Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 6, 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 two surprise beatdowns administered by the underdog Giants and Packers to further confuse the league hierarchy early in this 2012 season – except for the top spot, which now belongs to the lone undefeated team in the NFL, the Falcons. Beneath Atlanta in the standings lies hot, wild chaos. You’ve gotta love it.
I SAW the ongoing youth movement among NFL quarterbacks intensify. It’s like women’s golf out there. The production’s one thing, but the preparedness and mental acumen of this year’s rookie QB class is what is most remarkable. (That, and RG3’s breakaway speed.) There’s a wealth of new statistical eye-poppers every week to support the impact being made by Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden. One of the main revolutionary forces behind it is the assuredness each young pivot demonstrates while running up-tempo cerebral offenses. Let’s face it – some Hall Of Fame QBs would be overwhelmed by what their contemporaries have flying through their minds before, after and during every play of a game. Years ago, HOF QB Steve Young once said on ESPN that the mental rigors he underwent as a pro quarterback were even more taxing on the mind than law school. “And I should know,” Young said, “I went to law school.” (It’s true.)
Today’s quarterbacks likely have to do more than Young did – and they do it at an ever-quicker pace, with less huddles in between plays. To wit: When Sports Illustrated’s Peter King explained in MMQB how often this year’s rookie QBs go to the no-huddle offense it was noted that Luck ran 13 snaps of no-huddle against Green Bay in week 5. Colts head coach (and former offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians remarked that Peyton Manning never did such a thing until having been in the league for two or three seasons.
What’s most striking about what Arian said about Manning is that when he was drafted first overall Peyton was all but unanimously considered the most studious, hard-working and pro-ready QB the NFL had ever seen. The former Tennessee Volunteer is still in the league, and his younger cohorts have already taken the style of fast-paced, read-heavy play that Manning helped to pioneer and pushed it several levels higher – when they were in college. That means that offensive schemes once deemed a rarity are sweeping the US at all age levels. What a difference just fifteen years make.
I SAW myself wanting to put the bounty issue to bed – really. But then current Browns LB Scott Fujita spoke out against commissioner Roger Goodell in a way that neatly sums up my own grievances to the extent that I had to include an excerpt of the linebacker’s statement after receiving what he called a “condescending” letter from Goodell after the big boss reinstated a one-game suspension for Fujita.
Above all, Fujita took issue with Goodell’s claim that he jeopardized player safety by not speaking out against his team’s bounty system:
“For me, the issue of player health & safety is personal. For the league and the Commissioner, it’s about perception & liability. The Commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I’m disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best. He failed to acknowledge a link between concussions & post-career brain disease, pushed for an 18-game regular season, committed to a full season of Thursday night games, has continually challenged players’ rights to file workers compensation claims for on-the-job injuries, and he employed incompetent replacement officials for the start of the 2012 season. His actions or lack thereof are by the league’s own definition, ‘conduct detrimental.’
“My track record on the issue of player health & safety speaks for itself. And clearly, as I just listed, the Commissioner’s does too.”
It is very hard to argue with Fujita’s points about Goodell’s concern for player safety (obviously I’m not going to). One has to wonder if Goodell would be propagandizing the league’s exaggerated concern for the players’ health if there wasn’t an enormous related lawsuit by former players and their families looming over the league’s wallet…
In a sick twist of fate, on Monday it was reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Fujita may have a career-ending neck injury and is getting tested by multiple doctors to get answers. Fingers crossed for the careers of both Fujita and one of the best the NFL has ever seen… (see: Baltimore wins vs. Dallas, 31-29)
I SAW, on the player safety note: Long-standing reporter Andrea Kremer conducted a solid interview with Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey about his recovery from a concussion he received during a brutal hit in a game against the Steelers several weeks ago. Kremer is the NFL Network’s new Health and Safety reporter…
Huh? The NFL Network now has a Health and Safety reporter? That rubs me the wrong way on so many levels, not the least of which is the notion that creating a new position to report on player safety comes across as a careless move by the league with over a thousand retired players and their families suing the league for their long-term disregard for player safety. It’s either too little too late in the opinions of those plaintiffs, and/or it comes off as sheepish (read: insulting) acquiescence.
I SAW that the NFL is not unlike any other shameless company in that it makes sure it upholds optimum profit on everything – including cancer. Does the league donate large amounts of cash as a result of its October Breast Cancer Awareness campaign? Yes. Does the NFL make more money off of said campaign than what it donates to the cause? Also, yes. As an article from jezebel.com states, the league clocks massive dough from the pink cancer party. While the NFL does indeed donate – as advertised – 100 percent of the proceeds from the online auctions of player-worn pink items, the percentage of money donated from the sales of officially licensed pink gear on the league website is an unforgivable 5 percent. (They don’t advertise that.) The best part? No one is pro-cancer and as such they’ll line up to make the NFL more money than the cause it’s claiming to be charitable towards. In other words, when you see players wearing pink accessories to raise awareness for the fight against cancer it’s analogous to them wearing a corporate ad on their jersey like soccer clubs do. (Only in this case it’s an ad for their employers.)
How deeply connected is the casual NFL fan to philanthropy? It’s not hard to argue that most of them are against it in other situations. But out the wallets come. It’s a sad state of affairs when we start to support altruistic causes only because they’re trendy. To wit: As the article points out, there’s a genuine disconnect between supporting the pink movement as a pop culture phenomenon and actually educating people about, or – dare I say preventing – cases of the disease.
“The ‘awareness’ that comes from the NFL’s sales of pink branded items doesn’t justify the extent to which the league is taking advantage of consumers’ good intentions to pad their wallets. Even if no NFL player ever touched another pink thing again, Americans would go right on being aware of the disease. Unless the Buffalo Jills or New Orleans Saintsations cheerleaders are holding up signs that show women how to give themselves breast self-exams or tickets come with 5 page printouts of places low income women can obtain breast health screening for low or no cost, the type of awareness the NFL is providing is useless, vague garbage.”
This grievous misappropriation of cancer “awareness” notwithstanding, the issue is scheming customers into thinking more than 5 percent of what they buy is going towards cancer research. It isn’t. If the league is serious about helping the cause, it should be looking for reasons to give as much as possible, not profit as much as possible while still coming across as “charitable.”
To be fair, the NFL is not the only guilty party. Cancer is the biggest bandwagon out there right now. (Is it even possible to run a marathon without fighting some form of cancer?) I see now that 5 Hour Energy has a pink lemonade flavor where “part of the proceeds” go toward the fight against cancer. In this day and age, where corporations look at social causes as an opportunity for profit before charity, it all smacks of a pimped-up Ronald McDonald Childrens’ hospital, with dying kids inside and rich fucks on the top floor counting cash from the plastic donation boxes in their “restaurants.”
Check out the article. It’s a tad heavy-handed, but the points are worth noting:
I SAW the New York Yankees play a playoff game sans Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter on the roster since the 1981 World Series. So eerie.
It’s a tough 2-day stretch for pro sports in North America when 2 of the best players in history at their respective positions may have ended their careers prematurely due to injury – Jeter, and Ravens LB Ray Lewis. (see: Baltimore wins vs. Dallas, 31-29)
I SAW a good article on the little-known – and extreme – physical ailments Dolphins WR Brian Hartline had to undergo before starting this season:
One thing Hartline said stood out:
“A week before the season started, my toe nails were falling off, which happens to guys a week into training camp. I had ‘camp legs,’ and the season was about to start. I’m only now just really getting my legs under me.”
Whoa – hold on. Toenails falling off of NFL players “happens to guys”?? What are these guys doing to themselves?
I SAW SI.com post a fun photo gallery of famous athletes as kids, alongside present day photos. The numbered photos can be found here:
1. A-Rod. Cherub-faced loser then, cherub-faced loser now. God, how bad has he been at the plate during these playoffs? Watching him lately, the once-assumed 700 career home runs seem as far off as his ex Madonna’s bed. (Which for anyone else is like Kevin Bacon: Six degrees of separation away.)
3: Tom Brady – This speaks for itself. Jeez. Now I get it. C’mon, BradyPants.
4: LeBron James at Christmas – Look in the background for one of The King’s gifts – something that must have been sent back in time from Clevelanders since they’d love to see him use it: A Sit-And-Spin toy.
7: Rob Gronkoswki – GRONK want BALL! Nothing has changed.
8: Chris Paul – Who knew that cute kid in the wicker chair would grow into a crotch puncher in college, then into a squeaky-clean pro?
14: Bill Belichick – On the left we see why the legendary coach cuts off every cuff he owns. Checkered cuffs as a child? Freud would’ve had a field day with that.
16: Hope Solo – Whoa.
24: Carlos Boozer – In a lifejacket. So fitting for a big man wussy.
26: Mark Messier – How many hockey fans these days feel that the guy on the left giving Messier a youth trophy could do a better job of being commissioner than the guy on the right giving Messier the Stanley Cup does?
27: Jim and John Harbaugh – Impressive how despite the age disparity of the photos both brothers still look like two people who are going to beat the shit out of somebody in both.
28: Phil Mickelson – Ah, in his youth we see the TRUE Phil behind his split see-saw weight personality – the chubby Lefty.
37: Serena and Venus Williams – Impressive how despite the age disparity of the photos both sisters still look like two people who are going to beat the shit out of somebody in both.
Byes: Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans
TNF-Tennessee(2-4) wins vs. Pittsburgh(2-3), 26-23
I SAW that after the Titans upset the Steelers, the road team had lost 13 of the last 16 games on Thursday night. As Kurt Warner mentioned during the pregame, it’s hard enough to get planning and execution to come together on a shortened week, but doing so while travelling is clearly even more difficult.
I SAW, speaking of road games, the Steelers are winless away from home this season. With a famously aging and banged-up defense, no real semblance of a run game – especially after RB Rashard Mendenhall was forced to leave his first game back from knee surgery with a day-to-day Achilles injury – and that 0-3 mark it is time to argue that Pittsburgh is no longer the team we’re used to seeing.
I SAW NFL Network’s color commentator Mike Mayock do a good job of showing how Titans RB Chris Johnson is getting too fancy with his carries. There were numerous times when CJDeuceK had open running lanes but would try to make extra cuts instead of using his speed to blow by defenders’ pursuit angles like he used to. Perhaps the tailback believes he has lost a step.
I SAW Steelers RB Isaac Redman become the team’s first back with 100 yards receiving in a game since John “Frenchy” Fuqua did it in 1970. Play-by-play man Brad Nessler said during the game that Fuqua had a reputation for flashy dressing and once wore platform shoes with fish in the soles. After googling Frenchy’s name I found this image:
I’ve gotta wonder if Keenan Ivory Wayans had Fuqua in mind when he wrote the character named Flyguy in his movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.
New York Giants(4-2) win @ San Francisco(4-2), 26-3
I SAW that if I was FOX announcer Joe Buck I would’ve left the Giants-Niners game early. It was over at halftime and he had somewhere else to be.
In a cool, rare situation for the FOX Network on Sunday their premier play-by-play man covered the Giants-Niners game at Candlestick Park at 4:25 EST and then took a seven mile police-escorted trolley ride to AT&T Park in time for the Giants-Cardinals MLB playoff game that started at about 8:15 EST. (According to the Associated Press, Buck arrived about 10 minutes early.) I’m surprised that the network took the risk of transporting the announcer from one stadium to the other on the ground when Buck could clearly fill a hot air balloon himself within moments.
What would FOX have done if the NFL game had run longer than expected and Buck had to be late for the MLB game? Apparently Buck’s regular partner in the baseball booth, Tim McCarver, would have called the game on his own until Buck arrived. Sheesh. Thank the stars Buck made it on time, because that would have been like watching a game called by Vin Scully from inside a paper bag.
I SAW cause to wonder: Is there a more resilient team over the last 5 years than the Giants? Is there another franchise that even comes close? That doesn’t mean that New York is the best team – despite their two Super Bowl wins in that span. A team has to put itself in holes and endure things like injures to test/prove that resiliency. But this team just gets up and wins more big-time games that people write them off in than any team in recent memory. I liked this MMQB quote from QB Eli Manning, who is the central psyche for his team:
“What I say, and it sounds bad, but you’ve got to understand what I mean, is you’ve got to care enough not to care. You do your best and live with the results.”
He might not be an elite QB, but that’s elite poise that can lift a team – unlike the aura given off by one of his division rivals. (see: Baltimore wins vs. Dallas, 31-29)
I SAW the Niners suffer their most lopsided loss to date during the Jim Harbaugh era. Impressively enough, their worst loss before Sunday since Harbaugh took over was a 10-point defeat to Jim’s older brother John’s team, the Ravens, last thanksgiving (16-6).
I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning come out and successfully pick on the Niners corners early in the game – particularly Carlos Rogers.
Give New York credit. They lose players to injury, often are labeled as the “less talented” team, and maybe that’s true. But they are great at a lost art in the NFL: Picking matchups that they think they can exploit before the game and taking it to their opponents at those positions with quiet confidence.
I SAW that, in case you were wondering, that PFFFFFFFFFFFT! sound late Sunday afternoon was the air going out of the Alex Smith feel-good balloon. I rarely love something Sports Illustrated’s Peter King says, but this is good:
“Look, believe nothing you hear out of San Francisco on Alex Smith’s middle throwing finger. If Jim Harbaugh says the sprained finger on Smith’s throwing hand is fine, I think it’s amputated.”
All ten of Smith’s fingers showed up for the game on Sunday, but his poise and decision-making under pressure did not during a performance that was Alex Smith, circa 2009. The Niners QB threw 3 interceptions on Sunday against the Giants – 2 less than his total from last season. Jim Harbaugh has done a great job of making an NFL offensive game plan user-friendly for Smith but there’s still work to be done because as he showed against New York, the 8th-year pro’s psyche and decision-making changes when playing from behind. Playing from behind means playing against a more potent pass rush because the defense doesn’t respect the run as much as it might against an offense that didn’t need to score as soon as possible. Once the G-Men came out and established momentum early on, Smith got happy feet and lost his attentiveness to proper mechanics.
I SAW the Giants O-line can hang its hat on a redemptive performance against the Niners front seven. New York QB Eli Manning spent a good portion of last year’s loss to the Niners in the NFC Championship on his ass, having been sacked 6 times and hit 7 more. A (perpetually?) patchwork Giants line banded together and prevented their quarterback from being sacked at all in Sunday’s rematch, and allowed just one QB knockdown.
At the same time, the sackless performance by San Francisco’s defense might be a sign that the D most people consider the best in the NFL isn’t getting the pressure it did last year. The numbers support this: In 2011, the Niners tied for 7th in the league with 42 sacks. That’s 2.6 sacks per game. This year, they have just 9 QB takedowns through their six games this year – 1.5 per game, ranking them tied for 19th. It’s a little early to overreact to this decline or to place blame anywhere specific, but the drop-off in pash rush for San Fran is something to keep an eye on.
I SAW something to add to the O-line performance by New York: Giants Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 116 yards against the Niners. It’s the first time an opposing player has broken the 100-yard barrier against San Fran in 23 home games.
I SAW … – Wait. No, I haven’t seen Niners RB Brandon Jacobs yet. The former Giant has been listed as inactive every week this season after a preseason knee injury, but it’s a murky situation. Jacobs has put in two straight weeks of full practice and recently said he was good to go and frustrated with not playing – only to pull an about-face days later, claiming not to be fully healthy. What’s the deal? Often these conflicting stories end up being about a player a team doesn’t want on the field and thusly mires it in a perceived injury issue. It’s not hard to imagine the big softy who’s been nicknamed The Tip-Toe Burglar getting in a hard-nosed coach like Jim Harbaugh’s doghouse, especially since the similarly gruff Tom Coughlin often benched Jacobs out of frustration.
I SAW one thing’s for sure: the Niners can’t hang their heads over this loss for long because they have to play Arizona on Thursday, and with a loss San Fran would no longer be on top of the NFC West.
Atlanta(6-0) wins vs. Oakland(1-4), 23-20
I SAW the Falcons made the AFC West their bitch. In just the first six weeks of the 2012 season, Atlanta has already swept that division and while doing so beat the Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers and Raiders by 49 combined points.
I SAW the Raiders get a chance to make a statement and screw it up. Though defense has been a serious issue for the Silver & Black this season, the offense has had a solid start – especially QB Carson Palmer, who had yet to throw an interception in ’12 heading into Sunday’s game. Oakland hung tough against Atlanta and looked about to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season. But in the end Palmer threw three picks – one that Falcons CB Asante Samuel took 79 yards to the house in the fourth quarter – and the Raiders lived up to their reputation by sucking.
I SAW what could later be looked back on as a key game in the maturity process for Falcons QB Matt Ryan. He and his team have had hot air blown up their ass all season so far (with the gorilla-sized asterisk that a playoff win is needed to substantiate any regular season success), but Ryan went and sent that hot air in the other direction by shitting out a career-high three interceptions to the lowly Raiders defense. (He also threw three picks against the Saints in 2009.) After Oakland tied the game at 20 with just 40 seconds left in regulation, Ryan went 5-for-6 for 43 yards to set up Matt Bryant’s 55-yard winning field goal.
It should come as no surprise that Ryan led his team on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. It’s the 19th time in his career that he’s done so – the most by a QB in his first five seasons in the Super Bowl era. The stakes keep getting ever higher for this team, and doing it after playing a bad game can go a long way towards hardening the Falcons’ resolve. But then there’s also that asterisk…
Cleveland(1-5) wins vs. Cincinnati(3-3), 34-24
I SAW Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden give his team a present on his 29th birthday: Their first win of 2012. The victory snapped Cleveland’s losing streak at 11 games, and gave them their first win in their own division since week 4, 2010. Trivia: The last time Cleveland ended an 11-game skid was also against Cincy, in 1975.
I SAW the Browns remind the league that they have one of the more up-and-coming defensive units in the league. Cleveland’s D harassed Bengals QB Andy Dalton into his second career three-interception game.
It’s no coincidence that the collective performance happened in CB Joe Haden’s first game back from a four-game suspension. The third-year corner is one of the more underrated defenders in the league. He gives the Browns defense their identity and he showed his all-around impact against the Bengals, with seven tackles, one interception and two clutch third-down plays. Haden holds the outside edge against the run and blankets receivers with a dual-threat skill set reminiscent of Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber.
I SAW the continuing ascension of Bengals WR A.J. Green to elite wideout status. The sophomore receiver had 7 receptions for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. Through his first 21 games Green has 108 catches and 13 TDs – the most in NFL history over that span.
I SAW a strange development Tuesday in Cleveland when new owner Jim Haslam announced that team President Mike Holmgren will retire at the end of this season. It’s not yet clear if this move has been precipitated by philosophical differences between the two men in terms of how to run the team, or if Holmgren wanted to leave before Haslam took control of the Browns. The timing seems strange, though. It’s easier to see this as a distraction for the players and staff than as a positive influence. What’s more, Holmgren and head coach Pat Shurmur seem to have assembled the early makings of the core of a team they had been planning together for a few years now, and a change at the top levels of management could end up being a setback in the growth process.
Seattle(4-2) wins vs. New England(3-3), 24-23
I SAW the highest scoring offense through five weeks of the season – the Patriots – travel to Seattle to take on the league’s stingiest scoring defense in the Seahawks. What ensued was a game that may have revealed new identities for both teams…
I SAW reason to wonder after watching the Patriots give up 14 fourth quarter points to lose to the Seahawks: Is Bill Belichick’s team quietly becoming soft in the clutch? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, New England is the first team with three losses by two points or fewer in their first six games since the Dallas Texans of the AFL did it in 1960.
But it’s not just losing the close ones that must be eating away at Patriots players. They also can’t hold onto leads late in games – and that trend extends beyond this season. Including the playoffs, Sunday’s loss in Seattle marked the seventh time since 2009 that New England lost a game in which it held a lead during the final 5 minutes of regulation. Only Washington and Miami have done so more over that span (8 times each).
Every playoff game is clutch time, and that’s where the potential decline really starts to rear its ugly head for the Pats – close games or not. Look at the change in postseason W-L from 2001-06 (Brady’s first five years as a starter in New England) to 2007-now (the 16-0 regular season and beyond):
Seasons Playoff W-L (incl. SB) Super Bowl W-L
2001-2006 12-2 3-0
2007-present 4-4 0-3
To make matters worse, Belichick’s team is 2-4 since going 18-0 to start the season en route to the Super Bowl for the ’07 season. We all know what happened then, and one could argue that this team hasn’t been the same since.
There can be extended debate as to why New England is losing close games and/or giving up leads late but the fact is that they somehow do. We can lavish their offense with all sorts of stats that hail their historical production over recent years, but one of the things that always distinguished the Pats since Tom Brady took over is the way in which they more often than not somehow found ways to win those big, close games more. After looking at the stats above and remembering that NE failed to close out their last two Super Bowls – and only made it to last year’s because of a shanked short field goal attempt by the Ravens – it’s worth asking if this team has lost some of its edge. Based on the way that Seahawks CB Richard Sherman fearlessly twitter-hounded Brady after the loss, the Pats certainly don’t intimidate every opponent the way they used to. What’s more, the once-refreshing realist perspective that Brady or Belichick have shown after a loss when they opine that any team can lose to anyone is sounding more and more like two men without the answers for problems they used to be able to solve. One could argue that it’s a tad early to appraise this decline in the Patriots, but the stats for close games and playoff losses over the last 5 years say otherwise.
I SAW yet another huge statement game coming next for the Seahawks – just 4 days after this win. On Thursday Seattle plays the Niners in San Fran for a chance to take the division lead on their own (pending a Cardinals loss to the Vikings three days later). It just goes to show you how fast a division lead can be squandered with one or two off games in the parityfest of the NFL.
I SAW that the Seahawks are a team built for playing with a lead – and they do everything they can to make sure that happens. Seattle has scored first in all six of their games this year.
I SAW that though it’s generally misguided to place emphasis on head-to-head QB matchups – after all, they technically never go head-to-head – one instance where the perspective holds at least some weight is when a rookie “faces” a big-name pivot and could potentially get jitters. Not so for Seahawks first-year QB Russell Wilson. He’s taken on Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady – and won each of those games…
I SAW reason to reiterate some preseason thoughts from TFQ’s 2012 NFC West Preview about a certain aforementioned rookie quarterback:
Pete Carroll named Rookie Russell Wilson the Seahawks’ starting QB to kick off the regular season. 2 things:
1) Clearly (owner) Paul Allen doesn’t mind throwing money at pivots his team may never play (see: Charlie Whitehurst, and now Matt Flynn)
2) Wilson WILL be an excellent NFL QB. Maybe not this year (he needs a better team around him, esp WRs – I mean, 38 year-old dropmeister Owens almost made the team), but eventually. Despite GM John Schneider receiving flak from his colleagues for drafting Russell too high (the third round), I never understood why he fell so far. The biggest knock on him: He’s too short to play behind a pro line. Well, he’s barely an inch shorter than Drew Brees (listed at 5’11” vs. 6’0″, but for all we know they’re the same height) and Brees is pretty good. What’s more: Wilson played at Wisconsin, the school that has probably had the biggest, tallest O-line in college for years now, and all Wilson did behind it was break the college record for passer rating. He was a late transfer to the Badgers and picked up the playbook easily…Obviously there’s more to a pro playbook, but I think he’s going to do just fine in the pros. Seattle is making the right decision to give him a go from the start.
Here’s hoping my friends who are Seattle fans out west give me a break for once… One last thing: Schneider signed Russell to a 4-year $2.99 million contract. Who looks dumb now?
I SAW, with that in mind, a great occasion to tell fans and the media to calm the eff down in calling for a quarterback change when Seahawks QB Russell Wilson didn’t wow his critics during the first 5 games. Wilson stepped up and won the biggest statement game for his franchise since the Wild Card upset of the Saints two seasons ago.
The mature, team-first rookie is already deft at deflecting praise away from himself, but Wilson had a statement game of his own Sunday: 16-for-27 (59.2), 293 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 133.7 rating. Two of his TDs came in the fourth quarter – the first one on a fourth-and-3 at the NE 10-yard line, and the second was the winning score on a 46-yard rainbow to WR Sidney Rice with just 1:18 left in the game.
The last throw is indicative of how the Seahawks used New England’s own defensive game plan against itself. Likely motivated by a desire to shut down ’Hawks RB Marshawn Lynch the Patriots continually brought their safeties down. (That part of the plan worked, at least: Lynch was left craving skittles in a TD-less, 41-yard, 2.7 average performance.) Translation: The Pats were daring Wilson to beat them over the top of the defense, and the rook was up to the task. I checked it out, and coming into Sunday Wilson had just 5 completions on passes 20 yards or longer. He had the same amount against New England.
Wilson’s also coming through in the clutch so far. He is now the first rookie since the merger to connect on two game-winning TD passes in the last two minutes of a game during that season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, only 5 QBs have done so in one season over the last four years: Lion Matthew Stafford last season, Saint Drew Brees two years ago, and Bronco Kyle Orton and Bengal Carson Palmer in 2009. Not bad for a guy many wanted benched in favour of Matt Flynn…
I SAW PROPS to Hall Of Fame DT Cortez Kennedy, who had his number 96 retired during halftime Sunday. He’s in rare company – only two other Seahawk players have enjoyed that distinction: WR Steve Largent (#80 and the main reason most people even know Dave Krieg’s name) and OT Walter Jones (#71, the man who pushed Lincoln Navigators around to work out).
Seattle’s “12th Man” (#12) is also retired to honor the fans, but as much as sports fans like to refer to their team as “us” and “we” (and congratulate each other for their teams’ wins…what’s up with that?), they are not on the team.
I SAW Patriots QB Tom Brady throw a career-high 58 passes in losing to the Seahawks – more than double the 26 rushes the team had.
Hey Bill Belichick – I know Seattle’s rush defense is stout (it’s ranked 2nd in the NFL) but their pass defense is no slouch either (allowing the 5th-lowest completion percentage to opposing QBs). By the way, your team is 3-0 when is runs more than it passes this season and 0-3 when the opposite occurs. Just sayin’.
I SAW…Wow. Who thought that the AFC East would be tied four ways, at 3-3 after 6 weeks? Anyone? Imagine the haul in Vegas on that one.
Washington(3-3) wins vs. Minnesota(4-2), 38-26
I SAW the Redskins snap what was the league’s longest active home losing streak at 8 games by beating the Vikings – and they did it behind one impressive rookie…
I SAW PROPS to Redskins QB Robert Griffin III for his stellar play so far this season.
On the micro scale, there is the 76-yard TD run to put the game against the Vikings out of reach. The run showed his world-class speed, as the one-time track star got to the outside edge and ran right past what seemed like numerous angles had by Minny defenders.
On the macro scale, there are RG3’s stats for the season. He ranks first in the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage, second with 8.34 yards per pass attempt and third with a QB rating of 100.5. Wow. Eat your heart out, Cam Newton.
I SAW PROPS to both Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his QB Robert Griffin III for not changing their approach to Griffin’s run-heavy style of play. I agree wholeheartedly with not handcuffing such an athletic and fast QB only to protect him from hits. Why effectively remove one of the most significant parts of RG3’s game? It’s already obvious that the rookie’s running ability is a big reason for why Washington’s offense is clicking so well at this point. So much of the scheme is oriented around the option read handoff, and without the threat of the run, the fakes that the option depend on are useless. In other words, not only does limiting RG3’s rushing opportunities diminish his skill set – it would also necessitate overhauling the way the offense is being run.
Michael Vick being injury-prone isn’t nearly enough of a reason to overreact and clip the wings off of Griffin. When I think of the other four most run-oriented QBs in my lifetime, I think of Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Kordell Stewart and Steve McNair. Those quarterbacks almost never got hurt while running the ball, but they all got beat up pretty bad at times when they were in the pocket. (In fact, Young’s career was cut short due to concussion concerns after a few big hits he took when dropping back to pass.)
Think about this – running free with the ball when you have more speed than most of the players on the field versus standing still in the pocket and having huge men come at you from all angles – including one they call “the blind side.” Which situation sounds more dangerous? I’m not saying it’s unconditionally safer to run/scramble. These days nothing in football is safe. But it’s a misconception to think that running is as dangerous for a quarterback as people make it seem.
I SAW Redskins QB Robert Griffin III’s sublime TD run as a reason to take a fun look back at the longest rushes by a QB since 1970 (courtesy NFL Network):
Year/QB Opponent Yards
1996 Kordell Stewart CAR 80
2012 Robert Griffin III MIN 76
1995 Steve Bono ARI 76
1997 Kordell Stewart BAL 74
1998 Steve McNair TB 71
Two thoughts: Nice work by Kordell to be up there twice. And Steve Bono! There will never be a slower QB to ever score a 75+yard run. I remember it well – it was a naked bootleg on a short yardage play that just got out of hand.
Baltimore(5-1) wins vs. Dallas (2-3), 31-29
I SAW one of those exciting games where the story is more about what both teams did wrong than what they did right…
I SAW need to start with the Cowboys under the above-mentioned premise. Over the last few seasons Dallas has been locked in a tight competition with their division rivals, the Eagles, for the distinction of being the NFL’s most successful team at finding new (yet strangely familiar) ways to lose games.
(It’s worth noting that neither team has undergone substantial roster changes as a result.)
As TFQ has said all along, and Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks puts well,
“…with these Cowboys, the potential is almost always greater than the production. We’ve heard plenty in recent years about how much ‘talent’’ Dallas has, but the Cowboys have yet to learn to display the consistency and clutch play this proud franchise was once known for. Close games once belonged to Dallas, but those days seem more distant all the time.”
I’ll take it a step further and argue that a good portion of the players being called “talented” on the Cowboys aren’t. After games/months/seasons of giving many such players a free pass, at some point success has to equate into talent, and there isn’t enough of it in Big D.
I SAW, speaking of hypothetical talent not playing itself out in games/reality, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant dropped a very catchable ball on a last-minute two-point conversion attempt that could have tied the game. In fact, the ball was so catchable that it hit Bryant in his shoulder pad while he tried the always-undisciplined “Bear Trap” style of receiving – snapping one’s forearms up towards the pads, hoping that they close up just as the ball is bouncing off of them. It’s lazy technique that effectively erased Bryant’s game of 13 catches and 2 TDs. But it was just the icing on the cake, being his third drop of the game and seventh drop through the first five games. No excuse.
I SAW that even the magic of deception possessed by Sith Lord (and Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones can’t conceal the big pink-faced, red-haired elephant in the middle of the room anymore. If The Emperor hasn’t admitted this to himself already, he has to: head coach Jason Garrett is not good enough at his job to keep it.
There have been oh-so-many examples to expose Garrett’s shortcomings as a head coach (hell, even as offensive coordinator of the ’Boys before his promotion), but some of this week’s ones are pronounced:
Dallas tied a season high with 15 penalties in the loss to Baltimore – 6 in the fourth quarter. Coming into week 6, the Cowboys had committed 4.0 penalties per game in the final quarter, which is the most in the league.
And then there’s the mind-blowing lack of clock management to end Sunday’s game.
Trailing by 2, ’Boys QB Tony Romo completed a 1-yard pass to WR Dez Bryant with 26 seconds left in the game. Instead of trying to run another play to gain more yards the Dallas offense casually milled about, making no concerted effort to hurry up and a timeout had to be called with 6 seconds left so that Dan Bailey could come out and miss a 51-yarder.
Romo deserves some of the blame for this brutal gaffe (see below) but Dallas’ situational coaching has to be good enough to avoid mishaps like these. Bailey’s career long is a 51-yard field goal. During the minutes prior to the final drive Garrett should have explained to Romo where they needed to get on the field for a good chance at a game-winning field goal. Also, when the two were talking before the 1-yard pass to Bryant, it should have been made clear to the QB that if they didn’t reach that place in the field that they had to at least try and line up for another play to get closer. What happened instead is that Garrett did virtually nothing to exhort his players to hurry back, and the game was ultimately lost as a result. And this isn’t the first time Garrett’s time management skills have been called into question.
I SAW that a fair share of the blame for botching the clock management at the end of the loss to the Ravens (see above) should fall on Cowboys QB Tony Romo. He’s GOT to be more of a demonstrative, scolding leader in situations like that, when two receivers downfield don’t even jog back to the line of scrimmage after the aforementioned 1-yard play to WR Dez Bryant and the offensive linemen seem clueless about the need to get back into their stances so that the ball can be snapped. Instead of yelling at his teammates, or at least gesturing at them to hurry back into position, Romo did what he is known for – standing and watching without expression while he doesn’t do his job properly.
That moment at the end of the game is merely the most recent example of Romo’s lack of leadership. Is the whole Dallas team made up of Romophobes? Because it often seems like it. In today’s quarterback-centric NFL culture, leadership is a more crucial intangible for a pivot than it ever has been. A QB’s presence needs to be commanding enough that his teammates want to play better for him. The guys in the Dallas locker room can SAY that they’ll give their all for their QB, but it just isn’t happening. And no one has vociferously backed Romo publicly since Terrell Owens famously cried, saying, “That’s my quarterback!” That says a lot. Even if it feels uncomfortable for him, Romo has to start being more outspoken and energetic in the leadership department because his deadpan demeanor isn’t inspiring anyone.
Just like Giants QB Eli Manning’s unflappable demeanor can spread confidence to his teammates, so can Romo’s detachment help fragment an already-disorganized team. God, can it be that a Ryan boy (defensive coordinator Rob) is the most unifying staff member on the Cowboys? No wonder the majority of Dallas’ roster members have lacked discipline for years now!
It’s time for the Emperor to make some changes in the off-season – whether the team rallies at the eleventh hour or not…it’s on him now.
I SAW that The Emperor Jerry Jones really has no one but himself to blame for the coaching quandary he finds himself in with Jason Garrett. The trail of Jones’ bad hiring decisions that led to Garrett’s promotion to head coach during the 2010 season goes back farther than some might realize.
First mistake: Bill Parcells retired as head coach of the Cowboys after the 2006 season and a disappointing stint in Dallas considering the high expectations Parcells brought with him. It was then that Garrett was hired on as offensive coordinator (Sean Payton held the job under Parcells). In his first season coaching in Big D in 2007, Garret turned the Cowboys offense into the third-ranked unit in the NFL. The Emperor rewarded his newest pupil in 2008 with a $3 million per year contract, making Garrett the highest-paid coordinator in the league.
Second mistake: At the same time as he hired Garrett, Jones appointed Wade Phillips as his head coach. Like a few other coaches Phillips has a long track record for being an exceptional defensive coordinator, but a bad head coach (see: Turner, Norv; Wannstedt, Dave; Tice, Mike and others). Phillips had to have been a temporary solution in the owner’s eyes. Rumors had it that he wanted Garrett to eventually take over the reins.
Third mistake: When it became apparent that there was going to be a wealth of big-name head coaches on the market following the 2008 season – Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden, all of whom had won Super Bowls – Jones began courting several of them. As this occurred, Garrett started interviewing with various teams about their head coaching vacancies. Word had it at the time that the Ravens were the closest but that Garrett turned them down to stay in Dallas – likely because he was getting paid as much or better by Jones for that silly contract than Baltimore had put on the table. (Garrett had also played as a backup QB in Dallas and may have had a sense of loyalty.)
Meanwhile, Dallas’ offense dropped to 13th overall amongst some questionable play-calling decisions by Garrett…
Fourth mistake: Jones effectively painted himself into a corner. None of the big names ended up head coaching anywhere the following season, leaving Jones to stay with Phillips, whom the owner had hoped to replace. Between Phillips’ lame-ass cheerleader approach to head coaching the team and Garrett’s diminishing skills as the (severely overpaid) coordinator the Cowboys got worse and worse. Jones would have likely gotten rid of Garrett here, in 2009, but was handcuffed by that contract.
Fifth mistake: During the 2010 season, when Phillips had ridden the team so far into the ground that he couldn’t take it anymore (think a 1-7 start), The Emperor zapped him into unemployment and had no real choice but to appoint Garrett interim head coach. That’s okay. However, after years of mismanaging the offense, Garrett should have been a stopgap solution and nothing more. That changed when, after a few uplifting wins during the second half of 2010, Jones promoted the man he had already all but given up on for the head coach position.
Short story long, that’s how The Emperor usurped his own empire.
Now he needs to blow this team up like Alderaan.
I SAW serious need to move on to the issues with the Ravens. Wow, it took a while to undress the Cowboys there; I almost mistook them for the Jets…
I SAW that the Ravens’ long-vaunted run defense is all but dead. Dallas’ 227 rush yards gained on Sunday are the most ever allowed in a game by Baltimore. When running backs “Don Juan” DeMarco Murray and the Man Made Of Glass (Felix Jones) left the game with injuries, even Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar were able to run for big gains against what has arguably been the best run defense since the turn of the millennium.
When you put Sunday and the week 5 game against the Chiefs together, you get the first time in franchise history that Baltimore has given up 200+ rush yards in consecutive games. In back-to-back games, this defense gave up the first- and third-most yards on the ground allowed in a game since this team was born.
Somehow, the Ravens won both of these games – just the fourth time that a team has given up two straight 200-yard rushing games and won them both in NFL history.
But that’s not the only reason that Sunday’s win was likely the bitterest win this team’s had to swallow in their relatively short existence…
I SAW the Ravens lose two of their top four defenders for the year during the Dallas game: CB Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) and the heart of the team, LB Ray Lewis (torn triceps). All-Pro DT Haloti Ngata also left the game with a knee injury, but is apparently going to be able to play next week. Add this to the already-injured LB Terrell Suggs and the Ravens’ D has become a MASH unit almost overnight.
Let’s reserve appraisal of the career of the best all-around linebacker this game has ever seen for now, in the hopes that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Lewis…No defense is half as sweet with their “Sugar” on the side…
I SAW, as bad as the porous run defense has been in the last two weeks, things are likely about to get even worse in the weeks to come for the Ravens. They could be without Lewis, Webb and Ngata next week (see above) and next week they have to go down to Houston to take on RB Arian Foster and an O-line that are bound to be angry after getting stuffed by the Packers Sunday night (see: Green Bay wins @ Houston, 42,24). After that: bye, at Cleveland, vs. Oakland, at Pittsburgh, at San Diego. All of those teams have a RB that can take over a game.
I SAW that there are a lot of candidates at the moment, but if Baltimore can survive these injuries, John Harbaugh is Head Coach of The Year.
Miami(3-3) wins vs. St. Louis(3-3), 17-14
I SAW the most over-hyped player so far this year come down to earth. Against the Rams’ tough CB duo Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins Dolphins WR Brian Hartline went without a catch all day.
I SAW the Rams give future opponents of the Dolphins hope by averaging 6.0 yards per carry against what was the league’s top rushing defense coming into week 6.
Detroit(2-3) wins @ Philadelphia(3-3), 26-23(OT)
I SAW Chicken Little start to warm up her lungs… After weathering the storm for years and years, the sky might finally be getting ready to fall on the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia.
The Eagles are in a dangerous spot in terms of team morale. Last week, I remarked in What I Saw that the Steelers were able to take a win away from Philly late because they needed it more. This week, the Lions stole one from head coach Andy Reid’s team by scoring 20 of the game’s final 27 points. After the loss Eagles DB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took things one step further by saying, “They wanted it more. We blew it.” Not good.
What’s worse, Rogers-Cromartie wasn’t alone amongst his teammates in terms of self-immolation. WR Jason Avant told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his team is “an undisciplined team at this point. Six games in, it’s embarrassing. That’s the word. Embarrassing… With the mindset of, ‘Me before the team,’ in certain instances.” Rookie DL Fletcher Cox was ejected for fighting Sunday. One of QB Michael Vick’s two fumbles happened because he was busy yelling at WR DeSean Jackson to go in motion when the shotgun snap came at him. Jackson also reportedly “smacked [Lions LB] Travis Lewis in the face” following a punt in the first half but avoided being thrown out the game himself.
Obviously when this level of delinquency spreads throughout a roster coaching is the most likely issue. But Reid’s players are rallying around him – again. According to ESPN.com TE Brent Celek said that the head coach is “disgusted how we finished, and I think we as players are, too.” CB Nnamdi Asomugha claimed that, “Coach Reid is such a disciplinarian. And there are times in the game when that becomes an issue. It makes no sense.”
Maybe it doesn’t. But believe it or not, Reid’s firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo Tuesday morning does make sense. The offense is the side of the ball with a bull’s eye on them right now, but what’s overlooked in this is that Philly has given up seven fourth-quarter leads under Castillo’s short tenure. That being said, it could ironically serve to further endanger Reid’s own job – let alone potentially irk some Eagles defenders if they feel as though they’ve essentially been thrown under the bus.
At some point, even if Reid still does appear to have the support of the locker room, owner Jeff Lurie might feel compelled to make some drastic moves and that usually starts with a change at head coach. Don’t forget either – as noted in TFQ’s NFC East season preview – that Vick’s contract leans toward him being let go after this season in order to avoid paying out certain bonuses and/or missing certain payment deadlines. The sword of Damocles is hanging over this team, they’re not handling the pressure well, and now they have more time than usual to stew in it.
It’s going to be a challenge for Reid to turn his players’ collective frown upside down throughout a tense week seven bye.
I SAW the search party for the Eagles’ big-play offense got a big tip to help in their quest when QB Michael Vick hooked up with WR Jeremy Maclin for a 70-yard TD in the fourth quarter. It was Philly’s first play for more than 49 yards all year.
I SAW the two fumbles he was credited with weren’t necessarily Eagles QB Michael Vick’s fault. But the two interceptions he threw – to a Lions defense that didn’t have a single one in their first four games – were.
I SAW that the Lions defense played with more energy and aggressiveness in their backfield in this game because S Louis Delmas returned from knee surgery to play his first game Sunday. Delmas is the aggressive hard hitter that gave Detroit DBs their identity and he made an immediate impact: 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1 pass defended. One of the more interesting things about the NFL and its status as a deeply team-oriented sport is how a player with the status of Delmas can be so integral to his team’s success. Pre-Delmas and Sunday looked like night and day.
I SAW Eagles RB LeSean McCoy get held to 22 yards on 14 carries (1.6 average). Now that’s the interior defensive play fans have been waiting to see from the Lions.
I SAW that head coach Jim Schwartz’s Lions like living on the edge. To wit: QB Matt Stafford notched his seventh fourth quarter and/or OT comeback win since 2009, and the Lions already led the NFL with 56 fourth quarter points before adding another 17 against the Eagles.
Buffalo(3-3) wins @ Arizona(4-2), 19-16(OT)
I SAW the Cardinals play yet another OT game. This is getting out of hand…
I SAW the Cardinals come back down to earth substantially, losing two straight games – to non-top-tier teams, Buffalo and St. Louis – after their ballyhooed 4-0 start.
I SAW Cardinals S Kerry Rhodes get carted off the field due to a back injury near the end of the game. Don’t underestimate the potential impact of that injury, should Rhodes miss any time. He figures prominently in the run defense.
I SAW mario come up with two sacks and one QB knockdown against the Cardinals Sunday. For those of you who missed What I Saw last week (shame on you), I’m referring to Bills LB Mario Williams. His nickname has been downgraded from Super Mario to mario due to his brutally unproductive play so far this season.
mario still hasn’t earned the capital ‘M’ back yet, though. Nice to see him get a couple of sacks, but it was against Arizona, owner of the leading candidates for TFQ’s Paper Wall Award for most porous O-line.
I SAW something to keep an eye on…Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game Sunday when Bills D-linemen Chris Kelsay and Alex Carrington landed on top of him, crushing Kolb’s midsection. (Kolb is reported as out at least one week, likely more. UPDATE- After MRI results, Kolb is expected to be out around 6 weeks.)
Sure, having two defensive linemen land on top of a QB will do damage. But the two defenders did something I’ve noticed a few times this year. Has anyone else noticed how defenders are starting to get their forearms extended against the bodies of quarterbacks as they hit the ground? It makes it look like the tacklers are merely trying to get up quickly as they go down, but that’s just a clever way to hide giving a forearm shiver to a QB’s ribcage. It just goes to show you that, unfortunately, players are going to find a way to inflict pain that the rulebook hasn’t covered yet. Let’s hope referees and league officials catch onto it because it just cost at least one team their starting pivot for at least one important game. (They’re all important anyway.)
New York Jets(3-3) win vs. Indianapolis(2-3), 35-9
I SAW a HUGE fool’s gold win for the Jets Big hangover game for Indy.
In other words, yes, New York got a win when they sorely needed one – and it was a blowout. But let’s put this game in proper context on multiple levels:
This was a textbook example of a hangover game for the Colts, having come back to stun the Packers in the wake of head coach Chuck Pagano’s cancer diagnosis. Indianapolis also had key injuries. Their leading sacker Robert Mathis was out for the game, and DE Cory Redding was knocked out of Sunday’s game in the first quarter with a knee injury. On the offensive side starting RB Donald Brown didn’t play either. So, the Jets beat up a team that was already beat up and emotionally wasted. Big deal.
The Jets have revived their ground-and-pound attack, right? Against what was the 25th-ranked run defense in the league coming into Sunday? Against a team who allowed 4.7 yards per carry against their first four opponents (only 4 teams had allowed more)? At this point, it might be wiser to emphasize the games during which New York couldn’t run the ball in recent times, which are plenty. Case in point: RB Joe McKnight’s 61-yard run Sunday was the Jets’ longest run since 2009. That’s not a ground-and-pound offense.
Lastly, the Jets’ offense didn’t turn the ball over. Great! Just one problem: It was the first time it didn’t give the ball away in 17 games. That’s not good.
I SAW that the Jets at least figured out one winning formula that should prove useful going forward: Limit the impact of QB Mark Sanchez. It’s harder for a mistake-prone pivot to hurt his team’s chance to win when he’s only throwing the ball 18 times (for 11 completions and 82 yards). Sadly, you could tell even Sanchez himself was more comfortable with a sparse diet of decisions to make.
I SAW the Jets have become more aggressive and varied with their pass rush since losing All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis. That makes sense, if you consider that head coach Rex Ryan schemed his defense more that way when he was the coordinator in Baltimore and didn’t have a shutdown corner to depend on.
Tampa Bay(2-3) wins vs. Kansas City(1-5), 38-10
I SAW Kansas City QB Dr. Brady Quinn, Medicine Woman was more woman than medicine for the ever-ailing Chiefs. Subbing in for concussed starter Matt Cassel, Quinn went 22 of 38 for 180 yards, no touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.
Who’s cheering Cassel’s injury now, Chiefs fans? Opponents, that’s who.
I SAW, after having a hay day against a struggling Ravens rushing defense in week 5, the Chiefs running game ran into a brick wall called the Buccaneers defense. According to ESPN.com, Tampa Bay entered the week leading the league in negative rush plays allowed with 28 – even though they’ve already had their bye week. The Bucs added to that impressive number against a good ground game in the Chiefs with six more tackles for loss on run plays. Say what you will about new head coach Greg Schiano’s overbearing style, but he’s got his front seven going after ballcarriers as though there’s raw meat taped all over them.
I SAW PROPS for Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber, whose bouncy-ball interception that he returned for a touchdown tied him with the much-more-celebrated Packers S Charles Woodson for the most defensive TDs amongst active players, with 12.
SNF-Green Bay(3-3) wins @ Houston(5-1), 42-24
I SAW Green Bay come into the Texans’ house when it was full of a regular-season-record crowd of 71, 702 needing a bounce-back win badly. Boy did they ever get one.
Obviously what stands out the most for the media is QB Aaron Rodgers’ 6 TD passes (that fixed the franchise record book, since Matt Flynn had held the single game TD pass record alone with 6 TDs of his own), but those were against the weakest link on Houston’s then-undefeated team. What’s most intriguing is the way the Packers defense stood up for itself against one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Houston managed just 90 yards rushing. Sure they were playing from behind for much of the game, but star RB Arian Foster still got stuffed at the line time and time again, gaining just 29 yards on 17 carries – a 1.7 average. It’s also worth noting that the Packs’ defense did this without their best interior lineman – B.J. Raji. It’s the sort of team performance that can end up being a turning point in terms of collective confidence.
I SAW, with his third TD reception against the Texans on Sunday, Packer WR Jordy Nelson has 19 TD receptions since the start of last season – only Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (20) has more.
I SAW PROPS for Packers WR James Jones for an eye-popping, stand-up-out-of-your-couch-and-spill-your-chips-all-over-the-floor-without-caring one-handed catch in the end zone to make it 42-17 for Green Bay in the fourth quarter. Jones was guarded well, but QB Aaron Rodgers put the ball up for grabs and Jones dove past the defender who had seemingly boxed him out from making the catch, and pulled it in with one arm. Great catch.
MNF-Denver(3-3) wins @ San Diego(3-3), 35-24
I SAW an early candidate for one of TFQ’s Upside-Down Awards at the end of the season:
Thief In The Night Award
This is the best candidate for the award so far this season. Broncos QB Peyton Manning and his team came out of the locker room trailing the Chargers 24-0 – the largest halftime deficit of Manning’s career. Denver was thoroughly dominated in the first half but clearly didn’t shed any tears for themselves during the break. It was more like, “two tears in a bucket, fuck it.” Manning came out with his guns blazing and threw three second-half TDs to finish with a final line of 24-for-30 (80%), 309 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 129.0 rating.
Even better: Peyton went 13-for-14 and 3 TDs in the second half. The prettiest moment came about midway through the fourth quarter when Manning put up a perfect throw to his right (take that, doubters of his arm strength to that side) that pulled the lever on his favorite slot machine – WR Brandon Stokley, who came up triple-cherries with a sweet over-the-shoulder sideline grab to give the Broncos their first lead of the game, 28-24.
Make no mistake, though, Denver won this game with its defensive line. Chargers QB Philip Rivers was under duress throughout the second half, getting hit repeatedly as the Broncos ended up with 4 sacks and 4 QB knockdowns by the end of the game. Looking closely, Rivers started shortening his footwork while passing – especially his back foot, which limits the torque on his body and thus the velocity and trajectory of his throws tend to deteriorate. The end result was the game-killing pick-6 by CB Chris Harris on – you guessed it – a weak and high throw. In essence, the Chargers offense lost its edge because the clock in Philip Rivers’ head got to be as short as Manning’s truncated neck.
I SAW former head coach Brian Billick make a great point on NFL Network’s Total Access about the impact this comeback can have on the Broncos’ team psyche. Now saying that they are in any game during which they’re losing is no longer coachspeak. That can really spur a team’s confidence.
On the other hand, now the Chargers may never feel comfortable with a lead…
I SAW Chargers head coach Norv Turner act more shell-shocked than I’ve ever seen him during a post-game press conference – and that’s saying something, because Turner has stammered through his fair share of excuse-laden speeches after embarrassing defeats. His eyes were quite glassy and almost…resigned.
Bad choice of words? Maybe not.
Like Philly does with them next week and Dallas did two weeks ago, the Bolts go into a bye week limping at best, with all three head coaches hiding from their owners like a kid who crashed the car through the living room window. I know, these guys have some of the hardest, most stressful jobs in sports and it’s early to be sniffing for pink slips. But how many free passes are Garrett, Reid and Turner going to get? The clocks in their heads have to be getting as short as Rivers’ did Sunday night…
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 7, HERE AT TFQ