Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Week 2 postmortem

Sigh. After beginning the season a strong -- and league-leading -- 11-5 in Week 1, I fell back to Earth with my Week 2 selections in The Writers' Picks. I came in at 7-9 (still good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC!). Sloppy, I know, but no sloppier than the play this weekend: Poor tackling. Players caught on camera smiling after costly penalties. The Ravens' offense. The 49ers' defense. The Vikings' offense, defense, special teams and coaching. And 10 teams had nine or more penalties, the unofficial definition of "way too many": Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Washington, New England, Baltimore, Miami, Seattle, Kansas City and the Giants.

On to what I got right, what I got wrong and why:

Cincinnati over Minnesota: "The game wasn't at close as the score indicated." You tend to hear that when the final score is more like 24-10, and the loser's touchdown came in the last six minutes. But there's no other way to describe the Bengals' 37-8 humiliation of the Vikings. The score could easily have been 58-0: Carson Palmer overthrew Chad Johnson by inches in the end zone twice and also threw a pick in the end zone. Cincinnati had an astounding 17 penalties, which kept the game from getting even farther out of hand. As in Week 1 vs. Tampa Bay, nothing Minnesota did was working. Nothing came close to working. The Vikings have had 24 possessions this year; 12 of them -- half -- have ended in turnovers. Daunte Culpepper has eight interceptions in two games. He looked completely lost Sunday, and it's clear why. Without Randy Moss drawing double coverage, defenses have a free guy to do with what they please. Culpepper is facing coverages and fronts that he's never seen before and isn't prepared for. At the same time, on defense, Palmer exposed the Vikings' secondary on the second play of the game and just kept doing it. Are you picking up what I'm laying down? Lemme spell it out: Mike Tice, who's survived this long only because Red McCombs could pay him peanuts, better sharpen his pencil and get cracking on the resume. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis will probably be screaming in Palmer's face this week. Palmer's end zone interception was his second in two games. One of these days (next Sunday), they'll be playing a team (Bears) much closer, and some DB (Mike Brown) will take one of those back 100 yards. Just saying.

Pittsburgh over Houston: The wonder, really, is that anybody would have picked the Texans in this game. No, I can't and won't say whether Pittsburgh will be as good this year as in 2004, but come on: It was Houston! Four years into the life of the franchise, and the team is still getting its ass handed to it weekly (and fumbling the exchange). Monday, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer lost his job. Yes, that Chris Palmer. Tim Couch is the lucky one: Palmer's schemes only destroyed his career. David Carr is being beaten within an inch of his life. No rest for Carr, however: Palmer's replacement is Joe Pendry, who has spent the past three years keeping the turnstiles greased as the Texans' offensive line coach. Fun fact: Dom Capers fired Pendry as O-coordinator in Carolina. Heads up, Dave.

Indianapolis over Jacksonville: Neither the score of the game nor its bruising nature was a surprise. This is what the Jags and Colts do. But I wonder when people are going to start talking about the switch from Astroturf to FieldTurf at the RCA Dome. Easier on the joints, harder on the 40 times.

Tampa Bay over Buffalo: Three of the top five picks in the draft were running backs. Only one reported to camp on time. In other news, Cadillac Williams has 276 yards and a 5.4 average; Ronnie Brown has 92 (2.7 avg.); and Cedric Benson, 59 (3.1). This game wasn't as hard to pick as it seemed to some. The Bills won handily last week, but they were playing Houston, and they still couldn't move the ball. This game featured the penalty of the week: Michael Clayton flagged for offensive pass interference, even though the ball wasn't even thrown his way.

Philadelphia over San Francisco: Last week, you could see the Eagles' loss to the Falcons coming from a mile away: too many distractions for Philly, too much motivation for Atlanta. Also last week, no one saw San Francisco's upset of St. Louis coming. This week, no one was going to be fooled. The Eagles were already angry over the Monday night loss; Derek Smith's trash talk about T.O. just helped them focus. When bad teams infuriate good teams, the bad teams get their teeth kicked in. Confidential to M.N. in S.F.: Going for a field goal when down by four touchdowns was a nice touch.

New York Jets over Miami: It's not so much that the Jets aren't as bad as they looked against the Chiefs. More like, the Dolphins aren't as good as they looked against the Broncos.

New York Giants over New Orleans: For all the talk about how the Saints got jobbed because the NFL was forced to make a quick decision on where to play this one, no one wants to dwell on the fact that Jim Haslett-coached teams have been far better on the road (24-16 before Monday) than at home (18-22). That said, it's going to be a long season for the Saints. The win at Carolina is already sepia-toned. Highlight of this game: Aaron Brooks and Eli Manning taking turns dropping ever-farther back to pass. Manning completed one pass that went about 15 yards forward yet gained only about three.

New England over Carolina: Looking back, I can't remember why this seemed obvious to me. Everything I said last week about Philadelphia-Atlanta and Carolina-New Orleans applied double here. New England expected to win, but Carolina wanted to win. New England wanted a victory, Carolina wanted revenge. Only a fool would declare the dynasty in danger based on one lousy game, but this makes two weeks in a row the Pats came stumbling out of the tunnel. And they had 10 days to prepare for this game.

Detroit over Chicago: Two rushing TDs, one passing TD, one punt-return TD and one interception-return TD. At least no one Lions player was burned over and over. Except Joey Harrington. Who does he think he is, Daunte Culpepper? Perhaps no one wants to win the NFC North. Or maybe Chicago really is that good. We'll see. Up next: Cincinnati.

Baltimore over Tennessee: As it turns out, it wasn't Kyle Boller's fault. The Ravens' offense is utterly toothless regardless of who's calling the signals. And I don't care how good the defense is, or at least once was; it can't prevent touchdown passes when Baltimore's QB throws them. I'm sure Brian Billick is tired of hearing what Trent Dilfer is up to. Hey, speaking of which ...

Green Bay over Cleveland: I get the message. The Packers are done. Brett Favre's line from Sunday was typical of his career: 32/44, 342 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT, 98.9 passer rating. But he's all alone out there now. There was a time when Favre's desperate last-minute drives were game-winning, playoff-clinching. Now they produce meaningless, face-saving TDs. He's still better than a lot of QBs in the league, but he isn't among the best. It's time to plan a graceful exit, because no one wants another Jimmy Johnson-and-Dan Marino situation.

San Diego over Denver: The question of which team is "for real" has been answered: Neither.

Atlanta over Seattle: Within three games, Matt Schaub will be filling in for the injured Michael Vick in the first quarter, not the fourth. This was a toss-up, and like all my toss-ups this week, it poked me in the goddam eye. Seattle is not a top-tier team -- at least, I don't think so -- but the Seahawks didn't have to fly all the way across the country to play after a short week. So don't let it go to your watermelon head, Holmgren.

Arizona over St. Louis: There's a certain nobility in a last-minute drive that comes up just short of a game-winning touchdown. There's nothing but shame in one that ends in a false-start penalty. The Cardinals were actually favored by some, but I still viewed this as my upset special. I was half right: The Cards continue to be nothing special, and I wound up upset. The Arizona bandwagon stops here.

Oakland over Kansas City: Oakland could and should have won this game. However, the Raiders may never win another game until a) the offense understands that if you go long on every throw, opposing defenders catch on eventually; and b) the defense learns that tackling involves more than launching your body helmet-first at the ball-carrier, then waving your arms at him you sail by.

Dallas over Washington: Oh, like you saw that coming. This was my Best Bet. The Cowboys were 13-1 vs. the Redskins in the past seven years. This was a rivalry the way a hammer and a nail are rivals. And yet, ahead by 13 in the fourth quarter, Dallas' offense went feckless and its defense went witless. Pass plays on first down when all you need to do is run out the clock? Letting Santana Moss get behind the secondary not once but twice? Giving up two long TDs to the corpse of Mark Brunell? Unreal. And the worst part of it, besides seeing Joe Gibbs suffer a near-stroke on national television, is that we'll have to hear playoff talk from Redskins fans. Oh, and someone explain to me: On a night when the Cowboys were inducting Aikman, Smith and Irvin -- the core of their early-'90s dynasty -- into the ring of honor, why was the team wearing throwbacks from the early '60s? The team went a combined 13-38-3 in those outfits.

SEASON: 18-14

Down and Distance's exclusive POW-R-'ANKINGS are the most accurate assessment of team strength available on the Internet. The formula behind them, a proprietary analysis of key statistics, successfully predicted 11 of the past 15 Super Bowl winners. Unlike with other, lesser ranking systems, no opinion is involved. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest.

1. Steelers100.0012. Redskins52.8923. Saints32.19
2. Colts93.1313. Cowboys50.2024. Raiders31.95
3. Eagles89.90 14. Rams49.0625. Packers27.66
4. Bengals89.7815. Falcons48.3426. Broncos25.06
5. Bears89.29 16. Patriots 46.9927. Lions23.20
6. Bucs85.7017. Bills 45.3328. Cardinals20.68
7. Giants81.5218. Chargers 40.3429. 49ers15.92
8. Chiefs76.71 19. Seahawks 37.3630. Ravens5.98
9. Dolphins64.4120. Browns 35.7131. Vikings5.73
10. Jaguars54.9721. Titans 33.6432. Texans0.00
11.Panthers53.8022. Jets 32.41

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