2008 NFL Review – Week 8

(Philadelphia, Pa) — This week in the NFL was supposed to be all about teams making a statement at the mid-point of the 2008 NFL Season showing whether they were a “Contender” or “Pretender”.  Several teams (Titans, Redskins, Patriots, Giants, and Panthers) after big Week 8 wins can still believe in now, but for others (Lions, Niners, Bengals, Chargers, Raiders, and Rams) it maybe time to start thinking about preparations for the off-season.

One team, who doesn’t have to worry about not being labeled “legit” are the (7-0) Tennessee Titans.  In a “statement” game where the Titans needed to show the AFC that they were for real, Jeff Fisher’s team pushed the mighty Indianapolis Colts from the AFC South throne with authority in a Monday Night Football 31-21 win that wasn’t as close as the score looked in the boxscore.  The NFL’s only unbeaten team used a ground-churning running attack (over 34 minutes of possession) fueled by Offensive rookie of the year frontrunner RB Chris Johnson (77 yards rushing including a 16-yard game-closing touchdown) and bruiser LenDale White (scored another touchdown giving him an NFL leading 10 TDs) plus a stifling defense that produced two turnovers while harassing Peyton Manning all day.  Even veteran quarterback Kerry Collins got in the act finishing with reputable passing numbers of 24-37 for 193 yards, 0 TD and 0 INT.  The road to full-fledged respect continues in Week 9 as the Titans host the better than their (4-3) record Packers.  The Packers are getting healthy at the right time and expect to see 2007 Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris in the game as he continues his miraculous recovery from a spleen injury.

Conversely the 31-21 loss to the Titans may have also signaled the window of opportunity closing on the Colts.  You have to wonder with head coach Tony Dungy retiring and star players like center Jeff Saturday and receiver Marvin Harrison getting older if 2006 was the apex for Peyton and the boys.  Speaking of Manning, he continues to look like a “rusty” version of himself as he threw two interceptions for the second straight week.  You cannot blame everything on Manning as the Colts only rushed for 94 yards, only held the ball for little over 25 minutes, and uncharacteristically gave the Titans four first downs off penalties.  At (3-4) the Colts are on the losing side of the ledger at the half for the first time I can remember in a long time.  The road doesn’t get any easier as upstart Patriots come to town for their annual grudge match.  Unfortunately it will be Cassel vs. Manning, which has nothing on the formerly anticipated marquee match-up of Brady and Manning.

As Jimmy Johnson used to say, “How ’bout them Cowboys?”  It may have not been the five-star victory that desperate owner Jerry Jones was looking for, but the ‘Boys did just enough to squeak past former NFC South leader the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3) for a much-needed win.  The Cowboys only produced 172 total yards of offense – including only 122 passing yards from back-up quarterback Brad Johnson – which is the Cowboys’ franchise fewest amount of yards in a win.  The Cowboys were held under 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time since October of 2005, but a “win” is a “win”.  The big thing that needs to be monitored is the attitude of malcontent receiver Terrell Owens, who led the Cowboys in receiving yards for the first time this season with only 33 yards — held under 100 yards in 11 consecutive games, which is his longest streak since 1998-99.  After Week 9, we will have a real good understanding of “who” the Cowboys are as they face the NFC East leading New York Giants in the Meadowlands.

Speaking of the Giants, I don’t need to tell everyone that the G-Men’s win in last year’s Super Bowl was no fluke.  The Giants are doing all of the right things including not turning the ball over, attacking on defense (NFL leading 26 sacks), running the ball with authority, and making plays on special teams.  All of these traits were on display in Pittsburgh as the G-Men showed that they may very well be the best team in the NFL after a 21-14 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.  The win snapped the Steelers 11-game home winning streak against NFC foes and showed the intensity of Tom Coughlin’s group.  When it mattered most the Giants buckled down stopping the Steelers on 3rd and 4th downs again and again — The Steelers were a combined 1-of-14 on third and fourth downs – plus the G-Men’s defense all over Big Ben especially defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who produced 3 sacks.  The Giants also had luck on their side as Steelers emergency snapper James Harrison sailed a punt snap out of the end zone to give New York the pivotal two points on a safety in the 4th quarter.

Before we go to the weekly awards, I have to give a special shout-out to the NFL, New Orleans Saints, and San Diego Chargers.  Playing before a packed house at London’s Wembley stadium, both teams put on an aerial show that will quickly make most international fans forget last year’s 13-10 snooze fest between the Dolphins and Giants.  The two teams combined for 960 yards and 69 points in the Saints 37-32 win over the Chargers.  The game even had a thrilling finish as Philip Rivers’ desperation pass on the game’s final play fell incomplete.  With the great show the NFL put on this time, you know NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is planning to send NFL teams abroad during the season well past 2010 – look for China to be next.

Kudos also go out to the Texans (three straight wins), Dolphins (rode the Wildcat passed the former AFC East leading Bills), Eagles (woke up just in time to send homeboy Matt Ryan and the Falcons to a defeat), and Patriots (got back on track for the season as they came from behind to beat the Rams for their second win in a row while not committing a penalty)

Game Balls

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees – In a game versus his old team in London, England of all place, the former Purdue quarterback made a statement.  Brees threw for numbers of 30-for-41 for 339 yards and three touchdown passes in a 37-32 shootout win over the Chargers.  The win put the up and down Saints back at .500 for the season.  Brees has now thrown for 200 yards in 12 consecutive games (the longest streak in the NFL) and he is on pace (projected 5,136 yards) to break Dan Marino’s NFL single-season passing yardage record (5,084 yards established in 1984).

Honorable Mention

Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher – The NFL’s sunglasses king has been the steadying force that has led the Titans to a currently undefeated record.  Fisher has hit all of the right buttons including benching Vince Young.  The Titans this week showed the Indianapolis Colt, the former kings of the AFC South, the future of the division.  The Titans never backed down producing a 31-21 statement win on Monday Night Football.  With the win, Fisher tied his old mentor and coach Mike Ditka on the all-time wins list with 122 victories.

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco – Many people wondering why on draft day that the Ravens would trade up to grab the former University of Delaware (1-AA) quarterback.  Well it was games like this week’s 29-10 win over the Raiders that proved the Ravens’ front office correct.  Flacco produced efficient passing numbers of 12-24, 140 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT plus added 4 rushes for 23 yards and 1 TD.  But it was his hands that really told the story as the lanky quarterback caught a 43-yd pass from back-up quarterback Troy Smith in the Ravens version of the “Wildcat”.  On the play, Flacco took the snap, handed the ball off to backup Smith, who then passed it back to Flacco, who had run a “fly” route down the sideline.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary – I didn’t know whether to give him a Game Ball or Lackey around based on his antics after the Niners 39-13 home loss to the Seahawks.  But “Iron Mike II” was in the house as the former Bears leader doled out the tough-love in trying to turn around a wayward franchise.  In his debut Singletary benched QB J.T. O’Sullivan after three turnovers, benched TE Vernon Davis after a very bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (later send him to the showers) and polished everything off with a post-game press conference that will be added to the NFL Films vault of tirades.  In the post-game press conference, Singletary issued apology after apology and then said that the Niners would be prepared every week and that they were not a “Charity”.  My advice to Singletary is to relax as it was only your first week on the job.

Giants DE Mathias Kiwanuka – After breaking his leg in ’07, the former first round draft pick is back.  Kiwanuka applied constant pressure in the Giants 21-14 win over the Steelers.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never looked comfortable in the pocket as the former Boston College pass rusher finished with 5 tackles, a career-high 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook – After missing the Eagles last game and having a bye to heal (broken ribs), Westbrook returned to Pro Bowl form producing 167 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 27-14 win over the Falcons.  as part of a dynamic all-around effort, and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-14 on Sunday.  The rushing total was almost as high as his former season total of 194 yards.  Westbrook also had 6 catches for 42 yards plus cemented the game by running 39 yards around the left for the games final score.

Other Honorees – Carolina WR Steve Smith (5 catches for117 yards, 2 TDs in a win over the Cardinals), Falcons WR Roddy White (First two-touchdown game of his career in a loss to the Eagles), Titans safety Chris Hope (5 TKLs and 2 INT in the Titans’ big win), Rams rookie WR Donnie Avery (6 receptions for 163 yards including a 69-yard TD), Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (came back from a broken jaw producing nine catches for 63 yards and two TDs plus 30 rushing yards off a reverse), Redskins WR Santana Moss (touchdown reception and a punt return TD in a come-from-behind win over the Redskins), Seahawks FB Leonard Weaver (the rarely used pass-catcher had two touchdown receptions (62 yds and 43 yds) in the win over the Niners) and Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr (Breakout game of seven catches for a career-high 175 yards in the Dolphins 25-16 win over the Bills).

Lloyd’s Lackey

Falcons’ WR Adam Jennings and head coach Mike Smith – In a learning type experience, the young Falcons learned the importance of the fourth quarter.  A crucial fourth quarter play linked the player and coach in the Falcons loss to the Eagles.  Jennings muffed a punt with just over two minutes to go and Eagles LB Akeem Jordan recovered the ball. However on replays, Jennings appeared to avoid touching the ball.  To the consternation of rookie head coach Mike Smith, unfortunately the Falcons were without timeouts and could not challenge the call.  It only took two plays for the Eagles to take the fortuitous bounce and turn into points.

Dishonorable Mention

New York Jets QB Brett Favre – The veteran quarterback showed why he is the all-time leader in interceptions as he threw three interceptions in a harder than expected 28-24 win over the lowly Chiefs.  Favre had two-plus interceptions for the third consecutive game and fourth time in last five games.

New York Giants WR Plaxico Burress – What a week for one of the NFL’s most talented, but controversial receivers. First Burress accrued over $45, 000 dollars in fines for his actions in week 7, and then the Giants pulled him from the starting lineup against the Steelers for missing several treatment sessions. Burress finished with 3 receptions for 15 yards as the Giants rode their defense and special teams to a win over the Steelers.  Even former Giants bad boy Lawrence “LT” Taylor has seen enough of Burress act as he said, “You do your thing, but you’re still not above the team”.

Other Dishonorees: Cardinals RB Edgerrin James (appears to be slowing down with numbers 7 rushes for 17 yds and a fumble in the redzone in a loss to the Panthers), Niners QB J.T. O’Sullivan (turned the ball over some more (17 for the season) — including his 11th fumble of the season – before being benched), and the Indianapolis Colts (under .500 at the season’s midpoint after starting 7-0 the last three years). 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


One Response

  1. Great article. I cant wait to pick up a pair of aviator sunglasses.

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