The big news in the NFL is the Dallas Cowboys’ epic implosion to a record of 1-7 and counting (as well as, relatedly, the reign of goodness and happiness and frolicking little children throughout the land); the definitive return of Michael Vick (dude knocked off Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts yesterday); the fact that, over midway through the season, no one team or two teams have clearly emerged as favorites in either conference (as the New Orleans Saints and Colts were this time last year). But here at Tablet Magazine, the big news in the NFL can be summed up in one word: SAGE.
Yesterday, with the New York Giants up a gob-smacking 41-7 against the Seattle Seahawks—this in Seattle, where Coach Pete Carroll’s squad had actually resembled a real football team up until this point—near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Coach Tom Coughlin put Jewish back-up quarterback Sage Rosenfels in for Eli Manning. Rosenfels proceeded to game-manage the Giants toward a truly startling 13-minute drive, handing the ball off 16 times, mostly to third-stringer Danny Ware, who made the Seahawks look even worse while rushing for 66 yards—in only one drive!—and several first downs. Rosenfels’s final statistical line reads: Three rushes for a loss of three yards (which is to say, he knelt three times to burn clock in Seattle’s red zone, which was the classy move). Final score: 41-7. Hey, Coach Coughlin: Next time, let Sage throw a pass!
Kidding aside, with the caveat that the Eagles with Vick look amazing, the Atlanta Falcons seem unbeatable (and are unbeaten) at home, the Green Bay Packers are chockful of raw talent, and the New Orleans Saints remain the New Orleans Saints, Tablet Magazine team the Giants have to be considered, at this point, the front-runner to win the NFC. They are just going on all-cylinders: Phenomenal pass-rush; error-free special teams; punishing offensive line; and most importantly, arguably the best corps of offensive skill players—Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith catching the ball, Eli Manning throwing it, and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs running it—in the League. The bad news is that you could have said much the same about them midway through each of the past two seasons, both of which saw them subsequently flounder (last year, they failed to make the playoffs after beginning 6-0). Still, Giants fans have cause for happiness.
And New England Patriots fans? Wow. Going into this week, they were the pretty much consensus pick for top team (not least because they had the best record, 6-1, with their one loss coming on the road to the excellent New York Jets). And now? After losing 34-14 to the 4-5 Cleveland Browns? The big story of this game is that the ultimate game-planner, Bill Belichick, clearly got out-game-planned by his estranged onetime pupil, Eric “Mangenius” Mangini, who combined gimmick plays on special teams, a ground-first assault on offense (Browns back Peyton Hillis rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns), and a harass-the-quarterback strategy on defense (Tom Brady played well by normal-person standards, but the Pats’ high-powered offense and bend-but-don’t-break defense demands more from him). So, wither the Pats? They go back in with the rest of the top of the heap, including the punishing Pittsburgh Steelers, the frisky Baltimore Ravens, the Jets, the Colts, the Giants, and the Eagles. There are worse places to be.
For example, you could be the Washington Redskins, who had a bye this week. I took my own bye last week so that I wouldn’t have to write about the team’s quarterback controversy, which involved benching Donovan McNabb for back-up Rex Grossman at the beginning of a two-minute drill that could have salvaged the Skins’ defeat at the Detroit Lions. Here is all I can bring myself to say after the week of anguish.
First: McNabb needs to play better—the very real drop-off he has experienced in terms of pass-catchers, from the Eagles to the Skins, would excuse a downgrade, but not one this severe; and he specifically needs to get better at runing quick two-minute drills.
Second: If what is happening is Coach Mike Shanahan and (especially) Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan (no relation—I’m kidding, it’s obviously his son) are trying to fit McNabb into a dogmatic offensive scheme, in this case the West Coast Offense, then that is a major problem. Great coaches tailor their offenses to their players. Eagles Coach Andy Reid, for example, had impeccable West Coast pedigree, but, granted a quarterback able to move around the pocket and throw deep—that would be McNabb—he designed an offense specifically for him; things worked out pretty well for them, just as they are working out well now for Reid and Vick. Something to keep in mind as the blame game goes around and as the Redskins prepare for the Monday night game next week: At home, against the Eagles.
My final note is a memo to Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. Dear Channing: Anne Frank was not blind. She did, however, die in the Holocaust.
Our record: 16-8.
Earlier: Week 8: Bye Week
Week Seven: Three for the Road
Week Six: Just Win, Baby
Week Five: True to Form
Week Four: Winning Ugly
Week Three: A Whole Lot of Crap
Week Two: Three Up, Three Down
Week One: Check The Scoreboard!
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.