Throughout the 2009 NFL season, SI.com's Adam Duerson will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the previous week's games. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.
• TomBrady is Back. Last week I said Falcons-Patriots would be a barometer game, but for two quarters we didn't learn much. Then I think we finally saw something definitive in the last 30 minutes: we saw a quarterback find his legs.
In the first half of that game, Tom Brady was wildly missing his receivers -- the same thing we've seen the first few weeks. He looked rusty. But in the second half, he was a different man. He had confidence in the pocket. We finally saw that "Ah-ha!" moment that you look for after an injury like the one Brady suffered last year; that moment where he finally stops thinking about it.
Anyone coming back from an injury like his will naturally be cautious. Balls will be under- or overthrown. You won't have the same zip on the ball. Some guys take a few games to get the confidence back; some guys take a whole year. And I think we saw that process winding down in front of our eyes in the second half. A confident Tom Brady is something to be scared of.
• ...But he's got competition in the division. I don't think you can crown the Jets the class of the AFC East simply off their Week 2 win over the Patriots. Let's hold off until Week 11 in Foxborough -- Tom Brady with a few more post-injury games under his belt.
But I do think these Jets are the real deal, and they remind me of a team I know as well as anyone: the 2004 Steelers. I start with the rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. He's not making the mistakes you'd expect from a first-year guy -- the mistakes that cost you football games. Ben Roethlisberger shocked people in the same way. Sanchez is making plays, not just game-managing. More importantly, he's making plays on third down. That's a true leader.
From my experience in a similar situation, here's the upside for Jets fans: this team is going to open up this offense even more as it moves forward. Right now, they simply want to win football games. They can do that by running the football well, playing great defense and getting a few timely plays out of their young quarterback. That was our recipe when Ben came into the league; we really only called on him a few times to make some plays. But he continually came through when he was called on and that gave us the confidence to open up the playbook. I see the same thing in Mark Sanchez and these Jets.
Here's where my Steelers and Sanchez's Jets differ: Rex Ryan. Rex has done a great job of providing these guys with the confidence that they can go out and play with and beat anyone. They've got swagger. That's great for the defense. But I worry about how it can hurt the offense.
If you're on defense, you love this guy, no doubt. He's precisely the type of coach you want: someone who's aggressive and will get in people's faces. But I'm an offensive guy myself, and I would want someone a little more even-keeled. As a running back you're going out there and getting hit. You're taking the shots. And this guy goes out and riles up your opponent? In a way I'm thinking, Come on coach, don't do this to me; don't get people angry at me like this. That's one place where I feel like maybe Ryan isn't really making life any easier for Sanchez.
• Brett Favre may have won over that Vikings locker room entirely Sunday. I don't think Brett Favre ever had the Jets behind him 100 percent last year, but he's already had a few moments in Minnesota that have helped ingratiate him towards these Vikings. The first was the fine he took for a low hit -- a block -- in the preseason against Houston. The second one was the amazing 32-yard, back-of-the-end-zone touchdown Sunday.
That one simple play -- a magical play -- goes a long way in their locker room. After so many years where all they needed was a quarterback, they have to be thinking: We won this game because Brett is here and we might not have won it without him.
Does Tarvaris Jackson make that throw? Would they have won such a close game last year? For the players who were on the fence about Favre, all of a sudden these questions are going through their head. I think this could push them onto Favre's side.* A divided team may have been the only thing stopping this team before. Not anymore.
*I've been in their shoes. In Pittsburgh it took some time for us to buy into Ben Roethlisberger. But early in that rookie season we went down to Miami in this torrential rain and the mud and we couldn't get anything done on the ground. Ben won that game late for us in that bad weather and you could see it click with the guys afterward: "OK, if Ben can win this wild game for us, then he's our guy." And we were all better for that belief.
On the other side of the field, that was a solid game all the way through for the 49ers. They showed me an awful lot of positive things despite the loss, especially playing well without Frank Gore, who people thought was the centerpiece of that football team. They could have beaten Minnesota if not for one play. That kind of effort should be more than enough in the NFC West.
• The Redskins are playing uninspired football, and that blame falls to Jim Zorn. Whether they're prepared -- and that's the other half of Zorn's job -- is unclear. But it seems to me this guy just doesn't have the ability to get his team up to play. It's the most obvious thing in the world on TV. They don't look inspired. They're constantly underachieving.
This is a team that's gone relatively unchanged on offense the past few years -- the same team that was in the playoffs two years ago and that won six of seven games at one point last year. We know how good this team can be. So Daniel Snyder has to look at this guy and ask: Is this guy better off as an offensive coordinator? Or is he really a head coach?
If not, there are plenty out there. I think Bill Cowher will definitely be among the guys who get a look if things don't work out, but I don't know how that fit works given how Snyder handled Bill's mentor, Marty Schottenheimer. He ran Schottenheimer out of town.
Here's the pick that I think makes sense: Arizona's offensive line coach and one of the original hogs, Russ Grimm.
• It was great to see the payoff of the Jim Schwartz hire yesterday, changing the culture in Detroit. Being from the area, I've always followed the Lions, but I've been frustrated by the way they've chosen their coaches -- I've never really seen the right guy for the job come in. I think there's something to be said about hiring a defensive coach to revive a franchise. I know Rod Marinelli didn't work out, but I like defensive coaches in a situation like this. Guys like Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Lovie Smith and Rex Ryan bring a tougher mentality. If I'm a GM and I'm trying to revive a franchise, a defensive coach is the way I'd go. They're mindset-changers and that's what Detroit needed. My hat's off to Schwartz.
Here's Detroit's next problem: getting people in those seats so their hometown fans can see them on TV. It's not going to be easy, even if they're winning. Given how hard this town has been hit by the mortgage crisis and the automotive industry's struggles, I think Roger Goodell really has to consider a different approach to the blackout rule here. In this economy we can't have such a hard line. What happens on Thanksgiving Day? Can you imagine Thanksgiving in Detroit without the Lions on TV?
• A few more quick thoughts...
-- I think that Steelers-Bengals game said more about Cincinnati than it did Pittsburgh. The Bengals ran the ball effectively, Palmer played well and, more importantly, they finished. The Bengals teams I knew pretty much blew it at the end of these close games. Yesterday they found a way to win, and that's a major change for the franchise. It's the sign of a pretty good football team.
For the Steelers, the scary thing coming out of this game is the evident strength of the AFC North. What a strong division all of a sudden.
-- The Raiders are a bad football team; that's obvious. Rich Gannon, who calls games for CBS, is not telling secrets when he says so. So for them to try to keep him out of their complex for badmouthing them is just insane; it shows a total lack of class. A classy organization rolls with the punches. They take the knocks that come with a bad game or a bad season. Ben Roethlisberger has shrugged off my comments before. He's said he "laughs" in the face of his critics, including me. Willie Parker has shrugged me off, too. I understand that. I applaud it. That tells you something about the differences in those two franchises.
-- Marcus Fitzgerald: why does anyone care what you say? Why are you tweeting? Larry, you've got to take away your brother's cell phone or his Twitter account.
-- Here's what I saw in that late Colts-Cardinals game: Arizona is still very much capable of being blown out by any team on any given Sunday. Nothing's changed.
-- Before we criticize, let's try to understand Terrell Owens' frustration. His team's not winning, and he's not getting the football. Any player who's had T.O.'s success is going to be upset in this situation. Isn't that what we want in a player -- we want guys who want to make plays, right? Terrell could have been very reckless and he could have blasted his coaches last night, but he didn't. He's getting more and more frustrated, but why are we surprised?
-- A word to Bucs coach Raheem Morris: You live and die by the first-round quarterbacks you draft. You took Josh Freeman. Your team is certainly going to get worse before it gets better. So get that rookie in there now, or you're not going to be around to see it when he does develop. More young coaches need to get that point. If you're 4-12 or 7-9 in Year One, what does it matter? Those three extra wins you might get by playing Byron Leftwich or Josh Johnson won't save your job.