Just to make things a little more interesting, the San Diego Chargers spotted the New York Jets seven points on Monday night--and then the Chargers cruised to a 48-29 victory that was even more of a rout than that score suggests; the Chargers led 38-14 after three quarters before the Jets tacked on some meaningless points against a prevent defense in the final stanza. The Jets' only points in the first 36 minutes came on David Barrett's 25 yard interception return for a touchdown to end San Diego's first possession of the game and Laveranues Coles' three yard touchdown reception after a 94 yard Leon Washington kickoff return. In other words, the Jets' offense failed to generate even one sustained scoring drive until the fourth quarter.
Although his bad pass gave the Jets an early lead after Barrett's interception return, Philip Rivers had a masterful overall performance (19-25, 250 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 130.0 passer rating). He spread the ball around to eight different targets, none of whom caught more than four passes. LaDainian Tomlinson scored his first two touchdowns of the season but only rushed for 67 yards on 26 carries (2.6 yards per attempt average), so Rivers really did shoulder the primary offensive burden. Brett Favre may have been the headline story coming into this game but Rivers was easily the best quarterback on the field.
Favre's numbers may have come out OK in the end (30-42, 271 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 92.5 passer rating) but, to borrow an old Mike Holmgren line from early in Favre's career, when the outcome was in doubt Favre was "all over the joint" with the football; he not only had the two interceptions but he threw two other sure interceptions that were dropped and he had several other wildly inaccurate passes. In the first three quarters, Favre had one touchdown, two interceptions and a 64.3 passer rating. As I've said all along, Favre will throw the ball up for grabs and it will not always end as happily for the Jets as it did in week one, particularly against the league's better teams. Favre is gutsy and durable and he still has the big arm but--like any other quarterback--he looks better when he has more talent around him. People seem to be forgetting how much other talent there was (and is) in Green Bay; the Packers' success last year was not just all about Favre, even though he did have a great season (his first one since 2004, something else that many people seem to have forgotten). The Jets were 4-12 last year and although they upgraded their talent on paper this offseason I still do not understand why the late signing of Favre convinced so many people that the Jets are really going places this year. The reality is that if everything breaks right for New York maybe they could go 9-7 and grab the last Wild Card berth but everything rarely goes right in the course of a 16 game season and I just don't believe that this is a playoff bound team.
It is either arrogant or incredibly naive to think that Favre can spend the summer throwing a few passes on a high school football field and then come in and run an NFL offense that he has never seen before. Actually, that is also an insult to NFL players and coaches who worked throughout the entire offseason in order to properly prepare for the 2008 campaign.
Before the season began, ESPN's Tom Jackson said repeatedly that quarterbacks travel to Hawaii and prepare for the Pro Bowl in just a few days so it will not take Favre very long to learn the Jets' system. To borrow one of Jackson's pet lines, "Really?" In the Pro Bowl, the defenders basically have to count "steamboats" before they rush the passer, exotic defenses are forbidden by rule and everyone is just trying to look good and not get hurt; there is absolutely no sensible, logical comparison between learning a simplified, Pro Bowl offense and learning a full offensive playbook that a team uses over the course of a 16 game season.
Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young has a much more accurate and nuanced take. He correctly predicted that the Chargers would blow out the Jets--I love how he is one of the few ESPN commentators who never buys the hype or tries to falsely build up a matchup--and he said that it will be a 10 week process for Favre to really learn the Jets' offense. Emmitt Smith then quite logically asked if the Jets brought in the wrong guy. Young replied, "I think they got the right guy; they just got him a month too late. The thing dragged on and I think they wanted to get him in early August or late July so that they could have that time before the real bullets flew."
Stuart Scott asked Young about all the plays in which Favre threw passes to areas of the field where there were only Charger defenders. How much of that was Favre's fault and how much of that was the receivers' fault? Young literally winced at the phrasing of the question before answering, "It's not a 'fault.' Football is glorified choreography. At the end of the day, it's dance steps and the more you do it, the better you are going to be at it. When you can do it for five, six, seven years like the Chargers have with this group of people then you are going to see that kind of play. When you have been doing it for four or five weeks, it shows up. It's not about fault; it's about time together to get the dance steps down."
The problem for the Jets and Favre is that by the time he really knows the Jets' system the team will be 5-5 at best and need to make a strong closing run just to make the playoffs. So there is some logic to Smith's question, because if the Jets are not going anywhere this year--and they're not--was it worth it to bring Favre in for a season or two as opposed to sticking with Chad Pennington or finding out what their younger QBs can do? Essentially, the Packers faced the same question--albeit with an overall roster that is much better than New York's--and they decided that the train had left the station without Favre. The Packers are 2-1 and I seriously doubt that they have any regrets. Imagine for a moment that the Packers are 1-2 and the Jets are 2-1; do you think that the media would make half as many allowances for Aaron Rodgers that they are for Favre? I'm not referring to Young, because he is quite accurately saying that Favre is not playing great and explaining why this is the case; I'm referring to everyone who blasted the Packers for getting rid of Favre and going with Aaron Rodgers: where are all the critics now? It has been nice to hear Cris Carter and Tom Jackson acknowledge how well Rodgers has played so far, because those guys were so certain not even a month ago that Rodgers faced more pressure than any quarterback ever and that Favre was just going to tear up the league starting in week one. Nevertheless, Jackson and Carter are still guilty of overstating what Favre can do; they kept insisting all week that the Jets should not have run the ball three straight times in the red zone last week versus New England and that Favre should have been given the opportunity to throw the ball. The Jets' offense was much more wide open this week but this did not lead to more scoring until garbage time--unless you count the points off of turnovers that Favre provided for the Chargers. We are seeing that maybe New York Coach Eric Mangini had good reasons to not have Favre chucking the ball all over the place inside the five yard line; if you can't run the ball into the endzone in that situation then your team is not going very far, anyway.
It would just be refreshing to see analysts--in all sports--simply report what their eyes are actually seeing instead of saying what their hearts hope to be true. Right now, too many sports analysts base their commentary on who they personally like and dislike as opposed to objectively talking about who is productive and not productive.
The reality is that Packers' management knew what it was doing, while the Jets' management decided to make a deal that created a lot of hype but will ultimately result in no playoff wins before the next quarterback takes over for Favre. Every "expert" who blasted the Packers and praised Favre should now be just as loudly praising Rodgers, apologizing to the Packers and correctly noting that Favre has hardly turned the Jets around. Tony Kornheiser spent all offseason drooling all over Favre but as everything fell apart around Favre on Monday night all Kornheiser could manage was a muted acknowledgment that Favre did not play well. Again, as Jackson would say, "Really?"
Here are some notes/comments about Sunday's action:
Obviously, the headline grabber from this weekend was Miami's 38-13 win over New England, reviving the storylines about how good the Patriots can be without Tom Brady and whether the remainder of this season is some kind of referendum on how good of a coach Bill Belichick is. Taking the latter point first, that is one of the stupidest discussion topics ever thought up by the mainstream sports media--and that's really saying something. As CBS' Phil Simms correctly and succinctly noted during last week's New England-New York Jets game, we found out a long time ago that Belichick is a great coach. As for the Brady question, it is certainly legitimate to wonder what the future holds for the Patriots with Matt Cassel at the helm but it is still way to soon to answer that question. Keep in mind that this loss ended an NFL record 21 game regular season winning streak by the Patriots and that their previous regular season defeat was a 21-0 decision to the Dolphins on December 10, 2006 during which Brady was 12-25 for 78 yards. For several years, the Patriots have struggled versus Miami and until Cassel plays a few more games we won't know for sure if this loss was just part of that trend or an indicator of something else. By the way, that 2006 New England team finished with a 12-4 record and made it to the AFC Championship Game. My prediction is that after this upcoming bye week the Patriots will go on an extended run--six wins in the next eight games or something on that order--that will lift them back into first place in the AFC East.
"My message today was...it ended up being really the power of the will," New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said after his team defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-23 in overtime. Some would say that the Bengals should derive hope from playing such a close game against the reigning Super Bowl champions or that this performance gives the Bengals a leg up going into next week's game against in-state, in-division rival Cleveland--but I disagree. Maybe if the Bengals were a young, rising team then they could bask in moral victories but this is a franchise that has made one playoff appearance during the Marvin Lewis era and has been rapidly staggering backwards ever since. The talent is there--certainly on the offensive side of the ball--but the discipline and focus is not. In other words, we know that this team is talented enough to challenge even the Giants and we also know that the Bengals are just as capable of looking sloppy and disinterested next week. More than likely, they will respond to this loss the typical way that losers respond: the closeness of the score will make them overconfident; a champion would respond by analyzing the mental errors and physical shortcomings that led to the defeat.
Dallas improved to 3-0 with a 27-16 win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field, the Cowboys' first victory at one of the sport's most revered venues. Marion Barber banged out 142 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries, while little-used Miles Austin was the surprise receiving star with two catches for 115 yards, including a 52 yard touchdown. Terrell Owens finished with just two receptions for 17 yards but he made two plays that showed off his speed: first, after Tony Romo (17-30, 260 yards, one touchdown, one interception) threw an interception in the endzone and Owens was blocked to the ground inside the 10 yard line, Owens got up and incredibly ran down Nick Collins and tackled him at the Dallas 43 yard line; later, when rookie speedster running back Felix Jones raced for a 60 yard touchdown, Owens caught up to him and matched him stride for stride as a blocking escort, preventing would-be tacklers who had the angle from cutting Jones off before he reached pay dirt.
After the game, Austin said of Owens, "Him having two catches, 17 yards doesn't explain what he did. He's attracting double coverage, triple coverage all the time. So for him to do that, it's almost bigger than him making the play." Just like in the second half of last week's game versus the Eagles, when Philadelphia shifted its coverage to Owens and opened up opportunities for Barber and Jason Witten, Owens had a major impact just by being on the field. He certainly can make catches even against double teams and in some games this year it may be necessary for him to do that but for now Romo is making the smart, high percentage play by attacking opposing defenses in their soft spots and giving other players chances to prove that they can make plays.
Although the Packers fell to 2-1, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was very solid: 22-39, 290 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions.
Question of the Week: "I always think that when I eat cottage cheese: How did the first guy who made this know when to quit?"--John Madden (during Dallas' 27-16 Sunday Night Football win over Green Bay).