Sunday, November 3, 2013
NFL Week 9 Sunday Studs and Duds
By Kevin Seifert
The NFL didn't give us the most interesting slate of Week 9 games. As the Wall Street Journal noted, only one of the games featured a matchup of two teams above .500 -- and that game won't be played until Monday night at Lambeau Field.
We saw plenty of drama and some history on Sunday nonetheless. Two games went to overtime, and one of them concluded the biggest comeback in Seattle Seahawks history. The Pittsburgh Steelers gave up a franchise-record 55 points in a loss to the New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles became the third player in league history to throw seven touchdown passes without an interception.
As always, what follows is not a thorough rundown of the best and worst performers of the day. Instead, it is a snapshot of what I saw and experienced during eight-plus hours of watching football. (Tough job. Someone has to do it. Yada, yada.)
1. New York Jets' defensive front: When you look at the final statistics, you'll see that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 382 yards Sunday against the Jets. But don't let that total cloud how dominant the Jets' defensive line was in this game. Every time I looked up, Brees was either absorbing a hit or sprinting out of the pocket or in some other way getting knocked out of his rhythm. The Saints simply couldn't block the Jets, who finished with two sacks, two interceptions, six quarterback hits, seven pass knockdowns and a forced fumble. Few other teams have been able to block them, either. The Jets entered the second half of the season with a 5-4 record, winning on a day when their quarterback completed only eight passes. The No. 1 reason to consider them a playoff contender is the game-changing pressure they can put on elite quarterbacks.
2. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback: Out of nowhere, Foles put up some Oregon-like numbers for Eagles coach Chip Kelly against the Oakland Raiders. He actually had more touchdown passes (seven) than incomplete passes (six). Along the way, he surpassed or matched the season totals of three teams through Week 9: the Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings. It goes without saying that few expected this kind of outburst; according to ESPN's Matthew Berry, Foles is owned in 10 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues and was started in only 3.8 percent of them. Where will this 406-yard performance lead? Quite possibly nowhere. We should be careful in suggesting that Foles should be the Eagles' permanent starter. He has had some clunkers this season. The primary requirement for the Eagles' job is to be healthy, and at the moment, that's what Foles has going for him as much as anything.
3. Chris Johnson/Adrian Peterson, Tennessee Titans/Minnesota Vikings running backs: At one point in the offseason, we were wondering whether Johnson or Peterson would become the first running back to eclipse 2,000 yards in more than one season. Johnson had been quiet in 2013 and Peterson was slowed by a hamstring injury, but both exploded Sunday. Johnson had his first 100-yard game of the season, churning out 150 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over the St. Louis Rams. Peterson, meanwhile, gained 140 in a losing effort against the Dallas Cowboys -- but not before carrying three Dallas Cowboys defenders into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run that gave the Vikings a brief fourth-quarter lead.
4. Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns coach: Chudzinski was aggressive in Sunday's victory over the Baltimore Ravens without looking like, say, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who broke out gimmicks and trick plays to try to upset the Seattle Seahawks. Chudzinski's aggression looked more like a coach who knew his team was as good, if not better, than the Ravens -- a team the Browns hadn't beat in 2,177 days, according to ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley. My favorite: Instead of punting from the Ravens' 43-yard line on fourth-and-1 with 3:12 remaining, he went for it. The risk was substantial. At the time, the Browns held a three-point lead. A failure would have put the Ravens within 25 yards of field goal range. Chudzinski even let offensive coordinator Norv Turner call a pass, and they got a 3-yard completion from quarterback Jason Campbell. It didn't feel reckless; it felt confident. And now, with seven games remaining, the Browns are very much in contention for a spot in the postseason.
5. NFL schedule-maker: As you've heard by now, Denver Broncos coach John Fox was hospitalized over the weekend when he felt light-headed while playing golf. He'll need surgery to replace his aortic valve and will miss a portion of the second half of the season. As it turns out, Fox knew this summer that he would need the procedure but had hoped to put it off until after the season. With some downtime in the Broncos' bye, he flew to Charlotte last week for a status check with his cardiologist and stayed in town to play golf. No one can predict such things, of course. So how fortunate is Fox that he was in the midst of his bye week -- and not, for instance, traveling to a road game -- when his condition worsened?
6. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts quarterback: I was all ready to celebrate the start of Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum, who helped his team to a 24-6 lead in the third quarter and finished the game with 350 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. But Luck continued to remind us how special he already is, not to mention what he might become, by leading his 10th game-winning drive of his career. That's the highest total of any quarterback over his first two seasons since the 1970 merger. Playing without lead receiver Reggie Wayne, and with a largely non-functional Darrius Heyward-Bey, Luck tossed two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to receiver T.Y. Hilton. Luck has won 17 games in his career, which means well over half (59 percent) have come via a game-winning drive.
1. Two-minute defense, Minnesota Vikings: For the third time this season, the Vikings allowed an opponent to drive the field in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to score a game-winning touchdown. The Dallas Cowboys went 90 yards on nine plays in 2 minutes, 9 seconds en route to a 27-23 victory. Not to take anything away from the Cowboys, but the Vikings' shift to a coverage-based, minimal pressure scheme was a major mistake. Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams brought four or fewer pass-rushers on seven of nine plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completed a pass on seven of them. Multiple Vikings players voiced postgame frustrations about the decision to dial back the pass rush. I continue to maintain that the Vikings' defensive problems run just as deep as their more publicized quarterback imbroglio.
2. Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins guard: At the top, we should acknowledge that there is much more to learn about the situation that has developed between the Dolphins, Incognito and teammate Jonathan Martin. ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen have reported that a preliminary review identifies Incognito "as an alleged offender in multiple incidents of possible harassment and bullying over the past two seasons, with Martin not the only victim." Incognito defended himself on Twitter, but I have to note the irony of someone using intimidating and borderline threatening language to deny bullying charges. Indeed, Incognito lashed out at media sources who are "not man enough to put their name behind" the information provided. He also tweeted: "If you or any of the agents you sound off for have a problem with me, you know where to find me #BRINGIT." Again, those tweets don't prove anything about Incognito's role in this story. They sure don't help his case, though.
3. Defense, Pittsburgh Steelers: If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the Steelers' defense was in transition under a new coaching staff and scheme. So it was stunning to see a defense coordinated by Dick LeBeau, and held accountable to coach Mike Tomlin, allow 55 points and 610 total yards to the New England Patriots. Both figures were franchise records. On two occasions, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola (four receptions, 122 yards) caught a pass without a Steelers defender within 10 yards of him. The Patriots had 33 first downs and converted 7-of-12 third-down opportunities. And here's all you need to know about a defense that once defined this franchise: After quarterback Ben Roethlisberger managed to get the game tied 24-24 midway through the third quarter, the Patriots ran off 17 consecutive points and outscored the Steelers 31-7 the rest of the way.
4. Goal-line play calling, multiple offenders: Hey, I like the forward pass as much as the next guy. But I wonder if a couple of teams -- the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers, in particular -- got too cute Sunday in their attempts to implement it near the goal line. At the end of regulation at FedEx Field, the Chargers failed to get top tailback Ryan Mathews a single carry from the 1-yard line. An audibled run to backup Danny Woodhead, followed by two incompletions, forced a game-tying field goal in an eventual overtime loss. Meanwhile, the Seahawks didn't give tailback Marshawn Lynch a chance to score when they faced first-and-goal at the 3-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Russell Wilson's pass into traffic was intercepted instead. That sequence should have impacted the Seahawks' chances to win more than it ultimately did. It's always easy to second-guess failed attempts, but in both cases, the simplest answer was probably the right one.