Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we absorb an unforgettable, and in some cases unfathomable, Week 6 in the NFL.....
• Well, well, well, maybe all isn't lost in Philadelphia after all. That was your basic season-saving win for the Eagles at Washington Sunday -- at least for now -- and the 20-13 outcome went a long way toward restoring a bit of order in the NFC East, where all four teams remain bunched within two games of each other top to bottom.
You can't overestimate how much Philadelphia desperately needed that one. For the embattled Eagles, it was the difference between being 1-5 and trailing 4-1 Washington by a fat 3.5 games, or riding into their bye week with a bit of momentum at 2-4, just two games behind the now first-place Giants (4-2).
A loss to the Redskins, which would have been Philadelphia's fifth straight, and the Eagles' downward spiral might never have been broken. The vultures would have continued to circle over Andy Reid's head, and the next two weeks would have been used to write his coaching obituary in the city he has toiled in for 13 years now.
But don't drop that hammer just yet, because Reid and his underachieving Eagles aren't finished. Far from it. Not only did Philadelphia stop the bleeding with its first win since opening day in St. Louis, but also the Eagles might just be about to get healthy again. After the bye comes a three-game home stand, the kind that has the potential to turn a once-lost season all the way around.
Philadelphia will face Dallas (2-3), Chicago (2-3) and Arizona (1-4) in Weeks 8-9-10, with another home game, against New England, looming in Week 12. That's four of their next five games coming at home, and the Eagles can at least enter that stretch coming off their first division win since pulling off that miraculous comeback at New Meadowlands Stadium last December. Take at least three of those four at home and the "Dream Team'' can legitimately fantasize about salvaging the mess-in-the-making that 2011 appeared to be as Week 6 opened.
Maybe all Michael Vick and Co. needed was to play in Washington again, where the Eagles have won 10 out of their past 12 games. Remember, FedEx Field was the site of Vick's tour de force performance a year ago on that Monday night in Week 10 -- when he ascended back to superstar status by accounting for six touchdowns in Philadelphia's jaw-dropping 59-28 win. Vick didn't need to do anything nearly that astounding this time, but he came through with a very solid 18 of 31 passing day, for 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also picked up some key yards with his feet, supplementing a strong LeSean McCoy-led Eagles rushing game with 54 yards on seven carries.
Besides Vick, Philadelphia got strong games from several of its glitziest playmakers on offense (McCoy ran for 126 yards and a touchdown; receiver Jeremy Maclin had five catches for 101 yards), and the vilified Eagles defense held Washington to just 287 total yards, 42 yards rushing, 1 of 10 on third downs, and intercepted Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman four times. Free safety Kurt Coleman, just re-inserted in the lineup on Sunday, had three of those picks, leading the defensive charge. That ought to help new Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo sleep a little better for the next two weeks.
So now there's suddenly a little hope in Philly. The Eagles didn't blow a 20-3 halftime lead this time -- like they did two weeks ago at home against the 49ers -- and they didn't sink to new depths with another fourth-quarter meltdown. They won in tough and impressive fashion, and at least for this week started resembling the talented team almost everyone favored to win the NFC East. We should have all seen this one coming against the Redskins, because the Eagles roster is simply too good and too deep to look that bad for weeks on end.
As bad as 2011 has been in Philadelphia, a turnaround was bound to happen sooner or later. The Eagles just hope it came soon enough to matter. A season that appeared to be in peril is not over yet. The Eagles are breathing again, and the race in the NFC East is still a four-team affair.
Settle down, gentlemen. Both of you. Without knowing exactly what Harbaugh said to his fellow intense and tightly-wound head coach as they shook hands, it certainly looked like Schwartz overreacted in the heat of an emotional moment, after a difficult and last-minute defeat. Both Harbaugh and Schwartz have turnaround teams that are going places, and they've done great work in instilling some much-needed fire and dedication into their organizations. But you can go overboard and lose perspective on game days, and that looks to be the case here at first glance. Who knows, maybe Harbaugh asked Schwartz: "What's your deal?''
Somewhat sadly, the postgame coaches' handshake has become a must-see event after NFL games in recent years, and that's not a good development. But something set Schwartz off, and I have a feeling he's going to be lighter in the wallet because of it. Look for the NFL to dip into his paycheck in reaction to his overreaction. As for Harbaugh, Captain Intensity, lighten up on the handshake, Jimbo. When you win, try to act like you've been there before, because you have.
As for the 49ers' upset of the Lions, not the Schwartz being upset at Harbaugh undercard, the Lions finally paid the price for once again trailing at halftime. This was the fourth consecutive game that Detroit faced a deficit at intermission, and you can't get away with that particular routine forever. The Lions beat the Vikings, Cowboys and Bears despite trailing at halftime, but another slow start and being down 12-10 to San Francisco after two quarters contributed to Detroit's first loss of the season.
The Lions are still in great shape at 5-1, but they clearly haven't arrived to the point where they can bank on digging out of a halftime hole each and every week. Detroit was just reminded that it's a 60-minute game, and you've got to play start to finish.
• But give it up for the 49ers, who haven't been 5-1 since 1998, when Steve Young was still throwing passes to Jerry Rice. San Francisco made a ton of mistakes in Detroit -- committing 15 penalties for a whopping 120 yards -- but still found a way to take another huge step in its renaissance season under Harbaugh. The 49ers practiced with 7-foot loudspeakers around their field last week to try to prepare for Ford Field's din, but it really didn't help, because they committed three first-quarter false starts.
One of the real stars of San Francisco's winning effort was running back Frank Gore, who had a remarkable 121 yards after just six carries on Sunday, and finished with a season-best 141 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts. Gore had a 55-yard run, and another 46-yard gain, setting up his 1-yard scoring run. After a slow start to his season, Gore is looking like one of the NFL's best running backs once again.
• Between the Schwartz-Harbaugh dust-up, the FOX cameras catching Packers A.J. Hawk flipping the bird at his own sideline, and the Sean Payton knee injury on the Saints sideline, it was without a doubt the most eventful and surreal Sunday of the 2011 regular season.
As for Hawk, I don't know what he was thinking. He said it was some sort of inside joke to his own teammates, coming after he had registered a sack of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. He is after all a member of the bird family, I suppose, with a last name like Hawk. Or did he just feel like underlining the fact that Green Bay is the league's last undefeated team, and has further entrenched itself in the No. 1 slot of the SI.com NFL Power Rankings?
Then there's Payton, who reportedly broke his knee and tore his MCL when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham slammed into him on the New Orleans sideline at Tampa Bay. It was shades of Packers head coach Dan Devine breaking his leg on Green Bay's sideline in his first game with the team, in 1971's season opener, and it's a wonder that sort of things doesn't happen more often given the sideline proximity to the high-speed action in the case of all non-uniform personnel.
Has any NFL team ever had to put its head coach on season-ending IR?
• We all re-learned one of life's great truths in Washington's loss to the Eagles on Sunday: The more Rex Grossman plays, the more he looks like, well, Rex Grossman. But the Redskins just climbed off the Rex rollercoaster, which has headed steadily downward after his strong first two games of the season, replacing Grossman with backup quarterback John Beck. I would be shocked if Beck didn't start next week at Carolina.
Grossman was pathetic against the Eagles, throwing four interceptions and going 9 of 22 for 143 yards overall. Beck at least gave Washington a bit of a spark, leading the Redskins to their only touchdown drive of the game, in the fourth quarter, and finishing 8 of 15 for 117 yards. Don't forget, Mike and Kyle Shanahan saw Beck as the team's eventual starter any way. It just took until Week 6 for the Redskins to see the turnover-prone Grossman we've all come to know over the years.
• So what happened to that vaunted Redskins running game? Everybody gouges the Eagles on the ground, but Washington could muster only 42 yards on 14 carries, with Ryan Torain "leading'' the way with just 22 yards on 10 carries, with a long gain of six yards. Rookie Roy Helu added a mere six yards on his two rushes, and Beck was actually the team's most effective rusher with two carries for 14 yards, including a 12-yard scoring scramble. Tim Hightower was in uniform but has a shoulder issue of some sort, and didn't carry the ball.
• If I didn't know any better, after watching that ridiculous Pierre Garcon lateral attempt -- the one Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap recovered and returned 35 yards for a game-sealing touchdown -- I'd think the Colts are trying to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes instead of some football games this season.
• OK, I give up. If Nate Burleson's catch was a touchdown for the Lions on Sunday, and Calvin Johnson's catch wasn't a touchdown for the Lions in last year's opener at Chicago, I have no earthly idea what constitutes a catch in the NFL any more.
And apparently neither do the league's officials, starting with referee Mike Carey, who called the 49ers-Lions game. That is one unbelievably ridiculous rule. Don't get me wrong. I think both Johnson and Burleson scored touchdowns and made good catches. But to rule one a catch and the other a non-catch, when they were basically identical plays, only further confuses an entirely confusing rule.
• I don't quite know which Tampa Bay team to buy into; the one that got hammered by 45 points at San Francisco last week, or the one that responded with a superb effort to defeat the visiting Saints on Sunday? But good teams find a way to bounce back after embarrassments, and the Bucs did that and then some against New Orleans.
Tampa Bay coaxed the Saints into five turnovers, including three Drew Brees interceptions. But the Bucs offense was no mere bystander in the win, with quarterback Josh Freeman contributing 303 yards passing and two touchdowns without an interception, and running back Earnest Graham rumbling for 109 yards rushing in place of the injured LeGarrette Blount.
You have to give Bucs head coach Raheem Morris considerable credit for having his team ready to play against the previously 4-1 Saints, especially after the loss to the 49ers could have shaken Tampa Bay's self-confidence. The Bucs have lost to the Lions and 49ers this year, two very good teams, but they've still found a way to scratch out a 4-2 start, and grab the NFC South lead. Given Sunday's head-to-head meeting, Tampa Bay is atop New Orleans at the moment, and it'll take that momentum-builder into next week's trip to face the struggling Bears in London.
• Does anyone need on-the-trading-block Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd more than the receiver-starved Rams? Uh, no. Not even close. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford just doesn't have enough options, and the loss of his security-blanket receiver, Danny Amendola, to a season-ending elbow injury has really hurt Bradford and the Rams this season.
Whatever it takes, Rams, do the deal with Denver and get the Lloyd-Josh McDaniels reunion underway.
• With the possible exception of the last-place and going nowhere Rams, there's no team I misjudged more than the Bengals. That would be the 4-2 Bengals, who have already matched their season win total from all of 2010. I had Cincinnati being the worst team in the NFL this season, but I was misinformed.
Not only are the Bengals playing .667 ball entering their Week 7 bye, but also they play a winnable game at Seattle in Week 8 coming out of their break. I'm incredibly impressed with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton so far, and he keeps getting better by the week. Dalton started off a cool 18 of 22 for 201 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Colts, and he stayed pretty hot, finishing 25 of 32 for 264 yards, with one touchdown and no picks.
At what point might Dalton's production even over-take the statistics being put up this season by fellow rookie quarterback Cam Newton? So far, on the only scoreboard that really matters, the Bengals own four wins and the Panthers are 1-5.
• Hey, what's wrong with the Packers? Aaron Rodgers only connected with seven receivers in Green Bay's easy home-field conquest of winless St. Louis, not an even dozen like he did last week at Atlanta. Who really cares who gets the ball in the Packers offense? Because everybody does, all the time.
• The Falcons really had to have that win over visiting Carolina, just to keep alive the idea that they have some sort of home-dome advantage. Atlanta was just 1-1 this season in the Georgia Dome, and going back to the end of last season and in the playoffs, the Falcons had lost three of their past five home games before Sunday. Another defeat before the hometown fans and things would have started getting very, very ugly.
• Now that was the dominating Giants defensive line we know and love, making its presence felt when New York needed it most. The Giants sacked Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times in their huge win over the visiting Bills, and emerging New York defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul deflected Fitzpatrick's final pass on 4th-and-5 from the Buffalo 25 to lock down the win.
If that doesn't impress you sufficiently, consider that Buffalo had allowed just four sacks in its first five games this season.
• That "Just Win, Baby'' stuff is really starting to work once again in Oakland. The Raiders lost quarterback Jason Campbell to a reported broken collarbone, but it didn't keep them from beating Cleveland 24-17 and improving to 4-2. Oakland got a respectable relief outing out of backup Kyle Boller (he's still in the league?) and even scored on a 35-yard fake-field goal pass from punter/holder Shane Lechler to tight end Kevin Boss.
Who needs a quarterback when you've got an entire franchise inspired to new heights by the memory of former team owner Al Davis?
• That was a narrow escape by the Patriots at home against Dallas, but it's just another example of how tough a Rob Ryan-coached defense can make it on New England's superstar quarterback, Tom Brady. The Cowboys sacked Brady three times and picked him off twice, and No. 12 has seen this act before. Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan held the same job in Cleveland last year, and his Browns defense roughed up Brady in that huge 34-14 Week 9 upset of the Patriots.
Brady just went 2-0 against the Ryan brothers this year -- counting last week's victory over the Jets in Foxboro -- and there's still another meeting to go, Week 10 in New Jersey.
• Funny, but after watching the entire Week 6 afternoon schedule play out, if you would have told me an NFL head coach wound up getting hurt in the line of action this Sunday, I would have guessed his last name would have been Harbaugh or Schwartz, but not Payton.