Fall in the Rockies can be full of surprises. The trees here were lively and colorful until all of a sudden 70-mile per hour winds blew off all the leaves one gusty night, everybody waking to barren woods in the morning like it was the middle of winter. Only days later, the Broncos lost to the Raiders in a 59-14 debacle. The Raiders were those 70-mph wind gusts, and like all wind gusts, they will die down soon after their one glorious moment. But the trees won’t fully recover until next spring, and neither will the Broncos. Oh, they have some good football left in them down the stretch, but this will be remembered as the high point of perhaps the decade for the Raiders, and the Broncos will be looking back over their shoulder at what could have been for the rest of the year. It may inspire them or it may crush them. Only time will tell.
Across the bay from Oakland, fans in San Francisco got their wish, as Mike Singletary gave the ball to David Carr over Alex Smith. Carr had the ball with 30 seconds left on his own 20-yard line with one timeout, down three points to the Panthers. He took the snap, looked downfield, and threw a two-yard checkdown to Vernon Davis, who was tackled immediately in-bounds. He didn’t even attempt to get into field goal range. In Miami, Chad Henne of the Dolphins faced a third-and-8 with less than two minutes left, down by one to the Steelers. Needing 8 yards, or enough to make a 4th and short, he threw to his fullback in the flat, picking up two yards. Is it too much to ask a millionaire athlete, a supposed professional, to have a little bit of situational awareness? Both teams had a shot, unlikely as it may be, but still a shot, to come from behind to win. Were they afraid of throwing interceptions? Boo hoo! I get disgusted whenever a quarterback plays like this, and I will be rooting against the 49ers and Dolphins for the rest of the year, until they come out and play like professionals for a change. I’m sure other teams do this as well, so feel free to point out anyone I’m missing!
Oakland Raiders 59 @ Denver Broncos 14
Four and a half minutes into the game, down 14-0, Josh McDaniels gave up trying, for some reason, inserting Tim Tebow for Kyle Orton. Game over. Orton and Demaryius Thomas fumble a handoff, the Raiders recover, and the defense can’t stop them. 21-0 and that was all the scoring they needed.
Kyle Orton has played at an MVP level for 6 games, but everyone is quick to call for Tim Tebow. Has any football player played so well and earned so little respect as Orton? It’s not his fault the defense gave up seven touchdown drives, forcing only four punts. I want to see the Broncos succeed. The day they bench Orton for Tebow is the day I start rooting for the Raiders to win the division.
Should the Broncos fire McDaniels? I don’t think so—they would do well to keep him on to coach the offense, which he is very good at. The Broncos don’t suck because of coaching, they suck because of their personnel moves. They have built a powerful offense, after all, but in doing so, they built a 29th ranked defense. This isn’t a case of hindsight being 20-20; the mistakes were obvious even at the time they were made, which makes them inexcusable. The Broncos should fire GM Brian Xanders and replace him with anybody. Even the stupid Matt Millen would be an upgrade. At this point, I don’t see a better option other than to play out the season with the coaching staff they have. McDaniels might cry about losing influence within the organization, but what other options does he have? What other team would give him a job, other than the Cleveland Browns?
Five of Jason Campbell’s six 20-yard passes came against Perrish Cox, who suffered a concussion. It’s a good thing the Broncos don’t need Alphonso Smith!
And finally, a plea to McDaniels: RUN THE BALL ON 4TH AND SHORT! DON’T PASS IT! Teams across the NFL convert 73.4% of the time on short yardage runs, while they convert 48.5% of the time on short yardage passes. How many short yardage conversions have the Broncos blown this year on incomplete passes? How many more games would they have won had they converted? But I’m sure McDaniels knows a whole lot more about that than I do.
St. Louis Rams 17 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18
Steven Jackson became the Rams’ all-time leading rusher. In week 4 in St. Louis, they stopped the game to celebrate his becoming the Rams’ second all time leading rusher. I wonder what they would have done if this game were in St. Louis. They would probably have just called off the rest of the game to allow themselves to go masturbate in the locker room for the rest of the day.
Washington Redskins 17 @ Chicago Bears 14
The Redskins recovered 6 out of 7 fumbles on Sunday. That remarkable luck is a large part of why they won. DeAngelo Hall got the headlines, and with good reason. Looking at his play this year, there is one obvious reason he’s improved enough to actually play at the level of his reputation: he understands the defense he’s a part of. He knows if and when a play is designed to pressure the opposing quarterback, and he knows on those plays whether he can afford to jump a short route, or if he has to play back so he doesn’t get beaten deep. Part of this is the Redskins front seven doing their jobs well. When they need to get pressure, they get pressure. Brian Orakpo has been one of the best and most consistent pass rushers in the NFL throughout his young career. Last Sunday, even fat Albert Haynesworth played the way the team expected him to when they signed him for a cool $100 mil. He actually looked like… Albert Haynesworth.
The Redskins are 4-2 in close games (decided by less than 7 points) so far this year, after going 2-7 in close games last year. Games under 7 points generally come down to a random bounce of a football, or one team recovering 6 out of 7 fumbles. Not that I’m complaining, but I’d like to see them win convincingly for a change. They will have an opportunity to do so next week against a real NFL-caliber Detroit squad in the return of Matthew Stafford.
New York Giants 41 @ Dallas Cowboys 35
Dallas fans are screaming that Jon Kitna is worse than Brad Johnson was a couple years ago—that is absurd. The offense will be fine with Kitna under center. Or at least as fine as it was otherwise. Roy Williams agrees with me: “Tony is our starter, but Jon is just as good. We are going to work this week in practice so we can get the timing down with the receivers. But I have complete faith in him.” Dallas sportswriters aren’t so optimistic, but why would you expect a sportswriter to be knowledgeable about football?
Cleveland Browns 30 @ New Orleans Saints 17
Fluke alert! The Saints were without their top three CBs on Sunday, and a 33 year old linebacker returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The Browns weren’t a better team, they were luckier. It takes a lot of things going right to win a Super Bowl’ Saints fans are now seeing the other side of the coin.
Browns LB Scott Fujita played for the Saints last season, and explained after the game: “I tried to do my best early this week in practice to prepare our team for what we would face today, as it’s no secret that I am familiar with the Saints. It’s one thing to plan the X’s and O’s, but it’s another to come out and execute it. The way we did it was pretty impressive. … I didn’t think we’d shut them down like that.”
Fluke or no fluke, the Saints have lost 14 turnovers in the last five games… yikes! Doug Farrar also wondered what was happening to them, and he thinks they are missing Reggie Bush more than his raw stats would indicate.
Philadelphia Eagles 19 @ Tennessee Titans 37
The Titans suspended Kenny Britt for the first quarter and a half because he was in a bar fight Friday morning, and could have lost the game because of it. Teams need to punish players when they break the rules, but the Titans punish everybody—their team, and their fans—when they suspend a starter for real game time. Don’t mistake this for a good game by Kerry Collins; he was bad. Britt was so good he only needed two and a half quarters to take over the game.
Kevin Kolb is starting to look like the guy Andy Reid thought he would be—just in time to get benched again for Michael Vick in two weeks after the team’s bye.
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 @ Miami Dolphins 22
Pittsburgh won the game, but I’m not sure they were the better team. The Roethlisberger end zone fumble was a weird play, and despite my gripe about Henne’s execution of the two-minute drill, he actually played well for most of the game against a very good defense. The ‘Fins took every opportunity where Brandon Marshall was one-on-one with his defender, but he ended up only catching 5 of 9 passes thrown his way. Davone Bess continues to be Miami’s best, if not their most famous, receiver. Slot wideout Brian Hartline caught all 5 passes thrown his way, equaling Marshall’s yardage output in 4 fewer plays.
Jacksonville Jaguars 20 @ Kansas City Chiefs 42
The inexplicable Todd Haley experience continues: the Jags have the 31st ranked pass defense, so in the first half the Chiefs called 7 passes to 17 runs, scoring only 14 points. The second half splits were no better: 11 passes to 25 runs. They scored 28 second half points due to field possession: the Jags opening kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Chiefs the ball on the 40, leading to a 53-yard TD pass to Dwayne Bowe. Rookie Eric Berry returned an interception to the Jaguars 12, setting up another TD. I thought Todd Haley looked great as Arizona’s offensive coordinator when they went to the Super Bowl, but he’s been downright awful in Kansas City this year. Maybe offensive head coaches making stupid decisions is an AFC West thing. Vince Verhei of ESPN Insider would argue differently, making the point that “run-oriented teams actually play better when they stick to their usual strategy against teams with poor pass defense.”
San Francisco 49ers 20 @ Carolina Panthers 23
So much for the Jimmy Claussen experiment—Matt Moore was the 5th most valuable QB in the league Sunday, and that performance includes only 8 passes thrown to the original Steve Smith. The 49ers don’t lack talent, they lack a coaching staff that knows how to take advantage of their talent.
New England Patriots 23 @ San Diego Chargers 20
It’s now official–the final bit of Marty Schottenheimer’s influence on the team has been forgotten. It’s all Norv now! Wonder why Phillip Rives was unable to take advantage of New England’s terrible opass defense? Norv! Plus, thanks to A.J. Smith, his top receivers were Patrick Crayton and Buster Davis. This is a team with serious problems.
Remember a few years ago, when the Patriots were playing the Panthers in the Super Bowl? The game was tied at 29 and the Pats had the ball at the 40 with one minute left. The TV announcers were talking about how the “smart” thing to do is to play it safe and play for overtime rather than risk throwing an interception. Bill Belichick wasn’t listening, as he ordered the then-inexperienced Tom Brady to push the ball downfield, and the Pats won in regulation on a 41 yard field goal. Pats fans didn;t complain one bit.
Sunday, the Pats faced a 4th and 1 with 2 minutes to go. They handed off to Kevin Faulk, who was stuffed for no gain. Like the game last year against the Colts, Pats fans shouldn’t be allowed to complain about the play call, unless they also believe the team shouldn’t have won that Super Bowl back in 2004. Belichick is aggressive, and more often than not, it works. It just seems bad because when it fails it fails spectacularly.
Hidden play: on the Rivers to Hester lateral/fumble, notice how the first New England player doesn’t pick the ball up, but lays a hit on Hester! This allowed Ninkovich to return the fumble 63 yards. Ninkovich gets all the attention on national TV, and I don’t even know the name of the guy who threw the block. But he was who made that return happen.
Buffalo Bills 34 @ Baltimore Ravens 37
Names of players who have torched the Ravens defense this season: Seneca Wallace, Peyton Hillis, Kyle Orton, and now, Steve Johnson, Lee Evans, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Much like the post-Schottenheimer Chargers, I’m afraid the post-Rex Ryan Ravens are on a long, slow slope toward mediocrity. It goes without saying that Jim Harbaugh is a much better head coach than Norv Turner, so he’ll keep the team competitive, but I hope you enjoyed the Ravens defense over the past 10 years, because you’re not going to see anything like it in Baltimore again. Joe Flacco really should be playing better, considering he has three #1 receivers to throw to. The Raven’s decision to hire Jim Zorn as their QB coach is baffling, to put it mildly. Zorn is doing what he does best: ruining the promising careers of the players he coaches.
Cincinnati Bengals 32 @ Atlanta Falcons 39
Roddy White caught 11 of 13 throws to him for 201 yards, 2 TDs, and a 2-point conversion. Bengals CB Jonathan Joseph was out due to injury, leaving the Bengals with only one crackerjack CB (Leon Hall). Considering that the Falcons have only one crackerjack receiver, wouldn’t it behoove the Bengals to man Hall up on White all game? The Bengals didn’t think so, as Hall played one side of the field only, allowing the Falcons to line White up against Morgan Trent and the husk of Adam “Pacman” Jones. I don’t understand why teams don’t utilize their best players more effectively. Did they think their defense was “good enough?” I would say the Bengals lost due to this baffling stubbornness, but I’m sure they know more about football than I do.
Arizona Cardinals 10 @ Seattle Seahawks 22
I am surprised that Pete Carroll is doing as well as he is this year. He looks like a promising rookie—he’ll make some mistakes, but if he can learn from them and adjust accordingly, he’ll be a very good NFL coach next season, or maybe even later this season. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are drowning in a pile of their own feces, desperately needing a quarterback after cutting the one they had. Oh, well!
Minnesota Vikings 24 @ Green Bay Packers 28
Somewhere in Minnesota’s Farvegasm, they seem to have forgotten that they have one of the best running backs in the NFL. Favre looks like the Favre from 2008 when he was just tossing the ball around for the Jets, rather than the smart, accurate QB from last year’s Vikings.