Some teams comtinued their mid-season slides in Week 9, while a few rebounded from bad games. One team's commitment to change paid off, perfection continued for two teams, and a new budding star emerged.
Here are six things that caught my eye Sunday:
1. Some defenses lost their mojo
In addition to good players and a good scheme, defenses need to play with emotion. Injuries are a fact of life, so I have to tip my hat to the Colts after they overcame key defensive injuries to prevail against the Houston Texans, even though the game came down to a missed field goal that could have sent the contest into overtime.
But Week 9 did expose four teams that I considered to have very good defensive units. They looked lost at times and will be challenged to find their momentum again.
Rank Sunday's best
Chicago gave up four consecutive long touchdown drives early in a loss to Arizona.
The Giants' defense played better than it did during New York's three previous losses, when it gave up 40 points a game, but it couldn't close out the Chargers at home. Everyone on that team is looking in the mirror for answers after a four-game losing skid in which the Giants have allowed 35 points per game.
The Redskins are in the middle of a lost season, but the defense had always come to play. It may be the turmoil with the head coach or the owner saying he's embarrassed for the fans or the offensive frustrations, but the Redskins' defense is starting to unravel. As one coach said to me Sunday night, "Pressure busts pipes."
2. Whisenhunt never lost focus
I talk with Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt every week and inevitably our conversations get around to the Cardinals' running game. Whisenhunt just keeps pounding the importance of establishing a better run game, as he did when he was offensive coordinator of the Steelers. He also recognizes that teams have been playing a lot of three-man rush and soft coverages recently and his team is not going to consistently beat that with the passing attack. It needs to be able to run against those fronts.
Week 9 saw the Cardinals finally add the ground attack to their arsenal and officially become the most dangerous team in the NFC West. Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells combined for 28 caries and 149 yards in a 41-21 win at Chicago. The Cards finished with 31 carries for 182 yards. Consider that Larry Fitzgerald did not have a 100-yard receiving day or a touchdown in the previous two games and he had 123 yards and two TDs Sunday without Anquan Boldin on the field. That's because the run game made the Bears adjust their defensive scheme.
3. From five down to five up
Do you know what a true pro does when he has a bad game? He makes the adjustments and goes out and plays a great game. It's a survival skill that every pro needs if he wants to stand the test of time. Last week, Kurt Warner had one of those games. Five interceptions and a ton of doubt surrounded the Arizona Cardinals following a Week 8 loss to Carolina. Warner, in his 12th season, has fixed problems before. Well, he did it again. He turned five interceptions a week ago into five touchdown passes this week.
4. Only one game, but nice timing
The Tampa Bay Bucs were the only team in the NFL without a win. They traded Luke McCown at the end of training camp after many thought he had won the starting quarterback job. They benched Byron Leftwich after a slow start and surprised everyone by starting second-year QB Josh Johnson. I always thought they targeted their bye week as the entry point for first-round pick Josh Freeman. Freeman would have a half-season to learn and he'd avoid having to face the likes of the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Patriots. It is the same formula the Eagles used with Donovan McNabb in 1999 and the Giants used with Eli Manning in 2004.
Freeman looked fantastic, throwing three touchdowns in a 38-28 win over the Packers. He had the best first-start performance of the three rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Mark Sanchez won his first game, but only threw one TD. Matt Stafford lost his initial game and threw three interceptions to zero touchdowns.
Beyond the rookie comparisons, Freeman came in the nick of time for a franchise that was struggling to sell out games. The future looks bright for Bucs fans and the passion will return in a big way down in Tampa. As one long-time NFL scout said to me after watching the game live: "Freeman looked like a young Warren Moon."
Only time will tell if that analogy is correct, but it's a heck of a start.
5. Still perfect, but getting tougher
The Saints and the Colts continue to collect wins, but opponents are starting to creep ever so close. There are growing concerns about both teams' ability to stay undefeated. If you ask me, it might not be such a bad thing if both teams dropped a game in the coming weeks to get the undefeated issue off the table.
Peyton Manning had 178 passing yards in the first quarter and threw 40 passes in the first half, yet his team still almost lost to the Texans (by the way, a few years ago, Manning threw for 247 yards in the first quarter of a game). I think it's clear that Manning understands his defense needs help because of all the injuries. He simply has to go out and score as fast as possible to reduce the opponent to being a one-dimensional team. It's almost to the point that Manning can't settle for field goals or they will lose.
The Saints have to go back and look at their run defense and ball security. They have shown their mettle and Sunday's come-from-behind win over Carolina was the second time this season they've stormed back from a big deficit, which is impressive. But a number of the upcoming opponents like New England (Week 12) and Dallas (Week 15) have better passing games to contend with down the stretch.
6. Good streak, bad streak
When you also consider that the running backs have caught a significant number of passes during that stretch and haven't crossed the goal line once, this is one bad streak.
Speaking of bad streaks: It is now officially alarming how many sacks Aaron Rodgers is enduring. The Bucs were not a great pass rush team, but they got to Rodgers six times and the season total is at 37. Boomer Esiason had it right two weeks ago when he blamed Rodgers for at least half of the sacks. Rodgers is on pace for 74 sacks, a total he will not reach -- because he'll be injured before he reaches that unthinkable number.
Rodgers is a fine quarterback, but a sack every nine pass attempts is a bad streak to be on.