The passing of Al Davis dominated the weekend, and rightfully so. But the games were good enough to seize back some of the attention -- especially since the team that Davis owned has remained at the forefront of the postseason conversation by scoring a huge road win in Houston.
So what are the most interesting story lines from a Sunday that seemed a lot bigger than usual, even with six teams sitting this one out?
Here are 10 of them, as usual.
1. Andy Reid deserves the blame in Philly.
The Eagles are 1-4. So who gets the blame?
“There’s nobody to blame but me,” coach Andy Reid said after a 31-24 loss to the Bills. “I take full responsibility for it. It’s my football team.”
He’s right. Reid has been running the entire football operation since 1999. This year, Reid decided to go “all in,” taking a string of big risks -- none of which have panned out yet.
Reid decided to fire defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, explaining that McDermott just couldn’t fill the long shadow of the late Jim Johnson. Reid decided to replace McDermott with Juan Castillo, who had been the offensive line coach for 13 years.
And so in that one string of decisions, Reid put both the defense and the offensive line at risk. Coincidentally (or not), those are the biggest weak spots on the team.
Meanwhile, Reid signed off on a string of free-agent signings, which raised the expectations higher and higher, even though guys like running back Ronnie Brown and receiver Steve Smith didn’t really address the team’s real needs. Team president Joe Banner did Reid no favors, telling PFT Live that the line between success and failure this year is winning the Super Bowl.
So when going “all in” and losing, what happens? Do you get a new pile of chips to gamble next year? Or is there accountability for making a bad bet?
That’s what remains to be seen, especially if the Eagles fail not only to achieve that which Banner described as success, but also if the team fails to even get to the playoffs.
Though it’s believed in some league circles that the relationship between Reid and Banner and owner Jeffrey Lurie has enough strength to overcome complete failure in 2010, the fans and the media will demand that someone pay for the blunder with his job.
2. Eagles still have a decent chance.
With a 1-4 record, the window is closing on the Eagles. But there’s a silver lining, sort of.
In any other division, the Eagles would need to go at least 9-2 over the final 11 games to have any hope of qualifying for the postseason -- a very tall order given that they have upcoming games against the Cowboys (twice), Redskins (twice), Giants, Patriots, and Jets.
But with the Giants looking sluggish and the Cowboys stuck at 2-2 and the Redskins still believed to be overachieving, the Eagles can win the division, perhaps without winning 10 total games. If they can win the rest of their NFC East games, and if none of the other three teams pile up wins outside the division, the Eagles could climb back into it.
It’s far from a sure thing. But it’s a far easier proposition than if the Eagles were in the NFC North or the NFC South. Or even the NFC West.
3. At the bye, Kolb decision not looking too good for the Cards.
The Cardinals started the season with a closer-than-expected win over the Panthers. But a closer-than-expected win is always better than a loss.
Since Week One, the Cards have lost four straight times, culminating in a 34-10 blowout in receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s homecoming to Minnesota.
Before Sunday’s debacle, during which the Vikings rolled to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter, Cardinals fans were grousing about the decision to trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb. With Kolb coughing up a trio of turnovers, Cardinals fans have to be wondering whether the team’s brain trust squeezed out a brain fart.
Kolb’s passer rating of 77.2 puts him at the back of the pack, and the 1-4 record puts them in contention for Andrew Luck -- which may not be a bad thing, assuming that the coaching staff and front office can survive a disastrous final record.
The only good thing about the Kolb trade so far is the fact that his presence helped persuade receiver Larry Fitzgerald to sign a new deal. But as the team enters its annual football-free fortnight (otherwise known as the bye week), Fitzgerald has to be wondering whether he made the right decision, and the Cardinals have to be wondering the same thing.
4. Hue Jackson takes control in Oakland.
Yes, meticulous planning by the late Al Davis will allow his family to continue to own the Raiders. But with son Mark Davis not expected to try to run the football operations, someone will have to take charge.
In the short term, that’s coach Hue Jackson. During the offseason, Jackson was negotiating contracts, even before serving as head coach for a single game. Sunday’s stirring victory necessarily gives Jackson even more juice.
If he can parlay that into a playoff appearance, who knows? Jackson could end up with a Belichick-style arrangement, in which a personnel executive who answers to Jackson helps set the table.
Much remains to be decided in that regard. But Jackson will only cement his status within the organization if he can continue to push a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2002 toward a return to glory in the season that ultimately was the last one for Al Davis.
5. Horrible call in Carolina.
The close-but-no-cigar Carolina Panthers need to find a way to transform close losses into close wins. They almost pulled it off on Sunday, but it would have happened with the asterisk of a very bad call.
Down by 10 midway through the third quarter, the Panthers had the ball in their own end. Facing third down and five from the Carolina 36, quarterback Cam Newton missed receiver Legedu Naanee.
But a roughing the passer penalty extended the drive, which ultimately resulted in a touchdown that tightened the game to 23-20. The only problem? Saints defensive lineman Turk McBride did nothing that remotely would constitute roughing the passer.
Newton wasn’t hit with a helmet. Newton wasn’t hit in the helmet. Newton wasn’t hit in the neck. Newton wasn’t hit low. Newton wasn’t slammed to the ground. Newton wasn’t driven to the ground. Newton wasn’t hit by a defender who took more than one step before making contact.
In a season featuring plenty of missed roughing calls, Newton and the Panthers got a drive-extending gift. Short of making rougher the passer subject to replay review, there’s really no way to fix this one.
Maybe the best answer is to make roughing the passer subject to replay review.
6. It’s definitely Tebow time in Denver.
Yes, it’s time.
It’s Timmy Tebow time.
Coach John Fox has been stubborn, but once he inserted Tebow into Sunday’s eventual loss to the Chargers, Fox tied his own hands. Though Tebow’s numbers weren’t spectacular (he completed four of 10 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, and he ran six times for 38 yards and a touchdown), he gave the team a spark. He gave the HDTV viewers a thrill. And he gave the fans vindication for their insistence that Tebow deserves a chance.
The fans will now want that chance to continue. They’ll want to see what Tebow can do with a chance to actually, you know, prepare to play. They’ll expect to see him on the field after the bye week, when the Broncos go to Miami.
Fox will surely give it to Tebow. The time has come to find out what Tebow can do. Sink or swim, succeed or fail. The Broncos need to know what they have -- or don’t have -- so that they can plan for a future with -- or without -- Tebow at quarterback.
7. Running it up has its risks.
Setting aside for now the question of whether NFL teams should or shouldn’t run up the score, a decision to keep the foot on the gas during the final laps of a race that already has been won definitely has its risks.
For the 49ers, who were leading the Bucs by 38 points with fewer than five minutes to play, the risk resulted in No. 1 receiver Josh Morgan breaking an ankle.
As a result, the Niners will now have to get by without Morgan for the foreseeable future. They’ll hope for Michael Crabtree to step up and/or Braylon Edwards to step back onto the field. They’ll hope for that because No. 1 wideouts aren’t exactly hanging around.
What’s that? Randy Moss? Terrell Owens? Unlikely, and likely unwise.
Almost as unwise as keeping Josh Morgan in a 41-3 game.
8. Bengals should trade Carson, but not yet.
In rookie Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals have found their quarterback of the future. And their quarterback of the present.
So what should they do about their quarterback of the past?
Some fans are suggesting that the Bengals should now be willing to trade Carson Palmer, and that they should do so before next week’s trade deadline. But they won’t get nearly what they could by cobbling a trade together now.
Instead, they should wait until the offseason, at which time teams will be making their plans at the position for 2012. Anyone who trades for Palmer at that point would have the benefit of a full offseason and preseason to get him ready to go, and the Bengals would get one or more picks from the same draft for which they’d get picks now.
Patience, then, is the key. Come March, someone who needs a quarterback but who isn’t in position to draft Andrew Luck or trade for him will consider making a play for Palmer.
9. Is Del Rio close to being done?
The Jaguars opened the season with a win over the Titans. Since then, the Jags have lost four in a row. With the Steelers, Ravens, and Texans coming up, the Jaguars could be 1-7 at the bye.
And 1-7 could be good enough to get coach Jack Del Rio fired.
Or could it? Del Rio entered the season without starting quarterback David Garrard, cutting him and in turn saving owner Wayne Weaver a whopping $8 million. If Del Rio actually wanted to keep Garrard but ultimately agreed to go along with a move that the front office and/or ownership wanted to make, Del Rio possibly could have gotten himself at least until the end of the 2011 season.
Heck, Del Rio may have even gotten himself a full offseason to develop quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
10. The “Suck for Luck” update.
After five weeks, the Colts have the inside track on the first pick in the draft (and thus the rights to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck), thanks to a Chiefs team that has beaten two winless teams in consecutive weeks.
But the Colts continue to come close to winning, and there’s a sense they eventually will have success.
The Dolphins and Rams, on the other hand, don’t have quite the same prospects. Miami specifically seems poised to slide into the worst -- and thus best -- position, given the loss of quarterback Chad Henne for the balance of the season and upcoming games against the Jets (twice), Bills (twice), Pats, Cowboys, Redskins, Eagles, Giants, and Raiders.
With only three winless teams remaining, the one-win teams soon will be in play, with the Jaguars, Cardinals, Vikings, and Panthers possible candidates. (In theory, even the Eagles could be in the mix.)
Regardless of how it all plays out, the teams that lose hope will find hope in the quest for a clear shot at Andrew Luck -- or at the bushel of draft picks that he could potentially generate.