NFL Nation: Steve Largent
Quarterbacks John Hadl and Dave Krieg went to Pro Bowls with Knox as their head coach. Steve Largent retired as the NFL's all-time receiver and landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame largely for what he accomplished under Knox.
Not that I would question Knox's conservative reputation entirely. Football Outsiders ranked the former Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks coach 84th out of 84 qualifying coaches on its "Aggressiveness Index" showing fourth-down tendencies from 1991 through last season. Knox was least likely to go for it on fourth down outside situations when teams were obviously playing from behind.
Football Outsiders also produced a chart showing where coaches ranked in 2012 alone. The St. Louis Rams' Jeff Fisher and the Arizona Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt fell on the more aggressive side. The Seahawks' Pete Carroll, ranked 13th out of 84 coaches from 1991 to present, appeared to be less aggressive last season even though his team famously executed a fake punt while leading the Bills by 30 points.
The San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh was slightly less aggressive than average while Bruce Arians, now in his first season with Arizona, was further down the list while serving as the Indianapolis Colts' interim coach.
Sample size is key in these studies and I'm not sure one season tell us how these NFC West coaches approach fourth down.
Seattle went for it twice on fourth down while leading the Minnesota Vikings by 10 points in the final 3:09. The Seahawks converted on fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 32 a few plays before converting on fourth-and-4 from the 15. Were those aggressive plays?
I have some ideas on this front and will pursue them in the future.
Research suggests coaches too frequently mistake punting or kicking field goals as "safer" decisions when going for it would actually make more sense. It can be a tough sell, like convincing a card player to disregard hunches no matter how much money is at stake or what happened in a similar situation previously.
These discussions will become more prevalent in football as the percentages become more commonly known. Coaches could have more direct access to that information as the NFL incorporates technology into its game-day experience. The NFL already plans for coaches to have playbooks on tablets beginning in 2014. How long before coaches have access to fourth-down calculators or other tools to aid in the decision-making process?
Aaron Schatz, who wrote the Football Outsiders piece, suggests there is considerable progress to be made on that front:
"One thing I have learned in talking to a lot of front office people who are interested in analytics is that there is very little correlation between how much analytical work is being done in a front office and how much the head coach's on-field decisions seem to reflect the general precepts that have developed in the football analytics community over the last decade.
"For most teams doing analytics, the impact is coming in draft and free-agency decisions, and the difference that analytics can make between one free-agent signing and another can be very subtle. Eventually we'll get to the point where a lot of head coaches have buy-in, but we aren't there yet, even on teams where the salary cap analyst is regularly reading Football Outsiders and fully understands Brian Burke's fourth-down calculator."
Larry Fitzgerald stands 48 yards short of 10,000 for his career heading into the Arizona Cardinals' game against Buffalo on Sunday. He has averaged 67.4 yards per game this season. Fitzgerald has reached or exceeded 48 yards in 95 of his 129 regular-season games (73.6 percent).
The Bills have allowed 48 or more receiving yards to eight players through five games this season.
Five players have reached 100 yards against Buffalo in 2012: Wes Welker (129), Michael Crabtree (113), Vernon Davis (106), Rob Gronkowski (104) and Dwayne Bowe (102).
Fitzgerald is coming off an eight-catch, 92-yard game against St. Louis.
The chart shows the four youngest players to reach 10,000 career receiving yards before age 30. All four have played for current NFC West teams. Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent ranks fifth. He was 31 years and 83 days old when he passed the milestone.
At 36, he leads the NFL with 39 receptions through five games. With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s put some historical perspective on that.
The 39 receptions through five games are the most in NFL history -- by far -- by a player 36 or older.
Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens are tied for the next spot on the list with 31 catches. Rice did that in 2002, when he was 39. Owens did it in 2010, when he was 36. The fourth-best start in history, also belongs to Rice -- 25 receptions to start the 2001 season. The top five is rounded out by Tim Brown, who had 24 catches through five games in 2002.
Gonzalez also is one touchdown short of becoming the eighth player in NFL history with 100 receiving touchdowns. He currently is tied with Don Hutson with 99 touchdown catches. The next touchdown catch by Gonzalez will put him into a tie with Brown and Steve Largent.
Jackson leaves Seattle with the respect of his soon-to-be-former teammates. He played through a torn pectoral muscle last season, never complaining about anything -- even as the Seahawks ran through receivers and shuffled their offensive line repeatedly.
Seattle's trade with Buffalo is not yet final. We should expect Jackson to rework his contract for the Bills. We should also expect the Seahawks to receive a late-round draft choice in return. A seventh-rounder that could upgrade based on playing time would represent fair value.
Jackson started 14 games and played in 15 for the Seahawks. He did what the team expected him to do upon signing from Minnesota in free agency: put his familiarity with the offensive system to use as a short-term bridge to whatever future awaited the Seahawks at quarterback. He was much better than Charlie Whitehurst, for sure.
Jackson struggled to make plays late in games (zero touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks in the final two minutes of halves). That was his failing in Seattle. But the Seahawks knew they were getting Jackson, not Joe Montana. And in fairness to Jackson, he wasn't exactly throwing to Jerry Rice or Steve Largent, either.
Jackson is ideally suited as a backup and would have fit as one in Seattle if the team hadn't been so aggressive about upgrading the position. That is one of the lessons of his departure after one season. Keeping Jackson would have been comfortable for the coaches. He knows the system. The Seahawks aren't into comfort. They're always looking for the next guy -- even the next backup.
Evert toured the Hall of Fame and overdosed on Pittsburgh Steelers stuff. By the time he encountered the giant mural showing Steelers players dousing then-coach Bill Cowher with Gatorade, he'd had enough.
"I know I shouldn't be that way," Evert said, "but Seahawk fans have always felt like they got screwed over in that one Super Bowl."
They don't have to worry about it Saturday night, although the Steelers do hold a 2-1 edge over the Seahawks in 2012 enshrinees. Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler are joining Kennedy on the dais.
Update: As I'm looking down on Evert's seat, I notice two Steelers fans occupying the seats next to him.
Anyone with a strong grasp of NFL history would place Cris Carter, Raymond Berry and Steve Largent on a short list for receivers with the surest hands.
Hall of Famer Ken Houston, speaking for a 2008 piece on all-time great wideouts, stood up for AFL stars Otis Taylor and Lionel Taylor.
"Lionel Taylor, I mean, he would catch a BB," Houston said.
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, speaking for the same piece, said Randy Moss, then with New England, had the best hands in the NFL at that time (2008).
"A lot of guys can catch," Thompson said then. "He can catch on any platform, as we say in scouting. He can adjust and catch it over the top of somebody's head, catch it falling down, and it doesn't matter if he is covered."
With Moss now on the 49ers, it is possible Crabtree does not posses the best hands among wide receivers on his own team.
Oops. I wasn't going to take the bait on this one, but now it's too late. Time to regroup.
Bottom line, I suspect Crabtree has impressed Harbaugh this offseason, and Harbaugh would like that to continue for as long as possible. By offering such strong public praise for Crabtree, Harbaugh is setting a standard for Crabtree to meet this season. He realizes Crabtree has the ability to meet that standard, or else he wouldn't make the statement.
We should all recall Harbaugh's calling quarterback Alex Smith "elite" and promoting him for the Pro Bowl last season. Then as now, Harbaugh was standing up for his guy. Smith enjoyed the finest season of his career and even outplayed the truly elite Drew Brees at times during the 49ers' playoff victory over New Orleans. The way Harbaugh backed Smith played a role in that performance, in my view.
Back to Crabtree. He has the ability to rank among the most sure-handed receivers in the game. He has not yet earned that status, but now he has little choice, right?
As the chart shows, Crabtree finished the 2011 season with 12.2 receptions per drop, which ranked 28th in the NFL among players targeted at least 100 times. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 80 receptions and only one drop. Those numbers are according to ESPN Stats & Information, which defines drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort."
Crabtree suffered six drops last season by that standard, a few too many for the player with the best hands his head coach has ever seen on a wide receiver.
We know this because the 32 NFL teams drafted 28 wide receivers in 2011, but not Baldwin.
NFC West teams drafted five of them, but not Baldwin.
Austin Pettis (third round, St. Louis), Kris Durham (fourth round, Seattle), Greg Salas (fourth round, St. Louis), Ronald Johnson (sixth round, San Francisco) and DeMarco Sampson (seventh round, Arizona) have combined for 22 receptions, 195 yards and no touchdowns.
Baldwin, signed as an undrafted free agent from Stanford, has 20 catches for 330 yards and two scores even though he played sparingly in the season opener.
How surprising is Baldwin's production? His college coach, Jim Harbaugh, surely did not see it coming. Harbaugh's 49ers were seeking a slot receiver in the draft. They went with Johnson in the sixth round partially because the 49ers' receivers coach, John Morton, coached Johnson at USC. There was no shame in the selection; the draft guides I saw rated Johnson over Baldwin.
Johnson failed to earn a roster spot. Baldwin is leading Seattle in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He caught eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown during the Seahawks' 36-25 victory over the New York Giants in Week 5. His 55-yard touchdown reception against the 49ers in Week 1 helped Seattle erase most of a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
Among Seattle rookies, only Joey Galloway, with 349 yards in 1995, has gained more receiving yards than Baldwin through five games, according to ESPN Stats & Information (Hall of Famer Steve Largent had been second with 313 yards through five games in 1976).
Baldwin was initially reluctant to bite when I asked him how much motivation he gets from knowing his own college coach could have drafted him or signed him, but did not.
"There is definitely motivation that comes out of that," Baldwin said. "Obviously, I went undrafted, so there is motivation from that as a whole, but definitely motivation."
Baldwin's college career was up and down. He became disillusioned with his diminished role as a junior, as the Pensacola News recounted in a story available via PDF.
"He is one of the most mentally strong people I have ever met," said 49ers tight end Konrad Reuland, a rookie who played with Baldwin at Stanford and lived with him for a time. "He had his ups and downs at Stanford. He always battled back from any kind of injury or setback that he had. He’s just mentally tough. He went through a year where he didn’t play very much and came back the next year and was our best receiver."
Baldwin appears ideally suited for the slot. The Seahawks, despite having already had their bye week, rank eighth in the league with 203 plays featuring at least three wide receivers. Baldwin's presence helps account for some of that.
The Seahawks want him on the field and value what he offers from the slot in particular. So far, Baldwin has nine receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown from the left slot, seven receptions for 114 yards from the right slot and four receptions for 91 yards when lining up outside, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"In terms of physical ability, he is one of the quickest guys I have ever seen in and out of his breaks," Reuland said. "He’s got those cat-like reflexes and just explodes in and out of his breaks."
Baldwin has also proved he can bounce back from big hits, whether from opposing defensive backs -- one such hit drew a $15,000 fine -- or from the NFL teams that decided he wasn't worth drafting.
The game has changed, and all you need for proof is a glance at Paul Warfield's career stats. He caught more than 50 passes once. He gained more than 1,000 yards once. In some of his Pro Bowl seasons, his numbers wouldn't have justified a roster spot in your 10-team fantasy league.
Yet Warfield is considered one the most dangerous receivers NFL history, a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," Warfield said this week from his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work.
"I'm from the old-school generation. You might be termed a wide receiver, but you should be a football player first."
Steve Largent is another example of how stats don't quantify a receiver's worth like they used to. Largent retired after the 1989 season as the NFL's all-time leading receiver with 819 catches. He, too, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Twenty-one years later, Largent ranks 20th in receptions behind such names as Derrick Mason, Torry Holt, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad and fullback Larry Centers.
In 1985, only four players had caught 600 passes. The list is 55 players long now.
"It doesn't necessarily undermine a player's ability to get into the Hall of Fame because he had great stats or doesn't have great stats," Largent said Monday from his office in Washington D.C. "You're looking for a guy who was the total package."
With that in mind, you might consider Andre Reed's stats if you choose when deciding if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. They're sterling -- if a little outdated and discounted by time.
To both Largent and Warfield and other legendary receivers, Reed qualifies for Canton without even looking at the numbers.
"I saw the value Reed had to that team not only as a receiver, but also as a leader," Largent said. "There are some attributes you don't keep statistics of, but you become aware of as one player watching another play the game."
Reed is Largent's "total package" and Warfield's unequivocal embodiment of "football player."
"It's long overdue for Andre," Warfield said.
Reed is among the 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists who will learn Saturday whether they will be included in this year's induction class.
The star Buffalo Bills receiver has been a finalist five times. There's a belief this year offers his best chance yet. In previous years, he has shared the ballot with at least one receiver who took precedence because they were icons (Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin) or had been waiting longer (Art Monk).
Reed could become the sixth Hall of Famer from a team that went to four straight Super Bowls but failed to win one.
Already enshrined are Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Wide receiver James Lofton also is in Canton, but he didn't play on all four Super Bowl teams, and is more closely associated with the Green Bay Packers.
"I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave," said Reed, 47. "We were a family. But the Hall of Fame, I don't know how I would react. It would be a validation of your work and what you did.
"Hopefully on Saturday I can be in that fraternity with them, but every year it's a tough ballot."
The other finalists include running backs Marshall Faulk and Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, defensive ends Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol.
The Hall of Fame's 44-member selection committee will decide Saturday. The group includes NFL writers, one representative per franchise, 11 at-large voters and one from the Pro Football Writers Association. The committee will pare the group of 15 finalists down to 10 and then to five. At that point, a vote will be held, with 80 percent agreement needed for induction.
Up to five modern-era candidates may be elected each year. First-time nominees Faulk and Sanders are virtual locks to get inducted. That leaves three spots available for Reed and the other finalists to get in.
Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan will make the case for Reed's induction. It's a compelling one.
"He certainly had a great career, one of the great clutch receivers," Warfield said. "He was consistent, one Jim Kelly could always go to and always find open in a situation where they're trying to make a big play. He's an all-encompassing receiver."
Reed was third on the NFL's all-time receptions list when he retired after the 2000 season with 951 catches, behind only Rice and Carter. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a superstar on a team that won four conference championships in a row.
"He was as dangerous a receiver as there is," former Bills quarterback Frank Reich said. "Versus press coverage, he was almost impossible to stop, coming off the ball. We always felt if they tried to play tight man on Andre it didn't matter who was guarding him. Any shutdown corner in the league in press coverage, Andre was going to beat him."
Reed was a force on the big stage. In 19 postseason games he had 85 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn't score any Super Bowl touchdowns, but he did have 27 receptions for 323 yards.
In the Bills' epic comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 postseason, he made eight catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
Reed is known as tremendously durable. He played 253 games, counting playoffs. He often darted into traffic to make plays in a crowd of defenders.
"No fear," Reich said.
Reed was one the greatest ever when it came to yards after the catch, second perhaps only to Rice.
What put Reed's production in even greater context is a closer look at Buffalo's offense in the 1990s.
Many fans, even those who closely followed the Bills then, recall a prolific aerial attack. They remember Kelly running the no-huddle, K-Gun offense and slinging the ball all over the field to Reed and Lofton.
As Gaughan will point out again Saturday, the Bills ranked 17th in passing offense throughout Reed's career. In Reed's six prime seasons from 1988 through 1993, the Bills passed 51 percent of the time. By comparison, the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" offense passed 50 percent of the time when Monk was there.
Reed didn't have much receiving help either. He played with Lofton for four seasons, but Lofton was 33 years old when he joined Buffalo. In 1988, for instance, Reed's second and third receivers were Trumaine Johnson and Chris Burkett.
So far, the chief impediment for Reed's induction hasn't been his resume, but the other names on the ballot.
A wide receiver has been inducted each of the past four years, and in seven classes out of the past decade.
Gaughan noted there is room in Canton for at least two more receivers from the 1990s. A breakdown of membership shows seven receivers who predominantly played in the 1960s, four from 1970s, four from the 1980s and two from the 1990s.
Reed, Carter and Brown are the worthiest receiver candidates to join Rice and Irvin from that decade.
There's a velvet rope. This is Reed's fifth year as a finalist. Carter has been a finalist four times, Brown twice.
Reed apparently jockeyed to the head of the receiver line last year. In the selection process, Carter and Brown didn't make the top-10 stage, but Reed did.
That development has raised Reed's hopes for 2011.
"I'll be more nervous because of the way the voting went last year," Reed said. "I feel I'm more deserving of it. It was pretty close. The anticipation is enhanced this year."
But there are no guarantees. Several legendary receivers have waited longer than five years to get the Canton call. Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Monk got in on their eighth time as finalists. Lynn Swann was a finalist 14 times. The Seniors Committee was necessary to induct Bob Hayes 34 years after his last NFL game.
Reed admitted he has fantasized about the phone call too many times to count. He's even tried to research the moment.
"I've talked to a bunch of Hall of Famers who say when they get the call they're at a loss for words," said Reed, who plays a lot of golf and sells his own line of barbeque sauce in the San Diego area. "They don't know how to react.
"I'll just have to wait and see."
And hopefully not have to wait some more.
Marshall means of all-time, as in alongside Jerry Rice and Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker and Steve Largent and Paul Warfield and Raymond Berry and ...
"In all of football," Marshall said of Bess, "he's one of the best route runners in all of football ever, not just in today's receivers. Ever."
While Marshall's assertion sounds quite hyperbolic, there's no denying Bess is one of the NFL's most underrated receivers. He wasn't drafted out of Hawaii in 2008 because he wasn't considered fast enough (40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds) or big enough (5-foot-10, 190 pounds).
"He plays big, man," Marshall said. "He's an all-around wide receiver."
Bess had to become a masterful route runner to make it in the pros. His meticulousness -- like Greg Camarillo for Miami before him -- is why Bess has been heavily involved in the Dolphins' offense since they signed him and why they traded Camarillo last month.
Bess' compact size actually helps him as a route runner more than the gazelles who lope up the sideline and rarely need to worry about gaining separation through craftiness or precision.
Bess has been one of the league's top third-down targets since last season. He's tied for second in the NFL in third-down receptions with 10 for 109 yards, one touchdown and eight first downs.
Marshall leads the league with 11 third-down receptions. Anquan Boldin is the only receiver with more third-down conversions than Bess.
In Week 4, Bess had one of his bigger games before heading into the bye. He made eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against the New England Patriots on Monday night.
"When you put in the tape, this guy's amazing, what he's able to make his body do," Marshall said of Bess. "He gets open almost every single play."
"The guy doesn't catch  balls last year just because. There's a reason for that, and he's on pace to probably catch almost 100 balls this year . I'm excited for him, and I'm excited to be able to be on the other side and on the same side as him."
The NFL would like to expand the regular season to 18 games and eliminate two preseason games by 2012. Seems like a no-brainer.
But at such a politically charged time, the NFL Players Association isn't willing to concede anything. There are reasons against lengthening the regular season. Injuries are prominent in the discussion, and players would like to be paid for playing additional games.
If the NFL wants an "enhanced season," as it's calling the proposal, then the players would like "enhanced compensation."
Beyond that, however, there are many reasons to debate the idea. That's why ESPN.com's Tim Graham and Bill Williamson are squaring off over it.
Tim Graham: Let's waste no time here, Bill, and get to a fundamental aspect about the proposed expanded season. We can deliberate on injuries and tradition and whether the NFL needs to increase revenues -- and we will. But the root of the 18-game concept is that fans want more meaningful action and less preseason silliness. Season-ticket holders must pay full price to watch undrafted rookies and retreads with no shot of making the roster run around in exhibitions. Those games are irrelevant. What matters is the enthusiasm NFL fans have for getting the season started as early as possible. Take a look at the message boards and listen to the talk shows. They're frothing in anticipation of the upcoming season. More and sooner is better.
Bill Williamson: OK, slick, let's get this right: We're supposed to see the greatest sport of mankind completely change its world because fans shouldn't have to pay for parking during the preseason? I totally agree the preseason is a waste of time after the first two games. But cutting back the preseason to add two games to the regular season -- risking further injury and mucking up the tradition of the game -- just doesn't make any sense. Cut the preseason to two games, keep the 16-game regular-season slate and be done with it. That's a win-win to me.
TG: You know darn well lopping off two preseason games won't cut it with the owners, especially guys like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft and Woody Johnson. Those games are moneymakers for the individual teams because they can sell local broadcast rights and advertising without having to share with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. That kind of cash grab can't evaporate without a trade-off. Two more regular-season games increase revenue streams for all 32 teams. As for your contention it would completely change the greatest sport of all time, I disagree. The fact the game is so remarkable is why we should be able to watch more of it.
BW: Tim, you hit on two points that are going to be the reasons we ultimately end up seeing an 18-game regular season: revenue and fan base. Roger Goodell is a fine commissioner. He is a visionary. He is going to capitalize on the country's absolute rabid desire for the NFL. Fans will jump at the chance to see an 18-game regular-season slate (two more weeks of beer and chicken wings is admittedly appealing), and the owners will bathe in more money. But that doesn't make it right. Sometimes, enough is enough, and Goodell is going to be messing with a good thing. The players are the product, and they are going to suffer because of this. Then, in turn, the game is going to suffer. Who wins there?
BW: Tim, I think we can both agree the toughest task for any NFL team to navigate a 16-game season is staying healthy. Nothing ruins a Super Bowl dream like a couple ripped-up knees. Going to an 18-game season will only increase season-ending injuries. Look, it's a month before training camp starts and there already have been several players lost for the season, including Willie Colon, Limas Sweed and Thomas Davis. It's a nasty game. Why make these guys risk further injury and further dampen their teams' Super Bowl hopes by playing two more games in the regular season?
TG: I agree additional games will escalate the likelihood a given player gets seriously hurt. But some injuries are going to happen no matter what. New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, for example, crumpled to the Reliant Stadium turf while making a cut in the regular-season finale. He wasn't touched. Who's to say he wouldn't have suffered the same injury the following Wednesday at practice?
BW: Right, injuries happen all the time. That's my point. Why increase the season by 14 days and give players 14 more chances to get hurt in a game or in a practice? In an 18-game world, a team would have to play a minimum of 21 games to win a Super Bowl. It's currently 19 games. It may be only two more games, but that is a big difference down the stretch. It would be physically and mentally draining for players to wake up Dec. 1 and realize they have two extra games to play to reach their ultimate goal.
TG: Wake up on Dec. 1 and then realize they have two extra games? Will the expanded schedule make comas more prevalent? The players, coaches and training staffs will prepare their players for the extra games from the start of the offseason conditioning program. Maybe, for once, organized team activities will become truly voluntary. Subtract some of those workouts. But there are possible in-season remedies too. I understand players will get beaten up with the accumulation of hits and strains. So return to a two-bye schedule, increase the roster size or do away with game-day inactives to give a team more players to use. The NFL also is talking about another developmental league to replace NFL Europa. That would help improve the quality of substitute players.
TG: NFL games are events not because of how many there are, but because your team plays once per week. Fans revel in or grouse about the last game from the final whistle until about Wednesday morning, when they start looking forward to the upcoming opponent. The tension rises steadily as they talk trash about what's going to happen, they set their fantasy lineups, they maybe wager a few bucks, they attend a tailgate party and then settle into their seats for the opening kickoff. It's an unfailing routine. That's why fans go through a hangover the moment the season is over, and why they can't wait for the next season to commence. NFL games would remain an event if we had a 52-game schedule.
BW: Let's not underplay the value of records. There are some stirring records out there that will be broken by the virtue of two extra games. That's not cool. Let baseball corner the market on asterisks. Why should the NFL have to play that game? It's just one more reason why moving to an 18-game slate would damage the integrity of the game. It's just not worth it. My message to Roger Goodell is this: Be happy with what you got. It’s perfect.
TG: Records, schmecords. NFL milestones stood up when the schedule was lengthened to 16 games in 1978. Running backs still target 1,000-yard seasons, but they stopped being special a long time ago. Last year, Fred Jackson hit quadruple digits. He'll be called a 1,000-yard rusher for the rest of his life. Chris Johnson rushed for 2,000 yards, and he was lumped in with O.J. Simpson, who did it in 14 games. Besides, records don't mean nearly as much as they used to because the game itself has changed. Steve Largent retired as the NFL's all-time leading receiver in 1989. Derrick Mason and Larry Centers, a fullback, have more catches, for crying out loud. Eighteen games. Bring it on.
This was the best team in franchise history by the critical measures. It had a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, the best offensive line in the NFL, the league MVP at running back and a defense that played its best where it mattered -- in the red zone. Rookie middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu brought direction to a defense lacking leadership.
Coach Mike Holmgren always said he needed his best players to be at their best for a team to approach its potential. This team had that, but clutch contributions from role players sent the 2005 squad on its way.
Receiver Joe Jurevicius added toughness at receiver while catching 10 touchdown passes, offsetting injuries to Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram.
On defense, backup cornerback Jordan Babineaux made a season-altering play by picking off Drew Bledsoe with 14 seconds remaining during a 13-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7. Seattle had lost two of its first four games that season. Beating the Cowboys heading into the bye was important, but the matter in which Seattle won the game proved transforming.
"My hope is that every time you can win a game like this where it looked a little grim for a while but they you pull it out, it really helps you down the road," Holmgren said afterward. "It really helps your confidence. Organizations need to win games like this at some point."
The Seahawks had tied the score with 46 seconds remaining on Hasselbeck's 1-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Ryan Hannam (after another backup, receiver Jerheme Urban, made a 22-yard reception at the 2-minute warning). Babineaux returned Bledsoe's pass 25 yards, getting out of bounds in time for Josh Brown to kick the winning field goal as time expired.
Most impressive win: The 2005 team was at its dominant best during a 34-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC title game.
Advanced chemistry: Teams release injured backups regularly without repercussions, but veteran players protested when management released Urban instead of placing him on injured reserve following a foot injury in November. Urban had made an impression on teammates while catching seven passes for 151 yards. Management gave in to Seattle's veteran leadership, rescinding Urban's release and placing him on IR. The unusual move reflected the strength of the Seattle locker room during a special season.
1984: This was the only team in franchise history to rank among the NFL's top five in points scored and points allowed. Kenny Easley was the NFL's defensive player of the year. Steve Largent and Daryl Turner combined for 22 touchdown receptions. Defensive ends Jeff Bryant and Jacob Green combined for 27.5 sacks.
1983: Other Seattle teams had better regular-season records, but the 1983 team recorded two playoff wins, including an upset shocker in Miami. The 2005 Seahawks were the only other Seattle team with more than one victory in the same postseason.
2007: Losing Hutchinson during the previous offseason hurt, but Hasselbeck set a career high with 28 touchdown passes. Alexander topped 100 yards rushing in an overtime road defeat at eventual NFC champion Chicago in the divisional round.
Phillips also talked Friday about how much he enjoys the scouting process. His father, Bum, used to send coaches out on the road to scout players. Wade was responsible for the University of Tulsa when the Oilers selected wide receiver Steve Largent in 1976. But when the Oilers needed a roster spot in the preseason, the offensive coaches decided that Largent was expendable. He was eventually traded to the Seahawks for an eighth-round draft pick. And I think most of you know the rest of that story.
In other news, Phillips said he thought the Cowboys' inclusion in the Hall of Fame Game was a positive despite the extra travel and practice time it will require.
"With our team, I think it’s a good thing," Phillips said. "We have a lot of young players. We had some young players that were hurt last year, or didn’t play a whole lot or played some and need more playing time. I can just see that helping."
When I last saw Phillips on Friday, he was catching up with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. Phillips was replaced as head coach of the Broncos by Shanahan after the 1994 season. Now the two will square off in the NFC East. OK, let's do this again Saturday.
Hall of Famer Steve Largent described Redskins coach Jim Zorn as his daily confidant before blasting team owner Daniel Snyder and the organization during an interview with Mitch Levy of KJR radio in Seattle.
Among the highlights:
- Largent called Snyder's decision to name Sherm Lewis playcaller "a joke" and an embarrassment for the organization.
- Largent said he thought Snyder revoked play-calling duties in an effort to force Zorn to resign.
- Zorn did consider resigning, but decided against it because he isn't a quitter.
- The Redskins do not have the talent to succeed for Zorn, Joe Gibbs or anyone else.
- Snyder doesn't know what he wants in a coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Former Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg discussed Steve McNair's passing with Mitch Levy of Seattle radio station KJR. Audio here. Krieg and McNair played together in Tennessee during the 1997 and 1998 seasons as Krieg finished a 19-year NFL career.
Krieg on McNair: He was a fisherman, hunter, simple lifestyle-type guy. His mom raised him, worked 16 hours a day, so he always respected what she did for him. Kind of quiet, reserved. But when he did say something, similar to Steve Largent, you would listen to him.
McNair being shot and killed over the weekend stands as one of the more stunning sports-related developments I can recall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Blues chairman Dave Checketts is a contender to help keep the Rams in St. Louis. Wrote Checketts in an e-mail to the Post-Dispatch: "We have the ability to get this done and we have communicated this to the Rams. We approached this with the Rams months ago and have since that time put together a partnership of both concerned St. Louisans and outside capital. Last week, we communicated to Chip Rosenbloom in no uncertain terms, that he now has a clear St. Louis buyer. We are that buyer. We have reason to believe the NFL would approve our group as we have carefully explored their ownership requirements."
Earlier from Miklasz: Minority Rams owner Stan Kroenke offers the best hope for the team remaining in St. Louis. Miklasz: "He has the right of first refusal and can match any offer made to [Chip] Rosenbloom for that 60 percent [stake owned by Rosenbloom and sister Lucia Rodriguez]." Miklasz says the St. Louis community has five or six years to prevent a move. What happens if an outsider purchases the team with clear intent to relocate? Staying becomes untenable at that point, no?
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says keeping the Rams could depend on whether the St. Louis economy can recover.VanRam of Turf Show Times asks whether the Rams' potential sale could become a distraction for players and coaches. Absolutely it could.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com checks in with new 49ers cornerback Dre Bly. Competition between Bly and Tarell Brown for the starting job will apparently be waged on friendly terms. Brown: "It's a wonderful feeling having a veteran come out here. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player and it's great to have the opportunity to learn from him and watch him work."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider takes issue with the 49ers' decision to let Isaac Bruce wear No. 80 during practice. Lynch: "Bruce said last year he wears it because it makes him feel comfortable and because he can spot himself more readily on film. Lame excuses both, and it's bad form the 49ers allow Bruce to wear Rice's number anywhere but in the privacy of Bruce's own home. What about tradition, about legacy, about preserving a uniform number for the best receiver to ever play the game?" On the other hand, Rice didn't have much trouble borrowing Steve Largent's No. 80 during his lone season with the Seahawks.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Bly as expressing supreme confidence in his abilities. Bly: "It's always been easy for me. I'm not trying to be arrogant. I've been consistently making plays. I haven't lost much quickness. I ain't no 4.3 guy [in the 40-yard dash], but I have football speed. My instincts make up for it. Everything is converted to football speed, and I have football speed."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Bly worked with the starters in practice Monday, but so did Brown. Nate Clements wasn't feeling well.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News updates Ronnie Lott's charitable interests.
Also from Brown: Bly listed among his career highlights the time in 1999 when Bruce first spoke to him. They were teammates with the Rams. Bruce made Bly wait two months.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation sizes up the 49ers' situation in the return game. Not much clarity at this point.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals were relieved when Larry Fitzgerald avoided injury during an awkward practice fall. This might be a good time to stop writing about how the Cardinals avoided key injuries last season and how such things tend to even out. It doesn't take a Cardinals fan to appreciate what Fitzgerald brings to the game. Also, only Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett and Bertrand Berry have stayed away from practice.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals aren't yet sure what position Boldin will take in negotiations now that Tom Condon has taken over as the receiver's agent.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks fullback Owen Schmitt is appearing in an acclaimed documentary about a small-town football agent and three prospects. Did Leonard Weaver have that kind of range?
Also from Williams: Answers to a few Seahawks-related questions and a picture of his 110-pound black Russian terrier.
John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Lofa Tatupu's difficult 2008 season. Morgan: "This is the Tatupu scouts warned us about and it's likely the Tatupu we'll see again if his wheels get busted out. He lost enough quickness that he could no longer cut downhill and towards the ball carrier. Attempting tackles from the side or rear, Tatupu failed to wrap and was cut away from or dropped. It led to a lot of missed tackles, a lot of broken tackles and some tackles where that extra few yards gained turned a stop into a good gain." No question, Tatupu needs better health in 2009. He also played through a thumb injury that required surgery.
4:30 PM ET Philadelphia Washington 8:25 PM ET San Diego San Francisco
1:00 PM ET Minnesota Miami 1:00 PM ET Baltimore Houston 1:00 PM ET Detroit Chicago 1:00 PM ET Cleveland Carolina 1:00 PM ET Atlanta New Orleans 1:00 PM ET Green Bay Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET New England New York 4:05 PM ET New York St. Louis 4:25 PM ET Buffalo Oakland 4:25 PM ET Indianapolis Dallas 8:30 PM ET Seattle Arizona