1. New York Nightmare. All told, it’s been about as bad a week as New York could imagine. In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, would have wanted to have provided a modicum of solace to their fans by sending the Pittsburgh Steelers home with a loss. And entering the fourth quarter, order seemed restored as the G-Men held a 20-10 lead, despite elite quarterback Eli Manning having one of the worst games of his career (he would only throw for 125 yards, had no touchdowns, was sacked twice, and had an interception).
Clearly, these Steelers, who were coming into some form for the first time all season — a win would be their third in a row — weren’t going to meekly surrender. Instead, their defense held up, forcing the Giants into three consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. On the other side of the ball, running back Issac Redman didn’t just have a career-best 147 yard day but also a game-winning touchdown to complete the 24-20 comeback. Even Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who hasn’t exactly conducted himself as the model athlete throughout his career, said all the right things.“My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone else who are going through so much. There were so many emotions going on, I didn’t know what to expect from it. But maybe we were able to take their minds off their problems just a little.” But if this wasn’t an uncharacteristic one-off defeat, and the Giants start to lose their edge, Big Ben might have added to New Yorkers’ problems.
2. Still Perfect. Sooner or later, the bookmakers are going to figure out that the still unbeaten Atlanta Falcons are for real and shouldn’t be behind the Houston Texans, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers in the betting for Super Bowl champion. The Falcons went 8-0 by seeing off the Dallas Cowboys 19-13 at home on Sunday Night Football. They had the familiar duo of QB Matt Ryan (a season-high 342 yards passing) and running back Michael Turner (20 carries for 102 yards) to thank for the narrow win, though it would have been a different story had Dez Bryant remained in bounds on what could have been a game-winning TD for the Cowboys.
NFL experts will doubtless wax lyrical about the fact that, in no less than four of their past five games, Atlanta could have lost to the lowly likes of the Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders and Dallas on Sunday. And while the Falcons only had their first lead of the game during the fourth quarter, they keep finding ways to win, and Messrs. Ryan, Turner, Jones and White are fulfilling the potential they were supposed to exhibit last season. Plenty of NFC sides (see below) will fancy their chances against the Falcons in the playoffs, but the only unbeaten team in the NFL deserves respect.
3. The Scare Bears. Speaking of respect, the bookies are also underestimating the frankly fearsome Chicago Bears, who are available at 11/1 to win the Super Bowl (as a comparison, the Falcons are 7/1 with the Texans the current 5/1 favorites). The Bears won their sixth straight game, rolling the Tennessee Titans 51-20 on the road, which marked their highest points total since 1980.
Neither the team nor coach Lovie Smith was satsified with their performance against Carolina last week and a fast start was demanded. The request was granted as three Titans turnovers in the first quarter resulted in 14 points, with a further 14 put up the traditional way, meaning that there was a franchise-record 28 points in the first 15 minutes of play. With the win in the bag by half-time, the Bears pretty much played perfectly, though Chris Johnson’s 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter blotted Chicago’s day. But when Brian Urlacher became the latest — and seventh — Bears defender to score on an interception return, it didn’t just make for a team record, but an even more impressive stat when you consider that no other team had achieved six TDs in this manner through the first seven games of any season.