The 2012 NFL season has so far been one for the ages. The Saints are 0-3, the Patriots are 1-2, the Cardinals are 3-0, and no analyst anywhere could have predicted this start. Michael Vick on the hot seat, the music city miracle part two, and the immaculate-immaculate touchdown catch all highlight some of the week three action.
1. Seattle Seahawks (2-1) – Worst officiating ever?: Last nights Monday Night Football game became a war of attrition between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks in what was a surprising defensive battle. Most of the first half was dominated by Seattle’s defense, who sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times — including four courtesy of Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons. The Packers largely kept Seattle contained, but found themselves down 7-0 at half time. In the second quarter the tune began to change as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finally found time to pass thanks to the running of Cedric Benson. Rodgers lead the Packers to twelve unanswered points and the lead with 8:44 remaining. After Seattle stalled after a 6:50 second drive, giving the ball back to Green Bay with 1:54 remaining at their own seven yard line, the Packers would quickly go three-and-out and return the ball to the Seahawks at the 46-yard line with :46 seconds remaining — and here is where it gets ridiculous. On 2nd and 10 Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson lobbed a pass deep intended for wide receiver Sidney Rice. It appeared that Rice was flagged for offensive pass interference, but instead the 22-yard penalty was called on Packer defensive back Tramon Williams. After three straight incomplete passes the Seahawks faced fourth down with :8 seconds remaining on the 24-yard line. Wilson scrambled around, eluded the pass rush, and fired a hail mary pass towards the back corner of the end zone. Several Packer players went up for the ball, along with Seahawk receiver Golden Tate, and it appeared that Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings came down with the interception and clearly had control of the ball. However Tate was able to get a hand snuck under the ball, which lead to some confusion on the part of the replacement officials. One ruled touchdown, while the other signaled a safety. Even more ironic is that the play was reviewed and upheld because the catch was ruled “simultaneous” which always favors the offensive player. Today the NFL released a statement about the incident saying that they would back the referee’s, and that no indisputable evidence existed to overturn the on-field ruling that Tate scored — making the 14-12 score in favor of Seattle final. Of course the NFL would agree with the on-field ruling as to not cloud their staunch position with the ongoing negotiations with the NFLRA. Green Bay is not the first team to be a victim of a bad call this season, but they are the first team to directly suffer a loss thanks to poor calls from replacement officials.
2. New Orleans Saints (0-3) – What the?: What is the deal with the Saints? They have dropped their first three games of the season, two of which came at the Superdome, where they have been unbeatable in seasons past. All this off-season the team said the right things in the wake of Bounty Gate — we’re moving on without suspended head coach Sean Payton — and they where supposed to play the brand of Saints football that has made them one of the NFL’s most successful teams since 2009. Instead the Saints have stumbled and fallen flat on their faces without Sean Payton at the helm. Fans are crying for the removal of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who was once so coveted by New Orleans Saints fans desperate for a change from former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. But no one can ignore the facts — this defense is terrible — in fact they may be beyond terrible. They are ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed with 477.3, last in rush yards per game surrendered with 215, and 30th in points surrendered with an average of 34 per game. Spagnuolo remains steadfast that the defense can still come together and be a productive unit, and he may be right. But he has had an entire off-season, five preseason games, and three regular season games to get it right and the unit still is far from remotely being just okay. A change is needed, and while it is much to early to actually remove Spagnuolo, the Saints may want to consider trading for a few play-making defensive lineman that can get to the quarterback before the season gets completely out of control. With upcoming games against potent offenses like the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Charger the Saints need to figure it out quickly or they could be staring at an 0-5 record heading into their bye-week.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) – Vick Done?: Sure the Eagles are 2-1 and boast one of the NFC’s top defensive units thanks to a star studded group that consists of Jason Babin, Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Cullen Jenkins. But then there is Michael Vick and his future as the starting quarterback. First Vick has completed only 55.2% of his passes since week one, and has been one of the most sacked quarterbacks (9) in the NFL. He has accounted for 11 total giveaways (6 interceptions, 5 fumbles) which is last in the NFL. Vick also has a reputation for being hurt easily, and every time he is taken to the ground hard by a streaking defensive lineman or safety the entire organization collectively holds it’s breath in anticipation of a serious injury. In week three against the Cardinals Vick had a horrible game, completing only 17 of 37 passes for 217 yards with zero touchdowns. He was sacked five times, fumbled twice and had a 64.8 passer rating — in fact his season passer rating of 66.2 ranks 29th in the NFL. But maybe it’s not all Vick’s fault — sure he could get rid of the football quicker — however pass protection could also be much better. The Eagles patchwork offensive line — consisting of Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds, Danny Watkins, and Todd Herremans — all need to play better. As long as the Eagles keep winning then Vick will remain the starting quarterback, but a few more bad losses could lead to his removal. Fans are high on rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who completed 64% of his passes in the preseason while throwing six touchdown passes, and he may be closer than the Eagles are letting on to becoming the teams new starter.
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-0) – Legit Defense: Anyone who says they picked the Cardinals to be undefeated after three weeks of the 2012 NFL season is lying, no Arizona was supposed to be in the basement of the NFC West thanks to a quarterback controversy — or lack thereof — in respect to a battle between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. It was the San Francisco 49ers who were chosen as the elite team out of the NFC West, but they just dropped a game to the Minnesota Vikings — the same Viking team that sits atop the NFC North. Honestly, neither Kolb or Sketlon could be considered elite, in fact they can barely pass for good. After the preseason ended it was the dark horse Skelton though who was awarded the starting job, but he went down early in week one and Kolb stepped back in to lead the Cardinals to three consecutive wins. But it is not Kolb’s leadership or a dynamic offense that has racked up the wins, it’s the Cardinal ferocious defense and stellar special teams play that’s kept them in games. The defense is stingy, surrendering only 13 points per game (2nd), 316 yards per game (10th), 206 pass yards per game (7th), and 110 rush yards per game (17th). If Kolb remains the starter, continues to lob the ball up to receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and the defense can maintain this level of play a post-seaosn run seems inevitable.
5. Tennessee Titans (1-2) – Music City Miracle Take Two: The AFC South is probably out of reach for Tennessee due to the outstanding play of the Houston Texans, but the Titans made a statement Sunday against the Detroit Lions thanks to a career day from second year quarterback Jake Locker, and two very big special teams plays. Locker completed 29 of 42 passes for a career-best 372 yards and two touchdowns in the Titans first win of the season. Tennessee also set an NFL single-game record with five touchdowns of 60 plus yards — starting with the “Music City Miracle” part two. In 2000, during an AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Titans and Bills, late in the fourth quarter Steve Kristie kicked off to Tennessee after giving the Bills a one point lead at 16-15, the ball was fielded by Lorenzo Neal who handed off to Frank Wycheck who lateraled to receiver Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the field for a 75-yard touchdown — the eventual game winning score. The play was scrutinized heavily as it was questioned whether Wycheck’s pass was a forward pass and not a lateral. Fast forward to Sunday’s game and the Titans performed a very similar sleight-of-hand play when receiver Darius Reynaud lateraled to receiver Tommy Campbell, who raced 65-yards for a touchdown — eerily similar to the original ‘Music City Miracle” — but without the controversy as it was clearly a backwards pass. Later in the game Reynaud would return a kick off 105-yards for a touchdown. Next up for the Titans is the ultra-tough Texans, and unless more “miracle” plays occur it’s likely to be a blowout loss.