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Week 6 NFL Judgements: Sanchez proves to be Jets' best shot at winning

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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1. There's no overstating the importance of Mark Sanchez's defeat of Indianapolis, and here's why: Because it occurred after coach Rex Ryan waffled on Sanchez's future, saying that Sanchez was the team's quarterback "this week." That had critics speculating on how short the leash would be for Sanchez, but they can stop. Sanchez bought himself considerable time, and let's be honest: It shouldn't have happened, anyway. If you bench Sanchez for Tim Tebow you must trash your offense and do what Denver did last season -- namely, tailor the scheme to Tebow's strengths, meaning reconstruct the University of Florida's offense. But it means something more. It means giving up on Sanchez, and that's not going to happen anytime soon. The Jets just gave him a three-year extension. So, congratulations, Mark Sanchez. You won more than a game. You won a reprieve.

2. For those who missed it, Tebow played an important part in the Jets' victory, too. It was his fourth-down pass off a fake punt that kept a second-quarter drive going and turned it into a last-minute touchdown. Ryan last week said he would try to win any way he could ... and he lived up to his promise.

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3. Yep, Andrew Luck -- the first pick of the draft -- was the only rookie quarterback who lost Sunday.

4. Here's what I take from this weekend: There isn't a dominant team out there. Atlanta? Nope. It was lucky to escape bottom feeders Carolina and Oakland. Houston. Please. You saw what happened Sunday night. And San Francisco? Forget about it. The 49ers just returned to earth, compliments of that spanking by the New York Giants. So who's No. 1? Answer: It really doesn't matter, folks. "I'm not worried about where we are now," said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. "I'm worried about where we are in January and February. It's a long season." Amen.

5. The Ravens fear the worst for injured linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Ladarius Webb, and I fear the worst for the Ravens. If their injuries are as serious as suspected, the AFC North is wide open ... which means the door just was opened for a struggling Pittsburgh Steelers club.

6. There's another reason beside Lewis and Webb to worry about Baltimore, and I'll sum it up in two words: Run defense. They don't have one. They not only allowed a franchise-worst 227 to Dallas; they allowed over 200 yards rushing for the second straight week, the first time in team history that's happened.

7. They're talking about "Ground and Pound" again in New York, and they should. Shonn Greene just ran for a career-best 161 yards and three TDs, and the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw just ran for 316 yards the past two weeks.

8. Guess that answers the question of whether the Redskins should've played RG3.

9. Yep, that was an impressive performance by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, but while it tells me the Seahawks are legit it also raises serious doubts about New England. I mean, this is the second time in the past four games where the Patriots had a substantial fourth-quarter lead (Baltimore was the other) and blew it.

10. And that, folks, is what drives people crazy about Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. On an afternoon when he has a career-high 12 catches and his first two TDs of the year he lets the game-tying two-point conversion whistle through his hands.

11. You gotta feel for Kevin Kolb. Just when it looks as if he's turned the corner, this happens.

12. That's the second straight last-second loss for Philadelphia, and here come questions about the defense again. It blew fourth-quarter leads the past two weeks, but get real, people: The games never should have been in question by then. Michael Vick and an explosive offense -- or what should be an explosive offense -- commit way too many mistakes for this team to succeed. It's always the defense that must bail the club out, and the last two weeks it wore out after it was worn down.

13. Andy Reid's in a tough spot. If he didn't have a rookie sitting behind Vick he might make the change at quarterback. But Reid's job is on the line, and, I'm sorry, when you have little job security and absolutely, positively must get to the playoffs you don't put your future in the hands of a rookie quarterback ... and I don't care how good he was this summer. Ryan Leaf looked good his rookie preseason, too, and you know what happened there.

14. Here's another reason why the Eagles should be ashamed of blowing what appeared to be an apparent victory: Detroit had 16 penalties ... yet still found a way to win. I don't think it's too strong a statement to say the Lions saved their season with that win.

15. Suddenly, a lot of people like the Green Bay Packers again, and it's easy to see why: When they absolutely, positively had to make something happen they looked like the Green Bay Packers ... which is another way of saying Aaron Rodgers was himself. I know they're 3-3, but if they were 4-2 we'd be talking about them as one of the heavyweights in this league ... except they should be 4-2, and you know it.

16. The more I see of the NFL's overtime rule the more I'm convinced everyone should adopt it. Joel Bussert, take a bow. He's the NFL genius who dreamed it up, and it's by far the most equitable system for deciding the fifth quarter.

17. I'm not sure who should feel more relieved that Baltimore won -- the Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo or Chykie Brown. OK, they both should, and here's why: Ayanbadejo, a special-teams ace, let the Cowboys' last-gasp onside kick go through his hands, while Brown committed a costly pass interference penalty on the following series that set up a 51-yard Dan Bailey field goal. Fortunately for both, Bailey blew the kick, with the ball drifting wide left. Result: Each was spared some difficult questions afterward.

18. The Giants' beatdown of San Francisco tells me something about Big Blue, and what it tells me is how much better the Giants are than the Jets. San Francisco hammered Rex Ryan's club 34-0 at MetLife Stadium, then returned home to get destroyed 26-3 by the Giants. The numbers speak for themselves.

19. Sorry, but I can't see Cincinnati going to the top of the AFC North anymore -- not after the past two weeks. The Bengals had to take advantage of the first half of the schedule, with a six-game swing that looked easy, and they screwed the pooch -- going 3-3, thanks to back-to-back losses to Miami and Cleveland. Now, look at their next three games -- Pittsburgh, Denver and the New York Giants -- and tell me why we should believe they'll be OK.

20. Imagine if Oakland's game-ending lateral wound up in the end zone ... which it nearly did after the Raiders were through going backward. Millions of dollars would've changed hands. The line on the game was 9-1/2; the Falcons won by three. Add seven, and know what you get? A lot of angry losers.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Parity in the AFC East. Everyone but New England plays for second, right? Maybe. But check out the standings. There's a four-way tie for first at 3-3, and, if Bill Parcells is right when he says you are what your record says you are, well, then, this is one ordinary division.

2. The New York Giants' pass protection. The last three games Eli Manning hasn't been sacked once, and that helps explain what's going on with these guys. Manning was hammered again and again vs. San Francisco in the 2011 conference championship game, but not when the Giants replayed the 49ers Sunday. In fact, look at the stat sheet from that game: San Francisco had one quarterback hit. Period.

3. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt's scolding of Reagan Maui'a after his 7-yard-catch-and-run in the fourth quarter. It wasn't the catch or the run that bothered Whisenhunt; it was what happened afterward, with Maui'a spiking the ball to draw a delay-of-game penalty. Whisenhunt channeled his inner Bill Cowher when he rushed up to Maui'a and laid the poor guy out, and he should have. It was a stupid move.

4. The job Joe Philbin is doing in Miami. The Dolphins wanted Jeff Fisher as their head coach, but Fisher didn't want them. So Fisher went to St. Louis, Miami hired Philbin and look who's talking now.

5. James Jones' game-clinching touchdown catch vs. Houston. The Texans' Kareem Jackson had him perfectly covered, so Jones had to do something ... and he did. He reached around him and snagged the pass with one hand. Terrific.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Quarterback Alex Smith's second-half performance. For the first time this season he looked jumpy, and, yeah, OK, so it might have had something to do with those four sacks he took. Still, he was atypically inaccurate, with three interceptions for the first time since 2009. "You could tell at times he was a little rattled," said safety Antrel Rolle, who had two of the pickoffs.

2. The hits Michael Vick keeps absorbing. Forget the 13 turnovers. That's bad enough. But I don't see how Vick lasts with the beating he keeps taking. Detroit had 10 pressures, 11 hits and three sacks of Vick, and, nope, that just can't continue.

3. Buffalo coach Chan Gailey throwing out of the Wildcat with the game on the line. There were just under four minutes left, and Buffalo was clinging to a three-point lead. But the Bills were at the Arizona 36 and had a chance to close out a tough Arizona club. Except they didn't, and they didn't because Gailey had Brad Smith throw to the end zone out of the Wildcat. Result: A costly interception that led to a game-tying field goal. Next time, Chan, play it smart.

4. The Oakland Raiders and penalties. One of Dennis Allen's preseason goals was to clean up the Raiders' knack for drawing flags, and he's done a good job of it ... until, that is, Sunday. While the Raiders pushed Atlanta to the mat, they couldn't resist looking a little like the Raiders who self-destructed a year ago. They had 12 penalties for 110 yards. Not good.

5. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. That's the second straight game where he looked less than sensational, and I know the Texans are going to win their division, but I don't know how deep they go in the playoffs ... and Schaub is the reason. I just don't trust the guy.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. New England coach Bill Belichick. With six seconds to go in the first half, and the ball at the Seattle 3 he chose to throw for the end zone rather than play it safe and take three points. Big mistake. Quarterback Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding, 10 seconds were run off the clock and the Patriots were sent into their locker room with no touchdown, no field goal, no nothing.

2. Arizona kicker Jay Feely. He hits a career-best 61-yard field goal to knot the game in the last minute, then blows a chance to win it when he caroms a 38-yarder off the left upright. Huh? How does that happen? You're going to have to explain, Jay.

3. St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher. I know it was fourth-and-7 there at the end, but I still take a shot with Sam Bradford. Instead, Fisher called on Greg Zuerlein for a 66-yard field goal. I know he has a strong leg, but, please, there's a reason nobody in league history has a kick longer than 63 yards. Indoors, I might think about it; outdoors? No way.

4. Philadelphia defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. He got tossed after punching Detroit's Gosder Cherilus early in the fourth quarter, and on an extra point, no less. "I can't afford to do that," he said later. No kidding. It's no coincidence that the Eagles' defense deflated in a quarter where they played without their rookie star.

5. Dallas coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys had 26 seconds left at the end of their game with Baltimore and one time out ... yet all they could manage was one lousy pass to Dez Bryant? That's because they took way too long before taking a time out with six seconds left to set up Bailey for a kick he'd miss. Someone enroll Garrett in a course on clock management.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 What's happened to Philadelphia's pass rush?

 How soon before Atlanta loses?

 Now do you understand why Matt Cassel, not Brady Quinn, was starting in Kansas City?

 What happened to Wade Phillips' defense?

 So tell me again: What's wrong with Aaron Rodgers?

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER

3 -- Straight weeks where Buffalo allowed at least 180 rushing yards
4-0 -- Baltimore's all-time record vs. Dallas
4 -- Straight 100-yard games for Wes Welker
5-12 -- Dallas' record the last 17 games when Tony Romo has a turnover
6 -- RG3 rushing TDs
7 -- Dez Bryant drops this year
13 -- Points allowed by San Francisco off turnovers Sunday
15 -- Straight games where New England has at least 350 yards, an NFL record
29-4 -- Matt Ryan at home
112.0 -- Ryan Tannehill passer rating

MY TOP FIVE

1. Atlanta
2. Chicago
3. Baltimore
4. N.Y. Giants
5. San Francisco

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Kansas City
31. Jacksonville
30. Carolina
29. Cleveland
28. Oakland

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Washington at N.Y. Giants ... Biggest test for Big Blue's defense this year.

Green Bay at St. Louis ... Packers starting to surge, but this is a tough place to win.

Baltimore at Houston ... Texans have a score to settle from last year's playoffs.

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