What does this column have in common with the first BCS standings? Neither of them will matter in seven days. But, like those standings, we're gonna put out the Monday Morning Jones away. On to the weekend...
Did you see the Giants Sunday? It wasn't terribly surprising to see the Giants move the ball on the 49ers in New York's dominating 26-3 win Sunday. They did so in both games last year, and their offense has been one of the very best in the league so far this season. But the 2012 Giants defense had been porous this season, 25th in yards allowed per rushing attempt and 31st per passing attempt going into Sunday's game.
That unit wasn't the one at Candlestick. New York dominated the Niners offense, turning Alex Smith into the pre-Harbaugh version who became a laughingstock. They forced San Francisco to play from behind, stopping San Francisco from getting their punishing running attack (they only attempted 17 rushes all game). And, for the first time this season, New York played like defending Super Bowl champions. They played like the NFC title was on the line again, and they weren't going to give it up. It's unlikely we'll see Sunday's Giants defense every week, but this is the first total effort we've seen that made New York look like it could beat any team, any given week.
Must. Not. Overreact. Yes, the Packers offense looked a lot more like last year's in Green Bay's 42-24 drubbing of the undefeated Texans. More importantly, its defense looked like the one we saw against the Bears this year. The Packers defense is better than last year's, but still not stout. But Sunday night in Houston, they shut down Arian Foster and cooled the high-powered Texans offense.
Now, how likely is that to happen for the rest of the season? The Packers defense still needs to do what it did best last season -- force turnovers -- and they've got to find a running game. But, even if just for a night, they were good enough to remind us that the Texans may be one of the best teams in the NFL, but that's where it stops. There's a handful of teams with a chance to win it all but, in this wonderful world of parity, the margin that separates them is rarely as wide as it may seem. Plus, when they fall behind, do they have the weapons in the passing game beyond Andre Johnson to catch up?
Sometimes, there's no need to try to explain. Next week, the 3-3 Patriots and 3-3 Jets will meet with the AFC East lead on the line. The loser will fall behind the 3-3 Dolphins, who have a bye, and own at least a share of the cellar. The winner may be tied with the Bills, who are 3-3 with Tennessee at home on deck. You'll have to make sense of all this on your own.
Meanwhile, in the other East. The Eagles still can't hold on to the ball. Jason Garrett, despite his unearned reputation, still looks clueless late in games. The Redskins still have the most exciting player of the 2012 season, and they won a game against the leader of what is purported to be one of the toughest divisions. Were it not for the Giants, the NFC East would look as jumbled as its AFC counterpart, except.
What to make of Game 1 of the NLCS? Even in one of baseball's most notorious pitcher's parks, Game 1 of the National League Championship Series started as one might expect of the two teams in the NL playoffs who surrendered the most runs. The Cardinals were up 6-4 after the fourth inning. Both starters, with 34 regular season wins between them, were in the showers. What followed was the sort of thing that usually requires uncommon planetary alignment -- a combined 10 ⅔ innings of two-hit baseball between the Cardinal and Giant bullpens. Good luck separating predictors from the anomalous from that contest. What's clear, though, after both teams ran through their pens -- and the Giants used potential Game 4 starter Tim Lincecum -- is that the team that gets the most from its Game 2 starter will have a clear advantage. No pressure, Chris Carpenter and Ryan Vogelsong. No pressure at all.
How bad are things for the Yankees? It's been pretty simple thus far -- after Sunday's 3-0 Tigers win at Yankee Stadium, Detroit's starters have a 0.94 ERA through seven postseason starts. Removing the ninth inning of Game 1 against Baltimore, the Yankees have scored eight runs in 60 playoff innings. That's got nothing to do with Derek Jeter's injury, and it can't be limited to Alex Rodriguez's struggles. The Yankees bats have disappeared, and there are few times worse for an offense to go missing than before facing Justin Verlander with its back against the wall.
Take it from a lifelong Braves fan -- don't throw dirt on the Yanks just because they're down 0-2 and headed on the road. But take this from the Braves fan, too -- given that the Yankees have won just one World Series in their previous 10 postseason appearances, there's no reason for anyone in New York to feel confident.
No, Notre Dame isn't going away. You can harp on the fact Stanford got hosed, but that won't change the fact the Fighting Irish are a real live national title contender after beating the Cardinal 20-13 in overtime Saturday. Given all the tests each current unbeaten has left on its schedule, not even a loss in two weeks at again-relevant Oklahoma would be guaranteed to knock Notre Dame out of championship consideration. However, let's not pretend the Irish, ranked No. 5 in the first BCS standings, made an overwhelming statement by winning a home game in overtime. And let's not ignore the fact that if another team protects its quarterback like the Cardinal did Josh Nunes, and its quarterback is better than Stanford's mediocre signal caller, the Irish's secondary could have a long day. And if that happens, can the Irish offense truly be expected to outscore anyone?
We'll be talking about Notre Dame all season, but they're the same flawed outfit most thought they were before the season. That said, a BCS bowl berth looks more likely than not for the blue and gold, and the sky is certainly the limit.
(And more on Notre Dame later.)
Is it the beginning of the end for Mack Brown at Texas? After resuscitating this sleeping giant of a program and winning a national title and three BCS bowl games, no one can fire Brown but himself. But after an all-too-familiar 63-21 drubbing at the hands of Texas' most hated rival -- one that would be historic had it not happened three times before -- it's impossible to ignore the fact that Brown's time looks to be over. That's not to call for his job. Brown has made quite a career out of bouncing back from losses to Oklahoma. But things are clearly off track, and that sort of thing usually forces a coach Brown's age to make wholesale changes to take one last stab at it. Well, he's on his second boy genius at defensive coordinator, and he already overhauled the offense by changing philosophies and coordinators in successive years. Which is to say, he already did that, and it didn't work.
Texas is in a conference that it owns off the field, but it has only won its football championship twice in Brown's 14 full seasons. Its coaching job -- with the program's tradition, access to money and fertile recruiting grounds -- is the most attractive in America. Saturday's debacle at the Cotton Bowl may have been the domino to start the most intriguing coaching search of the Internet Era.
The biggest reason you can't count out LSU. We're still waiting for LSU to put up a great performance in SEC play, but who needs to be great when you can just beat up your opponent? Sure, Connor Shaw's poor decisions late -- so poor that Steve Spurrier wondered if his quarterback had a head injury -- did the Gamecocks in during their 23-21 defeat on Saturday, but they lost primarily because LSU was so much bigger than them. That's something the Tigers couldn't do to Florida, and they won't be able to bully to Alabama. But it was enough to spell out why the top of the SEC is too much for nearly everyone else in America, and why South Carolina still can't reach that rarified air. The team with the biggest, strongest athletes will always have the most important advantage and, confounding though he may be, no one in college football does big and strong like Les Miles.
Let's keep an eye on Everett Golson this week. Brian Kelly was dead wrong when he said he "expects" Golson to pass the cognitive testing the quarterback will need to begin working out after he suffered a concussion Saturday. Unless Kelly's inside Golson's head or stayed in a Holiday Inn Express after the game, there's no way he should dare say what he does or doesn't expect from Golson. These are the subtle pressures that encourage players, especially post-adolescents fighting for their jobs, to play before they should. Because if the head coach expects him to pass that test -- a test that only tells so much, it should be noted -- it's pretty clear the head coach expects Golston be on the field against BYU. Which effectively means, he Golson wants to keep his starting spot, he probably should play Saturday.
Even if Kelly's intentions were totally benigh, statements like Kelly's are problematic. Things like this have to stop. And if Kelly would ask a young man to put himself in harm's way to videotape a practice, it's reasonable to ask if he can be trusted to selflessly look out for Golson's well-being. Here's wishing the best to the young man, because if his coach can't be counted on do so, who can?