The end for coach Jack Del Rio came sooner than Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver had hoped. The owner, one of the most patient of his ilk in the NFL, had planned to make a decision on Del Rio's future at the end of the season. But the Jags had played so haplessly on offense, and Del Rio couldn't turn the ship around in any tangible way, and there was just no hope in a town that goes week-to-week to sell tickets. So Weaver fired Del Rio today in the midst of his fourth straight non-winning season -- on a day when it was also revealed that Shahid Kahn will buy the franchise and keep it in Jacksonville.
Del Rio will go down in history with one very bad pockmark on his resume: He's the only coach in modern NFL history to coach a team nine straight years and not win a division title.
The lack of progress couldn't be ignored anymore, not with another national-TV embarrassment staring at the Jags. They have about 10,000 tickets available for the upcoming Monday-nighter against the Chargers.
In many ways, it's amazing Del Rio lasted this long. He had three winning seasons in nine years. He was 69-73, including one playoff win (a 2007 wild-card win at Pittsburgh). His teams made just two playoff appearances. This year, he gambled on cutting David Garrard before the opener, and the Jags' quarterback play has been abysmal, maybe the worst in the league.
This is not because of a feud with GM Gene Smith, which you may hear. The two men aren't close, but I'm told nothing happened internally to force this move. It was all about team performance, and that performance had become intolerable for Weaver.
In the end, a coach has to be able to preach hope to his players and sell hope to his fans. And Del Rio could do none of those anymore, which is why Weaver felt he could wait no longer.
As for Khan, he's a Pakistan-born entrepreneur who lost out in an attempt to buy the St. Louis Rams when Stan Kroenke bought the franchise.
We'd all concede the 6-5 Giants are at least an average NFL team this year, middle of the pack or slightly better, by virtue of winning six of their first eight, winning at New England and possessing a quarterback who can beat any team in the league, at any time, with the right supporting cast.
I say that to set Monday night in context -- and to look forward. The Saints are so loaded on offense that a running back who didn't dress, fourth-stringer Chris Ivory, would have been the best back for the Giants on Monday. (Heaven knows what's happened to tippy-toeing Brandon Jacobs, who used to be a bruising star. Now, except for an occasional glimpse of the physical back he used to be, Jacobs is a string-the-run-outside, wait-for-a-big-hole-that-never-comes waste of a starting spot. But that's another story.)
Drew Brees has one big star in the passing game: tight end Jimmy Graham. As for wideouts, he can distribute to five good ones who know how to adjust their routes to know what their superior quarterback wants. You can't execute a passing game better than Brees did Monday night, except for one throw -- his 18-inch overthrow of a sure touchdown to Lance Moore in the first half. (Talk about picking nits.)
After the game, I found myself thinking back to the season opener in Green Bay, won by the Packers 42-34. That night, each team scored a special teams touchdown -- New Orleans on a Darren Sproles punt return, Green Bay on a Randall Cobb kickoff return.
Other than the returns for touchdown, each team scored five times that night. The difference: Green Bay scored five touchdowns, while New Orleans scored three touchdowns and kicked two field goals. There were two turning points in the game, one early and one late. On the Saints' first possession, trailing 7-0, Marques Colston fumbled at his 36, and Green Bay quickly scored to make it 14-0. And in the last two minutes, down eight, New Orleans drove the length of the field, 79 yards, to the Packer one-yard line. On the last play of the game, Mark Ingram was stuffed at the one-foot line.
So the final score says Packers by eight, but the Saints were a yard away from a touchdown and possible two-point conversion that would have forced overtime.
My point: I'd love to see these two teams, the 8-3 Saints and the 11-0 Packers, meet again in January. Let's forecast the NFC playoffs.
Green Bay's a near-lock for the top seed, with the 9-2 Niners and 8-3 Saints likely at two and three (San Francisco has a cake schedule remaining, plus one conference loss versus the Saints' three, which would come in as the first playoff tiebreaker with the Saints.) Dallas has to be favored to win the East and be the fourth seed. In this scenario, a New Orleans win in the wild-card round would make them face San Francisco in the divisional round before a possible rematch in the championship game against Green Bay.
It's fun to consider, particularly when you look at the weapons Drew Brees has. They're richer in offense than they were in their Super Bowl-winning season of 2009. Graham is a top-three (and maybe top-one) offensive weapon at tight end, better than Jeremy Shockey. Darren Sproles is more electric and explosive than Reggie Bush. The Saints are four-deep at running back, far better than in '09.
"When you look at 2009, and you look at the guys we've added since 2009 -- Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram -- it's not too shabby,'' Brees said after the rout of the Giants.
It's an offense even Aaron Rodgers could love.
Now onto your email:
SEAN THINKS TAGLIABUE'S A BUM.
The case for and against Tagliabue is an involved one, and there are several negatives. Expansion to Jacksonville hasn't turned out as the league would have wished, he wasn't able to push through a new stadium in California nor get a team to Los Angeles, and he mishandled and ultimately challenged Baltimore to go steal someone's team. I buy those. But to say Tagliabue is why Cleveland lost the Browns is lunacy. Modell has to own that one, with an assist from city fathers in Cleveland who made other teams' venues their priority over the Browns.
LET'S SEE HOW THIS ERA SHAKES OUT FOR QUARTERBACKS.
McNabb is going to be compared to Kelly, certainly, but also to peers from his era, which is more accurately the era after Kelly played; they were drafted 16 years apart. Kelly was helped by winning four conference title games and being the last quarterback (maybe ever) to call his own plays on the field. McNabb can't say that. (Nor, for that matter, can almost any quarterback in the last 30 years). This is why it's good to let a player's career breathe after he retires -- to see how he stacks up against the players of his era. Not winning a Super Bowl will be a minus, but his winning record will be a plus.
PEYTON THE COACH?
Good question, Karen. I've never asked Manning, but somehow I doubt he'd want to do a job that would require the obsessive hours of coaching. He loves football, obviously, so never say never, but I find it tough to think of a man with $150 million in the bank (or whatever he has saved) living the 15-hour-a-day life of a coach.
Agreed. I raised that point on NBC last week. Whatever, those who think every defensive back beaten by three yards is going to tackle the receiver don't understand the competitive nature of the defensive back.
TEBOW FOR MVP.
We'll see. But I don't think the Broncos will have an MVP candidate this year. Watch their games. They've got to have everything working to win. They need the Miller/Dumervil pass-rush, the Bailey/Goodman coverage, the McGahee running, the Decker catching -- they need all of those to make the late-game Tebow stuff possible. If Tebow were playing with the 2010 Denver defense and the 2010 Denver running game, he wouldn't be 5-1 right now.
ALEX THINKS I'M FULL OF IT, AND I SENSE HE'S NOT ALONE.
What can I say? I watch the Cowboys and I'm not sold. I watch Denver, and in the fourth quarter, if the game's close, I think the Broncos will win. My rankings are subjective.