Posted on: January 2, 2012 4:29 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 4:51 pm

Source: Turner, A.J. could return to Bolts

There seems to be a lot of waffling on the future of San Diego coach Norv Turner, and, according to a source close to the organization, there's good reason. He believes that Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will be retained.

Of course, that's not set in concrete. Nothing is this time of year. But it's the first tangible sign that both will return next season.

Turner has two years left on his contract at $3 million per, and Smith has three years left at $2 million per season. According to the source, he believes that ownership is reluctant to fire each or both, then have to pay them.

But there's more to it than that. Quarterback Philip Rivers is a big fan of Turner and voiced his support Sunday for his embattled head coach. Team president Dean Spanos is reluctant to fire Turner, too, one reason he wants time to sit on the decision.

The public, of course, has made its displeasure with the Chargers known, but this year's team did not have the playmakers and talent people associate with the club. Injuries depleted the offensive line and wide receivers, tight end Antonio Gates played through a painful foot injury and the defense leaked too often.

Plus, there were too many turnovers, with Rivers committing a career-worst 20 interceptions.

Nevertheless, the Chargers won four of their last five starts to finish in a three-way tie for first in the AFC West -- with the club losing the tiebreaker to Denver. That the team fought down the stretch will count for something, but it's the second time in two seasons the Chargers missed the playoffs.

That will go into Spanos' thinking. But so will a business decision. That's one reason he begged off on making an immediate move, saying he needed a couple of days to think about it. 

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 2, 2012 11:10 am

After Spags, what next?

Sfeve Spagnuolo's firing is no surprise. We've been expecting it for weeks. The real question is: Who replaces him? I'd suggest the Rams look at someone who can help Sam Bradford.

The Rams made Bradford their franchise quarterback when they took him at the top of the 2010 draft, but after a promising rookie season he took a step backward in 2011. I know, he was hurt, and he missed a lot of games. I get it. But he seemed to lose his confidence, and that can happen when you don't have quality receivers.

The Rams made an attempt to shore up that position when they traded for Brandon Lloyd, but it was too little too late.

The next head coach must make Bradford the quarterback he was last season -- basically, do for him what San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh did for Alex Smith. Bradford is talented and promising, but he needs an offensive line to protect him and receivers to catch his passes.

In short, the Rams need to bolster the league's worst offense.

That's why I suggest they look for a head coach with an offensive background. There's already been talk that Jon Gruden might be in the mix, but I suggest they look at Gruden's brother, Jay, who was outstanding in his first year as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator. With his help, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs. Carolina's Rob Chudzinski is another guy I'd want to interview. He, too, did a marvelous job with a rookie quarterback.

Bottom line: I want someone who can restore Bradford's confidence in himself and fans' confidence in my franchise.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 1, 2012 11:26 pm

Giants make case for playoff run

So the New York Giants are in the playoffs, thanks to victories the past two weeks. The question is: How far can they go?

Far, though the key word there is could.

I mean it. I know they draw Atlanta next week, but the Falcons are 0-2 under Mike Smith/Matt Ryan in the playoffs, and they're a dome team going outside. Plus, the Giants have looked better on defense the last two weeks, stifling the Jets and Cowboys in succession.

I'm not saying they go to the conference championship game or the Super Bowl, but I am saying they're a dark horse for an upset. They won three of their last four, are pressuring the pocket again and have one of the league's most dangerous fourth-quarter passers in Eli Manning.

Oh, yeah, one other thing: They took Green Bay to the mat this season before losing 38-35. Plus, Manning has gone to Green Bay and won a playoff game.

I know, the Giants were 9-7 and remarkably inconsistent. But they righted themselves at just the right time. This is not the 2007 Giants all over again, but it is a team that  must be watched ... and watched carefully. If I'm Atlanta, I'm relieved I don't have to return to New Orleans to play the Saints.

But I'm also wary.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 27, 2011 3:11 pm

Please, don't make me NFC's sixth seed

If you're the Detroit Lions, you hope Green Bay doesn't play its starters in the season finale. In fact, you say a prayer the Packers don't.

No Aaron Rodgers would lessen the chances of a Green Bay win, and that's critical to Detroit's playoff future. Even though the Lions are headed to the playoffs, they don't want the sixth seed ... and neither does Atlanta. The reason: You have to go to New Orleans, where the Saints don't lose.

Draw the sixth seed, and say goodnight.

New Orleans doesn't just beat opponents at home; it clobbers them, with Monday's rout of Atlanta the latest example. The Saints are built for the Superdome and excel there, with the Saints four times putting 40 or more points on oppnents and once sticking 62 on Indianapolis.

Atlanta doesn't want to meet them there, and neither do the Lions. So the rush is on for the fifth seed, and Detroit holds it -- pending, of course, the outcome of Sunday's game in Green Bay.

The Falcons' hope is that Rodgers and the Packers' first team not only play but play long enough to win. The Lions' hope is that Rodgers and the first team don't play ... or play so little that the Lions can prevail.

Bottom line: Detroit needs this game. So does Atlanta. Only the Falcons need Green Bay to win.

The fifth seed would play at Dallas or the New York Giants, and tell me where you'd want to play: There or in New Orleans. Uh-huh, so would I. That's why the jockeying for the NFC's fifth seed is one of this weekend's biggest stories.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 27, 2011 2:57 pm

Jets' problems start with run game

I love all this second-guessing of Mark Sanchez. Two years ago he was the San-chise. Now he's Broadway Schmo all over again.

Sanchez hasn't changed. The Jets have. They can't run as they once did, and that's the problem with their offense; not Mark Sanchez.

Granted, Sanchez is no Tom Brady. But he never was. The Jets' success was predicated on a punishing rushing attack that set up Sanchez for play-action passes. Without a solid running game -- and the Jets are 22nd in that category -- defenses don't buy the play-action, which means Sanchez is handicapped.

No question, his game didn't improve this season, but neither did the Jets' rushing attack. In fact, it was worse than ever.

It was the league's best in Sanchez's rookie year. It was fourth last season. Now it's stuck in the lower third of the league, and the Jets' playoff hopes are on life support.

So Sanchez takes the heat. The problem, people, is the Jets' running game. There isn't one.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 24, 2011 4:35 pm

Defense key for Big Blue

The New York Giants are alive for a playoff spot, and credit an old friend -- their defense.

After allowing a touchdown on the Jets' first drive, it held fast -- buckling only after the Giants' offense inexplicably tried throwing the ball with a 13-point lead midway through the last period.

OK, so the Jets scored on that series. It didn't put them ahead. And when they had a chance to produce a game-winning drive, defensive tackle Chris Canty nailed Mark Sanchez in the end zone for a safety.

The vidtory is crucial for a Giants team in search of the playoffs. With the win, it can close out the NFC East with a defeat of Dallas next weekend.

And the Jets? They can't get in without help ... and they got none from their opponent's defense Sunday. That was as well as the Giants looked all year on that side of the ball, and I don't care if it was the Jets' offense isn't Grade A. It did what it had to do, and that's all that matters.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:34 am

With outcome decided, Big Ben should've sat

The Pittsburgh Steelers took their best shot at beating San Francisco by starting injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and I applaud them ... and him ...for that. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, and, hey, it happens.

But here's what I don't get: Why, after the Steelers fell behind, 20-3, in the fourth quarter, did they leave Roethlisberger in? He was limping badly, and the 49ers were teeing off on the pocket.

So why subject him to unnecessary punishment ... especially when you need him to go deep into the playoffs?

Normally, that question should be reserved for coach Mike Tomlin ... except not here. According to Roethlisberger, he made the call.

"When coach tried to get me out, I said, 'No, I'm not putting you in that situation," said Roethlisberger, "and I'm not quitting on our guys. I started this thing. I'm going to finish it.' "

That's great, except Roethlisberger doesn't get paid to make those decisions. Tomlin does. Roethlisberger is the quarterback. Tomlin is the head coach, and, as head coach, he should've pulled his quarterback and saved him from an unnecessary beating.

So it could've been worse. It could've been better, too. Once the outcome was decided, Big Ben should've sat down.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 18, 2011 10:56 pm

Ravens can only hope for help

Baltimore's John Harbaugh could use a lift, and maybe he gets one from his brother.

If not, Harbaugh -- John, that is -- and the Ravens are in trouble. Because if San Francisco and Jim Harbaugh don't solve San Francisco Monday night, the Ravens probably wind up losing the AFC North to Pittsburgh.

That means they go to the playoffs again as a wildcard, and that might be a problem this time around. Reason: Their only losses this season are there. In fact, Baltimore is 3-4 there.

The Ravens stunk all the way around Sunday -- offense, defense and special teams -- but it was the failure of its defense that was the most alarming. The Ravens never pressured Philip Rivers, missed tackles, blew coverages and seldom made big stops.

In short, the Ravens' defense that has been the backbone to this club failed to make the road trip.

It will be a long flight home for the Ravens. It will be a longer Monday night if John Harbaugh's brother doesn't follow through with a victory.

Category: NFL
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