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Wake-up call: Pats clearly in a league of their own

So what is the New England Patriots' biggest worry?

That the Indianapolis Colts have had an extra week to get healthy and could be at full strength when they face the Pats on Nov. 4?

I know. It's a reach.

But that's what it has come to with the Patriots, who tower above the NFL with a 6-0 record. They don't have a whole lot that should concern them beyond the Colts, the only team that qualifies as a threat for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

I know. It's early to be talking about the playoffs, let alone homefield advantage.

But who is going to stop the Pats? The 5-0 Colts, who had a much-needed bye for their banged-up roster, certainly look more formidable than any other team on New England's schedule. However, at this point there is no reason to think that any team is capable of derailing the Patriots on their way to a fourth Super Bowl victory.

Yes, it's mid-October and I've already crowned their you know what.

Why not? It has been a long time since there has been a team like this in the NFL, a club that not only keeps winning but seemingly gets better by the week. After scoring a minimum of 34 points and a maximum of 38 through their first five games, they disposed of the previously unbeaten Dallas Cowboys, 48-27. Once again, Tom Brady made throwing touchdown passes look like child's play; he had a Patriot-record five against the Cowboys.

The Patriots won despite being down to their third running back. They won despite Brady being sacked a season-high three times, and having a fumble on one of the sacks returned for a touchdown. They won despite playing at Texas Stadium against a spirited Cowboys team out to prove it wasn't a fluke after barely escaping with a victory against the 1-4 Buffalo Bills.

The Cowboys did manage to make what looked like an early Patriots blowout a marginally interesting game. They scored the most points the Patriots have allowed this season and even became the first opponent to hold a lead against New England in the second half when they moved in front, 24-21.

Then the Patriots poured it on. The Pats are so good they're able to toy with the opposition. They score at will with a spread offense that no defense has figured out how to counter, least of all one with the injuries and limited overall coverage skill that the Cowboys have in their secondary. The Patriots figure out what the other team's offense is doing and take it away, just as they eventually took away Tony Romo's ability to complete passes in the seam to tight end Jason Witten.

Maybe the Colts will present problems the Patriots can't solve. We still have three weeks to see if that will happen. Meanwhile, all we can do is admire this incredible juggernaut that continues to play in a league of its own.


It's official: The San Diego Chargers have rebounded from their shockingly poor start and are on their way back to being a postseason contender.

Their dominant victory over Denver in Week 5 was a step, but the Chargers needed back-to-back impressive performances to convince me (or anyone else) that they truly turned the corner. And they did just that by beating the Oakland Raiders 28-14 in Week 6.

By "they," I actually mean "he," as in LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson has taken it upon himself to get the Chargers back to the level they were expected to have occupied at the beginning of the season. He matched his career best with four rushing touchdowns against the Raiders.

No Chargers player was more crushed or embarrassed during the team's three-game losing streak that followed a season-opening win against Chicago. Yet instead of merely fuming about the struggles, Tomlinson did something about them. Instead of adding fuel to the second-guessing of the Chargers' decision to replace Marty Schottenheimer with Norv Turner, Tomlinson focused on doing whatever he could to make life easier for himself, his teammates, and his new coach.

Granted, Tomlinson has a history of big games against the Raiders. But there has been a noticeable improvement in his play that serves as a foundation on which the Chargers can continue to build after their Week 7 bye.

"He's really starting to get going," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said of Tomlinson. "Our offense is really starting to get going. When we can throw it in that 18-25 window and run the ball and be efficient, we can be pretty tough."

Rivers completed 14 of 21 passes for 156 yards. He was solid, which was good enough on a day when Tomlinson ran for 198 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per carry.

The Chargers' defense also did its part against Oakland. It intercepted Daunte Culpepper twice, forced him to fumble, sacked him six times, and generally had him running for his life.

Don't send him an AARP card yet

I wasn't exactly thrilled when I heard the Carolina Panthers reached out to 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde to help them with the quarterback crisis they faced after their Week 5 win against New Orleans.

I had nothing against Testaverde specifically. I just wondered if the state of quarterbacking in the NFL had sunk to such a low point that someone as old as Testaverde would actually be a better option than someone, anyone, who was younger.

Shame on me for not sticking up for someone closer to my age than the majority of other players in the league.

With David Carr's back too stiff for him to play, the Panthers literally shoved Testaverde into the starting lineup for their Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals. And all Testaverde did was throw for 206 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers' 25-10 upset victory, becoming the oldest quarterback to win an NFL game. He connected with Steve Smith 10 times, including a perfect strike on a 65-yard score.

Not bad for someone who only had four days of preparation.

Testaverde deserves credit for keeping himself in the top-flight condition it takes to still be able to stand up to the rigors of the game and for staying mentally connected to the game well enough to help out as well as he did in a pinch.

But, seriously, there wasn't a younger alternative? Actually, there was -- Tim Rattay, but he signed with the Cardinals last week after Matt Leinart was lost for the season with a broken collarbone. Rattay ended up playing most of the game against Carolina after Kurt Warner made an early exit with an elbow injury.

But the "kid" was no match for the old man. Rattay threw for only 159 yards and was intercepted three times.

Other upsets

New Orleans 28, Seattle 17: Finally, the Saints looked like the 2006 Saints.

Drew Brees threw touchdown passes (two as part of a 246-yard outing). Reggie Bush made plays, running for 97 yards and catching six passes for 44 yards. Even the Saints' defense played well, breaking out for five sacks.

These were the encouraging parts for the Saints: Their first win of the season came on the road, in an ultra-noisy stadium that is supposed to be miserable for visiting teams. Bush ran well between the tackles, something he isn't supposed to be able to do and a quality the Saints were supposed to have lost after Deuce McAllister was lost for the season with a knee injury. Brees was sharp and seems to have regained his confidence.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks look like a team in trouble. Although Matt Hasselbeck threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns, he had zero help from Shaun Alexander and the rest of the team's running game.

Minnesota 34, Chicago 31:Adrian Peterson did it all for the Vikings. Well, almost. Ryan Longwell's career-long, 55-yard field goal as time expired decided the outcome.

But it was Peterson's 53-yard kickoff return that set up the score. And it was Peterson's Viking-record 224 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns that ultimately carried the Vikings to their victory.

Peterson has been by far the most dominant member of the 2007 rookie class. The fact he ran with such ease through an opponent that is supposed to have a fairly stout defense is even more impressive. Peterson combines remarkable speed with power and explosiveness, making him difficult to catch and bring down.

With Peterson's running (plus 83 yards from Chester Taylor), the Vikings are able to take pressure off of young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson only had to be efficient, which he was in throwing for 136 yards and a touchdown. Of course, Minnesota's defense continues to have major problems against the pass. Brian Griese scorched the Vikings' secondary for 381 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas City 27, Cincinnati 20: I don't know how big an upset this really was. The Bengals are a mess. The Chiefs are picking up the pieces of a season that started slow.

Damon Huard did what most quarterbacks do against the Bengals' defense -- he threw for a decent number of yards (264) and two touchdowns. Larry Johnson did what most running backs do against that same defense -- he had 100-plus yards and a score.

Cincinnati's alleged strength, offense, wasn't all that strong, either. The Chiefs' defense put consistently strong pressure on Carson Palmer, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice.

Brady who?

We're six weeks into the season, and the Cleveland Browns' quarterback position is worthy of league-wide discussion.

No surprise there. We've been talking about what Brady Quinn would do as a rookie starter since April, when the Browns made the former Notre Dame star the second of their two first-round draft picks.

But there is a surprise: Quinn hasn't seen the field, and frankly, no one should be in any hurry for him to get there. Not with Derek Anderson continuing to tear it up for the Browns.

Anderson threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, all to Braylon Edwards, in Cleveland's 41-31 victory over the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins are a bad team, but that doesn't minimize the quality of Anderson's performance. He has given the Browns' offense an explosive quality it has not had in many years. He is taking full advantage of an impressive trio of pass-catchers -- Edwards (five receptions, 67 yards), tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (five receptions, 90 yards) and Joe Jurevicius (three receptions, 28 yards).

In short, Anderson is doing everything that the Browns ultimately expect Quinn to do. But would Quinn be ready to do that as a rookie? With the way Anderson is playing, there is no reason to find out.

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