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 Divisional Playoff Predictions

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints

The Cardinals defense did not show up last week, but their offense was unstoppable against a Green Bay defense that has played extremely well the later half of the season. On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints had a rash of injuries, especially on defense, and have not played a meaningful game in a month. And in fact, they played rather poorly their last three games.

So what teams show up on Saturday? I find it hard to believe that the Cardinals, as great as they are offensively, can keep scoring on every possession two weeks in a row. And the Saints, despite being down the last few weeks, should be well rested and ready to go. Drew Brees has had a great season and has the more weapons than any quarterback in the league. Being at home, in the loud dome, against a porous defense, I think the Saints will pull this game out, maybe even in a blowout. New Orleans.


Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

The Ravens really did not have much of a contest last week so I don’t know whether the Ravens are on a roll or not. They are very one dimensional with their key offensive threat being Ray Rice. Flacco only completed four passes last week in their win against the Patriots and has been shaky the second half of the season. Further, they have found a way to squander numerous games they should have won this year. Add to that, they have no true number one receiver and have a hard time getting the ball down the field.

On the other hand, they have already proven they can beat the Colts. They should have beaten them earlier this year in Baltimore, but blew their opportunity, like they have done so many times this year. They also have the kind of offense that can beat the Colts, a stout offensive line and running game that can control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field. But at some point they have to be able to make plays in the passing game to beat the Colts, and recently they have not show the ability to do that.

The Colts have not played much real football the past month. But they went 14-0 and always found a way to pull out close games. Peyton Manning has been a machine at quarterback, and even with the Ravens stout defense, he can pick apart any secondary in the league.

But what Colts team will show up? The perennial choke artists who swallow the big one when it comes playoff time? Even in their lucky Super Bowl season when the Patriots knocked off the top seed and best team in the regular season, the San Diego Chargers, they almost choked against a rather weak Kansas City Chiefs team in the Wildcard round.

I hope the choke artists show up against the Ravens and lose. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Ravens have the offensive firepower to beat the Colts. So I have to go with the Indianapolis Colts.


Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings

This is a tough game for me to call. Dallas is on a roll and has played very well on both sides of the ball. And while Minnesota ended the season on a high note, they falter a little bit during the end of the season. But at the end of the day, I really think the Vikings have a more talent on both sides of the ball. The have great receivers, Dallas has good ones, they have a great running back, Dallas has good ones, and they have a very good defense, Dallas has a good one. I will call Favre and Romo a wash, as they both tend to underperform in the playoffs (but Romo didn’t last week). Minnesota Vikings.

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers

The New York Jets got three gift wins in a row. Don’t get me wrong, you have to respect what they did to get into the playoffs and win. And their defense is stout, the best in the league this year. But their offense, like that of the Ravens, is one dimensional. They can run the ball very well but have a hard time making big plays in the passing game. That will doom them against the red hot San Diego Chargers, who are going into the playoffs with the most momentum of any team in the league. Their much improved defense, along with the mouthy jerk but great quarterback Philip Rivers, a good if not sterling running game, and big receivers, will spell doom for the Jets. I think the Jets defense can hold up reasonably well, but their offense is not going to score enough for a victory. San Diego Chargers.

2009 NFL Season: Week 16

OBSERVATIONS

Other than the multiple playoff implications set up for next week, the biggest story of Week 16 was the Indianapolis Colts eschewing a chance to go undefeated in the regular season by pulling their key starters out in the third quarter against the New York Jets. The Colts ultimately lost the game. The looks on Peyton Manning’s face as he saw the back-ups give up the lead and the game were quite revealing. But of course he was a true solider after the game and said he was fine with the coach’s decision. The Colts fan were not on board with the decision. Coach Jim Caldwell has taken a bit of a whacking the press. All I will say is that going 16-0 means nothing if you don’t win the Super Bowl, as I so painfully know. Without Manning the chances of the Colts winning the Super Bowl would be close to nil, so I have no real problem with playing it safe. It’s the psyche and momentum of a team that has historically choked in the playoffs that is the real question. They really have nothing to play for next week, so they’ll definitely get some rest.

There are so many mediocre teams in the AFC it’s comical. Despite shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly, the Baltimore Ravens have avoided a shot to the head and are still alive! Unbelievable, until you consider all the other teams vying for a playoff spot have done the same. Right now the Ravens and the New York Jets control their fates next week. Wins and they are in. I am not going to worry or care about who wins and how it shapes up. Whoever the Patriots play in the playoffs will be a tough matchup.

The New York Giants are finally out of the playoff hunt. They lay down against the Carolina Panthers. Good riddance to one Manning.

And speaking of the Panthers, what would this team look like going into the playoff race had Matt Moore been starting all season long? John Fox seems to have made a big mistake at the quarterback position early in the year.

You can say the same for Jeff Fischer of the Tennessee Titans. While I don’t fault Kerry Collins for the Titans 0-6 start like some do, clearly Young should have come in sooner to add a spark to the team.

I am ready for the playoffs!

New England Patriots over Jacksonville Jaguars, 35-7

The Patriots seem to be hitting on all cylinders the past few weeks and are poised to make some noise in the playoffs. Brady played an outstanding game against the Jaguars and the defense has shown up and played well the past few weeks. Being the pessimist I am, and looking like a four seed in the playoffs, that means we’ll probably end up facing the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the playoffs (assuming we beat our first playoff opponent, which I think we will). But I guess that might be easier than facing the Chargers in San Diego, who are hitting on all cylinders, and then some, themselves.

This Sunday Patriots fans will basically be praying that we come out of the game healthy and ready to roll into the playoffs.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB


GAMES I WATCHED

San Diego Chargers over Tennessee Titans, 42-17

While I thought the Chargers would win this game I did not expect them to win so easily. Right now I think San Diego is the team to beat in the playoffs. They are playing the best football in the league as of Week 16. I hate to say that because they have to rank as one of my least favorite teams. I expect them to easily get to the AFC Championship game against either the Patriots or the Colts. I’d like to see us dance on their logo again and make LaDanian Tomlinson cry.

MVP: Philip Rivers, QB

Pittsburgh Steelers over Baltimore Ravens, 23-20

How many times can a team shoot themselves in the foot, blow game after game after game, and still control their destiny for making a playoff spot. It’s really unbelievable. Having seen the Ravens squander games so many times this year I want to say they don’t really deserve to be in the playoffs, but neither do any of the of other mediocre teams they are vying against.

Once again big mistakes at the worst moments cost the Ravens the game. Derrick Mason dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter that would have sealed the win, so he has to be the goat of this game. But Flacco didn’t do much to help matters at the end of the game either.

If the Ravens win Sunday they should be a dangerous team in the playoffs. They do have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and really should be looking at a better record than have now. If they had a true number one receiver they could be really dangerous, but they don’t.

Pittsburgh still has a heartbeat left too, and again, if they make the playoffs, despite their recent poor play, who knows what could happen?

MVP: LaMarr Woodley, LB

Philadelphia Eagles over Denver Broncos, 30-27

After the Eagles took a 20-7 lead into halftime I thought the game was basically over but the Broncos gave them a real run for it in the second half. That the Broncos didn’t fold and fought back must be a bit gratifying to Broncos fans. They still have a good chance to make the playoffs. Even though they are listed as a Wild Card team as of today, they need to help to get in. Like many of the other AFC teams vying for playoff spots, if they make it in they will be a scary opponent for whoever they play.

I am not a big believer in the Philadelphia Eagles, frankly, but right now they seem to be playing the best football in the NFC. I still think that the faltering Saints and Vikings are still the teams to beat in the NFC, but Philadelphia right now is looking poised to make a real run.

MVP: Brent Celek, TE

Dallas Cowboys over Washington Redskins, 17-0

I really don’t have a lot to say about this game. I originally was not going to bother watching it, but I did. It was a nondescript game. Everyone knew Dallas would win, and they did so rather easily. As usual the Redskins offense looked awful. Dallas goes to Philadelphia next week for a huge game which will decide the NFC East champion.

MVP: Tony Romo, QB

Chicago over Minnesota, 36-30 OT

What is going on with the Minnesota Vikings? They suddenly have faltered badly on both sides of the ball. This was an exciting game and the Vikings did come back from a 17 point deficit to almost win the game. I have to admit being a bit stunned most of the game. I was waiting for Cutler to throw up some interceptions but he actually played a decent game. Instead of folding under pressure the Bears hung in and barely pulled out a victory.

Adrian Peterson and his fumbles are really a problem and he essentially gave this game away by fumbling after a nice catch and run in overtime. The fumble handed the ball right back to the Bears who scored on a nice pass play to end the game. Peterson, hold on to the ball!

While I still think the Vikings and Saints are the teams to beat despite faltering of late, maybe they have seen their best days and the rising Eagles and Cowboys will eat their lunch. We’ll see.

MVP: Devin Aromashodu, WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers, 206 yards rushing
Defensive Player: Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans
Offensive Lineman: Kris Dielman, G, San Diego Chargers
Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland Raiders (61 yard field goal)
Rookie of the Week: Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans


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 6

This is coming really late this week because I was on vacation in Miami and Key West without a computer, but I am posting it anyway.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Tennessee Titans, 59-0

“This probably doesn’t mean anything in the long run but I will take the easy win.” – fellow Patriots fan.

Before getting too excited about the great performance the Patriots put on against Tennessee let me say that Tennessee was so bad that it was not really a true test for the Patriots. Brady looked like the Brady of old and maybe this is the kind of game he needed to get his football legs under him. But Tennessee just simply seemed to fold. This was a great win for the Patriots and with the Jets losing puts New England on top in the tough AFC East. I hope we can keep it going.

What has happened to the Tennessee Titans is really beyond me. Even with injuries and weak defensive backs, especially with Courtland Finnegan out, the team on the field just simply seemed to quit, again. I thought they quit against the Colts last week, and I definitely think they quit this week. I thought Tennessee played an excellent game against Pittsburgh in the opening game of the season but lost in overtime. Since then they have regressed to an absolute mess. And it’s not Kerry Collins’ fault. He played reasonably well in the first half. His woeful statistics were a result of numerous dropped balls by his receivers. On the defensive side they simply didn’t compete. I am shocked by how far this team has fallen. A few losses at the start of the season and the team has simply folded. What is really shocking is that it is a Jeff Fisher coached team.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB

Minnesota Vikings over Baltimore Ravens, 33-31

This turned out to be a wildly entertaining game between two excellent teams. Baltimore got behind early but came storming back in the second half to almost win the game, but for a missed 44-yard field goal at the end of the game.

Minnesota played excellent on both sides of the ball for most of the game, especially Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, and Sydney Rice. Defensive end Jared Allen harassed Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco all day, but Joe stayed cooled and brought his team back in the second half.

The telling part of this game was the Minnesota defense collapsed a bit in the second half giving up big plays and scoring drives letting the Ravens back in the game. I don’t know if they got tired or the Ravens’ offense just started clicking, but it never should have been this close, as Baltimore was down 30-17 in the third quarter.

The Ravens have lost some real heartbreakers the last three weeks but they are an excellent team that should be around for the postseason. They competed hard throughout the game and came within a makeable field goal of pulling off the upset. Kudos to Flacco for being cool in the pocket and the entire team for competing hard for 60 minutes.

Adrian Peterson had 143 yards rushing but Favre was the key to the offensive attack in the passing game.

MVP: Brett Favre, QB

Atlanta Falcons over Chicago Bears, 21-14

To me the Falcons and the Bears look like to top tier teams but not teams in the very top tier. This was a reasonably well played game by both teams but the Bears blew their chance at a win with a fumble on the goal line in the third quarter that the Falcons recovered.

Matt Ryan continues to play very well and Roddy White seems to be coming on, although he has been very inconsistent in the past. Tight end Tony Gonzalez has really added a new dimension to this team and it is great to see a mostly receiving tight end who can actually block as well. This is a team I expect to improve as the year goes on.

Meanwhile, I am not sure what to make of Jay Cutler. Talent wise he should be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he’s not. He talks a big game about being a leader, but frankly I don’t always see that on the field. And what happened to running back Matt Forte? The Bears have gotten little out of the running game this year and Cutler really needs the treat of the run to be more effective. The Bears are a puzzling team.

Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux forced the fumble that held the Bears out of the end zone so I am going with him as MVP.

MVP: Jonathan Babineaux, DT

Denver Broncos over San Diego Chargers, 34-23

Denver is for real. They went in and handed their archrival San Diego Chargers a home loss in the division and are in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West. Kyle Orton may not be the flashiest quarterback in the league but he’s proven he is a winner. He is an accurate short to intermediate passer and the down field blocking for the receivers opens up nice holes. The running game is also starting to make progress.

The real star of the game though was Eddie Royal, who had a punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns that basically broke the back San Diego’s back, even though Darren Sproles also had a punt return for a touchdown. I believe that is the first time I have ever seen three kick returns for a touchdown in the same quarter.

Denver is on top, I am not sure where San Diego is going to net out. Their defense is not that good and will likely cost them the playoffs if they don’t turn things around.

MVP: Eddie Royal, WR/KR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Defensive Player: Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota Vikings

Offensive Lineman: Logan Mankins, G, New England Patriots

Special Teams: Eddie Royal, WR/KR, Denver Broncos

Rookie of the Week: Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans