Week 7 ushered in new quarterback eras for six different teams and might have seen one division race come to an end, but is the clock about to strike midnight for one of the NFL's early Cinderellas?
1. The Lions have to get back on course
Detroit needs to make some adjustments after back-to-back home losses to NFC foes San Francisco and Atlanta. The Lions defense gave up 332 rushing yards in 60 carries combined in the two losses. They are going to have to learn to play the "trap" and "wham" blocking schemes that are being employed to take advantage of the team's penetrating front. On the other side of the ball, there's the reality that quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked eight times and endured 15 hits these past two weeks.
Stafford suffered an apparent right leg injury in the fourth quarter Sunday, and his MRI exam on Monday should verify the severity of the beating he has been taking. Detroit has 10 three-and-outs during this skid and only one drive consisting of double-digit plays -- and even that only produced a missed field goal. Losing running back Jahvid Best for an extended period of time is another blow for the Lions' offense.
The Lions have been on a downward trend since posting 34 points in a Week 4 win over the Cowboys -- they've scored 24, 19 and 16 the past three weeks. That's something that needs to change ASAP. I talk with a number of Lions players every week, as well as head coach Jim Schwartz, and I believe this team has the mental toughness to right the ship. The Lions visit the Broncos in Week 8, which is a good game to get things going in the right direction.
2. Did the AFC South race just get settled?
The AFC South isn't very good and just may be the division that most resembles 2010's NFC West. It's possible a 7-9 or an 8-8 team could win the division, and I think I know which team that is.
Tennessee got virtually nothing from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck or running back Chris Johnson. I wonder how this team can bounce back without great quarterback play and production from Johnson. Hasselbeck is struggling without injured wideout Kenny Britt and desperately needs another receiver. Johnson has disappeared this season. Johnson's 10 carries for 18 yards Sunday with a long run of 3 yards just won't cut it. Johnson is averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per touch this season (117 touches for 411 yards) and has zero touchdowns.
On Sunday, the Texans showed me they have the heart to win this year and not crumble in the second half of the season like they have in the past.
3. The new signal-callers
Darlington: Tebow's wild day
There's no substitute for experience, and this week we watched six teams march out new quarterbacks -- some making their first start of the season, one making his first NFL career start. And in the case of the Raiders, a team that split the duties between two new quarterbacks. The six teams that put a new QB on the field went 1-5 -- only Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a win. John Beck (Washington), Charlie Whitehurst (Seattle), A.J. Feeley (St. Louis), Christian Ponder (Minnesota), the Kyle Boller-Carson Palmer combo (Oakland) and Tebow combined for five touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 17 sacks.
It really is amazing how quickly any NFL team falls apart if the starting quarterback goes down with an injury or a rookie gets the chance to launch his career. Hopefully for Detroit and Atlanta, they dodged a bullet this week with their starters getting dinged up.
4. Saw it coming at the Senior Bowl
I sat down with Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray a few times during this year's Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., and I was so impressed with his maturity and desire to be great. Most college senior backs with his credentials skip the Senior Bowl, but he felt he needed to show the coaches how important the game was to him. In 50 college games (35 starts), Murray had 3,685 rushing yards with 50 touchdowns. He added another 1,571 yards and 13 touchdowns in receptions. Yet for whatever reason, he lasted until the third round of the draft.
A number of teams twice passed on him during the draft, and now they have to deal with their mistake. I got a chance to talk to Murray last week before his breakout game against the Rams, and he was the same humble guy I met at the Senior Bowl. All he wanted to do was spend more time telling me all that he was learning from veterans Felix Jones and Tony Romo -- not how excited he was to get his chance. Then he went out and broke the Dallas Cowboyssingle-game rushing record with 253 yards on 25 carries -- averaging a staggering 10.1 yards per carry. I would be surprised if he doesn't continue to play well for the Cowboys all season and possibly lead them to the playoffs.
5. The center of attention
Time after time, I see teams lose their starting center to injury and the whole offense falls apart. The Jets sat Nick Mangold for three games with a high ankle sprain, and the Jets had a three-game losing streak. The Falcons' Todd McClure missed four games, and Atlanta struggled to be consistent without its center.
Both played Sunday and both teams won tough games. Elsewhere, there were a few centers who sat out and saw their teams lose. Seattle's Max Unger, Tampa Bay's Jeff Faine and Minnesota's John Sullivan did not play, and all three teams lost. Without its starting center, a team's protection calls are disrupted, QBs endure sacks and pressure, and point totals drop. Always check to see if the starting center on your favorite team is active before you get your hopes up for the game.
6. Bye week blues
In Week 6, the first six teams that played a game coming off a bye week went 1-5. The second wave of teams went 2-4 this week. I asked a few coaches their thoughts about the poor play coming off a bye, and the overriding answer was the bye came too early. The new CBA rules that give players a four-day weekend off during the bye takes the players out of their routine, and it appears the result is teams struggling to get back on track.