Sunday October 21st, 2007

Musings, observations and the occasional insight in the aftermath of an NFL weekend that so rudely interrupts our baseball-crazed revelry here in Boston ....

• Just wondering, but what happened to that Tom Coughlin death watch in New York? The Giants have won five in a row and no one's offering dire-sounding opinions about their head coach's job these days. Joe Torre didn't make it, but it looks like Coughlin might survive and prosper in Gotham.

New York took San Francisco apart 33-15 at Giants Stadium on Sunday to improve to 5-2, and the best news is that the resurgence is being fueled by defense. After giving up 80 points in the course of starting 0-2, the Giants have held four of their past five opponents to 17 points or fewer, with only the Jets breaking the trend in their 35-24 loss two weeks ago.

The G-Men have played their way back into the thick of an NFC East race that once looked like it would belong to Dallas. The Giants are just a game behind the Cowboys and suddenly their Week 10 showdown in the Meadowlands is shaping up as a potential battle for first place. New York should enter that game still very much on a roll, because the Giants have two consecutive bye weeks between now and then.

Two bye weeks? True. The Giants play the woeful Dolphins next week in London, and then they get their real weekend off in Week 9.

• It's pretty apparent that the NFC East is back. Three of the division's four teams are at least two games over .500. Only the Eagles are struggling, and I could make a convincing case for any of the other three teams winning the division. Dallas has lost some of its mojo the past three weeks, but the Cowboys are still 6-1 and dangerous. The Giants and Redskins are playing quality defense in the division that has always rewarded just that in the season's second half. And despite the Eagles 2-4 record, I refuse to totally discount Andy Reid's team after last year's late-season revival. Philly has a knack for getting things fixed and rolling in November.

• Houston's 29-point fourth-quarter showing against Tennessee, which led 32-7 entering the final 15 minutes, was remarkable for so many reasons. But here are my two favorite nuggets from a game that the Titans won 38-36, on Rob Bironas' NFL-record eighth field goal, a 29-yarder at the final gun:

-- Entering the day, Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels, a seven-year NFL veteran, had thrown 10 career touchdown passes in the 18 games. He threw for four in that fourth quarter alone, to four receivers, and added a two-point conversion pass. Rosenfels' career high for a season was four touchdown passes, with Miami in 2005.

-- Houston didn't start as well as it finished. Starting quarterback Matt Schaub twice left the game due to injury in the first half, with Rosenfels replacing him. The Texans' offense had just 24 yards in the first two quarters, with Houston's only score coming on linebacker DeMeco Ryan's 26-yard fumble return. The Texans rolled up 309 yards of offense in the second half.

• My hunch is that Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino didn't particularly want to turn back to Joey Harrington and ask his newly demoted backup quarterback to win a game for him. But that's about how Atlanta's season has gone, hasn't it? In light of Byron Leftwich's third-quarter ankle injury, it looks like the marriage of Harrington and the Falcons isn't over after all.

• Wouldn't you love to know if Willis McGahee dined at his favorite Buffalo-area Applebee's on Saturday night? Either way, the ex-Bill, who bemoaned the lack of night life in Buffalo, didn't get the last laugh on Sunday. Buffalo beat McGahee's new team, Baltimore, 19-14, proving that its oh-so-close showing at home against Dallas two weeks ago was no fluke.

McGahee acquitted himself well. Though he had just minus-1 yard rushing after his first four carries, he picked up 115 yards on his next 15 rushes, including a pretty 46-yard touchdown run in the Ravens' third road loss in four tries.

• If the league really is trying to showcase NFL-caliber football for an international audience next week in London, how do you explain the Dolphins being invited to play in the game? If the winless Dolphins were in an English soccer league, they would have been dropped down to a lower division by now.

• Pretty curious timing for a gadget-play call, Ken Whisenhunt. With his Cardinals trailing Washington 21-19 with 21 seconds remaining, that's the best two-point conversion call Whisenhunt could come up with, a direct snap to receiver Anquan Boldin, who rolled right and threw an interception to LaRon Landry?

• You can't blame Buffalo fans for not being happy about the news that Bills owner Ralph Wilson wants to play one home game a year for the next five years in Toronto in order to further regionalize his team's fan base. But look at it this way Bills fans: Playing seven home games a year in Buffalo is better than all eight in Los Angeles.

• Did you realize it was a backup QB-fest in Sunday's seven 1 p.m. games? In those games, we had eight of the 14 offenses playing quarterbacks they didn't start the season opener: At Houston, it was Kerry Collins for the Titans against Rosenfels of the Texans. In Buffalo, it was Kyle Boller for the Ravens against Trent Edwards of the Bills. Leftwich started for Atlanta at New Orleans. Trent Dilfer got the call for San Francisco at the Giants. Kurt Warner played for Arizona at Washington, and Cleo Lemon started for Miami at home against the Patriots.

• So much for a post-Dallas letdown by the Patriots. New England's last five possessions in its 48-27 rout of Dallas last week went touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown. The Patriots' first five drives in their 49-28 rout of Miami went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and touchdown. That's 10 consecutive scoring drives, with eight touchdowns, two field goals, and 59 total points.

Randy Moss has 10 touchdown catches in seven games for New England, and I need Art Shell and those other ex-Raiders coaches to tell me again how his legs have lost something the past few years? Because I don't see it.

The last time I saw Moss and a quarterback playing playground pitch-and-catch like this -- "You go deep and I'll get it to you.'' -- the year was 1998 and the quarterback was Randall Cunningham.

• I still can't decide who has the better shot at a perfect season, the perfect Patriots (7-0) or the perfectly dreadful Dolphins (0-7)? But imagine being Miami and being seven games out of the division lead after seven games.

• What's up with Frank Gore? The 49ers super-back hit his season high with an 88-yard rushing effort against the Giants, but he had a hand in a key first-half fumble and he has topped 80 yards only one other time in six games. He hasn't scored a touchdown in his past four games, and his 394 yards rushing on the season is a pittance compared to the monster 1,695-yard monster he put together last year.

Is it because the 49ers rank last in the NFL in passing, letting defenses key on Gore exclusively? Or does it have something to do with Gore receiving a huge contract extension from the 49ers, taking away some of the motivation he had under his rookie contract? He wouldn't be the first young NFL star to fall in that category.

• I can't help but think that the 49ers' anemic offense has really suffered from the loss of last year's offensive coordinator -- current Chargers head coach Norv Turner. San Francisco looks lost on that side of the ball, and it did even before backup Trent Dilfer replaced injured starting quarterback Alex Smith.

• Time to give rookie running back Pierre Thomas a few more carries, Saints coaches. Thomas ran twice for 28 yards in the New Orleans win over Atlanta, including a nifty 24-yard third-quarter touchdown that put the Saints up 14-13. He's got some quicks, and we already know the New Orleans running game, already playing without Deuce McAllister, has to feature more than Reggie Bush.

• Hey, I gave Tom Brady the MVP award last week. So there's nothing left for me to say after his career-best six-touchdown pass showing at Miami (including five in the first half). Brady is playing a game with which most of us are unfamiliar.

• That was the right move, Miami, taking the Trent Green decision out of Trent Green's hands. There's not much left to play for in this Dolphins season, and nothing is worth Green's long-term health.

• I really don't know if Mike Nolan is going to make it as a head coach in San Francisco or not, but the man sure can dress. Loved the 49ers colors tie, Mike.

• Who said the Giants running game was going to desperately miss Tiki Barber? New York, led by Brandon Jacobs' 107 yards on 18 carries, rolled up 140 yards rushing against the 49ers. The Giants entered Week 7 averaging 128.8 yards per game, fifth in the NFC.

But Jacobs and fellow Giants back Derrick Ward are killing Eli Manning's completion percentage. I counted at least four drops by those two in the first half of the win over San Francisco.

• Anyone else but me surprised that in the years that the Giants have been playing football, nobody has caught more touchdown passes than Amani Toomer's 49? Toomer set the club record Sunday with his 4-yard first-quarter scoring catch.

• I think it's a good omen that in the week before the NFL plays its first regular season game outside of North America, aptly-named Redskins linebacker London Fletcher scored on a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown.

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