Monday, October 30, 2006

Tom Brady Shatters Vikings Pass Defense; Pats Win 31-7 -

Brady leads Pats to 31-7 win over Vikings wire reports

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota counts itself among the many NFL franchises trying to copy the New England Patriots' plan for success. The Vikings learned on Monday night that they still have a lot of catching up to do.

Tom Brady beat Minnesota's relentless rushing defense by simply throwing over it for 372 yards and touchdowns to four different receivers, and the Patriots pounded the Vikings 31-7 to win their sixth straight regular-season road game.

New England's defense had four sacks and four interceptions, forcing Brad Johnson into a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes.

"The plan was to come out and put the ball in the air a little bit," Brady said, grinning. "The receivers made a lot of great plays, and it was a lot of fun, needless to say."

Still firing well into the fourth quarter, Brady didn't let up -- going 29-of-43 to beat a defense that had been pretty decent against the pass, too.

New England (6-1) more than doubled Minnesota's average of allowing 15.8 points per game, setting the tone for an easy victory with an opening drive on which Brady completed all six of his throws for 94 yards.

"Whatever holes we had in the coverage, he found it," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said.

Johnson was no match for the unflappable, three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Picked off three times, Johnson was 20-of-33 for 185 yards and forced to watch from the sideline for the final 12 minutes when backup Brooks Bollinger went in.

"The turnovers played into that," Vikings coach Brad Childress said, when asked about the switch. "It's important you have respect for the football."

Minnesota's only score was a 71-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore in the third quarter, but Patriots rookie Laurence Maroney -- playing in the stadium where he became a college star -- answered that with a 74-yard kickoff return.

New England now has a big matchup, at least for November, at home against Indianapolis (7-0) on Sunday.

"We're happy to win," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "but it doesn't get any easier. We have a tough challenge coming up this week against the Colts."

The Vikings (4-3) proved they weren't in their opponent's class just yet. Playing their first Monday night home game in five years, they were consistently outschemed and outworked. The jazzed-up crowd of 63,819 lost the buzz by halftime.

"You come into this environment, and you see the fans leaving midway through the fourth quarter," said Brady, who hasn't lost in 10 NFL games indoors.

Well, he's usually pretty good wherever he plays. Save for an up-for-grabs pass up the sideline that Sharper snagged for a one-handed interception as he fell down in the first quarter, Brady was brilliant.

The last time he was here, Brady was leading Michigan to a win over the University of Minnesota in 1998. And, boy, it sure looked like Brady was facing those defenseless Gophers again -- not a Vikings team that had held every prior opponent to 19 points or less and entered the game ranked seventh in the league in total yards allowed.

First-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin has helped create a dominant unit, but his charges were embarrassed on each of New England's three first-half scoring drives.

A frighteningly easy opening march ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell. The Patriots drove 93 yards in eight plays to get a 23-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the second quarter. And just before halftime, they moved 74 yards in 11 plays to take a 17-0 lead on a 9-yard scoring toss to tight end Benjamin Watson.

Dillon and Maroney came into the game, combined, with nearly 700 yards rushing, but their impact was minimal except for Maroney's momentous kickoff return.

No, it was all Brady in this one, slinging his usual darts all over the field to 10 different receivers. He started the game in the shotgun, with an empty backfield, and lined up in that five-wide set several times throughout the first half. Ten of New England's first 11 plays were passes.

Minnesota just couldn't keep up.

Tom Brady enjoyed his best game of the season with 372 yards and four touchdown passes.
Childress has built the Vikings into a run-first, low-risk outfit that relies on a sound defense and a take-what-it-can-get offense to succeed. One problem with that is they're not made for big rallies.

Their largest deficit to date was 17-3 against Detroit, and they overcame that with a 23-point fourth quarter three weeks ago. But after Troy Brown's 7-yard touchdown catch, set up by Maroney's return, Minnesota was down 24-7. On the next possession, Troy Williamson dropped a should-be touchdown on a long pass up the sideline when he failed to adjust to the ball as it arrived.

The Vikings, then, were out of opportunities. After a career-best 169 yards last week at Seattle, Chester Taylor was bottled up -- gaining only 22 yards on 10 carries. He suffered a shoulder stinger in the third quarter and was a non-factor the entire night.

Brady gave rookie Chad Jackson his chance to score late in the third, a 10-yard completion that Jackson deftly converted by virtually crawling into the end zone to keep from falling down.

Mike Vrabel intercepted Johnson on the next possession, and when Minnesota had the ball again Bollinger was behind center. New England then provided the punctuation to a near-perfect night, forcing a three-and-out with three straight sacks.

"It's probably one of the most embarrassing games I've been a part of," Johnson said.

49er Look Terrible - Chicago Bears 41 Niners 10 -

Bears pound Niners 41-10, improve to 7-0 wire reports

CHICAGO (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Brian Urlacher 's one-handed interception was headed to the highlight reel as soon as he tumbled to the ground after somehow batting the ball to himself.

Urlacher's stellar play symbolized what kind of afternoon it was for the refreshed and still unbeaten Chicago Bears -- and how frustrating the day was for the San Francisco 49ers.

Wearing bright orange uniforms and showing their speed on defense and special teams, the Bears overwhelmed the 49ers from the outset. They jumped to a 24-0 first-quarter lead and 41-0 halftime cushion before coasting to a 41-10 victory.

At 7-0, Chicago is off to its best start since the 1985 Super Bowl champions won their first 12 games.

"It was amazing. Twenty-four points in the first quarter? That's pretty impressive, especially in this league. It doesn't happen a lot," said Rex Grossman, who rebounded from his poorest performance to throw three TD passes.

Urlacher's acrobatic interception, in which he batted Alex Smith 's pass and then caught it with one hand as he was being knocked down by the 49ers Justin Smiley, was one of four turnovers the Bears generated in the first half. All four led to touchdowns.

Urlacher's play came on the heels of a national sports magazine survey of NFL players in which he was rated the second-most overrated player to Terrell Owens.

Asked if he had any reaction to the poll, last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year said: "No, I don't. Watch the film. I don't know what people are saying. All I can do is go out there and play hard and try to help my team win."

Grossman rebounded from a four-interception, two-fumble performance in a narrow 24-23 win at Arizona before a bye week to complete 23 of 29 passes for 252 yards against the 49ers' woeful pass defense.

Thomas Jones and the dominant Bears proved to be too much for the hapless Niners to handle.
"I'm just glad I went out and did what the coaches asked me to do, respond from having a poor game and learn from some of the mistakes I made and continue to get better," Grossman said.

The 24 first-quarter points set a franchise record for the opening period and the 41 in the first half tied a mark set in 1948 against Washington.

"At halftime you just think to yourself, 'How did it get out of control so fast?"' said 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young. "It happened so fast we were just trying to find a way to get it resolved. ... We have to give ourselves a chance."

San Francisco averted a shutout in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard field goal by Joe Nedney and a 16-yard TD pass from Smith to Antonio Bryant.

Six plays after Urlacher's interception, Grossman's 5-yard TD pass to Muhsin Muhammad made it 17-0 and the Bears were on their way.

How good are they?

"No one expects us to do what we do. No one wants to give us any credit," Urlacher said. "Everyone wants to say they didn't play well. There's a reason they didn't play well."

Smith was stripped of the ball in the 49ers' next series, and Tommie Harris picked it up and ran to San Francisco's 13. That set up a 1-yard TD by Cedric Benson and a 24-0 lead with a minute to go in the opening quarter.

"Hopefully I will never have to deal with a halftime coming in 41-0 like that," Smith said. "We talked about it all week. This is a team that feeds off turnovers, a team that strives off turnovers."

The Bears had such a comfortable lead they went on fourth down from the San Francisco 1 early in the second quarter. Grossman lofted a TD pass to Desmond Clark.

After the Bears took an early 3-0 lead, the 49ers Maurice Hicks fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Cameron Worrell recovered at the 15, leading to a 7-yard TD run by Thomas Jones.

San Francisco entered giving up 32 points a game, but the defense wasn't to fault early on because turnovers allowed the Bears to work from short fields. Drives started at the 15, 41 and 13, and they turned all three into touchdowns to take the big opening-quarter lead.

The 49ers coughed up the ball a fourth time late in the half when Bryant caught a pass and fumbled, with Ricky Manning Jr. recovering.

Instead of running out the clock, the Bears capitalized again. Grossman's 27-yard TD pass to a wide-open Clark with 10 seconds left, which completed a quick four-play, 70-yard drive in just 62 seconds.

Bill Parcells Bounced Back: Dallas Cowboys Beat Carolina Panthers 35 - 14 -

Romo, Dallas stun Carolina with big rally wire reports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Tony Romo found a way to put a smile back on Bill Parcells' face.

Romo rallied the Cowboys from a 14-point first-quarter deficit, passing for 270 yards and a touchdown, and Julius Jones ran for 94 yards and a score to help the Cowboys beat the Carolina Panthers 35-14. The Cowboys set a team record with 25 fourth-quarter points.

"He's a guy who's been miserable all week," said receiver Terrell Owens, Romo's top target with nine catches for 107 yards. "I asked him coming off the field on Friday, I asked him how it was going and he said he doesn't like to get his butt kicked. As a team, we're tired of losing; we know we have a decent team. We just have to go out and play like it."

Romo, starting in place of the benched Drew Bledsoe, showed poise in slowly leading the Cowboys (4-3) back, using a variety of short passes to different receivers.

Early in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-12 from the Carolina 21, Romo sidestepped pressure and fired a 16-yard pass to Jason Witten. But the drive stalled when Romo misfired to Witten in the end zone on third down, and Mike Vanderjagt kicked a 24-yard field goal to cut the Panthers' lead to 14-13.

On the ensuing kickoff, Sam Hurd ripped the ball from Brad Hoover and recovered the fumble at the Carolina 14. On the next play, Jones ran untouched up the middle for the touchdown. The Cowboys added the 2-point conversion when Romo faked a draw and threw a pass to Owens to make it 21-14.

"It's been tough, you never know, the change that we made at quarterback," Romo said. "You never know what you're going to get ... with a new starter who is untested. I was anxious just like Bill was to see what we were going to do out their tonight."

Owens was impressed by Romo's poise.

"Tony gives us a different change of pace," Owens said. "He gets the ball out quick and he gave us some chances. Everybody came up with some big plays today. Jason Witten played tremendous over the middle."

Dallas sealed the win when Roy Williams intercepted Jake Delhomme's throw on Carolina's possession after Jones' touchdown. Delhomme lost another fumble with under 2 minutes to go, Carolina's third turnover in the fourth quarter.

"This is about as poor of a performance in the fourth quarter that I have been associated with," coach John Fox said. "I apologize for all the people who paid for tickets."

Marion Barber had touchdown runs of 3 and 14 yards late as Parcells won a game after trailing by 14 points in the first quarter for only the second time in his career. The victory justified his decision to sit Bledsoe and end his streak of 70 consecutive starts. Bledsoe paced the sideline for most of the game, wearing a visor and occasionally glancing down at the play chart on his wrist, while applauding Romo's performance.

"Drew actually came up to me before the game (and) said he was rooting for me," Romo said. "Drew's a really, really class act. He's a very pleasant guy, and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Drew."

After one start, Tony Romo seems to have won the admiration of Terrell Owens AND Bill Parcells.
Romo completed 24 of 36 passes and had one interception, which led to Steve Smith's 24-yard touchdown run that made it 14-0 in the second quarter.

But the Panthers (4-4) were plagued by mistakes as they blew a double-digit lead for the second successive week. Instead of Romo struggling in his first NFL start, it was Delhomme, making his 62nd consecutive start, who had problems. He was 17-for-31 for 149 yards and an interception.

Smith, Michael Gaines, DeShaun Foster and Keyshawn Johnson all dropped passes. Johnson's might have been a touchdown in the third quarter, spoiling his first game against Dallas since he was released in a salary-cap move so the Cowboys could sign Owens.

"It's a team game. We all didn't get it done. We need to get better," Delhomme said.

Smith was angered when asked about his two drops, and his fumble of a punt return as the Panthers' once promising season has taken a turn for the worse.

"Just keep keeping your stats," Smith said. The Panthers were even plagued by a coaching miscue. Fox called a timeout late in the first half that wiped out Richard Marshall's blocked field goal. Given a second chance, Vanderjagt kicked a 38-yarder to make it 14-10 at halftime.

"Hopefully with the bye coming, that will give us a chance to get healthy and maybe find some guys who can finish games," Fox said.

Foster rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown for Carolina, which lost starting cornerback Ken Lucas to a groin injury in the first quarter, forcing rookie Richard Marshall to alternate coverage on Owens and Terry Glenn.

In a season filled with controversy, Parcells left the field with a grin.

"We haven't been having a lot of fun around here. They're having fun right now," Parcells said. "That's the thing that I enjoy the most -- when I see the faces of those players."

Vince Young Wins Again - Tennessee Titans 28, Houston Texans 22 -

Young, Titans get better of Texans wire reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Vince Young danced on the grass, tossing his cap to cheering fans as he made his final exit from the Tennessee Titans' field.

David Carr spent most of the second half grabbing the neck of his jersey, angry at being benched for committing too many turnovers.

At least Young left some people in Houston happy: Young finally admitted he was glad to beat his hometown team after he ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and the Tennessee Titans won consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2003 season by beating the Texans 28-22 Sunday.

"It means something to me, my family and all the fans back home in Houston, but at the same time, it meant the most here," Young said with a smile. "The Tennessee Titans wanted to get another victory coming off the bye."

The Titans had gone 39 games before putting together consecutive victories.

"It is certainly nice to get back-to-back wins now," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Of course, our goal now is to go out and get the next one."

The Texans (2-5) lost their 11th straight road game, wasting backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels' three TD passes in the final 17 minutes. His last pulled them within 28-22 with 1:54 left, and the Texans tried an onside kick.

But Bobby Wade jumped up and grabbed the ball, allowing the Titans (2-5) to run out the clock.

That left Houston coach Gary Kubiak unhappy and Carr apologizing for his performance.

"I preached to this football team the step we have to take as a football team, we have to be able to go on the road, protect the football and play solid football ... We had too many bad things happen to us on the road," Kubiak said.

Kubiak said Carr will start again next week at the New York Giants.

"I'm going to demand whoever plays that position protect the ball. That's what I told David," Kubiak said.

Vince Young put on a good show against his hometown team.
The Texans passed up Young, the hometown favorite, because they had Carr and used the top pick in the draft on defensive end Mario Williams. Carr had justified the choice so far, completing an NFL-high 70.3 percent of his passes.

But the Titans harassed Carr into his worst performance this season, sacking him four times and forcing him into three of Houston's five turnovers. Kubiak pulled Carr midway through the third quarter and replaced him with Rosenfels.

"It wasn't my best effort," said Carr, who called his benching the hardest thing he's had to deal with.

Houston came in having won two of its last three. The Texans outgained Tennessee 427-197 on offense and held the ball for more than 36 minutes. It wasn't enough to overcome the mistakes.

On Rosenfels' second play, his pass to league-leading receiver Andre Johnson's hands to Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for his first career interception, which he returned to the Houston 24.

Young found Wade three plays later for a 20-yard TD pass and a 21-3 lead. The No. 3 pick overall in the draft ran for 44 yards and was 7-of-15 for 87 yards passing.

Jones, cited Saturday for misdemeanor assault for allegedly spitting on a woman in a nightclub, also returned a punt 52 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter against a unit that had been the NFL's stingiest on punt coverage.

Fisher said Jones still faces team punishment and may miss a game once the coach investigates further.

Tennessee defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch, who sacked and stripped Carr of the ball just before halftime, said the Titans felt they had Carr rattled after Tony Brown picked up the ball and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.

"We were back there in the backfield all day today," Vanden Bosch said.

Atlanta Falcons 29-27 Over Cincinnati Bengals -

Vick tosses another win, 29-27 over Cincy wire reports

CINCINNATI (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Michael Vick has found a balance. His passer rating is just as impressive as his 40-yard dash these days.

Vick threw three more touchdown passes, leading the Atlanta Falcons to a 29-27 victory over a Cincinnati Bengals team that had never seen anything quite like the show he put on.

Few teams have.

The mercurial quarterback has led the Falcons (5-2) to consecutive wins over the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers and the defending AFC North champion Bengals by throwing the ball. Vick has thrown seven touchdown passes in the last two games, proving his point.

"I feel I just need the opportunity to throw the ball," said Vick, whose passer rating of 140.6 was the second highest of his career. "Just give me the chance to do it. I've felt like all along, this is what I could do."

No matter what they did, the Bengals (4-3) were helpless to run him down or shut him down.

Many of the Bengals' defenders had never faced Vick, who put on quite a show in his first career visit to Cincinnati. He went 20 of 28 for 291 yards and left would-be tacklers scattered all over the field while running for another 55 yards.

Seen enough, Bengals?

"He's a heck of a player," defensive end Bryan Robinson said. "When your goal is to keep him in the pocket and you do that and he still makes the play, that's frustrating."

In the last two games, Vick has gone 38 of 58 for 523 yards with those seven touchdowns and two interceptions, which translates into a passer rating of 119.5. Previously, Vick had never thrown more than four touchdowns in any two-game span of his career.

"He's leading like a champion," said tight end Alge Crumpler, who has caught four of those seven touchdowns. "He never points fingers at anybody in this locker room and is constantly encouraging everybody."

Michael Vick accounted for 346 total yards and three more passing touchdowns.
He was so good that Carson Palmer, last year's NFL leader in touchdown passes, and Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson were reduced to a sideshow.

Palmer made it close, throwing a 55-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry that cut it to 29-27 with 3:41 to go. But Vick helped the Falcons run the clock down to 19 seconds before a punt pinned the Bengals at their 17-yard line.

Palmer fumbled while being sacked, ending one of his better performances of the season on a downcast note. Palmer was 24 of 36 for 266 yards in his failed quest to keep up with Vick.

"He's like nobody else in our league -- a Reggie Bush-type player," Palmer said. "He's exciting and fun to watch. He's one of the few guys you pay to go watch play."

The main event was supposed to be the matchup of Johnson and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had kept up a stream of trash talk since they met at the Pro Bowl last February. Eight months of dissing culminated in one last face-to-face exchange before the first play.

The Falcons took the bait.

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Hall threw Johnson to the ground emphatically on the first play, and safety Chris Crocker drew a late-hit penalty for knocking down Johnson again when he got up.

Johnson was under the Falcons' skin. Now, he had to get into the end zone.

He'd promised at least two touchdowns. He got one midway through the first quarter, taking a quick throw from Palmer and putting a move on Jason Webster to shake free for a 14-6 lead and his second touchdown of the season.

Johnson finished with six catches for a team-high 78 yards -- numbers that failed to back up the prolonged brag.

"Their game plan was to just throw away from me," Hall said. "For the most part, it was a relatively quiet day for him."

After the game, Johnson had nothing but good wishes and good words for Hall.

"It was a lot of fun," Johnson said. "I enjoyed it. It's not every day you get to play against one of the best in the NFL."

Vick let the Falcons get the final word.

In one say-it-all play, Vick eluded the rush, rolled left, pulled up and lobbed a 26-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins in the third quarter. His 8-yard pass to fullback Justin Griffith put the Falcons ahead to stay at 26-20 -- a bad snap scuttled the extra point -- and showed that teams can't worry exclusively about his speed anymore.

"He's just getting comfortable," Hall said. "He's coming into his own."

Baltimore Ravens Over New Orleans Saints 35-22 -

Ravens flex their muscle in 35-22 victory wire reports

NEW ORLEANS (Oct. 29, 2006) -- Blasted off his feet as he threw, Steve McNair lay on his back for a moment, then propped up his head, grinning after another first-down pass.

In his return from a concussion and strained neck two weeks ago, McNair never shied away from contact, throwing accurately in the face of penetrating defenders or scrambling for key first downs.

By the time the New Orleans Saints figured out how to slow him down, McNair had run for one touchdown and thrown for two more as the Baltimore Ravens snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-22 victory.

"Feeling confident and having the will to go out there and execute" is what McNair said about getting off to a fast start. "Our offense has been struggling and today was a good day."

The Ravens' defense was dominant as well, accounting for two touchdowns on a pair of 12-yard interception returns by Louisiana natives Ronnie Prude and Dawan Landry. They also knocked Reggie Bush out of the game in the fourth quarter. Bush went to the locker room favoring his left ankle, but later said he did not expect to miss a game.

Baltimore (5-2) became the first team to beat the Saints in the Louisiana Superdome this season and made it look easy, despite coach Brian Billick only recently taking over the play-calling after firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel following the Ravens' last game two weeks ago.

"I particularly like the play calls of the two interceptions for touchdowns," Billick joked. "Today was players knowing what it is they needed to do, having worked it properly in practice."

Still, the play-calling wasn't bad, and several Saints said the Ravens surprised them by how often and when they threw.

The Ravens used crisp play-action fakes out of running formations to pass for several key first downs and took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard quarterback draw.

Rookie Dawan Landry celebrates his second-ever INT and his first-ever touchdown.
McNair gave Baltimore a 14-0 lead on a quick third-down slant to Clarence Moore early in the second quarter. He finished 17 of 23 for 159 yards, which was more than enough with Ravens running back Jamal Lewis gaining 109 yards on 31 carries.

"He is running hard and physical and that's the style running game we're going to have," Billick said. "It's great to get him cranked up."

Even when McNair made a mistake that should have resulted in an interception, it worked out for a score. Late in the first half, his pass for tight end Todd Heap was underthrown and linebacker Scott Fujita was set to intercept it. But cornerback Jason Craft got a finger on it, tipping it over Fujita and straight to Heap, resulting in a 28-7 lead for the Ravens at halftime.

"It was a combination of them kind of beating our butt a little bit and us not getting any breaks," Fujita said.

New Orleans (5-2) kept fighting, but the deficit was far too large against Baltimore's hard-hitting defense.

Drew Brees was intercepted three times, twice on deflections, and sacked twice. Ray Lewis, who made six tackles, also thwarted the Saints' first decent scoring chance when he intercepted Bush's halfback pass intended for Marques Colston in the end zone. That was the second turnover for Bush, who fumbled at the Saints 43 when he was hit by blitzing safety Gerome Sapp as he took a handoff on the Saints' opening drive.

"When you make mistakes on your end of the field, they result in points for the opponent," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "In this case, if you look at the turnovers, that's what happened. It's not any magic formula. It went against everything we've been trying to accomplish and we've just got to go back and make the corrections."

Brees finished 24 of 45 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. Joe Horn became the Saints' all-time leader in touchdown catches when he hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass in the second quarter, passing Eric Martin. His 49th touchdown catch as a Saint made it 21-7, but New Orleans wouldn't get any closer. Rookie Colston had touchdown catches of 47 and 25 yards in the fourth quarter and has six TDs this season.

The Saints could not run the ball, however, finishing with only 35 yards on 14 carries.

The Baltimore secondary, meanwhile, did not miss an opportunity to punish the Saints for making mistakes.

Landry's touchdown on the first of his two interceptions made the score 35-7 about midway through the third quarter, prompting an initial flow of disappointed fans to the exits. His second interception early in the fourth quarter all but cleared out the place.

Video: NFL Coaching Meltdowns: Herman Edwards, Mike Ditka, Jim Mora, Dennis Green, Jim Fassel

In this video we see some classic meltdowns by NFL coaches Herman Edwards, Mike Ditka, Jim Mora, Dennis Green, and Jim Fassel after losing games, and including the most recent tirade given by Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green.