Much drama, more field goals

The Baltimore Sun

In a matter of 15 minutes last night, Donovan McNabb threw a go-ahead touchdown pass, Chad Pennington and Daunte Culpepper threw game-closing interceptions, and Brian Griese pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Week 7 might not have yielded great football - field goals were all the rage - but it produced great theater.

Griese one-upped McNabb with a game-winning 97-yard drive as the Chicago Bears outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles, 19-16, in one of the day's most grueling battles.

Pennington battled gamely himself, before an interception return for a touchdown with 37 seconds left allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to hold off the New York Jets, 38-31. It was a loss that might have decided Pennington's future in New York.

Moments after Pennington's pick, Culpepper was intercepted in the final 39 seconds as he tried to move the Oakland Raiders into field-goal range. The interception, by Kansas City's Jarrad Page, gave the Chiefs a 12-10 win and first place in the AFC West at 4-3.

Collectively, these finishes were a wonderful way to lead into the Sunday night showcase game. Tightly played games, drama at the end, tough losses and desperate winners.

Still, it was not a good day for offense, except for the New England Patriots, anyway.

This was a day when Tennessee's Rob Bironas kicked an NFL-record eight field goals. The Titans needed every one of them - along with six turnovers - to beat the Houston Texans, 38-36, after blowing a 32-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Bears' Robbie Gould outkicked the Eagles' David Akers 4-3 in a wrestling match of a game to put Chicago in position for Griese's late dramatics.

The Detroit Lions used three field goals by Jason Hanson to handle the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-16.

The Buffalo Bills pulled the day's only upset - a 19-14 victory over the Ravens - on the strength of Ryan Lindell's four field goals. (And imagine this: On a day when field goals reigned, Matt Stover didn't have any.)

Finally, a 49-yard field-goal attempt by Minnesota's Ryan Longwell was blocked and returned 68 yards by Pat Watkins to give the Dallas Cowboys a 21-14 lead. They won, 24-14, because Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson completed only five of 18 passes for 59 yards.

Altogether, there were 44 field goals through the weekend's first 12 games. Maybe they call it parity.

Around the league

New England's offense is almost machine-perfect this season. The Patriots scored 38 points in each of their first three games, 34 in the next two and 48 and 49 in the last two games. Their final touchdown in a 49-28 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins will be debated this week as to whether Bill Belichick was running up the score when he reinserted quarterback Tom Brady with a 21-point lead and 10:30 left in the fourth quarter. Miami had just scored after Jason Taylor intercepted Matt Cassel.

It's worth debating. The Dolphins, with Cleo Lemon at quarterback, weren't likely to get three touchdowns in 10 minutes. And if Belichick was afraid of a Miami comeback against his backup quarterback, why was he throwing the ball then anyway? What would have been the upshot if Brady had gotten hurt when he returned with a 21-point lead? A week after he was accused of running it up on the Cowboys, Belichick was drubbing another team with a late score he didn't need. You think he might be mad about something?

It looks like Brady is toying with teams now. He had four touchdowns in his first 11 passes in Miami, and has thrown for 11 touchdowns the past two weeks. He's on pace to throw 61 and shatter Peyton Manning's NFL record of 49 set in 2004. Randy Moss made a pair of acrobatic catches in the end zone, and Wes Welker scored two more. Moss now has 10 touchdown catches and Welker five. No player on the team had more than four touchdown catches last season.

Is it too early to consider a perfect season for the Patriots? Not at all. As Boomer Esiason said on CBS' broadcast, the best chance to beat New England may come in Week 17, if the Patriots don't need to beat the New York Giants and decide to rest key players. But they still might go undefeated.

Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been feeling the heat for his top-heavy passing game. Criticized for not calling enough runs, Martz balanced the Lions' offense with 24 runs and 23 drop-backs (20 passes, three sacks). The full-time return of running back Kevin Jones (76 rushing yards) made it work in a 23-16 win over the Buccaneers. Martz will stay with the run if it's productive, but the minute it nets negative yardage or his team falls behind, he's going over the top again.

Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia still hasn't thrown an interception this season, but his two fumbles led to two Detroit touchdowns. Even though he completed 37 passes for 316 yards, it was a soft, check-down passing game. He has to go downfield more for the Bucs to beat a good team.

Trent Dilfer had one long, miserable day against the Giants. Making his second start for injured San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, Dilfer was intercepted twice, lost two fumbles - one that was returned for a touchdown - and was sacked six times. Giants sackmaster Michael Strahan rumbled over rookie tackle Joe Staley for 2 1/2 sacks. Although there was some speculation the 49ers were ready to make a move this season, it's obvious they don't have enough weapons - or pass protection.

The good news in Philadelphia's loss was that McNabb showed an elusiveness he hasn't had since his knee injury last season. His running was a weapon against the Bears.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad