It’s Too Early to Count Out Tony Romo

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Tony Romo the last few days and I understand where it’s coming from. The Cowboys were hyped up before the year began and brought in even more talent to an already talented team, acquiring Roy Williams mid-season. Despite a disappointing year, the Cowboys still could have made the playoffs by beating the Eagles on Sunday. Instead, they got thumped 44-6 with Tony Romo turning the ball over three times in an embarrassing loss. Much ado has been made lately about Romo’s December record, inability to step up in big games, and his tendency to turn the ball over. While Romo has disappointed in three of the final four games for the Cowboys, I still believe he is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league who will get over the hump before long.

Let’s start with the pinkie injury. Take that away, the Cowboys beat the Rams and probably go 10-6 and make the playoffs. Still, given the injury, Romo threw for 26 touchdowns and nearly 3,500 yards in only 13 games, many of which he played despite injuries. Even after returning from the pinkie injury, he probably wasn’t 100%, and he got banged up pretty good against the Giants and Eagles to be sure. Secondly, this is only Romo’s second full season as a starting quarterback in the league. He’s still a young guy with a long career ahead of him. In his brief career he’s already shown a great ability to escape pass rushes and make plays, not to mention light up the scoreboard with tons of yardage and touchdowns (36 last year was a franchise record, 26 this year ain’t half bad). How many other quarterbacks in the league have done that the last two years? Not many.

Lastly, regarding this December choking nonsense, the guy plays in a tough division with some of the best defenses in football. Any quarterback will struggle against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins defenses any time of year, let alone December when it’s hard for anyone to pass. Furthermore, the Cowboys had a hellish December this year playing four playoff teams including two on the road. Their December opponents of the Steelers, Giants, Ravens, and Eagles went a combined 44-18-1. That’s a tough path to the playoffs with defenses that would have made ANY quarterback in the NFL look bad. Yes, Romo threw costly picks against the Steelers and Ravens and fumbled too much against the Eagles, but the guy is still a good quarterback. Remember, Peyton Manning was a choker the first 8 or 9 years of his career, and Eli Manning was still looking awful as recently as November last year. I’m confident Romo will become a better caretaker of the football as he develops and that he’ll grow into a winner before long. Just wait.

Jets Choosing Favre Over Mangini?

So three more coaches were fired on Monday, further reinforcing the notion that there are two types of head coaches in the NFL: those who are fired and those who are going to be fired. Eric Mangini had a roller coaster ride going 10-6, 4-12, and now 9-7. The team seemed to peak in week 12 which is when they won their 5th straight game beating the Titans on the road. From there they went 1-4 to slip out of playoff contention, a span in which Brett Favre stunk up the joint with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. Favre also was playing with a bum shoulder and probably should have ceded the throne to Kellen Clemens if that were the case. While some players pledged their undying support for Mangini, others sang a different tune about the coaching:

“We’re out there busting our butts and (Favre) is turning the ball over,” said the player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his comments would be frowned upon by the organization. “You can’t win like that.

“We never got any rhythm on offense. Instead of us pounding the ball with TJ (Thomas Jones), we’re doing all of this other stuff. It’s not just me, a lot of guys weren’t happy with the play-calling. They (the coaches) were always catering to Favre instead of doing what we were built to do, which is run the ball.”

Let’s see, the Jets have used recent first round picks on two of their offensive lineman (D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold) and they signed Pro Bowl free agents Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, and Tony Richardson to bolster the blocking up front (T-Rich is a fullback). There’s a reason I took Thomas Jones in my fantasy league and that was it — with that line they could push people around. Maybe the coaches did screw up by leaving things up to Favre instead of pounding the ball more. It also seems like the Jets are making this move to entice Favre to return to the team. Maybe he didn’t fit in with Mangini and wanted a new coach to consider coming back. Or maybe, just maybe, the Jets want to enter the Bill Cowher sweepstakes.

(quote via FanHouse)

Time to Change the NFL Playoff Seeding Structure, Again

We went over this last season when Roger Goodell said there would be some talks about revising the playoff seeding structure. The proposed revision would ensure that wild card teams with a better record would have home field advantage over division winners with worse records. I’m not suggesting we do away with division champions so teams like the 11-5 Patriots would get into the playoffs over the 8-8 Chargers because I agree with the proximity, rivalries, and interest the division battles create. However, I still wonder why a 12-4 team like the Colts should travel to the 8-8 Chargers home field for their Wild-Card Round playoff game.

In the this year’s playoffs alone, we’d see two changes in game locations for the Wild-Card Round if the seeding were done by record. Not only would the Colts rightfully be hosting the Chargers, but the 11-5 Falcons would be hosting the 9-7 Cardinals. Just merely making it into the playoffs by virtue of a weak division is a good enough gift. Why also reward all division winners with higher seeds than the teams that posted better regular season records? In reality, teams like the Steelers and Giants can come along and run through every team in the playoffs on the road, but it’s rare. Home field matters — there’s a reason why it’s a huge advantage in the NFL. If a team had earned a better record than another, they should be rewarded with a home game. Simple as that.

Worse Collapse: Denver or Tampa Bay?

I’ve already touched on the crappy situation in which the Broncos left themselves by blowing their lead against the Bills. The Broncos did go on to complete the impressive collapse, getting demolished by the Chargers 52-21, embarrassing themselves (and Doc Brown) in the process. Not to be outdone, the Buccaneers lost their final four games of the season to blow a golden opportunity at the playoffs. So which collapse was worse? Let’s go to the tale of the tape.

The Buccaneers were 9-3 having won in Kansas City and Detroit, and at home against the Vikings and Saints to get a four game winning streak going in November. December was a remarkably different month as Tampa Bay got smashed on Monday night against Carolina, lost at Atlanta, then blew home games to the Chargers and Raiders with a playoff berth firmly in their grasp. Even after losing three in a row and dropping to 9-6, all the Buccaneers had to do was beat the Raiders at home and they would have been in the playoffs! They couldn’t even do that! The Bucs limped to a 9-7 finish.

The Broncos were 8-5 and staring an AFC West title in the face. All they had to do was win once and the Chargers would have been eliminated from contention since San Diego was 4-8. Denver had won three straight road games, impressively beating Atlanta, the Jets, and Cleveland on the road. They had won four out of five and were looking strong. A loss to Carolina, a blown lead against Buffalo at home, and the Broncos were suddenly 8-7 and headed to San Diego for an end-of-the-season spanking. They finished 8-8 and were left on the sidelines to watch the playoffs from home. What a shame.

So which collapse was worse, Denver’s or Tampa Bay’s? Furthermore, should these coaches be ridiculed for the downfalls of their teams or supported for their ability to put their teams in a position to win? I think a combination of both is in line and would argue that the collapses were equally bad.

Those Sneaky, Sneaky, Patriots and Their Kicking Tricks

We may give the Pats some crap for being busted for cheating last year, but I’ll give credit where it’s due: Bill Belichick is one creative coach who knows the rule book pretty well. You might remember a few years ago when the Patriots had Doug Flutie drop-kick an extra point when it appeared as if they were lining up for two. The move caught everyone off guard and it worked. This time the Patriots were trying to ice a 13-0 lead at Buffalo with five minutes left. Instead of trying to throw into a horrible wind in a third and long situation, the Patriots elected to have Matt Cassel drop a punt, Sammy Baugh style. And he uncorked a beauty!

This is just further evidence to dispute Belichick’s claims that he didn’t know he was violating the rules with the videotapes. If there’s any coach who knows the rule book and tries to come up with ways to outsmart people within the guidelines it’s certainly Belichick and the Patriots. Probably serves them right as karma that they didn’t make the playoffs despite their 11-5 record.

Great, Brett Favre Is Already Starting His Typical Game

I understand the significance of injuries in the NFL and how much they can impact the play of athletes as much as anyone. I figured it was why Peyton Manning didn’t do too well his first couple weeks (he was recovering from knee surgery), and why Reggie Bush wasn’t effective after returning from his knee surgery. Sometime the honorable thing for a player to do is hide the fact that he’s injured and just fight through it. On the other hand, it’s nice for fans and the media to know if a player is banged up because it helps us understand differences in their play and judge them properly. So when Brett Favre makes mention of a shoulder injury while he’s in the midst of a 1 touchdown/6 interception slump the last four games, a lot begins to make sense. But if Favre really is hurt, and he’s afraid to get an MRI for fear of what it may reveal, and he’s really stinking up the joint, then is he helping his team by trotting out there each weekend when Kellen Clemens is standing on the sidelines with a fresh arm? I’m not so sure. Even worse, the shoulder has given impetus to the Brett Favre retirement game once again.

“There’s some throws I personally think I can make, but at times I haven’t,” Favre said. “I attribute some of that to age. I think . . . the physical that every player goes through after the last game will shed some light on some things.”

“This very well could be my last game,” Favre said. “I’m aware of that. I’d like to make it a memorable one.”

Great. Here comes another off-season full of questions. Suddenly Brett Favre’s shoulder will become the most important athlete body part since Tom Brady’s foot. Just what we need. ESPN will fawn all over him and his future, and the Jets will be stuck in the same situation as the Packers had been the past few years. I hope Eric Mangini knocks himself out with this one, especially if the team fails to make the playoffs despite starting 8-3.

How Did the Broncos Blow This?

Two weeks ago, the Chargers seemed to be buried and left for dead. The Broncos had produced back-to-back wins improving to 8-5, winning at the Jets and at home against the Chiefs. The Chargers were the inverse — 5-8 following losses to three of the better teams in football, the Steelers, Colts, and Falcons. All Denver had to do was win at Carolina (no easy task) or at home against Buffalo on Sunday to clinch the AFC West and take the Chargers out of the picture. Instead, they blew a 13-0 lead and lost to the Bills. Jay Cutler threw up monster yardage numbers once again, but when it came down to it, he threw the goalline interception to kill the drive like he has done so many times this season. Of course the weak Broncos defense didn’t help matters by folding in the second half, but the Broncos still blew it.

Now we have a showdown on Sunday night next weekend (NBC chose it as the flex game) with the AFC West title on the line. The Broncos are 8-7, Chargers are 7-8. Amazingly enough, after the whole season of close losses and disappointment, the Chargers might actually make it into the playoffs. In fact, with a three game winning streak to their credit, they’ll be the favorites. Furthermore, a second look at the Chargers’ schedule shows that five of the teams to whom they lost have won at least 10 games this year. Even losing at Buffalo and at New Orleans aren’t ugly. And now the ending to the week two battle in Denver blown by Ed Hochuli can be avenged by the Chargers. Perhaps sweet revenge will be paid off. Denver, oh Denver, how ever did you blow this?