Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 16 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looks at the scoreboard after throwing an interception against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter during their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– There aren’t many quarterbacks I wouldn’t take over Mark Sanchez right now. I would take Matt Moore over Sanchez. I’d take Rex Grossman over Sanchez, too. Hell, I’d even take Christian Ponder over Sanchez and I wasn‘t high on Ponder coming out of Florida State. I would rather direct snap the ball to Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson 75 times a game than allow Sanchez to throw the ball even once. His performance today in the Jets’ 29-14 loss to the Giants was brutal – Joey Harrington brutal. He makes horrendous decisions, he has zero confidence, and I’m not entirely convinced that he knows where he’s throwing the ball half the time. And at 6’2” he shouldn’t have so many passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage either. For the first time in three years the Jets’ defense isn’t good enough to bail Sanchez out so it appears as though he may have to watch the playoffs from his couch in two weeks.

– That was obviously a huge win for the Giants today but Eli Manning wasn’t much better than Mark Sanchez. I realize the Jets have the best pass defense in the league and pressured Eli relentlessly, but this is the second straight week that he was off his game. If it weren’t for Victor Cruz breaking a tackle along the sideline and racing 99 yards for a touchdown, Manning’s numbers would have been even uglier than they were. (He was 9-of-27 for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception., although the interception was Hakeem Nicks’ fault as it bounced off his hands.) Again, if Romo doesn’t play next Sunday then Manning and the Giants will host a playoff game in two weeks. But if Eli doesn’t shake out of the two-week funk that he’s been in, then the Giants are prime upset candidates in the first round of the playoffs.

– Obvious statement alert: The Cowboys are in major trouble if Tony Romo can’t go next week. The Giants clearly aren’t intimidated by the Cowboys’ defense, which allowed 34 points to New York three weeks ago. Thus, if Romo isn’t healthy enough to go toe-to-toe with Eli and Co, then it’s going to be a very long offseason for Dallas. Get ready for ESPN to transform into the Tony Romo update network for the next seven days, although it sounds like the injury wasn’t serious.

– I could hammer the Chargers for their lackluster play in today’s 38-10 loss to Detroit but that wouldn’t be fair to the Lions, who put together their most complete game of the season. They absolutely dominated San Diego in all facets of the game and that may have been Matthew Stafford’s (29-of-36, 373 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) best performance as a pro. For the first time in 15 weeks the Lions played with composure, discipline, and urgency. If they play like this in two weeks then they’re going to be a tough out in the first round. Even though it played great today, their secondary is still a concern but there’s no reason to think the Lions couldn’t travel to New York, Dallas, or even San Francisco and win in the first round of the playoffs. But hey, for now, let’s just congratulate Detroit for making the postseason for the first time since 1999. Their fan base deserves this one…

– There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Jerome Simpson’s acrobatic 19-yard touchdown in the Bengals’ 23-16 victory over the Cardinals. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and seek the highlight out on ESPN, NFL.com or YouTube. It’s well worth the watch, trust me. While the Bengals tried to give away today‘s game, they hung on for the win and are now in the driver’s seat for the sixth and final seed in the AFC. Considering most people didn’t think they’d win five games this season, Cincinnati’s effort this year has been rather remarkable.

– Even when they were down 17-0 at halftime did anyone actually believe that the Patriots wouldn’t come back and beat the Dolphins today? I blinked and the Patriots were in the red zone in the third quarter. I sneezed and the game was tied 17-17. I ordered another adult soda at the bar and the game was over. Miami gave it hell but New England’s offense is surgical when it wants to be. If the Pats don’t beat themselves they should represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year, although Bill Belichick’s defense isn’t going to scare anyone (especially Baltimore or Pittsburgh).

REFILE – CORRECTING TYPO IN NAME Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (R) is sacked by Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats (C) and linebacker Chris Kelsay (C) in the first quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Tim Tebow must have left his magic juice back in Denver because he played like the lovechild of Mark Sanchez and Jake Delhomme today. Thirteen of 30 for 185 yards, four interceptions and two pick-sixes? Freaking brutal. I’m torn right now on whether I’d rather see the Broncos or Raiders in the playoffs. Is it worth it to see Tebow go 2-of-11 in the first three quarters only to pull off some stunning fourth-quarter comeback? Or would I rather see something resembling a football game for more than a quarter? It’s a coin flip, it really is. Plus, you never know when Tebow’s going to throw in a stinker like today, or his atrocious effort versus Detroit about a month ago. Well…six-in-one. Something tells me neither Denver nor Oakland will be advancing to the AFC title game so I guess there’s no use babbling about it.

– How could the Chiefs get that burned by Darrius Heyward-Bey on that over route in overtime? Kansas City didn’t bother rushing Carson Palmer on the play so one would have thought the Chiefs would have had about nine guys in coverage but nope – there was Heyward-Bey, running wide open and about two steps in front of a trailing defender. Thanks to Heyward-Bey’s big play, Richard Seymour’s blocked field goal at the end of regulation, and Denver’s atrocious performance in Buffalo, the Raiders are still alive in the AFC West.

Baltimore is going to be tough to beat at home come playoff time. But suddenly the Ravens don’t look as dangerous as they did just a few weeks ago. They were shredded by San Diego last Sunday night and nearly blew a 20-14 lead against Cleveland today. Even if they thought the game was in hand versus the Browns, now isn’t the time to let your foot off the gas with the playoffs right around the corner – especially after you played so poorly last weekend.

– 2011 couldn’t end fast enough for the Minnesota Vikings. They finally win a game but Adrian Peterson tears his ACL (or at least that‘s what guys like Jay Glazer are reporting). Considering there’s only one more game left and the Vikings have been out of contention for about a month, this injury obviously doesn‘t mean anything to Minnesota’s current season. But because the injury happened now, Peterson may not be fully recovered by time training camp opens next year. And seeing as how ACL tears are usually a two-year injury, this is a devastating situation for a Minnesota franchise that thought the worst was over.

– I don’t care how bad the Browns are, I’d pay the price of admission just to watch Joshua Cribbs return kicks. Dude’s awesome.

– Well done, Josh Brown. As if the Rams’ season isn’t bad enough, you’re missing chip shot field goals as your team posts another goose egg. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds.

– How about the “OT” on FOX? The Lions make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and all they talk about is the Dallas Cowboys. The network even showed the Eagles’ (a team that was eliminated today, mind you) locker room celebration and then, in passing as the credits were rolling, finally said, “Congratulations to the Detroit Lions for making the playoffs today!” Granted, CBS had the coverage of the Chargers-Lions game so FOX wasn’t going to be able to do any live looks from Detroit’s locker room. But FOX still could have talked about the Lions more than it did. The media’s infatuation with the Cowboys continues to be nauseating for non-Dallas fans.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Daily Six-Pack: NFL Preseason Thursday

Four games are on the Week 1 NFL preseason schedule tonight and there are some interesting headlines to follow. Below are six quick-hit thoughts on tonight’s action.

1. Brady returns to live action
The last time Tom Brady took a snap in a live NFL game, he tore both his MCL and ACL after suffering a season-ending hit in Week 1 of the 2008 season. Brady returns to action tonight and will start against the Eagles in Philadelphia. He probably won’t get more than a series or two, but if everything goes well, it’ll be yet another promising sign that Brady has recovered from the devastating knee injury that almost ruined his career.

2. Is Flacco in store for a major sophomore slump?
Reports out of Baltimore haven’t been promising for second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who has struggled in the passing game thus far in training camp. He apparently has struggled reading defenses, is missing open receivers and has thrown a high number of interceptions. The Ravens would like to open the playbook more in Flacco’s second year, but if his struggles carry into the preseason, then the team might have to scale back his responsibilities and once again make him more of a game-manager like he was as a rookie.

3. How will the T.O.-less Cowboys look?
During the offseason, one of the main reasons the Cowboys cut toxic (but highly productive) receiver Terrell Owens was so that quarterback Tony Romo wouldn’t have any distractions entering the 2009 season. Dallas wants Romo to step up and be more of a leader both in the locker room and on the field and it would appear that the 29-year-old’s career is at a crossroads. One preseason game in Oakland isn’t going to answer whether or not Romo is ready to become the leader that Dallas wants him to be, but it’ll be interesting to see how well he gels with his receivers without T.O. commanding his attention. Apparently Romo and Roy Williams are finally starting to get their timing down.

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Michael Crabtree to re-enter draft?

According to a report by ESPN.com, the cousin and adviser (whatever that entails) of Michael Crabtree states that the rookie wideout is prepared to sit out the entire 2009 season and re-enter the NFL draft in 2010 if he doesn’t get fair market value in terms of his contract.

“We are prepared to do it,” Wells said. “Michael just wants fair-market value. They took him with the 10th pick and you have Darrius Heyward-Bey [the seventh overall pick by the Oakland Raiders] getting $38 million? This week is crucial. Michael was one of the best players in the draft and he just wants to be paid like one of the best players. This week is very crucial.”

Crabtree’s agent, Eugene Parker, says that no such threat has been made, although he also says that the 49ers’ initial contract offer is not acceptable. Profootballtalk.com suggests that Parker had promised Crabtree that he would be drafted in the top three and now is trying to get the rookie top three money, although that hasn’t been proven.

I highly doubt that Crabtree will sit the entire 2009 season if he doesn’t receive the contract that he and his agent wants. Besides, it wouldn’t be in his best interest to do that, seeing as how teams picking at the top of the draft next year would likely stay away from him knowing that he was out of football for a year and would be a hassle to sign.

I’m assuming that San Fran will have to get close to the number that the Raiders gave Heyward-Bey, although I don’t blame the Niners if they feel that they don’t have to match that number considering Heyward-Bey was taken three spots ahead of Crabtree in the draft. Considering the rookie salary structure is already screwed up, teams shouldn’t have to pay players for the draft slot that their agents felt they should have been taken in.

NFL Training Camp Notes: Russell reports out of shape

Oakland Raiders:
– Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell admitted that he reported to camp “a little heavy.” Hey JaMarcus, I know Jeff Garcia doesn’t look like much but he’s gunning for your job and I highly doubt he reported to camp “a little heavy.”

– The Raiders agreed to terms with rookie first round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey on a five-year contract. Now he can get busy on trying to make Al Davis look good for taking him instead of Michael Crabtree with the seventh overall pick in April’s draft.

Michael Vick:
– Free agent Michael Vick told the AP that he is getting close to deciding on a team to sign with. It’s unclear at this point if Vick meant an NFL team, or a flag football team in the Newport News, Virginia area.

New York Jets:
– Running back Thomas Jones reported to training camp on time despite skipping voluntary OTA sessions this spring. While this certainly doesn’t mean Jones is happy about his situation in New York, it appears that he’ll be in a Jets uniform this season and will be one leg of a tripod that also includes Leon Washington and Shonn Greene.

– Speaking of Washington, the New York Daily News confirms that the Jets are close to finalizing a contract extension with the running back.

New England Patriots:
– As expected, Tom Brady participated in the Pats’ first training camp practice on Thursday and will avoid going on the PUP list at the start of the season. He did practice with a brace on his left knee, but he’ll more than likely will be sporting that for the rest of his career.

Kansas City Chiefs:
– Larry Johnson is apparently thrilled to be staying in Kansas City and will report to training camp on time Friday. Maybe Johnson and the Chiefs can burry the hatchet in training camp and have a successful marriage this season.

Baltimore Ravens:
– The Black Birds signed rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher to a five-year, $13.795 million contract with $7.8 million in guarantees. Oher was a steal at No. 23, but he’ll need to work on his run blocking skills at the next level.

65 Observations about the 2009 NFL Draft

I’m going to channel my inner Peter King and dole out a crap load of quick-hit thoughts on last weekend’s NFL draft, which by the way, was one of the more unpredictable drafts I have ever witnessed.

Below are 65 observations from the 2009 NFL Draft. Why 65? I don’t know – don’t worry about it. Originally I came up with 62, but I know that some people freak out when things aren’t in round numbers, so I added three more. But the number 65 means nothing, so don’t waste time searching for its meaning.

Obviously these are all my opinions and feel free to debate them. But before you do, I already know that it supposedly takes three seasons to fully grade a draft and that no prospect is a sure thing. Again, I’m projecting here – so lighten up and let’s strike up some good debates.

1. Outside of the fact that he’s now a millionaire and could buy a small country, I kind of feel bad for Matthew Stafford. You know some halfwit fan or media member can’t wait to utter the comment, “For $72 million, he should have made that pass.” I hate the fact that money plays such a huge role in sports because when you get down to it, completing a pass, making a catch or kicking a field goal has nothing to do with how many zeros are on your paycheck.

2. I know I’m not saying anything new here, but the rookie salary structure is a joke. When teams don’t even want a top 5 pick anymore because of the financial burden that comes with it, there’s a huge problem.

3. The kid could turn out to be the next Ryan Leaf on the field, but Lion fans have to at least take comfort in the fact that Matthew Stafford is saying all the right things at this point. He did an interview with the NFL Network on Sunday and he talked about how he wants to be a starter right away, but also wants to learn and be patient in his development. From all accounts, he looks like he has a great head on his shoulders.

4. If Tyson Jackson turns out to be the next Richard Seymour like Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli believes, then nobody is going to remember (or care) that he was taken with the third overall pick in a weak draft class.

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