Should we just stop playing the season and anoint the Patriots the champs? At 10-0, they do look invincible, and it would save a lot of wear and tear on everybody’s precious bodies. One thing no one talks about that much: the Patriots’ offensive line. Tom Brady’s just immune sitting back in that pocket. And those guys don’t make stupid motion penalties and the like. They’re simply a disciplined and focused and high-achieving bunch. Here’s how they look to Brady when he steps up to take the snap:
Matt Light, LT (b. Greenville, Ohio, 1978) Purdue
Logan Mankins, LG (b. Catheys Valley, California, 1982) Fresno State
Dan Koppen, C (b. Dubuque, Iowa, 1979) Boston College
Steve Neal, RG (b. San Diego, California, 1976) Cal State-Bakersfield
Neil Kaczur, RT (b. Brantford, Canada, 1979) Toledo
Kaczur’s an interesting case: Born in Canada, attends the University of Toledo, and still catches the eye of talent scouts and launches a big pro career under Bill Belichick. Only in America.
Patriots 56, Bills 10—Game summary unnecessary. Bills now 5-5.
Broncos 34, Titans 20—Titans (6-4) have problems: injuries on D, now-you-see-it/now-you-don’t running game, receivers who can’t catch Vince Young’s passes, and Young himself, who has the classic issues of the gifted young African American signal-caller, i.e., tons of physical prowess but an invisible learning curve. Also, this game reminds us that, for all his good work over the years, Titans coach Jeff Fisher is no Mike Shanahan, whose Denver team, in a growing-pains period, is now 5-5 and tied for the AFC West lead.
Cowboys 28, Redskins 23—Redskins (5-5) finally show some spunk on the road in Dallas, gain some late momentum from their D, mount a game-winning drive... and QB Jason Campbell throws a really stupid interception. Game over. The 9-1 Cowboys dodge a bullet, while Romo-T.O. hookup team devours Skins secondary.
Colts 13, Chiefs 10—Colts (8-2) treading water, while trying to get healthy and reestablish offense. Punchless Chiefs, now 4-6, use D to keep this one close, but Vinatieri field goal closes ‘em out.
Jaguars 24, Chargers 17—Chargers’ offense still not cohesive despite 309 passing yards from Philip Rivers. Bolts fall back to 5-5. Jags looking good behind return of QB David Garrard (15-24, 189 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) and solid running of Taylor and Jones-Drew. Jags now 7-3 and only a game off AFC South pace.
Vikings 29, Raiders 22—Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson plays efficient-enough ball, and Chester Taylor steps up to replace injured Adrian Peterson and amass 164 yards on the ground with three TDs. Minnesota improves to 4-6. Struggling Raiders just can’t get over the hump, despite collecting three sacks, an interception, and four forced fumbles. Daunte Culpepper throws for 344 yards, but not much help from the running game. Oakland, 2-8, drops sixth in a row.
Browns 33, Ravens 30—Wild, hard-fought game turns into huge road victory for resurgent Browns (6-4). Ravens finally get some offense behind QB Kyle Boller and Willis McGahee’s 102 rushing yards, but it’s not enough to combat the karmic forces against them.
Packers 31, Panthers 17—Considering that he’s 44 years old, Panthers QB Vinny Testaverde (19-37, 258 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) isn’t doing that poorly. The team got some running yards from DeShaun Foster as well. But Carolina falls to 4-6, in the face of yet another excellent Brett Favre performance. Once again, Favre gets some basic help from RB Ryan Grant (88 yards), and the confident Green Bay D steps up when it has to. Pack 9-1. I think I believe now.
Jets 19, Steelers 16—The only really notable thing the Jets (2-8) did on offense was wring a 117-yard game out of RB Thomas Jones. But seven sacks, one INT, and a forced fumble went a long way toward shutting down the Steelers, who must’ve had a biorhythm meltdown. Pittsburgh now 7-3, and still atop the AFC North, but the hungry Browns are stalking ‘em.
Rams 13, 49ers 9—It’s Trent Dilfer to the rescue for the floundering Niners. Whoops, wrong galaxy. Rams not much better, but RB Steven Jackson shows some mojo with 92 yards on the ground. Both teams now 2-8 and bringing up the rear of the NFC West.
Cardinals 35, Bengals 27—Okay, the Bengals can’t even win at home with Carson Palmer passing for 329 yards. His four INTs had a lot to do with it, of course. Cards still limp on the ground, but Kurt Warner avoided mistakes and threw TD passes to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona enters heady atmosphere of 5-5 with the kind of road victory they usually can’t achieve when it counts. Cincy sags to 3-7.
Eagles 17, Dolphins 7—Ho-hum. Winless Fins give rookie QB John Beck his first ever NFL start, with predictable (bad) results. Philly QB Donovan McNabb injures ankle and leaves early after stinking up the joint (3-11, 34 yards, 2 INTs), replaced by A. J. Feeley, who proves an agreeable mediocrity. Only Philly RB Brian Westbrook puts up pro numbers, with 32 rushes and 148 yards. Whatever, the Eagles even their record at 5-5. The Dolphins are 0-10. Hey, maybe they’ll post the first-ever 0-16 record, the same year the Patriots will go 19-0 and demolish the memory of the 17-0 ‘72 Dolphins. It could happen.
Texans 23, Saints 10—QB Matt Schaub returns to the Texans’ lineup with style, throwing for 293 yards and two TDs. WR Andre Johnson stellar, and Ron Dayne chips in with 89 rushing yards. Saints still can’t find a running game, falling to 4-6, now two games behind the humbly achieving Bucs in the NFC South.
Buccaneers 31, Falcons 7—Falcons (3-7) were looking for their third straight win but got shot down at home. Switching to Byron Leftwich at QB looked like a mistake for Atlanta, and while the switch back to Joey Harrington finally netted ‘em a score, they were already roadkill. Bucs get good running from Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman, and QB Jeff Garcia continues to return dividends on his off-season pickup. Garcia, 37, is amazing. We all know he’s out there, but he’s still the most underrated QB in the game. He’s thrown 278 passes this season, with a grand total of three INTs. That’s the thing: He’s not a dummy. Bucs are 6-4, leading the NFC South.
Giants 16, Lions 10—Um, if you’re the overachieving Lions (6-4), you should win those important home games, so you can afford to lose a few on the road. Visiting Giants get sacks and interceptions and force fumbles to spoil the party for upstart Detroit. Eli plays decent quarterback for New York—now 7-3 and definitely contending—and RB Brandon Jacobs rattles his opponents with some scary power running. (Bodies just bounce off that guy. He’s massive. Then he leaves the game with a hamstring problem. Doh!) Lions still have no running game, and while QB Kitna threw for 377 yards, he had three picks. Mistakes’ll kill ya, and here was proof.
Seahawks 30, Bears 23—Pretty good game. No interceptions anywhere, each team gets some decent running and pass-receiving, QBs complete passes and pile up yardage. Last man standing is Seattle, which collected five sacks and had a pair of TD passes from Matt Hasselback. Bears QB Rex Grossman builds on his resume with error-free performance. Seahawks lead NFC West at 6-4; Bears fall to 4-6.