Sunday November 11th, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight in a Week 10 that can't possibly produce any Patriots-related controversy. Can it? Bill Belichick and his guys are on their bye week ...

Ben Roethlisberger already has a career-high 22 touchdown passes with seven games remaining this season, but it's his running game that the Steelers have to thank for that crucial comeback win over Cleveland at Heinz Field. Who knew Big Ben could leg out a 30-yard touchdown run and still have enough wind to tack on another key 10-yard jaunt on third-and-9?

Then again, I don't blame the Browns defenders. I'm not sure I'd sacrifice my body to try and bring down Roethlisberger in the open field.

What a crushing loss for Romeo Crennel's team, which could have tied the Steelers for first place in the AFC North if it had protected its 21-6 halftime lead. But the Browns offense was almost non-existent in the second half -- no first downs in the third quarter -- when their only spark was provided by kickoff returner Joshua Cribbs.

• Cleveland opponents are opting to kick it to Cribbs at their own peril. Just like the Jets' Leon Washington last week, Cribbs belongs in that almost-as-lethal-as-Devin-Hester class or return men.

• With the Rams getting their first victory of the season, in New Orleans, the Dolphins are the only winless team standing in the way of the 1976 Bucs popping the champagne corks once again. Miami came close to winning at home against Buffalo, but the legacy of Tampa Bay's 0-14 inaugural season could be in jeopardy because these Dolphins refuse to let anyone get in the way of defeat.

Instead of Don Shula and Mercury Morris, could someone call '76 Bucs Steve Spurrier and Lee Roy Selmon this week?

• It didn't take long for the Vikings' fears about Adrian Peterson's reckless running style leading to injury to come to fruition, did it? His right knee injury at Green Bay knocked him from the game -- a Packers rout -- but here's hoping that the guy they've nicknamed A.D. (All Day) lives up to that moniker more times than not.

• All eyes were trained on Peterson's every move in Green Bay, so of course Packers first-year running back Ryan Grant stole the show, rushing for a game-high 119 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against Minnesota's top-ranked rushing defense. Perfect. No one had rushed for 100-yard game against the Vikings this season. Peterson, by comparison, had just 45 yards on 11 carries, which was only 251 yards shy of his showing last week at home against San Diego.

• Sorry, but I can't really consider Tennessee a serious playoff threat until the Titans prove they can top 20 points on a regular basis -- something they've done in only two games this season. That was an ugly 28-13 Titans loss to visiting Jacksonville on Sunday, and Vince Young's continued Year 2 struggles have to be concerning Norm Chow, Jeff Fisher and Co.

• You get the feeling that NFL head coaches would just rather not deal with the whole two-point conversion decision? Some of them invariably go for two too early, and in Sunday's Eagles-Redskins game, both Andy Reid and Joe Gibbs botched their two-point strategy, which greatly affected the outcome of the rest of the game.

• If you're scoring at home, Carolina's 20-13 loss to Atlanta drops the puzzling Panthers to a ghastly 0-4 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Not to overstate things in Carolina, but neither head coach John Fox or general manager Marty Hurney should be feeling real comfortable when it comes to job security next offseason.

By the way, that was the Falcons' first road win of the season, after an 0-4 start away from the Georgia Dome. That's a double ouch for the Panthers.

• Washington must be a maddening NFL team to be devoted to. The Redskins' play-calling has been mind-boggling at times all season, but they took things to a whole new frustration level with about five minutes remaining in their loss to Philly. Washington had a two-point lead with a first down at the Eagles 7 with 6:39 remaining. A touchdown probably puts the nail in the coffin for Philadelphia, but the Redskins end up running five plays on the rest of the drive, and all five were handoffs to Clinton Portis.

Bottom line? The Redskins made it only to the Eagles 3, and wound up settling for a 21-yard Todd Suisham field goal to make it Washington 25-20, with 4:15 remaining. Less than two minutes later, the Eagles led 33-25 thanks to a pair of Brian Westbrook touchdowns. It was a season-saving (at least for now) win for Philly (4-5), and a killer loss for the Redskins (5-4), who now must hit the road for tough game at Dallas and Tampa Bay the next two weeks.

• OK, I officially give up any notion of figuring out the Saints. Apparently New Orleans has decided it absolutely, positively can not stand prosperity this year. I stuck with the Saints as my NFC Super Bowl pick in last week's midseason review, and now I can't for the life of me figure out why.

• I'm guessing no one enjoyed the Rams' 37-29 upset of the Saints as much as St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who I seem to remember once coached in that same Superdome.

• Welcome back to the land of productive quarterbacks, Marc Bulger. You just knew Bulger was going to make some one pay for his season-long struggles, and the Saints were that unlucky team on Sunday. The Rams quarterback was a superb 27-of-33 for 302 yards, a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions in an eight-point win that really wasn't that close.

• Even with Cleveland's tough loss at Pittsburgh, you know who really isn't enjoying the season being put together by the Cinderella Browns? That would be Jerry Jones and his Cowboys, who traded their No. 22 first-round pick to Cleveland last April in exchange for the Browns' No. 1 in 2008. Dallas presumed there was a darn good chance of copping itself a top-10 pick with that deal, but Cleveland's first-round slot is looking more all the time like it'll be in the low 20s.

• You gotta love it. The Redskins have spent about a bijillion dollars on the contracts of some big-name receiving acquisitions in recent years -- Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El and Santana Moss -- and it's lowly James Thrash who becomes the first Redskins wide receiver to catch a scoring pass this season. Thrash, who's only still in the league because he plays a mean game on special teams, caught two Jason Campbell touchdown passes in the first half at home against the Eagles. Keenan McCardell, picked off the scrap heap earlier this season by the Redskins, caught a third score.

It was McCardell's first touchdown reception for Washington, the team that drafted him in 1991. He never played for the Redskins that season, spending the year on injury reserve. He did, however, receive a ring when Washington beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI.

• Way to finally help the club, Steven Jackson. The Rams running back entered Week 10 with just one rushing touchdown all season, but he doubled that total in the first half at New Orleans on Sunday, and for good measure threw a 2-yard halfback-option touchdown pass to tight end Randy McMichael.

Raise your hand if you predicted Jackson would have half as many passing touchdowns as rushing touchdowns in mid-November.

• Just wondering, but if Simeon Rice makes the Hall of Fame, will he go in as a Bronco? Talk about falling off the radar screen. After generating a few headlines this preseason when he was scouting around for a team, that wound up being all Rice produced in Denver. To be honest, I forgot he was even with the Broncos this year until, well, he wasn't any more. Denver released him the other day, and you can add his name to the list of swings and misses that Mike Shanahan has made when it comes to signing veteran defensive linemen in recent years.

• An early happy birthday to the NFL's modern-day George Blanda, Vinny Testaverde, who turns 44 years young on Tuesday. Hang in there and keep slinging 'em, Vin Man. You're only three years shy of sneaking into a fourth different NFL decade.

• How bad is the state of quarterbacking in the NFL? There was actually a Chris Redman sighting on Sunday. The one-time Ravens' third-round pick subbed for Atlanta starter Joey Harrington at Carolina, completing one pass for nine yards. It was Redman's first throw in a regular season game since 2003.

Shoot, that was four teams and two retirements ago for Testaverde.

• According to Stats Inc., 111 of 146 clubs that have been 6-2 in the Super Bowl era have gone on to make the postseason. But with a loss to Arizona on Sunday, the Lions (6-3) may be pushing their luck. Detroit's schedule is about to turn tough, with the Giants, Green Bay, Dallas, San Diego and Green Bay again being five of the Lions' final seven opponents.

• Ten of the 14 games in Week 10 were division battles, and all in all, the home teams took it on the chin. In the early games, Buffalo won at Miami, Denver won at Kansas City, Jacksonville won at Tennessee, Philly won at Washington, and Atlanta won at Carolina. In the late games, Cincinnati won at Baltimore and the Cowboys were victorious at Giants Stadium.

The only home teams to win at home against their divisional rivals were Green Bay (against Minnesota) and Pittsburgh (against Cleveland). San Francisco visits Seattle on Monday night.

• I still don't have a clue as to how they're doing it, but kudos to the Bills for their first four-game winning streak since December 2004, when rookie head coach Mike Mularkey had Buffalo rolling as the season ended. Buffalo, at 5-4, is in solid contention for an AFC wild card.

• Things have officially reached rock bottom in Baltimore. When the Bengals defense shuts you down, there's no where to go but up. Not sure what he'd say to any offer, but we hear Jim Fassel is available for play-calling duties if the Ravens are interested.

• Maybe it's just me, but I don't get all the fuss about the 9-0 Patriots. I mean, they haven't even beaten anybody in seven whole days. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, New England.

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