You stay classy Chad Pennington

Chad PenningtonMiami Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Pennington has to be one of the classiest guys in the NFL.

Here’s a guy that was dropkicked out of New York about a millisecond after the Jets acquired Brett Favre. He then goes to the Dolphins and not only helps lead one of the best turnarounds in NFL history, but also schools Favre on his home field in a must-win situation for both teams.

Following the Fins’ 24-17 victory Sunday over the Jets, Pennington was asked (in so many words) after the game by a sideline reporter about whether or not the win was sweet revenge on a team that booted him in the offseason. Instead of taking the opportunity to take a shot at his former team, Pennington thanked the Jets for allowing him to become a free agent and start somewhere else. The comments were more than just a player taking the high road to avoid controversy – he was truly sincere.

And granted, it’s not like Pennington lit the world on fire when he was in New York, but he always played hard for the Jets, and often played hurt. Pennington’s story is one of the season’s best.

The Dolphins turnaround from 1-15 to AFC East Division champs is unbelievable. The job Bill Parcells and first-year head coach Tony Sparano did this season was impressive and you get the feeling that Miami isn’t done, although they certainly have a tough first-round matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.

On a semi-related topic – is Brett Favre done? His comments in his post game press conference made it appear that he won’t be coming back next year, but this isn’t the first time he’s hinted at hanging it up at the end of the regular season game in which his team failed to reach the postseason.

Either way, he played like absolute crap on Sunday. His receivers didn’t help him out in some cases, but his three interceptions were brutal and probably cost the Jets the game. When you look how inspired Pennington played compared to Favre, one has to wonder if this is officially the end of Brett’s legendary career.

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Cowboys embarrassed in Philadelphia – will Wade Phillips be fired?

Wade Phillips & Andy ReidThe Philadelphia Eagles absolutely hammered the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, beating their NFC East rivals 44-6 to clinch the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.

Before I get to the Eagles’ remarkable run to make the postseason, I have to ask: Is Wade Phillips done in Dallas? Yeah, I know – Jerry Jones said multiple times this week that Wade’s job was not in jeopardy. But what is he supposed to say when his coach is trying to prepare his team for a must-win game? He’s not going to put any undo pressure on Phillips when everyone knows what’s at stake.

But to be embarrassed by a division rival when a win gets you into the playoffs is inexcusable. This was essentially a playoff game and Phillips’ team didn’t even show up. My God, it was 27-3 at halftime and Tony Romo looked like he would rather wash himself with barbed wire than be out on the field Sunday.

The problem with parting with Phillips after the season is that unless he can land Bill Cowher, Jones doesn’t have a ton of options. His golden boy Jason Garrett can’t be excused from this mess of a situation either, because his innovative offense could only muster six points. (Although it’s not Garrett’s fault Romo treated the football like a greased hog for most of the evening.)

Entering the season, Dallas was easily the favorite to represent the NFC, especially with the amount of talent the Giants lost from their Super Bowl team. After getting shelled by Philly to finish out of the playoffs, I wouldn’t put it past Jones to clean house with a new stadium set to open in 2009. What an embarrassment.

On a lighter note – how about those Eagles? Six weeks ago their playoff hopes looked bleak after they tied the Bengals and then were shellacked by the Ravens in Baltimore. Then they rattle off three straight wins only to put their postseason aspirations back on life support with a lousy performance in Washington last Sunday. Then today, all of the stars align just right and they’re heading to the playoffs.

And if anyone thinks they can’t go into Minnesota next week and beat the Vikings, you’re crazy. Jim Johnson is already working on a game plan to limit Adrian Peterson and force Tarvaris Jackson to make throws to beat him.

Has Matt Ryan finally hit the rookie wall?

Matt RyanThe Atlanta Falcons might be the story of the year in the NFL this season and Matt Ryan is a big reason why. But has the first-year quarterback finally hit the preverbal rookie wall?

Ryan was not particularly sharp in the Falcons’ last three regular season games, completing just 38 of 68 (55%) of his pass attempts for 500 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. In Atlanta’s 31-27 win over the Rams on Sunday, the rookie was just 10 of 21 passing for 160 yards and two interceptions.

A telltale sign that the Falcons might be playing things more cautiously with Ryan was apparent on their game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Down 27-24 with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey called runs on five of the six plays on the drive. Jerious Norwood then capped the drive off with a 45-yard touchdown run.

I love Ryan; I’ve waxed poetically about his accomplishments all season. And I don’t want to take anything away from him because what he’s been able to accomplish this year has been amazing. Some of the throws he’s made have been beyond impressive (see the Denver game for examples of what I’m talking about) and to play all 16 games as a rookie is nothing short of extraordinary. He’s also led a team that was 4-12 a year ago to an 11-5 record and the playoffs, and he’s even running the no-huddle offense with apparent ease.

That said, he seems to be making more rookie mistakes now than he did in the beginning of the season and maybe that’s because the Falcons are trusting him more with the offense and are opening up the playbook. But some of his throws in the second half Sunday against the Rams had nothing to do with the plays being called – they were just bad decisions. (Especially his second interception of the day, which was thrown off his back foot.)

I hope Ryan dazzles in his first playoff game in Arizona next week. He’s truly a special player and he’s great for the NFL. I just hope that rookie wall isn’t making an appearance at the most important point in his season.

Panthers are going to be tough to beat at home in playoffs

DeAngelo WilliamsThanks to John Kasay’s 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds of their 33-31 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers won the NFC South Division and secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

After 45 minutes of play at the Superdome, the Panthers were already being fitted for their NFC South Championship T-shirts. But the Saints scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to take a 31-30 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Carolina then drove into New Orleans’ territory and Kasay eventually knocked through the game winner.

With the No. 2 seed comes a first round bye for the Panthers and more importantly, home field advantage throughout the playoffs unless they meet the Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The Panthers were 8-0 at home this year and outscored opponents 234-111.

This is an incredibly dangerous team as it is, but the Panthers seem to be even deadlier at home. And while that could be said for most teams, the notion seems to especially apply to Carolina.

Come playoff time, anything can happen. But it’s hard to fathom that the Vikings, Cardinals, Falcons, Eagles or Cowboys can march into Carolina and contain the Panthers’ explosive running game – or Steve Smith. John Fox’s team is going to be dangerous in January.

Buccaneers complete collapse of the year

Tampa Bay BuccaneersWith their 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially completed the worst second half collapse of the 2008 NFL Season. And with their loss, the 2007 NFC South Champions were eliminated from postseason contention.

So what happened? How did this team fall from 9-3 to 9-7 in the blink of an eye? Well, it would be impossible to point to just one thing because several factors contributed to the Bucs’ freefall. But there seems to be three main factors that contributed in their collapse.

One of the biggest reasons for their demise was injuries along the defensive line. As soon as the team lost defensive tackles Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan three weeks ago, the Bucs were gashed by opponents’ running games. In their four game losing streak to close out the season, Tampa gave up a total of 710 rushing yards, or an average of 177.5 yards per game.

Another huge factor was losing Earnest Graham for the rest of the season after he was injured in a Week 11 win over Minnesota. Graham provided Tampa with a power running game to help balance what Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams brought to the table in terms of speed. Graham was also an unselfish player and a solid leader, willing to play any position (including fullback) to help his team win.

The nail in the coffin for this team seemed to be when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s son was hired at the University of Tennessee. As soon as Lane Kiffin was hired, speculation grew that Monte would join him, which he eventually announced that he would following the season. Even though Monte is the ultimate professional and wouldn’t skate on his responsibilities as Tampa’s DC, there’s no denying that his announcement to leave at the end of the year created a distraction. In fact, the Bucs didn’t win one game following Tennessee’s decision to hire Monte’s son.

When you throw all three of those ingredients into a pot and mix them up, you’ve got the makings of bad stew. The writing has been on the wall for weeks, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Bucs couldn’t even muster a victory at home against the hapless Raiders with the playoffs on the line.

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