The Washington Times - September 24, 2009, 12:08PM




The Ravens aren’t No. 1, but they’ve worked their way up to No. 2 — and they’re still dancing, of course. Witness the great Kelley Washington doing his trademark squirrel dance after scoring last Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

Heading in to the Week 3 games, we have an entirely shuffled top five teams, with the Giants taking over the top spot and the high-scoring Baltimore Ravens (ever think you’d read those words?) moving in at No. 2.

What happened? Well, the Patriots, your former No. 1, lost to the Jets, your new No. 3; You’ll find New England now at No. 7. The Ravens popped the Chargers, already way down in the 20s. And look out for the high-scoring Saints, now at No. 5, who will take their show on the road again this weekend to Buffalo.

And despite the win over the Rams, your Washington Redskins slipped from 19 to 22.

The rankings follow; as always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).

1. Giants (2): Eli Manning played about as well against the Cowboys last Sunday as he did during the Super Bowl run in 2007. It’s as if he doesn’t miss Burress, Toomer and Shockey anymore. The defense did its part, too. New York is already 2-0 in the NFC East heading to winless Tampa Bay this Sunday.

2. Ravens (5): Remember when Baltimore didn’t have an offense? Joe Flacco doesn’t. The second-year quarterback had another solid game as the Ravens held off the host Chargers, depite allowing 474 (!) yards thanks to the ageless Ray Lewis’ game-saving tackle of Darren Sproles. Baltimore starts AFC North play with a gimme, winless Cleveland at home.

3. Jets (12): The Yankees have baseball’s best record and the Giants are off to another great start, but the J-E-T-S are the Big Apple’s hot team after stunning the haughty Patriots. Rookie coach Rex Ryan’s team lived up to his boast that he wasn’t intimidated by Bill Belichick. The Jets’ defense hasn’t yielded a TD with Tennessee coming to town.

4. Falcons (7): Beating AFC East champion Miami without much from the running game or run defense was good. Beating NFC South champion Carolina despite allowing 440 yards was better. Atlanta heads to New England unbeaten without yet having played a complete game, but second-year quarterback Matt Ryan is sizzling as he heads to his old college town.

5. Saints (8): Drew Brees is just ridiculous. Shredding the lowly Lions for six TDs and 358 yards is one thing, but ringing up 41 points (the defense scored seven) on a good Eagles defense in Philly? But the Saints can’t get cocky after surrendering 463 yards to a Philadelphia offense minus ace quarterback Donovan McNabb.

6. Vikings (9): Yo, purple people. Before you start buying plane tickets for Super Bowl XLIV, consider that your Vikes were tied 10-10 with the Lions after 37 minutes. Beating Cleveland and Detroit is no big deal. A victory over surprising San Francisco will give a little more credence to the A.P. and Brett tandem’s championship hopes.

7. Patriots (1): Take away his fourth quarter heroics in Week 1 against Buffalo and Tom Brady has barely been an average quarterback so far. Brady and Randy Moss both looked very human against the Jets. If the Patriots lose at home to unbeaten Atlanta on Sunday, they’ll be below .500 for the first time since Week 2 of 2003.

8. Eagles (4): All the good vibes from Week 1 disappeared by the time Philly trailed New Orleans 31-13 just 34 minutes into its home opener. Sure, Donovan McNabb couldn’t play, Brian Westbrook got hurt and Shawn Andrews is done for the year, but none of them play defense. Of course, no one in white and green played defense vs. the Saints.

9. 49ers (13): The 49ers alone atop the NFC West? What decade is this? San Francisco, seemingly moribund since 2002, is continuing the turnaround it began last fall after Mike Singletary replaced Mike Nolan as coach. Frank Gore could give Adrian Peterson a run for his money on Sunday at Minnesota. The 49ers’ defense hasn’t been a slouch either.

10. Steelers (3): Don’t want to drop Pittsburgh too far, but champions have no business getting outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter and losing to the Bears. The once-vaunted running game is punchless and the top-ranked defense of 2008 only sacked Jay Cutler once. Suddenly, the Steelers need to win at Cincinnati to avoid third place in the AFC North.

11. Colts (16): If this keeps up, Jim Caldwell’s heart might not survive his first year as Indy’s coach. The Colts held off the Jaguars 14-12 and then pulled out a 27-23 victory at Miami thanks to a late bomb from Peyton Manning to new deep threat Pierre Garcon. And now Caldwell and Co. get to visit defending NFC champion Arizona and its passing attack.

12. Cowboys (11): Yes, they lost the first game in Jerry Jones’ massive new pleasure palace, but getting edged by the Giants is no disgrace. Trouble is the Dallas defense was also bombarded in its opener by less-than-robust Tampa Bay. Good thing that Felix Jones is ready to step in if No. 1 back Marion Barber isn’t ready for Carolina on Monday.

13. Bengals (28): They’ll probably never be this high in the rankings again, but give Marvin Lewis and his guys credit for bouncing back. After losing in the final seconds to Denver on a fluke deflection, they went into Lambeau, sacked Aaron Rodgers six times and outscored the Packers 17-3 over the last 22:14. Now the sagging Steelers come calling.

14. Bears (20): After a disaster of an opener at Green Bay: losing the game and Brian Urlacher, the heart of the defense for the season while Jay Cutler debuted with four picks, Da Bears rallied to upset the Steelers with 10 points in the final 6:21 behind Cutler’s clutch passing. And now they get the Seahawks with Matt Hasselbeck hurting.

15. Bills (15): If not for Tom Brady’s big-time rally in Week 1, Buffalo would be 2-0 despite the absence of suspended No. 1 back Marshawn Lynch. However, the Bills have turned hot starts into cold finishes too often in recent years to get excited. And now a defense which didn’t stop Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich has to deal with Drew Brees.

16. Texans (18): Houston gets stomped by the Jets in its home opener and then travels to Nashville, gives up three long touchdowns by Chris Johnson and upsets the Titans. Go figure. At least the Texans know they can count on Andre Johnson, the second-fastest to 500 catches ever. They should beat the visiting Jags on Sunday, but who knows?

17. Titans (9): Just two games into the season and Tennessee is in trouble. The AFC’s top team during the 2008 regular season has lost twice by a field goal and now visits the Jets, who squashed a Houston team that just beat them and have yet to allow an offensive touchdown. After a fine effort at Pittsburgh, Tennessee’s defense was awful last week.

18. Broncos (27): Sure, the Broncos are unbeaten. But beating the Bengals 12-7 on a late, lucky 87-yard touchdown and leading the Browns 13-6 into the fourth quarter at home isn’t exactly the stuff of legend. Someone on Park Avenue must like Josh McDaniels to give the new coach that kind of easy start. This week’s trip to Oakland is another gift.

19. Packers (10): Remember when opponents winning at Lambeau Field was as rare as the most popular movie winning the Oscar? Now even the Bungles come to Green Bay and leave victorious. Left tackle Chad Clifton’s ankle injury was devastating as Cincy’s Antwan Odom recorded four sacks after his departure. And the running game needs to get going.

20. Seahawks (14): What to make of Seattle which routed lowly St. Louis in Week 1 but was outmanned by San Francisco even before quarterback Matt Hasselbeck exited with ailing ribs? If the Seahawks (assuming Hasselbeck plays) are truly the playoff-caliber team they were for years before 2008, they need to beat teams like the Bears at home on Sunday.

21. Cardinals (22): Brett Favre gets all the pub at 39, but Kurt Warner is outplaying him again at 38. Warner was near-perfect last week at Jacksonville even though Larry Fitzgerald was held in check. Arizona’s defense hasn’t been nearly so sterling so far and will need to step up for Sunday’s visit by Peyton Manning and the Colts.

22. Redskins (19): There are moral victories such as Tennessee’s opening overtime loss at Pittsburgh. Then there are victories that feel like losses such as Washington’s 9-7 escape of downtrodden St. Louis at home last week. Jim Zorn must have been a soccer coach in a previous life because his offense is good between the 20s but can’t score.

23. Dolphins (21): Miami is 0-2 but its Week 2 near-miss against Indianapolis was a heck of a lot better than its Week 1 no-show at Atlanta. The Wildcat formation did damage against the Colts, a good sign as the Dolphins head to San Diego for what could well be a shootout with the Chargers. Miami’s AFC East rivals all have tough games on Sunday, too.

24. Chargers (23): Jamal Williams is a stud nose tackle, but losing him for the year can’t be the sole reason why the Bolts couldn’t stop the usually offensively-challenged Ravens at home last week. The running game definitely missed the injured L.T., but there’s no way that Philip Rivers should throw for 436 yards in a loss.

25. Raiders (25): Beating Kansas City 13-10 isn’t much to crow about especially after being outgained better than 2-1. If Sebastian Janikowski’s big leg hadn’t nailed field goals of 48 and 54 yards, the Raiders would be winless. Instead they head to Denver with the chance to tie for the AFC West lead after six years as the NFL’s worst franchise.

26. Jaguars (17): Jacksonville trailed Arizona 31-3 with just 17 minutes left in its home opener. The defense was picked to death by Kurt Warner while the offense surrendered four sacks and coughed up three turnovers. Only 46,520 showed up to see the NFC champions. If the Jaguars fall in the former Gator Bowl and no one’s there to see it …

27. Panthers (24): What the heck has happened to John Fox’s defense? Carolina has allowed 66 points heading into a showdown with a potent Dallas offense on the road. The good news for the Panthers is that Jake Delhomme looked like an NFL quarterback again last week at Atlanta after throwing nine interceptions in his previous two starts.

28. Buccaneers (26): Falling behind 17-0 last Sunday at Buffalo just about ensured a sixth straight defeat since the Bucs were cruising to the playoffs last December. The once-feared defense, shredded by Bills backup running back Freddie Jackson, won’t have any answers this week against the much more formidable Giants.

29. Rams (31): Is it something about facing the Redskins? A year after stunning host Washington for its first victory of 2008, St. Louis came close to a repeat last Sunday. However, it’s near-impossible to win while averaging 3.5 points, something that the Rams will learn again on Sunday against the Packers.

30. Lions (32): It’s not exactly a reason to celebrate, but Detroit was within a TD of defending NFC North champion Minnesota into the fourth quarter last week. No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford has shown flashes at quarterback. The Lions have lost 19 in a row, but they pushed the Redskins last year. Is Sunday the game the streak finally ends?

31. Browns (30): Since leading Minnesota at halftime of the opener, Cleveland has been outscored 51-13. And it’s not like this past Sunday’s conqueror, Denver, has Super Bowl aspirations. The Broncos rung up 449 yards while the Browns averaged just 2.6 a carry. Eric Manginius’ team will stay winless this week at Baltimore.

32. Chiefs (29): In Week 1, Kansas City surrendered 501 yards at Baltimore. So giving up 166 yards at home in Week 2 was a major improvement. And the offense racked up 409 yards against the Raiders on the heels of just 188 against the Ravens. But the Chiefs couldn’t hold a late lead and won’t get off the schneid Sunday in Philly either.