After a jam packed week of NFL that started Thanksgiving Day with three big match-ups, I give you the top four Tar Heel performances in the league for Week 12. This week there were no teams on their bye resulting in a full schedule of sixteen games. All teams have now had their bye week resulting in full sixteen game schedules the rest of the season. Atlanta Falcons right guard Garrett Reynolds has been placed on Injured Reserve and linebacker Bruce Carter of the Dallas Cowboys is also looking at missing the rest of the season after dislocating his elbow against the Redskins Thanksgiving Day. Reports are that Carter will likely have surgery sometime next week and a timetable for his return will be re-evaluated then.
Zach Brown LB Tennessee Titans
Even with the Titans losing on the road Sunday in Jacksonville 24-19, rookie linebacker Zach Brown still managed to have a productive game. Brown finished with 9 tackles and two sacks, both of which were career highs in this his first NFL season drafted out of the University of North Carolina. The Titans defense managed to hold the Jaguars to just 321 total NET yards of offense and sacked backup quarterback Chad Henne seven times as a team but just couldn’t produce enough offensively in the fourth quarter when it mattered. Despite the loss, there were times during the game where Zach Brown stood out as not only the fastest guy on the field but he also showed flashes of a potential to become the best defensive player on the Titans roster.
Hakeem Nicks WR New York Giants
Hakeem Nicks and the Giants were able to avoid a three game losing streak by beating Green Bay Sunday Night at home in MetLife Stadium. Despite battling injuries throughout the start of the season, Nicks now appears to be returning to full strength. Nicks finished the game with 5 receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown continuing to play big against the Packers. Green Bay has not been able to stop Nicks, who now has 6 touchdown catches for over 420 yards in just four career match-ups against the Packers, including one Playoff game. Overall, the New York offense was able to rack up yards accounting for 390 total and averaged over 6 yards gained per play. The New York offense as a whole had a very productive day. The Giants receiving core ended the game averaging over 15 yards a reception while the rushing attack averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Eli Manning had a QB rating over 114 on a day when he broke Phil Simms franchise record for touchdown passes with his 200th. The former Tar Heel wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will also go down in Giants History with Manning as the teammate on the opposite end of the record setting touchdown pass. The win also broke a four-game losing streak the Giants had against the Packers at home, with their last win coming over Green Bay in New York back in 1992.
Jeff Saturday C Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers were beat-up Sunday Night on national television 38-10, and for me to include Jeff Saturday in this top four list after he and his fellow o-lineman allowed their quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be sacked five times means he must have accomplished something positive in this game. The positive came in the form of Saturday’s 199th career start in the NFL. For the former Tar Heel now in his fourteenth season in the league, the mark stands as the most among active offensive lineman in the NFL. By season end, baring any injuries Saturday will have over 200 career starts in the NFL over his career. To put that in perspective and show the talent and longevity of Jeff Saturday’s career, you can look at two great offensive lineman who played for a decade plus now in the Hall of Fame. Bruce Matthews ended his nineteen-year career in 2001 with 292 games started, while Anthony Munoz played from 1983-1992 and started in 183 career games.
Greg Little WR Cleveland Browns
The former Tar Heel standout Greg Little didn’t do much in the Browns win over the Steelers Sunday besides catch one pass for six yards and throw a few good blocks to free up some space in the running game. Overall, I felt obligated to included Little and Cleveland as a team in this top four merely for the fact that the Browns deserve a “Little” recognition for there hard fought upset-win over Pittsburgh. The win was the first for the Browns over the Steelers since 2009. Back then, former head coach Eric Mangini was in his first season in Cleveland with Derek Anderson starting at quarterback. Thanks to Trent Richardson and a Cleveland defense that forced seven turnovers, the Browns were able to win 20-14. The win was something special for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who now is just the second rookie QB to beat a Dick LeBeau defense since he returned as the Steelers defensive coordinator in 2004. Coming into the game, LeBeau led defenses in Pittsburgh were 13-1 against opponents starting a rookie quarterback. Prior to Weeden, the lone rookie to lead his team to a victory over Dick LeBeau’s defense was Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith as a Baltimore Raven in 2007.