One of the biggest problems writing about the NFL this week is the fact that there has been so little to write about. Seriously. In fact, I was almost reduced to reporting that the Patriots were unbeaten again this week - but only because they had a bye and so weren’t playing.
I could report that the Dolphins lost again, blowing a 10-2 lead to lose at home to the Bills. Bills kicker Rian Lindell kicked the winning field goal with 46 seconds remaining to give Buffalo victory. It’s getting to be desperate in Miami and their latest solution will be to give rookie quarterback John Beck a starting role against the Eagles this weekend. It is a big ask for the second round draft pick against an Eagles side who put 20 fourth quarter points on the board to beat the Redskins at the weekend and who are starting to show true signs of running into some form. The Dolphins still believe they can turn a 0-9 start into a moderately successful 7-9 season, but you’d be a fool to bet on it.
One bright spot for Miami is the return from suspension of Ricky Williams. The running back, the NFL’s top rusher in 2002, was suspended for 18 months after he failed four - yes, four - drug tests. Whether he can revitalise such a poor team after so long out is debatable, but any news is good news so far as this team is concerned.
The Dolphins are now the only side in the NFL without a win, after the St Louis Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 37-29. Key to the Rams win was the return of star running back Steven Jackson, who has been missing for most of the season with a back injury. He ran in one touchdown and threw for another as the Rams finally got their season started.
Perhaps the most interesting news of the week was the edict from the NFL that match officials should eject players from the game for so-called ‘helmet to helmet’ hits - i.e. where a player deliberately goes for another player’s head with his head. Ejection is equivalent to a sending off in football or rugby, except that the side who has a player ejected gets to replace him (the same happens in basketball). The sanction is very rarely used in the NFL, it happens about once a season, but as we have seen this year the league is getting tough on on-field discretions (heck, this week was so dull, no-one even got fined for that) and it will be interesting to see how often, if at all, this sanction is used.
In the rest of the news this week:
- A very rough week for the Vikings. They suffered their first shutout in about 15 seasons as Green Bay beat them 34-0. Along the way they lost Adrian Peterson with a knee injury that will keep him out for at least one game and picked up some seriously bad publicity for docking the salary of receiver Troy Williamson when he went to his grandmother’s funeral - a decision they later had to reverse.
- Also shut out were the 49ers, handing an easy 24-0 win to the Seahawks in Monday night’s game. The loss has cost quarterback Alex Smith his job, with veteran Trent Dilfer taking over for this weekend.
- The Manning boys also had a bad week. Peyton threw an unprecedented six interceptions as the Colts lost 21-23 to the Chargers, Colts kicker Adam Viniateri missing a field goal with the last kick of the game which would’ve won it. Eli was simply dreadful for the Giants against the Cowboys, even allowing himself to be sacked by the returning Tank Johnson as Dallas won 31-20, courtesy of two more touchdowns from Terrell Owens. Interestingly, that game was run by only 6 officials after the 7th pulled a hamstring early in the game - you have enough players to put three entirely different sides on the pitch but no-one thinks to bring a spare official.
- Those who were paying attention last week will recall that I mentioned that the Panthers had no fit and match-ready quarterbacks. Vinny Testaverde gamely limped through their home game against the Falcons, which no 44 year old should have to do. There was a time when he could probably have beaten this year’s Falcons on one leg and he almost did it now, Alge Crumpler’s touchdown with twenty seconds left giving Atlanta a 20-13 win.
- Shock of the week came at the Raiders, where Rex Grossman - yes, him - came off the bench to replace the injured Brian Griese and threw the winning touchdown to give the Bears a much-needed victory by 17-6. He’ll keep his place on Sunday, too.
- A big day for Big Ben as Mr Roethlisberger had his best game of the season, throwing two touchdowns, running one in for himself from 30 yards and picking up the NFL Player of the Week award for only the second time in his career. Victory over the Browns came at a cost for the Steelers, though, as safety Ryan Clark was so badly injured he had to have his spleen removed. For the Browns, Derek Anderson became their first quarterback for 20 years to throw 20 touchdowns in a season, but it wasn’t enough to stop them losing 31-28
- On the disciplinary front, Pacman Jones has had a plea bargain accepted by a judge, so won’t stand trial over the lap dance club incident. In a novel move - at least for a footballer - Fred Weary of the Houston Texans is actually suing the police, after they shot him with a Taser gun. All of which means that both are likely to escape any or any further sanction from the league.