Every Monday, SI.com's Michael Lombardi will hand out five letter grades to deserving NFL parties...
Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs. I'm not only giving these three failing grades for the week, but also putting them on double secret probation. And this will be the last time I will discuss their horrible play again this season in any column I write. From this moment forward, I am working with 29 teams for the F grade. At halftime yesterday, these three teams were down 72-16 combined. They are not only really bad, but also show no sign of ever getting competitive.
• The Lions are 31-84, a .270 winning percentage under president Matt Millen, who talked to the media this week and said, "What we're doing is the right thing to do. If they just keep doing what they're supposed to do, we'll be fine." The same words were uttered on the Titanic.
Do you think the 2008 Lions know how to play a game without spotting their opponent a 21-point lead? They were behind 21-3 at the half again on Sunday. The fact they are not even close in these games sends no hope to the fan base.
• The Chiefs are bad TV right now; you might want to parental block them on your system. Their first seven possessions resulted in six three-and-outs and one four-and-out, twice by interceptions.
• The Rams, after hearing their owner issue the ultimatum of improve or changes are coming, promptly went out and fumbled on the third play of the game and got behind 17-0 by the end of the first quarter. Have the 2008 Rams ever looked interested in playing at any time this year?
There are many times that teams in the NFL will play poorly, but these three have taken horrible play to another level for the last three weeks.
The Cleveland Browns. There was so much hope for the Browns this year. Coming off a 10-win season in 2007, Cleveland, everyone assumed, would take the next step. Owner Randy Lerner was so happy with their progress he rewarded everyone in the building with new contracts.
But this year has been a major disappointment. After losing their first two home games, the Browns went on the road Sunday and laid another huge egg. The Browns have struggled to run, catch and convert third downs. Their supposedly high-powered attack gained only 189 yards, with no sign of turning this poor play around. Since the Jets game last December, starting quarterback Derek Anderson has completed only five passes over 25 yards, none this season. The Browns need to make big plays down the field because Anderson is not a high percentage passer.
Meanwhile, the Browns defense knew the Ravens had nothing more than a running game, and still couldn't stop it. Baltimore controlled the ball for over 35 minutes. The Browns have to ask themselves some very tough questions to get this turned around. I am sure Lerner is doing the same thing.
Martin Gramatica and the Saints short-yardage offense. The Saints have an explosive passing offense, and Drew Brees has been just sensational. But they have lost two games this year because of their inability to close out tight games in the fourth quarter by either making a kick or converting a third and short. Martin Gramatica missed two critical kicks at the end of both halves on Sunday and their short yardage offense failed to convert two goal-to-go runs at the end of the half.
But the major malfunction for the Saints is their inability to convert on 3rd and 1 -- they are 3-7 in those situations. Many games in the NFL are close and the teams that can consistently win the third-and-short situations late in games are the ones who make the playoffs. Until the Saints address their kicking and short-yardage problems, they will be a fun team to watch on offense but won't be able to win the NFC South.
Cortland Finnegan and the Tennessee Titans defense. With Kerry Collins getting things done on offense, with the help of sensational rookie running back Chris Johnson, it's been the Titans defense that's been the key to their 3-0 start. No one has been more amazing then their starting corner Cortland Finnegan.
He is around the ball constantly and has a feel for making big plays and turning the game around. Yesterday he hauled in his fourth interception of the young season, returning it 99 yards for a touchdown. It was the third game in a row that Finnegan has had an interception.
The Titans are very good on defense. They are big and fast, and with playmakers like Finnegan in their secondary they can dominate games. They're especially very tough to play at home., The Titans are now a complete team -- they may not look pretty on offense, but they know how to win games. One gets the sense this team has great chemistry and believes in itself. Yesterday, they took control of the AFC South by winning their third game in a row.
Ronnie Brown and the Miami Dolphins. This is why the NFL is so great. On paper, this looked like an easy win for the Patriots because the Dolphins looked pathetic while getting blown out in Week 2 in Arizona. The Fins looked like an offense that had no chance to move the ball effectively against anyone. Moreover, their defense had allowed over a 70 percent completion rate and hadn't shown any ability to put pressure on the passer. So this was the easy pick for all of you in the suicide leagues. Sorry about that one.
The NFL can be very unkind and very unpredictable. The Dolphins, behind head coach Tony Sparano, devised a game plan that would make Glen "Pop" Warner proud. Using the old single wing concept, the Fins got the ball into their best player's hands, allowing Ronnie Brown to do his best Jim Thorpe impersonation. Brown scored five touchdowns, running for four and throwing for another to take the game over. And Chad Pennington finally got going, recording his best numbers as a Miami Dolphin with only three incomplete passes all day.