NFL Quick Hits

Mike Ganter and Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:53 AM ET

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints sure haven’t missed Reggie Bush much.

For all the hype – and the former USC star entered the NFL with a ton of it – Bush has never really met expectations. Still, his departure to Miami was met with some consternation in the Big Easy. At least from those who never saw Darren Sproles play in San Diego.

Sproles is actually a pretty fine all-around player himself — better, many would say, even than Bush. He was great again on Sunday, racking up 188 all-purpose yards as the Saints moved to 3-1 with a 23-10 win at Jacksonville.

The dismal Jaguars had no answers for the diminutive Sproles, who rushed for 75 yards on just seven carries and racked up 57 more in returns, along with 56 receiving yards.

Sproles entered the game third in the NFL with 21 receptions, was ninth in kick return average (29.0) and second in punt return average (19.6).

He also was responsible for 28 yards of New Orleans’ 62-yard touchdown drive to open the scoring, getting the team down to the Jacksonville one yard line.

He got them there again prior to their second touchdown.

Though Sproles doesn’t finish many plays for majors, he sure helps the high-powered Saints get into position to do so.

— Ryan Wolstat

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Kansas City’s quarterback, general manager and coach got a big monkey of off their backs on Sunday, but Minnesota remains in big trouble.

Under intense pressure after an 0-3 start to the season, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel finally responded, leading his team to its first win of the season, 22-17 over the still winless Vikings.

Calls had been coming for the heads of Cassel, head coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli, but they got a reprieve with the victory, even though it wasn’t pretty.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, however, is on tenuous ground. The team is 0-4 for the first time since 2002 and going nowhere fast, having blown leads in three of the four losses.

The Donovan McNabb era in Minny has not started well and Frazier might take the fall for it.

While Cassel and Haley can now breath a lot easier, early on, they were tense.

Cameras got them screaming at each other after the quarterback failed to pick out wide receiver Steve Breaston in the end zone.

“Matt and I, and a number of others who really, passionately, care about trying to make this team special, you’re going to have some emotion and feeling,” Haley said afterwards.

— Ryan Wolstat

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Ground and pound might be a UFC term, but it was also the game plan of the 2-2 Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Chicago’s coaching staff has been heavily criticized so far this season for calling passing plays about 80% of the time.

A drastic change in tactics turned things around for the Bears.

Matt Forte ran over the Carolina Panthers to the tune of 205 rushing yards and Devin Hester ran around them – setting an NFL record with his 11th career punt return for a touchdown in a 34-29 win.

With Jay Cutler attempting just 17 passes, finally, Forte was able to get on track, carrying the ball 25 times to break his previous game-high of 166 yards, set last year, also against Carolina.

It was the most rushing yards for the Bears since 1988. Forte rushed for only two yards last week.

At the other end, Cam Newton attempted a whopping 46 passes and running back DeAngelo Williams only had 10 carries.

The spectacular Hester did three cartwheels after his historic return, which followed an earlier 73-yard kickoff run that set up Forte’s touchdown.

Hester bested Eric Metcalf’s former record, invoking memories of other return greats like Mel Gray and Deion Sanders.

— Ryan Wolstat

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Superstar running back Chris Johnson finally caught up to the rest of Tennessee’s scorching offence.

After a long and, at times bitter, holdout, the man regarded as the top back in the NFL finally reported. His game had been AWOL until Sunday’s 31-13 wipeout of Cleveland.

The Titans had gotten out to a 2-1 start, thanks to the unexpectedly brilliant play of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Johnson, one of only a handful of players with a 2,000-yard rushing season to his credit, had not even cracked the 100 yard rushing barrier for the season coming in (98 yards on 46 carries).

But, in timely fashion, because star receiver Kenny Britt was sidelined with an injury, finally, the Johnson of old resurfaced. While it was not a spectacular performance, Johnson still was able to grind out 101 yards on the ground on 23 carries, serving notice that he is finally approaching his old form.

With Hasselbeck throwing for 220 yards and three more touchdowns, it is starting to become clear that the pundits may have underestimated Tennessee.

Especially since its defence currently ranks as the best in the league.

— Ryan Wolstat

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Welcome back Arian Foster.

The Houston Texans officially served notice that they are legitmate Super Bowl contenders with a 17-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Foster appeared to be right back to 2010 form when he led the league in rushing gaining 155 yards on 30 carries and the game winning touchdown.

It was that play that took away any doubt that Foster’s hamstring woes that limited him to just 30 yards in the first three games of the season.

Foster cut back on a pursuing Pittsburgh defence and split two more defenders including the normally sure tackling Troy Polamalu and went the distance for a 42-yard TD run.

It was vintage Foster. His return combined with a punishing Houston defence that sent Ben Roethlisberger home to Pittsburgh wearing a protective boot should be enough to elevate the Texans into any conversation when it comes to AFC representation in the Super Bowl.

There was however one significant downside to the game for the Texans which lost the services of marquee wide receiver Andre Johnson early in the game with what the team believes is a hamstring injury.

He was scheduled to have an MRI on the injured leg Sunday night.

— Mike Ganter

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It looks like it took him a year, but Mike Shanahan appears to have things straightened out in Washington.

The Redskins are looking more and more like a Shanahan team each week and now have three wins in their first four games for the first time since 2008 having taken care of the underachieving St. Louis Rams by a 17-10 score.

Shanahan made his reputation in Denver with an ever-changing but always effective rushing attack. The individuals changed but the rushing game always seemed to click.

On Sunday in St. Louis it was Ryan Torain carrying the bulk of the load with Tim Hightower banged-up. Torain carried the ball 19 times for 135 yards, an impressive 7.1 yards a carry and a touchdown.

Under-appreciated Roy Helu chipped in with another 35 yards on eight carries.

The Redskins defence is more than holding its own with seven sacks yesterday led by 2.5 from linebacker Brian Arakpo. As boring as the Washington offence has been, the Redskins defence has been quietly efficient.

These Redskins aren’t producing pretty wins — with Rex Grossman at the controls did any expect anything pretty?— but they are getting the job done and that’s all Shanahan asks of his teams whether it’s Denver or Washington.

— Mike Ganter

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Four weeks into the 2011 season and they’re already running out of superlatives for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw for a career regular-season high 408 yards, threw a career-high tying four touchdowns, and ran two more touchdowns as the Packers embarrassed the visiting Denver Broncos 49-23.

“Aaron Rodgers obviously is playing extremely well,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters. “I can’t say enough. He is a special player.”

Forgive McCarthy for his inability to drum up suitable adjectives to describe his quarterback.

Rodgers has been so good, so often that it’s hard for McCarthy to get too excited about anything he does.

As for his team, McCarthy sounds pleased to be 4-0 but hardly satisfied.

“Trust me, we don’t have it all figured out as a football team,” McCarthy said. “We’re 4-0, but we’re very in tune with what we need to improve as a team.”

Presumably none of that improvement involves any changes to the game Rodgers is playing these days.

— Mike Ganter

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With each passing week, the odds of Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano keeping his job decrease.

Miami fell to 0-4 on Sunday, losing to the Chargers 26-16 in San Diego.

It isn’t Sparano’s fault that the team isn’t good, general manager Jeff Ireland and the now departed Bill Parcells have to take credit for that, but ownership already tried to hire his successor last season before screwing that up too.

Even though he eventually was extended, Sparano has just about used up all of the good will he built up from turning around the Dolphins from a 1-15 outfit in 2007 to 11-5 and the playoffs the next season.

Two 7-9 seasons followed and now Miami is winless.

The team also lost starting quarterback Chad Henne to a shoulder injury just minutes into the game, forcing Matt Moore into action. If Moore is forced into action long-term, the Dolphins might be in even more trouble. He was at the helm for the NFL-worst Carolina Panthers last season.

The Dolphins actually opened the scoring, but only got field goals from there.

Under Sparano, Miami has lost its past seven games and 12 of its past 16.

With the New York Jets on tap following a bye week, things aren’t going to get any easier.

— Ryan Wolstat

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There’s something about Glendale, Ariz., for Eli Manning.

The quarterback led the Giants to a 31-27 victory against the Cardinals on Sunday in the same stadium where he and the team triumphed over New England in Super Bowl XLII.

While counterpart Kevin Kolb arrived in Arizona full of hype, he and the 1-3 Cardinals are struggling.

Meanwhile, Manning, who many consider overrated despite his strong track record, has his team rolling again at 3-1.

After starting the game just 20-for-32, the only Manning currently quarterbacking a team channelled his more famous brother Peyton, completing 7-of-8 passes on New York’s final two drives including a couple of touchdown throws 58 seconds apart.

Arizona had built a 27-17 lead before Manning finally found his groove.

Earlier, he had fumbled at his own five, setting up a Cardinals touchdown.

Since starting the season poorly, Manning has converted more than 65% of his passes with eight touchdowns against just one interception in his past three outings, all Giants wins.

Kolb, on the other hand, started the season with a win but has thrown four interceptions and just three touchdowns since, all Arizona losses.

— Ryan Wolstat

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It appears that nothing will come easily for the Atlanta Falcons this season.

Even after dominating the Seattle Seahawks throughout the first half in one of the toughest stadium’s to play, the Falcons had to survive a last-second field goal attempt by the Seahawks.

Sure, it was from 61 yards and hardly likely to find the mark, but this should not have been in question at all given how dominant the Falcons were in the first half.

They took a 24-7 lead to the locker room with them and then sat with fingers cross as Steven Hauschka’s lengthy field goal attempt came up short and wide.

The wins gets the Falcons back to 2-2 in a season that has not gone according to plan. And veteran defensive end John Abraham certainly sounds tired of the way the Falcons are making everything tough for themselves.

“A few games started off good, but we’ve got to be able to finish, and this game came close,” Abraham said. “(It) should have been, not saying a breeze, but it should have been a little more comfortable at the end.”

The Falcons got the win they needed, but one disturbing trend continued through the second half. After mixing up the run and pass nicely in the first half, the Falcons once again seemed to forget about Michael Turner and the running game in the second.

— Mike Ganter

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Michael Vick had the kind of statistical afternoon no QB in the NFL has had before.

And still it wasn’t enough to get his Eagles a win.

Despite Vick’s 416 yards passing and 75 yards rushing, the Eagles could not hold off the surprising San Francisco 49ers who scored the final 21 points to win it 24-23.

The Eagles have now lost three of four games while San Fran is an impressive 3-1.

While Vick’s numbers looked good, the number that stood out, besides his own, were the nine carries LeSean McCoy got in the game for just 18 yards. That’s about as unbalanced as a team can be.

After the game Niners’ rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh made a point of thanking the city of Youngstown, Ohio, where Harbaugh kept his team through the week avoiding the back-and-forth of a what would have been a west-coast, east-coast, west-coast, east-coast trip with back to back games on the Atlantic side of the country.

Teams that go west to east for a game have been known to struggle in the past.

— Mike Ganter


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