With the NFL offseason trudging along, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The Mike Tannenbaum era for the New York Jets will, justly, be remembered for two things. The first is the freewheeling 2008 offseason that saw the Jets bring in a massive free-agent class designed to retool a team that went 4-12 a season earlier. Before ascending to his role as general manager, Tannenbaum had earned a reputation as a cap master, and the complications that come with several huge veteran contracts seemed to be ones he was leaving to Future Mike. Well, putting his franchise against the cap with a bunch of misplaced free-agency money was enough to ensure that we never actually got to Future Mike, and instead, it was new GM John Idzik who inherited a roster more than $20 million over the limit.
The second is actually the more telling, and also what’s made the past 24 hours a sign of a new start in New York. In the 2009 draft, the Jets picked three times. Their first selection was the fifth overall, a pick they’d gotten by trading first- and second-round picks to Cleveland in an effort to secure USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. That Sanchez hasn’t worked out — and that the Jets compounded that problem by giving him heaps of guaranteed money anyway — matters, but it isn’t the point here. Now with no picks left in the top 75, the Jets sent third- and fourth-round choices to Detroit in exchange for the first pick in the third round. That pick was Shonn Greene. Finally, the Jets picked in the sixth round, where they took Nebraska guard Matt Slauson — the best player of the three, and also one who was allowed to leave town this offseason to sign for close to the minimum in Chicago.
The Boston Celtics were met with boos as they jogged onto the court for pregame warm-ups Saturday, which seemed about right. It didn’t matter that the Celtics were wearing commemorative shirts that would be auctioned off for The One Fund Boston or that they had scrawled messages of support on their sneakers. “Get outta here!” a Knicks fan in the not-exactly-cheap seats playfully hollered, over and over, and why hold back? The rivalry between New York's and Boston’s teams is constant and occasionally vicious. It’s not like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were medics or detectives or firemen, they just happened to work there. Pray for Boston, etc. — but down with the afternoon’s invaders.
I can’t imagine anyone impartial rooted for the Knicks on Saturday, not with the game happening in such close proximity to last week’s events in Boston. It feels good to witness magic and harmony and spontaneous proclamations of civic pride, even if these moments of coming together can’t turn anything back. But someone had to lose, and it’s not like Doc Rivers wanted New York’s pity anyway. Shut off from the sentiments prevailing elsewhere, the atmosphere in and around the Garden was lively enough, though nowhere near as raucous as one would expect in this post–Honey Nut Cheerios world. After members of the New York and Boston fire departments presented the flag, Carmelo Anthony and Pierce strode to the center circle to offer statements on behalf of each team. Some fans started booing as soon as Pierce spoke, but everyone else aggressively hissed them quiet. You could resume hating him in a few minutes.
Four years ago, Andre Smith got off a plane in Indianapolis as the best left tackle at that year’s NFL combine. The previous season, he was awarded the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s best interior lineman. He’d been named an All-American by every outlet with a printing press or an Internet presence. And come draft time, it was expected that Smith would be one of the first five players off the board.
Then he left.
Before completing any of his workouts, Smith was back on a plane to Alabama, without telling anyone. Later, his explanation was that in switching his representation, he’d lost some time to prepare for the drills. He didn’t feel ready.
This excuse was hardly enough for those involved. He was skewered — for a lack of maturity and a lack of attention to detail. Smith’s pro day in Tuscaloosa didn’t help much, either. The video of his jiggle during the 40-yard dash is still Internet legend. A tumble down hypothetical draft boards began. Smith went from the best tackle in the draft to the consensus no. 3. By March, Mel Kiper had him clear out of the top 10. In botching the “pre-draft process,” Smith had done himself in.
Could there be a more fitting final play in the 2012 NFL season than Tony Romo clinching defeat with a horrific interception? No, there could not. That super Romo-ish floating Christmas gift to the football fans of the beltway not only marked the end of the Cowboys' season, but the ends of both the BQBL season and 2012. Each year, December 31 provides us a moment to look back at what has passed and pay tribute to those who passed to the wrong team. So this year, at the end of this column, I'll be handing out the first set of BQBL Awards for lack of achievement at the quarterback position. But before we get to that, there’s plenty of carnage from Week 17 to address — namely, the work of Mr. Chad Steven Henne, who seemed eager on Sunday to secure the no. 2 overall pick for the Jags.
Three and Out
Jaguars (Chad Henne), 67 points: Chad Henne threw four touchdown passes against the Titans on Sunday: one to Justin Blackmon, one to Jordan Shipley and two to Zach Brown. The only problem is that Zach Brown is not on his football team. Details.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Lakers came back from an 18-point third quarter deficit to top the Bobcats, 101-100, and avoid what would have been the most embarrassing moment of their already difficult season. It was a Pyrrhic victory for some Lakers, including Pau Gasol, who suffered his latest humiliation when Kobe Bryant shoved him into the scorer's table to create a distraction just before hitting the winning bucket. "Make sure you whimper," Kobe hissed. "Really Gasol it up."
NFL teams don't often get the chance to rebuild on their own terms. In most cases, they're the last people to find out that it's time. A team that can scratch some credible way to contention in August finds themselves wasting away at the bottom of the league by November and realizes, after all, that it's time to make wholesale changes. Other teams see the writing on the wall and battle against the truth for a couple of years, desperately clinging to shreds of relevancy as they lose the leverage they'll never regain. The latter explanation, as you probably suspect, aptly characterizes the New York Jets, whose miserable loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football eliminated Gang Green from playoff contention, while crystallizing the need to make a change in their three-man core of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
The BQBL got dark this week. Pointing and laughing at the Jets and Cardinals last week was a hoot. Their mutual ineptitude gave the game a humorous, whimsical vibe — like watching tee-ball infielders turn a ground ball to second base into an inside-the-park home run. This week against Seattle, watching the Cardinals was not like watching a tee-ball game. It was like driving behind a car that runs over an adorable bunny rabbit — that you’re then forced to watch die. Slowly.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year’s BQBL Bowl is over. It wasn't the BQBL points scored in the Jets-Cardinals game that made it special. There's no way to appropriately quantify this brand of failure, no stat that captures how terrified each quarterback was, and no metric for embarrassment to measure what happened in New Jersey on Sunday. There is just the film. Let’s go to the tape.
Jets (Sanchize and Greg McElroy) 84 points, and Cardinals (Ryan Lindley) 65 points
In anticipation of this column, I rewatched this entire game. I had my eye on it and everything Sunday, but when a game like this is played in front of cameras and microphones, and it's your job to bask in the ineptitude of quarterbacking failure, you would be a fool not to savor these performances. Also, as I mentioned, there's no number that can capture the experience of watching these men attempt to move the football forward. The most dynamic part of this adventure from kickoff to final kneel-down was tracking the tortured reactions of both the play-by-play team of Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick and the Jets fans in the stadium. I now present to you a running diary, of sorts, of the 2012 BQBL Bowl. No lie — I might go back and watch it again.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
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.
With or Without You
Over the holiday, I was back in Chicago for the first time since the start of football season. Amid all the eating and drinking, there was plenty of time in the car, and with that came the chance to hear Chicago sports radio. I made a handful of long drives over the course of those few days, and each time the radio was on, the programming was the same — a re-airing of that week’s "Jay Cutler Show."
Each week (excluding those after a concussion), Cutler joins the "Waddle & Silvy" show on ESPN 1000 for an hour, and from what I gather, the segment is immensely popular. All of my Bears-fan friends are regular listeners, and considering the station was content to let it run for what seemed like three days, I imagine those friends are a representative sample. They tune in because, much like watching Cutler play football, just about anything can happen. Sunday’s Bears game against the Vikings was a perfect example.
You may have noticed that we at Grantland take bad quarterback play very seriously. While Grantland's finest in the Los Angeles office take part in the BQBL each season, my basis for bad quarterback knowledge dates back to a childhood during which the starting quarterbacks for my favorite team were universally terrible. You try suffering through Dave Brown, Kent Graham, and Danny Kanell for a five-year stretch and see how much you enjoy it. Those mid-'90s Giants teams even gave away Tommy Maddox, who would eventually become a starter in Pittsburgh after winning an XFL Championship, but he delivered one of the worst backup performances in a single year I've ever seen: 6-for-23 for 49 yards with three interceptions and a fumble is probably deserving of professional excommunication.
With my esteemed qualifications, then, I was skeptical this Sunday when people started referring to Philip Rivers's bizarre pick-six against the Buccaneers as the worst pass of the year. Sure, it essentially turned a game that was about to be tied in the fourth quarter into one where the Chargers had an 11 percent chance of winning, but swings like that happen every day. A truly bad pass is more than just an ill-timed poor decision. It has to have panache. It needs to make you rewind with equal parts disgust and confusion. If possible, the cheery ex-quarterback doing color commentary should audibly groan or say something like "Oh no" as the pass is traveling in the air. It shouldn't look anything like a normal football play. Those are the truly terrible passes. And after I watched Rivers's pass, I realized that it did truly deserve to be in the running for worst pass of the year.
There is much to celebrate this week in atrocious quarterbacking: Yo Gabba Gabbert was benched, Nick Foles did many Nick Folesian things, Mark Sanchez continued his campaign to ensure that Tim Tebow is front-page news, and Eli may have officially regressed into the fourth-best football player at next week’s Manning Thanksgiving table. But none of these triumphantly terrible turns behind center could top the work of Ryan Tannehill, who was nice enough to remind everyone, with this week’s performance, how he earned the name TAINTehill. I thought that was nice of him. So did the Titans.
Three and Out
Dolphins (Ryan Tannehill), 67 points: When TAINTehill took the field this week, the announcers set the scene: “He has really limited his mistakes — no interceptions for Tannehill over his last four games, a completion percentage of just under 59 percent. Tannehill, last week, was good ...” At that moment on Sunday afternoon, with Miami at home, facing a Titans defense that allowed an average of 34.2 points a game through its first nine games, there was absolutely no reason to believe that at the end of the game, Lauren Tannehill’s husband would have as many interceptions as the Dolphins had points. You know that old saying about how “it isn’t how a man reacts when he is on top that defines him, but rather how he reacts when he is at his lowest”? No? Well, it probably doesn’t go exactly like that. But with vigorous and passionate tackle attempts after each of his three interceptions, Lauren Tannehill’s husband reflected a very strong character and pleased all at BQBL headquarters, where, oddly, we care very much about those things. In honor of TAINTehill’s tackles, we will now review his Sunday by contrasting his turnovers with his takedowns, each worthy of celebration:
The scores weren’t high on the BQBL leaderboard this week, but the outstanding individuals occupying it performed acts displaying a level of ineptitude that we had yet to see in the BQBL.
Ravens (Joe Flacco), 79 points: With both teams coming into the game at 5-1, the buildup to the Ravens-Texans tilt on Sunday had an air of insincerity considering all the supposed eliteness and contenderism at stake. Regardless, at the outset, this was by far the most intriguing of the early slate, mostly in a “I might see the next AFC champion establish itself” sort of way. After the first half, it was the most intriguing in a “I might see Joe Flacco score 1,000 points today” sort of way.
Waka Flacco Flame’s Sunday started pretty well. His first drive of scripted plays was an effective mix of a few runs with a couple passes that moved the ball from his own 22 to the Texans' 33, eventually ending with a field goal. At that point you felt like Waka Flacco had what it took to move the ball against a Texans D that was ranked in the top five in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. He did not. To appropriately capture the glorious disaster that was the rest of Waka Flacco’s first half, let’s have a look, dreadful drive by dreadful drive: