By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The NFL’s Good, Bad & Ugly: Week 4
NORTH CAROLINA — Let’s call Week 4, a week of shockers, upsets and more wild games.
The Redskins shocked the Cowboys in Dallas, the Chiefs stunned the Broncos and the Jets put 56 big ones up on the scoreboard against the Cardinals.
Not to mention the upsets in college football as USC, Florida, Georgia and Wake forest all went down to name a few.
Let’s talk about those games and others in the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the NFL and other related topics to talk about.
Titans: Is there a more balanced team in the NFL right than the Titans? The key to success in the NFL is to be able to run the football and stop the run and they can do both plus put pressure on the quarterback. The Titans defense made Superman(Adrian Peterson) look like Clark Kent holding him to 80 yards rushing while Tennessee rookie running back Chris Johnson ran for two touchdowns. The Titans defense also put lot’s of pressure on Viking quarterback Gus Ferrotte by sacking him four times and knocking him out of the game in the second half. The defense forced four turnovers that led to 21 points leading to the 30-17 win over the Vikings and the Titans first 4-0 start in franchise history. With the Colts stumbling and Jacksonville finally getting their record to .500, Tennessee has put themselves in a great position in the AFC Southern Division and will look to stay perfect as they will travel to Baltimore to face a surprising Ravens team.
Redskins: Speaking of the surprises, how bout them ‘Skins! After looking horrible opening night in New York against the Giants, Washington suddenly looks very good after going into Dallas without their best pass rusher Jason Taylor and facing a Dallas team that”s played exceptional and beat the ‘Boys 26-24. Jason Campbell threw two touchdown passes and Clinton Portis ran for 121 yards, leading to their victory over the heavily favored Cowboys. Campbell continues to look comfortable in Jim Zorn’s offense going 20-31 for 232 yards. Tony Romo threw for 300 yards but threw a big pick and really struggled when Dallas got inside the red zone. For some reason Dallas forgot how well Marion Barber and the running game performed last week against Green Bay because they only rushed the ball 11 times for 44 yards in the entire game. The Redskins not only helped themselves with the win and putting themselves in first place in the very competitive NFC East, they also gave the rest of the league a blue print on how to beat the boys: Run the ball successfully, don’t turn the ball over and force turnovers.
Bills: What? The Buffalo Bills are 4-0? I think some of us thought Buffalo would be a better team this season based on talent, draft picks and veteran leaders on the team but no one saw a 4-0 start for this team. Yeah, I know they beat the winless and pathetic Rams. They did trail at halftime and could have folded the tent and lost the game after back to back nailbiters. Buffalo didn’t need any late game heroics this time as they scored 25 unanswered points in the second half en route to their 31-14 win. If you are looking for reasons the Bills were perfect in September, look no further than Trent Edwards who continues to play well. Edwards was 15 of 25 for 197 yards and one touchdown. Marshell Lynch is one of the premier young running backs in the league and will be a star in the NFL for years to come although he only had 57 yards against the Rams. The win gives the Bills their first 4-0 start since 1992 and gives them a game and a half lead in the AFC Eastern division. The Bills take their show on the road again next week against another NFC West team (Cardinals) that should be fired up to play after losing two straight games.
Chargers: After narrowly losing their first two games of the season, San Diego continues to play the way most experts thought they would going on the road and coming back to beat the hated Raiders 28-18. After scoring only three points over the first three quarters, the Chargers offense caught lighting in a bottle by erupting for 25 points in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Philip Rivers struggled but was bailed out by the defense and LaDainian Tomlinson. The defense forced two turnovers and sacked JaMarcus Russell six times. Meanwhile, after a slow start, LT rushed for 106 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns. With the Broncos surprise loss to the Chiefs and the Chargers win, suddenly the AFC West is up for grabs once again.
Chiefs: It’s only one win, but it was a much needed victory for K.C. After losing their first three games of the season and looking like a team that should be playing in the USFL rather than the NFL, the Chiefs used a heavy dose of Larry Johnson and forced four turnovers to defeat the once undefeated Broncos. Two weeks after complaining that he was being phased out, LJ ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns to lead the previously winless Chiefs past the previously unbeaten Broncos 33-19 Sunday, snapping a franchise-record 12-game losing streak. The talk of Chiefs coach Herman Edwards being fired wasn’t completely spoken of, but at least he stopped it for one week.
Saints: After the Saints beat Tampa Bay in Week One, the football world was ready to anoint the Saints as one of the elite teams in the league and one of the favorites in the NFC to get to the Super Bowl. However, the Saints struggled badly over the next two weeks coming into Sunday’s game against the 49ers. The Saints got back to their winning ways as thanks to Drew Brees, Deuce McCallister and the defense. Brees continued to put up big numbers despite losing some of his top receivers going 23-35 for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Saints 31-17 win over the 49ers. McCallister, playing in his first game since off season knee surgery, rushed for 73 yards on 20 carries and had a touchdown while the much maligned defense played big holding the NFL’s leading rusher Frank Gore to 82 yards and no touchdowns and the league’s fourth-rated passer J.T. O’Sullivan to only 50 percent completion for the game.The Saints look to keep their winning ways Monday night as they host Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.
Cardinals: Arizona tried to change their travel plans to finally get a win against a team on the east coast. A different year, same result. Brett Favre set a career high and tied Joe Namath’s club mark with six touchdown passes, including three to Laveranues Coles, and Jets destroyed the Cardinals 56-35. The Cardinals looked confused and are back to many questions after looking impressive in two wins this season. While Matt Linehart can’t seem to beat Kurt Warner for the starting quarterback position, he may have to be after Warner’s performance. While he threw for nearly 500 yards (472) and two touchdowns, Warner alsothrew three big interceptions and was sacked five times. The defense allowed 56 points and allowed the Jets to be perfect on fourth down (3 for 3). The worse news was the injury to Anquan Bouldin who was hurt on a helmet to helmet hit with Jets safety Eric Smith. The Cardinals better “right the ship” fast if they want to stay in contention for a division title in the mediocre NFC Western Division. It doesn’t get easy as they face another AFC East team, the undefeated and first place Buffalo Bills.
Falcons: As good as Matt Ryan has played in his young career, it’s pretty obvious if Atlanta is going to win football games, they will have to do so on the legs and running of Michael Turner. Turner led the league in rushing coming into the game and the Panthers defense made him the focus all day. Turner found it tough to get yards against the Panthers, rushing for only 56 yards on 18 carries (3.1 yards per rush) and didn’t score a touchdown. With Carolina stopping the run, it was up Matt Ryan to try and make plays in the passing game but the rookie quarterback was unable to get it done. Ryan was 21 of 41 for a meager 158 yards and no touchdowns. The offense was inept and couldn’t finish drives throughout the game. The only reason Atlanta stuck around early in the game is because of the infamous referee Ed Hochuli. Hochuli found himself in the middle of another controversy just two weeks after he mistakenly ruled a fumble an incomplete pass that helped Denver rally to beat San Diego. Hochuli flagged Julius Peppers for roughing the passer claiming Peppers led hit with his helmet when clearly, the replay showed Peppers led with shoulder first. The incorrect call wiped out Matt Ryan’s interception that was returned by Richard Marshall for a touchdown. They say the best friend of a rookie quarterback is a good running game but I say the best friend of ANY QUARTERBACK is a good running game and Atlanta better get back to a solid and productive running attack in order to get back to winning football games.
Browns: I know they beat the “Bungles”, but it was a stellar performance especially on offense. QB Derrick Anderson threw for only 138 yards, Jamal Lewis ran for only 79 yards on 25 carries and the offense had only 261 yards of total offense and two turnovers. In addition the offense was under 50 percent on third down conversions and had nine penalties for 52 yards. The only reason the Browns scored 20 points is because the pathetic Bengals can’t score or stop anyone at this point. One more poor performance by the offense and you can bet changes will be made especially at quarterback (Can you say Brady Quinn?). The Browns get a week off to ponder the offense and hopefully improve before it’s too late.
Packers: After looking like the best team in the NFC, Green Bay came back to the pack with consecutive losses to Dallas and Tampa Bay. The offense only managed 181 yards of total offense and QB Aaron Rodgers threw his first three interceptions of the season while being battered like a Mexican pinata. The defense was a little better than the offense forcing three interceptions but had no sacks and allowed over 300 yards total offense. The news went from bad to worse when the Pack found out that Aaron Rodgers suffered a shoulder sprain. According to Packer head coach Mike McCarthy, Rodgers will play but how affective he can be will be is the question. Rodgers isn’t the only Packers player nursing an injury coming out of Sunday’s game. McCarthy said linebacker A.J. Hawk has a groin strain, defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins has a strained pectoral muscle, safety Aaron Rouse has a knee sprain and they are already missing corner back Al Harris who is out indefinitely with a spleen injury. The Pack better get healthy fast and get back to the fundamentally sound football they played the first two weeks of the season as they face the Falcons at home this Sunday.
Broncos: We knew Denver could score but the question was can the defense hold up and stop opponents? The answer: no. The Broncos defense allowed Larry Johnson to run through, around and over them for 198 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns and couldn’t manage to get any pressure on Damon Huard (one sack). Only the Rams have given up more points after four games this season. The offense gained over 400 yards including 361 yards passing and one touchdown by Jay Cutler, but he was also intercepted twice, and the Broncos gave up two fumbles. Bronco fans should consider their team lucky anyway after the official blew the fumble call late in the game against the Chargers and the fact that they played and beat the hopeless Raiders week one. Bronco fans also shouldn’t anoint Jay Cutler as the second coming of John Elway yet. Especially after the last two weeks where he’s made some poor decisions with the football and he hasn’t won a playoff game yet. Cutler can throw the ball and he has good receivers to catch the balls but like Elway, he needs a solid and consistent running game and I don’t think they have that and you need a running game to go far in the playoffs. The Broncos will see a similar opponent this week that loves to run the ball and pressure the quarterback in the 3-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Vikings: Okay so where do the Vikings go now? After the one week love affair between “In Gus we trust” Frerotte and the Viking fans in replacing Tavaris Jackson at quarterback, the divorce can be imminent after the performance by Frerotte last week against the Titans. He threw for 266 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one fumble and was sacked four times thanks to his lack of mobility. At least with Jackson in the game, you have a quarterback that can be elusive, make throws down the field and doesn’t make the Vikings one dimensional. With Frerotte in the game, the Titans only had to focus on stopping Adrian Peterson and not have to designate a player to contain the quarterback from running for big yards down the field. They didn’t have to worry about that with Frerotte and as long as he’s the starting quarterback, no other team will have to worry about it either. The Vikings defense was subpar as well allowing the Titans to score on three of five trips inside the red zone (60 percent) and didn’t register a sack the entire game. All this talk about the Vikings as a Super Bowl contender this season was vastly premature because they’re struggling just to win enough games to make the playoffs. Forget about them being the best team in football, right now they’re not even the best team in their division.
Bengals’ offensive line: Like the Steelers, the Bengals “O-line”is having problems protecting their quarterback. Unlike the Steelers, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer did not play and could be out for a few weeks despite MRI results coming back negative and no ligament damage. With the struggling offensive line and a young Ryan Fitzpatrick filling in for Palmer, you can expect the Bengals to try and run more to take pressure off their o-line and Fitzpatrick although that formula didn’t seem to work against the Browns. The Browns defense forced five turnovers including 3 picks courtesy of Fitzpatrick, sacked the young quarterback 3 times and held the Bengals offense to a meager 211 yards of total offense. The Bengals are in trouble. They were in trouble before the game against the Browns and are really in the hot seat and the driver of the bus is Marvin Lewis.
Rams: Let’s see, St. Louis fires Scott Linehan and replace him with Jim Haslett the once maligned head coach of the Saints and the team’s defensive coordinator? The same defensive coordinator that is responsible for seven straight games giving up 30 points or more? The same defensive coordinator presiding over a defense that’s given up 116 points in four games? The same defensive coordinator that was the leader of a defense that gave up 25 unanswered points in the second half including 18 in the fourth quarter? What kind of impact do the Rams ownership really think Haslett will have? He is not part of the solution, he is part of the problem. Some in the media think the Rams will play better under Haslett because he is more of a fiery type of guy as if going from coordinator to coach will suddenly motivate some of the same players he was unable to motivate so far this season. When the Rams fired Linehan, they should have given the entire coaching staff there walking papers. The Rams were 3-13 in 2007 and have lost eight in a row dating to last season. The coaches are not solely to blame. The players have not played well including veterans like Marc Bulger, Steven Jackson and dissension between the players and Linehan led to the coaches demise. Linehan turned to Trent Green and benched Marc Bulger after the team was embarrassed their first three games which didn’t sit well with other players including Jackson who ripped Linehan on his weekly radio show. Linehan also fell out of favor and Haslett then released starting DB Fakhir Brown. More changes were made but nothing changed against the Buffalo Bills as the Rams once again were outplayed and embarrassed 31-14. The Rams are so bad, changing coaches is not the change needed, they need to overhaul most of their roster and giving Haslett the keys to the “coaching car” certainly isn’t going to make a difference.
Texans: As good as Houston played and battled Jacksonville, they still came up short in overtime 30-27 largely because they can’t run the ball. Steve Slaton is a nice little running back but he’s not the type of back that can rush the ball 20-25 times per game and be a difference maker. Slaton ran the ball 10 times for 33 yards and caught eight passes for 83 yards but they need him or someone to be the type of back that rushes for over 100 yards to take pressure off Matt Schaub and the passing game. Like other teams that struggle to run the football, the Texans can’t rely solely on the passing game and expect to make the playoffs which probably won’t happen because they are now 0-3. My question is when will the Texans ownership and there fans begin to put pressure on Gary Kubiak to win games and make the playoffs because it seems to me he is getting a pass.
Lions: Good news Lions fans, someone in the Ford family finally spoke up and convinced daddy Ford to stop allowing Matt Millen to steal his money as general manager and finally fired him. Under Millen’s watch, the Lions didn’t improve, they got worse. Bad draft choices, bad free agents and bad coaches have led to a bad product on the field. A journeymen quarterback who can’t stay on his feet because the offensive line is poor, a inconsistent running game, overrated receivers and a defense that couldn’t stop a high school offense. Millen is a prime example of some guys who were good players but bad coaches, managers or general managers. The news gets better Lion fans: You didn’t lose last week! Oh, that’s right, you didn’t play last week.
Raiders: Oakland finally fired Lane Kiffin after much speculation and anticipation, ending a public feud with owner Al Davis that had been simmering since the start of the year. Davis gave a long and revealing press conference where he called Kiffin “a professional liar” and said he fired him for cause and said “It hurts because he picked the guy and I picked the wrong guy”, he said. The wrong guy? When is it going to be the right guy Al Davis? I guess it’s been the wrong guy when you fired Mike Shanahan, John Gruden, Art Shell, Bill Callahan and now Kiffin? There are two patterns when you think of the Raiders: Coaches don’t last past two years and the fact the old man is still the captain of the Raiders sinking ship. Davis is in denial and is living in the past and has shown an inability to take his hands off the everyday operations of the team and bring in a real football coach to run the day to day operations including bringing in the right coach, players and draft picks. The latest drama with Kiffin is bad for the Raider organization, their fans and the NFL and until he steps down or goes to that Raider land in the sky, “the commitment to mediocrity” will continue. The sad and irony of the Raiders is that they are a much better team than their 1-3 record so far this season.
Andy Reid: Once again, the Eagle coach showed his stubbornness and stupidity by using the “Barry Switzer playbook” when he ran essentially the same run play four times on the Bears’ one-yard line to no avail. I know the Eagles didn’t have the multi-talented Brian Westbrook but they did have a healthy Donavan McNabb. A bootleg, play action fake, roll-out or quarterback sneak are some of the plays “Mr. Genius” could have called in that situation instead of the predictable running play behind all pro lineman John Runyan like they did most of the game. Reid needs to stop spending so much time trying to out-think the opponent’s defense because it causes him to out-think himself.
Richard Collier: Our prayers go out to the Jacksonville offensive tackle who was shot earlier this month and is now paralyzed below the waist and had his left leg amputated. Dr. Andy Kerwin, a surgeon for the University of Florida at Shands Jacksonville hospital, said Collier, who had 14 bullet wounds, is now in good condition after being previously listed in critical condition. The player will undergo physical therapy to learn to get from his bed to a wheelchair. He will never walk again, the doctor said. Police still have not made an arrest in the shooting and is still following leads. Let’s pray for a full recover for Collier as he will have to adjust to life without football and embraces life as a young man.
Matt Bryant: A day after burying his three-month-old son in Texas, the Tampa Bay kicker booted three field goals to help the Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers 30-21 on Sunday. Bryant’s youngest son, Matthew Tryson, was found dead at home in Tampa on Wednesday. It will be several weeks before the kicker and his wife learn the cause of death. “I don’t know what I needed today,” Bryant said. “It worked out OK. Could’ve been better, but given the circumstances it turned out OK.” I can’t imagine the pain he must feel in losing his son and find it remarkable and admirable Bryant played in a NFL game which fails to compare to a loss of a loved one. He showed courage, professionalism and focus in not only playing in the game against the Packers but making three field goals with his son on his mind. Our prayers to go out to Bryant and his family and wish them peace and comfort. We can all learn something from Bryant in how to react when faced with tragedy and adversity in the midst of such a devastating loss.
Games to watch this week:
Tennessee at Baltimore: This will be one of the hardest hitting games of the week. This will also be a battle of two of the top three defenses in the NFL and the key to victory will probably be the defense that can cause the most turnovers. The Titans looked to stay undefeated while the Ravens look to get back in the win column after a tough loss last week in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh at Jacksonville: Lately you can’t call this a rivalry because the Jags have beaten up on the Steelers the last few years including twice last season (once in the regular season and once in the playoffs) both in Pittsburgh. This time the game is in Pittsburgh where both teams have some key players out with injuries. The Steelers are still without running back Willie Parker for a couple more weeks and rookie Rashard Mendenhall broke is shoulder and is out for the season. Both the Steelers and Jacksonville are missing guys on their offensive line and the Steelers are also missing some key players on their defensive line. Like the Titans and Ravens, this game will be physical and like the Titans and Ravens, the team that forces the most turnovers will probably win. The Steelers also must keep the Jags defensive off Ben Rothlesburger so he can throw the ball down the field especially since the running game will surely suffer for a few more weeks.
Washington at Philadelphia: One team is riding a three game winning streak while the other is trying to avoid losing there third game of the season. The Redskins look confident and poised after going into Dallas and beating the once undefeated Cowboys while the Eagles are battling injuries and inconsistency. This game will come down to the two quarterbacks and which one can make the most big plays for their team. Both Jason Campbell and Donavan McNabb are having exceptional seasons and look to lead there team to an important victory in the tightly contested NFC East.
Tampa Bay at Denver: This is one of the more interesting match ups. The Bucs come off an emotional win at home against the Packers while the Broncos are still trying to figure out what happen to them last week in Kansas City(they loss). Look for the Bucs to try and run the ball and control the clock against the Broncos poor run defense while we should expect a balance attack from the Broncos after Mike Shanahan said maybe he needs to run more to take some of the pressure off Jay Cutler. Tampa will have to control the ball and score when they have opportunities to keep the Broncos high scoring offense off the field.
Indianapolis at Houston: In the “something has to give” game, the Colts are coming off a much needed bye after beginning the season 1-3. Injuries, a lack of rhythm on offense, a poor defense and even old age are some of the reasons why I think the Colts have struggled so far this season. Houston has shown flashes of a good team but like the Raiders, can’t finish the deal in the fourth quarter. Matt Schaub has played well but hasn’t been consistent enough neither has the Texans defense led by Mario Williams. They will have to put pressure on Peyton Manning and be physical with the Colt receivers and pound the ball on the ground successfully against the Colts poor run defense. The Colts just need to get back to playing the type of football that won them a Super Bowl two years ago and they can because they still have the weapons and play makers to get it done.
My top 15 teams after week 4:
1. Tennessee 2. Giants 3. Dallas 4. Buffalo 5. Pittsburgh 6. Washington 7. Philadelphia 8. Carolina 9. Denver 10. New England 11. San Diego 12. Tampa Bay 13. Baltimore 14. Jacksonville 15. Indianapolis
Best performance by a college football team:
Ole Miss: They almost beat Wake Forest in Winston Salem and they edge out the Florida Gators and Tim “T-WHO”. Houston Nutt has this Rebel team believing they can win and play with anyone in the SEC and they proved it against the heavily favored Gators winning 31-30. Meanwhile, all those USC haters that buried the Trojans after they lost Thursday to Oregon State, I guess should get the shovel out for the Gators huh?
Worst performance by a college football team:
Florida Gators: The Gators went into Saturday’s game knowing USC lost and should have been focused and ready for an Ole Miss team that would try to pull and upset like Oregon State did yet they came out flat, turned the ball over and severely damaged there chances to get to the BCS Championship game considering they still have to play Georgia and LSU. Their loss was worse than the loss USC suffered at the hands of Oregon State because they loss at home to a team who hasn’t had a winning record in over five years. Urban Meyer better get this loss out of the minds of his players fast because the schedule only gets tougher for the Gators beginning this week as they travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks.
Best HBCU football team of the week:
Florida A&M: Curtis Pulley ran for two touchdowns and passed for another to lead Florida A&M to a 28-21 victory over Tennessee State in the 20Th Atlanta Football Classic on Saturday. FAMU led 21-0 early in the second quarter as Pulley, alternating at quarterback with Eddie Battle, scored on runs of 44 and 29 yards along with a 26-yard passing score. The Rattlers, who were picked to finish six in the MEAC, now moved there record to 3-1 with there fourth straight win over the Tigers in there heated and exciting rivalry.
Best HBCU football player of the week:
Donald Babers: Babers ran for 180 yards on 24 carries and scored a touchdown as Prairie View A&M rallied for a victory over Morehouse College28-17 in the Angel City Classic Saturday at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Babers hard running help lead the Panthers back for the win and kept them unbeaten at 4-0.
Worst organization of the week:
The Oakland Raiders for reason already mentioned in this article.
Until next week, enjoy the games and may your team win!