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.

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Andre Johnson a game-time decision for Week 8 as optimism fades

Houston Texans Andre Johnson celebrates his touchdown against the Washington Redskins to tie the game in the fourth quarter during their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland September 19, 2010. REUTERS/Molly Riley (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Andre Johnson insists that if his injured hamstring isn’t ready by game time on Sunday, he will not play against the Jaguars this weekend.

Johnson has been out since October 2 when he hurt his hamstring during the Texans’ 17-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He caught four passes for 36 yards before leaving the game after being attended to on the field by team trainers. While he returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday, Johnson doesn’t sound optimistic about his chances of returning this weekend.

“I felt a lot better in practice, but not where I want to be,” said Johnson, who still feels a “tugging” in the back of his leg. “If I don’t feel like I can play, I’m not going to go out there. I definitely won’t do anything to put myself in any danger.”

While that news might sound deflating to Houston fans (as well as fantasy football owners), it’s probably the mindset Johnson needs to have. If he pushes too hard too soon he could wind up aggravating the injury or making it worse, which would shelve him a lot longer than had he just let it heal. With the Texans in prime position to win the AFC South this year, they’re going to need Johnson down the stretch and into the postseason.

2011 NFL Week 7 Primer

Denver Broncos reserve quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates his fourth quarter 12-yard touchdown run against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver. Despite a comeback effort from Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, the Chargers held on for a 29-24 win. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Broncos @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Tim Tebow said that the Denver coaching staff didn’t change the team’s offensive scheme to fit the quarterback’s skill set during the bye week. That makes sense. I mean why would any coaching staff want to try and play to their quarterback’s strengths? Bill Belichick doesn’t do that with Tom Brady. Mike McCarthy doesn’t do that with Aaron Rodgers. Both of those teams largely keep the ball on the ground and let Brady and Rodgers be the game managers they are. (I hate that I even have to write this but I know some people will misconstrue things: I’m being sarcastic.) While I like Tebow’s chances of succeeding this weekend in Miami no matter what the scheme is, I think the Broncos should have styled their offense around what he does best (i.e. being creative in both the run and the pass). But what do I know? I’m a doctor, not an offensive coordinator.

Falcons @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
It’s all well and good that the Falcons want to get back to Michael Turner and their ball-control ways, but at some point OC Mike Mularkey better figure out how to beat teams through the air. Matt Ryan is the only quarterback in the NFC South who has yet to throw for over 300 yards in a game this season and he ranks 17th in the league in overall passing yards. With Julio Jones (hamstring) expected to miss another week, it would be wise for the Falcons to keep the ball on the ground against the Lions’ suspect run defense. But again, at some point Mularkey has to do his job and figure out a way to let Ryan soar. The most obvious solution is to put him in the no-huddle full-time, but Mularkey and Mike Smith’s conservative ways just won’t allow it.

Texans @ Titans, 1:00PM ET
Hey Matt Schaub, it’s go time buddy. The AFC South is yours for the taking and while I understand that you lost your best playmaker and your defense is now without its best weapon, it’s high time you raise your game. Arian Foster is seeing eight man fronts so there’s no reason for you not to exploit defenses with your arm – Andre Johnson or no Andre Johnson. Tennessee’s pass rush is one of the weakest in the league, so figure it out and get your team a win, Matt.

Chargers @ Jets, 1:00PM ET
“The more we get comfortable, we start playing pitch and catch and I’m doing my thing out there, the offense is going to go through the roof,” said Plaxico Burress in regards to Mark Sanchez and the Jet offense. Right, because naturally Plax is the key to whether or not New York’s offense is going to eventually get out of its funk. I think the Jets have it right in giving Shonn Greene an increased workload. The only way they’re going to really get their offense going is relying on the ground game to open things up for Sanchez. Burress is probably right when he suggests that he and Sanchez need to develop more chemistry, but the key to this offense is Greene and the ground attack.

Redskins @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
Mike Shanahan is in a mess of his own making. Everyone knew going into the season that Rex Grossman is fine in small doses, but over the course of a season he’s going to hurt you. Thus, now that Shanahan has switched things up and is starting John Beck on Sunday, he better win. The Panthers are better than their 1-5 record would indicate but this is a game the Redskins have to win if they want to keep pace with the Giants in the NFC East.

Seahawks @ Browns, 1:00PM ET
Peyton Hillis has an injured hamstring and won’t practice on Thursday. His agent has advised him not to play in this game, or the next 12. If a case of the sniffles is equal to missing one game, then an injured hamstring must be equal to 13 missed games. Hillis and his agent just can’t be too careful when it comes to the King of Fumbles’ health.

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2011 NFL Week 6 Primer

San Francisco 49ers new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh makes a point to officials during play against the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 20, 2011. UPI/Terry Schmitt

49ers @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
Neither of these teams has to prove anything this weekend. Both the Lions and 49ers are legit and if you disagree then you really haven’t been paying attention lately. No team in the league is playing better defensively right now than San Francisco and Detroit’s passing game is only overshadowed by the league’s elite (i.e. New England, New Orleans and Green Bay). This is the most intriguing matchup in Week 6 and I can’t wait to see the result.

Bills @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
What a great test for both of these teams. The Bills are 4-1 but in their two road games this season, they crushed a bad Kansas City team and lost to the Bengals after squandering a double-digit lead at halftime. The Giants, meanwhile, were playing with loads of confidence until they overlooked the Seahawks last week at home. Focus won’t be an issue for either of these teams as they both look to use this game as a measuring stick.

Eagles @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET
It’s funny, the Eagles haven’t played a full four quarters since Week 1 and have dropped four straight and yet, you get the feeling that people still expect Andy Reid and Co. to figure it out. Well, it’s now or never. If the Eagles can get to 2-4 with a bye week coming up, maybe they can put a little run together in the second half. But if they lose this week to another divisional foe then Reid and his coaching staff will have to sit on a five-game losing streak for two weeks. With their backs against the wall, if the Eagles can’t win this Sunday their deficit in the NFC East may be too much to overcome.

Panthers @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET
People are attempting not to break their necks jumping off the Falcons bandwagon – and for good reason. Their offense is broke and coordinator Mike Mularkey keeps trying the same conservative tactics to try and fix it. He’s either unable or unwilling to change and either way, the Falcons keep losing. Even though Atlanta owns the better record coming into this NFC South showdown, it’s Carolina that’s covered in optimism right now.

Rams @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
The mini scare they received last week in Atlanta may have proven to be great for Green Bay. Before the Falcons built a 14-0 lead on the Packers, Green Bay may have believed it was invincible. But they quickly got things corrected, won the game, and now they can get re-focused with another inferior team in the Rams coming to town this weekend. Two weeks ago the Packers crushed the Broncos and if they want to keep firing on all cylinders, Green Bay needs to rout a bad St. Louis team as well.

Jaguars @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
I guess all those claims that the Steelers’ run was over after they lost to the Texans were a tad overstated, huh? The Steelers looked like their dominant selves last Sunday against the Titans and now get to feast on a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert this weekend. The Jaguars haven’t had much offense since Gabbert took over the quarterback reins and they could once again struggle at Heinz Field this Sunday. That’s not an easy place to play when your resume is lacking experience.

Colts @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
The Bengals have a golden opportunity to get to 4-2 on the season but they face a huge test this Sunday. No not on the field, as the Colts are less fearsome than a box of puppies. But mentality this is a prime opportunity for Cincinnati to be overconfident. They know they should beat the Colts and that’s often how NFL teams get burned. If anything, Marvin Lewis and his team should remember how overconfident the Bills were coming into Cincinnati a few weeks ago. Buffalo believed it had a win locked up after knocking off the Patriots the week before and the Bills squandered a double-digit lead at halftime. Beware the letdown, Cincinnati.

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Texans fans want Kubiak fired, are planning protest

Texans fans are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

According to the Houston Chronicle and ESPN.com, fans who believe coach Gary Kubiak should be fired are organizing a rally for Sunday’s game to make their point.

Fans Brad White and Scott Carter are hoping the demonstration before Sunday’s season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars will help convince team owner Bob McNair to change coaches, according to the report.

“I want to stress that I don’t want people to come out to bash Kubiak,” White told the Chronicle. “We don’t want vulgar signs out there. We’re not there to bash him. We’re there to say that we want a change.”

“Five years has been enough,” White said of Kubiak’s coaching tenure in Houston, according to the report. “We’ve regressed this year. Minus a couple players, we believe the players aren’t responding to [the coaching staff] anymore.”

I don’t disagree that Kubiak should be fired – his record (36-43) through five seasons speaks for itself. Many people believe that this team has had enough talent to at least make one playoff appearance in the past few years but it just hasn’t happened.

That said, the Texans had issues coming into the season that people wanted to look past because of their explosive offense. Everyone knew the secondary was highly inexperienced as a whole and would need time to gel. So it shouldn’t be surprising that opposing teams were able to shred Houston through the air on a weekly basis.

Everyone got excited when the Texans started 4-2, as well they should have. That win against the Colts in Week 1 was impressive and they showed some grit on the road in Week 2 against the Redskins.

But when a team has issues, they eventually come to the surface and that’s what happened in Houston. It didn’t help that Andre Johnson was banged up for most of the year, or that Owen Daniels was still recovering from knee surgery, or that Matt Schaub showed an inability to finish games strong. The wheels came off and unfortunately for Kubiak, he’ll be the one that has to pay for that.

But just because the Texans make a coaching change doesn’t mean that all of their problems will vanish. This isn’t a team that’s one missing piece away, which has to be disheartening to fans.

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