NFL Nation: 2011 Week 3 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 18, Redskins 16

September, 26, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A couple of thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 18-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on "Monday Night Football."

What it means: Something very similar for the Cowboys to what the Giants' victory meant to them Sunday in Philadelphia. The Cowboys are shredded on offense right now, with a jumpy, mistake-prone offensive line and very limited options at receiver. And yet, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo found a way to move the offense down the field and into field goal range six times -- enough to deliver a win the Cowboys had no business picking up. Banking a division win like this at a time when their team is not whole is pure gold for a team like the Cowboys or the Giants, each of whom find themselves a gritty, gutsy 2-1. For the Redskins, this game is a missed opportunity. They had the Cowboys where they wanted them but were unable to generate enough offense in the fourth quarter to put it away. Credit the Cowboys' defense, but Washington's offense doesn't have big-time playmakers, and it cost them a win they should have had.

Romo needs help: I don't know whether Romo played a bad game or whether he was up against impossible circumstances. He didn't have top receiver Miles Austin, out with a hamstring injury. He really didn't have much of his other star receiver, Dez Bryant, who's clearly far less than 100 percent due to his thigh injury and was in and out all night before catching a big third-down pass in the final minutes. The Redskins knew Romo wanted to throw to tight end Jason Witten, so they covered up Witten all night. Left tackle Doug Free had a bad game. Center Phil Costa had an awful game, botching several quarterback/center exchanges and getting an earful from a clearly frustrated Romo. If the Cowboys can't support Romo better than they did Monday night, he's going to have to keep pulling miracles out of his bag, as he basically has done the past two weeks.

Washington's offense is boring, but basically works: The Redskins' offensive game plan for this season appears to be simple: Run the ball, run out the clock and stay away from mistakes. It's not a lot of fun, but it doesn't have to be. They rely on running back Tim Hightower, who's an asset as a runner, a receiver and a pass-blocker. When he needs to come off the field, they bring in spry rookie Roy Helu. Rex Grossman throws downfield some, but it's clear they want to limit his ability to hurt them with a bad decision and/or throw. They protected him well for most of the night, with second-year left tackle Trent Williams holding his own against DeMarcus Ware until Ware broke through for a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. The Redskins built up the defense this offseason and likely will target some offensive pieces next year. But for now, this ball-control plan is what they're comfortable with, and it's doing what they need it to do, even if it did come up just short Monday night.

Run on the Redskins?: The Cowboys couldn't do anything in the run game in the first half, but in the second, holes started opening up and Felix Jones started hitting them and doing major damage. It felt similar to last week's Redskins game, in which the Arizona Cardinals couldn't run the ball against them in the first half but then got Beanie Wells going in the second. The Redskins are thin on the defensive line with rookie Jarvis Jenkins out for the year with a knee injury, and I wonder if their linemen are playing more snaps than the coaching staff would like them to play and maybe wearing down in the second half. Just a theory, and something to watch.

Sound in the kicking game: Other than the field goal the Redskins had blocked as a result of a bad snap, the kickers and punters put on an absolute show. Redskins punter Sav Rocca and Cowboys punter Mat McBriar are both having stellar years, and their skills were on display all night as they helped determine field position. And Washington's Graham Gano and Dallas' Dan Bailey combined for nine field goals as neither offense was able to muster much of anything in the red zone.

What's next: The Cowboys are likely going to need to generate more offense Sunday when they host Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the high-flying, 3-0 Detroit Lions. That's a tougher team to outscore than the Redskins are. Washington heads to St. Louis, where the Rams have yet to get their season off the ground and are 0-3 including losses to the Eagles and the Giants during their early-season tour of the NFC East. The Redskins should be able to get to 3-1 and put this tough loss behind them.

Rapid Reaction: Raiders 34, Jets 24

September, 25, 2011

OAKLAND -- This time, there was no celebratory hot dog for Mark Sanchez. The Jets returned to the Black Hole for the first time since the quarterback’s hot-dog episode, which irked the Raiders, and they fell apart in the third quarter for a 34-24 loss.

What it means: The Jets lost their first non-divisional AFC road game under Rex Ryan (6-1) and fell one game behind the Bills -- yes, the Bills -- in the AFC East. The Jets dropped to 2-1.

Run DMC: The problem, we all figured, would be the offensive line, featuring first-time starter Colin Baxter (for injured All-Pro Nick Mangold). We were wrong. The defense, Ryan’s pride and joy, couldn’t stop a nosebleed. Darren McFadden rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns, the fourth 100-yard rusher in the Ryan era. The Raiders rushed for 234 yards, the most against the Jets in 41 games under Ryan.

The tackling was horrendous, with Jamaal Westerman, Bart Scott, David Harris and Jim Leonhard all missing open-field tackles on the Raiders’ big plays.

Loss of poise: The Jets lost this game in the final two minutes of the third quarter with three brutal plays in a row -- a 27-yard run by McFadden (a keeper on a halfback option), a 23-yard TD run on a reverse by rookie Denarius Moore and a fumble by Antonio Cromartie on the ensuing kickoff return. That set up the go-ahead TD.

The collapse was a shocking loss of poise by the Jets, a veteran team that usually can handle crowd noise and momentum swings.

Air thud: The Raiders made the Jets’ passing game look horribly overrated. The wide receivers talked all week about how they were eager to face the Raiders’ man-to-man coverage. Well, guess what? They couldn’t get open, unable to gain much separation at all. And, remember, the Raiders don’t have star CB Nnamdi Asomugha anymore.

Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes combined for only two receptions through 3 quarters, and that included a completion to Burress on the Jets’ first play. Sanchez’s passing was limited to underneath stuff to Derrick Mason and LaDainian Tomlinson, their best weapon out of the backfield. Tomlinson, a career Raiders killer, set up the first TD with a 74-yard catch and run and he scored on a 18-yard pass out of the backfield.

When Sanchez (369 yards, 2 TDs) had somebody open, he couldn’t get the ball to him. He seemed jittery in the pocket all day, throwing a horrible interception in the first quarter in Raiders territory. He perked up late, hitting Burress for a 16-yard TD, but it was too late.

Oh, no, Cro: The Raiders coveted CB Antonio Cromartie in free agency. After watching him up close, they’re probably glad he didn’t take their offer. He committed four penalties for 46 yards and he fumbled a kickoff return late in the third quarter that set up the Raiders’ go-ahead touchdown. To make it worse, he left the game with a rib injury. Cromartie, who last week said he’s a better playmaker than Asomugha, received a huge helping of humble pie.

Nick of time: Baxter held up reasonably well in his first NFL start. There weren’t any botched snaps or bad exchanges and the line had only one false start. At times, the Jets ran the ball better than they had all season. So, no, you can’t pin this on Baxter.

What’s next: The Jets’ three-game road swing continues next Sunday night in Baltimore, where Rex Ryan will face his former team for the second straight year -- but the first meeting in Baltimore.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 27, Bears 17

September, 25, 2011
CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the 183rd edition of the NFL’s oldest rivalry:

What it means: The Green Bay Packers are now 3-0 and tied for the NFC North lead with the upstart Detroit Lions. In the process, the Packers have put some distance between them and the Chicago Bears, who fell to 1-2 amid another disjointed performance by their offense.

What I liked: The Packers once again didn’t try to force anything downfield against the Bears’ defense, which has historically limited their big plays. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected on three touchdown passes to tight end Jermichael Finley and finished with 297 yards passing, but his longest gain was 25 yards. There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at it this way: The Packers dinked and dunked their way to 27 points. Rodgers is now 6-2 against the Bears all-time, including postseason.

What I didn’t like: Maybe they didn’t think they could run against the Packers' defense, but the Bears didn’t generate enough of a pass-run balance for my liking. Quarterback Jay Cutler threw on 17 of their first 23 plays and Bears tailback Matt Forte finished with two net yards on nine carries. They obviously identified some matchups they liked, especially against new Packers safety Charlie Peprah. But the Bears will win very few, if any games, under those circumstances.

What I didn’t like II: The Packers can’t be happy about the way they finished this game. They held a 27-10 lead early in the fourth quarter but allowed Bears tight end Kellen Davis to rumble through their secondary for a 32-yard touchdown play midway through the quarter. Later, their punt coverage team was faked out by a smart Bears return that seemed to get Johnny Knox a touchdown with about a minute left. A holding penalty by the Bears’ Corey Graham nullified the play and prevented the Bears from pulling within a field goal.

GrantWatch: Packers tailback Ryan Grant had by far his best game of the season, finishing with 89 yards on 15 carries while James Starks struggled to five yards on 11 carries and also lost a fumble. Grant did leave the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit in the face, but he put some important production on tape regardless.

Injury report: Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) did not return after injuring his knee in the first quarter. Marshall Newhouse went the rest of the way. And we’ve already discussed Grant’s injury.

What’s next: The Bears will host the Carolina Panthers next Sunday. The Packers will host the Denver Broncos.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 16-13 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

What it means: The Bucs are for real and the Falcons might not be. Tampa Bay is 2-1 and tied with New Orleans atop the NFC South. Atlanta, a team many thought was a Super Bowl contender, is 1-2 and tied with the Carolina Panthers. It's still early and Atlanta's not that far behind in the division standings. But the Falcons have had some pretty big holes exposed and those problems could haunt them all season.

The streak is over: Tampa Bay snapped a five-game losing streak against the Falcons. The last time the Bucs beat Atlanta before Sunday was back when Jon Gruden was still Tampa Bay’s coach in 2008.

O-line woes: Even with center Todd McClure back in the lineup after missing the first two games with a knee injury, Atlanta’s offensive line continued to struggle. Quarterback Matt Ryan took another beating and there weren’t any holes for Michael Turner to run through.

Big day for the rookie: Tampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster wore the radio helmet and called the defensive plays because outside linebacker Quincy Black was out with an ankle injury. I don’t think Foster’s going to be giving up the radio helmet anytime soon. He was nearly flawless in running the defense. He also recorded a big third-quarter sack of Ryan.

What I didn’t like: For the second straight week, Atlanta went to the no-huddle offense in the fourth quarter. For the second straight week, the Falcons got positive results. It was just too little too late this time around. Ryan obviously thrives in a no-huddle offense. Why not just use it all the time or at least more often?

What’s next: The Bucs host the Indianapolis Colts in a "Monday Night Football" game on Oct. 3. At the moment, the game has not sold out. The Bucs have a string of 10 regular-season games, dating back to last season, that have been blacked out on local television because they haven’t sold out. Atlanta travels to Seattle next week.

I’ll be back with more after postgame interviews.

SAN DIEGO -- A look at a game that was much closer in the end that it should have been.

What it means: The Chargers need to learn the create separation between themselves and their opponents. They dominated this game, but the Chiefs came back in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs had an opportunity to try to tie the score with a field goal in the final minute before San Diego safety Eric Weddle sealed it with an interception off a poor decision by Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. San Diego is now 2-1. The Chiefs fell to 0-3.

Tomorrow’s talker: There could be some hope for the Chiefs. They played much better in the second half offensively. The Chiefs didn’t convert a first down in the first half. It was the first time that has happened in the NFL since December 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Yet, Todd Haley’s team did not lay down Sunday. That has to be encouraging.

Trending: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown two interceptions in all three games this season. He has never thrown three interceptions in a game. His highest season interception total is 15. Rivers is playing well, but he has been far from perfect.

Mathews’ maturation: San Diego running back Ryan Mathews is a much better player in his second season than he was last year. He had 98 yards rushing and added 51 yards receiving. He is running with a lot of confidence.

What’s next: The Chargers host winless Miami on Sunday. Barring a meltdown, the Chargers should emerge from the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record. That would help quiet the worry over slow starts under Norv Turner. The Chiefs go back home, looking for their first win when they host former star defensive end Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings. It will be the first time Allen has played against the Chiefs since they traded him in 2008.

Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 13, Cardinals 10

September, 25, 2011
SEATTLE -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 13-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in Week 3:

What it means: The Cardinals and Seahawks are tied with1-2 records, one game behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.

What I liked: Both offensive lines generally fared well clearing lanes in the ground game. Seattle was markedly improved in this area. Arizona fared better than expected, save for short-yardage situations, given Beanie Wells' unavailability stemming from a hamstring injury suffered Friday. Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson did a much better job using his mobility to scramble. He finally found a passing rhythm during a 14-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Jackson diving into defenders and across the goal line. Sidney Rice topped 100 yards in his Seattle debut, and the secondary made timely plays, including interceptions by Marcus Trufant and safety Kam Chancellor. For the Cardinals, quarterback Kevin Kolb found receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a memorable 28-yard scoring reception against double coverage. Kolb was retreating to his left and threw a jump ball off his back foot from the Seattle 27-yard line. Fitzgerald made his leaping grab about five yards deep in the end zone.

What I didn't like: Kolb couldn't get much going for too long during the second half. He also blew a scoring chance before halftime when throwing aggressively to Fitzgerald, only to have Seattle's Trufant break on the ball for an interception. He threw another interception with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Turnovers in those situations were costly because the game was so close. For Seattle, the offense continued to struggle despite occasional signs of life. Procedural penalties kept setting back Seattle. Jackson's fumbled shotgun snap in the fourth quarter was costly and could have been disastrous if Arizona had recovered. Neither team got the ball to its 2010 receiving leaders enough. Fitzgerald had five catches for 64 yards. Mike Williams, who caught 22 passes against Arizona last season, had none Sunday.

For the record: Fitzgerald's first-half touchdown reception was the 67th of his career, breaking Roy Green's franchise record. Also, Cardinals tight end Todd Heap moved past Ben Coates into 14th place on the NFL's all-time receiving yardage list for tight ends. Jeremy Shockey, Riley Odoms and Mike Ditka stand immediately ahead of Heap on the list and within striking distance this season, although Shockey continues to improve his totals.

Okung's infractions: Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung entered Week 3 leading NFL players in most penalties, accepted or declined. He continued to have penalty problems in this game, possibly an indication he isn't playing with full confidence after suffering repeated ankle injuries.

Injuries of note: Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington returned from a calf injury and started. Teammates Richard Marshall, Heap and Levi Brown returned to the game after suffering injuries. Cardinals linebacker Paris Lenon aggravated a groin injury and left the game.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the New York Giants. The Seahawks are home against the Atlanta Falcons.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 34, Patriots 31

September, 25, 2011
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few early thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' come-from-behind, 34-31 victory against the New England Patriots:

What it means: The Bills confirmed they are legitimate contenders in the AFC East. They beat a New England team many feel is a Super Bowl favorite -- and Buffalo did it in dramatic fashion. The Bills (3-0) overcame a 21-0 deficit against New England. This week was a huge test for the Bills and they passed. Buffalo will at least share first place in the AFC East after three games. For New England (2-1), the Patriots have to regroup defensively and figure out how to fix all the problems on that side of the ball. If not, New England will have trouble winning games when quarterback Tom Brady makes mistakes.

Turning point: This game was full of ups and downs for both teams. Bills running back Fred Jackson's 38-yard reception with 1:43 left set up Buffalo's game-winning 28-yard field goal by Rian Lindell. The Bills were wise to run the clock and take the field goal at the end. Buffalo kept the ball out of Brady's hands.

Lots of picks: As expected, both quarterbacks threw for a ton of yards. But six combined interceptions were unexpected. Brady (387 yards) had his shakiest outing of the season. He threw four interceptions after a fast start. Buffalo's defense displayed good hands and took advantage of the opportunities. Fitzpatrick (369 yards) also threw two early interceptions in the first half as Buffalo fell behind.

Record-setting day for Welker: Patriots receiver Wes Welker had a career day. He had 16 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns. The receptions set a new team record for New England. Welker had a lot of success underneath against the zone and was too quick for Buffalo defenders against man-to-man coverage.

What's next: The Patriots travel to Oakland. The undefeated Bills play at Cincinnati.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 40, Texans 33

September, 25, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the Texans’ loss to the Saints at the Superdome.

What it means: The Texans reverted to their old ways, failing to put away an opponent when they were playing well enough to do just that. They gave the Saints life and watched an offense even better than theirs take advantage of the opportunity. They’ll say it was just one failure against one very good team at one very tough venue, but it’s hard not to take it as symbolic. At 2-1, Houston’s got the same record as Tennessee atop the AFC South.

Fast, fast, fast: The Texans nearly matched the Saints’ furious pace but ultimately could not keep up. They gave up the lead three times in the second half and could only take it back twice. A Matt Schaub interception helped turn the tide. He took a sack on third-and-15 at the very end as well.

If there is a silver lining: I think the Saints are going to win their second Super Bowl in three seasons. If they are one of the NFC’s best teams, ultimately there will be no shame in having lost to them at their building. But it’s still going to sting to the Texans as one that got away.

Too much: Neil Rackers saw far too much action, booting four field goals. If the Texans were more effective with their scoring chances, they’d have put the game out of range.

Injury concern: He returned to action, but a second-half right leg injury to Mario Williams could be a concern going forward. He flexed the knee over and over on the sideline before he returned to action.

What’s next: The Texans host Pittsburgh at Reliant Stadium and get to see for themselves if the Steelers are aging. They’ll get a measuring stick on the Steelers tonight when they play the Colts.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 13, Bengals 8

September, 25, 2011
CINCINNATI -- Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 13-8 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

What it means: The Bengals failed to win over a sparse crowd at Paul Brown Stadium, falling flat in the home opener. There was more drama during the week with the Bengals, who dealt with the drug bust at Jerome Simpson's house and the announcement of a three-game suspension for running back Cedric Benson.

Play of the game: For some reason, Cincinnati forgot to cover the only 49ers offensive player that hurt them all game. Tight end Vernon Davis was wide open on the left side of the field for a 20-yard grab that led to the only touchdown of the game -- a 7-yard run by Kendall Hunter with 3:59 left in the fourth quarter.

Thumbs up: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga forced a fourth-quarter fumble deep in San Francisco territory, but the Bengals could only manage a field goal. It's not coincidence that Maualuga (he left with muscle cramps) wasn't on the field when Hunter ran into the end zone standing up.

Thumbs down: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton couldn't follow up his prolific outing last Sunday. Take away the opening drive, and Dalton struggled mightily with two fourth-quarter interceptions. His first one led to a San Francisco field goal and the other ended the Bengals' final drive.

What's next: The Bengals stay at home to face the Buffalo Bills.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 29, Eagles 16

September, 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- Some thoughts from the New York Giants' victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon:

What it means: Everything to the Giants, who'd lost their last six games to the Eagles and were still smarting from the Week 15 collapse that cost them the playoffs last year. Badly outmanned in the game and outplayed for much of it, the Giants stuck to their game plan and found a way to pick up a critical win that no one (myself included) imagined they could get. What it means for the Eagles is huge trouble, as quarterback Michael Vick left the game with a broken right (non-throwing) hand, Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring and the defense gave up three huge plays that cost them the game and dropped them to 1-2.

T-O-U-G-H: You absolutely have to hand it to the Giants (no pun intended, seriously). There was no reason for them to even be in this game, and they managed to win it. This was their best game of the year so far, and for much of it they were undisciplined and ugly. But they are 2-1, plain and simple, and if they're going to ultimately be healthier than they are right now, you have to believe banking these wins while they were outmanned and playing poorly is going to be a huge benefit.

Same, old, really bad problem: The Eagles will say the play on which Vick broke his hand wasn't a symptom of their inability to protect him, as he was trying to stuff the ball into the end zone on a sneak. And they'll be right. But that will camouflage the fact that, for the bulk of the game, the Giants were able to deliver hit after hit on Vick as per their ideal game plan. The best way the Eagles found to protect Vick was to run the ball with LeSean McCoy, which they did with great success even after getting behind 14-0. But for some reason, when Mike Kafka came into the game and it was still within reach with eight minutes to go, they called a long pass that was intercepted. It remains to be seen whether Vick will miss next week's game or many more, but don't be surprised if Vince Young is the starter instead of Kafka in Vick's absence. The Eagles' offense relies on its ability to make big plays, and they don't appear to trust Kafka to make them.

Tables turned: The Giants' defensive coaches preached all week that the most important thing they could do was limit big plays. They did it, and the Eagles didn't. They got beaten on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs when overmatched rookie linebacker Casey Matthews bit on a great Eli Manning play fake, and Victor Cruz beat them with a pair of long touchdown catches, the second against marquee free-agent signing Nnamdi Asomugha. The inability of the Giants' receivers to get open with Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon on the shelf hurt the Giants for much of the middle part of the game, but they got open just enough to take advantage of the Eagles' inability to generate anything in their passing game.

Short-yardage woes: The Eagles were stuffed at the goal line twice after long drives, settling instead for field goals in a game they had several chances to put away. Credit the Giants' defensive line for the big stops, but Andy Reid's play calling at the goal line left a lot to be desired and resulted in a very odd development -- Eagles fans actually booing after the field goal that gave their team a 17-16 lead!

What's next: The Giants travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals on Sunday and will hope to have wide receiver Mario Manningham back from his concussion so things come a little easier for them in the passing game. The Eagles are home Sunday to face the San Francisco 49ers, who pose yet another tough test for their shaky pass protection.