Second guesses: Pats could be in for long season

Ever since their nasty break-up with the New York Jets, when Bill Belichick struck out on his own for New England, there has been a little coolness between Bill Parcells and the NFL's resident genius coach.


So, even though he wasn't the head coach on the sidelines, Miami's rout of the Patriots had to be pretty sweet for Parcells. The Dolphins came north 0-2 and literally ran right through the Patriots defense. Ronnie Brown ran for four touchdowns, and he and Ricky Williams combined for 201 yards.

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Brown lined up as a shotgun quarterback and ran twice for touchdowns, and then on another, he fired an ugly left-handed touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano. It was an unorthodox, maybe even a college formation, but it worked against the veteran Patriots, whose streak of 21 regular-season wins came to an end.

My first thought is that everything isn't all right with the Pats. Miami had four sacks, three on starter Matt Cassel, and yes, it is easy to say New England isn't the same without MVP Tom Brady. But the main reason is that last season with a healthy Brady, the Patriots always seemed to have a lead, and New England's defense really didn't have to play the run much. They were always protecting a lead.

If other teams can run on the Patriots like this, this could be a long season for Belichick and his boys. Granted, it is early in the season, but the Bills are unbeaten and in first place in the AFC East. Cassel figures to improve, but right now he's not throwing the ball deep to Randy Moss or anyone for that matter. Every pass attempt looks like a check-down throw to the slot receiver, Wes Welker.

Don't forget that Brady and Co. was a record-setting scoring machine in 2007, but right now Belichick is 2-2 in his last four games.

Eagles leave Steelers punchy

Are the Broncos the best team in the AFC? Maybe the Bills or the Titans, although it is difficult to believe that steady Trent Edwards and veteran backup Kerry Collins are really ready for prime-time playoff games.

I was thinking the Pittsburgh Steelers might be ready to take charge of the AFC until I saw the Philadelphia Eagles punch Ben Roethlisberger in the mouth. The Eagles lost their best player, runner Brian Westbrook, early in the showdown of the Keystone State, but even with their offense operating in second gear, the Steelers really weren't a factor. Big Ben was sacked eight times and managed only 131 passing yards.

The shutdown was pretty dramatic, considering that the Dallas Cowboys put 41 points on this same team last Monday night. After respecting years of New England and AFC dominance in the Super Bowl, the NFC may have the upper hand. It all started with the Giants big win in Glendale, Ariz., over the unbeaten Patriots last February. The tide seems to have turned.

The Eagles put a beating on a very physical Pittsburgh team, and Donovan McNabb got off the mat to secure this important win. McNabb opened the game by completing his first 15 attempts.

The Eagles are very good. Of course, they will need Westbrook to go anywhere significant this season, but their young linebackers were very impressive and the defense dominated Pittsburgh. It was definitely an unexpected development.

Bears pay heavy penalty

One of the most remarkable comebacks of Sunday was Tampa Bay's victory over the Bears in Soldier Field. And the Bucs should thank Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman.

Early in overtime, the Bears appeared to hold the Bucs on third down inside their own 15-yard line. There was some kind of silly fight going on between linemen from both sides. In fact, a Bucs' player appeared to be punching a Chicago lineman in the helmet, which looked like a dumb thing to do. But the final retaliation came from Tillman, who jumped into the fray.

As is often the case, the officials missed the first punch but caught the last one. Instead of forcing a punt, the Bears were assessed a 15-yard personal foul penalty and the Bucs and Brian Griese had new life. Well, Griese took care of the rest, passing his team right down the field to where Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning field goal.

This was a bizarre game in that both quarterbacks played poorly early in the game — Griese was intercepted three times and Kyle Orton was picked off twice — only to perform very well in the second half. Griese ended up with 67 attempts, a new team record and the fifth-highest total of all-time. He passed for 407 yards.

Orton was a bit unlucky. One interception was returned by Bucs DE Gaines Adams for a touchdown, and the other was a perfect pass to rookie RB Matt Forte in the end zone. But instead of a touchdown, Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud reached up and stole the pass from Forte's arms. The rookie was looking back for the ball and had his head turned. Ruud made a marvelous steal, basically saving the day.

This was a horrible loss for the Bears, who were minus Devin Hester. Chicago's defense did pressure Griese but never recorded a sack. That is not a good sign. Orton, Forte and receiver Brandon Lloyd played well enough to win. But it didn't happen. It was a tough loss, one proving how very close the competition really is in the NFL.

Turner propping up Falcons

After three weeks, the free-agent signing of the season has to be running back Michael Turner by the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta needed two things in the offseason — a power runner and a quarterback, and apparently they have both right now in Turner and rookie Matt Ryan.

Mike Smith has a 2-1 record with his young football team, and much of the credit belongs to his staff and the steady play of both Ryan and Turner. I always believed Turner could be a force, but you never really know about a talented backup until he plays a while. After three games, Turner has 366 rushing yards on 59 carries, a 6.2 average and five rushing touchdowns. He's been the perfect sidekick for Ryan, taking a lot of pressure off the kid from Boston College.

Roddy White has been Ryan's favorite target with 11 receptions for 217 yards in three games. The Falcons may not be a playoff team, but they are headed in the right direction and figure to be a spoiler in the NFC South. Turner has been magnificent thus far.

Browns in trouble

I was wrong about the Cleveland Browns. I actually thought Derek Anderson might be pretty good after last season's 10-win season. Well, the Browns look like they will be lucky to win six games now after starting 0-3. And Browns GM Phil Savage made the right call not even considering a trade of Brady Quinn to the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, Romeo Crennel might want to consider giving Quinn a start pretty soon at quarterback.

Bush no bust

Reggie Bush is officially not a bust anymore. He had two super touchdowns against the Broncos in a game that under-manned New Orleans had a chance to win if Martin Gramatica could hit a 43-yard field goal in the clutch. Saints Coach Sean Payton has figured out how to get Bush outside on the edge of defenses, and with his speed, Bush is turning the corner and flying past defenders.

Thus far, Bush is starting to show why he was worthy of the second overall pick two years ago. He may not be a great between-the-tackles runner, but few can turn the corner like he does. He finished with 178 all-purpose yards.

One last thought on Sunday: The Giants played like champs at the end to beat a very determined Carson Palmer and the Bengals in overtime. The Bengals looked awful the first two weeks of the season, but they showed their heart against New York, and Palmer was very good despite being sacked six times. The win kept the Giants unbeaten, but this game was pretty even. Heck, both teams finished with 24 first downs.




Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 22, 2008