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Stafford's got Motown's engine revving
Want to hear a joke? Or make me fall asleep? Talk about Pro Bowl selections.
On the flip side, we recognize a franchise quarterback, the best move in free-agency history (sorry, Reggie White fans), and the best assistant coach in the NFL.
Talking to longtime Lions center Dominic Raiola on the SiriusXM Blitz, he was very reflective on his team’s journey in finally reaching the playoffs. Raiola couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful it was for the fans and the city of Detroit. He credited coach Jim Schwartz for changing the culture.
But I thought he really saved his best take on the Lions for when he spoke of young star gunslinger Matthew Stafford. Raiola said it was no coincidence in this wild ride of a season that the Lions’ play suffered when Stafford injured his throwing finger.
Raiola also said he and his Lions teammates were impressed with how Stafford battled through.
The center explained, “Matthew is such a fierce competitor. He studies and competes like nobody I’ve ever been around in Detroit. And he has such incredible talent. It is the perfect recipe for success. He has an incredible understanding of defenses. He was hurt his first few years. Now we see his ability and his leadership, and look where we are.”
Stafford has thrown for 4,518 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, and was majestic in comebacks against the Cowboys and Raiders. The Lions have a true franchise quarterback and a true face of the franchise.
Last week in this space we raved about Schwartz. This week Stafford, attached at the hip with his coach, gets his due.
When Drew Brees set the single-season record for passing yards, Loomis was the first person I thought of. The Saints’ outstanding general manager deserves a ton of credit for pulling the trigger on signing Brees back in 2006.
With Brees coming off a shoulder injury, Loomis was the only GM to offer Brees a big-time contract. Heck, Nick Saban was so spooked, the then-Dolphins coach chose Daunte Culpepper over Brees! How did that work out?!
I’ll never forget what Loomis told me about the decision to sign Brees. The Saints believed he would get back to his Pro Bowl form. But they needed both a star quarterback and a pied piper. It was after Hurricane Katrina, and players were skeptical about coming to New Orleans. Brees was the right guy at the right time.
He gave the position of quarterback and the locker room the leadership that Aaron Brooks (remember him?) never could. Brees moved downtown with his wife. He became entrenched in the community. Other players followed. The Saints won a Super Bowl.
Loomis has done a sensational job in New Orleans over the last five years, ranging from Brees to choosing Sean Payton as coach, to trading for Jon Vilma, to stealing Jimmy Graham, to signing Darren Sproles. It all started with his instinct on Brees.
And the Saints and their fans feel the effects of that move every week. I will make the argument that the Brees signing had a greater impact than Reggie White in Green Bay.
Bengals no-names / Mike Zimmer
When you think about it, it’s remarkable what the great Mike Zimmer has done with his Cincy defense this year. This is a Top 5 unit with a bunch of no-name players.
I asked Zimmer to rattle off for me the true surprises when we spoke this week on the SiriusXM Blitz, and Zimmer focused on the newbies to the Cincinnati defense.
He named Reggie Nelson, the former Jacksonville first-round bust who has two picks in the last three games. Zimmer raved about Thomas Howard, the Bengals' leading tackler. He mentioned Manny Lawson rushing the passer. And he listed Geno Atkins at defensive tackle. Did you know Geno Atkins has eight sacks this year? I knew he was productive, but didn’t realize it was that many.
You give the players a ton of credit. But let’s be honest here. Mike Zimmer is an incredible defensive coordinator. Of all of the assistant coaches in the league, he would be the first one I would interview for my head-coaching vacancy.
I thought the Bengals were going to be the worst team in the league this year. They have nine wins and play Baltimore in a win-and-you’re-in game this weekend.
I think Cincy will lose a tight one. But Zimmer is the reason the Bengals have shocked the world and are even in this position.
Pro Bowl process
It is a total embarrassment. Even worse, I cringe when media and fans cite "Pro Bowl appearances" when they discuss whether a player is worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Players shouldn't vote. Fans shouldn't vote. Coaches and/or analysts and journalists make the best judges of who actually is having the best year.
The Pro Bowl simply is a popularity contest and barely takes the actual season into play. That's sad. And you decide who is tops before the season ends. That’s pure stupidity.
The Texans have the best offensive line in the NFL. Yet nobody from the Houston line made the Pro Bowl. I am one of the 50 voters for the Associated Press awards and All-Pro team, which consists of the best at each position, combining conferences. I am voting for three Texans linemen — Eric Winston, Duane Brown, and Chris Myers for first team All-Pro.
Unnamed Falcons / Saints critics
Some people need to get a grip or a clue. I couldn't believe the ground swell of criticism Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the Saints received for throwing the ball up big on Monday night in an effort to get Brees the record. If the Falcons had an issue, here's a novel concept — stop them!
If you want to file it away for the next time you play, that's fine. But Payton was smart for putting the pedal to the metal on history, eliminating a distraction for a crucial Week 17, when the Saints are trying to get the No. 2 seed.
The Tampa coach likes to say his team is “young-ry,” combining young and hungry.
Actually, “ya-thetic” would be more like it, combining young and pathetic.
The Bucs — 4-11 and losers of nine straight — have quit.
I love Raheem, but it is over in Tampa.
Happy New Year!