NFL Nation: 2010 Week 8 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Saints 20, Steelers 10

October, 31, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Here are some early thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: The Steelers fell to 5-2 and lost their first road game of the season. Pittsburgh also lost its first game since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from a four-game suspension. The Steelers expected New Orleans' best effort Sunday and they got it. The Saints were coming off an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns and responded Sunday night by looking much more like the defending Super Bowl champions.

What I liked: Pittsburgh's defense was far from perfect, but holding the Saints to 20 points at home in the Superdome is respectable. Three points at the end of the half was partially the result of a missed 51-yard field goal by kicker Jeff Reed, and the Saints added a late touchdown in the fourth quarter to ice the game. The Steelers had a very tough assignment by not giving up many big plays. But with Pittsburgh's offense not doing much until the fourth quarter, the Saints made enough plays to win.

What I didn't like: Pittsburgh's offense for most of the game was shaky and predictable. New Orleans brought the blitz often and it worked. The Steelers either ran right into the blitz or failed to pick it up on passing downs. Pittsburgh seemed to get in rhythm late with a fourth-quarter touchdown. But a catch and fumble by tight end Heath Miller was the Steelers' last chance to mount a comeback.

What's next: The Steelers will play their second straight prime-time game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-5) on "Monday Night Football." The game has lost some luster with Cincinnati's four-game losing streak, but these two teams have developed a healthy dislike for one another in recent years, so the buildup should be entertaining. The Bengals surprisingly swept the Steelers last year while Pittsburgh attempted to defend its most recent Super Bowl title.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 20, Steelers 10

October, 31, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading downstairs for postgame interviews and will be back with a full column as quickly as possible.

But, first, here’s the Rapid Reaction for the Saints’ victory over Pittsburgh.

What it means: The Saints are alive. One week after a humiliating home loss to Cleveland, they bounced back with a victory against one of the best teams in the league. There’s still work to be done, and some injured guys need to get healthy for the Saints to have a true shot at repeating as the Super Bowl champions, but this game served as a reminder that the Saints still can play with anyone. At 5-3, they’re only one loss behind Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the NFC South.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Carolina next Sunday. That game may look easy on the surface, but the Panthers usually play the Saints well. New Orleans defeated Carolina by two points in the Superdome earlier this season. The Saints have their bye after the Carolina game.

Unsung heroes: New Orleans’ defense. Even when the Saints were winning big last year, they weren’t doing it with dominant defense. They won a championship with an opportunistic defense. Against the Steelers, the New Orleans defense was dominant most of the game, holding Pittsburgh to only one touchdown. But the defense also was opportunistic when it mattered most. With Pittsburgh driving in the fourth quarter, linebacker Marvin Mitchell forced a fumble by Heath Miller. Safety Darren Sharper grabbed it and that pretty much wrapped up the game.

Rapid Reaction: Raiders 33, Seahawks 3

October, 31, 2010
What it means: Seattle needs to get healthier to bounce back from this defeat in the short term. The Seahawks have fared well in patching their roster, but their depth isn't good enough to overcome this many injuries. They played all or some of their game Sunday without starting left tackle Russell Okung, second-team left tackle Tyler Polumbus, No. 1 receiver Mike Williams, starting right cornerback Kelly Jennings, second-team right corner Walter Thurmond, starting defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, starting nose tackle Colin Cole and starting defensive end Red Bryant. Starting left guard Ben Hamilton left the game after getting poked in the eye, but his replacement, Chester Pitts, might have played anyway. Pitts wound up playing left tackle after Polumbus departed.

NFC West race: The Seahawks fell to 4-3. The Arizona Cardinals were in danger of falling to 3-4 as they trailed the Tampa Bay Bucs in the final minutes. St. Louis pulled close at 4-4. Even the San Francisco 49ers (2-6) gained ground.

What I liked: Leon Washington provided a spark on punt returns. Washington's role on offense has disappeared since the team acquired Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo. Washington's big-play ability does have value, however. His 43-yard punt return put the offense in prime position in the first half. Washington also had 45- and 37-yard kickoff returns.

What I didn't like: Seattle suffered some unsightly miscues on defense, resulting in big plays for the Raiders. Free safety Earl Thomas went for the pick, helping the Raiders score one long touchdown. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy and linebacker David Hawthorne collided on another Raiders touchdown. The offense suffered too many penalties, putting Seattle in unfavorable down-and-distances. On special teams, kicker Olindo Mare missed two field goal tries after previously making 30 in a row. This defeat was a team effort.

Trending: Seattle's run defense faltered some against Arizona last week. The Raiders had their way running the ball. Darren McFadden had more than 100 yards in the first three quarters. The Raiders also burned the Seahawks with misdirection plays, including when receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey busted a 30-yard run on a reverse. Losing Bryant hurt against the run. Seattle had owned the NFL's second-ranked run defense, but that ranking will surely fall. And with the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw visiting Seattle in Week 9, the trend could continue.

What's next: The Seahawks face the Giants at home in Week 9, followed by trips to Arizona and New Orleans.

SAN DIEGO -- A look at a big game for the San Diego Chargers, who defeated Tennessee 33-25.

What it means: The Chargers are capable of winning a game. The win stopped a three-game losing streak. San Diego is now 3-5. The Chargers are not in good shape, but they are still breathing, and that’s important for a team that is known for making late-season runs.

Tomorrow’s talker: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is rolling. He threw for 300-plus yards for the fifth time this season. He threw for 305 yards Sunday. He has now thrown for 2,649 yards. It is the highest total any quarterback has ever thrown for through eight games in the history of the NFL. He played without his four top receivers Sunday and he still dominated. Rivers is special.

Trending: The Chargers are still making crucial mistakes on special teams. They had a punt blocked for the fourth time this season. It resulted in a safety. The Chargers also muffed an extra-point attempt that would have made it a nine-point game late in the fourth quarter. It is seemingly never ending with this unit. They think of new ways to hurt the team every week.

What’s next: San Diego plays at Houston in what should be a difficult task in its final game before a bye.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some quick thoughts from the Minnesota Vikings' 28-18 loss against New England at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings fell to 2-5 and are tied with the Detroit Lions at the bottom of the NFC North. We're probably due for another week of Brett Favre speculation after he departed midway through the fourth quarter with a lacerated chin. But this team has bigger problems than the degree to which Favre cut his chin.

Favre performance I: Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, but Favre played a pretty impressive game considering the circumstances. With two fractures in his left foot, he completed 22 of 32 passes for 259 yards and was moving well outside of the pocket. Favre did have two penalties for intentional grounding, and Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty made a great play to intercept a pass that hit receiver Percy Harvin's hands. But otherwise, I don't think Favre could have expected to play much better.

Favre II: Down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Favre drove the Vikings as close as the Patriots' 3-yard line before defensive lineman Myron Pryor drilled him under the chin on a third-down pass. Favre's chin strap was bloodied and he needed help getting off the field. By the time the Vikings got him on a cart to the locker room, he almost appeared passed out. A team orthopedic was holding his jaw carefully as the cart sped away.

T-Jack answers: An illegal contact penalty on the play Favre was injured gave backup Tarvaris Jackson an opportunity to answer. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Naufahu Tahi on his first pass and converted the two-point opportunity to Harvin to bring the Vikings to within three points. But the Patriots consumed more than five minutes on the following possession to clinch the game.

That pesky decision: I'm sure Vikings will be debating whether coach Brad Childress should have gone for a field goal or a touchdown just before halftime from the Patriots' 1-yard line. Adrian Peterson's run lost two yards. A field goal would have changed the complexion of the fourth quarter, if nothing else.

Peterson early: Peterson ran for 59 yards on 14 carries in the first quarter as the Vikings made clear they wanted to rely on him while Favre dealt with the limitations of his injury. But that strategy only works when the rest of your team plays perfectly. When it was time to play catch-up in the second half, the Vikings obviously couldn't run Peterson as much as they wanted to.

What's next: The Vikings host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at the Metrodome.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 28, Vikings 18

October, 31, 2010
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots knocked Brett Favre out of the game, held Randy Moss to a single catch and beat the Minnesota Vikings 28-18 in Gillette Stadium.

What it means: With the New York Jets losing earlier Sunday, the Patriots assumed sole possession of first place at 6-1.

Pryor scores the knockout: No, not Aaron Pryor. Patriots defensive lineman Myron Pryor delivered the blow that sent Favre to the locker room with 7:31 left in the game. Pryor's helmet nailed Favre in the chin, opening a nasty cut and making Favre wobbly.

Moss not a factor: Moss was quiet in his return to Gillette Stadium. He had one catch for 8 yards and no touchdowns, but he could have had an easy one. After drawing a pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter, he gave up on a play, allowing the ball to land nearby at the goal line for an incompletion. Favre threw at him once in the first half.

Law Firm closes the deal: With 35 minutes gone, Danny Woodhead was New England's leading rusher with 7 yards. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (aka The Law Firm) pounded out the victory with 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters.

Big man Tate: Patriots receiver Brandon Tate scored his first NFL receiving touchdown on an improvised route with Tom Brady scrambling. Tate turned up the left sideline. Brady found him wide open, and Tate ran diagonally across the field for 65 yards.

What's next: Bill Belichick gets to shake hands with old pal Eric Mangini next week, when the Patriots visit the Cleveland Browns.

Rapid Reaction: Jaguars 35, Cowboys 17

October, 31, 2010
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Let's recap another shameful performance by the Dallas Cowboys in a 35-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Someone forgot to send the memo that Jacksonville was capable of this type of dominance.

What it means: If the Cowboys (1-6) aren't the worst team in the NFL, tell me who is. The Cowboys had hoped to rally around backup quarterback Jon Kitna, but he was undermined by dropped balls that ended up in the arms of Jaguars defensive backs and tackles. The Cowboys might not be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but they certainly waved the white flag Sunday.

Pathetic showing by Wade Phillips' defense: I'm sure Phillips will brag about his players' "effort" following this game, but his defense was once again an embarrassment. The Cowboys' secondary did its best to get Jags wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker into the Pro Bowl based on his eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. Pro Bowl cornerback Mike Jenkins and his sidekick Orlando Scandrick were no match for Sims-Walker, who turned short catches into big yardage. The demise of Jaguars' quarterback David Garrard has been greatly exaggerated, to borrow one of Phillips' favorite Twainisms. Garrard was lethal in completing 17 of 21 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.

Where do the Cowboys go from here? Time to warm up the NFL draft talk because the Cowboys might have a top-five pick. The Cowboys had one last chance to climb back into the game late in the first half, but Marion Barber was stoned at the 1-yard line. Left tackle Doug Free was obliterated on the play and tackle-eligible Alex Barron staggered and fell down at the point of attack, which is a decent description of the Cowboys' 2010 season.

Positives: Strong day for Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

What's next? The league will not allow the Cowboys to forfeit their final nine games, so this sad march will continue into Green Bay -- on national television, I might add. This team has lost its star quarterback and on Sunday, its pride became the latest victim.The final indignity was seeing Kitna kneel to end the game.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 9, Jets 0

October, 31, 2010
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Quick thoughts form the Green Bay Packers' 9-0 win over the New York Jets.

What this means: Hold the Super Bowl reservations. The Jets, in a post-bye week funk, were shut out for the first time since Nov. 19, 2006 and snapped a five-game winning streak. Blame this one on Rex Ryan and his underachieving offense. The New York Jets’ made two questionable decisions in the first half, both of which loomed large in defeat. Ryan’s high-priced, big-name offense embarrassed itself against the NFL’s 18th-ranked defense.

Bad decisions: The Jets made two awful decisions in the first half -- trying a fake punt on a fourth-and-18 from their own 20 and challenging a third-down interception that had no potential benefit. The latter came back to bite them.

Steve Weatherford is a terrific athlete for a punter, but that’s a lot of running -- and he came up 1 yard short. The Packers converted that stop into a field goal and a 3-0 lead, which held up for the entire first half. The odds of converting a fourth-and-18 probably are no greater than 10 percent; that was poor game management Ryan and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.

In the second quarter, on a third-and-11 from the Packers’ 43, cornerbacks Tramon Williams ripped the ball out of Jerricho Cotchery’s hands on a short pass. Ryan challenged, claiming Cotchery had possession. Even if the Jets had won the challenge, it would’ve been fourth-and-8 -- either a 58-yard FG attempt or a punt. Why waste the challenge? Ryan lost, exhausting his allotment of replay challenges for the game.

They needed that challenge in the fourth quarter, when cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted a pass that should have been overruled. Tight end Dustin Keller had the reception and was down by contact, but the ball was ripped out of his hands by Woodson -- a huge turnover. It was a bad call, but Ryan’s hands were tied and it was his own fault.

Ryan capped a rough day by burning all three timeouts in the second half when the Packers had the ball with more than four minutes left in the game. It left his offense nothing to work with.

Where's the offense?: Did Brian Schottenheimer dust off the game plan from the Baltimore game? This was horrible. There were too many three-and-outs and too many blown opportunities. Quarterback Mark Sanchez’s fast start is a distant memory, as he continued to regress for the third straight game. His two interceptions weren’t all his fault, but his accuracy was awful. It was so bad that it almost makes you think there’s something wrong with his arm.

Instead of developing a flow, Schottenheimer was too preoccupied with keeping his so-called playmakers happy. It seemed like the goal was making sure the playing time was balanced instead of trying to attack Green Bay's weaknesses. There was too much shuffling of the personnel, making it difficult for players to find a rhythm. And to think, the Jets used the bye week to perform self-scouting exercises. That didn't accomplish much.

Holmes coming: As expected, wide receiver Santonio Holmes had an expanded role. He did more harm than good, dropping two short passes. The second drop came on a third down at the Packers’ 40, a wide-open play in which he could have scored. Holmes finished with three catches for 43 yards.

Revis Island: Cornerback Darrelle Revis, his troublesome left hamstring supposedly healed, played the entire game and didn’t seem affected by the injury. His role was changed in the second half. He played left cornerback in the first half, which meant very few matchups with the Packers’ No. 1 receiver, Greg Jennings. But in the second half, Revis was assigned to Jennings on almost every play.

Sloppy, sloppy: The Jets made mistakes in all three phases. Sanchez threw two interceptions, Brad Smith fumbled out of the Wildcat, Nick Folk missed a field goal from 38 yards, the Jets dropped four passes and there were several costly penalties. The Jets’ 5-1 start was built on takeaway-giveaway domination -- a league-leading plus-10 -- but they lost the turnover battle to the Packers with a minus-3.

What’s next: The Jets hit the road to face the improving Detroit Lions, a matchup of the two highest-drafted quarterbacks from the Class of ’09 -- Sanchez (fifth overall) and Matthew Stafford (No. 1).



Sunday, 1/25