Judgements: Here comes the litmus test for New England


That was too easy for New England, but now … yep, now comes the hard part. It starts next week with Manning-Brady XVI, the first in a five-week grind for the Patriots where their opponents are, in order, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego — teams with a combined record of 27-12. Worse, three of the five games (Indianapolis, Green Bay and San Diego) are on the road where the Pats are 2-2. They’re 4-0 at home. “We’re a team on a mission,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said. They have no choice. Not now, they don’t.

2. On behalf of Patriots’ fans everywhere, let me say, “Thank you, Kansas City.” Since the Chiefs hammered them, New England is on a four-game tear, outscoring opponents by a score of 158-87, averaging 39.5 points per game and unleashing Tom Brady — the guy some idiots wanted benched. Brady has been Tom Terrific the past four games, with 14 TD passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 129.05.

3. With all the buzz surrounding Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, we’ve forgotten that Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger quietly is having one of the best stretches of his career. Over his last six games, he’s thrown 15 touchdown passes, with just one interception; completed 70 percent of his passes and on Sunday completed the best day of his career (six TD passes for 522 yards).

4. So much for that Indianapolis defense. I haven’t seen that many holes since Sonny Corleone bought it in “The Godfather.”

5. That victory should convince you Arizona is legit. The Cards are an NFL-best 13-3 over their last 16 games, including a defeat of Seattle in Seattle. Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced they’re the team to beat in the NFC West. All I know is we find out the next month when they meet Dallas next weekend, Detroit on Nov. 16 and Seattle … in Seattle … on Nov. 23.

6. No, I’m not buying the Lions because I still don’t trust Matt Stafford. My guess is they get exposed in consecutive road trips when they go to Arizona Nov. 16 and New England Nov. 23.

7. OK, so it was Tampa Bay. But what I like about what Minnesota’s OT win was Teddy Bridgewater’s performance on that game-tying drive late in the fourth period. He was 5 for 8 for 54 yards, but, more than that, he was poised under pressure.

8. I feel so much better about the Jets knowing they’re in the hands of Michael Vick.

9. Poor Rex Ryan. He still insists the Jets are “close.”  Close to what, Rex?

10. Congratulations to the NFC South. Not only is every team under .500, but only New Orleans (+11) has a positive point-differential. The rest of the division? Try a combined –160.

11. Now playing at a theater near you: “Mike Smith and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Detroit didn’t win that game; the Falcons lost it, and the Lions should’ve awarded a game ball to Smith.

12. Bad enough that Atlanta blew the game down the stretch. But let’s look at that last series of the first half when the Falcons had the ball at their 18, 1:14 was left and Detroit was on its heels, down 21-0. Smith ran out the clock. Repeat: Ran out the clock. This, folks, is how you lose 19 of your last 25 regular-season games.

13. And then there’s this: That was Atlanta’s 12th loss in its last 13 games outside the Georgia Dome. Any way you cut it, Mike Smith should be on the hot seat.

14. Lamarr Houston, shame on you. You’re down by 25, and you’re celebrating a sack? Please. That knee injury was your body telling you what your mind did not. Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch did the same thing earlier this season. “Those who don’t remember the past,” George Santayana once wrote,” are condemned to repeat it.” Houston is the proof.

15. I can only guess that Pittsburgh somehow got its dates wrong, thought Sunday was Halloween and dressed its players up as bumblebees.

16, The critics were right: Larry Fitzgerald has lost it.

17. Talk about perfect timing. The Packers’ bye comes at just the right time, giving Aaron Rodgers two weeks to heal a hamstring injury that won’t allow Green Bay fans to relax.

18. Operator, get me Phil Emery. Tell him I want to know why it was such a good idea for the Bears to lock Jay Cutler down to a seven-year deal.

19. ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson says he likes Percy Harvin’s chances of making it with the Jets because he’s with “a players’ coach” in Rex Ryan. So what would you call Pete Carroll, Key? C’mon, man!

20. If we’re choosing a mid-season Coach of the Year, Arizona’s Bruce Arians gets my vote.

FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES

1. New England TE Rob Gronkowski. He had nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns … before leaving midway through the third quarter with dehydration. Gronkowski has 13 multiple-touchdown games the past five years, and if that sounds like a lot it’s because it is. Nobody else has more.

2. Houston RB Arian Foster. He scores by running the ball. He scores by catching the ball. He runs for 151 yards and leads Houston to a lopsided defeat of overwhelmed Tennessee. The game marked the 31st time Foster ran for 100 or more yards, tying him with Priest Holmes for the most by an undrafted player. If he’s healthy … and that’s a big IF … there’s no better back than Arian Foster.

3. Minnesota LB Anthony Barr. Not only does he force a fumble in OT; he recovers the ball and returns it for the game-winning TD, sparing Minnesota a second straight heartbreaking loss.

4. New Orleans RB Mark Ingram. New Orleans needed a big game from him, and the Saints got it. Ingram became the first Saints’ running back to run for 100 yards this season, hitting 172 and scoring a touchdown in a’ critical defeat of Green Bay.

5. Arizona CB Antonio Cromartie. The Cardinals don’t win without his two interceptions. He makes his first interception in the end zone, thwarting a Philadelphia scoring drive. He makes his second at mid-field, setting up the Cards at the Philadelphia 40. That one leads to a field goal. So he’s responsible for at least six points, meaning … yep, meaning he kept the Cardinals from circling the drain.

FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES

1. Atlanta center James Stone. In his first start, he played pretty well. Unfortunately, this isn’t about a body of work. It’s about a stupid holding call in the last two minutes when Detroit didn’t have a timeout. Stone’s penalty killed the clock and began a chain of mistakes that resulted in one of the season’s most unforgivable collapses.

2. Philadelphia S Nate Allen. He bites on John Brown’s double move, and it costs him. No, it costs the Philadelphia Eagles — with John Brown getting behind Allen to haul in a game-winning 75-yard TD. When you’re protecting a three-point lead, you’re a safety and there’s just over a minute left … how do you let someone get behind you?

3. New York Jets QB Geno Smith. Three interceptions in one quarter equals one bad quarterback. Don’t blame Rex Ryan for Geno. Blame GM John Idzik. There’s a reason Smith lasted until the second round and a reason Rex no longer knows who to start at the most important position. Smith and backup Michael Vick both stink.

4. Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins. You do not celebrate a TD before you score one. Repeat: YOU DO NOT CELEBRATE A TD BEFORE YOU SCORE ONE. My guess: Watkins gets the message after celebrating what should’ve been an 89-yard TD … but what was instead an 84-yard catch after he was caught from behind. “I don’t expect a guy like Sammy to do that again,” said coach Doug Maronne. Let’s hope not.

5. Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles. He threw one more touchdown passe to Miami (two) than he did his own receivers. “I’m killing us,” he said later. No,he’s not. His team stinks. Still, that’s 12 interceptions for Bortles this season, and that’s after missing the first two games. Ouch.

WHAT WOULD LOMBARDI DO?

You’re up by two. There’s 1:55 left, and you’re at your opponent’s 39-yard line. It’s second-and-9, and good news: Your opponent has no timeouts left. So W.W.L.D.? Win, of course. He’d take what his opponent gives him … namely, the clock … and run as much time off it as he could while taking a minimum of risks. Translation: Take two kneeldowns. Too bad Mike Smith wasn’t paying attention for Atlanta. He called a run, his center held, the clock stopped and the rest you know. It’s hard to forgive Smith and his coaching staff for going brain-dead in a game they had all but clinched.

ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR

1. Houston DE J.J. Watt. It’s not the two sacks that I’d liked most, nor his forced fumble or pass breakup. Nope, it was his mocking Tennessee rookie Zach Mettenberger with a “selfie” gesture following his second sack. Mettenberger posted photographs of himself last week and before Sunday’s game, and Watt didn’t like it. “It’s just kind of a reminder,” Watt said. “This is the National Football League; not high school.” He’s right, of course. He usually is.

2. New England QB Tom Brady. A month ago, angry Patriots’ fans wanted him benched. Now, they wonder if he can play better than he did Sunday when hit 30 of 35 passes, with all but one of his misses drops. Oh, yeah, he also threw five TD passes in what losing coach Marc Trestman called a “meticulous” performance.

3. Philadelphia WR Jeremy Maclin. He has 12 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns in a loss at Arizona, but don’t blame Maclin. Blame a Philadelphia defense that couldn’t hold when it absolutely, positively had to (see Nate Allen).

4. Arizona QB Carson Palmer. There aren’t many quarterbacks who can make that game-winning 75-yard TD pass to John Brown. I swear, every time I see Palmer do something like this I wonder how … no, why … Oakland let him go for next to nothing.

5. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. There are few young quarterbacks I trust more to make fourth-quarter comebacks than this guy, and you just saw why. On the game-winning drive vs. Carolina, he was 4-for-4 for 53 yards — including the game-winning TD — and ran for another 19 yards.

THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. He shredded the league’s third-ranked defense, hitting 40 of 49 passes, and put up a career-best six TD passes for 522 yards en route to beating an opponent that not only was riding a five-game Indianapolis winning streak but pitched a shutout vs. Cincinnati last weekend Let’s just say Big Ben was better … a lot better … than those ghastly throwback uniforms the Steelers wore. Again.

THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE

“We’re not a bad football team. We just do stupid stuff.” — N.Y. Jets wide receiver Eric Decker.

WALL-OF-FAME NUMBERS

0 —Punts in the Green Bay-New Orleans game

3 — Straight games with T.Y. Hilton having a catch of 45 or more yards

4 — Times a tight end scored three times in one game this season

6 — Times this season a team has overcome a 17-point deficit to win

19 — Straight New England wins in October

24-84 — Atlanta vs. opponents in the fourth quarter

36 — Nick Foles’ completions, a franchise record for Philadelphia

119 — Matt Stafford career TD passes, a Lions’ record

142.8 — Kyle Orton passer rating

2005 — Last time Jets lost seven straight

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