Monday, November 15, 2010
Another strange week in the NFL, another Pats victory at Heinz Field
Last time, I told you about how I heard three different so called "experts" pick three different top teams in the NFL. Those teams? The Baltimore Ravens, NY Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens led off the week with a tough loss in the Georgia Dome where Matt Ryan doesn't lose (18-1 at home in career), the Giants were exposed at home by Jon Kitna and the Cowboys in the shocker of the week, and the Steelers got their "butt whooped" (Big Ben's words, not mine) by the Pats at home in Prime Time.
What a weird season.
For the first time ever (I think) Peter King left his top spot vacant in his weekly power rankings! I mean have you ever seen anything like this? When I said that the NFL was like LOST, I didn't expect this to happen! The Jets are inexcusably 5-1 Super Bowl favorites, but after them there are FIVE teams who have 8-1 odds (with the Colts right behind at 9-1):
In case you were wondering, the T-Ocho Show Bengals are at 1,000-1 odds.
I think it's time for everyone to shelve their "who's the best team" predictions for a few weeks, because like King writes, we have an absolutely awesome schedule for the remainder of the season, and we should just enjoy it:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/peter_king/11/14/monday-morning-qb-week-10/index.html?eref=sihp (power rankings on page 3)
Enough about NFL strangeness. What a week! We had a ridiculous Hail Mary victory, a team that rose from the dead thanks to their new coach, and two astounding beatdowns during Prime Time. On to my NFL observations from week 10 (I'll do Pats-Steelers, Jets-Browns, Giants-Cowboys separately):
1) Mike Vick fever! He is a legitimate MVP candidate. He has the Eagles offense humming, leading the league in QB Rating, and even crazier, he has yet to throw an interception! In the four games he has played from start to finish, the Eagles are 4-0, and if he would have started the home opener against Green Bay, he would probably be 5-0. Like I said last week, he really is incorporating the Old Vick- the running back who played quarterback- with the New Vick- who can throw all day. After tonight's game, he has 11 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing touchdowns and a QB rating over 110. Simply said, he has been spectacular. The Eagles are looking better and better each week, and this week's 31 point drubbing of the Redskins puts them in a very good position for the Playoffs. Next week's showdown with the Giants on Sunday Night is going to be a doozy.
2) For those fortunate enough to watch it (damn NFL network), the Atlanta-Baltimore clash was great. Atlanta looked like it might run away with it, until Joe Flacco went into terminator mode and started hitting guys left and right. He brought them all the way back, and they lead 21-20 after Flacco's TD toss to veteran TE Todd Heap with a minute remaining. Then came the magic, um, sort of. Thanks to a VERY questionable "no-call," Roddy White got away from Ravens CB Josh Wilson and grabbed the game winning TD pass. Not to take anything away from White, who had another unbelievable game, or Matty "Ice" Ryan, who is fully recovered from last year's injury/sophomore slump, but that sure looked like a push off to me:
Either way, these are two extremely good teams who are vying for playoff byes. Lucky Falcons, unlucky Ravens. (Side note- doesn't it always feel like the Ravens don't get these 50-50 calls? After all of their games Ray Lewis seems to be complaining about the refs.)
3) Peyton Manning just keeps chugging along. After all the injuries, Manning somehow keeps this team competitive. If he can steal a win in Gillette this weekend, he is the MVP- no questions asked. He has turned Jacob Tamme into a Pro Bowl caliber TE, and has a 16-4 TD:INT ratio.
4) So long Brett Favre. It was nice knowin ya.
5) Chad Pennington. Chad Henne. Tyler Thigpen. Brandon Marshall. All four of them attempted passes in Sunday's impressive 30-19 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Only one (Marshall) was a trick play. The Dolphins had the vaunted "top two quarterbacks go down for the season" game. Henne may not be done, but it might not matter. Thigpen is one of the best 3rd quarterbacks in the game, and he can't possibly make this offense any more putrid. Kicker Dan Carpenter had another three field goal attempts on Sunday, giving him 25 for the season (or, the same amount as he had in 16 games in 2008, and just three less than all of last season). The Dolphins are still alive in this crazy NFL season, but if they want to squeak into the playoffs, they NEED to score more TD's.
6) What a crazy finish in Jacksonville. For those who haven't seen it yet, this is the reason teams try hail mary's instead of 70 yard field goals:
7) Congrats to both Buffalo and Detroit. Buffalo on breaking their 8 game losing streak, thanks to possibly the worst 2 point attempt in NFL history:
Congrats to Detroit for breaking their own record of most games lost on the road in a row (25 and counting). Another absolutely astounding statistic from tonight's game- Dave Rayner's field goal for Detroit was their first field goal made by a kicker not named "Jason Hanson" in 19 seasons. 19!
Now let's go over three more terrific games. We'll start with Giants-Cowboys.
1) Is it possible that Wade Phillips deflated the entire team with his lack of emotion (he's been dead for a few years now- Simmons likes to joke how he could never possibly lose a blinking contest)?(The "no blinking, I might be dead" face, made famous by Al Davis)
Jason Garrett, with the help of superfreak Dez Bryant, brought the Cowboys to life. After the last few weeks, people (me included), assumed the G-Men would steam roll the lifeless Boys'. Not so. Jon Kitna made some beautiful throws, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones made some big plays, and the Giants comeback fell just short- making it all the more frustrating that this team is a pathetic 2-7. They just outplayed possibly the best team in the NFC on their turf, but it is too late now. They had all the talent they needed, just not the right coach to manage that talent. If Garrett even gets 6 wins out of this team, I say he deserves the job for next season. The players seemed genuinely fired up to play for a guy with some passion.
2) There was a string of plays in the fourth quarter which effectively ended the game. Manning had the Giants offense moving, down 13, with 7 and a half minutes left. He made a beautiful deep throw to Hakeem Nicks, who hauled it in and zoomed into the endzone for the score. Unfortunately, there was a holding call after Manning released the pass, and the play was called back. The next play was a fumbled snap recovered by Dallas, and the game was over. Tough break. Had that play counted, the G-Men probably would have had a shot to win it with 3 or 4 minutes left. (http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2010111408/2010/REG10/cowboys@giants#tab:watch-3:30 in)
3) Dez Bryant is a beast. His two catches on their first drive were both spectacular- showing off his speed, length, hands and big play ability. The Cowboys will most likely get a high pick in the NFL draft this April, and if they can get someone with even half the talent of Dez, they are going to be dangerous next season.
On to the other NY team. J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.
1) Chansi Stuckey. WHY! The Browns, with the help of the immortal Nick Folk, were a couple of plays away from sealing the victory before Chansi's ridiculous fumble at the 32 yard line in OT. Obviously he was just trying to get a couple extra yards, but how do you fumble the ball that close to the sidelines! Step out of bounds! Hold the ball with two hands! Do something! Besides for the fumble, Stuckey also lost the Browns chances of upsetting a top team for the third week in a row. Tough break.
2) I've been reading all day about how Mark Sanchez is a warrior and how he put the team on his back. About how after his calf injury he battled and toughed out the rest of the game. Is all of that true? Maybe. We will get to that in a second. How about a little love for Colt McCoy. He has been fantastic in his three games as starter against arguably the two toughest defenses (Jets, Steelers) and the best defensive mind in the game (Belichick). He definitely was having trouble in the second half generating offense, but honestly, I think he is already as good as Sanchez. I'm not just saying that because I hate the Jets and Sanchez with a passion. I truly believe it. There is something about him, he just makes it happen (Simmons brought a great parallel between him and Tom Brady in his first year as a starter). He doesn't make mistakes (Sanchez makes too many), and is a real playmaker back there with his scrambles and roll outs. Did I mention that Sanchez is playing with Keller, Holmes, Edwards, LT and Shonn Greene, while McCoy is playing with Hillis and Josh Cribbs (best known as a punt returner). He is going to be a great quarterback one day.
3) Sanchize. Great game by him. Definitely showed me something by playing through the injury, and playing pretty well too. He missed Keller downfield one play which I thought was a throw he should have been able to make, but overall he was pretty good. With the exception of the dropped interception at the 2 yard line, I thought he did a good job limiting his mistakes. One thing I've noticed the last few weeks was that Sanchez's problems were stemming from the fact that the Jets running game couldn't really get going. When the running game works, Sanchez is great with the play action and getting down the middle of the field to Keller. Without the running game, he sort of morphed into last season's version of himself- this game bucked that trend. I honestly believe that he is the only weak link on this whole team. If the Jets had a mediocre quarterback, they would basically be unstoppable. Sanchez must step up his game or the Jets are going to be watching someone else play in Dallas in February.
(Quick rant- I think if the Jets are going to win a Super Bowl, it is going to be this year. They aren't getting another year like this from LT, and Braylon and Santonio are both on one year deals. It is now or never boys, let's see what you got.)
Now let's get to the good stuff- Pats-Steelers:
1) Tom Brady! Wow! Where the hell did that come from? After one of his worst games in the past few years against the Browns, Brady let out his anger in a big way on the poor Pittsburgh Steelers. Brady had 350 yards and four total touchdowns, three passing to Spike from "The Little Giants" look-alike Rob Gronkowski.Brady made all the throws he wasn't making last week, and he just ripped apart what was thought to be one of the best defenses in football. Not this week. Brady's first touchdown to Gronkowski and his long ball to Brandon Tate were especially good looking throws, putting it only where his guy could make a play. Moreso than the Ravens game a few weeks ago (which inspired Dan Shaughnessy to write a column about the Super Bowl winning Patriots from the early 2000's) this was vintage Tom Brady. He always found the open man, and spread the ball around well. He also got rid of the ball quickly, something that is key against pass rushing maestros Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison. You all have probably seen the clip of Brady ripping into the offense in the second quarter about playing a perfect game in order to beat a team like the Steelers- this is the reason he is who he is, and why he has won so many Super Bowls. He is the unquestioned leader of this team, and he lets each and every member of his team know that he is willing to go to war for them. He made this point very clear with his exclamation point (and extremely rare) 3 yard sneak which was made possible by Brady's ability to diagnose defenses at the line of scrimmage. He noticed a linebacker shift, and called his own number from pretty far out, something I don't recall him doing since his touchdown against Oakland in the Snow Bowl. Both TD's ended with emphatic slams by a pumped up Brady. I'm glad to see you again Mr. Brady. (Brady highlights- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RS5eI9fBU4)
2) As good as Brady was, the offensive line may have been better.
(Just imagine Sebastion Vollmer instead of Nick Kazcur. Much better.)
They kept Brady clean all night. Alge Crumpler had a huge game helping out with (and sometimes single covering) James Harrison, and Matt Light and Sebastion Vollmer held their sides well, giving Brady passing lanes to the outside for Branch and Welker. Also, Woody Woodchuck made some great blocks on delayed blitzes from the ferocious Steelers linebackers.
3) I said it last week, and I'll say it again- Pat Chung is HUGE for this defense. He started off the season against the Bengals flying around and really setting the tone. We are fast, we will tackle, and we will even make some big hits for the heck of it. With Chung missing, the Pats got destroyed by Peterson in the first half (though they stiffened in the second half) and got dominated by the powerful Peyton Hillis last week. Although Chung went down a couple of times, he played most of the game and looked absolutely fantastic. His blitzes off the end were a new wrinkle to the defense, and he ended the game with a team high 11 tackles (along with rookie phenom Devin McCourty who had a tough day against speedster Mike Wallace). The play where he came all the way around and tackled Mendenhall after only a couple of yards showed off his speed and tackling ability. He is going to be great for years to come (Please god, let him stay healthy. Don't turn him into the next perennial pro bowler/ perennially injured Bob Sanders. Please!)
4) Hines Ward means a lot to the Pittsburgh offense. I gotta admit, if he was in there, they probably punch a couple of those red zone attempts into the endzone, instead of settling for field goals (or missed field goals-http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5810033- awkward). Instead, he remained on the sidelines, and the Steelers receivers dropped a handful of catchable balls in the endzone, while the Pats pulled away. They got a hang of it in the fourth, but it was just too little too late.
5) Tully Banta-Cain is back! After starting the season as mostly a sub package rusher, the last few weeks TBC worked his way back into the rotation. This week showed us why. He abused LT Tony Hillis, on his way to a 1.5 sack night with a whole bunch of quarterback hurries. Aside from TBC, Mike Wright and Gary Guyton had big nights. Wright had great interior pressure against phenomenal rookie Center Maurkice Pouncey (a rookie of the year candidate despite his position) accumulating 1.5 sacks as well, and blew up the pocket a few times. Guyton was especially good in the first quarter when he had a nice knockdown and a sack. The Pats are going to need production out of these lesser known players if they want to be successful against high powered offenses like the Packers and Colts.
6) The Patriots are going to have some problems with new Kicker Shayne Graham. Yea, it was only one week, but you just can't miss extra points. His 36 yard field goal looked shaky as well. He needs to become reliable, or the Patriots are going to be in trouble when they get into fourth down situations at the opponents 35 yard line area. Do you risk the kick? Or just go for it? We all remember in Super Bowl 42 when the Pats went for it on 4th and 11 instead of just letting Gostkowski kick a 50 yard field goal. We don't want that again. Hopefully he fixes his problems, the Pats are going to need every point they can get come playoff time against the tough defenses in the AFC (Bal, NYJ, Pitt).
7) That was a huge statement victory for the Patriots. They have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, and are going to need some confidence in order to fight through it with success. There are tough home games against Indy, NYJ and GB, with tough games in Chicago, Detroit (never underestimate a Thanksgiving opponent) and Buffalo (who almost beat us at home, and plays us very tough at Ralph Wilson in the winter). The goal would be to secure a bye in the playoffs, but I think we would all love to see home field advantage throughout.
I don't think it is so far fetched a goal in this wacky year in the NFL.