In this edition of Seven Points, we discuss the likelihood of backup quarterbacks leading contenders into the postseason, Norv Turner’s job status, the future of Blaine Gabbert, the foolishness of Stevie Johnson, the greatness of Rob Gronkowski and much more.
Unlikely Sunday Stars
Although Chris “Beanie” Wells, Chris Johnson and Rex Grossman are all former first round picks, the odds are far greater that any of the three would be known more for playing a hand in their respective teams losses rather than wins, at least in 2011. On Sunday, each of the three channeled some of their collegiate greatness and spurred their teams onto victory.
Beanie Wells set a new Arizona Cardinals and personal career high in rushing yards as he broke out with 228 yards rushing on 27 carries in the Cards 23-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
“I really don’t think about records,” Wells told the Cardinals official website, calling the day “a blessing.”
“After a slow start the past couple of weeks, myself and the offensive line were challenged by coach (Whisenhunt),” Wells said. “We wanted to prove we were a good football team and capable of competing.”
Meanwhile in Tennessee, running back Chris Johnson has been the butt of jokes this season as well as the cautionary tale on why not to pay big money to running backs. Averaging just 3.2 yards per carry entering Sunday’s game, Johnson battered the Tampa Bay defense as he gained 190 yards on just 23 carries in the Titans 23-17 victory.
“Basically we just executed our plays,” Johnson told reporters following the 8.3 yards per carry performance. “I feel like everybody did the right thing. I read my blocks well, they blocked well. … I feel like everybody executed.”
In Washington, Rex Grossman is better known for his mistakes than the talent which once made him the 22nd overall draft pick by the Chicago Bears. The good Rex came shining through on Sunday as he fired a 50-yard bullet to wide receiver Anthony Armstrong to give the Redskins the lead for good in their 23-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
“I knew Rex was going to put it up there. He has trust in me regardless of how things have been going,” Armstrong said. “He threw a great ball and they gave me an opportunity to make a play on it.”
Grossman completed 26 of 35 throws for 314 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in the victory, which snapped a six-game losing streak by Washington.
The Backups Need Backup
Quarterback injuries have plagued many teams this season and continue to hijack once promising seasons. Already this year we’ve seen injuries to Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Cassel, Chad Henne, Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb which have cost their respective teams games, knocking those teams out of playoff contention. Two of the most recent injuries to Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler may cost the Texans and Bears opportunities at what might have been deep playoff runs.
On Sunday, both the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears began their 2011 lives after Schaub and Cutler respectively, and the results were less than stellar. Although Houston held on for a 20-13 victory over Jacksonville, Texans backup quarterback Matt Leinart was ordinary at best.
Although Leinart had a productive 10 for 13 stat-line, most of his throws were checkdowns which explains his total of 57 yards on the 10 completions. At no point did Leinart look like a legitimate playoff quarterback, but more like the former first-round pick who was run out of Arizona.
The Texans likely won’t have to worry about Leinart starting a playoff game for the team as he injured his shoulder in Sunday’s game and could miss the rest of the season.
“There’s a pretty strong possibility I probably won’t be coming back this season,” Leinart said following the game. “It’s pretty disappointing. It’s tough to swallow, but we’ll just move forward. Everything that’s happened to me, this was a great opportunity.”
With both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart down the Texans had to turn to undrafted rookie T.J. Yates, who held down the fort and not much else against the offensively-deprived Jaguars. Yates completed 8 of his 15 throws for just 70 yards as Gary Kubiak employed the most conservative of game plans which included 17 runs in 26 plays during the second half.
“We had to limit the game plan due to only having one quarterback left,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said following the game.
Chicago’s first post-Cutler game was much more forgettable as the Bears five-game winning streak came to a halt with their 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Bears backup Caleb Hanie made it through the game healthy, but showed very little of the form that nearly won the Bears the NFC title game last January.
Hanie completed just 18 of his 36 pass attempts and was picked off three times in the first half. The fourth-year pro from Colorado State rebounded in the second half as Chicago stayed within striking distance, but could never get closer than five points down.
“I was a little antsy early on. A little bit too amped, I feel like. Just kind of felt a little pressure and sailed it on him,” Hanie said as he explained his first interception.
With the victory, the Houston Texans improve to 8-3, the highest win total in the AFC. Houston holds a two-game lead on Tennessee with five left to play and even with an undrafted rookie quarterback the team will still have a very good opportunity to secure their first AFC South title.
Chicago is in a much cloudier position as their 7-4 record is tied with Detroit and Atlanta. Chicago holds a head-to-head tiebreak over the Falcons and would win a tiebreak against Detroit but those teams appear to have much easier closing schedules than Chicago.
Although both the Texans and Bears would qualify for the postseason if it were to begin today, the quarterback play from both teams can’t give either fanbase any reason to believe their playoff runs won’t be brief.
Just Norv Being Norv
It appears as if the days of Norv Turner’s head coaching career in San Diego are numbered. Chargers fans have watched their team’s win total drop from the 14-2 season which ultimately got Marty Schottenheimer fired. Turner took over a loaded cupboard and although he’s won three playoff games, he’s yet to reach the Super Bowl while his team has eroded over time.
On Sunday, Turner was back to his old tricks as the Chargers lost an extremely winnable game to the Denver Broncos, 16-13 in overtime to drop to 4-7. At the end of regulation (tied at 13), San Diego had the football at their own 46-yard line facing a 4th-and-4. With the clock running down and a timeout in hand, Turner decided to simply let time expire and have the team play for overtime.
The proper choice would be to call timeout with approximately three seconds or less remaining and then throw a Hail Mary into the end zone. The odds of completing the play are slim, but the odds of a defensive score on the play are minuscule. The play would have given tall receivers such as Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd shots at a jump ball.
Still, that brain cramp likely didn’t cause San Diego to lose, but Norv’s playcalling at the end of overtime probably did. On the Chargers second and final possession of overtime, quarterback Philip Rivers helped navigate the team down to the Denver 35-yard line. Apparently Norv Turner believed that 50-plus yard field goals were a cinch for kicker Nick Novak despite the Chargers kicker missing a kick earlier. Turner called three consecutive runs which netted zero yards and left a 53-yard kick which Novak obviously missed.
“There’s nothing I can say to make it sound good,” Philip Rivers said after the team’s sixth-consecutive loss. “It’s about as rough as it gets.”
Not only Norv Turner’s game mismanagement but the regression of quarterback Philip Rivers is enough to show the head coach the door. The facts are that he took over a 14-2 team and the same unit five years later is 4-7 with no Super Bowl appearances. General manager A.J. Smith should share the blame with Turner, as he’s the one who hired him, but it’s time for San Diego to cut their losses.
Titans Stuck in the Middle
At 6-5, the Tennessee Titans will not be confused with the AFC’s elite teams. Tennessee has a quarterback far past his prime in Matt Hasselbeck and an expensive running back who was playing like an undrafted rookie before today in Chris Johnson.
With rookie quarterback Jake Locker expected to be “the man” for this franchise for the foreseeable future, it’s only a matter of time before the Titans turn over the keys to the car to the rookie from Washington. Keeping Locker on the bench to learn may be nice, but the quicker he gets on the field and makes his “rookie mistakes,” the quicker that Tennessee will become a contender again.
Although we all know the Titans aren’t a team that’s destined for a Super Bowl run in 2011, they remain just two games behind Houston in the AFC South race with the Texans having no legitimate answer at quarterback.
Tennessee has a quandary. Do they keep playing Matt Hasselbeck who isn’t setting the world on fire with his middle of the road statistics in the hopes that they can steal the AFC South and host a playoff game? Or do they realize that even if they can accomplish a division title, the Titans will be little more than a speed bump for a legitimate Wild-card team and thus get the future started now with Locker?
The Titans will end up playing Hasselbeck as long as he’s healthy and as long as they’re in contention even if it’s not in the long-term best interests of the organization.
Stevie Costs the Bills Again
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson is a very talented football player. Unfortunately, he’s a very creative guy and his creativity may have cost the Bills a football game on Sunday.
Being matched up against the great Darrelle Revis, Johnson beat the three-time Pro Bowler for a touchdown in the second quarter and decided to mock Jets wideout Plaxico Burress in his celebration. As everyone remembers, Burress shot himself in the leg in 2008 while he was a member of the Giants. Plaxico ended up serving a 20-month prison sentence for his blunder.
After the score, Johnson danced in the end zone before abruptly grabbing his leg as he’d been shot. The former Kentucky Wildcat proceeded to run around with his arms out “doing the Jet” before crashing into the end zone. Johnson was flagged 15 yards for the celebration and kicker Dave Rayner mis-hit the ensuing kickoff which gave the Jets a short field in which they scored a touchdown, ironically caught by Plaxico Burress.
“I was just having fun and part of having fun ended up being a penalty and a touchdown for the Jets,” Johnson said. “It was a stupid decision by myself.”
“I don’t think he’s a bad person whatsoever, I think he’s a good person,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said of Johnson. “He has some bad judgement at critical times and I have to help him get over that. We can not have that.”
Whereas Burress may have been embarrassed initially, he had the final laugh as the Jets topped Buffalo, 28-24.
“I’ve seen worse, and I’ve heard worse,” Burress said of Johnson’s celebration. “So, it doesn’t bother me at all. The result I’m looking at is we won the football game.”
Steve Johnson finished with seven catches for 75 yards with the touchdown, but dropped a key pass late in the game that may have given the Bills the victory.
Steve Johnson is a fun, exciting player to watch but he’s come up small in big moments throughout his career. Playing out the final year of his contract, all of these drops and indiscretions will be evaluated by prospective employers and will likely affect Johnson’s market value negatively.
Jags Can’t Evaluate Gabbert
After quarterback Luke McCown’s four-interception game back on September 18th in the Meadowlands, the Jaguars decision to start rookie Blaine Gabbert appeared to be an easy one. Gabbert was the future, and it was assumed that he couldn’t play worse than the band-aid veteran.
The Jaguars knew that there would be a certain amount of growing pains with their rookie, as he was a collegiate starter for just two seasons. As expected as these growing pains were, the Jacksonville front office needed to see Gabbert in action to evaluate whether he can be the future quarterback to lead the team to respectability.
After nine starts, nobody has any idea whether or not Blaine Gabbert can play.
Blaine Gabbert is near the bottom of the league in every passing category, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Gabbert has faced tougher competition than any of the other rookie signal callers and he by far has the least amount of weapons to work with. On Sunday, Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis dropped an easy touchdown pass from Gabbert in the first half and the Jaguars offense never recovered against the top-ranked Texans defense.
“It was a leak here, a leak there and we never really got clicking,” guard Uche Nwaneri said.
The problem with the Jaguars inferior offense is that those “leaks” that Uche Nwaneri was talking about happens every single game and on almost every single drive. Wide receivers quit on routes. When they don’t they drop passes. Protection breaks down, and when it doesn’t Gabbert feels a rush that might or might not be there. No quarterback could flourish with weapons like Jason Hill and Mike Thomas and the Jaguars are left wondering whether theirs can play at all on this level, surrounded by any talent.
In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio decided to bench Gabbert as he was “looking for a spark” for the offense.
“A quarterback is only as good as the players around him,” running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “When they pull your quarterback, they are saying something about you. It’s not the quarterback. We have to continue to work to get better with whoever is going to be the starter next week.”
Pulling Gabbert was the right move if the team was trying to win the game, although it likely came one quarter too late. But at what cost? With a team that’s now 3-8, isn’t the season about putting the rookie quarterback into as many situations as possible to learn from?
“You never want to lose a game,” Gabbert said after the 20-13 loss. “As a competitive guy, you never want to be pulled, but that’s out of my control.”
Jack Del Rio later confirmed that Blaine Gabbert would remain the team’s starting quarterback, “until I tell you otherwise.” If playing with the worst skill position players in the NFL isn’t tough enough, Gabbert now has to look over his shoulder to his lame-duck head coach after every mistake.
Jacksonville so blatantly ignored the skill positions in the offseason that 2011’s nightmarish campaign that will leave them with one of the worst records in football and also knowing virtually nothing about their first-round pick.
Florida Football Takes a Year Off
2011 will be a year to forget for football fans from the state of Florida. The combined record of the three NFL teams is 10-23 and there are no college teams that are ranked. All three professional teams have taken considerable steps backwards and two of the three head coaches (Tony Sparano and Jack Del Rio) will lose their jobs at season’s end or before. With Tampa Bay in the midst of a five-game losing steak, Raheem Morris’ job security is also extremely tenuous.
Gronkowski is the Top TE
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has made a living of making everyone around him better. He made average wideout Deion Branch a Super Bowl MVP, linebacker Mike Vrabel a goal-line threat and now tight end Rob Gronkowski the best tight end in the NFL.
Gronkowski is on pace to catch nearly 90 passes for better than 1,200 yards and he already has 11 touchdowns, tied for the league lead among all pass catchers. As great as playing with Tom Brady is for the second-year tight end from Arizona, his soft hands, big body and speed to exploit the seam would be effective on any team in any offense.
The elite tight end club which includes Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten has a new member.
Suh Likely to Be Down For Two
As referenced earlier in the week, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s extracurricular activities which resulted in his ejection from Thursday’s 27-15 loss to Green Bay will likely leave him suspended. Sources believe that Suh will likely receive a two-game sit-down for his actions on Thanksgiving Day.
Is Peterson the New Hester?
Arizona Cardinals rookie defensive back Patrick Peterson was touted as the next Darrelle Revis when he came out of LSU last season. Nobody said anything about being the next Devin Hester. On Sunday, Peterson struck again as he took a punt back 80 yards for a touchdown in the Cardinals 23-20 victory over the Rams.
“I was actually very, very surprised,” Peterson said when asked about the Rams punting to him after he returned one 99 yards against the same team just three weeks earlier. “I just told the guys to be patient, that we’d get one sooner or later.”
In 11 games as a rookie, Peterson has taken four punts to the house from 80 yards or longer, becoming the first player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Peterson’s dynamic return game has taken some of the edge off his rather inconsistent play at cornerback.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie