2009 NFL Season: Week 11

OBSERVATIONS

The theme of this week was clearly upsets, with the biggest being the Oakland Raiders knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just missed upsets were Washington versus Dallas (go figure, Washington is a lousy offensive team) and the Ravens versus the Colts, as the Ravens just shot themselves in the foot, three times.

Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans has taken over Adrian Peterson’s spot as my top running back in the league and gets serious consideration for league MVP. Without his unbelievable running talent, the Titans are still winless.

Matthew Stafford coming into the game after separating his shoulder and throwing the winning touchdown pass was one of the gutsiest things I have seen in a long time. Wow.

If I were doing an NFL Power Ranking my top team very well may be the Minnesota Vikings, even though the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts are undefeated. The Vikings have a much better defense than either of those two teams and an almost equally potent offense.

Denver continues to fold.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over New York Jets, 31-14

This was an extremely important win for the Patriots given we lost last week to the Colts and face the undefeated New Orleans Saints next Monday night. And it certainly helps our chances for a second seed in the playoffs with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers both losing this week.

Clearly the Patriots are a better team now than they were when they faced the Jets the second week of the season. The first half featured more running and short screens to slow down the blitz, and the offensive line played much better than the last time these teams met.

The Jets, frankly, don’t seem as good as they were earlier in the season. Mark Sanchez is a now playing like the rookie he is, looking confused and befuddled at times. Don’t get that comment wrong, however. I think he will be a solid NFL quarterback with experience. Even Joe Flacco (Ravens) and Matt Ryan (Falcons) who set somewhat of a standard last year for rookie quarterbacks are struggling a bit in their second season. But the Patriots are on the rise and the Jets are falling off the map.

The Patriots dominated this game from start to finish. Other than a blocked punt that netted the Jets an easy touchdown, the Patriots had the Jets’ number all day long. The offense seemed to go into a bombs away mode in the second half and got away from running the ball and the short passing game, which resulted in having a tougher time with the blitz and our offense didn’t do much in second half. But neither did the Jets.

Patriots’ cornerback Leigh Bodden came away with three interceptions, one which he returned for the first touchdown of the game. But Wes Welker had a monster game with 15 catches for 192 yards.

The Patriots better stick with the run and short passing game longer next week against the New Orleans Saints if they hope to win.

MVP: Wes Welker, WR

Miami Dolphins over Carolina Panthers, 24-17

Even without Ronnie Brown running the Wildcat offense I thought the Dolphins could beat the inconsistent Panthers with their solid running game. While they didn’t run the Wildcat nearly as often, they did hand the ball off to Rickey Williams who stepped up with 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns, which included a nifty 46 yard scoring run to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Both of these teams played decent games but Carolina is a team that befuddles me. They have great running backs, a top flight receiver in Steve Smith, and a rather solid defense, mostly. But they are a mediocre to poor team at best. Oh yeah, they also have Jake Delhomme at quarterback, so never mind. It all makes sense now.

For Miami they are going to be in a real struggle to make the playoffs. It’s late in the season so maybe Ricky Williams can handle the extra workload, but he does not run the Wildcat a well as Ronnie Brown and they have a very pedestrian, non-threatening passing game. Most teams should just stack up against the run and they should be able to mostly hold the Dolphins down. But you have to give Miami credit for playing hard and making their offense work this week. Let’s see if they can keep it up.

MVP: Rickey Williams, RB

Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens, 17-15

What is wrong with the Baltimore Ravens? They have a very good football team but just cannot close the show. They had three excellent opportunities to win this game, but blew all three of them. Really, the Ravens should be sick about this loss. They could have easily won this game.

They did get rid of their lousy kicker who kept missing easy field goals. Their new kicker Billy Cundiff made some of the field goals he hit a bit heart stopping, but missed one wildly. But his miss appeared to be the fault of the snapper or holder because the ball was clearly held at an odd angle. Missed field goal, lose by two points. Bang!

In the fourth quarter the Ravens had the ball first and goal from the one yard line and could not score a touchdown and had to settle for a field goal. Fourth and one from the one, with an excellent offensive line and three outstanding running backs, against a defense that does not play that well against the run, and you can’t get the touchdown???? Another blown chance to get some points and win the game. BANG BANG!

And then Flacco, again in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens were near field goal range and could have won the game, throws a stupid interception. BANG BANG BANG!

Finally, with 28 seconds left and a Colts punt, the wickedly talented Ed Reed idiotically tries to lateral the ball near midfield and fumbles. Game over. Even with no time outs and 28 seconds left, the offense had a slight chance to get a few plays off and possibly kick a game winning field goal.

The Colts are a good team, obviously, at 10-0, but they escaped once again by the skin of their teeth and the Ravens let another winnable game pass them by. The Ravens are still in the playoff hunt at 5-5 but they should be better.

A final note, where did Tom Santi the tight end for the Colts come from? The second year player from Virginia saw his first action and the poor fellow made the biggest plays in the first half but took a beating for it. Even though he fumbled once, he was jacked up by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at the same time!! Welcome to the NFL [expletives deleted]! I’ll give him a pass on that one and give him my MVP award.

MVP: Tom Santi, TE

Philadelphia Eagles over Chicago Bears, 24-20

The Eagles had a nicely balanced attack against the Bears, with rookie LeSean McCoy picking up 99 rushing yards, and DeSean Jackson racking up 107 yards receiving, including a 48 yard touchdown. What is up with all these XxSeans? With Dallas and the Giants joining the Eagles in mediocrity, the Eagles are in good position to once again steal the NFC East crown.

Meanwhile Jay Cutler looks just flat out awful. I really don’t like Cutler after all the bad mouthing he did in Denver and his generally sulky attitude. But frankly, I am starting to feel a little sorry for him. His mechanics are just atrocious. He constantly throws off his back foot and really is just arming the ball down the field without stepping into his throws. As a result he is very inaccurate, especially on the deep passes. Plus, he is skittish in the pocket and makes poor decisions. Right now he is a poor, not average, but poor quarterback. And his body language doesn’t look good at all.

The Bears better get Jay Cutler straightened out or they are in for not only a long season but possibly a long period of losing football.

MVP: DeSean Jackson, WR

Tennessee Titans over Houston Texans, 20-17

The Tennessee Titans do not look like the same football team that laid down against the New England Patriots. They have won four straight on the legs of Chris Johnson and with Vince Young leading them at quarterback.

In addition to Chris Johnson running the ball extremely well, I love what the coaching staff is doing with Vince Young. They are calling plays and letting him play to his strength. It has already been much discussed that Young is not a great pocket passer. In this game they rolled him out often and let him make plays with both his arm and his legs. They really are playing to his strengths. While I still don’t think Young will ever be a great NFL quarterback, with a solid running game and the receivers finally stepping up and making plays, Young can be very effective the way the Titans are running their offense. And that extra dimension of Young making big plays running makes the Titans offense that much more dangerous. With four straight wins, this team has new life.

On the flip side, and I know I’ve said this a hundred times about every team that is talented but not playing up to the level of their talent, I don’t know what to make the of the Houston Texans. Solid quarterback, decent running backs, great reciever, a lot of talent on defense, but they just can’t seem to a get everything together to string together some wins.

Finally, I know Chris Johson is the MVP of this team and he ran a league high 151 yards against the Texans. But I am giving my MVP award to Rob Bironas. He hit a 50 yard field goal and a game winning 53 yard field goal, while Texan kicker Kris Brown missed his chance. I have seen too many games where the kicker has missed makeable field goals that cost their team the game. Bironas came through with two very tough, long kicks to win the game.

MVP: Rob Bironas, K

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

Defensive Player: Leigh Bodden, CB, New England Patriots

Offensive Lineman: Jared Gaither, T, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams: Rob Bironas, K, Tennessee Titans

Rookie of the Week: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 10

OBSERVATIONS

I turned on the NFL Channel when I got home from work and they were getting ready to show New England’s 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts as an “instant classic.” I wanted to puke. Does that mean I am going to be subjected to highlights of this game the rest of the season, and possibly in perpetuity, like I am Super Bowl XLII highlights?

So the NFL wants to extend the regular season to 18 games? Just off the top of my head I can name several marquee players this week that were injured: Cedric Benson, Brian Westbrook, Troy Polamalu, Kyle Orton, Terrell Suggs, Joshua Cribbs, Michael Turner, and Ronnie Brown. I may be forgetting a few, but you get the picture.

Last week I said was that a crash I was hearing, the Denver Broncos coming down to earth? This week I really did hear a crash as they lost to the Washington Redskins. Granted Washington probably played its best game of the season, but Denver has lost three in a row. Meanwhile San Diego is on the rise. Their game this weekend will be an important one for both teams.

While Denver is looking like pretenders, the Cincinnati Bengals look like contenders. They have swept Pittsburgh and control the AFC North.

Speaking of Cincinnati, doesn’t it just figure they would sign Larry Johnson? He fits right in.

Finally, what is up with the Dallas Cowboys? The entire NFC East is a mess. They were horrible against the Packers.

And Aaron Rodgers, who I like a lot, needs to get rid of the ball faster. He is taking a beating but against the Cowboys he could have avoided some of the hits.

Brady Quinn looks like a bust. Alex Smith already was one.

Finally I am crushed that Ronnie Brown is out for the season with a foot injury. I don’t like the Dolphins and would just as soon see them go 0-16 but I love great football players and what Brown was doing this year running the Wildcat formation was phenomenal. Now the AFC East has lost two great running backs in Leon Washington and Ronnie Brown, both who I have a great deal of admiration for. No, I’m not like the Jets fans who cheered over Brady’s injury last year and crowed that they were the new team in the AFC East. I have more class than that.

GAMES I WATCHED

Indianapolis Colts over New England Patriots, 35-34

I wrote my comments on this already, you can see it here:  https://cdbaker.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/bill-belichick-is-afraid-of-peyton-manning/

The synopsis, the Patriots have a lot of positives to take away from the game. They basically gave the game away, and I’m not just talking about Bill Belichick’s no infamous call on 4th and 2 from their own 28 at the end of the game. I just hope they can rebound and beat the New York Jets this weekend. I don’t want to go into a tailspin. I think they will beat the Jets, and can beat the Saints.

Indianapolis at 9-0 and a relatively easy schedule could run the table and go 16-0. But I don’t think they will.

MVP: Reggie Wayne, WR

San Francisco 49’ers over Chicago Bears, 10-6

Oh my, two bottom feeders rolling around in the muck. Jay Cutler looked awful with five interceptions. Granted some of them were partially the fault of his receivers but this was really a joke. Cutler, the big bad, I am going to be the leader of the team, I’m the next coming of John Elway, I am going to have input into the 53 man roster. I love seeing this whiny brat, wannabe John Elway get his comeuppance. He looks awful, his team looks awful, and the Bears got what they paid for.

San Francisco’s offensive didn’t look much better. Four interceptions (not counting the one late in the game) and you only score 10 points? Even a mediocre offense would have blow the Bears out of this game and made it a laugher. I’m sorry but Alex Smith just does not look like the quarterback of the future to me. The quarterback position on this team needs to be addressed.

What the 49’ers do have is heart, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, and a solid defense. I think Mike Singletary is taking this team in the right direction.

MVP: Frank Gore, RB

Cincinnati Bengals over Pittsburgh Steelers, 18-12

The Cincinnati Bengals have swept the Pittsburgh Steelers and have proven to be a real contender in the AFC. Their defense continues to play extremely well and I am very, very impressed with their offensive line. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league. And while the offensive did not score a lot of points, they did enough to win and they basically controlled this game for the most part.

Pittsburgh is a great team as well but they certainly are not the same team without Troy Polamalu in the lineup. While Pittsburgh is on my list of teams I least want to see win, I hope Polamalu recovers. I love watching this guy play.

Rookie running back and kick returner Bernard Scott had a superman game, running a kickoff for a touchdown and filling in for the injured Cedric Benson.

MVP: Bernard Scott, RB/KR

Green Bay Packers over Dallas Cowboys, 17-7

Dallas is a hard to team to figure out, as is Tony Romo. Sometimes they look like an upper echelon team and sometimes they look like the Cleveland Browns in a different uniform. This week they were atrocious and so was Tony Romo. A lot of that can be laid at the feet of an offensive line that looked overmatched by the Green Bay Packers.

Charles Woodson, Green Bay’s veteran cornerback had a career day with two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception. He was all over the field. It helped that the Packers defensive line was able to get penetration into the Dallas backfield. A shout out should go to Packer defensive tackle Johnny Jolly who disrupted numerous plays.

Dallas lost their left tackle Mark Colombo during the game, which is scary given that they are weak at the tackle position. Flozell Adams is a joke. And that was part of Dallas’ problem.

Meanwhile I thought Green Bay’s offensive line played better than they usually do, but Rodgers was not helping them much by holding onto the ball too long and taking hits. He needs to get out of that habit, fast.

I love seeing Dallas lose so this was a fun game to watch.

MVP: Charles Woodson, CB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 16-0

Cleveland looked pathetic and inept in this game. Eric Mangenius sure made this team look better this year, didn’t he? That was one of the worst displays of professional football I have seen since, well, the Tennessee Titans laid down against the Patriots earlier this year.

Brady Quinn is really starting to look like a bust. He played horribly, as did his receivers, and the entire offense.

But Baltimore had no business looking as awful as they did either. The score was 0-0 at halftime. Baltimore, despite having three good running backs, even and excellent one in Ray Rice, had no business looking this bad and out of sync. They played down to the level of competition.

As one of the announcers said, the best unit on this night was the Browns defensive line. The dominated the action. I feel back for not giving Shaun Rodgers a shout out on my Midseason Pro Bowl team. When he gets it going he is almost unblockable.

This game was badly marred by Brady Quinn’s low block on Terrell Suggs that will knock him out of action for an undetermined amount of time. And then Joshua Cribbs got jacked up and hospitalized on the last play of the game that certainly looked like a cheap shot by Suggs’ backup, Dwan Edwards.

Both teams say the cheap shots weren’t intentional. I guess I will take their word for it.

This was a forgettable game, otherwise.

MVP: Ray Rice, RB

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Offensive Player: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (232 total yards rushing and receiving)

Defensive Player: Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Lineman: Sebastian Vollmer, T, New England Patriots

Special Teams: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Rookie of the Week: Bernard Scott, KR/RB, Cincinnati

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 9

Week 9 turned into a disaster for three teams while other teams keep rolling along.

How did Green Bay manage to lose to Tampa Bay, who got their first win on Sunday? The Packer defense has just collapsed and the offensive line simply can’t protect Aaron Rodgers. Maybe the emotional letdown of losing to the Vikings twice and being three games back in the division with no realistic shot at the division title did them in?  Or maybe their defense just blows? But even at 4-4 a Wild Card spot is still a realistic goal.

Congratulations to Tampa Bay and rookie quarterback Josh Freeman on the Bucs’ first win of the season. Freeman may not have looked like the next coming of Tom Brady but he has to get Rookie of the Week honors for leading his team to a win in his first start.

After a big win against Denver last week the Baltimore Ravens have lost to Cincinnati for the second time this year. While stranger things have happened, their shot at the division title is greatly diminished. They are now a struggling team that needs to string some wins together to stay in the hunt.

The New York Giants after a 5-0 start have lost 4 straight. I’ve been saying all along they are an average team and they now look like it. After losing in the last seconds to the Chargers this is a team that needs to find itself.

The Tennessee Titans have won two in a row on the back of running back Chris Johnson. What happened to the 49′ers and their fine start to the season?

New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith has had two big games in a row. He might be making a run for my end of season All Pro Team. I’m sure he’s motivated by being left off my Midseason All Pro Team.

I’ve heard talk that the Patriots might be interested in signing Larry Johnson. I hope we don’t get that desperate. This guy is a punk.

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Miami Dolphins, 27-17 (NFL Replay)

This was a critically important win for the New England Patriots who face the Colts, Jets, and Saints the next three weeks, a real murderers’ row. They handed Miami their first division loss and are now two games up on the Jets. The next few weeks are critical for the Patriots as they face two of the best teams in the league, and their archrival New York Jets, who shut Brady and his bunch down in their first meeting this season.

The Patriots defense bent a bit but did just enough to keep Miami from rolling all over them and really held them in check in the fourth quarter.

Randy Moss’s two huge plays, a one handed grab at the one yard line and 71 yard catch and run for a touchdown shows he’s still got it.

MVP: Randy Moss, WR

Cincinnati Bengals over Baltimore Ravens, 17-7

In many ways this game was not as close as the score might indicate. Cincinnati dominated both lines of scrimmage throughout the game and Baltimore never really threatened them. This is the second time I have seen the Bengals offensive line absolutely dominate an opponent.

For the Ravens they clearly missed Haloti Ngata who sat out with an ankle injury, as their defensive line was constantly knocked off the ball, rendering Ray Lewis and the rest of the linebackers less effective. These two teams played a few weeks ago with a similar result, although Cincinnati had to pull it out at the very end, so maybe he would not have made that much of a difference.

I hear a lot of people questioning whether Cincinnati is for real. They lost on a fluke play to Denver or they would be 6-1, after a mediocre outing against Houston. Seeing how well their offensive line has been playing and their consistency on defense, I think Cincinnati is definitely an upper echelon team. They will have a big test next week against division foe Pittsburgh.

Cedric Benson should thank his offensive line for another fine outing, rushing for 117 tough yards.

MVP: Cedric Benson, RB

San Diego Chargers over New York Giants, 21-20

The Giants really let one slip away here, allowing the Chargers to put together an 80 yard last minute drive to win the game. They have now lost four games in a row and don’t look very good on offense or defense.

Eli Manning is struggling, but frankly I don’t think it’s entirely his fault. After a good start to the season, Steve Smith nor Mario Manningham are doing much to help him out. Even the offensive line, one of the best in the league, struggled against the Chargers. They allowed Shawn Merriman to look like he was back on steroids and actually a good football player.

The Giants secondary has always been a weak spot but they were often protected by the ferocious pass rush of the Giants’ front seven. But against the Chargers they just simply were not getting it done for the most part.

The Giants are a mediocre team and they lost to another mediocre team. While neither team are bottom feeders, they don’t look like they are going anywhere in this season either.

The star of the day was wider receiver Vincent Jackson and his two touchdown grabs. He is starting to emerge as one of the elite receivers in the league. Now that the Chargers have cut Chris Chambers, Malcolm Floyd needs to step up. He did nothing this game. Meanwhile, Chris Chambers had a good day with his new team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

MVP: Vincent Jackson, WR

Dallas Cowboys over Philadelphia Eagles, 20-16

This game actually turned out more less the way I expected it, the Cowboys winning a close game. Neither team looked like world beaters but the Dallas offensive line, other than Flozell Adams, played a very solid game. They were able to move the ball enough to eek out a win. Leonard Davis played particularly well at left guard, where most of the running attack seemed to be focused.

Donovan McNabb loves to throw the ball in the ground. What is up with that? He seems to be getting less and less accurate with his passes every time I see him play. But of course the Dallas defense mugged him all night long. The entire Dallas defense played well, but my hats are off to SS Gerald Sensabaugh, who was a disruptive force in the game and had an interception. Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff
also had an excellent game with two sacks.

The Eagles were not able to generate many big plays and the offensive line wasn’t much help to Donovan and the backs. One always wonders about how valuable a single player is to a team, but the Eagles certainly do look a lot different without Brian Westbrook in the lineup. Even when he doesn’t get as many touches in a game the team seems to play better with him in there.

Dallas now has a solid grip on the top spot in the NFC East title race. While it’s not a death grip, this win leaves them sitting pretty.

MVP: Gerald Sensabaugh, SS

New Orleans Saints over Carolina Panthers, 30-20 (DVR)

I’m not sure why everyone is making a big deal out of the Saints’ “comeback” against the Panthers. They were never down by more than 14 points. For an offense this explosive that is nothing. The bottom line is the Saints have proven to be a winning team and winning teams find a way to win. The Panthers have proven to be a losing team, and losing teams find a way to lose.

The Panthers got their 14 point lead aided by a couple of turnovers (and a big play). The Saints were down 17-6 in after the first half as a result. But the telling part of the game and the difference between the two teams can be seen in the first two possessions of the second half.

The Saints get the ball in the second half and march to a touchdown to bring the game to 17-13. Carolina gets the ball and marches down to within the five yard line. They should score a touchdown, right? Instead they have confusion at the line of scrimmage and call a timeout. AFTER the time out, they run a horrible play that results in an easy sack for the Saints. Within the five yard line: a sack, results in a field goal instead of touchdown, 20-13, game over as the Saints go on with a few big plays to spank the lesser team.

Saints winners. Carolina losers.

Despite the big three plays by Brees to three different receivers, he had some turnovers so my MVP is DE Will Smith.

MVP: Will Smith, DE

Pittsburgh Steelers over Denver Broncos, 28-10

Is that crash I’m hearing the Denver Broncos coming back down to earth? After a 6-0 start they have back to back losses.

Well, let’s not beat up on Denver too bad. This game, like Denver’s loss last week, was a pretty hard struggle until the fourth quarter. The Denver defense played well, but they, not the Steelers playing in altitude in an away game, are the unit that seemed to fold a bit in the fourth quarter. Of course the Steelers kept pounding the rock at them. And Rashard Mendenhall seems to have established himself as the starting running back in Pittsburgh. With Willie Parker dinged up, Mendenhall ground out 155 yards to win the game.

And okay, Big Ben had a nice game, but I’m sick of hearing “elite” and “Hall of Fame” next to his name. Yes, he’s having a great year and had two Super Bowl wins. Did you know that Big Ben has the lowest QB rating of any Super Bowl winning QB ever? And that the Steelers won their first Super Bowl despite his poor play (and Seattle fans would say plenty of help from the atrocious referees). And that he wasn’t the best player on the field in their second Super Bowl win?

Okay, I really do love Big Ben, but he is no Dan Marino. Or is he?

MVP: Rashard Mendenhall, RB


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Defensive Player: Gerald Sensabaugh, SS, Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Lineman: Leonard Davis, G, Dallas Cowboys

Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt, P, Kansas City Chiefs

Rookie of the Week: Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2009 NFL Football Season: Week 7

GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-7

First let me talk about the Buccaneers because there really is not a lot I have to say about them.  I have seen them twice this year and they are simply not a good team.  They are clearly in a rebuilding phase and it will probably take a few years for them to either get a competitive team together or sink into a perennial bottom feeder.  In this game Tampa Bay was simply overmatched by a better team.  I will say this about Tampa Bay, they played hard to the end, unlike the Titans last week, which is a good sign for this team.

It’s really hard to evaluate where the Patriots are after losing a close game to Denver and then blowing out two bad teams in back to back weeks.  The Tennessee Titans just quit and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are just not that good.  But the bottom line is the Patriots are good team, but not an elite team like the Saints, Colts, Vikings, Denver, and the Steelers.  At the same time they did what they had to do to win against teams they should beat and didn’t play down to the level of the competition.

There were a lot of positives to take away from this game for Patriots fans, but some red flags as well.  First, the offense played really well at times but in parts of the game they were really sloppy.  Brady threw two interceptions, one in the end zone taking points off the board.  And the left side of the offensive line with Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer struggled at times with bad penalties.  Vollmer actually played pretty well in place of the injured Matt Light at left tackle. In the third quarter he appeared to be injured and was called for holding a few times after that.  Mankins had no excuse and just seemed to lose focus during parts of the second half.  On the bright side rookie wide receiver Sam Aiken stepped up to the plate with a nice touchdown and Wes Welker was, well, Wes Welker, salting the game away in the second half with a series of catches that put the game away.

On defense, Brandon Meriweather had two interceptions, including a pick six at to put the first points on the board to open the game.  But the Buccaneers, who are no offensive juggernaut, moved the ball very well at times, which is worrisome considering the prolific offenses New England will be facing after the upcoming bye week.  I have also noticed that Vince Wilfork is not nearly the dominate force in the new 4-3 alignment as he was in the 3-4.  It seems having to take on blockers from the side makes him a bit easier to move around and he simply isn’t the dominator he has been in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, he is no slouch and is still a top flight defensive tackle, he just simply appears to be more effective in a 3-4.  Solid tackling is also an issue for this team.

To quote another fanatic Patriots fan like myself, who summed up the game exactly the way I did:

Another feel good win.  These bad teams make our defense look so good.  I have to keep on reminding myself that our defense is defending against horrible offenses.  I suspect that in reality, we are pretty good, but we’re not elite.  We’re in that group right below the elite teams.  If we make the playoffs, which I’m assuming we will somehow, we won’t be favored against Colt type teams, but we’ll be dangerous and if we peak at the right time and with a little luck, anything could happen.

And one last comment, while Brandon Meriweather had a great game with two interceptions and a touchdown, my MVP is going to Wes Welker, whose catches in the second half put the game away.  He finished with 10 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown.

MVP:  Wes Welker, WR
Cincinnati Bengals over Chicago Bears, 45-10

The Bengals offensive line absolutely dominated the Bears defensive line.  That, along with determined running by Cedric Benson, who netted 189 yards rushing, lead to a blow out win for the Bengals.  The Bears, meanwhile, were awful on offensive and the whining Jay Cutler who thinks he’s the next coming of John Elway chunked up three interceptions, leading the Bears to a 3-3 record, mainly on the back of their defense.  Kyle Orton anyone?

The Bengals look like a very solid team this year and I have no idea where this new and improved Cedric Benson has come from.  In years past he has been an injury prone, contact adverse, bust of a top ten draft pick.  He certainly wasn’t avoiding any contact in this game.  While he had more than help from his dominate offensive line, he ran like a beast and over the Bears.  The entire Bengals team, on both sides of the ball, played a physical, stellar game.  The Bengals laid and egg against Houston last week, but they appear to be a team to be reckoned with this year.  What a surprise.

Finally, while I know Carson Palmer played an outstanding game, the entire offense did, I am giving my MVP to Benson for his tough, determined running which was really what opened everything up for the Bengals.

MVP:  Cedric Benson, RB


Arizona Cardinals over New York Giants, 24-17

I have to admit I am very surprised that the Cardinals came out of the Meadowlands with a win in this game.  Last year they played so bad on the road and they have been very inconsistent this year in general.  The defense made Eli Manning and the Giants receivers look bad, which isn’t always that hard to do.  Eli is not the model of consistency at the quarterback position.  Eli threw three interceptions and while I thought he played a poor game, his receivers were not helping him out much, getting pushed around by the Arizona cornerbacks and running poor routes.

Arizona’s defense really stepped up to the plate by stopping the running game and putting it on Eli Manning’s shoulders.  Eli was not up to the challenge.  As a female friend and fellow Patriots fan said of Eli:  “He’s not his brother and never will be.  If they ever played in the Super Bowl against each other, God forbid, Peyton will rip his heart out and show that he is, and always will be, the little brother.”

Ouch, tough words, but they ring true.  It was the defense and a lucky play that won the playoff games and Super Bowl XLII.  And now suddenly the running game even looks suspect.

On the other side of the coin, Kurt Warner managed to play pretty well despite that Wayne Gandy, his left tackle, couldn’t block my 88 year old grandmother.  Warner has had ball security issues in the past and he was under a ton of pressure from the Giants defense the entire game.  The Cardinals did establish a bit of a running game with Beanie Wells, but it was Warner that made the offense run, despite that he had to be a bit concerned about Gandy not protecting him well on the left side of the line.

At the end of the day, the Giants are the Giants.  Some weeks they look great and others not so much.  The Cardinals are the same way but more of a mystery to me.  I don’t see them making the same kind of run they did last year, but they certainly are a dangerous offensive team when they get going and their defensive has improved. It will be interesting to see what they do the rest of the season.

This was a game ultimately won on the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals.  It’s hard to pick an MVP but I’m going with free safety Antrel Rolle who played a solid game and sealed the win with an intercepton.

MVP:  Antrel Rolle, FS
Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins, 27-17

The Redskins have not only proven themselves to be an awful team, they have become the laughingstock of the NFL.  Yes, they have won two games against winless teams, but only barely.  But other than the Tennessee Titans, they look to me to be the most anemic team in the league.  At least the Lions, Rams, and Buccaneers try hard.

Jim Zorn should resign given that Redskins management has stripped him of his duties, humiliated him publically by their actions, and have effectively neutered him as a head coach and a leader of the team.  Dan Snyder is the worst owner in the NFL since Victor Kiam.

I am now convinced that Jason Campbell is not an NFL caliber quarterback that can lead a team to a championship.  He has always been very spotting in his decision making and mechanics, but if anything he seems to have regressed.  Even when he had time to throw the ball he was jittery in the pocket, had poor mechanics, and made poor decisions.  The Redskins tried to replace him in the off season.  I suspect they will try even hard at the end of this season.

The Eagles won this game more because of the ineptitude of the Redskins and on two big time offensive touchdowns by the speedy, dynamic DeSean Jackson.  But the Eagles appear to be a rather mediocre team themselves.  I think Donovan McNabb has left his best days behind him.  He had some good throws and has a big arm, but he is very inconsistent and even more inaccurate with his throws than he has been in the past.  How many times is going to throw the ball into the dirt to an open receiver this year?

And what is the fascination with Michael Vick in the “Wildcat”?  This is another joke.  It has yet to be effective.

The Eagles defense did play well but it’s hard to say whether that was because of the Redskins offensive line, which truly is offensive to football fans, or talent.  I think the Eagles defense actually is for real and with enough big plays from the offensive should keep them in the hunt in the NFC East.  But I don’t consider the Eagles a great team, but a mediocre one beating a bad one.

Dallas, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants will be battling it out the rest of the season for the NFC East crown. Dallas looks ascendant at the moment after last week’s game, but they too have been very inconsistent and vulnerable.  The Giants have been considered by most the odds on favorite but even when they were undefeated I wasn’t seeing it.  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the end.

MVP:  DeSean Jackson, WR


OTHER OBSERVATIONS

Leon Washington: Leon Washington suffering a serious injury, breaking his fibula so bad the bone was sticking out, makes me feel really bad.  Despite that he plays for the team I dislike the most, the New York Jets, he is a dynamic player on special teams, as a change of pace back alongside Thomas Jones, and he seems to be make excellent plays at the most critical moments.  He has killed the Patriots in the past with his return yards and converting third downs to first downs on touch or difficult plays.  I admire Leon Washington and regret his injury and hope he is able to come back.

Poor Offensive Tackle Play: And can’t recall seeing more poor performances by offensive tackles than I have seen this year.  I’d like to call out some players for really poor play.

Wayne Gandy of the Cardinals has been awful every time I have seen him.

Stephon Heyer of the Washington Redskins, now playing left tackle, has also been a liability to the team.  He is a good run blocker but not a good pass blocker.  Ironically, he played better against the Eagles this week but Campbell did his offensive line no favors by stepping into coverage or playing poorly when he had plenty of time to throw.

Orlando Pace was just atrocious against the Bengals and has been in the few games I’ve seen the Bears play this year.  It is shame because he was, at one time, one of the best tackles in the league.  His injuries and age have clearly caught up with him.

Flozell Adams of the Dallas Cowboys is the most irritating tackle.  He is not longer a great blocker and gets call for holds and false starts frequently.  Of course his tripping of Justin Tuck is just an example of how he survives.

New Orleans Saints:  This team is for real!  I have them ranked as the number one team in the league right now.  Can they go undefeated?  I frankly don’t think they can but the moxie they showed in coming back against Miami is impressive and scary for the rest of the league.


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati

Defensive Player: Antrel Rolle, FS, Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Lineman: Evan Mathis, G, Cincinnati Bengals

Special Teams: Percy Harvin, WR/KR, Minnesota Vikings

Rookie of the Week: Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets

 

2008 NFL Wildcard Weekend Review

Arizona Cardinals over Atlanta Falcons, 30-24

The matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons was one I looked forward too since these teams have not been in the playoffs recently and both have rather interesting storylines this season. Both teams looked like they belonged in the playoffs and played a hard fought, entertaining game.

Arizona played poorly the last month of the season but they have been good at home this year so going into the game I gave them the edge against a young team with a rookie quarterback. The Cardinals did exactly what I thought they needed to do to win the game. They established at least a semblance of a running game, which helped keep the pressure off Kurt Warner so the offense could move the ball. They abandoned the run in the middle of the game, but as soon as they went back to it in the fourth quarter they once again had better production on offense.

This game, however, came down to what most playoff games come down to – turnovers. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, which hurt. But the biggest play of the game was when DT Darnell Dockett burst into the backfield causing a fumble on the handoff between Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, which Antrel Rolle returned for a touchdown. Add to that two big offensive plays on passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the first half, and a safety late in the fourth quarter, and that it was it for the Falcons.

Despite the prolific offense the Cardinals won this game on defense. The defensive line did a great job of bottling up Michael Turner and constantly seemed to be playing in the Falcons backfield. As the commentator noted at one point, it was almost as if the Cardinals defense knew the snap count. But the Falcons offensive line really let them down.

For the Cardinals the key to the game offensively, as noted earlier, was running the ball just enough to keep the defense honest. And a round of applause for Cardinal left tackle Mike Gandy for controlling Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham for much of the game.

Despite this nice win in the playoffs, I fear the Cardinals are in for a rude awakening when they travel to Carolina. They have played awful on the road this year and they are facing one of the four best teams in football.

MVP: Darnell Dockett, DT, Arizona Cardinals

 

San Diego Chargers over Indianapolis Colts, 23-17 OT

I had a feeling the Chargers would come out of this game with a win, even though I picked the Colts after hearing LaDanian Tomlinson and possibly Antonio Gates would be unable to play. The Chargers proved they belong in the playoffs despite their 8-8 record with a gutsy performance against the Colts. They mostly outplayed the Colts but two costly turnovers almost cost them the game: one when Darren Sproles fumbled the ball out of the end zone at the one yard line taking away an almost definite touchdown, and an interception in the end zone by Philip Rivers.

Despite his fumble, Sproles had an outstanding game replacing LaDanian Tomlinson. In fact, he recorded the third highest total yardage (rushing, receiving, and returns) in NFL postseason history with 328 all-purpose yards. Frankly, though, it was the phenomenal punting by Mike Scifres that was the difference in the game. He continually boomed punts and pinned the Colts back near their goal line, leaving them a very long field to traverse for a score.

I would not call this game a choke by the Colts, even though they tend to do so in the postseason. I didn’t think Manning played a great game, especially when he was out of the pocket. But the Colts inability to establish a running game and very solid coverage of the Colts’ receivers put Manning in very tough spots. And this may be one of the least effective games I’ve seen Colts center Jeff Saturday play. He struggled against DT Jamal Williams. The Colts eventually started double teaming Williams to get the ground game going.

As well as the Chargers played against the Colts, Pittsburgh’s defense is not the Colts defense. I see the Chargers limping out of Pittsburgh licking their wounds worse than they did last time they played.

MVP: Darren Sproles, RB/KR, San Diego Chargers

 

Baltimore Ravens over Miami Dolphins, 27-9

Five turnovers, including an Ed Reed interception return for a touchdown. I really could end the game summary right there because that is it.

Going into this game I thought the Ravens defense would ravage the Dolphins and they did. Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed had their way with the Dolphins and Chad Pennington played a terrible game.

On the flip side, while they played reasonably well, the Ravens offense didn’t do much to help the cause. But they did enough to come out with a win.

Next up are the Tennessee Titans who the Ravens played very well in Baltimore earlier this year, and could have won the game but for a bad face mask call against Terrell Suggs. This time the matchup is in Tennessee and it should be quite interesting.

MVP: Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens

 

Philadelphia Eagles over Minnesota Vikings, 26-14

Of the Wildcard games this one was the least satisfying. I felt like I was watching a regular season game between two mediocre teams — at least on the offensive side of the ball.

The key difference in this game is Tarvaris Jackson just is not a good quarterback. His interception in the second quarter that Asante Samuel ran back for a touchdown really proved to be the difference in a close game.

Despite his 300 yards passing, I wasn’t too impressed with Donovan McNabb either. He did just enough to get the win, with a lot of help from his defense.

Both the defenses actually played fairly well, but they gave up big plays as well. The Eagles bottled up Adrian Peterson except for a 40 yard run in the second quarter for a touchdown and a 7-6 lead. But otherwise “All Day” was just “One Play” against the Eagles. Of course it didn’t take long for Tarvaris Jackson to chunk up his pick six to Samuels to squander the lead.

The Vikings also bottled up the Eagles Brian Westbrook most of the day. But he is not a player you bottle up for long. He broke off a 71-yard run after catch for a touchdown to make a slim 16-14 lead early in the fourth quarter a 23-14 lead. And that was the game.

I was actually rooting for the Vikings for no particular reason and thought, just maybe, they could pull it out. But with Jackson at quarterback, playing from behind, the Vikings were all but doomed.

No, I don’t think the Eagles will beat the Giants next week. But I hope they do. One Manning down, one to go.

MVP: Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Darren Sproles, RB/KR, San Diego Chargers
Defensive Player of the Week: Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Mike Gandy, LT, Arizona Cardinals
Special Teams Player of the Week: Mike Scifres, P, San Diego Chargers