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Week 14 thoughts: Blaming Bears' loss on play calling is out of bounds

by | CBS Sports

1. Chicago -- They played it close to the vest with the lead, and I can't fault them for that. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has taken criticism for his play calling but he did the right thing in this game. If Marion Barber doesn't go out of bounds when the Bears are trying the run out the clock, the Broncos wouldn't have had enough time to come back. What is disturbing about Barber's decision was he is a veteran player and should know better. Also, this is something teams practice. Then Barber loses the ball in overtime as they are driving for a potential winning field goal. The Bears got Barber to improve their depth at running back and he has helped when healthy, but the Bears are in a tough spot without Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. Their defense gave up 10 points in regulation, which should have been good enough to win. Improving their depth at quarterback has to be a priority in the offseason.

2. Houston -- Congratulations to Bob McNair and the Houston Texans for winning their first division title. Gary Kubiak deserves consideration for Coach of the Year. He hired Wade Phillips to be the defensive coordinator, which turned around the defense, the Achilles' heel of the team. The Texans have had to fight through numerous injuries. They have played most of the season without their two best players, Mario Williams and Andre Johnson. Arian Foster has missed time. They have won their past three games with T.J. Yates at quarterback, beating two potential playoff teams in Atlanta and Cincinnati. You have to remember Yates is not only a rookie fifth-round draft choice, but many teams graded him as an undrafted free agent. Gary Kubiak did tell me after the draft and in training camp that he thought Yates was a good prospect and was excited about having him. What has most impressed me about Yates in the past two weeks is his poise. The Texans mentioned to me last week they also were impressed with it. Yates will continue to get better, and when the Texans get Andre Johnson back, it will only help him.

3. Denver -- For the sixth time this season, Tim Tebow executed a fourth-quarter comeback, and for the third time it came in overtime. Denver receivers dropped four passes before Tebow launched his comeback drives, and if they hadn't dropped those passes, maybe Tebow would not have had to bring the Broncos back. Tebow and his receivers were flawless in the fourth quarter and in overtime. In the drive that brought Denver within o 10-7, Tebow was 7 for 7. In the drive for the game-tying FG, he was 3 for 6 with one incompletion being a spike. In overtime he was 3 for 4. It is clear he has great poise at the end of the game. It is hard to tell coverages from watching television, but Chicago played very loose against the Denver receivers and Tebow did a good job of finding the holes. Once again, the Denver defense can't be overlooked; it held Chicago to 10 points, got the ball back to the offense after a failed onside kick in regulation. and forced a turnover in overtime. One aspect of Tebow's passing ability that you can't overlook is his arm strength. He makes some big-time throws with his arm. Next up is New England in Denver. Can't wait!

4. Green Bay -- I thought the game would be a blowout, and it was. I thought Oakland's injuries would limit them too much to give them a chance in this game. With three games left, two of which are at home and against teams playing with backup quarterbacks (Kansas City and Chicago), the Packers should get to 15-0 with a shot at perfection against the Lions in Lambeau. I think they'll get it done. Detroit might need that game for the playoffs, but unlike on Thanksgiving, when Detroit had the advantage of playing indoors where their defensive linemen have the advantage of the crowd noise to get off the ball, they will not have that and the grass will slow them up. When I was the GM of the Redskins, we made it to 11-0 in 1991 before we lost a game. There is no doubt in my mind we would have gone for 16-0. I think the Packers should go for it and I believe they will.

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5. New England -- Call it the rope-a-dope defense. Muhammad Ali would be proud of them. As I see it, the Patriots know they are not very good in pass coverage and can't generate a pass rush, so they play a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. Keep the ball in front of you, and don't give up big plays in the passing game. Then when they get in the red zone, they use a totally different philosophy. They press receivers, blitz and change up coverages to confuse the quarterback. It is the way they have to play with the personnel they have. In the Washington game, the Redskins had three touchdowns and two field goals in the red zone with a fourth game-tying touchdown being called back because of a penalty. The possession where the Redskins lost the game-tying touchdown resulted in an interception by New England when Santana Moss bobbled a pass from Rex Grossman. Teams are going to study Washington's plan to see why it had so much success against New England in the red zone. Going in, I knew the Redskins felt they could move the ball on New England by throwing. I also felt they had to keep a balance of running the ball, which they did. But the key was scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They almost did it. In the game, the television cameras caught a shouting match between Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and quarterback Tom Brady, with O'Brien doing most of the shouting. If it weren't for TV, no one would think much about this. You do have heated moments on the sidelines, but I have to say even without knowing what happened, O'Brien didn't come off too well with the way he kept going after Brady. As a leader, you need to keep better composure on the sidelines. You don't see Bill Belichick losing it like that.

6. Washington -- One thing that is clear to me is Mike Shanahan is doing a good job coaching the Redskins and Kyle Shanahan is doing a good job getting production out of an offensive group of players that played with two backup tackles. One of them, Willie Smith, played a lot and he is a rookie free agent. They had a smart plan on offense and executed it well. This team played hard and you would not know they were not in the playoff hunt by the way they hustled. Shanahan has brought discipline and structure to the team. The Redskins are probably two years away, but are headed in the right direction.

7. Officiating -- In the New England game, Washington's London Fletcher was called for hitting Brady in the head on a scramble where Brady slid. It was clearly a legal blow. It gave the Patriots a first down at the Washington 10-yard line with 57 seconds to go in the second quarter. The Patriots ended up getting a field goal. My problem with the call, other than the fact that it was missed, was the concept of "err on the side of caution," which is the philosophy the officials use when making calls on defenseless players. Nobody will argue with the concept of protecting players, but I believe that if you see a penalty, then you call it, but if you are not sure, then you don't. When plays are reviewed at the NFL office and they are missed on the field, you fine the player. Fines have and will change the behavior of players. An errant call when you are guessing, as happens with this philosophy of "err on the side of caution," hurts the whole team. I would go back to the old set of instructions we gave the officials when I was on the Competition Committee -- see it, then call it.

8. Minnesota -- The Vikings pulled Christian Ponder after he suffered three interceptions and lost a fumble. They inserted Joe Webb, who gave them a spark primarily with his running. This causes defenses problems when you prepare all week for one style of quarterback and then a runner comes into the game. Webb made plays running the ball Ponder could not make. Webb struggled throwing the ball (12 of 23) but his running did spark the Vikings. Plus, not having to explain why he went into the game instead of Donovan McNabb, who would've been the backup before he was let go, made things easier for everyone.

9. New York Jets -- They played probably their best game of the season. Kansas City had been playing exceptional defense of late, but the Jets were very methodical and efficient in their offensive execution. They ran the ball 42 times for 159 yards and Mark Sanchez threw it only 21 times. The defense got five sacks to limit the Chiefs' passing attack to less than 200 yards. The Jets are gaining some of the momentum they usually gain down the stretch and are playing to their strength of being a ball-control offense. I still think they have to find a way to get the ball to their biggest playmaker, Santonio Holmes. He was targeted only four times and had two catches.

10. Carolina -- Though the Panthers lost to Atlanta they are becoming one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. They have a true triple-threat offense with Cam Newton's running and passing, the deep threat of Steve Smith and the double threat of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart at running back. Defensive coordinators tell me they don't look forward to playing Carolina. Newton had two costly turnovers today but he is clearly one of the most exciting players in the NFL. Carolina is your team to watch for next year.

More thoughts on Week 14

1. James Harrison -- My reasoning in saying that his hit on McCoy was worse than his hit last year on Mohamed Massaquoi was because Massaquoi ducked into him and Harrison was aiming below the head. In his hit on McCoy, he had the option to hit him lower. There was enough time for him to alter his body position on the hit. Both Suh and Harrison have been fined four times in the past two years, but the difference with Harrison's hit on McCoy (as opposed to Suh's illegal hits vs. Green Bay) is that it was done in the act of a football play. Suh's kick to the head of the Green Bay player was not in the act of making a football play. That is why Suh was suspended for two games and I believe Harrison should be suspended for one game.

2. Ben Roethlisberger -- He has a first-to-second degree ankle sprain. He will probably not be able to practice before the San Francisco game, and it looks like it will be a game-time decision. Maurice Pouncey has a high ankle sprain and his injury is considered worse than Roethlisberger's.

3. Colt McCoy -- The NFL and NFLPA will investigate the circumstances surrounding Colt McCoy going back into the game against Pittsburgh. The investigation will center on what can be learned from how Cleveland handled the situation and what can be implemented with regard to changes in NFL policies for handling this type of situation. This is not an investigation to discipline the Browns.

4. Thursday night games -- As a general manager, you hope the NFL regionalizes Thursday night games from a competitive point of view. It seems like a simple enough thing to do.

5. Peyton Manning -- My reasoning in saying that the Colts will not trade Manning is twofold. For starters, the signing-bonus acceleration would make it prohibitive for them to do it. But probably the bigger reason is that after what Manning has done for the Colts, the classy thing to do would be to just let him go. I would do it and I believe they will, too.

Charley Casserly can be followed on Twitter @CasserlyCBS


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