NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets never trailed throughout Monday night’s game, but they weren’t nearly in command late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings.
There was no doubt where momentum was. Brett Favre was feeling it, throwing touchdown passes on three out of four possessions to pull the Vikings within two points with 3:09 remaining.
Five plays later, the Vikings forced the Jets to punt. The stage was set for a heroic Favre finish. The Jets’ defense was staggered and on its heels. Vikings receiver Percy Harvin was beating hobbled Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Randy Moss was a constant threat for the Vikings, too. Running back Adrian Peterson had been effective in the fourth quarter.
“It was getting scary out there, man,” Jets linebacker Bart Scott said.
But Jets defensive back Dwight Lowery finally snuffed all Vikings hope. Favre tried to throw a pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the right flat, but Lowery snatched it and sprinted 26 yards for a touchdown with 90 seconds left to secure a 29-20 Jets triumph.
“We have to keep our composure,” Lowery said. “We did surrender some points, and there were some things we could’ve done better, but when it comes down to it, we’ve just got to make a play. We have to believe in each other, and that’s what I felt like we did.”
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid told reporters Monday that he expected all of his coaches to return in 2011, but apparently he’s changed his mind. Reid has fired defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
The Eagles’ defense gave up 31 touchdown passes and the pass-rush disappeared down the stretch. But even with those dismal numbers, you figured Reid would show some patience with McDermott based on how many injuries occurred on that side of the ball. The Eagles finished the season with rookies starting at safety and middle linebacker. Both Kurt Coleman and Jamar Chaney were taken in the seventh round. And it’s not like McDermott had a lot to work with at cornerback either.
The Eagles made the curious decision to view Ellis Hobbs as a starter and he eventually played his way out of the lineup before suffering a season-ending injury. At one point, McDermott had Dimitri Patterson, Joselio Hanson and rookie Trevard Lindley seeing significant time in the secondary.
McDermott had the unenviable task of having to follow the late Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator. The Eagles made the playoffs during both of his campaigns, but they were bounced in the first round. Reid could promote from within with veteran coach Dick Jauron, but it’s more likely he’ll try to bring in another voice.
By waiting a week to make this move, the Eagles have missed out on some candidates. But former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who’s had head-coaching stints with the Dolphins and Bears, is still available. And he’s a believer in the 4-3 scheme.
You expected the Eagles to make a lot of changes to their roster, but McDermott’s firing comes as a surprise.
Hopefully you all are enjoying a wonderful and respectful Memorial Day weekend. In the event you need an NFL fix in what is normally one of the quietest times of the year, let me point you in the direction of two ESPN Insider files with an NFC North focus.
The first comes from Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders , who thinks the Green Bay Packers will be taking a huge risk if they entrust their backup quarterback job to Graham Harrell. You need an Insider subscription to read the entire story, but Schatz believes the dropoff from Aaron Rodgers to Harrell would make the difference between an elite team and a .500 team.
Schatz wrote the Packers were 15-1 last season with “possibly the greatest passing game in NFL history,” but it “hid the fact that the 2011 Packers were essentially mediocre or just plain bad in every other aspect of the game.”
My feeling is that most teams would have a dropoff upon the loss of a starting quarterback. The Packers’ gap between Rodgers and Harrell is wider than most, but that might be more a reflection of Rodgers than Harrell.
Second, KC Joyner — aka the Football Scientist — suggests that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder could be in line for a breakout season in 2012 thanks to an improved supporting cast.
Again, you’ll need a subscription to see the entire story. But here is a snippet: “An upgraded supporting cast should also go a long way toward helping Ponder reduce his 4.3 percent bad decision rate (BDR) last year (BDR being a gauge of how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads to a turnover or a near-turnover). That total was the third-highest in the league, but is not atypical of the BDR numbers posted by many of today’s top quarterbacks early in their career and thus isn’t an unsolvable problem.”
To me, Ponder will benefit as much from an improved situation at left tackle, where Matt Kalil will take over for the miscast Charlie Johnson. At times, Ponder seemed too quick to utilize his athletic ability and escape from the pocket. He made some plays, but over time an offense needs more passing plays from the pocket than scrambles outside of it.
The Eagles aren’t going to admit this, but Kevin Kolb could be auditioning for 31 other teams if he starts against the Saints on Sunday. Once Donovan McNabb returns from his rib injury, you’ll have four quarterbacks in the mix. Obviously that’s not going to work. Kolb
Conventional wisdom suggests the Eagles will simply release Garcia once McNabb’s healthy and Michael Vick is reinstated. But what if Kolb has a big game Sunday at home against the Saints? What do you think the Eagles could get for him? I certainly don’t think they can get a second-round pick, but it would be an interesting scenario.
For now, though, Kolb’s taking advantage of having three experienced quarterbacks in the building. Asked what type of advice he’s received, here’s what Kolb said:
“Jeff, he’s good about, like I talked about before, tempo, how to run a huddle,” Kolb said. “Jeff has all the intangibles and when you are stepping in behind a guy like Donovan, you have to have all of those intangibles. Donovan has always helped me out with you guys and helped me out with the team and just the way he sees it. He never forces his opinion on anybody. He just kind of says, ‘Hey look, this is the way I look at it. Do what you feel comfortable [doing].’ And Vick is kind of a laid-back guy. He just kind of says, ‘Hey, don’t let it get to you, just keep rolling with it.’ They all have their own little piece of advice.”
If you’re an Eagles fan, you have to feel good about what you’re hearing from Kolb. I think he’s ready to seize this opportunity. I watched him play when he was at the University of Houston. He had some amazing moments, and I think he’s capable of bringing some of that to this level. In fact, I think people in Philly, including the media, have been too quick to dismiss him. I think Kolb will end up starting in the NFL. Will it be for the Eagles? I still have my doubts.
SAN FRANCISCO — Marshawn Lynch has 99 touches, defined as carries plus receptions, through the Seattle Seahawks’ first four games. Only five players since 2008 have had more to this point in a season. How many is too many?
Arian Foster has 112 this season. Matt Forte (110 through Week 4 in 2008) and Chris Johnson (106 in 2008) each started 16 games after getting more touches to this point in a season. Frank Gore (102) and Darren McFadden (101) missed games to injury after their heavy workloads to begin the 2010 season, but there’s no evidence, on the surface, that getting all those early touches was the culprit.
The chart ranks NFC West players by most touches (receptions plus carries) divided by how many games their teams have played, regardless of whether a player has missed games to injury. Lynch is well out front.
MIAMI — Joey Porter took his diatribe against the Miami Dolphins to the next level Sunday morning on the NFL Network.
After a week of allowing himself a modicum of wiggle room in discussing his future with the club, Porter told “NFL GameDay Morning” he has put on a Dolphins uniform again.
“Strapping on that Dolphins jersey, yes, this year was the last time,” Porter said.
The Dolphins’ season ended five weeks ago, but Porter’s blood still is boiling over the way head coach Tony Sparano treated him. Porter was benched for a game and kept on the sideline in favor of younger outside linebackers Cameron Wake and Charlie Anderson.
“If it was a situation where the guys were better than me, then you just have to move on,” Porter said. “But if it’s not a changing of the guard, they just have to sit and wait their turn. Nobody is that good enough behind me to be stepping on my toes.
“When I was in Pittsburgh, I knew [James] Harrison was getting better. It was a question of ‘How can we pay both of these guys because [Harrison] can do what Joey can do?’ I understood that. That is not the situation here. It’s a big drop off.”
A look at Ichiro Suzuki’s performance by pitch location in 2009 and this season.The Yankees made a significant move in the trade market, filling a hole in their outfield with the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners.
Let’s take a closer look at the deal and Ichiro’s current statistical standing within the major leagues.
Ichiro’s Offense Ichiro is a .322 career hitter, third-best among active players, behind Albert Pujols (.326) and Joe Mauer (.324). But it has been a couple of years since he put up numbers of that nature.
Ichiro Suzuki vs Pitches Out of Strike Zone
Ichiro entered the day with a .261 batting average and a .642 OPS. Both would be career-worsts if maintained to season’s end.
The .642 OPS ranks second worst among the 35 AL outfielders who have at least 250 plate appearances. Coco Crisp, who beat the Yankees with a walk-off hit on Sunday, is the only player who ranks lower.
One of the things that has happened to Ichiro over the last few seasons is that his batting average against pitches out of the strike zone has declined by a significant amount.
The image atop this article shows his performance comparing when he was at his best (2009) to this season. The chart on the right shows his year-by-year decline.
Other components to his game Ichiro entered Monday ranked second among major league rightfielders with 12 Defensive Runs Saved, a stat that combines his ability to turn batted balls into outs with the deterrent value of his throwing arm. The only player who ranks higher is Josh Reddick of the Oakland Athletics.
The Yankees defense ranks third-worst in the AL with -20 Defensive Runs Saved, better than only the Orioles (-26) and Tigers (-21). They have been without their top defender, leftfielder Brett Gardner, for nearly the entire season. Gardner ranked second among outfielders with 23 Runs Saved last season.
Ichiro also entered Monday with 15 stolen bases. That’s more than anyone else on the Yankees, who entered the day ranked 11th in the AL with 50 steals. Alex Rodriguez is the top basestealer, with 11.
Mariners Statistical Legacy
Ichiro leaves the Mariners after 1,844 career games, second-most in team history. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in batting average, hits, and stolen bases.
Ichiro Suzuki Mariners Ranks
Ichiro set the major-league single-season record for hits with the Mariners when he had 262 in 2004. His 10 seasons with at least 200 hits rank tied with Pete Rose for the most in major-league history.
Combining his major league and Japanese careers, he has 3,811 hits, 445 fewer than the all-time major-league hits leader, Rose, who had 4,256.
He finished his Mariners career with 54.4 Wins Above Replacement, third behind Ken Griffey Jr. (67.5) and Edgar Martinez (64.4).
Did You Know? The Yankees have three players on their team with 2,500 or more hits– Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, and Ichiro.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this is the third time in major-league history that a team had three players with 2,500 or more hits play for them in the same season.
The other two are the 1927 Philadelphia Athletics (Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Zack Wheat) and the 1928 Athletics (Cobb, Collins, and Tris Speaker).
LincecumA pair of Tim’s — Lincecum and Hudson, to be exact — shined on the mound Wednesday night.
One continued to make his case as the best strikeout pitcher ever to don a Giants uniform. The other made a season-ending arm surgery nearly three years ago seem a little more distant.
On the hill facing the New York Mets, Tim Lincecum struck out 12 in seven scoreless innings, leading the San Francisco Giants to the 2-0 win. Lincecum snapped a two-start losing streak and improved to 3-3 on the season.
It was the 29th time Lincecum struck out at least 10 in a game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lincecum passed Christy Mathewson for the most 10-strikeout games by a Giants pitcher since 1900.
Most 10-Strikeouts Games Since 2007
Among his contemporaries, Lincecum’s punchout prowess stands out even more. Since he entered the league in 2007, his 29 career 10-strikeout games are 12 more than the next pitcher (Johan Santana).
Lincecum’s fastball was in rare form, clocking in at an average of 93 mph. He struck out seven Mets with his fastball, his highest total with the heater the past three seasons.
For the season, Lincecum’s fastball velocity has averaged 92.8 mph, up from 91.2 mph a season ago.
HudsonMeanwhile, south of where Lincecum was overpowering Mets, Braves pitcher Tim Hudson pitched a gem in the second game of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hudson allowed just one hit to the Brewers, striking out six in an 8-0 win. The shutout was Hudson’s 12th of his career, but his first since undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2008.
It was the third time Hudson pitched a one-hit shutout, last doing so against the Colorado Rockies on May 1, 2006. Since he began his career in 1999, Hudson’s three one-hit shutouts are the most by any pitcher in that span.
Hudson needed just 102 pitches to complete Wednesday’s shutout, continuing his efficiency this season. It’s already the second time in May that Milwaukee has been shut out.
That hasn’t stopped Hudson from eating innings. He’s managed at least six innings in each of his seven starts this season, with five of them being quality starts (at least six innings, three ER or fewer).
In the immediate aftermath of the apparent defeat of the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium bill, I suggested it was time for owner Zygi Wilf to dial up the rhetoric and at least begin discussing an endgame for the franchise in Minnesota. Wilf has remained silent, but on Wednesday night a top NFL executive filled that role.
Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president, told the Star Tribune’s Mark Craig the situation has gotten “very serious” and raised the possibility that Wilf will sell the team to someone who presumably would relocate after the 2012 season.
“This is getting ripe,” Grubman said. “You have a very dejected ownership. They’ve run out of options. They feel like they’ve done everything they’ve been asked to do and they can’t get a vote. No one will answer the question, ‘What is it going to take?’ The Vikings have said, ‘Give us A, B and C, what would you like us to do?’ They’ve been told A, B and C, and they’ve done that. And they still can’t get through.”
Grubman said he didn’t think that Wilf is ready to sell yet but added: “There are plenty of willing buyers.”
It is important to note that a lot of emotional and inflammatory statements are going to start getting thrown around this issue. We’ve reached that point. But the basics of what Grubman said are totally realistic.
As we’ve discussed many times, it’s highly doubtful that either the Wilfs or the NFL will want to remain in Minnesota indefinitely without a new stadium. And as Grubman said, there is nothing in the Minnesota political muck to suggest that the stadium would have a better chance in a special legislative session this fall or even in 2013.
State leaders are probably going to need a full-blown crisis to feel the urgency of this issue, and we can see the parameters of that crisis forming already: The specter of Wilf putting the team up for sale. I don’t think Wilf wants to do that, but I also don’t think he wants to continue operating the franchise in the Metrodome.
Regardless, this moment was inevitable. It’s interesting that the NFL, and not Wilf himself, is sending the message. But in the end, we knew it had to come to this before anyone got any real answers.
PITTSBURGH — Greetings from the Iron City, which eventually welcomed me after an interesting travel day. There are a few inches of snow on the ground, but nothing like the 18-20 inches on the ground a few hours south of here. I just watched the local weather report, and at most there will be flurries when the Steelers and Green Bay kick off at 4:15 p.m. ET.
As it turns out, the Packers won’t have a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a victory Sunday. Dallas’ Saturday night upset of New Orleans saw to that. So here’s the scenario to keep in mind now: The Packers will clinch if they win Sunday AND Washington beats or ties the New York Giants on Monday night. Otherwise, it’s on to Week 16 for the Packers’ playoff hopes.
The Saints’ loss also keeps in play Minnesota’s hopes for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Remember, the Vikings would win any tiebreaker with the Saints if the two teams finish the season with the same record. A victory Sunday night at Carolina would essentially leave the Vikings a game back with two games left to play.
Finally, the Bears have arrived in Baltimore after a 24-hour travel odyssey. Their game against the Ravens will kick off as scheduled at 4:15 p.m. ET.