Nearing the midway point of the NFL season, this much can be said with conviction:
The Atlanta Falcons are a perfect 7-0.
And the rest of the NFL picture is a perfect mess.
More than 80% of the league’s teams have at least three victories, and it’s almost impossible to predict who will be competitive from week to week.
For instance, a week after playing the Patriots tough in New England, the New York Jets flopped at home against Miami on Sunday with a 30-9 loss — and the Dolphins played with backup quarterback Matt Moore.
San Diego, a Super Bowl pick of some, lost at Cleveland, 7-6. It was the second time this season the Chargers failed to score a touchdown, something they hadn’t done twice in a season since their 1-15 disaster in 2000.
In Green Bay, one-win Jacksonville gave the Packers a scare before losing by nine, even though the Jaguars were without Maurice Jones-Drew, their best player.
“It’s good to be on this side of an ugly win,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “The way we played on offense, especially the last couple of weeks, the expectations were we were going to come out and maybe blow them out. But we didn’t start fast, we didn’t have enough juice early on and didn’t play well enough on offense to get that done.”
Chicago is 6-1, tied with Houston for the league’s second-best record . . . yet the Bears were nearly knocked off at home by one-win Carolina. The Bears won on the final play, 23-22, and only after outscoring the Panthers in the fourth quarter, 16-3.
Earlier this season, the Panthers almost beat the Falcons in Atlanta. Emphasis on almost.
“Not heartbreaking,” Carolina receiver Steve Smith said Sunday of yet another near-miss. “Tiresome, monotonous, a few guys in here are perturbed and [angry], but we’re beyond heartbreak. We’re just getting upset.”
The latest Panthers defeat came in the wake of the club’s firing general manager Marty Hurney, so the franchise is trying to make big changes.
So is Philadelphia, which recently fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. History was on the Eagles’ side Sunday, as Coach Andy Reid had never lost a game immediately following the bye week. His Eagles were 13-0 in those situations.
Now, they’re 13-1, after losing at home to Atlanta, 30-17.
Philadelphia gained five yards in the first quarter and didn’t force a punt until the end of the fourth.
Todd Bowles, the new defensive coordinator, is as frustrated as anyone.
“You don’t go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week,” Bowles said. “Right now, we’re in the damn outhouse.”
The chants of “Fire Andy!” reverberated through Lincoln Financial Field, and #FireAndy was trending on Twitter. Meanwhile, one end-of-his-rope Eagles fan held up a sign with a suggestion: “Fire Castillo Again?”
In a confusing season like this, hey, it’s worth a try.
Two quarterback changes could be coming in the NFC East, with Michael Vick struggling in Philadelphia and Tony Romo staggering in Dallas.
Reid is typically adamant in emphasizing that Vick is his quarterback, but the coach wasn’t as firm about that after Sunday’s loss and said every player is being evaluated. Vick had a lukewarm game, completing 21 of 35 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown.
“Whatever decision Coach makes, I support it,” Vick said. “The thing I know is, I’m giving it everything I’ve got out there when I step on the field. Deep down, as long as I know I’m doing that, giving it everything, that’s all I can ask out of myself.”
Meanwhile, it was another rough outing for Romo on Sunday, with his Cowboys losing at home to the Giants, 29-24. Romo put up two games’ worth of passing numbers — 36 for 62 for 437 yards and a touchdown –— but was picked off four times.
The Cowboys have stood firm behind Romo, and they almost came back to win, but Romo’s turnovers will only fuel the argument that he’s not the answer.
Kansas City is getting awfully accustomed to chasing opponents. The Chiefs are the first team in the modern era to go seven games without holding a lead in regulation. The Chiefs, whose lone win came in overtime, are off to their third 1-6 start in five years.
A key play in the Chargers-Browns game came in the third quarter when a wide-open Robert Meachem split the Cleveland defense but dropped what would have been a sure touchdown around the 20-yard line. That would have made the difference in a 7-6 loss.
Then again, there are a lot of difference-makers in every close game.
“You saw it, I saw it,” Chargers Coach Norv Turner said. “We go out and trust each other, and this loss is on all of us. When you have opportunities to make plays, you’ve got to do it.”
Meachem didn’t back away from the scrutiny or offer excuses.
“I took my eyes off of it,” he said. “I thought about scoring first before I caught the ball.”
It was an up-and-down day for first-year quarterbacks.
Andrew Luck led the Colts to an overtime victory at Tennessee, and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden was victorious over the Chargers.
Miami’s Ryan Tannehill suffered injuries to his left knee and quadriceps when he was sacked on the Dolphins’ second possession against the Jets. Moore stepped in at quarterback.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson played well in a 28-24 loss at Detroit, completing 25 of 35 for 236 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
And Pittsburgh clamped down on Washington’s Robert Griffin III, holding the dual threat to 177 yards passing and eight yards rushing in a 27-12 Steelers victory.
With the legendary Dick LeBeau running the defense, the Steelers are 15-1 when facing rookie quarterbacks. (The lone win was by Baltimore’s Troy Smith.)
Taking it to the palace
What happens in London stays in London.
Let’s hope that’s the case, anyway, with Rob Gronkowski’s new touchdown dance.
After his first of two touchdowns at Wembley Stadium, the hulking New England tight end popped to his feet and walked stiffly, robot-style, back and forth in the end zone.
Then, it all made sense. It was his version of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Gronkowski’s explanation? Not BBC-approved.
He said he was imitating “that little nutcracker dude that’s guarding the house.”