Week 7 lacked the close games we saw the previous week, but there was no shortage of big plays. We saw two big interception returns from Green Bay, a 96-yard TD reception from Detroit's Calvin Johnson. For the second time in three weeks, a former Ohio State Buckeye returned a blocked kick for a touchdown (Antoine Winfield for Minnestoa two weeks ago; Nate Clements yesterday). There was a power outage in Buffalo, though it did not short-circuit the Bills' impressive season.
One of the unusual wrinkles we've seen all season has been the Dolphins' "Wildcat" formation -- and the Ravens demonstrated in Week 7 how to stop it. As soon as they saw Miami lining up in the Wildcat, Baltimore went into full blitz mode. And while the Ravens defense was taking care of business, we saw a new wrinkle from the Ravens' offense. Baltimore went no-huddle against Miami in an attempt to keep the defense from making substitutions. The strategy paid off in Baltimore's 27-13 win.
I heard some great commentary watching the games on TV Sunday. Of course, the big news is that John Madden had his first week off since getting into the TV business, and Cris Collinsworth did a very nice job replacing him on NBC's Sunday night broadcast. In particular, he did a good job pointing out the merits of Tampa Bay guard David Joseph, who looks to be a budding star.
Some other notes from key Week 7 action:
St. Louis 34, Dallas 14
The Cowboys started the season with three straight wins against teams that won a combined 31 games in 2007, with two of the three wins coming on the road. After an impressive Week 3 win at Green Bay (a road win after a Monday night game, which is usually hard to do), the speculation was whether Dallas might follow in New England's footsteps and go 16-0. After all, this was a team that had 13 Pro Bowlers from last season -- nine who started in the Pro Bowl -- and was clicking on all cylinders.
Week 4, however, ended with the long-time rival Washington Redskins celebrating in the locker room the way they used to when George Allen was coach. Some Cowboys termed that loss a relief, saying it alleviated the pressure of going 16-0. As it turned out, however, it would be the first of three losses in four weeks, and the start of a downward spiral.
In last week's matchup article, we talked about inside pressure and how it would be important for Dallas to keep the pocket clean for backup QB Brad Johnson. Sure enough, Rams DT Clifton Ryan collapsed the inside of the pocket late in the first quarter and tipped a Johnson pass, which helped produce a Will Witherspoon interception. Five plays later, Steven Jackson scored to make it 21-7. It was the first time this season the Rams have scored as many as 20 points in a game, let alone the first quarter.
After Dallas ran the ball six of nine plays and scored a touchdown on its first series, the Rams played eight men in the box to stop the running game. The Rams entered the game ranked 31st overall on defense, allowed 164 points in their first five games. But after that first drive, the defense was very impressive.
Many things led to this surprising Dallas loss. And perhaps it had something to do with the blue jerseys. Back when the Cardinals were still in St. Louis and part of the NFC East, owner Bill Bidwill had the idea that it was some kind of jinx to make the Cowboyus wear their blue jerseys when they came to St. Louis.
Or could this result have more to do with the fact that Dallas committed four turnovers and eight penalties, and allowed three sacks? Or that Terrell Owens and Roy Williams combined to produce two receptions for 31 yards?
Whatever the explanation, the Cowboys quickly have gone from Super Bowl favorite to a team that could miss the playoffs.
Chicago 48, Minnesota 41
In this battle for first place in the NFC North, the Vikings scored 41 points, won the time of possession battle by nine minutes, outgained the Bears by 112 yards, and had a 100-yard rusher. Considering their defense allowed a total of 119 points in their first five games (19.8 points per game), the Vikings seemed to employ a formula for victory.
Just one problem: They forgot about the importance of special teams. The Bears won by scoring two touchdowns on special teams -- on a blocked punt and a punt that hit the return man. Chicago rookie Zack Bowman recovered the ball on the latter play for a TD, and he also had a late interception for the Bears. Not bad, considering Bowman was playing his first NFL game after being on the practice squad the first six games.
Minnesota's special teams have allowed five TDs this season. The Bears had four INTs and another outstanding performance from QB Kyle Orton. For the season, Orton has 10 TD passes. Last year, three Chicago QBs (Orton, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese) combined for 17 TD passes the entire season.
Green Bay 34, Indianapolis 14
In a series that dates back to 1953, the head-to-head results are now dead even at 20-20-1. But there was nothing close about this game, as the Packers did a great job by limiting the receiving duo of Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison to four catches and 53 yards. When these teams last met in 2004, Wayne and Harrison were a combined 16 for 249. In our matchups article, we highlighted the battle between Colts QB Peyton Manning and Green Bay CB Charles Woodson. And Woodson was the winner going away.
But it didn't help the passing game that the Colts run the ball without Joseph Addai. They could never get their patented stretch play working. The Colts also had a team-record 12 penalties, and are off to their worst start since 2001, the last season in which they failed to make the playoffs. Indianapolis is very poor at stopping the run, and that will continue until safety Bob Sanders gets healthy and returns to the lineup.
For the Packers, QB Aaron Rodgers continues to play well. He's thrown 12 TDs and just 4 INTs despite playing with a right shoulder injury that still keeps him from practicing. This week's bye comes at a good time, as they have to play at Tennessee next week.
Buffalo 23, San Diego 14
Buffalo is 5-1 and playing as well as any team in the NFL after six weeks, and it's not easy to see why. The Bills don't have any real stars. There are not great at any one thing, but they are solid at a lot of things. They seem to be a team that plays well together. Despite playing without two key defensive starters Sunday, they managed to defeat the Chargers. The offense helped by controlling the ball for 35:29.
The turning point came in the fourth quarter with 6:06 to play. On a first-and-goal from the Bills' 9, San Diego QB Philip Rivers threw into coverage and was intercepted by Kawika Mitchell in the end zone. Mitchell baited Rivers on the coverage -- until that point, Rivers had looked good. Bills coach Dick Jauron, who has really done a terrific job this season, is one of the best at designing coverages to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
We noted in last Thursday's live chat that if QB Trent Edwards was cleared to play, then the Bills would win. Edwards started, and had a solid game.
Tennessee easily defeated the Chiefs to go to 6-0. Since the 1970 merger, only two teams have started 6-0 and failed to make playoffs -- the 1978 Redskins and 2003 Vikings. … Tennessee rushed for 332 yards, a franchise record for the Titans as well as the most rushing yards the chiefs have ever allowed. … Prior to the Rams game with Dallas, they had rushed for an average of 82 yards per game. Against Dallas' seventh-ranked run defense, they had 180. … Dallas LB DeMarcus Ware tied an NFL record, notching his 10th consecutive game with at least one sack. … Vikings' RB Adrian Peterson has scored at least two TDs in each of his first three career games against the Bears -- the fifth running back since the merger to accomplish that feat against a single opponent. … The Denver-New England game will be the 600th Monday night game. Denver also played in the 200th MNF game, a memorable contest against Green Bay in a heavy snowstorm. … St. Louis had only four offensive touchdowns prior to Sunday's game -- they had four Sunday against Dallas. … Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski kicked a team-record 57-yard FG to give the Raiders an OT win . … The Cowboys' next three opponents -- Giants, Buccaneers, Redskins -- have a combined record of 15-5.