NEW ORLEANS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of Week 4 while simultaneously watching the Jets-Saints big-stage duel of undefeateds in a raucous and sold-out Superdome ...
• Isn't it almost Vince Young time again in Tennessee? I mean, at 0-4, it's dangerously close to a lost season already for the Titans. Forget about catching the first-place 4-0 Colts. That's a pipe dream. And a wild-card run isn't happening either (Playoffs? Playoffs?) The 1992 San Diego Chargers are the only team in league history to start 0-4 and recover in time to make the postseason.
Where are you going at this point with the 37-year-old Kerry Collins, who has clearly failed to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row? You might as well find out once and for all what you have in the mercurial Young, given that Tennessee faces a huge contract decision with him in 2010 anyway. With the Titans facing the specter of being 0-6 heading into their Week 7 bye -- they're at home against the Colts and at New England in the coming two weeks -- why not re-insert VY and one way or another let 2006's No. 3 pick help make your long-term decision for you.
The situation calls for something drastic in Tennessee, the site of this NFL season's biggest underachievement by far. The future is definitely not now for Jeff Fisher's team. Might as well start finding out what comes next for the Titans, or this year will be a waste in every conceivable way.
• To me, there's no more stunning development in the NFL's first month than the disintegration of the Titans defense, which last season came within one meaningless Week 17 loss at Indianapolis from leading the league in fewest points allowed. When you can make the Jaguars offense look like a juggernaut, you've got huge issues. Jacksonville scored on five of its first six possessions in its 37-17 demolition of the reeling Titans.
Tennessee has absolutely lost its swagger on defense, and the Titans don't hit or punish people anywhere near the way they used to. I was among those who believed that Tennessee would easily weather the loss of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz but, so far, those assumptions have been proven patently false.
Hate to say it, but at this rate, I wouldn't be surprised if Fisher made a change at defensive coordinator before the season is out. Chuck Cecil has not kept the train moving in Nashville. Not at all.
• Speaking of coaching changes in Tennessee, maybe for the first time, some real anti-Fisher momentum has the chance to take root. I'm not predicting or expecting Houston-based Titans owner Bud Adams to listen to the local discontent in Tennessee, but between last January's shocking one-and-done playoff ouster and this year's 0-4 start, Fisher is at the very least more vulnerable than he has been in quite some time.
• Who'd have thunk it, but Jacksonville, the team that nobody watches play (either in person or on TV), is suddenly 2-2 and on a two-game winning streak in the AFC South. Maybe the Jaguars should change their name to the Jacksonville Blackouts.
• Between this surprising Mike Sims-Walker at receiver, and Maurice Jones-Drew at running back, what is it with the Jaguars and their hyphenated playmakers on offense?
• What a fascinating personal battle it was to watch between Tom Brady and Ray Lewis in Foxborough, Mass. It might have gone largely unnoticed, but there was a moment in the first half of the Ravens-Patriots that should have sent chills through every New England fan. When Brady took off on a scramble inside the Baltimore 10, Lewis came running towards him and hurtled himself at Brady with nothing but bad intentions in mind.
Lewis went flying over Brady as the quarterback wisely went into a self-protection slide at the last possible moment. But if he hadn't, I had visions of a Mo Lewis-type hit on Drew Bledsoe in September 2001, the collision, ironically enough, that launched the Patriots' Brady era and subsequently their dynasty. The replay of sorts didn't occur, but what if another Lewis had sent another Patriots starting quarterback to the sidelines, a little more than eight years apart?
• By now we should all just realize it'll never be as pretty for New England as it was in the magic carpet ride of 2007, but the Patriots just gutted out back-to-back home wins over the Falcons and Ravens, and there was nothing fluky about either victory.
With the Patriots schedule now calling for at Denver, Tennessee, at Tampa Bay (in London), bye week, and Miami, New England could (and even should) be 7-1 heading into its Week 10 showdown at Indianapolis.
The best news for Pats fans? The red zone issues improved significantly against Baltimore, with New England scoring three touchdowns in five trips inside the Ravens' 20, after cashing in just four times in their 13 red-zone incursions the first three weeks.
• I do believe Matt Cassel knows he's not in New England any more (and while he's not in Kansas, he is very, very close). The 0-4 Chiefs have to be a little nervous about making that huge investment in a contract extension for Cassel this offseason, based on his first month of work in Kansas City.
Cassel seems to be playing timidly, and without anywhere near the confidence level he showed last season in leading the Patriots to 10 wins in 15 starts. While he told me in training camp he relished the chance to show people that he was more than a winning "system quarterback'' in New England, he has disproved nothing so far. Let's see if the next three months changes the story in any dramatic fashion.
• There were sideline shots of Jim Schwartz on Sunday in Chicago where the Lions rookie head coach looked positively Elvis-like with those shades and a white jacket that looked like the upper half of one of The King's trademark white jumpsuits.
If not Elvis, Schwartz's look was at least an echo of Jerry Glanville, circa early '90s with the Falcons.
• I keep wondering what Rob Ryan must be thinking in Cleveland these days? While his twin brother, Rex, is the talk of the NFL with his much-improved Jets, Rob continues to languish in the basement of the NFL as the defensive coordinator of the hapless Browns.
And it's really just more of the same this season, because Rob Ryan just went from the debacle of Oakland to the debacle of Cleveland this year. Last season, Rex Ryan was the Ravens defensive coordinator as Baltimore made that surprising run all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
Being twins, you figure Rob had a 50-50 shot at these things, but Rex definitely seems to have most of mojo of late. Although Rob does have a Super Bowl ring or two from his days on Bill Belichick's staff in New England.
• After Jeff Garcia came out last week and kind of trashed the Raiders, making it clear that JaMarcus Russell isn't ready for the job he's been handed, I find it kind of laughable the idea that Oakland would consider re-signing him, as some league observers have counseled.
I do believe that bridge has been blown to smithereens. This is a franchise that recently tried to bar RichGannon from its team complex because the CBS color analyst had the temerity to criticize Oakland's recent football decisions. If they're not letting Gannon step foot on the property until they're forced to, the Raiders aren't welcoming the out-spoken Garcia back into the fold.
• Can it possibly get worse for Russell than his 12-of-33 passing for 128 yards against the Texans? Twelve of 33? That's 36 percent. That won't cut it the UFL, let alone the NFL. When Houston quarterback Matt Schaub completes 11 of 22 and he's the "accurate'' passer in the game, you know just how bad it was for the 2007 No. 1 overall pick.
* Oh, and nice day's work for Raiders running back Darren McFadden. The second-year vet totaled minus-3 yards on his six carries of the game, with a long gain of four yards. Between him and the regressing Russell, do the Raiders know how to pick 'em or what? More likely, Oakland simply doesn't know the first thing about developing players once they do draft them. But I'm not breaking that news.
* I wonder if Richard Seymour is still excited to be a Raider? From Brady to Russell at quarterback is what you could call a bit of a drop off.
• Wow, finally a Steve Slaton sighting in Houston. And in the end zone, no less. A rookie sensation last season, Slaton had been dangerously quiet in the Texans' first three games. But he scored his first two touchdowns Sunday in a 29-6 rout of the visiting Raiders, breaking through for a 32-yard scoring run in the second quarter, and later in the quarter adding an 18-yard touchdown catch.
• The Redskins found a way to get the W and climb back to .500 against woeful Tampa Bay, and that'll keep the wolves at bay for another week in D.C. But I wouldn't be sleeping too comfortably if I were beleaguered Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. Four turnovers -- three interceptions, all to Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib, and a fumble lost -- is way too many for Campbell's job security to survive for long.
And here's a quirky statistic for you: Washington has a chance to face a winless team in its first six games this season. They opened at the 0-0 Giants, then faced the 0-1 Rams at home, the 0-2 Lions in Detroit, the 0-3 Bucs at home, with 0-3 Carolina and 0-4 Kansas City still to come.
• Maybe until further notice, Carolina's Steve Smith should be identified as the "other Steve Smith,'' because the Giants' Steve Smith certainly doesn't deserve an afterthought designation. New York's Smith caught 11 more passes for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Giants' 27-16 win at Kansas City, and now has a team-leading 34 receptions for 411 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Carolina's Smith, he of the Pro Bowl pedigree, has yet to make much impact for the winless Panthers. Smith has caught just 15 passes for 190 yards, and is still waiting for his first score of the season.
• I would guess Bears fans would take that type of balanced offensive showing every week of the season. Jay Cutler was efficient in the passing game for the third consecutive game, completing 18 of 28 for 141 yards and a pair of short touchdowns to tight ends Greg Olsen and Kellen Davis in a 48-24 win over Detroit.
But the Bears also must have made Lovie Smith happy with the return of their running game. Matt Forte came off the MIA list to run 12 times for 121 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears as a team rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 carries (7.6 average). Forte's big-play touch was back in full force. He had a 61-yard run in the first quarter, and helped put the game away with a 37-yard fourth-quarter touchdown scamper.
• Another week, another Johnny Knox highlight. The Bears rookie receiver's 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown broke a 21-21 halftime tie and effectively served to take the steam out of the Lions' upset bid at Chicago. Knox, who also had five catches for 31 yards, is already a key playmaker the Bears rely on each and every week.
• Same old Lions. Nah, just kidding. Detroit actually scored three first-half touchdowns on its six drives, and seriously challenged the Bears in the game's first 30 minutes. The Lions all but disappeared in the second half, but there's still something to build on this week for Detroit.
• They came ever-so-close to an inexcusable loss -- at least if they consider themselves a team to take seriously -- but the bottom line is the Bengals are 3-1 and tied with Baltimore in the AFC North. Combined with last season's three-game year-ending winning streak, Cincy has won six out of seven, with only their fluke loss to the Broncos in Week 1 marring their record.
Who said there was a curse of HBO's "Hard Knocks'' training camp reality show?
• Thank goodness the Bengals didn't play to their second tie in two years and were able to sneak past Cleveland 23-20 at the very end of their 15-minute overtime.
Imagine how confusing Donovan McNabb would have found the whole development.
• Well, he didn't win for the Browns in his 2009 starting debut, but Derek Anderson certainly took longer to lose than Brady Quinn had in Cleveland's previous three games. I would think Eric Mangini probably realizes now he started the wrong guy to open the season.
• I'm almost starting to think Seattle should be listed in the standings two different ways: When quarterback Matt Hasselbeck plays and is healthy, and when he doesn't and isn't. Seattle just isn't really the same team without Hasselbeck, and I say that being a fan of Seahawks backup Seneca Wallace, who completed 33 of 45 passes for 257 yards (only 4.6 per pass play) and a touchdown in a 34-17 loss to the Colts.
The problem in Seattle is obvious, the healthy version of Hasselbeck gets scarcer all the time.
• That late Edgerrin James signing in Seattle really has made a big impact, huh? Not. James ran four times for 16 yards against the Colts, and caught one pass for six yards. Through the season's first quarter, James has 21 carries for all of 59 yards.
Let's all just admit it: James hit the 30-year-old running back wall, and he hit it hard.
• That Colts defense is substantially better than I thought they'd be. Seattle scored two late garbage-time touchdowns in their loss at Indy, but the Colts D is still giving up just 15.5 points per game during the team's 4-0 start.
Robert Mathis never gets the pub that fellow defensive end Dwight Freeney generates, but Mathis had a monster game against Seattle, with three sacks and two forced fumbles.
With apologies to Baltimore, San Diego and the upstart Jets, it looks like the battle for AFC supremacy is again going to be our backdrop when the Colts and Patriots square off for their annual showdown in Week 10.