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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Will You Bite The Hand That Feeds You? Will You Stay Down On Your Knees?

Vikings Williamses Football

I suppose I ought to apologize for borrowing a Nine Inch Nails chorus, but it’s the basic question that the NFLPA handed itself when the late Gene Upshaw ceded the union’s say in disciplinary matters years back. Then again, no one really could have predicted the reign of Lord Roger Goodell coming around, but still, any union head has to be smart enough tos ee those possibilities coming.

Now, you have a matter of NFL discipline in the hands of the legal system, becuase Minnesota Vikings D-linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were bright enough to lawyer up for their suspensions over using StarCaps, which the league said had a substance on the banned list, but the players claimed a hotline put in place to answer those sorts of qustions about supplements was not functioning properly. The other players involved and suspended by the league are the Saints’ Will Smith, Deuce McAllister, and Charles Graint, along with a Texans’ long-snapper.

I have made it a point to rail against Goodell’s heavy-handed and inconsistent approach towards player suspensions (Jared Allen gets a four-game knocked down to two; somehow, Matt Jones has gotten forever to appeal a three-gamer for his coke arrest), and this is not helping matters when players are paying dues to an association that isn’t doing a whole lot to help them when they get in straits with the league’s no-tolerance policies through methods that could easily be honest mistakes.

If at any time, the NFLPA needed an outside fiture, its own Marvin Miller to help guide it to a prominence similar to the NBA Players Association or the MLBPA, this is the time — as the owners are citing the bad economic forecast as justification for pulling out of the current labor agreement. (This conveniently ignores the owners pulling out at least a few good months before the mortgage collapse truly hit the fan.)  If this is the case, it’s time to insert some levity back into the disciplinary process for on-field and off-field related matters in exchange for any sort of concession to ownership.

I’m not so sure the players can do that if they pick one of their own to replace Upshaw. For the sake of its members who pay dues and get screwed by fine-print rules which the league’s supposed 24-hour hotline can’t explain, the NFLPA needs to find an outside leader and start challenging Dictator Goodell on his power tripping.

The Red Zone: Getting The Point Across

(Video tip to Black Sports Online.)

Seahawks 34, 49ers 13 – Normally I would not lead with this because there were a litany of better games on, and I was saved from having to watch this travesty by the grace of my local Fox affiliate who rationally decided that no one in our little part of California wanted to watch the Niners get beat. However, it produced the most coherent yet quotable of coach rants from Mike Singletary, who is visibly and understandably frustrated with a quarterback who is responsible for 11 fumbles and 17 interceptions, a tight end that dogged it a bit and cost them 15 yards on a dumb penalty, and a defense that allowed a fullback, a fullback, to gather up 116 yards and two TDs on only four receptions.

Saints 37, Chargers 32 – Essentially, the Chargers stalled themselves early in London, which allowed Drew Brees and whatever mishmash of talent he has catching footballs to get up early and get a lead. 14 penalties for more than 100 penalty yards don’t help, especially when the defense has completely quit or doesn’t have enough to stop any sort of potent offense. The AFC West is slowly morphing into the NFC West, if you can believe it.

Panthers 27, Cardinals 23 – Kurt Warner got the Cards out to a 17-3 lead, but then Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith powered a Carolina comeback in Charlotte, prodded on by an amazing play where Smith looked like he had gone out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but his heel had not touched the sideline while his foot came down near it.

Cowboys 13, Buccaneers 9 – An ugly game in which Tampa Bay essentially got stopped in the red zone when they were able to mount drives, including the last failed drive with less than a minute to go. Brad Johnson threw one TD pass to Roy L. Williams, and if you have any Dallas players on your fantasy teams, I’d advise benching them until Tony Romo comes back.

Jets 28, Chiefs 24 – New York won in spite of Brett Favre as much as they did because of him. The Gunslinger threw three picks, making Tyler Thigpen look like a competent quarterback until Herm Edwards’ late conservative playcalling got int the way. Thigpen finished with two TD passes.

Giants 21, Steelers 14 – Something I’ll never understand about defensive coordinators: you go to all this trouble, if you’re Dick LeBeau, to develop good coverage and blitz schemes to use on Sunday, yet, after your team’s offense gives up and awful safety on a botched punt snap, you play prevent. Of course, when you play prevent, you give up a score, and Eli Manning hitting Kevin Boss to go ahead for good seemed utterly predictable. It would help if Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t spending half the game on his back.

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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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Would A “Bush” Label Stick For Potential First-Round Picks?

This question is prompted by Dan Shanoff, who wrote this morning that New Orleans RB Reggie Bush is essentially Devin Hester with a devastating salary cap hit for his team attached — certainly not the revolutionary RB that he had been projected as back in the 2006 draft.  The pretty basic point about Bush, so far, is that he isn’t a between-the-tackles guy, and the breakaway speed he showed at USC isn’t quite so unique at the pro level, where even the mediocre linebackers are often fortified with SEC speed.

But the second, short part of his assessment of a possible “Bush-like” label for current college football star players with similar skills is a bit lacking:

There is an incredibly strong class of Bush-like players coming to the ’09 NFL Draft: Jeremy Maclin (a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore), Percy Harvin and Derrick Williams, to name the Top 3. Will the “Bush-like” label help or — to bring it back to the ’08 Election — hurt?

Labeling Percy Harvin with that brush may not be terribly far off, and that’s really the fault of his coach, Urban Meyer.  Meyer’s refusal to devleop actual running backs in Florida’s offense (don’t tell me you have Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey and can’t use either one of them in the backfield efficiently) keeps Harvin from developing more straight-ahead route-running  skills, and he still seems to be somewhat raw at it.  But as far as Jeremy Maclin and Derrick Williams go, those two — and many of your multi-option threats in that vein — are on the depth chart as wide receivers; they know how to run all the routes asked of them by their coaches.  You see plays run for them to get them into the backfield, not out of it — end arounds, reverses, etc. to throw wrinkles into the offense (and you can include Harvin there, easily.)  Those types of trickery are part of the playbooks of most of your NFL coordinators; they work best with a WR who has the basic skills, so defenses can’t peg it as a play for that particular multi-dimensional player right off the bat.

Hester is learning that at the NFL level, and Bush is pretty much turning into a slot guy and outside-running back at the pro-level.  Those aren’t good comparions at all. I think there is a better one out there, and considering how his rookie season has gone so far, “the next DeSean Jackson” might be the label that Maclin and Williams are looking at. So far, Jackson has two scores (one a punt return TD) and 335 receiving yards in 5 games. That’s not bad for a rookie that wasn’t expected to crack the starting line-up when camp opened.

Maybe Bush should have been a very short slot receiver instead. Hell, he might not have as many endorsements or that fat contract, but there are worse things to be in the NFL than Wes Welker.

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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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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