2011 NFL Week 15 Remix by Lloyd Vance

 In a week full of upsets around the National Football League, none was bigger than Romeo Crennel’s Kansas City Chiefs handing the Green Bay Packers (13-1) their first loss of the season in a 19-14 win at Arrowhead Stadium

(Philadelphia, PA) — Week 15 of the 92nd NFL Season is in the books and even though the NFL’s slogan for the 2011 season is “Back to Football”, it should really be “This is One Wacky Season!!” From week to week fans have no idea where the next upset, game-winning field goal, or team entering/leaving the playoff race will come from next.  Remember what former Colts head coach Tony Dungy said about professional football this time of the year, “NFL football is really still about November and December”.

This week brought many upsets (7 teams with losing records beating teams with winning records); the surprising end of perfection (Chiefs shocked the formerly undefeated Green Bay Packers); thankfully the ending of an ugly winless streak (Colts finally got a win as quarterback Dan Orlovsky and WR Reggie Wayne led the way), playoff clinching moments (Steelers, Ravens, and Saints); Patriots finally muzzling Tebow Mania (Brady showed the youngster what a veteran superstar looks like); and some teams staying alive with playoff hopes in their eyes (Eagles, Bengals, Seahawks, and Cardinals). Continue reading

2010 NFL Week 14 Remix

KC Chiefs QB Brodie Croyle is one of Lloyd’s Lackey’s for Week 14 after his awful play in his team’s loss to the Chargers –0-10 as a starter

Week 14 Games

Thursday, December 9 

Colts (7-6) over Titans (5-8), 30-28…A crazy Thursday Nighter that saw Indy hold-on after building a big lead early..QB Peyton Manning looked to be back (over 300 yds passing w/ 2 TDs, no INTs)…Collins (over 200 career TDs) rallies Titans, but falls short…CJ2K gives it his all (almost 200 yds of offense), but TENN didn’t have much else..Moss held to zero receptions…Colts find a little running game with rookie Javarris James  (17 ATT 49 yds 1 TD)

Sunday, December 12

Niners (5-8) over Seahawks (6-7), 40-21…Singletary makes the right move by going back to QB Alex Smith (3 TDs, 0 INTs)…Seattle continues to show there is more clean-up needed by Carroll on this inconsistent team…Niners RB Brian Westbrook continues drinking from the fountain of youth (6 REC, 87 yds 1 TD)
 
Bills (3-10) over Browns (5-8), 13-6… In the Battle for Lake Erie, the Bills did just enough to get passed the Browns…Fitzpatrick was not great but he got the job done..Hillis continues his climb up the Browns’ historical ladder…Delhomme was pitiful (threw for only 86 yards)…Mangini appears to be out in Cleveland
 
Buccaneers (8-5) over Redskins (5-8), 17-16…This game was a nail-biter and showed that “Good” Teams win and “Bad” teams lose…Bucs QB Josh Freeman continued to play cool under pressure..Special Teams killled the Redskins (2 missed field goals and botched potential game-tying XP)…Kicker Gano (ribs) had a bad game..McNabb had a solid game despite being under duress in the pocket…WAS RB Ryan Torain had a career day in a losing effort

Cardinals (4-9) over Broncos (3-10), 43-13…In Week 14’s Toilet Bowl the winner was Arizona…Cardinals crushed the hapless Broncos in Erc Studesville’s head coaching debut…First time starter QB John Skelton had a very solid game..RB Tim Hightower (148 r. yards and 2 TDs) had the game Whisenhunt had been waiting for Cards K Jay Feely was awesome (25 points including a TD run)

Chargers (7-6) over Chiefs (8-5), 31-0…This game showed the AFC West is still wide-open..With no Cassel (appendix), the Chiefs were terrible on offense…Cheifs QB Brodie Croyle now 0-10 as a starter (7/17 40 yds 0 TD)…Chargers get above .500 and back in division-hunt…Rivers has another big day while spreading ball around..SD defense holds KC to less than 200 total yards
 
Dolphins (7-6) over Jets (9-4), 10-6…A bad home loss for the suddenly reeling J-E-T-S (lost 2 straight)…NY Jets Asst Coach Sal Alosi goofs by tripping a Miami player on a special teams play (suspended for rest of 2010 and fined 25K)…Dolphins defense is stifling (6 sacks)…Jets QB Sanchez looked not ready for primetime (17-44 for 216 yards and INT)…Dolphins LB Cameron Wake lived in New York backfield as starting RT DamienWoody (knee) was out..Henne “managed the game” but defense ruled
 
Eagles (9-4) over Cowboys (4-9), 30-27…A tough NFC East road win for the Eagles despite their continued redzone problems on offense and defense…Akers keeps kicking..Birds D harasses Kitna into a crucial pick…Vick shakes off some shaky O-line play (constantly hit) to get the ball to D-Jax, McCoy, and Avant…D-Jax showed both his explosive big play nature (over 200 yards on only 4 catches) and immarturity (stupid taunting penalty for “hotdog” goalline theatrics)..RB LeSean McCoy continues to come of age as he helped the Birds run out the  clock at the end of the game (over 4 minutes)…Dumb endzone moves by Eagles KR Calvin… PHI loses Graham (ACL – season) and Bradley (Dislocated Elbow – Indef)…There was a minor National stink/controversey over Cowboys RB Tashard Choice getting Eagles QB Michael Vick’s autograph on the field after the game…Eagles face Giants in an NFC East showdown in WK15

Falcons (11-2) over Panthers (1-12), 31-10..This one should have been stopped before it even started…Matt Ryan is efficient as he finds future HOF Gonzalez for a TD…Turner rolled up and down the field on the hapless Carolina defense (28 Rushes, 112 yds, 3 TDs)…Claussen looks lost in a bad home loss…ATL moves closer to NFC homefield advantage..Good effort from comebacking RB Stewart wasted
 
Jaguars (8-5) over Raiders (6-7), 38-31…One of the Week’s best games was a huge surprise…OAK and JAX went toe-to-toe for 4 qtrs with the Jags winning to remain atop the AFC South…JAX ran the ball over the Raiders like a tank (over 200 yards)…JAX’s Thunder and Lightning Combo of MJD and Jennings both run for over 100 yards..Great games for Campbell and McFadden are wasted in a tough loss for the Raiders…JAX next plays at IND in WK15 for the AFC South crown

Lions (3-10) over Packers (8-5), 7-3…A shocker in Motown as the battle-tested Lions finally pulled off an upset…GB loses QB Aaron Rodgers (2nd concussion of season) then the game…Replacement Flynn was no match for a defense led by R.O.Y candidate N. Suh… Stanton efficient and throws for game’s only score…GB has to pick up the pieces for a WK15 showdown game with the Patriots on SNF

Patriots (11-2) over Bears (9-4), 36-7…Pats clinch playoff spot…No one plays better in the snow than the Patriots and MVP candidate / QB Tom Brady (now 10-0 in his career in the white stuff)…Brady spreads the ball all over the field (369 yds, 2 TDs) to Welker, Branch, Woodhead and others…Speaking of Branch, he had a career regular-season high 151 rec yds including a back-breaking 59-yd catch right before halftime…The Patriots humiliated the NFC North leaders on their own field…Patriots clinch first 2010 playoff spot…Bears will need to step-up in WK15 against MIN (where?)…NE hosts GB on SNF

Saints (10-3) over Rams (6-7), 31-13..This game showed that the NFC West is the NFC Least as the Champs pounded the upstart Rams in the Bayou…QB Drew Brees (25-40, 221 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) found a variety of WR’s including the re-emerging Marques Colston…RB Chris Ivory had another good game before leaving with a minor injury… Other than S-Jax the Rams didn’t have much offense to keep the Saints off rookie starter Sam Bradford..Everything still same, Saints trying to catch ATL and STL still leads the NFL’s worst division.  Next in WK15, NO faces ATL in an NFC South Showdown and STL will host KC in a Missouri “Show Me Something” special.

Steelers (10-3) over Bengals (2-11), 23-7…This was tough Western PA football played in the mud with rain and cold temperatures…PIT further buried the awful Bengals with a dominating win..Look for Marvin Lewis to be out after season as Cincy are classic underachievers…Big Ben toughs-it-out as he wears a shield to protect his broken nose…Polamulu looks like DEF MVP of league (2 INTs including game-changing Pick-6)…Carson Palmer is not right and it shows…T.O wonders where he will be in ’11

Monday, December 13

NY Giants (9-4) over Vikings (5-8), 21-3..This game was moved to MondayNight in DET due to the Metrodome’s roof collapsing under snow..1st MNF game of the evening was historical as Favre is inactive due shoulder (297 consecutive starts over)..Peterson bottled up….Giants overcome more E. Manning INTs (2) to post win…G-Men’s tag team backfield of Bradshaw and Jacobs run the ball down the Vikings throat (over 200 yds)…T-Jack hurts knee on handoff, but hobbles through most of game…NYG and PHI for NFC East in WK15

Ravens (9-4) over Texans (5-8), 34-28 OT…This laugher early got real interesting at the end…BAL jumps out to an early 28-7 lead only to have QB Schaub (31-62, 393 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) and WR A. Johnson lead HOU to 21 unanswered points to send the game to overtime…Ravens CB Josh Wilson wins the game in OT on a Pick-6..Ravens stay 1-game behind PIT..New Orleans visits BAL in WK15

 Weekly Leaders

Passing   
1. M. Schaub HOU  393 yds – OT  (L)
2. T. Brady NE  369 yds, 2 TDs  (W)
3. J. Campbell OAK  324 yds, 2 TDs  (L) 
4. P. Manning IND  319 yds, 2 TDs (W)
5. M. Hasselbeck SEA  285 yds  (L)
6. M. Vick PHI  270 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs (W) 
 
Rushing
1. R. Torain WAS  172 yds, 0 TDs  (L)
2. L. McCoy PHI  149 yds, 0 TDs  (W)
3. T. Hightower ARI  148 yds, 2 TDs  (W)
4. J. Stewart CAR  133 yds  (L)
5. D. McFadden OAK  123 yds (L)

Receiving

1. D. Jackson PHI  210 yds, 1 TD (W)
2. D. Branch NE  151 yds, 1 TD (W)
3. A. Johnson HOU  140 yds – OT  (L)
4. A. Benn TB  122 yds, 0 TD  (W)
5. H. Ward PIT  115 yds  (W)
5. W. Welker NE  115 yds  (W)
 
TDS   
1. M. Schaub HOU  3 TDs  OT  (L)
1. D. Garrard JAC  3 TDs  (W)
1. D. McFadden OAK  3 TDs  (L)
1. A. Smith SF  3 TDs  (W)
1. D. Brees NO  3 TDs  (W)
 (3 others tied for 1st) 

Kickers 
J. Feely ARZ 25 points (W)
J. Reed SF  16 points (W)
D. Akers PHI 12 points (W)

Standings Breakdown

2 teams — (11-2) Patriots,Falcons
2 teams — (10-3) Saints, Steelers
5 teams — (9-4) Eagles, NY Jets, Bears, NY Giants, Ravens
4 teams – (8-5) Chiefs, Packers, Jags, Bucs
3 teams — (7-6) Colts, Dolphins, Chargers
3 teams — (6-7) Seahawks, Raiders, Rams
6 teams — (5-8) Titans, Redskins, Browns, Niners, Texans, Vikings
2 teams — (4-9) Cowboys, Cardinals
3 teams —  (3-10) Lions, Bills, Broncos
1 team — (2-11) Bengals
1 team —  (1-12) Panthers

Division Leaders

NFC

Eagles/Giants (NFC East —  4 game lead over WAS), Falcons (NFC South — 1 game lead over NO), Bears (NFC North — 1 game lead over GB), Seahawks/Rams (NFC West — 1 game lead over SF)

AFC

Jags (AFC South — 1 game lead over IND), Steelers (AFC North — 1 game lead over BAL), Patriots (AFC East — 2 game lead over NYJ),
Chiefs (AFC West — 1 game lead over SD/Oak)

Current Streaks

Winning: Falcons (7); Saints (6); Patriots (5)
Losing: Bengals (10); Panthers (7); Titans (6)

If playoffs started today, Here would be the Seeds….
NFC — 1. ATL, 2. CHI, 3. PHI, 4. STL, 5. NO, 6. NYG
AFC — 1. NE, 2. PIT, 3. KC, 4. JAX, 5. BAL, 6. NYJ

How 2009 Playoff teams are faring  — Saints (10-3), Eagles (9-4), Packers (8-5),  Vikings (5-8), Cowboys (4-9), Cardinals (4-9),
Patriots (11-2), NY Jets (9-4), Ravens (9-4), Colts (7-6), Chargers (7-6), Bengals (2-11)
 
Remaining Games for Contenders

 Atl — @Sea, NO, Car
Bal — NO, @Cle, Cin
Chi — @Min, NY, @GB
GB — @NE, NYG, Chi
Ind — Jac, @Oak , Ten
Jac — @Ind, Was, @Hou
KC — @StL, Ten, Oak
Mia — Buf, Det, @NE
Min — Chi, @Phi, @Det
NE — GB, @Buf, Mia
NO — @Bal, @Atl, TB
NYG — Phi,  @GB, @Was
NYJ — @Pit, @Chi, Buf
Oak — Den, Ind, @KC
PHI — @NYG, Min, Dal
Pit — NYJ, Car, @Cle
SD — SF, @Cin, @Den
Sea — Atl, @TB, StL
SF — @SD, @StL, Ari
StL — KC, SF, @Sea
TB — Det, Sea, @NO

Week 15

Thu, Dec 16 
SF @ SD  Qualcomm Stadium 8:20 PM  —- NFLN          

Sun, Dec 19 
BUF @ MIA  Sun Life Stadium 1:00 PM  —- CBS          
CLE @ CIN  Paul Brown Stadium 1:00 PM  —- CBS          
DET @ TB  Raymond James Stadium 1:00 PM  —- FOX          
JAC @ IND  Lucas Oil Stadium 1:00 PM  —- CBS          
ARI @ CAR  Bank of America Stadium 1:00 PM  —- FOX          
NO @ BAL  M&T Bank Stadium 1:00 PM  —- FOX          
PHI @ NYG  New Meadowlands Stadium 1:00 PM  —- FOX          
KC @ STL  Edward Jones Dome 1:00 PM  —- CBS          
WAS @ DAL  Cowboys Stadium 1:00 PM  —- FOX          
HOU @ TEN  LP Field 1:00 PM  —- CBS          
ATL @ SEA  Qwest Field 4:05 PM  —- FOX          
NYJ @ PIT  Heinz Field 4:15 PM  —- CBS          
DEN @ OAK  Oakland Coliseum 4:15 PM  —- CBS          
GB @ NE  Gillette Stadium 8:20 PM  —- NBC          

Mon, Dec 20 
CHI @ MIN  University of Minnesota 8:30 PM  —- ESPN

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

2010 NFL Week 3 Review

The Indianapolis Colts (2-1) look to be back near the top of the AFC and receiver Austin Collie was one of the stars from  Week 3 of the 2010 NFL Season

As the NFL inched closer to the first quarter pole of the 2010 NFL season, summer has moved out the door and autumn has returned.  Week 3, which I dubbed “Separation Sunday”, definitely helped continue the 12-week process of sorting out which teams are contenders and pretenders before November and December’s playoff push. 

This week had the NFL’s usual boatload of Injuries (Lions RB Jahvid Best – Toe, Ravens RB Ray Rice – knee, Chargers LB Shawn Merriman – calf and others); Upsets (St. Louis Rams over Redskins and Falcons over Saints); Comebacks (Eagles QB Michael Vick and Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears); and Kickers driving you nuts (Saints former SB hero Garrett Hartley missing a “chippy” in OT and Raiders power-leg Sebastian Janikowski missing a short potential game-winner).  But I have to caution a lot of fans who are starting to hit the “Panic” button and making season-long assertions about their teams, it is way too early to go jumping off a bridge.

 Is it just me… or does everyone else feel like every NFL team has a record of 2-1 or 1-2 (24 teams)? After three weeks of play, “parity” is all over America’s game as shown by the current team standings. League standings show that there are three (3-0) teams (Chiefs, Steelers, and Bears) – “The Have’s” ; fifteen (2-1) teams (Eagles, Packers, Texans, Bengals, Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Bucs, Saints, Dolphins, NY Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks, Falcons, and Titans) – “The Contenders’”; nine (1-2) teams (Cowboys, Vikings, Rams, NY Giants, Redskins, Jaguars, Chargers, Broncos and Raiders) – “Still Sorting this out”  teams; and five lowly (0-3) “Have Not” teams – Bills, Browns, Lions, Panthers, and Niners. 

However whether your team is  3-0, 2-1, 1-2 or 0-3, it doesn’t matter as everyone still has a chance to make a playoff run — “Yes” even the hapless Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns who both were scrappy in Week 3, but lost again.   The NFL’s three undefeated (3-0) teams should be feeling good as since 1990 approximately 75% of teams that reach that mark have made the playoffs.  But (3-0) is no guarantee as 8 of the last 10 seasons have seen at least one (3-0) team miss the playoffs – last year it was New York Giants and Denver Broncos.

Four of the past nine Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-2 record including the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Plus half of last year’s 12 NFL playoff teams started at 1-2 before righting themselves.  History has shown that 1-2 teams can advance to the playoffs — since 1990, 22 teams have started 1-2 and still qualified for the postseason, including three teams in 2008 – Miami Dolphins (won NFC North), Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers (won AFC West).  There have even been three 0-3 teams that have made the playoffs since 1990 — 1992 San Diego Chargers, 1998 Buffalo Bills, and 1998 Detroit Lions.

Everyone needs to understand that an NFL regular season is a 17-week marathon and should be taken increments.  Being on top this early in the NFL season is a good thing, but teams can’t get caught up in thinking things are going to be biscuits and gravy throughout the entire season –- the 2009 New York Giants started 5-0 only to limp home to a 8-8 record and missed the playoffs. 

Trust me every team, including almost Super Bowl winning team, has experienced some form of adversity at one time or another during their season – remember last season the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints lost at home to the desperate Cowboys in Week 15, then to the Bucs in Week 16, and the Panthers in Week 17.  The main thing right now is for teams to focus on their opponents week-in and week-out, because things can change very quickly in the topsy-turvy NFL.  Teams can no longer just mail-it-in as shown by the formerly winless St. Louis Rams’ unexpected 30-16 victory over the heavily favored Washing Redskins in a Week 3 “Trap Game”.

There are only three unbeaten teams remaining (Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, and Kansas City Chiefs) all of which most people would describe as “unlikely”. You have to start with the AFC West leading and undefeated Kansas City Chiefs (3-0).  The Chiefs, who after making the playoffs in ’07 had only 10 wins in the last three years, now could be the NFL’s Cinderella story of 2010.  Kansas City dominated the equally surprising – for the wrong reasons – Niners by a score of 31-10 at renovated Arrowhead Stadium.  It was a battle of two teams headed in the wrong direction.  The Chiefs now hold a two-game lead over the Chargers, Raiders, and Broncos.

The AFC North is looking like the NFL’s best division with the Steelers (3-0), Baltimore Ravens (2-1), and Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) all bunched near the top.  But to the surprise of experts –including yours truly –- it is the Steelers who are currently undefeated even though their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is serving a 4-game suspension.  Fueled by veteran quarterback Charlie Batch’s three touchdown passes, the Steelers annihilated the formerly undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) by a score of 38-13 in Tampa.  And they are doing it the “Steelers Way”. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is averaging over 100 yards a game and their defense led by safety Troy Polamalu has allowed an NFL-best 11 pts per game.  Now everything will point to a Week 4 battle between the Ravens and Steelers.  Plus you can’t sleep on Ochocinco and T.O as their Bengals who are quietly picking up wins too.

The last undefeated team to discuss are the Chicago Bears (3-0).  The Bears, who many predicted would finished 3rd or 4th in the NFC North, have pulled to together in an effort to save head coach Lovie Smith’s job.  This is a new Chicago team who seem intent on changing  a downward spiral that has plagued this team since losing in the Super Bowl in 2006.  They have a ton of offensive weapons (QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, and others), a defense that looks to have their teeth back (have allowed an average of 17 points per game through 3 weeks) and good special teams (blocked field goal and returned a punt for a touchdown in win over Packers).  On Monday Night Football, the Bears showed that they were the “Beast of the NFC North” by beating the formerly undefeated Green Packers by a score of 20-17.  However this division should get interesting as I don’t expect the Packers to be so sloppy in the future and the Vikings picked up a big win over the Detroit Lions.

So with Bye Weeks about to start there is much football to be played in this parity laden league -– or mess as some analysts are saying.  Trust me… NFL fans and media are both scratching their collective heads when trying to predict which teams have what it takes to go the distance.

The unexpected surprises of the undefeated Kansas Chiefs and the Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers plus the revival of the Michael Vick Experience so far show that nothing is a given in the NFL.   And  “Any Given Sunday” still reigns supreme.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

NFL is a Passing League First…But — To Fantasy Footballers dreams, last year there were an NFL record  10 quarterbacks who passed for over 4,000 yards in a season.  And so far in 2010, five quarterbacks have passed for over 400 yards in a game.  But this week showd passing is not everything.  The Top 5 passing quarterbacks in terms of yardage all lost — including Broncos QB Kyle Orton, 476 yds   in loss to the Colts.  Ironically four out of five of the week’s Top Rushers’ teams won their games (led by Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson’s 160 yards in a win over Detroit)

1972 Dolphins must be feeling good –  The champagne will be flowing soon in Miami as the only team to have an undefeated Super Bowl season will be celebrating in the near future.  There are only 3 undefeated teams left in the NFL this season (Chiefs, Steelers, and Bears) and in this parity-filled league, I am certain none of them will go past Week 8 without a loss.  Hard to believe in 2009, the 1972 Dolphins had to wait until Week 16 for the Colts (14-0 at the time) to finally lose a game.

Rookies making their mark at a surprisingly early rate – Following in the footsteps of several 2009 rookie stars (Clay Matthews, Brian Orakpo, Jeremy Maclin, Austin Collie and others) many rookies this season have stepped into the spotlight. No longer “redshirting” takes place in the NFL as teams need rookies to help right away.  Already several outstanding rookies have made an impact  including Eagles FS Nate Allen, Chiefs RB/WR/KR Dexter McCluster, Lions RB Jahvid Best, Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount, Chiefs TE Tony Moeaki, Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez and others.

Coaches on the Hot Seat – With most of the coaches on our Hot Seat List starting with either a 1-2 or 0-3 record, the heat is on.  Some of coaches feeling a little uncomfortable include the Cowboys Wade Phillips, Giants Tom Coughlin, Panthers John Fox,  Jaguars Jack Del Rio, Niners Mike Singletary, Raiders Tom Cable, Browns Eric Mangini and some other coaches that might even know it .

Game Ball Winners

Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick — The catalyst for the NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) has been incredible as he has produced a 110 quarterback rating.  Vick  has gone from Public Enemy No. 1 to the leading candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.  The former 3-time Pro Bowl player in his first game as the Birds anointed starter passed for 291 yards and 3 TDs in a dominating 28-3 win over the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars.  The real fun will come next week when Vick and rising Eagles host former Philadelphia and current Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb.  However the Skins and Eagles can’t get too comfortable as the Cowboys (1-2) are still lurking and they should get even better after a Week 4 bye.

Honorable Mention: Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Baltimore Ravens WR Anquan Boldin, Kansas City Chiefs rookie WR/KR Dexter McCluster, Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson, Philadelphia Eagles DE Trent Cole, Cleveland Browns RB Peyton Hillis, Seattle Seahawks RB/KR Leon Washington, Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher and Chicago Bears WR/KR Devon Hester

Lloyd’s Lackey

New Orleans Saints K Garrett Hartley – Less than one year after Hartley skyrocketed to fame by connecting on a 40-yard game-winning field goal to send the New Orleans Saints to their first  Super Bowl, he may be looking for a job.  The Saint erratic kicker missed 29-yarder – a kick any high school kicker could make — in overtime that could have kept the defending Super Bowl Champs undefeated.  Of course after the big miss the Falcons kicked their own game-winner, a 46-yard field goal by Matt Bryant..  After the game, you could clearly see that Saints quarterback Drew Brees was not happy about Hartley’s miss and the team started auditioning new kickers on Tuesday.

Dishonorable Mention:  NY Giants (3 personal foul penalties, a safety called on a penalty in the endzone and overall sloppy play), Green Bay Packers (franchise record 18 penalties), Jacksonville Jaguars QB David Garrard, Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, Dolphins RB Ricky Williams and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox

2010 NFL Week 3 Results

Sunday, Sep 26 

Chiefs (3-0) over Niners (0-3), 31-10 — The NFL most surprising undefeated team rolls to 3-0 with a dominating win over the reeling Niners…Singletary in trouble??…Niners allowed 457 yards in total offense to the Chiefs…How About Chiefs RB/KR Dexter McClusters who is an explosive player

Bengals (2-1) over Panthers (0-3), 20-7 — Chad Ochocinco and the Bengals take a layup against an awful Carolina team…rookie QB Claussen now sees the NFL is not NCAA football… John Fox on the hot seat       

Ravens (2-1) over Browns (0-3), 27-20 — Welcome to the Charm City, WR Anquan Boldin… Flacco and Boldin abuse Browns CB Eric Wright for 3 TDs…The Browns and QB Seneca Wallace are scrappy… You have to take your hat off to RB Peyton Hillis who ran for 144 yards and 1 TD against the Ravens tough defense    

Vikings (1-2) over Lions (0-3), 24-10 — It was a “win”, but Favre (6 INTs in ’10) and the Vikings were a little sloppy in beating the lowly Lions…Huge day for RB Adrian Peterson who ran both long and short in the win (23 carries, 160 yards, and 2 TDs including an electric 80-yard run)

Titans (2-1) over NY Giants (1-2), 29-10 — Head coach Tom Coughlin’s team is an undisciplined mess (5 personal foul penalties)..V.Y does just enough but it was the CJ2K show (32 Rush, 125 yds, 2 TDs) in NYC…Titans defense is opportunistic against  a careless Eli Manning          

Steelers (3-0)  over Bucs (2-1), 38-3 — Honestly, Did anybody expect a different story?  P-Burgh is now 3-0 w/o Roethlisberger and Batch looked great in his first start in awhile…The Steelers D and RB Mendenhall were consistently good again

Falcons (2-1) over Saints (2-1), 27-24 in OT — K Garrett Hartley (missed 29-yarder in the extra period) goes from Super Bowl hero to goat as the Saints lose in OT….The Falcons ran the ball with extreme toughness (202 yards) and their defense did just enough.. Lance Moore filled in nicely for injured RB Reggie Bush (broken fibula)

Patriots (2-1) over Bills (0-3), 38-30 — Pats won their 14th straight over the Bills… Brady (252 yards w/ 3 TDs) and Moss hooked up 2 times…Bills have something in CJ Spiller (2TDs)…Pats rushed for 200 yards

Cowboys (1-2) over Texans (2-1), 27-13 — The Battle for Texas ended early with Dallas throwing the ball downfield to WR Roy Williams (117 yards and 2 TDs) and running it too…Romo was back to his old self including not throwing any interceptions..Cowboys go into a bye week with some momentum

Rams (1-2) over Redskins (1-2), 30-16,  — Maybe I was too premature in saying the Skins were much better with McNabb and Shanahan… Washington was out scored 16-3 in the 2nd half after trailing by 3 points at halftime…Redskins were 1 for 10 on 3rd downs…Where is the Skins running game (115 yards but 25 of them were McNabb)…Jackson leaves with a groin injury.. Redskins had 9 penalties and 2 costly turnovers     

Eagles(2-1) over Jaguars (1-2), 28-3 — The Michael Vick experience is back in the NFL after a long hiatus — 17-31, 291 yds, 3 TDs and 30 yards rushing w/ 1 TD in the win.  The former first overall pick in 2001 — Vick now  40-28-1 as an NFL starter — definitely seems to have a firm grasp of the Birds scheme and is a dual-candidate for both MVP and Comeback Player of the Year… The Eagles defense sacked Jags struggling QB David Garrard six times..Jack Del Rio better get his resume ready

Seahawks (2-1) over Chargers (1-2) — An old AFC West rivalry game where San Diego played catch-up the entire game…No Ryan Matthew meant no running game for San Diego.  Seattle comebacking RB/KR Leon Washington had 2 kickoff return touchdowns      

Colts (2-1) over Broncos (1-2), 27-13 — Robo-quarterback Peyton Manning was on the money the entire game (27-43, 325 yds, 3 TDs)…2nd year receiver Austin Collie had 12 catches for 171 yards and 2 TDs in the unexpected easy win.  Despite 476 passing yards by QB Kyle Orton, the Broncos couldn’t hang with the resurgent Colts. Denver failed to get into the end zone on five trips inside the 20-yard line (settled for 2 FGs and turned the ball over on downs 3 times)

Cardinals (2-1) over Raiders (1-2), 24-23 — The Cardinals are tied w/ the Seahawks at the top of the NFC West at 2-1…This was a gift victory as Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski was 3 for 6 on FG attempts including missing a 32-yard kick at the buzzer.    

NY Jets (2-1) over Dolphins (2-1), 31-23 — Miami falls from the ranks of the unbeatens after a SNF loss to the battle tested AFC East leading NY Jets… After serving a 1-quarter team imposed penalty for his DUI during the week, WR Braylon Edwards responded by producing the game’s biggest play, a 67-yard touchdown catch.  Jason Taylor got a Gatorade bath in his victorious return to South Florida

Monday, Sep 27 

Chicago Bears (3-0) over Green Bay Packers (2-1), 20-17   — A back-and-forth Monday Night Football game as the Bears and Packers met for the 180th time…The Packers shot themselves in the foot over and over (franchise record 18 penalties, 1 blocked FG, Punt Return for a touchdown, 2 turnovers and only 63 rushing yards)..Former NFL #1 return guy, Devin Hester, was back as he scored on a 62-yd punt return (first since Dec. 30, 2007)

 

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

2010 NFL Week 1 Review

The Seattle Seahawks, fueled by comebacking receiver Mike Williams (pictured), dominated the favored San Francisco 49ers by a score of 31-6 in one of Week 1’s bigger upsets

The first weekend of the 91st NFL season titled: “The Grand Crossroads of Hope” is finally over. NFL nation just couldn’t get enough of America’s Game as Week 1 stretched over three game days (September 9th, September 12th, and September 13th). Even in the face of pending CBA Doom, fans turned out in record numbers as even the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars played to a sellout – only one of the NFL’s slate of 16 games, the Tampa Bay Bucs – Cleveland Browns in Tampa, FL was blacked out.

Overall the first week of the 2010 NFL season brought surprises (Houston Texans led by RB Arian Foster dominating the Colts, Chiefs taking out the Chargers in the 2nd MNF game, Seahawks pounding Niners who were supposed to be the NFC West favorites and several photo finishes), non-surprises (Bills finding a way to lose again,  Steelers and Ravens winning “ugly” behind running the ball and attacking defense), cheers, and tears (Sorry Detroit Lions fans…Megatron did indeed catch that touchdown no matter what the officials say) that only NFL drama can provoke. The wins and losses no doubt will create a buzz of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” around the water cooler and on sports radio, but remember the NFL season is a 16 game marathon. To the NFL’s credit, the majority of Week 1 games (11 out  16) were decided by 7 points or less.

The first game on Thursday night kicked off the excitement (fireworks, Grammy winners, etc) and featured the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints using a fast start by their offense to hold off the Minnesota Vikings 14-9.  In the game you could see a couple of things:  The Saints offensive line is physical and can run the ball when needed (didn’t hear Jared Allen’s name called once), Vikings QB Brett Favre looked extremely rusty as he threw a bad interception and couldn’t rally his team in the 4th quarter, and New Orleans probably has the NFL’s highest octane offense even if they were stuck in neutral for parts of the opener.

What I love about Week 1 is experts, fans, and some members of the media start making year-long assertions based on “one week” of real NFL games.  Two of the comments/feedback that I have received after only one week of play that I consider “laughable” from one of my loyal listeners were: “After the way the Texans beat-up Indianapolis, Peyton Manning and the Colts are done…It is going to be a long year in Indy”; “The Philadelphia Eagles have to start Michael Vick because Kevin Kolb will never get it done” and “The Baltimore Ravens are this year’s Super Bowl champs based on their physical play”.  Just slow your roll there a little bit “Mr. Overzealous Fan”.

C’mon some of these conclusions may prove to be true, but Week 1 isn’t enough game action to paint with such a broad picture.  Sure Week 1 is important for setting the tone for the entire season — the last 44 Super Bowl Champions started out a combined 36-7-1 in Week 1 of their championship season and teams that made the playoffs last year were a combined 10-2 in 2009’s Week 1.  But remember in the parity-laden NFL everything can change very quickly. The theme that I will continue to pound at this time of year is that an NFL season is a marathon and should be taken increments.  Being on top early in an NFL season guarantees nothing. Teams can’t get caught up in thinking things are going to be biscuits and gravy throughout the entire season.  The main thing right now is for teams to focus week-in and week-out on the team that they are facing.  Last year after five weeks the NY Giants looked like Super Bowl contenders as they started 5-0 only to limp home to an 8-8 record. 

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Week 1 included:

A Bad Rule Rears its Ugly Head – And you thought “Tuck” rule that thwarted the Raiders years ago was bad.  The hard-luck Detroit Lions were jobbed by a rule that doesn’t pass the smell test in my opinion.  In a game that was there’s for the taking, the Lions had fought through losing starter Matthew Stafford and were poised to beat their NFC North rival, the Chicago Bears. With 1:32 remaining in the game, backup Shaun Hill threw a great 25-yard apparent touchdown Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  Unfortunately after one official called touchdown, the zebras huddled and Johnson’s catch was ruled incomplete due to the big receiver not maintaining possession throughout  his catch according to the officials….Bogus.  I have even listed the cockamamie rule for you to interpret — “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.”  I thought the call was a disgrace and once again, officials are making themselves part of the story…Sorry Lions fans, you deserved better.

The Ravens Show talk is cheap on MNF – After selling Wolf Tickets on HBO’s Hard Knocks, the New York Jets expected to open their $1.6 Billion Dollar home stadium in style.  Unfortunately, the Jets had no idea what was in store for them.  In a physical dominating win, the Baltimore Ravens, led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, put all of the Jets’ Hard Knocks boasting to rest as they showed the country who is the NFL’s best defense.  The J-E-T-S were held to six first downs and a one-of-11 rate on third-down conversions in a black-and-blue 10-9 loss.  Plus Rex Ryan’s rowdy bunch produced a staggering 14 penalties for 125 yards.  Ryan said of his team’s effort, “Today, was a joke.”  Lewis said of the opening-game win, “All the trash talking, it’s out the door. Every time you challenge a warrior, a warrior is going to always respond.”

The NFL Season is Survival of the Fittest– The “tough” physical game of football causes a survival of the fittest on the way to the Lombardi Trophy. No team makes it to the top without dealing with injuries every week of the season. Unfortunately one of this week’s biggest stories was two season-ending injuries for the Philadelphia Eagles as leaders center Jamaal Jackson (torn triceps) and fullback Leonard Weaver (severe knee injury) unfortunately were badly hurt.  The Eagles also will be on the NFL’s front page too for another set of injuries as both QB Kevin Kolb and MLB Stewart Bradley had concussions, but were allowed to return to the field briefly before being shutdown at halftime.  Now both players will have to pass baseline testing and other tests administered by an independent source before returning to game action. Other major injuries were Lions QB Matthew Stafford (Shoulder), Panthers QB Matt Moore (Concussion), Packers RB Ryan Grant (ankle), Cardinals WR Early Doucet (Hamstring), Giants TE Kevin Boss (Concussion), Texans DE Conner Barwin (fractured ankle), Colts S Bob Sanders (elbow), Steelers LT Max Starks (high ankle sprain) and NT Kris Jenkins (knee).

Colts need to get serious about the run – Sure…QB Peyton Manning had great numbers 40-57, 433 yards and 3 TDs in a 34-24 road loss.  But the Colts’ lopsided loss to the Texans showed that successful teams can run the football on offense and stop the run on defense.  Houston out-rushed Indy 257 to 44, setting a franchise record for most rushing yards in Texans’ franchise history and most rushing yards allowed in Colts’ franchise history.

Former playoff teams struggle – As I always say, “Every year is different in the NFL”.  That phrase was never more prophetic than in Week 1 where 2009 playoff teams went a combined 5-7 — winners were Patriots, Saints, Cardinals, Packers, and Ravens.  Yes… the Patriots dominated the Cincinnati Bengals 38-24. 

Witherspoon shows heart – Only days after learning about his mother’s passing, Carolina Panthers LB Will Witherspoon gave everything he had in a loss to the NY Giants. 

Game Balls

Texans RB Arian Foster – What an amazing game for the 2nd year runner, who was viewed as a back-up just a short time ago.  Foster (6’1, 220), running in OC Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme, became the first player in NFL history to rush for 200+ yards and three touchdowns on Kickoff Weekend.  The former Tennessee star finished with 33 carries for 231 yards — including 191 yards in the 2nd half — and 3 TDs as the Texans rushed for a franchise record 257 yards in the big 34-24 win over the Colts.  The Texans maybe changing their ways into a rushing team first as shown by their 42-to-17 run-to-pass ratio in the much-celebrated win.

Honorable Mention – Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte, Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews Jr, Kansas City Chiefs kick returner Dexter McCluster, Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson, New York Giants WR Hakeem Nicks, Seattle Seahawks WR Mike Williams, New England Patriots WR Wes Welker, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall, Houston Texans DE Mario Williams, Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall and Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis

Lloyd’s Lackey of the Week

Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid – After already quickly burning his 2nd half timeouts, with the game on the line Reid and/or offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg came up short.  Backup QB Michael Vick had rallied the Eagles from a 17-point hole and the Birds had to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 42-yard line with two minutes left for a chance to tie the score at 27 points. Reid decided that Vick – who lined up in the shotgun formation —  should run a quarterback draw up the middle instead passing or getting the speedster to the edge.  Of course, the Packers easily diagnosed the play and stuffed Vick for no gain to the ire of the Philadelphia Faithful.  The 4th down play was the cherry on top of Eagles injuries, poor offensive execution in first half, poor offensive line, and penalties…I bet the Eagles will never wear those 1960 throwback jerseys again.  Green Packers LB Nick Barnett said of the crucial 4th down play, “He’d been making all the plays, and we knew they were going to put it on him…So yeah, we were ready.”

Dishonorable Mention – The “Loudmouth” New York Jets, Officiating crew from the Bears-Lions game, Carolina Panthers QB Matt Moore, Niners RB Frank Gore, Bengals WR Terrell Owens and the Dallas Cowboys

2010 NFL Week 1

Thu, Sep 09 

Saints 14, Vikings 9 — Fast start for Brees and his WR’s then a defensive battle..After missing most of camp was Favre rusty??

Sun, Sep 12 

Jaguars 24, Broncos 17 — Big win for the Jags, Garrard 3 TDs         

Titans 38, Raiders 13 — The Titans stomp all over the Raiders led by CJ2K who had 142 yds and 2 TDs

Patriots 38, Bengals 24 — Behind Brady and Welker, New England jumps out 24-3 in first half and cruises home.  Moss bitching about contract         

Bucs 17, Browns 14 — Tampa puts away the hard-luck Browns; Freeman had a good game     

Texans 34, Colts 24 — Fueled by RB Arian Foster (231 yds, 3TDs) Houston rolled; QB Peyton Manning had big yards, but there were several drops

Bears 19, Lions 14 — Chicago wins a good game that was overshadowed by the officials overturning an apparent Calvin Johnson TD        

Steelers 15, Falcons 9 — P-Burgh wins in OT on a Mendenhall run; Lots of D and FGs, but Steelers win on 50-yd TD run in OT

Dolphins 15, Bills 10 — Henne efficient.. Good running by R. Brown; Bills are a bad team

Giants 31, Panthers 18 — Eli and Hakim Nicks have huge days; Matt Moore (concussion) had 2 INTs in the endzone          

Packers 27, Eagles 20 — Philly loses Jackson, Kolb, Bradley, and Weaver; Back-up Vick starts a QB controversy as he almost gets it done      

Cardinals 17, Rams 13 — The Cardinals return to STL and get an ugly win; Though hurting, WR Larry Fitzgerald had the game-winner

Seahawks 31, SF49ers 6 — Hasselbeck has a big day and the Niners look bad; Singletary has some clean-up to do      

Redskins 13, Cowboys 7 — McNabb efficient and Defense scores TD; Romo throws touchdown at end that is disallowed due to Barron’s holding penalty        

Mon, Sep 13 

Ravens 10, NY Jets 9 — Ray Lewis and his defense show the J-E-T-S that “talk” is cheap; Also NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez has to do better than 71 yards passing

Chiefs 21, Chargers 14 — Stayed up late for this one, but it was worth it; Romeo Crennel’s young defense came-up big when it mattered most; KC has some speedsters too 

 

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

2010 NFL Preseason Week 1 Review

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon received a Game Ball for his outstanding play in Week 1 of the 2010 NFL Preseason

Week 1 of the 2010 NFL Preseason is now in the books.  As usual the start of preseason games are welcomed by most players (want to hit someone else other than teammates) and fans (“Jonesing” for their football fix).  But after most of the starters have left preseason games, usually in the first or second quarter, everyone watching can’t wait for the “real” games to start.  Unfortunately there are usually several “training camp” players on the field after halftime, which lends to some sloppy play at times.

The week’s highlight had to be the opening of the New Meadowlands Stadium as the “Battle for New York” was center stage on Monday Night football. Friendly tenants, the New York Giants and New York Jets, battled it out with the G-Men coming away with a 31-16 win.  The biggest television-worth play had to be Giants quarterback Eli Manning having a “Y.A Tittle” moment.  Manning departed the game in the first half with a three-inch laceration to his forehead after getting caught between two Jets’ defenders with his helmet off. Blood was gushing from Peyton’s little brother’s melon, which definitely needed several stitches to close the wound.

One key element that I noticed this week and throughout the preseason is that the National Football League is “survival of the fittest”, where you can never have too much quality depth.  Unfortunately players around the league continue to drop like flies. Some notable injuries were Buffalo Bills RB Fred Jackson (broken hand – 4 to 6 weeks), Houston Texans RB Ben Tate (broken ankle – season), Tennessee Titans RB Stafon Johnson (his great comeback story is over for now after a heart-breaking ankle injury), Dallas Cowboys OT Marco Colombo (knee scoped), Detroit Lions LB Jordon Dizon (knee – season), New England Patriots DE Ty Warren (season-ending hip injury), Baltimore Ravens OT Jared Gaither (back tear) and too many others to list.

All these injuries are making coaches and general managers scream, “Please Let’s Just Start the Regular Season”. I have to agree with them, because too often important pieces of a team’s puzzle are lost for considerable amounts of time, including for the entire season, in meaningless games. We all know that preseason games — or “exhibition” games as I like to call them — are only on the schedule for the purpose of generating extra revenue (television dollars and local teams having two extra “home” games at full price) and they are very unnecessary. Also as Eagles head coach Andy Reid recently said of his game-planning for the his preseason Week 1 opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, “We kept it pretty vanilla” – BTW: the Eagles and Jaguars play in Week 3 of the regular season.  You just are not going to see much in preseason as teams usually want to save their best for the games that count.

With today’s athletes already engaging in year-round NFL activities including OTAs and long arduous training camps, four preseason games is a bit much. Today’s NFL players’ bodies are already pushed to the max after training camp two-a-days in the hot sun, so there is already a “Next Man Up” mentality before preseason games are even played. I know coaches try to limit exposure to key veterans by getting them out of preseason games early, but the risk is always there. I believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needs to investigate limiting preseason game, however I am not sure about removing them just to add more career-shortening regular season games.

Even though this week’s preseason games only gave a minor taste of “real” regular season NFL football action, there were some bright spot performances.  Overall though, I say bring on the “real” games, because the NFL’s preseason is just too long of a process and watching games of depth chart 3’s versus 4’s is unbearable.  For goodness sakes, Minnesota Vikings 3rd string quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw for 310 yards and 3 TDs in a 28-7 win over the hapless St. Louis Rams ….need I say anymore.

Game Balls

Redskins QB Donovan McNabb – After a slow start, Washington’s new signal-caller settled down to lead his offensive unit to touchdown.  McNabb hit young receiver Anthony Armstrong with a 4-yard strike to complete his night’s work.  For the game, Big 5 finished with numbers 5-of-8 for 58 yards in two series.

Giants WR Victor Cruz – I guess the NY Jets really do need holdout Darrelle Revis. A preseason star was born in the Giants’ 31-16 win over the NY Jets.  Cruz caught 6 passes for 145 yards and 3 TDs.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – The former 2009 Pro Bowl passer was amazing as he finished with numbers of 12-13, 159 yards, and 1 TD against the lowly Cleveland Browns.

Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen – Could there be a quarterback controversy in Carolina already?? I am saying hold your horses on that one.  But the former Notre Dame star showed good footwork and arm strength in his team’s 17-12 loss to the Ravens.

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon — Had a perfect passer rating as he finished with numbers 6-7, 128 yards and 1 TD in a 23-7 win over the Detroit Lions.

Panthers OLB Greg Hardy – Showed great burst off the edge as he finished with 2 sacks in a loss to the Ravens

Lloyd’s Lackey

Colts better get another back-up quarterback – Usually try to not give out a “Lloyd’s Lackey” this time of the year.   But there was an awful performance that must be noted.  In case Peyton Manning gets hurt — not that No. 18 ever gets hurt — Indy has no shot of winning games with back-up passer Curtis Painter.  The former Purdue star was awful in a 37-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.  His line for the game was 9-for-19, 64 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs.

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

2009 NFL Season – Week 17 Review

The Dallas Cowboys led by QB Tony Romo dominated the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 to claim the NFC East title and secure the NFC’s 3rd seed in the playoffs

The curtain closed on the 2009 NFL regular season with a somewhat disappointing Week 17. Though there were some great individual performances (see Game Balls) and teams punching their playoff tickets, only two of Week 17’s sixteen games – all played on Sunday, which was great — were decided by four points or less.  There were also two shutouts and several other lopsided games that caused fans to yearn for the upcoming NFL playoffs to arrive sooner, rather than later. 

I don’t know if it is end of season blues or teams “resting” players for the playoffs, but it is a shame that the 2009 NFL regular season ended with such a whimper.  There has been some talk that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is actively seeking input from around the league asking “how” everyone can fix the whole playoff teams resting players dilemma.  Goodell said on a CBS broadcast regarding the Resting Players-gate situation, “We are considering a lot of different things. We are talking with the Competition Committee and John Madden’s committee on how you incent people and reward them. I don’t think you can punish them for not playing. The other thing that has to happen is you have to make it clear to the public that you are not going to be playing someone, like we do with our injury reports.”

Though I do like Goodell’s thought of providing an incentive to teams (draft picks??) to play everyone through the NFL’s closing weeks, I don’t know how the league’s Competition Committee and franchises can take away a successful team’s prerogative to get ready for the games that really count.  One big negative to Goodell’s plan may have occurred in Houston, Texas where New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, league receptions leader with 123 catches, was lost for the playoffs with a devastating knee injury in a “meaningless” game against the Texans.  To New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s credit, he said he would still play all of his players the majority of the game, if he had to do it all over again.  I have to agree to with Belichick as players can get hurt in a preseason game or any other situation where there is contact whether it is in practice or a game, so why not play to “win” in the NFL’s closing weeks.  Kudos should go out to the Indianapolis Colts for playing QB Peyton Manning, TE Dallas Clark, WR Reggie Wayne and others in snowy Buffalo, so the veterans could achieve certain milestones.  The move was a far cry from the Colts give-up to the NY Jets in Week 16.

Despite some uninspired play by some teams in Week 17, we did finally find out which teams are going to the “Big Dance”.  The AFC’s last two wildcard spots were claimed by the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens plus a sometimes clouded playoff picture for the entire league including division titles was finally sorted out. The regular season marked the end of 20 team’s dreams of moving on, but now the real fun starts for teams holding a playoff ticket.  There are now 12 teams (AFC — Colts, Chargers, Patriots, Bengals, Ravens, and Jets; NFC — Saints, Vikings, Cowboys, Cardinals, Packers, and Eagles) who will attempt to live-up to the 2009 NFL’s moniker of “Own the Moment” by making Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Florida. 

In looking at the NFL’s standings and playoff picture after Week 17, change once again is definitely in the air around the league.  For the 14th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.  This year, the six new playoff teams are the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals.  Also the 2009 NFL regular season produced five new division winners (Indianapolis, Dallas, New England, New Orleans, and Cincinnati).

Before we move on to the ensuing playoff madness starting with a very interesting wildcard round – three rematches of Week 17 lopsided games including two at the same venue — let’s take a look at the final regular season week of the 2009 NFL season.

Some tidbits and news from Week 17 include:

Teams stepping it up to make the playoffs — With their season’s on the line, the Baltimore Ravens and NY Jets had the wherewithal to “Seize the Day” and claim 2009 playoff berths. 

  • Ravens run all over the Raiders into the playoffs — Everyone knew going into Week 17 that despite stumbling in Pittsburgh the week before that the Ravens could “Win and Get in”.  The up-and-down Ravens, who always seemed to let penalties and inconsistent play stop them throughout 2009, needed to play inspired against the Oakland Raiders in their home stadium.  Before the game, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis delivered an inspiring speech that drove the Ravens to a tough 21-13 win over the Raiders.  “Ray was unbelievable,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the 34-year-old linebacker. “When he spoke in here before the game, it was off the charts. The theme was, ‘Be the team we can be. Leave the penalties in their pockets. Hit everything in sight. Don’t let up. Be the Ravens.’  The stars for the Ravens were veteran RB Willis McGahee (see Game Balls) and rookie LB Dannell Ellerbe (returned an interception deep into Raiders territory).  Once the Raven knocked Raiders starter Charlie Frye (ankle) out of the game, inconsistent backup JaMarcus Russell was no threat.  The Ravens clinched a wildcard berth by also running the ball to the tune of 240 yards with an amazing 6.9 yards per carry average.  Next up is the beat-up New England Patriots who should be fearful of the dangerous Ravens.
  • The NY Jets take care of business on Sunday Night Football – After enduring a week of “gift wins” talk, the Jets went out in Sunday’s last game and blew the doors off the Cincinnati Bengals 37-0.  The NY Jets clinched their first playoff berth since 2006 and made rookie head coach Rex Ryan the 2nd NY Jets ‘ head coach to make the playoffs in his first season – joined Herman Edwards.  Despite a non-passing day by starter Mark Sanchez  (8/16 for 63 YDS), the NY Jets ground up the Bengals by playing tough defense (Ranked #1 in the NFL) and running the ball. Behind Wildcat QB Brad Smith (see Game Balls) and RB Thomas Jones (78 yards and 2 TDs), the Jets had 57 rushing attempts — the second most in franchise history (one shy of the team record set in 1973) —  for 257 rushing yards.   The Jets’ defense also held both Bengals, in particular stars QB Carson Palmer and WR Chad Ochocinco , in check the entire game –1 for 11 on third downs and finished with just 72 net yards on offense. By winning five of their last six games after losing six of their previous seven games, the Jets are now in the playoffs and should be considered dangerous (attacking defense and can run the ball).  These two teams will play again next week in Cincinnati in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
  • The Dallas Cowboys claim the NFC East Crown and look playoff ready – In one of the league’s most anticipated Week 17 games, the NFC East title was on the line in Big “D”.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia Eagles fans only the Cowboys chose to show-up in a dominating 24-0 win that allowed them to claim the NFC East crown – first since 2005.  The key player of the game had to be much-maligned Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who broke three team single-season passing records — for completions, pass attempts and yards —  in a huge win.  Romo finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns plus was only sacked once.  To show the Cowboys dominance, Dallas had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  The Cowboys harassed Eagles QB Donovan McNabb all-day as the Eagles failed to score and had their 6-game winning streak snapped.  In the end, Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had to be happy of his team’s defensive effort — allowed 37 points in their last four games and became the first defense to post back-to-back shutouts since 2000. The Cowboys have now won 3 games in a row, including knocking off playoff teams the Saints and Eagles.   Dallas also won their regular-season finale for the first time since 1999 and swept the Eagles for the first time since 1999.  The Cowboys and Eagles will face each other again in the first round of the playoffs, right back at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium.

The St. Louis Rams claim the top stop in the 2010 NFL Draft — For a little while it looked the like the Rams didn’t want the top spot as they hung tough with the Niners.  But in the end, the Rams’ 28-6 loss to San Francisco assured them of the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  It will be the 3rd year in a row that the Rams have picked either 1st or 2nd in the draft (OT Jason Smith – 2009 and DE Chris Long – 2008), but this time they will be the first ones on the clock.  I am sure their prize will be dominating Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who some are comparing to former Cardinals Pro Bowl player Eric Swann in his prime.

Black Monday is Here – The Monday after the regular season ends typically is not a good day for underperforming head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers, and front office types.  Most teams don’t like to make job security decisions in-season so on “Black Monday” walking papers are given so teams can get ready for the upcoming draft.  Even though there are some uncertain CBA times around the NFL given the threat of an uncapped year in 2010 and possible owner’s lockout in 2011, some on the hot seat head coaches will be getting their pink slips on “Black Monday”.  Already new Redskins GM Bruce Allen has told head coach Jim Zorn his days as Washington’s head coach are numbered – you can insert Mike Shanahan by the end of the week.  And Buffalo interim head coach Perry Fewell is sure to be pushed aside for a bigger name (Bill Cowher??) plus there are sure to be other changes to follow.  Some other head coach who may not return for the 2010 are Cleveland’s Eric Mangini (new GM Mike Holmgren evaluating and it doesn’t look good);Oakland’s Tom Cable (appears to be done, but who wants the Raiders job anyway); Carolina’s John Fox (despite an 8-8 finish, no extension after 2010 yet); Chicago’s Lovie Smith (owed over $11Million the next two years), Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio (team lost four straight to end the season); Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris (young coach only produced two wins); Texans Gary Kubiak (After the franchise’s first winning season, got a vote of confidence…but you never know); and Dallas’ Wade Phillips (needs a playoff win to probably be safe).

Back-to-Back winning seasons for Atlanta – By virtue of their 20-10 win over the Bucs, for the first time in the Falcon’s 44-year history they have posted back-to-back winning seasons.  Not that 9-7 is as good as last year’s 10-6 mark and their wildcard berth, but at least the Falcons fought through injuries to QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner to post a winning season.

Denver joins some not so elite company —  Sorry rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, but the Denver Broncos (8-8) became just the third team since the 1970 merger to miss the playoffs after starting 6-0. The Broncos implosion was similar to the 1978 Washington Redskins and 2003 Minnesota Vikings.

Milestones were aplenty in Week 17

  • This season, 10 quarterbacks each passed for at least 4,000 yards, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Texans’ Matt Schaub (4,770), Colts’ Peyton Manning (4,500), Cowboys’ Tony Romo (4,483), Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (4,434), Patriots’ Tom Brady (4,398), Saints’ Drew Brees (4,388), Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger (4,328), Chargers’ Philip Rivers (4,254), Vikings’ Brett Favre (4,202) and NY Giants’ Eli Manning (4,021).  The previous record was seven in 2007. 
  • Twelve quarterbacks passed for at least 25 touchdowns this year, which is the most in a single season in NFL history – Brees (34), Favre (33), P. Manning (33), Rodgers (30), Schaub (29), Brady (28), Rivers (28), Bears’ Jay Culter (27), E. Manning (27), Roethlisberger (26), Romo (26) and Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (26). The previous record was 10 in 2007. 
  • Tennessee running back Chris Johnson had 154 scrimmage yards (134 rushing, 20 receiving) in the Titans’ 17-13 victory over Seattle.  Johnson totaled 2,509 scrimmage yards this season (2,006 rushing, 503 receiving), surpassing surefire hall of famer Marshall Faulk (2,429 in 1999) for the most yards from scrimmage in a single season in NFL history.  Johnson also led the league in rushing with 2,006 yards and became the sixth player in league history with 2,000 rushing yards in a season.
  • The Green Bay Packers improved to 11-5 with a 33-7 victory over Arizona.  The Packers became the first team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer (QB Aaron Rodgers), 1,200-yard rusher (RB Ryan Grant) and two 1,000-yard receivers (WRs Donald Driver & Greg Jennings) in consecutive seasons.
  • Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 125 yards in the Panthers’ 23-10 win against New Orleans.  Stewart (1,133) and DeAngelo (1,117) are the first set of teammates to each rush for 1,100 yards in a single season. 
  • Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre threw four touchdowns in the Vikings’ 44-7 win against the New York Giants.  Favre, who passed for 33 touchdowns this season, reached the 30-TD mark for the ninth time in his career, the most in NFL history.  Favre also passed for 316 yards against the Giants to reach the 4,000-yard mark (4,202) for the sixth time in his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the second-most in NFL history.   
  • Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson had 65 receiving yards in the Texans’ 34-27 win against New England.  Johnson, who has led the NFL in receiving with 1,575 yards in 2008 and 1,569 yards in 2009, joined future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only players since 1970 to lead the league in consecutive seasons.  Rice topped the league in back-to-back seasons in1989-90 and led the NFL three years in a row from 1993-95.  Also Johnson and former Colts receiver Marvin Harrison (2001-02) are the only players in NFL history to record at least 1,500 receiving yards in consecutive seasons.
  • San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis had a touchdown catch in the 49ers’ 28-6 victory over St. Louis.  Davis, who tied for the NFL lead with 13 touchdown receptions in 2009, tied San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates (13 in 2004) for the most TD catches by a tight end in a single-season in NFL history.
  • New Orleans finished with 510 points scored in the 2009 regular season to become just the 12th team in NFL history to score 500 points in a season.  The Saints finished sixth on the league’s all-time season scoring list and averaged 31.9 points per game.
  • Indianapolis’ Dallas Clark joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in league history with 100 receptions in one season.
  • Bills WR Terrell Owens passed Tim Brown and moved into third on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.

Game Balls

Kansas City Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson – The former University of Texas linebacker was everywhere for the Chiefs, who sent the Broncos home packing for the season with a dominating 44-24 road win.  Johnson picked off Broncos QB Kyle Orton twice, returning both for touchdowns (45 and 60 yards).  For the game, Johnson finished with six tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 TDs.

Honorable Mention

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – What a game for the NFL’s leading rusher in a close 17-13 win over the Seahawks.  Against a Seahawks defense that had allowed only 100-yard rusher entering the game, Johnson finished with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries (11th straight 100-yard rushing game). On a 9-yard reception in the second quarter, Titans RB Chris Johnson broke surefire Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk’s 10-year old record for scrimmage yards in a season (2,429). In the third quarter, he broke Earl Campbell’s franchise record of 1,934 rushing yards. In the fourth quarter, he became the sixth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season – finished with 2,006 yards rushing for the season.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – The Cardinals better watch-out next week because Rodgers played unbelievable in a huge win over Arizona.  Brett Favre’s former understudy completed 21 of 26 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown before being pulled early in the fourth quarter. Rodgers finished the season just 24 yards shy of Lynn Dickey’s team record for passing yards in a season (4,458 to 4,434).  He also became only the second quarterback in team history (Bart Starr was the first) to finish a season with a 100-plus passer rating.

Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard – Pollard was everywhere as the Texans tried in vain to make the playoffs for the first time.  The active linebacker had six tackles plus intercepted Patriots QB Tom Brady and recovered a Fred Taylor fumble for a touchdown in the Texans’ 34-27 win.

Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles — It was an unbelievable performance by Charles in a huge win over the Broncos.  The former Texas running back set a Chiefs franchise record with 259 rushing yards and added two touchdowns.  Charles became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards on less than 200 carries. Charles rushed for 5.9 YPC behind the same offensive line that looked so bad former Chiefs malcontent Larry Johnson (2.7 YPC).

Baltimore Ravens RB Willis McGahee – The veteran back came off the bench to pace the Ravens with 167 yards and three TDs (tied franchise record).  The Ravens piled-up over 240 rushing yards and McGahee had the play of the day on a long run.  Displaying power not seen in a while, on a 77-yard scoring run in the second quarter, the former Miami Hurricanes star threw Raiders safety Hiram Eugene to the ground with a Payton-esque stiff arm then sprinted the rest of the way to the endzone.

Other Honorees: NY Jets WR/QB Brad Smith (the NY Jets’ do-it-all former college quarterback had 92 yards rushing yards including a 32-yard TD run);Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo  (broke three team single-season passing records and finished with 311 yards and two touchdowns in a rout of the Eagles and threw 11 TD’s and 2 INTs in his last six games); Chicago Bears LB Tim Shaw (had 6 special teams tackles and had a forced a fumble/recovery on a kickoff); Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson (intercepted Cardinals QB Matt Leinart for his career-high ninth pick of the season and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown); Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd (made the most of his opportunity as the Chargers’ No. 1 wide receiver with Vincent Jackson getting the day off by finishing with a career-high nine catches and 140 yards); Chargers QB Billy Volek (led the Chargers to their 11th consecutive win by coming back on the Washington Redskins and threw a late touchdown).

Lloyd’s Lackey

The Philadelphia Eagles – In a game where the Eagles had the chance to win the NFC East title and claim the NFC’s #2 seed, the Birds “Mailed It In” and were shutout 24-0 – first shutout loss since Dec. 5, 2005.  Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid’s team will have to look at some awful film for their preparation for their return match-up with the Cowboys. There were dropped passes, penalties, overthrows, constant quarterback pressure on Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (4 sacks) wasted timeouts, bad interception attempts and missed assignments galore.  The Cowboys had 21 first downs to Philadelphia’s 10 and doubled them in time of possession.  Dallas rushed for 179 yards against the Eagles on just 32 carries for a sparkling 5.6 yards per carry average – only allowed 76 yards on 23 carries in a 20-16 loss in November to Dallas.  The Cowboys swept the Eagles for the first time since 2005.  The Eagles’ 6-game winning streak was snapped and they are now the NFC’s 6th seed and will have to play the confident Cowboys back in Dallas in the wildcard round.  Surprisingly after the blowout loss, McNabb blamed youth for a huge contributing factor in the loss.  “We showed our youth,” McNabb said. “We showed our youth in situations where everyone would begin to look around to see who was going to make the play instead of stepping up and making that play. That’s something that comes with the territory when you have a young group. I think at this time, having discussed it with the guys, everybody understands it.” — Better clean it up Eagles, because next week is a single elimination game and excuses won’t matter.

Other Dishonorees

Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco – After a week of bragging and “Tweeting” that he would show NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis, “How to play the game”, Ocho Stinko never showed up.  The Bengals’ talkative receiver was held to no catches (first time since September 29, 2002, a span of 120 games) and to make matters worse he tweaked his knee in warm-ups after slipping on the cold Meadowlands turf.  It was all roses to Revis after the game as Ochocinco tweeted, “@revis24-hands down u the best in the game, see you n 6 days bruh bruh, try giving out maps next time-its easy to get lost on that island!”

Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – Maybe the Bengals should have rested Palmer the whole game.  The former No. 1 over pick finished with career lows in completions (1), yards (0), and passer rating (1.7) in a horrible loss to the NY Jets on Sunday Night Football.

Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart – Another bad passing performance for a player that is looking more like a “flop” every time he takes the field.  Leinart finished with weak passing numbers of 13/21, 96 YDS, and 2 INTs in a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell – Once he entered the game, the Ravens knew they were going to win.  Russell looked tentative in the pocket as he threw for only 102 passing yards and had a drive-killing interception and lost fumble.

2009 NFL Week 17

Buffalo (6-10) over Indianapolis (14-2), 30-7 

Carolina (8-8) over New Orleans (13-3), 23-10 

Cleveland (5-11) over Jacksonville (7-9), 23-17  

Chicago (7-9) over Detroit (2-14), 37-23 

Houston (9-7) over New England (10-6), 34-27 

Pittsburgh (9-7) over Miami (7-9), 30-24 

Minnesota (12-4) over N.Y. Giants (8-8), 44-7 

San Francisco (8-8) over St. Louis (1-15), 28-6 

Atlanta (9-7) over Tampa Bay (2-14), 20-10 

Dallas (11-5) over Philadelphia (11-5), 24-0 

Green Bay (11-5) over Arizona (10-6), 33-7 

Kansas City (4-12) over Denver (8-8), 44-24 

Baltimore (9-7) over Oakland (5-11), 21-13 

San Diego (13-3) over Washington (4-12), 23-20 

Tennessee (8-8) over Seattle (5-11), 17-13 

N.Y. Jets (9-7) over Cincinnati (10-6), 37-0 

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 10 Review

Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was one of Lloyd’s Lackey’s for Week 10 of the 2009 NFL Season

The 2009 NFL Season has finally reached the double-digit week number portion of the schedule.  As the weeks keep fly by, the league keeps chugging along with a sense more than ever that soon enough playoff clarity will soon be upon us…well maybe.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (six teams with 2 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 3-6 to 5-4) that still need to figure out, real fast, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt.  This week also marked the last set of bye weeks with the Houston Texans and New York Giants both trying to heal-up for a stretch run, so now the “real” fun is about to start in the NFL.

Week 10’s headlines were dominated by a mega Sunday Night Football heavyweight match-up (Patriots-Colts) and a strong undercard (Bengals-Steelers, Eagles-Chargers, Cowboys-Packers, and Falcons-Panthers).  But there was one common theme that I saw during Week 10’s fifteen games. Like Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s No Place Like Home”.  For the first time in a while, we saw home teams including underdogs (Washington Redskins) fight back to regain home field advantage.  In fact, home teams were a combined 10-5 this weekend thus proving that you must defend your home turf in order to succeed in the NFL.  The trend started in the NFL’s first Thursday Night game of the season with the home team San Francisco 49ers beating the turnover prone Chicago Bears 10-6 on NFL Network. 

The game other than Bears QB Jay Cutler’s devastating 5 interceptions was rather boring, but there was some excitement at the end.  After Cutler and the Bears finally found their mojo – moved the ball all the way to San Francisco’s 12-yard line.  The Niners needed a great goalline stand culminating in safety Michael Lewis’ game-ending interception to hold on for the win. After the game, Cutler took most of the blame for the loss and said,  “It was tough. I have to apologize to the defense”.  He added, “I think the offense as a whole has to apologize. They played a great game and kept us in there even through all the turnovers.”   I know it was not Picasso, but to Niners head coach Mike Singletary he will take it as his team jumped right back into the playoff race.  It will now be real interesting to see if the Niners can catch the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals (lead by 2 games) or compete for a wildcard spot with teams like the Eagles, Giants, Falcons, and Panthers. 

The Niners home win was nice, but any game talk this week revolved around the Colts and Patriots super match-up as the two heated rivals played for the 10th time since 2002, including playoffs.  The Indianapolis Colts (9-0) continued their steady climb through their 16-game schedule by remaining undefeated by beating the New England Patriots by a score of 35-34 in an “Instant Classic”. Super Bowl XLIII ½, as some are calling it, was a thrilling game filled with plenty offense, solid defense, and strong quarterback play — two teams combined for 69 points and 884 combined net yards.  The game came down to the last seconds with Colts QB Peyton Manning (28-44, 327 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs) quickly hitting WR Reggie Wayne with a 1-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds on the clock to comeback from a 17-point deficit and an improbable of victory.  The Colts have now won 18 straight regular season games (2nd longest in NFL history) and have also won 11 straight home games (5-0 in 2009), which ties the second-longest home win streak in Colts’ history. 

But this game will forever be remembered for one play that could have very well marked the end of the dynasty for the team that has dominated this decade in the NFL.  New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with the situation of a 4th-and-2 at his own 28-yard line and the Patriots clinging to a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left on the clock, decided to go for it.  That’s right from very deep in his own side of the field, Belichick decided that his defense was not good enough to stop Manning from driving the Colts offense 70 to 80 yards for the winning score and disregarded an “obvious” punting situation.  As you probably already know…Belichick now looks like the 2009 reincarnation of former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer after gambling and losing.  On the crucial play, Patriots QB Tom Brady threw to RB Kevin Faulk and the Colts defense stopped him short from converting the first down.

After the game Belichick simply said, “I was trying to win the game”.  But his actions spoke much louder than his words.  It seems with veterans DT Richard Seymour, SS Rodney Harrison, LB Mike Vrabel, and others no longer on the Patriots defense, that the former 3-time Super Bowl champions’ defense can no longer be counted as one of the best in the NFL.  And apparently by his decision Belichick agrees too.  I am still scratching my head as to “how” fBelichick’s confidence in his defense has fallen that now their “genius” head coach’s decision is the subject of a national debate.  However the Patriots at a record of 6-3 and a 2-game lead in the AFC East are still firmly in the AFC’s playoff picture, but now there are more cracks in their armor.  We will have to wait and see, starting with the NY Jets in Week 11, if the Patriots can rebound from this colossal moment gone awry.  After the game, former Super Bowl-winning Colts head coach and current NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said, “In that situation…You have to punt the football”.  I totally agree coach and I know in hindsight, Belichick does too, even if the “Pompous One” will never admit it.

Here’s the current division breakdown after Week 10:

NFC East – Dallas Cowboys (6-3) have a 1-game lead over the Eagles (5-4) and Giants (5-4)

NFC West —Arizona Cardinals (6-3) have a 2-game lead over the Niners (4-5)

NFC South — New Orleans Saints (9-0) have a 4-game lead over the Falcons (5-4)

NFC North — Minnesota Vikings (8-1) have a 3-game lead over the Packers (4-5)

AFC East — New England Patriots (6-3) have a 2-game lead over the NY New Jets and Dolphins (4-5)

AFC West — Denver Broncos (6-3) are tied with the San Diego Chargers (5-3).  These two will square-off in Week 11 in Denver

AFC South — Indianapolis Colts (9-0) have a 4-game lead over the Houston Texans (5-4)

AFC North — Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) have a 1-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3).  The Bengals also hold the most important tiebreaker of head-to-head wins (2-0) over the Steelers

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

A changing of the guard in the AFC North – “WHO DEY…WHO DEY… Gonna beat them Bengals, Nobody”.  The Cincinnati Bengals 18-12 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers may have marked a complete turnaround from 2008 for Marvin Lewis’ team.  The Bengals (7-2) have gone from the bottom of the AFC North with a 2008 record of 4-11-1 to sweeping former AFC North bullies, the Steelers (6-3) and Baltimore Ravens (5-4).  The win marked the first time Cincy has swept the Steelers since 1988 and they are also 4-0 against both teams since the division’s inception in 2002.  The Bengals now have a commanding 5-0 division record and I have to admit, you can now count me as one of their believers.  The Bengals are now a complete team in all 3 phases of the game (offense, defense, and special teams) and it took a solid effort from each unit to pull off a win in tough Heinz Field.  The Bengals’ defense is no longer under the radar (ranked 2nd in points allowed with 16.3 ppg) and more attention is sure to come after holding the Steelers’ offense to 226 yards and four Josh Reed field goals.  The Bengals defense pressured Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger all game while forcing one interception and sacking Big Ben 4 times. The game’s offensive star definitely was Bengals rookie RB Bernard Scott, who scored the lone touchdown of the game with a 96-yard kickoff return in the first quarter – Steelers 7th return for a TD this year including three kickoff returns in their last four games. The news wasn’t all great for the Bengals as their leading rusher Cedric Benson left at halftime with a hip flexor causing Scott to fill-in in the second half (rushed for 33 yards on 13 carries and catch one pass for 21 yards). **Note with the news that Benson maybe out longer than expected, the Bengals signed RB Larry Johnson, who was recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson (turns 30 on Nov. 19th) has rushed for 5,996 yards and 55 touchdowns over a 7-year career.

Injuries, Injuries, and more Injuries – I say it every week, “The NFL Season is a War of Attrition” and Week 10 really proved that point.  The Philadelphia Eagles may have suffered the biggest blow of the week when RB Brian Westbrook suffered his 2nd concussion in less than 1 month in a close 31-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers.  By all indications, the Birds’ mercurial runner may have quite possibly played his last game for this season.  With the NFL’s recent poor history of combating concussions (see Congressional hearings regarding the handling of former NFL players’ concussions), the Eagles would be wise to put Westbrook on the self as his health is more important than anything else.  The multitude of other frontline injuries included:  Panthers OT Jordan Gross (ankle – season), Bengals RB Cedric Benson (hip), Bears TE Desmond Clark (neck), Niners LB Takeo Spikes (left hamstring), Browns WR/KR Josh Cribbs (neck), Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown (foot), Falcons RB Michael Turner (ankle), Broncos QB Kyle Orton (foot/ankle), Rams WR Keenan Burton (knee – season), Steelers DB Troy Polamalu (left knee), Saints CB Tracy Porter (knee) and Seahawks RB Julius Jones (bruised ribs).

Restoring the Roar – After a 0-2 start, many people around the NFL buried the Jacksonville Jaguars and their head coach Jack Del Rio.  But getting back to the philosophy (run the ball, play-action passing, tough attacking defense, and good special teams) that served them so well in their 2007 playoff run, the Jaguars have jumped back into the AFC Wildcard race with a 5-4 record.  This week the Jaguars again rode Maurice Jones-Drew aka “Pocket Hercules” (see Game Balls) to a huge 24-22 road over the NY Jets in the Meadowlands.  Jones-Drew and QB David Garrard kept the Jets’ defense on their heels the entire game and the Jags were able to close-out the win on a short field goal after MJD had the most unselfish play of the 2009 season.  The Jags still have to play the Colts (Week 15) and Patriots (Week 16), but four out of five of their other opponents have losing records.

What does $250,000 buy you….A one-finger salute – Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams pulled a “Bryan Cox” as he let the Buffalo Bills’ sideline have it.  Adams, 86 years young, stuck up both  out his middle fingers from the owner’s box during the Titans dominating 41-17 win over the Bills.  I don’t know what the Titans’ owner was thinking as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance at the game and you knew the “sheriff” was going to lay down the law.  The NFL wasn’t even thinking about only giving a little slap on the wrist for this one as Adams was fined $250,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league.”  Goodell said on Monday, “I’ve said before we’re held to a higher standard in the NFL, that includes yours truly. It includes our owners. It includes front-office people. It includes the players. Those are things we’ll continue to emphasize. And if people violate them, we’ll deal with it.”  Adams later apologized saying, “I got caught up in the excitement of a great day, but I do realize that those types of things shouldn’t happen. I need to specifically apologize to the Bills, their fans, our fans and the NFL”.  One party note on this story.  Wasn’t it not that long ago that the Patriots were fined 250K for “Spygate”.  I guess cheating is just as bad as giving someone the finger…right.

Fisher hits a milestone – One item that happened in the Titans win over the Bills that was more important than Adams’ salute to the Bills was Titans head coach Jeff Fisher hitting a big milestone.  Fisher became the 10th head coach in NFL history to coach 250 career games (regular and postseason) with one team.  The Titans’ victory gave Fisher 136 wins for his career, tying him with Hall of Famer and former KC Chiefs coaching legend Hank Stramm for 20th all-time.

How about those Saints – The Saints defeated the St. Louis Rams 28-23 and improved to 9-0 for the first time in franchise history.  The Saints also have scored an NFL-best 331 points, the fourth-most by a team in the first nine games of a season in NFL history.

Before we go to this week’s awards, our thoughts and prayers are with Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who is was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Game Balls

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – Every week, the self-dubbed “Every Coach’s Dream” just amazes the rest of the NFL. In the Titans’ 41-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, Johnson rushed for 132 yards and 2 TDs with a 5.08 ypc average.  The speedy back from East Carolina also had a Roger Craig-type performance catching 9 passes for 100 yards and marking the first 100-yard receiving and rushing game of his career.  Johnson now leads the NFL with 1,091 rushing yards and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.  The 2nd-year back also joined Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1963) and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (2007) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and average 6.4 yards per carry in a team’s first nine games of a season.

Honorable Mention

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew – Pocket Hercules rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown (33 yards) in the Jags win over the NY Jets. Jones-Drew was the key ingredient to the Jags’ second win in a row from the start of the game.  He ran the ball on Jacksonville’s first five plays and totaled 55 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown to open the scoring.  But his biggest play wasn’t even a touchdown.  To the delight of Jags head coach Jack Del Rio and the dismay of his fantasy football owners, Jones-Drew did not score an “easy” touchdown late to run out the clock and setup a game-winning field goal.  MJD took a handoff at the 10-yard line on the game’s final drive and darted towards the end zone, but took a knee at the 1-yard line with 1:48 left (shades of Brian Westbrook in 2007). The Jaguars were able to run the clock down with the Jets out of timeouts and won the game on a short Josh Scobey field goal.

Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson – The former Heisman Trophy winner spurred the Packers defensive effort in a 17-7 home win over the Dallas Cowboys.  Woodson was everywhere as Cowboys quarterback was in distress constantly.  The former first-round pick from Michigan contributed 9 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception as the Packers kept the Cowboys from scoring until late in the 4th quarter.

Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – It would not be a Game Balls report without putting the surefire 2009 NFL MVP on our list.  Manning was his classic stoic self as the Colts fought back from a 17-point deficit to surprising beat the New England Patriots 35-34 in Sunday’s biggest game.  Manning finished with numbers 28-44, 327 yards (reached 300 yards in 8 of 9 games this season), 4 TDs, and 2 INTs plus reached another big milestone in the win.  The 3-time MVP quarterback won his 13th consecutive game when passing for 300 yards, tying NFL legend Y.A Tittle for the third-most consecutive wins when reaching the 300-yard passing mark.

San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – Before the game started against the Philadelphia Eagles, Tomlinson was already a winner as he learned of his wife’s pregnancy with their first child.  L.T then went out and rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns – beset performance of the 2009 season — in the Chargers’ 31-23 win against Eagles.  In the game, Tomlinson reached the milestone of recording his 145th and 146th career touchdown to surpass Hall of Famer Marcus Allen (145) for the third-most touchdowns all-time.  Tomlinson also now has 12,145 career rushing yards moving him into 12th place for most rushing yards all-time.

New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush – The Saints are on a roll and so is their multi-threat speedster.  Bush rushed for 83 yards on eight attempts, including a 55-yard run bursting through tackles in the Saints’ 28-23 win over the scrappy St. Louis Rams. He also scored one rushing touchdown and added a 15-yard scoring reception. Bush and the Saints are now 9-0 for the first time in club history.

Other Honorees: Arizona Cardinal QB Kurt Warner (Threw 2 TDs in the Cardinals’ 31-20 in against the Seattle Seahawks giving him 200 touchdown passes.  Warner reached the mark in his 118th career game, becoming the fifth-fastest player in NFL history to accomplish the feat); Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre (Passed for a season-high 344 yards in his 300th consecutive start (including postseason) in a 27-10 win over the Detroit Lions.  Favre’s 344 yards are the third-most passing yards in a game by a 40-year old quarterback in NFL history trailing only Hall Famer Warren Moon (409) and Vinny Testaverde (355); Buffalo Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd (Registered his eighth interception of the season in a loss to the Titans.  Byrd now has an interception in five consecutive games and is one of only two players since 1970 with an interception in five consecutive games in their first season in the NFL); Seattle Seahawks RB Justin Forsett (Rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown after starter Julius Jones’ left the game); Redskins P Hunter Smith (Threw his first career touchdown pass on a fake field goal as he connected with RB Mike Sellers on a 35-yard score); Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (Who needs LJ.  Charles had his second-career 100-yard rushing day in the Chiefs win over the Raiders (18 rushes for 103 yards, 5.7 ypc, and 1 TD — 45-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter)

Lloyd’s Lackey

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – C’mon did you think I was going to select anyone else after his horrible gambling mistake.  Say it with me, “PUNT THE FOOTBALL”.  I still cannot believe a head coach that has been to five Super Bowls (won 3) had such a brain cramp to be put in the same league as Barry Switzer.

Dishonorable Mention

Titans Owner Bud Adams – His aforementioned 1-finger salute to Bills was unnecessary.  I hope it was worth the 250K fine from the NFL.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid – Some things never change as the Birds called 57 pass plays (55 passes and 2 sacks) while only running it 13 times in a bad road loss to the San Diego Chargers.  They also squandered timeouts making it easy for the Chargers to burn the clock.  As one of loyal and frustrated Eagles e-mailers wrote me, “Year 11 of a five-year plan”.

The Oakland Raiders – Another week, another embarrassment for Al Davis’s team.  The Raiders were unable to overcome 10 penalties for 88 yards their loss to the Chiefs.. Several of the flags proved costly as three of them gave the Chiefs a first down and three more negated Raiders first downs.  Also Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell was rightfully benched after an 8-23 for 64 yards passing performance.  Hope beleaguered head coach Tom Cable has his resume ready for a possible UFL job.

Oakland Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – I wonder if the Raiders still would take DHB (10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft) over emerging receivers Jeremy Maclin (Eagles) and Michael Crabtree (SF 49ers).  Heyward-Bey had only 1 catch for 22 yards plus he helped the Chiefs close the game out too.  With 30 seconds to play, fittingly Heyward-Bey had a pass clank off his chest to Chiefs S Mike Brown for a game-ending interception.

Week 10

Thursday, November 12

SF 49ers (4-5) over Bears (4-5), 10-6 

Sunday, November 15

Bengals (7-2) over Steelers (6-3), 18-12

Cardinals (6-3) over Seahawks (3-6), 31-20

Chargers (6-3) over Eagles (5-4), 31-23

Chiefs (2-7) over Raiders (2-7), 16-10

Colts (9-0) over Patriots (6-3), 35-34

Dolphins (4-5) over Buccaneers (1-8), 25-23

Jaguars (5-4) over Jets (4-5), 24-22

Packers (5-4) over Cowboys (6-3), 17-7

Panthers (4-5) over Falcons (5-4), 28-19

Redskins (3-6) over Broncos (6-3), 27-17

Saints (9-0) over Rams (1-8), 28-23

Titans (3-6) over Bills (3-6), 41-17

Vikings (8-1) over Lions (1-8), 27-10

Monday, November 9

Ravens (5-4) at Browns (1-8), 16-0

Byes: Giants (5-4), Texans (5-4)

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)