Snap Judgments (cont.)
So that's why the Bengals put the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham. He made four huge field goals for Cincinnati in the second half at Heinz Field, which is only the NFL's worst stadiums to kick in. Hard to believe, but the Bengals are a cool 4-0 on the road this season, with respect-generating wins at Lambeau Field, Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium and the Big Ketchup Bottle in Pittsburgh.
Nobody in the NFL has executed a bigger in-season renaissance than Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme, who just logged his third consecutive game without an interception in the Panthers' 28-19 win over Atlanta. Delhomme was a turnover machine earlier this season, and if there was one NFL analyst who said Panthers head coach John Fox was right to stick with him as his starter, I didn't hear it.
Carolina has won four of its past six games after starting 0-3, and the Panthers are still dangerous in an NFC wild-card race that remains wide open and considerably shy of can't-miss contenders.
Unlike Delhomme, Matt Ryan is going in the wrong direction on the turnover front. Ryan threw two more picks against Carolina, and now has at least one interception in his past six games, with 11 overall in that span. He has 12 interceptions on the season, which is more in nine games than he threw for all of his rookie season (11). It's not a huge sophomore slump at this point, but Ryan's accuracy isn't up to his 2008 standards.
I'm sure his fantasy football owners have long since given up on him, but Panthers receiver Steve Smith proved he can still find the end zone occasionally. Smith had a pair of touchdown catches against the Falcons. When Carolina runs the ball like it did with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, Smith catches touchdowns and Delhomme stays away from interceptions ... it's easy to remember how the Panthers won 12 games last year.
The Vikings looked sluggish at home against the Lions coming off their bye week, but you can't blame deep-threat receiver Sidney Rice, who's starting to do his Randy Moss impersonation in the Metrodome. His seven catches for a career-best 201 yards were spectacular, and I don't know how defenses are supposed to account for him, rookie receiver/return man Percy Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson at the same time.
No wonder Favre just had to come out of retirement again.
It was so predictable, and you can see it happening. Everybody the undefeated Saints play these days is giving New Orleans its best shot. The Rams came just a play away from upsetting the Saints at home on Sunday, losing 28-23 when quarterback Marc Bulger threw incomplete into the end zone on the final play.
Saints fans are probably getting nervous, but keep in mind that New Orleans was playing without three starters in its secondary for some of the game. Free safety Darren Sharper sat out with a knee injury, cornerback Jabari Greer missed the game with a groin problem and cornerback Tracy Porter, as we noted earlier, left with a knee injury in the third quarter.
It's the nature of the beast, though. From here on out, everybody's playing their Super Bowl against New Orleans.
Joey Porter got to sit and watch on Sunday. Miami's Tony Sparano called it a coach's decision to de-activate his loquacious outside linebacker. I think it had plenty to do with the fact that Porter got stoned on the stat sheet last week at New England, and his paltry 2½ sacks this season is 15 fewer than his AFC-leading total of a year ago.
Boil it all down, and while Jay Cutler may be an undeniable talent at quarterback, he hasn't been a winner so far in the NFL. And there's a very big difference between those two labels within the league. Maybe it explains why Denver rookie coach Josh McDaniels was even open to the idea of someone else quarterbacking his Broncos.
Cutler didn't win in Denver, and you could blame the Broncos defense. And now he's not winning in Chicago, and the Bears woeful offensive line deserves its share of fault for that. But the bottom line is the same: Cutler hasn't won, and at some point, that's absolutely the only measuring stick that matters.
And one more Cutler rant before we move on: I don't know how long it has been since I've seen two worse red-zone interceptions than the ones he threw Thursday night at San Francisco. One of those per season is probably too many for a quality NFL quarterback. Two in the same game? Mind-boggling.
Let's just admit it: The Bucs' magic was gone this week at Miami because those red and pewter uniforms were back. The power of the creamsicle orange was missing.
Maybe we should call him "Hunter the Passer'' instead of "Hunter the Punter.'' Did you see that beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass launched by Redskins punter/holder Hunter Smith on a fake field goal in Washington's upset of Denver? Jason Campbell probably had spiral envy.
And Smith is no Hunter-come-lately. In Week 1 at the Giants, he rushed for an eight-yard touchdown on another fake field goal. If I'm Smith's agent, I'm seeking more money for my client. He's a triple threat.
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