Palmer, Ponder have very different days in their debuts; more Snaps
MIAMI -- Musings, observations, and the occasional insight from an eventful Week 7 in the NFL.....
• The juxtaposition of a couple new quarterback faces in new places couldn't have been much starker Sunday than it was in the case of Christian Ponder in Minnesota and Carson Palmer in Oakland. Ponder, the Vikings' rookie, looked more than ready for his close-up in his first career start, keeping Minnesota in the game all day long against the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. The Vikings lost 33-27, but Ponder flashed real promise and poise in taking over for the benched Donovan McNabb.
As for Palmer, well how do you like the Bengals' half of last week's blockbuster trade now? The Raiders' new quarterback entered the game in a very tough spot on Sunday, with Oakland trailing visiting Kansas City 21-0 in the third quarter and playing without the injured Darren McFadden and Sebastian Janikowski. But the former Cincinnati starter did nothing but make a bad situation worse, throwing half of Oakland's six interceptions in a horrendous relief outing. Palmer finished just 8 of 21 in the Raiders' 28-0 loss, including a pick-six to cornerback Brandon Flowers.
Early returns can be deceiving, of course, but if anyone thought the Palmer trade made the Raiders unbeatable in the AFC West, they have likely been convinced otherwise. Palmer's game sported a heavy layer of rust, which is no doubt why Raiders head coach Hue Jackson opted to start Kyle Boller ahead of him. But when Boller tanked with three first-half interceptions, including his own pick-six, in came Palmer, ready or not.
Somewhere Jason Campbell must have been smiling. Campbell has no future with the team now that Palmer is in town, but at least he can take satisfaction in not having presided over any quarterbacking disasters like Oakland just got from Boller and Palmer. The Raiders now have a bye in Week 8, so maybe they can get their new quarterback fully up to speed before a Week 9 home game against Denver.
As for Ponder, his final stats didn't look all that eye-opening -- 13 of 32 for 219 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions -- but he more than passed the eyeball test as a legitimate NFL starter, and his presence gave the Minnesota offense a spark. His ability to throw on the run is going to come in handy playing behind that shaky offensive line, and his starting debut made Minnesota look prescient for spending the 12th overall pick on him in April's draft.
It was just one week, but the move to Ponder paid off quicker in Minnesota than the move to Palmer did in Oakland.
• So much for the notion of a lost season in Kansas City. The Chiefs are surprisingly thriving again after their miserable 0-3 start, and that upset of the Raiders provided the exclamation point to what is now a three-game winning streak.
Even without injured tight end Tony Moeaki and injured running back Jamaal Charles, both of whom have been lost for the season, Kansas City is finding consistent ways to move the ball and score points. The K.C. defense contributed those pair of interception returns for touchdowns against the Raiders, but the Chiefs offense is getting strong running from Jackie Battle (76 yards on 16 carries), and enough in the receiving department from the combination of Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston (who combined for 11 catches for 140 yards). Even first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin made his regular season debut on Sunday, grabbing one pass for 14 yards.
I think it's safe to say we can take Chiefs head coach Todd Haley off the hot seat watch list for now. If Kansas City can beat visiting San Diego next Monday night at Arrowhead, the Chiefs would be in a three-way tie with Oakland and the Chargers for first place in the AFC West at 4-3.
• I think Cowboys running back Felix Jones might get all the time he needs -- and then some -- to heal the high ankle sprain that caused him to miss Sunday's game against St. Louis. Rookie DeMarco Murray ripped off a franchise-record 253 yard rushing game against the outclassed Rams, or 182 yards more than he totaled in the first five games of his NFL career. Dallas beat St. Louis 34-7, the first time in 12 games the Cowboys' final score wasn't by a margin of four points or fewer.
I wonder if Jones knows yet that he's been Wally Pipp-ed?
• I say Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo was just asking for trouble when he took his players to watch the Cardinals pound the Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series Saturday night in Arlington, just hours before St. Louis was to play the Cowboys next door.
The Cardinals trounced Texas 16-7 behind three Albert Pujols home runs, taking a 2-1 lead in the Series. That meant the St. Louis baseball team outscored the St. Louis football team, because the Rams could only manage seven points in their 34-7 loss to Dallas.
• Well I don't know why we should be surprised by Plaxico Burress and his big three-touchdown game in the Jets' win over the Chargers. Plax did tell us the other day that New York's offense was primed to "go through the roof.'' He was obviously channeling his inner Joe Namath and making a prediction of sorts.
• I'm not ready to call the Jets' win a season-saver, but they do look to be trending in the right direction at 4-3 after winning a second consecutive week in the wake of that three-game losing streak. New York is a perfect 4-0 at home this season, but 0-3 on the road. It was the Jets' first win over a legitimate playoff contender, and that they rallied from a 21-10 deficit to beat the Chargers was even more impressive.
But now New York faces a tough stretch of key division games after their Week 8 bye. The Jets are at Buffalo in Week 9, home against New England in Week 10, and home against the Bills in Week 12. Those are the games that should make or break New York's season.
• I was at the Broncos-Miami game, and I'm still not sure how Denver got out of town with that comeback overtime win. Now I know why Tim Tebow's first start of the season defied belief. According to the NFL, the Broncos were the first team since 1970 to come from behind and win a game after trailing by 15 or more points with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Wow. That's 41 years of history the Broncos somehow overcame.
• That has to be about it for Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, doesn't it? Blowing a 15-0 lead at home in the final three minutes, en route to losing 18-15 in overtime? Miami (0-6) might as well put Sparano out of his misery, because even he knows the gig is up in South Florida. The Fish's losing streak stands at nine games, dating to late 2010.
Owner Stephen Ross could pull the trigger as soon as this week, but if not, another embarrassment by the Dolphins next week at the Giants would likely prove fatal to Sparano's job security. Ross is from the New York/New Jersey area and I'm pretty sure he'll have plenty of friends and family at the game. It wouldn't be wise for Sparano's team to lay another egg next week.
• Maybe everyone is just a tad too wound up these days in the NFC North. It was going to take a lot to top last week's postgame handshake drama in Detroit, but Vikings defensive end Brian Robison gave it a shot at the Metrodome, kicking Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang in the groin Sunday after a second-quarter Mason Crosby field goal of 39 yards.
Robison was penalized, and later said he regrets having kicked Lang in anger. Lang didn't seem to do anything to deserve that kind of cheap shot, other than block Robison onto his back during the field goal try. Lang said he's OK, but hopes the NFL treats Robison's kick the same it would a punch, levying a fine in response. We'll see. After the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz dust-up was ruled "not a fight'' by the league, who knows which way it will rule?
And that wasn't the only controversy to come out of the NFC North on Sunday. A couple Falcons players, Roddy White among them, accused Lions defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril of taunting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan while he was injured and down on the Ford Field turf in the third quarter. Ryan missed just two plays with a left knee or ankle injury, but according to White and Atlanta center Todd McClure, both Lions taunted Ryan while he was down, saying "Get the cart.''
Can't we all just get along?
• Upon further review, maybe it wasn't the greatest idea for the NFL to give Buffalo, New England, San Francisco, the Giants, Cincinnati and Philadelphia their bye weeks all at the same time. Week 7 had some serious shortcomings when it came to offensive football, and it featured a shortage of winning teams. No game featured a pair of teams with winning records coming into Sunday, and it made for brutal watching at times. If you saw it, you know exactly what I mean.
Of the 14 teams that were involved in the seven early games, 10 of them scored 10 points or fewer in the first half, and eight of those had six points or fewer. The first half of the early games were almost unwatchable in some cases, with a plethora of field goals and a paucity of touchdowns. Specifically I am speaking of that 3-0 Cleveland lead over Seattle, the 6-0 advantage Miami held over Denver and the 9-6 Carolina over Washington barn-burner. Yawners all.
• The Lions have suddenly lost their mojo, dropping two home games in a row in a three-game homestand that was supposed to propel Detroit on to bigger and better things (it went 1-2). Quarterback Matthew Stafford (15 of 32 for 183 yards) had a second consecutive so-so game in the loss to Atlanta, and the Lions, with their talented defensive front, are having a surprisingly hard time stopping the run. The Falcons ran for 129 yards against Detroit, averaging 4.2 per carry.
After losing to the 49ers and Falcons at home, the Lions don't look like the playoff locks that they did at 5-0. Next week, Detroit goes back on the road, to Denver. The Lions are 3-0 away from Ford Field. Maybe that'll help, although Stafford's late-game right leg injury has to be considered troubling and bears watching given his injury history.
• The Texans took a big step toward the first playoff berth in their 10-season history on Sunday with that 41-7 humiliation of the Titans in Nashville. Houston is only 4-3, but you have to think nobody can beat the Texans out in the AFC South. With the Colts and Jaguars nose-diving this season, the Titans were the team standing between Houston and the postseason, and that 34-point win on the road serves to distinguish just how much competition Tennessee really offers the Texans. Houston is now 2-0 in the division, while the Titans slipped to 0-2.
Houston is close to getting all-world receiver Andre Johnson back from his hamstring injury, and the next two games on its schedule are very winnable: home against Jacksonville and Cleveland. That should put the Texans at 6-3 heading into a Week 10 trip to Tampa Bay, and then comes their bye.
• If you're 3-3 Tennessee, I think you've got to think about making it Jake Locker time at this point. That strong start by Matt Hasselbeck seems like a distant memory, and he now more closely resembles the quarterback that Seattle made no real effort to keep. Hasselbeck was just 14 of 30 for 104 yards passing against Houston, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Titans replaced Hasselbeck with Locker in the fourth quarter, and the rookie completed his only pass attempt, for 12 yards. Why not give him a start next week at home against the winless Colts? Hasselbeck isn't the future anyway in Nashville, and in the past two games, both losses, he has looked every bit the 36-year-old QB beginning to hit the wall.
• Before we make the Bucs the team that annually plays a game in London, or close to annually in the NFL's plans, shouldn't we check with the British football fans first? They may not want them. Tampa Bay lost to the Bears at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night, and is now 0-2 across the pond, having gotten routed 35-7 by New England in the 2009 game.