Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:31 am

Lucky Losers: Take Seven

It took seven weeks, but we have separation. Three Lucky Losers have broken from the field, and each seems determined to make the worst of this season.

The question, of course, is: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the baddest of them all? Based on what I saw last weekend it's Indianapolis. The Colts were so egregious I heard Baltimore refused to take them back ... even after Indianapolis agreed to accept the Orioles and Ravens' offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in return.

The Colts were more tangled than Curtis Painter's 'do, so dreadful you almost forget what happened in Miami ... and I'm not talking about Tim Tebow. I'm talking about the never-say-breathe Dolphins. What a brutal loss, and let's hear it for Tony Sparano. He blew a 15-point lead in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, and that takes imagination. Call it Commitment to Pestilence.

Then there's St. Louis. Once I thought the Rams were better than their record. Now I believe Bill Parcells when he says you are what your record says you are. Translation: The Rams stink. This is one team that won't draft Luck, nor should it. If the Rams have the first pick they should auction it off to the highest bidder in return for a gazillion draft picks -- turning them into wide receivers and offensive linemen -- as well as directions to the nearest end zone.

5. Minnesota -- After watching Christian Ponder operate against Green Bay I have one question: What took so long to get him in the lineup? I don't care what Donovan McNabb's study habits were or if he was late to meetings or what his footwork looked like. With him, the Vikings were on life support; with Ponder, they at least have a pulse. OK, so I was wrong about McNabb. I thought he'd have a big season. I also thought the Rams would win the NFC West, and the earth was flat. Now you know why I consult a Ouija board. Anyway, if Minnesota is going to keep the Vikings out of Los Angeles it better give people a reason to go to games. With Ponder, it has. Onward, Christian soldiers.

Next loss: at Carolina.  The Land of 10,000 Lakes has a Defense with 10,000 Holes, and, sorry, I don't get it. Leslie Frazier is the head coach, and he knows defense. At least he should. Forget about fixing the quarterback. You did that. How about plugging this defense so Cam Newton won't use it as his next launching pad?

4. Arizona: Hand out the life preservers. The S.S. Minnow is taking on water and starting to sink. Not only have the Cards lost their last five; they play four of their next five games on the road. So what? So they lost their last 10 there. This isn't a football season. It's the Bataan Death March. Quarterback Kevin Kolb was supposed to make these guys competitive, but he's struggling and so are his teammates. Beanie Wells is hurt. The offensive line is struggling. The defense can't stop a cold. I feel for Ken Whisenhunt. The guy's a terrific coach, and the natives are restless. Patience, people. Maybe you don't get Andrew Luck, but have you checked out Landry Jones?

Next loss: at Baltimore. This time the Ravens promise to include Ray Rice in the game plan.

3. Indianapolis:  Remember when these guys were competitive? Now they get blown out by 55 points on national television, which tells you one thing: They know what they're playing for, and what they're playing for is Andrew Luck. I saw them against New Orleans, and they reminded me of the Dallas Cowboys in last year's beatdown in Green Bay. Not good. Offense. Defense. Special teams. Coaching. All go to the back of the class. Now there are rumors about Jim Caldwell's job security, and puh-leeze. A man's got to do what a man's got to do, and what Jim Caldwell must do is steer the Titantic to the bottom of the Atlantic. All I can say is: Thank goodness Jim Tressel finally was cleared to navigate. Remember, If you're going to stink ... or sink ... this is the year to do it.

Next loss: at Tennessee. The good news: The Titans just surrendered 41 points at home. The bad: The Colts just surrendered 62 on the road.

2. Miami : So the Dolphins were in the wrong defense for Tim Tebow's two-point conversion. I have no problem with that. In fact, I'd like to congratulate Mike Nolan, Tony Sparano and the rest of the Miami coaching staff for responding on such short notice. It's not often you get to blow a sure win, but isn't that what it's all about now? I mean, why sacrifice draft position for a meaningless victory? Basically, it comes down to this: Whom do you want more -- Tebow or Luck. I mean, do you really want to beat Tebow so badly that you blow your chances for Luck? Of course, not. You go for the silver, and Miami did. People aks when Sparano gets fired, but let's be honest: Why fire the guy who could bring you a franchise quarterback?

Next loss: at the New York GiantsLook at it this way, Miami: Neither Tim Tebow nor Urban Meyer will be in the building.

1. St. Louis:  Scratch that Christmas layaway. Someone must give offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a GPS system now so he can find the end zone. Over the past four games the Rams produced 27 points, never scoring more than 10 in each nor more than 7 in three. Pathetic. There's more life in downtown St. Louis on a Tuesday night than there is in this offense. What's so disturbing is for all the megabucks the Rams invested in their offensive line they're getting little or no return. If I'm Sam Bradford, I hope for a long, slow recovery from my sprained ankle. If I'm the Rams, however, I'm hiring Tony LaRussa once baseball is over to serve as a consultant. If he can put the Cardinals in the Series maybe he can put these guys in the end zone.

Next loss: New Orleans. Rewind the videotape to last weekend's Indianapolis-New Orleans game. Check, please. 

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 23, 2011 4:14 pm

Jets' D carries the day

Plaxico Burress will take the post-game spotlight because he had three TDs, but the story of the Jets' victory was their defense. It didn't allow a second-half score. More than that, it produced two turnovers -- both of which produced scores, including the go-ahead touchdown.

The key for New York was stopping tight end Antonio Gates. He made big catches in the first half. He did virtually nothing in the second, But that was the story for the Bolts' offense. It had one first down in the third quarter and was three-and-out on two of its three possessions.

Gates was supposed to be the Great Equalizer for San Diego, which was coming off a bye, but if it can beat the Jets with him what does that mean? I'll tell you what: Oakland looks more and more like a legitimate threat to win the AFC West.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 20, 2011 11:12 am
Edited on: October 20, 2011 11:13 am

Palmer starting? Call me skeptical

I'm sorry, I don't believe the Oakland Raiders will start Carson Palmer this weekend. Not yet, anyway.

First of all, it makes no sense. Second, just because someone with the Raiders said Palmer starts, that means it's true? I don't know, I was always predisposed to being ... let's say ... skeptical when the Raiders addressed anything dealing with competitive issues.

Meaning? Meaning I'm not convinced we see Palmer on Sunday.

It just seems as if starting a quarterback who hasn't played in over nine months, has no history with your team or his teammates and isn't in football shape isn't such a smart idea. Yeah, I know, he can hand the ball off 30 or more times to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, then just step out of the way. But at some point he's going to have to throw, right? It just seems as if the Raiders are taking an unnecessary risk.

Which is why I'm not so sure this happens. I know what offensive coordinator Al Saunders said. But I also know NFL coaches and teams like to play games with opponents, keeping them guessing as to whom or what they're about to face. I just wonder why Saunders -- who works with the Raiders, remember -- would be so candid about his starting quarterback on a Kansas City radio station.

Oakland plays the Chiefs. Saunders used to work for the Chiefs. The Chiefs and Raiders have a long-time hatred for each other. And the Chiefs aren't sure whom they're facing, though they said they believe it's Palmer.

Well, if it is, good luck, Oakland. I hope you know what you're doing. You have a bye after this weekend, a perfect spot for coaches and Palmer to play catch up. Then it's Denver, which is a good way to introduce yourself to your team, followed by San Diego. It sounds like such a natural progression I can't imagine the Raiders wouldn't follow it.

I don't know that they won't.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 19, 2011 12:47 pm

Sorry, Hue, check your history

So the Raiders acquiring Carson Palmer is now "the greatest trade in football?" Sorry, Hue Jackson, I don't think so.

I covered the Baltimore Colts when they dealt John Elway to Denver for first-rounder Chris Hinton, backup quarterback Mark Herrmann and a future No. 1 pick (Ron Solt). I later covered the San Francisco 49ers, who traded away second-and-fourth-round draft picks for Steve Young, two years after they traded away a first-and-second round choice for the right to take Jerry Rice.

But this is a bigger deal than those, right? Elway is a Hall of Famer. Young is a Hall of Famer. Rice is a Hall of Famer.

Then there's that Herschel Walker trade, a.k.a. "The Great Train Robbery," with Dallas resurrecting itself in a deal with Minnesota that included 18 players and draft picks. In essence, Minnesota gained Walker in exchange for three Super Bowls. I'm serious. The Cowboys turned some of the draft picks they acquired into Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and Alvin Harper -- all key components of the great Dallas teams of the 1990s.

I guess that must have escaped Hue Jackson. Jackson is doing a good job coaching the Oakland Raiders, but he needs to do a better job of brushing up on his history.

I don't deny that this is a big move and that Palmer could be a serious upgrade at quarterback for Oakland, but Carson Palmer is not Elway, Young or Rice. He could be just what the Raiders were missing, but a little perspective, Hue ... please.

"He made it very clear who's in charge with that comment," said former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, now an anaylst for Fox and the NFL Network. "And we're going to remember it.

"This all depends on which Carson Palmer they're getting. Is it the Carson Palmer of 2005-06? Because he was pretty good. Or is it the Carson Palmer who threw those interceptions the last few years? If he's close to the Carson Palmer before he got injured he's going to be the best quarterback they've had since Rich Gannon. I think this is going to change the equation a little bit."


Category: NFL
Posted on: October 18, 2011 11:10 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:11 pm

Lucky Losers: Take Six

The untold story behind the Brandon Lloyd deal is this: By hiring a legitimate big-play threat the St. Louis Rams are risking their pole position here.

That's right, the team that didn't have a wide receiver of consequence may have one now. In fact, it may have two. Mark Clayton is eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list, which means Sam Bradford may finally discover what it's like to play catch with someone or something other than backboards.

Bottom line: As we near the midway point of the season Miami is positioning itself as the Lucky Loser favorite, and if you're skeptical you didn't watch them Monday night. People have told me, "Aw, they're not that bad." I'm sorry, yes, they are. They couldn't find the end zone with a divining rod, and Tony Sparano coaches as if he's playing for his job.

You're not, Tony. You're toast. So live a little. Take some chances. Try something extraordinary.

On the other hand, you run the risk of winning, and that's the last thing Miami needs now. The more I watch these guys the more I see that 1-15 team from 2007. The Dolphins made a mistake that year and passed the best quarterback in the draft, Matt Ryan. They won't make the same mistake again.

Granted, that means St. Louis and Indianapolis have to break from the field, but opponents who play the Colts tell me they're going to win one here sooner or later. And the Rams ... well, the schedule gets easier after Game 7, and the wide receivers should be better. Looks like their stay at the Lucky Hotel will be coming to an end.

But Miami? Forget it. The Dolphins are dug in. Help is on the way ... next April.

5. Jacksonville. Here's another team that can't find the end zone, but give the Jaguars this: At least they moved on with the future. They know who their next quarterback is because they're playing Blaine Gabbert. That will help them next year, but it won't help the beleagured Jack Del Rio. After his latest defeat, he insisted that "we're not that far away," but I don't know if he was talking about a win or his dismissal.

Next loss: Baltimore. The Ravens aren't just the best team in their division; they're one of the best teams in the NFL. Nobody can run on them, which means moving the Jacksonville offense is solely up to Gabbert ... and this might be a good week to call in sick, Blaine. The Ravens don't attack the pocket; they destroy it ... and everything in it.

4. Arizona. Cardinals' coach Ken Whisenhunt spent the bye week confessing that he wasn't as calm as he seemed; that he was really "angry" and "upset" with a ballclub that has been sloppy and careless in too many games. Hey, these guys got drilled by Minnesota, and that would uspet and anger me. I don't know what's going on with quarterback Kevin Kolb, but he hasn't been right since the second game of the year. He's thrown one interception and four interceptions in his last three starts, and his completion percentage dropped to 57.3. Worse, he's missing open receivers. Kolb isn't Kurt Warner, but he doesn't have to be. He just can't be Derek Anderson. Look at those numbers. He's getting close.

Next loss: Pittsburgh. I cut these guys slack, basically because I believe in Whisenhunt. This is an emotional game for him and his coachinig staff (it's all about the Steeler connection), so there's a chance for the upset. Plus, Arizona is coming off a bye. All I know is that, since leaving Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt met these guys once in the regular season, and he pulled off a 21-14 upset ... in Arizona. It could be deja vu all over again.

3. Indianapolis. Owner Jim Irsay insists that when Peyton Manning is 100 percent he returns to the field. For the sake of the franchise, here's hoping Manning isn't 100 percent until the season ends. If the Colts don't make a stretch run for Andrew Luck, there's still Oklahoma's Landry Jones -- provided, of course, he declares himself eligible for the draft. In either case, there's a successor to Manning out there waiting on the Colts. But there's only one road to the bottom, people: Dare to be dreadful.

Next loss: At New Orleans. This is where it will dawn on people that it really doesn't matter who coaches the Saints from the sidelines.

2. Miami. I see where Jake Long on Monday lifted a finger for the Jets' Aaron Maybin, if you know what I mean. I guess Long knows who's No. 1 among the Lucky Losers. Except the Dolphins aren't ... not until St. Louis vacates the ground floor. Look, the Dolphins deserve to be there. They drop touchdown passes. They can't find wide-open receivers. They fumble. They can't tackle. They stink. Maybe the most appalling number of all is 7, as in quarterback sacks. This is a team with Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor, and it averages little more than a sack per game? Now I know why Brandon Marshall wanted to be kicked out in the second quarter. He can't bear watching this mess, either.

Next loss: Denver. The Dolphins are so screwed up they're honoring the 2008 University of Florida national championship team when former Florida icon and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow is on the schedule. Worse, they're honoring the Gators at the University of Miami's home field. "I think they're going to boo us," said former Gator Mike Pouncey. I'm not sure whom he was talking about -- Florida or the Dolphins. My guess is that it's both.

1. St. Louis. I already covered these guys at the top. The Lloyd deal and the return of Clayton may accomplish what nothing else this season has ... namely, give these guys a pulse. Basically, they're short-timers here, only they first must get through that high-ankle sprain to Bradford. Yeah, they're awful, but look what happens after their Oct. 30 date with New Orleans: Their next four opponents have losing records, and that includes Arizona twice. Listen closely, people. They're already beginning to assemble for the parade in South Beach.

Next loss: At Dallas. The Cowboys are beating themselves up for that last-minute loss in New England. It's the coach's fault. Nope, it's the quarterback's fault. Nope, it's the defense's fault. All I know is the Cowboys are steamed, and ready to take it out on the next guy in line. Let me introduce you to Steve Spagnuolo and the St. Louis Rams.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 18, 2011 9:35 am

Can't see Denver sending QB to Raiders

So now the Oakland Raiders are supposed to be interested in Kyle Orton. Well, they may be interested, but I can't imagine Denver doing a deal with them.

First of all, the Raiders are in the same division as Denver. Second, the Raiders need help, and Denver would be aiding and abetting the enemy. Third, they're the Raiders, and there's a history of animosity between them and all of their AFC West rivals.

The Raiders are desperate, and you'd be, too, if Kyle Boller was your next option. So they want to find a veteran quarterback, and they want one immediately. Orton fits the description, but unless they make Denver an offer it can't refuse I'd tell them to knock on another door.

I guess the question is this: Why would Denver do something to bail out a division rival? You're supposed to beat the Raiders; not come to their rescue. Yeah, I know, the Broncos are going to lose Orton to free agency anyway, so there's no future there. But find another trading partner.

The Broncos still have to play the Raiders in Oakland, but that's not really the point. This is: They're a division rival, and by trading with Oakland you would be helping a team you're supposed to beat.

I can't see it happening.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 17, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 5:46 pm

Meet me in St. Louis: Lloyd, McDaniels reunited

Finally, the St. Louis Rams have done what they should have done in the offseason -- get Sam Bradford an effective pass receiver.

Only I don't know that Brandon Lloyd is all that effective anymore. He was for Denver a year ago. But that was when he set career marks in everything from catches to yards to touchdowns to yards per reception. Take away that season, and the guy's pretty ordinary.

Plus, I don't know why you make the move now. Lloyd becomes a free agent after the season, so why give up a draft pick for someone who might leave after this year anyway?

"Too little, too late," is how one NFL exec put it.

But the Rams can't afford to be picky. They need something, anything, to perk up a disappointing passing attack that features receivers who are downright ordinary. Bradford is a franchise quarterback, but he doesn't have a franchise receiver. The Rams hope he may now.

It's a gamble, but it's one the Rams almost had to take. They're desperate to improve, and desperate teams take desperate actions. Brandon Lloyd has had a reputation as being difficult to work with, but the Rams need someone to catch Bradford's passes -- and so his addition makes sense.

But here's why it really makes sense. The offensive coordinator in St. Louis was the head coach in Denver under whom Lloyd had so much success. That would be Josh McDaniels, and having him behind Lloyd again increases the chances that maybe, just maybe, he becomes the guy he was last season.

Plus, there is this. The Rams believe it's a no-risk move, and here's why. If Lloyd becomes the receiver he was last year they have a head-start on re-signing him prior to free agency. If he doesn't and leaves as a free agent, they gain a compensatory pick from the club that signs him.

So the Rams give up a sixth-rounder in 2012. They gain a sixth-rounder in 2013.

"The compensatory pick was the driving force behind this," said a league source.

All I know is that Brandon Lloyd is an upgrade for the Rams at wide receiver, and that's good. Now, what happens from here, who knows? The Rams hope he's the receiver who had a breakout season in 2010, but there weren't many signs of it this year. Of course, McDaniels wasn't calling the plays in Denver, either.

I don't know why the Broncos were so eager to be rid of the guy, other than they're not going nowhere, but it almost surely has to do with his contract expiring and the club moving in a different direction with a new coaching staff. On the other hand, it makes no difference to St. Louis. The Rams are trying to salvage a disappointing season that threatens to get worse if something isn't done.

Well, something just was. Maybe it's too late. Maybe it doesn't make a difference. I don't care. At least the Rams addressed an area of need.

It's about time.

Category: NFL
Posted on: October 17, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 1:16 pm

No escape clause for Gruden

Jon Gruden's five-year deal with ESPN does not include an escape clause that will allow him to leave the Worldwide Leader for a head-coaching job. However, don't kid yourself. If Gruden is faced with an offer he can't refuse he can break the contract.

That doesn't mean he will or is looking to escape the lucrative contract. It just means that history tells us it can happen.

Persons close to Gruden don't believe he returns to coaching, but they hedge their bets. One reason: People keep courting the guy. There were several clubs interested in him last year, and several more that would seem to be natural fits after this season -- with Miami at the head of the class.

But Gruden's commitment is to ESPN, and if you want him you better make him an offer he can't refuse. For now, he's become the 21st century's John Madden, and that is nothing but a good thing.

"He's a rare individual," said Bob LaMonte, Gruden's agent, "who has in the space of three years gone from the winningest coach in the history of the Tampa Bay Bucs to a reinvention of himself -- all in the space of 36 months -- and he's still only 48 years old. That's kind of unusual, isn't it?"

I'd say so.

Category: NFL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or