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Fortunate Falcons

Falcons still unbeaten as Houston stall

Neil Reynolds Posted 15th October 2012 view comments

In order for me to avoid sounding like a broken record each week, why don't we just go ahead and assume that every round of games in the NFL provides its share of outstanding individual displays, frantic finishes and surprising results.

I have been fortunate enough to cover the NFL for a very long time now and feel this might be one of the most action-packed, headline-filled seasons ever. And if you asked me to predict a Super Bowl winner right now, I would struggle. The race to reach the NFL title game is wide open.

Bryant: Snatched last-gasp win for Atlanta

Bryant: Snatched last-gasp win for Atlanta

Here are some of the things that caught my eye during NFL Week 6...

And then there was one

With the Houston Texans falling to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, the NFL has been left with one undefeated team - the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons showed grit and determination for the third week in a row to record a 23-20 home win against a plucky Oakland Raiders team that blows too hot and cold to be considered a contender.

We have to credit the Falcons for finding ways to win close games but a harsher critic might point to the fact they have struggled to get past Carolina, Washington and Oakland in the past three weeks - and those teams are not exactly NFL powerhouses.

Neil Reynolds
Quotes of the week

Atlanta pushed their luck in this one. Matt Ryan threw three first-half interceptions but managed to survive. But the Falcons did need a couple of massive plays to emerge as victors - Asante Samuel scored late on a 79-yard interception return and Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning 55-yard field goal with one second remaining. Those are not plays that come along every day for a team.

We have to credit the Falcons for finding ways to win close games but a harsher critic might point to the fact they have struggled to get past Carolina, Washington and Oakland in the past three weeks - and those teams are not exactly NFL powerhouses.

Rookie quarterbacks shine

It was a good night for the rookie quarterbacks in the NFL as Robert Griffin III (Washington), Brandon Weeden (Cleveland), Ryan Tannehill (Miami) and Russell Wilson (Seattle) all enjoyed big wins. The only rookie passer on the wrong end of a Week 6 scoreline was Andrew Luck, of the Indianapolis Colts.

RGIII was electrifying as he threw for one touchdown and ran for 138 yards and another two scores. Weeden deserved his first NFL win and Tannehill was very efficient in playing mistake-free football for the Dolphins, throwing two touchdown passes to defeat the Wembley-bound St. Louis Rams.

But the star of the rookie crop this weekend was Wilson, who engineered some late-game heroics to lead Seattle to a 24-23 win over the New England Patriots. While he was not on the field at the same time as New England legend Tom Brady, this was Wilson's chance to win a big quarterback duel and grab some national headlines. And he looked poised and ready for the spotlight, throwing a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns that included the game-winning 46-yarder to wide receiver Sidney Rice.

Jets discover their ground and pound

The New York Jets have long been a team built around a strong running game and a stifling defense. That attacking formula had been sorely lacking in the opening five games of the season but the Jets re-discovered their true identity during Sunday's 35-9 thrashing of the Colts.

The Jets ran all over Indianapolis with Shonn Greene leading the way. Greene had been a plodding non-factor until Sunday but he exploded for 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns. That form of attack - which the Jets love to label as the 'ground and pound' - took the pressure off inconsistent quarterback Mark Sanchez, who only had to throw for 82 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite being a constant soap opera off the field and an inconsistent, injury-hit club on the gridiron, the Jets are now tied for first place in the AFC East. All four teams - Buffalo, Miami, New England and New York - are owners of 3-3 records.

Giants win heavyweight clash

I headed into Sunday's re-match of the NFC Championship Game with genuine belief that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was moving into the elite category of NFL passers. After all, he was entering the showdown with the New York Giants as the highest-rated quarterback in the league.

I publicly backed Smith on Sky Sports News and then again during our NFL show on Sunday night. Which, of course, meant he would go out and have an absolute stinker! One of the worst games of his career, in fact!

Smith threw three interceptions and was under constant pressure as the Giants re-discovered the pass rush that helped them become Super Bowl champions last season. As a result, one of the most eagerly-awaited games of the year turned into a complete non-starter. New York ran out comfortable 26-3 winners.

As for Smith, I still feel he is now a very good quarterback, but maybe I was a tad too early in labelling him as elite. I admit he is not ready to be placed alongside the likes of Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady just yet.

But who knows? Had he been better protected on Sunday night and not nursing a sprained finger on his throwing hand, I might have been getting a lot more carried away about Smith this morning.

Chiefs continue to disappoint

When he took over as interim head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs at the back end of last season, Romeo Crennel did such a good job that he almost guided the AFC West strugglers into the playoffs. In the process of that strong finish, Crennel earned himself the full-time job in Kansas.

The biggest thing the Chiefs did last season under Crennel was play hard. When you consider that fact, it might be time to start worrying about the head coach's job security. They are certainly not putting up much of a fight this term.

The Chiefs were hammered 38-10 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday and dropped to 1-5 on the season. The only time they have led in any game this season was when they kicked the match-winning overtime field goal against the New Orleans Saints in Week three.

That is poor. Very poor. And it could cost Crennel his job before the season ends.

Costly win for Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens will be happy to have emerged with a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, surviving due to Dan Bailey's missed 51-yard field goal attempt in the dying seconds. But they won't look back on this tough game with a warm glow.

The Ravens lost their best cornerback in Lardarius Webb to what they believe is a season-ending torn ACL injury. And they are awaiting word on future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who they suspect has torn his triceps. If that is the case, Lewis would also be done for the year.

Those are devastating blows for a defence already missing Pro Bowl pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. And even though the defence has been on the slide this season, Lewis remains the emotional leader of the Ravens. His presence will be missed if he is out of action for the remainder of the year.

Fortunately for the Ravens, they are 5-1 and in the wide open AFC, that has to make them genuine Super Bowl contenders. But as I said at the start of this article, that race to reach Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans in February could not be more wide open.

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