Another week of drama in the game that never lets us down, the NFL. Kind of a strange one this time. The Eagles enjoyed a seasons’ worth of drama and turmoil in the course of a week, the lowly Jags beat the Colts on a 59-yard field goal, the Niners still can’t win, the Jets and Ravens are asserting themselves, and the NFC is wide open. Let’s have a spin around the league and I’ll tell you what I saw on Sunday as we look forward to a fun Patriots-Dolphins Monday Night Football matchup.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 14: Ravens win on a classic fourth-quarter drive led by Joe Flacco. Beautifully done. Up to that point, neither team could muster much, to nobody’s surprise. Another physical battle that lived up to its billing. The Ravens clearly missed Ray Rice a bit, and the Ravens clearly missed Big Ben in this game more than the previous three combined. I think maybe the rematch will be more enlightening, if not more exciting. One thing I’m sure of after these past two weeks: the AFC North is just going to beat itself up, all year long.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 12: What a whirlwind week for the Philadelphia Eagles. After all that, Michael Vick’s starting tenure lasted a handful of plays before he got sandwiched by two Redskins defenders and suffered what must be an incredibly painful cartilage injury in his upper chest/rib area. I’m not a doctor, but that’s going to be tough to play with even if he’s able. Merrill Hoge, who had broken ribs and rib cartilage injuries suggested today that the latter were infinitely more painful and affect every aspect of your life. I wonder what throwing a football, which extends your rib cartilage to its limit, feels like? I’m thinking Kevn Kolb has his job back for awhile. And that doesn’t look like a good thing so far. The Redskins didn’t look significantly better, and Donovan McNabb didn’t look fantastic in his return to the Linc. But he won, and he enjoyed a heartwarming standing ovation from the Eagles faithful, whom I must praise for the class move. Well done. You may boo him from now on when he comes in, but that needed to happen, and it was good to see.
HOUSTON TEXANS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: So much for all that improvement in the Bay Area I expected prior to the season. The Raiders and Niners are a combined 1-7 and playing out the string a week into October. I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong with the Raiders. Part of it is injuries, as they rarely seem to start the same lineup twice. A big part of it is quarterback play, but Bruce Gradkowski has been fine. The defense has been underwhelming but not atrocious. Whatever it is, 0-4 is 0-4, and there’s not much else to say. The Texans impressed me by putting a bad loss against the Cowboys behind them, going on the road and winning against a team they needed to beat if they consider themselves a playoff team. Arian Foster shrugged off a first quarter benching to rush for another 131 yards on just 16 carries. Dude is legit.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 17: I called it 23-20 Browns, so I’m starting to feel like I know these two teams pretty well. The Browns are making it known that they’re getting off the bus running at you with Peyton Hillis and a dominant offensive line, and if you don’t stop it, neither will they. I like it. The defense is starting to come together, made some big plays this week, and if they could find Eric Wright might really be onto something. The Bengals are not running the ball as they did a year ago, and the passing game is inconsistent. Cincinnati is a pretty good team, but the thought that their impressive 6-0 record in the division in 2009 rendered them permanently on par with the Steelers and Ravens is obvious bunk.
NEW YORK JETS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 14: The Jets are going to be ranked #1 in my power rankings this week, because nobody has impressed me as thoroughly on both sides of the ball. Look, in a league filled with mediocrity and playing down to lesser teams, the Jets went up to Buffalo and swiftly handled business. I give credit for that, because that’s what championship teams do. Quarterbacks also get credit for going a quarter of the season without throwing a single interception, as Mark Sanchez has done. Keep doubting, doubters. These guys are for real. The Bills are also for real, but in the exact opposite way. Until CJ Spiller gets more than 5 touches per game, I refuse to take them seriously. Welcome to the NFL cellar, Buffalo.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 41, CARDINALS 10. Here’s what I wrote in last week’s preview before predicting a 31-17 Chargers victory: “I’d say now is about the time for the Chargers to wake up. Philip Rivers is not letting Derek Anderson come to the Q and beat him. No way, no how.” So, yeah. The Chargers are just a vastly superior team. But Anderson also added to the fascinating narrative that is The Story of How Matt Leinart Destroyed A Super Bowl Team. Anderson continued playing not unlike Derek Anderson, and was eventually replaced by rookie Max Hall. Time to go extra run-heavy in the desert.
DENVER BRONCOS 26, TENNESSEE TITANS 20: Apparently I don’t have a good enough feel for either of these teams yet. As of now, they’re firmly in the Pete Rozelle Memorial Mediocrity Division. They look like the result of a league set up to encourage everyone to finish 8-8. The Broncos can really throw it around, and that will keep them competitive. I watched it, but I’m still not sure how the Titans managed to lose this game. Both teams lack consistency, but both can be explosive at times and will each therefore win their share of games.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 31, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 28: I’m sticking with the “the Colts will be fine as long as they’ve got #18” story for now, but they’ve got real problems with the run defense. They can’t stop anybody. Then again, they won a Super Bowl one time while we said that about them. They’ll be fine. But 0-2 in the division means it’s not going to be as easy as in years past. The Jags win their Super Bowl on a 58-yarder gun shot by Josh Scobee after MoJo runs wild and Marcedes Lewis continued to develop as a threat with a touchdown catch. As Deion said after the game, “that’s a big man catching the football right there.”
(Sidenote: My high school, Edison High of Huntington Beach, California, played against Marcedes Lewis’ in the 2001 regional title game. A bunch of friends and I attended. Lewis was one of a number of Division I & NFL players on that Long Beach Poly team. Winston Justice, Darnell Bing, Manny Wright and a phenom called Hershel Dennis all went to SC, and the first two are NFL players. Wright was, now plays in the Arena League. Lewis played tight end and defensive end and was unstoppable at each. He went to UCLA. And you may have heard about one of their wide receivers, who also returned punts. His name was DeSean Jackson. I wonder what happened to that kid. He was impressive. Suffice it to say, Long Beach Poly won that game, with Edison keeping it a respectable 42-28 final.)
NEW YORK GIANTS 17, CHICAGO BEARS 3. To paraphrase Dennis Green, ‘The Bears are who I thought they were!” In short, they can’t block a soul on offense and that’s going to be the death of them. The Martz-Cutler combination is an interception waiting to happen in the first place, and that embarrassing sieve of an offensive line is going to make it much, much worse. And the receivers aren’t helping, because they’re not open early enough for Cutler to get rid of it. The Giants aren’t an elite defense anymore, by the way, but they ate Cutler’s face and made some good progress on Todd Collins on their way to ten sacks. You just can’t win like that, and I’ll say it again: the Bears are 1-3 in my mind. They get credit only for the Cowboys win, which was quality. And the defense is fantastic. This is all on the offense. A good must-win by the Giants, who had the perfect game plan on both sides of the ball.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 28, DETROIT LIONS 26: The poor Detroit Lions and their fans. Another heart breaking loss that they just didn’t have enough strength, stamina or time to pull out. But another high draft pick wouldn’t hurt them, especially if they keep taking good ones like Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas, Matthew Stafford Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best. The Packers are playing to the level of their competition right now. They came out firing like a Madden gamer, with Aaron Rodgers throwing three early TD’s and the Pack getting out to a big lead. But they seemed to shut it down a bit and couldn’t close it out. Again, the running game needs an upgrade with Ryan Grant, who perhaps now will be more thoroughly appreciated, gone for the season.
ATLANTA FALCONS 16, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14: Yep. That sounds about right. The Niners just can’t find anything resembling a rhythm on offense. At this rate, their defense is going to be exhausted and finished by week 9. Apparently Jimmy Raye wasn’t the only problem. The Falcons continue to look like a tough team to me, but not necessarily a strong one. They have an alarming one-track mind on offense, with Roddy White the obvious focal point, and it bogs them down for long stretches at times. Still, they’re 3-1 and in position to battle the Saints all year long, particularly if the Saints remain intent on playing sloppy football. Speaking of which…
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 16, CAROLINA PANTHERS 14 : Give the Panthers credit- they came to play in this one. The men in teal were smacking people, and James Anderson was Mr. Everywhere They Need Him To Be, forcing a fumble, recovering two more and recording a sack. Jimmy Clausen played acceptably well for a rookie in a tough environment. The Saints’ lack of Pierre Thomas and continued general inability to put it all together on offense kept it close, but the defending champs were able to grind out a tough division win at home.
ST. LOUIS RAMS 20, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 3: OK, I give up. I have no idea who, if anyone, is going to step up and win the NFC West with 6 wins. But I’m increasingly sure someone will. Sam Bradford looks like a number one overall pick, the defense is improved, and even a dinged-up Steven Jackson means people have to respect the run. Meanwhile, the Seahawks laid their second road egg of the season. Just brutal. Who knew a chartered flight was the difference between a good football team and a bad one?