What I Learned From NFL Week 9

(published November 7, 2011)

With Week 9 all but behind us, it’s the true midpoint of the NFL season.  Every team has now played its eighth game; Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Houston have played nine, but won’t get their bye for another two weeks.  (Anyone know why there are no byes in Week 10, which makes no sense whatsoever?  And doesn’t that four-team grouping look like one of those “Which word doesn’t belong?” SAT questions?)

There’s been enough football on the field to form some definite conclusions, or at least offer a handful of half-baked opinions.  I’d bake them fully, but that would complicate my suck-for-Luck chances.

The Jets finally played a game worthy of their mouths. In Buffalo, against a team brimming with confidence after last week’s shutout of the Redskins, the Jets held an opponent below 30 points on the road for the first time all season.  They limited the Bills to five first downs in the first 42 minutes, reeled off two 14-play drives that took a total of 18 minutes off the clock, and opened up a 27-3 lead before allowing a meaningless late touchdown.  New York, New England, and Buffalo are all tied atop the AFC East at 5-3, heading into next week’s Sunday night Jets-Pats renewal.  (I earned bonus points for not mentioning Rex Ryan, Revis Island, or Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Harvard pedigree.)

Indianapolis has a legitimate shot at history. The 0-9 Colts have a point differential of minus-155.   The record, held by the 0-14 Tampa Bay Bucs in 1976, is minus-287; after nine games, the Bucs were minus-144.  The Colts are ahead of that pace, and will have two extra games in which to pad their stats.  Stay tuned; it could get exciting.

The hottest play in football isn’t a play at all. It’s pass interference.  In game after game, crucial chunks of yardage come by virtue of a yellow flag and a man in black and white.  The Giants’ two fourth-quarter touchdown drives against New England were aided mightily by interference penalties, one for thirty-five yards and the other for twenty.  The Jets got 42 yards from one call; the Bucs got one that helped them reduce the Saints’ lead to eight points with five minutes to play; the Bengals picked up 45 yards on the first play of one of their three touchdown drives.

Baltimore’s Joe Flacco said of the winning touchdown pass to Torrey Smith against Pittsburgh, “I didn’t even know he’d caught it; I thought everyone was celebrating because we got pass interference.”

Just throw deep on every play.  You’ll get enough flags to make it worth it.

It’s a two-half game, except in New York. The Jets led Buffalo 3-0 at halftime.  The Giants and Pats were scoreless at halftime.  I think too many of them watched the LSU-Alabama game.

When a resistable force meets a movable object… Arizona defeated St. Louis in overtime, leading to the obvious Q & A: What’s worse than watching four quarters of the Cardinals and Rams?  Watching five.

Has San Francisco clinched a playoff spot yet? The 49ers are 7-1.  Seattle and Arizona are tied for second in the NFC West at 2-6.  Alex Smith has thrown two interceptions on the season, which is something he did in four of his first five games in 2010.  What a great job of coaching by Jim Harbaugh.  Or maybe John.

If we talk about Tim Tebow, the terrorists win. Denver beat Oakland in Oakland, 38-24.  Two of Denver’s four second-half touchdowns came on an 85-yard punt return by Eddie Royal and a 60-yard run by Willis McGehee.  It’s not always about the quarterback.  (Tebow was 10-of-21 for 124 yards and two touchdowns, no interceptions.  This gave him a QB rating of 98.1 for the game.  I think I understand the QB rating system less and less each week.)

Tony Sparano may yet survive the season. Some observers thought this would be the week that the Dolphins coach got fired.  A 31-3 win in Kansas City probably saved his job for the rest of the year.  Matt Moore was 17-of-23 for 244 yards, three TDs and no picks.  It was an impressive win, even though the Chiefs have, shall we say, issues.  Kansas City is tied for first in the AFC West with a 4-4 record, despite a point differential of minus-70.  (I earned bonus points for not using “whacked” when describing the possible firing of Sparano, or making a joke about the game telecast suddenly going black.)

The road to the Super Bowl goes through Green Bay.  So do most offenses. The 8-0 Packers are playing a brand of football that Vince Lombardi wouldn’t even call football.  They out-swashbuckled San Diego 45-38; I think too many of them watched the Oklahoma State-Kansas State game.  Lombardi’s Pack didn’t give up 38 in a game for more than five years.

Seventeen teams have given up fewer points than Green Bay; one of them, Miami, is 1-7.  Yet Green Bay has the largest positive point differential in the NFL, plus-96.  Detroit is second, plus-92.  Their Thanksgiving matchup should be the best Turkey Day showdown since Nebraska-Oklahoma, 1971.





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