Andrew Luck’s the man, Mark Sanchez isn’t and the Patriots, Packers and Steelers appear to be back on track after shaky starts to the 2012 season. RGIII looked mortal against the aging Steelers defense, the Chargers suffered a second terrible loss in a row and Matt Ryan and the Falcons continue to quietly maintain an undefeated record despite a lack of national media attention. All that and more helped shape Sunday’s NFL action. Here are my Ten Takeaways from the Sunday that was. — Peter Schrager
Tebow's role with the Jets? Well, there is none.
Remember when the Jets demanded all media be removed from the practice field as they worked on their top-secret Tim Tebow package up in Cortland this summer? Well, we’re eight weeks into the season and we’re still waiting to see exactly what they were cooking up in Central New York that week. In the Jets’ 30-9 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, Tebow threw zero passes and ran just one ball for 2 yards. It’s beginning to look like Woody Johnson and the Jets’ PR staff already got what they wanted out of the Tebow trade last March—some tabloid headlines and a few more jerseys sold. He hasn’t played a significant role on the field for the Jets this season. Back covers of the New York Post? Sure, he’s done that. Helped the team improve from its unsatisfactory 2011 campaign? Not yet.
Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Ron Rivera all lost “must-win” games this week. What’s that mean? We shall see.
Reid, Turner, and Rivera all suffered bad losses on Sunday when they needed them most. In Reid’s case, the Eagles fell behind 14-0 at home early in a game against Atlanta and couldn’t dig out of the two-score hole. Defensive coordinator and 18-year Andy Reid lieutenant Juan Castillo was shown the door after the loss to the Lions two weeks ago. At 3-4 and losers of four straight, no job in Philly — Reid’s, Michael Vick’s, anybody’s — is 100% safe this week. Turner’s Chargers, meanwhile, have now lost two straight stomach-turning games and have been outscored by opponents 42-6 in their last six quarters. Rivera’s team, for the third time this season, coughed up a fourth-quarter lead in the final moments. At this rate, all three coaches could be on the hot seat at the end of the season… if not by the time you read this.
The Dolphins D is for real
I wrote about the Dolphins last week in my NFL Cheat Sheet column, noting that they were just two heartbreaking OT losses away from being a 5-1 squad. Well, make that a 6-1 team after Sunday’s dominant 30-9 win in New York. If the playoffs were to start today, the Dolphins would be one of the wild card teams out of the AFC and they’d be a team no opponent would want to face in the first round. With arguably the best front seven in the entire league, the Miami defense is 3rd in the NFL against the run and has not surrendered more than 21 points in a game since Week 1. Mark Sanchez was sacked 4 times and picked up the bulk of his 283 passing yards in garbage time on Sunday. Kevin Coyle’s defense is for real. Miami has winnable games against the Colts, Titans, Bills and Seahawks in their next four weeks. Get aboard the bandwagon. I’m driving it.
You can have your RGIII. Andrew Luck is my 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year
RGIII may get all the headlines, Russell Wilson may get all the media love, but Andrew Luck is my Offensive Rookie of the Year eight weeks into the 2012 season. The Colts — 2-14 a year ago — are 4-3 and winners of their last two games. Luck led the Colts on a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the final five minutes of Sunday’s 19-13 win over Tennessee. Facing a 3rd and 8 in the opening drive of overtime, Luck connected with Reggie Wayne to keep the game-winning drive alive. He got them into the end zone a few plays later. Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has led the Colts to a 4-3 record, the highest winning percentage (.571) by a rookie quarterback who was a No. 1 overall pick through Week 8 in NFL history. If the playoffs started today, the Colts would be in. Who saw that coming? No one. Luck’s the man.
The aging Steelers defense may have something left in the tank, after all
I erroneously wrote the Steelers D off two weeks ago. Sure enough, since that column, they’ve run off two straight victories against two high-powered offenses, with the D leading the way in both efforts. Robert Griffin III was held in check in Pittsburgh’s dominant 27-12 win on Sunday. Griffin completed just 16-of-34 passes for 177 yards, running for a career-low 8 yards on the ground. Pittsburgh’s D — a unit I called “old, hurt, and beleaguered” two weeks ago — has surrendered just 29 points in its last two games. The Steelers are 4-3 and are now winners of three of their last four. Make no mistake, the D — without Troy Polamalu in the lineup — has been the driving force.
The Patriots looked like the Patriots of old Sunday afternoon in London. Finally
It took eight weeks, but the Patriots finally looked like the team we thought they were going to be this season back in August. The offense was simmering and the defense was dominant against an overmatched young Rams team in London. After tough late-game losses to the Cardinals, Seahawks and Ravens, the Patriots gave up 13 straight points to the Jets’ 30th-ranked offense in their overtime win a week ago. Sunday’s effort marked New England’s first complete win of the season. Offense, defense and special teams were all up to the task in New England’s 45-7 win. Uneasy on the eyes for the first seven weeks of the season, the Patriots head into their bye week with a few good wins and the second-best record in the AFC.
Atlanta's doing unprecedented things this season. Does it matter?
With their 30-17 win in Philadelphia on Sunday, the 2012 Falcons became the first 7-0 team in franchise history. They’ve scored 23 points in each of their seven wins and they’ve got a four-game cushion in the NFC South standings. Matt Ryan’s having an MVP start to the year and the Falcons scored on their first six possessions on Sunday. But does any of it matter? Atlanta’s been good in the regular season before, but with an 0-3 record in the playoffs under Mike Smith, there will be skeptics regardless of what they do from September to December. This squad’s good. Are they great? We may need to wait a few months to really find out.
The Bears are finding ways to win the type of games they lost last year
Chicago went 8-8 a season ago and finished a game outside of the playoff picture. Of those eight losses, the Bears lost three straight games in Weeks 12-14 by less than seven points. Down 19-7 in the fourth quarter on Sunday versus the Panthers, it looked like the Bears would suffer their first home loss of the season. They didn’t. They found a way late, with quarterback Jay Cutler hitting Kellen Davis on a 12-yard scoring pass with just under seven minutes left and cornerback Tim Jennings converting a pick-6 on the very next play from scrimmage to cut the Panthers’ lead to 1. Four minutes later, Robbie Gould knocked the ball through the uprights from 41 yards out, sealing Chicago’s sixth win of the season. "No one played well. I didn't play well. Offensively, those first 3 1/2 quarters were just ugly,” Cutler said after the game. Guess what, Jay? It doesn’t matter when you win. We’re eight weeks through the season and Chicago’s got a two-game lead over the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North standings. Chicago’s legit.
Face it — the Giants just own the Cowboys in Jerry World
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck may have had the tweet of the day, tweeting, “I’m getting grey hair,” an hour after New York escaped a near all-time collapse in Dallas on Sunday. The Giants jumped out to a commanding 23-0 lead, trailed 24-23 midway through the fourth quarter, and came back to earn a 29-24 road victory in Dallas. Eli Manning and the Giants are now 4-0 all-time in Cowboys Stadium. With the win and losses from the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys on Sunday, New York now has an eerily comfortable three-game lead over its three division opponents in the NFC East standings. Manning now has 25 career fourth-quarter comebacks, including the playoffs. Three of those comebacks have come this season, including Sunday's against the Cowboys.
Matt Stafford had a 2011-like effort on Sunday. The Lions need that version every week.
Stafford — a 5,000-yard passer from a season ago — had his best game of the 2012 campaign on Sunday, going 34 of 49 for 352 yards with three passing TDs, while running a score in too. Most importantly, the Lions won. Stafford led a 16-play game-winning drive that started at Detroit's 20 with 5:27 remaining, and ended with a Titus Young touchdown reception. Detroit’s offense has struggled all season, but found its groove against a Seattle defense that entered the afternoon ranked in the top 10 in total defense, rushing defense and passing defense. The Lions converted first downs on 12 of 16 third downs. To make the playoffs in the top-heavy NFC this season, the Lions are going to need a top-flight offense led by the Stafford we saw on Sunday. Anything less simply won’t be enough.