OAKLAND -- Musings, observations and the occasional Week 9 insight as we make special note of our first ever Snap Judgments filed from the Black Hole, the very epicenter of Raiders Nation ...
• That could've easily been a job-saving comeback win for Vikings head coach Brad Childress against Arizona. As much as his players might not be digging Chilly right now, you can't say they've quit on him. Minnesota scored the game's final 17 points to win 27-24 in overtime, scoring two touchdowns in the final 3:34 of regulation and then getting the game-winning 35-yard field goal out of Ryan Longwell in OT.
Naturally, Brett Favre was the Vikings' ultimate hero, and his dramatic fourth quarter probably saved his embattled head coach's bacon for at least another week. Favre left everything he had on the field, throwing for a career-high 446 yards and a pair of scores, including an exquisite game-tying 25-yard strike to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation. (And when you've played for 20 NFL seasons, anything that's a career high is saying something).
I'm almost certain Childress will wind up paying for this season's disappointment and Randy Moss-related chaos in Minnesota with his job at some point, but Vikings owner Zygi Wilf can't fire his fifth-year head coach after the team's most inspiring win of the season. At 3-5, Minnesota is still firmly entrenched in third place in the NFC North, and the playoffs are an extreme long shot. But if the Vikings had exited Week 9 at 2-6, in full-blown meltdown mode, a tipping point might have been reached in regard to Wilf's patience with Childress.
The best reason to can Childress in-season? That's easy. Well-respected Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is going to get a head coaching job somewhere in the offseason. If you're the Vikings, why risk losing him when all you're doing the rest of this season is probably marking time until the end of the Childress era? Give Frazier the job at some point in the coming two months and avoid the possibility that he's coaching against you in 2011.
• I guess we shouldn't be surprised after the week he had, but Childress being booed for taking the field in the pregame warmups at Minnesota is the coldest shoulder a home crowd has given any NFL head coach in a long time. Signs imploring the Vikings to Fire Childress and Put Childress on waivers must make Childress truly sorry he ever heard the name Randy Moss.
• OK, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, thanks for coming and all, but Colt McCoy will be taking it the rest of the way this season in Cleveland. That much is obvious in the wake of Cleveland's shocking 34-14 manhandling of New England. The rookie quarterback has been one of the real revelations of this NFL season, and it's clearly in Cleveland's best interests to toss him the keys and let him drive this team as far as he can take it in the season's second half.
The best news for the Browns on Sunday was they even let McCoy take the training wheels off, and the ex-Longhorn responded by going 14 of 19 for 174 yards and an FM station-like 101.6 passer rating in his first-ever start before the home fans. With consecutive wins over the defending champion Saints and the vaunted Patriots in a three-week span, sandwiched around the Browns' bye, Cleveland may have just found its long-sought after franchise quarterback -- and to think he was sitting right there in last April's third round.
Thank goodness for the Browns this season didn't go as planned for McCoy. The day after Browns new football czar Mike Holmgren took him 85th overall, late in the third round, Holmgren announced that McCoy wouldn't play in 2010, but instead sit, watch and learn from Delhomme and Wallace with an eye on 2011 and beyond. But then, as sometimes happens, football fates intervene. Delhomme and Wallace were both hurt, McCoy had to play, and the Browns were the fortunate benefactors.
Cleveland is only 3-5 after its two big wins, and it won't be going to the playoffs this season. But with McCoy -- the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback -- looking more like an NFL No. 1 quarterback every week, the Browns have every right to think there are some playoff trips in their future.
• Every time I watch Peyton Hillis run the ball, like he did for 184 tough yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, I wonder what in the world was it about his game that Denver head coach Josh McDaniels didn't like? I've heard that McDaniels questioned Hillis's toughness last year in Denver. But he looks tough enough to me. And even tougher to bring down. His rushing total on Sunday was a career high.
Meanwhile, Denver's so-called running game? Mostly tough luck this season. Cleveland gouged New England for 230 yards rushing, and had 404 yards of total offense against the shellshocked Patriots defenders.
• I've rarely seen a group of coaches reveling in a win more than Cleveland's three former Patriots assistants did Sunday against New England. Even while the game was still going on, the threesome of head coach Eric Mangini, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan -- former Bill Belichick hires all -- were back-slapping, hugging and congratulating one another for that decisive win over their former mentor's team. As victories go, I'm guessing this one was in the extremely satisfying category.
But from the look Mangini had on his face, I don't think he really appreciated getting the Gatorade bath treatment with two minutes or so left to play. Mangini never even turned around to see who did it, and I know he hopes it escaped Belichick's notice. Pretty quick and cursory handshake between Mangini and Belichick after this one, but then, that's nothing new.
• OK, I'll say it: Even though they had not paid for it before Sunday, the Patriots offense really lacks for much big-play capability in its new post-Moss incarnation. With the possible exception of the second half against the Vikings last week, New England has had to have a lot of things go right for it to mount a scoring drive of late. So while the versatility of the Patriots' new-look offense has it positives, it hasn't been all golden.
• That was your classic trap game for New England at Cleveland. With high-profile matchups against the Steelers and Colts coming up the next two weeks, New England may have simply gotten burned for looking ahead. Doesn't usually happen to a Belichick-coached team, but this group of Patriots isn't really good enough to take any wins for granted. Even if they did enter the game with a five-game winning streak -- and as the NFL's only six-win team.
• What a case of vapor-lock brain-cramp play by the Jets' Trevor Pryce, who committed a roughing-the-kicker penalty against Lions Jason Hanson on a 21-yard game-tying field goal in the third quarter. Instead of a 10-10 game, the Lions took the penalty and the automatic first down, and then scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard Matthew Stafford run on the next play.
The Jets fought back to tie the game at 20 late in regulation and then won 23-20 in overtime, but Pryce's play was anything but what you'd expect from a 14-year veteran in that situation. And New York could have paid for it with its third defeat of the season.
• Pryce actually hurt Hanson's right knee on the play, which prompted my favorite play of Week 9: Lions rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh trotting out to replace Hanson on the ensuing extra-point attempt. Alas, Suh proved that he can't do it all on the football field, missing his kick when the ball hit the right upright.
Suh played soccer growing up, and actually had pretty good form on his PAT. But when you lose 23-20 in overtime, Hanson not being on the field to kick that extra point winds up looming rather large.
• Speaking of special teams follies, seriously, yet another botched San Diego punt? Chargers punter Mike Scifres came into Week 9 with an inexplicable four blocks in eight games, and then it happened again early in San Diego's 29-23 win at Houston. On the Chargers' first drive, the Texans poured in and deflected Scifres' punt, causing it to travel all of one yard. Scifres was roughed up in the process, and Houston scored on the very next play, on an 8-yard Arian Foster touchdown run.
Wow. Chargers special teams coach Steve Crosby might just self-combust any minute here.
• The Lions are so much better in the second year of the Jim Schwartz coaching era. But they simply don't know how to close out a game yet. Detroit held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New York, and let it get away. This breakdown was roughly the same way the Lions failed to make the plays they had to make late in games against Chicago, Philadelphia and Green Bay earlier this season.
• I know Matthew Stafford doesn't like the injury-prone label, but he richly deserves it. Stafford left in the fourth quarter after re-injuring his right shoulder, and if you're Detroit, your quarterback's health is reaching a problematic stage.
In the first season and a half of his NFL career (24 games), Stafford has played in 13 games and missed 11. And in two of the three games he did start this season, he didn't finish. Sorry, Matt. That's being injury-prone. Even if you understandably don't like the sound of that.
• The Bucs didn't win their statement game at Atlanta, but you can't blame rookie receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn. Williams and Benn both scored touchdowns in the Bucs' 27-21 loss to the Falcons, and the two are starting to make impact plays on a weekly basis.
When's the last time a team had two rookie receivers contributing in a big way? The 1974 Steelers, with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth? And one more question: Is it just me, or is this year's NFL draft class the best one in recent memory? Across the landscape of the league, rookies have made key differences for many teams.
• Not really loving the new purple pants for the Vikings. There is such a thing as too much purple, and I happen to think a 41-year-old like Favre looks a little silly covered head to toe in that hue. It doesn't really go with the gray in his hair.
• I'm sure it sounded funny in his own head, but Childress's timing was really off when he gigged Brett Favre in the aftermath of Minnesota's comeback win. Asked about how he was handling the pressure of the past week, Childress tried to go all John Wayne on us, quipping: "I'm not gonna be here and be like Favre and tell you that I need a hug,'' Childress said. "I'll be all right.''
Uh, given that Favre might have just kept his hanging-by-a-thread head coach employed for another week, maybe Childress should aim his sense of humor elsewhere in the foreseeable future. Or at least until Favre throws another couple of costly interceptions.
• Matt Ryan won again at home, and so what else is new? The Falcons quarterback has now started his NFL career with a 17-1 record at the Georgia Dome, and that's one of the more remarkable and underappreciated accomplishments in recent history. Matty Ice is almost Matty Automatic at home.
• Meanwhile, Ryan's 2008 first-round draft classmate, Joe Flacco, is becoming fairly dominant at home, as well. With Baltimore's 26-10 throttling of Miami at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco has won his past seven starts at home.
Come to think of it, we've got an enticing Flacco versus Ryan showdown to count down to this week: 6-2 first-place Baltimore plays at 6-2 first-place Atlanta in the opener of the NFL Network's schedule Thursday night.
• Miami quarterback Chad Henne threw three more interceptions (without a touchdown pass) in the loss at Baltimore, and you've got to think we're going to see some of Chad Pennington at some point soon. It won't be a long-term benching most likely, but just a chance for Henne to sit and watch for a while, in the hope it'll re-energize his game and further his development.
• As great as this year's rookie class has been, that was a hide-your-eyes-ugly kind of a day for Patriots rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. First, Gronkowski was responsible for making a fair catch call on a first-quarter kickoff and then letting the ball fall to the turf and be recovered by Cleveland. Later, he fumbled inside of the Browns' 5 while struggling for extra yardage.
With two touchdown catches against the Browns, Gronkowski's fellow rookie Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, continues to play lights out. But Gronkowski, who was drafted higher than Hernandez, had a forgettable day in Ohio.
• Speaking of tight ends who have struggled to make an impact this year, the Bears' Greg Olsen had to fight for his third touchdown of the season in Chicago's 22-19 win at Buffalo in Toronto. (You still following me?)
I'm not sure if Olsen or receiver Earl Bennett was Jay Cutler's intended receiver on the four-yard scoring pass to Olsen in the first quarter, but Olsen wound up catching it almost in spite of his teammate, who was right beside him in the pattern.
Maybe when you're a tight end in a Mike Martz-coordinated offense, that's how it goes. You have to fight for every ball you get.
• Texans running back Arian Foster had absolutely no beef on that replay reversal of his second-half touchdown catch. If Calvin Johnson's catch in Week 1 at Chicago wasn't a touchdown catch, there's no way Foster's was. Both players had clear possession of the ball for quite some time, but they both put the ball on the ground while it was in their right hand, to steady themselves. And that, like the rule or not (and I don't), is a non-catch.
• Let me get this straight: Despite missing tight end Antonio Gates, receivers Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee, the Chargers' Philip Rivers still threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns against Houston in a 29-23 win?
How bad must that Texans pass defense really be? San Diego didn't have its "A'' team in the passing game, and still won its first road game of the season. Rivers was an efficient 17 of 23 against Houston, with only one interception.
The Chargers got the first two career touchdowns of the wonderfully named rookie receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (four catches for 111 yards) and two more touchdowns from backup tight end Randy McMichael to win two games in a row for the first time all season.
• And don't look now, but here come the Chargers. Again. San Diego is 4-5 and appears to be making its annual second-half drive to get back into the AFC West race. The division is better and it won't just roll over and play dead for Norv Turner's team this year, but how can you rule San Diego out, given its penchant for late-season winning streaks?
• Yes, Jon Beason, that's a penalty, and I expect the Carolina linebacker will be getting fined by the NFL this week. Hitting the Saints' Marques Colston in that situation is the very definition of the defenseless receiver rule the league has decided to make a point of emphasis this year.
• Two things are quickly apparent in the wake of the Giants' 41-7 thrashing of Seattle:
1. The Giants really are the class of the NFC at midseason. New York has won five in a row and its 6-2 record is more impressive than Atlanta's 6-2. This is a Giants team that's starting to look like it has clear-cut Super Bowl potential.
2. And I don't think Matt Hasselbeck has anything to worry about regarding his grasp of the Seattle starting quarterback job. Hasselbeck missed the game against New York due to a concussion, but his replacement, Charlie Whitehurst, was underwhelming to say the least. Whitehurst's stock just dropped faster than any quarterback in Washington this side of Jake Locker. Whitehurst was just 12 of 23 for 113 yards and two interceptions in his first NFL start, giving Seattle no reason so far to think it picked San Diego's pocket via trade last spring.
• Have we ever made it to the first week of November before without a bad-weather game or two in the NFL? We had some pregame and early game rain here in Oakland, but other than that it's been a pretty non-eventful season on the weather-event front.
• Here's hoping Randy Moss had a restful weekend off,wherever he chose to spend it. After the wideout was told goodbye by two teams in less than a month, I can't think of anyone who ever needed a bye more than Moss.