Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, October 22, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Let the record state that some of the NFL's "old reliables" came out of the woodwork to win their Week 7 games on Sunday:
The last four teams to cop a Super Bowl crown - the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers -- each won vitally important games and ditto for the New England Patriots whose fans had acted as if a 3-3 SU (straight-up) start was downright criminal. Get real!
The Patriots' thrill-a-minute 29-26 overtime victory against the 11-point road underdog New York Jets made for immediate (and juicy) talk show fodder - we'll get to some of that in a moment - and than last night the aforementioned Steelers made all things right with the world with a what-else-is-new win in Cincinnati.
Hey, the Steelers have only won 18 of their last 22 games played in the Queen City but, save for that AFC Wild Card Game win that catapulted the team's road-only run to a Super Bowl crown back in the 2005 season, no Pittsburgh win in Cincy meant so much as it allowed Mike Tomlin's team to avoid a 2-4 SU start and kept said head coach on that list NBC showed us where Tomlin's now coached 86 games with this proud organization and he's never been two games below .500 at any time in a season.
Okay, so NFL Week 7 was a jolly good time for "fantasy league" owners who danced up a storm thanks to Tennessee RB Chris Johnson's 195-yard rushing game in Buffalo and/or because Giants WR Victor Cruz caught 131 yards worth of Eli Manning passes including that dazzling TD with 1:13 left in the 27-23 non-cover win against Washington ...let's salsa already!
Still, we'll let the Patriots and Steelers - two teams that have played 35 post-season games between 'em the past 10 years - be our headline-stealers here plus we'll toss in a comment or two on the don't-look-now-but-they're-leading-the-NFC-North Minnesota Vikings (5-2). Here goes ...
NEW ENGLAND 29, NEW YORK JETS 26 (OT) - Okay, so a word here on the aforementioned talk show junkies:
It wasn't but a few moments after Jets QB Mark Sanchez lost a fumble on an overtime sack that finished off Rex Ryan's team that the cable TV station that airs the NYJ post-game show was in full run-the-mouth form - all anti-Sanchez stuff (of course)!
No doubt the oft-maligned quarterback threw a sickly pick in addition to losing this fumble in the extra session but how come know-nothing Jets commentators refused to bash the real culprits - the Jets defense!
Note that New England trailed 26-23 with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter when New England's offense trotted onto the field with the ball at the Patriots' 21-yard line. Than, this is what happened:
Quarterback Tom Brady-to-TE Rob Gronkowski for pass completions of 15 and 12 yards; than a 20-yard hookup with RB Danny Woodhead.
Now, the Pats have the ball at the Jets' 32-yard line with 22 seconds left - and following an incomplete pass intended for an end-zone bound WR Brandon Lloyd - Brady-to-Woodhead got 'em seven more yards at the NJY 25-yard line.
Seconds later it's a 43-yard OT-forcing field goal by PK Steven Gostkowski who wound up drilling a 48-yarder in the overtime period.
The point here: The Patriots could have been dead in the water had the Jets' defense stepped to the fore but they didn't - nor do they really ever in the Ryan Era - and so the Pats had a precious win on a day when they operated fewer plays than the Jets (78-to-74) and averaged less than six yards a pass attempt - quite un-Patriot-like, right?
New England's likely pinching itself as it sits atop the AFC East this October morning - and that'll make for a nice little trip to London now.
PITTSBURGH 24, CINCINNATI 17 - It just didn't seem right:
Here we were nearly halfway through this NFL season and the Steelers still had not won a road game - see losses at Denver, Oakland and Tennessee - and there were more players in civvies than you could count on one hand.
Still, without their two top running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman and two key O-lineman including Pro Bowl Maurkice Pouncey plus S Troy Polamalu, there were the Steelers hammering out a big prime-time win on Sunday night and the second half of this ground-and-pound attack really did remind folks of the 1970s Steelers when Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier just kept getting fed rush-after-rush. Third-year RB Jonathan Dwyer finished the night - and finished off the Bengals - with 122 yards rushing and if you happened to miss it the Steelers won clock 37:30-to-22:30.
In a year when Pittsburgh squandered fourth-quarter leads in all three of the above-mentioned road losses, here was an old-fashioned AFC North bout where the Steelers bloodied the Cincy mouths and than kicked some sand in their faces to boot - so don't be fooled by this final score 'cause you never got the sense in the final quarter that Marvin Lewis' club was gonna win here.
Okay, we'll give Steelers CB Ike Taylor a shiny gold star for his work on Bengals wide-out A.J. Green - now let's not hear anything negative about the Steelers secondary for the next few days, alright?
Finally, Minnesota's 21-14 home win against Arizona in Week 7 reminds one-and-all that heading into the Monday Night Football game there is an all-alone leader in the NFC North and it's these Vikings who may have gone AWOL offensively after intermission but still proved a potent pass rush can carry a team a long way.
The Vikes rung up seven sacks of bewildered Cardinals QB John Skelton and somehow Leslie Frazier's gang won with only 58 yards passing from QB Christian Ponder but - like the Pats and Steelers - Minnesota discovered that sometimes you just "need" a win more than anything else and with a short week before Thursday Night's home game against Tampa Bay and than a long trip to Seattle, this qualified under the "must-win" category.
Tonight, it's ...DETROIT (2-3) at CHICAGO (4-1) - 8:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
If this winds up a do-the-math bit, than the visiting Lions could be in trouble: See, Detroit WR Calvin Johnson still has yet to catch a single touchdown pass thrown by QB Matthew Stafford (note that Johnson's caught one scoring strike this year from backup Shaun Hill) while the Bears have registered a pair of defensive touchdowns in each of their last two games - a 34-18 win against Dallas in a MNF tilt back on Oct. 1st and a 41-3 blitzing of Jacksonville two weeks ago.
Note that Bears LB Lance Briggs and CB Charles "Peanut" Tillman each scored a touchdown in those two road wins and, yes, the Bears sport an NFL-high 13 interceptions this year. Toss into the mix the fact Chicago sports the league's top-ranked rush defense (yielding just 66 ypg) and you get the sense the margin for error is quite small for the visiting Lions.
Spread Notes - The Lions snapped a season-opening four-game spread losing streak with last week's 26-23 OT win in Philadelphia while the Bears head into this clash at 4-1 ATS (against the spread) this season and a collective 10-6 ATS mark in all home games since late 2010.
THE BASEBALL UPDATE: WHO GETS ELIMINATED NOW AS CARDS-GIANTS COLLIDE
So, who gets eliminated in this "elimination game"?
The National League Championship Series closes out this evening - weather permitting - with baseball's last two World Series winners bucking heads in San Francisco but as everyone knows both the St. Louis Cardinals and the SF Giants thrive in elimination games.
Heck, the Cards have won both their win-or-go-home games in this year's playoffs - against Atlanta and Washington - and no need here to go into what the Redbirds did last October when placed in back-to-the-wall situations while this year's Giants won three in a row at Cincinnati after getting into a two-oh hole in that best-of-five set and here's Bruce Bochy's guys hanging around after getting down three games-to-one in this best-of-seven set.
If the Bay Area fans are chanting, "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant" than there are three keys other than RHP Matt Cain pitching a strong game:
The Giants need leadoff hitter Angel Pagan - 0-for-5 in last night's 6-1 win - to be a factor because 2B Marco Scutaro (11-of-24 in this NLCS) can't stay this hot ...can he?;
San Francisco's bullpen must lefty/righty the Cards to death - again - as Game 6 showed with two more scoreless innings by the pen;
And, finally, the Giants need someone in the middle of the order to "thump" as either C Buster Posey or RF Hunter Pence need to "go yard" here and take some heat off the rest of the lineup. Posey's batting .171 and Pence just .163 and they have a combined one dinger in this series.
NOTE: Catch our NFL and NCAA Football Mid-Week Update plus a World Series Preview in the next Jim Sez.