Week 4 wrap-up
Rams 35, Lions 0: How close to perfection can a quarterback come? Kurt Warner didn't complete every pass Monday night, but almost every one he threw was on the mark. The Lions actually appeared well-prepared, focused, etc., but Warner's perfection combined with the speed and athleticism of Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim and Trung Canidate. In fact, it's almost frightening to think how the Rams' offense can become even more explosive as coach Mike Martz finds different ways to utilize Canidate. I mean, how many toys can a kid have? The defense gets a shutout and even contributed a touchdown. Yes, it is much improved, and should get better.
|Marshall Faulk had nine catches for 80 yards and ran for a TD.|
The Lions, I'm sure, are distraught with the result. They had a bye week to prepare. They were home. It was Monday night. It may not be any consolation, but I saw signs of improvement. Ty Detmer was efficient until his arm failed him on Dre' Bly's interception return. Charlie Batch got another chance and made some strong throws. It was evident that the new scheme has its breakdowns with receivers, but if Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg can hold morale together, there were small blocks to build on Monday night. They just happened to play the NFC's best team in the Rams, unless the New York Giants can prove differently when they travel to St. Louis this week.
Ravens 26, Titans 7: This was not a statement by the Ravens. It was a declaration. As Ravens coach Brian Billick told his players more than a week ago, the rest of the NFL forgot that Baltimore is the defending Super Bowl champion. Not the Denver Broncos. Not the Tennessee Titans. Not the Oakland Raiders.
You can't destroy a rival much more than the Ravens destroyed the Titans. They had 460 yards in total offense. Elvis Grbac threw it efficiently, but more impressive was how the Ravens took it to the Tennessee defense with Terry Allen running with the same power and zest of his younger days.
The Titans have an impotency about them that can't be ignored. Jeff Fisher may have to push offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to breathe new life and ideas into the scheme. Then again, the Ravens went into the game feeling that Titans QB Steve McNair is capable of beating them only with his legs and not his arm. If that's really true, then the Titans may have overspent on their quarterback. McNair will get another test Sunday against the Buccaneers. Fisher also gets a test. It will take all his considerable skills to keep this from becoming a disaster season.
Buccaneers 14, Packers 10: Brad Johnson showed impatient Bucs fans why he is a pro. The veteran QB calmly moved the Bucs out of a deep hole to set up Mike Alstott's game-winning run in a crucial NFC Central game. Nevertheless, watching this game, I had a feeling that the superior team was the Green Bay Packers. The defense has speed, and there is a true budding star in Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who now has nine sacks in four games. His emergence more than compensates for the slower-than-expected transition for top draft pick Jamal Reynolds.
Brett Favre is no doubt kicking himself. The interception returned 95 yards by Shelton Quarles will stick with him a day or two. Favre's three picks also is a credit to the Bucs, but he had pretty good protection when you consider the matchups in this game. The quarterback does need Antonio Freeman to step up and make plays, but there is growing speculation that Freeman may lack the true physical skills it takes to be a featured receiver. That being said, I think the Packers are the team to beat if the NFC Central, even if the Bucs just beat them.
Browns 20, Chargers 16: Earlier in the week, when I spoke with Browns coach Butch Davis, he didn't talk so much about his defense as he did about his quarterback, Tim Couch. He spoke glowingly of Couch's accuracy, efficiency and poise in the fourth quarter (7-of-8 against Jacksonville). Then it happened again Sunday. Couch was cool under significant pressure, taking his team downfield in the final two minutes to tag the Chargers with their first loss. His winning score to Kevin Johnson was so perfect that the Chargers made no excuses in the locker room. They saluted Couch, saying he indeed looks like a quarterback who was the first pick in the '99 draft. (Remember, that's a mouthful when you consider Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were in the same draft).
The Browns' defense also deserves kudos for frustrating Chargers QB Doug Flutie and for making a gutsy fourth-quarter stand to hold the Chargers to a field goal. Now you know why Davis was a critical, albeit expensive, hire for the Browns. It has real potential for a payoff.
Saints 28, Vikings 15: Ricky Williams' status was questionable because he banged his shoulder in practice on Thursday, but he responded by banging the Vikings. This is the Williams we expected when the season opened, and perhaps it will be the start of something big for the Saints. When he is blasting like he was Sunday, it clearly defines the Saints' identity. Aaron Brooks has a lot of talent, but he's not there yet. If Williams can carry the load, Brooks will be that much more effective.
Of course, the biggest play in the game was made by Saints cornerback Kevin Mathis, who hustled to catch Cris Carter in the second quarter, stripping the veteran receiver just before he hit the end zone. This was not an accident. The Saints practice like this. They always hustle. It turned the game around.
The Vikings looked fairly disconsolate afterward. It's not hopeless, though. They can get healthy if they string together three straight division wins -- they get the Lions and Packers at home and then play at Tampa Bay before a Nov. 4 bye. They still need Randy Moss to start dominating games, if he's got it in his heart. Does he?
Cardinals 21, Eagles 20: Andy Reid tried to warn his team. Don't even think about the next game (Oct. 22) against the Giants. The Cardinals are always dangerous against Philly. Still, it happened. Jake Plummer struck with a clutch throw to MarTay Jenkins. Eagles fans won't want to hear it, but Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis needed this worse than Reid did. Reid no doubt had to be disappointed with his offense. Donovan McNabb looked pretty ordinary at times. The Eagles have a bye to get extraordinary for the Giants.
|Jake Plummer's 35-yard touchdown pass to MarTay Jenkins with nine seconds left beat the Eagles.|
Bears 31, Falcons 3: Pay attention to the Bears. When the Ravens struggled with a season-opening home win over Chicago, everyone publicly asked, "What's wrong with Baltimore?" Privately, the Ravens said it was the Bears that made it wrong. Then came a win over the Vikings, and now this impressive road win over a Falcons team that was expecting to improve to 3-1. The defense, led by MLB Brian Urlacher, is talented and extremely well-coached by defensive coordinator Greg Blache. The offense has a little more juice with Jim Miller at QB. I think the rest of the NFC Central is taking notice that Dick Jauron has refused to concede his job.
The Falcons apparently failed to detect a concussion to QB Chris Chandler in time -- he threw two interceptions late in the second quarter. Top draft pick Michael Vick took over and we saw the good and the bad. Vick threw the ball very well and he showed his speed, but he also learned that if you don't secure the football in the NFL, it will get away from you.
49ers 24, Panthers 14: I didn't believe it going into the season, but I'm starting to believe the 49ers are a contender. Steve Mariucci is coaching his rear end off, as are his offensive and defensive coordinators, Greg Knapp and Jimmy Mora. It's a tough task to travel cross-country to beat the Jets on Monday night, then head back to beat a division rival Panthers team that has an ex-49ers coach with a 4-0 record against you. The Panthers look like they are in a mode to be just good enough to lose, although QB Chris Weinke again provided a defining moment by leading a 99-yard drive that tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter.
Giants 23, Redskins 9: There is not a lot to say about this one, except that Jim Fassel succeeded where Andy Reid failed -- he found a way for his Giants to win a "trap" game against a Redskins team that at least competed a little harder. Jason Sehorn and the New York secondary enjoyed facing one ex-Ram QB in Tony Banks. Let's see how they enjoy facing the current Rams QB -- Kurt Warner -- when the Giants travel to St. Louis. Say this much for the Giants: They are consistent.
Jets 42, Bills 36: Both teams served notice again -- they aren't very good. The Bills thought QB Rob Johnson was ready for a breakout game after a good week of practice. All he did was break again. For the 10th time in 22 starts, he failed to finish a game. Sure, it was a legitimate injury Johnson suffered, on an illegitimate hit from the Jets' Mo Lewis. But Johnson is what he is -- a real talent who is prone to injury. His backup, Alex Van Pelt, did a very credible job with three TD passes, but the Jets were playing soft with a big lead, thanks to three early Buffalo turnovers.
Bills president Tom Donahoe acknowledged the struggle is more than he anticipated. Yes, but he is also right when he says it is premature to panic. This is what happens when you have massive salary-cap casualties combined with massive injuries. The Jets? I couldn't tell much. I can tell more in the next two games, when they play at home against, ahem, the Dolphins and Rams.
Dolphins 30, Patriots 10: In a way, the Patriots and their fans needed this one. Drew Bledsoe still gives them their best chance to win, or even compete, especially against a Dolphins defense that so outmanned the Patriots at virtually every position.
|Miami's Jason Taylor scores after recovering a Patriots fumble in the third quarter.
But backup QB Tom Brady will have to find a way -- Bledsoe wasn't even allowed to make the trip for fear of risking his lung more damage. Don't expect to see Drew for at least six more weeks.
For the Dolphins, this was a relief after the disaster in St. Louis. They reinforced the idea that they're still a pretty good team.
Broncos 20, Chiefs 6: This was a good news-bad news game for the Broncos. Deltha O'Neal's four interceptions were further validation of his first-round status from a year ago when he had a so-so rookie season. However, the Broncos are no closer to solving their glaring problem at the No. 2 receiver spot. Eddie Kennison didn't catch a ball again, and rookie Kevin Kasper sprained an ankle that could sideline him a month. (Dick Vermeil certainly could appreciate Kennison's no-show -- he cut Kennison in St. Louis). Speaking of St. Louis, I know Trent Green has Tony Gonzalez. But I bet he will sadly reminisce Monday night when he watches Kurt Warner connect with Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk and Co.
Seahawks 23, Jaguars 15: Let's face it. The league is all about winning, and Trent Dilfer won Sunday for the Seahawks. He's probably going to get another chance to win this Sunday against the Broncos. That doesn't surprise me. What was revealing was Shaun Alexander's 176-yard rushing day against a Jacksonville defense that turned soft. Alexander has been a slight disappointment as a full-service back, but he ran like he was trying to make a statement. He did. For all the hubbub over the Seahawks' sluggish start, they are 2-2 with a chance to beat the Broncos at home. Dilfer can reinvent himself again.
Steelers 16, Bengals 7: The Bengals should have been asking, "Did anybody get the number of that bus?" The No. is 36. The name is Jerome Bettis. He is amazing -- 153 yards rushing puts him over 10,000. Most backs his size have worn down by now. The Bengals have sobered up now. They have a very interesting match with the Browns at home this week.