1. So there was much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 yard line with just over 2 minutes left, leading the Colts by 6. The Patriots didn’t get it, handing the ball and for all intents and purposes, the game over to the Colts. Belichick has been pretty roundly crucified for this since then. I’ve heard words like “idiotic” thrown around by the Trent Dilfers of the world. From where I’m sitting it’s just one of those calls that looks like genius if it works, and looks completely stupid if it doesn’t. There’s no in between. The thing is, if New England does get that first down, the game is over. Indy had no way of stopping the Patriots from running out the clock. So the Pats were 2 yards away from beating a team that has won like a million regular season games in a row. If it were me, I would have done the same thing. You’ve got 2 yards to get, and you’ve got Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker to help you get them. The alternative is to send a defense out there that had been rolled over like freshly paved asphalt at the Brickyard for most of the 4th quarter. I say you have to go for it. Belichick did the right thing, even though it didn’t work out.
2. In a game where Cedric Benson was injured, and Chad Ochocinco was invisible, the Bengals still emerged from Heinz Field with a season sweep over the Steelers, and essentially a 2 game lead in the AFC North. They won despite not scoring a touchdown. Thus completes the quick transformation of the Bengals into the form of their rivals, the Steelers and Ravens. There had always been rumors that Marvin Lewis was actually a good defensive coach, despite it never being evidenced by any of his Bengals teams. Now, lo and behold, it looks like the rumors are true. They look like a lock to go to the playoffs, and even if Benson doesn’t play another down this season, I think they are still OK. Benson has gained a lot of yards, but it has been thru quantity, not quality. The Bengals rank 22nd in the league in yards per carry. Pretty much any running back can do that. With their defense and with Carson Palmer and a good receiving crew, they will be fine, Benson or no Benson.
3. The Colts are still undefeated thanks to an improbable win that will be remembered as probably the greatest game in the storied Colts/Patriots Rivalry of the 00s. Thanks to their good fortune of playing the unfortunate Rams, the Saints are the other member of that very exclusive club. It wasn’t very impressive, though, as they only won 28-23 and were unable to really hit a finishing move at any point in the game (the Rams were the last team to score). Come to think of it, now that I look at the Saints’ CV this season, I’m calling bullshit on them. Let’s review their 8 wins shall we? Week 1, they beat the Lions, which speaks for itself. I will note that they gave up 27 points in this game, to the Lions. Week 2 they beat the Eagles 48-22 which I guess is OK, but any conversation involving the Eagles must come with the footnote that the Eagles have lost to the Raiders, so that’s not all that impressive. Week 3 they spanked Buffalo pretty good, 27-7, but Buffalo sucks. Week 4 they beat what was then an unbeaten Jets team 24-10, but we’ve since learned the Jets are bad too as they’ve lost 5 out of their last 6 games since starting 3-0. Week 6 they beat the Giants, and so has everyone else for the last month or so. Week 7 they fell behind big on Miami but came back and won, so they hardly looked dominating there. Week 8 they beat Atlanta 35-27, and Atlanta is having some issues that I’ll get to later. Then a win over Carolina, again after falling behind. Carolina is a mediocre team. Finally there is this close win over the Rams. They haven’t beaten anybody who I’d call a good team, and in their last 4 games every team they’ve played has run for 137 yards or more. This team isn’t going to the Super Bowl. Not on my watch.
4. So getting back to the Falcons. Allow me to take this opportunity to point out that Matt Ryan has been awful this year. Not just awful by the standards of the expectations that have been set for him mind you, just plain awful by any standards. Awful as in Jason Campbell and Shaun Hill both have higher passer ratings than he does. In Ryan’s case this is especially incriminating because he is facing defenses that have to load up to stop Michael Turner, and he has two of the best receivers in the league on the field at any given time in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. In his last 5 games he’s thrown 10 INTs versus 7 TDs, and the team is sinking under the weight of how bad he’s been.
5. In that vein, Jay Cutler threw 5 INTs last Thursday Night against the Niners in a 10-6 Bears loss. Cutler has now thrown 17 picks this year, in nine games. I hate being right about everything, but man was I ever right about how this Jay Cutler thing would go for the Bears. Somebody please tell me where Jay Cutler has ever proven he can play the quarterback position at a level of proficiency that makes his team win games? Did he do this at Vanderbilt? In Denver? Is he doing it now with the Bears? No, no, no. Cutler can throw the ball hard. Good for him. That’s about 20% of what being a quarterback entails. You watch Jay Cutler on Thursday Night, and then watch Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on Sunday Night, and it’s clear that Brady and Manning are playing a different game than Cutler. Brady and Manning are playing chess, and Cutler is playing Candy Land. Can he read a defense? Can he adjust his protection correctly? Can he adjust routes at the line of scrimmage effectively? I’m thinking no. But he can throw hard, and far. So could Rex Grossman.
6. Well, the Broncos lead in the AFC West is officially gone. And Kyle Orton is hurt. Sunday’s 27-17 loss was to the woeful Redskins was the kind of result that really raises the defcon level for them. The Broncos offense has stunk since their bye week, evidenced by them scoring 34 points in the last 3 weeks. The defense, which was so good during the 6-0 start, has not been good since the bye week either, as they’ve been giving up 28 ½ points a game, and not exactly against offensive juggernauts in the Ravens, Steelers, and Redskins. The Broncos were a nice story for the first part of the season, but the reality is setting in that this is a team with no running game, a rapidly deteriorating defense, and now maybe relying on a quarterback who hasn’t seen any significant action since like 2006 or something.
7. This opens the door for the team that was supposed to be the default AFC West Champs, the San Diego Chargers. They’ve shaken off their annual zombie like start to win 4 games in a row and raise their record to 6-3 to vault into a tie for 1st. Their latest win came this weekend with a 31-23 decision over the Eagles, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would have you believe. It’s a nice win for the Chargers, and pretty much par for the course for the Eagles. Philly catches a break though as the Cowboys, who looked like they were going to run away with the NFC East, just laid a complete egg up at Lambeau, losing 17-7 with only a garbage time touchdown saving them from getting shut out by a team that hadn’t beaten anyone except the Rams, Browns, Lions, and Bears this year. I just assumed the Packers were going to ball up in a corner and die after getting swept by the Brett Favres this year, and they didn’t disappoint me in losing to the Bucsicles last week, but then go and pull this one out of their ass. Go figure.
8. The Bills have fired Dick Jauron. I always liked Dick Jauron, and his 2001 Bears team was probably the last NFL team that I really lived and died with in the way that I do with the White Sox in baseball, and did with the Bears before the disintegration of the Wannstedt teams in the late 90s, and the hubris filled Lovie Smith/Jerry Angelo era of the latter part of this decade. Jauron’s teams were never exciting, but he always seemed to do OK with teams that weren’t very talented. He’s never going to get another head coaching job in the NFL, but I guess there’s always the UFL. Fare thee well, Dick Jauron.
IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY…
1. New Orleans 9-0
2. Minnesota 8-1
3. Dallas 6-3
4. Arizona 6-3
5. Philadelphia 5-4 (4-2 Conf)
6. Green Bay/Atlanta 5-4 (4-3 Conf)
1. Indianapolis 9-0
2. Cincinnati 7-2
3. Denver 6-3
4. New England 6-3
5. Pittsburgh 6-3 (4-2 Conf)
6. San Diego 6-3 (4-3 Conf)