With week 4 in the books we're now 25% done with the season, except for the Steelers and Colts who had a bye this week and are only 18.75% done. As is the case every year there's always some teams that are playing above expectations such as the Cardinals and those who are playing well below what was expected such as the Saints. The rest would fall into the category of Denis Green's "They are who we thought they were!" So which team has you surprised by their play so far, which ones should be able to bounce back from their slow start and which ones early success is all just smoke and mirrors?
Is there a more risk-averse group of people than NFL head coaches? They're like a bus full of silver haired grandmas going to Vegas so they can play the penny slots. Come on, live a little! I'm not saying they have to sit down at the $100 blackjack table before running off to the champagne room but at least sit down at the $5 table and get a lap dance. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera showed just how grandma like he could be when facing a 4th-and-1 just past mid field with just over a minute to play and the Panthers leading 28-27. If they go for it and get a first down the game is over. If they punt the Falcons would have about 1 minute with no timeouts to get into FG range.
Since the Panthers just paid around $50 million to resign running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, as well as having the best running QB in the NFL with Cam Newton, the penny slot playing Rivera decided to punt. Amazingly they downed the ball at the 1-yard line, but then loaded 8 men in the box and watched as Matt Ryan completed a 60-yard bomb. Three plays later Matt Bryant's 40-yard FG sailed through the uprights and the Panthers lost. At least Rivera stuck to the head coaching mantra, "Better to lose conventionally than win unconventionally." Maybe it's time for a new mantra.
With the Bills leading 21-7 I decided to take a bathroom break. Fifteen minutes later (I ate a lot of bean dip) the Patriots had taken a 42-21 lead. From around the middle of the 3rd quarter to the middle of the 4th the Patriots had gained 282 yards on offense and scored 5 touchdowns while the Bills had managed only 32 total yards, 0 points, and committed 2 turnovers.
To appreciate just how bad it was for the Bills, the pass happy Patriots ran the ball for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 4-yard TD run by Tom Brady, and were led by undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden who gained 137 yards and scored a TD on only 16 carries. To make matters worse the Bills are still stuck with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who leads the league with 12 touchdown passes but also leads the league with 7 interceptions (or at least he did until Tony Romo decided to play catch with the Bears secondary during Monday night's game). Considering how ineffective this new high priced defensive line is for the Bills you'd think it was put together by the government.
After the Lions gave up a kickoff and punt return for a TD in last week's loss to the Titans you had to imagine the Lions coaching staff made sure to spend extra time working on fixing that, especially considering Percy Harvin was coming to town. So how did it go? Harvin took the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD and Marcus Sherels returned a punt early in the 3rd quarter 77 yards for a TD as the Lions became the first team since 1940 to allow both a kickoff and punt returned for touchdowns in back-to-back games.
When you're matching ignominious records that have been around since the time Hitler was still alive, that's never a good sign. Adrian Peterson also grounded out 102 yards on 21 carries, breaking the century mark in rushing for the first time since Oct 23, 2011. So what did Harvin have to say about his TD return to start the game, "That hole opened up, and you probably could have walked through there." Strange, those also happened to be the first words Snookie's baby, Lorenzo, said.
After Marshawn Lynch, who finished with 118 yards on 20 carries, scored an 18-yard TD on the Seahawks first possession, the Rams and Greg Zuerlein had the Seahawks right where they wanted them. Who's Greg Zuerlein you ask? He's their rookie place kicker and early MVP of the team. Hey, this is the Rams, you have to take the MVP anywhere you can find him. Zuerlein kicked a 58-yard FG on the Rams following possession, as well as a 48-yard FG just as the first half ended, a 60-yard FG near the beginning of the second half, and a 24-yard FG late in the 4th quarter. But his most important role came as a decoy on a 20-yard FG attempt in the 2nd quarter.
Stealing a play from the 49ers, Danny Amendola pretended to run off the field but stopped just before the sidelines. When no one went out to cover him, kick holder and High School QB John Hekker took the snap and lobbed a high pass to Amendola for the go ahead TD. "The play kind of took a while," Amendola said. "I was afraid they would see me, but they didn't see me. I was just trying to get as small as I could, so nobody sees me." Turns out Amendola didn't have to worry. Not only did the Seahawks not see him but neither did almost everyone living outside Seattle and St Louis.
Dolphins 21, Cardinals 24
Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill shredded the Cardinals secondary for 431 yards, mostly to Brian Hartline who had 12 receptions for 253 yards and a TD. The Dolphins outgained the Cardinals 394 to 269 in the air, 86 to 28 on the ground, and 480 to 297 in total yards. Kevin Kolb threw 2 interceptions, lost a fumble, and was sacked 8 times for a loss of 55 yards. They trailed 13-0 at the half and faced 4th-and-10 on the Dolphins 15-yard line with time running out and needing a TD just to send the game into overtime. Yet somehow they won. They've now won 9 of their last 11 games and have won their last 8 games at home, 5 of which went into overtime. "It's not luck, I can tell you that," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It can't be luck as many times as we've been successful with that." If it's not luck I want to know what you had to give the devil in return for the wins.
Saints 27, Packers 28
There were cheers, pats on the back, some were high-fiving, others were giving a tip of their cheese hat, all in recognition to the regular officials who were finally back at work. The Packers and their horrible loss to the Seahawks last week were held up as the reason we needed the regular officials back, and it was that loss in a nationally televised game that finally did bring an end to the lockout. Well no sooner had the body paint begun to dry and the chili cheese fries began clogging arteries than we were reminded that the regular officials weren't really all that liked either. They weren't going to give a team 8 extra yards on a penalty or be so unsure what call to make they're texting their moms for advice, but they do still make mistakes of their own.
After the Packers scored a TD to go back on top 28-27 Darren Sproles fumbled the ensuing kickoff which was recovered by the Packers. Only the officials said he was down by contact and didn't fumble. Of course everyone knows even the regular officials aren't perfect which is why teams have at least two challenges they can make every game. Unfortunately, Mike McCarthy had already wasted his two challenges on plays that didn't impact the game that much. Here's some more advice for the silver haired Vegas penny slot club, just because the officials get a call wrong doesn't mean you have to challenge it especially if it's not a big impact play since you may need it later. It's like those people who get in accidents defending their right of way. You're car is totaled and the other guy doesn't have insurance, but at least he'll know he's supposed to yield next time in that situation.
Did that actually just happen? Did Andy Reid actually call a game where the Eagles ran the ball more times than they tried to throw it?! Amazingly Reid finally realized his quarterback has had trouble protecting the ball this season so he ran the ball 36 times and tried only 32 passes. Of course some of those runs were by Michael Vick and were actually supposed to be pass plays but even a 1:1 ratio is pretty good for Reid. And look what happened, the Eagles rushed for 191 yards, mostly from LeSean McCoy who had 123 yards on 23 carries, and Vick had more time in the pocket.
In his first three games this season Vick had been sacked 9 times and turned the ball over 8 (6 interceptions, 2 fumbles). On Sunday he was sacked only twice, completed 19 of his 30 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown, and most importantly of all he didn't turn the ball over. The Eagles were able to control the time of possession, win the turnover battle, and they won the game. Of course Reid still is a card carrying member of the penny slots club so he still had to do the obligatory icing of the kicker, he just lucked out that Lawrence Tynes missed both attempts. When asked if he regretted calling the first timeout Reid said, "When you're surrounding by 66,000 people that probably wanna rip your head off, yeah." It's not too late Andy, leave the coach's cult while you still can.
When the Browns took running back Trent Richardson with the 3rd overall pick in the draft I'm sure they wanted to model themselves after the rest of the AFC North, relying on a power running game and solid defense to control the tempo of the game. Apparently they've been so wowed by late first round draft pick, QB Brandon Weeden, they've made very little effort to stick with that plan. Through almost three quarters the Ravens never led by more than 9 points but that didn't keep the Browns from almost completely abandoning their running game, attempting 52 passes to only 17 runs. Not surprisingly one of those Weeden passes was intercepted and returned 63 yards by Carry Williams to give the Ravens their biggest lead of the game, 23-10, at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Someone should tell them they don't have Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees so throwing it 75% of the time might not be the best plan if they want to win. Hell, they don't even have Joe Flacco who completed 28 of 46 passes for 356 yards. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game, "Cary Williams was the difference in the game with the interception return for a touchdown." I can just hear Droopy Dog now, "Pat Shurmur".
Bears 34, Cowboys 18
Tony Romo is in the middle of contract talks and was hoping to build on what he did last year to prove he's worth another big extension, and at first glance his numbers from this game would seem to help him. Of his 43 pass attempts 36 were caught for 307 yards and 3 touchdowns. However when you look closer you realize only 1 of those touchdown receptions went to a Cowboys receiver while the other two were interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Bears. In fact he threw 5 interceptions in the game and watched as the Bears defense scored more points (14) than the Cowboys offense managed while he was playing (10), all this coming at home with Jerry Jones giving him the evil eye in his owner's suite.
Meanwhile Jay Cutler was quietly efficient completing 18 of 24 for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns. "This has to be a wake-up call for us. I don't say that nonchalantly. It has to be," Cowboys tight end Jason Whitten said. "You can't bounce back and forth like this, and try to compete come December-time. You can't do it. We have been in that situation before. You cannot do it. And we know that, and we'll get better." If by saying they've been in that situation before he's referring to how every year with Romo as their QB the Cowboys seem to just miss the playoffs or if they do make it they lose their first game, then I'd say his assessment is spot on. Now bring on the contract extension!
Last week I pointed out the Broncos had lost two games in a row by 6 points. Considering Peyton Manning came in and stole the job from Tim Tebow, I wondered what the implications would be if the Broncos lost a 3rd week in a row by 6 points, or 6-6-6. Turns out that didn't happen but they did hold the Raiders to only 6 points and they won by 31 points. So if you take 3 one time and use it on 6 you still get 6 three times or 6-6-6. Plus, the Broncos averaged just over 6 yards per play, ran for 165 yards, converted 10 of 16 3rd down attempts, and had 26 first downs. Plus Manning completed 30 of 38 passes for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns. I'm noticing a lot of 3s and 6s.
Now I know a lot of people will say I'm just grabbing random numbers and trying to find a pattern in them by twisting them around but I'm not saying this proves anything, I'm just asking the questions. Is Peyton Manning the anti-Tebow? Does Manning like to dress up and pretend to be a tooth fairy when he's not on the football field? Does he have an addiction to Oreo cookies? Was his neck injury all a big lie so he'd have an excuse to get out of Indy and go to Denver? I'm just asking questions.
Titans 14, Texans 38
I'm tired of hearing all the "experts" talk about the Texans. The Texans are soooo good. They do everything just perfectly. They don't have any weaknesses. They don't just beat teams they crush them, grind them into powder, dump the ashes into a toilet, take a big dookie on top of the ashes, and then flush it all down. How can anyone beat the Texans? Well I say screw the Texans and all their dead scummy relatives. For the Titans it's nice to see Chris Johnson back from his horrible injury as he carried the ball 25 times for 141 yards against the Texans. I can honestly say it's the first time I've seen someone get injured from trying to cash a check that was too big.
With 5:15 left in the 2nd quarter the Redskins took a 21-3 lead. From there the Bucs fought back and eventually took a 1-point lead on Connor Barth's 47-yard FG with 1:42 left in the game. Robert Griffin III, who finished the day throwing for 323 yards, got the ball back at the 20-yard line and went 4 for 4 with a 15 yard scramble to drive the Redskins 56 yards to set up Billy Cundiff for the game winning 41-yard FG. Cundiff, who had missed 3 earlier field goals in the game, avoided becoming the goat and drilled the kick. "It is tough. You have to remember that this place isn't sold out, but whoever is there is essentially reminding me how bad I performed earlier in the game, to put it nicely," Cundiff said. Right, I'm sure it's exactly like being yelled at in NY or Philly. Next thing you know we're going to hear about Bucs fans throwing sandballs at Santa.
The Chiefs momentarily made people think they weren't that bad with a win over the Saints but then I remembered people only think the Saints are good because of what they've done the previous few years and not what they've done this year, and in fact, the Saints kind of stink and beating a winless team isn't that impressive. Well the Chiefs reminded us they're pretty bad as well, turning the ball over 6 times. They were behind 17-0 before they even ran 5 offensive plays and anytime they threatened to get back in this game they either turned it over or went three-and-out. "It was a total team effort, basically, in not playing very well," Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "It was bad football. You could see it was bad football. But we have a game to be played next week and we have to stay together and not point fingers. ... We're going to see if we can get better somehow, and play better versus good football teams." Well two of their next three opponents are the Bucs and Raiders so by "good football teams" I think he means good relative to the Chiefs.
After the Bengals got crushed 44-13 in their first game against the Ravens I kind of forgot about them. Then I checked and realized they're 3-1. No kidding, they're actually 3-1 and tied for first in the AFC North. In a battle between the teams with the two worst uniforms in the NFL the Bengals easily handled the Jags. And their defense that looked sketchy at best the first couple of weeks seem to have figured things out, not that it doesn't help to play one of the worst offenses in the NFL, Jacksonville, and all this on a day when Fred Jackson was inducted into the Jaguars ring of honor. That's also not a joke, the Jaguars have a ring of honor but I'm not sure who's in it, maybe Mark Brunell. Then it started to rain and the few thousand fans who bothered to show up decided to find something else to do like riding shopping carts down steep hills or sticking cherry bombs into mailboxes.
49ers 34, Jets 0
Throughout the first half and the beginning of the 3rd quarter I could feel my blood pressure rising as the 49ers seemed to squander opportunity after opportunity. Thankfully balance was restored and everything is once again right in the football universe. I'd complain about how the 49ers long passing game still needs work but then I'd feel like I was pointing out the glass is 5% empty instead of being happy it's 95% full.