NFL Playoff Battle, the Search for New Head Coaches, and Wild-Card Weekend Recap
There are two classes of NFL teams right now.
The ones battling in the playoffs, and the ones searching for new head coaches, General Managers, or both.
There are eight teams still alive in the drive to the Super Bowl, and eight clubs in the process of finding new decision-makers.
Wild-Card weekend was hardly wild.
Several of the contests were one-sided, and won in decisive fashion.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen was nothing short of brilliant in leading Buffalo’s rout of the Patriots, setting up another duel of top of-the-line QB’s with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Kansas City crushed Pittsburgh in what is likely the last career game for the great Ben Roethlisberger.
Bills-Chiefs is the top game coming up.
The Great Josh Allen
The defending champion Bucs outclassed the Eagles in the NFC starting their run at a second straight Super Bowl crown.
Two other games had some strange moments.
The Bengals, who can’t be ignored anymore as long as Joe Burrow is behind center, eliminated the Raiders in what may be the most embarrassing instance for officiating in NFL history.
In the second quarter, Burrow, getting rid of the ball as he was headed out of bounds, fired what was ruled a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to give Cincinnati the lead 20-6 with 2:00 remaining in the first half.
However, one of the officials blew his whistle while the ball was in the air, thus wiping out the play.
The Raider defenders heard the whistle and stopped playing.
Replay rules don’t involve audio, so the play couldn’t be overturned that way.
But after a conference, referee Jerome Boger upheld the touchdown, ultimately revealing the officials claimed the whistle had blown AFTER the catch.
What made it so terribly wrong was that the official who blew his whistle obviously knew it was before the catch, but failed to admit it.
Boger, the referee, should have cleared it up immediately.
The coverup was far more serious than the act itself, and that becomes a black mark on the league.
The whistle had blown
On Sunday, the 49ers, on the road, dominated the undisciplined Cowboys for practically the entire game. Dallas deserved to be wiped out but they hung in with a chance to even win the game in the final moments.
With a last-ditch opportunity, about a minute remaining and no time outs left, the Cowboys, with the dangerous Zak Prescott leading the way, hit on several pass plays to move into San Francisco territory.
Then with seconds to go, the Cowboys called for Prescott to run the ball up the middle, which he did, sliding to get ready to spike the ball and stop the clock for one last try.
Dallas was inside the 49ers 25 yard line, but the clock was down to the final seconds.
In the confusion to hurry-up, Prescott handed the ball to his center to start the play, but an official must touch the ball before all plays, and that move might have cost the Cowboys their last breath.
Coach Mike McCarthy was criticized for calling a run, using crucial time. I, too, think it was not the best move because there were less than 10 seconds remaining, and too many things have to go just right for another play to be run.
It was a weird finish to a game that should not have been close at the end.
There was nothing weird or exciting about the final game of what was billed as Super Wild-Card weekend by the NFL.
The Rams demolished the Cardinals capping what was basically a lackluster first weekend of the playoffs.
Remember, the Cards were 10-2 at one point and considered perhaps the best team in the league.
That’s why we don’t overreact even after 12 games of the regular season.
It’s always what you do at the end that counts.
But it’s not easy to keep that perspective as the weeks go by.
The Rams are back to what we thought they’d be, and will be a major threat in Tampa.
The Packers, and Aaron Rodgers, waiting in the wings at frigid Lambeau could dominate the injury-plagued 49ers.
Despite Joe Burrow, the Titans should advance, and as we pointed out, Bills and Chiefs lead the parade.
The focus now shifts to the have-nots in the NFL, those teams who fired their coaches, and General Managers, looking to find the right people to run their clubs.
Let’s start with the basic premise of all professional sports.
It all begins at the top.
It is the owners of sports teams who determine the success or failure of their franchises.
Some get it right.
The Steelers always have.
Three head coaches, and three GM’s in over 50 years.
Sure, they have off years, but they never panic, and have a foundation that has stood the test of time.
The Baltimore Ravens are another.
I also respect the operations of the Packers, Seahawks, Titans, and to a lesser extent the Vikings.
That doesn’t mean they don’t struggle. They do. Some are having tough times right now.
It seems there are others who never get it right.
The Jets, Bears, Lions and Giants always seem to be chasing their proverbial tails.
They hire and fire head coaches, and General Managers regularly.
If a team brings in a head coach and then seeks a GM, they are on a road to failure.
It happens too often. The manager has to choose his coach.
It’s as simple as that.
But no team is like the Miami Dolphins.
I like their owner, Stephen Ross, immensely.
In fact, I broadcast the Dolphins pre-season games for a decade, and personally he is as good as it gets.
But Ross has been an absentee owner.
He lives and works in New York, and is not around for the day-to-day operation of his team.
There are many who has his ear, and offer their opinions on those running the club.
As a fantastically successful businessman who is inexperienced in the world of professional football, the chances are he is not listening to the right people.
When Ross hired Brian Flores three years ago as head coach, I thought he had nailed it.
Being close to the scene, I saw qualities in Flores that set him apart from many of his colleagues.
He hasn’t had the best of personnel, but I have seen his teams get better.
This season, the Dolphins began 1-7. That usually is a signal that the players’ desire may wane the rest of the way.
But Miami responded by winning seven straight games, eight of their last nine, and just missed earning a playoff spot.
The mark of a head coach is how he finishes.
Brian Flores finished spectacularly.
I don’t care who he played. Maybe not all of the league’s powers.
But his players performed.
So, Brian Flores was fired.
There was talk of inside turmoil, stories about the relationship between the coach and Tua Tagovailoa, the quarterback who is is inconsistent, but still quite young.
The owner hears things from those who may not like the coach.
The coach can’t defend himself. He’s getting ready for the next game.
So all the talk really doesn’t matter. How can you fire a head coach who gets his team to play hard and win when the season appears to be going down the drain.
One final thought on the hiring of head coaches.
The tendency has been to bring in those who have excelled at either calling plays, running either an offense, or a defense.
In other words, a specialist who is outstanding coaching one side of the ball or the other, and still in charge of those areas.
History has proven that the best head coaches are those who know how to lead, teach, and inspire a team.
One who hires others to handle the offense and defense.
The best head coaches are those who have, whatever temperament and personality they possess, to make the players respond to them.
Let’s see how many NFL clubs who are attempting to escape mediocrity, go that route.