Before anything, we’d like to congratulate the Miami-Dade police department and its director Robert Parker for their swift work in apprehending the apparent killers of Sean Taylor. We were snidely critical of their theorizing earlier last week, and we were premature in our judgment and just flat-out wrong in leveling any criticism. The entire Taylor story is a sad one from its beginning, and now, apparently, to its eventual end, which will include prosecution of teenagers in a very sorry and tragic affair. We urge your prayers for the deceased, the families involved, and the eventual rehabilitation of the wrongdoers. And let’s hope we never have to write about such events again.
Patriots 27, Ravens 24—A fabulous Monday night game, in which the psyched-up Ravens let a big one get away. But credit the Pats, now 12-0 and poised to make NFL history: Even when they are seriously challenged, they may bend, but they never break, and they always make the key plays. Ravens fall to 4-8, squandering a marvelous performance by RB Willis McGahee and an almost heroic effort by QB Kyle Boller. In a game filled with what-ifs, it was the Patriots who had the answers.
Bills 17, Redskins 16—Rather than see the death of Sean Taylor as a reason to be down, the Redskins looked like they were using it to inspire them. But their offense fizzled after taking a 16-5 lead, and a Joe Gibbs procedural gaffe calling timeouts at the end gave the Bills an opening to kick a game-winning field goal. Sad: Skins defense yields only five FGs, but it’s not good enough. Bills now 6-6, and hinting at wild-card eligibility. Skins drop to 5-7, and the lost season continues (though amazingly they're not out of it mathematically yet).
Cowboys 37, Packers 27—The big showdown between NFC strongmen becomes another affirmation of QB Tony Romo’s talents and the 11-1 Cowboys’ general balance. Brett Favre gets injured and sub Aaron Rodgers actually looks pretty good as Pack make a game of it. At 10-2, Green Bay still in solid control of a #2 playoff seed, but they better watch out for oncoming Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Colts, 28, Jaguars 25—A competitive game that tells us that both of these teams are playoff-ready. Peyton makes big third-down plays to hold off the determined Jags, who, at 8-4, confirmed that they are probably the best wild-card team in the AFC and are capable of challenging anyone once the postseason begins. Colts hike record to 10-2, and are playing well even while still waiting for injured players to return to action.
Cardinals 27, Browns 21—Depending on how you view the last play of this game, the 7-5 Browns maybe should be 8-4. (It looked like a touchdown to me.) So Cleveland misses a close one on the road, but Romeo Crennel’s Cinderella squad is still squarely in the AFC wild-card race. With the Lions dropping another one, the 6-6 Cards suddenly look like viable wild-card competitors. History isn’t on their side, but the general mediocrity of the NFC is.
Buccaneers 27, Saints 23—Bucs continue to surprise and raise record to 8-4 behind sub QB Luke McCown (29-37, 313 yards, 2 TDs) and the running of Earnest Graham (22 carries, 106 yards, 1 TD). McCown connects with 10 different receivers in the game, including 7 passes to ageless Joey Galloway for 159 yards. Saints, now 5-7, mount a limited offense against tough Tampa Bay D and blow a home-game opportunity to vault back into the NFC South race.
Giants 21, Bears 16—Bears looked to be taking this one to the Giants physically and entered fourth quarter with a 16-7 lead. Yet despite average numbers, Eli Manning leads New York to two late scores, helped immensely by Derrick Ward’s 154 yards rushing. Manning threw two INTs, and looked shaky, but somehow his team surged to 8-4, still clearly leading the wild-card pack in the NFC. Bears fall to 5-7, last in the NFC North, but the way everyone else is playing, they’re not out of it yet.
Steelers 24, Bengals 10—Just another game on the ugly Heinz Field turf, as the 9-3 Steelers continue their AFC North dominance, now 5-0 in the division and undefeated (7-0) at home. Bengals surprisingly limp offensively and drop to 4-8. Steelers travel to New England next.
Vikings 42, Lions 10—With their third consecutive victory, the Vikings surged to 6-6 and are making noise in the NFC wild-card race. Rookie Adrian Peterson returned from injury and, along with Chester Taylor, ran roughshod over the fading Lions, while QB Tarvaris Jackson put in another strong showing. Lions, once 6-2, fell to 6-6 and look headed for Palookaville. They have no running game and no defense, and Jon Kitna is not Brett Favre.
Titans 28, Texans 20—Given the competition, it’s hard to know what this game means for the Titans, who broke a three-game losing streak and hiked their record to 7-5. The 5-7 Texans scrap all right, but they have a habit of fading, which is what happened here, even though statistically it was a very even battle. Vince Young’s numbers respectable (21-31, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), and Titans get some late running heroics from Chris Brown. Still, not a dominating performance from a team with playoff aspirations.
Seahawks 28, Eagles 24—A very nice road win for the 8-4 Seahawks, who used a balanced offensive attack and took advantage of four A. J. Feeley interceptions to subdue the Eagles. Brian Westbrook tries, but he can’t do it all alone for Philly, who fell to 5-7 on the heels of last week’s courageous effort against the Patriots. There are currently eight NFC teams at 5-7 or 6-6, and one of them is due for a wild-card berth, so the Eagles are still in the hunt.
Jets 40, Dolphins 13—Poor Fins make 3-9 Jets look like world-beaters. Even recording 6 sacks and an interception, Miami can’t hold the score under 40. Partly because Dolphins QB John Beck threw three picks, and the Fins’ running attack is almost invisible. Miami, now 0-12, travels to Buffalo this week to try to get that elusive first win.
Panthers 31, 49ers 14—Carolina breaks a five-game losing streak and records its first home win, moving to 5-7 behind QB Vinny Testaverde, RBs DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster (combined 140 yards on 38 carries), and a defense that records 6 sacks and 4 interceptions. Niners look just like the 3-9 team they are, which is not very good at anything.
Chargers 24, Chiefs 10—Chargers up record to 7-5, good enough for a two-game lead in the AFC West. Pretty close till the end, however. LaDainian Tomlinson reasserts his superiority with 177 rushing yards on 23 carries with 2 TDs, and the Chargers’ D records 8 sacks and 3 INTs. San Diego QB Philip Rivers still struggling statistically. Chiefs fall to 4-8 and heading nowhere fast.
Rams 28, Falcons 16—Practically pointless game between two 3-9 also-rans sees Rams QB Gus Frerotte throw for 311 yards and three TDs, while his Falcon counterparts, Joey Harrington and Chris Redman, chalk up 356 yards and two TDs. Both running attacks crank out decent yardage also. Rams record four sacks and two interceptions and hold off Falcons’ late rally.
Raiders 34, Broncos 20—Is it historical that both McCown brothers started and won NFL games on the same day? Luke led the Bucs to victory while Josh threw three TDs against the Broncos, helping the Raiders to a 4-8 record and thus doubling last year’s win total. Justin Fargas keeps running strong for Oakland, gaining 146 yards on 33 carries. Broncos’ attack sputters behind ineffective Jay Cutler, and Denver falls to 5-7, two games behind San Diego in the AFC West. Rookie QB JaMarcus Russell made his NFL debut for Oakland with 4-7 for 56 yards.
Am I the only person who’s noticed what a kick-ass football analyst Steve Young is? One almost feels bad for Emmitt Smith, who has to sit next to Young on the ESPN “Monday Night Football” telecast during the pregame, halftime and postgame sit-down with Sal Paolantonio. Emmitt seems like a nice guy, but he flounders his way through his words and thoughts, and he ends up pretty much parroting what his colleagues say. He could run and he can dance, but Emmitt’s just not an articulate guy. (Sorry, Emmitt.) Meanwhile, Young offers fabulous insight and fearlessly wades in with the kinds of questions that any serious fan is considering. Young’s assessment of the Ravens’ meltdown against the Patriots was spot-on—Boller shouldn’t have thrown that pass, the Ravens couldn’t sustain their running attack despite Willis McGahee’s obvious success through three quarters, and exactly who did insist on that timeout just before the Ravens’ D stopped the Patriots on 4th-and-short? Young has a knack for getting to the important issues quickly, and he renders his opinions with passion and incisiveness.
Allow me to contrast Young’s skills with Ron Jaworski’s in-game macho blustering in the booth (which is getting very tired fast) and Tony Kornheiser’s essential uselessness as the MNF Borscht Belt funnyman (who, lets face it, doesn’t really make anyone laugh but himself and adds nothing to the telecast).
Hall of Fame coach Don Shula visited the booth last night, and he was sharp, picking up on the Boller INT and making the good point that any other choice the Ravens’ QB could have made on that play would have been smarter. (It might be added, however, that Boller probably didn’t call that play. Nevertheless, it was hard to know what he was doing with that throw into heavy traffic. It can be argued that that was the beginning of the end for the home team.)
Also, I’m liking Bill Parcells’ contribution to the ESPN pregame studio chatter. He knows what he’s talking about and he delivers his commentary with refreshing directness.
So how come there are so many lousy ex-jocks on the air when there are apparently some decent ones to choose from?