Week 5 wrap-up
Packers 31, Ravens 23: When Brett Favre reported for some extra game-planning work last Tuesday, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley told the quarterback they would have 400 yards of total offense against the Ravens. Favre thought Rossley had gotten into something hallucinogenic. Rossley had a plan, though. Part of it was something he had seen in the opening week when the Bears played the Ravens.
|Antonio Freeman got plenty of attention Sunday, as he and Brett Favre celebrate the wideout's lone TD. Freeman caught nine passes for 138 yards.|
The Bears spread out their offense. They moved the football. They didn't score (just six points). But they did move the football. The Bears had Shane Matthews at quarterback that Sunday. The Packers have Brett Favre. What a day. What a delight it was to see Favre throw and, well, just play great football. With Favre, the spread offense was highly effective. It forced All-World MLB Ray Lewis into being a fairly average pass defender.
Favre also took snaps out of the shotgun 36 times, which made him quite comfortable with a better view of the Ravens' pass rush -- what little there was. The Packers have the best young offensive line in football; it has a unique blend of athleticism and strength and plays with a tenacity that is a reflection of the position coach, Larry Beightol. Keep this name in mind: Chad Clifton. The second-year left tackle may be Pro Bowl material before the season is over. He neutralized Ravens DE Michael McCrary, despite playing with a hamstring injury that had made him iffy for the game. The protection allowed Favre to carve up the Ravens' secondary, as Antonio Freeman finally had a game worthy of his salary.
This was also a breakout game for Packers second-year coach Mike Sherman. Even though he appears overly serious, one thing that is evident about Sherman is that he isn't about being a media star. He just wants to coach his team. Sherman and Rossley came up with a brilliant game plan that may unlock a new era for Favre.
The Ravens left Lambeau Field most impressed. Really, there probably is no reason to doubt that they are still the team to beat in the AFC. They just happened to have a front-row seat to witness one of the great games played by one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever played.
Rams 15, Giants 14: I like what Rams coach Mike Martz said after Sunday's narrow win: He's not about to make excuses for a victory and he's not about to apologize for being 5-0. We forget (I am very guilty of this) that the Giants are the defending NFC champions. Martz has now witnessed his team win very physical games against the Giants and Eagles -- games they would not have won a year ago. When the Giants were driving for a potential winning score, rookie Adam Archuleta -- who had been burned earlier for a TD -- delivered a big blow to WR Joe Jurevicius, and hustling DE Grant Wistrom was there to snag the loose ball. The Rams got their noses bloodied Sunday, but they did punch back.
Still, I have to speak well of the Giants here. Jim Fassel is a great head coach. There aren't that many in the NFL, but he is one of them. His team was not in awe of traveling to play in the same dome where the Rams dismantled the Miami Dolphins 42-10 only two weeks earlier.
Giants defensive coordinator John Fox once again sent out his resumé for all to see that he is a prime head-coach candidate. When I spoke with Fox on Friday afternoon, he was very respectful of the Rams -- he talked glowingly of their talent, and of "No. 28 (Marshall Faulk) ... the best receiving back ever" -- but he was not overwhelmed by the task in front of him. The Rams presented some matchup problems for Fox. When I asked him about a matchup that favored the Giants, he didn't hesitate: "Strahan on Tucker." Michael Strahan's domination of Ryan Tucker was the catalyst for a Giants defense that was all over Rams QB Kurt Warner and Faulk. Martz didn't get any help for Tucker and Warner paid the price.
The Giants also saw more evidence that their decision to draft two young cornerbacks -- Will Allen and Will Peterson -- has made them a better defense. Allen and Peterson held up admirably on the outside while veteran Jason Sehorn played strong inside on the slot receiver. On offense, the Giants did some dumb things, but RB Ron Dayne provided more evidence that he is going to be a very good back in the NFL -- something I did not expect coming into the season.
This game does tell us that we cannot simply slide the Rams into Super Bowl XXXVI. The Giants and Packers -- and possibly the Eagles and Saints -- are not to be dismissed as worthy contenders for the Feb. 3 trip. The 49ers, Bucs, Vikings and Bears still have to show us more, but the NFC is far more competitive across the board than it has been in recent seasons.
Seahawks 34, Broncos 21: Mike Holmgren has taken a lot of heat as a general manager, but on Sunday some of his key offseason moves paid off handsomely. The Broncos got their butts whipped. Why? The Seahawks were just more physical up front, and some of the primary participants were veterans John Randle, Chad Eaton and Levon Kirkland -- free agents Holmgren signed in the offseason to shore up the run defense. Such was the dominance of the Seahawks' defense that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan called his offensive line's performance the worst he's seen since he took the job in 1995.
Holmgren's other key pickup -- a late one -- was signing QB Trent Dilfer, who is making a lot of people look pretty foolish.
Holmgren is committed to starting Matt Hasselbeck when the Seahawks host the Dolphins in two weeks, but I have a feeling he will have a different standard for Hasselbeck. The young guy is going to have to win, because the AFC West powers (Broncos and Raiders) have been slightly staggered by injuries. Holmgren believes Hasselbeck has the tools to develop into a Super Bowl quarterback. That may be true, but he also has a quarterback in Dilfer who has been there, done that.
Holmgren has another interesting dilemma on a positive note. Shaun Alexander is indeed a special runner, so Ricky Watters might be relegated to a reserve role when he returns to duty.
The Broncos apparently are more fragile than I imagined. Ed McCaffrey's injury seems to have been the onset of a host of troubles for the offense. Most notable is the shoulder injury suffered by QB Brian Griese. There's no structural damage, we are told. He's just sore. It's not related to his prior injuries, but it is the same shoulder. What clearly irritated Shanahan in this game is that he felt his team did not play hard. It happened a year ago when the Broncos let the Bengals beat them. Shanahan responded by making his team practice in full pads most of the week. That's what he's going to do this week as they prep for the Chargers.
Raiders 23, Colts 18: I saw a different Peyton Manning on Sunday night, even more different than the one who threw four interceptions to the Patriots in the previous defeat. Physically, Manning just didn't throw the ball well against the Raiders. Mentally, it appeared that mistakes made by his receivers broke the quarterback's confidence. The Colts' defense played well enough to win. The Colts' offense did not. Did we think that was going to happen? Nope. As for the Raiders, I cannot say this enough: Jon Gruden is a great coach. The Raiders are a true reflection of their coach and, yes, quarterback Rich Gannon.
Jets 21, Dolphins 17: No, I don't get it. I don't get how you can dominate a team in the first half, like the Dolphins did the Jets, and then blow it. I don't get how you can be up 17-0 with a supposed great defense and allow it to happen again. I will give credit to the Jets for refusing to die. But that should never surprise us about Curtis Martin, who is one of the true shining stars in the NFL. He has as much heart as any player in the NFL. Vinny Testaverde also threw as well as we've seen all year, and Laveranues Coles -- who was an iffy participant at the end of the week because of injury -- again looks like he can be Vinny's go-to guy.
|Aaron Glenn, top, celebrates with Marvin Jones, center, and Damien Robinson as the Jets came back again to beat the Dolphins at home.|
The most ridiculous stuff I heard in the aftermath were Dolphins fans screaming for the head of QB Jay Fiedler. He threw the ball extremely well. He made plays. He did throw a couple of interceptions, including one at the end. But this is the NFL. If Brett Favre can throw three interceptions on a Sunday (which he did against Tampa), and Peyton Manning can throw a bunch already, then Fiedler is going to do the same, too. As one NFL wise man told me Monday, "Quarterback is the position from hell." The real culprit for the Miami offense was RB Lamar Smith. His fumble at the Jets' 1 on the game's first drive was inexcusable, and another key fumble cost his team in the second half.
Titans 31, Buccaneers 28 (OT): Titans coach Jeff Fisher mustered up all the confidence-building motivational words he could use to prepare his 0-3 team for the Bucs. He also gave the green light to QB Steve McNair to not play so cautious, and the result was more juice in the Tennessee offense. The Bucs also had more juice on offense behind Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson, but they watched their defense get squeezed.
Bucs coach Tony Dungy spoke plainly to his team in the locker room: "We are just an average team ... until we prove differently." As Dungy explained to me Monday, "Well, we're 2-2. We've won two games at home and lost two on the road. I think we're practicing hard and playing hard, but the record is the record. It says we're average." Hard to argue with that.
49ers 37, Falcons 31 (OT): I believe. I believe in Steve Mariucci. I believe in Jeff Garcia. I believe in Terrell Owens. I believe in the 49ers' young defense, as coached by Jim Mora. The 49ers were dominated by the Falcons in the first half by a 20-7 margin. Young teams don't come back from 13-point deficits on the road. The 49ers did with some adjustments -- and Owens, who was blanked in the first half, caught three TDs in the second half, including the game-winner in overtime. As for Garcia, in my heart, I truly believed he would never duplicate his Pro Bowl performance of 2000. Right now, he is doing it. He will be in a battle with Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb for those NFC honors, but all I know is that Garcia makes plays almost every time when the 49ers need it. The 49ers are so resilient to adverse conditions; perhaps they are too young to know better. For Mariucci, it's almost been like coaching a college team. Maybe it's even more different than that. The 49ers coach told me that the team's celebratory locker room was more like "a high school team that had just won a homecoming game."
Saints 27, Panthers 25: Don't knock Marty Schottenheimer. Yeah, you heard right. Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy was once quarterback coach under Schottenheimer in Kansas City and remembered some very important advice about making critical play calls in crunch time: "Don't think about plays, think about players." McCarthy had a few seconds and one play left with the Saints at the Panthers' 1 and trailing 25-20. You pass the ball, right? Nope. McCarthy took his two best players -- RB Ricky Williams and LT William Roaf -- and made it happen by calling a pitch-and-run around left end. Williams sprinted for the end zone with such power that even if a Panther had gotten his hands on him, he would have taken it in (give credit, too, to WR Albert Connell for a key block).
The bad news for the Saints is that they grabbed a 17-0 lead but could not hold it. There also is continued concern about young QB Aaron Brooks, who has completed just 49 percent of his passes this year. He was just 14-of-40 against Carolina, but he did take the Saints 82 yards on 13 plays in the final 1:48 with just one timeout. I'd say the Panthers are the best 1-4 team in football, except they might take it as a backhanded compliment since the Dallas Cowboys are the only other 1-4 team.
Patriots 29, Chargers 26 (OT): I guess we better watch Tom Brady's development as a quarterback. Other teams may be doing the same. Drew Bledsoe may not return this season, but the Patriots are financially committed to Bledsoe (no, folks, he can't be traded next year because of the salary cap). However, Brady might attract some trade offers because the ex-Michigan quarterback looks like he belongs. He pulled a Flutie by leading the Patriots from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game.
The Chargers, well, who would have thought the biggest injury they had this year would be to defensive coordinator Joe Pascale, whose third back surgery in six weeks took place Thursday. There is no way Pascale would have allowed the Patriots to overcome San Diego's 10-point lead. The disappointment drove longtime linebackers coach Jim Vechiarella to resign as the interim defensive coordinator. He cited potential health concerns for his abrupt departure. Wow.
Bengals 24, Browns 14: Well, the Bengals do understand that Corey Dillon is their bread and butter. The defense also showed well. This was a good thing, because I could have sworn the Bengals had gotten a little full of themselves after that 2-0 start. It was probably the Browns' worst game -- and the Ravens are next -- but you still can't complain about 3-2.
Bears 20, Cardinals 13: Here is the best news for the Bears -- RB James Allen doesn't like sharing the load with rookie Anthony Thomas. That's the biggest controversy the Bears (3-1) have going for them. Who would have thunk it?
Steelers 20, Chiefs 17: For awhile, I thought the Steelers were the most invisible team in the NFL. But they are starting to carve out an identity, and it's a familiar one -- Jerome Bettis smashing people and an active defense. So, here are the Steelers, the sole leaders of the mighty AFC Central with a 3-1 record. And here are the Steelers' next four games: at Tampa Bay, vs. Tennessee, vs. Baltimore and at Cleveland. We should know a whole lot about them by next month.
Vikings 31, Lions 26: Dennis Green watched his team take a 31-6 lead. Dennis Green watched his team almost blow a 31-6 lead. Dennis Green looked old when the game ended.
Cowboys 9, Redskins 7: There's a rumor that the Cowboys kicked a field goal at the end to win the game. I am checking it out.