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Snap Judgments for Week 8

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we watch a Week 8 unfold that looks like it's going to be very, very accommodating to home teams ...

• Doomsday Defense, indeed. Were it not for a show of Cowboys defensive muscle Sunday against Tampa Bay, doomsday might have been descending upon Dallas for real by nightfall. That's how big the Cowboys' inartistic 13-9 win over the Bucs was in the grand scheme of things. Another Dallas loss would have just about set off Armageddon -- at least the deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas version of it.

But the Cowboys defense, after getting humbled by the Cardinals and Rams the past two weeks -- a combined six touchdowns and 64 total points allowed -- finally stepped up against the Bucs and earned Dallas a victory it desperately needed. At 5-3, with the Cowboys facing road trips just ahead to the two teams they trail in the NFC East, the Giants and Redskins, Dallas bought itself a little breathing room by playing suffocating defense against a 5-2 Bucs team that averaged 23 points per game coming into Week 8. Tampa Bay went touchdown-less for the first time since Week 1 of 2006.

I don't know if head coach Wade Phillips' decision to take over the defensive play-calling duties from Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart last week made the difference or not. But the Bucs had five drives inside the Cowboys' 25 and only came away with three Matt Bryant field goals, and for now, it's that display of defense that might have saved the season in Dallas.

And no, we're not overstating things a bit. After the dizzying events of the past four weeks, Dallas was desperate for any kind of victory. Beating the Bucs qualifies as doomsday avoided.

Brett Favre's at it again. Does any other NFL quarterback keep both teams in the game at all times quite like No. 4? Favre threw three more picks against the Chiefs -- all of them being of the forehead-slapping variety -- and is tied for the NFL-lead with 11 in seven games (San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan also has 11). Kansas City's defense entered the game with just three interceptions all season.

Favre also had two more touchdown passes, including the game-winning 15-yarder to Laveranues Coles with 1:05 remaining, boosting his season total to 15 in that department. Last year, when we were treated to all those stories about Favre's new-found focus on taking care of the football, he had just 15 interceptions to go with his 28 touchdown passes for Green Bay.

But we've seen this Favre before, and it's a primary reason the Packers felt driven to part ways with their living legend this summer in favor of Aaron Rodgers. If you're scoring at home, both the Jets and Packers are 4-3 through seven games, but Rodgers' 12 touchdown passes and just four interceptions are the ratio you're looking for at quarterback. Not 15 to 11.

Though Favre's team won, he was actually outplayed Sunday by Kansas City third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who was making just his second career start. Thigpen was an effective 25 of 36 for 280 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Thigpen avoided the crucial mistake, unlike Favre, whose third interception was a potential game-loser, given that it was returned 91 yards for a touchdown by Chiefs rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers, giving K.C. a 24-21 lead with 7:48 left to play. The Jets crowd booed Favre lustily after that particularly bone-headed throw, quite a turnaround for a guy who came to town as a savior less than three months ago.

The Jets must know by now that this is the deal they bargained for in August. New York's up one week and down the next, and its rollercoaster ride has pretty much mirrored Favre's uneven performances. It all looks like it's going to add up to a perfectly mediocre 8-8 to me.

• I absolutely loved Mike Singletary's very public dressing down of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who has been an undisciplined and underachieving talent since being taken in the first round in 2006.

The 49ers new interim head coach sent Davis to the locker room in the fourth quarter, and later, in the post-game setting, said he would rather play with 10 players than accept players who aren't willing to sell out for the team. That's exactly the kind of verbal butt-kicking that San Francisco's losing locker room needs. Message sent, message received. Loud and clear.

• It didn't take Singletary long to get the hang of making changes in San Francisco. He benched his turnover-machine of a quarterback, J.T. O'Sullivan, in favor of Shaun Hill late in the first half. I wonder if that one sat well with 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who has been O'Sullivan's champion?

• Loved that 43-yard Troy Smith to Joe Flacco pass (you read that right) that Baltimore pulled off against Oakland. I knew the Ravens were looking for creative ways to get Smith onto the field, but I have to admit I didn't foresee a direct-snap formation with him throwing the ball deep to Flacco, who lined up as a receiver on the play.

With the Ravens' easy win over the Raiders, and the Falcons loss at Philly, both teams that rolled the dice and started their rookie first-round quarterback this season are a very respectable 4-3. It's good to see players like Flacco and Atlanta's Matt Ryan breaking the mold a bit on that front.

• Don't know what else London's NFL fans could have hoped for in addition to the 69 points, 860 yards of total offense, 680 yards of passing, 55 completions and 50 first downs that the Saints and Chargers combined for in New Orleans' down-to-the-wire 37-32 win at Wembley.

It would seem to me that such an offensive extravaganza would sell the NFL game quite nicely, but undoubtedly some of the folks in the crowd of 80,000-plus are absolutely thrilled with a 1-nil soccer game at times. To each his own.

• Given that first-place Carolina improved to 6-2 in the NFC South, that was a must-win for the Saints in getting to 4-4 heading into their bye week. The Chargers can't be happy to be 3-5 at midseason, but in the AFC West, with first-place Denver slumping at 4-3, they're still very much alive. The Saints needed this one more than the Chargers, and with the London game counting as a Saints "home" game, they'll go from Week 6 to Week 12 between games at the Superdome.

• Don't look now, but as badly as they played in the midst of that 0-3 start, the Browns (3-4) are just two games out of first place in the AFC North with nine games remaining. And Cleveland now plays four of its next five games at home, meaning it should at least be in position to make December meaningful. Until the Browns upset win at Jacksonville on Sunday, I didn't think that kind of late-season scenario was likely in the least.

• With the success this year of rookie head coaches who didn't have previous coordinating experience in the NFL -- Baltimore's John Harbaugh, Washington's Jim Zorn, and Miami's Tony Sparano, all of whom won in Week 8 -- it's fitting that Philadelphia's Andy Reid picked this week to notch his 100th career win. Reid was a rarity when hired by the Eagles in 1999, because he had no coordinating experience in the league.

Reid became the 37th head coach in NFL history with 100 wins, and he's the 22nd coach to earn those 100 victories with one team. Not bad for a guy who elicited questions of "Andy who?'' when Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie introduced him. With 100 wins less than halfway through his 10th season in Philly, Reid has proven that coordinating experience is not a prerequisite to NFL head coaching success.

• Something's just missing from this Steelers team, and even though Pittsburgh might wind up winning the AFC North once again, my sense is that it won't be a deep run into January for Mike Tomlin's team.

• Let's start the hype right now: It's Dallas at the Giants next Sunday at the Meadowlands. And New York at Philadelphia the following week might be every bit as highly anticipated. With all four NFC East teams winning Sunday, and everybody playing above-.500 ball, you get the feeling that the race has now been joined.

• You know what the irony of all ironies is? I can't imagine anyone who would want a Chad Johnson or an Ocho Cinco jersey this season.

• Break up the Texans. Houston just put together its first-ever three-game winning streak, and it would have had a four-game, all of them at home, winning streak if it had been able to avoid that fourth-quarter, Week 5 meltdown against the Colts.

• That was another great effort by the resurgent Rams, albeit in a 23-16 loss at New England. It occurs to me that if Jim Haslett was as good a defensive coordinator in St. Louis as he has been a head coach, he would have already gotten his second shot at head coaching elsewhere.

• Those comeback-minded Carolina Panthers are never out of a game at home, but don't go giving John Fox's 6-2 team the NFC South title just yet, even if they are 5-0 at their Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers get their bye this week, but then have to play five of their final eight games on the road -- where they're just 1-2 -- with the only win coming on the game's final play at San Diego in Week 1.

Carolina still must face tough second-half trips to Atlanta, Green Bay, the Giants and New Orleans -- all in the season's final six weeks.

• If I had to rank Washington's Santana Moss, Carolina's Steve Smith and the Jets' Leon Washington in terms of their importance to their team, I'm not sure how I would differentiate among three of biggest little men in the NFL. All three are playmakers extraordinaire, and each scored a pair of touchdowns Sunday in their team's victory.

• Now I know why the Rams' Donnie Avery was the first receiver selected in the 2008 draft, even if it did take until the second pick of the second round. Avery had his second consecutive big-play performance for St. Louis, burning the Patriots for 163 yards and a touchdown of 69 yards on six catches. Last week against Dallas, he got the Rams' upset off and rolling with a 42-yard touchdown reception.

The Cowboys and Patriots have their problems in the secondary at the moment, but I haven't seen anyone really cover Avery in the past two weeks.

• Speaking of Rams rookies, defensive end Chris Long had a career-best two sacks of Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, doubling his season total. Howie's boy is starting to become a real factor in the Rams' improving defense.

• There might be a different head coach named Mike in charge in San Francisco, but that was definitely the same old underachieving 49ers who showed up for their home game against struggling Seattle. Going from Mike Nolan to Mike Singletary didn't change the equation this week.

• I know we've all beaten this West Coast to East Coast travel thing to death this season, but we're almost halfway through the season and no team from the Pacific or Mountain time zones has won a game in the Eastern time zone.

Arizona held form, losing at Carolina on Sunday. Ditto for the Raiders at Baltimore. And just for fun, let's throw in the Chargers going way, way east, only to lose to the Saints in London.

• Good news has been a bit sparse in 2008, but Detroit did at least manage to score in the first quarter for the first time all season, taking a 7-3 lead over visiting Washington after 15 minutes. But alas, it was the rest of the game that gave the 0-7 Lions trouble this time. Washington outscored Detroit 22-10 from the second quarter on.

• We're clearly seeing some signs of progress for Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, but let's see what the next two weeks bring for the Man Who Isn't Brady. New England is at Indianapolis next Sunday night, and then home against co-AFC East leader Buffalo in Week 10. We'll finally know what to make of this Patriots team after that. We will, won't we?

Joey Porter has 10½ sacks in seven games? Where did that come from? That ties Porter's career high, and remarkably so, given that he's done it in less than half a season. Porter had just 12½ sacks in the past two seasons combined.

Maybe he was worth the money after all.

• For the first time all season really, Trent Edwards and the rest of the Bills looked unready to take the next big step up in NFL weight class. Up 16-7 in the third quarter at Miami, Buffalo let the Dolphins score the game's final 18 points and that sealed the Bills' defeat in their AFC East opener. Buffalo's self-destruction was highlighted by a ghastly four fourth-quarter turnovers.

Having failed in their first division game of the season, the 5-2 Bills won't have to wait long for a chance at redemption. They host the Jets next week, and travel to New England the following week for what could be a first-place showdown.

• Break it to him gently, but somebody needs to tell former Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron that the Ted Ginn Jr. he thought he drafted last year in Miami finally showed up on Sunday. Boy, did he ever. Seven catches for 175 yards worth. I'm guessing nobody was talking about the wisdom of passing on Brady Quinn in the Dolphins post-game locker room this week.

• Good to know Daunte Culpepper got over his self-destructive snit of last month and is now ready to resume his NFL quarterback career. Thanks for the update, D.C. Keep in touch.

If you're Culpepper, it has to be tough to be sitting home these days watching the likes of lightly experienced quarterbacks such as Thigpen, Dan Orlovsky and Charlie Frye get starting assignments. Sounds like quarterback-needy Kansas City may actually be interested in having Culpepper in for a tryout this week.

• It's that time of year when it just doesn't pay to be an NFL running back. Week 8 featured no Reggie Bush, no Steven Jackson, no Larry Johnson, no Darren McFadden, no Felix Jones, no Sammy Morris and no Laurence Maroney.

• What a bountiful week it was for NFL news, and none of it particularly good: Brett Favre's phone call to the Lions. Kellen Winslow's suspension. Tom Brady's knee infection. Deuce McAllister and Will Smith being named among a group of as many 10 players who reportedly violated the league's steroid policy. Terrell Suggs talking bounties. Santonio Holmes' pot bust. Plaxico Burress fined yet again for almost everything. Peyton Manning coming out and clarifying the specifics of his own knee infection. And the ongoing drama in Dallas.

Sheesh. It's good to have the games to distract us for at least one day a week.

• I keep wondering who Rudi Johnson must have ticked off? He gets cut this preseason by the Bengals, and then signs with the Lions, the only other team that was destined to go the first two months of the season without winning.

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