Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.
The top sports headlines of the day
Against the Steelers, Steve Spagnuolo's bunch bent earlier but never broke. Cliched, sure, but apt nonetheless. Pittsburgh got things started on its first drive; Willie Parker's capable replacement, running back Mewelde Moore, scampered 32 yards around the right side for a touchdown. But the four subsequent first-half series looked like this: interception, punt, interception, punt.
And things only got marginally better after intermission ... before they got much, much worse. Ben Roethlisberger hit Nate Washington on a 65-yard bomb-for-six on the first play of the second series, but that would be the last time the Steelers put points on the board. Two more interceptions -- including one to all but ended things -- sandwiched around two punts and a huge momentum-shifting safety that tied the score, and that's your ballgame, folks.
For all the hype leading up to kickoff -- and to be fair, while it got to be a tad much at times, it wasn't even close to the weekly onslaught we were subjected to every time the Patriots took the field last season. Will the 9-0 Pats remain unbeaten when they travel to Buffalo to face the unflappable, er, J.P. Losman? (Um, yeah, they managed to eke that one out.) -- neither Manning nor Roethlisberger looked like franchise, "get on my shoulders and I'll take care of the rest" quarterbacks.
Eli was efficient, and didn't force passes downfield; something he struggled with against the Browns two weeks ago, but despite great starting field position for most of the day, New York's offense could only muster four field goals on five trips to the red zone.
The Steelers defense certainly deserves some credit, not to mention the on-field absence of a sulking Plaxico Burress, hat askew, who was stuck on the sidelines staring blankly into space for the first quarter. Even after head coach Tom Coughlin let the receiver into the game, he only managed to haul in three passes for 15 yards.
Burress, for all his talent, hardly seems worth the grief. Coughlin's seemingly one blown call or missed assignment away from a brain embolism as it is; having to deal with the two-year-old antics of arguably this team's most talented player isn't worth the trouble. Plus, second-year wideout Steve Smith is quietly emerging as Manning's go-to guy. He's sure-handed, runs solid routes, and, most importantly, doesn't cause Coughlin's angina to flare up.
By the way, no praise-heaping session would be complete without mentioning the Giants' offensive line. Coming into Sunday, the Steelers' defense led the NFL with 25 sacks. By the time you read this they'll still have 25.
So, with eight weeks in the books, what does this all mean? Well, the Giants are 6-1, still hold a one-game lead over the Redskins in the division, they remain the best team in the NFC, and if you're not sold on the Titans, the entire league. That doesn't mean much, what with nine games left on brutal schedule, but it's a lot better than, say, staring at 0-7 as we head to November.Maybe Brett Shoulda Stayed Retired
Brett Favre has had a tough go of it recently. Between the the accusations that he got all Chatty Cathy with the Lions about the Packers' game plan, and his wife blogging that this has all taken a toll on Brett, it's a wonder he can even concentrate on playing football.
Which would go a long way in explaining how the Jets lost to the Raiders last week, and how they probably should've lost to the Chiefs yesterday. Thank God for Leon Washington, I guess. Because if not for the New York running back/punt returner, Favre would surely catch, in the immortal words of Bum Phillips, more hell than a little bit from fans and media today.
For some perspective on how bad things were, consider this: before J.T. O'Sullivan took the field in all his inglorious magnificence for the 4:00 game, Favre was the most intercepted quarterback in the league after tossing three jaw-droppingly awful picks. All three were vintage Favre -- off-balance heave-and-hopes and a "WTF?!" pick-six from the Chiefs' eight-yard line thrown in for good measure. That was the 25th pick-six of Favre's career, and if not for a heady Washington punt return to set up a late-game drive a few minutes later (spearheaded by ... Favre!), the Jets would be staring at 3-4 tied for last place in the AFC East.
Also worth mentioning: Favre was outplayed by the Chiefs' third-string quarterback. Think about that for a second; the guy who only saw the field because wunderkind Brodie Croyle and KC's version of Earl Morrell, Damon Huard, were out with injuries. That's second-year player out of Coastal Carolina Tyler Thigpen, who prior to yesterday, had one career start.
All he did was complete 25 of 36 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. And Favre? He was 29 of 40 for 290 yards, two touchdowns and three picks. Which, if we're being frank, should've been four; linebacker Derrick Johnson dropped a gift-wrapped interception for a sure touchdown in the second half. But, hey, coulda shoulda woulda is how you end up at 1-6.
Although the Jets avoided two embarrassing losses in consecutive games, the bigger issue is what to do about Favre. The team went to great lengths to finally rid themselves of Chad Pennington, and now they're basically stuck with a stronger-armed, more turnover prone, less consistent, older version of the player they let go. And it only cost them a second-round pick.
Here's a little free advice, Brett, courtesy of FanHouse's Josh Alper: "Perhaps [you] should start trying to learn the Jets offense instead of helping other teams bone up on the Packers."
Learn it. Know it. Live it.Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action...
... After last week's showing, Jerry Jones, his team, and its fans will take it, no questions asked. A win's a win, no matter how ugly (just ask the Jets), and when you factor in the Brad Johnson Effect, it's a miracle Dallas was even able to put points on the board. Instead, they outlasted a pesky Buccaneers team lead by Captain Overachiever, Jeff Garcia.
Now they're 5-3, two games away from their savior's return, and we can all resume the business of the "This is the year the Cowboys finally win a playoff game, right!?" conversations. While we wait for that inevitability, Jones chose this weekend to fire up his version of the Straight Talk Express, taking his message to the airwaves. He appeared on NFL Network's pregame show Sunday morning, and spoke to Bob Costas on Football Night in America for good measure. Wade Phillips, if you're listening, I've got some good news: Jones has gone on record -- your job is safe for the rest of the season. After that, however, I'm pretty sure all bets are off.
... Because of quite possibly the easiest schedule in the history of tackle football, the New England Patriots are 5-2 and lead the AFC East. This is true despite a sham of a defense and Matt Cassel masquerading as an NFL quarterback. It's Lifetime Move of the Week (starring Judith Light!) type stuff, really.
The Patriots eked out another win on Sunday, this time against the suddenly rejuvenated Rams, a team previously held back by their head coach. St. Louis led through three quarters, but trailed by seven when they began their penultimate drive late in the fourth. Twelve plays later, the Rams' hopes ended when Deltha O'Neal intercepted a Marc Bulger pass. What struck me most about this play? Watching O'Neal mugging for the cameras like he just won the Super Bowl. Hey, dude, you're the same guy who got TORCHED against Philip Rivers, and more to the point: YOU JUST BEAT THE RAMS ON A LAST-SECOND PICK. AT HOME. Bring it down a few notches.
As for the new-look Rams, they're now 2-5, but -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- are perfectly positioned to make a run in the NFC West. Okay, not perfectly positioned, but there's no reason to think they're completely out of the running to win the division. The Seahawks, Vernon Davis and wacky Ken Whisenhunt play-calling all but guarantee it.
... Joey Porter got two more sacks yesterday, including a safety, and it brings his league-leading total to 10.5. He's already tied his previous season high (2000 and 2005), and he's a legit early contender for NFL Defensive MVP. Oh, and the Dolphins have now beaten the Patriots and the Bills, the two teams at the top of the AFC East. Miami might not be postseason-worthy this year, but they're a much better team than anybody could've imagined. Going 1-15 in '07 sets the bar pretty low, but, still, I didn't expect this outfit to be 3-4 at the midway point. That Bill Parcells knows a thing or two about putting a team together.
... Hmm. I wonder if Mike Singletary got Vernon Davis' attention. I'm going with yes. Seriously, when did the tight end position become stocked with divas? Mr. Singletary, Hall of Famer, is not impressed with you, Vernon. Nor you, J.T. O'SmellingSalts. Mike Martz's favorite player finally got what was coming to him: a quick hook that landed him on the bench.
Enter Shaun Hill, the 2007 late-season replacement who many people had penciled in for the starting gig heading into 2008. Martz had other ideas, and two wins in eight tries later, the 49ers (sigh) are who we thought they were. Not for long, though; Singletary will either inspire this group to greatness, or we're about to get a front-row seat for what it means to go down in a blaze of glory. Either way, it'll be fun to watch.
... Congrats to the Houston Texans. They've already endured more than any team should have to; in addition to having to live through the Mittens Years, the city was also ravaged by Hurricane Ike in September. Matt Schaub put a hurtin' on what's left of the Bengals' defense, completing 24 of 28 passes for 280 yards, three touchdowns and nary a pick. Added bonus: we all got to see David Anderson's puppet master touchdown celebration. Hope it was worth a year's salary, Dave, because that's the going rate for footloosin' it up while wearing an official NFL uniform.
... Note to Chargers defense: don't be afraid to show up.
... Glad to see Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is taking game-planning advice from Terrell Suggs. When not calling forHines Ward's head on Atlanta radio stations, Suggs was suggesting backup quarterback Troy Smithshould get a chance to play.
That's exactly what happened against the Raiders. Baltimore unveiled their version of the Wildcat, which featured, among other things, Smith throwing a deep pass to ... wait, Joe Flacco? Yep, that's right, Flacco hauled in a nifty 43-yarder. Doesn't seem like the best use of your rookie quarterback, but I can't argue with the results. That said, don't know if it makes sense to empty the playbook against Oakland. Isn't that sorta like running your full offense during a preseason game?
... Welcome back, Brian Westbrook. Here come the Eagles, people.Post-Game Debaclings
Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...
"No I don't. I regret the embarrassment for our fans. But he's an outstanding player and you can invest in that potential."
- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, when asked by Bob Costas if he regrets bringing in Pacman Jones and the baggage that accompanied him to Dallas
"I trusted myself that if they threw it, I would catch it. I was hoping I would catch it ... I didn't want to make a fool of myself."
- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, talking about his 43-yard reception
"We knew going in it was going to be an ugly game at times ... Third-and-long, check it down, let them boo you -- that's OK by me. ... You've just got to manage the game."
- Cowboys quarterback Brad Johnson, accepting his fate while fans eagerly await Tony Romo's return
"Four weeks ago, we would have looked at this game as a win" because it was close ... but we're disappointed."
- Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, after losing to the Patriots 23-16
"I will not tolerate players that think it's about them when it's about the team ... We cannot make decisions that cost the team, and then come off the sideline and it's nonchalant. No. ... I'd rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we have to do something else rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team."
- 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, clearly talking about tight end Vernon Davis