By Andy Benoit, NFLTouchdown.com
Dallas Cowboys 14, Washington Redskins 10
Marion Barber gave one of the great running back performances in the NFL this season. He rushed for 66 of his 114 yards in the fourth quarter and touched the ball on Dallasís final 11 plays to ice the game. It was a season-saving effort from a gutsy leader.
Terrell Owens had five receptions for 38 yards in this game. The physicality of the Washington defensive backs got to him a bit, but more than that, there was a lack of continuity between Tony Romo and all of his wide receivers. Itís worth noting that Owens has now gone five straight games without topping the 40-yard mark.
Jason Wittenís rib injury is really bothering him. Heís dropping passes he normally holds on to.
Jason Taylor, who hasnít been healthy all season, was a non-factor in this game.
As well as Chris Horton is playing for Washington, the story of the secondary may be LaRon Landry. Heís simply not making enough game-changing plays.
The Redskins failed to take advantage of Dallasís undersized interior front seven by not feeding Clinton Portis the ball often enough.
Those of you who get on me for touting Terence Newman as Godís greatest gift to the cornerback position, I ask, Did you watch this game?
Pittsburgh Steelers 11, San Diego Chargers 10
Itís the first time in NFL history that a game has ended with this particular score. And somewhat ironically, it shouldnít have. That last touchdown scored by Troy Polamalu should have counted. The missed call triggered a $65 million swing in Vegas.
The one week that San Diegoís defense shows up, the offense disappears. The reason? The playing surface in Pittsburgh is a quagmire. Itís maddening that the NFL hasnít stepped in and ordered the team to install field turf.
Was anyone else surprised to learn that the Steelers franchise record for a pass-rushing duoís combined sack total is only 24.5? That record, held by Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, is about to be broken by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
No player in football is as good when his feet leave the ground as Troy Polamalu. The All-World safety makes plays diving that you wouldnít even think would be ďdiveableĒ in the first place.
Two players who have drawn criticism as of late both played well Sunday: Ben Roethlisberger, who was 31/41 with 308 yards (his first 300-yard game since 2006) and, even though the numbers donít show it, LaDainian Tomlinson, who conjured up a lot of additional rushing yards that simply werenít there against this stifling Steeler D.
In addition to a superb Furious Norv Face at the end of this game, we were also treated to several You League Officials Love Screwing Us Tomlin Face. The You League Officials Love Screwing Us Tomlin Face is the face that the Steelers head coach makes when he rips off his headset, widens his already enormous eyes, tilts his head up a bit, paces back and forth and starts yelling something to the refs along the lines of ďyou league officials love screwing us!Ē
Tennessee Titans 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 14
Second week in a row that Tennessee has won on the arm of Kerry Collins. The Titans averaged 10.0 yards per pass play in this game, as Collins completed 13/23 for 230 yards and three scores.
Is it fair to say that Chris Johnson and LenDale White form a better one-two punch than Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew? Individually, the Jacksonville duo may have more talent (i.e. Taylor is better than White), but as a two-headed monster, the fellas in Tennessee have a sounder identity.
Any team that surrenders 147 yards and two touchdowns to Justin Gage deserves to be 4-6.
Whatís up with David Garrard? He was a paltry 13/30 for 135 yards against a Tennessee defense that was without starting cornerback Nick Harper and top pass-rusher Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Speaking of Vanden Bosch, it should be noted that his replacement, Dave Ball, has been very solid filling in for him. Ball terrorized Khalif Barnes in this game. (By the way, this upcoming offseason, the Jaguars need to find a replacement for Barnes.)
Arizona Cardinals 26, Seattle Seahawks 20
Someone struck a match and started a Kurt Warner Hall of Fame fire this week. It spread rapidly. Isnít it funny how these things can all the sudden pop up? Warner as a Hall of Famer is a very reasonable debate Ė itís just odd that it erupted so suddenly.
Larry Fitzgerald: 10 catches, 151 yards. Anquan Boldin: 13 catches, 186 yards. And to think, Boldin is making $14 million less than Fitzgerald this year, and about $10 million less than Seahawks star corner Marcus Trufant (who left this game with a concussion).
By the way, did you hear about Julius Jones turning out to be Julius Jones after all? The man rushed for 312 yards over the first three games and had everyone believing he was a new man. But since then, Jones has 304 yards in seven games, including 19 yards against the Cardinals. At least his brother Thomas is proving people wrong.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played his way into the lineup (a pair of interceptions Sunday solidifies his starting status). Thatís great news for the Cardinals. Not only is Rodgers-Cromartie a first-round pick, heís also a perfect excuse for not paying Eric Green big money.
Cardinals linebackers Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes are both playing extremely well right now.
I once knew a man who said that the only thing athleticism really does in the NFL is allow you to make up for your mistakes. I thought this man was full of crap, but if he ever wanted a perfect illustration for his hypothesis, he could point to Lofa Tatupu. The star linebacker bites at play-action fakes like dogs bite at hot air, yet he still makes plays.
San Francisco 49ers 35, St. Louis Rams 16
The Rams found themselves down 35-3 at halftime in this game. They gave up 40 points in the first half last week and 24 the week before that. Isnít it about time for the conspiracy theorists to speak up?
I actually watched a lot more of this game than I thought I would (I probably saw 12-15 plays). However, I know you donít care. And because the Ninersí heartbreaking loss to Arizona was on a Monday Night, I never got a chance to put this in writing. So, Iíll use this opportunity to say, one last time, What was Mike Martz thinking on that last play!?
Philadelphia Eagles 13, Cincinnati Bengals 13
Tie game Ė itís annoying, I know. But one tie every six years isnít so bad. Iíd rather see every overtime game end in a tie than see the NFL ever refer to the ridiculous Kansas City Overtime format.
The story of this game may be what Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said afterwards: ďWhen the (final) play was called, I kind of figured I guess thereís ties in the NFL. But no, I didnít know that (before).Ē What!? For starters, does McNabb watch football on TV? Or, does he listen when the referee explains the overtime rules prior to the fifth quarter kickoff? Or, more importantly, does he have anyone around him telling him the game situation when heís getting ready to run out on the field and orchestrate a drive? This is no small deal.
By the way, why the hell are the supposedly playoff caliber Eagles going into Cincinnati and coming away with a T anyway?
Chad Johnson has to go. His body language is getting worse each week, and heís clearly taken a step back physically this season after not fully committing himself to football during the offseason.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh also has to go. He had 12 catches for 149 yards in this game, but on all the passes that Ryan Fitzpatrick threw to other receivers, Houshmandzadeh was mostly a headache. At one point he ripped his helmet off and venomously yelled at the Bengals sideline. Tony Siragusa was helping call the game for Fox and said that Houshmandzadeh wanted the ball because heís a winner. Goose, what, exactly, has Houshmandzadeh ever won?
Denver Broncos 24, Atlanta Falcons 20
This was one of the better games of the week. The Broncos victory came courtesy of Jay Cutler, who once again proved late in the fourth quarter that he has the best pure arm in football.
The newest Denver running back sensation may be Peyton Hillis. The converted fullback had only 44 yards rushing Sunday, but they came on 10 carries, two of which resulted in a touchdown. Hillis is a natural downhill runner who is much more lithe in space than youíd ever expect. He also has reliable hands.
Broncos rookie left tackle Ryan Clady won his individual matchup against John Abraham. The first-round pick has adapted to the NFL remarkably fast and should wind up in Hawaii at the end of this season.
The last thing anyone expected was the Falcons rushing attack getting controlled by the Broncos defense. Credit Denver linebacker Jamie Winborn (team-leading 10 tackles) and a front four that played with great energy all afternoon.
Matt Ryan looked like a rookie in this game. He missed some reads and had a terrible interception to Dreí Bly that was the result of a back-foot desperation heave in the center of the field.
The attendance for this game was 54,644. Falcons fans, whatís your problem?
Green Bay Packers 37, Chicago Bears 3
It wasnít quite as bad as the score indicated, but a 34-point division loss still classifies as a major setback for Chicago.
At the same time, itís a major step forward for the Packers. Ryan Grant looked like the Ryan Grant of a year ago, rushing for 145 yards on 25 carries. Green Bay as a team ran for 200 yards rushing on 38 carries.
By the way, these running numbers are epitomizing evidence that the NFL is utterly unpredictable. The Packers gashed the same Bears defense that, just one week ago, held Tennessee to 20 yards rushing on 29 attempts.
Greg Jennings (five receptions, 64 yards) has publicly broken down opposing secondaries prior to each of Green Bayís past two games. Jennings correctly noted that Vikings safety Darren Sharper can be overaggressive in going for the ball, and for this game, he stated that the Bears zone defense is remarkably vulnerable to the 15 to 20-yard pass.
I donít understand how players get ruined in the return game once they assume a prominent role on offense, but it seems to happen. And since it happens, the Bears need to get Devin Hester out of this offense immediately. His value as a wide receiver is nowhere near his value as a return specialist. Let him focus on being great, not average.
Indianapolis Colts 33, Houston Texans 27
The Colts are going to be the wild card team that scares the daylights out of everyone. Youíll hear people mentioning the í05 Steelers and í07 Giants a lot come January, when Indy will go into the postseason as the AFC five seed.
Two guys that Iíve been riding hard in recent weeks both had good games for the Colts: Joseph Addai, 105 yards rushing and one touchdown on 22 carries (and it was a consistent 105, with none of his runs being longer than 12 yards), and Marvin Harrison, nine receptions, 77 yards and a touchdown.
Houstonís problem was they simply didnít get enough plays offensively. Sage Rosenfels, who, as usual, was solid until the final drive, had only 18 pass attempts, while Steve Slaton had just 14 of Houstonís 25 rushing attempts.
Dwight Freeney is all the way back to his old form. He continued his dominant surge with two more sacks Sunday.
Texans linebacker Xavier Adibi came into this game with three tackles on the season. He left it with 18.
Which leads to another thought: doesnít it seem like DeMeco Ryans has dropped off the map in 2008?
New Orleans Saints 30, Kansas City Chiefs 20
The biggest news from this game came earlier in the week when Ron Jaworski declared that Tyler Thigpen is the real deal. If this is true Ė and with Jaws saying it, I believe it is Ė then this changes everything for the Chiefs. Now they have a young quarterback to build their offense around, for whom theyíve already found a go-to receiver (Dwayne Bowe) and drafted a left tackle (Branden Albert).
A great remedy for an ailing rushing attack is a matchup against the Chiefs. The Saints found this out Sunday when ineffective backup Pierre Thomas gained 88 yards on 16 carries.
Lance Moore had his second 100-yard game of the season, and sixth game with over 75 yards receiving. His impressive play has prevented people from asking where former first-round pick and preseason stud Robert Meacham has been.
The Saints are 5-5 and in last place in the NFC South. In our addiction to the big-market NFC East, is it possible weíre failing to notice footballís true toughest division?
Miami Dolphins 17, Oakland Raiders 15
Good thing the Dolphins subscribe to the old ďa winís a winĒ mentality. The past two weeks theyíve been taken down to the wire by terrible west coast teams playing them at 1:00 in the eastern time zone.
Chad Pennington was a rock on the final drive, especially on the gutsy fourth-and-four conversion to Ted Ginn Jr. to seal a game-winning field goal attempt.
Ginn deserves many accolades for his play as of late. He is showing more confidence as a receiver and has greatly expanded his route running repertoire. And you can tell the game is slowing down for him. He seems to be seeing the field better, which is why the Dolphins are working hard to put the ball in his hands.
I heard the announcer in this game mention that Raiders tight end Zach Miller will be a star. I seriously thought it was a little sad when I found myself thinking, ďNo, he wonít, because heís a Raider.Ē
Tommy Kelly recorded 1.5 sacks Sunday. That puts him at 3.5 on the season. Kelly, you may recall, is the guy coming off an ACL injury whom Al Davis gave $18 million in guarantees.
Reports say that Jim Fassel sent Al Davis a handwritten letter expressing his desire to be the Raiders head coach in 2009. Other reports say that Jim Fassel has officially lost his mind and self respect.
New York Giants 30, Baltimore Ravens 10
This was my feature game in the early window until midway through the second quarter when I realized only one team had shown up. The Giants rushed 33 times for 207 yards against the Ravens, and it would have been worse if freight train Brandon Jacobs had not been derailed after his 11th carry.
Derrick Wardís greatest value to New York could be as a receiver out of the backfield. While Jacobs is evolving into a superstar, and Ahmad Bradshaw an elite closer, Ward is the most multifaceted back on the roster. Against the Ravens he rushed for 41 yards on 11 attempts and had four back-breaking receptions that totaled 52 yards.
I donít like Baltimoreís idea to play Haloti Ngata at nose tackle. Ngata is an elite 3-4 defensive end who can slide laterally and make plays by getting off blocks and creating his own space. Heís not able to do any of these things as a plugger inside. I get that the Ravens donít have any better options, but if the nose tackle position is a loss anyway, donít make the situation worse by sacrificing your best lineman.
Chase Blackburn is an intelligent, high-energy weakside linebacker who has played his way off of New Yorkís special teams and onto the starting defense.
If there was any doubt before, Aaron Rossís two interceptions confirm that the second-year corner has definitely emerged out of his early-season slump.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19, Minnesota Vikings 13
The Vikings were able to win last week because they fed Adrian Peterson the ball late in the fourth quarter, even with the clock winding down. This week, Peterson did not touch the ball in the final period (granted, Minnesota had only two short possessions). As long as there is time on the clock and seven or fewer points between them and their opponent, Minnesotaís offense needs to always begin and end with No. 28.
FYI, Bernard Berrian followed his zero-catch performance against Green Bay with three receptions for 46 yards. I donít know how significant this is, but I thought people would want to know, considering how much talk there was about the receiver being shut out a week ago.
Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn shutdown Jared Allen in this game. I watched Penn on tape last season and found him to be slow-footed. But over the offseason and in the early going this year, he blossomed into a very formidable left tackle. The Bucs believe Penn can handle any opponent in pass protection, and they think heíll continue to improve in the ground game.
Five different players recorded a sack for Tampa Bay, including veteran defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson, who also forced a key fumble and had four tackles.
Carolina Panthers 31, Detroit Lions 22
I figure Iím like most people in that, when I saw that Detroit built an early 10-0 lead in this one, my first thought was, This loss is going to be extra disappointing for Rod Marinelli.
I would have guessed that Steve Smith would be the one to break the Lionsí back. As it turned out, it was Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. The two combined for a staggering 250 yards rushing. (Smith, by the way, had 16 yards of his own on the ground, and also caught six balls for 59 yards.)
Julius Peppers is back to his old form. He had three sacks a week ago and was an absolute monster in this contest, with five tackles and two sacks.
Daunte Culpepper made some nice plays, but his interception late in the game screamed of rustiness.
Iím becoming more and more impressed with Lions third-round rookie Kevin Smith. The young running back is not particularly dominant in any one area, but he does a lot of things very well. Heís a natural football player with a natural feel for picking up yards on the ground (he had 112 in this contest).
Posted by Andy Benoit at 11/17/2008 7:36:00 AM