Javon Walker's second-quarter touchdown catch-and-run Sunday night for the Denver Broncos was a classic example of the power of one play to decide an NFL game between evenly matched teams. It was a good call, good throw, catch, run and gain, 32 yards, leading to a 17-7 lead.
Playing one of the few positions in big-time sports that can be manned by normal-sized individuals, those 5-foot-10 or so, Walker is a 6-3, 215-pound strongman who outmuscles most cornerbacks at the point of the reception and flies away, as he did this time.
On a third-and-one running down, Denver Coach Mike Shanahan boldly called the pass for Jake Plummer, a quarterback who is sometimes inconsistent but who needed a boost, Shanahan thought, to compete with the league's best passer, Tom Brady of New England.
As it happened, Brady's coach, Bill Belichick, had left his quarterback toothless in a season that started with Shanahan and Belichick both needing new front-line receivers. Only Shanahan bothered to get one in Walker.
As a three-time Super Bowl champion in the last five years, Belichick obviously thinks Brady is good enough to throw touchdowns to just anybody Belichick sends out there as replacements for the Super Bowl veterans he traded away, or let escape, Deion Branch among them.
Visibly discouraged about that Sunday, Brady nonetheless completed 10 consecutive passes at one point,In this game, Shanahan's reward for importing Walker from Green Bay was a package of two touchdown passes, the second a spectacular 83-yard Plummer-to-Walker contribution in the fourth quarter as Denver opened a 17-0 lead.
It was, nonetheless, their first touchdown that took New England out of the game.
Bears vs. Seahawks
THE CHICAGO BEARS, after clearly settling the NFC North race again with three wins over all three rivals in their division, will be playing Seattle on Sunday night in a matchup of undefeated, 3-0 division heads.
In some respects, the Bears, with Rex Grossman at quarterback, are like Cincinnati with quarterback Carson Palmer. Both Grossman and Palmer are fourth-year pros, both are 25, both are undefeated this year and both are relatively inexperienced.
Grossman, often injured, has never played more than three games in any of his first three years as a pro. Palmer, injured last winter throwing his first pass in his only NFL postseason appearance, had been held out of every game in his rookie season.
As the Bears toppled Minnesota, 19-16, on Sunday, Grossman exhibited both his inexperience and his class. First, making a typical young man's mistake, he threw a wild pass out of his end zone that the Vikings intercepted and ran back to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Then, showing his character, he came back to lead the Bears to the winning touchdown, scored on his 24-yard pass. In overall football ability, he may not match Palmer, but he's close.
THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, kept passing (31 times) to win a 21-14 game Sunday from Jacksonville, which kept running (40 times) to hold possession for nearly 40 of the 60 minutes.
If this showed, again, that a running team can control the clock against a good passing team, it also proved, again, that a run-heavy offense doesn't win unless, at times, it runs all the way into the end zone more than once or twice a game.
Another problem with running teams is that, having run down the field into the red zone, they keep running the last 20 yards -- ignoring the first-down pass, which is at once the easiest play to make in football and the best red-zone weapon.In competitive football, moreover, the mathematical advantage that passing holds over running is that passes do more damage per play. On the Indianapolis field, Manning threw for 209 yards in 31 attempts to Jacksonville's 191 yards rushing in 40 attempts, an average of 6.7 yards to 4.7.
This despite the fact that Jacksonville was fielding the more spectacular newcomer, Maurice Jones-Drew, the former UCLA star, who was the game's leading rusher with 103 yards from scrimmage and the Jaguars' leading receiver with four catches for 32 yards. He also ran a kickoff out past midfield to set up a Jacksonville touchdown.
One of the shortest of NFL players, Drew, a stocky 207-pounder who stands 5-7. He has the look of a great pro.
Bengals vs. Steelers
THE CINCINNATI BENGALS, winning a matchup of possibly the NFL's two best teams -- two of the three, anyway -- didn't look that good. Nor did the Pittsburgh Steelers, nor the quarterbacks, Carson Palmer or Ben Roethlisberger.
This was partly because active defenses harassed Roethlisberger and Palmer, each of whom has been maimed in recent months and both of whom look as if neither will soon pull out of it. The difference in this game was that, in the fourth quarter, Palmer cashed two Pittsburgh turnovers into two immediate touchdown passes on first down.
This made Palmer 3-0 and Roethlisberger 1-2. By the end of the year, though, it's likely that they'll be playing for the AFC championship. Full strength, they're pretty good.