Ten Observations from Wild Card Weekend in the NFL

1. Mike Shanahan cost both his quarterback and his team on Sunday.
That was a shameful display of coaching on Sunday by Mike Shanahan. First and foremost, who cleared Robert Griffin III to play? Dr. James Andrews said he never even examined him, so if it was Shanahan that cleared him then the league needs to investigate why a head coach is playing doctor. Secondly, RGIII was clearly in pain after he tweaked his knee near the end zone of the Redskins’ second scoring drive. It was painful to watch him fall to the ground after being untouched and then quickly glance to the sidelines looking for somebody (his head coach maybe?) to waive the white flag for him. But he’s tough and he should be commended for staying in the game. Still, it shouldn’t have taken his knee bending sideways and him lying on the ground withering in pain during the fourth quarter for Shanahan to finally pull him. He couldn’t run and he couldn’t put weight on his back leg, which caused him to throw inaccurately on nearly every attempt. By keeping him in the game, Shanahan continued to put RGIII at risk for serious injury. Forget being a human being at that point – why didn’t Mike Shanahan, the head coach, recognize that his injured quarterback was costing him an opportunity to win? Even if RGIII had begged to stay in the game Shanahan should have pulled the kid at halftime and allowed a healthy Kirk Cousins to have a crack at Seattle’s defense. There was a lot of bad coaching that took place this weekend but Shanahan was the king of stupidity on Sunday.

2. There’s a lot of good and bad that came out of the Seahawks’ win.
After 12 minutes had ticked off the clock on Sunday, it looked as if the Redskins were going to waltz down to Atlanta next week. So it was impressive to watch the Seahawks weather the storm and produce what wound up being a convincing victory. Marshawn Lynch was in full “beastmode” while rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries and he could be in store for another big game next week because the Falcons can’t stop the run either. Russell Wilson was shaky in his NFL postseason debut but he made plays when they counted, specifically on a 22-yard pass to Zach Miller on third down to set up a go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The defense also harassed a limited RGIII and held Alfred Morris in check outside of the first quarter. But the news wasn’t all positive for Seattle. The early reports are that top pass rusher Chris Clemons tore his ACL and his loss would serve as a big blow to Seattle’s defense with Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ explosive passing game on deck. That was also an extremely physical game for the Seahawks, who now have to fly back to Seattle before making the cross-country flight to Atlanta next weekend. That’s a lot of traveling for a team that has a history of not playing well on the road so while it’ll be a happy flight back to Seattle for Pete Carroll’s team, it might feel like a short week with all that transpired on Sunday.

3. Bill Musgrave did Joe Webb a disservice.
Joe Webb was brutal in Green Bay on Saturday night but he should be spared of heavy criticism. Christian Ponder’s injury left the Vikings in a bad situation and it’s hardly surprising that a quarterback with zero reps in the regular season struggled in a road playoff game. That said, Webb took first-team reps all week in practice so clearly Minnesota knew there was a good chance that Ponder wouldn’t play. So why offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t play to the strengths of his backup quarterback is beyond conventional wisdom. Remember, Green Bay prepared all week for Ponder, not the athletically-gifted Webb. Outside of Adrian Peterson, the biggest threat Minnesota had was the element of surprise but Musgrave decided against using it to his advantage. Why did he ditch the read-option after the first series of the game (a series that netted the Vikings a field goal)? Why didn’t he turn the contest into the equivalent of a college football bowl game? Instead of using Webb’s speed as a weapon, Musgrave kept him in the pocket. Instead of putting the Packers on their heels, Musgrave allowed Green Bay to turn Clay Matthews loose by forcing an inaccurate Webb to stand still. The results were predictably horrifying for the Vikings, who just one week ago beat that same Packers team to reach the postseason. Granted, Musgrave should be cut a little slack for having to call plays for a quarterback he hadn’t worked with all season (at least not in a regular season game). But instead of going for broke with the cards that he was dealt, Musgrave played things conventionally and wound up losing anyway.

4. The Bengals’ over thought their game plan.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden made tight end Jermaine Gresham the focal point of his game plan on Saturday because he believed the way to beat Houston’s defense was to attack its linebackers. It was, at the very least, a novel approach. But Gruden also completely outthought himself in the process. When it comes to the playoffs, teams need to dance with who brought them and in the case of Cincinnati, that would be A.J. Green. Andy Dalton had negative-6 yards passing at halftime of the Bengals’ 19-13 loss to the Texans on Saturday as Green wasn’t even targeted once. When the Bengals changed their approach at halftime to get Green (five catches, 80 yards) more involved, they moved the ball much more effectively in the second half. Granted, credit Wade Phillips for scheming to take Green out of the game. He often used a corner underneath and a safety over top in coverage, which helped neutralize both Green and Dalton. But Gruden’s job is to design ways for Green to get open and he didn’t do that until Houston had built a 17-6 lead in the third quarter. Failing to utilize his best playmaker in the biggest game of the season could eat at Gruden all offseason.

5. Andy Dalton needs more help.
Andy Dalton has struggled playing against the upper-echelon of NFL defenses in his first two seasons. No quarterback likes to have defenders in their face but Dalton especially struggles when teams figure out how to bring pressure up the middle. The Texans did that on Saturday and Dalton struggled mightily. His overthrow to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter was so bad that a diving Green (who had broken open on the play) never laid a hand on it. And because of his talent limitations (the biggest knock on him is his average to below-average arm strength), there also seems to be a ceiling to Dalton’s development. That said, he’s led the Bengals (the Bengals, mind you) to back-to-back postseason appearances. Poor performance or not, Cincinnati isn’t considering making a change at quarterback right now, nor should it. That said, the Bengals need to find Dalton more weapons because it’s hard to imagine him leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl on the strengths of his God-given abilities. They need to find another weapon opposite of A.J. Green. They need to find a running back capable of producing explosive runs. They need to find a slot receiver with breakaway speed and another pass-catching tight end to go along with Jermaine Gresham. Outside of upgrading the middle linebacker position (Rey Maualuga was repeatedly exposed on Saturday), Cincinnati’s defense is in good shape. What the Bengals need to focus on now is elevating the talent around their quarterback or else the expectations for both Dalton and the offense should be tempered.

6. The Texans seemed relieved, which isn’t a good thing with who’s coming up.
Despite their victory over the Bengals on Saturday, the Texans are far from “fixed.” Houston dominated Cincinnati in every facet of the game except the scoreboard. Arian Foster went off for 174 yards of total offense and J.J. Watt was once again a one-man wrecking crew but Houston still couldn’t pull away. In fact, had Andy Dalton not overthrown an open A.J. Green in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati could have easily pulled off a victory. Instead, the Texans hung on for victory and were rewarded with a trip to New England (the site of their 42-14 massacre in Week 14). One touchdown and four field goals isn’t going to cut it next weekend versus the Patriots. Nobody game plans to take away a team’s biggest strength like Bill Belichick, so don’t expect Foster to have the same output next Sunday. Can Matt Schaub elevate his play by putting an entire team on his shoulders? Considering how relieved he looked just to make it past a limited Cincinnati squad, it’s doubtful.

7. It was a collective effort by the Packers.
As Cris Collinsworth pointed out on the broadcast Saturday night, Green Bay’s defense did a great job walling off Adrian Peterson throughout the game. Considering he still rushed for 99 yards it’s not as if the Packers shut him down, but they ensured that he didn’t break long runs by tackling and constantly putting defenders in his face. But it was a collective effort by the Packers, who are at their best when they get everyone involved offensively. John Kuhn only touched the ball five times but he found the end zone twice. Greg Jennings didn’t score but he routinely caught passes on third down to keep the chains moving and DuJuan Harris did a nice job serving as Aaron Rodgers’ check down option. Speaking of which, Rodgers didn’t post monster numbers but he was highly efficient. His poise and accuracy allowed Green Bay to sustain drives and keep Peterson on the sidelines. With Joe Webb floundering on the other side, once Rodgers and the offense built a lead you knew the Packers could start preparing for San Francisco. The task gets much more difficult a week from now but Mike McCarthy had to be pleased with his team’s sound effort on Sunday night.

8. Win or lose, it was a hell of a season for the Colts.
This goes without saying – Andrew Luck needs more help. Save for Arizona, Indianapolis had the worst pass protection in football this year and yet because of Luck, the Colts made the playoffs. But teams that regularly have to throw the ball 50-plus times a game don’t win, especially on the road in the playoffs. He was hit on damn near every pass attempt this season and unlike Russell Wilson and RGIII, Luck wasn’t aided by an effective running game. He, and the Chuck Pagano-inspired Colts, were the best surprise of the 2012 season. And while I thought they would have kept the game on Sunday closer than they did, it was still a very successful season for that team. It won’t be long before the Colts are winning AFC South titles on a consistent basis again.

9. The Ravens offense finally woke up.
Throw out their impressive Week 16 victory over the Giants, the Ravens haven’t exactly been awe-inspiring of late. Their offense has struggled in large part to Ray Rice being limited by his own offensive coordinator and Joe Flacco’s inconsistency. But on in the second half on Sunday, Baltimore’s offense finally awoke from its month-long slumber. Anquan Boldin was marvelous. He essentially put the entire offense on his shoulders while harassing cornerback Cassius Vaughn of pass plays of 50, 46 and 21 yards. On a day when Ray Rice uncharacteristically put the ball on the ground twice, he stepped up when his offense needed him most. Credit the Ravens defense too, because they consistently came up with stops or held the Colts to three points when their backs were against the wall. This is a team built for the postseason and while Denver looks like an unstoppable force, don’t forget that Baltimore has often resembled an immovable object in the past. They’ll likely give Peyton Manning all he can handle next weekend.

10. Was anybody else left unfulfilled?
Life is all about expectations. The moment the final seconds ticked off the clock in Washington’s Week 17 victory over Dallas I immediately became excited for the weekend of playoff bliss that was ahead. RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay III? Andrew Luck making his first postseason start? Yes, please. Fast forward to Sunday night and I’m left completely unfilled. That just wasn’t a very sharp weekend of football. Cincinnati, Minnesota and Indianapolis all stunk. Washington came out of the gates hot but RGIII’s knee injury cooled that fire. Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco were good, but they were the only quarterbacks that played well. None of the games were blowouts by definition yet all four somehow managed to seem over well before the final whistle blew. After watching Northern Illinois, Kansas State and Oklahoma make a mockery of their bowl games, football fans were ready for a great weekend of NFL action. But instead we got three lackluster finishes and one game (Seattle-Washington) that barely would have caused a ripple on a regular NFL Sunday. “Meh” was the word of the weekend.

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

Ten Observations from Week 15 in the NFL

1. Adrian Peterson is this year’s MVP if…
Nobody doubted Peyton Manning’s ability to lead the Broncos to an AFC West title this year. The biggest question surrounding Peyton was his ability to absorb a hit, not fill the one need Denver desperately needed on offense. People assumed he would do that. But nearly every pundit had the Vikings finishing in the basement of the NFC North and yet here they are in the middle of December still competing for a wild card berth. Manning has been outstanding but what Adrian Peterson has been able to accomplish less than a year after major reconstructive knee surgery has been nothing short of incredible. Minnesota’s offensive line and defense shouldn’t be forgotten as we dole out credit for the team’s success, but Peterson is the biggest reason why the Vikings remain relevant in 2012. Opponents design specific game plans in efforts to stop Peterson and yet they can’t even slow him down. They know if they can build a lead and force Christian Ponder to beat them throwing the ball they’ll win. But they can’t because Peterson simply won’t allow them. Granted, Sam Bradford and the Rams helped Minnesota earn its eighth victory of the season on Sunday. But when Peterson sprinted 82 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter the Rams had just tied the game with a Brian Quick 4-yard touchdown reception. It wasn’t as if Peterson’s run put the contest out of reach – it was the beginning of him taking over the game. If he leads the Vikings to the postseason while rushing for over 2,000 yards in a pass-happy NFL, then he undoubtedly has my vote for MVP.

2a. The Bears are finished.
With their 21-13 loss to the Packers, the Bears no longer control their own destiny and they don’t hold the tiebreaker with current fifth seed Seattle because of their 23-17 loss to the Seahawks in Week 13. The question becomes: Will missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years spark change this offseason? How Chicago can fire Lovie Smith when former GM Jerry Angelo ignored the offensive line for most of his tenure is beyond me. Year after year the Bears had opportunities to fix their front five and Angelo never delivered. That said, this is now four straight years that Smith and his coaching staff have been owned by Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. If your current coaching staff can’t beat your biggest competition, you’ve got an underlying problem.

2b. Packers coach Mike McCarthy makes decisions sometimes…
…that should have all of humanity questioning how the hell he was able to win a Super Bowl. That throwback fake that he called (or allowed his special teams coach Shawn Slocum to call) on the punt return midway through the fourth quarter in Chicago was beyond inane. You’re up 11 points in the fourth quarter, McCarthy, run the clock and secure a victory the ol’ fashion way.

3. Best team in the NFC? It has to be the 49ers.
While they did wind up blowing a 31-3 lead, the 49ers have to be considered the best team in the NFC after the show they put on last night in Foxboro. Granted, the 12-2 Falcons also beat the defending Super Bowl champions 34-0 but no team in the conference can match San Francisco’s physicality and now that Colin Kaepernick is their quarterback, the Niners are now more dangerous on offense, too. As he showed last night by mishandling a handful of snaps from under center and throwing an interception in the end zone, Kaepernick isn’t perfect. But he’s going to learn something new each week that will make him better down the road. It had to be troubling for Jim Harbaugh to watch Tom Brady carve up his defense for 34 points, and adjustments must be made in the secondary. But the bottom line is the Niners not only won the game, but also handled a team that had just humiliated an excellent Houston club just six nights prior.

4a. The Falcons defense has been outstanding against elite QBs.
Fifty-eight point five, 37.6, and 40.7. Those are the quarterback ratings of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning when facing the Falcons in the Georgia Dome this year. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan put together another fantastic game plan on Sunday, one that had Eli Manning under constant duress while shutting down running back David Wilson in the second half. They managed to shutout the defending Super Bowl champions without one of their key defenders, safety William Moore, all while stuffing New York on three separate fourth-and-shorts. Matt Ryan is now 33-4 at home over his career, and Nolan’s aggressive defense has done its finest work inside the Georgia Dome this year. The Falcons won’t quiet critics until they win a playoff game. But they’ve got a great chance to pick up their first postseason win if they can secure home field throughout.

4b. There isn’t a more maddening team in the NFL than the New York Giants.
Four weeks ago the Giants crushed Green Bay 38-10 but followed up that performance with a 17-16 loss in Washington. Then they scored 52 points in a 52-27 beat-down of the Saints only to post a goose egg in a 34-0 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. Eli Manning had one of those games where you wanted to shake him to make sure he wasn’t sleepwalking and David Wilson bombed as the team’s featured back (at least in the second half). New York’s secondary is also extremely beat up and several defensive linemen walked off the field limping after trying (and failing) to tackle Atlanta ball carriers throughout the day. Granted, we know better not to count Tom Coughlin’s team out when they still have plenty of life. But Giants fans have every reason to be concerned after what transpired in Atlanta on Sunday.

5. The Seahawks have become that team nobody wants to face in the first round.
Granted, over the past two weeks they’ve beaten up on Arizona and Buffalo. But they also outscored Arizona and Buffalo 108-17 and somehow managed to score three defensive touchdowns in the process. And if that didn’t get your attention, Pete Carroll is having his team throw deep on fourth down up 58-0 and calling fake punts up 30 points in the fourth quarter. Here’s what’s really scary: Marshawn Lynch is ripping through tackles and bursting into defensive backfields while also allowing to rest in the fourth quarter because his services are no longer needed in blowouts. Seattle’s biggest offensive weapon is going to be fresh – relatively speaking, of course – come January, and that should leave the Seahawks’ future opponents awfully anxious.

6. Putting Cousin’s performance into perspective.
It’s amazing, really. The Redskins found two quarterbacks with potential in this year’s draft while the Browns can’t find one intriguing quarterback in 14 years of drafting. It’s one thing to play hero when you only take seven snaps at the end of a game. It’s quite another to go on the road with your team’s playoff hopes on the line and face an opponent that not only has had an entire week to game plan for you, but is also in the midst of a three-game winning streak. Kirk Cousins (26-of-37 for 329 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was beyond impressive in Washington’s Week 15 victory over Cleveland. He was poised, calm under pressure, and showed a fair amount of mobility as well. The 54-yard touchdown throw he made when he rolled to his right on a designed bootleg and dropped the ball perfectly into Leonard Hankerson’s arms was a thing of beauty. With their biggest superstar sidelined with a knee injury (RGIII), Cousins may have just saved the Redskins’ season.

7. Sam Bradford remains completely indefinable.
Bradford completed 35-of-55 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. But he also threw an interception and lost a fumble that in large part led to the Rams falling behind 30-7 at halftime. Never have I witnessed a player give both his critics and supporters enough firepower to continue one excruciating debate after another. He’s making progress yet he’s painfully inconsistent. He often delivers uneven performances yet he can be clutch in crucial moments. He’s completing 60-percent of his passes yet he somehow battles with his accuracy. Is he on the verge of greatness or straddling the line between good and mediocre? Is he the next Eli Manning or Alex Smith? Half of St. Louis will draw one comparison while the second half will settle for the other. It’s maddening. Here’s what we know about Bradford: He should continue to improve if the Rams continue to build around him. They need to strengthen their offensive line, add playmakers to their receiving corps, and offer him some stability by not changing the offense. Here’s what we don’t know: Everything else.

8. One bad decision dooms Roethlisberger, Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger was fantastic on Sunday in Dallas. He completed 24-of-40 passes for 339 yards with two touchdowns and constantly bought himself time by moving outside of the pocket. On one play in the second quarter, he evaded the pass rush (a very good NFL pass rush in Dallas) for nearly 10 seconds before finding Heath Miller for a 30-yard touchdown. It was one of those games where an elite quarterback put his team on his shoulders and was practically willing them to victory. Of course, his performance on this day will be remembered for his biggest mistake. Brandon Carr made a fantastic interception in overtime when he jumped a route and picked off Roethlisberger to set the Cowboys up for a game-winning field goal. The loss left Pittsburgh at 7-7 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs with two games to go. If the Steelers can’t sweep their final two games and sneak into the postseason, that one throw will loom large.

8a. The NFC East is once again ready for a thrilling ending.
Everyone figured the Cowboys would eventually settle for a .500 season but their massive victory over the Steelers on Sunday has breathed new life into Dallas. The victory came on the heels of the Redskins’ win over the Browns, but also the Giants’ embarrassing 34-0 loss to the Falcons. If the playoffs were to start today, the Redskins would own the fourth seed after securing first place in the NFC East, while the Giants would be the sixth seed and the Cowboys would be on the outside looking in. But fortunately for diehard NFL fans, there’s still two more weeks of thrilling football to be played in the East. The Cowboys might have the toughest road, as they’ll host the always-dangerous Saints this Sunday before finishing at Washington. The Redskins, meanwhile, will visit the hapless Eagles on Sunday before hosting Dallas in Week 17, and the Giants will visit Baltimore before hosting Philadelphia in their final game of the season. Of course, the Bears and Vikings are still in the wild card mix as well so buckle up, sit tight and enjoy the friggin’ ride.

9a. Joe Flacco is literally burning future earnings every week.
Flacco completed 20-of-40 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns in Baltimore’s 34-17 loss to Denver, but he did most of his damage after he put his team in a 31-3 hole. He lost a fumble on a quarterback sneak and before throwing a pick-six at the goal line he sprinkled in three straight three-and-outs, which allowed the Broncos to build a sizeable lead. The Ravens are going to begrudgingly win the AFC North and make the playoffs for the fifth straight year, where they could be bounced very early. Somewhere Cam Cameron is smiling.

9b. Moreno finally flashing his ability in Denver.
Now finally healthy, Knowshon Moreno is running like the back that Denver thought it drafted back in 2009. He literally jumped over Ed Reed in the Broncos’ 34-17 victory over the Ravens on Sunday, and Reed was practically standing up. Athens, Georgia grew accustomed to Moreno’s combination of power and athleticism, but now it’s a welcome sight in Denver, too. Moreno has allowed the Broncos offense to continue firing on all cylinders despite losing Willis McGahee.

10. The Panthers will be a playoff contender at this point next year.
The pass two weeks Cam Newton has been sharp on passes outside the numbers and in turn, he’s made DeAngelo Williams a bigger weapon in both the running and screen game. While they’ll need to continue to build on the defensive side of the ball and give Newton another weapon in the passing game, the Panthers will be a team to reckon with in 2013. Following the team’s third win in their last four games, Carolina fans are appropriately asking themselves, ‘Where has this been all season?’

Michael Turner or Marshawn Lynch?

You’ve got a pick at the end of the first round and want a #1 RB- Michael Turner or Marshawn Lynch?

Lots of talk surrounding Turner and that he may be “done”. There was a lull from week 11 to 15 when he had 1 TD and no game above 76 yards. But from weeks 1-10, and 17, he had 1,060 yards and 10 TD. He just turned 30, but only averaged 57 carries a year his 1st 4 years with the Chargers.

Remember a year ago Lynch was “done” too? The he went out and posted career highs in yards (1,204) and TD (12). Lynch is four years younger w/less wear and tear. But the recent DUI arrest may or may not warrant a suspension; we’ll know in August.

Turner or Lynch?

Paul Eide can be heard dispensing fantasy football advice every Friday AM during the NFL season on Jacksonville’s 930 AM “The Fox” at 8:00 EST. Email Paul at paul@pauleide.com

Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 12 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…

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young scrabbles 8 yards as he is being persued by New England Patriots linebacker Tracey White during first quarter New England Patroits-Philadelphia Eagles game action at Lincoln Financial Field November 27, 2011. UPI/Eileen Angelino

Vince Young threw some ugly passes in the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Patriots, none bigger than his “touch” pass to Brent Celek in the back of the end zone on fourth down midway through the third quarter when the score was still relatively close. But he also deserved a better fate in the end. He threw for 400 yards and one touchdown, and should have had two more scores had DeSean Jackson not dropped two passes in the end zone. For a guy who is so concerned about his contract, Jackson isn’t playing with much concentration, focus, or drive right now. He was also benched by Andy Reid late in the fourth quarter, which signals that he’s just as likely to get the boot in Philly than a new deal.

Matt Leinart admitted following the Texans’ 20-13 win over the Jaguars that his season is likely over. Dude waits two years to get another shot to start in the NFL and when he does, he breaks his collarbone in his second quarter back. That’s a tough break, both literally and figuratively. Now Houston’s playoff hopes ride on fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates, although it’s not like the Texans were pinning their hopes on great quarterback play from here on out anyway. If they win, it’ll be because of their running game and defense – not Leinart, Yates, or whomever they find while dumpster diving next week.

– I loved how CBS kept showing Tim Tebow sitting on the bench as the Chargers marched down the field in overtime trying to get into field goal range for a game-winning score. As if Tebow was going to summon some magical higher power to help Denver’s defense stuff Mike Tolbert on a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-6 and force the Chargers to attempt a 53-yard-field goal instead of a 49-yarder. And then magically lead the Broncos down the field, get into field goal range and then win in come-from-behind fashion once again. I mean, let’s get real…….say again? That’s exactly what happened? For Tebow’s sake, are you serious? That CBS is genius…

– …in all seriousness, Denver’s defense deserves most, if not all of the credit for the team’s sudden turnaround. Tebow is 5-1 and has been incredibly clutch in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but without the Broncos’ defense holding opponents to 13 points or less he may not win a game. Von Miller is something special and John Fox has done wonders for Denver’s entire defense.

– Their mismanagement of Blaine Gabbert has made the front office and coaching staff in Jacksonville look like a bunch of clowns. Gabbert clearly wasn’t ready for NFL action when the Jaguars drafted him with the 10th overall pick last April, which was fine because David Garrard was still the starter. Gabbert could have held a clipboard in his first year before taking over next season or in 2013 when he was ready. But instead, the front office released Garrard and the Jaguars shoehorned Gabbert into the starting role right away. Then, because he’s been so ineffective over the past two months, the team had to bench him today against Houston in favor of Luke McCown. Had the Jags remained patient from the start this situation could have been avoided. But now Gabbert’s confidence has likely taken a huge hit and GM Gene Smith may lose his job for his poor decision-making this offseason.

– The Chargers are done and you wonder whether or not Norv Turner’s time in San Diego is up. If it is, maybe he should give serious consideration to staying an offensive coordinator. Stripped from all of his head-coaching responsibilities, I think the guy could win multiple Super Bowls again just calling plays. Granted, the Chargers only scored 13 points today but Turner’s version of the Air Coryell offense can often be very explosive. He just lacks whatever guys like Mike Tomlin have in order to inspire a football team. I don’t want to say what’s best for Turner because only he knows that. But as an outsider, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if he finishes his coaching career up in the booth calling plays. (If the Chargers end his tenure in San Diego, that is.)

New York Jets Mark Sanchez points to the defense in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 12 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on November 27, 2011. UPI /John Angelillo

– Only Mark Sanchez could throw for four touchdowns and still leave people doubting his abilities. I watched a good portion of the Jets’ 28-24 win over the Bills on Sunday and while Sanchez certainly executed in the red zone, he was shaky against a miserable Buffalo defense (which should have finished with more than just one interception). But at least New York picked up the win, which was big given New England’s victory against Philadelphia late on Sunday.

– I know it was only Minnesota but the Falcons’ offense is finally starting to resemble the unit that everyone thought it would at the beginning of the year. Matt Ryan went his second-straight game without turning the ball over and threw three touchdown passes, while Roddy White had his second straight 100-yard performance and made a sweet catch in the back of the end zone for his lone score during Atlanta’s 24-14 win. After two months of wasting his talent, OC Mike Mularkey has also finally figured out what a weapon Harry Douglas is in the slot. The next thing Mularkey has to do is stop using Julio Jones as just a complementary piece in the offense. Once that happens, the Falcons will really be firing on all cylinders.

– Speaking of firing on all cylinders, I give you the New England Patriots. Wes Welker: Eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns. Deion Branch (from my fantasy bench): Six catches and 125 yards. Aaron Hernandez: Six catches and 62 yards. Rob Gronkowski: A very quiet four catches for 59 yards and one 24-yard touchdown catch. Tom Brady topped everything off with 361 yards threw the air and three touchdowns. The Patriots are at their best when they get everybody involved a la the Saints and Packers. That was a very sound performance out of New England, which never panicked even though it was down 10-0 early to the Eagles.

Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson catches a punt by the St. Louis Rams before running it back for a 80 yard touchdown in the third quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on November 27, 2011. Arizona won the game 23-20. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

– If Beanie Wells could only stay healthy he could be one of the league’s premier backs. The Rams don’t have the greatest of defenses but Wells looked explosive while rushing for a record 228 yards on 27 carries in the Cardinals’ 23-20 win. He and Patrick Peterson (who returned his fourth punt return for touchdown this season) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (other wise known as John Skelton).

– Outside of Chris Johnson’s 190 rushing yards, it wasn’t a great effort by the Titans in their 23-17 win over the Bucs. But all wins are huge for Tennessee from here on out. The Titans only trail the Texans by two games in the AFC South and now that Houston is down to T.J. Yates at quarterback, Tennessee has a very realistic shot of catching Houston down the stretch. For Tennessee, it’s “Just win baby” from here on out.

– The Browns are something else. They find new ways to lose every week. They managed to catch the Bengals sleepwalking today in Cincinnati but they squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and a 20-10 third-quarter lead to lose 23-20 on a last-second field goal. Joe Haden (who is a star in the making) was stuck to A.J. Green like Velcro for 58 minutes and the one big play Green makes goes for 51 yards to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Unreal. And Colt McCoy does just enough not to win every week. The kid threw two touchdown passes but he his average pass went for 4.4 yards. Four-point-four yards! The Browns need a little more out of McCoy than that.

– Want to know how bad things are right now for the Vikings? Percy Harvin had a 107-yard kickoff return today and still didn’t score a touchdown. That’s tough to do.

– You have to love Mike Shanahan. Five days ago he basically said that Roy Helu wasn’t ready to be the Redskins’ full-time back and then handed the rookie 30 touches in the team’s 23-17 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. Helu finished with 108 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards, with one touchdown and seven receptions to boot. I’m sure Evan Royster will start and receive the same opportunities next week as Shanahan continues to ruin fantasy football owners’ lives.

– While the Seahawks remain a highly perplexing team, Marshawn Lynch continues to be one of the steadiest backs in the league. For the third time in his last four games, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and for the seventh straight week, he found the end zone. It came in a losing effort but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and if he continues to run like he has, he’ll be earning a long-term contract next offseason.

Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 5 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening 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…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (C) walks off the field with teammates after throwing an interception that was run into the end zone for a touchdown by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter during their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, October 9, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– The Giants and Eli Manning had the game I thought they would last week in Arizona. Manning threw three touchdown passes but he was also picked off three times as the Giants started slow and finished poorly. Of course, Eli wasn’t the only reason the G-Men dropped a game they simply had no business losing. Their defense couldn’t stop a Seattle offense that has suddenly started to hit their stride after staging a dramatic comeback in the second half last week against Atlanta. Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst and Marshawn Lynch tuned up New York’s defense for 424 total yards. What’s most remarkable about the Seahawks’ 36-25 win is that the Hawks fumbled twice in New York territory. This could have been an even bigger blow out.

– The Steelers winning a home game against the Titans hardly constitutes a “Didn’t see that coming” moment. That said, this was a Pittsburgh team that didn’t have Casey Hampton, James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, or a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger. Considering how good Tennessee’s defense has been this season, it was rather surprising to see Big Ben (who threw five touchdown passes) and Pittsburgh bully the Titans for four quarters. It appears those claims about the Steelers being finished were greatly exaggerated.

– Much like the Steelers’ win over the Titans, it’s hardly surprising that the Raiders traveled to Houston and beat the Texans. This isn’t the same Oakland team that was pathetic four or five years ago. That said, Al Davis just passed away yesterday and the Raiders took on a solid Texans team that just bullied Pittsburgh a week ago. Nobody would have been surprised if the Raiders’ hearts weren’t in it and left Houston without a win. But they played hard for four quarters, shut down Arian Foster, and won a huge road game to get to 3-2 on the season. Granted, Matt Schaub did throw an inexcusable interception at the end of the game and the Texans were without Andre Johnson. But “Just win baby?” Absolutely.

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