Sunday’s key moment came courtesy of the replay booth. With Pittsburgh trailing Miami 22–20, Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted a quarterback sneak from the Miami 2-yard line, fumbling as he broke the plane. The refs signaled touchdown, but the replay booth saw a fumble. The trouble was, after the TD call, the refs quit watching and were unable to determine who had recovered the ball — even though Dolphin linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis emerged from the scrum holding the pigskin aloft. Pittsburgh retained possession — after referee Gene Steratore delivered the news to an impatient South Florida crowd via a cumbersome oral dissertation — and kicked the winning field goal with 2:26 left. While it may be tempting to blame the officiating — Miami linebacker Channing Crowder deadpanned that, “The refs called a wonderful game — for the Steelers” — the Dolphins have only themselves to blame. Miami started its first two possessions at the Steelers' 22- and 13-yard lines within the first 1:58 of the game but had to settle for field goals in falling to 0–3 at home. “There’s not going to be an asterisk next to the third loss,” Crowder said. “Who cares? Good call, bad call, I don’t know the rules. But we should’ve won. We never should have been in that situation. To put it in the ref’s hands was our fault.”
Eagles 37, Eagles 19
You read that right. The game goes into the books as a win for the Titans, and an important one at that, but the Eagles beat themselves up and down LP Field on Sunday. Philly kept Tennessee’s first touchdown drive alive with a third-down roughing the passer call, and later bailed out the Titans from the shadow of their own goal-line with an interference call on another scoring drive. Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb fumbled at the Titans 3-yard line with Philly threatening to take a 23–7 lead in the third quarter. In all, the Eagles turned the ball over four times and were penalized 10 times — mostly in critical situations — for 100 yards. Most glaringly, late-night miscreant Kenny Britt spent the afternoon virtually uncovered on his way to the best receiving day in the NFL this season, catching seven balls for 225 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles stuck with the brilliant plan of letting him get open and then not tackling him. The Eagles somehow turned a 19–10 fourth-quarter lead into a 37–19 loss, allowing 27 fourth-quarter points via every imaginable method. Andy Reid, of all people, turned in the worst performance by a head coach on Sunday, although his players share plenty of blame. “For a guy to continually catch the ball over and over, then we’ve got to do things better from a coaching standpoint,” Reid said of Britt’s performance. “Obviously, the players need to do some things better, too.”
Hall of Fame
We all know that the Bears’ swashbuckling (read: erratic) quarterback likes to take chances, but this is ridiculous. Jay Cutler kept chucking the ball downfield, and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall kept picking it off — four times in all, with a 92-yard return for a third-quarter touchdown providing the only points of the second half in Washington’s 17–14 win. The worst part? If the Bears’ insanely stubborn field general had it to do over, he wouldn’t change a thing. “I’ve played against him before,” Cutler said. “There’s no reason to shy away from him. I mean, that’s hard for me to say throwing four picks to the guy, but I still think if we had to play him tomorrow, I’d go after him every time.” Uh, okay.
List of Problems a Mile High
It was an AFC West rivalry game, but instead an old AFL-style mismatch broke out. The Raiders abused and humiliated the Broncos 59–14 in Denver, setting a franchise record for points and starting the clock on the Josh McDaniels death watch. It was 38–0 midway through the second quarter as the Raiders ran at will through Denver’s matador front wall and turned turnovers into touchdowns. On the day, Darren McFadden amassed 165 rushing yards and three scores on only 16 carries to lead a rushing attack that piled up 328 yards. “We get one chance a week to put our name on something for the three hours we play and coach on Sunday and our name is going to be forever put on this game,” said McDaniels, who is 4–13 since starting 6–0 last season. “None of us are proud of it, but we’re a part of it, and those of us who are a part of the problem are also going to have to be a part of the solution.” Yeah, that has to be comforting for Denver fans.
Brett’s Bitter Swan Song
It’s been a tough week for Brett Favre. Dogged by sexual harassment allegations, lampooned on Saturday Night Live, Favre hoped for a bit of redemption in what could be his final appearance at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. Instead, Favre threw three second-half picks in Minnesota’s 28–24 loss to the Packers and had a possible winning touchdown erased by replay. “It’s devastating,” Favre said. “I don’t know how else to put it. I take a lot of pride and ownership in all phases of the game. You’ve got the ball in your hand, you hope to win those. You just feel like you let everybody down.” Well, at least your coach has your back. Oh, wait — Brad Childress tossed Favre under a passing Greyhound, then backed over him for good measure. “You can’t throw it to them, you’ve got to play within the confines of our system,” Childress said, referring to a key Desmond Bishop pick-six. “Sometimes it’s OK to punt the football. You can’t give seven points going the other way, not in a game like this.” At this point, Favre has to be wondering how the weather is in Kiln, Miss., and why he ever left.
Eli Manning hopes to have his name in the Giants’ Ring of Honor one day in the distant future. His name already is in the visiting locker room at Cowboys Stadium, or was until it was painted over.
Manning reiterated again this week that he meant no disrespect to the Cowboys by leaving his autograph on a wall at the stadium. He said a locker room attendant asked him to sign the wall in the attendants’ private dressing room in the visiting locker room.
“A lot of different teams in opposing locker room, assistants have players sign the wall,” Manning explained. “I’ve done it at a lot of different places around the NFL, and I thought they were starting a new tradition. So it will be interesting to see if anybody else has signed the wall, or if I’m the only one, or if they erased it.”
“It’s not like I was trying to do anything disrespectful to their new stadium by any means.”
After the Giants beat the Cowboys 33–31 in the debut of the $1.2 billion stadium, Manning left the score, his autograph and “First win in the New Stadium” behind on the wall.
The Cowboys quickly painted over the signature.
Cowboys Stadium hosts Super Bowl XLV in February. The NFC team will be the home team, and Manning was asked if he might leave behind his signature in the home team’s locker room if the Giants win the big one.
He didn’t laugh at the question.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’d like to be there, but I wouldn’t want to disrespect the Cowboys or their new stadium.”
Manning led the Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLII in 2007, winning MVP honors. His 2010 Giants are playing as well as any team in the NFC so far.
“I think we’ve done some good things,” Manning said. “We’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, and that’s what you like to see.”
Barber becomes “situational” back
Marion Barber has seen his carries diminish, but the Cowboys still view his role as a big one. Barber has become a ceremonial starter, with Felix Jones getting most of the carries.
Jones has 29 carries for 141 yards the past two games, while Barber has 16 carries for 50 yards.
“Marion is our starter. He has been,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “They’re both really important to us. I just don’t see any reason to change it [and have Jones start].”
Barber now is the team’s short-yardage and third down back.
“I’m just ready to play, man,” Barber said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’m going to do. … Carries were never an issue. It’s just about winning these games. However they feel we can do that, we’ve got to do that.”
Barber had five short-yard opportunities in Sunday’s 24–21 loss to the Vikings, and he converted all five. After going only 12-of-21 on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to gain for the first down in 2009, Barber is 9-of-9 this season, according to STATS, Inc.
Eighteen of his 52 carries have gone for first downs, with that 34.6 percentage ranking third in the NFL.
“I never lost [his short-yardage mojo],” said Barber, who is 70-of-103 in his career in short-yardage situations on third or fourth down. “They have put me in that situation. I just try to make the best out it every time I’m in it.”
Barber, who began his career as the closer behind Julius Jones, has never had a 1,000-yard season. Twice, he has gained more than 900 yards. Injuries the past two seasons — a dislocated toe in 2008 and a left knee injury in 2009 — slowed him down.
“You set personal goals for yourself,” Barber said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about winning games, and as a player you have to remain healthy.”
The Cowboys signed Barber to a seven-year, $45 million deal in 2008. He is the team’s sixth-highest paid player this season at $9.9 million. His contract is what made a trade impossible despite rumors of a potential deal with Green Bay earlier this week. His contract also is what could get him released after this season.
“You can’t worry about that,” Barber said. “You have to live for today. I’m just focused on helping this team get a win next week.”
• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has taken every offensive snap. He raised his passer rating to 69.3. His record at home is 3–1, and he will try to earn his first road win Sunday at Tampa Bay.
• Browns cornerback Eric Wright allowed two more touchdown passes last week against the Steelers. He is tied for the league lead with five touchdown passes allowed this season, according to STATS, Inc. Wright has been targeted by opposing quarterbacks 37 times this season, giving up 25 catches for 402 yards and the five scores. As a team, Cleveland has allowed 11 passing touchdowns, putting them on pace to give up 29 this season.
• The Cowboys have 49 penalties for 404 yards, putting them on pace for 157 penalties and 1,293 penalty yards. That would rank second in NFL history in both categories behind the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs, who were penalized 158 times for 1,304 yards. The Cowboys have had 24 players penalized. They have had 17 pre-snap penalties and three post-play penalties.
• Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick combined for five 100-plus passer-rating performances in the six games. The most 100-plus rating games in a season by the Eagles during the Andy Reid era is nine, by Donovan McNabb in 2004. McNabb and Jeff Garcia combined for eight in 2006.
• Pittsburgh quarterbacks have been sacked nine times in five games after getting sacked 50 times last season. Twice this season — vs. Tampa Bay and vs. Cleveland — the Steelers have allowed no sacks.
• The 49ers travel to Charlotte, N.C., for a game against the Panthers this weekend. They then leave for London for a game against the Broncos. San Francisco is 0–2 in games that start at 10 a.m. (PST).
• The Broncos drafted Tim Tebow to be a quarterback, but he is being used as a Wildcat-kind-of player. With Kyle Orton entrenched as the starter, Tebow has become a situational player. Tebow was involved in nine plays last week, handing off three times to Correll Buckhalter on option plays. The former Florida star carried six other times for 23 yards, including a five-yard touchdown that was his first NFL score. Tebow will have to be given a chance to throw his first NFL pass if Denver continues to use him in sub-packages.
• The Texans, under Gary Kubiak, are 7–2 against the AFC West. They have a five-game winning streak against AFC teams.
• Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel scored the 10th touchdown of his career. He is the first player since 1934 to have 10 or more receptions, all for touchdowns. Vrabel has 12 catches in regular and postseason games, and all 12 were touchdowns.
• Minnesota has a six-game road losing streak since beating the Packers 38–26 last Nov. 11 at Lambeau Field.
• In six-plus quarters with Max Hall at quarterback, the Cardinals have scored only one touchdown. That came on a two-yard fumble return by offensive tackle Levi Brown.
• One of Chan Gailey’s first changes after he was named head coach of the Bills was to switch the defense to a 3-4 scheme. The Bills, though, were built to play a 4-3, making them ill-equipped to make the switch. End Dwan Edwards (Ravens) and linebacker Andra Davis (Browns, Broncos) were the only players Buffalo added in the offseason who have familiarity with the scheme. Gailey now realizes his mistake, and the Bills began the transition back to the 4-3 last week against the Jets.
• Falcons receiver Roddy White leads the NFC and ranks third overall with 43 receptions. He is averaging 91.0 yards per game. White ranks fourth on the Falcons’ all-time receiving list with 5,235 yards.
• Bills rookie C.J. Spiller is leading the league with 24 kickoff returns and 630 yards. Spiller’s average of 26.3 yards is tied for second among players who have at least 20 returns.
• Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham has 22 catches and is on pace to break the team rookie record for receptions. Cris Collinsworth had 67 in 1981. Gresham projects to 70.
• Bengals receiver Terrell Owens has faced Atlanta 14 times and has 64 catches for 969 yards and 11 touchdowns, which is his second most against any team.
• Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, a second-round pick, had one carry for four yards against Dallas last week and has been a non-factor in the offense. He has only 33 yards on 10 carries this season.
• The Patriots are continuing to figure out all the ways they can use running back Danny Woodhead. Woodhead has excelled as the team’s change-of-pace back, with 141 rushing yards and a 6.4 yard-per-carry average in only three games with New England.