The Real McCoy?
Yes, you read the score properly. The Cleveland Browns beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, 34-14, on Sunday - easily the most shocking score on the ticker. What may be even more surprising is that the Browns have won their past two games against tough teams with a rookie QB! Colt McCoy is now 2-1 as the Browns starter, and he is proving that he has enough talent to lead his team to big wins.
McCoy hasn't been putting up huge numbers along the way (although he did complete 70 percent of his passes for over 280 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh in his first start), but he has done a remarkable job of managing games for the Browns. Head coach Eric Mangini has stuck to the old school mantra of running the football on offence without turning the ball over, and playing good defence and special teams to grind out wins. Mangini hasn't put his rookie QB in a position to "lose" games, and it's paid off over the past two weeks.
Maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise that the McCoy experiment has worked out so far. He was the runner up for last year's Heisman Trophy, after finishing a sensational college career at Texas, whom he led to last year's BCS National Championship Game. McCoy finished his college career with 45 wins, more than any QB in major college football history.
I had the chance to help call several of McCoy's games over the past three years, and was very impressed with his overall athleticism and accuracy throwing the football. Two years ago, McCoy broke Daunte Culpepper's single season completion percentage record, as McCoy hit on nearly 77 percent of his passes in 2008!
Still, there were many doubters regarding McCoy's ability to lead an NFL team, and he was passed on in favor of Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen before the Browns selected him in the 3rd round of this past year's NFL draft.
Sometimes, being drafted further down the board is a blessing in disguise for young QBs, as they can be picked up by better teams (ie Tom Brady), but that wasn't necessarily the case when McCoy was picked by perennial bottom feeder Cleveland this past April. After a less than stellar training camp, however, McCoy has been able to make the most of his opportunities when the games have mattered, and because of that, the somewhat surprising Browns are sitting at 3-5, and teams no longer simply look past the orange helmets on their schedules.
How bizarre was it on Sunday to see not one, but two NFL teams lose starting kickers to injury? Both the New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions were forced to make brash moves Sunday to replace the injured players. The Pats went to Wes Welker as their backup kicker, but the Lions went a bit more "off the board", as 300 pound rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh took over the place kicking duties!
I remember my rookie year in New York, when we had the legendary Morten Andersen as our starting kicker. Morten was 41 years old at the time, and began struggling with various injuries at the midway point of the season. Because we didn't have a back-up kicker, we needed to have a plan in place in case something happened and Morten couldn't kick in the game, so head coach Jim Fassel named WR Joe Jurevicius our back-up kicker that week. Joe was a tall, possession receiver from Penn State, and a terrific athlete who actually kicked very well throughout the week in practice. Instead of taking a ton of heat from the guys in the locker room, Joe received a ton of praise from his teammates because we were all so impressed with his abilities as a kicker and punter.
Have you ever tried kicking an extra point? It's way harder than it looks! My head coach in college, Steve Spurrier, won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 as a QB, thanks in large part to his kicking ability. In a big game late in the season, the Gators needed a FG to beat conference rival Auburn at home. Instead of using their normal kicker, Spurrier, a great all around athlete, took the field and made the 40 yd kick to seal the win for his team - and the Heisman Trophy.
There's an old saying in the NFL that says, "the more you can do, the more valuable you are". Although a combined 1-for-2 (Suh hit the upright), both Welker and Suh proved that to be the case Sunday.
At the midway point of the season, the NFL picture isn't much clearer than it was at the start. The Dallas Cowboys have been a major disappointment, and the teams like the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a pleasant surprise.
There are already a lot of fans in different cities buying tickets to Dallas for this year's Super Bowl. In fact, there are lots of people here in New York City looking forward to a "subway series" if the Giants and Jets meet up!
If I could pick the eventual Super Bowl matchup after eight games, I would pit the New York Giants against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After starting slow this season, the Giants are currently red-hot, in the midst of a five-game winning streak. The Giants' defence has become arguably the best unit in the NFL, thanks mostly to a dominating pass rush. This defensive front is playing a lot like the unit that won the Super Bowl in 2007 as Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and company have made life very difficult for opposing QBs through the first half of this year's NFL season. In fact, the Giants' D has already knocked out four starting QBs in eight games!
Eli Manning is playing the best football of his NFL career, and his trio of wide receivers, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, are quickly developing into the best WR corps in the NFC.
The AFC is a bit tougher to call right now, with the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots all sitting at 6-2. My money, however, would be on the 6-2 Steelers. Because of their dominating defense, the Steelers were able to survive the first four games of the season without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger, and now that he's back, this team is complete again. I don't think you can ever discount the fact that the Steelers have won two Super Bowls in the past five years, and that "championship attitude" goes a long way down the stretch run for head coach Mike Tomlin and his team.
It is critical that Big Ben continues to gain confidence as he progresses through the remainder of the season, as the AFC North division appears to be the gateway to Dallas this year.
So the Giants and Steelers are my pick. Two of the winningest franchises in NFL history. What a Super Bowl that would be!
Turmoil in Texas
Drastic times call for drastic measures. For the first time since acquiring the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, owner Jerry Jones has fired a head coach midway through the season. The Cowboys began the season with very high expectations, but after starting the season 1-7, Wade Philips was let go on Monday, with offensive co-ordinator Jason Garrett taking over as interim head coach.
A lot of good happened under Wade Philips' watch in Dallas. He had a 35-23 record as the head coach of "America's Team", won two NFC East division titles, and finally led the Cowboys to their first playoff win last season since 1996! But all of that wasn't enough to keep his job this year.
It feels like for the past three or four seasons, we all talked about the Dallas Cowboys being the most talented team in the NFL. It always seemed like it was just a matter of time before the 'Boys would play in a Super Bowl. Owner Jerry Jones made no secret of his hopes for his football team this year, as he envisioned his team taking the field at home, come this February in the Super Bowl.
Things haven't gone smoothly for the Cowboys through eight games in 2010. They have become a very undisciplined team, losing games due to untimely penalties and poor execution. Matters became much worse when starting QB Tony Romo was lost for several weeks due to a broken clavicle.
Not all of this is Philips' fault, of course, but much of the Cowboys' inconsistency will be directly related to him. During the Cowboys' current five game losing streak, it appeared as though Philips had lost his team, as was evidenced by their embarrassing loss at Green Bay this past weekend.
Jerry Jones had to make a move, and only time will tell if Jason Garrett is able to do enough to become the next head coach in Dallas.