We have a new leader! The Carolina Panthers have passed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the inside with a nifty move down the front stretch to take a one game lead in the NFC South.
Is the cream rising to the top? And is the chaff falling to the bottom? Did the Carolina Panthers prove anything Sunday? Have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers merely stumbled or have they displayed some weaknesses? Have the Falcons begun to show their true colors? Did the New Orleans Saints resurrect their season with their bellies full of fish and chips?
Hey, I can’t answer all the questions. It could take another nine weeks to answer all those queries. So, give me a break, would you?
Atlanta Falcons (4-3):
Looking Back: The City of Brotherly Love was hardly a lovefest on Sunday for the Falcons. The Eagles had one of the best run defenses in the league coming into this one. They still do. Michael Turner was held to 58 yards rushing while Matt Ryan was sacked twice, beaten and intercepted twice. All of the feel-good that everyone pulling for the Dirty Bird felt last week is fading a bit. This one hurt. It hurt in a lot of ways.
Looking Forward: Now, there has to be a bounce-back mentality with this team. The loss to Philly put this team in a two-game hole in the division and they are looking up at two talented squads. It should be a lot easier to bounce back against the Raiders than it would against about 28 other teams in the league. There is this nasty rumor that professional football is played in Oakland. The Falcons intend to find out first hand.
Carolina Panthers (6-2):
Looking Back: Here they went again. The Panthers fell behind by two touchdowns at home only to find their way back into the game. The spark came from Steve Smith and was coupled with a huge fumble by Edgerrin James. The defense got no support from the offense in the first half only to see them explode in the second half. The Panthers and Cardinals combined for five touchdowns in the third quarter in a wild one. It wasn’t always pretty but it was a win over an improving team and it put them alone in first place.
Looking Forward: There is no opponent next week. This group can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor for a little longer. A stretch run is coming in the second half of this campaign and there are injuries to heal. Getting the offensive line whole again is critical to the success of this team. Either way, the glue holding Jake Delhomme’s right elbow together gets a week to dry while the team is off.
Looking Back: The NFL had the gall to tell this bunch that they were the home team – in London! Maybe they were able to convince themselves that they were in the Superdome since they pulled out a win in a high-scoring affair over the struggling San Diego Chargers. The win keeps them in the thick of the playoff chase but it also proves that they can win without Reggie Bush. Facing adverse conditions, the Saints proved they had some mettle.
Looking Forward: A schedule maker somewhere at least liked New Orleans enough to allow them a week off after the torture that is travelling to London to play in the fog after eating horrible food. This at least means that they will be playing one less game without the former number two pick and perhaps allows them to get Sedrick Ellis back closer to 100% before returning to the rigors of weekly NFL play. They’ll need it. The strethc run is brutal.
Looking Back: All my talk last week about this bunch going into Dallas and eating the Cowboys’ lunch? WOW! Could I have been more wrong? The Buccaneers faced a gritty Dallas team that simply refused to lose. Tampa Bay now might be wondering how to fix a running game that gained only 49 yards on the day. In fact, the offense was far from potent, more like impotent. The defense played well as usual. This was just Dallas’ day.
Looking Forward: Coming that close to Jerry Jones’ face, requires a week off afterward. Tampa Bay will look back and probably wonder how they allowed first place to slip away. There’s still plenty of time in the season to earn that playoff berth that Chucky wants so much and a division title that he might like to marry. The problem is that they will have to overcome the trend of never winning two NFC South crowns in a row.