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Week 10 Judgements: Protecting Cutler paying off for Bears

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. Beware, the Chicago Bears. Last week's defeat of Philadelphia was impressive. Sunday's defeat ... no, demolition ... of Detroit was a statement, and what it tells me is that these guys are serious playoff contenders. The Bears have it all -- rushing, passing, defense and special teams -- and while Jay Cutler always was a question mark for me, he's not now. That's because nobody gets to the guy anymore. In his first three games, two of which Chicago lost, he was sacked 14 times. In his last four, all of them victories, he was sacked five. Protect Cutler, and the Bears make the playoffs.

2. The way I see it, San Francisco is a virtual lock for a first-round bye, and here's why: The 49ers are 8-1 and have only two opponents left with winning records -- with the other five vs. the NFC West. So let's say they lose those two. That would put them at 13-3, and that's good enough for me. New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit and the New York Giants each have three losses, and you want to tell me that one of them won't lose again? I don't believe it, and neither do you.

3. This is how good San Francisco is: It's a field goal in overtime from being undefeated.

4. That's five fourth-quarter leads that Philadelphia has blown, and, sorry, but defensive coordinator Juan Castillo moves to the front burner again. I mean, the Eagles paid big money to three cornerbacks yet can't beat ... John Skelton? I'd like an explanation, too.

5. There will be no bashing this week of the NFC West. The entire division won Sunday. Honest.

6. One of these days someone is going to get the bright idea not to punt to Devin Hester. Unfortunately for Detroit, that day was not Sunday. You can blame one kick on a new punter, but two? Hester set up the Bears' third score with a 29-yard return, then burned Detroit for an 82-yard TD after Robert Malone outkicked the coverage. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

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7. I love hearing people call for Hester to make the Hall of Fame because he's the best returner there is, was or has been. Terrific ... except special teams' performers have as much chance of making the Hall as Vince Vaughn does winning an Oscar. Ray Guy is the best punter in the game's history, but he's not in. So good luck, Devin. You're going to need it.

8. Cam Newton has been sacked 12 times the last three games ... or twice more than the previous six. He also failed to throw a touchdown pass in two of his last four and just failed to produce a touchdown of any kind. People told me the game might catch up to him. Maybe it has.

9. Guess that answers questions about Tony Romo's ribs. Now, will people please get off the guy's back? The guy is 17-2 in November, for crying out loud. Plus, the Cowboys are pushing to the top of the NFC East. I'm serious. They're one game behind the Giants, and look at the next three weeks: at Washington, Miami and at Arizona. Now compare that to the Giants' schedule -- Philadelphia, at New Orleans and Green Bay -- and now you know why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was high-fiving guests in his private box.

10. It's no coincidence the Lions are 1-2 without Jahvid Best ... 1-3 if you count the 49ers' game where he was hurt. I said before the season the Lions' running game was a potential land mine because of the loss of rookie Mikel Leshoure. Now, more than ever, it looks that way.

11. Ray Rice has five carries, and the Baltimore Ravens get drilled. What part of this don't the Ravens understand?

12. Don't tell me there's no such thing as Suck for Luck. I've seen the Indianapolis Colts the last month, and they haven't just lost; they've been torched. Make it 137 for their opponents, 27 for Indy. I always said if you're going to be bad this is the year to stink. And the Colts do.

13. Now you know why it's been so long since Tom Brady lost three straight.

14. I'll tell you what I like about what's happening in Denver: The Broncos got smart and have Tim Tebow running an offense suited to his skill set, not the talents of a conventional quarterback. The Broncos ran 14 times before they tried a pass, and Tebow completed two more passes than a dead man. So what? They won. Critics keep telling me option offenses can't work in the NFL, and maybe they're right. All I know is Tebow is 3-1, and the Broncos are a game out of first in the AFC West.

15. Bad enough that Washington doesn't have a quarterback. The Redskins can't run, either, and tell me the last time that happened to Mike Shanahan. Of course, tell me the last time he lost five straight ... or was shut out ... or ...

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Andy Reid benching DeSean Jackson. You miss a meeting, you suffer the consequences. This is all about Reid showing who's in charge, and, for the Eagles' sake, I hope it's not the beginning of Terrell Owens, part II, if you know what I mean.

2. Brandon Lloyd's one-handed catch in St. Louis' 13-12 defeat of Cleveland. It was reminiscent of that one-handed stab he made late in the fourth quarter vs. San Diego this season. Which begs the question: Why did Denver let him go?

3. Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt going for broke on fourth-and-2 at his own 32 with just over three minutes left. The Cards trailed by three, but Whisenhunt had all three timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning. Still, he gambled and did it in a big way -- with Skelton throwing a 30-yard shot to LaRod Stephens-Howling in the face of an Eagles' blitz. "We exorcised a lot of demons," Whisenhunt said. Yeah, like winning a game on the road.

4. San Francisco defensive lineman Justin Smith. He bats down Eli Manning's fourth-down pass to save the 49ers, but Bay Area fans aren't surprised. They've watched him all season. "He's a great player," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He should be in the MVP category. He's having that kind of year for us."

5. The job that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is doing in Houston. The Texans ranked dead last in pass defense last year. Now they're numero uno in overall defense and held their last four opponents to 42 points -- an average of 10 points per. The Texans offense, meanwhile, put up 132. Houston always could produce points; it just couldn't prevent them. Now it can, and, yep, that makes the Texans a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. The hits Michael Vick keeps absorbing. The latest was a shot to the back, and maybe, just maybe, the blows have something to do with the guy's accuracy ... because he's not the threat he was last season. Neither is Philadelphia.

2. Baltimore's offensive game plan. The Ravens threw or attempted to throw 53 times. They ran 12 times. What's wrong with this picture? I know Joe Flacco was lights-out in last week's defeat of Pittsburgh, but let's not forget who you are, guys ... and you're not the Green Bay Packers.

3. Leon Hall's Achilles injury. Teammates suspect it's season-ending, and the Bengals' playoff hopes might be, too. Adam Jones, please stand by.

4. Denver's chances of rushing for 244 yards vs. the Jets this Thursday. I like what's going on with the Broncos, too, but they might be without their top two tailbacks. Both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno were hurt Sunday, which means we might get a glimpse of Tim Tebow passing.

5. That cast on the hand of Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel's right hand. Egad, what happens if he can't play? I'll tell you what: Tyler Palko.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Atlanta coach Mike Smith. I'm sorry, I didn't like the gamble when he made it, and I liked it less when it failed. It's one thing to go for fourth-and-inches if the ball is at midfield. It was at the Falcons' 29. I understand Smith's thinking -- namely, that he trusted Michael Turner to get the yard almost as much as he did not trust his defense to stop Drew Brees. But Atlanta checked the Saints on their previous two possessions, including one in overtime. So why roll the dice when you don't have to?

2. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick. The Eagles are set up for a sure score when he throws a ball into the chest of Arizona's Calais Campbell. Huh? If there's a knock on Vick, it's that he screws up in the Red Zone ... and he did it again. "That just can't happen," Vick said. "You got to find a way to get it done."

3. Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. He always tells what his defense did right when the Ravens win, so how about telling us what it did wrong on that last series when Seattle closed out Baltimore by holding the ball the last 5:52. Are you kidding me? This wasn't Tom Brady you had to defend. It's Tarvaris Jackson, for crying out loud. Bad. Real bad.

4. New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham. He drops a sure touchdown pass on the Giants' last drive, a catch that would've tied the game and put the heat on the 49ers. Yeah, I know, it would've been tough, but he should have made it, pure and simple -- and Manningham knows it. "I should have come down with it," he said. "I should have laid out."

5. Officials working the St. Louis–Cleveland game. The Browns could've won on a 22-yard Phil Dawson field goal, only Dawson missed the kick when the Rams' James Hall deflected the kick. However, replays seemed to indicate that Hall head-bobbed, forcing the Browns offensive line to react prematurely and setting off a chain of events that led to a bad snap, a botched kick and a loss. "I was screaming at the official," said an irate Dawson. "I said, 'It's either defense in the neutral zone or false start. It can't be nothing.'" It was.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 What got into Andre Carter and the New England defense?

 Who starts for Arizona next, Kevin Kolb or John Skelton?

 How far can Denver go playing like this?

 Is that curtains for Philadelphia?

 Do the Jets make the playoffs?

MONDAY MORNING QBS

PLAYER/ATT/COMP/YDS/TD/INT/W-L

It's been a good year for rookie quarterbacks, with four checking in as starters. So let's see how they're doing, with each listed according to draft position:

1. Cam Newton, Carolina/327/197/2605/11/10/2-7
8. Jake Locker, Tennessee/2/1/12/0/0/0-0
10. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville/194/93/1025/6/5/2-5
16. Christian Ponder, Minnesota/77/40/554/3/2/1-2
35. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati/287/173/1866/14/9/6-3

NUMBERS ON THE WALL

0 -- Tim Tebow completions in the first half
5 -- David Akers' field goals of 50 or more yards
9 -- Straight games with a LeSean McCoy TD, a franchise record
10 -- Matt Ryan interceptions, one more than last season
12 -- Devin Hester punt returns for touchdowns
13 -- Hits on Ben Roethlisberger
37 -- Straight games with a Drew Brees touchdown pass
146 -- Larry Fitzgerald yards receiving ... from John Skelton

MY TOP FIVE

1. Green Bay
2. San Francisco
3. New Orleans
4. Houston
5. Chicago

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Indianapolis
31. Washington
30. Miami
29. Carolina
28. Cleveland

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Cincinnati at Baltimore ... Time to sort out the AFC North.

Tennessee at Atlanta -- Titans just won't go away.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants ... Last stand for the Eagles?

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