How the West is winning this season in the NFL
The four teams from the left-hand coast found themselves in the left-hand column Sunday, as Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle put up big victories in locales all over the NFL map.
The Raiders, a day after the death of owner Al Davis, beat the first-place Texans in Houston, 25-20, and now have a winning record. Oakland hasn’t been above .500 this late in the season since 2002.
In a battle of 3-1 teams, the 49ers crushed Tampa Bay, 48-3. It was San Francisco’s largest margin of victory since a 55-10 Super Bowl win over Denver in 1990.
San Diego narrowly beat the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in Denver, 29-24, which wasn’t a shock except the notoriously slow-starting Chargers are 4-1, by far their best beginning under Norv Turner.
Seattle stunned the New York Giants, 36-25, avenging a 41-7 home loss to the Giants last season and winning in the Eastern time zone for the first time since 2007.
The most emotional game of the day was Raiders-Texans, and stadiums around the league observed a moment of silence before kickoff to honor Davis, who died Saturday at his Oakland home at 82. His son, Mark, assumed Davis’ traditional spot in the owner’s box. The Raiders wore shield-shaped decals on the backs of their helmets with “AL” written in silver letters.
Safety Michael Huff secured the victory by intercepting a Matt Schaub pass in the end zone on the final play.
“One thing Coach [Davis] always taught me was he said, ‘Hue, don’t believe in plays, believe in players and eventually the players will make plays for you,’” Raiders Coach Hue Jackson said. “And that’s what I did. I could just hear him saying that to me the whole time. Believe in your players and not the plays.”
Jackson isn’t the Bay Area’s only rookie coach. Jim Harbaugh, in his first season with the 49ers, appears to have the players and the plays to resurrect that franchise. For the second consecutive week, San Francisco got big games out of quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore, and the defense looked especially solid.
Seattle lost quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to a strained pectoral muscle on his throwing side, and he was replaced in the second half by Charlie Whitehurst, who directed a key 80-yard touchdown drive down the stretch. Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for a career-high 420 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted three times.
“It’s about as miserable a feeling as we’ve had around here in a long time,” said Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, whose team was coming off victories over St. Louis, Philadelphia and Arizona. “To win three straight and then come into our own place and not be representative of where we are, it’s always the head coach’s fault.”
The coach in San Diego has to be feeling pretty good, even though the Chargers had a scare in Denver. Tebow, who replaced the ineffective Kyle Orton, nearly led the Broncos back with two touchdown passes in the second half. The game came down to the last play, when Tebow — his team trailing by five — bought time by spinning away from defenders and fired a pass 40 yards into a group of players in the end zone. It fell incomplete.
So will the West Coast magic last another week?
We know at least half of those teams won’t lose. The Chargers and Seahawks get the week off.
Greatness of Raiders
It was poetic that three of Al Davis’ more controversial first-round draft picks made big plays in the win over the Texans. Sebastian Janikowski kicked field goals of 54, 55, 50 and 42 yards. He was the Raiders’ first pick in 2000, only the third kicker taken in the opening round. No one questions the logic of that now, but it was a considerable risk at the time.
Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in 2009 who came into the game with only three career touchdowns, caught a pass along the sideline, twisted out of a tackle, and raced 34 yards for a score. That came near the end of the first half and kept the Raiders in a game that could have gotten away from them.
And Huff made the clinching interception. He was the seventh overall pick in 2006 and was largely a disappointment at the start of his career. It wasn’t until the last two seasons that he began to live up to the potential he flashed coming out of the University of Texas.
A lot of coaches of teams that were expected to struggle are off to exceptional starts this season, Jackson and Harbaugh among them. Chan Gailey has done a remarkable job in Buffalo, which stunned Philadelphia on Sunday, and Jim Schwartz’s Detroit Lions head into Monday’s game against Chicago at 4-0 for the first time since 1980.
Mike Munchak’s Tennessee Titans lost at Pittsburgh, but they’re still surprisingly good, and although Carolina is 1-4 under rookie Coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers — coming off a 2-14 season — have hung tough in every game.
Meanwhile, the pressure is growing on the Eagles’ Andy Reid, the league’s longest-tenured coach, and the Jaguars’ Jack Del Rio, whose team has lost four in a row and eight of nine dating to last season.
The star-studded Eagles, who were remarkably undisciplined in their 31-24 loss at Buffalo, have dropped four in a row and are off to their worst start since 1999, Reid’s first season as coach. Michael Vick was intercepted four times, and Philadelphia frittered away its chance for a last-minute comeback by jumping offside on fourth down and giving the Bills a first down.
Asked whether jobs are on the line at this point, Reid said: “In the National Football League, your job is on the line every week.”
CBS in Los Angeles stuck around and showed the end of the Raiders game Sunday instead of switching to San Diego at Denver. The network drew the ire of lots of Southern California viewers in Week 2 when it cut off the end of Oakland’s down-to-the-wire game at Buffalo to show the start of New England’s game at San Diego (commercials, actually).
Vick wasn’t in the mood to celebrate after losing to the Bills, but he did make history. He became the league’s career rushing leader for quarterbacks. His 53-yard scramble in the third quarter gave him 4,946 yards rushing, pushing him past former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham (4,928).
A fine mess
The league could be handing out some fines for the fight in Carolina. It came after Panthers receiver Steve Smith scored on a touchdown reception. After he crossed the goal line, he was hit late by New Orleans safety Roman Harper. Smith popped to his feet, and spun the ball on the turf in celebration.
Some shoving started near him, and Smith hopped into the fray, latching onto safety Malcolm Jenkins and shoving him to the ground. While standing over him, Smith reached down and hoisted Jenkins up by the facemask when the fight was broken up.
“I did what I did, which was spin the ball, score a touchdown,” the typically combustible Smith said afterward. “I didn’t do anything. . . . People say I’m unpredictable, but I’m growing up a little bit. I’m waiting for my growth spurt still, but I’m growing up.”