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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 6

1. As it turns out, the AFC is pretty mediocre.
Sunday was a horrible day for AFC enthusiasts. New England allowed Russell Wilson to complete another desperation heave to the end zone, Green Bay smacked around Houston, and the Ravens lost two more stars on defense. Now that the dust has settled, it’s fair to wonder if the AFC isn’t that good. The top of the NFC packs more punch than the “best” teams in the AFC and even the teams with losing records like New Orleans, Dallas, Detroit and Carolina are dangerous. Granted, the Texans are going to be fine. They ran into a very motivated Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night and they got torched, but they’ll bounce back. The Patriots are still going to win the AFC East because they won’t lose to the Jets, Dolphins or Bills in head-to-head games. Baltimore should win the AFC North because Cincinnati and Pittsburgh can’t gain any traction and we’ll find out who is the class in the AFC West tonight when the Chargers host the Broncos. But it became apparent yesterday that the NFC has better talent from top to bottom this year.

2. The Falcons are perfectly flawed.
It’s certainly understandable if you don’t view the Falcons in the same light as you have other unbeaten teams at this point in a NFL season. On Sunday the Raiders out gained Atlanta 474 to 286, held the ball longer (36:26 to 23:34), and intercepted Matt Ryan three times in the first half. The Falcons can’t run the ball effectively, they can’t stop the run, and the play of their offensive line has been inconsistent. But it says something when a team is outplayed and yet still finds a way to win. The Falcons have yet to play their best game and they’re 6-0 heading into their bye. They believe that if there’s enough time on the clock, Ryan will pull victory out of the jaws of defeat like he has the past two weeks. It’s almost become routine to watch him lead fourth quarter comebacks and yet there’s nothing routine about what he’s been able to accomplish. Granted, he’s aided by a gluttony of offensive weapons and a defense that continues to make big plays. But when the chips are down it’s Ryan who has to make the crucial decisions and thus far, flawed or not, he and the Falcons have been perfect.

3. The Ravens are in trouble.
Heading into Week 6, the Ravens ranked 23rd against the pass and their run defense had sprung a leak. And that was before they lost emotional leader Ray Lewis to a torn triceps and top cover corner Ladarius Webb to a season-ending ACL injury on Sunday. Because Pittsburgh and Cincinnati can’t get out of their own way, Baltimore is in good shape to win the AFC North. But the Ravens were already without Terrell Suggs so the losses of Lewis and Webb are crippling. Now more than ever this has to become Joe Flacco’s team. He played fine in the Ravens’ 31-29 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday but the time has come where he needs to elevate the play of those around him. A few weeks ago we were talking about Baltimore’s offense finally being a strength. Now that injuries are piling up on the defensive side of the ball, there better be a lot of truth to that statement or the Ravens will become directionless awfully quick.

4. The Packers are far from done.
‘Here we go again’ likely spilled out of the mouths of some Green Bay fans when Aaron Rodgers missed James Jones on a possible 40-plus yard touchdown on the Packers’ opening drive last night. With injuries piling up on both sides of the ball, it had become reasonable to talk about the Packers missing the playoffs this year. But after Rodgers threw for 338 yards and six touchdowns (three of which landed in Jordy Nelson’s hands) in a very Rodgers-like performance, you realized Green Bay isn’t going anywhere. This is still a very dangerous team and the Pack put every NFC team on notice last night. If their offense starts firing on all cylinders again, they’ll quickly erase their 2-3 start and put themselves back in position to win the NFC North. They’ve already beaten Chicago once and Minnesota doesn’t have the weapons to keep up in a shootout. If the Pack were able to do what they did against a stout Houston defense, troubling times are ahead for opposing defensive coordinators.

5. The Eagles’ latest loss wasn’t solely on Vick.
Due to another multi-turnover day, Michael Vick will once again take the heat in the Eagles’ 26-23 loss to the Lions on Sunday. But his offensive line didn’t do him many favors, as he absorbed a number of big hits in the pocket. Brent Celek also dropped a potential touchdown and Vick’s 70-yard score to Jeremy Maclin should have been enough for the Eagles to escape with a victory. But because Philadelphia’s pass defense couldn’t stop Matthew Stafford on the Lions’ final drive of regulation, the Lions forced overtime, where they eventually won. Look, Vick has to play better. He can’t keep turning the ball over and expect that he’ll put together a last-second drive to win the game in the end. That puts too much pressure on his teammates, his coaching staff, and his defense. But it takes an entire team to underachieve as badly as Philadelphia has. With the amount of talent that they have on both sides of the ball, they shouldn’t be losing games in which opponents like Detroit keep handing them opportunities to win. Criticize Vick all you want, but Andy Reid and everyone else in midnight green deserve to be ripped, too.

6. The 49ers still have a very big crutch.
The 49ers are a very good football team. They play good defense, they can run the ball, and Alex Smith has emerged as a quarterback that you can win with. But in their 26-3 victory on Sunday, the Giants proved that the Niners still have one very big problem: They lack explosiveness. This isn’t a team will strike for many big plays so when they get down by multiple scores, they’re in trouble. They’re so used to playing with a lead and grinding opponents down that they’re lost when they trail by two touchdowns. When defensive lines are able to pin their ears back and get after Smith, San Francisco’s offensive line becomes very average. And while the Niners did well to add more playmakers to their receiving corps, they still seem to be lacking. Granted, because of their running game and defense, the 49ers won’t find themselves in many situations like they did on Sunday. But considering Atlanta, New York, Green Bay and Chicago can all beat you through the air, Jim Harbaugh has to be concerned with what he saw yesterday.

7. Time to pump the breaks on Minnesota.
If you just look at Christian Ponder’s stat line (35-of-52, 352 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs), one could argue that he played well. But you wouldn’t come to the same conclusion if you actually watched his performance. He missed open receivers, he became overly reliant on the checkdown, and he threw one of the worst interceptions that you’ll ever see from any quarterback, airmailing a receiver open in the flat in the second half. Granted, he and Percy Harvin kept the Vikings in the game in the fourth quarter. But thanks to three turnovers and some shoddy defense, Minnesota suffered its first loss of the season. Granted, this defeat doesn’t prove that the Vikings are pretenders. This isn’t an overly flawed team and there’s no shame in allowing RGIII to school you both on the ground and through the air. But if the Vikings want to keep pace with Green Bay and Chicago in the division, this is a game they should win.

8. It was only a matter of time in Arizona.
The wheels have inevitably come off the Arizona Cardinals. Heading into Week 6 the Bills had been outscored 97-31 the previous two weeks and yet found a way to beat the Cardinals 19-16 in Arizona on Sunday. Granted, let’s give Buffalo its due. Those players could have quit on Chan Gailey but clearly they united by staying on the West Coast this week and now they return to Buffalo with a respectable 3-3 record. But nobody believed Arizona was a legitimate playoff contender and the Cardinals have been exposed the past two weeks. Kevin Kolb has proved he’s one tough son of a bitch while taking a pounding served by his own offensive line. But it was only a matter of time before he was seriously injured and now the Cardinals might have to go back to John Skelton. With games against Minnesota, San Francisco, Green Bay and Atlanta coming up, Arizona should be knocked out of postseason contention by mid-November.

9. KC Fans: Welcome to the Brady Quinn experience.
For those Chiefs fans that cheered when Matt Cassel was knocked out of last weeks’ game, you deserve every bit of Brady Quinn. Cassel may not be the answer at quarterback for Kansas City, but neither is Quinn, who threw for just 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Chiefs’ embarrassing 38-10 loss to the Bucs. Granted, his two interceptions weren’t all his fault. The first pick was dropped by tight end Steve Maneri and the second was striped from Dexter McCluster. But Quinn has never been very accurate, he continues to display poor footwork (which dates back to his days at Notre Dame), and his average pass went for just 4.7 yards. Due to his inability to find a reliable starting quarterback (and backup QB for that matter), you have to wonder how much longer GM Scott Pioli has in Kansas City.

10. Weeden continues to get better.
Even in the Browns’ loss to the Giants last week, you could see that rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden was getting better. He finally picked up his first NFL win on Sunday, as Cleveland knocked of Cincinnati, 34-24. Weeden completed 17-of-29 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He once again struck for a big play, hitting Josh Gordon for a 71-yard score in the first half. He needs to do a better job limiting the turnovers but there’s a lot of gunslinger in the 28-year-old rookie, who continues to get better each week. Heading into Week 6 the Browns seemed destined to claim the top pick in next year’s draft. But don’t be surprised if Cleveland picks up its second straight win when it travels to Indianapolis next week. The Browns are better than what their record would indicate.

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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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 6 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…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) is congratulated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the Bucs’ victory after their NFL football game in Tampa, Florida October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme(UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- A week after the Bucs were absolutely embarrassed by the 49ers in San Francisco, they turn around on Sunday and dominate the Saints to even things up in the NFC South. Granted, this was the Saints’ third-straight road game and their head coach had to call plays from the bench and from up in the booth after tearing his MCL and fracturing his tibia in a nasty first-quarter collision with his tight end on the sidelines. But still, you can’t take anything away from the Bucs today. They picked off Drew Brees, forced four turnovers and got a 300-yard performance out of Josh Freeman. They were also without promising runner LeGarrette Blount, but Earnest Graham filled in admirably with a 109-yard effort. Suddenly the NFC South is once again tight, as the Saints and Bucs are both 4-2 and the Falcons are only one game behind at 3-3.

- Who would have thought that the midfield handshake would provide more action than the actual game between the 49ers and Lions today? I’m sure plenty of Lion fans were upset with Jim Harbaugh’s excitement following the Niners’ win in Detroit, which is understandable. Considering Harbaugh didn’t have his finest coaching performance of the year, he probably could have toned down his exuberance while heading out to midfield to shake Jim Schwartz’s hand. But let’s make one thing clear: If you’re going to dish it out, you better be willing to take it. And Schwartz has been dishing it out all year in the form of taunting opposing players and nearly knocking himself out with hay-maker fist pumps. In fact, as my good buddy Drew (a huge Lions fan) pointed out following the game, Schwartz gave Harbaugh guff in the first quarter after the San Fran coach challenged a touchdown. Schwartz seemingly shouted “No the rules!” at the 49er sideline. The Niners won and Harbaugh has every right to be excited. Schwartz should have kept his composure.

- For about the 9,000,000 time in my career, I was wrong about the Bears. They screw me at every turn. When I predict that they’ll win, they don’t. When I say they’ll lose, they completely dominate a divisional opponent 39-10 on national television. I don’t understand them and quite frankly, I don’t want to understand them. I have zero clue when it comes to predicting the success or failures of the Chicago Bears, whom I predicted would beat Peyton Manning in the 2006 Super Bowl. (We all know how that turned out and I think it’s fitting that I mention that game on the same day Rex Grossman throws four interceptions.) Tonight I thought Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson would take over the game in Chicago and instead, Jay Cutler and Devin Hester put on a clinic. They were masterful against a Minnesota team that I thought was a tad better than its record indicated. Thus, I humbly eat crow, as I was once again was wrong about Chicago. Congrats, Bears – you mother…

Read the rest of this entry »

Frank Gore helps 49ers win first game

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20: Frank Gore  of the San Francisco 49ers is introduced against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on September 20, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

It’s been a long six weeks for Mike Singletary’s 49ers, but they finally earned their first victory on the year.

Frank Gore shredded the Raiders for 149 yards on 25 carries to lead San Fran to a 17-9 victory. He didn’t have a catch or a touchdown, but his 64-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter helped the Niners ice the game.

Alex Smith only completed 16 of his 33 pass attempts for 196 yards, but he threw two touchdowns and more importantly, didn’t turn the ball over. He got Michael Crabtree (4 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD) and Vernon Davis (4 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD) somewhat involved, which is one of the many things San Francisco fans have been calling for over the past month.

On the other side, Jason Campbell was filthy bad. He completed just 8-of-21 passes for 83 yards and was intercepted twice. You would have thought that San Francisco was playing with 20 guys on defense with how poorly Campbell performed. He was atrocious and should get acquainted with the bench for when Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder) comes back.

This wasn’t a pretty win for the Niners, but it didn’t have to be. They have a long road ahead of them to get back into the race in the NFC West, but maybe this victory will give them confidence.

Broncos lose to Jets on horse crap interference call

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez prepares to throw against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter of their NFL football game in Denver October 17, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

With the Jets facing a 4th-and-6 from Denver’s 48-yard line with just over a minute to play, the Broncos had to have felt confident that they were going to earn a huge win over one of the top teams in the AFC.

The Broncos held a 20-17 lead and Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez had just thrown two straight incomplete passes to bring up a fourth down. When he began to scramble on that crucial fourth down, he heaved a desperation pass to receiver Santonio Holmes, who was being covered by Renaldo Hill deep inside Denver territory. The pass fell short, but the ref standing on the sidelines immediately threw his flag to indicate pass interference on Hill.

The ref may have been in perfect position to make a call, but that doesn’t mean he made the right one. Hill did have a hand on Holmes and at one point he even had his hand on the receiver’s facemask, but to say that he interfered with Holmes’ ability to make the catch is a reach. Should it have been a 15-yard facemask? Sure. But not interference. Both the receiver and corner have a right to the ball and when it was underthrown, Hill was just trying to get in position to knock the ball down while keeping a hand on Holmes at the same time. But he didn’t shove Holmes, he didn’t impede his progress and it wasn’t a situation where he wasn’t looking back at the ball. It was a crap call, plain and simple.

The result of the penalty brought the ball down to the 2-yard line and allowed the Jets to score on a LaDainian Tomlinson 2-yard run one play later. Despite a late drive by the Broncos, New York recovered a fumble at midfield to put the game away.

Bad calls happen every week in the NFL, but it’s always a shame when they affect the outcome of a game.

Brett Favre apparently thinks he’s bigger than the NFL

Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre walks off the field after an incomplete pass late in the second half of their NFL football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, New Jersey, October 11, 2010. The Jets won the game. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Everyone knows Lord Favre has an ego but who knew it was the actual size of China.

According to a report by ESPN.com, Favre has already declined a meeting with NFL security chief Milt Alherich, who is leading an investigation into allegations that Lord sent inappropriate text messages to former Jets employee Jenn Sterger in 2008. The league has allowed Favre the final option of meeting either Monday or Tuesday, but who knows if he’ll spurn the NFL again.

The kicker is that Alherich and his security department has had zero success to interview Sterger, too. So if Favre cooperates and Sterger doesn’t press the issue, then chances are the Vikings’ QB won’t face any disciplinary action. Based on the evidence (uh, internet evidence) it’s clear that Favre made several advances on Sterger during his time in New York. But if she remains uncooperative, then how can the league push forward with its investigation?

If I’m Favre, I’m holding the meeting with Alherich and my only response to his questions would be: “Prove it.”

“Did you send a text message to Jenn Sterger with a photo of your penis, Mr. Favre?”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t but you’re going to have to prove that I sent the junk mail to Mrs. Sterger. Prove that it’s my junk in those photos, Mr. NFL Security Man.”

We’ll see what Favre decides at the start of the week, but the NFL isn’t going to just let this die. He’s not bigger than the league, even if he thinks he is.

On a related note, the Vikings picked up their second win of the season on Sunday when they beat the Cowboys, 24-21. Favre completed 14-of-19 passes for only 118 yards and a touchdown, but the key is that he only turned the ball over once (a fumble), as opposed to his normal three-plus turnovers.

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