Six from Sunday  

 

'Other' Smith has 49ers back in contention after 0-5 start

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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There was enough suspense in Week 10 for a month's worth of games. The Hail Mary play in the Houston-Jacksonville game reminded me of Doug Flutie's legendary throw back at Boston College against Miami.

The Buffalo Bills finally got a win, and a few of the bottom-dwellers in the league also woke up and won, keeping the races in every division up in the air.

Here are six things that caught my attention in Week 10:


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1. He waited a long time for this

I was watching the Rams-49ers game with my colleagues from the "NFL Today" show on CBS, and it didn't take long to see that Troy Smith was changing the face of the 49ers. I had a great talk with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis earlier in the week, and he spoke about how cool, calm and in control the former Heisman Trophy winner was in his debut win over the Broncos two weeks ago in London.

Smith was even better in his second start as the 49ers' starting quarterback, completing 17 of 28 passes for 356 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, while battling back from five sacks. I looked back at his only two starts as a Raven, as well as these two starts, and there is a pattern of good, solid football when Smith is the quarterback. In four starts, he has thrown a touchdown in every game, and he did not throw a pick in any of the four starts. How does zero picks in 107 throws sound?

Davis was right about how this guy operates on the field. There was no better example than late in the fourth quarter, down 17-13, and in a third-and-32 situation. Smith hit Frank Gore for a quick 14 yards, then on fourth-and-18 hits Gore again for 23 yards. The very next play was a frozen-rope 16-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree that gave San Francisco the lead.

Smith's field vision, quick release and velocity are really good. He needs to stay under center, just like Colt McCoy should for the Browns.

2. Young receivers look impressive

I've known Seahawks WR Mike Williams since his days as a freshman at USC. He was an instant star in college, then became an instant failure in the NFL, but man has he found himself in Seattle.

This week in a win over the Cardinals he played like a man possessed. He was targeted 17 times and had 11 catches for 145 yards, giving him three games with double-digit receptions.

Williams is not alone as an emerging star at the receiver position, and when you look at Dallas' Dez Bryant against the Giants, the 49ers' Crabtree against the Rams, the Bucs' Mike Williams against the Panthers, and Buffalo's Steve Johnson against the Lions, it makes you wonder why any team would drop a lot of money on Randy Moss or Terrell Owens next year.

Don't get me wrong, those veterans are headed to the Hall of Fame someday, but the way these young receivers come into the NFL and catch the ball these days, it makes less sense than ever to buy a big-name veteran.

3. Bears modify game plan, get results

The Chicago Bears were impressive this weekend, beating division rival Minnesota and doing it with a balanced offense. The Bears ran the ball 35 times, and Jay Cutler threw 35 passes. The Bears' offense generated 130 yards on the ground, which, in turn, helped with the protection issues for Chicago.

Cutler was getting sacked every eight pass attempts on average, but only hit the deck once against the Vikings. Brett Favre came into Soldier Field with a 13-4 record and 29 touchdown passes in that stadium. But the Bears did what they had to do to minimize the Favre factor, and the offense played its part.

4. The stars come out in New York

I really don't like when coaches are fired during the season, but it sure looked like the right move for the Cowboys. There are two ways to look at the Week 10 Cowboys after their dominant win over the Giants.

One, the players just exposed the suspicion that they were a bunch of talented but underachieving players. Fire the coach and get them to realize they're next, and they play the way they should have played all year.

Or two, interim coach Jason Garrett was just what the doctor ordered for a team with a big need for leadership.

My impression is that it was a little of both, but in a "results" business like the NFL. it can only be measured by wins. A few more games like the win over the Giants, and Jerry Jones' search for a new head coach will be over.

5. The Wildcat still has merit

The Wildcat formation flashed in the NFL, and then kind of disappeared. Two teams reminded me that it still has a place in an NFL playbook.

In the Miami-Tennessee game, six different men took a snap from center. Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne all were injured during the game. Vince Young had to play at less than 100 percent. Tyler Thigpen had to finish for the Dolphins, but more importantly, running back Ronnie Brown got back into the Wildcat package when the injuries started to mount, giving Miami some time to adjust to the injuries.

If we ever go to an 18-game schedule, every team is going to need a Wildcat package to get through games like this.

Out in Denver, we got a chance to see Tim Tebow run for a touchdown and throw his first touchdown in the Broncos' version of the Wildcat. I'm sure the Broncos feel very good that they have this package if they needed to survive a period of time without Kyle Orton.

At least five teams this weekend had to go to their backup quarterback at some point, and if more teams have to go to their third QB -- as Miami did -- it might get ugly. The thing Tebow and Brown both have is a good left-handed arm, which means the threat of the pass is still a big factor in those Wildcat packages.

6. Short week + Thursday road game = tough task

Don't get me wrong, the Falcons looked great in their win over Baltimore, but the short week is tough for the visiting team. It's tough to leave home on Wednesday after two walk-through practice days.

Since we started "Thursday Night Football" on NFL Network, road teams are 9-15 in those games. And if you factor in the long history of Thanksgiving games, road teams are 92-118 with 12 ties. The Bears had a big home win Sunday over the Vikings and now have to be in Miami three days later to face the Dolphins -- no easy task.

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