|Al Bello / Getty Images|
|The Cowboys are going in the wrong direction, as evidenced on this play -- the first of Corey Webster's two picks.|
It didn't take long for the big plays to start rolling in Week 9. If you failed to turn on your set for the start of the eight early games, you missed a lot of action in the opening series of those games.
» Leon Washington went 40 yards with a screen pass in the Jets' opening drive of their 26-17 win at Buffalo. Then, when the Bills got the ball for the first time, Marshawn Lynch had a 42-yard reception.
» On Minnesota's first play from scrimmage, Gus Frerotte hit Bernard Berrian for a 55-yard gain.
» Later in the day, Seattle's first offensive play against Philadelphia resulted in the longest play from scrimmage in team history -- a 90-yard TD pass from Seneca Wallace to Koren Robinson.
Among the other noteworthy achievements of Week 9:
» We witnessed 100-yard rushing games from four rookie running backs who were not among the first 43 picks in the 2008 draft: Baltimore's Ray Rice (154 yards), Chicago's Matt Forte (126), Arizona's Tim Hightower (109), and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles (106).
» We saw Cedric Benson rush for 104 yards in leading Cincinnati to its first win of the season.
» Three veteran quarterbacks -- Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, Arizona's Kurt Warner and Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia -- all passed for more than 300 yards as their teams won.
Week 9 had something for everyone. And the best might be yet to come with Pittsburgh playing at Washington on Election Day eve. Here's what we learned in some of Sunday's key games:
Giants 35, Cowboys 14
This was supposed to be a preview of the NFC Championship game -- the Giants are the defending Super Bowl champs and the Cowboys were the preseason favorites to reach the Super Bowl this season. It didn't work out that way, as Dallas didn't come close to winning in any phase of the game. The Cowboys' tough day started with losing the coin flip, and it didn't end until their plane arrived back in Dallas an hour later than scheduled.
Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton, addressing the media after the game, summed it up best: "Right now," he said, "we stink across the board."
The Giants' first possession of the game was an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ate up 6:13 on the clock and saw Dallas take a defensive timeout on a third-and-1 play. Overall in the first half, the Cowboys committed three turnovers. For the second week in a row, they had less than 185 yards of total offense, and they have scored just two offensive TDs in those two games.
At one point early in the third quarter, Dallas had completed five passes for 71 yards -- while throwing three interceptions that had been returned for 67 yards.
After this debacle, Terrell Owens was quoted as saying the bye week "couldn't have come at a better time, it gives us time to reflect and clear our minds."
During the offseason, Jerry Jones spent $80 million on new contracts for players and coaches. Before the trading deadline, he dealt for Lions WR Roy Williams, who caught one pass on Sunday.
If this team makes the playoffs, it would be a miracle. For a squad that won 13 games and scored 455 points last season, it seems like it will be a long road back to respectability.
For the Giants, it's the complete opposite. Coach Tom Coughlin, who came close to getting fired before the 2007 season only to lead his team to a championship, has an outstanding team. Even after winning the Super Bowl, his players are exhibiting a passion that leads to success.
Colts 18, Patriots 15
This was the fourth time in recent years that these teams have played during the opening week of November. In the prior three, neither team had scored less than 20 points and they combined for an average of 50.4 points. Big difference this time around.
In last year's game, Patriots WR Randy Moss had nine receptions for 145 yards and one score. This year, he did not have a pass thrown to him in the first half. New England's longest play from scrimmage was a 20-yard pass to Moss on the final play of the game. The Patriots had four drives of 13 plays or more against the Colts' 15th-ranked defense (26th versus the run), but settled for field goals on three of those drives. In 2007, New England averaged 36.8 points per game. Not only have they failed to score that many points in seven of eight games this season, but the loss to the Colts is the fifth time they've been held under 20. And it's hard top blame the defense here -- the Colts' longest run play was five yards, and their longest pass play was 24 yards.
Most people thought this game would be a preview of the AFC Championship game, but both teams looked very average. Both once-powerful offenses struggled. Both have lost key players to injuries and age. Indianapolis has made the playoffs six consecutive years and has four winnable home games remaining on the schedule. They most likely need to win six of their last eight games to earn a wild-card spot.
New England's fate could easily be determined in the divisional games over the next three weeks -- the Bills and Jets at home, then at vastly-improved Miami. We may be seeing a changing of the guard it the AFC.
Titans 19, Packers 16 (OT)
These two teams will attract a lot of scrutiny over the next eight games. Tennessee has a four-game lead over the Colts in the AFC South and currently holds the tiebreaker (the Titans play at Indianapolis in the regular-season finale). Green Bay, meanwhile, is one game behind Chicago in the NFC North, and those teams meet twice in the next seven weeks -- including a Monday night game in Chicago on Dec. 22.
The Titans are a very physical team with a veteran quarterback in Kerry Collins who doesn't make a lot of mistakes and knows how to win. As a team, they create turnovers -- the Titans are plus-9 for the season. They have 13 interceptions and 22 sacks, and they've won their last two games against good teams despite the fact that Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch has missed most of the action.
Mark your calendar for Dec. 21: Pittsburgh at Tennessee. That one should tell us a lot about the AFC representative in Super Bowl XLIII.
Despite the loss, give the Packers credit. They started a new era when they named Aaron Rodgers their quarterback this year, and last week they gave him a new contract through 2014. Rodgers passed for 314 yards on Sunday -- the first time this season the Titans have allowed a 300-yard passer. Now the Packers will turn around and be big Titans fans this week, as Tennessee travels to Chicago.
Green Bay's success the remainder of the year will come down to how well they can run the ball. It was their inability to run the ball in the NFC Championship game last season (28 yards on 14 carries in the overtime loss to the Giants) that cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. And you must be able to run the ball as the weather begins to turn in Green Bay.
Falcons 24, Raiders 0
So much for the hardship of traveling three time zones from east to west. While that historically has been a burden in the past, the Falcons controlled the clock for 45:15, ran for 252 yards, and their 25th-ranked defense held Oakland to 77 total yards -- the Raiders worst total since Sept. 17, 1961, when they had 58 total yards in a 44-0 loss to San Diego. For Atlanta, this was only the third shutout win since 1993.
The play of Falcons rookie QB Matt Ryan continues to be outstanding -- he completed 17 of 22 passes for 220 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions. The Falcons have scored 201 points in eight games, after scoring 259 in 16 games last season. Defensive end John Abraham, who had another three sacks Sunday, has as many sacks in eight games this season (10) as he had all of last season.
The Falcons' next three games are all at home, versus New Orleans, Denver, and Carolina. Ryan has a chance to do something no rookie quarterback has ever done -- take a team from last to first.
Jets 26, Bills 17
Like the Falcons, the Jets also have already won more games (5) than they did in 2007. And the Jets' win in Buffalo coupled with the Patriots' loss at Indianapolis creates a three-way tie atop the AFC East. The Jets' four remaining home games -- starting with the Rams this week -- are all winnable. Brett Favre has not played great, but he brings an intangible to the team, to its fans, and to the entire franchise. It would not surprise me to see the Jets win the AFC East.
Terrell Owens has gone 12 games without a 100-yard receiving game. ... Favre got his first career win in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium -- the 31st stadium in which he's won a game, tying Dan Marino's record. Favre also added to his own NFL career record when he threw his 300th interception. ... Cincinnati picked up its first win of the season and also picked up its first first down on an opening drive -- the Bengals had gone three-and-out on their opening possession in each of their first seven games. ... The Buccaneers' 21-point rally to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City is largest deficit they've ever come back from. ... Oakland's three first downs tied for third fewest in an NFL game since 1970. In the first half, the Raiders had minus-2 yards and no first downs. ... Todd Herremans became the first interior lineman in Eagles history to score a touchdown when he caught a TD pass from Donovan McNabb on a tackle-eligible play. ... The two kickers in the Ravens-Browns game, Cleveland's Phil Dawson and Baltimore's Matt Stover, went to same high school -- Lake Highland in Dallas.