8-0 Means Nothing. Just Ask Atlanta
By Adam Hurst
NFL Week 7 was dominated by trash talking, celebrations, taunting, injuries and upsets. Let's jump right into the fun, weave through what Sunday's games had to offer and what it all means for each team going forward.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans, Chiefs win 17-16: Remember the Falcons from a year ago? They start out 8-0, pulling wins out from behind them every week, then finish the season with a soft 13-3 record, which no one (except Atlanta) bought into. That's kind of the direction these Chiefs are headed in right now as they fight the contender/pretender label. One thing that will hurt KC going forward is that offense, which isn't scaring anybody with Alex Smith throwing his dink-n-dunk passes. Nonetheless, the Chiefs defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in any game this season. Teams have reached the Super Bowl before, relying solely on its defense for points. Just ask Rex Grossman. Meanwhile, the lone bright spot for the KC offense, Jamaal Charles, might soon have something in common with O.J. Simpson. In Sunday's win, Charles notched his 7th straight game with 100 YDS from scrimmage and a TD. Via Elias Sports, Charles needs only two more games like that and he would tie The Juice for 9 straight games, the longest streak to start the season in NFL history.
As for the Texans, I'll refrain from the painfully overused expression referring to this city and having complications, but Houston had champagne wishes and caviar dreams coming into the season, projected as a Super Bowl favorite in some circles. Turns out Houston had a hot dog budget for a QB. I don't think I'm stirring up any controversy by saying Matt Schuab isn't the answer at the position. However, the only thing more puzzling than Houston's situation behind center, is why the Texans didn't purse Josh Freeman more heavily—if at all. "Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?"
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers win 19-16: The "Super Bowl hangover" was inevitable for the Baltimore Ravens. After breaking the bank for their playoff hero QB (Joe Flacco) and losing their most physical wide receiver in the offseason (Anquan Boldin), Baltimore now finds themselves with a losing record after 7 weeks following Sunday's loss to arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. You can't really count them out yet, but I wouldn't be counting on a Super Bowl defense in any sense of the phrase.
With the Steelers luck lately, I don't think I'm jinxing anything by saying the Steelers may have finally found the workhorse at running back they so desperately have sought after. Rookie, Le'Veon Bell tallied 99 YDS from scrimmage with 93 coming on the ground. He displayed strong running power and was patient with making room to wiggle himself down the field for positive yardage. After starting 0-4, the Steelers have rallied off two straight. It isn't a lost season yet for Tomlin's troops, but they still can only look up in the AFC North standings at Cleveland, Baltimore and the first-place, looking-more-impressive-each-week, Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Detroit Lions, Bengals win 27-24: The Bengals defense has become an anchor but not a crutch for the team. Andy Dalton as he so consistently inconsistently does, returned to his "red-rifle" ways, shooting darts to AJ Green, with Green tallying over 150 YDS receiving and a score, while Dalton sported a tidy 372 YDS and 3 TD with zero picks. Some weeks Dalton gets in a rhythm and some weeks he doesn't. Either way, the Bengals are atop the AFC North and most importantly, have been playing as a unit that's determined to get back to the playoffs for a third straight season (I know, I can't believe it either). The AFC North title looks to be all but Cincinnati's to lose, which is totally possible ... the whole Ohio thing.
For Detroit, Calvin Johnson continues to play like a man among boys. I mean did you see that touchdown grab that was heaved up into the endzone by Matthew "I have good numbers but nothing to show for it" Stafford? Even AJ Green was impressed. It's the good teams (Cincinnati Bengals) who figure out ways to win against bad teams (Detroit Lions) that continue to struggle, despite having the best player on the football field. Sorry Megatron, I'm sure Barry Sanders feels your pain.
Washington Redskins vs. Chicago Bears, Redskins win 45-41: As productive as Matt Forte has been in his career, yesterday was the first time the running back ran for three touchdowns in a game. That's about as good as it got for Chicago, who's season might now officially be up in the air. Jay Cutler gingerly walked back into the locker room early in the second quarter, with what was reported to be a groin injury. Cutler is turning into the Vince Carter of the NFL. He has above average skills and tantalizing ability at times but his toughness is constantly put into question and his health always seems to be in doubt. Can Jay stay on the field long enough for the Bears to decide if he is really their answer at QB? This was his contract year to prove that. As for Devin Hester, I got three letters for you, H-O-F…
On the other side of the ball, those 'Skins seem to have taken advantage of its bye week. Robert Griffin III threw for 298 yards to go along with two touchdowns and ran another 84 yards, just to show off the legs. He might have found a new target too, tight end Jordan Reed who had 9 receptions for 134 yards. An apparent youth movement is currently afoot in Washington. Does RG III have his mojo back? Halfway through the year, you'd hope so if you're a Redskins fan. Jerry Jones cant just be gift wrapped the NFC East. Isn't it more fun when he sweats for it? Lastly, as an Alfred Morris fantasy owner, I have nothing to say to the vulture, Roy Helu ... who had three touchdowns.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys, Cowboys win 17-3: It's not always pretty, but Dallas seems to show you something every week. This week, Jerry's 'boys defense stepped up when they needed to in this divisional road matchup. After putting up 79 points combined over the past two weeks, the Cowboys offense hit a speed bump sans DeMarco Murray. Tony Romo was picked off twice and was unable to shut the door on the lifeless Eagles until late in the fourth quarter when he threw his only touchdown on the day to go along with his 317 YDS. With the victory, Dallas claimed sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
Meanwhile it hasn't been very sunny lately at The Linc. After yesterday's defeat, the Eagles have now lost an agonizing nine straight games in Philadelphia. It sure is tough to be an Eagle these days, but I know one who had a good Sunday. No, it definitely wasn't DeSean Jackson. It's Michael Vick! Despite not having played, he all but assured his job security this season (smash cut to Christain Ponder somewhere screaming, "COME ON!"). The Eagles can justifiably throw in the towel on Nick Foles now, like they did with Kevin Kolb, right? Foles who was sacked on the first play of the game, compiled a grossly inefficient 11-29 for 80 YDS in three quarters of work, before being taken out due to a neck injury. Third-string quarterback Matt Barkley filled in quite appropriately for Foles, being picked off by Dallas three times during his short time on the field. Foles and Barkley's stats combined for a worse QB rating than either one put up on their own. In other words, the saying where two is better than one doesn't apply when you're referring to Nick Foles and Matt Barkley.
St. Louis Rams vs. Carolina Panthers, Panthers win 30-15: If you were one of the 7 people watching this game at home, you should have been provided with a red flag to throw at the TV, as a lot of were tossed in this contest. But it wasn't those boring game stopping flags, the Rams were charged with five personal foul penalties, one of which assessed to lifetime badass, Chris Long, who was ejected from the game after throwing a punch during one of the scuffles on the day. However, the main event featured was professional smack talker Steve Smith going up against Janoris Jenkins. Their back-and-forth jawing all game was so appealing I was wished the NFL had them mic'ed up somewhere for us to tune into. Smith had some words for Jenkins after the game in response to his excessive celebration in which he pointed directly at Jenkins following a touchdown. The Charlotte Observer breaks down the beef between the two pro's.
On the actual football side of the game, Cam Newton was wildly efficient going 15-17 with 204 YDS and a TD. While his counterpart, Sam Bradford got tackled out of bounds late in the 4th quarter and was seen writhing in pain after. Real unfortunate for Bradford, as the game was already decided when he went down. With 5 minutes to play, why was he still out there the way that game unfolded? It looked bad, it was bad. Torn ACL for Mr. Bradford, who's not out for the season.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Falcons win 31-23: This game was filled with some spectacular catches. Some of that should be attributed to Greg Schiano and the Bucs for remembering they have a highly skilled and electric receiver, Vincent Jackson at their disposal. Jackson, who had 10 catches for 138 YDS and two TD's in the game helped keep things close in Atlanta. However, Tampa might have lost it's big play back, Doug Martin who left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, didn't return. Originally reported as not serious, turns out Martin has a torn labrun. A clear disadvantage with his lack of mobility, QB Mike Glennon should be doing some extra homework this week to make up for the lost production from Martin who is out for the rest of the season.
The dirty-birds are clearly having an unfortunate season that is becoming riddled with more injuries and finding not as much luck as they did last season. Matty Ice doesn't have seem the weapons he had last season in order to repeat as an NFC powerhouse and Tony Gonzalez should have just hung up his cleats last season as he originally planned. Roddy White sat out this game and the Falcons already were already without Steven Jackson and Julio Jones. So who's left? Enter Harry Douglas. Most NFL observers should have seen this coming from Douglas who had a career high 149 YDS and a TD yesterday. He's made plays when he had to this season and might now be the #1 target for this Atlanta offense.
Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins, Buffalo wins 23-21: What happened South Florida? Those Dolphins looked so promising at 3-1! Maybe Ryan Tannehill is who we thought he was…and we let him off the hook! Pay no attention to Tannehill's 3 touchdowns on the day, 2 of which looked to be more Brandon Gibson's than Tanney's. We saw him throw two picks and most costly of all, strip sacked by Mario "cloudy diamond" Williams, which led to a Buffalo Bills game-winning field goal. Also, it's becoming more evident the money spent on Mike Wallace would have been better suited for re-signing Reggie Bush, cause apparently none of the Miami running backs can, you know, run.
Buffalo on the other hand is stuck in an abyss; unable to flaunt its first round pick, QB EJ Manuel, who's out with a knee injury and CJ Spiller isn't doing what the Bills (or fantasy owners) have expected from the explosive back, only 11 yards on 6 carries yesterday. Buffalo may have won on Sunday, but Miami still appears like the more complete team going forward. If the 'Fins limit mistakes the way they did in the first 4 weeks of the season, Miami could be back in the thick of things in the AFC East standings. With all the talk about NFC East being dysfunctional, what should we be thinking of the AFC East? Straight-up mystifying. Speaking of which….
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots, Jets win 27-24 in OT: This was the surprise on the day. Not from a competitive standpoint, but just from the outcome alone. These two teams played like they flat out don't like each other. Which is certainly true and evident following every touchdown which consisted of taunting celebrations and dives into the end-zone. Rob Gronkowski made his much anticipant return in this one. On the Pats first drive of the game, Gronkowski was Brady's primary target as they marched down the field, setting up a Brandon Bolden TD run to knot the game at 7-7 early. Yet, officiating always seems to play a part in the outcome of games when New England is involved. This game was no exception, but much to the chagrin of the Patriots, a few key penalties went against New England in this one, which ultimately cost them. Early in the 4th with New England down 6, Brady's patented screen pass was executed to perfection with Brandon Bolden who was taken down at the 1 yard line, which would have set up a touchdown. That completion was called back on a suspect Rob Gronkowski offensive pass interference. Brady was sacked by the Jets 4 times today and has now been sacked 13 times in the Pats last 3 games.
Despite Brady's struggles, they could have still won this game had it not been for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty agains them as Nick Foles attempted at 56 yard game field goal. This new rule was put into place this season for player safety, thus a 15 yard penalty was enforced following Justin Francis of New England pushing Nick Mangold of the Jets into the offensive formation. That penalty set up the the Jets and Nick Folk to kick a 42 yard field goal to win it in overtime. Rookie, Geno Smith passed the eye test in this one. Smith made a couple mistakes, the most costly of which was a pick six thrown to Logan Ryan, Geno however threw for a touchdown and ran for another one on a nifty 8 yard juke and dive into the endzone. According to Elias Sports, this was the second consecutive overtime game between these two teams and fifth overtime game overall. Jets are a surprising 3-2 in OT against the rival Pats, and the J-E-T-S are 4-3 on the season.
Green Bay Packers vs. Cleveland Browns, Packers win 31-13: Packers receivers have the worst luck. Seriously. The big game from Jarrett Boykin (8 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD) was relatively unexpected. Or was it? It seems that no matter who's out there catching the passes, as long as Aaron Rodgers is the one throwing them, Green Bay is in good shape going forward and making due with its roster week by week. After losing Randall Cobb and James Jones last week, the Packers lost another big play reciever in tight end, Jermichael Finley, who was carried off the field on a stretcher in the fourth quarter with a scary neck injury.
As for the Cleveland, nothing to see here as their fans continue to make Bridgewater jerseys in the confines of their own home. Josh Gordon, the team's most talented player, was held to 2 receptions and 21 yards. Meanwhile the emergence of the Browns tight end continues to Jordan Cameron, 7 receptions on 9 targets who also grabbed another touchdown, his 6th on the season.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Tennessee Titans, 49ers win 31-17: San Fran controlled the tempo throughout this game vs. Tennessee and the Niners were able to utilize Colin Kaepernick in the ways that earned him the starting job last year, with his feet. Kaepernick scampered past the Titans defense in the second quarter for a 20 yard touchdown run and San Fran ran the ball 41 times for 153 yards on the day, effectively moving the ball while running clock. Niners were up 24-0 going into the 4th until they let their foot off the gas, allowing Tennessee to score 17 points. However the margin was too large for the inexperienced Titans squad to make up.
On the bright side, Tennessee got back its man at quarterback. Jake Locker threw for over 300 YDS for the first time this season (probably cause the Titans were playing from behind most of the day), but also threw his first interception on the season. A day of firsts for the surprising quarterback who has progressed in his time on the field and occasionally looks like a playoff QB. With a bye week coming up for Tennessee, they'll have the Bradford-less St. Louis Rams for its next matchup in week 9.
Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts, Colts win 39-33: The warm feelings for Peyton Manning pre-game, quickly cooled as the game started out like it would be another Denver Bronco offensive clinic, featuring Peyton Manning. However, Luck seemed to give the Colts exactly what they needed from him, a consistent game throughout and not just 4th quarter heroics, as he's been known to do in his young career. Luck threw three touchdowns and ran for one, while not allowing a turnover. The Colts are now 9-1 when Andrew Luck does not throw an interception. The Indy defense didn't make it easy for Peyton either, making Manning very uncomfortable in his return, forcing him to play from behind for most of the game.
"Luck" certainly wasn't on the Denver side last night, as nothing seemed to be falling Denver's way. In the third quarter, what appeared to be a touchdown to Eric Decker as he hit the pylon for a TD, was called back and Denver forced to kick a field goal. Manning was sacked four times, was responsible for a Colts safety in the first half and Denver as a team also had a couple costly fumbles; one from Trindon Holliday on a kick return and the other in the red zone from Ronnie Hillman, as Denver tried to make it a one possession game late in the 4th quarter.
Indy won the battle last night, but neither team came out unscathed. As was a common theme in most games on Sunday, Denver CB Champ Bailey who just returned from injury a couple weeks back, might now miss more time with an injured foot and Indianpolis lost its star wideout Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL, Wayne will be out the remainder of the season. Trent Richardson was disturbingly quiet in this game who's only highlight was a fumble to go along with his anemic 37 yards rushing. Luck will have to rely on the likes of Hilton, Heyward-Bey and college teammate Coby Fleener moving forward without Wayne, but most importantly, a game-plan needs to be put in place for using Trent Richardson, as he should start to see more passes from out of the back-field. So much for the perfect season in Denver as they are indeed human after all. This was merely a hiccup and probably the best thing to happen to the Broncos, showing their own mortality.
Hard to believe it, but the NFL regular season is nearly halfway complete. A few surprises, a slew of injuries, some bad blood brewing along the way and NFL divisional standings are taking shape. An eventful week in the National Football League.