$.01--In case you had any lingering doubt, the Seattle Seahawks are definitely back. Ask the formerly high-flying Philadelphia Eagles, who were on the business end of a 24-14 outcome that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would have you believe.
The tale of the box score outside the points tells the story a little more accurately…
Time of Possession
Philly scored first, converting a fumble by Seattle punter Jon Ryan into a 6-play, 14-yard TD drive. That was their second longest drive of the game in terms of plays run.
Every time Eagles coach Chip Kelly tried to zig, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was already waiting for the zag. Seattle’s physical defense dominated the line of scrimmage. They dominated the airspace above the field, too.
Ten different Seahawks caught passes from Russell Wilson, who efficiently doled out 263 yards while also rushing for 48 yards and a touchdown. Other than Ryan’s fumble and one decent kick return from Josh Huff--who absolutely fumbled at the end of it--the Seattle special teams were better, too.
This is the third week in a row the Seahawks have dominated a potential playoff team, the last two on the road. They appear to have shaken off the post-Super Bowl doldrums that have often afflicted recent champs, peaking at the right time instead of merely coasting off past laurels. This is a very legit contender to repeat as NFL champs.
$.02--The New England Patriots rebounded nicely from its prominent tumble at the Green Bay Packers last week, heading out to San Diego and knocking off the Chargers 23-14 in a hard-hitting affair.
This was not the vintage Patriots on offense for most of the night. San Diego largely bottled up New England’s maddening running back du jour, holding Legarrette Blount to just 27 yards on 13 carries after the Pats’ first drive. Manti Te’o picked off Tom Brady once and dropped another easy one in the end zone, and Brady was often animated at both his line and receivers for not being as sharp or beautiful as he is.
San Diego led for much of the game, but their injuries and offensive impotency made it too much to hang on. When Julian Edelman, one of the slowest receivers in the league, broke a tackle and pulled away from the tired Chargers defense for a 69-yard touchdown to push the lead out to two scores with about 8 minutes left, this one was over.
New England’s speed stood out on defense. Jamie Collins continues to impress with his explosive athleticism and improving field sense. While bulky corner Brandon Browner struggled, the rest of the secondary looked spry and instinctive most of the night. This had the feel of a playoff game, and the Patriots treated it as such.
The Chargers are clinging to the 6th seed in the AFC, but their perch is precarious. They win the tiebreaker with the 8-5 Ravens, but five 7-6 teams are all nipping at their heels. With a brutal remaining schedule of Denver, at San Francisco and at Kansas City, don’t be surprised if the Chargers wind up on the outside looking in, a reversal from last year’s outstanding late-season run.
$.03--College football dominated the early part of the weekend, including the early Sunday games in many burghs. The College Football Playoff committee announced the final four just before the 1 PM kickoffs, and the controversy quickly spread.
Alabama and Oregon were no-brainer picks and are rightly the top two seeds. Both routed weaker opponents in their drama-less conference title games. Defending champ Florida State had some trouble fighting off a game Georgia Tech team in the ACC Championship, but as undefeated returning champs the Seminoles were a lock. The fourth spot, however, is where the fur really flies.
Ohio State wound up with the fourth and final spot, largely on the basis of a complete 59-0 annihilation of Wisconsin in the B1G Title game. The biggest question surrounding the Buckeyes was at quarterback, where third-stringer Cardale Jones was thrust into action. Jones was great, so was the defense and the overall body of work. Winning the B1G trumped both TCU and Baylor, who shared the Big 12 title because that league doesn’t have an official title game.
The real controversy stems from TCU falling from 3rd to 6th in the rankings despite whipping Iowa State 55-3. It’s hard to justify dropping the Frogs for a blowout win, let alone falling three spots. They scored on their first offensive play (a throwback to QB Trevone Boykin) and poured it on the hapless Cyclones in the second half, trying to squeeze out as many style points as possible. They even fell behind Baylor, who handled a top-10 opponent in Kansas State. That’s probably less controversial, as Baylor did in fact beat TCU in their head-to-head matchup.
The visual of TCU dropping and of Baylor not making it despite having a much more palatable loss (at solid West Virginia) than Ohio State’s (at home to a bad Virginia Tech) continues to fuel the sports talk cycle. I can’t argue any of that; I believe that TCU did what they had to do to make it, and I say that as a Buckeye fan. Baylor’s ridiculously weak non-conference schedule rightly punished them, and I have no problem with that.
One lesson gleaned from all this: in the future, completely ignore the weekly rankings. It served as nothing more than a publicity spectacle. It worked. It shouldn’t work again; don’t be so gullible, my fellow Americans. The final poll is the only one which matters, no matter if it’s for four or six or eight teams.
As for the matchups, don’t sell Ohio State’s chances short against Alabama. The Buckeyes have the defense to handle Bama, though Jones at QB remains a wild card. Oregon should beat Florida State, though any team with Jameis Winston has a shot.
$.04--Washington continues to be one of the most fascinating bad teams in NFL history. In the past week:
- Former star LB London Fletcher, one of the most revered players by his peers and by the media, ripped Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett in the Washington Post. I strongly agree with Fletcher’s take on the bull-headed Haslett, who is truly a legend in his own mind on the level of Uncle Rico.
- Rookie Head Coach Jay Gruden is reportedly “done” with celebrated QB Robert Griffin III, who has clearly fallen off dramatically since his magical rookie season and subsequent major knee injury.
- The team lost 24-0 at home to the now-6-7 St. Louis Rams, dropping them to 3-10 for the second year in a row. In that beatdown, Gruden’s QB of choice in Colt McCoy was forced out with a neck injury and the coach had to insert Griffin into the lineup to the raucous cheers of the remaining fans.
Last year’s horrible finish cost Mike Shanahan his job. He didn’t even seem to mind leaving behind the flaming dumpster that is Daniel Snyder’s team. Part of that is the notorious owner is 100% committed to Griffin regardless of anything else. Griffin rushed back to the field before he was healthy and while Snyder didn’t order it directly, he clearly encouraged his meal ticket to get back ASAP.
Now another power play is in place, and it appears Griffin might actually win once again. As noted in the above Washington Post article and other outlets, Gruden could very well be a one-and-done coach in the nation’s capital. If he is going to play the “it’s him or me” card, he’s losing that war with his four of clubs against Griffin’s king of diamonds.
One source I trust tipped me off to a potential landing spot for Gruden: The University of Michigan. This source, who is intimately familiar with the Wolverines’ rapidly emerging coaching search, informed me on Thursday that initial contact has been made between the parties and that Gruden’s representation was enthusiastically open to the potential. I can’t put a figure on the likelihood of Gruden fleeing to Ann Arbor, and another UM source I trust refused to confirm anything I asked, but it’s an interesting leverage point nonetheless.
It’s hard to blame anyone from wanting out of Washington. From the carousel of coaches, overpriced free agents, bad draft choices, chronic hole at safety, manipulative quarterback, intensively critical media and poor playing surface at their nondescript stadium (yes I’ve been there), it’s just a giant cluster of negativity. Expect yet more radical changes in the near future.
$.05--Thursday night brought the definitive end to all hope for the Chicago Bears. A team constructed to win this year is now 5-8 and now faces major questions and doubts going forward.
The humiliating, overwhelming 41-28 loss at home to Dallas pushed Chicago’s season from teetering to lost. The news that star wideout Brandon Marshall is lost for the season with broken ribs removes any doubt. These Bears have been exposed as one of the thinnest, mismanaged and poorly coached teams in the NFL. Major changes are needed across the board.
I was a huge advocate for coach Marc Trestman at his hiring, but it’s abundantly clear he’s just not an effective NFL coach. After nearly two years his teams are painfully easy to prepare for schematically and are routinely out-adjusted over the course of a game. There is offensive creativity, but the defense…oh the humanity! Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker somehow remains employed despite his unit ranking dead last in scoring defense and near the bottom in just about every statistical metric.
Perhaps Tucker has kept his job because he’s been tasked with forming a functional unit out of one of the worst defensive rosters possible, and GM Phil Emery realizes that firing Tucker midstream only serves as a further indictment on his horrific personnel decisions. There are two players on the defense, rookie CB Kyle Fuller and former Lions DE Willie Young, who should ever see the field in the NFL beyond this season. The best safety on the team remains Chris Conte even though you’d get little argument from even the most ardent Bears fans in calling him the worst player in the league. Three linebackers drafted recently--Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene--were all drafted at least three rounds prematurely and don’t fit Tucker’s scheme. Emery signed Lamarr Houston to reinforce the defensive tackle spot, yet Tucker played him out of position at end before he blew out his knee celebrating a sack late in a blowout loss.
What’s scary for Bears fans is that this is probably the best Chicago team for the next 2-3 years. Jay Cutler’s massive contract and ineffectual leadership are major saddles on the franchise. Both offensive tackles also need significant upgrading even though left tackle Jermon Bushrod is the 5th-highest paid player at his position this year. All those defensive players who should be nothing more than sub-package reserves but play almost the entire game already cannot be replaced overnight. With Green Bay and Detroit legit playoff teams and Minnesota rising with a young quarterback and improving defense, the Bears are in real danger of being left way behind in the NFC North.
$.06--Go ahead and try to figure out the NFC South. The Saints hadn’t lost under Sean Payton at home in two years, but now they’ve lost four in a row in the Superdome. This latest loss probably hurts the most, a crushing 41-10 loss to the rival Carolina Panthers.
Carolina hadn’t won since October 5th and that string includes a 28-10 loss at home to these same Saints. The morning talk shows and national columnists were openly questioning Cam Newton’s future in Charlotte. Newton went out and threw for three touchdowns, also running for 83 yards and another score. The rushing TD initiated a brawl which was the only time all afternoon the Saints had any sort of pulse. Carolina ran for 271 yards on 40 carries and held the ball for 12 full minutes longer.
New Orleans had a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on the putrid division. A win and what seems like a sure loss for Atlanta in the Monday night game at Green Bay would have finally thrust the Saints into control. Now they’re 5-8 and have to worry about getting caught by the 4-8-1Panthers, too. Carolina has three winnable games left with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Atlanta remaining. The Saints go to Chicago and Tampa Bay sandwiched around a visit from Atlanta.
Consider if both the Saints and Falcons (hosting Pittsburgh on a short week) lose next week, the final two weeks will be a race to seven wins for the division title. Carolina has a very realistic path to winning the division at 6-9-1. The jockeying for the Wild Card teams to get the 5th seed and play this division winner is going to be fierce, as the 6th seed will likely have to travel to either Philadelphia or Green Bay.
$.07--In the Thursday night game, something happened which should have generated a lot more publicity and controversy. It was Josh Brent’s first active game for the Cowboys.
Why is that controversial? Brent is a convicted killer, of his own former teammate, no less.
Cowboys DT Josh Brent played his first down since his drunk driving crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown in 2012 pic.twitter.com/V8Iv5FzPyF— 120 Sports (@120Sports) December 5, 2014
In a time where Ray Rice is suspended indefinitely (later overruled) for punching his now-wife in the face, where Adrian Peterson remains off the field for going medieval on his 4-year-old, where convicted dog killer Michael Vick still faces weekly protests years later, almost nothing was made of Brent’s return to the field. The Thursday Night Football crew only mentioned it in passing and never mentioned Jerry Brown by name.
It’s a shame more folks aren’t aware of Brent’s situation, because it’s both a horrible travesty and a great redemption story wrapped into one. The Illinois product was already on probation from an earlier DUI incident when he was driving at ludicrous speed with his best friend in the car with him. The alcohol-fueled crash that killed Brown is the epitome of irresponsibility and shameful conduct. He was convicted of intoxication manslaughter. While serving his sentence and probation, Brent twice violated his terms by testing positive for marijuana.
Through all the asinine decisions and tragic behavior, the Cowboys stuck with him. So did Brown’s mother, who forgave Brent and strongly advocated for her son’s killer every step of the way. That says a lot about character of both the team and especially Ms. Brown, whose big heart and empathetic nature I lack. Brent was never more than a rotational player, yet Jerry Jones and the franchise valued him. They helped a man they could, and most teams would simply write off. That’s a fantastic story that deserves more attention, just as Brent’s tragic and stupid actions probably deserved more attention than they got.
So when you’re arguing the merits of Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson playing again, think of Josh Brent’s lengthy story. If he deserves a second chance, it’s hard to say anyone else does not.
--I hate this, but I’m afraid it’s true…
RIP, Greg the Leg. RT @MikeJonesWaPo: Rams Kicker Zuerlein has missed a PAT, a 28-yard FG and a 38-yard FG.— Bart Hubbuch (@BartHubbuch) December 7, 2014
--fortunately for Mr. The Leg, the Rams didn’t need him to be good…
The Rams with consecutive shutouts -- the 1st team to do so in a single season since the 2009 Cowboys ... 5th in a single season since 2000.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) December 7, 2014
I know it’s only Oakland and Washington, but consecutive shutouts are mighty impressive nonetheless.
--The Brian Hoyer era should finally be over in Cleveland. Unfortunately he took down the Browns’ playoff hopes with his sinking ship. Hoyer’s last four games: 75-of-151, one TD, 8 INTs. His final throw in Sunday’s tough loss to Indianapolis was a zipless lob into triple coverage that got picked off. It should be his final throw in a Browns uniform.
--Arizona picked up a much-needed win, beating Kansas City 17-13. This game proved that Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense will never win games, only not lose them. Their lack of even trying to attack, even in desperation time, will be the epitaph on their otherwise promising season.
--Denver vanquished Buffalo, but their offensive struggles came back against the Bills’ very strong defense. Peyton Manning failed to throw a TD pass for the first time in over four years. In some ways, that might actually make them scarier going forward. If they can win without getting TDs from Manning, who can beat them in the AFC?
$.09--Draft (not so) quickies
--Houston wideout Deontay Greenberry is one of the most frustrating prospects in a long time. Physically he compares to Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, just as fast and probably a little more well-built at the same stage. Yet he struggles with hand-eye coordination and concentration, leading to some ugly drops and missed route reads. That was on full display in Saturday’s game against Cincinnati, where he juggled away a diving touchdown catch but followed up one drive later with a spectacular one-handed stab.
Back in October I talked to folks close to the Cougars program and they indicated they expected Greenberry to declare for the draft. I don’t know if anything has changed, but I would strongly advocate him returning to school and developing the mental side of his game.
--Marcus Mariota had an interesting night Friday. His accuracy was not at its sharpest, and he missed some backside reads by rushing his primary option. Yet the Godfather of the NFL Draft Gil Brandt astutely points out why Mariota deserves to be the #1 overall pick:
If you have any question on Mariota; watch the series in the 3rd quarter that lead to their 37th point— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 6, 2014
Perfect decisions, pinpoint accuracy. Mariota also smartly ran for three TDs, the first two on the exact same scramble to his left. There are flaws, but he’s going to grade out for me as high as Andrew Luck did in part because he makes far fewer bad throws into coverage.
--Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon was bottled up by Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ 59-0 romp, and it exposed what many of his critics fear the most for Gordon at the next level. Ohio State’s interior defensive line consistently pushed the Wisconsin OL backwards, and that turned Gordon tentative as a runner. It was easy to see him looking for bounce cuts as soon as he got the ball instead of attacking. That’s the same basic malady that has led to NFL disappointment for guys like Darren McFadden and Kenny Irons.
Irons is an interesting comparison. Their collegiate usage was similar in terms of system and scant involvement in the passing game. Their measurables will likely wind up being pretty close, though Gordon is probably a half-step faster. Irons, the Bengals’ 2nd-round pick in 2007 out of Auburn, tore his ACL in his first preseason game and never played again so it’s a purely hypothetical comparison.
There are five teams in the NFL that are 2-11. Nobody worse than that. Race for the #1 pick should be fun.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) December 8, 2014
Those teams are, in my odds of not winning any more games: Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Jacksonville and the New York Jets. The Titans play both the Jets and Jaguars, so they essentially control their own fate in the race for Mariota.
$.10--I spent Friday night taking my wife and two children to the Grand Rapids Drive game. Who are the Drive, you might ask? The Drive are the NBA Developmental League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons.
This was money well-spent for family time. My hoops-mad 9-year-old son Layne absolutely loved it. My wife, a volleyballer who tolerates basketball, enjoyed the game for the most part. My 6-year-old daughter Lizzie lost interest as the game progressed past her bedtime, but she loved the dance team and the very good mascot.
The action on the floor reminded why this was the minor league. While the league likes to promote its players as “potential future NBA” talent, there wasn’t a lot of evidence of that. Willie Reed and Tony Mitchell from the Drive both have NBA experience and it showed, and Mitchell probably won’t be in West MI for long. The Westchester Knicks featured Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who should join his brother (Bucks star Giannis) in the NBA before long if he can figure out how to move without the ball and move his feet on defense.
There were alley-oops and some impressive drives and finishes around the rim. The Drive played solid defense, notably from guards Lorenzo Brown and Kammeon Hosley. There were also some careless turnovers, bricked shots and airballs that are much rarer at the next level. Most of the players are career minor-leaguers, including the most recognizable name: Hasheem Thabeet. After seeing him in person I’m fairly convinced my Layne is a better basketball player already, he’s just not 7’3”…yet.
There appears to be a real market for that. We waited in line for almost 20 minutes at the overwhelmed box office. I didn’t catch the official attendance but the DeltaPlex--a minor league facility even amongst minor-league facilities--was about 80% full. The staff was friendly and enthusiastic, almost to a disturbing fault. Concessions were reasonable, parking was $5, and every Drive 3-pointer saw t-shirts thrown into the crowd.
We’ll be back for more Drive games, certainly my son and I. It reinforces my belief that an NFL developmental league could thrive if done similarly in cities like Grand Rapids, Richmond, Greenville SC and Louisville. Embrace the minor league atmosphere while teasing at the promise of having future NFL talent. As a side bonus, it develops officials and coaches as pros. The officiating was quite good, better than the last Pistons game we attended.
The NFL would be wise to learn from the NBA on how to run a developmental league under its own umbrella. The D-league doesn’t work everywhere, but where it does it can thrive. So will these Drive.