Tag:Rob Gronkowski
Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:06 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 1:14 am
 

Pats C Dan Koppen breaks ankle

Posted by Will Brinson

The Patriots won their season opener against the Dolphins in Miami but it came at a cost: center Dan Koppen, who left just before halftime, has a broken left ankle, according to the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport.

"The team will run more tests tomorrow to see whether there is more damage to the ligaments or the surrounding portions of his leg," Rapoport wrote early Tuesday morning. "But, the early returns are that it may not be a complicated break. In fact, don’t rule Koppen out for the season just yet."

Koppen suffered what the Patriots called a left ankle injury at the time when Karlos Dansby fell on his leg as Koppen blocked for a Tom Brady sneak on third down late in the first half.

He screamed in pain and lay on the ground for a few minutes until a cart was brought out -- as Koppen was leaving, cameras picked him up mouthing something that didn't exactly look, um, optimistic to the medical staff. He was also seen leaving the medical room on crutches and said "We'll see" when asked about the extent of his injury.

The injury is particularly devastating for New England, as they signed Thomas Welch from the practice squad just to get to seven offensive linemen for the Monday night game.

The Dolphins Jason Taylor also suffered an ankle and/or foot injury during the first half when it appeared someone stepped on his foot; he returned to the game in the second half.

Perhaps coincidentally, as soon as Koppen left and Dan Connolly slid over to center, Wake immediately drew a holding call against rookie lineman Nate Solder and then on the next play, recorded a sack on Tom Brady.

Not coincidentally, Wake/Taylor against New England's thinned-out line was our top matchup to watch tonight. And, as we expected, the Pats have been using the heck out of two tight end sets -- they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the field for nearly every single play in the first half.

Expect to see plenty of them in the second half as well, since the loss of Koppen will require increased assistance for an extremely thin offensive line.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 4:47 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Dolphins vs. Patriots

Posted by Will Brinson


1. Miami Dolphins (0-0) vs. New England Patriots (0-0)
Rumblings started to form on Twitter Monday that the Dolphins are taking a look at David Garrard. Even if this doesn't happen, it is perfect, because the Dolphins are in the middle of their 15th quarterback controversy of the year, and they haven't even played a game yet.

It's a mess in South Beach, theoretically, but there's reason to be hopeful. I continue to believe that Chad Henne can evolve into a good NFL quarterback. He's been freed from the shackles of Dan "Third and Draw" Henning and has been given "full reign" by new OC Brian Daboll to call audibles at the line of scrimmage.

Last season's game in Miami is viewed as a blowout. That's because the Patriots won handily, 41-14. But what folks don't remember is that without a Miami special-teams implosion, this game was actually pretty close.

The Patriots scored on a 103-yard kickoff return from Brandon Tate (no longer with New England) and a Kyle Arrington 31-yard blocked field-goal return. To dump a pound of salt in the wound, Patrick Chung also took a pick 51 yards to the house to finish off the rout. Take away those three touchdowns (I know, I know but just play along) and it's a much closer game in which Henne was respectable before getting pressed into throwing the ball in bad situations.

Add in the fact that he's got more versatile weapons (read: Reggie Bush) than 2010, and it's not unreasonable to expect an alright game out of Henne this evening. Brady, as you may know, is capable of doing damage to other teams.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
This is kind of amazing: according to Sportsbook.com, 94 percent of the public's money is on the Pats -7. If we were talking about the Pats money line, that's one thing. But we're discussing a seven-point road favorite playing a division rival who's beaten said favorite a bunch of times when they come down to Florida.

Things could go either way, really -- Tom Brady over the last six years (we're going six instead of five since he missed 2008) has vacillated wildly in Miami. In 2006 he went 12 of 25 for 78 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. In 2007 he went 21 of 25 for 354 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. In that time, though, he's only 3-2 in Miami.

"He’s human, right?" Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake asked of Brady Sunday, per Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun-Sentinel. "He has two eyes and red blood? If you cut him, will he bleed? He puts his pants on one leg a time."

He may actually put his pants on differently and HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT TOM'S EYES, SIR? Er, wait, sorry. Yes, Brady is human. He's been vulnerable against the Dolphins in the past and he'll be vulnerable now.

There's no real logic why everyone's slamming their money after New England favored by a touchdown on the road even if they could easily cover, other than "the Patriots are always awesome, win games and usually manage to be flashy and smart while the Dolphins are typically the opposite and quite boring and therefore will lose."

3. Key Matchup to Watch
The aforementioned defensive end, Cameron Wake, is one of the scariest players in the NFL. Were it not for the Dolphins lacking relevance in 2010, Wake probably would have gotten pub as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.

With Wake and Dolphins-turned-Jet-turned-dancer-t
urned-Dolphin Jason Taylor lining up to terrorize Brady, the Patriots offensive line has a serious task on its hands -- both left tackle Matt Light and right tackle (and rookie) Nate Solder, replacing starting right tackle Sebastian Volmer, will require additional help in doubling up on Wake.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they have a pair of tight ends who are capable receiving options and pretty good blockers in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, so don't be shocked to see lots of two tight end formations out of New England as they look to bolster their pass defense.

If Wake and Taylor crank up the pressure on Brady, the Patriots could be in a for long day, especially considering they aren't typically the type of team that counters quarterback pressure by pounding the rock. Their answer is a dynamic short-passing game that chews up clock and wears opponents down.

It's much harder to pull off if Brady's ending up on his ass every two or three plays and/or doesn't have time to get through his progressions. And when Brady slows his progressions down, the Patriots aren't pushing the tempo and the defense has more time to adjust and, generally speaking, a much better chance of stopping New England.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube

So, this weekend some ridiculous bizness went down with the Notre Dame-Michigan game, in which roughly 735 points were scored in 10 seconds. Or something like that -- Denard Robinson (he of sure-fire future NFL Draft scrutiny!) led the Wolverines to a stunning victory. He then jumped in the crowd and a weirdo fan decided he need to rub Robinson's arm and share the magic with the world.

In case you're scratching your head, both Tom Brady and Chad Henne went to Michigan and they will need magic from their arms to win tonight. Do you see? (Via Spencer Hall's Alphabetical)



5. The Patriots will win if ...
They can protect Brady and give him time to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and subsequently control the tempo against the Dolphins. The Patriots passing game was fine in the preseason, but Chad Ochocinco was a bit underwhelming (to say the least) and having him step things up in Monday night's would be pretty typical of how the Pats role with respect to bringing wide receivers and sandbagging their production before the season starts.

6. The Dolphins will win if ...
Reggie Bush makes the most out of his 20 touches. Well, he's supposed to get 20 touches anyway, and it's hard to imagine that if he's successful that this game won't be close. Bush not only can break off explosive plays, but his ability as a passcatcher out of the backfield will be tremendous for Henne -- he provides a safety valve and will keep the Patriots secondary honest and not able to double-team guys like Brandon Marshall.

7. Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

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Posted on: September 5, 2011 10:06 am
 

Report: Randy Moss willing to return to Patriots

Posted by Will Brinson

Randy Moss is, presumably, hanging out somewhere playing shuffleboard watching racecars make left turns. Because that's what retired people do, obviously. However, for all that excitement, Moss would reportedly be willing and/or interested in returning to the NFL ... if it were with the Patriots.

That's according to Chip Fontanazza of the West Virginia MetroNews, who not only interviewed Moss about stuff that doesn't relate to football but managed to pick up anonymous source that said "Moss does regret leaving the New England Patriots and that would most likely be the only team he would play for in the NFL if he would return."

The timing of the information is not just coincidental, but it's logical as well -- ever since Moss announced his retirement from the NFL, he's made it clear how much he respects and adores the New England organization.

It seems pretty unlikely that the Pats will make another run at/with Moss, though. They've certainly known that Moss would return to New England to wrap up his career, and therefore already could have signed him.

Instead, they went out and traded for Chad Ochocinco in order to beef up an already stout -- Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Brandon Tate, Julian Edleman, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski -- group of pass-catchers.

But Ocho's struggled and the Pats recently dumped 2009 third-rounder Tate, so it would be a little foolish to rule anything out, especially as it relates to either Moss or Bill Belichick.

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Posted on: July 5, 2011 9:44 am
Edited on: July 5, 2011 9:22 pm
 

Could Ochocinco end up with the Patriots?

Posted by Ryan Wilson

In recent years, Bill Belichick's approach to the NFL Draft seems to involve more trading than selecting -- either down or out of the current draft altogether -- but always with the goal of accumulating future considerations. It's not a particularly exciting personnel strategy, although it's difficult to argue with the results. The Patriots have won at least 10 games a year since 2003, three times going 14-2, including last season.

While New England may be relatively quiet on draft weekends, they're generally pretty active in free agency. That hasn't been the case this offseason because of the lockout, but that could change if the owners and players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement in the next 10 days or so.

In anticipation of that eventuality, the Boston Herald takes a look at the Patriots' needs and the soon-to-be free agents who could fill them. First up: wide receivers.

New England's current depth chart includes established veterans with injury histories (Deion Branch, Wes Welker) and unproven, high-upside young guys (Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Matthew Slater, Brandon Tate). It's not quite the uninspiring group of wideouts that were on the team in 2006 (Reche Caldwell led the Patriots with 760 yards receiving that year), but it's not 2007, either (Tom Brady threw 50 touchdowns, 23 to Randy Moss).

Which is why the Herald lists Sidney Rice and Chad Ochocinco as possible free-agent targets. Rice, who had hip surgery last August, played in just six games with the Vikings in 2010. But in 2009, he was one of the league's most explosive players. He's also just 24.

Ochocinco's (mostly off-field) exploits are well documented. He's 33 and not technically a free agent. The Herald explains:
There’s still the popular debate on whether the Patriots need a speed receiver or not. That began when Randy Moss was traded last season and continued in the loss to the Jets. Well, this would certainly provide a solution. Rice has got the speed to stretch the field, and the skills to do a lot more. With the possible exception of Vincent Jackson, he’s the best guy out there. Brady isn’t getting any younger. Why not shoot for the moon? As for Ochocinco, he’s not actually a free agent. But if he’s treating himself like one, why shouldn’t we?
Conventional wisdom says that Ochocinco's best days are behind him, and a team in need of wideouts would be wise to look elsewhere. But this is New England, the place where over-the-hill malcontents go to revive their careers.

Take Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. Dillon rushed for 541 yards in 2003, his last season in Cincinnati. In 2004, he gained 1,635 yards for the Patriots, and he won a Super Bowl. In 2006, Moss had 42 receptions for 533 yards and three touchdowns with Oakland. The next season he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns in New England. It's not unreasonable to think that Belichick and Brady couldn't keep Ochocinco focused, something Marvin Lewis never managed to do in Cincy.

As for Moss, whose name occasionally comes up as a possible option for the Patriots, his time in New England appears to have passed.

"It’s really hard to imagine [Moss returning to Foxboro], the Herald explains. "It’s one of those 'been there, done that, no sense doing it again' kind of stories. That’s not to say the Pats won’t be looking for a speed guy or another veteran receiver. Rice would help, if they could afford him. Ochocinco has one more year on his contract, but he’s made no secret he wants out of Cincinnati. It appears the Bengals want a divorce, too. With Bill Belichick’s affection for him, Ochocinco may, in fact, find a way to end up in Foxboro. If he behaves and still has some left in the tank, he could be the answer."

Even if the Patriots don't pursue a wide receiver during free agency, the 2011 group of pass catchers will still be plenty dangerous. Not so much because of the wide receivers, but because of the tight ends. As rookies last season, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were third and fourth on the team in receptions (45 and 42), and they accounted for 33 percent of the team's passing yards. If nothing else, Belichick learned from the 2006 season; if you don't have wideouts, find some tight ends. Tom Brady doesn't much care who he's throwing the ball to just as long as they're open.

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Posted on: December 26, 2010 11:42 am
Edited on: December 26, 2010 12:17 pm
 

Week 16 AFC Inactives

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

First, those who ARE active: Jaguars WR Mike Sims-Walker, Ravens CB Chris Carr, Jets QB Mark Sanchez (who is starting), Colts RB Joseph Addai, Browns NT Shaun Rogers.

Now, those who are NOT active:

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars:
We figured this was coming, but still, it’s important to note that this is the first time Jones-Drew has missed a game due to injury. Rashad Jennings will take over, and he should be fine today.

Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots:
The rookie TE who has been so impressive this season didn’t travel with his team to Buffalo, so this isn’t a surprising. Look for Rob Gronkowski to get even more action.

Todd Heap, TE, Ravens:
He's been dealing with a hamstring issue, and after an inconsistent week of practice, he's sitting down today.

Karlos Dansby, LB, Dolphins:
Miami will miss one of its best linebackers, but Dansby is dealing with a toe injury and didn't practice all week.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Bengals:
Apparently, Ochocinco tweeted today that he was inactive. With this guy, though, I would wait until the official inactive list comes out to confirm it.

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Posted on: November 25, 2010 3:53 pm
 

At the end of the day, no surprises in Detroit

Posted by Andy Benoit

Well, the Lions at least gave us a half a game on Thanksgiving. At Fords Field Thursday we saw a simpleT. Brady (US Presswire) contrast between a team that knows how to win and a team that knows how to lose. Detroit’s defensive line was dynamic in the first half, with Ndamukong Suh getting an early sack on Tom Brady and Kyle Vanden Bosch delivering a pair of crushing quarterback hits. That effort was matched by an impressively efficient Lions offense (who knew Maurice Morris still had some wheels?). But it only lasted two quarters.

Brady and the Pats offense turned in a masterful – perhaps even perfect – second half. Deion Branch made Alphonso Smith his turkey (sorry). Rob Gronkowski took advantage of Detroit’s tentative safeties. And, late in the fourth, BenJarvus Green-Ellis exhibited the downhill running prowess that has blossomed him into a bona fide feature back. Pretty simple.

Phil Simms made a fantastic point about the Lions: they don’t play for 60 minutes. Effort isn’t the issue so much as simple know-how. Detroit’s lack of depth becomes startling noticeable late in the second of games. It’s all part of the rebuilding process (the never-ending rebuilding process).

As for the Patriots, the story of this game was Brady taking a firm lead in the NFL MVP race, no?

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Posted on: November 15, 2010 7:46 pm
 

Hot Routes 11.15.10: Week 10 boxscore tidbits



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

-With his concussion suffered early during the Sunday night game, the streak of consecutive games made with at least one catch ended for Steelers WR Hines Ward. It ends at 186, the third-best streak in NFL history.

-Ravens K Billy Cundiff blasted three touchbacks Sunday. That gives him 25 on the season (a 58.1 percent success rate on his kickoffs), the top mark in the NFL. He’s already destroyed the club record (15 by Matt Stovall in 2007).

-Cowboys WR Dez Bryant had three catches for 104 yards, the most he’s ever produced in his career. Since Jon Kitna replaced the injured Tony Romo at QB four games ago, Bryant has 23 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

-Seahawks WR Mike Williams had 11 catches for a career-high 145 yards in Seattle’s win against the Cardinals. He did it with a broken finger suffered in practice four days earlier.

-Chiefs QB Matt Cassel threw for 469 yards, the second-highest single-game total in Kansas City history (Elvis Grbac had 504 yards in 2000). The Chiefs still lost.

-For the first time since 1941, two brothers are NFL punters at the same time. Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt faced Denver’s Britton Colquitt on Sunday, and Dustin’s average (43.3 yards) beat Britton’s average (41.0). The Chiefs still lost.

-When Manny Pacquiao destroyed Antonio Margarito in a unanimous decision in Dallas on Saturday, it was his second win of the year at Cowboys Stadium (he beat Joshua Clottey there in March). The Cowboys, meanwhile, have only one win at home this season.

-Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski caught five passes for 72 yards and three touchdowns in helping beat the Steelers. Which was a marked improvement over last week when he dropped passes, muffed up a kickoff return and fumbled deep in Browns territory to help hand Cleveland the win.

-Of the 50 passes tossed by Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, more than half (27) were targeted for either Roddy White or Michael Jenkins.

-From 2007-09, Bengals RB Cedric Benson combined for only three fumbles. This season alone, he’s got three.

-For the first time this season, Jets RB Shonn Greene outgained LaDainian Tomlinson on the ground. Greene had 72 yards on 20 carries, while Tomlinson carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards.

-The Jets dominated the time of possession vs. Cleveland (47:08 to 27:36) but needed until the very end of overtime to squeak out the win.

-Since his big coming-out party in Week 2 (17 carries, nine catches, 232 total yards, three TDs), Lions rookie RB Jahvid Best hasn’t scored a TD and has gained more than 50 yards on the ground just one time. On Sunday, he had 17 carries for 35 yards.

-Even with four players throwing the ball Sunday (Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Brandon Marshall) the final passing stats for Miami were pretty good. The four combined to complete 24 of 37 passes for 323 yards, two touchdowns, one INT and a passer rating of 99.3.

-This is a stat that will make Pete Prisco gnash his teeth. In the past two games, Jaguars QB David Garrard has completed 41 of 52 passes for 602 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Two weeks ago, his passer rating was 157.8. On Sunday, it was 134.1.

-Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two scores. Much of that production, though, came in garbage time when the game was already lost.

-Mike Goodson became the first Panthers RB to rush for at least 100 yards this season. Not Jonathan Stewart, not DeAngelo Williams. Mike Goodson.

-Buccaneers RB LaGarrette Blount has only played in six games this season. In his past four, he’s rushed 65 times for 329 yards and three touchdowns.

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Posted on: November 15, 2010 1:41 am
Edited on: November 15, 2010 1:04 pm
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 10

Posted by Will Brinson & Josh Katzowitz

1. Garrett does Dallas

Perhaps the weirdest thing about a really weird Week 10 in the NFL was the Dallas Cowboys' not just winning, but flat-out dominating the New York Giants en route to a 33-20 thrashing of the team everyone thought was the NFC's best just a week ago.

But what could have possibly changed in just one week to take the Cowboys from the definitive punchline of the 2010 season and turn them into a dangerous spoiler machine?

"The difference is the freakish disasters that have defined our season didn't happen tonight for us," Jon Kitna said afterwards.

Well, yes, there's that. But where's the Jason Garrett love?!?!? After all, if he can do this in just one week, imagine what he could do in a whole year with a gigantic contract! (At least that's the argument he's likely pushing to Jerry Jones for the rest of this week.)

Garrett clearly makes the Cowboys a better team right now than Wade Phillips did -- simply based on effort alone -- but whether or not he's the long-term answer as a coach for Jones' organization is going to require more than just four quarters of impressive play from the Cowboys.

But Cowboys fans probably shouldn't bask in the glow of a dominating win against a division opponent -- continued success in a lost season will make Garrett all but a lock for the full-time job in 2011, and that would be a shame, particularly with so many excellent coaching candidates out there after the season.

One thing's for sure, though: whoever coaches Dallas next year and beyond is going to have a very special talent in Dez Bryant. The rookie wideout, whose play this year has to make Jones feel less horrible for passing on Randy Moss so many years ago, continued to light up the stat sheet against the Giants. (WB)

2. Dolphins QBs get tossed into the blender

Entering Sunday’s game, the Dolphins knew exactly where they wanted to go with their quarterbacks. Coaches had determined they needed to replace starter Chad Henne with backup Chad Pennington, and though this couldn’t have been easy for Henne, he took his demotion with class and professionalism.

That lasted all of two plays before Pennington dislocated his shoulder and left the game with a ton of money in hand (not the same hand that’s connected to the shoulder he just dislocated. The other hand, obviously). That’s because he got a $3.25 million bonus to play those two snaps (it was an escalator in his contract that had to do with him playing as the starting quarterback), so hey, good for him.

Next up was Henne, who soon left with a knee injury.

That leaves the Dolphins with one healthy quarterback, Tyler Thigpen. All we’ve heard since he was elevated to starter is how unorthodox of a signal-caller he is but, at the same time, how effective he can be. Apparently, he burns the Dolphins first team defense in practice all the time while running the scout team. Apparently, he’s innovative and, if he can limit his mistakes, he could be a real force. That said, 24 hours ago, he was nothing better than a third-string quarterback.

And to be fair, for all of Thigpen’s attributes, he’s 1-10 all time as an NFL starter.

Miami now will have to shop for at least one other quarterback to back up Thigpen, and the Dolphins probably will add two this week. JaMarcus Russell is apparently one option, as is Sean Canfield, Tom Brandsteter, Todd Bouman, Jeff George, Vinny Testaverde, and hell, I don’t know, Randall Cunningham (only Russell, Canfield, Brandsteter and Bouman are legit, by the way). (JK)

3. Do NOT make the Patriots angry



The debate surrounding the Patriots over the past week was "trap game v. crumbling dynasty." Could the Patriots really be looking that far past a former assistant on Bill Belichick's staff in Eric Mangini? Could Randy Moss have been more important than we thought to Tom Brady's success?

Yes and no are the answers to those questions -- and we can all justifiably hop back on the Pats bandwagon after they dismantled the Steelers on Sunday night behind a monster Brady performance that saw him throw for 350 yards, three touchdowns and rush for another. (Interestingly, all three were to rookie Rob Gronkowski and this was Brady's first game over 300 yards this season.)

Belichick may plan well (22-2 after a bye) and New England may never lose back-to-back games (23-3 following a loss), but not many people saw this coming, even if it was in Pittsburgh, where Brady's consistently ripped owned the Steelers franchise and stomped on the collective heart of the fanbase every time he gets a chance (6-1 against them for his career).

This isn't to say that there shouldn't be any hesitation to crown the Pats the best team in the NFL, because there should be. Their defense is still really young (though it's maturing), and there absolutely questions about the offense, but, really, what you should worry about is not playing them when they're angry. "

And if you saw Brady screaming at his offensive lineman, crunching forward for three yards, slamming the ball once he got in the end zone or referring to the game as "emotional" at least 30 times afterwards, you know the Pats played and practiced angry this week. (WB)

4. What else can go wrong in Minnesota?

Wait, wait, don’t answer that. If there is an answer to that, we don’t want to know the answer.

And we’re not even talking about Percy Harvin’s migraines and Sidney Rice’s hip and Bernard Berrian’s groin and John Sullivan’s calf and Adrian Peterson’s ineffectiveness Sunday and … so on and so on.

We’re talking about how Brett Favre somehow came up with another injury he can fight through (he told ESPN that he’s been having shoulder pains that might be related to biceps surgery he had in 2008) and how he threw three interceptions Sunday to go with a fumble and a QB passer rating of 44.5. Not coincidentally, Minnesota lost 27-13 to Chicago to fall to 3-6 on the season.

But obviously, Favre still thinks his squad can make the playoffs. Right, Brett?

"If I had to gauge today I would say no," he said. "I'm not writing us off. But guys are in that locker room as we did right after the game [saying], 'We've got to find a way to turn it around' – all the cliches that go with it, as you would expect. 'We've got to pick it up. We've got to find a way to win.' And I say yes to all of those.

"Can this team make the playoffs? Yes, I'll say yes to that. Will we make the playoffs? I have no idea. No idea. And for anyone in our locker room to think beyond next week, or really beyond today ... we will be watching the playoffs. That's probably a better guess than us making the playoffs. And that's just being honest."

The truth does, in fact, hurt. Whether Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was being completely honest about coach Brad Childress’ continued employment – he told ESPN that he wasn’t considering getting rid of Childress – we’ll just have to wait and see. But you can’t like the sour attitude that continues to waft through Childress’ locker room. Honest or not. (JK)

5. The AFC West just got wilder

The Oakland Raiders cruised into their bye with a three-game winning streak, but it was reasonable to think the Kansas City Chiefs could put some distance in the AFC West standings thanks to a matchup against the defensively incompetent Broncos.

Then a funny thing happened -- Denver watched how the Raiders beat KC the week before, stacked the box early against Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, and blew out Todd Haley's squad early and often. Late too, for that matter; Josh McDaniels' decision to keep his starters in the whole game didn't exactly sit well with Haley, who refused to shake hands after the game.

What was the long-term outcome of this game? Well, for starters, the AFC West is wide open now. Oakland and KC are both 5-4 and in first, but looming LARGE are the San Diego Chargers at 4-5 and just one game back.

The Bolts are even more terrifying for that division because by the time the second set of divisional games get underway, they'll be in possession of a fully-loaded weapon, as Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Legandu Naanee all (should) return sooner than later. 

What might be most weird about this is, given that all eight divisions are completely up in the air at this point, the Chargers might once again represent the team most likely to run away with their division. If they can win their remaining four games against AFC West foes (home-and-home against Denver, home game against Kansas City, home against Oakland), there's a pretty good chance they close the season 6-1 and cruise to another title.  (WB)

6. What else can we say about Palmer?

He’s not just average at this point in his career. He’s worse than average. Carson Palmer showed that again in the Bengals 23-17 loss to the Colts. His stats actually don’t look too bad (31 of 42 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions). But Palmer, as he’s been the past two seasons, is sometimes so inaccurate, it actually feels like a joke. Surely, he can’t be that off. He must be joshing us.

Yet, he threw another pick-6 Sunday, and against a Colts defense missing most of its key players, he simply wasn’t good enough. He’s also not getting enough help from his teammates, particularly Terrell Owens, who seems to quit on a route at least once a game. Too far out of his reach – which, to be fair, happens quite a bit with Palmer – and Owens doesn’t bother going after it or knocking it away from the defender who’s usually ready to make the interception.

Palmer apparently had a pain-killing injection put into his shoulder before the game – the same shoulder that caused him to miss practice Wednesday and Thursday – and it seems clear Palmer isn’t healthy. Perhaps, he hasn’t been healthy in quite a while. Those are the whispers that follow him around, and though he’s always quick to deny that he has long-lasting pain, that could explain why he’s fallen so far from being an elite quarterback to being one that has dropped below the average line. (JK)

7. When playing not to win works



Pretty sure I'll feel like a jerk suggesting this, but the Browns should have played for the tie on Sunday. And yeah, maybe Herm Edwards won't agree, but when Cleveland dialed up a pass on first down with 1:35 remaining in overtime, and Colt McCoy missed Ben Watson, it ended up costing the Browns the game (and, no joke, a chance to at least get back near the playoff race) because they left the Jets 24 seconds on the clock after a punt to their own 37-yard line.

Now, McCoy had already led an amazing drive to close out regulation, so it's fine putting the game in his hands. But in that situation, you really can't play "just to win," because the risk-reward of having to march 60 yards just to have a shot at a game-winning field goal doesn't pan out. Run the ball with Peyton Hillis twice, and maybe play action on third down. Otherwise you end up losing just like the Browns did. (WB)

8. There's a new Smith in town

When we talked to 49ers LB Takeo Spikes recently about his team, he brought up, with no prompting, how quickly the team had taken a liking to QB Troy Smith.

"Just with Troy’s presence," Spikes said. "He’s a guy who’s not only confident in his abilities but he makes everybody feel confident about themselves and what he’s about to do when we step on the field."

You could really see that against the Rams. Smith threw for 356 yards and a TD on just 17 completions, and as the game entered the second half, he looked completely in control and command. This is not how he looked when he was in Baltimore. Maybe it’s something in that San Francisco air. Or maybe it’s the Rice-A-Roni. (JK)

9. Bills get off the schneid

The Bills have been so close on so many different occasions.

They kept New England in sight before falling 38-30 in Week 3. And after taking their bye in Week 6, the heartbreaks really began to pile up.

In Week 7, the Bills gained 505 yards and scored four touchdowns – and took a 24-10 lead against Baltimore, no less – but the game turned for good in overtime when Ravens LB Ray Lewis lifted up Buffalo Te Shane Nelson (not unlike Patrick Swayze hoisting Jennifer Grey into the air) and stripped the ball away. Four plays later, Baltimore kicked the game-winning field goal.

In Week 8, Buffalo forced overtime AGAIN, and AGAIN, the opponent crushed the Bills souls in the final period. Early in overtime, Bills K Rian Lindell actually kicked the 53-yarder that would have given the Bills the win, but Chiefs coach Todd Haley had called timeout just before the snap. On the retry, Lindell hit the upright and it was no good.

And last week, not even a trip to Toronto could change the Bills fortunes. Despite Buffalo leading 19-14 in the fourth quarter, the Bills allowed (of all people) Bears QB Jay Cutler to throw the go-ahead TD pass with 6:41 to go. The Bears could not respond and fell 22-19.

But Sunday … ah, Sunday. A blessed, glorious victory.

So, Buffalo, how did it feel beating the Lions 14-12? This Associated Press lede should tell you the story:

Elated and relieved, guard Eric Wood could not contain himself as he skipped toward the Buffalo Bills’ locker room door.

“Holy cow! We won a game!” Wood yelled, his voice echoing in the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

So, yeah, it felt pretty good. Buffalo can thank RB Fred Jackson, who rushed for a season-high 133 yards and scored both touchdowns. And despite the fact Lions QB Shaun Hill led a furious comeback in the final minutes, the Bills defense cracked down during the two-point conversion and Hill was forced to throw it out of the back of the end zone.

Here’s hoping the Bills enjoy this victory. Lords knows they’ve earned it. (JK)

10. Quick Hitters:

****We had two overtime games this week. In an unbelievable upset, CBS’ Gus Johnson wasn’t calling either game. His game actually was decided on a last-second Hail Mary, which allowed him to be at his best while not having to put any extra (unpaid) time into his shift.

****As a result of the Bills winning, the Panthers look like they're in prime position for the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. It'll be the first time in franchise history Carolina selects first overall -- the closest they came was No. 2 in 2003, which netted them Julius Peppers instead of David Carr. That worked out okay.

****The Lions are 8-1 this season! Against the spread. Which is actually pretty impressive and probably indicative that they're better than their record indicates. So, that's something, right?

****Amazingly, the 49ers had three of their touchdowns called back because of penalties. And they were impressive touchdowns, too. Unfortunately, they’ve gone to that almost-touchdown heaven in the sky, never to be seen or heard from again.

****Speaking of San Francisco, the team was 0-for-11 on third-down conversions until Rams S O.J. Atogwe was called for pass interference in overtime. Two plays later, the 49ers kicked the game-winning field goal. Who said you have to convert third downs to win?

****Shonn Greene was expected to get more carries this week and he did, making the most out of the 20 times he toted the rock (his second-highest total of the season) and giving a good indication that the's prepping to turn into more of a workhorse for the Jets.

****Know what's weird? People just refuse to talk about the Atlanta Falcons as the best team in the NFL. Even though they have a record to match. That is all.

****Mario Manningham and Ramses Barden looked sharp in the loss to the Cowboys, just proving how deep and talented that WR corps of the Giants is -- if Steve Smith misses significant time, it's obviously problematic, but New York can still score.

****Randy Moss said he had a "bad" day/game in his debut for the Titans. And he's correct, but it was odd that he didn't try and blame someone else, merely pointing out he'd do what was necessary in order to help the team win. But that's usually what he does after his first week in a new location. If this keeps up and the Titans aren't winning, things could change. Quickly.

****Pete Carroll's playcalling is so freaking bizarre. It's one thing that the Seahawks simply can't run the ball without Russell Okung healthy (they can't), but it's another to be chunking the ball left and right across the field with little-to-no time remaining. Oh, and his decision to QB sneak in the red zone resulted in a broken bone for Matt Hasselbeck. It's really going criminally underrated because they're having some success this year. 

****Brandon Marshall's temper flared up again Sunday, as he got upset after making a catch and threw the ball into the stands, drawing a penalty. Given that he might be catching passes from JaMarcus Russell soon (no, no seriously), there's a pretty good chance we could be seeing an epic meltdown at some point. 
 
 
 
 
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