Patriots – Saints: The Battle of the Bayou Preview

WR Julian Edleman and the New Patriots travel to New Orleans to face-off against the undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football

Patriots – Saints: The Battle of the Bayou Preview

ESPN Monday Night Football, 8:30 EST

Broadcasting team: Ron Jaworski, Mike Tirico, John Gruden, and Suzy Kolber (sideline reporter)

Week 12 of the 2009 NFL Season has been one of the best for the league that always seems leave their fans wanting more, but without a doubt the Monday Night Football Match-up between the undefeated New Orleans Saints (10-0, the best start in franchise history) and the New England Patriots (7-3) is the cherry on top.  The Super Dome will be rocking as the “New Kids on the Block” (Saints) will take on the “Old Heads” (Patriots) to see who will be “King of the Hill” on the NFL’s playground. 

After many had thought they had seen the precursor to the NFL playoffs in “Super Bowl XLIII ½” where the undefeated Indianapolis Colts led by MVP-candidate Peyton Manning came back to post an amazing 35-34 win over the Patriots, no one thought there could be a better game.  Well, I am not sure if the game that people are calling, “The Battle of the Bayou” or Super Bowl XLIII ¾ will live-up to the inordinate amount of hype generated, but you have to admit this is a fascinating match-up that will have the nation’s attention. Sure a match-up of the undefeated Saints versus the undefeated Colts probably would have created more buzz, but this pairing is just as good, in my opinion.

Even though these two teams’ histories are vastly different — the Saints have never been to the Super Bowl while the Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, producing three wins all this decade — there is a mutual amount of respect on both sides of the field as two of Bill Parcells’ former disciples will square-off.  Both teams have an embarrassment of offensive weapons and defensively they both can provide pressure that often leads to capitalizing on turnovers and taking them to the house.  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who throws compliments to upcoming opponents like manhole covers, recently said of the Saints, “I don’t think there’s any better team in football than the New Orleans Saints.  They have no weaknesses that I can see.”  Of the upcoming Monday Night Football showdown, Saints QB Drew Brees (218-320, 2746 yards, 22 TDs and 9 INTs) said, “It’s going to take our best game to beat the Patriots. “We know the type of team they are.  We know the type of team they’ve been for the last decade.  They’re a dynasty.  Obviously, that’s one of the organizations we try to emulate.  We’re trying to be a contender year-in and year-out and we’ve got to take advantage of these opportunities.”

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was just as complimentary when talking about the Patriots saying, “We know it’s a good team that we’re playing this week.  New England has been a successful franchise and is one of those organizations that has found the right formula.  When you play a team like this, you observe from afar the things that they are able to do and how that relates to winning games.”  Any talk of this Monday Night thriller has to start and end with the two quarterbacks leading their teams and as an old beer commercial used to say, “It doesn’t get any better than this”.  In the year of the quarterback around the NFL, probably the only passers playing better at this point in the season are Manning and Vikings QB Brett Favre, but that is saying something as both those veterans are shooting for their 4th NFL MVP award.  Payton in talking about Brady and Brees said, “Both of these quarterbacks are accurate”.  The currently undefeated head coach added, “They’re good decision-makers and can decide quickly where they want to go with the ball based on the looks they’re getting.  Those are certainly traits you see with both of them.” Brees is second in the NFL with a 105.8 passer rating while Patriots QB Tom Brady is not far behind with a rating of 100.4, which is good enough for fifth in the NFL.  In the touchdowns department, Brees also has a slight lead as he leads the league with 22 touchdown passes with Brady again not being far behind 20 (ranks 4th in the NFL in this category). 

Like any great heavyweight fight, now that the pleasantries have been dispensed by both sides, let’s break this game down.  First off fans should expect a ton of scoring as this is a match-up of the

 NFL’s No. 1 and 2 offenses — the Saints average a league leading 420.5 yards per game and the Patriots are next with an average of 416.1 ypg, which is first in the AFC — playing on the Super Dome’s fast track.  The Saints have redefined the term “high-octane” this season with an incredible 369 points scored through 10 games including producing over 40 points four times.  Many are comparing New Orleans to 500+ point plus scoring squads the 1999 St. Louis Rams (529 points scored and Super Bowl champs), 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556 points scored and a record of 15-1), and lastly the 2007 New Patriots (NFL record 589 points score and 16-0 AFC Champs) who will have several members from that offense still playing for them on Monday. 

For the Saints offensively, Brees spreads the ball around to former Pro Bowl receiver Marques Colston (44 receptions for 687 yards, 15.6 ypc, and 6 TDs), scatback Reggie Bush, breakout player of the year candidate WR Robert Meachem, RB Pierre Thomas, speedster WR Devrey Henderson and many others (hard to believe former NY Giants’ Pro Bowl TE Jeremy Shockey is an afterthought on the Saints roster) so at times it seems there is no stopping New Orleans.  They have outscored opponents 369-204 so far this season and an amazing 18 players have scored touchdowns this season.  Every week seems to be a track meet for the Saints whether home or away even though at times they have sputtered out of the gate a couple of times – average winning margin of 16.5 points.  The closest any team has come to beating them were the St. Louis Rams, who lost 28-23, but it wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

The Saints offense hasn’t been the team’s only story for 2009 as new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has returned some teeth to a defense that allowed 393 points (24.6/g) in 2008.  Williams aggressive unit has generated seven touchdowns and produced a league-high 29 takeaways including 20 INTs.  The Saints defense starts upfront with pass rushers DE Will Smith (8.5 sacks) and DE Charles Grant providing pressure on quarterbacks that has helped MLB Jonathan Vilma, safety Darren Sharper (7 INTs, returning 3 for touchdowns), CB Tracy Porter, and others make the most of their turnover opportunities – Saints are 3rd in the NFL with a +10 turnover ratio.  However even though the Saints have been stellar at getting turnovers, some teams have been able to move the ball on them at times this season – allowed 204 points (20.4/g), which ranks them 15th in the NFL.  Also injuries could be a factor for the Saints’ defense as Porter is listed as “doubtful” with CB Randall Gay (hamstring), CB Jabari Greer (groin), DE Bobby McCray (knee/back), and Vilma (knee) listed as “questionable” for the game.

Not to be outdone the Patriots’ offense is also are one of the NFL’s best at passing the football this season.  The Pats’ offense is also dangerous and the scary part is that QB Tom Brady (261-393, 3049 yards, 20 TDs, and 6 INTs) seems to have finally put his devastating 2008 knee injury behind  — remember his NFL record 6 TD performance in the a 59-0 blowout of Tennessee Titans in Week 6.  Brady will also spread the ball around, but watch for his big play threat WR Randy Moss (63 receptions for 925 yards, 14.7 ypc, and  8 TDs with a long of 71 yards),  his multi-purpose chain mover RB Kevin Faulk (39 rushes for 192 yards and 29 catches for 252 yards w/ 1 TD) and his security blanket WR Wes Welker (79 catches for 854 yards, 10.8 ypc, and 4 TDs plus coming off a career-high 15 catch performance last week) to be much involved in the Patriots game plan.  Last week against the Jets, Welker and Moss combined for 20 catches in a 31-14 win which gave the pair 142 combined receptions through 10 games to surpass an NFL record that was set earlier in the day by Colts Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.  If the Patriots are smart, they will try to establish their running game (Faulk, Laurence Maroney, and Sammy Morris) against the Saints fast defensive line to wear them down.  The Saints are getting DT Sedrick Ellis back from a knee sprain, but controlling the clock will be key for the Patriots to take the air out of the ball to keep Brees’ offensive weaponry on the sidelines.  The Patriots’ offensive line also will need to step up too in this game as, at times this season, the unit has struggled with speed rushers.

On defense, the Patriots – ranked 3rd in the AFC with 296.7 points allowed per game – are no slouches in the turnover department either as they lead the AFC with a +12 ratio.  But they will surely need to have big games from improving FS Brandon McGowan (good cover guy TEs), cover corner Leigh Bodden (5 INTs including three last week against the Jets), and pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain (5 sacks) to keep Brees foot off the gas.  There is no doubt the Patriots still do have some playmakers on the defensive side, but you have to wonder if the defections of DL Richard Seymour (traded to the Raiders), SS Rodney Harrison (retirement to NBC), LB Tedy Bruschi (retirement to ESPN) and others have caused their unit to be questioned.  We all know head coach Belichick had questions of the unit in their much-publicized Week 9’s loss in Indy.  Protecting a slim 6-point lead, the 3-time Super Bowl winning head coach chose to go for it on 4th down deep in his own territory rather than punt and let his defense have a chance at stopping Peyton Manning and Colts offense.  As the whole world knows, the Patriots did not convert the infamous play and now many people around NFL circles are wondering if their defense is championship caliber.

LV’s Pick:  These two teams have met 11 times with the Patriots holding a dominating 8-3 edge including winning their last 3 meetings.  The last time was in November of 2005 as the Patriots won 24-17 in Foxborough.  As many are predicting, I believe this game will be a high scoring affair.  But in the end, I believe the team that can establish the run and limit turnovers will be the winner.  Lately the Saints have been a little careless with the football and the Patriots have a strong veteran group that knows how to capitalize on mistakes and win close games.  Plus the Pats are 5-0 all-time at Superdome including a Super Bowl win.  Also with the Colts staying undefeated this week, the chances are pretty strong that the Saints will lose – there has never been two 11-0 teams in NFL history.  New England wins late as Brady hits Moss for a game-winning touchdown.   – Patriots win 31-28

 

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)

Con-Vince-ing Performance

With Sunday’s thrilling comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals, the “new” team-first version of QB Vince Young continues to open more eyes around the NFL

After Vince Young’s breakout career-high 387-yard passing performance in the Tennessee Titans last-second 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals including throwing the game-winner with no time left on the clock.  Everyone needs to a look back in time to a crucial moment earlier this season.  Let’s go back to Week 7 of the 2009 NFL Season, the Titans were on their bye week after enduring probably the most humiliating loss in the NFL this season in Week 6, a 59-0 pummeling by the New England Patriots.  In the disastrous loss that took the former 2008 AFC South champs (13-3) to the depths of being called, “The Most Disappointing Team in the NFL” – sixth straight loss to open the season — a possible light switch clicked in the head of Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.

After former Titans’ starting quarterback Kerry Collins had one of the worst performances of any starting quarterback in NFL history (finishing with passing numbers 2 -12  for -7 yards, 1 INT, and a QB rating of 4.9 – probably the lowest ever).  Late in the game, Fisher decided to insert former 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year, QB Vince Young, into the game.  Young had not played much before that game in the snow, because he had lost his “swagger” in 2008 due to some well documented problems during and after the Titans’ season opener and quickly became a footnote as the Titans rose to the playoffs under Collins.  All during the 2008 season, Young had endured arrows that he was too sullen and selfish to be the leader of the Titans again.  But in the cold, ice, and snow of New England that day (October 18th), Young clearly started to heat-up.  He became a team-first player as he swallowed his ego and pride to enter a no-win situation in a blowout game gone awry  — finished with pedestrian numbers 0-2 for 0 yards and 1 INT plus 2 rushes for -1 yards.

V.Y’s numbers in New England that day didn’t even matter, after he showed some long-awaited maturity.  With questions swirling around the Titans’ sinking ship at the time and Collins underperforming, before the cameras in the lockerroom after the humiliating loss, Young basically said “I will do anything that the coaching staff and team asks of me”.  Those words sounded very cliché at the time, but Young was very serious that he just wanted the opportunity to show that he was still the same player who led the University of Texas to the 2005 National Championship.  The former 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft just wanted a chance to show, that he was still a playmaker in the NFL and not the perceived malcontent potential bust that many were painting him out to be.  While many pointed to his 2008 struggles and poor performance against the Patriots as signs that Young would soon be on another team in 2010.  A small contingent, including yours truly, said give the former college football legend a “legitimate” shot to prove he could still lead the Titans once again.

During the Titans time away to heal during their Week 7 bye, many were wondering when Fisher would give V.Y a chance to give the team a much-needed spark.  And to be honest with you…Why Not…considering that many NFL talking heads had already predicted that the Titans’ 2009 campaign was already over.  However Fisher continued to be coy and still talked about Collins (completed 54.8 % of passes with 5 TDs and 8 INTs) as the Titans man under center.  Then stepped in the one man whose opinion matters more than Fisher’s when it comes to the Tennessee Titans.  Owner Bud Adams made it clear he wanted Vince Young to replace Kerry Collins.  “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.

Fisher finally relented when he saw that the new and improved Young was looking like his former mentor and hero, the late Steve McNair, in practices and in the lockerroom.  Young had his head in the playbook and his feet firmly on the ground as he embraced possibly his last chance to be the Titans starting quarterback.  Some doubted Young, but I knew the player that I had interviewed way back during the 2005 Heisman presentation – competitive fire burning in his eyes — had the gumption to show the world that he was still a “winner”. Young had won at every level he has ever played in from high school to college to the NFL (18-11 in 29 starts at the time) and now it was time to remind everyone.  Even after the Houston, Texas native had led the Titans to a 30-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 8 for Tennessee’s first victory of the 2009 season, there were no “I told you so” moments from the now humble quarterback.  Young stayed grounded and kept marching on from there and it didn’t matter that he had just endured 22 games without starting. 

Fast forward to Week 12 in Tennessee, the Titans are down by a score of 17-13 late in the fourth quarter to the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals and have 99 yards to cover with only 2 minutes, 37 seconds left on the clock.  Sure Young had led the Titans to 4-straight wins over the past four weeks including a Monday Night thriller over the Houston Texans in Week 11, but this was too much of a daunting task for V.Y…right.  In final moments, Young answered his critics with not only his legs, but his arm and mind.  Young (27/43, 387 YDS, 1 TD, and 0 INTs) capped off an 18-play, 99-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to leaping rookie receiver Kenny Britt in the back of the end zone as time expired.  The impressive part of the game-winning drive was the determination of the Titans’ starter.  Young (23-11 as an NFL starter) completed 10 of 16 passes for 94 yards and ran for another five while converting three fourth-downs on the drive, including the winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the Cardinals’ 10.

It must have been deja-vu all over again for Cardinals starter Matt Leinart, who had lost the 2006 Rose Bowl to Young when they were both college hotshots for USC and Texas respectively, as No. 10 left the field with another comeback victory in his hands.  Young had just won his 9th consecutive start going back to 2007 and he is now a perfect 5-0 as the Titans starter this season.  But as the Titans’ new unquestioned leader pointed out after the game, it was a huge “team” win.  “As the Tennessee Titans, I feel we fought to the finish,” Young said.  Indeed it was a miraculous win for a franchise that has seem some great finishes.  An almost stunned Fisher said in his post game press conference, “You guys don’t mind if I sit down and do this do you? OK. WOW! What a great finish!” We’ve had some finishes around here, but I can’t remember one like that. Just a tremendous finish.”

The Titans are now 5-6 and right in the middle of the AFC’s wildcard hunt — remaining games @IND, STL, MIA, SD, and @SEA — after almost no one, but themselves, thought they were still in the race.  Young, RB Chris Johnson (his performance during the Titans’ 5-game winning streak cannot also be forgotten – on a pace for over 2,000 yards rushing), and a rejuvenated defense has led the Titans back into contention and it will be an interesting finish in Nashville.  However you won’t hear Young pounding his chest over the last-second win over the Cardinals or any of the other Titans’ 4 wins during their current winning streak. I will for him… “Ha, Ha, Ha…Told you so”.  But you cannot deny the spark and energy that V.Y has provided a team that was formerly on life suppprt this season. 

“I thought Vince played great,” Leinart said after the game. “He made plays in that last series, so hats off to him. I thought our defense played phenomenally, he just made some plays.”

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)

2009 NFL Season – Week 12 Preview

With only six games left for all NFL teams entering Week 12 of the 2009 NFL Season, there is definitely a sense of urgency.  With the 3rd quarter pole of the season in sight, now is the time for teams to separate into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” for the NFL’s 12 coveted 2009 playoff berths.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 10-0) and the “Have Nots” (nine teams with 3 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 4-6 to 6-4, entering Week 12) that still need to figure out, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt. 

With all the talk of the Have’s and the Have Nots around the NFL each week there are a couple common characteristics that I have seen with many winning teams around the league.

  1. They don’t turn the football over
  2. They have balance offensively and make sure to run the football
  3. Constant pressure (hits and sacks) on quarterbacks where they don’t’ feel comfortable in the pocket, which leads to turnovers
  4. Adjustments during weekly preparation and within games too. 
  5. Quality of Roster Depth, because every team is “banged” up and most have lost players for the rest of the season due to injury.
  6. Strong Special Teams – Returns (punt and kickoff)  for good yardage and touchdowns plus good coverage units, punters able to play the field position game, and ice-water kickers.

Since the real fun is beginning, I thought now was a good time to look at the remaining games for all of the NFL’s contenders (10-0 to 4-6 teams)

 

ARI (7-3)                @TEN     MIN        @SF        @DET     STL          GB

ATL  (5-5)               TB            PHI          NO          @NYJ      BUF         @TB

BAL  (5-5)               PIT          @GB       DET         CHI          @PIT      @OAK

CAR  (4-6)              @NYJ      TB            @NE       MIN        @NYG     NO

CHI  (4-6)               @MIN    STL          GB           @BAL      MIN        @DET

CIN  (7-3)               CLE          DET         @MIN    @SD       KC           @NYJ

DAL  (8-3)                               @NYG     SD           @NO      @WAS    PHI

DEN  (7-4)                              @KC       @IND     OAK        @PHI      KC

GB (7-4)                                 BAL          @CHI      @PIT      SEA          @ARI

HOU (5-5)              IND         @JAC      SEA          @STL      @MIA     NE

IND (10-0)             @HOU    TEN         DEN         @JAC      NYJ          @BUF

JAC (6-4)                @SF        HOU        MIA         IND         @NE       @CLE

MIA (5-5)               @BUF     NE           @JAC      @TEN     HOU        PIT

MIN (9-1)               CHI          @ARI      CIN          @CAR     @CHI      NYG

NE (7-3)                 @NO      @MIA     CAR         @BUF     JAC          @HOU

NO (10-0)              NE           @WAS    @ATL      DAL         TB            @CAR

NYG (6-5)                               DAL         PHI          @WAS    CAR         @MIN

NYJ (4-6)                CAR         @BUF     @TB        ATL          @IND     CIN

PHI (6-4)                                WAS        @ATL      @NYG     SF            DEN         @DAL

PIT (6-4)                 @BAL      OAK        @CLE      GB           BAL          @MIA

SD (7-3)                  KC           @CLE      @DAL     CIN          @TEN     WAS

SF (4-6)                  JAC          @SEA      ARI          @PHI      DET         @STL

TEN (4-6)                ARI          @IND     STL          MIA         SD           @SEA

Week 12 in the NFL: 

Three Thanksgiving Games – America’s holiday featured 3 games that were not even close.  In the most traditional match-up, the Green Packers invaded Detroit for a 34-12 win that now firmly puts them in the NFC playoff hunt.  The Dallas Cowboys continued their dominance on Turkey Day (Romo is now  4-0 on the holiday) by throttling the Oakland Raiders 24-7.  And lastly, the NFL’s nightcap featuring the Denver Broncos and NY Giants didn’t turn out to be the desperation bowl everyone thought it would be.  The Broncos ended their four game losing streak with their 26-6 win over the G-Men, who are falling apart after a 5-0 start.

Ten divisional match-ups  — Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions on Thursday (Packers 34-12 win), Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Bucs at Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks at St Louis Rams, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, and Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (SNF).

Several must-win games for playoff hopefuls trying to stay in the hunt  — Steelers at Ravens, Bears at Vikings, Colts at Texans and Patriots at Saints

NFL Week 12

THU, NOV 26 

Green Bay (7-4) over Detroit (2-9), 34-12

Dallas (8-3) over Oakland (3-8),  24-7

Denver (7-4) over NY Giants (6-5),  26-6

SUN, NOV 29 

Tampa Bay at Atlanta 1:00 PM (FOX)

Miami at Buffalo 1:00 PM (CBS) 

Cleveland at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)

Arizona at Tennessee 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Seattle at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Chicago at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Carolina at NY Jets 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Washington at Philadelphia 1:00 PM (FOX)  

Indianapolis at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS)  

Kansas City at San Diego 4:05 PM (CBS)  

Jacksonville at San Francisco 4:05 PM (CBS)  

Pittsburgh at Baltimore 8:20 PM (NBC)

MON, NOV 30 

New England at New Orleans 8:30 PM (ESPN) 

 

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)

Thanksgiving Football Equals Americana

The Masters of Disaster (MOD) from a Turkey Bowl circa 1991

Football on Thanksgiving is an “Autumn Ritual” to me just like the phrase, “Can you please pass the gravy”.   The game has aligned itself beautifully with the greatest holiday ever, in my opinion, and it provides an opportunity for fellowship by friends and family around America’s Game.

“The Thanksgiving games are quite a tradition, not just in Detroit, but for America,” says NFL Network analyst Stever Mariucci, a Michigan native who participated in three Thanksgiving Day games as the Lions’ head coach in 2003-05.  “I learned firsthand about the excitement in Detroit for the game.  You enjoy playing in front of the home crowd.  It’s special.”

 Whether attending a hometown rivalry game – in my town growing up it is Abington (my alma mater) vs. friendly rival Cheltenham that goes back to 1915 (see all of the scores from this rivalry) – or playing in a “Turkey Bowl” touch football game with friends/family, or just watching the now three NFL games and other college games, Americans like myself cannot get enough Turkey Day football.

My most vivid memories of Thanksgiving are attending the hometown rivalry game in the early afternoon then going over to my paternal grandmother’s house for a celebration like none other with food like turkey, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, cranberry, candy yams and many other favorites while having good fellowship over food and of course football.  When I was younger my grandmother’s television was a big cabinet black/white set and I vividly remember watching the Detroit Lions (usually lost) and Dallas Cowboys (usually won) play many Thanksgiving games on that set. 

The earliest Thanksgiving game that I can remember was the Chicago Bears against the Detroit Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome November. 27, 1980. I remember this game, because Vince Evans was at quarterback for the Bears (rare to see an African-American quarterback at the time) and the great Walter Payton rushed 18 times for 123 yards and I think he even threw a pass.  The ending was everything, as the Bears won an overtime thriller 23-17 when Bears kick returner Dave Williams returned the overtime kickoff for a touchdown, completing a Bears’ comeback from a 17-3 deficit.

My favorite Thanksgiving game of course involved the classic broadcasting team of John Madden and Pat Summeral commentating a Turkey Bowl classic on November 23, 1989 in Texas Stadium.  This game dubbed “Bounty Bowl I” featured a Philadelphia Eagles 27-0 shellacking win over the hated Dallas Cowboys, which left me over-the-top giddy.

My joy came from the fact that as a one-time long suffering Eagles follower, I finally got to stick-it to the many stinking Cowboys’ fans in my family (brother and many cousins). Funny thing about Philadelphia, there are many “never have been to Texas” Dallas Cowboys fans who year after year love to talk about Super Bowl rings to hometown Eagles fans. 

However this 1989 NFC East afternoon rivalry game was something extra special for me to watch as the Birds won handily and the Cowboys turncoats in my grandmother’s suburban Philadelphia home had to eat some crow with their turkey that day. 

The story of the game was Buddy Ryan’s Eagles defense knocking the stuffing of Troy Aikman as they seemed to sack him a million times.  The game ended with my favorite player Reggie White eating the ceremonial Madden Turkey Leg as the game’s MVP.

2009 NFL Thanksgiving Schedule 

Green Bay Packers (6-4) at Detroit Lions (2-8), 12:30 PM  (FOX) – Yes, everyone just like going to your grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving, the nation still must endure watching the uually pitiful Detroit Lions on TV on Turkey Day, even though it seems like forever.  This year,  in an old-time Thanksgiving Day traditional match-up, the Packers will travel to Detroit to face the Lions who maybe without QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (hand, knee).

Oakland  Raiders (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (7-3), 4:15 PM (CBS)  — Naturally America’s Holiday, Thanksgiving, will feature “America’s Team” as the Cowboys take on the dangerous Oakland Raiders in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar play pen.  We will see if Turkey Day will be Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s last hurrah before his usual December swoon.

New York Giants (6-4) at Denver Broncos (6-4) , 8:20 PM  (NFLN) — The G-Men continue their quest to return to the team that started 5-0 this season as they travel to the Rockies for a huge Thanksgiving night game against the Broncos.  This game will surely have playoff implications in both the AFC and NFC as both were fast starters, but have shown inconsistency of late.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • Lets talk about seating arrangements at the 2009 NFL Thanksgiving table.  At the “Adult table” for playmakers are Vikings QB Brett Favre, Titans RB Chris Johnson, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, Colts QB Peyton Manning, Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Bears WR Johnny Knox, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Saints QB Drew Brees, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil.  Spots at the “Kids table” for disappointments  should be seated NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez, Cowboys WR Roy Williams, Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, Eagles O-lineman Stacy Andrews, Bears QB Jay Cutler, Giants DB C.C Brown, Texans kicker Kris Brown, the Steelers’ coverage units, Bears DT Tommie Harris, and Broncos backup QB Chris Simms.
  • There was a time that Thanksgiving football was defined in the African American community by rivalry games like Lincoln vs Howard.  Here is an excerpt from a piece that I wrote on the subject… “The “outside world” of major white college football may have had traditional rivalries like Harvard-Yale, Ohio State-Michigan, and Notre Dame-Army.  But to most African American football fans those contests had nothing on the annual Thanksgiving Day clash between the mighty men of Lincoln (PA) and their rival school Howard University.  After their initial meeting in 1894, the annual Lincoln-Howard Thanksgiving game quickly became an autumn ritual.”  Check out the rest of the piece.
  • I am often asked, “Why are we subjected to the stinking Detroit Lions and hated Dallas Cowboys every Thanksgiving??”  The reason is “Carpe diem” as these two teams both had the vision of matching College Football on America’s Holiday and seized opportunities to host football games when everyone else was afraid the crowds would stay away.  The Lions were the first in 1934 and the Cowboys followed suit in 1966.  The NFL also added a rotating third game in 2006 (Chiefs winning 19-10 over the Broncos) on Turkey Day to help boost their channel NFL Network.  Our friends over at Mental Floss give some great background on the subject of NFL football on Thanksgiving.
  • The oldest high school Turkey Day Game rivalry is in Massachusetts between Needham and Wellesley, dating back to 1882.  Find out everything about Thanksgiving Football.
  • You can now see the results for every NFL Thanksgiving game going back to the 1920’s (courtesy of the Pro Footballl Hall of Fame)

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)

2009 NFL Week 12 Power Rankings

Led by new starting quarterback Vince Young, the Tennessee Titans are climbing up this week’s NFL Power Rankings after four straight wins

With only six weeks left in the NFL Season, the intensity has surely picked-up around the league.  With America’s holiday, Thanksgiving , upon us there are 23 teams with records ranging from 4-6 to 10-0 hoping to be thankful for one of the NFL’s 12 coveted playoff berths come this January.  But there is still is a lot of football left to be played and as shown by Week 11’s upsets — Chiefs over the Steelers and the Raiders over the Bengals — nothing is guaranteed.  So every NFL team better be prepared weekly as the separation into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” continues.

In looking at the current NFL standings here’s the breakdown: The “Elite” – Saints (10-0), Colts (10-0), Vikings (9-1), Bengals (7-3), Cowboys (7-3), Cardinals (7-3), Chargers (7-3), and Patriots (7-3); “Stuck in the Middle” inconsistent teams, who are caught in the NFL’s parity-filled middle and need to either join the playoff hunt or fall back — Broncos (6-4), Steelers (6-4), Jaguars (6-4), Eagles (6-4), Packers (6-4), Giants (6-4), Dolphins (5-5) Ravens (5-5), Falcons (5-5), Texans (5-5), Jets (4-6), Titans (4-6), Niners (4-6), and Panthers (4-6); The “Pretenders”, who are only a shade away from the league’s bottom rung – Bears (4-6), Bills (3-7), Redskins (3-7), and Seahawks (3-7); and lastly the “Ugly” (See at the 2010 NFL Draft) – Raiders (3-7), Chiefs (3-7), Lions (2-8), Browns (1-9), Rams (1-9), and Buccaneers (1-9)

Now on to the rankings for this week.

1.  Colts (10-0) – I know that Indy was glad veteran kicker Matt Stover was on their sideline instead of the Baltimore Ravens as Jim Caldwell’s undefeated team pulled out another “W”.  In a key AFC South game, QB Peyton Manning will lead the undefeated Colts into Houston to face a desperate Texans team looking to avoid another 8-8 season.

2.  Saints (10-0) – Alright I won’t break into my “Who Dat,” chant this week, but in another offensive explosion Sean Payton’s undefeated team quickly disposed of the 1-win Bucs.  The Saints are a perfect 10-0 for the first time in franchise history and with an incredible 369 points scored thus far, they are looking like the 1998 Minnesota Vikings or 1999 St. Louis Rams (you can choose) in terms of firepower.  Next up is the much-anticipated, “Battle of the Bayou” on Monday Night football as the surging New England Patriots come to town looking to halt the undefeated Saints magical run.

3.  Vikings (9-1) – Hard to believe with the Colts and Saints magical undefeated runs that the Vikings seem to be the forgotten team around the NFL.  Last week it was the Seattle Seahawks turn to remember that this year QB Brett Favre and the Vikes are not messing around.  In a NFC North divisional grudge match, the Vikings and Favre will host the inconsistent Chicago Bears and fickle quarterback Jay Cutler who reminds me a lot of a young No. 4 (takes too many chances that lead to INTs).

4.  Patriots (7-3) – The Pats wiped the awful taste of their 1-point loss to the Colts out of their mouths by dismantling and muzzling the reeling New York Jets.  In a statement game and the Week 12 Game of the Week, the Patriots and their second-guessed head coach Bill Belichick will look to re-establish themselves back to their lofty perch in the NFL when they take on the undefeated Saints on Monday Night Football.

5.  Chargers (7-3) – The Bolts have now won 6 games in a row and have re-established themselves as the lead dog in the AFC West after destroying the reeling Denver Broncos.   The Chargers will need to guard against a letdown when the tougher than their record Chiefs come to town for an old school AFL grudge that should bring back images of Hank Stram and Sid Gillman.

6.  Bengals (7-3) — Marvin Lewis’ team may have been a tad bit overconfident as they were surprised by the dangerous Raiders in Oakland.  Next up is “The Battle of Ohio” as heated rival, the Cleveland Browns, come to town fresh off finding their offense in a loss to the Detroit Lions last week.

7.  Cardinals (7-3) – The Cards had to hang-on after building a big lead and then losing QB Kurt Warner  in a physical win over the Seattle Seahawks.  In one of Week 12’s feature games, the Cardinals will travel to the Music City to face the red-hot Tennessee Titans who are led by rising quarterback Vince Young (4-0 as a starter in ’09).

8. Cowboys (7-3) – It was a win, but man was it ugly as the Cowboys put together one last drive to put away the Washington Redskins who were undone by their kicker.  Naturally America’s Holiday, Thanksgiving, on Thursday will feature “America’s Team” as the Cowboys take on the dangerous Oakland Raiders in Jerry Jones’ billion dollar play pen.

9. Steelers (6-4) Mike Tomlin’s team surprisingly has lost two games in a row.  The Kansas City Chiefs hung around and next thing you know some big plays led to a great overtime win.  In a game that may define the Steelers season, Pittsburgh will need QB Ben Roethlisberger (head) to get back quickly as the 2008 champs  travel to Baltimore to face their bitter rival, the Ravens.

10.  Jaguars (6-4) – Despite a big effort by the Buffalo Bills led by WR Terrell Owens, the Jaguars continued their winning streak (3 games) and now look like a legitimate AFC wildcard contender.  The Jaguars cannot rest on their laurels when they travel to the Bay to take on the dangerous Niners who are still in the NFC wildcard hunt.

11.  Eagles (6-4) – The Birds ended their 2-game losing streak as QB Donovan McNabb and WR DeSean Jackson continued their big play ways plus Bears QB Jay Cutler overthrew everyone in an Eagles’ Sunday Night Football win.  With an eye on keeping pace with the NY Giants and gaining some ground on the Dallas Cowboys, the Birds will host the tough Redskins in an NFC East grudge match.

12.  Broncos (6-4) – What the “bleep” happened to the formerly 6-0 Broncos who were sent to their 4th straight loss in a bludgeoning by the AFC West leadting San Diego Chargers.  In an NFL Network Thanksgiving night special, the Broncos will need to wake-up as the NY Giants come to town led by improving quarterback Eli Manning.

13. Giants (6-4) – After four straight losses, the Giants and fiery head coach Tom Coughlin coming off the bye had to work overtime to finally subdue the resilent Atlanta Falcons.  The G-Men continue their quest to return to the team that started 5-0 this season as they travel to the Rockies for a huge Thanksgiving night game against the Broncos that will have playoff implications in both the AFC and NFC.

14. Packers (6-4) – The host Packers won the game over the inconsistent Niners, but the home win was costly as both CB Al Harris and OLB Aaron Kampman were lost for the season with knee injuries.    In an old-time Thanksgiving Day traditional match-up, the Packers will travel to Detroit to face the Lions who maybe without QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder).

15.  Ravens (5-5) – John Harbaugh’s team continues to fight till the end, but the NFL is all about “W’s” and this past week the undefeated Colts did just enough to leave their old hometown with a big win.  If the Ravens are ever going  to fully get into the AFC playoff race, they will need to wake-up and it starts this week as they host the Steelers in an AFC North grudge match.

16.  Texans (5-5) – Unfortunately for the Texans, their kicker Kris Brown turned into “Shank-a-surus” at the wrong time as the Titans won a crucial AFC South road game in Houston.  With possibly their season on the line, the Texans will host the undefeated AFC South leading Indianapolis Colts who could clinch the division with a win and a little help.

 17.  Dolphins (5-5) – On Thursday Night football, it was Run Ricky—Run Ricky time as the Dolphins rode their new Wildcat to a big road win over the Panthers.  I wonder if Dolphins’ football czar Bill Parcels and Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens, aka “The Player”, will get together for the Thanksgiving holiday as the Dolphins travel north to face the Bills.

18.  Falcons (5-5) – Without tough running back Michael Turner (ankle), the Falcons just are not the same and it showed in an overtime road loss to the Giants.  Next up is a must-win game as the Falcons host the energetic and dangerous Tampa Bucs in a possible letdown situation.

19. Titans (4-6) – Led by homeboy QB Vince Young and All-World RB Chris Johnson, the Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) returned to their former hometown and won a close thrilling game over the host Texans. V.Y and the Titans will look to make it five in a row as they host the Arizona Cardinals in a game that could pit the starting quarterbacks from the 2006 Rose Bowl against one another again (Texas’ Vince Young and USC’s Matt Leinart).

20.  Panthers (4-6) – It was a rushing fest on Thursday Night Football, but the Panthers had no answer for the Dolphins Ricky Williams in a tough loss.  With their season on the line, the Panthers will look for their defense and Thunder-and-Lightning running back combo, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, to answer the bell against the inconsistent NY Jets.

21.  49ers (4-6) – The Packers despite missing a couple key players thumped the Niners, who look like they will be looking for a new quarterback in 2010.  In possibly their last chance to stay in the NFC playoff race, the Niners will look for some consistency against the surging Jacksonville Jaguars.

22.  Bears (4-6) – After another bad outing, Chicago fans maybe looking for their receipt for inconsistent quarterback Jay Cutler who overthrew at least three WR’s on potential scoring plays in a SNF loss to the Eagles.  In their last chance to get back in the NFC playoff race, the Bears will travel to Minnesota to face the surging Vikings and their multitude of offensive weapons.

23. Jets (4-6) – The J-E-T-S were no match for the angry Patriots, who were throwing the ball even when they had a big lead.  I think rookies head coach Rex Ryan and QB Mark Sanchez are both understanding that it is better to say “nothing” and just play the game in the topsy-turvy NFL.  In a battle of two desperate teams almost on the cusp of being eliminated from the playoff race, the hard-running Carolina Panthers travel to the Meadowlands to face the Jets.

24.  Redskins (3-7) – The ‘Skins put up a tough effort, especially on “D”, in a game where they came up just short against the Cowboys….Thanks kicker Shaun Suisham.   With their playoff hopes basically extinguished, we will see if beleaguered head coach Jim Zorn’s team can answer the bell in Philly while probably playing without big-ticket DT Albert Haynesworth.

25.  Seahawks (3-7) – The Hawks are tumbling to the bottom of the NFL at an alarming pace and last week they couldn’t even capitalize on the Cardinals playing the second half without QB Kurt Warner (concussion).  In Week 12’s “Giblet Bowl”, the Seahawks will travel to St. Louis for an ugly match-up with the 1-win Rams that will surely be blacked-out locally.

26.  Bills (3-7) – Despite the best efforts of the NFL’s new fantasy football combo, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and  WR Terrell Owens, the Bills came up short to Jacksonville in Perry Fewell’s head coaching debut.  In annual AFC East grudge match, the Bills will host the surging Dolphins and new Wildcat/former Toronto Argonaut RB Ricky Williams.

27.  Chiefs (3-7) – Look what getting rid of a malcontent like LJ can do for you.  The Chiefs led by new starting running back Jamaal Charles surprised the overconfident Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime sending the defending champs to their 2nd straight loss.  In an old time AFL special, the Chiefs will travel to San Diego to face the surging Chargers.

28.  Raiders (3-7) – With the addition of new starting QB Bruce Gradkowski into the line-up, the dysfunctional Raiders found their offense in an upset win over the bigheaded Cincinnati Bengals.  The Raiders will try to win two consecutive games for the first time this season as the Men in Black travel to Big D for a Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys.

29.  Lions (2-8) – In a game that was surprisingly the best game of Week 11, the Lions led by gritty rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford sent the surprisingly spirited Cleveland Browns further into the abyss.  Yes… everyone just like going to your grandmother’s house on Thanksgiving, even though it seems like forever, the nation still has to endure watching the Lions on TV on Turkey Day.  This year,  heated NFC North rival, the Green Bay Packers, come to town looking to feast on the Ford Family’s team.

30.  Browns (1-9) – QB Brady Quinn played courageously as the Browns and Lions clean-up Week 11’s “Toilet Bowl” in a close high-scoring game.  This week in “The Sam Wyche Bowl”, the Browns will travel to Cincy for an AFC North grudge match with the angry Bengals.

31.  Rams (1-9) – You have to hand-it to the spunky Rams as they fought the Cardinals to the bitter end even though they were badly short-handed due to injuries.  Since injured quarterback Marc Bulger (broken leg) cannot go this week, it will be up to backup QB Kyle Boller to lead the Rams against the visiting Seahawks.

32.  Buccaneers (1-9) – The undefeated NFC South leading New Orleans Saints let the Bucs score once then thoroughly spanked them.  The Bucs will look for a spark from rookie quarterback Josh Freeman when they travel up the road to face angry rival, the Atlanta Falcons.

 

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)

Hester loses more than the game on National TV

Receiver Devin Hester literally lost his pants in the Bears’ 24-20 loss to the Eagles

One of the funnier moments from Week 11 of the 2009 NFL Season was the de-pants-ing of Chicago Bears WR/KR Devin Hester in his team’s 24-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.  After the Bears explosive receiver attempted to catch a Jay Cutler pass in the fourth quarter of the game, Hester had his pants pulled down by Eagles CB Dmitri Patterson.

Let’s just say that NBC’s national viewing audience saw Soldier Field eclipsed (i.e. Mooned) by Hester’s backside for a more than a few seconds.  Many would say Hester’s mooning was his most exciting play so far this season.  Once viewed as the NFL’s most dangerous return man, the now converted starting receiver has not been able to improve on his former NFL record return pace from earlier in his career. 

In fact, the former two-time Pro Bowl returner has zero returns (punt and kickoff) for a touchdown over the last two years.  Which has been a true surprise after the 4-year veteran needed only two returns for a touchdown at the start of the 2008 season to tie former tough return man Brian Mitchell’s NFL career record of 13 –- scored 11 return touchdowns (7 punt returns and 4 kickoff returns) in his first two seasons. 

This season Hester’s return numbers are down again with 20 punt returns for 185 yards (9.3 ypr) and a long of 33 yards, plus one kickoff return for 26 yards.  I know many Bears fans would prefer to have Hester’s explosiveness back more involved in the Bears’ special teams as his receiving numbers (52 receptions for 614 yards, 11.8 ypc, and  3 TDs in 10 games this season) are not considered starter-worthy despite former Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler throwing the ball to him.

2009 NFL Season – Week 11 Review

“Just a Kicker, Being a Kicker”!  For missing two potential game icing field goals, Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham is one of Lloyd’s Lackeys for Week 11

Week 11 of the 2009 NFL Season typified the topsy-turvy nature of the world’s best sports league.  This week started with a great slugfest on Thursday Night football between the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers – won 24-17 by the Dolphins (5-5) as RB Ricky Williams (See Game Balls) proved he has plenty left in the tank. Then the week’s remaining 15 games provided some great action all the way through the Tennessee Titans’ 20-17 down-to-the-wire Monday Night Football win over the host Houston Texans.

 Some of the other bigger headlines from this week included:

An unexpected great game with a thrilling finish – What a turn around when everyone was calling this one, Week 11’s “Toilet Bowl” before the game was even played.  Aided by a questionable pass interference play in the endzone as time expired, the Lions (2-8) got one last untimed down near the goalline.  Rookie QB Matthew Stafford (26-43, 422 yds, 5 TDs, 2 INTs) shook off a separated left shoulder to throw the game-winning score to rookie TE Brandon Pettitgrew on the “new” last play of the game and Ford Field exploded with the improbable 38-37 win over the Cleveland Browns (1-9).  This game was an awesome high-scoring affair where both quarterbacks Stafford and the Browns’ Brady Quinn (21-33, 304 yds, 4 TDs) played extremely well.

Two overtime home team winners — The Kansas City Chiefs (2-8) ended their 10-game losing streak with a shocking 27-24 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, who did not have QB Ben Roethlisberger in the extra period due to concussion like symptoms.  Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop provided the winning points on a 22-yard field goal with 8:28 left in overtime after both Steelers QB’s Roethlisberger and his backup Charlie Batch (wrist) had left the game with injuries.  In the other overtime game, I guess the bye week after 4 straight losses was just what the NY Giants (6-4) needed.  This overtime thriller saw the NY Giants jump out to an early 17-7 halftime lead over the Atlanta Falcons with things getting interesting late. The hard charging Falcons led by QB Matt Ryan (26/46, 268 YDS, 2 TD) scored 14 unanswered points on two touchdown passes late in the fourth to force overtime..  Then resurgent QB Eli Manning (25/39, 384 YDS, 3 TD, 1 INT) hit WR Mario Manningham (six catches for 126 yards) for a 29-yard reception just after overtime began to setup Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes 36-yard game winner.

Major upsets — The aforementioned Chiefs win over the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders beating the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Raiders were a heavy home underdog, but led by new starter Bruce Gradkowski (17-34, 183 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and their defense, they won a hard fought 20-17 home win.  The key to Oakland surprising the Bengals was, the “overconfident” AFC North leader giving up 10 answered points in the final 33 seconds of the game. You have to believe the Bengals long flight back to Cincy was very quiet especially for kickoff return man Andre Caldwell, who lost a fumble in the game’s closing moments to set up Oakland’s game-winning field goal.

 A total bore-fest – The week’s most boring game occurred in Jerry Jones’s billion dollar Dallas Cowboys stadium as the host Cowboys (7-3) woke-up just in time to put together one touchdown drive (QB Tony Romo’s 10-yard touchdown pass to WR Patrick Crayton with 2:41 left) to beat the Washington Redskins 7-6.  Romo was 7-of-8 passes for 60 yards on the winning drive and kept several plays alive by eluding Washington’s pass rushers – finished with numbers 15/27, 158 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT.  All I can say is, “A win, is a win”, but overall the Cowboys were lackadasical and they should send Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham some roses for missing two field goals in the second half that could have iced the game for Washington (3-7). The good news is the Cowboys got the win and may have found their running game (153 rushing yards including 99 yards by RB Marion Barber), but the bad news is their receiving corps was non-existent including zero catches for looking-more-like-bust-everyday WR Roy Williams. Now the Cowboys have a short week to prepare for the Raiders on Thanksgiving.

Winning streaks continuing — The Tennessee Titans won their 4th straight game this time over the Houston Texans (5-5) on MNF. As Titans kicker Rob Bironas booted a 53-yard field goal with less than a minute left and then conversely Texans kicker Kris Brown shanked a potential game-winner with 1 second left on the clock.   However the story of the game was Titans quarterback Vince Young (passing numbers 12-22, 116 yds, and 1 TD plus 73 rushing yards), who returned to his hometown of Houston and continued his development as a Steve McNair-type leader – now 4-0 as a starter in ’09.  V.Y made plays with his arm and legs while of course leaning on MVP-candidate RB Chris Johnson (29 rushes for 151 yards and 5.2 ypr average).   The Titans are right back in the thick of the AFC wildcard hunt at 4-6.  Another big streak that continued was by the San Diego Chargers (7-3) who won their 6th straight  (over Broncos) and moved into  first place  in the AFC West with their dominating 32-3 victory.  On the other side of the field there was no winning as the Broncos lost their 4th straight game.  The last winning streak winner was the Indianapolis Colts, who continued their 19-game streak with a 17-15 win over the Ravens.  The 19-game winning streak is the second-longest in NFL history behind the New England Patriots 21-game streak from 2006 to 2008.  Also keeping their winning streak alive were the New Orleans Saints, who won their 10th consecutive game (over TB Bucs) for the first time in franchise history. 

Of course the one headline that I did leave out up top were the NFL’s two unbeaten squads (New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts) staying that way for another week.  By virtue of the Saints 38-7 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Bucs (scored touchdowns all five times they entered the red zone — and the Colts tough win over the Baltimore Ravens, both teams are now 10-0 this season.  The pair’s records make them a true rarity in NFL history as for only the third time in league history that  two teams are 10-0 (1934 Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions along with 1990 teams the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers).  The two games were drastic contrasts of one another, but in the end both teams are on the threshold of greatness.  I am not saying that the 1972 Miami Dolphins (perfect 17-0 including a Super Bowl win) or the 2007 New England Patriots (perfect 16-0 in the regular season) need to worry just yet, but both the Saints and Colts are moving close to their neighborhood. 

The offensive Saints woke-up from an early Bucs’ lead of 7-0 to put up 38 unanswered points led by quarterback Drew Brees’ three touchdown passes.  In contrast, the Colts in their return to Baltimore were in a real street fight as the scrappy Ravens fought to the bitter end. The game didn’t end until a last chance lateral attempt by Ravens safety Ed Reed on a punt return was ruled a fumble and recovered by Indianapolis.   The Ravens defense, even though they did not sack QB Peyton Manning, limited the Colts high-powered offense to only 17 points including only 3 points in the second half.  But it was too many field goals (5) for Baltimore’s offense and not enough touchdowns in the redzone that spelled their doom.  Surprisingly one of the many heroes for the Colts was former Ravens longtime kicker Matt Stover, who booted a 25-yard field goal to give his team the win.  In the crucial game that showed the grit of the Colts, where they won on not their best day, the undefeated squad overcame losing the turnover battle (3 to 1) and effort that was not his best by Manning (2 INTs) to keep moving-on.  With their win in “The Charm City Grudge Match”, the Colts have now won their two toughest games in the last two weeks by three points combined – Week 10 over the Patriots by a score of 35-34 and Week 11 over the Ravens by a score of 17-15. 

Though I don’t think the Saints and Colts can do the impossible (no pair has ever reached 11-0 together) of reaching the 1972 Dolphins’ perfection – too many teams getting up for a fight with the “Town Bully” – I have listed both teams remaining games below.

Saints:    NE           @WAS    @ATL      DAL         TB     @CAR

Colts:      @HOU    TEN         DEN         @JAC      NYJ   @BUF

With only six games left to be played for all teams, there is much more separation left to do within the league’s standings before January’s playoffs.  There are still the “Have’s” (8 teams with 7 wins or more including the league’s two undefeated teams — Colts and Saints both 10-0) and the “Have Nots” (9 teams with 3 or less wins, who are now basically spoilers).  But the majority of the NFL (15 teams) are still playing within former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s parity dream section.  With records ranging from 6-4 to 4-6 including four inconsistent teams stuck right at the .500 mark (Ravens, Texans, Dolphins and Falcons all 5-5) it is time for the “Contenders” and “Pretenders” to pick and choose their status in the league’s last six weeks.  There are 12 covet playoff spots up for grabs and you have to expect that some teams will soon be giving thanks this Thanksgiving holiday for their opportunity for the playoffs.

Here’s the current division breakdown after Week 11:

NFC East – Dallas Cowboys (7-3) have a 1-game lead over the Eagles (6-4) and Giants (6-4).  All three teams own a 2-1 record in their NFC East games.  The Giants play the Cowboys in Week 13 and the Eagles in Week 14

NFC West —Arizona Cardinals (7-3) have a 3-game lead over the Niners (4-6).  The Cardinals seem to be in the driver’s seat in this division, but QB Kurt Warner’s head injury will be something that needs to be monitored.

NFC South — New Orleans Saints (10-0) have a 5-game lead over the Falcons (5-5).  It looks like the Saints will soon claim the NFC South title.

NFC North – Minnesota Vikings (8-1) have a 4-game lead over the Packers (4-5)

AFC East – New England Patriots (7-3) have a 2-game lead over the Miami Dolphins (5-5)

AFC West — By virtue of their 32-3 shellacking of the Broncos this week, the San Diego Chargers (7-3) have a one-game lead over the reeling Denver Broncos (6-4). 

AFC South – Indianapolis Colts (10-0) have a 4-game lead over the Houston Texans (5-4)

AFC North — Cincinnati Bengals (7-3) maintained their 1-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) as the entire division lost in Week 11. 

Before we move onto the Game Balls and Lackey’s for this week, here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers.

Quarterback talk is none of your business – After the Eagles 24-20 win over the Chicago Bears on NBC Sunday Night Football, opposing quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler (NFL-high interception total to 18 and had passing numbers 24-for-43, 171 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) embraced in a man-hug for quite some time after the game for some “QB Talk” for it seemed forever….But what was said.   Unfortunately McNabb was mum on the subject in his postgame comments.  “It stays between me and Jay,” McNabb said  to NBC.  “That’s just kind of the fraternity that we have, the quarterbacks. Just continue to have your confidence, keep strong and keep working hard. Things will work out well.”  I truly believe McNabb, who has been through the ringer at times in Philly, told Cutler, to develop some tough skin because he will need it.  After being acquired in April from Denver and being named the Bears first Super Star at quarterback since Jim McMahon in the 1980’s, Cutler has clearly struggled and some have let him have it.  Here’s an example, the Chicago Sun-Time headline after Sunday’s loss read”Jay Cutler is a bust.”

 Injuries, Injuries, and more Injuries – I say it every week, “The NFL Season is a War of Attrition” and Week 11 brought that fact to light again.  The team that suffered the worst blows were possibly the Green Bay Packers who lost veterans CB Al Harris and OLB Aaron Kampman both to knee injuries for the season in their 30-24 win over the  Niners.  The multitude of other frontline injuries included:  Steelers QB Charlie Batch (wrist), Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (concussion type symptoms), Lions S Kalvin Pearson (hamstring), Lions QB Matthew Stafford (left shoulder), Dolphins DT Jason Ferguson (quad-season), Redskins RB Ladell Betts (knee – season), Seahawks S Deon Grant (hand), Rams QB Marc Bulger (broken tibia – 6 weeks), Lions WR Calvin Johnson (hand, knee), Bengals DT Domata Peko (sprained MCL), Bills C/GEric Wood (broken leg – season), Bills G Seth McKinney (knee – season), and Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (concussion).

Before we go to this week’s awards, our thougts and prayers go out to former NFL LB Chris Spielman.  The former Ohio State star sorrowfully lost his wife Stefanie Spielman (42) after she passed away after a courageous battle with breast cancer.  “Stefanie has gone home to be with the Lord,” Chris Spielman said in a statement released after his wife’s passing. “For that, we celebrate, but with broken hearts. I want to thank everyone for their support over the last 12 years. Together, with your help, hopefully we made a difference in this fight.”  The Spielmans have raised over $6 million dollars for breast cancer research at Ohio State University.

Game Balls

Miami Dolphins RB Ricky Williams – And you thought at age 32 and after his lengthy off the field quirky nature (Drug use including several NFL suspensions, playing  in the CFL, studying holistic medicine, living in the Australian outback, “quitting his career”… I could go on and on) that Williams couldn’t totally even come close to replacing injured teammate Ronnie Brown.  Well you were wrong as it was “Run Ricky, Ricky Run” time — in and out of the Wildcat — as the 2002 NFL rushing champ turned back the clock in the Dolphins’ Thursday Night win over the Panthers.  The former 1998 Heisman winner finished with rushing numbers 22 rushes (most carries since 2005), 119 yds, and 2 TDs plus he added a 14-yard touchdown catch for the Dolphins’ first score.   The Dolphins (5-5) are now back in the playoff picture after winning their fourth game out of their last six.  “Our offense really clicked,” Dolphins left tackle Jake Long said. “Ricky ran great.” 

Honorable Mention

Buffalo Bills WR Terrell Owens – Speaking of turning back the clock, T.O re-emerged in Jacksonville of all places.  Owens (9 Rec, 197 Yds — the most since gaining 213 yards for Dallas in Week 11 last season – and  1 TD ) was unstoppable at times in the Bills’ road loss to the Jags.  The VH1 reality star definitely has developed a great camraderie with new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as shown by their franchsie record 98-yard touchdown hook-up.  Though Owens had to  endure being mocked by Jags WR Mike Simms-Walker on the Jags’ game-winner, he clearly was a lot happier than in past weeks.  T.O’s season numbers are now a little more respectable at 35 receptions for 563 yards, 16.1 ypc, and 2 TDs.  “Well, it doesn’t mean that I am washed up,” Owens joked after the game. The petulant one now has 14,685 career receiving yards, which moved him into fourth place on the NFL’s all-time list, ahead of Marvin Harrison (14,580).

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford  — What a gutty performance as the 2009 NFL Draft’s first overall player selected led the Lions to a huge home win over the Browns.  Stafford put up phenomenal numbers 26-43, 422 yds, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs.  Apparently Stafford feels no pain as he willed himself back on the field to throw the game’s winning score despite dislocating his left shoulder the play earlier.  The Lions rookie’s 422 passing yards are the most by a rookie in a single game in NFL history, besting the mark set by Arizona’s Matt Leinart (405 yards; November 26, 2006).  Stafford is also the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw five touchdown passes in a game, joining Ray Buivid of the Chicago Bears who had five TD passes on December 5, 1937. 

New England Patriots WR Wes Welker –  Wow is there anyone better out of the slot than Tom Brady’s security blanket.  What didn’t Welker do in the Patriots’ win over the NY Jets.  He finished with 15 Receptions for 192 yards, and 0 TDs (who cares) with  an additional 11 yards rushing.

Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre – America’s greatest comeback story gets better each week.  Favre (22 of 25 — a career-best 88% — 213 yds, and 4 TDs) continued to turn back the clock in the Vikings’ 35-9 thrashing of the Seahawks.  The 40-year old passer even looks like a strong contender for the 2009 NFL MVP Award – would be his 4th honor.   The Vikings are now 9-1 and right on the heels of the undefeated Saints for NFC playoff homefield advantage.

New England Patriots CB Leigh Bodden —  This man really had some sitcky hands in the Patriots’ 31-14 win over the NY Jets.  Bodden intercepted Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez a career-high three times – tied a Patriots’ franchise record — including  returning one 53 yards for a touchdown.

Other Honorees: Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young (won his eighth consecutive start and led the Titans to their fourth straight win while producing numbers 12-for-22 for 116 yards and a TD and 73 rushing yards on Monday Night Football); Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson (had eight receptions for 107 yards and 1 TD of 48 yards plus a 10-yard run in the Eagles’ SNF win); Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson – (Megatron was in the house producing 7 Rec, 161 Yds, and 1 TD of 75 yards in the Lions’ win);  Green Bay Packers RB Ryan Grant (ran hard producing rushing numbers 21 rushes for 129 yards, 6.1 ypr, and 1 TD); NY Giants QB Eli Manning (was dominat while throwing for numbers 25-39, 384 yds, 3 TDs, and 1 INT in the Giants overtime win); Baltimore Ravens tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher (held Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis without a sack for the first time all season); Pittsburgh Steelers WR Hines Ward (this future HOF produced awesome numbers again with 10 receptions for 128 yards and 1 TD); and Baltimore Ravens Kicker Billy Cundiff (the only Ravens player to score as he kicked five field goals, in the Ravens close loss to the Colts… Steven Hauschka who)

Lloyd’s Lackey

NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez  — What happened to the kid and team that started this season 3-0.  Sanchez looked like  a quarterback that only had 16 starts in college at USC as he threw for awful number 136 yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs – now has 16 INTs this season —  plus 1 lost fumble.  The Patriots frazzled the young passer in the pocket and his 5 turnovers were indicative of the NFL now being prepared for his tendencies.  Some have said, “Put in backup quarterback Kellen Clemens”, but plain and simple I attribute much of Sanchez’s problems  to just  being a “rookie”.

Dishonorable Mention

Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels – The Broncos now have lost 4-straight games and lost the lead in the AFC West after a 32-3 butt-kicking by the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday.  To make matters worse, McDaniels took off his coach’s hat before the game and engaged in pre-game smack talk with the Chargers’ linebackers during warm-ups.   Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper claimed after the game that McDaniels said, “We own you”…. I guess the NFL’s 32-year old wonder kid coach was wrong.

Denver Broncos QB Chris Simms – Making his first start since rupturing his spleen as a member of the Buccaneers more than three years ago, Phil’s boy was terrible.  In fact, Simms was so terrible (2-for-4 with 10 yards passing and a lost fumble on the game’s opening series) that the Broncos went back to ailing Kyle Orton (ankle) rather than leave him in.  Maybe the Tampa Bay were right about Simms.

Denver Broncos WR Brandon Marshall – Had only 3 receptions for 26 yards in the Broncos loss to the Chargers.  Marshall also caused the game’s biggest commotion as he got in the face of rookie RB Knowshon Moreno on the sidelines after the youngster fumbled at the goalline.  Speaking specifically about the confrontation with Moreno, after the game Marshall said, “Those are the plays that kind of kill drives. We’ve just got to punch it in next time.” Later, Baby T.O  added: “I don’t regret anything. This is a playoff game. If there were guys on the sideline that weren’t angry, who didn’t have a lot of emotion, they need to look themselves in the mirror. This is a game where you’ve got to have it. None of us can make any terrible plays.”

Redskins K Shaun Suisham – Though a perfect 12 for 12 going into the Cowboys-Redskins game, Suisham was awful.  The ‘Skins kicker missed two big field goals – a 39-yarder at the end of the first half and a 50-yarder in the 4th quarter — that could have ‘iced’ the game for the Redskins. For the game, Suisham finished with numbers 2 for 4 on FG attempts with a long of 45  yards and 6 points. 

Pittsburgh Steelers special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky — On Sunday in Kansas City, the Steelers gave up a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Jamaal Charles on the opening kickoff.  Charles’ return marked the fourth time in five games an opposing kick returner has taken one to the house against the Steelers.  Ligashesky’s unit has a lot of work to do or the coordinator could be hitting the street after the season.  Hard to believe, the Steelers had the NFL’s top-ranked kick-coverage unit last season.

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler – Over threw at least 3 potential touchdown producing receivers in the Bears loss to the Eagles.  And though it was a tipped pass interception by Birds safety Sean Jones, Cutler threw another pick giving him 18 INTs for the season.  For the game Cutler had pedestrian numbers of  24-43, 171 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  Maybe former Bears quarterbacks like Jim Miller and Henry Burris were not that bad after all.

Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte – Where has the running game gone for the Bears and this former 2008 NFL Rookie of the year candidate.  Forte only produced numbers of 14 rushes for 34 yards  and a poor 2.4 ypc averge in the Bears’ home loss to the Eagles.

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco –  Maybe it is possible that Flacco and Falcons QB Matt Ryan are experiencing “Sophomore Slumps” after their magic carpet ride seasons as rookies in 2008.  Flacco produced zero touchdowns and 1 INT in the Ravens’ home loss to the Colts and he now has just one passing touchdown in his last four games.

Seattle Seahawks Defense — For the fifth time in five road games, the Seahawks lost by double-digits.

NFL Week 11

THU, NOV 19 

Miami (5-5) over Carolina (4-6), 24-17

SUN, NOV 22 

Washington (3-7), Dallas (7-3), 7-6

Cleveland (1-9), Detroit (2-8), 38-37

San Francisco (4-6), Green Bay (6-4) 30-24

Pittsburgh (6-4), Kansas City (2-8), 27-24 in OT

Atlanta (5-5), NY Giants (6-4), 34-31 in OT

New Orleans (10-0), Tampa Bay (1-9), 38-7

Buffalo (3-7), Jacksonville (6-4), 18-15

Indianapolis (10-0), Baltimore (5-5), 17-15

Seattle (3-7), Minnesota (9-1), 35-9

Arizona (7-3), St. Louis (1-8), 21-13 

NY Jets (4-6), New England (7-3), 31-14

Cincinnati (7-3), Oakland (3-7), 20-17

San Diego (7-3), Denver (6-4), 32-3

Philadelphia (6-4), Chicago (4-6), 24-20

MON, NOV 23 

Tennessee (4-6), Houston (5-5), 20-17

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)