What did editor Rob Doster learn about Jay Cutler, the Falcons and Peyton Manning this Sunday?
A Cut Above
Jay Cutler seems to alternate between moments of brilliance and displays of sheer knuckleheadedness and incompetence. Yesterday, he had plenty of the former and virtually none of the latter, outshining Michael Vick in the Bears’ 31–26 win over the Eagles. Cutler maximized his 14 completions, tossing four TD passes and avoiding the costly interception that has been his calling card during his five seasons in the league. “I don’t know for him personally but me playing with Jay, this has to be in the top five games that I've seen him play,” said receiver Earl Bennett, whose history with Cutler extends to their two seasons together at Vanderbilt. The talented but hard-headed quarterback is on the cusp of his first winning season in the NFL and first playoff appearance — but don’t pop the champagne just yet. There’s still time for him to screw it up.
Dome Sweet Dome
With their 20–17 win over the Packers in the best game of the day, the Falcons moved to 6–0 in the Georgia Dome, where they hope to be playing meaningful games in January. Atlanta made a statement with another money performance in a pressurized atmosphere, winning on Matt Bryant’s 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left. Quarterback Matt Ryan moves to a nearly unfathomable 19–1 within the confines of the Georgia Dome; expect that number to get significant coverage if the Falcons sew up homefield advantage in the playoffs. “I have no plans of going to Lambeau Field in January,” said receiver Roddy White. “I plan on staying right here and sleeping in my own bed in the playoffs.” He might just wake up in Dallas come February 6.
Up Goes Frazier
Conventional wisdom says you don’t fire a coach in midseason. Conventional wisdom isn’t always right. The Vikings responded to the removal of their unpopular coach and the insertion of interim boss Leslie Frazier with a spirited performance in a 17–13 road win over the Redskins. Brett Favre looked particularly spry for a grandpa, scrambling for a key first down. “He looked like he was 38 on that run,” quipped Adrian Peterson, who injured his ankle and couldn’t do much to help. AD’s teammates had his back — Favre threw no interceptions, Toby Gerhart rushed for 76 yards and the Minnesota defense shut down Donovan McNabb and the Redskin offense. “He's well-respected,” Peterson said of Frazier. “It felt like when he talks, guys’ ears are pinned up; they listen to everything that's coming out of his mouth.” Let’s see if they keep listening as the Vikes play out the string.
What’s wrong with Peyton Manning? The Colts quarterback threw four interceptions against San Diego, two of which were returned for decisive touchdowns in the Chargers’ 36–14 win in Indy, their fifth win over the Colts in the last six meetings. The normally unflappable Manning, who has tossed seven interceptions in his last two games, visibly wilted under the pass rush, even though he was sacked only once. His postgame comments shed little light on just what went wrong. “San Diego did a good job,” Manning said. “Offensively, we didn’t do a real good job. I didn’t do a real good job. Everybody needs to play better, I need to play better, our execution needs to improve.” Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up. Fortunately, the Colts play in the AFC South, where a 6–5 record gets you a share of the division lead. But with three key division games left to play, Manning & Co. had better get something figured out.
Texans in a TKO
The Titans’ motto this season seems to be, when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, grab a jackhammer. The only fight that Tennessee put up yesterday in a pathetic 20–0 loss to the Texans came in the form of some fourth-quarter fisticuffs between Titans instigator Cortland Finnegan and Texans good guy Andre Johnson — and even that went the Texans’ way, as Johnson landed a couple of unimpeded shots to Finnegan’s elegantly coiffed melon. Titans coach Jeff Fisher seemed intent on proving that he could win via the arm of his rookie quarterback; Rusty Smith tossed 31 mostly errant passes, while Chris Johnson got only seven carries. Granted, those seven carries produced only five yards, but Johnson has proved throughout his career that if you keep feeding him the ball, eventually he’ll break one. The Titans’ inexplicable game plan, combined with Arian Foster’s gashing runs, resulted in a two-to-one advantage for the Texans in time of possession. The one true professional on the Titans’ sideline yesterday (atrocious gameplan aside): Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who postponed cancer treatment to put in one last week of work. Godspeed, Mike.