Here’s our coverage from the 10th Sunday of the 2011 NFL season, and here’s what remains…
1. Tom Brady rises to the occasion; Mark Sanchez does the opposite. Brady was struggling badly in the first half — he was probably being outplayed by Sanchez — but he was lights-out when it mattered most in the second half, and that was the difference at MetLife. That Rob Ninkovich play was phenomenal, but Brady was still New England’s MVP Sunday night. And that touchdown that was nullified because Rob Gronkowski stepped out of bounds was one of the best displays of pocket footwork I’ve ever seen.
2. And the Patriots regain control of the AFC East. It was about efficiency. Too many mistakes from the Jets, with the two Sanchez interceptions and the Joe McKnight fumbled punt. Despite a slow start, the Pats outplayed the Jets badly in New York, and right when people were starting to give the Jets the edge in that division. Now New York has to face the unpredictable Broncos on short rest (Thursday night), while New England draws three of the league’s worst four teams (KC, Indy and Washington) over the next four weeks.
3. The AFC is a muddled disaster. No two-loss teams left. Would it surprise anyone to see an 11-5 team take the No. 1 seed in that conference? And to think that the Pats missed the playoffs despite winning 11 games only three years ago. Who’s the favorite in the AFC? New England after the defense stepped up and finally made some plays Sunday night? Houston, which is riding a four-game winning streak? It surely can’t be Baltimore, who just lost in Seattle, can it? Maybe Pittsburgh? We’ll have to wait to gain some clarity here.
4. The Cowboys should win the NFC East. After stubbornly refusing to buy into either the Giants or the Cowboys for two months, I’m finally convinced that Philadelphia won’t win the division. Since Washington isn’t a real NFL team at this point, that means either Dallas or New York has to take it. Of course, it’s easy to pick the Cowboys after their best performance of the year and with the Giants coming off a loss, but they looked so good without Miles Austin and Felix Jones Sunday. The depleted Giants continue to defy the odds by competing, but the schedule’s a bitch. Despite trailing the G-men by a game in the standings, I’m leaning Dallas’ way.
5. Would the Eagles have won with DeSean Jackson? In other words: Did Jackson’s off-field stupidity pretty much cost Philly its season? We’ll never know, but Jeremy Maclin’s injury certainly didn’t help either. Jackson had struggled to produce recently anyway, but I can’t see the Eagles losing at home to Arizona with Jackson and Maclin in the lineup.
6. DeSean Jackson: Worst contract year ever? At least Michael Vick waited to sign a $100-million deal before falling off a cliff.
7. Speaking of Vick: What the hell is wrong with him? Another poor performance Sunday dropped his passer rating under 80, a number that ranks 20th in football. One year after receiving MVP consideration, Vick’s numbers have plummeted across the board. He’s been touted for his improved patience and his newfound ability to audible with success, but the guy is simply not performing like an elite quarterback.
8. Final thought on the Eagles, I promise: Andy Reid deserves some of the blame for what went down Sunday, too. Reid made the team suffer for Jackson’s stupidity by sitting him out. And his old habit of ignoring his talented running backs reared its head. How does the league’s hottest back get just one carry in the last 20 plays of a close game?
9. If the Colts want Andrew Luck, he’s theirs. That’s assuming Luck comes out in April, obviously. But barring a wild development, Indy will have the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Colts were once again completely ineffective in a loss to the Jaguars Sunday. If you lose to Blaine Gabbert at home, there’s a good chance you aren’t going to win. And not only do they have to win to lose the top pick, they’d have to win two or three more times. While Indianapolis was losing Sunday, the one-win Rams were victorious for the second time in three weeks and the one-win Dolphins made it two in a row. Only four two-win teams remain, and there are zero one-win teams left, so the Luck sweepstakes might be over already.
10. Is Miami’s sudden revival enough to force Stephen Ross to change his mind? The Dolphins are playing hard and finally delivering with victories. And now they’re even winning at home, which just doesn’t happen. To boot, Matt Moore looks like a legit quarterback and Reggie Bush is suddenly delivering. Will those developments be enough to save the jobs of general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano? And if so, do the Phins consider giving Moore a chance to compete for the regular starting job in 2012? Consider that Moore has only 15 incomplete passes in the last two games. Then again, that came against Kansas City and Washington…
11. Will the Redskins win again this season? I mean, it’s almost hard to lose handily in Miami, and Washington has now been pretty much dominated in five straight games coming off its Week 5 bye. Unless they beat Minnesota at home in Week 16, they might finish 3-13 after a 3-1 start.
12. That borderline condescending way in which Tom Brady supports Chad Ochocinco after he actually catches a ball, captured perfectly by NBC…
13. Houston might seriously be the most complete team in the league. Might as well take this chance to brag about the team we’ve selected to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. But after beating up on significantly weaker opponents in three straight games, Houston’s performance in Tampa was huge. The Buccaneers might be inconsistent, but they were fighting for their playoff lives Sunday, and they’re usually a really solid home team. So don’t undervalue what the Texans did in Tampa — Matt Schaub is taking care of business without his best receiver (154.9 passer rating, highest of the week), the running game is still dominating, the pass rush continues to dominate and the coverage has been exceptional all year. Find me something they don’t do extremely well…
14. The Panthers have to run the ball more. It’s easy to get caught up in Newtonmania, but the Tennessee defense preyed on a Carolina offense that gave DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart the ball just 12 times on Sunday. Cam has been phenomenal, but he needs more support than that.
15. Whenever I see a big hit…I just assume a flag is coming. It’s changing the game. And what’s crazy is that the officials are victims, too. How the hell are they supposed to tell consistently if light-speed hits are helmet-to-helmet? Illegal hits need to be reviewable, because technically they’re black-and-white. The new rules are understandable, but they’re impossible to enforce fairly.
16. Per dollar, John Skelton is better than Kevin Kolb. And nowhere in the NFL is per-dollar value more important than Glendale, where the Cardinals don’t empty the coffers very often. In the offseason, they did just that for Kevin Kolb, but he’s been a tremendous disappointment half-a-year into his Cardinals career. Kolb, who was signed to a $65-million deal in August, has missed the last two weeks due to injury. In his stead, John Skelton, who will make $405,000 this year, has already won twice the number of games Kolb did in the first seven weeks. He’s also now 4-2 as a starter in Arizona. Comparing their 2011 stats:
Kolb: 1 win, 6 losses, 56.8%, 1,706 yards, 7.5 AVG, 8 TD, 8 INT, 77.8 rating
Skelton: 2 wins, 0 losses, 54.7%, 537 yards, 7.2 AVG, 4 TD, 2 INT, 84.1 rating
So maybe Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a point.
17. The problem with passer ratings: How was Matt Schaub’s higher than Tony Romo’s? I don’t get it.
18. The major difference between Atlanta and New Orleans: Drew Brees is simply better than Matt Ryan. A lot better. I know football’s a nuanced sport, but sometimes it comes down to who has the elite quarterback and who doesn’t.
19. So maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term answer in Buffalo after all. Perfect, right after he signed a lucrative long-term contract extension. In the two weeks since he became a very rich man, Fitzpatrick has had his worst two games of the year, both blowout losses for the Bills. I wonder if management is already thinking twice about that one.
20. So maybe Chris Johnson’s career isn’t over after all. And maybe all that Javon Ringer talk lit a fire under CJ2K. Maybe. But honestly, I see Johnson as a me-first guy who simply isn’t as dedicated to taking hits for the team after getting his money. Think: Albert Haynesworth. I don’t mean to rip the guy after his best game of the year, but it came against a terrible Carolina front seven. I need to see more. A lot more.
21. Detroit-Chicago is becoming a great rivalry again. Two talented young teams with similar mentalities in the same division. Did you see that brawl Sunday? This is going to be a fun rivalry to watch for years to come, because both teams should be competitive for quite a while.
22. And the fall of the Bengals begins. The loss to Pittsburgh was expected. The loss of top corner Leon Hall, who is reportedly done for the season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, was not. That could be a killer for Cincinnati, who can’t afford to be Hall-less against Pittsburgh, Houston and Baltimore (twice) down the stretch.
24. Harry Douglas > Roddy White. Just refer to who Matt Ryan relied on when it mattered most against New Orleans. Actions speak louder than words on depth charts.
25. The NFC West is back in business! The division went 4-0 Sunday for the first time since realignment in 2002. Laughingstock no more.