Sunday September 27th, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we try to fathom the latest comeback miracle, and undoubtedly one of the greatest, in Brett Favre's long and eventful 19-year NFL career....

• In today's NFL, it's never too early for the topic. Not in a league in which three offensive coordinators were canned before the regular season opened, and the six out-of-work Super Bowl-winning head coaches out-number the currently employed Super Bowl-winning head coaches by a 2-to-1 margin (6 to 3).

So don't ask whether the debate about Jim Zorn's job security in Washington is worth having a mere three weeks into the season, just get ready for the discussion to go viral in the coming 48 hours. Zorn's Redskins ensured that on Sunday afternoon when they became the first team to lose to the Detroit Lions in a span of 21 months and three days. The Lions' 19-14 win, the first in rookie head coach Jim Schwartz's three-game tenure in Detroit, snapped their 19-game losing streak and all but painted a bulls-eye on Zorn's backside.

You can't say we didn't see this coming. After a promising 6-2 start to his rookie season in Washington last year, Zorn is 3-8 and his Redskins (1-2) look like the clear-cut last place team in the hyper-competitive NFC East for the second year in a row. Losing to Detroit just gives Redskins owner Daniel Snyder all the motivation he needs to be the first one to pick up the phone to try to get a Mike Shanahan, Bill Cowher or a Jon Gruden to sign on the dotted line. This much we know: Zorn's players certainly didn't look like they were playing to save their coach's job Sunday at Ford Field.

We're not predicting that Snyder would entice anyone with a Super Bowl ring on their finger to town to take over his team in an interim situation, but you can't like Zorn's chances to last much longer after a game in which his Redskins were at one point getting dominated by the NFL's lovable losers. The Lions led 13-0 at the half, and held advantages of 274-94 in total yards and 16-6 in first downs. Washington played better in the second half, but not well enough to pin a 20th consecutive loss on Detroit.

When you throw in Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick, that's an available coaching talent pool that represents seven of the most recent 13 Super Bowl winners, and four of this decade's nine Super Bowl champs thus far. It's going to undoubtedly tempt some owners to act, rather than take the risk of not getting their first choices when it comes to picking through that elite litter.

The Rams and Raiders both canned their head coaches after four games last season, with St. Louis at 0-4 under Scott Linehan and Oakland 1-3 under Lane Kiffin. San Francisco waited until seven games were in the books to dismiss Mike Nolan last year, but the 2-5 49ers at least responded to interim coach Mike Singletary, going 5-4 in the season's final nine games. Oakland's Tom Cable also bucked the usual fate of the interim coach, earning the opportunity to lead the Raiders into the 2009 season by going 4-8 in his 12-game run.

Will those results perhaps encourage other teams to go the early dismissal route this year in an effort to salvage their seasons? Maybe, maybe not. But Zorn certainly moved to the front of the firing line with Sunday's result. Despite offense being his specialty, Zorn hasn't fixed the Redskins lack of production, or come anywhere near developing Jason Campbell into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be.

Sins of that nature usually end up costing head coaches their jobs. Zorn, who Snyder hired last year despite him not even having experience as an NFL coordinator, looks like he's in position to be the first one to go this season. Whether it happens this week, next week or sometime after that, the outcome no longer appears in doubt in Washington.

• Oh, so LeSean McCoy is the "Wildcat'' guy in Philly? Now I'm really confused. Turns out we were focused on the wrong Eagles quarterback with a four-letter last name on Sunday, because it was Kevin Kolb's day much more than it was Michael Vick's. Vick wasn't even the best "Wildcat'' formation quarterback on his team's roster Sunday, what with rookie running back McCoy scoring a five-yard first-quarter touchdown on a direct snap.

It figures Vick would be so low-profile against Kansas City. He got so much of the pre-game attention last week, but wound up with just that one carry for seven yards, two incompletions, and was involved in eight other snaps where he either handed off or played the role of a decoy.

Wouldn't it be the height of irony if the real story in Philly this season wound up being the Eagles discovering for the first time what they really have in Kolb, a second-round pick in 2007? His 24-of-34, 327-yard, two-touchdown day in the Eagles' 34-14 blowout of Kansas City has to give Andy Reid a real comfort zone should he need him again this season in place of Donovan McNabb.

For all the fanfare, Vick at this point seems like something of an afterthought in the Eagles offense.

• Well, that just confirms what everyone already knew. Brady Quinn (one interception at Baltimore) or Derek Anderson (three picks in relief of Quinn), it doesn't matter who plays quarterback in Cleveland. Look for Brett Ratliff to be under center any minute for the desperate Browns. (He's head coach Eric Mangini's favorite, any way).

In losing 34-3 at Baltimore, the Browns were completely manhandled. Cleveland has now been outscored 55-10 in the second half this season, and the Ravens basically called off the dogs in the fourth quarter or things could have been even uglier for the Browns.

Good thing you jumped on Mangini so quickly last January, Randy Lerner. Wonder how the Browns' all-over-the-map owner is feeling about his quick decision now? I don't think Lerner really knows what he's looking for in a coach, and I'm not sure he'd know it if he found it.

• Not to ruin anything for anyone, but I don't forsee Baltimore slipping from the top spot in our NFL Power Rankings this week. Just saying.

• What must it be like to be a fan of the Bucs, Browns or Chiefs this season? Not only are they all 0-3, but also as a group they were completely out-classed on Sunday, with the Giants, Ravens and Eagles beating them by a combined score of 92-17.

Here are just a few of the ugly numbers:

--Through three quarters, the Giants led Tampa Bay in first downs 21-1, and 326-25 in total yardage. If it were a fight, they would have stopped it.

--The Browns were out-gained by Baltimore 479-186, and threw four interceptions to the Ravens -- who clearly didn't need the help with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing for a career-high 342 yards.

--The Chiefs were 0-of-11 on third downs, with Matt Cassel completing 14 passes in 18 attempts, but still managing only 90 yards. How do you do that?

• The Falcons are a very good football team, and might well make their way to the NFC playoffs. But Atlanta's 26-10 loss at New England showed us that for now Mike Smith's team is not ready to play with the biggest of the big boys in the NFL. It also proved that reports of the Patriots' demise were -- to no surprise -- somewhat exaggerated.

New England is still getting frustrated in the red zone and having to settle for field goals -- four of them in five red-zone trips against Atlanta -- but the Patriots wisely used an effective Fred Taylor-led ground game to take some of the pressure off Tom Brady. New England isn't exactly the team we're used to, but they still haven't lost consecutive games since Week 9 and 10 of 2006.

• So it's back to square one when it comes to figuring out the enigma that is the Houston Texans. They win at Tennessee last week, and lose at home this week against winless Jacksonville. Gary Kubiak's team remains as befuddling as ever.

And what exactly is going on with the Texans' run defense? Led by Maurice Jones-Drew's 119 yards and three touchdowns, the Jaguars dented Houston for 184 yards on the ground. That's probably going to keep Houston ranked last in run defense for another week. The Texans gave up 240 yards rushing to the Titans and 190 to the Jets two weeks ago.

• At 0-3, the Titans have as many losses as they had all last regular season, and since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only three teams have dug out of an 0-3 hole to make the playoffs. That's the grim news that Jeff Fisher's club faces, and it can't be sugar-coated.

Tennessee's game against the Jets on Sunday went about like its season so far -- the Titans were down 14-0 before they knew what hit them. But I wouldn't bury the Titans just yet. They can play a whole lot better than this, and I actually believe the playoffs are still possible. But they now face a must-win next week at Jacksonville, and they've got to at least split the following two games, which are home against Indianapolis and at New England.

• I can't really remember the last time Tennessee imploded on special teams, but rookie return man Ryan Mouton almost single-handedly killed the Titans against the Jets. His two fumbles, one on a first-quarter kickoff, and another on a second-half punt return, led to 14 of New York's 24 points.

I wouldn't want to be Mouton on the flight home to Nashville tonight.

• Having just watched Percy Harvin play in person for the first time in his NFL career, I predict that very soon teams are going to decide it's just not worth the risk of kicking off to the Vikings rookie. His 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against San Francisco is going to give chills to special teams coaches everywhere.

• The Packers will take their 36-17 ugly-at-times win at St. Louis and be happy about it, but the best news for Green Bay was that it protected quarterback Aaron Rodgers better after surrendering two first-quarter sacks to Rams defensive end Leonard Little.

Now comes a game the Packers have been aiming for since Favre signed with the Vikings: Green Bay at Minnesota on Monday night, Oct. 5, in Week 4. Though the players in their locker room aren't likely to admit it publicly, the Packers are incredibly eager to play against Favre and do their part to make sure his return to the NFC North isn't a season-long success story.

• I know one team that feels better about itself today: The Green Bay Packers. Because now they know losing last week to the Bengals was no disgrace. That became readily apparent once Cincinnati upset the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers 23-20 late Sunday, giving the Bengals their second consecutive eye-opening win.

The Bengals are clearly better than we thought, and to think they'd likely be 3-0 if they hadn't lost to Denver in Week 1 on that fluke pass deflection. As for the Steelers, their overtime win at home against the Titans on Sept. 10 already feels like a very long time ago. Pittsburgh has lost a fourth-quarter lead two straight weeks in a row, and that's the kind of stuff that convinces me there will be a post-Super Bowl letdown in Steel City this year.

• Not only did backup Kyle Boller look better than Marc Bulger after he replaced the Rams' injured starter against the Packers, but also a few other teams' quarterback situations bear watching this week.

Tampa Bay might be tempted to make a quick move away from Byron Leftwich after he bombed at home against the Giants, and how much longer can Oakland keep watching JaMarcus Russell as he regresses before our eyes? The Bucs let backup Josh Johnson finish the game against New York, and he at least moved the ball a bit. It's probably too early to turn to Josh Freeman in Tampa, so Johnson is the likely option if the Bucs bench Leftwich.

As for Russell, I'm guessing Oakland coach Tom Cable wishes he had Jeff Garcia now. Lastly, Miami starter Chad Pennington hurt his shoulder against the Chargers and was replaced by Chad Henne, who finished a decent 10 of 19 for 92 yards, with a costly interception. With the Dolphins 0-3 and in must-win territory in their season, will that be enough to start Miami's Henne era?

• It may not feel great if you're a Saints fan, but it's a great sign to see New Orleans win on the strength of its running game and defense, not just its high-octane offense. New Orleans is going to have to win games where the offense isn't clicking, and the Saints' hang-with-'em 27-7 victory at Buffalo was an excellent blueprint for the future.

New Orleans headed home 3-0 and eager to start preparing for one of Week 4's glamour matchups: A visit to the Superdome by the 3-0 Jets.

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