Unabated to the QB, Week 2: The Defining Moment

“But of course you must remember, fans, the turning points in our history are not always so grand as they are cracked up to be in the murals on your post office wall.”

—The Great American Novel

I’m struck by some parallel notions after two weeks of the NFL season. The first combines the fact that Eli Manning again showed why he might be the best “last 4:00 of a game” quarterback in the league* on Sunday night in a huge game against the Cowboys with the fact that the Giants play the Buccaneers this upcoming Sunday. You see, it was in Tampa two seasons ago that Manning led the Giants to his first playoff win—a victory that at the time was unremarkable and seemingly insignificant (in a big picture sense). But it was the turning point, for Manning went on of course for three more playoff wins in 2007 and has been one of the league’s 10 best quarterbacks since.

*And I’m serious on this. Outside of his brother, I don’t know if anyone is really close. Brady failed on Sunday in the final minutes, and his greatest late comeback drives involved 1) The Tuck Rule; and 2) His team recovering a fumble after he threw an interception on 4th down (in San Diego in 2006). Brees has never done it in a big spot, McNabb is terrible in the 2:00 drill, Warner always scores too quickly (THREE times in the Super Bowl he’s scored too quickly), Rivers hasn’t done it, Roethlisberger has the Super Bowl drive but little else.


Sometime in the fourth quarter on Sunday night I realized how much things had changed. The Giants, despite being outplayed, were hanging in. The Giants were the team that was tough to put away. The Giants were the team that stole division games on the road. This had never been the case in my lifetime, and it all started that sunny Sunday in Tampa.

And that brings us to the crosstown Jets, who earned their biggest win in several regular-season weeks by beating New England. As a guy who predicted an 0-5 start for the Jets and someone who wants to be as big an aguafiestas as possible about their 2-0 start, some qualms:

  • Let’s stop with the “This is the most exciting win in years” talk. The Jets were 8-3 last season after ending the Titans’ 10-0 start with a dominating effort in Tennessee, and most Jet fans were thinking Super Bowl.
  • Let’s stop with the “Mark Sanchez is amazing” talk.* He’s good, for a rookie. Everything about Sanchez has to be qualified with “for a rookie” at this point. We’re two games in, and he hasn’t had to do anything resembling winning a game for his team yet.

*One caller to WFAN hilariously stated that, after Sunday, you have to say that Sanchez is better than Tom Brady. THIS is why nobody takes Jet fans seriously.

  • I think the game says more about the state of the Patriots right now. This is a team that pretty much lost at home to Buffalo and hasn’t been able to score touchdowns outside of a 3:00 stretch in Week 1. They have no running game, the offensive line can’t protect Brady, and the defense is below-average. If the Jets have a shot at the division now, it’s more because the Patriots are much worse than we thought than it is about the Jets being much better than we thought. Here’s the thing: If Buffalo finished the Pats off last week, and the Bills are 2-0, do we call them an AFC contender?
  • Before Jet fans get real excited, don’t the Jets need to go through the defending division champ and still the team to beat: the Miami Dolphins?

All that said, does my 7-9 prediction for the Jets look bad now? Of course, but so does my 9-7 for the Chiefs and my 7-9 for the Browns and my 11-5 for the Patriots and my 6-10 for the Niners and my 4-12 for the Broncos. The point is, we’re two weeks in, and defining moments don’t happen in Week 2.

  • I know I say it every year, but this time I know I’m right: The Broncos are the worst 2-0 team in the history of professional football.
  • Hypothetical: Who do you think would be more disappointed by the Browns’ 27-6 blowout loss to the Broncos: a normal Cleveland Browns fan who has lived through the morose last two decades for them, or a Browns fan that was cryogenically frozen immediately following their third loss to Denver in an AFC Championship in four years in January 1989 and was brought back to life last week just in time to see this game, which he would view as the continuation of a bitter, bitter rivalry?
  • Drew Brees is now on pace to finish the season with 72 touchdown passes, down 24 from the pace he set last week. Slacker.
  • The Jaguars just haven’t been competitive since this happened.
  • I hope it’s not coincidence that in their two games, the Giants have been opposed by quarterbacks who played arguably the worst games of their careers.
  • My Texans’ pick ain’t lookin’ too bad this week at least.
  • How could the Chiefs lose that game? JaMarcus Russell was like 3-for-14 at one point! It’s time to wonder if he’s the worst No. 1 pick of all-time and an even bigger bust than Ryan Leaf.
  • I guess it’s still the same old Chargers in San Diego.
  • I think the Browns’ hypothetical involves another important question: How do Browns fans feel about John Elway, and does his winning back-to-back Super Bowls vindicate them (in an “At least we lost to a great player” way) or anger them?
  • Football is an ironic game: Pittsburgh wins last week with the help of missed field goals by Bironas, and they lose this week because of missed field goals by Jeff Reed. If I’m a Steeler fan, I’d be worried. They haven’t looked good in either game on the offensive end (even if Roethlisberger is completing so many passes in a row), and the defense will obviously miss Polamalu while he’s out. Could the Ravens (or laughably, the Bengals) get a leg up in the division?
  • What’s more surprising, that Baltimore has scored 69 points in two games or that it’s given up 50? And what does the latter number tell you about the impact of Rex Ryan?
  • Who was quarterbacking the Dolphins’ 2:00 drill last night: Donovan McNabb? That might have been the worst-run final drive I’ve ever heard (because I was listening on the radio). And given all that, they still should have won because Ted Ginn dropped that ball (according to Boomer Esiason on the radio).
  • To back up my claim last week that running the ball seems less intrinsic to winning: What the Cowboys did to the Giants in their loss.
  • To refute my implication last week that passing the ball is more intrinsic to winning: Teams with the top receiver in the game went 4-12 this week.
  • In the end, I think the current Browns fan is more disappointed. The frozen fan is frozen while thinking his team has to eventually get over the hump, if not until Elway retires. The current fan, however, has had to experience seeing Belichick go from a disaster in Cleveland to a genius in New England, the team go to Baltimore, that playoff game in 2002 go to the rival Steelers, and the Browns’ hopes of contending go to hell. Tough times by the Lake.

The Week 3 Early (I was a sturdy 5-11 last week):

Tennessee (+2.5) over NY JETS (outright)

HOUSTON (-4) over Jacksonville

Kansas City (+9.5) over PHILADELPHIA

BALTIMORE (-13.5) over Cleveland

NY Giants (-7) over TAMPA BAY

DETROIT (+6.5) over Washington (outright…I’m sticking to my guns)

ST. LOUIS (+6.5) over Green Bay

San Francisco (+6.5) over MINNESOTA

NEW ENGLAND (-4) over Atlanta

Chicago (-2.5) over SEATTLE

New Orleans (-5.5) over BUFFALO

Miami (+6) over SAN DIEGO

CINCINNATI (+4) over Pittsburgh

OAKLAND (-1) over Denver

ARIZONA (-2) over Indianapolis

Carolina (+9.5) over DALLAS

8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Josh on September 22, 2009 at 3:45 PM

    Let me offer the perspective of a rational Jets fan:

    There are fanatic fans who make ridiculous rants for every professional sports team, including the ones you cheer for, Tim, especially on FAN. I think it’s very obvious to most Jets fans that Sanchez has been doing a good job but nothing spectacular. But, this is kind of a big deal. I mean, going into the preseason, many Jets fans were concerned about whether this guy could be a decent starter in the NFL. In his second NFL game, when he faces one of the better NFL defenses and plays pretty well, that’s a pretty big relief. A 91.3 passer ratings over two games is promising.

    You’re right about “the most exciting win in years talk”. Last year over the Titans and the the road defeat of NE in 2006 were more exciting wins. Despite the fact that NE has no running game and its own problems, you can’t say the Jets defense wasn’t a huge factor in their win. Revis shut down Moss and the defensive schemes that allowed the Jets to pressure Brady so much were a pretty significant improvement over our pressure schemes last year. And, let’s not forget last week, when the Jets totally shut down the Texans explosive offense on their home turf.

    So, of course, there’s still a lot to prove. But, a team that many expected to be 0-2 in it’s first two games is 2-0 largely due to great defense (and defensive coordinating). The verdict shouldn’t be out on any team after 2 games, but it certainly wouldn’t be wrong to be praiseworthy at this point.

    On another note, did you notice the difference in time of possession between the Dolphins and Colts? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a huge disparity where the team with less possession time won.

    Reply

    • Of course there are dumb fans of every team. But a lifetime of listening to New York sports radio during football season has taught me that Jet fans (in general) tend to be far more reactionary than Giant fans. This was especially true on Monday, with each team coming off a big win. Jet fans touted Sanchez as one of the AFC’s best quarterbacks and their team as an AFC title contender, while many Giant fans thanked Tony Romo for their win.

      I disagree completely with calling New England’s “one of the better NFL defenses.” One of the interesting developments over the last few years has been Belichick’s seeming decline as a defensive mastermind. As the Pats became an offensive juggernaut, we haven’t heard (or seen) much of Belichick’s mastery.

      The Jet defense has been impressive, although it hasn’t hurt Revis and the secondary that in each of their wins, the other team’s No. 2 receiver has been injured. I know I’m reaching here, but it’s something to maybe watch out for down the line. That being said, their defense has been the best in the AFC so far along with Denver’s, neither of which I expected to be this good.

      Have I changed my view of the Jets? Yeah, I think they’re a playoff contender as of right now. But so are the Broncos, the Bills, and even the Raiders and Bengals. They have the second most impressive start in the AFC (behind BAL); let’s see if they can keep it up.

      Reply

  2. Posted by James Schneider on September 22, 2009 at 6:04 PM

    ok, the frozen fan is tots more dissapointed, the browns hate elwaycuz it could have been kosar, i suppose, and the texans are going to win the super bowl

    Reply

    • “Tots”? Is that how we’re spelling the abbreviation of “totally” these days? And I’m completely befuddled by your “the browns hate elwaycuz it could have been kosar [sic]” line.

      Reply

  3. Posted by John S on September 22, 2009 at 6:23 PM

    I’m tempted to say that your claim about the Mannings being the two best late-in-the-game QBs is ridiculous, but I’m not so sure. For one, you are way too dismissive of Tom Brady. Yes, he had the Tuck Rule, but he also had two game-winning drives in Super Bowls. Not to mention a go-ahead TD in the final 3 minutes against the Giants.

    But his reputation may be overblown. It’s built on two drives that resulted in 40+ yard FGs. If Vinatieri misses one of those, maybe Brady has as many doubters as the Mannings used to have. Plus, he had that interception in the playoffs vs. Denver.

    With that said, I’d still rather have Brady than Eli if I need a TD and the game is on the line. Especially if it’s cold.

    Reply

    • Yeah, Brady’s two Super Bowl drives are fairly unimpressive. The one against St. Louis stands out just because it was so surprising; Brady’s rep at the time wasn’t exactly sterling. Plus, it mainly consisted of dumpoffs to J.R. Redmond–that game’s unsung hero. The drive against Carolina required only 36 yards because John Kasay kicked the ball out of bounds. Furthermore, driving for a winning field goal in a tie game is a lot less stressful than driving for a FG when behind, or for a TD when down by four or more. And you’re right about Vinatieiri: Nobody talks about the great drive Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas pieced together against the Giants in Super Bowl XXV. (The INT against Denver was in the third quarter; you can’t kill him for that. The one against San Diego on fourth down on a must-score drive that was improbably fumbled and then recovered by Troy Brown is more condemnatory.)

      I think my regular-season viewership of Eli’s entire career taints my opinion a little, but the number of times he’s come through when the Giants needed a drive late is astounding (even in games they eventually lost, like in Seattle). It’s getting to the point where it’s more surprising when he doesn’t come through, and if nothing else, he is at least the QB who dials up his game the most in the final 4:00, or, in some people’s parlance, the QB who is the most clutch.

      Reply

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