an email to PFT: “Their performance was evaluated, just as it is for officials every week.”

In the aftermath of the Vernatchi and Wilson punishments, PFT reported that the NFL and NFL Referees Association were talking about adopting a specific formula for imposing suspensions with and without pay for officials who make mistakes. That process wouldn’t be launched until 2016.

For now, it appears that the NFL has decided not to continue to take specific action against officials who make mistakes, beyond the grading process.

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Rex Ryan unhappy Chiefs’ video board didn’t show some replays

Rex Ryan AP

After his team lost at Kansas City today, Bills coach Rex Ryan was unhappy with someone you might not expect: The Chiefs’ video board operator.

Ryan said after the game that today’s game was the first time he ever experienced an inability to get another look at a close play by looking up at the Jumbotron. Ryan seemed to think the Chiefs weren’t showing close plays to avoid helping the Bills decide whether to challenge.

“That’s the first time you don’t see any plays,” Ryan said, via ESPN. “I think there’s a league rule that you need to usually get to see some. Maybe I’m wrong on that.”

One of the turning points of the game came when the Chiefs hit a 37-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin. Replays appeared to show that Maclin didn’t make the catch, but the officials ruled that he caught it, and Ryan didn’t challenge.

“The 37-yarder, I wasn’t aware of it because again, I wasn’t seeing the video on it, and again, so from my vantage point, I thought he caught the ball,” Ryan said. “That was from my vantage point. Obviously, I would have challenged it if I would have known there was any question whatsoever on a 37-yard play that flipped the game. We were in complete control of that game and then they threw some balls over our heads. Obviously I would have challenged.”

Ryan said he doesn’t have one member of his staff who is tasked with monitoring replays and telling him when to challenge.

“A lot of times everybody will be up there, but I’m not saying anybody in particular is advising me because it never worked out,” he said. “Every decision is my decision, and so it’s my responsibility.”

It’s Ryan’s responsibility, but he also wishes the Chiefs’ video board operator would have taken responsibility for putting all close plays on the big screen.

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Jeff Fisher says critics of team’s effort can “kiss my ass”

Jeff Fisher AP

Rams coach Jeff Fisher made an early exit from his post-game press conference following Sunday’s 31-7 loss to the Bengals. Before he left, Fisher said something that will generate plenty of attention.

When discussing a four-game losing streak that has seen the team plunge from 4-3 to 4-7, Fisher said, “Anyone who implies that it’s an effort issue and they can kiss my ass, OK? Because there’s no effort problems.”

Whatever the actual problems, there are plenty for the Rams. They looked to be poised to make a run at the NFC West crown after beating the Seahawks and Cardinals. But after convincing back-to-back wins over the 49ers and Browns at home, the Rams have fallen apart.

The struggles have sparked speculation in some league circles as to whether Fisher will survive this season, regardless of whether the team relocates. As the thinking goes, a move to L.A. could require a new coach in order to create buzz in the new market. Staying put, which will require some damage to be undone locally, could compel a coaching change if only to give the folks in St. Louis a reason for hope for whatever future there may be in Missouri.

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Steelers take 18-14 lead into halftime

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Martavis Bryant #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers scores a touchdown against strong safety Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

There have been a lot of balls in the air through the first 30 minutes in Seattle, but the Steelers have a pair of rushing touchdowns to thank for a 18-14 lead.

DeAngelo Williams plunged into the end zone with 56 seconds left in the first half and the Steelers converted a two-point conversion — see what happens when you use the offense to gain two yards? — to go up 18-14 after a half of football. Martavis Bryant ran 10 yards on an end around to account for their other score.

Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown a touchdown, but the passing game has been the primary mover for Pittsburgh on Sunday. Roethlisberger is 19-of-28 for 206 yards, including a 41-yard bomb to Markus Wheaton that set up the Williams touchdown.

Russell Wilson found Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse for touchdowns in the second quarter of the game to put the Seahawks up 14-10. Wilson was particularly sharp on the drive that ended with Kearse’s score as he completed 7-of-8 passes for 90 yards to drive Seattle down the field. Two of the throws were big gainers to Jimmy Graham, something that the Seahawks would surely like to see more of as the rest of the game and rest of the season unfold.

They’ll need better work from the defense to make any further gains stand up, though. Roethlisberger has shown no qualms about attacking the Seahawks defense down the field and the defense has done nothing to make him pay at either the front or back end thus far. That will have to change if the Seahawks want to avoid a return to sub-.500 waters when Sunday comes to a close.

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Jets snap losing streak, help playoff odds in 38-20 win

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Eric Decker #87 of the New York Jets celebrates his touchdown with  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 in the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins on November 29, 2015 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Jets were trending sharply in the wrong direction with four losses in their last five games, leaving their once-promising playoff hopes on thin ice when Sunday’s game against the Dolphins kicked off.

They aren’t on totally solid ground after the final whistle, but they’re closer to land after a 38-20 win that gave them a season sweep of their AFC East rivals. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes and the defense kept the Dolphins in check until the game was well in hand to move the Jets to 6-5 on the year.

That’s the same record that the Texans, Colts and Chiefs have and the Steelers will either join them or improve to 7-4 after their game with the Seahawks comes to a close. That leaves a lot of potential combinations and the 5-6 Bills and Raiders can’t be counted out, so every win is a big one for the Jets.

They should feel good about this one. Their offense found success on the ground and in the air after two weeks of diminshed returns. Brandon Marshall dominated Brent Grimes for nine catches, 131 yards and two touchdowns and they ran for 137 yards to keep things balanced over the course of the contest. They’ll need that same balance against the Giants next weekend in an interstadium battle that has huge significance for both teams.

More of the same for the defense would be welcome as well. The Dolphins drove for two touchdowns after the Jets opened up a 35-7 lead in the fourth and taking the 156 yards they gained in those stat padding efforts leaves them with 177 yards to show for their offensive efforts. Only 12 of those yards came on the ground and the Dolphins failed on their first eight third-down tries of the game as Ryan Tannehill’s play was lacking until the game was well out of hand.

Offensive matters doesn’t figure to get any easier in the future if center Mike Pouncey is out for an extended period of time after leaving with a leg injury on Sunday.

It would seem reasonable to expect that backup Jamil Douglas will get better at snapping the ball, but those are the kinds of things that have been a problem for the Dolphins, who are now 0-5 in the AFC East, all year. Those kinds of blunders and injuries have a lot to do with the 4-7 record in Miami and the coming changes to the organization that will come once they play out the string on another dismal season.

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