We officially reached the midway point of the NFL season when Patrick Peterson high-stepped into the south end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium at around 5:40 p.m. local time in Glendale, Ariz. Sunday. A walk-off home run from 99 yards out and the longest punt return in NFL history. Not a bad way to wrap up the first half of the 2011 campaign.
And then we had the heavyweight tilt that was Game No. 129 of 256. Same old, same old from the Ravens and Steelers. In a good way. We start, of course, with that squabble as we wrap up Sunday with 22 thoughts…
1. Who had a bigger win: Giants or Ravens? It was a good day for 13 teams, but it was a particularly good one for the Super Bowl XXXV foes, both of whom won massive road games against Goliath-like opponents with touchdowns in the dying seconds. The Giants carried Tom Coughlin on their shoulders after shocking the Patriots. The Ravens gave John Harbaugh a Gatorade bath after winning a thriller in Pittsburgh. In both cases, you could hear, through the on-field ambient mics, players celebrating like they’d won a playoff game. Part of that had to do with the silence that filled each stadium as the home fans stood in shock, but part of it had to do with the immensity of the victories. Welcome to November football.
2. Had they lost, the Ravens would’ve been filled with regret. Not going for it on fourth-and-goal from inches out on their first drive, the Torrey Smith hold on that huge Ray Rice touchdown run, two drops from Smith (one that was eerily similar to the one Stevie Johnson had against the same Steelers team last year), a big drop from Anquan Boldin, a terrible fourth-quarter fumble from Joe Flacco, a missed 40-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff. Lots of mistakes, but they outplayed Pittsburgh. They deserve the win and the tiebreaker edge.
3. Redemption! How awesome is it that Smith rallied after that touchdown drop and made the game-winning grab with eight seconds left? He made some rookie mistakes, but that’s the kind of moment that brings a team together. Confidence-saver, too.
4. Takeaways are Pittsburgh’s problem. Or the lack thereof. That Flacco fumble was the only one they had Sunday night, giving them four takeaways all season long. They’re on pace to register a record-low seven turnovers on defense this year, which is almost impossible to believe.
5. The Texans and 49ers are about to lock up playoff spots. With Houston and San Fran winning again and all but one of their division foes losing again, it’s becoming obvious that those two teams will be in the playoffs in 2011. The league is currently draped in parity, but four teams — Houston, San Fran, Green Bay and the Giants — have either fairly concrete or very concrete leads in their divisions. Three of those squads weren’t in the playoffs last year, and the Texans and Niners have gone a combined 17 seasons without playoff berths. That’s parity.
6. I believe in the Niners. Frank Gore is tearing it up and Alex Smith is finally comfortable with Jim Harbaugh running the show. The front seven is killing it — Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in the game and NaVorro Bowman is the best linebacker you’ve never heard of. Throw in rookie of the year candidate Aldon Smith and I think they have a serious recipe for success. It’s dangerous.
7. And San Fran is now 4-0 in the Eastern time zone, with all four of those games starting at 10:00 a.m. PT (although the time change technically made today’s game feel like an 11:00 start). That’ll come in handy if or when they’re forced to travel to New York or Philadelphia or Detroit or Atlanta or New Orleans in January.
8. Remember that the Bengals were pretty damn good two years ago. Sure, they had Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco then, but those guys weren’t the primary reason the Bengals were a playoff team in 2009, so it shouldn’t really shock us to see them succeed with a similar no-name defense leading the way and the offense just filling in the blanks. I’m still not convinced that the 6-2 Bengals are for real, and I don’t know if Andy Dalton can keep this up. But at the very least, Mike Zimmer has once again earned himself some head-coaching interviews.
9. Time for obligatory Tim Tebow analysis: Legally, we have to at least throw his name into 75 percent of GLS posts. Yes, he’s now 2-1 as a starter and has the Broncos back in the race, but that sort of epitomizes why quarterback wins are a relatively useless stat. The win in Oakland was all about Willis McGahee, with Oakland’s lack of discipline and overall incompetence playing a supporting role. Tebow wasn’t bad, and his contribution as a runner can’t be overlooked, but he’s still not a good enough passer. He’s contributing, but not carrying. It should be noted that not every starting quarterback has to carry.
10. Something tells me we’ll be comparing Julio Jones and A.J. Green for many years to come. Rookie sensation wideouts. How ’bout 214 yards on 10 catches Sunday, with both playing massive roles in victories for their respective teams? Jones made one of the best catches of the year, while Green was clutch in a second-half comeback on the road. True difference-makers.
11. Things that epitomize the 2011 Redskins, part 1: Roy Helu, the third-string running back to start the season, set a new team record with 14 receptions Sunday. Check-down City.
12. Things that epitomize the 2011 Redskins, part 2: This picture (try to look at it and not laugh)…
13. Sorry, Redskins fans, but John Beck is not the problem. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a problem. Just not the problem. Think twice before you start asking for Rex Grossman back. Consider the injuries, and that Helu is now your starting running back.
14. Sorry, Andre Johnson fantasy owners, but there’s no reason for the Texans to rush Johnson back from a very aggravate-able hamstring injury right now. Two and a half-game lead in the division and winning without him. They could definitely use him in Tampa, but they can afford to wait through the Week 11 bye.
15. DeMarco Murray should be the starter in Dallas. I think that’s obvious, but peeps in the Football capital of the world will inevitably drum up a controversy where it doesn’t belong. No such thing as a starting running back nowadays — there’s room for two, or three, quality backs. Now, how will Jason Garrett juggle them?
16. I’m still worried about Matt Ryan. Dude had four complete passes in the first half against the friggin’ Colts. C’mon, man. I hate the whole “elite or not elite” debate, but Ryan isn’t elite. He just isn’t. He hasn’t regressed, but he’s yet to progress the way people thought he would after an out-of-this-world rookie season.
17. The Bucs are done. Sorry (not sure why I keep apologizing) but the NFC South is too good and the Bucs are too inconsistent. The young defense is a year (and maybe some tweaks) away. They’re just not as talented as Atlanta and New Orleans, and the loss of Gerald McCoy stings. Now they’ve got two of the league’s hottest teams — Houston and Green Bay — on deck. Not their year.
18. Matt Moore’s 147.5 passer rating: Good omen or statistical anomaly? I vote the latter. Something about blind squirrels finding nuts.
19. Mike Wallace steals a touchdown from Antonio Brown. You don’t think they care? They care. They’ll never admit it, but they care.
20. I don’t know what to make of the AFC West. All three division “leaders” fall, meaning the Tim Tebow-led Broncos are just one game back. I feel as though the Chargers should still be considered the favorite, but I’d say San Diego and Oakland should be about even in Vegas. Prior to this week, the Chargers were 1/2 and the Raiders were 4/1, according to Bodog.
21. I mean, the Carson Palmer trade looks like a disaster, but it’s only been three weeks. Is it fair to start drawing conclusions this early? And more importantly, would Oakland have beaten either the Chiefs or the Broncos (at home) with either Kyle Boller or Terrelle Pryor under center? I doubt it. But how much better will Palmer and the offense be in three and a half days, when they have to play again? And that’s in San Diego — probably the biggest game of the season. If the Palmer trade’s gonna pay off, it might have to do so in 2012.
22. What’s with all the pass interference penalties? It seems like every other deep ball draws a flag. It all makes you wonder why coaches don’t air it out more often. Bad defense? Sure. Great quarterbacks and receivers? Clearly. Officials over-flagging every time incidental contact is made? Undoubtedly.