Thomas B. Shea
The Ravens looked awful in Houston. The Patriots looked about as good as the Jets. That doesn't bode well for the AFC, but gives plenty to talk about in the Monday Morning Jones.
Before getting to the things that "matter," on behalf of America, here's a hearty "welcome back" to Chris Johnson. After gaining
54 fantasy points 301 rushing yards in six games, my the Titans running back put up 37 fantasy points 195 yards and led my his team to victory ( assuming Matt Stafford and Matt Forte don't go apeshit Monday night). It's a good thing I Mike Munchak didn't put him on the bench. We They needed that win.
Anyway, on to the weekend ...
Who were those guys in Ravens jerseys? Welcome to 2012, when the Ravens allow an opposing team to hold the ball for 38:16 and give up 181 yards on the ground while losing 43-13. Seeing how it's the third straight week they surrendered that many rushing yards -- and the first time happened before Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata got hurt -- it's safe to say this is just who they are, even if it's unfamiliar. That means there's no way in the world they can beat anyone if Joe Flacco throws picks and Ray Rice only gets nine carries. Baltimore can't lean on this defense. It must do the only thing it can to hide it -- keep it off the field.
There were but so many options after the Ravens got down 20 points, but will offensive coordinator Cam Cameron stop forcing a pass-first philosophy on a team that has to run to win? Does anyone think, right now, Flacco is ready to put a team on his back? Rice is their best offensive player, and the Ravens can only go as far as he takes them.
Remember when people (like me) said the Jets were on the brink of disaster? Well, with about 90 seconds left in regulation in Foxboro, they were on the brink of the AFC East lead. Then they weren't. Given all their injuries, both long-termers like Darrelle Revis and in-game cases like Shonn Greene, it's amazing we're even having this discussion. Either that or their division, where the Jets have won two of their three games (the other was against the Colts), is top-to-bottom mediocre.
Would that make New England mediocre? Where's the compelling evidence that it is not? The best win is over the 3-3 -- and similarly confounding -- Broncos. There is no victory over a team with a winning record. They struggle when they can't run -- they won every game in which they ran for over 100 yards -- or in games like Sunday's, when it seemed like they should have run more. So maybe the Patriots are pretty good, but they didn't look much better than the Jets. Luckily for the Pats, no one on their schedule before they host Houston in Week 14 is in position to throw stones. The AFC looks that bad.
I hope you're not looking for a prediction for Game 7 of the NLCS. Not from me, not in a series that was extended by Barry Zito, 10 years after his Cy Young. Not in a matchup of the two National League postseason teams who surrendered the most runs in the regular season, two of the three highest-scoring offenses, playing in a notorious pitcher's park. Not when we're talking about the two most recent World Series winners. Not when Kyle Lohse has been better this season than his Game 7 counterpart, but Matt Cain still throws really, really hard. All I know is that between the Presidential debate, Monday Night Football and Game 7, it'll be hard for football and civic duty to win the vote of my remote control.
There are two sides to Roger Goodell recusing himself. I understand those who question the true impartiality of choosing Paul Tagliabue, a man still closely associated with the NFL, as the replacement to Goodell in the adjudication of this bounty thing. However, if we know anything, it's that Tagliabue is not Goodell. In fact, that's part of the reason Goodell, not Tagliabue, is the commissioner. So, would it really be that shocking if Tagliabue arrived at a fair conclusion?
Here's the rub for the NFL, though: Tagliabue has a track record in Goodell's current seat, and it indicates that he wouldn't have punished the Saints players (or coaches and executives) with such heavy hands. If suddenly, after years away from the game, Tagliabue goes all hardass, how could someone believe his decision in the bounty case came from a neutral place? Even when the NFL gets this right, a PR disaster seems right around the corner.
Are the Gators really No. 2? After beating up on weary South Carolina, I'm still not sure how good Florida is. It's pretty clear it's better than this week's opponent, Georgia, though. Which means -- with Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State after that -- they'll probably be undefeated going into Tallahassee to face Florida State. Which means there's little point in discussing the Gators' offensive shortcomings when no one has scored more than 20 points against them. Only the defensively challenged Bulldogs are likely to approach that, and they don't leave the state of Florida for the rest of the season. Anyway, I'm still not sure how good Florida is. Just don't think that will matter until after Thanksgiving.
Here's what we learned from what Kansas State did to West Virginia. No team outside of the SEC seems able to match Alabama's physicality, but K-State certainly looks like the only team in the country that can match the Crimson Tide's discipline. The Wildcats' open-field tackling is textbook, as West Virginia learned the hard way, something that separates it from the image conjured by the phrase "Big 12 defense." On top of that, they have speed at the skill positions and a dynamic, game-changing quarterback in Collin Klein. Oh, and they notched the most impressive road win of the season when they beat Oklahoma, making K-State just the fifth team to do so in the last 12-plus seasons.
They still don't throw well, making it questionable what they'll do if they're behind late against a quality opponent. That said, ask West Virginia how hard it is to get ahead on Kansas State. A conference schedule is nothing but a list of potential pitfalls -- Texas Tech is up next -- but don't be shocked if the folks from Manhattan do Miami for the National Championship Game.
As for West Virginia -- say what you want about the Big 12, but it ain't the Big East. Even when the Mountaineers scored 70 at home, they only won by seven. WVU better get its weight up, and fast.
Kids, get ready for a lesson in Irish history. If you're too young to remember when Notre Dame was an elite program, this week will be a monster for you. Heading into Norman to face Oklahoma, with national title implications for both teams, "is Notre Dame back?" will be a daily question on sports television. The great history between the Sooners and Fighting Irish -- including the end to OU and Bud Wilkinson's 47-game winning streak -- will become the narrative, especially by those for whom a Notre Dame win is good for business (read: just about everyone in the media). The hype and excitement will teem by kickoff Saturday night.
Then you know what's gonna happen next? Oklahoma is gonna blow the Irish's doors off. Dominant as Notre Dame's front seven is, Notre Dame has still only topped 20 points against Navy and Miami's historically putrid defense. It'll take more than 20 to beat a team with the fifth-ranked scoring offense. The Sooners appear to be the Oklahoma team many expected to see. It just turns out the team it lost to, Kansas State, is a lot better than we thought at the time. And unless Notre Dame is better than it's looked the last two weeks, when it was gifted a win by the officials and let BYU hang around, their title dreams will come to a halt.
Is there anything the Yankees can do? With a few days to calm down -- and after Brian Cashman's announcing the obvious, that Alex Rodriguez is available for trade -- now seems like a good time to talk about what's next in the Bronx. More importantly, after coming home without the gold in 10 of their last 11 postseasons, what really can the Yankees do to ensure postseason success? After finishing second in the league in runs -- trailing Texas by just four -- and first in OPS, the Yankees bats quit all at once. That's the sort of thing that happens periodically in a baseball season, and there's always a chance it might happen in one of three playoff rounds. What can any team, even one that spends as much money as the Yankees, do to prevent that?
Sure, their lineup could use someone who can contribute offensively without striking out 90 times per season. But what were they supposed to go against Detroit, just start hitting? When has it ever been that simple? The truth has been obscured by the Yankees' historic run of four World Series championships between 1996 and 2000 -- when October comes, there isn't much more any organization can do but cross its fingers. Between 1993 and 2003, the Braves have won 100 games five times, only making the World Series once in those years (and they lost). The Cardinals have won two titles with less than 90 wins, and they're alive for a third. In a sport where the biggest adjustment a manager can make is to bring someone in a game, where there has been just one back-to-back finalist -- not champion -- since 2001, it's all a crapshoot. That applies to everyone, even the New York Yankees.
Look at the Red Sox getting our attention during October. After going with outsider Bobby Valentine -- and watching things turn toward disaster before the All-Star Break -- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington went with Blue Jays manager John Farrell, Boston's former pitching coach. Cherington is comfortable with him and, presumably, he'll have a better idea of how to deal with the Red Sox's combustible clubhouse. The players made it clear early that they would dictate the rules to Valentine, not vice versa. Perhaps that won't be the case with someone they're more likely to trust. Or maybe, after coming apart under their beloved Terry Francona and staying that way under the despised Valentine, it may be better to continue cleaning house instead of working around the mess.
Hail to Sir Robert. It doesn't feel right gushing over Robert Griffin III after his team lost to the Giants, 27-23, Sunday, but defeat didn't change the fact his performance was one of the biggest stories of the weekend. He certainly wasn't perfect. He had two turnovers but, then again, so did Eli Manning. He showed incredible touch when he lofted a go-ahead 30-yard touchdown to Santana Moss, and both his athleticism and precocious poise was remarkable every step of the way. He did everything late that Manning, considered by many to be the best clutch quarterback in the NFL, did. Through six games, Griffin has exceeded every expectation. He outplayed last year's Super Bowl MVP, possibly the best quarterback in his division. Griffin's next task -- coming up on the right side of those tight division contests. As Cam Newton can attest, the masses won't be patient for long.