Two weekends ago, San Fransisco 49ers rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh got into a heated back-and-forth exchange with Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. The altercation was broken down and analyzed to the degree of an on-field play. Whether or not he was trolling Schwartz, Harbough’s youthful exuberance distracted many from the fact that his team had just knocked off a previously undefeated Detroit squad. Two weeks and two wins later, San Fransisco is sitting with the second-best record in football.
Credit Harbaugh, a star coach at Stanford, with the Niners’ turnaround. A team rich with talent but consistently lacking the mental edge to compete week-in and week-out, Harbaugh has them playing with a level of consistency that Mike Singletary could never pull off. They possess the number two defense in all of football, a unit that prides itself on stopping the run (opponents have been averaging an anemic 74.7 YPG when facing Harbaugh’s squad). On the other side of the line, San Fran controls the line of scrimmage and Frank Gore is having a bounce-back year after a subpar 2010 campaign. And, when you consider the farce that is the rest of the NFC West, their spot in the playoffs is all but guaranteed. Not bad for a team that many, ourselves included, assumed would tank in the name of Andrew Luck.
The Cincinnati Bengals are another squad shining, pre-season skepticism cast aside. Feeding off of the success of rookie combo QB Andy Dalton and receiver AJ Green, the Bengals are a shocking 5-2 and it’s a reality that I don’t want to accept. The Bengals were put in the AFC North to make Browns fans like myself feel better about our team. And yet they stand tall in the rugged AFC North, improving their record with a win against the Seattle Seahawks. As with San Fransisco, the Bengals are forging their winning identity through a strong defensive unit, one which ranks as the fifth best in the league. And, as much as I hate to say it, their future looks bright, especially when considering the high draft picks Oakland gifted them in exchange for the incumbent Carson Palmer.
Finally, in a match-up between teams that everybody knew would be competitive, the Pittsburgh Steelers bested the New England Patriots 25-17 to improve to 6-2. Riding big defensive plays throughout, the Steelers won the high-profile bout between perennial league juggernauts. As easy as it was to label their playmakers as old and banged up after a stumble out of the gate, Pittsburgh has been on fire for the past month, winning four consecutive contests and boasting an unblemished home record. It’s highly likely that both Pittsburgh and New England reach the post-season, so Tom Brady and co. will have their shot at revenge. Until then, Pittsburgh walks away with the biggest win of the week.
And that said, we give you Steeler Antonio Brown’s first NFL touchdown and the strange celebratory dance to accompany it.
— Just another miserable Sunday for Cowboys and Redskins fans. The two teams were beaten by a combined score of 57-7. For Washington, not much looks to improve with no real weapons on offense. In Dallas, the confusing carousel that is the 2011 season writes another chapter. One week they’re as dominant as can be and can play with any team in the league. The next, they’re the laughing stock of pro sports. If ever a team in sports history has taken on a Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona, it’s Jerry Jones’ investment. The Giants, however, are in cruise control and Eli Manning is quietly putting together a pretty damn good season for Big Blue.
— The Texans sit in the driver’s seat of the AFC South although the Titans are keeping their heads above water while Chris Johnson has all but seemingly given up on trying to save anyone’s fantasy team. The Jaguars still show up on Sundays but the Colts are literally going into every game with their hands tied behind their back. Wouldn’t it be okay if they forfeited the rest of the season now?
— Is Philly poised for an amazing second half of the season run?
— The euphoric sports week in St. Louis marches on. Days after the Cardinals took home the World Series in a seven game thriller, the previously winless Rams shocked the football world by having their way with Drew Brees and the Saints. That’s right, an AJ Feely-led team beat the Saints. And rather handedly too, at that.
— No parting any defenses this week for the lightening rod of controversy that is Tim Tebow. The Lions, led by injured quarterback Matthew Stafford, visited the Mile High City and put on a clinic. However, the game’s most notable highligh came from the defense and Steven Tulloch’s Tebowing of poor Tim. And yep, as we all expect, Tebow will be crucified to the point of no return this week in the media. See what just happened there?