A look back at Week 7's games in our weekly "Morning After" column, focusing on the Cardinals and the NFC West
This is how weird the NFL is. In the Arizona Cardinals last two losses, Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills, I believe they have played more consistent football than during their four game winning streak.
It goes to show you how a handful of plays can swing a game.
The Cardinals tied the game at seven on an impressive run by LaRod Stephens-Howling early in the second quarter, but that wasn't enough. Their first offensive possession of the game the Cards started off in Minnesota territory and came away with nothing. On the second offensive possession Arizona marched 74 yards on 13 plays over 8:18, but finished the drive with a John Skelton fumble. At minimum the Cards should have had 13 points after their first three offensive series and 17 or 21 points in better case scenarios.
Percy Harvin was limited to 57 total yards, which was his second lowest total of the season, and only the second time he was held to under 90 total yards. Christian Ponder threw for 58 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The most effective offensive weapon for the Vikings was Adrian Peterson, who picked up 153 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.
Arizona's defense didn't give up a point in the second half and forced four three and outs on non clocking winding down Vikings' possessions.
But it wasn't enough because of John Skelton's crushing pick six to Harrison Smith right out of halftime.
The tone has changed for the Arizona Cardinals. They are playing more complete football as an entire unit, but they are no longer overcoming the mistakes or catching the necessary breaks they did to start the season.
Playing at this current level the Cards will have opportunities to beat bad to above average teams. The defense does enough to keep them in games and if they get a clutch play here or there plus a good bounce or two, victories can be had. The Seahawks, Patriots and Dolphins game are examples of when things go right, while the Bills and Vikings games were the opposite outcome. Arizona currently leaves too much up to chance.
With the next three games being home vs. San Francisco, at Green Bay and at Atlanta, how the Cards have performed the last two weeks and for the majority of the season isn't going to cut it. Against higher level teams, especially the Packers and Falcons, who both light up the scoreboard, points can't be left on the field.
When you get good field position touchdowns have to be scored, same with when you move the ball down into the red zone. During the course of the Cardinals three game losing streak they are averaging 11 points a game offensively and allowing 19 PPG.
In today's NFL teams can play well defensively and still give up point totals in the mid to high 20s. Your offense has to put points on the board.
If the offense doesn't start producing more points Arizona will either continually be put in positions where one or two plays will cost them a game or even worse when the defense isn't playing lights out - they won't have a chance of winning at all.
The San Francisco 49ers reestablished themselves at the top of the NFC West with their Thursday night 13-6 win over the Seattle Seahawks. They were at home on a short week so you can't read too much into this win, but the Niners showed the physical identity on both sides of the ball that made them so good under head coach Jim Harbaugh. San Fran's next two games are in the division, Monday night against the Cardinals and three weeks down the road verses the Rams.
St. Louis fell to 3-4 with a 30-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers and could be in a bit of trouble even though they're clearly an improved team. The Rams next five games look like this - vs. New England, @ San Francisco, vs. New York Jets, @ Arizona and vs. San Francisco -- 3-9 or 4-8 is very likely.
- I don't understand all the fuss about Cam Newton's press conferences after losses. I went back and listened to all eight minutes and I was a huge fan of how he handled himself. Is Newton supposed to be happy, go lucky after the Panthers drop a tough game to the Cowboys? He was clearly upset, but I was fine with how he acted. Newton speaks truthfully and honestly, takes responsibility and doesn't throw his teammates under the bus. It's his second year in the NFL, the former Heisman Trophy winner is a 23 year old kid, everyone has to take a step back and remember this. Give him time to grow and become more seasoned. I would be very careful of how critical and negatively you want to read into this season, it could come back to haunt you in the near future.
- We potentially saw a fantastic quarterback rivalry born on Sunday. The New York Giants pulled out a 27-23 win over the Washington Redskins behind another Eli Manning fourth quarter comeback. Manning is 31 years old and Skins QB Robert Griffin III is only 22. Eli potentially has another 3-5 elite years left in him, while RG3 is proving to already be a top 10 QB as a rookie. It's going to be a lot of fun.
- The New York Jets gave away a game against the New England Patriots they should have won. I've watched a lot of heart breaking Jets games and this one ranks right up there. That was a kick to the nuts.
- Randall Cobb is starting to blow up now that he is getting more opportunities for the Packers. Two weeks ago he had his first 100 yard game, this week he had his first multi TD reception game. You may think I'm nuts, but the Packers are a better team with Cobb in the slot than Greg Jennings.
- The Ravens schedule saves them; they are not a good football team. Next two games are @ Cleveland and vs. Oakland -- that puts them at 7-2. In the AFC, even if they go 1-6 following those two wins, Baltimore is getting to the playoffs.
- Last year it was the AFC North, this year it could potentially by the NFC North. I would keep my eye on them as potentially be able to have three teams in the playoffs. I'm not as confident as I was that this would happen compared to last year with the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers, but it's in play with the Bears, Vikings and Packers. I have Chicago getting to 11 wins, Vikings 9 and Packers 12.