(Philadelphia, Pa) — As we move closer to the NFL weeks that I like to call the “Championship Rounds” (late November and December), the 2007 NFL Season still is one of the wackiest ones that I have ever seen. Teams that used to be doormats are now contenders (Falcons, Dolphins, Cardinals, Jets, and Ravens) while perennial playoff powers (Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, and Eagles) are clawing each and every week to stay in the hunt for one of the 12 coveted playoff berths.
Week 11 started on Thursday with the Broncos squeaking past the reeling host Browns, who did look better under first time start Brady Quinn, and ended with a Monday Night football game that came down to the last play as the surprising NFC West leading Cardinals stopped the Niners at the goal line for a hard-fought 29-24 win. In between those two games, we saw a variety of games ranging from the Titans continuing their unblemished ways with a solid road win over the Bears – off to a franchise record 9-0 start, the Jets total demolition of the hapless Rams – the 44-point win by the Jets was the largest margin of victory in franchise history – to an NFC East slugfest extraordinaire between the Eagles and Giants on NBC Sunday Night Football with G-Men pounding their way to a hard fought 36-31 victory.
I have been waiting for separation to start spreading between NFL teams, but like most of this season almost every team is in the mix as there are 23 teams that are 4-5 or better at this point in the season. All of the parity as every team “Believing in Now”, so every team including the undefeated Titans and Giants (8-1) need to come ready to play weekly as anything can happen in the NFL…just ask the Miami Dolphins, who have gone from 1-15 NFL laughingstock in 2007 to 5-4 currently with a legitimate shot at contending for the AFC East Division title and/or a playoff berth.
One thing is for certain is that every team is “playing to win the game” whether they are the winless Detroit Lions (didn’t look as good as expected with Daunte Culpepper under center) or the undefeated Tennessee Titans (showed they were more than a running team — only 20 yards rushing – as the spotlight turned to maligned veteran passer Kerry Collins as he completed 73% of his passes and threw 2 TDs in a win). The play-to-win-the-game attitude was never more prevalent than by the actions of the man that made that quote synonymous with himself. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards lived up to his motto as he tried to spark his (2-7) team by going for the win with a two-point conversion rather than kicking the extra point and playing for the tie/overtime. After Tony Gonzalez’s 3-yard TD grab and only 23 seconds left on the clock, Edwards went for two. With nothing else to lose, Edwards sent in an ill-fated pass play where scrappy quarterback Tyler Thigpen should look for Gonzalez. Unfortunately the Chargers (4-5) were up to the challenge as safety Clinton Hart batted the ball away, giving the Chargers another life with a 20-19 win and sending the Chiefs to another defeat in what is proving to be an uphill type of season.
In looking at the divisions most of the races look like they will come down to week 17. Here is the AFC picture: AFC South (Titans lead Colts by 4 games), AFC North (Steelers lead the Ravens by 1 game), AFC East (Patriots and Jets tied for lead with the Bills and Dolphins 1 game back), and in the AFC West (Broncos lead the Chargers by 1 game). In the NFC the races are just as tight NFC East (Giants lead the Redskins by 2 games), NFC North (Vikings and Bears lead the Packers by 1 game), NFC South (Panthers lead the Bucs and Falcons by 1 game), and in the NFC West (Cardinals lead the Seahawks, Niners, and Rams by 4 games).
Now that we have had our last bye weeks for teams in week 10 (Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), it is time for the second half of the season dash towards the playoffs.
Before we go to the awards lets have some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Week 11
A Rules Explanation From the NFL for hurting Birds’ fans after the New York Giants win over Eagles – In last Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants faced a 3rd-and-10 from just outside the Eagles’ 20 with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter. The Giants were penalized on the play for an illegal forward pass. New York challenged the ruling. Rule 8, Section 1, Article 1, Note 3 of the NFL Rule Book (page 49) states that “the penalty for a forward pass beyond the line is to be enforced from the spot where the ball is released when the passer’s entire body and the ball are beyond the line of scrimmage. This includes either when the passer is airborne or touching the ground.” The instant replay review determined that Giants quarterback Eli Manning was not entirely beyond the line of scrimmage when he released the pass. Thus, the on-field ruling of an illegal forward pass was reversed by referee Terry McAulay. The result of the pass completion gave New York a first-and-goal at the Philadelphia three. Please note that the red line used on the telecast to indicate the line of scrimmage – just outside the Eagles’ 20 – is not official. In reviewing the play, Terry McAulay relied on the position of the line-of-scrimmage marker held by the chain crew, which officially is located on the head linesman’s side of the field.
Rickey is Running Again — Dolphins RB Ricky Williams posted his 32nd career 100-yard game (first since late in the 2005 season) with 105 yards on 12 carries against the Seahawks, including a 51-yard TD run out of the ‘Wildcat’ formation. The “Wildcat” formation returned after a three-week lull against the Seahawks with Dolphins running six plays (all runs) from formation gaining 80 yards and scoring two touchdowns, including Williams’ rumble and Ronnie Brown’s 16-yard touchdown.
Interim maybe the key word – It was another week of losing for the NFL’s three “interim” head coaches as the Raiders (lost 17-6 to the Panthers), Rams (humiliated 47-3 by the Jets), and Niners (lost 29-24 to Cardinals) all went down to defeat. Save for the two initial victories by Rams’ head Jim Haslett, the combined record of Tom Cable (Oakland), Mike Singletary (San Francisco), and Haslett is (2-9). If these temporary coaches keep it up they will be at the Senior Bowl looking for a job come February. But you have to give credit to Niners head coach Mike Singletary, as there was improvement by his team in week two of his tenure with underachieving tight end Vernon Davis finding the endzone.
The Pats find a new runner – Before the season not many people knew about Ole Miss rookie running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the player known as the “Law Firm” for his hyphenated name stepped it up this week. Green-Ellis finished with 105 yards (first 100-yard game) and a touchdown on 26 carries. His touchdown also marked his fourth straight game with a rushing TD.
Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries – This week it was the Patriots losing linebacker Adalius Thomas for the season to a broken forearm. Other injuries that hit home this week were Saints CB Mike McKenzie (kneecap), Ravens WR Derrick Mason (shoulder), Vikings CB Charles Gordon (ankle), Packers LB Nick Barnett (knee), Lions and DE Dewayne White (calf). The team hardest hit in the backfield has to be the Denver Broncos, who this week lost RB Ryan Torain (knee) joining Michael Pittman (I/R with neck stinger), Andre Hall (I/R hand) and Selvin Young (groin) on the sidelines. All the injuries have forced Peyton Hillis, a fullback by trade who at Arkansas blocked for first rounders Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, to switch to tailback.
Carolina Panthers DE Julius Peppers – The NFL’s big beast at defensive end seems to be back after an off year. Peppers was everywhere in the Panthers 17-6 win over the Raiders. The former first round pick showed his usual quickness to the ball in producing seven tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one defensed pass.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – Look out NFL, but last year’s rookie sensation running back is back. Peterson looked like his old pound-the-rock self rushing for 192 yards and one touchdown on 30 attempts in the Vikings’ 28 – 27 win over the Green Bay Packers. Peterson refused to let his team lose as he pounded the rock over and over. Peterson now leads the NFL in rushing with 1,015 yards rushing.
Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – Looks like his toe injury is dissipating as he ran for 78 yards on 22 carries in a 20-19 win over the Chiefs. LT also passed O.J. Simpson and Corey Dillon for 15th place on the all-time rushing list at 11,279 yards.
Colts QB Peyton Manning – For the second time this year it looks like the Colts and their quarterback are back as Manning completed 21 of 40 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns in the Colts’ 24 – 20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The win snapped the Colts’ franchise road-losing streak to the Steelers at 12 games (since 1968) and Manning had his 50th career game with three touchdown passes.
Cardinals QB Kurt Warner – The rebirth of the former NFL MVP continued as Warner completed 32 of 42 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals 29 – 24 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. The win moved the Cardinals to 6-3 for the season with a near insurmountable 4 game lead in the NFC West…I think not even the Cardinals who haven’t won a division since 1975 with the likes of Dan Coryell and Dan Dierdorf.
Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew – The little back that could rumbled his way to three touchdowns in the Jaguars’ 38 – 14 win over the Detroit Lions. For the game MJD finished with numbers of 11 rushes for 70 yards and 3 TD’s.
Other honorees: Ravens QB Joe Flacco (threw 2 TDs in another win for the Ravens), Patriots WR Wes Welker (Season highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (107) in Patriots win and was the first player in NFL history to start a season with six or more receptions in each of his team’s first nine games), New York Jets RB Thomas Jones (rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns in the Jets lopsided win), Ravens LB Ray Lewis (eight tackles and two interceptions in the Ravens 41 – 13 win over the Houston Texans), Titans QB Kerry Collins (30-41, 289, 2 TD, 0 INT in a win over the Bears), and Dolphins LB Yeremiah Bell (led the Dolphins with nine tackles and defensed a two-point conversion attempt by Seattle to secure the Dolphins’ 21 – 19 win over the Seahawks in the fourth quarter).
Saints QB Drew Brees – Sure he threw for over 400 yards (season-high 442 yards), but he was also picked off three times including one interception returned for a score in the Saints 34-20 loss to the Falcons. The Saints are now 0-4 in road games this season and they don’t look like they are consistent enough to get a playoff spot. On a good note Brees needs to average around 300 yards per game for the rest of the season to break Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards (1984).
The Philadelphia Eagles – In a “statement game”, the Birds came up short at home against the Giants going down 36-31. The Eagles main problem for this game was stopping the run as the G-Men pounded them for 219 yards rushing while controlling the ball for 39:10 minutes of possession. In key situations, the Giants relied on huge back Brandon Jacobs (22 rushes for 126 yards and 2 TDs) and passes to tight end Kevin Boss (6 catches for 69 yards and 1 TD) with the Eagles not making the necessary adjustments to stop either of them. On the games biggest play the Eagles came up small as the Giants defense preserved the win with a fourth-and-one stuff of running back Brian Westbrook. After the game Eagles head coach Andy Reid had his usual, “Its on me” statements to the dismay of everyone as he didn’t talk about the Eagles inability to stop the run, “What in the world is defensive lineman Dan Klecko doing at fullback?”, wasted instant replay challenges, quarterback Donovan McNabb’s slow start, running the ball twice unsuccessfully with Westbrook when the game was on the line, the Eagles inability to pressure Manning (only 1 sack), a pass to rush ratio of 36 to 21, the fact that the Eagles are in last place in the NFC East with a 0-3 divisional record….I could go on forever. Checkout a good piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Ashley Fox regarding Reid’s non-answers.
The Detroit Lions – The NFL’s only team without a win (0-9) continued to looked horrible in a 38-14 blowout loss to the Jaguars. The Lions have now lost 10 straight games dating back to last season and are (0-9) for the first time since 2001, when they started 0-12. New starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper (5-10, 104 yards) didn’t make much of as he has lost five of his last six starts. Next up is a trip to face the Carolina Panthers (7-2), so it will be more indigestion for beleaguered coach Rod Marinelli.
Colts WR Marvin Harrison – It maybe the end of the line at the end of the season for one of the NFL’s classiest players. Harrison you can tell is not the same guy anymore and Reggie Wayne is now Peyton Manning’s go-to-guy. In Colts 24-20 win over the Steelers, I saw several situations where the future hall of fame player stayed away from contact and dropped potential chain movers. In his defense, Harrison (3 catches for 37 yards) took a shot when he was sandwiched between two Steelers defenders on the opening drive of the second half and had to leave the game, but returned later.
The St. Louis Rams – A horrible season for one of the NFL’s worst teams got even worse this week as the Jets embarrassed the Rams 47-3. The hideous loss made you ask questions, “How do you lose 47-3?” and “Where is your pride?” The hapless Rams were down 40-0 at the half (second-most points allowed by the Rams in the first half of a game with the worst being 42 points scored by the Baltimore Colts in 1954 against the LA Rams).
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)