Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.
It took six weeks, but the Colts are back. Or it sure seems that way after yesterday's effort. In the first month of the season, Indianapolis looked old, but it was probably more accurate to describe them as injured and inexperienced.
Peyton Manning underwent two offseason knee surgeries, and it showed in the Week 1 loss to the Bears; Marvin Harrison was also returning from a knee injury, and in the first four games, he appeared slow, frail and out of place. That all changed Sunday.
On the Colts' second series, Manning found Harrison, who had just toasted Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister like he was Ike Taylor and it was a 2005 Monday night affair, for a 67-yard touchdown. If Indianapolis didn't score again on the afternoon it still would've been enough; as it turned out, the Colts would post 24 more points, including first-half touchdown hauls from Reggie Wayne and Harrison (again), while the much-maligned defense forced five turnovers, including three interceptions.
So what does this mean going forward? For starters, Indianapolis can win at Lucas Oil Stadium, which has to be a relief. Thinking long term, however, it means that, at 3-2, the Colts are right back in the mix in the AFC South. Their schedule is brutal (Green Bay, Tennessee, New England, and Pittsburgh over the next four weeks), but even if they can get through that stretch at 2-2, and the Titans come back to the field, Indy's in solid position to make a postseason run.
Although the offensive resurgence is hardly surprising, the defense's dominating effort was, frankly, out of nowhere. Conventional wisdom goes something like this: Bob Sanders is the Colts' D. Well, Sanders is on the shelf but much havoc was wreaked nonetheless.
Some of that can be attributed to facing a rookie quarterback, but for a team often described as soft, Indy out-physical-ed a Ravens squad that prides itself on not being out-physical-ed. Baltimore runners averaged 2.7 yards per carry (19 rushes, 51 yards), while the Colts sacked quarterback Joe Flacco four times and forced him into making bad decisions most of the afternoon. (There is good news, Ravens fans: the other first-round rookie quarterback, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, continues to play like a seasoned vet. Wait, what? That's not good news? Okay, moving on ... )
Oh, and I'd like to nominate Melvin Bullitt as the guy to replace Bob Sanders as the Colts' on-field enforcer. He blowed up kick returner Yamon Figurs on two occasions, and also intercepted Flacco on the second play of the game. Not too shabby for a second-year player who went undrafted out of Texas A&M.
Finally, you think Peyton's tidy 19-of-28, 271-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance will quell the "Eli is the best Manning on the planet!" talk? I know, the Giants could hang 50 on the Browns tonight, but isn't that conversation a tad premature?
Jim Haslett Really Wants That Rams Job
Man, the Rams should fire Scott Linehan every week. Or, at the very least, petition the league for 15 more bye weeks during the season, because when either (or both) happens, St. Louis wins, baby. Actually, the stats tell a different story -- the Redskins, who didn't have a turnover all season before Sunday, coughed the ball up three times, including one straight-outta-the-circus play that saw a deflected Jason Campbell pass find its way into the hands of guard Pete Kendall, who, like any offensive lineman suddenly, shockingly in possession of the football, started running in the general direction of the opponent's goal line.
Unfortunately, he fumbled, and Rams defensive back O.J.Atogwe promptly scooped it up and ran 75 yards for St. Louis' only touchdown on the day. That would give the Rams a 10-7 halftime lead, but the Redskins would go up 17-16 with 4:31 to play. It was at this point that pretty much everybody figured St. Louis was on their way to 0-5, and Washington would continue to make their case as one of the NFL's best teams.
Didn't happen, despite Rams guard Richie Incognito's best efforts. (In case you missed it, Incognito, who can kindly be described as mental, got a personal foul penalty prior to the last play of the game, making Josh Brown's game-winning field goal attempt a 49-yarder instead of a 34-yarder. Yeah, thanks for that. Jerk.) Still, Brown calmly split the uprights, and Haslett is one game closer to winning a job I'm quite certain nobody else wants.
For the Redskins, well, they obviously didn't play PHYSICAL! Or, for a less insane perspective, maybe Clinton Portis is onto something:
I just think we need to go back to ground zero, and keep the media away from Redskin Park and focus back in. I think the headlines got good, and guys started high-fiving, and yeah, we're here... We overlooked the team that came in here ready to play.Dan Snyder's still going with the PHYSICAL angle.
Sean Morey, Difference Maker
The Cowboys played their third consecutive unimpressive game, and if not for the always-giving Bengals, there's a good chance the preseason favorites to win it all would currently be sitting at 3-3. Instead, they're 4-2 after an overtime loss to the Cardinals and tied for second in the NFC East. (Although they'd lose the tie-breaker to the 4-2 'Skins if Roger Goodell suddenly decided the season should end today. You know, because of all the dancing.)
For the first time all season, quarterback Tony Romo was pressured, and although he was sacked just once, he was hurried, hit, or both virtually every time he dropped back to pass. The running game was nonexistent for most of the afternoon, and save a fourth quarter Marion Barber "get on my back, guys" touchdown jaunt, the Cowboys would've lost in regulation.
Also, just thinking out loud here, but maybe Dallas might want to work on special teams this week. J.J. Arrington took the opening kickoff for six, and Sean Morey blocked a Mat McBriar punt in overtime that ended in a Monty Beisel touchdown celebration. Thanks for comin'.
I'm positive a segment of the Cowboys-hating populace are very happy with yesterday's result, but it's way too early to think Dallas won't be around in January. I'm not so sure Wade Phillips will be around for much longer after that, but this team has way too many weapons to just go away. Plus -- and this is worth keeping in mind -- they've played like crap recently and are still 4-2.
PS. Hey, head coaches: QUIT CALLING TIMEOUTS TO ICE THE KICKER. Ken Whisenhunt tried it right before Nick Folk's 52-yarder was blocked (and it would've ended the game), only to see Folk stripe it on the re-kick.
Cowboys-Cards Fun Fact: Dallas last won a postseason game in 1996. Arizona's last postseason victory came in ... 1998. Yeah, that's not embarrassing.
Ellis Hobbs Decided Against Midfield 'Lights Out' Dance
You know, the AFC West could've been pretty much decided if the favored Broncos had beaten the Jaguars in Denver, and the Patriots had outlasted the Chargers in San Diego. Instead, Jacksonville, like they've done so many times in the past, gutted out an important road victory, and New England took a beating at the hands of Norvell the Magnificent. This morning, San Diego is just one back in the loss column in the division as the Broncos continue to look for anything resembling a consistent defensive effort.
The Chargers played its best 60 minutes of football of the year against the Patriots, but the game wasn't decided until the third quarter. Leading 17-3, San Diego watched New England march 77 yards down the field to the Chargers one-yard line. And then, on four straight plays, Jamal Williams (and the 10 guys behind him, but mostly Williams), kept the Pats out of the end zone. Four snaps and 98 yards later, the Chargers were celebrating a Philip Rivers-to-Antonio Gates touchdown pass, and that, as they say, was that. Rivers was flawless, relying primarily on Vincent Jackson and Gates as his downfield threats, and the offensive line played easily their best game of the year. Rivers wasn't sacked and I don't think he was hit more than once or twice.
Matt Cassel, on the other hand, continues to look like a guy who hasn't played on a consistent basis in nine years. Part of the problem, I think, is that Bill Belichick doesn't trust Cassel to throw the ball more than five yards down the field, and while this is a wonderful strategy if you're winning, it's more problematic when you're trailing. Plus, it makes Randy Moss very sad.
But like I mention every week, New England's schedule is among the easiest in the league, so it won't be particularly shocking if they make it to the postseason. But after watching this offense sputter for five games, nobody expects them to do much if they get there.
By the way, Sunday night's outcome was a complete 180 from last year's Week 2 result. Remember that? The beleaguered Pats were fresh off spanking the Jets ... and answering charges of rampant cheating; the Chargers were 0-1 and about to go to 0-2 under Norv Turner. A year later, Spygate is a distant memory, Tom Brady is fresh off knee surgery, and New England is just another team. I'm guessing this had everything to do with a Ellis-Hobbs-less midfield, post-game celebration. It's cyclical, people. Either that, or God hates the Patriots. Definitely one or the other, though.
Leftovers from Sunday's action...
... Yes, I know, the officials royally screwed the Lions -- the late-game Leigh Bodden phantom pass interference call was a joke -- and it directly impacted the outcome, a Ryan Longwell chipshot with nine seconds to go. But it's worth pointing out that smellin'-salt-sniffin' Dan Orlovsky's "what the hell was that?!" first-quarter safety didn't help things. Since, you know, the Lions lost by two points.
... The Falcons are 4-2, which nobody saw coming. Matt Ryan, a nice college quarterback who most people figured would eventually grow into his role as a nice NFL quarterback, is, in Trent's words, all growed up. Not only was he 22-of-30 for 301 yards with a touchdown and no picks, he completed possibly the biggest pass of his six-game NFL career when he found Michael Jenkins on a 26-yard pass that set up Jason Elam's game-winning 48-yard field goal. The reason Ryan was even in position to make that play? After a wonderful Kyle Orton-to-Rashied Davis touchdown with 11 seconds to go, the Bears decided to go with the ol' squib kick. The Falcons started that last, fateful drive from their own 44. Squib kicks are, in a word, stupid. That is all.
... This just in: the Raiders still suck, and Lane Kiffin grew a beard and gained 300 pounds during the bye week (before-and-after photos courtesy of Getty Images).
... Apparently, I'm in the minority when it comes to the Aaron Rodgers-Brett Favre debate, but I'll continue to beat this drum: Rodgers isn't the reason the Packers have struggled in recent weeks. Yesterday, against the Seahawks, he was 21-of-30 for 208 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and thanks to a running game and some semblance of a defense, Green Bay was able to handle a hapless Seattle team that, to be fair, is much tougher at home.
Sure, Charlie Frye started for a battered and bruised (and bald) Matt Hasselbeck, and while his numbers were forgettable (although not this forgettable), there is a bright side: Frye, who last started a game in Week 1 of the '07 season and was then promptly traded from Cleveland to Seattle, is still on the Seahawks roster. So there's that.
... I know Joey Porter isn't happy about the outcome, but congrats to the Texans. They should've gotten their first win last week, but Sage Rosenfels was determined to make sure that didn't happen. Sunday against the Dolphins, Matt Schaub, formerly Ron Mexico's understudy in Atlanta, scored on a fourth-and-3 quarterback sneak with seven seconds on the clock. So high-fives all around for mobile quarterbacks, especially those who don't kill puppies for sport.
... That Jeff Garcia just wins.
... The Bengals just lose.
Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...
"It's hard for me to know that I let down the 52 other guys in the locker room, the coaches, the owner, the fans. I mean, if I knock that ball down, whether we make the field goal or not, we win the game today. Guys in this locker room are upset, and fans are upset, and everybody has a right to be upset."
- Redskins offensive lineman Pete Kendall, whose fumble led to a Rams touchdown (Don't get down, though, Pete, fans don't hate you nearly as much as rookie punter Durant Brooks. Keep your head up, big guy ... and pray Vinny Cerrato keeps Brooks around.)
"It's just a weird dynamic right now ... I understand the fans are frustrated, but we're getting wins. They may not be as pretty as some of them were in the past, but we're getting wins."
- Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, commenting on the frequent "Fire Brad Childress" Metrodome chants
"Just a dumb play by me."
- Lions QB Dan Orlovsky on unwittingly running out of the end zone for a safety
"That's part of being a quarterback ... You get your butt booed in the first quarter and you come back and win the game in the fourth."
- Texans head coach Gary Kubiak on Matt Schaub, who was treated to "we want Sage!" chants after a first-quarter pick
"It was almost a miracle finish for us."
- Dallas coach Wade Phillips (well, except for the whole blocked punt in overtime to lose it. Otherwise, spot on, Wade.)
Paul Connors, AP
Chris McGrath, Getty Images
Elaine Thompson, AP
Donald Miralle, Getty Images
Dave Einsel, AP
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
David Zalubowski, AP
Jim Mone, AP
AJ Mast, AP
Bill Haber, AP