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Sam Farmer / ON THE NFL

Realities shift this season for several teams

October 07, 2008|Sam Farmer

Sometimes, despite all the deception and disguise that goes on with NFL teams, you've just got to believe your eyes.

Maybe the Washington Redskins are really that good.

Maybe the San Diego Chargers aren't an elite team.

Maybe everyone should be direct-snapping like the Miami Dolphins.

As we head into the season's second quarter, some of September's surprises are now facts of NFL life. They aren't just quirky twists or any-given-Sunday anomalies, but truths of a new reality.

Remember the Super Bowl shuffle? We're now witnessing the regular-season reshuffle.

* It looked like a fluke when: Washington won at Dallas two weeks ago.

But it's a fact that: The Redskins are for real. They beat Philadelphia on the road Sunday, meaning they've already completed their slate of division road games. Seeing as its next three opponents are a combined 1-11, Washington could easily be 7-1 when it plays host to Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.

* It looked like a fluke when: San Diego started 0-2, losing those games by a combined three points.

But it's a fact that: The Chargers are the league's best hole diggers. The team that lost three of its first four games last season is at it again, dropping to 2-3 with a loss Sunday at Miami. For the third time in five games, San Diego was down by at least 14 points at halftime.

* It looked like a fluke when: Miami scored a touchdown against New England with a direct snap to running back Ronnie Brown.

But it's a fact that: Opponents haven't been able to stop the play Miami calls "Wildcat," even when they sense it coming. The Dolphins have run the play 16 times, averaging more than 10 yards per snap with five touchdowns.

* It looked like a fluke when: On his first career dropback, Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass.

But it's a fact that: Ryan looked like a polished veteran Sunday when he led the Falcons to their first road victory of the season -- at Lambeau Field, no less. Before beating the Packers, Atlanta had lost 11 of 12 on the road and had yet to score a touchdown away from home this season.

* It looked like a fluke when: The Cowboys rolled up 453 yards against the Packers last month.

But it's a fact that: Green Bay's defense is a liability. The battered, short-handed unit is the main reason the Packers have lost three in a row for the first time since 2006. "Our house is messy right now and nobody's happy about it," said Coach Mike McCarthy, whose secondary is missing three key components: cornerback Al Harris and safeties Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse.

* It looked like a fluke when: Kyle Orton got the starting quarterback job in Chicago.

But it's a fact that: The Bears needed to make a change -- Rex Grossman was a major liability and Orton has gone from a serviceable reserve to someone who can occasionally be a playmaker. Against Detroit on Sunday, he threw for a career-best 334 yards and two touchdowns, giving him seven touchdown passes in the last three games.

* It looked like a fluke when: The Colts lost their ribbon-cutting opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.

But it's a fact that: They're anything but a sure bet this season. Not only have the Colts yet to win in their new stadium, but both of their victories involved dramatic comebacks. They erased a 15-point deficit to beat Minnesota, and late in the fourth quarter Sunday overcame Houston's 17-point lead. In beating the Texans, the Colts became the first team in NFL history to win in regulation after trailing by at least 17 with five minutes to play.

* It looked like a fluke when: A blown call led to San Diego's losing at Denver.

But it's a fact that: It happened again Sunday, when a highly questionable roughing-the-passer call on Baltimore kept alive a game-winning touchdown drive by Tennessee.

* It looked like a fluke when: Cincinnati played the New York Giants tough before finally losing, 26-23.

But it's a fact that: The winless Bengals gave another good team a scare Sunday when they made a run at Dallas before falling apart down the stretch. It was a reminder of the narrow margin that separates the NFL's haves and have-nots.

* It looked like a fluke when: Kansas City picked up its first victory by shocking Denver in Week 4.

But it's a fact that: OK, that really was a fluke. The Chiefs returned to form Sunday in a 34-0 loss to Carolina.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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