Epic Degrees of FAIL: The AFC

Chronicling just what killed each of the 10 AFC teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and how devastating that failure was in the end, from the least to the most.

The Break Heard ‘Round The World

New England Patriots — Now staying home despite an 11-5 record and recovering in a way no one expected after Tom Brady’s knee ligaments snapped in the opening game.  Done in due to losses acquired during adjustment period to Matt Cassel and an aging defense that gave in to division rivals, particularly Miami, once too often. Are low on the list because this was still Coach Hobo’s best work in the duress of losing his leader and star.

Bad Start Followed By Peaking Too Late

Houston Texans — Effectively destroyed thanks to Sage Rosenfels’ propensity to turn the ball over when it matters most.  Matt Schaub wasn’t doing great to start out, but Rosenfels handing a game to the Colts and having to rotate in and out while Schaub tried to find his groove ensured Houston would be a late bloomer.  Four game losing streak capped by that loss in Indy killed any hope in a division where the winner had a 10-game winning streak and the second place team enters the playoffs with a nine-game streak. At least you’re not finishing under .500 again, and you have a feature back in Steve Slaton.

Icarus Is Not A Model To Follow Here

Buffalo Bills – A 5-1 start against what turned out to be lamentably bad competition (of the teams they beat, only the Chargers made the playoffs), followed by a precipitous fall in which they lost 8 of their final 10, forgot Marshawn Lynch existed for the most part, and had to go to J.P. Losman in games that they stood a chance of winning thanks to Trent Edwards’ fragile constitution.

Cincinnati Bengals – No communication between Carson Palmer and his receivers when he was playing, he gets knocked out, team continues to suffer until its tie of the Eagles and belated discovery that Cedric Benson still has rushing skills. Oddly enough, defense not responsible for sucking more this year.  Continued fall back to reality from Wild Card finish two years ago complete.

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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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Crotchety Old Fuck Tells Whippersnapper To Get Off His Lawn

This is probably not the image you want to see first thing, but if you want a state of where one of the NFL’s most notable franchises is, look no further than the void in this aged, craggy mug.

Most firings of coaches involve very somber, quick, and relatively fireworks-free press condferences. But, this is Al Davis and these are the Oakland Raiders, so all the rules go out the window. The Cryptkeeper spent the majority of his press conference berating Lane Kiffin, accusing him of lying and basically setting out hte case he plans to use in front of Roger Goodell in order to keep from paying the now-fired coach the rest of the money owed on his contract.

While watching this first half (I had to go to work before the second part unfolded, the one where, oh yeah, offensive line coach Tom Cable got to take over the sinking ship), all I could think of was how utterly pathetic, how petty and vendictive the whole matter was — and then had to ask why anyone with any form of sanity would consent to coaching the Raiders, even on an interim basis.  When Kiffin spoke with ESPN afterwards, saying he was embarrassed to even be associated with it and felt embarrassment for Davis, the whole day’s events reached another, unforeseen, and completely sad level of self-parody for a man who did so much actual good for professional football.

Davis was the AFL Commissioner in 1966, when the league was on the way up and rivaling the NFL (he had been against the merger.)  He hired the first Latino head coach in Tom Flores and first black head coach in Art Shell. He was a thorn in the side of then-commissioner Pete Rozelle, when NFL ownership needed a thorn in its side coming from its own.

That’s why it’s particularly difficult to observe this act straight out of King Lear, a patriarch gone mad, concerned about holding on to power to preserve his legacy while diminishing it at the same time.  Davis has repeatedly stated that he wants to remain in charge of the Raiders’ day-to-day operations and has stated his goal is to win two more Super Bowls before retiring.

He will die first.

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 Lane Kiffin Death Watch Gets Even More Absurd

I’m taking a bet on this since I don’t read him all that regularly, but San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami is probably a bit of a dick. Most newspaper columnists have opinionated takes that tend to verge on the obnoxious a lot of the time. They get readers this way that either love them or hate them, and that’s usually how it goes.

Sadly, WordPress is not good with video not from Google or YouTube, thus, I can’t embed the little confrontation Kawakami had with Raiders senior exec John Herrera right here, but thankfully, the Merc’s online staff has seen fit to put it at the end of his latest column.

The basic background is that someone in the Raiders’ org circulated a column critical of coach Lane Kiffin on ESPN.com, and in a press conference yesterday where everyone thought Coach Lunch Money was going to get the ax, Kawakami asked a question about feeling isolated in the organization — which prodded Herrera to interrupt Kiffin’s response, and then the little side skirmish on the video.

Kiffin isn’t absolved of all responsibility in this soap opera — he has been insolent towards owner Al Davis and cavalier about his attitude, but if you’re working in what appears to be a completely dysfunctional structure, who can blame him?  He’s going to have to answer these questions every Monday until the Cryptkeeper fires him — which will be a mistake, because Kiffin is probably the best coach the organization has hired since Jon Gruden rightfully bailed.

Bill Callahan may have taken Gruden’s leftovers to a Super Bowl, but they tanked after the infamous Tuck Rule call. (Horrendously wrong, see “JusttheFacts” in comments.) Norv Turner was, well, NORV!  Art Shell 2.0 was disastrous. Kiffin is actually coaching the offensive side of the team up and trying to build with a quarterback in JaMarcus Russell who is clearly taking the reins before being even close to ready. To be that close against the Bills on Sunday was much, much closer than any of us would have given the Raiders credit for.

What Davis is doing, by letting this drag out, is ensuring a coach who will be happy to wreak vengeance every time he faces him again. Mike Shanahan does it, Gruden does it, and Kiffin, who will likely get another NFL job somewhere down the road, will do it.

But for now, we get to watch the dysfunction as it spills out, and for now, it’s entertaining, if in a very sad way.

Sympathy For A Raider?

God help me, but I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Lane Kiffin. I shouldn’t, and neither should anyone else, because he accepted Al Davis’ offer to coach the team, probably knew he was a third or fourth choice, and decided to go with it anyway. Now, it’s a week by week speculation-fest about when (not if) the Cryptkeeper will suck up his pride about paying him the rest of his contract and fire him.

These are absolutlely the worst type of job situations: you are working for a boss or bosses who wants you off the staff (whether for personal reasons or looking to save cash), and he’d rather you quit than fire you. So, we’re stuck with a very public spat and stalemate — and even outside incidents like the arrest of defensive end Tommy Kelly for DUI tend to color the whole feeling of chaos surrounding the organization.

Everyone knows Davis has to have control; holds it over the offensive philosophy to a point where there is no truly independent coach in the East Bay — this is why the Raiders’ head job has essentially become kryptonite ever since Jon Gruden had his spat with the Cryptkeeper and made his way to Tampa Bay. Sure, Bill Callahan got them to a Super Bowl — and then got whipped by Gruden, because he’s Bill Callahan. After that, it was NORV! and the gargoyle ways of Art Shell, Version 2.0. Now, Kiffin is in limbo, seemingly content to game plan week to week with the ax over his heead and everyone asking him about his job security.

There are the rumors that he would head to Syracuse to take over when the AD gets enough of a pair to fire the underachieving Greg Robinson. I remember Kiffin flirting with the Arkansas job last year before Bobby Petrino bailed on the Falcons.  All I can think of these rumors is that Kiffin has to be a masochist if he wants to take the biggest resurrection project on after he gets canned.