What I Saw, Week 13


One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

In other words, we all tend to overrate and underrate by seeing with our ears.

Each week I’ll give my own highlights of what I saw from the previous NFL week.

(Team records in parentheses include the week’s results)

Away from the game(s)

I saw Kudos should go out to Jimmy Traina, SI.com’s editor of Hot Clicks, whose a-broken-watch-is-right-twice-a-day-which-means-I’m-a-double-genius New Yorker mentality actually got it right by using his big stage to help the blog Big Lead Sports expose slimy ESPN analyst Craig James for placing Boise Sate at No. 24 nationally in his AP voting last week.  The Broncos are 10-1 with a 1-point loss and a schedule ranked as more difficult than many teams with worse records that were in James’ top fifteen.

(http://thebiglead.com/index.php/2011/11/29/craig-james-is-not-a-boise-state-broncos-fan/ ).

There’s a lot of shortcomings in the BCS system to take on, but the biased and ignorant favouritism of many voters is something that public action might affect.  The best way to start is by critiquing voter’s asinine selections in the hopes that accountability is heightened.

I saw former Eagles, Redskins and Vikings QB Donovan McNabb get waived by Minnesota on Thursday – upon his request.

First off, McNabb had this to say at halftime of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football halftime show about going on the waiver wire and having to wait and see which teams go for him (which none did): “…this happens to everyone.”

Really?  When was the last time one of the most successful QBs of his generation ended up on the waiver wire because he wasn’t seeing the field on his current team?  Oh, wait – potential Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who gave McNabb advice at halftime, via satellite.  As Warner encouraged the jobless quarterback he reminded him that after the Giants cut him loose at the identical age of thirty-six, Warner recovered by leading the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.

Still, going on the NFL waiver doesn’t happen to everyone.

Second, McNabb could end up signing with the Bears, but speculation that supports this possibility isn’t very thorough.  The former Eagles star has quarterbacked under a word-based offensive play-calling system for his whole pro career, whereas the Chicago/Mike Martz system is numerical.  Remember – McNabb experienced reported difficulty adapting to Washington and Minnesota’s playbooks – both of which are word-oriented.  Asking him to make such an adjustment while being thrust into the situation the Bears are in is asking too much and it’s likely both sides are aware of this.

On top of this, McNabb still seems unwilling to continue his pro career as a backup, and that’s exactly what he’d be next year behind Jay Cutler.  Even the lure of playing in his hometown Chicago isn’t likely enough to change McNabb’s mind in this regard.  He’ll most likely wait it out, and if no team offers him a starting spot for next year we’ll still be watching him on television next year – he just won’t be in an NFL uniform.

I saw NBA players including superstars Kevin Durant and LeBron James participate in what looked like a full-speed flag football game last Thursday – on turf.

What those men do on their own time should be their own personal business.  And, technically, one can sustain a freak injury anywhere, anytime.  But is that game really necessary after severely testing the patience of fans and straining relationships with ownership?  Imagine the reaction if Durant blew his achilles tendon.  Imagine how shitty Durant would feel as well.  Play some Madden for charity instead.

I saw reason to ignore the next time Sports Illustrated’s Peter King chastises someone for drug addiction (in this week’s MMQB):

You know it’s Week 13 of the football season when, one day in midweek, you realize the reason you’ve got the 11 a.m. headache building is because you’ve been pre-occupied and haven’t had a strong cup of Italian Roast.

TNF- Seattle(5-7) wins vs. Philadelphia(4-8), 31-14

I saw that Eagles backup QB Vince Young still isn’t ready to be a starter – even though he’s been forced into such a role in relief of Michael Vick.  Of Young’s four interceptions against the Seahawks Thursday night, two were not really his fault.  One of those was a drop/tip-pick off of the hands of WR Riley Cooper, and the other required an impressive grab by Seahawks CB Brandon Browner.  But the remaining two picks were two of the worst interceptions this season.  The first such misstep was underthrown so badly that not only did Seattle S Kam Chancellor have to come back for the grab as the defender playing in a zone underneath Young’s intended receiver, but NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock rightly called the throw one that a high school player shouldn’t make.  As far as the game-sealing pick-six to LB David Hawthorne goes, the throw was so ill-advised that it’s almost as though the linebacker’s body should have obscured Young’s view of his intended receiver, LeSean McCoy – let alone give the appearance that a completion could be made.

I saw Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson lead his offense out on the field following the opening kickoff and survey the huddle.  Something was wrong.  Jackson began waving angrily to the Seattle sideline.  It turns out WR Golden Tate – who is talented, but mildly troubling in his first season and a half as a pro – forgot that being a starter means going out for the first play from scrimmage.  To top it off, his being late to line up appeared to cause an illegal motion penalty on the play. (Seattle was flagged for two players moving in motion simultaneously.)  Unbelievable.

I saw that the experiment involving former O-line coach Juan Castillo serving as Eagles defensive coordinator still isn’t working out.  True, Castillo has some young safeties to teach and the new free agent additions haven’t gelled or been healthy together much, but Thursday it looked more like the Eagles defenders weren’t being positioned in the right places rather than taking bad angles.

On top of that, the Philly D has been tackling horrendously when it does get to the ball in time, and it shouldn’t be underestimated how much coaching and drilling play a role in bad tackling.

Oh, yeah – what drills?  Under the new collective bargaining agreement teams can only practice in pads 14 times per season, and 11 of those have to happen during the first 11 weeks.  (There can also be no more than 2 padded practices in any week.)

Remember those rules for the rest of December when would-be tacklers across the league start grabbing at more air than Louis Armstrong with emphysema.

I saw an interesting montage from NFL Network during the game.  When analyst Mike Mayock said, at his own behest, that LeSean McCoy’s lateral jukes reminded him a bit of the great Barry Sanders I rolled my eyes.  But then several plays from each tailback were shown in alternating order.  Although the Sanders plays weren’t necessarily his most famous, they were almost as impressive.  McCoy’s sequences were strikingly similar.  The Philly back certainly doesn’t make such moves with the freakish reliability that his Hall of Fame Lions counterpart did, but not many pro backs can do well enough to pull them off at all.

I saw Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, who is engaged in a bitter contract dispute with the franchise, spend most of his time in between offensive drives picking a point on the ground about ten feet in front of him and never looking away until it was time to go back out on the field – even when teammates were speaking to him.

How does that relationship mend itself?

On Friday, Philly’s head coach Andy Reid defended Jackson by going so far as to call out NFL Network for apparently portraying the young wideout’s actions as more self-immersed than they seemed.  In turn, RB LeSean McCoy defended Reid against mounting pressure to fire the longtime Eagles coach.

Nice to see Philadelphia finally unite together to defend one another.  It’s too late for this season, but support like that might save Reid’s job.  Maybe.

I saw, with that in mind, that the NFC East has become one of the most underachieving divisions in recent history – if not ever – in terms of head coaching.  Consider the pedigree, tenure, reputation… whichever way you cut it, this group of helmsmen are in the midst of career stretches as disappointing as Robert DeNiro’s and Joe Pesci’s since the turn of the millennium – and it doesn’t look like Martin Scorsese can save any of them.

Something’s got to give from the ownership in this division.  I know their demographic fan bases pump in a lot of revenue, but they need to cut down on their abundance of patience.  This isn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs; don’t just sit on your lucrative fan support without making the changes you need in order to succeed regularly.

To wit: Reid’s precarious situation is mirrored throughout the division – even in Dallas, where, until this week Jason Garrett seemed fairly safe.

Check out the last observation in each of the following NFC East games for more…

Green Bay(12-0) wins @ New York Giants(6-6), 38-35

I saw Packers QB Aaron Rodgers rediscover TE Jermichael Finley.  Not that he had to.  Rodgers has officially joined New England’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees as an equal-opportunity quarterback.

I saw that Giants QB Eli Manning may have taken his game to the next level (whether that level is actually “elite,” as Eli would have us believe, is somewhat unclear) but his so-called evolution is undermined by the fact that Peyton’s little brother too often bails himself out with deep balls against broken coverage.

Everyone is insinuating that this game could be an eerie foreshadow to a playoff meeting because New York lost to New England in 2007 by the same score of 38-35 before later upsetting the 18-0 Pats in the Super Bowl but we’ll see if the Green Bay DBs let Giants WR Victor Cruz get behind them again, should these two teams meet in January.

I saw reason to bring up a statistic, but partly in order to underwrite it…

Peter King had this to say about the statistical production put up by Packers QB Aaron Rodgers against the Giants on Sunday Night:


This is how silly a season Rodgers is having: He completed 28 of 46

for 369 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception, for a 106.2

 rating in the 38-35 against the Giants … and it was his worst game of

the season. You can look it up. It was Rodgers’ lowest-rated game by 5.2

 rating points in the NFL’s arcane way of ranking quarterbacks, but he

 was money all day against a persistent Giants’ rush. He led the Pack five

 plays in 55 seconds to the winning field goal in front of a hostile crowd

 at the Meadowlands Sunday.

Aside from the dumb contradiction of calling out a statistic for misrepresenting a QB’s game as better than it was while immediately saying that the very same quarterback was, in fact, “money all day against a persistent Giants’ rush”, King once again showed his true stripes as a newfangled opponent of QB Rating.  He’s also started to occasionally support ESPN’s QB Rating stat, which has it’s own painfully obvious flaws and counter-examples.

(See cold-hard-football-facts.com “ESPN’s Deeply Flawed Made-For-TV Stat”, posted on Aug 12, 2011 for one example of many.  It points out, among other solid observations, that, in 2008, QB Dan Orlovsky – he of the 0-16 Lions; he who ran out of bounds while rolling out in the end zone, causing a safety – had a better QBR than Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger – he of that year’s Super Bowl-winning team.  CHFF also deserves credit for their extensive research on the traditional QB Rating, as it applies to offense and defensive passer rating allowed and the highly convincing win-loss records to back up their elegant Passer Rating Differential stat).

Can’t we just accept, even after the unavoidable admission that stats never give a complete picture of something as complicated as football performance, that any one stat which tries to be all-encompassing in assessing a team or player will leave things out?  I’m generally an anti-traditionalist, but there’s no reason to think any one stat is better than QB Rating in terms of gauging something that can never be comprehensively quantified.

I saw more frustration around the inconsistency of touchdown calls when a receiver’s possession of a caught ball is in doubt while in the end zone.  In the third quarter, Packers WR Greg Jennings caught a pass from QB Aaron Rodgers.  The only moment during which Jennings wasn’t bobbling the ball before it was knocked out of his hands in the end zone was when he was barely holding it at its tip with his fingertips.  That moment lasted a split second, but after the automatic official review (that follows any scoring play) the TD was upheld to make it 28-17 for Green Bay.

Much less questionable instances of possession have been overruled this season, so let’s hope the league takes another look at refining the details of these rules in the offseason.  The NFL may think there is clarity, but the fans and media sure don’t.

I saw Giants Tom Coughlin spin his teams’ loss into a uniting moment, but the fact is that New York is riding a four-game skid… and they can still win the NFC East by running the table.

That’s a great illustration of the collective letdown orchestrated by the division and it starts at the top, with the coaching.

True, the G-Men have been beset with key injuries from training camp onward but they’ve also been riding an emotional rollercoaster, which can be a sign that a team’s relationship with its coach is fraying.  To the point, aren’t the Giants the most frustrating team around over the last few seasons?  How can mental toughness be so up and down, year in, year out?

New York traded blows with the cream of the crop, Green Bay, on Sunday but proved their inconsistent mental focus by lying down on the Packers’ last-gasp try to avoid overtime: Four plays and 68 yards from scrimmage, then a field goal, then a .500 record for a team that wouldn’t know its own identity if it hit them in the mouth.

Even if Coughlin milks a strong finish out of his team, how long does it take for the front office to tire of the weeks prior to December?  A team with high standards can’t just bail themselves out every season.  If Norv Turner is on the hot seat for that very reason, then Coughlin should be as well.

Arizona(5-7) wins vs. Dallas(7-5), 19-13(OT)

I saw it’s nice to see Cowboys WR Dez Bryant be an imposing factor late in the game.  Dallas needs to find ways to make that happen more often.

I saw that much has already been made – and rightfully so – of Dallas’ failure to use their second timeout with :24 left on the clock in a tie game and instead let time run down to :07 by spiking the ball to set up a 49-yard field goal attempt by Dan Bailey.

Even more has been made – and rightfully so – of Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett’s decision to then do what most are terming “ice his own kicker.”  Bailey knocked his kick through the uprights, but it turned out that Garrett had called time out right before the ball was snapped.  Bailey missed his second attempt, and the game went to overtime, during which the ’Boys defense morphed into a confused kick return unit when RB LaRod Stephens-Howling took a screen pass and had his choice of running lanes en route to the end zone for the upset win.

Garrett didn’t exactly help himself out with his postgame explanation for calling the timeout before Bailey’s kick, saying that the play clock had run down to :06 “and we were just settling in to kick.”  Yet the sideline replay shows Dallas special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and kicking coach Chris Boniol urging Garrett to call a timeout, which the head coach promptly does while walking toward the side judge.  On one hand, both assistant coaches know their kicker’s routine, and may have had a good sense that six seconds wasn’t enough for Bailey to be ready, in which case Garrett’s decision is understandable.  On the other hand, it doesn’t look like Garrett looks at any play clock at either end zone, but rather hears DeCamillis and Boniol shout, “Call timeout!” and proceeds to nix his kicker’s winning kick without giving it much thought.  Six seconds should be at least enough time to think about it, look at the clock, and make extra sure – say, once the clock is down to 2, 3 seconds – before burning the T/O.  It sure seemed as though the ball was snapped well inside of six seconds once Garrett called timeout.  He thusly jumped the gun via a knee-jerk reaction to the opinion of his staff.

I saw that the already-infamous timeout called by Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett before Dallas kicker Dan Bailey hit what could have been a game-winning field goal is just one sign among many that Garrett’s job security should be under scrutiny.

Garrett’s paycheque is relatively safe compared to some of his NFC East colleagues, but if owner Jerry Jones’ standards are as high as he purports, Garrett’s job should rest largely on his ability to turn around Dallas’ December woes in recent years.

The most convincing argument against Garrett keeping his job in Big D, however, is that he shouldn’t have had the position to begin with.  NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk made a good point during this week’s No Huddle when he remarked that it was bad idea to expect the Cowboys offense to improve by promoting to head coach the same person whose play-calling abilities were under suspicion for several years.  But Jones was essentially locked into that move when he missed out on a head coaching hiring spree in 2007 and felt obliged to settle on Wade Phillips to babysit the spot for Garrett, who was then much more highly regarded than he was last year when Jones signed him to a four-year contract.

New York Jets(7-5) win @ Washington(4-8), 34-19

I saw the Redskins look disorganized and unable to execute – again.

How long can this go on?  Why do Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Giants skipper Tom Coughlin receive so much heat while ’Skins czar Mike Shanahan seems to enjoy undeserved job security?

Coming into this season, Shanahan stood by his personnel decisions at quarterback, saying that he’d stake his career on Rex Grossman and John Beck.  Hold him to that, owner Dan Snyder.  Not only has Shanahan missed the playoff in eight of his last twelve years coaching in the NFL but his indecisiveness in staking his future on the success of two QBs at once should be an indication that he’s not as confident as he used to be.  Without confidence, an NFL head coach isn’t worth his salt.

Pittsburgh(9-3) wins vs. Cincinnati(7-5), 35-7

I saw the Steelers continue to roll.  With all due respect to Hines Ward, we’re finally getting to see a fuller realization of QB Ben Roethlisberger’s skills now that he has a group of receivers that can win most matchups they encounter via elite speed.

How great would Pitt look if it wasn’t for divisional nemesis Baltimore, who has beaten Pittsburgh twice?  The only other team that the Steelers have lost to this season is Houston (by a touchdown) and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about either.

Here’s hoping for yet another Ravens-Steelers postseason rubber match.

Houston(9-3) wins vs. Atlanta(7-5), 17-10

I saw – nay, heard – the home crowd in Houston shriek with horror when star WR Andre Johnson went to the turf with another hamstring injury.  This time Johnson hurt his left hamstring, which is opposite to the one he had surgery on earlier in the season.  This could mean that Sunday’s mishap was a compensation injury (when the healthy side works too hard over time to help out the injured one).

As crucial a time as it is for Houston, look for them to be extra careful with their All-Pro wideout.  They handed him a huge contract in 2010, and with a 4-0 record in the division, the Texans essentially hold a 3-game lead over the second-place Titans.  In fact, Houston could clinch the AFC South by the end of next week’s action, and can thus afford to think ahead to the postseason and play it safe with Johnson.

I saw the once-top-notch Falcons offense regress further.  QB Matt Ryan couldn’t keep his throws low (again), the squad was plagued by crucial holding and false start penalties, the receivers dropped several balls when Ryan was on target, and the ability to assert any presence in the ground game is fading with each passing week.

To make matters worse, Atlanta continued their fourth down blunders on offense.

On fourth and three at the Houston 34 yard line midway through the third quarter the Falcons attempted to complete a short comeback route to WR Roddy White while trailing by seven points.  Given how close stalwart CB Johnathan Joseph had been playing White all game, coupled with Ryan being off with his accuracy on Sunday, it was a risky call to say the least.  The pass was deflected.  Why not try a field goal during a game when scoring is at a premium?  (If K Matt Bryant can’t be trusted from 51 yards out it’s time to shop for a new kicker.)

Then, trailing 17-10 with under three minutes to go, the Falcons lined up to go for it on fourth down and one yard at the Texans’ 20 yard line.  Ryan completed the pass, but only after committing an infraction for delay of game.  Facing fourth and six, Atlanta went for it again – and Ryan was hurried into an incompletion.

Both drives were twelve plays long and both resulted in a turnover on downs.  “Matty Ice” and the defending NFC South champs can’t perform in the clutch…

I saw, speaking of falling short in the clutch, Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones drop a last-play hail Mary bomb in the end zone to force overtime.  The lapses Jones has gone through on occasion this season aren’t enough to question his future but some will try to, given how much Atlanta sacrificed to trade up and pick him in this years’ draft.  It’s a heartless league, and Jones is surely learning fast how non-existent the margin for error is in the pros.

Meanwhile, Atlanta has the feel of a team that has lost it’s identity and isn’t sure how to go about looking for it.

Denver(7-5) wins @ Minnesota(2-10), 35-32

I saw no need to adjust your sensory perception – Broncos QB Tim Tebow won this game with his arm.

Without defensive MVP rookie LB Von Miller, Denver’s defense couldn’t hold Minnesota down the way they had been stymieing opponents during Tebow’s recent ascension.  The Broncos found themselves in what, for them, is a big shootout.  When forced to, (and so far only then) the young pivot does what needs to be done.  On Sunday that included passing, and though he may not continue to throw consistently Tebow passed very well on Sunday.  His feet are staying closer together and making calm movements, as opposed to his jittery jab steps that characterized his earlier starts.  Don’t underestimate how much footwork can help throwing accuracy.  The former two-time national champ at Florida was indeed able to put balls in places where his intended receivers didn’t have to extend themselves or dive, which is a change from previous weeks.

One game isn’t near enough to tell if Tebow’s performance in the pocket was a sign of progress or an aberration.  But it sure adds to the fantabulous extravaganza that is Tebowmania.

I saw that the player most invigorated by the emergence of Broncos QB Tim Tebow might be RB Willis McGahee.  The former Hurricane looks as light on his feet as he did in his first NFL game in 2004.  (McGahee sat out his rookie year in 2003 to rehab from knee surgery.)

I saw Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph make a great TD grab in the second quarter.  While being closely contested, Rudolph jumped to catch a Christian Ponder pass and showed strong hands by holding on to a ball in traffic.  He also showed discipline by not giving in to the temptation to pull the ball toward his body.  If Rudolph had tried to do so, the ball likely would have been jarred loose.  Instead, he held it up in the air long enough to establish possession.  (Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones made a similar grab against the Texans, but landed out of bounds.)

I saw that it’s taking an awfully long time for Broncos QB Tim Tebow to start getting the “God doesn’t care about sports – get some perspective” criticism.  This is, after all, the guy who has started each postgame interview by staring into the souls of every viewer while he says, “First and foremost, I’d like to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ, and my teammates.”

I saw that one way to undercut Tebowmania after his decent passing performance is to look at the Vikings defense.  Antoine Winfield, Minnesota’s best defensive back, was out with an injury but that’s no excuse for Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas having burned them for several long receptions by pulling the old fly pattern trick.  (In other words, Thomas ran in a straight line.)

A number of people have described the Vikes’ passing defense versus the Broncos as Cover 2.  This means that the cornerbacks slow down the wide receivers and follow them for a certain distance before “passing them off” to a safety who rotates over to pick up the wideout once he’s deep.  If Minnesota indeed ran Cover 2 on Thomas’ deep receptions, both of Minny’s safeties need to be cut.  Now.  None of them were even on the TV screen for seconds after Thomas’ catches.  An alternative explanation to the Vikings running a consistent Cover 2 defense is that, a) either the DBs weren’t on the same page as to which scheme of defense they actually were running, or b) the cornerbacks couldn’t hold Thomas back for more than a couple of yards, and let him loose far too early for the safeties to help, in which case the CBs need to be cut – now.

Another explanation remains: Are defenses that go up against Broncos QB Tim Tebow like deer caught in his headlights, even just a little bit?  Likely not.

But the issue bears a vague resemblance to other insinuations out there (which are more amusing than they are believable), that some NFL defenders regard Tebow as some sort of reverse Keyser Söze, who is so close to the boss upstairs that they hesitate to get on his bad side.

“How do you shoot god in the back?  What if you miss?”

Miami(4-8) wins vs. Oakland(7-5), 34-14

I saw the Raiders take themselves down a peg by playing through the game in Miami as though they’d walked into a juggernaut.  The Dolphins are on the rebound in a legitimate way, but to get shut down so thoroughly in the trenches on both sides of the ball casts equally legitimate doubt on the Raiders’ chances going forward.

I saw that embattled Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano may have regained his players and the respect of a good percentage of the media, but unfortunately Miami’s turnaround hasn’t won back the fans – at least not in the form of attendance.  That could be the telltale sign for Sparano’s dismissal at the end of the season.

Kansas City(5-7) wins @ Chicago(7-5), 10-3

I saw Heine v. Palko.  There ought to be a law.

I saw Heine v. Orton.  There was a law:

Go at Chiefs newly acquired QB Kyle Orton’s finger – right away.

Orton lasted one play before dislocating the index finger on his throwing hand.

Appeal rejected; Heine v. Palko back in session.


I saw Bears MVP candidate, RB Matt Forte, go down with an MCL sprain in his right knee.  As of Monday, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith wouldn’t put an official timetable on the tailback’s return.  The injury is such a bad break for Chicago, who is already without QB Jay Cutler – and even worse luck for Forte, who was playing under the dark cloud of tense contract negotiations.  This is the last season of Forte’s current contract.  One can only hope that Bears GM Jerry Angelo doesn’t use this as leverage while bargaining with his tailback.

I saw the Bears stand as an example that while football is the consummate team sport it is often no less reliant on certain players, usually star players.  Chicago is a team with weaknesses just like any other, but as a generally well-rounded team the Bears were contenders – until the loss of two players: QB Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.  Now Da Bears look more like a 3 or 4-win team.

Baltimore(9-3) wins @ Cleveland(4-8), 24-10

I saw the Ravens solve that letdown game problem in a huge way, by relying on the man they should have been featuring all along on offense: RB Ray Rice, who had a career high in yardage for one game.

I saw Ravens RB Ray Rice say this about his big game, played in rain:

(From Peter King’s MMQB)

As a veteran on this team…you want to put your

team on your back when they really need you. Today was one

of those days because of the conditions — it was going to be

better to run it. In games like this, on days like this, you want

to be able to demand the ball and to produce.

Come on, Cam Cameron.  (Baltimore’s offensive coordinator)  Why does it need to rain to justify playing the offense most suited for your personnel?  How on earth is your head coach John Harbaugh – he of the smashmouth mindset – on board for the air attack you force onto QB Joe Flacco, who clearly isn’t ready for it on a weekly basis?

New England(9-3) wins vs. Indianapolis(0-12), 31-24

I saw this has gone on too long: Are the Patriots putting jerseys on pylons and placing them in the defensive backfield in place of actual players?

Colts QB Dan Orlovsky went 30/37 for 353 yards!  New England head coach exceeded his usual bristling during press conference earlier in the week when asked if Indianapolis could even be considered a decent measuring stick for his team:


Clearly someone still respected Indy’s talent heading into Sunday’s game.  Either he was right to do so, and his team’s pass defense sucks – or both.

Door Number Three please, Monty.

I saw Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski continue to Gronk his way into the Tight End record book by equaling the most TD catches in a single season, with thirteen.  Imagine if New England QB Tom Brady had another tall receiver…

San Francisco(10-2) wins vs. St. Louis(2-10), 26-0

I saw Niners star LB Patrick Willis (a slightly less poor man’s Ray Lewis) go down with a hamstring injury.  Apparently it isn’t as bad as had been originally feared, but everyone in San Fran must be hoping that it doesn’t linger like a bad hammy sometimes can.  Everyone knows that while the Niners defense has matured to a point that they could still hang tough without Willis, they need their team’s heart and soul in order to go deep into January.

I saw Niners QB Alex Smith put up a 142.3 passer rating against the Rams.  I know – this column isn’t the place for stats, but that one is nuttier than finding Elvis in a burrito.

It’s also ample reason on its own for the firing of defensive specialist Steve Spagnuolo as head coach in St. Louis.

Carolina(4-8) wins @ Tampa Bay(4-8), 38-19

I saw Panthers QB Cam Newton set the record for rushing TDs by a quarterback in a season.  He’s also leading the league in rushing touchdowns, ahead of LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson.  Last year’s Heisman winner has done so while also carving up defenses in the passing game.

Is anyone still worried that Newton is going to lack sufficient commitment after he said prior to the draft that he wanted to be an entertainer as well as a good football player?  Heaven forbid a player could be both…how can you consistently entertain without dedicating yourself to being good?  Chad Eight-Five has already proven that theory – from the unsuccessful end.

I saw two surprising teams meet Sunday in Tampa Bay.  For entirely different reasons, who would have expected the Bucs and Panthers to have the same record after twelve games?

I saw that if there were any team to do it, I suppose the Buccaneers would have been the ones to supplant the Panthers in the NFC South basement – even for one week.  That doesn’t take away from the fact that Tampa Bay has fallen faster than it rose.

The worst part may have come during the postgame press conference when Bucs head coach Raheem Morris seemed to agree, saying, albeit sheepishly: “I can take getting beat by a better football team, which they were.”  Ouch.

I saw I need to take that last comment back.  Tampa Bay fell even farther when Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris kicked DT Brian Price out of the game for committing a personal foul.  In fact, Morris sent Price to the locker room, and told him to “go home.”  In the postgame press conference, Morris explained that Price had done something that was “foolish” and “selfish.”

That might be true, and maybe a coach like Jim Schwartz in Motown is secretly jealous of Morris for what he did (See: New Orleans wins vs. Detroit, 31-17), but treating young players with such a paternal attitude could cause Morris to lose his team in the long run.

Tennessee(7-5) wins @ Buffalo(5-7), 23-17

I saw that the Titans are quietly hanging around the playoff picture, but it may not last.  The recent key seems to have been the so-called resurgence of RB Chris Johnson, but putting up numbers against the nondescript run defenses of the Buccaneers and Bills doesn’t necessarily mean that Tennessee’s ground game is back.

I saw that Buffalo has simply fallen apart.  The Bills have sustained several key injuries, most notably RB and team captain Fred Jackson, but they need a head coach who can sustain intensity for a whole season despite whatever obstacles might present themselves, and Chan Gailey is not that guy.

SNF- New Orleans(9-3) wins vs. Detroit(7-5),31-17

I saw the Lions continue their inability to control their emotions.  Detroit endured numerous – and untimely – penalties due to mental lapses that fit the description of either dirty, undisciplined, or both.  It all culminated with TE Brandon Pettigrew shoving an official while that referee was trying to break up a scuffle Pettigrew had gotten in after the whistle.

What does Lions head coach Jim Schwartz do to right this ship?  He looked furious after each of the Detroit infractions.

The ESPN Monday Night Countdown analyst team raised an interesting point, albeit briefly: Prior to the new CBA (or, more likely, well before that) the need for self-discipline could have been “wind-sprinted” into players.  Is that possible today?  (Is the answer to that something to feel good about?  Bad?)

Whatever Schwartz decides to do with his team, it needs to be less paternal than the actions of his colleague Raheem Morris (See: Carolina wins @ Tampa Bay, 38-19).  It also should be oriented around helping the players find a different way for them to motivate themselves than anger.

I saw Lions rookie DT Nick Fairley start to show real promise while stepping up to relieve suspended teammate Ndamukong Suh.  Fairley held his ground consistently, and was able to use his feet to separate from blocks and pursue the ball despite a sore foot.  The former Auburn Tiger’s draft stock rightfully fell from the potential first overall pick status he enjoyed in the weeks following the BCS Championship Game, but for Detroit to snag him with the thirteenth pick seemed like thievery at the time.  Fairley gave a glimpse as to why that was the case on Sunday night.

I saw Lions CB Eric Wright get fully undressed by Saints WR Robert Meachem on the TD that made it 17-0 in the second quarter.  The New Orleans wideout didn’t make any nifty moves, but he got an angle on Wright, who proceeded to panic, get disoriented and look like a lost fool in a way that he’ll not live down for a while.  Wright committed a cardinal sin for a defender: Never turn your back to a ballcarrier.  Get beat, fine.  But don’t turn around until after the guy has passed you.

I saw the Lions’ beast of a WR Calvin Johnson get the most eye-catching sign of respect the NFL has seen since Bill Belichick’s Patriots went for it on fourth down and two to keep the ball away from Colts QB Peyton Manning in 2009.

During the second quarter, Lions RB Kevin Smith punched in a two-yard TD run to make the score 17-7 for New Orleans.  It’s widely known that Detroit loves to look for Megatron (Johnson) inside the opponents’ red zone.  The Saints made this hilariously obvious by double-teaming Johnson at the line of scrimmage before the snap.  As NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth remarked, the scene looked more like a gunner on the punt team lining up to pursue a punt with two blockers on him than it did a Wide Receiver.

MNF- San Diego(5-7) wins @ Jacksonville(3-9), 38-14

I saw it’s going to be hard not to give Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew TFQ’s “Atlas Award.”  Who else carries an awful team so admirably on his back, still playing at a high level when others would be/are polishing off their fishing rods.  And MoJo is still playing with a love for the game evident in such plays as when he and Chargers CB Quentin Jammer hit each other as hard as they could near the sidelines on a Jones-Drew carry, and the tailback was smiling and yipping like a wide-eyed teen.

I saw reason to wonder: Since Jags head coach Jack Del Rio was fired last week, and new ownership bought the team almost immediately afterward, did Shahid Khan (ownership to be approved on Jan. 4) say, “I’ll buy your team, but not with Jack Del Rio coaching it”?  Word is that Khan plans to be a hands-on NFL owner and he considers himself football-savvy.  If the deal and firing went anything like how it came off, he’s already helped prove the latter.

I saw something for the 378 Jaguars fans around the world to hold out hope for: According to Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, Jacksonville reached out to former Packers head coach Mike Sherman prior to handing Jack Del Rio the pink slip.  Sherman is likely the highest profile that new prospective owner Shahid Khan could get to helm his moribund franchise.

But then LaCanfora said that inept Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is ready to head coach and could also be a candidate, so there goes LaCanfora’s credibility on the matter.


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