Winning records (cont.)
Taking Care of Business
Minnesota (3-0) -- After the euphoria of Brett Favre's "Miracle at the Metrodome'' died down a bit Sunday night, you realized the Vikings shouldn't let their giddiness obscure just how close they came to losing at home to the resilient 49ers. If Dre' Bly doesn't drop that sure interception on Minnesota's penultimate drive, we're talking this week about the Vikings having failed their first test of the season against a quality opponent.
But Favre proved he can still beat you with his arm, and it shouldn't be overlooked that San Francisco was 0-of-11 on third downs against the tough Minnesota defense. Now let's see what the Vikings can do against a motivated Aaron Rodgers and that Green Bay offense.
San Diego (2-1) -- A pair of big fourth quarters have provided wins over Oakland and Miami, but the Chargers remain a team lacking in killer instinct and a four-quarter sense of urgency. Losing to Baltimore at home is no disgrace, but that's the sort of statement game San Diego needs to win, but rarely does. The Chargers have another chance to earn our respect this week, with their near-annual trip to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night affair. San Diego can't afford to let the Broncos run and hide in the AFC West like they did in last season's first half.
New England (2-1) -- The offensive balance the Patriots displayed in their 16-point win over visiting Atlanta on Sunday is a great sign, because that's the kind of pass-run mixture that helped New England earn three Super Bowl rings earlier this decade. The Patriots' red zone issues remain troubling, but they will play better in that phase of the game once Wes Welker returns to health and Tom Brady and Randy Moss get back in 2007-like sync.
Philadelphia (2-1) -- The Eagles have sent us mixed messages. They out-classed Carolina and Kansas City, and were out-classed by New Orleans. But Philly clearly has more promising young offensive weapons (Kevin Kolb, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy) than it has possessed in recent years, and Sean McDermott is finding his footing as the team's new defensive coordinator. With a bye this week, then games against Tampa Bay, Oakland and Washington, the Eagles should be 5-1 when November and the serious part of their schedule arrives.
Atlanta (2-1) -- The Falcons failed their audition for breaking into the NFL's elite class with that 26-10 loss at New England on Sunday. But their only real focus at this point should be sticking close enough to first-place New Orleans in the NFC South to ensure their Week 8 and Week 14 games decide the outcome of the division's two-team race. The biggest concern I have about Mike Smith's team so far is a 24th-ranked run defense that's giving up 136 yards per game.
San Francisco (2-1) -- That was just about the most excruciating way imaginable to lose Sunday in Minnesota, and I can still see 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan sitting by himself in the Metrodome press box afterward, staring straight ahead in glassy-eyed disbelief. But something tells me 49ers head coach Mike Singletary has already turned getting "Favred'' into a teaching moment, and his team won't let the defeat distract them from winning at home this week against St. Louis. That would make San Francisco 3-0 in the NFC West, and put it in command of its division.
Green Bay (2-1) -- The Packers' rather ugly win at St. Louis was kind of the ultimate taking-care-of-business victory, but you've got to hit your layups in the NFL. Green Bay's protection problems got somewhat better after the first quarter against the Rams, but Aaron Rodgers now looks as if he's anticipating pressure at all times and seems willing to take off from the pocket at the slightest provocation. That's a troublesome development, because it's hard to see Green Bay getting where it wants to go this season unless Rodgers is sitting back and firing it downfield.
The Jury's Still Out
Denver (3-0) -- I give Josh McDaniels' team credit for entering October undefeated after going to hell and back in August. But beating the Bengals on a lucky bounce, and then handling the sad-sack Browns and Raiders shouldn't make anyone start printing playoff tickets in Denver. The Broncos are about to embark on two of the longest months an NFL schedule-maker can dish out in 2009: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego, and the N.Y. Giants. If the Broncos are anything better than 4-7 heading into December, I'll tip my hat.
Dallas (2-1) -- I didn't see anything in Monday night's win over Carolina that will jump-start the hype machine in Dallas, but it was obvious that quarterback Tony Romo tried to remain patient and take what the Panthers were giving him, rather than force the issue and drown in another wave of turnovers. That's a good sign. Also, it's pretty remarkable the Cowboys rushing game, minus Marion Barber, produced its second 200-yard-plus rushing effort in a row -- a first for the franchise since 1979.
Chicago (2-1) -- Jay Cutler has been superb since that embarrassing four-interception opener at Green Bay, and he's playing the position of quarterback far better than he ever did while he was rolling up glitzy statistics in Denver last season. The Bears are banged up on defense, and we still haven't seen enough impact out of Matt Forte, but Cutler gives them the chance to win games they normally would have lost in the past. The jury's still out, however, because we don't yet know how often the good Cutler will out-weigh the bad Cutler.
Cincinnati (2-1) -- Yes, I know the Bengals are a play away from being 3-0 and the talk of the NFL. But they're also a play away from being 1-2 and in third place in their division, were it not for that stirring Carson Palmer-led, 16-play, game-winning touchdown drive against the Steelers. The Bengals are clearly better than they've been since 2005. But sustaining their momentum is now the next test. If Cincy really has grown up, it'll dispatch the woeful Browns in Cleveland this week without any messing around.
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