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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 9 of the 2014 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Mark Sanchez is the Sanchize again.The Philadelphia Eagles have pinned their Super Bowl hopes on Sanchez after Nick Foles suffered a broken clavicle that could force him to miss the rest of the regular season.Sanchez, once the franchise quarterback for the New York Jets, takes over a first-place team with high expectations.
Sanchez led the Jets to the AFC championship game his first two seasons in the NFL so he’s won big games. The Eagles (6-2) don’t expect to miss a beat with him under center.
“His preparation is just outstanding and he prepared himself like he’s the starter,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s already ready, he’s always focused and always prepared to make plays and that’s part of his makeup. That’s what we really liked about him. He’s got a great work ethic.”
Sanchez replaced Foles in the first half of Sunday’s 31-21 win at Houston and completed a 52-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin on his first play in nearly two years. He finished 15 of 22 for 202 yards, two TDs and two interceptions against the Texans.
He’ll make his first start since Dec. 30, 2012, when the Eagles host the Carolina Panthers (3-5-1) on Monday night.
“For Sanchez to come in for Foles was big time,” left tackle Jason Peters said. “Lot of confidence with Sanchez, a lot of swagger. Even though he’s a humble guy, on the field the confidence from him gets everyone else going, so I like him.”
Sanchez was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft and drew comparisons to Joe Namath in New York. He was 4-2 in the postseason and helped the Jets beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive road playoff games in January 2011.
But Sanchez had an NFL-leading 52 turnovers in 2012-13 and lost his starting job to rookie Geno Smith last year. He missed the entire season after tearing his labrum in a preseason game.
The Eagles wasted little time signing Sanchez after he was released by the Jets in March, a few days after New York signed former Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick.
- PITTSBURGH (AP) — The game ball sat innocently in the gold-painted locker, an oblong tribute to a career revival no one saw coming.Not even James Harrison.Two months ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker was retired, weary from more than a decade as one of the NFL’s most intimidating players.
Now the 36-year-old’s unlikely renaissance has his suddenly streaking team poised to make a run.
From the couch to a fixture in the Baltimore Ravens backfield in all of eight weeks. Hardly the play of a guy who’s lost a step, even if the five-time Pro Bowler is trying to downplay his re-emergence as the teeth of a pass rush that has rediscovered its inner snarling self.
“As old and slow as I am, (God) is driving the bus,” Harrison said.
Whoever is at the controls, the results feel awfully familiar. A half-decade removed from his prime in his first go-round in Pittsburgh, Harrison is back to “doing James Harrison-type things” as coach Mike Tomlin put it.
Namely, creating havoc.
A year after a quiet season in Cincinnati that seemed anticlimactic and sort of odd, Harrison is validating his decision to come back for a final go-round with the Steelers one foray across the line of scrimmage at a time.
He has four sacks in his past two games, including a pair in a surprisingly easy 43-23 victory over the Ravens on Sunday night that pushed the Steelers to 6-3 heading into a trip to New York to face the struggling Jets.
The player who served as a largely ineffective pass-rushing specialist with the Bengals in 2013 has multiple sacks in consecutive games for the first time since 2009, when he was one of the most dominant defensive presences in the league.
That’s a lifetime ago by NFL standards, though Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay dismisses the notion that the expiration date on Harrison’s effectiveness has long since passed.
- DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Here’s a list of Miami Dolphins coaches who never won a game by 37 points or more:Jimmy Johnson. Nick Saban. Tony Sparano. Dave Wannstedt. Cam Cameron. Todd Bowles. Jim Bates. George Wilson.Now Joe Philbin has done it. One day after a stunning 37-0 victory over San Diego, Philbin offered this message: Don’t get used to it.
“We can’t anticipate we’re going to shut out our next eight opponents,” Philbin said Monday. “That’s not real life in the National Football League. And it’s hard to average 37 points a game in the NFL over an eight-game stretch. We’re going to have to find new ways to win, and just keep improving.”
The Dolphins improved to 5-3 with their most lopsided victory since 1995, when Don Shula was still in charge. That was eight coaches ago.
After 2½ years in Miami, Philbin is at .500 (20-20), his job future beyond this season still uncertain. But with three consecutive victories, Philbin is on the verge of a breakthrough, because he has never had a team win four in a row.
A lack of sustained success is one reason Miami hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008.
The Dolphins won three in a row in 2012, Philbin’s first season, then lost three in a row. They enjoyed a 3-0 start in 2013, then lost the next four. They won three in a row last December, then endured a late-season meltdown and lost their final two games.
How will this team handle success?
“It’s a good question,” Philbin said. “It’s one we’ve got to answer.”
The win over San Diego was an emotional one, with Philbin receiving a game ball from owner Stephen Ross. The coach missed two days of practice last week to be with his father, who died Friday, and Philbin will be absent again Tuesday and Wednesday to attend the funeral.
- TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Halfway through their season, the Arizona Cardinals have the best record in the NFL.Their 7-1 record matches their best through eight games in franchise history.And their next two games, against St. Louis and Detroit, are at home, where the Cardinals are 4-0 this year and 10-2 over the past two seasons.
Coach Bruce Arians said this team is confident, but not overconfident.
“I don’t see any cockiness in our football team,” he said Monday. “I see a true belief that we’re going to win every week.”
Since Week 8 of last season, Arizona is 14-3, the best record in the NFL in that span.
In the tough NFC West, the Cardinals are two games up on reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle (5-3) and three up on San Francisco (4-4).
But that means little if things start to fall apart.
Cardinals coaches have told the players that the only thing that’s guaranteed now is a 7-9 final record.
“We have coaches that remind us that it could go downhill real fast,” defensive lineman Dan Williams said.
Arizona has won four in a row, the latest a 28-17 victory Sunday over the Cowboys, snapping a string of 14 straight regular-season losses in Dallas. The streak dated to 1989, when Troy Aikman was a rookie and Jimmy Johnson was in his first season as Cowboys’ coach.
The Cardinals spotted the Cowboys a 10-0 lead, then scored 28 in a row before giving up a meaningless touchdown in the final moments, the only TD for the Dallas offense all day.
- OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens have plenty of flaws, and they’re running out of time to fix them.Two weeks ago, the Ravens were in first place in the AFC North. Now, after an embarrassing 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, they’re in the cellar.Baltimore (5-4) yielded four sacks, gained only 63 yards rushing and — worst of all — allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw six touchdown passes.
With cornerback Jimmy Smith out with a sprained left foot, the Ravens surrendered 340 yards passing to a team they held without a touchdown earlier in the season.
Clearly, the secondary is a primary concern.
“I think guys have played OK at times, well other times and there have been a few bad plays out there,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
Against the Steelers, it was mostly awful. The Ravens have already passed the midpoint of the season, and they still haven’t perfected their communication on the back end of their defense.
“We had two plays which were coverage busts. We just were in the wrong spot, we weren’t on the same page, we misplayed the coverage,” Harbaugh said. “And there were three other times where we just got beat physically. So those are bad things.”
Safety Terrence Brooks was a healthy inactive for the Ravens, who are still looking for the right combination in pass coverage.
“You want to play in that secondary? Step up in practice and play well and step in the game and make plays and be in the right spot,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we’re looking for guys to do.”
Baltimore led 7-0 before committing two straight turnovers that set up two Pittsburgh touchdowns. Later, a 14-10 deficit became 29-10 when the Steelers scored on touchdown passes of 47 and 54 yards.
“Too many big plays by them, too many turnovers by us,” Harbaugh lamented.
The Ravens were 5-2 before falling at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Now, they’re in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
“Everybody has tough weeks,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be a fight to the end. We just got to make sure we’re in the fight. That starts with moving forward right now, this week, to the next game.”
The Ravens face Tennessee at home on Sunday. If they win that one, they’ll head into their bye week with a 6-4 record.
- TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-7 at the season’s mid-point and concede they’re running out of opportunities to turn themselves around.The team found yet another way to lose a close game in their latest outing, squandering a fourth-quarter lead for the third time in five weeks before falling to the improved Cleveland Browns.The Bucs undermined themselves with two turnovers, several costly penalties and a pair of blunders on special teams, including a blocked field goal that cost them points early and a deflected punt that led to Cleveland’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 22-17 setback.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy questioned whether teammates are upset enough about losing, and cornerback Alterraun Verner noted the club is beginning to run out of games to get themselves straightened out.
Nevertheless, Coach Lovie Smith remains hopeful, reiterating Monday that there’s still time to salvage season, particularly in the NFC South, which doesn’t feature a team that currently has a winning record.
“We’re at the halfway point, and we’re still within range if we can get it fixed,” Smith said.
McCoy, who last month signed a six-year contract extension that could be worth up to $98 million, called Tampa Bay’s struggling defense “soft” two weeks ago. After Sunday’s game at Cleveland, he questioned whether losing bothers the Bucs enough to pull out of their funk.
Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and hasn’t won a postseason game since the franchise’s Super Bowl run 12 years ago.
“Everybody’s frustrated, but I don’t think anybody’s upset enough with losing,” the fifth-year pro said after the team’s fourth straight loss.
“It’s like: ‘OK, we had a lot of good plays and they came back and won, now onto the next one,'” McCoy added. “No, we’ve got to stop that. I’ve been dealing with this for five years now, and I’m tired of it.”
Smith stopped short of saying he agreed with McCoy. At the same time, he was supportive of the team captain, who had two sacks against the Browns.
“I don’t tell guys what to say, but I want our captains speaking for our football team. That’s why they’re in those positions,” Smith said.
“No one likes losing. Once we get to a point where we really hate losing, we’re going to do something about it,” the coach added. “We have to go on what we’ve done right now, and it’s not good enough. I think that’s probably what Gerald is saying.”
Mike Glennon struggled in his fifth start in place of injured quarterback Josh McCown, and Smith has not ruled out the possibility of going back to McCown next Sunday against Atlanta.
McCown has not played since hurting the thumb on his throwing hand during a 56-14 loss to the Falcons on Sept. 18. He practiced and was active the past two weeks, but did not get off the bench.
- ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peyton Manning admittedly stunk up Gillette Stadium. If that’s the case, he wasn’t alone.”I think we all stunk,” coach John Fox said Monday after the Denver Broncos’ 43-21 loss at New England. “There was some good, there was some bad, not enough good. Really, at the end of the day, the buck stops here. That’s on me. We all got our signature on it.”The Broncos’ 22-point loss was their worst in the regular season since Manning came to Denver in 2012. So, this Monday was a little darker than usual and not just because of the storm rolling through the Rocky Mountains.
It wasn’t just that they lost, but how the lost and who defeated them.
After meeting in the conference championship, which Denver won 26-16, the Patriots and Broncos squared off in free agency.
New England added two cover cornerbacks and Denver signed three Pro Bowl defenders and a speedy wide receiver, but they lost for a third straight year in Foxborough.
Still, Fox said the Broncos didn’t necessarily have to fight a bigger hangover.
“Shoot, there’s half the season left,” Fox said. “I mean, we’re only halfway. There’s been a bunch of anointed teams already. That doesn’t mean anything. Truth be told, you’re two weeks away from disaster, and that’s the NFL. You’ve got to show up every week and I think we’re capable of better than what we did yesterday.”
About the only thing that went wrong for the Broncos in the first two months of the season was Manning calling tails in overtime at Seattle. It was heads and the Broncos never got the ball back, losing 26-20 in Week 3.
The Broncos bounced back and roared through October 4-0 behind Manning’s record-shattering touchdown throws and Von Miller’s resurgence, once more giving Denver that Super Bowl swag.
Then, came the debacle at New England where, despite 10 days to prepare, the Broncos (6-2) unraveled on offense, defense, special teams and also the sideline in yet another loss to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
They also lost middle linebacker Nate Irving to a torn right medical collateral ligament that’s expected to sideline him until mid-December.
Manning’s only real blunder was the pass he threw right at defensive end Rob Ninkovich, whose game-turning interception ignited the rout. Afterward, the five-time MVP lamented, “When the quarterback stinks usually you’re not going to win too many games.”
If Manning stunk, he had plenty of accomplices:
—The punt coverage unit was missing three regulars and Julian Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown after Britton Colquitt barely got the ball off after a bobble.
—Wes Welker had another awful homecoming. His “volleyball set” of a Manning pass ended up in the hands of cornerback Brandon Browner, whose return set up a TD. Welker bruised his back on the play.
—After Brandon McManus missed his third field goal in nine tries, Fox decided to go for it on fourth-and-6 from midfield but the Patriots sacked Manning on a simple stunt out of a three-man rush.
Asked Monday if McManus had job security, Fox said: “We’re not here to pin it on one person. It’s definitely not the kicker.”
—With Virgil Green (calf) out, Julius Thomas had to stay in and block and was targeted just twice, catching an 18-yard TD pass. His counterpart, Rob Gronkowski, caught nine passes for 105 yards and a TD.
—Miller’s six-game sack streak ended as the Broncos failed to pressure Brady, who threw four TD passes.
—And Adam Gase’s game plan was easily deciphered, at least according to Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis. He said the Patriots “understood what they were trying to do and what they were trying to accomplish on offense.”