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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 9 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…

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) throws against the New England Patriots third quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on November 6, 2011. The Giants defeated the Patriots 24-20. UPI/Matthew Healey

- It’s not surprising that the Giants gave the Patriots all they could handle today in Foxboro. It’s not even all that surprising that New York won 24-20 despite the fact that New England never losses consecutive games under Bill Belichick. For whatever reason, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have Belichick and Tom Brady’s numbers. But if you were asked before the game which quarterback would pull off a great fourth-quarter comeback to lead their team to victory, most people wouldn’t have said Eli. (Even when you consider how many fourth-quarter comebacks the G-Men have already tallied this season.) People scoffed when Manning said he considered himself to be in the same class as Brady back in August. Whether you think he does or not, consider that he has the best fourth-quarter passer rating of any quarterback in the league this season and that his Giants are 6-2 when everyone thought they’d be looking up at the Eagles in the NFC East standings right about now. He’s also been the winning quarterback the past two times the Giants have played the Patriots, so the whole “does Eli belong in Brady’s class” conversation is rather moot at the moment. It’s all about wins, losses, and…nope, that’s about it.

- The Chiefs were due for a letdown. While they had won four in a row heading into Week 9, they seriously lack offensive explosion now that Jamaal Charles is out for the year and they would have lost to the Chargers on Monday night had Philip Rivers not decided to break out his best Rex Grossman impression late in the fourth quarter. That said, I don’t think anyone woke up this morning thinking, “Yeah, today is the day the Dolphins get their first win behind Matt Moore’s three touchdown passes and stingy defensive play.” I actually thought Miami would keep things close but 31-3? For the first time all season Tony Sparano will get a good night of sleep.

- The Rams pulled off the upset of the year last Sunday when they knocked off the Saints at home. So naturally they went out today and lost to an Arizona Cardinals team that started John Skelton at quarterback. St. Louis was given every opportunity to notch back-to-back victories for the first time all season and it screwed the pooch instead. The special teams unit was an absolute disaster in the fourth quarter and in overtime, as the Rams had a game-winning field goal blocked and missed four tackles on Patrick Peterson’s electrifying 99-yard punt return in OT. When his team played that brutal schedule to open the year, at least Steve Spagnuolo had an excuse for losing. There’s no excuse to lose to the John Skelton-led Cardinals when the game was practically in the bag.

AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL TEAM…

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick runs the ball as New York Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin (C) and Bills offensive lineman Andy Levitre (R) pursue, in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- The Jets-Bills game wasn’t nearly as close as the 27-11 final would indicate. Buffalo was dominated from the opening kickoff to the final painful second of the fourth quarter. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills’ offense did nothing until David Nelson caught a meaningless 7-yard touchdown with 3:14 left on the clock. Even though New England also lost today, this is the type of loss that plants the seed of doubt in Buffalo. The general consensus on Fitzpatrick is that he’ll only take a team so far and he certainly didn’t do anything to dispel that notion today.

- The Giants-Patriots game felt a lot like Super Bowl XLII. The Giants’ defensive line dictated the game as Tom Brady turned in a rather pedestrian performance. It’s not too often that Brady’s throws are off the mark but he was highly inaccurate today and he turned the ball over three times. I truly don’t think New England should panic. The Jets still have major questions on offense and the Bills could be ready to descend from the top of the AFC East standings. That said, the Pats can’t be feeling too confident right now.

- The Steelers held a 20-16 lead on the Ravens with less than two minutes remaining in the game and couldn’t defend 92 yards. They allowed Baltimore to march right up field as Joe Flacco often had a clean pocket to work with and open receivers free in the Pittsburgh secondary. I know the Steelers had a couple of guys banged up on defense but the Ravens pretty much did whatever they wanted offensively. If they hadn’t settled for so many field goals the game wouldn’t have been as close as it was. Dick LeBeau’s unit looked completely befuddled on that final drive and despite Baltimore’s receivers trying desperately to give the game away with multiple drops, the Steelers couldn’t hold on. Bad effort time for Pittsburgh’s D.

- It’s not often that a quarterback throws for 385 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort, but welcome to Philip Rivers’ 2011 season. His three interceptions were the difference in the Chargers’ 45-38 loss to the Packers today. Two of his picks were returned for touchdowns and his final interception killed San Diego’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt. He’s now thrown 14 interceptions in his last eight games but thanks to the fact that nobody wants to win the AFC West, the Chargers are still in great position to make the playoffs.

- It’s pretty remarkable that Indianapolis fans are starting to show up to home games decked out in Andrew Luck jerseys and other paraphernalia. After all Peyton Manning has done for the Colts, one would think fans wouldn’t be encouraging their team to draft another quarterback. Then again, I don’t blame Indy’s fan base for never wanting to be subjected to another one of Curtis Painter’s passes the rest of their lives. He threw for 98 yards today in the Colts’ 31-7 loss to the Falcons. Ninety-eight yards. I’m considering buying a Luck No. 12 jersey right now just thinking about Painter’s performance, and I’m not even a Colts fan.

- Fortunately for the Raiders, Carson Palmer’s arm strength wasn’t a big concern today. Unfortunately, his lack of mobility and questionable decision-making were. Oakland paid a hefty price to acquire Palmer from Cincinnati three weeks ago and with the AFC West completely up for grabs, he can’t turn the ball over as much as he has in his first two games. But at least he showed marked improvement from his first outing and he did throw three touchdown passes to go along with his three interceptions in today’s loss to the Broncos. Perhaps the more pressing concern for the Raiders is that they just allowed 38 points to Tim Tebow and Denver’s highly non-explosive offense. And at home, mind you.

- It’s not easy making people long for the days of Rex Grossman but congratulations John Beck, you win. Washington’s offensive line is terrible and it’s not like Mike Shanahan has stocked the cupboard full of playmakers. But Beck flat out ignored open receivers in today’s 19-11 loss to the 49ers while looking to run immediately after taking the snap. He’s a disaster and a switch back to Grossman has to be coming soon for Shanahan and the Skins.

- Suddenly the Bucs look very pedestrian. Raheem Morris and Greg Olson have to figure out ways to be more explosive offensively and LeGarrette Blount better learn how to pass protect if he wants to be an every down back. Tampa Bay can’t have Kregg Lumpkin out there on passing downs because he’s not going to scare any opponent defensively. How are the Bucs supposed to beat the Saints in New Orleans with that offense?

- The Titans continue to lose pace with the Texans in the AFC South, but at least Chris Johnson “broke out” for 110 total yards in today’s 24-17 loss to the Bengals. Unlike the first eight weeks of the season, Johnson only looked hesitant on a couple of runs and the Titans finally gave him some opportunities to plays in space. He won’t crack the 1,000-yard mark but at least his effort on Sunday gave Tennessee a little hope that he’s starting to turn things around.

- One of the only things the Browns had going for themselves this year was that the defense was playing well. Then they went out today and got shredded for 261 yards in a 30-12 loss to the Texans. Cleveland fans had to be excited when Andre Johnson was ruled out for the game but as it turns out, Houston didn’t even need him.

“CHAMPIONSHIP”…

Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers (L) talks with head coach Mike McCarthy during a time-out in their NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego, California November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Is it just me or are the Packers being ignored? On a day where they score 45 points and beat a team that many thought could contend for a Super Bowl berth this season, all anyone can talk about is how the Patriots have lost two in a row. I’ve been critical of Green Bay the past three weeks because it hadn’t played a full game in quite awhile. And while Philip Rivers did shred the Pack for 385 yards and four touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers and Co. looked unstoppable. I don’t think it’s too early to start talking about this team finishing 16-0, which is amazing when you consider how poorly Green Bay’s defense has played this season. That’s how good Rodgers is right now.

- Rex Ryan’s defense is starting to heat up. I mean, the Bills could do nothing today offensively. Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have a clue on how to beat the Jets’ secondary, which often left Darrelle Revis alone one-on-one with Steve Johnson. There was a play right before halftime where Fitzpatrick didn’t even look Revis’ way despite the fact that he was in single coverage on Johnson. Instead, Fitzpatrick thought he had a better chance of completing the pass if he heaved it into a congested mess of Buffalo receivers and New York defenders. There’s no price for that kind of defensive intimidation. Mark Sanchez kept the Bills in the game with turnovers or else the 27-11 final would have been a heck of a lot uglier thanks to New York’s stingy defense.

- Torrey Smith will grab most of the headlines after scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Ravens’ 23-20 victory over the Steelers, but Joe Flacco deserves most of the praise for Baltimore’s huge win. He looked calm throughout the game and while the Ravens had to settle for field goals early, Flacco made sure Baltimore’s final score was the difference in the game. He overcame missed opportunities (Smith) and drops (Anquan Boldin) to lead the Ravens to their biggest victory to date. For a guy that hasn’t played consistent throughout the season, Flacco has looked good the past two weeks.

- Sunday’s 31-7 win over the Colts was exactly the type of game the Falcons envisioned when they gave away 67 draft picks in order to select Julio Jones last April. The rookie only caught three passes but he made all of them count, racking up 131 yards and two touchdowns. The speed he exhibited on his 80-yard touchdown was impressive but not nearly as much as the catch he made between multiple defenders on his 50-yard score in the first quarter. The media keeps lamenting that the Falcons need to stick with what they do best, which is running the ball. But as I’ve said for weeks, being one-dimensional didn’t work last season and it won’t work this season. They have to develop a passing game that can attack defenses if they want to not only reach the postseason, but go beyond the first round. The Falcons opened things up with Jones and Matt Ryan today and the results were highly positive. With the Saints on the schedule next Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see if the success Atlanta had throwing the ball transfers over.

- The Saints had a slightly difficult time putting the Bucs away in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t surprising to see them bounce back following their loss to the Rams last week. You expect a team led by Drew Brees and Sean Payton to rebound following an embarrassing loss. And despite the fact that Tampa beat New Orleans just three weeks ago, the Saints dominated the Bucs for most of their game today. With a grudge match coming up next Sunday with Atlanta, it’s time to find out if New Orleans will run away with the NFC South in the second half.

- Following Tim Tebow’s disastrous game against the Lions last week, John Fox said that he saw improvements in the young quarterback’s game. Today Tebow responded by throwing two touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Broncos’ 38-24 upset over the Raiders. Nobody is expecting Tebow to put up elite numbers from week to week. But he’s proven twice in the past three weeks that he’s capable of leading a team to victory if he plays his game, which includes running the ball and making decisions out of the shotgun. Of course, it also helped Tebow and the Broncos that Willis McGahee broke out for 163 yards and two touchdowns today. (Carson Palmer’s three interceptions didn’t hurt either.) Tebow isn’t going to beat the elite teams most weeks, but at least he had the fortitude to bounce back from last Sunday’s ugly display.

- The 49ers have been so good this season and they play in such a horrendous division that they could actually clinch a playoff spot by Week 11. San Fran’s defense and special teams continues to dominate while Frank Gore carries the offense on his back. It’s been a long time since 49ers-Giants has held meaning and fortunately for NFL fans, that matchup will be on display next Sunday in ‘Frisco.

- Diehard Dolphins fans have to respect their team’s effort the last two weeks. Miami nearly beat the Giants last Sunday in New York and waxed a Kansas City team today that had just won four in a row. Fans and the media can talk all they want about the “Suck for Luck” campaign, but clearly the Dolphins are still fighting.

- Who needs Andre Johnson when your team rushes for 261 yards on the ground? Even Matt Schaub rushed for a touchdown today for Houston.

- The legend of Andy Dalton continues to grow. He threw for three touchdowns today while rallying the now 6-2 Bengals, who have now won five straight games. Perhaps what was most impressive about his performance today was the zip he put on his 5-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell in the fourth quarter. Not many pundits were talking about Dalton’s arm strength back in April, or the fact that he could potentially lead the Bengals to their longest winning streak since 1988. The defense is still the key to whether or not Cincinnati will continue to contend for a playoff spot. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that Dalton continues to play like a seasoned vet instead of first-year starter.

- I watched Patrick Peterson’s punt live and as he was backing up to his own goal line to receive the kick, I’m saying, “What the F is this kid doing?” Then he broke four tackles while doing a pirouette and running 99 yards for a game-winning score. He now has three punt returns for touchdowns this year and while his coverage continues to be a work in progress, he’s been worth the price of admission on special teams.

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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