For our immediate thoughts from what might have been the weirdest NFL Sunday of 2011, check out yesterday’s coverage here. Oh, and before we stop thinking for a while, here are 22 more thoughts…
1. The Chiefs confuse the hell out of me. Worst team in the league in September; one of the best in October. Terrible last week in New England; lights-out defensively this week against Pittsburgh, on short rest and against a team coming off a bye. They almost spoiled things pretty badly for Pittsburgh in the AFC North, but fell just short on account of not having a quarterback.
2. Everyone’s acting as though Ben Roethlisberger isn’t being affected by a fractured thumb, but it’s not like he was throwing deep or firing bullets. It seemed they had to make some adjustments to the game plan to accommodate Roethlisberger and his injury. With the running game struggling, it nearly wasn’t enough. Trouble could be looming with Cincinnati on the schedule next week (and San Francisco two weeks after that).
3. Revenge on the mind: Every time the Buffalo offense took the field at MetLife Sunday, two players were looking for revenge against teams that gave up on them, and both succeeded in sending a message. Two sacks for Aaron Maybin against his former team, giving him five in eight games as a Jet. Four catches, 77 yards and a sick touchdown for Brad Smith, giving him the best game of his career against the team that drafted him to be a multi-purpose threat. This all fascinates me. Don’t think these guys don’t get a little extra jolt for games like these.
4. Matt Ryan and Roddy White are finding a dangerous groove, and it could make the Falcons a tough out down the stretch. During the first half of the season, White only came out of hibernation occasionally to drop passes. But he was a monster Sunday (10 catches, 120 yards and a touchdown), giving him 17 and 267 in two weeks. To me, this is sort of akin to the the arc of Greg Jennings’ 2010 season. And that one panned out quite well for Jennings and the Packers.
5. So are Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. They’ve changed the entire feel in Cincinnati. Beating the Browns by three at home isn’t anything to brag about, but Dalton and Green look like a veteran duo. Amazing that they’ve now come back from 10-plus points at halftime three times this year, which ties an NFL record. These young dudes get better as the game wears on.
6. Now will the Colts go 0-16? They just lost back-to-back home games to bad teams, and now they have to play the three best teams in the AFC over the next four weeks and have just one game remaining against a team with a losing record. That game, in Jacksonville in Week 17, might be their only chance to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in the history books. I don’t know why, but I still don’t think it’s going to happen. They’ll beat Tennessee (at home in Week 15) or the Jags (in the finale).
7. Bob Chudzinski finally woke up and started utilizing his backs, and whatduya know? Cam Newton has his first interception-free game since October. He also has his second-best game of his career in terms of accuracy. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams combined for 139 yards on 25 carries, and Carolina finally established some much-needed balance.
8. The Titans have a realistic shot in the AFC South. And if Tennessee were to win the division, it’d be just as much of a “by default” playoff berth as Seattle had last year. I’m worried about the Texans with Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart sidelined and a tough schedule to close out the year.
9. Unless the defense saves the day in Houston. Oh, and that offensive line. The offense might have been 2-for-15 on third down against Jacksonville, but they again surrendered zero sacks while recording seven of their own (four from Connor Barwin, who has 6.5 in his last three games). Wade Phillips deserves some serious love. They haven’t missed a beat without Mario Williams and Danieal Manning.
10. Regardless of the four touchdown passes and the win, Mark Sanchez doesn’t look like a Super Bowl quarterback. I fear the end result of Sunday’s game will only conceal the fact that Sanchez was mediocre against the Bills. The Jets might be good enough defensively to compensate for their lack of punch on offense, but Sanchez is hurting more than he’s helping. I honestly just can’t see him becoming an elite quarterback, but I’ve been wrong before.
11. New rule: Regardless of the weather conditions, cheerleaders are never allowed to wear transparent garbage bags…
12. Encouraging signs from the Cardinals-Rams game: Beanie Wells might be Arizona’s first-ever legit running back and Brandon Lloyd might be St. Louis’ first true No. 1 receiver since the Holt/Bruce era. They don’t get a lot of love and attention, but those two guys have the ability to transform an offense. Worst case, Lloyd has earned a big payday come March and Wells will likely be the starter in Glendale in 2012.
13. Slow starts could kill the Pats. Just like me to look at New England’s glass as half empty, right? No, I believe in the Patriots, but it’s a little worrisome that they’ve been outscored 20-6 in their last five first quarters. Can they afford to start so slowly in games in January? Others won’t be as forgiving as the Chiefs and Eagles.
14. Kam Chancellor might have to completely retool his game. Love watching him play, but helmet-to-helmet hits are plaguing him early in his career. It’s become so bad that he might even be suspended for his latest illegal hit, which took place on Santana Moss against the Redskins Sunday. He models himself after Sean Taylor, whose former team Chancellor’s Seahawks played Sunday on the four-year anniversary of Taylor’s tragic death. Unfortunately, that’s a tough imitation to make under the current rules.
15. All it took to fix Chris Johnson? Matchups with Carolina and Tampa Bay — two of the league’s most dreadful run defenses — in the last three weeks. I’m still not convinced that Johnson can become a consistent game-changer again, but another performance or two like that one could result in mass fantasy draft confusion come next August.
16. More Roy Helu! That’s all I have to say to you, Mike Shanahan. Loved what I saw from Helu Sunday against the Seahawks. Problem is, you never know what to make of a successful running back in a Shanahan offense. How much of it has to do with the system, right? But this had very little to do with zone blocking.
17. Combine the Tebow comeback with the Jeff Triplette screw-up and Nick Novak’s sideline urination and you’ve got yourself the most intriguing game of the week. I’m most fascinated by the comeback, of course, but the urine incident was quite great, too. Not just because I’m very immature, but also because CBS took that shot and stayed on it for far longer than you’d have expected.
18. Remember when the Pats were finished and the dynasty was over? You know, 22 days ago, when they lost to the Giants. Will we ever learn from our overreactions?
19. Should the Andy Reid era be reaching its conclusion? The fans are obviously pissed off, but they’re always pissed off. I still don’t think Reid goes until Howie Roseman goes, and I don’t believe the Eagles are about to make full regime changes. This season’s been tremendously disappointing, obviously, but I don’t think Reid’s been the sole problem.
20. But I can change my mind, and I may do so if Reid doesn’t keep robbing LeSean McCoy of touches. I understand that you can’t run much in a blowout loss, but Philly led 10-0 after the first quarter, so that’s no excuse. In fact, aside from injury, there’s no excuse for giving McCoy just 10 reps. Dan Graziano of ESPN summarized it nicely as “career-killing stubbornness.”
21. And while we’re on undervalued running backs, why did Mike Martz start neglecting Matt Forte again? It’s almost like every time Martz panics (the loss of your starting quarterback’ll do that), he reverts to that stubborn game plan that ignores Forte.
22. Patrick Peterson makes history. Four punt return touchdowns in his rookie season. And the funny thing is that, as a prospect, Peterson’s return abilities were considered only to be a small bonus. He’s become the league’s newest Devin Hester, plus he’ll be a much better cover corner than Hester ever was. I get the feeling this guy will be one of the top 10 players in football by 2013.