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Week 7 Judgements: Patriots' inability to close out games cause for concern

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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So New England is back on top of the AFC East. Swell. Nevertheless, it's not too soon to start worrying about the Patriots. I know they outlasted the New York Jets, but consider this: 1) They were taken to the mat by an opponent playing without its best offensive and defensive players, and its best player, period; 2) the game was home where New England used to be unbeatable, but where it suddenly looks vulnerable and 3) it marked another game where its offense and defense couldn't close out an opponent. The Jets had a 13-point run in the second half before New England responded with a game-tying field goal at the end of the fourth quarter, and that's terrific. But the Patriots never should've been there. They should've closed these guys out long before but couldn't ... and that's a story that keeps repeating itself. Look, I never, ever, ever worry about the Patriots as long as Brady is standing ... but I worry about them now because the team we see today is not a team that goes deep into the playoffs.

2. I wouldn't get too excited about that overtime victory, Oakland fans. Your Raiders didn't win it. Jacksonville lost it. The Jags played most of the afternoon without their starting quarterback and star running back ... heck, they played most of the afternoon without an offense ... and still went to OT where they gave away the contest on a Cecil Shorts fumble. Now, look at Jacksonville's last seven series. It had one first down. No way Oakland wins if Maurice Jones-Drew and/or Blaine Gabbert make it through the afternoon.

3. So that's why Miami didn't want Chad Henne.

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4. Someone tell Cam Newton he has a choice -- either grow up or shut up. He produces another sorry performance that includes a dreadful interception in the Dallas end zone, then has the temerity to question the play calling? Please. "It's the same script, same director and it's getting kind of boring," he said, suggesting the Panthers need to run more. "I don't know what it is, but something is going to have to change and change real fast in order to make that next step because it's the same old thing, same old thing." Newton was a phenom last year; he's not a phenom now. And now he's blaming someone else, saying he was going to stuff the suggestion box. OK, I will, too. My suggestion: Start taking responsibility for a dreadful season and do something about it. Newton's supposed to be the team leader. It's time he started acting like it.

5. Welcome back, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Until Sunday, Peterson hadn't scored in five straight games, and Johnson hadn't scored in his last 11. Together they produced three touchdowns, 348 yards rushing and a combined average of 8.5 yards per carry ... and that's not only a relief for Fantasy football owners everywhere; it's a relief to the teams that rely on them to succeed.

6. Let's hear it for the AFC South. It not only has the AFC's best ballclub; three of its four teams won Sunday.

7. Washington's Robert Griffin III may indeed be the "Black Jesus," as teammate Fred Davis said, but even he can't save a franchise that hasn't done much in years. But that has nothing to do with RG3, who is the most electrifying rookie we've seen in a long time, and it has everything to do with turnovers. The Redskins had four in the second half Sunday. They had five in their first six games. Check, please.

8. Maybe Aaron Rodgers was right. Maybe Randall Cobb is going to "go down as one of the better picks of (GM) Ted Thompson's career, if not the best." All I know is that I challenge anyone from the Rams to tell me differently.

9. For the record, that's nine touchdown passes by Rodgers in two weeks -- with Greg Jennings out of the lineup, no less. Yep, the Pack is back.

10. I give up on Ryan Fitzpatrick. I just don't think Buffalo can win when it must rely on him to make plays, and, yep, I'm talking about that third-down interception with three minutes left. The Bills should've closed out Tennessee but didn't ... proving again why they're not ready to be considered, as GM Buddy Nix put it, "relevant."

11. The heat is on Buffalo defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, and it should be: Four times this season the Bills surrendered 35 or more points, and that wasn't supposed to happen with the addition of people like Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore. All I know is that the Bills have been punctured for 80 more points through seven games this season than they did last, and someone has to answer for that.

12. If I'm Kevin Kolb, I take my time recovering from that rib injury, and here's why: It doesn't matter who quarterbacks Arizona, he's going to get destroyed behind that open window of an offensive line. The Cards surrendered 29 sacks the past four weeks.

13. So the NFL is investigating the Chargers for using an illegal stick-em type substance? It should investigate the stick-em company instead. The Bolts have 14 turnovers, including six by Philip Rivers in their last loss. Through the first six games only three teams had more than San Diego, and, pardon me, but if the Bolts are using glue they should find one that works.

14. This is what awaits New Orleans' next head coach, Joe Vitt. The Saints are on a two-game roll, but they're not a threat ... not yet ... and I can explain why in one word: Defense. It stinks. New Orleans got lucky on what could've been a game-tying touchdown at the gun when Mike Williams was pushed out of bounds, then returned to make the catch -- which is illegal. But that's not the point. The Saints gave up 513 yards, including 415 passing, to a Tampa Bay team that ranked 27th in offense entering the game. I don't care if Joe Vitt is the next Vince Lombardi. They can't keep winning that way.

15. Watching Tampa Bay's last drive, I understand why it spent the big bucks on Vincent Jackson.

16. When Olympic organizers recruit for the next USA volleyball team I suggest they start auditioning at Houston's Reliant Stadium. I swear, I've never seen a defensive line bat down more passes.

17. Memo to Ahmad Bradshaw: Don't pick a fight with your head coach. It's one you won't win.

18. It was last week that Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said the play of his unit "makes me sick." I can only imagine what he thinks now. Someone man the barf bags.

19. Every time I watched Terrell Suggs rush Matt Schaub, I wanted to cue Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles?" from the 1980 Olympics. I mean, the guy's playing six months after tearing his Achilles? You gotta be kidding me.

20. And that, folks, is why Cincinnati can't win the AFC North. The Bengals can't beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They lost their last nine to the two teams combined and are 1-11 in their last 12 games (including the playoffs) vs. Pittsburgh in Cincinnati.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Malcolm Jenkins' hustle on that 95-yard Vincent Jackson catch. Jenkins came out of nowhere to run down Jackson from behind at the Saints' 1. It not only saved a touchdown; it may have saved the game. Down, 28-21, Tampa tried four times to score and failed, with Jenkins making another big stop of LaGarrette Blount on third down.

2. Eli Manning playing from behind. Time to crown a new Captain Comeback. The Giants' victory marked the 21st regular-season comeback for Manning from a fourth-quarter tie or deficit -- and his second this season. The more I see of Manning the more I think he's best when playing from behind. "Our offense ... when Eli's at the helm ... we're never too worried," said wide receiver Victor Cruz, who made the game-winning catch. Ironically, Washington is Manning's Kryptonite. In his last three starts vs. the Redskins, he has one touchdown pass and six interceptions -- with Manning saving the best for the last minute-and-a-half Sunday.

3. Matt Hasselbeck's game-winning touchdown pass to Nate Washington. Hasselbeck starts only because Jake Locker is hurt, but how do you sit him down after what he did against Buffalo? Answer: You don't. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Seattle should've kept the guy. He's better than any quarterback I've seen there since he left.

4. Rod Streater's leaping catch of a third-down pass on Oakland's game-tying series. It was a marvelous snag of a pass that should have been out of his reach ... yet, somehow he hauled it in, giving the Raiders an 18-yard gain on a critical third down from the Jacksonville 43. Without Streater's heroics, I don't know that the Raiders keep that drive going ... which means, without Streater, I don't know that they win.

5. Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor's coverage of A.J. Green. The Cincinnati wide receiver had 100 or more yards in three of his last four games, but not Sunday ... not with Taylor smothering him wherever he went. Green had one catch for 8 yards, his worst performance since ... well, since the last time he faced the Steelers in Cincinnati. He had one catch that day, too ... only he scored on it. He didn't do much of anything Sunday night.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Aaron Ross' costly pass interference. It was fourth-and-10 at the Jacksonville 25, with under four minutes left and Oakland trailing by seven. The Raiders needed something to happen, and something did: Ross grabbed Darrius Heyward-Bey on a jump ball to the end zone, and the Raiders were set up first-and-goal at the 1. One play later, we had a tie ballgame.

2. Stephen Hill's drop of a third-down pass on the Jets' game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Nobody was near the Jets' rookie wide receiver, and he had a first down ... if, that is, he made the catch. But he didn't, ending the drive then and there and forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal. "It was just a catch I should've caught," said Hill. "Other than that, that is it."

3. Chad Henne throwing away a fourth-down pass. It happened late in the first half when Jacksonville was at the 46-yard line of Oakland, and, OK, so Henne had nobody open. You still don't dump a fourth-down pass. CBS analyst Dan Fouts is right: Forget about throwing the ball out of bounds; just throw it up for grabs -- even if that means risking the interception. Anything is better than what happened.

4. Cleveland's decision to punt on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. I know the Browns didn't convert a third or fourth down in the period, but they were at the Colts' 41, and just over six minutes were left. What's to lose? Plus this isn't exactly the '85 Chicago Bears they faced.

5. That torn Achilles to Washington tight end Fred Davis. That means the Redskins just subtracted their leading receiver, and that's a blow. With RG3 lighting up opponents, Washington looked like a darkhorse waiting to happen in the NFC East.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon. He dropped a sure 41-yard touchdown pass with six-and-a-half minutes left -- a ball that hit him squarely in the hands as he began to cross the goal line. Announcers suggested his gaffe may have had something to do with a glaring sun, but Gordon didn't. He suggested it had more to with bad hands. "In a big-time moment like that," he said, "you can definitely blame the loss on me. No excuse, really. I just didn't make the play."

2. Cleveland punter Reggie Hodges. He holds for Phil Dawson's kicks, except he didn't hold on Dawson's first extra point. It was a critical mistake, with the Browns never able to tie Indianapolis ... then falling four points, not a field goal, behind. Long snaps were a problem for Cleveland a year ago, and one was a problem for the Browns on Sunday.

3. Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder. He's deep in his own territory, there are 14 seconds left and he's in trouble as he rolls to his left. So what does he do? Throws a pass to Arizona's Sam Acho. Huh? Talk about stupid. Ponder escaped when Jay Feely blew a 47-yard field goal, but there should be a concern there. After throwing no interceptions the first four games, Ponder has six in the last three.

4. Jacksonville's Andre Branch. It was a hit to quarterback Carson Palmer's head that kept a fourth-period drive alive. The series would've ended on a failed third down from the Oakland 8, except Branch's penalty kept it going ... and allowed the Raiders to drive 79 yards for a field goal. In the end, his mistake made a difference ... a big difference. It contributed to another Jacksonville defeat.

5. Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. You just went ahead of the Giants, and there's 1:22 left in the game. The Giants have the ball at their own 23-yard line, and you're up by three. So what's the one thing you absolutely, positively cannot do? Uh-huh, allow Victor Cruz to get behind your defense. Josh Wilson? Madieu Williams? Someone please explain.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 Just another loss, or a sign that Baltimore is in trouble?

 Was that the end of London Fletcher's Ironman streak?

 Why didn't Cincinnati take more shots with its deep passing game?

 How long before Jimmy Haslam has buyer's remorse?

 Why isn't Brandon Lloyd more of a factor?

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER

1 -- Houston defeats of Baltimore, making the score 6-1, Ravens
1 -- A.J. Green catch
2-4 -- Aaron Kromer's head-coaching resume
4 -- Chris Johnson career touchdowns of 80 or more yards, the most in NFL history
11 -- Santana Moss career TDs vs. the Giants
11 -- Straight road losses for Cleveland
13 -- Consecutive games for Washington with at least 100 yards rushing
16-4 -- Tom Brady record vs. the Jets
216 -- Vincent Jackson yards receiving
313 -- Yards passing by Drew Brees ... in the first half
420 -- Josh Freeman yards passing

MY TOP FIVE

1. Atlanta
2. Chicago
3. Houston
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

Atlanta at Philadelphia ... Todd Bowles' initiation as Eagles' defensive coordinator

New Orleans at Denver ... Let's make the over/under 900 yards passing.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas ... Jerry Jones wants y'all to come on down to see Dallas kick the Giants' keister.

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