After slow start, Week 7 got very interesting very fast
Plaxico Burress broke out in Week 7 after remembering to just have fun
Thanks to Denver's gameplan, we don't know anything new about Tim Tebow
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Week 7 stories I love: Plaxico Burress, Matt Ryan, Tim Tebow and DeMarco Murray.
Week 7 stories I don't know quite how to describe: Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer and Hue Jackson. (Or was that Vince Evans and Billy Joe Hobert and Mike White?) Zero touchdowns, six interceptions to go along with a Raidery 14 penalties and two fumbles. Chargers with the weirdest two-minute drill of the Norv era. Dolphins determined to find a new franchise low every time they take the field. Colts hitting rock bottom, then going deeper to find a new level of embarrassment.
We'll hit those, but the best of the week was pretty good. Burress, blaming no one but himself for looking so pedestrian in the first six weeks of the season, had one of the clutch days of his career. Ryan, Gumby in some other life, is going to have one throbbing left ankle this morning; but he came back from what looked like the worst injury of the year to complete what could be a season-turning win for the Falcons. Tebow ... you saw it. You must have. Third-string for 53 minutes, transcendent for seven. And Murray. He'd never started an NFL game in his life, and only nine backs have had a better day in the history of the league than his 253-yarder Sunday in Arlington.
At 3 in the afternoon on the East Coast Sunday, the NFL weekend looked like the dud of duds. Then a lot of interesting things happened, in a hurry.
Plax finally has one of those days in the Meadowlands. When Burress finished with his three-touchdown day (passes from Mark Sanchez of three, four and three yards), and the Jets finished a frantic 27-21 win over the bumbling Chargers, he cried. "Genuine joy,'' he told me. "Priceless. A day I'll never forget. These are the kind of days I dreamed of when I was away.''
Away. Imprisoned on his gun charge, wondering if he'd ever have a big day like this again, when a quarterback could trust him to get open and they'd be able to build the kind of chemistry he had with Eli Manning when, in 2007, Manning and Burress had one of the great big games a quarterback and receiver could ever have in the NFC Championship Game, that minus-24-wind-chill triumph in Green Bay. "We're getting there,'' Burress said of his relationship with Mark Sanchez, which is less than three months old. "I think it's starting to show up on the fade throws in the end zone.''
That's one of the big reasons Rex Ryan wanted Burress brought to the Jets -- his ability to help a bad red zone team get better. Three times he did that Sunday, though there was little sign in the first six weeks that he and Sanchez were close to making the kind of music they made Sunday. Burress was so frustrated with his performance last week that he took out old gametape and watched, looking for clues. "I got tired at looking at myself playing bad, and when I went back and looked, I thought, Go out there and practice as hard as you can, play as hard as you can, and just have fun. That's what my wife said: 'You're an emotional player. Have fun.' That's what was missing. And I owe everything to Rex and Schottie [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] for not giving up on me.''
The Jets lost a beautiful diving touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes due to a holding call. Sanchez was shaky much of the day, and threw a couple of real ducks. But if Holmes and Burress can be the factors they showed Sunday -- Sanchez has to be more accurate in finding them -- the Jets and Buffalo are going to have a good fight for second fiddle in the AFC East.
I was sure Matt Ryan was out for a long time, if not the year. Human limbs aren't supposed to bend the way Ryan's lower left leg and ankle did when tackle Will Svitek stepped on it hard in the third quarter. (Or, as Dan Patrick said last night, "Svitek stepped on his svankle.'') The lower leg appeared to bend like an "L.'' If that wasn't a season-ender, it was at minimum a high ankle sprain, and Ryan was going to miss some time. He missed time, all right. Two plays.
"Have you seen the replay?'' I asked Ryan.
"No,'' he said. "I don't think I want to.''
No, you don't. Ryan lay on the ground -- and depending who you believe, was either taunted or not taunted by a couple of Lions -- and it looked bad for about 30 seconds. But he got up, walked to the locker room, and when the medical staff determined it wasn't severely damaged, Ryan got the lower leg and ankle heavily taped and he came back in. He said he did not take a pain-killing injection.
"I'm good to go,'' Ryan said to coach Mike Smith, and he went back in the game on third-and-eight from the Atlanta 22, with the Falcons up 17-9. Punt there, and the Lions would have good field position, driving to make it a one-point game. But Ryan jogged onto the field without throwing any warmup passes or talking to offensive play-caller Mike Mularkey. On the first snap, he set his right (plant) leg and threw a bullet to slot receiver Harry Douglas on a crossing route. Gain of 49. The field goal Atlanta got there turned out to be the winning points. The Falcons, in danger of losing their fourth game of the season (which would have surpassed their 2010 loss total) instead got a win that kept them within a game of the lead in the NFC South. I'm not going to make Ryan out to be an Army Ranger here, but anyone who saw that had to be impressed Ryan came back at all, never mind coming back and playing well and leading Atlanta to a 23-17 win.
"Luckily,'' Ryan said, "we do a lot of flexibility training, and I'm sure that helped me there. Jeff Fish [Atlanta's director of athletic performance] does a great job with us as far as movement and stretching and making sure we're flexible.'' The Falcons are a big injury prevention team; I know that from being around them. And from the looks at the replay, that injury prevention might have saved their quarterback from a month in a walking boot.
You can't stop Tebowmania. You can only hope to contain it. That wasn't a football game in south Florida. It was a movie. I have four thoughts about Tebow 18, Miami 15:
1. I'm sure this is because Tebow hasn't given offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and coach John Fox reason to think he's ready to play an Aaron Rodgers, bombs-away type of game, but that was the most conservative, buttoned-up gameplan Denver had for most of the game. If you're going to give the guy a chance to win the starting job, you've got to let him play more than this gameplan allowed. A win's a win, but I thought the Broncos were to the right of Michele Bachmann in the game.
2. I don't see how Fox and John Elway know anything more about Tebow this morning than they knew 24 hours ago. This was an incredible victory, unlikely and exciting and wonderful for the fan base. But in terms of knowing whether Tebow has a chance to be your quarterback of the present or future? Nothing got solved. He didn't have a chance to do much in the regular offense, he wasn't accurate for 54 minutes, he led a frenetic rally and wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line, he was clutch in the two-minute offense, he threw a perfect strike between two defenders to keep the game-tying drive going, he had the presence of mind to call an audible on the tying two-point conversion, and he delivered with the game on the line. Knew all that.
3. Love the fact he had the presence of mind (assist to Urban Meyer) and felt good enough about the offense, and confident enough, that he audibled from a run left to a run right when he sensed two linebackers creeping up from the left on the two-point conversion. There was actually only one. "Before we ran the play, Miami called timeout,'' he told me. "We got a sense of what they were going to do and called our play, but after the timeout, it looked like they were going to a zero look.'' In other words, all 11 men near the line, no one trolling the middle of the end zone for a pass. The audible entails left guard Zane Beadles pulling to the right to wall off the pressure along with tight end Daniel Fells, and for Tebow to sneak in behind them. Worked like a charm. Tebow quick-faked a pass, then tucked it under and ran just to the right of Beadles, who blocked safety Yeremiah Bell, and the game was tied.
Just to add to Tebow Fevor, Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts emailed me with this last night: In four starts, Tebow now has two fourth-quarter comebacks from at least 13 points down. In John Elway's career, guess how many he had. Two.
Final point: Tebow's high school team, from Jacksonville, won the 2005 Florida state championship on this field. Tebow's college team, Florida, won the 2008 national championship on this field. And now, with his professional career in Denver on the line, he won a scintillating 18-15 game on this field, with 10,000 tickets sold to Gator fans in the two weeks before the game, once they learned Tebow would be starting for Denver. As Tebow was dressing after the game, a longtime Orange Bowl official, in his orange blazer, shook Tebow's hand. "You've had some great memories here, haven't you?'' the guy said.
"This,'' said Tebow, "was something special. We really fought hard for this. After we scored to make it 15-7, Champ Bailey came up to me and said, 'We're gonna get the ball back for you.' They did. It was so exciting.''
He said, "This isn't the way we planned it. I know I have to play a lot better. I can make more plays. But who we are as a team came out at the end of the game.''
Who is DeMarco Murray? A few things about the 71st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft: He had 71 career rushing yards entering the game ... In one day, his 253 yards was more than Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch have gained this season ... Murray was the sixth running back taken in the draft, nine spots after the Dolphins took Daniel Thomas (sorry Dolfans; didn't mean to stick the knife in any deeper than it is today) ... In his first college game for Oklahoma in 2007, he ran for 201 yards against North Texas. Two weeks later, he scored on a 92-yard touchdown run against Utah ... His 91-yard TD run Sunday? Untouched by human hands. (That may say more about the Rams' ineptitude that Murray's ability, by the way.) ... After the game, he said Felix Jones (who missed the rout of the Rams with an ankle injury) was still the starter, and whether he's first- second- or third-string, he's just going to prepare to do what the coaches ask him to do ... The 253 yards Murray gained was 16 more than all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith ever had in a game.
Dallas may now regret not dealing Tashard Choice for a mid-round pick at the deadline last week, because clearly Murray has forced the coaches into giving him more of a role. Now.