Merry Christmas, everybody! Don’t tell me I’m 53 days early either. No way! Ya’ see, the Buccaneers were well on their way to getting a lump of coal in their stockings. This was going to be like Arkansas Technical Institute beating Texas or USC. That’s when Herm Edwards realized that he was, well, Herm Edwards. Merry Christmas, Tampa Bay! Merry Christmas, Jon Gruden!
Looking Back: How can there be any bigger surprises in the NFL this season than the Falcons? Am I beating a dead horse here? Well, I’m taking a few more shots at the poor deceased equine. Michael Turner, Matt Ryan and John Abraham just won’t go quietly into that good night. They mean business. Ask the Raiders and JaMarcus Russell. The Falcons sacked the Oakland signal caller four times, picked him off once, forced him to fumble twice and allowed 31 yards passing. In fact, Oakland had only 77 total yards of offense. There are a lot of teams that would rather not have to play Atlanta right now.
Looking Forward: Can we count the Saints as a team that doesn’t want to play Atlanta? I doubt it but this still promises to be a very good game at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons are very much in the race only one back in the win column. If this defense continues to carry out that Mike Smith gameplan, Drew Brees and the Saints might get back to the States just in time to take a beating.
Carolina Panthers (6-2):
Looking Back: So close and yet so far away. The Panthers were all at home enjoying a day off cooking out in the beautiful Carolina weather. They had to be enjoying the scores coming from Arrowhead Stadium. Too bad they couldn’t get the benefit from the Chiefs upset of the Bucs. But if the week off can help them heal up the wounds along their offensive line, they should come back next week a better and more physical team.
Looking Forward: Atlanta just got through beating the Raiders into submission. Can the Panthers do the same? Earlier this season, Carolina pulled off a shutout against the Raiders fellow AFC West Chiefs. It’s a trip to the Bay Area which could make this one interesting. The running game has been good but hardly dominant. Getting their normal starting five blockers back could help against a team that only occasionally plays run defense.
New Orleans Saints (4-4):
Looking Back: Welcome home, Saints! Let’s hope you didn’t pile too many craw fish on top of the fish and chips you had in jolly old England. Now that you’ve racked up some serious frequent flier miles and had some time to get over jet lag, you can turn your attention back to football.
Looking Forward: This is the NFL so there will be no easy game after all of the trouble this team’s been put through. Sure, the bye week allowed Reggie Bush to heal a little but without him, a trip to Atlanta won’t be any easier. The defense will be tested early and often by Michael Turner and Roddy White. Drew Brees and company might have to keep the team in it by putting up points followed by more points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3):
Looking Back: This is debatable – was that a heckuva coaching job by Jon Gruden or a terrible job by Herm Edwards? Either way, it’s the Buccaneers’ sixth win of the season. That keeps the pressure on the Panthers and helped Tampa Bay avoid what could have been a two-game hole. Credit Jeff Garcia and company for keeping their heads about them even when they were down 24-3. If this was a hangover from that Dallas game, the Bucs found the cure at halftime and pulled out a come-from-behind win in overtime. They look more and more like a solid playoff team each week.
Looking Forward: The Bucs can all pull up an easy chair and take a load off next week. This is the perfect time for the bye week – after nine games and all the nicks and cuts that come with it. Gruden will be burning the midnight oil to get his team ready for the seven-game stretch run. Coming back from the bye week, they’ll need some rest. The hard-hitting Vikings await them in two weeks.