by Ryan Meehan
In week nine, there were a couple of instances that reminded us football is just a game. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, having the most significant effect on the game in the Meadowlands between Pittsburgh and New York. The Steelers proved that they are a classy organization by not flying into Newark because they didn’t want to take up any space in any of the hotels, therefore leaving those rooms open and available to those who lost their homes and did not have power. They even went so far as to set up shop in a banquet room in the hours before the game (after flying in that morning) to continue providing shelter for those who really needed it. Mike Tomlin is one of the most well-respected coaches in the National Football League and instances like this that don’t even involve football decisions just reinforce that belief. In the Midwest, the Indianapolis Colts were weathering a different kind of storm as they continue to play with heavy hearts regarding the health of their Coach Chuck Pagano who is entering the second stage of his leukemia treatments on Monday. He was at Lucas Oil stadium for the game, delivering a pregame speech and a very emotional postgame speech after they beat the Miami Dolphins. Thanksgiving is approaching and it’s during this time of year when we are reminded just how thankful we are for all the blessings that we do have. Now that we have all of that out of the way let’s see what else happened in week nine, which marked the middle point in a very busy NFL season.
Chargers 31, Chiefs 13
The Kansas City Chiefs lead the league in turnovers and failure to hold my attention. A prime example of just how inept they are was when Matt Cassel fumbled in his own end zone, giving up a touchdown. Now of course fumbling I’m sure wasn’t his intention, but he had the ball right out there when anybody could knock it out and recover it for a sure six points and that’s exactly what happened. A good quarterback takes the sack and the two points. There isn’t a single football coach in America at any level who would tell you it’s a better idea to take the safety instead of risking further damage. When a team is very bad, there are several warning signs that may pop up along the way. I would guess losing to the San Diego Chargers in a game where you only scored 13 points would be a huge red flag, and the Chiefs might want to be watching college football very closely if you know what I mean. The Kansas City Chiefs are beyond poor, and I don’t really feel obligated to give the Chargers any credit here because the team they were facing was so bad and it was done on a short week.
Broncos 31, Bengals 23
Peyton Manning had yet another great day and he made yet another case for himself as the league MVP. Cincinnati had the edge early when it came to intensity and aggressiveness, but Denver is probably the best team in the NFL in the second half. Broncos PM threw for three touchdowns and two of them were to wideout Eric Decker, who’s having a breakout year. Not exactly surprising to see the Broncos come from behind, and I’ve noticed that their defense plays very well in the fourth quarter when it counts the most. That’s a hell of a football team. The Bengals have lost four in a row, but they did play much better than I expected here. There was a humorous moment in which Pacman Jones was caught posturing by making an “incomplete” hand gesture in the general direction of the home crowd, after he had been flagged for doing so. You’d think since the flag was thrown right in front of him he would have thought to avoid such a common blunder, but keep in mind this is Pacman Jones we’re talking about here. The Broncos scored on the very next play which I’m sure was pretty embarrassing for him, but probably not nearly as embarrassing as some of the other things that he’s been caught doing during his NFL career.
Steelers 24, Giants 20
As much as it pains me to do so, not only do I have to report that the Steelers beat my beloved Giants but I also should probably mention that some of the points we did score were a result of poor officiating in our favor. Eli had a miserable performance going 10 for 24 with 125 yards, and what’s worse is this time the media and football fans everywhere can’t write it off due to dropped passes. All that said, the Giants were winning this game 20-10 at one point but never scored again. Very disappointing as a fan and hopefully this isn’t the beginning of the late season slides from the past decades that the Giants have encountered during some of the poorer years during that time stretch. Special teams were a big difference here – The Giants Allowed over 230 total return yards in the first 48 minutes of this game. But the most impressive statistic came from Ben Roethlisberger as he went 8 for 9 on third down, hitting six different guys while doing so. On this day he was the teacher and Eli appeared to be the student. The Pittsburgh Steelers constructed a victory that was much larger than the four points by which they won. They came into the Giants’ house and abused them. Here’s another interesting stat – Pittsburgh had the ball for just under twenty minutes and still went into the locker room down 14-10. If that doesn’t show you how poor the officiating really was here, then I shouldn’t need to tell you what the Wonderlic test is because you’ll never have to take it. You just keep huffing glue until those spots that you see get bigger. The Steelers look just as good as any team in the AFC right now, and pounded the turf with a great old school running performance courtesy of Isaac Redman. They are getting back to the qualities that made them such a force to be reckoned with in all of the previous Super Bowl years, and they have some even better news coming up-they don’t play until next Monday night and that game is against the Chiefs. Ravens take notice.
Seahawks 30, Vikings 20
What? You mean Christian Ponder didn’t rally the troops to prove to the world that he is really the real deal? Look, the reson why I bag on Ponder is because for the most part, he IS below average. If you don’t think I hit the nail on the head consider his numbers from this weekend – He went 11 for 22 for (wait for it) 63 yards. He was sacked four times, which tells me all of the criticism about how he holds on to the ball for too long might be justified. The Vikings have lost to the Seahawks and the Redskins. That’s all you need to know about them missing the playoffs. The Seahawks on the other hand improved to 5-4 and Russell Wilson now holds the franchise record for number of TD passes (13) by a rookie, although that list is full of a lot of Rick Mirers and Jim Zorns. (It’s not the weakest list of the week, as we’ll discuss in the Colts/Dolphins wrapup) Seattle has proved to be very efficient and looks to be headed in the right direction, but I am still skeptical about how they will fare against teams that are above their talent level.
Buccaneers 42, Raiders 32
You know, for as little as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers matter I have to hand it to them. They’re playing very well right now in a division that they have no chance at winning and they’re doing it like they’re right in the middle of a lateseason playoff race. Rookie Doug Martin had a career game here, rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns. Sure it was against the Raiders (who can’t tackle anybody) but it was still formidable and he became the first NFL player in history to rush for three touchdowns of more than 45 yards. (And for the record, two of those went for 67 and 70) The most telling stat I saw in this game involved Raiders QB Carson Palmer, who threw for a whopping 414 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions in the process. Even though neither of these teams will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame for their defensive talents, it does show how in close games sometimes that’s all it takes to swing things one way or the other. Tampa scored 21 points in the third quarter and even though that isn’t the be-all end all of everything, it was enough to stave off a late Oakland comeback in the fourth quarter. Palmer was also responsible for one of the ugliest two point conversions I have ever seen, and had the throw been on any other play where it could have possibly been intercepted it’s likely he could have been benched for tossing that joke of a pass. It’s hard to imagine that halfway through the season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in sole possession of second place in the NFC South, but that’s the case now.
Ravens 25, Browns 15
The Baltimore Ravens scoring two touchdowns right away in this game turned out to be all they needed to win here. Enjoy it while it lasts Ravens fans, because the next part of your schedule is not full of teams like the Cleveland Browns. Flacco had another very sorry day, but once again he didn’t need to because Ray Rice got it done on the ground even though he didn’t tip the century mark. Speaking of which, this week I read an interview in Sports Illustrated with Rice in which he talked to Dan Patrick about several different things. The one that stuck out the most to me was the fact that he honestly believes that Ray Lewis will be healthy and ready to return come playoff time. He also said in the same interview that when he was younger he used to tell people he was related to Jerry Rice. These two things made me realize that I know two facts about Ray Rice: 1) That he’s an incredible running back and 2) He’s absolutely fucking crazy. The lying about how he was or wasn’t related to Jerry is one thing, but to think that at Ray Lewis’ age he is going to bounce back from that tricep injury you’d almost have to be at least marginally insane. Come to think of it, the idea that anyone can recover from a tricep injury in just three months is pretty much bonkers.
Packers 31, Cardinals 17
Aaron Rodgers may be giving Peyton Manning a bit of a challenge when it comes to the MVP race, as he had another monster afternoon in which he threw four touchdown passes. Aaron Rodgers added to his league leading total of 25 touchdown passes, and Green Bay was just good enough on defense to make the necessary stops when they had to. As for Arizona, we all know what’s going on there as they’ve lost their last five games after winning the first four. The Cardinals are a perfect example of why it’s dangerous to jump on a bandwagon, because your neck may get crushed by one of the wheels when you jump off. Where the hell has that “dominant defense” gone? Instead of the franchise making a playoff push and trying to jockey for seeding, now they are left trying to salvage their season with a lot of tough games coming up and will likely be making some pretty big changes in the offseason. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot going on in this game that you wouldn’t expect.
Panthers 21, Redskins 13
When I was driving home on Sunday night, I heard one of the most telling stats about a franchise in recent history. The Washington Redskins have lost the last thirteen games against the spread at home to teams which have a worse record than they do. Think about that for a second: You only play eight home games a year – that’s almost two years’ worth of games in which they have failed to win in such a situation. Sure, Robert Griffin is capable of great things. But can he win with a franchise that possesses that kind of ineptness on defense in a division that is always playing at a level of that competitiveness? There was a very poor call in this game where D’Angelo Williams appeared to step out of bounds and then the side judge blew the whistle. As we all remember from Pee-wee league, when the ref blows the whistle the play is dead. As it turns out he didn’t step out of bounds, however at that point the rest of the Redskins stopped chasing him because they thought the play was over. The right call here would have been to spot the ball from where the player was when the whistle was blown, and then for the ref to own up to his mistake by explaining the situation to the coaches of both teams. Instead, we’re left with this argument in what ended up being a one possession game. On a final note, I do understand that when a team is winning everyone tends to be in a better mood, but I can’t help but think that Cam Newton must have hired some sort of public relations advisor, because his postgame press conference was much better than some of the other gems we’ve heard him slur so far this season. He was calling everybody “sir” as well, I find it hard to believe that someone who had has such a negative attitude up until this point made the decision to change the way he speaks to the media all by himself.
Bears 51, Titans 20
I thought that over the last month the Titans had played better, but this may have shown us just how serious the Bears defense really is. That defense has scored 7 touchdowns in the past six games, and Peanut Tillman forced four fumbles in this game, three of which the Bears recovered. Not only have the Bears been able to force such turnovers, but they’ve been able to turn them into points as evidenced by that ridiculous score. Jay Cutler hit Brandon Marshall for three touchdowns on the day, and Brian Urlacher got back into the action returning an interception for a score as well. Things were going so bad for the Titans that Sherrod McManus of the Bears blocked a punt, and Devin Hester came just ten yards shy of returning a punt for a touchdown. Absolutely nothing that Tennessee was doing on either side of the ball seemed to be working, and this game well out of reach by halftime. I wish I could write more about this game but the Bears just abused the Titans on every level, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to see them play the Houston Texans next Sunday night.
Lions 31, Jaguars 14
Eh…the Lions are improving slowly but it’s hard for me to take them so seriously because there are two other teams in that division that are just killing it right now. (Everyone in the NFC North is .500 or above) And obviously Jacksonville isn’t this formidable opponent that gives you a golden ticket to avoid skepticism the second you smack the shit out of them. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that there are a lot of great stories in the NFL right now and the Detroit Lions aren’t one of them. Mikel LeShoure rushed for three touchdowns on only seventy yards, which tells me that he may be he may be the Lions’ back of the future now that Kevin Smith is not nearly as productive after that injury. This game may have been some indication that Detroit will shift its focus to become more of a running team, as Stafford didn’t throw for a single touchdown in this one and the Lions ran a total of 68 plays and only 33 of them were passing-oriented. We all know that’s not who they are, but could it be? The Jaguars remain winless at home.
Colts 23, Dolphins 20
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck set a single game rookie record with 433 passing yards, and the Colts are 5-3? Sorry, but typing that without a question mark after it seems weird to me. But on the other hand they beat a very hot Miami team who looked great heading into this one, and the Indianapolis Colts are indeed Chuckstrong. Head Coach Chuck Pagano delivered the pregame speech and attended his first Colts game all year, and after the game gave a very emotional speech to his players. In that speech, he had mentioned that his two main goals throughout the remainder of his life were to see his two daughters get married and to hoist the Lombardi trophy “several times”. While I don’t believe that this will ever happen, none of us who saw that can actually know what he was feeling in that moment so you can’t really fault the guy for saying it after all he’s been through. That wasn’t the thing I was most concerned with here when it comes to bringing the Colts back down to reality. They have had a great year especially when you consider that they were the worst team in football last year, but I’d like to talk about the “record” that Andrew Luck set for total yards passing by a rookie. Luck stands at number one on that list, but the other performances that round out the top five include two performances by Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, and Matthew Stafford back in 2009. I think the fact that every single one of those top five have occurred over the past four years tells us just how much the NFL has been protecting the quarterback over that stretch, and therefore has rendered a lot of those records worthless. It doesn’t change that they were great performances, but I think everyone reading this will agree that since the concussion debate has caught fire, defenses have been playing much differently. (Editor’s note: Keep in mind also that Luck went 30 for 48 in this game, which means he didn’t even complete two thirds of his passes. Not trying to be a bummer here, just stating the facts.) That set aside, I really did want to mention something else Colts-related though – Reggie Wayne is having a great year in the twilight of his career and almost nobody is talking about it, which is a shame because he deserves to be voted to the Pro Bowl The Dolphins played respectably here, but given the circumstances they had very little chance to win this game so you have to give them credit for keeping it close.
Texans 21, Bills 9
Much like I had said about the Niners/Cardinals game last week, sometimes as an NFL franchise you have to pace yourself. That’s exactly what the Houston Texans did on Sunday, as I’m sure if they wanted to they could have made this look just as bad as the Bears/Titans game. But Houston (much like the Niners) doesn’t have a reason to blow out their ankles and bruise their ribs beating up on the Buffalo Bills, who are quickly becoming one of the most irrelevant franchises in the NFL. (Watch out, Kansas City!) Houston will continue to do a phenomenal job of working the clock, and as you’ll read here on Thursday they will be facing the Bears in what will easily be the best game of the regular season so far. Arian Foster had another 100 plus yard say on the ground, but I’m not even sure that there’s any reason to report that anymore as it’s becoming a given. And anytime Andre Johnson racks up 118 yards, Owen Daniels doesn’t need any more than 62. Between those three guys, you can see why the Texans are one of the best teams in the league.
Falcons 19, Cowboys 13
Atlanta is now 8-0 and ran the ball well late in the game which proved to be the difference on Sunday night. They held Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to one catch each in a relatively uneventful first half. Witten would later become the Cowboys all time leader in receptions, but it was the Falcons ability to run the football that would steal the primte time spotlight. Both Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers were abusing the Cowboys on the ground and eventually would some to be the death nail when it came to chewing up clock in the fourth quarter. I am still a little bit weary of the Falcons ability to turn on that “kill” switch towards the end of games, but they are still undefeated and don’t seem to be all that concerned with staying that way. Their number one focus is making sure that every game they play in leading up to the Super Bowl has to go through the Georgia Dome. They may not be the greatest 8-0 team in history (you could even make the argument that they are the worst out of the fifteen that have reached this point since the schedule was boosted to 16 games) but for the time being they are doing one thing their opponent can’t seem to do – finish games. (Editor’s note: I’d also like to mention here that when the Falcons win home games, they play “Top of the World” by Van Halen. This drops the Atlanta Falcons several points with me because any Sammy Hagar era Van Halen is inexcusable. There are no exceptions.) During the Falcons’ final drive, I read some of the funniest anti-Cowboys stuff on Twitter that I’ve ever read anywhere. My favorite would have to be ESPN/Grantland writer Bill Simmons, who simply tweeted “This feels like a montage of all of Dallas’ terrible Sunday/Monday night losses during the Romo era.” That pretty much sums it up, and I’d also like to add here that the Cowboys have some of the shittiest clock management skills I’ve ever seen. They drop to 3-5 and with a perfect opportunity to gain some ground on the Giants they totally blew it. Now I still think that Tony Romo is a decent quarterback (zero turnovers in first half) and can definitely take a shot in the pocket, but for some reason the current setup that the Cowboys are operating with isn’t working. Here’s another interesting stat that I saw once the game was over – In one possession games Jason Garrett is 10-11 since beginning his career as a Cowboys head coach. This is disturbing for any Dallas fan because they seem to be really good at getting close to winning the game but fail to be able to finish. The second Giants’ game, the Ravens game, and this loss to the Falcons are three prime examples of how they can’t finish the job when the time comes. And think about this-if they had won just one of those games they would be .500. I guess what I’m trying to say here is although there are parts of that team that seem to be playoff caliber, they couldn’t possibly ever be greater than the sum of their parts – it’s simply not possible. The Cowboys do have a very easy schedule coming up, but I heard a certain analyst mention on Sportscenter that with the way they’ve been beating themselves lately they could very possibly lose every one of them.
Saints 28, Eagles 13
I’m not even sure that I take pleasure in seeing the Eagles self-destruct anymore, now it’s half past sad and in the neighborhood of depressing. Michael Vick was sacked seven times and the Eagles have lost four in row and 5 out of 6. Despite 156 yards rushing in the first half, the Eagles got worked in all of the places they can’t afford to get worked. Their offensive line is considerably banged up, and they got banged up even worse on Monday Night. Although Philadelphia is not acting as if they are in panic mode, there is no doubt in my mind they are freaking out right now. It’s all so bad, for so many different reasons and there’s almost so much blame to go around it’s not even funny. How do you have 476 yards and only score 13 points? A complete organizational disaster on all fronts. The Saints on the other hand seem to be looking like the Saints that were advertised as one of the NFL’s best. They played better on defense than they had all year, and other than the DeSean Jackson touchdown everyone was on their man all night. They are getting healthier, but will it be too little too late? Drew Brees is still a “magic wand” type of a quarterback that can pull a rabbit out of the hat at any moment, but did they find the rabbit treats before the trick got stale? We’ll see…you have to figure they will have to win six or possibly seven of their remaining eight games for it to happen, so best of luck to them as they’re going to need it.
This isn’t so much a summary as it is a trend that I’ve been noticing: Why do so many NFC East teams struggle at home? The NFC East is a combined 7-11 at home, and any of the three games that the Giants won they could have easily lost. By comparison, the NFC West is a combined 13-5 at home, while the NFC North is 14-3. The only other division that is collectively under .500 is the AFC West, which sits at 7-9 but includes the Chiefs who are 0-4 at Arrowhead. I understand that you can come up with just about any statistic to justify a point, but how does something like this even happen? The NFC East is a very difficult division to play in and contains some of the NFL’s oldest rivalries, but so does the NFC North and how does one explain a six game difference between the two divisions at the midway point of the season? And keep in mind this is not a trick question, I just really don’t know how to explain it.
Added rules-related comment: I didn’t know this until I saw it in the Cowboys/Falcons game, but when it comes to the rule of crossing the line of scrimmage to make a forward pass – If ANY part of your body is behind the line then it’s legal. I found this to be particularly interesting because in every other situation in football, if any part of your body is on a part of the field where you would be considered unable to advance the ball, the play is dead. In all of my years watching football, I never knew this and I have no idea how I missed it.
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