Always New DepthsFriday, December 02, 2011
The juxtaposition would have been easy for even the most novice of football fans to spot. On one hand last evening, there was Marshawn Lynch, running as if every yard might be his last. On the other, there was DeSean Jackson, occasionally bothering to finish a route or look his teammates in the eye. For Lynch, the game was the culmination of a recent run that’s seen him rack up 591 yards rushing in five games after he looked dead in the water following a 16-carry, 24-yard dud against the Bengals in Week 8. For Jackson, the game was just the latest low on his “Always New Depths” world tour and wildly unsuccessful contract drive. When he wasn’t tuning out his quarterback — both on and off the field — he was there yukking it up with Lynch of all people as teammate Nnamdi Asomugha lay motionless on the field with a head injury. You could call his “performance” bizarre, maddening or exceedingly immature, but what it was more than anything was downright stupid. In his quest to be paid like one of the game’s top receivers, Jackson has chosen to highlight his manifold faults instead of breathtaking strengths. Before tonight there was his Week 12 cower in the end zone. Before that, there was his inexplicable taunting of Giants DC Perry Fewell. Before that, there was his Week 10 deactivation for being late to a team meeting and more-or-less not giving a you know what. Before that (stay with me), there was three weeks of just generally being invisible as the Eagles attempted to overcome a slow start. What he might do next week is anyone’s guess, but as is the case with the team he plays for, it’s unclear if he’s finally reached rock bottom. Which brings us back to Lynch. It’s hard to believe Beast Mode’s recent run of dominance didn’t crescendo with last night’s performance (and pair of magnificent touchdown rumbles), but with a Rams team that’s allowed the top two opposing rushing performances of the season on tap for Week 14, Lynch will have an excellent shot at atoning for his lone disappointing game (88 yards on 27 carries in St. Louis in Week 11) of the past five weeks. NEWS OF THE DAY #2Serving as the opening act for Jackson’s latest “just doesn’t get it” national T.V. performance was former teammate Donovan McNabb. In a barely five-minute SportsCenter interview meant to explain his (successful) request to be waived by the Vikings, McNabb managed to reinforce his reputation as one of the game’s most clueless players while sprinkling in a number of absurd claims.Among them:
1. He had little to nothing to do with the struggles of the 2010 Redskins and 2011 Vikings.
2. He’s a great locker room presence.
3. He’s still capable of making those around him better.
Nevermind all that, however. While McNabb appears to be the only person unaware he’s a shell of his former self, he doesn’t need to be the Donovan McNabb of old to make a difference down the stretch. He essentially just needs to be better than T.J. Yates or Caleb Hanie. Is that something he’s capable of?Despite being benched for a rookie in Minnesota, the answer is likely yes. Although the Vikings were undoubtedly sputtering with McNabb under center, they were hardly reinventing bad football. With a supporting cast not so dissimilar to the ones surrounding Yates and Hanie at the moment, the Vikings were able to average 20.2 points during McNabb’s six starts, which would rank 21st in the NFL right now. Hardly elite, but more than should reasonably be expected from either Hanie or Yates, and probably enough to keep teams with excellent running games and stout defenses on track for the playoffs. McNabb was bad in Minnesota, but not bad enough to make opposing teams completely give up on defending the pass. That was territory Chicago and Houston were both already veering toward last weekend. Although beat writers in both cities have expressed skepticism McNabb will end up in their towns, they have to be considered the co-favorites for the six-time Pro Bowler’s services. Yes, McNabb is still being dogged by questions about his conditioning, and yes he would be facing a steep learning curve in either offense. But those are question marks the Bears and Texans would be wise not to fixate on. As the Chiefs have quickly figured out with Tyler Palko, just because somebody is the most familiar with your playbook doesn’t mean they’ll be the best at executing it.McNabb should have enough left in the tank for one last hurrah, and Houston and Chicago would be foolish if they weren’t dying to find out. BIZARRE/ULTIMATELY MEANINGLESS STATS OF THE WEEKThese first stats are actually neither bizarre nor meaningless, but some rather interesting numbers put forth by ESPN Dallas’ Tim MacMahon about the Cowboys’ rushing attack. With battering ram fullback Tony Fiammetta in the lineup this season (he’s appeared in half of their 12 games), the Cowboys have averaged 145.8 rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry. Without Fiammetta leading the way, those numbers drop dramatically to 85.6 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. Ascendant back DeMarco Murray appears to have broken out with a rather large boost from his lead blocker, going for 601 yards and an eye-popping 8.0 yards per carry in four games with Fiammetta clearing lanes. In Fiammetta’s absence the past two weeks, Murray has rushed for only 160 yards while averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Fiammetta remains out indefinitely with a mysterious illness, and is reportedly not guaranteed of returning this season. If Murray is held in check for the third straight week against the Cardinals on Sunday, don’t call it a coincidence. Now onto the rest of the bizarre...Even after Chris Johnson went off for 190 yards on the ground last Sunday, he’s still rushed for 13 fewer yards than Ben Tate, who’s appeared in one less game. Brandon Jacobs has one less yard rushing than Tim Hightower. Combined, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have just 16 more receiving yards than Victor Cruz. At 48th in the NFL in receiving yards, Jermichael Finley finds himself sandwiched between Owen Daniels and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Philip Rivers has taken more sacks, lost more fumbles and thrown more interceptions than Josh Freeman. INJURY QUICK SLANTSCedric Benson (foot) missed another practice Thursday, but is expected to return this afternoon and be listed as probable on the injury report. … Andre Johnson was limited for the second straight day with a mysterious knee issue, and will be someone to pay close attention to the next few days. … Both Michael Turner (groin) Julio Jones (hamstring) were again absent from Falcons practice, though neither is believed to be in danger of missing Sunday’s game against the Texans. … Kevin Smith (ankle) returned to Lions practice in a limited capacity. Optimism surrounds his Week 13 status, but he’ll likely need to practice again today to play Sunday. … Josh Freeman (shoulder) and Kevin Kolb (toe, foot) remain on track to start, but Sam Bradford’s (ankle) status has grown murky after he was downgraded to out on Thursday. He needs to practice today. ... Denarius Moore (ankle) failed to resume practicing, and is shaping up as a game-time decision. … Both Miles Austin (hamstring) and Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) will have to practice this afternoon to have any chance of seeing their multi-week absences end this weekend. … Adrian Peterson (ankle) remains likely to miss his second consecutive game. FOUR PICKS FOR SUNDAYBig game: Saints 37, Lions 27Already sputtering the past month, the Lions watched the wheels come off on Thanksgiving. Things won’t get any easier without Ndamukong Suh against an offense that’s not taking any prisoners. Big game II: Steelers 28, Bengals 14Pittsburgh atones for its bizarre Week 12 performance in Kansas City and too close Week 10 win in Cincinnati with a two-score snoozer. Upset of the week: Giants 24, Packers 21Yes, the Giants are coming off one of their worst performances of the Tom Coughlin era, but let’s not forget this is a team that’s beaten the Patriots on the road and hung with the 49ers in San Francisco until the game’s final moments in the past 30 days. The Packers are clearly the NFL’s best team, but have by no means looked invincible, letting Tampa Bay, San Diego and Minnesota hang around in three of their past five games. Like every team besides the ‘72 Dolphins and ‘07 Patriots, the Packers will lose a game this regular season, and Sunday in New York is as good a bet as any. The I really don’t have a clue but will pretend I do game: Chiefs 21, Bears 10 Riding the same suffocating defense that nearly upset Pittsburgh last Sunday, Kansas City downs the Bears in Chicago, and adds insult to injury by doing it with Kyle Orton under center.