Winners and losers: Faltering Favre arrives
This is where it all starts with Brett Favre. This is where fans start groaning about his decision-making. This is where Favre starts moaning about being emotionally taxed and how this might be it for him. And this is where the season collapses.
As the New York Jets quarterback told reporters leading into Sunday: “I’m well aware of the fact that there’s two games left. I’m expecting us to make the playoffs, as I hope the rest of the team is, but it very well could be my last. It could be my last three games, last four games, I don’t know.”
If Jets fans listen closely, they can hear Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson snickering from 750 miles away. He knows this hell the Packers have lived in over the past few seasons. The scenario where Favre’s level of play plummets like a piano pushed off the penthouse window sill, and takes the playoff hopes with it.
That’s what is happening before our eyes. Favre has one touchdown and six interceptions in his last four games, a 1-3 record in that span, and a month of play that hasn’t seen him post a quarterback rating north of 61.4. That begs one question: Is it too late for Jets coach Eric Mangini to change his infant son’s middle name? Maybe to Eli or Peyton?
But take heart, Jets fans. All isn’t lost. Not yet, anyway. The Jets still have faint playoff hopes. If they beat the Miami Dolphins next week – in the Meadowlands return of Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, no less – they could still get in. But only if one of two things happen: a New England Patriots loss at the Buffalo Bills, or if the Baltimore Ravens fall to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
Impossible? No. Unlikely? Definitely, particularly when you consider Favre hasn’t strung together two great quarters of football since that Nov. 23 win over Tennessee – a victory that seems far in the rearview mirror now, along with those screaming proclamations of the Jets as Super Bowl material and Favre as an MVP candidate. All of that is gone now, with Favre getting outdueled by the Seattle Seahawks’ Seneca Wallace, in the type of snowy conditions that helped forge his legend.
So here the Jets sit, hoping and praying and watching their season play out in a string of variables. Waiting for Chad Pennington to return, hoping he won’t exact some revenge for all the years of venom he swallowed.
The end is coming. And that makes the Jets this week’s biggest loser.
Here are some of this week’s other winners and losers …
• Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall
Hall was already having a pretty solid season before picking off three passes Sunday, including one for a 50-yard touchdown. Along with linebacker Keith Rivers, Hall is one of the reasons for optimism in this franchise.
• The Detroit Lions
With their 15th loss of the season, the Lions won the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Lions fans should pay attention to the Capital One Bowl where Georgia plays Michigan State. Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford might be your guy. That first-round pick from Dallas for wide receiver Roy Williams isn’t looking half-bad anymore, either. On second thought, how about surrendering Dallas’ No. 1 pick for Matt Cassel and drafting Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith?
• The New Orleans Saints’ 2009 outlook
If they hadn’t lost two close games (by a combined six points) to Chicago and Tampa Bay, this would be a playoff team right now. Without a doubt, there is nothing wrong with this offense. If the Saints could just find a little more defensive help – a good safety would work wonders – this could still be a Super Bowl contender.
• The Dolphins
Regardless of what happens with their postseason fortunes, this is just a monumental season of accomplishment. To reach 10 wins after going 1-15 is just unreal. I wonder who Jerry Jones would rather have right now – wideout Terrell Owens or former coach Bill Parcells.
• Michael Strahan
The former New York Giants defensive end will likely retain his single season sack record of 22½. The only player with a realistic shot is Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, who is sitting at 20 and with a game remaining against the pass-happy Philadelphia Eagles. A triple sack game in the season finale isn’t impossible for Ware – he’s done it twice in his last four games – but it will be a tall order with the added pressure of a record.
• The Patriots’ future
Go back to that Tom Brady injury. Not in a million years could anyone have predicted Matt Cassel would have 3,615 passing yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 games. With him likely to be franchised and dealt, he’s going to draw some valuable draft picks for rebuilding. Score another one for Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli.
• The Atlanta Falcons
A few months ago, I couldn’t fathom this team’s turnaround, let alone seeing it accomplished with a rookie quarterback. Now they’ve returned to the playoffs and should give their first-round opponent a serious run for its money. But as good as this season has been, you get the feeling 2009 could be truly special.
• Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn
Maybe there are no overt indications that his job is on the line. But beating Philadelphia and a win next week against San Francisco would go a long way toward solidifying his status. I still say that if owner Dan Snyder feels like he can get a marquee guy like Bill Cowher, he’ll pull the trigger. But Zorn winning out will help him stave off Snyder’s affections for lesser candidates.
• Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell
Don’t look now, but Russell has put up solid performances in back-to-back games. If this is a sign of maturation and not just a fluke, Oakland would have an immense bright spot heading into the offseason.
• Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren
He goes out with a win in what is expected to be his finale at Qwest Field. And he does it against Brett Favre, the only quarterback who delivered him a Super Bowl ring. Maybe Holmgren takes a breather after next week’s season finale. But we haven’t seen the last of him. He’ll coach again in the NFL, maybe in 2010.
• San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary
Two late fourth-quarter touchdowns pull out a win Sunday. San Francisco is 4-2 in its last six games, and while two of those victories have come against St. Louis, Singletary has done everything the 49ers could have asked since he took over. If he doesn’t land this head coaching job, the 49ers had better bring in someone like Mike Holmgren or Bill Cowher. Anything else would be a slap in Singletary’s face.
• The Tennessee Titans
There were a lot of questions about how that defense would look without Albert Haynesworth, but the Titans were as fierce as ever against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But for the offense to carve out 323 yards and hold Pittsburgh to one sack was truly impressive. With this game and the finale against Indianapolis, the Titans have a chance to go into the postseason with some serious momentum.
• Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones
Who? That’s what anyone outside of Nashville was thinking while Jones was pilling up 3Â½ sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Albert Haynesworth’s injury opened the door for Jones, a second-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Eastern Michigan whom the Titans really love. He showed why Sunday, blowing up Pittsburgh’s offensive line and keeping Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger off balance all day.
• The San Diego Chargers
They took care of business by beating Tampa Bay and then watched the Denver Broncos blow another winnable home game. Now San Diego has exactly what it wants: a chance to thump a rival out of the postseason and to clinch a playoff berth in the season finale. This should just add one more layer to the Philip Rivers vs. Jay Cutler drama.
• Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson
Has there been a more quiet 1,000-yard receiving season this year? Jackson’s 111 yards on Sunday put him at 1,051 and seven touchdowns. This guy has been the textbook example of how to draft a big, raw, athletic wideout and slowly grow him over a four-year span.
• Record breakers
Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison’s 16th sack of the season sets a new Steelers record, while Denver quarterback Jay Cutler now holds Denver’s single-season passing yardage mark (4,210). Most team records don’t mean much, but sacks for the Steelers do, and any passing record following John Elway is impressive. Too bad both marks came in tough losses.
• Bills quarterback Trent Edwards
This is just a different team when Edwards is starting and relatively healthy. He showed again that he can be the difference between winning and losing in the fourth quarters.
• The Cleveland Browns
Who could have believed the Browns season would fall apart like this? Braylon Edwards is alienating himself from the fan base, Jamal Lewis looks spent, and the quarterback spot is no closer to being solved than it was at the beginning of last season. This could definitely be the future home of New England personnel man Scott Pioli and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
• The Arizona Cardinals
Did they just hit the snooze button after locking up the NFC West or what? The last month has been embarrassing, with three blowout losses by a combined score of 130-41. The running game is nonexistent with Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington; the defense can’t stop anyone; and since his flawless start, Kurt Warner has eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in his last six games. It’s looking like the Cardinals fooled everyone into thinking they were a serious threat, yet again.
• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson
He lost his matchup with Atlanta’s Michael Turner by fumbling the football three times – losing two of them. No doubt, Peterson is a monster, but he needs to call Tiki Barber – someone who has gone through these struggles before – and learn how to secure the ball in traffic.
• The Vikings postseason hopes
With the New York Giants coming to town in the season finale, there is no way winning the division and making the playoffs is a lock. And don’t settle on the hope the Giants will rest their starters for the postseason. New York learned last year what momentum could do going into the playoffs. They will be fighting for a win and a boost in Week 17.
• The Texans
I can’t imagine a fan base that has been teased more and let down more this season than Houston. Every time you think this team is about to turn a corner, it flies off a cliff. Losing to Oakland one week after beating Tennessee – that pretty much sums up 2008. And let’s hope Mario Williams doesn’t ride that Pro Bowl berth into the offseason with four straight sackless games.
• Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid
Even on the road, Sunday’s loss to Washington is extremely deflating. It all but kills Philadelphia’s playoff hopes one game early and gives fans plenty of time to stew heading into the home finale against Dallas. If the Eagles lose to Dallas, the feeling of disappointment will cross over into anger and have this fan base calling for Reid’s head all over again.
• The Steelers offense
Those five sacks and four turnovers are going to have the heat back on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger again. Willie Parker’s 101 rushing yards over the last three games (and a 2.3 yards per carry average) aren’t helping. At this point, the offensive line isn’t going to get better from a talent standpoint, which means you can expect this inconsistency right into the playoffs. If the defense doesn’t play great, this team will have a hard time winning.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wasn’t this team 9-3 just a minute ago? You can just feel this season spiraling away – losing Earnest Graham for the year, three straight losses, the Monte Kiffin-to-Tennessee distraction. Remembering how to tackle and finding a consistent second passing option outside of Antonio Bryant would be a big help.
• The Denver Broncos’ playoff plans
How many times have we thought Denver had the AFC West locked up? And how many times have the Broncos blown games at home this season? Too many to count, but Sunday’s loss was truly crushing. If they lose in Week 17 and fall out of the postseason by blowing a three game division lead, it will be the worst meltdown in coach Mike Shanahan’s career. And that includes his fallout with Al Davis.
– Question posed to Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli from a member of the Detroit media. Marinelli’s son-in-law is Detroit coordinator Joe Barry.
The number of passing yards Saints quarterback Drew Brees will need in his season finale to break Dan Marino’s 24-year-old single-season record of 5,084. The Saints will play the Carolina Panthers, who held Brees to 231 yards earlier this season.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: The fantastic picture of Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan colliding with Pittsburgh wideout Hines Ward. It’s a classic NFL image – spit, sweat and grass are exploding all around them. This one deserves to be framed and hung in Canton.
Loathed: Watching the Cardinals and knowing that a hotter – and arguably superior – team from the NFC South or NFC East is going to get pooched out of a playoff spot. I don’t care what anyone says, when you get blown out in three of your last four games at this stage of the season, you don’t deserve to be in the postseason.
Loved: Snow. I don’t care if New England/Arizona was a blowout and that Seattle/New York Jets wasn’t that exciting. The snowy conditions made both games fun to watch. There is just something about big, fat flakes filling up the TV screen.
Loathed: Listening to a Sunday morning national radio show that featured a Dallas Cowboys fan complaining that Tony Romo wasn’t the right quarterback for that franchise. Then listening to the same fan say the Cowboys should pursue Matt Cassel. By all means, if Dallas fans want to dispose of their 28-year-old quarterback, I can think of about 25 fan bases that would be more than happy to welcome him.
Loved: Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo on the “Worst game ever played” Mayne Event feature on ESPN. The feature was on last season’s horrible, rainy, sloppy Monday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and then-winless Miami Dolphins. Jackson was classic: “I froze my ever-loving [expletive] off at that game. I wore my new red leather pants to that game! You ever sit through a rain storm in red leather pants? Well, I have, and it ain’t fun! You would think the NFL would have the decency to buy me a new pair of red leather pants.”
Loathed: Watching Philip Rivers throw four more touchdown passes (he now has 32 this season) knowing that he won’t be going to the Pro Bowl, but Brett Favre and his lukewarm numbers will. The fans, players and coaches couldn’t have been more wrong on this one.
Loved: Seeing bloodied Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia get up after getting tattooed by Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss. How he managed to continue after one of the season’s most brutal hits is beyond me.
Loathed:Watching the Kansas City Chiefs lose yet another close game in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s 38-31 defeat was the seventh game this season which Kansas City has lost by seven points or less.
Loved: Seeing Isaac Bruce catch a touchdown on his 1,000th career reception. For a guy who has a Super Bowl ring, played in four Pro Bowls and scored 91 touchdowns, he doesn’t get his due.
Loathed: ESPN’s feature on “playing with pain” in the NFL. The feature itself was entertaining, but where was the talk about all the problems the league is having with the disability benefits of retired players? All we’ve done the last few years is hear about how many former players are practically crippled. There was no mention of that as a serious NFL issue. Instead, we had all the analysts basically lamenting that guys who don’t play hurt are pansies. There are two sides of the coin, and ESPN ignored one side entirely.