Monday, November 20, 2006

Monday Morning Kick Returns

Okay I'm back-what happened in the NFL? The most moving part of the game was when new soldiers took their vows

That's the worst thing about actually attending an NFL game- you miss what goes on in the rest of the league. Sure they have those tiny scrolling scoreboards at Ray Jay, and periodically I or someone near me will check a score and say, "oh look, so & so is up 14-o on so & so." And everyone around you goes "wow" or "oh" and that's the extent of it. No highlights, no analysis, no witty banter between Howie, Terry & Jimmy, just a number on a screen.
Then I come home after 7 hours (with tailgate) of walking, yelling, sweating, standing and consuming adult beverages, and I'm completely useless. My legs don't work, I can't talk, and my brain is certainly of no use. Usually I scarf down dinner and proceed to pass out on the couch.
Which is precisely what happened last night. I'm pissed because I missed the Mannings' perfect season hopes go up in flames, and LT's amazing game in the Chargers' come-from-behind-win in the Mile High air. From what I gleaned between naps & bathroom trips it was a pretty interesting day in the league. Thank God for ESPN, ESPN2 and

Bucs find formula for a win: run the ball & play an inferior team
Bucs 20, 'Skins 17
It certainly wasn't a game that will go into the NFL Films archives, but the Bucs (3-7) would take the ugliest of ugly wins just to get another victory in this lost season. Finally Chucky Gruden decided to utilize forgotten fan fave FB Mike Alstott, who opened up the running game enough to let the Caddy run free (27 carries, 122 yards) as the Bucs got back on the winning track against the lowly Redskins (2-8.) It's no secret that Bucs coach Gruden does not have an affinity for local legend Alstott, whatever the reason may be (ego, jealousy, stubbornness, hate, not one of his boys'...) but there is no question that it was the early power running of the A-Train that set the tone for the Bucs to be able to run the ball and not have to put the game in the hands of shaky rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski (14-21, 178 yds, 2TDs, 1INT, 1 fumble.) Alstott set the tempo early in the game when he carried three straight times for 25 yards, more yards than he had gained all season, including a punishing run of 16 yards where he barrelled over helpless CB Shawn Springs as the crowd roared & the massive train whistle echoed around the Stadium. The curious thing about this sequence that led to matt Bryant's 26-yard field goal is that there is no record of the runs by Alstott in the play-by-play section of any online sports site, leading to speculation that A-Train hater Gruden had the sequence stricken from the records due to his dislike of all things Alstott. Get over it Chucky; A-Train will ALWAYS generate more cheers in Tampa than you will, and you can run him out of town if you want but his legend will live on in the Bay Area a lot longer than yours.
The game was pretty much a yawner other than that as new Washington QB Jason Campbell, the former LSU standout, played fairly well against an improving Tampa Bay defense but without injured RB Clinton Portis the 'Skins could not get the running game going. That's what happens when you have rejects like Ladell Betts & TJ Duckett as your primary runners; Washington ran for a measly 64 yards while the Bucs totalled 181 on the ground, their 2nd highest output of the season.
Stats don't always tell the whole story, but these numbers don't lie: Tampa bay is 13-4 over the past 2 seasons when they run the ball more than 25 times and they are 7-1 when Caddy goes over 100 yards. Memo to Chucky: suck in your overinflated sense of self importance and run these two backs into the ground until the end of this miserable season. Alstott probably won't be back, so at least let him go out trying to carry this team on his massive shoulders one last time.

They're swilling champagne on South Beach: Miami's 1972 perfect season is safe as the Mannings lose to Cowboys, 21-14.

Manning will have to settle for another imperfect season

Ding dong the quest for a perfect season is dead (again) as the Mannings went down with a whimper in Big D yesterday. The revitalized Cowboys(6-4), under the guidance of emerging folk hero QB Tony Romo (19-23,226yds, 0TD, 1INT) have now ripped off wins in 3 of Romo's 4 starts and they became the first team to knock off the not-so-mighty Mannings this season. After racing to a 13-0 mark last season before losing to San Diego they took a 9-0 mark into this game with plenty of hopes to make it top 10-0 against the up & down 'Boys. But Manning (20-39, 254yds, 2TDs, 2INTs, 2 fumbles, sacked twice) was rendered helpless by Dallas' strong defensive effort, which forced the careful Colts into 4 turnovers. The unit was led by underrated LB Bradie James (7tkls, 1FF, 1fumble recovery) and ferocious LB Demarcus Ware (4 tkls, 1 sack), and Romo did just enough to ensure a win, namely hand off to Julius Jones (22 carries, 79 yds) & Marion Barber III (9 carries, 39yds, 2TDs.) So Indy's dream (if they had one) of an undefeated season is over; now they can concentrate on attempting to secure the best record in the AFC & home field advantage, but San Diego (8-2) and Baltimore (8-2) are breathing down their necks.

Pats bounce back by annihilating hapless Packers, 35-0
Two things were proven yesterday on the not-quite-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field: 1.) The Pats do not lose three games in a row, in any venue under, any circumstances and 2.) life without Brett Favre looks mighty bleak for the Pack & their fans, which they found out after the legendary slinger went out with an injury late in the first half. Favre was diagnosed with a nerve injury to his throwing elbow after Tully Banta-Cain & Tedy Bruschi combined to sack him, slamming him to the turf with about 2:00 to go in the half. New England took advantage by holding the Pack to just 120 yards while amassing and impressive 357 yards themselves. After taking weeks of abuse for not using the running game more (a common theme throughout the league lately- whatever happened to "you have to run the ball to win"? ), The Hooded Genius went back to that game plan as Lawrence Maroney (19 carries, 82 yards, 4 recs, 34yds, 1TD) & Corey Dillon (12 rushes, 31 yards , 1TD) keyed a 40 carry, 122-yard rushing performance by New England. Without having to throw the ball 50 times Tom Terrific took care of the rest, shaking off sub-par performances against the Colts & Jets to light up the Green Bay defense with a 20-31, 244 yard, 4TD outing. He also protected the ball, not throwing an interception for the first time in a month; he had thrown an un-Brady-like 6 INTs in the last 3 games, although one of those should be charged to Kevin Faulk.
What does this win prove? Not much against a horrible Packer team that was without its only semblance of an offensive threat. Favre's future (possible) replacement Aaron Rodgers was a miserable 4-12 for 32 yards, so it's not like the Pats went out and beat Indy or anything. The real test for these hard-to-read Patriots will be next Sunday against the streaky Bears(8-2); win that game and we will believe the hype. But lose another game at the Razor Blade to a quality opponent and the hopes will be greatly diminished that another trophy celebration will be taking place on the streets of Boston this February.

Fantasy Football Geeks rejoice: players putting up Madden-like numbers
Either Fantasy Football is starting to seep into the NFL and affect games much like gambling did in the '60's (thanks to la Cosa Nostra) or it's purely coincidence that it seems like players are putting up numbers befitting an Arena League game on a weekly basis. Check out some of the eye-popping stats from individual players this week.

-New Orleans QB Drew Brees racked up 510 yards passing against the Bengals but the Saints lost 31-16. How does a quarterback go 37-52 for 510 and not win the game? Easy, when he throws 3 INTs and his top receiver, rookie phenom Marques Colston, goes down with injury during the first series. Still, despite the loss, Brees' performance was unbelievable.

- San Diego RB LaDanian Tomlinson had his second consecutive 4 touchdown day as his Chargers overcame a 21-pt deficit for the 2nd straight week to overtake the Broncos, 35-27. Tomlinson, with 102 TDs in just 87 games, became the fastest running back to reach 100 career TDs, besting greats Emmitt Smith & Jim Brown, who did the feat in the 93rd games of their career. LT now has 22 total touchdowns on the season. He has totalled a staggering 19 TDs in his past 6 games, and he has accounted for more touchdowns than 18 NFL teams this year. Un-freakin-believable!

-San Fran RB Frank Gore continues to impress while flying under the national radar. The second year back from Da U tallied a career-high 212 yards yesterday in the 49ers 20-14 victory over the Seahawks; it was Gore's 2nd game with over 150 yards rushing this season. He broke the Niner team record of 201 yards set by Buccaneer bust Charlie Garner and has helped the suddenly respectable 49ers (5-5) to a .500 record and their first 3-game winning streak since 2002. Gore has 1043 yards for the season.

- Buffalo WR Lee Evans set a team record with 265 yards receiving in the Bills' 24-21 win over the Texans. Not only did the little-known former Badger break a mark that had been in place since 1975, but in the loss Texan QB David Carr tied an NFL mark by completing 22 passes in a row. Carr finished 25-30 for 223 yards and went from a 1-3 start to tying a record set by Washington's Mark Brunell against the Texans earlier this season. I guess Carr was paying attention to the veteran in that game. So you had 2 records set in one contest. Other receivers who put up huge numbers include the rejuvenated Chad Johnson of Cincy, who grabbed 6 passes for 190 yards & 3TDs one week after going for 260 against the Chargers, and oncoming Saints star Devery Henderson, who caught 9 balls for 169 yards two weeks after having his breakout game (3 recs, 111 yds) against the Bucs.

Bottom line is receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks are going off these last few weeks. And something tells me the lucrative business of Fantasy Football has something to do with it. I'm launching a full investigation.

Key injuries take their toll on a number of teams
I already mentioned the situation in Green Bay, but there has been an updated report since I started this. Favre has been cleared to play this week after his elbow felt much better following the game, but backup Aaron Rodgers, who finally got a taste of NFL action, was injured late in the game and will miss the rest of the season. Rodgers broke his foot on a scramble in the 3rd quarter, but like a true backup dying to play he stayed in and finished the game.
But the injury that hurt a team the most Sunday is the season-ending knee injury to Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, who injured the leg on a play in the second quarter of Philly's 31-13 home loss to the Titans Sunday. With McNabb gone the Eagles will turn to Jeff Garcia (remember him?) to pick up the slack, but at 5-5 and with the Giants & Cowboys appearing to be the teams to beat in the NFC East it would appear that Philly's season is done right now.

J. Rose's
Power Rankings

1.)San Diego (8-2)
Their resiliency, coming from behind in 4 straight games, plus their high-powered offesne, led by QB Phillip Rivers & LT, has made them the most feared team in the AFC. Plus they'll get LB Shawne Merriman back from his 'roid suspension in 2 weeks
2.)Indy (9-1)
They had been winning by the skin of their teeth all year so you knew they wouldn't go undefeated. Still the new-look Mannings just don't have that same swagger, whether it's the loss of a running attack or the regression of Peyton's numbers (20 TDs, longest pass this year: 51 yards.)
3.) Baltimore (8-2)
Every week you want to count these posers out, but every week they find a way to win, whether they are without QB Steve McNair or LB Ray Lewis, as they were this week. Another couple of wins and they will wrap up the AFC Central, and then they can gear up for their playoff run.
4.)Denver (7-3)
The Broncos have stumbled lately, with losses to Indy & San Diego bookending wins over Pittsburgh & Oakland, but they still posses a solid defense and opportunistic offense. Plus no one wants to go to Invesco in January (especially the Pats.)
5.)New England (7-3)
The up-and-down Pats are hard to read (they're 2-3 @ home, 5-0 on the road) but like the saying goes, whenever you have Tom Brady & The Hooded Genius you have a chance to win. Sunday's home contest against the Bears will prove if they are real contenders or not.

1.) Bears (9-1)
The have had some tough times lately but still have proven that they are the cream of a weak NFC crop. They can wrap up the NFC Central with 2 more wins, and their game against new England means more to the Pats than it does to the Bears. it's an out-of-conference road game that they will be expected to lose. If they should happen to win, they may prove to be the best team in the NFL
2.) Who knows?
You've got a mess for the rest of the NFC as 4 teams stand in second place at 6-4 and the Giants could join that crew should they lose at Jacksonville tonight. if the banged-up G-Men pull off the win on MNF tonight to go to 7-4 they will stake their claim to the NFC's second best team. If they lose they will join the rest of the also-rans for the right to go to Soldier Field in early January to play a rested Bears team. Nice conference.

Speaking of tonight's Monday Night Football contest, the battered Giants drag their NFC east-leading team into Jacksonville for a showdown with the desperate Jags tonight. Jacksonville got word earlier this week that QB Byron Leftwich will most likely be sidelined for the remainder of the season to have his gimpy ankle sliced, so David Garrard, coming off a poor showing against Houston, will take the reigns from here on out. jax has been up & down all year, winning big one week then tanking the next, so it's hard to say how they perform. New York needs the game to remain a game ahead of surging Dallas in the East, but Jax needs the win just to keep their Wild Card hopes alive. But the Giants offense should have enough juice to get past the Jags defense, so look for the Giants to pull this one out.
MY PICK: Giants 24 Jags 17

No comments: