If he wasn't friends with Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable, and he didn't care about his former players, Lane Kiffin would be basking in the glow of victory right now. And sadly enough for the Raiders, their former coach's moral victory might be as close as the team ever comes to another win.
By all accounts, Oakland appears to have quit on Cable, who has seen the Raiders fall to 1-3 since he took over for Kiffin during the team's bye in Week 5. The Raiders have been outscored an astounding 87-13 in those three losses, including Sunday's new low, falling at home 24-0 to the Atlanta Falcons.
It wasn't just the embarrassment of a home shutout, or the fact that it came against a team that had to make the long cross-country trek. It was that Oakland did almost nothing right – possessing the ball for less than 15 minutes, racking up a total of 77 yards of offense (including a net of only 10 yards passing), and seeing Atlanta hold a 29-3 edge in first downs. Those staggering numbers make the Raiders the weekend's biggest losers, particularly when you consider they came against the Falcons – a resurgent NFC team, but hardly what you would consider a league superpower.
If this isn't Al Davis' worst nightmare, I can't imagine what would be for the meddling Raiders owner. A week after Kiffin filed a grievance to regain the $2.6 million left on his contract, the Raiders owner watches his prize quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, struggle through the worst game of his career (six completions for 31 yards and one interception). This after learning that his prize running back – Darren McFadden – could be out a prolonged period with nagging toe injuries.
Meanwhile, the offensive line has played horribly under Cable, who was previously the unit's coach before taking over for Kiffin. And the defense? Well, Rob Ryan, who was never a Kiffin favorite, has been calling a game that has made teams like Atlanta and the Baltimore Ravens look like juggernauts.
Surely, Kiffin's satisfaction is tempered by the pains of his friend Cable and former players. But you couldn't blame him even if he was a little giddy. After all, Al Davis is getting everything he wanted.
Here are some winners and other losers from this weekend …
• The NFL
Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson scored twice in the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and didn't unfurl a banner endorsing Barack Obama as president. The last thing the league wanted was to have one of its players use the end zone to make a political statement. The Obama vs. John McCain debate has been touchy in some locker rooms, and you can bet Johnson would have faced a massive fine (think more than $100,000) for such an act.
• The Bengals
Finally a win, largely thanks to an offense that had three strong quarters against Jacksonville. Johnson made his presence felt in the red zone with a pair of touchdown catches, and Cedric Benson (104 rushing yards) ran about as hard as he ever has in an NFL game. The defense and special teams nearly blew it by allowing 16 fourth-quarter points, but the Bengals officially have something to feel good about as they go into the bye week.
• Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner
The way Warner is playing right now, I'm starting to lament those lost years from 2002-2006 when he muddled his way through the league mostly as a backup or injury alternative. He racked up another big game Sunday against St. Louis (342 passing yards, two touchdowns) and continues to be one of the most entertaining players in the league this season. His 70-percent passing accuracy this year is remarkable.
• Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin
Since being knocked out for three weeks in a loss to the New York Jets, Boldin has combined for three touchdown receptions the past two weeks. There was some question whether Boldin would play scared when he returned, but that hasn't happened. His blocking and receiving bullied the St. Louis secondary on Sunday.
• The Jets and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins
The Jets have gotten themselves into prime striking distance for the AFC East lead, despite not playing their best the last three weeks. Jenkins has been impressive, though. He's got three sacks this season after notching two against Buffalo and is quietly having a very good season. After being overweight and inconsistent his last few years in Carolina, he's a difference-maker for the Jets.
• Baltimore Ravens wideout Derrick Mason
I'm not sure another wide receiver has ever had a more underrated career than the 34-year old Mason, who caught nine passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Cleveland Browns. The day puts Mason at 557 receiving yards this season and 9,581 for his career. He could surpass the 10,000-yard mark at the end of this season – a heck of an accomplishment for a 5-foot-10 190-pound wideout.
• The Minnesota Vikings offense
You want to see what the Vikings had in mind when they made quarterback Gus Frerotte their starter? Watch Sunday's win over the Houston Texans. The Vikings had the ideal strong running game with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor (combined 177 rushing yards and one touchdown), and patient play from Frerotte (182 passing yards, three touchdown passes). The unit still needs another big No. 2 passing option to Bernard Berrian, but if the offense consistently plays the way it did Sunday, this team can compete for the NFC North title.
• Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte
He won't get enough credit because Rex Grossman punched in a goal-line touchdown against Detroit that normally would have gone to Forte. Grossman was his streaky self, but it was Forte's huge 20-yard fourth-quarter run – and second-half play overall – that made the difference in Chicago's comeback win over the Lions. If Orton is out long term with his sprained ankle, Forte must carry this offense.
• Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson
Since the trade of Roy Williams to Dallas, Calvin Johnson has had 305 receiving yards and three touchdowns in three games. He looks every bit like the superstar everyone expected when he was drafted No. 2 overall out of Georgia Tech. At least Matt Millen got one right before he got fired.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Give coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen credit. They've pieced together a 6-3 team with a lot of players who aren't considered superstars. Barrett Ruud is one of the top two or three middle linebackers in the NFL, while wideout Antonio Bryant – 275 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the past three games – has gone from being on the street last season to being one of the NFC's best receivers. The Bucs are going to fight Carolina all the way for control of the division.
• Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson
This guy is doing everything he can to win rookie of the year honors, with 161 offensive yards and one touchdown in the win over the Green Bay Packers. He's on pace for a fantastic 1,758 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns this season – amazing considering LenDale White is getting touches in that backfield, too.
• The Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes
With home games against the Seattle Seahawks and Raiders coming up, Sunday's victory over the Denver Broncos was immense. The Dolphins (4-4) have a good shot to be 6-4 and in the thick of the playoff hunt going into their Week 12 home showdown against the New England Patriots. With St. Louis and the Kansas City Chiefs still lying ahead as well, Miami has a soft schedule. Don't look now, but the season finale at the Meadowlands against the Jets might be a playoff play-in game. There would be no greater revenge for Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington than knocking his old team out of the postseason.
• The New York Giants backfield
New York's stable of running backs might be the best in the league from an overall depth standpoint. Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 200 yards in the win over the Dallas Cowboys, and all three players are averaging over five yards per carry. The three players complement each other perfectly. The offensive line has been a revelation this season, too.
• Giants defensive end Justin Tuck
With 2½ sacks against the Cowboys, Tuck has elevated his season total to 8½ in eight games. He's commanding consistent double-team attention and still managing to be New York's most disruptive force up front. All of the sudden that five-year, $30 million contract extension is starting to look like a tremendous bargain.
• Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek
Leave it to the Seahawks secondary. They take guys you never knew and make them stars. Celek filled in wonderfully for injured L.J. Smith racking up nearly as many receiving yards against Seattle (131) as he had all of last season (178).
• The Falcons
Does Atlanta get credit for pounding hapless Oakland? It should since it did almost everything right – from Matt Ryan's nearly flawless 138.4 passer rating, Michael Turner's 139 rushing yards, and an offense that possessed the ball an astonishing 45 minutes and 15 seconds. And just for good measure, defensive end John Abraham's three sacks boost him to 10 in eight games. Who said Rich McKay never made a good trade?
• Detroit and Kansas City
Both teams blew winnable games down the stretch. Detroit lost its grasp when quarterback Dan Orlovsky threw an interception going into the end zone. The Lions blew three good drives into Chicago territory down the stretch. The Chiefs were outscored 14-3 in a horrific fourth quarter. Both of these games look like backbreakers for teams that have to be close to throwing in the towel.
• The Chiefs' pass rush
Yet another horrible game for Kansas City's defensive front seven, which has four sacks – four! – in eight games. Perhaps the Chiefs would have been better off investing that big contract they gave Larry Johnson to Jared Allen. Defensive end Tamba Hali has vanished this year, with only one sack.
• St. Louis head coach Jim Haslett
I thought he had brought the team back to life after replacing Scott Linehan, but what has happened the last two weeks? It looks like the Rams have gone back into the tank after Sunday's blowout loss to Arizona. Road games against the Jets and San Francisco 49ers don't bode well in the next two weeks. Haslett is coaching for a job at this point. And just being competitive isn't enough.
• The Browns' defense
Allowing 24 points to Baltimore in the game's final 16:10 was horrendous. The run defense is terrible. Shaun Rogers looks every bit like the overrated and overweight player he was in Detroit. Falling to 3-5 in a muddled AFC playoff picture makes this the defining loss of Cleveland's season. A win would have put the Browns in the thick of the wild-card race.
• The Bills
A 1-3 record since starting 4-0, and none of the Bills' five wins is looking impressive anymore. They're suddenly hanging on for dear life in the wild-card race, too. Quarterback Trent Edwards has made costly mistakes in the last two losses, and running back Marshawn Lynch isn't getting the consistent 25-touch workload you expect from a centerpiece running back. The schedule isn't overly tough the rest of the way, but the Bills may need to win next week in New England to prove they aren't a paper tiger.
• The Jaguars
Every time you think this team is about to get it together, it falls flat on its face. Back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Cincinnati are embarrassing, particularly with the vaunted running game struggling. This team misses the hard running that Fred Taylor provided the last two seasons. At 32 years old, he's not the same without a healthy offensive line.
• The Houston Texans
The defense could use a second pass rusher next to Mario Williams (Amobi Okoye has 11 tackles and zero sacks in eight games). But first and foremost, it's time to figure out who the quarterback is for this team going forward. The streaky and injury-prone Matt Schaub never looked comfortable against the Vikings, while Sage Rosenfels was impressive in flashes. The juggling can't continue. The Texans should spend the next eight games deciding on this franchise's starter in 2009.
• The Lions' secondary
With Dewayne White's interception Sunday, the defensive line now has the same number of interceptions as Detroit's secondary this season: one apiece. That's probably not good for cornerback Leigh Bodden, who is due an $8.6 million roster bonus this offseason. Considering the defensive specialization of head coach Rod Marinelli, how can this entire staff not be swept out the door after this year?
• Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler
Cutler has thrown six interceptions in his last three games – all Denver losses. The Broncos' running game and the continued absence of Tony Scheffler haven't helped, but Cutler is making bad decisions under duress lately. His interceptions in Denver territory were brutal turns in momentum, starting with the pick returned by Miami's Will Allen for a 13-0 Dolphins lead in the first quarter.
• The Cowboys' offense
Forget the defense for minute (or try). That whole idea of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett being the next hot head coach … hold that thought. Could Brad Johnson's short stint as the starter have gone worse? With five interceptions in 10 quarters, it's hard to imagine. At this point, Johnson will probably be third string when Tony Romo returns. Terrell Owens' longest catch in the loss to the Giants was eight yards. And you thought he loved his quarterback before Romo went out.
• Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren
After falling to 2-6, I have to wonder: Would Holmgren walk away after a 4-12 finish? And leave the team in the hands of Jim Mora Jr., who has the worst secondary in the NFL?
– Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher in an interview with the NFL Netwrok, commenting on the fiery nature of San Francisco coach Mike Singletary.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: Listening to Warren Sapp. I can practically feel the NFL suits on Park Avenue wincing every time Sapp opens his mouth. Despite working for the league's network, Sapp continues to say anything. He called out Tennessee's quarterbacks Sunday, talking about Vince Young wanting "to commit suicide" and Kerry Collins' once being referred to as a racist. During his work for the NFL Network and Showtime, Sapp has ripped the Browns for staph infections, inferred that Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth takes plays off, and called current ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson a worse teammate than Terrell Owens. Tell us what you really think, Warren.
Loathed: Watching Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher against the Detroit Lions. Other than his late blitz that caused a key intentional grounding penalty, Urlacher didn't make a lot of big plays. I don't know if it's his back or what, but he doesn't look explosive. You expect more from a guy who got a reworked contract this offseason for a $6 million signing bonus and almost $9 million per season through 2012.
Loved: ESPN's "Countdown to Kickoff" radio show with Michael Smith. The show is packed with top-shelf analysis. For my money, Smith is the network's most underutilized on-air talent. His great contacts and knowledge come through on the show. He also gets a big thumbs-up for predicting this would be the week that both Detroit and Cincinnati would get their first wins.
Loathed: Hearing the NFL Network's Marshall Faulk say of Atlanta's Ryan: "Ryan looks better than Peyton [Manning] did in his first season." I'm sick of hearing overzealous announcers immediately go for the superstar comparison. Sure, Faulk has some first-person insight on Manning, but come on. We're talking about one of the top 10 quarterbacks in NFL history in Manning. Ryan has won five games. Even mentioning him in the same breath with Manning at this point is absurd.
Loved: Watching Arizona running back Tim Hightower as the Cardinals primary running back. He's got the explosion Edgerrin James has lacked for a long time. As if this offense wasn't scary enough, teams are going to have to respect the running game now, too.
Loathed: Hearing Phil Simms talk over the moment of silence – and playing of "Taps" – for fallen U.S. troops prior to the Bills-Jets game. The art of knowing when not to speak hasn't been Simms' strength. I could do without him rubbing his Super Bowl ring in Cris Collinsworth's face every week on Showtime, too.
Loved: Watching Baltimore's Ray Rice chew up the crummy Browns' run defense. With 154 rushing yards, this was the powerful runner we saw in the preseason. If Willis McGahee has started that downhill slide that we've seen from Edgerrin James over the last three seasons, the backfield will be in good hands with Rice and Le'Ron McClain.
Loathed: Seeing Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson smiling and waving to the crowd after being ejected for fighting with Cincinnati guard Andrew Whitworth. It appeared Henderson tried to gouge Whitworth's eye out, which is flat-out classless. He won't be smiling when he sees the NFL's fine for the act.
Loved: Watching Jamaal Charles put up a strong rushing performance (106 yards on a combined 18 carries) against a stout Tampa Bay defense. He's not likely to go anywhere with his prohibitive contract, but Larry Johnson had better get his personal issues sorted out. Even with Kolby Smith now injured, the Chiefs have another capable running back.
Loathed: Seeing Chicago's Kyle Orton go down with an injured foot. You have to feel for Bears fans. After so many problems with quarterbacks over the years, the city was awash with optimism over Kyle Orton's steadying influence. The thought of Rex Grossman finishing the season will have the city sick to its stomach.
- Lane Kiffin