Morning After: Simply offensive
The pitiful offensive display put on by the Ravens and Redskins and Drew Brees' resurgence are among the hot topics following Week 5.
The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Washington Redskins on Sunday night despite having a quarterback who completed one pass, for all of four yards, in the second half. Kyle Boller, quite frankly, is abysmal. On the other hand, Brad Johnson was the No. 3 "emergency" quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday afternoon. And the league trading deadline comes Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. So, how are these far-flung factoids all sort of loosely connected? Here's how: Please, Ravens officials, if you plan to continue putting viewers through the misery of watching the wretched Boller in prime time, cut a deal for Johnson, who desperately wants to be rescued from the clutches of Jon Gruden.
With all of the late-game comebacks, plenty of deserving candidates this weekend, but the award goes to San Francisco quarterback Tim Rattay for rallying the 49ers from a 16-point deficit with 5:30 minutes remaining, and to an overtime victory. The 49ers not only scored twice in the final five minutes against a tough Arizona defense, but also converted a pair of two-point plays. In the 49ers' first win of the season, the oft-injured Rattay hit on 38 of 57 passes, for 417 yards, two scores and no interceptions. And he did much of that with his top receivers out of the game.
Comments on the weekend's games from one AFC scouting director, one pro scout and a former personnel director:
||Heard in the pressbox|
I thought the day was frustrating enough trying to work minus an "F" key on the computer, and with the laptop constantly repeating letters. But my personal anxiety was only compounded by the madness of watching the Ravens and Redskins offenses, both of which featured fractious quarterback play. So make the deal quickly for Johnson, we beseech you, Ozzie Newsome, because even bringing in Jim Fassel to help out that noted quarterback developer Brian Billick hasn't salvaged Boller.
As for the Washington offense, well, no telling what will remedy that anemic bunch. It certainly isn't handing the ball more to Clinton Portis, who has to run against stacked defenses because of the dearth of a passing threat, and who has now averaged a paltry 3.1 yards per carry since going 64 yards for a touchdown on his initial run of the season.
So everyone figured that, once the Dallas Cowboys found a way to get their running game on track, things would open up for the offense, balance would be restored, and things would simply fall into place for Bill Parcells and his team. Oh, that things could be so simple. The Cowboys got 166 rushing yards on Sunday, the team's best output on the ground since last December, and tailback Eddie George ran for 75 yards. And the Cowboys, despite having 41 more rushing yards than the New York Giants lost by 16 points.
So, go figure, right? OK, so the Cowboys can rant, quite justifiably, about the horrible officiating. There was one Giants touchdown drive on which New York got three first downs via penalty. The inane series, which concluded with a Jeremy Shockey touchdown catch that pushed New York into a 13-10 lead in the third-quarter, was originally kept alive when Cowboys special teams ace Keith Davis was flagged for running into the punter. Oh, man, the guys who review the officiating in the league office are going to be barf when they replay this one over and over again. What they will see is Giants punter Jeff Feagles, a pretty clever guy, punting the ball and then proceeding to use Davis, who ducks under his leg, as a human ottoman.
There were a ton of dubious calls but most of the Dallas wounds -- the Cowboys were flagged 11 times for 74 yards -- were of the self-inflicted variety. The flag daze notwithstanding, Dallas did not take advantage of its newfound running attack, and the offense lacked imagination as well as verticality. Rarely did quarterback Vinny Testaverde throw deep. When he did, it was with little accuracy, and even less creativity. In fact, the Cowboys had no completions of more than 18 yards and averaged a puny 8.4 yards per catch. One thing Testaverde has never been is a dink and dunker. If the Cowboys try to turn him into one at age 40, it's apt to blow up in their faces.
Only about 10 days ago, word was that the San Diego Chargers were anxious to begin the Philip Rivers Era, and that Marty Schottenheimer might not survive until the end of the season. So much for rumors, huh? Apparently, starting quarterback Drew Brees didn't get the memo about his tenuous situation or that of his head coach. Or, like Mark Twain, the news of their shared demise was a tad premature.
With his perch atop the depth chart clearly on the line going into last week's game, Brees has responded by shepherding his team to consecutive victories, including a 34-21 win over Jacksonville on Sunday. The fourth-year veteran has played extremely well, and really showed his leadership skills minus star tailback LaDainian Tomlinson in the second half versus the Jaguars, and now suddenly San Diego is 3-2.
Brees didn't light things up Sunday, but he was efficient and he protected the football. In fact, it marked his third straight game without an interception and that has allowed the Chargers defense to be more effective as well. It will be pretty interesting to see what transpires with Brees, not only over the balance of this season, but also after it. One possibility: Don't discount the likelihood that Brees becomes the latest heir to the Brett Favre throne. Green Bay would like to get Brees but, with the Chargers currently riding his hot hand, and the trade deadline coming up on Tuesday afternoon, that isn't going to happen.
But, remember, Brees is an unrestricted free agent after this season, so look for the Packers to pursue him. In the meantime, the Atlanta Falcons, who host the Chargers next week, had better start working on a game plan to combat Brees and his new favorite target, tight end Antonio Gates. The former Kent State power forward, mentioned prominently in a recent "Tip Sheet" item lead item on emerging, young tight ends, had eight catches for 93 yards and two scores against Jacksonville. That gives him 15 catches in the Chargers' current two-game winning streak. Gates had eight grabs in the season-opening victory, then posted just two receptions combined in the two losses that followed, and was admonished by San Diego staffers for what they viewed as suspect work habits. The message, clearly, got through.
Speaking of tight ends, you've got to love what fourth-year veteran Eric Johnson has accomplished for the San Francisco 49ers to this point in the season. The onetime Yale wide receiver, a seventh-rounder in 2001 who will be recalled as the last player ever selected by Bill Walsh for the franchise, Johnson had a remarkable 13 receptions for 162 yards in Sunday's overtime victory.
In five games, Johnson now has 41 catches for 460 yards. That projects to 131 receptions for 1,472 yards. Both, of course, would smash the existing NFL records. Except for injuries, Johnson has been an exceptionally productive player for San Francisco, and he is already poised on the cusp of performance levels this year that will trigger incentives.
Maybe it's true that Denver coach Mike Shanahan could put just about anyone at the tailback spot for the Broncos -- we said just about anyone, so no fat jokes here about this columnist, please -- and get production. Certainly the Broncos offense has demonstrated the ability to turn even mundane backs into 100-yard rushers in games and 1,000-yard rushers for full seasons. The latest king-for-a-day came Sunday in the person of Reuben Droughns, principally used as a blocking fullback until thrust into the starting tailback role because of injuries, most notably to Quentin Griffin.
Filling in at a spot he really hadn't played much since college, Droughns rushed for 193 yards on 30 carries and added four catches for 18 yards and only the second touchdown of his NFL career. Going into the game, Droughns had logged 50 carries for 127 yards, including just 10 rushes total in 2002-2003. Maybe the tailback-heavy Broncos should ship Droughns to, say, Carolina, its opponent on Sunday, which lost DeShaun Foster to a broken collarbone. With Stephen Davis already inactive, the Panthers were forced to play their fullbacks at tailback, and the results for Brad Hoover and Nick Goings weren't quite as impressive as what Droughns turned out.
After just one overtime game in the first four weekends of the season, there were three on Sunday. But the league is still on pace for only 14 overtime contests and, after totaling 48 of them the past two seasons, that would be quite a reduction. It would also represent the fewest extra periods since the 2000 season, when there were 13. ... Just when it seemed it couldn't get any worse for the poor Dolphins, it did. Kicker Olindo Mare suffered a calf injury before the game and return man Wes Welker had to kick. ... Once again, a healthy T.J. Duckett got no "touches" for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. This for a guy the staff seemed to like in camp. He may not be back in 2005. ... After a record streak of 24 straight road losses, Detroit has now won two in a row away from home.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.