After a fantastic 189-yard”revengeful” performance against the Chicago Bears, Cincy RB Cedric Benson is Week 7’s Game Ball winner
I will start with a “Cheerio” this week as the NFL returned to London, England for the third year in a row. Unfortunately for the NFL’s English fans viewing our version of football, they were not treated to an entertaining game. The New England Patriots (5-2), led by QB Tom Brady and WR Wes Welker, continued their dominating ways by disposing of the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 at sold-out Wembley Stadium — 17 consecutive games against NFC opponents, the longest streak of any team against the other conference since the 1970 merger. With the 2009 “Own the Moment” season quickly nearing its halfway point, weekly fans are getting more clarity about who are the true “Contenders” and who are the “Pretenders”. But Week 7 should have been called “Blowout Week” around the NFL as 6 teams lost by 20 points or more and 11 teams won by 10 points or more.
However despite the ever-increasing number of blowouts in an NFL world where anyone can see the Grand Canyon sized divide between the “Have’s” and “Have Nots” (after 7 weeks of play there are three undefeated teams – Colts, Broncos, and Saints and three winless teams – Rams, Titans, and Bucs) there were a few match-ups that lived up to their hype. With only two divisional grudges on this week’s slate, the highlight of Week 7 had to be the 8 inter-conference games pitting the AFC and NFC, where conference bragging rights were at stake. After the dust settled it was the AFC, once again, that dominated the NFC with 6 wins and 2 losses. The AFC’s dominance this week, held true a distinct pattern that we have seen this decade. Despite the New York Giants winning in 2007, clearly the AFC has picked up their collective games as they have won all but two Super Bowl titles (other NFC title was the Buccaneers in 2002). The AFC has the Indianapolis Colts led by Robo-Quarterback Peyton Manning seem to win 12 games every year (beat-up on the winless Rams this week), the Patriots who have won 3 Super Bowl titles this decade (thumped the Bucs in London, England) and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (ended the Vikings winning streak this week).
Even though two of the three big AFC franchises stumbled early (Steelers and Patriots), you knew they would get back in the race at the top of the NFL and they have so far. The AFC’s Big 3 is almost always in the mix come playoff time and do not expect anything different this season. Each team has a quality quarterbacks making timely throws, solid running games providing balance, and attacking defenses who turn turnovers into points. The Steelers won their 4th straight game, this time disposing of one of the NFC’s two unbeatens (Steelers 27, Vikings 17). The Steelers fueled by their resurging defense – wonder if the return of Troy “The Hair” Polamalu has anything to do with it – bent but didn’t break in their victory that put the first “L” on the Vikings (outgained Pittsburgh 386-259, but only scored 10 Points offensively). Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defenders were able to stop Vikings QB Brett Favre (34 of 51, 334 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT), All-World RB Adrian Peterson, emerging receiver Sidney Rice, and the rest Vikes offense deep in Pittsburgh territory when it mattered most – 3 big defensive stands.
The Steelers were able to turn back Peterson 3 times (from the half-yard line) on a crucial early game goalline stand that left the score 13-10 in favor of the home team. But the two biggest game-changing plays happened when the 2008 Super Bowl champs needed it most, especially with their offense sputtering at times. Other a short Peterson touchdown run, there no passing touchdowns and easily the Vikings biggest play was a Percy Harvin 88-yd kickoff return. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble touchdown return after Favre was stripped in the 3rd quarter and LB Keyaron Fox’s 82-yard interception touchdown return of a Favre dump-off pass late in the 4th quarter were the keys in ending any of the venerable quarterback’s comeback magic this week. Favre said after his team’s first loss of 2009, “There were a lot of what ifs, a lot of reasons we didn’t win, the red zone was one of them. (The Steelers) are physical, and they were as good as we thought they’d be”. The Steelers held Peterson to only 69 rushing yards – 25th straight game without allowing a 100-yard rusher – produced 3 turnovers, and kept Favre out of the endzone for the 1st time this year in the win.
Even in a weekend of AFC dominance, one NFC team continues to “March On” and that is the NFC South leading New Orleans Saints. The Saints continued the best start in their franchise’s history by beating the Dolphins in a thrilling comeback as they increased their record to 6-0. Brees and the unbeaten Saints fell behind for the first time all season, then overcame a 21-point deficit Sunday to beat the Dolphins 46-34 (biggest comeback in franchise history). The NFL’s highest-scoring team topped 40 points for the fourth time (most since 1950) and outscored the Dolphins 22-0 in the fourth quarter to seal a crucial road victory. Brees, who have looked like a miniature version of Johnny Unitas at times this year, had his worst game of the season – 3 INTs, a lost fumble and five sacks — but it didn’t matter as the Saints won again.
Brees this week used his legs rushing for 2 TDs including a crucial quarterback sneak at the end of the first half that cut the score to 24-10 in favor of the Dolphins. To their credit, the Saints’ staff made the right adjustments at halftime that eventually won them the game. “It can be a season-defining win,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “This was a test we hadn’t faced yet, and we couldn’t be happier with the way we responded.” Brees was not the only hero of the game as their Saints defense produced the stops that allowed their offense to comeback. After a first half where the “Wildcat” was running wild (for the game, America’s most talked about formation netted 30 yards on 14 plays), the Saints dug in and limited the Dolphins to only 10 second-half points. The Saints biggest play happened early in the 3rd quarter when Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (NFL leading 6 INTs) scored on an interception return for the third time this season. The 42-yard INT to the ‘House came after Sharper took a deflected from Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr.
The Saints defense preserved the win for New Orleans finest too as CB Tracy Porter picked off a Chad Henne pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown with just under 2 minutes remaining. Miami’s RB Ricky Williams, who had 3 TDs, said of the loss the NFC’s best team, “This was our game to win, we fought and we fought. They just fought harder at the end.” Everyone knows that it is too early to make season long assertions right now. But New Orleans has shown week in and week out that they are a tough team with a lot of weapons offensively and defensively. I can tell you, they have made a believer out of this one-time naysayer. I cannot wait for the Saints to host the Patriots in Week 12.
Here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for this week before we go to the awards.
New Colts’ head coach is the real deal — Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Colts to a 5-0 start this season. With a Colts win on Sunday against St. Louis Rams, the Colts improved to 6-0 and Caldwell tied the mark for the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970. Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels already tied the mark on Monday night in the Broncos’ 34-23 victory over the San Diego Chargers. With wins in Week 8, Caldwell and McDaniels can break a tie with former head coaches Chuck Knox, Red Miller, and Mike Martz.
Titans owner wants to see Vince Young now — Though the hapless Titans were on a bye this week, their owner Bud Adams made it clear he wants Vince Young to replace Kerry Collins now. Adams, 86, has always been in Young’s corner and may be giving head coach Jeff Fisher a mandate. Fisher would not commit to Collins (completing 54.8 % of passes with 5 TDs and 8 INTs) at his press conference Monday — the first time he’s wavered on the decision all year. Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Young, who counts $14.2M against next year’s salary cap, will get his chance against the Jaguars on Sunday. The third overall pick of the 2006 draft, Young went 18-11 in 29 starts over his first three seasons, but he’s been the backup since suffering a knee injury in the second half of the Sept. 9, 2008 game (2008 season opener) against the Jaguars. “I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there,” Adams said. “I just think we need to find out how well (Young) can do.
Tough Injury Loss for the Jets — Mercurial Jets RB Leon Washington broke his leg (fibula) in a blowout win over the Oakland Raiders. The Jets will probably place Washington on IR and they will need 3 players (rookie Shonn Greene, Brad Smith, and Danny Woodhead) to replace the variety of skills that he offers to the team. Other key injuries around the NFL were Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (concussion), Steelers DE Travis Kirschke (calf), Redskins TE Chris Cooley (broken foot –season), Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons (high ankle), Colts RB Donald Brown (shoulder), Vikings WR Bernard Berrian (left leg), Saints DT Sedrick Ellis (sprained right knee), Dolphins CB Will Allen (ACL- season), Niners ILB Takeo Spikes (sprained right shoulder), Colts WR Reggie Wayne (strained groin), Redskins QB Jason Campbell (sprained ankle), Giants TE Kevin Boss (stiff neck), Texans WR Andre Johnson (chest contusion) and Rams CB Bradley Fletcher (torn ligaments in right knee – season).
Nice road ahead for the Arizona Cardinals – After their tough 24-17 win over the NY Giants on Sunday Night Football, the road back to playoffs is a favorable one for Ken Whisenhunt’s team. Only two of the Cardinals’ 10 remaining games are against teams with winning records. Their next five opponents – Carolina Panthers (2-4), Chicago Panthers (3-3) , Seattle Seahawks (2-4), St. Louis Rams (0-7) and Tennessee Titans (0-7) — are a combined 7-24.
Hey Raiders do you want a re-do on that pick – In his first action since ending his 71-day holdout, Niners first-round WR Michael Crabtree played a ton his team’s close loss to the Houston Texans. Crabtree was in for 48 of 54 of the Niners’ plays and had five catches for 56 yards in his NFL debut. Conversely Raiders WR Darius Heyward-Bey (7th overall pick), who was taken three spots ahead of Crabtree by noted need for speed aficionado Al Davis, only has 7 catches for 64 yards and 0 TDs plus at least four drops through 7 games.
Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson – “Revenge” is a dish best served cold and that is exactly what Benson gave the Chicago Bears. After accusing Bears management (GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith) of bad-mouthing him out the door, Benson took matters into his own hands was spectacular in the Bengals surprisingly easy 45-10 win over the reeling Bears. The former Bears first round pick who was quickly jettisoned after a couple off the field incidents, regained his lead in the NFL rushing title race with a career-high 189 yards on 37 carries and 1 TD. The former University of Texas star seems on a Pro Bowl pace right now as he has rushing stats 164 carries for 720 yards (4.4 ypc) and 5 TDs.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo — The Cowboys (4-2) continued their climb back in the NFC East divisional race with a dominating 37-21 home win over the Falcons – second straight win. The main cog of the Cowboys’ offense was spectacular completing 21-of-29 passes for 311 yards and 3 TDs plus he added 31 yards on the ground. Romo also seems to have his T.O replacement in emerging receiver Miles Austin.
Dallas Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware — The Cowboys defensive menace recorded two sacks Sunday in the ‘Boys win over the Falcons and now has 4 sacks for the season. Ware finally seems comfortable rushing the passer again and the Cowboys rewarded his hard work by giving him a new six-year deal including $40M in guaranteed money. The 6-4, 262-pound three-time Pro Bowl linebacker now has 57.5 quarterback sacks for his career.
Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – While everyone was talking about the effort of RB Cedric Benson, Palmer “quietly” show that he is getting back to his old form in a big win over the Bears. Palmer was pinpoint as he completed 20-of-24 passes for 233 yards and 5 TDs.
New England Patriots FS Brandon Meriweather – The former product of the “U” had two interceptions across the pond, including returning one for a touchdown in the Patriots’ 35-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pittsburgh Steelers LT Max Starks — The Steelers strong tackle is finally meriting his big salary. Starks held Vikings Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen to just one tackle and no sacks in the Steelers win over the Vikings. Starks and his O-line mate also helped the Steelers produce a 5.3 YPC average in the running game.
SF 49ers QB Alex Smith – It was remember me time as the former first overall pick from 2005 shine after replacing starter Shaun Hill at halftime. Smith responded by completing 15-of-22 passes for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns (all to emerging TE Vernon Davis) plus rallied the Niners from 21 points down. Unfortunately the Niners came up short losing to the Houston Texans by a score 24-21.
Other Honorees: Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox (scored 4th quarter touchdowns to drive the Steelers over the Vikings); Buffalo Bills Safety Jairus Byrd (two interceptions spurred the Bills to a surprising road win over the Panthers); New Orleans Saints PK John Carney (became the fourth NFL player to score 2,000 points in his career); Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin (showed that his 250-yard breakout at Kansas City in Week 5 was no fluke, by producing 171 yards and 2 TDs in the Cowboys win over the Falcons); Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (reached career milestones 30,000 yards passing and 200 career touchdown passes in the Eagles win over the Redskins);Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (caught only two passes but had 69 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles’ 27-17 win over the Redskins. Jackson also ran for a 67-yard touchdown and scored both Eagles’ offensive touchdowns); The NY Jets RB’s (led by rookie Shonn Greene’s 144 yards and 2 TDs, the Jets RB’s became the first NFL team since 1975 – Buffalo Bills — to rush for 300 yards in back-to-back games).
Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson — Things just went from bad to worse for LJ in Kansas City. The two- time NFL rushing leader and former workhorse has definitely slowed down since his heyday of about 4 to 5 years ago. Time, off the field problems, and injuries have definitely caught up with him (30 on Nov. 19th). But the bigger story is that after another pedestrian effort (16 rushes for 49 yards with a long of 9 yards) on Sunday in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers, Johnson got on the offensive via Twitter against Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Here are some of his excerpts: “my father got more credentials than most these pro coaches….google my father!!!”; “My father played for the coach from “remember the titans”. Our coach played golf. My father played for redskins briefly. Our coach. Nuthn”. It is never a good idea to jump-on your head coach, but then LJ decided to call some reporters a bad word for homosexuals and Tweeted much more. Now NFL spokesman Greg Aiello revealed that the league is investigating LJ’s recent tirade on Twitter. Plus the team basically told the volatile runner that he cannot practice and is not at their complex. I don’t think it will be long before LJ is on the free agent running back scrap heap with older RB’s Warrick Dunn and Shaun Alexander.
Dallas Cowboys WR Roy Williams – The former Detroit Lions first rounder returned to the line-up in Week 7 (rib injury) and produced 1 catch along with several drops. Williams just doesn’t seem like he will ever live-up to the amount the Cowboys traded for him and now Miles Austin is clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver. Williams has just 12 catches on 30 targets (40% catch rate) this season and looks like he is a colossal bust.
Oakland Raiders DE Richard Seymour – Predicted his team would make the playoffs after their “lucky’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week. And the Raiders responded by getting shutout 35-0 by the NY Jets.
NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez – I know it was a snooze fest in a dominating 38-0 win over the Raiders, but did you really have to eat a hot dog with mustard on the sidelines.
Minnesota Vikings FB/TE Jeff Dugan – Unnecessarily ran down NFL Back Judge Richard Reels on Percy Harvin’s Kickoff for a touchdown in the 4th Quarter of the Steelers’ win. Also Dugan had a bad tripping penalty near the goalline that negated a Brett Favre touchdown pass.
NY Giants rookie OT William Beatty – Playing in place of starter Kareem McKenzie (ended Giants O-line’s 38 consecutive starts streak), head coach Tom Coughlin gave Beatty mixed reviews. The youngster from UConn was beat off the edge by Cardinals OLB Clark Haggans for a sack and also had a bad false-start penalty late in the fourth quarter.
Panthers QB Jake Delhomme – Was terrible in Carolina’s 20-9 home loss to the Buffalo Bills as he threw more 3 interceptions. The former Super Bowl starter is now on pace to throw a mind-boggling 35 interceptions and has 13 INTs for the season. The NFL’s 32nd rated passer may soon be watching one of his former backups (AJ Feeley or Matt Moore) playing.
Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell – Returned to his pitiful ways in a horrible loss to the NY Jets. Russell had 2 INTs, 1 lost fumble, and was benched for journeyman QB Bruce Gradkowski.
Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris – Inactive for lack of effort in practices and for overall being in head coach Lovie Smith’s doghouse. The former Bears defensive leader was told he was not need this week and he may soon be looking for another team despite his huge contract.
NFL Week 7
SUN, OCT 25
Bengals (5-2) over Bears (3-3), 45-10
Bills (3-4) over Panthers (2-4), 20-9
Cardinals (4-2) over Giants (5-2), 24-17
Chargers (3-3) over Chiefs (1-6), 37-7
Colts (6-0) over Rams (0-7), 42-6
Cowboys (4-2) over Falcons (4-2), 37-21
Jets (4-3) over Raiders (2-5), 38-0
Packers (4-2) over Browns (1-6), 31-3
Patriots (5-2) over Buccaneers (0-7), 35-7
Saints (6-0) over Dolphins (2-4), 46-34
Steelers (5-2) over Vikings (6-1), 27-17
Texans (4-3) over 49ers (3-3), 24-21
MON, OCT 26
Eagles (4-2) over Redskins (2-5), 27-17
Byes: Broncos (6-0), Jaguars (3-3), Lions (1-5), Ravens (3-3), Seahawks (2-4), Titans (0-6)
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)