11-on-11: A Blank Slate in the NFL

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There’s something to be said for a fresh start. No baggage, no preconceived notions, just what you see is what you get.

As I prepare to take on the NFL on a weekly basis once again, I will be doing so with a few tech toys to assist me, not the least of which would be my iPad. So many songs, so many memories, and so many pictures, including screenshots to freeze football games at one moment in time, all gone. My friend and pro-Apple guy Dan suggested I restore everything from “The Cloud”. Well, I don’t trust the cloud; we saw how Lando did Han when he put his faith in Cloud City’s head honcho, and I don’t do well enough in the cold to take risks like that. So, everything is gone, but I see it as a purge of the clutter and I’m happy to have a clean slate.

After a 1-2 start, Aaron Rodgers told the fans to R-E-L-A-X and the Packers have climbed back into the thick of things in the NFC North (photo credit: Miami Herald)

Six weeks into the NFL’s 2014 season, a look around the league would reveal plenty of organizations that would love to just reboot what’s happened to them this fall and go back to August, maybe even May if you’re a draft geek. The thing is, there’s still time, with 11 weeks of regular season football remaining, to bounce back. That might not be the case if you’re Jacksonville, Oakland, or Tampa Bay with a combined record of 1-16, but for others with an uphill climb ahead of them, say hello to the sherpa before you head for the summit.

What I Anticipated Most

Not everyone can play in the game of the week, we get that. We need someone to play Jacksonville and Oakland every week, but I don’t early await the kickoff of those games. Division match-ups always come with a bit of appeal, even in Nashville, where the Titans would host the laughable Jaguars of Jacksonville in an AFC South contest. However, there’s a bit more appeal in Buffalo, where the upstart Bills battled Brady and company for first place in the AFC East, the Browns looked to defeat Ben Roethlisberger for just the second time in his 11-year career, the Vikings hosted the Lions, and our night-cap on Sunday featured the Giants in Philly.

I went with the game under the lights in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles have played very well at home and entered the weekend with the league’s #2 offense. The G-Men decided to play a six-game pre-season, but have taken three straight, all by double digits, since coming out of the gate at 0-2. It was all a matter of which Giants team would show up.

Victor Cruz will miss some time with a torn patellar tendon, suffered in the Giants 27-0 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night (photo credit: USA Today)

Let’s just say, “Bad Giants,” and be done with it. These guys are going to be without Victor Cruz now, and it doesn’t get any easier. The Eagles knew they needed this, since Dallas didn’t let the 12th man take them down in the Northwest, and their 27-0 victory in the Northeast was a statement on Sunday. Something we should not understate, the up-in-the-air status of Darren Sproles means a lot to the value of the stock of one Shady McCoy, and also to the interest of Philadelphia being legitimate contenders in the NFC.

Thursday Is My Garbage Day

It’s the same everywhere. Friday morning, you turn on the radio and the voice you hear is frustrated with yet another lopsided affair in the NFL. Suddenly, there’s too much NFL and we don’t need it every night of the week. It’s not fair to the away team and they aren’t cognizant of player safety.

Maybe there’s some merit to all of that, but it’s only “My Garbage Day” because that’s the day the city sends the trucks to my neighborhood to haul away our weekly refuse. With Peyton Manning gone for rockier mountain pastures, Colts at Texans promised a little more intrigue, given how up everyone was on Houston’s 3-2 start. If there was any one hope for this game, it would be to buck the trend of dreadful Thursday Night Football.

Andrew Luck and the Colts didn’t come prepared to oblige, going up 24-0 in the first quarter and leading the locals into a countdown to the Astros Opening Day in 2015. They didn’t put this one on ice until D’Qwell Jackson fell on a Ryan Fitzpartick fumble just inside the two-minute warning to give the visitors from Indianapolis the 33-28 victory and a 4-2 record on the season. Jackson was not the only former Cleveland Brown with a 4th quarter takeaway on Thursday night. On the Texans previous possession, with the Colts up by 5, Houston receiver Andre Johnson basically caused his own fumble in the midst of a catch-and-run, arguably close to field goal range, which former Brown Mike Adams picked up.

The play was subject to review, so we got to hear Jim Nantz excitedly talk about making a football move and CBS officiating consultant Mike Carey was damn sure it would be overturned. It was not, but it’s always fun to hear the conviction in their voices when they’re sure they’re right. One thing that they might be right about is that this game featured two MVP candidates. We saw a lot of them too, considering Andrew Luck and his Colts’ offense dominated time of possession, but even in defeat, Texans defensive lineman JJ Watt is a force to be reckoned with. In victory, Luck got to be the hero, completing 25 passes for a big chunk of yards and trio of scores, but it was Luck and rookie center Jonotthan Harrison’s unforced error on the shotgun snap that gave us the highlight of the night…for Watt.

If the voters want to get cute with the award, look for JJ Watt to get some serious consideration for the MVP. Last night’s was his third touchdown of the season, and perhaps the most impressive because he followed fat-man protocol, falling on the ball, but since he was untouched, he propped himself up and galloped 40 yards to paydirt, which made it a 1 possession game early in the fourth quarter. You know a lineman is special when the play-by-play knows he’s going for his third touchdown before he even crosses the goal line. Watt sacked Andrew Luck twice, doubling his season total in the category to 4 thru 6 games.

House of Sea Chicken

It is the belly of the beast, a structure of loudness where the Seahawks simply don’t make a habit of losing. Before the Cowboys took care of business in Seattle on Sunday, the defending World Champs had only dropped one contest in two-plus seasons in their own house.

How about Rolando McClain’s interception of  last pass attempt to put the game on ice for the Cowboys? McClain, the #8 overall pick in the 2010 draft did his share of winning for Nick Saban at Alabama, but it’s been some pretty tough sledding for the former Crimson Tide linebacker since he was initially drafted by the Raiders.

McClain has twice retired from the game, though he is only 25 years old. He once cited a fear of being the next Aaron Hernandez as a reason to walk away from the game, but the Cowboys took a chance on his comeback. Even if there’s nothing after this for McClain, a moment like that is good to see if I’m a fan of his.

Rookie Mistakes

Speaking of the Raiders, it looked like they might actually get it done on Sunday, but looks can be deceiving. This is a franchise that hasn’t held anything sustainable in the way of quarterback play since Rich Gannon was on the payroll. They’ve tried every which way to fill the void; Carson Palmer was coerced out of retirement, Terrelle Pryor came to them via the always-reliable Supplemental Draft, and Matt Flynn was the hot-handed back-up available via trade from Seattle in 2013.

Once upon a time, the Raiders spent the #1 overall pick on a guy named JaMarcus Russell, and we were quick to find out it would wouldn’t go well. Plenty of time has passed, as has long-time organizational patriarch Al Davis, since 2007, and by 2014, it was finally time to try drafting another guy. Derek Carr did not go in the first round, but at #36 overall, many will classify him among the top quarterbacks taken last May. Arguably, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, who put up decent numbers in the Jags’ 16-14 loss to the Titans, was at the head of the rookie class before play on Sunday, but Carr’s 4 touchdowns at home against the Chargers were something of a statement.

Don’t tell anyone, but the San Diego Chargers are 5-1 with a win over Seattle in their back pocket. There might be something real going on there.

Departure of the Mack

Alex Mack gives the Cleveland crowd the thumbs up as he is carted off the field in the Browns 31-10 win over Pittsburgh. (photo credit: Bleacher Report)

Browns fans couldn’t have been too happy to witness a dreadful first quarter, one that saw the home team down 3-0, a score that could have, quite frankly been worse. The Browns figured it out, a couple of 2nd quarter touchdowns gave them a 21-3 halftime lead that would hold for the better part of the second half and go final at 31-10. It was Cleveland second win over the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger’s 20 career starts against them.

If there’s any gloom to be found in Cleveland, after a win over their rivals, it resides in the scene of Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack being carted off the field after a broken leg. Mack hadn’t missed a snap in his 85 career starts for the Browns, before being injured on rushing playing in the second quarter. In an act that demonstrated the leadership role Mack plays on this team, many of the defensive leaders came to Mack’s side as he was being carted away. That’s a moment that might create an identity for the Browns and give further meaning to Mike Pettine’s “Play Like a Brown” motto.

I’m In Town To Play The Dolphins, You Dumb-Ass

I don’t care if the Farrelly Brothers dropped subtle little clues throughout There’s Something About Mary, but Brett Favre had no business making that cameo.  Also, since I figure the Packers are in town to play the Dolphins about once every eight years, I figured I’d check the annals of modern football history to see what’s happened since Mary Jensen rejected Pack-Man for the stalker from Rhode Island.

In the Packers most recent visit to Miami, Favre led the Packers past the Joey Harrington-led ‘Fins by a count of 34-24.  In the only other contest between the two in South Florida, Jay Fiedler led the home team past the visitors from Wisconsin 28-20 in 2000.  On Sunday, the visiting Packers won for just the second time ever in Miami, with their dramatic come-from-behind 27-24 victory.

Who Wants the Gurley Man?

An early candidate for Sunday’s worst game would have been Baltimore’s record-setting performance in Tampa Bay on Sunday. How this Buccaneers team won in Pittsburgh is beyond me, but they are worse than their winless counterparts and time should reveal that. Given the latest news on Todd Gurley and the league’s overall tendency not to jump at running backs early in the draft of late, you probably shouldn’t slot the Georgia running back in that top draft slot, but my money is on Tampa Bay assuming that position. It was 35-10 with 14 minutes left in the second quarter, and went to 48-17 at the gun, thanks to the Ravens taking their foot off the gas early. Even if the Ravens are good, and their 4-2 record suggests they might be, that wasn’t an acceptable first half of football in South Florida.

Actual Worst Game

There was a game that involved the Jaguars and the Titans, one where Charlie Whitehurst was a starting quarterback, and that wasn’t bad enough to get the week’s worst game honor. There is a need to discriminate, as we don’t take too kindly to games that fail to produce a winner in these parts. Though both teams in Sunday’s Panthers-Bengals match-up knocked home token opening-drive of OT field goals, they stalemated the remainder of the extra period and wrecked the standings in their respective divisions with a 37-37 tie. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent could have salvaged it on the final play of overtime from 36 yards out, but he shanked it.  Congrats to the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals for playing the week’s Actual Worst Game, edging out some stiff competition.

I’ll bet you Bengals fans won’t be too happy with him on Monday.

Dirty Laundry Award

Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said on Friday that he honestly had no idea who his starting quarterback would be Sunday. Our Sunday afternoon broadcast on FOX, called very well by Dick Stockton and Brady Quinn, by the way, revealed that Day 1 starter Carson Palmer would be the man in Arizona’s 30-20 over Washington in Glendale, Arizona. The game wasn’t the slam dunk for the Cardinals that many might have expected against the struggling Redskins, who came to the desert with a 1-4 record.

Of course, the Cardinals didn’t make it easy on themselves, committing a league-high 14 penalties and surrendering 108 yards in the process. Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense were awarded 5 of their 21 first downs by way of penalty, so that is something the Cardinals are going to want to avoid doing in the future.

For the Degenerates

Somewhere in the hype for how great the NFC West is, we allowed ourselves to get really excited about St. Louis. No one wants to deny the personnel is there, and like the 49er teams of four or five years ago, there just need to do some things for the talent to translate to victories on the field. The Rams aren’t there yet, not with this bunch. San Francisco is giving 3 and a half, but even though the Rams have been known to play better on the prime time stage, I’m taking the Niners and the OVER, which is 44 on the site I’m using.

Random, Perhaps Even Unimportant

Anyone want to argue this isn’t a passing league any more? With 10 carries for 26 yards, Fred Jackson was the game’s leading rusher in Buffalo’s 37-22 loss to New England.

Having a kicker that is reliable is so critical, as some teams have learned in this first part of the season, but the Cardinals are having no such problem. In his rookie season out of Clemson, Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzano has been true on all 14 of his attempts to start his career, including 3 makes to give his team a comfortable cushion against Washington in a 10-point win.

Three points and 212 yards of total offense is all you’re going to be able to hope for in Minnesota, if the best you’re going to do in the ground game is Jerick McKinnon’s 11 carries for 40 yards.  Norv Turner isn’t doing his rookie quarterback any favors running the ball just 18 times in the Vikings 17-3 defeat at home against Detroit.

Funny that Aaron Rodgers would get away with the “fake spike” play to Davaunte Adams to set up the game-winning touchdown for a 27-24 win in Miami.  It was Miami quarterback Dan Marino who made that very trickery famous.

There might be some things to knock about the Denver Broncos this season, but it certainly can’t be depth on offense, despite the departures of Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker.  In their 31-17 win over the Jets on Sunday, the usual suspects did their work, but Ronnie Hillman doesn’t often jump off the stat sheet, except he does when he runs for 100 yards like he did in New Jersey.

Looking ahead to Week 7, I think we’re back to garbage on Thursday night.  Barring anything crazy, the Patriots should take it to the Jets in Foxboro, as Tom Brady will continue to prove one bad Monday Night Football does not equal diminishing a skill-set.  I think the Chiefs go to San Diego ready to play against the quietly good Chargers in the CBS late game next Sunday.

Obviously, the big deal game is in prime time on Sunday night, where it belongs, and San Francisco at Denver should be a treat.  One thought that strikes first when I see that one on the schedule is that it will mean a lot more for the 49ers than the Broncos.  The Broncos know they’re playing for January, and as long as they take care of the AFC West head-to-head, then these inter-conference games don’t carry a lot of weight.  That’s not true for the Niners, who need every win they can get in what promises to be a tight division race in the NFC West.

 

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