Cowboys can't explain away their latest choke job; more Snaps
Moral victories don't count for the Cowboys, who make too many big mental errors
If the Seahawks have homefield advantage in the playoffs, they'll be tough to beat
Eagles enter the bye in crisis mode; Michael Vick still giving the ball up too much
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of Week 6 in the NFL...
Even Jerry Jones can't sugar-coat this one. And he shouldn't even try. The Cowboys owner/head cheerleader almost always sees his team's glass as half full, but the stark reality is Dallas let a golden opportunity to pull a huge upset in Baltimore slip through its fingers Sunday with some shoddy and all-too-typical late-game execution.
Sorry, but at this point in his NFL career, Dez Bryant absolutely has to catch that game-tying two-point conversion pass in the final minute of regulation. And ditto for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who has to manage the clock better than to force kicker Dan Bailey to try a 51-yard field goal -- which would have tied his career high -- with six seconds remaining. The Cowboys started the previous play with 26 seconds remaining and a timeout left, but somehow managed to dawdle around at the line of scrimmage and wind up using 20 seconds for a lousy 1-yard pass to Bryant.
Inexcusable, especially after Garrett's glaring clock-management mistakes of last season.
Dallas is long past the stage of moral victories, so pushing the Ravens to the brink of defeat before losing 31-29 is no badge of honor, even if Baltimore is one of the toughest visiting venues in the NFL. Dallas held the ball for 40:03, and rolled up 30 first downs, 227 yards rushing and 481 yards of total offense, and still lost for the third time in four games. When will the underachievement ever end in Dallas?
"I am sick about losing this game,'' Jones said in postgame comments that have grown both predictable and familiar to Dallas fans. "This is a very tough place to play. We made our share of mistakes, but I thought we had a shot to win at the end.''
You had way more than a shot, Jerry. Your Cowboys dominated this game and should have won, and even the Ravens (5-1) must have known that. That Baltimore prevailed despite losing cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (a possible season-ending ACL injury) and Jimmy Smith (lower leg strain), as well as middle linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps), speaks to the Ravens' resiliency and the Cowboys' penchant for self-inflicted wounds and game-turning mistakes.
Baltimore got a league-record-tying 108-yard kickoff return touchdown from Jacoby Jones in the third quarter, but totaled just one yard on the three offensive snaps in that entire quarter. If you're Dallas, you can't lose a game in which you dominated statistically and had numerous opportunities to finish the job. When you both recover an onside kick and draw a pivotal pass interference call in the game's final minute, you have to transform those breaks of the game into victory. Even in a challenging venue like Baltimore.
But then, with these Cowboys, the potential is almost always greater than the production. We've heard plenty in recent years about how much "talent'' Dallas has, but the Cowboys have yet to learn to display the consistency and clutch play this proud franchise was once known for. Close games once belonged to Dallas, but those days seem more distant all the time.
Perhaps at 2-3, sitting alone in last place in the NFC East, the Cowboys will let Sunday's painful lesson sink in. A victory was there for the taking, but they didn't wrap their hands around it and bring it home.
This much we already know six weeks into the NFL's 2012 regular season: You don't want to mess with the Seattle Seahawks in their home ballpark of CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks can beat anyone there, and that should be a sobering thought for all NFC playoff contenders, who might just have to journey to the Pacific Northwest come the postseason.
Seattle scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to stun New England 24-23, and the win lifted the Seahawks (4-2) into a first-place tie with San Francisco and Arizona in the NFL's deepest division. Pete Carroll's team has something good building this season, and most of it has occurred at home.
Dallas came into Seattle in Week 2 riding the high of having knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on the road in the NFL's kickoff game. And the Seahawks fairly well destroyed them. Then came the infamous Monday night game against Green Bay in Week 3. And while Seattle's last-second victory was tainted by an official's blown call, the superb defensive effort put together by the Seahawks was not to be overlooked or marginalized.
The Patriots were just the latest opponent to learn Seattle's defense is for real. The Seahawks picked off Tom Brady twice and forced him into a pair of costly grounding penalties, and New England's up-tempo no-huddle attack never took control of the game the way it had in wins at Buffalo and against Denver the past two weeks. On offense, rookie Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson again proved why Carroll named him his starter, throwing for 293 yards and three touchdowns -- two in the fourth quarter -- without an interception.
Next up for surging Seattle is Thursday night's NFC West showdown at San Francisco. The 49ers were humbled 26-3 at home by the Giants on Sunday, and must regroup or face losing their share of first place in the division. With a challenging Week 16 trip to Seattle still looming for Jim Harbaugh's club, the pressure to beat the surprising Seahawks and defend home field will be considerable. We have already learned just how dangerous Seattle's homefield advantage is this season.
Now that looked like the Matthew Stafford we remember from 2011, when the Lions quarterback seemed to specialize in heroic fourth-quarter road comebacks, like the ones he executed in Dallas and Oakland last year. Stafford threw for one fourth-quarter touchdown and ran for another to help Detroit save its season in Philadelphia, besting the mistake-prone Eagles 26-23 in overtime.
Detroit twice trailed by 10 points in the final quarter, but Stafford kept firing and wound up throwing for 311 yards, despite a so-so 22-of-45 passing day, as the Lions scored 20 of the game's final 27 points. That Detroit won a game in which it committed 16 penalties for 132 yards (a season-high this year in the NFL) and scored just six points through three quarters at least speaks to the Lions' resiliency.
Maybe the Lions, who won for the first time since Week 1 and improved to 2-3, will still make some noise in the NFC North race. The Lions entered Week 6 leading the league in fourth-quarter points (56), and they did nothing but boost their reputation for getting it done late against the Eagles. It was Stafford's seventh career fourth-quarter/overtime comeback win since becoming a Lion in 2009.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention two other components of Detroit's 2011 winning formula that came back to the forefront against the Eagles: Receiver Calvin Johnson was huge with six catches for 135 yards, despite constant attention in pass coverage; and the Lions defensive line, which harassed Michael Vick all day (three sacks/steady pressure) and stuffed the Philly running game.
Johnson had just one catch for 28 yards in the game's first three quarters before burning the Eagles repeatedly when it mattered most. And it was sacks by the Lions on the first two plays of Philadelphia's overtime possession that paved the way for Jason Hanson's game-winning 45-yard field goal.
It's going to be a long and nervous couple of weeks in Philadelphia, where the Eagles once again looked like a calamity on offense for much of Sunday, and now have to head into their bye with quarterback Michael Vick sitting on 13 turnovers in six games (eight interceptions and a league-worst five fumbles lost).
Lot of good it did for Vick to carry that football around all last week, everywhere he went. He and the ball still look like they're mere acquaintances at times, with Vick throwing two more interceptions and being involved in two botched center snaps against the Lions.
Philly couldn't protect Vick against Detroit's relentless pass rush, and the Eagles quarterback has become virtually a magnet for contact. Vick was hit after he threw about nine or 10 times, with at least eight knockdowns recorded by the Lions. He gets pounded from all directions during a game, and bad things usually ensue on the ball security front. The Eagles can talk all they want about protecting the football better, but they can't seem to get it done, with the lone exception being their Week 4 Sunday night win at home over the Giants.
And things don't get any easier after the Eagles' bye. In Week 8 they get a visit from the undefeated Falcons, who also will be rested and healthy after taking Week 7 off. After a 3-1 start to the season by the Eagles and some razor-thin victories, things are suddenly tense again in Philadelphia.
Funny how the game always seems to go just long enough for the still-perfect Falcons to win it these days. Atlanta has needed some fourth-quarter magic for three weeks in a row now, but the 6-0 Falcons have the mojo working, getting a 55-yard Matt Bryant field goal with one second left to beat the bumbling Raiders in the Georgia Dome.
It was far from artistic, with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan doubling his season interception total with three first-half picks, and a measly 45 yards rushing on 15 attempts by the Falcons running game. But Atlanta has now won for three weeks running despite not playing its "A'' game -- against Carolina, Washington and Oakland -- and that's the sign of a mature team that expects success every time it takes the field.
The Falcons are probably just sorry to see the AFC West go. Atlanta swept its four games against that division in the season's opening six weeks, beating Kansas City, Denver, San Diego and Oakland by a combined 49 points.
If the Ravens can't figure out how to tighten things down on run defense this week, the Texans might rush for 300 yards against them next Sunday at Reliant Stadium. Baltimore is getting gashed like we've never seen it get gashed against the run. The Cowboys had 227 yards on the ground in their two-point loss at M&T Bank Stadium, and that once would have been an unthinkable number for the Ravens to allow.
But now, it's just another week, another negative milestone on that front for Baltimore. The Chiefs rumbled for 214 rushing yards last week in their 9-6 loss to the Ravens, and the Cowboys' total marks the most running yards ever surrendered by Baltimore, and the first back-to-back 200-yard games allowed. Even when DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones left the game with injuries, the lightly regarded Phillip Tanner (nine carries for 31 yards) and Lance Dunbar (one rush for 11 yards) found running room against the once-proud Ravens rush defense.
That was the ground-and-pound running game the Jets envisioned for themselves this season, and the winning formula that it makes possible, but you have to wonder why it took until Week 6 to materialize? With Shonn Greene ripping through the Colts defense for a career-best 161 yards rushing and three touchdowns, New York, in its 35-9 win over Indianapolis, looked like a team capable of giving the Patriots some trouble when they meet with first place on the line in Foxboro next week.
Yes, Indy's run defense is atrocious this season, but New York over-powered the Colts from start to finish. The Jets wound up with a season-high 252 yards on the ground, including a 61-yard Joe McKnight burst that represented the team's longest run since 2009. With that kind of success in the rushing game, your quarterback matters a lot less, and Mark Sanchez had to merely manage the contest, finishing with just 82 yards on 11 of 18 passing, with no interceptions and two touchdowns. New York's offense was so efficient and in control that it didn't produce a turnover for the first time in 17 games.
Even Tebow Time pretty much worked to perfection for the 3-3 Jets. New York's punt protector took a direct snap and completed a short jump pass for 23 yards and a first down to linebacker Nick Bellore, executing the successful fake. And later Tebow picked up a first down with a 3rd-and-1 run out of the shotgun.
That was a confidence-boost of a showing by Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman against Kansas City. If you do the math, Freeman threw for 328 yards on just 15 completions (26 attempts), and that works out to a cool 21.9 yards per hook-up. That will work most game days.
Freeman threw a pair of touchdown passes to Vincent Jackson (19 and 17 yards) and had a pretty 62-yard scoring bomb to Mike Williams, making him resemble the progressing playmaker of 2010 far more than the turnover-prone passer of 2011.
After some good efforts in defeat, the Bucs needed to put it all together against someone, and the struggling Chiefs obliged. As for new Kansas City starting quarterback Brady Quinn, I guess we found out that Matt Cassel wasn't really the whole problem on Romeo Crennel's floundering team.
Quinn was 22 of 38 for 180 yards, but he threw two interceptions, had no scoring passes, and Kansas City mustered just 260 yards of total offense and 15 first downs.
I never seem to have a great handle on which Giants team will show up from week to week, but New York always seems to respond with a quality effort if it feels like it has something to prove. In the case of the Giants' 26-3 domination of San Francisco at Candlestick Park, New York just demonstratively proved that the outcome of last January's NFC title game was no fluke.
The Giants did a whole bunch of things well, but their three interceptions of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith stand alone as the supreme accomplishment. Smith is very accurate and effective at taking care of the football, and had just five interceptions in all of last season.
New York has won two in a row and appears to be starting a roll at the perfect time. The Giants, who are 0-2 in the NFC East this season, draw Washington at home next week and then play their rematch with Dallas on the road in Week 8. Suddenly the defending Super Bowl champs look intent on making a real run at this title defense stuff.
I know both teams are tied for the lead in their division at the moment, but I think the Bills' 19-16 overtime win at Arizona just confirms that neither team is really going places this season. The Bills finally stopped the bleeding after the past two embarrassing weeks, but the Cardinals have reverted back to the form we expected of them -- rather than the 4-0 club that took the NFL by surprise in the season's first month.
Arizona again has a quarterback injury to contend with thanks to a reported rib/chest injury to starter Kevin Kolb. Backup John Skelton, the team's opening-week starter, did little to spark a controversy, completing just 2 of 10 passes with a game-turning interception in overtime after taking over for the injured Kolb.
As for Buffalo, the pass rush finally showed up, but it was against the Cardinals' woeful offensive line. Mario Williams had two of the Bills' five sacks, and Buffalo's running game returned nicely with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller producing 141 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.
Back to back losses in the state of Ohio to Miami and Cleveland convinces me that the Bengals are playoff contention frauds at this point. The Browns were the league's last winless team, but they had the better of it against Cincinnati, which is now a ho-hum 3-3 after its 3-1 start.
The Bengals are 1-2 in the division, and their bid to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1981-82 is looking a bit more unlikely by the week.
The Browns avoided the ignominy of losing a franchise-record 12 straight games, and won for the first time since Week 11 of last season. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden couldn't win in the NFL at age 28, going 0-5 as a starter, but he likes how 29 feels so far. Weeden's birthday was Sunday, and his 231-yard, two touchdown, one-interception performance was plenty good enough to give the Browns their first division win since beating the Bengals in Week 4 of 2010.
Just when we thought we recognized signs of the old Redskins in recent weeks, Robert Griffin III reminded us a new chapter in Washington has begun. No way the Redskins win this type of game before Griffin arrives. He started slowly, but then took over the game as it wore on, with Washington stunning the previously 4-1 Vikings to the tune of 38-26. Is there another quarterback in the league, Cam Newton and Michael Vick included, who could do what Griffin did on his game-clinching 76-yard touchdown run: Get to the sideline and just flat run away from everyone?
The Redskins are 3-3 and play at the Giants next week, with first place in the NFC East on the line. New York should win, but as we know, Washington played the Giants tough last year, beating them twice. And now the Redskins have Griffin, who totaled 320 yards of combined passing and rushing against Minnesota, and gave all those heartbroken Nationals fans something else to think about for a day or so.
We were all waiting for Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein to finally look human and miss a kick, but he didn't have to get carried away with the I'm-not-a-robot stuff. Zuerlein started his NFL career 15 of 15, which, according to the NFL, is just one shy of the league record set by Saints kicker Garrett Hartley in 2009. He made his first two attempts in the Rams' 17-14 loss at Miami, from 48 and 32 yards. But then he missed his final three tries on a windy day in South Florida, from 52, 37, and 66 yards (which few kickers would even get to try).
The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis probably never looked so good.
Ryan Tannehill, with only 19 collegiate starts at quarterback, was supposedly the least pro-ready prospect in the draft's elite crop of arms. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden were all considered much more likely to make some early impact as rookies. But give the Dolphins' pick his due. Tannehill is 3-3 and the Dolphins are tied for first place in the AFC East. That's as many wins as Griffin has, and the same number combined for Luck (two) and Weeden (one).
Perhaps Miami knew exactly what it was doing when it took Tannehill eighth overall, higher than most teams had him graded on their draft boards. The former Texas A&M star looks for real and is improving rapidly.
As the Dolphins enter their bye week, Tannehill is playing winning football each and every week and starting to lead the way for Joe Philbin's team. In Miami's 17-14 win over the Rams, he was a cool 21 of 29 for 185 yards, with a pair of touchdowns and 112.0 passer rating. The Dolphins have won two in a row and three out of five, with their only defeats in that span coming in overtime against the Jets and Arizona.
Once upon a time, Baltimore offered its head coaching job to Jason Garrett, and Miami made a big move trying to land Jeff Fisher. But I suppose the Ravens and Dolphins are glad today that they had to "settle'' for John Harbaugh and Joe Philbin, because Baltimore beat Garrett's Cowboys to stay comfortably in first place in the AFC North, and Miami edged Fisher's Rams to climb its way to .500 at 3-3.
Paybacks are always fun.
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