QUOTE: “That’s what being a boss is. You steer the ship the best way you know how. In the meantime, you find your pleasures where you can.” – Corrado Junior Soprano
The NFL continues to get better each week. I was speaking with Howard Katz, the chief operating officer of NFL Films, who told me the TV ratings are the highest they’ve been in 20 years. In spite of some very bad teams, the league continues to grow and provide incredible entertainment. Sunday was further evidence why the league is so popular — in the 1 o’clock window, the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game was a physical bloodbath. It might not have provided the electric passing games we’ve come to know in the NFL, but if you like excellent defensive football, this game was a winner. Then, in the Sunday night game, we saw a great track meet between two of the game’s finest quarterbacks. In between, we saw Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb throw for more than 400 yards and lose to the suddenly streaking Chargers. We saw the Packers play like we thought they could, and we might have seen the last of Eagles running back Brian Westbrook this season — and maybe for his career. All in all, the NFL on Sunday was just great.
There’s so much to cover, so much to discuss, it will take more than one column. And, of course, we have Tuesday for all the game-management decisions.
1. I’m not sure where to begin with the Patriots’ decision Sunday night, going for it on fourth and two from their own 28. But one thing I am sure of is that they miss their former offensive coordinator and now Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels more than ever. The misuse of timeouts was very unlike the Patriots. Losing the timeouts after a change of possession was a huge mistake in communications that often occurs in pressure games when coaches who are not use to making calls have to make them. It was a painful and costly lesson for the Patriots. Losing the timeout magnified all the other problems (more on this Tuesday in the Tavern). The Patriots have gone for it on fourth and short before in the same area of the field when they played the Falcons, so it was not a case of arrogance by coach Bill Belichick but more a confidence in his offense to gain two yards. It proved to be the wrong move, but don’t confuse arrogance with confidence.
2. The Bengals did a tremendous job keeping Big Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket and forcing him to make throws in tight quarters. He was never able to get his rhythm and never was able to make those loose plays he’s become famous for. Not reacting to his the pump fakes also allowed the Bengals to stay in coverage. They did an amazing job playing team defense. These Bengals are very physical. To beat them, it will take a total team effort because they’re winning as a team. Sunday was a team victory — they had no turnovers on offense, played terrific defense, and their special teams made the key play of the game. All three phases were outstanding.</p>
3. All this week in Philadelphia, there will be one billion columns in every publication ranting about head coach Andy Reid’s run/pass ratio in San Diego. The problem, however, wasn’t the run/pass ratio but the fact the Eagles were 2 of 5 in the red zone and their defense couldn’t get the ball back late in the game, allowing the Chargers to control the clock for 6 minutes, 42 seconds. If they stop the Chargers, they win the game, regardless of how many passes they called.
4. Desperate teams in November are dangerous, and the Cowboys learned that firsthand against the Packers. This was a tough spot for the Cowboys, no matter how well they’ve played the past few weeks. Coming off a physical game against the Eagles on the road, they had to travel again, this time to Green Bay. Back-to-back road games are never easy, and this game highlighted some of the problems the ‘Boys may face if they play on the road come playoff time.
5. Josh Freeman of the Bucs looks to me like the real deal. He played well against a man-to-man defense and showed incredible poise for a rookie. He needs to learn to protect the ball in the pocket as he had four fumbles, but only lost one. The Bucs now have something to build on.
6. The Rams have been waiting for former first-round pick Chris Long to have a good game, and Sunday he played well. Long had been rushing from the inside at tackle, but he moved out to end and was effective, getting a sack and two hits on Drew Brees. The Saints are losing too many players on defense to keep their unbeaten streak alive. Losing cornerback Tracy Porter and not having Jabari Greer is tough for any team to overcome.
7. The Jags played well on the road, which was unexpected, and the Jets no longer have that Super Bowl look on defense. Losing Kris Jenkins is very tough for the Jets to overcome in the middle of their defense.
8. Text of the day from my man Ray Gustini: Punter Hunter Smith and Clinton Portis have been involved in as many scores this year. He’s right. Portis has one rushing touchdown and one receiving TD and Smith has run for one and thrown for another. The Redskins pushed around the Broncos, which has to make ever Broncos fan very nervous. Their 27 points were season high and second most in the Jim Zorn era (they scored 29 against the Saints in Week 2 last season); 388 total yards were also a season high.
9. Alert to all Bills fans: Scout every college quarterback you can because you need one badly. The Bills are like many NFL teams that will not begin the turnaround until they fix the quarterback position.
10. The Falcons are bad on defense, and when they make mistakes on offense, they are not a good team. They might make the playoffs, but they don’t have a playoff look when I watch them play. They won’t win the NFC South, and Sunday’s game against the Giants will be like a playoff game.
More thoughts later today.
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