A handful of random notes collected from Week 15; working title: how I learned to stop worrying and love Tarvaris Jackson.
• The final few minutes of the Chargers win just slayed me, as I needed to duck Philip Rivers scoring in a handful of leagues. I've never been a big fan of the punky Rivers - catch his soccer-player reaction to the go-ahead touchdown? - but I can't deny he's had an impressive growth season. Vincent Jackson has been the best receiver in San Diego for most of the year, while Chris Chambers belongs on a carton of milk. Antonio Gates? I'm not excited about the second half of his career, he doesn't look like someone who will age gracefully in his 30s. Did you win despite LaDainian Tomlinson's mediocre day? When you stumble to 2.6 yards a carry against the Chiefs (with a long of 7), something's wrong.
Let's set up the traffic light for the Chargers in 2009, in full Funston mode: Green Light: Rivers, Jackson, Nate Kaeding, defense if Shawne Merriman returns. Yellow Light: Tomlinson, Gates (I want a major discount before I step in on either guy). Red Light: Chambers. Sleepers: Malcom Floyd, Darren Sproles (not built for heavy usage, but he deserves more touches).
• Any 200-yard receiving game is impressive, but when you put up a 207-yard day against the Tennessee secondary, that's a clinic. Take a bow, Andre Johnson. Let's also tip the cap to the Houston coaches, who know what they're doing with their best chess piece; Gary Kubiak and friends are constantly moving Johnson around the field pre-snap, making sure it's difficult for the opposing defense to mark their most dynamic player. Don't laugh, not every pro team gets the most out of its No. 1 receiver, but the Texans sure do.
There's a lot to like about Matt Schaub, too, but if he doesn't improve his pocket awareness, he's always going to be an injury-prone player. He takes too many hits from awkward angles.
• I'm all for the Chad Pennington comeback story, but let's not get carried away with it, either. The Dolphins scored 14 against San Francisco, 16 against Buffalo and 16 against St. Louis the last three weeks, and if you jump back to mid-November, they posted 17 against Oakland. That's not an MVP resume.
• Why do so many pro teams fail miserably with clock management and endgame theory? There's no reason for Ben Roethlisberger to spike the ball on first and goal in the final minute at Baltimore, needing a touchdown to go ahead and sitting on a time out. The down matters, the extra play matters.
• The Titans never trailed by more than one score at Houston and yet they ran the ball just 21 times with their two main backs. That's asking to get beat.
• Before everyone gangs up on the Detroit Thanksgiving Day game, remember you'll be watching Megatron play for the home folks into the next decade. He's made the Lions worth viewing all season, no matter the score, no matter the losses. And Dan Orlovsky is producing better numbers than you might think - he's a viable reach next week against New Orleans.
• Oakland has finally realized what to do with Darren McFadden, turning him into a Reggie Bush-type, a satellite player. You can't treat him as a normal back. And while we're here, D-Mac, there's no need to do a crowd leap after a late touchdown that brings your team to within 23 points. Run off the field, son.
• Tiger and Phil don't like each other? Stevie Williams doesn't like Phil? Not exactly stop-the-presses stuff, but we'll take it. Rivalry is good.
• Give 10-13 touches to Kevin Faulk and he'll hang you back a rock-solid finishing line. He can play on my team, or in my flex spot, anytime. The Patriots like him for his reliable hands, and his surprisingly-effective pass blocking, despite his size.
• So much for that awesome New York Giants offensive line, which morphed into a turnstile for three hours at Dallas. Some of that is the absence of Plaxico Burress, sure - teams can play single-coverage and blitz aggressively, and there's no real weapon to stretch the field - but a lot of G-Men will be embarrassed when they role the tape of this back in Jersey.
• Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the Bucs defense hasn't played particularly well since Lane Kiffin got the Tennessee job and it became known that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is headed out of town.
• Say this for the Bengals, they hung tough in all of their NFC East games (win over Washington, the McNabb tie, overtime loss to the Giants, respectable loss at Dallas). And maybe Cedric Benson has a future in this league as a platoon partner, though I don't see enough to make him a true featured back. (Sticking in Cincinnati for a moment, Jimmy Zorn, why not use your best player at the goal line?)
• Wes Welker isn't the best receiver in the league, but he's the hardest to cover 1-on-1.
• If the restaurant has "shack" in the title, I'm not eating there.
• Arizona left Kurt Warner in a hopeless game longer than it should have; he had the tar beat out of him for three hours. If Matt Leinart has to play in January, the Cardinals have zero chance to go anywhere.
• The Jaguars haven't quit on Jack Del Rio the last two weeks, and it's probably going to save his job. I'd still like to see 20 or more touches from MJD every week, pretty please.
• J.P. Losman was born to be a CFL player, wasn't he? Can we petition for this? I know a Roughrider or an Argonaut when I see one.
• Deion Branch, back in the trust file. I never thought I'd be saying that in 2008.
• Not content with his 29-point lead late in the Oakland quagmire, Bill Belichick challenged a fourth-down spot against the Raiders with about 2:30 to play. That's just Hoodie being Hoodie.
• Kick too many field goals and you're only ensuring that you're going to get beat. Check out how San Francisco went down at Miami (despite 13 more first downs), or the Baltimore loss to Pittsburgh.
• Anyone in this business is going to be wrong a fair amount of the time, but on Matt Cassel, I was bombastically wrong. That kid can play, and obviously he paid attention during all of those meetings at USC and with the Patriots. Good luck in your next gig, MC.
• Some advice to my two good friends headed to Egypt in February - don't bring the mountain cat the first time.
Photos via U.S. Presswire