Tag:Philip Rivers
Posted on: December 17, 2010 12:31 am
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With V-Jax, the Chargers could be deadly

V. Jackson is excited after catching a 58-yard TD pass (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

In his first game of the 2010 season, Chargers WR Vincent Jackson didn’t last one quarter before excusing himself from the contest with a calf injury. Then, he missed the next week.

For a guy who’d been shouting in the preseason about a new contract before refusing to sign his tender, holding out, getting his bluff called by San Diego GM A.J. Smith and serving two suspensions, this was not an especially impressive showing.

When he finally returned in last week’s 31-0 San Diego victory against the Chiefs, he tallied two catches for 29 yards. This, you might have asked, was the player who crowed about wanting one of the top WR salaries in the league? This, even though he originally was scheduled to make $3.2 million this season (that salary was later slashed to $600,000, so yeah, his refusal to sign his tender wasn’t a great financial decision).

If you had doubted Jackson’s abilities, look no further than the Chargers 34-7 victory against the 49ers tonight, because Jackson was nothing short of incredible. He finished with five catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns, and he was simply outstanding. His first score was his most impressive, when he out-leapt San Francisco CB Nate Clements for a 58-yard touchdown to give San Diego a 7-0 lead.

From there, the Chargers – and Jackson – never looked back.

San Diego is currently in the middle of its yearly December restoration project when it has to overcome a slow start to the season only to make a huge run to win the AFC West and make the playoffs.

With tonight’s win, the Chargers are a half-game back of the Chiefs, who face the Rams this weekend and could be without quarterback Matt Cassel again. Unquestionably, San Diego – which has won six of its past seven games – has the momentum going into its final two games of the season (against the Bengals and the Broncos, two should-be wins), as opposed to the Chiefs, who gone 3-3 in their past six games.

The Chargers still have to hope they can actually make the playoffs – if the Chiefs win out, it’d still be tough for the Chargers to get a Wild Card, even with a 10-6 record.

But …

But if San Diego can make the postseason, the Chargers will be a tough squad to play. Assuming TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcom Floyd are healthy enough to play, assuming Jackson continues to perform like he did tonight, assuming the Chargers defense continues to play well and assuming QB Philip Rivers continues to be an MVP candidate, this team will be a tough out in the postseason.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Jackson told the NFL Network after the game. “This team is moving in the right direction. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

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Posted on: December 15, 2010 12:18 am
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Super Bowl contenders

New England has to be considered a Super Bowl contender (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

It’s getting to be about that time.

The time when we really can crack down on the best teams in the NFL and really figure out which squads are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Preseason favorites (like, ahem, the Jets) have begun to show cracks in the foundation, while other teams – in this case, it’s just one team, really – have begun pulling away.

Three weeks left in the regular season, so we should have a pretty good indication of which team is going to do what once it makes the playoffs (if it, in fact, makes the playoffs at all). Without further ado, here’s your guide to which squad will be spending February in Dallas.

10. Jaguars: Why they will: Why the hell not? I mean, they won’t really. But RB Maurice Jones-Drew is fun to watch, and QB David Garrard has played great football lately. Jacksonville is just a fun underdog to watch. Why they won’t: I’m not even sure they’re good enough to get to the playoffs.

9. Chargers: Why they will: QB Philip Rivers is still having a fantastic season and is still an MVP candidate. Plus, San Diego is the No. 1 defense in the NFL (you can look it up!). Why they won’t: They simply haven’t played well for most of this season. Losses that look like this: 27-20 to the Seahawks; 35-27 and 28-13 to the Raiders; 20-17 to the Rams.

8. Bears: Why they will: They’ve surpassed many people’s expectations for the season while dragging coach Lovie Smith off the hot seat, so why can’t the surprises continue? I mean, if Jay Cutler can play fairly well on a consistent basis, anything can happen. Why they won’t: The offense isn’t good enough, and the defense isn’t good enough to overcome one of (statistically) the worst offenses in the league.

7. Ravens: Why they will: They’ve got plenty of talent at the WR position, and much of the time, QB Joe Flacco can even get his receivers the ball. Plus, there’s always Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. Why they won’t: Did you see the way the defense collapsed Monday vs. the Texans? That’s unlike the Baltimore defense we’re accustomed to seeing every season. That secondary struggles, as well.

The duo of B. Jacobs and A. Bradshaw has been big for New York this year (US Presswire). 6. Giants: Why they will: The Giants offense, though beat up in the WR corps, still picks up the yards. Once they figured out their roles, the running back duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw has been outstanding. Why they won’t: For one, Eli Manning doesn’t have very many healthy receivers. For two, the team won’t stop turning the ball over to its opponents.

5. Eagles: Why they will: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson can lead this team anywhere. The proof lies in the league-leading 402 yards of offense Philadelphia produces per game. Why they won’t: Some injuries on defense – CB Asante Samuel, LB Stewart Bradley and DE Brandon Graham – certainly don’t help. Plus, it seems like Vick would have to play perfect all the way through, doesn’t it?

4. Steelers: Why they will: The Steelers played well without QB Ben Roethlisberger, and now with him in there – even though he’s less than 100 percent – they’re nearly unbeatable. Plus, you know, Troy Polamalu. They don’t win ‘em pretty, but they win ‘em anyway. Why they won’t: The offensive line isn’t very good. Like, not very good at all.

3. Saints: Why they will: New Orleans has played progressively better as the season has neared its end. Even if the Saints can’t catch the Falcons in the NFC South, the wild card should be there for the taking, and hopefully for them, they would catch one of the NFC West teams on the road. Why they won’t: They’re not as good as they were last year.

2. Falcons: Why they will: They have the quarterback, they have the running back, they have the receivers, they have the TE and they have the coaching (and a pretty decent defense). There’s a lot to like about this Atlanta squad. Why they won’t: Not a ton of guys on the team have been on teams that have made deep playoff runs. Unlike, say, the New Orleans Saints.

1. Patriots: Why they will: It’s obvious. Rewatch their last two games – destructions of the Jets and the Bears. Why they won’t: Can Tom Brady really keep up this unbelievable pace? Isn’t the young – and, at times, ineffective – secondary eventually going to get the team in trouble? Especially if the Patriots face somebody like Philip Rivers or Drew Brees?

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Posted on: December 10, 2010 11:53 am
 

Hot Routes 12.10.10: Urlacher says Bears are best

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Brian Urlacher doesn't care for your precious "stats" and "win-loss records." He still thinks the Bears, even though they are 9-3 and the Patriots are 10-2 the best team in the country. "New England is the best team in the NFL, record-wise," Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. "But I feel like we're the best team, period. That's why I say record-wise." Urlacher also made reference to the Eagles being the "best" team in the NFL when they visited Soldier Field and how well that worked out for them. In short, Sunday's matchup should be fun as hell.
  • Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez are having lunch together and apparently this is a big deal. If Sanchez doesn't return it means Ryan was REALLY mad about his performance against the Patriots. Or really hungry.
Posted on: December 9, 2010 12:43 am
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Non-Brady MVP votes

M. Ryan would be the top MVP candidate in the league right now if it wasn't for a guy named T. Brady (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

This week, seemingly everybody is proclaiming Patriots QB Tom Brady as the player who should be named MVP – including his former teammate, Troy Brown, who I talked to for this week’s Five Questions (or more) segment. After watching Brady dissect the Jets on Monday, that’s hard to argue.

But we’ve still got four weeks of regular-season NFL football, so Brady can’t be named the Most Valuable Players quite yet (I think that’s actually in the rules). That said, there are a number of players who have done quite a bit to help their respective teams this season that also must be in the conversation for MVP. What happens, after all, if Brady throws 10 interceptions in the final four games and the Patriots go 0-4 in that stretch?

Thus, this Top Ten With a Twist pays homage to those who are having hellaciously good years for teams good and bad and could creep into a voter’s conscience (assuming he/she doesn’t simply write Brady’s name in every possible space on the ballot). I’m not saying most of these guys should win; I’m just saying they should be considered.

10. Julius Peppers, DE, Bears: In his first season in Chicago, the defense, ranked as the third-best in the NFL, is a huge reason why the Bears are 9-3, lead the NFC North and own the second-best record in the conference (tied with the Saints). He’s recorded seven sacks and a very strong six passes defended and he’s forced three fumbles. You could also make a case for Brian Urlacher in this spot.

9. Drew Brees, QB, Saints: So many other quarterbacks have made big headlines this season – some for good reasons (we’ll get into those candidates later) and some for bad reasons (ahem, Brett Favre) – and it seems like Brees has been slightly ignored. That’s also because he isn’t the top quarterback in his division at this point and because the Saints are in danger of not winning the NFC South (more on the Falcons below). But the fact is that Brees is statistically the most-accurate quarterback in the league, and the Saints are 9-3 with a chance to return to the Super Bowl. That’s not too shabby.

8. Clay Matthews, LB, Packers: Remember how amazingly fast Matthews started the season, recording six sacks in the first two games? Well, he’s slowed considerably since then, and even Miami’s Cameron Wake has surpassed him for the league lead (Wake has 12 sack to Matthews’ 11.5). Matthews only has one sack in the past three games, but he’s still got a good shot at defensive player of the year (along with Julius Peppers, Steelers LB James Harrison, Eagles DE Trent Cole and Bills NT Kyle Williams), and he’s still having one heck of a year. 

7. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs: Coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 5.9 yards per rush and finished 2009 with 1,120 yards and seven TDs, Kansas City rewarded him by going out and getting (gulp!) a legitimate RB in Thomas Jones. In his first two games of the season, Charles averaged 11 carries and 70.5 yards per contest, leaving some of us to wonder what was going on in Kansas City. But Charles has been awesome for the resurgent 8-4 Chiefs, averaging a ridiculous 6.2 yards per carry while gaining 1,137 yards.

6. James Harrison, LB, Steelers: You’d be forgiven if, the other day when Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was defending Harrison in another laborious discussion about fines, you would have scoffed when Tomlin said Harrison was having an MVP-type season. But look at the plays he’s made and the numbers he’s produced. Harrison is third among linebackers with 10 sacks, he’s defended six passes and produced two interceptions, and he’s forced six fumbles, best among LBs. And he does it for a top-five defense which could help the Steelers to a deep postseason run. He's the MVP of NFL fines, but he might be the MVP overall as well.

5. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: You’ve got Matthews on defense, and now you’ve got Rodgers as the catalyst for an offense ranked in the top-10, despite a dreadful running game. Rodgers has been so impressive (a 65.4 completion percentage, 3,243 yards, 23 TDs and nine INTs) without the benefit of Ryan Grant and having to play with very little support in Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn (they rank 30th and 50th in rushing in the league, respectively). His MVP candidacy obviously will ride on whether he can get Green Bay into the playoffs.

4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: A week ago, I might have picked Rivers a little bit higher, but he’s coming off a bad, bad home loss to the Raiders that dropped San Diego two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West. Not that Rivers played poorly, because he wasn’t bad. But it’s tough to get excited about a QB leading a 6-6 squad who very well could miss the playoffs, even if he is the guy who’s led his team to all six of those wins.

M. Jones-Drew has made himself a strong MVP candidate in the past five weeks (US Presswire). 3. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars: What would you say if I told you that Jones-Drew has rushed for at least 100 yards in his past five games and helped Jacksonville win four of its past five to take over first place in the AFC South? Would you say that man would be an MVP candidate? I would.

2. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: Yes, he’s missed three games because of injury, but other than that, Vick is, bar none, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he’s having a career season in a year in which he wasn’t supposed to be the starter (you might have forgotten about a guy named Kevin Kolb). He could, throughout his career, always change the game’s dynamic with his running ability (and he’s got 467 rushing yards, a 6.3 average and six scores this season), but he’s showcased his arm this year as well (63.8 completion percentage, 2,243 yards, 15 TDs, two INTs). He is absolutely a complete quarterback and absolutely an MVP candidate.

1. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: The “Matty Ice” moniker has already worn thin – unlike the “Pocket Hercules” nickname for Jones-Drew – but there’s no question that it’s reflective of his playing ability. Even when he doesn’t play altogether well – an example would be last week in Tampa Bay – he still somehow finds a way to lead Atlanta to a win. At this point, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC, and Ryan is the biggest reason for that. If Brady falls off in the last month of the year, my vote at this point would go to Ryan.

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Posted on: November 30, 2010 2:32 pm
 

Antonio Gates talks Chargers, Norv, MVP race

Posted by Will Brinson

As we mentioned on Sunday, the San Diego Chargers are now officially contenders, even though they're currently out of the playoffs and sitting at 6-5. It's just what happens when you get white hot in the middle of the season and whip the Colts at home. 

Conveniently, we had Antonio Gates on the podcast today -- Gates talks about his injury (for those that don't know, plantar fasciitis is one of the most painful things in the history of the world), the Chargers run, Norv Turner as a coach, what turned their season around, how San Diego keeps managing to stop Peyton Manning, how they've overcome injuries, their outlook for December, LaDainian Tomlinson's resurgence, who his pick for MVP is right now and how he's working with Papa John's to find the most competitive fantasy football league on the planet (you can vote for a winner at PapaJohns.com and/or order that new, stupid-delicious-looking double-bacon/six-cheese pizza).

So check it out -- just hit the play button below and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
Posted on: November 29, 2010 7:20 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2010 7:28 pm
 

Report: Vincent Jackson to miss 2 weeks

Posted by Will Brinson

Vincent Jackson's 2010 has been, um, unproductive, to say the least. He held out for a long-term contract (A.J. Smith said thanks, but no thanks), served a suspension for his second DUI and served a suspension for the roster exempt rule before eventually signing his tender.

He returned to the field on Sunday night against the Colts, but did nothing, leaving the game in the first quarter with a calf injury. NBC's sideline reporter Andrea Kramer is now reporting (via her blog I think?) that Jackson will miss two weeks with a groin and a calf injury, after undergoing an MRI on Monday.

Here's the weird thing -- Kramer reports that Jackson injured his groin at the end of last week in practice and then injured his calf during pregame warmups while overcompensating for the groin injury.

However, Jackson was never listed on San Diego's injury report leading up to the game. So, there's certainly some inconsistency there, at least in terms of the groin report (there had been some rumor that he'd hurt his left calf before the game and then injured his right one during it) and what the Chargers told the public and the Colts before the game.

If Jackson misses two more weeks, it could be a pretty devastating blow to his free agency hopes, as he'll have -- at best -- three regular season weeks and however long the Chargers are in the playoffs to boost his stock. Considering the multiple reasons he missed time this season, it's safe to say that it can't get any lower right now.

And it doesn't help the Chargers either, since they expected him to be a "major contributor" when he returned.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 29, 2010 3:39 pm
 

NFL Week 12 Podcast Review

Posted by Will Brinson

Week 12 of the NFL season is almost over (scary thought, no) and for once, we've got a little bit of clarity in terms of who's good and who's bad. The key phrase there, of course, is "a little bit."

To sort out the muddled business, though, Andy and I hop on the podcast machine and discuss whether Peyton Manning is seriously troubled, what kind of punishment Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson deserve, what the Buccaneers really are, if the Packers-Falcons game was an NFC Championship Game preview, why the Falcons are so unstoppable at home, if Steve Johnson is insane, whether Josh McDaniels is a lame duck in Denver, how Kansas City can contend and whether the Dolphins are back now.

All those problems solved (plus, much, much more) below -- just hit the play button below and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
Posted on: November 29, 2010 4:15 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 1:35 pm
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 12

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Status quo in prime time


The Indianapolis Colts have always had trouble against 3-4 defenses. The crux of the problem has often been Indy’s shortcomings at the guard position. For years, the Colts fruitlessly attempted to block 3-4 outside linebackers by pulling their guards to the edges in pass protection. Those were the pre-Super Bowl days when Peyton Manning was derisively referred to as a great regular season quarterback. The Colts no longer pull their guards against 3-4 outside rushers, but that doesn’t mean Colts guards aren’t still are major liability against teams like New England, Pittsburgh or, as we saw Sunday night, San Diego. P. Manning (US Presswire)

How big of a bust is Mike Pollak? The ’08 second-round pick can’t even get on the field ahead of Jeffrey Linkenbach, an undrafted rookie tackle-turned-guard who, since you started reading this paragraph, has been driven into the backfield by Antonio Garay two more times. Mike DeVan, the starter on the left side, has been almost equally as inept.

Manning, as a consequence of a shaky offensive line, injuries at running back, receiver and tight end and a few uncharacteristic misreads of his own, has now posted back-to-back three-interception games for the first time since his ’98 rookie season. By the way, on Manning’s third interception, NBC coaxed the audience into believing that Eric Weddle’s pick was the result of an uncalled pass interference penalty. The reality is, Weddle got away with a bit of a hook, yes, but Reggie Wayne went to the ground on his own. It was a calculated gamble by a star receiver who had an unusually terrible night (three drops and the failed fall). That gamble simply backfired.
The headline above – “Status Quo in prime time” – does not apply strictly to the Colts’ issues against 3-4 defenses. It also applies to the fact that we’ve reached the holiday shopping season and Norv Turner’s Chargers are white hot. By now you’ve seen the graph depicting how San Diego’s winning percentage always climbs dramatically with each month of the regular season. The Chargers, with the league’s top-ranked offense AND defense (in terms of yardage) are winners of four straight and head into December as the clear team to beat in the AFC West.

Sunday night was supposed to mark the San Diego passing game’s return to full health. Instead, Antonio Gates remained hobbled by his ailing plantar fascia (Gates played but was not himself) and Vincent Jackson either hurt his calf or found a creative new way to holdout. In response, Philip Rivers morphed into a dink-and-dunk quarterback. Rivers was 19/23, with 10 of those completions going to running backs Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester and Darren Sproles. It was just another example of Rivers’ malleability as a leader and Turner’s brilliance – yes, brilliance – as an offensive coach.

Colts fans, no need to worry. Your team is 6-5 but still atop the surprisingly mediocre AFC South. The Colts will only get healthier – assuming they don’t pay for stupid mistakes like trotting Manning and Wayne back on the field late in the fourth quarter after having already waved the white flag – and likely cruise to either 10-6 or 11-5. There won’t be the familiar late-season tank job, but that’s not all bad considering the last time this team had to actually play all 16 games was 2006, when it won a Super Bowl. The Colts will have to concoct a plan for those pesky 3-4 defenses though. They’re almost certain to host either the Jets, Patriots, Ravens or Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.



2. So maybe running does matter

A leading factor in the Colts’ three-out-of-four-game losing streak has been the offense’s utter inability to run the ball. The thinking – okay, MY thinking – has been that teams with superstar quarterbacks don’t need to run. The Colts ranked 32nd on the ground last season and nearly went undefeated on their way to a Super Bowl. The year before that, the Cardinals ranked 31st in rushing but won the NFC.

I still think running is overrated for teams with great passers. However, of the 12 lowest-ranked running offenses in the NFL this season, only the Colts, Packers and Saints are legitimate playoff contenders (the Seahawks, technically, are playoff contenders, but their standing membership in the NFC West violates the “legitimate” stipulation). The Colts and Packers both showed on Sunday that it’s one thing to be bad on the ground, while it’s another to be utterly inept. When you’re utterly inept, you become one dimensional.

Indy knew going into the game against San Diego that its run game would be stuffed. That turned out to be one of the few things that went according to plan, as Donald Brown and Javarris James combined for 24 yards on 13 carries. The one-dimensionality of the Colts allowed the Chargers to play downhill the entire night. That helped the pass-rusher unload on Manning, which sparked the turnovers that heavily influenced the game.

Earlier in the day, in the terrific Packers-Falcons game – which we’ll dive into in a moment – Packers running backs managed just 26 yards on 11 carries. (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers inflated the team’s rushing statistics with 12 runs for 51 yards, most of which were improvised scrambles). Green Bay’s ineptitude on the ground hindered Mike McCarthy’s play-calling on more than one occasion late in drives.
So often the offensive line gets blamed for a team’s poor run game. Indeed, the Colts front five is below average. The Packers’ front five is a tick above average, though it can be inconsistent. But in the case of these two teams, the run game problems derive mainly from the running backs themselves.

Both clubs are missing their starters (Joseph Addai has been out since October 17 with a neck injury; Ryan Grant was lost for the season in Week 1 with an ankle injury). The backups have been inadequate. Indy’s Donald Brown is an especially bad NFL runner. He’s indecisive, undersized and, aside from when he’s catching passes in the flats, he’s the opposite of quick. Brown appears destined to be the only first-round pick that Bill Polian has whiffed on. For Green Bay, Brandon Jackson is equally limited. The former second-round pick is decent in the passing game, but as a traditional first-and second-down back, he’s far too lethargic.

Contrary to popular opinion, a running back influences an offensive line more than an offensive line influences a running back. The Colts and Packers are being painfully reminded of this.



3. Time to start talkin’ Dirty Bird

What an absolutely fantastic football game we had in the Georgia Dome Sunday afteM. Turner (US Presswire)rnoon. Just take a look at the drive charts. The Packers had five drives that went either nine-plus plays or 80-plus yards. The Falcons had three such drives, including a pair of 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drives.

Aaron Rodgers made a litany of spectacular individual plays down the stretch, as he was able to buy time against Atlanta’s three-man rush/eight-man zone. It was surprising that Atlanta leaned on this conservative defensive concept. Those who watch ESPN’s brilliant NFL Matchup Show learned Sunday Morning that the Packers love to give Rodgers ample time to throw in the pocket, even if it means employing a six-or seven-man protection scheme. Thus, one figures, a three-man pass-rush is a tactic that plays right into Green Bay’s hands. Indeed, Rodgers spent much of Sunday holding the ball for eternity before lasering passes to his third or fourth read or scrambling to move the chains.

The only negative about Rodgers’ game-tying fourth down touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson was that it came with 56 seconds still left on the clock. That was enough time for Matt Ryan to complete four consecutive passes for a total of 20 yards to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. (The Falcons began that drive on the 50 after Eric Weems’ 40-yard kick return was buttressed by a 15-yard facemasking penalty.)

Ryan was as efficient as a Google search Sunday, but the hero for Atlanta was Michael Turner. The thundering Pro Bowler went over 100 yards for the sixth time this season and fourth time in five games. Turner carried the ball at least 23 times in all four of those 100-yard games. (Surprisingly, Jason Snelling has slid from being the “two” of a 1-2 punch to being a scantly-used backup.)

The Falcons seem intent on hitching their wagon to a true workhorse running back. This 1990’s mentality suits Mike Mularkey and his tight end/fullback-heavy offense well. Turner has responded in large part because, unlike a lot of teams that rely heavily on a power runner, the Falcons are not handcuffed by mediocrity in the passing game. Roddy White has been the best wide receiver in the NFC this season (he easily leads the conference in both receptions and yards) and Tony Gonzalez (six catches, 51 yards and a touchdown Sunday) remains of Hall of Fame caliber.

There’s still a long ways to go, but the Falcons, at 9-2, are on track for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. That’s significant considering Ryan is 19-1 in the Georgia Dome.



4. Da Bears

Who would have guessed that a “homefield advantage” mention would be an appropriate segue to the Chicago Bears? The heater beneath Lovie Smith’s seat was officially switched off after the Bears held off the electrifying Eagles and improved to an NFC North-best 8-3. How’d they do it? The same way they did it the previous three weeks: by running the ball effectively enough to give the offense the necessary balance to execute Mike Martz’s scheme.
E. Bennett (US Presswire)
Early in the season, Jay Cutler was dropping back to throw on every down, and teams were able to tee off against Chicago’s unathletic front five. In the past month, however, Martz has taken more to calling Matt Forte’s number. Forte, averaging 18.5 carries per game his past four outings, has been 80 percent stellar, 20 percent spectacular (he had 117 yards on 14 carries against the Eagles).

The running game itself has not propelled Chicago – the THREAT of the running game has. Having just enough balance to keep defenses guessing is what has allowed the Bears to successfully usher in two new starting tackles (Frank Omiyale on the left side and rookie JaMarcus Webb on the right side).

It helps that Jay Cutler is playing well. Cutler’s career-high four touchdowns against the Eagles were a showcase of the quarterback’s arm strength and of the now clearly-defined roles of Chicago’s receivers. Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen have become the preferred red zone targets (Bennett found the end zone twice; Olsen found the end zone for a second time in three games). Johnny Knox is the explosive speedster between the 20’s. Devin Hester – finally! – is being used the gadget weapon in the slot. (By the way, why did the Bears replace Hester at kick returner a few times with Daniel Manning on Sunday? Manning glides with scintillating speed, but we’ve been over this with Chicago: Hester is the greatest return ace of all-time. Watching the Bears re-insert him at kick returner one week but de-insert him a few times the following week is like watching someone trying to quit smoking. Old stupid habits die hard; the Bears still have not completely broken their old stupid habit of inexplicably removing Hester from special teams.)

The Bear defense has been as impressive as the offense, thanks to the familiar excellence of the linebackers and the emergence of Julius Peppers (he’s been far more valuable than his six sacks on the season suggest). Offense, defense and special teams are all clicking in Chicago. Unlike September, this wave of success is a product of continuity. Get used to the Bears – you’ll be seeing a lot of them in a few weeks. They have a trap game at Detroit in Week 13 but then a matchup with the Patriots that could get flexed into primetime in Week 14. After that, it’s their annual Monday night showdown against the Vikings.

Speaking of the Vikings…



5. Minnesota sticks it to Brad Childress

Did you see the way the players serenaded Leslie Frazier after their win at Washington Sunday? There was the Gatorade shower (imagine Chilly getting one of those. Seriously, just imagine it. You can’t, can you?). There were the handshakes and smiles. And there was Brett Favre handing Frazier the game ball. Nice touch, Brett.

The Vikings-Redskins game itself wasn’t much to write home about. Both teams had strapping opening drives (Minnesota seven plays, 71 yards for a touchdown; Washington 13 plays, 83 yards for a touchdown) but did little after that. Both quarterbacks posted pedestrian numbers. Adrian Peterson left in the first half with an ankle injury (he wanted to go back in but instead got scheduled for an MRI Monday). There weren’t many defensive plays of note, aside from E.J. Henderson’s diving interception off a bad Santana Moss deflection.

At the end of the day, this was an uneventful contest between what are now two non-playoff contenders. So why is it one of 10 stories worth your attention? Because it still gave us a chance to refer to the Childress-Favre drama again.



6. Poor Stevie

Who knows why Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped that surefire game-winning touchdown against the Steelers in overtime. Perhaps Johnson was thinking somewhere in the back of his mind about his four previous drops on the afternoon. Perhaps he succumbed to the incredulity about his sudden emergence that everyone else has experienced at some point this season (it’s still hard to believe that this unknown Kentucky product has been as good as he has). Or, perhaps the Steelers secondary put in a special little request to their buddy upstairs during one of those prayer circles that they frequently conduct on the sideline during games (you know, those prayer circles that cameras always catch but that no broadcaster has had the gall to acknowledge yet?) S. Johnson (US Presswire)

If you asked Johnson to pick one of those three, he’d probably pick the prayer circle. He seemed to have a rift with God after the game. Check out the 24-year-old’s tweet: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...”

Since God has already been dragged into this, has anyone from the Bills considered asking Him for a hand in run defense? As heartbreaking as the Bills’ most recent overtime loss was, the cold reality is the outcome was a result of Pittsburgh ramming the ball down their throats. The game began with the Steelers marching 78 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were runs, for a score. The game ended with the Steelers marching 58 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were, again, runs, for a score.

The Bills came into Sunday allowing a league-worst 167.4 yards on the ground. The Steelers rushed for 206 yards on 45 carries. Rashard Mendenhall, who is fast becoming the premiere fourth quarter closer in the NFL, had a jarring 36 carries for 151 yards (how’s that for getting ready to face a physical Ravens defense in Week 13?).

One other note from this game: the magnificence of Troy Polamalu. After missing practice all week with a muscle strain near his Achilles, the superstar safety made a game-saving interception near the goal-line late in regulation and unloaded several open field tackles in overtime.




7. The Bucs are who we thought they were

Look, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not an elite team. Their loss at Baltimore dropped them to 0-4 against teams with a winning record. It was a fairly convincing loss that followed the script. In fact, instead of reading a recap of the game, go ahead and read the Key Matchup breakdown from Friday – it’s all the same.

So the Bucs are not an elite team. And their outcomes are predictable. Okay, fine. But you know what else they are? They’re a young upstart club that’s 7-4 because they know how to take advantage of inferior opponents. The loss at Baltimore was similar to the loss at Atlanta in that the Bucs came to play but ran into a better team. They get a crack at the Falcons again next week. It’s likely they’ll drop to 7-5. But after that, the Bucs face the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks. From a pure mathematical standpoint – and seriously, that’s all this is here – this team’s patterns in 2010 suggests that a 10-win season is still in order.



8. Suspend them both

The Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan fight: Whoa! Fines are on the way. If the league is wise, so are suspensions. Johnson was throwing genuine haymakers at a player on the ground who was wearing no helmet. True, the normally reserved receiver has a clean track record. But if those punches were thrown in the NBA or in MLB, there’d be a multiple-game suspension. The violent nature of football casts a different light on fighting in the NFL, but that wasn’t a football fight – it was a FIGHT fight. Sit him down a game.
A. Johnson (US Presswire)
Finnegan should be suspended, too, on the grounds of being a repeat jackass. Not joking here. Just like multiple misdemeanors can eventually equal a felony in our justice system, Finnegan’s continuously chippy play needs to be curtailed with a felonious punishment. Every week the guy is drawing flags or small fines for various personal fouls. He’s not even a superstar yet we all recognize his face simply because he loses his helmet in a scuffle seemingly at least twice a game.

Finnegan’s antics after the fight were just as appalling. He was grinning and jabbering at the Texans bench. When he left the field, he raised his arms to mockingly pump up the Houston crowd. It would have been cute if not for the fact that Titans were getting thumped 17-0 at that point. Who does Finnegan think he is, Vince Young?

Because Finnegan was an unheralded seventh-round draft pick, we’ve all championed his behavior as feistiness and scrappiness. We praise him for having one of those chips on the shoulders. But Finnegan’s actions have gotten to the point of bush-league.
Back in October, the league issued the cornerback a warning about his dirty hits and behavior. The league now has a chance to act harshly on that warning.




9. Dwayne Bowe

I’ve been holding out on a Dwayne Bowe feature these past few weeks. I haven’t been able to shake the fear that the second I step in this guy’s corner, he’ll pull the rug out from under me. But after his 13-catch, 170-yard, three-touchdown performance at Seattle (convincing win on the road for the Chiefs, by the way), I’m willing to take the risk and trumpet the fourth-year pro’s maturation.

Bowe no longer pays rent in Todd Haley’s doghouse. And he no longer drops passes with regularity. He’s gone over 100 yards receiving in each of his last three games, and he’s caught a touchdown pass in a team-record seven straight outings. (Even more remarkable is that he’s had multiple touchdowns in six of those outings.)

Bowe is sculpted like a possession receiver, though he’s become a downfield target as well. All the more impressive is that he’s doing this even though the Chiefs don’t have an authentic No. 2 wideout (Chris Chambers has less than 200 yards receiving on the season).

Bowe will have plenty of chances to prove – or, I guess now, verify – his merits during Kansas City’s playoff push these final weeks. He faces Champ Bailey next week, Quintin Jammer in Week 14, the formerly scrappy but currently bush-league Cortland Finnegan in Week 16 and Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 17.



10. Quick Hits

***Sam Bradford took advantage of a Broncos defense that refused to rush the passer by logging his first 300-yard game as a pro. The Rams, 5-6, are now in first place of the sickening NFC West.

***It was just like old times Sunday: Jake Delhomme threw two interceptions (including an inexcusable pick-six to Captain Munnerlyn) and managed to give the Panthers a loss.

***What are the odds that Chris Johnson’s worst game as a pro (sevenD. Garrard (US Presswire) carries for five yards) would come in sixth-round rookie quarterback Rusty Smith’s starting debut? The Titans ran just 44 plays Sunday (32 less than the Texans).

***Arian Foster carried the ball 30 times for 143 yards. He’s been by far the best running back in the AFC this season.

***The best part about Shaun Smith’s touchdown run for the Chiefs was Pete Carroll’s dumbfound expression after it.

***Speaking of Carroll, what the hell was he doing calling timeouts as the Chiefs were extending the courtesy of kneeling on the ball with a 42-24 lead?

***Don’t know how I got all the way to Quick Hits before mentioning the Jaguars-Giants game….I watched virtually this entire contest and loved every minute of it. The game, in a nutshell, was this: Jaguars dominated on the ground in the first half and David Garrard played well because of it. In the second half, the Giants forced the Jags to play more through the air. Garrard suddenly became shaky in protecting the football, and ultimately New York’s dynamic front four was too much for Jacksonville. That’s the game in a nutshell. And, come to think of it, that’s probably the 2010 Jaguars in a nutshell, too.

***The best one-on-one matchup Sunday may have been Ravens wideout Derrick Mason against Bucs corner Aqib Talib. On the mano-a-mano front, I’d say the youngster got the better of this one (how about Talib’s interception between the knees, huh?). But from an all-encompassing standpoint, the nod obviously goes to Mason. He led all players with 87 yards on eight catches, including an important touchdown out of the slot in front of coverage liability Sean Jones.

***If the Raiders weren’t blacked out all the time, everyone would be talking about rookie receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford. He’s one of the most explosive big-play creators in the NFL. He had his second kick return for a touchdown Sunday, and he added another score in going over 100 yards receiving.

***The best part about Sunday was that there were six early window games and five late window games. Why can’t we get that kind of scheduling balance every week?


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