Here are some thoughts and observations from Sunday’s action:
· The New England Patriots might not have as much talent as they did during their magical run during the 2007 season, but the coaches are certainly getting the most out of their players. Undrafted RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis led a rushing attack, which put up over 200 yards against the host Buffalo Bills. RB Danny Woodhead, who put up 125 combined yards, has to be one of the best free-agent signings of the regular season by any team. The division rival New York Jets made a huge mistake by waiving the versatile player.
· Who saw 72 points being scored during the New York Jets-Chicago Bears game? Not yours truly. But what has happened to that vaunted Jets defense? Sure, losing SS Jim Leonard and NT Kris Jenkins has been an issue, but that’s no excuse for the inconsistency at times this season.
· It has taken them a while to do it, but Baltimore Ravens third-year RB Ray Rice is finally starting to become the foundation of the team’s offense. Rice, who had 92 yards rushing during Sunday’s win over the host Cleveland Browns, has 56 carries over the past two weeks to go along with 245 combined yards. By making a stronger commitment to the running game, that has brought better balance to their offense.
· That was a bad loss by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the visiting Washington Redskins. The Redskins were without several key players on defense, but they did a nice job of shutting down Jacksonville’s running game—the foundation of their offense. The Jaguars simply couldn’t get anything going with second-year RB Rashad Jennings, who filled in for injured starter Maurice Jones-Drew.
· I have to admit that I was a Matt Cassel detractor coming into this season. But he didn’t exactly show me enough last season that would warrant much positivity. The sixth-year signal caller has a whopping 27 touchdown passes after 15 games. That’s up 11 over last season’s total. While Cassel obviously deserves a lot of credit, so does offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. The veteran offensive mind has instilled some badly needed discipline with Cassel, who clearly has taken to his coaching. And give head coach Todd Haley credit for loosening the reins a bit on his coaching staff. Not to be lost in the shuffle is general manager Scott Pioli, who put together this team. No longer can anyone cast him under Bill Belichick’s shadow.
· I mentioned recently in one of my weekly chats that it wouldn’t surprise me if Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano was not retained for next season. Not only do they have a losing record (7-8), but they are an unbelievable 1-7 at home, the NFL’s worst record at home of all 32 teams. On the other hand, the Detroit Lions have now won two games in a row on the road.
· As much as I admire the chutzpah and aggressiveness of San Francisco 49ers president and CEO Jed York, he did not handle his postgame press conference after Sunday’s loss to the host St. Louis Rams very well. There’s no reason to announce what he plans to do with his coaching staff and front office until after the season is over. Saying that he couldn’t guarantee that Mike Singletary will coach next week is essentially firing him without announcing it. If he has learned anything, you can’t run your team on emotion.
· I realize the San Diego Chargers have dealt with a lot of injuries on offense this season, but how do you explain their usually solid defense laying a huge egg during Sunday’s loss to the host Cincinnati Bengals? Rarely used WR Jerome Simpson, who had a grand total of three career receptions in almost three seasons of play, had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers. That sums up the day for the Chargers, who are now out of the playoff picture.
· Sure, it was against the lowly Houston Texans defense, but Denver Broncos rookie QB Tim Tebow’s performance was surprising. While Tebow’s passing mechanics are clearly a work in progress, he displayed surprising arm strength. But Tebow needs to consistently step into his throws in order to get the ball down field.
· After blowing a huge lead last week, I didn’t see Sunday’s the New York Giants blowout loss against the host Green Bay Packers coming. I expected the Giants to come out fired up and play four quarters of solid football. Instead, they got down early 14-0, tied it up, then were outscored 31-3 the rest of the way. I think it’s safe to say that if the Giants don’t wind up earning one of the two NFC Wild Card berths, head coach Tom Coughlin’s job won’t be very safe.
· Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-year QB Josh Freeman continues to show marked improvement this season. In fact, he is clearly one of the NFL’s most improved players. What’s even more impressive than his five-touchdown performance against the visiting Seattle Seahawks is that he has only thrown one interception in his last seven games. That’s one of the big reasons why the Buccaneers are still alive for a Wild Card berth this late in the season.
-- Adam Caplan