2008 NFL Football Season: Week 6

I am gong to quit saying what a crazy week of football it has been. It’s a crazy season.

San Diego Chargers over New England Patriots, 30-10 

Oh what a difference one man makes on a team.  Sorry Matt Cassel, I know it’s not all your fault because you don’t play on our lousy, no account defense.  But you hold the ball too long on some plays when you should pass it or throw it away, get too impatient and run too soon on others, and miss seeing wide open receivers too often.  This is not the same New England team that almost went undefeated last year, to say the least.  And the only real difference in the team?  No Tom Brady.  I even heard someone suggest that Tom Brady should be awarded the 2008 NFL MVP Award because the Patriots’ performance so far shows just what a difference he made and the rest of the AFC now has a real chance to get to the Super Bowl. 

Needless to say watching this game for New England fans was excruciating.  We are used to close games but getting blown out twice in four weeks??  Unheard of in recent memory.  But let me get on with my take of the game; enough whining and whimpering. 

The New England Patriots didn’t seem to show up for this game on offense or defense.  The Chargers outplayed the Patriots in nearly every area imaginable and kept torching the defense for long pass plays.  The Chargers had a 17-3 lead at halftime and the Patriots looked awful the entire first half. 

Then, Patriots fans were given a glimpse of hope as the Patriots marched down the field in the first possession of the third quarter right down to the 1 yard line, first and goal.  The Patriots looked like they came out at halftime with new game plan on offense and were ready to make the score 17-10 and get back into the ballgame!   

But the hope was false as the Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s inexplicably calls three passing plays and the Charger’s stuffed us at the one yard line on 4th and one.  Okay, so we have the Chargers backed up on their one yard line, we are still in this game. 

But no, BOOM, 56 yard pass to Vincent Jackson on second down, followed shortly thereafter by a pass interference call on Ellis Hobbs in the end zone.  24-10 Chargers.  Game over! 

Let me say the Chargers played a great game and really took advantage of our weak defensive backfield.  But I don’t care about the Chargers, so I am going to talk about the Patriots. 

Defense 

Where was it?  No pass rush and lousy defensive back play allowed the Chargers to hook up on bombs that were the difference in the game.  We generated no pass rush on Philip Rivers and he and Vincent Jackson torched our defensive backs, especially Deltha O’Neal, making them look like lost little boys among men.   

Offense 

Why not run the ball on the goal line instead of passing three times with Matt Cassel?  Forth and goal is when you man up and stuff the ball in the end zone.  Cassel did take off running too soon on the fourth down play and had a guy open in the end zone. 

Why not run the ball?  Because Jamal Williams (DT, Chargers) was slapping around Dan Koppen and the New England guards like they were rag dolls.  We could hardly run the ball up the middle.  Williams played the best defense of the games I saw this week. 

This season to me is shaping up to look a little like the 2005 season when the Patriots beat the bad teams and lost to the good teams because the defense kept giving up huge plays.  But our offense was much more prolific than this one, with Tom Brady at the helm, so we survived and made the playoffs while the defense improved.  (We got robbed in the playoffs in a loss to Denver by the bad officiating).  Only time will tell what the ultimate outcome of this season will be, but seeing a game like this doesn’t give us Patriots fans much hope. 

MVP:  Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers.  5 receptions, 134 yards, 1 touchdown. 

Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens, 31-3 

After seeing the Ravens defense play so well this year and Joe Flacco playing good for a rookie, I really thought the Ravens would give the Colts a run for their money this week.  Shows you how much I know about football.  Turnovers were a big key to this game for the Ravens and Manning took full advantage of them and looked as good as I’ve seen him all year.  This game was never a game from the start.  He even got good production out of Marvin Harrison this week who scored two touchdowns. 

MVP:  Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

 St. Louis Rams over Washington Redskins, 19-17

I taped this one and watched it this week. The key to this game was turnovers (sound familiar?).  Washington outplayed the Rams the first half but were losing at halftime.  Of course the key play in the entire game was the 75 yard fumble return by Oshiomogho Atogwe that allowed the Rams to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room. The Rams played better in the second half on both sides of the ball and eked out a 19-17 win. The Rams didn’t look quite as bad on offense as they evidently have all year but I was pretty unimpressed overall. The only player on the Rams team that stood out to me was Steven Jackson. He ran hard through the smallest of holes. Marc Bulger just didn’t look like the Marc Bulger of a few years ago. He tended to be very skittish in the pocket and hurrying his throws. That is what happens to a quarterback who takes a beating and has a weak offensive line. Even when he had time to throw the ball he looked uncomfortable in the pocket. And I’m starting to wonder if Tory Holt has seen his better days. He wasn’t that impressive either. Overall, this game came down to the Redskins’ three turnovers in the first half.

As for the Redskins? No need to panic over this game. Some may recall I was very skeptical of Jim Zorn as a head coach, mostly from lack of experience. Zorn has made a true believer out of me. So far he has done an outstanding job of play calling, with the short passing game and a balanced run-pass attack. He’s also adapted the offense to play to the strengths of a rejuvenated Clinton Portis and the abilities of Jason Campbell. And Campbell has played the best I’ve seen him to date, much of which can be attributed to Zorn’s tutelage and play calling. The Skins are looking good this year despite this hiccup.

MVP: Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, St. Louis Rams for 75 yard fumble return for touchdown that was the key difference in the game.

Arizona Cardinals over Dallas Cowboys, 30-24

The Dallas Cowboys have been in the wildest, most entertaining shootouts this year. Every week seems to bring something new. This game was no exception, going back and forth on one big play after another. The game started off with a Cardinals kickoff return for a touchdown, featured a 70 yard reception and awesome run by Marion “the Barbarian” Barber to get Dallas back into the game in the fourth quarter, followed by a 52 yard game tying field goal as time expired by Nick Folk – after getting the first attempt blocked but the Cardinals coach had called a time out, and ending on a blocked punt for touchdown to win the game in overtime by the Cardinals. It was a very exciting game, especially since I was rooting for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals are the surprising team this year. Ken Whisenhunt, obviously made the right call in starting Kurt Warner who, other than problems with ball security, has had a phenomenal year. They are almost definitely going to make the playoffs and are one of the more interesting teams this year.

Dallas, on the other hand, seems to be falling apart, with a mouthy Terrell Owens, injuries to Felix Jones and now Tony Romo, and Romo seeming to have problems with fumbling and bad plays. Dallas to me, seems to have the most talent but it is a topsy-turvy team.

Now I am one of those Dallas haters not Dallas lovers but I hate to see good players get hurt. I hope Tony Romo recovers quickly from his broken finger. I’m not a Dallas fan, but Romo is hard to root against and I hope to see him back on the field soon. Although, were I Dallas, I’d be hesitant to start him this week even if he can go. First, he’s too valuable down the stretch to risk additional injury, and he is already fumble prone so the cast or wrapping on his hand would only make that worse.

Larry Fitzgerald may be the best receiver in the league. He made some great plays, especially in the fourth quarter, which to me were the key difference in the game.

MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Cleveland Browns over New York Giants, 35-14

Where has this Cleveland team been all year long? Where has this Derek Anderson been this year? The Cleveland Browns in this game looked like the Cleveland Browns everybody expected at the beginning of the season. While Derek Anderson started off a little shaky in the first half, he played a spectacular second half as the Browns thumped the New York Giants. Braylon Edwards, despite some dropped balls, also had a great game. If the Browns can continue to play at this level they may get themselves back into the thick of things in the AFC.

Of course the Browns were helped by three Eli Manning interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown late in the second half that pretty much sealed the game. Eli looked like the Eli of old, making bad decisions and throwing off his back foot. I still think the New York Giants are likely the best team in the league anyway. The NFC East is shaping up to be a wild race.

MVP: Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans

Defensive Player: Jamal Williams, DT, San Diego Chargers

Offensive Lineman: Casey Rabach, C, Washington Redskins

Special Teams: Matt Scifres, P, San Diego Chargers

Rookie of the Week: Chris Horton, SS, Washington Redskins

2008 NFL Season: Week 2

Rookie Running Banks

Some pundits have said that this may be the best rookie running back class in NFL history.  Whether that is true or not only time will tell but rookie running backs have certainly made a big impact in the first two games of the regular season with 100 yard rushing games and being difference makers in crunch time.  For posterity’s sake here the rookie running backs that have made the biggest impact so far this year.

Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (Tulane)
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (East Carolina)
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (Arkansas)
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (Oregon)

Five other running backs are expected to make good contributions and have good careers when they get their opportunity.

Steve Slaton, Houston Texans (West Virginia)
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (Rutgers)
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers (Illinois)
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys (Arkansas)
Kevin Bell, Detroit Lions (Central Florida)

Laurence Maroney, New England Running Back

Maroney is turning out to be a somewhat disappointing first round draft pick at running back.  He doesn’t run hard.  He dances behind the line of scrimmage instead of hitting the hole.  And he is always hurt.  In one series against the Jets this week there was a hole large enough to drive and 18-wheel truck through but Maroney missed it and got tackled for a short gain.  The announcers chalked it up to the speed of the Jets defense, but I’ve seen Maroney miss open holes too many times to buy that.  He seems to want to avoid any kind of contact.  That is why you see Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and LaMont Jordan in the game to get the tough, short yards when we need it most.  I wonder if we’ll see Maroney in the Patriots uniform after this year.

Blown Call in San Diego’s 39 to 38 Win over San Diego

Wow. I’ve seen some pretty bad officiating this week but the blown call of referee Ed Hochuli on Jay Cutler’s clear fumble near the end of the game clearly cost San Diego the win. The worst part is it was so obvious that the play was a fumble and there was nobody around Cutler, so it wasn’t one of those close judgment calls that the official just missed.

The worst part for San Diego is that the AFC playoff race would appear at this point to be a very close one, even this early in the season, and that one loss could be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home watching them. And it will almost definitely have an impact on home field advantage and seeding.

It’s hard to beat up on the referees too much because it is a fast paced game and the challenge to make the right call for the referees is a difficult one. But even though I have no interest in either of these two teams, as fan you just hate to see a game decided no such an egregiously bad call by the refs.

Here is what a member of my fantasy football league had to say about the call:

It is unacceptable. Totally. Norv Turner was right. If I was coaching that game I might have pulled my team off the field. The NFL should be embarassed…and I mean to a greater degree than issuing some bogus apology to Norv and the Chargers today, which you know will happen. That’s why you have replay and to not use it to its full extent is ridiculous. That play should have been called a fumble with the Chargers recovering, which essentially means “game over.” I understand human error. But technology is employed there to get it right. And the league failed in that regard.
 
But that’s football as long as it’s not against my Skins 🙂

Miscellaneous Observations

I have seen the worst pass blocking across the board than I can remember in a long time. Nearly every game I have seen the pass blocking has been suspect at best.

The Denver Bronco’s look like a real force to contend with this year, at least on offense. Jay Cutler appears to heading into the realm of elite quarterback in the NFL, if he isn’t there already. He’s really bounced back from last year and it would appear his diabetes can be chalked up to his less than stellar performances last season. Cutler really does appear to be best QB out of his draft class as Matt Leinert and Vince Young languish on the bench. Eddie Royal, the Denver Bronco’s rookie wide receiver from Virginia Tech looks like the real deal.

Could Donovan McNabb be the comeback player of the year? I guess not since he played last year, but he certainly didn’t play well and missed a few games with injuries. He looks like his old self the past two weeks.

GAMES I WATCHED

Indianapolis Colts over Minnesota Vikings, 18-15

I am sick and tired of the referees doing everything they can to make sure the Colts win a game.  Last year’s horribly officiated playoff game against the San Diego Chargers is just one of many examples where I’ve seen bad refereeing that all seems to go in favor of the Colts.  Last year the refs seemed to do everything they could to make sure the Colts wound up in the AFC Championship game, but the Chargers prevailed anyway.  While Minnesota deserved to lose after settling for 5 field goals (and one miss), late in the game on a 3rd down and about 5 the Minnesota receiver was clearly and definitely interfered with and there was NO CALL! That could have given Minnesota a first down and possibly changed the outcome of the game.  Maybe not, given Minnesota’s overall ineptness at scoring, and it did not as clearly cost the Vikings the game as the blown calls in Denver cost the San Diego Chargers, but it definitely had a big impact on the outcome.

The game started off going the Vikings way.  The Colts looked out of sync offensively all game and I thought Adrian Peterson would get a 200 plus yard game the way he was gashing the Colts defense in the first half.  But the offense could not punch it in the end zone and called a very conservative offensive game, not allowing Tarvaris Jackson to throw the ball.  I am not a big believer in T. Jackson as a starting NFL quarterback but he didn’t play that bad and the offensive line didn’t do much to help him when pass blocking.  But alas, the Vikings blew a 15-0 lead and you could feel all game long it was just a matter of time before the Colts and the Peyton Manning lead offensive would come to life and put some points on the board, which is exactly what they did.

Adrian Peterson is the real deal at running back.  He gets through small holes and just pile drives down the field.  And he’s got a good burst of speed too.  Peterson and Chester Taylor, who also played well, are about the only thing the Vikings have on offense, which in some games might be good enough.  But they are 0-2 and things aren’t looking up.  As of today, I consider Peterson to be the best running back in the league over LaDanian Tomlinson.

The Colts Anthony Gonzalez (9 catches, 137 yards) had a big day at wide receiver and was my MVP of the game.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him supplant Marvin Harrison in the starting line-up this year. 

New England Patriots over New York Jets, 19-10

 Cassel Leads Patriots over the Jets

Oh, what a sweet victory for Patriots fans!!!!  While the Patriots didn’t look like the dominate offensive team they were last year, and Matt Cassel is no Tom Brady, the kid played well enough to win the game and we’re proud of him.  Cassel took some huge shots during the game as well, including one where he came up limping, but he came right back out and played mistake free ball and made key throws when he had too.

New England was clearly determined to run the ball more, especially once they got the lead.  Kevin Faulk made some great third down plays and LaMont Jordan was a better ram in the fourth quarter to help us milk the clock and hold the lead.

The defense seemed a little shaky at times, especially in the first half, but settled down a little in the second half and got good pressure on Farve and slowed down the running game.

I know Moss didn’t catch many balls but I sure hope he keeps his head up.  We’re not dead yet.

MVP: Matt Cassel for winning in his first start since high school.  I lean toward Kevin Faulk for key plays in the second half but I have to go with Cassel.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Cleveland Browns, 10-6

This was a very weird game to watch.  I guess it was the wind but both offensives looked anemic.  The Browns were just an absolute mess, especially their offensive line and their terrible clock management.  Just like last week Derek Anderson looked awful and Braylon Edwards looked worse.  It’s hard to tell if they are really just playing that badly or if they chalk this one up to the weather.  But after all the high expectations they have started off 0-2 and even though they were playing good teams, they looked awful in both them.  Things aren’t looking too good for the Browns if they don’t right their ship fast.

Willie Parker had a 100 yard day and Ben Roethlisberger managed the game will in bad conditions.  I love watch Troy Polamalu play who was all over the field and had an interception.

MVP: Troy Polamalu, Strong Safety

Dallas Cowboys over Philadelphia Eagles 41-37

This was one of the wildest games I have seen in a long time. It featured a Tony Romo fumble in the end zone leading to a Philadelphia touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Cowboy’s rookie running back Felix Jones, a terrible pass interference call against the Cowboys on a long throw into the end zone that should have been called against the offense, chalking up an easy score for the Eagles. And the game was really decided by a McNabb mistake on a poor handoff to Brian Westbrook in the fourth quarter resulting in a fumble and a Dallas go ahead touchdown. It was quite the wild affair.

This game was very entertaining and looked like two Super Bowl contenders slugging it out. It’s kind of hard to say slugging given the lack of defense, but it was one heavyweight offensive blow after another.

For Dallas, they certainly seem to have picked up right where they left off last year offensively before they ran into the New York Giants in the playoffs. Other than his fumble, Romo looked great in the pocket and handled pressure well. And you just have to love the way Marion Barber runs so hard every single time he touches the ball. He is one of my favorite players to watch. And the rookie running back Felix Jones looks as good as advertised. One only wonders where the defense was?

On the Philadelphia’s side, Donovan McNabb extremely comfortable and played very well, except for a few errant passes, and a couple of inexplicable miscues on handoffs, once of which ultimately cost the Eagles the game. What is particularly surprising is that McNabb is doing it without his starting receivers. Brian Westbrook once again was stellar running and receiving.

One of stupidest plays of the game was rookie DeSean Jackson catching a long pass from McNabb and racing to the end zone but throwing the ball down in celebration before crossing the goal line. I get sick and tired and of seeing these idiotic types of plays and so wish one of the Dallas defenders had picked up the ball and gone the other way with it so we could gloat at the goat that he is. He has the speed and potential to be a big time threat in the league, but I hope he learned his lesson.

My only question at the end of the game is can either team win a championship without a better defense effort?

MVP: Marion Barber, RB, 114 total yards, 2 touchdowns, hard running

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos.  18 catches for 166 yards and touchdown.

Defensive Player: Chris Horton, Free Safety, Washington Redskins.  Two interceptions and a fumble recovery.  I had to go with this rookie from UCLA who unexpectedly had to start in the game. Otherwise I would have chosen Troy Polamalu.

Offensive Lineman: Leonard Davis, G, Dallas.

Special Teams: Darren Sproles, KR/RB, San Diego Chargers (103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown).

Rookie of the Week:  Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland for his 164 yards rushing.  (Last week I’ll go with Eddie Royal, WR, Denver).