NFL Nation: rapid reaction 9

Posted by's Matt Mosley

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Steelers put their AFC pride on the line Monday. Pittsburgh had lost to the Eagles and Giants from the NFC East, and a loss to the Redskins would have invited even more doubters.

But it didn't come to that because the Steelers' defense held the Redskins to two field goals early in the game. The Redskins were dreadful on third down. They were 0 for 9 before finally converting one in the second half. The stretch running play that had been the Redskins' calling card all season wasn't there against the relentless Steelers defense.

Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell threw his first two interceptions of the season and wasn't particularly efficient at any point in the game. Even when the Redskins finally sustained a long drive midway through the fourth quarter, they stalled inside the Steelers' 10-yard line.

Coach Jim Zorn has been praised for his motivational ploys and imaginative offense this season, but the play he called on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter was a head-scratcher. Campbell rolled right and tried to throw it to defensive tackle Lorenzo Alexander, who had reported as an eligible tackle. Linebacker James Farrior made a nice play on the ball, but you still have to wonder why they didn't try to smash it in with Clinton Portis from the 1-yard line.

The Redskins have mixed the West Coast offense with a smashmouth running game for much of the season, but they were all finesse against the Steelers. Portis had his streak of five games with 120 yards or more interrupted.

The Steelers made the Redskins one-dimensional in the fourth quarter and linebacker Lawrence Timmons ended any hope of a rally by sacking Campbell for a big loss with just under four minutes left.

With two minutes left, the only fans left at FedEx Field were wearing black and gold. The Redskins defense feasted on Ben Roethlisberger in the first half, but he wasn't able to return for the second half because of a right shoulder injury.

It didn't matter, though, because backup Byron Leftwich was rock solid. He stepped away from pressure and completed a 50-yard pass to Nate Washington to set up the Steelers' second touchdown. After going up 16-6, the Steelers defense caused a three-and-out and then Campbell's first interception of the season. It was Campbell's first interception in 271 attempts, a franchise record.

Campbell never looked comfortable in the pocket. When he dropped his arm down to try to find different passing angles, the Steelers did an excellent job of knocking the ball down. The Redskins head into their bye at 6-3, a record they most certainly would've embraced at the beginning of the season. But while the loss was disappointing, Zorn will quickly try to put it in perspective for his players. The loss makes the Dallas game in two weeks even more important.

Zorn was still working the officials after the final gun sounded, but the Redskins have only themselves to blame for this loss. Campbell was sacked five times and he rushed throws on the few occasions when he had time in the pocket. Zorn always talks to his team about now "flinching."

That will be a tough assignment after this effort. The Steelers pushed the Redskins around in the second half. And for one night, they struck a blow for the AFC.

Posted by's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made a huge statement Monday night.

But the cost of their statement is yet to be determined.

Pittsburgh proved it can play --and beat -- a very good NFC East team, pounding the Washington Redskins 23-6 before a national television audience on "Monday Night Football" and 90,512 fans at FedEx Field. But most Steelers fans are nervously awaiting the injury status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't return for the second half with a right shoulder injury.

Roethlisberger barely moved his throwing shoulder the entire second half while supporting his teammates from the sideline. Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich (129 passing yards, one touchdown) filled in and kept the offense moving in the second half.

Despite the injury concern, Pittsburgh's win was very significant and lifts the team to 6-2. The Steelers maintained a full game lead over the Baltimore Ravens (5-3), as they continue a tough stretch that includes home games against the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers in back-to-back weeks.

That two-game stretch becomes a lot tougher if Roethlisberger is forced to miss time. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to address the injury status of his franchise quarterback in a matter of moments, so stay tuned.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

The Eagles are developing a reputation as a slow-starting team, but they had plenty of firepower to overcome the Seahawks. Quarterback Donovan McNabb struggled early, missing on 10 of 13 passes.

Next week, the Eagles can't afford to be slow out of the gates against the New York Giants. The two teams will square off in an important NFC East game next Sunday. The Giants have set a goal to finish 6-0 in the division. The thought is that sweeping one of the best divisions in the league could make the Giants virtually unstoppable in the playoffs.

The Eagles will have home-field advantage Sunday, but the Giants take a lot of pride in performing well on the road. I think it will come down to whether Philadelphia can stop Brandon Jacobs and the running game. The Eagles have been solid against the run. The Redskins were the only team that gashed them on a consistent basis.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis isn't excited about being 4-4. But a week after a loss in Nashville put the division out of reach, at least the Colts got themselves alone into second place in the AFC South all by themselves.

That doesn't mean a lot by itself, but it does mean they are only one game off the pace of the group of teams that are currently at the head of the line for Wild Card slots.

While the Colts allowed the Patriots some success running the ball, they largely neutralized Randy Moss and made New England move in small increments. Meanwhile Peyton Manning did better finding a rhythm with his receivers and the Colts got the first field goal from Adam Vinatieri of longer than 50-yards since 2002 for the winning margin.

They also benefitted from an unnecessary roughness penalty against tight end David Thomas and some odd clock management by Bill Belichick that left him depleted of timeouts early in the second half, prompting him to go for a late fourth-and-16 that wound up a Bob Sanders interception.

One game can't undo all the things that have gone wrong for the Colts through half the season, and this hardly felt like recent Colts-Patriots clashes where AFC supremacy was at stake. But Indianapolis was more than happy to take a win in a game that often felt like it was played between two teams being quite cautious.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

The only boos Sunday at the Metrodome came when Minnesota coach Brad Childress declined to run up the score, instead instructing quarterback Gus Frerotte to kneel twice from inside Houston's 5-yard line in the final minute of a 28-21 victory.

"That's how you do business," Childress said afterwards.

If that was the biggest gripe of Vikings fans, then it must have been a pretty good day for the home team. Frerotte threw for three touchdowns and wasn't at fault for his one interception, while Adrian Peterson overcame a slow start to finish with 139 rushing yards. The defense forced three turnovers and had five sacks, and at the season's midpoint the Vikings remain one game off the pace in the NFC North.

The Vikings will have another chance to prove they should be part of the division title conversation when Green Bay arrives in the Metrodome next Sunday. The boos should tell the story.

Posted by's Mike Sando

SEATTLE -- The Seahawks' free fall into oblivion, interrupted briefly by a Week 8 victory in San Francisco, resumed in a big way at Qwest Field.

Seneca Wallace's 90-yard scoring strike to Koren Robinson set a misleading tone for the Seahawks. Their shortcomings, many related to injuries, slowly but steadily doomed them to their sixth defeat in eight games.

It's tough envisioning a way for Seattle to reverse its current slide without injured starters Matt Hasselbeck, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Patrick Kerney and Lofa Tatupu. Even fullback Leonard Weaver missed the game Sunday, a foot injury sidelining him after a 116-yard receiving performance against the 49ers.

This isn't about intensity or grit for Seattle. This isn't about Mike Holmgren having one foot out the door. The Seahawks are simply overmatched against good teams. Expect more results like this one, interrupted by the occasional victory, as the season progresses.

Posted by's Tim Graham

The Miami Dolphins mustered a solitary victory last year.

Halfway through their 2008 campaign, they are one game behind the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. And if the New England Patriots lose to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, the Dolphins will be one victory out of first place in the AFC East.

The Dolphins defeated the Denver Broncos 26-17 in Invesco Field at Mile High Sunday night.

Miami won consecutive games for the second time this year and is 4-4 overall, 2-1 in the AFC East.

The Dolphins scored only one offensive touchdown. Dan Carpenter kicked four field goals, and cornerback Will Allen returned one of Jay Cutler's three interceptions.

Classic overachiever Greg Camarillo had 11 catches for 111 yards to help the Dolphins overcome a plodding ground game. Ronnie Brown ran 20 times for 59 yards and a touchdown. Ricky Williams had six carries for 16 yards.

The AFC East has four live contenders.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before Sunday's game, several Giants players expressed regret that they wouldn't face the Cowboys at full-strength. But it's not like they displayed any benevolence in a dominating 35-14 victory that improved their record to 7-1 at the midway point.

A week after beating the Steelers in an absolute slugfest, the Giants had little trouble with the Brad Johnson-led Cowboys. Quarterback Eli Manning led his team on an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive to begin the game and the injury-ravaged Cowboys never responded.

Johnson was picked off twice in the first half, and both interceptions led to Giants interceptions. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips provided comic relief by ordering Johnson and backup Brooks Bollinger to put on their helmets before each drive in an attempt to deceive the Giants defense. They never seemed to notice.

Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and linebacker Danny Clark were dominant in the first half. Tuck finished with 1 1/2 sacks and put constant pressure on Johnson, who hit the deck at the first sign of trouble. The Cowboys briefly got back in the game when rookie Mike Jenkins stepped in front of an Eli Manning pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.

But Johnson served up another interception on a "deep" out, and Corey Webster picked it off. The Cowboys will now head to the bye, and hope that quarterback Tony Romo and several other reinforcements arrive. They now trail the Giants by three games in the loss column. The Cowboys only hope of making the playoffs will be one of the wildcard spots.

Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson

This week in practice, Oakland interim head coach Tom Cable (by the way he is doing little to change that tag) had his offensive players take part in touchdown celebrations when they reached the end zone.

He wanted to make his players have a goal of reaching the end zone -- which has been a major problem this season.

Perhaps, moving forward, Cable should have his team celebrate getting first downs in practice. The Raiders had three first downs Sunday in another humiliating defeat.

The Oakland offense is going backward fast. Oakland had 77 yards of total offense while the Falcons racked up 453 yards.

Oakland is 1-3 under Cable since Lane Kiffin was fired. The Raiders have been outscored 87-13 in the three losses. It doesn't seem to be possible, but the Raiders appear to be getting worse.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

Chicago emerged Sunday with sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

But at what price?

The Bears lost quarterback Kyle Orton (ankle) and safety Mike Brown (calf) to injury during their comeback victory over Detroit, a hefty toll in what should have been an event-free cakewalk.

Early indications are that Brown's injury is not serious, but the severity of Orton's ankle injury is unknown. Orton has played the single biggest role in the Bears' 5-3 record this season, and it would be difficult to exaggerate how impactful a long-term injury would be.

Rex Grossman rallied the Bears against Detroit. But how would he fare against stiffer competition -- starting next week against unbeaten Tennessee? The best guess is you would see much more of tailback Matt Forte, who produced his second 100-yard game of the season Sunday.

The Lions, meanwhile, are left to sort out their quarterback situation after Dan Orlovsky's best start of the season. On the day his team confirmed the signing of quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Orlovsky threw for 292 yards and found receiver Calvin Johnson eight times. You would assume Orlovsky will start next week against Jacksonville, but beyond then is anyone's guess.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

DENVER -- The Broncos had their chance and they blew it.

Sound familiar?

The Broncos came off their bye week and were the same sloppy outfit that they were in recent weeks. Denver quarterback Jay Cutler had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions. Denver, which has lost four of its past five games, fell to 4-4. The Broncos have 15 turnovers in their four defeats.

Still, Denver is in first place in the awful AFC West. San Diego, which is on a bye this week, is 3-5.

But Denver looks like anything but a first-place club. Besides Cutler's interceptions, the Broncos had a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall nullfied for offensive pass interference and played poor defense.

The Broncos are floundering badly, and there's more bad news: They have to play on a short week Thursday at Cleveland.

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

Let's go ahead and get this out there. The Atlanta Falcons are playoff contenders.

The team that was supposed to be the worst in the NFL is not. At the halfway point, their 5-3 record is better than Indianapolis, Minnesota, Green Bay, San Diego and New Orleans, teams that were talked about as Super Bowl contenders back in the summer.

Sure, the kids from Peachtree Street are young, they don't have the most talented roster in the league and they're led by a guy who had never been a head coach at any level and, as recently as a year ago, was an obscure assistant for Jacksonville. They've also been very lucky at times, like drawing Detroit and Kansas City in two of the first three weeks.

But let's stop looking for ways to shoot holes in the Falcons' very impressive half season. Let's look at why they are where they are and how they can get even better. We all know plenty about rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner. They each have a shot at the Pro Bowl, but what we see them do on Sundays doesn't tell the whole story.

The Falcons have one of the best coaching staffs in the league and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave deserve as much credit for what Ryan and Turner have done as the players do. And don't forget an offensive line that's not especially talented, but has been coached to perfection by Paul Boudreau, one of the league's most underrated offensive line coaches.

It's tempting to not even think about Atlanta's defense because Ryan, Turner and receiver Roddy White are the stories. But you wouldn't be telling the whole story of the Falcons if you ignored the defense. Veteran John Abraham, who got his 10th sack Sunday, is a candidate for defensive player of the year, rookie linebacker Curtis Lofton is a perfect fit in Smith's system and could be a candidate for NFC defensive rookie of the year. Oh, and how about that secondary that was supposed to be without any talent after unloading former first-round pick DeAngelo Hall in the spring?

It's held up quite nicely.

The Raiders threw for 31 yards -- all day. Ryan passed for 220 against a defense that includes Hall.

Yes, the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. The Falcons host New Orleans next and follow that with two more home games (Denver and Carolina). They go on the road to San Diego and New Orleans. They host Tampa Bay before making their final road trip to Minnesota and finishing the season at home with St. Louis.

Think about it? At 5-3, the Falcons could be in the playoffs if they win four or five of their next eight games. Yeah, it would help if they won their first NFC South game and a couple more.

When you look at Atlanta's schedule, it's a pleasant change from the preseason. Back then, the argument was if the Falcons could squeeze out three or four victories. Nowadays, the question is: How many more wins do the Falcons need to reach the playoffs?

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Chad Ocho Cinco had two touchdown catches all season for winless Cincinnati.

He got two more against Jacksonville in the Bengals' first win of the season.

At 3-5 heading home from this disaster, the Jaguars could be ready to fracture. They are nowhere near the team they were expected to be and it seems like they are now beyond repair.

The woeful Bengals came into the game allowing 146.9 rushing yards a game and 4.3 yards a carry, then held the Jags to 68 and 3.2.

Jacksonville was down 21-3 after three quarters, but charged back late in the fourth quarter and had a late shot at a two-point conversion that could have positioned it for overtime.

But two defenders converged on Jerry Porter and knocked away David Garrard's pass to preserve the lead and leave the Jags with another brutal loss to dissect.

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

The Texans are simply not good enough to turn the ball over three times and win on the road.

After he was hurt, but before he was pulled, Matt Schaub threw one interception and lost a fumble on a sack. Replacement Sage Rosenfels threw a pick in the end zone in the third quarter. The giveaways were far more than the Texans could survive in Minnesota.

Poised to move to 4-4 after an 0-4 start, Houston slipped again and stands at 3-5 at the halfway point of its season.

Houston's defense got an interception return for a score by Jacques Reeves, but he was also victimized on a big pass play to Bernard Berrian. So was Dunta Robinson, who flailed at a chance to bring Berrian down. The two catches were worth 102 yards and a score.

The defense's red-zone troubles also continued. Minnesota scored touchdowns on two trips inside the 20, then kneeled out the clock in a third.

On the NFL Network highlights I noticed the career records of the two head coaches prior to kickoff. Brad Childress and Gary Kubiak are both in their third seasons, and both were 17-22. Interesting, isn't it, how Childress is constantly mentioned as having a job in jeopardy and Kubiak never is?

Posted by's Paul Kuharsky

Monday night after they had pulled away from Indianapolis, I wrote about how this year's version of the Titans had a new habit -- winning with a cushion.

Today I saw old school Titans, a resilient team that hung around and hung around, enduring its share of tough moments, surviving a missed field goal at the end of regulation and beating Green Bay on a 41-yard Rob Bironas kick in overtime.

To get to 8-0, you've got to find different ways to win, and Tennessee has shown it's capable of that. A team that had given up only two sacks gave up two in the span of three plays. The Titans were sluggish offensively in the second half, punting to end five of their seven possessions.

But an unflappable team just stuck with it and found a way, despite Donald Driver's 139-yard receiving day, despite yielding a season-high 390 net yards. The Titans had no giveaways and two takeaways, just like in the win over the Colts.

You can argue for other opponents, but I believe the Week 9 Packers were the most complete and best team the Titans have faced yet this season.

It's getting easier and easier to envision this team winning the AFC.



Thursday, 10/16
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