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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 8 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

St. Louis Rams Steven Jackson looks downfield after making a reception in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on October 31, 2010. St. Louis won the game 20-10. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

- “If only the Rams could now somehow beat the Saints on Sunday, this would be the greatest sports weekend EVER,” uttered the random St. Louis fan on Friday night after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. How do the previously winless Rams defeat a team in the Saints that just racked up 62 points on the Colts? Well, that’s pretty easy. When you can’t stop Steven Jackson even though you know he’s going to get the ball every down, you lose two turnovers over on your side of the field, and you don’t protect your quarterback, you’re going to lose to most opponents regardless of whether or not they have any wins. The Rams won this game because of Jackson and their defense, which sacked Drew Brees six times and returned one of his passes for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Chris Long absolutely abused Charles Brown, who should have been given more help because he clearly needed it. The Rams clearly haven’t checked out and they’ll continue to fight every Sunday. That was apparent for anyone who saw Jackson flip out on his offensive line late in the second half following yet another false start penalty. What a sweet first win this was for a city that is on cloud nine right now.

- It’s not really shocking that the 2-6 Panthers lost another game. But considering whom they were playing and given that they were 3.5-point home favorites, it was a little surprising to see Carolina go down in flames to Minnesota on Sunday. Christian Ponder’s 102.7 passer rating and 8.4 yards per attempt were both season-highs for the Vikings, who apparently just should have started the kid from Week 1 and bypassed acquiring Donovan McNabb altogether. Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-28 passing while earning his first career win thanks in large part to Olindo Mare’s inability to hit a 31-yard chip shot. The miss, which came with under a minute left to play, cost the Panthers an opportunity to force overtime. Good thing Carolina GM Marty Hurney spent so much money on Mare this offseason. Dude was totally worth it.

AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM…

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) recovers his own fumble on a handoff against the Detroit Lions during the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on October 30, 2011. Detroit crushed Denver 45-10. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

- Tebowmania was rather short lived. One week after fueling a fourth-quarter comeback in an 18-15 win over the Dolphins, Tebow and the Broncos were absolutely embarrassed by the Lions in a 45-10 rout at Sports Authority Champs Dick’s Sporting Goods Field at Mile High. Tebow did nothing to silence the nearly 4 billion people who think he can’t throw, can’t be a NFL-caliber quarterback, and can’t buckle his chinstrap without having assistance. Thanks to his longer-than-necessary windup, he was sacked seven times and single-handedly accounted for 14 Detroit points off turnovers. He fumbled three times on the day and was intercepted once, which was returned 100 yards by Chris Houston for a Lions’ touchdown. Thanks to Eric Decker (six receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD), who is used to saving quarterbacks coming from the University of Minnesota, Tebow’s stat line was much better than his performance on the field. While he did throw for one touchdown and rushed for 63 yards on 10 carries, he was simply brutal.

- The blueprint to beating the Saints is still pretty clear: Generate pressure on Drew Brees using four down linemen and create turnovers. The Cowboys accomplished this when they ruined the Saints’ perfect season in Week 15 of 2009, and the Browns also did it last year when they forced four turnovers and produced three sacks in a 30-17 Week 7 shocker at the Superdome. It’s easier said than done to bring the heat with only four linemen and force the Saints to turn the ball over. But the Rams once again proved today that limiting Brees’ effectiveness isn’t rocket science.

- The Patriots may have cost themselves home field advantage in the playoffs. While the Steelers played inspired football, New England was flat from the start. Bill Belichick has to do something about his secondary, which is incredibly thin and hemorrhaging yards at the moment. It’s hard for Tom Brady and the explosive Pats’ offense to score when they don’t have the ball. The defense couldn’t get off the field as the New England offense only held the ball for three plays in the first quarter. While they certainly didn’t get blown out, there weren’t a lot of positives to be taken from this game for Belichick and Co. They’ll just have to regroup and start fresh on Monday, especially considering they’re now tied with the Bills again in the AFC East.

– Once again Pete Carroll has me completely befuddled. Tarvaris Jackson was healthy enough to start today against Cincinnati. In fact, he was even named the starter in the pre-game. But who trots onto the field for Seattle’s first possession? Well Charlie Whitehurst, of course. Why announce that Jackson is starting and then play Whitehurst instead? Who did Carroll think he was fooling? The Bengals don’t care if they’re going up against Jackson or Whitehurst. First of all, both quarterbacks are pretty brutal so it’s not like Cincinnati is going to be thrown for a loop if one is announced as the starter and the other one winds up playing. Secondly, the Bengals likely prepared for both quarterbacks during the week so Pistol Pete fooled nobody with his little switch-a-roo (if that was his intention, to deceive, that is). Either way, Carroll continues to pay for his decision to not bring back Matt Hasselbeck this offseason. Why anyone would think Jackson is a starter or Whitehurst was worth a third-round pick is beyond me. (Not that Carroll had anything to do with acquiring Whitehurst.) The Jets didn’t even have to give up a third-rounder for Santonio Holmes and he was a former Super Bowl MVP for cribb’s sake.

- As much as I hate to say it because I’ve rooted for the kid since he was a freshman at Texas, I don’t think Colt McCoy is the long-term answer for the Browns. That might be an overreaction on my part, but he continues to struggle with downfield throws and passes outside the numbers. He was 22-of-34 for 241 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Niners today, which certainly isn’t bad. Not when you consider the Browns didn’t have a running game because of injuries and considering San Francisco’s defense has played exceptionally well all season. But what happens when the Browns get deeper into November and December and they have to trust that McCoy will beat the Steelers and Ravens in nasty weather with limited arm-strength? As I’ve written many times on this site, McCoy is the prototypical West Coast Offense quarterback in that he’s accurate and makes good decisions with the football (for the most part). But as Phil Simms has lamented over the course of his broadcast career, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks can make all of the throws. I realize that doesn’t fit Trent Dilfer but Trent Dilfer also played for a team whose defense was one of the best the NFL has ever seen. The last time I checked, Cleveland’s defense isn’t exactly on the same level as the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Thus, at some point Mike Holmgren will have to make a decision about whether or not McCoy is the franchise’s best option under center.

- The Dolphins, who were winless coming into the day, mind you, held a 17-10 lead after three quarters and decided to get conservative in the fourth. Why? They’re winless. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain by pressing their foot firmly to the floor and staying aggressive. Instead, the Miami coaching staff decided to play soft in coverage in hopes of avoiding the big play and the Giants scored 10 unanswered points in the final quarter to win the game. This game affirms what everyone already knew: That the Dolphins don’t have the right men in place to lead this team on the field.

- It’s pretty telling that Javon Ringer received almost all of the Titans’ fourth-quarter snaps today against the Colts. Maybe that’s because Ringer fought for his 60 yards on 14 carries while Chris Johnson often gave up on half of his 14 runs when he knew he wasn’t going to break a big one. Sunday marked the fourth time in seven weeks that Johnson failed to rush for at least 50 yards and the sixth time in seven weeks that he failed to rush for even 55 yards. Mike Munchak said in his post-game presser that the Titans would use a backfield committee going forward, which is smart. If Johnson isn’t going to raise his level of production, then he shouldn’t play over more-willing runners like Ringer. Johnson and the Titans have seemingly flipped roles. Now it’s the team that isn’t getting what they deserve.

- With their 30-27 loss to the Ravens on Sunday, the Cardinals have now blown second-half leads in losses to the Redskins, Seahawks, Giants, and now Baltimore. Kevin Kolb did some good things despite being constantly under pressure today. He hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 66-yard competition and scrambled to find Early Doucet for a touchdown to give Arizona a 24-3 lead late in the second quarter. But Kolb remains awfully inconsistent – too inconsistent for a quarterback that the Cardinals surrendered draft picks and a ton of money in order to acquire from Philadelphia. Arizona paid too big of a price for him to play like Rex Grossman.

- Cam Newton completes 22 of 35 pass attempts for 290 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, runs for a team-high 53 yards and the Panthers still find a way to lose. Thanks, defense!

- The Redskins were extremely banged up offensively coming into their game with the Bills on Sunday. But it takes some effort not to score a single point against Buffalo’s suspect defense. The Skins had a field goal blocked in the second quarter and despite marching into Buffalo territory twice in the fourth quarter, they didn’t produce a score. John Beck completed 20 of his 33 pass attempts for 208 yards but his day was marred by several poor underthrows and interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter. Suddenly Mike Shanahan’s coveted running game has disappeared as well. The Skins amassed just 26 yards on 12 carries. Yikes.

“CHAMPIONSHIP”…

New England Patriots Vince Wilfolk sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a lost of six yards on the last play of the first quarter at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 30, 2011. UPI/Archie Carpenter

- The Steelers’ 25-17 win over the Patriots on Sunday doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh is now on a crash course for the Super Bowl again. It does not mean that they’re the best team in their conference or even in their own division. But given their struggles over the years with spread teams like New England and Green Bay, this was a signature win for the Steelers and one that could propel them to big things in the second half. Make no mistake: they dominated the Patriots in all facets today. Ben Roethlisberger (365 yards, 2 TDs) absolutely shredded New England’s secondary and while Tom Brady did complete 69% of his passes and threw for two scores, Pittsburgh’s defense held him to under 200 yards passing. Given the Ravens’ struggles the past two weeks, the Steelers suddenly look very powerful again in the AFC North.

- Think the Lions were a little steamed coming into day? My God, man. Forty-five points, 376 total yards, two defensive touchdowns, seven sacks and a cure for Athlete’s Foot later and suddenly Detroit has everyone’s attention again. Granted, Tim Tebow did hand them the game on a silver platter but the ’85 Bears weren’t beating the Lions on this day. Jim Schwartz still has to figure out how to plug his leaky run defense but there’s really nothing for him or any Lion fan to complain about right now. It had to be a great sight watching Matthew Stafford throw for three touchdowns after he hobbled off the field at the end of the game last week. What a day for the silver and Honolulu blue.

- For my weekly filling of crow I’d like a serving of Andy Dalton and a side of humiliation, please. This morning I wrote that the rookie would struggle in a rough Seattle environment (rough, ha!) and all he did was throw for two touchdowns in a 34-12 rout of the hapless Seahawks. The Bengals, who once again played well defensively and on special teams, are now 5-2 and 3-1 on the road. That’s impressive considering many people felt they wouldn’t win five games all year and seeing as how a rookie quarterback has already led them to three wins on the road. It’ll be interesting to see how Cincy plays in back-to-back games against the Steelers and Ravens next month.

- In less than a week the Ravens have gone from being Super Bowl contenders to a team that couldn’t beat the Jaguars and had to mount a massive comeback in order to beat the one-win Cardinals. But at least a) they did win the game today and b) Joe Flacco rebounded from a brutal start to finish 31-of-51 for 336 yards. It was also good to see Ray Rice (three touchdowns) receive 25 touches, although the Ravens could certainly still boost his opportunities. Baltimore needs to cut down on the mistakes (the Ravens were flagged 11 times for 99 yards on Sunday) but at least it didn’t suffer back-to-back losses against two teams that will probably be picking in the top 10 next April.

- The Niners’ plan for victory is pretty simple these days, isn’t it? Put the game on the defense’s shoulders, give the ball to Frank Gore 25-plus times and don’t let Alex Smith do anything to ruin the game. That approach will work for the regular season but it’ll be interesting to see how the Niners fare when they reach the postseason and Smith has to throw the ball to beat teams.

- It wasn’t all good for the Texans on Sunday but they did what they had to do against an inferior Jacksonville team. They only allowed rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to complete 33 percent of his passes and held Maurice Jones-Drew (18 carries, 63 yards) in check. They also rode Arian Foster (33 carries, 112 yards, 1 TD) to another victory without much need for Andre Johnson, who should be back next week. With Cleveland and another match with Jacksonville coming up, Houston is in a good spot to increase its lead over Tennessee in the AFC South.

- What in God’s name can you say about the Giants at this point? Everyone left them for dead at the start of the year because of the amount of injuries they had on both sides of the ball. Then they beat the Eagles on the road as a 9-point underdog and jumped out to a small lead in the NFC East. Then they needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Cardinals, they lost to the Seahawks at home, needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Bills, and then needed yet another fourth-quarter rally to beat winless Miami on Sunday. Do you laud them for their resiliency or hammer them for constantly playing down to their competition? I want to say the Patriots will crush them next Sunday but knowing the Giants they’ll probably win a nail-bitter. I just can’t figure them out.

- With the Patriots having a tough go of things in Pittsburgh, the Bills did exactly what they needed to today: Beat a bad Washington team in order to keep the heat on New England in the AFC East. The Bills out-gained the Redskins 390-178 in total yards, forced two turnovers and rushed for 138 yards as a team. Ryan Fitzpatrick also completed 21-of-27 passes for 262 yards while Fred Jackson rushed for 120 yards on 26 carries. Outside of their two turnovers on the day, this was win was about as perfect as they come for Buffalo, which finally showed up defensively.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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