NFL Nation: Kevin Jones
That is both good and bad for the Rams' career rushing leader.
Jackson, who plans to void his contract to become a free agent March 12, has accomplished a great deal since entering the NFL as the 24th player chosen in the 2004 draft. He also has high miles as his 30th birthday approaches in July, raising questions about how much longer he can produce.
The two charts show where Jackson ranks in scrimmage yards and rushing yards over the course of his career. Note that NFC West rivals Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald also rank among the top five in scrimmage yards over the same period.
Separately, Jackson's rushing total (10,135) is easily best among players who also entered the NFL in 2004. Michael Turner (7,338), Willie Parker (5,378), Julius Jones (5,068) and Kevin Jones (3,176) trail him on that list.
Jackson ranks 26th on the NFL's all-time rushing list after posting his eighth consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He needs 509 yards to overtake Ricky Watters for 20th. He needs 1,561 yards to overtake Fred Taylor for 15th. He needs 2,145 yards to overtake former teammate and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for 10th on the list.
Jackson would need 3,550 yards to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson for fifth.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: history in that spot.
The Bills' top pick is No. 3 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: DT Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers)
2009: DE Tyson Jackson (Chiefs)
2008: QB Matt Ryan (Falcons)
2007: T Joe Thomas (Browns)
2006: QB Vince Young (Titans)
2005: WR Braylon Edwards (Browns)
2004: WR Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals)
ANALYSIS: Some sexy picks have been made in this spot. None of the players have been out-and-out busts, although character concerns have overshadowed a couple. Only McCoy and Jackson haven't been selected for at least one Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, arguably the best in the business. Edwards can be a dangerous playmaker when not dropping passes, which he didn't do last year. Ryan is an emerging star. Young has been a lightning rod, but he did win rookie of the year and has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls. Thomas is a star blocker with four Pro Bowls on his résumé already.
The Dolphins' top pick is No. 15 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)
2009: LB Brian Cushing (Texans)
2008: G Branden Albert (Chiefs)
2007: LB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers)
2006: CB Tye Hill (Rams)
2005: LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
2004: WR Michael Clayton (Buccaneers)
ANALYSIS: This is a region of the first round where picks can break either way. There have been solid players drafted here, but no superstars. Cushing was a rookie of the year, but his career has been tainted by performance-enhancing drug usage. Clayton made an immediate impact with 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but hasn't caught more than 38 passes since. Johnson has been a solid linebacker for Kansas City, while Timmons has been an influential member of Pittsburgh's defense the past two seasons. Hill has been the biggest disappointment. He has been with four teams, starting 25 games.
New England Patriots
The Patriots' first-round picks are Nos. 17 and 28 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in those spots, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: G Mike Iupati (49ers) and DE Jared Odrick (Dolphins)
2009: QB Josh Freeman (Buccaneers) and G Eric Wood (Bills)
2008: T Gosder Cherilus (Lions) and DE Lawrence Jackson (Seahawks)
2007: DE Jarvis Moss (Broncos) and T Joe Staley (49ers)
2006: LB Chad Greenway (Vikings) and TE Marcedes Lewis (Jaguars)
2005: LB David Pollack (Bengals) and DE Luis Castillo (Chargers)
2004: LB D.J. Williams (Broncos) and CB Chris Gamble (Panthers)
ANALYSIS: Results have been mixed with these slots, but the 28th pick actually has found more starters than the 17th in recent years. Freeman showed signs of developing into a future star last year, and Cherilus has started 40 of his 43 games at right tackle. Williams and Greenway have been regular starters. But Moss and Pollock didn't work out. In the 28th slot, Odrick is the only one who hasn't been a regular starter. Injuries detonated his rookie season.
New York Jets
The Jets' top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last seven players taken in that spot, with their NFL teams in parentheses:
2010: RB Jahvid Best (Lions)
2009: WR Kenny Britt (Titans)
2008: TE Dustin Keller (Jets)
2007: WR Craig Davis (Chargers)
2006: RB Joseph Addai (Colts)
2005: TE Heath Miller (Steelers)
2004: RB Kevin Jones (Lions)
ANALYSIS: What strikes me is that all seven selections not only are offensive players, but also ball handlers. Perhaps teams in the back of the draft feel they can gamble a little bit and try to hit big on a skill position. Whatever the reasoning, it seems to have worked. This has been a successful spot. Jones and Addai rushed for 1,000 yards as rookies. Best appears to be the Lions' running back of the future. Miller and Addai have gone to Pro Bowls. Britt was the Titans' leading receiver last year. Keller is one of the NFL's better tight ends.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- I think it’s fair to say Minnesota coach Brad Childress isn’t entirely comfortable with the quarterback depth on his roster even after the arrival of new starter Brett Favre.
Childress was steamed late Friday night about the play of backups Sage Rosenfels and John David Booty, each of whom had interceptions returned for touchdowns in the third quarter of a 35-31 loss to Dallas. Childress admitted he intentionally benched both of them for the transgression -- a rarity in the scripted world of the preseason -- and didn’t sound like a coach who has decided on the final configuration of the position.
Asked to assess the team’s quarterback play on a night Favre watched from the sidelines, Childress said, “At times it was embarrassing. And I’ll end up putting that on myself some, not having them ready to come out of the locker room at halftime. [But] all of the quarterbacks I’ve ever coached have some regard for the football and you can’t throw it them.”
Tarvaris Jackson started the game and played four series, completing 2 of 4 passes for 42 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown to tight end Jeff Dugan.
But on the first play of the third quarter, Rosenfels threw a short out pass into the hands of Dallas safety Patrick Watkins, who returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown. Booty replaced Rosenfels for the next series. One the fifth play of that possession, however, he forced a pass to receiver Vinny Perretta. Dallas linebacker Steve Octavien grabbed it and dashed 44 yards for a score.
Then we were back to Rosenfels. Asked why he flipped quarterbacks the first time, Childress said: “Because he threw an interception for a touchdown.” Asked if that also explained why Booty sat down after one series, Childress said: “Pretty much, yep.”
Rosenfels seemed much less disturbed after completing 7 of 15 passes for 115 yards, noting that even Favre has thrown an interception or two (or 310) in his career.
“It always seems like you want to take back one play,” Rosenfels said. “I wish I could get that play back. Just a bad play by me. Other than that, I felt comfortable out there and did a pretty good job of executing the offense, other than that one play. So I’m going to keep firing. I talked to Brett. Brett’s overcome his fair share of interceptions. I think he has the NFL record. And he just keeps firing. So just keep firing and keep plugging away.”
Entering the game, we wondered which of the Vikings’ four quarterbacks would be spending his last day on the roster. After watching Childress’ reaction to Friday night’s game, it’s hard to imagine it being Jackson. For one night, at least, Jackson appeared to be the Vikings’ second-best quarterback. The team reportedly has been trying to trade him, but at this point I don’t believe Childress would feel comfortable with what he would be left with.
Jackson finished the preseason with a 118.4 passer rating, having completed 23 of 36 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve been having fun the past few weeks and that’s really all I can say,” Jackson said. “I feel like regardless of what happened here, my future is still bright in the NFL. I can’t control exactly what happens here. I can only control what happens on the field.”
Childress doesn’t seem to have the same comfort level with Rosenfels, but it would be foolish for the Vikings to release him four months after trading a fourth-round draft pick for him. That leaves Booty, who is still developing but could find his way to the practice squad.
I asked Childress about the possibility of keeping four quarterbacks on the active roster. He didn’t seem enthused by the idea.
“The No. 3 only plays a very, very small percentage of the time,” Childress said. “We’ve done some studies about that. Unless you think you have somebody that somebody else covets and might be able to get something for, that would be a reason to hold on to somebody. [You’re] hoping that you’re not getting to No. 4 during the season.”
We’ll know more Saturday. NFL rosters must be pared to 53 by 6 p.m. ET.
A few other points before we call it a night:
- Childress managed to sit all 22 starters. (Fullback Naufahu Tahi played on special teams only.) Also held out were backup receivers Percy Harvin and Bobby Wade, reserve linebacker Heath Farwell and backup tailback Chester Taylor. My instinct is to make a sarcastic remark about Childress taking it easy on so many players, but after watching Chicago and Green Bay on Thursday night, I suppose I understand. The Bears lost tailback Kevin Jones (ankle) for the season, while Green Bay rookie B.J. Raji limped off the field with an ankle injury.
- Receiver Darius Reynaud might have locked up a roster spot by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
- A sight to see: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion fumble while trying to move the ball to his left hand as he returned a second-quarter interception. Linebacker Kenny Onatolu recovered to maintain possession for the Vikings.
- Not sure what this means, but every time I noticed Favre on the sideline, he was talking to left guard Steve Hutchinson. Like Forrest and Jenny, they were two peas in a pod.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
In lieu of our regular format, we’ll take a spin through three preseason finales Friday morning. More than anything else, teams try to avoid injuries in the last preseason game. But unfortunately for them, a few players were hurt Thursday night:
Chicago 26, Browns 23
- Cornerback Zack Bowman celebrated his return with a diving interception on the first play of the game, and then later left the game with stiffness in the hamstring that has bothered him most of this summer. Bowman is an excellent talent and likely starter when he’s healthy, but that latter part has been a problem. The same goes for tailback Kevin Jones, who was carted off the field after suffering a left ankle injury in the first quarter. The Bears have been hoping to use Jones to avoid overworking starter Matt Forte, but without him, they’ll be left with Garrett Wolfe and Adrian Peterson. More news to come on the Jones front.
- On a night when quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t throw a pass, the standout player was receiver Johnny Knox. The rookie caught two passes for 61 yards, had a 50-yard kickoff return and a 38-yard punt return to set up a late score. The performance should solidify his roster spot. I’m not sure how much he’ll play in the early going, but Knox has the raw speed and playmaking ability to eventually develop into a player.
Detroit 17, Buffalo 6
- We got more of the same from quarterback Matthew Stafford, which didn’t make the Lions’ looming decision any easier. Stafford showed some flashes with three bullet passes to receiver Calvin Johnson, one of which -- a 34-yard touchdown -- was called back because of penalty. Stafford also lost a fumble and threw an interception before leaving early in the second quarter. Coach Jim Schwartz wouldn’t tip his hand about who will start the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans, but it’s clear that rookie mistakes will be a part of Stafford’s early performances if he does start.
- It was an interesting night for the Lions’ rookie class. Stafford was up and down. Sixth-round pick Aaron Brown, meanwhile, rushed for 56 yards. But third-round pick Derrick Williams mishandled another punt and might have difficulty making the team. I would imagine the Lions will find a place for him, but he certainly hasn’t proved ready to return kickoffs or punts as expected.
Tennessee 27, Green Bay 13
- Rookie defensive lineman B.J. Raji had a sack and three tackles, but he also left with a right ankle injury and did not return. Whether Raji opens the season as a starter was already in doubt after his two-week holdout; if he can’t play at left end the Packers will be happy with Johnny Jolly there. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that he had no reason to believe Raji’s injury was serious but would have more information Friday.
- Under some duress from the Titans' pass rush, third-string quarterback Brian Brohm completed 20 of 28 passes for 154 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception, but showed enough to increase his chances for getting another year to develop in the Packers' offense. His longest pass was a 33-yard catch-and-run to receiver Jordy Nelson, but for the most part he threw short and prevented mistakes. The Packers have a lot invested in Brohm and would prefer not to have to replace him, via trade or waiver claim, this weekend.
As we review preseason action this summer, I won't pretend to bring you brilliant insight from games I don't cover live. We'll save that kind of thorough analysis for the games that I actually see and conduct interviews at afterwards. (Yes, there was some sarcasm there. Lighten up. It's Sunday morning!)
With that said, it's important to get a feel for every NFC North preseason game in a timely fashion. So while I covered Friday night's Minnesota-Kansas City game, below are some thoughts on the three games that took place Saturday night. I've also included links to the local coverage of reporters who were in attendance as well as some NFL.com video so you can see for yourself.
Chicago 17, New York Giants 3
- Everyone can agree that quarterback Jay Cutler was sharp (8-of-13) and productive (17 points in his first three drives) during his second start of the preseason. He threw well on the run, scrambled once on his own for 12 yards and threw a beautiful touch pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu for 38 yards. Working at times from the no-huddle, the Bears gave their future opponents plenty to think about with their passing performance. Cutler and backup Caleb Hanie combined to complete 18 of 31 passes for 241 yards.
- If you were worried about tailback Matt Forte's hamstring, it didn't look bad Saturday night on a 32-yard touchdown dash up the middle. Overall, Forte finished with 58 yards on nine carries. On the downside, backups Kevin Jones and Garrett Wolfe each lost a fumble.
- Defensive tackle Tommie Harris started but didn't show up in the box score. Fellow defensive linemen Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Dusty Dvoracek and Marcus Harrison all finished the game with a sack.
Cleveland 27, Detroit 10
- Incredibly, the Lions fought among themselves before the game. Defensive end Dewayne White and tight end Carson Butler were the culprits, fighting long enough that they both ended up on the ground. It's always good to be in a "fighting mood" during pregame warm-ups. But actually fighting? Unheard of. I'm guessing Butler, at least, will have his ticket punched out of Detroit soon.
- Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a tough night. Getting a start as he competes with Daunte Culpepper, Stafford threw an interception on his first pass and later overthrew two wide-open receivers (John Standeford and Adam Jennings) on passes downfield. Overall, Stafford completed 5 of 13 passes. Neither he nor Culpepper led the Lions to a score. We go to Week 3 of the preseason with no better idea of who will win the starting job.
- Let's just say it: Saturday night was terrible all around for the Lions. The special teams gave up two touchdown returns to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, although one was called back by penalty. And Browns quarterback Derek Anderson picked apart the Lions' defense for 130 passing yards.
Green Bay 31, Buffalo 21
- The Packers' top defense held Buffalo scoreless in the first half and continued to swarm the ball. Safety Nick Collins forced an early interception, and Green Bay got some good pass rush out of its 4-3 nickel alignment. Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly finished with two sacks. The Packers led 21-0 when starters left the game. The only downside: Collins left with a rib injury.
- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was locked in, completing 8 of 9 passes for 98 yards and two scores. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver was an athletic play, and fantasy players everywhere are going to like that he connected multiple times with second-year tight end Jermichael Finley.
- Backup quarterback Brian Brohm got extended playing time because of a shoulder injury to Matt Flynn that isn't deemed serious. But Brohm didn't give anyone reason to believe he can overtake Flynn on the depth chart if everyone is healthy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New York Jets
- New York Daily News scribes Rich Cimini and Ralph Vacchiano report neither the Jets nor the Giants want anything to do with Terrell Owens.
- Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press reports the Jets will make 60 employees take two-week furloughs in June and July.
- Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington quotes two unnamed team sources who insist T.O. won't be a Dolphin.
- Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel takes a look at the Dolphins' backup quarterback situation.
- The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian looks at the Patriots' roster moves from Thursday.
The Buffalo Bills continue to line up visits with free agents.
June is an intriguing possibility for the Bills. He's an undersized linebacker (6-foot, 227 pounds) at a time when the NFL is trending toward 3-4 schemes.
But the Bills still run a 4-3 defense and could use a weakside linebacker. June, who turned 29 in November, finished third in tackles for the Buccaneers with 104. He recorded five tackles for losses and intercepted a pass.
I wonder if Cato will have trouble playing in a stadium that has O.J. Simpson on its Wall of Fame. Sorry. I couldn't help myself.
If you play fantasy football, then you may have had your heart broken by Jones.
The injury-prone, former Detroit Lions starter rushed for 1,133 yards as a rookie and developed into one of the league's top receiving backs -- 61 catches in 12 games three years ago -- before tearing a knee ligament toward the end of 2007.
The Lions cut him. The Chicago Bears picked him up, but used him sparingly. In 11 games, he had only 34 carries for 109 yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Best match: LB Angelo Crowell
While letting linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley and cornerback Domonique Foxworth walk, the Falcons have been the NFC South's quietest team in free agency. General manager Thomas Dimitroff cautioned that the Falcons won't be big players.
But Atlanta can't sit still forever. The big moves likely will come through the draft, but there are some guys out there who the Falcons could move on to start patching some holes. There are some fans calling out for Derrick Brooks. But that doesn't make a lot of sense in the plan of Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith. They just let a veteran linebacker (Brooking) go. It would make more sense to add a younger linebacker like Crowell.
Best match: WR Ike Hilliard
The saga of disgruntled franchise player Julius Peppers is the big story for Carolina, but it's likely to drag on. Peppers' $17 million franchise tender has the Panthers strapped for cap room. If Peppers gets traded, the Panthers probably will seek his replacement with the first-round pick they'd like to get in return.
But there is some other business the Panthers can take care of in free agency. They could use a little depth at wide receiver. They've got one of the best in Steve Smith, but Muhsin Muhammad is aging and Dwayne Jarrett remains an uncertainty. Again, the Panthers don't have a lot to spend, but a veteran receiver like Hilliard won't cost a lot. The Panthers had a great deal of success when they brought in Ricky Proehl a few years back. Hilliard is very similar to Proehl and could solidify the receiving corps nicely.
Best match: S Darren Sharper
Re-signing linebacker Jonathan Vilma was the first key move of free agency. But even though the Saints don't have a lot of cap room to work with, they're not sitting still. They know they still have big needs in the secondary and they're working hard in that area.
They've got an offer in to cornerback Ron Bartell and are courting Sharper and Gerald Sensabaugh, a pair of safeties. Something should play out with those players in the very near future and that could be a huge boost to a defense that's rebuilding with new coordinator Gregg Williams. Add Bartell and either of those safeties to the current roster and -- at least on paper -- the defense suddenly looks a lot better.
Best match: RB Derrick Ward
The free-agent frenzy so many expected hasn't materialized -- yet. The Bucs made a strong run at Albert Haynesworth before he landed with the Redskins and made an attempt to trade for quarterback Jay Cutler. They still may be in the market for Cutler or another quarterback.
But there are other big needs to be filled in the meantime. After trading for tight end Kellen Winslow and placing the franchise tag on receiver Joey Galloway, the Bucs still are looking to load up at the skill positions and it appears running back is the next target. The Bucs don't have much besides Earnest Graham and they know it. They've got Ward scheduled for a visit Tuesday and also are considering Kevin Jones. Look for the Bucs to make a big play for Ward. They've been cautious with the purse strings so far, but they have lots of cap room to work with. They can't afford to keep finishing second for prized fre
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
As things remain quiet in Atlanta and Carolina, (and to a lesser degree, New Orleans) Tampa Bay continues to be the only real player in free agency in the NFC South.
Things could speed up for the Saints today. They've got an offer in to cornerback Ron Bartell and they're looking hard at safeties Darren Sharper and Gerald Sensabaugh. Yeah, the Saints may not have a lot of salary-cap room, but they can manipulate enough to overhaul their secondary. If they can pull that off after re-signing linebacker Jonathan Vilma, this defense suddenly will look a lot better.
As I've been saying since the story of Tampa Bay's interest in quarterback Jay Cutler first broke, this story's not over. Peter King reports Cutler previously had asked for a trade out of Denver. That helps explain that Tampa Bay's inquiry wasn't just a random shot. The Bucs knew something was up with Cutler when they made the phone call.
Now that word's out about this, Cutler may be on the market more than he ever was. Even though the Bucs weren't able to work out a three-way trade that would have involved Matt Cassel, there's a chance they still may be able to get Cutler in a straight-up deal and the price tag may become better now that the world knows Cutler and the Broncos aren't on the same page.
But the Bucs, who still have tons of cap room, aren't focused entirely on getting a quarterback. Roy Cummings reports there now is interest in running back Kevin Jones. The Bucs also are expected to have running back Derrick Ward in for a visit later this week.
And what about Carolina and Atlanta? Continue to sit tightly because that's what the Panthers and Falcons are doing. They've sat out the first wave of free agency. But they'll jump in, at least on a small level, once price tags start to drop.
I have (NFC) West envy. Alex, Dwight and David S. were among a number of readers who caught Mike Sando's excellent analysis of the NFC West salary-cap situation last week and requested a replication of the post in Black and Blue terms.
So I played with the numbers and possibilities for a while. Here is where I landed: Unlike a few NFC West clubs, no NFC North team will be hindered by its salary-cap status this offseason. You will see players cut and signed to contract extensions. A few will have their deals renegotiated and there might be a trade or two. But none of the moves will be forced by a shortage of cap space, thanks to smart management and a steadily increasing cap. (It's expected to be at least $123 million in 2009.)
Ultimately, there are two questions when it comes to the NFL salary cap: (1) Can teams make the moves they want to make? (2) Will they be forced into any moves they don't want to make?
Without fail, the NFC North answers to those questions are, "Yes" and "No," respectively. So if the cap isn't the primary engine of player movement, what is? In short, football priorities and cash-flow issues. (The latter should not be underestimated. Amid the national economic downturn, some NFL teams are losing sponsors, laying off employees and freezing ticket prices. It's only natural to assume player payroll budgets will be tight.)
During the next three weeks, NFL teams will make final decisions on their existing rosters before the start of free agency. So on Feb. 10 in the NFC North, the most instructive exercise is to run through the cash flow and football issues of each team to help project which players are at least under consideration for a move this month.
As always, we'll structure ourselves in alphabetical order as a way to fool Chicago fans into thinking we give the Bears top priority on this blog.
The toe injury of Chicago tailback Matt Forte on Thursday night highlights the Bears' personnel anomaly in the backfield.
The Bears have used Forte almost exclusively this season, leaving their other three tailbacks -- Adrian Peterson, Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones -- mostly idle. Forte, in fact, entered this game against New Orleans with 269 of the Bears' 350 carries by running backs.
When he departed, the Bears were left to choose between Peterson and Jones as their top tailback. (Wolfe is inactive because of a hamstring injury).
Jones ranks second on the team with 34 carries, but he has been inactive for the past four games and probably wouldn't have been available Thursday night were it not for Wolfe's injury. As it turned out, the Bears chose Peterson to enter the game first.
Forte returned to the game with 10:38 remaining in the second quarter, and the depthless Bears drew a sigh of relief.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's a beautiful, sunny morning here in Louisiana, an appropriate outlook for Saints fans who watched their team put a historic drubbing on Green Bay.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints' 51 points were the third-highest total by one team in the history of "Monday Night Football." (The record is 55, set by Indianapolis in 1988.) Meanwhile, the teams' combined 80 points rank as the fifth-highest total in MNF history.
The Packers were scheduled to return to Green Bay at about 5 a.m. ET and don't have much time to prepare for 8-3 Carolina. And a week after watching Green Bay slam Chicago 37-3, longtime Packers observers don't know what to make of this team.
The Packers are too inconsistent to pass positive judgment on, writes Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal:
"[A]s we have found out repeatedly with the Packers, there is no reason to think they can do something until they actually go out and do it. Every game, it seems, one or two areas of the team fail them."
Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette was downright alarmed:
"They were embarrassed badly by the Saints, 51-29, and a performance like that invites serious questions about their status as a contender. ... It's hard to imagine the Packers, with their defense playing so poorly in such a crucial game, going anywhere but home for the post-season."
I'll play the contrarian on this one. Sitting here Tuesday morning, I think I probably overreacted in suggesting Monday night that the Packers might be out of the NFC North race. Five games is plenty of time to overcome a one-game deficit, especially when both divisional competitors remain flawed. Jon of Toronto wrote the mailbag note that settled me down:
"Kevin, don't react week to week or game to game. Clearly the Packers are a young Jekyll & Hyde team that could go in any direction the rest of the season, but to suggest it could now be a 2-horse race because they're half a game back (they still own the 3-way tie breaker) is ridiculous. Minnesota could lose the Williams' for a few weeks, and the Pack get to play the Bears again, so while this was a brutal game and a key loss, this race is far from over."
Fair enough. Now, on to the rest of the NFC North:
- Chicago's Adrian Peterson has once again emerged as the Bears' No. 2 running back, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. No one is quite sure what's happened to backup Kevin Jones, who hardly sees the field these days.
- After Tommie Harris' two-sack performance Sunday at St. Louis, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes: "Getting Harris to maintain that level has been one of the most maddening aspects of the season. But after seeing Sunday's effort, there's no doubt the biggest key to the defense over the final five games fits into Harris' ignition."
- Bah humbug. Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune questions the long-term viability of the Vikings, considering their 37-year-old quarterback and their annual forays into the free-agent market: "Clearly, [owner Zygi] Wilf deserves applause for this, but can anyone look at what the Vikings have put together in November 2008 and say this team has a foundation built for long-term success?"
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes that Sunday night's game between Chicago and Minnesota will be for sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
- Submitted without comment: Detroit coach Rod Marinelli was asked Monday if playing on a national stage on Thanksgiving would be a negative for his team. Marinelli's response, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press: "I guess if you're from Hostess Twinkies it would be."
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press on the Lions: "Next up: a visit from the Tennessee Titans. The Lions and Titans have a lot in common. They both benched their starting quarterbacks, and they both attempted to run the table, except the Titans foolishly tried to do it by winning all their games, while the Lions realized it is much easier to lose all of them. What a colossal miscalculation by Tennessee. The talk-radio lines must be burning up down there."
This is the time of year when coaches like to say that rookies are no longer rookies. They've been involved in at least 14 "game weeks," including the preseason, and thus made it through the duration of a typical college season.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|The Bears have leaned heavily on rookie Matt Forte so far this season and they aren't going to stop now.|
This hasn't been a huge year for impact rookies in the NFC North, in part because three-fourths of the teams in essence are playing without a first-round draft pick. Minnesota and Green Bay didn't have a first-round pick, while Chicago offensive tackle Chris Williams (No. 14 overall) had back surgery in August.
We'll take a more in-depth look at each team's rookie class after the season, but for now let's consider five rookies who could impact their teams during the final six games of the season. Here's the drill: I'll name my top four. You give me your suggestions for the fifth (the mailbag would be fine) and we'll all meet back here on Friday.
1. Chicago tailback Matt Forte: It would be hard for the Bears to rely on Forte any more than they already do. He has accounted for nearly 75 percent of their rushing yards, and his 43 receptions are 10 more than his closest teammate. From a conditioning standpoint, you would think the Bears will give him relief at some point. But there's no indication that they trust Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson or Garrett Wolfe enough to take Forte off the field.
2. Detroit tailback Kevin Smith: It appears the Lions have finally committed to using Smith as their primary runner rather than splitting his carries with veteran Rudi Johnson. Smith has produced 208 yards over the past two games, his best stretch of the season, and should get a long look over the final six games.
3. Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson: This is a notoriously difficult position for rookies. Playing as the No. 4 receiver this season, Nelson has 21 receptions. But that total ranks as the fourth most for rookie receivers in the NFL. His playing time might depend on the condition of teammate James Jones' knee, but Nelson should get his share of opportunities.
4. Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril: He only has one sack this season, but there are some who believe Avril could develop into a significant outside pass-rusher. All he needs is playing time, and the Lions should give him plenty of it. Starters Dewayne White and Jared DeVries have been dinged up, and their injuries provide the Lions a perfect reason to get Avril a prominent role.
5. ????? Again, your nominations are accepted here.
|Jeff Gross/Getty Images|
|Rex Grossman has an opportunity to salvage his reputation and move to the top of a relatively weak list of pending free-agent quarterbacks.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Rex Grossman was deeply disappointed and a bit defiant in the days after learning he had lost the Chicago Bears' two-man quarterback competition this summer. Finally, he encapsulated his thoughts into a succinct turn of phrase.
"It's something I have to deal with right now," Grossman said in August. "But I'm going to make sure I do whatever I need to do ... to make sure I'm a great player in this league. My personal goals haven't changed. My role in the immediate future has changed, but my outlook hasn't changed at all."
As of now, there aren't many NFL people who believe Grossman can be a great player. Some aren't sure how many job offers he'll get after his contract expires at the end of the season. But Kyle Orton's sprained ankle has given Grossman a fortuitous opportunity to resurrect his reputation and move to the top of a relatively weak list of pending free agents at his position.
If he can help the Bears maintain their first-place status during Orton's absence, Grossman might get a chance to compete for a starting job with another team in 2009. If he carries over the mistake-prone habits that cost him the starting job, however, Grossman could have a hard time finding work.
It's a unique and potentially awkward situation for any quarterback, let alone one with Grossman's winding history. Orton seems to have established himself as the Bears' long-term answer, squeezing out Grossman from a job he always believed was his. Grossman admitted this summer he would never fully get over the decision, but now the Bears need him -- and he needs this opportunity.
"I always thought that, odds are, I was going to play a little bit," Grossman said. "So we'll see what happens. I never figured that I wasn't going to play at all. Odds are that at least two quarterbacks are going to play some. Especially here in Chicago."
The big question this week is how much the Bears will trust Grossman with the changed dynamics of their offense. Over the past six weeks, offensive coordinator Ron Turner has delegated to Orton an increasing amount of on-field responsibility. Most notably, Orton is calling his own plays during the Bears' liberal use of the no-huddle offense.
It would be easy to suggest that Grossman's helter-skelter playing style might not lend itself to such a high level of decision-making. Grossman, however, said Sunday that the no-huddle will be "the easiest part" of his readjustment.
"You're calling your own plays," Grossman said. "You think of the play. You call it out. You know exactly why you're calling it and what you like. The defense usually goes to some sort of vanilla defense because they can't huddle. They have to talk to each other from 10, 20 yards away. It's fast-paced. So I like it quite a bit."
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday the Bears would "run our offense" with Grossman and pointed out that "he's been in every possible situation." Against Detroit on Sunday, however, the Bears clearly pulled back.
Chicago ran 16 passing plays while calling nine runs before Orton suffered his injury late in the first half. In the second half with Grossman, that ratio closed to 20 passing plays against 18 runs even as the Bears were in catch-up mode from a 10-point deficit.
Smith has somewhat stubbornly insisted all season that the Bears' first choice is to run the ball, even as Orton has blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. But Orton's injury, combined with Grossman's inconsistent history, makes it likely Chicago will fall back to a more basic attack.
"Offensively we're a running team," Smith said. "We say we get off the bus running the football. In the end, that's what was able to help us win the football game [Sunday], being able to get our running game going. ... Passing-game-wise, in the first half we did some good things. But in the end you want to rely on what you do best."
In some ways, Grossman should benefit from far lower expectations than the ones he carried as a first-round draft pick and franchise quarterback. In his new role, the Bears will ask Grossman to do nothing more but manage a run-oriented offense and maintain the team's first-place position until its established leader returns.
Grossman won't be asked to carry the team or lead the locker room, and no one is expecting miracles during a stretch of games that includes Sunday's matchup against unbeaten Tennessee and a Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. With Matt Forte and backup tailback Kevin Jones likely grinding it out behind him, anything approaching average or beyond will be considered an impressive performance.
And if Grossman can squeeze in a couple of the s
pecial passes he has thrown over the years, the type that teased Smith and the rest of the Bears organization for so long, then he will have made his name relevant in a free-agent market that had all but forgotten about him. He might not get the chance to prove he's a great player, but he would have his pick of teams and could choose the one that gives him the best chance to move into a prominent role. What a turnaround that would be.
NASHVILLE -- It's a beautifully sunny morning here. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s and it's hard to imagine weather playing a role in Sunday's matchup between Green Bay and unbeaten Tennessee.
We took a pretty clinical look Saturday at Green Bay's decision to release veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, noting his lack of production over time. But it also represented the end of an era for one of the Packers' longest-tenured players.
I thought Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a nice job putting Gbaja-Biamila's career in perspective, noting how he made Green Bay his home and connected with fans through a number of charitable endeavors. Give it a read if you get a chance.
We'll check back upon arrival at LP Field. For now, let's take a jaunt around the division:
- Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel profiles cornerback Charles Woodson, who said long-standing rumors about his toughness and work ethic should never have surfaced. "If anybody ever watched me play football, there was never a question," Woodson said.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes the Packers are running against the NFL tide by using Ryan Grant as their exclusive runner. They have given Grant the ball on 71 percent of their running plays; the Titans represent the opposite end of the spectrum with their split between LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looks at five key decisions the Bears made that have helped them to a 4-3 record. Among them: Keeping John Tait at right tackle and resisting the urge to release receiver Marty Booker.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks tailback Kevin Jones could have a big day Sunday against his former team.
- Detroit Free Press writers consider whether the Lions could finish 0-16 this season. Michael Rosenberg: "The Lions do not do anything well."
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at how Minnesota dealt with its latest off-field distraction, the possible suspension of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
- Vikings safety Madieu Williams, who will return Sunday from a neck injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, isn't worried about his first hit. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has the story.
1:00 PM ET Miami Buffalo 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Kansas City 1:00 PM ET Tampa Bay St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New York 1:00 PM ET Dallas Washington 1:00 PM ET New Orleans Carolina 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Jacksonville 1:00 PM ET Denver Houston 4:05 PM ET New York Detroit 4:05 PM ET Arizona Seattle 4:25 PM ET Pittsburgh Green Bay 4:25 PM ET Oakland San Diego 4:25 PM ET New England Baltimore 8:30 PM ET Chicago Philadelphia