Raiders on a roll.
Can't you just imagine Al Davis this morning? Told you I was right to trade the one for Richard Seymour. Told you Darren McFadden was a franchise back. Told you this pass-rush would work. Told you Darrius Heyward-Bey had some Cliff Branch in him.
The 4-4 Raiders are alive, .500 or better in November for the first time since 2002, when they made their last Super Bowl appearance. (Their last relevant football game, really.) They've been so dominant the last two weeks, beating Denver and Seattle by a combined 92-17, that they've got to be taken very seriously as contenders in the AFC West. This week the Chiefs come to town, and a Raiders win would pull them within a half-game of first place Kansas City after nine weeks.
Last week against Denver, the front seven, led by Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Kamerion Wimbley, was voracious in a four-sack beatdown of the Broncos. They turned it up higher Sunday in the 33-3 rout of Seattle. They sacked Matt Hasselbeck eight times, and when they weren't sacking him, they were pressuring him into quick throws. That helped them turn it back over to their offense, which, for the first time in the half-century history of the franchise, has had back-to-back 500-yard games. The running game looks unstoppable. The 328 yards against flawed and struggling Denver was one thing. But Seattle came into the Coliseum holding teams to 3.3 yards per rush, second in the league ... and Oakland riddled the Seahawks for 239 yards on 39 carries.
Watching chunks of Sunday's game, I found one thing evident: The Raiders are playing harder than they have been, flying to the ball like the Steelers and Ravens do on defense especially. Quarterback Jason Campbell points to a speech coach Tom Cable gave the team the night before the Denver game, when he implored them to stop worrying about making mistakes and to just play with abandon. And after Sunday's game, Cable said: "Good teams get breaks. They make their breaks because of how hard they're playing.'' That's exactly what it looks like the Raiders are doing.
Suddenly, it looks like if the Chargers are going to mount another charge to win the division, but they'll have to leapfrog two teams, not just Kansas City. And that first-round pick the Patriots got for Seymour? Now it looks like it might be in the teens or lower, not in the top five.
It's only two games, and they weren't against the cream of the league, but the Raiders haven't looked this good since their Super Bowl season.
Saints on a mission.
Until Sunday night, the Saints hadn't smothered anyone all season. They hadn't unleashed any real Gregg Williams fury in the first half of the season, not like the ferocity we'd seen consistently last year, especially late, when the defense was as important as the offense to the New Orleans cause. It didn't look like it'd happen Sunday when the marauding Steelers came to town for Halloween either, not with New Orleans' top three corners -- Jabari Greer, Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter and Randall Gay -- out with injuries. When first-round rookie corner Patrick Robinson was lost on the third play of the game against Pittsburgh after rolling his ankle, what was New Orleans to do?
Williams, the Saints defensive coordinator, teamed Malcolm Jenkins -- college corner, NFL safety -- with nickel back Leigh Torrence at the corners. Torrence had one of the game's fastest players, Mike Wallace, in coverage much of the night. Helped by the kind of blitz that frustrated Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints held Ben Roethlisberger touchdown-less and the Steelers to 279 yards in a 20-10 stunner at the Superdome. A week after being embarrassed by the Browns in the same stadium, the Saints played a physically battering style of football -- the kind Pittsburgh plays -- and punished Pittsburgh.
Torrence got the first interception of his five-year career to clinch it with 1:40 left and the Steelers driving. Wallace's totals for the night: three catches, 43 yards.
"Once Gregg saw we could match up with them, I think he started feeling comfortable with the blitzes,'' Torrence told me after the game. "I don't think I've ever taken that many snaps in a game at corner. It was definitely a big task, especially against Wallace. He's gotten behind every secondary he's played. But I've been with Gregg for a while; we were together back in Washington. He just said to me, 'We've been in battles like this before. Just go do what you do.'''
He did, and the Saints have life now, with one game left (at Carolina on Sunday) before their bye. For as badly as they've played for much of the first half, the 5-3 Saints are only a half-game behind 5-2 Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
Moss on a milk carton.
Now we can see why Randy Moss was so emotional after Sunday's 28-18 New England victory over Minnesota. I think he sees his career as an impact NFL player is declining; I wouldn't say it's over yet, because he's got the kind of speed and savvy that -- if he wants to apply himself and play with the fire clearly lacking in his game right now -- he could be better than he is right now. But the move to Minnesota to play with his friend Brett Favre has barely been any better than when he played with his other quarterback pal, Tom Brady, in New England. He's played four games with each this season, and here's what we see so far:
It's not going to get any better for Moss when Sidney Rice returns (probably in a couple of weeks) and Brett Favre (or Tarvaris Jackson) has Rice and Percy Harvin to further dilute his chances.
Performance of the day, team: The Green Bay defense
I liked what the Patriots did, liked the moxie of the beat-up Saints, oohed/aahed at the Raiders. But the Packers held down the league's second-rated rushing game (LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene struggled for 76 yards) and forced Mark Sanchez to try to win the game. He couldn't. Sanchez was a 42-percent passer and threw two interceptions, dealing with pressure all day.
"We wanted to put the ball into Sanchez's hands,'' said Clay Matthews, who had five tackles and a late, demoralizing sack of the Jets up-and-down quarterback. "We knew if we held down their running game, we had a good chance to be successful on defense.''
Packers 9, Jets 0. At the Meadowlands. "I'm sure if you asked people which of us would have had a shutout today, everyone would have said the Jets," Matthews added. "That's a really good team. But we'd lost three games, all by a field goal, and we haven't played our best football.'' In beating the Vikings and Jets in succession, Green Bay might have started playing its best.
Performance of the day, player: David Garrard
"How 'bout them Jaguars!'' Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver said in the locker room after the Jags routed Dallas 35-17 at Jerryworld. How 'bout that Garrard? With a 17-of-21, four-touchdown outing, Garrard had the best day of his career. It helped that the Cowboys were in mail-it-in mode, for sure. But what was impressive was Garrard's performance against the blitz. He almost invited it, and on two of his four touchdown throws, he beat an extra rusher or rushers, with ease. "It was pitch-and-catch for us,'' said Garrard, who'd missed last week's game with a concussion.
It was a thrill for Garrard -- who grew up in East Orange, N.J., eight miles from the Meadowlands -- to do it with Phil Simms in the CBS booth upstairs. "You're my childhood idol,'' he told Simms after the game. The first football season Garrard remembers well is the Giants' Super Bowl XXI season (and the 39-20 win over Denver), and now he has something in common with those mid-eighties Giants' teams -- they buried the Cowboys with regularity. "We just wanted to dig them a little bit deeper,'' he said. Mission accomplished.
Suh on fire.
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