Epic Degrees of FAIL: The NFC

We handled the AFC last night, and now assess the things that killed the hopes of the 10 teams that failed to make the playoffs in the NFC, ranked from least devastating to the most.

At Least The Building Blocks Are There

Chicago Bears – Buck up, Chi-town. Even though you missed the clear shot at a Wild Card slot (and a shot at your division-winning rivals in Minnesota this weekend), you gained this: a QB with the serious potential to be franchise in Kyle Orton and an RB who is definitely franchise in Matt Forte.  Now,  if you can get an actual receiver in there, because Devin Hester hasn’t quite developed hands yet and you can’t throw it to Greg Olsen and Des Clark all the time. Oh, right. Another safety and a corner to shore up when Mike Brown winds up on IR every year wouldn’t hurt, but still, you’re not grasping at straws or anything.

Washington Redskins – 6-2 followed by a 2-6 and a .500 finish. There was going to be lag with Jason Campbell trying to learn yet another offensive system and a first-year head coach who’d never been an OC trying to learn the ropes. O-line and some front-seven help are needed here; more important is that your megalomaniac of an owner relax for a four-year period and not panic. Fear not, Children of the Zorn.

Coming Out Of The Haze

San Francisco 49ers – Gee, if the Yorks had known that concentrating some authority in one person and hustling Mike Nolan out of town would have resulted in some hustle and heart, they’d have canned him earlier. Mike Singletary did all the things Mike Nolan wouldn’t: hold players accountable, reign in the OC who probably thought the interim title would be his, and gave the team some semblance of an identity with wins it probably wouldn’t have pulled out mere weeks ago.  Plus, he’s funny:

Touch Me, I’m Sick

Seattle Seahawks – Sometimes a team just accumulates so many injuries that it’s absolutely impossible to compete, even in the sport’s worst division. Losing somewhere in the range of five wideouts in the first few weeks of the season along with a chunk of secondary and watching the QB suffer through back problems (i.e., getting old) put a crimp in the O-Dub Mike Holmgren’s (OW = Original Walrus) last season. Looks more devastating than it actually was because of the cumulative craptacular year it turned out to be for Seattle sports fans, and at least Seahawks fans know Seneca Wallace can play QB well enough if Matt Hasselbeck is still down.

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The Red Zone: Insane Finishes

Falcons 22, Bears 20 – Qualifying for the bizarre in the end.  Kyle Orton is officially a good QB to me now, having led the Bears on an incredible drive for the go-ahead score, and finishing it with a perfect fade throw to Rashied Davis, putting it where only his guy could get it. But then, the Chicago coaching staff decided to squib kick, and those ten extra yards wound up mattering: Matt Ryan, finishing off a 300+ yard day (first of his career), hit Michael Jenkins at the 34 of Chicago with one second left. Jason Elam then redeemed himself from 48 out after missing one that might have iced the game for the Falcons earlier.

Cardinals 30, Cowboys 24 – We all saw the punt block in OT that won the game (nice play.)  But there are concerns now to addressa bout Dallas’ D, which not only couldn’t get any pressure on Kurt Warner (who hit Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston all day), but looked like a colleciton of talent more than a squad. The same went on offense, where Tony Romo fumbled as much as he threw for touchdowns.

Rams 19, Redskins 17 – So, after beating Dallas and Philly on the road and getting a good jump start on the season, Washington gives up five turnovers en route to allowing St. Louis its first iwn on the season. What  a letdown.

Eagles 40, 49ers 26 – Thankfully, Donovan McNabb led a comeback, because this didn’t look good Philly at the end of hte first half, after San Francisco returned a blocked FG for a score and took a 26-17 lead in the third. The Eagles’ defense got into turnover mode, though, creating short fields and reminding the NIners that they are, well, the Niners.

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The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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Cedric Benson Is Waiting For An Apology

Or at least he should be — from the Chicago Bears for pretty much dumping his ass because of the off-field problems (yes, they could have dumped him for on-field lack of production, but it was very much done in the wake of the arrests), from mass media sources for partially convicting him before the charges played out, and from anyone who decided that he was guilty and tarred him as just another thug or something like that.

Remember those two alcohol-related charges Benson was arrested on in May and June of this year in Texas?  He shouldn’t even have been arrested. Benson said repeatedly that he was harassed by police and that the charges had no merit. Turns out he was right. The charges didn’t even have enough of a basis to go to trial.

According to defense attorney Sam Bassett, two Travis County grand juries found no probable cause to indict Benson for the two alcohol-related arrests in Texas that led to his release from the Bears. “Since my initial review of the evidence in both cases, I have said that Cedric was not guilty,” Bassett said. “I hope that this situation reminds us all that not every person who is arrested for a crime is guilty.”

A lesson the Bears and Lord Roger Goodell of Iron Fist would do well to learn.  Benson had said he was not drunk and that he was being mistreated by police in those arrests.  Again, I understand why the NFL has such a strong policy and why teams are loath to keep players who are arrested — it’s a public image, bottom-line type thing. However, it’s swung way too far in that direction, taking away livelihoods before anyone is actually convicted in a court of law.

There’s a fundamental problem with that.

UPDATE: Reading ESPN.com news service copy gets you this:

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said there were problems in both cases. In the initial arrest, officials did not conduct a field sobriety test and there was no video evidence.

In the driving while intoxicated case, there was video evidence but Benson “appears very well” in the recording, Escamilla said.

Benson’s status as a well-known sports figure in Austin did not play a factor in the outcome of the cases, the county attorney said.

“Sometimes it’s to his benefit and sometimes it’s not,” Escamilla said. “We call them as we see them.”

So the first one was Boating While Black and the second one had Benson appearing to be OK, and it sounds like there wasn’t a test done there either. It does not take a lot to get indictment on DUI charges from a grand jury — these things are usually pretty quick and seamless. And remember just how much he got dogged about the off-field stuff on top of the on-field.

Analysts: stick to the on-field talk. Benson didn’t produce in Chicago. Future lesson: do not conflate the on-field and off-field prior to the legal system running its course.

The Red Zone: Eddie Guns Misfires

Broncos 39, Chargers 38 – I’m a Denver homer and even I will admit that referee Ed Hochuli completely blew it. We shouldn’t have had that chance to win that game. That said, it was smart and ballsy to go for two after Jay Cutler threw it to Eddie Royal for the touchdown because it was playing with house money and because San Diego would be reeling from getting fucked over. These teams will be fighting for the AFC West crown, because Philip Rivers and that offense know how to close and come back. They wouldn’t have gotten to the AFC championship game if they didn’t. Cutler is still learning how to finish, and there could be some shaky times. But each offense looked really good for a half.

Patriots 19, Jets 10 – The game ended with the old Brett Favre that we’ve gotten used to: a late pick-off by Brandon MeriweatherMatt Cassel threw for 165 yards, didn’t throw any TD passes, but didn’t muck it up and while he’s not going to be raging up any fantasy rosters, he might stand a chance of getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

Titans 24, Bengals 7 – How long is Marvin Lewis for this world of NFL coaching? He’s been undermined and this looks to be the worst team he’s ever fielded in his years in Cincinnati.  Kerry Collins, relieving Vince Young, threw for one touchdown and dispensed the ball to LenDale White and Chris Johnson to eat up yardage. Tennessee’s defense got lethal, and now they are in first place in the toughest division in football.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16 – What world is this we live in, with Buffalo starting 2-0?  Trent Edwards is looking like the starting quarterback they’ve been looking for (it helps if you have Marshawn Lynch to hand off to) by throwing a fourth-quarter touchdown against a tema that was in the playoffs last year.

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The Red Zone: Week 1 Highlights

Patriots 17, Chiefs 10 – It’s all about Tom Brady probably being out for the season, and the Patriots’ chances riding on that — so much so that it overrode the game itself, where the Chiefs failed at a last second comeback. Now, it’s a question of whether Bill Belichick will stick with Matt Cassel or who he will bring in to take Brady’s place.

Eagles 38, Rams 3 – More notable for Donovan McNabb being good as we’re used to from him, with three TD passes. Here’s how lousy St. Louis is: Philly had three — count ’em — three receivers reach the 100-yard mark for the game.

Cowboys 28, Browns 10 – The Cleveland hangover from the pre-season is still there, and Tony Romo and Marion Barber basically tore it up, so much so that Felix Jones could get into the act late too.

Jets 20, Dolphins 14 – Brett Favre throws two classic Gunslinger TDs (one on fourth down when kicker Mike Nugent twinged his leg) and the New York secondary picks Chad Pennington in the end zone to seal the win.

Bills 34, Seahawks 10 – Two massive special teams plays, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish and a fake punt to a TD pass, help bolster a rout of the NFC West favorite.

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Observe My Poor Attempts At Humor In Real Time

Reminder for you NFL lovers (read: all of you): I return to my regular Sunday night live-blogging position at Awful Announcing come Sunday at 5 PM Pacific to watch as the Neckbeard and the Chicago Bears take on Peyton and the Colts.

Do join me.