Monday, October 5, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 4: Monday Morning Quarterback

The Ravens simply did not play well enough to beat New England. At times, their play looked nervous and tentative best exhibited by the final play that did them in when receiver, Mark Clayton, dropped a sure catch that could have easily turned into the game winning play. Instead it assured the Ravens a loss. A team cannot afford turnovers against New England. They capitalize on other teams’ mistakes and kill them. As noted in postgame comments from Ray Lewis, the officiating was unusually harsh protecting the New England quarterback, Tom Brady. What was clearly incidental contact touching Brady’s helmet was ruled as roughing the passer. Do the zebras have it in their heads that there would be hell to pay if a premier quarterback got beat up on their watch?

It started to look like disaster in FedEx Field for the Redskins. Jason Campbell was a disaster early in the game as Washington was down 10 points at halftime looking like they were headed to another sloppy defeat, but something happened in the 3rd quarter, 16 points, enough to win despite a 4th quarter field goal for Tampa Bay. Suddenly with Dallas losing in Denver, Washington at 2-2 is tied for 3rd place. Philadelphia stands at 2-1 with a bye this week, but for division honors, the New York Giants soldier on up 4-0.

Week four proved a reality check for the New York Jets entering the Superdome in New Orleans against the upstart Saints, the game’s most impressive offense so far. Mark Sanchez looked mortal while Drew Breese and his boys scored 24 points, a poor showing compared to some of their efforts, but this was against a Rex Ryan defenses.

Detroit started off well riding high after their first victory in ages starting off with a touchdown lead in the first quarter and tied at halftime they reverted to the ugly Lions in the second half falling 48-24. Worse still, Lions QB Matt Stafford suffered a knee injury for which he will receive an MRI tomorrow.

In the battle for Ohio, the hapless Browns took the Bengals to almost the last seconds of overtime before losing by a field goal, 20-23. We’ll see how “Man-Genius” over reacts to this one.

Though favored, Indianapolis obliterated Seattle in what was clearly a Payton Manning clinic, while brother Eli was on the winning end as the Giants defeated Kansas City. Eli was shaken up a bit and removed at the end of the same but insists he’s fine and would have played if the game were closer.

Where could things be darker than in Nashville as the Tennessee Titans, the team with the most regular season wins just a year ago starting off 10-0 are now 0-4 as they fell in Jacksonville in a blowout 20 behind in a 17-37 loss. Their defense lost its punch, and the problem runs far deeper than losing their all-pro tackle, Albert Haynesworth to free agency. Additionally, the Titans offense looks feeble so far, and next week will be even nastier as they host the Colts and if that’s not bad enough, the following week, they travel to New England before they enjoy their bye week as a chance to regroup, but they will almost certainly be 0-6 at that point.

Dallas had been favored to beat Denver, but one has to wonder, just what is it that’s so special about Tony Romo? He looked terrible which combined with too many penalties gave Denver their 4th win. For all the publicity and attention the Cowboys receive, isn’t it clear to NFL fans, they’re just not a very good team? While they made Denver earn its victory in the final moments, Dallas was a most ordinary team at best. While Dallas surely benefits without the constant clubhouse insurrections instigated by Terrell Owens, they do not have a receiver to step up and replace his production. The offensive line is weak negating their running game, while their defense is simply not good enough. The Cowboys travel to Kansas City next week then have their bye week. It would be a horrible mistake for them to take Kansas City too lightly. If they see a 0-4 team giving them an extra week off, they’ll be in big trouble. When does Jerry Jones realize smoke and mirrors, not to mention the world’s largest video display, does not win football games?

The remaining afternoon games, followed predictable results. Oakland lived up to an old Led Zeppelin tune, “Dazed and Confused,” losing to Houston 8-29. Life gets more miserable in Buffalo who were somehow favored by two points by Vegas over Miami, but we would have seen the results of a Miami 38-10 win much more likely. Surely, an ESPN microphone will be stuffed in T.O.’s face for his assessment. Given the Bills did not score a touchdown, it must be because Owens wasn’t given the damned ball enough. San Francisco is for real but how real does a team need to be to slaughter St. Louis 35-0?

The Sunday night game featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the San Diego Chargers would have been seen as a battle between two division leaders at the beginning of the season but something happened on the way to week four. The Steelers were back in killer form for most of the game. The contest looked like a blowout at halftime with the Steelers winning 21-0. They were still leading 28-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter, then San Diego fought back scoring 21 points while the Steelers added 10 more points finishing with a 38-28 victory over the Bolts. The Steelers badly needed the win or fall two games behind Baltimore and Cincinnati; however, the way the defense crumbled in the 4th quarter leaves the once mighty looking vulnerable. San Diego surely must be getting close to reaching for the panic buttons as their defense is not functioning well either. Their victories were against Oakland to whom they surrendered 20 points and Miami, a team hobbled on offense. This was not the game that the terrible towels gang could use to truly assert the Steelers are back. They won against a team that’s struggling on defense while their defense collapsed in the final quarter. This is not championship level football.

Tonight’s game could be the most tantalizing of the week as the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers visit Minnesota with Brett Favre poised to set loose the offensive attack with Adrian Peterson leading the charge. It’s hard not to like the Vikings chances in this one. While the game leads the field in gathering the most media attention for week four, in the big scheme of things, it’s an important game for Green Bay who seeks to avoid falling two games behind the Vikings and one behind the Chicago Bears in their quest to win the NFC North.

With four games completed for all but the four teams enjoying their bye week, the makeup of the 2009 season is starting to come into focus. In the AFC, the success of the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos coupled with the failure of the Tennessee Titans are the biggest surprises so far with the uneven play of the Steelers raising its share of questions. Yes, the Miami Dolphins were expected to fall off, but perhaps not to the extent shown so far. In the NFC, there are no real shockers. San Francisco emerging as a dominant team with Mike Singletary leading them on is a great story. The miserable failure of the Carolina Panthers deserves note as they look like a team that upper management must be tempted to blow up at the end of the season. It’s almost impossible to talk of the NFC without mentioning Dallas. They’ve been a mediocre team worthy of little notice if they weren’t “The Boys.” Opening their new crib, the billionaire’s playground in Arlington, Texas, their play on the field has been erratic and uninspired. Tony Romo’s a potentially great quarterback? What has he proven? This year, he’s proven he cannot be counted on to deliver victories. No question there’s a void where Terrell Owens once stood regardless of how much it benefits the team to have his toxic influence out of the clubhouse. Surely, the leadership talents of head coach, Wade Phillips, must be scrutinized as well. If this team did not have the stars on their helmets, would anyone be paying them much attention? They’d be just another team swimming around the parity driven center.

Perhaps the remaining story is that there are clearly some really bad teams who are either the unluckiest guys on the field or just plain miserable this year. Cleveland, Tennessee, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and St. Louis are winless. While Oakland and Buffalo have done little to pull themselves with one win above the scrap heap.

The mighty are facing tests as shown in the New England/Baltimore shootout to prove their worthiness while the teams in the center of the pack must start making their moves for us to start to get a clear picture of which teams will be playoff bound in January. For some cities, it’s already too late.

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