(Philadelphia, Pa) —- The topsy-turvy world that is the National Football League kept on spinning in week five and I have to say “I love this time of the year”. Each week we are seeing compelling games filled with last second heroics, litmus test battles exposing the contenders/pretenders, and the usual separation of teams that comes this time of the year (and you thought autumn only brought the leaves turning colors). Sure NFL powerhouses the Colts and Patriots dominated on their way to moving to 5-0 with the surprising (some may say lucky) Dallas Cowboys overcoming the scrappy Bills to keep their unbeaten membership intact, but the majority of this week’s games highlighted the divide between the contenders and the pretenders. In looking at the statistics the NFL still has 17 teams at .500 or better, but the separation divide is prevalent as this week showed teams on both sides of the canyon trying to build a rope bridge to the other side. The games included losing record teams fighting back into contention (Chargers and Bears), winning record teams looking vulnerable (Packers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Cowboys), veteran teams re-establishing themselves (Steelers, Ravens, and Giants), scrappy teams trying to make the jump (Texans, Cardinals, Redskins, Titans, and Jaguars), teams falling apart (Jets, Saints, Falcons, Chiefs, Bills, Rams, and Dolphins) and teams that appear to be outright pretenders in my opinion (Lions and Broncos). The contenders all seem to have one thing in common depth (everyone has injuries this time of the year), a good running game, winning the turnover battle, an attacking defense, efficient passing, and strong special teams. While teams that lost including surprise contenders earlier in the year the Lions (Winning Record, but were dominated on the road again), Broncos (Worst home loss in their team’s history), and Seahawks (Trounced by Steelers), who all had problems with turnovers, penalties, missed field goals, and stopping the run which is a recipe for disaster. Divisionally the pictures around the NFL are all over the map.
- The AFC South and NFC East divisions boast three teams or more with winning records at this point including the 5-0 Colts and Cowboys
- The AFC East seems to be all but finished with the Patriots at 5-0 and the rest of the teams with losing records.
- The AFC West is the NFL’s worst with Raiders on top at 2-2 and the rest of the teams with losing records.
- The AFC North race seems to already be forming with the Steelers 4-1 and the Ravens 3-2 fighting it out for division supremacy.
- The NFC North race seemed to be a runaway at first for the 4-1 Packers, but I still think the 2-3 Bears and maybe even the 3-2 Lions will have a say in the final results of the division.
- The NFC West and NFC South seem to me to be the weakest divisions with a pair of 3-2 teams at the top, who are hanging there by a thread and a bunch of teams that appear headed for the top of the NFL Draft in April.
All the talk of “parity” and “fraud teams” around the water cooler can be attributed to game film, because as a veteran scout once told me “the tape is out”. What the grisly veteran talent evaluator was saying is that the NFL’s first few weeks produce some unexpected results, but the good teams and organizations make adjustments in the 2nd quarter of the season based on film study and trends that produce wins. So with that being said expect the surprise teams to have to show they can run with the big boys or they may be moving back to their former positions of selecting early in the draft.The NFL still has three teams that have not won a game this season (Dolphins, Rams, and Saints), but you have to applaud the effort of all three crawling and scratching the entire way in last second losses.
Dallas Cowboys Kicker Nick Folk – You better make a note of this week’s award, because “yes” I am giving it to a kicker. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a huge “kicker guy”, but you have to appreciate the efforts of Folk. The rookie free agent from Arizona went 4-4 on field goals (47, 29, 37, 53) with the 53 yarder winning the game with no time left. The kick was the end of one of the NFL’s wackiest games ever as the Cowboys overcame 6 turnovers by Tony Romo to beat the Bills on Monday Night Football. The reason I like Folk’s effort over fellow kicker Josh Brown of the Texans is that the Bills tried to “ice” him with my new pet peeve play in football the timeout as he is kicking the ball. Folk not only made the “did not count kick”, but he also nailed the 53 yard game winner down the middle. He is from Hollywood, California which maybe the reason why he loved the drama of the compelling Monday Night Football win.
§ BTW: I am appealing to the NFL Competition Committee and Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher a prominent member of the committee to change the rules around coaches calling timeouts as a kicker is swinging his leg. To me it is not “gamesmanship” or being tactical, it is just a plain abuse of rules. The timeout on Folk didn’t work, but just ask the Raiders and Bills how they like the rule as they both suffered misses/blocks on second kicks in losses after their original field goal was good, but didn’t count due to a bogus timeout.
o Washington Redskins DE Andre Carter showed why the Redskins brought him in last year from the Niners. Carter and the ‘Skins D-Line had a tough 2006 only producing only 19 total sacks, but the speed rusher was tremendous versus the Lions. He harassed Lions quarterback Jon Kitna for most of the game and notched a safety, two sacks and eight tackles in the Redskins’ 34 – 3 win over the Detroit Lions. Carter led a Redskins defense that held the Lions to only 144 total yards.
o Houston Texans Kicker Kris Brown (that’s right another kicker) became just the third kicker in NFL History to make three 50-yard field goals in one game. In all, he made kicks from 43, 20, 57 and two from 54. The 57-yard field goal gave the Texans a win with one second remaining.
o Buffalo Bills DB George Wilson set the tone for the Buffalo defense with his first-quarter 25-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Bills 25 – 24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Wilson was part of a Bills defense that intercepted Tony Romo five times and forced six Cowboys turnovers. Wilson also recorded four solo tackles.
o New York Giants DB Aaron Ross after sitting out the first half for disciplinary reasons, recorded two solo tackles, two interceptions and one touchdown in the Giants 35 – 24 win over the New York Jets. Ross intercepted his second pass of the game and ran it for a touchdown that put the Giants up by 11 with 3:15 to play.
o Indianapolis RB Kenton Keith who was thought to just be an injury replacement for star runner Joseph Addai proved to be so much more. The New Mexico State and former Saskatchewan Roughrider (CFL) back carried the ball 28 times gaining 121 yards with two touchdowns in the Colts’ 33 – 14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Houston defensive tackle Travis Johnson no doubt is the recipient of this week’s award. I can understand that he was concerned for his livelihood, but I don’t think Miami QB Trent Green was trying to hurt him when he hit him with his helmet on the knee. The play was a broken play and the concussion prone Green was trying to get in the way an in the process probably had his career ended by a serious grade three concussion. After the play, Johnson stood over Green and taunted him, drawing a 15-yard penalty. To make things worse Johnson was nowhere near being contrite after the game. He apologized to Coach Gary Kubiak for the penalty during the game, but he went on an expletive-laced rant in the locker room about how he thought the injured Green blocked him low on purpose. “It was a malicious hit,” Johnson said. He added “It was uncalled for. He’s like the scarecrow. He wants to get courage while I wasn’t looking and hit me in my knee instead of trying to hit me in my head. God don’t like ugly, you know what I mean?” Johnson was escorted back to the locker room about 20 minutes after the tirade to issue an apology, but you could see that it was half hearted. To me Johnson, who had only 1 assisted tackle for the game, needs to worry about his own play stopping his career. He has been a disappointment ever since the Texans picked him in the 1st round of the 2005 1st Rd out of Florida State (only 45 tackles and 1 sack for his career).
New Orleans Saints – Lost to the overrated Panthers 16-13 to go to 0-4 for the season. You have to wonder how can you come out after a bye week and lose at home in a very winnable game. The Panther were very inept going 0-6 on 3rd downs for the first three quarters, but Saints mistakes kept them in the game. QB Drew Brees was the main culprit for the Saints throwing 2 INT’s. After the game Saints Head Coach Sean Payton expressed his displeasure by saying “If we continue to make the dumb mistakes, drop as many passes, penalize ourselves on big plays, not take advantage of our field position, then it’s hard for the result to change”. He added “There’s a lot of blame to go around here and it’s not just the kicker. There are a handful of positions that we need to evaluate closely and make sure we’re playing the right guys.”
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – I don’t care if you throw for over 300 yards and 2 TD’s in a victory, when you personally turn the ball over six times (5 INTs with two returned for TDs and 1 fumble lost) you don’t deserve to win. Luckily for Romo and the Cowboys, the Bills had no offense and were just happy to be on MNF in a 25-24 loss.
Scoreboard and Game Notes
Teams with Byes: Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Invesco Field at Mile High
Chargers (2-3-0) 14 6 14 7 41
Broncos (2-3-0) 0 3 0 0 3
The Chargers led by a great running game (season-high 214 yards) featuring LT and Michael “The Burner” Turner crushed the Broncos to get back in the playoff race. – The 38-point deficit represented the biggest loss at home for the Broncos since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Ravens (3-2-0) 0 6 3 0 9
49ers (2-3-0) 0 0 7 0 7
In a brutally boring game that featured little offense, the Ravens fended off the Niners 9-7. The game came down to San Francisco kicker Joe Nedney missing a 52-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining. Baltimore controlled the time of possession, holding the ball for 38 minutes and limiting San Francisco to just six first downs.
Buccaneers (3-2-0) 0 7 0 7 14
Colts (5-0-0) 7 9 7 10 33
The Colts showed the Buccaneers what a true contender looks like despite missing five of their starters. The Colts gained 400 yards and control the ball for over 38 minutes in the Colts 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Key players were RB Kenton Keith (see Game Balls) and rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez (71 yards on seven receptions). The Colts defense also held the Bucs to only 177 total net yards. The Colts also started 5-0 for the third straight season and broke the franchise record for consecutive home victories with 12 in a row at the RCA Dome.
Dolphins (0-5-0) 10 6 0 3 19
Texans (3-2-0) 7 3 6 6 22
This was another boring game for the most part that featured Miami QB Trent Green being knocked out (See Lloyd’s Lackey) and a kick-fest by Texans kicker Kris Brown (See Game Balls). The Texans only had 74 yards on the ground, which led to several stalled drives that led to field goals.
Lions (3-2-0) 0 0 3 0 3
Redskins (3-1-0) 0 14 2 18 34
The Redskins continued their dominance over the Lions in Washington DC (21-0 versus them in the Capital) as they destroyed the so-called contenders 34-3. Several offensive players for Washington played well, but FB Mike Sellers had the game of his life catching one touchdown, running for another and amassing 60 total yards plus helping featured backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts with big blocks. After coming in with the NFL’s best passing offense, Detroit tallied just 76 net yards passing and their quarterback Jon Kitna threw two interceptions.
Edward Jones Dome
Cardinals (3-2-0) 3 14 3 14 34
Rams (0-5-0) 3 10 7 11 31
It was Kurt Warner time again in St. Louis as he came off the bench for injured quarterback Matt Leinhart and led the Cardinals to a hard fought victory 34-31 over the winless Rams. Warner accounted for three touchdowns, including a 1-yard touchdown dive at the end of the second quarter.
Panthers (3-2-0) 3 3 0 10 16
Saints (0-4-0) 3 3 7 0 13
In a game that seemed like no wanted to win the Panthers beat the winless Saints 16-13. See Lloyd’s Lackey for an overview, but this was a bad game that came down to Carolina kicker John Kasay making a 53-yard field goal — the 10th game-winning field goal of his career — to win the game as time expired. The other play of the game came late in the 3rd quarter as Carolina DE Julius Pepper blocked a sure fire 20-yard field goal attempt by Olindo Mare.
Seahawks (3-2-0) 0 0 0 0 0
Steelers (4-1-0) 0 7 7 7 21
This game was a rematch of Super Bowl XL, but the Steelers showed the Seahawks again that they are not in the same league. The Steelers controlled everything on their way to a 21-0 win. The Steelers held the ball more than 40 minutes.
Falcons (1-4-0) 7 3 3 0 13
Titans (3-1-0) 7 3 10 0 20
This was an extremely sloppy game where the two teams combined to throw for only 272 yards, with no touchdowns and five interceptions including three by Titans QB Vince Young in a winning effort. The game was not decided until Falcons backup Byron Leftwich could not get his team to score inside the ten yard line twice throwing incompletions and being sacked on fourth down.
Jaguars (3-1-0) 3 7 0 7 17
Chiefs (2-3-0) 0 0 0 7 7
In another defensive boring battle the Jack Del Rio led Jaguars triumphed on the road in Kansas City 17-7. This was Jacksonville’s third consecutive win and second consecutive win on the road against an AFC West opponent. The Jaguars offense gained 357 yards and controlled the ball for 36:43. On defense, the Jaguars did not allow a Chiefs score until the last play of the game and held the Chiefs to 10 rushing yards, the fewest by a Jaguars opponent in team history. The biggest play of the game was Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew chugging 52 yards for his first touchdown of the season. The question for the day was “Where is LJ?”, the KC star running back only had 12 yards on nine attempts.
Jets (1-4-0) 7 10 7 0 24
Giants (3-2-0) 0 7 14 14 35
The battle for New York was one of the better games of the day as the Giants led by their defense beat the Jets 35-24. Giants DB Aaron Ross (See Game Balls) and receiver Plaxico Burress (5 Receptions for 124 yards w/ 1 TD) were the players of the game. As Burress despite an injured ankle made the play of the game rumbling 53 yards for a touchdown on a short pass from Eli Manning.
Browns (2-3-0) 0 0 3 14 17
Patriots (5-0-0) 10 10 0 14 34
The return of Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel to Foxboro was a total mismatch as the Patriots dominated the Browns 34-17. The game featured two interceptions by Patriots LB Junior Seau and Tom Brady tying an NFL record with at least three touchdown passes in his first five games. The New England have outscored their opponents 92-21 in the first half this season and they have scored at least 34 points in all five of their games this season.
Bears (2-3-0) 0 7 10 10 27
Packers (4-1-0) 7 10 3 0 20
In a game the Packers were controlling for almost three quarters, turnovers took them out (Packers 5 Turnovers, Bears 1 Turnover) as the Bears rallied to a 27-20 win. Bears QB Brian Griese was solid completing 15 of 25 passes for 214 yards including two touchdowns. The Bears diminished a Packers 10-point halftime lead scoring 10 in the third quarter. The game wasn’t over until Packers QB Brett Favre (2 INTs and tied George Blanda’s all time record of 277 INTs) drove the Packers to the Bears 31, but threw an interception to Bears safety Brandon McGowan in the end zone to end the game.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Cowboys (5-0-0) 0 10 3 12 25
Bills (1-4-0) 7 10 7 0 24
This was the most improbable victory I have ever seen. The Cowboys were lucky enough to overcome Romo (see Lloyd’s Lackey) and key drops by receiver Terrell Owens to get an on-side kick and win 25-24 on last second field goal in Buffalo on MNF. The game marked the first time since 2000 a team won a game when it was a minus-5 on turnover differential. Now we will get to see how good the undefeated Cowboys are as they face the also 5-0 Patriots on Sunday 10/14.