Desperation not enough to save some teams in Week 8; more Snaps
Most of the teams desperate for a win weren't able to get the job done in Week 8
Redskins playing with fire putting RGIII in danger, this week playing him at WR
Patriots' record isn't ideal, but it's misleading; easy second-half schedule awaits
PHILADELPHIA -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of a make-or-break type of Week 8 in the NFL...
It felt kind of like a turning point Sunday in the NFL, didn't it? Desperation was everywhere you looked. But, alas, it didn't always bring out the best in everyone. Contrary to the cliche', desperate teams don't always win in the NFL.
Take Dallas for instance. Nobody had more motivation to win than the Cowboys, who could jump right back into the thick of the NFC East race by (finally) beating the Giants (6-2) at home. The difference between going into November at 4-3 rather than 3-4 is significant. But comeback-minded Dallas couldn't quite manage it, coming up short against New York, 29-24, by the length of a Dez Bryant knuckle or two. If the Cowboys (3-4) miss the playoffs by a game, the sliver of back end zone boundary that Bryant's right hand landed on in the final seconds of the game will prove to be the margin their season turned on.
In Philadelphia, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But the undefeated Falcons just wound up snatching that knife away from the Eagles and using it to carve up Andy Reid's floundering team, 30-17. Philadelphia looks all but done, and that shouldn't be the verdict for any 3-4 team. But it's tough to draw any other conclusion after watching the Eagles sleep-walk through their first game under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
There was a pretty good sense of urgency in Carolina this week too, after the Panthers fired longtime general manager Marty Hurney on Monday. But the Panthers couldn't translate that jolting news into victory in Chicago on Sunday, losing a 19-7 fourth-quarter lead to fall 23-22 to the 6-1 Bears. The Panthers played well most of the day, but their free-fall continues, thanks to veteran receiver Steve Smith slipping on a game-turning Tim Jennings pick-6 interception.
The news was also bad for another couple teams at a crossroads: The Chargers lost 7-6 at Cleveland -- their third straight defeat -- falling out of a first-place tie with Denver and conjuring up memories of last year's season-killing six-game losing streak. The streaky Jets, too, could have climbed back to respectability with a victory, but were demolished at home by Miami, 30-9, skidding to 3-5 and into last place in the AFC East. Big, bad New York hits midseason looking humbled and bewildered, as if another .500 finish this year might be beyond its grasp.
But all the news wasn't bad when it came to the desperate in Week 8. The Lions kept their season and playoff hopes alive with a dramatic 28-24, last-minute win over visiting Seattle, which wasn't secured until Matthew Stafford threw his third touchdown pass of the game, to Titus Young from a yard out and with 20 seconds remaining. Detroit is now 3-4 and still has reason to believe it belongs in the NFC wild-card race.
Speaking of long-shot wild-card contenders, Miami and Indianapolis were no one's playoffs picks in early September, but they're 4-3 and very much in it as the season's third month approaches. The Colts and Dolphins stayed on the happy side of .500 with impressive road wins in Week 8, and seem to be gaining confidence every week. Indy went into Nashville and cooled down the hot Titans, 19-13 in overtime for their second straight win. Miami slapped the Jets around for their third win in a row and now trail first-place New England (5-3) by just a half-game. The Dolphins and Colts will bring their streaks into a Week 9 matchup in Indy.
Lastly, Pittsburgh is starting to finally look like Pittsburgh (even in those garish throwback uniforms the Steelers dressed up in for Halloween). The Steelers (4-3) have won two in a row and climbed over .500 this season, courtesy of a 27-12 win over Washington at Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin's team looks to be intent on making it a race with Baltimore for the AFC North title after all.
November starts this week, midseason is almost at hand, and you can feel things getting serious in the NFL pennant races. With a defensive coordinator (Philly's Juan Castillo) and a general manager (Hurney) already fired in recent weeks, desperation made its first real appearance of 2012 in Week 8.
I'm not sure either Dallas or the Giants deserve to win their game on Sunday. The Cowboys fell behind 23-0 and committed six turnovers, with five of them translating into points for New York. But the Giants are a thrill-a-minute themselves, finding a way to blow that 23-0 lead, and looking pathetic on offense for much of the game. Were it not for Bryant's hand landing slightly out of bounds on that apparent game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left (video below), it would have been one of the most galling losses in New York's Tom Coughlin era.
Still, there were some remarkably watchable things about the game, none of which was more compelling than Jason Witten's career day. The Dallas tight end was targeted 21 times by Romo, and wound up catching a career-best 18 passes for 167 yards. Witten started the season by dropping passes left and right, but that slump seems eons ago.
Give it up for the Colts, who are suddenly alone in second place in the AFC South at 4-3, two games behind first-place Houston (6-1). Beating the Titans meant Indy won its first road game of the season, after two earlier losses away from Lucas Oil. Indianapolis drove 80 yards late in regulation to tie it, and 80 yards more in overtime to win it.
Overall, the Colts have won three of four, and already they've doubled last year's win total (2-14). That they've done it with a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck and a head coach (Chuck Pagano) who's undergoing treatment for Leukemia makes it all the more impressive. Indy is far better than anyone had a right to expect this season.
It was a much better day for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton statistically, but the 314 yards he threw for or the 37 yards he rushed for aren't going to make up for a game the Panthers should have won at Chicago. Newton wasn't totally to blame for the pick-6 interception by Tim Jennings with 6:44 left to play, since Steve Smith slipped on the play. But Newton's earlier fumble near the goal line could have cost the Panthers a touchdown if receiver Louis Murphy hadn't recovered it in the end zone.
It was a partial step forward for Newton, but the bottom line results were still lacking in Carolina. Newton at times during games is still struggling with his throwing mechanics, with poor footwork affecting his accuracy. He has to throw his way out of it, but he's a little like a pitcher who has lost the feel of his delivery and looks out of sync.
Don't look now, Jay Cutler, but your sack problem is back in Chicago. The Bears gave up six sacks in the win over Carolina, and Cutler has been dropped 11 times in the past two games. In his previous four starts, the Chicago quarterback only suffered 12 sacks.
On the good news front, the Bears' defensive touchdown trend is getting ridiculous. Jennings' touchdown interception return against Newton was the sixth of the season in Chicago -- breaking the 2004 team record in just seven games. When the Bears score on defense, they always seem to win.
As rough as it has been in patches for Patriots fans to watch, the reality is this: New England is one sloppy fourth quarter in Seattle away from having won five in a row after its 1-2 start. True, 5-3 at the midway point of the season passes for mediocrity with the Patriots, but they've won four out of five and look ready to go on a real roll in light of their 45-7 humiliation of St. Louis in London.
New England is off this week, but then gets Buffalo and Indy back to back at home, with trips to the Jets and Dolphins to follow. You have to like the Pats' chances to win at least three of those games, and that would put them 8-4 and in the drivers seat in the AFC East heading into the final quarter of the season. A 10th division title in the past 12 years should be on the way in New England.
Was that a Buckingham Palace Guard touchdown "dance'' by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski after his 17-yard touchdown catch against the Rams? With both Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson out of the league, and Steve Smith not bringing his A game to his touchdown celebrations any more, Gronk is about as good as we've got right now in terms of end zone choreography.
After Green Bay struggled to beat Jacksonville (1-6) at home, I think it's fair to say the Packers seem to play up or down to the level of their competition. The Jaguars have given a few teams good battles this season, but Green Bay dismantled the AFC South's first-place team at Houston two weeks ago, but barely hung on against the last-place Jaguars.
A tip of the cap to Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who played through that injury to his non-throwing shoulder and still wound up with more than 300 yards passing, a touchdown pass and no interceptions. Gabbert has had a rollercoaster ride in 2012, but he showed again Sunday why the Jaguars think he's worth the patience they've had with him.
With all the concern over the amount of contact quarterback Robert Griffin III has absorbed during the first half of his rookie season, how in the world would the Redskins then decide to tempt fate with their franchise player and actually put him into a pass pattern as a receiver? Mind-boggling. And utterly short-sighted, especially after Steelers safety Ryan Clark got to blow up Griffin with a big hit on the incompletion.
If this keeps up, the Washington area is going to see both of its young franchise saviors -- Griffin and Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg -- fail to finish the 2012 season.
Every time I saw the Steelers on Sunday, in those 1934-style throwback uniforms that pushed the boundary of football style, they looked like they were wearing what the bad guys wore in a 1922 silent movie. I much preferred the Bears' more conservative and classic "Monsters of the Midway'' throwback uniform combination.
Here's the deal in San Diego: If the reeling Chargers want their Week 11 game at Denver to mean anything in the AFC West race, they've probably got to win next week at home against 1-6 Kansas City, and again at Tampa Bay in Week 10. That would make San Diego 5-4 heading into the rematch with the Broncos. But I still think Denver is a heavy, heavy favorite to put the Chargers away and cruise to the division title.
Uh, oh, another fumble by Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. You know what that means. San Diego probably forgot to pack the sticky towels.
Spectacularly bad day for Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, one of the best in the business. New York against Miami had a punt blocked for a touchdown, a 35-yard Nick Folk field goal swatted away and gave up an onside kick to the Dolphins. Westoff can be a little cranky on the best of days. I can't imagine his mood Sunday night after his guys melted down against Miami.
If you're holding your breath waiting for Tebow Time to finally arrive in New York, it had to be tough to watch Miami beat the Jets with backup quarterback Matt Moore playing well in place of injured starter Ryan Tannehill. But I still think Rex Ryan sticks with Sanchez because he knows however inconsistent he is, he gives New York's offense the best possible chance to challenge every quadrant of the field in the passing game. Tebow does not.
Safety Louis Delmas left the win over Seattle with a left knee injury and refuses to stay healthy for Detroit. But the Lions have to be relieved at the big bounce-back game they got from quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has never looked better than he did Sunday. Stafford was 34 of 49 for 352 yards, with three touchdowns passing and one running. And he was clutch, finding Titus Young from the 1 on the final, game-winning score, with 20 seconds left.
Young did more than make up for the loss of injured No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson, with nine receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Beside the 1-yard game-winner, Young also scored on a 46-yarder in the second quarter. The Lions desperately need him to continue to deliver in Burleson's absence.
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