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Vick Shines in Eagles’ MNF Destruction of Redskins by Lloyd Vance

November 16, 2010 1 comment

Michael Vick, “You Were Ridiculous!” in the Eagles 59-28 Monday Night Football destruction of the Washington Redskins

With the signing of Donovan McNabb earlier in the day to a somewhat unexpected 5-year, $78 million contract extension with $40 million guaranteed that will more than likely allow the veteran quarterback to end his storied career in the Nation’s Capital, everything seemed in place for a shining moment on Monday Night Football. 

But…Hold-up wait a minute as the quarterback that set the NFL’s favorite weekly evening drama into orbit was none other than McNabb’s former understudy’s understudy, Michael Vick.  The mercurial quarterback, who many doubted ever could become a “complete” passer, opened several eyes as he had a magical night in the Philadelphia Eagles 59-28 demolition of the Washington Redskins (4-5) on MNF.

Vick was the catalyst as the Eagles (6-3) busted out to a 35-0 lead early in the second quarter.  In a night where McNabb – passing numbers 17 for 31 for 295 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs in the loss — could only applaud his former Syracuse recruit.  Vick gave Eagles’ Nation something to remember for a long time. 

The Birds set team records for total yards in a game (592), points in a half (45) and had the biggest lead after the first quarter for any NFL road team (28-0) since at least 1950.  “We got outcoached. We got outplayed. They did everything right,” Redskins disgruntled DL Albert Haynesworth said after the embarrassing loss.

At the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles first mini-camp after the draft, I noted to a fellow media member the Vick looked to be 100% back and then he impressed me more by sounding like a new mature humbled individual when I talked with him after practice.  I thought, “Wow”, this guy is going to be an asset helping out new starter as a veteran back-up and serving in the Wildcat.  But none of us had any idea that the NFL’s new quarterback guru, Andy Reid, had remolded the fallen star and created MV7 version 2010, a masterpiece.

Redemption road has been a long one for the former NFL superstar turned public enemy number one for his part in a notorious dogfighting situation that cost him over two years away from the game that he so dearly loves.  But this is not your standard, “Michael Vick is Back” story as there is no question regarding whether the former 3-time Pro Bowl player can redeem himself.

No, the real question is “How Can’t Michael Vick be considered the leading candidate for the 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player Award?”  Forget about McNabb and his extension – former Eagles franchise great already has his hands full enough with a Washington team that badly needs some offensive talent – plus former Reid “anointed” starter Kevin Kolb.

Vick is playing at a level that deserves to put him in any conversation with the Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.  That’s right…I am doing the unthinkable in putting Vick in a quarterback class that some thought he could ever achieve.  Incredibly at age 30, the former Atlanta troubled prodigy has become the player everyone thought he could be when the Falcons made him the NFL’s first overall draft pick way back in 2001. 

His speed to the corner is at an elite running back’s  level, his arm is looking better than any quarterback in the league right now and under the guidance of Reid, Vick has the work ethic and pocket presence that has to be leaving everyone in the NFL scratching their heads… are you reading Greg Knapp.

On his magical night, Vick became the first player in NFL history with at least 300 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a game. Ironically it was Vick’s magical legs — ran eight times for 80 yards and two scores plus moved past Steve Young and into second place in NFL history for yards rushing by a quarterback – that were an afterthought as his arm did all his talking.  The former Virginia Tech star threw an 88-yard laser touchdown pass to a streaking DeSean Jackson on his first play of the game and he never looked back in one of the greatest performances in Monday Night Football history. 

“I’ve had some great games in my day,” Vick said. “But I don’t think I’ve had one quite like this one.”  He accounted for 6 touchdowns while finishing with off the chart passing numbers finished 20 for 28 for 333 yards and four touchdowns – completed first 10 passes of the night.  But more impressive to me is the fact that Vick hasn’t thrown an interception or lost a fumble this season – sorry Brett Favre…you lead the league with 16 INTs. 

The Birds are 4-0 when Vick starts and finishes the game, which has made him an instant star in Philadelphia and galvanized a once fractured fanbase. We will see if the Vick Express can continue all the way through the playoffs, if he too can get a coveted extension, and continue playing at a level the NFL has not scene since Steve Young’s magical 1995 Super Bowl winning year for the Niners.

Eagles’ veteran receiver Jason Avant said of his quarterback’s phenomenal play, “The guy is unreal. How do you defend him when we have everything going? I have not seen anything like that. It was so much fun out there.”

But more importantly, the Eagles and Vick now have move into a NFC East first-place tie with the New York Giants (6-3) setting the stage for next week’s megawatt Sunday Night Football battle at the Linc.

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2009 NFL Season – Week 10 Review by Lloyd Vance

Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was one of Lloyd’s Lackey’s for Week 10 of the 2009 NFL Season

The 2009 NFL Season has finally reached the double-digit week number portion of the schedule.  As the weeks keep fly by, the league keeps chugging along with a sense more than ever that soon enough playoff clarity will soon be upon us…well maybe.  After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Have’s” including two undefeated teams (Colts and Saints both 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (six teams with 2 or less wins).  But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 3-6 to 5-4) that still need to figure out, real fast, if they are joining or jumping out of the playoff hunt.  This week also marked the last set of bye weeks with the Houston Texans and New York Giants both trying to heal-up for a stretch run, so now the “real” fun is about to start in the NFL.

Week 10’s headlines were dominated by a mega Sunday Night Football heavyweight match-up (Patriots-Colts) and a strong undercard (Bengals-Steelers, Eagles-Chargers, Cowboys-Packers, and Falcons-Panthers).  But there was one common theme that I saw during Week 10’s fifteen games. Like Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s No Place Like Home”.  For the first time in a while, we saw home teams including underdogs (Washington Redskins) fight back to regain home field advantage.  In fact, home teams were a combined 10-5 this weekend thus proving that you must defend your home turf in order to succeed in the NFL.  The trend started in the NFL’s first Thursday Night game of the season with the home team San Francisco 49ers beating the turnover prone Chicago Bears 10-6 on NFL Network. 

The game other than Bears QB Jay Cutler’s devastating 5 interceptions was rather boring, but there was some excitement at the end.  After Cutler and the Bears finally found their mojo – moved the ball all the way to San Francisco’s 12-yard line.  The Niners needed a great goalline stand culminating in safety Michael Lewis’ game-ending interception to hold on for the win. After the game, Cutler took most of the blame for the loss and said,  “It was tough. I have to apologize to the defense”.  He added, “I think the offense as a whole has to apologize. They played a great game and kept us in there even through all the turnovers.”   I know it was not Picasso, but to Niners head coach Mike Singletary he will take it as his team jumped right back into the playoff race.  It will now be real interesting to see if the Niners can catch the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals (lead by 2 games) or compete for a wildcard spot with teams like the Eagles, Giants, Falcons, and Panthers. 

The Niners home win was nice, but any game talk this week revolved around the Colts and Patriots super match-up as the two heated rivals played for the 10th time since 2002, including playoffs.  The Indianapolis Colts (9-0) continued their steady climb through their 16-game schedule by remaining undefeated by beating the New England Patriots by a score of 35-34 in an “Instant Classic”. Super Bowl XLIII ½, as some are calling it, was a thrilling game filled with plenty offense, solid defense, and strong quarterback play — two teams combined for 69 points and 884 combined net yards.  The game came down to the last seconds with Colts QB Peyton Manning (28-44, 327 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs) quickly hitting WR Reggie Wayne with a 1-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds on the clock to comeback from a 17-point deficit and an improbable of victory.  The Colts have now won 18 straight regular season games (2nd longest in NFL history) and have also won 11 straight home games (5-0 in 2009), which ties the second-longest home win streak in Colts’ history. 

But this game will forever be remembered for one play that could have very well marked the end of the dynasty for the team that has dominated this decade in the NFL.  New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with the situation of a 4th-and-2 at his own 28-yard line and the Patriots clinging to a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left on the clock, decided to go for it.  That’s right from very deep in his own side of the field, Belichick decided that his defense was not good enough to stop Manning from driving the Colts offense 70 to 80 yards for the winning score and disregarded an “obvious” punting situation.  As you probably already know…Belichick now looks like the 2009 reincarnation of former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer after gambling and losing.  On the crucial play, Patriots QB Tom Brady threw to RB Kevin Faulk and the Colts defense stopped him short from converting the first down.

After the game Belichick simply said, “I was trying to win the game”.  But his actions spoke much louder than his words.  It seems with veterans DT Richard Seymour, SS Rodney Harrison, LB Mike Vrabel, and others no longer on the Patriots defense, that the former 3-time Super Bowl champions’ defense can no longer be counted as one of the best in the NFL.  And apparently by his decision Belichick agrees too.  I am still scratching my head as to “how” fBelichick’s confidence in his defense has fallen that now their “genius” head coach’s decision is the subject of a national debate.  However the Patriots at a record of 6-3 and a 2-game lead in the AFC East are still firmly in the AFC’s playoff picture, but now there are more cracks in their armor.  We will have to wait and see, starting with the NY Jets in Week 11, if the Patriots can rebound from this colossal moment gone awry.  After the game, former Super Bowl-winning Colts head coach and current NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said, “In that situation…You have to punt the football”.  I totally agree coach and I know in hindsight, Belichick does too, even if the “Pompous One” will never admit it.

Here’s the current division breakdown after Week 10:

NFC East – Dallas Cowboys (6-3) have a 1-game lead over the Eagles (5-4) and Giants (5-4)

NFC West —Arizona Cardinals (6-3) have a 2-game lead over the Niners (4-5)

NFC South — New Orleans Saints (9-0) have a 4-game lead over the Falcons (5-4)

NFC North — Minnesota Vikings (8-1) have a 3-game lead over the Packers (4-5)

AFC East — New England Patriots (6-3) have a 2-game lead over the NY New Jets and Dolphins (4-5)

AFC West — Denver Broncos (6-3) are tied with the San Diego Chargers (5-3).  These two will square-off in Week 11 in Denver

AFC South — Indianapolis Colts (9-0) have a 4-game lead over the Houston Texans (5-4)

AFC North — Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) have a 1-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3).  The Bengals also hold the most important tiebreaker of head-to-head wins (2-0) over the Steelers

Before we move onto the Game Balls and Lackey’s for this week, here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers.

A changing of the guard in the AFC North – “WHO DEY…WHO DEY… Gonna beat them Bengals, Nobody”.  The Cincinnati Bengals 18-12 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers may have marked a complete turnaround from 2008 for Marvin Lewis’ team.  The Bengals (7-2) have gone from the bottom of the AFC North with a 2008 record of 4-11-1 to sweeping former AFC North bullies, the Steelers (6-3) and Baltimore Ravens (5-4).  The win marked the first time Cincy has swept the Steelers since 1988 and they are also 4-0 against both teams since the division’s inception in 2002.  The Bengals now have a commanding 5-0 division record and I have to admit, you can now count me as one of their believers.  The Bengals are now a complete team in all 3 phases of the game (offense, defense, and special teams) and it took a solid effort from each unit to pull off a win in tough Heinz Field.  The Bengals’ defense is no longer under the radar (ranked 2nd in points allowed with 16.3 ppg) and more attention is sure to come after holding the Steelers’ offense to 226 yards and four Josh Reed field goals.  The Bengals defense pressured Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger all game while forcing one interception and sacking Big Ben 4 times. The game’s offensive star definitely was Bengals rookie RB Bernard Scott, who scored the lone touchdown of the game with a 96-yard kickoff return in the first quarter – Steelers 7th return for a TD this year including three kickoff returns in their last four games. The news wasn’t all great for the Bengals as their leading rusher Cedric Benson left at halftime with a hip flexor causing Scott to fill-in in the second half (rushed for 33 yards on 13 carries and catch one pass for 21 yards). **Note with the news that Benson maybe out longer than expected, the Bengals signed RB Larry Johnson, who was recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson (turns 30 on Nov. 19th) has rushed for 5,996 yards and 55 touchdowns over a 7-year career.

Injuries, Injuries, and more Injuries – I say it every week, “The NFL Season is a War of Attrition” and Week 10 really proved that point.  The Philadelphia Eagles may have suffered the biggest blow of the week when RB Brian Westbrook suffered his 2nd concussion in less than 1 month in a close 31-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers.  By all indications, the Birds’ mercurial runner may have quite possibly played his last game for this season.  With the NFL’s recent poor history of combating concussions (see Congressional hearings regarding the handling of former NFL players’ concussions), the Eagles would be wise to put Westbrook on the self as his health is more important than anything else.  The multitude of other frontline injuries included:  Panthers OT Jordan Gross (ankle – season), Bengals RB Cedric Benson (hip), Bears TE Desmond Clark (neck), Niners LB Takeo Spikes (left hamstring), Browns WR/KR Josh Cribbs (neck), Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown (foot), Falcons RB Michael Turner (ankle), Broncos QB Kyle Orton (foot/ankle), Rams WR Keenan Burton (knee – season), Steelers DB Troy Polamalu (left knee), Saints CB Tracy Porter (knee) and Seahawks RB Julius Jones (bruised ribs).

Restoring the Roar – After a 0-2 start, many people around the NFL buried the Jacksonville Jaguars and their head coach Jack Del Rio.  But getting back to the philosophy (run the ball, play-action passing, tough attacking defense, and good special teams) that served them so well in their 2007 playoff run, the Jaguars have jumped back into the AFC Wildcard race with a 5-4 record.  This week the Jaguars again rode Maurice Jones-Drew aka “Pocket Hercules” (see Game Balls) to a huge 24-22 road over the NY Jets in the Meadowlands.  Jones-Drew and QB David Garrard kept the Jets’ defense on their heels the entire game and the Jags were able to close-out the win on a short field goal after MJD had the most unselfish play of the 2009 season.  The Jags still have to play the Colts (Week 15) and Patriots (Week 16), but four out of five of their other opponents have losing records.

What does $250,000 buy you….A one-finger salute – Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams pulled a “Bryan Cox” as he let the Buffalo Bills’ sideline have it.  Adams, 86 years young, stuck up both  out his middle fingers from the owner’s box during the Titans dominating 41-17 win over the Bills.  I don’t know what the Titans’ owner was thinking as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance at the game and you knew the “sheriff” was going to lay down the law.  The NFL wasn’t even thinking about only giving a little slap on the wrist for this one as Adams was fined $250,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league.”  Goodell said on Monday, “I’ve said before we’re held to a higher standard in the NFL, that includes yours truly. It includes our owners. It includes front-office people. It includes the players. Those are things we’ll continue to emphasize. And if people violate them, we’ll deal with it.”  Adams later apologized saying, “I got caught up in the excitement of a great day, but I do realize that those types of things shouldn’t happen. I need to specifically apologize to the Bills, their fans, our fans and the NFL”.  One party note on this story.  Wasn’t it not that long ago that the Patriots were fined 250K for “Spygate”.  I guess cheating is just as bad as giving someone the finger…right.

Fisher hits a milestone – One item that happened in the Titans win over the Bills that was more important than Adams’ salute to the Bills was Titans head coach Jeff Fisher hitting a big milestone.  Fisher became the 10th head coach in NFL history to coach 250 career games (regular and postseason) with one team.  The Titans’ victory gave Fisher 136 wins for his career, tying him with Hall of Famer and former KC Chiefs coaching legend Hank Stramm for 20th all-time.

How about those Saints – The Saints defeated the St. Louis Rams 28-23 and improved to 9-0 for the first time in franchise history.  The Saints also have scored an NFL-best 331 points, the fourth-most by a team in the first nine games of a season in NFL history.

Before we go to this week’s awards, our thoughts and prayers are with Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who is was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Game Balls

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson – Every week, the self-dubbed “Every Coach’s Dream” just amazes the rest of the NFL. In the Titans’ 41-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, Johnson rushed for 132 yards and 2 TDs with a 5.08 ypc average.  The speedy back from East Carolina also had a Roger Craig-type performance catching 9 passes for 100 yards and marking the first 100-yard receiving and rushing game of his career.  Johnson now leads the NFL with 1,091 rushing yards and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.  The 2nd-year back also joined Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1963) and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (2007) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and average 6.4 yards per carry in a team’s first nine games of a season.

Honorable Mention

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew – Pocket Hercules rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown (33 yards) in the Jags win over the NY Jets. Jones-Drew was the key ingredient to the Jags’ second win in a row from the start of the game.  He ran the ball on Jacksonville’s first five plays and totaled 55 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown to open the scoring.  But his biggest play wasn’t even a touchdown.  To the delight of Jags head coach Jack Del Rio and the dismay of his fantasy football owners, Jones-Drew did not score an “easy” touchdown late to run out the clock and setup a game-winning field goal.  MJD took a handoff at the 10-yard line on the game’s final drive and darted towards the end zone, but took a knee at the 1-yard line with 1:48 left (shades of Brian Westbrook in 2007). The Jaguars were able to run the clock down with the Jets out of timeouts and won the game on a short Josh Scobey field goal.

Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson – The former Heisman Trophy winner spurred the Packers defensive effort in a 17-7 home win over the Dallas Cowboys.  Woodson was everywhere as Cowboys quarterback was in distress constantly.  The former first-round pick from Michigan contributed 9 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception as the Packers kept the Cowboys from scoring until late in the 4th quarter.

Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – It would not be a Game Balls report without putting the surefire 2009 NFL MVP on our list.  Manning was his classic stoic self as the Colts fought back from a 17-point deficit to surprising beat the New England Patriots 35-34 in Sunday’s biggest game.  Manning finished with numbers 28-44, 327 yards (reached 300 yards in 8 of 9 games this season), 4 TDs, and 2 INTs plus reached another big milestone in the win.  The 3-time MVP quarterback won his 13th consecutive game when passing for 300 yards, tying NFL legend Y.A Tittle for the third-most consecutive wins when reaching the 300-yard passing mark.

San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – Before the game started against the Philadelphia Eagles, Tomlinson was already a winner as he learned of his wife’s pregnancy with their first child.  L.T then went out and rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns – beset performance of the 2009 season — in the Chargers’ 31-23 win against Eagles.  In the game, Tomlinson reached the milestone of recording his 145th and 146th career touchdown to surpass Hall of Famer Marcus Allen (145) for the third-most touchdowns all-time.  Tomlinson also now has 12,145 career rushing yards moving him into 12th place for most rushing yards all-time.

New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush – The Saints are on a roll and so is their multi-threat speedster.  Bush rushed for 83 yards on eight attempts, including a 55-yard run bursting through tackles in the Saints’ 28-23 win over the scrappy St. Louis Rams. He also scored one rushing touchdown and added a 15-yard scoring reception. Bush and the Saints are now 9-0 for the first time in club history.

Other Honorees: Arizona Cardinal QB Kurt Warner (Threw 2 TDs in the Cardinals’ 31-20 in against the Seattle Seahawks giving him 200 touchdown passes.  Warner reached the mark in his 118th career game, becoming the fifth-fastest player in NFL history to accomplish the feat); Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre (Passed for a season-high 344 yards in his 300th consecutive start (including postseason) in a 27-10 win over the Detroit Lions.  Favre’s 344 yards are the third-most passing yards in a game by a 40-year old quarterback in NFL history trailing only Hall Famer Warren Moon (409) and Vinny Testaverde (355); Buffalo Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd (Registered his eighth interception of the season in a loss to the Titans.  Byrd now has an interception in five consecutive games and is one of only two players since 1970 with an interception in five consecutive games in their first season in the NFL); Seattle Seahawks RB Justin Forsett (Rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown after starter Julius Jones’ left the game); Redskins P Hunter Smith (Threw his first career touchdown pass on a fake field goal as he connected with RB Mike Sellers on a 35-yard score); Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (Who needs LJ.  Charles had his second-career 100-yard rushing day in the Chiefs win over the Raiders (18 rushes for 103 yards, 5.7 ypc, and 1 TD — 45-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter)

Lloyd’s Lackey

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – C’mon did you think I was going to select anyone else after his horrible gambling mistake.  Say it with me, “PUNT THE FOOTBALL”.  I still cannot believe a head coach that has been to five Super Bowls (won 3) had such a brain cramp to be put in the same league as Barry Switzer.

Dishonorable Mention

Titans Owner Bud Adams – His aforementioned 1-finger salute to Bills was unnecessary.  I hope it was worth the 250K fine from the NFL.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid – Some things never change as the Birds called 57 pass plays (55 passes and 2 sacks) while only running it 13 times in a bad road loss to the San Diego Chargers.  They also squandered timeouts making it easy for the Chargers to burn the clock.  As one of loyal and frustrated Eagles e-mailers wrote me, “Year 11 of a five-year plan”.

The Oakland Raiders – Another week, another embarrassment for Al Davis’s team.  The Raiders were unable to overcome 10 penalties for 88 yards their loss to the Chiefs.. Several of the flags proved costly as three of them gave the Chiefs a first down and three more negated Raiders first downs.  Also Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell was rightfully benched after an 8-23 for 64 yards passing performance.  Hope beleaguered head coach Tom Cable has his resume ready for a possible UFL job.

Oakland Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – I wonder if the Raiders still would take DHB (10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft) over emerging receivers Jeremy Maclin (Eagles) and Michael Crabtree (SF 49ers).  Heyward-Bey had only 1 catch for 22 yards plus he helped the Chiefs close the game out too.  With 30 seconds to play, fittingly Heyward-Bey had a pass clank off his chest to Chiefs S Mike Brown for a game-ending interception.

Week 10

Thursday, November 12

SF 49ers (4-5) over Bears (4-5), 10-6

Sunday, November 15

Bengals (7-2) over Steelers (6-3), 18-12

Cardinals (6-3) over Seahawks (3-6), 31-20

Chargers (6-3) over Eagles (5-4), 31-23

Chiefs (2-7) over Raiders (2-7), 16-10

Colts (9-0) over Patriots (6-3), 35-34

Dolphins (4-5) over Buccaneers (1-8), 25-23

Jaguars (5-4) over Jets (4-5), 24-22

Packers (5-4) over Cowboys (6-3), 17-7

Panthers (4-5) over Falcons (5-4), 28-19

Redskins (3-6) over Broncos (6-3), 27-17

Saints (9-0) over Rams (1-8), 28-23

Titans (3-6) over Bills (3-6), 41-17

Vikings (8-1) over Lions (1-8), 27-10

Monday, November 9

Ravens (5-4) at Browns (1-8), 16-0

Byes: Giants (5-4), Texans (5-4)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2009 NFL Season – Week 9 Review by Lloyd Vance

By virtue of his 5-interception performance in the Lions loss to the Seahawks, QB Matthew Stafford is Week 9’s Lackey

The second half of the 2009 NFL Season has begun and the “real” fun of self separation into the “Contenders” and “Pretenders” was very prevalent in Week 9.  Though there were still four blowout games (winners by 10 points or more) from the NFL’s slate of 13 games, overall there were several competitive games that may have future playoff implications.

This week the NFL’s Big 3 from this decade all were tested and won. By virtue of their dominating 28-10 win over the AFC West leading Denver Broncos (6-2), the Pittsburgh Steelers have won 100 wins since the start of the 2000 season. The Steelers joined fellow former Super Bowl winners and 100-win teams this decade, the Indianapolis Colts (109) and New England Patriots (108).  In their Monday Night Football win, the Steelers in their 5th straight win (tied for first in AFC North with Bengals at 6-2) returned to the type of football that has made them a mainstay in the NFL for almost 40 years.  Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin preached that there was more work to be done, 2nd-year running back Rashard Mendenhall ran with a physical style against the NFL’s best defense (22 times for 155 yards), and the Steelers defense fueled by the improved health of safety Troy Polamalu (3 tackles and 1 INT) produced 3 turnovers and 2 sacks. Safety Ryan Clark, who couldn’t play in the altitude of Denver due to blood disorder, talked pretty candidly after the Steelers’ D picked-it-up in his absence, “It’s a team sport and we’re probably the ultimate team in the NFL”.

The Colts (8-0) continued their winning ways by a score of 20-17 home win over the scrappy Houston Texans (5-4) -– 17th straight win and eighth in a row this season.  The Texans wanted to get to a 6-3 record for the first time in team history, knock the Colts from the ranks of the unbeatens, and jump into the AFC South race.  Unfortunately for head coach Gary Kubiak’s squad, they were their worst enemy drawing 13 penalties for 103 yards, turning the ball over four times including a crucial RB Ryan Moats’ fumble in the redzone and kept three Indy scoring drives going with untimely penalties.  Conversely the Colts led by Peyton Manning (34/50 318 yds 1 TD, and 1 INT) and TE Dallas Clark (14 receptions for 119 yards) stuck to their tried and true philosophy that has produced an NFL record 6 straight 12-win seasons (good running game, Manning hitting timely throws, and defensive pressure led by Pro Bowl player Dwight Freeney).  In the end, a back-and-forth game came down to the leg of Texans kicker Kris Brown and the former Pro Bowl kicker — already hit a 56-yard field goal earlier in the game — missed a makeable 42 field goal attempt to tie the game as time expired.

The Patriots (6-2) in their 27-17 win over the Dolphins (3-5) also had to dig deep to be a desperate team trying to get back to their winning ways from 2008.  The Dolphins battled the Patriots throughout a game where Miami relied on grinding it out via their running game – Wildcat returned back to its 2008 birthplace – while New England had some big plays from quarterback Tom Brady (25/37 332 yards, and 1 TD) and receiver Randy Moss (see Game Balls).  One of the NFL’s deadliest quarterback-receiver combos hit on a 71-yard touchdown catch and run that turned a 17-16 Dolphins lead into a deflating moment that sent the Pats’ faithful home with their 3rd straight win.  The victory by the Patriots gave them a two-game lead over the NY Jets (4-4) in the AFC East.  But importantly set the stage for Week 10’s uber Sunday Night Football showdown with the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, which has been marked down as a must-see game since the schedules came out in April.

Week 9’s other big winner surprisingly took place in Tampa Bay, Florida.  That’s right…the team that entered the week as the NFL’s last winless squad put forth a miraculous effort in defeating the Green Bay Packers 38-28 before a sell-out crowd.  I am sure several fans came out to help honor the 1979 Bucs, who 30-years ago led by quarterback Doug Williams almost made it to the Super Bowl.  But the 2009 version of the Bucs came with an effort worthy of their predecessors and told the rest of the NFL that the 2008 Detroit Lions could have their 0-16 infamy.  Wearing their throwback creamsicle orange uniforms with Bucco Bruce on their helmets, the Bucs played with pride and poise in a game no one expected them to win — first win since Nov. 30, 2008, snapping an 11-game losing streak.  The Bucs, who hadn’t scored more than 21 points in a game this season, tallied 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and set-off a heartwarming celebration. The Bucs were led by their defense (forced 3 INTs from Packers QB Aaron Rodgers including one for a touchdown by safety Tanard Jackson and sacked the beleaguered quarterback 6 times), young quarterback Josh Freeman (see Game Balls) and veteran CB Rhonde Barber (5 tackles and blocked a punt, which he returned for a 31-yard touchdown). 

Other teams with big wins other than the Bucs and the Big 3 of the AFC were the Dallas Cowboys (improved to 6-2 and took control of the NFC East with a tough road win over Philly); the New Orleans Saints (shook off an early 14-0 deficit to NFC South rival, Carolina Panthers, to win going away 30-20 and remain undefeated at 8-0); the Cincinnati Bengals (ran all over the mouthy Ravens for the second time this season in a dominating 17-7 defensive win); the Tennessee Titans (won for the second week in a row as QB Vince Young, RB Chris Johnson, and their turnover happy defense led the way); and the San Diego Chargers (QB Philip Rivers and his teammates came to the East Coast on an mission and pulled out a road win over the NY Giants – 4th straight loss).  These wins plus the other aforementioned victories definitely have helped to clear up the playoff picture as we are in the NFL’s proving ground months of November and December.  But for teams at or near .500, all is not lost as since 1990 -– when the NFL went to their current 12-team playoff format — 47 teams (20.6 percent of the 228 playoff clubs) have advanced to the postseason after starting the season with a .500 or worse record after eight games. 

Here’s the current division breakdown after Week 9:

NFC East – Dallas Cowboys (6-2) have a 1-game lead over the Eagles (5-3)

NFC West—Arizona Cardinals (5-3) have a 2-game lead over the Niners (3-5)

NFC South — New Orleans Saints (8-0) have a 3-game lead over the Falcons (5-3)

NFC North– Minnesota Vikings (7-1) have a 3-game lead over the Packers and Bears (both 4-4)

AFC East– New England Patriots (6-2) have a 2-game lead over the NY New Jets (4-4)

AFC West– Denver Broncos (6-2) have a 1-game lead over the San Diego Chargers (5-3)

AFC South– Indianapolis Colts (8-0) have a 2 ½ game lead over the Houston Texans (5-4)

AFC North– Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers (both 6-2) have a 2-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

Game Balls

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman – What a debut for the first round pick from Kansas State.  Looking real good in his creamsicle best, Freeman threw for 205 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, and 1 two-pt conversion plus ran for 20 yards. He showed poise and confidence while leading the Bucs to a come-from-behind win that also happened to be their first win of the season. Freeman’s best throw of the day was a beautiful touch pass touchdown to WR Sammie Stroughter on 4th-and-four late in the game to take the lead.

Honorable Mention

Patriots WR Randy Moss — In a game that was tight throughout, Moss (six receptions for 147 yards, 24.5 ypc, and 1 TD) had two big plays for the Patriots. He hauled in a 36-yard one-handed reception to set up RB Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and in the 3rd quarter, he turned in the play of the game.  After the Dolphins scored to  take a 17-16 lead, it was Moss who rose to the occasion.  Moss using a “Walter Payton-esque” right stiff-arm sent the young rookie Vontae Davis flailing to the turf and sprinted all the way to the endzone for an electrifying 71-yard touchdown catch and run. 

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – Is there player better than Fitz right not at the receiver position…NO!!!  In a road win over the Bears, Fitzgerald produced numbers 9 Rec, 123 Yds and  2 TDs. Each week this Pro Bowl receiver makes at least two or three catches that make you say, “Are you kidding me?”

Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson — The league’s leading rusher carried the ball 25 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Niners.  Johnson became the first back to top 100 rushing yards against the Niners and also added three receptions for 25 yards. Johnson rushing yardage total thus far this season is 959 yards and he is on pace for 1,918 yards rushing this season, which would be extremely close to  breaking Earl Campbell’s franchise record from 1980 of 1934 yards.

Indianapolis Colts TE Dallas Clark – Has become the NFL’s best X-factor combining skills that work as a receiver, H-back, tight end, and fullback.  In the Colts win over the Texans, Clark was Peyton’s main target hauling in 14 passes for 119 Yds with most of them causing first downs.

San Diego Chargers Shawne Merriman – Welcome Back, Welcome Back.  Merriman appears to be rounding back into form from a tough knee injury in 2008.  The tough pass rusher had two sacks for the second straight week and now has 4 sacks for the season.  Led by Merriman the Chargers had 5 sacks for the second week in a row.

Other Honorees: Atlanta Falcons RB Michael Turner (166 Rush Yds, and 2 TDs with 2 Rec, 14 Yds in the Falcons win over the Redskins); Chicago Bears TE Greg Olsen (5 Rec, 71 Yds, and 3 TDs in the Bears’ loss to the Cardinals);Detroit Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew (rookie is coming into his own as he catch 7 balls for 70 yards and 1 TD); Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams (keeps piling up the yardage w/ 149 Rush Yds, and 2 TDs with 2 Rec for 12 yards in a loss to the Saints); Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (261 Pass Yds, 5 TDs, 0 INTs in a huge win over the Bears); Tennessee Titans CB Cortland Finnegan (returned an interception for a touchdown in a win over the Niners); Seahawks LB David Hawthorne (2 INTs of Lions QB Matthew Stafford)

Lloyd’s Lackey

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford –- He looked like a rookie throwing for only 203 yards, 2 TDs, and a whopping 5 INTs in a loss to the Seahawks.  Stafford was also sacked twice and Seahawks CB Josh Wilson returned one of his picks 61 yards for a touchdown.

Dishonorable Mention

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall – A noted jerk around the NFL, Hall continued his infamy at the Georgia Dome.  Playing his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, Hall sniped all week about how the team and GM Tom Dimitroff had treated him unfairly, then got into with the whole Falcons’ sideline.  After Hall was roundly booed during the game by fans, he was involved in a sideline skirmish after teammate LaRon Landry took a late shot at Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.  Hall had to be separated from equally hot-headed nincompoop Falcons head coach Mike Smith.  Hall said after the game, “Later on, coach Smith, Mike came over and grabbed me, talking [stuff] to me…Saying he’ll kick my [butt] and all this other [stuff]. I definitely stay in Atlanta in the off-season. So if Mike Smith wants to see me, he can find me”.  He added, “I can’t wait for guys to sit back and watch the replay. I can’t wait to watch the replay. I’m going to be giving Commissioner [Roger] Goodell a call myself because something needs to be done about that.  “He put his hands on me in a harmful way. Talking about that he was going to kick my [butt] and all this other [stuff]. That’s not how you do things”

Chicago Bears DT Tommie Harris — Referee Ed Hochuli ejected Harris early in the 1st quarter of the Bears’ game against the Arizona Cardinals for punching Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui in the head.  Lutui had blocked Harris on a 10-yard run and took his time getting off Harris after the play.  The angry and subpar performing Harris responded by punching Lutui in the facemask. Harris has just 9 tackles and zero quarterback sacks this season.

Arizona Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin – After learning of his deactivation for Week 9 due to a lingering ankle injury, Boldin sulked and expressed discontent with the Cardinals’ coaching staff.  The malcontent Pro Bowl receiver said the coaches weren’t “man enough” to tell him before the game that he wouldn’t play. Did you know the Cardinals are 5-1 in the games where Boldin did play in the past two seasons.

Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco – I know it was only in fun, but No. 85 went over the line again.  The audacious Bengals receiver playfully tried to bribe an NFL official with a $1.00 bill during a replay in the third quarter of his team’s win over the Baltimore Ravens.  You know Ocho Cinco will be getting a call from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Week 9

Sunday, November 8

Bengals (6-2) over Ravens (4-4), 17-7

Buccaneers (1-7) over Packers (4-4), 38-28

Cardinals (5-3) over Bears (4-4), 41-21

Chargers (5-3) over Giants (5-4), 21-20

Colts (8-0) over Texans (5-4), 20-17

Cowboys (6-2) over Eagles (5-3), 20-16

Falcons (5-3) over Redskins (2-6), 31-17

Jaguars (4-4) over Chiefs (1-7), 24-21

Patriots (6-2) over Dolphins (3-5), 27-17

Saints (8-0) over Panthers (3-5), 30-20

Seahawks (3-5) over Lions (1-7), 32-20

Titans (2-6) over 49ers (3-5), 34-27

Monday, November 9

Steelers (6-2) over Broncos (6-2), 28-10

Byes: Bills (3-5), Browns (1-7), Jets (4-4), Raiders (2-6), Rams (1-7), Vikings (7-1)

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)