By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Make way for … New Orleans? You heard me. The Saints are Aints no more, winning their last three – two of them vs. division winners – with Sunday’s last-second defeat of the Giants the exclamation point. But forget about the past. Look at the future. The Saints’ next three opponents are, in order, Tennessee, Washington and Houston – teams with a combined record of 7-15. So it’s not only not inconceivable to think New Orleans moves to 7-4; it’s altogether likely, especially with Drew Brees playing like Drew Brees again.
2. One problem: Like virtually everyone else, the Saints have a hole … and theirs is significant. It’s called defense. New Orleans doesn’t play it.
3. You gotta believe. There’s no underestimating the significance of Cincinnati’s come-from-behind defeat of Pittsburgh. First of all, it all but clinched the AFC North. Second, it was the Bengals’ fourth straight road win – tying the franchise record for the best in-season road streak. Third, it makes them 7-0 for the first time in franchise history. But fourth, and most important, the Bengals conquered a nemesis – beating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers by rallying late. A signature victory? You bet. But so was that come-from-behind defeat in Baltimore earlier this year, and so was the defeat of Seattle three weeks ago. It’s almost enough to convince you that, yes, these Bengals can … and will … win in January. I said almost.
4. Here’s the problem I have with Pittsburgh’s loss: You’re up 10-6 with under six minutes left, right? So why in the world have Ben Roethlisberger throwing? Your defense demonstrated it can stop Andy Dalton. So trust it and don’t risk the turnover.
5. The more you see of Oakland … and the more you see of the AFC … the idea of the Raiders as a wildcard doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. Outside of division leaders, there are only two AFC teams with winning records — the Raiders and the team they just beat, the Jets.
6. Everyone asks about New England going 16-0, but what about Denver? Of the Broncos’ remaining opponents, only three (New England, Oakland and Cincinnati) have winning records, and Denver plays all three at home — where it just handcuffed Aaron Rodgers, holding him to a career-low 77 yards passing.
7. Dallas hasn’t won without Tony Romo (0-5) but no problem. The Cowboys play in a division where there are no winners. So, bad as the Cowboys have been, they’re only one-and-a-half games behind front-running New York. Translation: Everything and everyone is in play in the NFC East.
8. It’s official: Derek Carr has arrived. It’s one thing to burn a porous San Diego defense. But the Jets? Make Carr a buyer, not a renter in Oakland.
9. Good thing the Jets had a long flight home. Todd Bowles could take his time teaching his team how to tackle.
10. Beware, St. Louis. The Rams play defense, can beat you with Todd Gurley and can beat you with Tavon Austin. If Nick Foles cuts down on mistakes, the Rams are a legitimate playoff threat.
11. That sound you hear is the clock ticking on Mike McCoy’s career. Not only did the Chargers just lose their fourth straight – and to a 1-6 opponent, no less – but they’re 3-9 over their last 12 games. Yeah, OK, so they have injuries. Who doesn’t?
12. The clock’s ticking on Colin Kaepernick, too, and I’ll be honest: I can’t see him with the 49ers more than another season … tops.
13. When the Baltimore Ravens said Sunday that Steve Smith was “doubtful” to return, did they mean ever?
14. If, in fact, that is Smith’s last appearance, I’m just glad he cracked the Top 10 in all-time receiving yards. He passed Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter Sunday.
15. From the Believe-It-or-Don’t Department: The San Diego Chargers have eight punt returns this season for a grand total of … one yard. You heard me. One.
16. Memo to Jim Caldwell: That’s what happens when you fire Vince Lombardi’s grandson.
17. So the Texans had seven sacks and three takeaways. It’s Tennessee, people, and the Titans have 36 points their past four games … or .6 points more than New England averages per start.
18. Not sure who should be in more trouble – Chuck or John Pagano.
19. I’m sorry, I thought I just heard Fox broadcasters refer to Larry Fitzgerald as “a Hall-of-Fame receiver.” You know something? I did. Slow down, guys.
20. That Giants’ loss reminds me of when they punted to Brian Westbrook with just over a minute left in 2003. And he burned them. And when they punted to DeSean Jackson late in a 2010 game, he burned them. When there are 20 seconds left, why not punt the ball out of bounds? That should be your only option. George Santayana was right: Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
21. If defense wins championships, the Packers are in trouble. Philip Rivers threw for 503 yards against them two weeks ago, and Denver just gashed them for 500 more — including 160 yards rushing. Put them together, and you have a defense you cannot trust in big games. Meaning? Meaning maybe, just maybe, Carolina is the team to beat in the NFC. We find out next weekend when the Panthers and Packers meet.
22. First, Greg Hardy goes wacko on the sidelines. Now Dez Bryant goes wacko in the locker room. This isn’t a football team. It’s a reality TV show.
23. Hot-lanta it’s not. The Falcons can’t win because their quarterback’s in a slump. Once, Matt Ryan and the Falcons scored in bunches, but they’ve put up 51 the past three weeks – and all against opponents with losing records. Worse, they lost two of them – with a 10-7 defeat of lowly Tennessee and Zach Mettenberger the only win. The Falcons averaged 32.4 points the first five weeks; they average 17 the past three, and look no farther than Ryan. Over his last four starts, he has three more turnovers (8) than touchdown passes (5).
24. Here’s the difference in Peyton Manning and the Broncos: In 2013 he opened the season with seven TD passes vs. Baltimore. This season he has seven TD passes in seven games. Period. Now, here’s what didn’t change: In both seasons he won his first six starts.
25. That’s two straight weeks opponents failed to score on Seattle, but let’s not get carried away. It came at the expense of Colin Kaepernick and Matt Cassel, and, OK, so a win is a win is a win. But San Francisco hasn’t found the end zone in two weeks, and Dallas lost its last five starts.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAME
(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
Arizona QB Carson Palmer. He throws for four touchdowns – three in the second half – to rally Arizona to a 34-20 defeat of Cleveland, with Arizona scoring the last 31 points. The win makes Palmer 19-4 as a starter with the Cards.
Atlanta WR Julio Jones. He runs the length of the field to tackle Kwon Alexander after an apparent first-quarter interception. So what? So his teammates quit on the play, convinced it would be brought back by penalty – which it was. Nevertheless, Jones ran the length of the field, never quitting, to catch Alexander at the Atlanta 11 … and I like it. Oh, yeah, I also like Jones’ 12 catches for 162 yards.
N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. Don’t blame him for the loss. He can’t play defensive back. He did what he could to keep the Giants ahead of New Orleans, throwing for a career-best six touchdowns in a 52-49 loss.
Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater. He leads Minnesota to another come-from-behind victory and, more importantly, wins his fifth game in sixth starts. Don’t look now, people, but the Vikings are 5-2.
Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. There is no assistant having a better season. Denver is the No. 1 defense for a reason. It attacks the pocket and snuffs receivers … as Green Bay just discovered. Aaron Rodgers had a career-low 77 yards before taking a Discount Double Checkout in the fourth quarter — retiring to the sideline for the Packers’ last series.
Oakland DB Charles Woodson. That was his NFL-high fifth interception over the past five weeks, and so what? So he’s 39. The guy defies logic, reason and time.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAME
(Marshawn Lynch photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch. When you’re set up inside the Cowboys’ 10, they have no timeouts and there are just over two minutes left you do not … repeat: DO NOT … run out of bounds. Talk about stupid. With the move, Lynch gave Dallas an extra 40 seconds to play with — not smart when the Cowboys have the league’s most accurate kicker. Lucky for Lynch, the Cowboys also have a quarterback who can’t win.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. That makes him 2-5 in games immediately following injuries, and he has no one to blame but himself. His second interception leads to Cincinnati’s go-ahead TD, and his third helps the Bengals clinch the win. “This one’s on me,” he said afterward. He’s right.
San Diego DB Steve Williams. He picked one heckuva time to commit pass interference: Third-and-19 from the Baltimore 42? You gotta be kidding. But that’s how it’s been lately for the Bolts. Bad teams find ways to lose, and the Chargers are a bad football team.
N.Y. Giants P Brad Wing. He not only punts to the middle of the field, risking a big return, but then commits the penalty that leads to the Saints’ game-winning field goal. Don’t tell me punters don’t make a difference. This one just did.
Tennessee QB Zach Mettenberger. I know, he’s a backup. But given the chance to prove he can make it in this league, he’s flopped. Make him 0-for-9 as a starter.
Anyone with the Jets’ defense. Pass the message: It’s called tackle football for a reason, guys. Maybe the Jets should worry more about the bugs in their defense than in New England.
THIS WEEK’S CANTON NOMINEE
New Orleans QB Drew Brees. All he did was throw for 511 yards, miss ten of 50 passing attempts and produce one less touchdown pass in one game (7) than he had all season (8), tying an NFL record. Welcome back, Drew.
SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“Offense. Defense. Special teams. No matter what it is. It hurts to lose.” – N.Y. Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
4 – Straight 100-yard rushing games for Todd Gurley
8 – San Diego players who left with first-half injuries
13 – Sacks of Matt Stafford the past two weeks
50 – Sebastian Janikowski career field goals of 50 or more yards
51-12 – Oakland in the first half vs. its last two opponents
65 – Charles Woodson career interceptions, tying him for fifth best all-time
186 — Career regular-season wins for Aaron Rodgers, tying Brett Favre for an NFL high
300 – Drew Brees’ passing yards … in the first half
614 — Yards allowed by the Giants, their most since 1943
1,030 – Combined yards in Giants-Saints game