Thursday, December 27, 2007
Updated: December 29, 10:45 PM ET
Redskins' Gibbs still has the touch
By John Clayton
As ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported last week, Redskins owner Dan Snyder wants to give Joe Gibbs a two-year contract extension.
Gibbs didn't know anything about it because Snyder hadn't told him. No worries. Gibbs was busy. He was trying to turn around a season that has been emotionally and physically draining on the entire organization. The team lost safety Sean Taylor in a tragic shooting in his home in Florida.
In a season that began with some outsiders doubting Gibbs' coaching touch, he's done some of his best work. Gibbs has the Redskins a game away from clinching a playoff berth. If the Redskins beat the Cowboys Sunday, they will play the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs.
Things seemed bleak as Gibbs wasn't up to speed on the timeout rules as he tried to ice Bills kicker Rian Lindell. When Gibbs called a second time out, he was guilty of a personal foul, giving the Bills field position to win the game. It was the kind of blunder that made people wonder about the coach.
Well, the coach is fine. He, like all members of the Redskins, was distracted by the loss of Taylor. The Bills lost, 17-16, but Gibbs has bounced back with three consecutive wins and the Redskins have become one of the most interesting December stories in football.
Gibbs has had a difficult season, which should make a trip the playoffs so satisfying. He's lost a good portion of his offensive line to injury. He spent the season developing young quarterback Jason Campbell but lost him to a knee injury for most of December.
With Todd Collins in charge of the offense, Gibbs and offensive coordinator Al Saunders have done a remarkable job of managing smart December football. Gibbs believes teams should peak in December and they can do that with proper execution of a good running game.
Collins has managed an excellent running attack. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts have been an excellent 1-2 punch running the ball. Despite some nagging injuries at the receiver position, Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El came on in key situations to make important catches.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams also has done some of his best coaching with the Redskins. He devised a great game plan in stopping the Vikings attack in Week 16. Adrian Peterson, the league's rookie of the year, struggled against eight- and nine-man fronts. During the season, he's mixed great blitz packages with safe Cover 2 schemes.
Gibbs doesn't have a Super Bowl team yet and that's pretty obvious. Campbell is a work in progress. Gibbs faces a tough decision whether to start him if Campbell's knee heals by the start of the playoffs. Those choices are for another day.
The Cowboys aren't expected to play starters most of the game and they will rest players who have injuries. They are set up to be beaten, and anytime a Redskins team has a chance to beat the Cowboys is monumental.
Those doubting Gibbs' longevity better get used to the idea that the Redskins are his team. Snyder wants him to stay. A trip to the playoffs will convince Redskins fans that Gibbs' second tour of duty isn't about to end,
1. Tennessee at Indianapolis: The Colts certainly didn't wish to be pulled into the prime-time NBC broadcast Sunday night because they won't be playing their prime-time team. Quarterback Peyton Manning is probably going to play only a quarter. Wideout Reggie Wayne and RB Joseph Addai may go only one half. The Colts have 11 players on the injured list and most of them won't play. Technically, the Colts are playing only for pride because they've clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Titans have everything to play for. If the Titans win, they make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. Because it's an AFC South rivalry, the Colts would like to spoil those chances. Plus, the Colts hate losing before their home fans. Still, the key is getting healthy for the playoffs, and the Colts have too much at stake to risk players on Sunday night. That's why the Titans are favored by 6½ points.
2. San Francisco at Cleveland: It's hard to believe the Browns are on the outside looking in for the AFC's final wild-card berth, but the Week 16 loss to Cincinnati put them in this position. Although they should be able to beat the 49ers in the season finale, the Browns have to wait until Sunday night to see if the Titans lose. Browns head coach Romeo Crennel must make sure his team doesn't get frustrated and regress. Even if Cleveland players must settle for a 10-win season and no trip to the playoffs, the Browns have had a great year and are one of the surprise teams in football.
3. Minnesota at Denver: Like the Browns, the Vikings might have let a trip to the playoffs slip through their hands in Week 16. Turnovers and inconsistency at quarterback were key factors in Minnesota's loss to the Redskins. The Vikings could be nudged out of the playoffs if the Redskins beat the Cowboys. Head coach Brad Childress and the organization have a lot of thinking to do this offseason. They have a playoff-caliber defense. They have the best one-two running back punch in football. They have one of the best offensive lines. Tarvaris Jackson is a talented work in progress, but they know they need more from the quarterback position.
The expectation is that the Vikings will stay with Jackson and not attempt to trade for Donovan McNabb. Putting McNabb on this team, though, could make Minnesota at least an 11-game winner.
4. Kansas City at N.Y. Jets: This is clearly an unwatchable game, but there will be emotions at play. Former Jets coach Herm Edwards comes back to the Meadowlands. Edwards took three Jets teams to the playoffs. The reunion with QB Chad Pennington could be interesting, too. Depending on how the Jets feel about the potential of QB Kellen Clemens, who has been inconsistent, Pennington may or may not be on his way out of New York.
The Chiefs aren't getting much better out of Brodie Croyle. Edwards has named Croyle the starter in 2008, but it may be hard for him not to talk the Chiefs into bringing Pennington to Kansas City if the Jets cut him. Pennington may not have a strong arm, but he completes more than 65 percent of his passes, and he wins games when he has the weapons. This could be an interesting reunion.
5. Seattle at Atlanta: While Edwards' return to New York could bring back fond memories, the returns of defensive end Patrick Kerney and former head coach Jim Mora to Atlanta could only further anger Falcons fans. Kerney leads the NFL in sacks and has an outside shot at winning defensive player of the year for the Seahawks. Mora has turned around Seattle's secondary and helped cornerback Marcus Trufant earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.
First of all, it will be interesting to see how many Falcons fans even care to show up. The season has been miserable. The Bobby Petrino experiment was a disaster. Owner Arthur Blank has taken a step back after failed attempts at Bill Cowher and Bill Parcells and doesn't seem to have a plan to fix the franchise's woes. Once they return, Kerney and Mora might not recognize the place.
6. Pittsburgh at Baltimore: The Steelers have suffered some serious setbacks in recent weeks, losing defensive end Aaron Smith and running back Willie Parker for the season and left tackle Marvel Smith could be done because of back surgery.
Smith was a great run-stopper along the line and Parker made the play-action work because he's a threat to break 20-yard runs. Head coach Mike Tomlin will have to test out a few things to see how the Steelers can operate without these two Pro Bowl-caliber players. More will fall to QB Ben Roethlisberger during the playoffs with Parker gone, and Roethlisberger is expected to miss the Ravens game with a sore ankle. Najeh Davenport is a big, powerful back, but he doesn't scare defenses like Parker does.
The Ravens would love to end their season with a victory for pride, but it might be tough with rookie QB Troy Smith filling in for the injured Kyle Boller.
7. San Diego at Oakland: The Chargers would like to win this game for a couple of reasons. First, the No. 3 seed in the AFC is at stake. If the Chargers get the No. 3 seed, they know they could advance to Indianapolis instead of New England if they win in the first round of the playoffs. The Chargers already lost in New England, so they know how tough it is to win there. Although the Chargers know the Colts also would be tough, they squeaked out a victory over Indianapolis earlier this season.
The Chargers have some confidence. Week by week, the Chargers are regaining some of their 2006 swagger. However, head coach Norv Turner must make sure his team doesn't get banged up in this game because the Chargers are probably going to have to play a Saturday game to open the playoffs.
8. Carolina at Tampa Bay: Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden took some heat for losing to the 49ers in Week 16, but he wisely pulled some starters, including QB Jeff Garcia, around halftime. He'll do the same this week, and it could cost him the game. Gruden has gotten the most out of this team. Garcia is an older quarterback and he's playing with a sore back. Gruden lost his best running back, Cadillac Williams, and his other backs are banged up. His best receivers are older. The defense got a little younger this year, but it still has some age. Gruden's biggest focus is getting to next week's game against the Giants.
9. Jacksonville at Houston: Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is on a roll. He has a chance to close out a 12-win season with a victory over the Texans, but he also has a chance to prove a point. The Jaguars have lost three of their past four trips to Houston and know that the Texans gear up for this rivalry. The Jags can't improve their playoff seeding, but they could send a message for the future by taking away Houston's home-field edge in his series.
10. Detroit at Green Bay: The best subplot of Sunday's game between the Packers and Lions is what's happening with Mike Martz, the Lions offensive coordinator. Some think he's gone after the season. Others wonder if he's going to stay. No one knows for sure. Martz has been one of the big factors in turning around Detroit. He took over an offense that once was scoring 15.9 points a game. Now, it is averaging 22.2 ppg, which is playoff-team caliber production. But the Lions are just 7-8. The Lions defense has gotten worse over the past two years and is now giving up more than 27 points a game. Without Martz, the Lions offense could drop back significantly below 20 ppg output. The system works with Martz calling plays for Jon Kitna. It's hard to imagine what it would be like without Martz.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.