GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take a quick trip around Week 8 in the NFL ...
• Silly, optimistic us. We thought it couldn’t get worse for the New York Jets, now that they had landed Percy Harvin in that "potential coup" of a trade they swung about nine days ago. More like a swing and a miss, like everything else about this ill-fated and lost season in New York.
How naïve to think Harvin could help fix this mess. Sunday’s 43-23 home loss to Buffalo had to be rock bottom, right? And bottoming out means it’s time to start over in New York. The Jets really have no other choice. Whatever they are in the second half of this desultory 2014 season, they shouldn’t be Geno Smith’s team anymore. With everyone in save-their-job mode, what’s the point? We’ve seen what Geno is with the Jets, and he’s not their future.
After investing a season and a half in Smith, the Jets know he is a turnover machine prone to killer mistakes. He threw three interceptions in less than 11 minutes in the first quarter against the Bills -- getting himself benched in the process -- and now has a whopping 37 giveaways in 24 professional games, with 31 of those being interceptions. In half of his 24 games, he has committed at least two turnovers. You could ride the rest of the season out with him because, well, he’s a high second-round pick, but that’s just the definition of insanity. The Jets can keep expressing confidence and patience with Smith’s development if they care to, but it will sound emptier than ever at this sad point.
It’s time for the Jets to cut their losses and keep Smith on the bench, because there’s no putting Geno back in this bottle.
In one of the worst showings you’ll ever see a quarterback turn in, Smith finished 2-of-8 for five yards passing, with those three interceptions and a 0.0 passer rating. He was under center for just 12 plays, with the Bills catching more of his passes than the Jets. Smith has had decent games in the past, but it’s the same pattern over and over with him. He can’t string multiple strong performances together and reverts to his turnover-prone form far too often.
No, Michael Vick is not the long-term answer either. That’s equally obvious. Vick took over for Smith against the Bills and wound up committing three turnovers of his own, making the Jets the first team since the not-quite-immortal 1991 Phoenix Cardinals to play two quarterbacks who committed three turnovers in the same game. Move over Chris Chandler and Stan Gelbaugh, you’ve got company.
Unless practice-squad passer Matt Simms gets a shot and catches fire -- and I wouldn’t lay that bet in Vegas -- the Jets don’t have their quarterback of the future on the roster at the moment. But if Rex Ryan has any chance to keep his job, a scenario that’s looking more unlikely by the minute, he might as well start Vick and try to win a few games before the season mercifully ends. Running Smith back out there will only hasten Ryan’s own exit.
As for Harvin, you can bet he knows he’s not in Seattle anymore. The one-win Jets, his new team, have seven consecutive losses -- their longest skid since 2005 -- and are off to their worst start to a season since 1996. Any minute now, the Raiders are going to demand a rematch, certain that their Week 1 defeat at MetLife Stadium was a pure fluke.
Looking back, I wonder what Harvin’s favorite moment playing with Geno was. If he blinked, he might have missed their time together. Harvin was supposed to be the playmaker Smith so desperately needed, but desperation is rarely the right guide in terms of major personnel moves. Harvin’s first game as a Jet was underwhelming in every way. He reportedly saw 37 snaps of action, catching three passes for 22 yards, rushing four times for 28 yards and returning six kickoffs for a 24-yard average.
No game-changing impact there, especially when he was lined up as an outside receiver, the role he reportedly covets in New York. Harvin was largely a non-factor, and the only real surprise of the game was that the margin was as small as it was. Buffalo forced six Jets turnovers but only turned those opportunities into 19 points.
The lone positive for the Jets is obvious: At some point the misery of this season will end, and a high pick in a quarterback-rich draft awaits. I don’t love the odds of Ryan being there to welcome that selection to New York, but that’s where these Jets are. Ryan’s coaching talent has been negated by his team’s lack of quarterback talent, and in the end, that’s the most familiar loser’s lament in the NFL.
• Unlike the Jets, the Bills can take solace in the fact that they made the right quarterback move at the right time when they switched from the underachieving EJ Manuel to veteran Kyle Orton in Week 5. Buffalo is 3-1 since making that call and now enters its bye week at 5-3, a game behind New England for first place in the AFC East. Signing Orton late in the preseason was the Bills’ first correct decision, because it was apparent in August that Manuel wasn’t up to the task of getting Buffalo to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Orton threw four touchdowns and no interceptions against the secondary-challenged Jets, completing 10-of-17 attempts for 238 yards and a career-best 142.8 passer rating. With play like that, the Bills could certainly win five more games and end the NFL’s longest postseason drought.
• It was the first monster game of Sammy Watkins' career, but the rookie Bills receiver gets a demerit for his premature celebration on an 84-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter -- the longest non-scoring play in team history. In an uncharacteristic moment for Watkins, he got caught up in the moment and raised his right hand in a look-at-me move, allowing Jets receiver turned part-time defensive-back Saalim Hakim to catch him from behind at the five-yard line.
The Bills did score a touchdown after his mistake, and Watkins later made amends to some degree with a 61-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, finishing with a gaudy 157 yards on just three receptions.
• With a nod to Seattle’s Russell Wilson, no quarterback in the league needed to grind out a win in Week 8 more than Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. The Bengals beat the Ravens 27-24 to sweep the season series, keeping their rivals from running away with the division race in the process.
Dalton was being fitted for goat horns in the fourth quarter after throwing an interception and losing a fumble with a clumsy left-handed maneuver with the ball, but he saved the day by leading an 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the final three minutes. His dramatic one-yard touchdown plunge on fourth down with 57 seconds remaining capped the Cincinnati comeback and ended the Bengals’ frustrating three-game winless streak.
At 4-2-1, the Bengals are right back in first place, just ahead of 5-3 Baltimore and 5-3 Pittsburgh, and have again established that they're very tough to beat at home. With two more home games just ahead against Jacksonville and Cleveland, Cincinnati has steadied itself.
• Nice try, Steve Smith, but that was offensive pass interference against Bengals safety George Iloka in the game’s final half-minute. Smith caught a deep ball from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and for a moment appeared to have won the game for Baltimore with a miraculous 80-yard touchdown. But Smith clearly pushed off against Iloka to create the room to make the reception. In Week 1 at home against the Bengals, Smith caught a deep touchdown pass late in the game, getting away with grabbing the facemask of Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones and throwing him to the ground.
• Kudos to Seattle’s Russell Wilson for leading that game-winning, nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive when the Seahawks needed it most in a gritty 13-9 win at Carolina. But I thought the best news for the defending Super Bowl champions was the return of some Seattle-style defense. The Seahawks looked like the Seahawks again on defense and held the Panthers to just three field goals, with Bruce Irvin producing two sacks and Cliff Avril recording a fumble recovery. Reserve cornerback Marcus Burley chipped in with an interception.
I would imagine Carolina has seen quite enough of Wilson, because this was the third year in a row the Panthers have lost to Seattle in Charlotte, despite holding second-half leads in each game. Each time Wilson has rallied the Seahawks to the win in a low-scoring affair: 16-12 in 2012, 12-7 in '13 and 13-9 this time around.
• Someone needs to explain this one to me: Trailing Seattle by four points and facing a 4th-and-25 from deep in their own territory with 20 seconds to go, the Panthers ran a screen pass to Jonathan Stewart, which Cam Newton threw at Stewart’s feet, incomplete to end Carolina’s chances.
The Panthers have one of the NFL’s best tall deep-threat receivers in rookie Kelvin Benjamin, and that’s the call, a screen to Stewart that had no shot? If I’m the Panthers, I’m having Newton loft it up in Benjamin’s general direction.
• Yes, those are the wheels coming off in Chicago, and one of the problems with these bumbling Bears is that there is no strong leader in the locker room who knows how to stand up to stop the bleeding once it starts. That's not Marc Trestman’s strong suit, commanding a room by the force of his soft-spoken presence, and whatever you think quarterback Jay Cutler’s gifts are, he’s not a natural leader. That’s a recipe for trouble when a team has lost four out of five games as the Bears have: not having that one voice that everyone listens to and responds to.
Sorry, Brandon Marshall. I know you’re trying, but I think it’s difficult for a receiver to fill that role if there’s a void in the leadership department at quarterback and head coach, the two faces of every franchise.
Chicago lost 51-23 at New England on Sunday, dropping to 3-5 as it enters its bye week. The Bears were down 38-7 at the half, the most points they have ever given up in the opening two quarters of a game. Three Patriots touchdowns in a 57-second span late in the second quarter sealed Chicago’s fate and left Trestman looking like he was out of answers with his maddening club.
There are no trendy "Quarterback Whisperer" labels coming Trestman’s way this season. Cutler looks completely lost and lacking in confidence. He threw an interception and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by the Patriots’ Rob Ninkovich, and his 11 giveaways lead the league. Two recent decisions have to be haunting the Bears ownership and front office about now: They gave Cutler that mega-contract extension last year, and they passed on Bruce Arians in their coaching search in favor of Trestman back in 2013.
• Could you blame the Patriots for petitioning the league to play Chicago every season instead of once every four years? New England destroys the Bears. In December 2010, their most recent meeting before Sunday, New England embarrassed the Bears at home, winning 38-7 on a snowy, wind-swept day at Soldier Field. When you add in Sunday’s 51-23 debacle, that’s an 89-30 domination over the span of eight quarters of "competition." It’s as if New England is still seeking revenge on the Bears for that Super Bowl XX blowout.
Two quick observations on the latest Patriots victory, their fourth in a row after that sky-is-falling Monday night loss at Kansas City: I think Tom Brady is enjoying a heck of a last laugh after so many questioned whether his long run of excellence was over earlier this season. For most of the second half against the Bears, Brady had more touchdown passes (five) than he did incompletions (four, before finishing 30-of-35 for 354 yards through the air). I think he’s going to be OK, Patriots Nation.
The best news for New England might be the return of the old Rob Gronkowski. This certainly looked like the pre-knee-injury version of Gronk, the one who used to rumble and power his way through opposing secondaries, with would-be tacklers bouncing off him. Chicago’s crippled secondary is not a great test, obviously, but Gronkowski’s stat line against the Bears was vintage 2011-level production for him: nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
After all the hand-wringing about the Patriots, they’re 6-2, on a four-game winning streak and halfway to yet another AFC East title and January playoff run. In other annually expected news, the leaves are changing color and falling throughout New England.
• I’m fairly certain Mike Smith won’t survive a second consecutive lost season in Atlanta. That was a crushing last-second loss by the Falcons in London. Atlanta led Detroit 21-0 at halftime and looked well on its way to its third victory of the year. Instead, the Lions rallied to win 22-21, and at 2-6, the Falcons are likely non-factors in the playoff race in the season’s second half, even in the pathetic NFC South.
Smith is a very good coach, and he didn’t just forget how to win in the past 24 games of his Atlanta tenure. But his club is 6-18 in that span, and the Falcons bear all the signs of a team in need of a change in leadership. Smith took Atlanta to the playoffs four times in his first five seasons on the job, from 2008-12, and that set the bar high. But the Falcons are dreadful on defense, underachieving on offense, and it seems as if Atlanta is no longer capable of raising its level of play in must-win situations.
Sunday in London was a game the Falcons had to win after grabbing a three-touchdown lead. If Atlanta can’t put the game away in that situation -- with both the offense and the defense coming up very small from one half to the next -- the Smith era may have reached its expiration date seven years in. The big question in Atlanta is this: Is it Smith alone who is in danger of losing his job, or is respected Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff right there beside him on the hot seat? If you start to see any space being created between those two, who came in together to Atlanta in 2008 and have been a tight, productive tandem ever since, you’ll know Smith will be the first and perhaps the only one to go.
• Looks like the Lions are going to be both lucky and good this season. They certainly were in the second half against Atlanta in London, committing a blunder in that delay of game penalty on Matt Prater’s failed last-second, 43-yard, game-winning field-goal attempt. Because of the "mistake," Prater got a fortunate second chance and drilled it home from 48 yards for the victory. Why is every field goal try an adventure in Detroit this season?
The difference in atmosphere on Atlanta's and Detroit’s plane rides home turned on that ultra-slim margin, but the Lions will take a second consecutive impressive comeback victory and head into their bye week at 6-2 and all alone atop the NFC North after Green Bay's loss to New Orleans Sunday night.
The Jim Caldwell hire in Detroit wasn’t met with rave reviews, but his work has resonated with the Lions. Detroit is finding inventive ways to win games this year where last season it found ways to give the game away. The disciplined play the Lions so sorely lacked last season has shown up this year. Credit the steady, always consistent Caldwell for that.
One word of caution, though, and Lions fans probably don’t even need to hear it: Detroit was 6-3 through nine games in 2013 and still managed to miss the playoffs, losing six of the final seven games to finish 7-9 and end the Jim Schwartz coaching era. So Detroit’s turnaround work is far from done this year.
• Break up the Dolphins, who have won two in a row for the first time since last December. It’s rarely artistic with Miami, but Joe Philbin’s team just scratched its way back over .500 for the first time since Week 1. Miami’s defense gets the credit for the 27-13 win at Jacksonville, returning a pair of Blake Bortles interceptions for touchdowns to outscore the Dolphins offense 14-13.
Miami safety Louis Delmas exhausted himself on an 81-yard pick-six, and cornerback Brent Grimes later added his own 22-yard interception return for a score, allowing the 4-3 Dolphins to stay in the conversation in the AFC East, a game behind Buffalo and two back of New England. And given Miami’s schedule in the next month, this win was crucial for the Dolphins. The next four teams they face all have either five or six wins through Week 8: San Diego (5-3), at Detroit (6-2), Buffalo (5-3), at Denver (6-1).
• Time to admit maybe the Jaguars knew what they were talking about when they said Blake Bortles wasn’t ready and would be better served spending his rookie season behind veteran starter Chad Henne.
Bortles has a lot of Geno Smith in him at the moment, turning the ball over at an alarming rate. He threw two more pick-sixes against Miami, and his four this season now makes him the league leader in a category you don’t want to lead. Isn’t that right, Matt Schaub?
Bortles also lost a fumble for a three-turnover day against the Dolphins, and he has six turnovers in the past two games (five interceptions and a fumble) and 13 in the past six games. He’s not going back to the bench in Jacksonville because the Jaguars are committed to him for the long haul and don’t want to shake his confidence, but Bortles’ growing pains have been very painful of late.
• It’s fair to say Zach Mettenberger Fever has yet to hit Tennessee. The Titans' rookie quarterback wasn’t a difference-maker at home in his first career start, as Tennessee fell 30-16 to the visiting Texans.
Mettenberger made some plays and finished with pretty good stats, but it was a low-impact debut, even if his 27-of-41 passing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and a 93.4 rating will look very solid. He threw an interception and lost a fumble, and the Titans were a putrid 3-of-14 on third and fourth downs.
On top of everything, the confident rookie apparently made an enemy of one guy you probably don’t want to tick off, especially as a quarterback in the AFC South: Houston all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Mettenberger’s fondness for posting selfies got Watt’s attention, and the Texans' star celebrated his second sack of Mettenberger by pretending he was taking a selfie.
"It’s just kind of a reminder, this is the National Football League, not high school," Watt said after the game. "Welcome to the show."
Message sent, but who knows if the message was received? I suppose we’ll be able to tell by Mettenberger’s social media habits this week.