Put Vikings' Harvin at top of ROY list
The best part about nearing the midway point of the NFL season is that it's much easier to draw conclusions about what you see. There are fewer questions about whether a team is overrated and fewer concerns over whether a certain player is capable of sustaining his brilliance over an entire 16-game schedule. The contenders start to prove themselves in more obvious ways. The pretenders, on the other hand, simply start revealing themselves as frauds.
So as the eighth Sunday of NFL play came to a close, here's what I gleaned from those games:
1. The 49ers are better than their record suggests: Yes, they are 3-4 and sitting in second in the weak NFC West. But they've also lost three of those games by four points or fewer, with one of those losses coming on a last-second touchdown pass by Brett Favre in Minnesota. The 49ers are good enough to win this division. They simply need to become more consistent. As proof, just consider their 18-14 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday. The 49ers' offense was effective in the first half and then vanished in the second. As 49ers head coach Mike Singletary said after the game, "We're a young team, and we have to learn how to win these games."
2. DeSean Jackson is one of the five most dangerous players in the NFL right now: The Eagles' second-year wide receiver does something jaw-dropping nearly every time he takes the field. He has six touchdowns this season -- each longer than 50 yards. He raced past the Giants for a 54-yard touchdown pass in Sunday's 40-17 win, and he also averages nearly 16 yards per punt return. Remember, this is a guy who came into the league with people wondering how his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame would handle the punishment from pro defenses. What he's shown is that size really isn't an issue when people can't keep up with you.3. Percy Harvin is going to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: As much as the Vikings' win in Green Bay was about Brett Favre's revenge, you couldn't take your eyes off Harvin. His 51-yard touchdown -- a reception he made while outjumping three Packers defenders -- was mesmerizing. He continues to be one of the more electrifying kick returners in the league, as he averaged 35 yards on five returns and also took a kickoff 77 yards. There was a point when it looked as though New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez would run away with this award. Now Harvin must be the front-runner. 4. Steve Slaton must get it together -- fast: The Houston Texans running back found himself on the bench after a first-quarter fumble in Sunday's 31-10 win over Buffalo. He never touched the football again as Ryan Moats ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. It's not hard to see the rationale behind head coach Gary Kubiak's decision. The Texans had been talking about sending a message to Slaton, who had lost three fumbles in his previous six games. Here's hoping the second-year back -- who produced more than 1,600 total yards last season -- hears it loud and clear. As much as the Texans need his versatility in a season when they're trying to make their first playoff appearance, they can't afford his struggles with ball security.[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPhiladelphia's DeSean Jackson has six touchdowns of more than 50 yards this season.5. The Browns should let Brady Quinn finish the season: Somebody please tell Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini that it's time to let Quinn be the permanent starter. Mangini returned Quinn to the lineup late in a 30-6 loss to Chicago because Derek Anderson had been awful again (6-for-17 passing, 76 yards). At this stage, we all can see that Mangini isn't happy with either of his quarterbacks. What we also know is that Quinn came into the NFL as a first-round pick in 2007, one who has started only six games in three seasons. That's just not enough opportunities for a quarterback to show what he's capable of doing in this league, especially on a team as lousy as Cleveland.[+] EnlargeRob Grabowski/US PresswireBrady Quinn is probably the Browns' only alternative at quarterback.
6. Tony Romo has rediscovered his groove: It's amazing what a quarterback can do when he gets a little help. Now that Miles Austin has emerged as the Cowboys' best wide receiver, the rest of the Dallas offense is falling into place around Romo. The quarterback has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in his past three games and he had another strong effort -- 256 yards, three touchdowns -- in Sunday's win over Seattle. For a guy who was facing plenty of scrutiny just a few weeks ago, Romo has proved he can handle the pressure. Now all he has to do is keep his play up as the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia next week.
7. Jim Caldwell deserves more love: For some reason, the Indianapolis Colts' head coach has drifted under the radar while becoming the first rookie coach to go 7-0 since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Maybe that lack of recognition has something to do with the success of other first-year coaches in bigger markets, like Denver's Josh McDaniels and the New York Jets' Rex Ryan. Maybe we've just taken his success for granted because the Colts have been so good for the past decade. But what can't be overlooked is this: Indianapolis is still winning despite having one of the youngest rosters in the league. As much as Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning has eased that transition, Caldwell has done his part in succeeding Tony Dungy.
8. Let's not get carried away with Vince Young's day: Sure, he helped the Titans get their first win of the season by playing efficient football (15-for-18 passing, 125 yards and one touchdown) in a 30-13 win over Jacksonville. The reality, however, is that the Titans finally got back to basics to shake their winless slump. Chris Johnson's 228-yard day and the inspired play of a disappointing defense were the keys to victory. That being said, Young showed how hard he'd been working to make the most of his next shot at a starting job.
9. A bittersweet day for Ted Ginn Jr.: The Dolphins finally decided to bench Ginn, who has been disappointing as a projected No. 1 receiver. What they didn't do was break his spirit. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a 30-25 win and his 299 return yards were the second most ever in an NFL game. At this point, it's hard to see Ginn ever developing into the receiver the Dolphins hoped they were getting when they selected him ninth overall in the 2007 draft. But it's nice to know that he can take a crushing moment -- one that was preceded by constant bashing by former Dolphins in the week leading up to this game -- and still turn it into a positive.
10. Shawne Merriman has a pulse: The San Diego Chargers had to be thrilled with the two sacks he produced in a 24-16 win over Oakland on Sunday. Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, has been a nonfactor for most of this season, as he didn't have a sack coming into this game. Granted, he underwent major knee surgery over a year ago and a recent groin injury has hampered him as well. But the Chargers' struggling defense needs him to revive his game-changing potential. The team simply won't be able to turn around a dismal defense without more efforts like the one he produced against the Raiders.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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