Rams finally win one. Dolphins remain winless. Colts on two-game losing streak. Cowboys and Packers assert dominant NFC leanings. And the wild-card races in both conferences just get tighter. You won’t hear fans complain about that.
It was fun to lounge around on the couch this past weekend, and watch parity at its best. That includes the college game, where the typical powers continue to experience diminishing returns at the hands of wannabes. (Go Illini! Go Terps!) And except for the Patriots, it’s still pretty much anyone’s game in the NFL.
Jaguars 28, Titans 13—Titans a different team without injured DT Albert Haynesworth. Jaguars exploit the situation for good runs by Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and Greg Jones, and sub QB Quinn Gray manages game with quiet efficiency. Yet again, Vince Young a model of inconsistency, including two critical INTs. Titans absent their running game, with an ailing LenDale White gaining only 12 yards on 8 carries. Both teams now 6-3 in the AFC South.
Chargers 23, Colts 21—Despite a career high (or low) of 6 INTs, Peyton Manning still almost pulls this one out of the fire. Special teams help Chargers build 23-7 halftime lead, led by Darren Sproles’ two TD returns. Colts dominate time of possession and keep the lid on LT and Chargers’ passing game, but Manning misfires hamstring the Indy offensive momentum, and a rare, late missed Adam Vinatieri field goal seals the team’s fate. Colts, now 7-2 and only a game up in the AFC South, still awaiting return of injured WR Marvin Harrison. Chargers, now 5-4, grab lead in AFC West.
Eagles 33, Redskins 25—Call it what you will—lack of killer instinct, lack of character—the 5-4 Skins once again blow a lead, and the game, on their home field. Eagles McNabb and Westbrook step up, as team puts 20 points on the board in fourth quarter, despite losing time of possession battle and yielding 137 rushing yards to Clinton Portis. Philly now 4-5 and hoping to get back into wild card race.
Packers 34, Vikings 0—Pack finds running game with Ryan Grant, who gains 119 yards, his second 100-yard game in the past three. The ex-Notre Damer was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Giants in 2005. He spent that year on the practice squad, and 2006 on injured reserve. The Giants traded him to the Packers just before the start of this season. Someone’s doing their homework in Wisconsin. Another big day for Brett Favre, too: 33-46, 351 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. Green Bay now 8-1; anemic Vikes fall to 3-6, and rookie RB sensation Adrian Peterson leaves this game with a knee injury.
Bears 17, Raiders 6—Raiders’ D knocks Brian Griese out with a shoulder injury. So much-maligned replacement Rex Grossman comes in and throws a 59-yard TD strike to Bernard Berrian and leads Bears to second-half victory. Mediocre numbers on both sides of the field. Bears now 4-5 and seeking wild card contention. Raiders going nowhere fast at 2-7, with five losses in a row.
Bengals 21, Ravens 7—Placekicker Shayne Graham hits seven field goals for the Bengals (3-6), who basically played less bad than the reeling Ravens (4-5). Steve McNair garners boos from Baltimore faithful with lackluster performance. He’s 34, and they’re asking the question, “Is he done?”
Cowboys 31, Giants 20—Giants dominate time of possession, but Cowboys make the big plays, with QB Tony Romo racking up excellent numbers—20-28, 247 yards, 4 TDs—and ditto for Terrell Owens (6 catches, 125 yards, 2 TDs). This was a game for a good while, but 8-1 Cowboys prove that balanced teamwork can trump moxie and emotion. Giants fall to 6-3 but still have a leg up in the NFC wild card race.
Falcons 20, Panthers 13—Panthers lose again, getting little from Vinny Testaverde at QB or their running game. Falcons play tenacious D, Warrick Dunn has a decent game (89 yards, 1 TD) and Joey Harrington throws a TD pass to Alge Crumpler and avoids mistakes. Falcons raise record to 3-6 (it could be worse), and 4-5 Panthers, believe it or not, are still only a game off the pace in NFC South.
Bills 13, Dolphins 10—Fins dominate time of possession by 15 minutes, and get a 124-yard performance out of RB Jesse Chatman, but still mostly flail around between the 20-yard lines. Bills don’t generate much offense, either, but escape Miami with a “W,” pushing their record to 5-4. Next Sunday night, they can test out their newfound confidence when the Patriots come to town. Dolphins now 0-9, and it’s hard to see it getting better with Cleo Lemon at QB. (No offense, Cleo. Just saying.)
Broncos 27, Chiefs 11—I don’t think the Chiefs should be losing this badly at home to a cobbled together collection of Broncos. But their QB play—Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle—is sorely wanting, and RB Larry Johnson is out indefinitely. So if Broncos QB Jay Cutler has an efficient-enough game, and undrafted free agent RB Selvin Young can muster 109 yards against the KC defense, then I guess that’s what you get. Priest Holmes continues his comeback, subbing for Johnson and gaining 65 yards on the ground. Good for Priest, but how good is that for the Chiefs? Both teams now 4-5, one game off the pace in the AFC West.
Rams 37, Saints 29—Wild game in N’Awlins. It’s bad timing for the host Saints to yield a victory to the previously winless Rams. Clearly, St. Louis (1-8) was due. QB Marc Bulger finally put up some representative numbers—27-33, 302 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs—and the Rams’ running game broke the century mark and helped the team gain nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. Rams RB Steven Jackson still not showing dominant form, however. Drew Brees okay at QB for New Orleans, but the team misses the power running of Deuce McAllister. For all his talent, Reggie Bush doesn’t look like a longtime solution to this problem. Maybe give rookie Pierre Thomas a crack at it. Plus, the Saints still have defensive issues. They’re now 4-5, but still well alive in NFC South.
Cardinals 31, Lions 21—Lions running game: -18 yards. For the entire day. That says a lot, but if it weren’t for their interceptions and fumbles, they still might’ve had a shot here. Cards get a strong performance from Kurt Warner, whom many figured was finished in ‘04 after his stint with the Giants. He keeps hanging around, and with Matt Leinart out for the year with a broken collarbone, the Cards should be glad he does. Cards’ running game still pretty ordinary, but Warner’s numbers—26-36, 259 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT—and eight different contributing receivers keep the team’s playoff hopes alive. They’re 4-5 and nipping at the Seahawks’ heels in the NFC West. Lions fall to 6-3.
Steelers 31, Browns 28—Tough loss for the ambitious Browns. They squandered a 21-6 lead and the momentum that comes with it, managing to prove once again that, in the NFL, if you don’t blow your opponent out, then they’re only one good score away from making a new game out of things. Steelers just kept chipping away, with QB Roethlisberger throwing and running with his typical tenacity. Browns record four sacks and an INT, and while their running game was limp, QB Derek Anderson threw three TD passes and zero INTs. So even physical, mistake-free football isn’t an automatic formula for success. But read between the lines: Steelers hold the ball nearly twice as long, and their D came alive in the second half. A Browns victory would have created a tie for the AFC North lead. Instead, Steelers looking strong at 7-2. Browns in the wild-card chase at 5-4.
Seahawks 24, 49ers 0—At 2-7, the Niners don't have the worst record in the league, but based on their Monday night performance, they surely must be the worst team, and that includes the 0-9 Dolphins. In what has to be one of the most pathetic showings by any team in years, the Niners amassed six first downs. Their QB, Alex Smith, looks totally inept, and it's hard to fathom that he was the #1 overall draft pick in 2005. Even cutting him some slack for the fact that he's working under his third offensive coordinator in three years, it was inexplicably ugly. This game didn't even offer an accurate gauge of how good the Seahawks are, despite their obvious dominance. They ran their record to 5-4, tops in the NFC West.