Seven Points With Charlie Bernstein
In this spectacular edition of Seven Points, we discuss the boring greatness which is the Packers, the likelihood of Raheem Morris keeping his job, Chicago's troubles, a major coaching mistake, Tim Tebow in the playoffs, the Texans defense and much, much more.
First Place Broncos
Perhaps you'd like to give Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow credit for the team's five-game winning streak? Maybe you acknowledge the Denver defense. You can even give acclaim to head coach John Fox for devising an entirely new system halfway through the season. It doesn't matter which element of the Broncos you support or don't support, Denver has a share of first place in the AFC West with a 7-5 record.
After beginning the season with a 1-4 record, Denver has won five consecutive games and six of seven since inserting Tim Tebow into the starting lineup. With the Broncos 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings combined with Miami's 34-14 win over Oakland, Denver is in first thanks to a tiebreak advantage over the Raiders.
"I wasn't pleased at what we saw the first five weeks of the season, but I saw glimpses of what could be," Broncos coach John Fox said. "We made some adjustments and got to know our team better and they got to know us better and we've been fortunate to get on a run and a lot of these games are won in the fourth quarter."
Although Sunday's win required the usual Tebow comeback, it was unlike the team's other six victories. The questions of whether a Tebow-led Broncos team could win in a shootout were answered for at least a week, as Denver found themselves trailing for much of the game and Tim Tebow brought his team back with his arm. Tebow completed 10 of 15 throws for 202 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. His 149.3 quarterback rating was the highest of his career.
"I had a lot of help today," Tebow said. "The offensive line did a great job and the receivers stepped up and they made me look a lot better today."
During the Broncos five-game winning streak, the Denver defense has forced eight turnovers including three defensive touchdowns. Again on Sunday the Broncos defense came up big as cornerback Andre Goodman picked off Vikings rookie Christian Ponder with 1:33 remaining to set up the winning field goal.
The Broncos are one of the hottest teams in football, but Denver fans should be cautioned before purchasing those Super Bowl tickets. The combined record of the teams the Tebow-led Broncos have defeated is 29-42 (.408 winning percentage). The Chiefs, Vikings, Chargers and Dolphins will not be on the playoff schedule, but it's possible that the Broncos will win their division without having to defeat another legitimate team. Next up for the Broncos are the Caleb Hanie-led Chicago Bears, followed by the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. Taking into consideration a likely loss to New England, it's very possible that Denver can finish with 10 victories and that should be enough to win the AFC West.
Morris Losing the Team?
WIth Sunday's 38-19 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dropped their sixth-consecutive game to fall to 4-8 on the season. After being tied for first place in the NFC South after beating New Orleans on October 16th, the Bucs are currently tied with the Panthers for last place in the division.
During the losing streak Tampa Bay has only been competitive twice, and the young team seems to be unraveling from the head coach on down. During Sunday's loss, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris sent defensive tackle Brian Price to the locker room after picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"Yes, I sent him to the locker room,'' Morris explained. "I told him go home. F---. Yeah. Because it's foolish, it's selfish to your teammates, to everybody in your organization, to your fans. That's terrible. That's just selfish behavior to get a 15-yard penalty, in that situation, when that's all we talk about, when that's all we discuss. You just can't do that to your team.
"When you give up a penalty, after a third-and-15, those are things that are not smart, not fair to anybody on the football team. Not fair to anybody that's coaching that football team. Those things are unacceptable.''
Most teams resemble their leadership and Morris seems to lack an even-keeled approach. With a young team that needs guidance, finding excuses and calling out players doesn't seem like the best example to set.
"You know, they're not listening,'' Morris said. "They've got to listen and we've got to do a better job of coaching. That's all.''
Even when Morris takes responsibility by saying that they need to do a better job of coaching he prefaces it with the statement that "they're not listening"- absolving himself from part of the blame.
The Bucs organization has a decision to make on Raheem Morris. With one year left on his deal, do they want to let him coach out 2012 being a "lame duck"? The last time that occurred was in 2010 with John Fox and the Carolina Panthers. The result was a 2-14 record. He and his staff certainly haven't been worthy of extensions and with the potential of lame-duck status and the team's free-fall, the odds of Morris being back in 2012 appear to slimmer with each loss.
Bad News Bears
Nobody knows better than the Chicago Bears that there are plenty of ups and downs in an NFL season. After a 2-3 start to the year Chicago bounced back to reel off five consecutive victories. In their fifth and final victory during the streak, quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury that required surgery and it's uncertain whether he will be back this season.
Despite showing public confidence in backup Caleb Hanie, the Bears coaching staff has to be legitimately concerned as Hanie is now 0-2 with losses to the Oakland Raiders and most recently the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Chicago's 10-3 to Kansas City, Hanie completed just 10 of 24 throws for 133 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Bears quarterback has been picked off six times in the past two weeks.
"I expect to bounce back from this game," Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie said. "I'll do whatever it takes this week to fix all the issues I can fix and help out any way I can."
Just when you think things couldn't get any worse for the Bears, they did on Sunday as running back Matt Forte went down in the first quarter with a knee injury. Forte is believed to have a sprained MCL which could sideline him anywhere from two weeks up to the rest of the regular season.
"Matt's (Forte) a huge part of the offense," Hanie said. "It's always a tough thing to lose a guy like that but the other guys played well."
At 7-5, Chicago is still in prime position to earn a Wild Card spot but their schedule is full of challenges. The Bears will travel to Denver next week, then return home to play Seattle, followed by trips to Green Bay and Minnesota to finish the season. Without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, none of the remaining games can be penciled in as sure-fire victories considering Chicago just scored three points at home in a loss to Kansas City.
Texans Keep Rolling
If you asked most people in the Texans organization who the three players were that the team could least afford to lose they'd probably answer Matt Schaub, Mario Williams and Andre Johnson. Schaub and Williams have gone down for the season and Andre Johnson has missed more than half the year and could be absent for more time as he hurt his hamstring on Sunday.
Despite suffering huge injuries to key personnel, the Texans have the best record in the AFC at 9-3.
"Every game somebody has gone down and somebody steps up," quarterback T.J. Yates said following the Texans 17-10 victory over Atlanta. "That's what this team does."
With undrafted rookie quarterback T.J. Yates starting his first game as a pro, Houston never trailed against an Atlanta team that's fighting for a playoff spot. Yates completed 12 of 25 throws for 188 yards with one touchdown and most importantly no interceptions in the victory. Yates leaned on the running game and defense, and Houston defeated a very good Falcons team in the process.
"As a defense we feel like if the offense gives us 7 pts they gave us enough to go win the game," Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
Although it will likely take more than seven points per game to win on a weekly basis, the Texans defense is simply getting the job done. Houston has the top-ranked defense in football and has averaged less than 11 points per game in the team's six-game winning streak.
"Giving up 10 points to the Atlanta Falcons...I think we did a pretty good job," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing who left the game with a knee injury said.
At 9-3, Houston is rolling toward the AFC South crown and although it seems as if their season should have been derailed by various injuries to stars, the Texans keep winning week after week. Next up is a trip to Cincinnati to play the 7-5 Bengals. If Houston can win that game coupled with a Titans loss, the Texans will clinch their first division title.
These Packers aren't the Patriots
The Green Bay Packers are good, really good. Their 12-0 record can tell you that. They're also somewhat boring. They win every week, but they don't illicit the type of reaction that the 2007 Patriots did.
Week after week they beat any and all opponents, sometimes by blowout, some by last-second field goals, but the important part is that they win. And they're not looking forward.
"12-0, we are excited. Next week will be even tougher," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said following the team's last-second 38-35 victory over the New York Giants.
Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback since, well...Tom Brady in 2007. The difference is that nobody hates Rodgers, or his coach Mike McCarthy. Rodgers could be the most talented guy to ever suit up as there are simply no holes in his game. He has a great arm, he's as mobile as any quarterback, shows precision accuracy and is brash.
"I'm running out of things to say about him," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about his quarterback.
When asked about the team's perfect start and a perfect season, Rodgers refuses to acquiesce.
"We're taking one goal at a time," Rodgers explained. "I'm not talking about16-0."
The 2007 Patriots had personality, although their head coach exhibits anything but that. The world hated New England due to "Spygate", and they relished in the hate, doing their best to blow opponents out and embarrass them on a weekly basis.
"Yeah, man. I was angry as hell," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said about the treatment New England received from the media in the book War Room. "It was a lot of things. First, it had become open season, kind of an onslaught, on Bill Belichick. Then I felt anger that the media or our fans would think that any type of videotaping we did would help us win a football game.
"But the whole situation made me want to beat everyone by more than we did. I wanted to indirectly respond to the Spygate criticism. I wanted to say, ?All right, look at the players that we have and what we're able to do. We'll beat your team by fifty, forty, thirty, or whatever it takes. We'll still win. That's how good we are.' I used it as motivation."
Outside of their NFC North blood-rivals and possibly Mercury Morris, nobody seems to hate the Green Bay Packers. We all know Aaron Rodgers is great but he doesn't have a supermodel girlfriend (that we know about) and he doesn't have obnoxious long hair. Greg Jennings doesn't have the attitude of a Randy Moss and the team's lone potential criminal, linebacker Erik Walden isn't well-known enough to be a hated domestic abuser, as he's alleged to be.
The New York Yankees are great for baseball because they are the most loved and hated team in their sport. Whether you're a fan of theirs or not, they bring forth an emotion. The Green Bay Packers simply don't do that. Throughout the 2007 season, most NFL fans second-favorite team was whoever was playing the Patriots. This year, most fans second-favorite team is the Packers. Aside from the Miami Dolphins fans living in the past, few people really don't want to see Green Bay go 16-0.
I'll be pulling for the Packers to go 19-0 and make history, although I don't believe it will happen. Greedily, I'd like to say that I covered the NFL when the greatest team in the history of the game had it's historic season. Even more so, I just want to see Mercury Morris shut up.
Clearly the Dallas Cowboys have been watching game tape of the San Diego Chargers because on Sunday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett emulated the great Norv Turner.
In a tied game at 13, Dallas took over on their own 32-yard line with 2:54 remaining in regulation. In seven plays, quarterback Tony Romo drove the Cowboys into Arizona territory and Dallas had the ball at the Cardinals 31-yard line with 31 seconds remaining. Armed with one timeout, Jason Garrett decided to "call off the dogs" and let the clock run down until seven seconds were remaining when Romo spiked the football to kill the clock.
?We very well could have taken a timeout there,? Garrett told ESPNDallas.com following the game. ?We felt like we were in field-goal range. We have yard lines that we use as guidelines before the game. We felt like we were in range at that point."
Although kicker Dan Bailey has been very good this season, a 48-yard attempt is far from a gimme. As tough as a 48 or 49-yard kick is, Jason Garrett knows that it would be much easier than one from farther away.
?You see so many situations where you have negative plays in those situations," Garrett explained. "We felt like we were in his range to give him a chance to kick the game-winner.?
Perhaps Jason Garrett isn't aware that the vast majority of offensive plays go for positive yardage, not negative? I mean the Cowboys did go nearly 40 yards forward already on the possession.
The kick obviously failed and the Cowboys ended up losing. If a different result occurred, there would be no reason to write this piece.
Jason Garrett is a graduate of Princeton and it's likely that he is smarter than the majority of the football world. His employer, Jerry Jones, a graduate of Arkansas might have made a few different decisions near the end of regulation.
?We had an alternative," Jones explained. "We could have run two, possibly three more plays there, but we have a lot of confidence in that kicker. It didn?t work. We all would have liked to have had 20 more yards. But that?s really speculating as to what we?d have done with the ball."
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in this situation Jason Garrett was coaching scared....again. If you recall, earlier in the season Garrett decided to sit on the football with a three-point lead against the New England Patriots instead of giving his Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo an opportunity to win the game.
Either Garrett doesn't trust Romo or he's the most conservative guy in the world. Either way, playing not to lose often gets you beat.
Who's Hot, Who's Not
The Green Bay Packers have won 18 consecutive games, the longest winning streak since the New England Patriots won 21 straight from 2003-2004. Some non-historic, but still impressive streaks include the Texans who have won six straight, the Broncos, winners of five consecutive, and the current Patriots and Saints, both winners of four straight games.
On the not-so-fun side of the coin we find the Indianapolis Colts, who have turned losing into an art-form, dropping all 12 of their games they've played this year. Other sinking ships include the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both losers of six straight, the Buffalo Bills who have dropped five in a row, and the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings who have lost four consecutive games.
All He Does is Win Award
This week's Tim Tebow memorial "All He Does is Win Award" goes to none other than New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez who secured his 30th victory as a starting quarterback on Sunday with the team's 34-19 victory over the Washington Redskins. At times Sanchez has made coach Rex Ryan and Jets fans want to pull their hair out, but the guy simply gets the job done at the end of games and his teammates believe in him.
Down 16-13 with less than five minutes remaining, Sanchez drove the Jets down the field and delivered a perfectly thrown ball to wide receiver Santonio Holmes for a 30-yard touchdown.
"It was a double move," Sanchez explained. "We had called some shorter routes, and thought it was a good opportunity to get a double move on them. I had plenty of time to throw it."
Honorable mention goes to Texans undrafted rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who has won the only two NFL games he's played in.
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has come under fire at times this season for not giving the ball to running back Ray Rice enough. The fourth-year back from Rutgers has had three games this season with nine carries or less.
On Sunday, Rice got plenty of work as he carried the ball 29 times for 204 yards and a touchdown.
"I've got to give the credit to my offensive line, the guys who block for me....I get all the glory because I got all the yards but it was the offensive line, Joe (Flacco), the receivers down the field blocking for me, that's how big plays happen," Rice said about his huge day.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski continues his assault on all receiving records at his position as he snagged a pair of touchdowns from Tom Brady, and ran another one in during Sunday's 31-24 victory over the Colts. "Gronk" has tied a tight end record with 13 touchdown receptions and will have four games remaining to break it.
Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had a breakout game as he caught four passes for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Denver's 35-32 win over Minnesota. The 144 yards receiving was a career high and the pair of touchdowns matched his total from 2010.
Having a sideline view of Demaryius Thomas' career afternoon was Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and wide receiver Percy Harvin. Ponder completed 29 of 41 throws for 381 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Although Ponder's second pick proved to be a killer for Minnesota, the rookie quarterback was very solid throughout.
What inflated Ponder's numbers was the elusive ability of Percy Harvin. Harvin caught eight passes for 156 yards with a pair of touchdowns and he's beginning to look like the number one wide receiver he was drafted to be.
Clinching Ain't Easy
With their 38-35 victory over the New York Giants coupled with New Orleans 31-17 win over the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers have clinched the NFC North title with their 12-0 record. The next "goal" for the team will be securing home field advantage as they have a two-game lead over the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers.
Speaking of the 49ers, they secured the NFC West title with their 26-0 victory over the St. Louis Rams. San Francisco is still in play for the top seed, but more likely will be a first-round bye, as they hold a one game lead over the 9-3 New Orleans Saints.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie