Saints QB Drew Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage mark set in 1984.
(Marvin Gentry-US Presswire)
While Chad Pennington has been serviceable this year, Miami fans can only wonder what could have been if Saban hadn't made the ultimate decision not to sign Brees as a free agent in the 2006 offseason. No matter how many doctors warned the Dolphins about Brees' reconstructed throwing shoulder (it was five), it doesn't take the sting out of watching him roll up MVP-type numbers this year.
That included Sunday's near perfect 26 of 30 for 320 yards and three touchdowns in the New Orleans Saints' 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders. And those numbers could have been far better had New Orleans not taken its foot off the accelerator in the fourth quarter. Six games into the season, Brees is on pace for 5,314 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. The yardage mark would break Dan Marino's long standing record of 5,084, set in 1984. While it's far too early to start talking about breaking such hallowed records, Brees' effort Sunday makes him one of this weekend's biggest winners.
Here are some of the NFL's other winners and losers from Sunday …
The Cowboys' Mat McBriar has his punt blocked by the Cardinals' Sean Morey during overtime.
(AP Photo/Paul Connors)
• St. Louis Rams coach Jim Haslett
It wasn't shocking to see the Rams get an emotional boost with the coaching change, but the impressive thing was that they didn't do their usual fold in the fourth quarter when the Washington Redskins came back and took the lead. For once, St. Louis showed some fight, and that has to be considered a huge step forward.
• The Arizona Cardinals
They needed a statement game and they got it with Sean Morey's punt block and Monty Beisel's touchdown to beat the Dallas Cowboys 30-24 in overtime. Kurt Warner has been steady, the defense has been opportunistic and the wide receivers have weathered the loss of Anquan Boldin. The bottom line: the Cardinals have finally shown they are capable of being a factor in the NFC.
• The Jacksonville Jaguars offense
After throwing four interceptions in his first three games, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has looked like his more efficient self over the last three weeks. He's got quarterback ratings of 103.1, 85.4 and 107.0 in that span, and more importantly, only one turnover. It was nice to see Maurice Jones-Drew finally break out with a monster game (194 yards rushing and receiving, two touchdowns against the Denver Broncos), too.
• Philadelphia Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter
Donovan McNabb was good against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, but Buckhalter gave the offense winning balance with 186 yards rushing and receiving with one touchdown. If the Eagles can't adequately fill the shoes of Brian Westbrook, they can't win consistently.
• New York Jets running back Thomas Jones
At 30 years old, he's still gutting it out with workmanlike performances. With three touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals, he now has four total – twice as many as last season. Give Jones credit for being tough as nails. He has played in 52 of a possible 53 games over the last four seasons as a primary starter. That's extremely impressive.
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn
Stop the presses – Dunn ran for 115 yards in Sunday's win, at the ripe age of 33. With 386 rushing yards through six games, he's putting up very respectable numbers for an aging back.
The Colts' Marvin Harrison had three catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns against the Ravens.
(AP Photo/Tom Strattman)
• The Indianapolis Colts offense
Sunday was the first time this season that Indianapolis looked like itself on offense. Marvin Harrison made two big plays with a pair of touchdown passes, Reggie Wayne looked great as usual, and Peyton Manning finally found a comfort zone behind his offensive line in the romp over the Baltimore Ravens. The next four games (at Green Bay, at Tennessee, New England and at Pittsburgh) are pivotal. After that, the schedule gets softer than a Krispy Kreme.
• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Bernard Berrian
The offense looked atrocious against Detroit until Peterson and Berrian turned it on in the final 20 minutes of the game. Quarterback Gus Frerotte's 296 passing yards look a lot better than they actually were. Peterson and Berrian saved the day.
• Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams
Detroit's offensive line couldn't handle him, giving up four sacks. Williams and the rest of the defensive line kept Minnesota's dragging offense close enough to kick the game-winner at the end on Sunday. With a strong second-half schedule, Minnesota couldn't afford to lose this one.
• The Houston Texans coaching staff
The multiple wideout formation at the Miami Dolphins' 3-yard line was a brilliant call. It spread out the line of scrimmage and provided the perfect seam for Matt Schuab to take what appeared to be a designed quarterback draw for a win. It might have been the gutsiest call of the day.
• Texans wideout Andre Johnson
He's looking dominant again after a relatively slow start (for him, anyway) the first three games this season. His big day Sunday (10 catches, 178 yards and one touchdown) gives him 19 catches for 309 yards and two touchdown catches in the last two weeks.
• The Atlanta Falcons
They needed some inept decisions by the Chicago Bears to pull out a win Sunday, but the 4-2 record and back-to-back wins over Chicago and Green Bay is impressive. I still hesitate to call this is a playoff-caliber team, but a strong game at Philadelphia on Oct. 26 could do a lot of convincing.
• Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Roddy White
In Atlanta's four wins, Ryan has passer ratings of 137.0, 120.6, 94.1 and 116.1. Only six games in and he's already looking like one of the bright young stars in the league. White is the hottest wide receiver in the NFL over the last four weeks, with 453 receiving yards and three touchdowns in that span.
The continuation of the "Leave Nothing" commercial campaign is fantastic. Last year's brilliant edition featured Steven Jackson and Shawne Merriman going the length of the field in various climates and against several different opponents. This year's edition – dubbed "Fate" – pits the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson and Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu against each other in a chronological look at their lives as they headed toward each other. It's one of the most creative sports commercials you'll see this year.
• Carolina Panther wide receiver Steve Smith
With 112 receiving yards in Sunday's loss, Smith has quietly put up 304 receiving yards over the last three weeks and is looking like an explosive element again. The lack of touchdowns (only one in four games this season) are keeping him from getting noticed.
• Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis
Washington came up short Sunday, but it certainly wasn't Portis' fault (129 rushing yards, two touchdowns). Portis has 395 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the last three weeks and is looking as energized as he ever has in a Washington uniform.
• New Orleans running back Reggie Bush
With three receptions Sunday, Bush became the fastest running back in league history to 200 receptions, and he added two touchdowns, giving him four in his last two games. Say what you want about his per-carry rushing average, he has rounded into one of the most exciting players in the NFL.
• Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay's offense was hardly anything to brag about, but Rodgers was efficient and moved the team in pivotal third- and fourth-quarter drives in which it took control, scoring 17 straight points in the win over the Seattle Seahawks. It was a must-win for the Packers, and Rodgers came through when necessary. His 14 total touchdowns (11 passing and three rushing) in six games are beyond everyone's expectations this season.
• Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo
He threw three more touchdowns Sunday, giving him nine in the last three games. Dallas is 1-2 in those games, but Romo hasn't been a problem. With apologies to Peyton Manning, Romo and Brees look like the two best quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
• The San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers
The Chargers needed a statement game, and they got it against the sweetest possible team, drilling New England 30-10. And it wasn't even that close. Rivers (three touchdowns Sunday and 14 on the season) continues to carry this team while LaDainian Tomlinson tries to heal. This is the defining moment in the schedule, with road games at Buffalo and New Orleans before a Week 9 bye. If San Diego hits that bye at 5-3, watch out.
The Cowboys' Adam Jones can't stop Larry Fitzgerald from scoring a touchdown during the third quarter.
(AP Photo/Matt York)
• The Cowboys defense
There's so much talent, and yet this unit just can't seem to dominate an opponent. This unit should be better – period.
• Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt
Say what you want about winning the game over the Cowboys, but Whisenhunt showed us yet another example of why icing the kicker with a timeout is an archaic strategy. Whisenhunt called a timeout that nullified a blocked kick that would have sealed a win for the Cardinals on Sunday. Dallas' Nick Folk responded by nailing his second shot at a 52-yarder, and sent the game to overtime, before the Cardinals eventually went on to win. Someone is going to have to show me some evidence that proves "icing" actually works in the NFL. To me, it just looks like a desperate and unproven tactic. Play the game and live with the results.
• Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler
A Sporting News article came out this week with Cutler talking up his arm strength as stronger than John Elway's, while also stating that the Broncos have to be an AFC favorite. I love Cutler's game, but I'd like to see him accomplish a little more before we start with the ego stroking. The Broncos' offense has been relatively average for three straight weeks and the team has gone 1-2 in those games. Come back to earth for a while, Jay.
• The Bears coaching staff
The decision to squib the kickoff with 11 seconds remaining cost the Bears the game, plain and simple. What was with the soft zone in the secondary, allowing Michael Jenkins to catch a 26-yard pass to put Jason Elam in field-goal range? This is a team that could be 6-0 right now with some better coaching decisions.
• Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco
He hasn't responded all that well since being named the starter the remainder of the season, throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games, including three in Sunday's loss. With the Baltimore defense banged up, the last thing the Ravens can afford is having Flacco turning the ball over.
• The Lions
Forget the last-second loss Sunday. After next week's game against Houston, the remaining schedule is downright murderous. The Lions' last 10 games all come against legitimate playoff contenders. And the injuries are piling up, too.
• Raiders owner Al Davis
New boss, another loss. And it didn't look like the Raiders were inclined to fight all that hard for new head coach Tom Cable, either. One more thing: Javon Walker (five catches for 59 yards this season) is looking like one of the worst free agent signings in history.
• The Bengals
With the season pretty much lost at 0-6, why risk the elbow of quarterback Carson Palmer at this point? If he needs surgery – and there are indications coming out of the organization the he does – why not shut him down and start from scratch next season?
• Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme
It has been a while since Delhomme looked this bad. Three interceptions and a 38.6 rating put the defense in a deep hole in Sunday's loss. The Panthers' bread and butter is that balance running game and controlled tempo that aids the defense. Delhomme's turnovers are what typically break this team.
• The Seahawks
With all the injuries and the NFC's North, East and South fighting tooth and nail for playoff position, you can feel the end coming for this team. At 1-4 with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia in two of the next three – and a brutal second-half schedule – it won't be long before the veterans roll over on lame duck Mike Holmgren.
• The New England Patriots
Nothing about this team feels right. The running game is a mess, Matt Cassel is playing stiff, Randy Moss doesn't look interested, and the defense has its worst linebackers/secondary units this decade. But other than that, everything is fine.
“I was pointing to mama. I saw her at about the 25-yard line. She was smiling.”
– Texans punt returner Jacoby Jones, who spotted his mother in the end zone as he was returning a punt for a 70-yard touchdown. Jones reacted by going through the end zone and jumping into his mother's arms.
Seattle's net passing yards Sunday. Charlie Frye completed 12-of-23 passes for 83 yards.
Loved: ESPN's Sunday Countdown feature on Miami's "Wildcat" offensive set. The historical perspective on the scheme – including NFL footage of the single wing offense from the 1930s – left the viewer with depth and perspective.
Terrell Owens had four catches for 36 yards against the Cardinals.
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Loathed: Watching Fox's Jimmy Johnson say he'd take Chad Johnson and Plaxico Burress over Terrell Owens. Johnson then followed that by stating "I can't handle T.O." Really? Considering Johnson "handled" Michael Irvin and Charles Haley while coaching the Cowboys, the statement smacks of hypocrisy.
Loved: Watching the Falcons' Ryan jump into the arms of Atlanta coach Mike Smith after Sunday's win. The unbridled joy of this team couldn't be further from the psychological mess of 2007.
Loathed: Hearing Manning finally admit that he did have a second surgical procedure on his knee in the preseason. The organization should have admitted the truth in late August, rather than rolling its eyes at various media outlets reporting Manning's second surgery.
Loved: Watching Marion Barber's 70-yard catch and run for a touchdown against Arizona – particularly the last 5 yards, when he dropped his shoulder and powered into the end zone. You won't see a guy in the NFL sacrifice his body more than Barber.
Loathed: Hearing analysts continue to talk about LaDainian Tomlinson having lost a step. At 29 years old, people are acting like he's washed up. Let him get healthy and let his offensive line start playing better, and he's still one of the league's top five running backs.
Loved: Hearing CBS color man Dan Fouts note during the Jets/Bengals broadcast that New York quarterback Brett Favre had never thrown a touchdown via the fade route until Week 4's 2-yard scoring pass to Laveranues Coles. Coles had mentioned it to reporters following the win over the Cardinals. Fouts confirmed it with Favre and worked the detail into Sunday's game. Good information.
Loathed: Fox NFL Sunday's aggrandizing of the on-air talent. While the NFL Network loads us up on football knowledge in its pregame show, Fox gives us at least 10 minutes of bickering, yukking and self love. With the exception of Howie Long, Fox has turned into a frat house of egos who wisecrack, spout off and clown for the camera. And one other thing: I'm not buying 42-year-old Jillian Barberie as the "sexy saucy weathergirl" anymore. The NutriSystem commercials killed it. Move on.
Loved: Seeing St. Louis and Houston win games and play with passion against good opponents. Both of these teams have talent. They aren't nearly as bad as their records indicate.
Loathed: Seeing Detroit and Cincinnati lose again. Having winless teams for long stretches isn't good for the game, particularly when they are in cities that have seen so much futility for so long.