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Behind effective Romo, Cowboys quietly emerging as title contender

Donna McWilliam / Associated Press
Bobby Carpenter had one of three sacks on Matt Hasselbeck in the Cowboys' win over the Seahawks.
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Cowboys 38, Seahawks 17
Tony Romo continues to take care of the ball and the offense is rolling as a result. He didn't throw an interception for the third straight game, but did have three touchdown passes for the second consecutive week. While a lot of attention has been paid to the emergence of Miles Austin as a budding No. 1 receiver, it has been the willingness of Romo to take advantage of all the weapons that has triggered the team's improved offensive production. Since Dallas' last loss (against the Broncos in Week 4), Romo has passed for 918 yards and eight touchdowns with only two turnovers. With Romo's stellar play, the Cowboys are quietly emerging as a title contender.

Ravens 30, Broncos 7
The Ravens rediscovered their dominant defense against the Broncos by scaling back on the exotic looks and relying on a conservative blend of pressure and coverage. Baltimore's front four generated consistent pressure on Kyle Orton in the pocket, which forced him to settle for a host of dump-off passes to the running backs. In addition, the ability to get pressure primarily with the defensive line allowed the Ravens to keep their defensive backs deep in coverage to prevent the long ball. The Ravens had been victimized deep in recent weeks, but the decision to simplify their schemes in the back end allowed the defense to bottle up an offense that had been rolling heading into the contest.

Panthers 34, Cardinals 21
The Panthers' success on the ground against the Cardinals, who entered as the league's top-ranked rush defense, was a surprise when considering how Jake Delhomme had struggled. With that in mind, the Panthers faced steady diet of eight-man fronts designed to stop DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart early on. However, the tactic failed miserably as Carolina rushed for 270 yards on 44 attempts and dominated the game. The key to the success was the use of a slot formation against Arizona's eight-man front. By placing both receivers on the same side of the formation, the Panthers were able to draw a defender outside of the box on the two-receiver side due to the threat of a pass to Steve Smith. With fewer defenders able to commit to stopping the run, Stewart and Williams found soft spots when running to the tight end side.

Texans 31, Bills 10
After watching Ryan Moats carry the Texans past the Bills, coach Gary Kubiak may have a budding running back controversy on his hands. Moats replaced fumble-prone Steve Slaton and keyed the team's offense by rushing for 126 yards on 23 carries. In addition, he scored three times in the second half and helped the Texans overcome a 10-6 halftime deficit. Although Slaton entered the game averaging 92.1 yards from scrimmage, he has put the ball on the ground seven times with five of those fumbles resulting in turnovers. With turnovers often deciding games, Kubiak must determine if Slaton's explosive skills are worth the risk or if the Texans are better off with Moats as the team's feature back.

Bears 30, Browns 6
The Browns continue to undermine their chances for success by routinely turning the ball over. Eric Mangini's troops gave the ball away five times to the Bears, including an interception that was returned by Charles Tillman for a score. Although most of the turnovers were the result of timely hits or persistent pressure, the Browns' penchant for giveaways is an even bigger problem given the ineptitude of their offense. Until Cleveland takes care of the ball and finds a way to jumpstart its offense, the Browns will continue to give away games.

Dolphins 30, Jets 25
Ted Ginn's spectacular performance may not silence his critics, but it provided a glimpse of the immense potential he possesses. Ginn excelled as a dual threat during his college days, and was originally drafted to provide an explosive element in two phases (offense and special teams) for the Dolphins. Although he has functioned as dual threat at times, he has been derided for his inability to develop into a No.1 receiver. While Ginn may never live up to his lofty draft status solely as a receiver, games like this suggests that he could develop into an impact player, albeit in a different role than most envisioned.

Colts 18, 49ers 14
The 49ers may have provided the future opponents of the Colts an effective blueprint for defending Peyton Manning and Co. Using a four-man rush with a variety of zone coverage on the back end, the 49ers disrupted the timing of the passing game and kept Manning out of sync in the pocket. While others have attempted to use similar tactics to defend Indianapolis, San Francisco's strategy was effective because of the outstanding play of its defensive line. The front line overpowered the Colts at the point of attack using a mixture conventional rushes and simple stunts with the 49ers' hulking interior players. While the strategy wasn't complex, it was effective as San Francisco recorded three sacks on the day and forced Indianapolis to repeatedly settle for field goals.

Eagles 40, Giants 17
The Eagles used a blitz-happy approach to force Eli Manning into a dismal performance. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott dialed up the pressure early to quicken the clock in Manning's head and incorporated a series of bluff-and-drop tactics to bait him into hurried throws against their zone. With Manning indecisive in the pocket, the Eagles intercepted him twice and kept the Giants from finding an offensive rhythm.

Rams 17, Lions 10
Steven Jackson continues to be a one-man gang for the Rams. Although the Lions attempted to contain Jackson by using eight- and nine-man fronts, he repeatedly found room to run by cutting to the backside just beyond the point of the attack. Jackson also repeatedly ran through tacklers in the hole and finished his runs in an aggressive manner that inspired his teammates. Though his outstanding play has gone unnoticed for most of the season, he deserves kudos for leading the Rams to their first victory.

Chargers 24, Raiders 16
Vincent Jackson is emerging as the Chargers' most explosive weapon in the passing game. He picked up his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Whereas Jackson has victimized most opponents with the deep ball, he worked the intermediate areas against the Raiders on an assortment of slants and seam routes against man coverage. As a big target with outstanding speed and strength, Jackson is a matchup nightmare for smallish nickel corners and the Chargers are exploiting those mismatches by using his size over the middle of the field. While most associate LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates as being the driving force of the offense, Jackson is quietly becoming the top choice for Philip Rivers.

Titans 30, Jaguars 13
Inserting Vince Young as the starter helped the Titans get back to the formula that led them to 13 regular-season wins last season. Looking to protect their young quarterback, the Titans gave Chris Johnson and LenDale White the ball 37 times. The grind-it-out strategy took pressure off Young in the pocket while enabling Johnson and White to find a rhythm for a change. With the running back tandem off to a good start, the Titans were able to set Young up for success by running bootlegs and play-action passes that were simple by design. The high-percentage passes allowed Young to get comfortable and he responded with an efficient effort in his first start in over a year.

Vikings 38, Packers 26
The return game is often overlooked, but it continues to pay dividends for the Vikings. Percy Harvin averaged 35 yards on five kick returns and provided two game-changers that led to two touchdowns. He also caught a 51-yard touchdown. While Brett Favre will rightly receive kudos for his outstanding return to Green Bay, it was the unsung contributions of Harvin that keyed the tough road win.

 

Seven from Sunday

A look at seven statistical highlights from games played during the eighth week of the 2009 season.

» Miami's Ted Ginn had kick-return touchdowns of 101 and 100 yards in the third quarter of the Dolphins' 30-25 win over the New York Jets. Ginn is the first player in NFL history with two touchdowns of 100 yards in the same game and is the eighth player in NFL history with two kick-return touchdowns in a game. Ginn also became the first player to record two KR-TDs in the same quarter since Green Bay's Travis Williams in 1967.

» In Tennessee's 30-13 win over Jacksonville, Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for touchdowns of 52 and 89 yards (228 rushing yards total) and Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for touchdowns of 80 and 79 yards (177 rushing yards total). The game was the first in NFL history with four rushing touchdowns of at least 50 yards.

» Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning completed 31 of 48 passes for 347 yards in the Colts' 18-14 win over San Francisco. Manning, who now has 4,026 completions in his career, reached the 4,000-completion mark in his 183rd career game, the fastest in NFL history. Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino reached 4,000 completions in 193 games. Manning is one of only four players in NFL history to record 4,000 completions, joining current Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (5,894) and Hall of Famers Marino (4,967) and John Elway (4,123).

» Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a 54-yard touchdown reception in the Eagles' 40-17 win over the New York Giants. Jackson became just the second player in NFL history with six touchdowns (four receiving, one rushing, one punt return) of at least 50 yards in his team's first seven games of a season.

Jackson joins Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, who had six touchdowns of at least 50 yards in 1951 with the Los Angeles Rams, as the only players to accomplish the feat.

» Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre passed for four touchdowns in the Vikings' 38-26 win over Green Bay. Favre had at least four touchdown passes in a game for the 21st time in his career and tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most such games in NFL history.

Favre returned to Lambeau Field for the first time as a visiting player. During his 16-year career in Green Bay, Favre won 89 games at Lambeau. Favre is the first player since 1970 to win 90 games at a stadium as both a home and visiting player. Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway won 95 games at Mile High Stadium -- all as a Bronco -- and is the only other quarterback since 1970 to win at least 90 games at one NFL venue.

» San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 56 yards in the Chargers' 24-16 win against Oakland. Tomlinson, who now has 12,027 rushing yards in his career, reached the 12,000-yard mark in his 132nd game, the fourth-fastest in NFL history behind Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown (115 games), Eric Dickerson (118) and Barry Sanders (125). The NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, accomplished the feat in 133 games and Hall of Famer Walter Payton reached 12,000 yards in his 134th game.

» Indianapolis rookie coach Jim Caldwell improved to 7-0 with an 18-14 win over San Francisco. Caldwell joined Potsy Clark of the 1931 Portsmouth Spartans (8-0) as the only rookie coaches in the past 80 years to start the season 7-0.

Monday night

Falcons at Saints: Drew Brees' high-powered attack will strive for a win Monday night over visiting Atlanta, which would give the Saints the best start in franchise history and keep the team alone atop the NFC.
» Game preview

Weekly Countdown

NFL Weekly Countdown, which airs each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network, lets fans program the show. Check out the 15 nominations for the best performances, and then rank in the order you want to see those on the show. Come back Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. to see the results.

Top 15 moments of Week 8:

» Tony terrific for 'Boys | Vote
» Bears force five turnovers | Vote
» Allen collects three sacks | Vote
» Caldwell's amazing start | Vote
» MJD goes off vs. Titans | Vote
» Eagles rookies soar | Vote
» Favre: The homecoming king | Vote
» Ginn's happy returns | Vote
» Jackson runs Rams to first win | Vote
» Johnson's Titan-ic game | Vote
» Moats paves way for Texans | Vote
» Panthers pick Warner six times | Vote
» Ravens end Broncos' streak | Vote
» Taylor sets record | Vote
» Addai-to-Wayne TD | Vote

» Vote: Week 8's top performances

Ahead ... Week 9!

Sunday (all times ET)
Washington at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Arizona at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Baltimore at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Houston at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Kansas City at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Miami at New England, 1 p.m.
Green Bay at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Carolina at New Orleans, 4:05 p.m.
Detroit at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
San Diego at N.Y. Giants, 4:15 p.m.
Tennessee at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m.
Dallas at Philadelphia, 8:20 p.m.
Monday
Pittsburgh at Denver, 8:30 p.m.

Bye week: Buffalo, Cleveland, Minnesota, N.Y. Jets, Oakland, St. Louis.

» Complete schedule


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