Audibles at the Line: Week 6
compiled by Rivers McCown
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching, just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
San Francisco 49ers 25 at Detroit Lions 19
Tom Gower: After Detroit goes three-and-out on their first series, Kyle Vanden Bosch greets the San Francisco 49er offense by turning the corner on left tackle Joe Staley and plucking the ball out of Alex Smith's hand as he brings his arm back. Just a ridiculous sack. The Lions can only get three points out of the good field position, though.
Aaron Schatz: Vanden Bosch inexplicably celebrates by doing The Belt. Huh? Does he not know they are playing San Francisco? Does he think Green Bay is watching on television or something?
Maybe when the Lions score a touchdown, they'll do The Dirty Bird.
Rivers McCown: I'm all for anything that brings back The Dirty Bird.
Mike Tanier: Two questions: How loud is it in Detroit? It is another week of false starts and ragged jumps off the snap? Also, teams keep running screens against the Lions, but I don't think they work very well. Do we have data on that yet?
Aaron Schatz: No data on screens yet ... I've got Weeks 1-2. Maybe soon I'll have a few weeks of data.
I know Detroit sure seems like it is having an impact, but our research has always said that visiting teams don't really false start any more than home teams. (Well, they false start a little more, but that difference is the same as the difference between home and away teams on other penalties.) One of the places where anecdotal evidence has you doubting the numbers, and vice versa.
Vince Verhei: Not screens specifically, but on passes behind the line of scrimmage, the Lions came into today giving up 3.2 yards per pass, sixth-best in the NFL.
Doug Farrar: Not sure about the data, but the Lions' back seven was great against the Bears last week. They were timing the forced short drops perfectly and coming up with a lot of big hits right off the catch. Gunther Cunningham has talked about how he's going to let those guys play with speed and through their mistakes.
Ben Muth: Jim Harbaugh just got a 15-yard penalty for challenging a Brandon Pettigrew touchdown catch. I know coaches can't challenge scoring plays anymore -- I did not realize it's a penalty to try to challenge unchallengable plays.
Aaron Schatz: Lions getting a steady dose of Michael Crabtree on short stuff today.
Tom Gower: After Jim Harbaugh's earlier unsportsmanlike flag, Jim Schwartz calls a timeout to yell at Mike Carey after he doesn't like the lack of review on a questionable sack of Matthew Stafford in the end zone. The Lions' lead is cut to 10-9. No joy for him, either, as the call stands without replay review. Stafford may have been ruled to have been in the grasp, though I didn't hear it announced as such.
Aaron Schatz: My feeling is that Stafford's knee wasn't down and that this was only a safety if they were going to call intentional grounding on his lame little attempt to throw it away. I think Schwartz has a right to complain. How can they review every scoring play, and then not review every scoring play?
Vince Verhei: it was pretty clear that Stafford had released the ball before his knee hit the ground. It didn't look like they reviewed the play. I thought all scoring plays were supposed to be reviewed? Or did they just not bother because it would have been intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety anyway?
Tim Gerheim: They brought in Mike Pereira, and if I understood him correctly, he said all they could review was the location of the ball (i.e. whether it was in the end zone when Stafford went down), not whether he actually was sacked. Maybe because the whistle blew? Or maybe I didn't hear right.
I think I have football vertigo. Watching this Lions-Niners game, I feel like I'm watching a close game between two good teams, not a close game between two bad teams. It's very confusing.
Ben Muth: Matt Stafford throws right between a dropping Aldon Smith's numbers, Smith can't up with it though. I'm convinced Stafford is average but Calvin Johnson and luck have made him look better than he is.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I'm still not quite convinced on him either. He's got a great arm but still seems to have accuracy issues.
Vince Verhei: Loved the play design on Frank Gore's long run that set up the 49ers' first touchdown. They line up with with two tight ends to the right, Delanie Walker outside of Vernon Davis. Walker then motions inside behind the right tackle. At the snap, he charges left and blocks Ndamukong Suh from the side. Gore cuts behind him and takes off. You can't block Suh straight up (I mean, no one can), so they use the assets they do have (two starting-quality tight ends) to get the job done.
Danny Tuccitto: Gore just gashed the Lions again with the same Walker-on-Suh play Vince described earlier. Then, Crabtree hopscotches along the sideline for an incompletion, getting one foot inbounds twice instead of both feet once. Drive ends with a field goal after Walker drops a sure touchdown.
Vince Verhei: I'm sure there's a technical term for that kind of outside-in trap block, but I don't know what it is.
Ben Muth: The 49ers would call that back-on-lineman trap block a "Wham" block.
Aaron Schatz: Wham block?
Danny Tuccitto: Smith's stat line says he's 13-for-24, but if we could adjust that for missing open receivers, it would be much worse. Earlier, he threw Walker into a tough catch on his touchdown drop. This drive, he misses Ted Ginn, who had two steps on the cornerback, and then throws a second-down pass two yards over Crabtree's head when he was open for a modest gain.
Tom Gower: And as if on cue, Alex Smith airmails Crabtree on a deep in. When you miss high over the middle and there's a deep safety, it usually gets intercepted like that one just did.
Danny Tuccitto: Does anyone know off-hand what the longest regulation game in NFL history is? The fourth quarter just started and it's already 4 p.m.
Tom Gower: I'd guess the longest non-overtime games came circa 1988 or 1989, before the NFL changed the rules on clock stoppages and such. I remember the Oilers-Bills 1989 overtime game ending at or after 4 p.m. CT.
Aaron Schatz: Um, have we discussed the Nate Burleson touchdown yet? Somebody needs to explain to me why that catch was a catch and Calvin Johnson's catch last year was not a catch. I mean, the Lions will take it, but I seriously don't understand the massive inconsistency in the "must complete the catch" rule.
Doug Farrar: Because the NFL doesn't want to be seen screwing the same team over and over, and Mike Carey got his allotted face-time on the play. I had a group of NFL officials tell me and a bunch of other reporters before the season at the Seahawks facility that the rule is the same as it was last year, so your serious guess is as good as mine.
Tom Gower: Mike Carey and I were on the same page on the Burleson TD, at least once he properly overturned the on-field ruling. The key to the rule is that if the receiver is going to the ground at the time he makes the catch, he must maintain possession all the way to the ground for it to be a completion. In the play last year, Johnson was clearly going to the ground when he caught the ball and therefore had to maintain possession the entire time. Burleson, by contrast, was standing up when he caught the ball and came down with both feet before he was contacted and then started going to the ground. Because he was not in the process of going to the ground when he made the catch, he did not have to maintain possession of the ball all the way to the ground.
Aaron Schatz: Aha. That actually makes logical sense. I assume that's only true for touchdowns, correct? If the same thing happened on a catch in the middle of the field, then that would be a catch-and-fumble?
Tom Gower: Had the Burleson play happened in the middle of the field, then, yes, it would have been a completion and fumble. There's nothing special to the rule about the end zone, just the normal rule that possession in the end zone by the offense ends the play, no different than a running back fumbling the ball after crossing the goalline.
Danny Tuccitto: Agree with you there, Tom. I thought it was a touchdown, too. However, it would have been nice if Carey explained it in the "he wasn't going to the ground" way you did, rather than the "he had enough time" way that he chose.
Robert Weintraub: Smith strip sacks Stafford, and Jeff Backus hustles to recover the loose ball -- the Lions doing the little things that win games. Of course, Backus did get beat badly for the sack in the first place...
Vince Verhei: You didn't really just throw out the "little things to win games" line, and then cite fumble recovery as evidence, did you? That's luck, that the ball didn't bounce to the 49ers in the first place. And saying he hustled to get the ball ... what else would he do? Stand there and point at it?
After a half-dozen wham blocks to clear Gore for good runs, Walker catches the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes to go. Has a No. 2 tight end ever won a game ball before?
OK, here's the unique clock strategy of the day: With three timeouts in hand, Lions opt to go for it on fourth down deep in their own end and don't get it. 49ers run three plays, killing Detroit's timeouts, and kick a field goal to go up six. Detroit now has the ball, one minute to go, no timeouts, down six. But with three timeouts in hand, knowing your defense was likely going to hold San Francisco on a three-and-out anyway, why not punt?
Lions run a God-awful one-minute drill, running three plays in 50 seconds. Fourth-down hook-and-lateral play fails, game over, Niners win.
Tom Gower: I thought it was an interesting decision by the Lions, and not a hugely obvious call either way. Down two, I'd be less in favor of going for it there.
Vince Verhei: Did everyone catch the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schawrtz confrontation? If not, it will be replayed heavily. Don't know what Harbaugh said, but it went from a standard handshake to Schwartz going after him and having to be vigorously restrained. Harbaugh sure knows how to make friends, doesn't he?
Aaron Schatz: I immediately went to see if Seattle played Detroit this year. Unfortunately, we will not get a postgame Carroll-Schwartz handshake and discussion of mutual hatred of Jim Harbaugh.
Watching it again, I have to think that Harbaugh said something to Schwartz or said "woo!" or something, because the actual handshake doesn't seem that odd. Yeah, Harbaugh's happy he won and Schwartz is mad about the first loss of the year so it's not going to be all sunshine and lollipops, but the physical handshake itself didn't seem worth fighting about.
Mike Tanier: Handshake too hard?
"I'm never gonna text again
Guilty fingers got no feelin.
Millen would be mad but then
we all know hes a fool.
Shoulda doubled Walker on that slant my friends
Now I'm mad at Jim, but really
I'm never gonna text again
and as for Harbaugh F************ you!"
Indianapolis Colts 17 at Cincinnati Bengals 27
Cincy badly misses Rey Maualuga in the middle. Dan Skuta has been out of position a couple of times, and the Colts are running up the middle at will. Curtis Painter is slanting the secondary to death. Calling Indy's first win right here and now.
Bengals have third-and-goal at the two, 14 ticks left. Jerome Simpson and Green are mismatches for Jacob Lacey. Of course, the Bengals come out in a power I, the Colts run blitz, and instead of any misdirection or originality the Bengals run Cedric Benson right into the blitz for no gain. Field goal. 10-7 at the half, four lost points they will rue later on.
Announcer fun -- CBS runs a little package remembering the last time Cincy beat Indy, back before Peyton Manning. Kevin Harlan intones "It was a pretty autumn Sunday in Cincinnati!" when the highlights show quite clearly the game was in the RCA Dome, right down to the giant "COLTS" lettering in the end zone, and the graphic shows Cincy on the road that day. Still great to see Boomer Esiason chucking it once again (he filled in for an injured Jeff Blake that afternoon).
OK, instant pet peeve: Painter gets slammed as he throws, and the ensuing lollipop is about to be grabbed for a pick six by Nate Clements. Instead, Austin Collie blatantly (and wisely) shoves him down first. He gets called for it, but it's third down anyway. The difference in consequences between offensive and defensive PI is too much of a canyon. Alas, not sure anything can be done, and I'm sure the Bengals will benefit at some point.
Dallas Clark all by himself on a goal-line play action fake, and he makes an amazing one-hand catch on a pass Painter almost missed. Instead, it's now 20-17. Colts victory prediction still stands.
Aaron Schatz: Theoretically, they could make the penalty for offensive pass interference equal to the yardage of the pass, backwards. So if you committed OPI on a 20-yard pass, you would lose 20. But that doesn't do anything to make up for the huge value of a turnover.
Rivers McCown: Rob: Are you trying to use Audibles as a reverse jinx mechanism, or is it just all the years of losing Bengals football?
Robert Weintraub: Long, sad experience, my friend. The idea that Cincy may actually pull out a game like this continues to shock.
Antoine Bethea makes a tremendous open field tackle to save a first down and probably the game on Brian Leonard, and then Mike Nugent misses his first field goal of the season. Colts still in it down three with 2:30 to play. But then Pierre Garcon makes yet another dig/slant catch, and it seems like he tried to lateral for some ungodly reason, and it was picked up by Carlos Dunlap, who ran it in for the clinching score after a lengthy review.
The Colts are still winless, but they played pretty well. Secondary has issues, but they tackle well and Painter is pretty accurate, at least under 15 yards. They can't go deep or run it much, though.
And while I usually whine about the Bengals special teams, they played well today, save that Nuge miss. Excellent kick coverage, Cedric Peerman was clocking dudes as a gunner and a humongous decleater block on a punt return. Clements (it looked like) blocked a long Adam Vinatieri field goal that would have tied it at 20. Even Nugent atoned for his miss by putting the kickoff after the Dunlap score to the goal line from the 20 (after a celebration penalty -- nothing like the occasional Paul Brown Leap!).
At 4-2, the Bengals are hardly worldbeaters, but if you had told me before the season they would be here at the bye week I'd be surprised. Not astonished, as the pigskin commentariat are (like the numbnuts who had Cincy ranked 32nd in an ESPN power poll before the season), but surprised. It's been a very soft schedule so far, but then that is what their opponents thought, too.
Philadelphia Eagles 20 at Washington Redskins 13
Rivers McCown: Philadelphia's reshuffled offensive line is digging them some holes early. They're also running a lot of trickery with LeSean McCoy. Direct snaps, delays, and the like. Going for it on fourth-and-2 on the Washington 38 gets them downfield quickly, and they keep the sleight-of-hand going with a tight end screen to Brent Celek for the touchdown.
Doug Farrar: Nnamdi Asomugha's tendency to peek in the backfield serves him well in the first quarter, when he catches Chris Cooley out of off-coverage and jacks him up. Somewhere, Tony Romo is laughing.
Mike Tanier: Nnamdi's hit caused the loudest noise I have heard in a Delaware Valley bar since Game 1 of the NLDS.
Aaron Schatz: FOX shows a stat: "Redskins: 3-1 best start since 2008." Um, that's not really *that* impressive.
Vince Verhei: Eagles' first field goal came after a first-and-goal, then three passes that came not just short of the end zone, but I think short of the 5. It seems like they never just throw the ball into the end zone, it's stuff to get guys the ball "in space" and running it in.
Aaron Schatz: Michael Vick just had one of his video game plays. I think he scrambled 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, then curved around and ran through guys for a 25-yard gain.
Washington ends the first half with five receptions by tight ends and only one by a wide receiver. Just in case you didn't know what the strengths and weaknesses of the Philly pass defense were.
JJ Cooper: Vick out with another injury. Vince Young comes in and throws an awful pick
Mike Tanier: Eagles will be happy when I am dead.
Thankfully, the Eagles have met their match. His name, not surprisingly, is Rex Grossman.
Tom Gower: I have to mention that Vince Young Just Wins Games. When the opponent turns the ball over four times. Never would've happened if not for Vince coming into the game.
Rivers McCown: Talk all the trash you want Gower, but Vince Young did play, and the Eagles look like they will win. The meme lives for another week!
John Beck now in for the Redskins, time to see if he was worth that 10th overall pick Kyle Shanahan wanted to spend on him.
Mike Tanier: Beck cuts lead to seven. All part of the ShanaPlan.
Jacksonville Jaguars 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers 17
J.J. Cooper: Hard to complain as a Steelers' fan, but I have no explanation for why the Jaguars-Steelers game is my local CBS game in North Carolina. There's no better AFC game this week for an area with no clear AFC tie?
Mike Wallace once again got behind a secondary, splitting a two-deep to go up 14-0. This time it's only a 28-yard touchdown, so he's still looking or his usual 40-yarder.
OK, Mike Wallace has his 48-yarder for today now. Watching Wallace week in and week out is unlike anything I've seen as a Steelers fan. You expect him to get a big play every game, and usually he does.
Mike Tanier: Someone is too young to remember Lynn Swann. Though Swann did it every other week. And the Super Bowl.
J.J. Cooper: I'm not too young to remember Swann, and I'm crazy enough to go back and watch old Steelers game from the 70s on a regular basis. In my opinion, Swann wasn't as good of a deep threat as Wallace. Better mid-range threat. Better over the middle. But not as good deep, but then, Swann wasn't as good a deep threat as Stallworth.
Sorry, I'm diving in a little further. Swann had seven regular season receiving touchdowns of 40 yards or more in his nine-year career. Stallworth had nine in his 14-year career. Wallace has 12 in 2.25 seasons. Yes, the NFL is much more of a passing game now than it was in the 70's, but that's still a dramatic difference.
I don't think the Jags have given Blaine Gabbert many audible responsibilities. Steelers walk safety Ryan Clark up into the B gap, right where the Jags' running play is designed to go. Gabbert snaps the ball anyway, Clark gets one of the easiest tackles for loss he'll ever get.
The Jags ripped off an 80-yard touchdown drive to cut it to 17-10 thanks to a roughing the punter call, some nice runs from Maurice Jones-Drew and a couple of third-down scrambles and a nice touchdown throw by Gabbert. Gabbert is 9-of-21 for 59 yards, so it's not like he's been airing it out. Next drive, the Steelers have Lawrence Timmons spy Gabbert in passing situations. He appears to be more of a threat to run than throw.
Third-and-1 for the Jaguars, Troy Polamalu times the snap count, comes into the backfield unblocked and trips up Jones-Drew. Call it the Polamalu special. End of drive. Apparently, Polamalu suffered a head injury on that tackle. He's out when the Steelers defense returns.
In the Steelers-Jaguars playoff game in 2007, the Steelers called for a quarterback bootleg on third-and-6 with just under three minutes to go. The play didn't work, Jacksonville got the ball back, sent the game to overtime and won it there. Today, the Steelers called a pass on third-and-2 with just under three minutes to go. Roethlisberger found no one open, decided to keep it, and ran for the first down. That took enough time off that the Jags were forced to run an unsuccessful Hail Mary.
Rivers McCown: J.J., it's cause for celebration when the Jaguars don't complete a Hail Mary on you.
St. Louis Rams 3 at Green Bay Packers 24
Vince Verhei: That may have been the funniest score of the year, with Darian Stewart not just badly over-running the play and completely whiffing on the tackle, but also slipping right into Al Harris, taking out the only other defender with a chance to bring Nelson down. Serious slapstick comedy there.
They are inside three minutes now, and Rodgers is still in. At least he's handing off now.
Elias Holman: I love Aaron Rodgers as much as the next Packers fan, but the graphic they just ran claiming he is this super-human amalgamation of the best attributes of a bunch of Hall Of Fame-level quarterbacks was a little over the top, and frankly, pretty disrespectful to those other guys.
Buffalo Bills 24 at New York Giants 27
Doug Farrar: Less than two minutes left in Bills-Giants, and Phil Simms exhorts the Bills to let the Giants score in the red zone. He then contradicts himself twice In the next clock minute. Why does this man have a job?
Houston Texans 14 at Baltimore Ravens 29
Rivers McCown: Didn't see the second one because they didn't replay it, but Smith got his money's worth on the first one. Stomped Gurode's face up pretty bad, and even got his helmet off.
Vince Verhei: What is it about Andre Gurode's face that makes it so eminently stompable?
Rivers McCown: Gary Kubiak goes for it on fourth-and-1 just outside the red zone, with about seven minutes left in the second quarter. Arian Foster fumbles.
The Texans offense is so much more predictable without Andre Johnson, and it shows with just how much trouble they've had run blocking without him.
Aaron Schatz: Jason LaCanfora responded to that decision with this Tweet: "On the road at Baltimore in a close game early on you take the 3 points."
I don't know if I've ever brought up this specific question in Audibles, but I've never understood the idea that you change your "go for it" strategy based on whether or not you are at home or on the road. This is not baseball. Home team does not get "last ups." What difference does home/road make? The only thing I can think of is the idea that referees, subconsciously affected by home crowd, are less likely to spot a close play in favor of the road team if they get 11 inches on fourth-and-a-foot.
Vince Verhei: On the home-road thing, I think the assumption is that, for whatever reason, most close calls will go the home team's way. Not just fourth-down tries, but penalties, turnovers, long field goals, and so on. Thus, the theory is that when you have a chance to get points on the road, you take it.
Rivers McCown: The second half just came down to who could make more big plays: the Texans nailed one on a Jacoby Jones play action touchdown pass, but the Ravens wound up with three. Torrey Smith caught a deep ball on Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph mistimed his jump on a deep ball against Anquan Boldin, and Ray Rice rumbled free on the game-clinching drive.
And, just like every Week 6 for the past five years, a hot Texans start is whittled back to .500, and I die a little more inside.
Dallas Cowboys 16 at New England Patriots 20
Aaron Schatz: The Pats are really struggling in the red zone. They only got three touchdowns in six trips last week. Two more trips so far in today's game, and they've both resulted in field goals.
I know people don't like the Cowboys' "America's Team" nickname but this team really does "travel well." I think this is the most visiting team jerseys I've seen at any game since I started coming to Gillette. Not just DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant, either. There's a Mat McBriar right below the press box, and in the few sections below us I can see Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, Roger Staubach, Daryl Johnston, and Ed "Too Tall" Jones jerseys. The Cowboys jerseys are generally interspersed with the Pats jerseys, too, not grouped together. It's like every Cowboys fan in New England has a buddy with Pats season tickets and has been waiting for eight years for this day.
OK, I have to add one more to that list. There's a woman with a #17 Jason Garrett jersey walking along the concourse.
Ben Muth: Psht, wake me up when you see a Babe Laufenberg jersey.
Tom Gower: I went to the Packers-Titans preseason game in Green Bay in 2008 and somebody was wearing a 49ers Kevan Barlow jersey. I thought that was pretty random.
Vince Verhei: I propose a new rule: When the Cowboys play the Patriots, the Cowboys must wear white jerseys and the Patriots, blue. I am constantly having to remind myself which team is which in this game. Both teams have silver helmets, and the Cowboys jerseys are the same color blue as the Patriots' pants. In white jerseys, the royal blue numbers and weird greenish pants would stand out better from the Pats uniforms.
Aaron Schatz: This has unexpectedly turned out to be a defensive battle. The Patriots' no-huddle has the Cowboys' defense on its heels, but that's neutralized by the fact that they can't block the Dallas pass rush. Cowboys offense looks pretty meh, and the Pats are mostly taking care of Jason Witten with constant chipping, but Miles Austin is open a lot. New England has now turned the ball over four times -- two picks, a fumble on a kick return, and a fumble on a reception -- and that's kept it 13-13.
Mike Tanier: Sean Lee only intercepts Hall of Famers. He is the Stratego spy.
Aaron Schatz: When Tom Brady took the Pats' third timeout with 27 seconds left, I turned to the person next to me and said, "Um, wouldn't they want to keep the third timeout in case this comes down to a field goal?"
Brady throws a touchdown pass to Hernandez on the next play. So, you know, never mind.
The big story off this game will be the Cowboys' inability to punch it in to the end zone off all those Pats turnovers, but I think they deserve credit for getting the turnovers in the first place. The second big story will be Garrett choosing to run the ball three times with a three-point lead and three minutes left, allowing Brady a chance for a comeback without trying to get a first down, but I have to think the press would have crucified Garrett if he had called passes and Romo had thrown incompletions or, God forbid, an interception. Wasn't that what they were criticizing him for after the Detroit loss?
Anyway, Cowboys fans will feel bad about this game but I have to think a narrow loss to one of the best (if not the best) teams in the OTHER conference (thus meaning nothing for playoff tiebreakers), on the road, and breaking their historical streak of 30-point games ... well, that's gotta be one of the better losses possible in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns 17 at Oakland Raiders 24
Brian McIntyre: Towards the end of the first quarter, the Raiders faced a second-and-12. Jason Campbell took a deep drop, Oakland kept seven blockers in against a four-man rush from the Browns, who had a linebacker spying running back Darren McFadden. Campbell had a huge running lane, but five yards into his scramble, he fell to his knees and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Browns. Officials correctly ruled that he hadn't given himself up and the fumble stood. Cut to the end of the second quarter, facing a third-and-8, Campbell again scrambles, stays on his feet this time, but while fighting to get near the marker he gets crunched by Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita and injures his right arm. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Enter Kyle Boller.
Mike Tanier: Yay! Watching Kyle Boller play quarterback. Yay!
Tom Gower: Sebastian Janikowski hits a field goal to go up 17-7 with 18 minutes to play, and this one feels over barring a big Raiders screwup. Boller seems to be intentionally adhering to a very conservative gameplan, especially in terms of avoiding the third-down mistake, and the Browns just need to string together so many successful plays in a row to get into scoring territory.
Colt McCoy giveth, and with Janikowski out to try a 53-yard field goal attempt, today's third quarterback (with Terrelle Pryor on a roster exemption until tomorrow) Shane Lechler pulls off the field goal fake and hits Kevin Boss for a 35-yard score. 24-7, and the Browns are done, done, done.
The latest report from Oakland beat guy Vittorio Tafur has Campbell with a broken collarbone and out for the year. Kyle Boller, starting quarterback ... at least until David Garrard is signed, I presume.
Vince Verhei: I believe you mean "until Matt Barkley is drafted."
New Orleans Saints 20 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26
Mike Tanier: Are the Saints planning on covering the middle of the field today?
Tom Gower: I think New Orleans' linebackers cover about as well as the Eagles', and we know about Roman Harper in pass coverage.
Vince Verhei: Sean Payton, toughest coach of all time in any sport ever, is running things from the sideline with a broken leg AND a torn MCL.
I'll have to check this game out later to figure out how Tampa Bay, which was by far the worst pass defense DVOA in the league coming into today, has done so well against Drew Brees and company. Tanard Jackson is back today, but he can't make that much of a difference, can he?
Minnesota Vikings 10 at Chicago Bears 39
Mike Tanier So ... Vikings-Bears at 16-3, anyone?
J.J. Cooper: NBC can't wait for the flex games, can they?
Mike Tanier: I was flipping between baseball and the Amazing Race.
Tom Gower: Jay Cutler hit a bomb, Donovan McNabb's struggling, Adrian Peterson's finding it hard to get running room. This looks like a decent-ish Bears team and a Viking team that is more like their 1-4 record than their better-than-you-think DVOA.
Brian McIntyre: I've got the two-TV set-up going in the living room. On one channel, there's a zombie autopsy on AMC's Walking Dead. On the other, Donovan McNabb is playing quarterback. The latter is much more cringe-inducing.
Rivers McCown: I didn't think Bob Costas could get more undeservedly smug, but then he referenced Charlie Sheen in his halftime rant on the Schwartz-Harbaugh confrontation.
Devin Hester: Great kick returner, or the greatest kick returner?
Tom Gower: Inspired by NFL Network's fantastic "Good Morning" commercial, I pulled up "Make 'Em Laugh" from "Singin' in in the Rain" on YouTube, and as soon as it finished, the Vikings gave up that Hester kick return and I got to keep laughing.
Vince Verhei: You know, at some point we're going to have to seriously debate Devin Hester as a Hall of Famer.
Rivers McCown: Are we? He didn't really add anything as a receiver. Seems sorta like adding Jesse Orosco to the MLB Hall Of Fame because he was the best lefty specialist.
Rob Weintraub: I'm no purist about these things, so to me, Hester is a no-brainer. Ray Guy is too.
Tom Gower: Jan Stenerud is in the Hall of Fame. Ray Guy's name comes up every year. Adam Vinatieri's quite likely going in, like it or not. Steve Tasker's name gets mentioned. We're going to seriously have to debate Devin Hester. (My quick answer: haven't looked into Stenerud enough to decide if I object to him being there, no to everybody else.)
Rivers McCown: Fair enough. I think I've already betrayed my stance on the issue. Then again, I'm a small-hall guy.
Vince Verhei: I absolutely love Hester. And I think he's the best returner in history by a wide, WIDE margin. But his resume basically comes down to 17 plays.
Doug Farrar: I'm generally in favor of anyone who's clearly the best at his position over a number of years going into the Hall, especially when that player a.) affected opposing game plans to a large degree; and b.) propelled his team to important franchise moments. He has been the most dangerous guy to kick to for half a decade, and while others have popped up over time (Josh Cribbs, Leon Washington, etc.), he's been the standard. Let's not forget that the 2006 Chicago Bears rode him and a great defense to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their primary quarterback. Using the old Bill James arguments of Peak and Career Value, I don't think there's any question he's top two or three as a returner all-time in both. And he's got more than enough "black type" to make it stick. By any Politics of Glory standard, he should go in. Not as a first-ballot lead-pipe guy, but he's unquestionably qualified.
Mike Tanier: I prefer Hester as a possible candidate to Guy or Tasker. I have seen Hester impact opponent strategy and have a major influence on the fortune of his team. Tasker occupied that "one per era" niche of famous special teams gunner: Bill Bates, then Tasker, then Izzo, and then Gary Stills or Ike Reese, now Osgood or whoever blocked a punt yesterday. Guy was a great punter whose memory is kept alive by all of the old Raiders who rave about him. Vinatieri is in a different category: the fact that dozens of other kickers could have done what he did doesn't change the fact that he was the one who did them.
Aaron Schatz: One thing that's worth talking about with Hester as a return man is that he's the only return man to play at this level for more than two years. You've had guys like Brian Mitchell who were good for a long time, but never really great. And you've had guys like Dante Hall who were great for a year, year-and-a-half, and fizzled out. But there's never been anyone like Hester. He was sort of average for a year or two there, then had a renaissance last year. I guess Gale Sayers, who was a great return man for three years, is closest.
Rivers McCown: Christian Ponder now in. So far this looks a lot like the Ponder I saw play the Texans in the preseason: Ready to run the second a hole opens up, and surprisingly hard to bring down.
Aaron Schatz: This is really strange given McNabb's history, but maybe the Vikings need to switch to Ponder as the starter because McNabb at this point isn't mobile enough to stay upright behind that offensive line. Would have seemed like a ridiculous statement 10 years ago, huh?
Tom Gower: McNabb at this point is moving like an old quarterback, and I don't mean veteran savvy, avoiding the rush, Arizona Kurt Warner-type old quarterback, but more old and warn out. Ponder seems ... much more spry, I guess, is the way I'm seeing it. Of course, coming in when his team's already down four scores and it doesn't matter that you can't lead the team to any points is one way to ease your way into the league.