Audibles at the Line: Week 5
compiled by Bill Barnwell
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.
Please also note that we do not write the e-mails specifically to produce this column, which 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.
Chicago Bears 23 at Carolina Panthers 6
Mike Kurtz: This game is going to be all run, all the time. Both teams have scored on drives that were either mostly (Bears) or entirely (Panthers) running plays. Carolina's offensive line is getting good push against the Bears defensive line and opening up some nice holes.
Two drives in, Matt Forte has 101 yards and two touchdowns. The second came on the first play of the second drive for 68 yards.
And how do you follow that big run up? Why, and end-around to Hester, a run up the middle by Chester Taylor, a broken pass play and a way-too-short quick slant. Awesome.
A series by the goal line ends with Todd Collins with an ugly interception in the end zone. Moral of the story: Forte.
Well, this is interesting. After OPI, they run it into the line for a loss of one, with holding. The Bears decline the penalty, which would've left the Panthers with first-and-30 at their own 5-yard line. The next play, Clausen's handoff flies out of his hands, down to the Carolina 2. Can't help but think there's some chance that could've ended with a safety had they accepted.
Vince Verhei: After a 17-3 halftime lead, Chicago's first three drives consist of three Matt Forte runs, six Todd Collins pass plays, and zero first downs. Bad Mike Martz! No biscuit!
Doug Farrar: Mike Martz: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!
Mike Kurtz: It's that kind of game -- Matt Moore comes in, immediately throws a pass that bounces off the receiver's thigh, right into Urlacher's hands.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 21
David Gardner: And here's the first evidence of the Bucs without Tanard Jackson -- a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens. Owens was wide open, with Sabby Piscitelli wandering aimlessly around in the secondary.
Doug Farrar: Awe. Some. If you told me that Brian Russell was the Bucs’ secondary coach, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
David Gardner: Cody Grimm just had a nice pick for a score for the Bucs. It looks like they were running Cover-3 with Talib dropping back in deep coverage and Grimm cutting the route underneath.
Doug Farrar: Note to Josh Freeman: This is a learning experience. When you’re dealing with Johnathan Joseph in the opposing secondary, don’t throw to a zone and hope it works out for the best. Bad idea, pick, 60-yard run by Earnest Graham (!) wasted.
David Gardner: Graham is definitely under-used as well. But he'll get more of a presence in the offense now -- it seems like they are reducing Cadillac Williams' role.
Bill Barnwell: Now, are they also specifically scripting plays where Josh Freeman scrambles for his life and taps the "pass" button on his controller as lightly as possible?
David Gardner: And now Sabby is trying to start fights after the end of plays.
Doug Farrar: Yeah, there’s something wrong with Carson Palmer, Near the end of the second half, the Bengals run a red zone route combo on the defensive right side in which Sabby has solo coverage on T.O. in the end zone for about half a second.
David Gardner: Here's something you aren't used to seeing from the Bucs -- a methodical, 5:30 touchdown drive that moves more than 70 yards down the field.
Bill Barnwell: That drive gets to the one with ... Josh Freeman throwing a jump pass off of his back feet that gets called as a DPI in the end zone.
Very questionable overturn on that fumbled kickoff. Looked like it was far from conclusive.
David Gardner: Piscitelli just managed to let Jermaine Gresham get behind him when the Bengals were on the 1-yard-line. He never even looked back for the ball.
Bill Barnwell: In all fairness, he had an entire field to look at. There was probably something in the distance distracting him.
David Gardner: Bucs go for it on fourth-and-7 from the Bengals' 40-yard line. The pass falls incomplete, but Morris had called a timeout just before the play. It was late-game field goal esque. On try two, they punted and pinned the Bengals at the 5.
Bill Barnwell: Benson promptly dragged Sabby Piscitelli for five yards on first down.
And then for three yards on third-and-1.
David Gardner: Benson is bullying the Bucs. He's averaging 6.8 yards a carry.
On third-and-13, the Bengals decide to throw instead of forcing the Bucs to call their final timeout. Palmer throws it to Owens, but Talib jumps it and hands the Bucs the ball in Bengals' territory.
Mike Williams is officially one of the draft's biggest steals. He elevated on that touchdown catch.
Bill Barnwell: Bengals go right after Sabby Piscitelli to begin the two-minute drill.
Sabby Piscitelli picks off a tipped pass.
Ben Muth: Sabby Piscitelli!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
David Gardner: Piscitelli just lucked into the interception of his career.
Bill Barnwell: And the Bengals drive downfield, take an offensive pass interference penalty, and a tipped pass falls into the hands of ... Sabby Piscitelli. Now, here's where you can tell which members of the media paid close attention: If anyone says Sabby Piscitelli had a good game, they weren't paying close attention.
Doug Farrar: Are you kidding? He’s a white guy with limited physical skills and an attitude. They’ll be nominating him for Defensive Player of the Week.
Ben Muth: Connor Barth's mustache gives me a lot of confidence for this kick.
Bill Barnwell: David Akers was way worse with his mustache, though.
David Gardner: Ben, that is word for word the e-mail I was about to send out.
Ben Muth: Great minds...
Vince Verhei: Unsung special teams hero of the day: Tampa Bay's holder. There was a bad snap on the winning field goal, but the holder did a great job to reach out for the ball and get it into position.
Rob Weintraub: The Bengals had me considering not watching football any more, I was that disgusted. However, I realized that in terms of horrific, unspeakable losses the Bengals have inflicted on me and my fellow fans, this one likely doesn't crack the top ten.
St. Louis Rams 6 at Detroit Lions 44
Doug Farrar: Suh-WEET coverage by O.J. Atogwe on a second quarter deep ball to Calvin Johnson in the end zone. Johnson was screaming for a flag, but Atogwe was playing the ball and didn’t appear to interfere. He had to flip his hips and catch up to Megatron downfield, and that was a really good play.
Bill Barnwell: I actually thought there was a bit of an armbar there. But I don't think it was enough to call a penalty, so I guess I agree.
Doug Farrar: If his head wasn’t turned, they probably would have called it, but I think that was an example of the crew giving the defender latitude because he wasn’t facing the receiver and it wasn’t blatant.
Jahvid Best is making the Rams’ defense look absolutely silly with his ridiculous cuts. I haven’t seen this many bad things happen to this many ankles since the House of Blue Leaves scene in the first "Kill Bill."
Vince Verhei: Calvin Johnson scores a goal-line jump ball touchdown for Detroit. Can't even call it a route, he just kind of ambled half speed into the corner, jumped and caught the ball. I think it was Doug that mentioned this last week, but as bad as Detroit is, you can see them creeping further and further out of the pit they were buried in under the cruel reign of Millen.
Speaking of, did anyone else catch Millen doing commentary for the Michigan-Michigan State game? Was that done intentionally to infuriate the fanbases of both teams?
Doug Farrar: Yep, that was Megatron getting his own back on the same drive. Think that was James Butler getting abused on the touchdown. Over the last two seasons, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a franchise with better consecutive drafts than the Lions. (Note: This is less an empirical statement and more a discussion-starter).
This weekend, Matt Millen, Phil Simms, and Jim Mora will have done football on television. Meanwhile, Tony Boselli remains on the radio. I protest!
Vince Verhei: Lions score again on a pass to Brandon Pettigrew. Rams rushed four against five blockers, and Shaun Hill had more time in the pocket that play than Matthew Stafford did his entire rookie season.
Doug Farrar: Hey, Scramble guys: If you ever choose to add a “Lane Kiffin Award” for the best non-use of timeouts still in the bag, I nominate the Rams, who had two timeouts evaporate at the end of the first half while Daniel Fells bulled his way upfield for about 30 yards from the 50 on a swing pass from Sam Bradford with eight seconds left. It was a very impressive Csonka-esque run, but a total Awareness Fail, as the clock ran out. Best part: Fells went from the right sideline to the right hash to get more yardage. D’oh!
Ned Macey: I fear jinxing it, but the Lions are on their way to winning their first game that was shown on local TV since 2007. (I knew that, but the Detroit Free Press was kind enough to point out that it was a December road game in Kansas City.) Needless to say going more than two years without watching your team win a game is a little difficult for a fan.
Odd start to this game with a surprise onside kick by the Rams -- the attempt itself is not what is really weird, but Josh Brown tried to quick kick the Lions and fake them out that way, but once he did something weird, everyone was aware that something was up, so nobody could get caught retreating early. Lions turned that into a quick field goal.
Lions added their first TD on a great Stefan Logan 100+ yard kickoff return. I heard Schwartz talking on radio earlier this week saying that they were real close to breaking one, so he was apparently right about that. Logan strikes me as a great player to have--can both return explosively and cover kicks. Why did Pittsburgh give up on him?
As for the Rams, they look terrible. Mark Clayton went out early with a knee injury, which if serious is too bad because he was obviously helping Bradford develop. This is the first time I've seen Bradford, but after one half of sort of watching him, he seems solid on executing plays but that he has trouble if his first option isn't there, and he tends to panic and throw it away early.
Burleson just scored to make it 31-6, so this does appear to be all but over. The Lions are among the most improved teams in the league this year, and they'll still probably only win about 5 games. The most interesting thing from here on out is seeing how good Stafford is. With five games with Hill, we have a good view of how good this offense is with roughly the 30-40th best quarterback in the league. So, we should have a better idea if Stafford is any good by the end of the year.
Mike Kurtz: Pittsburgh got rid of Logan because he didn't really produce any value during his time there. It was much more likely the rest of the Pittsburgh special teams was to blame, though.
Doug Farrar: Bradford’s bumping into some rookie traps, most notably trusting that amazing arm of his on some really dumb throws. Chris Houston should have had a pick on a rollout/throw Bradford did into triple coverage in the first half.
New York Giants 34 at Houston Texans 10
Tim Gerheim: Eli Manning has the easiest job in the league today. Sometimes he hands off. Other times, Hakeem Nicks is open, and he can throw it to him if he wants. The Texans corners are playing so far off the receivers that it looks like they don't expect any safety help at all, on any play. Nicks already has two touchdowns a minute into the second quarter, and I think he'd have three if they'd challenged the spot on his catch before the Brandon Jacobs score.
Matt Schaub also seems to throw a bonehead interception every week. I don't know the charting but I think most of them are directed at Andre Johnson. He may rely on Johnson's freakishness a little too much.
Tom Gower: Early on, it was one of those days for the Texans like FOA 2010 thought might happen. The running game wasn't consistently effective, too many of Schaub's passes were going to Giants defenders, and, as noted, Hakeem Nicks was making Kareem Jackson extraordinarily crispy to the point where he was benched for fellow rookie Brice McCain, I believe.
Aaron Schatz: Tony Siragusa: "The Texans aren't covering anybody." Meanwhile, FOX is showing a replay that shows Glover Quin running step for step with Steve Smith at the bottom of the shot while Nicks is toasting Jackson down the sideline. Tony, the Texans are covering somebody. That somebody is just not Hakeem Nicks.
Bill Barnwell: Bad throw by Eli Manning on a play where Brian Cushing was hurrying him. Manning did a full 180 before throwing a pass off his back foot that was picked off.
Tim Gerheim: Texans got an interception against Hakeem Nicks, which was doubly surprising. Kareem Jackson, who's been victimized all season, got it, but it's because he was playing underneath Nicks with safety help nearby over the top. Nicks has been shut out in the second half (just got a catch as I was typing that), and I'm pretty sure they've been consistently doubling him like that, and I think Glover Quin has been mostly handling Steve Smith on his own.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I believe that interception was on a pass to Mario Manningham, not Jackson. It looks like the Giants tried to move things around after that pick -- on their last scoring drive, Nicks caught two balls with Quin covering him, and I believe that Steve Smith caught his touchdown against Jackson.
Going back to the Texans offense for a moment, man, did it seem discombobulated. Did Schaub throw to Kevin Walter at all? Apparently he did five times, but lord knows it was never when I was watching, because it hardly seemed like Walter was on the field. David Anderson was the third receiver with Jacoby Jones injured, and was targeted twice with one catch for zero yards. I don't know, I figure if you are trying to come back from being down three touchdowns, it probably makes sense to spread it around a little more.
Tim Gerheim: I don't know if I've ever seen the modern Texans offense look that terrible. I don't remember any passes to Owen Daniels, and Walter didn't do much, as you mentioned. Maybe Andre Johnson's injury caused some of the terrible throws to him, because he couldn't get to the spots Schaub would usually expect him in. The Giants may have in turn realized they didn't have to roll coverage to him as much as usual, and that caused a cascade where nobody else could get open like usual. But Schaub just seemed off all day, which may have simply been the pass rush.
Denver Broncos 17 at Baltimore Ravens 31
Bill Barnwell: Alleged goal line back Willis McGahee is stuffed twice from the one-yard line, and then the Ravens go play-action on fourth down and the Broncos get a megasack.
Doug Farrar: It appears that the new Ravens game plan is to sacrifice Joe Flacco for short gains in and out of the red zone. On their first two drives, Baltimore has called at least four quarterback sneaks/draws, and it was Flacco who scored the first rushing touchdown near the end of the first quarter. He’s putting his shoulder down on all these plays. Cam Cameron is making Josh McDaniels’ decision to defer the opening kickoff look pretty good.
Bill Barnwell: They appear to have given up on using McGahee as the goal-line back, which is nice of them considering I just traded for Ray Rice in my other fantasy league.
Doug Farrar: I've noticed that a lot of broadcasters call Josh McDaniels "McDaniel". I think this is because Phil Simms stole that "s" for strategic Asante Samuel purposes.
Atlanta Falcons 20 at Cleveland Browns 10
Ben Muth: Peyton Hillis just caught a touchdown, but came off the field limping. Cleveland can't get a break.
Doug Farrar: It was a ridiculous one-hander off a Seneca Wallace rainbow, and he’s scored a touchdown in every game this season. When you think of Denver’s horsecrap running game, remember that Josh McDaniels traded this guy for Brady Quinn.
Aaron Schatz: In defense of McDaniels, offensive lines do matter to the running game, plus Knowshon Moreno has been injured.
Bill Barnwell: Your Roddy White deep out update: He just ran a triple-move against Eric Wright on second-and-short. An out-and-up-and-out.
Oh my God ... that's Jake Delhomme's music!
/out-of-tune banjo is played
And Jake Delhomme lets the clock run out at the half instead of throwing a Hail Mary. What did they pay him again?
Ben Muth: Jake Delhomme is trying to throw a pick in the redzone, but the Falcons defense is not cooperating. So Jake takes matters into his own hands and pitches the ball to Hillis on a dive. The Falcons refuse to recover.
Bill Barnwell: Falcons finally get Roddy White open deep with play-action for a 45-yard touchdown to take the lead. Safety help nowhere to be found.
Epic struggle to see who can turn in the worse performance. Delhomme at quarterback or Charles Davis on commentary.
Kroy Biermann just tipped a pass at the line and made the diving pick. Then took it all the way to the house. Really great play.
Also, has Jake Delhomme thrown more pick-sixes than anyone else in history?
Doug Farrar: Kyle Boller threw four just last year, I believe.
Ben Muth: I should know better than to discount a Golden Bear when it comes to incompetence.
Kansas City Chiefs 9 at Indianapolis Colts 19
Bill Barnwell: Colts can't hold contain against the Chiefs. One long run was saved by a great Jerraud Powers tackle on Jamaal Charles, but Charles was able to pick up a first down a couple of plays later when Dwight Freeney spun inside and was totally out of position.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs are running all over the Colts early, driving to a fourth-and-2 inside the ten. So of course, Matt Cassel throws incomplete into triple coverage. Colts defenders were shouting at each other for blown assignments on the drive, and the camera caught Peyton Manning on the sidelines with his funniest face ever, looking like he had given up here in the first quarter. There is no good reason to ever throw against the Colts unless it's third-and-6 or more, or you're behind late in the fourth.
Doug Farrar: Brandon Flowers continues to earn his reputation as one of the game's best cover corners. Third-and-6 with 9:24 left in the first half, and the Colts have the ball at the Kansas City 6. Manning tried to get Pierre Garcon at the back of the end zone, but Flowers has him boxed out, and Manning has to throw it away. Flowers might not be at the Revis/Nnamdi level, but I believe he will be -- and soon.
Bill Barnwell: And then Colts get stuffed on fourth-and-2 when they audible into a draw. Now I give up.
Tom Gower: Jamaal Charles may now be spending more time on the bench, though it's not really his fault. Robert Mathis got his arm in there, and then Antoine Bethea came in and blast him with a very solid (and clean) hit, forcing a fumble the Colts came up with. The Colts get stuffed, though, on another inside run, this one on fourth-and-2, so it doesn't result in points the other way.
Bill Barnwell: Tamba Hali basically just punched Ryan Diem aside and strip-sacked Peyton Manning. Colts recovered, though. Big play on the drive was the Colts isolating Joseph Addai on a swing route versus Derrick Johnson, with Manning throwing to the back shoulder for an easy first down. Touchdown pass was knocked away because Manning was hit in his motion and the pass was short by a foot. Chiefs are staying in it, even if they're necessarily being outplayed.
Chiefs get to the red zone and run a pitch to Thomas Jones. Against the Colts. What the what? At least Eric Foster did the Bushwhackers celebration after the play.
Dwayne Bowe just dropped a pass in the end zone. Hit him in the hands. One of the worst drops you'll see all year. And then he just dropped the pass on second down, to. On third down, Cassel gets out his anger by throwing a screen to Dexter McCluster at about 95 MPH.
The Colts convert a third down with a pass to Pierre Garcon. They rush to the line so that Todd Haley can't look at any replays... so Todd Haley just throws the flag without looking at a replay.
Tom Gower: Peyton was obviously and immediately rushing the Colts up to the line to run another play, so Haley assumed Peyton saw something that required him to run a play quickly. Watching the replay, Peyton was right and Haley wins his challenge.
Peyton needs to do that on a close play where he's confident the ball is right to get a coach to burn a challenge trusting Peyton, because right now he's giving the opposing team valuable information when he does that.
Bill Barnwell: I mean...it's the Colts. That could happen on a third down play that wasn't a close catch at all or a third down play that was close that Manning also thought was a catch. I don't think that's great information.
Tom Gower: Peyton has looked a little uncomfortable and off all day, but part of this is probably that Kansas City has a pretty good pair of young corners in Carr and Flowers, who just made a great tip to break up a likely touchdown pass to Garcon.
After the Chiefs, down 19-9, miss a 51-yard field goal and the Colts kneel the clock out, Dan Dierdorf expounds on how important it is for teams that want to win on the road to score touchdowns. Because, frankly, if you're playing at home, scoring touchdowns isn't the least bit important apparently.
Jacksonville Jaguars 36 at Buffalo Bills 26
Bill Barnwell: Awesome football alert: Ryan Fitzpatrick one-hops a bubble screen to Roscoe Parrish. Parrish realizes it's a backwards throw and so he recovers it and starts running, and a surprised Jaguars cornerback promptly facemasks him to give the Bills first-and-goal.
Ben Muth: Nothing will ever be as cool as Mr. Roby.
Vince Verhei: I think it moves him ahead of Doug Christie on the list of most whipped athletes.
Green Bay Packers 13 at Washington Redskins 16
Bill Barnwell: Packers-Redskins has started ugly. The Packers returned a kickoff to the eight-yard line, and then Donald Lee fumbled two plays later. Jermichael Finley appeared to blow out his knee on the tackle and got carted off. The Redskins promptly ran twice for no gain and then the snap on third down went five yards over Donovan McNabb's head, knocking the Redskins out of field goal range. Professionals!
And then Brandon Jackson promptly runs for 71 yards, infuriating everyone who gave up on him in fantasy before this week.
Bill Barnwell: In all fairness, if you're going to struggle blocking anyone...
Ben Muth: Santana Moss just dropped a touchdown pass, on a nice throw on a rollout from McNabb.
Doug Farrar: McNabb made up for it by overthrowing Anthony Armstrong and Moss on consecutive plays, though. That was nice of him.
Bill Barnwell: Packers are able to get pressure on the Redskins with three. So how do the Redskins convert? They throw a checkdown to Williams that gets dropped and tipped over A.J. Hawk's head and into the arms of Anthony Armstrong for a first down.
The Redskins are running a nice little two-minute drive to get in field goal range. Of course, the Packers are down to Charles Woodson and the scout team on defense, and McNabb is playing with what appears to be a leg injury. Drive stalls on what amounts to the Packers' eighth borderline DPI of the day, and Graham Gano barely gets a 45-yarder between the uprights to tie it.
The Packers move up the field quickly when Aaron Rodgers scrambles for a first down and then a Redskins a big blitz enables Quarless to get 20 on a quick slant of DeAngelo Hall (of DeAngelo Hall's defense). That sets up the Packers for a game-winning field goal attempt that bounces off of the upright -- and Mike Shanahan doesn't bother to ice the kick attempt. The Redskins then decide to attempt a Hail Mary from about midfield that gets picked off...and Tramon Williams returns it 75 yards or so before falling down.
Ben Muth: Troy Aikman: "It's a good kick, other than the fact that it didn't go in."
Bill Barnwell: Oh, and it looks like Trent Williams busted up his knee on the return. If anyone should know the low upside/high downside of running a play at the end of the game, it's the Redskins.
Redskins-Packers is going to come down to one big play. Neither of these teams can sustain a steady drive because they can't go more than a few plays without taking a sack.
And that big play just came on defense -- Aaron Rodgers just threw a pick and LaRon Landry makes a great play to pick it off. Landry's turnaround has been remarkable this year; he was terrible last season, overrunning plays left and right, and he's been just awesome this year. Best player on the roster.
Two straight makeup calls for the Redskins on pass plays get them first downs. Both were, um, questionable.
The Redskins pick up the win when Graham Gano chips a field goal through. The amazing thing is that they're 3-2 and could, honestly, be 0-5 without having played materially different.
New Orleans Saints 20 at Arizona Cardinals 30
Bill Barnwell: I might prefer Max Hall with his leg amputated below the kneecap.
Cardinals then score when Max Hall fumbles on a scramble and Levi Brown recovers it into the endzone. Hall appears to be out cold on his feet.
Doug Farrar: Brown now has more points than blown blocks for the season, a stat that should stand about two weeks.
Anderson actually does come out for Arizona’s next drive. Cards run a draw and walk off the field at the end of the first half. Between Delhomme and Anderson, that’s twice today I’ve seen coaches seem to say, “Screw it – I don’t even want to chance it with you“ at the end of the half, when high-risk, low-reward plays are generally the standard.
Oh wow. The Saints just had a third-and-1 run against the Cardinals and their offensive line just blew EVERYONE off of the line of scrimmage. Chris Ivory wasn't touched for four yards, and he ran straight forward.
Ben Muth: Carney misses a chip shot field goal. The Saints might become the first team to go for it every time they get inside the 50.
Bill Barnwell: Veteran kickers miss field goals, too.
Cardinals have recovered four of the five fumbles in the game against the Saints. That accounts for about 95 percent of the score line, which is currently Cards up by ten with the ball and five minutes left.
The Cardinals subsequently make an inspired play call on their final drive...
A quote from our old friend MDS: "Ken Whisenhunt just made the worst play call in NFL history. How do you call a pass in that situation?" The situation was a pass on third down with the Saints having no timeouts. Ben Patrick fumbled, and the Cardinals were forced to punt.
And then, in stupid player tricks, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picks off Drew Brees's pass to the sideline. With a three-point lead, no timeouts for the opposition, and 20 seconds left, Rodgers-Cromartie runs horizontally across the field to score a touchdown. The Nate Clements play literally happened a week ago. Why are you running?!?!?
Ben Muth: I was screaming at the television for him to get down.
Tennessee Titans 34 at Dallas Cowboys 27
Tom Gower: Apparently the Cowboys' pass defense consists of interference; in the Titans' touchdown drive to open the game, Mike Jenkins was flagged twice for grabbing a hold of Kenny Britt's jersey and never letting go, and Orlando Scandrick was flagged for running into Nate Washington in the end zone. Never you mind, though, as Washington did a great job of maintaining concentration and balance to haul in the ball.
Titans end the first quarter with the ball and up 10-3. Fernando Velasco, starting at left guard for Leroy Harris, has picked up two holding penalties already. Tony Romo, sacked once in the first three games, has gone down twice already. The Cowboys haven't been flagged for pass interference since the opening drive, but there have been a couple times they probably could have been flagged. Chris Johnson seems to be running pretty decisively thus far and not dancing.
Doug Farrar: Ben, I don’t know if you’re planning to return to Dallas for this week’s article, but if so, you’re going to have fertile ground for your comedic talents.
Tom Gower: Count: Five sacks for Tony Romo thus far today, one on the year entering the game. The Titans are solid on the defensive line, and better than I thought they'd be, but I think it's primarily really awful pass protection.
Bill Barnwell: Leonard Davis has been, according to Tim MacMahon, benched in Dallas. Think you're going to get your wish for Word of Muth this week, Doug.
Ben Muth: Yeah, Levi Brown's lack of celebration on the TD sealed it, writing about the Boys this week.
Bill Barnwell: Think the Cowboys got away with one. Roy Williams catches a fade for 20 yards that puts Dallas inside the five, but it appears that he steps out of bounds on the route before catching the pass. Jeff Fisher rightly calls a timeout so the booth can get enough time to look at it to call an official review, but they don't overturn it, and Williams blows over a cornerback for a touchdown on the next play.
Tom Gower: I thought Williams probably stepped out, but there just wasn't enough there to overturn the call that I could see. Naturally, with Jeff Triplette, the review took forever and didn't change anything.
The rule of thumb against the Titans defense is once again the same: if you can keep your QB upright and he's not terrible, he can make plays against the Titans' secondary. Even on one of Romo's sacks, there was a busted coverage and Austin was running free over the short middle.
Tom Gower: Whee, the Titans' 17-3 lead is gone by the wayside, as the Cowboys score late in the second quarter and take the first possession of the second half to the end zone thanks to a 68 yard catch-and-run by Miles Austin against Ryan Mouton (bad) when Austin beats Mouton and then out-jumps Griffin for the ball when Griffin goes for the pick instead of playing the man.
Bill Barnwell: I can't imagine Finnegan would be a good matchup for Austin, though, either.
Tom Gower: Mouton is the fourth corner, and playing because number-two guy Jason McCourty is out and number-three Alterraun Verner was playing on the other side. Normally when they go nickel, safety Vinny Fuller is the nickelback playing slot. They tried something interesting in personnel terms and it burned them. Now they go three-and-out again after Vince Young passes up a scramble opportunity and airmails an open Washington. The game is slipping away from the Titans.
Bill Barnwell: Having seen the replay now, I think Griffin's more at fault there than anything else. He has to make a play on that ball.
And then there's a big gain for Felix Jones when Verner just seems to choose not to make a tackle in the alley.
Aaron Schatz: Jeff Fisher does something really stupid, challenging field position on Michael Griffin's interception return. Griffin picked a pass off in the end zone, got off the ground, and ran to the 15. Fisher is challenging that Griffin was touched in the end zone, which would give him the ball on the 20. Five yards are not worth a challenge (although Fisher does win it).
Then Young hits Kenny Britt deep for an 80-yard touchdown. But no! Mike Jenkins actually grabbed Britt's jersey as he was falling to the ground, making him down by contact at the Dallas 28. Wade Phillips throws the red hanky. See, this is a good challenge. Five yards? Bad challenge. Take away a touchdown and 28 yards? Good challenge.
Bill Barnwell: Cowboys have second-and-goal from the 3-yard line, but the previously-benched Leonard Davis (back in after Montrae Holland suffered an eye injury) whiffs on a block and Stephen Tulloch blows up Felix Jones. Then Doug Free takes a false start. And then a checkdown to Felix Jones gets stuffed.
Aaron Schatz: The Titans defensive improvement this year is for real. That pass rush is for real. Jason Jones in particular is for real, playing very well again today. The Titans were overpowering the Cowboys blockers constantly in the first half. The Cowboys solved the problem in the second half, for the most part, by bringing in third tight end Scot Chandler (number 86 in your program) for nearly every play. They had some three tight end sets, then they used Chandler at fullback with Witten in, and then they had a few two-tight end sets without Chandler, just Witten and Bennett. But Jason Garrett started leaving more blockers back there, and that kept Romo safe. Then one time they don't, they toss five guys into a pattern, and that's when Romo got rushed and threw the pick to Verner in the fourth quarter, on a pass intended for Bennett but tipped by Dave Ball.
There is massive depression in Dallas, where they are 1-3 in a season that was supposed to end in the Super Bowl. But that's three close losses, including one where they totally outplayed the other team and lost on a couple fluky weird plays and one fluky stupid play. If people start discounting the Cowboys, they're not paying attention.
San Diego Chargers 27 at Oakland Raiders 35
Vince Verhei: Chargers special teams strike again -- they get a punt blocked for a safety against Oakland.
Raiders block a Chargers punt for a touchdown. This is not a correction of an earlier e-mail -- Chargers have allowed two blocked punts in the first quarter.
Bill Barnwell: They also had a kickoff out of bounds.
Chargers just fumbled on the one-yard line and the Raiders recovered. They are living a Madden no-way game.
...and after a 55-yard completion, Matt Shaughnessy beats up Brandyn Dombrowski and strip-sacks Rivers, with the Raiders recovering. Oh lord.
Sean: All of which explains how the Chargers can be first in net yards per drive by a good five yards, first in points per drive, and yet on their way to 2-3.
Bill Barnwell: OK, this is now ridiculous. The Chargers strip-sack Gradkowski, but the refs (rightly) reverse the call and say it's an incomplete pass. Gradkowski is injured on the play and taken out, with Jason Campbell coming in.
Doug Farrar: At this point, I think it’s entirely appropriate to credit every blown block by Dombrowski to A.J. Smith.
Ben Muth: On the other hand, I think Rivers-to-Gates is the best passing combo in the NFL right now.
Tom Gower: The San Diego Chargers successfully punted the ball. Of course, on the play the Raiders roughed Mike Scifres so it won't end up in the box score as such, and Scifres was also injured on the play.
Vince Verhei: Campbell is hit and fumbles, and Daniel Loper falls on the ball several yards short of the first down. Then he realizes nobody's around him and LOG ROLLS for a five-yard gain. It's Loper's Roly-Poly Holy Roller!
The play sets up a fourth-and-1. Raiders go for it and Michael Bush picks up the first down.
Bill Barnwell: Philip Rivers is at 278 yards with 35 seconds left before halftime. Malcom Floyd is at five for 153. Rivers even just had Patrick Crayton open in the end zone but missed him on a blown coverage.
Chargers end up kicking a field goal and the announcers note that the Raiders defense "did their job." Really?
Ben Muth: Philip Rivers gets hit as he's throwing, it's ruled a fumble and the Raiders return it for a touchdown. Raiders up eight with 55 seconds left ... This game is unreal.
Mike Tanier: The ending of the Chargers game was very Charger-esque. They were in field-goal range and appeared to just be running the clock and setting up the hashmarks with running plays. But Antonio Gates held, taking them out of easy field-goal range, and then the Raiders started blitzing. Next thing you know, strip-sack (it looked like an incomplete pass to me, but I have given up making sense of that rule) and touchdown.
I don't think Chargers-Raiders was "about" what happened on that last drive. It was "about" all the things that made the game close in the first place: blocked punts, safeties, and other early-game mistakes that kept the Raiders in the game.
Bill Barnwell: I don't understand how you call that anything but an incomplete pass on the field. I can understand not being able to overturn it.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, my thought is that if the ball goes about ten yards forward, you call an incomplete pass, then look at the tape. But I guess they don't want to whistle it dead. Or wait, they do, don't they, to prevent injuries?
Philadelphia Eagles 27 at San Francisco 49ers 24
Bill Barnwell: I went and charted the second half of the Eagles game last week and paid pretty close attention to Kolb's throws. I charted a hurry for almost every pass play before the final two drives. It was insane. Kolb was holding onto the ball too long at times, but there were also a fair amount of plays where he just had no hope. In that sense, Vick's a better fit because he can make crazy escapes from pressure, whereas Kolb either takes a sack or throws an ugly-looking checkdown.
There were three drives where Kolb got decent protection, and they ended with a McCoy fumble in the red zone, a touchdown, and the Hail Mary pass that hit a Eagles receiver in the hands. (Kolb also threw an ugly should-be interception before that.) So far tonight, he's had pretty good protection outside of the touchdown pass and the sack, and he looks good, making easy throws downfield to open receivers. He still forces more throws than I might like, but the "unable to throw downfield" stuff is pass protection, not his skill or style.
Mike Kurtz: Is it just the runs I've seen, or does McCoy have AWFUL ball security? He's popping the ball back and forth, holding it away from his chest, just all sorts of bad habits.
Mike Tanier: Yeah, McCoy's ball security is a problem. He gets too cute with it in the open field.
Sean McCormick: He's also wearing a flak jacket, which can't help matters.
Bill Barnwell: Bad sack for Kolb to take there -- not great protection, but he had a touchdown with the open receiver right in front of him about 15 yards downfield. Not sure why Andy Reid didn't take a timeout post-sack to encourage the replay booth to take a look.
Doug Farrar: And Andy Reid opens the fourth quarter by making a wind-based decision … in Candlestick Park. Of course.
Bill Barnwell: I'm pretty sure kicking a field goal is the worst decision of the three possibilities there, so that's what Reid does.
49ers end up making up for Reid's largesse with an Alex Smith drop-six (it's the new pick-six!) and a three-and-out that leads the 49ers fans into a LOUD "We Want Carr!" chant. No you don't.
Mike Tanier: Nobody loves Milhouse. And nobody loves David Carr.
Tim Gerheim: I never, ever, imagined I would ever hear "WE WANT CARR!" It's not like he's the worst quarterback ever, but especially in a game against an active pass rush, the last thing you want is David Carr.
Mike Tanier: Tim, that might have been me screaming as Frank Gore waltzed in for a touchdown at the two-minute warning. Nice block by Josh Morgan on that play.
Bill Barnwell: Thank you, Trevard Lindley, for falling down with your game-winning interception.
Mike Tanier: Hey, Trevor Laws made that hit on Alex Smith. He was the "other" guy the Eagles drafted in the second round with Kevin Kolb. After the draft, the Eagles sent both of them to the podium so Laws could stand there while the press asked Kolb a million questions. Laws has been about that visible since. Nice play, though.
Bill Barnwell: It just occurred to me that Niners fans should really be chanting "WE WANT LUCK". In more ways than one.
Watch 60 Minutes
Bill Barnwell: 60 Minutes voiceover: "If you have money in the stock market, you can't afford to miss "60 Minutes"." 60 Minutes graphic: Picture of Eminem. Huh?
Mike Kurtz: Eminem to be appointed new head of SEC.