October ends today. If there were dog days in football, they’d take place in November. But there aren’t dog days, because it’s a sprint more than it is a marathon. Can’t believe we’re already wrapping up Week 8. Here’s our coverage from the eighth Sunday of the 2011 NFL season, and here are the 23 thoughts that didn’t make the original cut…
1. Why do we feel the need to knee-jerk react to everything Tim Tebow does? I realize that reacting in such a way is something sports fans and the sports media love to do, which is why this weekly column exists. That said, we seem to overdo it with Tebow, who despite essentially still being a rookie has taken a beating for his last two performances (the final five minutes in Miami notwithstanding). Despite the small sample size, he’s being called the worst quarterback in the NFL and the experiment is already being called a failure. The team sucks either way, so I don’t know why we can’t give Tebow some time and space to breathe.
2. The Bills are back in first place in the AFC East. And the way New England’s defense looks, it’s beginning to look like they might actually have a chance to hang on. Buffalo’s two biggest problems (poor run defense and a lack of pass rush) disappeared Sunday (26 rush yards allowed and nine sacks registered). This was their most promising win yet.
3. Not ready to declare the Steelers the team to beat in the AFC. At a neutral site against New England, it’s a toss-up. I honestly don’t know who to pick in that conference. San Diego, Baltimore and the Jets are inconsistent. Maybe Houston will emerge? There are nine or 10 teams with a shot.
4. With James Harrison down, LaMarr Woodley has saved the Steelers. The guy has stepped up during Pittsburgh’s winning streak, but now he’s got a hamstring injury that could keep him out. If that’s the case, and Harrison isn’t fully recovered from his injury, the Steelers could be in serious trouble against a very angry Ravens team in Week 9. That injury really hurts, because Woodley was playing the best football of his career.
5. Congrats, Giants. You barely beat Arizona (who has one other win), barely beat Miami (zero other wins) and lost to the Seahawks (one other win) at home. If Matt Moore wasn’t the quarterback version of dog feces, you’d have lost Sunday. And you wanna be my
latex salesman NFC East favorite? No chance, despite your 5-2 record.
6. You know what that means… Yeah, Philly crushed the Cowboys and the Redskins are suddenly abysmal, so the Eagles are my pick to win the NFC East. Another colossal prime-time victory for Michael Vick. And another post-bye victory for Andy Reid’s Eagles. Back-to-back wins over division rivals. And with all those injuries in New York, Washington and Dallas (they’d better hope Sean Lee is okay), they’re suddenly the healthiest team in the division.
7. Sorry, NBC and ESPN. Quite the run of prime-time snooze games as of late. National audiences were spoiled early in the season, but lately we’ve been infiltrated by blowouts and/or duds. Since Week 6:
- Bears 39, Vikings 10 on Sunday Night Football
- Jets 24, Dolphins 6 on Monday Night Football
- Saints 62, Colts 7 on Sunday Night Football
- Jaguars 12, Ravens 7 on Monday Night Football
- Eagles 34, Cowboys 7 on Sunday Night Football
Average margin of victory: 26.2
8. If money and image weren’t factors, would Chris Johnson still be Tennessee’s starting running back? Of course not. When push came to shove and ancillary factors were off the table Sunday against the Colts, Johnson was essentially benched in favor of Javon Ringer. Ringer outperformed Johnson in that situation, just as he has all season. The Titans have a great offensive line and are supporting their backs with a decent passing game — it’s very difficult to explain what’s going on with CJ. But Ringer’s been flat-out better, and eventually the Titans will jeopardize themselves by continuing to force things with Johnson, who signed a massive new contract in the offseason. It’s a situation that could get ugly. Or has it already?
9. I hate to judge Kevin Kolb too harshly following a game against the Baltimore defense, but I’m going to do it anyway. I don’t know how more people didn’t see this coming, but Kolb is truly a bottom-tier quarterback. Absolutely no pocket presence, poor decisions left and right. Simply not very good. I realize that he doesn’t have a good line, but Beanie Wells and Larry Fitzgerald are there. What a waste of money. If Arizona continues to suck and wins the Suck for Luck sweepstakes, it would be smart to admit Kolb was a mistake and take Luck. But the Bidwells would never do such a thing. Never.
10. Anquan Boldin lets his play do the talking against his former team. That was the second-best game of his Ravens career. Big performance, right when Joe Flacco needed him in a closer-than-expected matchup.
11. Is Blaine Gabbert that bad? Again, I understand that rookies will be rookies, but Gabbert has a slew of starts under his belt now. How do you go 10-of-30 and muster only 97 yards against a pass defense that was legendarily bad only one year ago? Gabbert has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in four of his last five starts. Maybe he’s just behind some of his fellow rookies, or maybe he’s just not cut out to be a franchise quarterback (his accuracy was a concern in the spring). Something tells me the Jags will find out by the end of the year.
12. Or is the Houston defense that good? After sucking to historic proportions last year, they’ve made some serious changes. It’s a 3-4 look with Wade Phillips running the show and a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback patrolling the back end. But they’re also without Mario Williams and Danieal Manning. And yet, in the last two games, they’ve held Gabbert and Matt Hasselbeck to 97 yards and a 104 yards respectively. They’ve also held Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell and Chad Henne down. It’s amazing. One year after ranking dead last in football and surrendering 8.2 yards per attempt, they’re fifth through the air this year and giving up just 6.2 yards per throw.
13. The Rams make people realize how useless Sam Bradford is. I know, that’s harsh. But honestly, Bradford only “succeeded” as a rookie because Pat Shurmer babied him in the west coast offense. It was one of the more conservative offensive approaches a quarterback’s ever worked in. The Rams were still winning despite Bradford, not because of him. Now, with A.J. Feeley in at quarterback, they win their biggest game in seven years.
14. Brandon Lloyd is making an immediate impact. Playing for a contract, he’s come in from Denver and immediately emerged as the team’s top receiver. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, considering the whole Josh McDaniels tie and all, but I thought it might take Lloyd a little longer to adjust. He’s already got 12 catches despite Feeley starting both games.
15. Change of guard at the quarterback position? I took this screenshot of the week’s passing leaders at 6:00 p.m. ET Sunday. Seven names, five of which you’d never expect to be there in Week 8. Three rookies, the previously left-for-dead Alex Smith, plus former journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
16. The Rams pass rush decides to show up for the first time in 2011, and Chris Long breaks out of a slump. In the process, the Rams provide the rest of the league with a super-duper blueprint for how to beat the Saints.
17. With Cam Newton, you’re always going to get the bad with the good. Newton had another stellar performance against Minnesota, throwing three touchdown passes in another close loss. But his mistakes did Carolina in. The rookie fumbled twice, leading directly to Viking points on both occasions. Yes, he’s a rookie, but I don’t think the turnovers are necessarily tied to inexperience. Newton is an all-or-nothing player, and a very unique quarterback. I believe these mistakes will plague him his entire career, but he might just be talented enough to compensate for them.
18. Christian Ponder had more support. That was another major difference in Sunday’s Rookie Bowl between Ponder and Newton. Adrian Peterson is the hottest running back in the league and the Vikings defense is very scary up front. Steve Smith has been great for Newton, but the running game isn’t chipping in and the defense has been awful.
19. No receiving corps kills their quarterback as often as the Giants receiving corps. I’m not in love with Eli Manning, but drops and deflected balls have become ridiculously common in New York.
20. Checking in on the bye week curse: Last week, we pointed out that teams coming off byes were 3-9 and wondered if new CBA rules restricting practice time during the bye week were playing a role. But in the bye’s defense, most of those post-bye losers were supposed to lose. This week, they were all favored. The Bills, Bengals, Giants, Eagles and 49ers won, and the Patriots lost what was supposed to be a close game. Soooo maybe it was just a coincidence.
21. Although the curse lives on for the Redskins. Before the bye: 3-1 (almost 4-0), with 83 points for and 63 against. Since the bye: 0-3, with 33 points for and 66 against. Same old ‘Skins, after all.
22. Underrated victory for Cincinnati. Then again, underrated season for Cincinnati. Can’t believe they’re 5-2. Winning in Seattle without your top running back is no easy task. But the Bengals aren’t a real contender until they beat a real contender. They’ll have that chance when they face Pittsburgh and Baltimore in Weeks 10 and 11.
23. I must apologize to Frank Gore. I wrote him off prior to the season, figuring he was about to hit that infamous running back wall. Isn’t happening. Four straight 125-plus-yard games, 4.8 yards per carry, fourth in the league in rushing. Not bad considering he’s a 28-year-old in a 35-year-old’s body.
(Top image via Timothy Burke)