Sunday October 17th, 2010

Quick-hitting insights from the slate of 1 p.m. games.

Deion Branch may not have the big-play capability of Randy Moss, but he has as much chemistry with Tom Brady as any receiver. Branch entered the game with 13 catches as a Seahawk. He had seven catches for 75 yards and touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime alone to help lift the Pats. Brady threw for 292 yards, even though he had the Ravens' Haloti Ngata in his backfield as much as any of his running backs. Too early to say this win proves the Pats will be fine without Moss, but they've also gained something with Branch. Their offense looked more like the unit that helped them win three Super Bowls, even if it didn't set offensive records.

Ben Roethlisberger's return was the story of the week for this game, but the more interesting development was Browns rookie Colt McCoy showing he's a real NFL quarterback. The final numbers (23-of-33, 281 yards, 1TD, 2 INTs) may not necessarily prove that, but McCoy had a surprising amount of poise with the Steelers' pass rush coming down on him all afternoon. The Browns never wanted to use McCoy this early. If he can survive in Pittsburgh, he's good enough to start for this 1-5 team. As for Big Ben, he says he's changed off the field ... he hasn't on it. He still tries to extend every play and the results are usually pretty good, and sometimes really scary for Pittsburgh's coaching staff.

The Eagles will likely stick with Kevin Kolb next week against the Titans and then they have a bye. After Kolb completed 23-of-29 passes for 326 yards, the Eagles are once again headed for a full-bore quarterback controversy. Kolb showed why the Eagles were so excited about him this summer. The ability to run Andy Reid's short-passing game and mix in enough deep balls to keep the defense honest. But Reid said he was going to go back to Michael Vick when he's healthy. For a coach who had the same quarterback for 11 years, this has to be a dizzying situation -- and you know no matter which way he goes he'll get eviscerated in the Philly press.

The Rams reached three wins and equaled their total from the last two seasons combined. Even though Sam Bradford didn't end up with huge numbers (18-for-31, 198 yards, 1 TD, zero INTs), he did his damage in the first half and played well enough to help the Rams hold on (with a lot of help from Steven Jackson). St. Louis' defense is starting to play like a Steve Spagnuolo unit for the first time, sacking San Diego's Philip Rivers seven times. As for the Chargers, more special team problems and what will be a wild week of Norv Turner speculation.

The Texans got away with a big one. Houston's Andre Johnson pushed off on Kansas City's Brandon Flowers and they threw the flag on the Chiefs cornerback. It resulted in a 31-yard pass on the game-winning drive in the final two minutes. Tough loss for Kansas City, which looked like it was about to go to 4-2 and take a commanding lead in the AFC West.

Pete Carroll's lack of fear for taking on "character" issues paid off in a big way. Receiver Mike Williams appears to be on his way to Comeback Player of the Year and Marshawn Lynch looks like he'll be a key addition running for the Seahawks on early downs. The Bears looked out of sync on offense and are about to start a brutal stretch of their schedule. They needed to play better in a winnable home game.

The Giants showed how effective Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs can be together. Bradshaw ran for 133 yards and Jacobs added 35 in getting by the Lions. Now they need to quit all the locker room drama, forget about trading Jacobs and try to capture an eminently winnable NFC East.

The Dolphins probably shouldn't have needed overtime to beat the banged-up Packers. They seem to be putting the ball in the air a lot (Chad Henne completed 23-of-39 passes for 231 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). Can that really work against the Steelers next week?

The Saints' vaunted and highly paid and vaunted offensive line reminded everyone how good they were. Credit rookie Chris Ivory for running hard en route to 158 yards, but that success started with a line playing like it should. Meanwhile, the Bucs' two losses have been bad: this debacle and their 38-13 defeat against Pittsburgh. All of a sudden, those wins over Cleveland, Carolina and Cincy don't look so great and Tampa Bay appears to be closer to last year's team than we might have thought after the 3-1 start.

There was a 20-minute stretch during the first half of the 1 p.m. games where three scary hits made you realize the NFL isn't going to be able to do much about head injuries even it it tries. The Falcons' Dunta Robinson launched himself into unaware Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, the Steelers' James Harrison went helmet-to-helmet with Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and the Chargers' Kevin Burnett went helmet-to-helmet with Rams QB Sam Bradford. The officials threw a flag on Robinson, but missed the other two. Jackson and Massaquoi missed the rest of their games with concussions. Bradford lost his helmet, but was fine. There will probably be fines on the Harrison and Burnett hits, but obviously knocking out an offensive weapon is well worth it for any defense. That's just the reality the NFL has to live with.

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