Updated: October 22, 2006 8:30:13 AM PDT

Saints, others show character


Character building

Sunday we saw what several of the league's contenders were really made of.

The situations:

• In New Orleans, the surprising Saints saw the favored Eagles overcome a 17-3 deficit and take a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. How would the Saints respond?

• In St. Louis, the upstart Rams led Seattle, which was coming off a blowout loss in Chicago two weeks ago, 21-7 at halftime and 28-27 just after the 2-minute warning. Would the Seahawks pack it in?

• In Atlanta, the Falcons went up on New York, 14-3, in the third quarter after Warrick Dunn's 90-yard touchdown run. Would the enigmatic Giants go in the tank?

And now the outcomes:

Bush
John David Mercer/US PRESSWIRE
Drew Brees and the Saints improved to 5-1.

• The Saints came right back and tied it at 24 on Joe Horn's second touchdown catch, then Drew Brees marched them 16 plays over the final 8:26, and John Carney won it on a 31-yarder. Saints 27, Eagles 24.

Matt Hasselbeck drove the Seahawks, who scored 23 of the game's final 30 points, 47 yards and John Brown nailed a 54-yard field as time expired. Seattle 30, St. Louis 28.

• The Giants, all they did was score 24 unanswered points to beat the Falcons, 27-14.

Listen, through six weeks we may have a pretty good idea, but we still don't know for sure who's going to be there at the end. The 5-1 Saints look even more legit with a win over Philly but anything can happen over the next 11 weeks. And even though the Seahawks got the better of them Sunday, maybe the Rams really are the class of the NFC West and not just a team that to lucky in four wins. And who knows with the Giants.

But what we do know about the Saints, Seahawks, and Giants is that they've got something on the inside. They've got a little thing called character. We talked about it at ESPN.com before the season. Character is the real difference between the teams who go home in December and the ones who are playing in January.

You could say the same thing about the defending champion Steelers, who were facing a 1-4 start and needed to win at home against Kansas City. They responded with a 45-7 blowout of the Chiefs.

People will be tempted to call a win like the Saints' over Philly a "statement win." It doesn't say much other than that there might be a little magic in the Superdome and that on Sunday the Saints were better. Doesn't mean they'll be better in the end. What it does, say, however is that the Saints have some fight in them, that they're going fight until the clock shows triple zeroes. A few weeks ago the Giants looked ready to implode. They've bounced back with a dominant win over Washington followed by a gut-check win over Atlanta. Seattle, playing without MVP Shaun Alexander, proved they could handle adversity, which they didn't do a good job of in the Super Bowl.

Each of these teams earned one and only one win (albeit a conference win) Sunday. But the way they did it means so much more. At the end of the year when they look back, the gut-check wins they got Sunday may end up setting the tone for the season.

Heard in the pressbox (in St. Louis)

• Even before he suffered a broken collarbone on Saturday afternoon, NFL scouts were convinced that Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson would bypass his senior season with the Sooners in 2007 and enter the draft. The tailback class is considered one of the weakest in recent history and Peterson almost certainly would be the top prospect at the position. The collarbone injury is expected to provide Peterson the final nudge toward an early pro career. That said, there are some scouts who harbor some durability questions about Peterson, and Saturday will just amplify those concerns.

• The agent for Rams defensive end Leonard Little, who is in the final year of his contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring, will be in St. Louis this week to meet with team executives about a potential extension for his client. After signing weakside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to a five-year contract extension last week, first-year coach Scott Linehan acknowledged that Little was the team's next target to try to keep off the free agent market.

• Wide receiver Deion Branch is a terrific fit in the Seattle offense, arguably the purest version of the West Coast passing attack in the league, because of his quickness in and out of his breaks and his ability to add yards after the catch. Branch plays bigger than his size and, the longer he is in the offense, the better he is going to become.

• Unless the Oakland Raiders have carefully documented every problem they've had with wide receiver Jerry Porter since the spring, keeping the kind of detailed dossier the Philadelphia Eagles did with Terrell Owens last year, they could have problems when he files a grievance through the NFL Players Association this week over his four-game suspension. The first thing union officials will use against the Raiders is the recent public admission by coach Art Shell that Porter was working hard in practice.

• Veteran defensive back Troy Vincent, released by the Buffalo Bills this week, is getting interest from a lot of teams like San Francisco, and will touch base with 49ers officials this week. But his preference is to get to a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, not a franchise in rebuilding mode, so he'll be deliberate in how he views possible suitors. Don't be surprised to see Tampa Bay, which is shopping fifth-year veteran safety Jermaine Phillips in trade talks before Tuesday's deadline, get involved. There are a few teams that will shy away from Vincent, the president of the NFLPA, because it's been rumored he held too much sway in the Buffalo locker room because of his union position. There are people in Buffalo who feel that Vincent often advised teammates there about playing hurt.

• Coach Jon Gruden's tirade against his defensive linemen last week was essentially a signal to the rest of the league that even guys like end Simeon Rice and tackle Anthony McFarland are available via trade, if the price is right. The Bucs are calling around to see if anyone is interested in Brian Kelly, one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league, too. And there are a few offensive linemen, as well, that the Bucs wouldn't mind dumping. Basically, they've hung out a big "For Sale" sign.

• The Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith, the lowest paid head coach in the league, is perfectly content to have team officials wait before approaching him about an extension to his contract. With every win, he figures, the price tag goes up.

• The price for Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers continues to soar, too. The Panthers are going to have to rework Peppers' contract soon, almost certainly before next season, and he's having the kind of monster season that might break the bank.

• Cincinnati's offense is moving the ball but not scoring points, and isn't nearly as productive as it was a year ago. The Bengals actually miss suspended wide receiver Chris Henry, but the bigger problem has been the disappointing performance of the offensive line. Cincinnati shelled out a lot of money to keep the group intact, but the Bengals aren't collecting much in the way of dividends yet. Much of that has to do with the fact that Cincinnati has been without underrated center Rich Braham, because of injury, and because some starters, notably left tackle Levi Jones, are playing hurt.

Saints are marching

The Saints are the biggest surprise in the NFL this season. No one expected them to be able to contend for a playoff spot with a new coaching staff, new quarterback, changes on defense and after a turmoil-filled three-win season that netted them the No. 2 pick in the draft. But they are a contender and it's a testament to the great job the coaching staff has done with the talent that it has on the roster.

Coach Sean Payton and the rest of his staff were very decisive in the offseason in terms of getting rid of players who didn't fit the way they wanted to do things and bringing in players who were a better fit. A perfect example was the trade of WR Donte' Stallworth for linebacker Mark Simoneau. The Saints knew they had a rookie in Marcus Colston who could start for them despite being a seventh-round pick from last year's draft. They didn't let the stigma of a guy being a seventh-round pick get in the way of the fact that he is a good football player. He's responded well for this team, while Simoneau has played very well on the defensive side of the ball.

Against the Eagles, the Saints drew up an excellent offensive game plan. Coming into the game not many people thought they'd be able to handle the Eagles' defensive pressure. The Saints were able to offset that by running the ball effectively with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to keep the Eagles off balance. Then they peppered the Eagles' secondary with play-action passes that froze the defensive backs and allowed them to make big plays downfield.

This Saints team is performing extremely well and looks like it's here to stay.

Clayton's Quick Hits

• Titans quarterback Vince Young suffered only a minor ankle injury Sunday. With a bye week ahead, Young should be fine for the Oct. 29 start against Houston. For the Titans (1-5), it was huge for Young to win before the bye. The Titans' opening schedule was tough (Chargers, Cowboys, Colts and Redskins), but the 25-22 victory over Washington gives them hope. Young passed for 161 yards and showed great leadership. The running attack was led by Travis Henry's 178 yards. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the schedule doesn't get much easier after the bye. The Titans have a good chance of beating the Texans at home, but they have Jacksonville, Baltimore, Philadelphia, the Giants and the Colts before they play the Texans again. If Young can finish the season with five or six wins, it would be a big boost for the franchise.

• Don't expect a quarterback change right away in Washington, but one might not be too far down the line. Mark Brunell completed 16 of 30 passes for 180 yards against the Titans and isn't lighting up the offense. He also has suffered leg injuries, and once his legs go, his performance level drops. Brunell had a toenail ripped off toward the end of the first half, and both feet were bothering him toward the end of the game. Joe Gibbs said he's not going to get involved with the play-calling, but he is going to try to find ways to help the offense.

-- Check out John Clayton's blog

Scouts Inc. Takes

• The Steelers were a desperate football team and they channeled that desperation in the right direction as they trounced the Chiefs. Ben Roethlisberger got in a nice rhythm early and by the time it was said and done, he announced that he is officially back. The passing game eventually opened up the run game as Pittsburgh basically did whatever it wanted against a Kansas City defense that whiffed on tackle after tackle. For the Chiefs, Larry Johnson was a non-factor. That forced them to become one-dimensional and any time you take that route against Pittsburgh, it is going to be a long day.

• The Giants game plan was to establish the run, mixing in the play-action pass. Offensive coordinator John Hufnagel kept the Falcons off balance with his play selection which relied heavily on RB Tiki Barber. The Giants offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, creating running lanes for Barber against a Falcons' run defense that was allowing just 69.3 yards a game prior to giving up 259 yards Sunday. Defensively, the Giants dialed up some pressure packages off their zone blitz schemes and inside line stunts as they attacked and disrupted QB Michael Vick. With the exception of Warrick Dunn's 90-yard touchdown run, the Giants front seven did an effective job containing the Falcons explosive rushing attack.

-- For more from Scouts Inc., check out the Briefing Room and all of their divisional blogs: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West, NFC East | NFC South | NFC North | NFC West

The Green Room

Question: Are the Bengals the same team this year after all of the injuries and suspensions?
Green: They are still a very good football team, but they definitely have not played their best football to date. There are still issues with the run D and the O-line has been a little beat up. They are still a very good football team though.


Question: Do you see head coach Jeff Fisher coaching the Titans next season or will he be a head coach somewhere else?
Green: I don't think so. He is on the last year of his deal and they are a 3-win team at best. They are a rebuilding team and I think they should start that process with a new head coach. That is not to say I don't like Fisher because I think he is a great Head Coach. I think he too could use a fresh start with a new organization.


Question: They can't get along so in your opinion who won't be in Dallas next year Owens or Parcells?
Green: It will be Owens or Parcells won't be the coach. There is no way he is coming back to coach this circus next season. It will be Jones' call and he does not take to well to ultimatums, so I would say it will be Parcells who is out.

Pasquarelli's Game Ball
Owens
Owens
Every time you think Terrell Owens is down and out, the outspoken wide receiver lets his football skills do the talking, and soars up and over an opposition secondary. That's precisely what Owens did Sunday in the Dallas Cowboys' 34-6 waxing of the Houston Texans, scoring three times on just five receptions. Forget that he netted only 45 yards. Owens provided the impetus for the kind of laugher the beleaguered Cowboys desperately needed coming off last week's embarrassing loss at Philadelphia. The three touchdowns ended, in a big way, a three-game scoreless streak for Owens, his longest such drought since 2000 (not counting, of course, last year's suspension).

Outside of the controversy fueled by owner Jerry Jones, who said (and then later was denied by the Cowboys) that passing game coordinator Todd Haley, but not Owens, will be disciplined for last week's contretemps between the two men, the T.O. performance should keep things quiet in Dallas for a week. Yeah, right. Given his lightning-rod nature, and inability to stay out of the headlines, Owens will probably create some new manner this week for creating controversy. On Sunday, though, he made the kind of headlines that the Cowboys' brass, at least Jones, has been expecting from him.

WEEK 6 RUNDOWN
N.Y. Giants 27, Atlanta 14
The Giants just showed the league how to stop Michael Vick, sacking him seven times and hitting him hard on countless other plays. Of course, having Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Short and Michael Strahan, among others, helps.

Dallas 34, Houston 6
OK, he caught three TD passes and the Cowboys rolled. Now, can we please just stop talking about T.O.?

Detroit 20, Buffalo 17
Thanks to RB Kevin Jones and WR Roy Williams making big plays, the Lions finally gave Rod Marinelli his first victory as a NFL head coach.

Seattle 30, St. Louis 28
Even though they're without some of their best players, the Seahawks comeback victory sends message that they're still the NFC West's best and still among the best teams in the league.

New Orleans 27, Philadelphia 24
Time to admit that maybe, just maybe, the Saints are a pretty darn good team and not just one fueled by emotion.

Tampa Bay 14, Cincinnati 13
Take your time and get healthy Chris Simms. Bruce Gradkowski apparently has things under control. The rookie rallied the previously winless Bucs to a last-minute victory over the Bengals.

Tennessee 25, Washington 22
Welcome back, Travis Henry. Henry, who averaged 1,397 and 11.5 TDs in 2003 and 2004 in Buffalo, posted a career-high 178 yards against Washington. It's his second-straight 100-yard game.

Carolina 23, Baltimore 21
Now this looks familiar -- Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith. How important is Smith to the Panthers? They were 0-2 when he was sidelined with an hamstring injury but are 4-0 with him back

New York Jets 20, Miami 17
The Jets tried to give the game away, but Miami was just too inept to take it.

Pittsburgh 45, Kansas City 7
Now these are the Steelers we've been looking for all season. It was such a dominating performance that Bill Cowher couldn't even scowl.

San Diego 48, San Francisco 19
It's official. By beating both Bay area teams this season, San Diego is the best team in California.

Denver 13, Oakland 3
The Broncos are now giving up just 7.4 points per game. Who cares if they're only scoring 12.4

-- ESPN.com

COACH RATINGS
Payton
Payton
Rookie head coach Sean Payton and the Saints improved to 5-1. How would you grade his coaching job in Week 6?

Our Coach Ratings give you a chance to cast your vote for all 32 coaches every week.

• Coach ratings

FANTASY FOCUS
Holt
Holt
Eric Karabell goes game-by-game recapping the fantasy action from Week 6, and looks at a huge weekend for WRs, including Torry Holt. Also, Scott Engel offers his observations of Sunday's action.

• Karabell: Week 6 wrap
• Engel: Week 6 observations

• Complete fantasy football coverage
WRITER'S BLOC
Seahawks at Rams
They showed patience, determination and fight. Mostly, the Seahawks showed why they're still among the NFC's best, writes Len Pasquarelli. Story
Panthers at Ravens
The Panthers are unbeaten since Steve Smith's return from injury, and that's no coincidence, writes John Clayton. Story
Chiefs at Steelers
Forget what you heard about Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The Super Bowl champs and alive and kicking and right in the middle of the AFC North race, writes Michael Smith. Story
MOTION
Panthers pass Ravens test.
ONE TO GO
Bears at Cardinals (8:30 ET, ESPN)
The undefeated Bears travel to Arizona to face the struggling Cardinals. From our Fan Challenge to in-depth analysis, Monday Night Surround has the game covered.

• Monday Night Surround
MOTION
Bears D a challenge for Leinart.
OUCH, BABE
Seth Payne, DT, Texans
Tore a ligament in his knee vs. Cowboys
Steve McNair, QB, Ravens
Suffered a concussion vs. Panthers

• Week 5 infirmary report
WEEK 7
Sunday, Oct. 22
Pittsburgh at Atlanta, 1 ET
New England at Buffalo, 1 ET
Carolina at Cincinnati, 1 ET
San Diego at Kansas City, 1 ET
Green Bay at Miami, 1 ET
Detroit at N.Y. Jets, 1 ET
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay, 1 ET
Jacksonville at Houston, 1 ET
Denver at Cleveland, 4:05 ET
Washington at Indianapolis 4:15 ET
Arizona at Oakland, 4:15 ET
Minnesota at Seattle, 4:15 ET

Monday, Oct. 23
New York Giants at Dallas, 8:30 ET, ESPN
Bye: Chicago, Tennessee, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Baltimore

• Complete 2006 schedule
 

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