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Week 9 Judgements: Bucs rookie RB Martin right there with Luck, RG3

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Most mid-season report cards will make Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck or Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III Offensive Rookies of the Year, but there's someone we're forgetting here, people. I'm talking about Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, the 31st pick of the draft and the guy who's carrying the Bucs now. All Martin did in his latest performance was rush for a team-record 251 yards and four touchdowns, and all he's done his last four starts is rush 83 times for 547 yards, average 6.59 yards a carry and scoring six times. Nice, huh? You don't know how nice. At that pace he'd finish with 2188 yards. As it is, Martin is on schedule to finish with 1,588, which means we've got a race for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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2. Once I thought Houston's J.J. Watt was a lock for mid-season Defensive Player of the Year. Not anymore. In fact, I'm changing my vote to Chicago's Charles Tillman. It was those four forced fumbles that convinced me.

3. Make Bruce Arians my mid-season Interim Coach of the Year.

4. Andrew Luck continues to demonstrate why Colts owner Jim Irsay made the right move when he committed to him. OK, OK, so Peyton Manning's been terrific, but the Colts couldn't gamble on his return. They had to move forward with the best quarterbacking prospect since ... well, since Manning ... and Irsay made the call. It was the right one.

5. This is how you know Luck is the real deal: He and the Colts punctured a decent Miami defense for six first downs of 10 or more yards and eight drives of eight plays or more. Oh, yeah, he's also 5-3. Peyton Manning won three games his entire rookie season.

6. I'll tell you who loved that Carolina victory: Republicans. If you subscribe to the Redskins Rule -- and it's held up 17 of the past 18 elections -- a Washington loss in its last home game prior to a national election means curtains for the incumbent party in the White House. Mitt Romney hopes the numbers don't lie.

7. I don't know if Sean Payton's a free agent, but what I do know is that's not what Jason Garrett wants to hear in Dallas.

8. I feel for Larry Fitzgerald. The guy plays hard and is one of the premier players in the game -- and he proved it again with that catch-and-run for a hard-earned TD Sunday. But there's only so much one guy can do. Fitzgerald is a magnificent player, not a miracle maker.

9. You want to know why few people trust Baltimore at 6-2? Look what happened Sunday: It went 30 minutes and seven consecutive series in Cleveland without gaining a first down ... and defense, not offense, is supposed to be the Ravens' problem.

10. For those keeping score at home, that's 16 losses in Cleveland's past 19 games ... and people want to know what's going to happen to coach Pat Shurmur? What do you think happens? He has a new boss, and he can't win. Put the two together, people. They're blowing up the entire building.

11. The more I see of Drew Brees the more I think he's right there with Peyton Manning ... for air time in TV commercials.

12. Now coming to a theater near you: Forget The Titans.

13. Someone remind me again why the hiring of Mike Mularkey was such a good idea in Jacksonville.

14. I'll tell you why that Carolina victory was significant, and it has nothing to do with Cam Newton and/or RG3 and everything to do with referee Carl Cheffers. It marked the first time in Cheffers' last 12 games that the home team lost.

15. You have no idea how difficult that victory was for Tampa Bay. With it, the Bucs are 4-24 in games in California.

16. I can't imagine where Green Bay would be without Randall Cobb. All the guy's done the last three games is score five times. You wonder how the Packers keep winning without Greg Jennings? Look no farther than Cobb.

17. Chicago's Brandon Marshall is on target to finish with 118 catches for 1,594 yards and 14 touchdowns -- all Chicago records. Yeah, I would say he's worth a couple of third-round draft picks.

18. I'm sorry, but Dallas needs to rethink its intention to keep Tony Romo around for the rest of his career. "He is not the problem," team vice president Stephen Jones said last week. No, but he's part of it. You don't make a long-term commitment to a 32-year-old veteran unless you're convinced he can take you to the next level. I'm convinced Romo cannot.

19. The best moment Sunday was not Martin's four touchdowns or Luck's gazillion yards passing. Nope, it was Colts' coach Chuck Pagano's appearance and post-game speech in the Indianapolis locker room. Watch that, and tell me you won't pull hard for him and his club.

20. So much for the NFC East being the NFL Beast. All three of its clubs in action Sunday lost, with no defeat more severe than the one Dallas absorbed. There was supposed to be a sense of urgency with the club, and it still couldn't win. I know we have half a season left, but tell me why the Cowboys can make a playoff run. Because they can't.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Adrian Peterson's surgeon. Whoever did that surgery on AP's knee did a marvelous job. The guy not only produced 144 yards on 12 first-half carries vs. Seattle -- and 182 yards overall -- but he's leading the league in rushing and pushing Peyton Manning for Comeback Player of the Year.

2. Joe Flacco vs. Cleveland. He can't lose. You heard me. The guy is 10-0 in his career vs. the Browns.

3. Everything about Houston's J.J. Watt. He became only the 11th player in history with 10 sacks and 10 passes defensed in one season ... and we're only halfway through, people. If he's not your mid-season MVP you need to start over.

4. Miami's Reggie Bush. Rewind the videotape of his touchdown run, check out that juke to his right, then tell me what's happened to this guy. The more he plays the more he looks like the Reggie Bush of USC.

5. Mikel Leshoure's timing. No sooner do the Lions announce that Jahvid Best is out for the season than Leshoure produces three touchdowns -- in one half, no less. The Lions went south last year when they lost Best ... and a rushing attack. They're back to .500 now because they have a running game again.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. That ankle injury to Oakland's Darren McFadden. He's the Raiders' best player. He's also the team's most fragile. He's never played more than 13 games in his career and missed the last nine starts of 2011 with a Lisfranc injury. McFadden was hoping this season would be different, and maybe it will. But after eight starts, he's sidelined again ... and no one's certain when he returns.

2. Jacksonville at home. Not only haven't the Jags won there (they're 0-4), but they've been outscored 126-34.

3. Arizona's defense. Once upon a time, it was the backbone of this club. Now look what's going on: The Packers had four drives of 75 or more yards Sunday, one week after San Francisco gashed the Cardinals for three drives of 68 or more yards.

4. Washington's play-calling. Nope, I don't like the read-option because it's just another way to get your quarterback obliterated. But I didn't like that fourth-and-goal call in the first half, either, or that third-and-5 pitch to Brandon Banks ... Brandon Banks ... when the Redskins were down 14-3 in the second half.

5. Pittsburgh's fake of a fourth-quarter field goal. It was fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 2, with the Steelers down by three early in the fourth quarter. So the Steelers send out the field-goal team and get the tie, right? Nope. They tried a fake with Shaun Suisham carrying for a one-yard loss, and I don't get it. You're gashing the Giants with your running game, yet when it comes to getting a critical yard you don't trust your backs; you trust Shaun Suisham? Someone please explain. "I took a shot, and the guys backed my play like I knew they would," said Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin. "And I appreciate that. They overcome bad coaching sometimes, and that's on me."

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. How do you commit consecutive delay-of-game penalties late in a game you're trying to close out? Better ask him. He did it with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, opening the door for a possible Oakland comeback.

2. New York Giants defensive back Jayron Hosley. He was offside on a key third-down, a penalty that kept Pittsburgh's game-winning drive going. Then he got beat on Emanuel Sanders' game-clinching third-down catch with just over two minutes left.

3. Referee Carl Cheffers. I don't care if you screw up a call, but at least be honest about it. It was Cheffers' crew that blew an inadvertent whistle on DeAngelo Williams' 30-yard touchdown run, and it was Cheffers who allowed the score. The reason: Well, as Cheffers later told a pool reporter, "by the time the whistle blew [Williams] had already crossed the goal line." Huh? No, he didn't. In fact, he wasn't even close. Listen to the audio, and the whistle blows when Williams is at or near the Washington 18. The play should've been stopped dead there. It wasn't. Officials got this one wrong.

4. Giants quarterback Eli Manning. That's as bad as he's looked in a long, long time, and the numbers reflect it. His 41.1 passer rating was his lowest since Dec. 23, 2007 (32.2). "All night we weren't as sharp as we needed to be," said Manning. "We haven't been playing our best football offensively in the last few weeks."

5. Dallas defensive back Orlando Scandrick. Not only did he botch an open-field tackle of Jacquizz Rodgers at the Atlanta 26 late in the game, but he committed a fatal holding penalty later in the same series -- on a failed third down, no less. That allowed the Falcons to hold the ball for over five minutes, run off 12 plays and close out Dallas with a game-clinching field goal. You wonder why the Cowboys can't get on track? It's plays ... and players ... like this.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 Since when did Notre Dame hire William Shatner as its head coach?

 Are defenses beginning to figure out RG3?

 Why were Eli Manning and Victor Cruz so out of sync?

 Are the Colts a legit playoff threat?

 What's wrong with the Dallas offense?

NUMBERS TO REMEMBER

4 -- Charles Tillman forced fumbles
5 -- Consecutive games with a Cameron Wake sack
8-0 -- Peyton Manning vs. Cincinnati
25 -- Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes through nine games
28 -- Chicago takeaways
33-1 -- Detroit's record since 1940 when leading by 21 or more at the half.
103-23 -- Denver vs. opponents in the fourth quarter
111 -- Calvin Johnson first-half yards
414 -- Carson Palmer passing yards
433 -- Andrew Luck passing yards

MY TOP FIVE

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

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Kansas City
31. Jacksonville
30. Cleveland
29. N.Y. Jets
28. Oakland

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Dallas at Philadelphia ... Loser gets to answer "So who's your next coach?" questions

Atlanta at New Orleans ... So the Saints stink; it's a chance to knock Atlanta down.

Houston at Chicago ... A litmus test for both ballclubs.

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