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Week 9 Judgements: 49ers QB Smith silencing bust talk in 2011

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. Jim Harbaugh's biggest achievement is finding something in Alex Smith nobody else could. Don't tell me the49ers knew what was coming. They traded up in the second round to draft Colin Kaepernick. But this just in: Smith is 8-1 in his last nine starts, with only two interceptions this season. Better yet, he just led the 49ers to their fourth straight road victory.

2. Me? I'm all for an Alex Smith-Aaron Rodgers NFC Championship Game so we can relive that 2005 draft all over again.

3. Time to start the countdown on San Francisco clinching the NFC West. The 49ers are five games up with eight to play. That's just another reason why Harbaugh is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year.

4. Tom Brady is right. You're going to see what the Patriots are made of this week when they play the Jets. New York hasn't lost at home and is coming off its best and most intimidating defensive performance of the year. Plus, New England is in a funk. Bad enough that it lost its last two and that its defense stinks; but Brady isn't himself. In his last four games the league's reigning MVP has seven TD passes and five interceptions. In his first four he was 13 and 5. Maybe Brady can't rescue these guys after all. I guess we're about to find out.

5. This is what I like most about what Eli Manning did: He not only beat New England where Brady almost never loses -- at home -- but he did it without his best two offensive weapons, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Aaron Rodgers will be everyone's mid-season MVP, but Manning deserves consideration for the silver.

6. Looks like Buffalo's Stevie Johnson is the next guy out of our Experts Pool. Sorry, Stevie, it's not Buffalo's time.

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7. For all the talk about San Diego being explosive on offense that marked the first time this year the Bolts reached 30. Prior to Sunday there were four teams that averaged 30 or more and nine that averaged 25. San Diego was in neither group.

8. Sure glad I listened to all those people telling me that Tim Tebow can't play and should sit down. Yeah, sure, he's 2-1, just beat Oakland in Oakland, and he needs to sit down.

9. Uh, for those interested, Denver is a game out of first place in the AFC West. That tells you more about the division than it does the Broncos.

10. Please tell me that the bellyaching over Joe Flacco in Baltimore has ceased. That wasn't just a game-winning drive. It was a magnificent series reminiscent of a 12-play, 92-yard drive Ben Roethlisberger launched vs. Baltimore in 2008 ... in Baltimore no less. With the victory, his second straight over Pittsburgh, Flacco proved he's the quarterback who can take Baltimore to the top.

11. And this season's Cliff Klavan Award goes to ... the Indianapolis Colts. Talk about mailing it in. Their last three games the Colts have been outscored 120-24. "We will never accept this kind of chronic losing," said owner Jim Irsay in a Sunday tweet. "It's an unwelcome visitor that we will not tolerate." Maybe, but when it comes with Andrew Luck it's a lot easier to swallow.

12. Memo to Mike McCarthy: Next time you win the coin toss, take the kickoff. The last three times the Packers won they deferred, and all three times their opponent scored a first-series TD.

13. I saw a story that said Miami owner Stephen Ross wants Stanford's Andrew Luck "in the worst way." And this is news?

14. You never like to lose someone of Mario Williams' caliber. But look what his injury has done for Houston: Forced the Texans to play rookie Brooks Reed. So what? So Reed has sacks in each of his last three games (including two Sunday) and is getting invaluable experience that will make Houston a deeper and better defense in the future.

15. The more I see Julio Jones, the more I wonder if Cleveland should have made that Draft Day deal. The Browns need nothing more than playmakers, and Jones would've been a nice start for Colt McCoy.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were supposed to be one of the league's bottom feeders, but they're not. Instead, they're tied for first in the AFC North, and I can tell you why: Andy Dalton. He doesn't play like a rookie quarterback. I understand the attention Cam Newton's getting in Carolina and how he's energized the Panthers, but I also understand this: Dalton has more touchdown passes, a higher completion percentage and a 6-2 record.

2. The Giants hoisting coach Tom Coughlin to their shoulders in the locker room after Sunday's win. Yes, that was Coughlin laughing with his players -- a signal how much he treasured the come-from-behind win. People used to say Coughlin was too tough, too stiff, too player-unfriendly to last in New York. Uh-huh, and Joe Flacco can't beat Pittsburgh, either. Puh-leeze.

3. San Diego's pass rush. The Bolts struggled all season to get to the quarterback, averaging fewer than two a game prior to Sunday. Then they dropped Aaron Rodgers four times -- all in the first half -- and pulled him down within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage on at least three other occasions. At least they got something out of their third straight defeat.

4. Torrey Smith's touchdown catch with eight seconds left to shock Pittsburgh. Smith is the guy who dropped the game-winning TD 30 seconds earlier and committed a brutal holding call that cost the Ravens a game-opening TD. "All you need is one play," said Flacco, "and that's what we got."

5. Dallas' upcoming schedule. I know, the Cowboys draw Buffalo next weekend, but it's in Dallas where they're 3-1. Then it's Washington, Miami and Arizona. That will take the heat off Tony Romo in a hurry.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. What is going on with San Diego's Philip Rivers, and, honestly, I wish I knew. I bet the Chargers do, too. Rivers already has more interceptions (14) through eight games than he had all of last season (13). But his worst gaffe Sunday might have been an intentional grounding call that sabotaged the Chargers' next-to-last drive. "It was either that or the sack," Rivers said. I tell you, it's always something with him this season. Too bad, too. He's been one of the league's best and most efficient quarterbacks, but not this season.

2. Cleveland's run defense. Yeah, the Browns miss Eric Mangini, and Sunday's game will tell you why: Houston ran for a season-best 261 yards, including 132 in the first half on just 15 carries. Oh, yeah, all three of the Texans' touchdowns were runs, too.

3. Those stories about why Miami cornerback Vontae Davis didn't make the Kansas City trip. Hungover and late for work? You gotta be kidding me. Now I know why the Dolphins stink. Hey, wasn't this the guy who said he was part of the best cornerback tandem in the NFL? Maybe we should have administered a sobriety test then.

4. Carson Palmer trying to pick up the NFL in mid-season. I don't care how good you are, when you miss training camp and preseason there are repercussions -- and Palmer is finding out the hard way. Make that six interceptions in one-and-a-half games. Now he goes home to San Diego (he lives in Del Mar) for a Thursday night game with San Diego, with the winner taking sole possession of first in the AFC West.

5. Clay Matthews' performance. He was opposite right tackle Jeromey Clary, which should've been a mismatch. But it wasn't. Clary neutralized last year's runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, holding him to one tackle, in what one Green Bay observer called Matthews' worst performance of the season.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Referee Ron Winters -- His crew marked off a 5-yard penalty as 6 and a 15-yard penalty as 16. This is not rocket science, Ron. If you need help, that's why we invented math.

2. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- I'm with NBC's Tony Dungy, a guy who knows something about defense. I don't get what Pittsburgh was doing on the Ravens' last series, particularly those last two plays. Bump and run? Sorry, I don't get it, not with speed like Torrey Smith on the outside.

3. Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham -- He scores the go-ahead touchdown, then draws a personal foul for taunting an opponent. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. That moves the Giants' kickoff from the 35 to the 20. You don't give Tom Brady an advantage like that and expect to escape ... and the Giants didn't. Brady led the Patriots to a go-ahead touchdown.

4. New England coach Bill Belichick -- The Patriots defense stinks, and I'd have some sympathy except ... he's the guy who drafted the guys that comprise the league's worst unit. Bad enough what we saw a week ago in Pittsburgh; Sunday was worse. The Patriots couldn't stop the Giants from sailing 80 yards in the last 1:21.

5. Washington coach Mike Shanahan -- He sat down Rex Grossman after his four interceptions vs. Philadelphia, replacing him with a quarterback (John Beck) who hadn't started since 2007. So what happens? Washington not only loses three straight with Beck; it has one touchdown in its last 25 possessions. Time to face facts, Mike: The quarterback who can win for you isn't on the roster.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 What's happened to the Oakland Raiders?

 Do the Bengals make the playoffs?

 What lasts longer ... Washington's allegiance to John Beck or Kim Kardashian's marriage?

 Who wins the AFC East?

 What's going on with Tom Brady?

NUMBERS ON THE WALL

0 -- Tim Tebow fourth-quarter passes

2 -- Arizona safeties this year on intentional grounding

3 -- Straight games with Cleveland's Phil Dawson hitting a field goal from 50 yards and beyond

6-0 -- New Orleans when it runs for 100 yards

10 -- Punts in the first half of New York Giants-New England game

13-3 -- Combined records of Jim and John Harbaugh

20 -- Career 100-yard receiving games by Wes Welker

36 -- Straight games with a Drew Brees touchdown pass

MY TOP FIVE

1. Green Bay

2. San Francisco

3. Baltimore

4. Pittsburgh

5. Detroit

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Indianapolis

31. Miami

30. St. Louis

29. Seattle

28. Arizona

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati ... Time to find out about the Bengals.

New York Giants at San Francisco ... It's best of NFC East vs. best in NFC West.

New England at N.Y. Jets ... Get ready for another week of Great Rex-pectations.

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