Seems like there's the Packer machine, and then there's everybody else.
Green Bay actually looked vulnerable in San Diego in spurts, but the third-oldest team in the NFL continues its season-long stay atop the charts. Meanwhile, there's some shuffling in the top 10, with the usual mass hysteria in the middle ranks (11 through 20.)
Ironically, it was the bottom of the charts that received the most venom last week, with readers disgusted that we had Miami (30th) ahead of Seattle (31st). I'll let you eat some crow there. Chiefs fans were upset with being lower than the Raiders and Chargers â¦ then Anthony Fasano happened.
I'll eat some crow on the Raiders, who no longer deserve to be hovering anywhere near the top 10 despite one writer's (me) confidence in them. Also, I'll promise no more Kathy Bates references, as two in two years was too much for one of our commenters ("Competitive") last week.
As usual, let the dissension begin ...
Here was Mike McCarthy's game plan Sunday: Locate rookie corner Marcus Gilchrist, and throw the ball there. While Aaron Rodgers gets much credit for the Packers' undefeated start, much credit has to be given to McCarthy, a master play-caller. Give Jordy Nelson some love too, a guy who Rodgers is perfectly willing to throw the ball up to him in single coverage and let what happens happen.
This a vote for consistency. Speaking of consistency â¦ more 49er football, more "how the hell does that work in the NFL?" thought bubbles from 49er fans and league observers alike. We ran the fullback wheel route in sixth grade, but even though the Mustangs went 8-0 that year, that play NEVER worked like it did Sunday at FedEx Field. Fullback Bruce Miller got behind the Redskins' defense and scored yet another hypothetical point for simple offense winning in the big leagues. Miller had eight total touches (rushes and receptions) coming into the game for those of you keeping track at home.
Huge win for the Ravens, huge win for Joe Flacco. But the biggest boon for Baltimore might be what the team is getting from Anquan Boldin. The vet has been more than reliable the last few weeks, while Torrey Smith is hit or miss. When Lee Evans comes back, what was once a weak position group will become an area of strength for coach John Harbaugh.
Bad call on Ryan Clark for the hit over the middle Sunday night. He led with his shoulder. Bad decision by Clark for not handling his responsibility to take away the deep ball on Torrey Smith's game-winner. The loss to the Ravens was tough to stomach, but there is a lot of football to be played. Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have the red-hot 49ers coming up, as well as two games with the suddenly stout Bengals.
Bye week, and another opportunity for Jahvid Best to get healthy. The second-year back has had two very bad concussions, and along with the twin turf toe injuries last season, is becoming a consistent health concern for a franchise that has to run the ball better (and more often.)
Some fans find a 0-0 score at halftime quite boring. Not me. One of the best games these football-nerdish eyes have ever seen was the Rams' 11-6 win over the Bucs in the 1999 NFC title game. How 'bout that Jake Ballard anyway? He was so anonymous a lot of Giants fans didn't even know who he was coming into the season. They've been made aware; mostly by how often Eli Manning looks for him. He might not look like Mark Bavaro, but he resembles that traditional Big Blue tight end: Gritty, doesn't play pretty, makes plays.
Drew Brees didn't have the weight of the world on his shoulders, and that's key. The ground game, which did nada in St. Louis, gave Brees more than moral support in the huge division win over the Bucs. No Mark Ingram, no problem. While the 28 carries for 195 yards was effective, the throwback uni was awesome.
What challenge has this team not met? They're 6-2, won an important conference road game (in terms of playoff tiebreakers), and have managed to do so with a rookie starter at quarterback the whole way. Well, actually there are two hurdles the Bengals haven't leapt: The Ravens and Steelers. Cincy swept 'em both on the way to winning the division in 2009. This incarnation doesn't quite resemble that club, but is fully capable of beating both its division rivals. The AFC North is anybody's boxing match.
I tried, Bills fans. Trying the reverse jinx to ensure Buffalo success last week, the previously explosive offense was stopped when it mattered Sunday. The Bills were terrible on third down, and Ryan Fitzpatrick often had nowhere to go with the ball. Big game for the Bills at Jerry World this weekend.
The streak is over, but the season isn't. Tom Brady's NFL record 31 straight regular-season wins at home was one of the more impressive feats in sports, no question. But the long and the short of the situation is the fact that the Patriots are in the thick of a division race that could go to the Jets or Bills. The former is hot right now, while the latter already is one up on New England in the head-to-head. It's almost weird that the Jets and Patriots hook up in Week 10. This game should be a Week 16 or 17 matchup.
Rex Ryan's defense was as impressive as it gets in Buffalo. Gang Green forced three turnovers, and held Buffalo to just four third- and fourth-down conversions (in 14 tries.) I picked the Jets to face the Packers in the Super Bowl in the NFL.com season preview. Okay, it was looking sketchy for awhile, and Mark Sanchez is still Mark Sanchez. But if the Jets play like they did in Buffalo in the playoffs, look out.
Roy Williams might not be clutch but at least he smiles out there. Earl Bennett is, with four of his five catches resulting in first downs, and another resulting in six points. If you mention the Bears' offensive line struggles incessantly in pre-game, and on a broadcast, does that mean things play out that way? No. The much-maligned unit didn't allow a sack.
Sure, it was the Colts. But other than a boneheaded read by Matt Ryan that resulted in a pick six, the win in Indy was solid all the way around. The Falcons did what they were supposed to do, handle an inferior team on the road. Back to Ryan. He has been so-so this season, but in Indy Sunday he averaged 11.5 yards per throw -- not completion -- per throw. That's doing some damage.
There was good and bad from Carson Palmer's first start. Most importantly, he's got to protect the football. He was slinging it out there Sunday in Oakland, but too many balls ended up going the other way. Palmer has thrown six picks in only 56 attempts, and frankly, he could've had a few more vs. Denver. He'll get better, and showed flashes of brilliance too â¦ like the incredible touchdown pass to Marcel Reece. Not to mention, that's a different ballgame Sunday with a healthy No. 20 in black suiting up.
It was nice to see the sense of urgency displayed by the Chargers in the fourth quarter. For a team that's sleepwalked through much of the 2011 campaign, Norv Turner's group showed they could still play with anyone, even in a shootout. What kind of game would that have been without the gift-wrapped pick sixes, courtesy of Phil Rivers?
You got to catch that ball at midfield before the half, Jeremy Maclin. Huge moment in a 17-10 game. People tend to forget those plays right before half, but that catch could've ignited a drive to either tie the game or at least get a significant field goal before halftime. Then there was his stumble on fourth down at the end of the last Philly possession. Two huge events in a game with significant playoff implications.
Felix Jones watches his job get gobbled up one â¦ yard â¦ at â¦ a â¦ time. DeMarco Murray continues to wow, mostly because of his decisiveness and willingness to finish off runs. Murray's effectiveness opens up the offense for Tony Romo, who made several fantastic plays of the street-ball variety. The touchdown pass to Laurent Robison was classic Romo (the good Romo, that is): Making a play out of nothing, with the stop-the-feet, quasi-jump pass straight out of the Sid Luckman era.
This club must just be maddening to its fan base. Nine penalties (for 80 yards) Sunday were completely debilitating, among other issues. There's no shame in losing to a highly motivated Saints team in New Orleans, but the up-and-down nature of Raheem Morris' team is both to be expected and hard to watch. Even though most of it came in one game, there's no hiding a point differential that reads minus-49 this season.
On NFL.com this week, you'll find midseason awards, as well as a readdressing of division winners and wild-card entrants. It's hard to place Tennessee right now, but it's not difficult to do the same for Chris Johnson. He's simply been the most disappointing player. Even Kevin Kolb can't touch him. Now, CJ2K did show signs of life vs. a top-five defense in the Bengals. But if he doesn't get going, as in really get going, the Titans don't make it to mid-January.
I'm glad everyone is so emotionally involved in the Peyton Hillis drama. No Browns running back is doing anything in that offense. A running back-by-committee of Mike Pruitt, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Leroy Hoard, and Greg Pruitt couldn't do diddley behind that line in Cleveland. Another sterling 2.1 yards per carry performance destroyed any hopes for a victory in Houston.
The bye gave Christian Ponder more time to absorb the offense and what he's seeing out on the field. What a test he'll have against a gambling Packers defense, a unit that had two pick sixes Sunday. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers gives a young quarterback something to think about. Notice I didn't use poor word play, by inserting "ponder" instead of "think about." Another Kathy Bates reference might have been good here.
Ron Rivera must have slept peacefully knowing his team mathematically couldn't blow another close game Sunday.
When Willis McGahee runs 60 yards for a touchdown, you know it's your day. At this stage of his career, he's not exactly on top of the list of game-breakers in the league. Or even the top 50. You know it's your day when your starting quarterback goes 10 of 21 for a buck and some change, and you win. Tebowmania didn't hold the ball for 37 seconds like he did vs. Detroit, and his club was better for it. In fact, he quietly rushed for 118 yards. (How the hell does an NFL quarterback quietly rush for 118 yards?) Don't look now, but the Broncos are now in the AFC West race, with a sterling 3-5 record no less.
Bye week in Jacksonville. Hopefully offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter spent the downtime coming up with plays to capitalize on Blaine Gabbert's strengths, so the offense can actually accomplish something worthwhile vs. the Andrew Lucks next week. If nothing else, the defense sure would appreciate an occasional long drive. Just for kicks, you know.
Roy Helu: Hall of Famer. No player ever garnered more persistent, annoying, effective, wouldn't die, persuasive arguments for a spot in Canton than Art Monk. Well, Helu caught 14 balls Sunday. More than Monk ever did. So at the very least we put him in the Redskins' Ring of Fame. God knows everyone outside of Calvin Muhammad and Adam Archuleta is in the thing.
Much handwringing on "NFL Fantasy Live" on what to do with Beanie Wells. What say you Cardinals fandom? He's been more inconsistent than bad. You look at the midseason tally, and he's coming in at 526 yards rushing, a 4.3 average, and seven touchdowns. The concern is simple: The home game vs. the Rams was the exact type of situation a guy like Wells needs to master. This was the same defense that allowed DeMarco Murray a 253-spot in the rushing column a few years ago. In a close game like Sunday's overtime win, you'd like to see your lead tailback take control.
Another midseason disappointment, somewhat in the same vein as CJ200 and Kevin Kolb, is Sam Bradford. Two separate injuries and a new offense have not been agreeable with the kid's game. He hasn't been awful, merely mediocre. But the 54.7 completion percentage is not going to cut it for a team that can't win in spite of its quarterback.
Everyone who hammered me for ranking the Seahawks over the Dolphins didn't take into account Miami's blown leads this season. At the center of the 'Fins flipping over the Chiefs was the relentless pass rush. If that trend continues, it masks a certifiable weakness of this club: The secondary. Nice to see Matt Moore make some plays, after having a bad concussion ruin his 2010 campaign in Carolina.
Tarvaris Jackson might not be awful, but he sure isn't winning any games for you, Seahawks fans. The third-quarter pick by Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher might have seemed fluky, but T-Jax held the ball way too long on a play he should have thrown the ball away. It was a drive-killer in a one-score game â¦ ultimately Dallas would get a touchdown off the turnover. T-Jax made up for it by throwing another pick to Terence Newman, courtesy of awful decision, on the next drive. Just like that, a 13-6 game was a 23-6 game. I present to you, Tarvaris Jackson football.