NFC East: Tom Brady

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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New York Giants history. In the next two days, we'll feature Lawrence Taylor's sack that broke Joe Theismann's leg in 1985 and the Joe Pisarcik-Herman Edwards "Miracle at the Meadowlands" play from 1978. Please vote for your choice as the Giants' most memorable play.

Score: Giants 17, Patriots 14
Date: Feb. 3, 2008 Site: University of Phoenix Stadium

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What's forgotten about this play is that Giants quarterback Eli Manning was as close to being sacked as a quarterback can possibly be without actually being sacked. The Giants trailed the undefeated New England Patriots 14-10 with a little more than a minute left in Super Bowl XLII. It was third-and-5 on the Giants' 44-yard line, the eighth play of a drive on which the Giants already had converted a fourth down and would later need to convert another third. The play broke down and it appeared as though the Giants would have to pick up a long fourth down to keep their hopes of the upset alive. But Manning slipped out of the grasp of New England defensive end Jarvis Green, stepped forward in the pocket and fired the ball over the middle, where little-used Giants wide receiver David Tyree and Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison were jumping for it at the same time.

Replays would show that Tyree caught the ball with both hands but that Harrison's hand got there too and knocked Tyree's left hand off the ball. As the two fell to the ground together, Tyree pinned the ball against the forehead of his helmet with his left hand, then managed somehow to get his left hand back on the ball and maintain possession all the way to the ground.

The result was a miraculous 32-yard gain and a first down that kept alive the Giants' chances. Three plays later, Manning found Steve Smith to convert a third-and-11, and on the play after that, he connected with Plaxico Burress for the 13-yard touchdown catch that gave the Giants the 17-14 lead.

The Giants kicked the ball back to New England, but with only 29 seconds left on the clock, Tom Brady couldn't get the ball out of his own end, and the Giants secured the third, and most astounding, Super Bowl title in their history. Tyree's catch was improbable enough to fit the moment. No one thought the Patriots, who carried an 18-0 record into the game and would have been only the second team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated, would lose. Most expected this to be a coronation of the best team in the history of the game. Manning, Tyree and the Giants did everything they possibly could to deny it.
IRVING, Texas -- When it comes to ranking quarterbacks, the debates can be endless and sometimes pointless, but Mike Sando took the question to people inside the NFL with his latest ESPN Insider piece. Insider

Romo
It might surprise some of you that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo finished tied for eighth in the tier-rankings of 26 general managers, former GMs, pro personnel people, coordinators, head coaches, position coaches and an executive.

Four players tied for the top spot in Sando’s rankings, using a 1 for the best at the position and a 5 for the worst. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees shared the top spot. Andrew Luck was fifth.

Romo checked in after Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Russell Wilson and Eli Manning in the second tier.

Here’s what Sando wrote and the insiders had to say about Romo:
T-8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (2.23 average rating)

A few evaluators questioned whether Romo had the mind-set to play at the highest level consistently. It's a familiar refrain in league circles, a feeling that Romo is an undisciplined QB playing for an undisciplined organization with a poorly constructed roster.

"People want to knock him," one GM responded, "but the guy has talent and is one of the top 10 starters in the league."

Romo is 34 years old and coming off back surgery, but he still could be in line for a "monster" season, one evaluator said. "But I absolutely believe they will not win big with him. As soon as he decides it's a clutch moment, his brain goes elsewhere. He loses focus and tries to create something."




What’s funny is that the GM and evaluator have the same thoughts of those who love Romo or loathe Romo who are not on the inside. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports went so far as to call Romo “underrated” in his yearly rankings, which drew the ire of some.

The “clutch” talk has been a big thing around Romo since the bobbled snap in 2006 against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. That talk is always followed up with Romo having the best fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history (102.4) and his 20 come-from-behind wins.

Those numbers aren’t hollow, although with one playoff win to his credit that’s what his detractors will say.

That’s why this debate is a good one. Both sides can declare victory with their points. If Romo were to ever win a Super Bowl -- or perhaps just get to one -- then the perception would change entirely.
IRVING, Texas -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was one of Peter King’s subjects in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, and there are a couple of nuggets worth relating to the Dallas Cowboys.

Brady
The Patriots took quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the draft's second round and he is viewed as Brady's successor. Brady turns 37 in training camp and has been the starter since early in the 2001 season.

I’m sure Ryan Mallett was viewed by some as Brady’s potential successor when New England took him in the third round in 2011, but he has played little as he enters a contract year.

“I had a pretty good idea we’d take a quarterback,” Brady told King. “Coach Belichick doesn't care who the quarterback is here. He’s always going to play the guy who he thinks gives him the best chance to win. It’s not my role to choose players here, thankfully. And this is not the first time they’ve taken another quarterback either. There’s no entitlement in the NFL. I don’t expect to be given anything. I just hope I’m the one most entitled to play that position for a long time here.”

It was different from how the Cowboys worked.

The Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel in the draft's first round on May 8 but passed in part because they knew the type of circus the aura of Johnny Football would bring once Tony Romo has a poor throw/series/quarter/half/game/month.

The Cowboys even informed Romo before the draft they would not take Manziel.

Romo
The Cowboys also have a sizable investment in Romo with the six-year, $108 million extension he signed last year. They ended up passing on quarterbacks altogether in the draft. Part of their reasoning is their belief in Romo and part of it is they don’t want to develop a quarterback for another team.

The Cowboys’ thinking on not picking Manziel was not incorrect. It had the opportunity to be a big distraction made even bigger because of the national attention the Cowboys receive. Roger Staubach saw the potential pitfalls of a Manziel/Cowboys marriage and suggested a quarterback controversy can tear a team apart.

The other quote from Brady that stood out had to do with his offseason work.

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“Sometimes we’ll be watching tape and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels will say to me, 'What happened on that play?' And I’ll say, ‘I missed it. I just missed it.' Throwing a football is a very, very tough to thing to do consistently well. Other sports too. You think when LeBron tries a three-pointer he’s aiming for the back of the rim, hopes he hits the back of the rim? Of course not. On an approach shot in golf, are you trying to miss by four feet? No -- you want to get it in, or within two inches. That’s why, to me, it’s so important to work in the offseason perfecting mechanics. Say you’re off 1 percent on your mechanics of throwing in one week, and you don’t fix it. Over four weeks, if you keep going, that’s 4 percent that you’re off. And you say, ‘Why am I not throwing the ball as crisply as I need to? I was the 199th pick in the draft for a reason. I need to maximize my efficiency, my mechanics and my reps to be sure I stay on top of my game.”

In talking to Romo last week, he referenced the importance of working in the offseason. Last year he could not take part in the organized team activities or the minicamp because of surgery to remove a cyst from his back. While his final 2013 stats -- 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 15 starts -- look really good, Romo did not have the same freedom of movement that he had in previous years. His 7.2 yards per attempt were a career low (the previous low had been 7.6).

Was that a product of missing the offseason? Perhaps.

Romo said he is close to 100 percent and will take part in the OTAs, which start Tuesday, and June minicamp, but be on a “pitch count.” He likes the offseason because he can tinker with his mechanics to speed up his delivery or footwork. He also has his third different playcaller in as many years in Scott Linehan.

There is a difference between watching and doing when you are learning new things. Last year he had to watch. Now he can do.

"It's amazing how much you can improve in an offseason as an athlete, a football player, a quarterback," Romo said last week. "I think one of the great joys is attacking your craft and being a better player than when you left. This offseason has started off that way."
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys reaffirmed their love of QB Tony Romo on Thursday night when they passed on selecting Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL draft.

In 2007, they made a very similar move.

Romo
Back then, there were questions about Romo even after he took the NFL by storm and lifted the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2006.

Was he truly a franchise quarterback? Would a new coaching staff see him the same way the previous coaching staff saw him? Would there be any aftereffects from the bobbled snap in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

The Cowboys had searched forever, it seemed, for Troy Aikman’s successor. They tried Quincy Carter. They tried baseball players, such as Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They tried veterans, such as Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

In 10 games, Romo threw for 2,903 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He went to the Pro Bowl.

He was also in the final year of his contract. Would the Cowboys make him a mega-offer with such a short track record?

Staring at the Cowboys as they were about make the 22nd pick in the '07 draft was Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Nobody expected him to be there. He was the Cowboys’ highest-rated quarterback. Forgetting what we know now, he had the stamp of approval from Charlie Weis, a coach who worked with Tom Brady. Quinn put up some strong numbers.

On the clock, the Cowboys traded out of the first round when they secured the Browns' second-round choice in 2007 and their first-rounder in 2008. Eventually they moved back into the first round in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to take Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick.

The Cowboys affirmed their love for Romo. Seven games into the 2007 season, they signed him to a six-year, $67.5 million deal that included $30 million guaranteed.

About 14 months ago, the Cowboys reaffirmed their love for Romo with a six-year, $108 million extension that included $55 million.

Like in 2007, he faces some questions in 2014. Some are football-related. He has not led the Cowboys to the playoffs since 2009. He has a 25-28 record since the beginning of the 2010 season. There are a lot of questions about his health because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year. He turned 34 last month.

But just like seven years ago, Jerry Jones backed Romo once again.

“I think that Tony has everything to do with this decision,” Jones said of Dallas' selecting OT Zack Martin over Manziel. “We have a big commitment to Tony. We feel that anything we look at at quarterback would be down the road and in the future in the development of that quarterback. If you look at the difficult dynamic, giving up this player [Martin] that really enhances what we can do on offense and what Tony can do for the future, just on a pretty quick consideration [taking Manziel] didn’t make sense. That was the driving force behind it.”
IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo is 34 and because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, just about everybody believes it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to find his replacement.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.

If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.

The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).

The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.

Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).

Former GM not high on RG III

February, 11, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo echoed what others have said about Robert Griffin III this past season: he wasn’t good enough and he needs to make changes to his game.

Griffin
Which is why Angelo gave him a low grade and placed him 21st among NFL quarterbacks. Angelo also rated him as a 6.9 on his nine-point scale.

For Angelo (writing on the scouting website Sidelineview.com), falling between a 6.5-6.9 means a quarterback “has strong traits, but hasn’t done it. Lack of experience, injuries, missing intangible may be the reason for his erratic play. Still a work in progress. He can move up or down.”

That about sums up Griffin after his second NFL season. Here’s what Angelo wrote on Griffin:
“Talented, but yet to define himself as an NFL quarterback. He won’t have a successful career by working outside the pocket. No one at his position did or will. Too many games and too many hits keep QB’s from having a career based on their feet, rather than their pocket accuracy.”


Right below Griffin: St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, a former top pick in the NFL draft (and a guy former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan loved). New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning was only rated a 7.0; Dallas' Tony Romo (7.9) and Philadelphia's Nick Foles (8.0) were the tops in the NFC East.

Cousins
Angelo was not high on backup Kirk Cousins, giving him a 5.4 grade. On Angelo’s scale, that means a quarterback is a “band-aid, can get you through a game. Not a starter. He lacks the arm strength or needed accuracy. May also be missing something intangible, i.e. toughness, instincts etc. Cannot win with him, regardless of supporting cast or coaching.”

And here’s what he wrote about Cousins:
“Smart, hard working and well liked and respected. Lacks the arm talent to start and become a guy you can win with.”


Safe to say if Angelo were still employed in the NFL, he would not be among the teams willing to give up a high draft pick for Cousins.

Angelo listed seven quarterbacks as elite this past season (in order): Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Here’s the rest of the article.

RG III's jersey sales took a hit

January, 31, 2014
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Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III's popularity took a definite hit this past season -- but he remains a popular player. Griffin, despite a subpar season and some critical stories, ranked fourth on NFL Players Inc.’s Top 25 player sales list.

Griffin
Of course, that represents a fall after what his jersey did during his rookie season when it set records for sales at NFLShop.com since the league started tracking such matters in 2006 -- and there was no doubt about his popularity then. Last year, ESPN reported that sales of Redskins merchandise increased 250 percent on fanatics.com, owed largely to Griffin's presence.

But, according to NFLShop.com, Griffin ranked fifth in jersey sales from April 1 to Sept. 30 this past year. But he dropped out of the top 10 when their next rankings came out earlier this month (though he's fifth on their website for most-searched jersey). The numbers mirror his struggles on the playing field this past season.

And for those keeping score on how he compares to Andrew Luck, the player selected above him, the Colts quarterback ranks 10th on the NFLPI list, though I'm sure he's eased his, uh, pain by dwelling more on consecutive playoff appearances and not jersey sales. But Griffin does trail other young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

Regardless, here's the list of the top 25 jersey retail sales from September to November 2013 that was released Thursday:

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
2. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
3. Peyton Manning, Broncos
4. Robert Griffin III, Redskins
5. Tom Brady, Patriots
6. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
7. J.J. Watt, Texans
8. Drew Brees, Saints
9. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
10. Andrew Luck, Colts
11. Richard Sherman, Seahawks
12. Clay Matthews, Packers
13. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
14. Wes Welker, Broncos
15. Victor Cruz, Giants
16. Eli Manning, Giants
17. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
18. Calvin Johnson, Lions
19. Dez Bryant, Cowboys
20. Jason Witten, Cowboys
21. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
22. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
23. Patrick Willis, 49ers
24. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
25. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Giants

January, 29, 2014
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We surveyed 10 players from each NFL team, on condition of anonymity, and asked them a variety of questions. We're rolling out the results of the survey piece-by-piece, and today we present the results from this question:

Two-minute warning and the Super Bowl is on the line. Whom do you want at quarterback?

The winner was the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, with 128 of a possible 320 votes, or a whopping 40 percent. No huge surprise, since Brady has won the Super Bowl three times. The Broncos' Peyton Manning, who's trying for his second Super Bowl title Sunday, was second with 86 votes. Super Bowl champions Aaron Rodgers (32), Drew Brees (21) and Ben Roethlisberger (20) followed, and then came two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning of the New York Giants with nine votes.

I actually have a cute story about this. So far in these posts, I have resisted writing anything about what any of the Giants players I surveyed said or how they voted, since this was supposed to be confidential and revealing any details like that would threaten at least part of the confidentiality. But in this case, I asked the people involved if it would be okay for me to write this, and they said yes, so here goes.

One of the rules for this question (and all of the others) is that you aren't supposed to vote for someone from your own team. But a couple of Giants voted for Eli Manning. And when I brought up the rule in an effort to get them to change it, they refused. One of them said to me, "Come on. I understand the rule, but my teammate has actually done this exact thing twice. How many other quarterbacks in the league can say that?"

And he was right. So we let them keep their answers. Pretty tough to argue.

NFLN survey/respected player: Giants

January, 16, 2014
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We continue to unveil piece-by-piece results of our NFL Nation Confidential poll of players. We surveyed 10 players on each team, on the condition of anonymity, and asked a variety of questions. Today we offer the results from the question, "Which player do you respect the most?" Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was the landslide winner with 86 of the 320 votes. Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson tied for second with 24 votes apiece.

I can't tell you who won the New York Giants' team vote, because the results were supposed to be completely confidential. But I can tell you that only one Giants player got a single vote in the poll -- linebacker Jon Beason, who got one.

Part of what made this whole exercise interesting was the open-ended nature of some of the questions, including this one. "Respect" for a fellow player may be something at which different players arrive via different paths. My guess is that Manning has earned respect due to his performance (which reached all-time highs during his record-setting 2013 season), his longevity, his obviously significant role on the operation of his offense (OMAHA!) and his comeback from multiple neck surgeries and an injury that could have ended his career. It's no surprise he's the winner.

Cowboys vs. new coaches in 2014

January, 16, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With the NFL's game of musical chairs involving head coaches just about over -- except for the uber-patient Cleveland Browns -- let's look at the effect the new names in new spots will have on the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys will face three teams with new head coaches in 2014: Jay Gruden with the Washington Redskins, Bill O'Brien with the Houston Texans and Ken Whisenhunt with the Tennessee Titans.

In 2013, the Cowboys went 1-4 against teams with new coaches. The lone win was the October meeting against Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, but they returned the favor in the more-important Week 17 rematch that won the NFC East.

The Cowboys also lost to Kansas City's Andy Reid, San Diego's Mike McCoy and Chicago's Marc Trestman.

Gruden and O'Brien will be head coaches for the first time in the NFL. Whisenhunt had a six-year run with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cowboys went 0-3 against Whisenhunt. Two of the losses came in overtime and the third was by a point. And they were three of the strangest losses. In 2008, they lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown in overtime. In 2010 they lost in part because David Buehler missed an extra point. In 2011 they lost in overtime in a game in which many believe Jason Garrett iced Dan Bailey at the end of regulation.

(Personal aside: I don't believe that was the case. The play clock was running down and Garrett called the timeout at the request of special-teams coaches Joe DeCamillis and Chris Boniol. Bailey's first miss of that season at San Francisco came with the operation rushed because of the play clock. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

O'Brien was the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011 when Tom Brady beat the Cowboys on a final-minute touchdown pass 20-16. The Texans have the top pick in the draft and a team that could be in line for a quick turnaround.

Gruden was the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator when Bailey won the game on a last-second field goal after Andy Dalton was limited to 206 yards passing. The Redskins folded under Mike Shanahan and have a ton of needs, but the return of a healthy and motivated Robert Griffin III could change their fortunes quickly.

The Cowboys could have six more games against teams that will lose assistant coaches in 2014.

As of Thursday, the only assistant the Cowboys have lost is Boniol, who oversaw one of the best kickers in the NFL. Maybe that will change too. Maybe.

Pro Bowl selections: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 27, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' late-season run to the brink of an NFC East title did not translate into many Pro Bowl berths.

LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, was an almost automatic selection. Left tackle Jason Peters, who had five Pro Bowl selections on his resume, was the only other Eagle chosen.

Five Cleveland Browns were chosen, so the wins-to-Pro-Bowl-berths relationship is kind of hard to figure sometimes.

McCoy was a lock. He needs just 37 rushing yards to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record of 1,512.

Three Eagles have legitimate gripes. And no, one of them is not quarterback Nick Foles, who was cited as the biggest snub via social media on the NFL Network's Pro Bowl selection special.

Foles has had 60 percent of a Pro Bowl season. The fact that he didn't start the Eagles' first five games, and missed another game because of a concussion, surely hurt his cause. It's also hard to argue with any of the six quarterbacks chosen: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.

The three Eagles who should have been ticketed for Hawaii:

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is having the best season of his career. There are plenty of wide receivers with big numbers, but Jackson has provided a huge big-play element to the Eagles' prolific offense.

Left guard Evan Mathis has been the highest-rated guard by Pro Football Focus for several seasons now. He is equally dominating in the run game and in pass protection.

Center Jason Kelce has battled back from an ACL tear to anchor the Eagles' offensive line. Kelce makes the line calls, snaps the ball and is still able to get downfield and block for McCoy in the secondary.

Foles was selected as a first alternate. Jackson and Mathis were second alternates.

No one from the Eagles defense was chosen. Again, not surprising. DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole have Pro Bowl pedigrees, but neither has the big sack or interception numbers that draw votes. Cole has eight sacks in the Eagles' last seven games but had zero through the first half of the season.

"I'd be disappointed if some of those guys didn't make it because I think [they're] deserving," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "But I don't think our guys -- I mean, it's a nice reward, but I think that their focus and attention is on what's going to go on this Sunday."

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Eli Manning's not going anywhere

December, 16, 2013
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Eli ManningRon Antonelli/Getty ImagesEli Manning's season has been rough, but he won't -- and shouldn't -- play anywhere else in 2014.
I get it. People get upset. You give your heart and soul to your favorite team, and when they embarrass you, it hurts. It stings. It's tough to handle. When no other team in the entire league has been shut out all year and yours has been shut out twice, that's tough. When the NFL sets a single-day record for points scored, as it did Sunday, and your team scored none of them ... not a lot anyone can say. You should be upset, and it's not my job or anyone else's to tell you otherwise.

But the part of the New York Giants' fan reaction with which I feel compelled to take issue this Monday is the part that wants quarterback Eli Manning out of town. This is a short-sighted overreaction, neither realistic nor justified. And if you truly believe the Giants should or will move on from Manning after this season, you're going to be sorely disappointed.

In fact, it's pretty close to a certainty that the Giants this offseason will work out a contract extension with Manning that serves the dual purpose of lowering his 2014 cap number and ensuring he'll finish his career with the team. There's a segment of the fan base that's going to hate this, but it's unquestionably the right move for the organization. Manning's 2013 season has been a miserable failure on every level, but that doesn't mean it's time to get rid of him. Manning turns 33 next month and still has several years left of his quarterback prime. The Giants need to rebuild their roster, but how many teams in similar situations would welcome the chance to rebuild around a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback who never misses a game?

"

Delany Manning's 2013 season has been a miserable failure on every level, but that doesn't mean it's time to get rid of him.

"
"Trade him!" some have suggested, but how could you do that? He's a $20 million-a-year player who's coming off his worst season. Not a lot of hope to recoup decent value in a deal like that.

"Draft his replacement!" is another one you hear a lot these days, but that doesn't make a lot of sense, either. The Giants believe Manning will play another half-decade for them, at least. It's entirely possible his replacement is still in high school. And regardless, that draft-the-replacement thing is easier said than done. Just because the Colts and the Packers managed to transition from one Hall of Fame talent to another at that position doesn't mean there's some formula for doing so. Once Manning is done, whenever that is, the Giants will have a puzzle to solve. Look around the league at the teams trying to solve puzzles at quarterback. Doesn't look like fun, does it?

Manning needs help, plain and simple. And you can crow all you want about how Tom Brady gets it done with inferior personnel every year, and you're right. Thing is, no one ever said Manning was Tom Brady. He's not. He's a great player who's been able to deliver championships (at Brady's expense, by the way) when he's had a strong team around him. He can elevate a good team to a championship level. He can't elevate a garbage team to a playoff level. And this year, he has nothing.

An already-suspect offensive line has lost its starting center, starting right guard and backup center. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, whose presence as a top target on the outside has been a key to the passing game when it's been at its best, has shut it down in his contract year. There is no reliable run game, no back who can consistently pick up the blitz, no playmaking tight end and no depth at wide receiver to compensate for Nicks' issues. Fix two, maybe three of those six significant problems, and Manning likely has something with which he can work. Fix none of them, and he's a mess.

And he is a mess, don't get me wrong here. Manning has contributed to the problem. Whatever the issues are around him, he's made them worse with poor throws and poor decisions. He's matched his career high with 25 interceptions. He's sailed past his previous career high in sacks, having already taken 36. There are two games to go, and no sign things will get better. It's a lost year, and there's no excusing the part he's played in it.

But there's also no reason to assume one lousy year means it's all over for Manning. There's no sign that anything's wrong physically. Anyone who's watched Manning this year has seen a quarterback unable to rise above his circumstances. And even if you want to argue that he should have been able to do so, you have to acknowledge that improving even some of those circumstances would put Manning in a position, come 2014, to put all of this behind him and rebound from it. We have seen him do it before, from season to season, from week to week, from quarter to quarter. Manning has obviously allowed the widespread incompetence of the 2013 Giants offense to consume him. What he needs is an offseason to rest and forget it, and for his front office to spend that offseason rebuilding a completely broken offense around him. He'll help by reworking his deal to give them flexibility, but he himself is not going anywhere. And if the Giants are sensible (which they tend to be in these matters), they already know that.
PHILADELPHIA -- Despite coach Chip Kelly’s declaration Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles are unlikely to offer quarterback Nick Foles a 1,000-year contract after his breakout season.

During his weekly phone appearance on 94.1 WIP-FM radio, Kelly was asked if Foles would be his quarterback for the long term. His answer: “I hope so.”

That prompted reporters to ask Kelly about it during his Monday afternoon news conference. The result was a variation of the back-and-forth over whether Foles or Michael Vick would be Kelly’s starting quarterback.

“I will say he is the starting quarterback for the next thousand years here,” Kelly said, tongue firmly in cheek. “If I'm wrong next week, then I'm wrong next week.”

On a more serious note, Kelly said Foles could well be the quarterback beyond this season, but again hedged.

“Yeah, as long as he can stay healthy,” Kelly said. “That's what I've qualified it with all the time. That is one thing I don't think anybody can predict, the health of anybody. That is a reality. How many quarterbacks have gone down this season in the National Football League? It's a pretty high amount.

“I think that's one thing everybody has to understand when you're going into this thing. It's a very, very difficult game. They take a lot of hits. I understand why they protect the quarterback in this league because of the hits they do take. When you have a quarterback that's durable and can last, that's when you know you've got a guy.”

The issue is of interest mostly because of the perception Kelly would eventually need to find a mobile quarterback of his choosing to run his offense. At 33, Vick was a stopgap at best. Foles was perceived to be too immobile to run Kelly’s system. As he’s put up unprecedented numbers and won games, though, it is natural to wonder if he can be the franchise quarterback.

But Kelly doesn’t like to waste time or energy on things when he doesn’t have to. The Eagles can’t draft Marcus Mariota or Teddy Bridgewater in time to play the Detroit Lions Sunday, so why speculate? By the time they have to decide on the draft, they'll have four more Foles performances, plus possibly the postseason, to evaluate.

“Right now, I'm on a one-week deal,” Kelly said. “I don't think Nick's going to come in tomorrow and say I don't want to play anymore because you guys don't want me here six weeks from now. So the questions we get asked about it long term, right now is not long term. Long term for us is this Sunday against the Detroit Lions, that is the end of the deal.”

Throughout the competition between Vick and Foles, Kelly would say that if he had a player like Tom Brady, his No. 1 quarterback would be obvious. Surely Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees are going to be the starters for their respective teams in 2014.

“It's a semantics thing,” Kelly said.

And it turns out Kelly is as good at semantics as he is at drawing up plays.

Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.

Five Wonders: Season on line Sunday?

November, 19, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- Refreshed off the bye week, Five Wonders is back and ready for action.

We'll start with this mini-wonder: Does anybody more than wonder whether the Dec. 29 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium will be to win the NFC East?

I wonder it, but only if the Cowboys beat the New York Giants this week.

On to the wonders:

SportsNation

Who will have a bigger impact in Sunday's game vs. the Giants?

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    27%
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    73%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,336)

• I wonder if the season is on the line Sunday against the New York Giants. The Cowboys would still be alive because of the state of the NFC East, but at 5-6 and reeling it would be hard to see a turnaround. They would have lost three of four and the only win came on a 90-yard drive in the final minute against the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys carry emotional baggage with them no matter how much Jason Garrett attempts to keep them in the present. Injuries have piled up again. Questions about the scheme have rumbled on both sides of the ball. There is a lot on the line this week. The Giants have won four in a row to claw back into the race after a 0-6 start. Their wins have not come against the best quarterbacks but winning breeds confidence and the Giants have confidence. Maybe the feeling comes from the 32-point loss to the New Orleans Saints before the bye, but the Cowboys sure seem fragile mentally right now as well as physically.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via Getty ImagesIf the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs this season, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien could be an interesting choice to replace Jason Garrett.
• I don't believe owner and general manager Jerry Jones wants to replace Garrett. I truly believe he wants Garrett to be the Cowboys' head coach for a long time. But if the Cowboys don't make the playoffs this season, it would not surprise me if Jones made a move. That would be four straight seasons without a playoff appearance. Jones can sell anything, but selling a status quo wouldn't be easy. One thing I don't wonder about is if Lovie Smith would get an interview. I believe he would. But here's another guy I wonder about: Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. I don't know all of the particulars of the buyout at Penn State, but O'Brien was tempted by the NFL last season. His background with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady gives him a plus, and how he has handled the mess that has enveloped Penn State gives him a few more pluses. His time running the Patriots' offense, however, means more to me. The Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar to be more of a "12 personnel" team but the Cowboys have not been creative enough in getting people involved. They are running the same plays they did with Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett as the second tight end and they were not able to produce. O'Brien made the Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez package work well with Brady. Do I believe O'Brien would get an interview? I don't know any of it, but I would have him on the list. Not that Jones would listen to me.

• The Cowboys drafted Kyle Wilber with the idea that he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4. With the move to the 4-3, he was moved to defensive end. Now he is playing some outside linebacker again because of an injury to Justin Durant. I wonder if Wilber is a man without a position. When Anthony Spencer went down in training camp with a knee injury, Wilber got the first look and then saw Ben Bass take some of his snaps. Then it was George Selvie who took them later on. When DeMarcus Ware got hurt in the season, Wilber took over but then saw Jarius Wynn take over the starting spot. Wilber always was a tweener, but the coaches have yet to feel like he can handle the full-time duty. If they did, they wouldn't be moving him around so much, especially because the defensive end spot is much more valued in this scheme than strong side linebacker.

• I wonder if we'll see a more engaged Bruce Carter now that Sean Lee is out of the lineup. There is no other way to say it then this: Carter has been a disappointment this season. The Cowboys did not need him to be Derrick Brooks in this defense, but they needed him to be productive. He had two sacks in the first two games. He had a pass deflection and a quarterback pressure. He has just two pressures and a pass deflection in the last eight games. He has one tackle for loss. The weak-side linebacker spot is designed to be the playmaker in this defense. When the Cowboys lost Lee last year to a toe injury, Carter stepped up his game before an elbow injury KO'd him for the year. The Cowboys need that Carter and not the Carter that ended the New Orleans game. We can pick on just about everybody on defense from that game, but Carter was ready for that game to end sooner than it did.

Back in June I wondered if people were sleeping on just how effective Lance Dunbar would be when the season started. I pegged him in for 30 catches out of the backfield. I saw his speed and elusiveness as being a big part of a revamped offense. I was wrong. While not as big a disappointment as Carter, Dunbar has not been able to deliver on offense. He has four catches for 21 yards and 15 carries for 48 yards. Some of it is injury. Some of it is ball security. Some of it is scheme. Jerry Jones said he wanted to see Dunbar more involved. Bill Callahan said he would like to get Dunbar more involved. Sometimes there's just not enough of the football to go around. Dunbar has seen his role taken by Cole Beasley to a degree because of the use of the "empty” package. Maybe things change in the final six games, but I would be surprised.

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