Based on what happened to them Sunday, it looks like time to start preparing for 2010. For not only did they lose, the way they lost and the psychological ramifications make it even harder to recover.
You could throw Houston in there too, but the Texans can still have a good season -- at 5-4 they are on course for their first winning season ever, although the way they lost Sunday to unbeaten Indianapolis opens up enough "what ifs?'' for 16 games. And the way they've played the Colts during their eight-season life makes losses to Indy inevitable. Last season, they managed to blow a 27-10 lead at home in half a quarter; they are now 0-8 lifetime in Indianapolis and 1-14 lifetime overall.
But the other four were all supposedly legitimate contenders. After what happened Sunday ...
Cincinnati 17, Baltimore 7
To be positive, you could note that the Bengals are now 6-2 and control the AFC North. Even more positive, they're winning with defense, a unit that even in Cincinnati's best days -- it went to Super Bowls after the 1981 and 1988 seasons -- was not its strongest suit.
"We're not surprised, we're really not," Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. "Everyone on the outside is, 'Oh, the Bengals got another one, but they'll fall apart any time.' ''
They're not falling apart and at 4-4 they certainly have the wherewithal to get back in the playoffs race.
But a defense that has been Baltimore's dominant suit for a decade gave up touchdowns on its first two possessions and the offense that had carried it in its wins this year never really got back in it. Total yards: Cincinnati 369, Baltimore 215 and that was with the Bengals more or less sitting on their early lead for the last three quarters.
Mathematically, the Ravens can come back.
Realistically, playing this way, they can't. They have two games with Pittsburgh left along with a game against Indianapolis. The rest of their games are winnable on paper, but not the way they're playing.
Chargers 21, Giants 20
Tom Coughlin had made this into a "must win'' for a team that had lost three straight after a 5-0 start. And in the last 10 minutes, it looked like they would, especially after Terrell Thomas intercepted Philip Rivers with 3:30 left, and the Giants holding a 17-14 lead. He returned it to the San Diego 4 and on the first play, Brandon Jacobs crashed to the 1. Whoops, holding on Chris Snee -- one of nine penalties for 104 yards on New York. So Coughlin played it conservatively, the Chargers used two of their time outs, and New York settled for a field goal.
San Diego got the ball back with just over two minutes left and swooped down the field -- against a defense that confused everyone, including the Giants. Instead of a prevent, or at least a zone, the Giants attacked, and Rivers' quick release got the ball to receivers in single coverage. One to Darren Sproles, another in the end zone to Vincent Jackson and it was 21-20, New York's fourth straight loss going into its bye week.
The Giants have a lot of issues -- they have injuries, but so does everyone else. The person they may miss the most is Steve Spagnuolo, their defensive coordinator the last two seasons and now the coach of the Rams. During their four losses they have had numerous plays like the ones on their last drive Sunday -- when half the defense seemed to be doing one thing, the other half the other, and opposition receivers were running clear in the secondary.
What they probably should do for the rest of the year is figure out roles for a nice group of young players. Their receivers all show promise, but only Steve Smith is consistent -- given a half-year to develop, Smith, Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks may turn into a dangerous trio, but right now only Smith has the experience to get open consistently. Jacobs ran nicely Sunday, 67 yards on 11 carries, but probably not enough. Eli Manning was 25 of 33 for 215 yards and two touchdowns but wasn't protected especially well.
In other words, not ready for prime time.
Tampa Bay 38, Green Bay 28
Arizona 41, Chicago 21
Chicago and Green Bay are now each 4-4, three games behind Minnesota in the NFC North. More important, they're nowhere near as good and the Packers already have lost twice to the Vikings.
The problem with the both is that they're simply not very good, despite the continuing maturation of Aaron Rodgers as Brett Favre's successor for the Packers. The Bears" QB situation? At this point, they might want Kyle Orton and those draft picks back and send Jay Cutler back to Denver, although 86 points allowed in two games speaks to a much deeper formula.
But at least they haven't lost to Tampa Bay.
"The Packers had the formula for losing to a winless team,'' Tony Dungy said on NBC. "You get a punt blocked for a touchdown, you have an interception returned for a touchdown, you make mistakes on special teams.''
The biggest special teams problem came with Packers holding a 28-17 lead in the fourth quarter -- an 83-yard kickoff return by Clifton Smith that set up the touchdown that got the Bucs right back in the game.
But the bottom line is that the Packers really aren't good enough. Yes, they were still recovering from losing to Favre and the Vikings last week. But they have serious problems on the offensive line: they've given up the most sacks in the league and had to resurrect Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher to try to block someone. But the Bucs still got six sacks, giving the Packers 37 in a half-season.
Ouch for all four of these teams.