Sunday, November 1, 2015

Week 8 NFL notes

There has been a lot of loose talk about Andrew Luck “regressing” lately, and that he hasn’t “improved” as the years go on. Oh really? Luck’s passer rating improved 10 points from each of the preceding years, and last season he threw for career bests 4700 yards and 40 touchdowns, leading the Colts to the AFC Championship game. This was also the quarterback who led his team from a 38-10 third quarter deficit in the playoffs against the Chiefs to a 45-44 victory. His critics have to do better than make insipid personal attacks. 

It turns out now that Luck has been playing with not just a sore shoulder, but bad ribs. And John Clayton and all those NFL “insiders” didn’t know this? Is it just easier to say Luck’s substandard play indicates that he is “overrated”? Apparently Colts’ management was hiding this fact too well, and now there are calls for the team to “explain” why this situation wasn’t listed on their injury report. The Colts’ claim that the report is “accurate,” but it seems that their terms have wide interpretative qualities, like your typical report from a women’s studies program. But the bigger question is why commentators make negative comments without opining if other factors may be affecting a player’s performance.

Here is a look at some of the more interesting games this week:

Patriots 36 Dolphins 7. We may surmise that ex-Dolphin’s coach Joe Philbin is slightly “relieved” by the fact that it is easy for a team under a different coach to put up big numbers and make him look like a genius, but Miami’s new coach has to take responsibility now for an offense that mustered only seven points against a good (or really good) team. What a bunch of fakers—except they were not “fake” when playing for Philbin, just plain themselves.

Chiefs 45 Lions 10. After a surprisingly entertaining game last week between the Bills and Jaguars, this time fans in London were treated like Charlie Brown and tossed a rock in their Halloween bag. A change in coaches didn’t help the Lions improve their play, more likely made things worse.  If any quarterback has been regressing back to the Stone Age, it is Matthew Stafford. Alex Smith wasn’t much better in this game—until you add his 78 rushing yards, 49 on one play, and a touchdown.

Saints 52 Giants 49. This could be the game of year—or any year. A single game record 13 touchdown passes were thrown, seven by Drew Brees and six by Eli Manning. The Saints led 42-28 in the fourth quarter, but a fumble return for a touchdown helped the Giants score 21 unanswered points to take the lead. But Brees passed the 500-yard passing mark on the game-tying drive, and “good” fortune prevented him from extending his 511 passing yards to eclipsing Norm van Brocklin’s NFL record for passing yards in a game, incredibly 63 years old and counting.  The Saints, at 4-4, have risen from the grave and still alive for a playoff run.

Bengals 16 Steelers 10. The return of Ben Roethlisberger was perhaps too soon, as it had no obvious effect on the Steelers’ level of offensive proficiency. Roethlisberger did something that none of his fill-ins did, and that is throw three interceptions in a game. Andy Dalton threw two interceptions himself, but as against the Seahawks, he made the plays late when they counted on the scoreboard.

Seahawks 13 Cowboys 12. Speaking of the Seahawks, they won yet another squeaker against a broken team (like the Lions). Save for a win against a pathetic 49ers team, the Seahawks have looked less than average every game this season. Matt Cassell isn’t the answer to the Cowboys’ quarterback question, but that doesn’t mean that Russell Wilson was any more effective with what he had. As in previous losses, the Cowboys were a Romo away from possibly being unbeaten this season. 

Cardinals 34 Browns 20. This is a game that proves that forcing turnovers helps not so good teams win games over good teams. The problem for the Browns was that they didn’t get enough of them. The Cardinals outgained the Browns 2-1 and almost gave the game away in the first half, ultimately turning the ball over four times before putting Elmer’s Glue-All on their fingers, rolling in the second half against the hapless Browns.

Vikings 23 Bears 20. I just can’t figure it out. Sure, the Vikings have taken advantage of a weak schedule to move to 5-2, and they haven’t even played the Packers yet. No way am I sold on Teddy Bridgewater as a legitimate “franchise” quarterback, and Adrian Peterson’s return to form can’t explain all of it. The Vikings have just been a little bit better than the bad teams they have played. I’ll leave it at that.

Raiders 34 Jets 20. The story here is that Derek Carr was on fire for three quarters of this game, and Geno Smith, who saw his first action of the season after Ryan Fitzpatrick hurt his hand early in the game, was not. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that Smith hadn’t played any “meaningful” football in two months since his jaw was broken; but then again, Geno has fooled people before. Smith completed 27 of 39 passes before he was briefly suffered a minor owie and left the game for a few plays, although one statistician noted that all but five of his passes traveled five yards or less downfield. Fitzpatrick threw a couple of passes in “relief” of Geno late in the game, but then Geno came back in, threw three consecutive incomplete passes, and the Jets lost the ball on downs. So Geno.

Rams 27 49ers 6. Another horrible sub-Mendoza Line offensive performance by the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are clearly not a good “fit” anymore, but is he a good fit anywhere? His gimmick has lost its surprise element, and all that is left is for him is to try to play at being real quarterback. That trick has been a loser for him—and the 49ers—for the past year and a half. 

Broncos 29 Packers 10. I’m sure that many observers saw this game as the one where the fraud 6-0 team would be exposed, and most of them thought that would be the Broncos. I was not of that opinion; I wanted the Packers to prove to me they were not, because it appears to me that Aaron Rodgers is not playing at the same level he has at least since the injury that essentially lost the NFC Championship game last season. I think he is still suffering from the hangover of that injury, but no one is talking about. And so it was that the Packers suffered the most humiliating loss in front of a national audience any 6-0 team has suffered in many a moon. Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass, and had one interception, but otherwise could be said to have had his best game of the season. Rodgers, on the other hand, had his worst, throwing for only 77 yards on 22 pass attempts. The Packers 50 net yards passing and 140 total yards was the fewest ever in the Rodgers era. Is Rodgers playing with a serious injury like Luck? Packer fans need to know.

Panthers 29 Colts 26. Since we started with Luck, we might as well end it there to. On Monday night, Luck and the Colt were fairly awful for the first 48 minutes of the game, falling behind 23-6 with Luck throwing for just 40 yards, two interceptions and a fumbled snap. But as against the Titans in his only win starting this season, Luck found some of his mojo and not only improbably rallied the Colts to tie the game in regulation, but take the lead on a field goal on the first possession in overtime. But under new overtime rules, the Panthers had to have their chance, and they used it tie the game and win it after Luck’s third interception. As bad as Luck looked for most of the game, one has to be impressed with his refusal to “quit.” Listening to the national radio broadcast, I heard no mention of the brewing controversy that Luck is playing with fractured ribs, only that he was making “poor decisions.” The Colts continue to obfuscate about the issue, while when asked, Luck does not deny it, only saying that he won’t discuss it.

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