First and 10: Patriots get exposed in Cleveland, more early analysis
The Patriots had jumped out to a 6-1 start without playing dominant football on either side of the ball (they rank 19th overall in offense and 28th in defense), and it caught up with them in Cleveland. With no special teams or defensive touchdowns, they didn't have enough firepower to overcome a flat start against the Browns. They would hate to admit it, but their offense is vertically challenged since getting rid of Randy Moss, even though this was their first loss without him. Cleveland rookie quarterback Colt McCoy continued to show surprising poise and excellent ability to make throws on the run. With reports speculating Mike Holmgren may want to coach again next season throughout the week, Eric Mangini stepped up and had the Browns fired up against his former team. After beating the Saints in their last game and improving to 3-5, Cleveland has to have a lot of confidence right now.
Fans can say welcome back to the 2009 Vikings. After 3½ quarters of inconsistent plays, Brett Favre kicked into the next gear and scored two late TDs to tie the game. Favre had just his second 400-yard passing game in his career (446) and erased a lot of the negative energy that had been surrounding him all season. After a rough week in which he reportedly quarreled with head coach Brad Childress, a banged-up Percy Harvin had a huge afternoon with nine catches for 126 yards. And the defense finally started getting after the quarterback after not getting a sack in their last three games.
Josh Freeman looked like he was headed toward another fourth-quarter comeback, but the Bucs tripped up at the goal line late and Atlanta held on in a tough divisional battle. The Falcons did outgain the Bucs 365-278, but failed to put it away when they could have in the fourth quarter. Still, Atlanta is on top of the NFC South (6-2) and is very difficult to beat in the Georgia Dome.
The Ravens have jumped out to a rather quiet 6-2 start, but they have to be happy they played better this week against the Dolphins than they did in their overtime win over the Bills last week. Joe Flacco had nearly a perfect afternoon -- 20-for-27, 266 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs -- and Ray Rice (83 rushing yards, 97 receiving yards) is running at full strength again. And once again, Ed Reed was in the right place at the right time for a fourth-quarter interception (he was dying to lateral the ball during the return, but wisely pulled it in). The Dolphins aren't there yet. Chad Henne did not play well, with three picks, and could eventually lose his job to Chad Pennington.
Just when the Jets looked like they were in another offensive slump and the Lions appeared to be headed toward their third win in four games, New York's offense woke up and came back to post a road overtime win. Mark Sanchez showed a lot of poise, handling a heavy pass rush and not losing his cool when the game seemed over. Detroit has to be very disappointed, since the defense was dominating for most of the game and quarterback Matthew Stafford played well.
Maybe Mike Martz can change after all. The Bears offensive coordinator ran the ball 30 times and gave his offensive line a lot of confidence. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked only once and threw no picks. The defense was solid as well, and young defensive end Israel Idonije is emerging as a force. Despite all the negative headlines, the Bears are 5-3 and in the mix in the NFC North.
The Chargers improve to 4-5 and have a bye week to get all their skill-position players healthy. They're in good position to come back in the AFC West, but they still need to show more discipline. On Sunday, the defense had a rough start against Houston, especially with tackling. The Texans were just a little too banged up to keep their offense attack going in the second half.
Drew Brees ended with a good-looking stat line (27-of-43 for 253 yards, two TDs) -- but the Saints' offense still doesn't have the same rhythm as last season, in part because they've had so many injuries. But they really didn't need anywhere close to an A effort against the Panthers, who couldn't pass the ball at all until the game was out of reach. Carolina didn't help rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, continually giving him bad field position. Clausen is in a tougher spot then fellow rookies Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, but he still looks like he needs more seasoning than his draft classmates.
• Lack of depth starts to catch up to most teams at this point of the season, but you usually don't expect kicker to be a problem. But the Lions had to line up Ndamukong Suh had to fill in for Jason Hanson and missed what turned out to be a critical extra point. And Wes Welker had to fill in for Stephen Gostkowsi -- Welker hit his extra-point attempt.
• There was a point on Sunday afternoon when the Vikings look like they were done, the Jets were buried, the Bears were going to lose another tough one and the Chargers were in trouble. But Week 9 provides a swing in momentum for some teams that looked like they were struggling. Minnesota beat a mediocre Arizona team, but if the Vikes turn it around this season they'll point to Favre's late TDs as the turning point. San Diego once again appears poised for a second-half run. New York doesn't have to panic it doesn't have a quarterback, as Mark Sanchez finally got back into rhythm. And Chicago appeared to solve its most pressing problems on offense. Then again, the way this season is going, all those teams could lose their next game.