Simply no givens this season
If Week 7 proved anything, it's to expect the unexpected in the wacky NFL
The Saints, Ravens and Eagles all took significant steps backward with their play
The Bears must make one major free agent signing, but won't find him on the wire
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Musings, observations and the occasional Week 7 insight as we await the second annual Brett Favre Lambeau Reunion Weekend, which all but slipped off the radar screen in the NFL's recent news-intensive atmosphere ...
By now, I'm seriously starting to wonder who we can trust in this year's NFL? Did anyone inspire confidence in what was a wild Week 7? And is there anything or anyone solid enough to truly believe in as Halloween approaches and we near the season's midway point?
Clearly not the defending champion Saints (4-3), who lost by 13 points to a 1-5 Browns team that was a 13-point underdog entering the Superdome on Sunday. Sean Payton and Drew Brees said their team wouldn't suffer a Super Bowl hangover, but those words now seem laughably hollow.
And not the Baltimore Ravens (5-2), who were supposed to feast on the winless Bills, but instead wound up escaping 37-34 at home in overtime against Buffalo, another 13-point road underdog. Safety Ed Reed's return helped the Ravens defense (he intercepted two passes), but there wasn't anything remotely dominant about Baltimore's signature unit giving up 505 yards of offense to the Bills, including 373 yards passing and four touchdowns by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Same goes for the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3), who had started to capture our attention with those impressive wins against the 49ers and Falcons the past two weeks. At 4-2, with a pair of quality quarterbacks at their disposal, the Eagles had us starting to think they were approaching elite status. But then came Sunday, and a 37-19 loss at Tennessee, whose backup quarterback, Kerry Collins, riddled Andy Reid's club for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
Perhaps clarity is an antiquated relic of NFL seasons gone by. The league simply has no givens this year, and I'm beginning to think we'll just have to get used to it. The NFL doesn't have a caste system in 2010. It just has winners and losers, and some weeks, like this one, you can barely tell them apart.
The Steelers may be 5-1 and in first place in the AFC North, but how they can feel all that great about their 23-22 win at Miami when referee Gene Steratore admitted the officials blew the call that saved Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a lost fumble at the Dolphins 1 and set up Jeff Reed's 18-yard, game-winning field goal?
Because a replay review couldn't determine who recovered the Big Ben fumble in the end zone -- once the officials initially ruled Roethlisberger had scored and blew the whistle, they kind of lost interest in the play, apparently -- the Steelers got a do-over of sorts, at the half-yard line.
So the Dolphins "won'' the replay review, but lost the ball and then the game. And maybe there's really no way to correct an error of that sort, as Ed Hochuli's blown Jay Cutler fumble call at San Diego in 2008 proved. The Dolphins just kind of get credit for a big ol' hang-with-em and another home loss. Miami is now just the sixth team to start a season 3-0 on the road, but 0-3 at home.
As for Roethlisberger, what's with all the sloppy ball security issues in his first two games back? He threw a horrible pick last week at home against Cleveland, and fumbled three times against the Dolphins. He officially lost just one of the fumbles, but again, the total could have been two if Steratore and crew had been a bit sharper. Roethlisberger needs to get that problem fixed post haste.
And speaking of superstar quarterbacks who had disappointing days, raise your hand if you foresaw Drew Brees and Co. finding a way to lose in blowout fashion to Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy in just his second career start.
Brees threw four interceptions and was sacked three times, with two of the picks (from 64 and 30 yards) being returned for touchdowns by 12th-year linebacker David Bowens. Not that they were rare or anything, but in the first 11-plus seasons of his NFL career, Bowens had just two other interceptions, one each in 2008 and 2009. Oh, and Brees already has 10 interceptions this season after totaling just 11 of all last year.
Maybe Titans receiver Kenny Britt can compartmentalize better than most players, but it was a pretty neat trick to post the NFL's best receiving day this season two days after being involved in a bar fight. Britt didn't start the game and didn't play until the second quarter, but he still torched the Eagles for 225 yards and three touchdowns on 10 catches -- all career highs.
At times it looked as if all Collins had to do was toss it up deep, and Britt would came down with it. Henceforth, I'm guessing teams won't be leaving him in one-on-one coverage quite as often as the Eagles did.
All things considered, the breaks of the game continue to make it rather easy on Reid in his quarterback shuffle in Philly. With a sloppy Kevin Kolb committing three turnovers that led to 17 points, it only makes sense that Reid would turn back to a healthy Michael Vick after Philadelphia's Week 8 bye.
I think it can now be safely said that the Bears are who we thought they were. Maybe even worse than we thought they were.
If there's one team I can't take my eyes off this season, it's Chicago, a loser of three out of four after its 3-0 start. What a trip into bizarro world watching the Bears play this season. Quarterback Jay Cutler can have these games that seem beyond imagination, and then he can have a worse one the following week.
In truth, I don't know how Cutler tops the 17-14 home loss to Washington. He threw four interceptions, all to DeAngelo Hall (tying an NFL record for interceptions by one player), and lost a key fumble at the goal line in the second quarter. He was also sacked four more times, giving him 19 sacks in his most-recent 10 quarters of play.
The Bears have dropped consecutive home games to .500 teams (Seattle was 2-2 and Washington entered 3-3), and I don't know how you begin to fix Chicago's offensive line. Shorter drops and shorter throws worked for a while on Sunday, but then Cutler started making Hall his favorite receiver and things got almost comically bad for the Bears. On Chicago's seven possessions in the second half, it had six turnovers and a punt.
Wonder where Mike Martz will be working next year?
If I'm the Bears, I focus like a laser on signing one key player this week: A guy by the name of Max Protection. Until Chicago starts giving Cutler at least a modicum of time, mostly bad things are going to continue to happen when Martz calls a pass play.