GAMES I WATCHED
Indianapolis Colts over New England Patriots, 18-15
This was one of the most frustrating losses the Patriots have suffered in a regular season game in long, long while. In a season without Tom Brady and parity in the AFC, where the playoff race is going to be extremely tight and likely decided by tie breakers, every single game at this juncture of the season in the AFC for the contenders is critical. A team just absolutely cannot afford to beat themselves. And that is just what the Patriots uncharacteristically did in very winnable game, against an unusually beatable Indianapolis Colts.
There are three reasons we lost a very winnable game.
Belichick Bungles: Let me say I think Bill Belichick is the best coach in the league and has done a great job of keeping the Patriots on the road to the playoffs despite losing Tom Brady. Usually his game management is spot on. Against the Colts I have no idea what he was thinking. First, he wasted a timeout on a challenge saying there were 12 men on the field when, (a) the replay shows the Colt player got off the field on time, and (b) it was an inconsequential penalty anyway. Second, I don’t totally disagree with the move, but I’m not sure why he went for a two point conversion leading 12-7 when we could have secured a two field goal lead with an extra point. And then, he didn’t challenge the play when Faulk was ruled short of the goal line when it appeared he probably made it. And most infuriating, the Patriots were going for it on 4th and 1 and we made it!! But, Belichick had called a timeout and then kicked a field goal instead. What was he thinking??? Make up your mind and stick with it. I just wanted to cry. (In his press conference Belichick said he didn’t realize how far we needed to go to get the first down and changed his mind.)
Gaffney’s Gaff. I’ve seen Jabbar Gaffney make some amazing, acrobatic catches, including an unbelievable one in a loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship game two years ago. In the third quarter Matt Cassel lays a ball right in his silly little hands, which would have been a sure touchdown, but he dropped it! At that point I almost cried.
Big Penalty on David Thomas: I know technically Thomas’s late hit after the play was over at the end of the fourth quarter was a penalty. But the poor guy didn’t hear the whistle and was just blocking and doing his job. This play took us out of field goal range and basically lost the game for us. I’m not going to complain about the call because it was obvious and you can’t complain about it, except to say any time the Dolts are involved in a game, the officiating is always going to favor them. It did on our two-point conversion as well.
The bright spots in this game? Matt Cassel played well and seems to be improving as they year progresses. We still have trouble in the red zone but his pass to Gaffney was perfect and would have resulted in a touchdown had Gaffney just caught the ball! Our defensive backs didn’t get completely torched by Peyton Manning and his minions. And Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are doing a good job in the running game.
Losing games you should win is no fun. Now I know how the Redskins fans felt last year.
MVP: Adam Vinateri, K, Indianapolis Cots. 52 yard game willing field goal.
Tennessee Titans over Green Bay Packers, 19-16
The Tennessee Titans continue to make believers of the doubters out there (and I used to one of them). They have a stout, solid defense, a superior offensive line, an awesome two back attack, and they can pass the ball when they need to. Good defense and a good running game most often leads to a good record and championships.
While the Titans have not be a dominating team this year, they are sporting an 8-0 record and have done just enough to win in the close games they have been in. The key to this game was very simple: two turnovers by Green Bay (an interception and a fumble by Aaron Rodgers) equals a win in a close game for the Titans.
Chris Johnson continues to be a very impressive rookie running back. And even though Kerry Collins was a bit off at times, he made the plays in the passing game when he needed to. Chris Carr, the Titans kick returner, is one of the best in the league and has been consistently giving the Titans good field position on kickoff returns.
I am not sure what was up with Greg Jennings, the speedy Green Bay receiver. He seemed to be out of sync with Rodgers, dropped balls, and couldn’t get open. I know Cortland Finnegan is one of the best cornerbacks in the league but Jennings was just awful.
MVP: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans. 161 total yards, 1 touchdown
New York Giants over Dallas Cowboys, 35-14
What a difference a quarterback makes. I know the Cowboys were struggling before Tony Romo got hurt, but Brad Johnson and now Brooks Bollinger are just awful, awful, awful. Granted the offensive line didn’t help much as Justin Tuck and the defense ate up the line of scrimmage, but even when they had time these two quarterbacks were ineffective or throwing interceptions. Leonard Davis, my all pro left guard, probably would have lost his spot on my Mid-Season All Pro Team had I made the picks after today because he was terrible, as was the entire offensive line.
Dallas in a deep, deep trouble. Johnson and Bollinger are making me glad the New England Patriots have Matt Cassel.
MVP: Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants
Pittsburgh Steelers over Washington Redskins, 23-6
The Titans defense is good. The Giants have the best defensive line in the league. The Ravens have given up a lot of points at times but they are a force to be reckoned with across the board, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most ferocious defense in the league. Last week, in a loss to the Giants, I said they were the best unit on the field that day. And the Pittsburgh defense once again stormed the field and took no prisoners. They absolutely mauled the Redskins offense from start to finish. The Steelers have the best quartet of linebackers in the league so I will give them a shout out here: James Harrison (who could be in the running for my end of year defensive player of the year), LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons.
Pittsburgh started the game with a gutsy onside kick that failed but the Redskins could only produce a field goal. The next series saw Big Ben throw an interception on a tipped pass and the Redskins were once again in good field position, but the Steelers defense again held them to a field goal. The Steelers weren’t doing much on offense in the first half either as the Redskins have a very solid but unheralded defense themselves, but a blocked punt late in the first half turned into a touchdown and was a turning point in the game. Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger further injured his shoulder on his quarterback sneak for the score and was out of the game and it is unclear how severe his injury was.
Byron Leftwich came in and played quite well in the second half and threw a beautiful 50 yard bomb to Nate Washington on the opening drive of the third quarter, which eventually resulted in another touchdown and an insurmountable 16-6 lead the way the Steelers defense was playing (Jeff Reed missed the extra point).
Now let’s talk about Big Ben. I am rather surprised that people are still on the Big Ben bandwagon saying he is the best quarterback in the league or an all pro. To me he’s playing poorly. He is holding the ball too long and taking big hits. He makes as many bad plays for the team as good ones. Don’t get me wrong, I like Big Ben, and have a lot of affinity for him. He has the potential to be a great quarterback. But he’s got to be a quicker decision maker and get rid of the ball faster. I hope he heals fast for Pittsburgh’s sake. While Leftwich played well last night, he’s not the answer at QB.
MVP: James Farrior, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Arizona Cardinals: I said several weeks ago I thought Edgerrin James had lost some speed and wasn’t getting to the hole quickly and that I was impressed by rookie Tim Hightower. It’s been talked about recently in the press that Hightower would likely be the starter soon so it was no surprise that he got the starting job this week. But I was shocked that James didn’t even get one carry. Reports are he bad mouthed the coaches and got in the doghouse. This is likely Edge’s last run as a starter or premier RB in the league barring injury on other teams. He obviously is unlikely to be a Cardinal next year. I think he probably has a few good years left in him as a secondary back. It would be nice to see him part of this newly exiting team as they move into the playoff race.
Browns go with Brady Quinn. I don’t necessarily disagree with this decision but I feel sorry for Anderson. Anderson’s receivers have been awful this year. Braylon Edwards drops so many passes that were he a third WR instead of the first, he’d probably have been cut by now. And Kellen Winslow, Jr. was called a distraction by his coach. If the receivers don’t play any better than they have up to this point, Quinn won’t do any better. It is a team game, after all. Will Brady Quinn be a winner or a bust like the last first round QB drafted out of Notre Dame ? Remember who that was? None other than Rick Mirer who, thank goodness, Bill Parcels passed over in favor of Drew Bledsoe when he was the head coach of the New England Patriots.
Goodell’s Canned Interviews are a Joke. NFL.com ran a “ask the commissioner” interview segment a few weeks ago. It’s such an obviously scripted and canned joke it makes me sick. I used to like Goodell. I am now starting to tire of his heavy handed tactics. Why waste our time and insult our intelligence with this corporate, scripted nonsense? I notice they are doing another one soon. I won’t be wasting my time on it.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player: Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Player: John Abraham, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Offensive Lineman: Kevin Maewae, C, Tennessee Titans
Special Teams: Adam Vinateri, K, Indianapolis Colts
Rookie of the Week: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans