Archive for the ‘National Football League’ Category

The last time that an NFL game was played on a Tuesday night, the New York Giants blanked the Boston Yanks, 17-0.  That was sixty four years ago.  Last night, amidst controversy as to whether the game should have been postponed on Sunday due to a blizzard in the northeast, the NFL held its twenty third Tuesday night contest.

The game between the Vikings and the Eagles had a number of storylines, but the one that took center stage was the comments made by Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell, who was outraged that the NFL postponed the Sunday night game.  According to Rendell, “we’ve become a nation of wusses.” He continued his diatribe by saying that “the Chinese are kicking our butt in everything.  If this was China, do you think the Chinese people would have called off the game?  People would have been marching down to the stadium.  They would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

While I agree that the game could have been played on Sunday, and the fans would have found a way to get there, I do understand why the NFL put the safety of the fans ahead of the desires of a Governor who clearly is not concerned with being politically correct.  In his feeble attempt to mock the people of the United States, he stereotyped the entire Chinese population with his marching and calculus remarks.

In spite of Rendell’s attention-grabbing antics, there really were some great storylines in the first Tuesday night game to be played in the lifetime of many NFL fans…

  • Would Michael Vick continue to impress and upstage Tom Brady to win the MVP award?
  • Would the Philadelphia Eagles continue their push towards a first-round bye in the playoffs?
  • Would rookie quarterback, Joe Webb, be overwhelmed in his first NFL start in front of a national audience?
  • Would the Vikings play well enough to help Leslie Frazier become Minnesota’s next head coach?
  • Most importantly, did postponing the game favor one team over the other?

Conspiracy theorists claimed that the game was postponed because the league wanted Michael Vick and the high-flying Eagles offense to play on a fast track.  Others wondered aloud if the extra days would allow Brett Favre to take the field, or give Adrian Peterson more time to heal so that he could play in the game.  No one knows for sure how the game would have turned out if it was played in blizzard conditions on Sunday night.  Because the Vikings won the game, it is very likely that the media and fans will say that the delay hurt the Eagles…but that is not the case.

The fact of the matter is that the Vikings came in with an outstanding game plan to contain Michael Vick.  Blitzing with regularity, the Vikings sacked Vick six times, and hit him many more times than that, so much so that Vick had a noticeable limp as he left the field.  The signature big-plays that have defined the Eagles and Vick were nowhere to be found as the heavily favored Eagles lost to the Vikings by a score of 24-14, taking away any chance for Philadelphia to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs.  And unless Tom Brady falters badly in the final game of the season, Michael Vick’s shot at winning the MVP was seemingly lost as well.

On Tuesday night, the Vikings were simply the better team, and no star shone brighter than rookie quarterback, Joe Webb.  The sixth round draft pick out of UAB was actually drafted as a wide receiver, even though he played quarterback in college.  If not for Brett Favre’s concussion, and the season-ending injury to Tavaris Jackson, Joe Webb may not have even gotten the opportunity to play quarterback for the Vikings.

There is no more hostile environment in the NFL than Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  The fans are amongst the rowdiest in sports.  And yet, Joe Webb performed with the poise of a seasoned veteran in front of a national television audience.  When asked after the game about being a rookie and playing in front of the boisterous Eagles fans, Joe Webb calmly smiled and talked about how the fans aren’t allowed on the field, and that even though he was a rookie, he has been playing football all of his life.

It was only one game, but if Joe Webb’s performance against the Eagles is any indication of his potential, we may look back someday at the 2010 NFL draft and wonder how ten other quarterbacks were drafted ahead of him.  On a night where all eyes were on Michael Vick, Joe Webb stole the show with a big arm, fast feet and elusive moves.  Some might say that he “out-Vicked” Michael Vick.

With three inches and ten pounds on Michael Vick, Joe Webb is more of the prototypical-sized quarterback.  His blazing speed in unmatched by most quarterbacks in the NFL not named Vick.  I seriously doubt that Webb is going to start 296 more games in a row to match Brett Favre’s record, but the Vikings may very well have stumbled onto their quarterback of the future in a rare Tuesday night football game.

Stranger things have happened, but after a game like this, it would be very surprising if anyone other than Leslie Frazier is named the head coach of the Vikings going forward.

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When Jerry Jones finally relented and fired Wade Phillips in the middle of the season, he realized that there was no other choice.  Getting blown out on national television has a way of shining a harsh light on a team’s shortcomings.  Anyone who watched the Packers dismantle the Cowboys on that fateful night in November saw a team that had no fight, and no desire to do what it takes to win games.

Certainly, the Cowboys couldn’t get any worse with Jason Garrett at the helm, and it is no secret that Jerry Jones had always thought of him as head coaching material.

Jason Garrett’s 8-week interview began with an improbable victory against the then-streaking Giants at the new Meadlowlands stadium in New Jersey.  Out of nowhere, the lifeless Cowboys suddenly had a pulse.  And though the game was far from perfect, it showed that the underachieving Cowboys could, in fact, play with any team in the NFL.  They followed the win up with a tougher-than-expected victory against the Lions.

Most people realized that the playoffs were an extreme long shot, but at least the revitalized Cowboys gave the fans something to cheer about.  When the Cowboys lost to the Saints in heartbreaking fashion on Thanksgiving Day, fans took solace in the fact that they fought hard until the end of the game.  Following the disappointing last-minute loss with an exciting, overtime road win against the injury-riddled Colts had many people jumping onto the Jason Garrett bandwagon.  While some may have jumped off after another heartbreaking loss to the rival Eagles, most were impressed with how hard the Cowboys fought in the game.

The next week, the Cowboys blew a big lead to the Rex Grossman-lead Redskins, but managed to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.  Optimists pointed to Jason Garrett’s 4-2 record as proof-positive that he deserved to have the interim tag removed at the end of the season.  Realists, on the other hand, were greatly concerned that a quarterback who hadn’t started a game in two years was able to shred the Cowboys defense for over 300 yards passing and 4 touchdowns.  Even though the Cowboys overcame adversity and managed to win the game, their performance left a lot to be desired.

The Cowboys were given a golden opportunity on Christmas night to show a national audience that they were no longer the 1-7 team that cost Wade Phillips his job.  Playing against the Cardinals (a team that had lost 8 out of their last 9 games) with a rookie, third-string quarterback, the visiting Cowboys were favored to win by nearly a touchdown.

Early in the first quarter, wide receiver, Miles Austin, tripped while running his route, resulting in an easy interception return for a touchdown by the Cardinals.  Less than five minutes later, wide receiver, Roy Williams, allowed a pass to bounce off of his hands into the arms of a Cardinals defender who returned yet another interception for a touchdown.

Less than a minute after a David Buehler 42-yard field goal cut the lead to 14-3, the Cowboys were once again burned by a big play.  Cornerback, Michael Jenkins, was called for a pass interference penalty as he awkwardly lunged at Cardinals wide receiver, Andre Roberts.  Despite the contact, Roberts blew right by Jenkins, caught the ball near the sidelines, and easily got around safety, Alan Ball, who had taken a terrible angle while attempting to make the tackle. When Roberts cruised into the end zone with a 74-yard touchdown reception, it started to feel like the Packers game all over again.  But to their credit, the Cowboys didn’t quit, and ultimately clawed their way back into the game.

With quarterback, Jon Kitna, on the sidelines after being knocked out of the game, third-string quarterback, Stephen McGee, entered the game.  He handed the ball off early and often to a rejuvenated-looking Marion Barber.  The only thing more surprising than seeing Marion Barber burst through the line for a 24-yard touchdown, was the stupidity that he showed once he got into the end zone.  As he ripped off his helmet in celebration, the yellow flags came flying onto the field.

The Cowboys cut the lead to one-point, but were forced to kick off deep in their own zone after Barber’s 15-yard penalty was assessed.  Although the defense stopped the Cardinals and forced them to punt, Barber’s penalty could have resulted in a big return, which is exactly what happened in the same situation against the Titans in a loss earlier in the year.

With less than 4 minutes left in the game, the Cardinals took a 4-point lead after a Jay Feely field goal.  The Cowboys, with no timeouts, and a quarterback playing in his first NFL regular season game, needed to march down the field to score a touchdown to win the game.  A defensive pass interference penalty kept the drive alive, and Stephen McGee eventually connected with Miles Austin on a perfectly thrown ball for a 37-yard touchdown, giving the Cowboys their first lead of the game.

In most years, David Buehler, missing the ensuing extra point (which would have given the Cowboys a 3-point lead) would have been shocking.  This year, it was just par for the course.  As was Cardinals kicker, Jay Feely, kicking the game-winning field goal with 5 seconds remaining in the game.

People will most likely say that the Cowboys didn’t quit, fought back to be in a position to win, but lost because of a missed extra point.  What will be swept under the rug is the fact that the Cowboys defense allowed a third-string, rookie quarterback to connect with the Cardinal’s number one receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, on 4th and 15…a completion that lead to the Jay Feely field goal.

If not for the abysmal start to the season, Jason Garrett’s 4-3 record would be looked at as a disappointment.  Playing their final game of the season in Philadelphia means that Jason Garrett is likely to end up with a 4-4 record.  At face value, the Cowboys turnaround from a 1-7 start seems impressive.  However, if Garrett’s record was judged based on the high expectations that existed at the beginning of the year, it would have to be considered disappointing.

Jerry Jones may very well name Jason Garrett as the next head coach of the Cowboys.  But if he does, it is more out of fear of him becoming the next Sean Payton (who left the Cowboys to coach the Saints to a Super Bowl victory) than it is of thinking that he is truly the best candidate to turn this team around in 2011.

Aside from the fact that the Cowboys have played better than they did for Wade Phillips, the reality is that they are still disappointing based on pre-season expectations.  Sweeping changes need to be made to the roster and the rest of the coaching staff.  Even if Jason Garrett was given the power to make those changes (which is debatable), would he have the guts to do what needs to be done?  Somehow I doubt it.

If Jerry Jones wants to fill the seats in his massive, billion-dollar stadium next year, he needs to inspire the confidence of the fanbase.  Returning this coaching staff (less Wade Phillips) is not going to do the trick.  There are only a handful of coaches who will make Cowboys fans start believing again next season.  All of them have won Super Bowls with other teams (with one exception).

They are as follows:

Bill Cowher – He is likely to have the opportunity to coach one of the teams on his wish list (Texans, Giants, Dolphins), but Jerry Jones should at least speak to him.

Jon Gruden – His fire is exactly what this team needs, and he seems more likely to be able to work with Jerry Jones than Cowher.

Tony Dungy – His name has rarely been mentioned; maybe he doesn’t even want to return to coaching, but Jerry Jones should at least reach out to him to see if he is interested.  He would be a great fit for this team.

Brian Billick – His stock was a lot higher when he went to the Ravens.  The concern would be that he won a Super Bowl, but did it with a marginal offense, even though it is his specialty.

Jim Harbaugh – He knows the pro game.  He has proven that he can develop a quarterback (Andrew Luck), and that he can get his team to play to its full potential.  His brother’s success in Baltimore makes this pick seem less risky than other college coaches.

Jason Garrett may end up being a great head coach someday – perhaps even next season with another team.  But if he stays with the Cowboys, and keeps this staff in tact (either by force or by choice), the Cowboys will continue to falter, especially if sweeping roster changes aren’t made.  Jason Garrett’s refusal to sit Barber until he was injured speaks volumes about how he judges the current players on the team.

A coach coming in from the outside will not only bring in his own staff, but he will also have no allegiance to the underachievers on the roster.  If Jerry Jones hires anyone other than the five guys mentioned above, he is likely going to see less than sold-out crowds until the Cowboys start winning again.

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SMASHMOUTH…FOOTBALL…two words that were once synonymous with the NFC East.  Records and standings be damned!  Whenever any combination of the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles faced each other, everyone knew that a physical battle was about to ensue.  That was then…this is now.

Today, the Cowboys and Giants both jumped out to commanding leads against the Redskins and Eagles respectively.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Cowboys lead the Redskins by 16 points.  The Redskin offense had been so anemic recently, that Mike Shanahan decided to bench Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman (a quarterback who hadn’t started a game since 2008).  In the old NFC East, the Cowboys would have imposed their will upon the Redskins, run the ball, chewed up the clock, and walked away with the victory.

The Giants took a commanding 21-point lead as they scored with 8:17 remaining in a game that very likely will determine who wins the NFC East.  In the old NFC East, the Giants would have imposed their will upon the Eagles, run the ball, chewed up the clock, and walked away with the victory.

Today was a sad day for traditionalists who love the old NFC East.

The Cowboys finished the game with a nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession, forced three turnovers, never turned the ball over, and outrushed the Redskins 134 – 55.  Statistically speaking, this game should have been so lopsided that a comeback was outside the realm of possibility. However, while the Cowboys held the Redskins running game in check, they allowed a rusty, unpracticed Rex Grossman to shred them through the air for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.

As poorly as the Cowboys defense played, the fact that the Cowboy offense was unable to muster first downs in the fourth quarter speaks volumes about how different today’s NFC East is from the smashmouth days of yesteryear.  Despite the fact that the Cowboys ran up 434 yards of offense, it took a last-minute field goal to salvage the victory that seemed to be well within their grasp as they entered the fourth quarter.

The Giants finished the game with a nearly 7-minute edge in time of possession and won the turnover battle, and yet, they somehow managed to allow the Eagles to score four touchdowns in the final 7:28 of the game.  A 21-point lead in their home stadium, amazingly turned into a 7-point loss, as the Giants helplessly watched the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson muff a punt, and then run past the entire coverage unit to score on the final play of the game.

In the smashmouth days of yesteryear, the Giants would have easily emerged with the victory in their game against the Eagles.  Instead, they suffered a loss that may very well keep them out of the playoffs all together this year.

The NFL is much different than it used to be.  For many teams, the running game is simply used to set up the passing game…undoubtedly a by-product of the NFL’s rules designed to protect quarterbacks and make covering wide receivers more difficult.  Unfortunately, for NFC East traditionalists, these rule changes have seemingly robbed the division of the smashmouth style of play that once separated it from all others.

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A career in sports is unlike that of any other profession.  Beyond the glamor of the limelight is the burning desire to compete.  This is true for players and coaches alike.  Why else would so many professional athletes hang on long after their bodies have begun to fail them?  Many players and coaches define themselves by their profession, sometimes to the detriment of their family lives.  But this is not always the case.

Today is an unusual day in the world of sports.

First, Keith Fitzhugh, a 24-year old train conductor passed on the opportunity to join the New York Jets.  The undrafted Mississippi State star safety signed with the Jets as a free agent after graduating in 2009.  Like many undrafted free agents, Fitzhugh was cut by the Jets – twice.  He also spent some time with the Baltimore Ravens, but was cut by them as well.  With no offers from other teams, Fitzhugh did what others in his position are forced to do…he got a job.

In September of this year, Fitzhugh took a job as a train conductor on the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  While it is not as glamorous as playing in the NFL, it is a job that he loves.  More importantly, it is a job that offers him a steady paycheck and a chance for long-term employment.  You would think that if ever there was a time in life to roll the dice, this would be it.  However, Fitzhugh does not have the same luxury that many other 24-year olds have.

Keith Fitzhugh lives at home with his parents in Georgia.  His father is disabled and cannot work.  Keith’s salary with the railroad is depended on by the family to make ends meet.  If he joined the Jets, he would certainly make more than enough money to support his family.  However, players at the bottom of NFL rosters are constantly being let go based on the needs of the team.  So, rather than pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, Keith Fitzhugh put the needs of his family ahead of taking a risk that could cost him a job that he needs.

The statement that Fitzhugh made to ABC News speaks volumes about him as a person… “People say – I may have had a chance to play in the Super Bowl, and I sit there and think, and I tell them – hey, you only got one mom and dad!”


Later on in the day, Urban Meyer, the head coach of the Florida Gators, decided to step down from his high-profile coaching job so that he could spend more time with his family.  This is a decision that he also made last year at around this time, but that decision was a knee-jerk reaction to a health scare brought on by chest pains, which were later revealed to be esophageal spasms, not a heart problem.

Leaving one of the most high profile, desirable jobs in college football is not an easy decision.  Just like playing professional sports, coaching is something that goes much deeper than a career choice.  Anyone who needs further proof of this need not look any further than the opposing sidelines during the upcoming Outback Bowl (Urban Meyer’s final game as the coach of the Florida Gators).  Florida will be facing a Penn State team coached by Joe Paterno, who turns 84 on December 21st.  He has been coaching the Nittany Lions for nearly as long as Urban Meyer has been alive.

Some may think that Urban Meyer is becoming the coaching version of Brett Favre with the annual retirement talks, but he sounded very sincere at his press conference, and his motives seem pure.

“At the end of the day, I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won,” Meyer said.  He further stated…“I’ve not seen my two girls play high school sports. They’re both very talented Division I-A volleyball players, so I missed those four years. I missed two already with one away at college. I can’t get that time back.”

Meyer is walking away from about $20million in guaranteed salary to be there for his family.  When it comes down to it, there is no amount of money in the world that can buy back the time that is spent away from family.  He may very well coach again in the future.  With his track record, there will always be a place for him whenever he is ready.  But for now, he is putting his family first and his career second.

Many people will question Urban Meyer for his decision to step down in his prime, and Keith Fitzhugh for his decision to pass on the opportunity to join the Jets for their playoff run.  I, for one, think that they should be commended for defying conventional wisdom, and making the decision to sacrifice for the good of their respective families.

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The world is used to Peyton Manning being one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks every season.  His rookie season (in 1998) is the only time that he has ever thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.  He has been the epitome of consistency throughout his NFL tenure, which is probably why he seems to be getting somewhat of a pass (no pun intended) from the media during his recent struggles.

While some of the factors that have lead to 11 interceptions in the past three games are beyond his control, the fact of the matter is that Peyton Manning is human, and he has been playing poorly lately.  How else do you explain having 4 interceptions returned for touchdowns in the past two games?  And though the Colts offense is dealing with injuries to starters, so are the offenses of many other teams in the league.

Clearly, if this were any other quarterback (aside from possibly Tom Brady) the media would not be as kind as they have been to Manning.  It seems that the focus is more on Indianapolis’ lack of a running game and injuries to key offensive players than it is on the fact that Peyton Manning is not perfect, and he is doing things that are contributing to the Colts’ three-game losing streak.

If Brett Favre had the exact same statistics that Peyton Manning has over the past three games, the media would be lambasting him for his carelessness with the ball.  I doubt that there would be one article written about the fact that Favre hasn’t been playing with his regular receivers all season.  The focus would more likely be on the fact that he didn’t come to training camp.

The bottom line is that quarterbacks get the glory when their team is winning.  Peyton Manning has surely enjoyed the praise that has been heaped on him throughout the course of his NFL career.  They also get the blame when their team is losing.  It may not be fair, but it is reality.

How many more interceptions will Manning be allowed to throw before the media stops making excuses for him?  How many more games do the Colts have to lose before people realize that there is a good chance that the magic may have run out, and that they may be watching the playoffs from their respective living rooms this year?

After yesterday’s collapse, the Colts are only 2 games better than the Cowboys (whose season cannot be characterized as anything other than a colossal failure).  If Roy Williams was able to tuck the ball away on Thanksgiving, the Cowboys’ record would only be one game worse than the Colts.

Despite his incredible talent, the fact of the matter is that Peyton Manning is not performing up to the very high standards that he has set for himself.  As a result, the Colts’ chances of missing the playoffs all together are increasing by the week.

It’s time to stop making excuses for Peyton Manning.  As Bill Parcells has famously stated…”you are what you are.” Simply stated, Peyton Manning is a struggling quarterback who deserves his fair share of the blame for the Colts’ disappointing season.

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