2010 NFL Football Season: Week Four Observations

Patrick Chung

The big theme of the last two weeks was the huge days wide receivers have put up, with Terrell Owens of the Cincinnati Bengals snagging ten catches for 122 yards and a touchdown this week.

And Josh Scobee’s 59 yard field goal allowing the Jacksonville Jaguars to put up a big win against the Indianapolis Cots got upstaged on special teams Monday night by Patrick Chung’s heroics.

And of this writing, of course, the New England Patriots trade of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings is the story of the week. But I will save that for later.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Miami Dolphins, 41-14

First, fellow Patriots fans should not get overly excited about our defense after this win. They are still awful. Miami pretty much moved the ball on us at will most of the game and in the second half gave up a long touchdown run to Ricky Williams. Rob Ninkovich’s two interceptions stopped drives, yes, but until Miami got way behind in the second half, our defense still looked vulnerable.

The big story of this game was simple: special teams. Kick off return for a touchdown, block punt setting up good field position for another touchdown, block field goal ran back for a touchdown. Sweet! But we won’t do that every week and our defense is still a work in progress.

Our offense was efficient but didn’t have the greatest first half, especially in the red zone. But when Miami scored in the second half to inch closer, Brady engineered an excellent drive for a touchdown that pretty much sealed the game.

For Miami much of the blame was placed on the Chad Henne. He has seen his better days at a quarterback, and played poorly once his team got behind, but I think he’ll bounce back. I liked his attitude after the game in the press conference, taking some blame and saying he’ll get better. The special teams coach was also fired. And there were a lot of bright spots for Miami. The Patriots took away Brandon Marshall, but Davone Best had a great day. And Patriots left tackle Matt Light had a horrible time against Miami Linebacker/Defensive End Cameron Wake. That kid had an unstoppable motor until late in the game.

To me, Miami seems to be a slightly above mediocre team with a lot of upside. Unfortunately, I would say the Patriots defensive this year has been a slightly below mediocre team, but they do have a huge upside in their youth, speed, and raw talent.

But this was the Patrick Chung show with the blocked punt, blocked field goal, and pick six late in the game. Oh, and let’s not forget Woody, or Woodhead, and no this not a plug for an erectile dysfunction drug. Thank you Jets.

So let’s not spoil this with talking about the Randy Moss trade which I will leave for another time.

MVP: Patrick Chung, SS

Baltimore Ravens over Pittsburgh Steelers, 17-14

This was a brutal, hard hitting, defensive game and the Ravens managed to come out top, mainly because their defense played extremely well. The Steelers squandered two scoring opportunities off of Ravens’ turnovers and Jeff Reed missed two field goals, which were really the difference in the game. While the Ravens still gave up some yards in the running and passing game, they mostly played great when it counted. Two road wins against division opponents, even if one of them was an improving Cleveland Browns team, puts the Ravens where the want to be four games into the season.

And Pittsburgh must be thrilled to have survived four games with a 3-1 record while Ben Rottenberger served his three game suspension for egregiously bad and probably criminal behavior toward a female college student in the off season. It’s rather interesting that both defenses gave up scoring drives late in the fourth quarter, with Baltimore having the ball last and the last laugh as they waltz out of Heinz Field with a victory in hand. But I think the Steelers are still the team to beat in that division. While you can only greatly admire the excellent play of Charlie Batch, this offense should be more explosive with Big Ben at the helm.

It’s hard to choose an MVP for this game because it was a real team effort across the board. But cornerback Lardarius Webb broke up to sure touchdowns to Mike Wallace so that’s my guy.

The AFC Central should come down to the wire and expect both of these two teams to be in the playoffs. And I have to say, the Steelers are scary good with Big Ben coming back and Rashard Mendenhall finally looking like the running back he was drafted to be.

MVP: Lardarius Webb, CB


Washington Redskins over Philadelphia Eagles, 17-12

After seeing about one full game of Kevin Kolb this season I have one word to say – awful. What Andy Reid sees in Kolb I have no idea. He was awful in the first half of the first game of the season before sustaining a concussion and he was awful against the Redskins when he came on in relief of Michael Vick. It’s pretty clear why Andy Reid made the smart move and started Vick. I’ve heard pundits make all kinds of excuses for Kolb’s performance but he clearly does not see the field well and misses wide open receivers he should hit under the type of pressure any quarterback is going to face. And it is also clear the coaches don’t trust him because as soon as he enters the game the offense becomes screens and short dump off passes with a few runs mixed in. The only time they finally opened the offense up a little bit is when they got behind. And for the most part Kolb could not deliver. Going into this season I was a big believer in Kevin Kolb. Not anymore.

I will say this for him though. He does have a good arm and he put the ball right in Jason Avant’s hand on the hail marry at the end of the game. Avant should have caught the ball for a stunning win.

And while we are on the Eagles, linebacker Quintin Mikell should be benched. He was lousy throughout the game and was the worst defensive player I saw this week. And I only had to laugh when I saw Asante Samuel and his half-hearted, make believe attempts to make a tackle. And then getting hurt on one. I remember when he was with the Patriots a few times I even saw him run away from big running backs with a head of steam.

The Redskins played relatively well but the Eagles soft defense made them look a little better than they probably are. They ran the ball well, and once Donovan McNabb settled down a bit in what had to be an emotional day for him, he played well enough to win. But his inaccuracy, which has plagued him throughout his career, was certainly on display for large parts of the day. The running game helped the Redskins offense out a lot. And I do wonder when Ryan Torain will simply be named the starter over Clinton Portis. Portis ran well but he stays hurt, which is unfortunate but not uncommon for an older running back with the kind of mileage he has being a featured back for so many years.

And linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was a beast on special teams! He was jacking people up left and right.

At the end of the day, despite not having off the chart stats, I felt Ryan Torian’s running sealed the deal.

MVP: Ryan Torain, RB


New York Giants over Chicago Bears 17-3

I can not remember a worse performance by an offensive line in my lifetime as the Chicago Bears displayed on Sunday night. That was such a pathetic, embarrassing, and atrocious performance I’d be utterly ashamed were I on that unit. And again I heard pundits making excuses that it’s Mike Martz’s system, blah blah blah. I don’t care what system you are in, or what your offensive scheme is, if you have an offensive line that blocks that badly you are going to lose, badly.

I don’t like Jay Cutler and his petulant attitude but I really felt sorry for him against the Giants. He had no prayer in the backfield. The Giants defensive line was left to basically tee off on him until he was knocked out of the game. And then they knocked Todd Collins out of the game. Had I been third string quarterback Caleb Hanie, after seeing the massacre on the field, I might have turned in my helmet and shoulder pads and quit the NFL for good before trotting on the field and putting my life on the line against a basically unblocked Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

And that, really, is the story of the game. The Giants were not utterly impressive on offense facing a good Bears defense, but Ahmad Bradshaw did have a solid game. But the Bears defense was pretty much worn out toward the end of the game. I have no idea how good the Giants were in this game, I just know how bad the Bears offensive line was.

MVP: Justin Tuck, DE


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Terrell Owens, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Defensive Player: Justin Tuck, DE, New York Giants
Offensive Lineman: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams: Patrick Chung, SS, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 NFL Football Season: Week One Observations

Wes Welker Scores Against the Bengals

A new season is upon us and it should be an exiting one.

In the NFC we wonder if the New Orleans Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions, if all the hoopla over the Dallas Cowboys will end again in ignominy, if Brett Favre can take a depleted receiving corps back to the playoffs, if the San Francisco are as good as advertised, and how will the only rookie starting quarterback in the league, Sam Bradford, fare in St. Louis?

The AFC appears to be even more wide open than the NFC. Several teams have a legitimate shot at Super Bowl glory. The New England Patriots with a healthy and hot Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss and a young defense should improve over the year and be a contender. The New York Jets and their slothful undisciplined coach say they are the heirs to the AFC East. The Baltimore Ravens are loaded on offense and their defense looks as good as ever. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has proven to be as formidable as ever and when Big Ben gets back their offense should improve. The Indianapolis Colts are always a tough team and the Houston Texans are emerging. Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers may or may not slip. They are in the weakest division in the AFC and despite losing their opener, will likely have a spot in the playoffs.

Before jumping in the games I watched this, a few big picture headlines that week one revealed.

  • Brady, Welker, Moss and the offense are back and as good as ever.
  • New Orleans appears to have started right where they left off last year, with a powerful offense and defense that is solid. They are the favorites to emerge from the NFC.

  • Minnesota, after the tiresome annual saga of Brett Favre’s retirement dance, suddenly found themselves without receivers. Their defense is solid but their opening salvo on offense bodes ill for their chances this season.

  • Thankfully, for once, we won’t have the annual will the Indianapolis Colts go undefeated as they spank the teams in their weak division. Houston hung a loss on the Colts, and if their offense line continues to struggle, Peyton Manning is in for a long season.

  • Will Michael Vick be the Eagles starter this season?

  • San Francisco is not as good as we thought they were.

  • Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot.

  • Finally, for the most part the defenses in the league seem to have started the season a step ahead of the offenses. This is likely to change as the season progresses but as someone who loves the defensive side of the ball, it was refreshing to see.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24

One word: Welker.

It was a very happy sight to see Wes Welker looking like, well, Wes Welker, after his amazingly fast recover from reconstructive knee surgery after suffering an injury in the last game of the season last year. WELKER! WELKER! WELKER!

Tom Brady also looked very sharp in this game, as did the entire offense. It was good to see a little bit of the running game back in the game plan, although I still think they could run the ball even more. Fred Taylor seemed to have fresh legs in the first half and the running back by committee approach worked. And I continue to be amazed at how older players like third down back Kevin Faulk can continue to be so effective.

What was also heartening to see is the very young defense with two rookie starting cornerbacks holding up well against the powerful Cincinnati Bengals offense with two of the best receivers in the league. I did get somewhat worried in the second half when the Bengals had two back to back sustained scoring drives. Barring injury I expect the defense to continue to improve as the season progresses. While it was not a lock down defense, it was good enough to win this game.

And Brandon Tate! His kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half was crucial, as it turned out, to extend the lead. Instead of providing even more momentum for the Patriots, it almost seemed like the Patriots players thought the game was over and played really rather poorly in the third quarter. The defense suddenly looked vulnerable and the offense didn’t do much either.

The Patriots played a very good all around game while the Bengals really didn’t get started until the second half. But for us Patriots fans the story was Wes Welker.

As a side note, good riddance Baloney Lauren Maroney. And don’t worry about Randy Moss, he’ll be fine.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR


New Orleans over Minnesota Vikings, 14-9

There are really a lot of storylines to this game.

The Saints look like a Super Bowl team. While their offense did struggle a bit their two scoring drives were dominant and once they started running the ball in the second half, they locked the game up. If they can continue to mix in a solid running game with their vaunted passing attack they will be very difficult to beat this season.

The Saints’ offensive line was the most dominant unit in the game and the best I saw all weekend. Guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans, along with center Jonathan Goodwin, completely dominated Minnesota’s defensive tackles, Pat and Kevin Williams. Maybe the Williams boys need to get back on that supplement that almost cost them a suspension. They got punked in this game. And I really have to give a huge shout out to Jermon Bushrod. He totally handled my 2009 defensive player of the year Jared Allen entirely on this own. Last year I got a lot of criticism for favoring Carl Nicks over Jahri Evans as my All Pro guard. I did so because last year Nicks often had to help Bushrod, who really was the weak link on the offensive line. I don’t know if this is a one game stellar effort by Bushrod or if he has really improved that much. If continues this level of play the Saints may even be better this year than last.

In the second half the Saints finally started running the ball with Pierre Thomas, who ate up the clock and moved the chains. He has solid performance behind the dominant offensive line and I felt it was a great change of pace by Sean Peyton.

Minnesota, meanwhile, looked awful on offense. With Sydney Rice out for at last half the season and Percy Harvin ailing and running lousy routes, there really were no receivers open to throw to. Bernard Berrian looked awful in preseason and woeful in this game as well. He seems to have completely disappeared. I was surprised Greg Camarillo did not see more action in the slot.

Minnesota’s defense did not play up to their usual standards on the defensive line but they settled down and did manage to hold the Saints to 14 points. They are battling injuries in the secondary and Antoine Winfield is also coming off an injury plagued 2009 and really did not play up to his usual standards. It was great to see linebacker E.J. Henderson back in the lineup and playing extremely well after suffering a gruesome broken femur last year. I though his career was likely over, but clearly it’s not.

Minnesota is likely to continue to struggle on offense unless the receivers get their heads out of their ass and start playing football.

While Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are better and played wonderfully, I am giving the most valuable player award here to Jermon Bushrod for handling Jared Allen.

MVP: Jermon Bushrod, T

Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles, 27-20

Let the quarterback controversy begin! The Eagles offense looked absolutely miserable in the first half. Kevin Kolb was harassed and the receivers weren’t really getting open but he wasn’t doing much either. I am not sure if it is because Michael Vick kept entering the game and did not allow Kolb to establish a rhythm or something else, but once he sustained a concussion and Vick took over the offense came to life. But, that was mostly because of Vick’s legs. His running really broke the game open for the offense even though they still fell short in the end.

It will be fascinating to see what transpires this season now that Kolb might be out for a few games and Vick will be the starter. If Vick is successful it will be hard for Andy Reid not to keep him behind center once Kolb is healthy. But you know what? Vick will never lead a team to the promised land (although he has sent quite a few dogs to doggie heaven). His success in this game was mostly his running ability. Just like in Atlanta, once teams scheme against him, his inaccurate passing and poor decision making will catch up with him. Yes, he may have a rocket arm and can throw the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, but Eagles’ fans should not get too giddy over the possibilities. Unless he continues to be a running quarterback he will not be that dynamic, and eventually teams will catch up with the Eagles if Vick is at the helm.

Green Bay didn’t really look all the wonderful either. The offensive tackles had a hard time handling the rush but they did manage a couple of really nice touchdown drives. The star of the game was Clay Matthews, Jr. who was all over the place on defense and recorded a couple of sacks.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, 13-7

GOAT: Jason Garrett. And no, that is not for “greatest of all time” but idiot. I am sure everyone has seen the play by now, but at the end of the first half, in bad field position, with little time left on the clock, the Cowboys ran a short sideline route to Tashard Choice who ended up fumbling the ball which was returned for a Redskins touchdown and was the difference in the game. What made this play so stupid? First, the Redskins offense was doing absolutely nothing and had only a 3-0 lead. Scores were clearly going to be a premium in this game and with so little time left on the clock, the smart move was simply to run the time off the clock and regroup in the second half. Secondly, the play had no chance of even netting enough yards to get into field goal range. It was stupid play call, period, for that situation.

What this play and head coach Wade Phillips’ comments after the game shows is that Wade Phillips is not in control of this team. He basically threw Jason Garrett under the bus by saying they should have kneeled on the ball, didn’t know why the ran a play there, and tersely said the defense (which he runs) did its job and did not give up a touchdown. I believe they will continue to be destiny’s stepchild this season.

Otherwise, both teams struggled a great deal on offense. Dallas’s offensive line did not protect Tony Romo well but they finally got going late in the game to finally make a run for a win, but alas they failed. A holding penalty on the last play of the game negated a would be game winning touchdown. It was clearly holding too so nobody can gripe about the call.

The Mike Shanahan era started off with a win over archrival Dallas on Dallas’s home turf. While it was not a dominating or particularly impressive win, especially on offense, it was a win. As usual, the Washington defense is very solid this year, as they have been in year’s past. While they have sometimes been criticized for not getting enough turnovers, they are basically a very sturdy unit.

The offense, however, was woeful and did nothing. Shanahan needs to find a way to fix that quick because they won’t be winning many games like this otherwise. He can thank DeAngelo Hall for the fumble recovery and touchdown, which was the difference in the game. Or, send Jason Garrett a thank you card for the gift.

MVP: DeAngelo Hall, CB

Baltimore Ravens over New York Jets, 10-9

The New York Jets are an undisciplined team and reflection of their coach, the slovenly Rex Ryan. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties and giving up big plays on third and long when they had the Ravens’ offense on the ropes, which was the difference in the game. Add to that the harassment by Jets players of a female reporter also shows a lack of professionalism, decorum, and discipline, again a reflection of their head coach. The Jets may very well implode this season.

The Jets defense continues to be a stellar unit, one of the best, if not the best in the league. But their offense looks awful and Mark Sanchez has not proven, yet, that he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. They were facing another top defense in the Ravens, so maybe time will tell.

The Ravens defense played excellent football and Ray Lewis continues, in his fifteenth NFL season, to be one of the best defensive players in the league. He got some great hits on the Jets, and the rest of the unit played excellent as well. I was surprised at how the offense was so throttled, however, even facing the Jets. With Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and a very good offensive line, Anquan Bolden, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap, I thought they were loaded on offense. The Jets bailed them out with bad penalties most of the game and Ravens were lucky to escape with a win.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB

Kansas City Chiefs over San Diego Chargers, 21-14

I was happy to see the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Monday night but Chief’s fans shouldn’t get too excited. It was really two big plays on offense that sealed the deal, a great 56 yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and a 94 yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie wide receiver Dexter McCluster were the keys to the game. Otherwise the offense looked anemic and Matt Cassel really did not do much to distinguish himself.

The Chief’s defense did play well. Defensive tackle Glen Dorsey finally looked like a first round draft pick in this game and the defensive backs did a very nice job on the Charger’s receivers, especially Brandon Flowers.

Philip Rivers made himself look like a complete idiot and proved what a jerk he is yelling at his teammates and carrying on a like a petulant child in the second half. While indeed his teammates made mistakes, I can’t imagine that endears him to his offensive line or establishes him as the leader of the team. They did almost come back and win, however. Rookie running back Ryan Matthews had a decent game, but he gave up a fumble that lead to a touchdown, helping the Chief’s secure the win.

MVP: Dexter McCluster, KR/WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (231 yards rushing, 3 TDs)
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Jermon Bushrod, T, New Orleans Saints
Special Teams: Brandon Tate, WR/KR, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Dexter McCluster, WR/KR, Kansas City Chiefs

2009 NFL Season: AFC & NFC Championship Games

Indianapolis Colts over New York Jets, 30-17

You have to hand it to the New York Jets for their nice run in the playoffs. They embarrassed the Cincinnati Bengals (well, the Bengals embarrassed themselves) and I gave them no chance against the hot San Diego Chargers but they pulled off an impressive win. Despite the final score, I thought the Jets played a fine game against the Colts.

The Jets got the big passing plays they needed for scores in the first half to go ahead and stay in the game. And their defense did a great job of taking away Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The problem was Peyton Manning finally figured out how to move the ball effectively against the Jets defense, and Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie stepped up to the plate with big plays. Once the Colts got a quick score to end the first half, they became too much to handle for the Jets in the second half. The Jets never did make great adjustments and eschewed the blitz to play coverage. But Garcon, especially, came up big for the Colts when it counted.

And once the Jets got behind, their offense just isn’t built right now to come back from a deficit. The Colts with the lead could play to stop the pass and the Jets passing game just simply isn’t dynamic enough to compensate.

So in the end this game turned out about how I expected it to, with Colts finding ways to score against a solid defense, and a Jets offense just not able to keep up.

MVP: Pierre Garcon, WR

New Orleans Saints over Minnesota Vikings, 31-28 OT

This was a very entertaining game and completely lived up to its billing. The Vikings basically outplayed the Saints but turnovers matter in all NFL games and the Vikings fumbled their way out of a Super Bowl birth. It was a closely contest with the offenses moving up and down the field, but the Vikings had an edge on offense that they negated with turnovers and negative plays.

Near the end of regulation, as Minnesota was driving into field goal range, I kept thinking I would be writing what an unbelievably courageous performance by Brett Favre in a win. He was battered as badly as I have ever seen any quarterback battered in a game, but he kept getting out there and fighting back. Instead Favre, as he has done so many times in the past in the playoffs, he threw and idiotic interception instead of stumbling forward for a few yards to give his kicker a chance to win the game. Of course the Vikings had already blundred on that series with too many men in the huddle for a five yard penalty, an egregious mental error at that part of the game. But it was still Favre cementing his legacy, for me at least, as a choke artist in the playoffs, that was the saddest part of the game. Maybe the kicker misses the long field goal, but Favre took his out of any chance to win it in regulation with his terribly ill advised pass late over the middle.

The game then goes to overtime, the Saints get a great kick return by Pierre Thomas for great field position, and win the game on a 40-yard field goal.

Don’t get me wrong though. It was an unbelievably courageous performance by Favre. And it certainly was not Favre’s fault they lost the game. Stupid penalties and fumbles, especially by Adrian Peterson, helped doom them. But why does Favre insist on making the dumbest of throws in the most crucial of situations?

That is what I will remember in this game, as much as anything else.

MVP: Jonathan Vilma, LB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Pierre Garcon, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans Saints
Offensive Lineman: Jeff Saturday, C, Indianapolis Colts
Special Teams: Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints

Brett Favre Blunders Again

2009 NFL Divisional Playoffs Review

The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts certainly didn’t look rusty after playing a few meaningless regular season games and having a bye week. In fact, they looked the opposite, healthier, fresher, and ready to roll.

Kickers played a huge role in this year’s playoff games. Nate Keading of the San Diego Chargers choked on two makeable field goals that probably cost the Chargers the game. Chris Kluwe had a fabulous day punting for the Vikings that had an impact on field position and the ability of the Cowboys to come back after getting down early. Last week Jay Feely of the New York Jets had to punt and placekick. His ability to punt effectively was impressive.


New Orleans Saints over Arizona Cardinals, 45-14

This game turned out about how I expected, although I thought the Cardinals would have more success on offense. The Cardinals defense played so badly last week that I expected another track meet in which the Saints would ultimately prevail. I did not think the Saints defense would play as badly as Green Bay’s last week, and they were at home, so I gave them a big edge. A few early turnovers and the Saints scoring a touchdown on nearly every possession in the first half sealed the deal early.

The Saints looked quite impressive on both sides of the ball throughout the game, and Reggie Bush even emerged as a significant scoring threat, as if the Saints didn’t already have enough weapons. His 46 yard touchdown run near the end of the first half buried the Cardinals early, and his 83 yard punt return in the third quarter knocked whatever spark the Cardinals had right out.

You have to hand it to Kurt Warner though. After getting blasted after an interception in the first half and leaving the game, he came out in the second half and played hard, in what increasingly looked like a futile effort given their defense was doing little to stop the Saints.

MVP: Reggie Bush, RB/KR

Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens, 20-3

The biggest weakness of the Ravens this year is they lacked a true number one receiver and had a hard time getting big plays in the passing game. That was ultimately their downfall all year, and against the Colts in the playoffs. Add to that the multiple turnovers, and they had no chance.

You could see the frustration on quarterback Joe Flacco’s face in the second half with the inability to get anything going. Derrick Mason is a decent receiver but too old and not fast enough to be a breakaway wide receiver and Mark Clayton, who should be that guy, is a bust.

The Colts, and Peyton Manning had a very efficient offensive game, controlled the clock, and simply ground out an easy win over the Ravens. The Ravens defense played well in spots, but with the turnovers and time of possession, there was not a lot they could do to pull this one out.

MVP: Peyton Manning, QB


Minnesota Vikings over Dallas Cowboys, 34-3

While the Minnesota offense played extremely well, especially Brett Favre and Sidney Rice, it was really the defense and special teams that set the tone early and clamped down on the Cowboys. Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense were harassed early, with Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards emerging with three sacks and forced fumble early in the game. And they continued to frustrate the Cowboys offense throughout, leaving the offense to have its way with the Cowboys defense.

And even though I am no fan of Cowboys tackle Flozell Adams, once he was knocked out of the game, the Minnesota defensive line really dominated the action. Putting Jason Witten and sometimes a back to block Minnesota’s Jared Allen was foolhardy, and their back up tackle was not up to the task, either.

Obviously Favre played a great game with four touchdown passes (but one in garbage time), but it was the defense that really pulled this one out for the Vikings. I also have to include punter Chris Kluwe in that, who had some excellent punts which impacted field position.

It was a well rounded effort by the Vikings and gives them the kind of big win they need to keep momentum as they face New Orleans next week in the Superdome.

MVP: Ray Edwards, DE

New York Jets over San Diego Chargers, 17-14

I really thought the Jets had no chance against the Chargers this week. The Chargers won nine games in a row and were the hottest team heading into the playoffs. They looked completely flat offensively in this game, but hats off to the number one defense in the league for shutting them down most of the game.

Two big keys to game were the two interceptions thrown by Philip Rivers in the third quarter, one on a brilliant play by Darrelle Revis, and Nate Keading missing two makeable field goals, which probably cost the Chargers the win. The ten points off turnovers and missed field goals were huge for the Jets.

The biggest play of the game, and the one that ultimately sealed it for the Jets was Shonn Greene’s 53 yard run for a touchdown that put the Jets up 17-7 with a little over seven minutes left to play. Given the way the Jets defense was playing it proved to be too much for the Chargers to overcome, although they came close.

And what to make of Nate Keading’s two missed field goals? I would not call a 36 yarder and a 40 yarder chip shots, necessarily, but they are the kinds of kicks that must be made, especially in the playoffs. Hit one, and you might be looking at overtime and a chance to win. Hit both and you are likely looking at the Chargers moving on to the AFC Championship game. It will be a long, long offseason for poor Keading.

And finally, there as been much debate about Norv Turner going for an onside kick in near the end of the game with one time out and 2:14 left on the clock. Kick it away, and get a three and out with one time out and the two minute warning, you are probably looking at getting the ball at least your own 30 yard line (but probably better with the poor punting by the Jets’ Steve Weatherford) with about one minute and a half on the clock. Even though the Jets had played great defense all day, the explosive Chargers would have had a chance to get into field goal range to tie the game and give Keading an opportunity to redeem himself (or not). Or even score a touchdown for the win. A failed onside kick ends the game. I thought it was bad move by Norv Turner.

Are the Chargers simply snake bitten in the playoffs? It seems the years they have their best chance to get to the Super Bowl they play well but lose in the playoffs. They seem to play better in the playoffs when they are the underdog.

MVP: Shonn Greene, RB

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Reggie Bush, RB/KR, New Orleans
Defensive Player: Ray Edwards, DE, Minnesota
Offensive Lineman: Kyle DeVan, G, Indianapolis Colts
Special Teams: Reggie Bush, RB/KR, New Orleans

2009 NFL Season: Week 17

This week instead of going through all the games I watched, I am just going to make observations and mention the games as I go along.

This really has been one of the strangest seasons to me. I think mostly because there were are so many mediocre teams vying for playoff spots at the end of the season, and the teams I thought were elite, like the Vikings and Saints, clearly faltered.

But before I go into that, let’s move to the most important topic to me.

The New England Patriots

Week 17 could not have been much more disastrous for the Patriots (not I say much more, so don’t bother me with what ifs). Wes Welker went down with a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter. If you had to name the most valuable player on the team this year you would not say Tom Brady, you would not say Randy Moss, and would you not say Vince Wilfork or Jerrod Mayo. You would say Wes Welker.

Any true football fan has to respect and admire what Welker brings to the team in the slot position, and what he brings off the field. He’s a small, fast, tough, hard working, receiver who is admired by fans and teammates alike. He takes a pounding week in and week out catching those passes over the middle. My heart sank when I realized how bad Welker was hurt, but as my wife said, that’s football.

What are the Patriots chances in the playoffs without Welker? Not nearly as good as they were with him. Diminished greatly I would say.

I like Julian Edelman. He has impressed me since the preseason and he has played well in Welker’s place in the few games he has missed this season. But as a rookie, at this point in his career, I don’t seem him truly replacing what Welker brings to the table. But thankfully, Bill Belichick was smart enough to steal a seventh round Wes Welker clone.

Frankly I thought the starters should have played only a quarter or so and then been taken off the field since it was a meaningless game. I’m not sure why Belichick was even playing the starters the entire game, other than trying to keep momentum and continuity. Reports are that Brady played with a broken finger and broken ribs. I find it extremely hard to believe Belichick would be stupid enough to expose Brady if he really had broken ribs. That would be insane, and Bill should be checked into a mental facility immediately, if so. But those reports have been disputed.

I don’t fault him for playing the starters though. That’s a coaches call as to what his team needs most to be successful in the playoffs. But those who say that Belichick “plays to win no matter what” are flat wrong too. He has benched his starters very early before in previous seasons where the Patriots wrapped up a playoff spot, except for 2007 when they were going for 16-0.

But let’s face it, the Patriots problems run far deeper than Wes Welker. The defense has been so woefully inadequate on the road and in the passing game it’s sometimes just embarrassing. We can’t seem to hold a lead and the defense seems mostly bewildered at times.

And the offense is inconsistent. I completely disagree with commentators who say Brady struggled after Welker went out implying that it was the absence of Welker that caused the offense to stumble at the end of the game and lose it. Edelman played a fine game, Brady just played poorly. Maybe it was the emotions of losing Welker? Maybe it was the broken finger? But he played poorly down the stretch.

And the defense gave up the ghost.

I think we’ll find a way to beat the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. I am not confident we can compete with the offenses of the Chargers or Colts.

But I am always hopeful. Will I be depressed for a month or more if we get knocked out the playoffs this year? Probably, even though I keep telling myself I won’t.

I’m still not over Super Bowl XLII, and never will be.


Sorry Games from Playoff Bound Teams

The Cincinnati Bengals played most of their starters against the New York Jets but didn’t show up for the game. That was an embarrassing excuse for a professional football game. The whole point of playing your starters is to keep momentum going. Well, the Bungles made it look like amateur night while the Jets were fighting for their playoff lives. They just didn’t have to fight every hard.

And while I’m on that topic, while the Jets did what they needed to do to get into the playoffs, the Colts and the Bungles basically forfeited their games to them. So the Jets go into the playoffs basically being given two games in the standings. That’s just how it is.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals lay down against the Green Bay Packers and looked like the doormats they were of yesteryear. The starters played awful in this game too, although they started Matt Leinart, who stunk the joint up.

I think the Jets and the Packers beat these two teams against next week in the playoffs. Why bother starting your best players if they aren’t going to play?

Resting Your Starters and the NFL’s Comments on the Lousy End of Season Games

This leads me to my next point. Yes, the final week of the season saw some pretty sorry games that made the preseason look entertaining. But how can the NFL talk about “doing something” to make playoff bound teams start their best players? That is so idiotic I find it hard to believe the topic came up.

First, that would just open up all kinds of shenanigans where one team would claim “well, our starting quarterback has a bruised shin,” while another loses their starting quarterback in a meaningless game. What is the NFL going to do, medical inspections on all the “key players” of teams that have wrapped up playoff spots?

And even if the starters do start, the two games above pretty clearly show if they have nothing to play for, they may not show up anyway.

Even though I find it ironic the Jets were gifted a playoff spot by the Colts and Bengals while other deserving teams weren’t, I have no problem with the Colts, or any other team, not playing their starters in meaningless end of season games. If they lost Peyton Manning their chances of a Super Bowl would be almost zero. They earned the right to rest their starters by having the best regular season record. The mediocre teams that didn’t, who cares, it’s not their problem. Win your regular season games and you won’t have to worry about what other teams are doing.

The Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens only beat the Oakland Raiders because Charlie Frye, yes, believe it or not, Charlie Frye, was playing a good game but got injured. In the second half, JaMarcus Russell came in and his two stupid turnovers handed the Ravens the game and a playoff spot. Had Frye stayed in the game and played as well as he had the first half, there is a very good chance that the Ravens would have lost the game.

Ironically, I think the Ravens are more talented than their record. Cam Cameron should be fired. His game plan is predictable. I hope it is next week too.

The MVP of this game would be Willis McGahee who stiffed armed a Raider defender to the ground on the way to a long touchdown run.


Pittsburgh Steelers

Like the Ravens the Steelers can just shut up too. While the Miami Dolphins versus Pittsburgh Steelers game was one of entertaining contests of the weekend, the Dolphins were hanging in tough against the Steelers until quarterback Chad Henne was hurt and out of the game. Had he bee able to play the outcome might have been different. Pat White was awful, and unfortunately completely knocked out of the game. The Dolphins may have fared better had Tyler Thigpen been the backup all along.

Other Sorry Games

And what about the Denver Broncos being run out of the stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos did have something to play for and flat out embarrassed themselves. And Josh McDaniels benching their best offensive threat Brandon Marshall? Unbelievable. I’m not sure who is at fault here but I’m sure Marshall is gone after this season. Reports are that Shanahan was planning to get rid of this punk himself had he stayed on as head coach. If I see Marshall getting fawned over on NFL Network again I am going to puke.

And while the New Orleans Saints sat Drew Brees, they put up a sorry performance on defense against the Carolina Panthers. Does Minnesota, who finally played well at the end of the season, have the edge in the postseason, despite being the two seed?

Final Observations

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans became the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season with 2,006 and broke Marshall Faulk’s decade old record of most yards from the line of scrimmage with 2,254 yards. Congratulations.

Rex Ryan is a moron if he thinks the Jets should be Super Bowl favorites after being handed a playoff spot. Makes me root against them even more, but unfortunately I will root for them if they play the Colts. Ryan’s shtick is already worn thin on me. He is a buffoon.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (256 yards rushing)
Defensive Player: Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City Cheifs
Offensive Lineman: Alan Faneca, G, New York Jets
Special Teams: Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders
Rookie of the Week: Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots