When the Minnesota Vikings traded for Randy Moss, they thought they were getting an elite wide receiver who would rescue their passing game and push them to the top of their division. They were wrong. Moss not only didn't make a difference; he didn't make it through a month, lasting 26 days before the Vikings cut him.
A disappointment? Well, uh, duh. But Moss is only one in a laundry list of failures that have characterized the NFL through its first eight weeks, and if misery loves company, let the party begin. What follows are 10 of this season's biggest busts not named Randy Moss, and the conga line can start here:
|Dallas' struggles could mean the end of Wade Phillips. (Getty Images)|
They were a trendy preseason pick for the Super Bowl. I mean, how perfect: The Cowboys in Dallas for the Super Bowl. The story line was so good that owner Jerry Jones shot pizza commercials addressing the possibility, only those are ads you no longer see -- and for good reason. The Cowboys have as much chance of making the scene at the Super Bowl as Janet Jackson.
Once the class of the NFC East -- and maybe, the NFC -- the Cowboys have become the RMS Titanic, breaking in half before sinking to the bottom of the division and the league. They lost their quarterback. Their offensive line is a mess. They can't stop the pass. They can't start the run. They can't win at home. And now, seven games into the season, their head coach has the brilliant idea to go back to the basics of running, blocking, catching and tackling.
Great. And while you're at it why not try to start winning again? On second thought, start the clock on Wade Phillips' career instead because everything -- and I mean everything -- is coming to an end in Big D.
Mike Martz and Jay Cutler
Desperate times demand desperate measures, and coach Lovie Smith is desperate. Either he makes the playoffs, or he looks for another job. So he hired Martz to oversee his offense and a quarterback who led the league in interceptions and hasn't won since high school.
The idea made sense. Martz was the genius behind Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, and he and Smith went to a Super Bowl together -- with Smith calling the defenses for Martz's Rams. Only one problem: Martz runs a high-risk, high-reward scheme, and while he can produce a zillion yards and touchdown passes, his quarterback can absorb a zillion hits, too, often producing too many turnovers.
Well, guess what happened? The mistakes the Bears couldn't afford and the errors not made early are now emblematic of their game. They're next to last in interceptions, last in sacks absorbed and last in red-zone offense. Over their past four starts -- three of them losses -- their quarterbacks have one touchdown pass, five fumbles, 10 interceptions and 23 sacks, including nine in one half.
Worse, Cutler threw four interceptions in one game to the same guy, then had the temerity -- OK, the stupidity -- to say afterward that if he had it to do all over again he wouldn't shy away from DeAngelo Hall. Nope, he would throw in his direction on every play if he could. Are you kidding me? He doesn't need an offensive line or an offensive coordinator. He needs some common sense.
They were the most balanced team in the NFL a year ago. Now, they're struggling to keep their balance in a league that threatens to swallow them alive.
They already have more losses (5) than last season and haven't won a game on the road (0-4). Their quarterback is hurt and looks old. OK, he is old. Their star wide receiver is gone. Their defense can't sack anyone. And their head coach is under siege. Anything more? Oh, yeah, they failed to beat Green Bay, the club that should challenge them for hegemony in the NFC North -- if, that is, the Vikings ever get their act together.
But while they're one of the season's great underachievers, there may be the hope there isn't in Dallas. Four of their next five games are winnable -- and the fifth is against Green Bay at home. So there's at least a glimmer there. Of course, one lesson we learned through the first eight weeks is that there are no gimmes out there -- especially when you're struggling to keep a crumbling ballclub whole.
Good luck, Brad Childress. You're going to need it.
Other than that spigot of blood gushing from Favre's chin, the thing that caught my attention about his latest performance was what he said afterward: "I thought to myself for a brief second, 'What in the world am I doing?'" Too bad he didn't pose that question two-and-a-half months ago.
Favre suddenly looks too old, too slow, too indecisive for a game he once dominated. He gets hurt. He can't make big throws. He can't escape the pocket. He doesn't make big comebacks. He limps off the field. He is carried off the field. And he gets noticed for all the wrong reasons -- like that NFL investigation into voice mails and photos he allegedly took while with the Jets.
Man, oh, man, why in the world are you doing this, Brett? He was marvelous last year. Nope, he was extraordinary, producing the best season of his career. But it ended with an interception and one win short of the Super Bowl, and maybe somewhere in the offseason Favre decided he had to make amends. Well, too bad nobody talked him out of it.
A year ago he had 12 touchdowns and two interceptions through the first seven games. More important, he was 6-1. Now he has 7 TDs and 11 interceptions, the Vikings rank 21st in team passing and Minnesota is sitting at 2-5. Draw your own conclusions.
You can't blame this on the Three Amigos who flew to Mississippi to convince him to return. This one's on Favre, and while I can't stand seeing the guy getting beaten up over and over, he could've just said, "No," and just stayed out of the line of fire -- on and off the field.
San Diego Chargers and their special teams
So the Chargers started 2-3. They've been there before -- like the previous three seasons. So they're 3-5 at midseason. They've been there before, too, digging out of a 4-8 hole in 2008 to win the AFC West. But there are myriad reasons why they're sitting at 3-5 and in deep kimchi, and let's start with fumbles, dropped passes, injuries, missing persons, blown opportunities and zero road wins.
But nothing is more responsible for the Bolts' downward spiral than their special teams. In short, they stink. Look, I'll be the first to tell you that coach Steve Crosby is one of the game's best and brightest at this, so it doesn't add up. I mean, look at their opponents. They haven't missed a field goal. But the Chargers? Here's what we're looking at: Two safeties off blocked punts and a third block that produced a TD; two kickoff returns for touchdowns in one game and a third that should have gone the distance; one punt return for a touchdown and 219 yards in returns in the same game; a field goal that was blocked in a three-point loss; and a game-tying field goal that caromed off an upright ... but only after the Bolts took a 5-yard penalty for illegal procedure.
There are more mistakes here than World Cup officiating. The Chargers promise to rectify things, then go out and have another Mike Scifres punt blocked. That makes four for the season, or two fewer than the league record. Prior to this season, Scifres had one block his entire career, and you tell me what that means? Wait, I'll do it for you. If the Chargers don't clean up this mess now, they can step aside for Kansas City.
I'm sorry, when officials can't determine who recovers the football it's time we throw 'em all out and start over. I mean, isn't it usually the guy holding it? Apparently, officials doing the Pittsburgh-Miami game didn't get the memo. Worse, the league later stood behind the call, telling me that maybe it's not just the Dallas Cowboys who need to get back to fundamentals.
From the very beginning of this season something was wrong, and what was wrong then was the Calvin Johnson catch that was ruled an incomplete pass. So they missed one. They missed the Visanthe Shiancoe catch against Green Bay, too. And an Andrew Quarless catch that shouldn't have stood did -- primarily because Minnesota didn't challenge it.
Anyway, there are screwups everywhere outside the 214 and 612 area codes, and it's time officials forget about parsing the rule book and switch to the Potter Stewart test for determining what qualifies as a catch -- you know, the ol' "I know when I see it" philosophy. It has to be better than what we're seeing now. Or not seeing.
The minute the Bengals took on Terrell Owens and Pacman Jones, I could hear Steve Irwin in my head yelling, "Dane-jah! Dane-jah! Dane-jah!" The Bengals gambled by tinkering with a formula that worked so well last season. They not only won their division; they lapped the field, going 6-0 in the always-tough AFC North. But they couldn't resist the temptation to take on talent, even when it meant two guys nobody else wanted, and you see the result.
Now, I'm not here to blame Owens and Jones for sinking the ship. On the contrary, Owens is having a terrific year. But I am here to say you better be careful what you wish for. The Bengals were pretty good without them; now they're pretty bad. Their defense is underwhelming. Their quarterback is inconsistent. Their star running back can't score. Their head coach is under fire. And they can't beat opponents they should beat.
I know, Carson Palmer hasn't looked good for a couple of years, and I don't know what's going on there. But I do know the Bengals we saw a year ago aren't the Bengals we're looking at now. Heck, a year ago Chad Ochocinco was a factor. Now he's on one week, off the next two. There is nothing right with this team, and, yeah, it's not too late to right the ship, but based on what we've seen I'd start the bilge pumps.
Too bad the 49ers can't play every game on another continent. Maybe they'd have a chance to win a division title they believe should be theirs. Coach Mike Singletary insists they're not out of the playoff picture, and, after looking at the rest of the NFC West, I'd have to agree. Heck, if the Buffalo Bills were in this division they wouldn't be out of the playoff picture, either.
Nevertheless, this is a club with a raft of problems, starting with a quarterback who may or may not return to the lineup when cleared to practice. Alex Smith was supposed to be a franchise quarterback, and Singletary went to the mat to defend the guy. But it's like one head coach told me: If you believe in your quarterback, then act as if you do. Give him the ball and let him lead your offense. The 49ers play as if they don't trust Smith, yet they insist they do -- only it's Troy Smith they're talking about.
There may be talent galore here, but there are also problems -- problems evidenced by that Michael Crabtree-Vernon Davis confrontation last summer and the firing of an offensive coordinator. Singletary insists this team is going to the top, and it better. Otherwise, Mike Singletary could be going out the next exit.
Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan
A month ago he was characterized as the quarterback Philadelphia should have kept, with critics assailing the Eagles after they bowed to McNabb and the Redskins. But things have changed, and now McNabb is the quarterback Washington might not want to keep, either.
At least that's how it looks after last weekend's bizarre turn of events, with coach Mike Shanahan pulling McNabb in the last two minutes of a game the Redskins could've won. Initially, Shanahan said he acted because backup Rex Grossman was more "comfortable" with the offense, but a day later he said it was because McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance" wasn't suited to the two-minute drill -- essentially saying he was out of shape.
Now I don't know what you make of those two statements, but I know what I do: A full-blown, out-of-control train wreck. Cardiovascular endurance? C'mon, this isn't Albert Haynesworth we're talking about. If Shanahan wanted to send a message, he succeeded, and the message seems to be that McNabb has no future with the Redskins.
Once we wondered about an extension for the guy, and the Redskins kept promising that something was forthcoming. Only nothing was. Now we know why.
Denver and coach Josh McDaniels
After Oakland drilled him by 45 at home, McDaniels felt compelled to man-up and apologize to Denver fans. And he should have. The loss was disgraceful. But then the Broncos flew to London and demonstrated they can be as dreadful on one continent as they are on another -- losing to a one-win 49ers team that was starting a third-string quarterback.
McDaniels was supposed to be the next Mike Shanahan waiting to happen, only there's one difference: The longer Shanahan was in Denver, the more successful he became. The longer McDaniels is there, the worse the Broncos are -- and you can look it up. They won their first six under their rookie head coach, with McDaniels proclaimed the next-best-thing-to-downhill skiing.
But since then the Broncos are 4-14, including ten losses in their last 12 starts, and suddenly they find themselves last in the AFC West. They're also last in rushing and 31st defending the run, and if you can't do either you're generally in trouble. Granted, it's not too late to turn things around, especially in this division, but look where McDaniels has this club headed, people.
It's not up.