NFL Thoughts -- Past the 3/4 Point
Well as another NFL regular season winds down to a close, we're beginning to be pretty sure about most of the postseason teams for 2011, as well as the biggest stories of the year. As usual, the NFL has delivered with yet another stellar season, despite the attempts of the referees and commissioner Roger Gooddell to infuriate everybody by their silly-ly arbitrary and often unfair and deliberate application (or non-application) of the rules. Pass interference and late hits on the quarterback in particular have become the bane of every NFL fan's existence, as the league's referees have wielded their ability to call these infractions or to overlook them to have a major influence on a great many games this year. But despite all of that, as I mentioned it's been another fabulous year overall for the best sport in America today. Remember when you were a kid and you used to sit around waiting for the next Michael Jordan game on NBC, and how you made your appointments around the NBA schedule? Well, today that sport is the NFL, while the NBA has been relegated to a shell of its former self under the "leadership" of David Stern, and this season will only serve to increase the mystique and the popularity of the best sport on the planet today. Today I will give some random thoughts I have assembled over the past several weeks of NFL play.
For starters, Tim Tebow has quickly become the story of the 2011 NFL regular season. Bar none. Leave it to Tebow to be the only thing that could possibly outweigh the drama of the Green Bay Packers going undefeated this year, but it's happened. Did you even know the Packers are currently sitting at 13-0? Probably, but nobody really cares, and the biggest reason why is that Tim Tebow is now 7-1 as a starter for the Denver Broncos. The guy cannot throw the ball -- once again, Timmy T. has all of three completions heading into the final minutes of their game against the quickly-fading Chicago Bears this past Sunday -- but he came through when it counted late in the 4th quarter and in overtime, and thanks to yet another stunning collapse by an opponent and a couple of unbelievably boneheaded plays and a crucial late-game turnover, Tebow had another chance to lead his team to victory. And lead his team to victory he did. A 59-yard field goal as time expired and another 51-yarder in overtime from awesome Denver kicker Matt Prater didn't hurt either, as Tebow nabbed his 7th win in 8 starts as the Broncos' quarterback. As I said, with his Broncos now alone in first place in the AFC West following a 1-4 start before Tebow took over the helm at qb, Tim Tebow has already solidifed himself as the one mega story from the 2011 NFL regular season, and there's virtually nothing that could happen in these last few weeks that could change that at this point. Including the Packers finishing the season 16-0. That still sounds completely amazing to me, but it's also completely true.
While on the topic of Tim Tebow and the Broncos, what is going on with Broncos management between head coach John Fox and Executive VP of Football Operations John Elway deserves its own paragraph here if not its own post -- and maybe its own blog entirely. Basically, by the Broncos' offense focusing on the running game like no other team in NFL history and generally taking the ball out of Tebow's hands when it comes to throwing -- combined with Tebow's very noticeable lack of throwing accuracy when he is forced to put it in the air -- Elway and Fox continue to waver on whether or not Tebow is their quarterback of the future, even here after a 7-1 record as a starter and running the team from alone in last place to alone in first place over the span of less than two months. Said Elway on his weekly radio spot on KDSP-FM in Denver on Monday, when asked if he has ever seen a player like Tim Tebow:
"No, not to this point," Elway said. "If you look at where we've been just this season and look at the impact that he has had this season, not only athletically with him running around and throwing the football, but I think that his presence has been just huge and his confidence and his competitiveness that he has, especially if you look about when we’re coming off 4-12 last year."
And the above quote misses the most poignant part of what Elway actually said on the radio. You can listen to Elway's entire spot right here, which I encourage so you can hear Elway's own thoughts for yourself. Elway didn't actually say "not only athletically" -- on the air he actually said "not so much athletically", and then quickly corrected himself to say "not only athletically". Very telling of Elways' true thoughts me thinks.
What's more, when asked about Tebow's incredible ability to lead the Broncos to victory in the middle of the above-linked audio clip, Elway responded:
"I think when you look at it I guess I just believe everyone believes that something good is going to happen. Tim’s been the guy that has led that thinking and he’s just such a strong believer. He’s got everyone else believing that if you stay strong, stay positive, that something good is going to happen. It’s the power of the mind and the power of positive thinking. I think when those guys are thinking that way and it’s been led by Timmy with that positive attitude that all boats have been rising with that." (emphasis mine)
To me this is all just a bunch of backhanded compliments of Tebow, and more of the same as we've heard out of John Elway basically ever since this incredible 7-1 run with Tebow began. No, it's not the power of great quarterbacking, no it's not the power of great skill. It's the power of the mind and of positive thinking. It's almost like Elway is saying it's all smoke and mirrors with Tebow this year.
And when Broncos head coach John Fox was asked after the game on Sunday if Tim Tebow will be his quarterback next season, he similarly deflected the questions just as Elway has all season long, saying that he prefers not to think ahead and rather just to enjoy the present, the now.
Can anyone ever remember another situation where a guy came in at quarterback for a horrible, last-place team, won 7 out of 8 games and ran them into first place, clearly putting the team on his back and leading them all along the way, and did not have the support of his head coach or the team's management leader regarding the following season? I sure can't.
Oh, and by the way, John Fox inched ever closer to Coach of the Year honors this weekend, when Jim Harbaugh's 49ers posted an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and the Bungles' Marvin Lewis saw his team lose on a last-second touchdown to the NFC South champion Houston Texans, while Tim Tebow led another improbable, incredible comeback over the formerly playoff-bound Bears. What Fox has done to his team -- to the entire NFL, really -- is absolutely off the hook, and in my view at this point far trumps even Harbaugh's incredible season in San Francisco. Even with the 49ers allowing a league-low 182 points over 13 games so far this year, for John Fox to come in and after quickly ascertaining his new quarterback's strengths and weaknesses, to completely transform his team's offense into something that simply isn't supposed to work in today's NFL, it is legendary as far as I'm concerned. Through Tebow's eight starts as the Broncos' quarterback this year, the team has now thrown for a total of 947 yards (118 passing yards per game, the lowest in more than a decade for any NFL team), while running for 1557. No team in NFL history has ever rushed for over 50% more yards than they have passed for over a season, and even though Fox's team won't work their way into the recordbooks since this particular streak did not start until five games into the season, it is worth more than a little mention how amazing and truly revolutionary what Fox has done with his team this year, to play to his team's strengths and weaknesses, even when it flies squarely in the face of everything we all thought we knew about today's NFL. John Fox is still probably not quite the frontrunner for coach of the year, but if his Broncos can find a way to pick off the Cheatriots this weekend, I would guess that Fox will be right up there at the top of the list and that the award might be his to lose. Yes the 49ers have two fewer losses so far than the Broncos this season, but with Tim Tebow, Fox's team has two fewer losses than the 49ers, and he's doing it with -- amazingly -- even lesser personnel, and doing it in a way that is completely unheard-of and would have been entirely unimaginable by anybody involved in the league even more than a quarter of the way through this NFL season.
Switching gears a little bit from the only truly incredible story of the 2011 NFL season in Tim Tebow, I mentioned up there that the Cardinals somehow beat the 49ers this past weekend. This, after starting Arizona qb Kevin Kolb -- picked up in a hig-profile trade from the Eagles this past offseason -- left the game early in the first quarter with a head injury, to be replaced by 2nd year Fordam graduate John Skelton. Skelton has now started or played most the game in five games for the Cardinals this season, and the team has gone 4-1 in those games, while Kolb's record as the Cards' starting quarterback this year is an ugly 2-5. Even though Skelton's numbers in those five games don't look so great on paper (78 for 145 for a 53.8% completion percentage, 1032 yards, 7 tds, 9 INTs and a 66.8 rating), we've already seen a la Tim Tebow above that statistics on a paper can only tell so much of the story. In the eight games started by Kolb this season, his numbers aren't all that much better anyways (146 for 253 for a 57.7% completion percentage, 1955 yards, 9 tds and 8 INTs for an 81.1 QB rating), especially considering how many more snaps Kolb has gotten with the starters basically all season long, and in the end what matters more than wins and losses. Under Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals are a laughingstock at 2-5. Under Skelton, they're a playoff team at 4-1, including a win over the playoff-bound 49ers this weekend when Skelton posted a 106.5 QB rating, and a victory over the then-playoff-hopeful Eagles in Week 10 in which Skelton posted a respectable 82.8 QB rating as well. Face it guys -- John Skelton is probably a better NFL quarterback than Kevin Kolb. You heard it here first.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention what spineless, pussified weasels the ownership in both Kansas City and Miami are. With both teams playing much better after rough starts this year -- and with the Chiefs in particular beset by key injuries all through the early part of the season -- both teams fired their head coaches after losses this past Sunday. After starting 0-7, Tony Sparano's Dolphins were 4-1 in their last five games before losing at home to the highly talented Eagles 26-10 this past weekend. After trying to fire Sparano at the end of last season but then opting not to, and then after not firing him at 0-7 this year, the team was obviously pissed off to see him winning as much as he was in the second of the year this year, and had clearly resolved to dump him as soon as the team lost another game. What a bunch of pussies. Ask anyone in the league or anybody who watches all the football games every weekend -- this Dolphins squad had been playing every single game of the past several as if it was their last, their superbowl, and they had been getting results. With virtually no talent on either side of the ball to work with. And what does Tony Sparano get for taking this bunch of no-name, no-talent losers and going 4-1 with them after turning his 0-7 start around, one of the hardest things to do in sports? He gets fired after one bad loss to the Eagles, everybody's pick for the superbowl coming in to this season.
And it's a similar but not quite as bad of a story for the Chiefs and head coach Todd Haley, who was also unceremoniously fired on Monday after his team lost 37-10 on the road to the playoff-bound Jets on Sunday afternoon. Yes, Haley's team was 5-8 this season, but ask anybody who knows the league and they'll tell you that Haley was doing a pretty good job this year, after bursting out of nowhere and outright winning the AFC West last season. And both years, like Sparano who I mentioned above in Miami, doing it with almost no real talent whatsoever to speak of. The team gives this guy a no-name backup quarterback in Matt Cassell, who himself has missed about half the season now with injury, and a never-ending string of no-name runningbacks, and Haley has found a way to build a rushing powerhouse over the past couple of seasons. Todd Haley did a pretty decent job in Kansas City, and if that franchise believes that they could or somehow should (or will) do better next year with this same personnel, then they are kidding themselves and are in for a very rude awakening in 2012.
Oh, and watch out: if Todd Haley (5-8 with zero talent and a gillion injuries) and Tony Sparano (4-9 after an 0-7 start, and also absolutely zero talent) are getting fired, then you can basically write off Steve Spagnuolo, who as head coach of the Rams after last night's loss is now 10-35 in three seasons with the Rams. How does that guy keep his job, with unquestionably more talent brought in on offense than either the Dolphins or the Chiefs, and unquestionably worse results over now nearly three full seasons? Or what about Mike Shanahan in Washington, he of the 14-31 record over the past three seasons, while his owner spends money like it's going out of style? How does that guy keep his job this year? There are going to be a whole lot of NFL head coaches on the chopping block this offseason, if the criteria applied to Haley and Sparano this weekend are to be equally applied across the league, including a whole bunch of guys with a little bit less time served at their current teams, but every bit as bad of results.
Before I go, just a quick look at my preseason playoff predictions and how those are panning out so far. In the NFC, back on September 13 I picked the Eagles, Packers, Saints and Cardinals as the division winners, and the Cowboys and Bears as the wildcards. Those predictions, in a word, suck shizznit. The Bears were in the midst of making me look smart until Jay Cutler went down, and I can't kill myself for the Eagles pick as everybody in the universe went with them heading into this year, and seeing the laughable Giants and Cowboys battle it out for divisional supremacy at 7-6 right now only seems to strengthen that argument, but I completely messed up the NFC East and I like everyone else also did not at all foresee the incredible success of the 49ers out west. I am faring much better with my AFC predictions, which included the Cheatriots, Steelers, Texans and Chargers as the division winners, and the Jets and Ravens as the wildcards, picks that were almost exactly spot-on. Again, show me the person who predicted the Denver Broncos to take the AFC West, and I'll show you someone who not only should be committed but probably already is. And although a lot can chance in the last few weeks of the season, as of right now my pick of Packers over the Cheatriots in the 2011 superbowl is still looking very much alive.