I’m given a weekly task by the boss. He tells me, “John, write me a nice, neat, professional wrapup of the division. Try to be fair and impartial.” Let’s see if I can do that. Isn’t it obvious, considering where you’re reading this (the site I work for), that I’m going to have a hard time doing that?
There was an opportunity to begin shaking things out among these four teams. Instead, what we get is this: An upset that few saw coming, a beat-down that only those in Tampa, Fla. saw coming and an angry team bent on righting a wrong from Monday night. The result is a logjam.
Atlanta Falcons (4-2):
Looking Back: To quote Paul Simon – “I need a photo opportunity. I want a shot at redemption.” That’s exactly what Jason Elam got on Sunday. From goat to hero. One missed field goal led to a chance later in the game to hit the winner. Who would have predicted this? This is beginning to sound more and more like one of those bad Disney movies that feature a down-trodden team up against the big, bad boys who mean them harm. The Falcons have now matched their win total from 2007 and they’ve done it in six weeks. Matt Ryan looks more like a field general than a rookie and the defense appears to be the real deal. Give the Bears a call and ask them how they feel about this team.
Looking Forward: Coaches usually give their players like 5 minutes to celebrate a victory. This team has a week. Going into their bye, they have a share of first place in a division that is becoming more and more competitive by the minute. If they have wounds to heal, they might want to take advantage of the opportunity. Next up, in week eight, is a trip to Philadelphia. They can’t expect to find any warm receptions in the City of Brotherly Love. They cracked the Liberty Bell, didn’t they?
Carolina Panthers (4-2):
Looking Back: My, oh my! How much difference a week can make. Seven days removed from destroying the Chiefs, the Panthers had to be feeling good about themselves, right? They had beaten the Buccaneers in Tampa five straight times. That streak came to a screeching halt when they ran into the Tampa Bay buzz saw. Derrick Brooks and company played inspired defense shutting down the vaunted Carolina running game and Jake Delhomme and the Panthers passing game. Carolina didn’t help themselves any by giving up a blocked punt for a touchdown, throwing three interceptions and continuing their penchant for penalties.
Looking Forward: Bouncing back with a win won’t be easy. To the best of my knowledge, Arlo Guthrie won’t be making the trip but next up is New Orleans. Facing Drew Brees and their endless supply of playmakers will be a stiff test for the Panthers. Making matters worse, right tackle Jeff Otah continues to nurse an ankle injury and center Ryan Kalil missed the matchup with the Bucs. Corrections must be made since John Fox seems to have a bunch on his hands that don’t play John Fox football – mistake after mistake will have to eliminated. They might share the lead in the division, but they won’t for long if they aren’t prepared for the test that awaits them at Busted Bank Stadium next week.
New Orleans Saints (3-3):
Looking Back: They might not be allowed by the league to speak publicly about how they were screwed in that Monday night game against the Vikings but they were. There was a wrong to right. What did they do? They promptly pillaged and plundered the Raiders. This wasn’t even close. Coaches like to talk about complete performances – Sean Payton has to be dancing the Benson Boogie after this one. Let’s say this now and get it out of the way – Drew Brees might be the best quarterback in the NFL. Maybe he benefits from injuries to Tom Brady and battered egos in Indianapolis but he has established his place in this league. They didn’t just win a game they were supposed to win, they annihilated a team they were supposed to beat.
Looking Forward: Here’s where it gets interesting. The gift the Saints get for destroying the Raiders? A trip to Charlotte to play an angry Carolina Panthers team. After losing a couple of games they felt like they should have won, New Orleans is now in position to make the comeback in this division complete. That 3-3 record means they are only one game out and they can even things up with a win over the reeling Panthers. The task will mean proving that a dome team can win outdoors and that they can defeat a defense that has done more than play well at home.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2):
Looking Back: Coming off a Rocky Mountain low, the Buccaneers were back home. All the talk about how Jake Delhomme was 7-1 versus them and how he had been the Tampa killer was put to bed on Sunday. Jeff Garcia was back no matter how much Jon Gruden acted like he disliked him. Most of all, the defense came to play. Three interceptions of Delhomme to go with a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown proved that they had indeed come to play. Question – is there any doubt whatsoever that Derrick Brooks is a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
Looking Forward: On paper, the Bucs’ next test is a laugher. Seattle arrives in town and you have this feeling they know what’s coming – to be beaten like a rented mule. Right now, the only thing these two teams have in common is that they came into the league at the same time. But there is neither a Jim Zorn nor a Steve Largent to help this Seahawks team. Tampa Bay has a share of the lead in the NFC South and there is absolutely no reason to think that they will let Seattle take that away from them.