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Vikings don't see Jackson in future

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Howie Long

Howie Long is an NFL Hall of Famer and Emmy-Award winning analyst on the "FOX NFL Sunday" pregame show. He earned eight Pro Bowl berths in his 13-year career with the Oakland Raiders, helping lead them to a victory in Super Bowl XVIII, before joining FOX Sports in 1994.

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Today’s game against the Bills was definitely a microcosm of the kind of player that Tarvaris Jackson is. You are going to see some dynamic plays, and he’s going to make some throws that make you say, “OK, yeah. He lights it up and he makes things happen.”

But at the end of the day, he did throw three interceptions, and the Vikings won because Adrian Peterson had a great day running the football.

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Jackson did throw one up for grabs down the sideline that Sidney Rice took away from two defenders for a touchdown. That pass could have gone either way, but it made me happy to see Rice back and playing like he did last season. That hip injury is tough to come back from and be the same player. That’s why Brett Favre liked him so much last season.

But as far as the big question of the day, I believe if Brett’s healthy, he must stay in the lineup for a number of reasons. Yes, the Vikings are out of it, but I don’t think the Vikings believe Tarvaris is their guy moving forward. So, if Brett can go, you let him ride off into the sunset the right way.

But, it looked like Brett took a big shot on his throwing shoulder. He didn’t see the guy coming and he got nailed pretty well. He might not be OK.

In fairness to Jackson, what kind of opportunity has he had this season? In spite of that, he has handled himself extremely well. I've been impressed how professionally he’s handled this whole Favre situation from Day 1 and through this season. The back and forth over the past two years had to be tough, as well as those weeks earlier in the season when Brett was banged up and Jackson practiced with the first team only to have Brett come back late and play on Sunday. Mentally and emotionally, that's a huge roller coaster for anyone, and he’s handled that extremely well.

It would be interesting to see how Jackson would do if he got the entire offseason and training camp to prepare, and a team told him he was definitely the guy — and gave him a legitimate shot. That might not happen in Minnesota. The guy who was his biggest fan, Brad Childress, just got fired. I’m not sure the organization feels Jackson is the answer moving forward.

 

No fear from Saints

 

A couple of things stood out about the New Orleans Saints. Now, that was a tough win on the road. They are an indoor team playing in cold Cincinnati, and for some reason, the Bengals got hot. Carson Palmer has been all over the place this season but he played really well, as did Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.

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But what I find interesting about the Saints, particularly when they're down at the end of games and backed up in their own end, — third-and-8 and down by four points against Cincy — how easily they come up big, like that 42-yard pass to Robert Meachem. Coach Sean Payton calls plays like that all the time. They are fearless at the end of football games.

You look at how they won in Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Saints are not just happy moving the chains and getting the next first down. They are going for the throat as much as they can. Against the Bengals, Drew Brees got that matchup on the safety for Meachem twice, the first one for a 52-yard touchdown.

The other thing that makes the Saints special to me is not just how they throw the ball and the complexity of their offense, but how well balanced that offense is. They can really run the football, even though we think of them as a passing team.

This approach worked for them last season, setting up the play-action they love to use so often off their ability to run the football. It’s working again for them with Chris Ivory stepping in for Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Out of nowhere, Ivory has filled that void. He’s a big back and a downhill runner who obviously has speed. It helps the offensive line and limits the hits on Drew Brees. Plus, the running game controls the clock and keeps your defense off the field. I thought their defense this year was very good earlier in the season when the offense was struggling and Drew took that hit on his knee.

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Everybody tried to say that injury was nothing, but it wasn’t nothing. And that defense has been ranked around the top all season. I have to say that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has done a remarkable job considering how many guys in his secondary have been hurt or missed games this season.

I still don’t think the Saints are going to be able to catch Atlanta for the NFC South title, but this balance is going to help them in the playoffs. The Falcons simply have an easier schedule down the stretch. I think the Saints can beat the Falcons in the rematch down in Atlanta later this month. But I think Atlanta has a real good shot of finishing 13-3 and wrapping up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

But I believe the Saints are a team hitting their stride at the right time. I do love the production they are getting out of rookie tight end Jimmy Graham, who was pretty much a basketball player at Miami. He has a huge upside at 6-foot-7, and he’s still learning a lot about the game. Graham will get a better feel for the game the more he plays. This will be a plus with Jeremy Shockey coming back. I think you will see more two-tight-end sets from the Saints.

Bush isn’t all the way back yet, but he’s getting there. But when he does, with Ivory and these tight ends, it will allow Payton to call anything wants offensively. Brees is healthy again, so this team will play with confidence down the stretch.

 

Too much for Manning

 

There is too much pressure on Peyton Manning right now. I know we've all said how remarkable he is running the Indianapolis offense. The Colts have had players go down in the past, but their offensive line is not good right now. Their running game has been pretty much nothing after losing Joseph Addai.

It was a lot on Peyton’s shoulders before, but now with receivers, running backs and the offensive line going down, it’s almost impossible for him. Their defense, in my opinion, was always built to play with a lead, and that hasn’t been happening lately. It’s an undersized front that rushes the passer on every play. They have struggled stopping the run during this losing streak.
 

Jaguars stay balanced

 

Before the start of the season, I think we all thought the AFC South was going to be one of the best divisions in the NFL. But now Tennessee has lost five straight. The Texans are very talented, but you don’t know what you are going to get. Jacksonville is probably the most balanced team now in the division and that’s why they're in first place.

I think, at the start of the season, we talked like this might be Jack Del Rio’s last season in Jacksonville, but now it looks pretty good for him. I love Maurice Jones-Drew as a running back. He takes so much of the load off the offensive line. They are not in a lot of second-and-long and third-and-long situations, which helps David Garrard. He is great leader and a big physical quarterback who can pull the ball down and run. Now, he makes throws, but he’s not in the same class as Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning and maybe not even Vince Young, for that matter.

But he’s so big and strong that he made some plays against the Giants a couple weeks ago that really impressed me. But when the game has to be totally on his shoulders, Garrard struggles a bit.

Which brings me back to the amazing Maurice Jones-Drew. He really is. He's different because he is shorter than most backs, but he plays with such incredible leverage. and with great quickness. He made one incredible run today where he stiff-armed a defensive back going around the corner and picked up 25 or 30 yards. Well, that’s the kind of run I’ve come to expect from him. He has enough ability to get this team into the playoffs.

Tagged: Bengals, Colts, Vikings, Saints, Jaguars, Texans, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tarvaris Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Sidney Rice

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