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    Categories: NFL

The Debrief, Week 15: Tom Brady once again makes MVP case

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Nugent earned the ire of Bengals fans for his inconsistency on extra points. The 34-year-old kicker was second-worst among kickers with 10 attempted extra points (79 percent), just behind embattled former Vikings kickers . Against the Browns on Sunday, Nugent missed an extra point in the first quarter and missed a 36-yard field goal to end the first half.

Surprisingly, New York recorded all three of its sacks of Prescott on four-man rushes. The Cowboys’ vaunted offensive line twice failed to stop the base rush, with one sack resulting in a fumble, and another coming as a result of tight coverage downfield. The third came from defensive end , who beat right tackle on around the edge (Okwara’s top speed of 11.35 mph bested Looney by more than 3 mph) to take down Prescott and put Dallas in a third-and-long scenario, where they struggled for the second straight week. In these situations, the New York secondary shined.

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They were far and cheap jerseys and few between prior to Week 14, but Dallas found it often needed its rookie quarterback to go deep while knowing he’d be facing heat. As the numbers proved above, sometimes that heat came from only four defenders. But on the road, in the cold and against a unit that doesn’t make many mistakes, Prescott had a tougher challenge than usual. Facing third-and-15 and the feel of a massive wave of defenders about to crash down on him, Prescott let it fly into Cover 3 defense, where easily picked off the pass intended for Dez Bryant to prematurely end another Dallas drive.

The story on Monday night in Foxborough was a 39-year-old quarterback throwing for 406 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL‘s stingiest defense, all without his best offensive weapon in a 30-23 victory. The story is one that has played out so many times in the AFC that it’s almost become cliché. The New England Patriots are peaking in December again and Tom Brady is angling for more postseason hardware.

Brady has been playing at this level since Week 5, but so many of his teammates are making a patented Patriots December push. The return of legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has keyed his group’s steady improvement. The return of Dion Lewis gives Brady his best backfield since Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk were running the show. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell and free-agent addition Chris Hogan give Brady options outside the numbers that he hasn’t enjoyed in years.

Don’t let the Ravens’ 23 points and 348 total yards fool you. They needed back-to-back fumbles by punt returner Cyrus Jones and kickoff returner Matthew Slater to set Joe Flacco up on the doorstep of New England’s end zone for their only two touchdowns after the Patriots had jumped out to a commanding 23-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter. Although last week’s lopsided victory over Miami provided reason to believe the offense was finally ready to realize its potential down the stretch, they remained an imbalanced, checkdown-dependent attack Monday night. Of their 30 first-half plays, an astonishingly low four were runs. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg seems to have designs on emulating Jim Bob Cooter’s success with a short-passing game that functions as a surrogate for the run, but Flacco simply misses too many throws.

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The Ravens’ coaching staff has never fully trusted a hard-charging Terrance West to carry the ground attack this season. It will be interesting to see if they turn the backfield over to Kenneth Dixon after the rookie’s impressive, tackle-breaking performance in the second half. A relentless Dixon refused to go down on first contact, repeatedly carrying tacklers for extra yardage as a runner and receiver.

With the Ravens (7-6) firmly in second place in the AFC North, coach John Harbaugh knows the scenario from here on out: just win.

“Yes, absolutely, we know where we stand and the situation we are in. And that we basically have to win three games, you know, and (we’re) certainly fully capable of doing that,” he told reporters following last night’s 30-23 loss to the Patriots in New England. “That’s what we intend to do, but all the focus goes to the next game. That’s what I told the guys in the locker room, pack up the buses as quick as we can, get back to Baltimore and get to work on Philadelphia.”

Though their core is rapidly aging, they are a team that gives off the sense that it’s not over yet.

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