CHICAGO -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight on Week 10 in the NFL, from a wind-swept Soldier Field...
• It's November, so the Giants must be swooning. I suppose you can't even call it a surprise any more, not when it has become as familiar as Thanksgiving being held on the fourth Thursday of the month. But still, New York's latest mid-fall failure has to make you wonder what it is about Tom Coughlin's team that annually transforms itself from a winner to woeful as soon as the second half of regular season arrives.
The facts are quite well-known by now: In the nine years of the Coughlin era in New York, the Giants have never failed to have a winning record in the first eight games of the season, winning six or more games seven times, and going 5-3 the other two. But in the second half of those seasons, New York has never once matched its first-half record, six times in eight years going 4-4 or worse, and posting just two winning marks of 5-3 over the course of the final eight games.
And they're doing it again, losing their second consecutive game to an AFC North opponent on Sunday, this time in blowout fashion,
Losing 24-20 last week at home to Pittsburgh was ugly, but it was the Steelers, and their two recent Super Bowl rings match the two the Giants have won under Coughlin. But Sunday's butt-kicking was another story altogether. This was the Bengals, losers of four in a row overall, and three straight at Paul Brown Stadium.
But when the Giants set their mind to it, they can lose to anyone, and underwhelm us even when we think it nigh impossible. I've long said that for whatever reason Coughlin's teams seem like they can't stand prosperity, and need one of those "nobody said we could do it'' motivational challenges to play their best football. And in the second half of almost every season, they create one for themselves by playing bad football for a good stretch, before snapping out of it, twice in spectacular, run-the-table form late in the season and in the playoffs.
The Giants never truly collapse, and I don't expect they will again this year. But they certainly suffer a consistent second-half letdown, and the signs were there again Sunday. Giants quarterback Eli Manning had another shaky game, looking tentative and out of sync, with two more interceptions and a fumble lost, as well as four sacks taken. All told, New York had four turnovers in the second half, and the struggles on third down continue: 2 of 10 last week against Pittsburgh, 5 of 14 against Cincinnati. Even the steady Victor Cruz had a flashback to his Week 1 form, dropping a touchdown pass.
On defense, New York isn't playing with intensity or much pass rush, and we know that's the key to success on Perry Fewell's side of the ball. The Giants never sacked Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, forced just one takeaway, and allowed four Bengals pass-catchers to score touchdowns -- one of the big-play variety (a wide-open A.J. Green, from 56 yards out, on the fifth play of the game).
The Giants are fortunate, of course, that no one else in NFC East scares you this season. They'll still be the only team in the division to exit Week 10 with a winning record, taking a one-and-a-half game lead over Dallas (4-5) into their bye. But the worrisome facts are the worrisome facts: New York is a sterling 53-19 (.736) in the first half under Coughlin, and 27-39 (.409) in the second half, counting its current two-game losing streak.
And as every good Giants fan knows, the schedule is about to get serious, with Weeks 12-17 featuring home games against Green Bay (6-3), surging New Orleans (4-5), and troublesome Philadelphia (3-6), and road trips to Washington (3-6), Atlanta (8-1) and Baltimore (7-2) sprinkled in. There's not really a breather in that bunch, which is why the loss to the 4-5 Bengals stings all the more. This was one the Giants needed to put in the win column. Remember, the Eagles and Redskins haven beaten New York plenty in recent seasons.
In fairness to the Giants, their second-half schedule is always tougher for some reason under Coughlin, and I've seen the research to back it up. The teams they played in the first half of the season had a combined .397 winning percentage after Week 8. But in the second half, New York is facing opponents that went in to the season's back stretch winning more than 55 percent of their games.
Two Super Bowl rings won in the past five seasons is a telling reminder the Giants never panic. They keep playing and often get themselves out of their second-half slumps. But they also never seem to avoid the swoon in the first place, and by now it wouldn't be November without the Giants and their fans turning a familiar shade of blue.
• Well, Andy Reid has his opening if he wants it. With
You might as well keep rookie quarterback Nick Foles on the field and find out if he's the Eagles' future. Not that it's really going to help Reid at this point either way. He is out of answers in Philadelphia, and it's now just a countdown until Reid and the team he's synonymous with part ways.
• Speaking of folks on the hot seat, San Diego's Norv Turner and A.J. Smith have to lead that particular parade as we approach mid-November. The Chargers lost again, at Tampa Bay, and fell back below .500 for the second time this year. And it's not going to get any prettier in the next four weeks for San Diego, which plays at Denver next week, and also has games against Baltimore and at Pittsburgh just ahead.
• From 0-4 to wild-card playoff contention -- even in the deep NFC field -- is quite an accomplishment for the Saints. New Orleans still wakes up Monday with eight teams in the conference having better records than its 4-5, but considering where it has come from this season, slightly under .500 probably never felt so good.
And don't discount how bitter the rivalry has become with their NFC South friends from Atlanta, whom the Saints beat 31-27 to knock them from the ranks of the unbeaten. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is now 11-2 against the Falcons as a Saint, and there was that little matter of him last year ticking Atlanta off by staying in a Week 16 blowout win to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. That one left a mark.
• I missed this in
• Go ahead, Rex Ryan. Start Tim Tebow if you want to next week at the Rams. You might as well scratch that itch, even if you know it won't save the Jets' season. You've been patient with Mark Sanchez and patient with your underachieving team, but it ain't happening, for either one. Sanchez was an ineffective 9 of 22 for 124 yards, with an interception and a fumble lost in New York's 28-7 loss at Seattle. The Jets' only touchdown came on a 21-yard fumble recovery and return by defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
As for New York, the playoff talk last week was entertaining, but worthless chatter. The Jets are 3-6, and have lost six of eight after their blowout of Buffalo in Week 1.
• All ties aren't created equal, and St. Louis has to be sick about getting its half of the pie at San Francisco, when it should have had the upset victory. What a mess the Rams were in overtime of the 24-24 final. St. Louis had an illegal formation on the first play of the extra period, wiping out an 80-yard completion to Danny Amendola, and later had a game-winning 53-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal erased by a delay of game penalty. Naturally, Zuerlein missed badly from 58 yards on the re-try. I wouldn't want to be Rams special teams coach John Fassel after that game-deciding mistake.
The first tie in the NFL in almost four years (you remember, right, Donovan McNabb?) hurts the Rams more than the 49ers">49ers. San Francisco (6-2-1) remains in first place in the NFC West, ahead of 6-4 Seattle, which takes its bye this week. St. Louis is 3-5-1 and in last place in the division, and just missed a golden opportunity to improve to 3-0 in the NFC West.
• If you're Cam Newton, you know it's not a good day when your opponents are getting more opportunities to do your patented "Superman revealed'' celebration than you are. The struggling second-year Panthers quarterback didn't have many chances to bust his favorite move on Sunday against Denver, but Broncos defenders did. And linebacker Von Miller (
I have to wonder where bottom is this season in Charlotte? Carolina is 2-7 and looks all but assured of a fourth consecutive non-winning season, which would be its sixth in seven years. Newton made some plays, but he also suffered seven sacks against the Broncos, including a safety.
• Don't think for a minute that Denver head coach John Fox didn't love going back to Charlotte and keeping the Panthers' tailspin going. Fox coached nine seasons in Carolina (2002-10), and even though he downplayed his homecoming on the revenge front, his parting with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson wasn't all sweetness and light.
At 8-17 so far in the Ron Rivera coaching era, Carolina, I promise you, misses Fox a heck of a lot more than he misses it. His Broncos won the AFC West and a playoff game last season, and at 6-3, with four wins in a row, they're on their back to the postseason.
• I remember watching returner Trindon Holliday in the preseason for Houston and thinking he was the next Dante Hall, all 5-foot-5, 169 pounds of him. He is a real threat, scoring on his second long return touchdown in two weeks Sunday in Denver's win at Carolina, a 76-yard punt return to go with his 105-yard kickoff return at Cincinnati last week.
But I'm beginning to understand why the Texans might have dumped him earlier this regular season, despite his three preseason return touchdowns. He had trouble holding onto the football at times in Houston, and it kind of surfaced again versus the Panthers when
How the league's automatic review of all touchdowns missed this one, no one seems to know. But just like DeSean Jackson a few years back for the Eagles in Dallas, Holliday's gaffe was inexcusable. Why is it players can't seem to maintain possession for one split second longer before figuratively patting themselves on the back? Is it really that much cooler to flip the ball the instant you hit the goal line rather than a half-yard past it, even if you know the risk of misjudging your move?
• There are blocked punts, and then there are blocked punters, and I don't think I've ever seen a more violent punt block than the mugging endured by San Diego's Mike Scifres at Tampa Bay. I don't believe the ball got anywhere near Scifres foot, because it was essentially taken out of his hands by a Bucs punt coverage unit that flooded in before he had a chance to swing his right leg.
Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward scooped up the loose ball and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, but Scifres is lucky he didn't lose a leg.
• So much for the Dolphins being the resourceful, resilient and well-coached team we were labeling them only two short weeks ago. Miami was dismantled 37-3 at home by Tennessee, the same Titans who got humiliated 51-20 by the visiting Bears last week.
Since taking a 17-13 lead at the half in Indy last week, the Dolphins have been outscored 47-6 in their next six quarters. Hitting the wall most glaringly of late has been rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. After not throwing a pick in October, he threw three against the Titans.
And that formerly impressive Dolphins running game was pretty much a no-show against Tennessee as well, totaling just 54 yards on 15 carries, led by Reggie Bush (
• Go figure the Titans. And then let me know when you do. Tennessee team owner Bud Adams threatened some jobs last week after the home-field meltdown against the Bears, and I guess he should have tried holding his breath and throwing a fit sooner. The Titans looked like a machine against Miami, even if returning starting quarterback Jake Locker was only 9 of 21 for 122 yards passing, with two touchdowns and no picks.
Chris Johnson played like a franchise back for Tennessee, carrying 23 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. On his score, a 17-yard scamper in the first quarter that gave the Titans an early 14-0 lead, Johnson's penchant to cut every run back finally worked. He started right and then reversed field, picking his way through the Miami defense for a vintage CJ touchdown.
• I almost feel bad for every NFL running back from here on out who undergoes ACL surgery, because Adrian Peterson has become the standard for the injury's comeback timetable and productivity expectation -- and who can live up to that?
Peterson rolled to 171 yards on 27 carries in Minnesota's 34-24 defeat of Detroit, and he became the league's first 1,000-yard rusher this season, jacking his 2012 total to 1,128 yards in just 10 games (112.8 average). Peterson has 353 yards in his past two games, and against the Lions, he logged a 100-yard game in the fourth quarter alone, totaling 120 in the final 15 minutes.
Peterson sealed the game with a 61-yard touchdown burst, and now has five 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his six NFL seasons.
• No one in the league needed a solid game on Sunday more so than Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder, who tamped down the questions about him being the Vikings' future franchise guy with a smooth 24-of-32, 221-yard, two-touchdown showing against Detroit. Ponder looked decisive again, as he did in the season's first month, when he was one of the surprises early on.
No Percy Harvin for Ponder to throw to on Sunday? No problem, as Ponder hit rookie receiver Jarius Wright for one touchdown pass and tight end Kyle Rudolph for another. After starting 4-1 and then losing three of four, the Vikings (6-4) desperately needed to win to stay in the NFC playoff race, especially given its schedule. Minnesota has just two of its final six games in the Metrodome, and those are against Chicago and Green Bay.
• The seasons come and go, and the players come and go, but the Patriots' owning of the Bills continues down through the ages, as if it's written in the NFL bylaws. And this just in: Buffalo essentially self-destructed against New England, committing 14 penalties for 148 yards and turning the ball over three times in a 37-31 loss at Gillette Stadium.
Buffalo is 3-6, and that means its playoff dreams are over yet again, for the 13th consecutive season. The Bills have never won at Gillette (0-11) and are a mind-boggling 2-20 against the Patriots since the start of 2002.
• I think my favorite moment of Week 10 was the reality check Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin administered to Oakland cornerback Joselio Hanson late in the third quarter of Baltimore's 55-20 beat-down of visiting Oakland -- which set the Ravens franchise record for points in a game.
After breaking up a pass in the end zone intended for Boldin, Hanson did a little chest-thumping routine, as if he had just made the game's pivotal play. Boldin calmly directed Hanson's attention to the scoreboard, which at that moment read: Baltimore 41, Oakland 17. But not for long. On the next play, the Ravens faked a field goal, with punter/holder Sam Koch running it in from seven yards out to give the Ravens a 48-17 cushion.
Hanson, an eight-year veteran, really should know better by now. If you're going to preen, it's best to not be down 24 points when you do it.
• So the Raiders' woes playing in the Eastern time zone continue. Oakland left home Friday for its flight to Baltimore, all the better to acclimate to the time change before taking on the Ravens on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PST). Lot of good it did in the Raiders's 35-point loss at M&T Bank Stadium. They could have arrived a week ago Tuesday and it wouldn't have made a difference.
The Raiders have played three times this season in the Eastern time zone, losing like clockwork every four weeks: 35-13 at Miami in Week 2; 23-20 at Atlanta in Week 6, and Sunday's 55-20 humbling. They've got two more shots at this thing, traveling to Cincinnati in Week 12 and Carolina in Week 16.
• What a monster day for the tight end set in the NFL. In the eight early games alone, 12 tight ends caught a total of 15 touchdown passes, highlighted by Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez scoring twice in the loss at New Orleans to reach the 100-touchdown-reception plateau (it seems more like 1,000 to me; the guy is always in the end zone).
The Saints' Jimmy Graham also scored twice in the 31-27 New Orleans win, making that back and forth game tight-end central on this day. The contest marked the first time in NFL history that two tight ends had at least 120 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the same game.
Carolina's Greg Olsen also had two touchdowns, with others reaching the end zone as follows: San Diego's Antonio Gates, Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, New England's Rob Gronkowski, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph, Tennessee's Jared Cook, Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham, Buffalo's Scott Chandler and Tampa Bay's Dallas Clark.