(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
One year ago, Joey Porter was thought of by some observers as one of the worst free-agent signings in NFL history. Two months from now, he could be the league's most dominant single-season pass rusher ever.
The Miami Dolphins linebacker dropped Trent Edwards twice during Sunday's 25-16 win over the Buffalo Bills, moving his season sack total to 10½ through seven games and putting him on pace to notch 24 this season. That would break Michael Strahan's record of 22½ during the 2001 season, and put an exclamation mark on one of the biggest individual turnarounds of this season. Porter, now the emotional engine of a rejuvenated Miami defense, is the biggest winner of this weekend.
It's a remarkable development for a player who struggled much of last season, managing only 2½ sacks through his first 13 games after signing a five-year, $32 million deal with Miami. The cringe-factor of those numbers was only magnified by the Dolphins' horrific 1-15 record in 2007 – a final tally that actually overshadowed Porter's final three games last season. It was in those final three games that Porter piled up three sacks, regaining some of the dominant swagger he displayed during his marauding career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Porter has 13½ sacks in his last 10 games – the most he has ever racked up in a 10-game span since he entered the NFL in 1999. His current total matches the career highs of 10½ in 2000 and '05, and Miami still has a host of protection-poor teams lying ahead: the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. So if Strahan isn't paying attention to his record, he likely will be soon.
Here are some of Sunday's other winners and losers …
• Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron
The Ravens threw a twist at the Oakland Raiders, inserting Troy Smith in several spread option looks, with fellow quarterback Joe Flacco split wide. Smith responded with three carries for 13 yards and a 43-yard pass to Flacco. Flacco also threw for 140 yards and ran for 23. The sets also helped spark running backs Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain, who combined for 154 rushing yards. Cameron hasn't been this creative since his days in San Diego.
Rams WR Donnie Avery was the first WR taken in this year's draft.
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
• St. Louis Rams wideout Donnie Avery
The first wide receiver taken in this year's draft, Avery has been one of the league's best kept secrets the last two weeks. After putting up solid back-to-back games against the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, Avery finally broke out big Sunday with 163 receiving yards and a touchdown as St. Louis came up short against the Patriots. I'd like to see Avery and Tennessee Titans rookie Chris Johnson in a foot race to determine the fastest player in the NFL.
• Fans in London
The six-point first quarter made you wonder if the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints were going to put up the NFL's second straight dud overseas. But the 34-point second quarter saved the day in New Orleans' victory. If the league truly wants to promote the game overseas, it should be pitting high-scoring and defensively porous teams against each other. Show the world why the game is exciting.
• Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith
He notched 117 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Arizona Cardinals, and is averaging 102 receiving yards per game. Rookies Avery and DeSean Jackson should be taking notes.
• Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner
He's not getting a lot of the spotlight, but he is playing brilliantly at 37 years old. He's thrown 14 touchdowns and is averaging 298 passing yards per game while completing 70 percent of his passes. Matt Leinart might want to give Aaron Rodgers a call for advice. He's probably going to be sitting on the bench next year, too.
• The Redskins PR staff
I've never been much for shameless self-promotion, but you have to respect the effort the Redskins are making at getting their players into the Pro Bowl this season. They've produced an elaborate campaign – complete with bumper stickers, buttons and informational packets tucked into folders covered in a faux pigskin texture. Fans can get the best of it at www.redskins.com.
• Guitar Hero
It's not football, but the Guitar Hero commercial during the New York Giants/Pittsburgh Steelers game made my jaw drop. I can't fathom what it cost to get Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Hawk to dance in their underwear in the remake of the famous "Risky Business" scene. This is why my little brother is majoring in video game theory (seriously).
• The Cowboys
Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was huge. Tampa Bay is a playoff-caliber team, and the Cowboys needed to stop the bleeding. With the road games against the Giants and Redskins next on the schedule, Dallas needed to show it could still beat a good team with Brad Johnson at quarterback. Now if the Cowboys can win one of their next two and get Tony Romo back after the Redskins game, they'll be in good shape for the stretch run.
• The Redskins offense
Santana Moss (658 receiving yards, five touchdowns) is probably one of the most underrated wide receivers of this season. Clinton Portis (126 rushing yards in the win over the Detroit Lions) is opening up his lead for the rushing crown. And quarterback Jason Campbell still hasn't thrown an interception in 230 attempts this season. What's not to like?
• Dolphins wideout Ted Ginn
Going into Sunday's game, Ginn had 177 yards receiving on the season. He almost matched it with 175 against Buffalo. Ginn hadn't looked this dominant since his days at Ohio State – and maybe not even then. He was in an absolute zone, blowing past whatever Buffalo threw at him, including a 64-yard catch that might be the best of his NFL career. Getting him into a groove could make this Dolphins offense pretty potent.
• 49ers coach Mike Singletary
So much for playing it conservative. Singletary benched J.T. O'Sullivan and threw overrated tight end Vernon Davis off the field in Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. You have to give Singletary credit for having the guts to come out and immediately take control of his roster – and Mike Martz's offense – and demand respect. People in San Francisco's locker room have been complaining about Davis' ego for a while. The 49ers lost, but it's clearly a new day.
• Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and wideout Andre Johnson
Schaub put up 280 passing yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He looks great when he's not getting hit in games. As for Johnson, the receiving yardage in his last four games: 131, 178, 141 and 143. Those numbers came against the Indianapolis Colts, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati. Good defenses? Tennessee and Jacksonville held him to 29 and 38 receiving yards, respectively.
• Patriots wideout Randy Moss
Moss had 102 receiving yards in the win over St. Louis. Don't look now, but Moss and Matt Cassel are starting to get into a groove. It helps that the last two weeks have come against the porous secondaries of Denver and St. Louis, but clearly there is a new level of communication. Here's a "no-duh" stat: In games Moss has either caught a touchdown or gone over 100 yards receiving, the Patriots are 4-0. In the games he hasn't done either, the Patriots are 1-2.
• San Diego/New Orleans passing offenses
When it comes to throwing the ball, these two units are just plain sick. You know all the stars, but what makes these offenses so reliably great are two quarterbacks who have been able to make the best with injury replacements. San Diego's Malcom Floyd and Lance Moore, Billy Miller and Devery Henderson of the Saints – Philip Rivers and Drew Brees, respectively, are what make these guys look like stars rather than fill-ins.
• New York Jets running back Leon Washington
Yes, Brett Favre brought the Jets back at the end, but his three interceptions (which ties him for the NFL lead, at 11) put New York in a hole. It was the play of Washington that kept the Jets in the game when they were teetering on the brink. His 60-yard touchdown run was impressive. The Jets need to figure out a way to get him the ball more and lessen the load on Thomas Jones down the stretch.
• Kansas City quarterback Tyler Thigpen
Thigpen had two touchdown passes and nearly pulled off an upset over the Jets. It's the first time a Chiefs quarterback has played well this season. Take the bright spots where you can get them, Chiefs fans.
• Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Roddy White
They've been on the winner's list repeatedly this season, so I figured I'd just kill two birds with one stone. Ryan is the frontrunner for rookie of the year, while White is dueling with Greg Jennings and Larry Fitzgerald as the NFC's best wideout.
• Seattle Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver
It was something else watching the 245-pound Weaver turn four passes into 116 yards and two touchdowns. His 62-yard touchdown catch is one of my favorite highlights of the season.
• Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook
He returned to the lineup with 209 offensive yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. When he's healthy, the Eagles are a playoff team. When he's not, they are middle of the pack. That's the ultimate compliment.
• The Cleveland Browns
With Sunday's win over Jacksonville, the Browns are still in the mix for an AFC wild-card spot. It's not unthinkable this team could make a run, particularly considering its last three games: wins over the Giants and Jacksonville, and a tight loss to Washington. This team isn't a pushover anymore.
• Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka
His three sacks against Pittsburgh were impressive. When Osi Umenyiora comes back next season, New York should just keep him at the end spot and rotate him along with Tuck and Umenyiora, as they did with Michael Strahan last season. Like Tuck, Kiwanuka looks like another special end.
Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell has been sacked 18 times this season.
(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
• The Oakland Raiders offensive line
This should be head coach Tom Cable's specialty, right? The Raiders line hasn't been entirely right since that monster rushing game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. Injuries to Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas haven't helped, and JaMarcus Russell is holding on to the ball too long. However, that line was supposed to be one of the bright spots. Whether facing Baltimore's defense or not, it should be better than it has been this season.
• The Buccaneers
The pass-happy offense stalled far too much in Dallas territory. Only 18 rushing attempts (excluding Garcia's two rushes) in a game that never saw Tampa Bay trail by more than a touchdown? It looks like Jon Gruden is trying to prove something with Jeff Garcia.
• The Lions
Ford Field wasn't sold out for the first time since it opened in 2002. That's ominous. And someone tell the Lions that running back rotations are a negative thing when you can't commit to at least one guy as your primary back. If Rudi Johnson isn't the future, the current situation is only hurting Kevin Smith's development.
• The Bills offense
Aside from Lee Evans, the Bills sometimes lack explosiveness. This might be where the team misses having a top-shelf No. 2 wideout. It would take some pressure off the running game and help convert some of those field goals into touchdowns. Quarterback Trent Edwards showed Sunday he's still capable of making costly mistakes when his protection breaks down.
• St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson
I'm not that down on Jackson for not playing with his quad injury. But after hearing him say later in the week that he felt he could go, I was surprised he wasn't on the field against the Patriots. He would have made the difference between winning and losing Sunday. And considering the momentum the Rams just lost with the defeat, perhaps it would have been worth the risk.
• San Diego/New Orleans defenses
They are disappointing, but for different reasons. The Chargers look heartless without Shawne Merriman. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has to be worried. The Saints just look plain bad, despite all the money poured into the unit over the last two offseasons. And what's going to happen to the New Orleans defense if Charles Grant and Will Smith are suspended?
• Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston
The super-hyped rookie has no sacks and has barely seen the field this season. Maybe Jets fans can take heart that Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley (7½ sacks) struggled making the transition from Big Ten defensive end to NFL linebacker as a rookie, too.
• The Jaguars
With Houston getting its act together and Indianapolis showing flashes of its former self, Jacksonville wasted a prime opportunity to get itself into the driver's seat in the last wild-card spot. Losing Matt Jones to suspension is going to hurt this passing game, too.
• The Steelers offensive line
I had to laugh when former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said this week that he'd take Pittsburgh's line over the Giants' unit. He surely must have changed his mind after seeing Ben Roethlisberger get tagged for five sacks against the Giants, bringing his season total to 23. You can bet the Steelers will be investing some draft picks on this line come April, particularly the tackle spot, which just looks poor.
“I apologize. I apologize to you guys. I apologize.”
– 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary, speaking to fans as he walked to the locker room following the 34-13 loss to Seattle.
The number of days since Ravens running back Willis McGahee last put up back-to-back 100 yard rushing games. That's three years, 10 months and 29 days. McGahee had an opportunity to break the streak Sunday but finished with only 58 rushing yards.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Ravens backup QB Troy Smith, left, celebrates with starting QB Joe Flacco after Smith completed a pass to Flacco during the second half against the Raiders.
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Loved: Seeing the 43-yard pass from Troy Smith to Joe Flacco. Smith threw a great pass, but Flacco's speed and hands were eye-popping. I still can't believe he made the catch on what was a true deep pass. It was probably the most entertaining play of Sunday.
Loathed: Watching JaMarcus Russell face Flacco at this early stage of their careers. They are big, strong-armed and have a long way to go to climb out of mediocrity.
Loved: Listening to Keyshawn Johnson calling out the absurdity of the notion that Brett Favre talked to the Lions and didn't give them any information on the Green Bay Packers. Good for Keyshawn, who stood up to the rest of ESPN's "Sunday Countdown" crew, which was downplaying the story.
Loathed: ESPN's plug of an upcoming interview with Favre's wife, Deanna, on its news show "E:60." I've never seen the coverage of one player get to such absurd levels when it has come to a single network. ESPN should just get it over already and devote a 15-minute segment every Sunday to all things Favre.
Loathed: Seeing what has happened to the San Diego defense without Shawne Merriman. It looks like he was as important to that unit as Tom Brady was to the New England offense.
Loved: ESPN's Mike Ditka ripping the NFL for continuing to send teams overseas during regular-season games. Ditka says what everyone but the NFL seems to know at this point – the league will always be a novelty overseas. The NFL is domestic, not global. Get over it already.
Loathed: The game show gimmick on CBS's "The NFL Today." It was corny and lacked creativity.
Loved: "The NFL Today" on CBS talking about bounties and weight loss tactics in the NFL. Maybe I missed it, but I think they were the only crew to talk about both issues Sunday morning. Shannon Sharpe's talk about bribing the strength and condition coach prior to weigh-in was excellent stuff.
Loathed: Everything about Fox's pregame show. I'm trying really hard to find something to like about it. I'd love to hear what readers enjoy about the show. What am I missing? I can't find anything to keep me from switching the channel.