(Philadelphia, Pa) —- This weekend’s games brought more records, upsets, and surprises as once again the NFL showed that it is definitely the hardest league to predict. At the first quarter marker there are four teams who have performed well enough to be perfect (Colts, Patriots, Cowboys, and Packers), but any questions regarding an undefeated season are extremely premature as any team can play at a higher level to cause an upset. If I had to select a team that looks like they can win 14 plus games of the bunch, I would have to select the Patriots. On Monday Night Football, the Patriots showed the Bengals how a champion goes on the road and takes care of business. They didn’t score their usual 38 points, but they were able to put 34 points up easily behind quarterback Tom Brady passing efficiently (throwing close to 80%), their defense stifling the Bengals aerial attack, and the hard running of backup running back Sammy Morris.
One of the interesting storylines that seems to be very poignant so far this season is that past successes or failures have nothing to do with winning each week. I have noticed teams can either put in the work or don’t do anything in the off-season (draft, free agency, OTA’s, etc), which can greatly affect their team’s fortunes in the regular season. In looking at the current standings former 2006 stalwarts the Baltimore Ravens (2-2), Chicago Bears (1-3), New Orleans Saints (0-3), Philadelphia Eagles (1-3), and San Diego Chargers (1-3) for the most part didn’t change greatly in the off-season are all struggling with respectability this season after cruising the year before. I am not saying they rested on their laurels, but you have to think key off-season decisions (ex. Chargers GM AJ Smith releasing former Coach Marty Schottenheimer and hiring the surprising choice of Norv Turner) have affected their team’s mindset, harmony, and results thus far. The ironic thing for the perennial contenders is that they are now looking up at teams they have routinely finished higher than in the past (Browns, Cowboys, Packers, Lions, Buccaneers, and Raiders among the teams). The factor that is causing parody is “change”, because the NFL is a league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to combat falling back to or behind the pack. With teams entering the bye phase of the schedule it is time for the “good” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams back on track or keeping them at the top. Remember early season results are important (don’t want to get too far behind), but good coaches realize that they want their team peaking in the championship months of November and December when it is playoff push time.
There must have been something in the air this past weekend as several coaches and players had happy/unhappy reunions (depending which side you were on).
- Raiders starting QB Daunte Culpepper – After being acrimoniously released by the Dolphins this summer due to supposed knee woes, Culpepper had this one circled on his calendar. In an in-your face my knee is fine win, Culpepper got his roll on for 5 touchdowns (2 passing and 3 rushing).
- Cardinals coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm were both passed over for the vacant Steelers head coaching job, but they got the last laugh on their old team. The Cardinals behind a two-headed monster at quarterback and a big kick return by Steve Breaston gave the Steelers their first loss of the season 21-14 in Phoenix.
- Browns RB Jamal Lewis overpowered the vaunted Ravens defense in a big home win. In the game, he showed that his old team gave up on him too early rushing for 64 yards including a big 23 yarder and a touchdown.
- Giants Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a former Eagles coach, showed that he knew the entire Eagles game plan and weaknesses as his unit held the Birds to three little points in a home win. By the way did I mention the franchise and NFL record tying 12 sacks the Giants registered.
- Seattle LB Julian Peterson showed the Niners that he was worth his 2006 free agent “big ticket” price tag in a win. The tall linebacker made four solo tackles, had three sacks, and forced two fumbles plus was a major reason that the Niners netted only 184 total yards.
The dubious “no-wins” club shrank to three teams as the Falcons and Bills won leaving the Saints (Bye), Rams, and Dolphins in the hunt for the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft (My pick is Kentucky QB Andre Woodson). The 0-4 clubs can still hold out hope for one more week though because one team the 1992 San Diego Chargers started 0-4 and finished 11-5 making the playoffs.
At the quarter point of the season here are my awards:
Co-MVP’s: Packers QB Brett Favre and Patriots QB Tom Brady
Top Rookie: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
Top Coach: Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy
Top Executive: Texans GM Rick Smith
Breakout Player(s): Cowboys WR Patrick Crayton and Detroit Lions DE Jared DeVries
Comeback Player: Patriots WR Randy Moss
Games BallsNew York Giants DE Osi Umenyiora – The stout Giants sack man had a game for the ages as he collected six sacks setting a franchise record and came within an eyelash of tying Derrick Thomas’ NFL record (7). He also forced two fumbles and I am sure that Eagles offensive tackle Winston Justice (very bad first start), who was victimized for most of the sacks will not be sending him flowers anytime soon. The Eagles offense was befuddled for the entire game and the Giants D-line was the main cause. The unit totaled a NFL record tying 12 sacks and limited the Eagles to 190 net yards in a 16 – 3 win. To give you perspective on the number of sacks NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said “12 sacks in one game? Peyton Manning was sacked 14 times all of last year.”
Honorable Mention: New England Patriots WR Randy Moss (Was dominant again, catching two touchdown passes and posting his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game, making him the first player in NFL history to do so in his first four games with a team), Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (Completed 21 of 33 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns in the Cowboys’ 35-7 win over the St. Louis Rams. Romo earned a 115.6 passer rating and led an offense that controlled the ball for 32:49 minutes), Brett Favre (Has led the Packers to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1998 and broke two more of Marino’s records), Oakland Raiders RB Justin Fargas (Backup runner had a breakout game carrying the ball 22 times for 179 yards including a long 48-yard run in the Raiders’ 35 – 17 win over the Miami Dolphins. Fargas helped the Raiders gain 369 total yards), and Arizona Cardinals WR/KR Steve Breaston (Returned a game changing punt 73 yards for a touchdown in the Cardinals’ 21-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also gained a total of 101 yards over four punt returns and the touchdown return was the Cardinals first punt return for a touchdown in 14 years).
Lloyd’s LackeyPhiladelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid – Reid became my first two-time winner of this award by not making a single adjustment in a winnable game. With the Eagles trailing 7-0 at halftime a couple of in-game adjustments could have turned this game around. Instead Reid’s team didn’t do anything and it showed with only 190 net yards of offense, 15 penalties, one missed field goal, and three points in an embarrassing 16-3 loss on Sunday Night Football. Offensively they forgot about Correll Buckhalter (8.2 ypc) and the offensive line was a mess allowing a NFL record tying 12 sacks. Reid/O-line coach Juan Castillo provided little to no help to inexperienced OT Winston Justice and Osi Umenyiora victimized him for 6 sacks. Maybe they should have replaced him or add TE/RB protection to his side or attacked the Giants smallish D-line with the run (all good adjustments). The Eagles were listless in their effort and seemed happy just to get to the bye week. Instead of making the team stay and work during the bye week, Reid surprisingly let the team go home. Sure the team needs time off to heal, but a good butt kicking was in order and the Eagles main rival the Dallas Cowboys are 3 games ahead of them at 4-0. I guess everyone in Philly is watching the Phillies baseball club because there was no uproar.
Dishonorable Mention: Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner (In a bad 30-16 home loss, Turner ignored LaDainian Tomlinson in the third quarter after he had topped 100 rushing yards in the first half. Tomlinson only had three carries in the third quarter when the Chiefs rallied from a 10-point deficit) and Panthers QB David Carr (Struggled to move the offense and only completed 19-of-41 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also was sacked three times in a bad home 20-7 divisional loss to the Bucs).
Scoreboard and Game Notes
Teams with Byes:
Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans
Sunday, September 30, 2007 University of Phoenix Stadium
Steelers (3-1-0) 7 0 0 7 14
Cardinals (2-2-0) 0 0 7 14 21
In one of the bigger surprises of the weekend, the Cardinals wear down Steelers sending them to their first loss 21-14. The Cardinals used a two quarterback attack with Matt Leinart contributing 7-of-14 for 93 yards passing and Kurt Warner completing 14-of-21 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown. Also Darnell Dockett (6 TKLS, 3 Sacks, and 1 FF), Steve Breaston (See Game balls), and Edgerrin James (game-winning touchdown) were big in the victory.
Chiefs (2-2-0) 0 6 10 14 30
Chargers (1-3-0) 10 6 0 0 16
Maybe the demise of the Chiefs was greatly exaggerated. They won their second straight this time in comeback fashion over the perennial AFC West Champion Chargers in San Diego. The Chiefs were led by tight end Tony Gonzalez who caught the 62nd touchdown of his career (tied Shannon Sharpe on the all-time list for most touchdown receptions by a tight end), former Charger linebacker Donnie Edwards, who had seven tackles, and rookie receiver Dwayne Bowe (recorded eight receptions for 164 yards including a fourth-quarter 51-yard touchdown). Disgruntled Chargers fans started chanting, “Marty, Marty,” in the closing moments of the game, referencing Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired after going 14-2 last season and replaced by Turner.
Broncos (2-2-0) 10 3 7 0 20
Colts (4-0-0) 0 14 14 10 38 Ho-Hum another week, another big AFC win for the defending champion Indianapolis Colts. The Colts broke open a tight 14-13 halftime score with 28 points in the second half on their way to a 38-20 in Indy. On the day Peyton Manning was spectacular throwing 20-27 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns plus running for another. The last one essentially closing the game as he hit Reggie Wayne on a 5-yard pass that gave the Colts a 35-20 fourth-quarter lead. Colts running back Joseph Addai again looked like a Pro Bowl player totaling 146 total yards from scrimmage including 136 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown. To open the game
Addai touched the ball on 13 of the Colts’ first 17 plays. A lone bright spot for the Broncos was the play of running back Travis Henry, who gained 131 yards on 26.
Bank of America Stadium
Buccaneers (3-1-0) 14 3 0 3 20
Panthers (2-2-0) 0 0 0 7 7 Despite the loss of RB Carnell Williams and LT Luke Pettigout (knees), the Buccaneers showed that they are the team to beat in the NFC South with a dominating 20-7 win in Charlotte. Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham did an admirable job filling in for Williams as they rushed for a combined 138 yards on 32 carries and helped Tampa Bay control the clock for more than 34 minutes and 189 yards rushing. Only a late touchdown from DeAngelo Williams prevented the host Panthers from being shut out.
Seahawks (3-1-0) 0 13 7 3 23
49ers (2-2-0) 0 0 3 0 3
In a statement game, the Seahawks showed they are not ready to relinquish their hold of the NFC West just yet as they dominated the 49ers 23-3 in San Francisco.
The key play of the game was when Seahawks defensive end Rocky Bernard knocked out 49ers quarterback Alex Smith on the third play from scrimmage. The Niners never seemed to be able to muster much offense after Bernard’s KO, as the Seahawks cruised to an easy victory. Niners backup Trent Dilfer finished with numbers of 12-33 for 128 yards w/ 2 INTs to Seahawks DB Marcus Trufant and never seem comfortable in the pocket as the Seahawks had six first-half sacks.
Niners running back Frank Gore had another sub par performance finishing short of 100 yards for the fourth consecutive week (79 yards) and had two costly first-half fumbles.
Texans (2-2-0) 7 3 3 3 16
Falcons (1-3-0) 10 10 3 3 26
The Falcons surprised the Texans as they continued to show some fight in a 26-16 win. The victory gave Falcons first-year head coach Bobby Petrino his first NFL win. Since Atlanta signed quarterback Byron Leftwich two weeks ago, starter Joey Harrington and he finished 23 of 29 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons offense controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes and their defense made game-winning plays down the stretch. The play of the game was an appeal of an apparent Matt Schaub touchdown run that was overturned by instant replay with less than three minutes left.
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Jets (1-3-0) 0 0 7 7 14
Bills (1-3-0) 0 0 7 10 17
In a game they had to win to help turn their franchise around the Bills led by rookie quarterback Trent Edwards fought to a tough 17-14 win over the Jets in Buffalo. Edwards (22-28, 234 yards w/ 1 TD and 1 INT) was impressive as he was never frazzled and showed good leadership potential. The key play happened when Edwards found rookie Michael Gaines on a play-action pass on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to give them the lead late in the fourth quarter. The Jets had a chance to tie it in the final minute, driving to the Bills 39, before Chad Pennington (32-of-39 for 290 yards and one touchdown w/ 2 INTs) threw his second interception of the day. With the win, Edwards may have created a quarterback controversy as he was much more efficient than JP Losman.
Raiders (2-2-0) 14 0 7 14 35
Dolphins (0-4-0) 0 7 10 0 17 In one the bigger “revenge” stories, Raiders QB Daunte Culpepper returned to Miami leading his new team to a 35-17 victory. In the game, Culpepper was not perfect but he made Dolphins stadium “Daunte’s Inferno”. He only threw 5-of-12 for 75 yards but two of the completions were for two touchdowns to Jerry Porter and he added seven carries for 28 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for first-year Dolphins coach Cam Cameron, the Dolphins looked lost falling to 0-4. Cameron’s personal pick for quarterback over Culpepper, Trent Green threw for only 158 yards and two interceptions in the defeat. After the game Culpepper was all smiles and said about the win, “Obviously, when I first looked at the schedule, I noticed that we were playing Miami”. “I don’t think that I had any extra emphasis on it. Like I said, I’m just glad that I had the opportunity to play here today and to play healthy and come out with a win”. The Raiders led by Justin Fargas (see Game balls) rushed for 299 yards, outgaining the Dolphins’ entire offense (255 yards).
Rams (0-4-0) 0 7 0 0 7 Cowboys (4-0-0) 0 14 21 0 35
In a game that showed the offensive firepower of the Dallas Cowboys, the ‘Boys pounded the injured Rams 35-7 in Texas. The Cowboys who have scored an amazing 151 points in four games have the look of a team going places after exploding for 21 points in the 2nd half while the Rams may be headed for the first pick of the draft. The Cowboys were led by the NFL’s new golden boy quarterback Tony Romo, who was cool under pressure passing for 21-33 with 339 yards and 3 TD’s. He even had the play of the game when a snap got over his head, but instead of falling on the ball, he scooped it up and raced 37 yards for a first down late in the second quarter. The Cowboys other receiver Patrick Crayton also had a big game with a career high seven receptions for 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Rams looked very bad in continuing a 30 consecutive drive without a touchdown streak. In addition to Steven Jackson not playing due to injury the Rams had more injuries to receiver Isaac Bruce, offensive lineman Adam Goldberg, linebacker Roonall Smith (knee), and defensive back Corey Chavous (shoulder).
Bears (1-3-0) 0 7 6 14 27 Lions (3-1-0) 3 0 0 34 37
On second thought maybe it wasn’t the quarterback, but an overall team hangover from losing the Super Bowl. The trend may have engulfed the struggling Bears as injuries, in fighting, penalties, and turnovers have plagued this team. Sunday was no different as the Lions rallied past the struggling former Monsters of the Midway for a 37-27 victory in Detroit. Bears new starting QB Brian Griese looked great at times, but he also looked “Grossman-esque” finishing with numbers 34-of-52 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and 3 INTs. The interceptions hurt the Bears again with one being returned by Lions DB Keith Smith 64 yards for a touchdown. One of the bright spots for the Bears was another electric touchdown by the NFL’s best return man Devin Hester (97 yd kick return). Detroit’s 34-point outburst in the fourth quarter is an NFL record for points scored in a fourth quarter. The Bears were penalized 14 times for 102 yards.
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Ravens (2-2-0) 0 6 0 7 13
Browns (2-2-0) 14 10 3 0 27
The Cleveland Browns showed the old Cleveland Browns (Baltimore Ravens) that they are here to compete this year as they bended but didn’t break in a 27-13 victory in Cleveland. The Ravens had 14 more first downs than the Browns, outgained them 418-303, and were in Browns territory on nearly every possession but only came away with 13 points. The Romeo Crennel led Browns pickup their second divisional win this month and seem to be improving (2-2). QB Derek Anderson was efficient again by throwing two TD passes and the Browns O-Line didn’t allow a sack to the Ravens fearsome defense. The player of the game was Browns TE Kellen Winslow, who played through a bad shoulder injury to finish with four catches for 96 yards, including a career-long reception of 49 yards. The Browns also got a much needed boost in leadership by the return of LB Willie McGinest from back surgery in August.
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Packers (4-0-0) 7 3 3 10 23
Vikings (1-3-0) 0 6 3 7 16
Brett Favre continued his re-birth leading the Packers to another big win over the Vikings 23-16 in Minnesota. The win was a struggle coming down to the final minutes, but the Packers are now 4-0 for the first time since 1998. Favre not only set the all-time mark for touchdown passes, he also shredded Minnesota’s defense finishing with 344 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings had several opportunities, but despite running for 155 yards and compiling 382 net yards of offense, the Vikings were undone by their third-down conversion percentage of only converting on 5-of-15 attempts. A bright spot for the Vikings was rookie sensation RB Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 112 yards on 12 carries and had a 51-yard kickoff return in the second half.
Eagles (1-3-0) 0 0 0 3 3
Giants (2-2-0) 0 7 9 0 16
This game was a mess for the Eagles and their Head Coach Andy Reid (See Lloyd’s Lackey) from the start. The Giants did not do much offensively, but their defense was beyond dominant in a 16-3 win over the Eagles at the Meadowlands. The Giants defense sacked Eagles QB Donovan McNabb 12 times after coming into the game with only four sacks in three games. The sack number included DE Michael Strahan getting the one sack he needed to surpass Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (133½ career sacks) and the mind boggling play of Osi Umenyiora (See Game balls). With the win maybe the Giants have turned the corner after a horrible start where their defense allowed a league-worst 80 points in their first two games, both losses. The biggest play of the game was a defensive touchdown on a 17-yard fumble return by linebacker Kawika Mitchell in the third quarter. The Eagles sorely missed running back Brian Westbrook, who sat out with an abdominal strain.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Paul Brown Stadium
Patriots (4-0) 10 7 7 10 34
Bengals (1-3) 0 7 3 3 13 On Monday Night Football the Patriots went on the road and showed the Bengals what a champion looks like. Backup RB Sammy Morris more than replaced injured RB Laurence Maroney carrying the Pats with 117 yards rushing (only the second 100-yard game of his career) and a touchdown. Patriots QB Tom Brady completed at least 75 percent of his passes for the fourth straight game, tying an NFL record (with Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer) for most consecutive games above 75%, finishing with Montana like numbers of 25-of-32 (78 percent) for 231 yards and three touchdown passes. He now has thrown for an incredible 95-of-120 (79 percent) for the season. Led by DB Ellis Hobbs the Patriots secondary also was key holding the Bengals receivers in check finishing with two interceptions, holding the Bengals to 0-for-7 on third downs and shutting up big-mouth receiver Chad Johnson (three catches for 53 yards).