Posted: Wednesday November 22, 2006 10:51AM; Updated: Saturday November 25, 2006 8:31PM
I hate to sound like Dr. Grumpo. I hate to be one of those gloomy characters who moans about the NFL not having the intrigue it once did, all because of "that damn parity," whatever that means. But honestly, there's something missing. There's a great, gray mass out there.
For instance: Can you really get excited about the thrilling race in the NFC South among the mediocre Saints and the mediocre Falcons and the slightly above mediocre (recently) Panthers? Or how about the NFC West where the Seahawks, losers of three of their last five, hang onto a slim lead over ... who? Oh yes, the 49ers.
The NFC East used to be the division to follow, but Dallas and the Giants are capable of both good and bad ... and Philadelphia? At one time the Eagles' game with Indy this weekend actually loomed as a keynoter.
"Oh, you always feel this way around this time of year," the Flaming Redhead says, and she's probably right, but honestly, I can find only one game this weekend that really looks interesting and that's Chicago-New England. I mean can you actually see any reason to interrupt, for even five minutes, Thursday's Thanksgiving dinner?
Do I really think they're the best, after they slopped around all day and took lumps from the Jets' defense? No, I don't. Do I think the Colts are the best, after Dallas beat them? No. The answer is that I don't have a No. 1 team, unless I fall back on that old chestnut of placing two teams in a tie for the position, and both Andrew and Jimmy (remember him?) informed me that if I resorted to that lame copout, I could edit the thing myself. And then you wouldn't be able to understand it.
Ah, new blood. Unsung hero -- kick returner Michael Turner. At 5-foot-10, 237 pounds, he ran through those wimpy Broncos special teams like Ohio State ran through the Big Ten. It's an interesting phenomenon, seeing a big, burly guy trampling people in the open field, but it's not unique. The Packers used 250-pound Najeh Davenport to run back kicks for the last few years. I remember, as a kid, watching with fascination as my hero, the Browns' 232-pound Marion Motley, bowled 'em over as a kick returner, and this was in the 1940s. John Riggins once told me that, as a 230-pounder for Centralia High in Kansas, he averaged almost 50 yards per kick return. "They were all scared to tackle me," he said. "They'd duck out of the way."
Defining moment of the Cowboys game. Dallas just tied it up in the fourth quarter. The Colts can feel the game slipping away from them. They've got a third-and-one on their own 40 on what would be their next to last possession. Manning goes deep to his tight end, Dallas Clark, into tight double coverage. Incomplete. A high-risk play. Made no sense. Dallas scores, Indy does not answer, and the game's over. It was an eerie repetition of the two high-risk corner patterns Peyton threw at the end of the playoff loss to Pittsburgh last year.
I'll tell you what swung the deal against the Falcons. Ray Lewis, inactive for the game, screaming encouragement from the sidelines. At least two networks devoted serious commentary to this angle. I mean the guy just can't pipe down. He must be auditioning for an announcer's gig on ESPN.
You see, this is the way it is when you're married to the run because you don't want to put the game in the hands of your QB: You establish the ground game, it's semi-effective for a while, then it kicks in against a tiring defense. Hurray, the formula works. The only problem is that a steady ground march down the field, while ensuring smiles from Knute Rockne and Pop Warner up above, suffers heavily from a negative play. Throw in a minus three, or a penalty or two, and then, oh oh, can't get away from it, quarterback's gonna have to do it, and it's nail-biting all around.
Let's take a look at all-pro DE/DT Richard Seymour. Against the Colts he stomped on Tarik Glenn's head and got fined for it. Albert Haynesworth did the same thing and got bounced for five games. I watched Seymour when the Pats lost to the Jets. Biggest dog you've ever seen on the field. No effort, no technique, I mean tight ends were steering him around like a VW. OK, maybe he was hurt. You never know with this club. Against the Packers' struggling O-line he was Mr. All-Pro again, hustling, making plays. I'm not saying this is indicative of the team as a whole ... I mean the Green Bay game was a Belichick dissection at its best. They took away Favre's favorite receiver, Donald Driver, by smothering him with Troy Brown, backed up by a safety, and thus rendered Favre helpless. I'm just saying that there's something weird going on here, when you have to worry about guys laying down on you.
I loved this. In the second half they threw three little slant passes to Terry Glenn. Then when they had things nice and set up, they hit him on a slant-and-go for 32 yards, the big play on their winning drive. I'll give CBS' Phil Simms credit -- he had this whole thing nailed. And I'll also give CBS credit for not devoting any attention to T.O. while Glenn was putting on his virtuoso performance. How did T.O. take getting upstaged? Who the hell cares?
They're an odd team, a loose team that has trouble holding onto the ball and is given to occasional mess-ups. But within five minutes I felt sure they'd beat the team I foolishly picked to triumph, the Giants. Why? Because they played with passion and the other side did not.
For half a season DeAngelo Williams, the No. 1 draftee, was down with a bad ankle. But then, when DeShaun Foster hurt his elbow against the Rams on Sunday, Williams rose like Lazarus and burst forth with 114 yards. This is survival football, folks, new legs down the stretch, new supplies as the troops are massing for the Winter Offensive.
They laid in a heavier than usual running game to protect returning QB Trent Green. A more exotic facet of this operation was covering TE Tony Gonzalez's shoulder injury by moving 285-pound tackle Kyle Turley to his spot, and it wasn't for his pass-catching. But you never know. The word is that they're actually thinking about putting in a pass pattern -- one -- for Turley.