WHAT I SAW, Wk 4 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 4, 2012

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

( A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

Away from the game(s)

I SAW labour peace at last in the NFL.  After watching last season get threatened by a player lockout and seeing the NBA lose a chunk of last season due to one – AND now that the NHL is sure to start cancelling regular season games for the upcoming (?) regular season with a lockout of their own – it’s sweet relief to know that neither the NFL players, refs, nor TV networks have deals to be re-worked with the league until at least 2020.

Before we put the whole thing to bed, there’s a few things left to say…

On the financial end of the deal it’s now widely known that the two main issues were the pension plan rollbacks and the addition of a replacement pool of referees that could replace underperforming officials.  The latter comes down to a money issue because according to anything I’ve read the current refs weren’t against the added accountability; they were against having the funds for this new pool paid for from their own total payroll, and not having their income guaranteed each year should they get benched for making mistakes.  In the end the NFL gets its replacement pool but has to pay extra for it instead of raking the regular zebras for the expense, and the officials get five more years under the current (higher) pension plan.  The league also guaranteed that any officials replaced by subs due to performance would be paid for the whole season.

At first glance, this deal seems like a win for the NFL Referee Association.  Unfortunately, that’s how we’ve come to describe any new labour deal that involves smaller losses for the concerned union than the ones that were originally proposed.  But it’s a loss nonetheless.

I’m not in any way aware of the tenor of the negotiations and how far either side would have been able to go pushing harder or longer for their side, but doesn’t only 5 more years of this pension system screw the next generation of officials with the markedly less lucrative one?  Could the current refs have fought more for the medium-to-long term health of their union?  More specifically, why can’t they just have their money for at least the rest of the current television contract, during which the league is all but guaranteed to be rolling in cash?  Maybe what head ref negotiator Scott Green got from the offensively affluent owners and their league was a coup.  Sadly, that wouldn’t be surprising given the general climate of union-owner relations in North America.  In typical owner rhetoric, it’s been voiced that having the new deal and its replacement pool of refs to pull from was worth risking things like the work stoppage, tainting the integrity of meaningful games and a threat to player safety because, as Pats owner Robert Kraft, declared to Peter King,

“the long-term best interests of the league are served by making the quality of the game the best it can be. Roger [Goodell, commissioner] knew that to have some full-time officials, and to build a bench of good young officials, was going to make the game better, and that’s what we have.”

Goodell said – gasp! – something similar:

“You always have costs for the short term, but you sometimes have to experience that to get to the right place in the long term. And that’s sometimes a painful thing. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but in the short term it’s something you have to do to make sure you get the right type of agreement for the long term.”

That’s great, Kraft & Co.  But you can’t hide the fact that by saying this you’re just describing the higher income you won (while swindling your employees) as good for the job those same employees will do.  Your income from the NFL keeps going up and up so you could easily afford paying what you had been for the duration of the deal.  But you didn’t.  Don’t say you’re getting richer is directly improving the on-field product.  The product could have been improved without taking away from the referees.

I SAW a pet peeve manifest itself as people try to gloss over the bad call on the now-infamous Hail Mary play to end the Packers-Seahawks game last week – the play that is viewed as the catalyst for the league ceding to some of the referees’ demands and thus ending the lockout of the regular officials.

Numerous Seattle players, coaches and/or reporters have said in response to the awful scab ref call that won them last week’s game against Green Bay that “it is what it is.”  It’s telling in our empty society that this tautology has essentially become a slogan.  A tautology is a statement that is always true and thus redundant at best.  In other words, EVERYTHING is what it is.  That says nothing.  Zero.  In fact, “no comment” says more.  To the wrongly victorious Seahawks: We get it – you won and you shouldn’t feel guilty.  But if the best response is that platitude, you clearly know you stole one last Monday night.  Just be quiet and go about your business.

I SAW one last word on the referee lockout.  It’s something I was glad to finally hear a big name come out and say, and it’s part of the reason for this column emphasizing the replacement refs’ complicity in prolonging a work stoppage by filling in as scab workers and thus allowing the league to proceed with the season without the regular officials.  It was frustrating to witness the scabs get a relatively clean pass ethically from the media as they usurped union leverage.  But retired NFL ref Jerry Markbreit wasn’t having any of that, when he was asked about the scabs on the Dan Patrick Show:

“Shame on them.  They should have never done this.  If they hadn’t taken the money and the spectacular chance to work at Green Bay or Chicago, they would have realized that this is going to hurt their officiating career.  They’re going to be labeled replacements/scabs for the rest of their officiating career.”

I SAW that there is one division lapping the rest of the field in terms of the most surprising in the NFL: The NFC West.  No division has more total wins than the 11 shared by the Niners, Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams.  What’s more, those teams have gone 9-3 against the rest of the league, which means there are still many good smash-mouth divisional tilts looming ahead.  Seemingly overnight – and as though San Francisco’s principles trickled down to the rest of the NFC West – what was once the saddest group of teams around is now a hotbed of defensive teams no one wants to play.  All four teams are among the top 10 defenses at this point in the season.  The top three – SF, ARZ and SEA – are among the top 5.  (I’d personally add the Bears and Texans to complete the group.)

The NFC West might not keep this up while they have to travel across the US for road games when they aren’t beating each other black and blue.  But, thankfully, the resurgence has at least temporarily added more exciting games to the schedule – like this Thursday night’s game when Arizona travels to St. Louis.

I SAW cause to wonder if the restrictions on padded practices that are part of the new collective bargaining agreement signed last year between the players’ union and the league have much to do with the god-awful defense and/or special teams being played by so many teams.  Exhibit A: 7 teams are giving up at least 28.5 points per game: The Titans, Chiefs, Bills, Saints, Raiders, Redskins, and Lions.

I SAW that the two divisional races in the South might have already gotten boring – fast.  The undefeated Texans and Falcons will have to show a lot more vulnerability than they have so far if things are going to get interesting, because none of the other 6 teams in either the AFC South or NFC South have more than 1 win at this point.

I SAW that it’s time to press the panic button in New Orleans and Cleveland.  The 1992 Chargers are the only team to ever start a season 0-4 and make the playoffs.  Although to be fair the panic button in Cleveland probably hasn’t worked since it got punched through the control panel in 1995 when the original Browns left town for Baltimore.

I SAW that I feel sorry the guy with the beard and blue suit that is in this season’s series of NFL Network commercials.  It’s not his fault – he didn’t write his own scripts, and he’s just trying to make a living – but I already want to beat the crap out of him.  (Memo to the writers: If you’re going to try to replicate the weird and funny feel of the Old Spice ads, don’t leave out the funny part.  That’s just awkward.  Then annoying.  Then maddening.)

I SAW reason to pull for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and his family after Pagano was recently diagnosed with leukemia (according to the LA Times he will be hospitalized for 6-8 weeks).  That’s far too sombre a start to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the NFL.

I SAW a happier note to end on: The funniest mid-play photo I’ve ever seen, thanks to photographer Keith Nordstrom and Patriots WR Brandon Lloyd, who was diving into the end zone:

Image

Keith Nordstrom/The New England Patriots

 

Simply awesome.  The story behind the serendipity of the shot can be read here:

http://blogs.bostonmagazine.com/boston_daily/2012/10/02/brandon-lloyd-touchdown-smile-photo/

Byes: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh

TNF-Baltimore(3-1) wins vs. Cleveland(0-4), 23-16

I SAW the first appearance of a regular referee after the work stoppage when Gene Steratore and his crew took the field Thursday night.  The zebras were greeted with a standing ovation by the fans…  That’s surreal, like George Lucas writing a good script.

I SAW Ravens RB Ray Rice floor Browns LB Craig Robertson with a stiff arm during Baltimore’s first drive of the game.  It’s rare to see a straight arm put a defender on the ground as fast as a de-cleating, but that’s what Rice did to Robertson.  Embarrassing.

I SAW a man who must feel out of place in Cleveland.  The Browns have been so bad for so long that they have now lost 10 straight games but no one even notices.  Meanwhile, OT Joe Thomas continues to play like a star in the dark/dank of Cleveland.  Last year Thomas became just the third player in history to start in the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons.  The other two are Hall Of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas.  Pretty good company – much better company than Thomas has in his locker room.

I SAW that Ravens DT Haloti Ngata is the nimblest interior D-lineman I’ve ever seen play in this era (Warren Sapp is a close second).  His swim move is more an evasive dance than the contact/sliding move most human players use.  Ngata can basically throw his hips and feet at inconceivable angles with graceful balance and at times the blockers assigned to him barely even touch him in the process.  He weighs 340 pounds, by the way.

Atlanta(4-0) wins vs. Carolina(1-3), 30-28

I SAW the fun game of the week – with 6 lead changes – that went down to the wire.

I SAW Panthers QB Cam Newton bounce back from his immature pouting after last week’s loss to play a huge game against the Falcons.  Even though Newton fumbled the ball away on a key play in the fourth quarter, he handled the adversity with much more calm in public than a week ago.  In private he might not be too keen on having coughed up the football though, and the reigning rookie of the year is still looking for his first win against rival Atlanta (0-3).

I SAW that Falcons QB Matt Ryan capitalized on Newton’s aforementioned turnover and put together another clutch regular season game-winning drive.  The possession started with Atlanta at its own 1-yard line and just 0:59 left.  Ryan got his team out of the shadow of their own goal on the first play with a rainbow throw that found WR Roddy White at the Carolina 40-yard line.  Five plays later K Matt Bryant won the game for Hot-lanta with a 40-yard field goal.

There’s no doubt that the drive was impressive, and Ryan truly does have the look of an improved, more confident quarterback.  Also, his team in general seems more together this season.  But as mentioned before in this column, all this play does is increase the pressure on the Falcons to finally win a playoff game under Ryan and head coach Mike Smith (they both joined the franchise in 2008 and are 0-3 in the postseason).

I SAW Falcons WR Roddy White serve notice that he’s not about to relinquish the main playmaking duties in the Atlanta passing game – no matter how many preseason pundits thought Julio Jones was going to encroach on that role.  QB Matt Ryan targeted White a dozen times on Sunday and Roddy hauled 8 of them in for 169 yards and 2 TDs.

I SAW Panthers DE Charles Johnson get 8 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, 2 tackles for loss and a pass defended.  It’s about time Johnson showed up.  Carolina desperately needs him to thrive in order for their defense to succeed, and Johnson had just 7 tackles and 0 sacks coming into Sunday.

Green Bay(2-2) wins vs. New Orleans(4-0), 28-27

I SAW Saints QB Drew Brees throw for his 8th career 400-yard game Sunday against the Pack.  More significant was his first TD pass of the day, giving the face of ’Nawlins his 47th straight game with a TD pass – tying the hallowed record held by the great Johnny Unitas.

Both are impressive milestones.  I bet Brees doesn’t even care, given the dark cloud that has been hanging over his franchise since early in the offseason and has only gotten darker with each week/loss.  It will be interesting to witness Brees’ demeanor next game, should he pass Unitas.

I SAW the Saints defense continue to cure whatever ails an opposing offense.  New Orleans is giving up a sieve-like 463 yards per game.  To put that in perspective, I did some stat digging and found that since 1940 only last year’s Patriots have allowed more yards in the first 4 weeks of a season than the Saints have:

Rank* Team Year Yards Allowed
1 Patriots 2011 1910
2 Saints 2012 1853
3 Bears 2011 1703
4 Titans 2012 1686
5 Buccaneers 2012 1675

*Note that ALL of the 5 worst defenses of all time through 4 games are from 2011 and 2012. In fact, it’s not until one goes down the list to #10 that any teams are from earlier than 2011.  Yikes! 

’Nawlins continued to remedy Green Bay’s offense in more ways than one Sunday.  Surprisingly, the Packers were the only NFL team this season not to score a TD in the first quarter.  Thanks to the Saints, that changed in Lambeau when QB Aaron Rogers hit WR James Jones for a score.

These days, no one can do any wrong against these Saints.

I SAW Packers QB Aaron Rodgers have to leave the game after getting poked in the eye Sunday.  Enter backup Graham Harrell, who on his first career NFL snap took the handoff, tripped over C Jeff Saturday’s feet and while falling shoved a handoff upwards into RB Cedric Benson in a way that could only result in a fumble – which it did.   Listen, Green Bay, I know it wasn’t prudent to keep last year’s backup quarterback Matt Flynn for the money he was fetching on the free agent market but if that play is any indication you’d better pray that Rodgers stays healthy.

I SAW reason to expect Packers fans to mount a petition to the league against having offensive pass interference in the rulebook, because to the Green Bay faithful the rule doesn’t exist these days.  On top of the no-call for interference on S Sam Shields during the now-famous Hail Mary that won the Seahawks the game last week (the league officially admitted that the interference call was missed), Saints WR Marques Colston clearly shoved S Morgan Burnett to the ground in the end zone – with both hands – prior to catching a TD to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter.  While the crowd began to boo the newly-returned regular officials after the no-call, Fox analyst Troy Aikman said this about the zebras:

“They’ve been treated like rock stars all week long and I knew they’d better enjoy it while it lasted, ’cause it just ended.”

New England(2-2) wins @ Buffalo(2-2), 52-28

I SAW this week’s winner of:

The Timmy Smith Where The Hell Did That Come From?? Award

In his rookie season of 1987 Redskin RB Timmy Smith had zero starts and 126 total yards in the regular season.  In what is to date perhaps the most surprising performance in NFL history, Smith made his first career start in the Super Bowl against the Broncos and rushed for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards.  (Smith would never again rush for more than 107 yards in a game and was out of the league two seasons later, but this award is concerned with that initial out-of-nowhere display.)

Brandon Bolden, RB, Patriots

I checked, and since Lawrence Maroney ripped off 123 against the Titans in week 6 of the 2009 season, only BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley – and now Bolden – have rushed for 100 yards or more in a game for the New England.

After breaking his ankle early in the season at ’Ole Miss in college in 2011, Bolden came back a few games later and finished with less than 500 yards for the year.  As a result, no one drafted him in April.  The Patriots ended up signing him as a rookie free agent but used him sparingly, to say the least.  Through the first three weeks, Bolden had 7 carries for 15 yards and a TD.  Then, in true Belichickian fashion, New England just decided to plug him in to share duties with Ridley in the backfield against Buffalo Sunday.  The result: 16 carries for 137 yards, 1 TD.  Sure, Ridley also broke the century mark against the embarrassed Bills but if anything that might even enhance the shock value of Bolden’s output.

I SAW the most recent reminder that the Bills always come through with a bad loss when they need to build on what could be the start of short-to-medium-term success.  Buffalo had come into the game riding a 2-1 start and took a 21-7 lead against New England.  Then the Bills fell apart by giving up 45 points in the last 1.5 quarters.  There might be no team over the last decade or so that so consistently takes a dump on its own success as roundly as Buffalo does.

It’s not going to be easy to rebound from this embarrassing blowout without right guard Kraig Urbik and left tackle Cordy Glenn, who might both be lost to the Bills’ offense for a few weeks.

I SAW the Patriots address their glaring weakness at the offensive line the old-fashioned way – by running the ball.  In fact, New England clicked offensively like few other teams ever have, boasting two 100-yard rushers (Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden) and two 100-yard receivers (Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker) against Buffalo Sunday afternoon.  While pass attempts per game rise each season it can be easy to forget that the easiest way to keep a defensive line honest is to be balanced on offense.  Also, the most dependable way to instill confidence in a struggling O-line is to get them run blocking and being aggressive, as opposed to reading and waiting for contact in pass blocking situations.  I’d be surprised if you could find any hogs in the league to say they prefer the latter.

I SAW it show more this week against a flimsy Patriots O-line that Bills DE Super Mario (Williams) is playing like a goomba.  Can we at least just call him “mario” for now?  And he needs a big-game equivalent of a mushroom to get the capital M back.  Check out his performance so far:

Week              OPP                TKL    TKL/Loss       PD       Sack   QB Hits

1                      NYJ                 1          0                      0          0          0

2                      KC                  2          0                      1          0          0

3                      CLE                 4          1                      0          1.5       2

4                      NE                   2          1                      0          0          0

So, after 4 games mario still sits at 1.5 sacks for the season, with 2 hits on the QB.  All of those came against the lowly Browns.  At $16 million per season, those are the most expensive tits on a bull in the league.

I SAW Bills RB Fred Jackson make a graceful sideline catch, over his outside shoulder and jumping for it after slowing down to keep his body between himself and the defender chasing him.  Very Marshall Faulk-esque.

Minnesota(3-1) wins @ Detroit(1-3), 20-13

I SAW the Vikings pull the reverse of what the Saints accomplished last week by matching their win total from last season within the first month.  Minny has done so in part by beating two NFC playoff teams from last season, breaking an 11-game losing streak against their own division by taking down the Lions Sunday – and getting interception-free play from sophomore QB Christian Ponder thus far. <knock wood>  (Through his first 4 starts last year the then-rookie had thrown 6 picks)…

 I SAW no reason to change the label of mere game manager TFQ gave Viking QB Christian Ponder last week in What I Saw, even though Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had this incongruent appraisal of the quarterback (note my underlines):

“Ponder threw 13 interceptions in 10 starts as a rookie in
2011. Through four games this year, he’s thrown none. And this is no simpleton offense just dinking and 
dunking — Ponder’s averaged 31 passes a game in Minnesota’s surprising 3-1 start. Against San Francisco 
and one of the best pressure defenses in the league in Week 3, Ponder threw for 198 yards and two 
touchdowns — but what he couldn’t stop talking about from that game was how intelligent a game plan the Vikings had, and how smart they played. “That’s what I like about this team — we play smart. We had one 
penalty the whole game [against the Niners]. I think some of my best decisions are when I change the play 
to a run. I always know we’re going to have time and the chance to make some big plays.”

There is nothing at all in this passage to indicate that Ponder is NOT running a dink-and-dunk offense.  198 yards against any defense is no indication of that – and, as explained here last week, total yards does not determine if the throws are being made downfield or dumped off, since either type of ball can result in long yards if the receiver can take a short pass and make more yards out of it.  Second of all, Ponder’s last sentiment says that he indeed fills more of a game-management role than an aggressive and productive QB.

 

I SAW the Lions serve as a great example that one should not get too excited about a team after just one playoff berth.  Although Detroit jumped out to a 5-0 start last year, they have gone 6-10 in their 16 games since (including playoffs).  What’s worse, there hasn’t really been much to hint towards things turning around in the Motor City anytime soon.

 

I SAW the Lions special teams unit isn’t helping; quite the opposite.  On Sunday they became the first team ever to allow both a punt return and a kick return for touchdowns in 2 straight weeks.  Is that the smell of the first assistant coach firing of 2012 coming from Ford Field?

 

I SAW Vikings WR/PR Percy Harvin start the game off with a bang, a 105-yard kickoff return TD on the first play of the game – the longest play in franchise history.  What would this offense be without Harvin, their only bona fide big play man other than RB Adrian Peterson, who is still easing his way back into his usual form after knee surgery?

 

San Francisco(3-1) wins @ New York Jets(2-2), 34-0

I SAW a M-E-S-S, Mess, Mess, Mess.  Not looking good for a team that may have lost its best player on each side of the ball in consecutive weeks (see below).

I SAW that the week 1 blowout win against Buffalo is now a very distant memory for Jets.  Getting taken out to the woodshed by the Niners has all but erased that initial cause for optimism.  In handing New York their worst shutout loss since 1989 (37-0 vs. BUF), San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh employed a game plan that had an almost trash-talky vibe to it.  Although everybody expected the Niners to take advantage of the absence of All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis for the Jets, San Fran instead ran the ball 44 times, compared to 24 pass plays and outgained NY 245-45 on the ground.  (“Screw passing, you guys suck.”)  What seemed even more strangely personal was how the Niners ran several plays out of the wildcat with backup QB Colin Kaepernick, most of which were successful. (“Why not try this?  You guys suck at that too.”)  I’m not saying that Harbaugh and his staff purposely tried to insult the Jets with this game plan, but if one were interested in doing so, that would be the way to do it.

This game was a recipe for disaster for Gang Green.  N.Y. was reeling from the loss of Revis, likely for the year, and San Fran was coming to town angry after being upset by the Vikings for their first loss of the year last week.

The season is still young, but it’s not too early to panic in New York, especially since they managed only one offensive play of 15+ yards while watching their only reliable threat on offense get carted off in the fourth quarter…

I SAW Jets WR Santonio Holmes go down with a foot injury trying to make a move with the ball on the first play of the fourth quarter.  League reports say that the Jets have done an MRI on Holmes’ foot and are shopping it around for medical opinions while giving no real diagnosis.  The play looked bad – very much like an Achilles tendon injury which could mean the wideout will be out for a long time.  Without him the Jets’ offense doesn’t stand a chance.  UPDATE: According to NFL’s Albert Breer late Tuesday night, Holmes has been diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury in that foot.  That’s the same bone fracture that kept Darren McFadden out for most of the 2011 season.

I SAW Jets head coach Rex Ryan say that Mark Sanchez is still “the answer at quarterback.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha   Breathe.  Heeheeheehee.

I’m willing to bet that Eva Longoria (Sanchez’s girlfriend) is the only other person who thinks that.  Maybe.

I SAW no reason to pull the trigger and put backup QB Tim Tebow in as the starter for New York yet.  In other words, easy there, Jets fans.  We heard you chanting the messiah’s name after two straight three-and-outs for your offense to start the second half.  Tebow?  Sanchez?  Does it matter?  Dan Marino couldn’t win with this surrounding cast.

 

I SAW more reason to question Rex Ryan’s head coaching acumen following this disheartening loss.  The Jets skipper was once again too dramatic in his postgame “we got our asses kicked” press conference, and by giving his players Monday and Tuesday off with the Texans looming next week.  A team with a broken confidence shouldn’t be left to stew in it; the players should be encouraged to continue on with business as usual.  In other words, the extra public drama and time off doesn’t exactly say “let’s put this behind us.”  Now a locker room that publicly imploded last season – one that Ryan himself admitted to losing touch with – is going to be tested more than ever.

 

 

Arizona (4-0) wins vs. Miami(1-3), 24-21(OT)

I SAW that the Cardinals get more and more dangerous with each close, pressure-packed win.  For example, Arizona has won 8 straight at home – 5 of them in overtime!  That’s the sort of climate that hardens a team’s resolve.  Beware, NFC.

 

I SAW Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb improve to 3-0 as a starter this season, but there is still more than enough to nitpick.  A few examples:

First off, Kolb seems to have learned from his old teammate Michael Vick how to hold onto the ball way too long.  The ’Cards quarterback was sacked 8 times by the ’Fins.

Next, when he was trailing Miami 13-7 in the fourth quarter Kolb found WR Andre Roberts for a 46-yard TD to give Arizona their first lead of the game.  Miami blew the coverage on Roberts and the wideout was wide open downfield.  It was an easy throw to make, but instead of leading his receiver Kolb floated the ball enough that Roberts had to slow down to catch it and almost got caught before the end zone.

Lastly, after a fumble return by the Dolphins on the next drive gave Kolb and his offense a gift at the Miami 3-yard line, Kolb took two plays to make a boneheaded throw to the corner of the end zone for WR Larry Fitzgerald.  CB Sean Smith was in better position to catch the ball than Fitzgerald, and catch it he did.

Arizona looks good.  As mentioned above, these tough wins breed character.  But if Kolb keeps making them tougher than they need to be those mistakes will bite them sooner or later.    

Then again, Kolb’s throw to Roberts in the opposite corner of the end zone with 0:22 left in regulation to tie the game was on a rope and on the money.

 

I SAW the tough breaks for the Dolphins over the last few seasons continue with 2 straight losses in overtime.

 

I SAW one of those lightning-in-a-bottle offensive orgies that can happen for almost any team on any given Sunday.  (Sorry, Jacksonville.)  Apparently it didn’t matter that the Dolphins were up against the Cardinals, who possess one of the best defenses in the league.  Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill threw for 437 yards – 253 of those went to joggy-on-the-spot, the lead-footed WR Brian Hartline.

It’s these types of performances that help conspire to make fans feel equal parts perplexed and giddy, and are so NFL.  As one of the slowest receivers in the game, Hartline has no business breaking the 200-yard barrier against 10 men on the field, let alone 11 Arizona ball hawks.  But Hartline took all the right angles to beat coverages and made it happen.  Hilarious.  Though I’m sure Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton and his DBs didn’t find it amusing.

 

I SAW the Dolphins offensive line blow a key blitz pickup to end their last possession in regulation.  Cardinals LB Daryl Washington blitzed up the middle and came untouched to nail Miami QB Ryan Tannehill and force a fumble.   The Cardinals tied the game to force OT on the ensuing drive.

Washington was through the line and on top of Tannehill so fast it had the feel of one of those Madden EA Sports plays when, immediately upon pressing “snap” the quarterback is down.  On his way to the bench, Tannehill shrugged his shoulders at his coaches, as if to say, “All I did was press A!”  (Or X for you Playstation jerks.)

St. Louis(2-2) wins vs. Seattle (2-2), 19-13

I SAW Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson throw 3 interceptions in his first truly bad game as a pro.  It’s silly that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll has to come out publicly and say that he’s staying with Wilson.  A 3-pick game from a rookie against a Jeff Fisher-coached defense during the first month of his career is no reason to panic.

I SAW Rams rookie K Greg Zuerlein has made 33 straight field goals since the start of his last year in college.  On Sunday he also became the first kicker in NFL history to make kicks of 50-plus and 60-plus yards in a game.  During the St. Louis broadcast a few weeks ago it was reported that Zuerlein kicks the ball so hard that the sound of his foot hitting the ball makes a different sound than his teammates have ever heard before.

Houston (4-0) wins vs. Tennessee(1-3), 38-14

I SAW Texans DE J.J. Watt continue his Armin Tamzarian-like reign of terror over opposing offenses with 2 more sacks and a fumble recovery against the Titans Sunday.  Watt now leads the league with 7.5 sacks.  The last player to put up 7 QB takedowns in his first 4 games of the season was Hulkamaniac LB Kevin Greene in 1998.  As has been noted by many, Watt’s sack total and 5 deflected passes are all the more impressive given that he plays end in a 3-4 scheme.  (3-4 means that there are 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers, and as such the traditional job of the linemen is to occupy blockers in order to prevent them from impeding the linebackers who are tracking the ball.  That’s typically not the job description of someone who campings out in opponents’ backfields the way Watt has been.)

Denver(2-2) wins vs. Oakland(1-3), 37-6

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning take another positive step toward getting back to being the old Peyton while handing the Raiders their first loss in Denver since 2007.  In fact, had Manning’s day not come against the disappointing Silver & Black defense it would really be something to talk about: 30-38 and 338 yards in his first 300-yard game since week 11 of the 2010 season.  Even with the neck injury that held the future Hall Of Famer out for the ’11 season that is a surprisingly long stretch for him to go without 300 yards.

I SAW, speaking of a disappointing Oakland defense, it and the rest of the team combined to prove that it still shouldn’t be taken seriously even though it toppled the Steelers in an upset win last week.  So far the Chiefs and Raiders look like the consistently inconsistent teams they’ve been in recent years, and that once again the division should come down to the Broncos and the Chargers…

I SAW another Peyton Manning – Tom Brady matchup looming next week.

The two best quarterbacks of their generation – and arguably of all-time – have somehow played one another 12 times so far.  Considering they have never played in the same division, that is pretty cool.  Though the Patriots should be favored, neither team has really established enough of an identity to predict too much here.  For what it’s worth, though, Manning is 4-8 lifetime against Brady.

San Diego(3-1) wins @ Kansas City(1-3), 37-20

I SAW how important a QB can be to a franchise these days: The Chargers are 39-8 when QB Philip Rivers posts a passer rating of 100 or higher.

I SAW that Chiefs QB Matt Cassel isn’t exactly playing like the king of the castle.  He’d better find a way to play without staring down WR Dwayne Bowe all game because everyone this side of the couch has figured that out.

Cincinnati(3-1) wins @ Jacksonville(1-3), 27-10

I SAW that the Jaguars’ passing game is so bad right now that they can’t even put up yards against a Bengals defense with four sidelined cornerbacks.  (Starters Nate Clements and Leon Hall; backups Jason Allen and Dre Kirkpatrick were all out for Sunday.)  Kudos to Jags offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski for being dumb enough to decide to forego a plan featuring All-Pro Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville ran the ball just 18 times) and instead pin the team’s hopes on disappointing QB Blaine Gabbert.  Gabbert threw for just 186 yards as the game got away from him in a hurry.  Well done.

I SAW Jaguars WR Laurent Robinson sustain his second concussion in as many weeks.  That’s not good considering all the millions of dollars the team paid to sign him in the offseason.

Washington(2-2) wins @ Tampa Bay (1-3), 24-22

I SAW the return of Shanahan Shenanigans in the backfield that everyone got to know so well when Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was in Denver.  Washington leads the NFL in rushing, and in true shenanigan fashion, rookie RB Alfred Morris is leading the attack with 376 yards (5th in the NFL).  Not only is (was?) Morris a nobody coming into the year with the Captain Nemo-deep backfield in D.C., but he was taken in the sixth round of this year’s draft.

Psst! — Once, when Shanahan drafted another sixth-round back, it worked out okay.  Terrell Davis.  Just sayin’.

I SAW even warm-ups aren’t safe.  During the pregame in Tampa, there was a very scary collision between Redskins S Brandon Meriweather and his teammate, WR Aldrick Robinson.  As far as can be seen from the video of the incident that made its way through the networks Sunday night, Robinson was standing in the end zone, looking at the ground, while Meriweather was tracking down an airborne football.  The two players collided head-to-head, no helmets.  Mariweather was writhing in pain on the turf after the accident, and Robinson was down on the grass, motionless.  Let’s hope they’re both okay.

I SAW, according to the Fox game broadcast, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III set the franchise record for rushing TDs in a season with 4.  That number seemed very low to me for a franchise record, so I did some research and found that it is low – only 2 teams have a lower single season rushing TD record for their QB, and both are newer teams:

Team                          QB                              #of rush TDs                                     Year

Baltimore                    Stoney Case                            3                                               1999

Houston                      David Carr                               3                                               2002

Indianapolis                Peyton Manning                        4                                    2001 & 2006

Bert Jones                                                                              1974

Miami                         Cleo Lemon                             4                                                2007

Jay Fiedler                                                                              2001

David Woodley                                                                        1981

Washington*               Robert Griffin III                    4 (and counting)                                2012

Joe Theismann                        4                                                1979

Eddie LeBaron                                                                          1955

*Cliff Battles rushed for 6 and 5 TDs in 1934 and ’37 for Washington, respectively.  Fox was likely considering 1940 and later – what is often believed to be the “modern era.”

Another fun note from this research: Former US congressman Jack Kemp is the only QB to hold the single-season mark for rushing TDs by a QB for two different teams: San Diego (8) and Buffalo (8).

I SAW – nay, heard – something I can’t recall ever hearing in Raymond James Stadium since the franchise turned things around under then-head coach Tony Dungy during the 1990s: Cheers for an opposing player.  I don’t know if the Redskins fans travel that well or the cache of their QB, Robert Griffin III, is already that strong, but there were audible chants of “RG3!” coming from the stands during Washington’s game-winning drive – and that was while watching the game on television.

To add to the mystique of the moment, it has since been reported by NFL.com that the headset in Griffin’s helmet stopped working during that drive.  Didn’t seem to phase the first-year pivot at all as he went 3-for-3 (not counting a spike to kill the clock) and had a 15-yard run to take Washington from their own 20-yard line into field goal range.  Now that’s rookie poise.

SNF- Philadelphia(3-1) wins vs. N.Y. Giants(2-2), 19-17

I SAW Eagles head coach Andy Reid make a decent point during the postgame press conference as he attempted to explain his starting quarterback’s struggles.  Reid pointed out that Michael Vick spent much of the preseason missing the practice reps any player needs to be in regular season form due to several injuries he sustained during exhibition games – and then on top of that he’s had to face 4 of the better defenses in the league, especially at applying pressure on the passer: The Browns, Ravens, Cardinals and Giants.

Perhaps that’s ample reason to give Vick a break for now – and to cool off those vulture-like rumors that backup Nick Foles will be taking his job soon.

I SAW a weird stat: With all the pressure Eagles QB Vick has been under, he was sacked by a defensive lineman for the first time this season when Giants DE Osi Umenyiora took him down Sunday night.  I’m not sure what that says – if anything – but it was surprising to hear that during the game.

I SAW yet another reason to shake one’s head at the denseness of Eagles QB Michael Vick.  After turning the ball over a brutal 8 times in the first three games (5 INT, 3 FUM lost), the pivot went the whole game against the Giants without a turnover.  In an on-field interview after the game, Vick had the nerve to say this:

The thing I know how to do is protect the football when I want to.”

…!  Huh?  I think Deion Sanders offered the best response on NFL Network:

“Shouldn’t you ALWAYS want to?”

I SAW the Eagles pile up 191 yards rushing against the Giants.  The G-Men defensive ends over-pursued and blew outside contain all night.  Very uncharacteristic.

I SAW PROPS to the Eagles franchise and Brian Dawkins for a wild number retirement ceremony at halftime.  Few safeties have ever combined the fearsome hits Dawkins laid out with the range he showed in centerfield throughout the years with Philly and Denver.

I SAW numerous questionable offensive pass interference calls in this game by the regular officials.  Sniff, sniff – awww.  Things are back to normal.

MNF- Chicago(3-1) wins @ Dallas(2-2), 34-18 

I SAW that the Bears’ defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves for playing at the high level it does year in, year out.  Yes, they have problems against the run at times, but this defense has staying power in all phases.  Perhaps that’s one of the costs of having the spotlight focused on QB Jay Cutler and his quest to become Chicago’s first elite quarterback in generations.

I SAW Cowboys QB Tony Romo shit his monthly log as soon as possible in October.  Romo threw a career-high 5 interceptions to the Bears Monday night, becoming the first quarterback to throw that many picks in a game since Keith Null did it in 2009 for the Rams.  (If any of you remember Keith Null as an NFL player, you either deserve an award or a new social life.)

Romo wasn’t to blame for a few of the interceptions – namely an awful missed read by WR Dez Bryant on what should have been a hot read but instead turned into a pick-6 for Chicago CB Charles Tillman.

(A hot read is when the offense automatically changes the predetermined pattern of a receiver into a shorter route because of an oncoming blitz.  The QB needs a shorter pass in order to get the ball away before the blitzer gets to him, and it’s the job of the receiver closest to the space vacated by the blitzer to run to that area and catch the ball.  Bryant missed an obvious read, which led to Romo throwing the ball right to Tillman.)

But there was one interception in particular – the fifth one – that exposed one of Romo’s most consistent flaws.   The turnover in question was a ball caught by S Major Wright near the sideline.  It was a reminder of how Romo just can’t figure out the proper touch and/or trajectory for his sideline throws – they are too flat too often.  If the Dallas QB had been able to put some more arc on the ball his intended receiver (Kevin Ogletree) could have either made a play on the ball or knocked it away from Wright.  This could also be because Romo isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and has to throw the ball in a way that will reach his intended receiver faster because it takes him longer than it should to find the open man…

I SAW, with the above-mentioned gaffe and others Monday night that there’s no more athletic receiver who can play with his head up his ass like Cowboys WR Dez Bryant can.

I SAW need for a memo to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett: Your team is 8-0 when “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray has 12 carries or more.  Monday night you lost.  Murray had 11 carries.  Now, those only netted him 24 yards (2.2 AVG) but when the game was close and your QB Tony Romo was shitting the bed it might have been a good idea to test that formula.

I SAW that this bad loss had better not mindfuck Dallas during next week’s bye.  After that break they must face the Ravens, Panthers, Giants, Falcons and Eagles.

I SAW the Cowboys are now 14-12 in Jerry Jones’ new stadium.  The Emperor is going to start strangling some people with his mind or shooting lightning bolts or something if this keeps up…

I SAW that you can count suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton among those who know better than to touch Jerry Jones’ team with a 10-foot pole.  According to NFL Network, when asked if he would ever consider coaching for the Cowboys, Payton said, “I’d rather answer a bounty question.”

 

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 4, HERE AT TFQ

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