Every season, Thanksgiving is about when we start figuring things out, and this year is no exception. Several teams made their playoff case last week, with the Saints, Panthers, Colts, and Eagles all gaining ground in either a division or wild-card race. But it’s also the time of year when teams finally come to the sad realization that it’s time to close up shop. Last week, with losses to a one-win Bucs team and a Matt McGloin–led Raiders team, respectively, those teams were the Falcons and Texans — two teams that came into this season with back-to-back trips to the playoffs.
Including Atlanta and Houston, there are currently eight teams down at least two games in the loss column for a playoff spot, and we know that for those fans, the holidays can be a cold, lonely stretch. So with Black Friday just around the corner, we wanted to give those teams a little something to keep them warm by putting together a holiday wish list for that one gift each needs as it looks forward to next year.
I have to begin this week's column by passing along my best wishes to John Fox and Gary Kubiak, who each had medical episodes this weekend that caught them by surprise. In both cases, fortunately, it seems like the symptoms manifested themselves before they could become bigger problems, and it doesn't appear that there will be long-term effects to either coach's health. Kubiak's ailment, in particular, seemed so scary; to see a coach doing his job (very well, mind you) for a half on national television and return from a commercial break to see him surrounded by doctors on the ground was surreal and terrifying. In a way, it was a relief that Kubiak's episode occurred at Reliant Stadium on game day, when he could be immediately treated by doctors and whisked away by a waiting ambulance to a hospital minutes away from the stadium. You obviously hope that nobody ever has to deal with anything like this, but were this going to happen to Kubiak, it happened in the best possible location. It's great to hear that Kubiak and Fox are in stable condition.
This was a strange week of action in the NFL, and the decision-making by coaches on Sunday was no different. One of the head coaches in the running for worst team leader in league history pulled out all the stops and ended up on the positive side of the ledger. Meanwhile, a coach with a Super Bowl ring had such a high-variance day that he finished with one each of the three best and three worst calls of the week. And then, to finish the week off on Monday night, there was a call so boldly aggressive that it might even have been too strong for my tastes, and I'm basically a freak in terms of running or passing on fourth downs. Let's get into it.
We're halfway through another NFL season, and this week the trade deadline came and went without any big news, because this is pro football. The only trade that happened involved some guy named Isaac Sopoaga. NFL teams never shake things up at the trade deadline. Bill Barnwell already covered the trades that should've happened, but now it's time to think bigger. Let's talk about the guys who deserve a new life, for their sake, our sake, and the game's sake. The great players on bad teams who deserve better.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
It Was All Good Just a Week Ago
Andrew Sharp: It feels like just yesterday that Chip Kelly was splitting the earth in half and setting the Redskins secondary on fire and exceeding all the hype. Now? Uhh ...
Philly's 1-3 after Sunday, and everything after that outrageous first half in D.C. has felt like one, long reality check. Especially this week, when the Broncos spent most of the afternoon reminding us that even the Eagles' biggest strength isn't half as good as the best offense in the league. Now the backlash starts, and you know the Philly media's only going to get exponentially more miserable with each passing loss.
It's all a little bit unfair. Nobody expected the Eagles to actually be good until that first half in D.C. That's when everyone threw logic out the window. Now Chip's being judged against that curve, and every loss is proof that he's a fraud or something. With that in mind, hopefully everyone can just wait and see what happens here. There's a decent chance it never clicks in Philly, in which case Chip Kelly goes back to college to rain hellfire on the Pac-12 or ACC or Big 12. That would be cool. But there's also a chance this Eagles team was always going to be kind of shitty, and given a season to learn and tweak things — and an offseason to rebuild that defense — things could look a lot better a year from now. In the meantime, the Eagles are still more fun to watch and argue about than any other 1-3 team in the NFL. That was always the best part of the Chip Kelly deal for the rest of us. Between the grumpy Philly media and the crazy offense and Michael Vick and LeSean and DeSean ... The team may not be good this year or next year or ever, but whatever happens, the insanity will keep everyone entertained.
In case you were busy getting taken aback by the presence of hockey news in your Twitter feed, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Max Scherzer got his 21st win and the Detroit Tigers clinched the AL Central with a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. "Fine, fine," said every sabermetrician in the world in unison. "We get it. Scherzer is the Cy Young winner, fine, fine. Fine," before adding a passive-aggressive "it's not the worst decision you guys have made — he is leading in fWAR, which you probably haven't even heard of" while throwing their arms up in the air all at once. Then every sabermetrician muttered under their breaths, "He might not even be the best pitcher on the Tigers, but hey, who are we to know things," adding a derisive "as far as you know, we're in our mothers' basements" in one harmonic voice.
"Eliminated," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, lying flat on his back, after New York's 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. "I am no more. The Yankees are no more." Cashman let his mind think back on the odyssey he had taken this season to arrive at this moment: the Jeter injury, the Rodriguez suspension, the retirement of Rivera, the consistent presence of Jayson Nix in his lineup, until of course Nix got hurt. Everyone had gotten hurt. Cashman balled his fists and yelled at his ceiling, "Who am I?" Suddenly, a great shaking took hold of his office, and the ceiling split before him, as the hand of God itself reached down to grab the balding, drunken GM. "You are the Cash-Man," God intoned with a surprisingly feminine voice, as he was lifted into the air. "You are my Cash-Man. And to prove it—" Suddenly, God threw Cashman in the air, a flash of lightning showed Cashman he was falling back to his office floor amid a rain of American currency, and for just a second Cashman glimpsed the face of God. "Mrs. Steinbrenner?" A clap of thunder sounded, and all went black.
The Thank You for Not Coaching docket was pretty much all booked up by the time the 1 p.m. games were over on Sunday. Bouncers weren't letting any silly timeouts or fourth-down blunders into the column unless they had showed up for the early session. Plays that would normally be locks couldn't find a table unless they slipped somebody a 20. Pete Carroll calling for a spot challenge against the Jaguars? Nope. Mike McCoy's pair of fourth-and-1 punts inside Titans territory? Not this week. Rex Ryan's pair of spot challenges on consecutive plays? Believe it or not, we're all full up. It's a full #TYFNC slate for Week 3.
Let's start, though, with some of the better decisions from last week's action before working our way down to the three worst calls.
THE THREE NIFTIEST DECISIONS FROM WEEK 3
3. The Packers go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
How can a play that quite possibly cost Green Bay the game be a good choice? Well, because you have to evaluate the decision based upon the process that went into the call without evaluating it based upon its one outcome. And, in this case, the Packers were right to attempt a fourth-and-1 conversion: They were up 30-27 with 4:01 left and had the ball on Cincinnati's 30-yard line. They had been very effective running the ball in the second half with Johnathan Franklin, in for an injured James Starks, and had a chance to possibly seal the game by not handing the football back over to the Bengals.
Another week in the NFL has brought us another bevy of coaching decisions to analyze in this Tuesday's edition of Thank You for Not Coaching. One of the goals in moving TYFNC to Tuesday was to make sure that some of the better decisions made by coaches during each weekend's action got their proper due; while coaches make a healthy number of missteps each week, there are a fair amount of decisions that do go right and a number of processes that make sense. Each week from here on out, I'm going to start this column with the moves that stood out to me as the smartest ones of the week, work my way down through some of the more curious decisions made by teams, and then finish with the three worst calls. So, now, let's get started with the smart stuff!
There’s really no way around it — the 2011 Buccaneers were a mess. Tampa Bay finished with a 4-12 record, but the real worrisome part was how it was losing. The Bucs dropped their final 10 games, losing seven games by at least two touchdowns, four by at least three, and giving up at least 30 points in seven of the nine games following their Week 8 bye. The requisite firings took place — head coach Raheem Morris and the rest of his staff lost their jobs, and the Bucs were left to start over with former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
General manager Mark Dominik, however, was retained, and he spent the following offseason chasing down some of the bigger free-agent names to be had. Tampa Bay brought in one of the league’s best guards in Carl Nicks and handed wide receiver Vincent Jackson a five-year, $55 million contract in an effort to surround Josh Freeman with the high-grade weaponry needed to properly evaluate a potential Quarterback of the Future. Nicks actually missed a majority of the season with a torn plantar plate in his foot, but even without their true free-agent prize, the Bucs managed to finish 7-9 (with seven of those nine losses coming by just one score). They did so for two major reasons.
The first is a 2012 draft that was nothing short of excellent. Top-10 pick Mark Barron was solid if unspectacular at safety (a notably difficult position at which to make an early impact; also, Tampa’s added talent in the secondary this year should go a long way in his personal improvement), but it took no time for the Bucs’ next two selections to make an immediate impact. Doug Martin, for whom Tampa traded back into the first round, rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie, and, maybe more impressively, the Muscle Hamster did it no matter who was blocking for him. Lavonte David, a linebacker from Nebraska whom the Bucs took in the second round, had 139 tackles — tied for the eighth-highest total in the league.
When Michigan and Alabama kick off in Arlington tomorrow night, the man most responsible for bringing them there will be starting over. He’ll be 950 miles away, likely tucked in an office, waiting out the two hours before he begins again. Rich Rodriguez will be in Tucson, preparing to coach his first game at the University of Arizona. He’ll be far from Jerry Jones’s kingdom and the gem of college football’s first weekend, but without him, the Wolverines and Tide might be just as far away.
It’s a testament to what Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa that for those removed from Alabama’s football program, it’s hard to remember any of the mess that came before. The shine of those crystal footballs has a way of leaving Mike Shula in the dark. The truth is that it didn’t take Saban long to get his statue. It was less than six years ago that he was pried away from the Dolphins, and in that time, the success has made it easy to forget that the man who’s already a legend wasn’t even Alabama’s first call in the winter of 2006. That was Rich Rodriguez.
I have no idea if Greg Schiano will be a successful coach in Tampa Bay. The early consensus appears to be that he will fail. This is because Schiano doesn't have the feel of a successful pro coach, which I guess is what happens when an NFL franchise goes after someone who is not comically self-absorbed and/or vaguely sociopathic. Schiano comes across as a genuinely decent man; when one of his players suffered a severe spinal injury during a kickoff, it affected him so deeply that he suggested college football abolish kickoffs altogether. He managed to build a competitive program at Rutgers, a school where football hadn't been relevant since the publication of War and Peace by emphasizing discipline and organization while stressing academics.
In other words, he seems like a college football coach.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Novak Djokovic advanced to the Australian Open final with a five-set victory over Andy Murray. On Sunday, he'll face Rafael Nadal in a battle of the top two seeds. Meanwhile, Andy Murray remains confident that he'll eventually win a major. "Hey, does anybody know the number of the guy who stabbed Monica Seles right before Graf started dominating?" he asked a room full of reporters. "A friend wanted to know."
At a Joe Paterno tribute, Nike CEO Phil Knight criticized the process by which Paterno was fired. "If there's a villain in this tragedy," he said, "it lies in that investigation and not in Joe Paterno's response." Later in his speech, Knight said that if there's a comic relief character in this tragedy, it's probably Crazy Scott Paterno, the protaganist's son.
1. Greg Schiano, football coach, Rutgers University
College football is the most compelling sport in America, yet nothing is more torturous than listening to college football coaches speak publicly about their teams. I know this because I spent Tuesday morning standing in a hotel ballroom in Newport, R.I., while eight Big East coaches filibustered for a solid hour. I heard them reminisce about games played in 1991, speak about punters with irrational brightness, thank people who I'm not sure actually exist, and trumpet the competitive supremacy of a conference that has a direct tie-in with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. I heard one coach chastise a player for going to class too much, which was either the closest thing to joke anyone made or the closest thing to the truth anyone spoke. "That was the most boring hour of my life," one player said, as he headed toward a battery of television interviews. "My god."