Bus Stops: Lions will be worth watching; time to bench Jay Cutler
Matthew Stafford reminds me of Peyton Manning's early struggles
Of all the possible coaching job openings, only Carolina is worth taking
An 18-game season is do-able, and players should use it as a bargaining chip
Every Thanksgiving I end up going back and forth between my family in Detroit and my family in Atlanta, so there's not always time for football on my Thursday afternoon, believe it or not. But this day always makes me think of Detroit -- because I'm from there, and because of the coin-flip incident in 1998, which everyone wants to talk about around this time of year.
And, of course, with the Lions going 0-16 last year and getting off to a slow start again in '09, people start to toss around the idea of taking that traditional game away from Detroit. Now, having been born and raised there, I think that's a tradition you can't mess with. How many true traditions does the NFL really have anymore? Not so many, especially with divisional realignment killing some of the old rivalries. It would be terrible to take this away from the city.
Every organization will go through a tough period. You hope it's not a long stretch, but it's cyclical; everyone has it. Every year goes up and down. How long ago was it that the 10-0 Saints were terrible? Likewise, think back and there was a time when the Lions were a good football team. They'll be there again. I beg of the league, please don't take this game away from this city. Be patient, folks.
* Here's Reason Number One to believe Detroit will come around: Matthew Stafford. What guts from that kid yesterday, picking himself up off the ground to come back for one last winning play at the end of regulation against Cleveland. I was in the league when Peyton Manning was struggling as a rookie, and I feel like I'm watching the same thing again. Sure, this kid throws a lot of picks. He makes some stupid mistakes. But you see some upside, and when you do, your jaw drops and you say, "Wow."
It's funny thinking about how bad Peyton could be back then. I remember in his second game he threw three interceptions. Ty Law had two of them, and returned one for a touchdown. And I remember telling Ty, "Man, this kid's going to single-handedly send you to the Pro Bowl." That's how bad Peyton could look at times. But he took his beating like a man. He took his lumps. And he learned from it and responded amazingly. Even during those struggles, I can remember thinking: If he can really pick himself up off the mat like that, and if he can cut out some of those interceptions, this kid could be something special one day. I watch Stafford play today, and I feel some of the same emotions.
* What a tough day for the AFC North. Baltimore did everything to win their game against Indy except win the game. You can't let the Colts stay around by ending drives with field goals. You've got to put a team like that away, Joe Flacco.
The Bengals, they're just struggling with the idea of being winners. Marvin Lewis, you need to put away bad teams.
And the Steelers? I said this early in the week on my TV show: There were only three ways Pittsburgh could lose to a team like Kansas City. 1. By allowing a special teams return; 2. By turning the ball over in the red zone; 3. By suffering an injury to Ben Roethlisberger. I said all three needed to happen, and all three happened. It was a perfect storm.
The Steelers are in a bit of a crunch now. Their backup quarterback, Charlie Batch, is out. And Ben might actually have to sit this one out given the league's stance on concussions lately. But here's how Mike Tomlin can spin this into a positive: First, get Dennis Dixon in there. Don't mess around by signing someone like Jeff Garcia for the short-term. Play for the future; find out what Dixon has to offer you. Find out if he's the replacement for Batch, who's turning 34. Then, pound the rock. The Steelers are not running the ball well. And there's no better way to work out the kinks than to go into a game and run the hell out of your guys. They may end up taking a loss against Baltimore, but long-term I think this could absolutely be a good thing for the Steelers. When this ordeal is over, I think they'll be a better team because of it.
* If I'm a coach and could bench anyone in the league I would go with Jay Cutler. (Keep in mind, I considered Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez, too.) It seems like after every incomplete throw, every bad pass, Cutler is turning on someone and complaining about a route or something else that a receiver did wrong. Clearly this guy's not on the same page with everyone in Chicago. He's deflecting blame. He needs a timeout to get his head straight and he needs to check his ego. The guy's so headstrong and so confident in his ability to throw a football that it puts him in trouble. He needs to re-evaluate his game, start from the bottom with his raw skill set, and work his way back up. At some point he has to accept some blame. Look, Jay: If you smell s--- everywhere you go, it just might be you.
*More role-playing. If I'm an unemployed coach, I can't think of a single job I'd honestly consider taking -- and I'm counting both the existing Buffalo job and the hypotheticals in Cleveland, Chicago and Oakland -- unless John Fox gets the axe in Carolina. And, yes, I still think that's going to happen. Look at the solid base there: their offensive line and running backs are intact. Moreover, I like that position because of the division the Panthers play in. Sure, the Saints are strong now, but New Orleans isn't a team that traditionally stands out. That division is always up for grabs. I think that's a job you can come into and be competitive immediately (which you can't say about Chicago in the NFC North, Buffalo in the AFC East...), and I think that the ex-coaches considering these jobs will weigh that heavily.
*You may not expect to hear this from an ex-player, but as these labor negotiations go on, I actually side with the people who think players could handle an 18-game schedule. Let's be realistic. Some teams already play more than 18 games if they make it deep into the playoffs. My last year in the league, when I was 33, the Steelers played 20 games. It can be done.
Do players want to do that? Of course not, because of the increased risk. But it's a bargaining chip that they have to consider using in these negotiations. If two games get you more of the things you want as a players association, you have to consider it. An 18-game season is possible. It's humanly conceivable. But, for the sake of players to come in future generations, they'd better make some tremendous gains if they concede that bargaining chip.
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