NFL Week Eight – Rapid Reactions/Thoughts

Ray Rice rushed for three scores against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and helped his team rally to score 24-points in the second half!

By Matt Noonan 

It’s been a rather interesting season.

No one would have imagined that after roughly eight weeks, (excluding Monday’s game between Kansas City and San Diego), Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Detroit would be in contention for playoff spots.

Did anyone expect the Indianapolis Colts or Miami Dolphins to be winless, especially after eight weeks of the regular season?

Finally, who truly believed that Matt Hasselbeck and the Tennessee Titans were going to be a good team?

Again, it’s been quite an up-and-down season, but here are some rapid reactions and thoughts from Sunday’s slate, enjoy.

Philadelphia Runs Past Dallas’s Defense: Against the Cowboys defense, which was ranked first in the league against the run, the Eagles rushed for 239-yards and two scores thanks to LeSean McCoy, who finished the game with 185 yards on 30 carries, and quarterback Michael Vick, who added 50 yards on seven carries.

Indeed, Rob Ryan’s defense has experienced a great deal of success this season against the run, but perhaps a game like Sunday’s against the Eagles might help sure up the front seven for the remainder of the season.

Both squads are currently in a three-way tie for second place with Washington, and two games behind New York.

Blame Game – Bill Belichick:Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick once again proved that he’s human.

In the fourth quarter, Belichick chose not to challenge a Rob Gronkowski catch, which appeared to be a touchdown. He also elected to attempt an onside-kick that completely failed.

In some ways, many fans might consider this the second coming of 4th-and-2 from ’09 against the Colts, but all in all, there’ll certainly be a lot of questions directed toward the field general on Monday at Gillette Stadium when he meets with the media.

Great Endings: Sunday featured some bizarre, yet interesting endings.

In Baltimore, running back Ray Rice finished the game with three touchdowns, and 63 yards on 18 carries, as the Ravens beat the Arizona Cardinals, 30-27. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 31-of-51 passes for 336 yards, but didn’t toss a single touchdown.

In Carolina, Christian Ponder led the Minnesota Vikings down the field, and set up a Ryan Longwell field goal, which helped the “Purple People Eaters” defeat the Panthers, 24-21, as well as end snap a two-game losing streak.

In New Jersey, the New York Giants rallied to score 10-points during the final quarter to beat Miami, 20-17. Quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz on a 25-yard pass late in the final quarter, which secured the win for Big Blue.

Finally, in St. Louis, the Rams snapped their six-game losing streak by upsetting the New Orleans Saints, 31-21. Running back Steven Jackson rushed for 159 yards and two scores, while quarterback A.J. Feeley completed 20-of-37 passes for 175 yards and tossed one touchdown too. Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished the game with one touchdown and two interceptions.

NFL Week Seven – Afternoon Scoreboard

Tim Tebow led the Broncos on Sunday to their second win of the season against the Dolphins! (Photo courtesy of the Broncos website)

By Brian Willwerth 

JETS 27, CHARGERS 21 – My Game of the Day comes from the Meadowlands.  Trailing by eleven points at halftime, the home team scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to rally past San Diego. Plaxico Burress was the go-to guy. He only caught four passes all day, but three of them were for touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. The Jets are a perfect [4-0] at home, [4-3] overall, and the Chargers are now [4-2].

BROWNS 6, SEAHAWKS 3 – Here’s a candidate for most boring game of the season so far. But Cleveland will take it. Phil Dawson kicked two field goals of over 50 yards for the Browns’ only points. He had two other kicks blocked, but in the end it didn’t matter.  Cleveland is back to [.500].

FALCONS 23, LIONS 16 – What a huge win for Atlanta. Michael Turner ran for 122 yards at Ford Field. Matt Ryan threw for 218 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was knocked out of the game briefly in the second half, but did return. Detroit has lost two in a row after winning its first five games.

TEXANS 41, TITANS 7 – This was blowout city in Nashville. It was the Arian Foster show. He accounted for 234 yards of total offense and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) and now Houston is back in first place in the AFC South.

BRONCOS 18, DOLPHINS 15 (OT) Tim Tebow did nothing for the first 55 minutes of this game in Miami. Then everything changed on a dime. Trailing 15-0, he threw a touchdown pass to put Denver on the board. Then after the Broncos recovered an onside kick, Tebow marched his team down the field for another score, plus the game-tying two-point conversion with 17-seconds to play. In overtime, the winless Dolphins fumbled it away, and Matt Prater kicked a 52-yard field goal to win it.

BEARS 24, BUCCANEERS 18 – In London, Matt Forte ran wild for 145 yards and a touchdown for Chicago. The Bears held off a late rally by Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter. Bucs’ quarterback Josh Freeman was intercepted four times. After traveling overseas, both teams will have their byes next week.

PANTHERS 33, REDSKINS 20 – If we’re talking about a Carolina victory, we must be talking about Cam Newton. In Charlotte, Newton threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score against Washington. ‘Skins quarterback John Beck threw for 279 yards and a touchdown.

PACKERS 33, VIKINGS 27 – This was one of the better games of the day, and a lot closer than a lot of people expected. Aaron Rodgers threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns, which helped Green Bay remain unbeaten. Minnesota rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw two touchdown passes in his first career start, but was also picked off twice.

COWBOYS 37, RAMS 7 – It was a record-setting performance for Dallas rookie running back DeMarco Murray. He ran for a franchise-record 253 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown run, as the Cowboys won easily at home. St. Louis remains winless on the season.

STEELERS 32, CARDINALS 20 – This was a rematch of the 2009 Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh did not need a last-second score to pull this one out. Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes as the Steelers rolled before a crowd full of Terrible Towel-waving fans in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals have lost five in a row.

CHIEFS 28, RAIDERS 0 – In Oakland, Kendrick Lewis and Brandon Flowers each returned interceptions for touchdowns as the defending AFC West champs got back to the .500 mark. New Raiders’ quarterback Carson Palmer did not start, but did see action, yet it didn’t matter.

Analyzing Three NFL QB Controversies

Can Tim Tebow save Denver's season? We'll find out on Sunday against Miami!

By Brian Willwerth 

We’re just past the one-month mark of the NFL season, and several teams are either changing their starting quarterbacks, or thinking about it.

Here’s a look at three such cases.

DENVER BRONCOS – It’s Tebow time, as the much-hyped QB will start for the Broncos on Sunday against the winless Dolphins in Miami. The fans have been screaming for Tim Tebow since day one. Kyle Orton was doomed from the start, and his performance against the Chargers, (6-of 13 for 34 yards) was the icing on the cake. Head coach John Fox had to do something to spark his team. Denver is ranked 27th in passing offense and 22nd in rushing. Tebow has the ability to improve both of those numbers. He’ll be returning to the state where he had so much success in college.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS – The Vikes are 1-4, and Donovan McNabb may have seen his last action for quite some time. He was benched in the second half of Sunday night’s blowout loss to the Bears in favor of rookie Christian Ponder. Of course, you can’t blame McNabb for letting Devin Hester do what he does best, and you can’t blame him for letting Jay Cutler light up the secondary. That said, Minnesota has already blown two big leads already this season vs. Tampa Bay and Detroit. Head coach Leslie Frazier is expected to decide Wednesday whether Ponder will make his first career start against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS – Washington is over .500 [3-2] but when you have Rex Grossman on your team, well I think you know where I’m heading with this. After playing decent football through the first four weeks of the season, Grossman threw four interceptions in the loss to the Eagles – three of them to Philadelphia safety Kurt Coleman. Mike Shanahan benched Grossman in the second half in favor of John Beck. Will this be a permanent change? We’ll see who lines up under center on Sunday in Carolina.

Talking Football with Aaron Burns (Charlotte Weekly)

 

By Dan Rubin

Noontime Sports had the chance to talk some football with our good friend Aaron Burns of the Charlotte Weekly recently about the upcoming season, as well as what fans should expect to occur the next few weeks around the league.

DR: Free Agency is off to a roaring start, but due to the short window, does that mean some players are going to be overpaid or underpaid? Also, does that mean players are more likely to get short or long-term deals and jump at the first offer?

AB: I think with the number of free agents being so high, the number of teams with many needs being high, and teams’ front office personnel being the same number, phones are going to ring off the hook. It’s going to make for possibly the most entertaining preseason ever.

DR: Al Davis abstained from voting on the new CBA deal. Can we confirm if he was actually alive or at least sane?

AB: Al Davis is the guy in the fraternity who voted no on the best incoming pledge class just because he could. There’s always one guy like that, and frankly, I thoroughly enjoy his presence as both outlaw and owner of a middling at best team.

DR: During the lockout, drafted rookies weren’t allowed to receive playbooks and in the case of the Carolina Panthers, who drafted Cam Newton, how did that particular waiting period help or hurt his development toward future success in the league?

AB: Newton got his playbook in the one day the lockout was lifted and has been training at IMG headquarters in California with former pro quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey. Supposedly in late June, he had already absorbed “95 percent” of the Panthers’ new playbook. His learning curve shouldn’t be as bad as some say.

DR: As for the direct part – a lot was made about rookie wage scales and contracts. It looks like draft picks will be forced into more amenable contracts against the salary cap.  For a team like the Panther, who had the number one overall pick, being able to avoid giving Newton a top-dollar contract means they’ll have more money to spend on other areas of need. How much is that going to help rebuild the franchise?

AB: The Panthers have always looked to keep their own, and bringing back DeAngelo Williams, Charles Johnson,James Anderson and Thomas Davis will be paramount. But with this extra cap room, they have the funds to go after a veteran quarterback or a solid offensive lineman, defensive tackle or cornerback. There are some on the market.

DR: When teams report, it’s a short window for preparing for the upcoming season, so which teams are going to get ready the quickest and which ones could fall behind without the offseason conditioning and OTA’s?

AB: The Cincinnati Bengals have to be in the worst shape. Their presumptive quarterback, Andy Dalton, to my knowledge, as a second round pick didn’t get a playbook. Even if he did, he hasn’t been in a camp-like environment like Newton and Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. No team is in great shape, but the quickest turnaround could be in New Orleans. With a rookie running back and most of the core intact, their drop-off is almost non-existent.

DR: Prediction time – Week 6, who’re the teams that break out of the gate fast? Who would be a team or two that you’d believe would be ahead of the curve by this point of the season?

AB: The Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers routinely start strong, and I think they can do it again this year. If I’m going with a surprise pick, watch out for the Kansas City Chiefs.

DR: Instead of spending 11-hours in front of the television, what was your Lockout plans?

AB: You can’t lock out college football. So the gridiron would still dominate my weekends, NFL or not.

DR: How happy are you that the NFL is back in action? Is it a good feeling?

AB: It’s more of a relief to have the NFL and the NCAA than just the NCAA. My life seems to have more harmony with both. But the seasons haven’t started yet. Everyone can have hope of a championship. Well, maybe not the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fans, but most of everyone.

NFL Draft 2011: Day Two Winners and Losers

By Dan Rubin 

Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about the draft’s 2nd and 3rd round selections, goings-on, and overall tomfoolery:

Winners:

The mad genius did it again. Maybe I’m just a wicked homer, but Bill Belichick never disappoints during the NFL Draft. He orchestrated the Patriots to the tune of three second round selections and two third round selections, which he traded into picks and future considerations. When the dust settled, they selected a cornerback, two running backs, and the heir apparent to Tom Brady.

I love the selection of Ryan Mallett. Actually, let me take that back; I really love that pick. I said in my draft preview that the Pats needed a quarterback. Mallett’s the answer. The Patriots are preparing for life after Brady because he won’t play forever. Mallett brings all the coachable tools for the NFL with none of the immediate pressure. He’s going to sit for four years (maybe), learn the system and mature under the tutelage of one of the game’s all time greats. Then, when it’s his time, he’ll be able to step in and seamlessly fill the role. Bill did it again.

I also really liked Cincinnati’s patience with waiting for Andy Dalton. It would’ve been easy to react in the first round and trade up to get Dalton, especially after Minnesota grabbed Christian Ponder. But they waited as long as they could and gambled that Dalton would last through the first two selections of the second round. It doesn’t sound like much, but Buffalo desperately needs a new quarterback (among other things). They passed on Dalton for Aaron Williams, and the rumor of the Bungles trading up to get in front of the Bills to ensure a shot at Dalton was left at just that. With the rumors still swirling regarding the fate and future of Carson Palmer, the Bengals at least made sure they have a contingency plan one way or the other.

Division I-FCS came out on top on Day 2, as well. Usually, the former I-AA doesn’t produce players until the late rounds, when guys from Coppin State start making their appearances. But 2011 is another year where I-AA players went in the first few rounds.  Both players were offensive linemen, but Benjamin Ijalana (Villanova) joined the Colts, and William Rackley (Lehigh) and Kenrick Ellis (Hampton) joined the Jaguars and Jets, respectively, in the second and third rounds, respectively.  It also marks another year where the J-E-T-S dipped into the FCS division, where they took Vlad Ducasse from UMass last year.

ESPN gets a “big thumbs up” for its coverage of the second and third rounds. They trotted out everybody under the sun for the first round, and it seemed like it was too much talking and not enough of the players. Maybe it’s because the later rounds don’t have as much of an opinion, but they had packages for just about everyone on the second round. I saw more blocking package highlight reels for those big daddies getting picked than I’d seen with some players in the first round. And Jon Gruden continued some of the best analysis I’ve heard when it comes to the NFL.  That’s saying something because Gruden is so awesomely bad on Monday Night Football. I’m actually looking forward to hearing what he has to say on the final day of the draft.

Gruden also gets a huge pat on the back for the way he handled the lockout situation. Ok, the lockout is back, thanks to a judge in the middle of the NFL Draft. At least that’s not awful timing or anything, given the events of yesterday’s pre-draft debacle booing at Roger Goodell (more on this later). But Gruden said what we all are thinking – “Look, I have no idea what these four and five-syllable words even mean.  Let’s just get back to the game.”  Thank you, Coach.  Thank you very much.

Kudos to the league for trotting out every dusty alumnus they could find. Seeing Joe Morris the day after I heard about Mark Ingram, Sr. brought me back to memories of Tecmo Bowl on the old Nintendo Entertainment System. I can still envision Mark Bavaro running that outlet pattern to the bottom of my screen, then hitting him for a first down as Phil Simms trotted the Giants up the field. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve lit up the Los Angles Raiders in that game; every time they trotted out somebody, it gave my dad and I something to talk about, usually around him having seen the guys and me asking about them.

Franco Harris’s Beard gets a class by itself. Looks so natural, no one can tell (Just for Men gel!).

The guy who introduced the Lions second round pick is probably the only person willing to be identified as a Lions fan (for now).  They couldn’t even find a decent alumnus. Apparently Scott Mitchell couldn’t be found.  Maybe they could’ve trotted out Wayne Fontes.

Losers: 

The NFL gets a massive black eye with its labor situation. Rich Eisen said before the first round that it would be great to finally get back to football, even if it was influenced by an uneasy labor situation. And now the league is right back in the headlines for the wrong reasons. As name after name was rattled off, it became quickly overshadowed with the reinstitution of a lockout we, as fans, really don’t want. These billion dollar owners and million dollar players are on the verge of ruining something we all desperately are begging them not to.  And yet nobody seems to care.  Did you not hear the fans?  We’re mad as hell, and they’re going to demonize the one thing we all need as an outlet.

I mean, maybe they haven’t figured it out yet.  Football saved New Orleans after Katrina. A team named the Patriots won the Super Bowl the year of 9/11, armed with a guard who had brothers who ran into the Twin Towers (oh by the way, they were underdogs that everyone loved). This game has a way of touching millions of people, and they’re going to destroy it. I hope you can sense the emotion in those last two paragraphs.  I desperately want my NFL, and even if they do figure it out, there’s a sense that this game and league that I love has been irreparably torn in some capacity. The 2011-2012 season will always be marred by the labor situation because the offseason is so affected by it. Thanks a lot guys.

In terms of rosters, I don’t really get what New England was doing with drafting two running backs. Ok, I get that BenJarvis Green-Ellis probably isn’t a long-term solution. But the guy just ran for 1,000 yards in a year where he wasn’t even the feature back during the first third of the season. So they went out and drafted two running backs out of the four picks on Friday. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. I can understand taking one, but now the backfield is going to be stocked with a ton of guys. Only one can carry the ball at a time, and with Tom Brady under center, you’re not running it every play.

I also don’t get why the Patriots didn’t go after a wide receiver or, more importantly, a defensive lineman. Pass rushing is an issue for this team, and they haven’t yet addressed it. Maybe they have confidence in the returning Value Menu of Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, that guy Love, and Vince Wilfork.  Maybe they’re banking on the return of Ty Warren and a steady improvement of the linebacker corps.  But something felt wrong about taking another rookie cornerback that nobody in New England has probably heard of and not even touching that horrendous pass rush.

Offensive position players were big losers on Day 2. 15 out of 32 and 20 out of 33 picks in the second and third rounds, respectively, were for defense. And now take into account that two of the first four picks in the second round were for Dalton and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The offenses around the league are clicking at a pace never before seen, and the game is starting to shift its focus to how to stop these high-powered attacks.

Speaking of Kaepernick, congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers for making the “Holy Crap We Need to Press A Panic Button” draft pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. As soon as Dalton went to the Bengals, the Niners immediately traded up from 7th in the second round to 4th to ensure they got Kaepernick. They left Mallett on the board and took a guy who ran a weirdo offense in the WAC last year. He also doesn’t throw the ball like a prototypical NFL-style QB. What does that add up to? A poor man’s Vince Young.  They also made the biggest reactionary move of the draft so far when they did that. They needed a QB since Alex Smith (Welcome to Bustville.  Population – you) is not under contract, and right now their only returning signal caller is David Carr.  But they could’ve waited and had the choice of Mallett in that slot. Or they could’ve traded back and amassed some other picks to get Mallett there. Instead, they traded up to take a guy who I don’t think is a very good quarterback.

One last stat on Kaepernick, who is a guy who threw and ran for thousands of yards, Nevada nearly lost to a weak Boston College team in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl this year. Yes they finished the year ranked #11, and they beat Boise State, and Kaepernick put up ungodly numbers. But take away a punt return for a touchdown on special teams, and Nevada loses that game. That’s right, they lose to a BC team that had an offense ranked something like second from the bottom in passing. A good defense shuts him down. What do you think will happen in the NFL, where defenses are awesome?

I’m personally looking forward to Day 3, when teams start to fill out their rosters with some names you probably haven’t heard of.  But Day 3, and the later rounds for that matter, usually fills out a good chunk of star players over time (like that guy with the sweet looking hair who plays for New England.  Brady, I think his name is?).  And for me personally, I’m hoping Mark Herzlich gets selected somewhere.  The 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year deserves a shot at the pros after all he’s been through coming back from cancer, and it would be one of the final stamps on a comeback that I have taken a true personal interest in.  It would make a lot of us who support the fight against cancer very happy and very hopeful for those who suffer from this horrible disease.

See you tomorrow as we wrap up one of the best weekends in the NFL.