Friday, November 30, 2007

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Watch Baseball...and Oprah

I suppose it was inevitable. I’m now officially a socialist.

As we descend into heavy-duty holiday mania and parse our way through Charlie Brown’s depressing Christmas commercialism, I’m feeling the residual effects of being too sensitive, and knowing too much about too many things.

For example, sports media’s (and especially ESPN’s) obsession with Alex Rodriguez’ new $275 million contract made me want to puke about as much as the size of A-Rod’s annual payout on his lengthy deal. Then we heard about Mariano Rivera signing a three-year, $45 million contract. That’s $15 million a year for a relief pitcher who works about 50 days in a season that lasts from April to October. Rodriguez and Rivera’s New York Yankees teammate, catcher Jorge Posada, also recently signed a four-year contract worth $52 million. You can’t say the Hispanics aren’t cashing in on Americano lucre.

Happy holidays. Feliz Navidad. Screw these guys.

While the hot air rises from Hillary, Barack, Rudy, Mitt—can anyone actually envision us having a prez named “Mitt”? Or “Rudy”? Or “Hillary”? Or “Barack”?—the War in Iraq is running at a cost now of $470 billion, according to the National Priorities Project (http://nationalpriorities.org). Then I heard some ghastly figure on the news the other day about American financial aid to Afghanistan (exact amount escapes me, but I want to say $10 billion).

Then I did some checking. According to the 2007 Statistical Abstract/The National Data Book, we gave Afghanistan $2.03 billion in economic and military aid in 2004, up from a mere $88 million in 2001. That’s my money. And yours. And YOURS. (Yeah, you, over there.)

As my brother likes to say: “The terrorists won.” And guess what? He’s absolutely right. And I don’t like to fly anymore, either.

Here are the aggregate figures for American foreign economic and military aid in the recent term:

2001—$16.7 B
2002—$20.7 B
2003—$27.3 B
2004—$33.4 B

Apparently, it takes a while for the statistical folks to catch up to all of this. So doing a little logical projecting, we can put the 2007 figure at close to $50 billion. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE WAR.

What the f**k??? The money is there to resolve all our major issues, but we’re in the business of giving a huge chunk of it away to other countries.

Meanwhile, someone is doing nicely with the war, but it ain’t me. Most likely, it’s not you, either.

We’ve got baseball players and other athletes earning millions—BIG millions. It’s gross how cushy they have it. In a nutshell: it’s unfair. They don’t DESERVE what they get. So here’s a plan: Tax the f*** out of ‘em. Stop taxing cigarettes and grocery items. Tax the f*** out of high-paid athletes—and anyone else earning a million dollars a year—and don’t bat an eye about the threat that poses to free enterprise.

We send $50 billion a year overseas. We’re halfway to a trillion dollars on the war. Yet we’re locked in an endless national debate on funding health care for our citizens, we’re wringing our hands about the fate of Social Security, bridges collapse in Minnesota because the infrastructure needs tending, foreclosures are up, and there are actually people in this country who think it’s okay to issue driver’s licenses to illegals who are already sucking our tax system dry simply by being here in the first place.

It’s all bull****.

I generally consider myself a free-market guy. That would be ideal. But sometimes things get out of hand, and to just stand by and watch all the crap happen, in the name of capitalism, is just stupid.

Frankly, I don’t care about the theoretical purity of the free-market system when guys who throw little white baseballs for a living earn $25 million a year, while average Joes lose their homes, can’t afford to go to the doctor, and can’t even afford cigarettes (which admittedly are unhealthy, but for some poor slobs are the only pleasure they have in their humdrum, unfortunate lives). Irony upon irony: Those Marlboros are also taxed these days at an ungodly rate, to help swell the public coffers and to pay the salaries for public officials who pass legislation outlawing smoking in restaurants. I mean, really, if it’s such a reprehensible drug, why not simply outlaw tobacco altogether in the sincere interests of public health? Because it’s a cash cow, that’s why. Hypocrisy, hypocrisy.

Memo to all the windy, cowardly politicians running for president: Stop futzing around and solve the problems. Tax the f*** out of the grossly overpaid jocks and sports executives and media millionaires and Silicon Valley geeks and hedge-fund managers, and yes, even yourselves if you qualify. And Oprah. Go get her money too. I don’t care if these folks are already paying out at a high tax rate. They’re also starting “foundations” with which they can hide their money and dodge taxes. They all live in America where they’ve been able to rape the land. Now let’s go get some of that money back to solve our problems. I don’t care if Bill Gates has been generous with his millions. (Thanks, Bill.) Now go take more of his money. Levy a one-time luxury tax on all these lucky bastards, put it all into a pot, and redistribute our way into solvency and sound fiscal footing on the national scale. And throw in health care for all, while you’re at it.

And, oh yeah, all you windbag posturing politicos who refuse to offer any substantial and tangible remedies for America, for fear that you’ll offend various voting blocs: Suck it up or get out of the race. Don’t agonize that we’ll be penalizing the rich. You can call it a penalty. I call it fairness. I call it balancing the scales. I call it making it right for the majority of people forced to live in this country where a 9% sales tax on food robs them of their earning power, while the same 9% tax means nothing to the SUV-driving, gas-guzzling fatcats. A loaf of bread isn’t available on a sliding scale. It costs the same for Oprah as it does for me and you. Yet she can afford to pay 100% tax on her food. So make her. The war, after all, is being fought to preserve her way of life, and she’s got a bigger way of life to protect. Give her a bigger bill. A MUCH bigger bill.

Of all people, Jimmy Carter said it best a few years ago: The single potentially most destructive reality in modern America is the widening gap between rich and poor. Why? Because the escalating cost of food and health care and gasoline are killing middle-class aspirants while affecting the Oprahs and the A-Rods not a bit. What incentive do the rich have to care about how tax money is collected via higher sales taxes, or the everyday impact of rising gas prices, when it doesn’t mean squat to them? They are immune. Besides, if you harvested 50% of their net worth, they’d still be fatcats. They still wouldn’t have to care about the things we hoi-polloi care about, yet we’d have the chance to improve the lives of the majority. Which is not too much to ask. Who can forget George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life:

“Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

(These are also the people who, like so many lemmings, watch Oprah. And A-Rod.)

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Barry Bonds has earned $188 million during his baseball career. That is just his salary. It does not include any outside endorsements or media appearances, both of which have surely paid him handsomely on top of his grotesque annual paychecks. It was this same rabble who paid him. For playing baseball. And he cheated in the end with steroids. F*** him.

Yep, it all sounds socialistic. And it is. But at least it’s not communistic. It’s not fascistic, either. Just think of the plan as yet another American entitlement program, of which there have been many. Like Homeland Security. Only this way, the money gathered from the grossly rich gets targeted to address big-ticket items that will benefit the majority.

Of course, there are other ways to approach it, while allowing Oprah to keep all her ill-gotten gains: Cut all war funding and withdraw all foreign aid.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that it can’t be done. That we can’t fix what ails us. We can. The money is there to do it. What we really lack is courage, of the kind we are not getting from the majority of the political candidates.

We are not in a time suited to wimps who refuse to make commitments to ideas or are afraid of ruffling voters’ feathers. Yet that’s what we’re getting in the so-called frontrunners. F*** them, too.

If the pursuit of happiness is a mandate of the framers, then what’s wrong with taking steps to assure that a majority of Americans get a little closer to that?

The means are there to achieve it. But the cahones, so far, are not.

Oh yeah. Season’s Greetings.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CSI Miami Cast Takes Over Taylor Investigation

Citing the already demonstrated incompetence of the Miami-Dade police department, members of the cast of CBS’ popular crime show CSI Miami have stepped in to take control of the investigation into the recent shooting death of pro football player Sean Taylor.

After being informed that Miami police chief Robert Parker has ruled out premeditated foul play in the case, series star David Caruso (left) said, “Well, that... is simply...ridiculous...” Caruso paused pregnantly after every phrase, his face frozen in seething but controlled agitation, his lips slightly pursed, his eyes beady. “A random burglary?” continued Caruso. “I think not. I’ll have my team on this immediately, and we...will...FIND...Sean Taylor’s murderers. We...will...find...them...and bring them to justice...with all the forensic powers that our team can bring to bear on the case...We ...WILL...do it...or my name isn’t Horatio Caine.”

When reminded that his name, in fact, isn’t Horatio Caine, Caruso paused, stared for an agonizing 10 seconds at his questioner, then slowly, deliberately placed his sunglasses over his eyes, adjusting them smartly, and said, “...and I’ll see you...in hell.”

Actress Emily Procter, left, who portrays babelicious forensic investigator Calleigh Duquesne on the longtime hit series, said flatly, woodenly, with staccato tension but also with a slight sexy lilt in her voice, “I don’t see why we wouldn’t move this crime to the top of our ‘to-do’ list. This is what we’re here for, after all. Obviously, that’s a fertile crime scene, and where’s there’s gunshot residue, blood spatter and signs of a struggle, then the answers are just sitting there waiting for CSI criminalists like myself to fit the pieces into a coherent puzzle.”

When reminded that she is merely an actress who portrays a forensic expert, Procter said, “Ask me if I care. Crime is crime, and don’t let anyone ever say that CSI Miami doesn’t investigate each and every case bringing to bear the highest levels of modern science and technology.” Procter reached into her purse, extracted a pair of white rubber gloves, and added, “This is in our jurisdiction, and we’ll bring the scum to justice. Why? Because we can. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out to Palmetto Bay before the amateurs taint all the evidence.”

Palmetto Bay is the elite community south of Miami where Taylor made his home. Taylor, who played for the Washington Redskins, was brutally gunned down in his bedroom this past Monday and died a day later from massive blood loss.

Adam Rodriguez, left, who portrays investigator Eric Delko on CSI Miami, said that he hadn’t emigrated from Cuba and toughed his way into his police career just to watch cases like this one get thwarted by Parker and his incompetent detectives. “Miami is my city, and I care what happens here. We’ll get the Taylor killers. I’ve got my ear to the ground in this town. People talk, and when they do, I’ll be connecting the dots. The evidence will tell us the rest. With DNA testing and our access to AFIS, we’ll nail this one.”

Rodriguez was reminded that the Delko character’s journey from Havana to Miami was strictly a fictional profile, available to anyone accessing the TV show’s website. “Huh,” he scoffed, his face deadpan. “Well, that’s what you say...” Checking to make sure his shirt was neatly tucked in, and then adjusting his immaculately coiffed hair, Rodriguez was heard to say, “Hey, Calleigh, wait up for me...”

When asked for comment on the role CSI Miami cast members would play in the Taylor case, Parker said, “Well, we need all the help we can get. Who’s to say that Caine and his team won’t bring some success to the investigation that might otherwise elude us? Besides, I want to see the reenactment, in slow motion, of when the bullet exits the gun and then excruciatingly and violently pierces Taylor’s upper thigh and then destroys his femoral artery. That should be pretty cool. Gross, but cool.”

SMA Notebook: Swin Cash Fouls the Air at ESPN, and Nonsense from the Miami Police in the Sean Taylor Slaying

ESPN is at it again. Hiring unqualified TV personalities.

Tonight’s viewing brought me my first encounter with the inimitable Swin Cash. Who you ask? (Yeah, that’s what I said.) I wandered into ESPN’s “NBA Fastbreak,” a show that plays game highlights while so-called experts—read: ex jocks who have no business being in front of a camera—rattle on inanely.

I had no idea who Swin Cash was. I saw her sitting on the ESPN news dais—next to the Lurch-like Kiki Vandeweghe—and then she opened her mouth. She has an awful voice, somewhere between a witch’s cackle and an indecipherable high-pitched wheeze. She can’t enunciate clearly. She gulps and giggles self-consciously, and the only thing she apparently knows to say are cliches—the most obnoxious, dumbass cliches that ever came out of Crash Davis’ notebook.

If you’re thinking that Cash (pictured, left, out of uniform) comes to ESPN from a Mass Comm program at an esteemed American university, guess again. (And of course that’s the problem.) Cash plays for the Detroit Shock of the WNBA (which explains why I’d never heard of her). She’s a nice-looking young lady, and apparently she’s a very good basketball player. She’s terrible on-air. A joke, really. And unlike the thousands of college grads and local working sports analysts looking for big jobs with ESPN, you can bet that Swin didn’t have to submit a video of her previous work.

No, this is how it goes: Be a jock. Be a black jock. Be a black female jock. Have no broadcasting experience. Be an embarrassment to the profession of sports announcing. Then get offered a chance to launch your eventual post-jock career at the highest level, because, supposedly, since you played the game—and because you fit affirmative action niches, black and/or female—then you must serve some purpose to ESPN’s manipulative hiring needs.

Swin Cash. One more reason for university Mass Comm departments everywhere to shut their doors. What’s the point when you can’t get a job anyway and when all you might be is qualified?

So Swin Cash got a job. Then did someone lose theirs? No, wait. ESPN created a job for her, maybe. Well, for ESPN, Swin Cash, and us, it’s Win/Win/Lose. (She’s really bad. Trust me.)

Random Burglary?

Robert Parker, left, Miami-Dade police director, announced on Wednesday that the investigation into the brutal slaying of the NFL’s Sean Taylor is, for the moment, ruling out the possibility that Taylor knew his attacker. Parker stated that no evidence for now points to that eventuality, and instead the police will focus on the notion of a random burglary.

Now, this is crazy, right? Ex-college teammates of Taylor, such as Antrel Rolle of the Arizona Cardinals, have gone on record as saying that Taylor had enemies. Rolle also was quoted as saying there was no way the incident was a random act.

So, either the Miami PD are announcing this as part of an elaborate ruse to elicit information from potential informants, or they’re inept. Or stupid.

Now, if the MPD actually follow the random burglary scenario, then you can already chalk this one up as “unsolved.” Everyone knows that with every passing second, murder cases become harder to investigate and hence tougher to prosecute.

I’ll lay odds—10 to 1—that Taylor’s assailant will never be apprehended. I wonder what Vegas bookmakers would say.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

R.I.P. Sean Taylor: A Sad but All Too Familiar End for an African American Athlete

The death of Sean Taylor. It’s like deja vu all over again.

About a year ago we were mourning the violent death of the Denver Broncos’ Darrent Williams, shot in a drive-by.

Ranting about this stuff seems pointless.

But it’s hard not to reflect on the upshot of it all. So many things come to mind.

Reality check:

1. Why does it ring false to me when Taylor’s teammates talk about how he “turned his life around” upon the birth of his daughter? Sorry. I became a father fairly early in life, though not as early as Taylor. Unprepared fatherhood is not a good thing. While we hope that 24-year-old men will accept with all good graces the responsibility of fatherhood, it doesn’t always happen. Just because Taylor fathered a child does not mean he’d turned his life around. Taylor was sleeping with his girlfriend—the mother of his child we presume—and his daughter was sleeping nearby, when the intruder came right into Taylor’s bedroom (so we are told). I hope that Taylor loved his daughter. But we have no evidence besides hearsay to believe that this was an optimal situation for the young athlete.

2. Taylor supporters have already responded that his past behavioral troubles, socially and with the law, should have no bearing on how we perceive his death. How naive is that? Off the field, Taylor had scrapes over drunk driving, assault and weapons possession. (This from the son of a Florida police chief.) On the field, he was fined multiple times for unnecessarily brutal hits and for spitting in the face of an opponent. Alas, Taylor’s track record is that of a thug. Sorry. That’s the fact, plain and simple. Besides which, we would be particularly naive if we ignore the track record of many other highly paid African American athletes (Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc., etc.). If Taylor's past associations have nothing to do with his death, then fine. If he was truly taking life more seriously and less thuggishly, that is to his credit for sure. But it's hard to swallow easily the notion that this was strictly a random act of violence perpetrated against a wealthy man by a burglar.

3. Eight days prior to his shooting, Taylor’s home was vandalized. Supposedly, the criminals left a knife on his bed. WTF...? Okay, WHY would someone do that? It makes me think of that scene in The Godfather, when the mobsters leave a horse’s head in the bed of the Hollywood mogul. It just sounds like some weird kind of “message” thing, its significance known only to members of the brotherhood. Scary. And real weird. And totally foreign to most of us.

4. The entire shooting incident requires comprehensive investigation. Such as, like, why does Taylor keep a machete nearby in his bedroom? What was his relationship with his girlfriend? What were his financial associations? What exactly did the (as yet unnamed) girlfriend see? What did she know about his friends and enemies? Did he have a home security system? Was it in working order? If yes, why was it so easily compromised?

Too bad Taylor hurt his knee a couple of weeks ago. If he hadn’t, he’d’ve been with his teammates in Tampa, playing the Bucs. And maybe then, after the game, Taylor would’ve flown back to D.C. with the Redskins. The fortunes of fate.

Taylor’s life will now be scrutinized more closely, I suppose. Whether that will uncover the culprit(s) who killed him is another matter. The thug system has shown an amazing capacity for getting away with murder. Darrent Williams' killer has never been apprehended. The success rate for convictions in cases like this isn’t very good, mainly because African Americans don’t snitch. Al Capone and his gangland friends from the 1920s woulda been proud.

R.I.P. Sean Taylor. Your promise was deeper than your achievement.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback: NFL Week #12 Winners and Losers

Once as a kid, watching pro football with my Dad, I heard him say something like this: “Does it really matter who your running back is? Seems to me if your offensive line is in synch and blowing out big holes in the defense, that any reasonably talented runner could gain 100 yards a game.” I think he had a point. Matter of fact, I think Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan and Mike McCarthy and Herman Edwards would agree completely.

Shanahan’s Broncos have been changing running backs like underwear in the past decade, yet adhering to disciplined blocking schemes seems to net them 100-yard performances no matter who’s carrying the ball. In the past two games, Broncos running back Andre Hall, an undrafted rookie free agent from South Florida who no one ever heard of, has stepped up to replace big-money off-season free-agent acquisition Travis Henry and has netted 187 yards on 33 carries. After losing Larry Johnson to injury and then Priest Holmes to retirement, the Chiefs’ Edwards turned this weekend to 5th round rookie draftee Kolby Smith out of Louisville. He gained 150 yards on 31 carries. McCarthy’s Packers had no running game at all this year. Then they put in nobody Ryan Grant, who had carried the ball only six times in the team’s first six games. Now he’s got 494 yards on 107 carries, including three 100-yard games out of the past five.

As for the 11-0 Patriots, they’ve got a high-priced stud in Laurence Maroney, who’s gained 467 yards on 105 carries in 2007. But they’ve also got the tandem of lesser-knowns comprising Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, Kyle Eckel and Heath Evans, who have combined for 777 yards on 191 carries, a 4.1 average, and offer solid proof of dear ol’ Dad’s theory.

Barry Sanders, O.J.Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber. All great runners with one thing in common: None ever won the Super Bowl.

It’s all about blocking and teamwork. Don’t ever forget it.

The scores:

Bears 37, Broncos 34—A tremendously entertaining game in which the Broncos blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead then lose it in overtime. They also kept daring Devin Hester to return kicks for the Bears; so he obliged by returning two for TDs. The win fueled the Bears’ hopes for a wild-card slot (still pretty iffy at 5-6) and cost 5-6 Denver a share of the AFC West lead. Speaking of running backs, the Bears’ Cedric Benson sustained an injury that will require season-ending surgery. With his 3.4 yards-per-carry average, Benson has remained a bust: a #1 draft choice in 2005 who was burned out when he arrived in Chicago after playing four incredibly full college years at Texas. He’s injury-prone to boot, and this’ll force the Bears to go another direction. Maybe give rookie scatback Garrett Wolfe a shot at it.

Bengals 35, Titans 6—The Titans defense has totally collapsed without injured DT Albert Haynesworth, but can one guy actually make that much of a difference? The team’s three-game losing streak has also been marred by poor running, receivers with stone hands and a clearly frustrated Vince Young. At 6-5, they’re losing steam in the wild-card race, and they look uninspired. Bengals regained some of their offensive rep with huge games from Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. They’re now 4-7, still with little hope for the postseason, but they could rattle some cages down the stretch for sure.

Patriots 31, Eagles 28—Eagles claim title as best 5-6 team in the league with a heroic effort on the road against all-world undefeated Pats (11-0). Eagles backup QB A. J. Feeley proves that Pats’ D can be exploited, which should be a valuable lesson for the rest of the teams on New England’s schedule. But even a hepped-up, well-schemed Philly defense couldn’t shut down all the offensive options at Tom Brady’s command. Helluva game, though.

49ers 37, Cardinals 31—Losing at home, in overtime, on a Kurt Warner fumble in their own end zone, is not what the Cards needed. They fell to 5-6, now two games behind the NFC West-leading Seahawks. They’re still in the wild-card hunt (like of a lot of NFC mediocrities), but they hurt themselves badly with this one, in which Warner racked up almost 500 yards passing but made more mistakes than his counterpart, Niners journeyman Trent Dilfer. Frank Gore gains 116 yards rushing for San Francisco, now 3-8 after breaking an eight-game losing streak.

Browns 27, Texans 17—The 7-4 Browns take a serious step toward total respectability and the playoffs with strong home showing. Offense clicking on all cylinders, including RB Jamal Lewis, who amasses 134 yards rushing. There are still questions about the Cleveland defense, but the team looks capable of hanging with just about anybody. Texans play hard but just can’t keep up, and are now 5-6, in last place in the AFC South.

Vikings 41, Giants 17—The story here is New York QB Eli Manning, who threw four INTs, three of which were returned for TDs. Vikings RB Chester Taylor had some moments in his role as replacement for injured Adrian Peterson, and even struggling Vikes QB Tarvaris Jackson played error-free ball and threw a big TD pass to WR Sidney Rice. With the exception of four sacks, Giants look lame-o at home and fall to 7-4 but still have a good leg up in the wild-card race. Vikings move to 5-6 with second consecutive win.

Buccaneers 19, Redskins 13—Skins join the 5-6 crowd with their third straight loss. They knocked Bucs QB Jeff Garcia out of the game early, and still couldn’t capitalize. While Tampa Bay floundered offensively behind sub QB Bruce Gradkowski, Skins QB Jason Campbell continued to build his resume as “really gifted young quarterback who amasses impressive stats and then throws untimely and ill-advised passes that become interceptions that spell defeat.” (Skins now also trying to deal with loss of safety Sean Taylor, who was shot at his Miami home yesterday and was in critical condition as of this writing.) Surprising Bucs are now 7-4, tops in the NFC South. Winning ugly is still winning.

[Update: Redskins safety Sean Taylor died early this morning. He was 24 years old. Besides the tragedy, it's a very strange story that requires close investigation. How could an intruder make his/her way to Taylor's bedroom unannounced and undetected? No security system?? Unfortunately, it's not going to be easy to dismiss this as a random act of violence. God's grace on Taylor and his family.]

Saints 31, Panthers 6—As Panthers’ head coach John Fox says, “We’re not playing very good football.” Brilliant assessment. Their running game has vanished (43 net yards), the QB problems are immense, and five losses in a row move them from 4-2 to 4-7. They lost at home, too, where they are now 0-5 on the season. Saints improve to 5-6, two games behind the division-leading Bucs. They used a committee approach to their running game to net 113 yards, but it’s Drew Brees’ passing that’s keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive. Saints dominate time of possession by almost 2-to-1.

Seahawks, 24, Rams 19—Rams blow a 19-7 halftime lead, and lose QB Marc Bulger to injury, which puts backup Gus Frerotte in position to fumble away the team’s last-second chances on fourth-and-goal. Rams get some decent running from Steven Jackson (90 yards), as well as five sacks and an INT on the defensive side, but being 2-9 means you don’t win the close ones. Seahawks still hard to assess, but they’re 7-4 and lead the NFC West.

Raiders 20, Chiefs 17—Chiefs do what Carolina and Arizona do: lose at home to a team they need to beat to be taken seriously in the playoff picture. They won the time-of-possession battle and got 150 yards out of rookie RB Smith, and still lost to a fairly lackluster Oakland squad, which benefited from Justin Fargas’ 139 rushing yards on 22 carries. KC drops fourth in a row, falling to 4-7. Raiders threatening third place in AFC West at 3-8.

Chargers 32, Ravens 14—Philip Rivers stepped up and gave the Chargers an overdue good game at quarterback. Some occasional highlights from RB LaDainian Tomlinson and four sacks from the defense also helped the cause for 6-5 San Diego, who now lead the AFC West (for the moment). Ravens, 4-7, are reeling with five losses in a row, and recorded no sacks, no INTs and no forced fumbles. Bright spot: QB Kyle Boller did not throw an interception. Next up for the Ravens: hosting the undefeated Patriots on Monday night.

Jaguars 36, Buffalo 14—Jags QB David Garrard reestablishes his key role in the team’s playoff hopes with a gutty performance bulwarked by 104 rushing yards by Fred Taylor, who sure didn’t look like a 31-year-old injury-prone has-been. Taylor still has greatness about him and now has 10,221 career rushing yards with gas left in his tank. I’m thinking Hall of Fame for Freddie. Now the 8-3 Jags take the show on the road for a Sunday showdown with division-leading Indianapolis. Bills are 5-6, and all things considered should be glad they are. QB J. P. Losman will be benched next weekend in place of rookie Trent Edwards.

Steelers 3, Dolphins 0—A Monday Night Football Mud Bowl extravaganza that remains scoreless until the Steelers kick a field goal with 17 seconds left in the game. Incessant rain turns freshly sodded Heinz Field into a swamp, which in turn gives the winless Fins a shot at victory on a level (read: completely unpredictable) playing field. Pittsburgh pulls it out though, running their record to 8-3. Miami is now 0-11, and they’ve lost six games by three points or fewer. Newly re-signed Ricky Williams ran the ball for the Dolphins (to little avail) and we got our first look at rookie QB John Beck, who looked pretty poised. Dolphins should win a game before the season is over.

The Thanksgiving Games

Packers 37, Lions 26—Favre excels, backed by solid running of Ryan Grant and terrific receiver play. Pack, now 10-1, getting ready to lock up NFC North, but head to Dallas next week for conference bragging rights. Lions, once 6-2, are now 6-5. Their offense looks out of synch, and they never really had a defense, so the early promise of postseason possibility looks in serious jeopardy now. Their schedule toughens up too.

Cowboys 34, Jets 3—A Thanksgiving turkey if ever there were one. Guess Jets QB Kellen Clemens isn’t a savior, after all. Cowboys do it all in advancing to 10-1. Jets do what 2-9 teams often do: nuthin’.

Colts 31, Falcons 13—Peyton turns in an efficient professional effort, which means the kind of day most pro QBs would take any Sunday (or, in this case, Thursday): 22-32, 272 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. Colts also get 74 rushing yards out of Kenton Keith, who used to play in the CFL. Indy now 9-2, but Jacksonville is hot on their tail. Falcons, now 3-8, get four sacks, but their offense is dead.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback: NFL Week #11 Winners and Losers

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.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Where’d They Play Their College Ball?


I guess most football fans can tell you right off the bat where Vince Young played his college football (Texas). Or Peyton Manning (Tennessee). But unless you’re a total geek about this stuff, it can be a fun challenge to test the backwaters of your memory. Some of the NFL QBs listed below aren’t that long removed from their alma maters. Others are getting pretty long in the tooth. But all have seen serious action this season, as starters or subs. Take a break from your routine and see if you can match ‘em up. Answers below, and no peeking.


1. Sage Rosenfels_______________A. San Jose State

2. Derek Anderson______________B. Purdue

3. Kerry Collins________________C. Marshall

4. Quinn Gray_________________D. Central Washington

5. Steve McNair________________E. West Virginia

6. Damon Huard_______________F. Oregon

7. Patrick Ramsey______________ G. Central Florida

8. Cleo Lemon_________________H. Washington

9. Daunte Culpepper____________ I. Penn State

10. Joey Harrington_____________ J. Alcorn State

11. Marc Bulger________________K. Florida A&M

12. Jon Kitna__________________L. Iowa State

13. Chad Pennington____________ M. Arkansas State

14. Drew Brees_________________N. Oregon State

15. Jeff Garcia_________________O. Tulane


Answers:
1-L. 2-N. 3-I. 4-K. 5-J. 6-H. 7-O. 8-M. 9-G. 10-F. 11-E. 12-D. 13-C. 14-B. 15-A.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Tuesday Morning Quarterback: NFL Week #10 Winners and Losers

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.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Return of the Tuesday Morning Quarterback: NFL Week #9 Winners and Losers

We’ve been busy lately, with paid music and writing gigs and also a special free-lance photography project I hope to have completed by the spring of ‘08. I’ve still got my finger on the NFL’s pulse, though.

For most teams, this is the halfway point—eight games into the season—and a good time to take stock. There are plenty of disappointments out there: Rams (0-8), Jets (1-8), 49ers (2-6), Bengals (2-6), Broncos (3-5), Bears (3-5), and I guess even the Dolphins (0-8), though maybe they’re about where they should be. (Not a good team, those Fins.)

The downtrodden are balanced a little by the happy warriors of pleasant surprise: Packers (7-1), Giants (6-2), Lions (6-2), and Browns (5-3).

While the Patriots continue to make it all look academic, watching the mini-races in the divisions is where all the second-half fun will be. Here’s what everyone did this past weekend:

Patriots 24, Colts 20—Well, anyway, Vegas was wrong. The Colts (7-1) covered the spread—but not Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth when it counted most. If anyone needed convincing that the 9-0 Pats are the very best in football, it’s a done deal now. They won on the road, too—and wiped out a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Against the then-undefeated world champions. Impressive.

Titans 20, Panthers 7—Never mind Vince Young. Three years ago the Titans drafted a bunch of defensive linemen most people never heard of. They threw them in with veteran underachiever Albert Haynesworth and picked up veteran overachiever Kyle Vanden Bosch along the way, and then added unheralded Tony Brown into the mix. Now they’re all of them kicking serious ass. The team is 6-2, and with a D like that, Young can sputter and they still win. Pacman who?? LenDale White records his third straight 100-yard rushing game. Panthers (4-4) have QB woes but still very much alive in the NFC South.

Redskins 23, Jets 20—Skins remain the worst 5-3 team around. Still, they hung tough on the road against a desperate Jets squad, rebounding from a 17-3 deficit and winning it in overtime. Clinton Portis gains 196 yards on the ground. The Jets also have QB woes, and at 1-8 have to wonder who put this awful hex on ‘em. (Don't look at me—I picked 'em at 9-7 for the season.) They were 10-6 in ‘06 and went to the playoffs.

Lions 44, Broncos 7—The preseason SMA prediction on the Lions? 10-6. People laughed. How do you like me now?? Detroit is 6-2, tied for the second-best record in the NFC. And they’re probably getting better, too. The Broncos are a real surprise at 3-5. Mike Shanahan teams just don’t usually look this bad. QB Jay Cutler gets added to the team's growing injury list, and RB Travis Henry still has an upcoming date with a judge. And the secondary is looking old. Don’t count ‘em out quite yet; they’re in that goofy AFC West.

Saints 41, Jaguars 24—That’s four straight for the now 4-4 Saints, after a miserable start and the loss of Deuce McAllister to injury, possibly forever. Drew Brees throws for 445 yards, three TDS and 0 INTs, and suddenly New Orleans is right back into the hunt for the NFC South crown. Jags missing David Garrard, and very unusual for them to yield 41 points. Now 5-3, they fall to third place in the AFC South.

Vikings 35, Chargers 17—Vikes only 3-5 but blessed with the best running back on the planet. Adrian Peterson gains 296 yards against a usually stingy Chargers D, setting a new single-game NFL record. They say he reminds people of Eric Dickerson, but that’s a politically easy evasion. The fact is he looks a lot like—gasp!—O.J. Simpson in his prime. He’s big and rangy and galloping and can make subtle cuts. That’s running like The Juice. E.D. had more of a straight-up style, which A.P. mimics near the line of scrimmage, but once he’s loose he’s an O.J. clone. Chargers are 4-4 and suffering the Curse of the Norv. Yet they’re tied for the AFC West lead and can still control their destiny.

Packers 33, Chiefs 22—So far, the Patriots notwithstanding, this is the story of the year. Green Bay is 7-1, and only one weak quarter against the Bears away from perfection. They have no running game, but Brett Favre continues to reaffirm his legend. Plus, this Little Engine That Could has a tenacious defense and a lot of young, hungry players. Last week, they won an emotional game in overtime in Denver on a Monday night. Then, with a short work week, and again going on the road, they pulled the same theatrics on the Chiefs, who are not a bad team at all. That’s serious stuff, and whether it’s magic or moxie, the Packers look to be contenders. Chiefs, now 4-4, missed a chance to take AFC West lead, but they’re still right there.

Browns 33, Seahawks, 30—Another surprise team, the Browns improved to 5-3. The emergence of Derek Anderson at QB has been a godsend, and they should continue to challenge better teams. Seahawks look uninspired. RB Shaun Alexander seems to have lost his mojo. But the team is situated in the mediocre NFC West, and they lead the pack there with a 4-4 record.

Bills 33, Bengals 21—The SMA preseason prediction had the Bengals contending strongly for the AFC North crown. Hah! They’re 2-6 and just look lousy. They’re totally out of synch. They can score points, but when they do, their defense just gives ‘em right back. The Bills, on the other hand, are now a surprising 4-4. This after devastating injuries on both sides of the ball and some tough early losses. A totally scrappy bunch, and Dick Jauron’s an early favorite for AFC Coach of the Year.

Buccaneers 17, Cardinals 10—Look who’s leading the NFC South. It’s the 5-4 Bucs, behind the indefatigable Jeff Garcia. Predicting the Bucs’ fate is impossible—they simply don’t seem to have the horses or the staying power. But if they just take it one game at a time... Cards are a mediocre 3-5, and they truly look like a mediocrity. Yet they’re only a game out of the NFC West lead, so there is definitely something to play for.

Texans 24, Raiders 17—I said in the preseason that the Texans were an interesting team to watch. They’ve disappointed a little, but they’ve also had health problems with starting QB Matt Schaub. Yet they remain a competitive 4-5 in the tough AFC South, and Sage Rosenfels (one of my favorite NFL names) has stepped up as signal-caller and seems to have a knack for throwing big passes. They’re not done. The Raiders, however, at 2-6, just might be. They’re rotating their retread QBs, which maybe means that JaMarcus Russell’s debut can’t be far away. At least the Raiders aren’t embarrassing themselves like last year. Not yet, anyway.

Falcons 20, 49ers 16—Both teams are now 2-6. For the Falcons, that shows progress; for the Niners, it’s more disappointment, and their sixth loss in a row after a 2-0 start. Any news is good news for Atlanta, and QB Joey Harrington minimized mistakes and RB Warrick Dunn rushed for more than 100 yards.

Cowboys 38, Eagles 17—I turned this game off early on Sunday night. It kind of smelled like a dog of a contest, and indeed it was. Cowboys, now 7-1, look to be the class of the NFC. Eagles are 3-5, and got spanked at home by a rival they should always be up for. Andy Reid’s on-field troubles threaten to match his off-the-field woes.

Steelers 38, Ravens 7—Another prime-time stinker. Ravens generate no offense, and Steelers' Roethlisberger stands tall in the backfield and hurls five TD passes. Now 6-2, Pittsburgh looks like possibly the only legit candidate to ruin the Patriots' aspirations for a perfect season. They play at New England on Dec. 9. The Ravens get a crack at the Pats in Baltimore on the Monday night prior, Dec. 3.