Before we get to the games, holy crap guys Taylor Mays scored an amazing touchdown yesterday! Specifically, the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie Jewish safety—bar mitvah’d and everything—made an amazing play against the Atlanta Falcons, catching a tipped punt at the edge of the end zone for six. (Watch it.) Of course, the Niners are not one of the teams Tablet Magazine is following, and thank God: Despite playing in football’s worst division, the team is 0-4 and nosediving.
Now onto our games. The New England Patriots play at the Miami Dolphins tonight—I’ll preview the game below, and try to remember to mention who won in Daybreak tomorrow. As for our other two teams? They both won, and they both won ugly.
The Washington Redskins’ 17-12 victory—even that score is ugly—over the Philadelphia Eagles was the most hyped game of the week, featuring Donovan McNabb, whom the Eagles traded in the offseason to division rival Redskins after 11 years of frankly stellar service, against Eagles starter Michael Vick, the star who was brought low by a dogfighting conviction; brought back by the McNabb trade and Eagles starter Kevin Kolb’s concussion; and brought back to the top of the pack (er, no pun intended) by really successful games against really crappy teams. Follow all that?
Yeah, well it doesn’t really matter, because in the first quarter, Vick left the game with a rib/chest injury after he was sandwiched by two Skins defenders at the one-yard-line after a pretty excellent run. (Which is neither inci- nor accidental: Vick is the most successful rush-first QB in NFL history, and while this has made him, in his prime, the single most exciting player to watch, plays like this illustrate why QBs of this type tend to flag after the college level: It is a very, very risky way to play football in the pros.) Meanwhile, in the first half, the Redskins put 17 points on the board with fantastic efficiency (they scored on all three of their possessions) and a heretofore-absent rushing game, and—with the aid of some classically awful game-management from Philly coach Andy Reid—held the Eagles, now helmed by Kolb, to six.
The second half was … less good. Bad, even. McNabb reverted to the careful, game-souring, I-have-a-lead-so-I-don’t-want-to-give-it-up form that the fans at Lincoln Field must have been all too familiar with. He threw one interception and, much more importantly, led the Skins to precisely zero points. The defense allowed a touchdown—defenses are allowed to allow touchdowns, even against back-up QBs, when facing the Eagles’ outrageously wonderful receiving corps. The final play of the game was an end zone Hail Mary that could have been caught. Should have been caught? Well, wasn’t caught. You win at home and you steal games on the road, and that’s what the Skins did here. They also went 2-2 overall and 2-0 in their division. Hail!
To get an idea of the New York Giants’ 17-3 pummeling of the Chicago Bears, take a look at this gallery of starting Bears QB Jay Cutler getting sacked over and over. But the thing to know is, the Giants’ pass rush, while pretty good—and certainly the thing that the Jints have historically prided themselves on, and historically won championships on the basis of—really isn’t that good this year. They got ten sacks (! and nine in the first half!!). But they did it at home, against a complacent team, a terrible offensive line, and a quarterback (two, actually; back-up Todd Collins came in, only to also have to be taken out) who was holding the ball for way too long. And anyway: 17 points? When you rush for 200 yards and your defense is playing out of its mind, you need to score more than 17 points.
And the Pats? They play tonight. This should be a very interesting game, but I think you have to give the edge to the Dolphins, who have finally developed a balanced attack (previously they were mostly a rushing offense) with the addition of top-five receiver Brandon Marshall and the emergence of Chad Penne as a real quarterback. Even so, look for them occasionally to run the Wildcat, in which the quarterback lines up in a receiver position and a running back takes a shotgun snap: The Dolphins first broke the play out a couple years ago in an infamous upset of—who else?—the Pats, the AFC East hegemon who may see themselves slip this year. “This year’s Patriots have a lot in common with the 1998 Cowboys,” writes The Fifth Down’s Mike Tanier.
The Cowboys finished 10-6 that year, and on the surface they looked like the same team that won three Super Bowls earlier in the decade. Once you got past Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, however, the roster was filled with guys like Sherman Williams and Ernie Mills. The Cowboys were decaying from the bottom up, but the Triplets and a few other stars kept them in the playoffs. …
The 1998 Cowboys lost in the first round of the playoffs; the next year, players like Chris Warren started to get the ball more. That’s where the Patriots are headed.
But you should watch. Football is watching Pats Coach Bill Belichick scowling along the sidelines.
Our record: 6-5.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.