Each Monday, Pat Kirwan provides six observations from Sunday's action.
Cowboys' bad timing
The Cowboys are a talented team, but they aren't in the class of the Packers, Saints or Patriots. Tony Romo has the nickname "Romocoaster," which suggests there is an inconsistency that surfaces at the most inopportune times. Romo isn't the only problem, but he seems to be the guy with the bull's-eye on his chest.
With 2:54 left in Sunday's game at Arizona, he led the team down the field 47 yards in nine plays to set up the potential game-winning field goal -- but Dan Bailey missed short on a 49-yard attempt with seven seconds left. Prior to the attempt, I was sitting with Bill Cowher and neither of us understood why the Cowboys didn't use one of their two remaining timeouts at the 26-second mark. It followed a third-down conversion at the Cardinals' 31-yard line and it would have provided at least two plays to move the ball closer for a more makeable field goal.
Romo was sacked five times during the game; maybe the Cowboys coaches were concerned another sack in that last drive would have knocked them out of field-goal range. The conservative approach Dallas employed in the fourth quarter led to a defeat and some serious frustration about the eventual outcome of the game.
Broncos are officially dangerous
Think about all the things that have happened in Denver since John Fox arrived and it's remarkable what is going on with this franchise. Tim Tebow spent the summer as the third-string QB and didn't fit in the traditional offense being constructed. It didn't take long after a 1-4 start for Tebow to get his chance to play. Next came a winning streak that legends are made of, and now the Broncos have moved into the No. 4 spot in the AFC and control their destiny.
A week ago, Tebow won by running the ball 22 times, but this week he only ran four times and threw two touchdown passes. Now what are opposing defenses going to do? Anyone who thinks Tebow isn't causing sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators doesn't fully comprehend the Tebow dynamic. He doesn't throw interceptions (one all season), he can break a tackle with ease, he never thinks he's out of a game and he owns the fourth quarter.
The Denver defense is another headache, especially when you consider that the Broncos' sensational rookie pass rusher, Von Miller, was unable to play Sunday but they still managed three sacks of Vikings QB Christian Ponder. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team get to 10 wins and hold the fourth seed.
Give this man a contract extension
This is the time of year when speculation really heats up about which coaches are going to be fired. The termination of Jack Del Rio last week got the ball rolling, and some football people actually expect as many as 6-8 coaches to be axed at year's end. I know one head coach who needs to be called into the owner's office this week and offered a contract extension -- especially considering the rumors floating around that he is a dead man walking.
The Dolphins' Tony Sparano has done enough to warrant an end to all the talk about losing his job. The Dolphins just beat the Raiders and put 34 points on the board. Sparano's team plays hard, his coordinators have developed solid game plans and his players respect him because, as one of them told me Sunday, "We know what he's being put through and we respect his toughness." The Dolphins are 4-1 in their past five games and only a last-second, 20-19 loss to the Cowboys prevented a five-game winning streak. I hope the owner realizes how lucky he is to have Sparano because if he doesn't he may wind up competing against him when another owner grabs him.
The Pack attack
Coming into this game the Packers had forced 25 turnovers in 11 games and against the Giants they added two more -- including a pick-six. The Packers offense is explosive enough without the defensive help they get, but when you consider that the next most explosive offense belongs to the Saints, and their defense doesn't create half the turnovers the Packers do, you realize it may be impossible to stop the Pack attack. The four-play drive Rodgers orchestrated with 58 seconds left against the Giants was also a reminder that when they have to score they can get in shotgun and just cut up a defense. If the Packers ever decided to go no-huddle shotgun for a whole game, they'd probably score 50 points.
Closing in on the top six
After watching all the playoff contenders play this weekend and looking for the most likely playoff team not currently in the top six in either conference, I still like the Titans. They looked good Sunday in beating the Bills with Chris Johnson putting in another solid performance on the ground, but the Titans have a loss to the Bengals and still have the Saints and Texans on the schedule.
In the NFC, there are a few outsiders looking in. The Bears are really struggling right now, and when the Bears lost Matt Forte they lost 40 percent of their offensive production. Without Forte and Jay Cutler, it may be close to impossible for Chicago to stay in the playoff picture. Caleb Hanie was sacked seven times by the Chiefs, who came into the game with the fewest number of sacks in the league. The Falcons lost to Houston but their schedule, quarterback and defense give them the best chance to make it to the postseason, especially when you consider the Falcons have a win over Detroit and are a game ahead of the Giants.
This year's Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick had bounced around the NFL before crossing paths with Chan Gailey last season and quickly becoming the quarterback Buffalo decided to build around. This week, I feel like I have seen the 2011 version of this story. Matt Moore was a career backup until Chad Henne went down with an injury, and after watching him lead the Dolphins to four wins in his past five starts, I'm starting to think he might be the man in Miami. Moore was efficient in beating Oakland and now has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception in his last five starts. The Dolphins have four more games to decide whether or not to commit to Moore. If he continues to impress, he might get a chance to lead Miami in 2012.