Week 8 NFL Wrap-up: History As It Is Happening
Editor’s note: This fall, Sam Ennis and Nathan Schiller will cover the 2012 NFL season with a blog called “Vinatieri, Back to Kick It Off.” (If you don’t know why we’re calling it this, you obviously didn’t play excessive amounts of Madden ‘98.) Each week, they’ll exchange thoughts on the previous week’s games, examine developing and ongoing league trends, bring in guest writers to irrationally breakdown their favorite teams, and unravel many more features. Imagine the format to be like a radio show, except written. (In other words, not like a radio show at all.) The blog will run every Tuesday at Construction.
NATHAN: Not sure if you noticed, but this little thing called Hurricane Sandy just ripped through the East Coast. Earlier Monday, local news kept showing video feed of the ocean ominously gathering swell like a CGIed Hollywood movie; one station even captured a deer wandering through a vicious surf on the Jersey Shore, followed by the obligatory dramatic interview with the guy who chased it to safety (and called it a “young buck”). As the weather intensified, people posted pictures of familiar spots flooding—the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook; Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I attended a wedding six weeks ago; the running/cycling path along the West Side Highway. By chance, nothing afflicted my Brooklyn neighborhood beyond a couple hours of 70-plus mph winds (which wasn’t exactly pleasant). Still, who knows how long before I can go anywhere, as the bridges and tunnels and subways have been damaged, and the lower half of Manhattan may or may not have power. For a part of the country whose worst natural disaster is an eerily mild winter, the last seventy-two hours have reminded us that we are literally watching history happen.
Coincidentally, this week’s NFL games gave me the same feeling. I did two things on Sunday: braced for an epic storm, and watched football games that made me conscious of the fleeting, fickle, and arbitrary nature of athletic prowess and stardom. Why don’t we just go through the list?
Mark Sanchez: The GQ Covers Are Over
Rex Ryan was correct to say that Mark Sanchez is still the Jets’ starter because he gives the team the best chance to win. Unfortunately, that means the Jets’ best chance to win is by playing a quarterback who completes 52.9% of his passes for 208 yards per game (to borrow standardized testing lingo, he’s in the 20th percentile) and matches his 1.25 touchdowns per game (10) with 1.875 turnovers (8 picks, 7 fumbles). The reason the Jets have no better options is because they hamstrung themselves with the Timmy Tebow sideshow. His role may expand? Great! Nothing better than three-and-outs! It’s a formula with a built-in ceiling, which we saw last season in Denver: top defense in the league + worst division in league history + unprecedented miracle games (all eight wins by an average of 3.6 points) = wild-card home game vs. befuddled aging defense where anything can happen. After needing overtime to beat the Steelers, the Broncos, down just 14-7 to the Patriots early in the second quarter, asked Timmy to win them the game, and in his six ensuing drives, excluded the end-of-half kneel-down, he executed 23 plays for 29 yards. This year, Timmy’s team has no defense and has to compete with Brady and the surprising Dolphins. Uh oh.
SAM: What’s such a killer about the Sanchez situation is that it’s proof of what happens when a front office talks itself into a quarterback who just clearly can’t carry the load. While Mark Sanchez has had his share of competent-to-very good games (most notably the 2011 AFC Championship game, which the Jets still lost), has anyone ever watched him and thought that they were looking at a longtime NFL starter, or even a decent backup? He’s erratic, floats passes, makes baffling decisions throwing into quadruple coverage, and if you watch him, he doesn’t seem to have the elusive “it” factor (unless “it” is a legion of supermodels, in various states of undress, taking body shots in a pool, at all times). And yet Mike Tannenbaum and crew, presumably—and rightfully—fearing for their jobs after assessing the situation and realizing that they traded up to take a third-round talent with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed Sanchez to a three year extension, including over $20 million in guarantees, before the 2012 season. This was likely a vain attempt to hitch their wagon to the broken down nag (I love that word) that is the Sanchize and hope that things pan out. Nice work.
Some analysts rate quarterbacks as having the biggest bust rate of any position in the NFL, and even those who claim that trend is reversing itself do so in the face of an overall hideous track record (Jim Druckenmiller? Isn’t he a Tea Party congressman from Nebraska?). So what’s the matter with admitting that you’ve got yourself a lemon, sitting Sanchez’s ass on the bench, and then drafting someone who has a 50/50 chance of sucking just as badly? Oh, yeah. You don’t want to get fired.
Romo’s Cowboys: If Not Now, Then Never
NATHAN: I turned off the Giants-Cowboys game when the Giants built a 23-point lead in under 17 minutes. When I turned the game back on, the Cowboys were about to take a 24-23 lead, and Tony Romo was pumped up. Enter the fourth quarter. Where the Giants converted three drives into just two lowly field goals, here’s how the Cowboys executed their three drives:
- Covert two mid-range third downs, then Felix Jones fumbles at midfield.
- Pass well from 20-yard-line to 20-yard-line, then Romo throws an interception on fourth-and-one.
- Miss 37-yard TD to Dez Bryant by inches, fail on ensuing three passes.
Eli Manning was not good: 15/29, 192 yards, one pick. Romo racked up monster yards—437, with Jason Witten catching a team-record 18 passes for 167 yards—but they came on 62 attempts, mainly because he was playing from behind, which he had to do not because the Cowboys’ defense was porous (it wasn’t), not just because the Cowboys have no running backs (Jones is a disgrace), but because he threw four picks. So while he and Eli had nearly identical QB ratings (in the 58s), they achieved them in vastly different ways. As we know, as goes the quarterback, so goes the team. Obviously, we don’t want to get suckered into the easy yet erroneous “Cowboys are chokers, Giants are resilient!” narrative, but what stock do we put in the Cowboys’ ability to prove that they’re not bumbling fools?
SAM: I feel like there are three types of “mediocre-to-good” quarterbacks. The first type is the “usually won’t kill you”:
- If everything else is good, he can get you to the playoffs, maybe even the Super Bowl . . . but is going to throw for 250 yards, two TDs, and two picks, no matter what. You just have to accept him and know that you’ll make up for him some other way. Think Rex Grossman.
- Jekyll and Hyde: when he’s good, he’s throwing 85 yards in the air right into Torrey Smith’s hands and using the power of his unibrow to smite the forces of darkness and banish the Klingons to a far away galaxy. When he’s bad, this happens. I’ll let you surmise of whom I speak.
- Romo. Generally competent, but always chooses the worst possible time to blow up. He’ll drive you down the field for the win and then muff the hold (laces out, Dan). He’ll need one first down to win the division and overthrow Miles Austin. Or, in a game when Eli Manning is garbage, all he has to do to win is throw three or less interceptions, he’ll throw four. Never quite enough.
To be fair, I don’t think this is entirely Romo’s fault. Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips both appear to be (or have been) pretty mediocre coaches. While the Cowboys have had a string of good receivers and tight ends during the Romo era, their offensive line is a revolving door of stiffs and undrafted rookies, and their running backs have been laughable: Julius Jones was somehow an actual cigarette smoker during his NFL career, Marion Barber sounds like Drunkenmiller’s Tea Party congresswoman doppelgänger (let’s say from North Carolina this time), Felix “Turf Toe” Jones has a hard time find the holes, and DeMarco Murray is Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. Also, Jerry Jones is a megalomaniacal whackjob. And Romo still sucks.
Michael Vick: At Least He’s Not, You Know, In Prison
NATHAN: Michael Vick committed his crime, and he served his time, so the headline is a bit misleading. But still, I have to think that if I’m Michael Vick, I’m just happy that I’m no longer living a shady, underworld lifestyle, that I’m allowed to own a dog, and that I can make a good income as a backup QB for the next ten years. As a football fan, a dog and animal lover, and a lawyer attuned to the inner-workings of the justice system, what are your thoughts on Vick?
SAM: On the first part, dog lovers, get over it. Michael Vick went to prison for almost two years, lost his fortune, but now seems (as far as anyone can tell) rehabilitated; he’s even been doing effective outreach with the Humane Society, which appears legitimately convinced of his sincerity, to help curb dogfighting. As for his abilities as a quarterback, the Eagles played the Steelers a few weeks ago. Even as Vick drove down the field again and again, I thought to myself, “There is a virtual certainty that he’s going to fumble the ball before he gets in the end zone.” And he did . . . three times. Why am I supposed to be afraid of him as a quarterback? That is, unless he’s anywhere near his brother, at which point, duck and cover (and avoid fast food restaurants).