Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 3: Lipstick Is Off the Pig

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Sorting the Sunday Pile looks back at the NFL weekend that was. It's also an unofficial Mittens blog.

Joey Porter guaranteed a Dolphins victory over the Dreamboat-less Patriots

Of course, Porter also predicted a Dolphins win over the Raiders last season -- and that promptly blew up in his face -- but other than me, who remembers that? Exactly.

In addition to J. Peezy's prognosticatory skills, he also registered three sacks and a forced fumble, totals he match until Week 15 last season. While this was Porter's best game since coming to Miami, the day belonged to Ronnie Brown. Back in August, ESPN's Chris Mortensensuggested that Brown might not even be with the Dolphins when the regular season began. (To be fair, Mort is the same dude who reported that Michael Vick wouldn't get indicted, Eli Manning would miss four-to-six weeks during to start the '07 season, and that Matt Leinart would be the Cards' starting quarterback. He also believes in unicorns.)

Instead, Brown, Miami's 2005 first-round pick, rushed for 113 yards on 17 carries, scored four touchdowns, and threw for another. He later told Peter King that he has been playing football since he was five years old and Sunday was the first passing touchdown of his career. Which, ironically, is exactly what Matt Cassel was telling people before he was forced onto the field two weeks ago.

For the Patriots, I'm not sure what was more demoralizing: Brown taking eight direct snaps and running roughshod over a defense that prides itself on controlling the line of scrimmage, or Cassel three-yard-dump-off-ing his way to rendering a high-powered offense flaccid. Yesterday, it was a heaping dose of both, but the more Cassel looks like, well, a guy who never started a college game, the more pressure New England's defense will be under to win close games.

During the CBS Pregame Show, Charley Casserly's hair made an interesting observation after watching film of the Patriots' first two games this season: Randy Moss looks to be in midseason, Oakland Raiders, "Straight cash, homey" form. Which is to say: he wasn't interested in blocking on running plays, or expending in real effort on Cassel's specialty: over-the-middle medicine balls.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to point out that Moss is only happy when he's winning, but it's worth remembering that he's always been accused of being something of an underachiever. Less than a year ago, in the midst of record-breaking season, ESPN's Ron Jaworski admitted to being "personally disappointed in Randy Moss" after watching the Pats wide receiver half-ass it during the Eagles game. Jaws went on to say that he'd take Terrell Owens before Moss, but Tom Bradyrefuted the allegations as people "tak[ing] unnecessary shots at him."

It didn't really matter what Moss did last season as long as he hauled in those 1.4 touchdown passes a game. Now, through three weeks, he has 12 receptions for 163 yards -- or three more receptions and 20 fewer yards than he had against the Jets during the '07 season opener.

Moss will be under greater scrutiny now that he's the Pats' primary offensive weapon -- particularly if he continues to disappear for long stretches -- but I don't think he's taking more plays off now than he did with the Vikings or the Raiders. We'll just hear more about it because New England is now just another NFL team trying to scratch together some wins and make it to the postseason.

Moss's perceived disgruntlement aside, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will have to use all of their considerable brain power to figure out how to make Cassel something other than what he obviously is: a third-string NFL backup. That's not a slight (well, it sorta is) -- there are no small parts, after all -- but the Patriots offense went from blowing the doors off opponents in '07 to Cassel doing one of four things in '08: throwing a five-yard checkdown, taking a sack, tossing a pick, tacking a sack while tossing a pick.

The good news: the Patriots still have an easy schedule. The bad news: nobody but Joey Porter had them getting smoked by 25 -- at home, no less -- to the Dolphins. New England is on its bye next week, and then they travel to San Francisco and San Diego before hosting Denver. Okay, maybe this won't be a cakewalk.

Oh, and I'm conservatively setting over-under on weeks until we see Vinny Testaverde and/or Doug Flutie at three.

It's the Cowboys and Eagles ... and Everybody Else

Most any other week and the lead story would be the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles -- and I can't stress this enough -- manhandled the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. After allowing 41 points to the Cowboys on Monday night and not registering a sack, Philly's defense went buck wild on Ben Roethlisberger's face.

The Pittsburgh quarterback was sacked six times in the second quarter and went down eight times in the game. The last sack, with just over three minutes in the game, sent him to the locker room, which, in my estimation, came about 45 minutes too late. Perhaps the only sight more impressive than five-to-seven Eagles defenders running through any number of hapless, would-be Steelers "blockers" was that Big Ben kept getting up.

And I don't know if he was punch-drunk or just accepting of his fate, but he never once grimaced in the general direction of those who were supposedly protecting him, or gave a "WTF" glare to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians who insisted on calling long-developing pass plays that inevitably ended with Roethlisberger cleaning large chunks of turf out of his facemask while a teammate tucked his should pads back into his jersey.

The Eagles played about as flawlessly as a defense can, harassing whichever poor sap had the misfortune of getting the ball in the backfield. In addition to Roethlisberger, running back Willie Parker only managed 20 yards on 13 carries. How this unit didn't get a finger on Tony Romo last week is mystifying, except when you remember the chasm in ability between Dallas' o-line and Pittsburgh's.

After a swift start, Philly's offense sputtered, partly because Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb were banged up (Westbrook left in the second quarter and didn't return; McNabb missed a series and a half but played most of the final 30 minutes), but also because the Steelers' defense did something its offense couldn't (or wouldn't): made in-game adjustments. Whatever, the Eagles and Cowboys are the two best franchises in the NFL right now, and nobody's a close third.

Don't get me wrong, I love what the Bills have done, and the fact that the Titans are winning solely because of Courtland Finnegan is pretty amazing, but no one's confusing either as a potential Super Bowl contender. I'm not sure the Broncos can outscore everybody on the schedule, which I mention because through three weeks the defense has yet to show up.

The Giants are the only other 3-0 team, but they've had two unconvincing wins sandwiched around a Rams blowout. Put differently: they've had two unconvincing wins sandwiched around a glorified practice. This isn't to say that Buffalo or Tennessee or Denver or New York isn't incapable of making a convincing playoff run, just that right now, from the perspective of three weeks into the 2008 season, none are in the same conversation as Philly or Dallas. I'm quite certain that will change, but for now, it's hard to argue otherwise.

For as mind-blowing as the Eagles' defense was against the Steelers, the Cowboys' offense has been just as mind-blowing against, well, everybody. They're averaging 32 points per game, Romo has been sacked just once, he's tossed five touchdowns, and thrown for almost 900 yards. The Packers didn't play poorly on Sunday night (obvious exception: run defense), and Aaron Rodgers continued to prove that he's a younger, more athletic, less self-absorbed version of the guy he replaced, but it wasn't enough to make it more than an 11-point game. That's scary.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...

... In a shocking development, Tyler Thigpen ISN'T the answer to the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbackin' problems. I hate to be that guy, but maybe Kansas City should've found a way to trade up and get Matt Ryan instead of taking Glenn Dorsey. Sure, Dorsey is a fine player and could become a Pro Bowl defensive tackle some day soon, but there is no bigger need on this team that at quarterback. If nothing else, had the Chiefs taken Ryan in April, he wouldn't have beaten them yesterday. Of course, Chris Redman almost certainly would have, which, by any measure is much more embarrassing. Moving on...

... After reading this, I'm amazed the Raiders manage to find it to the stadium on game days. Nothing screams ineptitude like an owner who wants to fire a head coach who doesn't even want to be there. Despite all that, Oakland should've beaten the Bills, except, as Tiki Barber pointed out on Football Night in America, "that down the stretch that defense was playing in a deep -- very deep -- backed-off zone that allowed Trent Edwards to just pick them apart and get in position and win the game." Yeah, fine. But DeAngelo Hall got an interception!

... I get the overwhelming sense that the 2008 Houston Texans are the 2004-2007 Arizona Cardinals: everybody's preseason dark horse candidate to make it to the playoffs except that they don't even come close. This is not a compliment.

... The Bengals' offense showed signs of life for the first time all season, but at 0-3, I think it's safe to assume that a) the playoffs are out of the question, and b) Marvin Lewis will be looking for work in 2009.

... It's been confirmed: Brian Griese's arm has fallen off. He put the ball in the air 67 times against the Bears (SIXTY-SEVEN!) completing 38 for 407 yards, two touchdowns and three picks. I understand that the Bucs' running game was nonexistent, but 67? Really? If Jeff Garcia's still bummed about losing his job, he shouldn't be. There's no way Griese makes it out of October without rotator cuff surgery.

... AFC South Fun Fact: The Jags and Colts (and, hell, the Texans) have combined to win one fewer game than the division-leading Titans.

... Maybe last year was the aberration -- the Browns really are this bad. Like the Bengals, they're done for '08, all that's left to decide is when Brady Quinn will officially supplant Derek Anderson, and where Romeo Crennel will be working next season.

... It's a good thing the Lions ran Mike Martz out of town. Things have really turned around with Matt Millen's "stay the course" philosophy.

Post-Game Debaclings

Quotes that Emmitt Smith might like...

"It's hard to imagine what they went through. It's hard to imagine for us basically what the population has gone through there in south Texas. For them to pull together like they did and fight to the very end, I think the whole organization, players coaches, staff and their friends should be commended for it."

- Titans head coach Jeff Fisher speaking about the Houston Texans' performance in the wake of last week's hurricane.

"It's brutal, man, brutal."

- Patriots defensive end Ty Warren, on losing 38-13 to the Dolphins

"After the game against the Giants, we said that the next two games were must wins. This was a huge win. I think that if we continue winning, we will look back and say that this was when we became a good team."
Chris Cooley

"I just got beat up all day."
- Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, who celebrated his 36th birthday by getting smacked around by the 49ers.

"My holder went to give me a high-five and I took off running, I tried to get the ball from the ball boy and he didn't recognize me. He wouldn't let go of it, so I had to rip it away from him."
-Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, who striped a 51-yard field goal against the Colts as time expired to give Jacksonville their first win of the season

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