There may not be a Romo. The Mannings are missing. Not a Donovan is in sight. Shoot, there isn’t even a Jason Campbell. Instead, you’ll find a rookie Ryan, a Cajun, a Brees and a Griese. This is not the NFC East and it’s far from being as good as the NFC East – at least that’s what everyone wants us to think.
Week four in the NFC South had a little bit of everything. Atlanta and Carolina played an intra-divisional game that featured a blast from the past versus a glimpse of the future. Tampa Bay found themselves facing the Bay to the north. New Orleans had to fight off an upstart from the left coast.
Atlanta Falcons (2-2):
Looking Back: This one went against everything we knew about this rivalry. There was some rule written somewhere that said the visitor was supposed to win each matchup since the last five games had gone that way. Matt Ryan took another step in his growing process as a rookie on Sunday. Carolina was making every effort to stuff Michael Turner making Ryan a marked man. The rookie held it together about as well as can be expected. He was guilty of no turnovers. The problem was that Turner had been the bread and butter for this offense. He was held to 56 yards on 18 carries and the Falcons took the loss 24-9.
Looking Forward: Growing pains can be expected. Anytime a rookie quarterback is under center that is going to happen. One problem looming for this team is a pending road trip to visit with a hungry and likely angry team in Green Bay. The tundra won’t be frozen – yet – but an underrated defense awaits Michael Turner and Matt Ryan. They could be facing someone other than Aaron Rodgers should those stories about his shoulder be true. There is even a nasty rumor that the Packers will have a guy named Ryan Grant lined up in the backfield despite evidence that he has been abducted and replaced with a lesser player. Atlanta doesn’t want to fall farther behind in the division so taking advantage of Green Bay’s misfortune might be the only way to avoid it.
Carolina Panthers (3-1):
Looking Back: Jake is back. Steve is Back. Muhsin Muhammad is Back. The doubters can all take a day off. Jake Delhomme looked outstanding hitting on 20 of 29 for 294 yards and 2 TD’s while avoiding a turnover. In fact, he wasn’t even sacked once. The defense played very well holding Michael Turner to 56 yards and making Matt Ryan look like a rookie. The problems with penalties continue, however. That issue was compounded by allowing a blocked punt for the second time this season. It was a very uneven and occasionally sloppy performance. Still, the signs are there that the three amigos are ready to ride again.
Looking Forward: Smith, Delhomme and Moose had better keep it up. They could be missing both tackles with both Jordan Gross (concussion) and Jeff Otah (Knee) ailing. The defense will have yet another test versus a top tier running back as Larry Johnson and the Chiefs come calling at Bank of America Stadium. John Fox has some work to do to straighten out all of the penalties (35 in three weeks) and the mental errors. Meanwhile, you can be sure that Herm Edwards is coming to town to “play to win the game!”
New Orleans Saints (2-2):
Looking Back: An improving defense to go along with an already potent offense made for more than the Niners could handle. The Saints held San Francisco to 312 yards and held Frank Gore out of the endzone for the first time all season while posting six sacks and three takeaways. The team from the Bayou had the Superdome rocking while they took down a former divisional rival. Signs that life is returning to normal for the Saints continued – Deuce McAllister returned with a greater role in the offense responding with 83 total yards and a touchdown. As their defense improves, the Saints become a greater threat to everyone.
Looking Forward: The Saints will be facing one of their stiffest tests of the season next week. Ask anyone who has played the Minnesota Vikings and they’re likely to tell you they’d rather not have to do it again. Lucky for New Orleans that they’ll be allowed to play on their own carpet. The Saints offense is, well, their offense – the same potent attack we saw last year. The defense will be facing the challenge of Adrian Peterson and (GULP!!) Gus Frerotte. This division promises to be a tight race all the way. Every game could prove to be a must-win and New Orleans will have to pass this test at home.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1):
Looking Back: An emotional week in Tampa Bay ended with a victory. Kicker Matt Bryant made the decision to play just days after losing his infant son. The team rallied around him as he put up three field goals against the Packers. Last week, Brian Griese threw 67 times. It would take only 30 attempts to beat the Packers. He had some problems with interceptions (3) but still managed to lead the Bucs to his eighth win in nine starts with the team. There were other major contributors as the defense forced four turnovers and Earnest Graham ran for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Looking Forward: Life simply doesn’t get any easier for this bunch. The elevation will increase next week as the bucs travel to Denver to play the Broncos. They can always look at the bright side – they won’t be facing a defense next week. They will have to contend with Jay Cutler and the explosive Denver offense. Will Brian Griese be back to slinging the ball all over the field? Either way, the production for nearly every member of the Tampa Bay offense should improve next week. The stats will look nice at the end of the day. The final score, however, will be even more important.