The Miami Dolphins, who won one game last season, beat last season’s undefeated team by 25 points on the road. Jacksonville hadn’t won in Indianapolis since 2004. The Tennessee Titans haven’t been 3-0 since 1999, when they went to the Super Bowl. The Buffalo Bills haven’t been 3-0 since 1992, when they went to the Super Bowl. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field for the first time ever. And, maybe most telling, the NFC is 6-2 against the AFC so far this season.
Count me among those people who said the Patriots’ Super Bowl hopes were gone when Tom Brady went down for the season. Their big win over the New York Jets was more about the Jets being crappy and the Patriots being inspired than the Pats being very good. Still, I didn’t expect the score this week (while I did think the ‘Fins had a legit chance to win). Miami used new formations and gadgets they hadn’t used before, and the Patriots defense wasn’t up to the task. In addition to Brady, they were missing their starting running back and backup. That they were favored by a dozen points was absurd; what team, without their starting QB or RB, is even favored at all? The Patriots need to go 8-5 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, and that’s where I see them. Whether they win the AFC East, it’s a battle between them and Buffalo; and that’s something I can’t predict right now.
Michael Turner leads the NFL with 366 rushing yards and shares the lead with 5 rushing TDs. That’s a fantastic accomplishment after three weeks for someone on a new team, but consider that teams have been putting seven and eight in the box to stop the run, and Turner is still beating them. Turner’s QB, rookie Matt Ryan, has made teams pay with deep TD passes; so what will happen when teams start adding more DBs to the mix to stop Ryan? It’s hard to believe that Turner might be looking at 2,000 total yards this season, but he very well may be.
As someone who loves the math of the game, it’s tough to watch head coaches make bonehead mathematical errors. With 50 seconds left in their game, down by 9 points, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin decided to go for it on 4th and 10 at the Eagles 22. The pass fell incomplete. Instead, he should have kicked the field goal, gotten within 6, then tried for the onsides kick. Either way, he needed two scores, and in that situation you want to extend the game. Tomlin shortened it and the Steelers went home now a half game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the division lead.
The Denver Broncos are 3-0 and have scored the most points in the League. They’re a hot pick to win the AFC. But they’ve also allowed the third most points in the League, and they have one of the two or three best cornerback tandems (Dre Bly and Champ Bailey) in the league; and they’re giving up 267 passing yards per game. To me, that’s no recipe for success in the NFL.
My Top 5
1) Philadelphia Eagles. Though, it will be tough to beat Chicago if they don’t have Brian Westbrook.
2) Dallas Cowboys. Terrell Owens caught only two balls for 17 yards and they won by double digits.
3) Buffalo Bills. They are playing strong on both sides of the ball, and Trent Edwards looks like he is the answer in Buffalo.
4) Tennessee Titans. They have been dominant since Kerry Collins took over for interception-prone Vince Young.
5) Carolina Panthers. Odd that they get their best player, Steve Smith, for the first time this season, and they lose for the first time.
What shocked me was how inept and overmatched the Patriots defense looked. Miami quarterback Chad Pennington was 17 for 20 and seldom pressured, while the Dolphins ran for 216 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per play. Ronnie Brown ran for four touchdowns and threw for one, becoming the fantasy football star of the day.
Six times, the Fins ran this option play where Pennington lined up wide right and Brown took the snap from the shotgun. Each time, Ricky Williams came in motion, Brown faked it to him and kept the ball. Three times out of that formation he ran for scores, and the last time he threw a touchdown pass as the Patriot secondary bit on the fake.
Normally, a Bill Belichick defense would stuff a gadget play like that the second time, so it was shocking to see it work each time and to see Belichick outcoached by rookie Fins coach Tony Sprano. “I don’t know why in the world we couldn’t stop that play. They just came in and beat our butts,” safety Rodney Harrison said.
What was also weird is that the Patriots did not try to go deep on offense. They apparently want Cassell to “manage” the game, i.e., don’t screw it up, which works when a team has the lead. Once the Dolphins got ahead, this type of offense won’t get it done.
The 25-point loss was the worst at home by New England, since a 41-10 drubbing to Atlanta in 1998, two seasons before Belichick took over as head coach.
Colts’ defense pathetic: While New England looked bad, their main AFC rival the past five years, the Indianapolis Colts, played matador defense. The Colts lost a thriller to the Jaguars, 23-21, on a day when their defense gave up 236 yards rushing and could not get Jacksonville off the field. The Jaguars won the game on a 50-yard field goal by Josh Scobee with four seconds left. On the final drive, the Colts had stopped the Jags on fourth down, but linebacker Freddie Keiaho was flagged on what was a dubious pass interference call.
In the second half, Jacksonville ran 46 plays to 17 for the Colts. Until Peyton Manning engineered an 11-play drive to give the Colts a 21-20 lead with a minute left, Indy’s defense was on the field virtually the entire second half. It’s obvious what missing 2007 defensive MVP Bob Sanders (out up to six weeks with an ankle injury) does to the defense. The Jaguars repeatedly converted third downs and used ball control as the best weapon against Manning – leaving him standing on the sidelines with a hat on. This was one time where time of possession was a meaningful stat: The Jaguars controlled the ball for 41:35 to 18:25 for the Colts.
The Colts are 1-2 and have lost both games in their new stadium. If they can’t stop the run, they’ll be lucky to get a win there.
Battling the ball boy: After Scobee’s kick to beat the Colts sailed through the upright, the Jags kicker made a full sprint to the end zone to retrieve the ball. But he had to fight with the ball boy, who gave him a better fight than did the Colts defense.
“My holder went to give me a high-five and I took off running,” said Scobee. “I tried to get the ball from the ball boy and he didn’t recognize me. He wouldn’t let go of it, so I had to rip it away from him.”
Lucky charm: The Redskins are 2-0 since tight end Chris Cooley showed his penis on his blog.
Bring in Brady (Quinn): If Cleveland coach Romeo Crennell doesn’t bench Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn, he should be fired. Anderson was awful in Sunday’s 28-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. His stat line: 14 for 37, 125 yards and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown).
The Browns, loaded with offensive talent, are 0-3 and have scored 26 points in their three games. The Browns screwed up by signing Anderson to a rich offseason contract; they should have traded him when he had some value. He started strong last season, but trailed off in the last third and it was obvious he was not an elite quarterback.
AFC upside down: Before the season, the top four AFC teams were considered to be New England, Indy, San Diego and Jacksonville. The Patriots are 2-1, but without Brady it will be tough to see them making much playoff noise. The Colts and Jags are 1-2, each two games behind 3-0 Tennessee, while San Diego is 0-2 going into Monday’s game against the Jets. In the AFC East, Buffalo is 3-0, while 2-0 Baltimore (which had a Week 2 bye due to Hurricane Ike), leads the North (the Steelers are 2-1).
Denver is 3-0 and leads the AFC West, but the Broncos have given up 70 points in their last two games (plus 502 yards in a 34-32 win Sunday against New Orleans). Also, give the Broncos an asterisk for one win since it was gift-wrapped by a blown call.
It all adds up to the most wide-open AFC we’ve seen since 2001, when New England began its domination.
NFC more normal: The race in the NFC is going more to form. The NFC East is the league’s best division, with Dallas and New York 3-0 and Philadelphia and Washington 2-1. These four teams are a combined 8-0 in games outside the division.
Dallas looks scary good on offense, racking up 453 yards in whipping Green Bay, 27-16. Dallas looks like the league’s most complete team right now, but talk to me in January. Green Bay is in a fairly easy division and I still like QB Aaron Rodgers, so they will be fine. The West is a joke and the South looks competitive with no standout team.
Get that man some Advil: Think Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Brian Griese needs has a sore throwing arm today? Sunday, he threw the ball 65 times for 407 yards and two touchdowns in leading Tampa (2-1) to a thrilling 27-24 overtime win over the Chicago Bears (1-2). In NFL history, only four quarterbacks have thrown more passes in a game.
Race to the bottom: The Lions, Browns, Chiefs, Bengals and Rams are each 0-3 and in line to be judged the worst team in the league. Cincinnati showed some life in losing in overtime to the Giants, but the Chiefs lost by 24 to a rookie QB (Atlanta’s Matt Ryan), while the Lions and Rams have allowed 113 and 116 points respectively this season; it’s a shame the two don’t play each other this season.