Favre not alone in getting measure of redemption
You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL
When it was all over, Minnesota Vikings Brett Favre(notes) squeezed his fists together and gave a half-restrained shake, the way you do when you’re clenching your teeth and using all your oxygen to push out one word: “Yessssss.”
No matter how deep Favre digs into that bag of half-hearted diplomacy he’s been dragging around all season, the picture wouldn’t lie. Favre wanted Sunday’s win at Lambeau Field. He needed it, if only to exact a little price. A small bit of retribution against the fans who rejected him Sunday and booed him mercilessly. A morsel of payback for the general manager who traded him. And a measure of revenge against anyone who dared suggest he was damaging his hard-earned acre of history. As it turns out, Favre hadn’t actually finished writing his legacy.
There was a little further to go. And now we know.
But while Favre was ringing up four touchdowns on his old stomping grounds, and assuring the spotlight remained squarely on his redemption tour, he wasn’t alone in extracting his pound of flesh. Indeed, it was a weekend for reprisals all over the NFL. A Sunday of retribution, if you will. Among the others who took part:
• Vince Young(notes): He was effectively forced into the lineup by Titans owner Bud Adams, but showed that maybe he’s still got some of the spark from his rookie of the year campaign. Not only did he show flashes of leadership that many assumed no longer existed, he also displayed remarkable accuracy, completing 15 of 18 passes with one touchdown. Maybe it won’t last, but for a day, Young showed promise again.
• Winless teams: Young’s proficient afternoon and running back Chris Johnson’s huge rushing performance finally got the Titans on the positive side of the ledger against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, the Rams broke their 17-game losing streak with a road win over the Lions.
• LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and Shawne Merriman(notes): Two players that were seemingly cheap imitations of themselves looked like stars again. Tomlinson had his first multiple touchdown day of the season, scoring twice from inside the red zone, while Merriman harassed Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes) to the point of requiring double teaming.
• Ted Ginn: The guy who hasn’t exactly distinguished himself for his response to adversity took his demotion on offense in stride – long, sprinting strides to be exact, on a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns. If you wonder why he’ll continually buy himself second chances in the NFL, just watch the tape of his feet scorching turf against the Jets.
So while most people will remember Week 8 for Favre and his hostile homecoming in Green Bay, he was hardly the only one who earned a little grudging respect from those who had cast him out. As the NFL teaches us every week – and this week moreso than most – just when we think we’ve written off players and teams and careers, it only takes one more game to pull us back again.
Here are some of the other winners and losers in Week 8 …
• The Baltimore Ravens defense
You knew it was only a matter of time before this unit got itself going again. The Ravens held the previously undefeated Broncos to 200 total yards of offense, and kept quarterback Kyle Orton(notes) off kilter and looking for short passes much of the day. More impressively, the Ravens were hitting all day long, from Ed Reed(notes) to Ray Lewis(notes) and Terrell Suggs(notes), they all laid some significant licks. It’s the perfect way to start November, which will be the make or break month for Baltimore’s playoff fortunes.
• Houston Texans running back Ryan Moats
Wooooo … Steve Slaton(notes) has to be a little worried. Moats took over the running game after a first-quarter fumble by Slaton, and promptly went ballistic. One-hundred, fifty-one offensive yards and three touchdowns later by Moats, you have to wonder if he’s going to get a chance to take a serious chomp out of Slaton’s carries. One thing to remember about Moats: there was a time when the Eagles thought he was going to be the replacement for Brian Westbrook(notes). Injuries and fumbling issues undermined him, but he didn’t look anything like that struggling player against the Bills.
• Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte(notes)
After watching his predecessor, Cedric Benson(notes), trash stomp on Chicago’s defense last week, Forte needed Sunday’s performance. His 121 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns were his best performance of the season, and more indicative of what Bears fans expected coming into this season. However, Forte’s offensive line hasn’t made his job all that easy this season, leading to some grumbling in Chicago about just how talented he truly is. That criticism should be quieted … at least for a few weeks.
• Bills safety Jairus Byrd(notes)
Byrd’s rookie season is starting to show shades of the first year of former Bears safety Mark Carrier. Then again, at the rate Byrd is going, it could be a heck of a lot better. He tracks the ball well and has shown very good hands while becoming a consistent playmaker. Byrd picked off two more passes against the Texans, tying an NFL record with three straight games of at least two interceptions. Byrd now has seven in eight games, and is inching closer to Carrier’s rookie record of 10 picks.
• The Dallas Cowboys offense
There hasn’t been a more diverse offensive team during the past two weeks, as Dallas has been scoring from virtually every angle – passing, running and special teams. And while the receiving corps isn’t the most polished from top to bottom, Miles Austin(notes), Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton(notes) and Sam Hurd(notes) all bring something significant to the table. Austin has clearly become the No. 1, but don’t write Williams off just yet. He’s got loads of talent and might actually benefit from being challenged as the primary offensive playmaker. Is it possible this team could be a lot better than we think? I think so.
• The St. Louis Rams
Rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo finally gets his first win. It was nice to see how happy the players were for Spagnuolo after beating Detroit, and I’ve got to believe their belief in him has shown in the tough start. A team that very easily could have come apart at the seams hasn’t. This is by no means a good team, but I refuse to believe that it’s not filled with some good leaders. And if Steven Jackson isn’t playing at a Pro Bowl level right now, then no running back is.
• Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne(notes)
For all the diverse passing options, Wayne is good to step up every few games and remind everyone that the Colts do indeed have a true No. 1. None of Wayne’s 12 catches were particularly spectacular, but he was vital in helping to solve a defense that was blitzing Peyton Manning(notes) with surprising regularity. Wayne’s smarts and toughness are totally underrated in the NFL, especially when you match those traits up against his stats over the last six years. And why doesn’t anyone ever notice that he hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season in 2001?
• Miami Dolphins wideout Ted Ginn
Well, that’s one way to respond to getting demoted on offense: a pair of kick returns for touchdowns from 100 and 101 yards – both in the third quarter. His return scores allowed Miami to get a foothold and then hold onto it while overcoming a tepid offense. Is it possible Ginn could be turned into what Devin Hester(notes) used to be for the Bears on special teams? It seems unlikely, but maybe his demotion on offense will be the catalyst to make Ginn work harder on polishing other parts of his game.
• The Philadelphia Eagles
There’s no need for Brian Westbrook to hurry back. This offense is the NFC East’s version of the New Orleans Saints’. It really is that good. I think we can all agree that DeSean Jackson(notes) is probably the most explosive player in the NFL right now. His six touchdowns of 50-plus yards is simply an amazing stat. Quietly, the offensive line has shown it can protect quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes) consistently. And the defense might be just as nasty up front as the Saints, too. All of the sudden, next week’s game against Dallas looks like a blockbuster.
• The San Diego Chargers pass rush
Welcome back Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips(notes). That pair combined for four sacks, marking the first time Merriman (two sacks) has gotten to the quarterback since the end of the 2007 season, and Phillips’ second straight multi-sack game. Granted, it came against the Raiders and cement-footed JaMarcus Russell, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Even when he wasn’t getting to the quarterback, Merriman definitely flashed more against the Raiders than any other game this season. Amazingly, at 4-3 and with another game left against Denver, the Chargers aren’t out of the AFC West race just yet.
• The Tennessee Titans
That team looked familiar: dominant running back play, conservative playmaking at quarterback and a defensive secondary that picked off Jaguars quarterback David Garrard(notes) twice. It’s too bad it took two months to get all the pieces on the right page, but don’t believe everything you see just yet. While there’s no doubt that Chris Johnson (228 rushing yards and two touchdowns) is one of the most dangerous players in football, we’ll see how teams react to Vince Young now that they’ve begun to compile some fresh film on him. Young is bound to come under more duress against San Francisco’s pass rush next week.
• Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes)
He inflicted maximum damage with only eight carries Sunday, rushing for 177 yards and two scores. His 80- and 79-yard touchdowns showcased the speed, burst and balance that make Jones-Drew a massive pain to opposing defensive coordinators. If there was any question about him being able to carry the load, it has long been answered. If only the rest of the team around him carried that clarity.
• Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers(notes)
Everyone will want to make Favre the story of the Vikings’ win at Lambeau Field, but both quarterbacks played very well. Favre was, well, as good as he looked the first time he faced off against the Packers. And frankly, he might actually be right about this being the best team he has ever played on. As for Rodgers, he’s far from perfect in the pocket and has to work on not hanging on to the ball too long, but he battled it out in both losses to the Vikings. And for a minute there, it looked like he was going to steal away Favre’s latest moment of glory. He’s not all the way there yet, but clearly he’s going to have many good years of his own in Lambeau Field.
• The Carolina Panthers
This was how the playoff game against Arizona was supposed to go last season. The offensive line looked as commanding as it has all season, while the running game took a page from 2008 and crushed the Cardinals’ vaunted run defense. Even some of the frustrated stars got into the act, with wideout Steve Smith catching his first touchdown of the season, and defensive end Julius Peppers(notes) recording the defensive trinity of a sack, interception and touchdown. But let’s be real: All the consternation about Jake Delhomme(notes) hasn’t gone away. It just gets a bandage for a week.
• Denver Broncos wideout Eddie Royal(notes)
Remember when Royal used to be a consistent playmaker? Aside from the return game, he’s been far from it this season, and it’s making it easier for opponents to take Brandon Marshall(notes) away. After Sunday’s two-catch, 10-yard effort against Baltimore, Royal has 158 receiving yards and no touchdowns through seven games. The only thing consistent about his role in the offense has been his ability to disappear.
• The Bills
It looked like they would be in position to steal the game heading to the fourth quarter, and then Houston rang up 22 points in the final 14:17. The Bills were absolutely dominated at the line of scrimmage in the final quarter, and couldn’t keep the offense on the field to sustain drives. As bad as the offense is, I’m not sure I’d put Trent Edwards(notes) back on the field anytime soon. Putting him behind that offensive line with his concussion issues would be felonious.
• Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan
I’ll lay off the terrible tendencies of quarterback Derek Anderson(notes) for a week (wow, he is just awful). For the life of me, I can’t understand why Ryan felt the need to drop some easily readable expletives on Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) after the Browns stopped Chicago with a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Bears threw the ball on fourth and goal (which is the only reason I can fathom Ryan was upset), but it was 23-6 and Chicago had been stuffed on back-to-back runs. Ryan being pumped up over the stop was one thing, but jawing with players in front of cameras is just foolish.
• Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
I fear for the internal organs of the passer. Seriously. I don’t think there is another quarterback in the league who is taking as many hard hits as Hasselbeck is consistently enduring. Now that Walter Jones(notes) has headed to injured reserve for the rest of the season, there is little hope of the situation improving. Not only did Hasselbeck take three sacks in the loss to Dallas, he got hammered several other occasions. That can’t continue to happen for a player who has already suffered cracked ribs this season.
• The Detroit Lions
Going into this week’s game against St. Louis, I figured whoever lost would probably go neck and neck with the Browns for the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft. I still think this team is better than its record. The Lions badly need Calvin Johnson(notes) to get back on the field. Not just in the hopes that he can stimulate some room in the running game, but for the development that needs to take place between he and quarterback Matt Stafford. Maybe the one positive to take away from the struggles is that the Lions will get a shot at a superb offensive or defensive lineman at the top of the first round … and they could use an abundance of both.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They didn’t even play, but they watched as the league’s other two remaining winless teams – St. Louis and Tennessee – left them as the NFL’s sore thumb of inferiority. Looking at Tampa Bay’s schedule, I don’t know when they are going to get a victory. Imagine if this franchise managed to go winless twice in a regular season. Oof.
• The San Francisco 49ers
They are 1-4 in their last five, and suddenly getting to that point where some significant questions have to be sorted out. Is Alex Smith the long-term quarterback for this team? Now that Michael Crabtree(notes) is in the fold, who is going to step into Isaac Bruce’s(notes) spot now that he’s starting to look like an average wideout? And let’s not forget: Nate Clements(notes) is being paid like an elite cornerback but not playing like one. There is a lot of work to do.
• The New York Jets
Well, the Jets are squarely back on earth going into their bye, with all of the early season excitement erased by the 1-4 record in their last five games. The more I watch this team, the more I like them … for 2010. The crazy thing: The Jets are actually playing good defensive football the last three weeks. But the offense and special teams have alternated in letting the Jets down in the last two losses. Even still, don’t write this team off just yet. The second half of the schedule is fairly favorable, and should give the Jets a chance to stay in the playoff picture.
• The New York Giants
OK, it might be time to start worrying. This was supposed to be the stretch that showed us exactly how good the Giants were, and now they’ve lost three straight games to teams that will likely be in the playoff picture. There is just too much inconsistency on both sides of the ball. Eli Manning(notes) doesn’t look right physically. He’s not squaring up and planting on all of his throws. And that defense, well, just take a look at DeSean Jackson’s 54-yard touchdown catch. Cornerback Corey Webster(notes) didn’t jam on the play, which is crazy considering Jackson’s speed. But even more troubling was the fact that Justin Tuck(notes) and Osi Umenyiora(notes) dropped into zone coverage on the play. That’s why there was no pass rush. Bad coaching call and bad technique.
• Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable
Forget the loss to the Chargers. The allegations of domestic violence against Cable, leveled in a report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, have recalled the dark cloud that was hanging over the franchise during the Randy Hanson fiasco. If the allegations are true, Cable has some far deeper personal demons than we thought. If not, it’s quite a troublesome smear campaign. Ultimately, the NFL and Raiders need to take the latest allegations as seriously as those of Hanson, if not moreso. As usual, it’s a distracting mess.
• Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson
Well, the nightmare is pretty much coming true. Thompson wanted to keep Favre from playing for an NFC North rival, and ultimately failed. Now Favre has swept Thompson’s team, helped the Vikings gain a foothold in the NFC North, and appears to be among the Super Bowl contenders in the conference. Maybe the only indignity left would be if the Vikings knocked the Packers out of the playoffs, and then won the Super Bowl. But whether that happens, Favre has already exacted some significant revenge against Thompson. It doesn’t mean Thompson made the wrong decision with Favre. It just means that sometimes even making the right moves still leads to some suffering.
• The Arizona Cardinals
With San Francisco losing, the Cardinals really could have created some extra space in the NFC West race. Instead, they fell flat against Carolina and assured that, as always, the division race is once again likely to stretch on to the final days of the season. I won’t put too much stock into Kurt Warner’s(notes) five interceptions against the Panthers, but it’s worth noting that he has yet to put together a stellar game this season, let alone string several together.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: The NFL Network’s look back at Favre’s first win in a Packers uniform. The footage of Favre acting as the holder for the game-winning extra point was excellent, particularly the freeze frame that showed Favre committing the huge no-no of pulling his finger off the tip of the ball a millisecond before the kick. Great archived stuff on the first Lambeau Leap and some of Favre’s other memories made it an entertaining segment.
Loathed: The Network’s 1-on-1 interview with Favre, which was handled by longtime friend (cough, publicist) Steve Mariucci. The interview’s softball nature made it feel more like a Favre infomercial. Fox’s Terry Bradshaw wasn’t leaps and bounds better in his sit-down, but he did push the Vikings angle a bit harder. There was too much focus on how Favre feels and not enough attention given to how Packers fans feel.
Loved: The hit Lions rookie safety Louis Delmas(notes) put on the Rams’ Randy McMichael(notes) in the first quarter. Not only was the hit as clean and legal as you could want, Delmas just leveled the tight end who outweighs him by more than 50 pounds. Delmas has absolutely lived up to his billing as a second-round pick. As NFL players like to say: He plays like he’s got another body on a hanger in his closet.
Loathed: Seeing Slaton’s fifth lost fumble of the season in the first quarter against Buffalo. The loss was just plain odd, with Slaton cutting across the field and the ball just seeming to squirt out of his grasp. It’s been that kind of season for Slaton, who was benched the remainder of the contest.
Loved: Ed Reed’s devastating first-quarter hit on Knowshon Moreno(notes) in the flat, which caused a fumble that Baltimore recovered. If you see the wide shot of the play, it’s unreal how fast Reed gets from his spot in the secondary to make the play. The guy is the total package.
Loathed: The number of times Bears quarterback Jay Cutler calls for flags after getting hit in the pocket. He did it again against Cleveland, on a play that actually deserved one when Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley(notes) decked him in the second quarter. Again, this particular play was a bad hit, but honestly, Cutler calls for flags several times per game. It gets to look like whining after a while.
Loved: Danieal Manning’s wicked first-quarter interception against Cleveland. The Bears safety went totally vertical on the play, stabbing the ball out of the air on what had the potential to be a huge play for the Browns. His break on the ball, hands, and willingness to lay out his body on the play made for a breathtaking display.
Loathed: James Butler’s(notes) boneheaded safety against the Lions. OK, so all the safety play wasn’t great on Sunday. Butler picked off Matt Stafford in the end zone, got up, left the end zone, then cut back and was tackled for a safety by Lions running back Kevin Smith(notes). You give Butler the benefit of the doubt for wanting to make a play, but in the wider shot, it was clear he should have just laid down after the pick. He had no position to make a return.
Loved: The Bills running a first-quarter reverse to get the ball into the hands of Terrell Owens(notes). Whether he’s slowed down or not, Buffalo has to find avenues to get Owens the ball in different spots on the field. It helps that he turned it into a 29-yard touchdown run that showcased his long speed.
Loathed: Derrick Mason(notes) losing his cool against the Broncos after officials blew a defensive holding call. It was a bad miss by the crew, but Mason practically lost his mind on the play. He screamed into an official’s face and then slammed his helmet down on the sideline, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. He tried to go at another official, before coach John Harbaugh got into Mason’s face and made him retreat to the bench. For a typically composed veteran, it was an ugly meltdown.