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Ten Observations from Week 13 in the NFL

1. Quinn’s words on Belcher were inspirational.
I can’t imagine the pain that Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli, and the entire Kansas City Chiefs organization is going through right now. And it’s fruitless to talk about whether or not the game should have been played because the moment that Jovan Belcher took two lives (his own and the life of his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins), the only people that could answer that question was Crennel and his players. And as I sat in my office trying to gather my thoughts on what transpired over the weekend, Brady Quinn flashed across my TV screen and managed to put many things into perspective: “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently,” Quinn said following the Chiefs’ emotional 27-21 victory over the Panthers. “When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the side than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis. The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people.” It’s unlikely that Belcher would have changed his course had he received more warmth and attention from those around him. Sometimes the demons that we battle are too strong for outside forces. But in a society dominated by cynicism, disconnect, and snark, we could all stand to be more genuine with the people we come in contact with. As Quinn stated, let’s not lose focus on the relationships that are right in front of us.

2. The 49ers were out-coached.
It was only a matter of time before Colin Kaepernick played like a second-year quarterback with fewer than five starts under his belt. In the 49ers’ 16-13 overtime loss to St. Louis, Kaepernick took a safety, foolishly ran out of bounds when his team was attempting to drain the clock late in the fourth quarter, and botched a pitch to receiver Ted Ginn Jr. with 3:04 remaining in the game and the Niners up by a 10-2 score. (The result of the play was disastrous for San Francisco, which watched Janoris Jenkins score his third touchdown in two weeks and turn the entire game on its head.) But second-year quarterbacks are expected to be both brilliant and maddening. Despite the miscues, Kaepernick was poised in the pocket, accurate with his throws, and flashed his mobility on a 50-yard run that nearly put the Niners up for good following Jenkins’ touchdown. The biggest issue for the 49ers wasn’t Kaepernick, but Jim Harbaugh. It was an arrogant play-call to have his first-year starter run a toss sweep with his back to the goal line. The Rams offense did nothing against San Francisco’s stout defense the entire day, but St. Louis turned two massive mistakes into 10 points and eventually won because of Harbaugh’s gamble. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Eugene Sims, William Hayes and the entire Rams defense was also seemingly inside San Francisco’s offensive huddle the entire day. Outside of their lone touchdown drive, Harbaugh’s offense did nothing against a St. Louis defense that had an answer for everything the Niners were doing. In a game they dominated for 57 minutes, San Fran somehow found a way to lose. While Kaepernick certainly shares in the blame, this loss falls on Harbaugh, who has now been out-coached by Jeff Fisher on two separate occasions this season.

3. Luck was good when it mattered.
The media is trying its best to put Andrew Luck in the Hall of Fame following the Colts’ stunning 35-33 come-from-behind victory in Detroit on Sunday. And if you were to only look at his final stat line (391 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs), one could surmise that he had another brilliant performance. But the fact is he was brutal through three quarters while misfiring passes to open receivers and perhaps turning in his worst performance of his outstanding rookie campaign. That said, he was good when it mattered, as he caught fire in the fourth quarter. Down 33-21 with eight minutes remaining, he connected on a 42-yard strike to LaVon Brazill to get Indy within striking distance, and then capped off a game-winning touchdown drive by finding Donnie Avery on a 14-yard dump pass as time expired. Luck now has six 300-yard passing efforts in 12 games and he’s starting to grow a reputation as a clutch performer. Granted, if the Lions weren’t devilishly preoccupied with torturing a fan base that has absorbed more beatings than a toilet seat, the Colts would have lost on Sunday. Instead, thanks in large part to Luck, they’ve become one of the most must-watch teams of 2012.

4. The Falcons defense is underrated.
As Matt Ryan and the offense took most of the night off, the Falcons defense put on a show Thursday night in a 23-13 victory over the Saints. Atlanta hired Mike Nolan this past offseason in hopes that he would install a scheme that would beat pass-happy teams like New Orleans. And while the Falcons rank 26th overall in pass defense, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In two meetings with the Saints this season, Atlanta has intercepted Drew Brees a total of six times. They also picked off Peyton Manning three times in one quarter in a Week 2 victory over the Broncos, held Philip Rivers to 173 passing yards on 38 attempts in Week 3, and kept a red-hot Josh Freeman out of the end zone in Week 12. Atlanta’s run defense remains a work in progress and somebody other than John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux need to boost the pass rush. But Nolan has confused some of the best minds in football by varying his looks and disguising his coverages, as well as playing to the strengths of ball-hawking safeties William Moore and Thomas Decoud (who have combined for nine interceptions this year). He’s also getting the most out of multi-faceted players like Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann, and Stephen Nicholas, who have lined up all over the field this season. The numbers don’t support the notion that this unit is dominant, but the defense has been the most underrated aspect of the 11-1 Falcons thus far.

5. Flacco isn’t doing himself any favors.
Not to bury the headline in Baltimore (which was soon-to-be 38-year-old Charlie Batch leading the Steelers to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Ravens), but Joe Flacco is playing his way out of a huge payday at the end of the season. Flacco becomes a free agent next offseason and if he continues to put together efforts like the one he did on Sunday, the Ravens are going to have plenty of leverage come contract time. The fifth-year quarterback completed just 16-of-34 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble and was out-dueled by Batch, who completed 25-of-36 passes for 276 yards with one TD and one INT of his own. The pick that Flacco threw was mind-numbingly bad, as he tossed a pass into the waiting arms of Ryan Clark while trying to throw the ball out of bounds. The fumble also came following an Ed Reed interception in the end zone, and set the Steelers up for a game-tying touchdown with just over seven minutes to play in the game. Much like his entire career, Flacco has been widely inconsistent this season. And while fellow 2008 first-round pick Matt Ryan is having an MVP-like year, Flacco continues to leave doubt on whether or not he can get Baltimore over the hump. Granted, the Ravens are still likely to pay Flacco rather than starting from scratch. But with every turnover and poor performance, Flacco is costing himself next offseason.

6. Despite the win, the Packers remain in flux.
The Packers may have earned their eighth victory of the season by beating the Vikings 23-14 in Green Bay, but Mike McCarthy’s team can’t catch a break. Outside of a four-game stretch when they scored 42, 30, 24 and 31 points from Weeks 6 through 9, the Packers offense can’t establish any kind of a rhythm. The blame falls equally on a porous offensive line and injuries, which have sidelined Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson and Jordy Nelson for part or most of the season. Nelson was forced from Sunday’s win in the first quarter after he suffered a hamstring injury, and if he’s out for an extended period of time Green Bay may never find consistency offensively. Rodgers remains one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL but there’s only so much he can do with shoddy pass protection and a depleted stable of weapons. This isn’t the same Packer offense that burned defenses the past three seasons. Not even close, in fact.

7. Russell Wilson was brilliant in Chicago.
It’s not often the Bears lose a game in which Brandon Marshall catches 10 passes for 165 yards and Jay Cutler throws for over 9.0 yards per attempt. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday as the Seahawks stunned a Solider Field crowd that watched its usually stout defense unexpectedly wilt to Russell Wilson. The rookie signal caller completed 23-of-37 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for 71 yards on nine scrambles. He engineered a 97-yard touchdown drive that should have been the game-defining moment but his defense inexplicably allowed Marshall to snag a 56-yard pass to set the Bears up for a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Wilson was brilliant on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off by his 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice (who took a shot while crossing the end zone). Throughout the day, Wilson flashed his athleticism and arm strength, and not once did he seem intimidated by Chicago’s defense. The Seahawks did a nice job rolling the pocket for their rookie QB, which allowed for open throwing lanes down the field. Perhaps what was most remarkable was the fact that Seattle didn’t shy away from Charles Tillman, who was repeatedly burned throughout the day. Toss in some shoddy tackling by Major Wright and the Seahawks were able to pick up their second road victory of the season.

8. It might be time for the Bolts to completely clean house.
That final drive by the Chargers in their 20-13 loss to the Bengals was a microcosm of their entire season. Trailing 20-13 with just over two minutes to play, Philip Rivers drove San Diego down to Cincinnati’s 17-yard line and instead of testing the middle of the field with two timeouts, Rivers threw three passes that had only a small pray of being completed. Then on fourth down he whipped a pass to Bengals’ safety Reggie Nelson for a fitting, last-second turnover to cap San Diego’s loss. Even if Nelson didn’t intercept the pass, there was no way that Malcolm Floyd had a chance to catch it because his back was essentially turned. It was a brutal display of football and it has to be asked: Should Rivers follow Norv Turner and A.J. Smith out the door this offseason? It’s incredibly difficult to find quality starting quarterbacks in the NFL and Rivers has proven that he can win when he has a strong cast around him (which Smith has slowly depleted over the years). But it’s fair to wonder whether Rivers has met his ceiling in San Diego and if a mutual parting wouldn’t be beneficial to both parties.

9. The Bengals are winning with balance.
A month ago the Bengals were left for dead and now they’re one of the hottest teams in the NFL. That’s thanks in large part to their offense, which has finally found balance late in the season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn’t rush for 100 yards once in the first 10 games of the season, but he’s now rattled off three straight 100-plus yard efforts the past three weeks. In turn he’s made Andy Dalton and the passing game more potent, as defenses now have to worry about committing extra defenders to the run. Cincinnati’s defense has also risen to the challenge of late, yielding just 13, 6, 10, and 13 points in four consecutive victories. Of course, now the hard part comes. After feasting on the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers these past three weeks, the Bengals will host the Cowboys next Sunday before traveling to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and then back home to host the Ravens in Week 17. Until it proves it can beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Cincinnati will remain a Super Bowl pretender. But thanks to a newfound running game and a red-hot defense, the Bengals aren’t likely to fall out of the playoff mix over the last month of the season.

10. Quick-Hits.
Rex Ryan declined to name his Week 14 starting quarterback following the Jets’ 7-6 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday but it’s a joke if Greg McElroy doesn’t start the final four games. That’s not to suggest that McElroy is the team’s future by one thing’s for sure: Mark Sanchez isn’t either…It’ll be interesting to see where Michael Vick winds up next season. Andy Reid is rolling with Nick Foles the rest of the year and if the rookie plays well, he may convince the Eagles’ next coach that he can be the starter. If that’s the case, Vick will be looking for work and it’ll be interesting to see if teams view him as a backup or a starter next offseason…Dez Bryant (6 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs) once again proved on Sunday night that he’s not lacking for talent. But has he finally matured or is he only teasing Cowboy fans?…If Bryce Brown learns how to hold onto the football he could be one hell of a player…Too bad Mike Holmgren won’t see the fruits of his labor in Cleveland. That Browns team isn’t without talent, especially on offense where Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon have put together solid seasons…I would pay to watch Peyton Manning play Andrew Luck in the wild card round. What a storyline-driven matchup that would be…Heath Miller continues to be one of the steadiest tight ends in the league. Another five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s win, and he was often Charlie Batch’s savior on third down.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Are the Falcons interested in Tony Gonzalez?

According to the National Football Post, the Falcons are interested in trading for Chiefs’ tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Lombardi reports that the Falcons may be willing to give up their second round draft pick (#55 overall) in order to obtain the services of Gonzalez.

The move makes sense as Justin Peelle, the Falcons top tight end target from 2008, caught only 15 passes for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns in 16 games last season.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez is coming off another Pro Bowl season in which he hauled in 96 receptions for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns.

More on this story as it develops.

If you’re looking for a connection, Atlanta’s GM is Thomas Dimitroff, who used to be the Director of College Scouting for the Patriots under former New England general manager and now current Kansas City GM Scott Pioli.

But even with that connection, this rumor is still a little far-fetched. None of the major media outlets have had anything to say about a possible trade and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that so far, there’s ‘nothing concrete about the rumor.’

Yes, the Falcons do want to give a pass-catching tight end to quarterback Matt Ryan. But to give up a second round pick for Gonzo is a steep price when you consider how many holes Atlanta has on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons haven’t been major players in free agency this offseason, instead choosing to wait for the draft to fill their needs. It’s unlikely that Dimitroff would give up his second round pick when there are pressing holes at linebacker, defensive tackle, safety and defensive end. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a good trade, it’s just seems a little unrealistic at this point.

Chiefs switching to 3-4 – is it a mistake?

Derrick JohnsonUnder new defensive coaches Gary Gibbs and Clancy Pendergast, the Chiefs are planning to move to a 3-4 defense, which is a scheme new GM Scott Pioli is used to coming over from New England.

But considering the Chiefs’ personnel on defense, is the move wise?

Kansas City’s best linebacker is Derrick Johnson, who operates best in space and when given the opportunity to run around and make plays. In a 3-4, he’s more likely to stay put and allow the action to come to him, which may or may not be something he can excel at.

The Chiefs also drafted defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey with their first round pick last year and it’s uncertain at this point how he fits into a 3-4 front. He’s probably not big enough to play nose in a 3-4 and lacks ideal size to be an end in the scheme as well. At LSU, he excelled as a three-technique pass rusher and someone that is better when he reads and reacts. By implementing a 3-4 scheme, KC is really playing away from Dorsey’s strengths.

There is no arguing that the 3-4 can be an effective scheme. Baltimore, New England and Pittsburgh have been running the front for years and have been incredibly successful in doing so, but they also have the personnel to pull it off. Granted, Pioli has an entire offseason to get players that fit his scheme, but it’s unclear at this point how some of the better KC defenders will fit in.

Offseason Blueprint: Kansas City Chiefs

Notable Free Agents: Jason Babin, DE; Rocky Boiman, LB; Oliver Celestin, FS.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $33,000,000

Draft Order: 3

Top Needs: The Chiefs have a variety of holes to fill this offseason, from the interior of their offensive line, to linebacker to safety and No. 2 wide receiver.

Offseason Outlook: Despite the lack of overall roster talent, the Chiefs aren’t a bad situation to walk into for new GM Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley. The team has plenty of cap space, a high draft pick and not one marquee free agent to re-sign. Pioli is essentially working with a clean slate to begin his era in Kansas City.

That said, there are some underlining issues on the horizon. Tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Larry Johnson, two players who will be counted on to spark the revival in Kansas City, have both expressed a desire to be traded this offseason. Gonzalez has wavered a bit in his demands, but it’s clear that LJ wants out of KC and maybe Pioli will grant his wish as long as the Chiefs can land proper compensation for the star back.

Another area Pioli might address is at quarterback, where incumbent Tyler Thigpen played well enough in the second half of the season to merit a crack at the starting spot, but probably isn’t the long-term answer. Considering Pioli is coming over from New England, he could look into what it would take to acquire Matt Cassel. Don’t count on it though. KC has the No. 3 overall pick and certainly won’t part with that high of a pick for Cassel, especially when you consider he might have been a product of the Patriots’ outstanding offensive system. Don’t be surprised if Thigpen is the Chiefs’ starter under center again next year.


Read the rest after the jump...

Chiefs receive permission to interview Cardinals’ Todd Haley

The Chiefs are set to interview Cardinals’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley for their vacant head coaching position after receiving permission from Arizona on Tuesday.

Todd HaleyThe Chiefs, including new general manager Scott Pioli, received permission Tuesday to interview Haley, the Kansas City Star reports.

There is history between Pioli and Haley; they worked together from 1997-99 with the New York Jets, Pioli as the director of pro personnel and Haley as an assistant coach.

Haley, 42, led the Cardinals, one of the league’s highest-scoring offensive teams, to their first Super Bowl appearance this year. Haley had said publicly he would not speak to any other teams prior to the title game.

The newspaper reports the Chiefs plan to announce a new head coach later this week.

Haley would be a sound hire, but not because he would make the Chiefs into an offensive juggernaut like some might think. (The Chiefs would need talent like the Cardinals have in order to do that.)

No, Haley is a real ball-buster and as he proved with Anquan Boldin during the NFC Championship Game, he’s not going to take any crap from players. Not that the Chiefs have a history of malcontents and troublemakers (Herman Edwards wouldn’t have allowed that), but they do lack direction and maybe Pioli and Haley could make a formidable duo and resurrect the sinking ship that is Kansas City.

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