Musings, observations and the occasional Week 8 insight as we take in an NFL Sunday chock full of both tricks and treats ...
• After a close win at Denver two weeks ago, Rex Ryan bragged that his 5-1 Jets were the NFL's best team headed into their Week 7 bye. But he won't be making that case again this week.
New York apparently wanted at least one more week off from the looks of things Sunday in the windy Meadowlands. There wasn't a more surprising Week 8 outcome than Green Bay's 9-0 defeat of the sluggish Jets, and the ramifications of that result wound up changing the equations atop divisions in both the AFC and NFC.
The injury-plagued Packers, who finally are living up to some of their preseason hype, vaulted into sole possession of first place in the NFC North, improving to 5-3, a half-game better than 4-3 Chicago. In snapping their NFL-best five-game winning streak, the Jets lost at home for the second time this season and fell into second place in the AFC East, a game behind the resurgent Patriots (6-1), who beat Minnesota 28-18 in Foxboro.
New York's defense showed up to play, holding Green Bay's offense to just three Mason Crosby field goals. But quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense went cold, turning the ball over three times in Packers' territory and suffering New York's first shutout since mid-November 2006.
After having no picks in his first five games this season, Sanchez has two in each of his past two games, although neither on Sunday were really his fault. Packers cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson smartly wrested the ball away from Jets pass-catchers Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller on a pair of pivotal plays, and New York couldn't recover from its mistakes.
On Woodson's pick-pocketing of Keller in the third quarter, the Jets couldn't even challenge the call because Ryan had used both of New York's challenges in the first half and was out of bullets on the replay review front. Ryan also burned his team's three second-half timeouts too early, which hampered the Jets' late-game comeback efforts.
The Jets have winnable games at Detroit (2-5) and Cleveland (2-5) the next two weeks, so another winning streak might be about to start. But in a matchup that was at least a potential Super Bowl pairing, New York was out-played by a short-handed Packers team that showed more intensity and resourcefulness than the Jets.
For Green Bay, its modest two-game winning streak should grow to three with next week's Sunday night home game against the reeling Cowboys. At 6-3, and then getting their bye in Week 10, the Packers might be well-positioned to replicate their torrid second-half run of last year, when they went 7-1 and made the playoffs after a disappointing 4-4 first half.
• In a game that featured both New York's Darrelle Revis and Green Bay's Charles Woodson, the best cornerback on the field Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., was the Packers' Tramon Williams. That's right. Tramon Williams. The fourth-year veteran is having an outstanding season, and people around the league are starting to notice. Little wonder that Packers general manager Ted Thompson recently began trying to sign Williams to a long-term contract extension.
Williams had his third interception of the season on Sunday, and it was his third pick in the past four games. He also recovered a key Jets fumble to thwart another New York drive. Williams has started all eight games in a Packers secondary that has had to overcome an injury to rookie safety Morgan Burnett, and play without rehabbing veterans Al Harris and Atari Bigby (both of whom remain on PUP).
So far, even with Clay Matthews' standout season on the sack front, Williams has been Green Bay's most valuable defender.
• After a week of everyone being focused on his left ankle, it wasn't that injury that drove Brett Favre to the bench in Minnesota loss at New England. It was that fourth-quarter shot to the chin delivered by Patriots defensive lineman Myron Pryor that knocked him out and put Tarvaris Jackson under center.
We only know Favre took eight stitches, but if it's just a laceration and not a broken jaw, it'll be interesting once again to see how Vikings head coach Brad Childress plays it. If he wants to start Jackson next week at home against Arizona, he'll have to make the case that Favre's cumulative health issues are too much for him to overcome at this point.
Because otherwise, Favre didn't play badly at all against the Patriots, certainly not poorly enough to be benched due to ineffectiveness. He was 22-of-32 for 259 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception that wasn't all his fault. As I suspected all week, Favre played and moved around well enough on his injured ankle. But now Favre has given Childress yet another potential reason to consider ending his NFL-record starting streak.
Your move, Chilly.
• Are Vince Young and Kerry Collins going to wind up switching places all season long in Tennessee? Collins again took over for the injured Young in the fourth quarter, after Young left the game with a left ankle/heel injury that occurred in a non-contact situation.
Collins couldn't quite rally the Titans, who fell 33-25 at San Diego, and now Young gets his team's bye week to try to recover. One thing is clear: Tennessee missed receiver Kenny Britt on Sunday. Britt pulled his hamstring and left the game late in the first quarter. Britt had a career-best seven -catch, 225-yard, three-touchdown game last week in a win over Philadelphia.
• Break up the Raiders. Oakland hung 59 points on Denver last week, and followed up with a 33-3 homefield beatdown of 4-2, NFC West-leading Seattle on Sunday. The Raiders bountiful offensive talent is finally stepping up, and at 4-4, Oakland is suddenly in second place in the AFC West, just 1½ game behind the first-place Chiefs (5-2).
Look out for the Darren McFadden-led Raiders in the season's second half. Maybe I knew what I was doing when I picked Oakland as my second AFC wild-card qualifier.
• Should we really be all that surprised that Mike Shanahan yanked Donovan McNabb late in the Redskins' loss at Detroit?
OK, maybe opting for Rex Grossman over anyone is a bit of a shock, but the reality is McNabb's first season in D.C. has been far short of spectacular. He has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions, with a passer rating in the mid-70s. Nothing special about those numbers, no matter how many NFC title games he has played in.
And it was McNabb's late interception in Washington territory that sparked Detroit's comeback 37-25 win, with the Lions scoring the game's final 17 points. It's bizarre to hear Shanahan explain the move by saying Grossman's grasp of the Redskins' two-minute offense is better than McNabb's, but I think Shanahan wanted to make the move and invented the reasoning to do so. And I guess now we know definitively why the Redskins haven't been hell-bent on trying to sign McNabb to a long-term contract extension. It could be a one-and-done in Washington for No. 5.
Go figure these rollercoaster 4-4 Redskins. They win at Philadelphia, beat Green Bay at home, and take down the Bears last week in Chicago. But they get killed at St. Louis and can't handle the 1-5 Lions on the road.
• If you're a Lions fan, Sunday was maybe a turning point-type of day, because you could see the future. And it looks bright indeed. Quarterback Matthew Stafford returns to the lineup for the first time since Week 1 and throws four touchdown passes. Big-play receiver Calvin Johnson hauls down a career-best three touchdown catches en route to a nine-reception, 101-yard showing. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew catches Stafford's other touchdown pass, and rookie Ndamukong Suh contributes two of the Lions' six sacks and a 17-yard game-capping touchdown on a fumble recovery.
How's that for first-round impact, Detroit? All four of the Lions' stars of the game were drafted in the first round since 2007.
• News flash: It's an astounding development for a team that won only six games total in the past three seasons, but at midseason, nobody in the NFL has more wins at home than the 4-4 Rams. St. Louis is an impressive 4-1 at the Edward Jones Dome this year, with a four-game home winning streak since losing narrowly to Arizona in the opener. Even more surprising? The Rams' four home wins have been by a margin of 11 points per game.
It's no secret why St. Louis is relevant again. Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford has given the Rams everything you could hope for when taking a quarterback first overall. Bradford was a crisp 25-of-32 for 191 yards and two touchdowns in St. Louis's efficient 20-10 win over Carolina on Sunday. It was the fourth time this season Bradford has thrown for two touchdowns in a game, and he hasn't thrown an interception in three consecutive starts.
• How weak was the NFL's Week 8 schedule? Of the 11 games played Sunday afternoon, just one of them -- Packers at Jets -- featured a pair of winning teams. And Green Bay won that game 9-0 in a defensive dominated affair that was easily the league's lowest-scoring game of the week.
Five of the six teams that took their bye in Week 8 idled the weekend away with a winning record (Giants, Eagles, Bears, Falcons and Ravens).
• What more can you say about the pathetic Cowboys that hasn't already been said? This is an inherently flawed team that needs to be dismantled as quickly as possibly next offseason, from the top down. Jerry Jones says Wade Phillips will be his head coach all season, and I believe him because there's no move that can save this season for Dallas anyway.
The Cowboys talked big all year about becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl on their own home field, but due to unforeseen circumstances (namely, they stink), now they've got a new focus: Can Dallas actually go winless at home as a Super Bowl host city? After losing twice at home inside of a week, the 1-6 Cowboys are now 0-4 at Jerry World and coming apart at the seams.
The Week 2 loss to the Bears at Cowboys Stadiums was a calamity for Dallas. The self-destruction against visiting Tennessee in Week 5 caused the Cowboys to start hitting the panic button. But after the Giants took them apart Monday night in a 41-35 game that wasn't as close as the score indicated, and the Jaguars humiliated them 35-17 on Sunday, the only thing the Cowboys can go for now is a perfect 0-8 in their $1-billion-plus ballpark.
• Not that the Cowboys stuck a stamp on it and mailed in their effort against Jacksonville, but keep in mind the Jaguars last week gave up 42 points in a loss at Kansas City. But Jacksonville held Dallas to just 17 points, and only a field goal when it really mattered (it was 28-3 after three quarters).
The Cowboys some how made a big-time NFL quarterback out of David Garrard, who threw for a career-best four touchdowns after missing last week's game against the Chiefs following his Week 6 concussion. Garrard started the game 10-of-10 in passing, and Jacksonville got touchdowns from four players to humiliate Dallas.
• The Dolphins won yet again on the road and are now 4-0 away from home, but how can Tony Sparano's club stay in the AFC East race if no one but kicker Dan Carpenter ever scores? Carpenter had five more field goals for Miami, and he's a ridiculous 13-of-13 in the Dolphins' past three games.
Miami scored one touchdown in its 22-14 win at Cincinnati, on a short Ricky Williams goal-line dive, but the Dolphins have just 11 total touchdowns in seven games this season. In the past three weeks, Miami has notched only four touchdowns to go with their 13 field goals.
• The Bengals went fully to sleep in the second half at home against Miami, and their 22-14 loss to the road-loving Dolphins pretty much seals the deal in Cincinnati this season. The 2-5 Bengals just weren't up to the task of defending their surprise 2009 AFC North championship, and both the tougher first-place schedule and loftier expectations got to Marvin Lewis's underachieving club.
Believe it or not, Cincinnati hasn't put together back-to-back playoff seasons since 1981-82 in the Forrest Gregg coaching era, and the Bengals have never made the playoffs twice in a row in two full, non-strike seasons.
• You can't fault the Terrell Owens signing in Cincy this summer, but what a complete non-factor the other half of the Batman and Robin tandem has been in 2010. Chad Ochocinco had just three catches for 34 yards against Miami, and his 39 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns this season have provided little impact. In five of his past six games, Ochocinco has totaled either three or four catches, with no touchdowns in those games.
Not much to tweet about if you're the king of the NFL's Twitter universe.
• At 36, Owens, however, keeps doing his part for the Bengals, who just dropped their fourth game in a row. Owens had two more touchdown catches against Miami -- one of the gift variety, when it bounced off Dolphins cornerback Chris Clemons -- and he has now scored five times in those four Cincinnati losses. In the past four games, T.O. has caught 31 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns.
• What a thriller the good folks of London sat through Sunday at Wembley Stadium. It was 3-0 49ers at the half, and you figure the fans on hand had watched soccer games that featured more offense than that. The Broncos and 49ers in the first half combined for eight punts and just 247 yards of offense. That's not going to help the NFL sell the "other football'' in Europe.
The 49ers, led by new starting quarterback Troy Smith, rallied to 21 fourth-quarter points and a 24-16 win over Denver, but I wouldn't start talking playoffs again if I were San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary. When two bad teams square off in the NFL, one of them has to win.
• In retrospect, I should have known better than to pick San Francisco to win the NFC West this season. Never mind Singletary's incompetence as a head coach, the 49ers' roster still features veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, and there is no greater kiss of death for a team's playoff chances in the NFL.
Spikes is in his 13th NFL season, and he's playing for his fourth franchise, and he has never made the playoffs. Not for five years in Cincinnati, four years in Buffalo, one year in Philadelphia, and now three years in San Francisco (yeah, we're going out on a limb, Jed York be damned, and considering the 49ers' playoff hopes all but finished). In fact, the only winning team Spikes has ever played for was the 2004 Bills, who went 9-7 but missed the postseason by one game.
• The Chiefs are absolutely for real, because any team that plays defense and runs the ball like they do has a heck of a winning formula. At least in the regular season, before the playoffs tend to increase the importance of scoring more and, thus, using the passing game.
Kansas City topped 200 yards rushing for the third game in a row (274 yards), and Jamaal Charles was a one-man tour de force for the Chiefs, with 177 yards rushing on 22 carries and 61 more receiving on four receptions.
• The best thing I can say about the Bills is they're maybe the finest winless team I've seen in quite some time. Buffalo is 0-7, but it plays almost everyone tough. The Bills made the first-place Chiefs work almost five quarters for that 13-10 overtime win in Kansas City, and that was after Buffalo lost by three points in overtime last week at Baltimore.
Chan Gailey's guys haven't quit, like the Wade Phillips-coached Cowboys. The Bills have lost at home by five points to Miami, and by just eight points at New England. And where it not for that well-timed Todd Haley timeout call on Rian Lindell's 53-yard field goal try in overtime, Buffalo would have finally had a victory to show for all of its efforts.
• It's true the Bucs lost badly at home to Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but it's still time to start taking Tampa Bay seriously. By winning 38-35 at Arizona, the Bucs improved to 5-2 and tied Atlanta (5-2) for first place in the NFC South.
And, the more you watch Josh Freeman, the more you realize Tampa Bay's first-round pick in 2009 has come a very long way in the span of his first 16 career starts.
• Speaking of covering a lot of ground in the past year, Tampa Bay rookie running back LeGarrette Blount has traveled as far as anyone with his particular experience in 2009-10. The Bucs got 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries from Blount against the Cardinals -- his first NFL career 100-yard rushing game -- and he looks like the lead runner that Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris will be riding in the weeks ahead.
• What a disaster the post-Kurt Warner era has been for Arizona at quarterback. Rookie Max Hall got benched Sunday against Tampa Bay, and he now has five interceptions and just one touchdown pass in his three starts. The ex-BYU standout might be a good story, but he's apparently not ready to handle the Cardinals starting job. Both his interceptions against the Bucs were returned for touchdowns, and you can't throw multiple pick-sixes and expect to stay in the game.
So Arizona went back to veteran Derek Anderson to finish out the game against Tampa Bay, but he too threw a pair of interceptions in his relief stint.
John Skelton, anyone?