NFC East: Mike Ditka

History provides hope for Redskins

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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The Redskins will have a tough time recovering from a 3-13 season, especially with a first-year head coach in Jay Gruden. But it’s one that a number of other teams have done, including five teams since the 2006 season.

Here are the other teams that have recovered from a three-win season or worse to make the playoffs the following season, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
  • 2013 Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs): Andy Reid took over a team that had six players who made the Pro Bowl for the previous season, which ended with a 2-14 record. They also added quarterback Alex Smith, who made the Pro Bowl along with nine other players. An excellent defensive line and strong running game led by Jamaal Charles made a difference as both the offense and defense finished in the top six in points per game.
  • 2012 Minnesota Vikings (10-6, lost in the wild-card round): Running back Adrian Peterson had an historic season, rushing for 2,075 yards to lead the turnaround. The big jump occurred defensively where the Vikings went from 31st in points allowed to 14th. Nine of their 13 losses in 2011 were by seven points or less. By comparison, the Redskins had seven such games.
  • 2012 Indianapolis Colts (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): Like the Chiefs, the Colts had a first-year coach in Chuck Pagano. They also had a rookie quarterback in Andrew Luck, who threw 23 touchdown passes to 18 interceptions. They did not go crazy in free agency despite a 2-14 finish the previous season and, in fact, lost receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins. They even lost Pagano for 12 games while undergoing cancer treatment, yet went 9-3 in that span. The offense jumped in points per game from 28th a year earlier to 18th while the defense went from 28th to 21st.
  • 2008 Miami Dolphins (11-5, lost in the wild-card round): After a 1-15 season, the Dolphins hired Bill Parcells as team president and later Tony Sparano as head coach. They did not make a major splash in free agency, with their big signings being guard Justin Smiley and defensive end Randy Starks. However, after the Jets released Chad Pennington that August, the Dolphins pounced. And steady quarterback play made a big difference as Pennington threw 19 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. That certainly topped the efforts of the 2007 group of Trent Green (five starts), Cleo Lemon (seven starts) and John Beck (four starts). The defense made a huge jump, going from 30th in points allowed to ninth.
  • 2006 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in conference championship): Hurricane Katrina disrupted the 2005 season under then-coach Jim Haslett, leading to a 3-13 record. But the Saints made two fantastic moves in the offseason: Hiring head coach Sean Payton and signing quarterback Drew Brees. They also drafted well, with running back Reggie Bush, safety Roman Harper, tackle Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston among the additions.
  • 2000 New Orleans Saints (10-6, lost in divisional playoff round): Haslett took over for Mike Ditka and found instant success, earning coach of the year honors. They had a terrific pass rush with La’Roi Glover (17 sacks), Joe Johnson (12) and rookie Darren Howard (11) as the defense went from 28th in points allowed to 10th. They did not have great quarterback play, but Jeff Blake was good enough as he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 starts. Receiver Joe Horn stood out with 94 receptions for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • 1999 Indianapolis Colts (13-3, lost in divisional round): They had finished 3-13 for two consecutive seasons before this stunning turnaround under second-year head coach Jim Mora, who had previously won 93 games in 11 seasons with New Orleans. Second-year quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the same number of touchdown passes (26) that he did as a rookie but 13 fewer interceptions (15).
  • 1987 Indianapolis Colts (9-6, lost in the divisional round): They had won a combined 12 games in the previous three seasons, including only three in 1986. But in the strike-shortened season, the Colts’ defense ended up first in points per game. The Colts acquired running back Eric Dickerson during the season; he rushed for 1,011 yards in nine games.
  • 1982 New England Patriots (5-4, lost in the first round): Another strike-shortened season helped the Patriots recover from a 2-14 season (that was preceded by a 10-6 one). They did not receive great quarterback play, though Steve Grogan was steady in his six starts. The defense ranked seventh in points per game.

Is it fair to question Jay Cutler's heart?

January, 24, 2011
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The Chicago Bears have now told us that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. But I'm pretty sure that diagnosis won't quiet the critics who felt like Cutler could've played through the injury in the second half.

ESPN's Michael Wilbon compiled some of the tweets that came rolling in from former and current players across the league. Former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks may have delivered the harshest commentary once it became official that Cutler couldn't return to the field:

"There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart," tweeted Brooks.

Now that news of the MCL sprain has arrived, I'm wondering if some folks will soften their stance toward Cutler. I asked Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield what he thought of the situation and received a more diplomatic response.

"A wise man once told me that it's easy to be tough with somebody else's body," said Cofield via text.

And I think that's why Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is so upset with the national response to Cutler's injury. First of all, Urlacher's being a good teammate. But he also wonders how folks watching the game from their homes can feel so certain about Cutler's lack of courage.

It will be interesting to see if Cutler's other teammates continue to stand beside him. Here's what one Bears legend had to say about the topic while appearing on "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio:

"I don't know if anybody can play the game when they're not 100 percent or not well," said Mike Ditka. "I can't speak for Jay Cutler. I can't speak for anybody.

"Myself, I would have had to have been paralyzed to come out of the game. I don't want to say that word. I would have had to be completely knocked out to come out of that football game."

And so a quarterback who already had a perception problem is at the center of another storm. And this one appears to have staying power.

Ditka criticizes Reid's handling of McNabb

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
8:05
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

The guys on ESPN's "Monday Night Countdown" show had a lot to say about Donovan McNabb's benching Sunday. Former Bears coach Mike Ditka took Eagles coach Andy Reid to task for not delivering the message.

"I don't let the ball boy tell him," Ditka said of Reid, who ordered quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur to inform McNabb on Sunday. "I don't let the quarterback coach, the defensive coordinator tell him. I tell him. Not only do I tell him that he's benched, I tell him why he's benched."

Cris Carter agreed with Ditka, but Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Young sided with Reid. Young, of course, played under Reid in San Francisco and Johnson knows that his former coach and mentor, Bill Parcells, would've handled it the exact same way.

When Parcells decided to pull veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe at halftime of the Cowboys-Giants game in 2006, he ordered quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer to deliver the message. Coaches such as Parcells and Reid believe in a chain of command, and in their minds, they have more important things to do at halftime than providing explanations to players.

Maybe you should be willing to break protocol when a move involves your franchise quarterback, but Reid certainly didn't see it that way.

T.O. and Tony on firm ground

October, 1, 2008
10/01/08
3:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- Each Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., a makeshift amphitheater forms around Terrell Owens' locker. Today, though, there was more buzz than usual. In the wake of Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Redskins, T.O. did what he's been doing for years. He complained that he wasn't a larger part of the offense.

OwensRomo

This despite the fact that ESPN Research (Ed Werder) has determined that T.O. was the intended target on 17 pass plays and two running plays. And when you consider the Cowboys only ran 58 plays, that seems like a decent portion for a wide receiver.

T.O. stood in front of his locker with a song from Kindred the Family Soul blaring from his iPod speakers. He also had his new book, "T.O.'s Finding Fitness," strategically placed on a shelf behind his head. He quickly batted away questions about a reported "serious conversation" that he had with Romo immediately following the game, saying it didn't happen. (A few minutes later, Romo concurred).

"We didn't lose the Super Bowl," said an incredulous T.O. as he was peppered with questions about his alleged frustration with Romo.

"I don't know where those comments came from," he said. "Tony and I haven't had any conversations."

He talked about how the media praised him for his hustle following the Eagles win, but "vilified" him when he said he needed to be more involved in the offense after the Redskins game.

"You guys need a story," he said. "So you get on the T.O. bandwagon... I know people at ESPN have jobs to do."

(Read full post)

Report: T.O. gets serious with Tony

September, 30, 2008
9/30/08
10:10
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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

We've spent the early portion of the 2008 season reading about Terrell Owens the consummate teammate. In fact, he was praised more for his hustle than his receptions following the Cowboys' recent win over the Packers. As one Dallas-Fort Worth talk show host put it, "T.O.'s turned into our own little Rudy."

 
 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
 Terrell Owens didn't like how he was being used Sunday in Dallas' loss to Washington.

On Sunday, though, T.O. felt underutilized following a 26-24 loss to the Redskins. Never mind the fact that 19 of the Cowboys' 58 offensive plays went his direction. He's apparently aiming for 50 percent of the plays, which might encourage him to complete most of his routes.

Now, we receive the shocking news that T.O. had a "serious conversation" with quarterback Tony Romo immediately following Sunday's game. According to Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, T.O. was "venting" his frustration to Romo, in part, over the types of routes he's being asked to run.

For those of us who cover the team on a semi-regular basis, this is a confusing development. Unless there have been sweeping changes at Valley Ranch (in the past 20 minutes), Romo's not responsible for designing routes. According to head coach Wade Phillips, Romo's primary focus right now is checking out of running plays.

When multiple sources confirm that Romo and T.O. had a serious conversation, what exactly does that mean? Did they each have stern looks on their faces while T.O. went over his favorite route tree?

In reading between the lines, it seems that T.O. was frustrated with his quarterback. And that would barely be worth mentioning if the receiver didn't have so much quarterback baggage.

I watched the "Monday Night Football Countdown" crew talk about the T.O. situation for several minutes last night and Tom Jackson's convinced this thing's headed for trouble. He and Mike Ditka agreed that owner Jerry Jones needs to have a (wait for it) serious conversation with T.O. before things get out of hand.

With the woeful Bengals headed to town, I think this controversy will blow over. Heaven forbid that Tony and T.O. might have to have another postgame conversation.

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