PITTSBURGH STEELERS 13, BALTIMORE RAVENS 10: The Ravens had every chance to win this game and just could not get it done at home. They re-arranged Big Ben’s face and nearly decapitated Heath Miller, but they could neither intimidate nor out-physical the Steelers, who got a game-breaking play by- who else?- Troy Polamalu, who came untouched on a perfectly timed blitz to strip-sack Joe Flacco from the blind side. Of course, another way to say it is that Joe Flacco totally failed to read a blitz he should have seen coming and fumbled away a game his defense has every right to feel it won. Sound familiar, Baltimore? Terrell Suggs showed some warranted frustration after the game with the same old Ravens story: “Is that something new? We’ve just got to know our opponent better. It’s like, ‘Have we learned nothing?” Good question. And, I’ll keep repeating it every week: The Pittsburgh Steelers…just…know how…to win.
ATLANTA FALCONS 28, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 24: This game underscored the predominant thought going in: the Falcons were a class above the upstart Bucs. Tampa has no reason to hang their heads. They played a strong game and had the lead late. But the Bucs are now 0-5 against winning teams in 2010. They’re simply not as good or as deep as the conference-leading Falcons, who look every bit the Super Bowl contender increasingly large segments of NFL observers are making them out to be. This time it was Michael Turner and a kickoff return to the house by Eric Weems, wrapped in a Matt Ryan 4th-quarter game winning drive. I’ll say it again: Do not let the Atlanta Falcons get home field advantage in the playoffs. Don’t do it.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 34, HOUSTON TEXANS 24: Whatever you may think of him as a person, the Michael Vick football story is incredible. He has become a prototype QB for the West Coast Offense, and does it while possessing the skills of an elite running back. The Eagles are going to be a lot for any defense to handle. The Texans have to be kicking themselves. They got out to a hot start and the Colts have played along, struggling to 6-6 and looking like they are going to run out of gas. But Houston is not the one benefitting and it has to be killing them. Bottom line: they just can’t stop anyone on defense, and that’s no way to win football games. Even in a ‘passing league.’
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 34, CINCINNATI BENGALS 30: Ah, the Bungles. Could it have gone any more predictably for this group? It’s gotten so bad at this point, I think they need to be rooting for another couple of wins for the Panthers and Bills so they can replace Carson Palmer with another Pac 10 #1 overall pick, Andrew Luck. It won’t happen, but another blow-it-up-and-start-over offseason looks increasingly likely. The Saints are now 9-3, Drew Brees is in The Zone, and they get another shot at the Falcons. I’d watch that game two more times, frankly. Maybe we’ll get to.
DALLAS COWBOYS 38, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 35: Four more picks for #18, two more to the house, which makes it 24 points he has scored for the opposing team the past two games. Which they have lost by a combined 25 points. Yikes. And let’s call it like it is; Yes, the Colts have suffered far too many injuries to absorb, but that doesn’t excuse Manning forcing bad balls and costing his team games. Jason Garrett is easing into this head coaching thing nicely. They’re one Princess Roy fumble away from 4-0 under the kid. I would say he’s about got it wrapped up. It’s what Jerry wants to do anyway, and now, it looks like it’s overdue.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 28, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 13: Wow. I did not expect that. Not at all. Jason Campbell looked poised and in control, like a starting quarterback. It helps that the Raiders racked up 251 rushing yards against the previously sturdy Bolts defense. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers just could not get anything going, although Antonio Gates did have yet another of his patented “how the hell does the premiere tight end in the game get that freaking wide open” touchdown catches. And, of course, they had their obligatory special teams gaffe. They now sit on 6-6, in third place in the division, and in serious danger of missing the postseason altogether. And still, no one has hired me to run an NFL franchise. Not so much as an interview or courtesy call. The world has gone completely insane.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10, DENVER BRONCOS 6: I admit it: I’m highly disappointed we didn’t see Todd Haley get a chance to run it up on Josh McDaniels, just to see if he would. They hugged in the post-game and all appears to have been forgiven, but it probably helps that this ugly win combined with the Chargers’ loss puts the suddenly formidable Chiefs two games up on the Chargers with four to play. Interesting note- Dexter McCluster started opposite Dwayne Bowe, who finished with a bagel. McCluster got several targets and several carries, and appears to be a Haley/Weis favorite. The Broncos… aren’t very good. Obviously. I don’t know if the rumblings about McDaniels being on the hot seat are true, but I think they probably should be.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 14: “This is the end…my only friend..the end.” Brett Favre is done. He knows it. Leslie Frazier knows it. Zygi Wilf knows it. We know it. Most dangerously, opposing defenders know it. It’s time. The offense even got a lift from Tarvaris Jackson, who was a little loose with the ball but showed some grit. He also showed he has learned a lot watching #4. He gave Sidney Rice a bunch of chances, and Sidney rewarded him with 105 yards and two TD’s. CJ Spiller got a little work for the Bills but they were never really in the game thanks to Adrian Peterson’s return to dominance (107 yards, 3 TD’s including a 43-yard game-sealer).
CLEVELAND BROWNS 13, MIAMI DOLPHINS 10: To see the average Dolphan post-game tweets and message board posts, you’d think the Browns had come into this game 0-12 without having scored a point. The sky is falling in Miami. I’m not sure why exactly they thought they had much of a look at the postseason anyway, but they are nonetheless losing their minds over this loss to the now 5-7 Browns, who could easily be 8-4 or better. Don’t feel so bad, Miami. The Patriots and Saints both got waxed by this improving Cleveland squad. Of course, that was with Colt McCoy at the helm. The Browns won this game on the strength of a defense that is becoming one of the game’s best at taking the football away. Joe Haden had a pick in his fourth straight game, the Browns had three overall, and won it on a Phil Dawson chip shot.
NEW YORK GIANTS 31, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 7: The Giants have lost so many guys in the receiving corps that they have been forced to return to the power running game. I’m impressed with how seamlessly and effectively they have been able to do so. Conversely, I’m impressed with absolutely nothing about the Washington Redskins. One of my favorite Twitter follows, Terry Corcoran (@Corcoran310), tweeted some good stuff on an under-noticed storyline in DC: “If I’m the owner of #Redskins, I really want my $7M/yr head coach to explain why my top 10 defense 3 yrs in a row is now dead last in #NFL.” Exactamundo.
CHICAGO BEARS 24, DETROIT LIONS 20: The Bears really tried not to win this one, but the Lions couldn’t hold them off. Chicago is 9-3, which, despite being one of the great smoke-and-mirror tricks of all time, puts them in a playoff spot if they keep winning. I have to believe they have one really bad loss coming (in addition to the one I expect them to suffer at the hands of the Packers to finish the season). The Lions keep proving they are talented but flawed, and not remotely deep enough. It seems like they lose a tough one every week. It’s good for them. Builds character.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 34, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 19: No mystery here. The Packers were at home and are a much better team on all levels and in all phases than the Niners. Plus, they had to win to keep pace with the Bears in the division. Took them a few minutes to get going, but once they did it was smooth sailing in the cool Lambeau breeze.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 17, TENNESSEE TITANS 6: Warren Sapp tweeted it best: “The Tennessee Titans have QUIT.” Perhaps it says something about the modern professional athlete that Vince Young appears to be winning this little southern pissing contest with coach Jeff Fisher. If the Titans fire Fisher, he’ll be on the street for approximately 3.8 seconds before he lands another gig, and somebody might even fire their present guy just to go get him. But we know the owner favors VY a great deal…and the players are voting with their film right now. It’s never good when the inmates run the asylum. Might be time for a new warden. Meanwhile, the Jags are now two games up on the whole division and keep winning close games. They’re going to get rolled by the top AFC teams, but with each win it looks like they’ll at least get the opportunity to do so on national television.
ST. LOUIS RAMS 19, ARIZONA CARDINALS 6: The Cardinals have no quarterback and, as a result, are terrible. The Rams have a quarterback and are thus tied for the division lead at 6-6.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 14: Fact: The Seahawks are tied for the division lead and have now surpassed their win totals from each of the past two years. That’s a success for a first-year regime. A good, taking-care-of-business kind of win at home against the hapless Panthers, who have been playing out the string for some time.