Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Week 9 as we await a Patriots-Colts showdown that features much more "down'' than we're used to in recent years.....
• Last year, the unheralded Derek Anderson seemed like the NFL story that was too good to be true. Alas, this year we've found out that it was. I imagine by now, sitting 3-5 at midseason and falling farther and farther out of the AFC North race, the Cleveland Browns know what they have to do. They have to start Brady Quinn at quarterback. They have to use the second half of this once-highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing 2008 season to find out what they have in their 2007 first-round pick.
That's the reality that should be dawning on Browns head coach Romeo Crennel after watching his club blow a 27-13 late-third quarter lead at home against Baltimore, which scored the game's final 24 points to win 37-27 and sweep the season series against their bitter division rivals.
The collapse against the Ravens was hardly Anderson's fault alone, but he certainly can't be absolved of blame. Anderson finished 17 of 33 for 219 yards passing, with a pair of touchdowns. But when Cleveland needed him most, he was at his absolute worst.
After taking a 27-13 lead on a 7-yard Anderson touchdown pass to Jason Wright with 6:13 left in the third quarter, the next five Cleveland possessions produced four three-and-outs, and a game-sealing interception of Anderson by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who returned the pick 42 yards for a touchdown and Baltimore's final 10-point of victory. More than anything, I think that incredibly ill-advised pass, which was intended for Wright with 2:52 remaining, is going to be the mistake that costs Anderson his starting job.
On those five Browns drives, when the Ravens were grabbing what for Cleveland was a must-win game by the throat, Anderson navigated the Browns offense for all of a combined 22 yards. And sadly for Browns fans, that's nothing new. This season, Anderson has completed less than 50 percent of his passes (121 of 243, or 49.8 percent), with just nine touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating in the high 60s.
Quinn at this point deserves a chance to see if he can inject some life into a Browns passing game that entered Sunday's Week 9 ranked 26th among the NFL's 32 teams, averaging just 167.9 yards per game. Cleveland has been more than patient with Anderson, but his inability to take advantage of a Baltimore secondary that was ravaged by injuries in Week 9 should be the final straw.
Cleveland just slipped to 1-3 in the AFC North, and now has lost twice by double digits to a Ravens team that won just five games last season and hired a rookie head coach in John Harbaugh. Crennel's team is now two full games and the head-to-head tiebreaker behind Baltimore, firmly entrenched in third place in the division. That's not the way the story was supposed to go this season for the Browns, whose 10-win renaissance of 2007 now seems like a cruel set up to disappointment this time around.
The Browns should start Brady Quinn next week at home against the Broncos, a team that can definitely be thrown against. Maybe Cleveland can still salvage some of 2008, and find out if its future lies in Quinn's hands. Anderson's Cinderella story looks over in Cleveland, and the page is waiting to be turned.
• Rookie running back Chris Johnson completely took over for Tennessee in overtime against Green Bay, gaining 45 of the 55 yards that the Titans gained on their game-winning field goal drive. The unbeaten 8-0 Titans have such faith in the former East Carolina star that they called his number on six of the nine plays from scrimmage that preceded RobBironas' 41-yard field goal.
In a season in which there are plentiful Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates -- at quarterback, receiver and running back -- Johnson is rapidly becoming the overwhelming favorite to take home the hardware. He touched the ball 30 times against Green Bay, and produced 161 yards and a touchdown.
• Put this Buffalo loss -- the most troubling of the season -- squarely on quarterback TrentEdwards' shoulder pads. The second-year starter fumbled at his own 6 yard line, resulting in a Jets field goal, threw an interception at the Jets 8 that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown by New York reserve safety Abram Elam, and shortly thereafter led another drive that failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from New York's 8.
At the moment, the best quarterback in the AFC East is either New England's Matt Cassel or Miami's Chad Pennington. But it isn't Edwards or Jets legend Brett Favre, who threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown Sunday in Buffalo.
• If Kyle Orton is out any length of time with the right ankle injury that forced him to the locker room just before halftime of Chicago's comeback win over Detroit, the Bears' chances of making some playoff noise in the NFC North just took a significant nose dive.
There's good Rex Grossman and bad Rex Grossman, as we all have come to realize. But the Grossman who filled in for Orton in the second half -- completing nine of 19 passes for 58 yards, with one touchdown and one interception -- looked too much like the old Rex Grossman to me.
• Obviously Lane Kiffin was the problem in Oakland. If this isn't rock bottom for the Raiders, I can't fathom what it would look like otherwise. Not only was Oakland shut out 24-0 at home by the Falcons, the Raiders totaled just 77 yards of offense for the entire game -- their lowest total since 1961. Atlanta had 453 yards. And the Falcons owned decent advantages in both time of possession advantage (45:15 to 14:45) and first downs (30-3).
The Raiders were also the first team since the 1992 Colts to go an entire half with minus-yardage offensively. They finished the first half with minus-2 yards of offense, compared to Atlanta's 309. That vertical passing game that Raiders owner Al Davis loves to wax poetic about? No so much on Sunday. Oakland was held without a passing first down.
If Tom Cable isn't the answer, who has the stomach to take on the Raiders coaching job at this point?
• The Raiders offensive ineptitude wasn't the only quirky stat(s) coming out of the AFC West on Sunday. The Broncos, whose running game was once the NFL's gold standard, totaled all of 14 yards rushing on 12 carries in their loss to Miami. Denver did manage 306 yards through the air. So much for balance.
• If you happen to think that a healthy Tony Romo would have made all the difference in that butt-kicking that the Giants administered to Dallas, you're either not paying attention or you're a delusional Cowboys fan. Romo or no Romo, Dallas is just not a very good team right now, and that's why they're in last place in the rugged NFC East. Maybe the bye week will change something about a Cowboys season that continues to slide away, but I'm seriously starting to doubt it.
• I still can't get over how well Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are playing. I think it bears noting that both the Falcons and Ravens have reached the midway point of their seasons at 5-3, an ultra-impressive accomplishment for a pair of teams that start rookie quarterbacks and combined to go just 9-23 a year ago.
• Not counting New England's Sunday-nighter at Indy, the AFC East has to be the most improved division in football this season. Last year, the three teams that weren't the 16-0 Patriots combined to go just 12-36, with Buffalo at 7-9, the Jets at 4-12 and the Dolphins at 1-15.
But this season, those three teams are a combined 14-10, with the Bills and Jets both at 5-3, and the Dolphins 4-4. The AFC East is an impressive 5-2 against NFC teams.
• Speaking of the NFC East, the entire division is 23-10, with Washington's home game against Pittsburgh still to come in Week 9. Every team in the division has at least five wins. No other division in the NFL has all of its teams owning five or more wins.
• Even a remarkable 23-point second quarter wasn't enough for Detroit this week. If you're keeping score, the Lions are now 1-15 since starting last season with that mirage of a 6-2 getaway. When will it be time for Bill Ford Jr. to clear his throat at another Detroit Economic Club meeting and discuss head coach RodMarinelli's future?
• No wonder Minnesota tried to trade for Texans backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels last offseason. Houston's No. 2 nearly beat the Vikings on Sunday in the Metrodome, after taking over for the injured Matt Schaub at halftime. Rosenfels was a crisp 21 of 29 for 224 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception in the Vikings' 28-21 win.
But you think maybe Houston will ever win a road game? The Texans, who just won three in a row at home, dropped to 0-4 away from Reliant Stadium this season.
• After back to back losses to AFC North also-rans Cleveland and Cincinnati, the 3-5 Jaguars look destined not to rise above mediocrity this season. What has happened to Jacksonville's defense? The Bengals entered Sunday ranked dead last in total yardage (229.0 yards per game), and the proceeded to hang up 312 yards and three touchdowns on the Jags.
When Cedric Benson can come back from the NFL dead to run for 104 yards and a touchdown against your defense, you know you've underachieved. And don't look now, but having helped 0-8 Cincinnati to its first win of the season, the Jaguars now travel to 0-8 Detroit next week, where the winless Lions are the last team in the league without a taste of victory.
• How ridiculously deep is Kansas City at running back? Who needs Larry Johnson? When the Chiefs backup rusher Kolby Smith went out with a sprained knee in the second quarter after gaining 46 yards on 10 carries, rookie Jamaal Charles stepped in and wound up running for 106 yards on 18 attempts.
That's positively Bronco-esque. At least back in the day when Denver was a running back factory.
• Ah, when Chad Johnson scores (twice, no less), the whole world seems to be a happier place. The man is transparency personified. If he's getting his stats, all is well.
• I know Tyler Thigpen was wide open, six yards behind the nearest Bucs defender, but that was still one heck of a touchdown throw by Chiefs receiver Mark Bradley. On the run, Bradley hit Thigpen between the numbers from 37 yards out. (Did I really just write Tyler Thigpen was wide open? These gadget plays are getting out of hand.)
• Now that they've drubbed the resurgent Rams on the road, the Cardinals should have a cakewalk to their first division title since 1975, when they were still in St. Louis. Arizona is 5-3, 2-0 in the NFC West, and faces just three teams that currently have winning records in the season's second half -- Giants at home, at Philadelphia, at New England.
Even better, the Cardinals still have four division games left in the NFL's weakest division. They have San Francisco at home next week, followed by a trip to Seattle. St. Louis and Seattle must also still make the journey to Arizona.
• Anyone else happen to think Chris Berman and the rest of the ESPN NFL Countdown crew went well past a tad overboard on their show's presidential election theme? Nobody does overkill like the Worldwide Sports Leader, where the rule Sunday seemed to be why use one political cliché' when 12 will do?