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Week 6: Eagles, Browns claim key divisional wins

Oct. 23
Week 6 wrap-up

Eagles 10, Giants 9: OK, Donovan McNabb is not Michael Jordan. But I have seen Jordan go 10-for-30 from the field only to break his opponents' hearts with a clutch basket. Monday night, this is what McNabb did to the Giants. His scramble and TD pass to an alert James Thrash with 1:52 left was almost the only play of any distinction by McNabb to that point.

Brandon Whiting
Brandon Whiting of the Eagles celebrates after recovering a fumble in the final minutes.
I also give Eagles coach Andy Reid a lot of credit for this victory. He is an extremely cool customer who made some calculating decisions in the final minutes. He opened himself to second-guessing by accepting a penalty and forcing Giants punter Rodney Williams to re-kick with about six minutes to play. Williams is dangerous, but he already had delivered a poor punt that gave the Eagles the ball at their own 38. But Reid also knew that Williams had been inconsistent, especially when rushed, and he forced another punt that was shanked for a 27-yarder. Reid picked up 22 yards on the decision. Instead of starting at their own 38, the Eagles began their game-winning drive at the New York 40. Next thing you knew, McNabb and Thrash were winning it.

Giants QB Kerry Collins had time to drive his team into field-goal range with two timeouts. But Collins did not take care of the football and lost a fumble. An equally bad moment for Collins came right before the half when he took a pair of sacks that backed Morten Andersen out of field-goal range. The Giants would have made 12 points hold up for a victory. The offense had many chances to nail this one down but never got the big play. That's the quarterback's job. Collins did not make it happen. Now the Giants (3-3) must find a way to deal with back-to-back losses by one-point margins. The good news is that the Redskins are next.

The Eagles (3-2) are not in a comfort zone. McNabb really didn't play very well. He was sacked six times, but on the occasions when he had plenty of time, his feet got happy and he rushed himself. True, his receivers had trouble shaking open, but McNabb did show signs that he is, after all, a young quarterback.

Browns 24, Ravens 14: The stats don't tell the story. The Browns had just 10 first downs. They were 0-for-10 in third-down efficiency. They barely had 200 yards (219) total offense. Wait. Here it is: The Browns did win the turnover battle 3-0. And regardless of stats, if you watched the game, you saw the Browns made big play after big play in the clutch. No play was bigger than Tim Couch's laser-like pass to Quincy Morgan from 36 yards. The throw sliced through Ravens defenders Rod Woodson and Duane Starks and gave the Browns a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. Credit Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians with going for the jugular -- it was a first-down call right after the Browns had recovered a fumble by Elvis Grbac.

What's with the Browns (4-2)? It's the attitude that Davis has sewn into the hearts of his players. But as team president Carmen Policy told me, "It's attitude with a game plan." The Browns now enjoy a bye, and they will get healthy while also expecting the return of Courtney Brown from a knee injury.

The Ravens? It's simple. You are the Super Bowl champs. There is a bull's-eye on you. You must show up every week at a higher level of intensity than the year before. Otherwise, you end up ... well, .500. But the Ravens also will be getting much healthier over the next couple of weeks, especially on the offensive line when Leon Searcy and Edwin Mulitalo return. In other words, I still have a suspicion that the best team in the AFC plays in Baltimore, but only if they realize what's at stake every Sunday.

Vikings 35, Packers 13: It's funny. Brett Favre had an all-time day against the Ravens and he's still the guy everybody wants at quarterback. But on days like this one, Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper makes a case that he could be the standard in this league. Sure, he threw for only 184 yards, but he threw in the clutch and he was spectacular running the ball (71 yards, one TD). The Vikings also captured a little something with Doug Chapman at running back (90 yards, 22 carries) while the O-line had its best day. The Packers did not show up. They had some chances early and blew it. It's almost as if they go to the Metrodome knowing they can't win, so why bother? All I know is that the Packers are 4-2, but they have lost their two most recent road games to divisional foes (Vikings and Bucs). That makes them suspect for now.

Rams 34, Jets 14: Listen, if your focus on this game is the onside kick that Rams coach Mike Martz called for with a 31-7 lead, then you got it all wrong. The Rams sent a clear message to the league and, yes, to New York. They don't need Marshall Faulk to be explosive. True, they'd prefer to have Faulk, but Martz went into this game with a clear mindset that his team was going to kick butt. That's what happened. They did it with Trung Canidate showing why Martz made him a first-round pick a year ago.

Any controversy over the onside kick is a joke. There were more than four minutes left in the third quarter. The Jets' best play may have been their kick returns. Martz asked special teams coach Bobby April why they were having so much success. April explained that the Jets' return team, especially the front line, was cheating a bit by peeling back prematurely to set up their blocks. "How do you stop that?" asked Martz. "Onside kick," replied April. That was it. The Jets could have recovered and had excellent field position. They didn't. True, Martz had maybe had his fill of New York for two weeks (the Giants were the week before). There was some venom. Martz unleashed another section of the playbook that, quite frankly, made the game fun to watch.

Steelers 17, Bucs 10: The Steelers have a familiar scent here, a surprising one at that. With Jerome Bettis, they're running the football as well as anyone in the NFL. Their quarterback plays a self-contained game and doesn't turn it over a lot. Their defense is excellent, opportunistic and nasty at times. They even talk the talk -- "the film doesn't prepare you for what you get in person." Sounds a lot like the 2000 version of the Baltimore Ravens to me. Now, I'm not ready to elevate the Steelers to that status yet, but this was an impressive showing. Bettis was terrific again and the O-line (coached wonderfully by Russ Grimm) had its way with Warren Sapp and the Bucs. Tight end Mark Bruener should get his Pro Bowl props by year's end, too.

Kordell Stewart actually turned it over twice in this game with a pair of picks, but the Bucs are just too inept right now to capitalize. QB Brad Johnson is a pro but he appears to be holding onto the ball too long, perhaps a symptom of receivers not getting comfortably open or Johnson not trusting his arm to make tight throws. And when the Bucs get down, Johnson doesn't have the mobility to escape a fierce pass rush. The Steelers dismantled the Bucs' protection. Rookie LT Kenyatta Walker is learning about life in the NFL, whereas TE Dave Moore could learn a lesson from Bruener and block more efficiently.

A word about the Bucs' defense. I did wonder aloud in the offseason about the one big defensive free-agent pickup, Simeon Rice. The Bucs did not necessarily need another pass rusher, although the rationale is that in their division they must contend with Daunte Culpepper and Brett Favre. The Bucs' D did get muscled late last year, and they are still getting muscled.

Bears 24, Bengals 0: This game sold me on the Bears. They aren't going away, unless injuries crush them (losing WR Marcus Robinson is a blow). But the clear emergence of rookie RB Anthony Thomas (188 yards, 22 carries) could really be huge. QB Jim Miller also looks vastly underrated. He not only manages the game nicely but also is efficient throwing the ball. The defense stifled Corey Dillon, and they stifled him on his home field. The Packers, Vikings and Bucs better beware of the Bears.

Doug Flutie
Doug Flutie was 21-for-32 passing for 280 yards and two TDs on Sunday.
Chargers 27, Broncos 10: You may get tired of hearing it, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner was the key acquisition by the Chargers. Turner's scheme, game-planning and play-calling is almost without parallel. Doug Flutie threw for 280 yards and two TDs, but scouts who watched the game believe that Turner provided enough opportunity for Flutie to hit for 400 yards and four TDs. Another thing Turner can do is help a defense that does have some flaws -- the Chargers had the ball for 33 minutes. It was an impressive win for San Diego, just as it was a discouraging loss for the Broncos. Brian Griese might be healthy enough to play, but is he healthy enough to play well? The Ed McCaffrey injury looms large. Keep an eye on the running-back situation, too. Mike Anderson had just 50 yards, and his lost fumble allowed the Chargers to pad a 13-10 lead to 20-10. If he doesn't show a spark in Sunday's game against New England, then Terrell Davis might get another chance. That was an unlikely scenario a few weeks ago.

Patriots 38, Colts 17: Everybody is asking what's wrong with the Colts. Maybe we should be asking, 'What's right with the Patriots?' This was different than the thrashing the Pats gave the Colts a couple of weeks ago. This was even more impressive. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis did a beautiful job of playing wide open on the road. WR David Patten had a day for the scrapbook with his hand in four TDs. Tom Brady continued to play like a pro at QB while it becomes a probability that Drew Bledsoe won't return this season. Bledsoe will be reevaluated in the next four to six weeks, but doctors familiar with his injury aren't excited about the risk he could take by playing again.

The Colts did a lot of things better in this game. They had 484 yards total offense. Edgerrin James rushed for 143 yards, Peyton Manning passed for 335 yards and had no interceptions. But they couldn't finish drives again and special teams continues to compound the problem. Maybe now that the Colts are clear of the Patriots they can get back on track.

Falcons 20, Saints 13: The Falcons' defense tacked a message on Ricky Williams: Not today. From the first nasty hit of the day by safety Gerald McBurrows to a Pro Bowl performance by MLB Keith Brooking, the Falcons stuffed Williams (51 yards, 21 carries). The Falcons have blown two overtime games to the 49ers. Had at least split those, they would be sitting at 4-2 in the NFC West. But winning this game in New Orleans was significant. The Falcons (3-3) go into a bye week with a chance to still be an impact team in the division. Pay attention to rookie tight end Alge Crumpler -- his 57-yard TD catch from Chris Chandler is indicative of his skills. The key for the Falcons was a defense that was simplified and tenacious in nailing Williams. This was a setback for the Saints. Even with a winning record (3-2), they have seemed a little off this year, perhaps because QB Aaron Brooks is having some growing pains. He will have to grow up fast -- the Rams are next.

Titans 27, Lions 24: Steve McNair may not be pretty, but he can make plays and he is an excellent two-minute QB. That's what saved the Titans as McNair took them 62 yards in the final two minutes to set up Joe Nedney's winning FG. The Lions had this game. They shouldn't be the NFL's only winless team. Then again, there were a bunch of mistakes that smack of an undisciplined team that, in fact, does lend itself to losing. But I like the way Charlie Batch is playing.

Redskins 17, Panthers 14: Other than being happy for Marty Schottenheimer, there wasn't a whole bunch about this game that made you believe the Redskins have turned it around. The Panthers had a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter when rookie QB Chris Weinke mailed a throw into LaVar Arrington's arms for a 67-yard interception return. I will say this: It is very promising that Redskins rookie WR Rod Gardner had a breakout day with 208 yards. The Panthers must feel as bleak as the Redskins did going into the game. Their opening victory against Minnesota is now a distant memory. Five straight losses. Injuries. It's not pretty.

Cardinals 24, Chiefs 16: If you are Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis, these are the games you have to win, especially at home, to know that you are headed in the right direction. The offense picked up the tempo in the second half with Michael Pittman running for almost 100 yards and backup RB Thomas Jones pitching in with a 13-yard TD run. QB Jake Plummer continues to limit his mistakes (no interceptions).

Bills 13, Jaguars 10: There were lots of comments about how ugly this game was; true, it wasn't pretty. However, I had an opportunity to see the game and here's what I saw: I now understand why it's almost impossible for the Bills to give up on QB Rob Johnson. Really, you almost have to see him in person. Physically, there just aren't many guys like him. He's 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he's got the arm, he's accurate, he's really fast and athletic. In this game, as good as Jaguars QB Mark Brunell is, it was clear that Johnson has more skill. Once their offensive line gets settled, and rookie RB Travis Henry learns a little more patience, Johnson will blossom -- I think. Another thing you see in the Bills is that they are extremely well-coached under Gregg Williams' staff. It may not happen this year, but the retooling of the Bills is going to develop much faster than the naysayers predict.

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said he was at a low point after the game. The offense isn't what it should be, and it's not all about Brunell. Receivers dropped balls. Some of the young guys ran wrong routes. They miss Fred Taylor -- there were two runs by Stacey Mack that Taylor might have busted for TDs.

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