Blogs & Opinion

Purple reign

Neil reflects on the big talking points in the NFL

Features Posted 12th November 2012 view comments

We're approaching the business end of the 2012 NFL season and it's a time when teams either make their push for the playoffs (Baltimore, New England etc) or get found out as also-rans for another year (Miami, Philadelphia etc).

Each year in the NFL also throws up new, emerging teams who we didn't expect to be in the mix at this stage of the campaign. I think it would be fair to say that about the 6-4 Minnesota Vikings and the 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are both in the race for wild card berths in the NFC.

Peterson: 'defied medical science'

Peterson: 'defied medical science'

Both had big wins on Sunday night and were among the teams who caught my eye in NFL Week 10.

Saints alive!

We can't quite put a fork in the New Orleans Saints. As bad as they have been for much of this season, they've won four and lost five and remain alive in the NFC playoff race following Sunday's thrilling 31-27 victory over the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons.

As a group of curmudgeonly old men down in Miami popped champagne corks and danced through the pain of their hip replacements to celebrate the 1972 Dolphins remaining the only 'perfect' team in league history, the Saints were more concerned with salvaging their season and looked dangerous thanks to the emergence of a running game and the return to full health and form of tight end Jimmy Graham.

The Saints' defence is still a major worry, although they have shown some tremendous spirit when defending their own goal-line in recent weeks. That said, it still looks like New Orleans will have to win shootouts every week to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. At least they have Drew Brees to help them do that.

As for the Falcons, I would be concerned about their lack of a running game in Week 10, but I thought they showed a great deal of mental toughness to come so close to winning in a hostile environment on the road. They showed me more in this lone defeat than they did in some of their wins this season.

Reid running out of time

A sign of how frustrated the Philadelphia fans are with their Eagles came in the first quarter of Sunday's battle with the Dallas Cowboys. Despite taking an early lead, the Eagles were pegged back when Felix Jones found the end zone. But even though the score was only 7-7, the boos were cascading around Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles went on to lose quarterback Michael Vick to injury, which was hardly a surprise when you consider the pounding he has taken this season. They also lost their way, lost the game by a 38-23 scoreline and probably lost head coach Andy Reid for good. The Eagles have lost five games in a row for the first time since 1998 and Reid has to shoulder a great deal of the blame for that slump.

Despite having one of the league's most explosive running backs in the backfield in LeSean McCoy, Reid has stubbornly maintained his pass-first philosophy, even with a struggling quarterback and a patched-up, porous offensive line that fares better when run blocking. That makes no sense to me.

But I actually think Reid will relish the chance to leave Philadelphia and start afresh if given an opportunity in a new city. He looks tired and drained and we should remember that he lost his son, Garrett, to a drug overdose this summer with the body being found in a dorm room at the team's training camp. That, of course, must have taken its toll on Reid and he could also do with a break from the Eagles fans, who happily booed him even in years when he was taking the team to the playoffs.

Superman wears purple

It was a pleasure to spend seven hours sitting in the Sky Sports studios with former Washington Redskins defensive end Aki Jones on Sunday night. Aki was funny, entertaining and, not surprisingly, well informed. One of his best lines of the evening came when he reminded viewers that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson "is not a normal human being".

That is very true. Peterson tore his knee ligaments in two places on Christmas Eve and some wondered if he would ever play again, let alone return to his status as the best the NFL has to offer. It was a devastating and worrying injury.

But Peterson is back and is playing with some style once again. He defied medical science by returning for the season opener in September and he hasn't missed a beat, leading the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards.

AP has been the driving force behind Minnesota's 6-4 start and he rushed for 171 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's 34-24 win over Detroit. With second-year quarterback Christian Ponder still finding his feet, the return of the man some Vikings fans call Purple Jesus has been heaven-sent.

Don't forget Rex!

It's trendy at this time of year to write about the likes of Andy Reid (see above) and San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner being on the hot-seat. There's no doubting the fact that Norv is under pressure following a loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday night and he didn't help his job-saving cause by having a press-conference meltdown after the game.

But I think it's definitely time for Rex Ryan, of the New York Jets, to start worrying about his future in the Big Apple. His coaching hot seat is not at boiling point just yet, but it is warming up following New York's tame 28-7 capitulation to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Jets talk a good game every summer but have failed to back up the hype for the past year-and-a-half. Sunday's loss was their fifth defeat in six games and leaves them with a 3-6 record. Ryan comes with a big reputation and has led the Jets to a pair of AFC title games, but the pressure must be building on him now. I don't think he's about to get sacked, but he must also understand this kind of form cannot continue forever.

Bucs win again

I have said, for a number of years now, that I thought Josh Freeman, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could emerge as a genuine franchise quarterback in the NFL. That statement looked spot on in 2010, way off as he regressed in 2011, and back on the mark so far this season.

Freeman has looked very good for a Tampa Bay side that is more offensively explosive than I can remember for quite some time. Greg Schiano's men produced a 34-24 victory over the Chargers on Sunday night, giving them a fourth win in five games and improving their record to 5-4.

Freeman threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns and continues to look the part under center, keeping his mistakes to an absolute minimum and not throwing a single interception. Add in explosive rookie running back Doug Martin and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and you can see why the Bucs have possessed one of the league's most potent offenses over the past month.

Critically, this is a team 'scared' of its head coach again. Schiano rules with an iron fist and his kind of tough, no-nonsense leadership was just what the Bucs needed after former head coach Raheem Morris spent too much time trying to buddy up to the players before eventually losing the locker room during the course of a 10-game losing run that cost him his job last season.

The slumping champions

I'm not sure if they're scared of fireworks or Thanksgiving Day turkeys, but there is definitely something spooking the New York Giants in the month of November. They've lost both of their games played this month to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to fall to 6-4 on the year.

The Giants are now 1-6 in their last seven games in November and the mini-slump suffered by Eli Manning has to be disturbing. But more worrying for me is the fact that the secondary continues to struggle badly, sifting four touchdown passes to Andy Dalton during a 31-13 Bengals win that was one-sided from start to finish.

I'm confident the Giants will come back from this down period but it is one of the mysteries of recent NFL seasons. For some reason, a team that tends to start and finish well always seems to have a blip in the middle of the year.

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