Week 8 Judgements: Falcons (7-0) playing like NFL's best, especially on the road

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Maybe it's time we appreciate Atlanta for what it is -- the best team out there. Nope, I'm not completely sold on the Falcons, either, but they showed me something by destroying Philadelphia ... in Philadelphia ... and after the Eagles had a bye. We all know the Falcons are a tough out at home, but it's on the road where they've been impressive this season. They're 4-0 there, winning by an average margin of 15 points and with Matt Ryan completing 71.7 percent of his passes there, with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. "We know we're a good football team," tight end Tony Gonzalez said, "but we can't get too much into ourselves." Good idea, considering the Falcons are 0-3 in the playoffs with Ryan and coach Mike Smith.

2. And remember: Peyton Manning's only bad performance this season? Uh-huh. It was against the Falcons.

3. The Falcons are 41-2 under Smith when leading at halftime, and that tells me something. It tells me these are smart players and smart coaches working together not to screw up.

4. The Giants are the best team in the NFC East and one of the best teams, period, but they caught a break with that Dez Bryant catch that wasn't. No question, Bryant was out of bounds, with his hand barely touching the back line, but that's not the point. How in the world did the Giants secondary let him get in position to make that catch?

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5. Indianapolis has more victories (four) with rookie Andrew Luck in seven games than it had with rookie Peyton Manning (three) in 16 in 1998. Just sayin'.

6. Make Denver a dead-bolt cinch to wrap up the AFC West by early December, and it's not just Peyton Manning who has me so confident. It's the Broncos' schedule. Only one of their last nine opponents has a winning record, and that's Baltimore -- a club that's probably on its way down. Yeah, I know five of Denver's next seven games are on the road, but I don't care. The combined record of their remaining opponents is 22-42.

7. The more I see of the New Orleans defense, the more I think Sean Payton should be relieved he's not around this season. I wouldn't trade one of Peyton Manning's pizzas for it.

8. Memo to disgruntled Chargers fans: flush those chill pills. Your club hasn't scored a touchdown in six consecutive quarters, lost its past three to opponents with losing records (when they played) and is no sure thing anymore vs. anybody -- and that includes Kansas City this week. So go ahead and panic. It's OK.

9. I look at what Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is doing -- you know, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 101.4 passer rating -- and I wonder: What's the problem with Todd Haley's offense again?

10. This is how bad it has become for the New York Jets: Miami's backup quarterback looks better than the Jets' starter. I don't fault the beleaguered Mark Sanchez as much as I fault Jets management for what has gone wrong. It simply didn't give him enough playmakers to win.

11. Watch Chicago's game-winning drive, and maybe then you can appreciate why Brandon Marshall is so important to Jay Cutler and the Bears.

12. I'm not sure what there is about Jeff Fisher that brings out the best ... er, beast ... in New England and coach Bill Belichick, but two of the Pats' three most lopsided victories the past four years have been at Fisher's expense. There was that 59-0 blowout in 2009, then Sunday's beatdown in London.

13. Guess that answers what's wrong with Brandon Lloyd.

14. I don't care what Robert Kraft thinks of London as an expansion city. I don't see it happening. In fact, I don't see expansion happening in the NFL anytime soon. The NFL likes the 32-team setup, and it should. If there's a city it goes to next, it's not London, it's Los Angeles ... and it doesn't get there through expansion. It does it via relocation.

15. The Madden Curse lives. Not only does Calvin Johnson have only one touchdown catch, but he blew a sure go-ahead TD with 42 seconds left. I know, it would've been a tough snag, but he would have made that catch a year ago.

16. The more the Philadelphia Eagles lose, the more pressure there is on coach Andy Reid to make a change at quarterback. I know it was raining in the second half, but I'm surprised he didn't give Foles a look once the Eagles fell behind 30-10.

17. I don't know if Reid makes a move with Vick soon, but I all but guarantee he won't be the Eagles' starter next season. That job will belong to Foles.

18. One of the criticisms of the Eagles' former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who was fired during the bye, was that his schemes were too "predictable" or "vanilla." Well, listen to what Atlanta running back Michael Turner had to say when asked if the Eagles disguised their blitzes: "They really did not. They came in low, and our offensive line did a superb job of blocking for us to get some solid runs. They all lined up in their gaps and showed us everything that was coming, and we just needed to execute what we wanted to do."

19. The Killer Bees are back ... and playing at Heinz Field.

20. Of all the players San Diego lost in recent years, I say it's Darren Sproles the Chargers miss most. They simply don't have that breakaway ... and versatile ... threat anymore.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Pittsburgh's Dick LeBeau vs. rookie quarterbacks. He's 14-1 since returning to the Steelers in 2004, with only Baltimore's Troy Smith beating him -- and that happened in a 2007 season finale when the Steelers benched some of their starters. Look what RG3 did against LeBeau's defense -- almost nothing -- and tell me the Steelers haven't produced a blueprint for others to follow.

2. Everything about Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller. Maybe Roethlisberger is right; maybe he is the most complete player at his position. All I know is he leads all Pittsburgh receivers in touchdowns with six and is a valuable ... no, invaluable ... for a suddenly revitalized Steelers' running game.

3. Jack Del Rio's defense. Not many people shut down Drew Brees, but Del Rio's defense did. Brees looked absolutely befuddled, and he and the Saints got drilled. Over the past six quarters, the Denver defense has been lights out, shutting down Philip Rivers and Brees, and maybe, just maybe, Denver has something other than Peyton Manning to lean on in the second half of the season.

4. Vick Ballard's game-winning touchdown. I'm not sure what I liked more: Ballard's backward flip to reach the end zone or his extraordinary ability to hold on to the ball. Anyway, it was a sensational play, and it made the surprising Colts 4-3.

5. Vick's support of his head coach ... no matter what. When Vick was told that Reid said he must evaluate the quarterback position, he nodded, saying he understood. "Obviously," he said, "he's thinking about making a change at the quarterback position. The thing I do know ... is that I'm giving us every opportunity to win. I'm trying my hardest. Some things don't go right when I want them to; some things do. So if that's a decision the coach wants to make, then I support it." Wow.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Pittsburgh's throwback jerseys. Halloween is Wednesday, guys.

2. The Wave in Wembley. The UK gives us the Beatles, the Kinks and The Who. We give them the Wave. That doesn't seem fair.

3. RG3 as a wide receiver. Please, tell me you're kidding. Unfortunately, I'm not. The guy got hammered by Ryan Clark, and that can happen when you have your quarterback trying to catch passes downfield. This guy doesn't need to take unnecessary hits. He's takes too many as it is. So why invite them?

4. Philadelphia's Michael Kendricks as a defensive back. Kendricks is a promising linebacker, but he can't stay with wide receiver Roddy White or tight end Tony Gonzalez ... and he proved it, committing three penalties (two for pass interference and one for holding) in three quarters. Kendricks didn't start Sunday for disciplinary reasons, and it didn't seem to help: because he was positively undisciplined in his pass coverage.

5. Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert on a quarterback sneak. The Jags made the call just before halftime when they couldn't jam the ball in from the Green Bay 1, and someone should remind them ... their quarterback has a bad left shoulder, for crying out loud. Gabbert winced after the play, and that's a sure sign never, ever, ever to make a call like this again. Jacksonville didn't, with Gabbert hitting tackle-eligible Guy Whimper for the TD on the next snap.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Dallas coach Jason Garrett. It's second-and-1 at the Giants 19, there's a minute and 23 seconds left, and you have all three timeouts left. So what do you do? Garrett threw the ball three times, including once to the end zone, and didn't gain an inch. Yeah, well, that's how it went all afternoon as the Cowboys threw or tried to throw 66 times (62 passes, four sacks) and ran only 17 times. Sorry, but you can't win that way, Jason.

2. Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Earth to DeAngelo: You cannot swear at an official, and you cannot do it again and again and again. Hall did, and he not only was flagged, he was ejected. And he should've been. Hall's the guy who last week said Eli Manning didn't have to be a "rocket scientist" to beat the Redskins with a last-minute TD, but what does he know about rocket science? He doesn't know enough to keep his mouth shut. Stupid is as stupid does.

3. San Diego wide receiver Robert Meachem. He was wide open down the middle for a touchdown pass that would've won a game, but the ball ricocheted off his hands ... and with it went the Chargers' hope for a victory. You want to know what's wrong with Philip Rivers? He doesn't have anyone to bail him out.

4. San Diego safety Atari Bigby. Suggestion: For Halloween, Atari, go dressed as Antonio Cromartie. The reason: Easy. You looked just like the former San Diego defensive back when you whiffed on that tackle of Trent Richardson. If that doesn't work, I suggest going as a matador.

5. Dallas owner Jerry Jones. He's the guy who invited fans to come on down to Big D to watch his Cowboys "kick the Giants' ass." Except the Cowboys didn't. They kicked their own ass, committing six turnovers. Next time, Jerry, make it a written invitation and run it past your PR staff first.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 Who's the more surprising 4-3 team ... Indianapolis or Miami?

 How soon before we see Nick Foles in Philadelphia?

 Should games at Arrowhead be considered home contests for Oakland?

 Why shouldn't New Orleans be counted out of the playoff picture now?

 Who's the first head coach to get fired?

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER

3 -- Stevie Brown takeaways
3 -- Dallas receivers with 100 or more yards
6 -- Interceptions returned by Chicago for touchdowns
6 -- First-half sacks of Jay Cutler
8 -- RG3 rushing yards
13 -- Oakland points off Kansas City turnovers
17 -- Consecutive games for New England with at least 350 yards in offense
18 -- Jason Witten catches, a single-game Dallas record
54 -- Mark Sanchez passes
103 -- More yards for Jacksonville than Green Bay

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. N.Y. Jets

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Pittsburgh at N.Y. Giants ... Ah, yes, football the old-fashioned way. Hallelujah.

Miami at Indianapolis ... Hey, why not? It's my first ... and last ... chance to get either in here.

Dallas at Atlanta ... The clock is starting to tick on Jason Garrett.

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