The New England Patriots made sure "the biggest underdogs in the history of sports" didn't spoil one of the most anticipated regular season games in recent NFL history.
Pretty much since the Patriots embarrassed the San Diego Chargers and the Indianapolis Colts held off the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, Nov. 4 has been circled as a collision course for the NFL's cream of the crop. And despite "supposed" multiple hurdles along the way, neither team disappointed. Not when the Patriots had their "Duel in Dallas." Not when Indy made its way back to Jacksonville, Fla., – site of the 375 rushing yards allowed debacle in December. And definitely not on Sunday when the Goliaths had a pair of wannabe Davids from the NFC trying to trip them up.
There's no need to go on and on about what Tom "The Terrific" and Peyton Manning have done up to this point. And no words – not in this space – can begin to sum up just how truly amazing of a matchup we could be in store for next week at the RCA Dome. So at this point, just sit back and get ready to be inundated with Colts-Patriots coverage for the next seven days.
But until then, here are some winners, losers and other observations from Week 8:
• Come on now! You didn't think we would ignore the Pats and Colts highlights from Sunday, did you? Though realistically, what more can be said about Brady – already with a career-high 30 passing touchdowns – after he accounted for five more scores in the 52-7 blitzing of the Washington Redskins. Probably just as impressive – OK, this might be a stretch – was the three-sack, one touchdown-catch day of Mike Vrabel, who suddenly seems to have emerged as the most visible defender of the team.
• While the Patriots literally keep raising the point tallies week-by-week, the Colts just go out, post their 30-plus and notch another victory – becoming the first team in 76 years to go 7-0 three straight seasons. And even after the Carolina Panthers held the ball for 11 minutes during the game-opening scoring drive, Indy still dominated during a 31-7 victory. Apparently, Reggie Wayne (168 yards, one touchdown) is good enough to carry the receiving corps when future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison is sidelined.
• With the Chargers coming off another impressive win, the question must be raised – which pair of San Diego "streakers" should we most believe? The group that's scored 104 points against the mediocre Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans the past three contests, or the ones who previously lost three straight games to the division-leading Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs? We should get a good read on the sudden contenders in the next six weeks when they face the likes of the Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chiefs and Tennessee Titans.
• Speaking of comeback stories, the New Orleans Saints are emphatically out to prove that last year was not a fluke. Drew Brees had his best game of the season (336 passing yards, four touchdowns) against the San Francisco 49ers as the one-time 0-4 Saints try to reach .500 against the Jaguars next week.
• Oh Romeo, how has thee turned the Brown-baggers into a competitive bunch in which the Dawg Pound no longer demands Brady Quinn as the starter? Seriously, what Derek Anderson and that offense have done after that embarrassing season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers is perhaps the most surprising story line of the season so far – even more shocking than what's happening in the NFC North with the Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
• This is just a wild guess, but there probably aren't too many folks still laughing at Jon Kitna after he stated in the preseason that the Lions would win at least 10 games and make the playoffs. They're halfway home to 10 wins after completing a season sweep of the Bears for the second time in four seasons.
• Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a native of Lima, Ohio, and alumnus of Miami-Ohio, remained perfect (9-0) in his home state following the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers have won seven straight in Cincy, four under Big Ben.
• Donovan McNabb (333 passing yards, one touchdown) and Brian Westbrook (92 total yards, two touchdowns) had good outings, but the Philadelphia Eagles defense probably deserves more credit for the teams' 23-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. After all, for a second straight week, rookie dynamo Adrian Peterson (20 carries, 70 yards) was kept in check.
• No real analysis here, just a question: what the heck happened to the 49ers? Yes, they've had injuries, but the trendy preseason pick to win the NFC West would be working its way into conversation of the conference's worst … if not for those winless St. Louis Rams.
• Speaking of the NFC's winless one, has anything good happened for Marc Bulger since signing a lucrative six-year, $65 million deal in the preseason? A week after an abysmal outing in which he returned to action against the Seattle Seahawks, Bulger was temporarily knocked out of the contest against the Browns. He returned just in time to throw a game-sealing interception to Leigh Bodden on the Rams' final possession.
• Jeff Garcia threw three interceptions – his only picks of the season – and yet are overshadowed by an even bigger miscue during a 24-23 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the Bucs facing a third-and-10 with 37 seconds left from Jacksonville's 45-yard line, coach Jon Gruden skipped over the "conservative" section in the playbook and went for the touchdown instead of a field goal. Ike Hilliard, lined up on the far right, gave the cornerback a hesitation move and went free down the sideline. All alone, Hilliard watched the ball sail over his head as Garcia botched the brave and perfect play call. On fourth down, Garcia was picked by Reggie Nelson on a tip pass as he attempted to go back to Hilliard, essentially ending the game.
• Wide receiver Steve Smith has to be having fun as injuries have forced the Panthers to play musical chairs at quarterback. Just when he thought he might be saved from the David "Carr" wreck, Vinny Testaverde was forced to the sideline after suffering a right Achilles' tendon injury in the first half.
WHAT THEY HAD TO BE THINKING
Rex Grossman: "And he's supposed to be giving us a better shot at winning?" after watching fellow Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Griese throw four interceptions – three in the end zone – during a 16-7 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Any kicker or punter: "And we wonder why folks don't consider us real athletes" after Houston Texans punter Matt Turk's inexplicable errant attempt to pounce on a bad snap in the end zone and was subsequently recovered by San Diego Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie for a touchdown.
All Redskins fans: "Why is he all alone when everyone in the stadium knows the Patriots like to throw to him?" when Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel entered the game as a tight end and scored his second touchdown of the season and 10th of his career.
Rich Gannon: "Enough with (No.) 65" after watching former Oakland Raiders teammate and left tackle Barry Sims pick up a third false start penalty during the 13-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans: Actually, those very words were uttered by Gannon's CBS broadcast partner, Kevin Harlan.
- Tennessee Titans