In case you missed it, we covered the hell out of the sixth Sunday of the 2011 NFL season. But because there’ll never be too much football analysis out there, here are 20 spare thoughts from another glorious football-filled day…
1. Christian Ponder debuts. Was that garbage time or a change of the guard? Or was it an audition? Ponder was solid, and he probably deserves a shot. Should it come against Green Bay next week? That probably wouldn’t be the best strategy. Throw poor Donovan McNabb (in his defense, he was 19-of-24 and didn’t turn it over Sunday night) to the wolves one more time against the Packers and then give Ponder a chance to make his debut on the road, with significantly less pressure, the following week against fellow rookie Cam Newton in Carolina. Either way, the McNabb era should be pretty much over in the Twin Cities.
2. I loved the Harbaugh-Schwartz feud. And I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I didn’t appreciate the exhibition of coach-on-coach crime in the same way that hockey fans inexplicably embrace goon-on-goon tussles, but I dug the realness that surrounded the moment. Two competitive men letting their emotions get the best of them. In a cliché-soaked industry where competing coaches and players are often far too cozy with one another, the spat served as a welcome breath of fresh air.
3. This is why Jim Harbaugh is so successful. He’s got a great mind for offense and quarterback play, obviously, but people overestimate the impact head coaches have on Xs and Os and underestimate their impact on the overall attitude and mentality in the locker room. Harbaugh is fierce, and his team is taking on that persona. He was feisty enough to let his emotions get the best of him on Sunday, and it wasn’t professional. He took responsibility, but I’m betting this won’t be the last time he causes a stir. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Mike Singletary was fiery, too. Yeah, but Singletary didn’t have the experience as a coach. Harbaugh might have the perfect balance.
4. How good are the Niners? Seriously, I actually want to know? I was asked that question on Twitter. Where would you rank them in the NFC right now? They killed the Bucs, who lead the NFC South, they’re dominating the NFC West, they beat the then-perfect Lions on the road and they’re 3-0 on the East coast. Green Bay takes the top spot, but after the Packers it’s either New Orleans or San Francisco.
5. One of the most significant injuries of the week was suffered by a 47-year-old who hasn’t played professional football since 1987. Sean Payton tore his MCL on the New Orleans sideline, which is sort of a bizarre and novel event. But Payton now has to undergo surgery tomorrow to repair the damage. That means his preparation for next Sunday night’s game against Indianapolis will likely be interrupted. That’s a big deal for a guy who calls the plays. Tough break for the Saints, who also lost to a division rival. Week 6 wasn’t a good one in the Bayou.
6. And 1.2 million Allegheny County residents breathe a sigh of relief. It looks as though Troy Polamalu is fine. Take away our Mendenhall or our Smith. Take away our Hampton. Even take away our Harrison. But take away our Polamalu and we’re looking for a bridge (and they aren’t hide to find in that region).
7. No one understands the touchdown reception rules. And there is no consistency with the way in which officials are applying the “Calvin Johnson Rule,” but even if they didn’t “get it right” on that Nate Burleson “catch” against San Francisco, they got it right. That’s a catch, period. The confusion is the NFL’s fault for not trusting its officials to use their 20/20 vision and their exceptional judgment.
8. This could kill the Patriots: Turnovers. If anything does, it won’t be the poor secondary or the shallow linebacking corps, it’ll be their sudden sloppiness. Four turnovers Sunday against Dallas, giving them 10 in six games. Last year, they had 10 all season long. It hasn’t caught up with them yet, but unless things change, it will eventually.
9. This could kill the Bills: Takeaways. Or lack thereof. Through five weeks, no team had forced as many turnovers as the hungry Buffalo defense, but they can’t succeed without those takeaways, as we saw Sunday. The pass rush isn’t particularly good (they have just four sacks in six games) and the secondary has been shaky and inconsistent. Unless they take the ball away, they won’t be able to compensate for their lack overall talent on defense.
10. Biggest win of the year for the Bucs. The win over Atlanta was big, but this was bigger. They proved that they could battle back from embarrassment and spit in the face of adversity. Coming off a 48-3 loss and without their most dangerous offensive weapon in LeGarrette Blount, the league’s youngest team rallied to beat a juggernaut that crushed them in the very same building exactly one year prior.
11. Did the Packers even try against St. Louis? It was almost like watching a powerhouse college team send out a B squad against a jokey, early-season opponent from some obscure conference and another tier. They dominated the first half and then cruised peacefully to a methodical victory. It was almost like they took mercy on the Rams in the second half.
12. Fred Jackson is an MVP candidate. He won’t come close to winning it, but imagine the Bills without their 30-year-old running back? With 880 yards from scrimmage in six games, Jackson is almost certain to make his first Pro Bowl despite his age and background. Defying the odds, just like the Bills.
13. Ray Lewis is entering his prime at 36. Or so his play would have you believe. Twelve tackles and a sack in a dominant effort against dangerous Houston. Aside from a bit of a hiccup in Tennessee, the Baltimore defense has been unbelievable. Arian Foster ran into a brick wall in Week 6, just as Chris Johnson did about a month ago.
14. Darrius Heyward-Bey’s timing couldn’t be more awesome. Al Davis took some heat for taking DHB seventh overall in 2009, but he’s finally paying off now. Another big game against Cleveland, giving him 17 catches and 296 yards in his last three games. Prior to this stretch, the guy had just 35 grabs for 540 yards in 28 career games. It’s so easy (and fun) to rip the Raiders, but it’s starting to look like they made some decent picks in Davis’ final years. Top 2008 pick Darren McFadden is one of the best backs in the league, top 2009 pick DHB has arrived and top 2010 pick Rolando McClain is a quality starter already. In fact, you-kn0w-who is their only true first-round bust dating back to 2002.
15. Official Madden Curse: Peyton Hillis.
16. Official Shanahan Curse: Tim Hightower.
17. The difference a week can make. Against a pretty damn good pass rush, the Chicago offensive line was stellar on short rest Sunday night. Maybe the latest slew of changes worked, or maybe they’ve just improved quickly. I can’t figure it out. No one can.
18. Add Aldon Smith to the defensive rookie of the year conversation. On a day in which Ryan Kerrigan struggled, Smith continued his hot streak in Detroit. The No. 7 overall pick had two sacks and a forced fumble in San Francisco’s fourth straight victory, giving him 5.5 sacks in his last three games. Hard not to love that San Fran defense right now.
19. Another nightmare day for the AFC South. Zero wins, three losses. The division hasn’t won a game since Oct. 2 — that’s eight in a row. They’re now 7-16, banged up and frustrated. They’re guaranteed a win in Week 7, when Tennessee and Houston face each other, but that’ll likely be it. Indy has New Orleans on Sunday Night Football and Jacksonville gets Baltimore on Monday Night Football. Enjoy, America. Enjoy.
20. Faith Hill, black leather suit > Faith Hill, white capris. That’s all I have to say on the subject.