After Week 10, it's clear: There are no super teams in NFL this season
Whatever you do, don't make plans for the Sundays of Week 13 or Week 17
Nice guy Jason Garrett turns bad cop to rid Cowboys of their losing streak
An interesting choice for the top of the Fine 15, plus 10 Things I Think I Think
NEW YORK -- Week 10 headlines:
1. Mark Sanchez takes his place with the big quarterbacking boys.
2. In the We're Really Serious This Time Note of the Week, Los Angeles is finally moving toward playing NFL football for the first time since 1995.
3. The Jaguars are very good at improvisation.
4. Bill Belichick does something better than Vince Lombardi did, and I'm not talking about playing lacrosse.
5. My Super Bowl pick is in big trouble.
6. So much for all those "what good has an interim coach ever done'' deep thinkers.
Before we go to those exciting places, a look at what lies ahead. After tonight's Donovan McNabb Referendum Bowl, there will be seven weeks left in the NFL season. Seven weeks, 112 games. I don't know how you measure such a thing, but I've got to think this has a chance -- a chance, nothing more, nothing less -- to be the most interesting last month we've ever seen in the NFL.
There are no super teams. The Patriots get throttled by Cleveland by 20, then throttle the Steelers by 13. The Jets go to overtime two straight weeks to survive teams with a combined record of 5-13. The Falcons, Packers, Giants, Saints and Eagles are the best in the NFC, and there are things to like about each one, but are you taking any of them to the bank? Admit it: You wouldn't be surprised to see Oakland or San Diego (combined record: 9-9) play deep into January.
As we digest the league this morning, and things can change in the next couple of weeks obviously, but it's looking like the league did a very smart thing in scheduling all teams to play division games in Week 17. The last month is going to be really interesting, particularly on the weekends of Dec. 5 and Jan. 2. With 19 of 32 teams in first place or within a game of first place (and a 20th could get there with a Washington win at home tonight), check out what an interesting stretch run the NFL could have:
In the last month, there are 15 division games between teams in first place currently, or within a game of first. That number rises to 17 if Washington wins tonight, because the Redskins and Giants play twice in the last month.
In Week 13, there are five head-to-head division games among the leaders (including Steelers-Ravens and Jets-Pats). In Week 17, there are five more.
Not that you'll want to be anywhere near a mall on the last weekend before the holiday, but do not make plans for Sunday, Dec. 19. Check out the non-division schedule in Week 15: New Orleans-Baltimore, Jets-Pittsburgh, Green Bay-New England.
Pretty good times coming up -- assuming no one runs away with any of these divisions. Some team surely will. But this is a different year, the first one since 1959 that every team had at least two losses after nine weeks. It's going to be fun.
Hard to say enough good things about Mark Sanchez this morning.
A quarterback's job, above all, is to win, no matter how the game is won. Sanchez, in the past two weeks, has played two games the Jets should have won -- at Detroit, at Cleveland. Though each was excruciating -- both games were tied at 20 after four quarters -- Sanchez made enough plays when he had to for the Jets to win. His numbers over the two games are individually pedestrian (59-percent accuracy, three touchdowns, two picks), but think how much he played: 138 minutes, 161 snaps, with his offense generating 893 yards. Maybe it should have been easier to win these games, and maybe great teams put away Detroit early and don't need overtime to beat Cleveland. But this is a weird year in the NFL. No team is vastly superior. You've got to win the close games, and the road games, and Sanchez has done it two weeks in a row.
Two things stand out from Sunday's 26-20 win at Cleveland: He played two quarters with a painful right calf after the Browns crushed him on a sack ("He's tougher than nails,'' Rex Ryan said, and watching him grit this out for an hour after the sack, at the risk of joining the cliché festival, I'd agree), and he made a terrific read and decision on the last play of the game.
Before going out for the last series, beginning at the Cleveland 37 with 24 seconds left in overtime, the assignment was clear: get the Jets into close range for another shot for Nick Folk to win the game. (God knows why. Folk had already missed three makeable field goals, any of which would have given the Jets the win long before this.) Sanchez told me after the game that he and Santonio Holmes had a route combination that could have had him take any of four options, depending on the coverage he saw when he got off the line of scrimmage.
"It's one of those things we both have to see, and we both have to be able to adjust when the play starts happening,'' Sanchez said from the Jets bus on the way to the airport late Sunday afternoon. "Tone did a great job reading it. There was -- well, just a little improv there. He's got to see the four options, I've got to see them, and then we've got to make the right choice.''
Holmes ran a quick slant, got the ball delivered perfectly from Sanchez, wheeled around the cover guys, and, thankfully, the Jets wouldn't have to rely on the kicker on this day. Warts and all, Holmes was acquired to make game-winning plays like this, and you get the feeling Sanchez-to-Holmes has a chance to be a New York institution if both stay healthy and on the field.
When I asked if he thought he might have to miss a few snaps because of the calf strain, which caused him to limp like Walter Brennan for a few minutes, Sanchez said, "Never. I'm not coming out of that game. They gotta finish me off to get me out of there, and they didn't.''
Good news for Jets fans. And for a team that's going to need a quarterback to compete with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers to win the AFC this year, and for several to come.
"These are the games I didn't give us a chance to win last year,'' Sanchez said. "Either because of bad passes, bad decisions, interceptions, whatever. That's what I'm happy about. I'm not making the dumb decisions now. I'm really proud how we hung in there today.'' He can start with himself there.
It's a good day to be Jason Garrett.
If I had a dime for every former coach and/or Joseph Abboud-suited network guy who implored Jerry Jones to keep Wade Phillips and let himself dig the Cowboys out of the hole he'd dug for them, I wouldn't be buying my lattes for a long time. Some holes you just don't dig out of. Phillips might be the guy you want running your defense, but he's the good cop, and Dallas needed a bad cop. I'm stunned to say they might have found him in one of the nicest guys I've covered in my years in this job.
Garrett knows he's in an awful hole. He has eight games to prove he deserves to be a head coach in the NFL. If he succeeds by winning five of his final eight, let's say, Jerry Jones will be under pressure to make Garrett -- and not the sexier Jon Gruden, for example -- the coach of his team long-term.
Those around Garrett the past few days feel what I felt in a short conversation Thursday about the job. "You've got five minutes,'' he said sharply -- not rudely, but with the kind of immediacy that said, These are the most important eight weeks of my coaching life, and I've got to spend my time on winning, not talking. Because I don't want to be a quarterback coach in some far-flung place next year.
His team went out and played with Garrett's sense of urgency in dismantling the Giants 33-20. The game showed the value of a head coach in the NFL. Garrett came out determined to force the issue and not play the game safe. On the second series, backup quarterback Jon Kitna twice threw downfield to Dez Bryant, the second resulting in a touchdown. Take chances. Take shots. Try to win. And they did. The future? Who can know. But the best coaches don't look down the road. They look at today, and that's what Garrett was looking at after the game.
"It was a good day for us for a lot of different reasons,'' Garrett said. "One of the things that we emphasize to our players is come to work each and every day. Be great on Wednesday, be great on Thursday and Friday and that gives you a chance to be great on Sunday. We weren't great in all areas today, obviously. There are a lot of things we have to clean up, but I think the intensity in all three areas ... guys fighting for each other, playing for each other, different guys getting involved, guys who have been around here, newer guys in different roles. It was a good day.''
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