Shorts and Shells: Week Seven

Posted Oct. 24, 2011 @ 3:31 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Dolphins lost a game in spectacular fashion in Week Seven. But their biggest foul was losing the fan base.

Whichever marketing person came up with the idea to host "Gator Day" at Sun Life Stadium — let's come right out and say it: they might as well have called it "Tim Tebow Day" — should have a job review soon.

The Dolphins, struggling to fill seats and eager to please neophyte owner Stephen Ross' Hollywood East desires, will do anything to sell their souls, apparently. Including filling seats with people who didn't care much for the game.

And why should they? The Dolphins have a bad product right now. They deserved to lose that game for so many different reasons.

It's perhaps only fitting that a former Hurricane (Broncos LB D.J. Williams) ruined Gator Day with a forced fumble in overtime that gave the ball back to the Broncos and allowed them to overcome a 15-point deficit in the final 2:50 of the game.

Let's get one thing straight: It was an awful game until the late heroics — and that most certainly includes the Dolphins' meltdown. They deserve their share of blame in this thing.

"A third-down conversion!" CBS announcer Kevin Harlan mockingly proclaimed with about five minutes remaining in the third quarter, followed by a hearty chuckle.

Both teams had combined for 0-for-15 on third downs prior to that point. Tebow was awful at that point. Only a reported 17 members of the 2008 Gators team had bothered to show up for the halftime festivities. There was a mix of "Tebow sucks!" chants from some fans and camera shots showing scores of others leaving the stadium.

That's what happens when you sell tickets to people who don't care about the outcome.

Heck, I am not calling the Dolphins' fans the world's best or anything. Even money says a high percentage of those who were at the game and rooting for the home team were hoping for a loss to keep the Suck-for-Andrew-Luck fantasy alive.

The Dolphins' football people most definitely should not be above reproach, either. There were mistakes galore throughout the game.

Forgoing an extra-point kick early in the fourth quarter, up 12-0, was a Pop Warner-esque mistake.

"It was the right decision," head coach Tony Sparano said. "It was that time in the game. It was a fourth-quarter decision. You don't go for one there."

But easily their biggest miscue was not seeing the Tebow QB draw coming on the two-point conversion to tie the game with 17 seconds left. The few thousand fans — whichever team or player they were rooting for — all could have told you that play was coming.

Apparently, the only ones who were clueless on that play were the Dolphins' goal-line defense and their coaches.

About those coaches ... many of them could be gone. Soon. Rumors had floated about Sparano's future being in dire straits before the crushing loss, and by the time some of you read this, he could be curtains.

But the organizational sewage runs far deeper. This team favors style over substance in a lot of cases. It is dysfunctional in many facets of scouting and coaching. And don't even get me started on the marketing department.

 

Controversial call of the week

Not a call in this case, but one very important non-call that will be a hot topic this week:

Anytime there is a controversial occurrence, there are going to be at least two versions of the story.

In this case, in Packers-Vikings, the play in question came after a play. It was Vikings DE Brian Robison kicking Packers OG T.J. Lang. If you saw it on TV, you'd say it was a dirty play. Maybe suspension-worthy.

Robison claimed after the game that he might have been goaded into it by Lang and that he was just trying to defend himself. Of course, that was followed by Robison saying he wished it had never happened.

The worst thing for Robison is that the bad part, the act of kicking another player, was caught on camera, and he absolutely will face a major, major fine for this. But the question is: How bad will it be?

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was fresh in office, he handed down a record suspension to Albert Haynesworth — five games — based on actions that happened on the field. What we saw then was Haynesworth kicking then-Cowboys C Andre Gurode in the head.

Was this incident as bad? It's very hard to say, but another five games here would not shock me.

Some people in NFL circles were surprised last week when Goodell velvet-gloved Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh for their paddy-cake "fight" after Week Six's game in Detroit, even though no major contact occurred in that one. This most definitely was a connection of Robison's foot to Lang's, er, privates.

Lang called it "cowardly" after the game, and I can see how he feels that way. He was violated in a way that he didn't expect, even in a dangerous game, and one that he couldn't have prepared for.

And the league already sent memos this week, reminding NFL teams about the importance of proper behavior before, during and after contests. Robison will be fined and perhaps suspended. We should find out quickly to what degree. Goodell has a tricky call to make here.

 

The wow factor

This week's edition features three safeties — one trying to turn back the clock, one trying to make people forget and one safety (plus a head coach) trying to make people remember him:

Brian Dawkins no longer has the range he once did and isn't the playmaker in deep space he was in Philadelphia, or maybe even in his first season in Denver. But don't tell me the Broncos are not glad they have him. Dawkins kept his team in the game with hit after hit Sunday, and his first- and fourth-quarter sacks showed he still can be effective near the line of scrimmage as a pseudo-linebacker. Tebow might have gotten the headlines, but Dawkins had his fingerprints all over this victory.

The Buccaneers might have lost, but Tanard Jackson has been impressive in his two games since returning from suspension. He barely broke stride on his tipped-pass interception of Jay Cutler a week after picking off Drew Brees in a game-changing play. Right now, Jackson is trying to rehab his image after multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, after not having been reinstated in his first opportunity in Week Three. The best way he can do it is with continued excellence on the field and no stories off it. Good start.

You might have missed it on the Saturday sports crawl, but Marty Schottenheimer, head coach of the Virginia Destroyers, won his first championship in more than 200 games as his team beat the Las Vegas Locomotives 17-3 in the United Football League championship game. "I couldn't be more pleased. Not only for our squad and our coaches and myself certainly, but for the whole Virginia Beach region. We all heard people say that this wouldn't happen, but I said to a number of our staff members, 'Who says we can't make it happen? We're going to make it happen.' " I don't know what that means because I heard none of that — and, to be honest, had no clue the UFL title game was happening — but good for Marty, who is an excellent coach. And for former Packers and Giants S Aaron Rouse, a player who might have put himself back on the NFL map with a three-interception championship game for the Destroyers, including one he ran back for a score, it also was a big night. He got off to a promising start to his career with the Packers in 2007 and '08 but hasn't been heard from in the NFL since 2009 with the Giants. We'll see if the NFL is interested in Rouse again.

 

Entertainers and icons

The Chiefs sure are ugly, but you can't argue with (some of) the results:

Maybe Todd Haley can coach. His team looked awful after three games, and many had them very much in the thick of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Haley was being thrown to the wolves by local columnists and talk-show hosts, and fans were on board with the public lynching suggestions.

But Haley ignored the critics — he doesn't strike me as a man consumed with media or fan attention — and got to work on making this team, his injury-crippled roster, as good as it could be. Now they are 3-3 following three straight wins and are starting to resemble a competitive team in the still-close AFC West.

Haley told his team to ignore the critics. He told them to follow his lead and that they would be better as the season wore on. Haley was right. The Chiefs are nothing close to pretty, but they are winning some games despite their limitations.

And Romeo Crennel's defense, which turned in six INTs and two pick-sixes on Sunday, was the breadwinner on a day when the offense tallied a mere 300 yards.

Against the Raiders, the Chiefs received touchdowns from a safety, two cornerbacks and an offensive guard ... almost (LeRon McClain fumbled, OG Jon Asamoah recovered in the endzone and then, confusingly, the TD was credited back to McClain as the officials ruled that McClain had crossed the goal line before fumbling).

Win at all costs, right? That's what the Chiefs are doing. And it has been darned ugly and darned impressive.

 

Ten takeaways of the week

Here are 10 things I took from Week Seven, aka QB Replacement Week, aka Offenses Mostly Fizzling Week:

1. If there is a theme that has developed this season (and a story line you likely will be sick of by the Super Bowl if things keep up like this), it is that no lead is too safe. The Year of the Comeback, if you will. With the Jets and Broncos wiping out 10-point leads to claim victories, they were the 20th and 21st teams this season to overcome double-digit margins to win games. It's the second-highest total through seven weeks of the NFL season, behind 1987's 23. That season, at least partially, was very much thrown off by the players' strike. This season, as you well know, was stunted somewhat by the 4½-month lockout, freezing most of the offseason programs. Connection? It's worth considering.

2. The more comebacks and "wow" plays Tebow completes, the higher his trade value is in the offseason. I think it would take some serious improvement from him for the Broncos to consider keeping him and building their team around him. Maybe I am wrong, but John Fox and John Elway just don't appear sold. Not yet, anyway. I think they like the more classic drop-back style of QB, and in the first 3½ quarters Sunday, it appeared that they didn't play much to Tebow's strengths. In overtime, they asked him to hand off three times and play for the 52-yard field goal, which is a pretty low-percentage kick. I think they like Tebow's competitiveness, but I don't ever see the Broncos' brass falling in love with the complete package. Maybe some team will see Tebow, who led the Broncos to the first 15-or-more-point comeback in the final three minutes of a game since 1970, as a player who transcends statistics, the way Josh McDaniels saw him in Denver. Mark my words: Someone will want Tebow next year, even if the Broncos do not.

3. With each game, despite the Chargers' 4-2 record, I find myself wondering what is going on with Philip Rivers. His completion percentage (64.7) and yards per attempt (7.9) are pretty close to being in line with his career averages, but he now has two interceptions in four of his six games (a total of nine on the season, the same number he had in all of 2009) and two lost fumbles. I have watched every one of the Chargers' games, at least in part, and I honestly can't pin his struggles on one thing. I thought he was going to have a monster season, which is why he was my preseason MVP pick. You can't blame injuries, at least not fully, as they were a major story in '10, when Rivers was outstanding. Mechanically, Rivers looks roughly the same. It's something I just can't put my finger on. Sometimes guys just struggle, and his timing and touch look off for whatever the reasons.

4. Christian Ponder: Some good, some bad in his first start. But answer this: Does anyone not named or related to Donovan McNabb think the Vikings made the wrong move here? Ponder missed on 19 of his 32 pass attempts, which probably led head coach Leslie Frazier to punt on 4th-and-10 when the Vikings were driving with 2:37 left, and if Husain Abdullah makes a tackle he should make on Packers RB James Starks, then Frazier doesn't look as bad for giving it back to the Packers. But Ponder did exhibit one thing: extreme toughness, both mentally and physically. He threw picks on back-to-back possessions and found himself down 16 points in the fourth quarter, but he battled back and gave his team a chance. Ponder also took a few vicious hits and bounced right up. Health always will be a concern in his NFL career the way he plays, but Vikings fans have to feel a lot better about the offense now with him under center than they did with McNabb.

5. Are defenses catching up some? The Saints' 62-pointer aside, as NFL Network's Albert Breer noted on Twitter, the number of teams scoring 30 points has leveled off a bit from eight in Week One and nine in Weeks Two and Four down to two in Week Six and six in Week Seven. Of course, some of the changes at quarterback had a little something to do with it. That and the fact that the Patriots, Bills, Giants and Eagles were on bye this week.

6. On the topic of unimpressive defenses, I am not sure how Larry Coyer keeps a job past this season if there is not huge improvement by the Colts' defense — and fast. The coordinator has become the hot name under fire in Indiana for the Colts' meltdown on that side of the ball, but it's convenient to forget how many problems Peyton Manning covered up when he was healthy. Not only did Manning lead long, clock-draining, effective drives, often giving the Colts leads and putting the pressure on opponents, but he also kept the Colts' "D" fresh much of the time. That said, the Colts' defenses never were gashed as badly at any point during Manning's heyday as they have been this season.

7. On the flip side, the Saints seem to have bounced back offensively. It was a rough week from the Sean Payton knee injury to the loss to the Bucs to the sudden and slightly strange departure of C Olin Kreutz. But mentally strong teams have a way of using setbacks as a form of motivation, and it appears that the Saints have done just that. Insiders have been saying for a few weeks that Kreutz was holding the Saints back and that then-backup and now-starter Brian de la Puente, who previously filled in for Kreutz, was the better option at center. He passed with flying colors in the 62-7 throttling of the Colts, handling a few stunts and loops well that I saw. The Saints can't overlook the Rams next week, and the Buccaneers will give them a chance for redemption in Week Nine. But the big one is in three weeks: Nov. 13 at Atlanta. The Falcons appear to be back on track, and this one could ultimately decide the NFC South.

8. I'll say it: One of Matt Ryan's more important games as a pro. Maybe not his best, but Ryan had to prove to his teammates that he could lead his team to a huge road win. Whispers and doubts were creeping in a bit, and not having Julio Jones was certainly a setback against the Lions. Ryan suffered what appeared to be a gruesome injury in the third quarter — on TV, it looked like an ankle but turned out to be his knee that was torqued — but came back a series later and immediately hit Harry Douglas (Jones' replacement) for a 49-yard strike on his first play. "It hurt, but I don't think it was as bad as it must have looked on television," Ryan said. Whatever the case, he's downplaying the injury — but not the win. The Falcons weathered a late storm and came away with a big one in Detroit with the kind of physical style for which they were best-known last season. The bye comes at a nice time, too, as Ryan's knee likely is quite sore. The Falcons are still a contender.

9. If Ndamukong Suh has a weakness as a player, it's that he lets his emotions run past the whistle. I have no idea whether he was taunting Ryan, as the Falcons players claimed. But I do know that Suh easily could have been whistled for a post-play shove and been handed a 15-yard penalty. Suh already has a reputation, fair or not, as being a "dirty" player. Plays like this can only enhance those thoughts — with fans, with referees, and with league officials who hand down fines and suspensions (read: Goodell) — and it can only hurt Suh on the field.

10. Carson Palmer probably never should have been on the field Sunday. Hue Jackson put a quarterback on the field who knew, as Palmer estimated, about 10 percent of the offense. And predictably, in his first meaningful snap since Jan. 2, Palmer struggled, throwing three picks. Although Jackson is to blame, Kyle Boller didn't help the coach out much, throwing three interceptions of his own on 14 passes. The Raiders are not out of the race, and the bye will give Palmer a chance to get up to speed, but Sunday was a lost opportunity.

 

Top five, bottom five

My top five and bottom five NFL power-ranking votes this week:

1. Packers: They face a test head-on and get it done. There's still a big separation between them and the rest of the NFL.

2. Patriots: The defense has taken baby steps the past few weeks.

3. Ravens: Would really hurt if Ben Grubbs was placed on I.R.

4. 49ers: Their defense has knocked three starting backs — Felix Jones, LeGarrette Blount and Jahvid Best — out of games.

5. Saints: Won't say the defense is back to 2009 form, but it was clearly better on Sunday.

28. Cardinals: Kevin Kolb is still whizzing passes past open receivers.

29. Jaguars: Might Monday's game be the end of Jack Del Rio if the Ravens blow them out?

30. Rams: Forget the offense ... how does Steve Spagnuolo save face with the way the "D" has D-teriorated.

31. Colts: The losses had been close before the New Orleans debacle.

32. Dolphins: This organization has been the worst in the NFL now twice in the past five years. That's bad.