The Designed Rush, Week 3: When the Stakes Are Highest, So is the Drama

NFL Network's Rich Eisen raised the point after Monday's Dolphins-Colts game that all the nationally televised games through the first two weeks of this season have come down to their final drive. That's not meant as a springboard to launch into a tired rhapsody about the continued wonders of parity and how every game is truly competitive, because blowouts have still been a familiar occurrence so far this season, just not when the national media has its cameras trained on the game.
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↵The schedule makers certainly deserve credit, as most every big game this year is living up to its hype. It's not always easy to anticipate what will be a thrilling contest seven months in advance, but the league has managed to land them at the right times. No doubt that won't hold up over 17 weeks; we're bound to get some dud games and lop-sided affairs in primetime before the season is out. In the meantime, the expectation among fans that a big-time NFL game is going to deliver is being consistently rewarded. ↵

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↵It's difficult to argue that the league hasn't been fortunate in recent years in its biggest showcases. The past two Super Bowls have been hailed as all-time classics that came down to dramatic last-minute scores. Six of the past 10 Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or fewer. Have teams been able to motivate themselves to achieve peak output with added pressure, or are we merely enjoying a lucky streak that any year now could devolve into a string of blowouts? ↵

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↵Which makes it all the more disconcerting that the Dolphins could have been so inept with their hurry-up offense inside three minutes last night. Even when obviously not possessing a quick strike attack, how can any team not be prepared for what has become a regular scenario under the lights? Continuing with the run from your own 20? Letting the playclock run all the way down before burning a timeout? It beggars belief that such a thing can happen with a team that made the playoffs last year . If anything, the Steelers success in 2008 was largely owed to their proficiency within those final minutes. Often, it's the only time they've generated offense. It's not going to work every time, but it did earn them a title. ↵

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↵Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if in the future, teams went as far as scripting end-of-half drives like many do for the outset of the game. To be a contender in this league, no team can afford to be caught out like Miami was against the Colts, even if their quarterback can only throw the ball about 20 yards. ↵

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↵Five games to watch even if you don't have a rooting interest or fantasy players involved ↵

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↵San Francisco at Minnesota (1 p.m., Sunday) ↵

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↵Frank Gore had the kind of numbers this past week that only Adrian Peterson (okay, and maybe Chris Johnson) can sniff. Gore should find negotiating the Vikings front seven a little more difficult than he did against Seattle. With the Niners and Vikes having similar run-first-and-win-with-defense game plans, this has to be the first test of whether Brett Favre has actually provided Minnesota with any tangible improvement a quarterback. ↵

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↵Tennessee at New York Jets (1 p.m., Sunday) ↵

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↵The high point of the Jets' 2008 season was a trip to LP Field in Week 12 that resulted in their knocking off the NFL's last unbeaten team by a convincing 34-13 score. From that point on, the Jets and Brett Favre fizzled down the stretch. Now the Titans come to the Meadowlands in a game they'll need to possibly salvage their season. For Tennessee to get 284 total yards and three touchdowns from Chris Johnson at home against the Texans and still lose might be just the slightest indication that this defense ain't what it used to be. ↵

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↵Atlanta at New England (1 p.m., Sunday) ↵

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↵A quick test of the Patriots mettle early in the season. They were just dropped by upstarts in their own division and now must return home to deal with an NFC Super Bowl contender. The Falcons don't have quite the same pressure defense the Jets do, but they can easily exploit what has been a porous New England run defense with a steady regimen of Michael Turner. At this point in his comeback, Brady doesn't have much to offer that Cassel did last year for the Patriots. The deep ball isn't effective and Brady is getting rattled into making shaky short and mid-range throws that used to be automatic for him. A loss here could put the Patriots in a big enough hole for them to start worrying when Tom Terrific will return to form. ↵

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↵Denver at Oakland (4:15 p.m., Sunday) ↵

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↵A scarier prospect: Denver starting 3-0 or Oakland improving to 2-1? Though there's something extremely entertaining about the Raiders winning while JaMarcus Russell only completes seven of 24 pass attempts. ↵

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↵Indianapolis at Arizona (8:20 p.m., Sunday) ↵

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↵Kurt Warner set a record for single-game completion percentage (going 24 of 26 for 92.3 percent) against the Jags. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning's getting his usual round of plaudits for leading the Colts to victory last night despite his team having the ball for less than 15 minutes in the game and for only three plays in the third quarter. Which quarterback will step up to accept the effusive outpouring of praise from commentators. ↵

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↵NFL Player Tweet of the Week ↵

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↵Co-Tweets this week. By two guys who had a fight on Twitter during the offseason, oddly enough. ↵

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↵"I feel like running on the fielld [sic] and snatching the ball before the snap and dolphin leap" - Chad Ochocinco during last night's game. See, you let him jump into the Lambeau stands once and the insatiable thirst for attention will never be slaked. ↵

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↵"Would somebody tell the camera man to get out my way when im doing the lightsOut dance i almost knocked him over" Shawne Merriman, yesterday. ↵

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↵I think this is the nightmare scenario for the NFL with players using Twitter. Okay, fine the real worst-case scenario would be players discussing illegal activities and posting picture of them with road beef and coke, but players complaining about how they're hamstrung from being able to celebrate on the field they way they want to is somewhere up on that list. ↵

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↵Truth About Advertising ↵

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↵During any commercial break during an NFL broadcast this season, there's more than a fair chance you're getting that annoying Buffalo Wild Wings spot where all the patrons tell the referee to botch calls in order to prolong the game (don't listen to them, Hochuli!), one of many dialogues with wild-eyed Flo from Progressive, another John Hodgman-Justin Long Apple ad series that will likely run past the fall of man, a stupid beer commercial (possibly with a Jet song playing) and, this being football, something featuring Peyton Manning. ↵

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↵And that's not necessarily a complaint. I think it's understood by now that Peyton is an effective pitchman and the ads he's in are usually at least amusing. This isn't the first he's done for the Sony Bravia HDTV either. Last year, they had him on a panel of sports figures advising a customer to get the TV because it was great for sports broadcasts. It ends with Peyton restraining an apoplectic San Diego Chicken when the customer tells the panel he doesn't like sports. Not uproarious in its hilarity, but definitely chuckleworthy. Here, Sony's going for the same formula -- Bravia plus sports equals optimal. They brought on Erin Andrews, useful in an appeal for better picture quality in a sports broadcast. And there's Peyton again. But now they have Justin Timberlake, who, while a decent comedy actor, has nothing to do with sports. So it ramps up the goofiness with a dumb concept about the TV making you better at athletics, and by extension, speaking Chinese. It goes for big laughs and gets none. A shame that this will probably be around a while. ↵

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↵Dispatches from Madden Nation ↵

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↵I'm by no means beholden to the Madden brand. I as much as others miss the days when there was actual competition among the football titles, before EA Sports Tiburon got an exclusive license with the NFL and the NFLPA. There are those who still express loyalty to the NFL2K series, the presentation of which was killing Madden at the time. ↵

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↵So it's good to see alternatives like Quick Hit Football emerge. Structurally, it's vastly different from the Madden experience, in that it's not for a console and it more closely resembles a role-playing game than a conventional sports title. The intent is to appeal to the casual fan who doesn't have time to avail themselves of the crushing complexity of the Madden games. In recent years, that's been attempted with over the top arcade style games such as Blitz the League. Quick Hit Football will skew closer to an approachable simulation game. It's not ever going to challenge Madden in sales, but there shouldn't be only one representation of the NFL available to gamers and fans who might be looking for more. ↵

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↵A Delicious Bundle of Gripes ↵

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↵- For all the grating comparisons by the NBC talking heads about how the new Cowboys stadium is the modern day Roman Colosseum, there was a real lack of payoff when Jerry Jones didn't give the thumbs down for Tony Romo to be executed at the end of the night. ↵

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↵- More annoying: Jon Gruden referring to Peyton Manning as "The Sheriff" throughout last night's win over the Dolphins or the fact that Tiger Woods was hanging out on the Colts sideline during the entire game? Did Manning deputize him for the night? ↵

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↵- Troy Williamson is already done for the year. Meaning his first two injury-plagued seasons in Jacksonville have yielded eight catches for 64 yards. Only Troy Williamson can make a team feel regret for giving up a 6th round pick. ↵

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↵- During the San Diego/Baltimore game, the officials missed an obvious pass interference penalty on Dominique Foxworth going through Chris Chambers to deflect a third-down pass on the Chargers penultimate drive. The pass ended up being tipped in the air and intercepted deep in San Diego territory. The Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal, but their lead was pushed from two points to five points prior to the Chargers final drive. Ray Lewis deserves credit for busting through the line to crush Darren Sproles on an ill-considered 4th-and-2 run to seal the game, but if not for that penalty, it's very likely that Nate Kaeding is lining up for a game-winning kick. ↵

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↵- ESPN's "Come on, man!" segment started airing last season, but only last night did it really hit home how truly, memorably awful it is. For those who thankfully haven't seen it, the panelists run through a series of boneheaded plays from Sunday's action, followed by Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter and Tom Jackson braying "COME AWN, MANNNNNNNNN!" I think it's intended for the people who loved the loud idiocy of the Jacked Up segment without having to squirm through a series of big hits. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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