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NFL Week 9: Titans keep winning, Bengals finally win

Tennessee leaves Jim unimpressed, though. A player kisses his coach, the Colts get a needed win and the Raiders really stink.

How Cyd and Jim saw NFL Week 9.

E-mail Cyd

Big kudos to Baltimore and Atlanta. No one, and I mean no one, predicted this. Two teams who won a combined nine games last season have won a combined 10 games at the midseason point. With rookie head coaches and rookie quarterbacks.

Pats-Colts. Ho-hum. I watched the Sunday Night game without any of the angst with which I’d watched past Past-Colts games. While it was a life-or-death game for the Colts, I just didn’t feel like it had much meaning for the Pats.
E-mail Jim

Unbeaten but unimpressive: The Tennessee Titans beat the Green Bay Packers, 19-16, in overtime to remain the only unbeaten team at 8-0. But I remain less than impressed.

The Titans get credit for winning, but they have done it in a way that I think will kill them in the playoffs. Namely, they have benefitted the past two weeks from their opponents – the Colts and Packers – dropping five potential interceptions. It has been amazing to see Kerry Collins passes travel right to a linebacker or defensive back and wind up harmlessly on the ground. Basically, Collins has been lucky the past two weeks and stats will show zero picks, but mask how shaky he has been. Throw in the Baltimore game and the Titans easily could have lost three times.

I was surprised at how bad the Colts looked. Despite the score, the Patriots played better. If it weren’t for a stupid late hit or a dropped wide-open touchdown pass, the outcome very well may have been very different. Bob Sanders was back, so the Colts’ run defense was supposed to be better. Instead, they allowed 4.7 yards per carry to the Patriots’ fourth- and fifth-string running backs. Compare that to the 1.9 yards per carry for Addai. Their offense have six full possessions and punted three of them. We’re just not used to seeing these kinds of numbers from the Colts.

Telling to me was the Colts’ use of pick plays on offense. At least twice, the Colts used pick plays to get a receiver open; And once it was for a touchdown to Anthony Gonzalez. That’s not a recipe for success in the NFL, because officials won’t always look the other way when it happens; I have to believe someone in the League officiating office is going to look at that this week. To me, it’s just an odd choice for the Colts to be running plays like that. In the past, they didn’t have to. But for whatever reason, they obviously feel that they do this season.

Where are “The Colts”? I’ve seen three games from the Colts now from start to finish, and in each game I’ve waited for “The Colts” to show up in the third quarter. And they haven’t. Almost all of the personnel is there. The only thing I’m left with is that this team is somehow unmotivated, and I am left guessing that that starts at the top, with Tony Dungy. These lame-duck head coaches haven’t fared well in recent years. Bill Cowher. Mike Holmgren. Dungy. Whether you love them or hate them, I want great teams like the Colts to rise up and play well. With all that talent, watching them play is just kind of sad.

Playoff Pats? The Patriots are 5-3 and in a three-way tie for the AFC East lead. Frankly, that’s better than I thought they’d be when Brady went down. Their next three games are against their division foes. These games will decide whether they contend for a berth in the AFC Championship game or not. It’s crazy that I’m saying that without Tom Brady and Rodney Harrison. But there it is.

Put a fork in ‘em. It’s hard to believe there are already eight teams whose seasons are over in that there will be no playoff spot for them. But, just try to make an argument that any of these teams have a playoff shot: Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle.

My Top Five.

1) Tennessee Titans.
They have at least a two-game lead on homefield advantage. It’s hard to believe anyone would be able to go to Tennessee and beat a team built the way they’re built. Great running game, strong defense, well-coached. The best team in the League with the best record in the League. Even after they lose to Chicago next weekend.

2) Carolina Panthers. They didn’t play this week, and they’re at Oakland next week. It’s a real trap game for them: A big test, even if it is against the Raiders.

3) New York Giants. After their big win over the Steelers, they were back to beating up on bad teams this week. Their Sunday night game at Philadelphia is their next proverbial “biggest game of the season.”

4) Pittsburgh Steelers. Huge win in Washington. Somewhere, Barack Obama is smiling.

5) Arizona Cardinals. They have a three-game lead on the rest of the NFC West, which isn’t saying much. But they’ve kept Kurt Warner healthy, their defense is playing well, their switch to Tim Hightower is so far, so good, and they finally won a game at 1pmET.

The 2008 Titans remind me a lot of a team I rooted for in the 1990s – Marty Schottenheimer’s Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams had retread QBs who were efficient but shaky, a solid running and stout defenses and regular season records that were greater than their play on the field. But both teams kicked way too many field goals, which left their opponents in the game and got breaks on turnovers that are dangerous to rely on.

I get a sense that the Titans will mirror the Chiefs in the playoffs – all of sudden, the potential interceptions will not be dropped, the lack of a scoring punch will be fatal and a one-and-done will be the result.

Lucky break: The Kansas City Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead and lost to Tampa Bay in overtime, 30-27. In the OT, Tampa kicker Matt Bryant missed a field goal but got a second chance on a penalty. But the flag was not on Kansas City, but on a false start by Tampa that negated the play. Given a reprieve, the Bucs drove the ball a little further and Bryant nailed the game winner.

Why OT sucks, redux: I have written many times why I hate the NFL overtime rule that does not allow each team a possession and makes a coin flip (a random act) crucial. Both Tennessee and Tampa Bay won the toss in OT and both drove down for game-winning field goals. Neither defense had to take the field and prove itself. It’s a crappy way to end an even game.

Worst offense ever: How bad was Oakland in its 24-0 loss to Atlanta? This explains it:

Oakland finished with just 77 yards for its worst total since getting 58 in 1961 against the Chargers, when Al Davis was an assistant in San Diego. It’s the lowest total in the NFL since Cleveland gained 26 on Dec. 12, 2004, against Buffalo. Oakland’s three first downs were tied for the third fewest since the merger in 1970, with Cleveland twice being held to two in 1999 and 2000.

Colts stay alive: Indianapolis needed a 52-yard field goal from former New England kicker Adam Vinatieri to beat the Patriots, 18-15. It was Vinatieri's longest field goal in six years. After years of Patriot domination, the Colts have now won four of the last five games between the two teams.

With the win, the Colts moved to 4-4 and probably saved their season. Peyton Manning was terrific, going 21 for 29, but the Colts defense was on the field way too much.

New England held the ball for 34 minutes and might have won had Jabbar Gaffney not dropped a sure TD pass that hit him in the hands late in the third quater. It also didn't help that New England coach Bill Belichick wasted one second-half timeout on a dumb challenge and used up his other two with half the fourth quarter still to play. Plus, the Pats took a really dumb 15-yard penalty when tight end Dave Thomas decked a Colt after the whistle was blown on third and 1 late in the game. All in all, the Patriots played uncharacteristically dumb football.

At 5-3, the Pats are in a three-way division tie with Buffalo and New York. New England does not score a lot of points without Tom Brady, but they still are well coached and play enough defense to keep them in most games.

Nice debut … not: Dallas finally benched spaghetti-armed Brad Johnson at quarterback and replaced him with Brooks Bollinger, who promptly threw an interception on his first pass. The 5-4 Cowboys, demolished by the Giants, look like a team that is finished, even when Tony Romo returns. Bye, bye Wade Phillips.

No longer winless: Cincinnati had to survive a missed 2-point conversion attempt by Jacksonville to hang on for a 21-19 win, the Bengals’ first this season. More remarkably, the loss dropped Jacksonville to 3-5. The Jags had been many people’s trendy pick in the AFC, but injuries and stupid play have doomed them this season. Jacksonville is still not out of the AFC playoff race, only because a lot of team are hovering around .500, but losing to the Bengals is not a way to demonstrate your playoff credentials.

A little man love: From the AP account of the Bengals’ win, focusing on two touchdown catches by Chad Ocho Cinco, nee Johnson:

After his 10-yard touchdown catch made it 14-0, Ocho Cinco flipped the ball to the official, went to the sideline and gave coach Marvin Lewis a peck on the cheek, the second time he’s done that this season.

Sexy Rexy is back: Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton was carted off the field with an ankle injury and, to the consternation of Bear fans everywhere, was replace by Rex “The Turnover Machine” Grossman. He went 9 for 19 with an interception, but luckily the Bears were playing the winless Lions and Grossman was able to rally his team for a 27-23 lead. Chicago leads the NFC North with a 5-3 record, but if Grossman is in for any length of time, that lead is as shaky as an Icelandic bank.

Back to Earth: The Buffalo Bills were everyone’s rising team after starting 4-0, but now the Bills are 5-3 after losing three of four, the most recent Sunday to the New York Jets. Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards looked lost against the Jets defensive schemes and threw two picks, including one returned 92 yards for a score. The Bills have lost consecutive games to AFC East foes (the Jets and Dolphins) and have a biggie coming up next week at New England.

The Jets meanwhile, keeping struggling on offense and Brett Favre had another interception returned for a score, but somehow New York is 5-3 and clearly in the hunt for the division. Another sign that 2008 is the strangest NFL season in memory.

The Crap Division: Does anyone want to win the AFC West? San Diego is 3-5 and in any other division would be at least two games out. but in the West the Bolts are only a game behind Denver. The 4-4 Broncos fell at home to Miami and have lost three of four. I think the Chargers will win this division fairly easily since Denver has a lousy defense and QB Jay Cutler doesn't look right.