Each season, for any team I am watching, I have to reserve judgment until I see them do something that last year’s team did not do. For the Ravens it was coming out sluggish and finishing strong against an opponent that wouldn’t go away. Make no mistake, the Dolphins came out tough and they had every bit of the determination and fire that the Ravens use so often to impose their will on the opposing team. The Dolphins, right from Ronnie Brown’s 12 yard scamper, would not allow themselves to be pushed around any more than they would against the Jets and Patriots. The Patriots game was an absolute special teams implosion, but I will leave that to their message boards. That said, the Ravens did what they should have done. If they want to put themselves in the class of the Jets and Patriots (certainly the Jets, with the win they stole from Detroit after Stafford went out), they need to beat the teams they do. We will learn more about the Ravens when they face the Falcons and Joe Flacco has to win it with his arm. I decided to look at this weekend’s games and see what other teams broke the mold and won (or lost) a game that showed they are not last year’s team.
Indianapolis Falls to Philadelphia: For one, Indy has no right to wear throwback uniforms unless they want to write Baltimore somewhere on them. Indianapolis never wore those 1955 uniforms, none of their fans grew up watching those teams- it is as dishonest as the Tampa Bay Rays retiring Don Mattingly’s jersey because he played there for two years. It just doesn’t fit. But all that aside, did anyone not think Peyton Manning on was going to get in field goal range to beat the Eagles? He didn’t just fail to do that, he was picked off by Asante Samuel on an errant pass, one of many in the second half of yesterday’s game. Everyone has an off day, but the injuries may finally be adding up for the Colts. Jacob Tamme dropped a number of balls that Dallas Clark catches, showing that Indy may not be able to simply plug in anyone to catch passed from Manning.
Oakland Squeaks by Kansas City in overtime: It’s almost Week 10 and the Oakland Raiders are a half-game out of first place in the AFC West. The Raiders are winning games that they never won before, and watching the Chiefs and Raiders play it is clear they are not the bottom-dwellers of the past decade. If San Diego continues its annual rise from the grave, this could be one of the most interesting divisional races in the NFL. Somewhere, Dan Snyder is staring whistfully at a picture of Jason Campbell. Campbell has full command of this offense, and I could not in good conscience give the ball to Bruce Gradkowski at this point. Gradkowski may have had a few games with eye-popping numbers, but I trust Campbell more in the clutch, and he has earned the right to a few more starts.
Tampa Bay loses to Atlanta on Goal Line Stand: I know they lost, but this game shows me that the Buccaneers are prepared to play with anyone. Are they an upper-echelon team the way Raheem Morris would like us to believe? No. But they play above their talent, with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year players in important roles across the roster with a fearlessness and determination that is rarely seen from teams that young. Yes LaGarrette Blount was held on a 4th and goal that could have won the game, but the very fact that Tampa was in that position speaks volumes about how far they have come from a team that, looking at the roster in preseason, should have been hoping for 4 wins. Given another year, and there could be a new power in the NFC.
Cleveland Browns Overwhelm, Overpower Patriots: Initially I was going to leave this one off the list, and give a brief explanation that the Browns pulled some fluky wins out of the season last year and that this win was not indicative of any transformational change on the part of the team. Then I decided to actually look at last year’s wins… none came against a team that finished better than 9-7, and only one came against a team that finished at least .500. Colt McCoy has been safe, deliberate, and has avoided mistakes in his early career, one that had him nearly cut in training camp. Now he is the possible quarterback-of-the-future in Cleveland, defying predictions of a rapid demise in the pros. See, McCoy did one thing in college that Jay Cutler and many other pro-quarterbacks never did- win. The winningest quarterback in college football history understands what needs to be done to get the W. He performed admirably in his opening loss to the Steelers and seems utterly unflappable under pressure. Colt will have some more bad games before the season is out, but I am sure Eric Mangini is glad he decided to keep the undersized spread quarterback.