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The Raiders, Browns and Giants were the big winners from Week 9.
Team of the Week: The Browns
A week ago, I wrote that all was in proper order in NFL-land; the Patriots sat in their once-customary spot atop the league. Yesterday, though, the Browns made the P-men look like, well, the Browns, dominating my anointed front-runners 34–14 in a breathtaking display of physical football. Jim Brown himself would have been proud. Peyton Hillis, a 240-pound battering ram, was yesterday’s breakout star, gashing the helpless Patriots front for 184 yards rushing and two touchdowns. In the ongoing subplot with these two teams, estranged pupil beat arrogant mentor, as Eric Mangini outdueled his former boss, Bill Belichick. “We were making plans for the summer,” Mangini joked about yet another terse postgame encounter with Belichick. It may be too late for the 3–5 Browns to mount a playoff run, but this team is well suited for the role of spoiler. “There isn’t one team in this league that we don’t think we can beat,” said do-it-all wideout Josh Cribbs.
Are the Giants the Best Team in Football?
No, but they’re the best team in the NFC, and that could get them a spot in the Super Bowl, where, as the G-men proved a few years ago, anything is possible. The Giants dismantled the outmanned Seahawks 41–7, quieting the crowd at normally rollicking Qwest Field and sending a clear signal to the NFC that they’re the team to beat. In winning five straight, the Giants have averaged 32.2 points per game. They lead the NFL in total defense, allowing 250.6 yards per game, and are second in total offense, averaging 401 yards per game. “Things are going well right now,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “But we’ve just got to make sure we stay committed to getting better.” That’s a good plan, considering that the Giants’ two losses have come by wide margins against AFC hopefuls the Colts and Titans. Not a good sign come February.
The Vikings Aren’t Dead Yet, and Neither Are the Chargers
Just as we were ready to dump the final shovels of dirt on the Vikings’ season and the Brad Childress regime, the Vikes climbed out of their casket to steal a 27–24 overtime win from the Cardinals, as Brett Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards. Asked if he was playing to save Childress’ job, Favre said, “I felt like I was playing for mine. I’m just being honest. ... Have I always got along with my coach, head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No. Do I always agree with the plays that are called? No. Why should that factor into me wanting to be the best player I can be?” So was this game a season-saver, or merely a temporary reprieve? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, the Chargers — so full of talent and promise — head into their bye week with their second straight comeback win over an AFC South foe, beating the Texans 29–23 on the strength of a virtuoso four-touchdown performance from quarterback Philip Rivers. The 4–5 Chargers have the luxury of playing in the wide-open AFC West. They’re clearly the most talented team in the division, and they’re starting to play like it.
The Cowboys, On the Other Hand…
Jerry Jones, it’s high time you put poor Wade Phillips out of his misery. And ours, too. There’s nothing more pathetic right now than Phillips’ sideline demeanor — the slumped shoulders, the bewildered expression, the appearance of utter helplessness. As painful as it is to watch, hearing Phillips try to explain things in his postgame press conference is even worse. I’d rather watch someone kick a puppy. And hearing Cris Collinsworth dissect the Cowboys’ utter awfulness in excruciating detail during their 45–7 loss to the Packers doesn’t help diminish the sympathy pains. By all accounts, Phillips is a nice guy and a good coordinator. Let’s not let this debacle extend for so long that it permanently ruins a decent man. “There are a lot of people here who are certainly going to suffer and suffer consequences,” Jones said ominously. Jerry, we’ve all suffered enough, Phillips included. Make the move.
The Raiders Are Relevant Again
When the Titans toyed with the Raiders in Week 1, Titans fans didn’t get very excited; it was only the Raiders, after all. In retrospect, that win is looking like the highlight of the Titans’ season. The Raiders continued their remarkable run to relevance yesterday, beating their old rivals the Chiefs 23–20 in overtime in one of the day’s most entertaining games. The 5–4 Raiders are in the thick of the AFC West race, along with their former brethren in ineptitude, the 5–3 Chiefs. The Raiders have averaged 37.5 points in their last four wins and are pounding opponents with a reinvigorated running game. Quarterback Jason Campbell is surfing a positive wave right now, having thrown five TD passes to one interception during the Raiders’ three-game winning streak. “It wasn’t the way we draw it up but it was the way it was supposed to be,” coach Tom Cable said of the sometimes-sloppy win over the Chiefs. “We hung in there, fought, hung in there, fought, got a chance, made a couple of plays, made two kicks and now we’re all happy. It's a great job by our team of really pulling together.” Let’s see if it lasts.