WHAT I SAW, Wk 10 2012

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW IN WEEK 10, 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.)

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Away from the game(s)

I SAW the NFL continue to surprise, confuse and excite this week with unexpected results.  The first tie game in four years in San Francisco reminds us that Steve Fisher coached teams don’t lie down for anybody (okay – unless it’s in the snow in New England…).  A few surprise visits out to the woodshed in Cincinnati and Miami force us to take both the ’Fins and ’Gints down a peg – for now.  Some games that were expected to be blowouts turned into shootouts and some games that shouldn’t have been laughers became them.  Hell, even the expected is occasionally unexpected in today’s NFL, like when the Game Of The Year thus far between two of the top three defenses (the Niners own the other) in Chicago was low scoring but was so due in large part to a most unwelcome concussion (see below) that arguably won the game for Houston and left Bears fans watching ex-Dallas cheerleader (and current Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) celebrate with his players on the sideline as another quality Sunday wound to a close.

I SAW the productivity boom from young quarterbacks take a hiatus this week.  Coming into Thursday’s game in Jacksonville there had been nine 300-yard passing games by a rookie – already a record for the most such games in a single NFL season, according to the folks at NFL Media.

Granted, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden sat out with byes, but this past weekend nonetheless brought disappointment for fans looking for big games from rookie QBs as they averaged a mere 213 yards per game.  (Led by Colts Andrew Luck’s 227; Eagle Nick Foles had 219 in less than three full quarters of relief.)

Even the sophomore kids had quiet performances.  Cincy’s Andy Dalton tossed four touchdowns against the Giants but mustered only 199 passing yards.  In all, 6 second-year pivots averaged 195 yards per game.  (Panther Cam Newton led this group with 241 yards; Niner Colin Kaepernick’s 177 came in a bit more than one half’s worth of action after starter Alex Smith left the game.)

The slow weekend for first- and second-year quarterbacks likely doesn’t amount to much in terms of predicting a trend of any kind but in a league when Brees, Brady, Rodgers and Manning (Peyton – just Peyton) perform with a metronome-like consistency it serves as a reminder that no QB simply steps into an elite role.

I SAW a big Sunday afternoon for tight ends.  Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks did a good job of putting it in perspective, noting that in the eight one o’clock games twelve TEs caught a total of 15 touchdowns.  Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez and New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham caught two scores apiece.  That game was the first in NFL history during which two tight ends had at least 120 yards and two touchdowns in the same game.  The way the passing game is changing in recent years, one gets the feeling that this won’t be the first time such a feat occurs.

One position had a considerably worse weekend….

I SAW an Attack Of The Marshmallow Heads weekend, starring three starting QBs who were knocked out of games with concussions – all of whom are uncertain to play in their teams’ next games at this point: San Fran’s Alex Smith, Philly’s Michael Vick and Chicago’s Jay Cutler.  Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Jag Blaine Gabbert also left their games with shoulder injuries.  Combine that with the low yardage output from young QBs (see above), Eli Manning’s steaming log that is November (again – see below) and Bolt Philip Rivers’ shitting of the bed in the second half and good games from the quarterback position were few and far between last weekend.

To add insult to injury – literally – QBs weren’t the only ones having dangerous moments.  Bills RB Fred Jackson committed a crucial late-game fumble because he was knocked unconscious, and Bucs LB Quincy Black was taken off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury.  (As of Tuesday, Black was experiencing “problems” with his arm but is expected to be okay.)

I SAW more evidence that NFL officials can still make brutal mistakes just like their scab replacements did.  There will always be such cases – to err, after all, is human.  But two of the miscues this week were particularly galling:

In Carolina, Broncos kick returner Trindon Holliday pulled a DeSean Jackson by letting go of the football prior to the goal line at the end of a long scoring return.  Since all scoring plays are now reviewed, it’s fairly mind-boggling that this wasn’t caught and the TD changed to a touchback for Carolina (the ball bounced out of the back of the end zone). 

In San Francisco, referee Clete Blakeman and his on-field crew let the play clock run off about 72 seconds or so during a stoppage in the game before they realized what was going on.  After a lengthy discussion with the replay booth upstairs, Blakeman did nothing to replace any of the lost time.  Unbelievable.

What makes idiotic mistakes like this all the more frustrating is that in both cases there was ample opportunity to make use of replay technology.  In fact, logic would dictate that in either case video footage was somehow looked at.  Yet humanity prevailed.

What’s the point of taking advantage of video footage, again?  Why must the human element that influences a game so often be the stupid one?

I SAW a reason to note the looming presence of a team that is on a bye.  Sunday night’s huge game between the Texans and Bears pitted two of the three best records in the league coming into week ten against one another.  Both teams had only lost one game apiece, and both of those losses were to the Packers.  Just sayin’.

I SAW distinguished sports news reporter Andrea Kremer start her series on Health & Safety on NFL Network.  Kremer works hard.  She’s a solidly objective reporter, but it’s sad and jarring to watch her and other similarly old reporters appear in such a cosmetically doctored state in front of the camera.  Has the premium for a stereotypical female look become so all-pervasive that we have to watch female reporters on TV stretch their faces to the point of snapping?  It too often looks like a scene from Brazil when these pros get in front of the camera.

Byes: Cleveland, Green Bay, Arizona, Washington

TNF- Indianapolis (6-3) wins @ Jacksonville (1-8), 27-10

I SAW the Colts continue their winning ways on Thursday night by extending their win streak to four – their longest since closing out the 2010 season.  It’s fitting that the win came on a Thursday.  Since the merger, Indianapolis is the best team in the NFL on the league’s anti-couples night.  (As I’ve said before, Roger Goodell must be against wives and girlfriends with the seemingly all-week feel that he’s created now that Thursday night games happen every week.)  From Elias Sports Bureau:

Best records – Thursday night games since the merger (5 gms minimum)

Colts 9-1 .900
Niners 6-2 .750
Eagles 5-2 .714
Chiefs 5-3 .625

I SAW the Colts force their first turnover in 5 weeks when Jags WR Laurent Robinson fumbled early in the second quarter.  It’s remarkable that Indy has had the run they’ve had lately without any takeaways.

I SAW Colts WR Reggie Wayne continue to be a security blanket for rookie QB Andrew Luck.  In fact, you’d have to be blind not to see it Thursday night.  Luck targeted Wayne on eight of his first nine pass attempts – for six completions and four first downs.  According to ESPN Stats & Information, among QB-receiver tandems with a minimum of 9 attempts, the Luck-Wayne combo’s 30.8 target percentage is third highest in the NFL this season behind the Chiefs’ Matt Cassel-Dwayne Bowe (31.8) and the Bears’ Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (38.0).

I SAW that (Colts rookie WR) T.Y. Hilton is fast.  He sort of reminds me of Baltimore’s Torrey Smith.  It could be sweet watching him and Andrew Luck grow up together.

I SAW me wondering if Jacksonville head coach Mike Mularkey is under any stress

That drew a rare unsportsmanlike conduct for a head coach, by the way.

Maybe that affected his observational skills Thursday because the Colts defensive backs were sitting on routes all night, meaning that they were playing defense in a manner indicative that they were waiting to spring in front of an intended receiver for the ball.  Mularkey failed to have his offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski call any plays to keep the defenders honest.  (Bratkowski calls the Jags’ plays, but Mularkey was promoted from the same position in Atlanta and thus is equally accountable.)  Eventually Mularkey and his team paid for it when Darius Butler jumped a route in the shadow of the Jag’s end zone and took it to the house to effectively put the game out of reach at 24-3.  That’ll learn ’ya.

New Orleans (4-5) wins vs. Atlanta (8-1), 31-27

I SAW POP! Goes the champagne…

That’s right, Miami Dolphins of 1972.  You are still the last unbeaten team in NFL history and you can pop your traditional bottle of bubbly to celebrate.

Just remember, Bob Griese Larry Csonka & Co.: No matter what a stripper tells you

Even if you’ve filled your Viagra prescription, you’re not Tom Brady.

I SAW this game show that the Saints have the Falcons’ number.  Atlanta had never trailed by more than seven points in a game this season coming into Sunday, but any impressive stats the Dirty Birds put up seem to go out the window when they come up against their nemesis.

Hot-lanta is lukewarm at best when they have faced the fleur-de-lis since head coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan came on board in 2008.  During that span the Falcons are 49-15 against NFL teams not named the Saints…and 2-7 against the one that is.  New Orleans’ dominance of Atlanta actually extends further back in time than that, as the black and gold are 11-2 in the series over the last six seasons since QB Drew Brees joined the team.

This has the makings of an intense divisional rivalry going forward.  For one, there’s a team owning another while the team that loses most often still in turn tends to beat the rest of the league.  There’s the fact that both teams elevate their games when facing one another.  Witness the Saints’ defense, who still maintained its historic pace of giving up yardage but managed to come through when it was needed the most at the end of the game with several crucial tackles and pass deflections.  (It also shut down the running game, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and 46 total yards.  Entering the game, ’Nawlins was the worst team in the NFL against the run.)  And there’s also the animosity needed for such a rivalry, accentuated last season when Brees stayed in the game during a week 16 blowout victory in order to break the single-season passing yardage record.  This rivalry might not have the cache of Steelers-Ravens or the huge market pull that the NFC East matchups have but it’s easy to envision these teams exchanging blows atop the NFC South for years to come – and TV ratings spiking when they do.

I SAW that despite credit going to the Saints defense for coming through in the end, it got some help from its opponent.  For one…

I SAW Falcons QB Matt Ryan throw the ball 52 times on Sunday.  Yes, they were down early, but the ground game is crucial to Atlanta’s success and they fell behind early enough to still stay true to the game plan – especially against a team allowing 176.5 yards prior.  An argument can be made that the overuse of Ryan contributed to his slightly flat play during the closing moments of this game.  The Mattural (a nickname coined by NFL Net’s Rich Eisen that is much more bearable than Matty Ice) had his first 400-yard passing game of his career, but for once the ice melted in the end…

I SAW Matt Ryan make two bad throws on second and fourth down while trailing by four points within two minutes to go in the game.  Both were drag-type routes by Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, respectively, and though the ball was tipped in both cases, Ryan could have led either receiver more and thrown it higher, where it couldn’t have been touched by the defender.  This is often the sign of a tired arm and overworked reflexes.

I SAW that Falcons RB Michael Turner might be losing his finishing burst.  According to STATS LLC the back with legs thicker than most men’s torsos has only 3 touchdowns on 17 goal-to-go carries this season.  Turner’s lack of scoring acumen in such situations influenced Sunday’s game.  When Atlanta had a second down on New Orleans’ 1-yard line in the waning minutes while trailing by four points Turner had already rushed for -1 yard on three goal-to-go rushes for the game.  Not the most enticing statistic if you’re Dirk Koetter, who calls plays for the Falcons.  So on the next play, QB Matt Ryan threw the aforementioned incompletion to TE Tony Gonzalez (see above).  On third down Koetter tempted fate and gave the rock to Turner.  He lost a yard.  Again.  Sigh.  This set up the fourth down incompletion intended for WR Roddy White.

Atlanta’s defense shouldn’t feel ashamed for getting bested by Brees and his offense.  The Saints are that good on that side of the ball.  But – rivalry be damned – not being able to get Turner going or have him gain one yard at the biggest moment of the Falcons’ season thus far is the most worrisome thing for Atlanta to take away from Sunday.  They might have to try Jacquizz Rodgers out on short yardage plays if this keeps up, lest they become one-dimensional in those situations.  Actually, Turner’s stats indicate that they already are.

I SAW the first game this season to indicate that the Falcons miss CB Brent Grimes, who was lost for the year to injury early in the season.  To repeat, having a hard time covering the Saints offense isn’t necessarily cause for concern, but a team striving to be the best has to be able to stop the best too, and the Falcons’ cornerback play on the edges was suspect at times.  Assante Samuel is one of the best gambling corners the NFL has seen for some time, but as such he needs a steady, disciplined guy to bookend him and balance things out.  There were numerous times when New Orleans took advantage of this, and the resulting overcompensations by Atlanta defensive backs left one receiver seemingly open all game…

I SAW an “it’s about time” game for Saints TE Jimmy Graham.  The Falcons defense seemed strangely out of place and unprepared to guard Graham, or at the very least they weren’t up to the task as the tight end lived untouched in the seams like loose change and Cheerios do in the seams of a couch.

Graham had a season-high 146 yards receiving and two TDs.  According to ESPN Stats & Information all of Graham’s eight targets were at least six yards downfield, and he gained more yards after the catch than he had all season combined until Sunday.  Seeing that he didn’t break many tackles, that’s one very open receiver.

I SAW PROPS to Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez, who, in yet another outstanding game during which he had 11 catches for 122 yard and 2 touchdowns, amassed 101 career TD receptions.  Gonzo is just the eighth player in NFL history to reach the century mark and the first tight end ever to do so.

Another sign of the watershed change towards increased passing productivity is evident in the list of players who hold this distinction.  In 1945 Packer Don Hutson retired with 99 career receptions.  When he did, most wondered if 100 touchdowns would ever be reached – and with good reason, since Hutson’s mark stood for 45 years until Seahawk Steve Largent caught his 100th – and last – TD grab in 1989.  It didn’t take long for that record to become fodder, when Jerry Rice passed him three years later and kept scoring like Wilt Chamberlain in a brothel.  Others followed until Sunday when Gonzalez became the seventh player to tie or pass Largent.  A mere 23 years have passed, and it’s markedly crowded at the top.  (Well, not at the very top.):

Most TD Receptions, NFL History

Jerry Rice 197
Randy Moss 155 (still active)
Terrell Owens 153 (active-he wishes)
Chris Carter 130 (actively leading the HOF logjam)
Marvin Harrison 128 (actively about to bust that logjam)
Tony Gonzalez 101 (still active…please stay active, Tony)
Steve Largent 100 (actively got hosed in a senator bid*)
 Tim Brown 100 (actively lost in history)

*This is non-football related, so skip the fine print if you like.  But I was playing around online, reading about Largent’s political career for shits and giggles.  Boy did I giggle when I read about his leaving congress to run for Republican governor of Oklahoma and losing that election race to Democrat Brad Henry.  USA Today speculated (in a 2002 article) that one factor in Largent’s loss occurred when Henry’s “last-minute” public support for cockfighting – a motion to legalize the pastime was on the ballot – garnered the voting support of the rural cockfighting infrastructure.  It’s hilarious to hear of a transparent – and successful – plan for a Democrat to drop his pants for cockfighters in an attempt to win an election.  What, is Oklahoma a giant gullible Springfield?  Moments like that are proof that the cartoon world of The Simpsons isn’t as far off as some would like to believe.    

I SAW, PROPS notwithstanding, Atlanta’s ageless wonder TE Tony Gonzalez drop a wide open pass on fourth down to end the Falcons last-ditch possession at the end of the game.  Drops aren’t an official statistic (so frustrating) but you can be sure that if you were to look it up, Gonzo might drop 4 passes bi-annually…

I SAW, on the other hand, Saints WR Lance Moore make a slick one-handed catch in the third quarter, with his body fully extended.

I SAW that you could really tell that Falcons QB Matt Ryan is now quite comfortable just putting the ball up for grabs for beastsicle WR Julio Jones.  (It shouldn’t take long for Jones to become a full-on beast.)

I SAW healthy competition developing between Saints RBs Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram – dating back to last week versus the Eagles.  On one hand, there’s Ivory – whose 56-yard TD run on Sunday wasn’t just the longest run from scrimmage by a Saint since 2006 (STATS LLC).  It was also emblematic of the Lynchian combination of speed and size that the third-year back brings to his game.  On the other hand is Ingram – who has a gift as a pro for doing the bare minimum required for staying in competition for the starting job.  By definition, that’s good enough (frustrating as it may be, in the case of a former Heisman winner and son of a hard-nosed former Giants wideout).  Because of Ingram’s underachievement it’s easier to picture Ivory becoming the focus back.  Either way, when the two of them are both playing well it’s a formidable one-two punch.

Minnesota (6-4) wins vs. Detroit (4-5), 34-24

I SAW this Adrian Peterson shit is getting out of hand.  SI.com’s Don Banks said it well when he almost felt sorry for other running backs that sustain an ACL tear because asking someone else to repeat the season the Vikings RB is having thus far is like asking for blood from a stone.

But blood from a stone is exactly what Peterson seems to be providing – pint after pint.

Is Peterson actually better than he was before his knee tore apart last December?  The numbers say so.  Sunday was the fourth game in a row in which the Vikes’ bionic man ran for at least 120 yards.  It’s the first time he’s done that.  He also hadn’t rushed for over 170 yards in consecutive weeks until now.  His fourth quarter on Sunday was sublime, with a 61-yard TD dash as part of his 120 yards during the last 15 minutes.  In other words, All-Day comes through for you all day – but especially when you need him the most.

Peyton Manning can have the Comeback Player Of The Year award, because at this point in the season Peterson is the MVP.

I SAW that the Lions should just stay at home and forfeit road games within their own division.  Their 0-2 start against the NFC North in away games this year made Detroit’s record 3-23 since 2001 in those situations.  That’s just sad.

I SAW Lions WR Calvin Johnson continue to reassert himself into the NFL landscape with a career-high 12 catches Sunday, with 207 yards and his first TD of the year on a ball thrown by starting QB Matt Stafford.  However, as hard knock seasons go, Megatron’s lost fumble in the fourth quarter resulted in Viking Blair Walsh’s fourth field goal of the day, which ultimately sealed the game.

I SAW the Vikings come into Sunday as the team perhaps the most in need of a reassuring performance from its starting QB in the league – and Christian Ponder looked as decisive as he had during his impressive stretch to start the season.  He did so without WR Percy Harvin, too.  It was against the hapless Lions pass defense, but for the point Ponder was at, the necessary turnaround was psychological.  Ponder turned that corner Sunday; we’ll see if he can hold it.

Dallas (4-5) wins @ Philadelphia (3-6), 38-23   

I SAW the Philadelphia Eagles: When it rains it pours.

Maybe a lot of the rain is actually bird shit, since the vultures are circling ever lower above coach Reid and his QB, Michael Vick.  The birds were drawn to the stink – from both teams.  It’s the stench of desperation.

Neither Dallas nor Philadelphia are in great shape – week 10 marked the first time in 22 years that both teams met while under .500 for the season at the same time.  But Reid is mired in the longest losing streak of his head-coaching career (five games), and it might not turn around anytime soon.  The Eagles have just two games left to play in the crucible of their own division, but remaining non-NFC East games against the Patriots, Steelers, Bengals and Buccaneers are not ones that Philly should win at this point.  It doesn’t help Reid or his job security that he’s still underutilizing RB LeSean McCoy, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry but was only allowed 16 rushing attempts.  Remember – this game got blown open late, so there’s no excuse for abandoning a successful run game.

On the matter of the fourth quarter – that’s when anyone doubting the will of the football gods and their interest in damning the Eagles were silenced as three separate Cowboys touchdowns on a punt, interception and fumble return turned a nail-biter into a nut-cruncher for Philly fans.

Oh, right – Eagles QB Michael Vick also left the game with a concussion, so backup Nick Foles stepped up and threw a ball behind his intended receiver DeSean Jackson, who saw the ball bounce off of his own hands, Ernie Sims’ leg and then into Brandon Carr’s hands for that fourth quarter TD return.  Foles looked shaky at best.  Yet somehow in Philly that’s not enough to avoid a QB controversy, which is already brewing with news that Vick will miss next Sunday’s game.  Why don’t people wait to make sure Foles doesn’t stink up the joint before going that far?

I SAW, speaking of the stench of failure, cause to wonder if a fork should be stuck in Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha.  Not only is he getting routinely roasted in coverage but that flat-footed whiff of a tackle attempt on Cowboys RB Felix Jones’ TD run in the first quarter was just embarrassing.

I SAW the officials play more of a role than desired in this game based on an awful non-overturn on a catch by Cowboys WR Dez Bryant at the end of the third quarter that was ruled a TD.  The ball came loose twice on the replay.  This play was harder to miss than the two fuck-ups mentioned above in Away from the game(s), but it’s still maddening to have a play like this perused on video and still get ruled against the overwhelming majority opinion on the matter.

I SAW that Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles will struggle this season as long as he plays.  Coach Andy Reid does a great job at drafting quarterbacks, but with the state of Philly’s offensive line being what it is, expect Foles to look like the Original Panic, Rob Johnson back there.  Or someone else…

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles give his postgame press conference.  I thought I’d changed the channel to Napoleon Dynamite by accident….


(Yong Kim- Staff Photographer, philly.com)

I SAW a cool piece of trivia: Eagles QB Nick Foles became the first Philly rookie QB to throw a touchdown pass since AJ Feely did so in 2001.  However, RB Brian Westbrook threw one as a rook in ’02.

I SAW Cowboy Dwayne Harris dash up the sideline for a 78-yard punt return touchdown 85 seconds after Bryant’s controversial score that put the ’Boys ahead by 7.  It was Dallas’ first punt return TD of the season and the Eagles’ first one allowed in 71 games, dating back to 2008.  The sheer depth of talent in professional football is astounding.  Harris comes out of the sixth round of the NFL draft last year and he steps in and shows speed that you’d expect would have him starting somewhere.

I SAW Cowboys rookie CB Morris Claiborne have a tough game with multiple pass interference penalties to bail out rookie Eagles QB Nick Foles on balls he threw high and not terribly accurately.  The topper came at the start of the fourth quarter when he held Eagles WR Riley Cooper away from the play on what would have been an interception return for a TD to break a 17-17 tie.  The rook owes his team a big ‘thank you,’ since they overcame his five penalties.  That isn’t easy.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Claiborne is the second cornerback to commit that many penalties in a game since 2001 – the other was Fred Smoot in ’05 – and teams with a CB drawing that many flags are 8-12 all-time.

I SAW Eagles WR Riley Cooper make an amazing one-handed grab, jumping and stabbing the ball out of the air at the highest point possible.  The catch gave Philadelphia its first TD on an opening drive this season. (They are the last NFL team to accomplish that in 2012.)  Check out the .gif at the Huffington Post.

I SAW NFL Network’s most recent episode of A Football Life: Jimmy Johnson spearhead a fleeting media preoccupation with the former Cowboys head coach, who is largely responsible for the three Dallas Super Bowl wins in the 1990s.  (Johnson won two of those while on the payroll, but the third victory was also done with the roster he put together – see below.)

As such, Johnson has been on a publicity tour, and on the Dan Patrick Show he offered an apt explanation for Dallas’ struggles as of late:

“The No. 1 motivator [in the NFL] is fear. Fear of maybe letting down your teammates or being embarrassed or chastised or fear of losing your job.  Where is the fear in Dallas? There is no fear in Dallas. It’s a country club where everybody is buddies.”

With this in mind, if you were watching Sunday’s game you saw head coach Jason Garrett clapping at his team after a turnover.  Stop being so supportive when your players suck!  Get mad!  Garrett needs a touch of former ’Boys coach Bill Parcells in him.  Right now it’s too much Wade Phillips-type cheerleading.

Sigh, don’t look now, though – Dallas is only 1.5 games behind the Giants for the NFC East lead and on its way to sustaining mediocrity…

I SAW their bye this upcoming week and a home stand that has Dallas playing 5 of their next six in the Emperor Majal mean that the Cowboys’ season is not yet over.  What’s more, if recent history is any example a middling season like this one could be enough for head coach Jason Garrett to keep his job.

When was it, by the way, that The Emperor (owner Jerry Jones) became soft on his employees?  Or has he always been that way and it was Johnson and Parcells who instilled discipline in Big D?  One thing is for sure, none of the other coaches since Johnson have done so (in order): Barry Switzer…Chan Gailey… Dave Campo…  Wade Phillips…  Jason Garrett… what a disappointing group – one that is woefully lax on discipline to boot.

On a similar note, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said this about Johnson’s role in drafting players during his tenure with the Cowboys:

“…Johnson also called Jones’ assertions that he acted as general manager during Johnson’s reign as coach ‘a crock.’ I’m surprised (bordering on stunned) that Johnson, who was treated well financially (including a $2 million golden parachute from Jones when he quit) can’t let this go. Jones was GM in title when Johnson was coach, even though Johnson was the spur for the vast majority of football personnel decisions at the time.”

Who does King think he is?  A subservient Sith lord to The Emperor?  His comments seem overly defensive of Jones.  Is Johnson supposed to keep quiet just because we has paid for his work while Jones tries to take most of the credit?  The fact of the matter is that Johnson is known to have orchestrated the historic Herschel Walker trade and it was Johnson who – in small part by mining the Miami University team he coached for Hall Of Famer WR Michael Irvin and defensive stalwart Russell Maryland – made good on the wealth of draft picks the Walker trade fetched for his employer.  There simply isn’t any conflicting evidence to show that Jones has a good head for the draft and/or scouting like Johnson did.  In fact, outside of selecting LB DeMarcus Ware (a pick that should likely be credited to Parcells), Dallas hasn’t had a home run draft pick during that timespan.  Under Johnson the Cowboys had a handful.  Look at the rosters; look at the championships.  It’s perturbing that an experienced NFL reporter would see the matter in the fashion King does.

Denver (6-3) wins @ Carolina (2-7), 36-14

I SAW an ego win for the Broncos and their head coach John Fox.

Don’t get me wrong; this team doesn’t need their ego stroked – collectively or individually.  But after a nine-season stint coaching the Panthers that ended bitterly, Fox had to be pleased with walking into his old home and handing his old boss his hat with a dominating win.

Carolina seemed to be up to the task as they jumped out to an early 7-0 lead.  Enter Denver – and reality – as the Broncos put up 29 unanswered points afterward.

I SAW Broncos LB Von Miller remind people who have slept on him that he was last year’s Defensive Rookie Of The Year – and the second pick overall in the draft.  The only player drafted higher was Panthers QB Cam Newton, whom Miller sacked and later forced into an interception by grabbing his ankle.  After the sack, Miller mocked Newton’s Superman celebration by appearing to do the reverse and close his shirt.

If you’re Newton you know a tough year is getting tougher when your opponents have more chances to mock your celebration that you have to use it yourself.

I SAW that the Denver defensive performance went beyond LB Von Miller’s disruptive play.  In all, the 2012 edition of the Orange Crush sacked Cam Newton seven times – one for a safety – and held the Panthers to a suffocating 0-for-12 on third down.

To get more specific on the terrorization that the Carolina offensive line allowed:

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

Paper Wall Blocking Award

 (You know when college teams come out of the tunnel and burst through a paper banner?  Often offensive linemen or whole O-lines end up barely sufficing as such while getting torn apart by defensive fronts.  This dubious distinction is given for the paper-thinnest protection offered for an NFL QB in 2012.) 

The Panthers offensive line

The short of it: Carolina QB Cam Newton spent the whole day under duress. The long:  According to ESPN Stats & Information Newton was hit or sacked on 19 of his 45 drop backs.  That percentage is the highest one for Newton this season.  It’s also the highest amount of drop backs that the Denver defense has had pressure on in a single game this season.  The Panthers QB finished 1-for-9 with an interception on plays during which he was under duress.  His seven sacks were tied for fourth-most in a game this season.

Carolina’s O-line has lost the majority of their battles in each game this year, but none as poignantly as Sunday’s.

I SAW that the Panthers have yet to win two games in a row this season, leaving head coach Ron Rivera with just two such streaks in his two-year career.  Time to start publicizing that hot seat beyond the local media in Carolina.

I SAW Broncos QB Peyton Manning continue to cultivate a productive relationship with his biggest and most talented receiver, WR Demaryius Thomas.  On Sunday Thomas caught nine of his 11 targets, which in some sense has become par for the course (ESPN Stats & Information):

Peyton Manning When Targeting Demaryius Thomas, 2012

  First 4 Games Last 5 Games
Comp-Att 21-35 33-40*
Average Target Depth 7.6 13.0
30-yard pass plays 2 8

*- 13-for-16 on passes thrown 15+ yards downfield

I SAW Panthers TE Greg Olson post his first career 100-yard receiving game in six seasons.  Considering Olsen’s talent coming out of Miami in college, that’s brutal.

Cincinnati (4-5) wins vs. New York Giants (6-4), 31-13

I SAW the Bengals take the Giants out to the woodshed right from the start.  This game would come as a surprise, if during the regular season the G-Men didn’t continually lose to teams they should beat and in doing so sully the expectations they set for themselves.

New York had given up two touchdowns in the first quarter in nine games all seasons before Sunday but that didn’t stop them from allowing two in the first five minutes against Cincinnati.  The head-scratching play didn’t stop there.  Big Blue committed four turnovers in the second half, went just 5-of-14 on third down all game and in a flashback to September WR Victor Cruz dropped another TD pass.

The Bengals stacked up 31 points in just three quarters en route to snapping a three-game losing skid at home and a four-game losing streak overall in what was supposed to be a get-well game for the Giants.  One reason for N.Y.’s struggles is hard to overlook…

I SAW Giants QB Eli Manning hasn’t been playing like himself lately – unless, of course you’re realistic and don’t consider him an elite quarterback.  Make no mistake – the reigning Super Bowl MVP is mired in a slump

Eli Manning In 2012

First 7 Games Last 3 Games
W-L 5-2 1-2
Comp % 63.8 54.5
Pass Yards/Game 301.3 177.3
TD-INT 12-7 0-4
Passer Rating 92.5 53.1

On the matter of whether or not Eli is an elite QB, look at the better stretch of his games this season.  Even in isolation a 12-to-7 TD-interception ratio isn’t elite.

Manning was also sacked four times by a Bengals pass rush that failed to get to his brother Peyton last week.  But don’t let that be an excuse for the youngest Manning.  Eli has passed for less than 220 yards in four of his last 5 games.  As Peter King pointed out, in his last three games he has completed just 55 percent of his passes and thrown zero touchdowns against four interceptions.

Manning tends to make a point of bouncing back when his team is emotionally low, but after his fewest yardage output in four years last week (125) in a crushing loss at home in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy the quarterback was instrumental in taking his team down a peg on Sunday.

Elite quarterbacks simply don’t lead teams that are streaky.  Elite quarterbacks don’t lead teams into repeated second-half season slumps either.

The defending champs are heading into a bye, and they need to put reps in at practice to help overcome their typical November blues…

I SAW the Giants continue their brutal tendency of swooning during the second half of a season.  Since head coach Tom Coughlin took over the team the G-Men have gone 53-19 (.736) in the first half of the season and 27-39 (.409) in the second half.

So, obviously this pattern is old hat for a team that persevered to the tune of two championships in the last five years.  But New York is playing a dangerous game since any year could be that one where a lousy second half does them in.  In fact, such was the case in 2009 and ’10 when they failed to make the postseason.

I SAW Bengals WR A.J. Green make his team’s first big play on Sunday.  This came after the second-year receiver told the press during the week that the Giants defense had holes in it.  It took just five plays for Green to find one of those holes when New York CB Corey Webster made an ass out of himself by passing up the Pro Bowl wideout deep – to no one.  While Webster waved the play off and gave up before the whistle, Green finished a 56-yard TD catch to give him a scoring grab in each of his last games.

There aren’t any holes in Green’s game thus far in his brief pro career.

Most Consec. Games With A TD Reception, Last 10 Seasons

Years Player Games
2003-04 Randy Moss 10
2009-10 Antonio Gates 9
2007 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 8
2012               A.J. Green 8*

ESPN Stats & Information

*- Still active

I SAW that the Giants have done a good job of shoring up their defensive backfield amidst a myriad of injuries…Or maybe not.  New York has given up 39 passes of 20+yards.  Only the lowly Patriots and Buccaneers have given up more.

Baltimore (7-2) wins vs. Oakland (3-6), 55-20

I SAW the Raiders lay down for the Ravens.  It tied the most points given up by the Oakland franchise in its history.  After getting shredded by Bucs RB Doug Martin for 251 rushing yards last week, the Silver & Black repeatedly favored defending the run against Baltimore.  This was no problem for the Ravens, as QB Joe Flacco simply went 21-for-33 for 341 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception in three quarters.  (He was benched for the fourth quarter.)

I SAW that even with this fitty burger Baltimore is still sitting on the flimsiest 7-2 record in recent memory.  Their defense still allowed 422 total yards and once again misused RB Ray Rice.  And then there’s the play of their QB…

I SAW Ravens QB Joe Flacco continue to impress at home – and suck it up on the road.

Supporters of Flacco tend to oversimplify and point to his win-loss record in arguing for his success.  Well, for his regular-season career Flacco is 32-5 at home (.865) – and 19-17 on the road (.528).  That isn’t exactly turning any heads and it’s a problem that the franchise not only has to worry about for the second half of this season, but also during contract negotiations with their quarterback (Flacco’s contract expires this season).

I SAW a lot of people upset about Baltimore’s fake field goal attempt for a TD when the Ravens led 41-17.

Please.  There is no such thing as running up the score in professional football.  Players are paid to play, and if the Raiders special teams squad wasn’t prepared to stop the play then they have no one to blame but themselves.  Points for and against is one of the tiebreakers for playoff seeding (albeit down the list).  What hasn’t really been pointed out yet, though, is that a team will run a trick play like this in a “safe” situation – a point in a game where a mistake in execution has little impact on the final score – in order to mess with future opponents who are watching film to prepare for the Ravens.  Now coaches on other teams might think, ‘Will Baltimore try that play against us, with P Sam Koch running the ball in, or might they fake that play and have Koch pass it once our guys flow to him and the ball?”  That’s the best explanation for running trick plays during blowouts – a strategic move for future games.

And yet, there’s an even more obvious reason for Baltimore’s fake attempt which few have put their finger on.  Oakland overloaded the right side of the line prior to the snap in what is usually an attempt to block a kick.  What that alignment does is leave just three defenders on the left side where Koch ran.  In most cases like that a play like the one the Ravens ran is an automatic call based on matchups.  In other words, the guys in purple could have been coached to run that play automatically whenever they saw a numbers mismatch in terms of blocking on one side.  In this sense, what Baltimore did may have just been good situational coaching.

I SAW an entry in the meaningless passing stats department: Raiders QB Carson Palmer has thrown for 782 yards in his last two games – and lost by a combined 45 points.

I SAW WR Jacoby Jones become the first player in NFL history to have two 105-yard kick return TDs in his career.  Jones has been an underrated addition for Baltimore, providing big returns and contributing significantly in the passing game.

I SAW Oakland get taken out to the woodshed by Baltimore, and when they got there, the Raiders exclaimed, “Miami?  What are you doing back here?”

Tennessee (4-6) wins @ Miami (4-5), 37-3

I SAW the prototypical “any given Sunday” game of the season.  It’s hard to wrap one’s head around this score apart from the notion that sometimes losing a big emotional game can have lasting effects on a team’s energy.  Maybe Miami’s loss to Indy last week passes for such a defeat.  As noted by STATS LLC, this was Miami’s worst home defeat since losing 48-3 to the Chiefs – in the Dolphins’ third season of existence (1968).  It was their worst defeat in general since 2000.

Remember – this is the same Titans team that lost 51-20 last week to the Bears and came into the game on pace to allow the most points in a season in NFL history.  Miami took advantage of the matchup by scoring a lone field goal.

This is a good point to bring up Bryan Armen Graham’s parity wheel.  It’s a gimmicky image, but note how prolific the examples are for parity.  (Geek alert: Can you catch the T.S. Eliot reference in Graham’s bio?)

I SAW Titans RB Chris Johnson go off again, to the tune of 126 yards on 23 carries.  It was the first time the Dolphins had allowed a 100-yard rusher in 23 games, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.  After failing to have a 20+yard rush in his first six games, CJ2K (not DeuceK at the moment) has five such rushes in his last four games – four of which have gone for TDs.

Mind you, Johnson’s dazzling 17-yard reversed-field TD run in the first quarter could very well serve as fool’s gold.  The Titans tailback has been far too keen to try and cut backside on his runs this year, and a play like this might embolden him to keep doing so.

I SAW that Titans QB Jake Locker had a much better game than a superficial glance at his stats may indicate.  After missing five games with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder Locker went just 9-for-21 for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns.  But the sophomore quarterback ran for three first downs and led Tennessee to a 50-percent rate on third- and fourth-down plays (9-18).

I SAW Dolphins RB Reggie Bush get benched for the remainder of the first half after an early fumble.  Cleary there’s no reason to wonder if head coach Joe Philbin is a disciplinarian.

New England (6-3) wins @ Buffalo (3-6), 37-31

I SAW fans of defense reach for the barf bag during this game….

The Patriots let the Bills – yes, the Bills – convert 35 first downs.  That’s both the most ever allowed by New England in franchise history and the record for first downs in a game for Buffalo.  (And remember how dominant the Bills offense was during the Jim Kelly-Thurman Thomas era.)  Both offenses converted a combined 60.9 percent of their third downs, and if you watched the game you know that the numbers don’t even do the game justice because at times it seemed like there wasn’t even a defense on the field – for either team.

I SAW, despite the collective matador convention on defense, the Patriots continue their dominance of the Bills.  As far as Buffalo trying to beat New England is concerned, a broken watch is right only twice every 12.5 years; not twice each day.  The Bills are 2-23 against the Pats over the last 25 games in the “rivalry” and 0-11 at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002.

Buffalo will have to wait until next year to try and turn things around against New England.  For now, they have to worry about – hahahaha – turning their season around in order to avoid a 13th straight season without a playoff appearance.

I SAW that, according to Elias Sports Bureau, Patriots QB Tom Brady’s 20-2 record in 22 starts against the Bills is tied for the fewest starts needed for a quarterback to reach 20 wins against one team.  The other pivot is Chiefs QB Len Dawson, who did so against the Broncos.

I SAW Patriots LB Brandon Spikes lay a huge lick on RB Fred Jackson late in the fourth quarter that knocked the tailback out cold and caused him to fumble the ball as he fell to the turf.  Luckily for Buffalo they recovered the ball.  Not so luckily, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception later in the drive.

I SAW Bills RB C.J. Spiller make a sick double-move on a screen pass in the fourth quarter en route to a big gain.  Spiller can ball, but why has it taken until this year?

I SAW an early nominee for one of TFQ’s Upside Down Awards, given following the Super Bowl:

“At Least Let Us Keep Our Shirt Award”

Awarded to the team that opens up its wallet the farthest while getting the least in return.

Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a bad interception in the end zone while trying to lead a last-drive comeback.  To say that Fitzpatrick has been disappointing this far into 2012 is an understatement.  His 17-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and his 6.8 yards per attempt average aren’t that bad until held up against his 6-year, $59 million contract extension that he signed last season.

Buffalo’s huge offseason free agent signing was LB Mario Williams for $96 million over six years.  Not-so-super-mario has rewarded his suitors with a sad 26-tackle, 4.5-sack season thus far with one pass deflected.

These two guys are costing Buffalo $25.8 million combined each year for the next five-plus seasons.  That’s like a ponzi scheme being pulled on the front office.

Seattle (6-4) wins vs. New York Jets (3-6), 28-7

I SAW the Jets get off to their worst start since 2007.

In doing so, QB Mark Sanchez has gotten dirtier and dirtier.

It’s telling that Sunday’s game allowed Sanchez to shake hands with his college coach at USC, (Seattle head coach) Pete Carroll, reminding many of us that the Jets QB should indeed have listened to Carroll when he was declaring for the draft and stayed in school for another year or two to polish his game.  To wit:

Most red zone interceptions thrown this season: Mark Sanchez, 4. (STATS LLC)

Sanchez’s line on passes 5 yards or fewer against the Seahawks (according to ESPN Stats & Information): 5-for-11 for 28 yards.  For the season, Dirty Sanchez has a 53.2 completion rate on these throws.  That’s worst among qualifying passers in the NFL.

Sanchez’s dirty play is affecting the offense as a whole, which is plodding along due to one-dimensionality.  Actually, these days the New York offense has about as many dimensions as formless space – none.  It finished with 185 yards, the second time in 2012 that Gang Green as failed to break to 200-yard barrier.

Head coach Rex Ryan took to the defensive in the postgame press conference when asked about his starting quarterback.  Ryan finished a lamely diplomatic speech in defense of Sanchez by saying, “I put my, uh, my trust in him, okay?”

At this point, the way Sanchez is stinking, if you don’t play Tim Tebow why did you pay him a base salary of $1.1 million this season?  (For a concise breakdown of the biblically contrived Tebow contract, click here.)

I SAW Seahawks QB Russell Wilson improve to 5-0 at home in his rookie season, with a 7-0 turnover-to-interception ratio there.

Russell wasn’t the only one having an easy time throwing TDs for the Seahawks on Sunday…

I SAW the Jets defense look as bad as ever when Seahawks WR Golden Tate took an end around and telegraphed a throw to WR Sidney Rice that Samuel Morse could have seen coming.  Against New York, however, the play resulted in a touchdown.  Bad love in Jets Town.

I SAW that if this hapless performance doesn’t put a sock in Rex’s mouth about his team, what would?  New York is 3-6 and since blowing out Buffalo they are 2-6.

Tampa Bay (5-4) wins @ San Diego (4-5), 34-24

I SAW the Chargers.

Ah, the Chargers.

The Chargers who outgained the Buccaneers 426 to 279 in total offense.  The Chargers who converted 23 first downs to the Bucs’ 12.  The Chargers who led time of possession by more than thirteen minutes.

The Chargers who lost for the fourth time in five games.  The Chargers who committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter that led to 10 Bucs points.  The margin of victory for Tampa Bay on Sunday?  Ten points.

San Diego feels more and more like a reverse-Houdini: if there’s a trap to fall into, they’ll find it, and do the Nestea plunge into it.

I SAW that Bucs rookie head coach Greg Schiano is building a team that can make an impact in all three phases.  Case in point: On Sunday, Tampa scored four touchdowns on Sunday – two on offense, one on defense and one on special teams.  This is nothing new this season.  Everyone had been horny over RB Doug Martin’s play over the last two weeks, but when he was shut down by a willing Chargers defense the other parts of the team stepped up.  Beware, NFL – the Bucs are for real.

I SAW occasion to ask: Is there a more overlooked QB right now than Tampa’s Josh Freeman?  He’s thrown for 13 TDs and just one INT in his past five games, with a 4-1 record in that span.

I SAW Buccaneers rookie wunderkind RB Doug Martin on pace for 308 carries.  That’s more rushing attempts than any back other than Maurice Jones-Drew had last season.  I’m not a supporter of the pitch-count approach to running backs, but for a rookie?  Should the Bucs put the Muscle Hamster on a wheel?


San Francisco (6-2-1) ties St. Louis (3-5-1), 24-24

I SAW the first tie game since the Donovan McNabb brain-freeze of 2008.  It was a fittingly weird finish to a weird-ass game, in which both teams were rarely coming off of a bye.

Most notably, Niners QB Alex Smith was knocked out of the game with a concussion when he collided with Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar at the end of a scramble.  Smith “toughed it up” (if that’s what playing drunk-headed while coaches don’t realize that you’re Batman equates to) and stayed in the game for a time until backup Colin Kaepernick took over.

I SAW PROPS to the Rams for pulling off a cool successful fake punt.  WR Danny Amendola came around in motion and P Johnny Hekker faked a handoff to him, then rolled out left and lofted a pass for a wide-open Lance Kendricks.  It was a well-designed play, with lots of things happening but still relatively simple to execute.  The play sustained a scoring drive that temporarily gave St. Louis the lead.  Even more of note, it was the second fake punt pass play the Rams had converted for a first down in the game.  That’s ballsy decision-making by Fisher – ballsier even than sitting two key players…

I SAW an 80-yard reception by Rams WR Danny Amendola get called back during the first play of overtime for an illegal formation.  On St. Louis’ next drive, they drew a delay of game penalty on a kick that K Jeff Zuerlein made, and the second attempt from 58 yards went wide.  Those are uncharacteristic lapses of focus for a Jeff Fisher-coached team, however young the roster might be.

But one can bet that the head coach’s message to conduct one’s self with discipline isn’t going unnoticed by his players.  According to the Associated Press rookies Chris Givens (WR) and Janoris Jenkins (CB) were benched for this game for “unspecified team rules violation[s].”  As Peter King reported, the pair was forced to run stairs in the bleachers during pregame warmups.  Fisher was shrewd in his explanation for those actions (via King):

“It was two-fold…  They weren’t going to play, so they needed a workout. And I guess you can say it was part punitive. We still have to sort some things out about what happened, but hopefully this helps them get the message.”

Sitting two key players is a big statement.  To do so and still almost beat the best team in their division at the same time sends a big message to the Rams roster.  That’ll keep ’em in line.  Not that St. Louis needs the focus for divisional play: In three NFC WEST games in 2012 the Rams have gone 2-0-1.

I SAW what might be the next incarnation of Brady-Welker.  Rams QB Sam Bradford went 11-for-12 on throws intended for WR Danny Amendola on Sunday.  The result: 102 yards and 7 first downs.  The St. Louis wideout played his first game after sitting out with a severe collarbone fracture and apparently played through noticeable pain.  No matter.

I SAW Niners K David Akers shank a 41-yd field goal attempt in overtime.  Akers set the record last season for points scored, and went 44-for-52 on field goals, but this year he has already missed six.  That’s something to keep an eye on, as games get increasingly more important.

I SAW NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk make an amusing comment to sum up the end of regulation and overtime – which were highlighted by three missed field goals combined by both teams: “[NFL Net anchor] Rich Eisen likes to say, ‘hey kickers are people too.’  Maybe they should try to be football players.”

I SAW next week’s Monday Night Football matchup could be both intriguing and ugly since both Alex Smith and Jay Cutler could sit out the game with concussion issues.  Let’s hope not.

SNF- Houston (8-1) wins @ Chicago (7-2), 13-6

I SAW Bears QB Jay Cutler crack his brain nut.

This game should serve notice to anti-Cutler Bears fans to be thankful for what they have.  The Nutler might not be an “elite” quarterback, but he’s in the next-worst group of passers, and damned if Chicago isn’t boring as hell without him on the field.  Just remember last season, when Chicago got off to a 7-3 start until Cutler broke his thumb.  Da Bears finished 8-8 and basically lost GM Jerry Angelo his job (which was long in the making, mind you).  Backup Jason Campbell is a noticeable improvement from last year’s Caleb Hanie but still insufficient to sustain Chicago’s current momentum as contenders for their conference’s top seed.

I SAW this defensive matchup live up to its billing.

Houston and Chicago combined for 222 yards passing.  That’s the fewest combined passing yards by two teams in a game this season.

It was a sloppy-ass game, played under rainy conditions.  As such there were six combined turnovers – four of them committed by the Bears.  It’s worth noting that before he was hurt Bears QB Jay Cutler ran for 37 yards in the first half – and passed for 40.  In all, it was tough sledding for either team – as the final score indicates.

I SAW the Texans O-line create gaping holes at times in the Bears defense.  This is especially poignant because Houston employs a zone blocking scheme that, by nature, is not generally heavy-hitting.  Chicago held Houston in check for the most part, but those holes are something that Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to address.

I SAW that a loss is a loss.  No need to put lipstick on a pig, but the Bears should feel good to have been in this game as long as they were, without their QB Jay Cutler for more than one half.  Houston couldn’t get much going offensively, and they looked great in their eight previous games.

One little-mentioned notion in this regard is Chicago rookie WR Alshon Jeffery.  He is due back from injury in the next week or two and was showing signs of coming into his own before he went down.  Considering how productive number-one WR Brandon Marshall has been without a legitimate threat to keep defenses honest, having Jeffery back will be a big addition – regardless of which QB is under center.  (In fact, one could argue that having two big receivers in the game would be more helpful for Campbell.)

MNF- Pittsburgh (6-3) wins vs. Kansas City (1-8), 16-13 OT

I SAW PROPS to Chiefs in the end zone!

In one way, the Chiefs wasted little time taking the lead in Pittsburgh with a rushing TD on their second drive of the game by RB Jamaal Charles.  In another, more embarrassing sense, Kansas City took their sweet fucking time taking a lead because it marked the first time this team had taken a lead all season.  In doing so they narrowly avoided breaking the record for the longest stretch of games without holding a lead, owned by the 1929 Buffalo Bisons.

I SAW Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger go down with a shoulder injury – the joint in his throwing shoulder is sprained and his status uncertain.  Reports from inside the Steelers organization (via NFL Network) say that the team is bracing itself for multiple games without their star QB, which means that slow-motion backup Byron Leftwich would start in his place.  What’s been largely forgotten since week 1 is that Big Ben came into the year with a slightly torn rotator cuff in the same shoulder to begin with, so it’s possible that any injury to that area is more serious than usual.  Either way, it’s worth noting Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s remarks on Tuesday:

 “Excuses are tools for the incompetent.  I believe we got a competent football team. The ones that are healthy will prepare, will step into the stadium and the level of expectation will be the same.”

Tomlin is so poignant and fresh at the same time.  But he doesn’t usually make comments about his players playing up to expectations, which betrays the coach’s expectation that an unprepared quarterback will be thrust into the fray…

UPDATE (15/12/2012): Big Ben’s injury has turned out to include a very serious rib injury that, according to team doctors “can be fatal if worsened.”  The quarterback’s first rib has been dislocated and apparently if he moves a certain way there is a distinct possibility that it could puncture an aorta in his heart.  NFL Network reported today that Roethlisberger has been sleeping in a chair the last few nights as a result.  What happens here?  How does the rib get reset into place if it’s in such a precarious spot?  Can this happen on it’s own, over time?  Given this circumstance it’s hard to expect him to return to action any time soon.  Very bad news for the Steelers; even worse news for Big Ben’s health.

I SAW a good question: Wither Dennis Dixon?  The Oregon quarterback served as Big Ben’s primary backup just three years ago when he almost beat the Ravens.  Strangely enough, Dixon plummeted down the depth chart past the long-toothed Byron Leftwich and – snicker – Charlie Batch.  Now, he is on the practice squad for the Ravens – just resigned Tuesday.  Can anyone say double-agent scout team quarterback?

I SAW PROPS to WR Mike Wallace for a crazy catch for which the term ‘one-handed’ doesn’t do justice (great throw by Ben Roethilsberger to drop it in over the defender in the end zone).  Wallace dove and basically tipped the ball with one hand towards his knees, and he held it in between his knees until he rolled over to secure possession with his hands before going out of bounds.

Let’s call it the Five Easy Pieces chicken catch.  (Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry will appreciate this classic movie moment.)





2 thoughts on “WHAT I SAW, Wk 10 2012

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