The 2009 NFL season has finally reached double digits. Soon enough we should have an idea on how the playoff picture will shape up. Well, maybe.
After 10 weeks of play, there are still the “Haves,” including two undefeated teams, (the Colts and Saints are both 9-0) and the “Have Nots” (six teams with two wins or less). But there are also 15 teams currently caught in the league’s parity-filled middle (records ranging from 3-6 to 5-4) that still need to figure out whether or not they are joining the playoff picture.
This week also marked the last bye week, with the Houston Texans and New York Giants both trying to get healthy and rested for a stretch run.
Now the “real” fun is about to start in the NFL.
The headlines in Week 10 were dominated by a the Sunday Night Football heavyweight match-up (Patriots-Colts) and a strong undercard (Bengals-Steelers, Eagles-Chargers, Cowboys-Packers, and Falcons-Panthers). But there was one common theme that I saw during Week 10. Like Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz , “There’s No Place Like Home."
For the first time in a while, we saw home teams, including the underdog Washington Redskins, fight back to regain home field advantage. In fact, home teams were a combined 10-5 this weekend, thus proving that you must defend your home turf in order to succeed in the NFL.
The trend started in the NFL’s first Thursday night game of the season with the 49ers beating the turnover-prone Chicago Bears 10-6 in San Francisco.
Aside from Jay Cutler’s five interceptions, the game was rather boring. However, there was some excitement at the end. After Cutler and the Bears finally found their mojo—they moved the ball all the way to San Francisco’s 12-yard line. The Niners had a great goal line stand, culminating in safety Michael Lewis’ game-ending interception.
After the game, Cutler took most of the blame for the loss and said, “It was tough. I have to apologize to the defense." He added, “I think the offense as a whole has to apologize. They played a great game and kept us in there even through all the turnovers.”
I know it was not pretty, but I'm sure 49ers' head coach Mike Singletary will take it, as his team jumped right back into the playoff race. It will now be real interesting to see if the Niners can catch the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals (who have a two game lead), or if they will compete for a wild-card spot with teams like the Eagles, Giants, Falcons, and Panthers.
The Niners' home win was nice, but all the talk this week revolved around the Colts and Patriots super match-up, as the two heated rivals played for the 10th time since 2002.
The Indianapolis Colts (9-0) continued their steady climb through their 16-game schedule and remained undefeated by beating the New England Patriots by a score of 35-34 in an instant classic.
Super Bowl XLIII and a half, as some are calling it, was a thrilling game filled with high octane offense, solid defense, and strong quarterback play as two teams combined for 69 points and 884 yards. The game came down to the final seconds, with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (28-44, 327 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs) hitting wideout Reggie Wayne for a one-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds on the clock as the Colts galloped back from a 17-point deficit.
The Colts have now won 18 straight regular season games (the second longest streak in NFL history) and have also won 11 straight home games (5-0 in 2009), tying the second longest home win streak in Colts history.
But this game will forever be remembered for the coaching decision made by New England's Bill Belichick.
Faced with a 4th-and-2 at their own 28-yard line and the Patriots clinging to a 34-28 lead with 2:08 left on the clock, Belichick decided to go for it.
You read that right. From deep on his own side of the field, Belichick decided that his defense was not good enough to stop Peyton Manning from driving the Colts offense 70-80 yards for the winning touchdown.
As you probably already know, after gambling on the play and losing, Belichick now looks like the 2009 reincarnation of former Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer. On the crucial play, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's completion to running back Kevin Faulk came up short, turning the ball over on downs.
After the game Belichick simply said, “I was trying to win the game.” But his actions spoke much louder than his words.
It seems with veterans DT Richard Seymour, SS Rodney Harrison, and LB Mike Vrabel no longer on the Patriots' defense, that the former three-time Super Bowl champions’ defense can no longer be considered as one of the best in the NFL. Judging by his decision to go for it, Belichick agrees, too.
However, the Patriots, with a record of 6-3 and a two-game lead in the AFC East, are still firmly in the AFC playoff picture. We will have to wait and see, starting with the NY Jets in Week 11, if the Patriots can rebound from this colossal moment gone awry.
After the game, former Colts head coach and current NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said, “In that situation…You have to punt the football.” I totally agree, coach, and I know in hindsight, Belichick does too, even if he will never admit it.
Here’s the current division breakdown after Week 10:
NFC East —Dallas Cowboys (6-3) have a one-game lead over the Eagles and Giants (both 5-4).
NFC West— Arizona Cardinals (6-3) have a two-game lead over the Niners (4-5).
NFC South —New Orleans Saints (9-0) have a four-game lead over the Falcons (5-4).
NFC North— Minnesota Vikings (8-1) have a three-game lead over the Packers (5-4).
AFC East— New England Patriots (6-3) have a two-game lead over the New York Jets and Dolphins (both 4-5).
AFC West —Denver Broncos (6-3) are tied with the San Diego Chargers (6-3). These two face each other this week in Denver.
AFC South —Indianapolis Colts (9-0) have a four-game lead over the Houston Texans (5-4).
AFC North —Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) have a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3). The Bengals also hold the tiebreaker with the Steelers, having swept the season series.
Before we move onto the Game Balls and Lackeys for this week, here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers.
A Changing of the Guard in the AFC North
The Cincinnati Bengals' 18-12 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers may have completed the turnaround from 2008 for Marvin Lewis’ team. The Bengals (7-2) have gone from the bottom of the AFC North with a 2008 record of 4-11-1 to sweeping former AFC North bullies, the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) and Baltimore Ravens (5-4).
The win marked the first time Cincy has swept the Steelers since 1988, and they are also 4-0 against both teams since the division’s inception in 2002. The Bengals now have a commanding 5-0 division record, and, I have to admit, you can now count me as one of their believers.
The Bengals are now a complete team in all three phases of the game (offense, defense, and special teams), and it took a solid effort from each unit to pull off a win in tough Heinz Field.
The Bengals’ defense is no longer under the radar (ranking second in points allowed with 16.3 PPG), and more attention is sure to come after holding the Steelers’ offense to 226 yards and four Josh Reed field goals.
The Bengals defense pressured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all game, while forcing one interception and sacking Big Ben four times. The offensive star of the game was Bengals rookie running back Bernard Scott, who scored the lone touchdown of the game with a 96-yard kickoff return in the first quarter— the seventh time the Steelers have allowed a touchdown off a return this year, including three kickoff returns in their last four games.
The news wasn’t all great for the Bengals, as their leading rusher, Cedric Benson, left at halftime with a hip flexor injury that left Scott to take over in the second half. With the news that Benson maybe out longer than expected, the Bengals signed running back Larry Johnson, who was recently released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson has rushed for 5,996 yards and 55 touchdowns over his seven-year career in the NFL.
Injuries, Injuries, and more Injuries
I say it every week, “The NFL Season is a War of Attrition.” Looking back on the past weekend really proved that point.
The Philadelphia Eagles may have suffered the biggest blow of the week when running back Brian Westbrook suffered his second concussion in less than a month in a close 31-23 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
By all indications, the Birds’ mercurial runner may have quite possibly played his last game for this season. With the NFL’s recent poor history of combating concussions, the Eagles would be wise to put Westbrook on the shelf as his health is more important than anything else.
The multitude of other front line injuries included—Panthers OT Jordan Gross (ankle), Bengals RB Cedric Benson (hip), Bears TE Desmond Clark (neck), Niners LB Takeo Spikes (left hamstring), Browns WR/KR Josh Cribbs (neck), Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown (foot), Falcons RB Michael Turner (ankle), Broncos QB Kyle Orton (foot/ankle), Rams WR Keenan Burton (knee), Steelers DB Troy Polamalu (left knee), Saints CB Tracy Porter (knee), and Seahawks RB Julius Jones (bruised ribs).
Restoring the Roar
After a 0-2 start, many people around the NFL buried the Jacksonville Jaguars and their head coach Jack Del Rio. But getting back to the basics (run the ball, play-action passing, tough attacking defense, and good special teams) that served them so well in their 2007 playoff run, the Jaguars have jumped back into the AFC wild-card race with a 5-4 record.
In week 10, the Jaguars again rode Maurice Jones-Drew, aka “Pocket Hercules” (see Game Balls) to a huge 24-22 road over the New York Jets in the Meadowlands. Jones-Drew and quarterback David Garrard kept the Jets’ defense on their heels the entire game, and the Jags were able to close out the win on a short field goal after Jones-Drew had the most unselfish play of the 2009 season.
The Jags still have to play the Colts (Week 15) and Patriots (Week 16), but four out of five of their other opponents have losing records.
What Does $250,000 Buy You? A One-Finger Salute.
Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams pulled a “Bryan Cox” as he let the Buffalo Bills’ sideline have it. Adams, 86 years young, stuck up both out his middle fingers from the owner’s box during the Titans dominating 41-17 win over the Bills.
I don’t know what the Titans’ owner was thinking as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance at the game. The NFL wasn’t even thinking about only giving a little slap on the wrist for this one, as Adams was fined $250,000 for “conduct detrimental to the league.”
Goodell said on Monday, “I’ve said before we’re held to a higher standard in the NFL, that includes yours truly. It includes our owners. It includes front-office people. It includes the players. Those are things we’ll continue to emphasize. And if people violate them, we’ll deal with it.”
Adams later apologized saying, “I got caught up in the excitement of a great day, but I do realize that those types of things shouldn’t happen. I need to specifically apologize to the Bills, their fans, our fans, and the NFL”.
One parting note on this story. Wasn’t it not that long ago that the Patriots were fined $250,000 for “Spygate?” I guess cheating is just as bad as giving someone the finger…right.
Jeff Fisher Hits a Milestone
One item that happened in the Titans' win over the Bills that was more important than Adams’ salute to the Bills was Titans head coach Jeff Fisher hitting a big milestone. Fisher became the 10th head coach in NFL history to coach 250 career games (regular and postseason) with one team.
The Titans’ victory gave Fisher 136 wins for his career, tying him with Hall of Famer and former Kansas City Chiefs coaching legend Hank Stramm for 20th all time.
How About Those Saints
The Saints defeated the St. Louis Rams 28-23 and improved to 9-0 for the first time in franchise history. The Saints have scored an NFL-best 331 points, the fourth-most by a team in the first nine games of a season in NFL history.
Before we go to this week’s awards, our thoughts and prayers are with Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who is was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson
Every week, the self-dubbed “Every Coach’s Dream” just amazes the rest of the NFL. In the Titans' 41-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, Johnson rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.08 YPC. The speedy back from East Carolina also had a Roger Craig-type performance, catching nine passes for 100 yards, and marking the first 100-yard receiving and rushing game of his career.
Johnson now leads the NFL with 1,091 rushing yards and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. The second-year back also joined Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1963) and Vikings back Adrian Peterson (2007) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and average 6.4 yards per carry in the first nine games of a season.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew
Pocket Hercules rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' win over the Jets. Jones-Drew was the key ingredient to the Jacksonville's second win in a row from the start. He ran the ball on Jacksonville’s first five plays and totaled 55 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
But his biggest play wasn’t even a touchdown. To the delight of head coach Jack Del Rio and to the dismay of his fantasy football owners, Jones-Drew did not score an “easy” touchdown late, opting to run out the clock and set up a game-winning field goal.
Jones-Drew took a hand-off at the 10-yard line on the game’s final drive and darted towards the end zone, but took a knee at the goal line with 1:48 left (shades of Brian Westbrook in 2007 ). The Jaguars were able to run the clock down and won the game on a short Josh Scobee field goal.
Green Bay Packers CB Charles Woodson
The former Heisman Trophy winner spurred the Packers defensive effort in a 17-7 home win over the Dallas Cowboys. Woodson was everywhere, as Cowboys quarterback was in distress constantly.
The former first-round pick from Michigan contributed nine tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack, and an interception, as the Packers kept the Cowboys from scoring until late in the fourth quarter.
Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning
It would not be a Game Balls report without putting the surefire 2009 NFL MVP on our list. Manning was his classic self as the Colts fought back from a 17-point deficit to beat the New England Patriots 35-34 in Sunday’s big game.
Manning finished 28-44, for 327 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. The three time MVP won his 13th consecutive game when passing for 300 yards, tying NFL legend Y.A Tittle for the third most consecutive wins when reaching the 300-yard passing mark.
San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Before the game started against the Philadelphia Eagles, Tomlinson was already a winner, as he learned that his wife is pregnant with the couple's first child.
L.T then went out and rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns, his best performance of the 2009 season, in the Chargers’ 31-23 win over the Eagles. Tomlinson now has 12,145 career rushing yards, moving him into 12th place for most rushing yards all time.
New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush
The Saints are on a roll and so is their multi-threat speedster. Bush rushed for 83 yards on eight attempts, including a 55-yard run in the Saints 28-23 win over the scrappy St. Louis Rams. He also scored one rushing touchdown and added a 15-yard scoring reception. Bush and the Saints are now 9-0 for the first time in club history.
Arizona Cardinal QB Kurt Warner (Threw two touchdowns in the Cardinals' 31-20 win against the Seattle Seahawks, giving him 200 touchdown passes. Warner reached the mark in his 118th career game, becoming the fifth-fastest player in NFL history to accomplish the feat).
Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre (Passed for a season-high 344 yards in his 300th consecutive start (including postseason) in a 27-10 win over the Detroit Lions. Favre’s 344 yards are the third most passing yards in a game by a 40-year-old quarterback in NFL history trailing only Hall of Famer Warren Moon (409) and Vinny Testaverde (355).
Buffalo Bills rookie safety Jairus Byrd (Registered his eighth interception of the season in a loss to the Titans. Byrd now has an interception in five consecutive games and is one of only two players since 1970 with an interception in five consecutive games in his first season in the NFL).
Seattle Seahawks RB Justin Forsett (Rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown after starter Julius Jones left the game with an injury.).
Redskins P Hunter Smith (Threw his first career touchdown pass on a fake field goal, connecting with RB Mike Sellers on a 35-yard score).
Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (Who needs LJ? Charles had his second career 100-yard rushing day in the Chiefs' win over the Raiders (18 rushes for 103 yards, 5.7 YPC, and one touchdown, including a 45-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-1 play in the second quarter).
New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick
C’mon, did you think I was going to select anyone else after his coaching blunder against the Colts? Say it with me, “punt the football." I still cannot believe a head coach, one who has been to five Super Bowls (and won three of them) had a brain cramp of that magnitude.
Titans Owner Bud Adams
His aforementioned one-finger salute to Bills was unnecessary. I hope it was worth the quarter-million-dollar fine from the NFL.
Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid
Some things never change, as the Eagles called 57 pass plays (55 passes and two sacks) while only running it 13 times in a bad road loss to the San Diego Chargers. They also squandered timeouts, making it easy for the Chargers to burn the clock. As one loyal, frustrated Eagles fan wrote me, “year 11 of a five-year plan."
The Oakland Raiders
Another week, another embarrassment for the team in Oakland. The Raiders were unable to overcome 10 penalties for 88 yards in their loss to the Chiefs.
Several of the flags proved costly, as three of them gave the Chiefs first downs, and three more negated Raiders first downs. Also, quarterback JaMarcus Russell was rightfully benched after completing 8-of-23 passes for 64 yards. Hope-beleaguered head coach Tom Cable has his resume ready for a possible UFL job.
Oakland Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
I wonder if the Raiders still would take DHB (10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft) over emerging receivers Jeremy Maclin (Eagles) and Michael Crabtree (49ers). Heyward-Bey had only one catch for 22 yards, plus he helped the Chiefs close the game out as well. With 30 seconds to play, Heyward-Bey had a pass clank off his chest to Chiefs safety Mike Brown for a game-ending interception.
Week 10 Results
Thursday, November 12
SF 49ers (4-5) over Bears (4-5), 10-6
Sunday, November 15
Bengals (7-2) over Steelers (6-3), 18-12
Cardinals (6-3) over Seahawks (3-6), 31-20
Chargers (6-3) over Eagles (5-4), 31-23
Chiefs (2-7) over Raiders (2-7), 16-10
Colts (9-0) over Patriots (6-3), 35-34
Dolphins (4-5) over Buccaneers (1-8), 25-23
Jaguars (5-4) over Jets (4-5), 24-22
Packers (5-4) over Cowboys (6-3), 17-7
Panthers (4-5) over Falcons (5-4), 28-19
Redskins (3-6) over Broncos (6-3), 27-17
Saints (9-0) over Rams (1-8), 28-23
Titans (3-6) over Bills (3-6), 41-17
Vikings (8-1) over Lions (1-8), 27-10
Monday, November 9
Ravens (5-4) at Browns (1-8), 16-0
Byes: Giants (5-4), Texans (5-4)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)Posted in 2009 NFL Week 10 Review Tagged: Football, NFL, NFL Weekly Review, Sports, Week 10 Review