Tuesday Morning Double-Back

Aaron Rodgers? Meet the ground.

Go Fins Go!

In a game I had low expectations going into, I was pleasantly surprised to find my defense playing the best game of the year against a hot Bengals offense. We gave up some plays, but we kept pace, driving it to overtime and then backing Andy Dalton all the way down to his own endzone…and down IN his own endzone, courtesy of Cameron Wake. I’m sure my neighbors were concerned about the screaming coming from my room after that play.

Now, if this ugly business with Johnathan Martin, Richie Incognito and others yet unnamed doesn’t derail us, we might actually get on a roll. One step forward…more than one step backwards?

What We Learned On Sunday

As we do every week, our expectations are met and dashed on a game-by-game basis. With plenty of matchups that didn’t scream “playoff implications”, a handful of teams made cases to the contrary.

No team made as big of a statement as the Jets. Coming off of a hideous performance against Cincinnati, this was a team who truly showed their grit by harassing one of the league’s best offenses for 60 minutes. It was close, always close, but you got the feeling in the early stages of the 2nd half that the Saints weren’t going to find a way past an inspired, previously embarrassed defense that were out to prove themselves. They did just that, but can they keep doing it and drag a still-progressing offense into the playoffs?

The Patriots took one of the best rivalries of the past decade and turned it on its head. What looked like a competitive game for about two quarters turned into a slaughter soon after, and the Patriots offense finally seemed to take flight while racking up 55 points, three receivers with over 100 yards and a TD apiece, and Tom Brady playing like the Tom Brady we’re more accustomed to seeing. This Steelers team, as I’ve been saying all year, simply doesn’t have the youth and the talent needed to compete with the big dogs. Their season is essentially over, despite a rather bland NFC North…

…where the Browns beat the Ravens for the first time in seven years. Whatever is wrong in Baltimore, it extends so far past the inconsistent play of big-money QB Joe Flacco that fans need to stop honing in on him as the scapegoat. This is a team that can’t block, can’t run the ball, and can scrape on defense but isn’t capable of winning games defensively like they once were. The Browns, on the other hand, have a defense that needs to be taken far more seriously than they are right now. Playoff-caliber, for sure. The offense? Not so much, but at least Jason Campbell isn’t as bad as Brandon Weeden.

The Chiefs continue to roll, despite a rocky offensive performance. Their defense is the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. Honestly, it is. You can’t point to a weakness, or a position group that doesn’t contain at least two players who are performing at an All-Pro level. So long as Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles keep the offense on the field long enough for the other half to catch their breath, this team can beat anyone.

Did the Cowboys really need a last-minute drive to beat the lowly Vikings? In typical form, Owner/GM/nitwit Jerry Jones was quoted after the game as saying “There are no 1-7 teams in the NFL”. Yes their are, Jerry, and your team almost lost to one. Denial isn’t going to change the fact that your squad consistently plays up and down to the level of their competition. The NFC East is still wide open, especially considering…

…that the Eagles and Redskins both won this week. The former won by absolutely decimating an Oakland team that seemed determined to ignore the man-coverage other teams have utilized to slow down Chip Kelly’s offensive attack. Nick Foles, technically speaking, had the best performance a QB has ever had, throwing seven touchdowns and posting a perfect QB rating in the process. Credit to him and his offense, but he should send a ‘thank you’ card to Dennis Allen for the poor defensive scheming.

The Redskins won a rather bizarre overtime game against the Chargers, who continue to lose games they should win and vice-versa. Or do they? This isn’t a bad team in Washington, not by a long shot, and their defense is slowly starting to figure things out while their offense is back at the pace they need to maintain going forward.

As I said, the Cowboys need to watch their backs. Hell, the Giants didn’t even play this week and somehow they’re still a threat.

I really, really like what the Panthers are doing. I don’t like that it took the Titans so long to beat a lesser Rams team. Why were the Seahawks down 21-0 early to the winless Buccaneers? If I were a man who believed such things, I’d almost say they did it on purpose just to prove a point. That point being? They can let a team beat them…and then turn around and beat them, all in the same game.

What We Learned On Sunday Night

What overshadowed an incredibly well played game by the Texans cannot be ignored: today it was confirmed that Houston head coach Gary Kubiak suffered a slight stroke while walking into the locker rooms at halftime. While the game’s outcome was less than the Texans wanted, I certainly wish Kubiak a full and healthy recovery.

The Colts are now the class of the AFC South. No disputing it, no ignoring it. Andrew Luck strolled down for another late win like he’s been doing most of his career. Dude has ice in his veins. This team is going places. Postseason places.

A personal thank you to Andre Johnson for the 40 fantasy points. 200+ yards and three touchdowns almost, ALMOST, makes up for a season of inconsistent play. But it got me a win in one of my leagues, and if I could, I’d send him a ‘thank you’ card along with a ‘get well soon’ card to forward to Kubiak.

Oh, and in case nobody has noticed, the Trent Richardson trade has been a 100% win for the Browns so far.

What We Learned On Monday Night

This game seemed to give us more questions than answers, the main one being ‘How bad is Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder?’. The hit he took looked fairly bad, being driven into the hard, cold Lambeau ground left shoulder-first. A dislocation, collarbone break, some sort of tear…we’ll know more later today, I’m sure, but as of right now, this team’s entire season is hinging on whether or not Rodgers comes back to his neighborhood before someone else in the NFC North gets too far ahead of them.

Will it be the Bears? I doubt it. Yes, they played a great game, maximizing their run game while giving Josh (Luke) McNown(McCown, or is that reversed?) enough space to work with. The defense had some key turnovers, and overall they put forth a solid effort in all three phases. But solid doesn’t quite match the level of play the Lions have been showing of late, does it? We’ll find out next week when the two teams clash. A healthy Matthew Stafford, a healthy Calvin Johnson and a healthy Reggie Bush, with an unhealthy Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, equals the best opportunity the Lions have had in a looooong time to take this division.

For some reason, I expect them to blow it.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 1)
For you down-on-your-luck Ravens fans out there, this might give you some comfort: since 2000, 30 teams have reached the playoffs after putting up a .500 or lower record after eight games played. Each of the past 12 seasons has had at least one team do it, and three teams did it in 2012: the Seahawks (4-4), the Redskins (3-5)….and the Bengals (3-5).

What Are You Doing, Nndamukong Suh?

You thought you were getting a bye-week pass, did you? Well…you are. You lucky devil, you. I just hope you spent your down time productively and not, you know, kicking anyone in the crotch.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 2)
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 35 times in 7 games. Two of his starting offensive lineman are gone for indefinite amounts of time.

The solution? Run the ball. Over the past three games, Lamar Miller has averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and twice the Dolphins managed to gain over 150 total yards on the ground. Confidence in handing the ball off is the only way this team avoids sacks, as even their designed short routes are routinely disrupted by untouched rushers.

What Are You Doing, Richie Incognito?

Well, I wasn’t going to not dig into this a bit deeper. As a young man, I was a “victim” of bullying. Why put ‘victim’ in quotes? Because now, unlike then, I understand that there was no victim; I simply never chose to stand up for myself. There would have been consequences, sure, but it is the only real remedy for the emotional stress bullying puts on people. As a grown man, in a professional business, Johnathan Martin did exactly what he should have done; he stuck up for himself, and he did it in a way that was upstanding and intelligent of him. It may have been easy to simply get in a fist fight with Incognito and whomever else caused him to leave the team, but instead he went through the proper channels. Like a man. Many people will simply point the finger at him and attempt to belittle his choice. “Tattle-tale” will be a commonly used term. “Rat”, “Backstabber”, etc. But in the end, Incognito deserved it. He deserved it, and more, and the Dolphins are providing the more right now. Hopefully, the NFL provides the final dose of it and bans him from the league entirely.

This is coming from someone who actually believed Incognito had changed his ways, between his Probowl performance in 2012 and his piece earlier this year for ESPN that made him out to be a cleaner, more mentally balanced person. The talent has always been there; the trouble has never left him. Why not remove the trouble from the equation and remove this jerk from the league?

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Nick Foles. Hey, perfect is perfect, and seven touchdowns are seven touchdowns. Perfect.

RB Of The Week: Chris Johnson. In a game where opposing running back Zac Stacy had a field day, it was Johnson’s suddenly improved performance that sealed the deal for the Titans. As one of his mostly unfortunate fantasy owners, I can only hope this is the beginning of a beautiful trend in Tennessee.

WR Of The Week: Andre Johnson. As I posted on the message board of the fantasy league I own him in, I almost want to believe that Calvin Johnson, on his bye week, snuck into the Houston locker room, donned Andre’s #80 and proceeded to put up 229 yards and 3 scores. It wasn’t, though. I think…

Offensive Line Of The Week: I’m tempted to give it to the Rams again, or even their opponent Titans, who both cleared nice lanes for their respective running backs to have huge days. Including the young Bears line, who essentially won the game for them (if you ignore what happened to Aaron Rodgers, of course), I think I’ll split the award three ways. I can do that because…because I can.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: How can it not be the Jets?

Goat Of The Week: Andy Dalton. Just when every expert was finally ready to acknowledge the next step the Red Rocket had taken, he threw three interceptions and took a game-losing safety he could have avoided. Well, actually, no, he couldn’t have avoided the safety, but take away one or two of those terrible interceptions and the Bengals probably win a game they should have.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Rob Chunzinski. He knew it was going to take some risks to beat the Ravens, after the Browns had lost their last 11 to them, and he took some risks; two huge fourth down conversions, one for a touchdown, and the Browns got one huge monkey off their back. Their aggressive head coach is a big reason why.

What’s Next?

Thursday should provide the Redskins another win, another step towards defending their division crown. Unless, of course, they pull a Cowboys-type performance. You just never know in the NFC East this year.

Speaking of never knowing, the Cowboys and Eagles will face tough road games against the Saints and Packers, respectively. I don’t expect either team to walk away with a win, but if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play? And the Saints take a step back after losing to the Jets?

Like I said, you never know in the NFC East.

The Ravens hosting the Bengals, and the Bears hosting the Lions, are divisional matchups that should clear up the playoff picture going forward. I don’t see how the Ravens beat the Bengals…but I can see how the Bengals can beat themselves. As for the Bears, they’d better hope their home field advantage holds up against a superior Lions team. Should be a close one.

The game I’m most looking forward to? Panthers at 49ers. This game is going to prove a whole lot for both teams, regardless of the outcome.

Oh, and Miami taking a small road trip to Tampa Bay for a Monday Night game. I have the strangest feeling that we’re going to lose…but we won’t. Put money on it.

Final Thoughts

As the season progresses, more and more attention is going to be paid to the conduct that takes place behind the scenes; in the locker rooms, training facilities and personal lives of NFL players. Johnathan Martin may be the first domino that falls in a long line of players who will use his courage to step up and admit that they’ve been burdened by bullying in the past or at the present time. Or, it may not, and this may just be an isolated incident. Something tells me, as time goes on, we’ll find a middle ground here where it happens more than we’d like, but not enough to consider it a league-wide dilemma.

If I’m in the Falcons personnel room right now, I’m punching whomever made the final call not to trade Tony Gonzalez. That man deserves a championship more than most players do, and regardless of how much you believed you could overcome a “slow start”, you couldn’t, you haven’t, and now he’ll most likely have to spend the rest of the year wondering why he ever decided to come back in the first place. But he won’t. He’ll gear up, take the field and play as hard as he does each and every week. He won’t complain, he won’t point fingers. Because Tony Gonzalez is a professional. And he deserves better.

On a closing note, if you support the league banning Richie Incognito permanently, let them know. The avenues for contact are not hard to find:

https://twitter.com/nflcommish (Roger Goodell’s Twitter)
https://www.nflplayers.com/About-us/Department–Contacts/ (Click on “Executive” for the right contact info).

I’m a Dolphins fan. Always have been, always will be. But that doesn’t, hasn’t, and never will mean I will blindly support my team or its members when an individual or a group of them somehow besmirch the good name of a quality organization such as the Miami Dolphins. I’ve had my issues with ownership, our GM(s), head coaches, punters, you name it. Richie Incognito doesn’t deserve to be a Dolphin. He doesn’t deserve to be an NFL football player. He deserves help, and he won’t find it until he’s away from the game that he cannot avoid getting into trouble playing.

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