Snow and fired: Week 16 in the NFL had a little bit of everything
Why Vikes-Eagles was postponed; why Mike Singletary was canned
Explaining the NFL's rationale for flexing Rams-Seahawks into primetime
The Fine 15, MVP watch, weekly awards and 10 Things I Think I Think
ICE STATION ZEBRA -- On Sunday, in the warmth of the NBC Studios, I found it absurd the NFL called the Eagles-Vikings game because of snow and wind in Philadelphia. You play football in snow and wind. I've seen fabled, unforgettable games (The Tuck Rule Game, Michael Vick beating Brett Favre at Lambeau) in snow and wind. Part of NFL lore. And I agreed with Cris Collinsworth, who said last night on NBC that postponing the Minnesota-Philadelphia game until Tuesday night is a dangerous precedent, because, as he said, it opens the door to more weather-related postponements for whatever reason. This can't have been the first time a municipality declared a weather emergency on the day of an NFL game.
Then, at about the time it would have been in the middle of the second quarter of the Eagles game, I stepped outside. It was a four-block walk to my hotel in a city, New York, 90 miles northeast of Philadelphia, in the throes of the same storm Vickville was getting.
And on an eight-minute trudge to my hotel, I began to change my mind.
Maybe it was the way the snow was wind-turbining sideways, either at my back or in my face. Snow feels like tiny glass shards when it's blown at 40 mph into your face. Maybe it was the taxi letting a passenger out in the middle of a barren Fifth Avenue because he feared going down an untouched 52nd Street, or maybe it was the city bus stuck on the side of Fifth Avenue a block away, its wheels spinning helplessly. Maybe it was the lightning (don't ask me how that happens) that lit up the sky menacingly like it was a stormy July night. It looked like the end of the world out there. Funny, but I don't mind players playing in that. Hazard pay. But I mind fans getting there and going home in it. A friend of mine called from a cell phone on Route 3 in New Jersey, stuck in a logjam of stopped cars, around 10 last night. "We're not moving,'' he said. "I just hope I don't run out of gas.''
So as much as it pains me to say it, no, I don't mind that the game was called. For the 20 million of you longing for a game to watch last night, I'm sorry. For the 65,000 who might have tried to get to the game (I think maybe 20,000 would have made it), it wouldn't have been worth it. Yes, I have the same concern Collinsworth has, and I still think the New Jersey Super Bowl is a harebrained idea, but precedent or not, it made no sense to play the game in conditions like last night's.
Storylines of the day:
The Vikings are on the best travel roller coaster in NFL history. "We thought the Metrodome roof collapsing was the cherry on top of the sundae for our season. Perfect,'' kicker Ryan Longwell told me last night. "And then it's just never stopped.'' Moving the Giants game to Detroit. Moving the Bears game to the University of Minnesota on a night fit for neither man nor polar bear. And then having one more meaningless game (for them) pushed to Tuesday in Philadelphia because of the nor'easter that hit the East. Look on the bright side, Vikes! The team has given each player two free in-room movies to watch for the three days in Philly. (I'm serious about this.) Catch up on Hollywood's best! "'Sex in the City 2' is available,'' said punter Chris Kluwe. "And 'The Last Exorcism.' ''
Seattle dies, goes to heaven. Sort of. The Seahawks have lost by 19, 16 and 23 in the past 16 days. They're 6-9. And they'll be playing at home for a division title Sunday night. Is this a great country or what?
Mike Singletary gets put out of his misery, and someone named Jim Tomsula gets his one moment of glory Sunday at Candlestick. Imagine how bad the 49ers are, and how disgraced the Yorks, the owners, feel. And they open up their USA Today this morning to see Tomsula will coach his one game as a seven-point favorite Sunday against Arizona. Singletary had to go. He's a wonderful man, but he'd become a caricature of himself, yo-yoing quarterbacks and his one final sideline argument, with Troy Smith in St. Louis Sunday, seemed fitting. Last day, last reaming.
It was a very bad day for head coaches, speaking of Singletary. He becomes the fourth coach to get fired in-season this year, a startlingly high number. I expect at least four more, and as many as seven, next week.
--John Fox is gone in Carolina, obviously.
--Miami's Tony Sparano has gone from secure to endangered after losing to Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo at home in the span of 22 days; I don't see how he survives that, plus a 1-7 home record for an owner trying to make Dolphins Stadium the South Hamptons.
--Houston's Gary Kubiak picked a bad time to go on a four-game losing streak -- and to blow a 17-0 lead at woeful Denver. Beat man John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweeted last night he'd be "shocked'' if Kubiak and his staff survive.
--Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis will see his contract expire after next week, he's been lobbying hard for an indoor practice facility (which owner Mike Brown doesn't want to hear), and it's probably time for a change there.
--Cleveland's Eric Mangini had to be great this year to survive the shotgun marriage with Mike Holmgren, but a three-game losing streak puts him on the firing line -- if Holmgren can get one of his type of guys (Jon Gruden, maybe Marty Mornhinweg) to coach.
--Jeff Fisher has a Dead Team Walking. Will owner Bud Adams either pay him off or hope he gets a job to eat up some of the $6.5-million Fisher would be owed by the Tennessee owner in the last year of his contract?
--And Tom Coughlin. I don't buy it. Yet. Not even a loss to Washington this week will convince me Coughlin's a goner. But you can't have had two worse weeks if you're Coughlin and the Giants, and it could be that John Mara and Steve Tisch, who I'm sure are two very unhappy co-owners today, might do what they absolutely, positively do not want to do, and that's change coaches.
The Giants, if you can believe this, still are breathing. Despite the historic 38-31 collapse to the Eagles and the 45-17 loss in Green Bay, the Giants are in with a win over Washington and a (conceivable but hardly likely) Green Bay loss to Chicago Sunday.
Tebowmania. Given a chance to see what he could do, Tim Tebow made his first home start, came back from a 17-0 deficit and beat the Texans 24-23. He threw for 309 yards, tossed only one terrible throw (an end-zone interception), played confidently, and took the Broncos out of the running for the first pick in the draft. "I haven't thought it that,'' he said. More about Andrew Luck later in this column, Tim, but what it means is you won't have Luck breathing down your neck. For at least a year.
The Colts, 6-6 with no margin of error just 16 days ago, are on the verge of pulling the AFC South out. They've scored in the thirties three weeks in a row to beat Tennessee, Jacksonville and Oakland, and now, all they have to do is beat the lifeless Titans to be playing at home in the wild-card round.
The Patriots look like the '27 Yankees. New England's a steamroller; seven weeks in a row they've scored between 31 and 45 points, and they've done it in domes and in Antarctica. What a coach, what a quarterback, what a system.
Nobody seems to love the Bears, but they've scored 78 points in two weeks and I don't think you want to be playing them right now. Who knows? Jay Cutler is throwing and Matt Forte running like men possessed. They'll be a very tough out, particularly at Soldier Field.
Missouri Football Fever: Catch it.
Kansas City, 2007-2009: 10-38. Kansas City this year: 10-5.
St Louis, 2007-2009: 6-42. St. Louis this year: 7-8.
The Chiefs clinched the AFC West with a 34-14 win over the Titans, while the Chargers lost in Cincinnati. The Rams moved within a win of the NFC West title, as expected, by beating the Niners. More about both in Tuesday's column. But they're tremendous stories, stories that every one of these owners about to make coaching changes would do very, very well to study.
I don't know who Coach of the Year is.
One week from turning in my ballot for the Associated Press' all-everything NFL awards, and I'm confused about the coach more than anything else. Perhaps you can help me. Send me your thoughts, and I'll run the smartest few in Tuesday column. But here are the logical candidates, in no order other than alphabetical:
Bill Belichick, New England. Remade his offensive skill positions in one offseason, and the Patriots were the most explosive team in football. Getting the most late in the season out of a young defense. One of the best coaching jobs by the coach of his generation.
Todd Haley, Kansas City. Wisely handed off play-calling to Charlie Weis in the offseason and become the kind of overlord a head coach should be. "He changed our culture,'' says Tamba Hali. And the Chiefs won division after winning 10 games in three years.
Mike McCarthy, Packers. There are stats for this somewhere, I'm sure. But I'd bet the Packers edge Indianapolis for the team with the most games missed by starters due to injury. McCarthy and his staff do a great job of cultivating the next wave of good players to win.
Raheem Morris, Bucs. I picked the Bucs to win two games, and I remember one outraged emailer who said to me: "You're crazy! They're going to win five, easy!'' Try nine. Morris has been a bright Pied Piper to one of the youngest teams in Buc history. His way works.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia. Takes a lot of guts to, first, jettison the quarterback you've had since you walked in the door and who still is an OK player; and two, to bench the guy you traded the starter for -- with the hope that your quarterback project can be The Man. We see how Michael Vick has responded.
Rex Ryan, Jets. A late-season slide probably removes him from serious contention, but he's the type of coach players flock to play for -- and respond to. And the Jets are going to the playoffs for the second straight year under Ryan.
Lovie Smith, Chicago. A no-panic guy in the mold of his mentor, Tony Dungy. The whole city knew Smith was on trial for his job, yet you never know it. A good leader who empowers others to work well together.
Mike Smith, Atlanta. One of the new thinkers in the game. I've written a lot about how he's done bright things like limit John Abraham's snaps and get more out of him than any coach has. And the Falcons are in position to win not only the division but homefield through the NFC playoffs.
Steve Spagnuolo, Rams. St. Louis has come the farthest of any team in the league, even though it hasn't won anything yet. His rebuilt D has allowed 21 points less than the Giants, 27 less than Philadelphia.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh. Thought he handled the Ben Roethlisberger thing very intelligently. He basically said we're going to win, and I don't care if Dick LeBeau's quarterbacking us. He wouldn't let his players even consider an excuse, and they took his lead.
Tough call. For me, it's probably going to come down to Belichick, Morris, Reid or Spagnuolo. I've got some thinking to do.
Carolina's not feeling Lucky this morning.
I heard reliably earlier in the week that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the unquestioned top prospect in the draft should he choose to bypass his final two years of eligibility, was thinking about staying in school rather than being this year's Sam Bradford. As I said on NBC last night, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh told me he thought Luck, a redshirt sophomore, was leaning toward staying for a fourth year.
I said to Harbaugh Sunday that I'd heard the Luck family (his dad, Oliver Luck, is a former NFL quarterback) was concerned with the fact that drafted players, because of the prospect of a protracted work stoppage, might not even see their playbook or start practice 'til Labor Day -- or later. If that's the case, why wouldn't Luck stay for his fourth year at Stanford and play, whether Harbaugh (who is rumored to be a candidate for both pro and college head-coaching jobs after turning around the Cardinal) is there to coach him or not?
"I don't think that's the correct logic,'' Harbaugh told me from his home in northern California. "But I do think it's more likely he'd come back. If I had to bet one way or the other, I'd bet he's coming back. He loves college. He loves the college life. He's such a good kid -- and so smart. He's got a 3.5 GPA in Architectural Engineering, and all along his plan has been to go to college for four years, get his degree, then figure out what to do with his life. This is a kid who has a plan. And he's a kid who's not the big-man-on-campus type. He just fits in.''
So it's not rock solid Luck stays. Stanford plays Virginia Tech in the Something Or Other Orange Bowl (who can keep straight all these sponsors?) next Monday, and maybe the kid figures he's done everything he could in college football and wants to move on. But it doesn't sound like it. That'd be terrible news for the Panthers, obviously. Carolina will be choosing first when the draft begins April 28.
Carolinians will be even more disappointed if he stays after hearing Harbaugh's assessment of him. "I'm absolutely convinced he'll make it in the NFL,'' Harbaugh said. "He's got no negatives. He's athletic -- he'll run the 40 in the high 4.5s. He's instinctive. He's accurate. He's got great touch on the ball. He throws lasers when he wants to. I think he's got a photographic memory, though he doesn't think so. And he's the anti-celebrity quarterback. He'll be perfect for the NFL.''
So we'll see what Luck does. But it sounds like another underclassman, Clemson pass-rusher Da'Quan Bowers, might be moving into the first-pick-in-the-draft neighborhood if Luck stays at Stanford.
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