Week 10 in the NFL saw a number of true tests for some of the mid-season contenders, including a showdown at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta that had first place in the NFC South on the line. The Atlanta Falcons and The New Orleans Saints both boast extremely potent offences, so with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stuttering this season and the Carolina Panthers a few years away from becoming a factor in this division again, it is a smart pick to say either one of these two will go into the play-offs as the eventual division winners. It was the away team, New Orleans who would get the victory on this day, but not without the this game swinging both ways like a pendulum and Atlanta coach Mike Smith providing one of the biggest talking points of Week 10.
The Falcons, down 23-13 in the fourth quarter, rallied from the ten point deficit. It began with a ten yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez to make it 23-20. New Orleans failed to produce anything on their next drive so Atlanta drove once more with seconds ticking away in regulation time. Wide Receiver Harry Douglas caught several Matt Ryan strikes to get the Falcons back into New Orleans’ territory, often wide open as the Saints pass coverage fell asleep. Atlanta then tried to force the ball into the end-zone, but were forced to settle for three points from the boot of kicker Matt Bryant, sending the game into overtime.
Overtime looked to mimic the game, as both teams failed to gain advantage over the other. The Falcons first drive resulted in a punt, and then similarly the Saints were forced to do the same. With Atlanta backed up deep in their own territory, on third down Matt Ryan threw a ball wide right to fullback Mike Cox, which looked to be good for an Atlanta first down. The referee ruled that Cox was just short after looking at the replay, leaving Atlanta with fourth and inches. Atlanta coach Mike Smith then decided that from his own 29-yard line the team would go for it, preferring not to give the ball back to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Smith would later admit the decision to go for it was a change of heart and the original plan was to punt the football away. Atlanta failed to convert and gave up the ball on downs, allowing Saints’ kicker John Kasay to convert a 26 yard chip-shot to seal the game for the New Orleans Saints.
The decision has been widely debated. Those in favour admired Smith’s aggressive play-call, and argued that had the Falcons converted the decision would have been a good one. Critics on the other hand contest that in overtime teams should punt every time if stuck in their own territory with a number of analysts believing the decision was simply made from fear of Drew Brees and the Saints offence. The loss drops Atlanta to 5-4, but the schedule is favourable, suggesting the race for the NFC South title is far from over.
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Eagles may have lost stud QB Michael Vick to broken ribs, as they were turned over by the Arizona Cardinals 21-17. Carson Palmer looks to have made a remarkable amount of progress learning the Oakland Raiders offence, as he led his team to 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow completed two (yes, you read right, two) passes the entire game and his Denver Broncos still beat the Kansas City Chiefs 17-10. The Pittsburgh Steelers taught a stern lesson to their young gifted opponents the Cincinnati Bengals 24-17. The Dallas Cowboys decimated the Buffalo Bills 44-7, with Buffalo appearing to be on a large cold streak and in free-fall at the moment. The Seattle Seahawks continued the Baltimore Ravens current trend of defeating good teams/losing to poor teams, with a 22-17 upset.
Houston, we have a problem…
After an impressive start the season that has seen the team jump out to a 7-3 record and almost a lock to reach the play-offs for the first time in franchise history, disaster has struck for the Houston Texans. Quarterback Matt Schaub suffered a foot injury in the first half of the 37-9 blow-out win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schaub continued and finished the game, throwing only three passes in the second half. He had told team physios to leave him in there, believing the injury to not be nearly as serious as has now been discovered.
The Texans made the announcement after subsequent tests that their starting quarterback would most likely have to watch the remainder of the campaign from the
sidelines. Schaub will miss the entire season, with the decision not yet having been made to place him on injured reserve. The loss comes as a heavy blow to a team with incredible momentum and will force them to turn to current understudy, former Heisman trophy winner and BCS champion Matt Leinart.
Leinart was a high first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals, who when forced to compete for the starting job with ageing quarterback Kurt Warner put up little fight and was a monumental flop. The result came as a blessing in disguise for Arizona, as Warner eventually led the Cardinals to their first ever Super bowl. One wonders that if Leinart had been the prospect the Cardinals had hoped for, that they would not be dealing with the unenviable Kevin Kolb-John Skelton predicament that they have today.
The situation itself offers Leinart a decent chance to succeed. The team around him is talented. Two quality running backs in the form of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson scheduled to return from injury, and an above-average offensive line that will allow him time in the pocket. Houston has never had a better chance than this to make a much-awaited surge for significance and thus the young quarterback will probably only be offered a finite amount of leeway by Houston fans.