PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of a make-or-break type of Week 8 in the NFL...
• It felt kind of like a turning point Sunday in the NFL, didn't it? Desperation was everywhere you looked. But, alas, it didn't always bring out the best in everyone. Contrary to the cliche', desperate teams don't always win in the NFL.
Take Dallas for instance. Nobody had more motivation to win than the Cowboys, who could jump right back into the thick of the NFC East race by (finally) beating the Giants (6-2) at home. The difference between going into November at 4-3 rather than 3-4 is significant. But comeback-minded Dallas couldn't quite manage it, coming up short against New York,
In Philadelphia, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But the undefeated Falcons just wound up snatching that knife away from the Eagles and using it to carve up Andy Reid's floundering team,
There was a pretty good sense of urgency in Carolina this week too, after the Panthers fired longtime general manager Marty Hurney on Monday. But the Panthers couldn't translate that jolting news into victory in Chicago on Sunday, losing a 19-7 fourth-quarter lead to fall
The news was also bad for another couple teams at a crossroads: The Chargers lost
But all the news wasn't bad when it came to the desperate in Week 8. The Lions kept their season and playoff hopes alive with a dramatic
Speaking of long-shot wild-card contenders, Miami and Indianapolis were no one's playoffs picks in early September, but they're 4-3 and very much in it as the season's third month approaches. The Colts and Dolphins stayed on the happy side of .500 with impressive road wins in Week 8, and seem to be gaining confidence every week. Indy went into Nashville and cooled down the hot Titans,
Lastly, Pittsburgh is starting to finally look like Pittsburgh (even in those garish throwback uniforms the Steelers dressed up in for Halloween). The Steelers (4-3) have won two in a row and climbed over .500 this season, courtesy of a
November starts this week, midseason is almost at hand, and you can feel things getting serious in the NFL pennant races. With a defensive coordinator (Philly's Juan Castillo) and a general manager (Hurney) already fired in recent weeks, desperation made its first real appearance of 2012 in Week 8.
• I'm not sure either Dallas or the Giants deserve to win their game on Sunday. The Cowboys fell behind 23-0 and committed six turnovers, with five of them translating into points for New York. But the Giants are a thrill-a-minute themselves, finding a way to blow that 23-0 lead, and looking pathetic on offense for much of the game. Were it not for Bryant's hand landing slightly out of bounds on that apparent game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left (video below), it would have been one of the most galling losses in New York's Tom Coughlin era.
Still, there were some remarkably watchable things about the game, none of which was more compelling than Jason Witten's career day. The Dallas tight end was targeted 21 times by Romo, and wound up catching a career-best 18 passes for 167 yards. Witten started the season by dropping passes left and right, but that slump seems eons ago.
• Give it up for the Colts, who are suddenly alone in second place in the AFC South at 4-3, two games behind first-place Houston (6-1). Beating the Titans meant Indy won its first road game of the season, after two earlier losses away from Lucas Oil. Indianapolis drove 80 yards late in regulation to tie it, and 80 yards more in overtime to win it.
Overall, the Colts have won three of four, and already they've doubled last year's win total (2-14). That they've done it with a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck and a head coach (Chuck Pagano) who's undergoing treatment for Leukemia makes it all the more impressive. Indy is far better than anyone had a right to expect this season.
• It was a much better day for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton statistically, but the 314 yards he threw for or the 37 yards he rushed for aren't going to make up for a game the Panthers should have won at Chicago. Newton wasn't totally to blame for the pick-6 interception by Tim Jennings with 6:44 left to play, since Steve Smith slipped on the play. But Newton's earlier fumble near the goal line could have cost the Panthers a touchdown if receiver Louis Murphy hadn't recovered it in the end zone.
It was a partial step forward for Newton, but the bottom line results were still lacking in Carolina. Newton at times during games is still struggling with his throwing mechanics, with poor footwork affecting his accuracy. He has to throw his way out of it, but he's a little like a pitcher who has lost the feel of his delivery and looks out of sync.
On the good news front, the Bears' defensive touchdown trend is getting ridiculous. Jennings' touchdown interception return against Newton was the sixth of the season in Chicago -- breaking the 2004 team record in just seven games. When the Bears score on defense, they always seem to win.
New England is off this week, but then gets Buffalo and Indy back to back at home, with trips to the Jets and Dolphins to follow. You have to like the Pats' chances to win at least three of those games, and that would put them 8-4 and in the drivers seat in the AFC East heading into the final quarter of the season. A 10th division title in the past 12 years should be on the way in New England.
• Was that a
• After Green Bay struggled to beat Jacksonville (1-6) at home, I think it's fair to say the Packers seem to play up or down to the level of their competition. The Jaguars have given a few teams good battles this season, but Green Bay dismantled the AFC South's first-place team at Houston two weeks ago, but barely hung on against the last-place Jaguars.
A tip of the cap to Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who played through that injury to his non-throwing shoulder and still wound up with more than 300 yards passing, a touchdown pass and no interceptions. Gabbert has had a rollercoaster ride in 2012, but he showed again Sunday why the Jaguars think he's worth the patience they've had with him.
• With all the concern over the amount of contact quarterback Robert Griffin III has absorbed during the first half of his rookie season, how in the world would the Redskins then decide to tempt fate with their franchise player and actually put him into a pass pattern as a receiver? Mind-boggling. And utterly short-sighted, especially after Steelers safety Ryan Clark got to blow up Griffin with a big hit on the incompletion.
If this keeps up, the Washington area is going to see both of its young franchise saviors -- Griffin and Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg -- fail to finish the 2012 season.
• Every time I saw the Steelers on Sunday, in those 1934-style throwback uniforms that pushed the boundary of football style, they looked like they were wearing what the bad guys wore in a 1922 silent movie. I much preferred the Bears' more conservative and classic "Monsters of the Midway'' throwback uniform combination.
• Here's the deal in San Diego: If the reeling Chargers want their Week 11 game at Denver to mean anything in the AFC West race, they've probably got to win next week at home against 1-6 Kansas City, and again at Tampa Bay in Week 10. That would make San Diego 5-4 heading into the rematch with the Broncos. But I still think Denver is a heavy, heavy favorite to put the Chargers away and cruise to the division title.
• Uh, oh, another fumble by Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. You know what that means. San Diego probably forgot to pack the sticky towels.
• If you're holding your breath waiting for Tebow Time to finally arrive in New York, it had to be tough to watch Miami beat the Jets with backup quarterback Matt Moore playing well in place of injured starter Ryan Tannehill. But I still think Rex Ryan sticks with Sanchez because he knows however inconsistent he is, he gives New York's offense the best possible chance to challenge every quadrant of the field in the passing game. Tebow does not.
• Safety Louis Delmas left the win over Seattle with a left knee injury and refuses to stay healthy for Detroit. But the Lions have to be relieved at the
Young did more than make up for the loss of injured No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson, with nine receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Beside the 1-yard game-winner, Young also scored on a 46-yarder in the second quarter. The Lions desperately need him to continue to deliver in Burleson's absence.