Statement Made. NFL Week 4 Recap

The Houston Texans look like playoff contenders, the Patriots rebound, and the Packers roll while the Eagles, Cowboys and Phillies crash and burn in unprecedented fashion. I hate sports.

Forgive the tardiness of my weekly recap. It’s hard to type through tears.

Week Two Headlines

Texans get signature win
It felt more important than a regular season game. The implications of Sunday’s result would forecast where the Texans ultimately wind up. It was a litmus test of sorts, at least for the Texans. And finally, around 4:10PM ET, the Houston Texans had their signature victory, the victory that, at least for now, solidifies them as a playoff contender in the AFC. While 17-10 doesn’t send up fireworks or lead Sportscenter, it proves the Texans no longer need to light up the scoreboard to win. They outplayed, outworked, and out-Steelered the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

The Texans won the battle for the line of scrimmage. Offensively, quarterback Matt Schaub was protected and wasn’t sacked. Running back Arian Foster returned and rumbled for over 150 yards. Defensively, the Texans got after Ben Roethlisberger, sacking him five times.

Houston also demonstrated the toughness that has been missing for so long. After allowing a 10 point lead to disappear into a tied game, the defense responded by allowing only one 1st down on the Steelers’ next three drives, all but shutting the door on another Roethlisberger comeback.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Sunday’s win was the Texans’ resiliency. Gary Kubiak’s bunch has always been regarded as a soft team. They start fast and fade late. After watching Pittsburgh score 10 unanswered points out of the half, it felt like another squandered opportunity for Houston. Only this time, the offense struck back, and quickly. Scoring on a five play, 85 yard drive to regain a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Regardless of the current status of the Steelers, it was a big victory for the Texans. A victory they needed in order to prove to the league, and more importantly, themselves that they belong among the AFC’s contenders.

Cowboys collapse again
The loss in New York in week 1 was rough. This was worse. The Cowboys welcomed one of the NFL’s elite offenses on Sunday and subsequently strangled them en route to a 27-3 lead early in the 3rd quarter. Tony Romo was outstanding. The offense scored on five of its first seven drives, and that didn’t include a failed 4th down conversion at the Detroit goal line. The defense was equally superb, frustrating Matthew Stafford and essentially eliminating Calvin Johnson. Dallas looked as if they’d coast to an easy win.

Then Romo’s alter ego made yet another appearance. On back-to-back possessions in the 3rd quarter, Romo threw interceptions that were returned for scores. Still, even after the interceptions, Romo looked composed, leading the offense on a sustained drive en route to a field goal. For a moment, it looked like Dallas would hold on. They only needed the defense to continue what it had successfully done all day; contain Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately, the defense fell apart. Calvin Johnson got free, Matthew Stafford gained confidence, and the Lions scored on three of their final four possessions.

Last week I noted how impressive it was to see Dallas defeat the Redskins when so much went against them. They displayed a resiliency and mental fortitude that had eluded the team during the Wade Philips era. Apparently, Monday night was a fluke. As Detroit found momentum, Dallas, especially Tony Romo, shriveled up and withered away. Romo looked unsure, scared, and confused. The defense was scattered and pointing fingers as Calvin Johnson hauled in one improbable reception after another.

Yes, Romo gave the Lions life and failed to hold off the onslaught by scoring in the 4th quarter. But the defense was just as responsible. DeMarcus Ware couldn’t register a sack against a mediocre offensive line. Stafford had hours to find an open man at various times throughout the 2nd half. The secondary got outplayed and flat out embarrassed. Dallas took its foot off the gas and paid dearly for it. If it weren’t for an equally embarrassing collapse by the Eagles, Dallas would be in last place in the division. Still, a team that could easily be 4-0 is now 2-2 because the same issues that killed them in the Bill Parcells and Wade Philips eras still haunt them today.

Panthers pass themselves to defeat
This is not an indictment of Cam Newton. Newton was again superb on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. He outplayed Jay Cutler and the Bear defense but failed to overcome his coaches’ play calling flaws.

After the Panthers’ opening drive of the 2nd half resulted in a blocked field goal, Carolina’s play-calling went south. Over their next four drives, Carolina ran the ball only twice. (Really three, but it was called back due to penalty.) In case you’re wondering, up to that point, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had rushed a combined 16 times for 127 yards. That’s 7.9 yards per rush. What excuse is there to justify abandoning a running game producing at that clip? Answer: A large deficit or injury. Well, at no point during the four aforementioned drives did Carolina ever trail by more than four points. Both Williams and Stewart were healthy and available. Ignoring the run was totally inexcusable. It cost Carolina the game and a chance to stay a game behind the Saints and Buccaneers. Now, Carolina is alone in the NFC South basement. Newton is clearly becoming a stellar quarterback. It’s understandable to throw the football. But to ignore a successful running game in the 2nd half of a close game is inexcusable. Carolina’s coaches let the Chicago Bears off the hook and left the Panthers out to dry in the process.

Eagles = embarrassing
Again, need more space.

Phillies make costly mistakes
I know, this has nothing to do with football. Feel free to continue on.
The Phillies loss in Game 2 of the NLDS came down to, in my opinion, two defensive plays, or misplays.

First, Shane Victorino couldn’t hold on to a ball hit deep into center field. Absolutely, it was a difficult catch. I’m not necessarily blaming Victorino. However, it’s a catch Victorino routinely made in the regular season. It’s not outlandish to expect him to make the same catch in the postseason. In fact, he failed to make the catch because he took a poor angle at the ball, overran it, and then failed to adjust in time to make the grab. It was a play a team with World Series aspirations should make.

Second, Raul Ibanez got too much air on his second throw to the plate in consecutive innings. The throw was on target and on time, just too high. Carlos Ruiz was forced to jump to catch the overthrow, making it impossible to block the plate and record the out. Again, I’m not pinning the loss or anything of the sort on Ibanez, but if he makes that throw, the Phillies are still playing in extras right now. Does either of those missed opportunities (I’ll even refrain from calling them mistakes) exonerate Cliff Lee? No way. Lee was brutal. The Phillies gave him a chance to win and he squandered it. Still, had Victorino or Ibanez made either or both of those plays, a win may have still been salvageable. It was a perfect end to a horrific day for this sports fan.

Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. Packers – Finally, Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers adopted the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady approach to a blowout: Never let up. Any arguments about who’s the best team in the NFL? Didn’t think so.
2. Saints – No one expected New Orleans to lose in Jacksonville. They didn’t, so they stay put.
3. Ravens – Those all black uniforms are the scariest. Joe Flacco’s performance was a close second.
4. Patriots – The Patriots went conservative and pounded Oakland with the running game. The defense finally played a solid game, too.
5. Lions – Another unlikely comeback keeps Detroit undefeated. This time, it was the defense that deserves credit for the turnaround. And Tony Romo, too.
(Last Week: Same.)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Jaguars – Why did Maurice Jones-Drew only get 12 touches on Sunday? Does this make sense to anyone else or is Jack Del Rio trying to get fired?
Colts – Another nationally televised game. Peyton Manning’s decision to keep his status for the 2011 season quiet until September has punished us all.
30. Vikings
– Brett Favre cursed this team on his way out of town. That’s the only explanation for Minnesota’s horrible play. Leslie Frazier probably feels a little heat on his rear parts.
Rams – To say Sam Bradford has regressed would be an understatement. The St. Louis defense gave Bradford and the offense plenty of chances to win on Sunday and they couldn’t get it done.
32. Dolphins
– It’s not surprising to see the offense struggle considering they have no weapons, but the defense’s drop from 6th in 2010 to 30th was unexpected. Tony Sparano probably won’t make it through the bye week.
35. Eagles – That’s right. The Eagles are such an abomination they can’t even crack the top 32.

(Last Week: MINN, IND, STL, MIA, KC)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

49ers – A 2 game lead in the NFC West, a solid quarterback (who knew?), and a reliable defense should be enough to win the division. Sunday’s win in Philadelphia had more to do with the Eagles collapsing than the 49ers winning, but it counts all the same
Texans – It’s a two horse race in the AFC South and Houston has to like its chances. Defeating Pittsburgh on Sunday was a huge step in proving themselves worthy.
Panthers – I don’t care if they’re not winning. It’s not about winning for the Panthers this year. It’s a building year and the foundation is looking awfully good.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Cowboys – Tony Romo needs a newer, more severe injury to win back the hearts of Cowboy nation. “Severe memory loss” may do the trick.
Cardinals – Arizona continues to give away winnable games. A little effort from the defense wouldn’t hurt.
Jets – They can’t run the ball, they can’t protect Mark Sanchez, and the Patriots are waiting in week 5.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • Excluding the top tier quarterbacks, is there a more unstoppable offensive weapon in the NFL than Calvin Johnson? Regardless of what the defense does (double team, triple team, zone, etc…), he can’t be stopped. As long as Matthew Stafford can get the ball in the air to him, Johnson’s going to catch it. I can’t remember another receiver like him, including Randy Moss.
  • I’ve always considered Matt Forte to be overrated. I think I was wrong. He’s such a unique talent in the passing game that he may in fact be underrated. And yet, the Bears refuse to pay him.
  • Buffalo Bills: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With a desperate Eagles team coming to Buffalo next week, this loss to the Bengals could haunt Buffalo come December.
  • Speaking of the Eagles, congratulations to the 49ers for running the football down the Eagles’ throats. It only took you 50 minutes to figure it out. You’re the best.
  • At what point do we start calling the “Sophomore Slump” the “Sam Bradford”? Ok, ok, that’s harsh. You can cry all you want about him getting sacked and hit and what not, but I watched that loss to Washington on Sunday and he takes a lot of those sacks unnecessarily. Get rid of the ball, live to play another down. Bradford’s as guilty as the rest of the offense.
  • I’m recording every Chiefs game from here on out. I need to make sure I have video when Matt Cassel goes after Todd Haley. Can’t wait.
  • Also, see you next year, Minnesota. After blowing double digit leads in your first three losses, you couldn’t even get a 4th quarter lead against a team widely regarded as the NFL’s worst. Job well done.
  • What’s Jacksonville going to do with that stadium after the Jaguars move to LA?
  • There was a lot of talk about Arian Foster coming back too soon. I think he came back just in time. There’s no smoother runner in the NFL.
  • Two 4th quarter touchdowns in 58 seconds? Really Arizona? Are you that bad? Also, will someone please tell Andy Reid Beanie Wells ran for 138 yards and 3 TDs against the Giants? Maybe LeSean McCoy could find similar success? Maybe?
  • If the Eagles weren’t the most overrated team in the NFL, the Falcons certainly would be. Lucky for them, no one’s paying attention. Remember at the start of the season I question Atlanta’s defense? They surrendered 28 points and 319 yards to Tarvaris Jackson. You read that correctly… Tarvaris Jackson. Prior to Sunday, Seattle had scored 27 points TOTAL, and Jackson had yet to surpass 200 yards in a game.
  • I only watched bits and pieces of Green Bay’s dismantling of Denver, but it’s hard to imagine the Packers not winning the NFC. Aaron Rodgers needs some competition. (I admittedly closed my eyes whenever Rodgers threw deep. I can’t take Brian Dawkins getting beat. It’s too painful. Also, Dawkins said Denver’s defense wasn’t scared coming in. Think they were scared after Rodgers hung 21 on them in the first 18 minutes or was it when he put up another 21 in a 15 minute stretch between the 3rd and 4th quarter that did the trick?)
  • The Patriots still know how to run the ball. Not good news for the rest of the AFC.
  • If I’m a Raiders fan, I throw out Sunday’s loss. Oakland just wasn’t going to win that game. The Bills ruined any chance the Raiders had. Shake it off. Move on.
  • The Chargers keep winning but they’re going to need red zone help to make an impact in the playoffs.
  • The Dolphins need about four picks in the top ten to make an impact.
  • The Tennessee Titans are feisty. I’m not exactly sure how they win, but I hope to have a better idea later in the week.
  • Rex Ryan may want to suit up and join the offensive line or risk losing Mark Sanchez to a concussion/broken leg/torn ligament/severe laceration/retirement. Take your pick.
  • I’ve given up trying to figure out the Baltimore Raven offense. I’m sticking to the one week on, one week off system instead. Joe Flacco reminds me Donovan McNabb’s twilight years. Great sometimes, awful others, but mostly average.
  • Also, congratulations to the Jets and Ravens for setting offensive football back a decade.
    • Mark Sanchez: 11/35, 119 yards, 1 INT, 30.5 QB Rating
    • Jets Rushing: 19 carries, 38 yards, 2.0 average
    • Joe Flacco: 10/31, 163 yards, 1 INT, 37.4 QB Rating
    • Ravens Rushing: 40 carries, 112 yards, 2.8 average
    • Jets Turnovers: 4
    • Ravens Turnovers: 3
    • Defensive/Special Teams Touchdowns (combined): 5
Things I never thought and would not say this week…
  • I still don’t understand why Carolina gave up on Matt Moore.
  • The Buffalo Bills are legit.
  • Give Cliff Lee a 4-0 lead and you might as well call the game right then and there.
  • Everyone was right about Cam Newton not being an NFL quarterback.
  • I’m glad the Eagles aren’t giving LeSean McCoy the ball. He’s not very good. It makes complete sense to eliminate him from the game yourself before the defense does.
  • There isn’t a better closer in the NFL than Tony Romo. Not even a question
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • I actually put up 106 points in an ultra-conservative scoring league, so no nightmares this week. Thank you, Aaron Rodgers. Thank you.

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