- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

STORY OF THE WEEK

For many of the eight teams that reached the second round of the playoffs last season, the ninth weekend this season wasn’t pleasant.

A Super Bowl favorite before the season, Dallas played its third straight game without injured quarterback Tony Romo and lost — 35-14 to the defending champion New York Giants — for the fourth time in six weeks to fall to 5-4 and into the NFC East basement. The reeling Cowboys have to hope Romo’s ailing pinkie is all better when they return from this week’s bye to visit Washington, whom they already lost to with a healthy Romo.

Green Bay lost 19-16 in overtime at Tennessee to end a two-game winning streak. At 4-4, the Packers are a game behind Chicago in the NFC North, a division that likely will send only its champion to the postseason. A week after pounding San Francisco to end a three-game slide, the Seahawks were crushed 26-7 by Philadelphia to fall to 2-6.

New England lost 18-15 to Indianapolis to slip to 5-3. The injury-riddled Patriots have failed to score 20 points in five of eight games after scoring a record 589 in 2007. New England leads the tight AFC East thanks to its Week 2 victory over the New York Jets but is one loss away from equaling its total from the previous two regular seasons combined. The Colts (4-4) already have surpassed their average loss total from the previous six years.

Jacksonville lost for the third time in four games, this time to Cincinnati, to slip to 3-5. Only a miracle Week 4 comeback against Houston has the Jaguars out of the AFC South cellar. San Diego was off, but the Chargers have lost three of four and fired their defensive coordinator. Lucky for them, a 3-5 record puts them in contention in the AFC West.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

ATLANTA FALCONS

Stand up and take a bow, Mike Smith. You, too, Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff. You have brought the Atlanta Falcons back from the dead.

Atlanta was a 4-12 mess in 2007, a year that started with Michael Vick being sent to prison and ended with coach Bobby Petrino abandoning ship. Owner Blank’s fresh start began with unknowns — Dimitroff from New England to find the players and Smith from Jacksonville to coach them. They had the guts to trade unhappy star cornerback DeAngelo Hall and to choose quarterback Matt Ryan third overall and to play him right away. The result has been a 5-3 first half built on Ryan’s leadership, the big plays of receiver Roddy White and the running of free agent pickup Michael Turner.

FIVE THINGS LEARNED IN WEEK 9

1. There’s still some life in Indianapolis. The Colts’ victory over the Patriots put them back at .500 and just a game out of the AFC’s final playoff spot. It didn’t mean as much for Peyton Manning and Co. to beat a New England team without Tom Brady, but ex-Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri still relished the game-winning 52-yard field goal.

2. Tennessee can win two straight tough games. After rallying past Indianapolis last Monday night, the Titans did just enough to edge Green Bay in overtime Sunday to move to 8-0. Both games were at home, leaving the last major regular-season hurdle: winning on the road against solid foes. The Titans visit Chicago and Jacksonville the next two weeks.

3. The AFC West is a joke. Denver’s 26-17 loss to Miami was its third in a row, fourth out of five and third straight at home — yet the Broncos and their horrible defense still lead the division with a 4-4 record. That would put them in the NFC East cellar and tie them for last in the NFC South and AFC East. The AFC West is 5-17 against nondivisional foes.

4. The Cardinals are going to win their first division title since 1974. All right, they do have to finish their sweep of San Francisco this week and beat faltering Seattle the following Sunday, but at 5-3, Arizona has a three-game lead in the NFC West over a trio of truly bad rivals: the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams, all 2-6 and going nowhere.

5. Detroit doesn’t turn every quarterback it faces into Steve Young. The first six opposing passers who began the year as their team’s starter had enjoyed career days against the Lions, with ratings ranging from 117 to 137. But Detroit had given Chicago’s Kyle Orton a bad time before sending him to the sideline with an injured ankle in Sunday’s second quarter.

NEXT MAN UP

Big injuries from Week 9:

QB Kyle Orton, Bears (ankle):Defensive end Dewayne White fell on Orton in the second quarter at Detroit, and the quarterback didn’t return. Backup Rex Grossman rallied Chicago to a 27-23 victory by passing for a touchdown and running for another in the second half.

QB Matt Schaub, Texans (knee): On the first series, the Vikings’ Jared Allen hit Schaub, who left at halftime. Backup Sage Rosenfels threw two second-half touchdown passes in a 28-21 loss at Minnesota.

FS Mike Brown, Bears (calf): Brown injured a calf in the first half against the Lions and didn’t return. Danieal Manning replaced the oft-injured Brown.

RB Antonio Pittman, Rams (hamstring): Pittman started in place of ailing star Steven Jackson but left with an injury. Travis Minor took over but suffered a concussion, forcing Jackson back in with a bad thigh. He managed just 17 yards on seven carries in the 34-13 loss to Arizona.

G Eric Steinbach, Browns (ribs): Steinbach didn’t return after injuring his ribs in the third quarter against the Ravens. Scott Young replaced Steinbach as Baltimore rallied to beat Cleveland 37-27.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 9 games:

12 NFC teams that have a winning percentage of .500 or better after Minnesota’s victory over Houston. The other four — Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Detroit — are a combined 6-26 and can start making offseason plans.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 9 puts them in the spotlight for next week for all the wrong reasons:

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The Jaguars were a dark horse after winning a wild card game in Pittsburgh and pushing New England before losing in the divisional round in 2007. Jacksonville had the two-headed running back monster, rising quarterback David Garrard and a tough defense. But the Jaguars have been unable to overcome early losses on the offensive line and have scored just 14 offensive touchdowns. Can the 3-5 Jaguars add to their humiliation by helping Detroit get rid of that zero in the win column?

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