Drew Brees went 31-35 for 325 yards and 5 touchdowns in the Saints’ 62-7 undressing of the Colts.
Aaron Rodgers put together another near-perfect performance for the undefeated Packers.
Cowboys rookie DeMarco Murray ran for 253 yards in relief of injured starter Felix Jones (and fumble-prone backup Tashard Choice), breaking a single-game franchise record set by Emmitt Smith in 1993.
Cam Newton continued his impressive freshman campaign, going 18-23 for 256 yards, rushing for another 59 yards, and scoring one touchdown through the air and one on the ground.
And Tim Tebow raised as many questions as he answered Sunday, struggling for much of the Broncos’ overtime win over the Dolphins before scoring 2 touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the final 3 minutes of regulation.
These are the players whose names you read in headlines and whose highlights you saw on SportsCenter. But football is an 11-on-11 game, and most of this weekend’s winners wouldn’t have been successful without the contributions of several players who didn’t hear their names mentioned in the post-game press conference.
Here are just a few of the unsung heroes from Week 7 in the NFL:
James Anderson, Carolina Panthers linebacker
Cam Newton continued his campaign for Offensive Rookie of the Year Sunday by leading the Panthers to a 33-20 win over Washington. Steve Smith returned to 2008 form, catching 7 balls for 143 yards. But the Panthers’ offensive stars got plenty of help from players on the other side of the ball, particularly lineback James Anderson.
Anderson led Carolina in tackles with 12, including 10 solo tackles and 2 tackles for a loss, one of which was a sack of Washington QB John Beck. Anderson also recovered a fumble late in the second quarter, setting up a 45-yard field goal that gave the Panthers a 9-6 lead going into halftime.
Houston Texans offensive line
Last week the Baltimore Ravens defense sacked Texas quarterback Matt Schaub four times; two weeks ago, the Raiders sacked him thrice. Sunday, thanks to Texans tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston and guards Wade Smith and Mike Brisiel, the Titans defenders never touched him.
The Texans went to Nashville on Sunday a half-game behind Tennessee in the AFC South. They left Tennessee with a 41-7 win and a half-game lead. In addition to protecting Schaub, the Texans’ O-line did a nice job opening lanes for Houston’s backfield tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Foster rushed for 115 yards on Sunday, Tate for 104.
Phil Dawson, Cleveland Browns placekicker
It may be a stretch to call anyone involved in Sunday’s 6–3 snoozer between Cleveland and Seattle a “hero,” unsung or otherwise. But Browns kicker Phil Dawson did everything that was asked of him and accounted for all 6 of Cleveland’s points.
The Browns’ offense didn’t make Dawson’s job easy. His first field goal attempt was from 52 yards out; the second was a 53-yarder. Dawson hit them both. Dawson also did a nice job with kick-offs. The Seahawks didn’t return any of Dawson’s kicks beyond their own 21 yard line.
Oh, and Dawson played most of the game with a bruised thigh.
Josh Scobee, Jacksonville Jaguars placekicker
Derek Cox, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback
On Sunday the Browns’ Phil Dawson made 2 50-yard field goals. Monday night, the Jaguars’ Josh Scobee made 3, tying an NFL record. Scobee hit from 54, 54, 22, and 51 yards to score all 12 of Jacksonville’s points in Monday’s win over the Ravens.
While the Jaguars offense spent the game counting by 3s, the defense held the Ravens scoreless for nearly 58 minutes. Cornerback Derek Cox was particularly effective in containing Baltimore receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco struggled to hit Boldin and Smith down field and threw for a pedestrian 137 yards on 38 attempts.
James Starks, Green Bay Packers running back
Even casual football fans know Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Greg Jennings, the stars of the reigning Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers. But not everyone knows the Packers’ leading rusher, James Starks, who made only three appearances last season.
Starks’ numbers in Sunday’s game against Minnesota—13 carries for 75 yards—were solid but not spectacular. He accounted for 100 fewer yards than the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. But Starks picked up three key first downs on the Packers’ final possession that clinched the game for Green Bay.
After falling behind in the first half, the Packers scored 20 points in the third quarter and led 33–17 heading into the fourth. Then the Vikings went on a run of their own, scoring a field goal and a touchdown on consecutive drives to cut the lead to 6.
With 2:30 remaining Minnesota punted from their own 36. The Vikings had a full complement of timeouts (plus the two-minute warning) and were hoping to get the ball back with time enough to score a winning touchdown. James Starks made sure that never happened.
On the first play from the Green Bay 20, Starks ran for 13 yards and a first down. The Vikings used a timeout. Two plays later, Starks ran for 20 yards and another first down, forcing the Vikings to use their final timeout. Three plays later, on 3rd and 7, Starks ran for yet another first down, enabling the Packers to run out the clock.
Virgil Green, Denver Broncos tight end
Virgil Green is listed as a tight end, but he earns his money playing special teams. And were it not for Green’s special teams heroics, no one would be fawning over Tim Tebow’s fourth-quarter performance against Miami on Sunday.
Tebow threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 2:44 left in the game to cut Miami’s lead to 15–7. On the ensuing onside kick, Broncos kicker Matt Prater bounced the ball into the hands of leaping Dolphins receiver Marlon Moore. But Moore couldn’t hold onto the ball as he came down, and Green was there to pounce on it.
Green emerged from the pile with the ball, setting up Denver’s game-tying touchdown drive.
Kansas City Chiefs secondary
The Oakland Raiders made headlines last week when they traded a first-round 2012 draft pick and a conditional second-round 2013 draft pick for discontented Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Oakland picked up Palmer to replace injured starter Jason Campbell. The Raiders made headlines on Sunday when Palmer and temporary starter Kyle Boller combined for 6 interceptions and zero touchdowns against Kansas City.
While residents of the Black Hole should be concerned about—perhaps even frightened by—their team’s quarterback play, the Chiefs secondary deserves some credit for shutting down the Raiders’ passing game.
Early in the first quarter, Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis intercepted an errant Boller pass and took into the end zone to put the Kansas City on the board. Corner Brandon Flowers picked off Boller in the first quarter and Palmer in the fourth. He returned the second pick for a touchdown. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Travis Daniels and safety Jon McGraw also recorded interceptions against the Raiders on Sunday.
76,981 people watched the Bears beat the Buccaneers Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium. That’s a few thousand fewer than have attended past games at Wembley. But unlike previous London games, no one knew whether this game would happen until late July. If the lockout hadn’t ended by August 1, the Week 7 game between the Bears and Bucs would have been in Tampa. Owners and players reached an agreement on July 25, leaving the NFL UK (the league’s London office) scrambling to prepare for the league’s annual international showcase. Considering the quick turnaround, 76,981 is a respectable number (especially since only a handful of NFL stadiums seat as many people).
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