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Tag:Terrell Suggs
Posted on: January 14, 2011 11:15 am
Edited on: January 14, 2011 11:16 am
 

Hot Routes 1.14.11: Breaking down Lynch



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • The Seattle Times breaks down Marshawn Lynch’s now-famous 67-yard TD run vs. the Saints. All eleven Seahawks who were on the field for that play were interviewed for this story. Good stuff if you like to know the inside scoop of what was happening during a specific play.
  • Speaking of Fox, at least one of his former players in Carolina said the Broncos will love their new head coach.
  • Fox Sports’ Adam Caplan breaks down where Cam Newton will go in the 2011 NFL Draft.
  • Terrell Suggs resumed his regular Tom Brady bashing on Sirius Mad Dog Radio Thursday. Of Brady’s three Super Bowl rings Suggs said, “He’s got the tuck rule incident and you got the videotaping of other teams’ practices. It’s like “Oh, OK what’s going on here?’"
  • NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora reports that former Bills coach Dick Jauron will get a look at becoming Pat Shurmur’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland.
  • The drug charges against former Chargers safety Kevin Ellison have been dropped, and now he’s hoping he can return to the NFL and “show teams who I am again.” Apparently, he’s NOT the kind of guy who walks around with 100 Vicodin pills in his pocket without a prescription.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: January 12, 2011 10:28 pm
 

Suggs, Ward fueling the Ravens-Steelers fire

Posted by Will Brinson

There's no need to tell anyone, after the events thus far in the week, that the Jets-Patriots game is going to be heated. But let's not forget about this little Steelers-Ravens rivalry either.

After all, both AFC North teams really, really, really don't like each other. Need proof? How about Terrell Suggs' shirt before Wednesday's practice in Baltimore, which said "Hey, Pittsburgh" right above a giant, purple Raven with its middle finger prominently extended.

You can see the shirt here, but all NSFW-ish warnings apply I suppose. Or maybe not -- even Suggs said "there ain't no message" with the shirt.

"Do I seem worried? This game is going to be what it is regardless," he said. "It’s a physical dogfight, so I ain’t expecting nothing different. And this is the shirt I wore this morning. This is just the shirt I chose."

Now, if he thinks there's no message, he's insane. There's an obvious message and it's quite clear (it's just a visual cue instead of an Antonio Cromartie-style audio number): the Ravens don't like the Steelers.

Good news, though, because the Steelers don't like the Ravens either. Just ask Hines Ward.

"Baltimore is the best place to play," Ward told the Sun this week, sitting in front of his locker after practice. "To me, that's the best road game. I've always cherished it my whole career. It's pure hatred."

Ward also said that when he does something good it "irks the crap out of" Ravens fans and he gets people "flipping the bird" at him. Which, apparently, means Suggs is right on target with his shirt.

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Posted on: January 10, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: January 11, 2011 1:32 pm
 

10 Divisonal Round Stories Worth Your Attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Goofy scheduling?

We can only hope that the divisional round is half as exciting as the wild card was. The NFL keeps the at-home viewer first in mind when scheduling the playoff games. But is that fan-friendly outlook coming at the expense of fairness to teams?

The schedule, which was set before the postseason began, looks like this: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh Saturday 4:30 p.m.; Green Bay @ Atlanta Saturday 8 p.m.; Seattle @ Chicago Sunday 1 p.m.; New York @ New England Sunday 4:30 p.m.

Because of when the wild card games occurred, Baltimore and Green Bay both have a six-day week ahead of them, while Seattle and New York get an eight-day week.

The NFL used to wait for the outcome of wild card games before determining the divisional round schedule (some might remember that in the ’02 postseason Bill Cowher was irked because the league gave the Steelers a Saturday divisional game after a Sunday wild card game while the bigger market Jets got a Sunday divisional game after their Saturday wild card contest).

If the Ravens or Packers wanted to raise a stink about the scheduling, they would have a legitimate argument. But the counter argument would also be legit. That counter argument? Television has made the NFL a cash cow. If coaches and players like being millionaires, they can deal with mild scheduling inconsistencies.


Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 13-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2 seed; 12-4)


T. Suggs (US Presswire)2. R
aven D playing Ravenesque D

It’s tempting -– and rational –- to opine that the Kansas City Chiefs looked every bit like the young, untested playoff team it was Sunday. This was especially true offensively. Matt Cassel completed 9/18 passes for 70 yards and three interceptions. And, aside from a handful of impressive first half bursts from Jamaal Charles, Kansas City’s top-ranked rushing attack was unimpactful.

That said, Sunday’s game was more a case of the Ravens winning than the Chiefs losing.  Only three of Kansas City’s turnovers were relevant. All three of them were forced by Ravens defenders. The two fumbles resulted from scrawny finesse players getting blown up by thundering hits (Terrence Cody on Charles, Ray Lewis on Dexter McCluster). Cassel’s lone costly interception was a product of Dwan Landry lurking from his centerfield spot (earlier, Cassel’s first pick wound up netting a positive gain for the Chiefs because during his run back, Ravens rookie Haruki Nakamura fumbled while foolishly acquiescing to Ed Reed’s request for a lateral).

It wasn’t just the turnovers. Baltimore’s best linebacker, Terrell Suggs, and the rest of the front seven swarmed the Chiefs backfield all afternoon (Cassel was sacked three times, hit six and hurried umpteen). When the Ravens weren’t blitzing, their secondary, unafraid of a Kansas City receiving corps that boasted midweek free agent pickup Kevin Curtis as its No. 2 starter, sat in a zone and enjoyed free ball-hawking reign.

Expect defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to shy away from that zone concept against Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger is simply too dangerous when he bides time. But also expect Mattison to stay in attack-mode with his front seven, as the Steelers’ makeshift offensive line has struggled with blitz recognition at times this season.



R. Rice (US Presswire)3. Best rivalry in football
?

It’s hard to argue against Steelers-Ravens currently being the best rivalry in the NFL. Colts-Patriots is great, but aside from playoff time, those matchups have not always carried huge implications. The plethora of NFC East rivalries are fun but tend to wash each other out. The AFC West teams don’t like each other, but who cares? Bears-Packers is great rivalry from an all-time perspective, but currently, it’s only average because this is the first time since 2001 that both teams have reached the postseason.

The Ravens and Steelers, on the other hand, have been fistfighting for AFC North division titles for most of the past seven years. Their last six regular season matchups have been decided by four points or less (the Steelers have won four). In ’08, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore 23-14 in the AFC Championship. In Pittsburgh’s previous Super Bowl year (’05) they beat Baltimore 20-19 on Halloween and 16-13 in overtime in November.

These games have been like prize fights – most of which have been decided with 12th-round knockouts.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed, 12-5) @ New England Patriots (No. 1 seed, 14-2)


4. Or is THIS the best rivalry?

It depends if you view NFL coaches and players as athletic competitorsR. Ryan (US Presswire) or entertainers. Football-wise, Patriots-Jets is good but not great. The Patriots embarrassed the Jets 45-3 in the last meeting, though Rex Ryan’s Jets had won two of three before that.

It’s Rex Ryan’s personality that has given this rivalry most of its juice as of late. Months after getting his first head coaching job, Ryan famously said “I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s, you know, rings.” Just recently, Ryan complimented Peyton Manning’s work ethic by taking a jab at Tom Brady’s.

Garrulous as Ryan is, it’s that other coach -- the cranky, taciturn one -- that built the foundation for this rivalry. Recall that long before all the Eric Mangini handshake drama, Belichick was Bill Parcells’ top assistant with the Jets (’97-’99). He was nabbed as the Tuna’s successor in 2000 but announced his resignation during his introductory press conference. Shortly after that, he wound up in New England (the Jets received the Patriots’ first-round draft choice in exchange).



5. New York’s unheralded defensive lineman

Defensive end Shaun Ellis is the longest-tenured Jet (11 seasons). Aside from 14-year veteran Trevor Pryce, injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins is the most recognized name along the defensive line. Backup Vernon Gholston is the next most recognized name, but only because the former No. 6 overall pick has been a monumental bust.

The most important name on New York’s three-man line this Sunday, however, will be Mike Devito. The fourth-year pro from Maine was the primary reason that Indy’s recently-surging rushing attack was stifled Saturday night. It’s a shame there wasn’t a way for Devito’s constant penetration and destruction of interior blocking schemes to show up next to his six tackles in the box score.

The Patriots are pass-first team, though they fed BenJarvus Green-Ellis the rock at least 18 times in six of the team’s final eight games. They have the talent to block Devito -- Logan Mankins has been the most dominant left guard in football since Thanksgiving and left tackle Matt Light has some of the best feet in the game -- but every team has the talent to block the former undrafted free agent. Matching Devito’s energy and tenacity is a different challenge.



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed, 11-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (No. 1 seed, 13-3)


6. That Packer defenseB. Raji (US Presswire)

Second week in a row the Packer defense has been highlighted here. Did you see the job this unit did on Philadelphia’s explosive playmakers? Everyone, including Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, was expecting Dom Capers to blitz the daylights out of Michael Vick. Capers did so late in the second half, but for much of the game, he had superstar Swiss Army Knife Charles Woodson spy the quarterback. He dropped his linebackers into a safe zone coverage, which took away running lanes and Philly’s potent screen game. And, most surprisingly, Capers trusted that corners Tramon Williams and Sam Shields could contain wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin -- which they did.

What gave Capers the confidence to burden his back seven with intense coverage assignments was knowing that Eagles right tackle Winston Justice -- who was eventually benched for King Dunlap -- could not handle Clay Matthews. (It’s curious that Philly did not slide protections and align help-blockers to the right side.) Capers also correctly figured that B.J. Raji would be too much for Philadelphia’s interior offensive line to handle.

Raji will be key in Green Bay’s next game, as Atlanta employs the purest downhill rushing attack the NFC has to offer. Michael Turner broke tackle after tackle en rout to 110 yards in Green Bay’s fruitless Week 12 visit to the Georgia Dome. To prevent a repeat performance, the Packers front seven will have to get stout and adjust from Reid’s speed-oriented West Coast sets to Mike Mularkey’s power-oriented two-back, two-tight end formations.



7. Coming out party

As was suggested late last week, the Packers found a new backfield weapon in James Starks Sunday afternoon. The sixth-round rookie may be a star in the making (only time, or another 100-yard rushing performance, will tell) but the story heading into Saturday night is the man under center. Same goes for the Falcons.
M. Ryan (US Presswire)
No matter what happens Saturday, an indisputable star will be born. Or, more accurately, baptized. Either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan is going to lead his team to a conference title game. Both are stars already, though without celebrated postseason success, the only observers who truly appreciate the young flamethrowers’ greatness are those who study film for a living or those harbor a marriage-jeopardizing passion for fantasy football.

The national notoriety these two quarterbacks receive is not quite commensurate with their level of skill. This is especially true for the 25-year-old Ryan, who will be looking to do what the 27-year-old Rodgers just did: win his first playoff game (prior to 2010, both men had 0-1 postseason records, courtesy of the Cardinals).

Ryan and Rodgers will come away as majestically illuminated stars if their performance matches the one both gave when their teams squared off in Week 12. In that game Rodgers, who threw for 344 yards, tied the score at 17 with a 10-yard touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson with 56 seconds to play. But following that, one of Eric Weems’ many outstanding kick returns wound up giving Atlanta the ball at the 49 with 47 seconds to play. From there, Matty Ice calmly completed passes of nine, four, four and three yards to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal.

Rodgers and Ryan have a similar skill set. Rodgers offers slightly better arm strength and scrambling speed, while Ryan plays with slightly more fluidity and fundamental integrity. Both will be a blast to watch, one will take that “next step” in the eyes of fans.



Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed, 8-9) @ Chicago Bears (No. 2 seed, 11-5)


8. Mea Culpa (sorta)

M. Lynch (US Presswire)

I have received harsh emails from two different fan bases this season: Chicago’s and Seattle’s. Bears fans called me out early in the season for saying their team’s success was a mirage; Seahawks fans called me out late last week for saying their team didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs

To Bears fans: I’m more than happy to admit I was wrong. I incorrectly believed Mike Martz would be unwilling to compensate for Chicago’s shoddy offensive line by altering his complex offensive system. Martz was shrewd in the way he employed help blockers into his pass protections and he showed admirable humility (and sensibility) in substituting a few passes for runs.

To Seahawk fans: sorry, no mea culpa here. And no mea culpa is on the way, either. Even if the Seahawks go on to win the Super Bowl, it won’t change the fact that they did not deserve to be in the postseason in the first place. I know, I know, the rules state that a division champion gets a playoff spot. So, from a technical standpoint, Seahawk fans are right when they say their team deserved to be in. But it’s a flawed system when a sub-.500 team plays in the tourney while a pair of 10-6 teams (Bucs and Giants) sit home.

Divisions are cyclical -- I get that. That’s why I’m fine with a 9-7 division champ – and maybe even an 8-8 division champ -- beating out a 10-6 non-division champ for a playoff berth. But when you talk about a losing record getting in? Sorry, the math is too ugly at that point.

Unfortunately, because the Seahawks upset the Saints (again, a well-deserved win, as Seattle clearly outclassed New Orleans on Saturday), the NFL probably won’t amend the playoff rule by establishing an eight-win minimum. If this is the case, the league will be putting too much emphasis on the postseason and not enough emphasis on the regular season. That may sound silly, but look at what an uphill battle this kind of distortion has given the NBA.

All this being said, Seahawk fans, this is your time. Make no apologies for your team. Keep gloating and boasting. And keep sending harsh emails with words like moron, idiot, loser and jackass in the subject line to any sportswriter who criticizes your club’s postseason presence. Seriously -- that’s part of what being a fan is all about. All I ask is that if you were one of the fans who, before Week 17, said that you’d prefer to see Seattle lose to St. Louis and maintain a top 10 draft position, you at least refrain from sending your hate email in all caps (some things should be left for only the true fans).


9. No extended bathroom breaks
D. Hester (US Presswire)
Better stay in the room when specials teams units take the field this Sunday. For the first time in modern NFL postseason history, we have a kick returner with three touchdowns on the season (Leon Washington) facing a punt returner with three touchdowns on the season (Devin Hester). Washington’s contributions are remarkable; midway through last season, the then-New York Jet suffered what appeared to be a career-ending broken leg. Hester has also had a resurrection in 2010, though granted, he was never injured. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in non-defensive touchdown returns, but prior to Week 3 of this season, Hester had not scored a return touchdown since 2007.

10. Quick Hits: what went wrong for the wild card losers

  • New Orleans’ sixth-ranked ’09 ground game dropped to 28th in ’10 and proved problematic down the stretch. Of course, the ground game had nothing to do with the plethora of missed tackles and blown coverages at Seattle.
  • Peyton Manning’s genius was not quite enough to overcome Indianapolis’ copious injuries (yours truly turned out to be wrong about that one). By the way, did you happen to catch Reggie Wayne’s quote after the loss? After Darrelle Revis held him to one catch for one yard Saturday night, Wayne told Mike Chapell of the Indianapolis Star, “It's bull. It's bull, man. I give everything I've got no matter what. Every day, I give it everything. And . . . one ball, that's all. I shouldn't have even suited up. I should have watched the game like everybody else. I was irrelevant."
  • Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry looked every bit like the No. 5 overall pick Sunday. Berry – like Seattle’s first-round rookie safety Earl Thomas, in fact – might have a little learning to do, but athletically, he’s outstanding.
  • With the offense regressing in the final weeks of the season, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Eagles use a franchise tag on Michael Vick, rather than invest a long-term contract in the 30-year-old. Vick’s vulnerable health and inconsistent decision-making (wild card game aside) might give a few people in that organization a bit of pause.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: December 24, 2010 2:48 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.24.10: No holiday cheer for MJD



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

- For the third-straight day, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t practice while dealing with a knee injury. It’s not a good sign for Jacksonville, since no player who has missed a Friday practice with the team this year has ended up playing on a Sunday. At the same time, Jones-Drew has never missed a game due to injury. But yeah, it doesn’t look good at this point. He’s listed as doubtful on the injury report, and it'll be surprising if he suits up to play.

- Seattle’s Leon Washington and Mike Williams are candidates for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Williams knows who should get it. His teammate.

- Pro Football Talk has an interesting take on why we might not see a league decision regarding Brett Favre for a few more days.

- And speaking of Favre, how about Favre, the linebacker?

- Former Baltimore Colts and Redskins guard Ken Huff already has climbed Mount Kilimanjero once before. Now, he’s going back to do it again to help wounded soldiers.

- If you’d like to relive the topsy-turvy world of the Jets from 2010, here’s your chance to review the season.

- You remember how Ravens LB Terrell Suggs bragged about leaving Patriots QB Tom Brady off his Pro Bowl ballot? Well, Brady responded today, saying he would have voted for Suggs, in part because Suggs is such a nice guy.

- Break up the Browns? Aw, hell no, says defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

- If the Bengals decide to franchise tag Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati’s CB would be OK with that. Considering he’d likely make $10-13 million, you can understand why.

- Some of the Steelers players will become awfully big Browns fans this weekend. It'll be for a weekend only.

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Posted on: December 22, 2010 11:57 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.22.10: Pro Bowl spite voting!

Posted by Andy Benoit



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Michael Strahan bashed his former team after it surrendered a 21-point lead in less than half a quarter Sunday.
Posted on: December 16, 2010 3:15 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.16.10: Suggs says Brees best QB

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Terrell Suggs has mentioned how little he likes the favoritism that he believes is shown to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But that has nothing to do with his recent comments that Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the NFL. Actually, wait, maybe it does. "Well, in my eyes he’s better," Suggs said, via Aaron Wilson at the National Football Post. "Maybe it could be my personal vendetta against the other guys, but he’s definitely one of the premier quarterbacks in this league, and he’s got the numbers to prove it. And not only that, he’s got the hardware to prove it.”
  • We talking about practice? Why yes, yes we are talking about practice. Specifically, Redskins practice which, according to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, was held at Lifetime Fitness. Which is like Gold's Gym, I think. Or maybe not exactly. But the point is that the Redskins, an NFL team, somehow ended up practicing
  • page/DEN">Broncos)">According to Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post, the Broncos still plan on starting Kyle Orton Sunday. He just can't practice because of "sore ribs." Which is obviously code for "desperate excuse to start Tim Tebow."
Posted on: December 15, 2010 12:18 am
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Super Bowl contenders

New England has to be considered a Super Bowl contender (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

It’s getting to be about that time.

The time when we really can crack down on the best teams in the NFL and really figure out which squads are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Preseason favorites (like, ahem, the Jets) have begun to show cracks in the foundation, while other teams – in this case, it’s just one team, really – have begun pulling away.

Three weeks left in the regular season, so we should have a pretty good indication of which team is going to do what once it makes the playoffs (if it, in fact, makes the playoffs at all). Without further ado, here’s your guide to which squad will be spending February in Dallas.

10. Jaguars: Why they will: Why the hell not? I mean, they won’t really. But RB Maurice Jones-Drew is fun to watch, and QB David Garrard has played great football lately. Jacksonville is just a fun underdog to watch. Why they won’t: I’m not even sure they’re good enough to get to the playoffs.

9. Chargers: Why they will: QB Philip Rivers is still having a fantastic season and is still an MVP candidate. Plus, San Diego is the No. 1 defense in the NFL (you can look it up!). Why they won’t: They simply haven’t played well for most of this season. Losses that look like this: 27-20 to the Seahawks; 35-27 and 28-13 to the Raiders; 20-17 to the Rams.

8. Bears: Why they will: They’ve surpassed many people’s expectations for the season while dragging coach Lovie Smith off the hot seat, so why can’t the surprises continue? I mean, if Jay Cutler can play fairly well on a consistent basis, anything can happen. Why they won’t: The offense isn’t good enough, and the defense isn’t good enough to overcome one of (statistically) the worst offenses in the league.

7. Ravens: Why they will: They’ve got plenty of talent at the WR position, and much of the time, QB Joe Flacco can even get his receivers the ball. Plus, there’s always Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. Why they won’t: Did you see the way the defense collapsed Monday vs. the Texans? That’s unlike the Baltimore defense we’re accustomed to seeing every season. That secondary struggles, as well.

The duo of B. Jacobs and A. Bradshaw has been big for New York this year (US Presswire). 6. Giants: Why they will: The Giants offense, though beat up in the WR corps, still picks up the yards. Once they figured out their roles, the running back duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw has been outstanding. Why they won’t: For one, Eli Manning doesn’t have very many healthy receivers. For two, the team won’t stop turning the ball over to its opponents.

5. Eagles: Why they will: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson can lead this team anywhere. The proof lies in the league-leading 402 yards of offense Philadelphia produces per game. Why they won’t: Some injuries on defense – CB Asante Samuel, LB Stewart Bradley and DE Brandon Graham – certainly don’t help. Plus, it seems like Vick would have to play perfect all the way through, doesn’t it?

4. Steelers: Why they will: The Steelers played well without QB Ben Roethlisberger, and now with him in there – even though he’s less than 100 percent – they’re nearly unbeatable. Plus, you know, Troy Polamalu. They don’t win ‘em pretty, but they win ‘em anyway. Why they won’t: The offensive line isn’t very good. Like, not very good at all.

3. Saints: Why they will: New Orleans has played progressively better as the season has neared its end. Even if the Saints can’t catch the Falcons in the NFC South, the wild card should be there for the taking, and hopefully for them, they would catch one of the NFC West teams on the road. Why they won’t: They’re not as good as they were last year.

2. Falcons: Why they will: They have the quarterback, they have the running back, they have the receivers, they have the TE and they have the coaching (and a pretty decent defense). There’s a lot to like about this Atlanta squad. Why they won’t: Not a ton of guys on the team have been on teams that have made deep playoff runs. Unlike, say, the New Orleans Saints.

1. Patriots: Why they will: It’s obvious. Rewatch their last two games – destructions of the Jets and the Bears. Why they won’t: Can Tom Brady really keep up this unbelievable pace? Isn’t the young – and, at times, ineffective – secondary eventually going to get the team in trouble? Especially if the Patriots face somebody like Philip Rivers or Drew Brees?

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Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 13

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Panic in IndyP. Manning (US Presswire)

The story here is that this was the top story last week. The Colts lost at home because they couldn’t run the ball against a 3-4 defense (San Diego’s) and Peyton Manning threw four picks, two of them for touchdowns, thanks to a handful of uncharacteristic misreads. No one expected to see a rerun of this disaster, but that’s exactly what Indy produced Sunday.
And so now the Colts, having lost four of five, are 6-6 and on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since Jim Mora’s famous rant. Panic time? Not really.

The Colts still controls their own destiny. Their remaining four games are: @ Tennessee (Thursday night), vs. Jacksonville, @ Oakland and vs. Tennessee. If the Colts win out, they’ll finish 10-6. Even if the currently-first place Jaguars finish 10-6, the Colts would win the tiebreaker because they’d be 4-2 in division games (like Jacksonville) and one game better than the Jags against common opponents.

The Colts are losing primarily because of Manning’s mistakes (both pick-six’s against the Cowboys were his fault). Eleven interceptions have the active legend coming off arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career. But to bet against the Colts would be to bet that Manning continues to blow it. Is that a bet you really want to make?



2.) The AFC’s new best running back

We can thank one guy for giving us a great divisional race in the AFC South this year: Maurice Jones-Drew. On Sunday, not only did Jones-Drew’s Jaguars put away the now also-ran Titans (aka The Team That Allegedly Signed Randy Moss), but Jones-Drew officially catapulted himself ahead of Chris Johnson in running back pecking order of the AFC. M. Jones-Drew (US Presswire)

Jacksonville’s 5’7” bowling ball outrushed Johnson 186-53. The 186 marked a career-high and extended Jones-Drew’s 100-yard streak to five games (another career high). If not for our understandable infatuation with quarterbacks, Jones-Drew would garner serious MVP consideration. It is not a hyperbole to say he has Michael Turner’s tackle-breaking ability, Darren McFadden’s acceleration, Steven Jackson’s vision, Ray Rice’s hands, Frank Gore’s heart and Clinton Portis’ pass-blocking prowess. Because of his often unheralded contributions on third down (blocking, decoy routes, etc.), Jones-Drew means more to the Jaguars offense than any non-quarterback means to any other offense in football.

This has actually been the case the past few years. The difference this season is that Jones-Drew is not doing it utterly alone (at least not lately). Experience has afforded backup running back Rashad Jennings a much better feel for the speed and angles of the pro game, and the youngster is now good for about 40 yards a week off the bench. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has sprouted into a consistent intermediate receiving weapon, which has forced linebackers to worry about more than just Jacksonville’s backfield. And finally, the Jaguars offensive line has gelled as a run-blocking unit, despite a few personnel changes (namely Ebon Britton being out at right tackle and Vince Manuwai moving back to left guard and replacing Justin Smiley).

But take MJD out of the equation and none of the players mentioned above would be thriving. And, thus, neither would the first-place Jaguars.



3.) Running Power

While we’re slurping the ground game, have you noticed the number of lopsided rushing performances we’ve had lately? Take a look at what has transpired the past two weeks.

Week 14:

Jaguars outrush Titans 258-57 and win

Vikings outrush Bills 210-84 and win

Giants outrush Redskins 197-74 and win

Raiders outrush Chargers 251-21 and win

Cowboys outrush Colts 217-40 and win (by the way, it probably would have been fair to Manning if these 217 yards had been mentioned in the opening section about the Colts’ struggles…)

Week 13

Steelers outrush Bills 206-74 and win

Jaguars outrush Giants 207-135 but lose (only 61 yards in second half for Jags)

Vikings outrush Redskins 137-29 and win

Texans outrush Titans 188-24 and win

Dolphins outrush Raiders 186-16 and win

Chiefs outrush Seahawks 270-20 and win

Chargers outrush Colts 129-24 and win

49ers outrush Cardinals 261-13

Jets outrush Bengals 170-46

Don’t mean to pull a Stevie Johnson and go all caps on you here, but LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS!!! Look how many games these past two weeks have been decided by teams that have utterly DOMINATED on the ground. We’re not talking about teams merely establishing the run and controlling tempo – we’re talking about teams outrushing opponents by 125, 180, even 200-plus yards!

Look, it could just be an aberration. Seriously, it could. If we’ve learned anything over the past five seasons or so, it’s that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and that the teams that win are the teams that make plays through the air. Two weeks of startling run statistics don’t overturn five years of rock-solid passing evidence. But these running numbers are certainly something to keep an eye on. We’ll check back on it next week.



4.) The secret favorites of the NFC…?

Sorry Bears fans, this bit isn’t about your team (though for the record, I’ll admit that your team’s offense has figured out its pass protection issues and all the individual offensive players seem to have found their niche in Mike Martz’s system). This bit is about the New York Giants.
B. Jacobs (US Presswire)
The Giants were able to run at will against a Redskins defense that seemed to a.) Have 11 Albert Haynesworths on the field Sunday and b.) Probably missed the services of their actual Albert Haynesworth

The Giants hope to get wideouts Steve Smith (pec) and Hakeem Nicks (lower leg procedure) back in Week 14. Left tackle David Diehl (hamstring) is also nearing a return. All three will be joining a team that is 8-4 and running the ball with tremendous effectiveness. Ahmad Bradshaw got 25 carries Sunday and went over 1,000 yards on the season. And though Brandon Jacobs’ return to a starting role appears to be only titular – Jacobs carried the ball just eight times Sunday – the 265-pound freight train looks reinvigorated. Jacobs produced 103 yards and two scores against Washington; last week he gained 87 yards in a win over Jacksonville.

Jacobs evokes memories of another running back from New York: Shonn Greene in ’09. The Jets elevated the role of their bruising runner late last season and watched the rookie punish defenses that simply couldn’t match his freshness. The Giants appear to be in a position for similar results with Jacobs.

On the other side of the ball, New York’s four-man pass-rush is clicking. Justin Tuck continues to play like an All-World force. Osi Umenyiora has cooled from his torrid early-season pace (Umenyiora’s sack against Washington was his first since Week 6) but rookie Jason Pierre-Paul now fills almost any void. The über-athletic long-armed first-rounder has posted two sacks in back-to-back games.
We know better than to hang our hats on the Giants when expectations are high (Tom Coughlin is never more than two weeks away from a hot seat), but all evidence suggests that this soon-to-be-healthy team is peeking.



5.) Slugfest!

On Saturday night, I was explaining to a friend why American Gangster is my favorite movie of all time. Because of the star-studded cast of characters (Denzel, Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), R rating (which, let’s face it, is a MUST if you’re going to make a veritable gangster movie) and naturally compelling storyline (a true story about innovative Harlem drug dealerB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire) Frank Lucas) I went into that movie with dangerously high expectations. The type of expectations that can only be fulfilled by being surpassed. Remarkably, American Gangster did just that. (How it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture in ’07 is still a mystery.)

The Ravens-Steelers game Sunday night was the American Gangster of NFL games. It was a primetime game that more than lived up. We got the fist fighting chess match we all expected. We got the tight finish driven by big plays. And, like with Denzel and Crowe, the stars showed up.

Ben Roethlisberger’s foot seemed to get healthier as the night unfolded (which is odd because, from what I hear about painkilling shots, they tend to wear off over time). How great was Roethlisberger’s throwaway on first-and-10 late in the fourth quarter when Terrell Suggs had him in the grasp? Almost as great as Cris Collinsworth said it was (which means it was a 9.9/10). Suggs was phenomenal the entire night, once again proving he’s the best playside run-defending OLB in football and impossible for guys like Steelers backup-turned-starting left tackle Jonathan Scott to contain on passing downs.

The Roethlisberger throwaway play was originally made possible by Troy Polamalu’s forced fumble on Joe Flacco. It was Polamalu’s second individual play in the backfield that night (he had an impressive stop on Willie McGahee in the first half) and second consecutive game-changing performance in the closing minutes of a close contest. Polamalu’s late-game brilliance at Buffalo and Baltimore highlight the difference between star and superstar.

Of course, if Joe Flacco doesn’t short-arm the final fourth-and-two pass to Ed Dickson, we might be talking about how Baltimore’s third-year quarterback has orchestrated two game-winning touchdown drives against the vaunted Steeler defense this season. (Think that might have accelerated Flacco’s rise to the top quarterbacking echelon in the court of public opinion?)

Tough loss for the Ravens, though in a game like this, you have to first say “great win for the Steelers.” Before we move on, a few more quick notes from this one:

**Fans can be quick to criticize Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. On Sunday night he was, in a word, awful. But don’t rush to the conclusion that the sixth-year pro can’t play. Overall, McFadden is one of the soundest No. 2 corners in the game. He’s always had trouble regaining his traction when things start to slip – that’s why the Cardinals gladly let him return to Pittsburgh – but that doesn’t mean he slips very often.

**Rashard Mendenhall has been fantastic this season (in this game he became the eighth rusher this season to surpass the 1,000-yard mark) but he needs to be called out for his alligator arms on the pass in the flats where Terrell Suggs was bearing down on him. Those weren’t even alligator arms – they were snake arms. Hard to blame a guy for not wanting to take a shot from Suggs (especially when Suggs, at the time, was bleeding profusely from the mouth and almost literally looking rabid). But Mendenhall will be blamed – did you see Roethlisberger’s reaction to Mendenhall’s snake arms?

**You have to believe that Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL simply because that’s what every single announcer says every single week.

**The Ravens were just 4/13 on third down, but two of those four conversions were on 10-plus-yards-to-go situations on their first half touchdown drive.



6.) Bengals-Saints

Say what you will about Marvin Lewis’ club, but that’s a group that knows how to give. And that group hasn’t just started giving because of the holidays. No, that’s a group that has been giving all season long. Did you see the way they gave the Saints a ninth win on the season Sunday? (By the way, that’s two weeks in a row now that Drew Brees has led a game-winning last second comeback drive on the road. He’s not exactly beating teams known for their mettle and heart, but in the NFL, a win is a win – especially on the road.)
C. Palmer (US Presswire)
One play from this game in particular stood out (think you can probably guess which one). The Saints, trailing by three, had fourth-and-two on Cincy’s seven-yard line with 34 seconds left. They lined up for one of those “try to get the defense to jump offsides” plays in which the defense never jumps offsides. Except this time Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims DID jump offsides. Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, apparently unaware of the federal law prohibiting all players from saying anything real or the least bit honest about an opponent after a game, couldn’t help but talk about the gaffe. "What is that guy doing”, Ellis asked rhetorically. “You have to be smarter than that."

Yup, you do. Otherwise, you put your team behind in a position to fall behind (the Saints followed through on the inevitable by scoring a go-ahead touchdown immediately after Sims’ mistake) and you give your quarterback a chance to make a major error in clock management.

That’s the part of this equation that might get overlooked. After the Saints pulled ahead, Bernard Scott put the Bengals in good field position with a solid kick return. Carson Palmer completed a short pass to fullback Brian Leonard for 14 yards, leaving the ball at New Orleans’ 37. That’s where the Bengals needed to use their final timeout with 13 seconds left (and note to broadcasters worldwide: that would not have been the Bengals “burning” their final timeout; it’s not “burning” a timeout if you’re using it to preserve precious seconds on a final drive). But instead of calling timeout, Palmer tried to line the offense up to spike the ball. It took five seconds before he realized that was a terrible idea.

So the Bengals burned not their final timeout, but rather, five crucial seconds before using their final timeout. Then during the timeout they set up the perfect play to allow Saints safety Roman Harper to blitz clean and end the game with a sack.

All in all, this game was a classic case of one team knowing how to win and another knowing how to lose. And, afterwards, we finally got some postgame gripes from the league’s most targeted wide receiver: “Dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m 46 (years old) or 47, I ball when I’m out there,” Terrell Owens said in a tone that seemed to say don't you understand??? “(Me saying this) is not a distraction. All I want is opportunities…The film don’t lie. The film don’t lie. Watch it. Watch it.”



7.) The story we just can’t shake

It’s not fair – by virtue of them playing the Bills, we were supposed to get a break from all Vikings stories (and thus all Brett Favre stories) this week. Instead, Favre took a nasty blow on the third play of the game, injured his shoulder and didn’t return. There’s probably some complicated-sounding name for whatever injury Favre has. And he’ll probably be questionable for the upcoming Giants game. And now we’ll probably be forced to talk about the streak and the concept of the Vikings building for the future, etc.

What makes this week’s story particularly irritating is that we got to see Tarvaris Jackson play. Whether you like Jackson or not is irrelevant. The problem is that by Jackson playing, we now have actual footage of the young quarterback (who, in his fifth season is not actually young) taking snaps for the 2010 Vikings. This means there is actually something to talk about with Jackson. Which means we’re going to have “Favre or Jackson” debates all week.

We can debate whether Jackson’s three interceptions (including that ugly pick-six to Drayton Florence) are a sign that he’s nowhere near ready to replace Favre or a sign that he’s so ready to replace Favre that, look!, he practically IS Favre. We can hold the same debate about the athleticism Jackson flashed in making sandlot plays to Sidney Rice (two touchdowns).

In the end, we’re still talking about an over-covered 5-7 team that’s all but out of playoff contention. Except now, that 5-7 team is 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier and is technically NOT out of playoff contention. So we might get to talk about Minnesota’s playoff chances, as well. Can’t wait.



8.) How the NFC West will be won

Instead of “how the West will be won”, perhaps a more appropriate headline would be something along the lines of “how one team will technically not lose the West”. Let’s hope the team that doesn’t lose the West is either the Rams or Seahawks. Both of those clubs won on Sunday. The Rams beat Derek Anderson and the hilarious Cardinals (who may now have to hang their hat on rookie quarterback John Skelton moving forward), while the Seahawks swarmed Jimmy Clausen and the putrid Panthers. Both clubs are 6-6.
St. Louis (US Presswire)
The Rams and Seahawks both have a game left against the hapless 49ers (who, by the way, verified in their loss at Green Bay that their quarterback can only throw what he sees and can only make simplified reads like on screen passes or play-action bootlegs). If both teams can beat those Niners, then the worst-case scenario we’d have in the West would be the 7-8 Rams and 7-8 Seahawks squaring off in a “win and you’re in” Week 17 showdown. That would ensure at least a .500 division winner.

But should the Niners beat either the Rams or Seahawks in the next few weeks, we’ll probably get the 7-9, or perhaps even 6-10, division champion that we’re dreading. Then the discussion will be a clash between two sides of common sense. One common sense side will say that a 7-9 team should never be in a tournament in which a 10-6 team is left out. The other common sense side will say that the NFL cannot rewrite its playoff rules on the fly simply because it doesn’t like what those rules produced.

The latter common sense side will win, of course. This entire mess has come about because the league didn’t fix this problem when it had a chance. In 2008, the 8-8 Chargers stole a playoff spot from the 11-5 Patriots by virtue of the Chargers winning the pathetic AFC West. In the ensuing offseason, the league should have decreed that only teams with winning records have their playoff spots guaranteed. (Or, the league could have at least ruled that no .500 or below team gets in the playoffs at the expense of a team that is three games better in the standings).

Instead, the league sat idly by and essentially said, “This scenario doesn’t happen often anyway. And besides, those 8-8 Chargers wound up knocking off the Colts that year, so you can’t say they didn’t deserve it.”

Problem was, those Chargers DIDN’T deserve it. To say they deserved a chance based on their playoff performance is to say that the regular season is basically insignificant. Let’s hope the Rams or Seahawks don’t get a chance to suggest that the regular season is insignificant.



9.) The Chargers may not deserve it now, either

A funny thing happened on San Diego’s way to the postseason Sunday. The Raiders went into Qualcomm Stadium and completed a season sweep of the Chargers. It was a September-esque performance from the Chargers: turnovers early and a few special teams gaffes (Darren Sproles muffed punt, Nate Kaeding missed 50-yard field goal…which probably isn’t a GAFFE, per se, but whatever, it helps the storyline).

If you picked this game corJ. Charles (US Presswire)rectly, then congratulations, you know nothing about pro football. There’s no way anyone could have intelligently predicted the Raiders to win going in. The evidence just wasn’t there. Darren McFadden had rushed for 16 yards on 18 carries the previous two weeks. Facing the league’s top-ranked defense, he gained 97 yards on19 carries. Backup Michael Bush added 95 on 23 carries. Oakland’s unforeseeable rushing success was the difference Sunday.

For San Diego, the loss was their first in 18 December games. They’re now 6-6 and two games back of a Chiefs team that they could have been battling for first place next week.

And say, how about those Chiefs? Three weeks removed from getting tagged for 49 points by the Broncos, Kansas City’s defense holds Josh McDaniels’ men to two field goals. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali renewed his ownership of normally-outstanding offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Unheralded corner Brandon Carr stifled the league’s leading receiver, Brandon Lloyd. (Though he didn’t shut Lloyd out the way Champ Bailey shutout Dwayne Bowe).

On the other side of the ball, Kansas City got more stellar play from Matt Cassel (he’s now up to 23 touchdowns on the season and still has just four picks) and was able to lean on the explosiveness of Jamaal Charles (his 116 yards on 15 carries left him third in the NFL in total rushing on the season leaving Sunday). Worth noting is that a big reason Charles is averaging nearly 95 yards per game on the ground and 6.2 yards per carry (the all-time single season record is 6.4, held by Jim Brown) is because he often enjoys big-play springing edge blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. That fundamental excellence goes a long way towards creating a consistent attack.

We can’t talk about this game without overhyping McDaniels-Todd Haley Handshake II. Haley surprised McDaniels by going in for a full hug after the game. It was the same tactic Bill Belichick pulled on Eric Mangini a few years ago. Annoyed by the media distraction that their icy relationship caused, Belichick used a warm hug to essentially douse cold water on a hot feud. It worked for him and it will probably work for Haley. No one will bring up his relationship with McDaniels again this season. And perhaps not next season, either, as McDaniels, now 5-17 in his last 22 games, may not be around.



10.) Quick Hits

**Falcons kick returner Eric Weems deserves heavy Pro Bowl consideration. His touchdown return against the Bucs was not only spectacular, it changed the tenor of the game. Lat week, Weems had a big return to set up Atlanta’s game-winning drive against the Packers.

**The Bucs-Falcons game was a good one, too. Matt Ryan was his usual cool self late. Josh Freeman continued to flash star potential. And the Bucs as a whole, though once again coming up short against a plus-.500 team, proved that they’re not a fluke. Tampa Bay has improved in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

**The early window games were slim pickings. It was the kind of schedule where I chose what game to watch on my main TV based on what uniforms I thought would look best on the field together. I picked Packers-Niners….only to discover that Green Bay was busting out some hideous blue and brown throwbacks.

**Would you believe that Jeff Fisher’s Titans led the league in presnap penalties coming into Sunday?

**And would you believe that the Saints’ stud right guard, Jahri Evans, leads the league with eight holding penalties?

**Didn’t mention Knowshon Moreno in the Broncos-Chiefs write up above. The second-year running back had by far his best game as a pro (161 yards on 23 carries). His juke moves had the exaggerated effectiveness of the juke moves on the Madden video game from about six or seven years ago.

**I didn’t like Drew Stanton’s touchdown dance. I didn’t like the dance itself (hope it’s okay to say this: it wasn’t a dance designed for white guys) and I didn’t like that he even did it. Quarterbacks pump their fist or spike the ball out of raw emotion all the time (see Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger). But none of them dance. It’s just not kosher – especially when you’re a second-round bust who is serving as a third-stringer on a two-win team.

**Cameron Wake had a big sack on Jake Delhomme late in Miami’s heartbreaking loss against Cleveland. Unfortunately for Wake and the Dolphins, the problem with sacking Delhomme is that it’s the only way to ensure that he doesn’t throw an interception.

**Going back to the Falcons-Bucs game real quick: hopefully for Brent Grimes people were watching this one, because if they were, the athletic and highly underrated Falcons cornerback probably punched his ticket to Hawaii.

**How’s this for salt in the Cardinals fans’ wound: Kurt Warner was in the broadcast booth for the St. Louis-Arizona game.

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