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.
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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