We are now at the halfway point of the season and we are beginning to see which teams are legitimate contenders and which teams are just revealing their true identities.
New York Jets, 27
Buffalo Bills, 11
The New York Jets used a stifling defense in route to their third consecutive win on Sunday against the lackluster Buffalo Bills.
The Bills turned the ball over three times, including two interceptions thrown by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets' "Jet-i-tude" (coined by Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha) prevailed on a chilly afternoon in Buffalo. Pouha led the Jets defense with seven tackles on the afternoon.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez overcame a rough first half in which he threw and interception to complete 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards, including a touchdown to wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He remained cool as a cucumber throughout.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was not his usual steady self, despite tying for fifth on the all-time list for touchdowns thrown by a Bills quarterback with 47 in his career. Fitzpatrick threw two costly interceptions while completing less than 50 percent of his passes. He threw the touchdown pass with just 3:14 left in the game to receiver David Nelson, but by then this contest was already out of reach.
Seattle Seahawks, 13
Dallas Cowboys, 23
Despite the Dallas Cowboys' recent struggles, the over-matched Seattle Seahawks never really had a shot in this one.
The Seahawks were just 2 of 10 on third down and were done in by three Tavaris Jackson interceptions. Running back Marshawn Lynch, however, was a bright spot for the 2-6 Seahawks as he pounded his way for 135 yards rushing and one touchdown, consistently pounding his way through Cowboy defenders at will.
For the Cowboys, the offense was slow-moving early on, but was able to come on big in the second half. It seems as though the Cowboys have found their running back of the future in Rookie DeMarco Murray who was once again very impressive. Murray's versatility was on display Sunday as he rushed for 139 yards and caught four passes for an additional 47 yards receiving. Keep feeding the rock to this guy and it should pay dividends for owner Jerry Jones and the Dallas organization. Dallas' defensive backs were also an impressive element to this game as they got their hands on six passes thrown by Seattle quarterback Tavaris Jackson.
San Francisco 49ers, 19
Washington Redskins, 11
San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore donned green cargo pants, a green military-style jacket and dog tags before Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins. He knew that the Redskins defense would be tough, so he decided that he needed to do some hunting and some hunting is exactly what he did on his way to a 49ers franchise-record fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
Gore ran for 107 yards on 19 carries and the stingy 49ers defense allowed just 187 through the first three quarters of play. San Francisco has won six straight, the franchises longest winning streak since 1997, and are in command of the NFC West race.
The Washington Redskins allowed just one touchdown, but weren't stout enough along the defensive front to contain San Francisco running back Frank Gore as they let the 49ers get too close to field goal-range too often as 49ers kicker David Akers connected for five field goals on the day. Redskins kicker Graham Gano set a franchise-record with a 59-yarder of his own, but they were the only points the Washington team could muster until just over one minute to go in the game. The Redskins are really missing their underwhelming, but solid running back Tim Hightower and it shows as quarterback John Beck attempted 47 passes on the day and the offense was forced to throw too many times.
Washington cannot seem to hold onto the ball either as they fumbled four times as a team on Sunday, including two by receiver/returner Brandon Banks. The Redskins are now 3-5 on the year.
Miami Dolphins, 31
Kansas City Chiefs, 3
Miami's offense once again got off to a fast start on Sunday versus the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The difference is that this time they were able to sustain the momentum and come away with their first win of the 2011 season.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush had another stellar performance, rushing for 92 yards and one touchdown on just 13 carries and collecting another 50 yards in receptions. This was the second consecutive week that Bush has put together a standout performance. Quarterback Matt Moore also contributed heavily to the Dolphins neat and tidy offensive play on Sunday, throwing for 244 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall continued to look good as well, accounting for 106 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The Kansas City Chiefs and their quarterback Matt Cassel seemed lost in a scramble of Dolphins linebackers who seemed to be all over the field. Cassel completed 20 of 39 passes for 253 yards, but could not find the end zone.
Miami linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby combined for 23 tackles on the day — five of them for a loss. It was the Chiefs fourth loss on the season.
New York Giants, 24
New England Patriots, 20
Offense for either team was hard to come by in the first half of a highly anticipated and competitive matchup between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots seemed a bit rattled in what was a seesaw affair at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots were doomed by four turnovers, three by Brady himself, and the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown with just :15 seconds remaining in the game to silence the Patriots' home crowd for what is quite possibly a season-altering win for the Giants.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning, along with running back Brandon Jacobs were solid, but not spectacular in helping guide the Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin to their sixth win of the season, putting them at 6-2 and in first place in the NFC East. For the Patriots, it was their third loss on the year and now has them in a deadlock in the crowded and competitive AFC's East division.
Giants sixth-year, pass-rushing linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was once again at the forefront of an aggressive defensive effort that was able to hold the Patriots offense when it counted the most. Kiwanuka had 12 tackles on the day and one interception — now giving him 48 tackles on the year to go along with 3.5 sacks through eight games of play.
Offensive Performance of the Week
DeMarco Murray (RB, Dallas Cowboys) – 23 rushes for 139 yards, 4 receptions for 47 yards
Defensive Performance of the Week
Mathias Kiwanuka (LB, New York Giants) – 12 tackles, 1 interception
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS