My first take on the early slate of games:
Season-changing moment in Atlanta
The highlight, or lowlight — or at least the most talked about moment — of the early batch of games came, of course, in Atlanta, where the Falcons and Saints predictably went into overtime, and where Mike Smith unpredictably went for it on a 4th-and-1 on his own 29-yard line. And it blew up in his face.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I just don’t understand the video game-like move from Smith, who essentially gambled the game away with a rather obvious Michael Turner run up the gut. In Smith’s defense, Turner hadn’t been stopped for a loss or no gain the entire game, and the New Orleans run defense isn’t exactly known as stout.
When Bill Belichick went for it in a rather similar situation against the Colts two years ago (also failing), he was roundly criticized for not having enough faith in his defense. But the Patriots had allowed Peyton Manning and the Colts to score on four consecutive drives, so Belichick made a calculated decision that didn’t pay off.
In this case, despite Turner’s relative success throughout the game, Smith owed it to his defense to punt the ball. The Falcons had held New Orleans to a three-and-out earlier in overtime and hadn’t let the Saints get into the red zone since the third quarter. There was no need to panic.
I often feel that NFL head coaches don’t roll the dice enough. But in this case, Smith went too far. Would I be singing a different tune had the Falcons converted and won the game? Probably, but I’m allowed to use in hindsight to conclude that it wasn’t worth it.
It’s amazing how largely that play may loom come December and January. This was the biggest win of the year for the Saints and the biggest loss of the year for the Falcons. In the tight NFC South, you’ve got to win intra-divisional home games. New Orleans now has a firm grip on the division, with a chance to sweep the season series with Atlanta at the Superdome next month.
Playing on a team that’s winning doesn’t make Tim Tebow a winner
55-to-8. That was the run-pass ratio for the Broncos in Kansas City, where Denver again proved how useless the “quarterback wins” statistic is in another “Tim Tebow victory.” Old-schoolers will continue to insist that Tebow has been a success because he’s 3-1 as a starter this season, but those with logic and/or eyes can safely conclude that the Broncos are winning in spite of Tebow, not as a result of his spiritual presence.
The Broncos beat the Chiefs despite the fact that Tebow completed just two of his eight passes. He had zero completions at halftime and finished with just 69 yards. A few of his passes were flat-out embarrassing.
Eventually, defenses will adjust to the Broncos’ one-dimensional attack. Right now, they’re not sure exactly how to defend such a unique quarterback, but they’ll adapt. They always do. Today, the Chiefs couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t do anything on offense. But as KC proved last week, it is a bad football team. Tebow and the Broncos’ offense won’t be so lucky against real NFL teams (as we saw when the Lions crushed Denver in Week 8).
It’s unfortunate that Tebow is monopolizing the attention in Denver, because the defense has been the real story. Rookie Von Miller had what might have been his best game yet as Denver sacked the Chiefs four times and held them to just two third-down conversions on the afternoon.
But no, it’s all about No. 15. As always.
Are the Bills done?
Almost every week, we wonder if a new team is “done” after a particularly rough loss that accentuates a particularly rough stretch. In Week 10, the Buffalo Bills are that team. Coming off their second straight blowout loss, has Buffalo’s bubble burst?
The Bills, who were trounced 44-7 in Dallas, have now been outscored 71-18 in back-to-back losses, falling to 5-4 after a 4-1 start. Next up, they’ve got the suddenly respectable Dolphins (winners of two straight) in Miami and the red-hot Jets (winners of three straight) in New York. They don’t return home until the first week of December.
There are signs of promise in Buffalo. Fred Jackson had another solid performance in a losing effort today and the offense has several key pieces in place. But the defense only survived early because they were forcing turnovers like no one else in the league. When you actually lack depth and talent, winning via takeaways isn’t usually a sustainable strategy. Today, the Cowboys drew up a safe game plan that didn’t give Buffalo a chance to make big plays on defense, instead attacking a depleted unit with their red-hot running back and steady quarterback.
There’s your blueprint for how to beat the pesky Bills. Expect more teams to follow it as the season wears on, and expect Buffalo’s 11-year playoff drought to continue.