JUDGE: Observations on Week 9 in the NFL

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Clark Judge

1. The season just ended in the AFC North. The Pittsburgh not only will win it, but they just became the conference favorite to gain homefield advantage. Sure, I know they¿re 5-3, but tell me another team that beats them between now and their Dec. 23 trip to Tampa. There¿s only one opponent — Atlanta — that has a winning record, and Pittsburgh gets the at home. With their next six opponents a combined 18-30, look for the to be favored in every game until late December. "If we play to the abilities we have," said safety Lee Flowers, "there¿s no team out there that can beat us." I¿m with you, Lee. Denver is close, but the are deeper and more talented. A year ago, an injury to complicated things down the stretch, but they not only won their last two without him they absolutely, positively dominated Cleveland — holding the ball for 42:10 and running off twice as many plays (85-42) as Cleveland. 2. Memo to Dallas Coach Dave Campo: It¿s time to start updating the resume. Campo dropped his second game in 10 weeks to Detroit¿s Marty Mornhinweg, and that¿s not good. Neither is this: He¿s lost to Houston, Seattle and Detroit this year, three of the league¿s worst teams. The three are a combined to 7-17. If Campo beat them he¿d be 6-3 and a half-game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East. But he didn¿t, and he¿s on schedule to finish just where he finished last season and the season before, which is 5-11 and going nowhere. Time to put Mayflower on the schedule, Dave. 3. And while we¿re on the subject, how much longer do the go on pretending they¿ve solved their quarterback problem and that each week is a step toward finding the next ? isn¿t the answer, just as wasn¿t the answer, and it¿s high time owner Jerry Jones recognizes the obvious. After Hutchinson lost two of three fumbles Sunday and was sacked five times, Jones said it reminded him of a 1989 game when Aikman was collared 11 times. He also said he was "pleased and proud" how Hutchinson played. Two problems here: 1) There is no comparison between Aikman and Hutchinson, and 2) there is nothing pleasing about scoring once in a loss to the . Dallas made a mistake when it drafted Carter a year ago, then tried to make him into a starter. The should cut their losses and draft another quarterback in April — and I know of a guy in Austin who might help. 4. New England traded away the right quarterback when it peddled away in April, and the evidence was in Buffalo on Sunday. That is not a knock on Bledsoe. The guy¿s having a wonderful season with Buffalo and is on target to throw for 5,000 yards. But there wasn¿t room for two good quarterbacks, and Bledsoe not only was older and making more money; he didn¿t lead the to a Super Bowl. In a salary-cap era you can¿t afford to keep two starting quarterbacks, so the had to make a choice ... and they chose a quarterback who Sunday came this close to a perfect afternoon, throwing for four touchdowns and a career-best 154.1 passer rating. 5. So New York Coach Jim Fassel is supposed to be in trouble, with those close to the team insisting that he could get canned if the club doesn¿t show appreciable signs of improvement. OK, fine, only I have one question: Why? He started the season with an offensive line that was as green as St. Patrick¿s Day and lost two significant contributors — defensive tackle and wide receiver — along the way. But this is what I like most about the Jim Must Go talk: In his 5-1/2 seasons with the he has a record of 48-39-1. Anyone know how Bill Parcells did over the same period of his time with the G-Men? I do. Try 48-39-1, the same as Fassel. 6. The Oakland , unbeaten only four weeks ago, not only won¿t make the playoffs; they may finish last in the AFC West. Here¿s a recommendation to avoid the collapse that looks all but inevitable: Put the ball in the hands of your playmakers and forget about trying to please and . After Sunday¿s loss, Brown declined to talk to reporters, and it¿s just as well. He had one catch and wasn¿t a factor. But that¿s the way it might have to be. is the third-best receiver on this team now, and he can¿t carry the load. and can, and the should start putting the ball in their hands. Porter is a terrific young receiver. Garner is one of the game¿s best and most overlooked backs. Just give them the damn ball. Oakland tried Sunday, and each scored. The should try harder the second half of the season. 7. When the New York made their first-round pick a year ago, critics suggested they reached too high for someone destined for special-teams duty. Uh, let¿s hear that one again, guys. The believed Moss could be a weapon, and let the record show that he¿s precisely what they thought. Moss has two punt returns for touchdowns in two weeks, and were it not for a tackle Sunday he would have three. The guy is quick, elusive and has game-breaking speed — and it¿s about time the start giving him the ball on offense, too. I don¿t know of many cornerbacks who can stay with him after the catch. 8. I couldn¿t remember who the actor was plays opposite Eddie Murphy in "I Spy." Then I saw his face on a billboard, and it came to me: Jon Gruden. 9. Buffalo cornerback never looked better than he did on Sunday ... and he didn¿t play. took his place, and he wasn¿t bad; he was awful, missing so often the finally pulled Watson in the second half. I don¿t get it: I thought Watson was a solid third cornerback, but the guy can¿t tackle ... or, at least, he couldn¿t Sunday. Antoinie Winfield, get well soon. Your team needs you. 10. The injury that shelved San Francisco wide receiver for three games is beginning to pay off for the club — and it has nothing to do with Stokes and everything to do with . Prior to the season the club hoped Streets, in the last year of a contract, would make a push to become the club¿s No. 2 pass catcher. Then the season began, and Streets did nothing ... until Stokes was injured in an Oct. 6 win over St. Louis. That opened the door for Streets, and he¿s taking advantage of the opportunity: Sunday¿s touchdown catch was his second of the year, and he¿s the team¿s third-leading receiver. 11. Whom are the San Diego trying to fool and why? They had the number ¿37¿ painted on the helmet that adorns the center of Qualcomm Stadium, and number 37 is — who, it just so happens, was suspended for Sunday¿s game. The professed innocence, saying it was to honor former special-teams ace Hank Bauer, but, c¿mon, guys, let¿s be straight here. Just tell it like it is. You only cause trouble by trying to con people who know better. If the idea was to honor Bauer why didn¿t anyone mention before the game, and why didn¿t Bauer know anything about it? Answer: Because it had nothing to do with him, that¿s why. Obviously, somebody thought it was a good idea to put Harrison¿s number on the helmet, but trying to sell it as something else reflects poorly on the organization. 12. You¿re down 10 points, and it¿s early in the third quarter. You have the ball fourth-and-2 at your opponent¿s 32. What do you do¿kick the field goal or go for the first down? Buffalo¿s Gregg Williams did neither, and I don¿t get it. I know missed two field goals in the first half, including a 25-yarder, but why punt when you¿re inside your opponent's 35? If you¿re not sold on the field goal, why not put the ball in the hands of or ? Williams didn¿t, calling for a punt that only went to the New England 17. Eight plays later, the had another touchdown. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Cowboys, Raiders, Patriots, Giants, Jets, 49ers, Steelers, Chargers, Antoine Winfield, Jerry Rice, Charlie Garner, Drew Bledsoe, Ike Hilliard, Santana Moss, Jerome Bettis, Darren Bennett, Chad Hutchinson

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