McDaniels offers refreshing show of enthusiasm
You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL.
First came the hugging. Then came the four screaming fist-pumps and the always crowd-pleasing double-fist shake. Then Josh McDaniels jumped into the arms of defensive end Kenny Peterson(notes) the way a 4-year old kid dives into a pile of leaves.
Time-permitting, the Denver Broncos head coach might have ripped off his shirt Hulk Hogan-style and proclaimed he was going to Disneyland.
It was one of the rarest sights you’ll ever see in an NFL October – a Super Bowl-style celebration after a Week 5 victory. To some, McDaniels’ pure merriment after Sunday’s 20-17 overtime win over New England might have seemed a tad disrespectful. Maybe even a little amateur. But I think it’s exactly what this league needs. And the fact that it came after cameras showed Bill Belichick sour-mugging his way off the field only made it more refreshing.
Maybe it didn’t fall perfectly into the coaches mantra of “acting like you’ve been there before,” but it was true emotion in the moment. And in a league where deception and forced composure is viral among head coaches, we should all take unbridled enthusiasm where we can get it. We need some McDaniels joy. We need some good-natured trash-talking, a la the New York Jets’ Rex Ryan. We need someone to say, “It’s OK not to do it like New England. I’m going to be me.”
And for a moment, McDaniels delivered just that, reacting in true fashion to what has been a monumental start. Not only did Sunday’s win over the Patriots push his team to a stunningly unpredictable 5-0 start, but it thrust the Broncos into the “contender” conversation. Their record is no longer propped up on the league’s also-rans. Even if you didn’t think beating Dallas last week was all that impressive, you have to respect a win over New England. Particularly when you know how Belichick feels about facing his former assistant coaches.
Now you look at Denver, and all of the offseason issues couldn’t seem more distant. Jay Cutler(notes)? He might as well be Jake Plummer(notes). In five weeks, McDaniels and the Broncos have found a way to make all the negativity dissipate. Wideout Brandon Marshall(notes) is beloved again. And Kyle Orton(notes)? His numbers through five games, factored along with the undefeated start, have to put him in the league’s top 10 quarterback conversation. Unthinkable, but true.
So McDaniels has earned the right for a little celebration. He’s deserving of some unbridled passion. But if you’d rather have a guy with a dead-fish handshake and who coaches like he’s auditing your taxes, I can think of a few places for you. In a refreshing turn, Denver isn’t it.
Here is a look at some of this week’s other winners and losers:
• The Cincinnati Bengals
Still sleeping on this team? It’s time to wake up. This is one of the best young defenses in the league, particularly the cornerback tandem of Leon Hall(notes) and Johnathan Joseph. When the Bengals run the ball more than 25 times, they are 24-1 under Marvin Lewis. That’s what this team is – a tempo-controlling running team with a superb defense – even with quarterback Carson Palmer(notes). Unless there is a monumental collapse the rest of the season, Lewis is looking at a healthy contract extension. That’s if Bengals owner Mike Brown(notes) doesn’t screw it up (no promises there).
• Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning(notes)
How do you possibly improve on a 70.8 percent completion rate through four games? You go out and complete 36 of 44 passes for 309 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Manning is on an absolutely astounding run: 14-0 in his last 14 regular season games, and 342 for 471 passing in that span (a 72.6 completion rate) with 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. His five straight 300-yard games this season are also a new career record. Tune in folks. We might be watching a masterpiece that we’ll be talking about for decades. Maybe longer.
• Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers(notes)
Finally, he had a game worthy of his paycheck, including two sacks and a safety in the win over Washington. Peppers can be dominant for Carolina, and the team absolutely needs it in a season like this one. But he rarely does it consistently, having feast or famine games throughout much of his career. The best paid defensive players in the game typically find a way to keep their performance level somewhere between good and great (not counting anyone ever signed by the Raiders). Peppers did that Sunday, but he has to show he can do it every week.
• The Cleveland Browns
OK, so they’ve gone 11 games without a rushing touchdown. And yes, Derek Anderson(notes) played the entire game against Buffalo and still went 2-for-17 passing for 23 yards (a JaMarcus Russell(notes)-esque completion rate of 11.7 percent). But a 6-3 win ensures people can stop talking about the Browns going 0-16 this season. And the defense held Buffalo to three points. So that’s something? (No, that’s not an accidental question mark.)
• The NFL Network’s interview with Brandon Marshall
It delivered some interesting perspective on the Broncos receiver, including this captivating quote about his benching against Cleveland this season: “The second game of the season at halftime everyone left [the locker room], getting ready to go back out there and I stayed and I sat in my locker. [I] put my head down with a towel over my head. I thought I was the only one in there and I broke down [crying]. I heard a voice and it was Brian Dawkins(notes). He tapped me four times on my back [and] said, ‘Come on, baby.’ And once I heard that [I thought], ‘My teammates are with me. I’m going to get through this.’ ”
• The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush
The big turnovers continue to be slow to come, but the Steelers have to feel good that the pass rush finally showed consistent flashes of last season’s dominance with seven sacks. Five-and-a-half of those came from linebackers James Harrison(notes) (3), LaMarr Woodley(notes) (½) and Lawrence Timmons(notes). If the Steelers are going to get back to being among the league’s best, the consistency of that trio is a must. With an inept Cleveland offense coming to town next week and safety Troy Polamalu(notes) set to make his return soon, Pittsburgh’s defense should be hitting its stride as it rolls into the titanic Week 7 clash with Minnesota.
• Dallas Cowboys wideout Miles Austin(notes)
You’d have to look pretty hard to find a man named Miles who ever had a Sunday so good. Miles Davis, probably. Austin was simply sublime against Kansas City, with 250 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. If you count his touchdown late in the fourth quarter, he basically won the game twice for Dallas. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo(notes) should buy him something – maybe a new house – because there is no telling how fans would have reacted if Austin hadn’t pulled this one out of the fire. We’ll ignore for a week that Dallas’ three wins have all come against teams that were winless when they met.
• New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw(notes)
Giants general manager Jerry Reese told me in the preseason that Bradshaw would be every bit as good and possibly even better than Derrick Ward(notes) – because he could break the huge play. Bradshaw certainly realized it on Sunday against the Raiders, putting up a combined 165 yards rushing and receiving and two touchdowns on only 12 total touches. Yes, it was against a bad Raiders team, but Bradshaw is the real deal. He’s what other teams wish their young backs could be (ahem, Darren McFadden(notes) and Felix Jones(notes)).
• The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive talent
Weren’t we just decrying the lack of offensive talent on this team two years ago? All of the sudden, it seems like there is an embarrassment of riches on that side of the ball. The old guard in Brian Westbrook(notes) and Donovan McNabb(notes) is now buoyed by a Westbrook clone in LeSean McCoy(notes), a playmaking tight end in Brent Celek(notes), an explosive wideout in DeSean Jackson(notes) and now Jeremy Maclin(notes). The Eagles’ first-round pick was superb against a bad Tampa Bay defense, catching six passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. This might be the most difficult offense in the NFL to defend, when you consider the way the wideouts can stretch the field and the running backs can hurt you both running and receiving. And if Celek gets a seam, he’ll butcher you in the middle of the field. What an amazing job by Philadelphia stacking up so much young talent so fast.
• Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen(notes)
With his two fumble recoveries and a 52-yard defensive touchdown against the Rams, he’s the best defensive player in football right now. Yes, some of his numbers have come against poor offensive teams, but last week’s 4½ sacks against the Green Bay Packers more than legitimizes what he’s doing. And while he didn’t have a sack against the Rams, watch the film of how the offense handles him. He rarely, if ever, goes without a double-team. And if he does, it’s because the second blocker didn’t reach him fast enough. Watch Julius Peppers’ games this season and then watch Allen’s. Then decide who you’d rather have for a game tomorrow. It’s an easy decision.
• Atlanta Falcons wideout Roddy White(notes)
This is why he got the fat contract extension in the preseason, because he’s capable of dominating good defenses the way he did against San Francisco: eight catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. And if you want to see sick speed, check out his 90-yard catch and run touchdown in the second quarter. It’s a good sign for Atlanta’s running game, too. This should erase any safeties creeping into the box in an effort to stop Michael Turner(notes).
• The Arizona Cardinals’ goal-line stand
Gabe Watson(notes) hasn’t been known for a whole lot more than eating during his NFL career, but he absolutely blew up Houston’s fourth-down run from inside the 1-yard line Sunday. In a game where the offense played solidly and appeared to make strides, it was Watson who saved the day. And if you want to talk about a play that turned a season around (which is pretty much overblown media hype), go ahead and have at it with this one.
• The Seattle Seahawks
The defense put together an absolutely stunning game against Jacksonville, holding the Jaguars to a remarkable 38 rushing yards and sacking David Garrard(notes) four times. Granted, Jacksonville was without wideout Mike Sims-Walker(notes), who is arguably its best receiver, but for the Jaguars to be reduced to mostly short and intermediate success was amazing. Rookie linebacker Aaron Curry(notes) (8 tackles) was amazing. He already has moments where he looks like a Pro Bowl-level player. This might be the first time a four-touchdown effort by Matt Hasselbeck(notes) was overshadowed by his defense. And rightfully so.
• The Baltimore Ravens
Two weeks ago, we were wondering whether the Ravens were the best team in the NFL (they aren’t) and whether Joe Flacco(notes) had surpassed Matt Ryan(notes) as the best quarterback from the 2008 NFL draft (not yet). Two losses later, the Ravens have come back to earth against quality opponents (yes, Cincinnati now counts as a quality opponent). If it wasn’t for a ridiculous play by Ray Rice(notes), the passing game would have been basically non-existent. Clearly, the receiver depth is still an Achilles’ heel, evidenced by what happens when a team takes Derrick Mason(notes) out of a game.
• The Buffalo Bills offense
Terrell Owens(notes) must be thrilled that he signed with the Bills. If Drew Rosenhaus was telling the truth when he said multiple teams were interested in Owens this offseason, then someone made a terrible decision. The way the offense is performing right now (13 points in the last three weeks), it pretty much makes former Buffalo offensive coordinator Turk Schonert look like the second coming of Bill Walsh.
• Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn
Washington has played unquestionably the worst schedule of any NFL team through five games. To be 2-3 with this roster, and have given up a 17-2 third-quarter lead on Sunday, is just about inexcusable. Everything about this team is flat, and that’s an indictment of the head coach – especially considering the Redskins have solid talent. Washington fans should look at Denver. The Broncos’ overall talent level might only be marginally better than what the Redskins are putting on the field. Compare the two teams when they play in Week 10, and you’ll see the difference between overachieving and underachieving.
• The Detroit Lions
They certainly played pretty respectable against Pittsburgh, and that Daunte Culpepper(notes)/Dennis Northcutt duo would have been brag-able – in 2004. But the knee/leg injury to wideout Calvin Johnson(notes) is troubling. Johnson has already been fighting injury this season, and any kind of long-term issue would be devastating. On the bright side, Johnson was standing on the sidelines in the second half of Sunday’s loss. From a developmental standpoint, this team can’t afford to have Johnson or No. 1 pick Matt Stafford banged up. Wins and losses aside, this season should be all about the development of chemistry between Stafford and Johnson.
• The Oakland Raiders
Let’s see, what do we want to criticize this week? So many choices … a veritable smorgasbord of futility. How about the defense giving up 483 yards of offense? That’s pretty sick, especially when Eli Manning(notes) only plays basically half a game. Things probably can’t get worse in Oakland, unless Al Davis is on the phone with New England and offering Richard Seymour(notes) for a fifth-round pick.
• The Houston Texans’ play-calling
Yes, the Cardinals had an amazing goal-line stand. But what on earth were the Texans thinking on that series? Three plays from the 1-yard line and all three go either to Chris Brown or Joel Dreessen(notes). Granted, all you needed was a yard. And Schaub absolutely overthrew Dreessen on a game-tying touchdown. But not going toward your best offensive player (Andre Johnson(notes)) at least once in the final four downs inside the 10-yard line – that’s what a bad team does. When you’re willing to wager tying or losing on two Brown carries, it’s questionable.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense
I like Raheem Morris, but this Tampa Bay team is starting to have a similar feel to Cam Cameron’s one-season disaster in Miami. I’m not saying there is a wealth of talent on this team, but there is enough to at least be competitive. And no, don’t throw out last week’s 16-13 loss to Washington. Most people reading this could go to a bowling alley and find enough talent to stick with the Redskins through four quarters. It’s lucky for the Buccaneers that the Eagles basically called off the charge in the fourth quarter. This one had 30-point loss written all over it.
• The San Francisco 49ers’ reputation as an NFC elite
The 3-1 start and win over Arizona had people jumping on the San Francisco bandwagon. But it’s got to be troubling to Mike Singletary that he’s seen his defense blow a win against Minnesota in the final seconds, and then get trampled by Atlanta’s offense. If the 49ers are a playoff-caliber team, those are the kinds of opponents they’ll be facing in the postseason. And while Frank Gore’s(notes) injury certainly impacts a game, the Falcons game makes you wonder if 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill(notes) is good enough to go strike-for-strike with the wealth of other top-tier NFC quarterbacks. And I don’t want to hear about Michael Crabtree(notes). He’s not the sole answer to what the 49ers experienced Sunday.
• The Jacksonville Jaguars passing game
Sunday is exactly what was so maddening about Garrard last season – it wasn’t uncommon for him to follow up good games with poor ones. But the shutout loss to Seattle was hardly all on his shoulders. If anything, it shows the utter lack of depth behind Torry Holt(notes) and Sims-Waker. Sims-Walker missed Sunday for violating team rules, and the downfield passing game largely evaporated. There are a lot of things to like about Jacksonville when it is fully healthy, but even then, offensive depth isn’t one of them.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: The ESPN NFL Countdown feature on Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. In particular, I loved Allen’s comment on the gasping sound quarterbacks make when they get drilled from behind and “all their air is coming out.” Excellent insight for fans on what a sack feels like.
Loathed: Conversely, I have no idea why ESPN aired its bizarrely shallow 90-second “Happy Birthday” segment for Vikings quarterback Brett Favre(notes). They could have given us a historical segment on the NFL quarterbacks who have played beyond the age of 40. Instead, ESPN threw together a few Favre highlights and footage of a personalized birthday cake and congratulatory greeting card from the Countdown crew. It was the definition of a fanny-smooching.
Loved: The plea of Fox’s Howie Long on Sunday for game officials to get more consistent with the penalties involving hits and roughing on the quarterback. The crux of his argument was how the Patriots’ Tom Brady(notes) is treated vs. other quarterbacks – a legitimate and glaring issue this season. Kudos to Long for discussing it in rational terms instead of throwing out the same old clichéd “put a skirt on the quarterback” rhetoric.
Loathed: The NFL’s Network in-studio crew of Steve Mariucci, Warren Sapp(notes), Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk(notes) is almost unwatchable. The actual studio might be the most beautiful of all the networks, but the foursome interrupts and talks over each other way too much. It feels like you are watching an hour-long argument. They need a stronger moderator than Spero Dedes to direct traffic.
Loved: Seeing Eagles tight end Brent Celek do a fantastic hurdle over the Buccaneers’ Ronde Barber(notes) in the second quarter of Sunday’s win. Celek’s athleticism and balance was amazing, especially considering he checks in at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds. Let’s hope the analysts hold the “white men can’t jump” references in the highlights.
Loathed: Watching as Raiders defensive end Tommy Kelly(notes) threw a needless 1-2 punch combination into the head of New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara(notes) in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss. Kelly was flagged for a personal foul in an act that was flat-out stupid. If the Raiders shed some overpriced veterans at the end of the season, Kelly should be at the top of the list.
Loved: Culpepper’s 31-yard rushing gain in the first quarter against the Steelers. Regardless of what happens this season, there is no denying that Culpepper worked his tail off to get himself back into the league. He looks healthy and in shape, and good enough to start for another few years. If I’m a coach with an otherwise solid team that needs some immediate quarterback help (Carolina? Washington?), I’d give him a shot in 2010.
Loathed: Seeing the Redskins stop the Panthers on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the second quarter and take over and surrender a safety on their second play coming out of their own end zone. Albert Haynesworth(notes) was awesome on the goal-line series. But Clinton Portis(notes) gets the blame for the safety, trying to bounce outside rather than knowing where he was and just pounding it into the line of scrimmage.
Loved: The second-quarter catch and run of Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn(notes) off a deflected Josh Johnson(notes) pass. If you delight in the unbridled joy that offensive linemen show when they run with the football, find a clip. Penn went for 15 yards and a first down on the play, shrugging off a pair of would-be tacklers that looked like they hit a brick wall when they tried to bring him down.
Loathed: Seeing St. Louis Rams quarterback Kyle Boller(notes) literally drop the football on Allen’s 52-yard fumble return for a touchdown. If you watch the review, Kevin Williams(notes) is pressuring Boller, but he just flat out drops the ball. This Rams team may very well be worse than last season’s edition. In hindsight, maybe coach Steve Spagnuolo should have waited for a better job to open up.