Wild Weekends: Unpredictable – NFL, Michael Vick, Stanford/Oregon and Alabama/Florida

Michael Vick and the NFC East were once again in the football spotlight this past weekend. This time, however, the hype and anticipation was not just solely because of Vick; this past Sunday was Donovan McNabb’s first game at and against the Philadelphia Eagles since being traded to the Washington Redskins. The reception was good as McNabb did get cheers, but his post-game hug with Andy Reid after the 17-12 Redskins win was the only thing that felt real about his welcome back. If the fans in Philly actually meant it when they applauded McNabb, it was due to the old “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone” feeling rather than an actual appreciation for the man, something I don’t believe Eagles fans ever had. Yes McNabb spent the majority of his final years as an Eagle injured, but when he was out there, he gave them everything and produced. The best example of this was only two seasons ago as nobody in their right mind would’ve had the Eagles playing in the NFC title game then, but they did. If anything McNabb deserves to be on a higher pedestal in Philly football lore than guys whose jerseys Philly fans still wear: Randall Cunningham as really, really good as he was never got Philly to a Super Bowl and when McNabb did play in his only Super Bowl he made more of it and had a better game than Ron Jaworski did in his only Super Sunday. The fact is, nothing was ever enough for the fans when McNabb was at the helm in the city of brotherly love. He helped them win division titles—not enough, he got them to four straight NFC title games—not enough, he got them to the Super Bowl—not enough. Fans in other cities for other teams would have wet dream if they had the kind of run that Philly had during this decade: four straight division titles from 2001-04, five division titles for the decade, five NFC title game appearances, and one NFC title and Super Bowl appearance. Do you honestly believe that fans in Cincinnati or Cleveland or Carolina or San Francisco or in most NFL cities would be ungrateful for that kind of a run? I doubt it and that’s why I felt it was mock sincerity when they cheered McNabb, nothing more and nothing less.

As for the game itself, the big story did end up centering on Vick as he suffered a rib cartilage injury in the first quarter and had to leave the game; he’s also going to be out this coming Sunday and possibly next Sunday as well. Vick suffered the injury while attempting to score a touchdown on one of his notorious runs. This time, however, he was met by two Redskin defenders who sandwiched him as Vick was attempting to dive into the end zone causing the injury.

Saturday Night centered around two games: Stanford/Oregon and Alabama/Florida. The first game was a legit top-10 matchup that promised to be an offensive powerhouse with plenty of excitement and big plays to go around, the second was an illusion. The fact that Bama/Florida got the hype that it did was one thing, but that people bought into this as a major college football game was stunning. Yeah Florida may have been in the top ten going into Saturday’s game—thanks to a very generous pre-season ranking—but their so-so play with a very new football team, and a rookie QB, said to me that there is still plenty of work to be done here. The fact that the game was being played in Tuscaloosa meant that this was going to be a slaughter, and it was. The Gators hung close through the first quarter, but that was it. And once Bama began to move away and Oregon began to come back after falling 21-3 in the first quarter, it wasn’t hard for me to decide which game to keep watching.

Once again, the Oregon Ducks were involved in the best first half in recent memory. I thought last week’s first half with Arizona St. was going to be untouchable, but instead they one-upped themselves on national television. The Cardinal came out roaring to a 21-3 lead in the first fourteen minutes of play before the Duck offense finally got into gear. And once it did, there was nothing Stanford could do but try to protect their lead. The Cardinal did take a lead into halftime, up 31-24, but the damage had been done as a wild and absolutely amazing second quarter saw the Ducks trim their deficit from eighteen to seven thanks to Darron Thomas’ passing and LaMichael James’ running forming a perfect offensive symphony for the hometown crowd. Andrew Luck of Stanford did continue fighting as the Oregon offense began to heat up, keeping Stanford in the lead with his long passes, one being a 36-yard touchdown toss in the middle of the quarter, and helped to set up a 46-yard field goal to end the half. That field goal would be Stanford’s final points of the game. With both of these teams going full speed through the first thirty minutes, it was a given that the game as a whole would suffer because of it. That was proven when the second half turned into a Quack Attack all over Stanford to the tune of twenty-eight unanswered points and a defense that was finally able to contain Luck and the Stanford offense as the Cardinal turned the ball over on downs twice and Luck threw an interception in the second half.

In the end, the 52-31 margin was enough for Oregon to jump Boise for the #3 position in the weekly polls, despite Boise’s 59-0 win over New Mexico St. What do I think on whether Oregon should’ve jumped Boise? It could go either way. Boise not only won, but won convincingly as there was no big fourth quarter needed to seal the game up and they didn’t just have an off night versus a weak opponent like Nebraska did recently. And while Oregon’s win was certainly impressive, they were fighting from behind for nearly half the game. But in the end, they were able to beat a top-ten opponent in a conference game by three touchdowns and even though they were at home I think that was impressive enough for them to jump a team who wiped out a winless conference opponent, especially since the Pac-10 is much stronger than the WAC as a whole.

With all this talk about offense run amok, let’s talk some defense. No team embodied the spirit and actions of a tough, punishing defense better than the New York Giants this past Sunday. Whatever good the Bears’ o-line did in protecting Jay Cutler so far this year was lost on them as Cutler suffered a concussion during a first half that saw him get sacked nine times. The Giants’ D recorded one more in the second half for an even ten sacks in the 17-3 win. It should be noted that the Bears’ D didn’t do too bad for themselves either. The game didn’t see a touchdown from either team until the third quarter and even though he was only sacked twice, Eli Manning never got into a groove and left this game for his running attack to win, which they did. Ahmad Bradshaw took on this task by scoring the Giants’ first TD and ended up with 129 yards on the ground while Brandon Jacobs made the most of his six carries amassing over sixty yards on the ground.

And on the topic of nice running, how about DeMarco Murray’s touchdown to seal the win for Oklahoma in Red River Rivalry over Texas on Saturday? The Sooner offense had been at a standstill through the third quarter and it was thanks to their defense that the 21-10 score wasn’t anything closer. Capping off a twenty-yard touchdown run early in the final quarter was Murray tip-toeing the final five yards after nearly running out of bounds, and finishing things off with an Adrian Peterson-like dive into the end zone. To the Longhorns’ credit, they did come back late and only a muffed punt with sixty-five seconds to go kept them from having a chance at tying the game. The win was not only notable because it snapped the Sooners’ two-game losing streak (and four of the last five lost) against the Longhorns, but because the loss knocked Texas out of the top 25. This coming week will be the first time in 162 weeks—dating back to 2000—that the Texas Longhorns will be absent from the top 25 rankings. To put that into perspective the next two highest streaks in being in the top 25 are Ohio St. and Florida at 89 and 86 weeks respectively.

The Big-10’s conference play started out in its own wild and crazy fashion this past weekend. Denard Robinson of Michigan had another amazing game (what a surprise) and had to lead a last minute game-winning drive for the Wolverines (what a surprise) running the final four yards himself (what a surprise) for a close win on the road against Indiana. Ohio St. had a similar fate befall them as they had to sweat out a close, eleven point win at Illinois after losing Terrell Pryor for a portion of the game. After that, Michigan St. and Iowa put their names into the running with impressive home wins. Mark Dantonio wasn’t even able to be at the stadium for Michigan St. when a blood clot was found days after the Spartans head coach suffered a heart attack, but his players played as if he was there, with a little help along the way. Wisconsin special teams again gave up an easy return touchdown due to poor coverage and the Badgers’ defense bit for the same fake handoff on both of the Spartans’ final two touchdowns. As for the Hawkeyes, Joe Pa and his Nittany Lions proved to be no test at all as Penn St. never got into the end-zone and Iowa cruised to an easy three-touchdown win.

And once again, Monday Night provided a perfect ending to the football week. With all the big scores, big hits, and big finishes, why not finish the week with something historic right? Well, the 7-6 Miami lead over the New England Patriots on Monday Night seemed anything but historic. Of course that was only the first half. The game’s second half saw New England’s special teams come alive to such a degree that it cost the Dolphins’ special-teams coordinator his job by the next morning. The second half of this game saw New England score touchdowns on kickoff, blocked field goal, and interception returns—the first time that had been accomplished in a game in NFL history. To add to that, New England had a total of four interceptions including the first two of safety Pat Chung’s career—he would take one back 54 yards for a touchdown. Kyle Arrington returned the blocked field goal thirty-five yards for a score, and Brandon Tate opened the second half with his 103-yard kickoff return touchdown. There was also an inspirational moment in between all of this as Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, a man of only 5’9” and 200 pounds, scored his first career receiving touchdown just weeks after being let go by the Jets and picked up by the Pats. It’s inspirational not only because of his small stature, but because this is a guy out of Chadron State—a college I’ve never heard of, and a college likely not on too many scouts’ radars—who looks a lot like a regular smaller guy rather than a football player playing the position that takes the most punishment. To watch this second half was something special. I don’t want to use hyperbole or over emphasize things, but this simply was something amazing to watch, especially after the primarily defensive and low-scoring first half that preceded it. People almost take special teams for granted these days with no glimpses of guys like Devin Hester and Dante Hall returning touchdowns on a regular basis and no NFL teams playing Beamer Ball, but this night shined a light on that part of the game to be sure. And you can bet the Dolphins won’t be taking an opponent’s special teams capabilities for granted for the rest of this season. I don’t look for a game or half like that to ever happen again—it’s literally the first time it has happened. So I choose to just bask in what I witnessed and take those images of piss more blocking by the Miami offensive line and touchdown after touchdown in various ways by everybody on New England but Tom Brady and Randy Moss, who didn’t even have a catch in the game, and leave it at that. It doesn’t need any extra toppings, it is what it is and that’s fine enough. If you saw it all you know exactly what I mean.

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