Six from Sunday  

 

Moving day: Teams starting to separate themselves from pack

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Here are six things that caught my attention in Week 11:

1. Separation Sunday

Darren McFadden, who is having a solid season as the Raiders' No. 1 running back, commented before Sunday's game in Pittsburgh that "it's time to show we are for real." Well, the Raiders didn't come close to accomplishing that feat, falling hard to the Steelers, 35-3, in a game that saw Jason Campbell head to the bench. McFadden didn't help the cause, rushing for just 14 yards on 10 attempts.

All is not lost for the Raiders in a weak AFC West, but the same can't be said for a few other teams that fell in Week 11.

I know the math says no team at this point has been eliminated from playoff contention, but the reality is Minnesota (3-7), Arizona (3-7), San Francisco (3-7), Cincinnati (2-8), Houston (4-6), Tennessee (5-5), and Miami (5-5) did themselves no favors this week and might have to start thinking about 2011 with separation starting to show up in the standings. Players and coaches with teams heading in the wrong direction have to dig down deep and not succumb to the temptation to surrender.

With Brad Childress out, will the Vikings move on without Brett Favre on the field? Should the Cardinals find out what a rookie QB like John Skelton can do? Is it worth playing older veterans that might not be with the club next year? I wouldn't rush into those decisions this early in the season, but there will be pressure to do so from some of the fans and media.

Meanwhile, how about two teams that did show up this week and now have to be taken seriously -- the Jaguars and Bears?

And the Steelers, I can't help but wonder how good they would look right now after watching Santonio Holmes help the Jets win three straight games. Can you imagine that offense with Mike Wallace and Holmes on the field at the same time?

The Steelers sit in the last playoff spot right now, but the Colts are right behind them, and there's still plenty of football to be played.

2. West is the worst

There are eight teams that make up the two West divisions, and as I pointed out heading into the weekend, all of them are awful on the road. Nothing changed in Week 11, with the three teams from the two West divisions on the road on Sunday losing by an average of three touchdowns. If Denver falls to the Chargers in San Diego on Monday night, the West divisions will be a combined 7-33 on the road.

Adding insult to injury: There's only one team, Kansas City, with an overall winning record. What makes it a problem is the fact that a team like Seattle at 5-5 presently sits in the No. 4 slot in the NFC playoff picture because it leads the NFC West.

One of the seven-win teams would currently be on the outside looking in because they play in better divisions. Both West division champs could be in the playoffs with 8-8 records, while a few 10-win teams could potentially not make the tournament.

3. Sanchez comes of age

Nothing makes a general manager or coach of a team happier than realizing their young first-round quarterback is the real deal. This weekend, that message was sent loud and clear to Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan. I couldn't be more impressed with their young leader, Mark Sanchez, as he led the Jets 72 yards in 45 seconds to hit a winning touchdown pass to Holmes.

Sanchez is enjoying the most impressive production of his career. What preceded this impressive streak was the embarrassing 9-0 shutout to the Packers. In three games since then -- two overtime road wins and a last-second victory over the Texans -- Sanchez has completed 71 of 121 passes for 950 yards and six touchdowns.

The Jets are the top-ranked team in the AFC and Sanchez is now capable of great things as their leader.

4. Return of the shutout

Believe me, there are fans that really appreciate great defense. Through the first 10 weeks of the season (144 games) we saw one shutout, the aforementioned Week 8 matchup between the Packers and Jets. Week 11 produced two shutouts, with the Bears blanking the Dolphins on Thursday night and the Bucs doing the same thing to the 49ers on Sunday. We also saw two near shutouts, as the Vikings and Raiders scored three points each in their losses. Is it possible defenses are finally getting a leg up on the offenses?

Last year, there were 11 shutouts during the season. I was beginning to think NFL defenses couldn't shut out a team with the rules apparently so tilted toward the offense. Shutouts are symbolic of defenses that are wired into an opponent and know the tendencies so well that they seem to be a play ahead all game long. Funny thing about shutouts: The following week can be an entirely different story.

Last year, five of the teams that recorded shutouts lost their next game, which should remind you that it is all about the matchup and each week is different.

5. Time to dump Young?

I have the privilege of talking with Titans coach Jeff Fisher every Friday on my Sirius Radio show. He is the longest-tenured active head coach in the NFL and for good reason. He is an excellent coach and a terrific communicator. Fisher takes the high road on every issue we discuss each week. I have never heard him complain or let a dark cloud hang over his head.

He now has a big problem with Vince Young, who never really grasped the role of a franchise quarterback. Young threw some of his equipment into the stands after Sunday's game. Young is 27, with five years of NFL experience and 47 career starts under his belt.

So what was he thinking?

I hope Titans owner Bud Adams does not get in the middle of this situation and force Fisher to keep Young if the coach decides the quarterback must go.

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6. Gailey, Garrett have teams rolling

I tip my hat to Bills coach Chan Gailey and Jason Garrett, interim head coach of the Cowboys. Both men have led their respective teams on two-game winning streaks in very difficult situations. Both have excellent credentials when it comes to developing quarterbacks and devising solid offensive game plans.

Gailey, who is working with journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, told me this summer, "I have a team of angry guys that know everyone out there thinks they aren't worth a darn." Not many teams down 28-7 on the road in the second quarter can stick together and score 35 unanswered points in the second half to win, but Gailey's Bills did just that. Fitzpatrick, a former backup in Cincinnati, threw four TD passes against his old team. Look for the Bills to play the role of spoiler the rest of the season -- and not only win a few games, but destroy the playoff dreams of a team or two.

As for Garrett, he's a natural leader and deserves to be the full-time head coach in Dallas going forward. His quarterback, journeyman Jon Kitna, has thrown six touchdown passes in the last two games. And the running game is for real, with 58 runs for 234 yards during the two-game streak.

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