Tuesday September 15th, 2009

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Cleaning up the NFL after one tremendous week, and then your mail runneth over:

The Bills should be thrilled today, not morose.

I know exactly what Dick Jauron will tell his team Wednesday when they gather to prep for Tampa Bay. It's what I would say: You had every reason NOT to be in that game Monday night. A new offensive line, a coordinator who'd never called plays in a game before, a defense playing three quarters without your quarterback (Paul Posluszny).

I'm not saying this is a playoff team, because I don't believe it is. But for 55 minutes, the Bills were justifiably beating the Patriots by 11 in Foxboro, getting good pressure on Tom Brady and moving the ball well.

Of all the losing teams in Week 1, the four that should feel best this morning are Buffalo, Oakland (much better on defense with Richard Seymour), Kansas City (better on offense than anyone thought) and Tennessee (very good toe-to-toe on the road with the defending Super Bowl champs).

Alex Van Pelt did the best job of any coordinator last week.

... Considering, of course, the mayhem Buffalo went through in the past two weeks. When Buffalo whacked offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and went to Van Pelt, a former NFL third-string quarterback, radio voice and position coach, the pressure was on with three first-time starters on the offensive line and a no-huddle scheme that wasn't his own. But Van Pelt got a feel for the offense early, capitalizing on Fred Jackson's terrific matchups against the New England linebackers, and he called a good game.

"Alex called a great, great game,'' Trent Edwards told me afterward. "He's a very calming influence on me. He's been around Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Joe Montana, and he knows what it takes to play and win in this game. He really knows how to coach the position.''

You still want to talk about going to 18 regular-season games?

In one week, three teams lost middle linebackers -- Chicago's Brian Urlacher (wrist) for the season, New England's Jerod Mayo (knee) for we don't know how long, and Buffalo's Posluszny (broken arm), possibly for the season but we don't know yet. Posluszny has now suffered a broken arm at New England in two of his first three NFL seasons since being drafted in the second round in 2007.

The Eagles lost a Pro Bowl lineman, Shawn Andrews, today to IR with a back injury he can't seem to lick. That's a big loss because Andy Reid thought Andrews would be an All-Pro-caliber player at right tackle. Donovan McNabb (rib), Reggie Hayward (broken leg), Troy Polamalu and Anthony Gonzalez (knee ligament), Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), Leroy Hill (groin) ... the list goes on. But owners are hell-bent on playing more games. They'll rue the day they vote to play a longer regular season.

Explaining the roughing-the-passer penalties from Foxboro.

The scorecard for the officials on the two tough calls last night: Ref Scott Green -- and I understand he is trying to enforce the spirit of the Tom Brady rule -- blew it when he called New England's Vince Wilfork for roughing Trent Edwards. Wilfork contacted Edwards at thigh-level, which is perfectly legal in the wake of the rules change made to protect quarterbacks from the kind of knee injuries suffered by Carson Palmer and Brady, when rushers contacted them at the knee or below.

But Adalius Thomas deserved to be flagged for flinging Edwards to the ground. That's a garden-variety call that we've seen called the same way a dozen times. Wrong call on Wilfork, right one on Thomas.

Explaining the touchdown reversal in Oakland last night.

Louis Murphy of the Raiders made what appeared to be a jumping catch in the end zone for a touchdown late in the first half against San Diego. The replay assistant upstairs challenged the ruling and asked the referee, Carl Cheffers, to see if Murphy retained possession. I watched the replay three times, and it appeared the ball moved as it hit the ground. That's what Cheffers saw as well, clearly.

Here's what the NFL Rule Book has on this call on page 51: "If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact with an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete."

I would not have gone as far as Cheffers did when he addressed a pool reporter after the game. He said: "The ball skidded on the ground. He eventually completely lost control of the ball.'' But the ball clearly was not in complete possession as Murphy was on the ground.

Now onto your e-mail:

YES, I WOULD CHANGE. From Eric Batchelor of Boston: "If you could go back and change your preseason Super Bowl picks after watching Week 1, does Brian Urlacher getting hurt change your NFC pick?''

Of course it would. Part of my pick was based on what I saw of Urlacher in Bourbonnais, Ill., at camp in August. He was a new man, healthy entering a season for the first time since 2006. The Bears losing Urlacher is the same as the Steelers losing Troy Polamalu; if Polamalu were gone for the season, I wouldn't be nearly as high on Pittsburgh. Would you?

HMMM. DO I THINK THE 49ERS ARE HAPPY THAT CRABTREE'S SITTING? From John Hayes of Spokane, Wash.: "I know teams hate to lose an asset without any compensation, but do you think there's any chance after all they've been through with Michael Crabtree that the 49ers would be at all relieved to not be the team giving him his first NFL contract? If he's still holding out come the trade deadline should they consider a below-market offer just to get something for him -- assuming someone will make the offer? Sad part is he comes across as the type of person who would benefit from a coach like Mike Singletary, who would kick him in the pants when needed.''

Good point, and I'm not sure it's over with Crabtree. He has to realize he's going to get a better deal with San Francisco than he will with any team in 2010. Let's see what the coming weeks bring. I can't believe he's going to commit such a destructive move as sitting out the season and re-entering the draft for a lesser contract next year.

COLLINSWORTH IS RIGHT. From Brent of Edmond, Okla.: "Everyone is riding Jay Cutler pretty hard about his four interceptions, but your old buddy, Cris Collinsworth, said that his receivers were to blame for some of it. So, which is it? Is Cutler or his receivers at fault? P.S. I thought CC did a nice job as the new Madden.''

Agreed. Well, on Cutler's last pick, Johnny Knox stopped instead of running through his route, which caused Al Harris to intercept the ball. That one was clear. On the first one, when Desmond Clark was called out by Collinsworth for stopping, I'll take his word for it because I don't know if Clark was wrong.

GOOD QUESTION. From Matt Burk of Pittsburgh: "Peter, asking Bobby Wade to take a pay cut, and then cutting him, is right in line with the entire sleight-of-hand that Brad Childress played with his other two QBs (and the rest of his team) with the whole Brett Favre thing. It makes me wonder: Does Childress have any credibility left with any of his players?''

It's a good point. I've had two coaches wonder the same thing to me. One told me Saturday: "Once you ask a player, as a coach, to take a pay cut, and he does it, you've got to basically put him on your team. If you don't, you're killing yourself in your locker room.'' I countered by saying Greg Lewis is better for Childress' system and was with him in Philadelphia, but this coach told me that doesn't make it right. I'll be interested to see how his players react if/when the Vikings go through some adversity.

I HAVEN'T SEEN THE PLAY, BUT IT IS A GOOD QUESTION. From Leigh Cruess of Houston: "The NFL is trying to take head shots out of the game, which is commendable. So why is it that when a running back stiff-arms a defender with a blow to the head there is no penalty? In the Chiefs-Ravens game the announcers praised Ray Rice for his very effective stiff-arm on a Chiefs defender -- a really solid blow to the head of the defender complete with a cocking of the arm for greater impact. I can appreciate that the stiff-arm has a hallowed place in football (including on the Heisman trophy), but either head shots are against the rules or they're not. A running back or receiver at full speed can deliver a stronger and more injurious head-shot than can a lineman. Thoughts?''

I didn't see it, but I have seen similar plays, and I agree with you -- if a runner hits a defender in the helmet, hard, with a hand or fist in the process of making a straight-arm, there should be a flag thrown.

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