Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a field-goal filled Week 5 of NFL action ...
• Two short weeks. That's about all it takes in today's NFL to completely flip the script. Two weeks ago, the New York Giants looked like an undisciplined disaster in a penalty-strewn loss at home to the Tennessee Titans, and the buzzards were already starting to circle the head of New York's embattled coach, TomCoughlin. Some observers even had BillCowher measuring the drapes in Coughlin office, and the opinions of one TikiBarber were again in demand.
But a mere 14 days later, the Giants (3-2) look far more dominant than disastrous. A 17-3, sack-filled win over the visiting Bears last Sunday night got New York headed in the right direction, and on Sunday at Houston's Reliant Stadium, the G-Men fairly well dismantled a Texans (3-2) team that was the toast of the NFL entering Week 3.
(N)ot F(or) L(ong), indeed.
Houston, beaten 34-10 by the Giants, just showed us the other side of how quickly fortunes can change. The Texas were riding high with their 2-0 start, but in Weeks 3 and 5, they dropped a pair of home games against the Cowboys and Giants -- losing by 14 and 24 points -- and now look remarkably similar to the recent Houston teams that never seemed able to either stand prosperity or make the playoffs.
The Giants' refocused defense suddenly looks for real, giving up just 13 points in its past two games. The Texans' once-unstoppable offense suddenly looks fraudulent, having scored just 23 points in the losses to the then-0-2 Cowboys and 2-2 Giants. All that newfound resilience and maturity on display in Houston in its wins over Indianapolis and Washington, that's so September.
Both teams, we should note, are still tied for first place in their divisions. But now it feels like they're hurtling in opposite directions, with the Giants coming off their most complete game of the season, and the Texans coming off their worst showing yet. That could and probably will change again, of course. Let's give it another two weeks and see where the season takes the Texans and Giants. It has been an eventful ride already for both franchises in early 2010.
• Houston quarterback MattSchaub has seven touchdowns and five interceptions this season. In his last three games, he has thrown for three of each, with a passer rating of 77.7 in the loss against Dallas and 53.1 in the loss to the Giants. I know Schaub's very good, but he won't be great in my book until he can consistently deliver when the pressure's on. He does it sometimes, and other times, not so much.
• I'd love to know what Calvin Johnson thought of that 21-yard, game-deciding catch by Bucs receiver MichaelSpurlockin the final seconds of Tampa Bay's 24-21 upset at Cincinnati. Really, NFL, that was a reception? Even though Spurlock clearly used the ground to help secure the ball as he landed, and the ball ended up moving in his arms as he came in contact with the ground anyway?
To repeat myself from Week 1, I'm not sure I know what a legal catch is any more. I was almost positive Spurlock's catch would be reversed by replay, because I thought the cameras clearly showed he failed to maintain possession once he hit the ground. The way I saw it, Johnson's nullified game-winning catch against the Bears in Week 1 was about three times more of a catch than Spurlock's upheld reception against the Bengals.
Why do I think we're in for another four of five days of raging debate about this latest call, and that the NFL's rules for the possession of a reception just got more confusing than ever?
• Just another undisciplined losing effort by the Cowboys, who have kind of specialized in those throughout a good bit of the WadePhillips era. The talent's there, but I don't think Dallas will ever do the little things that it takes to win big in the NFL. And that should be dawning on even JerryJones by now.
• Big, impressive win for the Titans at Dallas, and now the AFC South is my favorite division in the league. Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Indianapolis are all 3-2, tied for first and tied for last. That's the kind of year it has been so far in the NFL.
• KyleOrton kept up the aerial assault for the Broncos, rolling up 314 yards of passing against the Ravens' top-ranked pass defense. But after Baltimore took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, it felt mostly like Orton was wracking up garbage-time yards.
• Cardinals rookie MaxHall defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in his first NFL start is a tremendous story. But Hall had better learn how to avoid contact better than he did in the first half, when Saints defensive lineman AnthonyHargrove slammed into him on that scramble at the New Orleans 2. There's tough, and then there's dumb. In the NFL, dumb usually gets you a seat on the sideline and a spot on the IR.
• Where exactly has that Cardinals defense been all season? With Arizona's defense putting 14 points on the board courtesy of return touchdowns by defensive backs KerryRhodes and DominiqueRodgers-Cromartie, the Saints are officially in some trouble. Not to mention undisputed second place in their division for the first time since before the 2009 began.
• Raiders cornerback NnamdiAsomugha is bucking for my all-overrated team this season. He was called for three penalties against the Chargers, and that's not a shut-down corner. That's the kind of cornerback at which the other team loves to throw.
• JasonCampbell deserves a dose of credit for helping lead Oakland to its first win over San Diego in seven years, despite the shock of being buried on the bench in recent weeks. I'm not sure Campbell will ever be the guy for Oakland head coach TomCable, who clearly prefers BruceGradkowski. But the ex-Redskin hung up 159 yards passing and one touchdown in relief of the injured Gradkowski on Sunday, and that steady showing helped Oakland to its biggest AFC West victory in Cable's tenure.
• I think they got hosed on the Spurlock call, but that doesn't absolve the Bengals entirely. The defending AFC North champs let a Bucs team that won three games last year pin a third loss on them, dropping Cincinnati to below .500 at 2-3, two full games behind first-place Baltimore.
Bengals quarterback CarsonPalmer turned in another puzzling performance, throwing three interceptions, with just 209 yards of passing and a completion percentage of only 58.3. Palmer looks like he's losing confidence by the minute, and I can't remember the last time I thought he looked like one of the game's elite starting quarterbacks.
• Maybe ChadOchocinco will tweet Sunday night and tell us what he was doing when that game-turning interception bounced off his hands to Bucs safety SabbyPiscitelli in the final 25 seconds of the fourth quarter.
• Kudos to JoshFreeman and the Bucs for hanging in there against the Bengals and finding a way to get it done. I think I'm on to Tampa Bay's plan of attack this season. The Bucs have beaten Cleveland, Carolina and Cincinnati, and are obviously intent on getting a win against every NFL city or state that begins with a C. Alas, Chicago isn't on Tampa Bay's regular-season schedule, so a four-game sweep appears out of the question.
• I know the Chiefs weren't going to beat the Colts on the road by playing it entirely safe, but ToddHaley might want to dial it back a bit on the risk-taking front. Kansas City's game-opening onside kick didn't work -- it's the second onside Haley's called for in two games -- and the Chiefs got zero points on their 15-play first drive because they went for a 4th-and-2 near the goal line and failed.
In a game that finished 19-9 Indy, those calls arguably cost Kansas City six points, so they weren't insignificant.
• I'm more impressed every week with the Chiefs' young secondary, and Kansas City's defense has been superb, in general, for most of the season. Holding the Colts to four field goals and one touchdown gets Indy beat on most NFL Sundays. Kansas City has given up just one non-garbage time touchdown in its past two games.
That's why it's a shame quarterback MattCassel is still holding his team back at times. I did see at least three drops by Kansas City pass catchers (DwayneBowe, we're looking in your direction), but Cassel just can't threaten a defense consistently yet. He finished with 156 yards passing and no touchdowns.
• The Chiefs were trying to line up for a 51-yard field goal attempt with 1:12 to go at Indy, but something was missing. Namely, a holder. Kicker RyanSuccop kept looking over at the sideline, and finally DustinColquitt, the team's punter and holder, came racing on to the field. That's the first time I've seen that one. You wouldn't think the punter/holder had that much to keep track of in terms of responsibilities.
• With the 3-0 Chiefs losing, not only is it the first time since 1970 that no one in the NFL made it to 4-0, but also it's the earliest the grumps known as the 1972 Dolphins had to spring for their big annual champagne toast to themselves. Drink up, MercuryMorris. You're relevant for another year.
• So I'm watching the Jaguars-Bills game early Sunday afternoon and the announcers point out that Buffalo quarterback RyanFitzpatrick plays the position while wearing his wedding ring. (You don't think he's scuffing balls, do you?)
I found that fact both bizarre, and almost impossibly cool, all at the same time. Here's to you, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Maybe it'll become a trend.
Come to think of it, if he thought it gave him an advantage, TomBrady would probably wear all three of his Super Bowl rings out there every week.
• Speaking of married quarterbacks, maybe we know a little bit more why BrettFavre felt somewhat hesitant to come back to what seemed like such a great situation in Minnesota this season. With this Deadspin story, it strikes me that Favre might have considerably more to lose by playing this season than just some football games.
• What a brutal week for the Packers, to lose a fourth-quarter, 10-point lead at Washington and the services of four key contributors in NFL sacks leader ClayMatthews (hamstring), tight end JermichaelFinley (knee), tight end DonaldLee (shoulder) and defensive tackle RyanPickett (ankle). Then, in the postgame, came the news that quarterback AaronRodgers suffered a concussion during overtime.
Green Bay was banged up coming into Week 5, and now the Packers figure to be in near-crisis mode when it comes to health as they prepare for a visit from Miami and Minnesota over the next two weeks.
The Packers simply can't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender at the moment. Green Bay has little killer instinct and it keeps letting inferior teams hang around all game. Green Bay's final seven possessions at Washington ended in four punts, two missed field goals by MasonCrosby and the interception that set up the Redskins' winning field goal in their 16-13 upset.
But the carnage wasn't completely confined to Green Bay's depth chart. In the early Sunday games, Broncos rookie receiver DemaryiusThomas (head/neck), Rams receiver MarkClayton (right leg), Browns quarterback SenecaWallace (ankle), Colts running back JosephAddai (shoulder) and Lions receiver CalvinJohnson (shoulder) all exited their games with injuries.
It's not getting any easier for NFL commissioner RogerGoodell to make the case to the players for an 18-game regular season, is it?
• Jacksonville is another 3-2, tied-for-first-place club that has dramatically reversed its course in the span of the past two weeks. The Jaguars were down 10-0 early at Buffalo, then proceeded to rip off 36 of the game's next 46 points to win comfortably, 36-26.
With wins over the Colts and Bills, Jaguars head coach JackDelRio is officially off the hot seat.
• ShaunHill isn't about to bump MatthewStafford out of the starting lineup in Detroit, but he's not a bad insurance policy to have on hand as your backup quarterback. Hill can play some. There are plenty of teams that could use a passer capable of posting a 21-of-32 day, for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
• Have we ever seen worse quarterbacking than we had to endure in the Bears' 23-6 beat down of the Panthers? Carolina rookie JimmyClausen was 9-of-22 for 61 yards and one interception -- and he was the most efficient passer in the game. Bears starter ToddCollins finished 6-of-16 for 32 yards and four picks, before being yanked in favor of CalebHanie.
Clausen actually got benched too, with former Carolina starter MattMoore re-entering the picture in the second half. Moore didn't exactly reclaim the starting job, however. He completed 5-of-10 passes for 35 yards and two interceptions in his relief stint.
• I knew ex-Panther JuliusPeppers would be ready to play when the Bears visited Carolina this week, but that was one of the interceptions of the year he made against JimmyClausen. Tip it up in the air, then dive and pick it off just above the turf. That's about as good as it gets for a defensive lineman. The only one better on Sunday was Atlanta's Kroy Biermann's against Cleveland, which the defensive end tipped, dove to catch and then got up to return it for a touchdown.
• After the Lions rookie's Peppers-like highlight-reel interception, score it NdamukongSuh 1, SamBradford 0. But I have a feeling the 2010 draft's top two picks will have another chance or three to go at it before their careers are over. And for the record, I think the Lions are one of the best 1-4 teams I've ever seen. I think the Rams would at least agree with me on that one.