Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 9: Bengals Win! (And Then There Were the Lions)

Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.

It's not very often that a sad-sack franchise is the lead story on Monday morning, but the Bengals had a date with infamy. Despite the march to 0-16, wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh predicted earlier in the week that Cincinnati would win one game this season; at the time seemed like crazy talk (although, to be fair, nowhere near as crazy as this). And then the Jaguars happened.

One of the toughest teams in the league last season, Jacksonville suddenly forgot how to run the ball or play defense. The former can be blamed, in part, on a slew of injuries along the offensive line, and the latter is all on Gregg Williams, the guy head coach Jack Lebron Del Rio hired to replace defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who's now running the show in Atlanta.

Whatever, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best game of the season, Chad Javon Ocho Cinco hauled in two touchdown passes, and Cedric Benson, four years after he was drafted, finally looked like a first-round pick. By the way, when the Bengals rush for 159 yards and only allow the opponent 68 yards on the ground, there's a good chance they'll eke out the win. And the news just gets better: barring unforeseen circumstances, Cincy won't lose next week, either. So enjoy it, Bengals fans; you shouldn't have to slink into the office every Monday morning as co-workers ridicule you mercilessly for your NFL allegiance.

Which brings us to that hapless outfit in Detroit.

The Lions hung 23 on the division-leading Bears in the second quarter to lead by 10 heading into intermission. And while the wheels didn't completely come off in the second half (nobody ran out of the back of the end zone unprovoked, for example) Rex Grossman -- yeah, I was shocked to learn he was still alive -- came on for an injured Kyle Orton and participated in two Chicago touchdown drives that resulted in a 27-23 final.

I suppose it would be asking too much of the football gods to let both the Bengals and Lions win on the same day, which is why Detroit is currently the only winless team in the NFL. Luckily, the Jags travel to Ford Field next week and maybe they'll continue their charitable ways. If not, the Lions really could be staring 0-for-'08 in the face. Because after Jacksonville, the final seven games look like this: at Carolina, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, at Indianapolis, New Orleans, at Green Bay. That's right, if Jacksonville isn't in a very giving mood, the Gus Frerotte All-Stars could be the best last hope.

The midway point of the regular season is about the time when Lions fans start looking to next year; free agency is only five months off, and the draft just eight weeks after that. And with Matt Millen back on the family farm, Detroit might actually formulate an offseason personnel plan.

Thankfully, Peter King has offered up some advice free of charge. Which is about what it's worth, I'd imagine. From his Football Night in America perch, he suggested that the Patriots probably won't franchise quarterback Matt Cassel (you don't say), who is in the last year of his rookie contract, and that the lifetime second-teamer could be looking at a handsome payday if he hits free agency. This assumes, of course, that Tom Brady recovers from knee surgery in time for the start of the 2009 season.

So where might Cassel end up? Glad you asked. Mr. King, if you please:

"... If you're Cassel, you wouldn't sign with the Patriots for not very much money because you've just seen Matt Schaub, after two career starts, sign for $8 million a year in Houston. He's going to hit it rich somewhere in the offseason, and I think it'll be a team like Detroit with $38 million in cap room -- some team that desperately needs a quarterback."

Well, the Lions certainly qualify as a "team that desperately needs a quarterback," but that would still be the case if they blew a chunk of change to sign Cassel. I know Daunte Culpepper is but a shell of his former self, but he allegedly signed a two-year deal; why not let some combination of Culpepper and Orlovsky handle the duties in '09 (but DEFINITELY not Drew Stanton; for self-esteem purposes, obviously), draft a freaking quarterback of the future, and let him learn by watching. It's a strategy that's been wildly successful across the league; like the "Wildcat" but better.

Brooks Bollinger: Worse Than I Remember

You know who was the happiest guy in New York around 7PM EST yesterday? Brad Johnson. That's right, the Giants spanked the Cowboys, just like everybody expected. And Johnson got benched for playing like a 40-year-old, noodle-armed backup, just like everybody expected. But oddly, nobody was talking about what might happen when his replacement, Brooks Bollinger, came in.

Expected or not, Bollinger was dreadful, which, frankly, shouldn't have been all that surprising for anybody who remembers him during those heady days with the Jets and later the Vikings. The same Vikings team, by the way, that released him last offseason to keep Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson (the franchise quarterback now running the scout team) and rookie John David Booty. Impressive, for sure. And that helps shed some light on Bollinger's line: 9-of-16 for 63 yards, one touchdown and one interception, not to mention various beatings about the head from roughly 11 different Giants defenders. Slightly better than Johnson's 5-of-11, 71 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs effort, but not enough to say, "Aha! I knew Johnson wasn't very good! Bollinger holds the key to this team's future!"

Interestingly, during one of the Sunday morning pregame shows, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill mentioned that word on the street had Dallas owner Jerry Jones, after two weeks of watching Brad-tastic! football, wasn't all that happy with the coaching staff for telling him Johnson still had enough in the tank to be a serviceable No. 2 behind Tony Romo. That couldn't be less true if Johnson was confined to a wheelchair and had two prosthetic arms.

There is a God in heaven, though; the Cowboys are officially on their bye week, and when they next take the field against the Redskins on two Sunday nights from now, Romo should be under center. One humongous problem: Dallas is 5-4 and in last place in the NFC East. It's sorta difficult to keep the "Winless since '96!" playoff streak alive if you can't even get to the postseason.

Bill Belichick Might Not Be Smarter Than He Looks

The Colts managed to keep hope alive for another week after holding off a mildly potent Patriots team on Sunday night. Matt Cassel continued his assault on three-yard completions but that'll only get you so far (like nine yards on three plays, promptly followed by a punt). Actually, Indianapolis' defense allowed New England to march up and down the field one short gain after the next, but gave up just one touchdown and forced three field goals.

The Colts offense scored just two touchdowns, but Adam Vinatieri's "there's no way in hell he makes that ... wait, what?" 52-yarder early in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference. The thing is, the usually mistake-free Bill Belichick committed a season's worth of mistakes in 60 minutes of football. They weren't glaring gaffes like you might expect from Romeo Crennel's School of Clock Management, but they played a role in the outcome.

During the Pats' first drive of the third quarter with the ball on their own 48, Belichick threw the challenge flag to argue that the Colts had 12 men on the field at the snap. As it turned out, they didn't (two Indy players were making their way to the sidelines so they were actually playing with 10). Although New England would go on to score a touchdown on the drive, the lost challenge meant one fewer timeout.

Then, after the touchdown gave the Patriots a 12-7 lead, Belichick decided to go for two points. Not a completely outrageous notion, but they failed, the Colts scored nine plays later and converted their own two-point try, making it a three-point game. If it was 13-13, Indy would've presumably opted for the extra point.

Finally, facing 4th-and-1 from the Colts 7-yard-line four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Patriots lined up as if they were going to go for it only to have Belichick use the team's final timeout. Now I have no idea what the plan was -- maybe New England wanted to run a play, or perhaps it was hoping to draw the Colts offsides. But in a close game where timeouts are critical, blowing one in such a circumstance is something you might expect from Herm Edwards or Brian Billick (before he got canned for calling too many random timeouts ... and losing), but never Belichick. It was all very bizarre, really.

That said, if Jabar Gaffney wasn't pretending to be Reche Caldwell on that butter fingers drop-kick that was a sure six points, we wouldn't even be talking about this. But he did, so we are. In related news, please say hello to the AFC East-leading J-E-T-S (tiebreakers count\!).

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...

... Another game, another DeAngelo Hall torching. You might even say it's expected at this point. Matt Ryan and Michael Jenkins made Hall look like, well ... like what you've come to expect. Fortunately, his performance got lost amid all the other Raiders-related awesomeness. Just a thought: instead of using valuable practice time to perfect touchdown celebrations, how about Oakland devote some time to moving the ball 10 yards in four plays or less. Cart, horse and whatnot.

... Brett Favre was this close to not pulling a Favre. Earlier in the week, head coach Eric Mangini kindly asked his quarterback to quit throwing logic-defying interceptions and take better care of the ball. For 45 minutes, Brett did just that, and when it looked like the Jets were about to put the Bills away, he went and heaved a punt in the general direction of Jerricho Cotchery that inevitably found its way into the arms of cornerback Jabari Greer who, 42 yards later, was celebrating a pick-six.

Happily, Buffalo would get no closer than six points, and New York would end up winning by nine. Favre was serviceable and that, coupled with outstanding performances from Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, as well as the defense (hey, where you guys been all year?). Whatever, it counts: first place is first place. Oh, and hats off, sir.

... OK, can we finally close the chapter on the 2008 Browns? For some reason, people were unwilling to admit that this is a dreadful team. Derek Anderson is the Shaquille O'Neal of NFL quarterbacks, converting roughly 50 percent of his attempts. Braylon Edwards and his league-leading 11 drops aren't helping, and his biggest no-catch of the year came in the fourth quarter yesterday. With the game tied 27-27, Anderson threw the best pass of his life down to the Ravens 20 only to see it clank off Edwards' hands. Ten unanswered Baltimore points later and Cleveland is 3-5 and playing for next year. Somehow, this is Kellen Winslow's fault; he's now 1-4 on the year, you know.

Silver lining: the Brady Quinn Watch is back on!

... The more sacks Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter gets, the more he flaps his gums. Which explains this. What's tougher to figure out are the Broncos. Everyone accepts that Denver refuses to play defense, but when Jay Cutler starts throwing interceptions like he's Brett Favre, there's reason to be concerned. Thankfully, Brandon Marshall has appointed himself team spokesman and he'll get to the bottom of this. Here's to hoping the solution involves outdoorsman/handball aficionado Jake Plummer making his triumphant return to Denver.

... Congrats to the Titans for reeling off eight straight to start the year. Nobody saw that coming. Probably because we all assumed Vince Young would still be the quarterback. (Because if Kerry Collins had been named the starter, an 8-0 start would've been OBVIOUS) But I suppose you can't say it enough: don't underestimate the mustache/mullet combo.

... There really are no moral victories in the NFL, but the Chiefs came close Sunday. They led the Buccaneers by 21 points before finally losing in overtime, but the legend of Tyler Thigpen continues to grow. Not only did he throw a nifty touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe, he also hauled in a 37-yard bomb from Mark Bradley. No way Damon Huard woulda pulled that off. (Brodie Croyle might've done it, but there's a 100 percent chance he would've gotten hurt in the process.)

Post-Game Debaclings

Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...

"It's always deflating when you don't make a play because we needed plays ... It's deflating when they run the ball in for a touchdown. It's deflating when they throw the ball over your head. It's deflating when you don't make a catch in the open. It's deflating when you lose a game."
- Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, talking about being deflated

"I think that's his way of telling me to relax ... It doesn't work, obviously."
- Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis discussing why Chad Javon Ocho Cinco gave him a peck on the cheek after scoring a touchdown

"During the week, we look like we're a Super Bowl team, and we come out there and we're damn near the laughingstock of the league, and it's ridiculous."
- Raiders safety Gibril Wilson, who is clearly due a drug test

"I didn't get inside his head, we just were talkin'. He got in his own head. He was done ... He's one of those soft receivers, where he has to have the ball all the time. If he don't get it, he's going to mope and cry. He did it to himself."
- Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter, talking about Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall

"If we can just eliminate those mistakes, we're as good as any offense, any team in this league."
- Rosenchoppa, after a 28-21 loss to the Vikings

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 9: Bengals Win! (And Then There Were the Lions) originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Mon, 03 Nov 2008 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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