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Sunday, November 8, 2009
Updated: November 9, 5:24 PM ET
John Clayton's Last Call: Fast-paced approach almost burns Colts

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Dale Zanine/US Presswire

After a relatively slow start to the season, Michael Turner is burning up opposing defenses once again. Coming off a Monday night performance in which he ran for 151 yards, the Falcons' workhorse gashed the Redskins for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 31-17 victory. Week 9 leaders

Week 9 observations: Five things I learned

By John Clayton, ESPN.com

1. Life in the fast lane: In Sunday's thrilling 20-17 victory over the Texans, Colts QB Peyton Manning set a blistering tempo by starting the game in the two-minute offense. Snaps occurred with 28 seconds left on the 40-second clock. The idea was sound because the Texans have quick defensive linemen and fast linebackers. Why not counter speed with speed and leave the Texans breathless? For a while, the Texans were out of sorts. Their defense committed 10 penalties, nine in the first half. Manning threw an incredible 40 passes in the first half -- 25 in the first quarter.

"You don't practice that during the week because you want have some legs for the games,'' Colts tight end Dallas Clark said.

But the Colts, off to another fast 8-0 start and a 3½-game lead in the AFC South, went a little too fast. After Manning directed a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in 4 minutes, 39 seconds, the Colts settled for field goals on their next two possessions. The inability to finish drives allowed the Texans to regroup and show that they can indeed play with the Colts. Houston QB Matt Schaub rebounded by converting nine third-down plays in the final 31 minutes as the Texans took a 17-13 lead. But Joseph Addai's 2-yard TD run with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter gave Indianapolis the lead for good.

As it turned out, the Colts needed a few breaks to win this game. Colts coach Jim Caldwell sneaked in a replay challenge coming out of the two-minute warning in the first half when Ryan Moats fumbled at the Colts' 1-yard line. Officials ruled he was out of bounds when he fumbled, but the review resulted in a touchback, giving the Colts the ball. The other break was a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by Texans kicker Kris Brown that would have sent the game into overtime.

Aaron Rodgers

AP Photo/Steve Nesius

Aaron Rodgers continues to take a beating behind the Packers' suspect offensive line.

2. Bears, Packers reeling: Two NFC North wild-card contenders look burned out. The Bears, once known as the Monsters of the Midway for their history of great defense, look like The Fakes By the Lake. The Bears gave up 438 total yards to the Cardinals and five touchdown passes to Kurt Warner in a 41-21 loss at Soldier Field. The Bears were once known for having some of the best young defensive talent in football. They had Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and others. Coach Lovie Smith was known for being a great defensive mind and motivator. Now, the Bears' defense seems disorganized and disinterested. The Bears are 4-4 and giving up 23.9 points a game; they appear to be getting worse by the week.

The other NFC North burnout is the Packers, who lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-28 on one of those throwback jersey days. The Bucs wore the orange. The Packers tried their throwback offensive line. They started Chad Clifton at left tackle, Mark Tauscher at right tackle and Scott Wells at center. The combination didn't deliver. Aaron Rodgers was sacked six times and was hit a dozen more times. Tauscher left the game early with a knee injury that is not considered serious. The Packers felt bad after losing two games to Brett Favre and the Vikings. Things have fallen so far and so fast for them that they lost to Josh Freeman, a rookie quarterback, on a team that was 0-7.

3. Bag the Wildcat: The Wildcat seems to have run its course in Miami. The formation is effective at times, but it doesn't produce victories. The novelty is over. The Dolphins lost to the Patriots 27-17, and once again, the Patriots contained the Wildcat. The Dolphins tried to confuse the Patriots by putting quarterback Pat White in an option formation. That worked for 52 yards on four plays -- including a touchdown -- in the first half. In the second half, it produced 8 yards on four plays.

Over the past three weeks, defenses have found ways to keep up with the Dolphins' imagination. The Dolphins' worst moment of Sunday's loss came on a second-and-8 at the Patriots' 44. Quarterback Chad Henne was split out at wide receiver. Ronnie Brown took a direct snap and got the ball to Henne, who was sacked for an 11-yard loss, which put Miami out of field goal range with the Patriots leading 24-17.

The problem with the Wildcat is that it takes a quarterback out of his rhythm when he's being shuttled between quarterback, wide receiver and the bench. Henne was 19-of-34 for 219 yards and two sacks. The NFL is a game dominated by quarterbacks who get into a rhythm. The Dolphins continue to lose to those types of quarterbacks. Tom Brady was 25-of-32 for 332 yards. The Dolphins are 3-5. It's time to rethink the strategy. To win against the good teams and the good quarterbacks, the Dolphins need more than a running game that revolves around the Wildcat.

4. Secondary concerns for Ravens: When the epitaph is written on the Ravens' season, fingers will point to their secondary as the reason they didn't make the playoffs. Sure, the Ravens' run defense will take some heat for allowing three 100-plus-yard rushing efforts, including two by Cedric Benson of the Bengals. But the big problem is the big plays allowed by the secondary.

When the burden is placed on the cornerbacks, the Ravens have a hard time responding. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bengals QB Carson Palmer was 8-for-8 for 100 yards when the Ravens loaded the box with extra defenders. When the box is loaded, a defense has to use more man coverage. That's where the Ravens don't match up.

At 4-4, the Ravens are at a crossroads. Their closing schedule is tough. The Ravens' D played well against the Broncos in Week 8 because Kyle Orton doesn't excel at getting the ball downfield. Palmer can get the ball downfield with ease, and remember, the Ravens still have two more games against the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.

5. Giants fading fast: The Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive by rallying to beat the Giants, 21-20. The Giants' defense once again went dark at a critical time and allowed Philip Rivers to drive for a come-from-behind touchdown. Talk about two teams going in different directions. For the second consecutive season, the Chargers are scrambling to catch up to the Denver Broncos. Sunday's win puts them at 5-3 and gives them hope.

The Giants head into their bye week on a four-game losing streak and don't look close to the team that jumped out to a 5-0 start. The Giants are only the second team in NFL history to start 5-0 and then drop four (the other team was the 1989 Rams). The Giants closed a few holes in the secondary by benching C.C. Brown, but Rivers hit 24 of 36 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. And where was the pass rush? Rivers was sacked two times for 17 yards, but the Giants landed only a handful of other hits on him. The Giants look old and tired. Their offensive line was beaten for five sacks. Brandon Jacobs hasn't been able to dominate on the ground. Eli Manning can't get into the type of rhythm he needs. And the schedule is tough.

On the flip side, the Chargers have life. Shawne Merriman is starting to get hot on defense. He had two sacks on Sunday, two hits behind the line of scrimmage and two additional hits on the quarterback. The next Charger who needs to get hot is LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 22 yards on 12 carries. The Broncos have to watch their backs. The Chargers are coming. As for the Giants, they need a rest.

Clayton's short takes

You have to wonder if the Bucs' patience with Antonio Bryant is running out. He's paid $9.884 million as a franchise player, but he aggravated a surgically repaired knee on the flight from London to Tampa after a Week 7 loss to New England and was inactive Sunday. He has 16 catches in six games. The Bucs and rookie QB Josh Freeman could have used him Sunday. … Give credit to Redskins linebacker H.B. Blades. To help his team, he came back two weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. He made several plays on special teams and on defense in a loss to the Falcons. … Cincinnati's Chad Ochocinco had money in his hand when referee Al Riveron was reviewing a play in the third quarter. Riveron didn't see the money and he ruled against the Bengals, but you know the league will probably administer some fine for making that type of gesture. … Don't be surprised if the Ravens look for another kicker. Steve Hauschka missed a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter in the Ravens' loss to the Bengals. After he missed a potential winning 44-yard field goal in Minnesota, the Ravens worked out two kickers. … Colts coach Jim Caldwell blew a call when he tried to ice Houston's Kris Brown at the end of the first half. Caldwell got in a timeout call on what was a 56-yard miss by Brown. That gave Brown the chance to make the field goal on his second try. … The combined salaries of the Colts' starting secondary is $1.515 million because the group includes rookie cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and two safeties -- Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea -- who are still on their rookie contracts. That's a considerable drop-off from their secondary injury list. Cornerback Marlin Jackson, who is on injured reserve, makes $1.872 million this year. Cornerback Kelvin Hayden, out the rest of the month with a knee injury, signed a contract worth $8.6 million a year. Safety Bob Sanders, who is out for the season with a biceps tear, makes $7.564 million a year. … The Jaguars went back to a 4-3 defense, which worked well in their 24-21 victory over the Chiefs. … Jacksonville, struggling with attendance, had an announced crowd of 45,546 for the Chiefs game. … The Chiefs may have gotten a steal in Chris Chambers. His two-touchdown debut against the Jaguars offers hope for an offense that craved veteran help. … It's no surprise that Detroit QB Matthew Stafford imploded with the crowd noise of Qwest Field against an aggressive Seahawks defense. He played well early, but mistakes caught up to him in a 32-20 loss. He ended up with five interceptions. A few more Sundays like that could get Daunte Culpepper back in the starting lineup. … Vince Young continues to look good in running the conservative Titans offense. Meanwhile, the late turnover by quarterback Alex Smith, along with the bad offensive line blocking in passing situations, will doom the 49ers to a seven-win season at best. Young, who did not have a turnover, was 12-for-19 in the 34-27 victory over the 49ers.

John Clayton's game balls

Warner

• Offense: Cardinals QB Kurt Warner was almost too good in Arizona's 41-21 victory at Chicago. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns, posting a 132.9 quarterback rating. He did so well that coach Ken Whisenhunt was able to bring in backup Matt Leinart when Warner put the Cardinals ahead 34-14 in the fourth quarter. But Leinart threw an interception and the Bears came back to score, so Warner had to finish the game. No problem. Warner can be hot or cold. In Week 8, he had six turnovers in a home loss to the Panthers. On Sunday, Warner was at his best and he did it without Anquan Boldin, who rested his sore ankle.

Babineaux

• Defense: Defensive tackle has been a big problem for the Falcons this season. They gave up on veteran Grady Jackson and had hoped that first-round pick Peria Jerry was going to help. Jerry is out for the season with a knee injury, but Jonathan Babineaux came up with a huge performance in Sunday's 31-17 victory over the Redskins. He had 2½ sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. He totaled nine tackles and one assist. It was one of the best performances this season by a defensive tackle.

Smith

• Special teams: The momentum-changer in the Buccaneers' 38-28 victory over the Packers was Clifton Smith's 83-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. It came after Aaron Rodgers put the Packers ahead 28-17 with a 12-yard touchdown run with 12:54 left. With rookie quarterback Josh Freeman in charge, the Bucs needed a spark. Smith's return put Freeman at the Packers' 17. Three plays later, Freeman hit Kellen Winslow on a 7-yard TD pass that cut the deficit to five. The Bucs added two more touchdowns to cap off their first victory of the season.

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Writers' bloc

• Philip Rivers edged Eli Manning and the Giants with a last-second TD pass. Pasquarelli

• The Bears are a national punch line after yet another embarrassing loss. Wojciechowski

• Why did the Bears play so flat in a loss to the Cardinals? There aren't easy answers. Seifert

• The Cardinals dominated Chicago. Now they must guard against a letdown. Sando

• Coach Jim Caldwell's timely call for a review helped the Colts remain unbeaten. Kuharsky

• Randy Moss and the Patriots stiff-armed Miami to gain separation in the AFC East. Graham

• Playing in pain, Saints DT Anthony Hargrove scored the first TD of his NFL career. Yasinskas

• A laughingstock for years, the Bengals (6-2) are finally legit. Ask the Ravens. Walker

Loose ends

• Week 9 Studs & Duds

• Experts' picks: How did we do?
Sunday Countdown | ESPN.com

• Coach Ratings: Week 9

• NFL Blog Network

Week 9 rundown

• Atlanta 31, Washington 17
So much for the theory that Michael Turner (317 yards in the Falcons' last two games) is worn out from last season's heavy workload.

• Arizona 41, Chicago 21
Remember when the Cardinals were a disaster on the road? Well, things have changed. Arizona already has more road wins (4) in 2009 than it did all of last season (3).

• Cincinnati 17, Baltimore 7
Who says you can't run for 100-plus yards against the Ravens' D? Cedric Benson (34 carries, 117 yards) has now done it twice this season.

•  Indianapolis 20, Houston 17
A tough loss for the Texans, who overcame a 13-0 deficit and certainly had their chances in the end. The good news? They'll have to wait only three weeks for another crack at the Colts.

•  New England 27, Miami 17
The Dolphins' Wildcat did some damage. The Patriots' Tom Brady and Randy Moss did more.

•  Tampa Bay 38, Green Bay 28
An auspicious start to the Josh Freeman era in Tampa Bay. Maybe the Bucs should consider wearing their throwback creamsicle unis for the rest of the season.

•  Jacksonville 24, Kansas City 21
The best wide receiver you've never heard of? Probably the Jaguars' Mike Sims-Walker, who recorded his third 100-yard receiving game of the season on Sunday.

•  New Orleans 30, Carolina 20
The Saints' D didn't intercept a pass for the first time this season. No worries. Three forced fumbles helped New Orleans improve to 8-0.

•  Seattle 32, Detroit 20
Hold your applause for the Seahawks. Their comeback was impressive, but there's really no excuse for falling behind by 17 points to the Lions. At home no less.

•  San Diego 21, N.Y. Giants 20
The Chargers stunned the Giants without the benefit of a running game. San Diego totaled 34 rushing yards, their fourth-lowest total in a win since the merger.

•  Tennessee 34, San Francisco 27
Sure, Vince Young has shown surprising poise, but Chris Johnson (135 rushing yards, 2 TDs on Sunday) is the biggest reason the Titans have won two in a row.

•  Dallas 20, Philadelphia 16
From rock bottom to first place in the NFC East. That pretty much sums up the Cowboys' last two trips to Philly.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

• Pittsburgh at Denver (ESPN, 8:30 ET)

-- ESPN.com

Looking ahead

An early look at next weekend's biggest games:

• Cincinnati (6-2) at Pittsburgh (5-2): The Steelers will be looking for payback from Week 3. It won't be easy against the surging Bengals.

• New England (6-2) at Indianapolis (8-0): Brady vs. Manning. It never gets old.

• Philadelphia (5-3) at San Diego (5-3): The first meeting between these teams since 2005.

• Week 10 schedule