Archive for November 27th, 2011

Best public urination: Chargers kicker Nick Novak unknowingly auditioned for his role in the next Depends commercial. His voiceover would sound something like this:

Nature called when the game was on the line, and all I had was a towel and a Dixie cup. Next time, I’ll be prepared. Next time, I’ll be wearing the most dependable, long-lasting adult diaper. I’ll feel safe and comfortable, and my public urination won’t be a two-man job.

Heaviest foot: Raiders punter Shane Lechler booted an 80-yard punt, which seems ridiculous, and it’s the kind of number that prompts searches in the NFL record books to see if Lechler is flirting with history.

He wasn’t even close thanks to Steve O’Neal, the former Jets punter who blasted one 98 yards in 1969.

Worst display of basic NFL rules comprehension: In a routine that’s such a formality that it’s on par with a police officer reading a criminal his rights, or a priest asking the bride and groom to say “I do,” NFL referees review the overtime rules before the start of each extra frame. The spiel is so basic that we all tune it out as white noise until the coin is in the air.

We won’t do that now thanks to Jeff Triplette, the referee in the Chargers-Broncos game who completely and painfully botched the NFL’s basic regular-season overtime rules before tossing the coin. In his rambling, awkward speech Triplette explained that both teams were guaranteed one possession. That’s wildly incorrect, and is in direct opposition to the premise of sudden death overtime, a term Triplette had uttered seconds earlier.

But what’s most entertaining is that initially after hearing Triplette’s flub, viewers widely assumed that he had mixed up the regular season and post-season overtime rules. Even that’s incorrect, because Triplette’s explanation was close to the recently-modified post-season overtime rules, but it was still a little off.

We could let this slide by as a simple mental gaff, and allow Triplette his right to make a mistake, even if it was a massive verbal fumble on national television. And we’d do that if this was the first time he’s been an incoherent mess while explaining a simple league rule.

But it wasn’t…

It doesn’t end there either.

Back in 2001 Triplette prematurely blew the play dead after a fake Peyton Manning spike, and the resulting confusion nearly cost the Colts a win. He was also on the throwing end of the flag that struck former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Orlando Brown in the eye.

In fairness, there’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for Triplette’s mistake today. Or maybe there’s even a supernatural one…

Worst management of a quarterback making his first career start: In Chicago’s seven games since Week 4, Matt Forte has averaged 21.6 carries per game, a transition to common sense football by offensive coordinator Mike Martz that kept Jay Cutler upright, and allowed Forte to rank in the top five in rushing yards.

So it’s baffling that today Martz completely abandoned that strategy while dealing with an inexperienced Caleb Hanie making his first-career NFL start. The Raiders wisely focused on the run, and forced Hanie to beat them through the air, which would be a fine excuse for Forte having a sub-par day by his standards.

It’s not, however, an acceptable excuse for not giving Forte an opportunity to develop a rhythm and properly support Hanie. In a close game Forte received only 12 carries, meaning Martz inexplicably reverted to his old form and nearly cut his primary running back’s workload in half, putting his offense’s fate in the hands of a quarterback who often looked lost and overwhelmed.

Quickest exit: In the early game awards we showed you the sparse turnout in St. Louis today, and what a 2-9 team looks like in the stands. Well, this is what a failed Dream Team looks like with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter when it’s getting manhandled by 18 points.

Least original chant: And this is what it sounds like when those fans are angry before they leave early to litter the mean streets of Philadelphia with their intoxicated rage.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult putting a new spin on what Tim Tebow and the Broncos are doing. Despite having an extra quarter to work with, Tebow again finished with fewer than 10 completions in a Denver victory Sunday.

As per usual, Tebow didn’t begin to resemble an NFL quarterback until Denver’s final drive of regulation — he completed three out of four passes for 65 yards as the Broncos drove down the field to tie the game — as the defense and running game led the way. The D has now allowed 15 or fewer points in four of the six games they’ve played with Tebow as the starting quarterback, which either means they’ve improved naturally (and Tebow’s run of success is at least a little coincidental) or Tebow is somehow contributing to the team’s defensive efforts via telekinesis.

Tebow, Willis McGahee and Lance Ball also combined for 203 rushing yards on 49 carries in the win over San Diego. It’s not exciting, but the zone read continues to successfully baffle opposing defenses.

The Denver win further shakes up an already scrambled AFC West. Oakland beat the Bears, but the Broncos, who have now won four straight and five of six with Tebow at quarterback, are hot on their tails. Look at the schedule — they should be able to win three, maybe four of their final five games. The Raiders have a much tougher road to finish the season, and Denver has a slight edge right now in terms of tiebreakers.

It’s weird breaking down the AFC West race without having to mention the Chargers, who are likely done at 4-7. They’ve now lost six straight games coming out of their bye. Despite having more talent than the Raiders and Broncos, they continue to find ways to lose. Injuries have played a role, but it’s hard to imagine Norv Turner sticking around beyond the next five weeks.

But as a neutral observer, I actually prefer it with San Diego out of the way. A lot of people hate the Tebow storyline, but I love it. I love that what the Broncos are doing is flying in the face of the classic pro football approach. I love seeing a good guy like Tebow succeed, especially in such an unconventional way. I love the originality of this story.

I don’t love that the focus is almost solely on Tebow and the veer, because this goes far beyond that. The Denver defense and that fierce pass rush — Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are wreaking havoc – has been top notch since mid-October. Tebow was barely touched behind a stellar offensive line Sunday, and they continue to churn up yards on the ground.

As the Broncos continue to win — and I do think they’ll continue to win — I’m hoping that we begin to hear about the 52 players on the Denver roster not named Tim. And maybe, eventually, more of us will begin to take these guys seriously.

Worst apathy: This is St. Louis just prior to kickoff today, and this is what a 2-9 record looks like.

Don’t worry, St. Louis sports fans, spring training is only three months away.

Worst accomplishment: The Browns scored their first first quarter touchdown of the season today, and it’s Week 12. This proves two truths to be self-evident: the Browns can’t even fake being a decent NFL team, and they thoroughly enjoy making me awkwardly write the word “first” two times in a row.

Remarkably, the Browns were able to match this crappy first with another crappy achievement. Cedric Benson became the sixth running back to rush for at least 100 yards against Cleveland when he finished with 106 yards on 21 carries.

Worst attempt to field an offense: Meanwhile, in the land of misfit NFL teams, the Colts avoided finishing the month of November without an offensive touchdown when Donald Brown scored in the second quarter. But they still lost to maintain their goose egg in the win column and firm grip on Andrew Luck.

Congratulations?

Best Oscar bid: We’re just a few months away from awards season in Hollywood, a time when Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson likely won’t be playing football. So he has other career aspirations in mind during his offseason down time, and today he made his demo tape for silver screen stuntman recruiters.

Or maybe Simpson has already booked a tryout with an Italian soccer team. Either way, he has a bright acting future ahead.

Best tip drill execution: One year ago, Brad Smith was a human gimmick with the Jets. He was primarily used as a kick returner and in New York’s wildcat formations.

Now he’s doing his part to make Antonio Cromartie look like a bumbling fool.

Best redemption: Three weeks ago a hobbled Beanie Wells was a massive disappointment against the league’s worst rushing defense, finishing with only 20 yards on 10 carries during a win over St. Louis. He exceeded that yardage total promptly in just a few carries today, running for 118 yards on nine carries in the first half during a rematch with the Rams.

Wells’ day was highlighted by runs of 53 and 71 yards, and he set a new Cardinals single-game rushing record by finishing with 228 yards on 27 carries. But a Beanie Wells rushing day isn’t complete without a muscle or bone malfunction, and true to form Wells left briefly in the fourth quarter with a knee injury that wasn’t serious.

Best touchdown celebration in the history of touchdown celebrations: Stevie Johnson had a stone, and he had a strong desire to kill multiple birds. He did so by first mocking Plaxico Burress during his first half touchdown celebration, and then crashing the jet usually piloted safely onto a landing strip by Santonio Holmes.

Most surprising ability to be appealing to the opposite sex: Forget the colorful and somewhat terrifying costumes worn be these Texans fans, attire which is standard for an NFL Sunday.

What’s amazing is that the guy on the right is married, an eternal bliss we can confirm because of his wedding ring. This finally proves that people who dress like demons from hell at football stadiums throughout America are actually real humans with real emotions, and they have the ability to love and be loved.

When you look at it like that, this is a moving, captivating, and inspirational picture.

Most unpredictable running back: This award in itself is quite predictable, but it’s also quite frustrating, especially for fantasy owners who’ve been forced to sit through Chris Johnson’s nightmare season.

I’ve often lamented Johnson’s lack of production in this space throughout the year, tipping my hand more than once as one of those Johnson owners who has to close his eyes and start the under-producing Titans running back each week.

But now we have no idea what to expect from Johnson. No idea whatsoever, and that may be even worse.

Johnson’s 190 yards on 23 carries today was the second best single-game output of his career, and it came during what has easily been his worst season, a year when prior to today he was averaging 35 yards per game fewer than last year. Now in two of his past three games Johnson’s capitalized on favorable matchups against Tampa Bay and Carolina for 320 rushing yards, and sandwiched in between those two games is a 13-yarder against Atlanta.

The real Johnson still hasn’t shown up, at least not consistently.

Best groin shot: Do not make Jared Allen angry, because an angry Jared Allen can significantly reduce your capacity to produce children. Yes, today we learned that when he’s asked to be an emergency long snapper, Allen is overcome with anger.

We’re positive that those two actions have a direct correlation.

Worst quarterback of the 2011 draft class: Is this hardware a little harsh and a little early for Blaine Gabbert? Sure, but we’ve used all the excuses about a lack of a supporting cast repeatedly now. Eventually a quarterback with sound fundamentals who was deemed worthy of occupying real estate in the top half of the first round in last spring’s draft needs to demonstrate an ability to use those fundamentals and make intelligent decisions.

Gabbert’s done exactly the opposite, and his poor field vision was glaring when he aimlessly and needlessly heaved a throw into double coverage deep downfield today that landed in the hands of Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Not every young, rookie quarterback is going to be an instant dynamo, and mistakes are often the best form of learning. But allowing those mistakes to mount can shatter confidence and be counter-productive, which is why Gabbert was yanked in favor of Luke McCown.

It seems like only a short time ago that the former Missouri standout was touted as the best pure passer in the 2011 draft. Now he’s dead last in yards per completion (5.3), he’s completing only 48.9 percent of his passes, and he’s still on pace to be the 2011 version of Jimmy Clausen.

Three questions from the early games…

Did karma bite Stevie Johnson?

Call it what you want to call it, but the Jets and their fans got the last laugh after Stevie Johnson went into full mockery mode earlier in the afternoon. As a result, New York is alive and well in the AFC playoff race, while the Bills are as good as dead.

Johnson, who’s no stranger to controversy, invited a heap of it when he pantomimed shooting himself in the leg and added a fiery twist to Santonio Holmes’ oft-used flying celebration following a second-quarter touchdown grab. But in the fourth quarter, Johnson, who’s also no stranger to dropping important passes, dropped what might have been a game-winning touchdown pass.

Two plays later, the game was over, and the Bills fell below .500 for the first time this year.

Regardless of what kind of role karma played, Johnson has to be particularly embarrassed. There’s a reason why some of the league’s best receivers have some of the most bombastic and edgy touchdown celebrations — they can typically back it up with their play on the field. Arrogance is sort of admirable under those circumstances.

But you simply can’t afford to do things like this and follow them up with plays like this.

Johnson’s a good dude, so this isn’t a big joke. He feels as though the celebration cost his team the game, and he might be right. Even setting aside the potential application of the laws of karma, consider that the celebration resulted in a 15-yard penalty that forced Buffalo to kick off from the 20-yard line. Dave Rayner botched the kickoff (would he have done so from the 35?) and the Jets took over at the Bills’ 36, scoring four plays later.

Buffalo had all the momentum when Johnson scored, but the celebration penalty changed everything. And that quick Jets touchdown was the difference on the scoreboard.

It’s a shame, because this could have been a season-saving victory for a Buffalo team that had lost three straight after a surprisingly strong start to the season. Despite not having Fred Jackson and despite starting four rookies on defense, the Bills outplayed the Jets in New York, which is saying a lot considering that Gang Green dominated Buffalo only three weeks ago.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was better than Mark Sanchez. Brad Smith burned his former team. The Bills won the turnover battle 2-0. They had more first downs and more total yards.

All for naught. See ya next year.

Have we already concluded that Blaine Gabbert is a bust?

There was a time when young quarterbacks were given some leeway. We accepted that rookies make mistakes, especially rookie quarterbacks forced to start in their inaugural seasons.  But now, there is little margin for error with rookie pivots. For whatever reason, the bar has been raised significantly.

Maybe it’s because, in recent seasons, rookies like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford have performed so well out of the gates. As the league becomes more and more pass-oriented every year, the demand for pro-ready quarterbacks is sky-high, and the college system has supplied those in demand with a steady crop of well-groomed quarterbacks.

So that has me wondering if time has already run out on Blaine Gabbert, who was benched Sunday against the Texans after another putrid performance. “Sunshine” is only 22 years old, but he’s arguably been the worst quarterback in football this year. And it doesn’t help his cause that fellow rookie pivots Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have been terrific in Carolina and Cincinnati, respectively.

Last year, it only took 10 starts from Jimmy Clausen for the Panthers to decide that he wasn’t cut out to be their franchise quarterback.

This year, Gabbert might have run out of leash after just nine. And considering how poorly the Jags have been playing as a team, his replacement might be on the roster by the time spring arrives.

Now what do the Texans do at quarterback? 

Last week, when Matt Schaub was placed on injured reserve and Kyle Orton became available via waivers, the Texans stayed away from Orton, claiming that they were confident in Matt Leinart’s abilities.

But in an incredibly unlucky development that could only happen to a team in the snake-bitten AFC South, Houston has lost Leinart as well, probably for the remainder of the season.

There’s a simple explanation for this: the God (or Gods) of football don’t want the Texans to win. This is a team that has now lost two starting quarterbacks, an elite wide receiver and a Pro Bowl pass rusher, and yet they remain fairly secure in first place in a bad division.

So is this the last straw? If you can survive injuries to Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and Schaub (they won without him today), then you can surely live without Matt Freakin’ Leinart, right? The Houston offense is designed in a way that makes it possible to succeed without a superstar quarterback, but the Texans might be pushing it if they send T.J. Yates onto the field as a starter for the remainder of the year.

This team is talented enough to win the Super Bowl, but they won’t do it with Yates under center. In the pass-happy NFL, that just won’t happen. And don’t use the 2000 Ravens to defend a Yates-led Texans offense, because Trent Dilfer was still a proven veteran and that Baltimore team had a legendary defense.

Unfortunately, with the trade deadline passed and Orton now in Kansas City, there aren’t a lot of options. But the Texans can’t sit on their hands. They need a third quarterback anyway now, so they’d be smart to bring in a group of veterans this week for workouts.

Hey Jake Delhomme’s been to a Super Bowl, hasn’t he?

Caleb Hanie will make his first career start today against Oakland. Just like Matt Leinart in Houston, he'll be trying to keep his team's post-season push alive.

Football doesn’t stop for America’s turkey hangover, or its bruises and pepper spray wounds after a day of violent shopping. So we forge ahead bravely on another NFL Sunday, but there’s one moronic and idiotic soldier who didn’t make it through the Thanksgiving festivities with his sanity still in tact, and we likely won’t be seeing him for a few weeks.

His name is Ndamukong Suh, and it’s expected that he’ll be suspended for two games. Next time just be more careful when you’re getting up from a pile, Ndamukong, and don’t accidentally kick an opposing player after shoving his head into the turf repeatedly.

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons

Bill Musgrave is now the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. But a few years ago when Matt Ryan was a highly-touted rookie Musgrave was an assistant coach in Atlanta, and Ryan was eager to gush about Musgrave’s influence on his development when he spoke to the Minnesota media earlier this week.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Friday we learned that former Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is a verbally abusive douchebag who went to the Mike Singletary school of coaching (if you scream louder, they’ll listen more and win more). But as Waiting for Next Year notes, if Daboll’s abuse did indeed make Colt McCoy a stronger man as he claims, he still hasn’t shown that on the field yet.

Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts

Colts fans, players, and coaches (assuming they’re not canned) can gaze at the opposing sideline today and see hope, and hope’s name will be Cam Newton.

Carolina’s record may not reflect the renewed energy and enthusiasm Newton’s brought to the team, but it’s there. If Peyton Manning can’t be the franchise anymore, then there has to be faith in Indianapolis that another quarterback who currently attends Stanford can fill that massive void through the draft. Newton’s performance this year and his impact on the Panthers franchise should feed that faith.

Meanwhile, back in insanity land, Jim Irsay said something about a hard-boiled egg, Andrew Luck, and his desperate desire to get one win this season.

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

Matt Leinart will be eased into the Houston offense while making his first start in two years, and he’ll be asked to start consecutive games for the first time since 2007. For the Texans, the next six games will be a franchise-defining stretch that could and should end in their first playoff berth, and Leinart’s now at the offensive helm controlling that push.

For Leinart this could be a career-defining stretch, and his play over the next six games could determine if he’s ever given another chance to be a starting quarterback.

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

The Jets have only one 40-plus yard pass this year, and it was essentially a run play that happened to be a forward pass when Ladainian Tomlinson ran 74 yards after receiving a screen pass against Oakland. That shows Mark Sanchez’s regression in 2011 and his near non-existent downfield ability, because one year ago the Jets were tied for sixth with 11 pass of 40 yards or more.

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams

Kevin Kolb isn’t quite ready to return, and he’s expected to sit out his fourth straight game with a toe injury. Sadly, this is good news for the Cardinals.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans

LeGarrette Blount will face the Titans for the first time since Tennessee released him during training camp last August. It’s a move the Titans may soon regret as Chris Johnson’s baffling regression continues.

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders

Even with a healthy Jay Cutler, the Bears’ offense was already moving in a different direction, with Mike Martz using two tight ends on 23 percent of the plays he called, and running the ball on 52 percent of those plays. That shift will likely continue as the transition to Caleb Hanie begins today.

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks

It’s been exactly four years since Sean Taylor died. Whoever said that time heals all wounds will have to convince Redskins fans and former Redskins blogger Matt Teri.

In his excellent column Teri describes why it’s still hard to write about Taylor, and why it’s getting harder each year.

New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles

Patriots third string quarterback Ryan Mallett spent the week mimicking Vince Young in practice, and in doing so the former Razorback revealed that for a brief time he was a Longhorns fan, or at least a Vince Young fan.

Young will be starting because Michael Vick is officially out, and he’ll be throwing against a Patriots secondary that’s still a mess because of key injuries. Chad Ochocinco reportedly won’t play in this game either, but will anyone notice? More importantly, will anyone care?

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

Denver Post columnist Woody Paige is often mildly insane, but in his latest piece filled with Tim Tebow drool he passed along a few interesting Tebow nuggets. Paige’s numbers provide a stark contrast in today’s game between a Broncos quarterback who transforms into a winner late in games regardless of how many wobbly ducks he’s thrown throughout the other three quarters, and a Chargers quarterback who’s done the opposite this season.

In just eight career starts Tebow has already tied the team record for fourth quarter comebacks by a quarterback in his first two seasons. And despite his overall poor completion percentage this year (44.8 percent), Tebow is completing passes at a significantly better rate in the fourth quarter (56 percent).

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

The Steelers have served as a motivational tool for Todd Haley and his inconsistent 4-6 Chiefs. Not the 2011 Steelers, though.

Haley is more concerned with the 1989 Steelers, and that team’s ability to be resilient and quality for the playoffs despite the number in their loss column at any point in the season.