My comments on Thanksgiving Day games can be found here: https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/2009-nfl-season-week-12-thanksgiving-day-special/
GAMES I WATCHED
New Orleans Saints over New England Patriots, 38-17
This was the marquee matchup of the weekend and it didn’t live up to its hype. The Saints spanked the Patriots like an unwanted step child.
The shellacking the Patriots took at the hands of the Saints was a nasty reality check for New England Patriots fans. We must face the fact the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, and even the Indianapolis Colts, are the elite teams in the league this year. We are a notch below, along with a handful of other teams, peeking our head over the windowsill wondering how we got left out the party.
I’ll dispense with comments on the Saints in this game by simply saying they are a great team. Drew Brees is absolutely phenomenal and had an unbelievable performance. And defensive coordinator Greg Williams had a brilliant game plan and has really turned this defense around. I’ve been utterly impressed with the Saints all year long and suffering through this game left me even more impressed. I expect to see a Saints versus Vikings matchup in the NFC Championship Game. And if it turns out anything like the wild game they had in the regular season last year, it should be wildly entertaining.
Now on to the Patriots and what to make of the fiasco we witnessed on Monday night.
Let’s start with the offensive, the most fixable problem we face the rest of the season and into the playoffs, which we should reach. The offense has become utterly predictable. The Saints simply dropped numerous players in coverage and took away the short passing game and Wes Welker, and mostly blanketed Randy Moss. They were able to get decent pressure on Brady, especially in the second half, with only a four man rush. This was partially because of injuries on our offensive line, which hopefully will get back in shape by seasons’ end. But the Patriots’ offense appears pretty easy to scheme against these days. We abandon the run way too soon and in the second half, like last week against the Jets, it was bombs away with nobody to throw the ball to. We need to at least mix up our plays a bit throughout the game and come up with less predictable or more creative schemes to get receivers open. That’s not to say the offense is bad. We scored 17 points against the Saints and really should have had more but for a few errant throws and interceptions by Brady. But nevertheless, we need to address this. Charlie Weis anyone?
Our defense right now is in a complete rebuilding mode. Most of our starting defensive backs are young players or recent starters and it shows. They have been frequently out of place and burned all year by most teams we’ve faced. We have just gotten by with it, for the most part, because the offense has been putting up enough points to cover for them. The lousy play by the defensive backs was painfully evident on numerous blown coverages against the Saints. They should be embarrassed. I hope they are.
Adding to our woes on defense we cannot get a pass rush or pressure the quarterback. Drew Brees had enough time in the pocket to eat a steak dinner and down a few drinks, much less throw the ball to his outstanding corps of receivers. What happened to Adalius Thomas? He has completely disappeared as a playmaker on this defense.
Overall the defense played like it was on a 0-16 team, not a championship caliber team. Now people don’t need to wonder why Bill Belichick went for it on fourth and two to try to preserve the game against the Colts two weeks ago, after Manning torched the defense for two long drives in no time. A punt might have been giving the game away.
The defense, as noted earlier, is in a rebuilding phase and I suspect it will take some time for it to come around. Unfortunately, it won’t likely be anytime soon, and not in time for a significant playoff run.
MVP: Drew Brees, QB
Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 27-24
I will say this about the Redskins, all these new players finding themselves in starting roles are playing very hard and being competitive. Even though the Redskins are losing some close games, at least they don’t look as pathetic as they did earlier in the season. They actually look like they belong in the NFL these days. The oft maligned Jason Campbell played reasonably well other than his two interceptions to Asante Samuel.
This was a game that the Redskins could have won but the Eagles just simply pulled it out at the end. Despite a talented group of receivers, the Eagles seem to greatly miss Brian Westbrook in the lineup. They just aren’t the same. And putting Michael Vick in to run plays seemed mostly counterproductive. It slowed the momentum of the offense.
Hats off to London Fletcher, the Redskins’ middle linebacker. He has been playing All Pro caliber defense all year long, as has Eagles’ defense end Trent Cole.
Finally, while his statistics don’t pop off the page, my MVP goes to Eagles’ wide receiver Jason Avant, whose two big catches in the fourth quarter jumpstarted the offense and the Eagles to their tying touchdown.
MVP: Jason Avant, WR
Minnesota Vikings over Chicago Bears, 36-10
I really felt this game was over before it really started. It turned out pretty much exactly as I expected it to. The Bears defense has not been great this year and the offense, especially Jay Cutler, has been subpar. But really, it’s the Bears offensive line that has been atrocious. I assume that Orlando Pace was sitting on the sideline in the second half because he was benched for poor play. I feel really badly for Pace in some ways. In his prime he was an outstanding left tackle. But injuries and time spent in the NFL getting pounded on every week has clearly made him past his prime. For his sake I hope to see him retire this year. It’s time.
Meanwhile, Cutler threw his obligatory two interceptions during the game and his receivers did nothing to help him. And what happened to Matt Forte?
The Bears are in big, big trouble going forward. They gave up a boatload of draft picks for Jay Cutler and are in such desperate need of help in so many areas that it may be years before we see this team win again, especially if the Cutler we see now is what we can expect in the future.
Brett Favre had another excellent day, and rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin lit up the field with six catches for 101 yards and touchdown.
MVP: Brett Favre, QB
Baltimore Ravens over Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-17 OT
Baltimore eked out a win against the Steelers and finally won a close game. They keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But Ravens fans shouldn’t get too excited. There is no reason that the Ravens should have had to go into overtime when the Steelers were starting a third string quarterback. They continue to play down to the level of their competition.
That’s not to say that second year quarterback Dennis Dixon from the University of Oregon had a bad game. He actually played quite well. While the Steelers obviously altered their game plan a bit for him, he did throw the ball, and mostly well, throughout the game. He also made a few nice plays with his legs. I think he has some potential. I felt sorry for him when he threw and interception in overtime that set up the Ravens for the win, but that’s how it goes.
The Ravens offense struggled a bit with the Steelers defense, but who doesn’t. I would say that Michael Oher and Jarred Gaither had a tough time against the Steelers linebackers, but who doesn’t? For the most part they played really well, but there were stretches of time where I they were getting beat. And if Michael Oher, both last week and this week sure looks like he is moving before the ball is snapped on almost every play, but I guess he’s not since the officials aren’t calling it.
Overall this was a very interesting game given the circumstances. I’m not surprised the Ravens won, I’m just surprised they found it so difficult to do so.
MVP: Ray Rice, RB
If I did a power ranking, the New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Indianapolis Colts would be the top three teams, in that order. There are several teams just below them.
Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Vince Young had outstanding performances. Vince Young? He’s won five straight games as the starter for the Titans and has looked really good doing it. I wonder if he is going to make me eat my words that he will never be a good starting quarterback in the NFL?
I don’t recall the last highly touted wide receiver out of Florida that wasn’t a bust in the NFL. I’m sure someone will tell me who it is. But Percy Harvin is certainly breaking that streak.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Ryan Clady, T, Denver Broncos
Special Teams: LaRod Stephens-Howling, KR, Arizona Cardinals
Rookie of the Week: Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings