Morning After: Eagles soaring
The Eagles are healthy and appear ready to make another run toward the NFC championship game.
For all the brilliance of Bill Parcells this season, and despite the manner in which he led the suspect Dallas Cowboys to the lead in the NFC East, his team is now tied for the division lead after Sunday night's defeat.
This week's game ball goes to Plummer, who may well have salvaged the Broncos' season on Sunday, but with this provision: Tuck the ball away in a closet somewhere. At least keep it off the floor of the living room. The Broncos can ill afford to have Plummer trip over anything, including a football, and breaking his foot the way he did when he stumbled off his sofa a month ago. Playing for the first time since that freak injury, Plummer led the Broncos over San Diego on Sunday, throwing three touchdown passes, all of them to tight end Shannon Sharpe. No tears, please, about the short-lived Danny Kanell Era ending in Denver. Now with "The Snake" back in the lineup, and tailback Clinton Portis still ringing up 100-yard games, the Broncos have at least a chance to slither back into the playoff picture.
Comments elicited from two NFC scouts:
|Heard in the pressbox|
And tied with whom, you ask, chidingly? Yep, the same Philadelphia Eagles team that everyone, including us, was prepared to bury just two contests into the season. Despite enough injuries to overwhelm Hawkeye Pierce, the Eagles have now won seven of eight, and the frightening aspect for everyone else in the conference should be that Andy Reid's club is starting to get healthy again. Both on the field and off. Free safety Brian Dawkins, the spiritual leader of the defense, returned to the starting lineup Sunday for the first time since the season opener. It probably won't be too much longer until cornerback Bobby Taylor is back. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has been more effective than earlier in the season and threw for 314 yards on Sunday.
In scatback Brian Westbrook, the resourceful Reid seems to have uncovered a runner with whom he feels comfortable. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is turning loose the mad hounds again. It really is a remarkable cut-and-paste job that Reid, who inexplicably seems overlooked in this Year of the Coach, has promulgated with his team. The onetime M*A*S*H unit now is mashing opponents instead, and maybe the Eagles, with all their early-season woes, will indeed make it to a third straight NFC championship tilt.
The schedule maker hasn't done Philadelphia any favors, since its final six games are against teams still in the postseason chase, including a contest at Carolina in two weeks and a home game against the Cowboys a week later. But given what the resilient Eagles have been through to this point, and with all the momentum they are gathering, there is a mounting perception that Philadelphia is peaking at the right time. Their early-season plight seems to have galvanized the Eagles and, while there are still flaws, it now appears the team was the NFL equivalent of Mark Twain. Indeed, all reports of the club's demise certainly seem premature.
It was probably just a matter of time until the Cowboys' mistake-prone offense caught up to them. It was likely just a matter of time, as well, until the Eagles caught up to the Cowboys, and now they are ready to pass them.
Vikings taking on water
Remember how we noted, when the Minnesota Vikings lost consecutive games after winning their first six contests of the year, that there was no need for panic? Recall how, at that juncture, we pointed out that coach Mike Tice could right the Vikings' ship with a three-game stretch that included matchups with San Diego (Nov. 9), Oakland (Nov. 16) and Detroit (Nov. 23)?
Well, two weeks into what was supposed to be a cupcake schedule that went swimmingly, Minnesota is barely treading water now, and Tice better remove that omnipresent No. 2 lead pencil from behind his right ear and start ciphering out (as the ol' country savant Jethro Bodine would say) some winning game plans. The losing streak has reached four. The Green Bay Packers, who may have driven a spike into the coffin of the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs on Sunday, lurk just one game behind. Had the Packers just gotten a defensive stop late in last Monday's home loss to the Eagles, they would be tied for the NFC Central lead, and the sound you would have heard in the background was Vikings owner Red McCombs shuffling through his short list of possible coaching replacements.
As it is, you can bet McCombs isn't exactly thrilled at what is suddenly a season teetering on the brink of implosion. In the Vikings' first three losses of the season, the defense caved, with opponents able to run at will against the Minnesota front seven, especially to the flanks. But in Sunday's defeat to an Oakland team starting Rick Mirer at quarterback, and with steroid allegations all around the Raiders, the Minnesota offense floundered. Daunte Culpepper had three interceptions, fumbled thrice, and lost two of the bobbles. Randy Moss, step-up guy that he is, had four catches for 25 yards.
Tice keeps saying, after every loss, that his team is "close." Alas, it may be close to the edge, and ready to go over it. The defense was never quite as good as it played the first six games, but coordinator George O'Leary did a masterful job as he camouflaged the shortcomings. But now, with the high-octane offense sputtering as well, there could be legitimate reason for concern. Before moving beyond this game, kudos to the Oakland starting secondary, which not only held Moss in check, but also registered 23 tackles, three interceptions, one forced fumble and six passes defensed.
Packers line comes up big
Some people contend that "living well" is the best revenge. But for the Green Bay offensive line, blocking well on Sunday was the ultimate revenge for the cheap-shot hit that Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp laid on Packers right offensive tackle Chad Clifton a year ago. In the week of preparation, Clifton, whose career was threatened by the unusual pelvic injury, termed the event "ancient history."
Yeah, right, Chad. If you don't think the memory of that hit, authored while Clifton had his head turned and was running upfield following a Brett Favre interception, wasn't some source of motivation for the Packers, then you don't understand how the NFL works.
The Packers didn't allow a single sack, snapping Tampa Bay's record streak of 69 consecutive games with at least one quarterback scalp. More significant to the big picture, Green Bay dealt the Bucs their sixth loss of the season. It might be too early to write off the Bucs as just another Super Bowl one-year wonder -- especially since there is only one team, Tennessee in the season finale, on their schedule that currently owns a winning record -- but Tampa Bay seems to be lacking something. Sapp by the way had just two tackles, and there has to be a special knack, we're guessing, for making a 330-pounder disappear like that.
Magic runs out
Memo to the good folks at the Hall of Fame: Uh, you might want to furlough those artisans who were hard at work starting to fashion the Doug Flutie bust. Then again, Flutie did pretty much play like a statue Sunday afternoon.
In San Diego's loss at Denver, which dropped the un-turboChargers to 2-8, Flutie applied "bust" in an entirely different context altogether. Flutie passed for a measly 70 yards, turned the ball over four times, and engineered an offense that totaled 96 yards. Heck, the Broncos had possessions of 85 and 86 yards, for gosh sakes.
Was that someone paging Drew Brees over the public address system? Notwithstanding last week's four-touchdown performance, including a pair of scoring runs, we've never quite understood the infatuation with Flutie on the part of some of our media fraternity brothers. It's great to root for the underdog -- the American way to champion anyone who outperforms his modest skills, no matter the vocation. But all of the Flutie Fixations, the plaudits from the large legion of Doug Disciples, has been maddeningly overdone. His supporters like to suggest that, were Flutie ever given a full season to demonstrate his wares, he would show everyone just how really good he could be. And we say, politely, baloney. The guy is what he is, a human roller coaster, a player who alternately provides you giddy butterflies and stomach-churning nausea.
There is talk that Flutie will consider returning to the CFL, the scene of his greatest career triumphs, to finish out his career. Our take on that: To paraphrase Horace Greeley, go North, old man. In this space last week we noted that, if the Chargers have determined that Brees isn't the quarterback of the future in San Diego, football historians need to revisit the 2001 trade in which the team surrendered the rights to Michael Vick. Well, there's apparently no need to dredge up the deal anytime soon. As usual, Flutie stirred up his annual quarterback controversy (fill in the name of any city in which he has played), and then gave even his staunchest supporters pause. If coach Marty Schottenheimer was counting on Flutie to save his job, he backed the wrong quarter-horse.
On the road again
If the surging Cincinnati Bengals are to enact a worst-to-first turnaround for the fifth time in franchise history (1970, 1981, 1988, 1990), they will have to weather a daunting three-game road trip. Not daunting, mind you, because of who the Bengals will face. Just challenging because, history has demonstrated, such stretches away from home can undo a lot of progress. The Bengals are just 1-3 on the road this season and now face dates at San Diego (Nov. 23), Pittsburgh (Nov. 30) and Baltimore (Dec. 7).
Sure, extended road trips in the NFL aren't like long sojourns in other sports, because you get to come home in between. But this is a young Cincinnati club, with a fragile psyche, unaccustomed to the heady status it currently holds in the standings.
"We've just got to put our heads down and play them," said safety Mark Roman after Sunday's emotional victory. "Not many teams ever have to play three straight (on the road), but this is the hand we were dealt, so you just play it out and see what happens."
Think coach Marvin Lewis isn't paying for the shortcomings of his predecessors? The upcoming Bengals stretch is the lone three-game road trip on the NFL schedule this entire season. Noted one Cincinnati official: "That's what happens when you're as bad as we have been."
Browns go on offensive
The top three Browns wideouts -- Quincy Morgan, Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt -- combined for 18 catches, 289 yards and three touchdowns -- as quarterback Kelly Holcomb torched an Arizona defense that had been playing deceptively well. Davis and Morgan both went over the 100-yard mark and Holcomb threw for 392 yards.
Good news for Davis and the Browns: they face Pittsburgh -- the team Holcomb blistered last year in the playoffs -- next week. By the end of that game, Johnson could be just a distant memory in the minds of the Browns and their fans.
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