Week 7 wrap-up
Steelers 34, Titans 7: We pretty much know now, don't we? We know the Steelers are for real and very likely the team to beat in the AFC Central. We know that the Titans are suffering one of those Murphy's Law years. The most impressive part of the Steelers' dominance is that it was not all driven by The Bus. Jerome Bettis was a force, to be sure, but most encouraging was the performance of QB Kordell Stewart and WR Plaxico Burress. You remember him, don't you?
|Steelers QB Kordell Stewart passed for 232 yards, and broke free here to throw a TD strike to Hines Ward.|
If Stewart gets comfortable with Burress and Hines Ward the rest of the season, the Steelers might be in business, big time. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has done a nice job of easing Stewart into the offense without putting it all on the quarterback. Oh, we continue this campaign: Tight end Mark Bruener for the Pro Bowl. Shannon Sharpe or Tony Gonzalez will have to excuse the slight; Bruener is almost as valuable as Bettis to the offense.
The Steelers are now 2-0 in their are-they-for-real stretch, having beaten Tampa Bay and Tennessee. Now comes Baltimore and the Cleveland Browns. I think you can safely say the Steelers are for real. Then again, nobody seems safe in this league.
The Titans? Well, it's about all Jeff Fisher can do to pull his team together. Injuries have taken a bite out of the division champs; the ball bounces wrong most of the time; the losses mount. Think about this: the Titans are 2-4, but except for skin-of-their-teeth victories over Tampa Bay and Detroit, they could be winless.
Saints 34, Rams 31: Maybe realignment is a bad thing. This series is starting to develop into an attractive, nasty feud. Really, who could have expected the Saints to overcome a 24-6 halftime deficit at St. Louis? The key for the Saints is whether they can build on the good things they showed in the second half -- elements in the passing game that were missing from QB Aaron Brooks and WRs Joe Horn and Willie Jackson. Strange as it may sound, this game may have validated the Rams as the best team in the NFL. They had eight turnovers and only lost by a field goal.
Bears 37, 49ers 31: See, a game like this tells you that the Bears are in it for the distance. Maybe it's the destiny thing. The 49ers led 28-9 and Shane Matthews was the quarterback for the Bears, replacing injured Jim Miller. But Matthews dutifully picked apart the 49ers with short, crisp passes -- and then the Michigan rookie duo of WR David Terrell and RB Anthony Thomas showed that they know how to win. The 49ers will kick themselves for this one, but they couldn't overcome injuries to the secondary, and QB Jeff Garcia wasn't quite the same threat after spraining his right knee.
Chargers 27, Bills 24: What a terrific game. Great drama. And, yes, Doug Flutie made a nifty run at the end to win it for the Chargers. The big play, though, was Ronney Jenkins' kickoff return -- and the weird ensuing taunting penalty on Bills kicker Brian Moorman -- that put Flutie on the Buffalo 13. Last week, Bills coach Gregg Williams told me that containing Jenkins was the top priority, and the Bills had done so until the final kick.
Flutie vs. Rob Johnson? It was a draw because the Chargers won and Flutie did score the winning TD. But Johnson was a true gladiator and made play after play to push the Bills to the brink of victory. He had 377 combined yards passing and running. He answered Flutie's score by taking the Bills downfield and in position to kick a field goal that would have produced an overtime game. Flutie is in the right place (he has the ultimate offensive coordinator in Norv Turner), and Johnson is in the right place.
Raiders 20, Eagles 10: This is what you see every week from the Raiders: They play harder and tougher than anyone in the NFL. They are not necessarily pretty, but they know how to win. Let's see if they can change their recent history of losing against the Broncos on Monday night. The Eagles still seem short of greatness on both sides of the ball. Teams that muscle up on them still give them some trouble. Donovan McNabb and his young receivers are searching for consistency.
Bucs 41, Vikings 14: Few teams have played more impressively than the Bucs did in the first half. It was almost identical -- but even more impressive -- than the 41-13 knockout of the Vikings a year ago in Week 8. That victory in 2000 evened the Bucs record to 4-4, and they used it as a springboard to win seven of the next eight games. Could the same happen here? The Bucs (3-3) appear to have re-linked with the "identity" that coach Tony Dungy enjoys. They ran the football with Mike Alstott. They were efficient in the passing game. They played great defense. The Bucs team that showed up Sunday is the Bucs team many people projected for the Super Bowl. Still, they must show it over the course of the next month when they play the Packers, Lions, Bears and Rams. If they are 6-4 or 7-3 after that stretch, pay attention.
|Mike Alstott scored two of his three touchdowns in the first half for the Bucs on Sunday.|
The Vikings were a big disappointment. You expect them to compete. They did not, and the bench area once again became the scene of a team under duress. Not pretty.
Dolphins 24, Seahawks 20: Maybe my brain is scrambled. I didn't have a problem with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren attempting a field goal with two minutes left, not to mention three timeouts. Upon further review, sure, Holmgren should have gone for a first down in an effort to win the game. Upon further review, I sure didn't think Shaun Alexander fumbled, either. I thought QB Matt Hasselbeck played well. Credit Holmgren for doing something he had never done in his 10 years as a head coach -- he allowed Hasselbeck to work nine plays out of the shotgun. "I'm flexible," Holmgren said. "I'm not a bully."
The Dolphins escaped with a win, despite more turnovers. But it was a road win against a good team. You take it. The Dolphins (4-2) showed that Jay Fiedler can, indeed, open up with WRs James McKnight and Chris Chambers. For those who wish to complain about Fiedler's interceptions, go ahead and complain. It's the NFL. I see a lot of quarterbacks throwing interceptions. A lot of good ones, too.
Redskins 35, Giants 21: See, this is what Marty Schottenheimer is all about. Don't talk about your problems. Work on them. Tony Banks now has his "training camp" and "preseason" behind him. He's more confident. His receivers, Rod Gardner and Michael Westbrook, are making plays. Stephen Davis is running hard. This was easily the most impressive game yet for the Redskins. They are starting to get healthy, too.
What I found funny was Redskins' players blaming the media for the Marty bashing. We know who started the bashing. Owner Daniel Snyder should see that Schottenheimer didn't become a bad coach in retirement. The Redskins have now won two straight at home. What happens if they beat the Seahawks at Fed Ex Field this Sunday and enter the bye week with a 3-5 record? It could be interesting.
Giants coach Jim Fassel is interested in only one thing -- winning. He reminded his players and coaches Monday that in the NFL, you must win the games you are supposed to win. That means beating the Redskins. Now they get the Cowboys, and then the Cardinals. If the Giants (3-4) don't have a winning record after the next two games, it's not a good sign.
Bengals 31, Lions 27: So, what did we find out here? Corey Dillon is still good. Even if it wasn't overly impressive, the Bengals winning on the road is progress. The Lions losing at home again is not. Now 0-6 and looking at a relatively difficult schedule, Lions' fans must be wondering whether the team will go winless in 2001. Don't worry. Just as the Rams were not about to go undefeated, the Lions will not go winless.
Ravens 18, Jaguars 17: Randall Cunningham returned the relatively small investment the Ravens made in him with this victory. Down 17-6 in the fourth quarterback, Cunningham calmly delivered the goods. Nevertheless, the Ravens (4-3) still appear most vulnerable, especially in the secondary, which Jaguars QB Mark Brunell carved up pretty nicely. Brunell answered his critics again with a pretty terrific game, and reminded Ravens coach Brian Billick why he had Brunell atop his wish list at the end of last season. The Ravens' moment of truth, for now, comes Sunday when they face the AFC Central-leading Steelers (5-1).
Broncos 31, Patriots 20: I thought Brian Griese really showed his heart to bring the Broncos from behind. This was not an 11-point comfort zone. The Patriots again proved they are for real; Bill Belichick has put them on the right track. Nobody can play the Pats and feel comfortable about it. True, QB Tom Brady had his bubble burst with four late interceptions, but he still looks pretty good to me.
Cowboys 17, Cardinals 3: Nothing against Cowboys QB Clint Stoerner, but last time I looked, he was the fifth-rated QB in the eight-team NFL Europe this spring. If he can make his first start in the NFL and beat Jake Plummer, then the Cardinals ought to dump Plummer.
Jets 13, Panthers 12: Boy, there are a lot of Jets' fans squawking over the ugliness of this victory. True, it was ugly. But it was a victory. The Panthers may be short on talent -- especially with injuries mounting -- but they are a very well-coached team.
Colts 35, Chiefs 28: Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison did their thing, but the biggest surprise was the contribution of the special teams, which had been a big disappointment. Manning also gets back WRs Jerome Pathon and Terrence Wilkins from injuries this week in time to face Buffalo, so the offense should resume its higher productivity. Edgerrin James' knee sprain causes some discomfort, but at least it wasn't a serious injury. The offense must remain high-octane because the Indy defense still has its holes. The Chiefs, again, are playing good enough to lose. Trent Green will eventually settle down, but his interception at the end was pretty unforgivable.