Jason Elam, the hero, had a day to remember. Five of six, including the game-winner from 48 yards out with no time left.

Shouldn’t have gotten that close, though. The Bears should have had that game wrapped up. The Falcons should have, too. Let me explain.

For all of its offensive heroics, the Falcons and Bears played one of the sloppiest games I’ve seen in some time on Sunday. Elam missed a chip shot that could have sealed it; Kyle Orton couldn’t score from the Atlanta 14 and they had to settle for a field goal. Both quarterbacks threw for about 300 yards, but each for only one score.

Plus the squib kick. Oh man, that squib. Worst case it costs you the game. Best case it… well, I guess it runs out the clock, but still gives the other team good field position.

And the Bears most definitely got the worst case scenario. The Falcons got the ball at their own 44, got a quick 26 yard pass in and won the game. All within six seconds.

And again, it’s something that shouldn’t have happened – the Bears shouldn’t have had so much time left on the clock, ideally. Their last drive was all passes, eight of them from the shotgun. I understand, they only had one timeout left. But you can afford to let a little time run off the clock, especially on a 3rd and 10 with under 25 seconds remaining.

Anyway. An ugly win for the Falcons, who are now four and two in a tough NFC South: Tampa Bay and Carolina have the same record, with a better point differential, and New Orleans is right behind them (more on them in a second).

They’re a team that’s succeeding because of a lack of pressure. After what the team has gone through in the past two seasons, simply going .500 would surely be a good thing. But they might yet surprise some people.

Their schedule isn’t terribly tough, with games against Philly, Oakland and St. Louis. Granted, their in-division schedule looks tough (they’ve lost two of those games already, their only losses so far), but even then, a 9-7 record doesn’t look too far out of reach – wins against the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles all seem probable and I’d be surprised if they lose all of their divisional home dates.

But in the NFC South, this might not be enough. Tampa Bay and Carolina are hot and look to complete for the division. New Orleans is good too – each of their losses is by less then a touchdown and Drew Brees is throwing over 300 yards a game. Forget the NFC East, this is the division to watch.

That’s right, forget the NFC East. It’s a slugfest, sure (holy hell, am I going heavy with the metaphors or what). But it’s getting a little clearer. The Cowboys have lost Tony Romo for four weeks with a broken finger (doesn’t pinkie sound too informal for an injury report?) and a tough overtime loss to Arizona, their second in three games. So much for their 3-0 start. Thankfully, it comes at about as good a time as it could for the Cowboys – they face St. Louis next week and should quickly find a rhythm with their new QB in time for Tampa Bay the week after.

So it doesn’t look like they’ll miss Romo all that much. There are whispers out there that paint him as the most overrated member of the team, ahead of even Adam Jones. Is it fair to cite him for two consecutive playoff losses? Perhaps. If Dallas flails here, though, it’s more then fair to blame his absence.

Over in the AFC, the Dolphins are flipping the bird (flipper?) to the haters. they’re 2-3, but that’ll correct itself soon enough; their point differential is better then New England’s and they’ve allowed the points in the division. Forget their loss to the Texans, it was almost a fluke.

Look at the numbers instead: 19 of 25, for 284 yards. Only one turnover. There are some other, uglier numbers. Four penalties; 485 total yards allowed; a five-minute difference in time of possession. To me, this speaks of a good offence, but a bad defence – the Dolphins can score, but they kept the Texans in the game, and it bit them in the ass.

But there are some positives to take from this. Chad Pennington has been improving each game, finding targets all over the field. They have a stable of receivers that aren’t great, but are more then capable. They have a solid running game. Five of their next six are at home. They should be posed to strike and make a run at the AFC East… but not unless they improve their defence.

Against the rush, they’re an okay team, in the top third of the league even. It’s their secondary that’s killing them: on a per-game level, you could make a case they have the worst pass defence in the NFL. Worse then Oakland and Seattle. Not much better then Detroit.

In a pass-happy division (three of the four teams are in the top half for passing yards) this can and will hurt them. Perhaps it’s why they’ve gotten the breaks they have. Still, you have got to give them a puncher’s chance – New England is going to sink in the next couple weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jets fall below the Dolphins.

Other notes: How about those New York Titans throwbacks? The Jets keep wearing them and they seem to keep winning in them: they’re 3-0 in them. The original New York Titans? They went .500 wearing them in 1960. … I was told it was a thrilling finish in Minnesota. The line score suggests it was exciting – a one point game decided at the end. Looking at the box score and the highlights, though, paint a picture of a dreadfully dull affair that picked up late in the fourth, and even then not really. Can’t the Lions do anything, including drama, right? … The Torry Holt era may be drawing to a close in St. Louis – held to 23 yards, Holt is effective mostly as a decoy now, as he draws at least a double team each game. Too bad that doesn’t count for my fantasy team.

Remember, more sportswriting like this can be found at North of the 400

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