NFL Nation: Dennis Green

Gary AndersonAP Photo/Beth A. Keiser
This is the play voters and ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling picked as the most memorable in the team's history, beating out Brett Favre's interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game and Tommy Kramer's Hail Mary pass to Ahmad Rashad to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 "Miracle at the Met."

Score: Falcons 30, Vikings 27
Date: Jan. 17, 1999. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Well, voters, we agreed on this one. For a team that has played in four Super Bowls and has been in five NFC title games since its most recent Super Bowl appearance, there were plenty of memorable moments. But this play, which kept the most prolific offense (and possibly the most dominant team) in Vikings history from securing a fifth Super Bowl bid, was tough to top.

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The most striking thing about Gary Anderson's 38-yard miss with 2:18 left in the 1999 NFC Championship Game was how swiftly it pulled the bottom out from under a team that had an air of inevitability about it to that point. Yes, the Vikings had some injuries going into the NFC title game, but their offense had been so explosive (607 points in 17 previous games), and they'd been so dominant at home (winning all nine of their games by an average of 23.22 points) that it didn't seem like an upstart Falcons team had any chance of coming into the Metrodome and halting the Vikings' march to the Super Bowl. It certainly didn't seem that way when Anderson -- who hadn't missed a kick of any kind all season -- lined up for an easy field goal attempt that would have put Minnesota up by 10.

But Anderson's miss gave the Falcons life, and the Vikings seemed too stunned to recover after that point, with coach Dennis Green calling for Randall Cunningham to take a knee after the Falcons' game-tying touchdown and the team punting twice in overtime before Morten Andersen's game winner. As a kid growing up in Minnesota at the time, it was stunning to watch that Vikings team -- so brash and aggressive to that point, so certain of its superiority, particularly in the raucous Metrodome -- on its heels. The Vikings probably never would have reached that point had Anderson's kick sailed through the uprights. Instead, they lost the game, they've endured two more NFC Championship Game defeats since, and their Super Bowl drought is at 37 years and counting.

The fact is it all could have been so different, if not for a miss from a heretofore perfect kicker. That's what made Anderson's miss the most memorable play in Vikings history.
A weekly examination of the Raiders' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 29 | Last Week: 30 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Dennis Green never coached the Raiders, though he was rumored to be a candidate several times over the past decade. So it makes it all the more relevant to trot out his famous line, then, and tweak it a bit: The Raiders are who we thought they were. Except, no one is letting them off the hook.

They were ranked 29th in the preseason and, for the second week in a row, sit at a season-low No. 30. Sounds about right for a team that has lost five straight games and seven of eight and faces the daunting prospect of playing host to a record-setting Peyton Manning in the regular-season finale.

Raiders owner Mark Davis is taking a wait-and-see approach before making any final decisions on the future of coach Dennis Allen, and there is no indication he’s leaning one way or the other, despite so much public clamoring for Jon Gruden.

No, Green is not considered a candidate, but how’s this for a speculative coaching candidate curveball: Jay Gruden? Then again, Davis would have to let Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie off the hook first, let alone Terrelle Pryor’s agent, Jerome Stanley, who claimed Allen is hoping Pryor fails in the season-ending start.

Go ahead, crown ’em ... the No. 30 team in our Power Rankings.

W2W4: Eagles at Vikings

December, 14, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've got a few items to pass along at the end of the week, as we get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Here we go:

Cole will be tested: Audie Cole has played well in his first three games at middle linebacker, but Sunday will likely bring the biggest challenge he's faced so far. He'll have to coordinate the Vikings' defense against the Eagles' fast-paced offense. He'll have to cover tight end Brent Celek, and like the rest of the Minnesota defense, he'll have his hands full with running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in both rushing and all-purpose yards. Cole gave up two catches on the Baltimore Ravens' game-winning touchdown drive last week, including Marlon Brown's touchdown with four seconds left. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams said this week that Cole only needed to make a small adjustment to be in position to make a play. "[On] two plays Audie was close, but not close enough," Williams said. "I think that comes from experience knowing that, hey, if they catch it in front of you, no big deal, don’t give up one over the top.”

Gerhart has Kelly's respect: If Adrian Peterson is out on Sunday with a sprained right foot and Toby Gerhart can return from a strained right hamstring to be the Vikings' main running back against the Eagles, he'll face an old foe in Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, who saw plenty of the former Stanford running back when he was the coach at Oregon. "He played against us when I was at Oregon and he had a 39carry game for, I think, 2,085 yards it seemed like to me," Kelly said this week. "I think Toby is one of the really, really good backs in this league. He just isn't on the field that much because of who Adrian Peterson is. I don't think it changes that much [about the Vikings' scheme], to be honest with you."

Secondary injuries come at a bad time: The Vikings almost certainly will have a handful of players in unfamiliar positions in the secondary on Sunday, and against a spread offense like Philadelphia's, they'll have to hope they can survive without at least two -- and possibly three -- of their top three corners. They had been playing more man coverage, with some success, in recent weeks, but they might have to get away from that plan on Sunday with Xavier Rhodes doubtful because of a sprained ankle. Chris Cook is questionable because of a knee injury, and if the oft-injured cornerback can play, he'll likely draw the unenviable matchup of shadowing the explosive DeSean Jackson, who has 65 catches for 1,080 yards.

Much expected of Cassel: With Peterson's status in doubt at the beginning of the week, it seemed like a strong possibility the Vikings would go back to Matt Cassel at quarterback, partially because they haven't been as willing to lean on the passing game as much with Christian Ponder as they have with Cassel. He has connected on 10 of his 19 throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, whereas Ponder has hit just 12 of 31 throws that went at least 20 yards in the air. Cassel also is the only Vikings quarterback to throw for at least 240 yards in a game this season, and he's attempted at least 30 passes in three of the four games where he's started or played extensively. Those are fairly modest benchmarks for most teams, but in a game where the Vikings might need to keep up with the Eagles, and might not have Peterson, starting Cassel made sense.

Vikings honoring All-MOA Field team: At halftime on Sunday, the Vikings will recognize the 28-man All-Mall of America Field team, as voted on by fans throughout the season. The team is heavy on players from coach Dennis Green's teams in the 1990s -- Green is the coach of the team, and 16 of the 27 players on the team played at least one season for him. The Vikings said 20 of the 28 members of the team are expected to be at the game on Sunday. We're particularly interested to see if Randy Moss shows up (which we doubt), or if the Vikings invited back Antoine Winfield after they cut the cornerback in the spring, leading to a bit of a rift between the three-time Pro Bowler and the team. And if Green is there? That's always got the potential to be interesting.

Tears of joy for Cris Carter

February, 2, 2013
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I should have bet the house Saturday night that Cris Carter would emerge from behind a curtain, sit down and bawl his way through a question-and-answer session about his inclusion in the 2013 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 14 years of covering the NFL, I don't think I ever saw a football player cry more than him.

Carter cried at highly appropriate times, including the 2001 death of teammate Korey Stringer. He cried at times that seemed reasonable, such as when he was named the 1999 NFL Man of the Year. And he cried at times that most people would not, like when he spoke at a standard team meeting.

Over the years, some have associated his quick tears with a larger attention-grabbing front they thought Carter put up, a self-promotional tool to portray him as a deeply religious do-gooder who had turned his life around and deserved accolades for it. That interpretation continued Saturday when Carter's raw reaction -- "This is the happiest day of my life" -- drew scorn from some of you via Twitter.

"Sure that makes his wife and kids feel great," tweeted @moefasa11.

[+] EnlargeCris Carter
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertCris Carter couldn't hold back the tears after being elected to the Hall of Fame.
On this day and all others, I think it's irrelevant to consider the motives behind Carter's persona and emotions. The inarguable and objective fact is that he has an incredible life story, one that has and will continue to benefit countless people whose lives started and progressed the way his did.

As you probably know, Carter grew up in a single-parent household as one of six children in Middletown, Ohio. Early mistakes nearly ended his career before it started, from losing his final season at Ohio State because he signed with an agent to getting released by the Philadelphia Eagles for what he later acknowledged was heavy drug abuse.

But from the moment the Vikings claimed him off waivers in September 1990, Carter fashioned one of the best careers for a receiver in NFL history.

Even after the NFL's passing game explosion over the past decade, Carter ranks fourth all-time in receptions (1,101) and fourth (130) in touchdowns. His hands were immaculate and his techniques for getting open were as precise as anyone who has played. He waited out a five-year process in which voters dealt with a backlog of players at a position they traditionally haven't valued as much as others, but to me there was never a doubt Carter would eventually be elected.

Even so, voters spent more than 30 minutes debating his candidacy, the third-most of the 17 finalists, according to one of the voters, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.

"The history with wide receivers," Carter said, "I follow it pretty close. I look at Art Monk, I look at Lynn Swann, I look at Michael Irvin, and it's becoming very, very difficult to judge the skill of a wide receiver in today's game. But what else can you judge it on but the numbers? The numbers, they do tell a story.

"I'm glad they recognized my career for what it was. … It doesn't matter [that it took so long] … I've been in this process for five years and they have not selected one bad player. Not one bad player have I seen elected to the Hall of Fame."

That was one genuinely humble moment for Carter during his interview session in New Orleans. Another was when he credited former Vikings coach Dennis Green for helping "take me to another level I never ever thought I would be."

Carter and Green were close during most of their tenure together in Minnesota, but they had a personal falling out and were barely speaking to each other toward the end. I'm glad Carter bypassed that short-term friction and recognized the role Green played in his success.

"He told me things, even compared me to the guys who I played with," Carter said. "And he told me things that I could go on the field with and have the greatest confidence. He would show me the game plan and show me how they were going to utilize me and what they needed me to do. They used to have a section in the game plan that had my name on it. I used to memorize it, He said, 'Man, it's like playing basketball on turf.'"

You might not like the way Carter carries or portrays himself, but his style is built on an awful lot of genuine substance. I hope that's what we focus on in the days and months ahead of his August 2013 enshrinement. As a player, he has deserved to be in the Hall of Fame since the moment he retired. As a person, there is plenty to admire as well.

Numbers on Falcons' playoff drought

January, 9, 2013
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It’s a well-known fact that the Falcons will be trying to end a playoff drought when they host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Everyone is talking about how the Falcons are 0-3 in the postseason since the arrival of coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008. Let’s put that into some context.

Smith has a chance to become the fifth coach in history to lose his first four playoff games. Dennis Green, Wade Phillips and Marvin Lewis each lost their first four. Former New Orleans and Indianapolis coach Jim Mora set the record by losing his first six playoff games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

At the moment, Ryan is one of six quarterbacks to lose his first three playoff starts since the AFL-NFL merger. But a loss would put Ryan with Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to lose their first four playoff games.


No lead safe? Comebacks in mind this week

December, 18, 2012
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The Chicago Bears are visiting the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 for the first time since the 2006 game that launched Dennis Green into beer commercial history.

The Bears overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit to win, 24-23. Green was not happy about it.

On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers posted a 41-34 victory over New England after blowing a 31-3 lead. Hours earlier, the Seattle Seahawks attempted a fake punt while holding a 47-17 lead over the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter.

These three storylines share a commonality. All invite questions about when a lead is large enough for a team to feel comfortable enough about its chances to play less aggressively.

That Bears-Cardinals game was notable for Green's postgame rant. The comeback itself was impressive, but the score was 23-10 after three quarters. Teams have overcome deficits that large entering fourth quarters three times since 2010 and 24 times since 2000.

The chart shows comeback victories from 20-plus points after three quarters since 1940, courtesy of Pro Football Reference. There are fewer of those.

Only four times since 1970 has a team leading by 30-plus points through three quarters won by 14 or fewer points. It happened most recently in 2006 when the Seattle Seahawks claimed a 42-30 victory over the New York Giants after leading 42-3 through three quarters.

The 49ers held a 31-10 lead over the Patriots through three quarters on Sunday. New England scored a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Even at that point, the 49ers' win probability was around 95 percent. The Seahawks' win probability was above 99 percent when the team gained 29 yards on its fake punt.

ESPN Stats & Information calculates win probability based on similar game situations and outcomes from the past 10 seasons.

Most of the memorable comebacks from large deficits were accomplished over multiple quarters.

Final Word: NFC West

November, 30, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

Seeking historic start: The San Francisco 49ers have gone 2-0 in Colin Kaepernick's first two starts at quarterback. A victory against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday would make Kaepernick the first 49ers quarterback since the 1970 merger to win his first three starts with the team. Joe Montana went 0-3 for the 49ers back when Bill Walsh was in the early stages of an organizational rebuild. Steve Young went 1-2 in his first three starts with the team, tossing one touchdown with four interceptions in those games.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Kyle Terada/US PresswireQuarterback Colin Kaepernick can make history by leading the 49ers to a win Sunday.
Not bad for a backup: Recently demoted 49ers quarterback Alex Smith can point to a 19-5-1 starting record since the start of last season as evidence he's getting a raw deal. Kaepernick (2-0), Smith and Seattle's Russell Wilson (6-5) are the only quarterbacks with winning records as starters for NFC West teams over that stretch. Records for the others: Tarvaris Jackson (7-7), John Skelton (6-6), Kevin Kolb (6-8), Sam Bradford (5-15-1), A.J. Feeley (1-2), Ryan Lindley (0-1), Charlie Whitehurst (0-2) and Kellen Clemens (0-3).

Linebackers in focus: The Rams had their way with the 49ers' defense in the running game when the teams battled to a 24-24 tie in Week 10. They succeeded in getting blockers on the 49ers' usually outstanding inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

Vic Fangio, the 49ers' no-nonsense defensive coordinator (is there any other kind?), wasn't about to blame the defensive struggles on some imaginary lack of focus or motivation. Fangio: "Well, to me that’s just an excuse. We got blocked."

The 49ers have subsequently tightened up their run defense. They also rewarded Bowman with a contract extension through 2018. Can they better contain Steven Jackson, who has 321 yards over his past three games? Note that the Rams have scored 20-plus points just 15 times since 2010, and four of those times were against the 49ers. They have 270 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns in their past two games against San Francisco.

Central time: The Seahawks have a 3-4 record under coach Pete Caroll when playing in the Central time zone. Oddly, that includes a 2-0 mark against the Bears at Soldier Field, site of Seattle's game this week. The Bears are 15-5 at home against everyone else.

Dropping off the map: The Cardinals averaged 22.8 points per game during their 4-0 start. They have averaged 12.7 points per game while losing their next seven games. They went from winning games by seven points on average to losing them by nine points on average.

This is the third consecutive season Arizona has suffered a losing streak of at least six games. Arizona is the only team in the NFL with more than two such streaks over the past three seasons. Buffalo and St. Louis each have two. Thirteen other teams have one. The Cardinals haven't lost eight in a row since 2006. They fired Dennis Green as coach after that season.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid made an interesting comparison Wednesday when asked about Kevin Kolb's rough transition as the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback.

"Things take time, so you come in and you learn," Reid told reporters covering the Cardinals. "You had one of the all-time great ones there with Kurt Warner and that was up and down initially, and then he came in and got it all figured out and it was lights out. That’s how those things work."

Reid coached Kolb for four seasons before trading him to the Cardinals for a 2012 second-round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Kolb has a 1-6 starting record with Arizona to go with a turf-toe injury that could keep him from playing against the Eagles in Week 10.

Any suggestion that Warner flourished in Arizona after experiencing a Kolb-like transition invites a closer look. Reid, having already talked up Kolb to teams before trading the quarterback, could have been in coach-speak mode Wednesday. Or, he could have been providing needed perspective only seven starts into what could wind up being a long, successful run for Kolb in Arizona.

Warner did suffer through some inconsistencies upon signing with the Cardinals in 2005, posting a 3-12 starting record in two seasons under Dennis Green. The struggles Warner experienced once Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007 are easily forgotten for a couple reasons. One, Warner eventually took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, for which he'll always be remembered. Two, even though he struggled some during that first season under Whisenhunt, his overall numbers were good.

Warner, like Kolb, made his first start under Whisenhunt against Carolina. Warner lasted long enough to attempt two passes before a dislocated left elbow forced him from the game. Arizona lost, 25-10.

Warner started against Tampa Bay two weeks later and completed only 10 of 30 attempts for 172 yards. He tossed two interceptions and finished with a 26.0 NFL passer rating as Arizona lost, 17-10. Afterward, Warner said he was "embarrassed" and "disgusted" by the overall offensive performance.

Warner then put together three exceptional games. But a five-pick performance in defeat at Seattle soon followed. After that game, which ended Arizona's chances for an NFC West title, Warner lamented having "cost my team the win" by forcing throws.

Warner then closed out the season with three more strong games, giving him 27 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. The Cardinals were 5-6 in games he started.

There are obvious differences between then and now. Warner had already been a Super Bowl quarterback. He had vast starting experience and was playing under a modest contract. Expectations were low. The rich contract Kolb signed brought expectations for immediate results.

I thought Kolb's backup, John Skelton, appeared more comfortable with the offense Sunday. He appeared more comfortable in the pocket. He avoided turnovers and posted a 53.9 QBR score that was higher than any Kolb has posted in a game this season. More on that in the NFC 411 video Thursday.

Earlier: Kolb and Matt Cassel.

NFC West coaching seats warm to occasion

October, 24, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams' 0-6 start has left that team with a 13-57 record since 2007.

The record is 8-30 since Steve Spagnuolo became head coach in 2009.

A 34-7 defeat at Dallas in Week 7 left Spagnuolo on a short list of head coaches on the hot seat. He's one of five with a record at least 22 games below .500 and fewer than eight career victories, according to Pro Football Reference.

Spagnuolo, who won a championship with the New York Giants following the 2008 season, has company on the Rams' staff. First-year offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went 83-19 during his final eight seasons with New England and first six games as Denver's head coach in 2009. His teams have gone 5-24 since that time.

I've been getting more questions about Spagnuolo's job security as the losses mount. How the team loses will be important. Getting trampled on the ground by opposing running games becomes demoralizing.

Overall, Spagnuolo's inability to keep the defense competitive this season works against him. Yes, the Rams have suffered significant injuries at cornerback, but their defense was having problems anyway. The free agents they added haven't upgraded the defense.

Some Arizona Cardinals fans are also getting restless. Their coach, Ken Whisenhunt, has gone 3-14 over his last 17 games. The Cardinals were 5-12 in their final 17 games under Dennis Green. The obvious progress Whisenhunt made posting three consecutive non-losing records, complete with a Super Bowl appearance and 4-2 postseason record, fades with each defeat.

In Arizona, as in St. Louis, I think it's important for the franchise quarterbacks to finish the season better than they have started it. Without quarterback progress, it's tougher for anyone -- fans, owners, players -- to feel as though an organization is moving in the right direction. It's also much tougher to win, of course.

The chart shows head coaches who are at least 22 games below .500 and possessing no more than nine career victories. I've updated the Pro Football Reference numbers to reflect Week 7 results, and have recalculated winning percentages to account for ties.

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The San Francisco 49ers took another step toward the NFC West title Sunday without even playing.

We might be one week away from asking Dennis Green whether it's OK to crown 'em.

For while the 49ers are home against a weak Cleveland team in Week 8, every other NFC West team faces an opponent with a winning record.

Seattle figures to have a good shot at home against 4-2 Cincinnati, but not if the Seahawks' offense plays the way it played during a 6-3 defeat to Cleveland on Sunday.

The 1-5 Arizona Cardinals cannot be taken seriously heading to 4-1 Baltimore.

Same goes for the 0-6 St. Louis Rams against a soon-to-be 5-2 New Orleans team that built a 34-7 halftime lead against Indianapolis on Sunday night.

Yes, it's a little early to start talking about such things. Just a little.
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Randy Moss: An all-time mystery

August, 1, 2011
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Randy MossBrian Bahr/Getty ImagesRandy Moss' legacy is that he forced opposing defenses to devise new coverages and lineups.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe it's appropriate that I was sitting at Lambeau Field when Randy Moss announced his retirement. No, not because Moss famously pretended to moon the crowd during a playoff game. It's because the Green Bay Packers were the first team to recognize that Moss had fundamentally changed the game.

As a rookie in 1998, Moss caught 13 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings in two games against the Packers.

In 1999, the Packers responded with the most transparent draft strategy imaginable: They selected a cornerback with each of their first three picks. Two of them, Antuan Edwards and Mike McKenzie, were over six feet tall. They landed in Green Bay with the specific hope of matching up against Moss, who at 6-foot-4 had dominated smaller cornerbacks throughout his rookie season.

As his career went on, opponents devised new coverages and exotic lineups in an attempt to slow down a unique physical specimen who referred to himself as "The Freak." Vikings offensive coaches often considered it a waste of time to scout their opponents' previous games because they never used traditional schemes against the Vikings when Moss was in the lineup.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
AP Photo/Morry GashRandy Moss famously pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field.
These days, it's common to hear football people refer to having a safety "over the top" to cover the deep part of the field in case a receiver runs past the cornerback. It can also be known as a "bracket." These coverages were popularized because of Moss, whose combination of height and 4.35 speed made him uncoverable by one defender.

Rare is the player who can force draft decisions or schematic innovations, and to me that will be Moss’ greatest legacy. I know there are many of you who think Moss will return to the game in the coming months, but I won’t begin to try to guess what’s going on inside his head. He is, however, fully capably of storming away from the game, never to be heard from again.

If Moss’ career is in fact finished, he should go down as one of the best receivers ever to play the game.

As it stands, Moss is tied for second for the NFL's all-time list of touchdown receptions (153). He has the fifth-most receiving yards (14,858) and eight-most receptions (954).

History, of course, will intertwine Moss' football success with his personal failings. He wasn't an enigma, which most people associate with "unique." Moss was a flat-out mystery, and anyone who tried to figure him out was wasting brain cells.

On the 10th anniversary of Korey Stringer's death, I'm reminded of Moss sobbing hysterically at a nationally-televised news conference. At the same time, I'm reminded that he once lost his temper in downtown Minneapolis traffic and felt compelled to nudge a traffic officer with his car.

I recall him tossing NFL awards in the locker room trash can. I can't avoid the conclusion that he undermined every coach he played for in Minnesota, including Dennis Green -- the man who put his own reputation on the line by drafting him in 1998. Moss' verbal harangue at a group of corporate sponsors on the Vikings' team bus enraged then-owner Red McCombs and played a role in Green's ultimate departure from the organization in 2001.

I will remember some hilarious interview moments, including the time Moss detailed how he taunted then-coach Mike Tice with words from a boyhood bully who once, in Moss' words, "broke Tice's face." In truth, Moss had no respect for authority and resented its existence.

His respect for the game was circumspect as well. Pro Football Hall of Fame voters shouldn't consider his off-field issues when discussing his candidacy, but they absolutely should note how often Moss loafed on plays that weren't designed for him and how, early in his career, he walked off the field before its conclusion in several instances.

Moss won't, and shouldn't, be elected to sainthood. There is no way to sweep away his stunning lack of personal decorum. In all ways -- on the field and off -- Moss was one of a kind.

I think he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. But even that day will be wrapped in mystery. I used to joke with colleagues that Moss would probably skip his enshrinement ceremony into the Hall of Fame. I don't actually think he will. But if there is anyone who would ...

Where the NFC West stands in Flash Points balloting, which continues into Wednesday afternoon and seeks to identify key events in franchise history:

Votes so far: 125,896

Votes by team: San Francisco 49ers 42,066; Seattle Seahawks 29,750; St. Louis Rams 28,232; Arizona Cardinals 25,848.

Closest race: Eleven percentage point separate the top three Seahawks moments. Thirty-six percent pointed to Paul Allen purchasing the team and keeping it in Seattle. Twenty-eight percent singled out the victory against Carolina to reach Super Bowl XL. Twenty-five percent pointed to the team's decision to select Dan McGwire in the first round of the 1991 draft, even though coach Chuck Knox preferred Brett Favre.

Flashiest Flash Point: The 49ers' hiring of Bill Walsh has commanded more than 22,000 votes, easily the most among all NFC West options.

Biggest blowout: The Arizona Cardinals' victory against Philadelphia to reach Super Bowl XLIII has drawn the highest percentage of any team's votes (68 percent). Getting a new stadium in Glendale ranks a distant second with 16 percent. That is easily the widest gap between first- and second-place options.

Weakest Flash Point: With all due respect to 49ers legend R.C. Owens, his alley-oop reception to beat the Detroit Lions in 1957 hasn't measured up among voters, drawing only 1 percent. The top two options -- Walsh's hiring and "The Catch" -- combined for 90 percent, with 6 percent selecting Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s forced exit as owner.

My favorite suggestions: For the Rams, their 30-3 defeat to the 49ers in the NFC title game following the 1989 season. EmsDucks offered that one, noting that the Rams went into quick decline and wound up moving the franchise. That game also negatively impacted perceptions of quarterback Jim Everett. ...

For the 49ers, the hit Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams put on quarterback Steve Young in 1999, precipitating Young's retirement. ...

For the Seahawks, hiring Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay. We can informally roll this one into Allen's purchasing of the team, which cleared the way for the hiring. ...

For the Cardinals, there were a few, but none more entertaining than visions of coaches past. Buddy Ryan's proclamation about there being a winner in town was up there with Dennis Green's memorable postgame meltdown.

Scheduling note: NFL West polls close Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. I'll break out winners and single out one for elaboration in a piece scheduled for Thursday.

Closing question: What about Walsh's hiring with the 49ers stands out to you all these years later? The success San Francisco enjoyed thereafter speaks for itself. In retrospect, it's easy to say the 49ers made a no-brainer hiring. In truth, however, Walsh was the team's fifth head coach in less than two years, and the organization was floundering at that time.
Colleague Kevin Seifert showed some daring by sending TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 in a recent ESPN.com mock draft.

He wasn't arguing for Dalton's value so much as saying the Vikings' need for a quarterback might compel them to take one there.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDid the Rams "reach" to get quarterback Sam Bradford in the first round last year?
"To me," Seifert later wrote with first-year Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in mind, "there is no better time to jump to the other side than in a coach's first year, giving him a building block for the rest of his program."

The key, of course, is not mistaking anchors for building blocks.

Steve Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers' first-year coach when the team used a 1997 first-rounder for Jim Druckenmiller, a blunder softened only by Steve Young's presence on the roster. That experience should not directly influence the 49ers' thinking as they consider first-round quarterbacks for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it's a reference point.

With Harbaugh and the 49ers in mind, I went through recent drafts to see which teams with first-year head coaches used first-round selections for quarterbacks. More precisely, I looked at all first-round quarterbacks since 2000 to see which ones had first-year head coaches.

Six of the last eight first-round quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell -- joined teams with first-year head coaches. All but Russell remain franchise quarterbacks in their teams' eyes. All but Russell are still playing for their original head coaches. Four of the six had winning records in 2010.

For most of those franchises, value and need lined up pretty well, and first-year coaches benefited.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the scouting combine. "We had Calvin Johnson, but our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have."

We could also argue that the St. Louis Rams were better off building their offensive line and other areas of their roster before making Sam Bradford the first overall choice in 2010. They could have drafted Sanchez or Freeman instead of defensive end Chris Long in 2009, then spent subsequent selections on players to build around one of those quarterbacks.

Bradford and Denver's Tim Tebow were the "other" first-round quarterbacks in the eight-man group featuring Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Ryan, Flacco and Russell.

In general, getting the right quarterback for a first-year head coach puts a franchise in strong position for the long term. There's no sense forcing the issue, however, because the wrong quarterback can drag down any coach, regardless of tenure.

A coach such as the Vikings' Frazier might have a harder time waiting. His contract runs only three seasons and ownership expects quick results. Harbaugh has a five-year deal with the 49ers. Expectations are high, but there's less urgency for immediate results.

The first chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with returning head coaches.

The second chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with first-year head coaches.

Report: Moss 'willing to sit out season'

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
2:25
PM ET
Boston Herald writer Ian R. Rapoport, citing a source close to Randy Moss, reports the receiver is willing to sit out the remainder of the season if an unattractive team claims him Wednesday.

The Minnesota Vikings waived Moss on Tuesday. Clubs can submit a claim for him in reverse order of their records, with the winless Buffalo Bills holding top priority and the 6-1 New England Patriots at the back of the line.

Moss' only NFL options if he gets claimed would be to play for his new employer or refuse to report. Maybe he would reunite with former coach Dennis Green and quarterback Daunte Culpepper with Sacramento of the UFL (I write half-jokingly).

Moss would be free to sign anywhere in the NFL only if none of the 32 teams submits a waiver claim.

The source told Rapoport that Moss "wants a ring" and is "willing to sit out the season."

So unless the Bills want to be publicly embarrassed -- hey, Jim Kelly and Tom Cousineau famously refused to show up in Orchard Park and chose to play in other leagues -- they probably should pass on Moss.
ANDERSON, Ind. -- Sometimes, when working to build a post, the entry is accelerated and breaks into pieces.

Since arriving at Colts camp, I’ve been asking questions about Clyde Christensen, who’s in his ninth season with the team but his first as offensive coordinator.

It’s a job he’s held once before in the NFL, and his offense in 2001 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was not very good. (Here’s an interview he did leading into that season.) On Wednesday I asked head coach Jim Caldwell about Christensen in his new position and about that Tampa Bay experience. His answer prompted me to look back at those Bucs and to write now even though I expect to talk to Christensen on Friday.

The Bucs were 30th in rushing with an injured Warrick Dunn, 15th in passing, 26th in total offense and 15th in scoring.

[+] EnlargeClyde Christensen
AP Photo/Darron CummingsJim Caldwell says he is confident in what Clyde Christensen (above) brings to the offense.
After 12 games, Christensen told the St. Petersburg Times: "It has to begin with me. That's my job. To get them coordinated. I have no problem with the criticism. The bottom line is the performance, and we should be better than we are.

"If I was giving myself a grade, I'd say about a C. Dead average. That's disappointing, because being average is not satisfactory."

Then after Philadelphia routed the Bucs 31-9 in the wild-card round, Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson said: "A lot of guys on this team have a lot of bark, but no bite. Guys have to just shut up and play."

Per Caldwell’s request, I checked the stats, and here’s what I think he was driving at: A year after Tony Dungy and his staff were fired and Jon Gruden took over, the Bucs won the Super Bowl.

But that championship offense, in a league with one more franchise, was 27th in rushing (three spots better than Christensen’s), 15th in passing (same), 24th in total offense (two spots better) and 18th in scoring (three spots worse.)

Gruden was regarded as an offensive genius at that point, but his offense had a lot of the same weak spots as Christensen’s did.

While Caldwell indicated he thinks Christensen got a bad rap in Tampa Bay, the Colts coach also mentioned how a lot of coaches who were perceived to be not great in their first go-around rebounded to fare much better in a second chance.

He pointed to his own poor win-loss record as coach at Wake Forest, mentioned the difference in Dennis Green from college to the NFL and nodded in agreement when I mentioned Bill Belichick as another example.

“You ought to check the stats and see what exactly we were trying to get done and what we got done,” he said of Christensen’s year as coordinator with the Bucs, when Caldwell was quarterbacks coach on the same Dungy staff. “A lot of people make assumptions and have preconceived notions about things.

“But he’s a very good football coach, he’s a very capable guy, he’s an excellent leader and I think you’ll see he’ll do a great job.”

In Indy, Tom Moore is still around as senior offensive assistant and Peyton Manning is still determining what exactly to do on a play as he assesses things after breaking the huddle. We aren’t going to see a discernable difference because Christensen is now officially at the helm. He’s put in good years with the team, earned Caldwell’s trust and loyalty as well as this promotion. He’s obviously inheriting a great offense.

Still, it’s reasonable to look at that stint in Tampa Bay and wonder how it will go.

“He’s in his position because he’s capable,” Caldwell said. “He’s a very good, very strong offensive mind. He knows our system extremely well. He’s been working in it for a number of years now, had played a major role in it, oftentimes behind the scenes. ... [He’s worked on] our red zone, we’ve been very effective in that particular area, and our third-down packages as well.”

Stay tuned for more on him, and hopefully from him, later this week.

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