Posted on: January 25, 2012 5:48 pm

Another tough loss for Ravens

Baltimore's loss is Indianapolis' gain.

When I called a source within the Ravens Wednesday and asked how he was doing he didn't sound so good.

"I assume you're calling about Chuck Pagano," he said.

I was.

"When guys here found out," he said, "they were devastated."

I can see why. Pagano did a terrific job with the Ravens' defense this year, an outfit that allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns (21) of anyone out there and ranked third overall. The Ravens always have been tough defensively, but they were especially tough this season -- holding Tom Brady last weekend to no touchdown passes for the first time in 19 straight playoff games.

Maybe that sold the Colts. Or maybe it was Pagano's "presence" that some people talk about. All I know is that he did a credible job with one of the league's best units. And he did a remarkable job against the league's best quarterback, with Baltimore intercepting Brady twice and holding the Patriots to two TDs.

My only question: Is this too much too soon? It was only a year ago that Pagano was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Now he's a head coach of a very successful franchise. That's a huge jump in one season, and it'll become bigger once we know what happens to Peyton Manning.

The smart money is on Manning not returning to Indianapolis, which means the Colts are in rebuilding mode -- starting with the draft of quarterback Andrew Luck. That will buy Pagano time. But the Colts have a decade of success built with Manning, so fans won't be overly patient.

One other question I had is what differentiates Pagano from, say, a Rex Ryan, who was hired away from Baltimore in 2008?

"He has a strong sense of self," one insider said. "He knows what to say and when to say it. Rex sometimes will say things that he doesn't really believe, but he says it because he's brash and people expect it."

I don't care what Pagano says. I just care what he does. Ryan went to conference championship games his first two years on the job, and that would work just fine for Indianapolis.

Pagano is not on the clock, with the honeymoon just starting. But that should last no more than a year. Then we find out what the Colts have in their new head coach.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 25, 2012 12:43 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 12:49 pm

Goodell will be around for long, long time

Roger Goodell should get a five-year extension. In fact, he should get an extension for life. The only way he's leaving his job is when he ... and only he  ... decides it's time to go.

Of course, I'm being flippant, but the reality is that Goodell just proved why he's qualified to be NFL commissioner. He faced the biggest hurdle of his tenure and navigated it deftly.

I'm talking, of course, about the lockout that ended in late July with a 10-year CBA. Goodell held firm when critics said he could not or must not, and stared down the opposition -- first winning in court before winning at the bargaining table.

I know, I know, both sides claimed victory, but look at the new TV contracts and tell me who's the winner there: Anyone who owns an NFL club.

Sure, there are residual effects, with veterans getting more money than ever and training camps, offseason activities and in-season practices more player-friendly. But it's NFL owners who stand to reap the greatest rewards of the new deal -- especially with no opt-out clause.

Goodell and NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith seem to have forged a relationship that, though not as close as the Paul Tagliabue-Gene Upshaw friendship, should benefit the league for the forseeable future. Already we're seeing that the NFL is doing better than ever, with TV viewership and public interest at record levels.

If you don't believe me look at the average sold ticket price for Super Bowl XLVI on the NFL Ticket Exchange. It's $4,272.

All I know is that when Goodell was tested he responded, and he responded so effectively and so decisively that owners are satisfied with his performance. So getting a five-year extension is not a big deal. Goodell will be around for a long, long time ... as long, I suspect, as he wants to stay.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 22, 2012 6:15 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 6:21 pm

Don't blame Flacco for this one

Joe Flacco didn't lose this game. Billy Cundiff did.

Flacco made all the right throws on what should have been a tying drive late in the AFC championship game, setting up Cundiff for a 32-yard field goal that would send the game into overtime. Only Cundiff missed, pulling the kick wide left as astonished Ravens collapsed to the field.

It was a kick Cundiff has made hundreds of times in practice and during games -- but he missed it, pure and simple, taking down Baltimore's chances of appearing in a Super Bowl with it.

In truth, Cundiff shouldn't have had to make the kick. Lee Evans failed to come down with a perfectly thrown Flacco pass for what could have been a winning touchdown only two plays before -- but lost the ball when Sterling Moore ripped it loose.

For Baltimore it was a game it could have -- maybe should have -- won, but the Ravens made too many mistakes on their last three drives, failing when Flacco threw an interception on one series, they failed to convert a fourth-down on the other and Cundiff blew the easy kick.

The Ravens stifled quarterback Tom Brady for most of the afternoon and held tough when they had to on a third-and-short with just under two minutes left, leaving it to Flacco to win the game. He could have. He might have. He didn't.

And you can blame Billy Cundiff.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 19, 2012 7:13 pm

Spags' hire good for Saints, not Eagles

The Steve Spagnuolo hire is big for New Orleans, not only because he's going to a Saints team that needs him but because he's not going to Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia hire made so much sense I thought it was a slam dunk. Then I spoke to a coach a week ago who told me if there was a question it was how Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Jim Washburn might ... or might not ... co-exist. I don't know what the implication was, but he suggested that maybe they couldn't be on the same staff.

Well, they won't be.

Granted, there's no opening on the Eagles ... not yet, there's not. But there's a feeling that sooner or later coach Andy Reid shuffles his defensive staff, with coordinator Juan Castillo sacrificed. The Eagles already dismissed secondary coach Johnnie Lynn, and the expectation was that Castillo couldn't be far behind.

Only nothing has happened.

So Spagnuolo goes to New Orleans, and his hiring is an important one after what the Saints just went through. They fell short of San Francisco in last weekend's NFC playoffs because their defense couldn't stop the 49ers from going 80 and 85 yards on two drives in the last three minutes.

Not good.

Had the Saints just held on, they would be hosting Sunday's NFC championship game in the Superdome -- where they did not lose this season.

Spagnuolo is one of the best defensive minds out there, and he is more than a suitable replacement for Gregg Williams, who departed for St. Louis. Ironically, Spagnuolo and Williams trade defenses, with Williams going to the team that Spagnuolo coached the past three years.

Spagnuolo's reputation was enhanced in Super Bowl XLII when his defense and his game plan brought down Tom Brady and the then-undefeated New England Patriots. The Saints are not in need of a fix, but they had to have a suitable stand-in for Williams to oversee their defense.

Spagnuolo is more than that. This was a big catch for a team that needed one.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 17, 2012 3:03 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 4:32 pm

Caldwell firing no surprise

Funny, I was on a radio show this morning saying this is the next move I expected the Colts to make, and for all the right reasons: They have a new GM; they could have a new quarterback; they're starting over; and they seem headed in a new direction.

So why would Ryan Grigson retain a coach he did not hire, especially after that coach just finished a 2-14 season? Answer: He wouldn't.

I know, Peyton Manning didn't play. But are you going to tell me the Colts were that bad? I don't think so. Caldwell went because the Colts think there's someone better out there ... or, at least, Grigson does, and I'd agree.

Essentially, what Caldwell demonstrated this season is that without Manning he couldn't succeed. Well, I know a coach in New England who lost his quarterback and still finished 11-5. I know a coach in Houston this season who lost his star defensive player, his top two quarterbacks and his top wide receiver for much of the season ... yet still made the playoffs and won a game there.

My point is: Caldwell demonstrated nothing more to the new regime than he knows how to position himself for Andrew Luck.

Caldwell was a perfect transition from Tony Dungy, but it's time to move forward. The team just completed a dreadful season, and nobody knows what Manning's future is. So the Colts are making a break with their past ... especially their recent past.

The big question, of course, is: What does this means for Manning? And I don't know that it means anything. Nobody is certain what his future is, and I'm not talking about the Colts. I'm talking about football, period. Nobody can be certain when or if he plays again.

So the Colts won't wait. Instead, Indianapolis has a new GM and, soon, could have a new -- or a second -- quarterback. Flushing their head coach was just another signal that the Colts are moving in a new direction with a whole new set of characters.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 13, 2012 5:15 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 5:34 pm

Fisher move a no-brainer

It took Jeff Fisher days to make a decision where he would coach next, but he made the right one. In fact, Fisher to the Rams was a no-brainer.

And here's why: The Rams have a young quarterback who can be the foundation of the club. They have the second pick in this year's draft. They have cap room. And, most important, they don't have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in their division.

Who wouldn't want that? In Miami, there's a question about who quarterbacks the team next; the ownership is, at best, questionable, with last year's mishandling of the Jim Harbaugh/Tony Sparano situation Exhibit A; and the club is in the AFC East where nobody but New England wins until Brady retires.

In the NFC West, Fisher's world is wide open. The 49ers won the division this season. The Seahawks won it last. Arizona won it the year before. I think you can see where I'm going: It's anybody's division.

In the AFC East, meanwhile, New England won it this year. New England won it last year. New England won it the year before. When you play there, you play for second ... at least  while Brady is standing.

The Rams have talent. They just don't have a lot in a couple of key areas, like offensive line and wide receiver. With a high draft position, Fisher can either choose blue-chip players at the top of each round or trade down to add a collection of choices to fill in where needed.

The key for St. Louis is rebuilding quarterback Sam Bradford after a season where his body, his offensive line, his receivers and, eventually, his confidence betrayed him. Bradford is the cornerstone of this club, and he demonstrated in his rookie season that he has the tools to be a keeper. It's up to Fisher to find that guy again.

That's easier than trying to fill the position in Miami. It's easier than trying to fill it while overcoming New England, too. Jeff Fisher made the right move for all the right reasons. I don't care how long it took him. What matters is that he did what was in his best interests.

And going to St. Louis is.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:39 pm

Can't imagine Mularkey hire a popular one

I'm not sure how you sell Mike Mularkey to Jacksonville fans. Not now.

Mularkey is the former offensive coordinator for Atlanta who bombed out last weekend with a 24-2 finish vs. the New York Giants in a game where the only points scored by Atlanta were scored by the Giants' offense.

He couldn't convert two fourth-and-1s. He couldn't convert a third-and-1. And he wouldn't throw the ball downfield ... even though he Roddy White and Julio Jones in the lineup. Let's just say it wasn't one of his best afternoons of work.

Bad enough that the Falcons missed one quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1. Mularkey called it again. And he failed.

Nevertheless, that didn't deter the Jaguars, who hired him as their next head coach -- with the proviso that he invigorates the league's 32nd-ranked passing offense. I'd like to know how, based on what just we witnessed.

Clearly, one game does not a season make, but that one game was the Falcons' most important ... and Mularkey flunked the exam.

Jacksonville needs someone to make its young quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, better, and Mularkey's experience with Matt Ryan is a plus there. But Blaine Gabbert is not Matt Ryan. Frankly, based on what I saw this year, I'm not sure what Blaine Gabbert is. He might be the answer; he might not.

The Jags figure that Mularkey will help them find out, and maybe they're right. But are you going to tell me there weren't better options out there?

Jay Gruden? Mike McCoy? Rod Chudzinski? None of them has head-coaching experience, so that almost certainly handicapped them. But all would have made an impact with the Jacksonville fan base that Mularkey won't.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 10, 2012 4:00 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 4:46 pm

Maybe Jackson move isn't so bad after all

Every year there's one firing of a head coach that qualifies as a surprise, and Hue Jackson is that surprise.

At least it was to people outside the Bay Area.

Those who follow the team, however, tell me the guy was unpopular with players, which probably counted for something. His failure to close out the AFC West when Denver lost its last three couldn't have helped, either. Nor can I imagine the team's NFL record for penalties boosted his cause. That's the sign of an undisciplined team.

Plus, Jackson's rant following the season-ending defeat to San Diego, where he basically threw his players under the bus, wasn't such a great idea. If you're the head coach, you're acountable for your team's successes and failures, and Jackson should have been accountable.

Oakland wants to win division championships and return to the playoffs, and GM Reggie McKenzie quickly determined he couldn't do it as long as Hue Jackson was in charge. So he canned him, and now the search is on for a successor -- with Green Bay, where McKenzie worked previolusly, the most logical place to start.

In the past, the candidates always included one of two choices: 1) Experienced coaches who were off everyone's radar, or 2) young assistants considered two raw and too green to be given a shot by 31 clubs.

In short, the candidates almost always were not on anyone else's short list.

The most obvious reason was that owner Al Davis ran the organization with such an iron fist that most guys considered for other jobs weren't interested. They wanted freedoms and authority that Davis would not grant.

One head coach who interviewed year ago with Oakland -- and who was hired later by another team -- told me Davis wasn't interested in hiring anyone who wouldn't cede authority over personnel or assistant coaches to him. Once he heard that, he said, his decision was easy.

But Davis is gone, and the job is a lucractive one again. In fact, with McKenzie in charge, it could be one that attracts a promising young assistant or an experienced head coach who sees an opportunity to work with a Raiders' team that finally seems to have a future.

In essence, Jackson's firing is another step away from the Davis regime. It was Davis who hired him after he let go Tom Cable, and it was Davis' memory and words that Jackson invoked after Oakland wins.

Now both are gone, and the Raiders move to establish themselves in another image. Considering what's happened since 2002, maybe that's not such a bad idea.

Category: NFL
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