Posted: Sunday September 24, 2006 9:26PM; Updated: Monday September 25, 2006 1:02PM
In his return to Tampa, Keyshawn Johnson burned his former team for two touchdowns.
Jimmy DeFlippo/US PRESSWIRE
To make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-91, toward the denouement of the Mike Ditka era, the Bears this year have only to make sure they're better than the Packers, Lions and Vikings, their NFC North rivals.
Check, check, and did we mention check? Three weeks in and Chicago is 3-0 in the division, having won at Green Bay, home against Detroit and at Minnesota, by a combined margin of 79-23. True, the Bears easily could have lost to the Vikings on Sunday, but Chicago's defense is looking fearsome once again. Minnesota's offense scored only three field goals and was held to 11 first downs and just five third-down conversions.
But not so fast on the Rex Grossman mania in Chicago. Grossman threw two interceptions -- including one in the fourth quarter that was returned seven yards by Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield for Minnesota's only touchdown -- and at least another three potential picks were dropped by the guys in the purple-and-yellow.
But the thing you liked about Grossman on this day was that despite not having his A game, he found a way to get it done, throwing a game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis with 1:53 remaining. Grossman and his top two receivers, Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, were close to unstoppable at times against the Vikings, hooking up 15 times for 188 yards.
Are they really going to call next year's Seattle-New England preseason game in Bejing the "China Bowl"? C'mon. Really?
I know his late fumble doomed Minnesota on this day, but the more I watch Chester Taylor run, the more I think he was one of the steals of this year's free-agent crop. Taylor runs hard, consistently goes north and south if he's given even the slightest crack, and gets better as the game unwinds. Or at least he did until coughing it up with 3:25 left and the Vikings clinging to a 16-12 lead.
Keyshawn Johnson's version of fantasy football: two first-half touchdowns at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium, once his place of employment. You just know he wanted to sprint to the Bucs' sideline and toss his archnemesis, Jon Gruden, the ball after his 31-yard touchdown reception, or his four-yard flanker reverse for a score. What's that they say about payback?
Last year through three games, Bucs running back Cadillac Williams had an NFL-best 434 yards rushing, a 4.9 average, with two touchdowns. In a related note, the Bucs were a surprising 3-0.
This season through three games, Williams has 107 yards rushing, a 2.5 average and one touchdown. Also in a related note, Tampa Bay is 0-3.
OK, so don't count him out in the fourth quarter or overtime, but tell me again how last week's win at Philly was Eli Manning's coming-of-age performance? Because it sure didn't have much carry-over effect this week at Seattle. If you author that many comebacks, it means you're getting yourself into too many big holes to begin with. Sorry, but I still see a fairly inconsistent quarterback when I watch Peyton's little brother play.
I had a feeling that Jacksonville still wasn't quite up to winning at Indianapolis. The Jags can play the Colts close all they want, but they won't supplant them in AFC South supremacy until they can go into the RCA Dome and come out alive.
But that was a heck of a coming-out party thrown by Jaguars rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew: 13 carries for 103 yards rushing, and a team-best four catches for 32 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown.
The loss of Greg Jones in Jacksonville opened the door for Jones-Drew to make a first-year impact, and he emerged Sunday to outrush Fred Taylor and be Jacksonville's most exciting playmaker on the carpet at Indy.
Sure, you can say Ben Roethlisberger is still 27-6 as a starter in his three-year NFL career. But he's 0-2 this year, is 4-4 in his last eight regular-season starts and now has five interceptions and no touchdowns this season.
I'm not trying to be dramatic here, but you can't like his karma thus far in 2006, starting with his ho-hum Super Bowl showing. Sometimes a bad year all the way around comes along and has to be endured until it's over. That may be where Big Ben finds himself these days.
That's the way it was supposed to work in Washington this season. Clinton Portis running wild, Antwaan Randle El doing his thing, Brunell finding eight different receivers and Ladell Betts (Ladell Betts?) popping free for 124 yards rushing. Looks like Al Saunders gets full rations this week.
That's why the Bengals put up with so many off-field issues with receiver Chris Henry: because he's a playmaker. Two touchdown catches in the first half at Pittsburgh buys you a lot of patience in Marvin Lewis' world.
Welcome to the NFL, Michael Robinson. The former Penn State quarterback is starting to produce in his new position of running back: five carries for 29 yards against Philadelphia, including a pair of second-half, one-yard touchdown runs. Taking note, fantasy footballers?
Are you kidding me? A 52-yarder by Matt Stover to win it for the Ravens at Cleveland? Stover, 38, is older than John Kasay, and hadn't made a 50-yard-plus field since 2004, with only five such long-distance connections this decade. Maybe the return of 46-year-old Morten Andersen to the NFL is making every other geezer kicker feel young again.
I thought the Rams' current quarterback (Marc Bulger) showed us all once again why he replaced the Rams' former quarterback (Kurt Warner). With apologies to Bill Walsh and Steve DeBerg, Warner these days plays just well enough to get you beat.