NFL Nation: Joe Cribbs

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
11:31
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FALLING

1. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears receiver: The good news was that Hester was among three receivers in the Bears' starting lineup Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The bad, or at least odd, news: Quarterback Jay Cutler threw only one of 35 passes his way. Fellow receivers Devin Aromashodu (10) and Johnny Knox (seven), along with tailback Matt Forte (seven) were Cutler's primary targets. There was plenty of discussion this summer about Hester's assimilation into Mike Martz's scheme. Martz said at one point that Hester was a natural for the offense, but on Sunday he sure looked like an afterthought. It will be interesting to see if Hester grows into a more significant role.

[+] EnlargeJahvid Best
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJahvid Best scored two TDs against the Bears, but he rushed for just 1.4 yards per carry.
2. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions tailback: Fantasy owners no doubt loved Best's pair of touchdowns Sunday against the Bears, and ultimately the goal of every running back is to score. Best, however, gained 11 yards on those two plays and nine on his other 12 carries. It's true that the Bears' front seven mostly stood up the Lions' offensive line, and I didn't see many holes for Best to run through. But over time, you hope Best will use his speed and open-field running ability to create some plays on his own. The Lions have spent the past two seasons relying on a runner who only got the yards his blocking allowed in Kevin Smith. I think they're expecting more from Best.

3. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings receiver: The season-opening game at New Orleans seems to have happened ages ago. But let's not forget that Berrian was a non-factor in the Vikings' first regular-season outing without Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice (hip). Conventional wisdom suggested that Berrian would account for some of Rice's production, but in reality, quarterback Brett Favre continued to look toward his more favored receivers. Favre targeted tight end Visanthe Shiancoe seven times and receiver Percy Harvin on five passes. Berrian saw three thrown his way, catching one for three yards. I realize the Saints were in a Cover 2 defense, which makes it difficult to throw to outside receivers, but the Vikings are going to need more production from Berrian moving forward.

RISING

1. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears tailback: On a number of occasions, we've discussed how nicely Forte appears to fit into the Martz offense -- especially in the passing game. And it doesn't get much better than a seven-catch, 151-yard, two-touchdown performance in the opening game. The yardage total was the second-highest for a running back in Bears history. Forte, meanwhile, was the third running back in NFL history to record 150 or more receiving yards and multiple receiving touchdowns in a game. The other two were Brian Westbrook (2004) and Joe Cribbs (1981). Forte showed a nice burst on an 89-yard screen plan and put his exceptional ball skills on display for his 28-yard game-winning touchdown catch. I'm sure he would have liked to punch the ball into the end zone during a failed goal-line effort in the fourth quarter, but Forte established himself as a force in this offense regardless.

2. Kyle Vanden Bosch, Detroit Lions defensive end: In his first game since signing a free-agent contract, Vanden Bosch was all over the field. He recorded 10 solo tackles and set what I thought was a new standard for hustle and intensity on the Lions' defense. We've been discussing this aspect of Vanden Bosch's game since training camp, and now you see how it translates in a game. On top of that, don't forget that Vanden Bosch had at least three post-throw hits on Cutler, at least by my unofficial count. He didn't have a sack, but multiple hits over time always take their toll on a quarterback.

3. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers linebacker: Matthews celebrated his return to the Packers' lineup -- and his shift to a new position on the right side of the line -- by making a team-high seven tackles and accumulating two sacks in a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Matthews also made the game-ending stop of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 42-yard line. Matthews missed most of the summer for the second consecutive year because of a hamstring injury, but it appears that 40-year-old quarterbacks aren't the only people who don't need training camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

If not for the USFL's creation and quick demise, Buffalo Bills fans almost certainly wouldn't have experienced those incandescent days of four straight Super Bowls and Hall of Fame thrills.

That's what I kept thinking as I watched the latest documentary in ESPN's "30 for 30" series, "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?"
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Jim Kelly joined the Bills after a stint with the USFL’s Houston Gamblers.

Bills fans must be thankful not only for the USFL's founding fathers, but also for the man most responsible for tearing it down, Donald Trump.

The upstart league folded in 1985 and sent 187 alumni to the NFL. One of the most significant players was Houston Gamblers quarterback Jim Kelly, who reported to the Bills and had a Hall of Fame career.

"The USFL made me what I was when I played in the NFL," Kelly tells filmmaker Mike Tollin. Kelly also was a guest on ESPN Radio's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" to discuss how playing for the Gamblers shaped him.

Unless you're a Buffalo sports fan who believes in fate -- and if you are, then you must live an unyieldingly depressing existence, wondering why Wide Right, the Music City Miracle and No Goal have forsaken you -- it's easy to see how the timing of the USFL's fleeting lifespan set up the Bills' back-to-back-to-back-to-back AFC championships.

Bills fans despised the USFL for harboring Kelly and luring away star running back Joe Cribbs, yet no other team benefited more from the USFL than the Bills did.

The man who built their Super Bowl teams (Bill Polian), his eventual replacement (John Butler) and the man who coached them (Marv Levy) all came from the Chicago Blitz. Three-time Pro Bowl center Kent Hull was undrafted out of college, but proved himself with the New Jersey Generals.

I'm a firm believer in the butterfly effect. Even the smallest occurrence will influence the variables connected to it.

Had Kelly signed with the Bills and not the Gamblers in 1983, who knows what would have happened?

Maybe Kelly, still trying to gain confidence as a professional, takes a beating that alters his future. Maybe he plays well enough that the Bills win more than two games in 1984 and don't get to draft Bruce Smith with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Had the USFL never existed, maybe Kelly pulls a Tom Cousineau and refuses to report to the Bills at all, forcing a trade. Hull most likely doesn't get discovered.

Perhaps the Bills get lucky and draft another star quarterback, but there's a greater probability those AFC titles disappear like the fingers on Marty McFly's hand in "Back to the Future."

Polian wouldn't have gotten his break when he did. Somebody else would've needed to make selections such as Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Shane Conlan.

Without the USFL, enough variables would have altered Bills history that they wouldn't have gone to four consecutive Super Bowls.

And it's safe to say one other memorable event wouldn't have occurred.

Birmingham Stallions kicker Scott Norwood probably wouldn't have made it to the NFL either.

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