NFL Nation: Mark Brunell
The problem is, this isn't the 1990s.
The rules of the collective bargaining agreement that was put in place following the 2011 lockout greatly reduced the amount of time coaches can work with players in the offseason, a time often set aside for individual and group instruction. For Packers' quarterbacks, that means four weeks have been shaved off coach Mike McCarthy's quarterback school.
Nevertheless, the Packers have come to the NFL scouting combine with one eye on finding a developmental quarterback prospect and hope to take four quarterbacks into training camp this summer.
"I think we definitely need four," McCarthy said at the combine, "So I'm hopeful that we can get a young guy in the draft."
The Packers have only two quarterbacks under contract for 2014 -- starter Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad last September and then promoted to the active roster after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4. Tolzien has yet to go through an offseason in McCarthy's training program, having been with the San Francisco 49ers for his first two seasons.
Matt Flynn was re-signed last November and became the fourth quarterback to start for the Packers last season, but his contract was only for the 2013 season.
"I thought Matt Flynn came in and did a number of good things," McCarthy said. "There's a lot of stability he brings to the quarterback room as far as the role that he needs to play and his role to the starting quarterback to help them scout and so forth, so Matt is obviously a good fit for our program. I thought he definitely gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it. Free agency is upon us, we'll see what happens."
Whatever happens, the Packers don't want to be stuck in the position they were in at the end of last summer, when the trio of Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman all failed to win the backup job, forcing the Packers to sign veteran Seneca Wallace the week of the season opener.
That general manager Ted Thompson has drafted only one quarterback -- Coleman in the seventh round in 2012 -- since he took Brian Brohm (second round) and Flynn (seventh round) in 2008 would seemingly indicate that it's time to take another one.
"We're always looking," Thompson said. "Coach McCarthy's a quarterback guy. He likes to have a group, so you never stop looking, turning over rocks, that sort of thing."
Jeff Nowling could look at a piece of paper now, stare at a road sign with numbers in the distance and for a second, his mind flips back to college. To his time at Mercyhurst, where he played for a young offensive coordinator named Joe Lombardi, who taught those same receiving route trees stuck in his head a decade later.
Lombardi is with the Detroit Lions now, getting his first shot at coordinating a pro offense. But his first job running an offense came at a small Division II school in Pennsylvania.
“Constantly, I’d see numbers and automatically go back to the offense that we ran,” said Nowling, a receiver and quarterback for Lombardi at Mercyhurst. “The way that he taught, he’s a smart guy so he did a good job of explaining things and breaking things down and also showing things in the big picture and how they related to one another. He was a very good classroom teacher.”
Less than a decade ago, Lombardi stood in front of those players and started teaching what he wanted out of his offense. He would run a pro style system, one that Nowling said would look similar to the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ instituted by the St. Louis Rams.
The faces in the room looked back. They were excited. But there was also the question of whether or not they could actually run what their coordinator wanted. This wasn’t the NFL. This was Mercyhurst, a school without Kurt Warner or Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt or even reasonable facsimiles of them.
“Ran everything from the 22 personnel, 11 personnel,” Nowling said. “A lot of different formation packages. Very complex passing tree. There was a lot to know. It was very involved in pass protection. There was a lot in the hands of the quarterback.
“It was very high level for what you would think at a Division II school. We had an opportunity, at times, to show what we could have been with better personnel at every position, we could have had a lot more success.”
While winning records eluded Lombardi at Mercyhurst from 2002 to 2005, it did set up everything that was to come. Even as the team struggled, Lombardi showed both his knowledge of football and his ability to connect with players. It was those things, things Lombardi carried from the lower levels of college football to the NFL, that told Nowling back then if Lombardi got a shot in the NFL, he’d be successful.
“His amount of knowledge that he already had, any amount of time spent with a very respectable, high-level coach like Sean Payton, I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen earlier,” Nowling said. “The time I spent with him and how much he knew about the game already, being with a good, solid coaching staff like that, winning a Super Bowl, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Lombardi broke into the NFL right from Mercyhurst as an assistant with Atlanta, but it was in New Orleans, where he was an offensive assistant and then the team’s quarterbacks coach, where he began to gain even more notice.
Working with Drew Brees and helping him win a Super Bowl and to become one of the league’s elite quarterbacks will do that. But it was more how he treated Brees and the other Saints quarterbacks that stuck out than him refining Brees’ talent.
It was the respect he gave the players in his room and that he treated them like adults instead of overgrown children that stood out.
“He’s very calm and real intelligent,” said Mark Brunell, who played for Lombardi for two seasons in New Orleans. “Very cerebral and not one that’s going to yell at you. He’s one that’s going to discuss it with you. He won’t say that’s not good enough and really get after players.
“He’s going to say, ‘Matthew (Stafford), what did you see? Why did you make that decision? And this is the direction that we need to go with this play.’ It’s very one-on-one. He never really got out of balance. He was very level-headed and I think a lot of guys, myself included, really appreciated that approach.”
It is a similar approach to how Caldwell is often described. Cerebral. Always in control. And considering the importance of the relationship Caldwell and Lombardi have to have with their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, it is paramount that the three can work together.
It is going to be that trust and comfort the three have -- and perhaps more specifically Lombardi and Stafford -- that will determine how successful they all are in Detroit. Brunell isn’t concerned about the comfort level. He wishes he had played for Lombardi his entire career and called him “ideal.”
That ideal could also lead to more being expected of Stafford than ever before because he’ll hold Stafford to the same type of standard he had for Brees, who Brunell called one of the most professional men he had been around on and off the field.
“One of the most impressive guys I’ve been around. That’s really the standard, unfortunately for Matthew, it’s a very high standard of which he expects Matthew Stafford to get to,” Brunell said. “And so he can go and they’ll watch a lot of Drew Brees cut-ups in that system.
“He’ll show Matthew, this is what it is supposed to look like, this is how you approach the game. This is how you make that read. The best thing that Joe brings with him is that experience coaching one of the best in the whole game.”
Now he has to try and turn Stafford into that quarterback with potential to one progressing to reach it. To do that, he’ll pull on everything he has learned in the past to help his future.
Speaking Wednesday morning on Jacksonville radio station 1010XL (AM 1010), Brunell said he got caught up in the moment during a segment on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike on Tuesday morning and wishes he could take back what he said because his comments angered a lot of Jaguars fans.
"I certainly caused quite a stir and upset a lot of Jaguars fans," Brunell said. "Let me tell you guys: I regret those comments. A poor choice of words. I had an opportunity up there to speak to all that [Jaguars owner] Shad Khan has done in this community, his investments, and his plans, and all the great things that are going on with the Jacksonville Jaguars and I didn’t do it. That certainly will not happen again.
Brunell, who is paid by the Jaguars to do a weekly radio show and as an analyst on preseason television broadcasts, went on to say he will correct those comments whenever he gets another opportunity in his role as an NFL analyst with ESPN.
"I regret it," said Brunell, who is going to be inducted into the team's Pride of the Jaguars on Dec. 15. "I’d love to have it back. I upset a lot of people and that certainly was not my intention and I feel terrible about it. I wish I could do it all over again. It’s unfortunate.
"I know this may not heal a lot of the wounds but I’m thankful for the opportunity to share those thoughts."
During his Tuesday morning appearance on Mike & Mike, co-host Mike Golic asked Brunell if he thought the Jaguars topped the list of franchises that could move to Los Angeles or London. Brunell’s response angered Jaguars fans, who took to Twitter to criticize one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
"You know, it wouldn’t surprise me," Brunell said. "I hate to say it, but we’ve got an owner in Shad Khan that’s bought the soccer team over there and all indications are that we’re headed that way. It’s not good for Jacksonville. You don’t hear a lot of that talk in Jacksonville right now but everywhere else, someone mentioned it the other day it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars of London. I want them to stay. That’s my home. I love the franchise. I love the organization, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody if in a few years it happened."
However, Khan has said several times he is committed to Jacksonville and he has already spent $11 million on improvements to the Jaguars’ weight room, locker room, and training facility. Earlier this month the team announced Khan is contributing $20 million toward $63 million in stadium improvements that include two new video scoreboards and an interactive area inside the stadium that will include a pool. That brings Khan’s total investment since he purchased the team to $31 million.
"You know, it wouldn’t surprise me," Brunell said when Mike Golic asked him if he thought the Jaguars topped the list of franchises that could move to Los Angeles or London. "I hate to say it, but we’ve got an owner in Shad Khan that’s bought the soccer team over there and all indications are that we’re headed that way. It’s not good for Jacksonville. You don’t hear a lot of that talk in Jacksonville right now but everywhere else, someone mentioned it the other day it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars of London. I want them to stay. That’s my home. I love the franchise. I love the organization, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody if in a few years it happened."
Those comments stirred up fans on Twitter, so much so that Brunell, who was recently hired by ESPN as an NFL analyst, posted a response shortly after 3 p.m. EST.
Heard from a lot of Jag fans about my comments on Mike and Mike. Please know that NOBODY wants the Jags to stay in Jax more than me.— Mark Brunell (@M_Brunell8) October 29, 2013
Brunell -- who is paid by the Jaguars to do a weekly radio show and as a color commentator on preseason TV broadcasts -- is right about one thing, though: There isn’t much talk around Jacksonville of the Jaguars heading to London. That’s because of the significant investments that Khan has already made in the facilities and has pledged to make to the stadium.
Khan spent $11 million on improvements to the weight room, locker room, and training facility and earlier this month the team announced Khan is contributing $20 million toward $63 million in stadium improvements, that include two new video scoreboards and an interactive area inside the stadium that will include a pool. That brings Khan’s total investment since he purchased the team to $31 million.
That’s a significant amount of money for someone to sink into facilities and a stadium, and it seems unlikely that Khan -- whose net worth as of September 2013 is $3.8 billion, according to Forbes -- would invest that much only to move the team.
Khan did purchase the Fulham Football Club of the English Premier League in July and is using each franchise to help cross-promote the other, especially with the Jaguars being committed to playing one game in London’s Wembley Stadium in each of the next three seasons.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that he wants to put franchises in Los Angeles and London and said he doesn’t care which happens first. However, Los Angeles still doesn’t have a stadium or ownership group in place and there are significant financial issues to work out for a London franchise, including tax implications for players, and numerous players around the NFL have gone on record saying they wouldn’t play for a team in London.
That means either city getting a team in the near future appears highly unlikely.
It also means Brunell may not get as warm a reception as he deserves when he is inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars at halftime of the Dec. 15 home game against Buffalo.
Brunell played nine years in Jacksonville (1995-2003) and still owns or shares 23 franchise passing records, including career passing yards (25,698), single-season passing yards (4,367 in 1996), single-game passing yards (432 vs. New England in 1996), touchdown passes (144), and 300-yard passing games (six).
He led the NFL in passing in 1996 and helped guide the Jaguars to an improbable playoff run to the AFC Championship Game in just the franchise’s second season. Brunell led the Jaguars to a franchise-best 14-2 regular season and another appearance in the AFC title game in 1999. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and was the game’s MVP in 1997.
"I was very fortunate," Brunell said when his induction was announced. "I’m a firm believer that to do well as a quarterback in the NFL you’ve got to have good people around you. From the first day that I stepped foot in Jacksonville, I was very thankful that I had very good people around me, starting with the head coach in Tom Coughlin, a great coaching staff, and like I said great teammates like Tony [Boselli], Fred [Taylor] and the list goes on and on."
The team will honor him at halftime of the Dec. 15 game against Buffalo at EverBank Field as the newest member of the Pride of the Jaguars. He joins offensive tackle Tony Boselli, running back Fred Taylor, and previous owners Wayne and Delores Weaver in the organization’s hall of fame.
"This is real special," Brunell said Tuesday. "The passing records, they get broken eventually. The other individual awards, Pro bowls and those things, big games, sometimes get forgotten. But the opportunity to be on the Pride, that goes on. That lives on."
Brunell played nine years in Jacksonville (1995-2003) and still owns or shares 23 franchise passing records, including career passing yards (25,698), single-season passing yards (4,367 in 1996), single-game passing yards (432 vs. New England in 1996), touchdown passes (144), and 300-yard passing games (six).
He led the NFL in passing in 1996 and helped guide the Jaguars on an improbable playoff run to the AFC Championship Game in just the franchise’s second season. Brunell led the Jaguars to a franchise-best 14-2 regular season and another appearance in the AFC title game in 1999. He is a three-time Pro Bowler and was the game’s MVP in 1997.
"I was very fortunate," Brunell said. "I’m a firm believer that to do well as a quarterback in the NFL you’ve got to have good people around you. From the first day that I stepped foot in Jacksonville I was very thankful that I had very good people around me, starting with the head coach in Tom Coughlin, a great coaching staff, and like I said, great teammates like Tony, Fred, and the list goes on and on."
This will mark the third consecutive season in which the team has inducted someone into the Pride of the Jaguars. Boselli was the first player inducted in 2006, followed by the Weavers in 2011 and Taylor last season.
"It has never been a question of whether or not Mark belonged there," Jaguars president Mark Lamping said. "It was only a question of when."
They'll draw backup Jason Campbell instead.
This would seem to increase the 49ers' chances for victory, but based on what? Cutler has a better won-lost record as a starter. He has greater experience running the Bears' offense. But if you're looking for additional evidence, you won't find it in the traditional or advanced stats used to evaluate quarterbacks over time.
You'll see a couple of quarterbacks who have produced similarly over the past five seasons. Cutler has played more and for better teams. But his NFL passer rating since 2008 is 83.0, compared with 85.1 for Campbell and 84.1 for every other NFL quarterback. Cutler's Total QBR score since 2008 checks in at 56.5 when 50 is about average and 65-plus represents Pro Bowl-caliber play. The figure was 50.9 for Campbell and 52.0 for all others.
The point is that the 49ers might not be catching a big break while Cutler sits out the game after suffering a concussion in a 13-6 home defeat to the Houston Texans in Week 10. The Bears paid a $3.5 million salary for Campbell to be their backup because they figured they could win with him.
"We feel like he is a starting quarterback in the NFL that we have being our backup, and we feel very comfortable with him leading us," Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters.
NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert and I discussed on a recent Inside Slant podcast how aggressive the Bears should be in re-signing Cutler after the season. I had some general impressions of Cutler but was curious to see how he stacked up against the highest-paid quarterbacks the past few seasons.
Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan all had QBR scores in the 70s among regular starters over that period. Cutler was at 56.5. The figure for Cutler is 50.3 since 2009, compared with 50.5 for former Bears starter Kyle Orton and 47.7 for Campbell. Again, all the top quarterbacks were closer to 65-plus.
Cutler does have a 31-19 starting record with the Bears. That is far better than the 31-39 mark Campbell has posted for his career. But the Bears were 30-20 in the 50-game period before Cutler arrived. Orton, Rex Grossman and Brian Griese were their starting quarterbacks in that span.
Campbell's former team, Washington, was 31-39 in the 70-game span before Campbell posted the same starting record for the Redskins and Oakland Raiders. Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell were the starting quarterbacks during that run.
Quarterback play matters a great deal. Teams with the higher QBR scores have won 86 percent of games since 2008. Teams with higher NFL passer ratings have won 79.7 percent of the time over the same period. Those figures outrank even the winning percentages for teams winning the turnover battle (78.5 percent, a figure related to the previous two in that QBs are leading contributors to turnover stats).
The Bears are most dangerous for their defense, however. They rank among the NFL's top five on defense in passer rating, QBR, yards, rushing yards, net yards per pass attempt, interception percentage, third-down conversion rate and points. They were built to win without great quarterback play.
So, if Cutler has been only slightly above average and Campbell plays an average game Monday night, the drop won't be as pronounced as it usually is when a journeyman replaces a big-name quarterback. And if Campbell plays poorly, well, Cutler has done that, too. He has thrown more than three picks in a game four times since 2008, a league high.
The debate flared up at some point Thursday, following the circulation of a USA Today story in which former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms said that both Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin "both absolutely one day will go in the Hall of Fame." Simms' point seemed to be that the effect the 2011-12 Super Bowl run had on the resumes of the Giants' quarterback and coach was to make them unassailable, where not long ago both were the targets of somewhat unwarranted criticism. And his point is well made.
But the debate about Manning somehow turned to this question: If he never played another game -- say he shocked everyone and announced his retirement this afternoon -- is he already a Hall of Famer, based on his career accomplishments to date?
Tom Brady, form the counter-argument and the basis for the question. But Hall of Famers are players with long, distinguished careers whose numbers and accomplishments rank with the all-time greats. Having played just eight years in the NFL, Manning ranks 51st all-time in passing yards and 42nd in touchdowns. He's thrown exactly one more touchdown pass than former fellow Coughlin quarterback Mark Brunell, who is not going to the Hall of Fame. Put simply, as one would expect after only eight years, Manning has more work to do to become a Hall of Famer.
Personally, I think he's one of the great quarterbacks of his era and will play well enough over the next half-decade to reach the Hall of Fame. Say, for example, he passes for 4,000 yards in each of the next four years -- entirely possible, given his age, his talent, his supporting cast and the way the modern game is structured. That would land him somewhere around 11th or 12th on the career yardage list. And if he throws for 27 touchdowns per year for those same four years, that'd land him around eighth all-time. Those rankings, combined with his at-least-two Super Bowl titles and MVP trophies, look like Hall of Fame numbers to me. And I don't see any reason to believe he can't get there.
So the conclusion is that, while I agree with Simms that Manning is likely Canton-bound, I don't agree with those who would argue, as Jason Taylor did in that video linked above, that his ticket is already punched. We live in the instant-analysis, instant-gratification sports era, in which what's going on right now is held up as the most important stuff that's ever happened. But Hall of Fame voting takes the long view, and in order to get there, Manning has to keep being excellent for a while yet.
Then they gave Sanchez a five-year, $58.25 million extension that ensures he will be the starter for at least the next two seasons. Will that hurt New York's chances of getting a quality backup when free agency opens Tuesday?
Solid No. 2 quarterback options like Chad Henne and others might now look the other way now when it comes to the Jets. Sanchez, before the contract, entered the season on the hot seat. But New York's commitment sends a clear message that the Jets are all in with the fourth-year quarterback. Injury is pretty much the only way Sanchez isn't starting.
The Jets have a connection with Henne in new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, most recently the Dolphins' head coach. But Henne will have options, which the AFC East blog listed here. The same goes for Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton or any other veteran starter looking to challenge for a starting job.
It could be tough for New York to find a middle ground. The Jets don't want another Mark Brunell situation in 2012. But finding a quality backup like Henne just got tougher with Sanchez so firmly in the fold.
Why so much hedging over the quarterbacks?
Team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves are both on record as hedging their bets about Kevin Kolb returning for a second season with the team. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has recently made it clear the team would not make Kolb its outright starter for 2012, instead forcing him to compete with John Skelton.
The money Kolb would earn if he did return will guarantee him riches, but not a starting job.
The approach is vintage Whisenhunt. Now entering his sixth season with the team, Whisenhunt has remained consistently averse to anointing starters. The approach reflects his own NFL playing career. Whisenhunt stuck with Atlanta as a 12th-round draft choice in 1985, starting 43 of the 74 games he played over seven seasons. Nothing was handed to him and nothing will be handed to his players now.
The Cardinals' relatively noncommittal approach with Kolb has left the impression Arizona could go after Peyton Manning. That could be a difficult decision to make strategically, however, because Manning might need time to get healthy. Letting Kolb hit the market without knowing whether Manning could hold up would leave the Cardinals with Skelton as their fallback option.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
How can the Rams help themselves in free agency?
This is a tough one. Very few of the Rams' own free agents qualify as players the team must re-sign.
Receiver Brandon Lloyd is arguably the only clear starting-caliber player on the list. He is 30 years old and, by all accounts, hoping to catch on with Josh McDaniels in New England.
Teams with new coaching staffs often sign players with connections to various assistants. The Rams could follow that path.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was in New Orleans, where cornerback Tracy Porter might be the most impressive defensive player scheduled to hit free agency.
Coach Jeff Fisher was with Tennessee when another potential free-agent corner, Cortland Finnegan, was building his reputation as one of the NFL's most hard-nosed defensive backs.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with the New York Jets, but their list of offensive free agents features older players such as Mark Brunell, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress.
New general manager Les Snead has ties to the Atlanta Falcons' free agents, including 35-year-old center Todd McClure and 35-year-old outside linebacker Mike Peterson. Linebacker Curtis Lofton is only 25 and a productive player, but he has played the one linebacker position where the Rams are set, in the middle. Cornerback Brent Grimes is 28 and has a Pro Bowl on his résumé, giving the Rams a connection to another established corner.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
How much better can Alex Smith become?
The 49ers plan to re-sign Smith after the veteran quarterback finished the 2011 season with 17 touchdown passes, five interceptions, a career-best 90.7 NFL passer rating and a signature playoff victory over New Orleans.
It's easy to forget that rules governing free agents prevented Smith from participating in formal 49ers practices until Aug. 4, only five weeks before the regular-season opener. Smith nonetheless appeared in tune with new coach Jim Harbaugh and new coordinator Greg Roman. He did take too many sacks and, until the team's divisional playoff victory over New Orleans, became best known for avoiding turnovers.
Smith did seem to progress as the season went along. It'll be tough for him to match or improve upon his TD-to-INT ratio. Opponents will be better equipped to counter scheme advantages the 49ers enjoyed with a new staff fresh from the college ranks. Durability will be another concern if Smith takes another 44 sacks.
But logic also suggests Smith can continue to grow within the 49ers' offense. He proved skeptics wrong last season and appears positioned to do so again.
What is the holdup with Marshawn Lynch's new contract?
Yes, the Seahawks want to bring back Lynch. His physical running style gives them an edge Seattle cannot realistically get from another back in 2012.
There have been no hard reasons to get a deal done quickly, however. Seattle can name Lynch its franchise player, an appealing alternative for teams wary of how long running backs will hold up physically. Lynch has until March 13 before becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. His next long-term deal could be his final one. He'll want to get more than what Seattle would pay him in guaranteed money as a franchise player over the next couple seasons.
Lynch is 25 years old and has 1,280 career touches. Steven Jackson (2,507), Frank Gore (1,940) and Maurice Jones-Drew (1,762) are among the prominent backs with considerably more touches. Seattle should be able to get three more productive seasons from Lynch, enough to justify doing a multiyear deal with him.
But the franchise tag provides a tantalizing fallback.
Surprise moves: With a surplus of defensive backs, the Jets traded Cornerback/safety Dwight Lowery to the Jaguars for a conditional draft pick. They will miss his versatility and his penchant for making clutch plays, but they felt comfortable with four safeties and six corners.
That they didn’t acquire an experienced backup offensive lineman was a surprise. They’re perilously thin on the line. They acquired rookie guard Caleb Schlauderaff from the Packers, but he’s a project. He’s nasty run blocker but extremely limited in pass protection.
Former Bills bust Aaron Maybin made the 53, but the undersized pass-rusher isn’t a lock to make the opening-day roster despite a flashy performance in the final preseason game.
No-brainers: None of the 26 cuts shocked anyone. Going into the final preseason game, 50 of the 53 spots were decided, according to Rex Ryan. The Jets are playing the continuity card this season, which makes sense in the post-lockout world. In fact, they have 19 returning starters.
What’s next: With rookie quarterback Greg McElroy (thumb surgery) out indefinitely, they need a No. 3 quarterback behind Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell. Possibilities include two former Jets -- Kellen Clemens and Kevin O’Connell, both of whom were released Saturday. They’re still looking for experienced offensive linemen, but it’s a thin market.
QUARTERBACK ISSUES: With Mark Sanchez resting and Mark Brunell recovering from a pulled calf, the Jets started McElroy -- and he didn't make it past the second quarter. McElroy left the game after injuring the thumb on his throwing hand; he appeared to bang it on the helmet of right guard Matt Kroul on a follow-through. One preliminary report said McElroy dislocated his thumb, which would mean a long-term injury. The team didn't provide an immediate diagnosis.
Rex Ryan has said he expects Brunell to be ready for the opener, but it's still a precarious situation, considering Brunell missed all four preseason games and a lot of practice time. If something were to happen to Sanchez, they'd be in big trouble. One move that makes sense is re-signing Kellen Clemens -- assuming he's released by the Redskins. He knows the Jets' system and would be able to play in an emergency.
PHILLY'S QB ISSUES: Naturally, Michael Vick -- the $100 million man -- didn't play. His backup, Vince Young, pulled a hamstring just before halftime and didn't return. In came third-stringer Mike Kafka, who was drilled by linebacker Mattias Berning in the third quarter and nearly came out of the game. They have no other quarterbacks, so it would've been interesting if Kafka hadn’t been able to return. Andy Reid probably would’ve used the Wing-T before using Vick.
DREW WHO?: McElroy was replaced by fourth-stringer Drew Willy, an NFL journeyman who has bounced around on a few practice squads. He also played in the UFL. Willy did well for himself, throwing a 14-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Scotty McKnight on his first pass. Not bad, huh? Willy showed some mobility, running for his life on a few occasions. Willy was going to be released Friday or Saturday; maybe he earned an extended stay.
WOE-LINE: The Jets started their second-team offensive line and it was ugly. McElroy was under heavy pressure from the outset, suffering two sacks in the first quarter. That he got hurt on a freakish play was stunning, considering the pounding he took. Right tackle Vladimir Ducasse was a mess, committing three penalties -- two false starts and one holding (declined).
Clearly, the depth is a problem on the offensive line, with backup center/guard Rob Turner (leg) is down for at least two months. GM Mike Tannenbaum needs to get on the horn and bring in an experienced backup.
RUNNING IN PLACE: The coaching staff was hoping to see some big things from backup running backs Joe McKnight and rookie Bilal Powell, but they did virtually nothing -- a combined total of 10 rushing yards. Worse, McKnight lost a fumble, conjuring up memories of his mistake-prone preseason in 2010. So much for McKnight’s positive momentum.
POSITIVE AUDITIONS: Rex Ryan said they went into the game with three roster spots still up for grabs. Three defensive players helped their chances -- cornerback Ellis Lankster (67-yard interception return for a TD), outside linebacker Aaron Maybin (1.5 sacks) and rookie linebacker Nick Bellore. Outside linebacker Eddie Jones also flashed some potential. Ryan will have some difficult decisions to make at linebacker.
No one on offense really stood out, but rookie tight end Josh Baker showed some pass-catching ability and versatility. Baker, an H-Back in college, also lined up as a fullback. The Jets have only one fullback on the roster, John Conner, who is nursing a sprained ankle.
While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.
Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.
Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.
You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.
That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.
Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.
The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.
- Receiver Lee Evans, $3.275 million
- Cornerback Terrence McGee, $3.2 million
- Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, $3.195 million
- Defensive end Spencer Johnson, $3 million
- Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, $2.75 million
- Defensive end Dwan Edwards, $2.6 million
- Center Geoff Hangartner, $2.55 million
- Outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, $2 million
- Running back Fred Jackson, $1.75 million
- Defensive lineman Kyle Williams, $1.75 million
- Kicker Rian Lindell, $1.45 million
- Punter Brian Moorman, $1.425 million
- Cornerback Reggie Corner, $1.2 million
- Receiver Steve Johnson, $1.2 million
- Safety Bryan Scott, $1.15 million
- Linebacker Andra Davis, $1.1 million
- Receiver Roscoe Parrish, $1.025 million
- Safety George Wilson, $1.025 million
- Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, $1 million
Players under contract: 54
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2
- Nose tackle Paul Soliai, $12.47 million*
- Tackle Jake Long, $11.2 million
- Receiver Brandon Marshall, $6.5 million
- Tackle Vernon Carey, $4.15 million
- Safety Yeremiah Bell, $3.7 million
- Defensive end Randy Starks, $3.625 million
- Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, $2.7 million
- Inside linebacker Channing Crowder, $2.5 million
- Tight end Anthony Fasano, $1.9 million
- Cornerback Benny Sapp, $1.9 million
- Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, $1.7 million
- Cornerback Will Allen, $1.5 million
- Safety Tyrone Culver, $1.25 million
- Fullback Lousaka Polite, $1.25 million
- Receiver Davone Bess, $1.013 million
- Kicker Dan Carpenter, $1.005 million
Players under contract: 55
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3
New England Patriots
- Quarterback Tom Brady, $5.75 million
- Cornerback Leigh Bodden, $3.9 million
- Tackle Nick Kaczur, $3.4 million
- Defensive end Ty Warren, $3.1 million
- Center Dan Koppen, $2.9 million
- Safety James Sanders, $2.8 million
- Tight end Alge Crumpler, $2.4 million
- Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, $2.3 million
- Receiver Deion Branch, $2.2 million
- Receiver Wes Welker, $2.15 million
- Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, $1.7 million
- Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, $1.2 million
- Offensive lineman Dan Connolly, $1.025 million
- Inside linebacker Gary Guyton, $1 million
Players under contract: 60
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3
New York Jets
- Quarterback Mark Sanchez, $14.75 million
- Inside linebacker David Harris, $10.1 million*
- Cornerback Darrelle Revis, $6 million
- Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, $5.615 million
- Inside linebacker Bart Scott, $4.9 million
- Outside linebacker Calvin Pace, $3.855 million
- Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas, $3.2 million
- Guard Brandon Moore, $2.75 million
- Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, $2.425 million
- Center Nick Mangold, $2.26 million
- Defensive end Mike DeVito, $2.125 million
- Safety Jim Leonhard, $1.95 million
- Receiver Jerricho Cotchery, $1.8 million
- Defensive tackle Sione Pouha, $1.28 million
- Quarterback Mark Brunell, $1.25 million
Players under contract: 57
Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6
Yet each comes with his own set of intriguing circumstances and at least one major question for next season.
The other three -- Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne -- certainly don't come with any guarantees.
Sanchez's sophomore season seems like a success in the afterglow of another deep postseason run with the New York Jets, but he still has a long way to go to deserve his Sanchize nickname.
The Buffalo Bills like Fitzpatrick but could be tempted to draft a quarterback with the third overall pick. The Miami Dolphins already could be searching for Henne's replacement.
With those issues in mind, let's look ahead to the 2011 season by breaking down each quarterback in the context of what we learned about him in 2010.
I've ranked them in terms of impact and asked Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson to weigh in with his thoughts.
1. Tom Brady
Big 2011 question: How long can he keep doing it?
Pluses: Brady showed he can win with practically any supporting cast. His teammates have been transitory regardless of perceived significance (e.g. Randy Moss). Even with inexperienced help and a few retreads, Brady obviously was the league's MVP and earlier this week was announced as the only unanimous All-Pro selection.
Brady is the ultimate field general. He manipulates defenses, makes quick decisions at the line of scrimmage and delivers the ball with pinpoint accuracy. He broke the record for consecutive throws without an interception and led the NFL in touchdown passes.
Minuses: The combination of age and injuries are the biggest concern -- if there is one. Brady will turn 34 before next season begins and had foot surgery last week to repair a stress fracture. It was his second major operation in three years. At this rate, we can't expect Brady to be in his prime four or five more years. The window is closing.
Brady, though, doesn't rely on mobility. Perhaps his biggest shortcoming -- a flaw that opened the door for people to make a case for Michael Vick as MVP -- is that Brady doesn't make plays with his legs. As Williamson noted, Brady's not the best improviser when a play breaks down.
Brady also has lost three straight postseason games. While some would chalk that up to happenstance, it's a trend that certainly will be on Brady's mind the next time they make it, which should be in a year.
Williamson's take: "To me, he's still the king of the castle. It's pretty hard to argue against Brady or Peyton Manning. The bar is set so high that 30 teams in the league would kill for either of those guys to be their quarterback, and that will be true a year from now.
"He's so competitive. His work ethic is so great. He can throw the football as well as anyone. His supporting cast is phenomenal. His head coach isn't going anywhere. If your biggest problem is 'How much longer is he going to last?' then that's not much of a problem. The guy's great."
2. Mark Sanchez
Big 2011 question: Can he evolve into a truly great quarterback in his third season?
Sanchez is developing into a clutch quarterback, a topic I examined in a column last week. Authorities such as Bill Parcells and Sam Wyche have been impressed with Sanchez's ability to rise to the occasion. His postseason stats dwarf his regular-season numbers. He has five fourth-quarter comebacks and won back-to-back overtime road games this season, something that never had been done before.
Sanchez is only 24 years old and already has played in six playoff games. His combination of age, experience and potential will keep him in the spotlight for a long time. Jets backup quarterback Mark Brunell told me last week that Sanchez is "going to be an elite quarterback someday."
Minuses: There are plenty of negatives to keep Williamson and me from jumping on the Sanchez bandwagon. Sanchez is inconsistent from game to game and inaccurate with his throws. He's prone to turnover flare-ups, proving he can be rattled. He has trouble coping with blitzes.
Sanchez completed 54.8 percent of his attempts, third-worst in the NFL. He threw only 13 interceptions (wonderful number compared to the 20 he threw as a rookie). But Football Outsiders charted 15 more dropped interceptions, an excessive number. Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell noted Sanchez should have thrown more interceptions than a year before because he had only five dropped as a rookie. Defenders held onto 80 percent of potential picks in 2009, but just 46 percent this season.
So Sanchez's abysmal 75.3 passer rating (fifth from the bottom and behind Henne) downplayed how scattershot he was. Take away Sanchez's four games with 100-plus passer ratings and he threw six touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
You can see why the Jets need to maintain their infrastructure and not become dependent on Sanchez yet.
Williamson's take: "I have been a huge basher of him. I think he's been vastly overrated. To talk about him as a top 10 quarterback, top 12 or 15 quarterback, is crazy to me. But these last two games have opened my eyes. I will give him much more benefit of the doubt now.
"I still need to put an asterisk next to him. In the AFC Championship Game, that's as good as he's going to play, and that's good enough for the Jets to win. They have the formula. He has great receivers, a great line and one of the best defenses in the league. But he still has issues. His best moments are something that anybody can do. He still struggles with the blitz. His arm is still average. He's not a guy who can attack outside the numbers. He can't drive the ball deep downfield.
"I'd rather play against him than with him. Still, he plays his best when it matters most, and most quarterbacks don't. His intangibles are really encouraging. I don't think the stage ever is too big for him."
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Big 2011 question: Will he be the long-term answer or just a stopgap?
Despite Fitzpatrick's limited interaction with the first-teamers, he provided a noticeable spark with his mobility and deep throws. The coaching staff and his teammates almost immediately seemed to have renewed faith in the offense. He helped previously anonymous receivers such as Steve Johnson and David Nelson turn into dangerous contributors.
Fitzpatrick also became easy for Bills fans to root for. He was a seventh-round draft choice out of Harvard who nearly became the first Bills quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns in a season since Jim Kelly. Fitzpatrick challenged defenses and took chances downfield.
Minuses: Fitzpatrick is 28 and probably has hit his ceiling. He might be satisfactory as a caretaker, but his prospects as a playoff quarterback are dubious. He was a backup his first five years in the league and didn't stand out in 15 starts with the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. The fact he signed with the Bills to be a backup in 2009 reflected his worth on the open market.
Fitzpatrick is fun to watch because he takes chances, but his swashbuckling tendencies get him into trouble. He's liable to feather a pass between two defenders or throw a horrendous interception on any given play. He committed five turnovers in Week 16 against a Patriots team that had nothing to play for.
General manager Buddy Nix told Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan this week that the Bills need to draft a quarterback in April. Whether the Bills grab Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert with the third overall pick will clarify the plan for Fitzpatrick as a long-term solution.
Williamson's take: "I don't think Fitzpatrick is the answer. I don't think he can ever be in the top 50 percent of starting quarterbacks in this league. He can get you to 8-8, but in the end you're going to want to replace him. But I wouldn't fault the Bills at all to say 'Let's give him another year. Let's give him an entire offseason as The Man.' They should say 'This is your team, and we're going to go out and get you a receiver, a defense and a blocker or two.'
"The Bills can jump off that bridge a year from now. The Bills can't reach on a quarterback in the first round and have him sit behind Fitzpatrick. That organization has too many issues. Their needs are too great to spend No. 3 money on the 12th-best player in the draft. You tread water with Fitzpatrick for now and hope he gets a little better."
4. Chad Henne
Big 2011 question: Will he be able to seize the starter's job again?
Pluses: Henne was benched once and pulled from a game late in the season. He had a rough year, but he's 25 years old -- young enough to be considered a prospect yet with substantial experience. Henne was a four-year starter at Michigan and sat for a year behind Chad Pennington before taking over the Dolphins' job in 2009.
Henne has a strong arm and can make all the throws. He's also tough, missing only one week with a knee injury that the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported would "more than likely" end his season. Henne returned in Week 12 and, on the other side of the country with the season on the line, threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders.
Henne could benefit from some new voices. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning retired, and quarterbacks coach David Lee took a job with Ole Miss. The Dolphins hired young offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who has been exposed to Brady and Brett Favre. Receivers coach Karl Dorrell, the former UCLA head coach, will be Henne's position coach.
Minuses: The Dolphins publicly expressed their dissatisfaction in Henne by benching him. He flopped in 2010 even though the Dolphins made one of the offseason's biggest acquisitions, trading two second-round draft choices and committing a metric ton of cash to star receiver Brandon Marshall. Henne also had one of the league's top slot receivers, Davone Bess.
But Henne's erratic play doomed their season. He produced a trio of three-interception games and posted a passer rating below 70 five times.
Henne plays like a robot. Every motion appears purposeful, as though it was programmed, rather than coming naturally. He doesn't perform well off the script, can lock onto receivers and freezes in the pocket.
Williamson's take: "If we had this conversation 365 days ago, I would have been all about Chad Henne. I was very much a believer in him before this season. There wasn't one player in the league who let me down more than Henne. I thought he was on the verge of being really good.
"The Dolphins really handcuffed him with the play-calling and lack of a vertical passing game. That hurt him. He needs to throw the ball a lot. He needs to go deep. He needs to use his arm.
"But when you watch him play the game now, he's not even close to being good enough. I think a change of scenery would do him a world of good, but they can't afford to get rid of him for nothing. They would be foolish not to bring competition in for him.
"I like his skill set and think he can be very good, but he looks the worst I've ever seen him, and I was involved at trying to recruit him out of high school to Pitt. He was horrible this year."
The reality, however, is that Sanchez has made it to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons with the New York Jets. He turned 24 years old in November, yet he already has tied the NFL record for road playoff victories.
Mediocre quarterbacks don't do that.
Clutch quarterbacks do.
"He's just one of those kids that has 'it,'" Jets backup quarterback Mark Brunell said, "and whatever 'it' may be is the ability to make the play that needs to be made -- clutch."
Sanchez's detractors don't see anything special, but among others, he's developing a reputation as one of those rare quarterbacks who excels in difficult spots. He can erase doubt Sunday by advancing to the Super Bowl with a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of the NFL's few established clutch quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger.
Like art, the concept of "clutch" is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. Clutch performers execute when consequences escalate. Joe Montana was clutch. Michael Jordan was clutch. Tiger Woods, Reggie Jackson, Patrick Roy -- all clutch.
Sanchez isn't remotely near that echelon, but some expert observers claim he's getting there.
"It seems like it," Miami Dolphins consultant and two-time Super Bowl champion coach Bill Parcells said. "He's in his embryonic stage. So time will tell, but he's certainly showing some of the characteristics that are vital to that type of player.
"Sometimes with these quarterbacks it's not always pretty. But it becomes efficient."
Sanchez's numbers don't shriek competence. He ranked 25th in passer rating. Only three qualifying passers averaged fewer yards per attempt. Two completed a lower percentage of throws.
But over Sanchez's past 20 games, including the playoffs, he has directed five fourth-quarter comebacks and two more winning drives when the score was tied in the fourth quarter. Two of those victories were back-to-back on the road and in sudden death -- something that never before had happened.
Clutch? You betcha.
"Sanchez qualifies in the discussion for sure," noted quarterback guru Sam Wyche said. "Their record and the fact they have prevailed in this single-elimination tournament tells me he's had some clutch plays in 2010. There's no way a quarterback can be off much and get this far in the playoffs."
Wyche knows a little about clutch. He was the San Francisco 49ers' passing game coordinator for Montana's first four NFL seasons. Wyche later watched from the Cincinnati Bengals sideline when Montana orchestrated one of the most sublime clutch drives of all time to win Super Bowl XXIII.
Wyche explained clutch as a combination of attributes a quarterback must possess when the margin for error is skinniest. The quarterback must be poised, have the rules mastered, be mindful of field position, be skilled at clock management and be in command of his teammates.
"Clutch means making quicker decisions, generally unforgiving decisions," Wyche said. "You're at the end of the game. You don't have the second half to come back and rebound.
"In a time squeeze with two options -- throw the ball away or try to get it into a tight hole -- who makes the right decision?"
Another clutch quality is raising the performance level when it's essential.
Sanchez's 2010 regular-season stats were ordinary, and in many cases below average. He completed 54.8 percent of his throws, averaged 6.6 yards per attempt and tossed 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. His passer rating was 75.3, lower than Chad Henne's. The Dolphins benched Henne twice because of lackluster play.
A look at Sanchez's effectiveness in key situations indicates an even shakier quarterback. Among those who threw at least 10 times in the regular season, ESPN Stats & Information showed, Sanchez's passer rating was 48th in the fourth quarter and overtime, 38th on third down and 27th in the red zone.
But in Sanchez's five career playoff games, he has completed 60.5 percent of his throws, is averaging 7.4 yards per attempt and has seven touchdowns with three interceptions.
His 92.2 career postseason passer rating -- accumulated entirely on the road -- is 22.0 points higher than his regular-season rating.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan said that when it comes to being clutch "you either have it or you don't" and that Sanchez probably had it as a kid, regardless of the sport he tried "because the great ones, the competitors, find ways to win, and I think Mark is that kind of guy."
Back in November, with the Jets on a death-defying win streak, Ryan was asked about Sanchez's success. The Jets notched consecutive overtime road victories and a miracle against the Houston Texans at the Meadowlands, where Sanchez drove the Jets 72 yards for the winning touchdown in just 45 seconds. Sanchez delivered a dazzling 42-yard strike to Edwards along the right sideline and a perfect 6-yard toss to Santonio Holmes in the left corner of the end zone one play later.
The Steelers have one of those quarterbacks, too.
Roethlisberger owns two Super Bowl rings and has delivered 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 25 winning drives over his career, according to ProFootballReference.com data. Three of them happened in the postseason, including that famous dart to a toe-dragging Holmes in Super Bowl XLIII.
Wyche compared Roethlisberger to Montana, whom the NFL Network named the No. 1 clutch quarterback of all time.
"This guy has the same kind of good fortune in the game," Wyche said. "He seems to zig when he's supposed to zig and doesn't zag. He seems to be able to throw the ball away or maybe get a great run out of his running back, and the players around him perform because they have the confidence that he's going to perform.
"He's just got that quality. It's a charisma thing, and you don't bet against it very often."
Sanchez already has beaten Roethlisberger head-to-head at Heinz Field this year. Roethlisberger posted better passing numbers, but Sanchez ran a fourth-down bootleg 7 yards for a touchdown.
No matter the outcome Sunday night, Sanchez should be considered one of the NFL's future stars. A 24-year-old doesn't advance this far twice in a row by accident.
"He's not mentioned in the same sentences as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady," Brunell said. "He doesn't have those numbers yet. He doesn't have a Super Bowl ring. But all indications are that he's going to be an elite quarterback someday, who will have those numbers and be mentioned with all those top guys like Drew Brees.
"He'll be there. For a guy in only his second year, it's pretty dang impressive what he's accomplished."
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:
Notable Miami Dolphins could experience their final games at Sun Life Stadium. Teams never remain exactly the same from year to year, but the Dolphins might experience more turnover than most organizations before next season. Thanks to a 1-6 home record entering Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, head coach Tony Sparano's job carries no guarantees. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning likely will be gone. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan should be considered for head coaching vacancies. Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams also will leave the field not knowing if they'll be back.
The New England Patriots are in a "hat and T-shirt game." ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi emphasized the importance of donning division championship regalia, which the Patriots can do with a victory or tie against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium (or if the Jets don't win in Chicago).
"Those hats and T-shirts mean something. It means you've accomplished something," he said in the latest "Bruschi's Breakdown" at ESPNBoston.com. "There have been plenty of teams that have been wild-card teams and gone to the AFC or NFC Championships and have nothing to show for it -- no division title or anything. When you win your division, it says something, right there on the hat and T-shirt: 'Division Champs.' I was always proud to put those T-shirts on, and you want a set of three -- division, conference and you all know what the last one is. It starts with that first one, though."
Buffalo's defense deserves some credit. The Bills' defense has been ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season. But it has quietly put together some impressive performances. The Bills have allowed more than 16 points in regulation time just once since Thanksgiving and have given up only 20 points over their past two games. Encompassing the entire season, Buffalo still has the NFL's worst run defense. But take away Cleveland Browns bulldozer Peyton Hillis' first five carries on the opening drive in Week 14, and the Bills have held Hillis, Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown to 118 yards on 31 carries.
AFC East players are approaching some milestones. With two games left, it's appropriate to take a look at some season stats. Bills receiver Steve Johnson needs two touchdown receptions to set the team record. Bills running back Fred Jackson needs 189 yards to hit 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick is seven touchdown passes away from 30, which would trigger a promise from Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan to run down Hertel Avenue in his underwear. Dolphins receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess need three catches to break the team record for two receivers set by Mark Duper and Mark Clayton in 1984. Cameron Wake needs 4.5 sacks to tie the Dolphins record of 18.5 held by Bill Stanfill and Jason Taylor. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must average 219.5 passing yards to hit 4,000 for the fourth time. Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is 176 yards from hitting quadruple digits. Wes Welker needs 17 receptions to get 100 a fourth straight season. Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is 114 yards from reaching 1,000 for the first time in three seasons.