Can you believe we have 10 weeks in the books? Week 11 is here, which means one last stanza of byes on the docket.
While Indy has the bye week to court Jim Sorgi, the Colts will also be pondering the possibilities of getting lucky and going 0-16. Let me save you the suspense: They're 32nd in this week's rankings.
Green Bay is still No. 1. But in between, there were some big movers and shakers. Houston and Chicago are riding stout defenses, and the efforts of coordinators Wade Phillips and Rod Marinelli, to what seems like sure postseason berths (the Bears' schedule is quite favorable going forward.)
Buffalo and San Diego can't say the same. While the Chargers are in the throes of a four-game slide, the Bills are sliding right down the power rankings after being completely dominated by the Cowboys, a game that harkened back to the Jim Kelly glory days of Super Bowl XXVII. Or not.
Per the usual, let the dissension commence ...
Trailing reporter Alex Flanagan by 17 points in our NFL Network fantasy league, things were looking bleak Monday night. I had Ryan Longwell, a kicker with a junior-college offense, and she was playing Mason Crosby, the kicker for the most explosive Packers team since 1944. I also had little Jordy Nelson, whose stat line was one catch for seven yards at halftime. I was too depressed to watch the second half. And I didn't watch. I popped the top off a Capri Sun when I looked at the front page of NFL.com and saw little Jordy getting pummeled in the Lambeau stands. Caption: "Watch Nelson's 2nd TD." I quickly came down when my lady friend made me watch "Dancing with the Stars" moments later.
The 49ers defy all NFL logic, and I love it. They were a team that no one thought would win the NFC West. A new rah-rah coach with nary a chance to implement his program due to the lockout and vilified for publicly lobbying to re-sign Alex Smith. In fact, a team considered devoid of enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to win anything. Well, here they are playing just enough offense to win -- a simple attack really -- and more than enough defense to go deep into the playoffs.
What was so encouraging about Sunday night's win in Jets-land was the emergence of the pass rush. This one facet of the pro game has eluded Bill Belichick the past few years, especially in the big ones, and would do much to smooth over the rough play of the secondary. The running back by committee might be an early exit by committee if the Pats don't develop a more effective means to close out games. Call it an odd comment after the domination of the Jets, but the thought remains.
Admittedly, I've been very conservative regarding the Texans' success. This week, we move them up five spots. Now, some Texans fans will have serious issue with Houston being below Pittsburgh, a team it beat earlier this season. Maybe that's why I hesitate to get a Twitter account. Here's the deal: Those teams are much different than they were in Week 4. And, the Steelers, Saints, and Patriots have track records, whereas Houston's recent history is one of collapse. Even the strongest Texans supporter has to concede that point. With Andre Johnson still not playing, Matt Schaub's season in doubt, and Mario Williams out for the year, sixth is where Gary Kubiak's team sits for now. Obviously, if Schaub lands on IR, the Texans' spot in the top 10 is tenuous, with several teams pushing them down ...
... starting here. Baltimore beat Houston head-to-head earlier this season, but the Ravens' play lately can best be described as shaky. My colleague, Dave Dameshek, predicted an interconference snafu from the Ravens, and it came true. It seems Baltimore gets up for the Steelers, then goes flat. It happened in Week 2 at Tennessee, and Sunday in Seattle. Joe Flacco is up, down, up, down, basically inconsistent as hell. Yes, he had 255 yards passing, but it took him 52 attempts to get there. His interception led to a field goal and a 22-7 lead. In the aforementioned loss in Nashville, Flacco went 15 of 32 with two picks. Despite beating Houston earlier this season, Baltimore's Jekyll-and-Hyde nature secures them no better than the seventh spot overall. By the way, it's not all on Flacco. David Reed's two fumbles sure didn't help.
Eli Manning's two picks sure hurt, but you can't help but be impressed with how resilient he is and how tough he plays. This is one player whose expression and body language belies his toughness. The franchise quarterback made some big-time throws when he knew he'd be taking a blow, and darn near tied Sunday's game in the end. In case you haven't noticed, not many teams are hanging 20 points on the Niners these days, especially with their top back (Ahmad Bradshaw) and wideout ( Hakeem Nicks) ailing.
Cincy drops three spots ONLY because of incredibly impressive wins by the Bears, Patriots and Texans. Tough business, this power rankings stuff. Even the most stubborn Bengals basher has to be impressed with this team, despite the home loss. They were in it until the end, and didn't allow Ben Roethlisberger to toy with them all game. Rashard Mendenhall was also pretty much shut down, despite his two short rushing touchdowns. Andy Dalton's two late picks were the difference in this AFC North bout, but that's to be expected from a rookie quarterback. The Bengals can play with anyone.
Plain and simple, Mark Sanchez has to start playing smart. He's killing his football team. The Jets, by and large, play excellent team defense, although there were plenty of breakdowns Sunday night. Rex Ryan wants to run the football, confuse opposing offenses, and make fewer mistakes than the other guys do en route to winning. That's hard to do when Joe McKnight has pauses in brain function and Sanchez plays like he did in Baltimore, and Sunday night (both losses). Yes, he's good, at times, but he can singlehandedly blow a game up in the same manner Tony Romo did vs. the Lions earlier this season. At least the ground game is showing signs of life. Now it's time for this club to stop the self-inflicted wounds.
DeMarco Murray sure makes this team looks good. Defensively, another strong overall performance gave the impression that coordinator Rob Ryan just fouled one off game plan-wise against the Eagles a couple of Sundays ago. His unit's effectiveness the past couple of weeks has been aided by a running game that gives it time on the sideline to breathe. Murray aside, Romo's 23-of-26 performance was nothing short of sick. Anytime your quarterback has as many touchdowns as incompletions, things are going your way.
The Bills were dominated at Jerry World from the gun. This is one of those occasions where Chan Gailey should just take the game film and dump it. The offense has struggled two weeks in a row, specifically the passing game. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been more like Fitzpanic, throwing erratically even when he's had time. His passer rating the past two weeks: 51.9 and 46.6. The Bills must take care of business in Miami if they want any shot at a wild-card spot.
In 1995, then- Cowboys coach Barry Switzer was vilified for going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29 on the road in Philadelphia. The winds that day were blowing in his punter John Jett's face, and Switzer felt that with the NFL's leading rusher in Emmitt Smith, and four Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, that he should go for it. Conversely, Mike Smith had fourth-and-1 at home, in a dome where his punter could boot it a mile, and went for it from his own 29. You gotta feel for Falcons fans. Side note: The throwback red helmets are nothing short of stellar.
Yes, that was Chris Johnson wearing No. 28 in white Sunday. After running like Tom Wopat most of the season, Johnson finally busted out. CJ2K put a 130-spot on the ground, while getting involved in the passing game with 44 more yards. That's really all the production Tennessee needed, as the underrated defense shut down the Cam Newton and Steve Smith show. Opponent's No. 1 receivers are doing nothing against the Titans. Smith is just the latest primary option to go down, with five catches for 33 yards. Four of those went for a measly 18 yards.
It's hard for a guy to pull a Randy Moss better than Randy Moss himself, but hey, give Vincent Jackson some credit. This team is reeling, but perhaps Norv Turner should take a page out of Hue Jackson's playbook, and not put the entire game on his quarterback. You have Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, Norv. The former averaged 5.1 yards per carry Thursday night, while the latter came in a 5.7 per rush. Try using them.
What now? Jeremy Maclin is banged up, DeSean Jackson is not with the program, Michael Vick looked terrible and has damaged ribs. At 3-6, Philadelphia will have to run the table to even sniff the playoffs. What a crazy product the NFL is these days. Two weeks ago, the Eagles would beat up the 1989 49ers. Now they're losing to John Skelton and the Cardinals. To quote Yoda, unbelievable this is.
In terms of ugly home losses, it doesn't get much worse than Sunday's 37-9 debacle vs. the mighty Texans. The sad thing, the Bucs already have one of the worst -- if not the worst -- road performances of the season, when they fell 48-3 in San Francisco. The 4-5 Bucs aren't out of the postseason race yet, but it's hard to think playoffs (playoffs!?) when the opposition has outscored them 233 to 156. It's time to bring back the creamsicle uni.
Tebowlicious was solid Sunday. Which of his two completed passes was your favorite? Solid TEAM win for the Broncos at Arrowhead, a stadium that has often been a house of horrors for this franchise. Since 1990, the Broncos had won six of 21 games there. Dante Hall, anyone? Denver pulled off some serous 1935 football, running the first 14 plays of the game. Amazing. Defensively, don't forget about Von Miller. The second overall pick had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Kansas City got everyone lathered up after the clutch win a couple of Mondays ago, only to wet the bed -- at home, no less -- two weeks in a row. Chiefs Nation: Tim Tebow just beat your team going 2 of 8 through the air. That's for the game. The Chiefs are still in the AFC West race, but Matt Cassel is hurt and the schedule is nothing short of brutal: at New England, vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at New York Jets, vs. Green Bay, vs. Oakland. Then it's Tebowmania, the Return.
Let's start with some positives before drowning ourselves in a bottle of Listerine and Jack. The loss was a bit of a fluke. Chris Ogbonnaya made some nice plays. Ditto rookie Greg Little â¦ 84 yards worth. Colt McCoy isn't losing games for this team. Then again, he isn't winning them, either. What little offense Pat Shurmur's attack provides is offset by a pretty darn good pass defense. Of course, why pass when that same defense can't stop anyone on the ground? St. Louis gained 133 yards rushing, and that's actually less than what the Browns usually give up. With Maurice Jones-Drew coming to town, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has to make some adjustments.
Maurice Jones-Drew crossed the 6,000-yard barrier in Sunday's 17-3 win in Indianapolis. Amazing that in just over 16 seasons as an organization, the Jaguars already have TWO running backs with more than 6,000 career rushing yards. Fred Taylor, of course, being the other. The Cardinals franchise is over 100 years old, and only has one (Ottis Anderson.) In fact, the Falcons, Ravens, Lions (in 80-plus seasons), Colts, Saints, Raiders, Eagles (in 79 seasons), and Chargers have all only had one such rusher. Meanwhile, the Texans, Panthers, Patriots, and Buccaneers haven't had any guys cross that barrier. This is the Patriots' 52nd year of operation. Nice work, MJD.
"All I know is he crushed us tonight." So said Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, whose disappointment emanated from a complete inability to rattle Aaron Rodgers. With 13.5 sacks, Allen might be having his finest season. To think that he has so many sacks, so early in the season is nothing short of incredible. Christian Ponder might not have been great Monday night, but patience is the word.
You can't stop John Skelton. You can only hope to contain him. How the Cardinals lose in Seattle, get destroyed on the road in Minnesota, nearly beat Baltimore on the road, then handle the Eagles in Philly is anyone's guess. This team needed a punt return touchdown in overtime to beat a struggling Rams team, and then just waltzed right into Lincoln Financial Field and handed Andy Reid, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy a big, fat L. The credit has to start with Skelton, who threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, the last of which won the game with 1:53 left. Clutch defense by the Birds in this one, too. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton's group held the Eagles to three of 15 on third down.
Well, look at the bright side. At least this loss didn't come in the final minutes. The Panthers just got their butt kicked, plain and simple. Jon Beason's presence was missed out there Sunday, among other things. Tennessee sacked the very mobile Cam Newton four times on first down, and the rookie sensation didn't complete a ball more than 20 yards all game. But hey, much like in Cincinnati on Sunday, a team deals with the possible (and often probable) outcome of rolling with a rookie quarterback. The kid has been great. He just ran into a buzzsaw in the Titans defense.
Steven Jackson had another monster game Sunday in a much-needed win, and his production is going too far under the radar. Much like 2009, when Jackson was a one-man gang with a bad back. In 2011, he has 825 yards from scrimmage on a team that has little in the way of offensive weapons. For all intents and purposes, Jackson IS the offense. The most underrated player in the league resides in St. Louis.
"Grossman! Moore! It's the NFL on Fox!" That's what anyone living outside the blackout radius of Miami heard on Sunday. Hey, give Matt Moore some credit. Here's a guy whose promising career revival in Carolina was derailed by an unfortunate concussion last season. Moore was lights out the last three weeks of 2009, and is starting to show some of the promise he did then. His numbers: 20 of 29 for 209 yards and a pick. Modest? Yes. Good enough to win? You bet. Moore led an offense that went eight of 14 on third down, keeping drives alive and giving his defense time to rest. The Dolphins held the ball for 33-plus minutes Sunday.
Offense, defense, and special teams. The Seahawks need the full menu to win games, and got it at home Sunday -- especially the special teams part. Seattle is going to play this season out until it is officially out, so to speak. The 'Hawks could go on a mini-run with a visit to St. Louis, home against Washington, then home again vs. St. Louis two weeks after that. Now, in between those games Seattle hosts the Eagles. Philly might be 3-8 at that point and -- for the fourth week in a row -- figuring out how mathematically alive the Eagles will be when they get it together and "run the table."
Roy Helu didn't catch 14 balls this week. He caught three, for 13 yards. What an encore. What a redo for Rex Grossman. Except not at all. Two interceptions were debilitating. Both were on the Dolphins' side of the field, taking away a chance to score points in what was a one-possession game (on both occasions.) The second was in the red zone. John Beck isn't the answer. Grossman isn't, either. Ditto Jason Campbell. Todd Collins, too. And Patrick Ramsey. Jeff George. Forget it.
The Curtis Painter experiment ended Sunday (we think) without a single offensive explosion. No more White Lion and hair-band jokes. No more lovechild of Kevin Greene and a young Dick Van Patten jokes. This might become the Dan Orlovsky show. At least Orlovsky knows where the end zone is. Well, sort of.