Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league.
+ The window to win a Super Bowl is smaller than fans realize. There are teams like the Patriots, Steelers and Peyton Manning-led Colts whose window seems to remain open at all times. But they’re the exception. Thus, the Saints had no choice but to pay Drew Brees what he’s worth. Their championship window remains open because of him so $40 million guaranteed, $60 million guaranteed, $100 million guaranteed – whatever, they had to do it.
+ One head scratchier to come out of this Brees deal is why it took this long to get done. The five-year, $100 million figure that Brees signed for is roughly the same numbers that had been tossed around months ago. So with all the negative press that has surrounded the Saints over these past couple of months, why did Tom Benson and Co. allow this situation to drag on for as long as it did? It’s a moot point now but why the Saints and Brees couldn’t come to an agreement months ago is a tad perplexing. I can’t imagine that the language in this contract was any trickier than any other long-term contract that the Saints have drawn up.
+ That loud noise you heard on Friday morning wasn’t the Brees’ Family celebrating but rather Aaron Rodgers doing back flips while screaming, “Cha-Ching!” Rodgers signed a six-year, $65 million contract back in 2008, which included $20 million guaranteed. Brees received $60 million in guaranteed money so at some point, Ted Thompson and the Packers will need to restructure Rodgers’ deal because the man is now severely underpaid.
+ Need more proof that the NFL had to put a rookie salary structure in place? Brees has completed 3,613 of his 5,479 pass attempts for 40,742 yards and just received $60 million guaranteed as a 33-year-old quarterback. Sam Bradford, before attempting even one pass in the NFL, received $50 million guaranteed after the Rams selected him with the first overall pick in 2010. It was stupid how much money rookies received under the old salary structure.
+ While at his annual golf benefit fundraiser on Friday, Gregg Williams told reporters that he “will coach again” in the NFL. Don’t rule out the possibility that Williams will be coordinating Jeff Fisher’s defense in St. Louis next year. The Rams are going with a defensive coordinator-by-committee approach this season and have yet to fill Williams’ vacant offense at team headquarters. Fisher is severely loyal and if Williams gets the okay from Roger Goodell to begin coaching again, odds have it that he’ll be on the sidelines for St. Louis in 2013.
+ If you’re the Browns, Josh Gordon was worth the risk. Some analysts believe he has first-round talent so why not invest a second-round pick and see if he can’t pair nicely with Greg Little. Outside of Braylon Edwards’ fluke 2007 season, the Browns have lacked a presence at receiver for seemingly forever. If Gordon can make the most of a second chance then Mike Holmgren will be lauded for his risk-taking.
+ Mike Williams will have a hard time latching on to a team after the Seahawks released him on Friday. And even if some team does take a flier on him, it’ll be difficult for him to stick. His 2010 comeback made for a compelling story but he fell off the map last year while catching just 18 passes for 236 yards in 12 games. If Pete Carroll, the man who gave Williams a shot a couple of years ago when the receiver’s career looked to be finished, doesn’t believe he can contribute than who will?
+ Thanks to the trade acquisition of Brandon Marshall and the jettison of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, many people expect the Bears to challenge for a playoff spot in 2012. And hey, why not? They won the division in 2010 and had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not been injured in 2011, the Bears were a shoe-in for one of the two Wild Card spots last year. That said, Mike Tice has his work cut out for himself when it comes to his offensive line. First and foremost he has to pick between an under-performing J’Marcus Webb and an oft-injured Chris Williams at left tackle, and then hope that 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi (who missed 14 games last season) can stay healthy in order to anchor the right side. In the middle, Chris Spencer and Lance Louis were disasters at the guard positions last season and Roberto Garza failed to generate much of a push in the running game. So essentially the hope is that either Webb or Williams emerge as a capable left tackle, Carimi stays healthy and that the interior linemen can’t be any worse than they were a year ago. That’s a lot of hoping.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs into the end zone past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter during their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Atlanta January 15, 2011. REUTERS/Rich Addicks (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
I haven’t done this column in a couple of weeks but after this weekend’s games, I thought it was an appropriate time to bring it back.
So here’s the latest installment of “I’m just saying…,” NFL Divisional Round-style.
– Colts fans after Nick Folk missed that chip shot field goal in the first quarter of the Jets-Patriots game on Sunday: “Oh come on!”
– After the Packers-Falcons game, I took a quick look at the stats sheet and saw that Aaron Rodgers was 31-of-36 passing for 366 yards and accounted for four touchdowns. My first reaction was: He had five incompletions?!
– Hey, when your team is up 25 points late in the third quarter and all you need to do is run some clock, why wouldn’t you call a halfback pass with Matt Forte and risk turning the ball over? You keep doing your thing, Mike Martz.
– Rex Ryan just beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history) in back-to-back weeks using two different game plans. Say what you want about his mouth, but the guy knows defense.
– If I’m a team that needs a defensive coordinator, I’m on the phone right now with Rob Ryan. I want that gene pool designing my defenses.
– Most defenders would sacrifice one of their limbs to have a free shot at Jay Cutler when he’s running with the ball towards the end zone. But instead of delivering a punishing blow, Seattle safety Earl Thomas tried to bring the quarterback down by osmosis on Cutler’s touchdown run in the second quarter on Sunday. Somewhere, Ndamukong Suh is weeping.
– Matt Ryan after the game on why he threw the sideline pass that Tramon Williams intercepted and returned for a touchdown instead of throwing the ball away: “Well, I thought if Williams was anything like our corners, he would be playing 10 yards off the ball and I’d be able to pick up an easy seven yards.”
– I know where I’ve seen Bears’ O-lineman Frank Omiyale before: he doubles as a turnstile at Halas Hall during the weekdays.
Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler celebrates after his touchdown pass to teammate Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter of play against the Seattle Seahawks during their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Frank Polich (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Here are five thoughts on the Bears’ impressive 35-24 victory over the Seahawks in the Divisional Round on Sunday.
1. What inexperience?
Jay Cutler did Sunday what Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan couldn’t this weekend: Elevate his game when it mattered most. For all the talk about his lack of postseason experience, Cutler played like a 10-year playoff veteran on Sunday. He set the tone early with a picture-perfect 58-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen on the Bears’ third offensive play from scrimmage and then showed pure grit and determination on his 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On the day, he was 15-of-28 passing for 274 yards with four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and zero interceptions (although he came close to throwing a couple of picks, including one at the goal line). Cutler has really put a lot of his past troubles behind him and deserves praise for his unflappable play on Sunday. He was highly impressive.
2. Cutler also got a lot of help from his offensive line.
The Bears’ O-line has taken a lot of heat for its play over the last couple of years, and deservedly so. But they’ve been a transformed unit since midway through the season and a lot of credit goes to Mike Tice and Lovie Smith for moving guys around to better match their strengths (and quite frankly, hide their weaknesses, too). Cutler was excellent but he also had plenty of time to survey the field and pick apart Seattle’s overmatched secondary. His front five did an outstanding job swallowing the Seahawks’ pass-rushers and keeping them out of the backfield.
3. That’s Bear defense right there.
The final score doesn’t do the Bears justice. Their defense played out of its mind for three quarters and that’s about as aggressive as I’ve seen Chicago’s secondary play all season. Unlike other teams who like to play their corners 10 yards off the ball and give opponents easy yards via slants and screens, the Bears’ DBs suffocated Seattle’s wideouts all afternoon. Granted, nobody outside of Brandon Stokley fought back, but credit still goes to the Bears’ corners for bringing the fight to them right from the start. Once again, Julius Peppers failed to record a sack but he got pressure on Hasselbeck all day. You have to focus on him to really appreciate what he does for that defense. He helped paved the way for fellow linemen like Tommie Harris, who did rack up two sacks. Without a doubt, J-Pepp was worth the money the Bears spent this offseason.
The top guys we chose on offense and defense should run away with these awards, but stranger things have happened.
Offensive rookie of the year power rankings
1. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams—Almost led the Rams to a playoff berth, but either way had a great rookie year—3512 yards, 18 TDs, with 15 picks.
2. Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots—Along with their QB, these two guys are probably the biggest reason the Patriots are 14-2. Check out these combined numbers – 87 catches, 1109 yards, 16 touchdowns. For two rookies!
3. Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Bucs—Finished with 11 touchdowns and was a big reason the Bucs became relevant again this season.
4. Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns—Can someone explain to me how this guy fell to the second half of the third round of last April’s draft?
5. Christopher Ivory, New Orleans Saints—In just 12 games, had 716 yards and 5 scores
Defensive rookie of the year power rankings
1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions—Led all DTs with 10 sacks, but more importantly, earned the respect of everyone and had O-coordinators having to game plan against him.
2. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots—Finished with 7 picks and 82 total tackles.
3. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs—With Cassel, Charles and Bowe, the Chiefs now have a game-changer on defense too.
4. Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns—65 tackles and 6 picks on a team that is going to be really good in a year or two.
5. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants—Everyone wondered what the Giants would do with another defensive end, but this kid exceeded everyone’s expectations.
New Orleans Saints Drew Brees passes over the middle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during third quarter of their NFL football game in New Orleans, Louisiana January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Here are three quick-hit observations on the Bucs’ shocking 23-13 win over the Saints.
1. The Saints have issues heading into the playoffs.
After knocking off the Falcons less than seven nights ago, everyone was talking about how nobody wants to face the Saints in the postseason. But after the crap-show they put on Sunday in New Orleans, why should any team be worried about New Orleans? Drew Brees threw an inception in his 12th-straight game. Thomas Julius Jones fumbled at the goal line, which cost the Saints six points. For the second consecutive game, Sean Payton couldn’t get his offense moving. What’s going on here? The Saints are dangerous, period. But because of injuries and inconsistent play, they haven’t be dominant all season and it makes you wonder if they have what it takes to make another run to the Super Bowl.
2. The Bucs prove they can hang with the big boys.
Entering this game, the Bucs didn’t have a win against a team with a winning record. That didn’t mean they weren’t good or that they were lucky to still be in the playoff picture, but they lacked a signature win. Not anymore. For the second year in a row, Tampa went into New Orleans and beat the Saints. That’s remarkable considering the Saints won the Super Bowl last year. Raheem Morris has his young team believing that it can beat anyone and it proved on Sunday that it can. Josh Freeman continues to be special. Mike Williams is a great young playmaker. The defense is starting to take shape under Morris’ guidance. Regardless of whether or not they earn a trip to the postseason, things are starting to take shape in Tampa.
3. Why didn’t Payton remove his starters earlier?
I love Payton’s desire to win but he has to be smarter. The Falcons were obviously in control against Carolina up 31-3 midway through the third quarter and with nothing on the line in terms of playoff seeding for the Saints, Payton should have pulled his starters earlier. Malcolm Jenkins, Jimmy Graham, Chris Ivory and Alex Brown were all hurt in the first half. Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Jeremy Shockey and Anthony Hargrove were all inactive before the game. The Saints should beat whichever NFC West team wins on Sunday night in the first round of the playoffs next weekend, but they can’t be shorthanded for the Divisional Round. Payton is fortunate that Brees or another starter wasn’t hurt after he exposed his starters to injury longer than he had to.