NFL 2009–Week 12 Recap

Five straight days of football…Happy Thanksgiving weekend indeed.

At 6pm this evening I am performing at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club at Universal Citywalk as part of Evan Sayet’s “Right to Laugh” series.

Now on to football.

Between three games on Thursday while gobbling Turkey and fattening up on the appropriately named stuffing, NFL Sunday and Monday night are just icing on the cake, or whip creme on the pie. Saturday has college games, and the only thing keeping this from being perfect is that the Friday after Thanksgiving no longer contains the Oklahoma vs Nebraska game. Oh well.

Time to relax, make sure nobody else is around, open the top button, wear a long t-shirt so nobody sees I opened the top button, and get down to football.

For those that do not know, another professional football league played this year besides the NFL. No, not the Canadian Football League. I think the Montreal Allouettes are going to the Grey Cup, which leads football fans in America to ask what an Allouette is, and why anybody should care about the CFL unless the conversation is about Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. Yes, The Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are thrilling.

Not since the XFL brought Tmmy Maddox some fame has a professional football league passed by with such little fanfare. The United Football League (UFL) just played a six game season, and the Las Vegas Locomotives defeated the Florida Tuskers 20-17 in overtime for the championship.

In further news, Al Pacino led the Miami Sharks to a pair of Pantheon Cups.

One bright spot for the UFL (not to be confused with the United States Football League, aka USFL, which brought us the Oakland Invaders, LA Exrpess, Boston Breakers, and Oklahoma Outlaws), was that the winning coach was Jim Fassell. It still stuns me that the Raiders have not hired him in the past. Another UFL Coach, Dennis Green, would also be a great fit for the Raiders. Yet this championship belongs to Jim Fassell, and I hope owners with terrible teams give him a serious look.

Now onto the National Football League.

In 1990, a pair of 10-0 teams both went down in flames in Week 11. I am going to make a pair of bold predictions, knowing that I am “often wrong, but never in doubt.”

Prediction # 1: Both 10-0 teams get shocked today. The Colts have been scraping buy the last few weeks, including barely surviving the Texans. As for the Saints, the Patriots outplayed the Colts, and Darth Vader, aka Bill Bellichick the Hoodie, is devising schemes to give fellow Bill Parcells protege Sean Payton fits.

Prediction # 2: Neither 10-0 team reaches the Super Bowl. In the NFC, in the beginning of the year, I had the Cowboys and the Vikings. I still think the Vikings are the best, and the Cowboys, while underachievers, are loaded from a talent standpoint. Romo also has something to prove. Either of these teams can beat the Saints. In the AFC, I had the Patriots and the Titans. Ok, I missed the mark on Tennessee, but I still think the Colts desperately want to avoid New England in the playoffs. They also want to avoid San Diego, and any team fearing San Diego should not play in a Super Bowl.

With that comes the Week 12 NFL Recap.

Green By Packers @ Detroit Lions was the morning Thanksgiving game. Rarely does a 2-8 team begin a game to cheering throngs, but the Lions won a thriller last Sunday in courageous fashion with Matthew Stafford showing the heart of…well, a Lion actually. The win only 96 hours ago is an instant classic. Even more impressive is that Matthew Stafford played today after getting leveled last week.

The game began with the Lions feeding off of the emotion. The Packers fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Lions quickly began at the Green Bay 20. Stafford, far from 100%, found Calvin Johnson on a 3 yard touchdown pass. Johnson, who is also playing hurt, made a great catch to have the Lions up 7-0. The Packes moved the ball on their opening drive, but Mason Crosby missed a field goal. After a Detroit punt, Aaron Rodgers went deep to Donald Driver for a 68 yard bomb. Rodgers then found Donald Lee for the 5 yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.

In the second quarter Rodgers found Greg Jennings for a 33 yard completion as the Packers moved in again. However, the drive bogged down at the 3 yard line. Crosby nailed the 20 yard chip shot as the Packers led 10-7 with 6 minutes left in the half. Stafford was then intercepted, and the Packers had golden field position. Yet again after driving deep, the Detroit defense clamped down. A 25 yard field goal had the Packers up 13-7 with one minute left in the half in a game they were dominating statistically. On the last play of the half, Jim Schwartz decided against a 62 yard field goal attempt. From the Green Bay 45, Stafford scrambled around just like the end of last week. Yet for all the maneuvers, this time the ball never left Stafford’s hand as he was sacked from the blind side just before his release.

Early in the third quarter the Packers faced 4th and 2 from the Detroit 36. Mike McCarthy decided to go for it rather than try the long field goal. Rodgers was sacked on a blind side blitz and the Lions recovered. The Lions went 3 and out, and the Packers took over at their own 9. Rodgers went deep again to Driver, who hauled it in again for a 46 yard gain. Rodgers continued to put on a clinic, playing pitch and catch with Driver. A 7 yard connection had the Packers up 20-7. Desperately trying to get back in the game, Jim Schwartz had Jason Hanson try a 54 yard field goal late in the third quarter. The kick missed wide right. Rodgers then tossed a shovel pass to Ryan Grant that went for 27 yards, followed by a 21 yard touchdown pass to James Jones as the Packers led 27-7.

Early in the fourth quarter the Lions showed signs of life when Stafford hit Dennis Northcutt for a 47 yard gain. Yet from the one yard line, rather than even try to run it in, the Lions had Stafford operate out of the shotgun. Three straight incomplete passes later, and the Packers had the goal line stand.

The Lions thought they had another ray of hope when Ryan Grant was tackled in the end zone and fumbled the ball for an apparent touchdown. The play was challenged and ruled a safety, a 5 point differential. Detroit did take the free kick past midfield, but had to settle for a field goal and a 27-12 game. The Lions finished the game with 6 turnovers, 4 interceptions by Stafford. Rodgers finished with 348 yards passing and no picks. Stafford’s final pick was returned for a touchdown by Charles Woodson to complete the scoring. The Lions will improve, and have talent. They just lost to a better team today. 34-12 Packers

Oakland Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys was the Thanksgiving afternoon game. For more on the game of the day, go to

The Raiders had a dramatic come from behind win four days ago against Cincy, while the Cowboys had one of the ugliest wins in team history against Washington. The Raiders began this game with Bruce Gradkowski completing a 17 yard pass to Darren McFadden, but the drive stalled and Shane Lechler punted. He did not hit the scoreboard in the Jerry Jones metropolis. Tony Romo came back and completed a 48 yard pass to Miles Austin, but penalties killed the drive. They punted, and the Raiders took over inside their 10 yard line. Justin Fargas ripped off a 21 yard gain, but in a game where both teams had big plays early, drives were not sustained.

With 3 minutes left in the opening quarter, the Cowboys began with a Wildcat formation that totally caught the Raiders off guard. Tashard Choice took the direct snap for a 66 yard gain to the Oakland 10. However, the Silver and Black have hung tough on defense for much of this year, and after pushing the Cowboys backward, a 36 yard field goal by Nick Folk in the final minute of the quarter broke the puntfest and had Dallas up 3-0.

In the second quarter, after an Oakland punt, Dallas took over on their own 11. Facing 3rd and 11, Romo found Jason Witten, who made the first down by less than half the football. That kept the drive going, and Felix Jones then burst through the middle for a 46 yard touchdown run to instantly put the Cowboys up 10-0. After another Raiders punt, Romo hit Marion Barber on a swing pass, and Barber took it 42 yards. Yet again the Cowboys wasted an opportunity when Nick Folk doinked the 49 yard field goal attempt off the upright. Despite being totally outplayed, the Raiders were still in it.

That changed late in the half as the Raiders had no answers for Miles Austin, who had 130 receiving yards in the first half alone. A 10 yard touchdown pass from Romo to Austin occurred only because Austin faked out the entire defense. With 30 seconds left in the half, the Raiders trailed 17-0. The last play of the half featured an aborted Hail Mary attempt where Gradkowski was sacked and fumbled.

The Cowboys looked to end the game quickly when Romo hit Witten for a 38 yard gain on the first play of the third quarter. Yet again the defense stepped up, sacked Romo, and forced a punt. The defense, as has been the case for the last 7 years, was begging the offense to do something, anything. The Raiders did not cross midfield in the first half.

In the third quarter, on 3rd and 3, Gradkowski hit Zach Miller for a gain of 27. On the next play Gradkowski hit Louis Murphy, who was either just over the pileon or at the one yard line. It didn’t matter as a personal foul chop block on Robert Gallery. Yet on 1st and 25 from the Dallas 40, Gradkowski hit Zach Miller, who made a leaping catch for a 12 yard gain. Gradkowski then scrambled for 20 yards. On 2nd and goal from the 5, Gradkowski hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for the receiver’s first NFL touchdown. The 11 play, 88 yard, 7 minute drive had the Raiders within 17-7 with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The Raiders defense held, but a punt pinned the offense back at their own 5. Three plays later, as the third quarter ended, the Raiders set up to punt.

Dallas took over a few yards shy of midfield, and Romo quickly hit Witten for a 44 yard gain, with help from some awful tackling. Romo then hit Roy Williams for the 6 yard touchdown to put the Cowboys up 24-7 only a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter. The remainder of the game was uneventful and anti-climactic. The Raiders reached 4th and 6 at the Dallas 18 during garbagetime, but decided to go for it, turning it over on downs. Time will tell if the win last week was an aberration or a building block. Today was a tough loss on the road 4 days after a grueling win against a team that is well on their way to the playoffs. Dallas is 8-3 and playing like it. 24-7 Cowboys

New York Giants @ Denver Broncos was the Thanksgiving evening game. This was the survival bowl as Tom Coughlin and Josh McDaniels have to figure out if their teams are contenders or pretenders. The Broncos started 6-0 before dropping four straight to come in at 6-4. The Giants started 5-0 before dropping four straight. They broke their slide last week to also come in at 6-4.

A sluggish first quarter had Prater kick a field goal to put the Broncos up 3-0. Prater added another one in the second quarter to have Denver up 6-0 in this less than scintillating game. Midway through the second quarter, the Giants fumbled. From the New York 40, Kyle Orton went deep to Brandon Marshall, who made a spectacular one handed catch for a 30 yard gain down to the 10. On 3rd and goal from the 2, Noshon Moreno banged it in to have the Broncos up 13-0. With 3 1/2 minutes left in the half Prater made his third field goal as Osi Yumenioura screamed at anyone in sight with the Broncos up 16-0.

The Giants cracked the scoreboard in the third quarter with a pair of field goals, including a 52 yarder just before the quarter ended. Yet with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Kyle Orton hit Brandon Stokely for a 10 yard touchdown pass to put the game out of reach. For those who desperately wanted one more field goal, Denver added one. The Broncos have temporarily stopped the bleeding, while the Giants may be seeing their season slipping away. 26-6 Broncos

Miami Dolphins     @      Buffalo Bills–Miami moved down the field early, but when Pat White came in for a Wildcat snap, he was intercepted in the end zone. Buffalo added to the offensive excitement of this meaningless game when Ryan Lindell missed a 54 yard field goal. In the second quarter the Dolphins got on the board first when Chad Henne hit Ryan Hartline for a short touchdown as the Dolphins led 7-0. The Bills tied the game 7-7, but again, nobody cared.

In the third quarter Henne hit Hartline for a 20 yard gain down to the one yard line, setting up Ricky Williams on the ground as the Dolphins led 14-7. Early in the fourth quarter te Bills tied the game 14-14 when Fred Davis ran in a short touchdown. With 3 1/2 minutes left in the game, rather than punt and play field position, the new Bills Coach decided to take a big gamble. Ryan Lindell was brought in for a 56 yard field goal. Lindell drilled it, and the Bills led 17-14. With 2 1/2 minutes left, Henne was intercepted, setting up a touchdown bomb from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Terrell Owens, who failed to drop it and complain. The catch put the game out reach, although Jackson added an exclamation point touchdown on the ground to make the game seem much more lopsided that what it was. 31-14 Bills

Carolina  Panthers   @      N.Y. Jets–Jake Delhomme had a pass bounce off Steve Smith’s leg and into the arms of Darrelle Revis, who plays defense for the Jets. Revis returned the pass 67 yards for a score to put the Jets up 7-0. An opportunity for the Jets to pad the lead was missed when Jay Feeley missed  a 48 yard field goal. John Kasay made a 40 yard field goal in the second quarter to have the Panthers within 7-3. With less than one minute left in the half Thomas Jones plowed in from 5 yards out as the Jets led 14-3.

The Jets missed a chance to possibly put the game away when Justin Keller fumbled at the goal line and the Panthers recovered. The entire stadium held their breath when Mark Sanchez went out of the game with an injured leg after a routine tackle. Kelly Clemens came in the game. Sanchez did return to throw his second interception so that Jake Delhomme did not have all the fun, throwing three of his own in the first half. Delhomme did hit Steve Smith for a short touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but on further review the call was challenged successfully. Smith did not have full control. The Panthers settled for another field goal and a 14-6 game. Feeley nailed a 47 yard field goal with 3:40 remaining in the game to lock up the ugly victory. Jake Delhomme added his fourth interception for bad measure. 17-6 Jets

Cleveland Browns     @      Cincinnati Bengals–Shockingly enough, teams that normally play an incredibly dull game stayed true to form and played a dull game early on. A field goal had the Bengals up 3-0. With one minute left in the half Carson Palmer hit Foschi for a short touchdown pass as the Bengals led 10-0. The Bengals got the ball back, and on the last play of the half, Carson Palmer was the victim of a horsecollar tackle. For the second week in a row, the Browns gave the opponent one last chance. Dwayne Rudd was not blamed for this either. Instead of the half ending, Shane Graham nailed a 53 yard field goal as the Browns led 13-0 at halftime. For some reason the second half was played.

Brady Quinn scrambled for a 9 yard gain in the third quarter to get the Browns to within 13-7. Palmer brought the Bengals right back, although another stalled drive led to another field goal. This game was as awful as expected, but the Bengals improved to 8-3 while the Browns prepared to fold for the right to select Tim Tebow. 16-7 Bengals

Indianapolis Colts     @      Houston Texans–The Texans got off to a hot start, and a short touchdown pass had them up 7-0. Chris Brown then ran it in from 3 yards out as the Texans had a 14-0 lead, determined to make up for the near upset they lost the last time these teams faced off. Early in the second quarter, Peyton Manning was then hit as he threw, resulting in an interception. The Texans had the ball at the Indy 40. Matt Schaub went deep to Andre Johnson, who appeared to have a touchdown pass until the ball came out when he hit the ground. Much maligned Kris Brown barely made the field goal, but the Texans led 17-0.

The Colts finally woke up, as Manning led a 5 minute, 74 yard drive. A  9 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, who made a juggling catch, had the Colts within 17-7 with 6 minutes left in the half. The Texans did not let up, and another field goal had the Texans up 20-7 with one minute left in the half. Manning was intercepted again as the teams went to the locker room.

Indy have been the Cardiac Colts all year, and Manning immediately led off the second half with a drive that led to a short touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne as the Colts closed to within 20-14. The Colts got the ball back, and decided to go for it on 4th and 1 at their own 40. Joseph Addai appeared stopped on an off tackle run, but a great second effort barely did the job. Yet the drive was wasted when Matt Stover had a short field goal partially blocked 90 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Colts got the ball back deep in their own territory, and Manning went right to work. After Joseph Addai nearly got blasted hanging onto a short reception, Manning calmly tossed a 31 yard completion. After a defensive pass interference call, Manning hit Dallas Clark for an 8 yard touchdown. The Colts had again come all the way back, and led 21-20 with 8 1/2 minutes remaining in the game. Seconds later, disaster struck for the Texans. Schaub threw a pass into the flat, and Clint Sessions picked it off and raced 27 yards to put the Colts up 28-20. With 4 1/2 minutes left in the game, Schaub had the ball knocked out of his hand, and the Colts recovered the fumble. Desperately needing a stop, the Texans folded on defense as Chad Simpson barreled through 4 terrible tackles for a 23 yard touchdown to get the Colts up 35-20.

The Texans did score a touchdown with 18 seconds left when Matt Schaub hit Jacoby Jones.A well executed onsides kick gave the Texans a chance, but Tamme smartly slapped it out of bounds for the Colts to end any suspense.

The Texans fell to 5-6 under Gary Kubiak, and may have to run the table to have a chance at their first playoff birth. They led 17-0 as the Colts looked more like the Cots, sleepwalking through the first half. Yet the slumbering giant woke up, and even though the Texans led 20-7, and even 20-14 with 9 minutes left, it did not matter. The Colts did not get to 11-0 under Jim Caldwell by stopping after 51 minutes. Also, with a full 5 weeks remaining, the Colts clinched their division. 11 playoff spots remain. 35-27 Colts

Tampa Bay Buccaneers     @      Atlanta Falcons–Early in the game Matt Ryan went out of the game with an injured foot. Chris Redman came in at quarterback. After a scoreless first quarter, a field goal from 45 yards out put the Falcons on the board first 3-0. In the second quarter Redman had a shovel pass turn into a 22 yard touchdown as the Falcons led 10-0. Josh Freeman responded, going deep to Antonio Bryant for a 38 yard gain. Freeman went deep to Bryant again for a 45 yard touchdown. Bryant appeared down by contact inside the 5 yard line, but Mike Smith did not challenge the call as the Buccaneers were within 10-7. The Falcons were out of timeouts and this time it cost them dearly. The Bucs added a field goal late in the half as the game was tied 10-10.

In the third quarter Lynch blocked a punt, setting up the Buccaneers at the Atlanta 8. Cadillac Williams did the rest as the Buccaneers led 17-10. Redman brought the Falcons back, but the drive stalled in the red zone and a 37 yard Jason Elam field goal had the Falcons within 17-13. On the first play of the fourth quarter, a punt pinned the Falcons at their own one yard line. Mike Smith challenged that it was a touchback. The call stood, and the Falcons had lost a timeout.

Midway through the fourth quarter the Falcons faced a 4th and 4 and the Tampa 34. Mike Smith decided to go for it rather than try a 51 yard field goal with a kicker that had missed from closer. The Falcons converted, setting up a shorter attempt for Elam. He missed again anyway with 6 1/2 minutes left, and the Falcons still trailed by 4 points. With 2 1/2 minutes left it was the Buccaneers that had a chance to expand the lead with a 51 yard field goal of their own. The kick barely missed, and in a game neither team wanted to win, the Falcons had another shot.

Redman found Tony Gonzalez at the Tampa 35 and Jenkins at the 25. For those wondering about the vaunted Tampa Defense, John Lynch and Warren Sapp are retired, Derrick Brooks was cut, Monte Kiffin coaches the defense for his son in College at Tennessee, and Jon Gruden is in the Monday Night Football booth. Redmonds hit Gonzalez at the 10 yard line with 49 seconds remaining. On 3rd and goal form the 10, Redmonds threw incomplete, but defensive holding set up 1st and goal at the 5 with 36 seconds left. On 4th and goal from the 5 with 26 seconds left, Raheem Morris took the final Tampa timeout. Redman hit Roddy White for the touchdown with 23 seconds left. At least the Bucs had a timeout left. Oh no wait, they didn’t because they decided to ice the quarterback, which nobody does. Speaking of ice, Redman may not be Matty Ice, but he was the hero for the day. 20-17 Falcons

Washington Redskins     @      Philadelphia Eagles–Andy Reid went to his bag of tricks early with a surprise onsides kick to start the game. It did not work, and the Redskins began at the Philly 23. Jason Campbell ran it in from one yard out to have the Redskins leading 7-0. Donovan McNabb brought the Eagles right back down the field, and on 4th and goal from the 1, Andy Reid decided to go for it. McNabb threw a touchdown pass, but offensive holding negated the play. The Eagles settled for a David Akers field goal as the Eagles trailed 7-3.

Later in the quarter Deshean Jackson took a punt 29 yards to give the Eagles the ball past midfield. For those who have not followed the Eagles for the last decade, the Eagles should either punt on 3rd and 1 or take a deliberate delay of game penalty since they are terrible in short yardage. This time Michael Vick came in out of the shotgun, and failed to pick up the first down. On 4th and inches Reid went for it, and Weaver summersaulted over the top and barely made it. The Eagles are better in space, and McNabb went deep to Deshean Jackson for a 35 yard touchdown as the Eagles led 10-7. Campbell came right, and a 5 yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss had the Redskins up 14-10.

The Eagles drove within the Washington 10 yard line late in the half, but another penalty forced the Eagles into another field goal attempt, as they trailed 14-13 rather than taking the lead. Philly then got the ball back, and McNabb led them in range again. Akers nailed his third kick as the Eagles led 16-14 at halftime.

In the third quarter Campbell found Devon Thomas on 3rd and 7 for a 35 yard gain as the Redskins were at the Eagles 15. From the 11, Campbell found Fred Davis to put the Redskins back in front 21-16 in this topsy-turvy game. 90 seconds into the fourth quarter, McNabb was hit as he threw the ball, resulting in an interception that had the Redskins at the Philly 23. They got not further than the 8, and a short field goal had the Redskins up 24-16. McNabb brought the Eagles back right away, with a 46 yard completion to Jason Avant. With 7 1/2 minutes left in the game, buckly banged it in on 3rd and goal from the one, which may have been the first time in 10 years the Eagles did this. The Eagles took a timeout before the  point conversion. McCoy took a shovel pass and appeared to lose yards, but somehow kept his balance and made it in the end zone to tie the game 24-24.

The Eagles got the ball back and McNabb slowly bled the clock. At the 2 minute warning, the Eagles were in the driver’s seat at the Washington 13. With 1:52 left, Akers kicked a short field goal as the Eagles had the lead again. The Redskins took over took over at their own 16. On 4th and 1 from the 25, Campbell fired incomplete before getting hit. He stayed down and the Redskins were done. It was not pretty, but little about Philadelphia is. They won. 27-24 Eagles

Seattle Seahawks     @      St. Louis Rams–Relatives of the players on both teams cared about this game. Well, some of the relatives anyway. Seattle struck first with a touchdown, but Kyle Boller in place of Marc Bulger brought the Rams back with a short touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7. With less than 2 minutes in the half, the Rams decided to go for it in Seattle territory. Boller threw  a pass into traffic that was batted up in the air, and intercepted for a 64 yard touchdown by Josh Lewis as the Seahawks led 14-7. Just before the half, a 55 yard field goal was drilled to get the Rams to within 14-10.

In the third quarter Boller had the Rams near the red zone, which is Channel 703 on my tv set. Boller went to the end zone and was then intercepted by Jordan Babineaux for the touchback. The Seahawks responded by reaching the Rams 12 before settling for the chip shot Jason Elam field goal and a 17-10 lead. Seattle got the ball back, and seconds into the fourth quarter Justin Forsett had his second touchdown of the day as the Seahawks led 24-10 and the misery that is the Rams continued. Another Forsett run set up a field goal as the Seahawks were coasting 27-10. The Rams scored a touchdown during garbage time, which is not a metaphor for their entire season. They literally scored late. 27-17 Seahawks

Kansas City Chiefs     @      San Diego Chargers–The Chiefs are horrendous while the Chargers are Norvelous. Yet somehow Norv Turner has the Chargers in first place thanks to another Denver collapse that had nothing to do with the Chargers. The Chargers scored a touchdown first, but then Matt Cassel led the Chiefs 91 yards for the tying touchdown. In the second quarter Ladanian Tomlinson scored from one yard out to put the Chargers back in front 14-7. At that point the Chiefs just self-destructed. Cassel went to throw a pass and had the ball slip out backwards without being touched. It was plucked out of the air for a gift Chargers touchdown as they led 28-7.

In the third quarter the pattern continued as the fourth Chiefs turnover led to another short field and the fifth Chargers touchdown, as Tomlinson got it done from a few yards out on the ground to have the Chargers in a rout 35-7. Early in the fourth quarter the Chargers thought they had another touchdown, but Tomlinson fumbled at the goal line. Apparently the Chargers were only mildly disappointed, since they were already up 38-14. A near sack of Cassel led to an intentional grounding call as the safety had the Chargers up 40-14. Nate Kaeding added to the blowout. 43-14 Chargers

Jacksonville Jaguars     @      San Francisco 49ers–Jack Del Rio and Mike SIngletary both know defense, but on this day it was SIngletary who had his guys clamp down. Alex Smith is slowly trying to revive his career, a common theme among the late games. Joe Nedney helped Smith out with a field goal to put the 49ers up 3-0. A rollout bootleg by Alex Smith led to a 2 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis to make it 10-0. Too many good games require that this game be given the short shrift it deserves as the second half would have cured insomnia. Neither of these teams is consistent, as the 49ers got to 5-6 and the Jaguars fell to 6-5 with the loss. 20-3 49ers

Arizona Cardinals   @     Tennessee Titans–Kurt Warner was out with a concussion, replaced with Pop Warner Matt Leinart. Kerry Collins has lost his job to Vince Young, who has redeemed himself. Leinart is trying to do the same. The Titans have won 4 straight under Young after an 0-6 start, as Jeff Fisher remains one of the best coaches in football. Ken Whisenhunt has his NFC defending champs cruising in first place in the NFC Worst. No, this was not the Rose Bowl, as the USC vs Texas game showed how easy it is to waste potential in the NFL. A pair of field goals had the Titans up 6-0 late in the second quarter of this sluggish contest. At the 2 minute warning the Cardinals kicked a field goal to get within 6-3.

Late in the third quarter in a game with all defense, Chris Johnson broke through and raced for an 85 yard touchdown run that all of a sudden had the Titans up 13-3. A game with no big plays had two of them back to back as Larod Stephens reutrned the ensuing kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown and the Cardinals were right back in it at 13-10. It was the first such return against the Titans in 10 years.

In the fourth quarter the Cardinals got the ball back, and Leinart calmly led the Cardinals on an 80 yard drive. With 12 1/2 minute left in the game, Tim Hightower bowled over people, stayed upright, and found the end zone on a tough 10 yard run to put the Cardinals in the lead 17-13. With 6 minutes left, the Cardinals faced 4th and 1 at the Titans 40. Ken Whisenhunt decided not to gamble, and a perfect punt with even better coverage had the Titans starting at their own 2.

On 3rd down, Young tossed a 22 yard pass for a first down. He then went deep to Britt for a 50 yard gain. Yet Britt got up without being touched, tried to gain more, got belted by Roger-Cromartie, and fumbled it away. With 5 minutes left, the first turnover of the game allowed the Cardinals to dodge a bullet. The Cardinals put the excitement back into punting, as a 64 yard punt was downed at the one yard line. Tennessee had 2 timeouts left, and 2 1/2 minutes remained.

On 4th and 4 from their own 6, forced to go for it, Young completed the first down. Young’s next pass was deflected and caught for a miracle 19 yard reception. With 1:09 left the Titans were at their own 38. Young then hit Jared Cook at midfield. On 4th and 4 from the Arizona 44, Young hit Hawkins at the Arizona 31 with 37 seconds left. Another Young completion had 1st and goal at the 9 with 21 seconds left. The Titans still had their 2 timeouts, while the Cardinals took one on defense. With 6 seconds left, for the 3rd time on the drive, 4th down awaited. 4th and goal from the 10 had the Titans taking their final timeout. Before the play could get underway Arizona took another timeout as well.

Young stepped back, scrambled a bit, fired high in the end zone, and the miracle was answered for the touchdown by Kenny Britt, who redeemed himself from the earlier fumble when it counted most. The 18 play, 99 yard drive made the Titans the first team to start 0-6 to get to 5-6 under Jeff Fisher. Matt Leinart could have been forgiven for thinking that this was the Rose Bowl all over again. He goes back to the bench as Kurt Warner remained stunned on the sidelines. Vince Young finished 27 of 43 for 387 yards. The Cardinals still lead their division, but on this day Tennessee won another game that will be an instant classic. It may not be the Music City Adelphia Miracle, but it was a thriller. 20-17 Titans

Chicago Bears   @   Minnesota Vikings–Brett Favre had the Vikings on the move early, but Adrian Peterson coughed it up to the Bears. After a scoreless first quarter, the first play of the second quarter saw Favre throw his 500th touchdown pass, a 15 yard toss to Percy Harvin. Jay Cutler brought the Bears back quickly, hitting Johhny Knox for a 24 yard score to tie the game 7-7. After the Vikings took a 14-7 lead on a 10 yard touchdown pass from Favre to Chester Taylor, the Bears fumbled the ensuing kickoff. This led to a field goal and a 17-7 Vikings lead. Minnesota got the ball back again, and with 15 seconds in the half Favre hit Vincent Shiancoe for touchdown pass 501. Favre  moved the Vikings 70 yards in only 40 seconds to take a 24-7 lead into the locker rooms.

The Bears got a jolt right out of the gate to second half as Johnny Knox returned the kickoff for an apparent 85 yard touchdown. There were no flags, but he was ruled out of bounds at the Minnesota 8 yard line. The Bears destroyed themselves with back to back sacks of Cutler. The 38 yard Robbie Gould field goal had the Vikings still leading 24-10. Midway through the quarter the Vikings added a field goal of their own form 38 yards out and they reextended the lead to 27-10.

Despite Brett Favre playing at a high level, Brad Childress, who is bald, continues to be a ruthless taskmaster. Apparently Favre was not good enough, because he was benched again despite 392 yards passing. Apparently anything less than 400 is not good enough for Childress. Favre did not seem to mind, since he was laughing. Tarvaris Jackson is becoming an expert at mopup work in blowouts as the 10-1 Vikings are rolling in big fashion. 36-10 Vikings

Pittsburgh Steelers     @      Baltimore Ravens was the Sunday night game. This game was why we watch football. The last time these teams met in the AFC Title Game last year, they slugged it out blow for blow until the end. This year they trail several teams in the conference, and neither one is even leading the division. Yet the rematch of these teams is in three weeks, and it is already anticipated. One major storyline was that Ben Roethlisberger was out with a concussion. Dennis Dixon started his first game at quarterback. This game was exactly what was expected, an old school, old time, good old fashioned head knocker.

The game got off to a perfect start for the Ravens as Pittsburgh went 3 and out and the Ravens took over at their own 27. Joe Flacco immediately put on a clinic, hitting Washington for 15, and Mark Clayton for gains of 20 and 12. Ray Rice than ripped off a 19 yard gain to the 4 yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 2, Willis McGahee banged it in to put the Ravens up 7-0. The defenses then hunkered down, but less than one minute into the second quarter, Dixon threw his first NFL touchdown pass, a 33 yard beauty to Santonio Holmes, to tie the game 7-7.

The defenses again took over until just under 3 minutes remained in the half.  The Ravens took over at their own 11 a minute earlier, and faced a 1st and 15 at their own 30. Flacco went deep to Clayton for a 54 yard bomb to the Pittsburgh 16.  2 plays later Flacco hit Derrick Mason from 10 yards out with 1:45 left in the half to give the Ravens the 14-7 lead. After converting 3rd and 9 from their own 26, the Steelers had the ball at their own 40 on the last play of the half. In a very curious coaching decision by Mike Tomlin, he chose an off tackle run rather than a Hail Mary with his rookie quarterback, as the teams went to the locker room.

The third quarter was all defense. The game was about field position, and Pittsburgh had one possession that began at midfield, leading to a field goal. The Ravens still led 14-10 entering the fourth quarter. Flacco led the Ravens from their own 20 to the Pittsburgh 34, but on 4th down John Harbaugh decided to punt rather than try the 52 yard field goal. The Ravens got the ball back, and with 12 1/2 minutes left in the game, the Ravens faced 2nd and 7 at the Pittsburgh 38. In a game that was mistake free, the Ravens blundered first. Flacco was sacked and fumbled, allowing the Steelers to start at their own 46.

On 3rd and 1 front he Baltimore 45, Dixon picked up a tough 2 yards. On 3rd and 5 from the Pittsburgh 24, Dixon made a name for himself. He rolled out, got a good block, and ran the ball himself 24 yards for the touchdown in front of a shocked Baltimore crowd. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the rest of vaunted Baltimore defense had given up the big play, and with 6 1/2 minutes left, the Steelers had a 17-14 lead on the road.

The Ravens took over at their own 10, and Flacco went right to work. He hit Mason for 11 yards and Clayton for 20 more. Penalties hurt the Ravens, as they faced 3rd and 22 at their own 29 with 4 minutes left and 2 timeouts. Flacco hit Mason for 17 yards, and with 3 1/2 minutes left in regulation, the Ravens faced 4th and 5 at their own 46 and prepared to punt. Then everything changed when Harbaugh called a timeout.

The punt made sense before the timeout, but once the Ravens burned their second timeout, at that point they had to go for it. Flacco hit Ray Rice for a first down, and the Steelers had their defensive breakdown as several missed tackles later, Rice had a 44 yard gain down to the Pittsburgh 10. Yet when it mattered most, the defending champions stepped up big, and the Ravens got no further than the 6 yard line. With 1:56 left, Billy Cundiff kicked the short field goal to tie the game 17-17.

The Steelers went 3 and out, and the Ravens got the ball back with 1:17 left at their own 29 and no timeouts. With 25 seconds remaining, Flacco had the Ravens facing 3rd and 9 at the Pittsburgh 34. Chaos then ensued. Flacco was sacked, fumbled, and a mad scramble had the Ravens recovering. The clock was ticking, and Cundiff ran onto the field to try a 56 yard field goal. The Ravens got the ball snapped just before the gun, and Cundiff’s kick was dead center, but 3 yards short. If ever a game deserved overtime, this game was it.

Before overtime started, Al Michaels showed why he is the best in the business. A+ football games are enhanced with A+ commentary. Michaels pointed out that had Cundiff made his field goal at the end of regulation, it would have been a debacle for the league. Although the Ravens recovered the fumble before the kick, they recovered it 4 yards ahead of where Flacco was sacked. Due to the Holy Roller in the 1970s made famous by Ken Stabler, 4th down fumbled on offense go back to the spot of the fumble unless the person who fumbled it recovered it himself. Since Flacco did not recover the ball, the field goal attempt should have been 59 or 60 yards, not 56. The league dodged a public relations nightmare when Cundiff came up short.

One other commentary from me is that those who complain that both teams should be guaranteed one shot with the ball on offense miss the whole point of sudden death. If defenses would do their jobs, it would not be an issue. These defenses were up to the challenge. The Steelers punted, the Ravens went 3 and out and punted, and Pittsburgh began their second drive in overtime at their own 45. In a game dedicated to a pair of phenomenal defenses, it made sense that the defense would have last word.

On 3rd and 5 from midfield, Dixon was intercepted by another rookie, Paul Kruger. It was a heartbreaking moment for Dixon in his very first game, especially since he had played well throughout the game. Kruger simply made a great grab, and rumbled to the Pittsburgh 28. At that point it was obvious that Flacco was not going to throw another pass. Ray Rice carried the ball 4 straight times. On 2nd and 4 from the 9, Flacco took a knee to perfectly position the ball in the center of the field. From 29 yards, Cundiff nailed it, and the Ravens had the victory. Both teams are in the playoff hunt, and the rematch to this game cannot happen soon enough. Again, this fine game is why football is played. 20-17 Ravens, OT

New England Patriots      @      New Orleans Saints was the Monday night game. The Bill Parcells coaching tree is alive and well, as the Saints have gone from feel good story to potential Super Bowl winners while the evil empire, run by the Prince of Darkness wearing the Hoodie, Bill Bellichick, are as dangerous as ever. The points were expected to occur often with Drew Brees and Tom Brady at the helm, and they did.

Brees brought the Saints to the New England 12 early on, but they had to settle for a John Carney field goal when Sean Payton decided not to gamble on 4th and 1. It might have been the only time they did that as the Saints led 3-0. Brady came back and led a 14 play, 80 yard drive that ate up over 7 1/2 minutes. On 3rd and 1 from the 4, Lawrence Maroney was stuffed. Bellichick decided to go for it, and Maroney ran it to give the Patriots the 7-3 lead.

Brees put on a clinic in the second quarter. After a Brady interception had the Saints at their own 41, Brees hit Pierre Thomas for an 18 yard touchdown to give the Saints the 10-7 lead. The Patriots did not keep up in this track meet, and the Saints took over at their own 25. Brees needed one play on what might have been the worst blown coverage in New England this decade. A wide open Devry Henderson could have crawled to the end zone, as the 75 yard touchdown pass had the Saints up 17-7.

Brady came back and hit Aiken for a 33 yard gain on an 11 play drive that stalled at the New Orleans 18. On 4th and 3 the field goal had the Patriots within 17-10. Brees simply came back with a 25 yard pass to Thomas followed by a 38 yard touchdown pass to Robert Meacham to give the Saints a 24-10 lead. On the last play of the half the Patriots missed a field goal.

On the first play of the third quarter Lawrence Maroney fumbled and Cedric Ellis recovered for the Saints. Ellis then tried to run with the ball. Every slow, lumbering guy needs to remember to just fall on the d@mn ball. Ellis perhaps forgot the New England playoff game against San Diego that cost Marty Schottenheimer is job. Ellis fumbled the ball back, and the Patriots capitalized. Brady hit Randy Moss for a 47 yard gain, setting up Maroney from 2 yards to close the gap to 24-17. One play was all Brees needed again, as a 68 yard pass to Marquis Colston set up a 2 yard toss to Dinkins as the Saints were back up 31-17.

Brady came right back and moved the Patriots from their own 18 to a 4th and 4 from the 10. Bellichick decided to go fir it, and Brady’s pass to Moss was well defended and batted away as New England turned it over on downs. In the fourth quarter Brees hit Colston for a 20 yard score. Yes, the Saints did miss a field goal later on, but it did not matter. For the first time in a long time, Bellichick had no answers, especially on defense. With 5 1/2 minutes left, Brady and Moss were pulled from the game. It looked like Bellichick quit, but perhaps he just wanted to keep his stars healthy. Brees finished 18 for 23 for 371 yards and 5 touchdown passes. New England is 0-4 on the road and 7-4 overall. The Saints are 11-0, and looking like a pinball machine on offense. 38-17 Saints


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