After handing the Detroit Lions their first loss of the season, it was San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh's post-game handshake with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz that made the headlines. An exuberant Harbaugh came running and jumping in celebration to the middle of the field where he shook hands with Schwartz - a hard handshake at that. The incident would prompt Schwartz to follow Harbaugh all the way to the tunnel, where players from both teams squared off from one another for several minutes.
As a former player, I have no problem with what Harbaugh did. I understand that it may have been a bit excessive, but I also think Harbaugh was caught in the moment after a big win. One thing about Jim Harbaugh is that he is extremely competitive, and it shows while he is coaching. To me, it seems as if Harbaugh is coaching as if he is still playing, and after a big win, he celebrates with his team as if he is their teammate. I think his players respond to his style of coaching, and they play harder for him because of it.
There is something to be said for good sportsmanship, especially from the team leader as head coach. Harbaugh should be expected to act as if he's won a big game before. Harbaugh is in his first season as 49ers head coach, however, and their win on Sunday was not only a big win for him personally, but it was a big win for the franchise as well. The 49ers sent a statement to the rest of the NFL that they are a team to be taken seriously, and that they are continually capable of beating good teams in tough environments. Commissioner Roger Goodell said later that neither Harbaugh nor Jim Schwartz would be fined for their actions on Sunday, and I think that's the right call.
The Oakland Raiders suffered a big blow after QB Jason Campbell went down with a broken clavicle early in a win versus the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. I experienced the exact same injury my sophomore year at Florida, and missed approximately seven weeks of football, so the Raiders can expect to be without Campbell for a while. Sitting at 4-2, the question now becomes whether or not the Raiders can thrive without Campbell under center? There have been numerous reports surrounding who might become Campbell's replacement. Backup QB and former Baltimore Ravens first round pick Kyle Boller seems to be the front-runner, however it was reported that the Raiders were interested in free agent QB David Garrard. Garrard will need back surgery, so he's out of the picture, but there have been other reports the Raiders are interested in retired Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer. Josh McCown and even Broncos QB Kyle Orton are other names that have been thrown in the fold. Regardless of who is under center, I think the Raiders will be fine without Campbell, so long as they don't lose their identity on offence. Head coach Hugh Jackson has done a nice job of playing to his team's strengths on offence, by being physical and running the football.
The Raiders are second in the NFL in rushing offence, averaging 160 rushing yards per game. The Raiders possess a formidable duo of backs in breakout star Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, and use them interchangeably in order to wear defences down. Whoever takes over at the QB position must at first be able to manage games and not turn the football over. It's important to remember that it wasn't as if Jason Campbell was stat-ing it up during the first six weeks of the season, even though the Raiders have been throwing the football between 30 and 40 times per game.
The Raiders win because they run the ball on offence, and play an aggressive style of defence. Whoever now starts at quarterback needs to play well right away, since the Raiders next three games are against division opponents, so this is a critical juncture in the season for Hugh Jackson and his team.
Time for Change
Speaking of QB changes, it's time for a change in Washington, and it has nothing to do with an injury. Starting QB Rex Grossman threw four interceptions as the Redskins fell to division-rival Philadelphia at home 20-13 on Sunday. Many now wonder whether head coach Mike Shanahan will make the move to John Beck, who came in late and led the Redskins to their only touchdown of the game on Sunday. I played with Rex at Florida, so I know that he has a gunslinger type of mentality. One of Rex's greatest strengths is his ability to forget bad plays and to continue competing through the course of a game. But Rex has been an interception machine over the last four weeks, and because of that the Redskins have failed to find consistency on offence.
Since a Week 1 win over the New York Giants, Grossman has thrown nine interceptions, simply too many for a team like the Redskins to overcome if they are to win on a consistent basis. The Redskins are a team that will have to battle week in and week out to generate victories, as they are simply not a dominating team that can easily overcome mistakes in big games. The Redskins have won two games by one possession, and have lost two games by a possession (both to division opponents) so there is never a lot of margin for error for Mike Shanahan and his squad. Wide receiver Santana Moss has been vocal this week, saying the Redskins should stick with Grossman as their starter, and it's always a good sign when players are supportive of each other in the locker room. But the Redskins need to find some consistency on offence if they are to compete for the NFC East, and Shanahan should make the switch to John Beck now, who provides the offence with an added dimension with his ability to run the football. The Redskins play two straight on the road so the timing of this move is critical if the 'Skins hope to keep pace in the NFC East.
The NFC East has been a tricky division to figure out. Watching the Giants and Eagles win on Sunday did nothing but muddle my thoughts when trying to determine who will win the division come season's end. Through six weeks, I believe the Dallas Cowboys are now the team to beat in the NFC East, even after losing this past Sunday at New England. I know the Cowboys are 2-3, but they are very close to breaking out, as they continue to improve and get better each and every game. The Cowboys have lost two games by four points, and one game by three points. They blew a 23-point second half lead at Detroit two weeks ago, and were beating the Pats at Gillette Stadium up until the final seconds of the game.
The Cowboys offence has the ability to be one of the better units in the NFL, but they have to stay healthy, something they have failed to do up to this point of the season. Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have all been nicked up at some point of the season. If these big-time playmakers can remain healthy then the Cowboys can realize their potential on offence. Defensively, players are finally beginning to understand defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme better, and it's showing on the field. The D played well versus Detroit, and sacked Tom Brady three times and forced four turnovers at New England on Sunday. The good news for Dallas is that they play St. Louis on Sunday. The Cowboys then travel to take on a Philly team that is coming off of a bye week.
This undoubtedly will be a huge match up on Sunday Night Football, against the team everyone pegged to win the division at the start of the season. I think that game will be very telling in terms of who ends up NFC East division champs.