Week 8 wrap-up
Raiders 38, Broncos 28: The way I see it, Raiders coach Jon Gruden is on a two-year mission. That's how much time he has left on his contract (counting this year). That's about the window that will remain open for the prime years of QB Rich Gannon and WR Tim Brown. That may be as long as OG Steve Wisniewski is willing to hang on, if that. Even Jerry Rice believes he has another year in him. Gruden is thoroughly focused on getting these guys to the Super Bowl. For him, the season is a cliché -- it's a game-to-game deal. And it works.
|Travian Smith sacks Broncos quarterback Brian Griese in the second quarter.|
I think Broncos coach Mike Shanahan gave it everything he had. I don't think he is surprised that the Raiders ended Denver's seven-game winning streak in this rivalry. Gannon and Brown were too much. When a quarterback and receiver are so synchronized, it's fun to watch. Rice is effective in the offense, and you can see Gruden and Gannon gaining confidence in the talented Jerry Porter. I'm sure somebody is going to beat the Raiders before the regular season is out. Maybe it'll be the Seahawks this Sunday. I just wouldn't bet on it.
Ravens 13, Steelers 10: Both teams carried an attitude into this game. On attitude, I might give a slight edge to the Ravens. On performance, the Steelers were the better team. Jerome Bettis probably could have ended that 100-yard rushing streak that the Ravens' defense has enjoyed, but the Steelers got caught into playing some catch-up football. The culprit was kicker Kris Brown, who missed four straight field-goal attempts, including a 35-yarder that could have sent the game into overtime. Kordell Stewart gets good grades again because he moved the Steelers into field-goal position. The Ravens weren't spectacular. Not at all. But the Ravens weren't spectacular last year, at least on offense. The defense did hold the Steelers to 10 points -- with Brown's help -- but it is still not playing to the standard it set a year ago. That aside, you can't bury the Ravens.
Packers 21, Bucs 20: The Packers proved they can win a big game without Brett Favre personally delivering it. That's what makes them a strong contender. Defense, the running game and special teams covered for Favre's so-so performance. Down 17-7, the Packers fought back on Ahman Green's 63-yard run on a perfectly blocked play. Then Allen Rossum's 55-yard punt return won it. The Packers' O-line, combined with the blocking of fullback William Henderson, pretty much had its way with the Bucs' front seven. Favre was sacked just once and was seldom hurried or hit, which is why his performance was even more disappointing. The Bucs' offense also didn't have much punch. The Packers' defense rendered Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn useless while harassing Bucs QB Brad Johnson with seven sacks. Johnson held the ball too long on occasions -- either a tribute to Green Bay's pass coverage or a red flag about his arm. Keyshawn Johnson played hurt, and played spectacularly in spots with some big catches. It wasn't enough.
Bears 27, Browns 21 (OT): Here's a theory -- when Mike Brown disappeared into the tunnel after his second straight game-winning interception, I think he turned in his soul on the spot. Something's up here. The Bears have now been outplayed in two straight games against the 49ers and Browns, and have walked away -- maybe floated away -- winners. All luck? Not really. The Bears had to execute an onsides kick. They did. They had to get in position for a well-designed Hail Mary. They did. They had to catch the batted ball in the end zone. They did. They needed a big defensive play in overtime. They got it. They won. The Browns? In defeat, they show they might be even better than they believed. Courtney Brown was unbelievable in his return on the defensive front. Butch Davis' new challenge is whether he can rid his team of this gut-wrenching loss. Here's one thing going for him -- the Steelers are next. Just like old times.
Redskins 27, Seahawks 14: All of a sudden, Marty Schottenheimer doesn't look so bad, does he? Same for Tony Banks. The best news is that Stephen Davis looks like his Pro Bowl self. Three straight home wins and a bye make the Redskins one of the teams to watch in the second half of the season -- especially in the shaky NFC East. Then again, the Seahawks can warn you about getting too excited about three-game win streaks. They drop to 3-4 with their second straight loss. Even though Mike Holmgren benched Matt Hasselbeck for Trent Dilfer, he says he's sticking with Hasselbeck. But Dilfer, the coach noted, will be warming up in the bullpen every Sunday the rest of the year, ready to take the ball from the younger quarterback.
Giants 27, Cowboys 24 (OT): See, he really is Clint Stoerner. The Cowboys let an incredibly huge upset slip away when Stoerner threw four interceptions. However, I will give the Giants credit for overcoming a 24-7 deficit, especially QB Kerry Collins. He was so bad (two interceptions returned for TDs) that you really had to wonder whether he was digging a hole too deep to climb out of -- and I'm talking about his future in New York. Maybe this game will be a catalyst for Collins. He needs a jump-start. On the Dallas side, the defense continues to play its heart out. OLB Dexter Coakley is making a Pro Bowl case. On offense, here comes Ryan Leaf. Hold on.
Jets 17, Saints 10: As unhappy as Saints coach Jim Haslett was with Kyle Turley's meltdown, he's still not sure that Turley cost the Saints the game. "With the way we were playing, I'm not sure we would have scored if we had first-and-goal at the 1," he said. Nevertheless, Turley's histrionics did Jets coach Herm Edwards a favor. Edwards made a mistake when he had his offense chance a fourth-and-inches in the final minutes. Naturally, they fell short, giving the Saints a short field. But forget the decision. The fact is, the Jets won. The fact is, the Jets are 5-3 and have won three road games. That's impressive. This time, the Jets even played solid rush defense.
The Saints have been disappointing. They have not played a solid game from first quarter to fourth quarter all season. The offense is the primary offender. Sometimes it's QB Aaron Brooks (he made bad decisions in the red zone that resulted in two interceptions); sometimes it's an offensive line that has been disappointing; sometimes it's Ricky Williams running and blocking a little wimpy; sometimes it's the receivers not getting open. It all adds up to a team that needs to wake up if it has playoff aspirations.
Patriots 24, Falcons 10: The Dolphins, Jets and Colts all have winning records in the AFC East. The Patriots are 4-4, but as they turn the corner on the 2001 season, they are arguably playing the best football in the division. Sunday's resounding win over the Falcons was the third straight road game for New England. The Patriots started the swing by dismantling the Colts (for the second time). They outplayed the Broncos in Denver but lost. They stuffed the Falcons. That's impressive. Quarterback Tom Brady, cool under fire, bounced back from his four-interception game with three TDs and no picks. This should not surprise you. Brady is cool. He sees the game. He makes good decisions. If this keeps up, the Drew Bledsoe era in New England is probably over.
The Falcons have no excuses, other than the one coach Dan Reeves offered -- despite having a bye, the team appeared ill-prepared for the Patriots. The Falcons have now lost three of four home games, and you don't go to the playoffs like that. Neither do you go to the playoffs if your team has a potential divisive quarterback situation. Maybe the players are not taking sides between Chris Chandler and Michael Vick, but when your families do, it's trouble. Reeves has a serious challenge here of managing a very delicate issue.
Chiefs 25, Chargers 20: Dick Vermeil is starting to see his team turn the corner. The emergence of Priest Holmes (30 carries, 180 yards) at running back is taking the heat off QB Trent Green. And even though the Chiefs have some limitations, it looks like they are hitting their stride. The Chargers, according to a team source, may have been suffering a "hangover" from an emotional win against the Buffalo Bills. That's a mistake. True, the Bills-Chargers game took on a life of its own, but divisional games are not the time to be emotionally flat. Then again, the Chargers may be experiencing a more troubling challenge. League coaches and scouts say it was evident that the Chiefs were stacked to stop the run (which they did) because they didn't believe Doug Flutie could beat them with his arm. He couldn't. Flutie left with a concussion but the Chargers again saw signs that rookie Drew Brees is somebody they can hang their helmet on -- yes, maybe sooner than later. Certainly, Brees will have a real shot to replace Flutie by the 2002 season.
Dolphins 23, Panthers 6: They kept talking about the potential effects of Hurricane Michelle. The storm that hit the Panthers was a most physical Dolphins team that knocked out two quarterbacks, Chris Weinke and Dameyune Craig, and forced them to sign Jim Harbaugh as a possible starter this week. The Dolphins can make a bigger statement this week when they travel to Indianapolis to play the Colts. Win in Indy, and they establish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC East, even with the Patriots playing at a high level.
Colts 30, Bills 14: Chad Bratzke reappeared on the radar screen for the Colts, as did their defense, but it may be premature to get excited. The Bills were again down to their fourth and fifth tackles because of injuries, and the Colts took appropriate advantage of it. Bills QB Rob Johnson didn't have much of a chance, although there were times when he again held onto the ball too long. The Colts' offense wasn't spectacular, but they got more encouraging signs when Dominic Rhodes had a 100-yard rushing day in place of injured Edgerrin James. That was the bright spot for the Colts; a bleak note for the Bills.
49ers 21, Lions 13: This is why Terrell Owens is going nowhere. Nine more catches, 125 yards, two TDs. The 49ers aren't 5-2 without him. Then again, Owens should realize that 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp have done a brilliant job of designing the offense and getting QB Jeff Garcia to continue to play at a Pro Bowl level. Despite wearing a knee brace, Garcia threw for almost 300 yards, added three TDs and shrugged off two interceptions. As for the Mariucci-Owens dispute, it does get wearisome. But understand this -- it has been high maintenance for Mooch almost every day he's had to live with Owens.
The Lions are 0-7 and coach Marty Mornhinweg said the team is doing everything right, except for winning. Hmmm. Team president Matt Millen is an old Raider. He knows that winning is all that matters. I imagine there's no such thing as style points in his system. The Lions did unveil rookie QB Mike McMahon by playing him for a series in each half, a la the way the Falcons have used Michael Vick in some games. McMahon had one impressive drive that resulted in a field goal. At least it gives Lions' fans something to talk about, other than being 0-7.
Eagles 21, Cardinals 7: Jake Plummer tried to rally the Cards but fell short three times in the fourth quarter. He should try emulating Donovan McNabb, who got the Eagles a pair of first-half touchdowns. True, the Eagles' offense continued to fire some blanks (just 13 first downs), but they made a 21-7 halftime lead stick. I'm anxious to see how the Eagles size up with a Vikings team coming off a bye. The Cardinals need a spark -- a win over the Giants would provide it.
Titans 28, Jaguars 24: Steve McNair may not be your classic pretty passer, but he proved here that he can carry his team to victory. McNair delivered his best game yet -- 27-of-34 passing and two TDs. He also ran for 74 yards on 10 carries, although the final yard that produced the winning TD certainly appeared to be a fumble. This was another sign that it may not be Tom Coughlin's year. For the second straight divisional game, the Jaguars could not hold a lead. In fact, Mark Brunell's performance (261 yards, a TD) was extremely impressive when you consider that the Jaguars had the ball for just 22 minutes. The Titans (3-4) are hanging on -- next up, Monday night at home against the Ravens. If they get to .500 by beating Baltimore, it will be time to pay attention.