$.01--By the time you read this, Urban Meyer may no longer be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The failed experiment is hopefully, mercifully coming to a bitter but entirely predictable end.

Over the weekend, several prominent and credible NFL sources detailed the degradation of Meyer’s status. Among other things, Meyer admitted he called his assistant coaches “losers” and demanded they defend their resumes less than 11 months after he hired them all. Remember Meyer’s vigorously foolish defense of his hiring old friend Chris Doyle as a staffer not long after Doyle had been canned from Iowa for being an activist racist? Yet when the losing starts, they’re mere speed bumps under the Meyer bus.

That was just the first in many eminently avoidable gaffes. Meyer signed Tim Tebow to play tight end, a shameless PR grab exploiting his one-time Florida Gators savior and humiliating the former Heisman winner in the process. Meyer forced his players to have contact practices that are strictly forbidden by the NFL and NFLPA’s CBA. That cost Meyer himself $100K and the team $200K and also cuts short their 2022 offseason workouts.

There was the video of Meyer enjoying a lap dance from a co-ed when he abandoned his team after a loss, with the excuse that he wanted to spend more time with his family. That young lady might have called Meyer “daddy”, but they were (hopefully) not related.

The on-field product has been just as embarrassing. The Jaguars entered the weekend at 2-10 and holding the No. 2 slot in the draft order. Meyer has led them to the 31st-ranked offense and 29th-ranked defense. Other than running the ball, the Jaguars are terrible at everything it takes to win in the NFL. Take this, uh, I don’t know what the hell this is, from Sunday’s 20-0 shutout loss to the Titans:

The failed Meyer experiment is one of those rare situations where just about everyone can credibly say, “I saw this coming”. Because everyone with two eyes and a functioning brain behind them could absolutely anticipate the disaster that was quickly to come in Jacksonville. Everyone, it seems, except Jaguars owner Shad Khan. And if I’m a coach looking for a stable, promising gig or an attractive free agent, a la Marvin Jones, I’m going to be a lot more hesitant to trust the judgment of an owner who bought into the obvious fiasco that hiring the appalling egoist Meyer would be. The dubious decision is going to haunt Duuuval for a long time.

$.02--It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t comfortable and it certainly wasn’t easy on the nerves across Northeast Ohio, but the Cleveland Browns took a huge step toward salvaging their season with a 24-22 win over the rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

There might not be any fingernails left in Cleveland. The Browns surged out to a 24-3 lead when Myles Garrett scored on his own strip-sack of Tyler Huntley, who was playing QB for Baltimore after Lamar Jackson left with an ankle injury. The Browns had all the momentum in the world, which was the beginning of their dynamic collapse.

Cleveland’s offense took a cold trip into neighboring Lake Erie. A Baker Mayfield INT and a pointless drive ended the first half, giving the Ravens some hope. Baltimore seized upon it with a Justin Tucker field goal to cut the gap and carried it into the second half. When the Ravens, led by the surprisingly poised Huntley, scored a touchdown to close the gap to 9, pearls were clutched from Vermilion to Chardon. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh opted to go for 2, and when the Browns D held on the conversion, it remained a two-score game. That was critical, because the Ravens did indeed get another score to make it a 2-point game. It could have been a tie game, or a chance for the tie had Harbaugh chosen to kick the extra point with Tucker, the best kicker in NFL history.

An onside kick recovery (on an illegal formation by Baltimore that was ignored by the officials) set up the Ravens to pull off the ultimate comeback. But the Browns defense held when CB Denzel Ward, who played an outstanding game, made a clutch tackle on 4th down.

The Browns desperately needed the win. Coming out of the bye week, Kevin Stefanski’s team was on the precipice of disaster. A home loss would have all but ruined any realistic playoff aspirations, even in the middle-heavy AFC. Now they’re a game out of first place in the division after being the only AFC North team to win this week.

$.03--The Browns close win was one of a few thrillers on Sunday afternoon. Tampa Bay and Buffalo staged a similar game script, with the Buccaneers racing out to a big early lead only to have to hold on for dear life after a furious comeback from Buffalo and Josh Allen.

For the Bills, it was the second bizarre game in six days. Buffalo lost on Monday night despite the New England Patriots attempting just three passes in the blustery awful conditions. The Bills offense tried a little too hard to force Allen’s rocket launcher of an arm to win it, and the Patriots approach and execution proved superior.

In this game, the Bills did not hand the ball off to a running back in the first half. Not once. Aside from the defense having no real plan of attack to pressure Tom Brady or anticipate the Buccaneers attack, the Buffalo offense had nothing working. Asking Allen to play hero ball on every snap is a recipe for disaster. The Bucs rode that titanic error from Buffalo to a 24-3 halftime lead.

Just as in Cleveland, that exact lead proved burdensome for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay managed just five first downs in six possessions, netting just a field goal. Allen’s hero ball started working, and a more balanced Buffalo offense helped ease some of the burden too. Tyler Bass nailed the game-tying field goal on the penultimate play of regulation, setting up the Bills for the epic comeback upset win. But the Buccaneers suddenly remembered they’re the defending champs and played like it in overtime.

Tampa Bay won when Brady hit Breshad Perriman on a crossing route and the Bills couldn’t catch the big wideout. All the outstanding weapons at his disposal and Brady wins the game with Perriman, a former first-round bust by the Ravens who got quickly dropped by the Lions and Bears this year. There’s a sense of mad genius to how Brady and Bucs coach Bruce Arians executed the winning plan, using the most unlikely hero against a team that steadfastly leans on their own hero to do everything.

$.04--Those two wild outcomes help shape up a fantastically up-for-grabs stretch run in the AFC. After Sunday’s outcomes around the conference, here’s how the AFC ladder stands:

The Chargers nosed their way to the top of the AFC Wild Card standings with a methodical blowout win over the New York Giants. Well, as methodical as a game can be that features the NFL throw of the season by Chargers QB Justin Herbert. He unleashed a bomb while fading to his right that sailed over 68 yards in the air for a touchdown.

The next five teams in the standings are all 7-6. It’s so unsettled that the Browns entered this weekend as the No. 12 seed. If they beat the collapsing Raiders next week and the Ravens--who could be without Lamar Jackson--lose to the powerhouse Packers, they’ll be the 4 seed. Cincinnati was the No. 1 seed in the conference after Week 7 but now they’re ninth and have by far the toughest-looking schedule of the group here. The Bengals furiously rallied to force overtime against San Francisco, scoring two fourth-quarter TDs to make it a game. They even scored first in overtime. But Cincy lost to the 49ers when Jimmy Garoppolo found Brandon Aiyuk for the game-winner. That’s not an easy way to head into the stretch run for Zac Taylor’s Bengals.

The Dolphins were once 1-7. They exit their bye week a game back of usurping the fading Bills for second place in the East and have two very winnable games stacked up next. Buffalo benefits from finishing with three of four at home, including a finale against the bottom-feeding Jets. The Bills have plenty of time to get back to their winning ways and be a playoff factor once again.

The surging Chiefs devastated the Raiders 48-9 on Sunday, an emphatic statement that the West is still theirs. Kansas City’s schedule is also difficult, and the Chargers are poised to pounce…except it’s impossible to trust the Chargers from week to week. Thursday night’s game between those two could jumble the top of the ladder just as much as the middle is right now.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is parity at its finest. There are 13 teams who could still be the No. 1 overall seed in the conference with just four weeks to play. Other than the Raiders, who have lost five of six, all those teams can credibly sell their fans on the potential to remain very excited about the postseason.

$.05--Sunday Night Football brought us the latest incarnation of the Bears/Packers rivalry. Seeing as how this “rivalry” has played out over the last decade-plus, I stumbled upon the Miss Universe pageant as counterprogramming. I figured, why not stay and root for Miss Paraguay, who enchanted me in the intros. I won’t miss anything in the Packers inevitable win.

I kept one eye on the game though. To my surprise, the Bears surged out strong. They took a 10-0 lead. Before the swimsuit competition ended and the Miss Universe contestants were whittled down to 15 (Miss Belgium got robbed here), the Bears had already withstood a Packers comeback and surged back out to a 24-14 lead.

Those of us who reside in the NFC North knew it was coming. Chicago fans, those who have watched Green Bay win 21 of the last 25 meetings entering the game, certainly knew it. As timeless as Miss South Africa’s smile, the Packers ability to come back and destroy the hope of Bears fans everywhere was undeniable. Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and an opportunistic Packers defense finished the game on a 31-6 run

This is what the Packers do and the Bears do. They crush dreams. Green Bay crushes everyone else’s, while the Bears destroy those of their own loyal fans. My own pageant rooting dreams of Miss Paraguay winning didn’t quite come true. Miss India edged her out in the final, a worthy woman to wear the crown. Beating the Bears all but officially coronated the Packers as the champions of the NFC North, as it was seemingly meant to always be.

$.06--RIP Demaryius Thomas. The former NFL wideout passed away this week at just 33 years of age.

Preliminary reports indicate Thomas passed away from a seizure in his Denver-area home. It’s a sad ending to one of the more uniquely gifted and well-liked players and it comes far too soon. He had just retired from the NFL this past summer after last playing for the Jets in 2019. His five-year peak with the Broncos from 2012-2016 saw Thomas rank in the top-5 in receptions, yards and TDs over that time period, earning four Pro Bowl nods. He was one of the most difficult matchups with his blend of size and sharp footwork.

The Broncos played a wonderful tribute to Thomas on the scoreboard prior to Sunday’s home game with the Lions. It’s worth a minute of your time to watch and appreciate No. 88. Denver opened the game by sending out only 10 players on offense in tribute to the Broncos great. They took a delay of game penalty, which the Lions declined in a sign of dignity and respect.

It’s always tragic to see players pass away too early. For a popular one like Thomas, a guy who was very respected and popular for being a good teammate and good person off the field, it’s very tough to swallow. I caught interviews with several former teammates and coaches, as well as what some friends in the media had to say about Thomas and it’s heartbreaking to lose someone like that. He would have been 34 on Christmas day. Way too young, way too soon.

$.07--Congratulations to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, the winner of the 2021 Heisman Trophy. Young captured college football’s most venerated award by a larger margin than anticipated. He easily outpaced runner-up Aidan Hutchinson, with Young capturing 684 of the 870 first-place votes.

It’s back-to-back Heismans for the Crimson Tide, and Young is the first-ever Alabama quarterback to win the award. Young’s first-ever TD pass for the Tide went to last year’s winner, WR Devonta Smith.

Some will discredit Young by pointing out his stellar receiving corps. And while it would have been part of why I would not have voted for Young to win, I do think folks underestimate the burden of having to keep all those high-profile future NFL starters satisfied. Young did that exceptionally well. But he wasn’t the most impressive college football player in 2021 in my eyes. The person I would have voted for to win the Heisman didn’t even make the trip to New York as one of the four finalists.

My vote would have gone to Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker. I did vote for Walker to win the Doak Walker Award for the best RB (he won) and he deserved the Heisman too. I like to evaluate the context of the accomplishments, and how Walker racked up his 1,636 rushing yards, over 6 yards per carry and 18 TDs was more impressive to me than Young or finalist C.J. Stroud lighting up the air throwing to NFL starters across the board. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who came in third, would have had my second-place vote because he was outstanding with a lesser supporting cast than his Bama or Ohio State counterparts. I would have voted for Young for third, though his Bama teammate Will Anderson arguably was more impressive at LB than Young was at QB. No disrespect at all to Hutchinson, who should be the No. 1 overall pick, but some of his success came because the Wolverines had another top-40 draft pick in David Ojabo on the other side. I wouldn’t fault anyone who voted for him at No. 1 just to be a hot poker in the conventional balloting eye that dictates defensive players cannot possibly win a Heisman.

One of the things that’s become readily evident in the Heisman process the last couple of seasons, from a media perspective: the general population cares a whole lot more about the Heisman than the people who actively cover college football. There is a growing frustration with the celebration of the Heisman at the expense of the other awards.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--It won’t technically happen until Monday night when his Rams take on the Cardinals, but Andrew Whitworth will be the first-ever left tackle to start a game at age 40 or above. Whitworth turned 40 on Sunday. He’s still an effective player too. Been one of my personal favorites for a very long time.

--The Bears season is rapidly spiraling down the drain, but not quite as fast as WR/return man Jakeem Grant can run. My goodness, this man can scoot!

--The Lions lost again, getting bombed 38-10 in Denver. Detroit had a COVID-19 outbreak during the week on top of myriad injuries. Seven practice squad players got ample playing time and the team never really had a chance. But one of those practice squad players deserves some positive attention.

Running back Craig Reynolds erupted for 83 yards on 11 carries, including a 35-yarder, in his NFL debut. Reynolds was the Lions most impressive runner all preseason, but he couldn’t edge his way onto the team. He stuck around, stayed positive and ready, and thrived when finally given the chance. Good for Reynolds. It’s guys like that who reinvigorate a lost season for Detroit.

--Just give the Defensive Rookie of the Year award to Dallas’ Micah Parsons right now. He added two more sacks and a forced fumble (on a sack) in the Cowboys’ 27-20 win over the Football Team. No defensive rookie has come close to the level of impact play Parsons has provided the first-place Cowboys.

--Washington fell to 6-7 with the loss to Dallas but held onto the final Wild Card spot in the NFC. The WFT owns the five-team tiebreaker over the Falcons, Vikings, Eagles and Saints--all of whom are also 6-7. The NFC is a hot mess, too.

$.09--College/Draft quickies

--Perhaps the most celebrated QB recruit from the class of 2021, Quinn Ewers didn’t like his prospects at Ohio State. Ewers entered the transfer portal and is taking his mullet back home to Texas and joining the Longhorns. Hard to blame Ewers for realizing that sitting at least one more full year behind a Heisman finalist wasn’t good for his NFL dreams or competitive juices. The young man clearly isn’t afraid of the spotlight or the pressure. Remember, he initially committed to Texas before he was convinced to change to Ohio State.

--New Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman endeared himself to the Chicago Bears faithful with a great quip from Sunday’s press conference. Freeman briefly played for the Bears in 2009 but it left an indelible mark on the young coach. When asked what he learned from his time with the Bears, Freeman deadpanned, “You learn how to take defeat.” Ouch. True, but still, ouch!

--Lest the NCAA try to convince you that a postseason football tournament could never possibly work, the FCS level playoff tourney started this weekend. The D-II and D-III tournament semifinals also took place. Two noteworthy outcomes from the lower levels: Mount Union lost in the D-III semifinals to North Central, which means the Purple Raiders will now go a fifth straight season without a title for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president.

And in D-II, Ferris State annihilated Shepherd, 55-7, an incredibly lopsided score for a semifinal. The Bulldogs have scored at least 44 points in each of their playoff wins en route to the championship game next weekend against Valdosta State. It’s a rematch of the 2018 championship game, won by Valdosta. D-II football is a very big deal here in West MI, where Ferris State and Grand Valley State are bitter rivals and perennial title contenders.

--Auburn QB Bo Nix has entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer. That’s going to be an interesting one to watch play out from both the Auburn side and wherever Nix, who is talented but wildly inconsistent, winds up.

--Not college or draft-related, but it’s worth mentioning somewhere. Our local high school, Zeeland East (Go Chix!) in West Michigan had our kicker named to the all-state team for our division. Her name is Paige Westra and she deserved it. She had more tackles (2) than missed kicks (1) all season. Westra is a 4-sport varsity athlete and an incredible, if unassuming, role model for a flock of young ladies including my own daughter. Great job, Paige!

$.10--The 32 nominees for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award were revealed this week. Each team picked one player for the prestigious honor, which venerates what these men do off the field to make the world a better place.

It’s legitimately one of my favorite things of the entire year. For most of the NFL calendar, the mainstream media tends to focus on the negatives, the players who get arrested or suspended for various acts of dumbassery. It’s fascinating how quiet the critical media is when the incredible contributions to the community done by the NL players are in the spotlight. And that’s what the Walter Payton award is all about.

If you want to feel better about the world as a whole, treat yourself to the press releases from the NFL teams that detail why the individual players were nominated for the award. You’ll find players who feed and clothe needy families, assist first responders with mental health care and accommodations, generously donate hundreds of hours to local schools reading to kids and giving them all the books to go with it, guys who fund and participate in projects that help injured veterans and families of deceased vets, and so much more.

We forget sometimes that these NFL players are members of the community. And just as not everyone in your neighborhood is a productive and enviable member of society, the NFL does indeed have some unsavory characters. Too often that’s all that too many will focus upon. Give the same energy and attention to the truly great things these men do--often without any acclaim or attention-seeking. They deserve it and we’re all better for it.