ASN’s NFL Top 10: Khalil Mack’s sack attack backs Raiders

Denver Broncos versus the Oakland Raiders

There may be nothing more exciting in the NFL than a rookie with an unexpected breakout season.

At the same time, there may be nothing more stunning than when that season comes to a sudden end.

Thomas Rawls experienced that high and low this season. His dream season, during which he was ranked as high as No. 10 among NFL rushers (786 yards), ended Sunday when he fractured an ankle on Seattle’s opening drive after being tackled on a second-down play.

Rawls (Central Michigan) had 44 yards before the injury. Rawls got his shot this season when Marshawn Lynch was injured. The Seahawks went on to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 35-6, on Sunday.

As that drama was unfolding in Baltimore, another ASN-affiliated player was making news. Oakland’s Kahlil Mack had a defender’s dream game against Denver and for that, he is ASN’s Most Notable Player for Week 14.


1Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

The second-year linebacker out of Buffalo set a Raiders franchise record and thrust himself into the national spotlight when he almost single-handedly shut down the Denver Broncos offense with five sacks. Mack’s sacks allowed the Raiders to rally from a 12-0 deficit to upset the Broncos, 15-12. Mack was also credited with seven tackles (six solos, one assist). “He played a tremendous football game. He’s a great football player,” Broncos QB Brock Osweiler, the recipient of all those sacks, told the media after the game. “Sometimes, it’s hard to do, but sometimes you have to give credit to the opposing team when credit is due. Mack played a phenomenal football game.” Mack is the NFL’s sack leader with 14, including 10 in the last five weeks. One of his sacks on Sunday also resulted in a safety.

2Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets

Fitzpatrick (Harvard) continues to march the Jets toward a playoff spot. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns —16-yard scoring passes to Eric Decker and Bilal Powell and a 69-yard throw to Brandon Marshall — as New York trounced the Tennessee Titans, 30-8. Fitzpatrick has thrown for 3,129 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, making him No. 14 among NFL passers for yards and tied for No. 8 for touchdowns, despite missing a game earlier this season.

3Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers

In what was the best game of his career by virtue of points, Boswell (Rice) accounted for 15 points in the Steelers’ 33-20 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Boswell kicked field goals of 42, 47, 45 and 31 yards as well as kicking three extra points. The game marked the second time this season that Boswell connected on 4-of-4 field-goal attempts. He is ranked No. 10 in field goals made with 24. His holder for all those points? Punter Jordan Berry (Eastern Kentucky), who put one of his two punts into the 20 and had an average of 49 yards.

4Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints

Colston (Hofstra) more than doubled his scoring for the season, catching two touchdown passes from Drew Brees in the Saints’ 24-17 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Colston, who entered the game with one touchdown, caught scoring passes of three and one yard, to help Brees move ahead of Dan Marino to No. 4 on the NFL’s all-time touchdowns list. Colston caught Brees’ career touchdown passes Nos. 420 and 421. Colston’s caught 43 passes for 481 yards this season.

5Jonathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars

The third-year safety from Florida International got his first interception of the season as Jacksonville slammed the Indianapolis Colts, 51-16. Cyprien returned the late-game pick to the 1-yard line and two plays later, QB Blake Bortles scored. Cyprien was also credited with six tackles (two solos, four assists). The interception was only the second if his career — the first dating back to the 2013 season.

6Buster Skrine, New York Jets

The veteran corner from Chattanooga got his first pick of the season when he grabbed a Marcus Mariota pass in the second quarter and returned it nine yards. The Jets scored on a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing possession. Skrine was also credited with eight tackles (seven solos, one assist).

7Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Big Ben (Miami Ohio) didn’t throw a single touchdown pass, but was able to direct the Steelers to a 33-20 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals on 30 of 39 completions for 282 yards. He also threw an interception. Roethlisberger’s 76.9 completion percentage was his second highest of the season, and despite playing in only nine games this season, he’s just 11 yards shy of 3,000 passing yards.

8Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins

Running back Morris (Florida Atlantic) got his first touchdown of the season on a 1-yard run in the first quarter of the Redskins 24-21 victory against the Chicago Bears. “It felt good,” Morris told “It was just one more score to help the team win. I’m just glad my number got called and I was able to answer.” Morris, who is in his fourth season as a pro, carried the ball 11 times for 24 yards, bringing his season total to 518 yards on 152 runs.

9Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers

A rookie safety out of Samford, Tartt added his first professional interception to his already burgeoning resume. Late in the first half of San Francisco’s loss to the Cleveland Browns, Tartt picked off a Johnny Manziel pass and returned it 25 yards. He was also credited with eight tackles (seven solos, one assist), bringing his season total to 47.

10James Starks, Green Bay Packers

Starks (Buffalo), who has started only four games this season, scored two touchdowns — one rushing and one receiving — in the Packers’ 28-7 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys. Starks caught the first score of the game, a 13-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers with 9:55 to play in the first quarter and added a 30-yard run to the end zone in the fourth quarter. Starks has scored five times this season.

Honorable mention

New York Giants rookie TE Will Tye (Stony Brook) scored the first touchdown of his career Monday night on a 5-yard pass from Eli Manning in New York’s 31-24 victory against the Miami Dolphins. Teammate Rashad Jennings (Liberty) led all running backs with 81 yards on 22 carries.  … Ravens WR Jeremy Butler (Tennessee-Martin) had a breakout game, catching seven passes for 72 yards in their loss to Seattle. His longest catch of the day, for 23 yards, was his second-longest of the season. … Cowboys S Barry Church (Toledo) had a team-leading 11 tackles (nine solos, two assists) in their loss to Green Bay. … Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (Florida International) caught four passes for a team-leading 132 yards in their loss to Jacksonville. … S Corey Graham (New Hampshire) led all Buffalo Bills defenders with nine tackles (eight solos, one assist) in a 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. … Minnesota Vikings S Andrew Sendejo (Rice) missed Thursday’s game vs. the Arizona Cardinals as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

Above: Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler with help from Benson Mayowa (95) during the fourth quarter Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver. (Photo By Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Jill R. Dorson

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.