Sunday presented one of most compelling slates of games in a long time, with hyped contests living up to their billing and, ultimately, 11 of 15 games being decided by seven points or fewer.
From that many great games, it would be easy to draw 50 interesting story lines.
For now, we’ll limit it to 10.
1. Vick shouldn’t worry about drawing flags.
After a 29-16 loss to the Giants that dropped the Eagles to 1-2, Philly quarterback Mike Vick complained about the fact that he hasn’t drawn more flags for roughing the passer. But Vick should worry less about getting hit and receiving 15 yards and more about not getting hit as much as he gets hit.
He’s still reckless with his body, and in a season featuring plenty of quarterbacks who are racking up hundreds of yards of passing by making fast decisions, Vick needs to process information more quickly and get rid of the ball.
As to the notion that he’s not the beneficiary of calls that other quarterbacks are getting, Vick is simply wrong. In last week’s 10-pack, we pointed out that several big-name quarterbacks took big-time hits without big-yardage penalties being called. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a low hit to the knee against the Chargers, with no flag thrown. Ditto for one of the two low hits absorbed by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Seahawks. And Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit against Vick’s Eagles, with no penalty.
Vick should worry about things he can control, not things he can’t. With two injuries in two weeks, the ideal outcome isn’t taking a hit and getting a flag. It’s not taking the hit.
2. Calvin Johnson rule continues to create confusion. (And yes, there’s an echo in here.)
In an effort to clarify the rules that apply when a receiver receives the ball while going to the ground (or being dragged to it), the league once again has failed to make the situation any less confusing.
A player must catch the ball, get two feet down (or a body part other than a hand), and possess the ball long enough to make a football move, regardless of whether a football move is actually made. If the player is going to the ground, he must maintain possession of the ball through the act of landing.
So why did the go-ahead touchdown in the Giants-Eagles game, courtesy of a touchdown pass to receiver Victor Cruz, count? Good question.
The league’s position seems to be that if, in the process of going to the ground, the receiver takes the ball across the plane of the goal line, he doesn’t need to maintain possession when he lands in the end zone. And that seems to conflict with the plain language of the rule.
Supposedly, the rules for making a reception are the same regardless of whether the player is in the field of play or in the end zone. So why does a different rule continue to apply when the player happens to be falling into the end zone?
At some point, the league needs to throw the entire rule out and start from scratch with a procedure that better reflects common sense and the reasonable expectations of those who watch, coach, and/or play the games.
3. No-huddle offense not used as much as it should have been.
So with the league huffing and puffing when it comes to the question of defensive players faking injuries in order to take some of the steam out of a no-huddle offense, this would be the perfect weekend for offenses to shift into no-huddle overdrive, right?
Right. But that’s not how it played out.
The research staff at Football Night in America advises that a no-huddle offense was used only five times in Sunday’s 15 games.
The Pats went no-huddle midway through the second quarter, culminating in a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowki. The Pats used it again in the third quarter, resulting in a Brady-to-Danny-Woodhead touchdown.
In Seattle, the Cardinals went no-huddle in the second quarter, with Kevin Kolb eventually finding Larry Fitzgerald for a touchdown. The Seahawks also opened the second half without huddling. They scored a touchdown on the drive, with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson running it in.
Finally, the Raiders opened their game against the Jets in no-huddle, with a Darren McFadden touchdown capping the effort.
That’s five no-huddle drives, five no-huddle touchdowns. And no no-huddle injuries to defensive player, real or otherwise.
We’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing more of the no-huddle offense.
4. Torrey Smith has a Randy Moss-style debut.
Ravens rookie receiver Torrey Smith played in the first two games of the season, but with Lee Evans playing the role of field-stretching receiver, Smith didn’t get many reps in the offense. With Evans out on Sunday due to a lingering ankle injury, Smith got his opportunity.
And he made the most of it.
Smith had three catches for 133 yards and three touchdowns. In the first quarter.
It was a debut that conjured memories of Randy Moss, who torched the Cowboys with three catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns on Thanksgiving in 1998.
The difference this time around is that few people were watching the Ravens-Rams game, a CBS late-afternoon regional broadcast on a day that featured a FOX doubleheader. If it had happened on national television and/or in prime time, Torrey Smith would have been the toast of the league this week.
Instead, he’ll simply be the toast of Baltimore.
5. Tom Jackson gets it wrong on Jermichael Finley.
During ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Tom Jackson proclaimed that Packers tight end Jermichael Finley will have a hard time against the Bears.
Given that I’d actually done some research on last year’s Week Three game between the Packers and Bears at Soldier Field, which coincidentally was aired on Jackson’s network, in preparation for Friday’s PFT Live, I knew that Finley had 115 receiving yards against Chicago in that game. So I pointed it out on Twitter, and Finley noticed it.
Did he ever notice it.
Finley filleted the Bears for three touchdowns on Sunday, which possibly will force Jackson to claim that he was merely trying to motivate Finley.
Look, we all make predictions. And at some point everyone is going to be wrong. But Jackson (or the producer that planted the idea regarding Finley into his head) didn’t bother to pull up the box score from last year’s game to see that Finley has a recent history of eating the Bears’ lunch.
It’s fitting, we suppose, that the blunder occurred on the same day that the Bills beat the Patriots since that 31-0 pasting of the Pats in 2003, which prompted Jackson to declare that the Patriots hate their coach.
6. Vikes know how to start, not finish.
One team that both the Bears and Packers could sweep this year has shown that it knows how to play very well in the first half of games, outscoring its opponents 54-7.
But in the NFL the games are played for 30 more minutes after halftime, and the Vikings have now blown leads of 10, 17, and 20 points.
It would be easy to say that the Vikings need to only step it up in the second half. However, the frustration of ultimately losing each week eventually will cause the Vikings to have both a bad first half and a bad second half.
Something has to give this weekend. The 0-3 Vikings visit the 0-3 Chiefs.
7. Players jumping into the stands will eventually get the NFL sued.
When the NFL beefed up the rules regarding things players can and can’t do after scoring touchdowns, the league provided an exemption for the Lambeau Leap and its variations in other stadiums.
Eventually, the league will regret that decision.
At some point, some player is going to do a reverse stage dive into the front row and injure a fan by striking him or her with shoulder pads, cleats, a helmet, or some other part of the players’ body. That thought immediately came to mind on Sunday, when Darren McFadden pulled a Jack Black in School of Rock maneuver after entering the end zone at the Black Hole.
We know, we know. I’m just being a lawyer, worrying about killing everyone’s fun with concerns like reasonable prudence and customer safety. But an injury is eventually going to happen, and here’s hoping that when it does the league won’t offer up some lame assumption of the risk or comparative negligence defense premised on the fact that the fan knew or should have known that large men in full uniform may choose to take a header into the front row. Instead, the league needs to break out the checkbook and fairly compensate whoever was injured in the name of allowing the NFL to broadcast on a weekly basis images of players having close encounters with the fans.
8. Heidi game, revisited.
The infamous Heidi game of 1968 featured the Jets visiting the Raiders, with the Jets leading as NBC cut to regularly-scheduled programming at 7:00 p.m. ET. The Raiders scored one touchdown to go ahead, and another touchdown after the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff. And no one in the East Coast saw it.
This year, a tie game between the Jets and Raiders had a similar exchange. Oakland took the lead on a 25-yard touchdown run by rookie phenom Denarius Moore, and Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie mishandled the ensuing kickoff. The Raiders recovered, and a 17-17 tie became a 31-17 Oakland lead.
The difference this time? There was still a full quarter to play. And the Jets thereafter made it interesting. But it was hard not to think about 1968 when the Raiders broke the game open with those back-to-back scores.
9. “Suck for Luck” could be key to getting Cowher.
The Dolphins reportedly aren’t ready to fire coach Tony Sparano after falling to 0-3. Eventually, however, Sparano will be the former coach of the Dolphins, barring a dramatic turnaround.
And with so much speculation regarding the question of whether a team will deliberately lose late-season games in order to get in position to land Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, there’s another reason for the Dolphins to be tempted to give it a try.
Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher is believed to be interested only in joining a team with a very good quarterback situation. We can’t imagine a situation much better than launching the career of Andrew Luck.
Thus, if Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hopes to woo Cowher, Ross will need someone better at quarterback than Chad Henne. Ross possibly will need Andrew Luck in order to seal the deal with Cowher.
10. Spagnuolo needs to win some games.
Though it’s far too early to seriously question the long-term job security of Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, it’s worth pointing out that his team is 1-6 in its last seven games.
It’s also worth pointing out that, this year, his team has been outscored 96-36, which translates to an average margin of 20 points per game.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Rams still must play the Redskins, Packers, Cowboys, and Saints before finally getting to play an NFC West foe.
And so 0-7 (and 1-10) remains a very real possibility.
Making the new Rams look a lot like the Rams of the recent past.