Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And Then There Were Three: Buffalo Erases 21-point Deficit against New England

Coming in to Week 3's heavyweight match-ups, there were seven unbeaten teams in the National Football League. After Monday night's 18-16 Cowboys victory over the surprising 2-0 Redskins, there are only three still standing.

By far the biggest story of the weekend is, not the fact that Michael Vick suffered a bruise on his non-throwing hand (it isn't broken as originally reported), but rather that the 3-0 Buffalo Bills made a remarkable comeback against the, now 2-1, New England Patriots.

For the first time in 15 head-to-head matches between Buffalo and New England, the Bills came out on top.

That's quite a feat for such a young and inexperienced team, especially considering what they had to overcome to pull off the unimaginable.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of only 26 NFL players in the history of the league to play college ball at Harvard University, has showed us all that he belongs in the top half of starting quarterbacks. In terms of not only athletic ability, but also leadership.

After losing one of his top targets in Lee Evans this off-season, Fitzpatrick has gone out and thrown for 841 yards and 9 TDs (64.9 %; 103.5 QBR) and just three interceptions in the Bills' first three games this season. He led Buffalo's offense to a blowout win over Kansas City (41-7) to open the season, and managed back-to-back three-point games against Oakland and New England.
Down 21-10 at the half, Fitzpatrick's Bills put up 24 in the second half and kicker Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard game-winner as time expired, pulling out with a 34-31 victory.

This, of course, would not have been accomplished if it weren't for Buffalo's ball-hawking defense, though, as they picked off Tom Brady four times (one for a touchdown) despite hitting the quarterback just four times all game, and not recording a single sack.

Turnovers costed New England the game, but there's no denying the fact that the passing attack is still as scary as ever, with targets such as Wes Welker (16 catches, 217 yards, 2 TDs in the game) and second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) to Brady's disposal.

Note to all fantasy owners: if by some miraculous chance Gronkowski is still available in your league, snag him up immediately without hesitation).

Aaron Rodgers' 2011 campaign continues to give me the sense that he and his crew are willing and able to defend the crown. Against Chicago on Sunday he threw his first interception of the season, to All Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher, but his three touchdown passes–all to TE Jermichael Finley–were enough to knock off Cutler's Bears in the NFC Championship rematch.

Cutler has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league this year (14), other than Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson, who has also been sacked 14 times. So far in his career, Cutler's downfall has been the fact he gets the snot beat out of him while he's in the pocket, forcing him to make bad decisions and poor throws.

What happened against Green Bay's defense on Sunday? Easy, he got hit four or five times, sacked three more times, causing two interceptions and a fumble (which was recovered). Green Bay's offense did manage to outplay Chicago's when all was said and done, but I think the Bears' biggest problem is protecting the quarterback.

But I guess it didn't help that Chicago went pass-heavy, attempting 37 passes and just nine Matt Forte carries–which went for just two yards.

Chicago has plenty of problems on the offensive side, I guess you could say. But before we bash them on defense, lets credit Aaron Rodgers and his offensive attack with another great performance instead. Now that the Pats lost, I believe the Packers will be the last remaining undefeated team.

Buffalo's win Sunday was by far the most impressive, but I personally am more intrigued with Detroit's story.
First, the front seven managed to keep Adrian Peterson under 100 yards for the day, and only let him in the end zone one time. Not too shabby.

But second, they too (like Buffalo) erased a large halftime deficit. Down 20-0 at the break, Matthew Stafford led his Lions to a 26-23 overtime victory after putting up 23 points in the third and fourth quarters.

Lanky All Pro wideout Calvin "Megatron" Johnson helped him out a bit with a couple of miraculous touchdown catches (7 Rec., 108 yards, 2 TDs), but I think it was tight end Brandon Pettigrew who was the most surprising target of Stafford's to step his game up. Though he didn't get in to the end zone all game, Pettigrew caught 11 Stafford passes for 112 yards, making a couple of big plays when the team needed them most.

If Detroit can win close games with a very ineffective running game–19 attempts, 20 yards as a team–then imagine what they could do when Jahvid Best averages between four and five yards per carry, as opposed to his measly 1.2 from Sunday afternoon.

Nonetheless, Detroit escaped Minnesota unscathed, and will live to fight another day as an undefeated squad.

Can't wait to see how they fare against the feisty Dallas Cowboys this weekend, fresh off a slim victory over the, then-undefeated, Washington Redskins.

Photo credit
Drayton Florence: AP Photo/David Duprey
Calvin Johnson: AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

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