Week 6: Not road weary
Visiting teams delivered early; Harbaugh, Marrone should have played it safe
On a day the Kansas City Chiefs registered a world record for crowd noise at Arrowhead Stadium, home-field advantage was temporarily lost on Sunday.
Seven of the eight 1 p.m. ET games were won by the road teams. Some were predictable. The Cincinnati Bengals got a 27-24 victory over a Buffalo Bills team trying out Thad Lewis at quarterback for the injured E.J. Manuel. The New York Jets knew it would tough for rookie QB Geno Smith to win against the Steelers' confusing zone blitz scheme. The Jets lost 19-6.
Things were such a mess with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there were concerns about their game against the Philadelphia Eagles even being played because of the MRSA scare. Guard Carl Nicks suffered a recurrence of his MRSA infection and was inactive Sunday, but cornerback Johnthan Banks was cleared to play after becoming infected. As it turned out, the Bucs lost 31-20 because they weren't ready for the Eagles' offense.
Offense: With the 49ers struggling to get the ball to wide receivers, TE Vernon Davis stepped up against the Arizona Cardinals by catching eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 32-20 victory.
Defense: Victimizing a Raiders offensive line battered with injuries, Chiefs LB Tamba Hali had 3½ sacks and five hits on the quarterback in a 24-7 victory. He also had three other tackles for a loss.
Special teams: The Steelers' Shaun Suisham provided 13 points in a 19-6 victory over the Jets, including four field goals in four attempts. Place-kickers were 38-for-41 in the 12 Sunday day games.
"Coming back from the bye and trying to get prepared for Philly, it was a big distraction," Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis said of the MRSA situation.
It wasn't a surprise to see the Detroit Lions beat a young Cleveland Browns team 31-17 in Cleveland. Considering how poorly the Houston Texans have been playing, their 38-13 loss at home to the St. Louis Rams wasn't surprising either. Plus, Rams coach Jeff Fisher had a lot of success against Houston when he coached Tennessee.
The surprise was the Minnesota Vikings suffering a 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "I want to go home and throw up," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "It's embarrassing. This is one of the worst home losses I think I've ever had."
In the early games, only the Chiefs, whose fans set the decibel record at 137.7, prevailed. They beat the Oakland Raiders 24-7.
Here's what we learned in Week 6:
1. Three costly decisions: Sometimes, the conservative approach might be best. With 5:22 remaining in the second quarter of Baltimore's 19-17 loss to Green Bay, Ravens coach John Harbaugh went for a fourth-and-1 at the Packers' 1-yard line. Instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game at 3, Baltimore gave the ball to Bernard Pierce, who was stopped for no gain.
"You had fourth-and-1, you've got a high-percentage opportunity to make that fourth-and-1," Harbaugh explained. "I like our chances there. If you don't make it, you've got them backed up on their own 1 [yard line] and feel really good about making them punt out of their own end zone, and you know, field position coming back the other way. They punted to the 50, they got a stop, and we punted it back inside the 10, again, so, I think that was a good decision there."
Against a Green Bay defense that was playing with confidence, Harbaugh should have taken the points. Harbaugh left himself open to further criticism by trying to throw a pass from the Ravens' 34 with 20 seconds left in the half. Joe Flacco fumbled after a sack and it gave the Packers an easy 31-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead.
In the Buffalo-Cincinnati game, Bills coach Doug Marrone went for a fourth-and-1 at the Bengals' 1 early in the second quarter after Fred Jackson had been stopped on three running plays from inside the Bengals' 2. Understand, the Bengals have one of the best defensive lines in football. Understand that Marrone's quarterback, Lewis, was making his first start since coming off the practice squad. Instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game at 10, the Bills saw Lewis get stopped for a 1-yard loss. The Bengals countered by driving 98 yards for a touchdown to go up 17-7. As it turned out, the Bills took the Bengals to overtime only to lose 27-24. Had they had the early field goal, they might have won.
The third decision wasn't a coach's. It was Browns QB Brandon Weeden's. Trailing the Detroit Lions 24-17, Weeden tried to fire a Brett Favre-like shovel pass that missed Chris Ogbonnaya and was intercepted by Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy. "It's a boneheaded play," Weeden admitted. "It's on me." The play was so bad Browns coach Rob Chudzinski thought Weeden was trying to throw the ball away. The Lions ended up getting another touchdown drive and won 31-17.
2. Fans turn on Schaub: The disdain for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub started after the Seattle loss (Week 4), when a fan burned a Schaub jersey. Last week, a Texans fan went to Schaub's home to express his displeasure after a four-week stretch of pick-sixes. Sunday was worse. In an embarrassing 38-13 loss to the Rams, fans cheered when Schaub had to be taken out of the game with an ankle injury. Enter T.J. Yates, who threw his own pick-six seven plays later. Things are getting ugly at Reliant Stadium.
"No class," wide receiver Andre Johnson said of the cheering fans. "It's bad when members of the other team are saying that's messed up. No class."
Incidents like these happen, unfortunately. I remember Terry Bradshaw receiving cheers when he came to the sidelines early in his career with a shoulder injury. Bradshaw wasn't the four-time Super Bowl winner at that time. Fans love the next quarterback, but these situations are horrible. The Texans are on a four-game losing streak and have no idea what to do at quarterback.
"I'll have to wake up tomorrow and start from scratch with what we're doing and then we'll see where we go against Kansas City," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said.
As far as the injury, it's too early to say whether or not Schaub could be ready next week. Kubiak said Schaub has a lot of ailments on his right leg. It might be advisable to go to Yates, but the matchup against the Chiefs is a bad one for him. The Chiefs can stuff the Texans' run game and the noise at Arrowhead will make it tough for Yates to succeed. Fans like Case Keenum, but he has no experience.
The season is falling apart quickly for the Texans. The Indianapolis Colts have established themselves as the best team in the AFC South. Only the Jaguars are playing worse than the Texans in that division.
Not only are the Texans losing games, but they are losing their fans. "It's disgusting," left tackle Duane Brown said. "For the fans that cheered when [Schaub] got hurt, that's disgusting." Brown gave a shoutout to the fans who supported the team, but those fans are vanishing.
3. Old school at Arrowhead: In preparing his Chiefs for Sunday's rivalry game against Oakland, coach Andy Reid broke out some old Chiefs tape. He showed the defense the aggressiveness of Hall of Fame DB Emmitt Thomas. He showed the team some of the highlights of Marty Ball. Reid wanted pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to bring back the days of Derrick Thomas. He wanted Jamaal Charles to run like Priest Holmes.
Reid's tactics worked. After beating the Raiders 24-7 Sunday, the Chiefs are 6-0 and have a good chance of going into the Nov. 17 game against Denver with a 9-0 record. On offense, the Chiefs aren't pretty. They gained only 216 yards against a surprisingly good Oakland Raiders defense. Perhaps a bigger surprise is how Reid, a master of the West Coast offense, is going a little Marty Ball. He ran Charles 22 times for 78 yards and leads a more balanced team than he had with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Quarterback Alex Smith struggled to figure out the Raiders' complex zone defenses, but the Chiefs are winning because their defense is built to win against this relatively easy schedule. Reid inherited a defense that had five Pro Bowlers, budding Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe and a great pass rush. On a perfectly sunny fall day, Reid unleashed the perfect plan against the Raiders. Houston spied Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Hali chased him down. Pryor was sacked 10 times. To make matters worse for Oakland, the Chiefs set the new world record for sports noise level by registering a 137.7 decibel reading, topping the Seahawks' record in Week 2. That noise caused three false starts and three delay of game penalties.
But let's look ahead and see why the Chiefs should be 9-0. The next two weeks are home games in the loud environment. They face either a struggling Schaub or Yates of the Texans followed by Weeden and the Browns. After that they travel to Buffalo to play the Bills, who still might have Lewis at quarterback. Then they get a bye before the Denver game. Old school is working well.
4. Jets were destined to lose: The worst enemy of a rookie quarterback is Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau has been running the confusing zone blitz scheme since the days when Bill Walsh and Joe Montana were establishing a dynasty with the San Francisco 49ers. That's why the Steelers' 19-6 victory over the Jets was predictable. LeBeau is 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks.
A rookie quarterback such as the Jets' Smith was good for what ailed the Steelers. They had gone five games without creating a defensive turnover. Had the streak continued Sunday, the Steelers would have set an NFL record. Smith completed 19 of 34 passes for 201 yards and had two interceptions. He also had a fumble. He was sacked three times and hit six other times.
"Well, you can tell those guys had time to prepare," Smith said of the Steelers, who had a bye in Week 5. "They covered our verticals pretty well, carried the seams. I think that's a testament to, like I said, having guys like Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark who've played in this league, who have seen those plays time and time again. They kept things in front of them."
5. QBs compensating for missing parts: Tom Brady showed why he is so good in a come-from-behind 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints. Before the game, much was made about Rob Gronkowski missing his sixth consecutive game. His absence is probably frustrating his teammates because Brady has to work with rookies, slot guys and journeyman tight ends. Instead of complaining, Brady executed an incredible 70-yard touchdown drive in 68 seconds to win the game. He hit Kenbrell Thompkins with a 17-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone.
"We're just grinding," Brady said. "We talked about it before the drive. Guys made a bunch of plays toward the end."
Give the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick credit for making the best of his problems at wide receiver. His numbers are down because the 49ers lack support at wide receiver. Nevertheless, he completed 8 of 11 passes to tight end Vernon Davis for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Even though Kaepernick completed only five passes to wide receivers for 51 yards, the big thing is he got 32 points and made the big plays when needed.
Somehow, Aaron Rodgers got the Packers a 19-17 win in Baltimore despite losing James Jones and Randall Cobb to knee injuries. Because he was on crutches, Cobb's injury looks to be more serious. Jones said after the game he dodged a bullet despite suffering a hyperextension. After those injuries, Rodgers altered the offense by targeting Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, but his numbers will drop off in the future if Cobb and Jones aren't around. … So much for Matt Cassel sparking the Vikings. Cassel could throw only underneath routes against the Carolina Panthers in a 35-10 loss. He completed 32 of 44 passes, but averaged only 7.5 yards a completion. Expect Josh Freeman to be starting within a week or two. … The Raiders' offensive line continues to crash with injuries. Right tackle Tony Pashos (groin) was hurt, forcing undrafted Matt McCants into the starting lineup. Andre Gurode also got hurt, so the Raiders were down to their third-string center. Guard Mike Brisiel moved from right guard to center, a position he had never played. The surprising part was the Raiders tried a lot of shotgun plays from a center who had never done it before. They put the undrafted Lamar Mady at right guard. No wonder the Kansas City Chiefs had 10 sacks. … The NFC finally had a good day, winning four of the five games against the AFC. The AFC leads 19-13 for the season.