JUDGE: Week 17 observations

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Clark Judge

  • The hottest quarterback in the league is not , or . It's the New York ' , and that is no surprise to his team. It's a shock. It wasn't that long ago that coaches pledged allegiance to and openly wondered if Pennington would hit the field this year. Then, Coach Herman Edwards made a courageous move after his club was walloped by New England, Miami and Jacksonville — starting Pennington the fifth game of the season. The rest you know: The were 8-4 with Pennington in charge, with the third-year quarterback throwing 11 touchdowns and one interception in his last five games. "We're jumping on his back and hoping he leads us to the promised land," wide receiver said of Pennington. And why hot? He has the league's best passer rating, and he proved Sunday that he can beat a playoff opponent. "The guy's a living legend," said ' safety . "He's one of the best players walking on earth."
  • Now that Indianapolis is in the playoffs, keep a couple of things in mind: ' Coach Tony Dungy lost his last three playoff games, and quarterback never won in the playoffs. He's 0-2. Dungy and ' Coach Herman Edwards are no strangers. It was Dungy who hired Edwards as his defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay and who recommended him for the ' job.
  • Philadelphia's Andy Reid should be named Coach of the Year for taking the to the league's best record, despite losing quarterback for six games with a broken ankle. But here's a question: Any idea which playoff coach drew the toughest competition? The answer is Oakland's Bill Callahan, who lined up against seven opponents with winning records — including the New York , Pittsburgh and Tennessee — and met only three with losing marks. Callahan was better when the opponent was tougher, losing to teams with a combined record of 41-37 and winning against opponents that were 93-82-1. He also did what I didn't think possible: He kept players fresh for the stretch drive, with Oakland winning seven of its last eight. That's a marked departure from ' tradition. Under Jon Gruden last season the lost their last three regular-season games and four of their last five overall. The year before, they dropped two of their last four regular-season starts and three of their last six. In 1999 they lost four of their last seven; in 1998 they lost five of their last six and in 1997 they dropped their last five. I think you get the idea. Callahan should take a bow.
  • Denver running back is the league's most productive rookie on offense, setting club rookie records with 1508 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns, but he's more than that. He's also its most dangerous blocker. Portis finished with 1,508 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns — both Denver rookie records — but was also fined a league-high five times for chop blocking entering the final weekend and warned with the third, fourth and fifth violations. The fines cost him $25,000.
  • I don't know if Mike Holmgren is done in Seattle, but quarterback probably is. Under terms of a contract he signed a year ago, Dilfer will make $1.25 million in base pay next year ... which is a steal for the but not good if he's a backup quarterback. Which, I think, it's safe to say he is after 's performance down the stretch. In four of his last six games Hasselbeck threw for over 300 yards, and in two of them he threw for over 400 — including Sunday's finale against San Diego. More important, Seattle won four of those starts — including the last three. That was what Holmgren envisioned when he brought Hasselbeck over from Green Bay in a trade, but it took the guy a year-and-a-half to produce.
  • The Atlanta are not intimidated by Lambeau Field. They were there in September and came this close to beating the , losing in overtime when kicked a game-winning field goal. But there's one difference between playing in Green Bay then and playing there now, and it's about, oh, say, 50 degrees. When the and met on Sept. 8 the temperature was 83 degrees. The forecast for this weekend is temperatures in the low 30s with light snow. "I've always said weather will affect teams that are not used to it," said Atlanta defensive end . I guess the get to find out how much. They play at night.
  • The San Diego avoided a five-game losing streak this year for the first time since 1996, and they shouldn't thank Coach Marty Schottenheimer for breaking the streak. They should thank Denver's and San Francisco's . If it weren't for them the would have finished with a nine-game losing streak, tying last year's record for nosedives. Elam missed an overtime field goal in Dec. 1 loss to San Diego; Cortez missed an overtime field goal in a Nov. 17 loss to San Diego. Those were the ' only victories in the last two months.
  • Miami offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't help his chances to become a head coach when the failed to make the playoffs ... thanks in large part to a strange series near the end of the game when the failed to give the ball to . But Turner should have suitors, and he may have interest from his former employer, the Dallas ... that is, if they don't hire someone like Bill Parcells or Dennis Green first. Here's a suggestion: Turner, who coached the 1994-2000, will have one more shot at a head-coaching job. He better make sure it's the right one, and if he doesn't have a GM or the authority ... which is the case with the head coach today in Dallas ... he better keep looking.
  • After watching Miami self-destruct on Sunday, I have one question: Why was it again that the team needed to sign ? The guy was practically invisible. He was involved in one play, then disappeared. If you¿re a short and intermediate passer like , isn¿t Carter your kind of receiver? Apparently not.
  • They will never be considered for Coach of the Year, but nobody did a better job this year than Baltimore's Brian Billick and Carolina's John Fox. Billick was without most of his starters from last year's team — including linebacker , who was hurt most of the year — yet came this close to making the playoffs. With Sunday's loss, the dropped five games by a total of 13 points. Say they win three of them. That puts them at 10-6 and in the playoffs. Fox took a 1-15 team and multiplied its victories by seven, despite a series of distractions that included a season-long suspension of defensive back Rashard Anderson; a four-game suspension of rookie and the absence of their best running back, rookie . Oh, yeah, Fox also won with as his quarterback. I thought it would take three years for Carolina to get back on its feet; it may happen next season.
  • People wonder how Miami could have run for 256 yards against New England and lost. Well, it's happened before. And it was Miami who did it. The ran for 270 yards against Buffalo on Dec. 1 and lost. There's a common thread there, and it's the road. The couldn't win there. After taking two of their first three they dropped their last five — including Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss to New England. Miami should be ashamed of itself. It lost to Minnesota a week ago, then blew an 11-point lead late in the fourth period against the . Good teams rarely do that.
  • If coaches should have learned anything from Bill Walsh, it's this: Leave before your franchise quarterback does. Holmgren and Mike Shanahan didn't, and they're suffering the consequences. People wonder what happened to Holmgren's magic ... or why Shanahan can't repeat what he did in 1997 and 1998 ... but look no farther than their quarterbacks. Holmgren had . Shanahan had John Elway. Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. With them, they were Super Bowl coaches; without them ... well, pass the record book, please. Holmgren is 31-33 and missed the playoffs the past three years; Shanahan is 34-30 and missed the playoffs three of the past four years.
  • The New England traded away for a first-round draft pick and finished one game ahead of Buffalo. Critics say they should be suffering buyer's remorse, but let's be real here: They never could have kept Bledsoe and together. One of them had to go, and Bledsoe was the logical choice. He was older. He hadn't played well in three years. And, let's face it, he didn't win a Super Bowl. Brady did. The trade put Buffalo on the map, with the now intent on addressing their defense in general and slow linebackers in particular. But it will help New England, too: The will gain a choice in the middle of the first round of the 2003 draft. They should use it on an offensive lineman or wide receiver.
  • Not to hammer this thing to death, but what in the world goes wrong with Jim Haslett and the New Orleans in December? Haslett lost his last four games last year by a combined score of 160-52, and he lost his last three this year to teams that were a combined 15-33. New Orleans could have finished tied for the NFC's best record if it only beat last-place clubs. It was 0-3 against them and 5-0 against first-place finishers. I don't get it. I bet Haslett doesn't either. He beat Green Bay. He beat Tampa Bay. Twice. He beat Pittsburgh. And he beat San Francisco. And now he's out of the playoffs.
  • You can't help but wonder what will happen to New York offensive coordinator Sean Payton, replaced as the ' play-caller at mid-season. Payton is a terrific guy and someone some two years had on the fast track to a head-coaching job. Only he got detoured along the way, and now it's hard to imagine him staying in New York. If he leaves, I don't know where goes ... but I do know where he could: Tampa Bay, where close friend Jon Gruden coaches. Senior writer Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address:
  • Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Cowboys, Broncos, Packers, Titans, Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Redskins, Panthers, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Michael Vick, Patrick Kerney, Jason Elam, Brett Favre, Ryan Longwell, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Ricky Williams, Wayne Chrebet, Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Jose Cortez, Matt Hasselbeck, Ray Lewis, Clinton Portis, Julius Peppers

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