The players in the NFL have more pride than athletes in any other professional sport. It seems like every week, we're discussing some major upset – even as the playoffs are approaching and some teams have so much on the line and others are playing for nothing more than pride.
For six days, certain teams constantly are hearing that they're terrible. Take the Washington Redskins. They have "no direction," people say. They have a young quarterback (Jason Campbell) and they're going against a team (New Orleans Saints) coming off one of its biggest wins in franchise history. So what happens when we all think they're down and out? They take it to the Saints.
Along the same lines, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers keep hearing how "they're playing for nothing" or "Tampa Bay can't play in the cold." So they go to play the best team (Chicago Bears) in the NFC and they come back in the fourth quarter and take the game into overtime.
That's what's nice about the National Football League. You never know what's going to happen on "any given Sunday."
Here are my Six Points from Week 15.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
Bears run defense
If you look at the last several games, coach Lovie Smith has to be concerned. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris is a phenomenal player, and without him, the Bears have gone from having an exceptional defense to one with huge question marks.
If you look at teams in the NFC, there are a few that can run the ball. The Dallas Cowboys are among that group. The Cowboys can give the Bears a lot of problems on the ground because Chicago is susceptible to the run without Harris.
Saints let one get away
Coach Sean Payton definitely is disappointed with the team's loss to the Redskins, but New Orleans still is in a good position as the NFC South champion. Because they beat the Cowboys, the Saints control their own destiny with regard to securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC. However, they no longer have a cushion.
If Payton took anything from coaching under Bill Parcells, he will have learned that you can take an embarrassing loss, go on the road and use it as motivation. Parcells, after Dallas' embarrassing loss to the Saints last week, told his team "this is a playoff game" when it went to Atlanta, and the Cowboys played like a playoff team (and clinched a postseason berth). That's what the Saints have to do when they go into a hostile environment and take on a desperate Giants team next week.
Ravens lose McNair
I don't think this hand injury will have a long-term effect on quarterback Steve McNair. The Baltimore Ravens still can possibly earn a first-round bye or home-field advantage, and they understand the importance of a bye week going into the playoffs. And you don't have to give them a special invitation to get up for the Steelers next week. I think they look past Kyle Boller and say, "whoever is playing quarterback for us these next two weeks, we can get it done" because their defense is that good.
REASONS FOR INSPIRATION
Garcia, Eagles rolling
This is an unbelievable story. It goes to show that most players in the NFL, myself included, were or are system players. You put them in the wrong system and don't put the right personnel around them, they're going to suffer. Jeff Garcia of the Philadelphia Eagles is living proof.
The personnel around him is best that he has had since he was in San Francisco. And in San Francisco, people don't realize the running combination he had (Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow) was one of the best in the league. It always was near the top of the NFL in rushing the ball. Now in Philly, the Eagles are able to run the ball. He has some nice receiving targets. He has an effective line and a pretty good defense. As a result, Garcia is doing what people around the league realize he can do, especially playing in the West Coast offense.
Andy Reid is a good football coach, and I'm not sure enough people give him credit. He's gotten the team to rally behind Garcia and the Eagles have something to play for in the final two weeks of the season, which a lot of people doubted when Donovan McNabb got hurt last month.
Cutler gets first win
It's a good win for the Denver Broncos. And I must say that rookie Jay Cutler already has shown me signs of greatness. He has unbelievable arm strength and some mobility. Of course he's young and he's going to make some mistakes, but given the tough schedule he walked into, you figured there would be an adjustment period.
Against the Cardinals on Sunday, he looked really good on some deep stuff down the field. You can see why coach Mike Shanahan traded up in the NFL draft to get him.
Jets bounce back
Last week, I thought I had torn my hamstring by jumping off the Jets' bandwagon, but my doctor said it was only a strain.
After the loss to Buffalo, we said let's forget about Eric Mangini for coach of the year. But now you have to throw him back in the mix because of what he has done with this team given its limited personnel. That definitely was an impressive win in Minnesota. From start to finish, the New York Jets physically dominated the game. And Minnesota, which was very much in the NFC wild-card hunt, got totally outclassed.
At 8-6 with that personnel, I can't say that anyone has done a better job coaching this year than Mangini.