The Week 7 lineup wasn't the best, and I surely missed the six teams on a bye, but there were still a number of storylines that unfolded and reshaped the season. Here are six from Sunday:
1. QB changes ... more to come?
Starting quarterbacks are rarely removed from games unless those games are completely out of reach. That was the case with the Patriots, Packers, Chiefs and Bears, who let their backups come in late during blowouts. Three other quarterback decisions, however, made a much stronger statement -- one that may be made often in the next few weeks.
I was so happy to see 49ers coach Mike Singletary give former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith a second chance against the Texans. Smith started the second half and threw three touchdown passes in what amounted to a great comeback that fell short. Singletary was so impressed about what he saw from Smith he named him his starter on Monday for the rest of the season.
The other Bay Area team made a surprising change, benching JaMarcus Russell after what appeared to be a sideline conflict. Bruce Gradkowski didn't make a strong enough statement to deserve a start next week, yet I couldn't help but wonder how much the Raiders could have used Jeff Garcia on Sunday.
2. Ryan is perfect for Sanchez
I think Jets rookie Mark Sanchez is going to be a very good NFL quarterback, but the expectations became unrealistic after a 3-0 start. The term "Sanchise" suggested he had arrived, and then the next three weeks were a disaster. Coach Rex Ryan stepped up and demonstrated to me that he has what it takes to help a young quarterback develop. Sanchez went from throwing five interceptions and recording an 8.3 passer rating in a Week 6 loss to Buffalo to no interceptions and a 114 rating in Sunday's 38-0 win over Oakland.
Sanchez will struggle in upcoming games, as any rookie would, but Jets fans should be reminded that Peyton Manning threw six touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his first six games as a pro. Terry Bradshaw, in his first season, threw six touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 13 games, while Troy Aikman threw nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 11 games. All three are Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
3. AFC came to play
Right now, the AFC is 16-15 against the NFC. The season results are balanced, but this was a statement weekend for the AFC. Granted, the Packers beat the Browns and the Saints rallied to drop the Dolphins, but there were six wins by AFC teams over NFC teams and some of them were very impressive. The Steelers removed the Vikings from the ranks of the undefeated and the Bengals dismantled the Bears.
4. Rookie receivers step up
The 2009 rookie class of wide receivers made me sit up and take notice this weekend. Many of these young players are starting to perform like they belong. They have good speed, are solid route runners, have the ability to gain yards after the catch and some even possess excellent return skills.
Percy Harvin had three receptions for 42 yards, one run for 7 yards and five kick returns for 167 yards and a touchdown -- nine touches for 216 yards. Johnny Knox of the Bears touched the ball 11 times for 193 yards. Others that impress me include Hakeem Nicks (Giants), Mike Wallace (Steelers), Brian Hartline (Dolphins), Sammie Stroughter (Buccaneers), Michael Crabtree (49ers), and Louis Murphy (Raiders).
5. Double their pleasure
When the Jets rushed for 318 yards in a Week 6 loss to Buffalo, they became the first team in 30 years to rush for more than 300 yards and lose. Had they won, the rushing performance would have been more notable. Well, this week the Jets doubled down, rushing for 316 yards -- despite losing Leon Washington early on -- in their win at Oakland. Two games, 634 rushing yards.
The other noteworthy back-to-back performance was made by Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin. In his last outing, he grabbed 10 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Kansas City. This week, Austin had six receptions for 171 yards and two more touchdowns. He has 16 receptions, 421 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. Austin and the Jets running game are simply on fire.
6. The QB hits keep on coming
In watching the Vikings-Steelers game, I saw Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger get sacked seven times and I counted another 10 solid hits. That's a lot of contact on two guys that want to throw the ball to win.
Week 7 featured four more 300-yard passers. However, in the 12 games on Sunday, there were 50 sacks and more quarterbacks hits than I could count. It appears there could be at least 15 pass rushers this season with double-digit sack totals, and at least 200 defensive players with at least one. Heading into Week 7, there were already 186 players with a recorded sack.
Quarterbacks better get rid of the ball a little quicker in the second half of the season.