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Six from Sunday: Believe in the Bengals; Romo, Russell struggle

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Week 10 had surprising divisional rematch games, critical injuries, teams fading in the playoff race, teams charging into the playoff race, the reestablishment of a critical component of NFL football and a tip of the hat to one group of players.

The decision by Bill Belichick to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line with a six-point lead and lose not only the game, but probably any chance at home-field advantage in the playoffs, is the single biggest decision of the weekend.

That being said, here are six more observations from Sunday:

1. Bungles no longer

The Cincinnati Bengals have been the target of jokes and criticism for years, but Carson Palmer told me in training camp this was a different team. They worked hard all summer but gave away the season opener in the final seconds and it looked like the same old Bungles. Not true.

Cincinnati bounced right back with a win at Green Bay and then kept on winning until a slip against the Texans in Week 6, which brought the doubters out once again. A sweep of the Ravens got everyone's attention last week, but the game with the Steelers was going to be the ultimate test. Well, the Bengals swept the Steelers despite losing three starters before the game and seeing Cedric Benson go down during the contest with a hip injury. Cincinnati now controls the AFC North and its next three games are against Oakland, Cleveland, and Detroit, who have four wins between them.

Weekend recap
The Bengals' win over Pittsburgh wasn't the only "statement game" of the weekend, as the Packers declared themselves playoff contenders with a big win over the streaking Cowboys in Green Bay.  More ...

Can the 7-2 Bengals get to 10-2? They should, especially after watching their defense sack Ben Roethlisberger four times and keep the Steelers out of the end zone. Marvin Lewis is doing a great job leading this team and he would be my choice for Coach of the Year if the vote took place now.

2. Two moves that are paying off

Three weeks ago, one club made a decision to replace its starting quarterback, while another club decided to stay with its starter even though he was playing poorly. Both decisions were met with criticism. As it turns out, both were excellent choices.

Tennessee's Vince Young just won his third game in a row and once again took care of the ball. All three games basically featured the same type of performance: a conservative passing attack and a few timely runs. Young's teammates believe they can win every game. In three weeks, Young has led his team to 105 points (35 per game) and completed 71 percent of his passes. He's only thrown two interceptions and has been sacked just once.

Carolina's Jake Delhomme, on the other hand, had not played well through six games, having thrown 13 interceptions as the Panthers went 2-4. Coach John Fox stuck with him, however, and it turned out to be the right decision. In a big division win over the Falcons, who beat them earlier in the season, Delhomme completed his third straight game without an interception. Carolina is 2-1 in those games and has scored 82 points.

3. Triple crown for the o-line

Individual statistics don't really tell the story for offensive linemen, but here's one way to tell when they have done their job successfully: If a team can average four yards per carry while not allowing a sack, chances are they will win. And that kind of performance is a tribute to the offensive line. Four teams -- the Panthers, Cardinals, Dolphins and Titans -- accomplished this feat on Sunday.

Arizona threw 38 times and rushed at a 4.1 average. The Panthers threw 24 times and ran at a 5.4 clip. Miami put it in the air 32 times and also rushed for 5.5 yards per carry, while the Titans had 25 passes and a 4.8 rush average. All four teams won, and their offensive linemen deserve the credit.

4. Impactful injuries

It doesn't take much more than one critical injury during a game to change the fortunes of most teams. This week was a prime example.

Troy Polamalu left the game and the Bengals had four second-half drives that led to field goals and a win. Falcons running back Michael Turner was averaging 12.3 yards per carry when he departed with an injured left ankle. His replacement, Jason Snelling, then ran for just 3.4 yards per carry in a loss to Carolina. Brian Westbrook averaged 4.7 yards per carry for the Eagles, but he had to leave with a concussion and Philadelphia's other rushers averaged under 2 yards per attempt in a loss to San Diego. The loss of Kyle Orton at halftime led to a scoreless second half for the Broncos in their defeat at Washington.

There were a number of other injuries that also impacted games, and at this time of year, quality roster depth is critical. Week 10 proved the point.

5. Big day in the run game

In the first half of the NFL season, the run game looked like a lost art as only three teams ran the ball more than they passed it. At least for a week, the running game took center stage. Eleven running backs broke the 100-yard barrier this week and five of those 11 were backups that got their chance to carry the rock and delivered.

6. The good, the bad and the ugly

First the bad: Watching the Jets, Broncos, Bears, Falcons and Eagles lose this week reminded me how quickly playoff hopes can change in the NFL. Heck, the Giants had a big weekend and they didn't even play, as losses by Dallas and Philadelphia put Big Blue right back in the hunt. The Jets, Eagles and Bears have all lost two in a row and need to win this week or bad turns into ugly.

As for the ugly: I have to start with JaMarcus Russell. The Raiders QB got benched again. Completing 9-of-24 passes for 67 yards was ugly enough to force the coaching decision. The second ugly example was the Cowboys. Tony Romo was sacked five times, the offense was shut out for 59 minutes and 22 seconds and Jason Garrett called only 14 rushes, compared to 44 passing plays. It was an ugly day for Dallas.

The good was also unnoticed. Steven Jackson put the Rams on his back and almost led them to a win over the undefeated Saints. Jackson always faces a defense stacked against the run, yet he delivers anyway. He had 35 touches in the game for 176 yards and a TD.

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