By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NFL Review — Week Seven
PHILADELPHIA — The Patriots (7-0) and Colts (6-0) remained unblemished as their Week Nine battle of the “Unbeatens” in New England is almost a reality. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said it all by saying “Any time you win, you’re doing just fine”. The Patriots’ 49-21 demolition win over the hapless Miami Dolphins set a franchise record for most victories to start a season breaking the 2004 squad’s mark of 6-0. BTW: I have no problem with Patriots head coach Bill Belichik re-inserting starting quarterback Tom Brady after a backup QB Matt Cassell threw a pick that was returned for a touchdown, good for them since not even a 21 point lead is safe today. The Colts with their 29-7 victory over the Jaguars joined only the St Louis Rams (1999-2001) and the Green Bay Packers (1929-1931) as the only three teams in history to begin three consecutive seasons with 6-0-or-better records.
Deion Sanders compares the 2007 Patriots to his San Francisco 49ers team which won Super Bowl XXIX said, “This team reminds me of the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. We had the number one offense, [a top] defense and in the off-season we loaded up [with new players]. We built up to overtake the Dallas Cowboys just like this team built up [to overtake the Colts]“. We know Prime Time rambles sometimes, but we will see he is on to something. Both unbeatens can not make the mistake of looking too far ahead to their “epic” battle as week 8 of the NFL season will present some challenges for both teams. The Patriots have a good test at home versus the Redskins and the Colts have another tough road game against the rested Panthers (4-2).
Some key tidbits that came out of Week 7 include:
– Parity Still Rules: There are 18 teams with a .500 or better record and 14 teams with losing records including six teams at 2-4 (these can point to the Super XL Champion Steelers as this was their record at this point) and winless teams the Rams and Dolphins (both 0-7). The AFC East seems all but wrapped up with the Patriots sporting a 5 game edge, but all of the other divisions have brewing battles coming with teams currently 1 to 2 games within the lead with the AFC South, AFC West, AFC North, and NFC East with three teams at .500 or better.
– The Patriots are a scary bunch: The NFL has not seen a dominating offensive team on this level since the 1999 Rams. Led by quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots seem to only be concerned with taking care of business each week as their team leaders and the coaching staff have preached that there is no room for complacency in their locker room and that nothing has been accomplished yet. All phases of the team have been amazing this year — Offensive Line (only 8 sacks all year), Offense ( 432.9 yards per game, No. 1 ranked), Defense (269 yards per game, ranked No. 3), running the ball (133 yards per game, ranked No. 7), and Special Teams (Opponents only averaging 5.5 yards on punt returns and 9 of 10 on FGs) — and it is hard to find a weakness on this team (maybe age on defense). They are focused totally on winning the Super Bowl and even past malcontent receivers Donte Stallworth (great run after the catch touchdowns in the last 2 games) and Randy Moss (10 TDs this season) have stepped in line and reaped the benefits of playing on this early season juggernaut. A scary stat is that the Patriots’ 279 points through seven games is 52 points better than the second ranked Cowboys and the point total is more than six teams scored during the entire 2006 season.
– Play to the end of games: This weekend’s games typified the NFL’s “Play to the Final Gun” image. There were three games decided in the last ten seconds including the Bears marching 97 yards with no timeouts to beat the Eagles 19-16 on a game-winning touchdown pass, the Titans finally slaying the scrappy Texans on a Rob Bironas 29-yard field goal (one of an NFL record 8 FGs) with no time left after the Texans put up 29 points in the fourth quarter, the Broncos winning 31-28 over the Steelers on the last play of the game on a Jason Elam field goal of 49 yards as time expired, and the Redskins dodging a huge bullet when Cardinal kicker Neil Rackers missed a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left after the Cardinals recovered an improbable on-side kick.
– You better have a good kicker: I had an epiphany regarding kickers in the Lincoln Financial field pressbox this past Sunday. First I watched the miss of a potential game-winning kick by Rackers on TV and then I witnessed the Eagles-Bears field goal fest (7 field goals made on 8 attempts) as neither team could punch it in when needed. The whole scene made even me realize kickers make a huge difference to teams (that is very begrudgingly since I am not a “kicker” guy). With several NFL offenses struggling in the red-zone and teams playing a run first and lean on your defense style (Ravens, Titans, Jaguars, Raiders, Redskins, and others), points are precious enough that putting “three” on the board instead of coming up empty keeps coaches happy. Kickers seem to be more accurate than ever and from greater distances (2006 showed this as kickers overall made an NFL record 81.4 percent of their regular-season field-goal attempts and two kicks were made from over 60 yards including an NFL record tying 63 yard game winner by Matt Bryant over the Eagles).
– The Giants’ Defense is back: Led by their defense, the Giants are back in the NFC race at 5-2. The group seemed all but dead after starting 0-2 and allowing 80 points, but they have rattled off five straight wins keyed by new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and a rejuvenated Michael Strahan (2 Â½ sacks this week). The Giants have allowed just 69 points during their game-winning streak and they have an NFL-high 27 sacks led by DE Osi Umenyiora (leads NFL with 8 sacks).
Before we say “Cheerio” as the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants head off to Merry Ole’ England for their Sunday battle in Wembley Stadium, lets take a look back at some news and notes from week 7.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady: It seems you can pencil in Brady every week for a game ball, but he was even better than his usual amazing self this week in a 49-21 rout of the Dolphins. The Patriots signal caller showed why he is the leader so far in the MVP race throwing for 354 yards and a career-high six TDs (27 for the season), including 281 yards and five TDs in the first half. Brady may have Hollywood good looks, but he never puts himself ahead of his teammates and prefers to talk “team first” and what a team it is, maybe the NFL’s best at 7-0. He also extended his NFL record for throwing at least three TD pass at the start of a season (7). The star quarterback even left the game in the second half, but returned after backup Matt Cassell threw a bad interception. Through seven games, the three time Pro Bowler has throwing numbers of 169-229 ( 73.8 %), 2125 yards, 9.3 yards per pass, 27 TDs, and 2 INTs and at his current pace he is on track to break Peyton Manning’s 2004 touchdown record (49) and Dan Marino’s 1984 yardage record (5084 yards).
Chicago Bears QB Brian Griese: The journeyman quarterback looked a lot like his Hall of Fame father Bob. The younger Griese may have saved the Bears season as he led his team on an improbable 97-yard game-winning drive with no timeouts while calling his own plays due to electronic communication problems. For the game he threw for 27-41, 322 yards, TD, and 0 INTs.
Cincinnati Bengals RB Kenny Watson: The former Penn State back showed that injured running back Rudi Johnson was not the only downhill runner on the Bengals as he ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. Watson led the way as Cincinnati shifted its focus to the ground game, rushing 41 times in a 38-31 victory over the Jets.
Washington Redskins MLB London Fletcher: The scrappy linebacker showed why the Redskins made the wise move of bringing him in as a free agent. Fletcher had a game-high 13 tackles and a game-changing interception that he returned 27 yards in a thrilling 21-19 victory over the Cardinals.
Tennessee Titans Kicker Rob Bironas: As I admitted earlier “kickers are important” and none was bigger this weekend than Bironas. He sent an NFL-record eight field goals through the uprights in a crazy 38-36 victory over the Texans on the road. Bironas’ kicks included a game winning 29-yarder as time expired and others of 52, 25, 21, 30, 28, 43, and 29.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense: They outgained the Detroit Lions (422-278) and held the ball for 35:50 of possession, but they could only put up 16 points on the board and were shutout in the first and third quarters. They tried to mount a furious fourth quarter comeback, but overall they wasted a great effort by RB Earnest Graham (19 carries for 92 rushing yards plus 13 rec for 99 yards) in the 23-19 loss to the Lions. Quarterback Jeff Garcia threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns, however he had two bad lost fumbles including one in the red-zone. Tampa Bay also had a punt blocked and were penalized seven times for 60 yards.
Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson: Where was the pressure on Griese on the 97-yard game-winning drive?? (I didn’t see one blitz). The Eagles stayed in a “soft” zone, were too worried about Devin Hester beating them deep and their best pass-rusher Trent Cole was on the sideline for a good portion of the Bears drive.
Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress: It amazed me that after the week that rookie running back Adrian Peterson had against the Bears (224 rushing yards), that Childress went away from the running game. Peterson only carried 12 times with one touchdown (averaged 5 ypc) in a homecoming 24-14 loss to the Cowboys (Only 196 total team yards). Peterson never touched the ball again after an early fourth quarter fumble as Childress instead chose to put the ball in the hands of inexperienced quarterback Tavaris Jackson, who threw for only 6-of-19 for 72 yards.
Baltimore Ravens: How do you go to Buffalo and lose to the reeling Bills 19-14. The loss showed the Ravens inability to win on the road. The Ravens had 11 penalties for 98 yards, were 2-for-4 on fourth-down plays, and lost despite outgaining the Bills 308 to 242. After the game the finger pointing started as Ray Lewis questioned some of Brian Billick’s coaching decisions. They now have a bye week to continue their in-fighting.
Scoreboard and Game Notes
Cowboys 24, Vikings 14
In a game that did not feature a lot of turnovers (3) or penalties (8), the Cowboys improved to 6-1 by downing the Vikings. The biggest play of the game was when Cowboys safety Patrick Watkins returned a blocked field goal attempt 67 yards for a touchdown (Dallas’ first TD off a blocked field goal since 1983). Offensively, Dallas QB Tony Romo completed 31 of 39 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown, and RB Marion Barber finished with 96 yards and one touchdown. The Vikings defense continued to be one of the better ones in the NFL as they caused two fumbles, one that was run back for a touchdown by Cedric Griffin.
Seahawks 33, Rams 6
This game was over before it started as the Seahawks thumped the hapless Rams. The Rams had 5 turnovers, 8 penalties, and returning starting quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked 7 times and intercepted three times. The Seahawks defense held St. Louis to just 53 yards rushing, and 221 yards overall, and kept the Rams out of the end zone. The player of the game for the NFC West leading Seahawks was sacked DE Darryl Tapp (5 TKLS, 4 sacks, 1 FF).
Bears 19, Eagles 16
Led by QB Brian Griese (See Honorable Mention) the Bears did just enough to come back and win in Philadelphia. The Eagles dominated in time of possession 30:31 to 29:29, but they kept settling for field goals (1 for 4 in the red-zone) and had 5 penalties, which helped the Bears comeback. Throughout the game the Eagles surrendered field position due to worrying about Bears return man Devin Hester, who had zero return yards. There were no turnovers in the game.
Chiefs 12, Raiders 10
Two of the NFL’s best rushing teams were matched up in this divisional battle that was won by the Chiefs. The Chiefs notched their ninth consecutive victory over the Raiders, who extended their NFL record of consecutive divisional defeats to 17. The Chiefs held the Raiders to only 55 yards on the ground. Oakland entered the game averaging 164.0 rushing yards per game, third best in the league. As their running back Larry Johnson was a sledgehammer running 24 times for 112 yards with a touchdown and an uncharacteristic 54-yard run. Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen (eight tackles and two sacks) dominated and contributed his ninth career multi-sack game. The game also marked the return of running back Priest Holmes who rushed four times for 9 yards and had one catch for negative six yards. Chiefs safety Jarrad Page cemented the game by intercepting a Daunte Culpepper pass with under a minute left and the Raiders moving in for a potential game-winning field goal attempt.
Bengals 38, Jets 31
In a match-up of two of the NFL’s lower teams, the Bengals led by RB Kenny Watson (See Honorable Mention) halted a four game losing streak by rallying to beat Jets. There was a lot of offense as both teams combined for 69 points and almost 800 yards of offense in the game. The Bengals tried everything to give the game away committing 9 penalties and blowing a 21-point 4th qtr lead. The game was not over until Bengals CB Jonathan Joseph intercepted a Chad Pennington pass with less than a minute left and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.
Redskins 21, Cardinals 19
In the wildest game of the day, the Redskins survived a Cardinals rally to win. The game was not over until Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers missed a 54-yard field goal wide left with 2 seconds remaining. The attempt came after a outrageous series of events, where the Cardinals scored a touchdown with 20 seconds left to draw within 21-19, but failed on a two-point conversion attempt in which Anquan Boldin lined up at quarterback and threw an incomplete pass. The Cardinals recovered an onside kick and Kurt Warner completed two passes to get the Cardinals in field goal range, setting up Rackers’ miss. Cardinals had 364 yards to the Redskins 160 yards, but the ‘Skins defense led by MLB London Fletcher (See Honorable Mention) led the way causing three turnovers.
Saints 22, Falcons 16
Led by DE Charles Grant (5 TKLS, sack, 1 FF), the Saints avoided a letdown by holding off the Falcons in New Orleans. The play of the game was Saints RB Reggie Bush catching a swing pass and bulling his way through three Falcons defenders into the end zone to give New Orleans a 20-16 lead with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The tough little back then added a two-point conversion on the next play for good measure. Atlanta QB Byron Leftwich got his first start of the season, but he left in the second half with an ankle injury. In the postgame press conference, a teary-eyed Leftwich walked off saying “It’s just frustrating, man.”
Bills 19, Ravens 14
The surprise of the day came in Buffalo as the Bills showed the Ravens (See Dishonorable Mention) that they came to play in a win. Bills kicker Rian Lindell kicked four field goals and the Bills kept taking advantage of Ravens mistakes. Ravens outgained the Bills 308 to 242, but they were their worst enemy. Buffalo’s favorite former running back, Willis McGahee celebrated his b-day with 114 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown.
Giants 33, 49ers 15
Spearheaded by their defense, the Giants won their fifth straight game as they smothered the Niners in the Meadowlands. The G-men caused four turnovers and the Niners also helped them by committing a whopping 13 penalties for 82 yards. Giants DE Osi Umenyiora continued his march to the Pro Bowl by recording another sack and getting the “hat trick” on the play by stripping the quarterback, recovering the fumble and racing 75 yards for a touchdown (third longest in Giants history). The sack gave Umenyiora his NFL-leading eighth of the season and DE’s Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck posted 2.5 and 1.5 sacks, respectively. Giants running back Brandon Jacobs rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Patriots 49, Dolphins 28
The Patriots improved to 7-0 for the first time in franchise history, while the Dolphins fell to 0-7 for the first time in their franchise history. America’s New Team (New England Patriots) put another day in at the office as they trounced the hapless and injured Dolphins 49-28 in Miami. Patriots only had 84 yards rushing (31 yards by Maroney) and only held the ball for 24:55 versus the 35:05 for the Dolphins but it was their quick strike ability that broke this game wide open. QB Tom Brady was magnificent (See Game balls) and he was helped by WR Randy Moss who grabbed two jump balls out of the air while being double-teamed in the end zone. New England now leads the league with 279 points while allowing 120. That 159-point difference is the highest for a team’s first seven games in 41 years, since the 1966 Dallas Cowboys had a 160-point differential (266-106). Maybe the Dolphins can get a win on another continent as despondent DE Jason Taylor said after the game.
Titans 38, Texans 36
The second V.Y homecoming was a win without him playing as Titans kicker Ron Bironas (See Game balls) was the hero in the wild win. Bironas scored 26 points as the Titans improved to 4-2. The Texans had 6 turnovers, but they almost came back behind backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels (22-35, 290 yds, 4 TDs – franchise record tying, 3 INTs). 2006 first player taken Texans DE Mario Williams had 4 TKLS and the question still remains “Should they have taken V.Y??
Lions 23, Buccaneers 16
Lions capitalize on errors by the Buccaneers (See Lloyd’s Lackey) to win at home. The Bucs dominated on the stat sheet, but they had two bad fumbles by QB Jeff Garcia (No Interceptions, but the fumbles hurt), 1 missed FG, and 7 penalties in the loss. The game was sealed when rookie sensation WR Calvin Johnson took a reverse for a 32 yard touchdown. The Bucs wasted a good effort by RB Earnest Graham, who finished with 92 yards on 19 carries and was also Tampa Bay’s leading receiver, hauling in 13 passes for 99 yards. The game also marked the return of Lions running back Kevin Jones (15 carries for 76 yds and 1 TD).
Broncos 31, Steelers 28
This entertaining Sunday Night Football battle ended with a Jason Elam 49-yard field goal as time expired. The winning kick was Elam’s third game-winner this year. The win got the Broncos back on track after three straight losses and it was their five consecutive win following a bye week. The Broncos were 2-6 in their previous eight home games before beating the Steelers.
Colts 29, Jaguars 7
Peyton Manning and the Colts made their case for who they believe is No. 1 in the NFL. This game was over early as the Colts (6-0) had a 17-0 halftime lead and cruised in for a victory over the host Jaguars on Monday Night Football. The Jags never really had a chance as they lost starting quarterback David Garrard in the second quarter to a bad ankle sprain. The Jaguars rushed for 375 yards in their win against the Colts last season, but managed only 235 total yards on Monday night.
Byes: San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns