By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s Week Three NFL Review
PHILADELPHIA — As the calendar changes to autumn, the NFL moves closer to the first quarter marker of the 2008 NFL season. One thing is apparent, no one in their right mind could have predicted the wacky start to this season.
The AFC is almost upside-down in many prognosticators opinions as the surprising leaders are in front of their respective divisions Bills (3-0 to lead the AFC East), Ravens (2-0 to lead the AFC North), Broncos (3-0 to lead the AFC West), and Titans (3-0 to lead the AFC South).
While predicted divisional winners (Browns, Chargers, Colts, and Patriots) are looking up at the upstarts. The capricious world of the NFL was never more on display than this week as the Miami Dolphins coming off a 1-15 season impressively beat the New England Patriots 38-13 in Foxboro.
The win ended the Patriots 21-game regular-season winning streak and 12-game home winning streak plus snapped the Dolphins 11-game road-losing streak. The Dolphins surprising win caused NFL Network’s Rich Eisen to say, “The Sparanos whacked the Patriots.”
Parity definitely does play a part in the wackiness of the NFL as shown by the current standings.
Five (3-0) teams (Titans, Bills, Cowboys, Broncos, and Giants). Of this group everyone probably expected the Cowboys and possibly the defending champion G-Men to be unblemished. But the young Bills (first team to lead AFC East in 49 weeks other than the Pats), the “lucky” in terms of officials calls Broncos, and the V.Y-less Titans all have to be major surprises to being undefeated at this point in the season.
One (2-0) team (Ravens) – Led by energetic young head coach John Harbaugh and a defense that has found their 2000 teeth, the purple-clad Ravens are back at the top of the AFC North. But tougher games are coming soon.
10 (2-1) teams (Eagles, Panthers, Redskins, Steelers, Patriots, Cardinals, Falcons, Bucs, Packers and Niners) – This group has some expected winning teams and a few total surprises. I know it is early, but how interesting is it that the Falcons led by a rookie and the Niners led by the last NFL Europa MVP are in the mix at this stage of the season.
10 (1-2) teams (Vikings, Bears, Colts, Chargers, Jets, Jaguars, Dolphins, Raiders, Seahawks, and Saints) – This is another group that has a mixture of teams moving forward and other holding on to not falling into the top of the NFL Draft abyss. Of this group I fully expect the Colts, Jags, Chargers , and Saints to pick it up and get back in playoff contention.
One (0-2) team (Texans) – What started out a one of the NFL’s better feel good stories (8-8 in 2007, first non-losing) has turned sour do to poor quarterback play and unfortunate stadium issues arising from Hurricane Ike.
Five (0-3) teams (Lions, Chiefs, Rams, Browns and Bengals) – The NFL’s basement dwellers have a myriad of problems including coaches on the hot seat, grasping-at-straws quarterback changes, injuries, owners ready to make changes, and the potential of quickly losing the locker room.
For the 0-2 teams that found a way to get a win in week three (Chargers, Vikings, Jaguars, Seahawks, and Dolphins), good work and maybe you will be this year’s version of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants – one of eight teams that started 0-2 and made the playoffs in ’07.
Conversely to the five teams that are now (0-3), it is now desperation time. The NFL is not kind to teams starting in this deep of a hole –in the 15 years of the salary-cap era, 78 teams started 0-3 and only two of them (Buffalo in 1998 and Detroit in 1995) made the playoffs only to lose in the first-round, so go ahead and go to the bullpen for help as your coaches are probably trying anything to stay ahead of their owner’s boot.
Some tidbits from Week 2:
Millen finally nudged out the door - Since his hiring in 2001, former linebacker and broadcaster Matt Millen has rode the Lions a ground (were 9-7 in 2000). Under the embattled GM, the Lions have an embarrassing 31-84 record (winning pct of 37%) including a high win total of seven in ’07. After having to hire/fire four coaches and maybe five (Rod Marinelli is struggling too), the Lions have finally had enough.
Team Vice President William Clay Ford Jr. said in a recent interview that Millen should leave the team. The next day, Millen was let go. No replacement has been named. But for long-suffering Lions fans — who have not seen a playoff game since 1999 – the long nightmare has ended. For now
Could former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper be far behind ?? — Starting quarterbacks number rose to 40 this week as Tampa Bay’s Brian Griese and Minnesota’s Gus Frerotte made their first starts (both won giving their team a lift). Every year I am amazed about how many quarterbacks actually get to start an NFL games. This year’s group is on a pace to break last year’s NFL record for most starting quarterbacks (64). That number will increase further as Dan Orlovsky (Detroit), Trent Green (Rams), Byron Leftwich (Steelers), Sage Rosenfelds (Texans) and Brady Quinn (Browns) are all potential starters due to injury or coaches looking for a lifeboat. Three former backups delivered on Sunday as Titans QB Kerry Collins, Griese and Frerotte all posted victories.
Injuries continue to pile up around the NFL – Every week is a battle of attrition especially with bloodbaths like the Eagles 15-6 slugfest win over the Steelers this past weekend. Week Three’s injury report included Eagles RB Brian Westbrook (day-to-day with ankle strain), Redskins DE Jason Taylor (calf injury from being kicked), Saints TE Jeremy Shockey (will be out 3-6 weeks with a sports hernia), Packers DB Al Harris (spleen – season maybe over), Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (right hand), Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (bruised chest), Eagles RB Tony Hunt (concussion), Jets DT Kris Jenkins (back), Jets QB Brett Favre (ankle sprain), Steelers RB Willie Parker (left knee), Steelers big DT Casey Hampton (groin) and Lions QB Dan Kitna (right knee)
Looks like Kiffin will be the first coach in the unemployment line – Unfortunately an “I told you so” moment is coming soon in Oakland as owner Al Davis is ready to pull the plug on the Lane Kiffin era after only 19 games. We all know Davis will never be happy with a coach and they are hired just to be fired – seven coaches since 1995 and a record of 20-63 since losing in Super Bowl XXXV. The young (33-year old) head coach is walking on eggshells weekly, but his comments directly at Davis and his confidant defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after a week one loss probably have sealed his doom. I thought the door was going to hit the young coach after the Raiders’ final-second 24-23 loss in Buffalo, but Al wanted the second-year head coach to be left out in limbo longer until he could both hands o the rug before he pulls it out from under Kiffin. Memo to Rams head coach Scott Linehan after a 0-3 start, which is following last year’s 3-13 finish, you are probably next as Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom has promised changes.
The Cowboys are real good – I know everyone is saying show me something in the postseason (no playoff wins 1996), but you have to take your hat off to the ‘Boys. After winning on the road again this time on Sunday Night Football 27-16 over the Packers, even this native Philadelphian has to give it up to Dallas. The Cowboys won at Lambeau Field for the first time ever while rolling up numbers of 453 total yards, Time of Possession 32:12, 5 sacks, and several big plays over 50 yards including a spectacular 60-yard touchdown gallop by rookie speedster Felix Jones. The kings of Hard Knocks are in first place right now, but they are playing in the NFL’s toughest division (all four teams over .500) and a potential epic battle awaits in week 9 against the Super Bowl champion and also undefeated New York Giants.
Remember scheduled byes start this week with the Lions, Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, and Seahawks looking to rest and fix errors during the off-week.
Miami Dolphins RB/Shotgun QB Ronnie Brown – Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning borrowed a page from the 2006-07 Arkansas Razorbacks’ playbook as he instituted their “Wildcat Offense” in a huge win over the Patriots. The Dolphins used the same scheme to perfection using running back Ronnie Brown in the role of shotgun quarterback six times versus the bewildered Patriots. The ‘Phins churned out 216 rushing yards and Brown (17 rushes for 113 yards and 4 TD’s) was spectacular to say the least as a part-time quarterback. The former Auburn star set a Dolphins franchise record by running for four touchdowns including runs of 2, 5, and 62 yards. For good measure and to keep the defense honest, Brown also threw a perfect left-handed 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fassano. On his touchdown pass, Brown took the shotgun snap, faked a handoff to fellow running back Ricky Williams drawing in the Pats and found a wide-open Fasano in the endzone.
Jaguars RB Tandem Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones Drew — After recording just 97 total yards in Jacksonville’s first two games, Taylor and Jones-Drew combined for 228 yards on 45 carries against the Colts leading the Jags to 236 rushing yards and a crazy 41:35 minutes of possession. A rejuvenated Taylor had 26 rushes for 121 yards including a punishing 34-yard run where he broke four tackles. But it was the “Mighty Mite” Jones-Drew, who led the way with 161 yards from scrimmage (19 rushes for 107 yards, 1 TD and 4 receptions for 59 yards). Since ’06, the Jags are 14-4 (.764) when gaining 150+ rush yards
Bucs QB Brian Griese – The former Michigan quarterback got sweet revenge as he led his team over the Bears, who traded him in the off-season to Tampa. Griese had an up and game as his numbers show (38-67, 407, 2 TDs, 3 INT). But when the game was on the line, the journeyman quarterback was at his best as he put together a 79-yard scoring drive in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game and then led the team again in overtime to a 26-23 win. One thing certain is that Griese arm has to be tired after he threw 67 passes, which is — 3rd most attempts in NFL history and three shy of the single-game record set by Drew Bledsoe in 1994.
Eagles Safety Brian Dawkins – All week in Philly after a tough MNF loss to the hated Cowboys all I heard was “Dawk is done”. Well the veteran safety had the last laugh as he put on a clinic in helping the Eagles pound the Steelers 15-6 at the Linc. In the game, Dawkins had 7 tackles, 1 Sack, and 1 Forced Fumble. His performance caused NFL Network’s Deion Sanders to say, “Brian Dawkins is playing like he’s 22 years old. He’s still one of the best safeties in the game.”
Niners QB J.T O’Sullivan – I have to admit that I am always ripping on O’Sullivan for his NFL Europa pedigree. But the former MVP of the failed NFL minor league got sweet revenge this past Sunday against the Lions, who had let him go in the off-season. In the 31-13 win, O’Sullivan was 16-for-23 for 189 yards and two touchdowns. O’Sullivan led the Niners to a surprising 2-1 start while his former quarterback teammates Jon Kitna and Dan Orlovsky combined to go 15-for-31 for 146 yards with one TD and two INTS.
Giants Kicker John Carney – Everyone knows my non-love for kickers, the 44-year old Carney kicked his way into G-Men’s fans hearts by hitting 22 yard game-winner in OT against the Bengals. The former Notre Dame product was 4 for 4 with a long of 46 yards finishing with 14 points including 2 for 2 on XP’s.
Dolphins LB Joey Porter (backed up his boasts with 6 TKLS, 3 sacks, 1 FF in the ‘Phins surprise win), Eagles RB Correll Buckhalter (filled in admirably for an injured B-West going for 43 yards rushing and 6 reception for 44 yard including a hurdling 20-yard touchdown catch), Buffalo QB Trent Edwards (led three fourth-quarter scoring drives in Bills’ 24-23 walk-off win over the Raiders), Eagles Defense (3 turnovers, 9 sacks, and knocked Roethlisberger and Parker out of the game), Reggie Bush (148 combined yards including 73 rushing yards w /1 TD and 11 rec for 75 yards w/ 1TD), Cowboys WR Miles Austin (2 catches for 115 yards including a 63 yd TD), Titans Safety Cortland Finnegan (6 TKLs, 1 INT including a 99yd INT return for a TD, leads the NFL with four interceptions) and Vikings LB Chad Greennway (In a must-win the Vikes defensive lead had 9 TKLS, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble).
Cleveland QB Derek Anderson – The disappointing season for the 2007′s feel-good story continued. The Browns in a bad loss to the Ravens fell to 0-3 and the hot seat got even warmer for Romeo Crennel. The embattled coach is thinking about pulling ’07 Pro Bowl quarterback Anderson and who could blame him. While often being harassed by an attacking Ravens’ defense, Anderson produced putrid numbers of 14-37, 125 yds, 1 TD, and 3 INT. I believe it is only matter of time before Brady Quinn sees the starting lineup as Anderson’s season numbers are 2 TD, 5 INT, and an NFL low 43.5 rating. The Browns have just two offensive touchdowns in 33 possessions this season and dating back to last season, they have just five offensive TDs in their last six games (1-5 record).
Bears CB Charles Tillman – The aggressive corner had 11 TKLs, 1 forced fumble, but extended the Bucs’ game-winning drive after his unnecessary roughness flag. Tillman jumped into a scrum late after Jerramy Stevens had earned just 2 yards on a third-and-8 at the Bucs’ 8-yard line. The 15-yard penalty prevented the Bucs from punting and the Bears would never get the ball back.
NFL Officials blow another call – There were several glaring non-calls around the NFL with the most glaring occurring in the Redskins and Cardinals game. With the game on the line, Redskins DB Carlos Rogers scored a game-changing interception of Arizona’s Kurt Warner in the fourth quarter that helped set up the clinching touchdown. But officials failed to flag DB Leigh Torrence on Rogers’ play when he was all over Cardinals WR Steve Breaston.
St. Louis Rams Defense – In their 37-13 loss to the Seahawks, they allowed 407 total yards including 240 rushing yards and 34:58 time of possession, They also had 7 Penalties for 51 yards as a team and allowed Seahawks RB TJ Duckett to have his first two-touchdown rushing day in four years. St. Louis lost for the 16th time in 19 games, and has lost seven consecutive games to Seattle. With being ranked 31st in Yards Allowed and Time of Possession no wonder head coach Scott Linehan is very desperate for a win.
Saints kicker Martin Gramatica – The eccentric kicker missed a potential go-ahead field goal from 43 yards out with 1:55 left in the Saints back and forth loss to the Broncos. Gramatica also missed a 51-yarder at the end of the second half and finished 1-of-3 for the day.
Young quarterbacks making errors – Texans QB Matt Schaub (17-37, 188, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 2 Fumbles w/ 1 lost) in a loss to the Titans and Chiefs Tyler Thigpen (14-36, 128 yd, 1 TD, 3 INT) in a lopsided loss to the Falcons.