Is a new Bay Area reign setting in? The Raiders and Niners both had impressive victories against playoff contenders, serving notice to the rest of the league that they intend to be dealt with. Some preseason favorites are in danger of folding early, and as usual a number of surprise teams sit near the top of the standings. It’s why we keep on watching so feverishly. That’s the Sickness. And this week’s review is titled for a man who had the Sickness something fierce. As a native southern Californian who grew up in the 80’s, I’ll remember Mr. Davis (as even some Oakland fans who never met him refer to him) for a lot of things, but the biggest one is this: the man loved football. He loved business and competition (litigation?) too, but he was always a football guy first. That’s what I liked about him. Rest in peace, Al.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 25, HOUSTON TEXANS 20: Three simple words: Just Win, Baby! Al Davis would no doubt be proud of his boys for finding a way to do just that on an emotional Sunday that found even me donning silver and black for the day. The Raiders forced Matt Schaub to drop back 51 times, as the Texans missed the game-plan advantage that is Andre Johnson. This Oakland team is for real, make no mistake about it. They didn’t unleash Darren McFadden with any devastation. They won with good tough defense, a balanced attack, and the leg of Sebastian Janikowski. Mr. Davis’ first round kicker made three field goals of 50 yards or better on the afternoon as the Raiders picked off a big AFC road win. Another Al headscratcher, Darius Heyward-Bey, hit for 99 yards on the day. Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming for Houston, who may have lost Super Mario Williams for a significant period to a torn pec.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 48, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 3: Let’s all welcome the Niners back to official relevance, shall we? To say I’m impressed would massively understate the matter. They threw and landed early haymakers and then just pummeled the Bucs into submission. San Francisco dominated from start to finish, out-rushing a normally physical and run-heavy Tampa squad 213 yards to 86 (125 by Frank Gore) and winning the turnover battle 3-1. That’s how each of these teams are built to win, but only Coach Harbaugh’s Niners put it on display this week. At 4-1, the Niners are in the driver’s seat in the NFC west and has in-conference wins over both Philly and Tampa, who now have to chase them for any wild card contention.
BUFFALO BILLS 31, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 24: Michael Vick played a dominant game, but could buy neither a break nor decent protection as the Eagles fell into “let’s not turn this into the 2010 Cowboys, please” territory. Eagle fans like our man Sen Dog were no doubt employing numerous household items as projectiles early and often, as Vick passes found new and creative ways to locate Buffalo defenders. The Philly QB threw for 315 yards and rushed for another 90, but it wasn’t good enough as the suddenly game-for-anyone Bills rebounded from last week’s tough loss in Cincinnati. And Sen’s criticism of his Iggles as the least physical team in the NFL isn’t exactly ringing hollow. Fred Jackson put up almost 200 combined rushing and receiving yards. It’s about time we stop calling Jackson things like “underrated” and “under the radar” and instead refer to his as awesome. Consider that standard operating procedure around here from now on.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 30, NEW YORK JETS 21: Tom Brady keeps doing his thing, and the Patriots join the Bills at 4-1. But the most impressive part of the Patriots’ win was the final drive, as they took Rex’s ground-n-pound style to him with a heavy dose of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (136 yards and 2 TD), chewing up clock and leaving the Jets no chance to tap that miracle bottle they seem to keep on hand for just such occasions. The Jets are 2-3, but we’ve seen this before. I’ll wait and see. And I should mention: Shonn Greene really stood out in this one. He seemed to be running with greater comfort and decisiveness, translating into a number of explosive bursts up the middle. If this team is to turn it around, Greene needs to be a big part of it.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 29, DENVER BRONCOS 24: John Fox ceded to the laws of nature and pulled Kyle Orton in favor of Tim Tebow. I’m tired of defending my rather unscientific conclusion that Tebow gives them the better chance to win. I don’t care that Kyle Orton is a more polished NFL QB. From the minute they put him in last year, the offense had more energy. It just looked different, and though that may make Johns Elway and Fox uncomfortable, I credit Fox for making the switch and taking a chance. What did/does he have to lose at this point? Not much. Worst case scenario, they draft some quarterback from Stanford #1 overall. As their GM could tell you, things could be worse. Meanwhile, nice of the bolts to make it interesting. That 4-1 is not the prettiest of things, and they’d better play better if they want to hold off Oakland in the AFC West.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 28, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24: The Colts almost got that first one as the Curtis Painter Experience took a more positive turn for once. Painter threw two more touchdowns to Pierre Garcon. The Colts had it for a minute, there. Alas, it was not to be. Matt Cassel played his best game of the season, throwing for four touchdowns (2 to Dwayne Bowe), and Jackie Battle stepped up with 119 yards rushing. The key takeaway here, though, is to remember that these two teams were playing each other, and that neither offers particularly stiff competition for most other NFL squads on a weekly basis. Too many huge injuries for both.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 34, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10: Alright, Leslie Frazier. I see you! You are hereby re-hired on a one-week trial basis after Adrian Peterson gets 29 carries, rushing for 122 yards and three first-quarter touchdowns to lead the Vikings in an early knockout of the apparently punchless Cardinals. You know, it’s amazing: you give All Day the ball all day, and good things just happen.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 38, TENNESSEE TITANS 17: You didn’t really think the Steelers were going to let a one-dimensional, under-talented Titans squad come in and set fire to their whole season, did you? The Pittsburgh Steelers just know how to win, and don’t you forget it.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 36, NEW YORK GIANTS 25: Just before he was lost to a shoulder injury in the third quarter and replaced by Charlie Whitehurst, I was all set to write a “shame on all of you Tavaris-bashers” post. Then Whitehurst went out and things pretty much continued. Marshawn Lynch remains an uncomfortable proposition for any would-be tackler, and Sidney Rice is makes a big difference. Someone named Doug Baldwin went off. And the Seahawks won. This was typical of those games that make it difficult to take the G-Men too seriously. You know what I mean.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 30, CAROLINA PANTHERS 27: Cam Newton remains entirely impressive, from the strong arm to the pocket poise to the threat he poses in the run game. He seems totally non-plussed, almost as though he was born to do this. Newton and the Panthers presented yet another tough afternoon, this time for the division-foe Saints. It wasn’t enough to beat Drew Brees (359 yards, 2 TDs), Jimmy Graham (8 rec/129 yards) and the Saints, who are built to last every week and all season long. Brees led an 80-yard drive, going 8/9 and hitting Pierre Thomas in the flat for the winner, answering Newton’s touchdown to Greg Olsen with a little over 12 minutes to play. The Saints should be happy with a tough road win within their own division. Nobody is walking out of Charlotte with an easy W in 2011.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 30, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 20: You know how I know Andrew Dalton is going to make it in the NFL? He throws it to AJ Green a lot. Sometimes, the test is just that simple. Great quarterbacks know that even when a play isn’t there, playmakers need to be given an opportunity to make them. It’s the beauty of the position- in a position of complete control, the optimization of your game demands- at the moments of highest pressure- that you relinquish it and trust your teammates. There is no way to control it all, because the best laid plans of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will at times become the signing bonuses of defensive coordinators and pass rushers. Green caught 5 balls for 90 yards and a touchdown, and so far is doing nothing to dispel the “next Megatron” noise people were putting on him during the draft silly season. Green is super smooth. In retrospect, I think Denver should have taken him number 2. (That one’s for my brother, the Broncos fan.) As for the Jags, I think they could learn a lot by looking up the coast to Carolina. Let your rookie big man get out there and sling it. He’s got great safety valves in dual Bruins Marcedes Lewis and MJD, both of whom are very good in pass protection and the receiving game. Mike Thomas can stretch the field. You still need that impact guy, but imagine how nice it would be for Blaine Gabbert to understand how he fits in when you get him in April. What’s the worst that can happen?
Enjoy the Monday Night Fun, everybody. Lions in a tight one.