Here are five reasons why the Pats' otherworldly performance is a very good thing for the league:
- As football fans, we all appreciate the chance to witness history in the making. The Patriots certainly look as if they will, indeed, go 19-0, and that's something a lot of us are going to say (even if only to ourselves) we were happy to have seen in our lifetime.
I had no special rooting interest in the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but I love remembering the chance to watch that perfect season unfold as a young NFL fan just as I loved having watched the Steelers, Cowboys and 49ers dynasties. It made for a regular topic of conversation with my friends; you were required to know something about all of them or you couldn't call yourself a true NFL fan. The Patriots' 10-0 season is having the same impact, but on a much larger scale because the NFL is so much more popular than it was then and because computers and cell phones give us so many more ways to converse.
- As football fans, we appreciate seeing the game played exceptionally well. The mere fact there's a legitimate comparison to be made between Tom Brady and the greatest quarterbacks in the game's history is, by itself, remarkable. How often have you heard others provide vivid descriptions about Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana or Dan Marino or John Elway, and regret not being around or being too young to have watched what all the fuss was about for yourself. Brady is providing that chance for a new generation of fans, as well as those of us who can make comparisons to days gone by.
- As football fans, you need a team you love to hate almost as much as you need one you love to love.
- As a fan of another AFC team, you're right to feel discouraged about your chances of seeing that club reach the Super Bowl. However, you're still going to root for your club's chances to reach the playoffs. And if football history has taught us anything, something crazy can always happen in the postseason. Regardless of what the Patriots do through the balance of the regular season, they still have to play a minimum of two extra games for a chance to win it all.
Monday night takes
» Jay Cutler took a major step forward with his performance against the Titans. He clearly relished the opportunity to shine on a national stage, throwing the ball effectively and efficiently. The Broncos needed Cutler at his very best to seize the opportunity to grab a piece of first place in the AFC West, and he was. He looked as poised and as confident as he has in his young career. Cutler is capable of leading the Broncos on a run to win the wide-open division. At the very least, he is going to keep them in strong contention for a wild-card spot.
» The rest of the Broncos' schedule looks favorable for a successful march into the postseason. None of Denver's remaining opponents has a winning record. Who else, besides Cutler, has a chance to come up big for this team down the stretch? How can one not be impressed with the receiver duo of Brandon Stokley and Brandon Marshall. Stokley is a superb route-runner who always seems to find the hole in an opponent's coverage and has the athletic ability to make something happen after the catch. Marshall is a big, strong, athletic target. And Jevon Walker seems close to returning after undergoing knee surgery. Also, there is the Broncos' endless supply of running backs to consider. Even if they don't have Travis Henry (who has been injured and faces a possible year-long suspension) or Selvin Young (who left the Tennessee game with a sore knee), they can always turn to Andre Hall, who wound up averaging 12.7 yards on seven carries (with one going for a 62-yard touchdown).
» Vince Young is a better passer than his season numbers reflect. It would be nice if his receivers could hang onto more of his throws. Young has a good, accurate arm and shows good awareness in the pocket. Despite his two fourth-quarter interceptions, he makes mostly good decisions with where to go with the football. And Young's ability to run for 74 rushing yards and a touchdown on top of his career-best 305 passing yards and scoring throw continue to give him a dimension that makes him one of the most dynamic players in the game.
» It's an understatement to say the Titans' defense isn't the same without injured Albert Haynesworth anchoring the middle of their line. But that doesn't excuse all of Tennessee's many missed tackles. The Titans are supposed to have one of the better defenses in the league, and they didn't come close to playing that way. They did their share to make the Broncos offense look a little better than it truly is. Even with the Bengals struggling as much as they are, the Titans can't expect to get away with another defensive clunker in Cincinnati in Week 12.
» Jeff Garcia is quietly having an outstanding season. He is not going to come up in conversations about the NFL's best quarterbacks. After Brady, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger, the discussion ends fairly quickly. But Garcia merits a longer look. He has been the driving force behind Tampa Bay's ability to lead the NFC South. One of Garcia's better performances came in Week 11 against Atlanta. Although his numbers weren't spectacular, they were strong (10-for-20, 159 yards, two touchdowns, and a 110.2 passer rating) -- even stronger when one considers how well he handled the Falcons' elaborate blitzing defense. By completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 2,126 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing only three interceptions, Garcia ranks third in the NFC behind Romo and Favre.
» I still can't figure out what Bobby Petrino was thinking by going with Byron Leftwich over Joey Harrington as his starting quarterback against the Buccaneers. I understand the curiosity over what the Falcons exactly have in their investment in Leftwich, who was acquired to be their No. 1 quarterback and who Petrino apparently felt had recovered from ankle surgery three weeks earlier. But the Falcons had won two games in a row behind Harrington, and were in position to make a move toward the top of the division. Instead, Leftwich struggled, the Falcons lost, and now face the prospect of trying to rebound against the defending Super Bowl champs. Petrino might be a rookie NFL coach, but he certainly knows enough about his profession to recognize that a large part of his job is having a feel for the proper timing of a quarterback switch. Harrington's hot hand should have made the decision to stand pat obvious. Would it have made a difference in the outcome? Maybe not, but he likely had a better chance to succeed as the starter.
» The Jacksonville Jaguars should feel good about their chances for a run at the AFC South title. For one thing, the banged-up Indianapolis Colts are missing too many key components to simply run away and hide with the division. For another, the Jaguars have the necessary pieces to the puzzle of a playoff contender. True, they have suffered a significant setback with the loss of linebacker Mike Peterson, their leading tackler, to a broken hand. However, David Garrard's return from an ankle injury gives them a highly capable and efficient quarterback who knows how to complement the strength of the offense, which is the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack. He has gone seven games without throwing an interception. Garrard also seems to have the same superb mobility that allows him to buy time and make key runs when necessary, such as when he converted a fourth-and-one late in the first quarter of the Jaguars' Week 11 win over San Diego.
» Here's a book recommendation for someone's gift list: NUMBELIEVEABLE!: The Dramatic Stories Behind the Most Memorable Numbers in Sports History, by Michael X. Ferraro and John Veneziano. As the title suggests, this book is all about numbers, and for that reason it makes a perfect reference guide to settle arguments pertaining to all sports. But it also is entertaining, offering the compelling stories behind each memorable number and its place in sports history. The NFL is well represented, including 17-0 (the record of the '72 Dolphins), 49 (Peyton Manning's NFL-record 2004 season that is likely to be eclipsed by Tom Brady), and 63 (the yards traveled by Tom Dempsey's record-breaking field goal in 1970). The book also includes special commentary from Dick Vitale.
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