Pro football outlook: Last year’s Heisman hopefuls showed their stuff on Sunday
The headliners from this year’s draft class all justified their hype this Sunday, leading their teams to impressive victories in big games late in the season.
The biggest surprise of the day was QB Vince Young guiding the Titans (5-7) to a 20-17 upset of the AFC-leading Colts, a game that prevented the Indianapolis crew from clinching a playoff berth.
Young was known in college for his running as much as his passing, and he translated those skills to the professional game nearly perfectly on Sunday. He picked up 78 yards on the ground and completed passes to 10 receivers, including two touchdowns, in the victory.
The victory was the Titans’ third in a row, and gives Young a 5-4 record as a strter. The last two have come against division leaders — the team upset the Giants last week — and both involved clutch, last-minute drives.
Cardinals QB Matt Leinart has had a rougher beginning to his NFL career, losing his first six starts and seven of his first eight. But on Sunday his team upset a Rams team looking to get back in the playoff race by jumping out to an early lead and not making critical errors down the stretch.
Leinart has thrown two interceptions in a game three times this year, all of them losses. Twice, including Sunday, he had no turnovers, and both of those games were Cardinals victories.
Unlike Young, Leinart hasn’t shown much of his Heisman form from college, posting a QB rating of 72.1 for the year and throwing more picks (nine) than touchdowns (eight).
But he is improving, which should give some consolation to Cardinals fans hoping the team might someday turn around its tradition of losing.
The most impressive rookie performance on Sunday came from the draft’s biggest name: Saints RB Reggie Bush.
On a day in which QB Drew Brees struggled, Bush had a breakout performance to keep his team atop the NFC South. He posted three rushing touchdowns, plus nine catches for 131 yards and a receiving score.
Bush had only two touchdowns entering the game, and much of the Saints success this year has come from players with less publicity and smaller salaries.
Still, with the four-TD performance, Bush nearly singled-handedly carried his team this week, and helped set up a showdown with the Cowboys next Sunday that could decide the second seed in the playoffs.
All three of these rookies were heralded as the next big stars in the NFL, possible MVPs down the road. On Sunday, they took a big step in making those predictions reality.
Instant replayAFN Sports will rebroadcast a pair of big upsets this week: Watch Young lead his Titans over the Colts on Thursday at 2 p.m. Central Europe Time.
On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. CET, see the Browns (4-8) upset the playoff-bound Chiefs in overtime, 31-28. Kansas City wasted a four-touchdown performance by QB Trent Green and held a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter, only to see Browns backup QB Derek Anderson lead his team to victory.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, watch the Cowboys steal a last-second win and control of the NFC East from the Giants.
And AFN Sports will broadcast the Steelers-Browns rivalry game live at 2 a.m. CET Friday morning, a matchup that should determine who ends up in last place in the AFC North.
Choke meterThe first weekend of December games have left several once-playoff-bound teams gasping for air.
In full asphyxiation mode are the Giants, who were 6-2 at the start of November and seemingly in control of the NFC East. On Sunday, they dropped to 6-6 and two games behind the Cowboys in the division, and will have an uphill fight just to make it as a wild-card in January.
The Ravens and Colts, who both could have clinched playoff spots this week, are now clearing their throats after bad losses.
Baltimore looked punchless in its Thursday night game against the Bengals, while the Colts only managed two first-half touchdowns in their game against the Titans.
Denver coughed up a damaging 23-20 last-second loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, dropping them to 7-5 after a 7-2 start.
That loss would have been much worse, however, if not for the Chiefs massive choke job in an embarrassing 31-28 overtime loss against the Browns, one of the league’s worst teams.
Instead of taking a one-game lead in the wild-card race, the Chiefs dropped out of the playoff standings entirely for now, behind on tiebreakers with the four other teams tied at 7-5.
The Falcons caught a breath of air on Sunday, stopping their four-game losing streak and climbing back to .500 with a victory over Washington. But even that wasn’t easy: The Falcons fell behind 14-0 to the last place NFC East squad before regrouping and scoring 24 unanswered points.
But there is always a chance for them to resort to choke mode next week, when they meet the last-place Buccaneers.