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Shorts and Shells: Week Eight

Change, desperation in air for three teams

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By Eric Edholm

At the same time “FIRE-ANDY-REID” chants hit Philadelphia much harder than the highly anticipated Frankenstorm did during the game, Jets fans braced early for the impending public-transportation shutdown by vacating a 27-3 deficit well before the 30-9 loss to the Dolphins was complete.

A few real-time minutes later, a dejected Chargers team limped out of Cleveland Browns Stadium just as #FireNorvTurner cranked up to viral status on Twitter.

Was it the day Reid and Michael Vick died in Philly? What about Mark Sanchez or Rex Ryan in New York? Is Turner a goner, too? Did a storm just hit the NFL, coast to coast?

The first feels stronger than ever. The second might not be far off. The third, seemingly inevitable for years, might finally be coming true.

Mark it down: Week Eight will go down as a flashpoint for some NFL head coaches, GMs and players — some quite accomplished, too. This was the week where a lot of lives were changed for the worse.

The Browns’ ownership change has brought enthusiasm and improved play, with victories in two of the past three games. The Panthers’ shakeup last week at least resulted in a strong effort on the road in a tough but admirable loss.

But change doesn’t guarantee effect.

The Eagles canned Juan Castillo and promoted Todd Bowles, resulting in no immediate improvements defensively. In fact, it was their worst effort of the season on that side of the ball. Reid’s magic and post-bye touch (13-0 in his career prior to Sunday) offered no edge. The same tackling and execution woes were there Sunday, as they had been leading up to the game. But Reid wondered out loud whether firing Castillo didn’t have a negative effect.

“How can I stand up here and tell you (changing coordinators) didn't unsettle the defense? I can’t,” Reid said with a somber face after the game.

At this point, can you picture Reid coaching there next season? Can you see Vick’s contract — perhaps by a new front-office power structure — not voided? Reid can, saying this mess can be fixed, but he’s not the one making the bigger decisions. That’s up to owner Jeffrey Lurie, who said 8-8 would not suffice. The Eagles will have to finish 6-3 to avoid that. Even nine wins might not be enough.

Vick knows he’s on borrowed time, essentially breaking his own news after the game. "Obviously, he's thinking about making a change at quarterback,” Vick said. “If he makes that decision, I support it."

What choice does Vick have? Reid knows he’s coaching for his life at this point, so anything is on the table. Castillo will look like a footnote if Reid benches Vick for Nick Foles.

"It's fixable. We're going to get it right,” Reid said. “I know it's hard to believe after a game like that. We have the talent."

Reid thinks so. Does Ryan? What about Turner?

Both the Jets and Chargers have had their depth gutted by age, bad drafting and free-agent defections. The Jets don’t have a QB. The Chargers have a QB — albeit a damaged one — but not enough around him on offense.

Ryan isn’t panicking with Sanchez, though, saying he won’t be benching his quarterback. In fact, Rex chalked up the loss as something of a fluke occurrence. "To say I never saw this coming is an understatement,” Ryan said. “This is a tough one to accept."

Also tough to accept is that they can pull out of this funk. Since the blowout loss to the 49ers, the Jets have played hard, come into games with good approaches … and lost three of four. Sure, the three losses came to three possible playoff teams, including the Dolphins on Sunday, but that’s the point: The Jets don’t stack up.

They have tried everything. They’ve ground the Ground and Pound into a fine powder. They’ve slung it around like they did Sunday. They’ve thrown Tim Tebow in there; he’s been a decoy. Nothing is working offensively. And the defense knows it. It battles but can’t win games without major help anymore. Even their trash-talking bravado was shoved back in their faces, and, uh, coy just isn't their thing.

Ryan Mathews is a perfect symbol of the Chargers’ failures. He’s gifted, flashy and totally unreliable. Between the injuries and the mistakes (another key fumble Sunday), Mathews can’t help this team. He was the assumed replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson, and the Chargers have tried to run the same system with Mathews in there. But remove the heart — and Tomlinson was that — and the body dies. Even Rivers has to know that now.

The Eagles, Jets and Chargers can’t play the sum-of-their-parts game anymore. Sure, they’re talented, but clearly talent is not winning. The bye week did not help the Eagles and Chargers hit the reset button, and it won’t help the Jets, even if Rex does flip and give Tebow the job.

The chants are deafening in three NFL cities. Change is in the air, although anything short of dramatic might not cut it.

PUTTING COWBOYS’ LOSS IN PERSPECTIVE

The Cowboys played three games Sunday. A 23-0 loss. A 24-0 win. And a 6-0 loss. Yes, that’s what it felt like. Every NFL game, like every season, has momentum shifts and eddies. Great teams can ride the waves for the ups and downs and come out cresting at the end.

You cannot talk about the Cowboys without mentioning their heart and grit. Watch their games — it’s there. A weak-souled team does not climb out of a three-score hole against the defending champs, even at home.

But it’s getting to the point where only the Cowboys can lose games like this. As gutsy as the season-opening victory was over the Giants, along with the scrap-fight wins over the Buccaneers and Panthers, the late-game breakdowns are becoming part of the Cowboys’ identity.

You can question a million things in a football game, but the Cowboys’ biggest issues always seem to come at the ends of games. Close games. Jason Garrett had the timeout fiasco against Baltimore in Week Six, just as he did against the Cardinals last year. The next week against Carolina, he coached not to screw up. This week against the Giants, it’s third-and-1 one, then fourth-and-1, and they don’t even consider a run play. The Giants knew it; they were playing pass the whole way.

That’s because the Cowboys are who they are. There’s little getting away from it. They turn the ball over and commit penalties needlessly. Unforced errors, too — botched assignments (such as Tony Romo’s first INT), dropped passes, false starts, offsides. They play tight in crunch time. Garrett’s vibe rubs off on his team.

And the problem is, it almost feels worse losing a game you know you should have won than it does to be blown out. The Cowboys were getting killed, they responded and then they gave it away. How brutal is that?

When the owner (who just happens to be named Jerry Jones) brags in the offseason about “kicking the Giants’ (backsides)” the one thing you can’t do is not finish the job when you have an opponent on the ropes. And guess who takes the brunt of these things?

The Cowboys don’t know how to throw a knockout punch — not because they lack power but because the mechanics are all out of whack. But I bet Jones, after all these years, still knows how. Garrett has to do something to coax four better, smarter quarters out of his team, or he will find out the hard way.

ARE BRONCOS SUPER BOWL GOOD?

Enough negativity. Enough impending firings and whackings. Let’s talk about something positive here.

The Broncos are finally above .500 with their dominant victory over the Saints. Their three losses came against the Falcons, Texans and Patriots — who have a combined record of 18-4. And the record of the teams they have beaten is 12-11 other than the games the Broncos played them, which isn’t too bad.

You see the elements all there. The quarterback with Peyton Manning. The run game with Willis McGahee. The receivers, led by Demaryius Thomas. The left tackle with Ryan Clady. The pass rush with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The cover corners with Champ Bailey and, assuming he’s well at some point, Tracy Porter. Actually, the defense has been fine without Porter, miraculously. Jack Del Rio has this defense flying around the past six quarters.

So, we ask: Can Manning’s Broncos make a Super Bowl?

In a weakened AFC, why not? Sure, the Texans and Patriots proved where they stood head to head in the regular season against the Broncos, but who knows in January? Maybe the Broncos don’t stake those big leads — 21-5 to the Texans and 31-7 to the Patriots — in a rematch.

Despite being only 4-3, they’ve outscored their opponents by 52 points overall and by a 145-47 count in second halves. They’ve outscored every team after halftime except for the Patriots, whom they played to a 14-all tie in the final 30 minutes.

Manning is dialed in now, developing a rapport with Thomas, Eric Decker and his other wideouts. The defense gives them a chance most weeks. John Fox and Manning have been to Super Bowls. There’s a great mix of youth and experience.

It’s not a crazy thought, with the marrow of their schedule behind them, that the Broncos could win enough games in the soft AFC West to earn a bye, get hot and make it to New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

That’s ending on a high note, right?

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